Thursday Reads: Civil Rights Struggle, Syria Intervention, NYPD Spying, Boston Bombing, and “League of Denial”

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Good Morning!!

I’ve got so much news for you this morning, I don’t know if I’ll have room in a reasonable-length post, so I’ll get right to it. I’ll begin with some stories on yesterday’s 50th anniversary of the March On Washington.

PBS had an amazing interview with Rep John Lewis in which he recounted his memories of that day in 1963 and the speech he gave as a youthful leader in the Civil Rights Movement: ‘I Felt That We Had to Be Tough’: John Lewis Remembers the March on Washington. I hope you’ll read the whole thing, but here’s a brief excerpt:

REP. JOHN LEWIS, D-Ga.: On that day, I was blessed.

I felt like I had been tracked down by some force or some spirit. I will never forget when A. Philip Randolph said, “I now present to you young John Lewis, the national chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.”

And I went to the podium. I looked to my right. I saw many, many young people, staffers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, volunteers. Then I looked to my left. I saw all these young people up in the trees, trying to get a better view of the podium.

Then I looked straight ahead. And I saw so many people with their feet in the water trying to cool off. And then I said to myself, this is it, and I went for it.

On meeting with President Kennedy before the March, and how the podium and the crowd came to be so diverse:

He [JFK] didn’t like the idea of a March on Washington.

When we met with him, A. Philip Randolph spoke up in his baritone voice we met with the president. And he said, “Mr. President, the black masses are restless. And we are going to march on Washington.”

And you could tell by the movement of President Kennedy — he started moving and twisting in his chair. And he said, in effect, that if you bring all these people to Washington, won’t it be violence and chaos and disorder?

Mr. Randolph responded and said, “Mr. President, there’s been orderly, peaceful, nonviolent protests.”

And President Kennedy said, in so many words, I think we are going to have problems. So we left that meeting with President Kennedy. We came out on the lawn at the White House and spoke to the media and said, we had a meaningful and productive meeting with the president of the United States. And we told him we’re going to March on Washington.

And a few days later, July 2, 1963, the six of us met in New York City at the old Roosevelt Hotel. And in that meeting, we made a decision to invite four major white religious and labor leaders to join us in issuing the call for the March on Washington.

American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger (left) adopted and helped popularize "We Shall Overcome" by teaching the song at rallies and protests. Here he sings with activists in Greenwood, Miss., in 1963. (NPR)

American folk singer and activist Pete Seeger (left) adopted and helped popularize “We Shall Overcome” by teaching the song at rallies and protests. Here he sings with activists in Greenwood, Miss., in 1963. (NPR)

NPR had a wonderful story yesterday about the history of the Civil Rights Movement’s signature song: The Inspiring Force Of ‘We Shall Overcome’.

It is not a marching song. It is not necessarily defiant. It is a promise: “We shall overcome someday. Deep in my heart, I do believe.”

It has been a civil rights song for 50 years now, heard not just in the U.S. but in North Korea, in Beirut, in Tiananmen Square, in South Africa’s Soweto Township. But “We Shall Overcome” began as a folk song, a work song. Slaves in the fields would sing, ‘I’ll be all right someday.’ It became known in the churches. A Methodist minister, Charles Albert Tindley, published a version in 1901: “I’ll Overcome Someday.”

The first political use came in 1945 in Charleston, S.C. There was a strike against the American Tobacco Co. The workers wanted a raise; they were making 45 cents an hour. They marched and sang together on the picket line, “We will overcome, and we will win our rights someday.”

There’s much more about how the song was passed from group to group and changed over time. Please give it a listen–it’s only about 8 minutes long, but really fascinating.

Not a single Republican appeared at yesterday’s commemoration of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. George W. Bush and his father George H.W. Bush couldn’t come because of health issues, but John Boehner and Eric Cantor are presumably in good health, but they refused offers to make speeches at the event, according to Roll Call.

That wasn’t a wise choice, said Julian Bond, a renowned civil rights activist, in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday afternoon.

“What’s really telling, I think, is the podium behind me, just count at the end of the day how many Republicans will be there,” Bond told news anchor Alex Wagner. “They asked senior President Bush to come, he was ill. They asked junior Bush, he said he had to stay with his father.

“They asked a long list of Republicans to come,” Bond continued, “and to a man and woman they said ‘no.’ And that they would turn their backs on this event was telling of them, and the fact that they seem to want to get black votes, they’re not gonna get ‘em this way.” [….]

