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

Couch on the Porch at Cos Cob by Childe Hassam, 1914

Couch on the Porch at Cos Cob by Childe Hassam, 1914

Good Morning!!

 

Secretary of State John Kerry is under fire for making a frank statement in a closed-door meeting that he believed to be private. Politico’s Dylan Byers reports: John Kerry’s private remarks allegedly taped by Daily Beast reporter.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s private remarks to a meeting of influential world leaders last week were allegedly taped by a reporter from The Daily Beast, a fact that led to a personal apology from Trilateral Commission chairman Joseph S. Nye on Monday.

In a letter to Sec. Kerry, obtained by POLITICO, Nye expressed “my deep apology and dismay that a reporter form The Daily Beast, Josh Rogin, somehow sneaked into the meeting room in which you were speaking to the Commission this past Friday.”

“He was not invited,” Nye wrote. “Althought how Mr. Rogin slipped past both Commission staff and Diplomatic Security is unclear to me, we have confirmed that he indeed was present and apparently recorded the session.”

Josh Rogin

Josh Rogin

Rogin, who somehow sneaked into the meeting and taped Kerry’s remarks, soon began posting “exclusives” at The Daily Beast.

Within minutes of Kerry’s remarks on Friday, Rogin posted an exclusive to The Daily Beast in which he reported that Kerry had “warned that [a] new round of American financial assaults on Russia were on the way.”

On Sunday, Rogin posted another exclusive headlined, “Kerry Warns Israel Could Become ‘An Apartheid State’.” The report earned Sec. Kerry fierce criticism from Jewish organizations such as AIPAC, which called the remarks “offensive and inapropriate,” and the Anti-Defamation League, which called them “incendiary.”

In the first article, Rogin attributed his knowledge of Sec. Kerry’s remarks to “an attendee.” In the second article, he attributed them to “a recording… obtained by The Daily Beast.” Rogin did not mention his presence at the event in either article.

Is that okay according to journalistic ethics? I don’t know, but this definitely demonstrates to me the need for some secrecy in government diplomacy. I think the Greenwaldian notion of government as absolute enemy has rubbed off on reporters like Rogin. His first “exclusive” was on a breakdown of communications between the White House and the Kremlin and the second was about Kerry’s comments on Israel. Rogin writes:

If there’s no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, Israel risks becoming “an apartheid state,” Secretary of State John Kerry told a room of influential world leaders in a closed-door meeting Friday.

It wasn’t the only controversial comment on the Middle East that Kerry made during his remarks to the Trilateral Commission, a recording of which was obtained by The Daily Beast. Kerry also repeated his warning that a failure of Middle East peace talks could lead to a resumption of Palestinian violence against Israeli citizens. He suggested that a change in either the Israeli or Palestinian leadership could make achieving a peace deal more feasible. He lashed out against Israeli settlement-building. And Kerry said that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders share the blame for the current impasse in the talks. 

Kerry also said that at some point, he might unveil his own peace deal and tell both sides to “take it or leave it.”

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state,” Kerry told the group of senior officials and experts from the U.S., Western Europe, Russia, and Japan. “Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”

It’s hard for me to find much fault with that. I guess the use of the term “apartheid” is a no-no, Kerry is not the first to use it. As Rogin notes, former President Jimmy Carter wrote a book in 2007 with the title Palestine: Peace or Apartheid. Carter was forced to backtrack somewhat, and Kerry has had do it also. Michael Gordon at The New York Times: Kerry Apologizes for Remark That Israel Risks Apartheid

US-Secretary-Of-State-John-Kerry

In the statement that Mr. Kerry issued Monday, which bore the title “On Support for Israel,” he said that he had been a staunch supporter of Israel during his years as a senator and had spent many hours since working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.

“For more than 30 years in the United States Senate, I didn’t just speak words in support of Israel,” Mr. Kerry said in his statement. “I walked the walk when it came time to vote and when it came time to fight.”

Mr. Kerry added that he did not believe that Israel was an “apartheid state” or intended to become one. Mr. Kerry did not dispute he had used the phrase but said it had led to a “misimpression” about his views.

“If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution,” he said.

“In the long term, a unitary, binational state cannot be the democratic Jewish state that Israel deserves or the prosperous state with full rights that the Palestinian people deserve,” he added.

