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Updated: 21 hours 8 min ago

Pennsylvania Political Consultant Lied to FBI

Mon, 2017-12-11 09:34
Putin Starts Syrian Troop Withdrawal on Surprise Air Base Visit (Trevin)

On Monday, upon arrival at Hmeymim, Russia’s main air base in Syria, Putin declared the Kremlin’s mission of defeating Islamist terrorists and ending the Syrian civil war accomplished.

Politicians’ Sudden Turnaround on Sexual Misconduct (Reader Steve)

In 2016, Susan Rubio obtained a restraining order against her then-husband — former Assemblyman Roger Hernandez. Rubio’s colleagues were silent at the time and chose to stand by the assemblyman. Now, despite their past actions, they are speaking out in support of victims of sexual misconduct.

Will Politics Ruin #MeToo Movement? (Dan)

Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, Paula Jones, and Bill Clinton. What do all these names have in common? They were part of an earlier movement against sexual misconduct — one that ended with the politicization of the cases — and little progress.

Russiagate Media Debacle (Jimmy)

Glenn Greenwald writes, “Friday was one of the most embarrassing days for the US media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.”

Trump Reportedly Drinks 12 Diet Cokes, Watches Up to 8 Hours of TV Per Day (Jimmy)

As detailed in a recent NYT story.

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Voters Are Left in the Dark By Alabama’s Election System

Mon, 2017-12-11 07:03

On Tuesday night, all eyes will be on Alabama to see who won the special election between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones. But with Alabama’s opaque election process, we may never be certain that the results were accurate.

Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill refuses to preserve the digital ballot records produced by the vote-tabulating machines. Election integrity activist John Brakey, co-founder and executive director of AUDIT-AZ, says this deprives citizens of a means to scrutinize election results for errors — and evidence of rigging. On this basis, he has been instrumental in bringing a lawsuit against Merrill.

This all comes ahead of a highly anticipated special election that could determine the fate of the GOP tax bill in the Senate.

According to the suit, “Alabama election officials are required to save the ballots and other election materials for six (6) months in the case of state elections and twenty-two (22) months in federal elections,” and federal election law “requires the retention of all records, papers, and materials by officials of elections.”

The plaintiffs insist ballot images meet the definitions of both federal election materials and state public record, and therefore qualify for protection.

Alabama’s “optical scan” tabulating systems, which don’t count the ballots themselves but instead scan them and count the resulting image files, purge these files from memory upon shutdown.

Activist Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, a self-described “nonpartisan investigative reporting and public education organization for elections,” told WhoWhatWhy “there’s no legitimate reason” not to preserve the files: it “costs no money and takes no time,” she says, and would be as easy as going into a menu and flipping a switch.

In fact, according to Harris, the manual for Alabama’s DS200 scanners specifically states that “the purpose of the ballot images was to help with auditing.”

Plenty of other states — including Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin — already release their ballot images to the public upon request. Some jurisdictions, like Dane County, WI, go even further and post their ballot images online.

There’s certainly precedent for the plaintiffs’ case that these files qualify for mandatory preservation: Colorado has ruled in favor of keeping the ballot images, as has Arizona — home base for Brakey’s election watchdog organization, AUDIT AZ. Arizona Superior Court Judge Richard Gordon explained, “If you take voted ballots, take a photocopy of them and use those copies to count votes, what makes you think that you can destroy them?”

While Colorado also designated ballot image files as public record, Arizona ultimately decided against making them publicly available.

Secretary Merrill, however, told WhoWhatWhy that, unlike states where physical ballots have been abandoned for electronic touchscreen voting systems, Alabama’s continued use of paper ballots invalidates the plaintiffs’ argument.

Photo credit: Answering the Call

Locked, Sealed, and Inaccessible .

“If we didn’t have the ballot, if we only had a visual image … that would be a completely different situation,” Merrill told WhoWhatWhy. “But we actually have the physical ballot that’s available for people to review. The chain of custody is not broken in that regard.”

While this may be relevant in court, don’t assume this means the ballots are easily accessible. Merrill’s spokesman John Bennett acknowledged that the ballot boxes are sealed.

“There is not an individual in the elections process that would be able to break the seal on those [ballot] boxes,” Bennett told WhoWhatWhy. “None of those people, without a court order, would be able to review those ballots. And the same would apply whether that was a digital image or a paper image.”

Merrill also said that fulfilling Brakey’s preservation requests “is not even allowable by law,” and would require a change in the state’s legal code.

Harris claims that, as states have moved away from the maligned touchscreen systems, it has become common practice for election authorities to enact “very subtle legal changes” to obfuscate election records from the public — a process she refers to (rather unsubtly) as “corruption protection procedures.”

But while these measures may succeed in keeping activists, journalists, and average citizens at bay, there’s no reason to think a lack of legal permission will deter motivated election riggers.

So it seems Alabama is betting big on its election security protocol.

No security system is impenetrable. But in many underfunded, understaffed, and undertrained jurisdictions across the country they’re just plain flimsy. A 2008 YouTube video posted by Black Box shows Harris in a room containing ballots and other election materials. She can be seen easily removing and reapplying a supposedly secure ballot seal — which she described to WhoWhatWhy as a “Post-It note seal” — with ease. Harris claims to have accessed the room via an unlocked door.

Ample documentation of computerized miscounts should be adequate to convince anyone of the need for greater public oversight. But Bennett, unswayed, refuses to cede ground to anyone who “doesn’t trust the process.”

Election integrity advocates contend integrity isn’t built on “trust,” but on a transparent process. It’s not incumbent on the voter to put blind faith in the accuracy of computers and the good will of election officials and poll workers — it’s on the government to prove itself to the citizens.

Photo credit: Jamie / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

After all, says Harris, Freedom of Information law is “based on the idea that we’re already paying for the government, so we already own the documents.”

“In the Declaration of Independence, it says that citizens are sovereign over the government that we created, and we have the right to alter it if we find it necessary to do so,” she adds.

“So, essentially, once you put the government in charge of choosing itself, you have violated the Declaration.”

Harris notes the state officials’ case rests on proving they have “compelling reason to explicitly exempt” these documents from public disclosure — a rationale New York election attorney and state election board co-chair Doug Kellner doesn’t believe exists: “There is no benefit in hiding inaccuracies in counting ballots.”

“Ludicrous” Logic .

Bennett, however, claims that disclosing the image files would create “an opportunity for that data to be stolen, or taken and corrupted, or altered to display something other than what are the actual results.”

Kellner called this notion “ludicrous.” Harris concurred: “I mean, that would be like saying, ‘If you have ballots, it increases the chances that the outcome could be corrupted.’”

WhoWhatWhy asked Secretary Merrill if he could point to any specific situation where this concern had actually manifested. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “None in Alabama.”

But as long as the practice stands, what assurance do Alabama voters have that their elections remain uncompromised?

State officials point to their recount process. Of course, this brings up an obvious Catch-22: prohibited from checking the final tally against the original ballots, how can a concerned citizen know whether a recount is needed in the first place?

Regardless, Harris says there are plenty of barriers across the country that prevent recounts. “A lot of states — in fact, it may be the majority of states — they don’t offer that right up to a citizen. You have to be a candidate,” she says. “There are several states where [unless] the spread between the candidates is greater than, say one or two percent, even the candidates can’t get a recount if they ask.”

WhoWhatWhy recently reported on a Wisconsin recount law fitting this description.

The Price of a Recount .

Even eligible candidates, Harris says, “often will not ask for a recount because their political party [doesn’t] want them to rock the boat.” In exchange for towing the line, she says the party will “promise [to] help support them in the future elections.”

Candidates who refuse can expect harsh backlash. “You might have noticed back in the 2016 presidential [election], when Jill Stein asked for a recount — which was her right — she was really attacked pretty badly and ridiculed,” says Harris.

For those legally authorized to call for a recount and prepared to bite the political bullet, Harris says the hefty price tag might still turn them off. “In many states … you’d be talking about two, three hundred thousand dollars.”

The price point is “one of the advantages” of digital files, says Harris: “It’s just a computer file, and you can get it for twenty bucks.”

Once someone has met all the qualifications, and can foot the bill, Harris has one final bit of troubling news for Alabama petitioners: “Guess what? The state never counts the physical ballot.”

DS200 voting machines. Photo credit: Joe Hall / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

That’s right: in Alabama, the recounts are conducted by using the exact same image files and scanners that led to the questionable outcome in the first place.

The Shame Factor .

At the end of the day, Harris doesn’t think election officials’ resistance “necessarily mean[s] they stole an election,” although as long as an election is unverifiable, it’s impossible to rule out anything. But now that “accountability procedures are, by and large, gone now,” Harris says “they do not expect to be held accountable … so they’re resisting being subjected to [these standards].”

Another reason Harris believes there’s such reluctance to opening up elections to public scrutiny — and not just in Alabama — is due to a “strong culture among election officials to avoid embarrassment.”

“If there’s any snafu at all, or if something doesn’t match, even for a completely innocent reason, that’s considered embarrassing,” she says. “They want everything to be clean and tidy, and nobody questions anything.”

In the past, naysayers have been pressured to keep quiet about pointing out chinks in the electoral armor, usually under the pretext of preserving public confidence and voter participation. This reminds Kellner of an old joke: “The doctor tells the patient he needs an expensive operation. The patient asks if there is anything less expensive. The doctor responds, ‘If you can’t afford the operation, I could touch up the x-rays.’”

