Thursday Reads: Updates from Snowden-Greenwald Land and Other News

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Good Morning!!

The photos in today’s post are from a project by photographer Mark Makela to take pictures of children “learning to read by reading to homeless cats.”

Last February, photographer Mark Makela traveled to Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, to photograph a reading group where the participants were grade-school students and a group of cats. The idea for the group, known as Book Buddies, was hatched at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County when the program coordinator Kristi Rodriguez’s 10-year-old son was struggling with reading. Rodriguez decided to bring him into the shelter, where he could be in what she called a “nonevaluative” environment in order to feel more comfortable practicing his reading skills. It worked.

According to ARL’s website, studies at Tufts University found that the more relaxed, nonjudgmental audience of cats helps students to sustain their focus, maintain a higher state of awareness, and develop an improved attitude toward school. In August of last year, ARL officially started the Book Buddies program, inviting students in first through eighth grades to read to the cats. As an incentive to continue, once the students complete five books, they receive prizes. “It’s one of those opportunities that is unique and humorous and so endearing,” Makela said about the assignment to document the Book Buddies program.

See more marvelous photos at the Slate Magazine link above. Even more at Buzzfeed–including more girls.

Now to the news:

I’ve long suspected that Edward Snowden interacted with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and others in the hacker community before he made his final decision to steal a massive trove of data from NSA computers and then abscond to Hong Kong at the end of May last year.

We know that Snowden was in touch with Jacob Applebaum and Laura Poitras early on, because they published an interview with him in Der Spiegel that they had conducted by e-mail in Mid-May, before Snowden fled Hawaii. But Snowden could have actually met Applebaum in Hawaii in April 2013 when Applebaum vacationed there by his own admission. Did Snowden and Applebaum discuss Snowden’s plans to steal NSA files? Did Applebaum suggest which items Snowden should take? Note that Applebaum is deeply involved with Wikileaks and has been a long-time, passionate defender of Julian Assange.

Glenn Greenwald revealed in his new book “No Place to Hide” that Snowden had used the code name “Cincinnatus” in early communications between the two. Interestingly enough, a “cyber-party” had been held in Hawaii in December 2012, and the host was someone who called himself “Cincinnatus.” Once this news came out, people began speculating on Twitter that perhaps this wasn’t a coincidence. Suddenly, on May 17, the cyber-party announcement was deleted by someone with the Twitter handle @jskuda. Fortunately Twitter user @ShrillBrigade located it on the Wayback Machine. And check out the title of Cincinnatus’ talk: “Painlessly setting up your own fast exit.” (h/t @catfitz)

Then yesterday, former criminal hacker and technical adviser to Greenwald and Poitras’ Freedom of the Press Foundation Kevin Poulsen published a limited hangout at Wired: Snowden’s First Move Against the NSA Was a Party in Hawaii.

It was December 11, 2012, and in a small art space behind a furniture store in Honolulu, NSA contractor Edward Snowden was working to subvert the machinery of global surveillance.

Snowden was not yet famous. His blockbuster leaks were still six months away, but the man destined to confront world leaders on a global stage was addressing a much smaller audience that Sunday evening. He was leading a local “Crypto Party,” teaching less than two dozen Hawaii residents how to encrypt their hard drives and use the internet anonymously.

“He introduced himself as Ed,” says technologist and writer Runa Sandvik, who co-presented with Snowden at the event, and spoke about the experience for the first time with WIRED. “We talked for a bit before everything started. And I remember asking where he worked or what he did, and he didn’t really want to tell.”

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Runa Sandvik is a hacker who works at the TOR project along with Jacob Applebaum. TOR is a site (ironically funded by the U.S. Department of Defense) that provides free encryption software to people who want to hide their on-line activities (including drug dealers and child porn purveyors).

Poulsen writes:

The roots of Snowden’s crypto party were put down on November 18, 2012, when he sent an e-mail to Sandvik, a rising star in privacy circles, who was then a key developer on the anonymous web surfing software Tor.

Tor is free software that lets you go online anonymously. The software is used by a wide swath of people in need of extreme anonymity, including human rights groups, criminals, government agencies, and journalists. It works by accepting connections from the public internet, encrypting the traffic and bouncing it through a winding series of relays before dumping it back on the web through any of more than 1,000 exit nodes.

Most of those relays are run by volunteers, and the pre-leak Edward Snowden, it turns out, was one of them.

How about that? Snowden was already deeply involved with TOR in December 2012–and Jacob Applebaum of TOR just happened to travel to Hawaii a few months later in April! Coincidence? I don’t think so.

In his e-mail, Snowden wrote that he personally ran one of the “major tor exits”–a 2 gbps server named “TheSignal”–and was trying to persuade some unnamed coworkers at his office to set up additional servers. He didn’t say where he worked. But he wanted to know if Sandvik could send him a stack of official Tor stickers. (In some post-leak photos of Snowden you can see the Tor sticker on the back of his laptop, next to the EFF sticker).

Well, well, well. Now we know how Snowden got his TOR sticker. Did Runa give him the EFF sticker too? Read the rest of the Wired piece for more details.

Phew! I hope that made sense. This stuff is difficult to write about.

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Also yesterday, well-known and respected journalist and New Yorker writer George Packer published a no-holds-barred review of Glenn Greenwald’s new book in the UK Prospect: The errors of Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald. Among other things, Packer accuses Greenwald of “a pervasive absence of intellectual integrity,” and provides numerous examples. He characterizes Snowden as someone who lives on the internet, detached from the realities of the real world. Here are a few excerpts, but please read the whole thing.

Snowden’s leaks can be seen, in part, as a determined effort to restore the web to its original purity—a project of technology rather than law. “Let us speak no more of faith in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of cryptography,” wrote Snowden, in an early message to his collaborators. In March of this year, appearing remotely from Russia on a robotised screen onstage at a TED talk in Vancouver, Snowden said that the single best solution to the NSA’s abuses is stronger encryption: “The internet that we’ve enjoyed in the past has been exactly what we, as not just a nation but as a people around the world, need.” In taking nearly two million highly classified documents from the US, he was grabbing back the key to heaven.

As I’ve written previously, Snowden’s solution to the problem of government interference with its citizens is impenetrable universal encryption–never mind the fact that this would allow vast numbers of vicious criminals to hide their actions from law enforcement.

As I suspected, Packer writes that Greenwald’s book “contains no major scoops.” He does, however, praise Greenwald’s argument for the primacy of privacy as central to a “free society.”

Greenwald also makes a powerful case—all the more so for being uncompromising and absolute—for the central role of privacy in a free society, and against the utilitarian argument that, since the phone companies’ metadata on Americans hasn’t been seriously abused by government officials (not yet, anyway), none of us should be too worried. In a chapter called “The Harm of Surveillance,” he cites Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous opinion on the basic “right to be let alone,” and writes: “The desire for privacy is shared by us all as an essential, not ancillary, part of what it means to be human. We all instinctively understand that the private realm is where we can act, think, speak, write, experiment, and choose how to be, away from the judgemental eyes of others. Privacy is a core condition of being a free person.”

I would argue that these considerations are of vital importance to people like Greenwald who are financially secure. Those Americans who must deal with racial and gender discrimination, long-term unemployment, and especially grinding poverty have other, more urgent concerns. Can one be a “free person” under those conditions?

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Along similar lines, Packer writes:

If Greenwald and others were actually being persecuted for their political beliefs, they would instinctively understand that the rule of law has to protect people regardless of politics. The NSA disclosures are disturbing and even shocking; so is the Obama administration’s hyper-aggressive pursuit of leaks; so is the fact that, for several years, Poitras couldn’t leave or re-enter the US without being questioned at airports. These are abuses, but they don’t quite reach the level of the Stasi. They don’t portend a totalitarian state “beyond the dreams of even the greatest tyrants of the past,” as Greenwald believes is possible. A friend from Iran who was jailed and tortured for having the wrong political beliefs, and who is now an American citizen, observed drily, “I prefer to be spied on by NSA.” The sense of oppression among Greenwald, Poitras, and other American dissenters is only possible to those who have lived their entire lives under the rule of law and have come to take it for granted.

