s March 31, 2016

Mar 31 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., March 31, 2016: “Never before have so few known so much about so many. The domestic surveillance by governments of every aspect of their citizen’s lives has grown to astronomical proportions. In the United States today, the governmental spies can read medical records, bank account balances, all credit card records, property holdings, vehicle travel, all internet communications, all web browsing, school records, automobile travel on all Federal highways, travel by train, bus, or aircraft, boat ownership, voting records, and many more aspects of life that the deluded public have thought as private and personal. Massive computer systems contain an enormous amount of basically innocent data and what cannot be downloaded with impunity, can be easily extracted from Internet II and all the so-called social networks. Even the kindergarten records of six year old children. This saves the government snoopers a great deal of time and trouble building files on persons they might wish to intimidate or obliterate at some future date.”



From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2016, Issue No. 29

March 31, 2016


For the coming decade, the Department of Defense Military Intelligence Program (MIP) will focus its new investments “on space protection, enhancing capabilities that provide intelligence in Anti-Access / Area Denial environments, improving intelligence support to Cyber operations, and improving Security.”

So says the FY 2016 Congressional Budget Justification Book for the MIP, which was released this week in heavily redacted form under the Freedom of Information Act.

Though the majority of the document has been withheld, the released portions nevertheless contain fragmentary observations of interest.

For example, “budget uncertainty impeded efforts to develop and maintain language professionals at the highest levels of proficiency to meet the challenges posed by our adversaries.”

“DoD fell two points short of meeting its FY 2014 target to fill 52% of Defense Intelligence Enterprise government authorized language-required positions with individuals possessing the required language proficiency, with a total fill rate of 49.4%.”

Earlier this month, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency also released minimal unclassified portions of its FY2015 Congressional Budget Justification Book.


Luxembourg owns $200 billion worth of U.S. federal debt, making it one of the top ten foreign holders of U.S. debt. China is the leader, with $1.2 trillion in U.S. debt holdings, or 20% of the total.

That information, and its possible significance, is discussed in a newly updated report from the Congressional Research Service on Foreign Holdings of Federal Debt, March 28, 2016.

Other new or newly updated CRS reports this week include the following.

Additional U.S. Ground Troops to Counter the Islamic State? Five Questions, CRS Insight, updated March 29, 2016

The Article V Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments: Current Developments, March 29, 2016

The Article V Convention to Propose Constitutional Amendments: Contemporary Issues for Congress, updated March 29, 2016

Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP): History and Overview, March 28, 2016

Abortion and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, updated March 28, 2016

Pipeline Transportation of Natural Gas and Crude Oil: Federal and State Regulatory Authority, March 28, 2016

Congressional Efforts to Amend Title I of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), CRS Insight, March 30, 2016

Nigeria’s Boko Haram: Frequently Asked Questions, updated March 29, 2016

The Pacific Alliance: A Trade Integration Initiative in Latin America, updated March 29, 2016

Burma’s 2015 Parliamentary Elections: Issues for Congress, March 28, 2016

U.S.-South Korea Relations, updated March 28, 2016

Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy, updated March 29, 2016






Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.           After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversations with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.


Conversation No. 47

Date: Wednesday, November 20, 1996

Commenced: 1:50 PM CST

Concluded: 2:22 PM CST

GD: Good afternoon, Robert. Am I being inconvenient?

RTC: No, Gregory. I’ve finished lunch, done a bit with the Switzers, read the papers and the rest of the day is free. How are you doing? Getting ready for Thanksgiving?

GD: Oh yes. I was reading a Sheldon ‘Furry Freaks’ cartoon that showed a bunch of hippies at Thanksgiving. One of them was making a terrible face and he said to the girlfriend, who had obviously cooked the bird, ‘This stuffing is really terrible. What is it?’ And she replied that it came already stuffed from the organic foods shop. It obviously had not been emptied of its innards and I was wondering how much of it they ate.