Harris, who was responsible for introducing quality control measures in corporate America, sees similar themes playing out here. “Any quality control person will tell you: in any corporation, when you first introduce accountability, there’s tremendous resistance.”

“Once you have it,” she says, “People can’t believe they lived without it.”

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from flags (Jimmy Emerson, DVM / Flickr  – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

The post Voters Are Left in the Dark By Alabama’s Election System appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

Voter Suppression Will Play Crucial Role in Alabama Senate Race

Sun, 2017-12-10 06:48

I still remember what I thought when I found out two years ago that Alabama planned to shut down 31 DMV offices, and that the closures would primarily affect counties with large minority populations: “Why would anybody need to suppress the vote in Alabama?”

Now I know.

Heading into Tuesday’s special Senate election, the race between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones is still too close to call. It is conceivable that a few thousands votes will make the difference when all the ballots have been counted.

In a state like Alabama, that means voter suppression will play a role in the outcome.

So what do DMV offices have to do with Tuesday’s elections? After the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision gutted the Voting Rights Act, states with a history of discriminating against minorities were allowed to pass new election laws without being subject to Department of Justice scrutiny. Many of them, like Alabama, quickly moved to change voter ID laws.

Then, under the pretense of wanting to save up to $300,000, the Republican governor announced the closure of the DMV offices. The real effect, however, was that it became more difficult for minorities to get driver’s licenses, i.e., the type of state-issued photo ID required to vote.

In this case, the voter suppression effort was exposed. Following news reports, a public outcry and the involvement of the federal Department of Transportation — which determined that the closures disproportionately affected minorities — some of them were reversed.

It is not the only way the vote in Alabama will be suppressed Tuesday. The state also closed a significant number of polling stations, meaning that some voters will face longer lines. This could not only discourage a few of them from voting, but could simply make it impossible for others, e.g., those who were hoping to cast a ballot while going from one job to another.

It should come as no surprise that research has shown African-Americans face longer lines. In fact, they are six times more likely than whites to have to wait for an hour or more.

And these are only some of the things we know about. It is very likely that there are lots of other hidden schemes in play that will end up preventing eligible Alabamians from casting a vote in this election.

The people trying to fight terrorism often say that their job is incredibly tough because they have to be right every time while the terrorists only have to be lucky once to succeed. It’s like that with the insidious suppressors of votes.

They constantly come up with new ways of denying Americans the right to vote. And even when they are caught, it often takes years of legal battles to reverse their actions.

Unfortunately, this battle for the heart of American democracy is largely waged in obscurity. The heroes in this fight are journalists who expose these practices, and activists who fight them in court. Its villains are state legislators and officials such as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who will go to any length to cling to power — even if that means denying eligible Americans the right to vote.

And the stakes are high, as we will see Tuesday night.

Voter suppression might make the difference on whether a credibly-accused child molester — who said the last time America was great was before the Civil War — gets elected.

There might not be a more powerful illustration as to why Americans need to start caring about this.

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Roy Moore caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), mechanical horse (Helder Ribeiro / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0), Gadsden Mall (Mike Kalasnik / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0) and gun (Hrd10 / Wikimedia).

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Marriage Equality: Australia Approves, SCOTUS Hears Cake Case

Sat, 2017-12-09 07:08

The trajectory of the gay rights movement can sometimes resemble the jagged line on a heart monitor. Gains and setbacks can land with equal force and frequency. This week’s events included a legislative win and oral arguments before the US Supreme Court in a momentous case.

On Tuesday, the court heard long-awaited arguments in a case filed by Colorado baker Jack Phillips — the proprietor of Masterpiece Cakeshop, who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple because he felt doing so clashed with his Christian faith. Conflating the business transaction — and, to some, artistic expression — with endorsement of homosexuality, Phillips contends that his right to practice religion is as sacred as the couple’s right to equal treatment.

To the extent that the two concepts are mutually exclusive, the justices will have to determine whether protecting First Amendment rights takes precedence over Colorado’s anti-discrimination laws. The far-reaching implications of such a decision is not lost on the court’s liberal justices.

If freedom of expression can be used to justify Phillips’s case, Justice Elena Kagan asked, would a chef or makeup stylist be permitted to selectively provide services too?

“We want some kind of distinction that will not undermine every civil-rights law, from the year one,” Justice Stephen Breyer said, “including everybody who has been discriminated against in very basic things of life, food, design of furniture, homes, and buildings.”

When the session ended, the court appeared sharply divided along party lines. The pivotal decision — scheduled for next June — probably rests again with Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the landmark 2015 ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

From his remarks during the hearing, Kennedy seems somehow as sympathetic to devout, discriminating business owners as he is to disenfranchised customers.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the earth, Australia became the 25th country to recognize same-sex marriage on Thursday, when parliamentarians passed a cross-party bill in a near-unanimous vote. The historic decision follows the result of last month’s $122 million national postal survey, a plebiscite that showed unprecedented popular support for gay marriage.

Even conservative parliamentarians who personally opposed the bill ended up supporting it out of respect for popular opinion — a principle that must feel laughably utopian in today’s Washington. But amid the jubilation surrounding the passing of the bill, a sobering report found that violence against LGBTQ Australians doubled in the three months after the postal vote was announced.

In the videos below, Australian politician Tim Wilson proposes to his partner during a debate in parliament, and Bishop Robert Barron presents the “moral argument” against same-sex marriage.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from protest (Rob Thurman / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0).

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December 8, 2017

Fri, 2017-12-08 21:43

The post December 8, 2017 appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

Was Lauer an Open Secret?

Fri, 2017-12-08 10:34
Don’t Expect Aggressive US Shale Drilling (Jeff C.)

Countless news articles have hyped the extremely low breakeven prices of shale oil extraction. The reality is that right up through this year, the promise of big profits has continued to prove elusive.

The Coming Republican Assault on the Safety Net (Trevin)

Paul Waldman writes for the Week that “they plan to argue that our high national debt demands that we cut back social programs, right after they voted to increase the debt by $1.5 trillion.”

Do Democrats Need a New RFK? (Reader Steve)

Someone who can heal and unite factions, like RFK did, is exactly what Democrats need.

Will Jeff Sessions Get His War on Weed? (Jimmy)

The author writes, “The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment is set to expire on Friday, and if it’s not renewed, it could open the door for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to do what he’s been hinting he wants to: Launch a federal war on states that have partly or completely legalized marijuana use.”

Pentagon Acknowledges 2,000 Troops in Syria (Jimmy)

The author writes, “The Pentagon on Wednesday acknowledged that 2,000 American troops are on the ground in Syria, the first time the military has admitted that it deployed well more than the Obama-era limit of 503 troops.”

The post Was Lauer an Open Secret? appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

The Whistleblower Who Could Have Prevented 9/11

Fri, 2017-12-08 07:09

A congressional report found that, before September 11, 2001, intelligence agencies were poorly organized, poorly equipped, and slow to pursue clues that might have prevented that day’s terrorist attacks. The following story offers a unique insight into how that could be.

Bill Binney was, as far back as the 1960s, one of the NSA’s most distinguished analysts. He had almost a sixth sense for understanding the patterns behind the webs of relationships that would often prove to be even more valuable than the actual contents of intercepted communications.

This ability was a valuable tool in making sense of Soviet communications and intercepts. Binney’s work might very well have warned us of 9/11, and other terrorist attacks, had it been allowed to continue. Instead Binney was forced to become a whistleblower — and a crusader for both his work and the privacy protections of American citizens.

Using his methods, he anticipated the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, the onset of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and even the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

The funny thing was that many of his higher ups in the intelligence community didn’t take him seriously.  Even after he had proved himself almost prescient, they all felt that his methods were too inexpensive and too simple to be the real thing.

As the digital age arrived and Binney moved from the Army to the NSA, he was shocked at how primitive the NSA technology was. He tried to change that.

And while many of his colleagues liked to think the Soviet threat would be around forever, he foresaw the threats from international crime and terrorism and the need for appropriate programs of information collection.

In response, he developed cutting-edge computer programs of pattern recognition, with off-the-shelf software, to try to foreshadow these threats. The problem once again was that Binney worked too cheaply.

The leaders of the NSA wanted to spend well in excess of three billion dollars for projects that were unproven, and performed poorly when tested, compared to what Binney had created — for one-tenth the cost.

That’s when higher ups at the NSA, including then-director Gen. Michael Hayden, decided that Binney and his work had to be neutralized.

The harrowing story that follows is told by Binney in his conversation with WhoWhatWhy’s Jeff Schechtman in this week’s podcast. Binney explains how his “ThinThread” program worked — how it protected privacy and passed Constitutional muster. He explains why he had to leave the agency when his work was shut down in favor of programs that didn’t work — ones that totally ignored privacy concerns, but that provided a gravy train for contractors and executives alike.

Binney’s story is the subject a new documentary, A Good American, (available on Netflix) from executive producer Oliver Stone. For the full story, in Binney’s own words, this podcast is a must.

Click HERE to Download Mp3

Full Text Transcript:

As a service to our readers, we provide transcripts with our podcasts. We try to ensure that these transcripts do not include errors. However, due to resource constraints, we are not always able to proofread them as closely as we would like, and we hope that you will excuse any errors that slipped through.

Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to Radio WhoWhatWhy. I’m Jeff Schechtman. Some men spend their whole lives seeking out fame and fortune. Others put their nose to the proverbial grindstone each day, do their job, and try and do it well, fairly and with integrity and with passion. They don’t seek fame or fortune, merely the satisfaction of a job well done. This is true on the assembly line or in the highest reaches of corporate America or government or even espionage. Often when these two kinds of men clash the collateral damage can be substantial. My guest, Bill Binney, was as far back as the 1960s one of the NSA’s most distinguished analysts. He had an almost sixth sense for understanding the mathematics behind patterns of contacts and webs of relationships that would prove to be even more valuable than the content itself. As his distinguished career with the NSA progressed, he would begin to combine these skills with the evolution of the digital age. It was, and he might disagree with this, the perfect coming together of a man, his talents, and the technology of the time. The problem is his superiors had other ideas, ideas about seeking fame and, more importantly, fortune. The clash would fire up his courage as a whistleblower, but it may also have caused the nation thousands of lives on 9/11 and beyond. This story, Bill Binney’s story, has recently been told in a new documentary out on Netflix entitled A Good American, and Bill Binney is here today to talk to us about this powerful slice of American history that is still very much a part of our search for safety and for privacy. Bill Binney, thanks so much for joining us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy. Bill Binney: Thanks, Jeff, for having me. Jeff Schechtman: I want to go back to the 1960s, to your early days with Army Intelligence, your early work on cryptography and trying to discern patterns to communications and contacts and networks. It was a time when you really began to evolve the idea that such networks and patterns were almost more important than the content itself. Bill Binney: A lot of it … When I first got into the business it was in the military, so our basic threat then was the Soviet Union. That was the big threat in the world to us, so that was where I was focused. Most of everything they did was encrypted, so you’re basically looking at relationships in the ether in terms of communications, of just basically contacts. We were working basically with what we now call metadata. Back then we used to call them just network analysis or net analysis or just analysis of military context basically. That meant you had to look at the relationships and patterns of relationships to try to interpret what it meant. That’s basically how it started. It meant that you could look at a lot of data just on a superficial basis, looking at just the metadata and the relationships, and that’s the kind of approach that transitions right into the digital age too. Because even if you couldn’t read the encryption, you could still get massive amounts of intelligence out of things, because if you had something that was in clear text you’d have that one item, and you look at the content as you’d be reading it, but it still didn’t give you the perspective of your entire range of activity, whereas if you looked at the metadata you could see your whole community of who you’re interacting with and how often. You could see things like if you had medical problems what doctors you were seeing. You could basically assume certain types of medical problems, depending on their specialties, things like that. You could see what things you buy and just … It’s similar to what companies are doing today except the companies are looking at the individuals only, and that’s primarily to sell you something. Whereas if you’re looking at intelligence you’re looking at groups of individuals or groups of people who are actively pursuing dope smuggling or money laundering or weapons smuggling or any kind of terrorist type activity or pedophilia or any kind of criminal activity of that nature, but it’s groups of people who are involved at that point. Jeff Schechtman: Using those methods, you were able early on to ascertain things that were beginning to happen, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Yom Kippur War, and even the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in ’79. Bill Binney: Once you have the understanding of the patterns that you’re looking at, then it becomes pretty clear what is a real threat as opposed to what is not. That’s basically what intelligence is supposed to do. It’s supposed to give you advanced notice of intentions and capabilities. Unfortunately, today they’ve seemed to have lost that perspective. Now they’re pretty much doing a forensics job, which is a police job, after the attacks. For example, in terrorist attacks here in Europe or back in the United States, they basically come in after the fact and say, “Yeah, we knew this guy was a bad guy,” or “he had all these connections and we knew he was on our watch list or something and we were concerned about him,” but they weren’t following them close enough to be able to stop the attacks. The reasons they weren’t was of course because their policy of taking bulk acquisition of data on everybody on the planet, which meant you had to dive into this ocean to try to find the fish, you know? That’s the problem. That’s basically what they’re still doing today and that’s why they’re still having trouble stopping anything. Jeff Schechtman: Even then when these things became clear to you and some of your colleagues at the time, there was reluctance on the part of higher ups to believe it or to act on it. Bill Binney: Well, yeah, and part of the problem was we … The way we developed things, we did them very efficiently. That was one of our big mistakes. So It didn’t cost a lot of money. The major managers there at NSA didn’t really like that. It didn’t support a large organization. It didn’t support a big budget. Solving the problem was not their main issue. Also their concern was making sure that the agencies and all their contracts increased year-after-year so they had a bigger budget to manage. That was the big thing for them I think. Jeff Schechtman: One of the ironies in all of that is that even with the desire to find reasons to spend money and to look for contractors to work with, that as you talk about, the NSA was really ill-prepared for the digital age. Bill Binney: They were basically fat, dumb and happy thinking the Soviet Union would continue and that would be their major threat all along so they could justify the existence of a large organization like NSA, but when they fell apart there in 1990 they got caught. At the same time, just before that, before the Soviet Union fell apart, the digital age was starting to explode, so in the late ’80s, early ’90s the explosion had already started in terms of cell phones and computers and emails and things like that and the managers at NSA were still thinking in the old mentality, we need to have the Soviet Union around so we have an opposition out there that we can look at as the threat. They’re doing similar things today, trying to make them look like a threat. It’s an external threat. They’re trying to do the same thing again, but it was the whole concept of we have a threat that will justify our existence so we don’t need to worry about anything else. But when it fell apart they had to look around to find out where can we find another justification for our existence, so that became the international crime, terrorism, and the internet in the digital age. Jeff Schechtman: You were developing the extension, the digital extension of understanding these patterns that would have come, this program ThinThread, and yet because it wasn’t expensive enough, because it wasn’t really involved with spending huge sums of money, there was a pushback to it early on? Bill Binney: Yes. Yeah. And it … They were asking for something like $3.8 billion to start a separate program to try to deal with the digital age, so when we came along with a solution like ThinThread that solved that $3,200,000 … That’s all we spent on it, okay? And that was like from the beginning to the point where it was operational at three separate sites 24 hours a day for about a year, so we were clearly demonstrating the capacity and capability to handle all this information. But that became a threat to the budget request for $3.8 billion, because you go to Congress and ask for $3.8 billion, you have to have a problem. The problem they were alleging was volume, velocity and variety in the internet in the digital age. That was pretty much the problem we had already solved, so they had to get rid of us. We even knew at the time from staffers in Congress on the intelligence committees that all the companies that wanted the feed on that $3.8 billion were in fact down in the Congress in those committees lobbying to get our program canceled. Without any review by anybody except the conversations behind closed doors in Congress with the contractors they got our program canceled, with the cooperation of the NSA management of course. Jeff Schechtman: Talk a little bit about how ThinThread worked, how the program was able to do what it did essentially for as little money as it did. Bill Binney: Yeah. It boiled down to this. The first problem we had was to be able to sessionize data, that is take the internet, which passes data around in packets, and pull all those packets back together to form the original input, like an email or a phone call or chat or something. That would come in and we’d have to reassemble that much like your service provider does now, but we’d have to do that online and then they would look at it. We succeeded at doing that at fiber optic rates in 1998, and by doing it at that point, now we could look at the massive amount of data. But you can’t take it all in, because if you did you’d be doing like you’re doing today. You would just simply bury everybody with information. They couldn’t see the threats coming that way. So what we did, we used metadata in the relationships of social networks of people in the world to be able to see into that massive flow of data without looking at the content of the data, but just looking at the metadata. Then we could pull out all the data that was relevant for us to analyze and look at. By knowing the communities or individuals who were involved in certain activities, you could do that. Also you had developmental rules. You could figure out who else was involved with them at the same time, and could do it all online, so that meant you could filter everything right up front and you never take in data that wasn’t relevant. You’d only pull in the data relevant at the targets you want to analyze and everything else you just let go right by. That fundamentally gave everybody in the world privacy, not just US citizens, but everybody. Then once you pull that data in, if there are people involved in that that you don’t yet know who are participants in activity, what we would do is encrypt their attributes. Once you encrypted their attributes, nobody even inside NSA could tell who they were. That protected the identities of people. The third thing we had was an automated process to monitor who came into our network, who looked at the data, where they went, how long they stayed, what they did while they were there. It basically gave us a monitor to be able to see who was doing the right thing, who was doing the wrong thing, and the ability to stop them at any point in time. Those are the three things they removed from the ThinThread program and then translated that software forward to do the Stellar Wind program and eventually how they spied on the entire world, because there was no … We saw no limit to how much data we could take in and index and manage. Jeff Schechtman: There was a turning point that happened around 1999 when General Michael Hayden became head of the NSA. Talk a little about that. Bill Binney: He came in March of ’99 I believe it was, or maybe a little later, but he came in with a concept of outsourcing jobs in NSA, like for example the infrastructure. They had a separate program to do outsourcing of infrastructure, computer management, data management and all the communications lines of NSA around the world. When they did that, that was like the fundamental foundation for all the activities that we wanted to do, and then they just kept that outsourcing concept going. They even outsourced some language translations and things like that so that … Or functions that they felt could be outsourced. That fundamentally was moving into an area where contractors were taking over jobs that required some degree at least of experience in terms of intelligence direction and realized what you really needed to do there. When they did that, they were giving it basically to people who had no idea what the concepts of intelligence production are all about, so they lost some capability by doing that. Then fundamentally they also lost the management capacity of all the data they had, because if you looked at it, Edward Snowden was a contractor, he’s