I seem to have caught a little cold, nothing serious; but I’m a little slow this morning. Anyway, I have a few interesting stories for you, beginning with an amazing discovery that has stunned scientists and forced them to adjust their assumptions about human evolution. From the NYT: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins.
In a paper in the journal Nature, scientists reported Wednesday that they had retrieved ancient human DNA from a fossil dating back about 400,000 years, shattering the previous record of 100,000 years.
The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.
The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.
Now the experts are going to have to find a way to incorporate these new discoveries into their understanding of human history. The story offers several different possibilities from different scientists.
Hints at new hidden complexities in the human story came from a 400,000-year-old femur found in a cave in Spain called Sima de los Huesos (“the pit of bones” in Spanish). The scientific team used new methods to extract the ancient DNA from the fossil….
Since the 1970s, Spanish scientists have brought out a wealth of fossils from the cave dating back hundreds of thousands of years. “The place is very special,” said Dr. Arsuaga, who has found 28 nearly complete skeletons of humans during three decades of excavations.
Based on the anatomy of the fossils, Dr. Arsuaga has argued that they belonged to ancestors of Neanderthals, which lived in western Asia and Europe from about 200,000 to 30,000 years ago.
But based on newly discovered methods for extracting DNA, researchers learned something very different. Read the rest of this fascination story at the NYT link above.
Yesterday the Washington Post published a new story by Barton Gellman, based on the data stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden: NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show. Except if you read the whole story you’ll learn that this is being done only to collect foreign intelligence; it’s not being done in the U.S. Data from Americans who are overseas could get caught up in the data collection, but the point is to track the locations of suspected terrorists.
The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.
One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.
In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.
Honestly, is anyone really surprised by this? I’m not saying it’s a wonderful thing, but, as I recall, tracing cell phone locations was the method used to catch Osama bin Laden. Not only that, but local police in the U.S. routinely use cell phone tracking to investigate crimes–and like the Feds, they have to get warrants to do so.
Anyone who didn’t know that you have no expectation of privacy when using a cell phone must have been living in a cave for a very long time. But if you really think the NSA is listening in on all of your personal phone calls and reading your text messages, you’re–quite frankly–nuts. The NSA would have to have millions of employees in order to sift through everyone’s data.
Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”
The NSA has no reason to suspect that the movements of the overwhelming majority of cellphone users would be relevant to national security. Rather, it collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools — known collectively as CO-TRAVELER — allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.
As noted in the article, data collected from Americans overseas isn’t protected by the Fourth Amendment; and the Supreme Court decided long ago that telephone call data is owned by the phone companies and that Americans have no expectation of privacy when talking on the phone. If we want to increase privacy protections, it will have to be done through legislation–not by whining about the NSA doing it’s job, which is to collect foreign intelligence. (A side note: a short time ago, former NSA analyst John Schindler offered some suggestions for “Reforming NSA from the Top.”) I wish journalists would devote as much energy to investigating why millions of Americans can’t get jobs and why so many of the ones who do have jobs can’t get paid a living wage as they do to telling us things we already knew or strongly suspected about NSA data collection.
Meanwhile, there are some troubling questions and revelations about some of the journalists who have been involved in releasing the Snowden files. As everyone knows by now, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras now have control of all of the data that Snowden stole. This data includes the names of all British and American intelligence agents. Greenwald and Poitras are currently working on developing a new news website, a project backed by libertarian Ebay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Here’s an extensive profile of Omidyar by renegade investigative journalist MarkAmes.
Recently, Ames wrote another piece at Pando Daily questioning the ethics of Snowden’s cache of NSA data being controlled by two individuals who are beholden to one wealthy backer headlined Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks.
Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?
Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.
It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.
Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg,Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.
I didn’t realize this until yesterday, but apparently Greenwald did not have the data on British intelligence originally; but he somehow forced the Guardian to turn it over to him before he resign from the newspaper. This may be the data that Greenwald’s husband David Miranda was caught with at Heathrow airport when he was detained there awhile back. The British Parliament is currently investigating the behavior of the Guardian and its editor Alan Rusberger. From the blog of BBC journalist Louise Mensch: Rusbridger admits shipping agents’ names – what now?
