Saturday, August 31, 2013

Unwritten: Dear Mr. President 2009

February 12, 2009

Dear President Obama:

There are widespread reports that Phil Bredesen of Tennessee is being considered for a position with the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, DC.

As someone who has lived and voted in the state of Tennessee since 1996, I have witnessed several shifts in policy, both on the local and federal levels. I am a recipient of TennCare, Social Security, and I a member of the Daniels Class. Governor Phil Bredesen has no place in Washington. Please remove his name from consideration for a cabinet position with HHS.
Governor Bredesen is currently "holding off in spending" until he learns what federal aid will become available to the residents of Tennessee. I am urging you to take immediate action. PLEASE sign the economic recovery package before it is too late.

Even under of the best of economic circumstances, the state has often been reluctant to release state monies until they are in physical receipt of all federal matching dollars. This delays program implementation and compromises the integrity of the research design. Consistency is a critical component of effective program development and design.

Governor Bredesen had decided to hold back state funds until the final details of the stimulus package worked out, were finalized. Anyone who has followed the healthcare crisis in Tennessee will tell you, Bredesen is not the champion of healthcare we once hoped he would be.

If we hold off on making decisions about the state budgets until the details of this enormous, comprehensive package are finalized, our current programs will suffer as a result.

We cannot wait for a determination regarding federal funding before we to determine our state budget while before we of the programs we already are suffering financially.

Let me assure you that when it comes to withholding critical items like food, housing, social services, it adds up exponentially. Withholding medical care simply because of procedure and bureaucratic red tape, is shameful and cruel. The money is there, but it seems there should be a certain level of oversight and accountability if we expect it to be used effectively without delay and without excessive administrative delay and costs.

How do I know this? Because I used to work for the state during the time when they not only made the as they were transitioning to during the transition from I used to work for TennCare,

We need to have some level of accountability to ensure the timely and proper disbursement of funds. In my experience, there is little recourse for person's individuals who are caught up in the complicated payment arrangements, complicated language, and the systematic, procedural delay when it comes to the processing and payment of claims.

Let me personally assure you, that there is a very real human cost here as well... and unless there is immediate intervention, much more than just money will be lost. Please sign the bill before any more jobs, homes, and future are ruined by because help did not fast enough. Please release the funds, because we are running out of time.

I am 36, and my spinal cord is damaged from years of delayed, sub-standard medical treatment as I attempted to navigate a system that simply does not work. I owe the federal government $179,982.00 in student loans. When I am able to work, I make $10.46/hour as a substitute teacher in MNPS. That job comes with no security and no benefits.

I have an advanced master's degree from an Ivy League Institution. I am nine credits shy of a Ph.D. in public policy. Despite having maintained a 3.83 grade point average while earning my masters, and just over 3.2 during the three years I was enrolled full time in a doctoral program.

Despite having comparable coverage, the insurance company refused to give me COBRA and would not cover my pre-existing condition even through both Columbia and Vanderbilt Universities used the same underwriter for student medical insurance: Chickering US HealthScare.

I had no break in coverage, and even purchased a private HMO (Oxford) plan that cost several hundred dollars each month just so I could prevent becoming uninsurable before my 25th birthday.

Wrong. Not only did I continue to pay for all three policies, I also had to pay for treatment and STILL wound up on TennCare and Medicaid.

Despite doing all the "right" things, I was still unable to transfer benefits from one graduate school to the next.

When I was twenty-two years old I developed a medical condition, and it quickly became obvious to me that it would be a lifelong struggle to cope and adapt to having physical disability. I purchased three independent policies, and was still covered under a terminal liability clause under a major medical ERISA (federal) plan. As someone who also needed to turn to federal funds and intervention in a crisis, I know that if or when help does arrive, it usually too late.

Where is the safety net? Where is the American Dream that I so diligently chased after for so many years? What was the point of investing so much in a future that I can never enjoy? How can anyone justify spending so money much on an education that will never be used? I understand the how; I just don't understand why.

Maybe one of these days Vanderbilt University and the Department of Education will realize it might just be cheaper to hire me that harass me. I need a real paying job now, but with the skyrocketing unemployment rate, it looks as though I will have a lot of competition.

Throughout the three year process of filing medical appeal after the next, I acquired over 1/4 million dollars in debt in unreimbursed medical care and student loans. I was fortunate enough be able t keep my TennCare that time—only because the state mandated a 30 hour work week, because at 32 hours, your benefits kick in.

Even while in the states employ, I witnessed a pattern of behavior that was reckless and harmful to the citizens of Tennessee. In fact, there were so many changes during short time I was there the time I was there that even my colleagues in the office of consumer affairs did not know about them until we were a formal complaint had been filed by a consumer in crisis.

There was so much chaos in the system because consumers and were not given sufficient information and the state was completely unprepared to respond to the large number of people who their benefits terminated, limited, or transferred. It took several months to update the medical database used to verify insurance coverage, and many more to get that information in sync with pharmacies and providers. Recipients were left in the dark, probably because it was easier that way.

Although I doubt many people, I Tennessee would the harsh policies enacted during the Bredesen administration, his endless assault on the state's poor and infirm is not the kind of man we want in DC. He has demonstrated a wanton disregard for the welfare of his own constituents should not be rewarded with a cabinet position in the new administration.

Now, again, I face losing my healthcare coverage once again. Please do something, and do it quick. I would not wish this experience on my worst enemy,

Unemployment rates in the state of Tennessee are at an all-time high, yet welfare roles have remained stable. This tells us that despite the financial crisis and sad state of the Tennessee economy, people are not able to access emergency aid that we would expect people to receive in times of economic hardship.

What will happen when the state begins the 150,000 members of the Daniels Class? DHS has not been able to process the applications already on file. As the unemployment rate continues to go up, we need to be sure that applications for emergency assistance are processed within a reasonable period.

I have no idea how they intend t handle the growing number of unemployed, uninsured, people in need of emergency assistance given that they are already overwhelmed by the number of applications already on file. Is it a really a good time to start the recertification of the 150,000 members of the Daniels Class.?

Let us hope not, or we are all in trouble.

Sincerely yours,

Elyssa D. Durant
Nashville, TN

Sent from my BlackBerry® RIM Job

Sympathy for the Landlord

Sympathy for the Landlord

Lauren Smiley | Photo: Brittany McLaren | August 27, 2013

The Righteous Landlord sits on the deck of his two-story Ashbury Heights stucco, an august perch that a career in San Francisco real estate will afford. The vista of the Mission and Bernal Heights stretching out to the bay is deceptively peaceful, but inside those pastel row houses, a frenzied rental market shifts and pulses and seeks its limit: $2,200 studios and $3,500 one-bedrooms; U-Hauls moving activists and young parents to the Peninsula and the East Bay; tech kids pulling up behind them in Zipvans loaded with Design Within Reach repro Eames loungers and vintage foosball tables. A few miles away, the S.F. Rent Board is inundated with tenant petitions against $2,000-a-month rent hikes, and bike messengers deliver another pile of eviction notices every day. On this sunny summer morning, the Great Recession and the real estate crash that followed it feel like aeons ago. The city is changing: You need only check Craigslist or Zumper to see it being rented out to the highest bidder, unit by unit.

For landlords, all this means opportunity. As big money takes over the city with a voracity and finality that make the dot-com boom seem almost quaint, there's a rich vein of gold in them thar hills—or at least in the bay-windowed apartment buildings that cover them.

Yet this landlord, 65 years old, gray-haired and a little paunchy in a T-shirt and shorts, insists that he is not like the infamous property owners (the tenant-gouging Sangiacomos, the Lembis and their gun-wielding thugs) that we know and hate. He supports rent control to keep the city diverse, he says. Tears come to his eyes as he waxes on about providing decent housing for ordinary folks: "It's the right thing to do. Everyone always says, what's in it for me?" He criticizes owners who rent out their units on Airbnb—taking apartments out of the rental stock and churning through a different set of tenants every week "doesn't serve the long-term residents of a community," he says.

In 19 years, the Righteous Landlord has displaced just two people from his 12-unit Richmond property—and then only temporarily, to do renovations. If anything, this landlord seems unusually hands-on and proactive: He seismically retrofitted his entire building 10 years before the Board of Supervisors required it. Yes, he is disliked by a tenant whose bike he has banned from the garage. True, he's a little OCD about dirt on the hallway carpet. But he has also put through several rounds of renovations totaling more than $500,000, including installation of safety-glass door panels, motion-sensor lights in the laundry room, and 16 surveillance cameras. He sweeps the sidewalks and vacuums top-to-bottom every week. He is, in short, a real-life manifestation of a kind of San Francisco land- lord we have come to believe no longer exists. Most of us would happily endure 11 months of fog to snag one of his units, if any were available and we could swing the deposit. Will he at least allow his name to be used as an example of a good-guy landlord, a type thought to be "as rare as a unicorn who doesn't poop rainbows," as one Twitter wag put it?

