Edward Snowden Granted Asylum in Russia

Earlier this month, Russia granted Edward Snowden Asylum. Snowden is a 30-year-old former technical contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) who admitted to leaking confidential NSA information. Snowden first disclosed his identity in June 2013 as the main source behind some articles published in the Guardian and the Washington Post that revealed classified details about NSA spying programs. According to the information Snowden leaked to these publications, NSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigations are eavesdropping on millions of people in America and Europe by monitoring phone records and internet data using two top secret US government spying programs.

View of Red Square, Moscow, Russia.Snowden sought asylum in various countries, without much success, after the US government charged him with theft of property and espionage before Russia granted him asylum. Prior to getting the asylum offer from Russia, the whistleblower received offers of asylum from countries such Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, which indicated that they regarded Snowden as whistleblower and wanted to help protect his human and civil right. While Snowden expressed interest in visiting those countries, it was impossible for him to enter any of these countries after the US government revoked his US passport.

Even though Russia had initially declined to grant Snowden’s request for Asylum, President Putin’s administration eventually hailed Snowden as a whistle blower and offered the former NSA contractor a certificate for a temporary one-year asylum. While accepting the asylum offer, Snowden hailed Russia’s decision as a victory for the rule of law. However, after Russia gave asylum to Snowden, Russian president Vladimir Putin disclosed that the asylum offer is on condition that Snowden stops his ‘political activities’ and stops leaking US secrets. Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena later confirmed that Snowden accepted this condition before accepting the asylum offer.

Under the temporary asylum offer provided by Russia, Edward Snowden can live, work and travel in Russia for one year. However, the asylum agreement is renewable after one year and Snowden can seek citizenship if he stays in the country for at least five years. In the meantime, Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, says that, in the near future, his client has plans to rent an apartment and find a job in Russia. According to Kucherena, Snowden is a high-level expert and several companies in Russia have expressed an interest in hiring him. Nevertheless, so far Kucherena has declined to disclose where Snowden is staying saying that his client’s whereabouts are a secret since he is one of the most wanted persons in the world.

Following Russia’s decision to give Edward Snowden asylum, the US government attempted to convince Russia to send Snowden home to face prosecution. However, Russia President Putin dismissed these attempts repeatedly. The US government has since expressed concerns that Snowden may provide additional damaging information about the techniques/programs the US uses to spy on foreign governments and citizens.

If this is the case, Russia and other countries may have at their disposal the information they need to circumvent US surveillance systems. Some officials in the US government are also wary of reasons behind the asylum offer Russia gave Snowden since Snowden may have an obligation to provide confidential NSA information as a condition for the asylum deal. In case Snowden decides to barter information for a permanent asylum deal, there is a risk of further compromising US intelligence systems.

All in all, while Russia’s asylum offer may have granted Edward Snowden a great reprieve from possible imprisonment in the US, the offer has also brought up new issues in the complex US-Russia relations. For instance, Snowden’s case provides new evidence that there are limits to US influence in the East as Russia makes no attempt to heed to the repeated appeals by the US government to hand over Snowden. Some US leaders such as Sen. John McCain have so far reacted to Russia’s latest move terming it a violation of international civil liberties.

Track Chairs Provide Hope for Our Disabled Vets

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Scattered throughout our country there are large numbers of survivors of military operations whose mobility is severely restricted due to the loss of one or more limbs. When these veterans realize the extent of their loss, and how much their life is going to be curtailed, they can suffer devastating psychological consequences. Now, Track Chairs provide new hope for our disabled vets.

The Action Track Chair is a powered high-traction wheelchair for off-road use. Instead of wheels, it is fitted with treaded caterpillar tracks, similar to tank tracks, to enable the chair to negotiate difficult terrain. It fact it has been described as half wheelchair, half ATV (all-terrain vehicle), and some have nicknamed it the tank chair.

The chair has an abundance of features that make it ideal for use by people with very limited independent mobility. It is powered with two 12-volt batteries, and these can be recharged, so there is no risk of being stranded. There is a joystick for steering, and the zero-turn radius steering system means increased control, and much greater ease of maneuvering over obstacles and in tight spaces.

The chair also boasts a wealth of high-tech features, which users say makes it a dream to use. For instance, to make it easy to use on steep slopes, there is an electric actuator, enabling the user to tilt the seat forward, for ascending more safely, and tilt it back, for easier descent. There is a whole array of small switches, which provide the user with virtually 100% mobility.

To make the chair suitable for a wide range of activities, there is scope for all sorts of optional add-ons. There are holders and rests for hauling packs, and for holding cameras, binoculars and toolboxes. For hunters, the chair can be customized with rifle holders, gun racks and gun scabbards, while for keen anglers there are holders for rods and reels. The chair even has a feature that enables the user to stand up in the chair, which is a great bonus for sport enthusiasts.