RTC: Typical long-hair stupidity. I take it your turkey is not from an organic turkey farm?

GD: Free range turkeys? No, they stuff them in little pens, fatten them and then into the eye with the icepick and into the defeathering machine. As Cromwell was supposed to have said about Charles I, ‘Cruel necessity.’ But it tastes fine if you aren’t socially conscious.

RTC: It smacks of the concentration camp soap stories.

GD: And don’t forget the shrunken heads and the lampshades while you’re at it, Robert. We mustn’t be callous and forget the crime of the century. Of course, it’s interesting that the Turkish murders of a million unarmed Armenians some years ago seems to be strangely forgotten.

RTC: Well, the Israelis are friends with Turkey and since they run the media here, they have an understanding about that. There can’t be stories that would eclipse their very own big money maker and which at the same time would offend one of their only allies.

GD: Oh, the bitter realities of realpolitik. You recall talking about the Pedophile Academy you people run?

RTC: I do. You aren’t interested in joining, are you?

GD: No, actually, I lust after sheep. Just think of it as Farrah Fawcett in a fur coat and all will come out in the end.

RTC: A pun is the lowest form of humor, Gregory.

GD: I know and I am so ashamed. but they do look so cute in lacy panties.

RTC: I am certain you’re joking, Gregory. Do you have lamb at Easter?

GD: Sir, think you I am so callous? Months of true love to be followed by sordid death and the roasting pan? Terrible, Robert, terrible. Oh well, I suppose there in our imperial city things are really pure and noble.

RTC: Hardly. You mentioned the kiddie’s club. There’s a lot worse than that in our fair city, believe me.

GD: Oh, I am sure of that. Prominent Evangelical leaders meeting in a basement dungeon while someone like Pat Robertson, dressed in mesh stockings and a feather boa, whipping teen-aged acolytes with a cat of nine tails. I’ve heard Washington is famous for things like that.

RTC: Actually, yes it is. For example, one of the less appetizing aspects of our little Company has been the fairy club.

GD: You mean you hire all those nasty florist types?

RTC: No, I mean we have an entire subsection devoted to the care and feeding of queers. Its under the Science and Technology people and consists of raging homos whose job it is to infiltrate groups of prominent Beltway queers, get the information on them so we can blackmail them into doing what we want. We’ve set up male whorehouses around here, all equipped with special mikes and cameras so we can get the evidence on the creeps and then twist their arms. They staff these places with young military personnel…mostly Marines but quite a few Army people, and naturally sailors. We have a lot of Congressmen in the basket and one hell of a lot of senior military people around to do what we want, not to forget foreign diplomats, important business people and, as you say, some impressive religious leaders. It’s mostly the military that we bag and a large number of the far right and the very fanatical religious types.

GD: That’s not surprising. Most of those people are drawn to strength and a well-muscled Marine with a leather belt is a pretty good illustration of what they consider strength. Far right types like leather boots and domination. I suppose the marks pay for sex?

RTC: Oh, yes, and pay very well. First they pay cash and then they pay later in services. You would be astounded the number of fairies in high places here and most of them are in our little bags. And they do perform for us. A proper vote on yearly cash allotments, no questions asked, shutting off people who don’t like us, promoting or assisting those who are known to be on our good list. We have one Supreme Court justice, at least five appellate court judges, God knows how many senior FBI people, quite a few NSA personnel and, who would be shocked, enough State Department queers to stock a good hotel. I, personally, have nothing to do with this, but my friend Ed is involved in the administration of this and he has mentioned governors, senior senators and so on that he can jerk around at leisure. Of course, we set up the male whorehouses, but never, never have any of our people on the premises. We have surveillance monitors all over the neighborhood and perhaps next door listening to the tapes and turning on the TV cameras but we don’t want one of our straight people bagged if the local cops raid a place. The DC cops are stupid and corrupt beyond belief, but one never knows if they’ll get a wild hair up their ass and pull a raid. If they did, of course, we could quiet it down in the court system here, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. It does pay off, Gregory, and I can assure you that I, personally, have nothing to do with it.