one of many. Martin was another one. Contractors who were really involved in maintaining the knowledge and understanding that’s accumulated inside NSA, that’s a kind of dangerous thing to do, because they work for companies that have many facets and industrial espionage can be easily done then, especially if you’re collecting all the data on everybody in the world, including all the companies in the world. Then that’s certainly a hazard. It also is a hazard in terms of the compromises that could occur, which we witnessed and are continuing to witness. That was one of the problems of outsourcing. Jeff Schechtman: One of the things that also happened is that some of these contractors, some of these executives from these outside contractors were brought in at the highest levels of the NSA. Bill Binney: Yes. Yeah. That’s right. Well, for example in the Trailblazer case initially Bill Black came in as the … He was hired directly in from SAIC to be the … He was a vice-president— Jeff Schechtman: SAIC was one of the outside contractors? Bill Binney: Right, and they hired him in to be deputy director of NSA. Then they hired Sam Visner in to be the head of the Transformation Office inside NSA. They managed all the large contracts that NSA was going to let them to outsource and modernize. So when it came time for the Trailblazer program, I mean the first contracts were let to SAIC for about $280 million or something like that in the first year, and then it simply went up from there. Jeff Schechtman: At one point Hayden comes to you and essentially asks you to spend more money. How can you use more money? Bill Binney: When they first formed the Transformation Office, a friend of mine was the chief of that office at the time and he knew what we were doing down there, so he sent his deputy down to talk to us about … He actually came down and said, “What could you do if we give you $1.2 billion?” After spending $3 million to do a program, what are you going to do with $1.2 billion? That’s kind of a jump in budget. We said it’ll take a little time to figure out what to do, and we took a few days and came back and said we could upgrade and modernize the entire world and everything back here at NSA and all that around the world, but we could only spend maybe $300 million of that, so they were a little over that. He went back and said that’s great, and then he went away, and then he came back down the next week and he said, “Well, you guys did such a good job there with that thing, how about $1.4 billion? What could you do with that?” So he was trying to push money at us to try to spend it, but that was the Transformation Office. Once Hayden found out about that, he basically removed him, so he put a new person … That’s when Sam Visner came in after that to take over. They needed another contractor to take over and do what the contractors needed to do. Jeff Schechtman: Talk a little bit about how what you were doing paralleled the evolution of digital technology itself and how you were managing that within the context of ThinThread in your program. Bill Binney: A lot of it, if we could what we would do is look around in the commercial environment and see if there’s any software that would do jobs that we saw we needed to do with our data and so on. A lot of things like using different tools to open up attachments and look at attachments and see what’s in them, those kinds of things, we would take and leverage. We were pretty cheap about it, so some of these products cost only 37 bucks a copy and we wanted to do a few hundred things all simultaneously, we’d go buy a few hundred of these products and just put them online and substitute that instead of building software from the beginning. Generally the people in the technology area preferred to develop the technology from the very beginning by themselves, not leveraging what’s commercially available, so that meant their budgets had to be so much bigger, because in order to do that they would spend something on the order of $25 a line of code. That was kind of the average of the cost for a contractor to do a line of code. If you multiplied that, if you had 100,000 lines of code, $25 a line just to do something that you could substitute for it by buying a $37 apiece product, that’s the way we took the … That’s the route we took as opposed to developing the software. Then we’d just … If we needed to, we had certain software we’d have to build ourselves, which we did, but it was limiting it to that which … Only that which we had to do, not … And we did that simply by looking around at the commercial environment to see what’s there and take advantage of it, leverage it. That’s how we could keep it so cheaply. Jeff Schechtman: Talk about the attitudes that were coming from the top, people like Sam Visner, who you mentioned before, who would come out of this company, this software company, and a little bit about the attitude that money would be around for everybody, that just don’t worry about it, there will be plenty of money. Bill Binney: Sam came from a commercial environment and commercial companies in general … I mean that was my experience with all the contracting I had been involved with or tried to get going inside NSA for about 20 years, they seemed to want to move at their own pace. They had an agenda, which was … If you looked at it, it was pretty simple. It was how do I get the next contract? It’s not a question of … It’s a question of once they acquire a certain level of bulk in terms of a company, you had to have so much business to sustain that, and so if you go into a project and solve the problem quickly then you don’t have the problem to get more money, so you don’t have to sustain yourself so you can’t get a follow-on contract. Their whole process was to look at it that way, how can I sustain my business or how can I grow my business? It boiled down to originally I thought the entire concept of contractors working for government was … Their vision statement was aim low and miss, because they’d always miss. They never solved the problem. But then after a few years I kind of figured it out. It really wasn’t that. The whole vision statement for them is keep the problem going so the money keeps flowing. The whole point was you had to have a problem to say you needed more money from Congress to do it, and that’s the way fundamentally almost all of them operate. Jeff Schechtman: Which brings us to 9/11. Talk a little bit about that. Bill Binney: Well 9/11, unfortunately the management at NSA didn’t want to deploy the ThinThread which we had proposed to deploy in January of 2001. This was a little over seven months before 9/11. We wanted to target all the terrorist operations in the world, so I went to the Terrorist Analysis Shop and I said, “What sites produce intelligence that you find useful in analyzing the terrorism problem around the world?” They gave me a list of 18 sites, so I had those 18 sites and I thought okay, these are now our targets, so let’s put together … This was like in November of 2000. We put together a plan to do these deployments in January of 2001. Most of it would be done remotely, electronically downloading to hardware in the field, so we wouldn’t have to physically do it for most of them, but some of them we would. We had to build some software and hardware and put it together for them specifically because they were unique things, so we had to adjust our attack for that. So it would take a little longer to do them, but most of them could be done very upfront and in just a couple days. We made this proposal and we had said it would only cost us probably on the order of $9 million to do it. At that point it would have taken care of the terrorism problem around the world, but management of course, seeing a threat to their budget request, decided that it was more important to do the budget than to do the mission. That was the unfortunate part, you know. Jeff Schechtman: Tell us a little bit about what you discovered post-9/11 when you were able to get back into your office essentially. Bill Binney: Yeah. They kept us out for a couple days there right after 9/11 and when I got back in I started trying to help to find out all the background of who did this and all that, and my contractors came up to me and told me about a meeting they had had. They said the head of the Transformation Office, Sam, came up and said that don’t … He was talking to a small contractor who I had used. This was a small, six, seven man company that was all special people for software and some hardware development, but it was all pretty efficient. So that’s basically the people I used to do the ThinThread Program. What he did was he came up to them and told them … At least he told me this. He said that Sam had told him that don’t embarrass large companies like SAIC, TRW, other kinds of large companies. “You don’t want to embarrass them. You do your part. You’ll get your share. There’s plenty for everybody.” That was the attitude that management had there. Of course at the same time Tom Drake was going around with Maureen Baginski. They were going around the workforce talking to them about 9/11 and about how we had to ramp up and go get the bad guys now. At one meeting he said that she had said, and it’s in the movie, that “9/11 was a gift to NSA because now we’ll get all the money we want.” My whole point after that was that they fundamentally in this entire process traded the security of the people of the United States and the free world or any country we were allied with and trying to help in terms of stopping terrorism, they traded that security for money. Jeff Schechtman: When you went back in and looked at some of the patterns on ThinThread after 9/11, you came to the conclusion that if that had been operative at the time it might have actually been able to provide the information that could have prevented it? Bill Binney: Oh yeah. I pretty much knew that, but Tom Drake actually proved it, because he … After 9/11 they started turning the process … They removed the components of ThinThread that they didn’t like, like the filtering up front so still bringing in everything but protections, no protections at all, so everybody was identified, and no monitoring of who’s doing what, because they might find that people are going to use it badly, like FBI or CIA or somebody like that coming in, or DCHQ, somebody like that. So anybody coming into the database wouldn’t … They could come in and do whatever they wanted, whatever the access they gave them, and no one could follow up and hold them accountable for anything. When they removed all that stuff, they started spying on US citizens, because we were the closest, okay? So we were the first ones into the bulk acquisition system. That meant that we had hundreds of millions of US citizens, the data being taken in. It started in mid-October of 2001, the second week in October, so from that point I just said, “I can’t stay here. This is a clear violation of the constitutional rights of everybody, so we can’t do this. I just can’t be a part of it.” I went to the House Intelligence Committee to tell them about it, but that was the problem I had, so that’s why … And Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis left at the same time I did, so we were all … Ed didn’t really believe it, but our contractors who did it, who set it up for them, were telling me that that is what they were actually doing. Later on, of course, the Snowden material came out and said there’s the documentation for all of it, so that was the reason I had to leave NSA. Jeff Schechtman: What was your reaction when the Snowden material came out? Bill Binney: I didn’t take any material out because most of the people in Congress, for example, knew that I was the one who was developing all these programs or involved in many of them, and so I didn’t feel like I needed any kind of documentation since I was kind of the founding father of the stuff. When I was talking about it before Edward Snowden came out it didn’t really get too much traction because nobody could really believe that that was true. So when Ed took out and brought all this material out and the documentation, that was obviously … That gave me the opportunity to talk in public about those programs that were documented in the material that Edward Snowden released. Jeff Schechtman: And you filed a complaint with the Inspector General I guess around 2002. Talk about that. Bill Binney: Yeah. We actually were pursuing two complaints. One is the legal one for violation of the Constitution and all that, and that we took to the House Intelligence Committee and also to the … We had tried to see the Chief Justice Rehnquist of the Supreme Court, but that never materialized. We could never get to see him. That was the one avenue of just Constitutional violations, law and so on. And the other part was the fraud, waste, abuse and corruption, which is in your employment regulations. When you become employed by the US government there’s a section in there that says you are required to report fraud, waste, abuse and corruption to the Department of Defense Inspector General and they would give a number, and this was published on the last page of