Saturday Reads

desire-dehau-reading-a-newspaper-in-the-garden-Toulouse Lautrec

Good Morning!!

Amid all the bad news, there’s apparently progress in the negotiations with Iran. The LA Times reported yesterday that a “nuclear deal appears imminent.” Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Geneva, Switzerland yesterday to help out.

After a rocky day Thursday, negotiators appeared for now to have overcome their differences on Iran’s entitlement to enrich uranium and on how to curb progress on a partially built nuclear research reactor that Western powers view as a particular threat.

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry left late Friday for Geneva to help “narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement,” the State Department said. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, arrived from Moscow early Friday evening, making him the first of the six nations’ ministers to show up for a possible signing ceremony that would end a decade of usually stalemated negotiations….

A deal would be a first-stage agreement that would give Iran temporary relief from the crushing Western sanctions on its economy in exchange for temporary limits on its nuclear program. Many nations fear that Iran, despite its insistence that its program is for peaceful purposes only, is seeking weapons capability with its huge nuclear infrastructure.

This deal would open the way for tough bargaining on a final, comprehensive agreement that would take six months or longer to be reached.

Isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish with a little carrot and stick diplomacy? Too bad Bush and Cheney never tried it.

From USA Today:

U.S. negotiators and their counterparts from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China have been meeting with the Iranians since Wednesday in an effort to strike an interim deal to delay Iran’s nuclear program while a larger deal is worked out that would prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke of “very difficult negotiations, saying “narrow gaps” remain on the same issues that blocked agreement at the last round earlier this month.

“We’re not here because things are necessarily finished,” Hague told reporters. “We’re here because they’re difficult, and they remain difficult.”

Still, the fact that they are talking is definitely encouraging. In another sign that something is actually happening, the Chinese foreign minister arrived in Geneva today. “Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Saturday the talks…have reached the final moment.”

For those of you who still use air travel, the FCC is on the verge of making a decision that could make flying infinitely more annoying that it is already. From The Washington Post: FCC sees backlash after proposing to allow in-flight cellphone calls on planes.

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that it will consider rules that would allow air travelers to make calls and use their cellular data plans once a plane reaches 10,000 feet. Restrictions would remain for takeoffs and landings.

The proposal, which will be raised at the commission’s meeting next month, has the backing of the agency’s newly appointed chairman. But the idea is bound to be controversial. Within hours of the announcement, consumers flooded the agency with protests.

One FCC commissioner received hundreds of e-mails complaining that the move would lead to unbearable noise pollution, an aide said. Passengers are already crammed into smaller seats and tighter rows, and being forced to listen to one another’s calls would be yet another indignity, they wrote.

petition quickly went up on the White House Web site Thursday, asking the Obama administration to stop the effort. “This would make an already cranky, uncomfortable travel experience exponentially worse, and as a frequent flier and concerned citizen, I think the administration needs to nip this in the bud,” a resident from Richmond wrote.

Something tells me if this plan goes through, there are going be a lot more air rage incidents in the not-so-friendly skies. But after the uproar, USA Today is reporting that the new FCC commissioner–only three weeks into the job–is backpedaling rapidly.

NEW YORK (AP) — A day after setting off an uproar among travelers opposed to in-flight phone calls, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Chairman backtracked, saying he personally isn’t in favor of calls on planes.

The role of the FCC, he added, is to advise if there is a safety issue with using phones on planes. He said there is “no technical reason to prohibit” the use of mobile devices on planes.

“We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself,” chairman Tom Wheeler said in a Friday statement.

The decision to allow calls will ultimately rest with the airlines, Wheeler emphasized.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III “Appears Receptive to Critics of NSA’s Collection of Phone Data.” Back in 1979, the Supreme Court decided that phone records are not private, because we willingly give the information to our telephone company. But now Judge Pauley is questioning that decision based on recent revelations about NSA data collection.

“Doesn’t the information collected here reveal far more?” U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III asked during a hearing in Manhattan federal court on Friday.

Judge Pauley also questioned whether Congress could authorize the collection when the NSA program’s existence wasn’t widely known among lawmakers.

The hearing stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and its New York affiliate days after the program was revealed in news reports that were based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The groups argue the bulk collection of records called metadata—which includes the phone numbers people dialed and where they were calling from—violates Americans’ privacy rights, as well as federal law.