GD: I don’t question that, Robert. Anyone I might know about?

RTC: Oh, God, it would be wonderful if you put all of this into your books, but if you did, don’t talk about it in front or you would have many problems. Faggotry is a fact of life, Gregory, but none of these assholes want to be exposed. Nixon had his times with Bebe Rebozo, too, but of course never in one of our DC peg houses. That never went anywhere, but I know it’s true. There are tapes. We bug all kinds of rendezvous places like certain motels, beach houses and so on. For example, we couldn’t bug Nixon’s place in Florida, but we certainly could bug Rebozo. It’s quite an area of exploitation, Gregory. Once we nailed a very senior Israeli diplomat who liked to be whipped by muscular young blacks and when we wanted some information, Jim just casually showed him some stills from a surveillance tape and you would be amazed how much instant cooperation we got on a certain Arab matter. And speaking of diplomatics, the Saudis are absolutely the worst. They’ll fuck anything in sight if it’s warm, and my, they do have lots of money.

GD: I recall an old Persian poem I once read out loud in Lit class that goes, ’Across the river there is a boy with an ass like a peach, but alas, I cannot swim.’ I had to go home for two days for that but the class had quite a laugh.

RTC: You must indeed have been quite a scholar.

GD: No, I was quite a trouble-maker. One of my teachers once told me, in front of the class, that I was an idiot’s delight. I told her right back that I was pleased to make her so happy. This time, I went on leave for a week.

RTC: Well, she had it coming.

GD: Oh yes, she did. They never liked me in high school, Robert, and the feeling was mutual. Once, I entered a national patriotic essay contest and, by God, I won a big prize. I wrote about the joys of being a patriot and the usual drivel. Anyway, I got the letter at home and I assume the school was told at the same time. Wonderful responses from them. They had planned for a special assembly to honor the gifted one, but no way would they do this for me. Do you know, they actually called me in and suggested, very firmly, that I step aside and let little Robbie the Pig get the prize? This was the son of the local Methodist minister and a real toad. Chubby, whining, self-righteous and a born stool pigeon. Learned the art from dad, no doubt. Anyway, I flatly refused to yield. Then they called my mother and went to work on her. Of course she didn’t need any leaning and for two weeks, I got nothing but stereophonic yammering from both parents. I just wasn’t a good advertisement for the school and a real gentleman would let them have a grand ceremony for Robbie the Pig. I still wouldn’t budge so they sent the award and the check to me at home and I had a hell of a time getting the check away from my father, who tried to keep it. Lovely.

RTC: Not very civilized behavior, Gregory. I think you did the right thing then.

GD: Oh yes, Robert, and I certainly did the right thing about two weeks later.

RTC: I am almost afraid to ask. No more detergent in the school soup pot?

GD: No, this came before that. I felt I had been dishonored, and as Mueller once said to me, I have a fine fourteenth century mind. One cannot permit that sort of thing. My revenge was fairly simple and direct. Of course, no one suspected me, which is a little of a letdown, but the uproar was worth it. In the main hall of the school, right by the front office, was a large, bronze medallion with a depiction of the school symbol on it. It was set into the floor right in front of another bronze piece that listed all the former students of the high school who died in the Second World War. On both sides were flags, and during school hours, two members of the Honor Patrol stood on both sides of the sacred lares and panares to prevent careless or evil students from trampling on the school crest or not saluting, hand on chest, the plaque. My, my, what an inviting and sacred target. I broke into the school one Saturday night, very easy considering the very pickable locks and the better reality that there was no watchman. Now, I suppose, they would have surveillance cameras every ten feet but we were not so advanced then. I got into the chemistry lab, stole two bottles of concentrated nitric acid and a pair of acid-proof lab gloves, went down the hall and poured one bottle all over the floor relic. Much hissing and bubbling and clouds of stinking smoke. The second bottle I uncorked and poured the contents all down the wall piece. Much hissing, smoking and so on. Then, I tossed the bottles into a convenient trash bin and left by the front door. Outside they had the imperial flag pole in the courtyard. Every morning, the royal honor guard attended the morning flag-raising while someone played some raucous piece, off key of course, on a bugle. As a sort of afterthought, I took out my Swiss Army knife and cut the halyards on the pole and pulled down the lines. The pole was about sixty feet tall and set in concrete so replacing the lines would be a major task. My, my, and I felt so good all the way home.

