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Shayna Steinger, a consular officer who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers in Jeddah (see July 1, 2000), serves as the political officer at the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The date of her appointment is not known, but she is listed as the political officer there in a State Department telephone directory published in early December. [US Department of State, 12/2/2009]
The ratings agency Standard & Poor’s puts Greece’s credit rating, currently A-, on negative watch with a view to downgrading it. [Reuters, 3/3/2010]
Fitch Ratings cuts its assessment of Greek government debt to BBB+ and says that the outlook for the country is negative. Fitch had previously cut its rating for the debt to A-, when the Greek government revealed that its budget deficit was higher than expected. This reduction is the first time in 10 years a ratings agency has put Greece below the A investment grade. [Reuters, 3/3/2010]
In response to Greece’s financial problems, Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou outlines policies to cut the country’s ballooning budget deficit and try to regain the trust of investors and EU partners. Papandreou pledges a 10 percent cut in social security spending in 2010. He also says he will abolish bonuses at government-run banks and put a 90 percent tax on private bankers’ bonuses. Further, he promises a serious fight against corruption and tax evasion, calling them the country’s biggest problems. In addition, he announces a drastic overhaul of the pension system in six months and a new tax system that will make the wealthier carry more of the burden. [Reuters, 3/3/2010]
A man on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit is subdued by passengers after attempting to detonate a makeshift bomb hidden in his undergarments. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old man from Nigeria, tries to ignite a mixture of plastic and liquid explosives sewn into his underwear as the Airbus 330 makes its final descent into Detroit. Abdulmutallab is set afire and suffers serious burns along with two other passengers, is detained by passengers and crew, and is arrested after landing. The suspect previously flew on a KLM flight from Lagos to Amsterdam. MI5 and US intelligence officials begin an investigation into his social ties and background. Abdulmutallab is the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and studied engineering at University College London for three years until June 2008. His father claims to have informed Nigerian and American officials of his son’s increasingly unusual behavior and activities. US officials allegedly placed the 23-year-old on a list of suspected extremists, yet he possesses a US visa valid from June 2008 to June 2010, and appears on no lists prohibiting air travel to the US. Following the event, the US government will request that all passengers traveling from Britain to the US be subjected to additional personal and baggage searches. Security measures at US airports will also be heightened. [The Telegraph, 12/26/2009; New York Times, 12/26/2009]
Testimony by Patrick F. Kennedy, an under secretary for management at the State Department, before the House Committee on Homeland Security confirms that US intelligence officials prevented the State Department from revoking the US visa of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The 23-year-old Nigerian student, whom US intelligence believed was working with the Yemeni arm of al-Qaeda, attempted to set off a bomb on Northwest Flight 253 into Detroit on December 25, 2009 (see December 25, 2009). Kennedy informs the committee’s chairman, Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS): “We will revoke the visa of any individual who is a threat to the United States, but we do take one preliminary step. We ask our law enforcement and intelligence community partners, ‘Do you have eyes on this person and do you want us to let this person proceed under your surveillance so that you may potentially break a larger plot?’ And one of the members—and we’d be glad to give you that out of—in private—said: ‘Please do not revoke this visa. We have eyes on this person. We are following this person who has the visa for the purpose of trying to roll up an entire network, not just stop one person.’” With the exception of a story appearing in the Detroit News, this revelation will go unreported in mainstream news media outlets. [US Congress. House. Committee on Homeland Security, 1/27/2010; Detroit News, 1/27/2010]
WikiLeaks publishes a 2008 Pentagon report about itself. The report was recently leaked to WikiLeaks, but was drafted after WikiLeaks began publishing US Army information and analysed the apparent threat the organization posed to the Defense Department (see 2008). The Army confirms the document’s authenticity. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange makes light of the report’s speculation that his organization is supported by the CIA. “I only wish they would step forward with a check if that’s the case,” he says. [New York Times, 3/17/2010]
