Thursday Reads: Snow, Sochi, and Snowden

Harvard Square in Winter, Barbara Westman, 1970

Good Morning!!

I was hoping yesterday’s storm would be a bust like the last one, but no such luck. We got more than a foot of snow yesterday, and a couple more fell after I got myself dug out. I shoveled the front steps and the walk myself, but I broke down and paid to get the driveway cleared. This morning all my joints ache–show shoveling is hard work, as George W. Bush would say.

There is more winter weather on the way for much of the country, but it’s not yet clear how bad it will be. According to the Weather Channel,

It is still much too early to forecast specific snow amounts in any given location….

This snow event kicks off Thursday and Friday in the West, with significant snow possible Thursday into Friday in parts of the Cascades, Sierra, Mogollon Rim and Rockies.

Beginning late Friday, continuing into Saturday a strip of snow, sleet and freezing rain may develop farther east into parts of the Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley and East….For now, Saturday’s snow appears to be a light to moderate event for parts of the East Coast, from the Middle Atlantic into the Ohio Valley, Mississippi Valley and Great Lakes.

Sunday, as the main upper-level southward dip in the jet stream, or trough, swings eastward, more snow may pivot through the Northeast and persist in some areas through Monday.

A little vague, but it doesn’t sound too bad. Cold weather is moving through South again, so I hope all of you stay safe and warm down there and that those Republican governors get a clue about storm preparedness and snow removal.

As the Sochi Winter Olympic games approach, you have to wonder why anyone thought it was a good idea to hold an international athletic event in Russia. Never mind the games, just surviving is going to be an achievement for anyone who attends. Apparently the hotel rooms for attendees are ghastly, and have you seen the tiny beds the athletes will be sleeping in? From Time: Tiny Beds and No WiFi: Welcome to Sochi!

While Olympic athletes got stuck with toy-sized beds and bizarre communal toilets in Sochi, at least their rooms were finished in time for their arrival. Meanwhile, journalists from around the globe have been complaining about everything from dirty water to no internet in their rooms.

On Monday, Sochi organizers tried to downplay the severity of the delays, claiming that 97 percent of the rooms were finished and that 3 percent needed a final cleaning, according to the Guardian. They added that the constructions delays would not affect athlete lodging. However, as one reporter Stephen Whyno pointed out, the Canadian Men’s Hockey team is unlikely to be impressed with their Soviet-style hotel rooms. Nor are athletes likely to enjoy getting to know each other on a whole new level in one of the communal bathrooms at the Olympic Biathlon Centre.

One of rooms Canada men's hockey team will stay in

One of rooms Canada men’s hockey team will stay in

More creepy photos at the link.

Journalists in Sochi who were horrified by Edward Snowden’s leaks about NSA spying are learning what life in a real police state is all about. From Digital Trends: Russia’s wiretapping ‘SORM boxes’ in Sochi make the NSA look like saints.

You thought the NSA was bad? Meet the System of Operative-Investigative Measures (SORM), from Russia. As athletes, spectators and journalists descend on Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics this week, the Russian government and their Federal Security Service (FSB) want to know exactly what everyone is saying. If you’re making fun of Putin’s hair, they want to read the text. And “SORM boxes” make it possible.

According to a group of Russian journalists that have been monitoring the events leading up to the spectacle, the FSB has required communication companies in Russia to install SORM boxes that intercept all data passing through the network – and give the FSB access to that data.

Here’s the bizarre part: While the FSB needs a warrant to access the boxes, no one except FSB administrators of FSB ever have to see it. Theoretically, no one but the FSB knows what warrants have been obtained in connection to wire taps that have been executed. This contrasts what happens in the United States, where, under the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), agencies have to show their warrant to the communication company and ask for certain data from them.

SORM has been around since the 80s, meaning it found its beginnings during the Cold War. Back then all they had to do was listen to phone calls, but now the system can monitor all kinds of communication, from emails to texts. This system is in use across Russia, but they’re paying special attention to the Winter Olympics.

Men's toilets in Sochi

Men’s toilets in Sochi

Funny, I haven’t seen any articles about this by Glenn Greenwald et al., have you? I wonder if Edward Snowden is registering objections?

From ABC News, The Other Sochi Threat: Russian Spies, Mobsters Hacking Your Smartphones.

Russian law allows its intelligence agents to do electronic snooping on anyone inside the country, meaning the phones and personal computers of thousands of foreign visitors, including Americans, are fair game. But even outside of the law, Russian organized crime groups also are well known for hacking smartphones and email for information they use for illicit profit.

“It’s the same as during the Beijing Games — the host government, private enterprise and individuals pose a big threat to people traveling to the Sochi Games, in respect to monitoring conversations on cell phones and intercepting texts and emails,” one Olympic security contractor told ABC News last week.

