Lazy Saturday Reads

Tom Wesselman Still Life #30, April 1963

Tom Wesselman Still Life #30, April 1963

Good Afternoon!!

I thought I’d put the “morning reads” up a little later to give you time to check out JJ’s cartoon posts. So . . . let’s see what’s happening out there today.

Well . . . Paul Volker was in Boston on Thursday night, and he talked to some richie-rich guys about income inequality. From The Boston Globe:

Speaking to a room filled with hundreds of Boston investment executives, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker asked some tough questions about income inequality in America. He called the earnings gap one of the economy’s greatest challenges.

“What accounts for this? What justifies it?’’ an animated Volcker asked. He argued that the trend started in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s, with the spread of stock option compensation creating vast wealth and risk-taking.

During that period, he said, the link between pay and performance got “entirely out of whack.’’

The elder statesman of Fed watchers and author of the Volcker Rule — part of the Dodd-Frank reform package after the financial crisis — was speaking before the Boston Security Analysts Society’s annual market dinner…

Good for him. Whether it will do any good is questionable, but these people need to hear about what they are doing to 99% of Americans.

Tom Wesselmann-StillLifeNo.35_1963

Just for the hell of it, I looked around for some more recent news articles about income inequality. There wasn’t a lot out there, but I did find a few interesting reads.

At the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik writes: Income inequality begins to hit business in the pocketbook. He argues that business is noticing that middle-class customers are disappearing.

The consumer market is beginning to look like a sandwich without meat in the middle–there are enough wealthy customers to keep the luxury market humming along, and a growing demand for cheap no-name and other bargain products.

The phenomenon has been reported by Matthew Yglesias of Slate.com and more recently by Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times. As we reported here and here, it’s been building for years. But it really picked up steam after the last recession, when the imbalance in income between the top 1% and everyone else has really taken off.

Most economists view the stranglehold of the wealthy on U.S. income and wealth as a problem–it leads to slower overall growth and more volatility. As economist Jared Bernstein has observed, it also promotes the creation of asset and credit bubbles, which have a tendency to burst, taking the rest of the economy with them.

The most important analysis of the economic impact of inequality has come from Barry Z. Cynamon and Steven M. Fazzari of Washington University in St. Louis. In a paper published last month, they ask two questions: “First, did rising inequality contribute in an important way to the unsustainable increase in household leverage that triggered the collapse in consumer demand and the Great Recession? Second, has the rise in inequality become a drag on demand growth…that has held back recovery?”

Their answer to both questions is yes. In simpler terms, rising inequality before the recession prompted U.S. households to borrow more to keep up their spending; when the debt frenzy ended (because of the bursting of the housing bubble) the economy crashed. Since then, the demand drag caused by the effect of inequality on the bottom 95% has held back recovery. The impact of inequality on the recovery, compared with previous recoveries, is shown in this stunning graph from their paper.

But Hiltzik notes that many oblivious pundits continue to deny the effects of the top 1% controlling most of the wealth.

still-life-5-Tom-Wesselmann

At The News Virginian, Jason Stanford finds some “good news” in the fact that most Republicans now agree that income inequality is a problem. 

Believe it or not, there is good news when it comes to income inequality. It turns out Republicans finally believe that the gap between rich and poor has become a problem. The bad news is, according to a new poll, is that Republicans think the best solution is cutting the taxes for the wealthy and big corporations so money and opportunity can rain down on the poor. Addressing poverty by ensuring that cash does not become lonely in the wallets of the wealthy is what passes for a Republican governing philosophy these days, and it is exactly why Barack Obama has decided to go it alone on income inequality.

The issue isn’t that income inequality exists but that the wealthiest 1 percent has achieved the financial equivalent of escape velocity, leaving us poor folk back here on Planet Broke. In 1982, the top 1 percent highest-earning families took home one out of every $10. Now they get more than twice that, leaving the other 99 percent of us to make do on less. The last time it was this bad was the Gilded Age, and majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree it’s time to do something about it.