Absolutely not.

The landlord was quoted once before—on a story that had nothing to do with real estate—and it brought him no end of grief. Speaking out on a topic as toxic as the rent wars would be plain stupid. On the San Francisco Tenants Union website, after all, landlords are represented by a GIF of the Monopoly game's Rich Uncle Pennybags being pounded on the head by the people's fist. When TV journalist Scott James confessed in the New York Times that he preferred leaving his Castro in-law unit vacant to dealing with the city's tenant laws, an online commenter told him to "cry me a river" and someone emailed him a computer virus in revenge.

So the Righteous Landlord's reticence is understandable. He knows that cynics will inevitably see all those capital improvements as a sneaky way to get around rent laws (one longtime tenant in a one-bedroom, for example, is paying $273 for improvements on top of $680 in rent). Instead of praising him for protecting his property from vandals and earthquakes, they'll accuse him of spying on his tenants and sticking them with the bill. He knows the best course of action is to keep his head down and his mouth shut, especially now, when the city's landlords are more reviled than ever. "You're damned if you do," he tells me, "and damned if you don't."

It wasn't so long ago that the mom-and-pop landlord was a beloved San Francisco icon, like Rice-A-Roni and cable cars. The archetype was Anna Madrigal in Armistead Maupin's TalesoftheCity, the mysterious, ever-tolerant landlady who curated her Russian Hill building like a museum of eccentrics. It is probably not a coincidence that this sunny vision was published in 1978, a year before rent control was passed.

Back in 2007, I was a (slightly) more worldly version of another Maupin archetype: the wide-eyed Midwesterner who moves to San Francisco to seek fame or fortune (or, in my case, to take a six-month internship). I crashed for a few weeks at my sister's $900 studio on Nob Hill, but it had just been acquired by the notorious Lembi-owned CitiApartments, which bought out every possible tenant, my sister included, with plans to convert the building into corporate condos. Mercifully, I was rescued by a Mrs. Madrigal type on Craigslist: a Muni driver paying the mortgage on the Mission Victorian where she had grown up. Saying that she had "a good feeling" about me and without asking for references or a credit report, she offered me a bedroom with hardwood floors, an ivory fireplace, and my own bathroom. Rent: $705 a month. Ha. Ha. Ha.

Then Zynga, Square, and Pinterest moved in, and there went the neighborhood. If a pot-growing, gender-bending landlady with a heart of gold embodies the city we used to be, this summer's headlines offered villains who seemed to reflect the city we've become: "the landlords from hell." A software developer named Kip Macy and his wife, Nicole, were facing four years each in state prison for terrorizing tenants in the Clementina Street building that they had hoped to convert into condos—threatening their renters with deportation, soaking their bed sheets in ammonia, even sawing a chunk out of one man's living room floor, Wile E. Coyote–style. See, the story seemed to suggest, you welcome them to mid-Market with tax breaks one day, and they're cutting through your floor joists the next.

Because everyone who rents in San Francisco these days—more than 60 percent of the people who live here—is feeling so precarious, landlords are the city's de facto scapegoat. A recent Bay Guardian op-ed urged people to stop complaining about techies and instead train their crosshairson the "profit-gobbling real estate companies and speculators" that it argued are at the root of gentrification—not just reacting to this money-flush market, but driving it. So jaded are we now that if Mrs. Madrigal were still in that Barbary Lane three-story, we'd expect her to evict Mouse for not being on the original lease and then jack up the rent to $4,000. (According to Zumper, Russian Hill just surpassed South Beach as the priciest neighborhood in the city for one-bedrooms.)

But if you actually talk to landlords—if you listen to their stories at their monthly meetings, if you read their frustrated comments on SFGate—you can't help wondering: Did money-grubbing mom-and-pops make San Francisco this way, or did something else skew and distort the city we used to know? Why do we expect a class of largely small-business types—ordinary men and women with health problems, kids to put through college, and retirement nest eggs obliterated in the recession—to provide a public service by keeping the city not just affordable but with its vintage charm intact, when owners of newer luxury buildings and commercial properties are under no such obligation?

The San Francisco rental market has become coldly Darwinian—and the only way that maladapted finches like me (our survival skills derived from degrees in liberal arts, not computer science) have managed to hang on this long is by scoring one of those endangered species preserves known as rent-controlled apartments. The single, overwhelming downside is that we can never, ever leave the preserve, or we'll asphyxiate in the Google bus's dust. But is it really fair to ask small-time landlords to cut us a break just because we're creative and nostalgic and we like hardwood floors?

Page two: Do we over-burden mom-and-pop landlords?  

We burden mom-and-pop landlords with all kinds of expectations and baggage that we don't impose on more corporate types. That's partly because they are, well, moms and pops, with all the psychodrama that those words imply, and partly because they are such a prominent feature of the rental picture here. A 2003 study (old, but still the most recent solid data available) found that 75 percent of landlords in the city owned fewer than 10 units; 42 percent lived in a building that they rented out. They were also much more likely to manage their own rental properties than landlords nationwide, increasing the potential for friction with their tenants, and they held on to those buildings longer—three decades was not unusual. An estimated 80 percent of rent-controlled properties in San Francisco are mom-and-pop owned.

Mrs. Madrigal and Kip and Nicole Macy may represent the extremes of our collective fantasies and fears, but Jackie Tom is closer to the complicated reality. Tom's day job is running Rentals in SF, a high-end leasing agency (she was named the San Francisco Apartment Association's 2009 Leasing Agent of the Year), but she also owns 30 rental units (which earned her the same group's recognition as 2010 Independent Owner of the Year). From her perspective, not surprisingly, "it's a great market! It's a really great market!" That's not to say that she's 100 percent thrilled by the nearly 10 percent uptick in prices last year. The new-normal rents—$1,900 for what she calls a "dark cave" of a basement one-bedroom in Alamo Square (bid up by $700 by a horde of hungry applicants), $3,500 for a pet-friendly one-bedroom in NoPa—exclude many deserving potential tenants, Tom admits. "I know schoolteachers, dog walkers who can't afford to live in the city, so I'm kind of torn with it. I have a soft spot for those guys because they're good people too." Eighteen years ago, Tom might have been among the excluded. A native of the city with a business degree from San Francisco State, she was earning just $35,000 a year at her data sales job and she had a Great Dane—dog owners are a category of renters that many landlords automatically dismiss. Still, she was hardworking and very smart, managing to buy her first property at age 30 with a $6,000 credit card advance and other loans. She never doubted the wisdom of her overall investments, though sometimes the financial strain felt unbearable: "I remember lying in bed thinking, I've lost it, I've lost my shirt."

These days, Tom's job puts her on the front line of the San Francisco culture wars. Some of her landlord clients don't like tech workers: "They think they're arrogant and make too much money and don't appreciate the [living] space," she says. She, on the other hand, has no problem with techies. For her own rentals, "I tend to look at all the applications and pick the people with pets," she says, ever the dog enthusiast. She also gravitates toward people who "love my units. Those make the best tenants." And of course, they must have the income—she looks for at least three times rent. "I go through their bios and pick those who stood out to me and then run credit. I pick tenants based on total overall package."

For the unit she posted online in early July, she was feeling especially choosy: It was the basement studio in her own home, a Lower Haight Victorian. Of her future tenants, she told me, "I don't want to come home feeling like, 'Oh God. They're there.' I want to like them." So she set the rent under-market—at $2,100—to widen the applicant pool.

It was a fine idea, but also perhaps unintentionally cruel, raising vain hopes in many candidates who never stood a chance. More than 40 of them gathered for the 15-minute open house as if for a Banana Republic model casting call: designer glasses, red chinos, messenger bags. As soon as they walked in the door, the haggling began. "What if I wrote you a check right now for $2,400?" one woman asked.

Within a day, Tom had received applications from 16 hopefuls. They offered up to $300 more than the listed rent, leading Tom to conclude, "Anytime you price it below, it comes right back to market."

One prospect, Jon, called to say that he really liked the place, his tone friendly but not pushy. He was a techie with a high income and good credit—and he had a dog. Tom decided to check his references first.

But when I emailed her a few weeks later, I was surprised—or not—to discover that Jon hadn't gotten the place after all. "I got an offer to rent it furnished.... Much easier for me," Tom wrote me. "A really nice guy here on business, moving in next week." He's a dog lover who happens to earn $150,000 a year; he'll pay $3,400 a month. "I got so busy suddenly, sick mom, busy market, that one less thing I had to do [moving furniture] was very attractive," she added. What Tom didn't have to say is that short-term rentals tend to be far more lucrative than regular ones. In six months, she'll be free once again to charge whatever the market will bear.