“It should certainly be expected,” agreed a senior U.S. intelligence official, who told ABC News that the influx of tens of thousands of American spectators and dignitaries will be “an intelligence bonanza” for both Russian spies and organized crime groups.

And there’s the problem of getting there, according to Bloomberg News: U.S. Said to Warn Airlines of Bomb Material in Toothpaste.

Air carriers flying to Winter Olympics host Russia were warned today to watch for toothpaste tubes containing materials that could be turned into a bomb, a U.S. law enforcement official said.

The official declined to elaborate on the intelligence that sparked the warning, which was sent to U.S. and foreign airlines, just two days before the start of the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia.

Security at Sochi is tight in response to threats of terror strikes by Islamic militants. The Black Sea city is just a few hundred miles from the North Caucasus region, where Russia has been battling Islamic extremists.

Finally, there’s the matter of the Chobani Greek yogurt shipment. From the NYT: Russia Blocks Yogurt Bound for U.S. Athletes.

Frankly, I’m glad to be staying here in the good ol’ “tyrannical” USA.

Speaking of NSA, they finally seem to be fighting back against all the bad press they’ve been getting. Of course no U.S. journalist reported this, but the BBC posted an article about the 300 people whose job it is to make sure NSA analysts don’t abuse their positions and the man who supervises them.

Officials claim there are multiple levels of accountability and oversight including a new civil liberties and privacy officer within the NSA appointed this week. But one person who has been trying to ensure the system is not abused for a number of years is John DeLong.

After working in the NSA and department of Homeland Security – and a break to study at Harvard Law School – he became the director for compliance at the agency in 2009, running a team of 300 people….

“Rather than characterising it as people with clipboards looking over folks, a rules coach may be the best way of thinking of it,” he tells the BBC in a telephone interview.

“What we focus on in compliance is the very specific consistency each and every second of each and every day with the very specific rules that regulate our activity.”

This includes training, developing systems to look over people’s work and making sure new staff who join are briefed and understand their obligations – including when to ask questions when they see something they think might be wrong.

Compliance is built on a mix of human and automated safeguards, Mr DeLong says.

There’s much more at the link.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed former NSA head Mike McConnell, who is now CEO of Edward Snowden’s former employer Booz-Allen Hamilton. According to McConnell,

“Snowden has compromised more capability than any spy in U.S. history. And this will have impact on our ability to do our mission for the next 20 to 30 years,” said Mr. McConnell. He served as U.S. director of national intelligence from 2007 to 2009 and was NSA director from 1992 to 1996….

The broad details for how Mr. Snowden was hired have been made public, but Mr. McConnell talked candidly about how the former employee came to work for the NSA and for Booz Allen, including where both the agency and the company made their mistakes in the vetting process. Since unveiling the top-secret information in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper last June, Mr. Snowden has been heralded as a free-speech hero by some and decried by others as a high-risk traitor.

Mr. Snowden was a security guard with the NSA, moved into its information-technology department and was sent overseas, Mr. McConnell said. He then left the agency, joined another company and moved to Japan. But Mr. Snowden wanted back in with the NSA. He then broke into the agency’s system and stole the admittance test with the answers, Mr. McConnell said. Mr. Snowden took the test and aced it, Mr. McConnell said. “He walked in and said you should hire me because I scored high on the test.”

The NSA then offered Mr. Snowden a position but he said didn’t think the level—called GS-13—was high enough and asked for a higher-ranking job. The NSA refused. In early 2013, Booz Allen hired Mr. Snowden.

“He targeted my company because we enjoy more access than other companies,” Mr. McConnell said. “Because of the nature of the work we do…he targeted us for that purpose.”

(Emphasis added) Anyone who still believes that that Snowden hack wasn’t carefully planned is living in fantasy land. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but for me stealing the answers to the test is a bridge too far. I thought Snowden was supposed to be a genius, but I’m beginning to wonder.

McConnell also noted that at Booz-Allen, Snowden had access to around a million documents that provided “no kidding insights to understanding U.S. intelligence services.”

David Ignatius, who has lots of sources in the intelligence community wrote in The Washington Post yesterday that one result of Snowden’s leaks could be an internet that is far less free. Russia and China have long resented U.S. control over the internet and want to set their own limits on internet usage; and Europeans who are angry at US spying may stop doing business with U.S. tech companies and develop their own “NSA-proof data storage.”

Edward Snowden’s supporters have portrayed him as the champion of Internet freedom. But when senior European and U.S. experts privately discuss the future of cyberspace, their fear is that the Internet may be closing, post-Snowden, rather than opening. “We may be the last generation to take joy from the Internet,” because of new boundaries and protectionism, as one American glumly put it.

