Here Is Today's 482 Millisecond NFP Leak, The Subsequent Gold Slam And Trading Halts In Treasurys And ES
What was more amusing was the action after the NFP release in both the eMini and the T-Bond futures, all of which had to be halted for a whopping 5 seconds until the algos, selling everything at first, got the memo out that good news today was in fact good news, and promptly ramped risk to the moon. Either that, or someone called in a code Red, made it so all selling was literally prohibited, and with the only path of no resistance up, resulted in today's epic melt up on what was initially a very bearish kneejerk response to the NFP print.
First: September 2013 T-Bond Futures trades and quote spread. The deluge of selling hits 482 milliseconds before the NFP release, leading to a 5 second circuit breaker and halting the OTR future contract of the world's largest bond market. Abe would be proud.
Meanwhile in equities, all liquidity disappeared. All of it.
CFTC probing Treasury futures trading that led to halt at CME
U.S. futures regulators are reviewing trades that triggered a brief halt in trading at CME Group's markets for Treasury futures just as the U.S. government was poised to release key data on the jobs market.
"We are aware of it and will be doing a review of the trades, which is standard operating procedure for something like this," Commodity Futures Trading Commission commissioner Bart Chilton said in response to a query from Reuters.
CME Group halted trading in some Treasury futures for five seconds, beginning just before the 8:30 am ET (1230 GMT) release of the monthly jobs report.
Large trades in 10-year and 30-year Treasury futures were made just prior to the release of the report. Such trades and large market moves can trigger automatic stops in CME markets.
- *STATE DEPARTMENT WORLDWIDE TRAVEL ALERT EXPIRES AUGUST 31, 2013
- *STATE DEPT ISSUES WORLDWIDE TRAVEL ALERT FOR U.S. CITIZENS
The Department of State has instructed certain U.S. Embassies and Consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4. The Department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations, indicates we should institute these precautionary steps.
Demonstrators calling for the reinstatement of ousted former president Mohammed Morsi (2012-13) remained defiant on 1 August, a day after the interim cabinet authorised the police to dismantle their protest camps. The authorities in recent days have filed additional charges for incitement to violence against senior members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties....Accordingly, Embassy Cairo will be closed on Sunday, August 4. U.S. citizens requiring emergency assistance should contact the Embassy switchboard which is manned 24/7 at 02-2797-3300.Various media sources are reporting possible marches or demonstrations for Friday, August 2 and possibly throughout the weekend. In addition, several media sources are reporting that the police have been given the authority to clear protestors from permanent gathering locations. Should police move to clear these various locations, it may escalate into violent confrontations. U.S. citizens should maintain a low profile and limit movements within their immediate residential neighborhoods.
Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia. As the August 26, 2012, arrest of two terrorist cells by Saudi security authorities indicates, there remains an ongoing security threat due to the continued presence of terrorist groups, some affiliated with al-Qaida, who may target Western interests...
Why is Ben unhappy? Simple - as a reminder, the only reason Ben is even contemplating tapering has nothing to do with the economy. After all the Fed chairman (and/or his successor) is willing to send the stock market into stratospheric overdrive and would be very happy to add not subtract from the monthly QE $85 billion notional since it means more "wealth effect" and thus brings the US closer to the "Keynesian successful endgame" (that the logic here is completely inverted is well known to all but the most die-hard Keynesian fanboys and is not in the scope of this article).However, the fact that the gross US debt issuance is declining (if only until the demographic and healthcare crunch hits in 2015 and deficits explode once more) means Bernanke has less primary issuance to monetize. Were Bernanke to maintain his monetization run rate into a lower deficit regime, the Chairman would destabilize the liquidity in the already increasingly illiquid Treasury market in which the Fed now holds over 30%of all 10 Year equivalents and its holdings increase by 0.3% every week. This illiquidity is manifesting itself most directly in the "special" repo rates that have become a norm in the past few months especially in the 10 Year, and which indicate an ongoing shortage of TSY collateral.Of course, there is a very simple and elegant solution to declining defense spending, one which has been used time and again in US history when the US government needed to provide the Fed with more securities (i.e. deficit) to monetize: war.
