Responses: 1.Drone attacks – 2.NSA – 3.Military spending – 4.Police practices – 5.Nuclear weapons – 6.Encryption – 7.Israel/Palestine – 8.Surveillance of First Amendment protected activity – 9.Refugees – 10.Guantanamo, indefinite detention – 11. “Countering Violent Extremism” programs – References
1. Drone Attacks: U.S. strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries using drone aircraft have killed many civilians, with observers claiming that far more civilians have been killed than have members of militant groups and that these strikes create more violent extremists than they kill. Recent research based on leaked classified documents suggests that nearly 90% of people killed in recent drone strikes were not the target. Moreover, targeted assassinations in foreign countries are contrary to international law.
Do you oppose drone attacks which kill numerous civilians, undermine democratic principles, foment new terrorists, and may trigger a new global killer drone arms race?
The drone situation, like most anything related to combat and war, is complicated. To flat out oppose drone strikes as this question asks is not something I could agree to. Such a stance is too strong to take in a world where the rules of engagement and strategy of war is ever evolving. Drones have a place in America’s arsenal.
However, this does not mean drones should be used willy nilly. This is the bigger issue we face: accuracy of intelligence. Drones serve as the virtual extension of a human being. If the human has bad intel, just like with any military engagement, negative consequences may result. Our intelligence agencies increasingly rely on technology to gather intel, losing the incredibly valuable skills of human intelligence gathering. Human intelligence can augment and improve our overall intelligence picture, even if it puts US personnel in harm’s way.
With more accurate intelligence, drone strikes can minimize civilian casualties. Eliminating them outright is impossible, just like it would be in any war setting. Consider the alternatives to drone strikes. Sending in troops is incredibly risky and difficult to hide, doing nothing allows a known threat to continue, depending on local authorities won’t always work as we saw with the bin Laden attack, and military jets are still too obvious and carry weapons more destructive than drones.
No, I cannot oppose the use of drones as a weapon of war. But I can and will push strongly for a more nuanced approach and far better intelligence gathering to minimize casualties.
2. NSA: In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed National Security Agency (NSA) warrantless bulk surveillance of Americans’ telephone and electronic communications and metadata. While legal experts, lawmakers, and courts agreed the NSA had overstepped its bounds, the House of Representatives failed, by 7 “no” votes, to pass an Amash-Conyers amendment that would have stopped spending on these NSA programs. Representatives Van Hollen (8th CD) and Delaney (6th CD) were among the “no” votes allowing the NSA programs to continue.
a. Do you agree that warrantless collection of metadata is itself a violation of Fourth Amendment rights?
Absolutely it is. The gross abuse of FISA courts the last two administrations have participated in disgusts me. Security has been put before liberty to such an extreme, I seriously think there are individuals who feel a Big Brother state is the only way to ensure everyone’s safety. Such is a total fallacy; destroying our Fourth Amendment rights under the guise of safety is something I won’t stand for, even if it does mean US citizens may be killed. This is part of the sacrifice we make to be free. We bear this burden of liberty whether we like it or not.
Security has become one of the two major emotional catch-alls used by politicians to sway votes, the other major factor being “children.” No one wants to oppose anything that might result in harm to children. Security went down a similar path for many years with the Patriot Act and surveillance activities. Ever since the horrible tragedy of 9/11, fear of violence, fear of attack, fear of mass death has been used to enact programs like those the NSA, DEA, and FBI have engaged in, ones that trample on the Fourth Amendment and other rights.
We have no idea how many- if any- terrorists have been caught by the bulk collection programs, not even a ballpark amount. Still, our government agencies create bigger haystacks with which to try and find evil doers. Bigger haystacks aren’t needed, a more concise focus is. Narrow the focus, better the intelligence gathering and intelligence analysis process. Having access to every bit of communication around the world will not stop horrible things from happening, but gathering and retaining private information without a warrant for years on end of those not even under suspicion of wrongdoing does harm our civil liberties. It must change.
b. Will you work to stop continued warrantless electronic data and metadata surveillance by the NSA by funding cuts, the Surveillance State Repeal Act, or other legislative means?
Yes. Funding cuts would be a measure of last resort, because existing funding can always be repurposed towards activities resulting in better intelligence gathering or analysis. The Surveillance State Repeal Act (SSRA) is a very good start and I could support it. But it still has problems.
Lengthening the FISA judge term from 7 to 10 years as the SSRA does makes no sense. Judge turnover needs to be fairly constant when it comes to a secret court. I would say a max sentence of three years so that a standing President and the Senate would have to appoint at least two judges during their time in office.