Any landlord of a San Francisco property knows why finding a high-paying tenant is so important: Once someone is in, it's nearly impossible to get him out, and the landlord loses more and more money on that apartment with each passing year. Cue the rent control debate (though because so many S.F. voters are renters, it's not a debate that gets very far). The first rent control laws, inspired by the aforementioned Sangiacomos, seem astonishingly pro-landlord by today's standards—for example, owner-occupied buildings of four units or fewer were exempted. In 1994, price controls were extended to those mom-and-pop properties. That's when landlord-tenant relations really turned ugly.

Many tenants will tell you, rightly, that there's no way they could afford to live in the city today if it weren't for the ordinance that regulates rent increases for tenants in properties built before 1979—some 171,609 units, or about 70 percent of the rental stock in San Francisco. This year's allowable increase is 1.9 percent. "With the prices here now, Chinatown would not be Chinatown, the Mission wouldn't be the Mission, without rent control," says Delene Wolf, the Rent Board's executive director.

Yet landlords—as well as respected economists on both the right and left—counter that this protection actually hurts many tenants. Artificial price controls encourage people to hold on to their units for dear life, freezing up the housing supply for the rest of us. When a unit becomes vacant, landlords often try to make up for lost income by charging as much as possible, further inflating the market. And rent control doesn't discriminate by income level or neighborhood, so a programmer lucky enough to have scored an art deco Nob Hill flat after the 2008 crash is benefiting just as much as, if not more than, the grocery worker struggling to keep her Outer Excelsior home. (One survey of city tenants found that 19 percent of rent-controlled units were occupied by people earning more than $100,000 a year.) "You can't go to the deli on the corner and say, 'I've lived in the neighborhood for 25 years—can I buy a burrito for $1.99?'" says Bill Alvarado, a landlord who nearly went broke after inheriting his parents' two-unit property in Cole Valley—and its tenant (he averted disaster by selling). "With a fixed sales price, you can't run a business with rising costs."

Then there are the city's tight eviction controls. In most other parts of the Bay Area, landlords are like employers in a right-to-work state—they can fire a tenant at will. In San Francisco, tenants with rent control are the equivalent of union workers—they can be booted only for "just cause": for example, failure to pay rent, habitual late payments, breach of lease, or being a nuisance. The law also provides a couple of "no fault" reasons to evict: The owner or his family want to move in, or the owner wants to take his units off the rental market altogether as permitted under the 1985 Ellis Act. In both of those scenarios, the landlord is required to pay out a city-mandated relocation fee. Disabled and senior tenants have additional protections, so in some cases they're all but impossible to kick out. The effect of these laws is all kinds of distortion in the market. Landlords, for instance, whisper that the provision meant to protect the disabled and the elderly from being evicted discourages property owners from renting to them in the first place. (Prospective tenants who are lawyers also get the shaft.) Owners have an incentive to try to force out tenants who cost them money—maybe torturing them with nonstop construction or barraging them with trumped-up eviction notices to see what happens. (Indeed, attempted evictions are at an 11-year high—1,757 in the year ending in March—though still 16 percent below 2001–02.) One elderly property manager I meet at the Rent Board admits to installing cameras to catch tenants in violation of their lease. "The tenants don't like 'em, but if you don't like it, move!" he tells me. Other landlords just send notices to tenants informing them that their rent is being raised by an (illegal) amount, counting on the tenants' ignorance or fear to keep them from protesting. "Most tenants do what their landlords tell them to do," says Ted Gullicksen of the San Francisco Tenants Union. But one of the more dismaying things about the rent laws is that they can force perfectly decent people—like a mild-mannered retired firefighter from Las Vegas named Al Alcalde, whom I met this spring—into positions that make them look, and feel, like jerks.

Page three: Does rent control foster cheating?

Alcalde is no real estate shark—he's just the executor of his deceased uncle's estate, charged with selling the old man's Portola district house. When Alcalde went to take a look at the property last September, he discovered an off-the-books tenant: a shambling 69-year-old retiree named Frank Angelos who said that his rent was $500 a month. Alcalde's realtor told him that an elderly tenant could bring down the selling price by $100,000, and Angelos promised to leave as soon as he found a new place. But months later he was still at the house, and Alcalde was on the hook for mortgage payments, insurance, utilities, and taxes. Under city law, not having a formal rental agreement isn't grounds for eviction. "I was like, 'Oh my God, it's a nightmare!'" Alcalde says.

However, single-family homes are exempt from rent control for tenants who took up residency after 1996. So Alcalde raised the rent to $2,600, and Angelos protested to the Rent Board. At a hearing in May, Alcalde offered to give Angelos—who now revealed that he was suffering from cancer, which Alcalde didn't know—another 90 days, rent-free, to move. "There's no animosity here," Alcalde's attorney said. "I don't want to get too Godfather-ish about it—it's just business." Family members urged Alcalde to change the locks or kick Angelos out. "I've thought of a lot of things," he tells me, "but you can't do it. You'll get in trouble. I understand his situation, too—he's elderly, he can't just leave." Finally, in July, he and Angelos struck a bargain: Angelos would relocate to a new place in South San Francisco, and Alcalde would throw in $4,500 in relocation money and a 1989 Ford. The house will fetch a lot more than it would have with Angelos living there, and Alcalde expects to pocket a broker's fee. But that's all he'll get—per his uncle's wishes, the proceeds of the sale will go to a cousin in Peru.

It's not PC to say so in this anti-landlord city, but plenty of tenants lie and cheat too. Two can play at that game. On a May morning at the Rent Board, Mohamed Ahmed, a gray-suited Century 21 broker from Hillsborough accompanied by a lawyer and a typographer, sits across a table from Ethel M., a worn-looking woman in her 50s with her boyfriend at her side. These hearings often end up playing out like reality TV, and this one is no exception.

In 2002, Ahmed bought the Excelsior building where Ethel's elderly mother had lived since the '60s (and where Ethel had been raised). Ahmed learned in March that the mother had died back in January, though he'd gotten a $572 rent check for February. ("Somehow [she] came out of the grave to send me the rent check and pull the wool over my eyes," Ahmed quips.) When he called, instead of acknowledging her mother's death, Ethel pretended to be the old woman, Ahmed claims. Later she said that she had been living with her mother, but because she wasn't on the lease, she wasn't eligible for the rent-controlled rate. When she didn't pay the April rent on time, Ahmed won an eviction. Then he raised the rent to $1,800, effective in July. Now Ethel is trying to negotiate. What if she agrees to pay $1,800 and first and last months' deposit, her boyfriend asks. Can she stay? "No," Ahmed responds with a slashing movement of his hand. After the hearing, Ethel turns away from the table in tears.

As a lowly tenant myself, I find my natural sympathies tending toward Team Ethel. She seems to have had a rough time of it in life, and the hearing is hard to watch. But when I call Ahmed for his side, he insists that Ethel's impersonation of her mother is only part of the story, and he rattles off a laundry list of complaints from other tenants. "Get the notion out of your head that my desire to get this woman out of there is just to get market rent," he declares. "When you have a bad tenant, it's like a marriage—you don't want to be with them." The Rent Board ended up siding with Ahmed, and the sheriff evicted Ethel in June. "I'm an immigrant, and I came here with nothing," Ahmed tells me. "The world has been fair to me, and I try to be fair." To him, Ethel was the one not playing by the rules.

If every scheming tenant was just trying to hold on to her childhood home, it would be one thing. But a lot of cheaters—for example, a friend of mine whom I'll call Anne—hardly qualify as desperate. Last fall, Anne decided to move her fledgling business out of her home and use a colleague's one-bedroom in a great neighborhood ($950 a month) as a shared office. There was just one problem: The colleague was now living elsewhere, which meant that the flat was no longer her primary residence and, thus, that she was no longer entitled to rent control. "It was totally illegal, what we were doing," Anne admits.

She figures that the landlord must have gotten wise to the ruse after a maintenance check, because he scheduled another inspection. The women scrambled to make it look like Anne's friend still lived there—bedding on a blow-up mattress, cosmetics on the dresser, wine on the kitchen counter. "It was like a staging," Anne says. The landlord wasn't fooled, though, and he bumped the rent to $2,500. "There are so many people looking for places to live. I don't blame him," Anne says.

