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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1088997 times)
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« Reply #10950 on: Dec 29, 2013, 07:25 AM »

A chemical weapons attack kills 1,400 in Syria

21 August: Syrian president Bashar al-Assad denies any involvement in the massacre

Klaus Brinkbäumer, managing editor of Der Spiegel
The Observer, Sunday 29 December 2013      

The news of the chemical weapons attack was truly shocking. One of the first things I had to do was look at the pictures with our photo editors and foreign editors – we had to decide what we could show to our readers. And these were horrible pictures. We all could barely stand hard to look at them.

Nevertheless I was relieved that the US called off their planned intervention in Syria, because it would have meant another escalation, and the people would have suffered. There would have been even more refugees leaving their homes.

President Assad speaks of "mistakes that have been made" but doesn't really admit any. In terms of the actions he has taken in the conflict, he is convinced he's done the right thing, or at least he wants to give that impression. He says the west is guilty of intensifying the crisis because it doesn't understand what's happening within Syria.

Assad says: "We had an internal problem, there were rebels, a few people not happy with the government, but that's what happens everywhere. And the west tried to help and confused the situation because they didn't understand that those people were terrorists." So it's not his fault, he's just defending his country, and the west that claims to fight Al-Qaida everywhere else is actually supporting Al-Qaida in Syria. That's his theory. Is it right? No. But that's his argument.

We had been asking Assad and his people for an interview since the start of the conflict in Syria. When the news broke of the poison-gas attack, the question of whether the US would attack and interfere got more important. My colleague Dieter Bednarz established a well-functioning contact with diplomats who had a close connection to Assad and submitted our proposal. After Assad decided he wanted to do the interview – that he had things to tell, that he wanted to explain himself – it was actually quite easy to arrange the date.

Bednarz and I flew to Beirut and drove to Damascus. I was surprised to see that Assad had a lot of support within Damascus. I'm not sure all these people are convinced he's a great leader, but they want to protect their lives – they don't want jihadists or Islamists coming in and they want to keep what they have. It's a very practical approach: they don't want Assad to leave because they aren't sure what will happen after he's gone.

To speak to Assad was both confusing and irritating. He is many things at the same time: he's extremely intelligent, he's very friendly and soft spoken and kind, he's almost shy – you enter the palace and he greets you at the door himself; he's not surrounded by hundreds of servants. Then you talk about massacres, and thousands of refugees, and poison gas, and there I found him sometimes cynical, and sometimes sarcastic and cold.

He was not afraid of tough questions and accusations and sometimes he was rather convincing – especially when he was talking about how the west can't demand to set the moral "rules" for the rest of the world after beginning a war without reason in Iraq. So the interview changed a few things in my perspective, because I understood how he is thinking and looking at the world, and his criticism of the West is understandable, at least.

Denial is one of his strategies. He's constantly saying: "There's no proof of that;" "That's not proven." It's a cynical strategy but he's not the first one to use it. He'll find the 1% of the story that's not 100% certain and use it to discredit the whole thing: because this one small piece of proof is missing, the whole story cannot be true. That's his strategy to deny whatever's brought up: whether he actually believes what he's saying, I can't answer that.

But so many things have been proven: massacres have taken place, and poison gas was used by the military in August. I cannot prove that Assad gave the order, nobody has that proof yet. But there's no doubt about poison gas and where it came from.

It's such a huge and complicated conflict. The situation for the rebels hasn't improved at all this year; they believe the US have abandoned them, they feel tired, left alone, and the conflict is going on and on. I don't see any solution. Assad is actually stronger than he was before the escalation. What will happen in 2014? It's hard to tell.

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« Reply #10951 on: Dec 29, 2013, 07:33 AM »

Benghazi: Deadly Mix in Benghazi: False Allies, Crude Video

By David D. Kirkpatrick
December 28, 2013

Benghazi, Libya

A boyish-looking American diplomat was meeting for the first time with the Islamist leaders of eastern Libya’s most formidable militias.

It was Sept. 9, 2012. Gathered on folding chairs in a banquet hall by the Mediterranean, the Libyans warned of rising threats against Americans from extremists in Benghazi. One militia leader, with a long beard and mismatched military fatigues, mentioned time in exile in Afghanistan. An American guard discreetly touched his gun.

“Since Benghazi isn’t safe, it is better for you to leave now,” Mohamed al-Gharabi, the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati Brigade, later recalled telling the Americans. “I specifically told the Americans myself that we hoped that they would leave Benghazi as soon as possible.”

Yet as the militiamen snacked on Twinkie-style cakes with their American guests, they also gushed about their gratitude for President Obama’s support in their uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. They emphasized that they wanted to build a partnership with the United States, especially in the form of more investment. They specifically asked for Benghazi outlets of McDonald’s and KFC.

The diplomat, David McFarland, a former congressional aide who had never before met with a Libyan militia leader, left feeling agitated, according to colleagues. But the meeting did not shake his faith in the prospects for deeper involvement in Libya. Two days later, he summarized the meeting in a cable to Washington, describing a mixed message from the militia leaders.

Despite “growing problems with security,” he wrote, the fighters wanted the United States to become more engaged “by ‘pressuring’ American businesses to invest in Benghazi.”

The cable, dated Sept. 11, 2012, was sent over the name of Mr. McFarland’s boss, Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Later that day, Mr. Stevens was dead, killed with three other Americans in Benghazi in the most significant attack on United States property in 11 years, since Sept. 11, 2001.

The Diplomatic Mission on Sept. 11, 2012

Four Americans died in attacks on a diplomatic mission and a C.I.A. compound in Benghazi.

As the attacks begin, there are seven Americans at the mission, including five armed diplomatic security officers; the information officer, Sean Smith; and Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Both Mr. Smith and Ambassador Stevens die in the attack.

The cable was a last token of months of American misunderstandings and misperceptions about Libya and especially Benghazi, many fostered by shadows of the earlier Sept. 11 attack. The United States waded deeply into post-Qaddafi Libya, hoping to build a beachhead against extremists, especially Al Qaeda. It believed it could draw a bright line between friends and enemies in Libya. But it ultimately lost its ambassador in an attack that involved both avowed opponents of the West and fighters belonging to militias that the Americans had taken for allies.

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both are challenges now hanging over the American involvement in Syria’s civil conflict.

The attack also suggests that, as the threats from local militants around the region have multiplied, an intensive focus on combating Al Qaeda may distract from safeguarding American interests.

In this case, a central figure in the attack was an eccentric, malcontent militia leader, Ahmed Abu Khattala, according to numerous Libyans present at the time. American officials briefed on the American criminal investigation into the killings call him a prime suspect. Mr. Abu Khattala declared openly and often that he placed the United States not far behind Colonel Qaddafi on his list of infidel enemies. But he had no known affiliations with terrorist groups, and he had escaped scrutiny from the 20-person C.I.A. station in Benghazi that was set up to monitor the local situation.

Mr. Abu Khattala, who denies participating in the attack, was firmly embedded in the network of Benghazi militias before and afterward. Many other Islamist leaders consider him an erratic extremist. But he was never more than a step removed from the most influential commanders who dominated Benghazi and who befriended the Americans. They were his neighbors, his fellow inmates and his comrades on the front lines in the fight against Colonel Qaddafi.

To this day, some militia leaders offer alibis for Mr. Abu Khattala. All resist quiet American pressure to turn him over to face prosecution. Last spring, one of Libya’s most influential militia leaders sought to make him a kind of local judge.

Fifteen months after Mr. Stevens’s death, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines.

One has it that the video, which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.

The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The investigation by The Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was different, and murkier, than either of those story lines suggests. Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.

Mr. Abu Khattala had become well known in Benghazi for his role in the killing of a rebel general, and then for declaring that his fellow Islamists were insufficiently committed to theocracy. He made no secret of his readiness to use violence against Western interests. One of his allies, the leader of Benghazi’s most overtly anti-Western militia, Ansar al-Shariah, boasted a few months before the attack that his fighters could “flatten” the American Mission. Surveillance of the American compound appears to have been underway at least 12 hours before the assault started.

The violence, though, also had spontaneous elements. Anger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters. Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack, according to more than a dozen Libyan witnesses as well as many American officials who have viewed the footage from security cameras.

The C.I.A. Annex

A 20-person team from the Central Intelligence Agency is in the compound known as the Annex, about a half-mile from the mission, where the security officers Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty are later killed.

The Benghazi-based C.I.A. team had briefed Mr. McFarland and Mr. Stevens as recently as the day before the attack. But the American intelligence efforts in Libya concentrated on the agendas of the biggest militia leaders and the handful of Libyans with suspected ties to Al Qaeda, several officials who received the briefings said. Like virtually all briefings over that period, the one that day made no mention of Mr. Abu Khattala, Ansar al-Shariah or the video ridiculing Islam, even though Egyptian satellite television networks popular in Benghazi were already spewing outrage against it.

Members of the local militia groups that the Americans called on for help proved unreliable, even hostile. The fixation on Al Qaeda might have distracted experts from more imminent threats. Those now look like intelligence failures.

More broadly, Mr. Stevens, like his bosses in Washington, believed that the United States could turn a critical mass of the fighters it helped oust Colonel Qaddafi into reliable friends. He died trying.

A Rising Militia Leader

T all and paunchy with a gaptoothed smile and a graying beard that forked at his chest, Mr. Abu Khattala grew up in el-Leithi, the Benghazi neighborhood named for the River of Oblivion in Greek mythology and known for a high concentration of militant Islamists. He spent most of his adult life in Abu Salim prison in Tripoli, jailed for his Islamist extremism.

At 42, he has never completed high school or married. He earns a modest living as a construction contractor in blue Dickies coveralls, and lives with his mother in a house decorated with a vase of plastic roses in its living room.

In several hours of interviews, including ones conducted in the days before he became a prime suspect in the assault, Mr. Abu Khattala said he had no connections to Al Qaeda. But he never hid his admiration for its vision.

“The enmity between the American government and the peoples of the world is an old case,” he said. “Why is the United States always trying to use force to implement its agendas?”

Muslims and Christians, he later argued, were fighting an inexorable war. “The problem is in the nature of religions,” he said. “There is always hostility between the religions.”

Unlike other Libyans, Mr. Abu Khattala expressed no gratitude for the American role in the NATO air campaign that toppled Colonel Qaddafi. If NATO had not intervened, “God would have helped us,” he said, insisting, “We know the United States was working with both sides” and considering “splitting up the country.”

Mr. Abu Khattala was a loner and a contrarian, even among fellow Islamists. A self-described jihadi commander who spent years in prison with Mr. Abu Khattala called him unstable. “If all the Libyan people said, ‘We don’t want the Americans,’ Abu Khattala will say, ‘Bring back the Americans!' ” the commander said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Sheikh Mohamed Abu Sidra, a member of Parliament from Benghazi close to many hard-line Islamists, who spent 22 years in Abu Salim, said, “Even in prison, he was always alone.”

He added: “He is sincere, but he is very ignorant, and I don’t think he is 100 percent mentally fit. I always ask myself, how did he become a leader?”

But when the revolt against Colonel Qaddafi broke out in Benghazi, Mr. Abu Khattala’s years in Abu Salim became an attractive credential. Young men raced to find tough-talking sheikhs they could follow into battle.

“Teenagers came running around him just like they came running around me,” said Abdel Bassett Shihaibi, 44, who fought in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. “ ‘Sheikh, sheikh, did you know Al Qaeda? Did you know Osama bin Laden? How do we fight?’ ” Mr. Shihaibi recalled their asking.

Mr. Abu Khattala “seemed like a tough guy” and “very disciplined,” one teenage Islamist fighter recounted.

Mr. Abu Khattala formed his own militia of perhaps two dozen fighters, naming it Obeida Ibn Al Jarra for an early Islamic general. And he stood out for his fearlessness in the early days of the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi in the spring of 2011, helping to defend the rebel-held city of Ajdabiya just as the United States, Britain, France and other NATO countries were weighing steps to support the rebels.

But Mr. Abu Khattala became notorious across Benghazi when a group of Islamist militia leaders decided to “arrest” Gen. Abdul Fattah Younes, the main commander of the rebel movement, now backed by NATO.

General Younes had been Colonel Qaddafi’s interior minister before he defected to join the uprising, and he was viewed in the West as a crucial professional leader for a motley movement known to include extremists. But he had also led crackdowns against Islamists, and they suspected him of a double-cross.

After Islamists sent a team to take the general to an impromptu judicial inquiry in July 2011, his captors held him overnight in the headquarters of Mr. Abu Khattala’s brigade. The bodies of General Younes and two of his aides were found on a roadside the next day, riddled with bullets.

There is no evidence that Mr. Abu Khattala himself pulled the trigger. But because the death occurred while the general was in his brigade “he became a boogeyman” across Benghazi, said Mr. Gharabi, the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati Brigade. “People started to fear him.”

Mr. Abu Khattala appeared to enjoy his infamy, doing little to dispel the rumors about him. When the Islamist-dominated militias reorganized into a centralized coalition, he rejected it because it supported the secular, Western-backed provisional government instead of demanding a theocracy. He pulled back from the front.

“He thinks he owns God and everyone else is an infidel,” said Fawzi Bukatef, leader of the broader rebel coalition.

But Mr. Abu Khattala was not alone in his hard-line views.

In the spring of 2012, eight months after Colonel Qaddafi’s death, Western diplomats were focused on Libya’s first parliamentary election, a crucial test of the country’s hopes of a transition to democracy.

But some in Benghazi had other ideas, and put them on parade.

On a June afternoon, Mr. Abu Khattala joined a column of as many as 200 pickup trucks mounted with artillery as they drove through downtown Benghazi under the black flags of militant Islam.

Some trucks came from outside Benghazi. Others bore the markings of the city’s major militias, the groups ostensibly allied with the government and effectively in control of the city. Among them were February 17, Libya Shield and the Supreme Security Committee.

Participants described the parade as a demonstration of their opposition to democracy, calling it a violation of their vision of Islamic law. The event was also the public debut of Ansar al-Shariah, a group of as many as 200 militants who, like Mr. Abu Khattala, had broken away from the other militias in protest of their support for elections.

Western diplomats who watched said they were stunned by the scale and weaponry of the display.

“It was like they were coming down out of the mountains,” said a Western diplomat who watched the parade, “except that they were not. They were already there.”

The Ambassador

Ambassador Stevens always saw the best in Libya. He had gladly accepted the role of American liaison to the rebels at the start of the uprising. And in April 2011 he chose to sail into Benghazi on a Greek cargo ship instead of taking the easier land route from Egypt, just to savor the romance of his arrival in a free Libya.

J. Christopher Stevens talking to journalists in Benghazi in April 2011. (Bryan Denton for The New York Times)

An experienced Arabist with previous postings in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Stevens, then 52, was among the most influential voices in American policy toward Libya. He helped shape the Obama administration’s conviction that it could work with the rebels, even those previously hostile to the West, to build a friendly, democratic government.

The rebels, including the Islamists, were eager to befriend the American envoy. Colonel Qaddafi “was saying the West was supporting these ‘Al Qaeda’ terrorists,” said Ashraf Ben Ismail, a wealthy businessman, so he invited Mr. Stevens and several Islamist brigade leaders to a meeting in his spacious salon to dispel those fears. All attested to their support for building a modern, democratic Libya. (The more hard-line Islamist rebels declined to attend.)

Still, Mr. Stevens and other Americans also knew that Benghazi had a history of violence against Western diplomats. In 1967, a United States Consulate there was ransacked and burned by a mob angry about American support for Israel in the Arab-Israeli war. In 2006, a mob burned down the Italian Consulate because a cabinet minister in Rome had worn a T-shirt mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

By the summer of 2012, a new pattern of hit-and-run attacks against Western interests was emerging. There were three separate attacks in Benghazi involving small explosives that locals used for fishing, two on the American compound and a third near a United Nations convoy.

Mohammed Ali al-Zahawi, the leader of Ansar al-Shariah, told The Washington Post that he disapproved of attacking Western diplomats, but he added, “If it had been our attack on the U.S. Consulate, we would have flattened it.”

After a rocket-propelled grenade seriously wounded a guard in the British ambassador’s convoy, the British began limiting their presence in Benghazi to day trips, depositing their vehicles and weapons inside the American compound at night before flying back to Tripoli, the capital.

But the Americans remained optimistic. Taking stock of the deteriorating security situation on Aug. 8, 2012, a cable titled “The Guns of August” and signed by Mr. Stevens struck an understanding tone about the absence of effective policing.

It noted that Libyans were wary about the imposition of a strong security apparatus so soon after they expunged Colonel Qaddafi’s. “A diverse group of independent actors” — including criminals and “former regime elements” as well as “Islamist extremists” — was exploiting the vacuum, the cable said. But it found no signs of an organized campaign against the West.

Sept. 11, 2012

At the time of the attack, Mr. Stevens, Mr. Smith and an armed American diplomatic security officer are in the main villa. Three other armed American officers are behind the villa, and one is in an office monitoring security cameras. Three armed Libyan militia fighters and five unarmed Libyan guards are also in the mission.

“What we are going through — and what people here are resolved to get through — is a confluence rather than a conspiracy,” the cable concluded.

The Americans had another reason to feel secure: the team of at least 20 people from the Central Intelligence Agency operating out of an unmarked Benghazi compound known as “the Annex” that was about a half-mile southeast of the mission.

Some were highly skilled commandos. “I knew the backup guys at the Annex, who were quite heavily trained and equipped,” said an Obama administration official who visited in the months before the attack.

In addition to buying up weapons spilled out during the revolt, the team was assigned to gather intelligence about anti-Western terrorists and the big militia leaders. But there were hundreds of small brigades, affiliations were fluid and overlapping, and the agents often found themselves turning to Mr. Stevens for advice because he seemed to know the militia leaders better than any other American expert.

Despite his expertise and the C.I.A.'s presence, though, “there was little understanding of militias in Benghazi and the threat they posed to U.S. interests,” a State Department investigation into the mission attack later concluded.

The C.I.A. kept its closest watch on people who had known ties to terrorist networks abroad, especially those connected to Al Qaeda. Intelligence briefings for diplomats often mentioned Sufian bin Qumu, a former driver for a company run by Bin Laden.

Mr. Qumu had been apprehended in Pakistan in 2001 and detained for six years at Guantánamo Bay before returning home to Derna, a coastal city near Benghazi that was known for a high concentration of Islamist extremists.

But neither Mr. Qumu nor anyone else in Derna appears to have played a significant role in the attack on the American Mission, officials briefed on the investigation and the intelligence said.