The judge issued no immediate ruling and left open the possibility that he could dismiss part of the case, because federal law designates the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as the proper venue for certain national-security issues.

Pauley is a Clinton appointee.

In Pakistan, a protest by about 10,000 people against U.S. drone strikes succeeded in blocking a supply route to and from Afghanistan.

The protest, led by Pakistani politician and cricket star Imran Khan, had more symbolic value than practical impact as there is normally little NATO supply traffic on the road on Saturdays. The blocked route in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province leads to one of two border crossings used to send supplies overland from Pakistan to neighboring Afghanistan.

Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, called on federal officials to take a firmer stance to force the U.S. to end drone attacks and block NATO supplies across the country.

“We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped,” Khan told the protesters.

The demonstrators dispersed after Khan’s speech, but his party put out a statement saying they will begin stopping trucks from carrying NATO supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa indefinitely beginning Sunday night. That could spark a clash with the federal government.

Raw Story has an update in the case of Kendrick Johnson, the 17-year-old whose body was found inside a gym mat in a Valdosta, GA high school.

At least an hour of footage is missing from each of the four surveillance cameras at Kendrick Johnson’s high school, and the original footage showing how the Georgia teenager died might be gone, CNN reported on Thursday.

“Those files are not original files,” forensics video analyst Grant Fredericks told CNN. “They’re not something investigators should rely on for the truth of the video.”

CNN enlisted Fredericks in order to analyze more than 290 hours of video it acquired from Lowndes County High School, where the 17-year-old was found dead in the gym in January. Local officials initially determined that he died from asphyxiation after getting trapped inside a gym mat, an argument his family has rejected. An independent autopsy ordered by the victim’s family found the cause of death to be “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma.”

But while the Lowndes Public Schools district told CNN the video it provided was “a raw feed with no edits,” Fredericks disagreed, saying it was “altered in a number of ways, primarily in image quality and likely in dropped information, information loss. There are also a number of files that are corrupted because they’ve not been processed correctly and they’re not playable. I can’t say why they were done that way, but they were not done correctly, and they were not done thoroughly. So we’re missing information.”

Specifically, two of the cameras are missing 65 minutes of footage each, while the other two are missing 130 minutes apiece. Another camera outside of the gymnasium has a time stamp 10 minutes behind the ones inside.

It sounds like the cover had to involve someone in the school administration, doesn’t it?

So . . . it’s kind of a slow news day, but I found a few stories for you to talk about. What are you hearing? Did I miss any big news? Please post your links in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: Edward Snowden Becomes a Refugee in Russia

Madame_Lebasque_Reading_in_the_Garden_by_Henri_Lebasque

Good Morning!!

The news is breaking as I write this (around 8:15AM ET) that NSA leaker Edward Snowden has received papers that grant him refugee status in Russia for one year. From Reuters:

Fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday after Russiagranted him refugee status, ending more than a month in limbo in the transit area.

A lawyer who has been assisting Snowden said the young American, who is wanted in the United States for leaking details of secret government intelligence programs, had left the airport for a secure location which would remain secret….

His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told state television: “I have just seen him off. He has left for a secure location … Security is a very serious matter for him.”

Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena holds Edward Snowden's entry papers from Russian Immigration Service

Lawyer Anatoly Kucherena holds Edward Snowden’s entry papers from Russian Immigration Service

So what will life in Russia be like for Snowden? A number of knowledgeable writers have weighed in on this question.

Last week, when rumors circulated that Snowden had been granted asylum and would soon leave Sheremetyevo, Russian-American journalist Julia Ioffe wrote in The New Republic that Snowden would probably

be given an apartment somewhere in the endless, soulless highrises with filthy stairwells that spread like fields around Moscow’s periphery. He will live there for five years before he will be given citizenship. He’ll likely be getting constant visits from the SVR (the Russian NSA) to mine the knowledge he carries in his brain. Maybe, he will be given a show on Russia Today, alongside the guy who got him into this pickle to begin with, Julian Assange. Or he, like repatriated Russian spy Anna Chapman, might be given a fake job at a state-friendly bank where he will do nothing but draw a salary. (Chapman, by the way, recently tweeted this at Snowden: “Snowden, will you marry me?!”) Maybe he will marry a Russian woman, who will quickly shed her supple, feminine skin and become a tyrant, and every dark winter morning, Snowden will sit in his tiny Moscow kitchen, drinking Nescafe while Svetlana cooks something greasy and tasteless, and he will sit staring into his black instant coffee, hating her.