In the year since the first NSA disclosures, Snowden has drifted a long way from the Thoreauvian ideal of the majority of one. He has become an international celebrity, far more championed than reviled. He has praised Russia and Venezuela’s devotion to human rights. His more recent disclosures have nothing to do with the constitutional rights of US citizens. Many of them deal with surveillance of foreign governments, including Germany and Brazil, but also Iran, Russia, and China. These are activities that, wise or unwise, fall well within the NSA’s mandate and the normal ways of espionage. Snowden has attached himself to Wikileaks and to Assange, who has become a tool of Russian foreign policy and has no interest in reforming American democracy—his goal is to embarrass it. Assange and Snowden are not the first radical individualists to end up in thrall to strongmen.

Snowden looked to the internet for liberation, but it turns out that there is no such thing as an entirely free individual. Cryptography can never offer the absolute privacy and liberty that Snowden seeks online. The internet will always be a space controlled by corporations and governments, and the freedom it provides is of a limited, even stunting, kind. No one lives outside the fact of coercion—there is always a state to protect or pursue you, whether it’s Obama’s America or Putin’s Russia.

I’ve barely touched the surface of Packer’s scathing critique of Greenwald’s “journalism”; I enourage you to go to Prospect link to read more.

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I have a few more stories for you that I’ll list link-dump style:

It appears that the prosecution in the Boston Bombing case decided to leak some previously secret information–most likely to counter the defense’s argument that Dzhohar Tsarnaev was illegally questioned by the FBI when he was in the hospital with terrible injuries.

Reuters: Accused Boston bomber admitted role in attack, prosecutors say

NBC News: Government doc shows how closely Boston Marathon bombers followed al Qaeda plans.

NY Daily News: Boston Marathon bombers used ‘sophisticated’ bombs made of parts from Christmas lights, model cars: prosecutors.

Boston Globe: Christmas Lights Used in Boston Marathon Bombs.

KSDK.com: Feds: Boston bomber’s hideout note says he wanted to be martyr.

ABC News: FBI Feared Boston Bombers ‘Received Training’ And Aid From Terror Group, Docs Say.

This is encouraging from the Boston Globe: Oakland Examining Pension of FBI Agent who Shot Todashev

Other News:

The Economic Times of India: Google wants to show ads through your thermostat and car. (You though the NSA was bad?)

Information Week: Google Outlines Advertising Vision. (How would you like targeted Google ads appearing on your refrigerator or watch?)

The Atlantic: It Wasn’t Household Debt That Caused the Great Recession; It was how that debt was disproportionately distributed to America’s most economically fragile communities.

NYT: U.S. Sends Troops to Chad to Aid Hunt for Nigerian Schoolgirls.

USA Today: Thai military declares coup, detains party leaders.

Science Recorder:  ‘Aliens of the sea’ could lead to breakthroughs in regenerative medicine.

What stories are you following today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads: Hacker Twitter Storm and Post-Prom Nightmares

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Good Morning!!

 

In the comments on yesterday’s post, I mentioned that there has been quite a bit of tension building up between Glenn Greenwald and some of the more extreme members of the (for lack of a better name) cypherpunks crowd–Wikileaks, Cryptome.com, and the hacker community (including Jacob Applebaum, who is closely involved both with Wikileaks and Laura Poitras, Greenwald’s partner in crime. I guess I should have stayed up later last night, because this morning I woke up to the aftermath of a major storm in the Twitterverse, where most of these types of people choose to communicate with each other.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald

The fight stemmed from an article posted at The Intercept yesterday, in which the authors chose to redact the name of one of the five countries targeted by NSA data collection. However, it really goes back much further than that.

There has been a long running disagreement between Greenwald and the other groups I mentioned on how much of Edward Snowden’s trove of stolen NSA data to publish. The hacker/Wikileaks crowd thinks Greenwald should simply release everything and let the chips fall where they may, and Greenwald claims he is carefully vetting the material with Snowden’s help in order not to reveal anything that would harm anyone.

Greenwald has actually revealed only a small portion of the material so far, presumably holding back information that he wanted to include in his book. But now the book has been released, and it apparently contains much information that has already been published. For those who have been obsessively following the NSA leaks story, there doesn’t seem to be a need to buy the book. Why is Greenwald being so stingy?

Here’s some background from Michael Kelley at Business Insider: WikiLeaks Threatens To Reveal Information That Glenn Greenwald Says Could Lead To ‘Deaths’.

Jacob Applebaum

Jacob Applebaum

America’s National Security Agency (NSA) can “vacuum up and store the actual content of every conversation” in the Bahamas and an unnamed country, the new publication The Intercept reported Monday, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Intercept Editor Glenn Greenwald — who wrote about documents leaked by Snowden when he was a columnist for The Guardian — said the publication didn’t reveal the country because it was “very convinced” that doing so would lead to “deaths.”

After a heated discussion between WikiLeaks, Greenwald, Intercept Editor-In-Chief John Cook, and American WikiLeaks hacker-turned-Der Spiegal contributor Jacob Appelbaum, WikiLeaks tweeted that it will reveal the name of the second country being spied on by the NSA.

As Kelley points out, the implications is that Wikileaks knows the name of the country either by unmasking the redaction with software or because Wikileaks has access to the Snowden files.

The most plausible way for WikiLeaks to have access to a Snowden cache is if Appelbaum, who led the reporting on several Der Spiegel articles based on NSA documents (which may or may not be from Snowden), shared information with his friend and WikiLeaks Editor-In-Chief Julian Assange. Applebaum tweeted that The Intercept’s redaction was “a mistake.”

Appelbaum, a close friend of Laura Poitras, the other journalist whom Snowden gave a large set of documents, also gave a presentation detailing a classified document listing technology available to the NSA’s hacking unit, known as TAO. It is not known how he acquired those documents.

Laura Poitras

Laura Poitras

So which is it? The careless ways in which the Snowden documents have been passed around between The Guardian and The New York Times and other news organizations; with Greenwald’s husband David Miranda carrying them through London to Berlin and back; as well as the fact that Snowden is in Russia, suggest that the entire cache will eventually be released, and presumably all hell will break loose. It’s only a matter of time. 

Charles Johnson posted the entire Wikileaks-Greenwald argument at Little Green Footballs: Slap Fight of the Day: Wikileaks vs Pernicious G

Today on Twitter this happened: Julian Assange, who most people believe is the one behind the @Wikileaks account, threw a huge tantrum because Glenn Greenwald redacted the name of a country from his latest disingenuous article. Greenwald says he was convinced publishing the country’s name would lead to deaths. Assange doesn’t give a shit about that, of course.

There are some inadvertently hilarious moments here; Wikileaks’s Jacob Appelbaum says redacting the country “makes Wikileaks look extreme.” I almost fell out on that one. And then there’s the tweet in which Assange basically calls everyone in Greenwald’s crew “a bunch of racists.” And it all ends with Assange issuing a super-villain threat to release the country’s name “in 72 hours.”

Scroll through the collection below to see what it looks like when extreme libertarians have a purity war.

Head over to Green Footballs if you want the details. Read more exchanges between Wikileaks, Jacob Applebaum, and John Cook, editor of The Intercept at Chirpstory. Read more at Buzzfeed, where Miriam Berger and Miriam Elder provide a timeline of the tweets along with their interpretation: Julian Assange Is Angry At Glenn Greenwald And He’s Not Going To Take It Anymore.