OK, so Republicans see the problem, but they want to address it with the same old tired trickle-down non-solutions. I’m not really sure that qualifies as good news. Better than nothing, I guess.

At the Akron Beacon Journal, Rick Armon writes about “an American success story.” Thanks to government programs like Social Security and Medicare, not as many seniors are living in poverty as they did in the past.

Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty, at least one group of Americans is much better off today: senior citizens.

The percentage of seniors nationwide living below the poverty line has plummeted from 27 percent to 9 percent today, according to a Beacon Journal analysis of census data….

Today, there are 3.7 million seniors living in poverty, compared with 5.2 million in 1969, when the 1970 census was conducted.

The reasons are pretty simple, experts say: It’s a combination of Social Security, pensions, 401(k) programs and Medicare that has kept more elderly people from slipping into poverty.

Armon says those figures may be a little too optimistic (read the details at the link); but still, it’s progress.

Tom Wesselman

Yesterday everyone was talking about Asst. Sec. of State Victoria Nuland’s bugged phone call  with the US ambassador to Ukraine in which she uttered the words “fuck the EU,” apparently using an unencrypted cell phone. Someone posted portions of the call to Youtube, and the U.S. has accused Russia of tapping Nuland’s phone. Read all the gossipy details at BBC News.

Of course Russia is accusing the U.S. of “meddling” in the Ukraine crisis. From The New York Times:

KIEV, Ukraine — The tense Russian-American jockeying over the fate of Ukraine escalated on Thursday as a Kremlin official accused Washington of “crudely interfering” in the former Soviet republic, while the Obama administration blamed Moscow for spreading an intercepted private conversation between two American diplomats.

An audiotape of the conversation appeared on the Internet and opened a window into American handling of the political crisis here, as the two diplomats candidly discussed the composition of a possible new government to replace the pro-Russian cabinet of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It also turned the tables on the Obama administration, which has been under fire lately for spying on foreign leaders.

The developments on the eve of the Winter Olympics opening in Sochi, Russia, underscored the increasingly Cold War-style contest for influence here as East and West vie for the favor of a nation of 45 million with historic ties to Moscow but a deep yearning to join the rest of Europe. The tit for tat has been going on since November, when Mr. Yanukovych spurned a trade deal with Europe and accepted a $15 billion loan from Moscow. Months of street protests have threatened his government, and American officials are now trying to broker a settlement — an effort the Kremlin seems determined to block.

There’s a lot more background on the Ukraine situation in the NYT article.

still-life-11-Tom-Wesselmann

If the problems in Ukraine weren’t enough, anti-government protests have now broken out in Bosnia-Hertzegovina. The Guardian reports:

Thousands of Bosnian protesters took to the streets in the centre of Sarajevo on Friday, setting fire to the presidency building and hurling rocks and stones at police as fury at the country’s political and economic stagnation spread rapidly around the country.

As many as 200 people were injured in protests that took place in about 20 towns and cities. Government buildings were set on fire in three of the largest centres – Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica.

At one point in the central Bosnian city of Tuzla, some of the 5,000-strong crowd stormed into a local government building and hurled furniture from the upper stories….

The scenes in Sarajevo were similarly fraught on Friday night, as fire raged through the presidency building and hundreds of people hurled stones, sticks and whatever else they could lay their hands on to feed the blaze. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon trying to disperse the crowd. Buildings and cars were also burning in downtown Sarajevo and riot police chased protesters….

The protests have bubbled up out of long-simmering discontent at a sluggish economy, mismanagement, corruption and unemployment, which is rising irresistibly towards 30%. Bosnia has been hamstrung by political infighting and deadlock between its three main ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – in the near 20 years since its three-year civil war ended in 1995. The economy has suffered as a result, and the population remains deeply sceptical of a political class widely believed to be ruling in the interests of the elite, not the people.

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There continues to be plenty of surveillance news–both about NSA, and more recently about Russia’s intelligence agencies and their security measures activities around the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. This article from The Moscow Times by Andrei Soldatov provides a good overview: FSB Makes Eavesdropping an Olympic Event. In NSA news, Glenn Greenwald and friends have stepped up their publishing activities in the run-up to the unveiling of their First Look news site, planned for Monday. I’ll just share a couple of items with you.

