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« Reply #4365 on: Feb 19, 2018, 05:59 AM »

'Serial stowaway': how does a 66-year-old woman keep sneaking on to flights?

It might seem harmless, comical, or a damning picture of airport security, but the true story of Marilyn Hartman is a tragic one that shines a light on mental illness

Joe Eskenazi in San Francisco
2/19/ 2018 06.00 GMT

It required a concatenation of foul-ups for Marilyn Hartman to elude security at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and make it all the way to London Heathrow last week without a ticket or a passport. She kept her head down. She hid behind other passengers. Somehow she managed to walk past airport security agents, shuttle bus drivers, and ticketing agents. If she’d managed to sneak on to a domestic flight instead of an international one, she might well have pulled it off.

A few people may well lose their jobs, and a few policies may have to be reviewed. But, make no mistake, Hartman is not some manner of gate-crashing Moriarty. She’s just persistent. Because this is not the first time the 66-year old Chicagoan has managed to fly without a ticket. And it probably won’t be the last.

In the US, Hartman is known as the “serial stowaway”, an inveterate sneaker-on-to-planes. Her exploits have spawned countless news stories, scads of bad puns (a Chicago judge last week declared her a “flight risk”), and a wall of near-identical lost granny mugshots by now resembling a Warhol polyptych.

The techniques that got her into the UK last week mirrored those she’s been practicing since 2009, according to multiple police reports. These include ducking under the velvet ropes, piggybacking her way into small groups, presenting other people’s boarding passes, or simply answering “yes”, when airport staff ask leading questions such as: “Are you Maria Sandgren?”

These are not sophisticated or even novel procedures and, even before sneaking on to planes, Hartman is often caught by airport workers. The befuddled older white woman, however, is never summarily thrown in jail. The Department of Homeland Security isn’t called and triumphalist press releases about a terror suspect attempting to ferret herself on to a plane are never issued. Instead, Hartman is usually told to get out of line and sit down. And she does. Until she gets up and does it again.

Hartman’s story started in 2014, when she waged a virtual assault on San Francisco international airport, where she attempted to sneak on to half a dozen planes over the course of several months.

She is not, however, just a chancer seeking a free holiday. The reasons why Hartman, a longtime homeless woman, feels compelled to do this, insofar as she can address them, would appear to have more unhappy origins. In 2009, she told police in Hawaii that she’d attempted to masquerade as another woman and board a plane because “she really wanted to get off the island”. And yet, in 2014, she told San Francisco cops that she needed to secrete herself on to a plane to Hawaii; she worried she had cancer and “wanted to go to a warm place and die” (Hartman didn’t have cancer).

While researching a lengthy 2015 article about Hartman and her unusual preoccupations, I found arrest records dating back to 2009 documenting her attempts to sneak on to airplanes. During this time, Marilyn Hartman called me – frequently. There were collect calls from jails and then rambling cellphone conversations from buses and libraries and Chicago streets and halfway houses.

These monologues described a conspiratorial worldview in which every passing glance from a fellow transit passenger or store patron was an indicator of a vast illuminati network dedicated to a decades-long mission of harassing Marilyn Jean Hartman. Mysterious individuals left her tickets to various locales and airport officials let her use them, only to pounce later. It was all part of the plan to hound her into vagrancy and, per Hartman, it went up to the very top (“For 25 years, Barack Obama knew about my case and all that went wrong when the ruling came down against me, but chose not to do the right thing,” she claimed in one email.)

Eventually, Hartman stopped responding to my calls and emails. Before cutting off contact, however, she claimed to be suffering from “whistleblower trauma syndrome”, a self-diagnosed condition not found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This condition, Hartman claims, induces her with a very literal “fight or flight” reaction: “I feel the need to get on a plane to go away,” she said.

    She worried she had cancer and 'wanted to go to a warm place and die'

A generation ago, people tried to pull stuff like this more frequently. Back in 2015 , Jeffrey Price, a professor of aviation management at Denver’s Metropolitan State University, told me that distracting the agent at the gate and sneaking your friends on to the plane used to be de rigueur among cheap college kids looking to economize. Airports were vastly different places before 9/11, after all.

On that note, for those worrying about what a 66-year-old woman’s ability to elude the system says about our terror readiness, Price has one word for you: don’t.

Hartman managed to make a lot of people look foolish and took a $2,400 flight for free. But that’s not a security issue. That’s a business issue. Hartman is not Jackie Chan. She is not going to take down a flight with her bare hands. And while she managed to get past security without a boarding pass or passport, she was screened for weapons – and, presumably, nail files and tubes of ointment – like everyone else.
‘Marilyn Jean Hartman hasn’t revealed serious weaknesses in airport security. But she has shone a light on a justice system ill-equipped to handle mentally-ill rule-breakers.’

Her secret weapon is revealed by that wall of mug shots: Hartman is an ageing and grandmotherly white woman who blends into crowds and does not make airport figures nervous. It is impossible to conceive of a younger person of, say, Middle Eastern origin, being treated so innocuously at the airport after being caught in the midst of sneaky behavior. It is also impossible to conceive of such a person being allowed to do this again and again and again with minimal repercussions.

But that’s what’s happened to Hartman. Despite her claims that the vast army of shadow agents plotting against her are setting her up for some manner of lengthy punishment she is, repeatedly, freed by well-meaning judges and told not to misbehave again. She often promises to do just that – before breaking those pledges within days or even hours.

Marilyn Jean Hartman hasn’t really revealed serious weaknesses in airport security. But she has shone a light on a justice system ill-equipped to handle mentally ill rule-breakers who don’t present a serious threat to themselves or others. In state after state, public defenders successfully argue jail is not the solution for her problems. In state after state, she’s released and sent to homeless services she finds filthy and unacceptable. She bounces, quickly, and the cycle begins anew.

There is not a battalion of ageing, white-haired women inundating our nation’s friendly skies. But there are legions of mentally ill homeless people, many of them older and unwell, wandering the streets of every large American city. And not only do we not do all that much to help them – we don’t even know how.

And that is the real tragedy of Marilyn Hartman.

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« Reply #4366 on: Feb 19, 2018, 06:02 AM »

Communist past returns to haunt embattled Czech PM

Slovakian court dismisses Andrej Babiš claim he was wrongly identified as a former agent

Robert Tait in Prague
Mon 19 Feb 2018 05.00 GMT

Only the fear of being unmasked as a collaborator seemed to cloud the businessman’s horizon as he signed up as an informer for communist Czechoslovakia’s secret police in jarringly jovial surroundings.

Over generous refreshments during a 90-minute meeting in a Bratislava wine bar on 11 November 1982, the agent soon to be known as Bureš was asked to report what associates were saying about the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, whose death the previous day threatened to shake the communist world and the east-west cold war confrontation to the core.

According to archived documents, the recruit, Andrej Babiš – today the Czech Republic’s prime minister and second richest man – was worried someone might see him with officers from the security services, hampering his career with a state trading company that enabled a privileged existence and foreign travel.

Whatever Babiš told his handlers about sentiments towards Brezhnev – a leader widely disliked in the former Czechoslovakia for ordering the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion that crushed the Prague Spring – is lost to posterity. Document analysts believe the issue’s sensitivity led to his answers being fed to a special intelligence department which passed them to the ruling politburo, which possibly feared that Brezhnev’s passing could trigger a new uprising.

Communist rule in Czechoslovakia and neighbouring eastern European countries came to an end in 1989. Babiš’s concerns that his clandestine activities might one day come to haunt him proved equally prescient.

Last week a court in Bratislava – capital of the independent Slovakia that emerged, along with the Czech Republic, from Czechoslovakia’s dissolution in 1993 – delivered a powerful political and legal blow by dismissing his argument that he had been wrongly identified as a former agent.

The verdict appeared to mark the final failure of a years-long campaign by the Slovak-born Babiš to prove he was the victim of a smear campaign by enemies designed to destroy his political career and his business empire, which encompasses about 230 companies in a vast conglomerate called Agrofert.

Babiš had argued that, far from being a collaborator, he was in reality a victim of the communist-era security services, known as the StB, who he said blackmailed him into cooperating to maintain his children’s education and his right to travel abroad. He even produced the agent who supposedly recruited him in that 1982 meeting, Lieutenant Julius Suman, to testify in court that his security file had been deliberately falsified to conceal Bureš’s true identity.

That was initially accepted by a Bratislava court, which ruled in 2014 that Babiš had been wrongly listed as a communist agent. But the ruling was overturned last year by Slovakia’s constitutional court, which said Suman’s testimony was inadmissible because the StB was a “criminal organisation”.

It also said Babiš was wrong to sue Slovakia’s Nation’s Memory Institute, which merely held the documents in its archive. Last week’s verdict, which is final, confirmed the constitutional court’s ruling.

The development deepens the troubles of a politician already facing fraud charges after being accused by Czech police of illegally obtaining European funds for one of his businesses. A leaked report from the EU’s fraud unit, Olaf, recently said multiple European and Czech laws had been breached in obtaining nearly €2m for his Stork’s Nest hotel and conference centre outside Prague.

It could further complicate Babiš’s attempts to form a viable government after his first attempted administration collapsed within a month after losing a parliamentary confidence vote.

Although his populist Action for Dissatisfied Citizens party easily won last October’s parliamentary election, most other parties refuse to enter a coalition with Babiš as leader, citing the criminal charges against him.

Miloš Zeman, the Czech president who was re-elected last month, has defied such resistance by inviting Babiš to try again to form a government.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the Czech Communist party, which holds 15 seats in the 200-member parliament and opposes membership of the EU and Nato, is one of the few groupings to express possible willingness to support a Babiš government.

While communist sympathies may seem incongruous for a man today known for his $4bn (£2.9bn) fortune, lavish lifestyle and a pragmatic political approach seemingly bereft of ideology, they would not have seemed unusual in Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s when the end of the cold war seemed a barely remote possibility.

Babiš, 63, is the son of a senior communist official who served as Czechoslovakia’s representative to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (Gatt) in Geneva. He is believed to have joined the communist party himself in 1980, a move possibly driven as much by career ambitions as political convictions.