Was it worth it to trade Hawaii and a pole-dancer girlfriend for that? Snowden will have plenty of time on his hands to think about it. He certainly won’t get a job in Russian intelligence. The Russians, at least, know you can’t trust a leaker even though he may be a convenient source of information.

Mark Ames, who lived in Russia for years and published and wrote for an alternative newspaper in Moscow with partner Matt Taibbi, recently wrote a short piece on Snowden’s future prospects at NSFWCORP with quotes from some Russian sources that I can no longer find on-line. Ames writes:

The latest on Edward Snowden from Newsru.com: officials from the Federal Migration Service (FMS) say that Snowden could be transferred to a refugee center currently overflowing with Syrian war refugees, likely families tied to the Russian-backed regime of Bashir Assad. Or not.

Both Russian officials and Snowden’s Kremlin-tied lawyer are making a big show about how difficult the bureaucratic process is for anyone, even someone like Snowden, to get his temporary asylum papers. If you read the Russian press accounts, the surface statements about the Tsar’s alleged helplessness before the almighty bureaucracy are pure Gogol, without the ha-ha’s, a sort of no-laughter-through-tears. Beneath the surface, there’s something more menacing, a growing sense I get reading the Russian press that Snowden is a kind of Kremlin toy whom they’re intentionally fucking with, out of either contempt, or for the sheer fun of it…

Clearly, Russian President Vladimir Putin is having a blast sticking it to the US and soaking up praise from deluded Glenn Greenwald cultists (previously Obots) and Julian Assange fans who think Russia is a land of freedom and opportunity as in contrast to America, where jackbooted Obama administration thugs supposedly run a horrifying reign of terror.

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Ames has a fascinating take on Snowden’s attorney’s bringing him a copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment to read.

…the Kremlin gifting Snowden a copy of “Crime and Punishment” is itself a not-subtle mind-fuck on many levels. Dostoevsky’s book is a profoundly reactionary novel about a young foolish and desperate student full of second-hand radical ideas about his superiority against established morality. His name is Raskolnikov and he thinks he’s above ordinary human laws, so he kills his landlord according to these higher laws – and later goes crazy unable to believe in the radical ideas that led him to commit a crime, so he turns himself in to the authorities, and serves his time in Siberia as penance. The name of Dostoevsky’s hero, “Raskolnikov,” itself means “cracked” or “split” – as in his cracked conscience.

Last week Snowden’s lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, told journalists…

“I bought [for Snowden] Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment,’ because I think that Raskolnikov, who murdered his old landlord — I think that he needs to read about this. Not necessarily because of their similarities in their internal contradictions, but nevertheless…”

I loved this quote from opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta (via Ames):

“Well, what can you say? If that infantile leftie Snowden really wanted to be a hero, he should return to the USA: crucify or not crucify, they’d probably give him 10 years, and he’d do five.”

“Snowden wanted to become a digital world’s Christ — without having to hang on the cross. Now Snowden’s going to spend not five years, but the rest of his life as a guest of the FSB.”

In another display of black humor, the Kremin website compared Snowden to British defectors and spies Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, and Don Maclean. In the posting the Kremlin notes that Philby and Burgess “drank themselves to death in their state-allocated flats, awaiting a world revolution that never came,” while Maclean got along better because he took the trouble to learn Russian. You can read more about Kim Philby at The Guardian. 

Russian refugee center

Russian refugee center

State supported newspaper Russia Today also speculated about Snowden’s future: Spook out of water: What Snowden can expect if Russia grants him asylum.

If the application is accepted and Snowden is given the 12-month temporary asylum that enables him to leave the transit area of Sheremetyevo airport, he will have to undergo a daunting medical assessment designed especially for immigrants. Along with a standard screening for HIV and tuberculosis, he will also be checked for leprosy and the rare sexually-transmitted disease chancroid. Russian Health Ministry officials have said that they are ready to administer the tests at a moment’s notice, but so far have not been asked to do so by Snowden.