“We heard a lot about Sufian bin Qumu,” said one American diplomat in Libya at the time. “I don’t know if we ever heard anything about Ansar al-Shariah.”

Sept. 11, 2012

Guards at the diplomatic mission see a man in a police uniform taking photographs with a cellphone from an unfinished building across the street.

The more moderate leaders of the big militias developed close ties to the Westerners.

At least one Islamist militia leader liked to play basketball at the British compound. Mr. Bukatef of the February 17 Brigade was a fluent English speaker who visited the American compound in Benghazi so often that “it was like he was my best friend,” one diplomat joked.

“We thought we were sufficiently close to them,” said one Western diplomat who was in Benghazi not long before the attack. “We all thought that if anything threatening was happening, that they would tip us off.”

A State Department review later found “a tendency on the part of policy, security and other U.S. government officials to rely heavily on the probability of warning intelligence.” It called the Benghazi attack “a stark reminder” of the dangers that entailed.

A Fuse Is Lit

“Innocence of Muslims” purported to be an online trailer for a film about the mistreatment of Christians in contemporary Egypt. But it included bawdy historical flashbacks that derided the Prophet Muhammad. Someone dubbed it into Arabic around the beginning of September 2012, and a Cairo newspaper embellished the news by reporting that a Florida pastor infamous for burning the Quran was planning to debut the film on the 11th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Then, on Sept. 8, a popular Islamist preacher lit the fuse by screening a clip of the video on the ultraconservative Egyptian satellite channel El Nas. American diplomats in Cairo raised the alarm in Washington about a growing backlash, including calls for a protest outside their embassy.

No one mentioned it to the American diplomats in Libya. But Islamists in Benghazi were watching. Egyptian satellite networks like El Nas and El Rahma were widely available in Benghazi. “It is Friday morning viewing,” popular on the day of prayer, said one young Benghazi Islamist who turned up at the compound during the attack, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

By Sept. 9, a popular eastern Libyan Facebook page had denounced the film. On the morning of Sept. 11, even some secular political activists were posting calls online for a protest that Friday, three days away.

Hussein Abu Hamida, the acting chief of Benghazi’s informal police force, saw the growing furor and feared new violence against Western interests. He conferred with Abdul Salam Bargathi of the Preventive Security Brigade, an Islamist militia with a grandiose name, each recalled separately, and they increased security outside a United Nations office. But they said nothing to the Americans.

Reports of the video were just beginning to spread on Sept. 9 when Mr. McFarland, then the officer normally in charge of politics and economics at the United States Embassy in Tripoli, had his meeting with the Benghazi militia leaders. Among them were some of the same men who had greeted Mr. Stevens when he arrived in Benghazi at the start of the revolt, including Mr. Gharabi, 39, a heavyset former Abu Salim inmate who ran a local sandwich truck before becoming the leader of the Rafallah al-Sehati. Another was Wissam bin Hamid, also 39, a slim and slightly hunched mechanic known for his skill with American cars who by then had become the leader of Libya Shield, considered one of the strongest militias in Libya.

In an interview, Mr. Gharabi said that he had known about the building rage in Egypt over the video, but that, “We did not know if it was going to reach us here.”

Mr. McFarland seemed most concerned about the big militia leaders. “'How do the revolutionaries feel about having relationships with Western countries? What is your opinion about the United States?'” the Americans asked, according to Mr. Gharabi. It was “an interrogation,” he said.

“We told them that we hoped that the countries which helped us during the war would now help us in development,” he said. “And America was at the top of the pyramid.”

But Mr. Gharabi and two other Libyan militia leaders present said separately that they tried to warn Mr. McFarland. “We told them, ‘Weapons are everywhere, in every home, and there is no real control,' ” Mr. Bin Hamid of Libya Shield said.

Mr. McFarland struggled to make sense of their contradictory signals. “The message was, ‘Don’t come here because there is no security, but come right away because we need you,' ” Mr. McFarland later told colleagues.

The militia leaders seemed unable to get their stories straight, his colleagues said, and the vague warnings amounted to a reminder of what the diplomats already knew: Post-revolutionary Benghazi was a dangerous place.


“Security vacuum,” Ambassador Stevens wrote in his personal diary on Sept. 6 in Tripoli, in one of the few pages recovered from the Benghazi compound.

“Militias are power on the ground,” he wrote. “Dicey conditions, including car bombs, attacks on consulate,” he continued. “Islamist ‘hit list’ in Benghazi. Me targeted on a prominent website (no more off compound jogging).” A map of his Tripoli jogging route had appeared on the Internet, seemingly inviting attacks, diplomats said.

But when he arrived from Tripoli for a visit, he was glad to be back in Benghazi. “Much stronger emotional connection to this place,” he wrote in his diary on Sept. 10, “the people but also the smaller town feel and the moist air and green and spacious compound.”

By 7 a.m. on Sept. 11, guards at the American Mission had spotted a man taking photographs with a cellphone on the second floor of an unfinished building next to the Venezia Restaurant across the street, according to interviews with the compound’s Libyan guards as well as the State Department report.

When the guards approached, the photographer fled in a police car with two others, all in the uniforms of a quasi-official militia known as the Supreme Security Committee. Fawzi Wanis, a former commander of the group, said he suspected that the men were doing reconnaissance for someone else.

“We had all kinds in the Supreme Security Committee, from Islamist extremists to drunks,” Mr. Wanis said.

In his diary, Mr. Stevens wrote, “Never ending security threats…”

Around dusk, the Pan-Arab satellite networks began broadcasting footage of protesters breaching the walls of the American Embassy in Cairo, pulling down the American flag and running up the black banner of militant Islam. Young men around Benghazi began calling one another with the news, several said, and many learned of the video for the first time.

Mr. Stevens, who spent the day in the compound for security reasons because of the Sept. 11 anniversary, learned about the breach in a phone call from the American Embassy in Tripoli. Then a diplomatic security officer at the Benghazi mission called to tell the C.I.A. team. But as late as 6:40 p.m., Mr. Stevens appeared cheerful when he welcomed the Turkish consul, Ali Akin, for a visit.

There was even less security at the compound than usual, Mr. Akin said. No armed American guards met him at the gate, only a few unarmed Libyans. “No security men, no diplomats, nobody,” he said. “There was no deterrence.”

Sept. 11, 2012

A police car stationed in front of the compound belatedly arrives. It stays parked outside for 40 minutes and abruptly leaves. The attack begins moments later.


Attackers storm through the main gate and set barracks and cars on fire. Mr. Stevens, Mr. Smith and a security officer in the main villa lock themselves in a safe room. Attackers set the main villa’s living room on fire. They bang at the safe room’s door, but do not enter.

Three American armed officers outside the main villa rush to retrieve rifles, radios and bulletproof vests in the security quarters. Two of them try to return to the villa, but find the alley between the two buildings overtaken by attackers. Outnumbered and outgunned, they barricade themselves in the security quarters.

As the main villa is engulfed in smoke, the security officer tries to guide Mr. Stevens and Mr. Smith outside through a window. The officer leaves, but the two men do not follow. The officer re-enters the building multiple times, but is unable to find the two men.

At 8:30 p.m., British diplomats dropped off their vehicles and weapons before flying back to Tripoli. At 9:42 p.m., according to American officials who have viewed the security camera footage, a police vehicle stationed outside turned on its ignition and drove slowly away.

A moment later a solitary figure strolled by the main gate, kicking pebbles and looking around — a final once-over, according to the officials.

The attack began with just a few dozen fighters, according to those officials. The invaders fired their Kalashnikovs at the lights around the gate and broke through with ease.

The compound had a total of eight armed guards that night: five Americans and three Libyans affiliated with the February 17 militia. All of them fell back. The Americans raced to grab their weapons in the compound’s other buildings but then found a swarm of attackers blocking their way to the main villa.

Mr. Stevens and an information officer took refuge in the villa’s safe room while an armed security officer positioned himself to defend it.

Reports from the scene ricocheted around the city in frantic phone calls telling competing stories. Abu Baker Habib, a Libyan-American friend of Mr. Stevens, began calling for help from a handful of the most important militia leaders, like Mr. Bin Hamid and Mr. Gharabi. But a false report spread much wider and faster: that guards in the compound had shot and wounded Libyans who had come only to protest.

“They told each other that the Americans had killed a Libyan,” Mr. Gharabi said. “For that reason, everybody would go.”

Mr. Gharabi, who was at a friend’s wedding a hundred miles away, knew that some of his fighters would join the attack, so he sent a delegation of “wise men” to deter them, he said. Mr. Bukatef of the February 17 Brigade was in Tripoli that night but said in an interview that he also believed some of his men had participated.

Soon scores, if not hundreds, of others were racing to the scene. Some arrived with guns, some with cameras. The attackers had posted sentries at Venezia Road, adjacent to the compound, to guard their rear flank, but they let pass anyone trying to join the mayhem. Witnesses said young men rushing inside had left empty pickup trucks from Ansar al-Shariah, but also all the other big militias ostensibly allied with the government.

Sept. 11, 2012

A C.I.A. team leaves the Annex in two vehicles, trying and failing to get help from militia members it finds along the way. It takes enemy fire as it approaches the mission.

The Annex team rescues the officer in the monitoring office and joins the search for the two missing Americans. They find Mr. Smith in the main villa, dead from smoke inhalation, but not the ambassador.

Cellphone video posted online shows Mr. Stevens's body being recovered later by a crowd from a window near the villa's entrance.

There is no doubt that anger over the video motivated many attackers. A Libyan journalist working for The New York Times was blocked from entering by the sentries outside, and he learned of the film from the fighters who stopped him. Other Libyan witnesses, too, said they received lectures from the attackers about the evil of the film and the virtue of defending the prophet.

Mr. Abu Khattala’s whereabouts on the day before the attack could not be determined, nor could his precise role in its planning. People who know him say he was at work as usual in the days leading up to it.

“His neighborhood is full of people like him,” said the leader of a major Islamist militia, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “So it is easy for him to pick up a phone and rally people around him.”

Witnesses at the scene of the attack identified many participants associated with Ansar al-Shariah. Mr. Abu Khattala’s presence and leadership were evident. He initially hung back, standing near the crowd at Venezia Road, several witnesses said. But a procession of fighters hurried to him out of the smoke and gunfire, addressed him as “sheikh” and then gave him reports or took his orders before plunging back into the compound.

A local Benghazi official named Anwar el-Dos arrived on the scene and identified Mr. Abu Khattala as directing the fighters, people present said. Then Mr. Dos approached Mr. Abu Khattala for help entering the compound.

The two drove into the mission in Mr. Abu Khattala’s pickup truck, the witnesses said. As he moved forward, the fighters parted to let them pass.

Mr. Abu Khattala, in an interview, recounted meeting Mr. Dos that night. Mr. Dos declined to comment. When the truck doors opened inside the compound, witnesses said, Mr. Dos dived to the ground to avoid gunfire that was ringing all around. But Mr. Abu Khattala strolled coolly through the chaos.

“He was just calm as could be,” a young Islamist who had joined the pillaging said, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Around 11:30 p.m., Mr. Abu Khattala showed up on internal security cameras, according to officials who have viewed the footage.

Sept. 11, 2012

The five security agents originally in the mission leave the compound in an armored vehicle and come under attack. They manage to escape, but are followed to the Annex.

Back at the main villa, Americans are attacked again. The team is unable to find the ambassador and retreats to the Annex carrying Mr. Smith’s body.

Shortly after they reach the Annex, the compound is attacked with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, intermittently, for an hour.

Witnesses described utter bedlam inside. Men looted suits of clothes and carried them out on their hangers. They lugged out televisions. Some emerged from buildings clutching food they had found, and one poured what appeared to be Hershey’s chocolate syrup into his mouth. Others squabbled over trophies as small as a coil of rope left on the ground.

A newly acquired and uninstalled generator sat near the main gate, with large cans of fuel beside it. Attackers stumbled upon it within 15 minutes of entering the compound, according to officials who have seen the video footage, and soon begun using the fuel to set fire to vehicles and buildings.

Libyan militia leaders who might have intervened to help the Americans washed their hands of the attack. At the militias’ so-called joint operations room inside the February 17 Brigade headquarters, the commander in charge was Mr. Bargathi of the militia called the Preventive Security Brigade. He had also been a friend and neighbor of Mr. Abu Khattala since childhood.

He said he immediately radioed the Libyan guards in the compound and told them not to resist the assault. “I told them: ‘Don’t shoot. Just run away from the place,' ” he said. “Because I knew that it was not wise to provoke. These are not like normal attackers, and it might enrage them more. They might kill everyone inside.”

He volunteered that the leaders of Ansar al-Shariah had joined him in the operations room shortly after the attack began — underscoring the permeability of the line between threat and protector among Benghazi militias.

Of all the major militias in the city, Libya Shield was the best positioned to intervene. It was arguably the most formidable in the country at the time, and its leader, Mr. Bin Hamid received an urgent call from the ambassador’s friend Mr. Habib asking for help. Mr. Bin Hamid arrived at the scene within 30 minutes after the attack began, he said in an interview.

“The situation wasn’t suitable for me to go inside the compound,” Mr. Bin Hamid said. “And when the shooting stopped, we thought the Americans had been evacuated.”

A group of about 20 young men who had been hanging around the headquarters of the February 17 Brigade did try to help the Americans. But they ran into the attackers’ sentries on Venezia Road.

“They pointed their guns at us and said, ‘This is none of your business, go back,' ” said Sherif Emrajee el-Sherif, 18, a petroleum engineering student who was among those who tried to help the Americans.

Sept. 12, 2012

A seven-person American team from Tripoli arrives in Benghazi on a Libyan cargo jet, but struggles to negotiate an escort out of the airport.


The response team arrives at the Annex, accompanied by a convoy of about a dozen Libyan militia trucks.

Minutes later, the Annex is attacked again. Three mortar rounds hit one of the buildings, killing the security officers Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Two other officers are also wounded.

The militia fighters all followed an unstated code, the rescuers and other militiamen said. Never enter a public gunfight with other Libyans, for fear of setting off a cycle of retaliatory violence and demands for blood money. “It is normal,” Mr. Sherif explained. “Whatever happened, they were other Libyans.” (He and at least one other rescuer ultimately entered the compound with Americans from the C.I.A. Annex, and Mr. Sherif was shot in the leg in gunfire inside.)

As the melee continued, Mr. Abu Khattala drove to the headquarters of Ansar al-Shariah and an affiliated militia, Othman Ibn Affan, witnesses said.

At one point, a fighter asked Mr. Abu Khattala what to do with the remains of the compound. “Flatten it,” he said.

Later, Mr. Abu Khattala appeared to prepare for another phase of the attack. One young fighter with him told another to “cleanse ourselves for another battle” — an apparent reference to a subsequent attack on the C.I.A. Annex.

That phase appears to have been improvised that night. After the Americans fled from the mission to the C.I.A. Annex, it, too, came under a sporadic, low-grade attack for the first time, suggesting that the assailants had just learned of it. Later, guards there observed people lingering in a nearby pasture, stirring fears that they were plotting coordinates for launching a mortar attack.

Back in Tripoli, American diplomats scrambled to make sense of the news out of Benghazi. Many learned of Ansar al-Shariah’s existence from social media during the attack. They sent seven security officers to Benghazi in a borrowed Libyan cargo jet.

Sept. 12, 2012

Americans leave for the airport with support from a Libyan militia. One hour later, part of the staff leaves Benghazi on a chartered jet.


Mr. Stevens’s body arrives at the Benghazi airport in an ambulance. Hours earlier, about 1 a.m., some of the compound’s invaders found him in the main villa and took him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead, apparently from smoke inhalation.


A second flight lands in Tripoli, with the remaining staff and the bodies of the four Americans.

Embassy officials had arranged for the team to be met by Fathi al-Obeidi, a trusted lieutenant of Mr. Bin Hamid of Libya Shield. But when the jet landed around 1 a.m., seemingly every commander in Benghazi was competing for the honor of escorting the Americans, even those who did nothing to stop the attack, including Mr. Bin Hamid himself.

A group from the Preventive Security Brigade, led that night by Mr. Abu Khattala’s old friend Mr. Bargathi, insisted on coming, and held the team up for hours on the tarmac, Mr. Obeidi said. And instead of the low-profile escort the Americans had sought, a parade of nearly a dozen pickup trucks ultimately joined them.

Shortly after the convoy arrived around 5 a.m., the C.I.A. Annex came under a new attack: the mortar rounds the guards had feared. Within 90 seconds, five had landed, the last three hitting the roof of the main building.

Almost all of the Libyan fighters who had insisted on accompanying the Americans from the airport fled immediately.

Two American security guards, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, were killed by the mortar shells. Mr. Stevens and Sean Smith, an information officer, suffocated in the burning of the main villa in the diplomatic compound.


After the attack, Mr. Obama vowed retribution. “We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act,” he said in a televised address from Washington on the morning of Sept. 12. “And make no mistake, justice will be done.”

But much of the debate about Benghazi in Washington has revolved around statements made four days later in television interviews by Ms. Rice, who was then ambassador to the United Nations.

“What happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, prompted by the video.”

Republicans, pouncing on the misstatement, have argued that the Obama administration was trying to cover up Al Qaeda’s role. “It was very clear to the individuals on the ground that this was an Al Qaeda-led event,” Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said last month on Fox News.

“This was a preplanned, organized terrorist event,” he said, “not a video. That whole part was debunked time and time again.”

But the Republican arguments appear to conflate purely local extremist organizations like Ansar al-Shariah with Al Qaeda’s international terrorist network. The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of Al Qaeda, according to several officials briefed on the call. But when the friend heard the attacker’s boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault.

Al Qaeda was having its own problems penetrating the Libyan chaos. Three weeks after the attack, on Oct. 3, 2012, leaders of the group’s regional affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, sent a letter to a lieutenant about efforts to crack the new territory. The leaders said they had sent four teams to try to establish footholds in Libya. But of the four, only two in the southern Sahara “were able to enter Libyan territory and lay the first practical bricks there,” the letter said.

The letter, left behind when the group’s leaders fled French troops in Mali, was later obtained and released by The Associated Press. It tallied up the “spectacular” acts of terrorism the group had accomplished around the region, but it made no mention of Benghazi or any other attacks in Libya.

More than a year later, the group appears more successful. People briefed on American intelligence say the regional affiliate has established a presence in Derna.

In the days after the Benghazi attack, meanwhile, Mr. Abu Khattala was still at work on construction sites and moving at ease around the city, even mocking the American political debate about the ambassador’s death. “It is always the same two teams, but all that changes is the ball,” he said in an interview. “They are just laughing at their own people.”

