Edward Snowden Charged With Espionage By US Government

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From: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130621/16125123577/edward-snowden-charged-with-espionage-us-government.shtml

 

This isn’t a huge surprise, but the Washington Post is reporting that US federal prosecutors havefiled a sealed criminal complaint against Edward Snowden charging him with espionage under the Espionage Act, along with theft and conversion of government property — and have asked Hong Kong authorities to detain him. Just this morning, we were discussing the Obama administration’swar on whistleblowers, prosecuting six different whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, twice the number of all other presidential administrations combined. Now we’re up to number seven apparently. Update: The complaint has been unsealed (also embedded below).

Did Snowden break the law? Possibly — but charging him with espionage is ridiculous, just as it has been ridiculous in many of these cases. Snowden wasn’t doing this to “aid the enemy” but to alertthe American public to the things that the administration itself had been publicly misleading to downright untruthful about. His actions have kicked off an important discussion and debate over surveillance society and how far it has gone today. That’s not espionage. If he was doing espionage, he would have sold those secrets off to a foreign power and lived a nice life somewhere else. To charge him with espionage is insane.

In terms of process, the Washington Post explains:

By filing a criminal complaint, prosecutors have a legal basis to make the request of the authorities in Hong Kong. Prosecutors now have 60 days to file an indictment, probably also under seal, and can then move to have Snowden extradited from Hong Kong for trial in the United States.

Snowden, however, can fight the U.S. effort to have him extradited in the courts in Hong Kong. Any court battle is likely to reach Hong Kong’s highest court and could last many months, lawyers in the United States and Hong Kong said.

It also notes that while the US and Hong Kong have an extradition treaty, there is an exception for “political offenses.”

While this certainly was not unexpected, it’s still a disappointing move from the administration. The crackdown on whistleblowers does not make the US look strong. It makes our government look weak, petty and vindictive in the face of actual transparency. It’s shameful.

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NSA Contractor Outs Himself as Source of Surveillance Documents

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From: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2013/06/nsa-leaker-outs-himself/

NSA contractor and former CIA technical employee Edward Snowden announced today that he was the source for documents published about the NSA’s secret surveillance programs. Image courtesy of the Guardian

 

Edward Snowden, a former computer security administrator for the CIA and current contractor for the NSA, has outed himself as the source of a string of explosive documents describing NSA surveillance activities against U.S. citizens and foreign targets.

The 29-year-old, who now works for the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton on projects for the NSA in Hawaii, revealed himself as the source of documents provided to the Guardian and Washington Post about the NSA’s collection of phone records belonging to millions of Americans as well as a surveillance program called PRISM that targets the internet communications and activities of foreign targets.

Snowden made the revelations in a lengthy story and video published by the Guardian today.

“I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” Snowden said in the interview, conducted last Thursday in Hong Kong where he was in hiding at the time the leaks were published. He added, “I am not afraid, because this is the choice I’ve made.”

He identified himself as an infrastructure analyst for the NSA in Hawaii, earning $200,000 a year, but has worked as a contractor for the NSA for four years on behalf of various contract firms.

He worked previously as a systems engineer and administrator, a senior advisor for the CIA and a telecommunications information systems officer and described his growing distress over the years as his exposure to the government’s surveillance activities grew.

In a note that he wrote to accompany the first documents he gave the papers, he said, “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”

He also said that he didn’t want media attention for leaking but wanted the spotlight focused instead on the broad surveillance the U.S. government was doing.

“I know the media likes to personalize political debates, and I know the government will demonize me,” he said in the interview. “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in…. My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

Snowden said he was willing to sacrifice his career and the stable life he had made with his girlfriend in Hawaii “because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.”

He said he assumed the government would accuse him of violating the Espionage Act and aiding enemies but this didn’t concern him. The Guardian said the only time he became emotional during interviews was when he pondered the impact this would have on his family, many of whom work for the U.S. government.

“The only thing I fear is the harmful effects on my family, who I won’t be able to help any more. That’s what keeps me up at night,” he told the paper.

Booz Allen Hamilton released a statement confirming that Snowden worked for them but said he had been an employee “for less than 3 months.”

“News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm,” the company wrote. “We will work closely with our clients and authorities in their investigation of this matter.”

The revelation came after the Director of National Intelligence James. R. Clapper announced yesterday that the NSA had begun an investigation into the leaking of the documents.

Prior to Snowden coming forward, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) had criticized the leaker and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald for publishing information about programs they failed to understand.