What is America going to look like when the middle class is dead? Once upon a time, the United States has the largest and most vibrant middle class in the history of the world. When I was growing up, it seemed like almost everyone was "middle class" and it was very rare to hear of someone that was out of work. Of course life wasn't perfect, but most families owned a home, most families had more than one vehicle, and most families could afford nice vacations and save for retirement at the same time. Sadly, things have dramatically changed in America since that time. There just aren't as many "middle class jobs" as there used to be. In fact, just six years ago there were about six million more full-time jobs in our economy than there are right now. Those jobs are being replaced by part-time jobs and temp jobs. The number one employer in America today is Wal-Mart and the number two employer in America today is a temp agency (Kelly Services). But you can't support a family on those kinds of jobs. We live at a time when incomes are going down but the cost of living just keeps going up. As a result, the middle class in America is being absolutely shredded and the ranks of the poor are steadily growing. The following are 44 facts about the death of the middle class that every American should know:
1. According to one recent survey, "four out of five U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives".
2. The growth rate of real disposable personal income is the lowest that it has been in decades.
3. Median household income (adjusted for inflation) has fallen by 7.8 percent since the year 2000.
4. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.
5. The home ownership rate in the United States is the lowest that it has been in 18 years.
6. It is more expensive to rent a home in America than ever before. In fact, median asking rent for vacant rental units just hit a brand new all-time record high.
7. According to one recent survey, 76 percent of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
8. The U.S. economy actually lost 240,000 full-time jobs last month, and the number of full-time workers in the United States is now about 6 million below the old record that was set back in 2007.
9. The largest employer in the United States right now is Wal-Mart. The second largest employer in the United States right now is a temp agency(Kelly Services).
10. One out of every ten jobs in the United States is now filled through a temp agency.
11. According to the Social Security Administration, 40 percent of all workers in the United States make less than $20,000 a year.
12. The ratio of wages and salaries to GDP is near an all-time record low.
13. The U.S. economy continues to trade good paying jobs for low paying jobs. 60 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession were mid-wage jobs, but 58 percent of the jobs created since then have been low wage jobs.
14. Back in 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs. Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.
15. At this point, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less.
16. According to one study, between 1969 and 2009 the median wages earned by American men between the ages of 30 and 50 declined by 27 percent after you account for inflation.
17. In the year 2000, about 17 million Americans were employed in manufacturing. Today, only about 12 million Americans are employed in manufacturing.
18. The United States has lost more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities since 2001.
19. The average number of hours worked per employed person per year has fallen by about 100 since the year 2000.
20. Back in the year 2000, more than 64 percent of all working age Americans had a job. Today, only 58.7 percent of all working age Americans have a job.
21. When you total up all working age Americans that do not have a job, it comes to more than 100 million.
22. The average duration of unemployment in the United States isnearly three times as long as it was back in the year 2000.
23. The percentage of Americans that are self-employed has steadily declined over the past decade and is now at an all-time low.
24. Right now there are 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing. That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.
25. In 1989, the debt to income ratio of the average American family was about 58 percent. Today it is up to 154 percent.
26. Total U.S. household debt grew from just 1.4 trillion dollars in 1980 to a whopping 13.7 trillion dollars in 2007. This played a huge role in the financial crisis of 2008, and the problem still has not been solved.
27. The total amount of student loan debt in the United States recently surpassed the one trillion dollar mark.
28. Total home mortgage debt in the United States is now about 5 times larger than it was just 20 years ago.
29. Back in the year 2000, the mortgage delinquency rate was about 2 percent. Today, it is nearly 10 percent.
30. Consumer debt in the United States has risen by a whopping 1700% since 1971, and 46% of all Americans carry a credit card balance from month to month.
31. In 1999, 64.1 percent of all Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance. Today, only 55.1 percent are covered by employment-based health insurance.
32. One study discovered that approximately 41 percent of all working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt, and according to a report published in The American Journal of Medicine medical bills are a major factor in more than 60 percent of all personal bankruptcies in the United States.
33. Each year, the average American must work 107 days just to make enough money to pay local, state and federal taxes.
34. Today, approximately 46.2 million Americans are living in poverty.
35. The number of Americans living in poverty has increased by more than 15 million since the year 2000.
36. Families that have a head of household under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.
37. At this point, approximately 25 million American adults are living with their parents.
38. In the year 2000, there were only 17 million Americans on food stamps. Today, there are more than 47 million Americans on food stamps.
39. Back in the 1970s, about one out of every 50 Americans was on food stamps. Today, about one out of every 6.5 Americans is on food stamps.
40. Right now, the number of Americans on food stamps exceeds the entire population of the nation of Spain.
41. According to one calculation, the number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the combined populations of "Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming."
42. At this point, more than a million public school students in the United States are homeless. This is the first time that has ever happened in our history. That number has risen by 57 percent since the 2006-2007 school year.
43. According to U.S. Census data, 57 percent of all American children live in a home that is either considered to be "poor" or "low income".
44. In the year 2000, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages was approximately 21 percent. Today, the ratio of social welfare benefits to salaries and wages is approximately 35 percent.
