White House staff plays key role in deadly drone strikes — and faces no Congressional oversight


Click to enlargeNorthrop Grumman

The White House staff for national security, exempt from review by Congress, plays a substantial role in the process for killing suspected terrorists, according to a newly released document on drone strikes.

The 2013 document, known informally as the “playbook” for Barack Obama’s signature counterterrorism operations, was released on Saturday by the justice department as the result of court requests by the American Civil Liberties Union. The playbook provides the closest look to date at the bureaucratic machinery of global killing that Obama will pass on to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

The document designates the National Security Council staff as a body of review over “all operational plans” for either killing or capturing terrorist subjects. Once representatives of various cabinet agencies and departments meet to discuss a specific plan, NSC attorneys provide legal input.

…While the NSC staff plays a role in nominating people for inclusion on the so-called “kill list”, it neither makes the nomination nor involves itself in carrying out a strike or raid.

Such plans include the length of time permissible for killing or capturing people in a designated place, the “strike and surveillance” assets to be used, the specific counter-terrorism objectives to be achieved, and a “near certainty” that civilians will neither be killed nor, for non-lethal action, injured while capturing a target. The NSC staff convenes meetings across agencies for nominating any named “high-value target” to the “kill list”, and passes on those considered validly marked for death to a meeting of cabinet deputies. It also receives written assessments of the results of each strike…

The US justice department released a public version of the three-year-old document…after the ACLU persuaded a federal judge in February to decide against the Obama administration’s argument for total secrecy…

Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU attorney who spearheaded the lawsuit for the playbook’s disclosure, noted the power of the NSC…“The Obama administration notably has taken the position that the NSC is not an agency and is therefore beyond the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.”

The NSC now has about 400 employees. None are approved by the Senate. They do not testify before Congress. Their records are automagically presumed to be privileged.

Feds launching huge study of oil and gas worker safety

An unprecedented study of the hazards rooted in America’s largest oil patches will be launched next year by federal health officials in Colorado who hope to cut the dangers faced by oil and gas workers.

Scientists from the Denver office of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health — which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — will distribute questionnaires to 500 oil field workers in North Dakota, Texas and another unnamed state.

Institute personnel will fan out to so-called “man camps”; training centers; equipment and trucking yards; well sites; and community centers in oilfield towns.

Oil field work is considered one of the most dangerous in the country. Between 2005 and 2009, the national occupational fatality rate for the oil and gas industry was seven times higher than the general industry rate and 2½ times higher than the construction industry rate.

Workers will be asked about the types of injuries they’ve suffered while on the job, what they were doing when they were injured, the training they’ve had and whether oil companies provide bonuses to workers who don’t report an injury or incident over a certain length of time, said Kyla Retzer, a Denver-based epidemiologist with the institute’s oil and gas program…

“We’ve analyzed fatality numbers, and we knew that fatality rates were high among oil field workers,” Retzer said. “But we haven’t talked to workers directly in a systematic way about some of their safety-related behaviors and what their concerns are.”

“It’s not an organized workforce,” Retzer said, “so there is no real access to a specific group.”…

Overdue. Always has been pushed back by every level of government. Dirty money crosses lots of palms.

I haven’t worked in the oil industry since the 1960’s. Nothing has changed.

U.S. protocol for tracking hazardous chemicals is flawed


Fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas

A 27-year-old U.S. program intended to warn the public of the presence of hazardous chemicals is flawed in many states due to scant oversight and lax reporting by plant owners, a Reuters examination finds.

Under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, private and public facilities must issue an inventory listing potentially hazardous chemicals stored on their properties. The inventory, known as a Tier II report, is filed with state, county and local emergency-management officials. The information is then supposed to be made publicly available, to help first responders and nearby residents plan for emergencies.

But facilities across the country often misidentify these chemicals or their location, and sometimes fail to report the existence of the substances altogether.

And except for a handful of states, neither federal nor local authorities are auditing the reports for errors.

Reuters identified dozens of errors in Tier II reports in recent years and found several facilities that failed to report altogether.

Two states – Illinois and Wisconsin – introduced errors into the public databases through which they disclose information from Tier II reports. The reports document the presence of hazardous chemicals, such as ammonium nitrate, lead, sulfuric acid and diesel fuel…

In June, homes and businesses in Seward, Illinois, were evacuated for a day after a fire and explosion at Nova-Kem LLC injured one employee and released a plume of smoke containing caustic and toxic chemicals, including chlorine gas. The company, which makes compounds used in high-tech applications, did not report storing hazardous chemicals, according to Dennis Lolli, coordinator of the Winnebago County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency.

No firefighters were injured. But for emergency teams, knowing what chemicals they are facing is critical, Lolli said. “I don’t know why they didn’t” file the reports, he said. “It certainly takes away an advantage.”

Representatives of Nova-Kem didn’t respond to requests for comment.

There are hundreds of thousands of sites nationwide required to report hazardous chemical inventories under the Tier II system. Some 500,000 chemicals are subject to the requirement…

…Errors and omissions can go unnoticed for years because the federal regulator that oversees the Tier II system—the EPA—and most state agencies make no effort to verify the data.

RTFA for lots of anecdotal case histories, event after event of wrong information, no information, endangering first responders and the communities concerned.

Blair learned his lessons well from Bush, didn’t he? $16 billion in U.K. tax fraud from lack of oversight

martin20schranks20blair20bush20cartoon

The head of Britain’s Work and Pensions department charges that fraud in the country’s tax-credit system has cost taxpayers more than $16.2 billion.

Ian Duncan Smith said a system of tax credits targeting lower-paid Britons is open to abuse because of the inadequate number of checks on those who receive the assistance, The Daily Telegraph reported Sunday.

In an article published in the newspaper, Smith wrote that Britain’s welfare bill rose 60 percent between 2003 and 2010, with nearly $278 billion disbursed during that period…

The tax credits are based on a person’s estimate of salary for the coming year. At the end of that year, tax collectors are supposed to compare the person’s actual earnings against the estimate and reclaim any overpayments.

Smith said the revenue department conducted only about 34,000 checks a year on individuals who received what were considered “high risk awards.”

Even those found to have been overpaid often have not repaid the money, he said.

Blair followed Bush’s best practices all the way from war to poverty. No oversight. No responsibility. Nothing achieved beyond death, destruction and deficit.