the monthly periodicals they would publish inside NSA and then send it around the workforce. The corruption, fraud, waste and abuse part we directed toward the Inspector General, because that’s their function, to find that kind of stuff, and that’s one of the things they were soliciting. So we fulfilled our requirement for work, all the requirements there, and the requirements to report fraud, waste, abuse and corruption to the Department of Defense Inspector General. That was in September of 2002. Once we filed that, they took about 12 inspectors and came back out to NSA and started investigating. It took them a little over two years to do it, and they of course corroborated everything we said in our complaint and much more in terms of the internal NSA attempts to subvert the investigation and also the people involved in that. In fact, the Inspector General chief investigator said to me at one point … He told me he had to put his badge on the table and tell the person that interfering with the Inspector General’s investigation has with it a five-year jail sentence and $5,000 or something like that fine, and that’s the only time they stopped trying to interfere with their investigation. But most of it has been redacted and if you go on the web and look at it, the report is DODIG Report 05-INTEL-03. It’s about the Trailblazer and ThinThread requirements, I think the title reads, and it substantiates everything we were saying. Jeff Schechtman: Most of the report, as you say, has been redacted? Bill Binney: 80% of what’s been redacted is unclassified. If you looked at the side of the top of the paragraphs there, if there’s a U there that means unclassified. So if you look at it, most of it is that way. The only reason they do that is because it’s too embarrassing and too much of an indication of corruption and fraud. The problem I see is the Department of Defense … First of all, it’s in violation of Executive Order 13526, Section 1.7. That is the Executive Order that governs classification and protection of data by the US government. The president has to sign this. Every year I think they have to sign this paper. But in that section it says you cannot classify, maintain classified or not de-classify any material that is evidence of a crime, fraud, waste, abuse, corruption and so on, or you can’t cover it up for embarrassment to a person or an agency. All of those redactions are to cover up all of that, and that’s where this is a real problem, even for the IG, I don’t understand why the Department of Justice is not involved in this. This was a very clear violation of all the principles and laws of our government. Jeff Schechtman: Talk a little bit about what happened in your efforts just to maintain a business after you left the government and what happened in 2007. Bill Binney: Between the start of 2002 and 2007, Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis and I were trying to get a consulting group together. Our plan was pretty simple. If NSA didn’t want to take leverage and use the technologies that we were developing there, the automation and the ability to do massive data in a smart way, then we were going to take it to some other department of government and see if we couldn’t come back in the other way around and come into NSA from the outside instead of developing inside and moving out. We were going to try the reverse. Every time we went somewhere and NSA found out about it, they got the contracts terminated. In fact, the SIC staffer who was in charge of overseeing the NSA, he had their account for the Senate Intelligence Committee, when he found out about one of the ones he wanted us to work on, he went there and NSA got that whole contract canceled. He wanted to have the Senate investigate NSA for doing that, because that’s basically a criminal activity, subverting the right to pursuit of happiness, if you will, or work. So they’re interfering with the ability of companies and people to do work for … Even for the government they were doing that. He wanted them to investigate, but in 2002 the … This is when this occurred, the Senate was not prepared to do that. They didn’t want to look like they weren’t supporting the grandiose patriotic war against everybody else that was involved, the terrorism, and if you’re going to investigate somebody for some kind of fraud and corruption internally, that’s not something they really wanted to get involved with, so they didn’t do that. But then after that we went to another place, INSCOM, and they basically got that one terminated even before it started. Then we got another one working as a subcontractor for another one of the larger contractors, not for NSA but for another agency in the government, and when they found out about that one they also found out that … NSA came by and they said, “We don’t want you people working with these people,” and that was what came from … From the other side, they simply said, “Well, we can’t embarrass NSA or what have you, so we’ll have to terminate the contract,” so that’s what they did there. This was getting on to 2005 and 2006. Then after the New York Times article we were the prime candidates that they thought did that. Well, they in fact knew who did that. It was Thomas Tamm, the Department of Justice lawyer was the one who tipped off the New York Times. That was one of the primary ones anyway. We had nothing to do with that. They already knew that from the Stellar Wind program, where they had been studying all the relationships inside the US for at least four years by that time, so they knew that we had no contact with anybody in the New York Times. Still they wanted the … This was the vendetta I guess they wanted against us, so they decided that we had to be the ones investigated, and they sent the FBI at us. It took us five years to get the sworn affidavit, by the way, to get some judge who didn’t know anything about anything. I mean he … This judge was just totally ignorant of any national security or anything. When somebody would say national security, they would just say, “Oh, my goodness. Oh, I guess I have to sign.” That’s fundamentally what that judge did. The affidavit was clearly a fabrication and we could prove that, but we didn’t know until five years afterwards because it was a classified affidavit and they wouldn’t let it go, so we had to sue them basically to get it. After that one, it was the Department of Justice that took over from the FBI and NSA in terms of stopping us work[ing]. The Department of Justice decided they were going to prosecute us under the Espionage Act of 1917 and try to put us in jail for 35 years. Here, again, they started fabricating evidence. The first two times they attempted that they told our lawyer they were doing it. We had exculpatory data on that at the time and said, “Here’s the exculpatory data,” and they dropped those attempts immediately. The third attempt, they simply called our lawyer and said that they were going to … And this is in late 2009. At this time they called him and said they’re going to indict us, all of us, Tom Drake, Kirk Wiebe, Ed Loomis, Diane Roark and myself, for conspiracy to … They were manufacturing a charge, so they called it a conspiracy to release classified information. What I had been doing over that period of time, from 2007 on, I had been assembling all the information I could that would show malicious prosecution on the part of the Department of Justice, and when they threatened us with that I knew immediately I had all the necessary evidence to prove that case against them in a court of law. So what I did was I … I didn’t even consult my lawyer for this. I thought I’m going to play a little game here with the FBI and the Department of Justice, or injustice, however you want to put it. So I called Tom Drake because I knew his phone was tapped by the FBI, they were sitting there recording and listening, and so I said, “Tom, our lawyers just called us and told us they’re going to indict us all for this conspiracy charge, cranking up fabrication against us, and here’s all the evidence I have to prove that and show that malicious prosecution on the part of the Department of Justice,” and I read it all across the phone to him. Then I just … I told him at the end, I said, “Tell your lawyer that we’re going to charge the Department of Justice with malicious prosecution when they take us to court,” and then I hung up. So I’m letting them stew on that one. Then what happened was I said absolutely nothing after that, and so then a month later mysteriously our lawyer calls and says, “Hey, the Department of Justice is giving you and Kirk Wiebe letters of immunity.” So we went from being … I know our lawyer had no idea what happened, okay, because I never told him what I did, so he was out in the dark. I’m sure he had … He said, “This is great. I didn’t have to do anything.” Anyway, so eventually we got those letters and the whole thing was just come in and talk to us, to be honest, and we were already doing that, so it was as if we didn’t. I originally didn’t want to do it because I wanted to go to court, but our lawyer said, “No. If you do this it’ll be over all at once and you don’t have to worry about it.” I wasn’t worried about it at all anyway, but … So we met with them, and I had to take the opportunity to tell them exactly what I thought of them. That gave me a face-to-face with the prosecutor, with the head of … One of the lead investigators of the FBI, and one of the yo-yos from the Q2 Department of the NSA, internal security at NSA. I made it perfectly clear that I didn’t think very much of them or anything they’d been doing or all the violations of law that they were doing, and the idiot from Q2 said, “What violations of law are they?” Well, I mean he gave me my grand opportunity to tell him exactly what it was, which I did. It was like the First, Fourth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution, the pen register law, the privacy act, the security act, all the regulations and laws passed to cover FCC regulations with the internet service providers and the telecommunications company. You know, just a few things like that. Jeff Schechtman: Where did all of this pressure against you and your colleagues … Where did it all emanate from? Do you have a sense of that? How high did it go? Bill Binney: I think it went probably all the way to the White House, especially with what I call Darth Cheney. He went to the dark side, so I have to call him something, Darth Cheney, not vice president, you know. I think it went all the way up there. It also had a lot of support with the management of NSA, and obviously the Department of Justice and the FBI fell in line too. That included Mueller on the FBI and Comey at the DOJ at the time. Jeff Schechtman: And Michael Hayden moved on to the CIA? Bill Binney: Of course. I mean he put the Trailblazer program together, spent a lot of money, and it ended up in producing no intelligence, a lot of powerpoints and no capability at all. He just used everything we had already developed. So basically he messed up really big time and he moved up really big time. So I guess that was the principle in our government, mess up, move up. Jeff Schechtman: Finally, Bill, how much of this is going on still today? How much of this is operational today and really impacting the privacy of people today? Bill Binney: Basically all of it, and actually spreading more and more collection facilities,  capabilities, so what it means is they have to keep building bigger and bigger storage facilities, like the one in Utah, the 1,000,000 square foot facility in Utah. They had to build that one because they were collecting so much data, and they like to keep it all as long as they can. You need to store it somewhere, so you need 1,000,000 square foot storage facility out there in Utah. Then after that one, that one came online in 2013, and so by … They were planning ahead, five, six years ahead, they’re going to need a larger one because they’re collecting more and more data year-by-year because the amount of data going around the world is ever increasing, so they have to build a much bigger storage facility, so that’s why they broke ground for a 2.8 million square foot facility on Fort Meade just about a year ago. Jeff Schechtman: I think I remember you saying it was an NSA official who said to you shortly after 9/11 that it was going to be a gift that would keep on giving for at least 15 years? Bill Binney: Yeah, that’s right. He said, “They can milk this cow for 15 years.” That was a Sam Visner quote. Yeah. Jeff Schechtman: Bill Binney, I thank you so much for spending time with us today here on Radio WhoWhatWhy. Bill Binney: Thank you. Jeff Schechtman: Thank you. Thank you for listening and joining us here on Radio WhoWhatWhy. I hope you join us next week for another Radio WhoWhatWhy podcast. I’m Jeff Schechtman. If you liked this podcast, please feel free to share and help others find it by rating and reviewing it on iTunes. You can also support this podcast and all the work we do by going to whowhatwhy.org/donate.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from code (National Security Agency, Equation Group, Kaspersky Lab – Wikimedia)