Radek Schovánek, an expert in communist-era security files for the Czech defence ministry, said Babiš served the StB as an informal “trusty” before becoming a fully fledged agent. There was little doubt from Babiš’s 12 surviving security files – others have been destroyed – that he joined willingly, Schovánek said.

Among Babiš’s recorded achievements were informing on an individual who illegally imported western video recorders, “corrupting” his colleagues.

Schovánek, who testified as a witness against Babiš at the original Slovakian trial, said his activities could have been far more extensive than what is revealed in the files, which were made available in the early 1990s.

“It’s a joke to claim he was a victim,” he said. “Falsifying the files was impossible. There were very strict rules regarding the paperwork of secret collaborators. We have analysed all the information that Babiš gave them. It was accurate and according to the rules, everything was in order.”

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« Reply #4367 on: Feb 19, 2018, 06:04 AM »

Orbán claims Hungary is last bastion against 'Islamisation' of Europe

PM steps up populist rhetoric in annual state of the nation speech ahead of April elections

Daniel Boffey in Brussels
19 Feb 2018 18.34 GMT

The prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán, has ramped up his populist rhetoric ahead of April elections to claim that “dark clouds are gathering” and that his country is a last bastion in the fight against the “Islamisation” of Europe.

In his annual state of the nation speech, Orbán, who already appears set to win a third consecutive four-year term, made what are now familiar claims about his success in beating back threats to Hungary’s way of life from “Brussels, Berlin and Paris politicians”.

“We sent the muzzle back to Brussels and the leash back to the IMF,” he said early in his address on Sunday, praising the strength of the country’s economy.

The part of his speech which inevitably alighted on the threat of immigration will particularly concern Orbán’s many critics home and abroad.

He claimed the west had “opened the way for the decline of Christian culture and … Islamic expansion” while his administration had “prevented the Islamic world from flooding us from the south”.

Deploying a host of questionable statistics and apocalyptic visions, Orbán said: “We are those who think that Europe’s last hope is Christianity … If hundreds of millions of young people are allowed to move north, there will be enormous pressure on Europe. If all this continues, in the big cities of Europe there will be a Muslim majority.”

He said immigration was no more helpful for a country’s national development than influenza contributed to a human body’s health.

The rhetoric will strengthen the hand of those calling for Orbán’s rightwing populist party Fidesz to be ousted from the transnational European People’s party, of which Angela Merkel’s CDU is a member.

Orbán’s personal bete noire, the Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros, was also once again a target.

He accused Soros of having used his fortune not only to buy influence in Brussels and the west, but also at the UN. Further unspecified measures were floated as a response, building on legislation designed to crack down on foreign-funded organisations.

There was a conspiracy to create a “Homo sorosensus, the Soros type of man” that must be a rejected, he said.

“Hungary is not a country of troubled people, we understand that György Soros’s men were already in the UN,” Orbán told his audience at the Várkert Bazár, a restored neo-Renaissance building on the Danube, outside which hundreds of people protested.

Orbán pledged his government’s solidarity with “those western European people and leaders who want to save their country and their Christian culture”.

“We are waiting for the Italian elections, where Silvio Berlusconi can again occupy the government positions.”

Gyula Molnár, the president of the socialist MSZP, said of the speech: “It was the product of a medium-sized enterprise manager with some fake illusions.”

Fidesz has the support of more than 40% of decided voters in a country where the media is largely pliant and the opposition divided.

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« Reply #4368 on: Feb 19, 2018, 06:26 AM »

Trump faces calls to act against Russia after Mueller's indictments

Democrats and former intelligence officials argue Trump had done nothing to protect future elections from Russian interference

Oliver Laughland in New York
19 Feb 2018 17.38 GMT

Donald Trump faced mounting calls on Sunday to act against Russia after special counsel Robert Mueller unveiled indictments on Friday accusing 13 Russians and three companies of interfering in the 2016 presidential election to help Republicans.

Trump has attempted to spin the indictments as a personal victory, falsely claiming that they prove his campaign did not collude with the foreign power during the election and that Russian meddling had no effect on the outcome. But the president has voiced no interest in the detailed evidence contained in the indictments suggesting that those charged had targeted US democracy via online interference from as far back as 2014.

Trump took to Twitter on Sunday morning to again criticize the ongoing investigations into Russian interference. “They are laughing their asses off in Moscow,” he wrote. “Get smart America!”.

But the president faced a growing chorus of alarm from Democrats and former intelligence officials who argued Trump had done nothing to protect future elections from Russian interference and sought to draw his own political capital from the special counsel’s indictments.

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under the Obama administration, told CNN: “Above all this rhetoric here, again we’re losing sight of what is it we’re going to do about the threat posed by the Russians. He [Trump] never talks about that. It’s all about himself.”

Democratic senator Chris Coons of Delaware urged the president to impose further sanctions on Russia after Friday’s indictments, using the power given to him via a bipartisan vote in the senate last year. Coons also called for better engagement with allies in Europe to combat the threat posed by Vladimir Putin.

“To me the most maddening question is why is President Trump failing to act to protect our democracy when there is indisputable proof now that Russia interfered in our 2016 elections,” Coons told CBS news on Sunday.

Trump’s failure to grapple with Russia’s successful meddling in the election and inability to articulate a strategy to prevent it occurring again, has placed him at odds with the consensus among his administration’s security officials.

On Tuesday, Daniel Coates, Trump’s director of national intelligence, warned that Russia viewed the upcoming 2018 midterm elections as a “potential target”, adding there should be “no doubt” they viewed meddling in 2016 as a success.

On Saturday the president’s national security adviser HR McMaster told a conference in Germany that Mueller’s indictments highlighted that the evidence was “now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain”.

Following McMaster’s remarks Trump once again took to Twitter late on Saturday in an attempt to correct his own official by falsely claiming again that McMaster had “forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians”. Trump also alleged, without evidence that the Democrats had colluded with Russia during the election.

John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager who had his emails hacked in a cyber attack attributed to a Russian backed group, also called on Trump to impose tougher sanctions on the Putin government.

“If this is information warfare, then I think he’s [Trump] the first draft-dodger in the war. I mean, he has done nothing but tried to undermine the Mueller investigation,” Podesta told CBS News.


Is Donald Trump a Traitor?

James Risen
February 16 2018, 1:00 p.m.
The Intercept

Trump and Russia Part 1

Americans must live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether Trump has the best interests of the United States or those of Russia at heart.

Part 2 is coming soon

I find it hard to write about Donald Trump.

It is not that he is a complicated subject. Quite the opposite. It is that everything about him is so painfully obvious. He is a low-rent racist, a shameless misogynist, and an unbalanced narcissist. He is an unrelenting liar and a two-bit white identity demagogue. Lest anyone forget these things, he goes out of his way each day to remind us of them.

At the end of the day, he is certain to be left in the dustbin of history, alongside Father Coughlin and Gen. Edwin Walker. (Exactly – you don’t remember them, either.)

What more can I add?

Unfortunately, another word also describes him: president. The fact that such an unstable egomaniac occupies the White House is the greatest threat to the national security of the United States in modern history.

Which brings me to the only question about Donald Trump that I find really interesting: Is he a traitor?

Did he gain the presidency through collusion with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

One year after Trump took office, it is still unclear whether the president of the United States is an agent of a foreign power. Just step back and think about that for a moment.

    The fact that such an unstable egomaniac occupies the White House is the greatest threat to U.S. national security in modern history.

His 2016 campaign is the subject of an ongoing federal inquiry that could determine whether Trump or people around him worked with Moscow to take control of the U.S. government. Americans must now live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether the president has the best interests of the United States or those of the Russian Federation at heart.

Most pundits in Washington now recoil at any suggestion that the Trump-Russia story is really about treason. They all want to say it’s about something else – what, they aren’t quite sure. They are afraid to use serious words. They are in the business of breaking down the Trump-Russia narrative into a long series of bite-sized, incremental stories in which the gravity of the overall case often gets lost. They seem to think that treason is too much of a conversation-stopper, that it interrupts the flow of cable television and Twitter. God forbid you might upset the right wing! (And the left wing, for that matter.)

But if a presidential candidate or his lieutenants secretly work with a foreign government that is a longtime adversary of the United States to manipulate and then win a presidential election, that is almost a textbook definition of treason.

In Article 3, Section 3, the U.S. Constitution states that “treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”

Based on that provision in the Constitution, U.S. law – 18 U.S. Code § 2381 – states that “whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere” is guilty of treason.  Those found guilty of this high crime “shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

Now look at the mandate given to former FBI Director Robert Mueller when he was appointed special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was acting in place of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself because of his role in the Trump campaign and the controversy surrounding his own meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

On May 17, 2017, Rosenstein issued a letter stating that he was appointing a special counsel to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” He added that Mueller’s mandate was to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” Rosenstein noted that “f the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.”

How closely aligned is Mueller’s mandate with the legal definition of treason? That boils down to the rhetorical differences between giving “aid and comfort, in the United States or elsewhere” to “enemies” of the United States and “any links and/or coordination” between the Russian government and Trump campaign aides related to “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”

Sounds similar to me.

As a practical matter, the special counsel is highly unlikely to pursue treason charges against Trump or his associates. Treason is vaguely defined in the law and very difficult to prove. To the extent that it is defined – as providing aid and comfort to an “enemy” of the United States – the question might come down to whether Russia is legally considered America’s “enemy.”

Russia may not meet the legal definition of an “enemy,” but it is certainly an adversary of the United States. It would make perfect sense for Russian President and de facto dictator Vladimir Putin to use his security services to conduct a covert operation to influence American politics to Moscow’s advantage. Such a program would fall well within the acceptable norms of great power behavior. After all, it is the kind of covert intelligence program the United States has conducted regularly against other nations – including Russia.

Throughout the Cold War, the CIA and the KGB were constantly engaged in such secret intelligence battles. The KGB had a nickname for the CIA: glavnyy vrag or “the main enemy.” In 2003, I co-authored a book called “The Main Enemy” with Milt Bearden, a retired CIA officer who had been chief of the CIA’s Soviet/Eastern European division when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed. The book was about the intelligence wars between the CIA and the KGB.