And not only is the middle class being systematically destroyed right now, we are also destroying the bright economic future that our children and our grandchildren were supposed to have by accumulating gigantic mountains of debt in their names. The following is from a recent articleby Bill Bonner:
Today, the U.S. lumbers into the future with total debt equal to about 350% of GDP. In Britain and Japan, the total is over 500%. Debt, remember, is the homage that the future pays to the past. It has to be carried, serviced... and paid. It has to be reckoned with... one way or another.
And the cost of carrying debt is going up! Over the last few weeks, interest rates have moved up by about 15% - an astounding increase for the sluggish debt market. How long will it be before long-term borrowing rates are back to "normal"?
At 5% interest, a debt that measures 3.5 times your revenue will cost about one-sixth of your income. Before taxes. After tax, you will have to work about one day a week to keep up with it (to say nothing of paying it off!).
That's a heavy burden. It is especially disagreeable when someone else ran up the debt. Then you are a debt slave. That is the situation of young people today. They must face their parents' debt. Even serfs in the Dark Ages had it better. They had to work only one day out of 10 for their lords and masters.
We were handed the keys to the greatest economic machine in the history of the planet and we wrecked it.
As young people realize that their futures have been destroyed, many of them are going to totally lose hope and give in to despair.
And desperate people do desperate things. As our economy continues to crumble, we are going to see crime greatly increase as people do what they feel they need to do in order to survive. In fact, we are already starting to see this happen. Just this week, CNBC reported on the raging epidemic of copper theft that we are seeing all over the nation right now:
Copper is such a hot commodity that thieves are going after the metal anywhere they can find it: an electrical power station in Wichita, Kan., or half a dozen middle-class homes in Morris Township, N.J.Even on a Utah highway construction site, crooks managed to abscond with six miles of copper wire.
Those are just a handful of recent targets across the U.S. in the $1 billion business of copper theft.
"There's no question the theft has gotten much, much worse," said Mike Adelizzi, president of theAmerican Supply Association, a nonprofit group representing distributors and suppliers in the plumbing, heating, cooling and industrial pipe industries.
The United States once had the greatest middle class in the history of the world, but now it is dying.
This is causing a tremendous amount of anger and frustration to build in this nation, and when the next major wave of the economic collapse strikes, a lot of that anger and frustration will likely be unleashed.
The American people don't understand that these problems have taken decades to develop. They just want someone to fix things. They just want things to go back to the way that they used to be.
Unfortunately, the great economic storm that is coming is not going to be averted.
Get ready while you still can. Time is running out.
Round numbers like 1,700 on the S&P 500 are well and good, but savvy traders have their minds on another integer: 2.75 percent
That was the high for the 10-year yield this year, and traders say yields are bound to go back to that level. The one overhanging question is how stocks will react when they see that number.
"If we start to push up to new highs on the 10-year yield so that's the 2.75 level—I think you'd probably see a bit of anxiety creep back into the marketplace," Bank of America Merrill Lynch's head of global technical strategy, MacNeil Curry, told "Futures Now" on Tuesday.
And Curry sees yields getting back to that level in the short term, and then some. "In the next couple of weeks to two months or so I think we've got a push coming up to the 2.85, 2.95 zone," he said.
Let’s say Ben (Bernanke) comes out tomorrow and says, ‘We are not going to taper.’ But let’s just say the bond market trades down anyway, and the next thing you know we go through the recent highs and a month from now the 10-Year is at 3%. And people start to realize they are not even tapering and the bond market is backed up...
They will say, ‘Why is this happening?’ Then they may realize the bond market is discounting the inflation we already have.
At some point the bond markets are going to say, ‘We are not comfortable with these policies.’ Obviously you can’t print money forever or no emerging country would ever have gone broke. So the bond market starts to back up and the economy gets worse than it is now because rates are rising. So the Fed says, ‘We can’t have this,’ and they decide to print more (money) and the bond market backs up (even more).
All of the sudden it becomes clear that money printing not only isn’t the solution, but it’s the problem. Well, with rates going from where they are to 3%+ on the 10-Year, one of these days the S&P futures are going to get destroyed. And if the computers ever get loose on the downside the market could break 25% in three days.
Margin debt can be described as a tool used by stock speculators to borrow money from brokerages to buy more stock than they could otherwise afford on their own. These loans are collateralized by stock holdings, so when the market goes south, investors are either required to inject more cash/assets or become forced to sell immediately to pay off their loans – sometimes leading to mass pullouts or crashes.
