Saturday Reads: American Gun Culture and Snowden in Russia

gun-culture

Good Morning!!

Another day, another senseless shooting. Yesterday morning–All Souls Day–a young New Jersey man named Paul Ciancia took an assault rifle into the Los Angeles International Airport and managed injure several people, including three TSA agent. One of the TSA agents, Gerardo I. Hernandez, was killed.

From ABC News: 

The shooting began around 9:20 a.m. PST on Friday at LAX’s usually crowded Terminal 3, and sent hundreds of passengers streaming out of the terminal, with many fleeing onto the airport runway. Dozens of flights to and from the airport were delayed or cancelled as a “tactical alert” was triggered for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Witnesses described a chaotic scene, as many ducked for cover inside bathroom stalls or dropped to the floor upon officers’ commands….

Authorities said Ciancia was able to make it all the way to the back of the terminal, near the departure gate, before he was shot down by officers and taken into custody, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti.

It sounds like Ciancia may be an Alex Jones fan, because

a note found at the scene that indicated Ciancia’s anti-government sentiments and suggested that he expected to die in the airport shootout.

The note found at the scene ended with the letters “NWO,” according to law enforcement sources, which is believed to stand for “New World Order.” The note also specifically mentioned anger and frustration targeted toward the TSA.

Paul Anthony Ciancia

Paul Anthony Ciancia

The story also says that Cianca’s family was afraid he had plans to commit suicide, and they had contacted LAPD and requested they check on him. Police went to his apartment, but apparently he was already headed for LAX.

From The Christian Science Monitor:

According to officials examining information found on Ciancia after his capture, apparently he was upset about government in general and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in particular.

Passengers in the area of the shooting said he asked some people, “Hey, are you TSA?” When they answered “no,” the young man wearing fatigues passed them by, targeting TSA officers (who are unarmed) with a military-style semi-automatic rifle and extra clips of ammunition holding more than 100 rounds.

As pieced together by law enforcement officials and eye witnesses, Ciancia had parked his car at the airport, ran up an escalator into Terminal 3, pulled his weapon from a bag, and began firing as he approached the area where passengers must first show their ticket and government-issued identification before having their luggage and themselves checked by TSA. Witnesses say they heard 8-10 shots.

A high school classmate of Ciancia said that

the suspected gunman was a loner who had been bullied at their private high school.

“In four years, I never heard a word out of his mouth,” said David Hamilton, who graduated with Ciancia from Salesianum School in Wilmington, Del., in 2008. “He kept to himself and ate lunch alone a lot. I really don’t remember any one person who was close to him.”

us-gun-culture-cartoon

Yesterday, Dakinikat linked to an outstanding post by Charles Pierce, who was at LAX at the time of the shooting: There Is Nothing Random About The LAX Shooting.

There already is some talk about this event being a “random” one. But it is not. These things are becoming as regular as rain, as predictable as the summer heat. The only thing “random” about it is the shooter. He could be anyone, and that’s the point. There are people who spend money making sure that he could be anyone, and there’s nothing “random” about how they do that. There is nothing “random” about this country’s ludicrous disinclination to regulate its firearms. There is nothing “random” about the millions of dollars that the NRA spends to convince people that they should have the right to carry their assault weapon anywhere they want to carry it, including into an airport terminal, if they so desire. There is nothing “random” about the politicians who truckle and bow to this lucrative monetization of bloody mayhem. These are all deliberate acts with predictable consequences. There is nothing “random” about how we have armed ourselves, and there is nothing “random” about the filigree of high-flown rhetoric with which we justify arming ourselves, and there is nothing “random” about how we learn nothing every time someone who could be anyone decides to exercise his Second Amendment rights by opening fire.

Pierce’s rant continues in one very long paragraph–read the rest at his blog.

From the National Journal, here’s some evidence of how not-random this latest shooting is: The TSA Found 29 Firearms at Airports This Week, Before the LAX Shooting.

All of this of course happened before an armed suspect made it into LAX on Friday. And the last week wasn’t an outlier. The week before, 39 firearms were discovered. Between Sept. 27 and Oct. 15, the TSA collected 84 loaded arms.

Oh, and in 2012 as a whole, airport screeners found more than 1,500 guns at checkpoints. That was up from a total of 1,320 guns in 2011. Of course, not everyone who brought a gun to an airport intended to do harm. But the sheer number of firearms points to a potential for violence far greater than most people may think.

