Thursday Reads

reading-in-the-garden Nikolay Bodanov Belsky

Good Morning!!

Yesterday, the White House announced that President Obama will not meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg as previously planned. From The Washington Post:

President Obama has canceled a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladi­mir Putin. Russia’s decision to give temporary asylum to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has exacerbated tensions with the United States over a number of issues:

“Following a careful review begun in July, we have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a U.S.-Russia Summit in early September,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

Carney cited a “lack of progress” with Russia over the past 12 months on a broad range of issues including missile defense and arms control, trade and commercial relations, global security and human rights and civil society issues. Carney added that Russia’s “disappointing decision” last week to grant Snowden temporary asylum, allowing him to live and work in Russia for up to a year, was also a factor.

President Obama discussed some of his issues with Russia in an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Tuesday night.

Saying that he had “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them,” Obama criticized a law, enacted in June, that prohibits public events promoting gay rights and public displays of affection by same-sex couples. A Russian official has promised that the law will be enforced during next February’s Sochi Games despite the International Olympic Committee’s contrary stance.

After the announcement, Russian-American journalist Julia Iofee wrote at The New Republic: Obama Bails on His Inevitably Awkward Date With Putin

A week after Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum in Russia, President Obama canceled his bi-lateral September summit in Moscow with Vladimir Putin, though administration officials are at pains to portray this as something greater than pure tit-for-tattery. Rather, they say, it was an excuse to avoid what, even without Snowden, would have been “a pretty dreary affair.”

A few days before Snowden turned up in Moscow, Obama and Putin met on the sidelines of the G8 conference in Northern Ireland. The resulting photo-op—Obama looking forlornly into the distance, Putin slouched and sullen—said it all: they looked like the aging couple at the neighboring table, intently working on their food and eavesdropping on your conversation because they had nothing to support one of their own. Moscow and Washington had talked and talked, they’d gotten START and the transport route to Afghanistan and the sanctions on Iran, but now, the kids are out of the house and they were talking past each other on Syria, on Iran, on pretty much everything.

Lawrence O’Donnell asked Ioffe to appear on his MSNBC show last night to discuss the issues surrounding the decision; but instead of allowing her to express her opinions, O’Donnell interrupted Ioffe, lectured her about Russia and Putin, basically implying she is a liar. Ioffe responded at TNR:

Tonight, I went on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show, and Lawrence O’Donnell yelled at me. Or, rather, he O’Reilly’d at me. That O’Donnell interrupted and harangued and mansplained and was generally an angry grandpa at me is not what I take issue with, however. What bothers me is that, look: your producers take the time to find experts to come on the show, answer your questions, and, hopefully, clarify the issue at hand.

I was invited on the show to talk about Obama’s (very wise) decision to cancel his Moscow summit with Putin, about which I wrote here. I am an expert on Russia. In fact, it is how you introduced me: “Previously, she was a Moscow-based correspondent for Foreign Policy and The New Yorker.” I’m not going to toot my own horn here, but I was there for three years, I’m a fluent, native speaker of Russian, and, god damn it, I know my shit.

Which is why I wish you’d let me finish answering your bullshit question…

You can watch the interaction at MSNBC and read the things she would have liked to say about Putin at TNR. Basically Ioffe tried to explain the Putin doesn’t control everything that happens in Russia anymore than Obama controls everything that happens in the US. She believes that once the Bolivian plane was forced to land because the US suspected Snowden might be on board, Putin really had no choice but to allow Snowden to stay in Russia, because public opinion there strongly supported him.

I have quoted Ioffe in previous posts, and she certainly is no Putin apologist–as she asserts in her piece. I think O’Donnell treated her shamefully.

In other NSA news, mainstream reporters continue to published far more stunning revelations than anything that has come from Snowden and Greenwald. This morning at The New York Times, Charlie Savage writes about surveillance of e-mails between people in the US and foreign countries without warrants, which is being justified by an interpretation of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act.

The National Security Agency is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance, according to intelligence officials.

The N.S.A. is not just intercepting the communications of Americans who are in direct contact with foreigners targeted overseas, a practice that government officials have openly acknowledged. It is also casting a far wider net for people who cite information linked to those foreigners, like a little used e-mail address, according to a senior intelligence official.

While it has long been known that the agency conducts extensive computer searches of data it vacuums up overseas, that it is systematically searching — without warrants — through the contents of Americans’ communications that cross the border reveals more about the scale of its secret operations….