Today’s cyber-spy wars are just the latest version of “The Great Game,” the wonderfully romantic name for the secret intelligence battles between the Russian and British empires for control of Central Asia in the 19th century. Russia, the United States, and other nations engage in such covert intelligence games all the time – whether they are “enemies” or simply rivals.

In fact, evidence of the connections between Trump’s bid for the White House and Russian ambitions to manipulate the 2016 U.S. election keeps piling up. Throughout late 2016 and early 2017, a series of reports from the U.S. intelligence community and other government agencies underlined and reinforced nearly every element of the Russian hacking narrative, including the Russian preference for Trump. The reports were notable in part because their findings exposed the agencies to criticism from Trump and his supporters and put them at odds with Trump’s public dismissals of reported Russian attempts to help him get elected, which he has called “fake news.”

In addition, a series of details has emerged through unofficial channels that seems to corroborate these authorized assessments. A classified NSA document obtained by The Intercept last year states that Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, played a role in the Russian hack of the 2016 American election. In August, a Russian hacker confessed to hacking the Democratic National Committee under the supervision of an officer in Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, who has separately been accused of spying for the U.S. And Dutch intelligence service AIVD has reportedly given the FBI significant inside information about the Russian hack of the Democratic Party.

On February 16, just hours after this column was published, the special counsel announced indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian entities for meddling in the U.S. election. The special counsel accused them of intervening to help Trump and damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton. The indictments mark the first time Mueller has brought charges against any Russians in his ongoing probe.

Given all this, it seems increasingly likely that the Russians have pulled off the most consequential covert action operation since Germany put Lenin on a train back to Petrograd in 1917.

There are four important tracks to follow in the Trump-Russia story. First, we must determine whether there is credible evidence for the underlying premise that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump win. Second, we must figure out whether Trump or people around him worked with the Russians to try to win the election. Next, we must scrutinize the evidence to understand whether Trump and his associates have sought to obstruct justice by impeding a federal investigation into whether Trump and Russia colluded. A fourth track concerns whether Republican leaders are now engaged in a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice through their intense and ongoing efforts to discredit Mueller’s probe.

This, my first column for The Intercept, will focus on the first track of the Trump-Russia narrative. I will devote separate columns to each of the other tracks in turn.

The evidence that Russia intervened in the election to help Trump win is already compelling, and it grows stronger by the day.

There can be little doubt now that Russian intelligence officials were behind an effort to hack the DNC’s computers and steal emails and other information from aides to Hillary Clinton as a means of damaging her presidential campaign. Once they stole the correspondence, Russian intelligence officials used cutouts and fronts to launder the emails and get them into the bloodstream of the U.S. press. Russian intelligence also used fake social media accounts and other tools to create a global echo chamber both for stories about the emails and for anti-Clinton lies dressed up to look like news.

To their disgrace, editors and reporters at American news organizations greatly enhanced the Russian echo chamber, eagerly writing stories about Clinton and the Democratic Party based on the emails, while showing almost no interest during the presidential campaign in exactly how those emails came to be disclosed and distributed. The Intercept itself has faced such accusations. The hack was a much more important story than the content of the emails themselves, but that story was largely ignored because it was so easy for journalists to write about Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.

    The attack on the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party looks like the contemporary cyber-descendant of countless analog KGB propaganda efforts.

To anyone who has studied the history of the KGB, particularly during the Cold War, the attack on the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party during the 2016 U.S. election looks like the contemporary cyber-descendant of countless analog KGB propaganda efforts. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the KGB frequently engaged in ambitious disinformation campaigns that were designed to sow suspicion of the United States in the developing world. The KGB’s so-called “active measures” programs would use international front organizations, cutouts, and sometimes unwitting enablers in the press to disseminate their anti-American propaganda.

The most infamous and dangerously effective KGB disinformation campaign of the Cold War was known as Operation Infektion. It was a secret effort to convince people in developing countries that the United States had created the HIV/AIDS virus.

In 1983, a newspaper in India printed what purported to be a letter from an American scientist saying the virus had been developed by the Pentagon. The letter went on to suggest that the U.S. was moving its experiments to Pakistan, India’s archenemy. Meanwhile, the KGB got an East German scientist to spread misinformation supporting the Moscow-backed conspiracy theory that the U.S. was behind the virus.

While these lies never penetrated the U.S. mainstream, they nonetheless spread insidiously through much of the world.

Vladimir Putin was a KGB officer during the 1980s when the KGB was conducting this disinformation campaign. He was stationed in East Germany in the late 1980s, and there is a good chance he knew about the East German component of Operation Infektion.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the KGB was broken up and its successor agencies renamed. But the KGB never really went away. Instead, it underwent an extensive rebranding that did little to change its culture and traditions.

The KGB’s First Chief Directorate, its foreign intelligence service, was renamed the SVR. Like its predecessor agency, it was still housed in the First Chief Directorate’s headquarters in the Yasenevo District of Moscow, which was known as the “Russian Langley” for its similarities to CIA headquarters. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I met many former KGB officials in Moscow, including Leonid Shebarshin, the last leader of the First Chief Directorate, who was running the agency in 1991 when communist hardliners launched a coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. By the time I met Shebarshin, he was retired and running an “economic intelligence” firm out of an office in Moscow’s old Dynamo Stadium, the home of the KGB’s soccer team. A mural on his office wall depicted scenes from the Battle of Stalingrad and the Bolshevik Revolution, signaling his immersion in the Soviet era.

After the Soviet collapse, the KGB’s Second Chief Directorate, which handled spy-hunting and counterintelligence, along with other directorates that handled the KGB’s internal police state functions, were bundled into a new organization known as the FSB, the Federal Security Service. I conducted extensive interviews with one of the most legendary spy-hunters of the Second Chief Directorate, Rem Krassilnikov, a man whose personal history showed how entwined Russian intelligence still was with its Soviet past. His first name, Rem, was an acronym for Revolutsky Mir – the “World Revolution” Soviet leaders had longed to bring about. His father had been a general in the NKVD, the Stalinist predecessor to the KGB, and whenever I talked to him, Krassilnikov made it clear that he still considered the United States his adversary. He proudly took me on a tour of sites around Moscow where he had arrested American spies.

No one even bothered to rename the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. During the Cold War, the KGB considered the GRU a lower-class cousin, much as the CIA has always looked down upon the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency. Today, the GRU has added cyber and hacking capabilities like those of the National Security Agency. The GRU was involved in the Russian hack of the 2016 American election, according to a classified NSA document obtained by The Intercept, yet it still operates in the shadows of the more influential FSB and SVR.

Russian intelligence was briefly weakened following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but under Putin – the first KGB man to run the country since Yuri Andropov died in 1984 – it has come roaring back. During his KGB career, Putin served in both the First and Second Chief Directorates. One of his key formative experiences occurred in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Putin was stationed in East Germany at the time, and his biographers have written that the personal humiliation he felt watching the Soviet empire collapse helps explain his drive to return Russia to great power status.

In 1998, Russian President Boris Yeltsin named Putin director of the FSB. Since coming to power himself, Putin has deployed his country’s spies in Chechnya, Georgia, the Crimea, eastern Ukraine, and Syria in a bid to reassert Moscow’s global influence.

The chronology of the attack on the Democratic Party is a sad testament to the overconfidence of the Clinton campaign. It also highlights the inattention of American intelligence and law enforcement and their failure to adequately warn the major political parties of looming cyberthreats to the U.S. electoral system.

In September 2015, the FBI made a halfhearted effort to tell the DNC that its computer system had been invaded. In November 2015, the FBI told the DNC that its computers were sending data to Russia, but even that didn’t seem to prompt much concern on the Democrats’ part. In March 2016, Podesta’s email account was hacked in a phishing attack, giving thieves access to thousands of his emails.

In May 2016, CrowdStrike, a cybercompany hired by the DNC after the party finally recognized it had a problem, told DNC officials that its computers had been compromised in two separate attacks with two sets of malware associated with Russian intelligence.

While the DNC used CrowdStrike, a private contractor, to conduct an investigation, it did not give the FBI access to its computer systems. That fact has since been seized upon by skeptics who say that CrowdStrike’s analysis can’t be considered credible. But according to a November BuzzFeed story, CrowdStrike’s lead investigator, Robert Johnston, was a former Marine captain who had previously worked at the U.S. Cyber Command, where he had investigated an attempted hack of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that he identified as likely associated with the FSB. He had recent experience in identifying the signatures of hacking linked to Russian intelligence.

In June 2016, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said WikiLeaks had obtained emails associated with Clinton. Just days later, the Washington Post reported that Russian intelligence had hacked the DNC’s computers.

In July 2016, just before the Democratic National Convention, Wikileaks released thousands of DNC emails, and the party’s chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was forced to resign.

In September 2016, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence panel, issued a statement that they had received classified briefings that made it clear that Russian intelligence was trying to intervene in the election.

    The pattern and timing of the disclosures strongly suggests that the objective was to damage Clinton’s campaign and help Trump.

“We believe that orders for the Russian intelligence agencies to conduct such actions could come only from very senior levels of the Russian government,” their statement noted.

The key moment in the 2016 campaign came on October 7, when three events unfolded one after another. That afternoon, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of the Office of National Intelligence issued a statement that U.S. intelligence believed Russia was behind the Democratic Party hacks and email releases.

“The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations,” the statement read. “The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.”

That statement was immediately overshadowed later that afternoon when the Washington Post published the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump is heard talking about how easy it is for him to get away with sexual assault, including groping and forcibly kissing women.

Later that afternoon, WikiLeaks started tweeting links to emails hacked from Podesta’s account. WikiLeaks then began releasing Podesta emails on a regular basis throughout the last month of the campaign. Meanwhile, a group called DC Leaks, which is now believed to be a front for the Russian hackers who sought to intervene in the election, released more Democratic Party-related documents.

Within days, Trump was telling his supporters at rallies: “I love WikiLeaks.”

The scope of the impact of Russian hacking and subsequent disclosures of Democratic Party emails and data on the outcome of the 2016 election remains unclear. But the disclosures certainly helped take at least some of the media’s attention off Trump, and probably should be credited with giving him time to recover from the disastrous “Access Hollywood” tape. The pattern and timing of the disclosures also strongly suggests that the objective was to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and help Donald Trump.
Former Democratic US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets staff and supporters after making a concession speech at the New Yorker Hotel after her defeat last night to President-elect Donald Trump
In December 2016, a month after the election, the FBI and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center issued a joint report detailing the cybertools used by Russian intelligence to attack the Democratic Party.