Total Assets: $1,812,837,000,000 (just over 1.8 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $69,238,349,000,000 (more than 69 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,347,841,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $52,150,970,000,000 (more than 52 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $1,445,093,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,405,372,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $114,693,000,000 (a bit more than 114 billion dollars - yes, you read that correctly)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,580,395,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)
That means that the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 362 times greater than their total assets.
The company whose shares you own may be lying to you — while Uncle Sam looks the other way.Let’s step through this. I think you will see the problem.Fact 1: U.S. financial markets are the envy of the world because we have fair disclosure requirements, accounting standards and impartial courts. This is the foundation of shareholder value. The company may lose money, but they at least told you the truth.Fact 2: We now know multiple public companies, including Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOG), Facebook (FB) and other, gave their user information to NSA. Forget the privacy implications for a minute. Assume for the sake of argument that everything complies with U.S. law. Even if true, the businesses may still be at risk.Fact 3: All these companies operate globally. They get revenue from China, Japan, Russia, Germany, France and everywhere else. Did those governments consent to have their citizens monitored by the NSA? I think we can safely say no.Politicians in Europe are especially outraged. Citizens are angry with the United States and losing faith in American brand names. Foreign companies are already using their non-American status as a competitive advantage. Some plan to redesign networks specifically to bypass U.S. companies.By yielding to the NSA, U.S. companies likely broke laws elsewhere. They could face penalties and lose significant revenue. Right or wrong, their decisions could well have damaged the business.Securities lawyers call this “materially adverse information” and companies are required to disclose it. But they are not. Only chief executives and a handful of technical people know when companies cooperate with the NSA. If the CEO can’t even tell his own board members he has placed the company at risk, you can bet it won’t be in the annual report.The government also gives some executives immunity documents, according to Bloomberg. Immunity is unnecessary unless someone thinks they are breaking the law. So apparently, the regulators who ostensibly protect the public are actively helping the violators.This is a new and different investment landscape. Public companies are hiding important facts that place their investors at risk. If you somehow find out, you will have no recourse because regulators gave the offender a “get out of jail free” card. The regulatory structure that theoretically protects you knowingly facilitates deception that may hurt you, and then silences anywitnesses.This strikes to the very heart of the U.S. financial system. Our markets have lost any legitimate claim to “full and fair disclosure.” Every prospectus, quarterly report and news release now includes an unwritten NSA asterisk. Whenever a CEO speaks, we must assume his fingers are crossed.***Every individual investor or money manager now has a new risk factor to consider. Every disclosure by every company is in doubt. The rule of law that gave us the most-trusted markets in the world may be just an illusion.
Executives at publicly traded companies are lying to shareholders and probably their own boards of directors. They are exposing your investments to real, material, hard-dollar losses and not telling you.The government that allegedly protects you, Mr. Small Investor, knows all this and actually encourages more of it.Who lies? Ah, there’s the problem. We don’t know. Some people high in the government know. The CEOs themselves and a few of their tech people know. You and I don’t get to know. We just provide the money.Since we don’t know which CEOs are government-approved liars, the prudent course is to assume all CEOs are government-approved liars. We can no longer give anyone the benefit of the doubt.If you are a money manager with a fiduciary responsibility to your investors, you are hereby on notice. A CEO may sign those Securities and Exchange Commission filings where you get corporate information with his fingers crossed. Your clients pay you to know the facts and make good decisions. You’re losing that ability.For example, consider a certain U.S. telecommunications giant with worldwide operations. It connects American businesses with customers everywhere. Fast-growing emerging markets like Brazil are very important to its future growth.Thanks to data-sharing agreements with various phone providers in Brazil, this company has deep access to local phone calls. One day someone from NSA calls up the CEO and asks to tap into that stream. He says OK, tells his engineers to do it and moves on.A few years later, Edward Snowden informs Brazilian media that U.S. intelligence is capturing these data. They tell the Brazilian public. It is not happy. Nor are its politicians, who are already on edge for entirely unrelated reasons.What would you say are this company’s prospects for future business in Brazil? Your choices are “slim” and “none.” They won’t be the only ones hurt. If the U.S. government won’t identify which American company cheated its Brazilian partners, Brazil will just blame all of them. The company can kiss those growth plans good-bye.This isn’t a fantasy. It is happening right now. The legality of cooperating with the NSA within the United States is irrelevant. Immunity letters in the United States do not protect the company from liability elsewhere.***Shouldn’t shareholders get to know when their company’s CEO takes these risks? Shouldn’t the directors who hire the CEO have a say in the matter? Yes, they should. We now know that they don’t.The trust that forms the bedrock under U.S. financial markets is crumbling. [A theme we frequently explore. ] If we cannot believe CEOs when they swear to tell the truth, if companies can hide material risks, if boards cannot know what the executives they hire are actually doing, any pretense of “fair markets” is gone.When nothing is private, people and businesses soon cease to trust each other. Without trust, modern financial markets cannot function properly.If U.S. disclosure standards are no better than those in the third world, then every domestic stock is overvalued. Our “rule of law” premium is gone.This means a change for stock valuations — and it won’t be bullish.