Kerry has now been attacked for his remarks by Senators Ted Cruz and Barabara Boxer. Quite an achievement!

Rogin’s latest “exclusive,” published this morning, reveals (surprise, surprise!) that the U.S. is spying on calls between Russia and it’s spies on the ground in Eastern Ukraine. You’d think that would be a good thing, but in the age of Greenwaldian “advocacy journalism,” maybe not. Rogin:

“Intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow and everybody can tell the difference in the accents, in the idioms, in the language. We know exactly who’s giving those orders, we know where they are coming from,” Kerry said at a private meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Washington. A recording of Kerry’s remarks was obtained by The Daily Beast.

Kerry didn’t name specific Russian officials implicated in the recordings. But he claimed that the intercepts provided proof of the Russians deliberately fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine—and lying about it to U.S. officials and the public.

“It’s not an accident that you have some of the same people identified who were in Crimea and in Georgia and who are now in east Ukraine,” said Kerry. “This is insulting to everybody’s intelligence, let alone to our notions about how we ought to be behaving in the 21st century. It’s thuggism, it’s rogue state-ism. It’s the worst order of behavior.”

Rogin goes on to speculate on whether the NSA has now corrected issues that prevented them from receiving accurate intelligence on Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine and annex Crimea and explains the methods NSA uses to collected such information. I guess they will have to go back to the drawing board again now? In the latest piece, Rogin still does not state that he is the source of the tapes of Kerry’s remarks.

Reuters has an article this morning on Israel’s latest plans: Israeli politicians seek to bypass talks, set own boundaries.

With Middle East peace talks frozen and expectations of a negotiated deal at an all-time low, a growing number of Israeli politicians believe it is time for the government to set the nation’s own borders unilaterally.

Some seek the annexation of most of the occupied West Bank, others say only the big Jewish settlement blocs should be brought under Israeli sovereignty, while a third group calls for a partial pullout to create a de facto Palestinian state.

Such actions would break the dynamics of the U.S.-driven peace process, which has been bogged down by years of failure and recrimination. By the same token, it would likely unleash a firestorm of protest at home and abroad.

Isn’t that just ducky? Read lots of details at the link.

This is just breaking (9AM EST) . . . there has been a mass shooting at a FedEx location in Georgia.

FedEx shooting

From NBC News: FedEx Facility Shooting Prompts Massive Police Response

At least six people were injured in a shooting early Tuesday at a FedEx facility in Kennesaw, Ga., officials said.

The male gunman remained at large, and police said they are sweeping the surrounding area, reported NBC affiliate WXIA-TV.

Cobb County police said the call came in at 5:44 a.m., prompting a lockdown of the facility on Airport Road and more than 50 emergency vehicles to arrive at the scene. The injured were taken to the hospital, and at least one person was taken immediately to the operating room, WXIA reported.

That’s all I have for you today–I hope you’ll also post your links in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads: Boston Marathon Bombing Anniversary, Tom Lehrer and NSA, and Other News

Good Morning!!

 

Sports Illustrated photo shoot, Copley Sq. Boston, April 12, 2014

Sports Illustrated photo shoot, Copley Sq. Boston, April 12, 2014

One year ago today, this was the scene at the Boston Marathon finish line.

 

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One year ago today, the finish line of the Boston Marathon was rocked by two explosions that left three young people dead and 260 people injured–many with with limbs blown off by the crude bombs.  A year later, the survivors–and the city are still recovering. Last year I was listening to the radio when suddenly I realized something terrible had happened. I rushed to turn on the TV and try to figure out what was going on. It was a disaster. People were lying in the street bleeding along with separated body parts. What could have happened?

Just watching it on TV, I was so shaken that for the next week or so I was in shock. My hands shook, I was easily startled, and I felt an inner tremor that wouldn’t go away. I can’t even imagine what it must have felt like to be on the scene or to be one of the injured. But that wasn’t the end of it. Late at night on April 18, word came that a campus police officer had been shot at killed at M.I.T. and an SUV had been hijacked, presumably by the shooter or shooters. I stayed up all night listening to police scanners on line a following reports on Twitter. I knew immediately this must have something to do with the suspected bombers, whose photos had been released to the public earlier that day.