The report is still illuminating today because it suggests that the original DNC hack in 2015 was part of a much broader Russian cyberassault on a wide array of American institutions, including government agencies. Originally, it seems, the Russians were not specifically targeting the Democrats, but were simply casting a wide net in Washington to see who might take the bait.

The agencies’ report determined that in the summer of 2015, “an APT29 [Advanced Persistent Threat 29, one of two Russian intelligence “actors” identified in the report, also known as Cozy Bear] spearphishing campaign directed emails containing a malicious link to over 1,000 recipients, including multiple U.S. Government victims. APT29 used legitimate domains, to include domains associated with U.S. organizations and educational institutions, to host malware and send spearphishing emails. In the course of that campaign, APT29 successfully compromised a U.S. political party.”

The report adds that the Russians quickly followed up when they gained access to the Democrats. “APT29 delivered malware to the political party’s systems, established persistence, escalated privileges, enumerated active directory accounts, and exfiltrated email from several accounts through encrypted connections back through operational infrastructure.”

While intervening in the 2016 election may not have been the initial purpose of the cyberattack, once the Russians opportunistically struck gold by breaking into the DNC, they went after the Democrats relentlessly.

“In spring 2016, APT28 [another Russian intelligence “actor”] compromised the same political party, again via targeted spearphishing,” the report states. “This time, the spearphishing email tricked recipients into changing their passwords through a fake webmail domain hosted on APT28 operational infrastructure. Using the harvested credentials, APT28 was able to gain access and steal content, likely leading to the exfiltration of information from multiple senior party members.”

By luck or design, Russian intelligence had obtained a vast trove of inside information from the Democratic Party in the middle of a presidential campaign.

In January 2017, just days before Trump took office, a remarkable report from the CIA, FBI, and NSA was made public, plunging the U.S. intelligence community into American politics in an unprecedented way. Its aftershocks continue to reverberate a year later.

The report states that “we assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” It continues: “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments. We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

The report also notes that “further information has come to light since Election Day that, when combined with Russian behavior since early November 2016, increases our confidence in our assessments of Russian motivations and goals.”

Trump has sought to discredit the report, and by extension, the entire intelligence community, ever since. His cronies have chimed in, dismissing it as the work of the so-called deep state.
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continued ...

Yet interestingly, CIA Director Mike Pompeo – a Trump loyalist who has been criticized for transparently currying favor with Trump in hopes of being named secretary of state – still stands by the January intelligence assessment. In November, after Trump once again publicly trashed the intelligence community’s conclusions, the CIA issued a statement that “the Director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment.” According to the CIA, “the intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed.” Pompeo’s willingness to stand by the assessment is clearly not in his own political interest and thus, lends credibility to the assessment.

Earlier this week, meanwhile, top intelligence officials, including Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, underlined their ongoing concerns about Russian election meddling, warning that Moscow once again seems to be seeking to intervene, this time in the 2018 midterm elections. In a congressional hearing, Coats suggested that the Russians believe they were successful in 2016 and want to build on their success in 2018. Coats said that “the 2018 midterm elections are a potential target for Russian influence operations,” and that “at a minimum, we expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople, and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.”

Further documentary evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 election came from an important story published by The Intercept last June.

The story was notable because it was based on a classified U.S. intelligence document about Russian election hacking obtained through an unauthorized leak. All the other U.S. intelligence assessments and reports that have so far been made public about the issue have come through officially authorized channels. Thus, the NSA report leaked to The Intercept has the enhanced credibility that comes from being disclosed against the will of the U.S. intelligence community.

The classified report is significant because it reveals that Russian interference in the election extended beyond the direct attack on the Democratic Party and included attempts to gain access to the basic infrastructure involved in actually counting American votes. It details how the GRU conducted a cyberattack on a U.S. voting software supplier and engaged in spear-phishing to try to hack local election officials before the 2016 vote

    Pompeo’s willingness to stand by the assessment is clearly not in his own political interest and thus, lends credibility to the assessment.

The classified May 2017 NSA report, provided anonymously to The Intercept, shows that Russian hackers sought to pose as an e-voting vendor and trick local government officials into opening Microsoft Word documents loaded with malware that would let the hackers remotely control the government computers. To fool the local officials, the Russians first sought to gain access to the vendor’s internal systems, which they hoped would provide a convincing disguise.

“Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors [redacted] executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August, 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions, according to information that became available in April, 2017,” the report states. “The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to create a new email account and launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.”

The compromise of the vendor would provide cover for the direct attack on the local officials. “It was likely that the threat actor was targeting officials involved in the management of voter registration systems,” the report adds. “It is unknown whether the aforementioned spear-phishing deployment successfully compromised the intended victims, and what potential data could have been accesses by the cyber actor.”

The growing evidence that Russia was behind the attack on the Democratic Party now includes the confession of a Russian hacker in a Moscow court. The story of Konstantin Kozlovsky appears to be one of the most significant of the entire Trump-Russia saga. It is one of several intriguing tales now emerging that suggests that the secrecy surrounding the Russian hacking is beginning to unravel.

In December 2017, The Bell, an independent Russian news site, reported on Kozlovsky’s stunning testimony in Moscow City Court. Kozlovsky — a young Russian hacker who had been arrested, along with other members of the Lurk hacking group, in connection with the cybertheft of more than $50 million from Russian bank accounts — testified that he had conducted the Democratic Party hack on behalf of Russian intelligence. In an August 15 court hearing in Moscow, Kozlovsky said he “performed various tasks under the supervision of FSB officers,” including hacking “of the National Committee of the Democratic Party of the USA and electronic correspondence of Hillary Clinton,” and hacking “very serious military enterprises of the United States and other organizations,” according to the Bell.

The news site reported that Kozlovsky said he had conducted the hack at the direction of Dmitry Dokuchaev, a major in the FSB’s Information Security Center, the intelligence agency’s cyber arm.

When Kozlovsky made this statement in court, he was already facing serious criminal charges for hacking. He may have thought that claiming involvement in the DNC hack would help him with his ongoing criminal case, or he may have thought that he had nothing left to lose and so should tell all. He remains in pretrial detention in Moscow.

Dokuchaev, meanwhile, is a fascinating character, and his involvement in Kozlovsky’s story plunges it into the wilderness of mirrors of present-day espionage battles between the U.S. and Russia.

In December 2016, Dokuchaev was arrested in Moscow and charged with spying for the United States. He and three others have reportedly been accused of providing information to U.S. intelligence on the Russian hack of the Democratic Party. Along with Dokuchaev, FSB Col. Sergey Mikhailov, Ruslan Stoyanov of Kaspersky Labs, and Georgy Fomchenkov, a Russian businessman, have been charged with treason in the case.

Dokuchaev is now being detained in Russia, but since Kozlovsky’s confession was made public, Dokuchaev, through his lawyer, has told the Russian press that he doesn’t know the hacker and was not involved with the theft of documents from the Democratic Party.

In March 2017, just months after Dokuchaev was arrested in Moscow for spying for the United States, the U.S. Justice Department announced that he had been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of hacking Yahoo’s network and webmail accounts. Dokuchaev, identified by the Justice Department as a 33-year-old FSB officer, was one of four men indicted in the case. “The defendants used unauthorized access to Yahoo’s systems to steal information from about at least 500 million Yahoo accounts and then used some of that stolen information to obtain unauthorized access to the contents of accounts at Yahoo, Google and other webmail providers, including accounts of Russian journalists, U.S. and Russian government officials, and private-sector employees of financial, transportation and other companies,” according to the Justice Department.

At the press conference announcing the indictments, officials displayed a large FBI wanted poster for Dokuchaev.

This chain of events leaves plenty of questions unanswered, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Dokuchaev’s December 2016 arrest for treason in Moscow and his March 2017 indictment in the United States were somehow related.

While the Washington press corps has been obsessing over Donald Trump’s tweets and a ginned-up memo from House Republicans seeking to discredit the Trump-Russia investigation, another major break in the story has just begun to unfold in the Netherlands. In late January, a Dutch newspaper, de Volkskrant, along with Nieuwsuur, a Dutch current affairs television program, reported that Dutch intelligence service AIVD has turned over to the FBI conclusive inside information about the Russian hack of the Democratic Party.

The two news organizations reported that in 2014, Dutch hackers working for the AIVD gained secret access to the Russian hacker group known as Cozy Bear – also known as Advanced Persistent Threat 29 – a Russian intelligence unit behind the hack of the DNC.

Dutch intelligence first told their American counterparts about their successful penetration of Cozy Bear in 2014, tipping off Washington that the Russian hackers were trying to break into the State Department’s computer system. That warning led the NSA to scramble to counter the Russian threat.

In 2015, the Dutch were also able to watch, undetected by the Russians, as the Cozy Bear hackers launched their first attack on the Democratic Party, according to the two news organizations. In addition to gaining access to the Cozy Bear computers, the Dutch were able to hack into a security camera that recorded who was working in Cozy Bear’s office in a university building in Moscow near Red Square. The Dutch discovered that there were about 10 people working there, and they were eventually able to match the faces to those of Russian intelligence officers who work for the SVR.

The information flowing from the Dutch was considered so vital by the Americans that the NSA opened a direct line with Dutch intelligence to get the data as fast as possible, according to the Dutch news organizations. To show their appreciation, the Americans sent cake and flowers to AIVD headquarters in the Dutch city of Zoetermeer.

If the Dutch story is accurate, it would help explain why the U.S. intelligence community is so confident in its assessment that Russian intelligence was behind the attack on the Democratic Party.

The Dutch news organizations say that the AIVD is no longer inside the Cozy Bear network, and that Dutch intelligence has become increasingly suspicious of working with the Americans.

Since Trump’s election, who can blame them?

‘He’s scared out of his mind’: Ex-official nails Trump over blaming FBI for shooting to deflect from Russia probe

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
18 Feb 2018 at 11:19 ET        

Appearing on AM Joy, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Frank Figliuzzi harshly criticized Donald Trump for attacking the FBI over the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, in an attempt to deflect attention away from Friday’s bombshell indictments of 13 Russians accused of meddling in the election that put Trump in the White House.