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Finally, Bob Cesca’s take on the whole affair: The Wikileaks vs Greenwald Twitter Fight: Julian Assange Threatens To Reveal Deadly NSA Info.

It all began Monday morning when The Intercept posted a new Snowden revelation with cutesy headline: “Data Pirates of the Caribbean: The NSA Is Recording Every Cell Phone Call in the Bahamas.” Get it? Pirates! The article exhaustively describes an operation called MYSTIC and another called SOMALGET in which NSA gathers audio and metadata of cellphone calls in the Bahamas in order to spy on human traffickers and drug cartels. The Bahamas is notorious for both.

Naturally, the article featured all of the deceptive Greenwaldian bait-and-switch we’ve come to expect from his Snowden articles. For example, in paragraph seven, Greenwald and his co-authors Ryan Devereaux and Laura Poitras noted that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey routinely vacation in the Bahamas:

By targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network, the NSA is intentionally collecting and retaining intelligence on millions of people who have not been accused of any crime or terrorist activity. Nearly five million Americans visit the country each year, and many prominent U.S. citizens keep homes there, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

NSA is spying on Oprah! Stop the presses! But no, if you read all the way down to the 54th paragraph (!!) Greenwald tosses in a token mention of NSA’s rules about preventing data collection against U.S. Persons, whether or not they happen to be inside the U.S. There are very strict “minimization” procedures to eliminate the data that might’ve been inadvertently collected. Why? Because it’s illegal to spy on Americans without an individual warrant. And, by the way, Greenwald & Company noted that the SOMALGET program is, yes, legal.

It sure seems like there are enough hints in the story for anyone to guess the redacted country. Pirates? SOMALGET? Plus the fact the Assange accused Greenwald of “racism.” Read much more interpretation and more tweets at The Daily Banter.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this story from now on and I’ll pass on any new information.

In other news . . .

On Sunday JJ wrote about an alleged gang rape that reportedly took place after the Calhoun High School senior prom in North Georgia on May 10. The reason I’m writing about it is that Sky Dancing has been getting a huge number of clicks from people looking for more information on this story. It seems people want to know what is happening, but the local papers have not published anything on the crime or the investigation since Sunday. Doesn’t that seem odd and troubling? Is a cover-up in the works. As JJ pointed out it brings back memories of Steubenville, Ohio. After the gang rape there, local officials tried to sweep it under the rug, but a blogger and an “Anonymous” group kept the story alive. Maybe someone with inside information from Calhoun needs to get something like that started? As in Steubenville, there are hints that coddled football players may be involved.

 

Jacqueline Gomez

Jacqueline Gomez

Meanwhile, in another prom-related tragedy, a girl was found dead after a prom at MacArthur High School in Houston. According to her mother, the mother of Jacqueline Gomez’ boyfriend was supposed to bring her home that night, but instead the boy’s mother allowed the couple to stay in a hotel room against the Gomez’ mother’s wishes. To me the whole thing sounds really suspicious. From KHOU.com, Mother: Daughter was not supposed to stay at hotel after MacArthur HS prom.

There are new startling details from the mother of a teenagerfound dead on prom night. Her mother feels like she was mislead by her daughter’s prom date and his mother….

Gomez was off to her senior prom at the Hyatt North Houston Hotel. Her mother was too distraught to show her face on camera, but said she expected to see her daughter back at home later that night….

Barron said Gomez’s date’s mother picked the couple up from her home. She also picked them up from the hotel later that night. That’s when she last spoke to her daughter on the phone.

“I just spoke to them after prom, a couple words, told me she was going to get something to eat,” said Barron.

That’s when the boy’s mother got on the phone and asked if Gomez could spend the night at their house.

“I said no, bring her back home,” said Barron. “I gave them a couple hours, and I never heard back.”

The next call she got was from a homicide detective with the Houston Police Department. She said detectives told her the room was booked by the boyfriend’s mother.

What happened? Who gave Jacqueline the drugs and did the boy’s mother know about it? More information from The Houston Chronicle: Texts Hint Girl May Have Overdosed After Prom.

A series of text messages offered new details into the death of Jacqueline Gomez, the 17-year-old Aldine ISD senior found dead Saturday in a Houston motel room the morning after her prom. The texts, sent from an account identified as Gomez’s date, also indicate investigators believe the girl probably overdosed….

Yet nobody can be certain how the MacArthur High School student died until autopsy results are complete – which could take several weeks, the Harris County medical examiner said. And that has the date and Gomez’s family and friends anxiously waiting for the mystery to be solved.

Meanwhile, her friends and family refute any suggestion that Gomez was ever a “party girl,” saying she spent most of her time working at a Kroger grocery and preparing to graduate in June.

Was Jacqueline given a date-rape drug? We may never find out, because those drugs wash out of the system very quickly. Check this out:

“He was posting pictures of himself crying on Instagram. So I a sent him a text that day to ask what had happened to my girl,” said Justice Gonzalez, a close friend of Gomez who saw the couple leave the prom together Friday night to go to that room. Authorities report Gomez was found dead in her bed about 9:20 the next morning.

“They said she overdosed,” part of the text reads, likely referring to law enforcement officials.

He went on.

“I woke up. I tried waking her but she wouldn’t,” the date texted back, adding four frowning faces. “I was screaming and crying telling her to wake up. But she didn’t. She didn’t,” He ended his text with two frowning faces with tears.

He stated she had appeared “perfectly fine and happy” when they left the “Miami Night” prom. She also seemed “happy” when they both went to sleep, he said.

He had told authorities that they had some alcohol, but said in a text to the friend that Gomez had also taken the painkiller hydrocodone.

Why the f&ck didn’t didn’t he take her home, and WTF was his mother thinking?! Furthermore, why can’t something be done to prevent these kinds of after-prom horrors?

Now I’m really mad, and I’m running out of space and time. I’ll post links to other news in the comment thread, and I hope you’ll do the same.

 


Thursday Reads: Human Evolution, Snowden Leaks, and Other News

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Good Morning!!

I seem to have caught a little cold, nothing serious; but I’m a little slow this morning. Anyway, I have a few interesting stories for you, beginning with an amazing discovery that has stunned scientists and forced them to adjust their assumptions about human evolution. From the NYT: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins.

In a paper in the journal Nature, scientists reported Wednesday that they had retrieved ancient human DNA from a fossil dating back about 400,000 years, shattering the previous record of 100,000 years.

The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.

The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.

Now the experts are going to have to find a way to incorporate these new discoveries into their understanding of human history. The story offers several different possibilities from different scientists.

Hints at new hidden complexities in the human story came from a 400,000-year-old femur found in a cave in Spain called Sima de los Huesos (“the pit of bones” in Spanish). The scientific team used new methods to extract the ancient DNA from the fossil….

Since the 1970s, Spanish scientists have brought out a wealth of fossils from the cave dating back hundreds of thousands of years. “The place is very special,” said Dr. Arsuaga, who has found 28 nearly complete skeletons of humans during three decades of excavations.

Based on the anatomy of the fossils, Dr. Arsuaga has argued that they belonged to ancestors of Neanderthals, which lived in western Asia and Europe from about 200,000 to 30,000 years ago.

But based on newly discovered methods for extracting DNA, researchers learned something very different. Read the rest of this fascination story at the NYT link above.

Yesterday the Washington Post published a new story by Barton Gellman, based on the data stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden:  NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show. Except if you read the whole story you’ll learn that this is being done only to collect foreign intelligence; it’s not being done in the U.S. Data from Americans who are overseas could get caught up in the data collection, but the point is to track the locations of suspected terrorists.

The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.

One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.

In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.