A US District Court judge awards damages in a lawsuit, finding the NSA illegally monitored the calls of the plaintiffs. The Al Haramain Islamic Foundation and two of its lawyers, Wendell Belew and Asim Ghafoor, sued the US government in 2006 based on evidence that their calls had been monitored; the US Treasury Department inadvertently provided them with an NSA log in August 2004 showing their calls had been monitored in May of that year (see February 28, 2006). In defending against the suit, the Justice Department argued, first under President Bush and then under President Obama, that the case should be dismissed based on the government’s invocation of the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953) concerning the NSA log, and that the plaintiffs could not otherwise demonstrate that surveillance had occurred, meaning the plaintiffs had no standing to bring suit. Judge Vaughn Walker rejected these arguments, noting that the plaintiffs had introduced into evidence a speech posted on FBI’s Web site by FBI Deputy Director John Pistole to the American Bankers Association (ABA), in which he said that surveillance had been used to develop a case by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against Al-Haramain, and Congressional testimony by Bush administration officials that disclosed the manner in which electronic surveillance was conducted. In the summary of his decision, Vaughn wrote, “[The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] FISA takes precedence over the state secrets privilege in this case,” and “defendants have failed to meet their burden to [provide] evidence that a FISA warrant was obtained, that plaintiffs were not surveilled or that the surveillance was otherwise lawful.” [Al-Haramain v. Obama, 3/31/2010; Washington Post, 4/1/2010, pp. A04]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Asim Ghafoor, Anthony J. Coppolino, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), “Justice Department”, Barack Obama, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Suliman al-Buthe, Keith Alexander, Eric Holder, US Department of the Treasury, Wendell Belew, Vaughn Walker, National Security Agency
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who is apparently the source of much material released by Wikileaks, is arrested by US Army Criminal Investigation Division officials at Forward Operating Base Hammer, 40 miles east of Baghdad. [Wired News, 6/6/2010]
The Social Democratic party (CSSD) wins the most seats in elections to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Czech parliament. However, due to a lack of viable coalition partners it will probably not be able to form a government. The CSSD wins 56 seats, but the other left-wing party, the Communists (KSCM), only wins 28, giving them a total of 82 out of 200 available seats even if they did manage to work together. In contrast, the three center-right parties that get into parliament obtain a total of 118 seats, with the Civic Democratic Party taking 53, TOP 09 taking 41, and Public Affairs (VV) 24. Therefore, it appears most likely that the three center-right parties will form a government. [Lidove noviny, 5/29/2010]
Richard Hava, an influential Czech arms dealer and the owner of Omnipol, comes to the headquarters of the center-right party TOP 09, which is celebrating this day’s success in Czech elections to the lower house. “I’ve just stopped here, I support them,” says Hava, who stays for around an hour. Hava adds that he has come to congratulate his friend Miroslav Kalousek, a deputy chairman of the party. “We didn’t discuss anything secret. I just congratulated him when I was going past,” comments Hava. [Hospodarske noviny, 5/29/2010] The friendship between Kalousek and Hava dates to Kalousek’s controversial stint as deputy minister of defense, when he was responsible for procurement (see January 1993). [Novinky(.cz), 2010]
Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) condemns WikiLeaks for disclosing classified war documents, calling the Web site an “ideological” organization with “an agenda.” WikiLeaks “is implacably hostile to our military and the most basic requirements of our national security,” says Lieberman. He adds that readers “should be wary of drawing conclusions based on materials selectively leaked by WikiLeaks, as it seeks to sap support for the Afghan war among the American people and our European allies.” According to Lieberman: “Most of these documents add nothing to the public understanding of the war in Afghanistan. The materials—which cover the period from 2004 to 2009—reflect the reality, recognized by everyone, that the insurgency was gaining momentum during these years while our coalition was losing ground.” [Hill, 7/26/2010]
