Thursday Reads: Hot and Bothered Edition

HeatWave-8747

Good Morning!!

Today is day 5 of the latest heatwave, which isn’t scheduled to break here in southern New England until Sunday. I don’t think I’m capable of writing very much today–we’ll see how it goes.

From USA Today: Heat wave scorches central, eastern USA

A killer heat wave brought the hottest weather of the summer to much of the nation Wednesday, and at least two more days of broiling temperatures are forecast before cooler weather slides in over the weekend.

About 130 million people are sweltering through the heat wave in the Midwest and Northeast this week, reports AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

High daytime and nighttime temperatures, high humidity, intense sunshine and lack of wind will continue to make these areas “seem like the middle of the tropics,” he said.

High temperatures in the 90s are again likely Thursday and Friday all the way from the Plains to the Northeast. Heat advisories and warnings are in place from the Dakotas to New England.

Boston Bombing Aftermath

Quite a few people in New England are all hot and bothered about the August 1 cover of Rolling Stone–a glamorous photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The photo accompanies a long article by Janet Reitman, who has a reputation as a good investigative journalist.

The cover copy suggests that Reitman will reveal how sweet little Dzhokhar became “radicalized” into a “monster” who participated in the Boston Marathon bombing. I  read the article, and was disappointed to find that it is mostly a rehash of material that was covered long ago in The Boston Globe and The New York Times. Reitman appears to have interviewed some of Tsarnaev’s high school friends, but again they offered no new insights. Reitman had scheduled an appearance on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, who was born and raised in Boston. In the wake of the controversy, Reitman cancelled, which is also disappointing. Why not go on and defend her story?

I can’t say I’m all that bothered by the cover, since the photo was also featured long ago in The New York Times and other publications, but I can respect that for survivors of the bombings it seems pretty dismissive of their suffering to glamorize the perpetrator. Here are a few links on the topic–see what you think.

Erik Wemple at The Washington Post: To Rolling Stone detractors: Please

Slate: Rolling Stone’s Boston Bomber Cover Is Brilliant

The Boston Globe: Why Boston reacted right to Rolling Stone

Time: Drugstores, Supermarkets Boycott Rolling Stone Over Boston-Bomber Cover

In other news related to the Boston bombing suspects, friends of three men who were brutally murdered  in Waltham in September 2011 have been talking to the media. Susan Zalkind, a friend of Erik Weissman appeared on the Rachel Maddow show this week.

Susan Zalkind, a close friend of Eric Weissman who was found murdered with two of friends in a Harding Avenue home in September 2011, appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show on Tuesday to discuss her investigation and reactions to the case, which is officially under investigation. However, authorities reportedly believe accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his friend Ibragim Todashev committed the murders as a drug ripoff. Tsarnaev was killed during the April 19 shootout with police in Watertown. The Federal Bureau of Investigation shot and killed Todashev in his Florida home in May after allegedly attacking agents. Todashev had been in the process of writing a confession implicating himself and Tsarnaev in the murders.

Other friends of the three murdered men talked to CNN, and High Times Magazine has the video. Friends believe that police didn’t take the investigations of the murders very seriously once they concluded that the three men were drug dealers.

Meanwhile, the FBI is refusing to release the Todashev autopsy. From Russia Today:

The FBI has ordered a Florida medical examiner’s office not to release the autopsy report of a Chechen man who was killed during an FBI interview in May over his ties to one of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers.

The autopsy report for Ibragim Todashev, 27, killed by an FBI agent during an interrogation which took place in his apartment on May 22 was ready for release on July 8. However, the FBI barred its publication, saying an internal probe into his death is ongoing.

The FBI has informed this office that the case is still under active investigation and thus not to release the document,” according to statement by Tony Miranda, forensic records coordinator for Orange and Osceola counties in Orlando.

The forensic report was expected to clarify the circumstances of Todashev’s death.The Bureau’s statement issued on the day of the incident provided no details of what transpired, saying only that the person being interviewed was killed when a “violent confrontation was initiated by the individual.”

Back in May Ibragim Todashev’s father showed pictures of his dead son’s body at a press conference in Moscow, revealing he had been shot six times.

“I only saw things like that in movies: shooting a person, and then the kill shot. Six shots in the body, one of them in the head,” Abdulbaki Todashev said.

Student Loan Interest Rates

A group of Senators have made a deal on student loan interest rates, according to Politico.

Key bipartisan Senate negotiators met in Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s Office late Wednesday and emerged confident that they could finally put the vexing issue behind them.

“It would save students in 11 million families billions of dollars,” said Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). “We’d like to be able to do this together and we hope that we can come to a decision right away because families need to make their plans.”

Alexander, the top Republican on education issues, said their proposal would apply retroactively to students who have already drawn federal loans at higher rates which went into effect on July 1.

A Senate aide familiar with the talks said the bill could go on the floor as soon as tomorrow. Leadership aides said that’s implausible but not impossible. Otherwise the bill would get a floor vote early next week.