Officials throughout Europe, most notably French President Francois Hollande, said that NSA spying threatens trade talks.
For the Internet companies named in reports on NSA surveillance, their bottom line is at risk because European markets are crucial for them. It is too early assess the impact on them, but the stakes are clearly huge. For example, Facebook has about 261 million active monthly European users, compared with about 195 million in the U.S. and Canada, and 22% of Apple’s net income came from Europe in the first quarter of 2013.***In June 2011, Microsoft admitted that the United States could bypass EU privacy regulations to get vast amounts of cloud data from their European customers. Six months later, BAE Systems, based in the United Kingdom, stopped using the company’s cloud services because of this issue.***The NSA scandal has brought tensions over spying to a boil. German prosecutors may open a criminal investigation into NSA spying. On July 3, Germany’s interior minister said that people should stop using companies like Google and Facebook if they fear the U.S. is intercepting their data. On July 4, the European Parliament condemned spying on Europeans and ordered an investigation into mass surveillance. The same day, Neelie Kroes, the EU’s chief telecom and Internet official, warned of “multi-billion euro consequences for American companies” because of U.S. spying in the cloud.***Transparency is an important first step. Its absence only exacerbates a trust deficit that companies already had in Europe. And trust is crucial. Google’s chief legal officer recognized this on June 19 when he said, “Our business depends on the trust of our users,” during a Web chat about the NSA scandal. Some companies have been aggressive in trying to disclose more, and others have not. But unless the U.S. government loosens strictures and allows greater disclosure, all U.S. companies are likely to suffer the backlash.***The Obama administration needs to recognize and mitigate the serious economic risks of spying while trying to rebuild its credibility on Internet freedom. The July 9 hearing of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is a start, but much more is needed. More disclosure about the surveillance programs, more oversight, better laws, and a process to work with allied governments to increase privacy protections would be a start.The European customers of Internet companies are not all al Qaeda or criminals, but that is essentially how U.S. surveillance efforts treat them. If this isn’t fixed, this may be the beginning of a very costly battle pitting U.S. surveillance against European business, trade, and human rights.
Most communications flow over the Internet and a very large percentage of key Internet infrastructure is in the United States. Thus, foreigners’ communications are much more likely to pass through U.S. facilities even when no U.S. person is a party to a particular message. Think about a foreigner using Gmail, or Facebook, or Twitter — billions of these communications originate elsewhere in the world but pass through, and are stored on, servers located in the U.S.***Foreigners … comprise a growing majority of any global company’s customers.***From the perspective of many foreign individuals and governments, global Internet companies headquartered in the U.S. are a security and privacy risk. And that means foreign governments offended by U.S. snooping are already looking for ways to make sure their citizens’ data never reaches the U.S. without privacy concessions. We can see the beginnings of this effort in the statement by the vice president of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, who called in her June 20 op-ed in the New York Times for new EU data protection rules to “ensure that E.U. citizens’ data are transferred to non-European law enforcement authorities only in situations that are well defined, exceptional and subject to judicial review.” While we cheer these limits on government access, the spying scandal also puts the U.S. government and American companies at a disadvantage in ongoing discussions with the EU about upcoming changes to its law enforcement and consumer-privacy-focused data directives, negotiations critical to the Internet industry’s ongoing operations in Europe.Even more troubling, some European activists are calling for data-storage rules to thwart the U.S. government’s surveillance advantage. The best way to keep the American government from snooping is to have foreigners’ data stored locally so that local governments – and not U.S. spy agencies — get to say when and how that data may be used. And that means nations will force U.S.-based Internet giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter, to store their user data in-country, or will redirect users to domestic businesses that are not so easily bent to the American government’s wishes.So the first unintended consequence of mass NSA surveillance may be to diminish the power and profitability of the U.S. Internet economy. America invented the Internet, and our Internet companies are dominant around the world. The U.S. government, in its rush to spy on everybody, may end up killing our most productive golden goose.