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December 7, 2017

Fri, 2017-12-08 00:35

The post December 7, 2017 appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

NSA Security Breach

Thu, 2017-12-07 09:14
Overnight, Australia’s Parliament Legalized Same-Sex Marriage (Trevin)

After passing in the Senate last week (43 votes to 12) — and being endorsed by 62 percent of the population as recorded by a government-commissioned postal ballot — the bill passed in the House of Representatives Thursday “with a majority that wasn’t challenged, although five lawmakers registered their opposition.

Tensions Are Rising, Not Falling, in Catalonia (Dan)

Coverage of Catalonia’s separatist movement has dwindled. Yet things are heating up as a Spanish judge has withdrawn an international arrest warrant for separatist leader Carlos Puigdemont. But don’t mistake this move as a calming of tensions. Rather, the judge wants to make sure separatist leaders are punished strictly for their actions, something Brussels cannot ensure.

Social Security Fraudster Caught in Honduras (Reader Steve)

Kentucky lawyer Eric Conn, whose social security scheme would have cost taxpayers $550 million, was caught in Honduras last week. Here’s the story of the capture.

Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist (Jimmy)

The author writes, “No one can deny it: economics matters. Its theories are the mother tongue of public policy, the rationale for multi-billion-dollar investments, and the tools used to tackle global poverty and manage our planetary home. Pity then that its fundamental ideas are centuries out of date yet still dominate decision-making for the future.”

Brexit’s Next Hurdle (Dan)

Prime Minister Theresa May recently made headlines by agreeing to a cash payment to the European Union for Brexit. Many in the UK viewed this as embarrassing and, possibly, reason not to leave the EU. Then the stance of the “remainers” was strengthened by yet another hurdle for Brexit: conflict over the Irish border.

Republican Tax Bill is an Act of Violence (Jimmy)

The authors write, “Donald Trump and leaders in Congress are on the verge of enacting one of the most immoral pieces of legislation in our nation’s history. The Republican party has billed its plan as a tax cut for America’s middle class, but it is in fact an act of gross violence against America’s poor to serve the country’s richest and most powerful.”

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How Politicians Try to Shut Down Debates Following Tragedies

Thu, 2017-12-07 07:05

After mass shootings or other types of terror attacks in the US, the finger-pointing begins almost immediately. One side uses the situation to advocate a change in policy while the other side laments that this is insensitive and that the immediate aftermath of such a major event should not be “politicized.” Is there a right way and time to start a national discussion?

“Usually, when politicians accuse the other party of ‘politicizing’ an event,” David Barker, professor of government (American politics) at American University, told WhoWhatWhy, “what they are really criticizing is the other party’s attempt to redress a societal woe with a policy response — which of course is exactly what democratic politics is supposed to do: we are supposed to collectively deliberate over how to deal with problems that affect us all.”

“All policy discussions are divisive in these polarized times, but they don’t have to be, and they are a byproduct of the polarization, not the cause of it.”

“The problem is that we as a society/democratic polity have come to believe that considering policy options to try to ameliorate a problem is ‘politics’ rather than democracy in action, and that such discussion of policy alternatives must necessarily be divisive,” Barker said. “All policy discussions are divisive in these polarized times, but they don’t have to be, and they are a byproduct of the polarization, not the cause of it.”

Many political scientists define politics according to the standard introduced by Harold Lasswell, a 20th century American political scientist and communications theorist. In an interview with WhoWhatWhy, Dr. Robert Y. Shapiro, professor of political science at Columbia University, summarized Lasswell’s framework as, “having to do with power relations in a society, where power is defined as A trying to get B to do something B would not otherwise do.”

Republicans seeking to postpone conversations about guns to a later time never specify when that later time may be. The discussion of immigration, on the other hand, after a terrorist attack by a foreigner, has no such limitations.

After the Las Vegas shooting in October, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told Fox News, “I thought it was inappropriate yesterday for people in these early hours to be jumping out and raising this as an issue.” In response to the outcry for stricter gun control, King advised instead waiting a few days to “see what happens.”

King struck a different tone when commenting on the terrorist attack in New York on Halloween, telling Fox News, “As far as the vetting, I agree, we do need to have improved vetting, increased vetting,” not defining what the “extreme vetting” would entail, but implying more extensive background checks, particularly on refugees and citizens of Muslim majority nations.

Former Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) also weighed in after the Vegas shooting on Fox News.

“It’s just not the time to dive into the politics and try to score political points.” Chaffetz said.

He then appeared on Fox & Friends, the day after the terrorist attack on the West Side Highway in New York, saying, “this guy who committed this crime, assuming that he did commit this crime, his entire family should be deported” — again demonstrating a penchant for taking a strictly party-centric viewpoint rather than considering the general public interest.

“What they really want their intended audience to take away,” Barker said, “is some version of ‘look at those craven, crass hacks over there: they are dividing the country with politics at a time of national tragedy when we should all be coming together.’ [Politicians] do it because it works. It effectively stifles consideration of policy response to national tragedies that might enjoy popular support but are not at the top of anyone’s agenda.”

“This is why striking while the iron is hot is a good political move, and [why] ‘politicizing’ happens. After the public’s attention turns elsewhere, the opportunity may have passed.”

Hypocrisy permeates the entire political spectrum. Republicans seeking to postpone conversations about guns to a later time never specify when that later time may be. The discussion of immigration, on the other hand, after a terrorist attack by a foreigner, has no such limitations.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took to the Senate floor the day after the Las Vegas shooting to address the attack. “What Congress can do — what Congress must do — is pass laws that keep our citizens safe,” Schumer said. “And that starts with laws that help prevent guns, especially the most dangerous guns, from falling into the wrong hands.”

Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, spoke out publicly against Trump’s decision to bring up immigration reform immediately after the West Side Highway terrorist attack.
Photo credit: Navajo Nation Washington Office / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Yet, Schumer hit President Donald Trump for “politicizing” the West Side Highway terrorist attack after the president attacked Schumer for his role in creating the Diversity Visa Lottery Program — which the terrorist had used to enter the United States.

Trump also assailed the program itself and called for immigration reform. Schumer replied in a statement, saying that “Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be focusing on the real solution — anti-terrorism funding — which he proposed cutting in his most recent budget.”

For Schumer and the Democrats, the reverse was true: Only gun control, and not immigration reform, can be discussed after a tragedy.

Without shared values and principles, substantive political dialogue becomes impossible.

Politicians who urge us not to “politicize” are often responding to the “power struggle” as defined by Lasswell.

“Both sides do it, but the Republicans have traditionally done it more because, ideologically, they are less interested in public policy solutions to most social ills,” Barker points out. “Conservatism, by definition, wants the federal government to be more hands-off when it comes to most domestic policy. They genuinely do not believe that such efforts help but that they tend to make things worse. Dem[ocrat]s, on the other hand, believe that that is what they are there to do — try to make things better through public action — so they are the ones in the position of calling for new government regulation or programs or whatever in response to a problem.”

A redress of grievances through a legislative response is the proper way to rectify problems affecting all of society, as envisioned in the Constitution… it is important to think of the victims in times of tragedy, but it should be “fair game” to discuss reforms after a major event if the discussion serves the purpose of finding a political solution.

Dr. Monika L. McDermott, professor of political science at Fordham University, adds that when emotions run high, it’s really hard to have a discussion on the merits of any given policy move. Public support for gun control does tend to jump immediately following mass shootings, but it typically returns to its previous level.

“This is why striking while the iron is hot is a good political move, and [why] ‘politicizing’ happens,” she said. “After the public’s attention turns elsewhere, the opportunity may have passed.”

There can be cases, however, of ugly, objectionable politicization. One of the most controversial was the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After the American public was left in shock and horror from the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the Bush administration stoked fears with unsubstantiated claims that Saddam Hussein was amassing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to secure support for the war.

In Shapiro’s book — Selling Fear: Counterterrorism, The Media, and Public Opinion — the professor and his co-authors, Brigitte L. Nacos and Yaeli Bloch-Elkon, address how journalists at the time went from being watchdogs to lapdogs.