A little more than a week ago Greenwald worked with CBC reporters to “break” a story about alleged spying  by Canada’s equivalent of NSA on airport passengers that supposedly continued for days after they left the airport. As usual, the report was deeply flawed, as explained by Matthew Aid, author of The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency: Analysis Indicates Recent CBC Story About Canadian SIGINT Agency Spying on Travellers Incorrect.

On January 30, the Canadian television channel CBC broke a story written by Greg Weston, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher, saying that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which is Canada’s equivalent of NSA, used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers – something which was claimed to be almost certainly illegal. This story was apperently based upon an internal CSEC presentation (pdf) from May 2012 which is titled “IP Profiling Analytics & Mission Impacts.”

However, as is often the case with many of the stories based on the Snowden-documents, it seems that the original CSEC presentation was incorrectly interpreted and presented by Canadian television.

Read all the gory details at the Aid’s blog.

Then yesterday, Greenwald–in collaboration with NBC News–released a truly bizarre article, Snowden Docs: British Spies Used Sex and ‘Dirty Tricks’, that reveals methods and sources for the GCHQ’s efforts to arrest malicious hackers, criminals, and terrorists, and to prevent nuclear proliferation. You have to wonder why NBC news thought those efforts were somehow wrong or illegal. I’m running out of space, so I’ll let Bob Cesca explain the problems with this story.

There’s one sentence in the new Glenn Greenwald revelation for NBC News that renders everything that follows mostly irrelevant. It’s the lede. And not even the entire lede — just the first part of it.

British spies have developed “dirty tricks” for use against nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers…

The only sane reaction to this news should be, “Great!” We don’t really need to know anything else. But that didn’t stop Greenwald and NBC News from spilling the beans on operations that target such poor helpless victims as malicious hackers, the Taliban, Iran and, yes, terrorists dealing in loose nukes.

See more examples at The Daily Banter. Cesca sums up:

Regardless, what we’re looking at here is another leak from Greenwald & Company that tips off some of our most dangerous enemies including and especially the looming threat of nuclear proliferation and loose nukes. These leaks have been published yet again under the banner of the public interest, but it’s difficult to see any public interest in an operation expressly aimed at those who even the article admits are our “enemies.”

Greenwald has been publishing quite a few leaks about British spying lately. I have to assume that this is his threatened revenge for the Brits detaining David Miranda at Heathrow airport last year. Pretty childish, if you ask me.

Now it’s your turn. What have you been reading and blogging about? Please share your links in the comment thread, and have a terrific weekend!

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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.


Edward Snowden Apparently Will Defect to Russia

Edward Snowden "press conference" July 12, 2013

Edward Snowden “press conference” July 12, 2013

It’s being reported in Russian newspapers that Edward Snowden has left the tiny hotel room at Sheremetyevo International Airport that has essentially served as his prison cell for the past month. Although it hasn’t been officially announced that Snowden has accepted Vladimir Putin’s terms and been granted asylum, there really isn’t any other likely explanation for the news of Snowden’s exit from the airport.

Snowden’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena, who also serves in the public relations department of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, told Russia Today that Snowden plans to live in Russia and get a job there.

NSA leaker Edward Snowden plans to settle in Russia and is ready to begin a court battle if the country’s migration service denies his asylum plea, Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer who assists the whistleblower, told RT.

“It’s hard for me to say what his actions would be in terms of a positive decision [on the asylum plea],” Kucherena said. “We must understand that security is the number one issue in his case. I think the process of adaptation will take some time. It’s an understandable process as he doesn’t know the Russian language, our customs, and our laws.”

“He’s planning to arrange his life here. He plans to get a job. And, I think, that all his further decisions will be made considering the situation he found himself in,” he added.

Kucherena expressed hope that the whistleblower’s plea will be granted, because the reasons which prompted Snowden ask for political asylum in Russia “deserve attention.”