Privacy advocates would argue that any dangers ahead are the fault of the pervasive surveillance systems of the National Security Agency, rather than Snowden’s revelation of them. I’ll leave that chicken-and-egg puzzle for historians. But it begs the question of how to prevent the anti-NSA backlash from shattering the relatively free and open Internet that has transformed the world — and which the NSA (and other security services) exploited. Unfortunately, the cure here could be worse than the disease, in terms of reduced access, cybersecurity and even privacy.

Read it and weep. Could this have been the purpose of the Snowden Operation all along? Did Russia collude with Wikileaks to dupe Snowden into stealing all those documents? After all Wikileaks clearly steered Snowden to Russia and told him he would be safer there than anywhere else.

I need to wrap this up, but I’ll put a few more links in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same. I’m looking forward to seeing what your finding out there on the still-free internet.

47 Comments on “Thursday Reads: Snow, Sochi, and Snowden”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Jessica Winter at Slate:

    Don’t Listen to Woody Allen’s Biggest Defender: Why are so many journalists lauding Robert Weide’s sleazy, passive-aggressive attack on Mia Farrow and her daughter?

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Yesterday, Jon Lovett tweeted quite a bit about the Woody Allen scandal. Here’s one tweet. You can read the rest in his TL.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    LA Times: Woody Allen’s maturity problem

    Several months ago, I watched Woody Allen’s 1979 film “Manhattan” for the first time since I was in my 20s and for perhaps the 10th time total….

    Once upon a time, I idolized this movie all out of proportion. Though I was too young to see it when it was first released, I became obsessed with its Gershwin soundtrack and black-and-white, wide-screen cinematography in high school, right around the time I began romanticizing some mythic notion of becoming a New York sophisticate.

    What could be better than wandering around the Guggenheim on weekends and dining at Elaine’s and casually mentioning that Mahler is totally overrated? To me, these weren’t just characters, they were templates for my future self. They were the exact opposite of suburban teenagers like me. This was a movie for and about the kind of grown-up I wanted to be.

    But when I saw it this last time, I was only a few minutes into it before I began feeling embarrassed for my younger self. The dialogue I’d practically memorized in my youth now made me cringe in places. Sparkling though it was, Allen’s efforts to poke fun at the pretensions of urban intellectuals were far less subtle than I’d remembered.

  4. Pat Johnson says:

    I just came in from cleaning off my car for the 6th time in two days! Enough already!

  5. bostonboomer says:

    Wonkette: Dumbest Birther Claim Yet? Hawaii Health Director Couldn’t Fit In Own Casket, Says Birther, Proving…????


  6. Fannie says:

    Damn, that’s what 50 billion dollars gets you. Disgrace to say the least.

  7. dakinikat says:

    We have snow in the forecast again and our high is 40. I feel your pain. just a few days ago it was in the 70s and no I am cold again! Whacky weather!

  8. RalphB says:

    They just can’t help themselves. Powerless over their own douchebaggery.

    tpm: The Maine GOP Attacked Sandra Fluke For Some Reason

  9. RalphB says:

    This sounds absolutely horrific!

    Raw Story: 82,000 tons of coal sludge spilling for days into NC river threatens Virginia drinking water

    Five days after coal ash began leaking into the Dan River in North Carolina last weekend, Duke Energy still can’t say if the mess will ever be cleaned up.

    On Sunday, a security guard at the Duke Energy plant in Eden discovered that the gray sludge was leaking out of a storage pond and into the river through a hole in a storm water drainage pipe beneath the pond. Since then, up to 82,000 tons have flowed into the river.

    Environmental groups have blasted Duke Energy for taking more than 24 hours to notify the public of what they say is one of the worst spills of its type in U.S. history.

    And as time passes, the gray sludge is making its way toward the city of Danville in Virginia, which uses the river for drinking water.

    “How do you clean this up?” Dan River Basin Association program manager Brian Williams told the AP. “Dredge the whole river bottom for miles? You can’t clean this up. It’s going to go up the food chain, from the filter feeders, to the fish, to the otters and birds and people. Everything in the ecosystem of a river is connected.”

  10. bostonboomer says:

    Glenn Greenwald is coming to the U.S. and it sounds like he really wants to be arrested.

    Glenn Greenwald told Salon’s Brian Beutler that he plans to return to the United States, essentially on a dare. “I’m going to go back to the U.S. for many reasons, but just the fucking principle is enough,” Greenwald said. “On principle I’m going to force the issue.”

    I hope the Obama administration isn’t stupid enough to give him any more attention. BTW, his news site is debuting on Monday, so that’s probably why he wants even more publicity this weekend.

    • bostonboomer says:

      It’s looks like it’s a bunch of bull. He actually told Brian Beutler that he plans to come to the US “sooner rather than later,” “when his schedule permits.” So it’s all just publicity seeking getting ready for the launch of his news site.