Many owners have been cracking down on renters by trawling Airbnb—subleasing your place for less than 30 days is illegal in the city. (Never mind that lots of landlords use Airbnb too.) Another common ploy, as recent transplant Ginger C. discovered, is the gouging of roommates by the main tenant (the one on the lease)—also illegal. Ginger found herself in this position when, apartment-hunting from New York, she spotted a Craigslist ad for a room in a three-bedroom Pacific Heights carriage house. Rent: $2,000 a month. She skyped with the "master tenant," Cynthia M., a blond beauty who is a regular on the gala circuit, often on the arm of a well-known society scion, and wired Cynthia $6,000 in rent and deposits. "The market in New York is also really hot," Ginger says, "so I'm like, well, if that's what I need to do..."

But things quickly went awry. After just a month in the city, Ginger suddenly found herself unemployed. Cynthia, who worked from home as a stylist, banned her from the apartment during the day, forcing her to search online job listings from a nearby café. When Ginger asked to see the rent check, Cynthia told her that her father handled payments and that she didn't know the total. (That's unlawful, by the way: A master tenant is required to disclose the full amount.)

Finally, Ginger spotted a notice revealing that the total rent was $3,666, of which Cynthia's share came to a measly $406. (Cynthia claimed that she was actually paying $50 more.) Because the apartment was rent-controlled, Cynthia was also benefiting financially from the landlord's inability to charge market prices. (The going rate for three-bedrooms in the neighborhood is $6,000 and climbing.) Ginger moved out and filed a Rent Board petition against Cynthia in hopes of recovering some of her money.

At the June hearing, Cynthia argued that the rent she was charging was fair because she had furnished the whole apartment, including Ginger's room. "I feel...just a little bit of harassment," she complained. But the Rent Board sided with Ginger, ordering Cynthia to reimburse her ex-roommate to the tune of $3,774.

The most telling part of the story is that Cynthia didn't lose her sweet deal. In San Francisco, overcharging subtenants may be illegal, but it's not grounds for eviction or even for raising the master tenant's rent. After Ginger moved out, she spotted a Craigslist ad for her old room. The ideal candidate had to like labradoodles, fresh flowers, and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The posted rent: $2,000, later lowered to $1,750. The amount that the Rent Board ruled was fair: $1,371.

Page four: In search of the perfect landlord.

Back in 1990, when rent control was just entering its adolescence, Melanie Griffith and Michael Keaton made a cheesy film called Pacific Heights with a plot so pro-landlord that it might have been written by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. (The IMDb blurb: "A couple works hard to renovate their dream house and become landlords to pay for it. Unfortunately, one of their tenants has plans of his own.") Two decades later, I'm struck by the number of small-time landlords I've met who started out with the best of intentions, only to find themselves morphing into versions of the Griffith character and her hapless husband, with the migraines and legal bills to prove it.

A writer whom I'll call Sharon owns a three-flat building in Glen Park with her ex. For years, they've lived in adjacent units in an oh-so-civilized arrangement to share custody of their son. They used to rent the remaining flat to a geneticist and his wife. Relations were "very cordial, very friendly," Sharon recalls—she and the wife sometimes had lunch together. But as Sharon's son got older, she realized that they needed more space, so the tenants had to go. Cozy relations soon froze into a cold war, the wife stopped talking to her, and she had to come up with $9,000 in relocation costs to get the couple out. "After that, I'm like, I don't think I want to get that close to tenants ever again," she says.

Or take a first-time home buyer—pseudonym Carol—who works for the city government. Inspired, of course, by visions of living in Tales of the City harmony with artistic neighbors, she rented out the second condo in her Lower Haight duplex to a friend who worked as a designer at Levi's. Then, when the friend asked for a break in the rent, Carol hastily agreed before crunching the numbers and realizing that she wouldn't be able to cover her costs. "I readily admit, my husband and I are not finance people," she says. Before long, she was facing foreclosure. Meanwhile, the friend stuck her with an unauthorized subtenant who proved to be a nuisance and then refused to leave, costing Carol $50,000 in lawyer's fees and lost rent to get him out. After that, she sold off the second unit, vowing, "I never, ever will be a landlord ever again."

She's not the only one: Some 35,000 rental units were vacant in 2010—an unknown number taken off the market by the fed-up Scott Jameses of the city—exacerbating the city's housing crunch.

Meanwhile, San Francisco landlords are skewing much more corporate and faceless. As the biggest wave of new construction in recent memory comes to fruition, thousands of units will soon open up from Market Street to SoMa to Treasure Island to Hunters Point. The new construction may help ease the rental market by siphoning off the luxury tenants who compete with us mere mortals on Craigslist. Although developers are required to provide some affordable housing in the mix, the vast majority of the new units will not be subject to city rent or eviction controls—and you can be sure that the mom-and-pop landlords of pre-1979 buildings are griping about the double standard.

Still, not everyone is complaining. Michael Castleman is a sixtysomething freelance health reporter turned mystery novelist. An earlier novel of his, A Killing in Real Estate, features a couple who've outgrown their Mission place but can't afford to move. In real life, Castleman was a lot savvier, putting his savings toward a five-unit building near 17th and Dolores in 1991, and then, after the dot-com crash, picking up a property at 16th and Valencia and another run-down building filled with immigrant tenants on Albion Street, near Guerrero. He's figured out how a creative type can afford San Francisco: by becoming a landlord himself.

But far from trying to kick out his tenants with rent control, Castleman asks them what they want fixed. When a unit does come vacant, he'll price it at 10 to 15 percent below market. "I don't invest to maximize my financial return," he says, sounding like a modern-day Mr. Madrigal. "I invest to maximize my personal happiness. A good return is an element of happiness, but there are other elements." Mainly, he wants rental income without hassles. If tenants know that they're getting a deal, they're less likely to complain about little things. Does this market tempt Castleman to reconsider his strategy? "Of course," he admits. "But I don't want to be an asshole. I could make a couple thousand dollars more a month, but for the couple thousand dollars, I'd be buying a lot of headaches. I'd rather use my time writing fiction."

The truth is that, for all the temptations and market pressures, there are plenty of Righteous Landlords still out there trying to keep the San Francisco we know and love from slipping from our collective grasp. Even Sarah Shortt, executive director of the pro-renter Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, concedes that this is so. When I ask her for referrals to mom-and-pops who don't gouge their tenants, she makes me swear that I'm not writing an anti–rent control screed. Then she agrees to "rustle up some anomalies."

She doesn't have to look far. As it turns out, Shortt, one of the most vocal defenders of tenants' rights and a sworn enemy of landlords, big and small, has a good-guy landlord of her own. A year ago, she moved into a rent-controlled one-bedroom near 22nd and Valencia, one of the most coveted locations in the city. She says that the landlord raised the existing rent a mere $100, to a very below-market $1,250 (a one-bedroom down the street goes for $3,150). He told another tenant who offered up to $900 a month that he'd be satisfied with just $800. "This guy is super compassionate and human," she says, "and also maybe a little crazy." He may be crazy, but he's no fool: When I call him to find out more, he doesn't want to say a word.


Originally published in the September issue of San FranciscoHave feedback? Email us at
Follow us on Twitter @sanfranmag

(via Instapaper)


The Torturer, the Spy, and the Journalist: How the U.S. Jailed the Waterboarding Whistleblower

The Torturer, the Spy, and the Journalist: How the U.S. Jailed the Waterboarding Whistleblower

enhanced interrogations

The Torturer, the Spy, and the Journalist: How the U.S. Jailed the Waterboarding Whistleblower

By Tyler Bass

John Kiriakou, an ex-CIA officer, was the first official to speak publicly about waterboarding, and was later convicted for revealing the name of a colleague. (Image by Troy Page / Alex Pasternack)


A decade ago, long before Edward Snowden trolled the depths of a classified government surveillance program, John Kiriakou was learning about a government practice as secret and troubling, and a lot more gruesome. 

On the night of March 28, 2002, Mr. Kiriakou, then a decorated officer at the Central Intelligence Agency, led a team that raided a suspicious house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, and made America's first post-9/11 capture of a major al-Qaeda leader, Abu Zubaydah. After a shoot-out that almost killed him, Zubaydah was rushed to a hospital and nursed back to life by the CIA. During subsequent interrogations at a "black site" in Thailand and at the Guantanamo Bay prison, he was waterboarded eighty-three times.

In January of this year, the 15-year CIA veteran was sentenced to two and a half years in prison on charges of revealing classified information, including the name of a covert CIA operative. But he and his supporters claim that the government's case against him was being built in secret since he began speaking to the press about waterboarding.

His prosecution, they say, was really payback for disclosing a secret program, and one that Kiriakou would argue was ineffective and wrong. The disclosure of a CIA officer's name was illegal, but given numerous other leaks, he said it did not merit the government's aggressive approach. "I've never believed my case was about a leak," the father of five said in January after his sentencing. "I've always believed my case was about torture."