Honestly, is anyone really surprised by this? I’m not saying it’s a wonderful thing, but, as I recall, tracing cell phone locations was the method used to catch Osama bin Laden. Not only that, but local police in the U.S. routinely use cell phone tracking to investigate crimes–and like the Feds, they have to get warrants to do so.

Anyone who didn’t know that you have no expectation of privacy when using a cell phone must have been living in a cave for a very long time. But if you really think the NSA is listening in on all of your personal phone calls and reading your text messages, you’re–quite frankly–nuts. The NSA would have to have millions of employees in order to sift through everyone’s data.

Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”

The NSA has no reason to suspect that the movements of the overwhelming majority of cellphone users would be relevant to national security. Rather, it collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools — known collectively as CO-TRAVELER — allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.

As noted in the article, data collected from Americans overseas isn’t protected by the Fourth Amendment; and the Supreme Court decided long ago that telephone call data is owned by the phone companies and that Americans have no expectation of privacy when talking on the phone. If we want to increase privacy protections, it will have to be done through legislation–not by whining about the NSA doing it’s job, which is to collect foreign intelligence. (A side note: a short time ago, former NSA analyst John Schindler offered some suggestions for “Reforming NSA from the Top.”) I wish journalists would devote as much energy to investigating why millions of Americans can’t get jobs and why so many of the ones who do have jobs can’t get paid a living wage as they do to telling us things we already knew or strongly suspected about NSA data collection.

Meanwhile, there are some troubling questions and revelations about some of the journalists who have been involved in releasing the Snowden files. As everyone knows by now, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras now have control of all of the data that Snowden stole. This data includes the names of all British and American intelligence agents. Greenwald and Poitras are currently working on developing a new news website, a project backed by libertarian Ebay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Here’s an extensive profile of Omidyar by renegade investigative journalist MarkAmes.

Recently, Ames wrote another piece at Pando Daily questioning the ethics of Snowden’s cache of NSA data being controlled by two individuals who are beholden to one wealthy backer headlined Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks.

Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.

It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg,Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

I didn’t realize this until yesterday, but apparently Greenwald did not have the data on British intelligence originally; but he somehow forced the Guardian to turn it over to him before he resign from the newspaper. This may be the data that Greenwald’s husband David Miranda was caught with at Heathrow airport when he was detained there awhile back. The British Parliament is currently investigating the behavior of the Guardian and its editor Alan Rusberger. From the blog of BBC journalist Louise Mensch: Rusbridger admits shipping agents’ names – what now?

MPs today got Alan Rusbridger to admit a number of things he, and his paper had previously denied.

Firstly, that he shipped the names of GCHQ agents abroad to newspapers and bloggers. Mr. Rusbridger was reminded that this was a criminal offence, and said he had a public interest defence. He also, however, kept arguing that he hadn’t published any names, which rather blows up his public interest defence – it’s self-evident that you don’t need the names of intelligence agents to report on GCHQ spying, so why not redact them?

The fact is, Rusbridger did acknowledge that it put GCHQ agents at risk when he first shipped files to ProPublica. He redacted the names of GCHQ agents from those files, and he promised the government he had done so….

In Parliament today when asked why he didn’t redact the names he said there were 58,000 documents – essentially, he could be bothered to go through the <100 files he FedExed to ProPublica, but could not be bothered to go through the entire batch he sent to the NYT.

Really? He couldn’t take a week, and black out agents’ names? There were copies of the docs in the Guardian offices in New York, so time was not an issue for Rusbridger – instead, he exposed the names.

Perhaps worst of all, Rusbridger confirmed my very worst suspicions, which were that he hadn’t even read through the top secret files before shipping them. He redacted no names; he redacted no operational details; he didn’t even read them. And by “he” I mean any employee of the Guardian. Nobody at that paper read the 58,000 documents through, not even once, before sharing them in bulk.

Mensch updated that post with more information yesterday: HAS Rusbridger exposed thousands of GCHQ personnel? A commenter on the original post explained that in revealing the names of intelligence personnel to multiple people, Rusberger and the Guardian essentially destroyed their careers and seriously damaged British intelligence efforts. Here’s the comment:

A comment was left on that last blog that I have to reproduce. It shows that every agent exposed by Rusbridger has had their career ruined for the duration of it; none of them can ever work in the field again. Furthermore, the writer makes the compelling case that the NSA-GCHQ wiki, which the New York Times published extracts from, and the directories of staff interests like gay and lesbian clubs, ghost hunting clubs etc, mean that Rusbridger has actually sent abroad not just a handful of names, as he claimed to Parliament “there were names on power points” but actually thousands of GCHQ names.

Read the whole explanation at the link. I apologize for writing this before I nail down every detail, but I think this is important and it’s highly unlikely the corporate media will look into it since they could also culpable.

I’m afraid I rambled on too long on the NSA story, so I’ll just add a few more links that you might like to check out.

Raw Story: Debbie Wasserman Schultz schools Newt Gingrich over ‘war on women’ crack about Joe Biden

Bloomberg: That’s Gonna Hurt: Bankers Brace for the Volcker Rule

AP via Business Insider: A Period Of Bitterly Cold Temperatures Not Seen In A Decade Is About To Hit Parts Of The US

JM Ashby at The Daily Banter: Their Kind of Individual Mandate

Politicus USA: CNN Throws In the Towel as it Schedules Hour-Long Glenn Beck Interview

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on this morning? Please share your links in the comment thread.


Saturday: An Autumn Potpourri of Reads

Fall in New England

Fall in New England

Good Morning!!

Isn’t that a gorgeous photo? It was taken in New Hampshire near Mount Washington in October 2011.

A potpourri is “a combination of incongruous things.” Well that’s what I have for you this morning. We’ll begin at Sea-Tac airport in Seattle where Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell, 79, was arrested by TSA police for having a loaded gun in his carry-on bag. He was held for about half-an-hour and then released. He has a permit for the gun. Russell was on his way to Boston where a statue of him will be unveiled on November 1.

Did you hear about the morons in Utah who destroyed a 170-million-year-old rock formation and made a video of themselves doing it?  From the Deseret News:

Two men have come under scrutiny by the public and possibly by prosecutors after a video made the rounds online showing them pushing over an iconic rock formation.

The men were visiting Goblin Valley State Park last week when they said they noticed a precariously perched

boulder that was loose and worried it would fall on someone. The delicate “goblin” formation, also known as a “hoodoo,” is one of many that gives the park its name.

What followed was a video showing the men joking and laughing as Glenn Taylor, of Highland, topples the rock, narrated by cameraman Dave Hall, who says lives have been saved. A third man, identified as Taylor’s son, watches.

These two ignorant fools, who are Boy Scout leaders (!), thought the ancient rock formation was suddenly going to tip over and crush someone.

Utah State Parks spokesman Eugene Swalberg called the video disturbing. Possible criminal charges are being screened by the Emery County Attorney’s Office and the Utah Attorney General’s Office, he said….

The goblins date back more than 170 million years to the Jurassic Period, Swalberg said. The park, which gets more than 85,000 visitors per year, was dedicated in 1974 to protect the fragile formations, he said.

“There are some established trails in the park, but there are also areas where you can have self discovery and wander amongst the goblins,” Swalberg said. “That’s the beauty of Goblin Valley. It’s not meant to have people push over the goblins. It’s meant to enjoy.”

Check out the idiotic quotes from these guys in this Fox News story:

“This is about saving lives,” Dave Hall, who shot the video, told The Associated Press on Friday. “One rock at a time.”

The rock formation is about 170 million years old, Utah State Parks spokesman Eugene Swalberg said. The park in central Utah is dotted with thousands of the eerie, mushroom shaped sandstone formations.

In a video posted on Facebook, Glenn Taylor of Highland, Utah, can be seen last Friday wedging himself between one formation and a boulder to knock a large rock off the formation’s top. Taylor and his two companions can then be seen cheering, high-fiving and dancing….