California and its businesses have a problem. It’s called the National Security Agency.***The problem for California is not that the feds are collecting all of our communications. It is that the feds are (totally unapologetically) doing the same to foreigners, especially in communications with the U.S. California depends for its livelihood on people overseas — as customers, trade partners, as sources of talent. Our leading industries — shipping, tourism, technology, and entertainment — could not survive, much less prosper, without the trust and goodwill of foreigners. We are home to two of the world’s busiest container ports, and we are a leading exporter of engineering, architectural, design, financial, insurance, legal, and educational services. All of our signature companies — Apple, Google, Facebook, Oracle, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Chevron, Disney — rely on sales and growth overseas. And our families and workplaces are full of foreigners; more than one in four of us were born abroad, and more than 50 countries have diaspora populations in California of more than 10,000.***News that our government is collecting our foreign friends’ phone records, emails, video chats, online conversations, photos, and even stored data, tarnishes the California and American brands.***Will tourists balk at visiting us because they fear U.S. monitoring? Will overseas business owners think twice about trading with us because they fear that their communications might be intercepted and used for commercial gain by American competitors? Most chilling of all: Will foreigners stop using the products and services of California technology and media companies — Facebook, Google, Skype, and Apple among them — that have been accomplices (they say unwillingly) to the federal surveillance?The answer to that last question: Yes. It’s already happening. Asian governments and businesses are now moving their employees and systems off Google’s Gmail and other U.S.-based systems, according to Asian news reports. German prosecutors are investigating some of the American surveillance. The issue is becoming a stumbling block in negotiations with the European Union over a new trade agreement. Technology experts are warning of a big loss of foreign business.John Dvorak, the PCMag.com columnist, wrote recently, “Our companies have billions and billions of dollars in overseas sales and none of the American companies can guarantee security from American spies. Does anyone but me think this is a problem for commerce?”***It doesn’t help when our own U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is backing the surveillance without acknowledgment of the huge potential costs to her state.It’s time for her and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has been nearly as tone-deaf on this issue, to be forcefully reminded that protecting California industry, and the culture of openness and trust that is so vital to it, is at least as important as protecting massive government data-mining. Such reminders should take the force not merely of public statements but of law.California has a robust history of going its own way — on vehicle standards, energy efficiency, immigration, marijuana. Now is the time for another departure — this one on the privacy of communications.***We need laws, perhaps even a state constitutional amendment, to make plain that California considers the personal data and communications of all people, be they American or foreign, to be private and worthy of protection.
Congress Is Holding Hearings on Government Spying … Here’s a Cheat Sheet
Security Forum participants expressed total confidence in American empire, but could not contain their panic at the mention of Snowden.
Seated on a stool before an audience packed with spooks, lawmakers, lawyers and mercenaries, CNN's Wolf Blitzer introduced recently retired CENTCOM chief General James Mattis. "I've worked with him and I've worked with his predecessors," Blitzer said of Mattis. "I know how hard it is to run an operation like this."
Reminding the crowd that CENTCOM is "really, really important," Blitzer urged them to celebrate Mattis: "Let's give the general a round of applause."
Following the gales of cheering that resounded from the room, Mattis, the gruff 40-year Marine veteran who once volunteered his opinion that "it's fun to shoot some people,"outlined the challenge ahead. The "war on terror" that began on 9/11 has no discernable end, he said, likening it to the "the constant skirmishing between [the US cavalry] and the Indians" during the genocidal Indian Wars of the 19th century.
"The skirmishing will go on likely for a generation," Mattis declared.
Mattis' remarks, made beside a cable news personality who acted more like a sidekick than a journalist, set the tone for the entire 2013 Aspen Security Forum this July. A project of the Aspen Institute, the Security Forum brought together the key figures behind America's vast national security state, from military chieftains like Mattis to embattled National Security Agency Chief General Keith Alexander to top FBI and CIA officials, along with the bookish functionaries attempting to establish legal groundwork for expanding the war on terror.
Partisan lines and ideological disagreements faded away inside the darkened conference hall, as a parade of American securitocrats from administrations both past and present appeared on stage to defend endless global warfare and total information awareness while uniting in a single voice of condemnation against a single whistleblower bunkered inside the waiting room of Moscow International Airport: Edward Snowden.
With perhaps one notable exception, none of the high-flying reporters junketed to Aspen to act as interlocutors seemed terribly interested in interrogating the logic of the war on terror. The spectacle was a perfect window into the world of access journalism, with media professionals brown-nosing national security elites committed to secrecy and surveillance, avoiding overly adversarial questions but making sure to ask the requisite question about how much Snowden has caused terrorists to change their behavior.