Sitting for an interview on a Benghazi hotel patio three weeks after the attack, Mr. Abu Khattala acknowledged being at the scene. But he said he had stopped near the mission that night only to break up a traffic jam. He then left, he said, and returned later to help rescue a Libyan guard he had heard was trapped inside.

But he scarcely hid his sympathy for the attackers. While almost everyone else in Benghazi mourned Mr. Stevens as a friend of the revolution, Mr. Abu Khattala was unmoved by his death. “I did not know him,” he said coolly.

And he suggested that the video insulting the Prophet Muhammad might well have justified the killing of four Americans. “From a religious point of view, it is hard to say whether it is good or bad,” he said.

But as American investigators focused on Mr. Abu Khattala in the following weeks, other militia leaders closed ranks with him.

Mr. Bargathi and Mr. Bin Hamid offered alibis for him, contradicting many witnesses. Mr. Bargathi said that he had received a call from Mr. Abu Khattala after the attack had begun and that Mr. Abu Khattala had seemed surprised by the news.

Told that Mr. Abu Khattala had given his name as a corroborating witness, Mr. Bin Hamid said they had stood together outside the compound because it seemed too dangerous to enter.

In an interview last spring, Mr. Bin Hamid said he had decided to make Mr. Abu Khattala a kind of local real estate judge, putting him in charge of settling disputes over property deeds.

“That made him happy,” Mr. Bin Hamid said. “He is good at this. He is a sincere person. People respect him.”

Other Benghazi Islamists insist, bizarrely and without evidence, that they suspect the C.I.A. killed the ambassador.

The leaders of Ansar al-Shariah, the hard-line Islamist group allied with Mr. Abu Khattala, declared in a statement read on television the morning after the attack that they had not participated in it. But they lauded the assault as a just response to the video. They, too, insisted that a “peaceful protest” had “escalated as a result of shooting that came from the consulate, which led to the ambassador’s death by suffocation.”

As they did with Mr. Abu Khattala, other local militia leaders and even elected officials embraced Ansar al-Shariah more tightly after the attack. Yousef al-Mangoush, the chief of staff of the Libyan military, met with its leaders to confirm their warm ties. “Mangoush has a very good impression of them,” said Ibrahim Bargathi, the chief of the Preventive Security Brigade, who arranged the meeting.

Ansar al-Shariah focused on charitable missionary work, including an antidrug campaign with local corporate sponsors, picking up garbage during sanitation strikes and offering exorcisms for those troubled by evil spirits.

“They are like Boy Scouts,” Mr. Bargathi said. “Anything that promotes good, they support.”

By last summer, United States investigators had interviewed hundreds of witnesses and formally asked the Libyan government to arrest Mr. Abu Khattala, along with about a dozen others wanted for questioning. The United States military also prepared a plan to capture him on its own, pending presidential approval, officials said. But the administration held back, fearing that unilateral United States military action could set off a backlash that would undermine the fragile Libyan government.

In the meantime, violence among local groups has scattered the militia. This fall, Ansar al-Shariah fought a citywide gun battle with a defected military unit that left at least nine dead. Opponents burned down Ansar al-Shariah’s headquarters and bombed its clinic, and its fighters were driven into hiding.

The fighters are widely blamed for explosions that have destroyed seemingly every police station in the city, as well as car bombings and drive-by shootings targeting the defected unit.

Hearing rumors that a revenge-seeking mob was threatening to come after Mr. Abu Khattala this fall, dozens of his neighbors sprang to his defense in scenes reminiscent of Venezia Road on the night of the mission attack. Fighters raced to erect checkpoints on the roads around his house, and they pulled out Kalashnikovs, grenade launchers, truck-mounted artillery and even a tank. Some drove government-issued pickups.

Mr. Gharabi said that Libya’s prime minister, under pressure from the Americans, had asked a Benghazi army commander for help apprehending Mr. Abu Khattala.

Mr. Gharabi quoted the commander as replying, “You will be lucky if he does not apprehend you.”

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« Reply #10952 on: Dec 29, 2013, 07:36 AM »

December 28, 2013

A Civil Servant in Mexico Tests U.S. on Asylum


LA RUANA, Mexico — Jittery families cram into his tiny office here, daily. Hundreds more have appeared at the San Diego border 1,500 miles away, clutching an official-looking letter bearing his name, gambling that its description of the violence in this blistering stretch of central Mexico will help them gain asylum in the United States.

The letter has quickly become a document of hope for the desperate. And the writer, an obscure local official named C. Ramon Contreras Orozco, keeps delivering, creating an unusual bureaucratic tangle that is testing American asylum policy.

“I’m trying to help,” said Mr. Contreras, the jefe de tenencia, or occupancy chief, of this battle-scarred town, where a drug cartel has declared war on residents. “People keep coming, telling me: ‘I’m afraid for me and my children. I need to go.’ ”

Asylum requests along the border with Mexico are soaring: claims more than doubled to 36,000 in fiscal 2013, from 13,800 in 2012. American officials believe that Mr. Contreras’s letters were presented in nearly 2,000 of the most recent cases, turning him into a focal point for the anxiety over violence in Mexico and making his letter a case study for contentious issues on both sides of the border.

Indeed by furiously churning out documents that highlight Mexico’s inability to protect civilians in this region of avocados, citrus and drugs, Mr. Contreras, 38 — a hefty lime farmer in his first government job — has managed both to shame his own country and to sign his way into the latest immigration feud in the United States.

“I’m just verifying reality,” Mr. Contreras said, sweating at a too-small desk in an office without air-conditioning. “I’m not doing anything wrong.”

Mexican officials have nonetheless become frustrated by attention to this agricultural area’s slide into chaos, with drug cartels battling armed self-defense groups. And in Washington, influential lawmakers, including Robert Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, are increasingly concerned that criminals are abusing the asylum process, cheating their way into the country and disappearing for at least a few years until their cases are heard.

Mr. Contreras’s efforts rouse both concerns. In the 2013 fiscal year, most of the petitions for asylum based on a “credible fear of persecution or torture” came from Central America. But of the roughly 2,500 cases that came from Mexico, Mr. Contreras estimated that nearly 80 percent of them involved his letters. Officials with the Department of Homeland Security said they considered that more or less accurate.

And each case is a riddle. Are Mr. Contreras’s assertions of the dangers here enough to give emigrating families a chance of asylum in the United States? Are the letters showing up at the San Diego border even originals?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no, immigration authorities say. The circumstances are often so murky that even members of the same family, carrying the same letter, say they have received different decisions on their requests to stay in the United States and apply for asylum.

“The letters are a product of need,” said the Rev. Manuel Amezcoa, 49, a Roman Catholic priest who works in this part of Mexico. “But the results are complicated.”

It all began in mid-March, Mr. Contreras said, when a young woman appeared in his office begging for a way to reach her grandfather in the United States. Just a few weeks earlier, on Feb. 24, residents had formed a self-defense group and publicly challenged the Knights Templar drug cartel, which led to a vicious gun battle near the town plaza just across from Mr. Contreras’s office.

The Knights Templar then made it deadly to pick or pack limes, taking away this fertile valley’s main livelihood. Gas had also become scarce because suppliers feared driving in, and the municipal president had just fled amid accusations of cartel ties, suddenly making Mr. Contreras, who used to spend much of his time certifying property transfers, all that was left of local government.

The letter, he said, was a response to desperation, hatched by him and his secretary while the young woman waited for a response. By that point, he said, it was obvious that his home state of Michoacán, which has struggled with drug war violence for nearly a decade, was no longer just lawless; it was uninhabitable.

“This is a failed state,” Mr. Contreras said. “The government can’t follow through on anything.”

Federal officials have rejected that assessment, noting that additional troops have quieted violence in some areas. But here in a part of the country that security experts now describe as Mexico’s toughest battleground in its war on organized crime, entire families have been turning to Mr. Contreras for a way out.

One resident, Amparo Zavala, 56, collected her letter from him after paying about $4. Hoping for asylum, she then traveled to Tijuana with her two grown daughters, a niece, her son and his wife. A bullet had already pierced the tin walls of her two-room home; she said she feared the next gunfight would lead to death.

But the American response was not what she expected. One of Ms. Zavala’s daughters was born mentally disabled, and, she said, at the San Ysidro port of entry, agents pulled them apart. “Please, please, she needs me!” Ms. Zavala recalled screaming. That night was the first time she and her disabled 35-year-old daughter slept apart.

Two weeks later, after being sent to Arizona, Ms. Zavala said she was deported with a five-year ban on re-entering the United States. Her daughter-in-law was also deported, but the others remained, a decision Ms. Zavala still does not understand. “The letter was for all of us,” she said. “We were all telling the truth.”

Many other families described similar situations. Just a few blocks away, closer to the town plaza, Isamar Gonzalez described her own confusion about why her mother could stay in California for a court date more than a year away while she was rejected. “My mother has diabetes,” she said. “Maybe that’s it?” Probably not, Ms. Zavala added: “I have diabetes, too.”

Homeland Security officials emphasize that the asylum process has always been complicated, with officers scrutinizing a range of evidence to determine whether applicants meet the legal standard of a “credible fear,” which typically allows them to stay in the country freely while their asylum case proceeds to a judge. There are also safeguards and background checks, Homeland Security officials said, to keep out the criminals and fraud that Mr. Goodlatte has said are becoming a bigger part of the system.

“Credible fear determinations are dictated by longstanding statute, not an issuance of discretion,” said Peter Boogaard, a Homeland Security spokesman.

Most asylum claims are ultimately rejected by a judge. In 2012, only 1 percent of the requests from Mexico were granted — 126 people, a fraction of the 482,000 immigrants who received legal residency.

But with different asylum officers making the initial “credible fear” decisions after interviews, the early results vary. And here in a region with a long history of emigration, even the possibility of asylum feeds rumors and dreams. In town after town where cartel gunmen have set buses on fire, cut electricity and filled mass graves, the letter amounts to printed hope. Most people who left with them have not come back, Mr. Contreras said, fueling a sense that the effort is working.

That appears to have spawned a copying industry. American officials say some immigrants have recently reported paying about $75 for the letter. When Mr. Contreras was shown two versions of his letter presented at the border, with different signatures, he immediately identified one as a fraud.

“A lot of people are selling these, or so I’ve heard, but for me, it’s just a way to help,” he said. He then rose from his desk and returned with a manila folder containing a random sampling of the letters he has signed.

The early versions were general, describing a “wave of violence and insecurity” that flooded the area after the February clash between residents and the cartel. Later versions were more specific, usually at the request of the family, he said. One letter from mid-November, for example, explained that the parents of a child named Leticia were sending her north alone to apply for asylum and live with relatives “until the danger passes.”

As word has spread, the geographic span has also widened. Shortly before Mr. Contreras retrieved the folder, two new requests arrived: a man came from a town in Jalisco state known as a way station for the Knights Templar; another came from a town nearby where a pregnant official had reportedly been killed the night before.

One was planning to flee north with his entire family. The other would be traveling alone. “His wife and children are already there,” Mr. Contreras said. “They left months ago with the letter.”

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« Reply #10953 on: Dec 29, 2013, 07:39 AM »

In the past year, Google’s bought eight robotics companies. Should we be concerned?

By John Naughton, The Observer
Sunday, December 29, 2013 1:41 EST

The company’s expansion into robotics was developed in tandem with the US military

You may not have noticed it, but over the past year Google has bought eight robotics companies. Its most recent acquisition is an outfit called Boston Dynamics, which makes the nearest thing to a mechanical mule that you are ever likely to see. It’s called Big Dog and it walks, runs, climbs and carries heavy loads. It’s the size of a large dog or small mule – about 3ft long, 2ft 6in tall, weighs 240lbs, has four legs that are articulated like an animal’s, runs at 4mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, climbs muddy hiking trails, walks in snow and water, carries a 340lb load, can toss breeze blocks and can recover its balance when walking on ice after absorbing a hefty sideways kick.

You don’t believe me? Well, just head over to YouTube and search for “Boston Dynamics”. There, you will find not only a fascinating video of Big Dog in action, but also confirmation that its maker has a menagerie of mechanical beasts, some of them humanoid in form, others resembling predatory animals. And you will not be surprised to learn that most have been developed on military contracts, including some issued by Darpa, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, the outfit that originally funded the development of the internet.

Should we be concerned about this? Yes, but not in the way you might first think. The notion that Google is assembling a droid army that will one day give it a Star Wars capability seems implausible (even if we make allowances for the fact that its mobile software is called android). No; what makes the robotics acquisitions interesting is what they reveal about the scale of Google’s ambitions. For this is a company whose like we have not seen before.

Google is run by two youngish men, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who are, in a literal sense, visionaries. Google’s shareholding structure gives them untrammelled power: while other companies have to fret about the opinion of Wall Street, quarterly results etc, the Google boys can do as they please. Where most public companies – and all governments – have nowadays little desire for risk, they appear to have an insatiable appetite for it. One reason for this is that Google’s dominance of search and online advertising provides a continuous flow of unimaginable revenues. The company exercises a gravitational pull on the most talented intellects in their field – software. Since software is pure thought-stuff, collective IQ is all that matters in this business. And Google has it in spades.

What drives the Google founders is an acute understanding of the possibilities that long-term developments in information technology have deposited in mankind’s lap. Computing power has been doubling every 18 months since 1956. Bandwidth has been tripling and electronic storage capacity has been quadrupling every year. Put those trends together and the only reasonable inference is that our assumptions about what networked machines can and cannot do need urgently to be updated.

Most of us, however, have failed to do that and have, instead, clung wistfully to old certainties about the unique capabilities (and therefore superiority) of humans. Thus we assumed that the task of safely driving a car in crowded urban conditions would be, for the foreseeable future, a task that only we could do. Similarly, we imagined that real-time translation between two languages would remain the exclusive preserve of humans. And so on.

What makes the Google boys so distinctive is not the fact that they did update their assumptions about what machines can and cannot do (because many people in the field were aware of what was becoming possible) but that they possessed the limitless resources needed to explore and harness those new possibilities. Hence the self-driving car, MOOCs, the Google books project, the free gigabit connectivity project, the X labs and so on…

And these are just for starters. A few months ago, an astute technology commentator, Jason Calcanis, set out what he saw as Google’s to-do list. Here’s what he came up with: free gigabit internet access for everyone for life; mastering Big Data, machine learning and quantum computing; dominating wearable – and implantable – computing; becoming a huge venture capitalist and developing new kinds of currency (a la Bitcoin); becoming the world’s biggest media company; revolutionising healthcare and technologies for life extension; alternative energy technologies; and transforming transportation.

If any other company had a to-do list such as this we would have its executives sectioned under the Mental Health Act. And it’s possible, I suppose, that the Google founders are indeed nuts. But I wouldn’t bet on it, which is why we ought to be concerned. Because if even a fraction of the company’s ambitions eventually come to fruition, Google will become one of the most powerful corporations on Earth. And we know what Lord Acton would have said about that. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #10954 on: Dec 29, 2013, 07:50 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

12/29/2013 09:18 AM

Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit


The NSA's TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency's top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.

In January 2010, numerous homeowners in San Antonio, Texas, stood baffled in front of their closed garage doors. They wanted to drive to work or head off to do their grocery shopping, but their garage door openers had gone dead, leaving them stranded. No matter how many times they pressed the buttons, the doors didn't budge. The problem primarily affected residents in the western part of the city, around Military Drive and the interstate highway known as Loop 410.

In the United States, a country of cars and commuters, the mysterious garage door problem quickly became an issue for local politicians. Ultimately, the municipal government solved the riddle. Fault for the error lay with the United States' foreign intelligence service, the National Security Agency, which has offices in San Antonio. Officials at the agency were forced to admit that one of the NSA's radio antennas was broadcasting at the same frequency as the garage door openers. Embarrassed officials at the intelligence agency promised to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, and soon the doors began opening again.

It was thanks to the garage door opener episode that Texans learned just how far the NSA's work had encroached upon their daily lives. For quite some time now, the intelligence agency has maintained a branch with around 2,000 employees at Lackland Air Force Base, also in San Antonio. In 2005, the agency took over a former Sony computer chip plant in the western part of the city. A brisk pace of construction commenced inside this enormous compound. The acquisition of the former chip factory at Sony Place was part of a massive expansion the agency began after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

On-Call Digital Plumbers

One of the two main buildings at the former plant has since housed a sophisticated NSA unit, one that has benefited the most from this expansion and has grown the fastest in recent years -- the Office of Tailored Access Operations, or TAO. This is the NSA's top operative unit -- something like a squad of plumbers that can be called in when normal access to a target is blocked.

According to internal NSA documents viewed by SPIEGEL, these on-call digital plumbers are involved in many sensitive operations conducted by American intelligence agencies. TAO's area of operations ranges from counterterrorism to cyber attacks to traditional espionage. The documents reveal just how diversified the tools at TAO's disposal have become -- and also how it exploits the technical weaknesses of the IT industry, from Microsoft to Cisco and Huawei, to carry out its discreet and efficient attacks.

The unit is "akin to the wunderkind of the US intelligence community," says Matthew Aid, a historian who specializes in the history of the NSA. "Getting the ungettable" is the NSA's own description of its duties. "It is not about the quantity produced but the quality of intelligence that is important," one former TAO chief wrote, describing her work in a document. The paper seen by SPIEGEL quotes the former unit head stating that TAO has contributed "some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen." The unit, it goes on, has "access to our very hardest targets."

A Unit Born of the Internet

Defining the future of her unit at the time, she wrote that TAO "needs to continue to grow and must lay the foundation for integrated Computer Network Operations," and that it must "support Computer Network Attacks as an integrated part of military operations." To succeed in this, she wrote, TAO would have to acquire "pervasive, persistent access on the global network." An internal description of TAO's responsibilities makes clear that aggressive attacks are an explicit part of the unit's tasks. In other words, the NSA's hackers have been given a government mandate for their work. During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries -- nearly everywhere in the world. In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide.

Indeed, TAO specialists have directly accessed the protected networks of democratically elected leaders of countries. They infiltrated networks of European telecommunications companies and gained access to and read mails sent over Blackberry's BES email servers, which until then were believed to be securely encrypted. Achieving this last goal required a "sustained TAO operation," one document states.

This TAO unit is born of the Internet -- created in 1997, a time when not even 2 percent of the world's population had Internet access and no one had yet thought of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. From the time the first TAO employees moved into offices at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the unit was housed in a separate wing, set apart from the rest of the agency. Their task was clear from the beginning -- to work around the clock to find ways to hack into global communications traffic.