The suspects had driven through Brighton, Watertown, Waltham, and back to Cambridge. They had driven through Watertown three times–who knows why. I suspect they thought there was someone there who would help them hide from the police. One of the suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died that night after a dramatic firefight; but the other, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev somehow escaped in the stolen SUV. He wasn’t caught until the next day.

At some point the Governor asked people to “shelter in place” in much of Boston as well as Watertown and nearby suburbs. There’s a misconception that this was “martial law,” but there was no “order” for people to stay indoors, and many went out and were not arrested or anything. Still it was shocking. Even more shocking were the massive numbers of law enforcement officers in the streets of a residential neighborhood–knocking on doors and asking to search houses. At one point, hundreds of rounds were fired at a boat in a backyard where the second suspect was believed to be hiding. It was clear that the response by law enforcement was not particularly well organized.

Now, a year later there are still many questions about what happened, about the suspects, and the response by federal, state, and local law enforcement.  I’ll spare you further details, but here are a couple of news links to anyone who cares to click on them.

Boston Globe: Marathon victims’ families, survivors gather in Boston

Jun Lu and Ling Meng felt they had to make the 7,000-mile trek from their home in China.

After losing their only child, Lingzi Lu, at last year’s Boston Marathon, they wanted to be at the race, cheering on runners.

“We cherish everything that Lingzi was a part of,” Jun Lu said through an interpreter. “Even though last year’s Marathon [was tragic], we want to be there to witness something good come out of it.”

Lu and Meng will be among the many family members of victims coming to Boston this week for official remembrances that are stirring up hope, but also pain.

Survivors, too, will make the trip for informal reunions with the EMTs and police officers who stanched their bleeding and the doctors and nurses who helped them heal.

On Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the bombings, Vice President Joe Biden will lead a ceremony at the Hynes Convention Center, followed by a flag-raising and a moment of silence at the finish line.

“The last year has been very painful,” said Lu, whose daughter, a 23-year-old graduate student at Boston University, is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery. “But fortunately, we’ve received so much love from people all over the world. We’re humbled.”

Boston Globe: A year since Marathon attacks, many of wounded struggle

A year later, shattered bones have knitted back together, burned skin has regrown, and the survivors who lost legs are walking on prosthetic limbs. What remains for many are the relentless injuries nobody sees.

While there have been remarkable stories of recovery and perseverance among the 275 wounded in the twin explosions on Marathon Day 2013, many still battle hearing loss, ringing ears, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

One shakes so badly from anxiety that he has a hard time working as a carpenter. Another, college freshman Sydney Corcoran of Lowell, has developed an eating disorder. Corcoran has endured leg surgeries, complications, and more surgeries, but her emotional scars run deeper. She is often on edge, startles easily, and has trouble sleeping, symptoms of PTSD.

Her mother, Celeste Corcoran, was seriously injured in the blast, too, with legs so mangled both had to be amputated. “My legs were blown off and that’s huge,” she said. “But so many more people suffer in silence because everybody looks at them and sees this whole person.”

On a day for gauging how far they have come, many of the survivors are thankful for the progress they have made in the hands of skilled and caring doctors, nurses, and therapists. Still, some have nerve damage in their legs that has not healed, and the 16 people who lost legs have had to get their prosthetics adjusted repeatedly as their residual limbs shrink.

Vanity Fair: Boston Marathon Bombing Anniversary Prompts Tributes—and Unanswered Questions

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing that left three dead, wounded 264 runners and revelers, and began a bizarre manhunt for the attack’s perpetrators that would end in a shootout four days later.

President Barack Obama and his senior advisers scheduled a moment of silence in the Oval Office at 2:40 P.M., according to Politico. The attacks took place at 2:49 P.M. local Boston time….

Mental-health experts also told the Globe that anxiety is likely to affect children and other victims of the attack as the anniversary approached, and that such concerns affect not only those who witnessed the actual bombing but also those who endured the ensuing lockdown of much of the city.