RTC: Your honor had been avenged?

GD: Yes, and the next day, it was even more pleasurable. I had so little to really enjoy in those days, I treasured every moment, believe me. Came into the school and saw no one. Halls empty. For a hopeful moment, I thought that there was no school but it was not to be. Walking around, I came to the main hall which was packed with very emotional fellow students. Weeping girls and outraged boys. I managed to work my up towards the front of the mourners and saw my handiwork, full in the face as it were. It looked like the sacred relics had been made of brown sugar and melted in great gullies. I didn’t obliterate them but you could only see a few letters on the wall plaque and the mess on the floor looked like it had been at the bottom of the sea for a thousand years. Police all over the place, taking pictures, very angry honor students, people in a state of anger and grief. And all over a few crummy pieces of bronze. Oh, yes, and a scene outside where a fat janitor was risking his life on a ladder that kept slipping, to replace the flagpole ropes. They had to get a local fire truck out later on to do the job. Oh, my, and the police, who made Mongoloid idiots look like Harvard graduates, running all over the place with note books, interviewing everyone that would hold still. Massive grief and anger. A special assembly, mandatory attendance, in which the principal and other lesser lights offered a small reward to any snitches listening. You’d have thought someone took the Shroud of Turin and used it for toilet paper. Ah well, these rare and beautiful moments are ones to be treasured.

RTC: Simple but effective, Gregory.

GD: Always smile at a man when you kick him in the balls, Robert. Oh, that thing played out for about a month and then we were all asked to contribute to a replacement venture. When the collection cup came around in my math class, I spit into it. Another moment of perverse happiness. The soaping of the stock pot was a real, transcendent joy for me, but the curtain raiser was almost as much fun. The thought, and the sight, of most of the student body soiling their clothes, and the floors, was good enough to keep me warm for months but the wailing and cursing of my fellow stoats at the scene of the great sacrilege in the upper hall was not to be denigrated.

RTC: Did you ever tell your friend Heinrich Mueller about this?

GD: No. I don’t think he would have approved of it and I admired him. Listen, do you think you might get a list of your limp-wristed victims? Of course, I assure you that I will publish it, know that in front.

RTC: Not while I’m alive, but yes, I think I can accommodate you. Too bad I wouldn’t be around to read about all the suicides or flights from Congress.

(Concluded at 2:22 PM CST)




California alert as six people die from suspected counterfeit painkillers

22 people in Sacramento suffer overdoses of drug believed to be fentanyl

Opioid up 50 times stronger than heroin is potentially lethal in small doses

March 31, 2016

by Anita Chabria

The Guardian

At least six people have died and 22 others have overdosed in Sacramento, California, from what authorities think may be counterfeit prescription painkillers containing the powerful opiate fentanyl.

It is the first time that fentanyl, a growing problem on the east coast and in Canada, has surfaced in northern California, according to DEA special agent Casey Rettig.

Opioid abuse has burgeoned into an epidemic in the United States, with Barack Obama this week announcing a new initiative to combat it, after last month promising $1.1bn to the effort. At a recent drug summit, he pointed out that more Americans die each year from opioid abuse than car accidents.

Dr Olivia Kasirye, the county health officer, said that some of the Sacramento overdoses have been linked to a white oblong pill marked M367 on one side, resembling a generic version of the name-brand drugs Vicodin, Lortab and Norco, which contain hydrocodone. But the counterfeits showing up in Sacramento may actually be made of pure fentanyl.