Relating to the collection of the data, itself, the SSRA does not address the privacy requirements as it relates to non-government entities. Under the SSRA, as I read the text, warrantless gathering of data is not allowed. However, our telecommunication companies (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, etc) can still store all kinds of data related to individuals as part of “normal business operations.” Companies making use of license plate readers to capture local traffic falls into the group of data collectors as well. Government agencies could (and do) request that data as needed. Some might say a warrant is required showing probable cause, but recall that FISA judges rejected less than 0.1% of all warrant requests between 2001 and 2012 (10 out of nearly 21,000).
New legislation is needed to protect user privacy from FISA abuse outside of the SSRA. License plate readers, web history, call history, etc. needs to be secure. Not just for national security, but for personal security as well. I would put forth legislation to curb the data gathering practices of all entities, not just government, so-as to keep American privacy intact. That freedom is not just something we’ve earned, it’s something we deserve.
3. Military Spending: U.S. military spending accounts for 54 percent  of U.S. discretionary spending and 34 percent  of the world total; it exceeds the combined total of the next 8  highest spending countries. Cuts in military expenditures would allow the federal government to expand health care, cut college costs, develop a green economy, and rebuild crumbling infrastructure. (1)
Would you support legislation to significantly reduce the military budget and redirect the savings to social needs?
America has an extensive military presence, yes. But saying “our budget is the size of the next 8 highest countries combined” is a statement that misunderstands the nature of war. Allies are not those who rush to your beck and call whenever you wish. In all of our recent military engagements, the majority of our European allies did not provide anywhere near the levels of troops or munitions that we did into the region. The closest anyone came was the UK in Iraq, and even then it was fraction of our numbers. Same with Australia, France, and other allies.
Every country exists in their own sphere of socio-political and economic problems. That means any external action they take is weighed against the thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires of their own populace. Imagine if the UK went to war with another country that we had no stake in and felt no real ill will towards. If they asked for thousands of troops on the ground, as an ally, should we drop everything and send that to them? No, just like they should not for us for the same reasons.
This means military spending to ensure security and stability is required. Our military spending levels have dropped significantly already; they approach levels not seen since the Clinton Administration. The absolute minimum I can imagine spending on military budgets is $400-450 billion given the size and scope of things. Anything less would likely jeopardize us in some fashion.
Now, all that being said, I do find wasteful military spending (and wasteful government spending in general) to be a problem. The majority of Major Defense Acquisition Programs (MDAP’s) suffer from cost-growth factor issues. A large number of them have Nunn-McCurdy breaches, where costs grow to be 25-50% higher than originally expected, billions of dollars due to poor planning and/or poor design. On top of that, Congress also has a habit of mandating spending on military equipment the Pentagon doesn’t want, such as Abrams tanks, certain ships, and certain drones. This kind of wasteful spending can and should be addressed. That will help lower costs while maintaining operational efficiency, the ultimate goal in this situation.
4. Police practices: In recent years, the public has been galvanized by heightened exposure of police abuses, especially of minorities and their communities: racial profiling; use of excessive force, including shooting unarmed suspects; and the deployment of surplus military vehicles and weaponry to quell protests. In Maryland, the ACLU has documented at least 109 police-involved deaths between 2010 and 2014, with nearly 70 percent of victims being black and over 40 percent unarmed. Local efforts to hold police accountable for abuses and to improve police practices are not uniformly vigorous or successful.
Will you support federal legislation including the End Racial Profiling Act and the Stop Militarization of Police Act to prevent police abuses, uphold the civil rights of suspects, and rein in the Pentagon’s 1033 program transferring military equipment to police departments?
Racial profiling, religious profiling, any kind of profiling based on the perception of negativity has no place in law enforcement. “Innocent before proven guilty” and unalienable Rights are two major aspects to American philosophy, the underlying ideals acting as a foundation for our great nation. When individuals and organizations (including law enforcement) engage in profiling, they erode that foundation, weaken what is supposed to make America a bastion of freedom.
I understand why law enforcement might want to engage in profiling. It makes their jobs easier when they can go “X% of <insert profiled group here> are prone to criminal activity based on Y statistic.” They will then use such as an excuse to profile all members of a certain group, ignoring the myriads of other factors that really drive individuals of all types into criminal activity. Poverty, lack of education, lack of moral upbringing, lack of mentoring, lack of job opportunity, a poor criminal justice system that ruins lives unnecessarily, and more all contribute. That certain individuals- be they black, Muslim, gay, transgender, or otherwise- are born into or live in such realities does not mean they deserve to be lumped together with malcontents.