Peter King (R-NY), the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, calls for Wikileaks-linked whistleblower Bradley Manning to be prosecuted for treason. On the radio show Imus in the Morning, King says Manning’s leak of 93,000 documents recently published by Wikileaks is “disgraceful,” adding: “It violates espionage laws. I consider it treason.… The fact is, whatever happened here and whoever gave them that information is guilty, to me, of the most detestable, contemptible crime, and we have to take it seriously.” [Hill, 7/27/2010]
Wikileaks’ founder Julian Assange arrives in Stockholm, Sweden, to give a speech at the invitation of Sweden’s Social Democratic Party. The event is organized by 31-year-old Anna Ardin, press secretary of the Brotherhood Movement, an adjunct of the Social Democratic Party. Ardin invites Assange to stay at her flat while she visits her family for a few days out in the country. [TNN, 12/9/2010]
Czech businessman and former Dukla Prague owner Bohumir Duricko guns down alleged underworld figure Vaclav Kocka Jr. The shooting occurs at the prestigious Monarch restaurant in Prague, at the launch of a book by former Social Democrat Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek. Paroubek, an acquaintance of Duricko’s, has left the building when the shooting occurs. [Mlada fronta DNES, 10/10/2008]
Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee Joe Lieberman (I-CT) expresses doubts about designating WikiLeaks a foreign terrorist organization. Responding to a question on the Imus in the Morning radio show about a proposal from Representative Peter King (R-NY) to make such designation, Lieberman says: “Normally, we reserve that designation for groups that fit the traditional definition of terrorism, which is that they are using violence to achieve a political end.… While it’s true that what WikiLeaks did may result in damage to some people… it’s not al-Qaeda.” However, Lieberman does not rule out supporting the proposal, adding, “I want to talk to Pete and figure out what he’s got in mind.” In addition, he says that the group’s release of thousands of US documents over the past year is a “terrible thing,” and expresses the hope that “we are doing everything we can to take down their Web site.” [Hill, 11/29/2010]
Staff from the office of Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) contact the Internet retailer Amazon to ask about its hosting of WikiLeaks’ website. Lieberman is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. [Guardian, 12/1/2010] His staff learns of the hosting from media accounts and leaves a series of questions, including, “Are there plans to take the site down,” with Amazon’s press secretary. [Talking Points Memo, 12/1/2010] The next day, Amazon will remove the website from its servers (see December 2, 2010).
The Internet retailer Amazon cancels WikiLeaks’ server account, removing its website from its servers. The move follows pressure from Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee (see December 1, 2010). As a result, the WikiLeaks website is inaccessible for a time, but it soon moves to servers in Sweden. The announcement that Amazon has got rid of WikiLeaks is also made by Lieberman, who adds that the “decision to cut off WikiLeaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies WikiLeaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material.” Amazon attributes the break between the two organizations to a terms of service violation by WikiLeaks. However, WikiLeaks expresses disappointment with Amazon, saying in a post on Twitter that if Amazon is “so uncomfortable with the First Amendment, they should get out of the business of selling books.” [Guardian, 12/1/2010]
The Library of Congress blocks access to WikiLeaks’ website across its computer systems, including those operated by library users in reading rooms. The library puts out a statement saying that users should not access documents regarded as classified, even if the documents are placed in the public domain through leaking. “The library decided to block Wikileaks because applicable law obligates federal agencies to protect classified information,” says the library. “Unauthorized disclosures of classified documents do not alter the documents’ classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents.” [Matt Raymond, 12/3/2010]
The US has been conducting airstrikes against suspected terrorists in Yemen, but denying responsibility for them, according to cables provided by the whistleblower organization Wikileaks to the British daily The Guardian. The bombings are being attributed to local forces rather than the US in an attempt not to rile Arab public opinion. The Guardian breaks the story based on a number of cables provided by Wikileaks, which contain damning quotes. In a September 2009 cable Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh told US President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, John Brennan, “I have given you an open door on terrorism, so I am not responsible.” Following a strike that killed multiple civilians carried out by the US, but attributed to Yemenis in December 2009, US Ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche cabled Washington