Recruiting the Geeks

To do this, the NSA needed a new kind of employee. The TAO workers authorized to access the special, secure floor on which the unit is located are for the most part considerably younger than the average NSA staff. Their job is breaking into, manipulating and exploiting computer networks, making them hackers and civil servants in one. Many resemble geeks -- and act the part too.

Indeed, it is from these very circles that the NSA recruits new hires for its Tailored Access Operations unit. In recent years, NSA Director Keith Alexander has made several appearances at major hacker conferences in the United States. Sometimes, Alexander wears his military uniform, but at others, he even dons jeans and a t-shirt in his effort to court trust and a new generation of employees.

The recruitment strategy seems to have borne fruit. Certainly, few if any other divisions within the agency are growing as quickly as TAO. There are now TAO units in Wahiawa, Hawaii; Fort Gordon, Georgia; at the NSA's outpost at Buckley Air Force Base, near Denver, Colorado; at its headquarters in Fort Meade; and, of course, in San Antonio.

One trail also leads to Germany. According to a document dating from 2010 that lists the "Lead TAO Liaisons" domestically and abroad as well as names, email addresses and the number for their "Secure Phone," a liaison office is located near Frankfurt -- the European Security Operations Center (ESOC) at the so-called "Dagger Complex" at a US military compound in the Griesheim suburb of Darmstadt.

But it is the growth of the unit's Texas branch that has been uniquely impressive, the top secret documents reviewed by SPIEGEL show. These documents reveal that in 2008, the Texas Cryptologic Center employed fewer than 60 TAO specialists. By 2015, the number is projected to grow to 270 employees. In addition, there are another 85 specialists in the "Requirements & Targeting" division (up from 13 specialists in 2008). The number of software developers is expected to increase from the 2008 level of three to 38 in 2015. The San Antonio office handles attacks against targets in the Middle East, Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia, not to mention Mexico, just 200 kilometers (124 miles) away, where the government has fallen into the NSA's crosshairs.

Targeting Mexico

Mexico's Secretariat of Public Security, which was folded into the new National Security Commission at the beginning of 2013, was responsible at the time for the country's police, counterterrorism, prison system and border police. Most of the agency's nearly 20,000 employees worked at its headquarters on Avenida Constituyentes, an important traffic artery in Mexico City. A large share of the Mexican security authorities under the auspices of the Secretariat are supervised from the offices there, making Avenida Constituyentes a one-stop shop for anyone seeking to learn more about the country's security apparatus.


That considered, assigning the TAO unit responsible for tailored operations to target the Secretariat makes a lot of sense. After all, one document states, the US Department of Homeland Security and the United States' intelligence agencies have a need to know everything about the drug trade, human trafficking and security along the US-Mexico border. The Secretariat presents a potential "goldmine" for the NSA's spies, a document states. The TAO workers selected systems administrators and telecommunications engineers at the Mexican agency as their targets, thus marking the start of what the unit dubbed Operation WHITETAMALE.

Workers at NSA's target selection office, which also had Angela Merkel in its sights in 2002 before she became chancellor, sent TAO a list of officials within the Mexican Secretariat they thought might make interesting targets. As a first step, TAO penetrated the target officials' email accounts, a relatively simple job. Next, they infiltrated the entire network and began capturing data.

Soon the NSA spies had knowledge of the agency's servers, including IP addresses, computers used for email traffic and individual addresses of diverse employees. They also obtained diagrams of the security agencies' structures, including video surveillance. It appears the operation continued for years until SPIEGEL first reported on it in October.

The technical term for this type of activity is "Computer Network Exploitation" (CNE). The goal here is to "subvert endpoint devices," according to an internal NSA presentation that SPIEGEL has viewed. The presentation goes on to list nearly all the types of devices that run our digital lives -- "servers, workstations, firewalls, routers, handsets, phone switches, SCADA systems, etc." SCADAs are industrial control systems used in factories, as well as in power plants. Anyone who can bring these systems under their control has the potential to knock out parts of a country's critical infrastructure.

The most well-known and notorious use of this type of attack was the development of Stuxnet, the computer worm whose existence was discovered in June 2010. The virus was developed jointly by American and Israeli intelligence agencies to sabotage Iran's nuclear program, and successfully so. The country's nuclear program was set back by years after Stuxnet manipulated the SCADA control technology used at Iran's uranium enrichment facilities in Natanz, rendering up to 1,000 centrifuges unusable.

The special NSA unit has its own development department in which new technologies are developed and tested. This division is where the real tinkerers can be found, and their inventiveness when it comes to finding ways to infiltrate other networks, computers and smartphones evokes a modern take on Q, the legendary gadget inventor in James Bond movies.

Having Fun at Microsoft's Expense

One example of the sheer creativity with which the TAO spies approach their work can be seen in a hacking method they use that exploits the error-proneness of Microsoft's Windows. Every user of the operating system is familiar with the annoying window that occasionally pops up on screen when an internal problem is detected, an automatic message that prompts the user to report the bug to the manufacturer and to restart the program. These crash reports offer TAO specialists a welcome opportunity to spy on computers.

When TAO selects a computer somewhere in the world as a target and enters its unique identifiers (an IP address, for example) into the corresponding database, intelligence agents are then automatically notified any time the operating system of that computer crashes and its user receives the prompt to report the problem to Microsoft. An internal presentation suggests it is NSA's powerful XKeyscore spying tool that is used to fish these crash reports out of the massive sea of Internet traffic.

The automated crash reports are a "neat way" to gain "passive access" to a machine, the presentation continues. Passive access means that, initially, only data the computer sends out into the Internet is captured and saved, but the computer itself is not yet manipulated. Still, even this passive access to error messages provides valuable insights into problems with a targeted person's computer and, thus, information on security holes that might be exploitable for planting malware or spyware on the unwitting victim's computer.

Although the method appears to have little importance in practical terms, the NSA's agents still seem to enjoy it because it allows them to have a bit of a laugh at the expense of the Seattle-based software giant. In one internal graphic, they replaced the text of Microsoft's original error message with one of their own reading, "This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine." ("Sigint" stands for "signals intelligence.")

One of the hackers' key tasks is the offensive infiltration of target computers with so-called implants or with large numbers of Trojans. They've bestowed their spying tools with illustrious monikers like "ANGRY NEIGHBOR," "HOWLERMONKEY" or "WATERWITCH." These names may sound cute, but the tools they describe are both aggressive and effective.

According to details in Washington's current budget plan for the US intelligence services, around 85,000 computers worldwide are projected to be infiltrated by the NSA specialists by the end of this year. By far the majority of these "implants" are conducted by TAO teams via the Internet.

Increasing Sophistication

Until just a few years ago, NSA agents relied on the same methods employed by cyber criminals to conduct these implants on computers. They sent targeted attack emails disguised as spam containing links directing users to virus-infected websites. With sufficient knowledge of an Internet browser's security holes -- Microsoft's Internet Explorer, for example, is especially popular with the NSA hackers -- all that is needed to plant NSA malware on a person's computer is for that individual to open a website that has been specially crafted to compromise the user's computer. Spamming has one key drawback though: It doesn't work very often.

Nevertheless, TAO has dramatically improved the tools at its disposal. It maintains a sophisticated toolbox known internally by the name "QUANTUMTHEORY." "Certain QUANTUM missions have a success rate of as high as 80%, where spam is less than 1%," one internal NSA presentation states.

A comprehensive internal presentation titled "QUANTUM CAPABILITIES," which SPIEGEL has viewed, lists virtually every popular Internet service provider as a target, including Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter and YouTube. "NSA QUANTUM has the greatest success against Yahoo, Facebook and static IP addresses," it states. The presentation also notes that the NSA has been unable to employ this method to target users of Google services. Apparently, that can only be done by Britain's GCHQ intelligence service, which has acquired QUANTUM tools from the NSA.

A favored tool of intelligence service hackers is "QUANTUMINSERT." GCHQ workers used this method to attack the computers of employees at partly government-held Belgian telecommunications company Belgacom, in order to use their computers to penetrate even further into the company's networks. The NSA, meanwhile, used the same technology to target high-ranking members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) at the organization's Vienna headquarters. In both cases, the trans-Atlantic spying consortium gained unhindered access to valuable economic data using these tools.

The NSA's Shadow Network

The insert method and other variants of QUANTUM are closely linked to a shadow network operated by the NSA alongside the Internet, with its own, well-hidden infrastructure comprised of "covert" routers and servers. It appears the NSA also incorporates routers and servers from non-NSA networks into its covert network by infecting these networks with "implants" that then allow the government hackers to control the computers remotely. (Click here to read a related article on the NSA's "implants".)

In this way, the intelligence service seeks to identify and track its targets based on their digital footprints. These identifiers could include certain email addresses or website cookies set on a person's computer. Of course, a cookie doesn't automatically identify a person, but it can if it includes additional information like an email address. In that case, a cookie becomes something like the web equivalent of a fingerprint.

A Race Between Servers

Once TAO teams have gathered sufficient data on their targets' habits, they can shift into attack mode, programming the QUANTUM systems to perform this work in a largely automated way. If a data packet featuring the email address or cookie of a target passes through a cable or router monitored by the NSA, the system sounds the alarm. It determines what website the target person is trying to access and then activates one of the intelligence service's covert servers, known by the codename FOXACID.

This NSA server coerces the user into connecting to NSA covert systems rather than the intended sites. In the case of Belgacom engineers, instead of reaching the LinkedIn page they were actually trying to visit, they were also directed to FOXACID servers housed on NSA networks. Undetected by the user, the manipulated page transferred malware already custom tailored to match security holes on the target person's computer.

The technique can literally be a race between servers, one that is described in internal intelligence agency jargon with phrases like: "Wait for client to initiate new connection," "Shoot!" and "Hope to beat server-to-client response." Like any competition, at times the covert network's surveillance tools are "too slow to win the race." Often enough, though, they are effective. Implants with QUANTUMINSERT, especially when used in conjunction with LinkedIn, now have a success rate of over 50 percent, according to one internal document.

Tapping Undersea Cables

At the same time, it is in no way true to say that the NSA has its sights set exclusively on select individuals. Of even greater interest are entire networks and network providers, such as the fiber optic cables that direct a large share of global Internet traffic along the world's ocean floors.

One document labeled "top secret" and "not for foreigners" describes the NSA's success in spying on the "SEA-ME-WE-4" cable system. This massive underwater cable bundle connects Europe with North Africa and the Gulf states and then continues on through Pakistan and India, all the way to Malaysia and Thailand. The cable system originates in southern France, near Marseille. Among the companies that hold ownership stakes in it are France Telecom, now known as Orange and still partly government-owned, and Telecom Italia Sparkle.

The document proudly announces that, on Feb. 13, 2013, TAO "successfully collected network management information for the SEA-Me-We Undersea Cable Systems (SMW-4)." With the help of a "website masquerade operation," the agency was able to "gain access to the consortium's management website and collected Layer 2 network information that shows the circuit mapping for significant portions of the network."

It appears the government hackers succeeded here once again using the QUANTUMINSERT method.

The document states that the TAO team hacked an internal website of the operator consortium and copied documents stored there pertaining to technical infrastructure. But that was only the first step. "More operations are planned in the future to collect more information about this and other cable systems," it continues.

But numerous internal announcements of successful attacks like the one against the undersea cable operator aren't the exclusive factors that make TAO stand out at the NSA. In contrast to most NSA operations, TAO's ventures often require physical access to their targets. After all, you might have to directly access a mobile network transmission station before you can begin tapping the digital information it provides.

Spying Traditions Live On

To conduct those types of operations, the NSA works together with other intelligence agencies such as the CIA and FBI, which in turn maintain informants on location who are available to help with sensitive missions. This enables TAO to attack even isolated networks that aren't connected to the Internet. If necessary, the FBI can even make an agency-owned jet available to ferry the high-tech plumbers to their target. This gets them to their destination at the right time and can help them to disappear again undetected after even as little as a half hour's work.

Responding to a query from SPIEGEL, NSA officials issued a statement saying, "Tailored Access Operations is a unique national asset that is on the front lines of enabling NSA to defend the nation and its allies." The statement added that TAO's "work is centered on computer network exploitation in support of foreign intelligence collection." The officials said they would not discuss specific allegations regarding TAO's mission.

Sometimes it appears that the world's most modern spies are just as reliant on conventional methods of reconnaissance as their predecessors.

Take, for example, when they intercept shipping deliveries. If a target person, agency or company orders a new computer or related accessories, for example, TAO can divert the shipping delivery to its own secret workshops. The NSA calls this method interdiction. At these so-called "load stations," agents carefully open the package in order to load malware onto the electronics, or even install hardware components that can provide backdoor access for the intelligence agencies. All subsequent steps can then be conducted from the comfort of a remote computer.

These minor disruptions in the parcel shipping business rank among the "most productive operations" conducted by the NSA hackers, one top secret document relates in enthusiastic terms. This method, the presentation continues, allows TAO to obtain access to networks "around the world."

Even in the Internet Age, some traditional spying methods continue to live on.



Contradictory court decisions leave privacy, data security uncertain.

By: Kevin Fogarty

The decision of a New York judge that the wholesale collection of cell-phone metadata by the National Security Agency is constitutional ties the score between pro- and anti-NSA forces at one victory apiece.

The contradictory decisions use similar reasoning and criteria to come to opposite conclusions, leaving both individuals and corporations uncertain of whether their phone calls, online activity or even data stored in the cloud will ultimately be shielded by U.S. laws protecting property, privacy or search and seizure by law-enforcement agencies.

On Dec. 27, Judge William H. Pauley threw out a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that sought to stop the NSA PRISM cell-phone metadata-collection program on the grounds it violated Fourth Amendment provisions protecting individual privacy and limits on search and seizure of personal property by the federal government.

Pauley threw out the lawsuit largely due to his conclusion that Fourth Amendment protections do not apply to records held by third parties.

That eliminates the criteria for most legal challenges, but throws into question the privacy of any data held by phone companies, cloud providers or external hosting companies – all of which could qualify as unprotected third parties.

The Pauley case involved the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program to collect metadata identifying all the calls made to or from almost every cell phone in the United States, which Pauley described as a “blunt tool [that] only works because it collects everything,” according to The New York Times.

The NSA didn’t limit its surveillance to metadata on phone calls, however. Revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden and documents revealed by other government agencies suggest that the NSA eavesdropped on the phone calls of foreign political leaders, collected data on the Internet activity of Americans through the databases of foreign ISPs and tapped directly into the datacenter-network feeds of Google, Yahoo and other U.S.-based Internet giants.

Many of those efforts violated even the most permissive interpretations of federal officials and judges  responsible for approving and supervising its surveillance of U.S. residents – violations of federal law the NSA either tried to avoid admitting or tried to justify after the fact according to a Nov. decision by a judge on the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court that is the ultimate judicial authority for those activities.

While damning, that ruling avoided the question of whether to halt existing programs, recommending instead that supervision of the agency be tightened, rules be defined in more detail and that intelligence agencies follow rules designed to limit their powers.

A Dec. 16 ruling by Washington, D.C. federal-court Judge Richard J. Leon, on the other hand, declared that even the subset of NSA surveillance involving collection of metadata on cell-phone calls was likely to have violated the Fourth Amendment.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” according to Leon, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, whose administration sponsored and supported the Patriot Act and other legislation under which the NSA claims it acted. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

That decision and Pauley’s Dec. 27 ruling use similar reasoning and criteria, but come to opposite conclusions, leaving no clear indication of the likely outcome of a question that will almost certainly have to be decided by the Supreme Court. Both judges acknowledged the likelihood their own decisions would be overturned or superseded.

Pauley – a 1998 appointee of then-President Bill Clinton – based his support of the NSA on national security and the need to prevent a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York.

The NSA’s methods are extremely broad and wide-ranging, but defensible due to the high national interest in preventing more attacks and the potential for vast databases to “find and isolate gossamer contacts among suspected terrorists in an ocean of seemingly disconnected data.”

Leon’s decision against the NSA was based on his rejection of the Justice Dept.’s claim of support from a 1979 Supreme Court decision that said collecting data on all the numbers calling or being called from the phone number of a suspect under surveillance was not an invasion of privacy because only numerical data were involved.

Technology has changed so much and the volume of data that can be collected and information that can be inferred by metadata has become so great that it is almost impossible to apply the 1979 Smith v. Maryland decision to the present day, let alone the specific interpretation of the NSA, according to Leon, who described the metadata program as “Orwellian.”

U.S. residents have a “very significant” expectation of privacy in cell-phone calls and other digital activity that must be balanced against the critical nature of the government’s security concerns, methods of surveillance and efficacy in using collected data to prevent more terrorist attacks.

The Justice Dept. countered by claiming that data-collection programs did not violate those protections because personal information about individuals was unlikely to be interesting to agencies looking for evidence of terrorism. NSA officials have said data collected under PRISM and other surveillance programs revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden would be held for as long as five years even when nothing in it turned out to be relevant to any active investigation.

“I cannot possibly navigate these uncharted Fourth Amendment waters using as my North Star a case that predates the rise of cell phones,” Leon wrote.

The NSA program is so broad that it “vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States,” Pauley wrote.

Existing rules and precedents, however, are often contradictory and rarely fully in sync with the technology being used for either communication or for keeping those communications under surveillance.

The ACLU plans to appeal the decision based on its contention that the NSA’s interpretation of the Patriot Act was so broad it could justify the collection of almost any type of digital data concerning or owned by almost any U.S. resident.

Pauley’s decision “misinterprets the relevant statutes, understates the privacy implications of the government’s surveillance and misapplies a narrow and outdated precedent to read away core constitutional protections,” according to Jameel Jaffer, ACLU deputy legal director in the ACLU’s response to the decision.

“While robust discussions are underway across the nation, in Congress and at the White House, the question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful. This court finds it is,” Pauley ruled.

Both Pauley and Leon have acknowledged, however, that it will likely be the Supreme Court that decides whether PRISM or any of the other NSA programs are unconstitutional, no matter how far in the dark that lack of result leaves the owners and originators of the data being collected.


The Christian Science Monitor

New forensics technique? Researchers cull images reflected in people's eyes.

Two researchers conducted an experiment in which a person was photographed, with another person standing near the photographer. Those not directly photographed show up as reflections in the subject's eyes.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / December 27, 2013 at 3:14 pm EST

"I get lost in your eyes," you say? Researchers are working on ways to find you and save the resulting image for posterity – or for a criminal investigation.

