United States News Digest
Israeli Company Purchase Under Review
An Israeli company's purchase of a U.S. military-related computer security company is under investigation by the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS). In early February, CFIUS began investigating the sale of Maryland-based Sourcefire, which provides computer security services to the Defense Department, to the Israeli-owned Check Point Software Technologies, after alarms were raised by U.S. agencies.
Objections to the sale of Sourcefire were raised by the Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security Departments, because Sourcefire produces software called "Snort," to prevent external monitoring or hacker-invasion of classified computers. Sourcefire, the Washington Post said March 2, "has deep roots in the National Security Agency," and its founder and Chief Technology officer, Martin Roesch, has been an NSA contractor.
Check Point, on the other hand, was built by Gil Schwed, described in Forbes magazine as an Israeli billionaire who served in the electronic intelligence arm of the Israeli Defense Forces. Another of Check Point's founders, vice chairman Marius Nacht, "earned a B.S. Cum Laude in Physics and Mathematics ... through an elite project of the Israeli Air Force...." Under the conditions of the sale, Check Point would own all of Sourcefire's patents, source-code blueprints for its software and the expertise of its employees.
Gonzales Attempts To Change His Testimony
Attorney General Gonzales testified about the NSA wiretapping program before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 6, but three weeks later, on Feb. 28, sent a six-page letter to Senate Judiciary chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa), seeking to "clarify" his testimony. According to Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), Gonzales now says that the Administration's legal analysis of the program "evolved over time," and gives a "strained explanation that his testimony was confined only to the program that the President had previously described, raising the question of whether there are other secret surveillance programs."
In a March 1 letter to Gonzales, Leahy notes that the Feb. 28 letter indicates that the Administration did not, at the outset of the surveillance program, consider it authorized by the Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force against al-Qaedacontrary to the Administration's arguments for the legality of the program since its existence was publicly disclosed, and contrary to Gonzales's own testimony.
This means, Leahy says, that this argument is simply an after-the-fact rationalization, not the considered analysis at the time the program was launched. After remarking that most of Gonzales's letter "is devoted to not providing answers" about the legal justifications of programs not confirmed by the President, Leahy poses a series of questions about surveillance programs other than those conducted by the NSA.
One of the clarifications offered in Gonzales's Feb. 28 letter, concerns his testimony about why the President's surveillance program doesn't provide for interception of communications in which all parties are within the United States (the program described by Bush has one party outside the U.S.), to which he testified that that particular legal analysis had not been done. Gonzales now states, "Since I was testifying only as to the legal basis of the activity confirmed by the president, I was referring only to the legal analysis set out in the January 19th paper, which addressed that activity, and therefore, of course, does not address the interception of purely domestic communications. however, I do not mean to suggest that no analysis beyond the January 19th paper had ever been conducted by the Department."
Gonzales' clarification has been widely interpreted as a tacit admission that there are more, broader domestic surveillance activities ongoing, than merely that admitted by the Administration to date.
Senate Votes To Pass Patriot Act
The Senate voted 95-4 on March 1 to approve changes to the proposed extension of the Patriot Act. A day earlier, the Senate had voted 84-15 to end the filibuster attempt led by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc), who argued that the "protections" added to the Patriot Act were cosmetic at best.
Senators Feingold, Robert Byrd (D-WVa), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), and Jim Jeffords (I-Vt), voted against the proposed changes. After expressing his disappointment over the vote result, Feingold began reading the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, before leaving the chamber. On Feb. 28, Byrd had warned that even with the new privacy protections added by the Administration, "the law has given the government too much power to pry.... This new proposal would erase too many of our freedoms guaranteed to the American people.... In essence, this legislation says the Bill of Rights is no more."
It's unclear whether a decision by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) to delay the scheduled vote on the Sununu compromise until March 7, will have any impact on the legislation's final approval.
More Signs of Republicans Breaking With Bush
The Washington Times reported on March 1 that Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss), a "former" friend of President Bush, said he was offended by Bush's declaration that he would veto any attempts to stop the transfer of port operations to Dubai Ports World. He said Bush "threatened me before I even knew the details of what was involved, or whether I was going to vote for the bill or not." Lott said his reaction was: "Okay, Big Boy. I will vote to override your veto."
The Hartford Courant March 1 headlined "GOP Center Shying Away from Bush." Connecticut Republican Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn) led an effort by 28 GOP colleagues to urge Bush to restore money cut from block grants to impoverished areas, and the Florida GOP House delegation, normally among Bush's strongest supporters (his brother Jeb Bush is governor), is not supporting Bush on the port sale. Florida Rep. Mark Foley said, "We aren't going to be PR flacks when they need us."
Federal Judge Dumps Rumsfeld's Personnel System
Federal Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, in a 77-page ruling issued on Feb. 27, found that the Pentagon's National Security Personnel System (NSPS) fails to ensure collective bargaining rights for civilian Defense Department employees, does not provide an independent third-party review of labor relations decisions, and would leave employees without a fair process for appealing disciplinary actions. "Taken as a whole, the design of these regulations appears to rest on the mistaken premise that Congress intended flexibility to trump collective bargaining rights," Sullivan wrote, noting that the new regulations "entirely eviscerate collective bargaining." Sullivan's ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed in November by the American Federation of Government Employees and 12 other Federal employees' unions, following on the heels of a similar ruling, last August, against the Department of Homeland Security. The NSPS was the result of Pentagon demands that Congress allow it to craft its own civilian personnel system in the name of "flexibility."
Waxman Says Subpoena Halliburton Documents
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif) called for subpoena of documents on Halliburton profits in Iraq, in a nine-page letter to House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.), printed in the New York Times Feb. 27. Waxman, the Ranking Member of the committee, outlined over $250 million in cost reimbursements, profits, and bonuses that a Halliburton subsidiary has received from the Army Corps of Engineers for billings that Defense Department auditors deemed unreasonable and unsupported. Waxman said in his letter that the Defense Department "has been withholding relevant documents about its compensation determinations from the Committee for almost a year."
The payments stem from Kellogg Brown & Root's no-bid Restore Iraq Oil contract. Waxman notes that the Pentagon's own "auditors identified $263 million in excessive and unsubstantiated costs, 'highway robbery,'" said cited independent experts.
Normally, the New York Times and Waxman note, 55-75% of the challenges by Pentagon auditors are sustained. The Corps sustained only 3.8% of the flagged KBR/Halliburton costs. "The contractor is not required to perform perfectly to be entitled to reimbursement," a Corps spokesman told the Times.