“He doesn’t have a clue how this thing works; nether did the person who released just enough information to literally be dangerous,” Rogers said, adding, “I absolutely think [the leaker] should be prosecuted.”

Snowden’s extensive technical background proves the assertion about his knowledge wrong.

Nonetheless, both the Guardian and the Washington Post were criticized for errors in the explosive stories they broke last week regarding the government’s surveillance — errors they attributed to the documents that Snowden provided and to information that Snowden himself gave them about the nature of the surveillance.

The Guardian led on Wednesday with the revelation that the NSA had obtained a court order to collect the phone records of millions of Verizon customers in the U.S. for a three-month period beginning in April. Senator Dianne Feinstein later acknowledged that the order was actually a re-issue for an ongoing collection order that was renewed repeatedly every three months.

The following day, both the Post and the Guardian published stories claiming that the NSA had direct access into the servers of nine internet companies, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook, and were collecting large volumes of data with the cooperation of these firms, including email and audio and video traffic as well as documents.

Both papers had to step back from that allegation, however, after the internet companies strongly denied that the NSA had direct connections to their servers or that they provided any data that was not targeted and part of a court order.

The Post and Guardian made the false accusations based on a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation that Snowden provided the papers and on assertions from Snowden himself. In a revised story, the Postdeleted mention that the NSA has direct access to company servers but said the system allows analysts to query data through equipment that is housed at company controlled locations.

Snowden first began thinking about leaking back in 2009 when he was stationed in Geneva, Switzerland, for the CIA.

His route to the CIA was circuitous. Snowden never matriculated from high school, but in 2003, he enlisted in the US army and began a training for Special Forces. He got discharged, however, after breaking both of his legs.

After this, he got a job as a security guard for one of the NSA’s covert facilities at the University of Maryland.
He followed that with a job in IT security for the CIA. In 2007, the CIA stationed him with diplomatic cover in Geneva for a computer security job that gave him clearance and access to a wide array of classified documents.

Like Bradley Manning before him, it was that access to documents and his time spent around colleagues that led him to begin questioning the government’s activities.

“Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he says. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”

He thought about exposing government secrets at the time, but didn’t because CIA secrets are mostly about people and he didn’t want to endanger anyone. He also thought the election of Barack Obama in 2008 would change things.

In 2009 he left the CIA for a job with a private contractor and got assigned to an NSA facility at a military base in Japan.

The next three years broadened his education of the NSA’s surveillance activities and increased his disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the NSA.

“[T]hey are intent on making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them,” he told the Guardian, and said agency posed an “existential threat to democracy.”

“The government has granted itself power it is not entitled to. There is no public oversight. The result is people like myself have the latitude to go further than they are allowed to,” he said.

Snowden contrasted himself to Bradley Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst who went on trial last week for leaking more than a million documents to WikiLeaks, saying that contrary to Manning he “carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest” and withheld ones that did not fit that goal.

“There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

He also said he purposely chose to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.

Asked how he felt after watching the public’s reaction to the disclosures over the last few days, he said, “I think the sense of outrage that has been expressed is justified. It has given me hope that, no matter what happens to me, the outcome will be positive for America.

“I do not expect to see home again, though that is what I want.”

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Obama moves to make the War on Terror permanent

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From: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/24/obama-terrorism-kill-list


Complete with a newly coined, creepy Orwellian euphemism – ‘disposition matrix’ – the administration institutionalizes the most extremist powers a government can claim

 

(updated below – Update II – Update III)

A primary reason for opposing the acquisition of abusive powers and civil liberties erosions is that they virtually always become permanent, vested not only in current leaders one may love and trust but also future officials who seem more menacing and less benign.

The Washington Post has a crucial and disturbing story this morning by Greg Miller about the concerted efforts by the Obama administration to fully institutionalize – to make officially permanent – the most extremist powers it has exercised in the name of the war on terror.

Based on interviews with “current and former officials from the White House and the Pentagon, as well as intelligence and counterterrorism agencies”, Miller reports that as “the United States‘ conventional wars are winding down”, the Obama administration “expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years” (the “capture” part of that list is little more than symbolic, as the US focus is overwhelmingly on the “kill” part). Specifically, “among senior Obama administration officials, there is broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade.” As Miller puts it: “That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism.”

In pursuit of this goal, “White House counterterrorism adviser John O Brennan is seeking to codify the administration’s approach to generating capture/kill lists, part of a broader effort to guide future administrations through the counterterrorism processes that Obama has embraced.” All of this, writes Miller, demonstrates “the extent to which Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.”