Scientists have found that photo portraits of an individual can yield images of the photographer or people standing close to the photographer. These additional images appear as reflections in the eyes of the photo's subject.

Even though enhancements of the reflected images appear blurry, they carry enough detail to allow others to identify the people reflected in the subject's eyes.

Several research teams are pursuing the approach, known as corneal imaging, with a range of applications in mind. Criminal forensics and surveillance, including the potential to reconstruct the immediate environment that the subject of the photo occupies, are some examples. Others include advanced computer graphics, facial and iris identification, and robotics, researchers say.

Much of this work involves close-ups of the eye, plus sophisticated computer processing, to yield sharp reflected images.

But Rob Jenkins, with the University of York in Britain, and collaborator Christie Kerr, at the University of Glasgow, have shown that useful images for identifying persons of interest in a crime don't have to be razor sharp, given humans' remarkable ability at pattern recognition. Faces can be reconstructed from images taken with commercial digital cameras and enhanced with off-the-shelf image-processing software.

Moreover, where other groups have also worked to retrieve an individual facial image or even full-length image reflected from a cornea, these results are the first to demonstrate that eye reflections can be used to identify otherwise hidden bystanders, says Dr. Jenkins, a cognitive scientist, in an e-mail.

"You could think of it as a foray into extreme facial recognition. Yes, the camera can resolve the face, and yes, the brain can identify it," he writes, "but both systems are pushed to their limits, and neither could perform the feat alone."

For the experiment, the duo used a high-end digital camera and sat each of five volunteers for a passport-photo-like shot, using studio lighting. When a volunteer wasn't being photographed, he or she stood close to the photographer to be included in the reflection off the subject's corneas.

Armed with the images taken from the reflections, as well as the original digital images, Jenkins then asked two groups of people to try to match the images. Also included were studio portraits of people not among the five photographed.

One group unfamiliar with the five photo subjects was asked whether pairs of reflected and original images matched. This group amassed a 71 percent success rate for either correctly identifying a match or ruling out a match. Another group familiar with the photo subjects averaged an 84 percent success rate.

Then, Jenkins joined the five subjects in a lineup to see how well a new group of volunteers unfamiliar with the experiment but familiar with Jenkins could spontaneously identify him from among the others. The volunteers also were asked to rate the confidence with which they could pick him out from among the group. Think police lineup here.

Nine out of the 10 volunteers correctly identified the blurry corneal image of Jenkins with a confidence level of nearly 80 percent.

The researchers hold that the corneal images not only were matchable to existing, better-quality images of the same person, but also allowed someone to identify a particular individual whom they knew.

To the researchers, this was a surprise given the poor quality of the reflection-based images.

Although the study represents an initial exploration of the potential value of extracting facial information reflected in the eyes of others, the approach's usefulness as a forensics tool is far from assured, notes Lawrence Kobilinsky, who heads the department of sciences at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

The results show "some potential for criminal investigations," he says. "But at this stage, there are too many variables that cannot be controlled in an authentic case or criminal matter."

Criminals are unlikely to be photographing kidnap or child-sex-abuse victims with big-ticket Hasselblad digital cameras with a resolution of 39 megapixels, plus carefully controlled lighting.

Moreover, in the experiments, matching the photos was still a subjective activity, essentially an opinion, Dr. Kobilinksy says. It would be far better to be able to measure some aspect of an image from a corneal reflection – say, the distance between the individual's pupils in the reflection – and compare the measurement to one from a high-resolution image of the same person. Such objective measures would inspire more confidence in any match or exclusion from a match.

Camera resolution is an issue, Jenkins acknowledges. But as the pace of technology is advancing, he adds, it won't be long before garden-variety smart phones sport 39-megapixel cameras.

Ultimately, the key to identification may rest less with the camera resolution than with the people making the identification, he writes in an e-mail.

"Obtaining optimal viewers – those who are familiar with the faces concerned – may be more important than obtaining optimal images," he writes.

The experiment's results appear in the current issue of the journal PLOS One (Public Library of Science).


NYT Benghazi Bombshell: Embassy Attack Spurred by Anti-Islam Video

By Diane Sweet December 28, 2013 6:30 pm

A comprehensive New York Times investigation into the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi found no evidence of involvement by al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups; in fact, according to the report, the attack was largely fueled by anger at the American-made video "The Innocence of Muslims."

Right-wing conspiracy theorists were dealt a heavy blow today by The New York Times, as actual investigative journalism reared its head:

    "Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam."

Susan Rice was right. President Obama was right. Hillary Clinton was right.

    "A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both challenges now hang over the American involvement in Syria’s civil conflict.

    The attack also suggests that, as the threats from local militants around the region have multiplied, an intensive focus on combating Al Qaeda may distract from safeguarding American interests."

The militants we aided turned around and attacked our embassy. The Libyan intervention was a mistake, because it put the rebels into a position to attack our embassy.

"More broadly, Mr. Stevens, like his bosses in Washington, believed that the United States could turn a critical mass of the fighters it helped oust Colonel Qaddafi into reliable friends. He died trying."

Will there be apologies forthcoming for Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, or Obama? Not likely. Persons like Lindsey Graham, and Darryl Issa would have to admit that he was wrong about something for that to happen.

More than likely, the entire report will be dismissed by the conspiracy theorists on the right as a liberal leaning news paper trying to protect a Liberal-Socialist-Marxist-Administration.

Then, sadly and foolishly, they will continue to chase the terrorist al-Qaeda ghost for all eternity at the risk of overlooking other very real threats, much to the detriment of Americans everywhere.

Or perhaps Darryl Issa will finally be ready to investigate the 13 separate incidents where U.S. consulates were attacked during President Bush's tenure? They included gunmen on bikes, suicide bombs, car bombs, gunmen shooting outside, and terrorists storming Consulate compounds similar to what happened in Benghazi.

There wasn't one call for the removal of Secretary Condoleeza Rice after any of those incidents.

It would be nice, however, if at least Fox News stopped pretending that when terrorists attack U.S. interests abroad, they distinguish between administrations that are "projecting weakness" or practicing "peace through strength."

Read the full report here:


Fox News Immediately Attempts to Discredit NYT Benghazi Investigation

By Heather December 28, 2013 10:37 pm

The pundits on Fox are not pleased with the NYT's reporting that runs counter to their scandal-mongering on Benghazi.

Just like clockwork. here we go with the push back on the New York Times and their reporting on the attack on our consulate in Libya. Fox "news" has got way too much time invested in pushing their misleading and outright lying talking points and fake outrage over their drummed up Benghazi "scandal" and they're not about to let it go now.

This Saturday on Fox's America's News Headquarters, hosts Jamie Colby, Gregg Jarrett and correspondent Catherine Herridge did their best to poo-poo the reporting by the New York Times, citing Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Mike Rogers and his claims that al-Quada was involved.

Expect more like this from Fox for who knows how long to come, because, as our friends over at Media Matters reported: NYTimes Investigation Brings Bad News For Benghazi Hoaxers:

    A six-part series by New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick destroyed several myths about the September 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, myths often propagated by conservative media and their allies in Congress to politicize the attack against the Obama administration.

    Since the September 2012 attacks, right-wing media have seized upon various inaccurate, misleading, or just plain wrong talking points about Benghazi. Some of those talking points made their way into the mainstream, most notably onto CBS' 60 Minutes, earning the network the Media Matters' 2013 "Misinformer of the Year" title for its botched report.

    Kirkpatrick's series, titled "A Deadly Mix In Benghazi," debunks a number of these right-wing talking points based on "months of investigation" and "extensive interviews" with those who had "direct knowledge of the attack." Among other points, Kirkpatrick deflates the claims that an anti-Islamic YouTube video played no role in motivating the attacks and that Al Qaeda was involved in the attack: [...]

    Fox News, scores of Republican pundits, and Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC), among others, dragged then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice through the mud for citing talking points that mentioned an anti-Islamic YouTube video on Sunday morning news programs following the attacks. Despite right-wing media claims to the contrary, however, Kirkpatrick stated that the attack on the Benghazi compound was in "large part" "fueled" by the anti-Islamic video posted on YouTube. [...]   

    Another talking point that right-wing media used to accuse the Obama administration of a political cover-up was the removal of Al Qaeda from Rice's morning show talking points. Kirkpatrick, however, affirmed in his NYTimes report that Al Qaeda was not involved in the attack in Benghazi (emphasis added):

        But the Republican arguments appear to conflate purely local extremist organizations like Ansar al-Shariah with Al Qaeda's international terrorist network. The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of Al Qaeda, according to several officials briefed on the call. But when the friend heard the attacker's boasts, he sounded astonished, the officials said, suggesting he had no prior knowledge of the assault.

    Kirkpatrick also dispelled the notion that the attack on the compound was carefully planned, writing that "the attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs."

    This NYTimes report should lay to rest these long-debunked yet oft-repeated talking points on the part of both right-wing media and their conservative allies.

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Misinformer Of The Year: CBS News

December 26, 2013 4:58 PM EST ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

"It is, to put it mildly, surprising that 60 Minutes did not check this discrepancy before broadcast" -- former Meet The Press host Marvin Kalb.

Even now, nearly two months after it aired, almost nothing about CBS News' "exclusive" (and infamous) 60 Minutes report on Benghazi makes sense. From conception, to execution, to the network's stubborn claims that the report met its high standards even as it publicly dissolved, the story on the Benghazi terror attack of 2012 quickly became a case study in how not to practice journalism on the national stage. And in how dangerous it is to lose sight of fair play and common sense when wielding the power and prestige of the country's most-watched news program.

The 60 Minutes Benghazi hoax had it all: a flimsy political premise featuring previously debunked myths, a correspondent with an established agenda, a blinding corporate conflict of interest, and an untrustworthy "witness" who apparently fabricated his story and had once reportedly asked a journalist to pay him for his information. (The fact that the CBS Benghazi report was widely hyped by an array of chronically inaccurate conservative media outlets represented another obvious red flag.)

When the Benghazi hoax first began to reveal itself, a chorus of veteran journalists agreed that CBS had a pressing problem on its hands and that executives needed to address the mounting crisis. Instead CBS for days, led by 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan and news chairman Jeff Fager, defended the truly indefensible, until that became unfeasible.

The sad part is the Benghazi hoax wasn't an isolated incident this year at CBS. The colossal blunder certainly created the most controversy. But the type of ethical short cuts used in that report were visible elsewhere on the network. CBS News reports on health care reform, disability fraud, and climate change in 2013 also displayed a disturbing willingness to peddle misinformation under the guise of network news.

Fittingly, the year ended with 60 Minutes once again receiving a barrage of criticism for another one-sided report, this one about the National Security Agency's surveillance practices, causing media observers from Politico to National Review to ask what's the matter with a program once considered to be the gold standard for network news magaizine programs.

Collectively, and especially because of the Benghazi hoax, these reports earned CBS News the distinction of being named Media Matters' Misinformer of the Year for 2013. This is only the second time in nine years that a mainstream news organization has received that title. The honor has typically been awarded to an individual right-wing media figure from whom we'd expect professional misinformation, such as Glenn Beck in 2009 and Rush Limbaugh in 2012.

From a news organization with a storied past, we expect better.

The Benghazi Hoax  

The flawed 60 Minutes report represented a willing and eager decision by CBS to get mired in the Benghazi mud. CBS thought it could keep its reputation clean while cashing in on the built-in buzz it knew the right-wing noise machine would produce for the report.

But that's a dangerous game given that there's nothing sane or rational about the right-wing's Benghazi fantasy and the claims it's a "Watergate"-like scandal that implicates both President Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. The far-right's Benghazi campaign has been an endless stream of hollow allegations and smears. (i.e. "The cancer on the Presidency is lying exposed --  grisly and repulsive.") Why would a trusted brand like CBS try to wallow in that kind of conspiratorial nonsense?

In reality, Lara Logan's report produced little new reporting of interest or significance. And much of what it did cast as new turned out to be deeply flawed. The October 27 broadcast seemed designed to whip up angry emotions from conservatives, rather than illuminate the facts.  

The Benghazi fact sheet will likely haunt the network for years:

On October 27, 60 Minutes featured Dylan Davies, a British security contractor who claimed to be a "witness" of the September 2012 attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities; a witness who claimed that during the attack he heroically scaled a wall of the U.S. compound and knocked out a terrorist with his rifle butt. The action-packed tale Davies told was the same one he spelled out in a book published by CBS subsidiary, which meant the 60 Minutes report was helping to juice sales for a CBS-affiliated book. (60 Minutes did not inform their readeres of that conflict of interest.)

The story Davies told CBS though, was wildly different than the subdued account he gave his work superiors, according to an incident report that was obtained by The Washington Post on October 31. Davies had told his security contractor employer that he "could not get anywhere near" the compound the night of the attack.

With his story under fire, Davies responded that he lied to his employer because he didn't want his boss to know he'd disobeyed strict orders that night to stay away from the Benghazi compound. While acknowledging that deceit, Davies claimed he told the truth on 60 Minutes and told the truth in his book, and said he would be vindicated by the FBI's report on what he told agents shortly after the attack.

Then the Times reported that the FBI report actually showed that Davis also told agents he failed to make it to the U.S. compound on the night of the attack, and therefore did not engage in a night's worth of heroic deeds.

In the days that followed the original airing of the troubled Benghazi report, CBS did nothing to re-report or fact-check the story after holes began to appear. Other journalists, including those from the Washington Post and the New York Times, took on that burden. Basically, CBS waited for outside journalists to vet its Benghazi story after it aired. And only after CBS' competitors uncovered glaring inconsistencies did the network's news division admit mistakes were made. But the admissions came slowly and haltingly.

As it stonewalled, CBS couldn't avoid the fact that in 2004 when 60 Minutes II was caught in a crossfire of conservative outrage after airing a disputed report about President Bush's Vietnam War record, the network appointed a former Republican attorney general, Richard Thornburgh, to thoroughly investigate what went wrong. The review panel, created to "protect the integrity of CBS News," was given "full access and complete cooperation from CBS News and CBS, as well as all of the resources necessary to complete the task." Those resources included reporters' notes, e-mails, and draft scripts. After interviewing 66 people over three months, the panel issued an-often scathing 234-page report.

By contrast, no outside panel was appointed to determine how the flawed Benghazi report was put together and who was to blame for allowing it to air; the network instead commissioned a limited internal review by CBS News executive Al Ortiz. And instead of a 234-page report, CBS issued an 11-paragraph summary of Ortiz's findings. It seemed clear that CBS executives had no interests in opening up 60 Minutes to an independent review; one that would truly probe and ask the hard questions. (Was that because CBS News chairman Fager, Ortiz's boss, is also the executive producer of 60 Minutes?)

It was, as one journalism association put it, "a case study in how not to correct an inaccurate report in the digital age."

To date, nobody at CBS has lost their jobs because of the Benghazi hoax. Logan and her producer Max McClellan were asked to take a "leave of absence" following the internal review (those leaves may end as early as January), but CBS has not said whether the two are being paid during their forced hiatus.

Quite simply, how is it possible to spend a year reporting out a story only to have almost none of it stand up to the slightest scrutiny? The magnitude of the malfeasance was baffling, demonstrating that the network failed to follow even rudimentary rules of journalism in preparing the report.

In the end, CBS's internal "review" of the debacle did little to address the troubling, central questions about how the errors were made and who was to blame. That, in turn, only led to further speculation about motives. Journalism that sloppy and misleading doesn't happen by accident. Not at the elite level of 60 Minutes.

It took the CBS team nearly two weeks to concede what critics had pointed out as the report's deep flaws. The price CBS paid? Its prized Benghazi report turned the network's news team into a national punch line. (See The Colbert Report, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and Saturday Night Live.)

Darrell Issa's Partial Transcripts

The night the 60 Minutes Benghazi hoax aired, CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson used her Twitter account to relentlessly hype the program. Tweeting a dozen times that night about Logan's Benghazi piece, Attkisson urged her followers to tune in and watch.

A professional Benghazi aficionado and the declared darling of the right-wing media, Attkisson's cheerleading wasn't a surprise. Nor was it surprising that when the 60 Minutes report completely imploded, Attkisson never acknowledged the network's blunder via Twitter. She simply moved on to her own Obama gotcha campaign that featured a journalism lapse that nearly matched Logan's.

On November 11, Attkisson aired an exclusive report based on reviewing what she acknowledged were selectively leaked partial transcripts. Those transcripts likely came by the auspices of Republican anti-Obama crusader, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose utterly fruitless investigations of the White House as chairman of the House Oversight Committee have become legendary. Issa himself has become known as being legendarily untrustworthy, particularly in his dealings with the press. But that didn't stop Attkisson from simply regurgitating Issa's hit piece.

In her report, Attkisson, who's been identified by some of her own CBS colleagues as an open GOP partisan, suggested's chief project manager Henry Chao in September was completely unaware of "limitless" security concerns related to the government's troubled site; concerns that could lead to identify theft.

That was Attkisson's tale as told by the House Oversight Chairman, and the partial transcripts he allowed Attkisson to see. The entire transcript story? In his testimony, Chao was asked about security concerns that had nothing to do with the October 1 rollout of Obamacare, and instead were related to parts of that won't be active until 2014.

That's just atrocious journalism. As MSNBC's Steve Benen noted, the Attkisson report left out "pretty much every relevant detail that points in a more accurate direction." But it did successfully create more panic about the Obamacare launch. The fact that Attkisson's producers allowed her to air that kind of obviously flawed and flimsy report (Attkisson had no idea what the full transcripts revealed but she leveled a bogus charge anyway), says a lot about the gotcha culture inside CBS today.

It also reveals a lot that a reporter like Attkisson, who has such a rich history of being wrong on very important stories, is still a top reporter at CBS.
Bogus Health Care Reporting

CBS News' overly sensationalistic coverage of the Obamacare rollout also revealed troubles at the network; troubles exemplified by the work of reporter Jan Crawford who helped spread the media fear that Obamacare suddenly meant millions of Americans were losing their insurance coverage. (Having an existing insurance plan canceled and invited to join another, often less expensive plan, is not the same as losing your insurance.)

On October 28, in one of the first national Obamacare "horror stories," Crawford profiled a distraught Florida woman who said her insurance premium was going to skyrocket from $54 a month to nearly $600. (She was quickly invited onto Fox News to tell her tale.)  But CBS's Crawford managed to leave out all kinds of crucial information about the woman's old plan and what the likely new costs for her would really be.