The Pentagon’s 1033 program is a different beast. Most of the program’s dispersals are mundane or benign in nature, such as office equipment, medical supplies, computers, lockers, shelving, etc. According to a White House review in 2014, that amounts to nearly 96% of the gear given out by the 1033 program. What everyone has a problem with is the remaining 4%, which adds up to approximately 78,000 pieces of controlled property (ie, military designated equipment) such as small arms, night vision, High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, and more.
Controlled property suffers from a myriad of issues regarding oversight, transparency, and training. State and local law enforcement can sometimes by-pass purchasing procedures through DHS grants and other shenanigans to acquire such military equipment. This is definitely a problem to be reined in. More transparency, concrete lists of what equipment is and is not controlled property, ensuring proper channels of purchase are followed, setting up databases of purchases for public transparency, requiring after-action analysis reports for incidents involving controlled property at the state/local levels, and more can help bring the 1033 program under control. And with proper training, hopefully state and local law enforcement will stop going overboard with SWAT use.
5. Nuclear Weapons: Despite reductions in the nuclear arsenal, a commitment to refrain from producing new nuclear weapons, and a decreased reliance on the stockpile in U.S. security strategy, the U.S. government is planning to spend up to one trillion dollars on nuclear weapons activities in the next thirty years.
Do you oppose the proposed US nuclear modernization program, with an estimated cost of $1 trillion over the next 30 years, which assumes the US would continue to have nuclear weapons for another 100 years?
Nuclear weapons exist. This is one of the harsh realities to the world we cannot change. Even if America were to fully embark on the path to disarmament, other countries in the world do not follow our same beliefs. Human beings are still imperfect creatures, committing heinous acts of violence and immorality. To rule out the need for nuclear weapons is not something I can support. Deterrent is an effective tool in the geopolitical sphere.
That means we need to pursue a path to nuclear modernization. That does not mean we can’t cut back on our nuclear arsenal a bit, however. I can and will support cutbacks to the program, such as lowering the number of delivery vehicles (submarines/planes) and cutting back on our ICBM force. Given the number of nuclear warheads we currently have, making use of even 75% of them would be a sign of global catastrophe. Some cost savings will not change this fact.
6. Encryption: The FBI is suing Apple to force the company to unlock the iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, in a case that would set a precedent allowing law enforcement to gain backdoors into a wide array of other devices. Critics of the FBI’s approach have pointed out that this will adversely impact cybersecurity, the competitiveness of American tech companies, privacy, and the right to free expression. A UN report concludes that strong encryption is essential to protect free expression.
Will you support legislation such as the ENCRYPT Act, which prevents states from passing legislation mandating backdoors into devices?
I’m the only Senate candidate in Maryland (and possibly the entire United States) with a degree in computer science. I am familiar with encryption, I understand the purpose, the point, and the various principles to such technologies. What the FBI and other organizations ask for, some kind of “magic door” that only they have access to, goes completely against what encryption is all about. Every extra possibility that is introduced to by-pass encryption creates numerous avenues of attack for malicious individuals.
Once an extra avenue of attack exists, the innocent are no longer safe. If there was a way for the FBI to decrypt any encrypted data on any iPhone via some special tool, the prize for getting that special software, special keys, or whatever technique was being used would be worth millions to billions. We’re talking about more than just protecting speech and stopping terrorists; this is about protecting privacy, protecting personal information, protecting financial activities and more.
So much of our lives are stored digitally these days. Not just digitally, but in aggregate. Criminals might have to steal physical credit cards and multiple usernames and passwords to achieve the same effect as one can do on a smartphone without encryption and without adequate security. An Amazon spending spree, unauthorized transactions through bank or brokerage apps, and more are just some of the possibilities that exist due to ease of use on smart devices. Powerful walls are needed to stop those potentialities. Encryption and strong passwords are your best bet outside of reducing ease of use.
Outside of smartphones, encryption needs to be expanded and data made more secure, especially with online merchants. There are ecommerce entities that are not required to maintain any regularly tested digital security standards, such as PCI-DSS. This exposes us to hacks, fraud, and identity theft. So imagine if we increase our digital security standards… but then the government mandates some method to decrypt that data. It would only be a matter of time before all that security, all that money spent trying to protect ourselves became meaningless.
