Archive for December 6th, 2006

Privacy advocates are strenuously pushing an oversight board to look into the White House’s infamous wiretapping program, National Journal’s Technology Daily is reporting.

“Civil liberties watchdogs on Tuesday urged a federal advisory committee to aggressively investigate the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants, arguing that oversight is only effective when the truth prevails and not deference to those in power,” writes Andrew Noyes. An ACLU lobbyist told Noyes that “the group’s first order of business should be to review how the National Security Agency and other federal agencies target innocent citizens or other lawful residents with anti-terrorism efforts.”

The committee, called the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, was set up in 2004 and has been a target of criticism “since its inception,” notes Noyes. It has been accused of “being a dependent part of the very branch of government it is supposed to oversee” and has only once–out of 16 meetings–convened a public forum.

The ACLU is urging the committee “to hold public hearings and publish reports that pertain to key privacy and civil liberties issues raised by new anti-terrorism efforts,” Noyes reports.

The chairperson of another privacy watchdog said that the recent revelation of the government’s Automated Targeting System indicates that its use of “watch lists” is “even more expansive than we had imagined,” which in turn is prompting calls for White House oversight.

Excerpts from the subscription-only article follow…

[Caroline Fredrickson, the American Civil Liberties Union’s top lobbyist] urged the board to hold public hearings and publish reports that pertain to key privacy and civil liberties issues raised by new anti-terrorism efforts, and asked the members to “candidly advise the president” on the legality and propriety of permitting government agencies to contract with private companies for eavesdropping and mining databases for information.

American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene said watch lists must not be used as “black lists” to prevent certain people from being considered for jobs or government benefits. The lists should only be utilized in situations where “decisions must be made quickly and grave consequences would follow from failure to screen out a listed person.”

Frederickson called the panel’s public forum a welcome first step but said it was long overdue. “Our democracy is at risk when unprecedented threats to privacy and civil liberties undertaken in the name of the war on terror go unanswered and unchecked.”

She added, “Clearly you’ve been fiddling while Rome burns.”


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Panel: Try diplomacy in Iraq, then leave

WASHINGTON – The United States faces a “grave and deteriorating” situation after three years of war in Iraq, a high-level commission warned bluntly on Wednesday, recommending enhanced diplomacy to stabilize the country and hopefully permit the withdrawal of most combat troops by early 2008.

“There is no path that can guarantee success, but the prospects can be improved,” the commission said after an eight-month review of a war that has resulted in the deaths of more than 2,900 U.S. troops and grown so unpopular at home that it helped trigger a Democratic takeover of Congress in last month’s elections.

Portions of the report were obtained by The Associated Press.

President Bush received the report in an early morning meeting at the White House with commission members. He pledged to treat each proposal seriously and act in a “timely fashion.”

He was flanked by the commission’s co-chairmen, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton.

The report painted a grim picture of Iraq nearly four years after U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein.

It warned that if the situation continues to deteriorate, there is a risk of a “slide toward chaos (that) could trigger the collapse of Iraq’s government and a humanitarian catastrophe.”

“Neighboring countries could intervene. …. The global standing of the United States could be diminished. Americans could become more polarized,” commissioners said.

The report called for the administration to try to engage Syria and Iran in diplomacy as part of an effort to bring stability to Iraq — even though Bush has said previously he would not negotiate with either country.

With diplomacy under way, the report said, the U.S. should increase the number of combat and other troops that are embedded with and supporting Iraqi Army units.

“As these actions proceed, U.S. combat forces could begin to move out of Iraq. … By the first quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.”

Bush said the report “gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq. It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals, and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion.”

He also urged members of Congress to give serious consideration to the recommendations.

“While they won’t agree with every proposal, and we probably won’t agree with every proposal, it nevertheless is an opportunity to come together and to work together on this important issue,” he said.

Baker, Hamilton and the other members of the commission traveled to the Capitol from the White House to present their findings to senior lawmakers. The report makes 79 separate recommendations on Iraq policy, said one official familiar with the work.

The recommendations came at a pivotal time, with Bush under domestic pressure to change course and with the new, Democratic-controlled Congress certain to cast a skeptical look at administration policy.