MPs today got Alan Rusbridger to admit a number of things he, and his paper had previously denied.
Firstly, that he shipped the names of GCHQ agents abroad to newspapers and bloggers. Mr. Rusbridger was reminded that this was a criminal offence, and said he had a public interest defence. He also, however, kept arguing that he hadn’t published any names, which rather blows up his public interest defence – it’s self-evident that you don’t need the names of intelligence agents to report on GCHQ spying, so why not redact them?
The fact is, Rusbridger did acknowledge that it put GCHQ agents at risk when he first shipped files to ProPublica. He redacted the names of GCHQ agents from those files, and he promised the government he had done so….
In Parliament today when asked why he didn’t redact the names he said there were 58,000 documents – essentially, he could be bothered to go through the <100 files he FedExed to ProPublica, but could not be bothered to go through the entire batch he sent to the NYT.
Really? He couldn’t take a week, and black out agents’ names? There were copies of the docs in the Guardian offices in New York, so time was not an issue for Rusbridger – instead, he exposed the names.
Perhaps worst of all, Rusbridger confirmed my very worst suspicions, which were that he hadn’t even read through the top secret files before shipping them. He redacted no names; he redacted no operational details; he didn’t even read them. And by “he” I mean any employee of the Guardian. Nobody at that paper read the 58,000 documents through, not even once, before sharing them in bulk.
Mensch updated that post with more information yesterday: HAS Rusbridger exposed thousands of GCHQ personnel? A commenter on the original post explained that in revealing the names of intelligence personnel to multiple people, Rusberger and the Guardian essentially destroyed their careers and seriously damaged British intelligence efforts. Here’s the comment:
A comment was left on that last blog that I have to reproduce. It shows that every agent exposed by Rusbridger has had their career ruined for the duration of it; none of them can ever work in the field again. Furthermore, the writer makes the compelling case that the NSA-GCHQ wiki, which the New York Times published extracts from, and the directories of staff interests like gay and lesbian clubs, ghost hunting clubs etc, mean that Rusbridger has actually sent abroad not just a handful of names, as he claimed to Parliament “there were names on power points” but actually thousands of GCHQ names.
Read the whole explanation at the link. I apologize for writing this before I nail down every detail, but I think this is important and it’s highly unlikely the corporate media will look into it since they could also culpable.
I’m afraid I rambled on too long on the NSA story, so I’ll just add a few more links that you might like to check out.
AP via Business Insider: A Period Of Bitterly Cold Temperatures Not Seen In A Decade Is About To Hit Parts Of The US
JM Ashby at The Daily Banter: Their Kind of Individual Mandate
Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on this morning? Please share your links in the comment thread.
I’m going to focus on the Edward Snowden/NSA leaks story today, because there has been quite a bit of news breaking about it over the past few days.
As of this morning, Snowden hasn’t decided whether to accept one of the asylum offers made by three Latin American countries, Venezuela, Nicaragua, or Bolivia. From NBC News:
MOSCOW, Russia – The status of Edward Snowden’s bid for asylum in Venezuela remained unclear Tuesday after the country’s apparent deadline passed.
The Venezuelan Embassy in Moscow said it had no information on whether the fugitive NSA leaker had completed a deal that would allow him to leave the transit area of an airport in the Russian capital.
In Caracas, President Nicolas Maduro confirmed late Monday that Venezuela had received an official request for asylum from Snowden, telling reporters at a news conference that the self-declared leaker “will need to decide when he will fly here,” according to Russia Today.
Even if Snowden agrees an asylum deal with Venezuela, travel problems could take time to resolve: His U.S. passport has been canceled and U.S. allies may deny airspace to any flight on which he is believed to be traveling.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to decide if he wants to seek refuge in his country after the American reportedly sent an asylum request to Caracas.