When outsiders re-reported Crawford's completely misleading tale, they discovered the Florida woman was actually eligible for health insurance plans through the Obamacare exchanges that would increase her premiums modestly to $200, and that because of Obamacare she'd enroll in a much better, much more comprehensive, health insurance plan. When a reporter explained to the women what her options would be, she said she would "jump at" the opportunity to pay more a month for those superior coverage options, calling it "a blessing in disguise."

So much for that "horror story."

Crawford wasn't done with the misinformation, though. On October 16, she announced that CBS couldn't "find anyone who's enrolled" in the Affordable Care Act since the exchanges had gone online 16 days earlier. In more than two weeks, nobody had signed up for Obamacare, according to Crawford's preposterous claim. Three minutes of Googling and Crawford could have found countless examples of successful enrollees at the time, all the them detailed in press clippings from other media outlets.

The "Ghastly" Social Security Disability Report

And then there was the October 6 scare report 60 Minutes aired that alleged widespread fraud within the Social Security disability program. (i.e. "A secret welfare system.") Told from the perspective of another crusading Republican lawmaker, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Media Matters noted at the time the CBS report relied almost entirely on anecdotal evidence to dishonestly portray the social welfare program as wasteful, despite the fact that award rates fell during the recession and that fraud represents approximately one percent of the program.

After watching the lopsided report, Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik denounced CBS correspondent Steve Kroft's "rank ignorance about the disability program" and the "ghastly" piece Kroft helped produce.

Hiltzik wasn't alone. The Nation attacked the 60 Minutes report as a "hatchet job." Economist Dean Baker lamented that, "Perhaps the most remarkable part of this story is that the 60 Minutes crew seem to think they are being tough for going after people on disability." And disability advocates, who had preemptively reached out to CBS in hopes that 60 Minutes would air a balanced report, denounced the "sensational" account as a "disservice" to people with disabilities.

Taken together, these troubling CBS reports, centered around the shocking Benghazi hoax, paint a disturbing portrait of one of Americans' most famous news teams, and one that seems overly eager to spread Republican misinformation while doing deep damage to its own brand.


Darrell Issa Hid The Truth About Benghazi For a Year While Attacking President Obama

By: Rmuse
Sunday, December, 29th, 2013, 10:38 am   

It is an unfortunate human trait to look for some kind of moral wrong or legal malfeasance, in specific events to incite general public outrage either to benefit someone or to cast aspersion on someone else. Shortly after Republicans won a House majority in the 2010 midterm elections a corrupt Republican, Darrell Issa, promised his only job as chairman of the House Oversight Committee was to have “seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks” investigating the Obama Administration when the 112th Congress began. Issa was desperate to find a scandal to take down President Obama and has investigated everything from the 2009 federal stimulus program to fabricating President Obama’s part in the scandalous Republican government shutdown two months ago.

Issa has wasted taxpayer time and money for three years looking for Obama Administration scandals he subsequently never found, including the tragic deaths of 4 American diplomats in Benghazi Libya on September 11 2012.  Issa’s scandalous investigations aside, it was revealed yesterday that an extensive investigation into the attack on the diplomatic outpost that claimed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three diplomats’ lives found no involvement of al-Qaeda or other international terrorists groups whatsoever like Republicans have claimed for over a year. Instead, the attack was precipitated by, as first reported, by extremist Christians in the United States.

A lengthy and comprehensive New York Times investigation informed what Republicans are desperate to keep under wraps because it revealed the Benghazi attack was “accelerated in part by anger at a U.S.-made video denigrating Islam.” The report parroted what any American with half-a-mind has known since Republicans began their relentless propaganda campaign that the Obama administration attempted to cover up al-Qaeda’s alleged role in the attack. According to the chairman of the House Intelligent Committee, Republican Mike Rogers, who kept the al-Qaeda meme alive last month on Fox News, “It was very clear to the individuals on the ground that this was an al-Qaeda-led event.”

However, according to the Times, “The only intelligence connecting Al Qaeda to the attack was an intercepted phone call that night from a participant in the first wave of the attack to a friend in another African country who had ties to members of Al Qaeda. But when the friend heard the attacker’s boasts, he sounded astonished and had no prior knowledge of the assault.” The report said militants surveyed the U.S. compound at least 12 hours before the assault started, but “The violence also had spontaneous elements fueled in large part by anger at the (anti-Islam) video that motivated the initial attack.” It is important to note that the video, titled “Innocence of Muslims,” was made by an American and “had also prompted protests for hours the day before at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.”

The report continued that “Dozens of people (in Benghazi) joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters.” According to a suspect who denied participating in the attack, “the video insulting the Prophet Mohammed might well have justified the killing of four Americans.”

Still, Congressional Republicans continue to assert that Stevens and three diplomats died in a carefully planned assault by al-Qaeda because they sought to undermine President Obama’s claim that al-Qaeda was decimated after killing its leadership including Osama bin Laden. Republicans assailed Susan E. Rice for announcing that, based on early intelligence reports; the attacks were inspired by “spontaneous street protests that got out of hand as a result of the video denigrating the prophet Mohammed.” Susan Rice was mercilessly condemned by leading Republicans for allegedly lying about the attacks that led her to withdraw her name from consideration as President Obama’s Secretary of State.

For the past year-and-a-half Republicans led a phony search for a Benghazi scandal wasting taxpayer time and money, but why did criminal Issa never investigate the Christian extremists for making, promoting, and releasing the video that clearly fueled the attacks that killed four American diplomats? If the criminal really wanted to get to the bottom of who was responsible for the attacks he would have begun immediate investigations into American Christians and not President Obama.

Issa can hardly claim Christian extremists were innocent in provoking the attacks because American non-profit Media for Christ obtained film permits to shoot the movie in August 2011, and the project was promoted by Morris Sadek by email and on the blog of the National American Coptic Assembly. By early September, the film was dubbed into Arabic and broadcast on September 9 on Al-Nas, an Egyptian television station; at this point it is prescient to reiterate the video “had prompted protests for hours the day before (the Benghazi attack) at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.” The extremist Christian pastor Terry Jones, known for a Quran-burning controversy that led to riots around the world and endangered American soldiers knew of the video’s existence prior to the Benghazi attacks and promoted it by announcing his plan to show the 13-minute trailer at his church on September 11, 2012.  It is incomprehensible that the video did not incite protestors to attack the diplomatic outpost due to “anger at a U.S.-made video denigrating Islam,” or that extremist Christians are not culpable for the violence in Benghazi.

Law professors and constitutional law experts pointed out the government cannot prosecute the film’s producer(s) for its content because of the First Amendment, but regardless of First Amendment rights, the Obama administration asked YouTube to review whether to continue hosting the video at all under the company’s policies. YouTube said the video fell within guidelines because it is against Islam, not against Muslim people and thus not considered “hate speech.” Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “It does make us nervous when the government throws its weight behind any requests for censorship.” However, the Supreme Court has ruled that there are circumstances when free speech is not protected and pulling the video before it was exposed in Muslim countries would have saved four Americans’ lives.

A popular metaphor for speech or actions made for the explicit purpose of creating panic that can lead to injury or death, “shouting fire in a crowded theater,” is a paraphrasing of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s Supreme Court opinion in the case Schenck v. United States which held the defendant’s speech in opposition to the draft was not protected under the First Amendment. It is true that Darrell Issa is not, and never will be, a member of the High Court, but if he is frantic to get to the bottom of why four American diplomats were killed in Benghazi it is within his purview and duty to investigate the extremist Christians who incited protests and outrage at Americans in Cairo, and Benghazi, as a result of an anti-Islam video that denigrated the faith and its prophet.

Extremist Christians have a right of free speech, but when their “freedom” results in the deaths of, as Republicans continue repeating, “four American heroes,” then they have explicitly created panic leading to the diplomats’ deaths. Fundamentalist Christians have expressed every form of hate speech imaginable against gays, immigrants, and particularly Muslims with impunity and it is high time they are brought to account for their actions. However, there is a tendency in America to give anyone thumping a bible and wrapping themselves in the flag a free pass because they are Christians. The current scandal in Washington is that slimy crook Darrell Issa who has had the same information the New York Times reported for over a year and sat on his ass wasting taxpayer time and money pursuing Barack Obama. Republicans owe Susan Rice a humble apology, the American people tens-of-millions of dollars, and have once again exposed themselves as America’s biggest scandal.


Darrell Issa Doubles Down on His Claims of Cover Up in Benghazi

By Heather December 29, 2013 8:52 am

Darrell Issa's not about to back down from his talking points on Benghazi.

Facts be damned, Darrell Issa's got his talking points on the attacks in Libya and he's sticking with them. From this Sunday's Meet the Press, Issa doubled down on his assertion that the groups which attacked our consulate in Benghazi were affiliated with al Qaeda and continued his game of arguing semantics with David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell:

Issa stands by claims of al Qaeda-affiliation in Benghazi attacks:

    Rep. Darrell Issa on Sunday stood by claims that a group affiliated with the terrorist organization al Qaeda was involved in the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.

    "It was accurate," Issa said on NBC's Meet the Press. "There was a group that was involved that claims an affiliation with al Qaeda." [...]

    Issa said that Kirkpatrick did "very good work" but that he has seen no evidence that the video was the attack's leading cause, a claim made by then-UN ambassador Susan Rice in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

    He maintained that the administration should come clean about misstatements about the causes of the attack, even if those claims were made to protect the CIA outpost in Benghazi.

    "They went out on five stations and told the story that was at best a coverup for the CIA or at worst something that cast away this idea that there was a real terrorist operation in Benghazi," Issa said.

    The September 11, 2012 attack left four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, dead.

As Rep. Joaquin Castro, who also appeared on Meet the Press explained, "Chairman Issa and members of that committee crusaded for over a year on what was really a fairy tale, claiming that the administration knew that Al-Qaeda was involved and wouldn't admit it." I don't expect that's going to change now or ever following Issa's interview this Sunday.

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« Last Edit: Dec 29, 2013, 11:25 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #10956 on: Dec 30, 2013, 06:36 AM »

NSA 'hacking unit' infiltrates computers around the world – report

• NSA: Tailored Access Operations a 'unique national asset'
• Former NSA chief calls Edward Snowden a 'traitor'

Joanna Walters in New York
The Guardian, Sunday 29 December 2013 19.41 GMT      

A top-secret National Security Agency hacking unit infiltrates computers around the world and breaks into the toughest data targets, according to internal documents quoted in a magazine report on Sunday.

Details of how the division, known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO), steals data and inserts invisible "back door" spying devices into computer systems were published by the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The magazine portrayed TAO as an elite team of hackers specialising in gaining undetected access to intelligence targets that have proved the toughest to penetrate through other spying techniques, and described its overall mission as "getting the ungettable". The report quoted an official saying that the unit's operations have obtained "some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen".

NSA officials responded to the Spiegel report with a statement, which said: "Tailored Access Operations is a unique national asset that is on the front lines of enabling NSA to defend the nation and its allies. [TAO's] work is centred on computer network exploitation in support of foreign intelligence collection."

Der Spiegel has previously reported on documents leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The report on Sunday was partly compiled by Laura Poitras, who collaborated with Snowden and the Guardian on the first publication of revelations about the NSA's collection of the telephone data of thousands of Americans and overseas intelligence targets.

On Friday, the NSA phone data-collection programme was ruled legal by a federal judge in New York, days after a federal judge in Washington declared the operations unconstitutional and "almost Orwellian".

On Sunday, appearing on the CBS talk show Face the Nation, former air force general and NSA and CIA chief Michael Hayden called Snowden a traitor and accused him of treason. He also accused Snowden of making the NSA's operation "inherently weaker" by revealing not just the material that comes out of the agency but the "plumbing", showing how the system works inside the government.

On NBC's Meet the Press Ben Wizner, a legal adviser to Snowden, said the contrasting opinions of the two federal judges were now likely to see the case end up in front of the supreme court.

"It's time for the supreme court to weigh in and to see whether, as we believe, the NSA allowed its technological abilities to outpace democratic control," Wizner said.

Asked if Snowden, who was granted one year's asylum in Russia, should return to the US to face charges, Wizner said: "For now, he doesn't believe and I don't believe that the cost of his act of conscience should be a life behind bars."

In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Snowden declared that he had "already won" and accomplished what he set out to do. On Sunday, Wizner said Snowden's mission was to bring the public, the courts and lawmakers into a conversation about the NSA's work.

"He did his part," Wizner said. "It's now up to the public and our institutional oversight to decide how to respond."

According to the Spiegel report, TAO staff are based in San Antonio, Texas, at a former Sony computer chip factory, not far from another NSA team housed alongside ordinary military personnel at Lackland Air Force Base. The magazine described TAO as the equivalent of "digital plumbers", called in to break through anti-spying "blockages". The team totalled 60 specialists in 2008, the magazine said, but is expected to grow to 270 by 2015.

TAO's areas of operation range from counter-terrorism to cyber attacks, the magazine said, using discreet and efficient methods that often exploit technical weaknesses in the technology industry and its social media products.

The documents seen by Der Spiegel quote a former chief of TAO saying that the unit "has access to our very hardest targets" and its mission would be to "support computer network attacks as an integrated part of military operations" using "pervasive, persistent access on the global network".


Snowden’s biggest revelation: We don’t know what power is anymore, nor do we care

By Mark Ames
December 29, 2013

It’s been a busy end of 2013 for the Snowden/NSA story: a pair of conflicting judicial rulings on the legality or illegality of the NSA’s phone surveillance program; an Obama-appointed panel recommending mild NSA reforms, including scaling back the NSA’s phone metadata vacuuming program; a rare and remarkably unrevealing interview with Snowden in the Washington Post, in which Snowden declared “Mission Accomplished”; followed up by a rather sad “Snowden Xmas Message” aired on Britain’s Channel 4; and more sensational revelations about the NSA spying on our closest allies, published last Friday in the New York Times, Guardian and Der Spiegel.

That the US and Britain spy on our allies (and on each other) is not in and of itself a shocking revelation, but this is more important than mere novelty. What matters most about the Snowden leaks is what will come of them, and what we’ll do with them, if anything. There is no guarantee that leaks lead to positive change, nothing inherently transformative about leaking, not without a larger political movement – what Joe Costello would call “a politics” — pushing it. And right now, the only thing close to a politics around leaking is libertarianism, the worst of all political worlds.

Even with a politics, there’s no guarantee leaks end up making things better without a long fight. The last time frightening NSA spying programs (SHAMROCK, MINARET) were leaked in the 1970s, the political reforms that followed turned out to be far worse than what we had before: namely the secret FISA courts. The FISA courts were supposed to provide judicial check on the NSA, but instead turned into a nightmarish secret court that not only rubber stamps nearly every surveillance warrant the NSA asks for, but worse, has been used to restrict Americans’ constitutional rights.

For now, the question is: How can revelations about the out-of-control NSA (and GCHQ) spying program lead to something better? How do we make sense of it given all the bewildering technologies, and how can it be transformed into a politics? How, in other words, can the Snowden files avoid simply adding to the sense of “diffuse malaise” that Adam Curtis recently wrote about?

Looking back at some previous examples where US intelligence was caught spying on our allies and meddling in their politics may offer some insight. Not very encouraging insight — of the four most sensational examples from the past 50 years or so, only once did the revelations lead to real political reform — but insight nonetheless.

One of the first spying-on-our-allies scandals occurred in 1960, when two young NSA analysts around Edward Snowden’s age defected to the Soviet Union. For the rest of the Cold War, these two NSA defectors were considered very important. “The two most important defectors in American history,” is how “Body of Secrets” author James Bamford described them.

Bamford’s first book on the NSA, “Puzzle Palace,” details the story of how the two analysts — William Martin, 29, and Bernon Mitchell, 31 — grew disillusioned and defected to America’s Cold War enemy at the height of the Eisenhower paranoia. Both were socially awkward math whizzes and sanctimonious agnostics who despised church goers. Although they would be falsely smeared as homosexuals in the press, reflecting the military-industrial complex’s obsession with rooting out homosexuals, Martin and Mitchell were heterosexual. Bamford writes that during his security clearance examination, Mitchell disclosed that when he was between 13 and 19 he had engaged in “sexual experimentation” with dogs and chickens. Apparently to the homophobes running the NSA, chickenfuckers were a-ok — the security threat came from gays.

Both Mitchell and Martin joined the NSA in 1958, at a particularly hot moment in the Cold War, when the US routinely flew electronics-loaded aircraft along the edges of Soviet airspace to test Soviet defenses, leading to scores of shoot-downs and dogfights. Dozens of Americans were killed in these “tests,” and some, like Martin and Mitchell, worried that they could be used as a pretext to launch World War Three.

In late 1958, the US launched an even more aggressive program called ELINT sending electronics-loaded US planes deep into Soviet airspace. Two US military planes were shot down over Soviet Armenia. One of the downed planes, whose crew of 17 either were killed or went missing, included electronics specialists monitoring Soviet radar stations. The Soviets publicly accused the US of violating their airspace, which we had,  but lied claiming they hadn’t fired on the US plane, fearing if they admitted they had, it could spark American retaliation. The US counter-claimed with its own truth-and-lie: We claimed that the US plane had mistakenly flown into Soviet airspace with no hostile intent, and that the Soviets aggressively targeted and shot down a peaceful plane. And to prove we were right, the US selectively released a recording of the MiG pilots taken by the NSA proving that the MiG pilots targeted and shot down the US plane over Armenia.

The US used that selective recording to “prove” that the Soviets were liars, and the US were poor innocents. It was this lie that eventually prompted the two disillusioned middle-class NSA analysts to defect to the Soviet Union.

In 1959, the two friends, William and Bernon (who insisted on pronouncing his name with a Frenchified “Ber-NON”), were so bothered by the secret and dangerous ELINT spying program that they decided to blow the whistle on it, secretly visiting the Congressional office of Democrat Wayne Hays. But Hays was notoriously thick and mean, and so after promising to follow up on their revelations about ELINT, Hays decided that the two were actually part of a CIA test of Hays’ patriotism, to test if he could keep a secret or not. Rep. Hays kept his secret like a good American patriot. And so Mitchell and Martin’s attempt to blow the whistle on ELINT failed, and their disillusionment became total. They figured the whole country was rotten and crazy and full of god-fearing warmongers, a plausible critique, if only their solution to that problem — the Soviet Union — wasn’t itself so totally corrupt and deluded.

In the summer of 1960, the analysts took a vacation together, traveled to Mexico City, boarded a flight to Havana, and reappeared a couple of months later in Moscow, holding a press conference denouncing the dangerous NSA spying programs and exposing the NSA’s surveillance on America’s closest allies. The Russians granted the two defector-leakers citizenship, and ensured them big public platforms to explain the NSA spying programs and their reasons for leaking.