Jeff Harris, the communications director for the Aspen Institute, did not respond to questions I submitted about whether the journalists who participated in the Security Forum accepted fees. (It is likely that all relied on Aspen to at least cover lodging and travel costs). CNN sponsored the forum through a special new website called CNN Security Clearance, promoting the event through Twitter and specially commissioned op-eds from participating national security figures like former CIA director John McLaughlin.
Another forum sponsor was Academi, the private mercenary corporation formerly known as Blackwater. In fact, Academi is Blackwater's third incarnation (it was first renamed "Xe") since revelations of widespread human rights abuses and possible war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan threw the mercenary firm into full damage control mode. The Aspen Institute did not respond to my questions about whether accepting sponsorship from such an unsavory entity fit within its ethical guidelines.
John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General who prosecuted the war on terror under the administration of George W. Bush, appeared at Aspen as a board member of Academi. Responding to a question about U.S. over-reliance on the "kinetic" approach of drone strikes and special forces, Ashcroft reminded the audience that the U.S. also likes to torture terror suspects, not just "exterminate" them.
"It's not true that we have relied solely on the kinetic option," Ashcroft insisted. "We wouldn't have so many detainees if we'd relied on the ability to exterminate people...We've had a blended and nuanced approach and for the guy who's on the other end of a Hellfire missile he doesn't see that as a nuance."
Hearty laughs erupted from the crowd and fellow panelists. With a broad smile on her face, moderator Catherine Herridge of Fox News joked to Ashcroft, "You have a way with words."
But Ashcroft was not done. He proceeded to boast about the pain inflicted on detainees during long CIA torture sessions: "And maybe there are people who wish they were on the end of one of those missiles."
Competing with Ashcroft for the High Authoritarian prize was former NSA chief Michael Hayden, who emphasized the importance of Obama's drone assassinations, at least in countries the U.S. has deemed to be Al Qaeda havens. "Here's the strategic question," Hayden said. "People in Pakistan? I think that's very clear. Kill 'em. People in Yemen? The same. Kill 'em."
"We don't smoke [drug] cartel leaders but personally I'd support it," remarked Philip Mudd, the former deputy director of Bush's Counterterrorism Center, earning more guffaws from his fellow panelists and from Herridge. Ironically, Mudd was attempting to argue that counter-terror should no longer be a top U.S. security priority because it poses less of a threat to Americans than synthetic drugs and child obesity.
Reflection was not on the agenda for most of the Security Forum's participants. When asked by a former US ambassador to Denmark the seminal question "This is a great country, why are we always the bad guy?," Mudd replied, "They think that anything the U.S. does [in the Middle East], even though we helped Muslim communities in Bosnia and Kuwait, everything is rewritten to make us the bad guys."
The clamoring about U.S. invasions, drone strikes, bankrolling of Israel's occupation, and general political meddling, could all be written off as fevered anti-Americanism borne from the desert canyons of the paranoid Arab mind.
And the wars could go on.
Delusions of Empire
Throughout the three days of the Security Forum, the almost uniformly white cast of speakers were called on to discuss recent geopolitical developments, from "Eye-rak" and "Eye-ran" to Egypt, where a military coup had just toppled the first elected government in the country's history.
Mattis carefully toed the line of the Obama administration, describing the overthrow of Egypt's government not as a coup, but as "military muscle saddled on top of this popular uprising."
Warning that using terms like "coup" could lead to a reduction in U.S. aid to Egypt, where the military controls about one-third of the country's economy, Mattis warned, "We have to be very careful about passing laws with certain words when the reality of the world won't allow you to."
Wolf Blitzer mentioned that Egypt's new military-imposed foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, had been a fixture in Washington during the Mubarak days. "These are people the West knows, the U.S. knows," he said of the new cabinet in Cairo. "I assume from the U.S. perspective, the United States is so much more happy with this."
Later, one of the few Arab participants in the forum, Al Jazeera DC bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara, claimed that the Arab revolts were inspired by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. "The iconic image of Saddam being pulled out of a hole did something to the dynamic between ruler and ruled in the Arab world," Foukara claimed.
With the revolts blurring the old boundaries imposed on the Arab world during the late colonial era, former CIA director John McLaughlin rose from the audience to call for the U.S. to form a secret, Sikes-Picot-style commission to draw up a new set of borders.
"The American government should now have such a group asking how we should manage those lines and what should those lines be," McLaughlin told the panelists, who dismissed the idea of a new Great Game even as they discussed tactics for preserving U.S. dominance in the Middle East.
ABC's Chris Isham asked Jim Jeffrey, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, why, with a recession on its hands and Middle Eastern societies spiraling out of control, should the U.S. remain militarily involved in the region. Without hesitation, Jeffrey rattled off the reasons: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and "world oil markets."