Yes, and I’m sure that Kucherena’s employers at the FSB agree that Snowden’s four laptops full of secret NSA also “deserve attention.”

In my morning post, I recommended an article by Michael Kelley of Business Insider: The Intel In Snowden’s Head Could Be More Damaging Than The Material He Leaked. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. Here’s an excerpt:

National Security Agency whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden reportedly flew to Hong Kong carrying “four laptop computers that enable him to gain access to some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets,” raising the concern that data could have been compromised in China or Russia.

But the information in his head may be more valuable, and accessible, than highly encrypted files.

Beyond trying to acquire information about the 10,000 NSA files Snowden accessed in Hawaii, a U.S. adversary would want to learn from Snowden’s expertise of internal NSA processes — such as its recruiting and vetting processes — to gain insight into America’s decision loop.

“Snowden understood exactly how far he could push [the NSA],” Robert Caruso, a former assistant command security manager in the Navy and consultant, told Business Insider. “That, coupled with his successful exploitation of our entire vetting process, makes him very dangerous.”

Basically, Snowden “transformed himself into the kind of cybersecurity expert the NSA is desperate to recruit” while he simultaneously developed the moral convictions motivating his leak of classified documents detailing the NSA’s global dragnet.

This afternoon, reacting to the announcement that Snowden will stay in Russia and get a job, Kelley writes:

The Moscow lawyer of NSA whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden tells Russia Today that the 30-year-old is planning to spend the foreseeable future in Russia.

“He’s planning to arrange his life here. He plans to get a job,” Anatoly Kucherena, a Russian lawyer with links to the country’s intelligence service (i.e. FSB), told RT. “And, I think, that all his further decisions will be made considering the situation he found himself in.”

The situation he found himself in was being stuck in Russia after the U.S. voided his passport while he was in Hong Kong and Snowden flew to Moscow on a travel document from Ecuador‘s consul in London.

Kucherena, who sits on public council of the FSB, has been speaking for Snowden since July 12 — the day Snowden accepted all offers of support and asylum.

In the earlier of the two articles, Kelley linked to a July 12 post by Joshua Foust on Snowden’s airport “press conference” with members of Russian human rights groups. “Snowden’s… Defection?” I also previously linked  (see comments) to the Foust post.

Foust began by noting the presence at Snowden’s airport press conference of Olga Kostina, who among other things “runs PR for the FSB (Russia’s successor to the KGB).” Foust wrote:

As a rule, when a cleared intelligence employee seeks refuge in another country running a hostile intelligence service while carrying gigabytes of top secret documents, that isn’t the behavior of a whistleblower. That is the behavior of a defector. The involvement of known FSB operatives at his asylum acceptance – and the suddenly warm treatment of HRW and Transparency International after months of government harassment – suggests this was a textbook intelligence operation, and not a brave plea for asylum from political persecution.

Foust goes on to discuss the involvement of Wikileaks in getting Snowden to Russia. I’m not sure how much to buy into this hypothesis, but it bears watching.

The Russians are very good at what they do. And so, to be fair, is Wikileaks. The anti-secrecy organization (well, anti-other-people’s-secrecy considering the draconian NDAsthey make employees sign) has a close relationship to a renown holocaust denier named Israel Shamir who brags that he is Wikileaks’ representative to the Russian andBelarussian governments. John Schindler describes the connection:

Not surprisingly, awkward questions followed including in The Guardian, not exactly a right-wing rag. Reports followed – all links here are to The Guardian, which given that newspaper’s current involvement with the Snowden case should indicate something – that Shamir, is indeed deeply involved in the Wikileaks operation: As “Adam,” Shamir (along with his Swedish son, a well-known anti-Semitic activist), has a key role in Wikileaks decisionshe was the editor of the group’s Russian-related US diplomatic cables that were leaked by PFC Bradley Manning, and perhaps most distastefully, he was involved in a smear campaign against the Swedish women who accused Julian Assange of rape (the reason he remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London).