Government officials say the cross-border surveillance was authorized by a 2008 law, the FISA Amendments Act, in which Congress approved eavesdropping on domestic soil without warrants as long as the “target” was a noncitizen abroad. Voice communications are not included in that surveillance, the senior official said.

Read more at the NYT link.

And at Reuters, John Shiffman and David Ingram report that a DEA program that appears to use NSA data to target ordinary criminals in the and then require DEA officers to conceal the source of the information was also used by the IRS.

Details of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration program that feeds tips to federal agents and then instructs them to alter the investigative trail were published in a manual used by agents of the Internal Revenue Service for two years.

The practice of recreating the investigative trail, highly criticized by former prosecutors and defense lawyers after Reuters reported it this week, is now under review by the Justice Department. Two high-profile Republicans have also raised questions about the procedure.

A 350-word entry in the Internal Revenue Manual instructed agents of the U.S. tax agency to omit any reference to tips supplied by the DEA’s Special Operations Division, especially from affidavits, court proceedings or investigative files. The entry was published and posted online in 2005 and 2006, and was removed in early 2007. The IRS is among two dozen arms of the government working with the Special Operations Division, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.

An IRS spokesman had no comment on the entry or on why it was removed from the manual. Reuters recovered the previous editions from the archives of the Westlaw legal database, which is owned by Thomson Reuters Corp, the parent of this news agency.

Just as a reminder that Russia’s treatment of journalists and whistleblowers is actually a hell of a lot worse than anything that happens in the US, Human Rights Watch reports on Russia’s Silencing Activists, Journalists ahead of Sochi Games.

(Moscow) – Local authorities have harassed numerous activists and journalists who criticized or expressed concerns about preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The six-month countdown to the Sochi Games opening ceremony is this week.

Human Rights Watch has documented government efforts to intimidate several organizations and individuals who have investigated or spoken out  againstabuse of migrant workers, the impact of theconstruction of Olympics venues and infrastructure on the environment and health of residents, and unfair compensation for people forcibly evicted from their homes. Human Rights Watch also documented how authorities harassed and pursued criminal charges against journalists, apparently in retaliation for their legitimate reporting.

“Trying to bully activists and journalists into silence is wrong and only further tarnishes the image of the Olympics,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “One of the non-negotiable requirements of hosting the Olympics is to allow press freedom, and the authorities’ attempts to silence critics are in clear violation of that principle.”

Obviously that doesn’t justify the Obama administration trying to influence media coverage of the NSA story, but we do need to keep things in perspective. In that vein, Bob Cesca had a good post yesterday: The Real-Life Stories of Legitimate NSA Whistleblowers (Snowden Isn’t One of Them). I hope you’ll give it a read.

In other news, Yemen has been hit by 6 suspected US drone strikes in the past 2 weeks–probably linked to the recently reported threat of an imminent terror strike that led the US to close a number of embassies last weekend.

An official in Yemen said Thursday that the sixth suspected U.S. drone strike in just two weeks had left six suspected al Qaeda militants dead in the group’s former stronghold in the center of the country. The official told The Associated Press that a missile hit a car traveling in the central Marib province, causing the fatalities.

CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata reports that Yemen has long been a haven for al Qaeda leadership, and the country claimed Wednesday to have disrupted a major plot, which may have exposed potential targets.

Yemeni government officials say security forces are turning up the heat on militants from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the global terror network’s branch based in the nation, after foiling the plot to strike foreign embassies, gas and oil installations, and the country’s port cities.

The government has even given a shoot-to-kill order on anybody who looks suspicious and refuses to identify themselves.

The alleged plot appears to have been similar to the January attack in Algeria which saw gunmen storm the Amenas gas plant, killing more than three dozen foreign workers.

Yesterday in The Daily Beast, Eli Lake and Josh Rogin reported that information about the terror threats came from an al Qaeda “conference call,” involving top al Qaeda leaders and around 20 other people–a report that aroused quite a bit of skepticism on Twitter. Why would these guys risk talking on a conference call? Here’s an excerpt from the Daily Beast article:

The intercept provided the U.S. intelligence community with a rare glimpse into how al Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, manages a global organization that includes affiliates in Africa, the Middle East, and southwest and southeast Asia.

Several news outlets reported Monday on an intercepted communication last week between Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate based in Yemen. But The Daily Beast has learned that the discussion between the two al Qaeda leaders happened in a conference call that included the leaders or representatives of the top leadership of al Qaeda and its affiliates calling in from different locations, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence. All told, said one U.S. intelligence official, more than 20 al Qaeda operatives were on the call.