I can vouch for that. I’m feeling very shaky this morning and I have that familiar fluttering tremor in the center of my chest and an anxious knot in my stomach. As for the questions:

An investigation by Vocativ into the alleged national-security failures that left the Tsarnaevs—who the F.B.I. had been told to look out for by Russian authorities—unaccounted for in the days before the attack revealed that the F.B.I. had indeed lost track of the eventual bombers. In an unclassified report, agents admit a “huge lapse” could have “changed everything.” Meanwhile, the A.C.L.U. has sued the F.B.I. for more information in the death of Ibragim Todashev, an alleged Tsarnaev associate who an F.B.I. agent shot and killed while he was allegedly confessing to he and Tamerlan’s involvement in a 2011 triple murder. A year after the marathon bombing, it seems as though questions of justice surrounding those accused of perpetrating the attack are far from answered.

In other news . . . one silly story and a link dump:

Tom Lehrer performing

Tom Lehrer performing

Do you remember Tom Lehrer? Back in the ’50s he wrote a sang darkly humorous satirical songs. A few days ago, Ben Smith had an interesting article about him at Buzzfeed, Looking For Tom Lehrer, Comedy’s Mysterious Genius. Here a bit of it:

Lehrer had been a sensation in the late 1950s, the era’s musical nerd god: a wryly confident Harvard-educated math prodigy who turned his bone-dry wit to satirical musical comedy. His sound looked further back, to Broadway of the ‘20s and ‘30s — a man and a piano, crisp and clever — but his lyrics were funny and sharp to the point of drawing blood, and sometimes appalling. One famous ditty celebrates an afternoon spent “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.”Another cheerful number, “So Long Mom,” dwells on the details of nuclear holocaust. “I Got It from Agnes” is an extended joke about sexually transmitted disease….

In the recent history of American music, there’s no figure parallel to Lehrer in his effortless ascent to fame, his trajectory into the heart of the culture — and then his quiet, amiable, inexplicable departure. During his golden decade, he appeared on The Tonight Show twice,drew a denunciation in Time magazine, and by the early 1960s, seemed poised for a lasting place on an American cultural scene that itself was undergoing a radical upheaval.

Then Lehrer simply stopped performing. His entire body of work topped out at 37 songs. He bounced around Cambridge, never quite finishing his doctorate on the concept of the mode — the most common number in a set — in statistics. He kept the Sparks Street house but began spending most of his time in Santa Cruz, Calif., where he became a beloved instructor in math and musical theater for some 40 years.

“There’s never been anyone like him,” said Sir Cameron Mackintosh, the legendary Broadway producer who created Tom Foolery, a musical revue of Lehrer’s songs, in the ’70s. “Of all famous songwriters, he’s probably the only one that, in the great sense of the word, is an amateur in that he never wanted to be professional. And yet the work he did is of the highest quality of any great songwriter.”

It turns out Lehrer is still alive at the age of 86. Buried deep in Smith’s article is a brief, off-hand mention that Lehrer once worked for the National Security Agency (NSA). It was while he was in the army from 1955-57. Calling Greenwald and Snowden! Time to demolish Lehrer for his perfidy! Amazing, it’s even in his Wikipedia entry–who knew? And he worked at Los Alamos before that.

Tom Lehrer, then and now

Tom Lehrer, then and now

From an interview with Lehrer I found; I don’t know the date:

>GEO: I was surprised to learn that you enlisted in the Army back in 1955.

TOM LEHRER: That’s one way of putting it, but probably not the appropriate verb. The point is that they were drafting people up to the age of 35. So I dodged the draft for as long as anybody was shooting at anybody. And then when I realized that I would have to go — there was really no way out of it except getting an essential full time job, which I didn’t really want to do — I waited until everything was calm and then surrendered to the draft board. I wouldn’t call it “enlist”. “Enlist” means that you have to spend another year. I allowed myself to be drafted. I was 27 at the time and there were a lot of graduate students who were like me who had gotten deferred as graduate students and now had to pay up. So it was a kind of an odd group there, a lot of educated people in my “outfit”, I believe is the word. And we had a lot of fun. So I did that for two years in Washington DC and had a great time — especially since there was no war — though vice president Nixon was trying to get us into one in Indo-China even then. So there was that little threat. And there was Suez and a few other little things that looked a little tricky. But it didn’t look like there was going to be a real war. So it seemed to be safe to go in. And I’m sure that a lot of my cohort felt the same way.

>GEO: And what did you do?