to say: “Yemen insisted it must ‘maintain the status quo’ regarding the official denial of US involvement. Saleh wanted operations to continue ‘non-stop until we eradicate this disease.’” Just over a week later, Saleh told General David Petraeus, then head of US Central Command, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” This prompted the deputy prime minister, Rashad al-Alimi, who was also at the meeting, to joke that he had just “lied” by telling parliament the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa (the alleged al-Qaeda strongholds) were American-made but deployed by Yemen. In addition to the secret bombings, the Yemen-related cables published by The Guardian on this day deal with Yemeni reluctance to meet some US demands, the inaccuracy of some US weapons, large payments to be made by the US to Yemen, the Saudi Arabian reaction to the strikes, poor counterterrorism training for staff at Yemeni airports, Yemen’s unwillingness to share information about Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, alleged to be an al-Qaeda bomb-maker, and poor counterterrorist infrastructure in Yemen. [Guardian, 12/3/2010] Before the “war on terror,” the last time the US bombed a country in secret was during the Vietnam War, when the US bombed Cambodia (see March 15-17, 1969). It was a New York Times report on the bombing that was one of the spurs behind President Richard Nixon’s formation of the later-infamous “plumbers” unit (see May 9-10, 1969).
The government of Tunisia prevents its citizens from accessing the website of the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, which has republished US embassy cables about the current Tunisian regime. The cables were first published earlier in the day by The Guardian (see December 7, 2010 and December 7, 2010), which obtained them from WikiLeaks. The content of the cables is controversial because they contain candid assessments of Tunisia’s situation and deep-seated public anger about the ruling elite grouped around President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and its opulent lifestyle. [Guardian, 12/1/2010]
An anonymous Kremlin official suggests that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange should receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Following US criticism of Assange after Wikileaks began to release US diplomatic cables, the official tells the state news agency RIA Novosti: “[N]on-governmental and governmental organizations should think of ways to help him. Perhaps he could be awarded a Nobel prize.” [Haaretz, 12/8/2010]
The Guardian publishes a US diplomatic cable about the situation in Zimbabwe. [Guardian, 12/8/2010; Atlantic Monthly, 12/28/2010] The newspaper obtained the cable, dated December 24, 2009, from the whistleblower organization Wikileaks. The text, drafted by the US embassy in Harare for the State Department in Washington, is based on a conversation with Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and relates attempts by forces opposed to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to ease him out of power. Tsvangirai complains about Mugabe dragging his feet over the implementation of agreements, admits that “his public statements calling for easing of sanctions” have come into conflict with “his private conversations saying they must be kept in place,” and observes that Mugabe “appears old and very tired.” The Guardian appears to think this last quote is the most interesting, as it is highlighted in yellow in the text of the cable and is also incorporated into the headline. [Guardian, 12/8/2010]
Wikileaks publishes a leaked US cable about the situation in Zimbabwe that will later become the subject of controversy. The cable is first published in the form of a bit torrent file and then on the organization’s website. Approximately one hour before Wikileaks publishes the cable, it had been published by The Guardian (see 9:30 p.m. December 8, 2010). [Atlantic Monthly, 12/28/2010]
US Vice President Joseph Biden calls Wikileaks founder Julian Assange a “high-tech terrorist” on NBC’s Meet the Press. The interview was taped two days previously, but is broadcast on this day. Asked if he sees Assange as closer to a hi-tech terrorist than the whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) in the 1970s, Biden replies: “I would argue it is closer to being a hi-tech terrorist than the Pentagon Papers. But, look, this guy has done things that have damaged and put in jeopardy the lives and occupations of people in other parts of the world.” Biden adds: “He’s made it more difficult for us to conduct our business with our allies and our friends. For example, in my meetings—you know I meet with most of these world leaders—there is a desire now to meet with me alone, rather than have staff in the room. It makes things more cumbersome—so it has done damage.” Asked if the administration could prevent further leaks, Biden comments, “The Justice Department is taking a look at that.” Biden goes on to suggest that if Assange facilitated the leak of the documents by colluding with the whilstleblower who provided them, thought to be former intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, he could be open to prosecution. “If he conspired to get these classified documents with a member of the US military that is fundamentally different than if someone drops on your lap… you are a press person, here is classified material.” Biden’s comments show an increased level of annoyance in the administration with Wikileaks. For example, the day before this interview was taped, Biden had expressed different sentiments. “I don’t think there’s any substantive damage,” he had commented then. [Guardian, 12/19/2010]