The Post article cites numerous recent developments reflecting this Obama effort, including the fact that “CIA Director David H Petraeus is pushing for an expansion of the agency’s fleet of armed drones”, which “reflects the agency’s transformation into a paramilitary force, and makes clear that it does not intend to dismantle its drone program and return to its pre-September 11 focus on gathering intelligence.” The article also describes rapid expansion of commando operations by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and, perhaps most disturbingly, the creation of a permanent bureaucratic infrastructure to allow the president to assassinate at will:

“JSOC also has established a secret targeting center across the Potomac River from Washington, current and former U.S. officials said. The elite command’s targeting cells have traditionally been located near the front lines of its missions, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. But JSOC created a ‘national capital region’ task force that is a 15-minute commute from the White House so it could be more directly involved in deliberations about al-Qaeda lists.”

The creepiest aspect of this development is the christening of a new Orwellian euphemism for due-process-free presidential assassinations: “disposition matrix”. Writes Miller:

“Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the ‘disposition matrix’.

“The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. US officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the ‘disposition’ of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.”

The “disposition matrix” has been developed and will be overseen by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). One of its purposes is “to augment” the “separate but overlapping kill lists” maintained by the CIA and the Pentagon: to serve, in other words, as the centralized clearinghouse for determining who will be executed without due process based upon how one fits into the executive branch’s “matrix”. As Miller describes it, it is “a single, continually evolving database” which includes “biographies, locations, known associates and affiliated organizations” as well as “strategies for taking targets down, including extradition requests, capture operations and drone patrols”. This analytical system that determines people’s “disposition” will undoubtedly be kept completely secret; Marcy Wheeler sardonically said that she was “looking forward to the government’s arguments explaining why it won’t release the disposition matrix to ACLU under FOIA”.

This was all motivated by Obama’s refusal to arrest or detain terrorist suspects, and his resulting commitment simply to killing them at will (his will). Miller quotes “a former US counterterrorism official involved in developing the matrix” as explaining the impetus behind the program this way: “We had a disposition problem.”

The central role played by the NCTC in determining who should be killed – “It is the keeper of the criteria,” says one official to the Post – is, by itself, rather odious. As Kade Crockford of the ACLU of Massachusettsnoted in response to this story, the ACLU has long warned that the real purpose of the NCTC – despite its nominal focus on terrorism – is the “massive, secretive data collection and mining of trillions of points of data about most people in the United States”.

In particular, the NCTC operates a gigantic data-mining operation, in which all sorts of information about innocent Americans is systematically monitored, stored, and analyzed. This includes “records from law enforcement investigations, health information, employment history, travel and student records” – “literally anything the government collects would be fair game”. In other words, the NCTC – now vested with the power to determine the proper “disposition” of terrorist suspects – is the same agency that is at the center of the ubiquitous, unaccountable surveillance state aimed at American citizens.

Worse still, as the ACLU’s legislative counsel Chris Calabrese documented back in July in a must-read analysis, Obama officials very recently abolished safeguards on how this information can be used. Whereas the agency, during the Bush years, was barred from storing non-terrorist-related information about innocent Americans for more than 180 days – a limit which “meant that NCTC was dissuaded from collecting large databases filled with information on innocent Americans” – it is now free to do so. Obama officials eliminated this constraint by authorizing the NCTC “to collect and ‘continually assess’ information on innocent Americans for up to five years”.

And, as usual, this agency engages in these incredibly powerful and invasive processes with virtually no democratic accountability:

“All of this is happening with very little oversight. Controls over the NCTC are mostly internal to the DNI’s office, and important oversight bodies such as Congress and the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board aren’t notified even of ‘significant’ failures to comply with the Guidelines. Fundamental legal protections are being sidestepped. For example, under the new guidelines, Privacy Act notices (legal requirements to describe how databases are used) must be completed by the agency that collected the information. This is in spite of the fact that those agencies have no idea what NCTC is actually doing with the information once it collects it.

“All of this amounts to a reboot of the Total Information Awareness Program that Americans rejected so vigorously right after 9/11.”

It doesn’t require any conspiracy theorizing to see what’s happening here. Indeed, it takes extreme naiveté, or wilful blindness, not to see it.

What has been created here – permanently institutionalized – is a highly secretive executive branch agency that simultaneously engages in two functions: (1) it collects and analyzes massive amounts of surveillance data about all Americans without any judicial review let alone search warrants, and (2) creates and implements a “matrix” that determines the “disposition” of suspects, up to and including execution, without a whiff of due process or oversight. It is simultaneously a surveillance state and a secretive, unaccountable judicial body that analyzes who you are and then decrees what should be done with you, how you should be “disposed” of, beyond the reach of any minimal accountability or transparency.