TOM LEHRER: It was NSA. I think I’m allowed to say that now. I asked around before I surrender [sic] to be sure that I would not be in special services or something playing volleyball with the troops in Korea. I wanted to make sure that I got a nice cushy job. We were called “The Chair Borned”. And I found out that they were hiring mathematicians. So I arranged to be hired.

A few more interesting stories:

CNN: ‘Blood moon’ mesmerizes sky gazers.

NYT: Ukraine Falters in Drive to Curb Unrest in East.

Reuters: Russia says Ukraine close to civil war as Kiev begins offensive.

Politico: George Bush’s Paintings Aren’t Funny. But they are fascinating.

Fox News: Teen punished for recording alleged bullying to sue school district.

LA Times: Sex offenders charged with rape, murder of four Orange County women.

NY Daily News: Sex offender serial killers wore GPS trackers when raping, killing at least 4 women: police 

 

 So . . . What are you hearing and reading. Please share your recommended links in the comments.

 

 


Tuesday Reads: Winter Weather, No Hillary Alternatives, New Snowden Leaks, and More

Cassidy, Arlene - Lazy afternoon

Good Morning!!

I’m awaiting what I hope is the last snowstorm to hit the Boston area for a week or so. This one won’t be a big deal compared to what we’ve been hit by over the past few weeks. It will snow most of the day and we’ll end up with another five inches of snow on top of the giant pile of white stuff that is already on the ground.

The good news is that beginning tomorrow and going through the weekend, we are expecting temperatures in the 40s and 50s, along with rain. That should help wash some of the snow away. The Weather Channel has live updates on how this storm is affecting other parts of the country.

While I was perusing the Weather Channel page this morning, I came across this article–with amazing photos–of the coldest city in the world.

Think we’re having a brutal winter? Winter temperatures in Oymyakon, Russia, average minus 50 C (minus 58 F). The remote village is generally considered the coldest inhabited area on Earth. Oymyakon is a two-day drive from Yakutsk, the regional capital which has the lowest winter temperatures of any city in the world.

How do the locals deal with the cold? “Russki chai, literally Russian tea, which is their word for vodka,” photographer Amos Chapple told weather.com after his visit to the coldest city.

Oymyakon ironically means “unfrozen water.” This is due to the thermal spring located nearby. Originally the location was used by reindeer herders who would water their flock in the warm springs.

Oymyakon’s lowest recorded temperature was a frigid minus 71.2  C (minus 96.16 F) back in 1924. According to The Independent, wearing glasses outdoors can cause them to stick to the wearer’s face. This is just one of the more menial problems of the extremely cold weather

After reading that, I suddenly felt very comfy in my cozy house with the temperature outside a mild 18 degrees F.

Hillary_Clinton_Twitter.JPEG-0e86c-6747

Whether we like it or not–and I absolutely hate it–the 2016 presidential race has already begun, and along with it the endless Hillary-bashing that we’ll have to put up with not only from Republicans but also from a subset of Democrats. Republicans will need to be reminded that Hillary is running, not “the Clintons”; and Democrats will have to learn that if they don’t want Jeb Bush as president, Hillary is the best alternative.

It’s a little unnerving that Bob Shrum agrees with me, since he’s rarely backed a winner; but honestly in this case he’s right. From The Daily Beast: Yes, Pundits, Hillary Has the 2016 Nomination in the Bag.

Handicappers in the presidential race abhor the opposite of a vacuum—a campaign two years out where one candidate seems to blot out the entire field. Thus a mini-chorus now rises, and may swell, questioning Hillary Clinton’s apparent lock on the 2016 Democratic nomination. It’s a predictable reflex, but in cold, hard reality, logic suggests that the lock is authentic, not just apparent. And in modern history, or virtually all American history, Hillary’s inevitability is unprecedented for a non-incumbent.

Yes, there are pundits like Matt Bai and Krystal Ball who claim that Hillary is vulnerable to a “grass roots” challenge, but they’re in fantasy land. In response to Ball’s suggestion that Elizabeth Warren should be the candidate, because she is “clearly passionate, living and breathing and feeling … the plight of the worker, the middle class,” Shrum writes:

Hillary, Ball asserts, can’t do that because she was once on the board of Walmart and recently accepted speaking fees from Goldman Sachs. That attack, if an opponent advanced it, could and would be swiftly confounded by the Hillary who, in the penultimate primaries of 2008, in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, emerged as a powerful, persuasive tribune of blue-collar and middle-class Americans.