Maduro told reporters at a press conference on Monday that the fugitive systems analyst must communicate his intent to accept Venezuela’s offer of asylum, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“He will have to say when he is flying here, if he definitely wants to come here,” Maduro was quoted as telling reporters.
He would probably have to take a private plane, which would be very expensive. Wikileaks is paying for Snowden’s expenses, but would they be able to spring for a private plane? Maybe. More on that in a minute.
One thing we know is very important to Snowden–internet access. One of the reasons he left Hong Kong for Moscow was his fear of not being able to get on the internet. From the Wall Street Journal on June 24:
A person familiar with Mr. Snowden’s case said his decision to get on a flight to Moscow was “very sudden,” made only in the day before departing. The decision was made in consultation with WikiLeaks, which encouraged Mr. Snowden to leave the city after communicating with others about his options abroad, the person said.
“He is very independent, but also very willing to listen to advice,” the person said, adding that Mr. Snowden was concerned that any further delay would result in his detainment by Hong Kong authorities. In part, Mr. Snowden’s determination to leave Hong Kong was based on the fear of losing access to the Internet—his vital link to the rest of the world—should he be detained, the person said. In part, Mr. Snowden’s determination to leave Hong Kong was based on the fear of losing access to the Internet—his vital link to the rest of the world—should he be detained, the person said.
Now Snowden is considering going to one of three countries that have limited access to the internet, according to an article by Alex Halperin at Salon. Venezuela is the best choice, with 40% of the population having internet connections. In Bolivia, it’s 30%, and in Nicaragua only 10.6%.
The Daily Beast has an article on “Wikileaks’ Money Trail” today.
Thankfully for WikiLeaks, its latest cause célèbre, Edward Snowden, is raking in some much-needed cash for the whistle-blowing organization. Snowden sympathizers have been donating generously since WikiLeaks decided to take on the NSA leaker’s case—and the organization desperately needs every dollar it can raise to stay in the black and pay for the legal fees and living costs of founder Julian Assange and now Snowden.
The money WikiLeaks has raised—nearly $90,000 in 2012, with about $1,300 coming in each day since it took Snowden under its wing—comes from people around the world, some of whom give just a few dollars to do their part in making the world a more transparent place.Assange and his team still say they need a lot more than they raise, and the organization always seems to be in the red. WikiLeaks’s operating budget was $510,197 in 2012, which is serious money, considering it is a simple .org with a staff of three paid software developers.
A look into how WikiLeaks is funded and how its money is spent reveals an irony that Assange has acknowledged: an organization dedicated to uncovering the truth keeps its finances intentionally complicated, and it’s next to impossible for donors to find out how their money is processed and where it goes.
Much more at the link. It doesn’t sound like Wikileaks would be able to fund a private plane flight, but maybe some wealthy person like Michael Moore would come through with the big bucks.
More of Snowden’s leaks about U.S. intelligence activities in other countries have been published over the past few days by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. Greenwald published a report of Snowden’s allegations of U.S. spying in Brazil that appeared in the Guardian and in the Brazilian paper El Globo, and a report on US collaboration with Australia in collecting data was published by the Sydney Morning Herald. Snowden also released a top secret map of sites in a number of countries that collaborate with NSA in collecting intelligence data.
IMHO, it’s likely that Snowden is giving information to countries he’d like to go to. Greenwald lives in Brazil, and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange is from Australia. I say this, because Greenwald explained on Twitter that Snowden revealed classified documents in Hong Kong and in order to gain friendly treatment by the government.
The most revealing recent stories have been published by Der Spiegel, which has been given access to some of the documents Snowden stole from NSA. The latest Der Spiegel piece included a blockbuster revelation. The German magazine published a previously unknown interview with Snowden that was conducted by Laura Poitras and Jacob Applebaum in mid-May, before Snowden left Hawaii for Hong Kong.
This is stunning news, because Applebaum’s name has never been mentioned in connection with the Snowden story until now, although he (Applebaum) has been very visible on Twitter defending Snowden and hyping Greenwald’s articles.