During a panel discussion, Figliuzzi was asked about a Sunday morning tweet from the president which implied that the FBI “missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter” because “they are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”

“Frank, I’ll go to your reaction to the President of the United States blaming the FBI, in essence, for the massacre at Parkland,” host Joy Reid prompted.

The former FBI official appeared furious at the suggestion.

“Joy, let’s distill down what that late night tweet really says after some cheeseburger induced coma after 11:00PM last night,” Figliuzzi explained. “The president puts this squarely on FBI. Here’s what he’s telling parents of America, ‘hey, our gun violence problem would go away if the FBI would just leave me alone.’ That is what he’s saying.”

“He’s saying the FBI is spending too much time on the Russian threat while he is spending zero time addressing the gun violence threat,” he continued. “He’s choosing to ignore what the FBI actually does for a living. He’s choosing to ignore the fact that the local police visited this guy 39 times in response to 911 calls. Social services for the county had to do an assessment of this. Everyone in the school saw the warning signs and indicators, yet he decides not to address the mental health issues, not to propose solutions on making it easier to deny an assault weapon purchase because you have mental health issues.”

“Instead he ‘s defending himself from the FBI,” the disgusted FBI man stated. “Why? He’s read the 32-page indictment Mueller issued on Friday and he knows there’s electronic intercepts of Russian officials. He’s scared out of his mind and playing with the parents of America this morning.”


Howard Dean: Devin Nunes and people like him ‘belong in jail’

David Edwards
Raw Story
18 Feb 2018 at 14:23 ET                  

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) on Sunday asserted that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) “belongs in jail” for using his power as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to obstruct the investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.

In an interview on MSNBC, host Alex Witt asked Dean if President Barack Obama “should have done more” to prevent Russia from meddling in the election.

Dean agreed that “in retrospect” Obama could have done more.

“I told him a long time ago before he started his term that he was wasting bipartisanship on the Republicans,” Dean said. “They don’t give a damn about the country. They only care about their own power.”

“I have plenty of disagreements with Obama but Obama always put the country first,” he continued. “That is something that [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell] does not do and certainly people like Devin Nunes, who I suspect belong in jail, has not done.”

Nunes has been accused of repeatedly colluding with the Trump White House to cast doubt on investigations into Russia’s election interference.


Top U.S. officials tell the world to ignore Trump’s tweets

By Michael Birnbaum and Griff Witte
February 19 2018
WA Post

MUNICH — Amid global anxiety about President Trump’s approach to world affairs, U.S. officials had a message for a gathering of Europe’s foreign policy elite this weekend: Pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain.

U.S. lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — and top national security officials in the Trump administration offered the same advice publicly and privately, often clashing with Trump’s Twitter stream: The United States remains staunchly committed to its European allies, is furious with the Kremlin about election interference and isn’t contemplating a preemptive strike on North Korea to halt its nuclear program.

But Trump himself engaged in a running counterpoint to the message, taking aim on social media at his own national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, because he “forgot” on Saturday to tell the Munich Security Conference that the results of the 2016 election weren’t affected by Russian interference, a conclusion that is not supported by U.S. intelligence agencies. They say they will probably never be able to determine whether the Russian involvement swung the election toward Trump.

The determination to ignore Trump’s foreign policy tweets has been bipartisan.

“There is a lot more support for continuing our past policies than it might appear from some of the statements,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) told an audience on Sunday that was made up mostly of Europe’s foreign policy elite. “The unanimity comes from those folks who are actually operationalizing policy.”

“The values are the same, the relationships are the same,” said Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). “What you do see is this administration willing to put pressure upon the systems.”

The question of whom they should believe — the president or his advisers — has befuddled European officials. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel confessed Saturday that he didn’t know where to look to understand America.

“Is it deeds? Is it words? Is it tweets?” he asked.

He said he was not sure whether he could recognize the United States.

Away from the glare of television cameras, many European diplomats and policymakers echoed the same concerns. One diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid provoking Trump, asked whether policymakers like McMaster who adhere largely to traditional U.S. foreign policy positions were falling into the same trap as Germany’s elite during Hitler’s rise, when they continued to serve in government in the name of protecting their nation.

The answer, the diplomat said, might be found after a “nuclear war,” which he feared could be provoked by the Trump administration’s hawkish approach to North Korea.

Testing those lines, McMaster offered a starkly different view of the world from that of his boss, saying that the “evidence is now incontrovertible” that Russia intervened in the U.S. political system. Trump has played down Russian involvement, saying that he believes the reassurances of Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Kremlin was not involved in the election.

McMaster even walked back some of his own previous tough language. Asked about a Wall Street Journal op-ed he co-
authored with White House economic adviser Gary Cohn last year that said they embraced a world that was “an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage,” McMaster said it was actually a call for greater cooperation among Western powers.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats took a similarly reassuring stance hours later.

The assertions that nothing fundamental has changed about Washington’s commitments to the world do seem to have eased some concerns among some allies, particularly regarding the U.S. commitment to defend NATO allies against the threat of Russian aggression.

In the Baltic nations, which border Russia, Trump’s election had raised concerns about U.S. commitments to NATO. But that doubt is now “gone,” Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid said in an interview, embracing the Pentagon’s stepped-up military commitments to Eastern Europe.

Even hawkish Republicans shrugged on the matter of Trump’s top priorities. While speaking on a panel Friday, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) was cued up by a questioner to attack the “failure” of Europe to spend 2 percent of its economic output on defense — a frequent Trump talking point. Graham demurred.

“I want you to get to 2 percent so Trump will be quiet,” he said before swiftly moving on.


‘Stormy Daniels is not the only one’: Ex-adult star hints more performers may be coming forward to expose Trump

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
18 Feb 2018 at 15:29 ET                  

Speaking with MSNBC host Alex Witt, a former adult film star who still has connections in the industry claimed more actresses may come forward with tales of dalliances with President Donald Trump,

According to RebeccaKensington, who writes for the Daily Beast while still using her acting name, others may follow in the footsteps of porn actress Stormy Daniels and discuss their interactions with the president before he was elected.

Discussing the latest revelation that a former Playboy playmate admitted she had an affair with Trump, Snow stated she it was to be expected.

‘I don’t think it’s a surprise,” she told the MSNBC host. “This isn’t something we expect from a presidential candidate, much less our president, because usually signs of affairs are, you know, a mark of bad character. But I think there’s a lot of other evidence of that out there.”

“What about Stormy Daniels?” Witt pressed. “I know you’ve written about it. Do you see similarities between her story and that of the most recent one which came out this week?”

“There are quite a bit of similarities down to the place that they were, down to the money that was offered. They have very similar descriptions,” Snow agreed while admitting, “I mean, obviously I wasn’t there, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I would not be surprised if there are more stories like this out there.”

“Did Donald Trump have a reputation?” Witt asked. “Had you heard about him and the exploits that he would brag about or that he was involved with people or anything in your world, the world you inhabited, in the adult film world, before you started writing?”

“There are certainly a few other people in the adult film world that have had some experiences, but those aren’t my stories to share,” Snow teased before coyly pausing and claiming, “Stormy Daniels is not the only one.”

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Trump’s first year in office was so bad that scholars already rank him as the worst president ever

Brad Reed
Raw Story
19 Feb 2018 at 10:24 ET                   

President Donald Trump’s first year in office — which was marked by a nonstop stream of scandals, as well as record-low approval ratings — was so bad that a survey of scholars has already ranked Trump as the worst president ever.

Writing in the New York Times, political scientists Brandon Rottinghaus and Justin S. Vaughn reveal that their most recent survey of scholars shows that Trump’s first year was seen as a catastrophe by both Democrats and Republicans in the field of political science.

According to the survey, Democratic scholars rank Trump dead last among all presidents, while Republican scholars rank him ahead of only Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and William Henry Harrison — the president who infamously died after only one month on the job. Independent scholars, meanwhile, ranked Trump only ahead of Buchanan, whose presidency set the stage for the American Civil War.

The full survey also reveals that Trump is seen as the most polarizing president in American history, with a polarization score that ranked him significantly ahead of former President Andrew Jackson, who ranked second in terms of presidential polarization.

“In sum, Trump’s freshman year grades were not strong, even among those experts most likely to support him,” the study says. “He consistently did very poorly when it comes to Embodying Institutional Norms and performed best in Communicating with the Public, but never received higher than the equivalent of a C from any group along any dimension.”

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Ancient human remains, Ice Age animal bones found in giant Mexican cave

20 Feb 2018 at 06:00 ET                   

Archaeologists exploring the word’s biggest flooded cave in Mexico have discovered ancient human remains at least 9,000 years old and the bones of animals who roamed the earth during the last Ice Age.

A group of divers recently connected two underwater caverns in eastern Mexico to reveal what is believed to be the biggest flooded cave on the planet, a discovery that could help shed new light on the ancient Maya civilization.

The Yucatan peninsula is studded with monumental relics of the Maya people, whose cities drew upon an extensive network of sinkholes linked to subterranean waters known as cenotes.

Researchers say they found 248 cenotes at the 347-km (216-mile) cave system known as Sac Actun, near the beach resort of Tulum. Of the 200 archaeological sites they have discovered there, around 140 are Mayan.

Some cenotes acquired particular religious significance to the Maya, whose descendants continue to inhabit the region.

Apart from human remains, they also found bones of giant sloths, ancient elephants and extinct bears from the Pleistocene period, Mexico’s Culture Ministry said in a statement.

The cave’s discovery has rocked the archaeological world.

“I think it’s overwhelming. Without a doubt it’s the most important underwater archaeological site in the world,” said Guillermo de Anda, researcher at Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH).

De Anda is also director of the Gran Acuifero Maya (GAM), a project dedicated to the study and preservation of the subterranean waters of the Yucatan peninsula.

According to the INAH, water levels rose 100 meters at the end of the Ice Age, flooding the cavesystem and leading to “ideal conditions for the preservation of the remains of extinct megafauna from the Pleistocene.”