"What could we have done better?" Isham asked the ambassador.
"Probably not too much."
NSA Heroes, Saving Lives of Potential Consumers
While participants in the Security Forum expressed total confidence in American empire, they could not contain their panic, outrage, and fear at the mere mention of Snowden.
"Make no mistake about it: These are great people who we're slamming and tarnishing and it's wrong. They're the heroes, not this other and these leakers!" NSA chief General Keith Alexander proclaimed, earning raucous applause from the crowd.
Snowden's leaks had prompted a rare public appearance from Alexander, forcing the normally imperious spy chief into the spotlight to defend his agency's Panopticon-style programs and its dubious mechanisms of legal review. Fortunately for him, NBC's Pete Williams offered him the opportunity to lash out at Snowden and the media that reported the leaks, asking whether the "terrorists" (who presumably already knew they were being spied on) had changed their behavior as a result of the leaks.
"We have concrete proof that terrorists are taking action, making changes, and it's gonna make our job harder," Alexander declared, offering nothing to support his claim.
Alexander appeared in full military regalia, with colorful decorations and medallions covering his left breast. Casting himself as a stern but caring father who has the best interests of all Americans at heart, even if he can't fully disclose his methods, he turned to the crowd and explained,"The bad guys...hide amongst us to kill our people. Our job is to stop them without impacting your civil liberties and privacy and these programs are set up to do that."
"The reason we use secrecy is not to hide it from the American people, but to hide it from the people who walk among you and are trying to kill you," Alexander insisted.
Corporations like AT&T, Google and Microsoft that had been compelled to hand over customer data to the NSA "know that we're saving lives," the general claimed. With a straight face, he continued, "And that's good for business because there's more people out there who can buy their products."
So who were the "bad guys" who "walk among us," and how could Americans be sure they had not been ensnared by the NSA's all-encompassing spying regime, either inadvertently or intentionally? Nearly all the Security Forum participants involved in domestic surveillance responded to this question by insisting that the NSA had the world's most rigorous program of oversight, pointing to Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts as the best and only means of ensuring that "mistakes" are corrected.
"We have more oversight on this [PRISM] program than any other program in any government that I'm aware of," Alexander proclaimed, ramming home a talking point repeated throughout the forum.
"I can assure these are some of the judges who are renowned for holding the government to a very high standard," John Carlin, the Assistant US Attorney General for National Security, stated.
But in the last year, FISA courts received 1,856 applications for surveillance from the government. In 100 percent of cases, they were approved.As for Congress, only two senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, demanded the NSA explain why PRISM was necessary or questioned its legality. Despite the fact that the entire regime of oversight was a rubber stamp, or perhaps because of it, none of those who appeared at the Security Forum to defend it were willing to consider any forum of independent civilian review.
"You have to do [domestic surveillance] within a closed bubble in order to do it effectively," Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence conceded under sustained grilling from the Washington Post's Barton Gellman, one of the reporters who broke Snowden's leaks and perhaps the only journalist at the Security Forum who subjected participants to tough scrutiny.
When Gellman reminded Alexander that none of the oversight mechanisms currently in place could determine if the NSA had improperly targeted American citizens with no involvement in terror-related activity, the general declared, "we self-report those mistakes."
"It can't be, let's just stop doing it, cause we know, that doesn't work," Alexander maintained. "We've got to have some program like [PRISM]."
The wars would go on, and so would the spying.
Reinstituting Public Confidence
During a panel on inter-agency coordination of counter-terror efforts, Mike Leiter, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC), suggested that one of the best means of preserving America's vast and constantly expanding spying apparatus was "by reinstituting faith among the public in our oversight."
Even as current NCC director Matthew Olsen conceded, "There really are limits in how transparent we can be," Leiter demanded that the government "give the public confidence that there's oversight.
Since leaving the NCC, Leiter has become the senior counsel of Palantir Technologies, a private security contractor that conducts espionage on behalf of the FBI, CIA, financial institutions, the LAPD and the NYPD, among others. In 2011, Palantir spearheaded a dirty tricks campaign against critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including journalists, compiling electronic dossiers intended to smear them. Palantir's target list included progressive groups like Think Progress, SEIU and U.S. Chamber Watch.
In the friendly confines of the Aspen Institute's Security Forum, Leiter did his best to burnish his company's tarnished image, and do some damage control on behalf of the national security apparatus it depends on for contracts. Like most other participants, Leiter appeared in smart casual dress, with an open collar, loafers, a loose-fitting jacket and slacks.
"Just seeing us here," he said, "that inspires [public] confidence, because we're not a bunch of ogres."