Foust notes that Wikileaks originally criticized Russia as much as they did the U.S., but they joined Snowden in praising Russia’s supposed concern for human rights in a statement published on the Wikileaks web site. Again, I’ll wait and see how this plays out; but Foust suggests that Snowden’s defection to Russia might not have been an accident.

Most of Snowden’s most prominent defenders were in touch with him long before he chose to leak; Wikileaks, which has developed deeper ties to the Russian and Belorussian governments, apparently helped Snowden travel to Moscow. This looks like the first trickle of information before a bizarre — and complex — intelligence operation gets blown open in the public. That doesn’t mean Wikileaks wittingly participated (useful idiots abound) but I bet money U.S. counterintelligence officials are now wondering just how deep the Russia connection to Snowden — and, to Wikileaks — really goes.

I have no doubt the Greenwald cult followers will continue to defend Snowden, but anyone who thinks his laptops are going to remain secret (if they haven’t already been compromised) under these circumstances is completely delusional. There’s nothing anyone can do at this point but sit back and watch the show.

Stay tuned.


Tuesday Reads

adolphe-monet-reading-in-the-garden(1)

Good Morning!!

I have a varied selection of stories for you today. I’ll begin with one that doesn’t involve politics, racism, murder, woman-hating, or any other depressing topics. A new study released yesterday provides additional evidence that Dolphins may see each other as unique individuals. From BBC News: Dolphins ‘call each other by name’

It had been-long suspected that dolphins use distinctive whistles in much the same way that humans use names.

Previous research found that these calls were used frequently, and dolphins in the same groups were able to learn and copy the unusual sounds.

But this is the first time that the animals response to being addressed by their “name” has been studied.

Dr Vincent Janik University of St Andrews

To investigate, researchers recorded a group of wild bottlenose dolphins, capturing each animal’s signature sound.

They then played these calls back using underwater speakers.

“We played signature whistles of animals in the group, we also played other whistles in their repertoire and then signature whistles of different populations – animals they had never seen in their lives,” explained Dr Janik.

The researchers found that individuals only responded to their own calls, by sounding their whistle back.

According to Janik,

“(Dolphins) live in this three-dimensional environment, offshore without any kind of landmarks and they need to stay together as a group.

“These animals live in an environment where they need a very efficient system to stay in touch.”

More from Discover Magazine:

Although humans start naming things almost as a matter of course during early development, the process of creating and using a name is actually quite complex. Scientists refer to names as learned vocal labels, meaning vocalizations that refer to specific objects. Both parrots and dolphins have used learned vocal labels while in captivity, and researchers had no reason to believe that the animals couldn’t do the same in their natural environments. Now biologists Stephanie King and Vincent Janik from the University of Aberdeen have found that, indeed, wild dolphins use the equivalent of a human name to address each other.

What’s interesting to me is that if these dolphins can recognize each other as individuals and recognize their own names, this suggests a level of self-consciousness that is seen in very few animals other than humans. Even human children do not develop the ability to recognize themselves (PDF) in a mirror or on film until they are at least 18 months old and the development of true self-consciousness and awareness that others have similar thoughts and feelings (theory of mind) takes much longer.

The Washington Post reports on a depressing, but not surprising, poll on attitudes toward the Trayvon Martin case. Zimmerman verdict poll: Stark reaction by race.

The not-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman has produced dramatically different reactions among blacks and whites, with African Americans overwhelmingly disapproving of the jury’s decision and a bare majority of whites saying they approve of the outcome, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll….

The new survey underscores not only the gap between whites and blacks, but also how passionate many African Americans are about the case. Among African Americans, 86 percent say they disapprove of the verdict — with almost all of themsaying they strongly disapprove — and 87 percent saying the shooting was unjustified.