The Pleistocene geological epoch, the most recent Ice Age, began 2.6 million years ago and ended around 11,700 years ago.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito & Sharay Angulo; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Meet the new ‘renewable superpowers’: nations that boss the materials used for wind and solar

The Conversation
20 Feb 2018 at 07:45 ET                   

Imagine a world where every country has not only complied with the Paris climate agreement but has moved away from fossil fuels entirely. How would such a change affect global politics?

The 20th century was dominated by coal, oil and natural gas, but a shift to zero-emission energy generation and transport means a new set of elements will become key. Solar energy, for instance, still primarily uses silicon technology, for which the major raw material is the rock quartzite. Lithium represents the key limiting resource for most batteries – while rare earth metals, in particular “lanthanides” such as neodymium, are required for the magnets in wind turbine generators. Copper is the conductor of choice for wind power, being used in the generator windings, power cables, transformers and inverters.

In considering this future it is necessary to understand who wins and loses by a switch from carbon to silicon, copper, lithium, and rare earth metals.

The countries which dominate the production of fossil fuels will mostly be familiar:

The list of countries that would become the new “renewables superpowers” contains some familiar names, but also a few wild cards. The largest reserves of quartzite (for silicon production) are found in China, the US, and Russia – but also Brazil and Norway. The US and China are also major sources of copper, although their reserves are decreasing, which has pushed Chile, Peru, Congo and Indonesia to the fore.

Chile also has, by far, the largest reserves of lithium, ahead of China, Argentina and Australia. Factoring in lower-grade “resources” – which can’t yet be extracted – bumps Bolivia and the US onto the list. Finally, rare earth resources are greatest in China, Russia, Brazil – and Vietnam.

Of all the fossil fuel producing countries, it is the US, China, Russia and Canada that could most easily transition to green energy resources. In fact it is ironic that the US, perhaps the country most politically resistant to change, might be the least affected as far as raw materials are concerned. But it is important to note that a completely new set of countries will also find their natural resources are in high demand.
An OPEC for renewables?

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is a group of 14 nations that together contain almost half the world’s oil production and most of its reserves. It is possible that a related group could be created for the major producers of renewable energy raw materials, shifting power away from the Middle East and towards central Africa and, especially, South America.

This is unlikely to happen peacefully. Control of oilfields was a driver behind many 20th-century conflicts and, going back further, European colonisation was driven by a desire for new sources of food, raw materials, minerals and – later – oil. The switch to renewable energy may cause something similar. As a new group of elements become valuable for turbines, solar panels or batteries, rich countries may ensure they have secure supplies through a new era of colonisation.

China has already started what may be termed “economic colonisation”, setting up major trade agreements to ensure raw material supply. In the past decade it has made a massive investment in African mining, while more recent agreements with countries such as Peru and Chile have spread Beijing’s economic influence in South America.

Or a new era of colonisation?

Given this background, two versions of the future can be envisaged. The first possibility is the evolution of a new OPEC-style organisation with the power to control vital resources including silicon, copper, lithium, and lanthanides. The second possibility involves 21st-century colonisation of developing countries, creating super-economies. In both futures there is the possibility that rival nations could cut off access to vital renewable energy resources, just as major oil and gas producers have done in the past.

On the positive side there is a significant difference between fossil fuels and the chemical elements needed for green energy. Oil and gas are consumable commodities. Once a natural gas power station is built, it must have a continuous supply of gas or it stops generating. Similarly, petrol-powered cars require a continued supply of crude oil to keep running.

In contrast, once a wind farm is built, electricity generation is only dependent on the wind (which won’t stop blowing any time soon) and there is no continuous need for neodymium for the magnets or copper for the generator windings. In other words solar, wind, and wave power require a one-off purchase in order to ensure long-term secure energy generation.

The shorter lifetime of cars and electronic devices means that there is an ongoing demand for lithium. Improved recycling processes would potentially overcome this continued need. Thus, once the infrastructure is in place access to coal, oil or gas can be denied, but you can’t shut off the sun or wind. It is on this basis that the US Department of Defense sees green energy as key to national security.

The ConversationA country that creates green energy infrastructure, before political and economic control shifts to a new group of “world powers”, will ensure it is less susceptible to future influence or to being held hostage by a lithium or copper giant. But late adopters will find their strategy comes at a high price. Finally, it will be important for countries with resources not to sell themselves cheaply to the first bidder in the hope of making quick money – because, as the major oil producers will find out over the next decades, nothing lasts forever.

Andrew Barron, Sêr Cymru Chair of Low Carbon Energy and Environment, Swansea University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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« Reply #4373 on: Today at 05:40 AM »

Air Pollution From Industrial Shutdowns and Startups a Grave Danger to Public Health

By Nikolaos Zirogiannis, Alex J. Hollingsworth and David Konisky

When Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast in August 2017, many industrial facilities had to shut down their operations before the storm arrived and restart once rainfall and flooding had subsided.

These shutdowns and startups, as well as accidents caused by the hurricane, led to a significant release of air pollutants. Over a period of about two weeks, data we compiled from the Texas' Air Emission Event Report Database indicates these sites released 2,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants.

These types of emissions that result from startups, shutdowns or malfunctions are often referred to as "excess" or "upset" emissions and are particularly pronounced during times of natural disasters, as was the case with Hurricane Harvey.

However, as we document in a newly published study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, they also occur regularly during the routine operation of many industrial facilities, sometimes in large quantities. And, even if unintended or unavoidable, the pollutants released during these events are in violation of the U.S. Clean Air Act (CAA).

With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA) now revisiting the rules regarding these air toxics, our study shows how significant they are to public health—and how historically they have not been systematically tracked across the country or regulated comprehensively.

Excess Emissions in Texas

Our study examines the occurrence of excess emissions in industrial facilities in Texas over the period from 2002 to 2016. We focused on Texas because, unlike nearly all other states, it has established comprehensive reporting requirements. The state collects data on so-called hazardous air pollutants that cause harm to people exposed to them, such as benzene, as well as substances called criteria pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides that contribute to the formation of ozone.

As a general rule, states set limits to industrial air emissions based on provisions in their State Implementation Plan (SIP), which is their strategy for meeting CAA requirements. The EPA in turn is responsible for ensuring that each state's SIP is drafted in accordance with the CAA.

The CAA requires sources of air pollution to achieve continuous emissions reductions, which in essence means companies need to install and maintain equipment to limit the release of pollutants that happen during routine operations.

Excess emissions occur when pollution abatement systems—such as scrubbers, baghouses, or flares that curtail emissions before they are released—fail to fully operate as the result of an unexpected malfunction, startup or shutdown. That is, a facility fails to maintain continuous emissions reductions, thereby exceeding its permit limits.

Although one might assume that such occurrences are rare, we found that excess emissions in Texas are frequent, sometimes large, and likely result in significant health damages for individuals living in communities near where these emissions are released.

Specifically, there are four important takeaways from our study.

First, excess emissions represent a sizable share of permitted (or routine) emissions. In the case of the natural gas liquids industry, excess emissions amounted to 77,000 tons over the period 2004-2015, representing 58 percent of the industry's routine emissions for that pollutant. Refineries emitted 23,000 tons of excess emissions (10 percent of their routine emissions of SO2) while oil and gas fields released 11,000 tons (17 percent of their routine emissions of SO2).

Second, the distribution of excess emissions is highly skewed. While thousands of excess emissions events occur every year in Texas, the top 5 percent of events release more pollutants than all the other events combined. In extreme cases, excess emissions events can release vast amounts of pollutants in a very short period of time. In 2003, a Total oil refinery in Port Arthur emitted 1,296 tons of sulfur dioxide within 56 hours, due to a power outage caused by a lighting strike. That was almost twice the amount of the total sulfur dioxide that refinery emitted that year from its routine operations.

Third, several industrial sectors account for a disproportionate amount of excess emissions. Facilities in just five sectors—natural gas liquids, refineries, industrial organic chemicals, electric services and oil and natural gas fields—emit about 80 percent of all excess emissions from industrial facilities in Texas.

Moreover, a few facilities within each sector are responsible for the vast majority of excess emissions. For example, the top six oil refineries are responsible for 70 percent and 77 percent of the excess emissions of sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide, respectively, released from all 30 Texas refineries.

Finally, excess emissions have important health effects. Using a model that links pollution to mortality, we estimate that the health damages attributable to excess emissions in Texas between 2004-2015 averaged $150 million annually. These estimates are certainly not comprehensive as they only consider damages from premature mortality due to particulate matter (PM) emissions caused by the emission of sulfur dioxides and nitrogen oxides.

The model does not account for the direct damage from other pollutants or from nonfatal, acute health events such as asthma attacks. As such, our estimate can be considered a lower bound.

Beyond Texas

The data we analyzed in our study reveal the magnitude of the problem caused by excess emissions. Yet, it is important to remember that they only capture the situation in Texas. We know very little about excess emissions and their trends over time at the national level. That's because Texas is one of just a few states (the others being Louisiana and Oklahoma) that systematically track and make public information on these type of pollution releases.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has gone as far as to implement a system that requires facilities to publicly report excess emissions events within 24 hours of their occurrence, information that the TCEQ then makes available on its website.

Although Texas is unique in its reporting requirements, excess emissions events are common elsewhere, as the watchdog group the Environmental Integrity Project has documented in a series of reports.

Excess Emissions Are Underregulated

The EPA, after decades of leaving excess emissions outside of its regulatory focus, made a concerted effort to update its approach during the final years of the Obama administration.

Prompted by a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club, the EPA issued a State Implementation Plan (SIP) call in 2015, asking states to revisit the way they regulate excess emissions. The agency found that certain SIP provisions in 36 states were " substantially inadequate to meet Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements."

This means that industrial facilities may have been regularly surpassing the limit of their permitted pollution limits, in part because of these excess emissions. But because of state agency exemption provisions, it could be the case that these facilities would not always be penalized. In other words, the EPA determined that many states had, as a matter of policy, often failed to treat excess emissions as violations and potentially shielded offending companies from paying fines.

The EPA is now revisiting its policy as part of the Trump administration's broader efforts to scale back many EPA regulations and decisions during the Obama era. Given the frequency, magnitude, and important adverse effects for public health, the EPA's ultimate decision on how states should treat excess emissions is consequential.