Additionally, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the architect of the administration’s war policy, has resigned. His replacement, Robert Gates, is on track for Senate confirmation this week after a remarkable assessment of his own — that the United States is not winning the war.

Bush has rejected establishing timetables for withdrawing troops and has said he isn’t looking for “some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq.”

There was no letup in the killing in Iraq, where a mortar attack killed at least eight people and wounded dozens in a secondhand goods market. Police said the shelling was followed closely by a suicide bombing in the Sadr City Shiite district of the capital.

It was the type of violence that has led many to declare that Iraq is in the throes of a civil war — an assessment that Bush has refused to accept.

By whatever name, Baker, Hamilton and the other eight members of the commission said the status quo was unacceptable.

“The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating,” they warned.

“Violence is increasing in scope and lethality. It is fed by a Sunni Arab insurgency, Shiite militias, death squads, al-Qaida and widespread criminality. Sectarian conflict is the principal challenge to stability.”


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Forget the minimum wage. Or outsourcing jobs overseas. The labor issue most on the minds of members of Congress yesterday was their own: They will have to work five days a week starting in January.

The horror.

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the Maryland Democrat who will become House majority leader and is writing the schedule for the next Congress, said members should expect longer hours than the brief week they have grown accustomed to.

“I have bad news for you,” Hoyer told reporters. “Those trips you had planned in January, forget ’em. We will be working almost every day in January, starting with the 4th.”

The reporters groaned. “I know, it’s awful, isn’t it?” Hoyer empathized.

For lawmakers, it is awful, compared with what they have come to expect. For much of this election year, the legislative week started late Tuesday and ended by Thursday afternoon — and that was during the relatively few weeks the House wasn’t in recess.

Next year, members of the House will be expected in the Capitol for votes each week by 6:30 p.m. Monday and will finish their business about 2 p.m. Friday, Hoyer said.

With the new calendar, the Democrats are trying to project a businesslike image when they take control of Congress in January. House and Senate Democratic leaders have announced an ambitious agenda for their first 100 hours and say they are adamant about scoring legislative victories they can trumpet in the 2008 campaigns.

Hoyer and other Democratic leaders say they are trying to repair the image of Congress, which was so anemic this year it could not meet a basic duty: to approve spending bills that fund government. By the time the gavel comes down on the 109th Congress on Friday, members will have worked a total of 103 days. That’s seven days fewer than the infamous “Do-Nothing Congress” of 1948.

Hoyer said members can bid farewell to extended holidays, the kind that awarded them six weekdays to relax around Memorial Day, when most Americans get a single day off. He didn’t mention the month-long August recess, the two-week April recess or the weeks off in February, March and July.

He said members need to spend more time in the Capitol to pass laws and oversee federal agencies. “We are going to meet sufficient times, so the committees can do their jobs on behalf of the American people,” he said.

For lawmakers within a reasonable commute of Washington, longer weeks are not a burden — although they are likely to cut into members’ fundraising and campaigning activities. But for members from Alaska and Hawaii, the West Coast, or rural states, the new schedule will mean less time at home and more stress.

“Keeping us up here eats away at families,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. “Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families — that’s what this says.”

Time away from Washington is just as important to being an effective member of Congress as time spent in the Capitol, Kingston added. “When I’m here, people call me Mr. Congressman. When I’m home, people call me ‘Jack, you stupid SOB, why did you vote that way?’ It keeps me grounded.”

Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), who had intended to retire this year, only to be persuaded to run again, wondered whether the new schedule was more than symbolic. “If we’re doing something truly productive, that’s one thing,” he said. “If it’s smoke-and-mirrors hoopla, that’s another.”

Senate leaders have not set their schedule, but the upper chamber generally works a longer week than the House, though important votes or hearings are usually not scheduled on Mondays or Fridays.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), one of the architects of the lighter workweek, put the best Republican face on Hoyer’s new schedule.

“They’ve got a lot more freshmen then we do,” he said of the Democrats. “That schedule will make it incredibly difficult for those freshmen to establish themselves in their districts. So we’re all for it.”

The new schedule poses a headache for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who runs her 7-year-old daughter’s Brownie troop meetings on Monday afternoons in Weston, Fla. “I’ll have to talk to the other mothers and see if we can move it to the weekend,” she said.