Fentanyl can be 25-50 times more potent than heroin and 50-100 times stronger than morphine, Rettig said, making a small amount potentially lethal.

Kasirye said that some of those who overdosed reportedly took only one to two pills, which had been purchased from strangers or obtained from family or friends.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Kasirye said.

The cases began surfacing on 24 March, and within days had grown from five potential overdoses to double-digit cases with patients admitted to three local hospitals and more being reported directly by the coroner’s office.

“It happens very quickly,” Kasirye said of the overdoses. “People would start feeling dizzy after a few minutes and within 20 minutes were collapsing.”

The Sacramento coroner has not yet released causes of death or confirmed what caused the overdoses.

Fentanyl’s potency is one of the reasons it is increasingly attractive to smugglers, who can make a larger profit with smaller quantities, Rettig said.

While a kilo of heroin can be purchased for about $5,000 and sold for about $80,000, according to Rettig, a kilo of fentanyl costs only about $3,300 and has a street value of “over a million in revenue”.

Authorities said they believe laboratories in China may be producing counterfeit fentanyl and shipping it into Mexico, where it is packaged and smuggled across the border.

With a growth in opioid abuse, physicians in California and other states are being asked to take more caution when prescribing, including checking a recently upgraded state database that tracks prescriptions to ensure patients are not holding multiple scripts.

But the unintended consequence of that restriction may mean that some addicts who had been obtaining the pills legally are now having to buy them illegally.

“For some of them, what they were saying is that they are not able to get it from their doctor any more,” Kasirye said about the Sacramento cases. “Many of them were actually functional, had homes, had children, had families … They’re not the typical picture you hear of what an addict is.”

Rettig said that “unfortunately it’s likely” that more cases may be reported.


‘Europe needs Russia: Terrorism has invaded our very homes & sanctions are insane’

March 30, 2016


European trade relations with countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are playing a double game, are more important than defeating terrorism, says Italian deputy Alessandro Di Battista from the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) party.

The deputy from the Euro-skeptic M5S party which has 109 deputies out of 630 in the lower house of the Italian parliament, expressed anger that little information is available on the financing of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“They say they do not know exactly how the funding of terrorists from ISIS is carried out. Isn’t it possible for us in 2016 to find this information with all the modern technology? Is it acceptable or is it a gross mockery of common sense,” he asked.

Di Battista pointed to trade between the European Union and some of its more questionable partners as a reason that answers to such questions are not made public.

“It is obvious that many people are aware of how (the terrorists) receive weapons and money, and (who) buys the oil. However, the trade relations of European countries, including Italy, with countries like Saudi Arabia or Turkey, which are leading their double games, are more important than defeating terrorism.”

“I think we should ‘pull the plug’ on terrorism,” he emphasized.

Without mentioning the United States by name, Di Battista criticized the results of the so-called ‘war on terror’ in which “many unjust wars were unleashed.”

“Since the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, almost $4.4 trillion has been spent on fighting terrorism… And as a result today we are witnessing the expansion of terrorism, the increasing threat of terrorist attacks: terrorism is becoming more organized,” he stated incredulously.

And as the continent deals with the aftermath of yet another deadly terrorist attack, this one in Brussels, at the very heart of the European Union, the Italian lawmaker said the war is not in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya, but rather “the war is in our home and its name is terrorism.”

His method for effectively confronting this global scourge was straightforward: Cooperate with Russia.

“Cooperation with Russia gives us, the Europeans, the opportunity to provide greater security in Europe and all over the world by means of special services,” he said.

The conversation then moved to comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said last week that if the Minsk agreements are executed “the US will lift sanctions against Russia.”

When asked to what extent we should place faith in such pronouncements, Di Battista slammed the sanctions regime against Russia, calling them “insane” and implemented to help the US economy.

The Italian parliamentarian said the sanctions were based on US logic, which demanded: “Now we are going to suspend or at least weaken trade relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation, therefore the market share which previously belonged to Russia will be ours.”