Of course Republican members of the House will probably have different views on this. I have no idea if this is a good plan or not, and I’m too hot to care. I won’t live to see my student loans paid off, that’s all I know for sure.

Michael Hastings Fatal Crash

Russ Baker’s site Who What Why recently published an interesting (and not too wacky) article on the car crash that killed Michael Hastings. It’s written by Michael Krikorian, a former LA Times crime reporter base on footage from surveillance cameras that caught some of the accident. Krikorian doesn’t offer conspiracy theories–just reports of what he saw at the accident scene, his reactions to the videos caught on cameras a his girlfriend’s pizza restaurant nearby, and some reactions from experts to whom he showed the tapes. The  most mysterious questions seems to be why Hastings was driving so fast. And why didn’t he apply the brakes when he started to skid?

Four seconds into the start of the tape, a minivan or SUV goes by the front of restaurant. Three seconds later, another vehicle goes by, traveling from the restaurant front door to the crash site in about seven seconds. At 35 seconds into the tape, a car is seen driving northbound and appears to slow, probably for the light at Melrose.

Then at 79 seconds, the camera catches a very brief flash of light in the reflection of the glass of the pizzeria. Traveling at least twice as fast as the other cars on the tape, Hastings’s Mercedes C250 coupe suddenly whizzes by. (This is probably the “whoosh” that Gary, the Mozza employee, heard.)

The car swerves and then explodes in a brilliant flash as it hits a palm tree in the median. Viewed at normal speed, it is a shocking scene—reminiscent of fireballs from “Shock and Awe” images from Baghdad in 2003….I think it’s safe to say the car was doing at least 80….

Highland has a very slight rise and fall at its intersection with Melrose. It’s difficult to tell by the film, but based on tire marks—which were not brake skid marks, by the way—chalked by the traffic investigators, it seems that the Mercedes may have been airborne briefly as it crossed the intersection, then landed hard. Tire marks were left about 10 feet east of the restaurant’s valet stand….

About 100 feet after the car zooms by on the tape, it starts to swerve. At about 195 feet from the camera, the car jumps the curb of the center median, heading toward a palm tree 56 feet away.

About halfway between the curb and the tree, the car hits a metal protrusion—perhaps 30 inches tall and 2 feet wide—that gives access to city water mains below. This is where the first small flash occurs. This pipe may have damaged the undercarriage of the car, perhaps rupturing a fuel line.

Check the story out and see what you think. It appears the police have closed the book on the case except for waiting for tox screens on Hastings to come back.

Edward Snowden Updates

Glenn Greenwald continues to lecture all and sundry that Snowden isn’t the story–the focus should be on the NSA leaks. Meanwhile, he continues to publish about three times as many articles on himself and Snowden as on the leaks. Yesterday’s offering was about e-mails between Snowden and a retired ultra-conservative/libertarian Senator from New Hampshire, Gordon Humphrey. You can read the full e-mails at the link, but one thing Snowden wrote became the subject of much speculation yesterday.

My intention, which I outlined when this began, is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them. I remain committed to that. Though reporters and officials may never believe it, I have not provided any information that would harm our people – agent or not – and I have no intention to do so.

Further, no intelligence service – not even our own – has the capacity to compromise the secrets I continue to protect. While it has not been reported in the media, one of my specializations was to teach our people at DIA how to keep such information from being compromised even in the highest threat counter-intelligence environments (i.e. China).

You may rest easy knowing I cannot be coerced into revealing that information, even under torture.

Did this mean that Snowden believes himself to be impervious to torture? According to tech experts and hacker types, it means that he has encrypted the data in such a way that even he cannot get at it by himself. Here’s an article in the Christian Science Monitor that explains this in somewhat simple terms. Author Dan Murphy writes:

I think his good intentions, as he sees them, are fair to assume. But his certainty that it is impossible to compromise what he knows seems questionable. Presumably he has digital files that are encrypted in some fashion. But if the files are accessible at all, there has to be a key.

Or even imagine a Escherian progression of unbreakable locks containing the key to the next unbreakable lock in the progression, which in turn contains the next key. Layers of difficulty are just that – problems to be overcome. Assertions of insurmountably seem specious as long as a key or set of keys exists and someone hasn’t destroyed the first one in the sequence.

And if Snowden’s claims are to be believed, a key to whatever data he has does exist. Greenwald says Snowden’s NSA files have been set up for release in the event Snowden is killed by the US. Greenwald hasn’t said what the mechanism would be and what precisely would be released beyond, “if something does happen to [Snowden] all the information will be revealed and it could be [the US government’s] worst nightmare.”

That implies that there is some process, known to some people or persons, that allows for access. And while state of the art encryption can foil technical efforts to break it, it’s hard to see how gaining access to the knowledge of others is impossible. Spy agencies use trickery, bribery, coercion, and sometimes worse to pry out others’ secrets. Yet Snowden was insistent in his letter to Senator Humphrey….

Greenwald implies today that what Snowden meant was that he doesn’t know how to get at the files himself. But then, who does?