7. Israel/Palestine: In 2015, Israel’s prime minister inserted himself into U.S. politics in an attempt to undercut U.S. diplomacy and derail the Iran nuclear deal. Despite being the biggest recipient of aid of any country in the world, Israel continues to defy the U.S. by expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank, demolishing Palestinian homes, and maintaining a devastating blockade of the Gaza Strip. And yet, the US continues to supply Israel with vast amounts of military aid amounting to more than $3 billion/year, with talks underway to dramatically increase that amount.
Do you support ending or reducing U.S. military aid to Israel until it abides by international and U.S. law?
As a Jew, I believe in God, the Torah, and the State of Israel. I will always support Israel just like I will always support my friends and family. The Israel/Palestine situation remains complex not just because of the effect on both states, but because of the effect on the whole region. Violence from Palestinians has time and again fueled the fires of Israelis. As long as the threat of violence looms, I have no problem supporting military aid to the people of Israel.
At the same time, I very much support a two state solution. Israel’s current leadership needs to tone down the rhetoric, even amidst all the violence. Being a great friend and ally does not mean we should just sit by and let them commit acts we wouldn’t otherwise approve of. Thus, in addition to supporting military aid to Israel, I would like to see aid that goes to Palestinians, even using Israel as an intermediary. More health and humanitarian resources, offers to build/rebuild schools, aid that can act as an olive branch from the people of Israel to the people of Palestine.
Being the “stronger” nation is no excuse for some of the actions we’ve seen. My support for Israel is unwavering, but that support also includes telling friends and allies when their actions don’t help their own cause.
8. Surveillance of First Amendment protected activity: In 2016, nearly seventy civil society groups sent a letter to Congress urging investigation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s and Department of Homeland Security’s abuse of counterterrorism resources to monitor First Amendment protected activity. The letter was prompted by revelations that both agencies had collected information about or even infiltrated Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, School of the Americas Watch, and anti-Keystone XL Pipeline groups. Released documents show both agencies acknowledged the groups were nonviolent, yet still devoted counterterrorism resources to surveilling them.
a. Will you support Congressional investigation of abuse of counterterrorism authorities by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies to gather information on political protest and social movements?
The use of “national security” as a catch-all for government activities must end. There are legitimate national security concerns, but intelligence agencies and government as a whole needs to understand that protected First Amendment actions- protests, speech, the press, and more- does not automatically make you a threat to our great nation. Even dissent and anger does not. The moment anger and disagreement puts us in a special category for “potential threats” is the moment Big Brother has won. You can’t be the land of the brave when mere words make you cower in fear, giving up liberty that men and women have fought and died to preserve.
But this is a fine line. Threatening violence against a member of government or some civil organization does not automatically make you a national security threat, but it can make law enforcement aware of you. There is a difference between awareness and monitoring of a situation with civil groups and abuse of the “national security” moniker against said groups. Absolutely stay aware of those group actions if the rhetoric is anger bordering on violence; do not destroy civil liberties and our Bill of Rights to do so.
b. Will you support legislation barring federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies from investigating First Amendment protected activity, absent evidence that a crime is likely to be or has been committed?
The question is overly broad. “Investigating” can mean a lot of things. If I hear a civil group is coming to Baltimore and hear rumor of a potential disturbance that state/local authorities cannot handle or are not aware of, then dedicating personnel to monitoring the situation is something I am totally fine with. That does not mean eroding any rights individuals have through system abuses like warrantless stingray usage, however. Evidence of a crime likely to be committed may only be a rumor, but probable cause is enough to pay attention to a situation.
Again, it boils down to how law enforcement and intelligence agencies are investigating. Done properly, there is no problem. Erring on the side of caution without circumventing our rights and liberties keeps everyone safe. The moment someone takes a “shortcut” by not getting a warrant or trumping up charges without probable cause or violating privacy through mass surveillance practices, that is the moment when the line of acceptability gets crossed. Investigate… but do it properly.
9. Refugees: The refugee crisis in Europe, the biggest humanitarian emergency since World War II, is a direct result of the war in Iraq. President Obama has said that only 10,000 of these desperate people will be resettled in the U.S. this year, despite the fact that some 4.8 million refugees have left Syria and Iraq in search of safety, with millions more displaced inside these two countries.
Do you support the resettlement of at least 100,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the U.S. this year?
When people have concerns with refugees, it usually revolves around one of two lines of thinking:
1) These people are dangerous because they came from a dangerous region and, thus, present a threat to us.
2) These people will put a strain on our economy and/or society, a burden we do not want to deal with.