Applebaum is a well known hacker who has been prominently associated with Julian Assange and Wikileaks. He is one of the founders of the Tor network , which promotes encryption method to help people and organizations maintain anonymity on the internet. Although he acknowledges that Tor could be giving aid an comfort to criminals such as child pornographers, he believes that privacy rights take precedence over such concerns.
Both Poitras and Applebaum have come to the attention of the U.S. government and both have been stopped and harassed on return flights to the U.S. from other countries.
Shortly before he became a household name around the world as a whistleblower, Edward Snowden answered a comprehensive list of questions. They originated from Jacob Appelbaum, 30, a developer of encryption and security software. Appelbaum provides training to international human rights groups and journalists on how to use the Internet anonymously.
Appelbaum first became more broadly known to the public after he spoke on behalf of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a hacker conference in New York in 2010. Together with Assange and other co-authors, Appelbaum recently released a compilation of interviews in book form under the title “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.”
Applebaum explains how he got involved.
“In mid-May, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras contacted me,” Appelbaum said. “She told me she was in contact with a possible anonymous National Security Agency (NSA) source who had agreed to be interviewed by her.”
“She was in the process of putting questions together and thought that asking some specific technical questions was an important part of the source verification process. One of the goals was to determine whether we were really dealing with an NSA whistleblower. I had deep concerns of COINTELPRO-style entrapment. We sent our securely encrypted questions to our source. I had no knowledge of Edward Snowden’s identity before he was revealed to the world in Hong Kong. He also didn’t know who I was. I expected that when the anonymity was removed, we would find a man in his sixties.”
Please note the timeline: Poitras says Snowden contacted her in January, and Greenwald says he began working with Poitras and Snowden in February. Poitras also contacted Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in February–apparently without Greenwald’s knowlege. At some point Snowden was working for NSA as a Dell contractor, but he quit this job in order to get one at Booz Allen, where he would have access to more top secret information about U.S. spy facilities around the world. He took the job with Booz Allen sometime in March and went to a training course back in the U.S. that lasted a couple of months. According to Booz Allen, Snowden was employed by them for less than three months and was only on the job in Hawaii for about three weeks, during which time he stole four laptops full of classified documents.
There’s no doubt this operation was premeditated; Snowden admitted that in an interview with the South China Morning Post. The only real questions are whether it was initiated or aided by Julian Assange and Wikileaks and whether Jacob Applebaum aided Snowden in hacking into NSA computers. I’m not ready to argue that yet; but these new revelations, along with the fact that Wikileaks seems to have taken over communications with Snowden are certainly suggestive.
Here’s another possible piece of the timeline. In December 2012, Glenn Greenwald and some of his close friends started an organization called Freedom of the Press Foundation. Others on the board of directors of the foundation besides Greenwald are Laura Poitras and Daniel Ellsberg. According to their website, their purpose is to raise funds to support “public interest journalism.” Their criteria for choosing news organization to support is as follows:
Record of engaging in transparency journalism or supporting it in a material way, including support for whistleblowers.
Public interest agenda.
Organizations or individuals under attack for engaging in transparency journalism.
Need for support. The foundation’s goal is to prioritize support for organizations and individuals who are in need of funding or who face obstacles to gaining support on their own.
At the top of the list of organizations they support is Wikileaks.
Please note that I’m not yet proposing some grand conspiracy theory here. I’m just laying out the facts as I know them so far and connecting some dots. But some people are suggesting Wikileaks could have directed this operation. I was very surprised to see this article by Walter Pincus at the Washington Post yesterday: Questions for Snowden. Basically Pincus connected some dots and is asking some of the same questions I am asking. I’m going to excerpt a little more than I normally would from the Pincus piece. He writes:
Was he [Snowden] encouraged or directed by WikiLeaks personnel or others to take the job as part of a broader plan to expose NSA operations to selected journalists?