After Snowden registers his whereabouts with the police – to avoid risking a $150 fine – he will be free to apply for placement in a processing facility for asylum seekers. There are no such facilities in Moscow, and ones in the vicinity have been flooded with refugees escaping the Syrian conflict. Elena Ryabinina, a human rights lawyer who works with asylum seekers, told Gazeta.ru newspaper that most of her clients get offered a bed in a center near Perm – a city by the Ural mountains, more than 1,000 km east of Moscow.

Sounds like tons of fun. But according to the article Snowden could choose to try to find a place on his own–but he’d have to get a bodyguard since he’s a “wanted man.”

Even if Snowden does acquire a personal bodyguard and a high security flat at an undisclosed location – presumably courtesy of the Russian state – his future is hazy, and the reality of it likely different to what he imagined when he recorded his first revelations.

A temporary asylum seeker is allowed to work, but not to put further strain on the testy relationship between Moscow and Washington. Vladimir Putin said “no longer undermining the US” is a pre-condition for his asylum bid, and the former NSA contractor publicly promised to comply when he met Russian human rights activists a fortnight ago. One wonders who it is that Snowden’s bodyguards will be protecting from danger.

Who knows if we’ll even find out what happens to Snowden now? All we can do is watch and wait. Something tells me he may eventually wish he had just come back home to face the music.

Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald posted another “bombshell” about a “top secret program” called XKEYSCORE. According to Greenwald, this “NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet.'” I googled and learned that hundreds of companies are publicly advertising job openings for people with experience on XKEYSCORE–so how can it be so secret? I guess Greenwald didn’t bother to do a google search. He didn’t bother to talk to Marc Ambinder either. Ambinder wrote a whole book on US intelligence methods in which he described XKEYSCORE in detail. Can Greenwald actually be writing about these intel programs without reading any of the literature on them?

Ambinder writes in The Week:

I quibble with the Guardian‘s description of the program as “TOP SECRET.” The word is not secret; its association with the NSA is not secret; that the NSA collects bulk data on foreign targets is, well, probably classified, but at the SECRET level. Certainly, work product associated with XKEYSCORE is Top Secret with several added caveats. Just as the Guardian might be accused of over-hyping the clear and present danger associated with this particular program, critics will reflexively overstate the harm that its disclosure would reasonably produce.

XKEYSCORE is not a thing that DOES collecting; it’s a series of user interfaces, backend databases, servers and software that selects certain types of metadata that the NSA has ALREADY collected using other methods. XKEYSCORE, as D.B. Grady and I reported in our book, is the worldwide base level database for such metadata. XKEYSCORE is useful because it gets the “front end full take feeds” from the various NSA collection points around the world and importantly, knows what to do with it to make it responsive to search queries. As the presentation says, the stuff itself is collected by some entity called F6 and something else called FORNSAT and then something with the acronym SSO.

But Greenwald insisted on Chris Hayes show last night that XKEYSCORE does collect data–all your data–and someone creepy is probably reading it right now!!

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In his piece at The Guardian Greenwald had to admit that NSA analysts need to get a warrant to look at and individual’s data, but he claims the warrants are worthless. He also admits that analysts don’t have access to all your personal data, but he says they could hack into it illegally. But isn’t that true for employees of any company or government agency? They could look at personal data by criminally working around limitations and ignoring regulations.

Charles Johnson at LGF: Greenwald’s Latest Article Distorts the Truth Again

Greenwald’s purpose with this latest article is to try to shore up Edward Snowden’s absurd claim that he could “wiretap anyone, even the President,” without any oversight. Here’s how he frames this defense:

The files shed light on one of Snowden’s most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.

“I, sitting at my desk,” said Snowden, could “wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”.

US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden’s assertion: “He’s lying. It’s impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.”

But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.

Read this section carefully — because what Greenwald is detailing does not support Snowden’s claim at all. Greenwald is describing searching a database for information on non-US citizens. How is this the same thing as “wiretapping the President?” Of course, it’s not. He’s not describing any kind of “wiretapping” at all.

On top of all that, it turns out that the Powerpoint presentation that Greenwald wrote about yesterday is from 2008! (See slide pictured above.) Presumably much has changed at NSA since then. Read more at Joshua Foust’s blog–it’s well worth the time to read the whole thing.

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on today? Please share your links on any topic in the comment thread, and have a terrific Thursday!!