In 2007, during an interview with ABC News, Kiriakou described Zubaydah's initial treatment, and so became the first person to reveal the CIA's waterboarding program. While his knowledge of the waterboarding program was second-hand, at the time he offered reluctant support, though he would discover later that he had been lied to about its efficacy. But in 2007, in his soft tenor, Kiriakou told reporter Brian Ross that Americans and Congress needed to be talking about this stuff. "Because I think as a country this is something we have to decide that we want to do as a matter of policy. It shouldn't be secret. It should be part of a national conversation."

ABC News interview with John Kiriakou, 2007


Kiriakou is considered to be the sixth government employee to be charged with disclosing secret information under the Obama administration, which, despite the President's signing of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act last year, has carried out more whistleblower indictments than any other administration in history. (Snowden was the seventh whistleblower to be charged with spilling state secrets.) 

"The people who ordered the torture, the lawyers who justified it, the people who carried it out, and those who destroyed the videotapes of it—none of them are being held accountable," Jesselyn Radack, John Kiriakou's attorney, said recently. "The only person going to jail in connection with this is the person who blew the whistle on it. In fact, if John had actually tortured someone, I don't think he would be going to jail."

In a June 16th letter from Loretto, Pennsylvania, where Kiriakou is a few months into his two year sentence, the ex-spy made clear his contempt for the FBI, which had tried and failed to entrap him in a 2010 sting operation. He also made a more unexpected claim: that he wasn't just the victim of political vengeance, but of a journalist who failed to protect him. 

"Cole emailed me in late 2007 saying that he would 'never reveal your identity to anyone at any time,'" Kiriakou wrote, referring to a former ABC News producer named in the indictment as Journalist A, and whose real name is Matthew Cole. "That was a lie. He never had any intent to protect my identity … In the end, Cole was a coward who sought only to protect himself. I have nothing but contempt for him."

According to Kiriakou and to government evidence, it was Cole who, while working on a book about a disastrous CIA rendition in Italy, asked Kiriakou if he could identify the CIA officer in charge of the rendition program. Kiriakou said he couldn't remember. The next day, he wrote back with the name, saying "It came to me last night." Cole then sent that name to a defense investigator at Guantanamo Bay. When the name ended up in a classified court filing, the FBI's attentions were aroused. 

Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times under US custody


"My guy came through with his memory," Cole wrote in an August 19, 2008 email to a Guantanamo investigator, as he passed along the name. It's unclear how the government obtained this email, but it was this final piece of evidence that linked the leaks to Kiriakou.

Kiriakou insists he thought Fletcher had retired; in fact, he was then working overseas. He also insists that in giving the name to a Guantanamo investigator, Cole had violated a verbal agreement and flouted the standard practice of protecting sources. 

Cole, who now works as an investigative reporter for NBC News and has become an advocate for digital security among journalists, would not comment on the indictment, why he provided exclusive information to Guantánamo Bay investigators, or how the government obtained his correspondence with those investigators. But in an email to Motherboard, he rejected Kiriakou's claims.

"I am neither confirming nor denying John Kiriakou was a source of mine," Cole wrote by email. "Any assertion or claim by Mr. Kiriakou or anyone else that I gave up his name or identity or as a source of information is wrong, incorrect and misinformed. I want this to be abundantly clear. At NO time, ever, in any way, have I ever shared John Kiriakou's name vis-a-vis his role as a possible source of mine. I am not doing so now."

Amidst increasing government scrutiny of leakers and worries about clandestine electronic surveillance, the Kiriakou case raises difficult questions about the role that journalists play in the possession and release of secret information. While Bradley Manning was acquitted last month of "aiding the enemy"—a charge journalists said could have had massive repercussions for press freedom—Kiriakou's story points to the risks that leakers face in speaking to journalists and that journalists face as they try to protect their sources.

Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that James Risen, a Times reporter, may be compelled to testify against former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. Risen has sworn he will go to jail rather than testify about his sources. Sterling himself faces prosecution for having allegedly provided details of the CIA's ill-fated Operation Merlin, chronicled in Risen's 2006 State of War. Critics of the CIA operation say it may have had the counterproductive effect of accelerating the progress of Iran's nuclear program.

Under the Espionage Act of 1917, which was passed shortly after the U.S. entered World War I, even private citizens who don't work for the government but who obtain classified information through unofficial channels can be charged with disclosing it. The government has never filed such a case against a journalist, although in an indictment revealed this year against a State Department leaker, it named James Rosen, a reporter for Fox News, as a criminal co-conspirator with one of his alleged sources. In 2005, prosecutors filed espionage charges against two ex-lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, but the prosecution was abandoned in 2009.

As Guardian correspondent Glenn Greenwald faces accusations that he himself has violated the Espionage Act and blackmailed the government, journalists are facing new challenges in their quest to publish secrets and protect sources. The destruction of hard drives at the Guardian's offices in London was one vivid example of those challenges; more extreme still was the detention at Heathrow airport of Greenwald's partner, David Miranda over the weekend, under the UK's Terrorism Act—a possibly unlawful act the US knew about in advance.

Illustration of Camp X-Ray by Molly Crabapple


Plugging the leak

The hunt for Kiriakou and the people he spoke to began at Guantanamo Bay. The Obama administration has called waterboarding torture; torture is illegal in the United States, but under legal provisions during the Bush administration, it became standard operating procedure. In 2010, Justice Department officials overruled a recommendation by its ethics office to pursue the Bush-era lawyers who sanctioned the tactics, and decided not to charge C.I.A. officials for destroying videotapes of the interrogations.

Last August, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and another in Iraq in 2003, thus ending the government's chance to criminally prosecute any individuals involved in harsh interrogations. The department later presented a Distinguished Service Award to prosecutors involved in the investigation. 

Ethics aside, the effectiveness of the interrogation program is still debated among CIA officials, while a 60,000 page Congressional report on the practices remains classified.

But even if waterboarding can instill intense fear, former government officials dismiss it as counterproductive. "There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn't, or couldn't have been, gained from regular tactics," former FBI agent Ali Soufan, who interrogated Zubaydah without using torture, wrote in a 2009 New York Times op-ed. He claims he succeeded in getting actionable intelligence—like the identity of "dirty" bomber José Padilla—in ways harsher approaches couldn't.

In a formerly top-secret Justice Department memo from May 2005, CIA general counsel John Rizzo claimed that "enhanced techniques" used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 "mastermind," "led to the discovery of a … plot … 'to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into' a building in Los Angeles."

Kiriakou says Mohammed's desperation from his treatment alone had made him an unreliable source. He wrote, "KSM had gotten to the point where he would have confessed to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby."

In 2008, a year after Kiriakou confirmed the use of waterboarding and called it torture in his interview with ABC News, defense lawyers for Guantanamo detainees and the ACLU began what they called the John Adams Project, which involved a campaign to gather evidence, some of it classified, that could be used to substantiate violations of human rights by CIA officers.  

Later that year, in a front-page New York Times story by Scott Shane about the detention and waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed at Guantánamo Bay, the name of a key figure appeared: Deuce Martinez, a CIA contractor who was involved in the interrogation of "high value detainees," and whose trust-building questioning of Mohammed had proved fruitful, without the use of waterboarding.

The following year, in 2009, sealed legal papers filed by defense investigators at Guantánamo contained another, more sensitive identity, this time of a CIA officer directly involved in renditions and interrogations. According to a former government official who spoke to Firedoglake's Kevin Gozstola, by the time that attorneys were attempting to identify CIA waterboarders, the CIA officer, Thomas Donahue Fletcher, was already known by name among human rights activists. During Kiriakou's time at the CIA, Fletcher, who was identified by Cryptocomb and a number of blogs in October 2012, was reportedly in charge of the CIA's Rendition, Detention, Interrogation program; according to the official, he took part in "sadistic acts of horrendous conduct against the detainees."

As the attorneys for terror detainees marshaled evidence of possible crimes committed under the waterboarding program, FBI investigators began their own investigation. Concerned that the revelations could endanger the lives of CIA officers, the government sought to determine how Shane and the lawyers got those names, and from whom.

An excerpt from the August 2009 criminal complaint against John Kiriakou


Blowing covers

Every government employee who has access to classified information is bound by oath to keep their secrets secret. Leaking the name of a covert CIA employee in particular became a criminal offense in 1982, prompted in part by the assassination of Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens. After Welch was outed in European and American media in 1975, a gang of terrorists – likely associated with the left-wing Greek "17 November" and "Popular Revolutionary Struggle groups" – surrounded his car as he and his wife were returning from a Christmas party, informed him he had been "found guilty of crimes against the Greek people," and shot him point-blank in the chest three times.