In addition, much is still to be learned about the magnitude of the excess emissions problem across the country. If an effective regulatory framework is to be designed to reduce them, it is imperative that more states begin tracking excess emissions events in a detailed and systematic way, following the example set by Texas.

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« Reply #4374 on: Today at 05:42 AM »

We Are Drowning In Plastic, and Fracking Companies Are Profiting

By Wenonah Hauter

We are choking the planet in plastic. Everything from wasteful water bottles to grocery shopping bags are polluting our waterways, and endangering marine life and the natural environment. It's fair to say that even the most casual news consumer has probably encountered a Facebook post, TV report or radio segment about the garbage patches in the Pacific Ocean.

But what's less well-known is what is fueling this plastics binge: fracking. As the Guardian recently reported, in less than a decade, tens of billions of dollars have been invested in creating new manufacturing sites around the world to turn fossil fuels into resin pellets used to manufacture plastic products. The companies profiting off this surge in plastics are contributing to a growing climate crisis while generating mountains of plastic garbage.

One company behind this plastics surge is the U.K.-based chemical company Ineos. While not a household name like Shell or Exxon, Ineos is at the center of this growing plastics industry—but the damage caused by the company extends beyond the mounds of discarded waste littering beaches and waterways. The company's 75 manufacturing facilities across 22 countries are responsible for chemical leaks, fires, explosions and air and climate pollution. This record includes a 2008 chemical fire in Germany and air pollution in Scotland, where the company's Grangemouth facilities were the country's single largest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2016.

And the Ineos business model also relies on polluting communities thousands of miles away in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where the fracking industry is scarring the landscape, polluting water and threatening public health. The company uses the liquid gas found in the shale formations there to feed its chemical plants. To meet this demand, the company recently built a fleet of so-called "dragon ships" to carry volatile gas liquids across the Atlantic.

And Ineos wants to continue ramping up. After the first crossing of one of these liquid gas transport ships from the U.S. to the UK, the chairman of Ineos called the event a "gamechanger" that could "spark a shale gas revolution," according to a company news release.

Expanding this business will require new pipelines like the Mariner East 2, now under construction across Pennsylvania. The project belongs to Sunoco, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline that generated international opposition. There is a movement to stop the Mariner East, too, in places across the state where residents have lost their land to Sunoco through the companies use of eminent domain and are being told that they must allow the pipeline to be built near their schools, homes, and community centers.

Sunoco's safety record was a concern before the drilling started; since 2010, the company has had a higher rate of oil pipeline spills than its competitors. And this record of spills continued once construction of the pipeline began. Dozens of drilling spills and accidents and several cases of tainted water supplies eventually forced the state government to shut down the construction at the beginning of this year. Pennsylvania environmental regulators deemed Sunoco's "egregious and willful violations" of environmental laws serious enough to apply the brakes on a project that had been rushed through the regulatory process by drilling-friendly politicians of both major parties.

On Feb. 8, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection allowed construction of the pipeline to resume, after issuing a $12.6 million civil penalty against Sunoco.

While plastic junk floating in the oceans gets the headlines, the truth is that the entire business model wreaks havoc on communities and the planet—from the fracking wells in Pennsylvania and the pipelines that carry the materials in the U.S., to the air pollution from petrochemical plants producing plastics in the U.K.

Pennsylvania was right to hit the pause button on this fracking-for-plastics pipeline, but if we're to create a stable climate and a healthy planet for all, we need state legislators to stop construction altogether. And we need political leaders in Europe willing to stop fracking before it starts.

Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

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« Reply #4375 on: Today at 05:45 AM »

73% of Deep-Sea Fish Have Ingested Plastic


Microplastics can really be found everywhere, even in the stomachs of creatures living deep underwater.

Marine scientists from the National University of Ireland (NUI) in Galway found the plastic bits in 73 percent of 233 deep-sea fish collected from the Northwest Atlantic Ocean—one of the highest microplastic frequencies in fish ever recorded worldwide.

For the study, published Monday in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, the scientists inspected the stomach contents of dead deep-water fish collected from the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. The sampled fish, including the Spotted Lanternfish, Glacier Lanternfish, White-spotted Lanternfish, Rakery Beaconlamp, Stout Sawpalate and Scaly Dragonfish, were taken from depths of up to 600 meters (about 2,000 feet).

Even though microplastics are usually found around the ocean's surface, these fish were able to gobble them up anyway.

"Deep-water fish migrate to the surface at night to feed on plankton (microscope animals) and this is likely when they are exposed to the microplastics," explained Alina Wieczorek, lead author of the study and Ph.D. candidate from the School of Natural Sciences and Ryan Institute at NUI Galway.

One fish that was examined, a Spotted Lanternfish less than 2 inches in length, had 13 microplastics extracted from its stomach, Wieczorek said.

"In total, 233 fish were examined with 73 percent of them having microplastics in their stomachs, making it one of the highest reported frequencies of microplastic occurrence in fish worldwide," she said.

The fish were sampled from a warm core eddy, which is similar to ocean gyres that are thought to accumulate microplastics. The sampled fish may have originated from a particularly polluted patch of the Atlantic Ocean.

"This would explain why we recorded one of the highest abundances of microplastics in fishes so far, and we plan to further investigate the impacts of microplastics on organisms in the open ocean," Wieczorek added.

The identified microplastics were mostly microfibers, with black and blue the most recorded colors. These tiny plastic threads shed from commonly used synthetic fabrics like polyester, rayon and nylon. When washed, plastic microfibers break off and a single jacket can produce up to 250,000 fibers in washing machine effluent.

Microplastics can contain additives such as colorants and flame retardants and/or pollutants adsorbed onto the particles from the sea, a press release for the study noted. Ingesting them can cause internal physical damage to the animals such as inflammation of intestines, reduced feeding and other effects. Ingested microplastics can also move up the food chain.

"While there is clearly a concern that the ingestion of microplastics with associated toxins may have harmful effects on these fishes, or even the fishes that feed on them, our study highlights that these seemingly remote fishes located thousands of kilometers from land and 600 meters down in our ocean are not isolated from our pollution," Dr. Tom Doyle, a co-author of the study from the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, said.

"Indeed, it's worrying to think that our daily activities, such as washing our synthetic clothes in our washing machines, results in billions of microplastics entering our oceans through our waste water stream that may eventually end up in these deep-sea fishes."

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3tE4IiQGh8

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« Reply #4376 on: Today at 05:47 AM »

New Technology Could Turn Tar Sands Oil Into 'Pucks' for Less Hazardous Transport

By Justin Mikulka

A new technology has the potential to transform the transportation of tars sands oil. Right now, the already thick and slow-flowing oil, known as bitumen, has to be diluted with a super-light petroleum product, usually natural gas condensate, in order for it to flow through a pipeline or into a rail tank car.

However, scientists at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering inadvertently found a way to make tar sands oil even more viscous, turning it into "self-sealing pellets" that could potentially simplify its transport.

"We've taken heavy oil, or bitumen, either one, and we've discovered a process to convert them rapidly and reproducibly into pellets," Ian Gates, the professor leading the research, told CBC News in September.

Based on the initial description of this product, it appears that it could alleviate many of the risks involved with moving tar sands oil by rail. The research teams says this product floats in water, does not pose a fire and explosion risk like the diluted bitumen currently moved in rail tank cars, and would eliminate air quality issues related to the volatile components of diluted bitumen.

If true, this technology would appear to reduce potential risks to people and the environment, in comparison with moving diluted bitumen by rail or in pipelines.

Gates also suggests that the solidified bitumen can be moved in the type of open rail cars used for coal. That would be welcome news to railroads, which have been losing business transporting coal as demand has dwindled. Gates did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this article.

Canadian National Working to Commercialize Similar Technology

Meanwhile, similar research and development has been happening not within the Canadian oil industry, but instead by a Canadian railroad, which has patented another method of solidifying tar sands for transport.

Canadian National Railway (CN) holds a patent for a technology dubbed CanaPux, in an apparent reference to the hockey puck-like product under development. CN's CanaPux website provides details about the product's potential, and describes the technology in the following way:

"Heavy crude oil (bitumen) is combined with polymers, a form of recyclable plastic that both thickens the crude oil into a solid shape and encases it with a protective shell. The pellets move best in open topped gondola railcars, similar to how we move coal."

CN also makes claims about the pucks being a safer and more environmentally friendly way of moving bitumen:

"The pellet is not flammable or explosive, will float in water and nothing can leach or dissolve into the environment. It does not create dust."

Perhaps the most attractive part of this technology would be if cleaning up a "spill" of CanaPux pellets were as easy as CN's website purports:

"They will simply need to be picked up. That could be done by hand, with construction equipment, nets, booms or vacuums."

Still, CN makes clear that the company remains in the early stages of developing CanaPux and has not yet confirmed many of its expectations about how the product would act in the environment.

"We want to do the studies that will prove that it will float in fresh water, salt water, how it behaves in cold and in heat," Janet Drysdale, vice president of corporate development at CN, told The Globe and Mail in February 2017. "All of that will be validated with additional lab work."

While CN confirmed that the CanuPux technology was separate from the work at Schulich School of Engineering, CN would not offer further comment on the status of the CanuPux technology.

Exports Without Opposition?

When Washington Gov. Jay Inslee rejected a permit for the largest proposed oil-by-rail facility in America last month, the decision effectively shut down the oil-by-rail industry's major expansion plans for the U.S. West Coast. However, Canadian oil-by-rail volumes are currently increasing and an even higher volume of tar sands oil is expected to be moved this way. Without these new American destinations for diluted bitumen transported by rail, the options for Canadian oil producers have been limited further.

If all of CN's claims pan out, moving bitumen in solid form could address many of the concerns voiced by activists who oppose oil-by-rail transport. The risk of an explosive "bomb train" event would be eliminated. Air pollution concerns from vaporizing diluted bitumen also would no longer be an issue. Spills of Canadian oil into waterways, which happened when two oil trains derailed in Gogama, Ontario, should have a much smaller environmental impact.

And CN is banking on these differences to help oil producers get their product to ports where it can be exported. The Globe and Mail reported that "the technology could give oil-sands producers who lack pipeline access a new way to reach refineries in North America, Asia, and other overseas markets."