    • RalphB says:

      Surely we will soon see Greenwald’s fearless reporting on Russia’s surveillance state…

      tpm: Russian Officials Are Spying On Westerners In Sochi’s Hotel Showers

      While defending Sochi’s ability to accommodate guests for the Winter Olympics this week, a Russian official on Thursday revealed that some of the city’s hotels are apparently equipped with surveillance cameras in the bathrooms.

      “We have surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day,” said Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister in charge of Olympic preparation, claiming that Western guests have been trying to sabotage the event.

      • RalphB says:

        Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald shill for their pal Eddie’s new home:

        Laughable to see US media complaining about Ru spying for Sochi Olympics when the NSA is mass intercepting entire continents, forever
        — WikiLeaks (@wikileaks)

        “Russia spies, too” is the new “Saddam also tortures”.
        — Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald)

        Because gathering telephone metadata is exactly the same as video recording someone taking a shower.

      • RalphB says:

        John Schindler ‏@20committee 11h
        How is FSB watching you in your hotel bathroom? Shut door & run shower hot for 10 mins. Clear spot on mirror is the cam. #Sochi #CI #protip

  11. Shirt says:

    I’m sorry but the “after-the-fact” machinations regarding Snowden have no bearing on his revelations.


    Why aren’t they in jail?

    • bostonboomer says:

      Please don’t shout. Why aren’t who in jail?

    • RalphB says:

      What revelations are you talking about? Most of the initial reporting were things we found out in 2006.

      Give me one case of massive law breaking, with some proof. Otherwise, you’re basically pushing conspiracy theories.

  12. bostonboomer says:

    It looks like Glenn and Pierre have hired Marcy Wheeler now.

    • bostonboomer says:

      First Look adds more journalists, plans to launch first publication next week

      Pierre Omidyar and Eric Bates announced Thursday that First Look Media would launch the first of its planned publications next week. Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill will lead the site, whose “initial focus will be in-depth reporting on the classified documents previously provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.”

      In addition to the trio above, the publication announced some more hires: Peter Maass, Marcy Wheeler and Ryan Gallagher. Maass profiled Poitras for The New York Times Magazine last summer.

  13. RalphB says:

    John Cassidy finds a real acorn of information in the CBO report which has been ignored.

    New Yorker: The C.B.O.’s Real Message: Six Million Jobs Are Already Missing

    I’ll get to the details of the C.B.O. report, which suggested that by 2017 the A.C.A. will reduce work-force participation by the equivalent of two million full-time workers. But, first, something the C.B.O. said that you probably missed, which is based on actual facts rather than on informed speculation: in the past five years or so—and this has nothing to do with Obamacare—some six million jobs (and workers) have already gone missing from the U.S. economy.

    That figure was in a separate report that the C.B.O. released on Tuesday, titled, “The Slow Recovery of the Labor Market.” As someone who has written several times about the “missing millions” of workers in this recovery, I was, naturally, drawn to the new report, particularly to the estimate that the missing number is six million, which is about the population of Missouri.

    For some time now, there has been a debate about why the labor-force participation rate has fallen so far. Some analysts point to demographics: the aging of baby boomers. Others blame low levels of demand and hiring, which have prompted some of the unemployed to give up on looking for work. The C.B.O. study splits things down the middle. Of the roughly three-percentage-point fall in the participation rate since 2007, the study attributes 1.5 percentage points to “long term trends (particularly the aging of the population)” and the other 1.5 percentage points to “weak employment prospects” and other “unusual aspects of the slow recovery.”

    Since 2008, the Republicans have been fighting policy efforts to stimulate spending and hiring. In part, they are responsible for the millions of missing workers. …

  14. NW Luna says:

    RWNJ of any culture don’t care about women’s lives.

    Thousands of Saudis vented their anger online over a report Thursday that employees at a Riyadh university had barred male paramedics from entering a women’s-only campus to assist a student who had suffered a heart attack and later died.

    The Okaz newspaper said administrators at the King Saud University impeded efforts by the paramedics to save the student’s life because of rules banning men from being on-site. According to the paper, the incident took place Wednesday and university employees took an hour before allowing paramedics in.

  15. RalphB says:

    Mitch McConnell is in trouble in KY, in case we see him go crazier than normal now.

    tpm: McConnell’s Job Approval Rating Is Lower Than Obama’s In Kentucky

    The Herald-Leader/WKYT Bluegross poll released Thursday evening found 32 percent of those surveyed said they approve of McConnell’s job performance while 60 percent said they disapproved of the job the top Senate Republican has done. That rating is almost the same as Obama’s approval rating in the state, which is 34 percent and his disapproval is about 60 percent.

    What’s more, the poll found Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) holds a small 4-point lead over McConnell in the Kentucky Senate race. The poll found Grimes with 46 percent support among Kentucky voters while McConnell has 42 percent support. That finding though is essentially within the poll’s plus or minus 3-point margin of error.