Mashable-NSA-Comic

Meanwhile, over in Russia, another young man who is angry at the U.S. government has been making news again. Edward Snowden reportedly has taken “a website maintenance job” with “one of Russia’s largest websites.” The name of the site is supposedly secret, but

Technology news website Digit.ru speculated that Snowden may have joined social networking site VKontakte.ru, Russia’s equivalent of Facebook.

The website, an affiliate of RIA Novosti, said other major Russian online companies, including Yandex and  Mail.ru, had categorically denied they had hired Snowden.

VKontakte spokesman Georgy Lobushkin said he could not comment on the issue, but would not rule out his company had recruited Snowden.

Lobushkin said at a corporate event in August that he could see Snowden assisting VKontakte in maintaining the security of its online chat program.

Apparently Russia’s “facebook” isn’t worried about Snowden stealing secrets. But at least they can’t help knowing his history of doing so in other jobs.

In other Snowden news, the angry young man wrote a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel volunteering to help in a German investigation of U.S. spying on the country.

“Speaking the truth is not a crime,” read the letter from the former U.S. spy agency contractor, who has taken refuge in Russia. He gave the letter to German lawmaker Hans-Christian Stroebele, who presented it to the media in Berlin on Friday.

“I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behaviour,” wrote Snowden to Chancellor Angela Merkel, the German parliament and federal prosecutors.

“In the course of my service to this organisation, I believe I witnessed systemic violations of law by my government that created a moral duty to act,” Snowden added.

spies_0

Actually, in this case what Snowden did was a crime, because he swore an oath not to reveal secrets he had access to; but Snowden doesn’t seem to be fully in touch with the reality of what he has done as yet. He seems to believe that the U.S. will decide to give him clemency so he can travel to Germany and that Russia will allow him to leave the country. Neither of those beliefs is even close to being rational. According to CNN:

Snowden’s attorney [AKA FSB minder], Anatoly Kucherena, told reporters in Moscow that his client would not be leaving Russia to testify on the U.S. spying allegations.

Kucherena said he would advise Snowden not to testify at all if it is not in his client’s best interest.

German legislator Hans-Christian Stroebele admitted that Snowden probably couldn’t speak freely from Moscow if he had to testify by video:

Snowden “is an important witness for Germany,” said Stroebele.

But asked if Snowden could testify to German authorities via video link from Moscow, Stroebele said that could be problematic for several reasons.

He suggested Snowden would be more limited in what he could say if he were in Moscow than if he were in Germany.

So long as Snowden has asylum in Russia, he needs to avoid doing anything that would negatively affect his status there, the lawmaker said.

From First Post, a little more double-talk and fantasy:

Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden is free to cooperate with Germany on reports of the alleged US tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s telephone conversations, the Kremlin said Saturday.

Snowden has to obey Russian laws since he is on Russian territory after being granted temporary asylum, but still “he is free to meet with anybody,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Xinhua reports.

So it’s OK with the Kremlin if Snowden travels to Germany to testify? No. Not really…

Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena told Russian media that it is impossible for Snowden to leave Russia to be questioned by German prosecutors but he can provide testimony inside Russia.

Interestingly, at Business Insider, Geoffrey Ingersoll pointed out that Snowden’s letter to Merkel didn’t refer to the supposed tapping of her personal cell phone.

Oddly, Snowden’s letter seems more like a self-congratulatory protest against the NSA itself, rather than concern over the tapping of diplomats’ phones, which was ostensibly the inspiration for the letter itself.

Surely Snowden, who Ray McGovern described as “thoroughly informed,”  knows that Merkel imported the NSA’s services.

An article in the Berlin daily Die Welt described German intelligence as “technically backward and helpless” and “helplessly dependent” on U.S. intelligence.

Facilities of the National Security Agency and other intelligence services have boosted their presence on German soil since 9/11, which makes sense, as former NSA officer John Schindler points out, because the attacks were planned on German soil.

Certainly Edward Snowden knows this as well.

Nonetheless, his letter seems focused on American surveillance in general, rather that on surveillance of world leaders.

Perhaps Snowden isn’t keeping up with the news, as his supporters claim. Does he even have access to a computer?