In contrast, 51 percent of whites say they approve of the verdict while just 31 percent disapprove. There is also a partisan overlay to the reaction among whites: 70 percent of white Republicans but only 30 percent of white Democrats approve of the verdict. Among all whites, one-third say the shooting was unjustified, one-third say it was justified and the other third say they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

It figures that Republicans would be driving the results among whites. Republicans have truly become the party of white males who hate anyone who isn’t white and male. You have to wonder why any African American or any woman would choose to be a Republican. Unfortunately the poll didn’t break down the results by gender and geography. Would more women have disapproved of the verdict? It was an all-woman jury, but also a Florida jury. A more complex analysis would have been helpful.

Republicans–at least the ones who watch Fox News–are old too. It’s hard to believe, but even though Fox leads the other cable news channels in viewers, the average age of Fox viewers is 65-plus! From the NYT:

Fox News declined to make executives available for comment, but several recent signs — including changing personalities for some of its weekday programs — suggest the network may have decided the time has come to confront the issue of age.

Just how old is its audience? It is impossible to be precise because Nielsen stops giving an exact figure for median age once it passes 65. But for six of the last eight years, Fox News has had a median age of 65-plus and the number of viewers in the 25-54 year old group has been falling consistently, down five years in a row in prime time, from an average of 557,000 viewers five years ago to 379,000 this year. That has occurred even though Fox’s overall audience in prime time is up this year, to 2.02 million from 1.89 million three years ago….

“The numbers indicate they haven’t been replacing the younger viewers,” Mr. Moffett said of Fox News. Many of the loyal viewers the network has always had are simply aging up beyond the 54-year cutoff for many ad buyers. The result is an audience edging consistently above that 65-plus number.

News audiences always trend old, and the viewers of Fox’s competitors are hardly in the full flower of youth. MSNBC’s median age for its prime-time shows this year is 60.6; CNN’s is 59.8.

In terms of the rest of television, Fox News also is quite a bit older than networks considered to have a base of older viewers. CBS has frequently been needled for having older viewers, but at 56.8, its median viewer is far younger than Fox News’s. (Viewers at Fox News’s sister network, Fox Broadcasting, have a median age of 50.2; at ABC, the median is 54.4; at NBC, it’s 47.7.)

Speaking of old-fashioned viewpoints, I posted this in the comments yesterday, but it’s worth a closer look. Yesterday, Margaret Sullivan the NYT Public Editor posted a remarkable column about Nate Silver: Nate Silver Went Against the Grain for Some at The Times. Sullivan speculates that Silver may have decided to leave the Times for ESPN/ABC because his fact- and probability-based methods of writing about politics didn’t jive with the attitudes of some other Times journalists. She based her analysis on a number of conversations with Silver and “about him with journalists in the Times’s newsroom.”

* I don’t think Nate Silver ever really fit into the Times culture and I think he was aware of that. He was, in a word, disruptive. Much like the Brad Pitt character in the movie “Moneyball” disrupted the old model of how to scout baseball players, Nate disrupted the traditional model of how to cover politics.

His entire probability-based way of looking at politics ran against the kind of political journalism that The Times specializes in: polling, the horse race, campaign coverage, analysis based on campaign-trail observation, and opinion writing, or “punditry,” as he put it, famously describing it as “fundamentally useless.” Of course, The Times is equally known for its in-depth and investigative reporting on politics.

His approach was to work against the narrative of politics – the “story” – and that made him always interesting to read. For me, both of these approaches have value and can live together just fine.

* A number of traditional and well-respected Times journalists disliked his work. The first time I wrote about him I suggested that print readers should have the same access to his writing that online readers were getting. I was surprised to quickly hear by e-mail from three high-profile Times political journalists, criticizing him and his work. They were also tough on me for seeming to endorse what he wrote, since I was suggesting that it get more visibility.

A few reactions to the Nate Silver story:

JM Ashby at Bob Cesca.com: Revenge of the Nerd

TPM: Nate Silver’s Seven Most Memorable Predictions

Politico: How ESPN and ABC landed Nate Silver

Business Insider got Silver’s own reaction to the Sullivan column: ‘The Culture Stuff Was Not A Big Factor’ In Me Leaving The New York Times

I’ll wrap this up with a some Edward Snowden updates. It’s very clear at this point that Snowden is being controlled by Russian intelligence. We don’t really know where he is, and his spokesman is an “attorney” who is in charge of PR for the Russian FSB. We also don’t know what Snowden has given the FSB in return for their help. Geoffrey Ingersoll at Business Insider:

Russian attorney Anatoly Kucherena — who also happens to be the head of public council for the Federal Security Service (FSB) — has announced that Edward Snowden may leave the Moscow airport on Wednesday.