Those who have already used the chair have been amazed at the wide range of activities they can perform. The chair’s low center of gravity and wide wheelbase keep it balanced and steady, even in the most challenging terrain. It has five speeds — none of them fast, but making it possible to adjust the speed from extremely slow, for climbing over rocks and logs, to a moderate speed for flat terrain. All this means the chair can be driven through snow, over rocks, and even through several inches of water. It excels in mud, on the beach or in the forest — in fact, virtually everywhere the user wants to go.

The Action Track Chair was originally devised by a Minnesota-based sports equipment manufacturer, after his own son lost his mobility in a car crash at age 16. The drive to provide Track Chairs for disabled veterans was spearheaded by a small private nonprofit organization called the Independence Fund, which was set up in 2007 to support wounded vets through their rehabilitation process. They have teamed up with another organization, Truckin 4 Troops, to raise funds to purchase chairs for all vets who would benefit from them.

When the chairs are purchased, they are stored at a farm belonging to Truckin 4 Troops founder Scott Mallary, waiting for the vets to be rehabilitated sufficiently to use the chairs. The farm is close to the Walter Reed Medical Center, where many of the vets are being treated. Mallary also provides space on his farm, where the vets can test drive the chairs and get used to operating them, so that by the time they are discharged, they are good to go.

Advances in battlefield medicine mean that many soldiers with devastating injuries, who would previously have died, are now surviving. Although they are thankful to be alive, they find it desperately hard to come to terms with the loss of their freedom and independence. The Track Chairs cannot remove disabilities or replace legs, but they can greatly reduce the impact of the injuries, by restoring some independence and choice, and allowing access to the great outdoors.

Persons who would like to make a donation to this worthwhile cause may do so by visiting: http://www.independencefund.org/#!track-chairs/c1qsz.

Is The NSA Spying On Americans? Myths and Truths

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Is the NSA spying on Americans?
The revelations made by former NSA worker Edward Snowden about the US government’s domestic spying activities have generated a lot of concern. This is after The Guardian and The Washington Post broke news about the PRISM and XKeyscore programs based on information supplied by Snowden. This has left the US government in a tricky spot as it tries to explain what kind of surveillance it carries out on American citizens. To compound the woes facing President Obama and director of the NSA, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, Russia has granted asylum to Snowden making it almost impossible to prosecute the former Booz Allen worker.

To understand how Americans got to this point, it is important to take a step back and look at the genesis of the NSA’s intelligence gathering activities. To start with, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) came into existence in 1978 after the Church Committee found that the government had engaged in widespread abuse of wiretaps. The FISC mandate was to ensure that investigators obtained warrants that any other ordinary judge would approve.

Fast forward to 9/11 and the attitude at the NSA changed completely. According to former NSA analyst J. Kirk Wiebe, the NSA complied with the FISA before 9/11. However, this changed when President George Bush signed a secret eavesdropping order 23 days after 9/11 according to the author of Bush’s Law Eric Lichtblau. On October 25, 2001, the White House briefed four members of Congress about the secret surveillance program according to the Inspectors General Report.

By January 2002, AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein says the NSA was actively constructing secret rooms in AT&T facilities in order to gather internet data. On March 6, 2004, Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) head Goldsmith advised the Whitehouse that collecting metadata from Skype calls and emails should cease. Armed with evidence from Mark Klein showing that the NSA had routed copies of internet traffic to a secret room, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued AT&T on January 31, 2005.

The watershed moment in NSA’s surveillance activities occurred on January 17, 2006 when the Attorney General at that time sent a letter to the US Congress stating that all electronic surveillance that was part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program would be subject to FISC approval. In general, this meant that the NSA could collect electronic communication if they believed that any of the communicants had links to Al Qaeda operatives or other associated groups. However, the Inspectors General Report published on July 10, 2008 stated that the Terrorist surveillance Program was of little value and did not have sound legal backing. All of this shows that the government is definitely carrying out some form of electronic surveillance. Even the NSA director Keith Alexander confirmed this when he was speaking at Black Hat 2013 in Las Vegas.

The NSA chief said that the PRISM program falls under section 702 of the FISA and involves the surveillance of foreigners for counterterrorism purposes. In addition, he said that NSA only collects metadata. This includes phone number initiating the call, source and site of the call, time of the call, and recipient’s number. He denied that his agency collects SMS messages or records any identifying information such as credit card information.

With more revelations from Edward Snowden continuing to surface, the debate over whether the US government engages in illegal surveillance of Americans will continue. This debate is not just taking place at the street level but at the highest levels of government. In fact, a plan to stop the NSA’s funding to collect phone data narrowly missed its target by seven votes. This shows that deep divisions are beginning to emerge in Washington over intrusive intelligence programs.

According to New York Democrat Representative Jerrold Nadler, the NSA’s abuse of the Patriot Act will end at some point — the act itself is set to expire in 2015.

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