Setting a calendar that satisfies 435 members is impossible, said the current majority leader, Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who will become minority leader in January. “Between the travel issues, the members’ work schedules, the family and district issues, it was a Rubik’s cube,” he said.

But most Democrats, some still giddy from their election victories, seemed game.

“It’s long overdue,” said Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who lives in Napa Valley and will have to leave his home at 3 a.m. on Sundays to catch a flight to Washington in time for work Mondays. “I didn’t come here to turn around and go back home.”


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Feds arrest Latin Kings gang leader

By Jeff Coen
and Rudolph Bush
Tribune staff reporter
Published December 5, 2006, 9:06 PM CST

A Chicago man described by federal authorities as “the CEO of the Latin Kings Nation on the South Side” was taken into custody early Tuesday, capping a three-year investigation into the operations of the violent street gang.

Fernando “Ace” King was among 18 gang members whose arrests were announced Tuesday by U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald. King had the title of “Supreme Inca,” running the gang’s drug empire on the city’s South Side and the south suburbs, officials said. There are only a small circle of leaders above him, including Gustavo “Gino” Colon, the gang’s imprisoned head, officials said.

“It may seem pretty cool to be a Supreme Inca when you’re the leader on the street of a gang until the title ‘Supreme Inca’ becomes ‘lead defendant,'” Fitzgerald said.

The Latin Kings operate in seven regions in Chicago, including the southwest and northwest suburbs, authorities said.

King is one of 38 members and associates charged in the case after investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used wiretaps and undercover drug purchases to crack the gang’s operations.

He was charged with intent to distribute cocaine as part of “Operation Broken Crown,” which is billed as the most significant federal effort against the Latin Kings since the takedown of Colon in 1998.

Others in the case are charged with a wide range of drug and gun violations.

The investigation began in 2003, when a longtime gang member agreed to cooperate and provided investigators with access to the organization’s structure, authorities said. About 90 guns were seized during the probe, along with more than 15 kilograms of cocaine.

Investigators said they hoped the case would have an effect in many of the subregions controlled by King.

“I think at this point we’ve pretty much decapitated the Latin Kings on the South Side,” said Andrew Traver, special agent in charge of the Chicago ATF.

Traver said support in executing arrest warrants early Tuesday came from a variety of federal agencies, the Cook County sheriff’s office and police in Summit, Hickory Hills, Stickney and Orland Park.

King’s alleged second in command, 29-year-old Anthony Compean of Cicero, was charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine.

Compean, known on the street as “Loks,” was charged after a cooperating gang member was arrested by the ATF early this year and decided to help investigators.

The gang member, who was not identified, has a rap sheet that includes a 1997 attempted murder conviction in Cook County and a 1999 drug conviction in Texas. He told authorities he knew Compean as a Latin Kings leader in “Chi-Town” and agreed to record drug transactions with him, according to a criminal complaint against Compean.

During a March meeting at the gang member’s house, Compean agreed to sell the man a half-kilogram of cocaine for $10,000, the complaint states.

Compean’s lawyer, Todd Pugh, declined to comment Tuesday, saying he has not had a chance to read the complaint.Oscar Diaz, 32, of Blue Island, the alleged southwest regional leader of the gang, was charged with providing a Russian assault rifle to a cooperating witness in November, a gun delivered to Elmhurst.

Danny “Fat Danny” Aguilar, 29, of Justice, the gang’s alleged regional enforcer, was charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs.

In the case against King, a former gang member cooperating with federal agents recorded conversations with King in which drug deals were discussed, according to a criminal complaint released Tuesday.

On Monday, the informant provided King with a kilogram of what King thought was cocaine, leading to his arrest and the charges against him. The informant told agents that he understood King to report to no one but the gang’s highest echelon.

An attorney for King could not immediately be reached for comment.

Fitzgerald said authorities hoped investigations such as the one that ended Tuesday would send a message to would-be gang leaders that such a position comes with a price.

New Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said the case should also be a warning for suburban residents that street gangs are entrenched in their neighborhoods too.”

For those people who still feel for some reason that gang crime is centered in the city of Chicago and does not touch suburban Cook County, if this is not their wake-up call, I don’t know what they’re looking for,” Dart said. “Gangs do not see borders.”


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