In their statement, Martin and Mitchell largely focused on calling out America’s hypocrisy:

Since going to work for the National Security Agency in the summer of 1957, we have learned that the United States Government knowingly makes false and deceptive statements both in defending its own actions and in condemning the actions of other nations.

These activities indicate to us that the United States government is as unscrupulous as it has accused the Soviet Government of being.

Martin and Mitchell also revealed for the first time the NSA’s tight relationship with British GCHQ.

When asked by a reporter to name which other friendly countries the NSA regularly spied on, Martin answered,

Italy, Turkey, France, Yugoslavia, the United Arab Republic, Indonesia, Uruguay — that’s enough to give a general picture, I guess.

Bamford writes that Martin and Mitchell stole enough secrets from the NSA’s vaults between their first unreported trip to Cuba in 1959, and their defection to Soviet Russia in 1960, that they all but handed the Soviets the skeleton key to the NSA’s operations. And it led to nothing good for anyone, least of all Martin and Mitchell.

Their rebellion was hurried and removed from politics; and ultimately their disillusionment was a kind of chronic middle-class disillusionment which eventually led them a few years later to try to re-defect back to the USA, without success. Their KGB handlers, being smart and cynical Russian spooks, correctly anticipated that their NSA defectors would quickly become disillusioned with Soviet life, so they scared them out of thoughts of returning to the US by convincing them that the US Supreme Court had sentenced both in abstentia, in a secret ruling, to 20 years hard labor. To prove it, they produced fake copies of a fake judgment. They also planted fake stories in the Soviet press claiming that US spies carrying vials of poison were hunting for the two defectors.

By the 1970s, Martin stopped believing the scare stories and tried several times to return to the US, applying for a new passport, citizenship, a visa, but failed. He moved to Mexico, and died in a Tijuana hospital in 1987. His friend Mitchell died in 2001 in St. Petersburg, reportedly bloated from years on the bottle.

The US NatSec State learned even less. Congress took 13 months to issue its big report on how two NSA analysts were able to defect with so many secrets. The brilliant conclusion: it was all homosexuality’s fault. That sparked an internal NSA gay hunt resulting in dozens of firings of suspected homosexuals. Chickenfuckers, though, were spared.

As for the US allies who were spied on, if they were unhappy about what they’d learned, they didn’t make much noise about it.

The most sensational scandal involving US intelligence spying on and manipulating our allies’ political leaders — and enriching US private contractors — was the “Lockheed Bribery Scandal.” In the 1970s, it was considered the Watergate of Corporate America. And the whole thing was blown open by Senator Frank Church’s other big investigative committee that he ran in the 1970s, the subcommittee on multinational corporations. (Most people have forgotten about that Church Committee on multinational corporate malfeasance, probably because these days we’re only interested in government baddies, not corporate baddies.)

It emerged that Lockheed representatives worked hand-in-hand with the CIA to funnel millions of bribery dollars to manipulate our Western allies’ democracies, ensuring pro-American politicians won, and that Lockheed was granted lucrative contracts. Often this meant empowering the very worst, anti-democratic forces in our allied nations’ politics, particularly in Japan, where CIA-Lockheed bribes were funneled through a fascist war criminal turned Yakuza don, Yoshio Kodama. When the Lockheed-CIA bribe scandal broke, it brought down governments in West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Japan, where the prime minister and several others were arrested and frog-marched, and what remained of Japan’s democratic system nearly collapsed for good.

The scandal really stretched back to 1947, when Yoshio Kodama was in a US military prison, branded a “Class A” war criminal and awaiting his sentence. That’s when the CIA swooped in, freed him, and made Kodama their top intelligence asset in post-war Japan. During the war years, Kodama had run Imperial Japan’s underworld operations in occupied China, and that meant intelligence knowledge and connections that the CIA needed, especially as China fell to Mao’s communists. Over the next few decades, under CIA protection, Yoshio Kodama became Japan’s most powerful Yakuza don, and corporate Japan’s most effective union buster.

Publicly, Kodama portrayed himself as the embodiment of the fiercely anti-American ultranationalist looking to restore Imperial Japan’s glory. Privately, behind the scenes, Kodama was the most powerful broker running the pro-American Liberal Democratic Party, using his money (and the CIA’s and Lockheed’s) to ensure that the ruling LDP was always dominated by pro-American conservatives with a hard-on for Lockheed jets.

In the late 1950s, this now-familiar alliance of interests — American intelligence, and for-profit US military contractors — made sure that Japan elected a pro-American prime minister, Nobusuke Kushio (another ex-war criminal), who in turn made sure that Japan bought 230 of the worst fighter jets in the postwar era: the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, nicknamed by the West Germans “The Widowmaker” for its appalling crash rate.

If that wasn’t shocking enough, the Japanese general who pushed hardest for the F-104 purchase, General Genda, was previously responsible for having planned Japan’s 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor which killed thousands of Americans. In 1959, the pro-American Gen. Genda was back as Japan’s chief of air staff. Lockheed and the US Air Force top brass invited Gen. Genda for a junket trip to Hawaii, where he test flew the F-104 Starfighters and immediately ordered 230 of them, a quarter of which crashed during routine flights.

Sen. Church’s subcommittee on multinational corporate malfeasance revealed that this power nexus — US intelligence and military contractor profiteers — continued operating through the mid-1970s. Slushed CIA and Lockheed funds were wired through what was then the world’s largest global foreign currency exchange network, Deak-Perera, headed by a former OSS spook, Nicholas Deak— “the James Bond of the world of money” as Time Magazine called him. Back then, due to strict capital controls, it wasn’t so easy to move money around the world as it is today. These days, the NSA tracks financial flows through its surveillance programs and partnerships with banks and online outfits like PayPal.

Back in the early 1970s, when financial flows were heavily restricted, money movements were often less hi-tech, as the Lockheed Bribery Scandal showed. The CIA would deposit half a million in cash into Deak-Perera’s Los Angeles office, a Spanish-born priest with a Japanese passport would withdraw the cash, converted into yen, from Deak-Perera’s Hong Kong office, and stuff it under a basket of oranges that he’d carry aboard a puddle hopper to Tokyo. In Tokyo, the Spanish-born priest would hand  the basket of oranges with the cash to a Lockheed rep, who then passed it to Yakuza don/Liberal Democratic Party powerbroker Yoshio Kodama, who used the cash payments to control the ruling party’s politics and ensure pro-American, pro-Lockheed politicians dominated the key ministries. (According to the Church Committee hearings, some of that cash sloshing around made its way back into Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect the President [CREEP] campaign coffers.)

Perhaps because this operation was so low-tech and so much simpler to grasp, this sort of intelligence-contractor operation against our allies led to one of the rare major political reforms of our time, the 1977 the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the first law in the world criminalizing corporate bribes to foreign officials.

Just as this scandal involving American intelligence, private contractors, technology and spying on our allies was dying out, a newer, far more hi-tech scandal emerged, one that’s never quite been resolved: the infamous INSLAW Affair. It’s a convoluted story that’s been a favorite of conspiracy theorists, so I’ll spare you most of the details. But just to get a sense of how serious the INSLAW Affair was, Watergate hero Elliot Richardson wrote an op-ed in the New York Times calling it “A Hi-Tech Watergate” and Richardson was quoted in the Village Voice describing the INSLAW Affair as “far worse than Watergate.”

The basic facts are these: A former NSA analyst and CIA contractor named Bill Hamilton went private in the 1970s, setting up a small database software firm called INSLAW, which contracted with the Department of Justice to develop a new hi-tech database collection-and-tracking software for law enforcement agencies. The database software program INSLAW developed was called PROMIS, and it turned out to be incredibly effective, and highly adaptable for other uses, namely, intelligence. So good, according to lawsuits and at least one federal judge, that the Reagan Administration essentially stole PROMIS from INSLAW, bankrupted the firm, and hawked its own versions of PROMIS to intelligence and law enforcement agencies both in the US and abroad to allied countries.

Within America, PROMIS was used by the NSA and CIA to track financial transactions to the Soviet bloc, terrorist organizations, and likely for other uses. Abroad, the hawked PROMIS software was reportedly outfitted with a backdoor to allow secret NSA and CIA access, and installed in many of our allies’ intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ systems, so that the NSA could spy on its allies by tapping into their databases. Proceeds from the sales were used to fund off-book operations, or to enrich cronies like the Meese family.

As Elliot Richardson wrote,

The reported sales allegedly had two aims. One was to generate revenue for covert operations not authorized by Congress. The second was to supply foreign intelligence agencies with a software system that would make it easier for U.S. eavesdroppers to read intercepted signals.

As late as 2000, Canada investigated reports that its intelligence had also been breached by the rigged PROMIS program. As the  Toronto Star reported.

[T]he probe revolves around stunning claims that computer software used by the Mounties and Canada’s spy service to co-ordinate secret investigations was rigged with a ‘trap door’ to allow American and Israeli agents to eavesdrop.

If this proves true, it would be the biggest ever breach of Canada’s national security.

While Canada already shares a wealth of intelligence information with the U.S. and Israel, there are many elements of Canadian intelligence gathering that the government wouldn’t be anxious to share with allies.

That could include economic intelligence on trading partners, detailed information on the whereabouts of terrorism suspects in Canada or strategic information on the positions Canada intends to take in international relations.

…sources close to the investigation say it revolves around Promis, a software program first developed to assist prosecutors in the United States Department of Justice. The case management software also has application for intelligence agencies keeping track of surveillance and investigation files.”

But unlike with Watergate or the Lockheed Bribery Scandal, the INSLAW Affair would be relegated to the weird margins of the conspiracy theory world. The very nature of hi-tech software, database tracking systems, “back doors” and keystroke programs made the scandal harder to grasp, harder to convert into political reform, or any sort of intelligible narrative. And then there was the fact that the INSLAW Affair broke big in the late 1980s/early 90s, at the end of the Reagan era, when politics had all but died, giving way to markets and screaming on radio or cable news shows. It led to nothing. No reforms, no politics, no change. It survives in the conspiracy fringes as a kind of final humiliation on an authentically disturbing story.

One of the things that complicates the INSLAW story is that it grows out of a transformative period in politics and technology. INSLAW went from a nonprofit outfit serving the Dept of Justice on government grants in the 1970s, to a private contracting software firm serving the Reagan Administration in the early 1980s. INSLAW’s transformation took place as the US military-intelligence complex began its decades-long privatization drive. As journalist Tim Shorrock discovered, 70 percent of today’s intelligence budget flows to private contractors.

Privatization and public-private contracting, did more than funnel taxpayer billions into private hands. It also blurred legal accountability. It’s one of the main problems we’re still dealing with today, and it’s why the current monomaniacal fixation on NSA evils, without a proportionate focus on private sector surveillance, is another dead-end.

The last major spying-on-allies NSA scandal — ECHELON — broke in 2000, the same year that the PROMIS spy scandal broke in Canada. ECHELON, was exposed in Europe as a vast secret surveillance program involving an alliance between the NSA, GCHQ, and their counterparts in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Together these countries wiretapped Western European allies in order to gain commercial advantages for Anglo-American business interests.

But before the ECHELON revelations led to any sort of major political fights, Al Qaeda saved the NSA on 9/11 and ended any talk of accountability. Instead, the NSA and other spy agencies saw tens of billions more pouring into newer, and worse versions of ECHELON and PROMIS, stuffing the coffers of well-connected private contractors like Booz Allen, SAIC and thousands of other profiteers.

And so now here we are, after four decades of change from the reform politics of the Watergate era to the anti-politics of markets, cable news propaganda, and rigged up Twitter fights.

The Snowden leaks are overwhelming us in their complexity and in their scope. So far, though, there is little sign of a new politics coming together as there is a high-pitched Twitter spat over personalities and hero-worshipping.

The Snowden leaks, which began by exposing the vast interlocking private-public Leviathan, has devolved into a pulp sci-fi story about government Big Brother versus heroic martyrs, the Death Star versus Luke Skywalker. And the more this NSA story is simplified into a mid-20tb Century Orwell tale — rather than a complex narrative about the power of technology sweeping over everything from democracy to culture to business to media, a power that makes no distinction between the public and private — the more paralyzed we’ll be.

Meanwhile, the really important power-politics are taking place right in front of us, but we don’t seem to give a damn. For example, what the hell were those tech heads from Apple, Google, Facebook and other tech giants doing in the White House the day before Obama’s NSA report was released?

No one seemed to think anything was weird about that picture, the picture of corporate power nakedly dictating to a democratically-elected president on the eve of a report that directly concerns those tech titans’ bottom lines. We were too busy cheering on Twitter when Mark Pincus — the social gaming guy who once admitted “I did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues” — ineffectually sass-mouthed the President over pardoning Edward Snowden.

Such a naked power-play at such a sensitive time recalls Obama’s shameful 2009 meeting with the heads of the big banks, just as he was about to unveil the rigged “stress tests” that saved the financial industry’s power and their bailout trillions. Or the famous meeting Boris Yeltsin held with  Russia’s seven bankers in 1997, just before they tanked the entire economy and ran off with the loot.

This is supposed to be a republic. The contract says power resides in the people. But if the Snowden leaks are teaching us one thing, it’s that we don’t even know what power is anymore nor do we care.

Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando.

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« Reply #10957 on: Dec 30, 2013, 06:48 AM »

December 30, 2013
Second Blast Hits Russia, Raising Olympic Fears


MOSCOW — A deadly suicide bombing at a crowded railroad station in southern Russia on Sunday, followed by a blast in a trolley bus on Monday in the same city, raised the specter of a new wave of terrorism six weeks before the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

President Pig V. Putin’s government has worked to protect the Olympics with some of the most extensive security measures ever imposed for the Games. But the bombings, in Volgograd, underscored the threat the country faces from a radical Islamic insurgency in the North Caucasus that has periodically spilled into the Russian heartland, with deadly results.

Security has become a paramount concern at all major international sporting events, especially in the wake of the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April, but never before has an Olympic host country experienced terrorist violence on this scale soon before the Games. And would-be attackers may have more targets in mind than the Russian state.

Current and former American law enforcement and intelligence officials said Sunday that they were more concerned about security in Russia during the Sochi Games than they have been about any other Olympics since Athens in 2004.

Russian officials attributed the explosion on Sunday to a bomb packed with shrapnel, possibly carried in a bag or backpack. It was detonated in the main railroad station in Volgograd, a city 550 miles south of Moscow and 400 miles northeast of Sochi. The bomb blew out windows in the building’s facade and left a horrific scene of carnage at its main entrance. At least 17 people were killed, and nearly three dozen others were wounded, some of them critically, meaning the death toll could still rise.

On Monday morning a blast struck a trolley bus in the city, killing at least 15 people, including an infant, according to preliminary reports. Photographs posted by Russian news organizations showed that the force of the blast tore open the bus and shattered windows nearby. Nearly two dozen others were wounded in what officials immediately described as a suicide bombing.

The Sunday blast, captured on a surveillance video camera from across the central plaza in front of the station, occurred near the station’s metal detectors, which have become a common security fixture at most of Russia’s transportation hubs. That raised the possibility that an attack deeper inside the station or aboard a train had been averted.

Vladimir I. Markin, a spokesman for the main national criminal investigation agency in Russia, called the railway station bombing an act of terror, though the exact motivation, target and perpetrator were not immediately clear. Within hours of that attack, the authorities blamed a suicide bomber, and cited the gruesome discovery of the severed head of a woman, which they said could aid in identifying her as the suspect. Officials later said they had found a grenade and a pistol, and suggested that the attack might have been carried out by a man and a woman working together.

“Most likely, the victims could have been much higher if the so-called protective system had not stopped the suicide bomber from getting through the metal detectors into the waiting room, where there were passengers,” Mr. Markin said in a statement on the agency’s website.

Volgograd was also the scene of a suicide bombing in October, when a woman identified as Naida Asiyalova detonated a vest of explosives aboard a bus in the city, killing herself and six others.

In that case, the authorities said she was linked by marriage to an explosives expert working with an Islamic group in Dagestan, a republic in southern Russia where the police have struggled to suppress a Muslim separatist insurgency. A month later, the authorities announced that they had killed her husband and four others in a raid. But the attack on Sunday indicated that the threat was far from extinguished.

It was not clear why suicide bombers have chosen targets in Volgograd, a city of 1 million that was formerly called Stalingrad, the site of one of the crucial battles of World War II. It is the nearest major Russian city to the Caucasus, and its proximity may play a role.

Roman Lobachov, who was among those injured on Sunday, said he was at the station’s security checkpoint when the blast occurred. “I passed through the metal detector, and at that moment there was an explosion,” he said in remarks on the official Rossiya television network. He said he felt a shock like a blow to the head, “and I kind of dropped to the floor.”

Mr Pig Putin vowed on Sunday to redouble security at Russia’s railway stations and airports, which are especially busy around the New Year’s holiday.

The autonomous republics of the North Caucasus, including Dagestan and Chechnya, have been roiled for nearly two decades by armed insurgencies — complex, ever-shifting conflicts that the International Crisis Group recently called “the most violent in Europe today.” The violence has claimed hundreds of lives this year, prompting the Russian authorities to make extraordinary efforts to keep it from reaching Sochi, a resort city on the Black Sea coast among the foothills of the Caucasus. The city will effectively be locked down starting Jan. 7, with all traffic banned except officially registered vehicles. Visitors to the Olympics, which begin on Feb. 7, will be required to obtain a special pass to enter the region.

With security so tight at the site of the Games, experts have warned that insurgents who want to disrupt the Olympics might turn instead to “softer” targets elsewhere. On Friday, an explosion in a car killed three people in Pyatigorsk, another city in the Caucasus; details of that attack remain sketchy, and it was not clear whether it was related to the bombings Sunday and Monday.

Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel fighter who now leads a terrorist group known as the Caucasus Emirate, vowed in July to attack in Sochi, calling the Games “satanic.”

“They plan to hold the Olympics on the bones of our ancestors, on the bones of many, many dead Muslims, buried on the territory of our land on the Black Sea,” Mr. Umarov said in a video. He emerged from the ruins of Chechnya’s separatist movement, which was largely defeated by the authorities under Pig Putin. His group has claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in Moscow in 2010 and 2011; like the Volgograd attacks, they were both against transportation-related targets.