FSB logo

At least The New York Times seems to have accepted the fact that Snowden is no longer an independent agent in any meaningful way. At least they published a recent article by Steven Lee Myers that makes it clear that Snowden is fully controlled by the Russian FSB.

On very rare occasions, almost always at night, Edward J. Snowden leaves his secret, guarded residence here, somewhere, in Russia. He is always under close protection. He spends his days learning the language and reading. He recently finished “Crime and Punishment.”

Accompanying him is Sarah Harrison, a British activist working with WikiLeaks. With far less attention, she appears to have found herself trapped in the same furtive limbo of temporary asylum that the Russian government granted Mr. Snowden three months ago: safe from prosecution, perhaps, but far from living freely, or at least openly.

Andrei Soldatov, a journalist who has written extensively about the security services, said that the F.S.B., the domestic successor to the Soviet-era intelligence service, clearly controlled the circumstances of Mr. Snowden’s life now, protecting him and also circumscribing his activities, even if not directly controlling him.

“He’s actually surrounded by these people,” said Mr. Soldatov, who, with Irina Borogan, wrote a history of the new Russian security services, “The New Nobility.”

Even former CIA agent and Snowden supporter Ray McGovern admits Snowden has no personal liberty in Russia.

“He’s free, but he’s not completely free,” said Ray McGovern, a former C.I.A. official and a member of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, which met with Mr. Snowden three weeks ago in his only verified public appearance since he received asylum on July 31. Even those who attended were not exactly sure where the meeting took place, having been driven in a van with darkened windows.

Because for Snowden’s supporters Russian secrecy is presumably acceptable, but the U.S. should reveal every secret to the world and stop making efforts to defend its national security in any way.

The biggest mystery is what is Sarah Harrison’s role in all this. Is she living with Snowden? Does her presence mean that Wikileaks is cooperating with the FSB in keeping Snowden under control?

That’s all I have for you today–sorry this post is going up so late. Now what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comment thread.


Monday Reads

Good Morning!!

I’m still stuck in central Indiana and there seems to be a blizzard bearing down on the Northeast. They’re predicting 18 inches in northwest greater Boston where I live. I’m hoping I’ll manage to get back there soon, if weather permits.

I had to call the guy who has been helping me with the snow the last couple of winters and ask him to shovel my house out so I don’t come home to piles of solid ice in my driveway and on my front walk. I hope everyone who is getting hit by the blizzard will be okay!

While I was checking up on the Boston weather forecast, I came across this interesting story in The Boston Globe.

If you were around in the late ’50s and early ’60s, you may recall a famous song by the Kingston Trio about the Boston subway system, then called the MTA.

In June of 1959, packaged sandwiches and envelopes of nickels began pouring into the Park Square headquarters of Boston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, postmarked from as far off as California and Hawaii. All were addressed to Charlie — “the man who never returned.’’

The Kingston Trio’s “At Large’’ album was headed to number one, and listeners couldn’t get enough of the opening track, “M.T.A.,’’ about a fellow trapped on the subway because he lacked a nickel for the exit fare. The hit would go on to become a campfire staple and slice of Americana, widely embraced, frequently parodied, and adapted for styles from country to punk.

It turns out that the song the Kingston Trio recorded was

…actually a sanitized version of the original, a campaign song for a 1949 Boston mayoral candidate who opposed the subway fare hike. But by 1959, the candidate had been blacklisted and run out of town, and the song’s most political lyrics were simply edited out

because another folk group, The Weavers (which included Pete Seeger) had been blacklisted because Seeger and another member of the group, Lee Hayes were called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and both refused to name names.

Now the Boston transit authority (now called the MBTA) is displaying the uncensored lyrics of the song along with the backstory at selected subway stations. “Charlie on the MTA” was Walter O’Brien’s campaign song–a protest about a fare increase in subway fares.

The MTA had been formed just two years earlier from the ashes of the Boston Elevated Railway Co., a private company whose shareholders had received a guaranteed dividend for years even as the transit company relied on public subsidies. When lawmakers eventually bought them out to abolish the company, shareholders made out handsomely. Then the taxpayers footing the bill got slapped with the fare hike.

Does that remind you of anything in the present?