He went on to emphasize the sanctions actually hurt European producers far more than they did Russia, while, at the same time, destroying cooperation against the common threat of terrorism.

“So I believe that these sanctions had a more negative impact on Italy, France and other EU countries than on Russia itself,” Di Battista said. “These are completely senseless measures that spoiled diplomatic and economic relations with the Russian Federation that are really necessary to counter the common and very real threat of terrorism at the moment.”

He concluded by mentioning problems related specifically to Italy, especially in some southern regions of the country “where high investment in agriculture is especially needed because the unemployment rate among young people is about 60 percent.”


Crimea to end electricity supplies from Ukraine

March 31, 2016


“One day they sell energy, the next they blow up power lines,” said Crimea’s First Deputy Prime Minister Mikhail Sheremet, adding that the peninsula is done with energy supplied from Ukraine.

“We have definitely decided to abandon supplies of Ukrainian electric energy. We do not need it. The question of the supply of electricity from Ukraine has long been off the agenda,” said Sheremet.

“There’s no one there to negotiate with or talk to. They’ve got some shady business. One day they sell energy, the next they blow up power lines,” he added.

Ukraine’s Ukrenergo says the three power lines from Ukraine to Crimea are now rebuilt, and Kiev is ready to renew supplies in a matter of hours.

According to Sheremet, Crimea is using energy from mainland Russia only. He added that a second energy bridge is being built and power shortages will be sorted by the beginning of May, ending the emergency situation.

Crimea was completely blacked out on the night of November 22, 2015, as all four power lines to the peninsula were blown up in Ukraine. Local authorities declared an emergency situation.

The situation improved with the opening of the first thread of an energy bridge from the Krasnodar region across the Kerch Strait on December 2. After two weeks, the second thread started working, increasing the capacity to 400 MW.

Russia plans to finish the second power bridge in April- May, which will ensure Crimea won’t need electricity supplied from Ukraine.


Why the arms race between the FBI and Apple is only getting started

March 29, 2016

by Matt Zapotosky and Elizabeth Dwoskin

Washington Post

U.S. government’s revelation that it had accessed the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone without the help from Apple that it had so desperately sought indicates the FBI was either disguising its technical capabilities or its agents and employees remain outmatched by tech workers in the private sector, according to current and former bureau officials and legal scholars.

The bureau in recent years has launched a recruiting blitz to attract employees with cyber expertise, and the National Science Foundation has even made scholarship money available to students who study cybersecurity and later work in government. But former FBI officials said the bureau will always face an uphill battle against private firms, which can offer much more money, a less rigorous code of conduct and more opportunities to do creative work.

Ernest Hilbert, a former FBI special agent focusing on cybercrimes, said the bureau had lost tech talent in recent years. “The most an agent can make is 180K,” he said. “That’s like a starting salary in the private sector. You have a big push by private industry to pull out these individuals.”

That bureau officials were able to access Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone allows the government to avoid — at least for now — a showdown with Apple over the extent U.S. law compels the company to help in a criminal investigation.

But the high-profile fight over the San Bernardino phone also exposes that Apple’s phone has some vulnerability, further motivating it and other companies to strengthen the security of their devices and forcing the government to keep up with new security measures, technology executives and security analysts said.

“They’re in an arms race,” said Matthew Blaze, a cryptography researcher and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “The FBI is trying to find new ways in, and Apple is trying to find new ways to defend against that.”

In interviews, engineers across Silicon Valley said they thought the case would impact the way products are built going forward at both start-ups and large companies.

The case “will reinforce people’s arguments” for tougher encryption, said Cameron Walters, an engineer who was an early engineer at payments start-up Square. “It might push them to do it — if it was a question of effort versus return.”