Of course, there is another slight problem with the Warren option: She’s joined all the other Democratic women senators in signing a letter urging Hillary to run.Warren will probably be out there all right—stumping for Hillary, not against her.

There’s much more at the link about other possible candidates like Andrew Cuomo and Martin O’Malley.

Let me add, btw, for Warren fans who claim that Hillary is “too old,” Warren will be 67 in 2016–just two years younger than Clinton. That’s leaving aside the fact that she has far less political experience than Barack Obama did in 2008 and zero foreign policy experience.

Over at that bastion of Hillary-hatred, DailyKos, Markos broke the news to his followers yesterday: The real primary fight of 2016 (and it’s not an alternative to Hillary.”

Some people have to come to terms. And I’m looking at you, people desperate to find an alternative to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

If Hillary runs, she’s the nominee. I know it’s in vogue to talk about how “inevitable” Hillary was in 2008. But it was a different world. I remember it because I was in the midst of that battle. People wanted an alternative, and alternatives existed. At her best, Hillary’s poll numbers were in the 40s with Obama in the strong 20s. Look for yourself. Yes, she was the frontrunner, but there was a strong primary field within striking distance.

There is no alternative to Hillary this cycle. The last time anyone polled the Democratic primary field, Clinton had 73 percent of the vote, Biden 11, and Elizabeth Warren nine. That tells us a couple of things. One, 73 percent is A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE. She is the consensus nominee, and if you disagree, you are objectively in the deep minority. Second of all, there is no one to provide even nominal challenge. Clinton (again, assuming she runs) will have some “challengers”, but it’ll be a bunch of people auditioning for her VP slot.

To reiterate, leads like 45-25 in 2007 didn’t make Hillary “inevitable”. Numbers like 73-11 in 2014 absolutely do. And you know what? Those are not irrational numbers. Hillary will be a great president.

Elizabeth Warren isn’t running. I get why people persist with this fantasy, but it’s nothing more than a fantasy. Warren had to be dragged in kicking and screaming into the Massachusetts Senate race, a geographically small state in which she could sleep in her own bed every night. If you barely have the fire to run for Senate, then you absolutely don’t have the fire to mount a brutal presidential campaign. And even if she did, all she’d have to do is look at the polling (73-9!) to realize she’d have a million better things to do with her time and her donors’ money. SHE. AIN’T. RUNNING.

So, I guess we’ll have to wait and see if some Democrats are willing to try to sabotage the party’s chances of continuing to control the White House and very likely Congress as well. It could end up being similar to what the Republicans did to Mitt Romney in 2012. But this time, there won’t be real competition on the Republican side. Who are they going to run? Mitt Romney again? Paul Ryan? My guess is Jeb Bush would be afraid to run against Hillary.

NSA at night

There’s a new article up at Glenn Greenwald’s new site, The Intercept: Snowden Documents Reveal Covert Surveillance and Pressure Tactics Aimed at WikiLeaks and Its Supporters. I haven’t had time to read the whole thing yet, because I want to get this post up soon. I’ll read it carefully once I’ve done that. But here’s the introduction:

Top-secret documents from the National Security Agency and its British counterpart reveal for the first time how the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom targeted WikiLeaks and other activist groups with tactics ranging from covert surveillance to prosecution.

The efforts – detailed in documents provided previously by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – included a broad campaign of international pressure aimed not only at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but at what the U.S. government calls “the human network that supports WikiLeaks.” The documents also contain internal discussions about targeting the file-sharing site Pirate Bay and hacktivist collectives such as Anonymous.

One classified document from Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s top spy agency, shows that GCHQ used its surveillance system to secretly monitor visitors to a WikiLeaks site. By exploiting its ability to tap into the fiber-optic cables that make up the backbone of the Internet, the agency confided to allies in 2012, it was able to collect the IP addresses of visitors in real time, as well as the search terms that visitors used to reach the site from search engines like Google.

Another classified document from the U.S. intelligence community, dated August 2010, recounts how the Obama administration urged foreign allies to file criminal charges against Assange over the group’s publication of the Afghanistan war logs.