To be sure, the CIA had been tracking the threat posed by Wuhayshi for months. An earlier communication between Zawahiri and Wuhayshi delivered through a courier was picked up last month, according to three U.S. intelligence officials. But the conference call provided a new sense of urgency for the U.S. government, the sources said.

Al Qaeda members included representatives or leaders from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and more obscure al Qaeda affiliates such as the Uzbekistan branch. Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official. The presence of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates operating in the Sinai was one reason the State Department closed the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, according to one U.S. intelligence official. “These guys already proved they could hit Eilat. It’s not out of the range of possibilities that they could hit us in Tel Aviv,” the official said.

Perhaps the call was encrypted in some way and the US had found a way to listen anyway? But then why would they blow future such operations by leaking the fact that they had listened to the call? This morning  CNN’s Barbara Starr tweeted to Josh Rogin:

Barbara Starr ‏@barbarastarrcnn2h

@joshrogin IT WAS NOT A PHONE CALL. IN FACT, AL QAEDA WENT TO EXTENSIVE MEANS TO SET UP WHAT YOU MIGHT SAY A VIRTUAL MEETING SPACE.”

I’m not sue how to interpret that either. I’ll update if I get anything more on this.

Once again, my morning post has gotten way too long. I have other news links, but I’ll put them in the comments. I hope you’ll do the same with whatever stories you’re following today, and have a tremendous Thursday!!

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36 Comments on “Thursday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    What is going on in Arizona? Ugh.

    Obama Protesters Sing ‘Bye Bye Black Sheep,’ Rail Against ‘Half-White Muslim’ In Arizona

    ‘He’s 47 percent Negro’: Anti-Obama Arizona protest turns racist

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Via Charles Pierce, things aren’t looking that great for the environment in Louisiana.

    USA Today: Climate change softens up already-vulnerable Louisiana

    GRAND ISLE, La. — Pelicans and pickups roam the beach, where the waves roll in and return, lapping over the open water of the Gulf of Mexico.

    The water covers land that was once beach, and it has devoured land that was once marsh tucked behind this 6-square-mile barrier island, a speed bump for hurricanes headed north from the Gulf.

    On this sunny day, the Tarpon Rodeo — billed as “the oldest fishing tournament in the United States!” — is underway, with fishing boats and truck-bed hot tubs competing in nearly equal numbers on the road . But beneath the sunshine here on the edge of this vanishing wetland, human mistakes are adding up.

    Indeed, the in-your-face transformation — a product of climate change and the rewiring of the Mississippi — is threatening the spawning grounds for much of the nation’s seafood, the pit stop for the Gulf’s oil industry and the home of the beloved bayous and fishing “camps” that make life here unlike anywhere else. With every bit of wetlands lost — each day a football field’s worth — the people and places of the Gulf Coast become that much more vulnerable to the next hurricane.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    Not looking so good in Japan either.

    NBC News: Wrecked Fukushima nuke plant leaking 330 tons of contaminated water a day

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday ordered increased efforts to stop radiation-contaminated water from spilling into the Pacific Ocean from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

    A government official told reporters Wednesday that an estimated 300 metric tons (330 tons) of contaminated water was leaking into the ocean every day from the Daiichi plant, which was devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Reuters reported.

    The official also said the government believed the leaks had been happening for two years.

    The plant’s operators Tokyo Electric Power Company has been building an underground wall by injecting “liquid glass” into the ground in an attempt to contain the contaminated water.

    TEPCO has insisted that so far the level of contamination in the ocean does not pose a risk to health.

    Yeah, right. Why the hell isn’t there an international commission dealing with this situation? It affects the whole world.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    The Hill: Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign accused of bribing state senator

    Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign is being accused of bribing an Iowa state senator to endorse the former candidate ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

    The Iowa Republican, a well-respected conservative blog, reported that it has obtained emails and between Paul campaign staff and a recording of a phone conversation between former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson (R) and a conservative activist in the state discussing Sorenson abandoning Rep. Michele Bachmann’s (R-Minn.) campaign to back Paul.

    Sorenson is already facing legal investigations into whether he was bribed to support Bachmann’s campaign, which many believe contributed to her decision to retire from Congress. The latest allegations threaten to ensnare Paul supporters who also have ties to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as well as Jesse Benton, who’s currently running Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) campaign.