His next destination: Russia.

That’s right, he’s likely not going too far.

We also know that Snowden supposedly said he has no plans to travel to Latin America because at this time, he thought it too dangerous to travel.

How do we know that? Well, Kucherena said Snowden said it, of course.

Not only does Kucherena run the FSB’s public council, but it seems he runs Snowdens public relations as well — he “helped” Snowden apply for temporary asylum, he relayed Snowden’s “promise” not to hurt the U.S. anymore, and he announced Snowden’s (very own) idea about possibly applying for Russian citizenship with the intent to stay for a while and “learn Russian culture.”

And here’s Michael Kelley, also from Business Insider: The Intel In Snowden’s Head Could Be More Damaging Than The Material He Leaked

National Security Agency whistleblower/leaker Edward Snowden reportedly flew to Hong Kong carrying “four laptop computers that enable him to gain access to some of the US government’s most highly-classified secrets,” raising the concern that data could have been compromised in China or Russia.

But the information in his head may be more valuable, and accessible, than highly encrypted files.

Beyond trying to acquire information about the 10,000 NSA files Snowden accessed in Hawaii, a U.S. adversary would want to learn from Snowden’s expertise of internal NSA processes — such as its recruiting and vetting processes — to gain insight into America’s decision loop.

“Snowden understood exactly how far he could push [the NSA],” Robert Caruso, a former assistant command security manager in the Navy and consultant, told Business Insider. “That, coupled with his successful exploitation of our entire vetting process, makes him very dangerous.”

There’s much more of interest in the Kelley article, including a timeline of Snowden’s activities. Highly recommended.

I have several more Snowden links that I’ll just list for anyone who’s interested to click on:

NBC News: Lawyer: Snowden hopes to leave Moscow airport by Wednesday

CNN: Snowden did not access ‘crown jewels’ of NSA intel, official says

The Voice of Russia: US communicates concerns over Snowden to Russian gov’t – ambassador

ABC News: New Snowden Documents Show NSA-Germany Spy Links: Report

Atlantic Wire: Edward Snowden Has Everything and Nothing

Now it’s your turn. What stories have caught your interest today? I look forward to clicking on your links!


Rep. William Keating: Russian FSB More Forthcoming than FBI on Boston Bombing

Congressman Bill Keating, holds a press conference at Logan airport upon his return from Russia, June 1, 2013. (Photo by Faith Ninivaggi)

Congressman Bill Keating, holds a press conference at Logan airport upon his return from Russia, June 1, 2013. (Photo by Faith Ninivaggi)

No, Keating didn’t come out and say it exactly like that, but he made it pretty clear yesterday that he has he has gotten just about zero information from the FBI since the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15.

Keating, who is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats of the Foreign Affairs Committee, had just returned from a trip to Russia with a delegation of House members led by California Rep. Dana Rohrbacker. The delegation also included Reps. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn; Steve King, R-Iowa; Paul Cook, R-Calif.; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. The purpose of the trip was to

examine some of the apparent gaps in intelligence sharing between the United States and Russia. The Russians had warned the US in 2011 that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a potential extremist.

“If there was a distrust, or lack of cooperation because of that distrust, between the Russian intelligence and the FBI, then that needs to be fixed and we will be talking about that,” Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who is leading the trip, told ABC News, which first reported details of the trip.