A third document, from July 2011, contains a summary of an internal discussion in which officials from two NSA offices – including the agency’s general counsel and an arm of its Threat Operations Center – considered designating WikiLeaks as “a ‘malicious foreign actor’ for the purpose of targeting.” Such a designation would have allowed the group to be targeted with extensive electronic surveillance – without the need to exclude U.S. persons from the surveillance searches.

My immediate reaction is that if NSA were not monitoring Wikileaks, they would not be doing their job. As for the claims that individual visitors to the website were actually targeted, I’ll have to reserve judgment until I read the whole piece and it has been fact-checked by people who understand the technology involved better than the authors. I’ve learned from months of experience that Glenn Greenwald’s articles tend to be filled with errors as well as over-the-top melodrama.

In other NSA news, James Clapper admitted in an interview with Eli Lake of The Daily Beast that “We Should’ve Told You We Track Your Calls.”

Ya think? Here’s an excerpt:

Clapper said the problems facing the U.S. intelligence community over its collection of phone records could have been avoided. “I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will. Had we been transparent about this from the outset right after 9/11—which is the genesis of the 215 program—and said both to the American people and to their elected representatives, we need to cover this gap, we need to make sure this never happens to us again, so here is what we are going to set up, here is how it’s going to work, and why we have to do it, and here are the safeguards… We wouldn’t have had the problem we had,” Clapper said.

“What did us in here, what worked against us was this shocking revelation,” he said, referring to the first disclosures from Snowden. If the program had been publicly introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, most Americans would probably have supported it. “I don’t think it would be of any greater concern to most Americans than fingerprints. Well people kind of accept that because they know about it. But had we been transparent about it and say here’s one more thing we have to do as citizens for the common good, just like we have to go to airports two hours early and take our shoes off, all the other things we do for the common good, this is one more thing.”

Since the first Snowden revelations in June, Clapper has declassified reams of material relating to the 215 program, including opinions and warrants signed by the top secret court that approves domestic snooping. But he has not publicly acknowledged until now his thoughts that the initial secrecy surrounding the program was ill-considered.

No shit Sherlock! Americans most likely would have supported the program if the Bush administration had been up front about it. Of course, then Congress would have regulated it more–as is happening under Obama–and that wouldn’t have pleased President Cheney. Even now, if Obama and NSA officials would come out and explain exactly what the program is, the fear-mongering by Greenwald and the gang would be far less effective.

Basically, the “metadata” that is collected is just the same information that we used to get on our phone bills: time call was initiated, how long it lasted, and the number that was called. The phone company kept all this “metadata” on file, and law enforcement could access the phone records of a suspect by getting a warrant from a judge–which is the same thing the NSA does. I have way fewer problems with this kind of data collection than what corporations are doing on a daily basis with my internet browsing and purchases.

I’ll end with a couple of fun items.

First, I hope you’ll check out these awesome photos of Russians with their cats at Buzzfeed.

Kerouac map

Second, from The Guardian: Kerouac’s On the Road followed on the road via Google Maps:

“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream,” wrote Jack Kerouac, famously, in On the Road. “Head northwest on W 47th St toward 7th Ave. Take the 1st left onto 7th Ave. Turn right onto W 39th St,” writes Gregor Weichbrodt, less poetically but more accurately, in On the Road for 17527 Miles, a new book tracing the Beat writer’s famous journey across America – with the aid of Google Maps.

Going through On the Road with a fine-toothed comb, Weichbrodt took the “exact and approximate” spots to which the author – via his alter ego Sal Paradise – travelled, and entered them into Google’s Direction Service. “The result is a huge direction instruction of 55 pages,” says the German student. “All in all, as Google shows, the journey takes 272.26 hours (for 17,527 miles).”

Weichbrodt’s chapters match those of Kerouac’s original. He has now self-published the book, which is also part of the current exhibition Poetry Will Be Made By All! in Zurich, and has, he says, sold six copies so far.

You can read the book at at Open Culture. The site has also published a photo of Jack Kerouac’s Hand-Drawn Map of the Hitchhiking Trip Narrated in On the Road. Very cool.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread, and have a tremendous Tuesday!


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.

Ě—0

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!


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.