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley is forced to resign from his position under pressure from the White House following his criticism of the treatment of whistleblower Bradley Manning (see March 12, 2011). According to CNN, White House officials are “furious” about Crowley’s statement that the treatment of Manning is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” In his resignation statement, Crowley attributes his resignation to the media coverage of his remarks: “Given the impact of my remarks, for which I take full responsibility, I have submitted my resignation.” However, CNN adds, “Crowley has told friends that he is deeply concerned that mistreatment of Manning could undermine the legitimate prosecution of the young private.” In addition, Crowley thinks he has the administration’s best interests at heart because “he thinks any mistreatment of Manning could be damaging around the world to President Obama, who has tried to end the perception that the United States tortures prisoners.” [CNN, 3/13/2011]
President Obama says alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning “broke the law.” The remarks are made at a California fundraiser after Obama is interrupted by a group of protesters, who sing a song pleading for Manning’s release. Manning is currently in jail, but has not been found guilty. “I have to abide by certain classified information,” says Obama. “If I was to release stuff, information that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law.… We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate.… He broke the law.” Steven Aftergood, a classified information expert at the Federation of American Scientists, will criticize Obama’s statement. “The comment was not appropriate because it assumes that Manning is guilty,” says Aftergood. “The president got carried away and misspoke. No one should mistake a charge for a conviction—especially the nation’s highest official.” President of the National Institute of Military Justice and military law expert Eugene Fidell adds, “Commenting on Manning’s conditions of confinement is one thing—I would have strongly advised him to not comment about Manning’s guilt.” However, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor will say that Obama was in fact making a general statement that did not go specifically to the charges against Manning. “The president was emphasizing that, in general, the unauthorized release of classified information is not a lawful act,” he will say. “He was not expressing a view as to the guilt or innocence of Pfc. Manning specifically.” In addition, Aftergood and Fidell will agree that Obama’s remarks will probably not affect whether Manning receives a fair trial. “It’s not that hard to ensure that unlawful command influence hasn’t in fact prejudiced the right to a fair trial,” says Fidell. “If the case goes to a court marshal, the military court will have to make sure that none of the members of the military jury have been influenced by the president’s stated belief that Manning broke the law.” [Politico, 4/22/2011] The remarks will be echoed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey the next year (see March 10, 2012).
Instead of releasing €12 billion ($17.2 billion) to help the Greek government’s worsening economic and political crises, EU leaders assembling in Luxembourg for seven hours, from Sunday night into Monday morning, place more pressure on the Greek government after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) required Europe to guarantee Greece’s finances for the next 12 months. Rather than act with a sense of urgency, EU finance ministers expect the Greek Parliament and President George Papandreou to pass an austerity bill. Greece’s crises threaten to topple the euro and EU financial markets. [New York Times, 6/20/2011]
Eurozone policymakers fail to reach an agreement over the weekend on financial aid to bail out Greece, resulting in a sharp market drop on Monday morning as disappointed traders react to the leaders’ failure to guarantee the next €12 billion installment of Greece’s original bailout. Widespread speculation is that a disorganized Greek default will send Eurozone single-currency nations, as well as nations around the globe, into another panic. [Guardian, 6/20/2011]
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