There is another potential advantage to the technology. According to a post on the website of Canadian oil pipeline company Enbridge, "CN hopes that the transformation will make the product exempt from Canada's tanker ban on British Columbia's North Coast." This sentiment was repeated in an article in Oil Sands Magazine: "The solid pellets are also likely to be exempted from the federal Liberal's crude tanker moratorium off BC's northern coast, although Transport Minister Marc Garneau says more testing is needed to confirm the consequences of a spill."

What is unknown at this point is how this pelleted product would be classified and regulated. If it is a solid non-toxic product, will new environmental impact studies be required for ports that want to host tar sands export facilities? Will cities like South Portland, Maine, which have passed a local ordinance banning the "loading of crude oil" at its port to prevent tar sands oil exports, have any say over this new product?

Another question is whether this technology will give new life to projects like a proposed railway from Alberta to Alaska, which would connect to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and be constructed solely to export tar sands oil.

'Keep It in the Ground' as Last Line of Defense

CN is on the record saying it does not expect this technology to replace pipelines and that CanaPux represents just one more option for oil producers to reach foreign markets. While Canada does not have enough rail capacity to move all of the bitumen it is producing, the country's current issues with pipeline capacity are forcing more companies to choose rail to transport diluted bitumen, lending additional appeal for shipping tar sands oil in pellet form.

If the CanaPux technology pans out and delivers on CN's promises, it would appear to be a vast improvement in the tar sands-by-rail industry on multiple fronts, namely, the safety of communities along the train tracks and the reduced environmental impacts from derailments. These advantages are real. The U.S. has yet to address either the dangers posed by explosive oils moved by rail or a loophole granting a free pass on spill response planning for oil trains. Proposed regulations to address this loophole are stalled within the Trump administration.

For climate activists, however, the biggest argument against new oil-by-rail facilities has always been the need to "keep it in the ground," that is, not developing certain fossil fuel reserves in order to prevent harmful globe-warming emissions. This argument remains as scientists, including former NASA scientist James Hansen, have said that if the majority of Canada's tar sands oil reserves do not remain undeveloped, efforts at limiting catastrophic climate change may become impossible.

Canadian oil and rail companies clearly don't share this opinion. And neither does Canada's political leadership. In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country has no intention of leaving its enormous reserves of tar sands oil in the ground, and more recently, he promised to make sure the new Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline would be completed.

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« Reply #4377 on: Today at 05:51 AM »

Scientists race to explore Antarctic marine life revealed by giant iceberg

British Antarctic Survey is trying to reach a newly revealed ecosystem that had been hidden for 120,000 years below the Larsen C ice shelf

Matthew Taylor in Antarctica
Tue 20 Feb 2018 10.37 GMT

A team of international scientists is due to set off for the world’s biggest iceberg on Wednesday, fighting huge waves and the encroaching Antarctic winter, in a mission aiming to answer fundamental questions about the impact of climate change in the polar regions.

The scientists, led by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), are trying to reach a newly revealed ecosystem that had been hidden for 120,000 years below the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula.

In July last year, part of the Larsen C ice shelf calved away, forming a huge iceberg - A68 - which is four times bigger than London, and revealing life beneath for the first time.

Now scientists say it is a race against time to explore these new ecosystems before they are transformed by exposure to the light.

Marine biologist Dr Katrin Linse from the BAS is leading the mission which sets off on a voyage across the Southern Ocean from the Falklands Islands on Wednesday. They expect to reach the iceberg within a week.

“The calving of A68 provides us with a unique opportunity to study marine life as it responds to a dramatic environmental change,” she said. “It’s important we get there quickly before the undersea environment changes as sunlight enters the water and new species begin to colonise … It’s very exciting.”

Prof David Vaughan, science director at BAS, said: “We need to be bold on this one. Larsen C is a long way south and there’s lots of sea ice in the area, but this is important science, so we will try our best to get the team where they need to be.”

He said climate change had already affected the seas around Antarctica and is warming some coastal waters.

“Future warming may make some habitats warm. Where these habitats support unique species that are adapted to love the cold and not the warm, those species are going to either move or die. How fast species can disperse, and how fast ecosystems can colonise new areas, is key to understanding where the Antarctic is likely to be resilient, and where it is vulnerable.”

Last week the Guardian printed the first images of creatures found in a previously unexplored region of the Antarctic seabed

, taken during a Greenpeace research expedition to the Antarctic which is part of a wider campaign to turn a huge section of the region into the world’s biggest ocean sanctuary.
Share your questions for scientists aboard an Antarctic expedition
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Speaking onboard the Greenpeaceship Arctic Sunrise, the group’s head of oceans, Will McCallum, said there was “still so much left to learn about ocean life here in the Antarctic.”

“From hidden ecosystems revealed by calving icebergs, to our research missions to the seafloor which have found an abundance of rare and vulnerable species. This place is bursting with life and a vast Antarctic Ocean sanctuary would help us protect it in all its forms.”

There is growing concern about the possible impact of climate change in the Antarctic.

Earlier this month, a report revealed that melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are speeding up the already fast pace of sea level rise.

The research published by the National Academies of Sciences said at the current rate, the world’s oceans will be on average at least 60cm (2ft) higher by the end of the century.

However it found that the process is accelerating, and more than three-quarters of the acceleration since 1993 is due to melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, the study shows.

Experts say the area around the Antarctic peninsula has seen widespread ice shelf decay and collapse in recent decades, leading to “glacier acceleration” and increased discharge of ice from the Antarctic continent into the sea.

However scientists are wary of attributing the calving of the Larsen C iceberg directly to global warming.

Adrian Luckman, professor of glaciology at Swansea University and leader of a project studying the state of the ice shelf, said: “Whilst Larsen C ice shelf has reduced in area since records began, suggesting that over the long-term the environment of the Antarctic peninsula is becoming less able to support ice shelves, we have no evidence to link this particular calving event to changing conditions. Iceberg calving is a natural part of the ice shelf cycle and, whilst large, the calving of A68 is not unprecedented.”

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« Reply #4378 on: Today at 05:53 AM »

Ikea joins Big Clean Switch to offer 100% renewable energy tariff

Joint venture claims cheaper green power could save UK households £300 a year

Miles Brignall
Tue 20 Feb 2018 07.01 GMT

Ikea is calling for households to join its latest joint venture – a collective energy switch that promises an exclusive 100% renewable electricity tariff.

The furniture retailer has joined forces with the “Big Clean Switch” campaign to use a collective switch to secure cheaper green power for the households that sign up.

The two companies claim it will save a typical UK household £300 a year in lower gas and electricity bills.

Big Clean Switch describes itself as a “profit with purpose” company that helps people move to renewable electricity providers. Its website only list tariffs where the supplier can guarantee that 100% of the electricity sold is matched from renewables such as sun, wind and water.

Those interested in possibly switching as part of the scheme should register at bigcleanswitch.org/ikea.

Big Clean Switch will then negotiate the best deal it can with green suppliers, at which point customers can choose to sign up. The prices will be announced on 6 March.

Hege Sæbjørnsen, Ikea’s sustainability manager, says that by linking up in this way, “we hope to make switching to renewable electricity simple, accessible and affordable to everyone”.

For every switch, Ikea will receive a commission payment, which will support local community initiatives within each store’s area.

It remains to be seen whether this big switch will undercut the cheapest 100% green electricity suppliers already available.

Anyone can switch to a green supplier via a comparison site – Guardian Money favours Engergyhelpline.com. Make sure to tick the “whole of market” option.

Tonik is one of the cheapest green suppliers at the moment. People’s Energy is another.

Consumers have nothing to lose by registering with the Ikea initiative, but will have to decide when the prices are announced whether this is better than the deals on offer.

In the past, some collective switches have been “best in market” offering big savings, but others have not.

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« Reply #4379 on: Today at 05:57 AM »

Brexit must not lead to fall in farming standards, warns NFU

Farmers’ union fears impact of deals with US and calls for ‘frictionless trade’ with EU

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent
Tue 20 Feb 2018 00.01 GMT

The government must not allow farming standards to slip or be undermined by bad trade deals after Brexit, the National Farmers’ Union has said in a reference to fears that food standards will be sacrificed to seal deals with the US.

Those who advocate a “cheap food policy” should bear in mind the price that is paid in terms of standards, traceability of produce and shifting the environmental impact to other countries, the NFU’s president will say at the union’s annual conference where delegates and politicians including the environment secretary, Michael Gove, will meet on Tuesday.

Meurig Raymond will also tell Gove that farmers “must have frictionless trade with the EU” after Brexit.

He will call for clarity for the £110bn-a-year agriculture and food sector after a Commons select committee on agriculture warned that consumer prices could go up and farmers could go out of business if the country was forced to adopt World Trade Organization rules and tariffs.
Farming businesses 'could be wiped out after Brexit transition'
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At the weekend, the food and rural affairs select committee said the timetable for concluding a new free trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020 was “extremely ambitious”. In its latest report, the committee said the government must have contingency plans to protect consumers and business from the immediate impact of tariffs, which range from about 87% on frozen beef to about 42% on cheddar cheese and 50% on grated cheese.

Gove, who is also speaking at the NFU conference, is expected to renew his pledge not to let environmental and animal welfare standards slip. He has previously said that EU subsidies will switch towards payments for public goods such as environmental protection.

Gove believes leaving the EU will allow the government to put food at the heart of government strategy, so that the UK can develop its own “farm to fork” production strategy for the first time in almost 50 years.

He will acknowledge that food and drink is the country’s biggest sector, and exports have risen since the referendum and subsequent fall in the pound.

The aim is to open new markets and make a break with a past in which agriculture was given “insufficient weight” in government policymaking. That, he will say, was “lamentable” and a “mistake”.

Leaving the EU means the country is now “free to design policies from first principles that put British farmers and consumers first”, he will say.

He will also promise that the government will not allow animal welfare standards to be eroded. Farmers will be told that the government is seeking to fund a new agriculture policy that will preserve “the cultural link between farmers and the landscapes they maintain”.

“The work farmers do to ensure our soils can sustain growth in the future, woods are planted to prevent flooding and provide a carbon sink and hedgerows and other habitats provide a home for wildlife should be properly paid for,” says Gove.

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