“My conscience won’t let me walk away knowing that kids could die,” Hall said.

While safety was their motivation, Hall said, it was exciting to knock it over, and that’s why they reacted with high-fives and cheers in the video.

“You can’t have a rock the size of a car that you can push with one hand, and have it roll, and not have an adrenaline rush,” Hall said. “It was a crazy, exciting moment.”

What an asshole! If these fools don’t get criminally prosecuted, at least maybe the Boy Scouts will discipline them.

Boy Scouts of America spokesman Deron Smith confirmed the men are members of the organization, saying in a statement that the organization is “shocked and disappointed by this reprehensible behavior.”

Boy Scout troops spend countless hours in state and national parks, guided by the principle of leaving nature the way they find it, Smith said.

“The isolated actions of these individuals are absolutely counter to our beliefs and what we teach,” Smith said. “We are reviewing this matter and will take appropriate action.”

Moving on , , ,

NSA officials admit they put off installing the latest anti-leak software at the Hawaii facility where Edward Snowden stole thousands of top secret documents before fleeing the country and eventually accepting asylum in Russia.

Well before Snowden joined Booz Allen Hamilton last spring and was assigned to the NSA site as a systems administrator, other U.S. government facilities had begun to install software designed to spot attempts by unauthorized people to access or download data.

The purpose of the software, which in the NSA’s case is made by a division of Raytheon Co, is to block so-called “insider threats” – a response to an order by President Barack Obama to tighten up access controls for classified information in the wake of the leak of hundreds of thousands of Pentagon and State Department documents by an Army private to WikiLeaks website in 2010.

The main reason the software had not been installed at the NSA’s Hawaii facility by the time Snowden took up his assignment there was that it had insufficient bandwidth to comfortably install it and ensure its effective operation, according to one of the officials.

Due to the bandwidth issue, intelligence agencies in general moved more slowly than non-spy government units, including the Defence Department, to install anti-leak software, officials said.

In other related news,

Snowden told The New York Times in an interview that he turned all of his files over to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras when the three met in Hong Kong last spring; he said he didn’t keep any of the files and therefore China and Russia could not have gotten access to them. From HuffPo:

Snowden said he did not retain copies of the documents and did not take them to Russia “because it wouldn’t serve the public interest,” the Times reported. He said his familiarity with China’s intelligence abilities allowed him to protect the documents from Chinese spies while he was in Hong Kong.

“There’s a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents,” he said….

The Times reported that in the interview, which it said took place over several days in the last week and involved encrypted online communications, Snowden asserted that he believed he was a whistle-blower who was acting in the nation’s best interests by revealing information about the NSA’s surveillance dragnet and huge collections of communications data.

The only problem with these claims is that Snowden actually gave copies of some of the stolen files to the Chinese government-supported newspaper The South China Morning Post in August, long after he supposedly turned everything over to Greewald and Poitras. So where did that data come from?

Whatever the truth is, we do know the files are in the possession of Greenwald, Poitras, Wikileaks, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and several other news organizations as well as the British security services which confiscated the files from Greenwald’s live-in partner David Miranda when he was passing through Heathrow airport. So we can be sure there’s no danger of unauthorized release of secret information. Right?

That was sarcasm, by the way, in case you didn’t pick up on it . . .

Bob Cesca had a good post yesterday on Ted Cruz and his future plans. He apparently feels emboldened by his success in shutting down the government for two weeks, and plans more destructive behavior next time. Cesca writes:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the chief architect of the tea party shutdown and subsequent debt ceiling brinksmanship, might have lost an endorsement from his home town newspaper, but he managed to raise $1.19 million during the third quarter — nearly three times the haul of the second quarter total. That period of time didn’t include the shutdown, but it included his filibuster, which, it turns out, had a very important purpose: the make money for Ted Cruz. He also beefed up his email database with a petition that gathered over two million names and addresses.

When asked who “won” the shutdown battle, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) told Politico the winners were “the people that managed to raise a lot of money off this.” Now, I don’t know if that means the tea party necessarily “won,” but Cruz and the Heritage Action group, which pulled in $330,000, didn’t walk away empty-handed.

While Cruz and the others cashed-in, the shutdown ended up costing the federal government $24 billion. Via TIME, here’s a breakdown of just a few of the losses:

-About $3.1 billion in lost government services, according to the research firm IHS
-$152 million per day in lost travel spending, according to the U.S. Travel Association
-$76 million per day lost because of National Parks being shut down, according to the National Park Service
-$217 million per day in lost federal and contractor wages in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area alone

And we’re supposed to continue buying the line that the tea party cares about government spending and the national debt? That’s rich.

Obviously, Cesca writes, they are going to do a repeat performance early next year. Read all about it at the link.

More wingnut news . . .

Via Kevin Drum, Eric Stern wrote at Salon about how he “fact-checked” Sean Hannity’s claims about Obamacare. Stern writes:

I happened to turn on the Hannity show on Fox News last Friday evening. “Average Americans are feeling the pain of Obamacare and the healthcare overhaul train wreck,” Hannity announced, “and six of them are here tonight to tell us their stories.”  Three married couples were neatly arranged in his studio, the wives seated and the men standing behind them, like game show contestants.

As Hannity called on each of them, the guests recounted their “Obamacare” horror stories: canceled policies, premium hikes, restrictions on the freedom to see a doctor of their choice, financial burdens upon their small businesses and so on.

“These are the stories that the media refuses to cover,” Hannity interjected.

But none of it smelled right to me. Nothing these folks were saying jibed with the basic facts of the Affordable Care Act as I understand them. I understand them fairly well; I have worked as a senior adviser to a governor and helped him deal with the new federal rules.

So Stern actually contacted three of these folks and it turns out they all lied. As Drum summarizes:

One of them was apparently just lying, and the other two hadn’t even checked the exchanges, where they would have found that they could get better coverage for considerably less than they’re paying now.

Unbelievable.

Did you hear the latest in the Ariel Castro story?

One of Castro’s neighbors has now been charged with rapes and murders. From the Guardian:

Increased scrutiny of missing person cases in a Cleveland neighbourhood following the arrest of kidnapper Ariel Castro led to charges against a neighbour for the murders of two women in the 1990s, the FBI said on Friday.

Elias Acevedo, 49, was charged late on Thursday with the kidnapping, rape and murder of his 30-year-old neighbour, Pamela Pemberton, found strangled in 1994, and another woman believed to be Christina Adkins, a pregnant 18-year-old who disappeared in 1995. He also is charged with the rape of two young girls.

“Because the public became more aware and investigators were determined and relentless, people were re-interviewed and there was an increased interest in these missing person cases,” FBI spokeswoman Vicki Anderson said.

Acevedo, who lived on the same block as Castro, was arrested in June at his Seymour Avenue residence after police questioned Castro’s neighbours and discovered that Acevedo was a convicted sex offender who had failed to report his current address.

Acevedo became a suspect in the Adkins and Pemberton murders after the FBI re-examined the disappearance of other missing women from the Seymour Avenue neighbourhood after Castro’s arrest, according to a statement from the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office.

Imagine if the Cleveland police had actually done their job years ago?

I’ll end with this wacky story from CBS Atlanta.

Bear climbs tree stand to meet hunter.

A video of a showdown between a hunter and a bear in Canada posted in May of this year is making the rounds on social media as of late.

The video, posted by Jeffrey Moffatt, shows a hunter in a tree stand with a bear at the bottom of the tree.

Much to the surprise of the hunter, the bear climbs the tree in about three seconds and comes face-to-face with the hunter. No need for a hunting rangefinder when the damn thing is 3 feet away from you!

The bear sniffs around and eventually decides the hunter wasn’t a threat and climbs down the tree.