Cantor’s decision to turn down the invitation to speak is especially striking given his stated commitment to passing a rewrite of the Voting Rights Act in the 113th Congress, and the many opportunities he has taken over the past several weeks to publicly reflect on the experience of traveling with Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., to Selma, Ala.

Sadly, Dr. King’s dream of peace has not made much progress in the past 50 years. And now the U.S. and its allies are considering another military intervention–in Syria.

Fortunately, the UK is now hesitating. NYT: Britain to Wait on Weapons Report Ahead of Syria Strikes.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, who runs a coalition government, is facing political difficulties from legislators mindful of the experience in Iraq, when assurances from Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction proved inaccurate and a false pretext for war.

Mr. Cameron bowed on Wednesday to pressure from the opposition Labour Party and to some within his own coalition who want to allow United Nations weapons inspectors a chance to report their findings and for the United Nations Security Council to make one more effort to give a more solid legal backing to military action against Damascus.

At BBC News, Nick Robinson explains why Cameron “buckled.”

If you think that NSA domestic spying is invasive, you should take a look at what the NYPD has been up to since 9/11. Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman of the AP have a new book out called Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America. There’s an excerpt at New York Magazine: The NYPD Division of Un-American Activities. It’s long, but a very important story. Please give it a read if you can.

Yesterday Apuzzo and Goldman published a related shocking story at AP: NYPD designates mosques as terrorism organizations.

The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen “terrorism enterprise investigations” into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents. The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like.

Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise.

The documents show in detail how, in its hunt for terrorists, the NYPD investigated countless innocent New York Muslims and put information about them in secret police files. As a tactic, opening an enterprise investigation on a mosque is so potentially invasive that while the NYPD conducted at least a dozen, the FBI never did one, according to interviews with federal law enforcement officials.

Tsarnaev
Boston Magazine has published more photos from “Behind the Scenes of The Hunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.”  Above is a photo of Tsarnaev exiting the boat in which he hid for hours as law enforcement searched all over Watertown for him. See more photos at the link.

In more hopeful news, one long-hospitalized survivor of the bombings was given the go-ahead to return home to California yesterday: Boston Marathon bomb survivor John Odom set to return home to Torrance (Daily Breeze News).

Nearly five months after a bomb almost took his life at the Boston Marathon, John Odom of Torrance was cleared by doctors on Wednesday to finally come home.

Odom’s wife, Karen, who has never left her husband’s side, has been chronicling her husband’s long recovery on Facebook, called it a “monumental” day.

“It’s official, John is released to go home!!!” she posted on the John Odom Support Page. “Although his recovery is nowhere near complete, there is no medical or physical reason he can’t fly home and continue his recovery in California. We are hoping to be home the end of next week, a few days shy of 5 months since we left on that now famous 4 day trip.”

“Famous” is one way to put it. The couple could have never imagined the journey they’ve been on since April 15.

Read the rest of this moving story at the link.

On October 8th and 15th, NPR’s Frontline plans to show League of Denial,a two-part two-part investigation examining whether — as thousands of former players allege — the NFL has covered up the risks of football on the brain.” The documentary has so far been produced in partnership with ESPN, but last week the sports channel backed out of the collaboration presumably because of pressure from the NFL. From The New Republic: ESPN Quit Its Concussions Investigation With ‘Frontline’ Under Curious Circumstances.

“Frontline,” the prestigious, multiple-Emmy-winning investigative news show produced by Boston’s PBS member station, announced late Thursday afternoon that a 15-month-old partnership with ESPN in which they published a series of pieces exploring how the National Football League has (and has not) accounted for the relationship between playing football, head trauma, and brain damage, had come to an end. Dating back to last November, “Frontline” had run articles on its site featuring the work of Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, ESPN staffers (and brothers) even as these articles appeared at espn.com and as the brothers did segments for ESPN’s award-winning investigative series “Outside the Lines.” The end result—in addition to abook that the brothers are publishing in October—was to be a “Frontline” documentary, League of Denial (also the book’s title).

According to “Frontline,” the documentary will premiere this season on October 8 and 15, but, “from now on, at ESPN’s request, we will no longer use their logos and collaboration credit on these sites and on our upcoming film.” Executive producer David Fanning and deputy executive producer Raney Aronson expressed their “regret” and credited ESPN with “a productive partnership.” They added, “The film is still being edited and has not been seen by ESPN news executives, although we were on schedule to share it with them for their editorial input.”