The cloud-computing company Box, which filed a legal brief supporting Apple in the San Bernardino case, is one of the many tech firms rushing to offer new encryption-related security features. It recently launched a product, KeySafe, that allows corporate customers to hold on to their own encryption keys — a move co-founder and chief executive Aaron Levie said was as much about fighting off hackers as about fending off government surveillance. The implementation of KeySafe means the company cannot collect and hand over a customer’s private information even when the authorities have a warrant.

The cloud-computing company Box, which filed a legal brief supporting Apple in the San Bernardino case, is one of the many tech firms rushing to offer new encryption-related security features. It recently launched a product, KeySafe, that allows corporate customers to hold on to their own encryption keys — a move co-founder and chief executive Aaron Levie said was as much about fighting off hackers as about fending off government surveillance. The implementation of KeySafe means the company cannot collect and hand over a customer’s private information even when the authorities have a warrant.

Lawyers and people in the tech industry claim that the FBI’s sudden arrival at a solution — a month ago it was claiming it could not get into Farook’s phone without Apple’s help — raises questions about law enforcement’s handling of the matter. FBI officials have offered their version of what happened in court documents and sworn affidavits, and have disputed any insinuation they did wrong.

On this much, many agree: The case shows that the FBI is lagging behind when it comes to some technical capabilities.

“I think the bureau is absolutely in an uphill battle, desperately trying to keep up pace, and they are not,” said Ronald T. Hosko, a former assistant director in charge of the FBI’s criminal division who is now president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.The FBI devotes significant resources to cybersecurity investigations and its operational-technology division. The bureau’s fiscal 2017 budget proposal asked for $85.1 million more for cybersecurity and an additional $38.3 million for an initiative meant to help investigators beat encryption when appropriate.

Robert Anderson, a former executive assistant director of the bureau’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch who now works as a managing director at Navigant, a business consulting firm, said that two years ago the bureau began an “unbelievable nationwide hunt, search and hiring program” for people with computer expertise. The bureau, he said, is “the best in its 100-plus-year history” on tech.

Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were killed in a shootout with police in December after they launched an attack that killed 14 people at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif.

The bid to access the phone used by Farook was meant to further the FBI’s investigation. The Justice Department obtained a court order compelling Apple’s assistance under the All Writs Act, a centuries-old law that gives courts the power to “issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law.”

Federal prosecutors initially said they had no way into the phone without Apple’s help. Apple resisted, arguing that complying with the government’s request would infringe customers’ privacy.

Last week, on the eve of a hearing in the case, prosecutors for the first time suggested there might be a way in without Apple, writing in a court filing that “an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone.” The method apparently worked; prosecutors wrote in another court filing Monday that they had “successfully accessed the data stored on Farook’s iPhone,” and a judge formally vacated an order compelling Apple’s assistance Tuesday.

The FBI has not disclosed how it got in, other than to say it no longer needed Apple’s help. An official familiar with the matter, while declining to discuss the San Bernardino case in particular, said, “Whether a solution comes ultimately from our own personnel, from another federal agency or other entity is less important than whether the solution addresses the requirements to investigate major crimes and terrorist attacks.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal bureau operations.

Alex Abdo, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said that “the speed with which they were able to verify this new technique is a reason to be skeptical” of officials’ previous claims.

The FBI sat on this phone for two months, then made a deliberate decision to very publicly fight with Apple over the unlocking mechanism, and then made very strong statements about their inability to get in without Apple’s help. And, on a dime, that all changed,” Abdo said.

FBI and Justice Department officials have bristled at the notion that they misled the public or that agents were not working hard to access the phone. Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates said at a recent news conference that FBI agents had “been working hard all along” and that officials at the Justice Department were “a little surprised” to learn there might be another solution.

FBI Director James B. Comey wrote in a letter to the Wall Street Journal that he was “not embarrassed to admit that all technical creativity does not reside in government.”

That the FBI got in without Apple’s help leaves unresolved a critical question: Can the government use the All Writs Act to compel others to take the steps it wanted Apple to take? That matter, legal experts said, will be left for Congress or another court case.