“Our goal is to use Boston as an example, if indeed there was something more, that should’ve been done that wasn’t because of a bad attitude,” Rohrabacher added

Wesley Lowery of the Boston Globe reports that at a press conference at Logan airport after his arrival in Boston Keating noted that:

FBI agents in Boston have yet to provide information about why Tamerlan Tsarnaev was able to move freely in and out of the country after US officials were warned about him, or about the May 22 fatal shooting of one of his friends in Orlando, Representative William R. ­Keating said on Saturday after returning from a trip to Russia to meet with that country’s top intelligence officials.

In contrast, Keating said Russian officials were anxious to be helpful.

Keating said officials with the Russian ­Federal Security Service provided details about how they warned US intelligence agents in 2010 that they believed Tsarnaev was preparing to join a terrorist cell in Dagestan, in southern Russia….[and] said he was impressed with what he saw as the forthcoming nature of the Russian intelligence officials. Meanwhile, he said, FBI officials were absent from Capitol Hill hearings about the bombings.

“We had a hearing on homeland security and [the Boston FBI office] were invited,” Keating said. When asked whether agents from the office had shown up, he responded: “No.”

It doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it?

Meanwhile, the FBI was involved in a fatal shooting of Ibragim Todashev, an important witness who may have had valuable information about the Tsarnaev brothers, the Marathon bombing, and perhaps even a triple murder that took place in Waltham, MA in 2011. Since the shooting, we’ve gotten nothing but obfuscation from the FBI, with anonymous sources leaking contradictory claims about who was present at the shooting and what actually happened. I detailed the various accounts in a post on Thursday.

Keating said he hasn’t been briefed on that by the FBI either, but he did learn from the Russians that they had given Todashev’s name to the U.S. back in April.

Keating said that Ibragim Todashev, the 27-year-old friend of Tsarnaev who was shot and killed by an FBI agent in Orlando on May 22, was mentioned by name in intelligence exchanges between US and Russian officials on April 21. The nature of that citation, he said, remains unclear.

While senior members of the intelligence committee are often given classified briefings on controversial FBI actions, Keating said he has received none from the FBI on the Todashev killing.

A little more on the letter that mentioned Todashev, from The Boston Herald:

Todashev was one of many Russian nationals named in the April 21 letter to U.S. officials, said Keating.

Keating said the missive was not a warning letter about Todashev, but he told the Herald his name came up during intelligence information sharing.

“It was just clear that his name was referenced among others in that letter. It could have been in response to the FBI asking them what they knew,” Keating said, adding it was unclear why Russia shared the information. “We’ll be able to get these letters.”

Keating said he spent more than an hour with Russia’s counterterrorism director and a top deputy at FSB, Russia’s equivalent of the FBI, who both candidly shared information on Tsarnaev, his association with militants and his visit to Russia last year.

“I never thought we’d get that level of information and cooperation from the Russians,” Keating said.

Previously, Keating had learned through private channels that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had had contact with two other islamic “extremists.”

Keating said the staffers discovered — through unofficial, nongovernment sources — that Tamerlan Tsarnaev first came on the radar of the Russian security officials when they started questioning William Plotnikov, a Canadian boxer who was linked with extremist groups in Russia.

The Russians then discovered that Tsarnaev was active on a jihadist website and listed his home in the United States. That led to the initial tip from the Russians, who asked the FBI for more information about Tsarnaev.

Tsarnaev later traveled to Dagestan and he met with both Plotnikov, as well as another extremist, Mansur Mukhamed Nidal, according to the findings from the congressional staffers.

Plotnikov and Nidal were later killed in separate skirmishes with the Russians. Tsarnaev left Russia shortly after Plotnikov’s death.

So, to summarize, the information we know about Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia has come either from Russian intelligence officials or independent research by Keating staffers. The Russians have reportedly been surprisingly forthcoming and anxious to help.

Meanwhile, we’ve gotten no explanation from the FBI or Homeland Security of how Tsarnaev managed to fly out of JFK airport and back with no alarms being set off–despite the fact that he was on two terrorist watch lists.

Furthermore, the FBI has killed a man who may have had valuable information about Tsarnaev and they refuse to explain the circumstances under which he was killed. Instead they are “investigating” and they say the “investigation” could take months.

What is wrong with this picture?