Aronson told me late Thursday that ESPN contacted “Frontline” last Friday to request that it remove ESPN’s logo from its website, citing the technicality that it was a “trademark issue.” It wasn’t until Monday, after the latest collaboration was published on “Frontline”’s website and aired on “OTL,” that ESPN also requested that language describing collaboration not be used, and that it became clear the collaboration itself was coming to an end.

The circumstances are indeed mysterious. Perhaps it was over-cautiousness on ESPN’s part or perhaps indirect pressure from the League. If you’re interested in this important story, go read Marc Tracy’s piece at TNR.

A couple more useful links on this story:

PBS: Questions Over NFL Doctor Cloud League’s Concussion Case

Bill Littlefield at NPR’s Only a Game: ESPN And Frontline Part Ways Over ‘League Of Denial’

The authors of the book League of Denial will continue their involvement with the Frontline presentation.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll end there, and add a few more links in the comments. Now what stories are you following today? Please share your links in the thread below.


Open Thread: Late Afternoon News Update

Afternoon-Coffee

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!!

Here’s an fresh thread, since the morning reads one is getting so long. I have several updates for you on the Snowden/NSA story.

Eli Lake of The Daily Beast got some disturbing news from Glenn Greenwald: Snowden’s Files Are Out There if “Anything Happens” To Him. I posted this link on the previous thread, but it should be highlighted. According to Greenwald, Snowden gave complete copies of the the secret NSA files he stole to “many people around the world.” Supposedly the files are encrypted, but from what we know of Snowden’s spycraft knowledge, I don’t think that’s a guarantee that they’ll stay secret. From The Daily Beast article:

Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian Newspaper journalist Snowden first contacted in February, told the Daily Beast Tuesday that Snowden “has taken extreme precautions to make sure many different people around the world have these archives to insure the stories will inevitably be published.” Greenwald added that the people in possession of these files “cannot access them yet because they are highly encrypted and they do not have the passwords.” But, Greenwald said, “if anything happens at all to Edward Snowden, he told me he has arranged for them to get access to the full archives.” [….]

A former U.S. counter-intelligence officer following the Snowden saga closely said his contacts inside the U.S. intelligence community “think Snowden has been planning this for years and has stashed files all over the internet.” This source added, “At this point there is very little anyone can do about this.”

Greenwald assured Lake that although he (Greenwald) is in possession of top secret information about “the technical specifications of NSA systems,” but that he won’t publish them. I wonder how well Greenwald’s computer is protected?

On Snowden’s aforementioned spycraft skills, let’s see what a real former spy thinks. From Foreign Policy:

We reached out to FP contributor David Gomez, a former assistant special agent-in-charge and counterterrorism program manager with the FBI, to get his take. When was Snowden being savvy — and when did it seem as if he’d just watched a few too many spy movies?

Cell phones in the fridge

While it’s true that cell phones can easily be compromised and turned into recording devices, Gomez says it’s unlikely that anyone seeking to record Snowden would have used a phone anyway. If someone had wanted to eavesdrop, Gomez explains, he or she more likely would have worn a concealed wire. Or, if a government’s agents had been trying to listen in from outside of the room, they might have deployed a long-range microphone, among other techniques. The bottom line: a refrigerated cell phone probably wasn’t stopping anyone who wanted to listen badly enough — though it may have extended the phone’s battery life.

Lining the hotel door with pillows

While not particularly effective at stopping anyone actively seeking to spy on Snowden, pillows could have muffled the sounds of any conversations going on in his Hong Kong hotel room enough that an unsuspecting person passing by wouldn’t overhear something alarming, Gomez says.

Wearing a hood while entering computer passwords, to avoid hidden cameras

The danger while entering computer passwords is unlikely to come from a hidden camera planted in the hotel, Gomez says, but rather from keystroke-logging software, against which a hoodie provides little protection.

Signaling his identity to reporters by carrying a Rubik’s Cube through a hotel

While spies do at times use signals to identify one another, the idea in doing so is to not draw attention to yourself, Gomez explains. Thus, when arranging a meeting, as Snowden did with a group of journalists in Hong Kong, it is both unhelpful and unnecessary to carry something as out of place as a Rubik’s Cube. It would have been better, Gomez adds, for Snowden to have simply described, say, his clothing in detail. “If you’re going to meet with all these people, what’s the point of being Sneaky Pete?” Gomez asks.

Gomez says Snowden seems to be an amateur.

Read the rest of this entry »