One reason American law enforcement and intelligence officials are concerned about Sochi is that the United States has more of an arms-length relationship with Russia than with most Olympic host countries. The United States provided extensive security resources to the Greek government in 2004, but the Russians have stronger capabilities than Greece and almost always refuse American offers of help.

Rick Nelson, a former counterterrorism official in the George W. Bush administration, pointed out that the Athens games came relatively soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“The Greeks did not have the resources and ability to provide a lot of internal security, there were a lot of high-profile targets that were spread out, and Al Qaeda was looking for a high-profile target,” he said. “But there weren’t a series of attacks in Greece leading up to the Olympics like there have been in Russia.”

Current and former American officials said they had confidence in the Russians’ ability to protect Sochi and the Olympic venues. “There’s every belief they’ll make it secure and do whatever it takes to do that,” said one senior law enforcement official. “But it is a large country, and these groups can get a lot of bang for their buck if they are able to do something in the country, wherever it is, during the Olympics.”

Another complicating factor is that the United States does not direct a significant portion of its intelligence capabilities toward groups that mount attacks in Russia, because American officials see terrorists in countries like Pakistan and Yemen posing a greater threat to American interests. And even though the Boston Marathon bombers had ties to Dagestan, officials don’t believe the attack was plotted with the help of groups there.

“We share some enemies, but not that many,” Mr. Nelson said. “The U.S. just doesn’t put the resources into those areas like it does elsewhere in the world, and there isn’t a ton of intelligence sharing on these groups.”

Reporting was contributed by Nikolai Khalip and Viktor Klimenko from Moscow, and Michael S. Schmidt from Washington.


Terrorism in Russia: the road to Sochi

There is good reason to suppose recent bombings, despite taking place 400 miles away, were related to the 2014 Games

Guardian G logo
The Guardian, Sunday 29 December 2013 22.24 GMT          

When Russia's bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics was successful almost seven years ago, it was already obvious that the risks were high. Russia would be open to western pressure or even a boycott because of human rights issues as the event approached, just as it was with the Moscow games in 1980. Second, there was the technical gamble: Sochi, although a pleasant place, was also a remote one, lacking in the necessary infrastructure. Everything, not only the sporting facilities themselves, would have to be built almost from scratch. Fiascos involving accommodation, transport, or equipment breakdown could easily be imagined.

Third, there was the risk of the kind of terrorist attacks that all major sporting events attract, compounded in Russia's case by the impact of the Chechen wars. The Beslan school massacre had shocked the world only three years before the Sochi bid.

President Pig Putin made a few concessions to western opinion when he released the Greenpeace protestors, members of the Pussy Riot band and the businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But, even before that, it was clear there would be no effective boycott, although a few heads of state and government will not attend. In Sochi itself, there were delays, unforeseen difficulties, such as avalanche protection, and rumours of much corruption. Still, the work is more or less on schedule.

It is on the third front, sadly, that the worst fears could turn out to be justified. Sunday's apparent suicide bombing of the main Volgograd railway station, with many dead and injured, was the second such atrocity in two months in that city; there was a car bomb in another south Russian city on Friday. Volgograd lies just above the North Caucasus region, the mainly Muslim region from which many of Russia's Islamist extremists come, and which includes both Chechnya and Dagestan. It is more than 400 miles from Sochi, but it is a transport hub for people travelling to the south. In any case, there is good reason to suppose the bombings were related to the Sochi Games, since security there has become so intense, according to one former member of Russia's anti-terrorist forces, that the extremist groups trying to disrupt the event are switching to more distant targets.

That does not mean they will not soon try to close in on Sochi itself. Mr Putin's record in combating Muslim extremism is not a good one. The invasion of Chechnya that he ordered in 1999 exacerbated and spread opposition across the Caucasus. A high price has already been paid for his and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin's mistakes in the region. Let us hope it does not rise even higher at Sochi.

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« Reply #10958 on: Dec 30, 2013, 06:50 AM »

French high court approves 75 percent tax rate on executive salaries

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, December 29, 2013 10:16 EST

France’s top court on Sunday approved a proposal for companies to pay 75 percent tax on annual salaries exceeding one million euros in line with President Francois Hollande’s drive to limit executive pay at a time of economic hardship.

The Constitutional Council had earlier in the year thrown out one of Hollande’s key campaign pledges to impose a 75 percent tax on individuals earning more than one million euros ($1.35 million).

The rejection of that proposal exempted those who had a significant inheritance but low incomes from coming under the 75 percent tax bracket.

After that setback, Hollande in March mooted a proposal to make companies pay for top earners.

He had said the idea was “not to punish” but added that he hoped it would spur companies to lower executive pay at a time when the economy is suffering, unemployment is soaring and workers are being asked to accept wage cuts.

Hollande has pledged to rein in spiralling unemployment by the end of 2013.

The government’s belt-tightening budget for 2014 aims to bring down the public deficit from the current level of 4.1 percent to 3.6 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) through spending cuts totalling 15 billion euros ($20 billion) and new taxes.

The surtax on companies posting a turnover of more than 250 million euros has been doubled, a measure that is expected to bring in 2.5 billion euros a year.

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« Reply #10959 on: Dec 30, 2013, 06:54 AM »

Tens of thousands protest against government in Kiev

Latest update : 2013-12-29

Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on the central square of Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, nearing the end of more than a month of rallies against the government’s decision to shelve a key trade deal with the EU.

The deal would have boosted economic ties between Ukraine and Europe, potentially loosening Russia’s grip on the country.

The turnout at Sunday’s protest was noticeably lower than at some of the earlier demonstrations, which drew hundreds of thousands of participants.

As it has before, Sunday’s rally opened with speeches by the country’s religious leaders, including Christian priests, a rabbi and a mufti who called for national unity and stressed the protesters’ right to have the government they want.

Most of the protesters have come from western and central regions of the country, while many people in the mostly Russian-speaking east and the south support closer ties with Moscow.

After a violent police crackdown on November 30, President Viktor Yanukovych’s government has limited the use of force in an apparent hope that protests would fizzle out.

Protest at Yanukovych's private residence

Some 5,000 protesters also made their way to Yanukovych's residence known as Mezhygirya on the banks of the Dnipro river some 15 kilometres (10 miles) outside of Kiev by bicycle, car and minibuses adorned with Ukrainian flags, an AFP correspondent at the scene said.

They were kept at a distance of around 300 metres (330 yards) from the heavily guarded residence by a vast cordon of anti-riot officers who blocked the path of the protesters with police buses and trucks.

The protesters carried a coffin to symbolise what they hope is the end of Yanukovych's political career and chanted "Kiev rise up!" and "Get Out Yanukovych".

Ukraine's opposition and media have long accused Yanukovych of financing Mezhygirya with funds obtained improperly by him and his family, and said its luxury is wholly inappropriate in a country going through an economic crisis.

Investigations into the financing and construction of the residence were a prime part of the work of journalist Tetyana Chornovol, who is in hospital after being brutally beaten last week.

The leader of the opposition UDAR (Punch) party and world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko stood on a minibus to denounce the "corruption" of the elite in front of the crowds.

"The authorities should not think that they can hide behind fences and not hear the people. They see how many of us there are and we do not have fear," said Klitschko.

"The next time there are going to be a million of us," he said.

The presidency has always vehemently denied that Yanukovych has behaved improperly over the construction and financing of the residence.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, Reuters)

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« Reply #10960 on: Dec 30, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Historic Auschwitz barracks returned to Poland after two decades in US

• Barracks had been on loan to US Holocaust Museum

• Return after years of negotiations between and US and Poland

Associated Press in Warsaw, Sunday 29 December 2013 17.46 GMT    

Half of a historic Auschwitz-Birkenau barracks that was on loan to the US has been returned to Poland after two decades and long negotiations, officials said on Sunday.

The barracks building was one of the main items at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington, which wanted the lease extended. But Poland asked for it back after adopting new regulations in 2003 that limit the loan of all historical and art works to a maximum of five years. That led to years of negotiations between the museums and US and Polish governments that ended in October, when the Holocaust Museum agreed to return its portion of the barracks.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau museum said on its website that the wooden structure arrived at Poland's Baltic port of Gdynia on Sunday. The barracks will undergo conservation and be joined with its other half in Birkenau. The procedure may take up to three years, according to Rafal Pioro, deputy director of Poland's Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The effort to reassemble the barracks at its original location indicates Poland's determination to be a guardian to the authenticity and integrity of the world's largest Holocaust memorial, said the museum's director, Piotr Cywinski.

Barracks No30 is the only surviving example of the wooden barracks that were built before September 1943 at the so-called family camp, where the Germans brought Jews from the Theresienstadt ghetto. It housed hospital wards for women and children. Out of some 46,000 Jews from Theresienstadt, about 20,000 were placed in the family camp and the others were located elsewhere or killed in the gas chambers on arrival.

Between 1940 and 1945, the Nazis killed some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

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« Reply #10961 on: Dec 30, 2013, 07:07 AM »

Tory activists call to extend restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians

Conservative grassroots writes open letter to David Cameron arguing UK is in "exceptional economic circumstances"

Press Association, Monday 30 December 2013 06.17 GMT   

A group of senior Tory activists have joined calls for David Cameron to extend controls on Bulgarians and Romanians entering the UK.

Conservative Grassroots, a network of party members, is the latest to pledge support to an amendment that would prolong the restrictions rather than scrap them on Wednesday.

The prime minister has come under increasing pressure from his own party to take action, following concerns that full access to the UK labour market would prompt a "wave of mass immigration" from Wednesday.

In an open letter they urge Cameron to use a safeguard clause in EU law which they believe could extend controls until 2018 because of "exceptional economic circumstances".

James Joshua, director of Conservative Grassroots, said: "In just a couple of days Britain faces a wave of mass immigration from Bulgaria and Romania at the end of the seven-year moratorium put in place by the last Labour government.

"Some estimates have suggested that more than 300,000 Romanians and Bulgarians will travel to the UK. This will put huge pressure on public services at a time when the country is struggling under a mountain of debt with on-going acute challenges within the economy."

The UK imposed the seven-year restrictions on Romania and Bulgaria after they joined the EU in 2007 – allowing citizens a visa only if they were self-employed, had a job offer, or were given a specialist role.

Joshua said Conservative Grassroots "respectfully disagree" with the government, which says it is powerless to extend the restrictions.

Robert Woollard, chairman of Conservative Grassroots, said: "I only hope that the prime minister stops running scared of this amendment and gives his own backbenchers an opportunity to vote on it."

Backbench Tory MP Nigel Mills's amendment to the immigration bill would extend transitional arrangements on the two countries joining the EU's freedom of movement rules by a further four years to 2018.

Conservative support behind the amendment has been building and now stands at more than 50 MPs.

The government has said it will be "business as usual" on Wednesday at the UK border and it remains unclear if additional staff or measures are being put in place at airports and ferry ports in the event significant numbers arrive.

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« Reply #10962 on: Dec 30, 2013, 07:08 AM »

Thousands of Romanian children stay at home while parents work abroad

Romanian government says 80,000 families have both parents working abroad, raising questions about impact of EU migration

Kit Gillet in Bucharest
The Guardian, Monday 30 December 2013      

Tens of thousands of Romanian children are growing up parentless because their mothers and fathers are working abroad, according to new figures which raise questions about the extent and impact of large-scale migration on the eve of new EU rules governing Bulgarians and Romanians.

According to the Romanian ministry of labour, family and social protection, there are now more than 80,000 families in Romania in which both parents are working abroad while their child or children stay at home, with 35,000 more families in which one parent is overseas.

Those are just the official numbers; few parents inform the authorities about their intention to go abroad and many believe the real number could be significantly higher.

"This is a big issue for Romania," said Stefan Darabus, Romania director for the international NGO Hopes and Homes for Children, which runs programmes in the rural north of Romania to help children left behind by their parents. "In the cities and countryside, poverty and job opportunities take these parents overseas, but the children left behind are strongly affected by their absence."

"Those who grow up without the love or security of their parents are going to be negatively affected later in life," he added. In the southern Bucharest neighbourhood of Ferentari, one of the poorest areas of the Romanian capital, around two dozen young children sit in a classroom during lunch, colouring in pictures of fruit bowls and playing while a teacher looks on.

The children vary in age from five to 10 years old, but they all have something in common: they all have one or both parents overseas.

Cristina, one of the children, says her mother is in Spain looking for work. She has been gone a month this time already, but in the past she has been away much longer, she says. Her father is no longer in the picture. "Mum doesn't want to stay away long. She just went there to make money for me and my sister," said Cristina, a nine-year-old who lives with her grandmother when her mother is away. Many find themselves missing regular emotional or physical support as they grow.

"These children are in a very vulnerable situation, being deprived of their parents' affection, care and support," said Andreea Biji, a psychologist who works for Save the Children, which runs the classroom-based programme in Ferentari as well as programmes in 15 counties across the country.

Some Romanian parents have taken their children overseas with them, but for many this is not an option. "In France my husband earns €600 to €700 a month, which is a lot over here but not much over there," said Vasile Luminita, a 28-year-old mother of five whose husband has been working on a construction site in France for the last 18 months. "It is hard. Many times we have considered all moving but he stays in a very small room and sends the money back to give us a better life in Romania."

Luminita says the separation is hardest on her older children. "They understand the situation but it is hard for them always to see their father leaving," she said, cradling her two-month-old son, who has yet to see his father.

For some children in Romania growing up without their parents in their daily lives has come to seem normal.

Fourteen-year-old Amira Dumitru's mother left Romania when she was 11 months old to find work overseas. She now lives in Jordan and returns once a year to spend time with her daughters.

"I don't find it strange to grow up without parents [Dumitru's parents divorced before she was born, and her father lives elsewhere in Bucharest] – in my class alone there are three or four others like me," said Dumitru, sitting in the apartment she shares with her grandmother in the suburbs of Bucharest.

Dumitru says she is lucky, in that her grandmother raised her and her sister well and makes sure she gets good grades at school. When she is at the homes of friends who have both parents present she feels she is missing out on something, although she says she is not sure exactly what it is.

In recent years the Romanian government has tried to push through changes to better manage the situation of children left behind, especially those in more unstable environments. "Things have become better – there are now daycare centres where kids can be looked after and other support services," said Nicolae Gorunescu, the executive manager for the government child protection agency in Bucharest's District 6.

He said the government had recently introduced a law whereby parents not only had to register before going overseas to work but a judge had to approve of the chosen guardians. "The problem is a lot still don't tell the authorities that they are leaving. We have seen cases of teenagers being taken in by social services because they are fending for themselves, with just a few hundred euros sent home by their parents," he added.

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« Reply #10963 on: Dec 30, 2013, 07:10 AM »

Shots fired at German ambassador's home in Greece

Wolfgang Dold's residence targeted in attack government says was intended to tarnish country's image before EU presidency

Associated Press in Athens, Monday 30 December 2013 10.53 GMT   

The home of Germany's ambassador to Greece was sprayed with gunfire from automatic weapons on Monday morning, in a suspected terrorist attack the government said was aimed at hurting the country's image before it takes over the presidency of the European Union. No one was hurt.

Anti-terrorism police cordoned off streets around the official residence of Wolfgang Dold following the pre-dawn shooting on a busy road in the Halandri area of the capital. They recovered more than 60 bullet casings from the scene.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Six people were briefly detained for questioning and released without charge while investigators examined video from surveillance cameras as well as a stolen car found near the scene of the shooting, police said.

Lead bailout lender Germany is often the subject of strong criticism in Greece, which is suffering through a sixth year of recession and tough austerity measures imposed as a condition of the country's international rescue loans.

On Monday, Greece's prime minister, Antonis Samaras, and his foreign minister telephoned the ambassador following the attack. The government said it was intended to tarnish the country's reputation during its 1 January to 30 June presidency of the EU.

"The Greek government expresses its outrage and outright condemnation of today's cowardly terrorist action which had the only apparent and objective of (damaging) Greece's image abroad … The perpetrators will soon be brought to justice," the foreign ministry said.

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« Reply #10964 on: Dec 30, 2013, 07:12 AM »

Turkish PM denounces 'conspiracies' against government

Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his opponents are concerned not with corruption or justice but damaging Turkey's power

Reuters in Istanbul, Sunday 29 December 2013 18.13 GMT

Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has vowed to fight off a corruption crisis circling his cabinet, saying those seeking his overthrow would fail just like mass anti-government protests last summer.

Erdogan accused his opponents of trying to sap the power of Turkey and compared the latest allegations to the protest movement that centred on Istanbul's Gezi park.

"They said 'Gezi' and smashed windows. Now they say 'corruption' and smash windows. These conspiracies will not succeed," he told a cheering crowd in western Manisa province. "Their concern is not corruption, law or justice. Their only concern is damaging this nation's power."

Leading businessmen and officials have been targeted for alleged involvement in bribery, tender-rigging and illicit money transfers to Iran. Three cabinet ministers have resigned after their sons were detained as part of the investigation. Erdogan's government responded by purging about 70 police investigators involved in the case.

On Friday thousands of anti-Erdogan protesters clashed with riot police in central Istanbul. The trouble recalled protests in the summer, initially over development plans for Gezi park but which broadened into complaints of authoritarianism under Erdogan's Islamist-rooted AK party.

The corruption case threatens to tarnish Erdogan's moral appeal, and the crackdown on police has provoked a feud with the judiciary. Investors have dumped Turkish stocks and pushed the currency to an all-time low against the dollar, a slide that a cabinet reshuffle failed to halt.

The case turned more personal last week when Turkish media published what appeared to be a preliminary summons for Bilal Erdogan, one of the premier's two sons, to testify. Erdogan, who denies any wrongdoing, said Bilal was named to hurt him.

Erdogan's allegations of a foreign hand in the affair put the focus on Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who preaches from self-imposed exile in the US, and whose Hizmet movement claims at least a million followers, including senior police and judges in Turkey.

Gulen denies involvement in stirring up the graft case. But he regularly censures Erdogan, a ex-ally with whom he fell out in a dispute for control over an influential network of Turkish cram schools, which prepare students for university exams.

In a vaguely phrased sermon uploaded to Gulen's website over the weekend, the cleric likened the current situation to dark historical episodes when "the masses were the playthings of demagogues, put to sleep and awoken at will". He predicted that the "funeral of this chaos, and the sacred days when the nation will be on a path to relief, are close".

Germany's foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called for a thorough investigation of the graft allegations. "In a region marked by crises and conflict, we need Turkey as a stable anchor," he told the Sunday edition of Bild.

"We trust in the power of the Turkish state to investigate the corruption allegations irrespective of the persons involved," he said. "Succeeding in this is a measure of every state build on the rule of law."

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