The press amplified manufactured fears coming from the White House rather than critically examining the disputed claims regarding WMD. In this way, the media ultimately shaped public opinion in favor of invasion. The same constellation of forces smoothed the passage of the controversial Patriot Act. Public opposition to government surveillance was at a low at that time due to post-9/11 security concerns.

“Since then, [the Patriot Act] has been roundly criticized for giving government far too much power to invade Americans’ privacy,” McDermott said. “It’s almost certain that if lawmakers had waited a little bit for things to cool down, the bill would not have gone as far as it did.”

Since its passage, the Patriot Act has been amended multiple times to protect citizens’ civil liberties, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans.

Discussions and debates, nevertheless, can provide the impetus for legislative reform. There are countless examples of policy review after citizens demand action. The Dodd-Frank Act, known formally as the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, was introduced after public outrage over banking excesses — which contributed to the financial collapse of 2007-8 — motivated Congress to overhaul parts of the US financial regulatory system.

Another example is the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as ObamaCare. Before its provisions came into force in 2014, there was growing concern among citizens about rising healthcare costs, denials of insurance coverage, and higher premiums for pre-existing conditions — and a large population of uninsured, estimated to be about 44 million. Though the ACA has many unresolved problems, it has reduced the number of the uninsured by almost half. This summer, when Republicans attempted to repeal the ACA, the public backlash deterred some Republicans from voting for its repeal.

A redress of grievances through a legislative response is the proper way to rectify problems affecting all of society, as envisioned in the Constitution. And, as Shapiro stated, it is important to think of the victims in times of tragedy, but it should be “fair game” to discuss reforms after a major event if the discussion serves the purpose of finding a political solution.

If history is any guide, the next tragedy is just around the corner — along with calls for action from one side and an outcry over “politicization” from the other. In those moments, it’s important for Americans to be aware of the motivation behind each side’s posturing, and to look beyond the political gamesmanship.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from police tape by Tony Webster / Flickr

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December 6, 2017

Wed, 2017-12-06 21:01

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CVS and Aetna Merger

Wed, 2017-12-06 11:03
MSNBC Fires Sam Seder for Old Tweet Mocking Polanski Supporters (DH)

Responding to communications from alt-right writer Mike Cernovich, MSNBC fired contributor Sam Seder over a satirical 2009 tweet calling out supporters of director Roman Polanski. Seder hosts the Majority Report, a progressive podcast.

Trump Considering Private Spy Force? (Russ)

“Is this the only way to get rid of Deep State spies?” Yes, this is the debate being held in the White House.

Remembering Yemen’s Strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh (Dan)

Saleh was one of the last leaders to experience the Arab Spring, an uprising that removed traditional power structures in the Middle East and North Africa. After finally giving up power (to his vice president), Saleh unexpectedly aligned with the anti-government Houthis rebels in Yemen’s north, effectively turning against all the promises he had just made to the new government. And then things got crazy.

Senate Republicans Made a $289 Billion Mistake in their Handwritten Tax Bill (Trevin)

According to a group of lawyers from Davis Polk, an international law firm, “Republicans had essentially undermined their bill’s most important changes to the international tax code.”

Rep. Keith Ellison: GOP Tax Bill Would Reorder Society and Create ‘Hereditary Aristocracy’ for the Rich (Jimmy)

Amy Goodman from Democracy Now interviews Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MI) on the recently passed GOP-led Senate tax bill.

Trump Shrinks Two National Monuments (Jimmy)

The author writes, “On Monday afternoon, President Trump signed two presidential proclamations that will reduce the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two national monuments located in Utah. Never before has a president reduced a national-monument designation made by a predecessor by such large margins.”

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A Sad Countdown: Scientists Watch a Species Go Extinct

Wed, 2017-12-06 07:29

Conservationists in Mexico have front-row seats as yet another species is on the verge of extinction. They can watch, but it looks as though there is little they can do to prevent it.

This time, the species in question is the vaquita porpoise. Experts believe there are only about 30 vaquita left in the warm waters of Mexico’s Gulf of California, the only area in the world where the small porpoises are known to live.

Only discovered in 1958, the vaquita 一 known as the “panda of the sea” for the darkened rings around its eyes 一 has always been a rare and enigmatic creature. A 1997 study identified roughly 600 vaquita in the Gulf of California, and by 2008, that figure had dropped to about 250. But the vaquita’s numbers have dwindled dramatically in recent years, and the species’ exponential decline can be attributed almost entirely to human activity, especially gillnetting (more on this below).

When the last of them dies, the vaquita will pass on the dubious distinction of “the world’s most endangered marine mammal” to the next species on the list.

To prevent that from happening, conservationists had been engaged in a last-ditch effort to rescue the porpoises. An international team of experts set out to identify and track any remaining vaquita, with the hope of eventually placing them in specially designed sea pens where they could be safely housed and monitored.

That was a risky prospect, especially considering that similar porpoises can’t survive in human care.

The mission was a part of VaquitaCPR, an international effort that brought together multiple nongovernmental organizations and the governments of the United States and Mexico in a final, emergency attempt to save the vaquita from the brink of extinction.

Even the US Navy got involved and contributed a group of specially trained dolphins to spot any members of the species across the Sea of Cortez.

Stressed to Death .

For the first several weeks of the operation, efforts to save the creature seemed promising. In late October, scientists made history by briefly capturing a vaquita calf before returning the baby to the wild after it began to show signs of stress. The capture appeared to indicate that long-term care could be viable — with the right precautions in place.

But in early November, the team’s nightmare scenario unfolded when an adult female vaquita died while being monitored in captivity as a part of the operation. Dr. Cynthia Smith reported to the New York Times that the team successfully transported the vaquita from open waters into a sea pen where she was closely monitored. She began to swim back and forth erratically before suddenly going limp, likely due to the stress of being held in a human enclosure.

Although the VaquitaCPR team did its best to resuscitate the vaquita, its efforts were unsuccessful.

The adult vaquita’s death suggested that the species might be more averse to human care than some conservationists previously thought. It also complicated an already arduous and controversial mission which cost roughly $5 million over the course of this year alone.

Perhaps more than anything though, the loss was a blow to the team’s morale and a sign that the vaquita’s chances of long-term survival are dwindling.

A devastating setback. There are no words to express how sad I feel. https://t.co/RG9bNYuJ6j

— Andy Read (@AndyAread) November 6, 2017

This reflects a larger trend in the field of animal conservation. Researchers can typically predict the downfall of a species decades in advance, but there’s little they can do to stop the decline without proper financial and logistical resources. In many cases, governments, large corporations, and other powerful entities only begin to pay attention after it’s too late.

Another Doomed Creature .

The last major porpoise to be declared extinct was the Baiji, a long-nosed, freshwater dolphin which lived in China’s Yangtze River for 20 million years until 2006. As so often in these cases, humans were to blame. The construction of dams, widespread industrialization, and overfishing were all significant factors that contributed to the species’ extinction. But conservationists like marine mammal biologist Dr. Tom Jefferson argue that the baiji could have been saved if those issues had been mitigated earlier.

“When that species was declining toward extinction, there was an attempt by the Chinese government to capture those remaining individuals,” he told WhoWhatWhy. “We believe [it] was done poorly, without using proper scientific knowledge and not following the recommendations of experts. And there were definitely some political and economic considerations that were involved in that operation.”

When an international group of experts was finally permitted to conduct an expedition along the Yangtze River in 2006, they couldn’t find a single baiji ー they were too late. Conservationists hope that the plight of the vaquita won’t end in the same manner.

Photo credit: Government of Austrailia

Enemy Number 1: Gillnets .

Fishers rarely hunt for vaquita specifically, yet drownings in gillnets are the most common human-inflicted cause of death for the species.

Gillnets are vertical panels of netting, usually set in a straight line, and are used everywhere, in the ocean and in freshwater.

Fishers often catch vaquita accidentally while hunting for the similarly-sized totoaba, another endangered animal whose swim bladders are valuable in Chinese black markets for unverified medicinal uses. A single totoaba swim bladder can sell for $10,000 on the black market, creating a valuable incentive for poachers in the region.

Gillnets are not dangerous in some contexts, yet they pose a significant risk in the biologically-diverse Sea of Cortez where many species local to the region are already at risk of becoming extinct.

Earlier this year, the Mexican government enacted a permanent gillnet ban across the Gulf of California. It was hailed by conservation scientists as a vital step to save the species and other endangered wildlife in the region.

Dr. Anna Hall, a zoologist who participated in this month’s rescue attempts, tells WhoWhatWhy that most fishers in the region have adjusted their methods to meet the government’s new regulations and have received financial reimbursement in return.

“The men and women doing legal fisheries are not the issue. We are not dealing with people who are following the law. We’re dealing with people who are working for the black market trade,” Hall explains.

Although the vast majority of local fishers are doing their part, the international trading rings responsible for the bulk of the vaquita porpoise’s decline are much more difficult for authorities to locate and dismantle. And with so few members of the species remaining, any single gillnet entanglement could be a detrimental blow to the entire population.

With guidance from an independent review board, the VaquitaCPR team cancelled future attempts to capture the vaquita. The remaining days of the operation were spent focusing on visual sightings and sonar detection of the creature. The team hoped that identifying and naming individuals based on their unique physical characteristics could be an important tool for spreading visibility and awareness of the vaquita’s plight.