“The Progressive Party saw that as a bailout of private interest and inappropriate use of taxpayer money, and [then the fare increase] was one wrong piled upon another,’’ said Jim Vrabel, an activist and historian determined to reclaim the song’s origins. “It’s been kind of trivialized and made kind of a cute song, and people don’t realize the serious political background of it.’’

I hope you’ll take the time to read the entire article. It provides quite a bit of information on what it was like for artists, politicians, teachers, lawyers–really just about anyone left-leaning, during the McCarthy era.

Below is a video of the song will the original lyrics.

If only we had a Walter O’Brien today! He couldn’t afford to pay for advertising so he hired trucks to drive around playing the song in the streets of Boston. Can you imagine the great songs that could be written about the bankster fraud and bailouts and all the people who are paying by losing their homes and livelihoods?

I found another fascinating piece of history via Memeorandum. From the BBC News: “Coded American Civil War message in bottle deciphered.”

In the encrypted message, a commander tells Gen John Pemberton that no reinforcements are available to help him defend Vicksburg, Mississippi.

“You can expect no help from this side of the river,” says the message, which was deciphered by codebreakers.

The text is dated 4 July 1863 – the day Vicksburg fell to Union forces.

The small bottle was given to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, by a former Confederate soldier in 1896.

Also via Memeorandum, “death panels” are back, according to The New York Times: Obama Returns to End-of-Life Plan That Caused Stir

When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.

Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.

I don’t have a problem with that as long as it doesn’t lead to denying care to elderly people who want it. Of course knowing that this administration is going to be embracing the Catfood Commission Report, I’m a little leery of what else they might be planning for us old folks. Ice floes anyone?

In other news, via Raw Story, Janet Napolitano has no sympathy for people who feel violated by thugs pawing their breasts, buttocks, and genitals: Napolitano: Pat-downs are here to stay

Airline passengers should get used to invasive full body scans and enhanced pat-downs, the Homeland Security secretary suggested Sunday.

CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Janet Napolitano if she expected changes to the controversial Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening procedures in the near future.

“Not for the foreseeable future,” Napolitano replied.

“You know we’re always looking to improve systems and so forth, but the new technology, the pat-downs — just objectively safer for our traveling public,” she said.

Okay, Janet, how about you have a “pat down” performed by a TSA thug on national TV? Then you can make an announcement about how great it was. The youtube would go viral, millions of people would see your sales pitch on the internet, and perhaps a few would be convinced. Oh, and is the government going to bail out the airline industry when millions of people stop flying?

I guess that doesn’t worry Napolitano though. She plans to start “stepping up security” at malls, and train stations.

“What we have to do is say, well, what other ways are they thinking to commit an act, because our job is not only to react, but to be thinking always ahead, what could be happening,” Napolitano said.

“And so we have enhanced measures going on at surface transportation, not because we have a specific or credible threat there, but because we know, looking at Madrid and London, that’s been another source of targets for terrorists.”

Soon you may have to go through a naked scanner and/or “enhanced patdown” (aka groping session) in order to get into a mall. Oh joy! Thank goodness I do most of my shopping on line…

A few new Wikileaks tidbits…

The New York Times has a story on how the DEA has become a global organization.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has been transformed into a global intelligence organization with a reach that extends far beyond narcotics, and an eavesdropping operation so expansive it has to fend off foreign politicians who want to use it against their political enemies, according to secret diplomatic cables.

[....]

Because of the ubiquity of the drug scourge, today’s D.E.A. has access to foreign governments, including those, like Nicaragua’s and Venezuela’s, that have strained diplomatic relations with the United States. Many are eager to take advantage of the agency’s drug detection and wiretapping technologies.

In some countries, the collaboration appears to work well, with the drug agency providing intelligence that has helped bring down traffickers, and even entire cartels. But the victories can come at a high price, according to the cables, which describe scores of D.E.A. informants and a handful of agents who have been killed in Mexico and Afghanistan.

In Venezuela, the local intelligence service turned the tables on the D.E.A., infiltrating its operations, sabotaging equipment and hiring a computer hacker to intercept American Embassy e-mails, the cables report.

More at The Independent: Panama row reveals US drug agency’s power

The El Paso Times: WikiLeaks tells why drug king is still free

and the BBC News: Wikileaks: Governments ‘sought US wiretapping help’

At The New Republic, Norm Scheiber explains Why Wikileaks will be the death of big business and big government.

That’s about it for me. What are you reading this morning?