    In the phone call, Sorenson reportedly discusses with conservative activist Dennis Fusaro an earlier meeting where Paul’s deputy campaign manager, Demitri Kesari, offered him a check. He initially turned it down but Kesari later made it out to his wife.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Here’s an interesting human interest story.

    NBC News: FBI re-opens 1964 stolen baby case after DNA proves wrong child was returned

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Sixty-seven-year-old friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev speaks out about Tsarnaev’s beliefs in conspiracy theories and interest in right-wing literature

  7. Fannie says:

    At the last minute on Lawrence’s show, I walked in and heard the Russian expert, argue with him, that Putin doesn’t have control over Russia…………..and I said out loud to myself, hell he was the one that rewrote the laws so that he would win the election, if that doesn’t speak on behalf of someone who is a dictator, and controlling, then I will kiss my arse.

    Being a bit more meddlesome, I sure in the hell wouldn’t say Obama controls the USA.

    • bostonboomer says:

      She didn’t say Putin isn’t in control. She said he doesn’t control everything that happens in Russia. He has to respond to public opinion, for example. He doesn’t sign off on every decision by every agency. How could he?

      If you watch the video at the link, you’ll see why I though Lawrence was out of line. Ioffe is very knowledgeable and not at all a Snowden or Putin defender. Lawrence never let her finish a sentence after she tried to talk about Putin’s level of control.

      • Fannie says:

        I went back and watched the video………..and did a tad more research on Julia Ioffe…………I will agree that Lawrence was rude, and cut her off, in his attempt to be controlling, he was out of line. She said “he doesn’t write the script for the news anchors”……………..and my point, was that he sure did rewrite the rules when it came to his re-election.

        I still think it is naïve to think that things happen without his approval. With all the legal issues, and the world watching the Snowden, I realize you can’t always believe everything you hear and read.

        I had no info on her, and the articles she has written. I’ll have to select a few from her bio.

          • bostonboomer says:

            From NY Mag: ‘Angry Grandpa’ Lawrence O’Donnell Yelled at Julia Ioffe for Attempting Nuance on Cable News

            She proceeded to make a simple, bullet-pointed list of arguments that would never be allowed on cable television because they reveal an ability to think outside a black or white, good or bad, America or Russia dichotomy.

          • Fannie says:

            When it comes to Putin I am not the expert………but I suppose I can say I’ve been along for the ride, and watched him over the years. Put says he makes about $130,000 (rubles) a year. I like to know how is it that he owns 20 villas/castles, etc. Since the iron curtain went down 1991, and his little bit of capitalism…and I believe with the help of the Russian mafia he has taken over. He’s worth something like 40 billion dollars. I don’t know how that happens on $130,000 salary.

            He was elected twice, and said he would run a third time, and became the Prime minister, so that he could win, and then changed it from 3 years to 6 years. Obviously he does what the hell he wants to. That tells me a lot, speaks to all the protestors who end up in jail, or end up leaving the country.

            Alexie Navalny has been charged too(along with connections to Khodorkovsky), and is awaiting an appeals ruling from the higher court. I’m just focusing on Putin control, and every week I see that he is rounding up supporters of gays and lesbians and slaming the door shut in prison. He can resort to the worst kind of violence you’d ever see from an elected official.

            I don’t like the way the interview went with Lawrence, sometimes I think he can use a cold shower. But I don’t know enough about Julia Ioffe…………….willing to learn.

            I need to file your articles in separate computer files to read, I know you have done a lot on
            Snowden, and the impact he’s had here, and there.

            I just ordered White Nights – with Gregory Hines, that was filmed some time ago (1980′s), and I can’t wait for that to come in. Also, I am reflecting on Condi Rice, didn’t she major in Russian History? I haven’t read any of her work, but remember she had a good reputation at Stanford, I think.

        • bostonboomer says:

          She lived in Russia and is a native Russian speaker. I’ll take her “nuanced” understanding over O’Donnell’s any day of the week.

  8. bostonboomer says:

    Eli Lake clarifies the “conference call” terminology (see end of post).

    • bostonboomer says:

      BI: It Turns Out The Reported ‘Legion Of Doom’ Conference Call Wasn’t Over The Phone

      Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/legion-of-doom-conference-call-not-over-phone-2013-8#ixzz2bOQ2cEdH

    • RalphB says:

      Something like “Go To Meeting, Webex” or some other net based conferencing?

      • bostonboomer says:

        It had to be something safer than that. They thought it was secure.