In the 1990s, Kiriakou was also stationed in Athens, and in an eerie coincidence, also came under roadside attack. This, Kiriakou later surmised, was a random carjacking, not an assassination attempt. "Here was [my] fancy BMW, worth more than five times an average Greek's annual income, and it's jammed with electronics to boot," he wrote in his 2009 book The Reluctant Spy. "I was nothing more or less than a convenient target of opportunity." (In attempting to publish classified information in that book, about a classified device that can track cell phones, the CIA later claimed that Kiriakou had lied to them, a charge included in his indictment.)

Despite the risks, the dispensing of sensitive information to journalists by current and former CIA officers is not a new practice, and sometimes more egregious cases of leaking go unpunished. During and after the legal proceedings, Kiriakou and his lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, argued that his prosecution was selective and political, retribution for blowing the whistle on waterboarding. 

Though the Times' Scott Shane relied on 23 other sources for his detainee reporting, including former CIA Executive Director Buzzy Krongard, only Kiriakou was charged. And while Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, had been convicted by a jury to thirty months in prison for helping to leak, with malice, the top secret identity of Valerie Plame, George W. Bush commuted the prison sentence in his last days in office. Dick Cheney and other government officials who helped leak Plame's name faced no prosecution. All of those involved claimed they did not know that Plame was under cover.

That is in stark contrast to Kiriakou's case. Fletcher was not under as deep cover as Plame was, and his name never saw the light of day until it was published online in the midst of legal proceedings. And never, the defense argued, was it leaked "with malice." Kiriakou insists his thirty months at the penitariry at Loretto, Pennsylvania, reflect the government's methods of retribution.

Radack—herself a government whistleblower—claims that Washington's double standard was evident in the fact that CIA and FBI personnel who also reportedly leaked classified information to Guantanamo Bay lawyers have never been charged with a crime.

"The government knew that Stephen Lee [formerly of the CIA], who also has tweeted and sometimes written under his pseudonym, [Frank] Naif… and [FBI agent] Stephen Gaudin, were in fact the main two people … who gave most of the [torturers'] names to the John Adams Project," Radack said via telephone. "The government knew that but they went after John." (Lee has since shuttered his Twitter account and blog; and abandoned his Examiner column. In 2009, he toldCQ Politics that the CIA censors who had to screen his columns were subjecting him to "low-level" harassment by stalling their clearing of his time-sensitive publications.)

A rendition airplane spotted at Shannon Air Force Base, Ireland, 2007. Learn more about a project to track every rendition flight.  


Taking names

In January 2012, the Justice Department charged Kiriakou with leaking classified information. In its indictment three months later, the government alleged that after Kiriakou became a public source to ABC News in its reporting on waterboarding, he spoke to three reporters, named in the indictment as Journalists A, B, and C. It was to these reporters that Kiriakou corroborated the identity of Officer A, Thomas Fletcher. (Martinez, named as Officer B, was not technically under cover—one reason the Times cited for publishing his name—and the government later dropped its charges against Kiriakou related to him.)

Kiriakou's federal indictment charged that Cole passed Fletcher's name to Guantánamo lawyers, who included it in a confidential brief. The author of the indictment, an FBI agent, added that the classified information passed by Kiriakou was never published in the open. Wrote the FBI agent in the indictment, "Neither Journalist A [Matthew Cole] nor any other journalist to my knowledge has published the name of any CIA officers allegedly involved with interrogation."

Last year, in a deal with prosecutors intended to minimize his sentencing, Kiriakou apologized for leaking Fletcher's name and pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, a law that hadn't sent anyone to prison for 27 years. He became the second CIA official to be convicted under the act, and the first for passing along classified information to a reporter. (Last year, after alleging that some of their detainee clients had been shown photos of clandestine CIA officers, the Justice Department cleared the Guantanamo defense investigators of any wrongdoing; no photos of Fletcher were recovered at Guantanamo.)

"Oaths do matter," David H. Petraeus, then C.I.A. director, said at the time. "And there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy." 

Just weeks later, Petraeus would fall from grace after FBI agents, conducting a separate investigation, discovered emails that revealed an extramarital affair. To make its case against Kiriakou, the FBI would also search emails, using a search warrant on two of Kiriakou's email accounts.

Unclear is how the FBI obtained communications between Cole and Sifton. It's possible, Radack says, that Cole or Sifton or both may have yielded Kiriakou's name and their emails to prosecutors in secret. Had Cole, Sifton, or any other journalist or attorney been compelled to testify before a grand jury, he or she would actually have a legal obligation to not discuss having done so.

The former head of the John Adams Project and now advocacy director at Human Rights Watch Asia, did not respond to requests for comment on how the Justice Department obtained any emails he exchanged with Cole.

Cole, now an investigative reporter for NBC, would not comment. But at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, last October, the day after Kiriakou pled guilty, Matthew Cole discussed the ways that governments pursue journalists and their sources. Cole reminded the audience that he had not been identified in any court documents and he was "limited in what he could say." And then he offered the good news and the bad news.

"The bad news is that everything we do in our life today leaves a digital trail," Cole said. "And the capability of the government, which is by and large who the adversary is from the perspective of who wants to look at it at some point, is endless. That's the bad news. The good news is that most of the time, that's not likely to happen."

Instead of subpoenaing journalists, a difficult legal tactic, Cole noted, "there is some wiggle room." He continued: "It's not clear how much has been used, using the ability to see who a potential suspect or source has communicated with just by looking at IP addresses." 

There was another clue. In announcing the indictment, Patrick Fitzgerald cited the "significant assistance" of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, which boasts a highly advanced cyber investigative team—the sort that could, Marcy Wheeler writes, "track Internet traffic between two nodes, which would allow you to discover who had contacted whom without subpoenaing actual email archives." Of course, post Snowden, that technique sounds downright old fashioned. 

"There are a lot of legal limits in place to protect journalists or their communications, but there are virtually none for the people who talk to you or would talk to you," Cole said in October. "There is a moral and legal and ethical obligation, I think, to protect people who are effectively breaking the law to share information."

Anchor Brian Ross and reporter Matthew Cole in a 2007 ABC News report on the Osama bin Laden operation 


During Kiriakou's legal battle, the mystery of the government's source put the Kiriakou's defense team in a paradoxical position: asking for permission to subpoena journalists that the government had not named—essentially forcing them to out their anonymous source—in an attempt to identify who had turned over evidence about Kiriakou, and what that evidence was. Ironically then, the whistleblower was threatening what the secrecy scholar Steven Aftergood wrote looked like "a new challenge to press independence." His lawyers lamented that the government had forced their hand. The government was also in an awkward position, as Kevin Gosztola wrote in November:

All three of the witnesses are likely to claim "reporter's privilege." If that happens, the government will be arguing in one leaks case (US v. Sterling) that reporters do not have the privilege to protect themselves from being forced to testify and in another (US v. Kiriakou) that reporters do have a privilege to protect themselves from providing testimony…The government just wants to demonstrate and prove that it is not waging a war on whistleblowers and has ample legal justification for prosecuting people like Kiriakou, even if they cause no harm whatsoever to national security.

Cole wasn't the only journalist implicated. Scott Shane of the Times and Richard Esposito, another producer at ABC, were Journalists B and C. Another reporter, Julie Tate, who was on the torture beat at The Washington Post when the leaks happened, was named as Researcher 1.

But it's Cole's role that has raised the most eyebrows. If Cole provided defense attorneys with exclusive access to private information he had gleaned for a story, Politico's Josh Gerstein wrote in May, he was "straddling the line between traditional journalism and information gathering for lawyers representing Guantánamo detainees."

Radack also said that Cole did in fact defy the terms of a conversational arrangement. "When [Kiriakou] gave [Fletcher's] name to Matthew Cole, John Kiriakou's understanding is that it was for Cole's book, not that Cole was going to turn around and, in an investigator capacity, give it to [John] Sifton."

Silent whistles

Early promises by the Obama administration were vehement about fostering transparency by ensuring protection for whistleblowers. At, Obama's pledge to "protect whistleblowers" is included in the administration's agenda:

Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. 

But pressures by government prosecutors against whistleblowers and the journalists they speak to have reached new highs. Despite popular outrage at metadata collection and FISA courts' secrecy, a number of government officials have accused the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald of criminal acts. Similiar suggestions have been circulated about Julian Assange, for whom the United States is already reportedly assembling a grand jury in defense-industry rich Alexandria, Va.

While the Espionage Act has rarely been used, and never against a person outside government or the military, that tradition could change. On June 12 Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) suggested to Fox News's Megyn Kelly that Greenwald should be charged under anti-leaking laws – joining many who have called for him to be tried under the Espionage Act for his reporting on "damaging" leaks by Edward Snowden.