If the answer is “no one,” then it’s hard to square with his claim of a release being made in the event of his death. If the answer is “someone” or “some group of people,” then his confidence that secrets can’t be compromised seems misplaced. (I asked a number of people who know more about encryption than I about this; the answer always circled back to “the key is the vulnerability.” Perhaps there’s something we’re all missing?)

Here’s another article from Wired that speculates on the so-called “dead man’s switch.”

I’ve got lots more on Snowden, but I’m running out of space and I think I may be the only one here who still cares what’s going on with him. I can post some more links in the comments if there’s any interest.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you following today? Please post your links on any topic in the comments.


Glenn Greenwald: If anything happens to Edward Snowden US will be gravely harmed

Dead man's switch

Dead man’s switch

It may be time for Edward Snowden to look for another spokesman/PR flack. Then again, it might already be too late.

Today Snowden’s designated media mouthpiece Glenn Greenwald gave an interview to an Argentine newspaper, La Nacion, in which he provided some rather stunning quotes about Edward Snowden’s ability to harm the U.S. government. Reuters picked up the story and reprinted the Greenwald quotes in English.

(Reuters) – Fugitive former U.S. spy contractor Edward Snowden controls dangerous information that could become the United States’ “worst nightmare” if revealed, a journalist familiar with the data said in a newspaper interview.

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who first published the documents Snowden leaked, said in a newspaper interview published on Saturday that the U.S. government should be careful in its pursuit of the former computer analyst.

“Snowden has enough information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any other person has ever had,” Greenwald said in an interview in Rio de Janeiro with the Argentinean daily La Nacion.

“The U.S. government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be revealed and it could be its worst nightmare.”

I don’t know about you, but to me those sound like threats. Technically, they could be called “graymail” From the Urban Dictionary:

graymail:

to force the government to choose between prosecuting an employee for serious crimes or preserving national security secrets
Libby’s lawyers deliberated on how to graymail the government in order to achieve an acquittal.

It’s not illegal, but it doesn’t seem all that “heroic” either.

Greenwald immediately published a defense of his comment at The Guardian: About the Reuters article.

When you give many interviews in different countries and say essentially the same thing over and over, as I do, media outlets often attempt to re-package what you’ve said to make their interview seem new and newsworthy, even when it isn’t. Such is the case with this Reuters article today, that purports to summarize an interview I gave to the daily newspaper La Nacion of Argentina.

Like everything in the matter of these NSA leaks, this interview is being wildly distorted to attract attention away from the revelations themselves. It’s particularly being seized on to attack Edward Snowden and, secondarily, me, for supposedly “blackmailing” and “threatening” the US government. That is just absurd.

That Snowden has created some sort of “dead man’s switch” – whereby documents get released in the event that he is killed by the US government –was previously reported weeks ago, and Snowden himself has strongly implied much the same thing. That doesn’t mean he thinks the US government is attempting to kill him – he doesn’t – just that he’s taken precautions against all eventualities, including that one (just incidentally, the notion that a government that has spent the last decade invading, bombing, torturing, rendering, kidnapping, imprisoning without charges, droning, partnering with the worst dictators and murderers, and targeting its own citizens for assassination would be above such conduct is charmingly quaint).

So what are the distortions? Greenwald doesn’t say. I had google translate the La Nacion article, and the quotes appear to be identical with those reported by Reuters. Greenwald doesn’t deny saying them; he simply states categorically that what he said “has [nothing] remotely to do with threats.”

O-kaaay….  But they sure do sound like threats to me. In an update Greenwald provides a quote in context which he says proves he wasn’t threatening anyone:

Here’s the context for my quote about what documents he possesses:
“Q: Beyond the revelations about the spying system performance in general, what extra information has Snowden?

“A: Snowden has enough information to cause more damage to the US government in a minute alone than anyone else has ever had in the history of the United States. But that’s not his goal. [His] objective is to expose software that people around the world use without knowing what they are exposing themselves without consciously agreeing to surrender their rights to privacy. [He] has a huge number of documents that would be very harmful to the US government if they were made public.”

Greenwald then tries to fudge the quote about how the U.S. “should be down on its knees…”

And exactly as I said, the answer about the dead man’s switch came in response to my being asked: “Are you afraid that someone will try to kill him?” That’s when I explained that I thought it such an was unlikely because his claimed dead man’s switch meant that it would produce more harm than good from the perspective of the US government.

But here is the original quote from the La Nacion story (translated awkwardly by Google):

If something were to happen, those documents would be made public. This is your insurance policy. The U.S. government should be on your knees every day praying that nothing happens to Snowden, because if something happens, all information will be revealed and that would be their worst nightmare.

Please explain to me how that is “has [nothing] remotely to do with threats.” At the point Greenwald has taken on the role of a combination PR flack and defense attorney. He spends hours on Twitter sending out links to every favorable story about Snowden and he uses his Guardian column to write critiques of negative media reports on Snowden and himself. Greenwald is way out of his depth; his defenses of Snowden and his giant scoop are getting increasingly irrational. How long is The Guardian going to allow this to continue?