Moffatt said on YouTube that he only had a bow and arrow – no firearm – and did not have any cell service in case the situation would have gotten worse.

You have to watch the video!

OK, those are my contributions for today. What stories are you following? Please post your comments and links in the thread below.


Tuesday Reads: U.S. Spies on Foreign Countries and Other “Blockbuster” News

woman-by-a-window.matisse

Good Morning!!

In the weeks since Edward Snowden absconded with thousands of top secret National Security Agency (NSA) files and traveled to Hong Kong and then Moscow and handed over the documents to Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, we’ve learned that the U.S. spies on lots of other countries. Snowden has revealed that NSA has spied on China, Russia, Germany, FranceBrazil, MexicoIsrael, Iran, and the UN. Oddly, we haven’t gotten much new information from Snowden about illegal or abusive NSA spying on Americans, which Snowden initially suggested was his reason for stealing the secret documents.

To most nominally intelligent and informed people, the fact that NSA spies on foreign countires is not particularly surprising; since collecting foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) is the primary purpose of NSA as stated publicly on their website. Here is NSA’s statement of their “core mission”:

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) leads the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services, and enables Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances.

The Information Assurance mission confronts the formidable challenge of preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive or classified national security information. The Signals Intelligence mission collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. This Agency also enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

Spying on foreign countries is what NSA does. Why that is perceived as somehow illegal and/or shocking by Greenwald, Poitras, Snowden, and their cult followers, I have no clue. But the fact that a spy agency collects foreign signals intelligence really should not be considered breaking news; and the countries that are complaining about it are well known for spying on the US in return–and in some cases (e.g., China, Russia, and Israel) for famously stealing U.S. secrets and technology.

Today the Washington Post has a new “blockbuster” article that reveals that the U.S. is particularly focused on spying on Pakistan. Now I wonder why that would be? Anyone want to speculate? It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Pakistan concealed the location of Osama bin Laden for years, could it? Or the fact that Taliban and al Quaeda operatives regularly hide in Pakistan? Just a couple of wild guesses…

Here’s an excerpt from the WaPo article:

A 178-page summary of the U.S. intelligence community’s “black budget” shows that the United States has ramped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear arms, cites previously undisclosed concerns about biological and chemical sites there, and details efforts to assess the loyalties of counter­terrorism sources recruited by the CIA.

Pakistan appears at the top of charts listing critical U.S. intelligence gaps. It is named as a target of newly formed analytic cells. And fears about the security of its nuclear program are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else.

The disclosures — based on documents provided to The Washington Post by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden — expose broad new levels of U.S. distrust in an already unsteady security partnership with Pakistan, a politically unstable country that faces rising Islamist militancy. They also reveal a more expansive effort to gather intelligence on Pakistan than U.S. officials have disclosed.

The United States has delivered nearly $26 billion in aid to Pakistan over the past 12 years, aimed at stabilizing the country and ensuring its cooperation in counterterrorism efforts. But with Osama bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda degraded, U.S. spy agencies appear to be shifting their attention to dangers that have emerged beyond the patch of Pakistani territory patrolled by CIA drones.

“If the Americans are expanding their surveillance capabilities, it can only mean one thing,” said Husain Haqqani, who until 2011 served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. “The mistrust now exceeds the trust.”

The stolen files also reveal serious human rights issues in Pakistan and fears about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Raise your hand if you’re shocked by any this. I can certainly see why these revelations would be harmful to U.S. national security and foreign relations, however.

Via The Jerusalem Post, another Snowden leak revealed by the Washington Post showed that members of terrorist organizations have tried to join the CIA.

…individuals with past connections to known terrorist entities such as al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas, have repeatedly attempted to obtain employment within the CIA, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

Among job-seekers that seemed suspicious to the CIA, approximately 20% of that grouping reportedly had “significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections.” The nature of the connections was not described in the document.

“Over the last several years, a small subset of CIA’s total job applicants were flagged due to various problems or issues,” an anonymous CIA official was reported as saying. “During this period, one in five of that small subset were found to have significant connections to hostile intelligence services and or terrorist groups.” [….]

The document also allegedly stated that the CIA re-investigates thousands of employees each year to reduce the possibility that an individual with these connections may compromise sensitive information.

Can anyone explain to me why this should be considered criminal or why the person who revealed it should be called a “whistle-blower?” It seems to me, the only reason for revealing the methods the U.S. uses to collect foreign SIGINT is a desire to harm U.S. Government and damage its foreign policy. Here’s Bob Cesca, who has consistently critiqued libertarians Snowden and Greenwald and their anti-government motives from a liberal, rational point of view: Greenwald Reports NSA Spied on Presidents of Brazil andMexico.

We’re not sure exactly which section of the U.S. Constitution protects the privacy rights of foreign leaders, but Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden appear to believe it’s in there somewhere. The tandem crusaders for the Fourth Amendment have once again extended their reach beyond what was intended to be their mutual goal of igniting a debate in the United States about the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, and, instead, opted to reveal that, yes, the U.S. spies on foreign leaders. Shocking, I know.

Specifically, on the Globo television show “Fantasico” in Brazil, Greenwald described a July, 2012 document stolen from NSA by Snowden, which describes how NSA had intercepted communications made by the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff. (Incidentally, the Globo article contains 13 corporate trackers or “web bugs.”)

The goal of revealing this information is clear. Greenwald and Snowden have successfully exploited the “sparking a debate” motive as a Trojan Horse for injecting unrelated information into public view as a means of vindictively damaging the operations of U.S. and U.K. intelligence communities, not to mention the reputation of the United States as a whole, while also pushing the unrealistic message that surveillance is generally impermissible. Yes, we already knew that nations spy on other nations, but to publicly disclose specific instances of international spying — while on the soil of one of the nations being surveilled — confirms these suspicions and sorely embarrasses everyone involved.

But guess what? Both Mexico and Brazil have powerful spy agencies that conduct “active surveillance” on the U.S.

In Brazil, it’s called the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (ABIN or the Brazilian Intelligence Agency). It deals with external and domestic intelligence gathering: collection and analysis of information that’s intercepted via both signals (SIGINT collects email, phone calls and so forth) and human resources.

In Mexico, it’s called S-2. Like ABIN or NSA, S-2 also collects SIGINT on foreign targets, with a special focus on the military operations of foreign governments. Along with its counterpart, the Centro de Información de Seguridad Nacional (Center for Research on National Security or CISIN), S-2 is tasked with counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism operations.

Has anyone overheard Greenwald mention, even in passing, either of these agencies? Likely not, and don’t hold your breath waiting for Greenwald to attack Brazil’s intelligence community, even knowing that it wiretapped its own Senate and Supreme Court several years ago. Along those lines, we don’t know exactly whether these agencies have attempted to spy on any of our presidents or government officials, but wouldn’t Greenwald, as a U.S. citizen and resident of Brazil, want to find out using the same “Glennzilla” tenacity he’s employed while exposing U.S. spying? If his crusade now involves universal privacy, wouldn’t that include violations by the Brazilian government, especially knowing that Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro?

Read more at the link.

In other news….

The civil war in Syria continues to be the top international story, and The New York Times has a couple of helpful articles. The first is an explainer that deals with Key Questions on the Conflict in Syria. I won’t excerpt from it–read it at the NYT if you’re interested. Next, an article that explains how American policy on Syria may affect possible negotiations with Iran: Drawing a Line on Syria, U.S. Eyes Iran Talks.

As the Obama administration makes a case for punitive airstrikes on the Syrian government, its strongest card in the view of some supporters of a military response may be the need to send a message to another country: Iran. If the United States does not enforce its self-imposed “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, this thinking goes, Iran will smell weakness and press ahead more boldly in its quest for nuclear weapons.