Photo of Glenn Greenwald by Steve Rhodes


"[Snowden] has said that he has the names of CIA agents and assets around the world, and they're threatening to disclose that," Rep. King said. "When you have someone who has disclosed secrets like this and threatens to release more, then to me, yes, there has to be – legal action should be taken against [Greenwald]. This is a very unusual case with life-and-death implications for Americans."

The argument in favor of leakers like Snowden and Kiriakou is that they help to illuminate crimes committed under a fog of secrecy that has left even members of Congress in the dark. Pursuing leaks so aggressively has already had a chilling effect on officials' willingness to talk, journalists and transparency advocates say. Without those leaks, revelations about torture or wiretapping might not have come to light. 

After Snowden's revelations about the NSA dragneting domestic telephony metadata forced the declassification of the practice, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, appeared to walk back, as "erroneous," his previous public statements about domestic monitoring. In a June 21 letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein, who leads Congress in overseeing clandestine programs as chair of the Intelligence Committee, Clapper referred to statements made at a March 12 hearing that were untrue.

At that hearing, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked, "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?"

Clapper denied that NSA did, adding that any collection was done "[n]ot wittingly. There are cases where [the NSA] could inadvertently perhaps collect but not wittingly."

In the response letter, Clapper wrote, "I realized later that Senator Wyden was asking about Section 215 metadata collection, rather than content collection. Thus, my response was clearly erroneous—for which I apologize."

"I have grave doubts as to the efficacy of extant whistleblower protections as they relate to national security," Kiriakou wrote to me in June. "There really are no protections, and a whistleblower must weigh the truth against continuation of his life as he knows it. Meanwhile, at the senior levels, policymakers are free to leak for political reasons with no consequences."

Unlike telephone "metadata," what legally constitutes a "whistleblower," is narrowly defined by U.S. law. Bona fide whistleblowers are legally protected only insofar as they contact their immediate superiors, an inspector general or a member of Congress. Snowden has claimed that those channels were not effective enough, and like other whistleblowers from the NSA and CIA before him, insists that secrecy and deception were required to conceal criminal activity.

"I have grave doubts as to the efficacy of extant whistleblower protections as they relate to national security," Kiriakou wrote to me in June, a week after the first of Snowden's revelations. "There really are no protections, and a whistleblower must weigh the truth against continuation of his life as he knows it. Meanwhile, at the senior levels, policymakers are free to leak for political reasons with no consequences."

Kiriakou at the Jefferson Memorial (from the upcoming documentary Silenced. Courtesy Morninglight Films, Inc.)


Life at Loretto

Prior to prison, Kiriakou faced an onslaught of legal fees; he still owes six-figures in bills. After his wife retired under pressure from her job as a CIA analyst on Iran, his family briefly went on food stamps. Behind bars, he wrote in May, his life had changed even more dramatically. He said that after he broke his finger, medical attention was withheld. He also described a petty, retaliatory shakedown by prison officials, who, he claimed, were trying to instigate violence against him—in one instance, with an imam who was convicted for refusing to testify in the Lackawanna Six case

Prison officials, he wrote in May, "told [the imam] that I had made a call to Washington after [Kiriakou and the other prisoner] met, and that I had been instructed to kill him! We both laughed at the hamhandedness by which the SIS tried to get us to attack each other. If we had, we would have spent the rest of our sentences in the [unintelligible] SHU – solitary. Instead, we're friendly, we exchange greetings in Arabic and English, and we chat."

The more serious abuse, argue Kiriakou and his defenders, is that perpetrated by the government against the whistleblowers and journalists who wish to keep governments honest and accountable. In response to recent seizures of telephone records from its reporters by the Justice Department—to say nothing of seizures made more regularly in secret—Associated Press CEO Gary Pruitt described a chilling effect. "[L]ong-time sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us even on stories that aren't about national security."

As Kiriakou's case demonstrates, a climate of intense and contradictory scrutiny of criminal leaks means that whistleblowers and the journalists who protect them are not just afraid of the government, but also have cause to worry about the journalists they talk to.

While Kiriakou looks forward to being reunited with his family, he says he's comforted by the feeling that no matter what he told reporters in confidence, he was ultimately vindicated in part, charged with the lesser crime of revealing a name, and not with exposing a secret program that flouted the law.

"The CIA argued that my 2007 interview was espionage as described in the Espionage Act of 1917," Kiriakou wrote to me. "Thank God the Justice Department disagreed. You are right that information relating to a crime may not be legally classified. I revealed illegality, and I think the Bush Administration concluded that it couldn't win that fight."

Kiriakou also noted a parallel between waterboarding and the surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden. "I think [NSA chief General Keith] Alexander clings to the myth of effectiveness because the alternative simply makes us monsters." 

Kiriakou is scheduled for release in late 2015.


Additional reporting by Alex Pasternack. This story has been updated to include statements made by Matthew Cole at the National Press Club.

Read John's June letter from Loretto to Tyler Bass here.

Read more about leaks and secrecy:


By Tyler Bass 1 week ago

About Tyler Bass

Freelance journalist born and raised in Danville, Virginia — loves his boy, espionage, cybersecurity, foreign policy and a good chuckle now and then.

View all posts


Unwritten: Dear President Obama

Dear President Obama:

Stop Spying on Me

The Obama administration is spying on all calls millions of Verizon customers make each day to any phone number inside or outside the United States.

The news broke after the Guardian1 unveiled the top secret court order2 that authorized the government's shocking mass surveillance program. This comes just weeks after we learned the Justice Department has been spying on journalists, and threatening them with criminal prosecution,3 just for doing their jobs.

This story is a decade in the making. In 2006, we learned that the Bush administration was using the Patriot Act4 to collect the phone records of tens of millions of Americans. The National Security Agency's goal at the time, according to sources, was "to create a database of every call ever made." The biggest phone companies were willing accomplices.

But this latest chapter is worse than almost anyone could have imagined. The newly exposed secret court order could give spy agencies access to data on every call Verizon customers make every day. We don't yet know if this is the first time an order like this has been made or whether the government is using the Patriot Act to track calls made by customers of all phone companies.

Whatever law enforcement and national security aims the White House might claim, monitoring the activities of millions of innocent people for no good reason threatens our basic liberties and our freedom to connect.

It's time to take a stand, and to tell the Obama administration to stop these extreme — and extremely dangerous — spying programs. Sign this petition to the White House. Tell President Obama: Stop Spying on Me.

1. Glenn Greenwald, "NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily,"Guardian, June 5, 2013:

2. "Verizon Forced to Hand Over Telephone Data — Full Court Ruling," Guardian, June 5, 2013:

3. "DoJ Calls Fox News Reporter James Rosen 'Co-Conspirator' in Leak Case; Journalists Outraged," Huffington Post, May 20, 2013:

4. Leslie Cauley, "NSA Has Massive Database of Americans' Phone Calls," USA Today, May 11, 2006:

Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund do not support or oppose any candidate for public office. We are nonpartisan organizations advocating for universal and affordable Internet access, diverse media ownership, vibrant public media and quality journalism. We may deliver petitions and surveys you've completed to the president, federal and state legislators, or federal agencies like the FCC. We ask for your address so we can deliver your message to the appropriate office, and may include information such as your name, town or city and state in these deliveries. We take your privacy seriously — read our privacy policy here.

You know who

Friday, August 30, 2013

Some Thoughts on Keeping It Secret

Some Thoughts on Keeping It Secret

by Bernard Haisch

from UfoSkeptic Website

"The U.S. government secretly hired hundreds of private companies during the 1940s and '50s to process huge volumes of nuclear weapons material, leaving a legacy of poisoned workers and contaminated communities that lingers to this day. From mom-and-pop machine shops to big-name chemical firms, private manufacturing facilities across the nation were quietly converted to the risky business of handling tons of uranium, thorium, polonium, beryllium and other radioactive and toxic substances. Few of the contractors were prepared for the hazards of their government-sponsored missions. Thousands of workers were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, often hundreds of times stronger than the limits of the time. Dozens of communities were contaminated, their air, ground and water fouled by toxic and radioactive waste. The risks were kept hidden. In some cases, they have remained so."

So began a lengthy expose revealing amajor government secret that involved thousands of individuals. It was published inUSA Today on September 6, 2000. The truth had been successfully kept secret for 50 years. If the reality of the UFO phenomenon were known within one or more deep black special access programs, why might it too be kept a secret from the public? This question was posed to a well placed, highly educated, former intelligence officer who at several points in his long career with one of the agencies had been briefed and asked to assist in evaluation of certain UFO material. I obtained his reply through an intermediary.