Conservationists from around the world have joined the urgent effort to keep vaquitas from vanishing entirely from their only known home — the Gulf of California. Photo credit: VaquitaCPR

Meanwhile, the Mexican government’s Ministry of the Environment will continue to scour the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to enforce this year’s permanent gillnet ban. They will serve as the last line of defense against illegal poachers, but no one knows if that will be enough to save a species on the brink of extinction.

The vaquita’s plight may be just the latest example of how conservationists’ efforts to save endangered wildlife can’t compete with the ever-increasing rate of human development and industrialization. Dr. Hall puts that reality in stark and simple terms.

“These animals are very small and relatively difficult to find because of their remote location in the Sea of Cortez,” she said. “And of course, now their numbers are very low. To me, it’s so incredibly sad that this species could vanish, and most of the world wouldn’t even know, or notice.”

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from vaquita by Paula Olsen / Wikimedia Commons

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December 5, 2017

Wed, 2017-12-06 00:14

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Read It?

Tue, 2017-12-05 09:53
Leading Trump Census Pick Causes Alarm (Jimmy)

The author writes, “The fate of the census under President Donald Trump has been closely watched by voting-rights advocates worried that the administration — which has already made unsupported claims about voter fraud — might nudge it in directions that over- or undercount some Americans. Subtle bureaucratic choices in the wording and administration of the census can have huge consequences for who is counted, and how it shifts American voting districts.”

Is Torture the Only Way to Combat Terror for Trump? (Dan)

One unfortunate consequence of the slow death of HIG — the US’s elite terror interrogation team — could be a reversion back to the to the torture program of the Bush era.

Net Neutrality Supporters to Protest at Verizon Stores Nationwide This Thursday (Jimmy)

The author writes, “Protests are planned at Verizon stores across the country on Thursday amid the Federal Communications Commission’s plans to scrap net neutrality regulations that currently require internet providers to treat all content equally.”

Guess Who Pays for GOP’s Tax Plan (Reader Steve)

It’s not the rich, it’s you. This opinion piece confirms all your worst fears about the GOP’s tax bill.

Irish Border Issues Bring Brexit Talks to the Wire (Kirsty)

As reported by WhoWhatWhy a month ago, the only land border between the UK and Europe is jeopardizing the Brexit deal.

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Is North Korea’s Latest Missile Test a Prelude to War?

Sat, 2017-12-02 06:57

North Korea this week blasted its 20th and most fearsome intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) into space. This shattered not only the illusion that the country may be softening its nuclear stance, but also any hope of imminent diplomatic progress with the US.

Hwasong-15, fired just before dawn on Wednesday, was the first such missile test conducted in two months — the longest hiatus this year. Following two launches in July, it represents the third successful launch of an ICBM that could — in theory — reach the US mainland.

More alarming than the tests’ consistent success is the rapid upgrading of weaponry. Images of this week’s rocket show marked improvements over its predecessor, including a rounder nose cone (to accommodate multiple warheads), an extra engine for its first booster stage (to increase the range of a strike) and a larger transporter launcher. Equipped with these new features, Hwasong-15 soared to a record height of 2,800 miles.

South Korean officials, who conducted a swift “precision missile strike drill” six minutes after the blast to prove it can take out North Korean launch sites, said that Kim’s nuke program, far from languishing, has progressed more quickly than expected. While it has not yet demonstrated an ability to accurately aim the missile or to master the re-entry phase, Cho Myoung-gyon, the South Korean unification minister, believes the North could complete its program in 2018.

Pyongyang’s latest test drew an atypically muted response from President Donald Trump, who this summer had threatened to rain “fire and fury” on the diplomatically isolated nation if it continued to provoke the US and its allies.

“I will only tell you that we will take care of it,” was Trump’s cryptic response to the White House press. With each new test, the effectiveness of the US’s deterrence strategy appears more questionable and the possibility of a bleaker alternative edges closer.

Should nuclear war erupt, the policy think tank Nautilus Institute estimates that a million people could die on the first day. Even if the North used only conventional warheads in a missile attack, casualties would still top 100,000, according to a Congressional Research Report. It’s a risk that most foreign policy experts have said the US would never take.

Yet after Wednesday’s test, several Republicans seemingly adopted the president’s hard-line stance. “If we have to go to war to stop this, we will,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a well-known hawk, told CNN. “We’re headed toward a war if things don’t change.”

Watch the videos below for an overview of the current crisis and a close look at North Korea’s most advanced iteration of the ICBM.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Kim Jong-Un (news official / YouTube).

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December 1, 2017

Fri, 2017-12-01 10:44

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Bowing to Amazon

Fri, 2017-12-01 09:44
Baltimore Police Refusing to Let FBI Join Investigation of Murdered Detective Scheduled to Testify Against Officers (Jimmy)

The author writes, “Police in Baltimore have made no arrests in the shooting death of homicide Detective Sean Suiter, who was slain with his own gun the day before testifying against fellow officers before a federal grand jury. Despite the lack of progress in the case and the clear conflict of interest, the Baltimore Police Department is refusing to allow the FBI to take over investigation, WBAL News reports.”

Chinese Media to Register? (Russ)

Now it’s not just the Russian outlet RT that may have to register in order to operate in the US. The Chinese media are perceived as seeking to cast China and its actions in a positive light, and operating as a kind of intelligence asset.

Backlash Against Russian ‘Fake News’ Is Shutting Down Debate for Real (Jimmy)

The author writes, “As we enter a brave new world where artificial intelligence is deployed in calculations and algorithms purportedly targeting fake news, the winners are establishment and commercial media. This may be the reason for so little discussion, other than a few laudatory features praising the new technology. ”

Zimbabwe’s New Cabinet is Acting Like the Old Cabinet (Dan)

A criticism of Mugabe’s later rule is that it discounted opposition at any turn. Zimbabwe’s new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, appears to be following that model.

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A Rogue American Spy and Why North Korea Hates America

Fri, 2017-12-01 06:45

Donald Nichols never fit the mold of a post-war American spy. In 1946 he went to Korea as a nobody, going to a place that nobody wanted to go to. When he arrived he began preparing for a war that no one else knew was coming. When it did, he was uniquely ready.

He became an intelligence superstar. He had his own base of operations, and his own army. He became disturbingly close to South Korean President Syngman Rhee, and condoned, if not participated in, Rhee’s campaign of mass killings and beheadings.

This is the remarkable story that author and journalist Blaine Harden tells Jeff Schechtman, in this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast.

Once the war began, Harden explains, Nichols was invaluable. He created the South Korean Air Force, and he knew when and where America and South Korea could inflict maximum damage in bombing the North. To this day, Nichols’s actions lie at the heart of Kim Jong-un’s argument to the North Korean people about why they should hate America. It’s Nichols’s legacy that Donald Trump’s rhetoric plays directly into.

Nichols was a real life Col. Kurtz, the barbaric officer portrayed by Marlon Brando in the movie Apocalypse Now. And, as Harden tells the story, in 1957, the US military came for him, put him in a straitjacket and took him to a military psych ward where he received massive amounts of electroshock treatment. They turned him into a “non-person.”

To this day, Harden argues, there is no clear reason as to why, and no idea how high up the orders to nullify him came from.

Blaine Harden is the author of King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea (Viking, October 3, 2017).

Click HERE to Download Mp3

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from flag (CIA / Wikimedia), planes (Republic of Korea Armed Forces / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0) and Kurtz (Todd Barnard / Flickr – CC BY-SA 2.0).

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Social Media Bot Wars

Thu, 2017-11-30 11:11
Media’s Grim Addiction to Perseverance Porn (Jimmy)

Adam Johnson writes, “You’ve seen or heard or read the personal interest story a thousand times … All heartwarming tales of perseverance in the face of impossible odds — and all ideological agitprop meant to obscure and decontextualize the harsh reality of dog-eat-dog capitalism.”

No Hacking Necessary — Army Leaves Data Exposed Online (Reader Steve)

A trove of top-secret documents was left online with no password needed to access. No one knows if the files were downloaded, though experts assume the cache of files has been compromised.

GOP’s Ideological War Against Higher Education (Dan)

The GOP has long believed that higher education is a form of liberal indoctrination. Now their tax plan is taking aim at endowments, scholarships, and other tax-free incentives.

Russia Mulls Blocking US Media From Moscow (Trevin)

From Talking Points Memo: “A senior Russian lawmaker says that US media could lose access to government agencies in retaliation for the withdrawal of a Kremlin-funded television station’s credentials in the United States.”

Trump’s Iran Deal? (Dan)

Despite all the anti-Iranian bravado coming from the Trump administration, a prisoner swap could be on the horizon. Another element of the deal could include something Trump chided the Obama administration for: repayment of US debt to Iran for purchased military equipment that was never received.

Supreme Court Must Understand: Cell Phones Aren’t Optional (Jimmy)

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments in Carpenter v. United States, “a major Fourth Amendment case that questions whether the police can access your phone’s location data without a warrant. The government argues that it should always be entitled to that information, no questions asked, because the 95 percent of American adults who own cell phones choose to give up that information ‘voluntarily.’”

Trump Could Hire Amyntor to Carry Out Private ‘Renditions’ and More (Chris) Buzzfeed reports today that Amyntor Group wants “to set up a large intelligence network and run counter terrorist propaganda efforts” for the US. Figures associated with Amyntor “include veterans of a variety of US covert operations, ranging from the Reagan-era Iran–Contra affair to more recent actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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