In the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier on trial for disclosing thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, it was Julian Assange and his organization who directed the collection of documents, U.S. prosecutors have alleged. While Manning’s lawyers contend there is no evidence to support that finding, prosecutors have said there are hundreds of chats between Manning and Assange and WikiLeaks lists of desired material.
In Manning’s case, WikiLeaks and its founder, Assange, determined the news organizations that initially would receive the materials.
Pincus wants to know how Snowden decided to leak to Poitras, Greenwald, and Gellman.
Did Assange and WikiLeaks personnel help or direct Snowden to those journalists?
Poitras and Greenwald have had close connections with Assange and WikiLeaks. In December 2010, Greenwald said of the British arrest of Assange: “Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from [the] Internet . . . their funds have been frozen . . . media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization.”
In a June 2012 Guardian column, Greenwald wrote, “As a foreign national accused of harming U.S. national security, he [Assange] has every reason to want to avoid ending up in the travesty known as the American judicial system.”
On April 10, 2012, Greenwald wrote for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog about Poitras and WikiLeaks being targeted by U.S. government officials.
Pincus also suggests that Julian Assange knew the contents of Glenn Greenwald’s first article on Snowden’s leaks.
Poitras has been working on a film on post-9/11 America, with a focus on the NSA and in which Assange and WikiLeaks are participating. Assange confirmed this in a May 29 interview on Democracy Now’s Web site.
In that same interview, Assange previewed the first Greenwald Guardian story based on Snowden documents that landed a week later. Speaking from Ecuador’s embassy in London, Assange described how NSA had been collecting “all the calling records of the United States, every record of everyone calling everyone over years. . . . Those calling records already [are] entered into the national security complex.”
Did he know ahead of time of that Guardian story describing the U.S. court order permitting NSA’s collection of the telephone toll records of millions of American Verizon customers and storing them for years?
This post is getting way too long, but just to be fair I’ll offer another conspiracy theory from Pepe Escobar of Asia Times. I’ll quote the first few paragraphs and you can go read the whole thing if you’re so inclined.
The working title of the Edward Snowden movie is still The Spy Who Remains in the Cold. Here’s where we stand:
– Snowden could only fly out of Hong Kong because China allowed it.
– Snowden could only arrive in Moscow because Russia knew it – in co-operation with China. This is part of their strategic relationship, which includes the BRICS group (along with Brazil, India and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. No official source though would ever confirm it.
With the Latin American offers of asylum (Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua; even Uruguay would consider it), we’re approaching the clincher: Moscow is now calculating whether – and how – to help Snowden reach his final destination while extracting maximum political capital out of Washington.
Into this script comes roaring the coup-that-is-not-a-coup sub-plot in Egypt. Cynics’ eyebrows will be raised that just as the Barack Obama administration was going mental over the National Security Agency (NSA) spy scandal a revo-coup-o-lution explodes in Egypt. New revelations about the extent of the NSA-centric Orwellian Panopticon keep on coming, but they have been totally downgraded by US corporate media; it’s all Egypt all the time. After all, the Pentagon – to which the NSA is attached – owns the Egyptian military, something that even the New York Times had to acknowledge. 
Yet they don’t own Snowden. This has nothing to do with “terra”.
Meanwhile, the US intelligence gambit of intercepting a non-adversarial presidential plane spectacularly backfired in true Mad magazine Spy vs Spy fashion. Obama had said he would not “scramble fighter jets” to catch Snowden; of course not, just ground them.
Austrian paper Die Presse revealed that the US Ambassador in Austria, William Eacho, was responsible for spreading the (false) information about Snowden being on board Bolivia President Evo Morales’ Falcon out of Russia – leading to the denial of overflying rights in France, Spain, Portugal an Italy.  Eacho – a former CEO of a food distribution company with no diplomatic experience whatsoever – was appointed by Obama to go to Vienna in June 2009. Why? Because he was a top Obama fundraiser.
Read the rest at Asia Times. BTW, I’m not sure both of these conspiracy theories couldn’t be at least partially true.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your reactions.