"The elite involved in the black programsare among the smartest people on the planet, but even so remain deeply puzzled by much of what they've learned. They tend to regard the public with disdain, like undisciplined and unruly children incapable of handling information of extraordinary complexity. While officially supporting democracy, the black program elite in reality espouse a kind of benevolent dictatorship or enlightened oligarchy by those, such as themselves, who have earned the right to know and to make decisions in the best interest of civilization, to which the ordinary person, being lazy and easily distracted, is not motivated or qualified to contribute anyway. The average American cares more about the Super Bowl than about life elsewhere in the Universe. The intellectual mentors of those with clout and power arePlato and Machiavelli, not Aristotle andJefferson. Over the past 50 years, the highest courts have accepted and upheld the precedence of national security over the First and Fourth Amendments. So even if the public wanted to know, that would not constitute a legal need or right to know. The elite are doing their patriotic duty by trying to control the situation within the established rules of national security."

My impression is that, if the above is true, there may be more involved than simply the knowledge that intelligent beings exist on other planets, and that some are able to come here to observe us. I think that at this point in our development, most of the world's cultures could accept such information without catastrophic societal consequences. I conjecture that what is at stake has to do with the possibility that reality may be far more complex than our modern scientific notions of space and time and matter. Mystics might be quite happy with other levels of reality, but for civilization built around commerce and technology entirely grounded in physical reality, news of other realms that intelligences beyond our own may be adept at manipulating could be quite disruptive. Too great a shock to our collective reality could lead to chaos, and this justifiable fear could be a rationale for decades-long secrecy. On the other hand, the facts, whatever they prove to be, will have to come out sooner or later, and the global problems facing humanity and the ecology of our planet argue -- in my view -- for access to whatever new knowledge there might be for us to use. Perhaps "disclosure" did once pose an unacceptable risk, but there are good reasons to think that the opposite is true today. Moreover the current administration would appear to offer an especially friendly environment for any disclosure coming from the military and/or intelligence agencies.

While some of the individuals read in ondeep black programs may be among the smartest on the planet, so are many scientists. (I do have a bit of a prejudice here.) If deep puzzles exist, why are the vast capabilities and talents of the mainstream scientific community not brought to bear on them? The problem, I believe, is that the view of reality of modern science is extraordinarily blinkered. In my 12-year tenure as editor of the Journal of Scientific Exploration, I was often dismayed at the unwillingness, sometimes amazingly hostile unwillingness, of mainstream scientists to consider what seemed to me credible observations of psychic functioning, or the ability of mind to control matter under certain circumstances, or evidence that we are beings of transcendent consciousness incarnating into physical bodies, not merely short-lived products of biochemistry. I have the impression that we may be confrontingintelligent consciousnesses with vastly more developed abilities to control and shape physical reality. Modern science has painted itself into such a materialist reductionist corner that it could not, at present, deal with that. Having set itself in such opposition to what it disparagingly labels "the supernatural" it would have a very hard time coming to grips with a reality in which the natural and the supernatural are just the red and the violet ends of a vastly rich spectrum of creative potential for consciousness to use (see The Metaphysical Interpretation).

In conclusion though, I must add the disclaimer that perhaps I am over extrapolating from the things I have heard, or that seem plausible to me. I am accurately reporting what I know, but I cannot guarantee that I have not been misled -- accidentally or deliberately -- or perhaps have fooled myself.

See also On Materialism as Science Dogma by Prof. Neal Grossman.

(There is a strong hint of a much richer potential reality in the mathematical ideas ofGoedel and Turing -- two of the most influential mathematicians of the 20th century -- and, most recently, in the discovery of the infinitely long, utterly incalculable number called Omega by theoretician Gregory Chaitin who took up over 20 years ago where Turing had left off -- see also the New Scientist article The Omega Man, by science writer Marcus Chown. As Chown puts it:

"Chaitin has shown that there are an infinite number of mathematical facts but, for the most part, they are unrelated to each other and impossible to tie together with unifying theorems."

In other words, mathematically, there is no single, preferred set of fundamental truths. The mathematics that describes our reality is just one archipelago of self consistent postulates and theorems in a limitless ocean with infinite islands bearing no relationship to ours. Since physics is described by mathematics, this may imply that what we perceive with microscopes and telescopes and particle accelerators as ordinary physical reality is also but one tiny subset of an infinitely greater reality. Alternate realities created by other consciousnesses could be equally real yet radically different from ours.)

Original Page:

Shared from Read It Later

Sent from my Kindle Fire

NSA Spying on Congress for Decades

During the drama over the so-called Amash Amendment General Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, went to Capitol Hill to lobby against the law. During the course of his lobbying members of Congress responded to his presentations with a reasonable question – can we see our own files?Alexander said no. According to David Sirota of NSFW Corp these exchanges are quite revealing as to how the NSA’s power works in Washington.

Consider the deep messaging of the NSA’s brand. Only forty years removed from the blackmail-tinged reign of J. Edgar Hoover, the NSA has developed an image which implies the agency is vacuuming up more than enough incriminating phone records, emails and text/sext messages to politically torpedo any rank-and-file congressman, should that congressman step out of line.

And here’s the thing: for all the agita intelligence officials express about new disclosures, those disclosures illustrate the sheer size and scope of governement surveillance. That doesn’t weaken the NSA – on the contrary, it serves to politically strengthen the agency by constantly reminding lawmakers that the NSA 1) probably has absolutely everythingon them and 2) could use that stuffagainst them.

Sirota also spoke with Rep. Alan Grayson who told him that in the course of the conversation about the NSA and files they might have on members of Congress said “one of my colleagues asked the NSA point blank will you give me a copy of my own record and the NSA said no, we won’t. They didn’t say no we don’t have one. They said no we won’t.” Dare anyone accuse the NSA of being cryptic?

Of course we already know that it wasNancy Pelosi that killed the Amash Amendment. What we don’t know is whether she did so out of fear of an NSA file, party interests or both. We also know she was involved in insider trading while in Congress. What more does the NSA know about her?

There was also a report by a former intelligence analyst and whistleblower Russell Tice that the NSA wiretapped Barack Obama in 2004. Is there some massive archive of politicians’ dirty secrets somewhere at the NSA? Surely the NSA at least has their metadata – they have everyone’s. It is hard to imagine when push comes to shove and its budget time that the NSA doesn’t take a peek at who they are doing business with in Congress. Intelligence is all about having as much information as possible, that’s the training and that’s the game. Old habits probably die hard.

It was a troubling thought, but I had no smoking gun evidence to support it, until I heard Mark Ames discussing Sirota’s story with Sirota yesterday. Ames referenced a blockbuster story broken by New York Times reporter Scott Shane. Published by the Baltimore Sun, the story Listening in: Though the National Security Agency can’t target Americans, it can — and does — listen to everyone from senators to lovers, provides smoking gun evidence that the NSA has been spying on members of Congress and allowing the information to be used for leverage since at least the Reagan Administration.

“We listened to all the calls in and out of Washington,” says one former NSA linguist, recalling a class at the Warrenton Training Center, a CIA communications school on a Virginia hilltop. “We’d listen to senators, representatives, government agencies, housewives talking to their lovers.”

“Even when they target foreigners, they end up picking up a lot of Americans,” says Mark H. Lynch, an attorney who tracked NSA for the American Civil Liberties Union from 1977 to 1985. Just ask formerMaryland Rep. Michael D. Barnes. His calls to Nicaraguan government officials were intercepted and recorded by NSA – as he learned only after transcripts were leaked by the Reagan White House, he says.

Congressman Barnes became a thorn in the side of the Reagan Administration and the US intelligence community over his opposition to US activity in Nicaragua.

“Reporters told me right-wingers werecirculating excerpts from phone conversations I’d had,” says Mr. Barnes, now a Washington lawyer. He says the calls included one to the Nicaraguan foreign minister protesting his government’s declaration of martial law.

On another occasion, Mr. Barnes says, the director of central intelligence, William J. Casey, showed him a Nicaraguan Embassy cable intercepted by NSA that reported a meeting between embassy officials and a Barnes’ aide. Mr. Casey told him he should fire the aide; Mr. Barnes angrily replied that it was perfectly proper for his staff to meet with foreign diplomats.

Mr. Barnes says he did not object to being overheard. But he said the incidents were a reminder of the potential for the abuse of NSA’s awesome eavesdropping capacity. “I was aware that NSA monitored international calls, that it was a standard part of intelligence gathering,” he says. “But to use it for domestic political purposes is absolutely outrageous and probably illegal.”

So there is nothing new under the sun. Information is power and in political struggles one should not be so surprised that information will be used and abused by political actors. Now solid and reasonable curtailments of NSA’s wildly expansive power are getting crushed in Congress despite widespread popularity in both parties.

What’s going on behind the scenes? Is the NSA using its data for political gain?