        • RalphB says:

          I think they all advertise security ;-)

          • bostonboomer says:

            CNN speculates about how “virtual meeting space” was set up.

            Others who have followed the evolution of al Qaeda’s hierarchy and communication say the leadership may have taken advantage of the many pro-al Qaeda online forums and social networking sites.

            Imagine that beyond the “front page” of such forums are a series of doors leading deeper and deeper within the site that could be accessed by a series of passwords.

            Yassin Musharbash, a German terrorism expert and investigative reporter for Die Zeit, told CNN: “According to my sources, around 2008 some investigators in Western secret services were convinced that al Qaeda leaders had built something akin to an Intranet for communication purposes.”

            That Intranet was supposedly hidden within an online al Qaeda propaganda mechanism called al-Fajr, an inner sanctum available to perhaps a few dozen operatives.

            “The system was allegedly set up with the help of administrators of the most influential Jihadist Internet forums and was said to be used among other things for the funneling of funds,” says Musharbash.

            “Al Qaeda Central and cadres from Iraq and the Maghreb were believed to be involved at the time. The basic idea, I was told, was that they would be able to communicate without having to rely on the infrastructure of e-mail providers.”

          • RalphB says:

            that makes sense. with people in he right places, you could also set up a “secure” subnet inside an international corporation’s intranet and communicate there. awful close to the same thing.

        • peej says:

          I can’t speculate how to set up a secret system, but I should think it isn’t too difficult. Scott Walker set up a secret email system for his select staff when he was County Executive in Milwaukee. In this case, it is pretty clear the system was set up to evade the public eye, particularly open records requests.

          http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/release-the-emails-from-the-john-doe-investigation-2294lov-197665821.html

  9. peej says:

    Yo, I absolutely adore the graphic. I don’t recognize this painting, but it’s extremely well done – well-framed, good composition… I’m enjoying it tremendously.

    Honestly, I don’t think Ioffe was up for prime time. I didn’t see O’Donnell as mansplaining here. I saw frustration and shock at the level of her response. If I were O’Donnell I’d venture to guess my reaction to Ioffe would have been similar. She clearly wasn’t responding like the expert in her presentation; she didn’t express her expertise so her content was obscured. Whining about a news anchor with an irascible reputation “yelling” at you is another indication that she wasn’t ready. She may know her shit, as she so inelegantly put it, but she didn’t communicate her shit. O’Donnell did what most interviewers do – they interrupt, they interject, but he wasn’t O’Reilly. He was testy O’Donnell, though. O’Reilly-lite. Another signal: “… I wish you’d let me finish answering your bullshit question…” That’s not a professional follow-through. And was O’Donnell’s question bullshit? Sorry, I hate all this swearing. No, it wasn’t. And, frankly, Ioffe’s response was lame. That O’Donnell had to summarize her frame was kind of pathetic. She’s got good credentials. She just needs experience and maybe some coaching on how to present her material to an audience and to her interviewer. And she probably shouldn’t go sniping about disappointing interviews afterward.

    Cesca’s article is excellent. His point that analysts who would do what Snowden claims they can do would be breaking the law and facing prosecution can’t be stressed enough. Snowden and Greenwald have skillfully obscured this detail. Had they not, Snowden’s initial interview might not have caused the hysterical panic that it did. Equally important is the absence of evidence that this has occurred on any scale. If it has occurred on any scale, the answer is to prosecute those individuals, don’t disrupt the system and reinvent the wheel because of Libertarian hysteria.

    That’s as far as I can go for now. Gotta scoot. More later. :)

  10. RalphB says:

    Texas Monthly’s Best and Worst state legislators

    THE BEST: Senator Kirk Watson, Austin

    He’s the Galápagos penguin of the Texas Legislature. That rarest of birds—an effective liberal—Watson has adapted, Darwin-style, to the inhospitable habitat of the Republican-dominated Senate. This session he emerged as the thoughtful leader of the loyal opposition, armed mostly with a pragmatic survival instinct.

  11. RalphB says:

    Well Duh! Thanks a lot.

    NYT: JPMorgan Reveals It Faces Criminal and Civil Inquiries

    JPMorgan Chase disclosed on Wednesday that it faced a criminal and civil investigation into whether it sold shoddy mortgage securities to investors in the run-up to the financial crisis, the latest legal threat to the nation’s biggest bank.

  12. RalphB says:

    an unsurprising article

    Bloomberg: Why Is U.S. Economic Mobility Worse in the South?