But that message may be clashing with a simultaneous effort by American officials to explore dialogue with Iran’s moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, in the latest expression of Washington’s long struggle to balance toughness with diplomacy in its relations with a longtime adversary.

Two recent diplomatic ventures have raised speculation about a possible back channel between Washington and Tehran. Last week, Jeffrey Feltman, a high State Department official in President Obama’s first term who is now a senior envoy at the United Nations, visited Iran to meet with the new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and discussed possible reactions to an American airstrike in Syria.

kerry assad

In line with the international beating up on the U.S. that has followed the Snowden-Greenwald-Poitras “revelations” that NSA spies on foreign countries, The Daily Mail has a snarky article with numerous photos about a dinner that John Kerry had with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in 2009.

An astonishing photograph of John Kerry having a cozy and intimate dinner with Bashar al-Assad has emerged at the moment the U.S Secretary of State is making the case to bomb the Syrian dictator’s country and remove him from power.

Kerry, who compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein yesterday, is pictured around a small table with his wife Teresa Heinz and the Assads in 2009.

Assad and Kerry, then a Massachusetts senator, lean in towards each other and appear deep in conversation as their spouses look on.

A waiter is pictured at their side with a tray of green drinks, believed to be lemon and crushed mint.

Now, why would Kerry be having dinner with Syria’s president? The Daily Mail tells us:

The picture was likely taken in February 2009 in the Naranj restaurant in Damascus, when Kerry led a delegation to Syria to discuss finding a way forward for peace in the region.

At the time, Kerry was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and what he was doing is called “diplomacy.” But looking back in the age of Snowden, it seems that instead of having a polite dinner, Kerry should have punched Assad in the nose and screamed at him at the top of his lungs to get with the program–or something…

From the Wall Street Journal: Syrian Electronic Army Hacks Marines Website

A collection of pro-Syrian government hackers apparently defaced a Marine Corps recruitment website Monday.

The Syrian Electronic Army, which has hacked a series of websites, posted a letter on the Marines.com website arguing the Syrian government is “fighting a vile common enemy.”

“The Syrian army should be your ally not your enemy,” the letter read. “Refuse your orders and concentrate on the real reason every soldier joins their military, to defend their homeland. You’re more than welcome to fight alongside our army rather than against it.”

See a screen shot at the link. The site is now back up and running normally.

I’ll end there and post my remaining links in the thread below. As always, please post links to the stories you’re following in the comments as well.


Tuesday Reads: The Snowden Conundrum

Assange and Snowden

Good Morning!!

I’m going to focus on the Edward Snowden/NSA leaks story today, because there has been quite a bit of news breaking about it over the past few days.

As of this morning, Snowden hasn’t decided whether to accept one of the asylum offers made by three Latin American countries, Venezuela, Nicaragua, or Bolivia. From NBC News:

MOSCOW, Russia – The status of Edward Snowden’s bid for asylum in Venezuela remained unclear Tuesday after the country’s apparent deadline passed.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Moscow said it had no information on whether the fugitive NSA leaker had completed a deal that would allow him to leave the transit area of an airport in the Russian capital.

In Caracas, President Nicolas Maduro confirmed late Monday that Venezuela had received an official request for asylum from Snowden, telling reporters at a news conference that the self-declared leaker “will need to decide when he will fly here,” according to Russia Today.

Even if Snowden agrees an asylum deal with Venezuela, travel problems could take time to resolve: His U.S. passport has been canceled and U.S. allies may deny airspace to any flight on which he is believed to be traveling.

According to Fox News,

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro called on National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to decide if he wants to seek refuge in his country after the American reportedly sent an asylum request to Caracas.

Maduro told reporters at a press conference on Monday that the fugitive systems analyst must communicate his intent to accept Venezuela’s offer of asylum, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“He will have to say when he is flying here, if he definitely wants to come here,” Maduro was quoted as telling reporters.

He would probably have to take a private plane, which would be very expensive. Wikileaks is paying for Snowden’s expenses, but would they be able to spring for a private plane? Maybe. More on that in a minute.

One thing we know is very important to Snowden–internet access. One of the reasons he left Hong Kong for Moscow was his fear of not being able to get on the internet. From the Wall Street Journal on June 24:

A person familiar with Mr. Snowden’s case said his decision to get on a flight to Moscow was “very sudden,” made only in the day before departing. The decision was made in consultation with WikiLeaks, which encouraged Mr. Snowden to leave the city after communicating with others about his options abroad, the person said.

“He is very independent, but also very willing to listen to advice,” the person said, adding that Mr. Snowden was concerned that any further delay would result in his detainment by Hong Kong authorities. In part, Mr. Snowden’s determination to leave Hong Kong was based on the fear of losing access to the Internet—his vital link to the rest of the world—should he be detained, the person said. In part, Mr. Snowden’s determination to leave Hong Kong was based on the fear of losing access to the Internet—his vital link to the rest of the world—should he be detained, the person said.

Now Snowden is considering going to one of three countries that have limited access to the internet, according to an article by Alex Halperin at Salon. Venezuela is the best choice, with 40% of the population having internet connections. In Bolivia, it’s 30%, and in Nicaragua only 10.6%.

The Daily Beast has an article on “Wikileaks’ Money Trail” today.

Thankfully for WikiLeaks, its latest cause célèbre, Edward Snowden, is raking in some much-needed cash for the whistle-blowing organization. Snowden sympathizers have been donating generously since WikiLeaks decided to take on the NSA leaker’s case—and the organization desperately needs every dollar it can raise to stay in the black and pay for the legal fees and living costs of founder Julian Assange and now Snowden.

The money WikiLeaks has raised—nearly $90,000 in 2012, with about $1,300 coming in each day since it took Snowden under its wing—comes from people around the world, some of whom give just a few dollars to do their part in making the world a more transparent place.Assange and his team still say they need a lot more than they raise, and the organization always seems to be in the red. WikiLeaks’s operating budget was $510,197 in 2012, which is serious money, considering it is a simple .org with a staff of three paid software developers.

A look into how WikiLeaks is funded and how its money is spent reveals an irony that Assange has acknowledged: an organization dedicated to uncovering the truth keeps its finances intentionally complicated, and it’s next to impossible for donors to find out how their money is processed and where it goes.

Much more at the link. It doesn’t sound like Wikileaks would be able to fund a private plane flight, but maybe some wealthy person like Michael Moore would come through with the big bucks.

More of Snowden’s leaks about U.S. intelligence activities in other countries have been published over the past few days by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. Greenwald published a report of Snowden’s allegations of U.S. spying in Brazil that appeared in the Guardian and in the Brazilian paper El Globo, and a report on US collaboration with Australia in collecting data was published by the Sydney Morning Herald. Snowden also released a top secret map of sites in a number of countries that collaborate with NSA in collecting intelligence data.

IMHO, it’s likely that Snowden is giving information to countries he’d like to go to. Greenwald lives in Brazil, and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange is from Australia. I say this, because Greenwald explained on Twitter that Snowden revealed classified documents  in Hong Kong and in order to gain friendly treatment by the government.

The most revealing recent stories have been published by Der Spiegel, which has been given access to some of the documents Snowden stole from NSA. The latest Der Spiegel piece included a blockbuster revelation.  The German magazine published a previously unknown interview with Snowden that was conducted by Laura Poitras and Jacob Applebaum in mid-May, before Snowden left Hawaii for Hong Kong.

This is stunning news, because Applebaum’s name has never been mentioned in connection with the Snowden story until now, although he (Applebaum) has been very visible on Twitter defending Snowden and hyping Greenwald’s articles.

Applebaum is a  well known hacker who has been prominently associated with Julian Assange and Wikileaks. He is one of the founders of the Tor network , which promotes encryption method to help people and organizations maintain anonymity on the internet. Although he acknowledges that Tor could be giving aid an comfort to criminals such as child pornographers, he believes that privacy rights take precedence over such concerns.