The Post’s Miller recognizes the watershed moment this represents: “The creation of the matrix and the institutionalization of kill/capture lists reflect a shift that is as psychological as it is strategic.” As he explains, extra-judicial assassination was once deemed so extremist that very extensive deliberations were required before Bill Clinton could target even Osama bin Laden for death by lobbing cruise missiles in East Africa. But:

Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it.

To understand the Obama legacy, please re-read that sentence. As Murtaza Hussain put it when reacting to the Post story: “The US agonized over the targeted killing Bin Laden at Tarnak Farms in 1998; now it kills people it barely suspects of anything on a regular basis.”

The pragmatic inanity of the mentality driving this is self-evident: as Idiscussed yesterday (and many other times), continuous killing does not eliminate violence aimed at the US but rather guarantees its permanent expansion. As a result, wrote Miller, “officials said no clear end is in sight” when it comes to the war against “terrorists” because, said one official, “we can’t possibly kill everyone who wants to harm us” but trying is “a necessary part of what we do”. Of course, the more the US kills and kills and kills, the more people there are who “want to harm us”. That’s the logic that has resulted in a permanent war on terror.

But even more significant is the truly radical vision of government in which this is all grounded. The core guarantee of western justice since the Magna Carta was codified in the US by the fifth amendment to the constitution: “No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” You simply cannot have a free society, a worthwhile political system, without that guarantee, that constraint on the ultimate abusive state power, being honored.

And yet what the Post is describing, what we have had for years, is a system of government that – without hyperbole – is the very antithesis of that liberty. It is literally impossible to imagine a more violent repudiation of the basic blueprint of the republic than the development of a secretive, totally unaccountable executive branch agency that simultaneously collects information about all citizens and then applies a “disposition matrix” to determine what punishment should be meted out. This is classic political dystopia brought to reality (despite how compelled such a conclusion is by these indisputable facts, many Americans will view such a claim as an exaggeration, paranoia, or worse because of this psychological dynamic I described here which leads many good passive westerners to believe that true oppression, by definition, is something that happens only elsewhere).

In response to the Post story, Chris Hayes asked: “If you have a ‘kill list’, but the list keeps growing, are you succeeding?” The answer all depends upon what the objective is.

As the Founders all recognized, nothing vests elites with power – and profit – more than a state of war. That is why there were supposed to be substantial barriers to having them start and continue – the need for a Congressional declaration, the constitutional bar on funding the military for more than two years at a time, the prohibition on standing armies, etc. Here is how John Jay put it in Federalist No 4:

“It is too true, however disgraceful it may be to human nature, that nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs will often make war when their nations are to get nothing by it, but for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans. These and a variety of other motives, which affect only the mind of the sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not sanctified by justice or the voice and interests of his people.”

In sum, there are factions in many governments that crave a state of endless war because that is when power is least constrained and profit most abundant. What the Post is reporting is yet another significant step toward that state, and it is undoubtedly driven, at least on the part of some, by a self-interested desire to ensure the continuation of endless war and the powers and benefits it vests. So to answer Hayes’ question: the endless expansion of a kill list and the unaccountable, always-expanding powers needed to implement it does indeed represent a great success for many. Read what John Jay wrote in the above passage to see why that is, and why few, if any, political developments should be regarded as more pernicious.

Detention policies

Assuming the Post’s estimates are correct – that “among senior Obama administration officials, there is broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade” – this means that the war on terror will last for more than 20 years, far longer than any other American war. This is what has always made the rationale for indefinite detention – that it is permissible to detain people without due process until the “end of hostilities” – so warped in this context. Those who are advocating that are endorsing nothing less than life imprisonment – permanent incarceration – without any charges or opportunities to contest the accusations.

That people are now dying at Guantanamo after almost a decade in a cage with no charges highlights just how repressive that power is. Extend that mentality to secret, due-process-free assassinations – something the US government clearly intends to convert into a permanent fixture of American political life – and it is not difficult to see just how truly extremist and anti-democratic “war on terror” proponents in both political parties have become.