The first question is valid, but our refugee screening process is quite thorough. It takes roughly 18-24 months for screening, background checks, and more to be completed. There is always a chance for a bad seed to squeeze by, but there is a chance for a bad seed to grow in America without any refugees.
Consider as well the history of refugee admissions. The vast majority of them are from regions torn from war or other violent activities. The last 10 years have seen tens of thousands of refugees from Burma, Iraq, Somalia, Cuba, Bhutan, and even Iran. Complaints against these individuals have been very quiet, not reaching mainstream media. Yet, civil unrest hit those regions years ago. Turning back refugees from Syria and Iraq now because of security fears is a mistake given our history in accepting such individuals.
Which leads to the second question. Refugees, by definition, are individuals who are forced to leave their country due to war, persecution, or natural disasters- suffering that has befallen a fellow human being. It is our duty as Americans recognizing unalienable Rights in all humanity to give aid to these people as best we can. It may cause ripples in society and the economy, but if these refugees are treated humanely, treated with respect, welcomed with open arms, and shown friendliness, they are far more likely to better society and the economy. Hate and resentment breeds negativity on all sides. That goes against our recognition of unalienable Rights, the most self-evident Truth from our founding fathers.
So yes, I support resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the US this year, even at large numbers.
10. Guantanamo, indefinite detention: President Obama recently renewed his vow to close the Guantanamo detention center, arguing that its continued operation undermines national security. Part of his proposal involves relocating detainees posing a “continuing significant threat” to a secure location in the United States. This raises the prospect of a “Guantanamo North” – prisoners held indefinitely, without legitimate due process, on American soil.
Will you support legislation closing the Guantanamo detention center, and oppose denial of writ of habeas corpus and due process to any detainees moved to the United States?
The principles , laws, and essence of American ideology revolves around equality. That means more than just equality regardless of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. It means equality in judicial rights and procedural benefits. Inmates at Guantanamo may be dangerous; they may be legitimate national security threats. But due process must be maintained.
Under due process, getting Guantanamo inmates life in prison without parole can still occur. If a significant national security threat exists, such cases should be easy wins for the Department of Justice. The threat of escape on the mainland versus Guantanamo does not concern me, nor do I think a different location will result in extra “influence” such inmates might have on American soil.
Close Guantanamo down, give inmates due process, and keep them locked up forever as the legitimate national security threats they are. And if they are not national security threats, then we have a much bigger problem to deal with in the form of our own governmental agencies.
11. “Countering Violent Extremism” programs: The Department of Justice and FBI’s Countering Violent Extremism program is based on the premise that the adoption of extreme or “radical” ideas places individuals on a path toward violence, and that there are observable “indicators” to identify those who are “vulnerable” to “radicalization” or “at risk” of being recruited by terrorist groups. While no empirical or scientific evidence supports that premise, the program — focused almost exclusively on the American Muslim Community — is growing dramatically. The FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center are encouraging teachers, social workers, and health professionals to monitor and report on the beliefs and associations of their students and clients, framing First Amendment protected activities as predictors of future violence.
Will you oppose legislation that expands this program, such as the CVE Act and Countering Online Recruitment of Violent Extremists Act?
What drives individuals to violence varies tremendously. For the federal government to set a specific set of criteria as “likely to result in radicalization and/or violence” tells me the authors have little understanding of humanity and/or they are seeking attention through legislation that won’t serve much purpose but looks good on paper. The CVE Act and, especially, the CORVE Act are examples of both.
Potential for radicalization is a problem, yes. But so is poverty. People are endowed with certain unalienable Rights such as life, liberty, love, honor, humor, and the pursuit of happiness. When we are able to partake in these Rights, we enjoy existence more often than not. I don’t know if there has been a case of anyone truly happy that has gone down a path of extremist violence. Human beings want to survive, they want to be happy, they like freedom in various degrees. The unalienable Rights of love, honor, and humor tell of respect, of appreciation, and of happiness manifest in frivolity. All of these are part of the human condition, even if the manifestation of such actions differs between all of us.
Poverty can lead to criminal activity, even violence, as a human being is forced to take action in order to meet the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Likewise, radicalization can occur when one feels cast out of society, angry at others for slights (perceived or real), and any one of an infinite number of other possibilities. Legislation like the CVE Act are doomed to fail because the criteria cannot be anything but overly simplistic. That Muslim communities seem to be a focus of such radicalization prevention again shows the basic nature of the programs.
No, I cannot support these types of bills in the slightest. There are better, more productive and universal ways to tackle the socio-economic (including religious) issues that lead to violence.
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