Both Poitras and Applebaum have come to the attention of the U.S. government and both have been stopped and harassed on return flights to the U.S. from other countries.

From the Der Spiegel article:

Shortly before he became a household name around the world as a whistleblower, Edward Snowden answered a comprehensive list of questions. They originated from Jacob Appelbaum, 30, a developer of encryption and security software. Appelbaum provides training to international human rights groups and journalists on how to use the Internet anonymously.

Appelbaum first became more broadly known to the public after he spoke on behalf of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at a hacker conference in New York in 2010. Together with Assange and other co-authors, Appelbaum recently released a compilation of interviews in book form under the title “Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet.”

Applebaum explains how he got involved.

“In mid-May, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras contacted me,” Appelbaum said. “She told me she was in contact with a possible anonymous National Security Agency (NSA) source who had agreed to be interviewed by her.”

“She was in the process of putting questions together and thought that asking some specific technical questions was an important part of the source verification process. One of the goals was to determine whether we were really dealing with an NSA whistleblower. I had deep concerns of COINTELPRO-style entrapment. We sent our securely encrypted questions to our source. I had no knowledge of Edward Snowden’s identity before he was revealed to the world in Hong Kong. He also didn’t know who I was. I expected that when the anonymity was removed, we would find a man in his sixties.”

Please note the timeline: Poitras says Snowden contacted her in January, and Greenwald says he began working with Poitras and Snowden in February. Poitras also contacted Barton Gellman of the Washington Post in February–apparently without Greenwald’s knowlege. At some point Snowden was working for NSA as a Dell contractor, but he quit this job in order to get one at Booz Allen, where he would have access to more top secret information about U.S. spy facilities around the world. He took the job with Booz Allen sometime in March and went to a training course back in the U.S. that lasted a couple of months. According to Booz Allen, Snowden was employed by them for less than three months and was only on the job in Hawaii for about three weeks, during which time he stole four laptops full of classified documents.

There’s no doubt this operation was premeditated; Snowden admitted that in an interview with the South China Morning Post. The only real questions are whether it was initiated or aided by Julian Assange and Wikileaks and whether Jacob Applebaum aided Snowden in hacking into NSA computers. I’m not ready to argue that yet; but these new revelations, along with the fact that Wikileaks seems to have taken over communications with Snowden are certainly suggestive.

Here’s another possible piece of the timeline. In December 2012, Glenn Greenwald and some of his close friends started an organization called Freedom of the Press Foundation. Others on the board of directors of the foundation besides Greenwald are Laura Poitras and Daniel Ellsberg. According to their website, their purpose is to raise funds to support “public interest journalism.” Their criteria for choosing news organization to support is as follows:

Record of engaging in transparency journalism or supporting it in a material way, including support for whistleblowers.

Public interest agenda.

Organizations or individuals under attack for engaging in transparency journalism.

Need for support. The foundation’s goal is to prioritize support for organizations and individuals who are in need of funding or who face obstacles to gaining support on their own.

At the top of the list of organizations they support is Wikileaks.

Please note that I’m not yet proposing some grand conspiracy theory here. I’m just laying out the facts as I know them so far and connecting some dots. But some people are suggesting Wikileaks could have directed this operation. I was very surprised to see this article by Walter Pincus at the Washington Post yesterday: Questions for Snowden. Basically Pincus connected some dots and is asking some of the same questions I am asking.  I’m going to excerpt a little more than I normally would from the Pincus piece. He writes:

Was he [Snowden] encouraged or directed by WikiLeaks personnel or others to take the job as part of a broader plan to expose NSA operations to selected journalists?

In the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the U.S. soldier on trial for disclosing thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks, it was Julian Assange and his organization who directed the collection of documents, U.S. prosecutors have alleged. While Manning’s lawyers contend there is no evidence to support that finding, prosecutors have said there are hundreds of chats between Manning and Assange and WikiLeaks lists of desired material.

In Manning’s case, WikiLeaks and its founder, Assange, determined the news organizations that initially would receive the materials.

Pincus wants to know how Snowden decided to leak to Poitras, Greenwald, and Gellman.

Did Assange and WikiLeaks personnel help or direct Snowden to those journalists?

Poitras and Greenwald have had close connections with Assange and WikiLeaks. In December 2010, Greenwald said of the British arrest of Assange: “Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they have not been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted. Yet look what has happened to them. They have been removed from [the] Internet . . . their funds have been frozen . . . media figures and politicians have called for their assassination and to be labeled a terrorist organization.”

In a June 2012 Guardian column, Greenwald wrote, “As a foreign national accused of harming U.S. national security, he [Assange] has every reason to want to avoid ending up in the travesty known as the American judicial system.”

On April 10, 2012, Greenwald wrote for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog about Poitras and WikiLeaks being targeted by U.S. government officials.

Pincus also suggests that Julian Assange knew the contents of Glenn Greenwald’s first article on Snowden’s leaks.

Poitras has been working on a film on post-9/11 America, with a focus on the NSA and in which Assange and WikiLeaks are participating. Assange confirmed this in a May 29 interview on Democracy Now’s Web site.

In that same interview, Assange previewed the first Greenwald Guardian story based on Snowden documents that landed a week later. Speaking from Ecuador’s embassy in London, Assange described how NSA had been collecting “all the calling records of the United States, every record of everyone calling everyone over years. . . . Those calling records already [are] entered into the national security complex.”

Did he know ahead of time of that Guardian story describing the U.S. court order permitting NSA’s collection of the telephone toll records of millions of American Verizon customers and storing them for years?

This post is getting way too long, but just to be fair I’ll offer another conspiracy theory from Pepe Escobar of Asia Times. I’ll quote the first few paragraphs and you can go read the whole thing if you’re so inclined.

The working title of the Edward Snowden movie is still The Spy Who Remains in the Cold. Here’s where we stand:

– Snowden could only fly out of Hong Kong because China allowed it.

– Snowden could only arrive in Moscow because Russia knew it – in co-operation with China. This is part of their strategic relationship, which includes the BRICS group (along with Brazil, India and South Africa) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. No official source though would ever confirm it.
With the Latin American offers of asylum (Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua; even Uruguay would consider it), we’re approaching the clincher: Moscow is now calculating whether – and how – to help Snowden reach his final destination while extracting maximum political capital out of Washington.

Into this script comes roaring the coup-that-is-not-a-coup sub-plot in Egypt. Cynics’ eyebrows will be raised that just as the Barack Obama administration was going mental over the National Security Agency (NSA) spy scandal a revo-coup-o-lution explodes in Egypt. New revelations about the extent of the NSA-centric Orwellian Panopticon keep on coming, but they have been totally downgraded by US corporate media; it’s all Egypt all the time. After all, the Pentagon – to which the NSA is attached – owns the Egyptian military, something that even the New York Times had to acknowledge. [1]

Yet they don’t own Snowden. This has nothing to do with “terra”.

Meanwhile, the US intelligence gambit of intercepting a non-adversarial presidential plane spectacularly backfired in true Mad magazine Spy vs Spy fashion. Obama had said he would not “scramble fighter jets” to catch Snowden; of course not, just ground them.

Austrian paper Die Presse revealed that the US Ambassador in Austria, William Eacho, was responsible for spreading the (false) information about Snowden being on board Bolivia President Evo Morales’ Falcon out of Russia – leading to the denial of overflying rights in France, Spain, Portugal an Italy. [2] Eacho – a former CEO of a food distribution company with no diplomatic experience whatsoever – was appointed by Obama to go to Vienna in June 2009. Why? Because he was a top Obama fundraiser.

Read the rest at Asia Times. BTW, I’m not sure both of these conspiracy theories couldn’t be at least partially true.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your reactions.