UPDATE

As I noted yesterday, Afghan officials reported that three Afghan children were killed on Saturday by NATO operations. Today, reports CNN, “missiles blew up part of a compound Wednesday in northwest Pakistan, killing three people – including one woman” and added: “the latest suspected U.S. drone strike also injured two children.” Meanwhile, former Obama press secretary and current campaign adviser Robert Gibbs this week justified the US killing of 16-year-old American Abdulrahaman Awlaki, killed by a US drone in Yemen two weeks after his father was, on the ground that he “should have a far more responsible father”.

Also yesterday, CNN profiled Abu Sufyan Said al-Shihri, alleged to be a top al-Qaida official in Yemen. He pointed out “that U.S. drone strikes are helping al-Qaida in Yemen because of the number of civilian deaths they cause.” Ample evidence supports his observation.

To summarize all this: the US does not interfere in the Muslim world and maintain an endless war on terror because of the terrorist threat. It has a terrorist threat because of its interference in the Muslim world and its endless war on terror.

UPDATE II

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, writing today about the Post article, reports:

“Recently, I spoke to a military official with extensive and wide-ranging experience in the special operations world, and who has had direct exposure to the targeted killing program. To emphasize how easy targeted killings by special operations forces or drones has become, this official flicked his hand back over and over, stating: ‘It really is like swatting flies. We can do it forever easily and you feel nothing. But how often do you really think about killing a fly?'”

That is disturbingly consistent with prior reports that the military’s term for drone victims is “bug splat”. This – this warped power and the accompanying dehumanizing mindset – is what is being institutionalized as a permanent fixture in American political life by the current president.

UPDATE III

At Wired, Spencer Ackerman reacts to the Post article with an analysisentitled “President Romney Can Thank Obama for His Permanent Robotic Death List”. Here is his concluding paragraph:

“Obama did not run for president to preside over the codification of a global war fought in secret. But that’s his legacy. . . . Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations writes that Obama’s predecessors in the Bush administration ‘were actually much more conscious and thoughtful about the long-term implications of targeted killings’, because they feared the political consequences that might come when the U.S. embraces something at least superficially similar to assassination. Whoever follows Obama in the Oval Office can thank him for proving those consequences don’t meaningfully exist — as he or she reviews the backlog of names on the Disposition Matrix.”

It’s worth devoting a moment to letting that sink in.

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FBI Faked Terrorism Emergencies To Net User Phone Records – Though agency insists 2007 changes resolved issues…

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FBI e-mails obtained by the Washington Post indicate the agency has long struggled with adhering to rules designed to protect civil rights. According to the Post, the FBI illegally collected more than 2,000 U.S. telephone call records between 2002 and 2006 “by invoking terrorism emergencies that did not exist,” says the paper. The FBI admits to the Post that using non-existent emergencies to glean data violated Electronic Communications Privacy Act, but insists that measures put in place in 2007 have since corrected the problem. A Justice Department inspector general’s report due out this month is also expected to rule that the FBI frequently violated the law with fake emergency requests.
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Interesting T-shirts observed at the Ocean City, Maryland beach:

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A WASHINGTON POST columnist runs a column each
summer
listing interesting T-shirts observed at the Ocean
City, Maryland beach:

1. I CHILDPROOFED MY HOUSE, BUT THEY STILL GET IN.

2. (On the front) 60 IS NOT OLD. (On the back) IF
YOU’RE A TREE.

3. I’M NOT 50. I’M $49.95 PLUS TAX.

4. DARN RIGHT I’M STILL HOT. IT JUST COMES IN
FLASHES.

5. BUCKLE UP. MAKES IT HARDER FOR ALIENS TO SNATCH
YOU
FROM YOUR CAR

6. MY REALITY CHECK JUST BOUNCED.

7. LIFE IS SHORT. MAKE FUN OF IT.

8. I NEED SOMEBODY BAD. ARE YOU BAD?

9. I’M NOT A SNOB. I’M JUST BETTER THAN YOU ARE

10. IT’S MY CAT’S WORLD. I’M JUST HERE TO OPEN CANS.

11. WE GOT RID OF THE KIDS. THE CAT WAS ALLERGIC.

12. CATS REGARD PEOPLE AS WARM-BLOODED FURNITURE

13. EARTH IS THE INSANE ASYLUM OF THE UNIVERSE.

14. DANGEROUSLY UNDER-MEDICATED.

15. MY MIND WORKS LIKE LIGHTNING. ONE BRILLIANT
FLASH
AND IT’S GONE.

BONUS : LIVE YOUR LIFE SO THAT WHEN YOU DIE, THE
PREACHER WILL NOT HAVE TO TELL LIES AT YOUR FUNERAL.

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