Andrea Peterson contributed to this report


A Fukushima on the Hudson?

The Growing Dangers of Indian Point

March 31, 2016

by Ellen Cantarow and Alison Rose Levy


It was a beautiful spring day and, in the control room of the nuclear reactor, the workers decided to deactivate the security system for a systems test. As they started to do so, however, the floor of the reactor began to tremble. Suddenly, its 1,200-ton cover blasted flames into the air. Tons of radioactive radium and graphite shot 1,000 meters into the sky and began drifting to the ground for miles around the nuclear plant. The first firemen to the rescue brought tons of water that would prove useless when it came to dousing the fires. The workers wore no protective clothing and eight of them would die that night — dozens more in the months to follow.

It was April 26, 1986, and this was just the start of the meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the worst nuclear accident of its kind in history. Chernobyl is ranked as a “level 7 event,” the maximum danger classification on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. It would spew out more radioactivity than 100 Hiroshima bombs. Of the 350,000 workers involved in cleanup operations, according to the World Health Organization, 240,000 would be exposed to the highest levels of radiation in a 30-mile zone around the plant. It is uncertain exactly how many cancer deaths have resulted since. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s estimate of the expected death toll from Chernobyl was 4,000. A 2006 Greenpeace report challenged that figure, suggesting that 16,000 people had already died due to the accident and predicting another 140,000 deaths in Ukraine and Belarus still to come. A significant increase in thyroid cancers in children, a very rare disease for them, has been charted in the region — nearly 7,000 cases by 2005 in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.

In March 2011, 25 years after the Chernobyl catastrophe, damage caused by a tsunami triggered by a massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake led to the meltdown of three reactors at a nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. Radioactive rain from the Fukushima accident fell as far away as Ireland.

In 2008, the International Atomic Energy Agency had, in fact, warned the Japanese government that none of the country’s nuclear power plants could withstand powerful earthquakes. That included the Fukushima plant, which had been built to take only a 7.0 magnitude event. No attention was paid at the time. After the disaster, the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power, rehired Shaw Construction, which had designed and built the plant in the first place, to rebuild it.

Near Misses, Radioactive Leaks, and Flooding

In both Chernobyl and Fukushima, areas around the devastated plants were made uninhabitable for the foreseeable future. In neither place, before disaster began to unfold, was anyone expecting it and few imagined that such a catastrophe was possible. In the United States, too, despite the knowledge since 1945 that nuclear power, at war or in peacetime, holds dangers of a stunning sort, the general attitude remains: it can’t happen here — nowhere more dangerously in recent years than on the banks of New York’s Hudson River, an area that could face a nuclear peril endangering a population of nearly 20 million.

As the Fukushima tragedy struck, President Obama assured Americans that U.S. nuclear plants were closely monitored and built to withstand earthquakes. That statement covered one of the oldest plants in the country, the Indian Point Energy Center (IPEC) in Westchester, New York, first opened in 1962. One of 61 commercial nuclear plants in the country, it has two reactors that generate electricity for homes across New York City and Westchester County. It is located in the sixth most densely populated urban area in the world, the New York metropolitan region, just 30 miles north of Manhattan Island and the planet’s most economically powerful city.

The plant sits astride two seismic faults, which has prompted those opposing its continued operation to call for a detailed analysis of its capacity to resist an earthquake. In addition, a long series of accidents and ongoing hazards has only increased the potential for catastrophe. According to a report by the National Resources Defense Council (NDRC), if a nuclear disaster of a Fukushima magnitude were to strike Indian Point, it would necessitate the evacuation of at least 5.6 million people. In 2003, the existing evacuation plan for the area was deemed inadequate in a report by James Lee Witt, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

American officials have urged U.S. citizens to stay 50 miles away from the Fukushima plant. Such a 50-mile circle around IPEC would stretch past Kingston in Ulster County to the north, past Bayonne and Jersey City to the south, almost to New Haven, Connecticut, to the east, and into Pennsylvania to the west. It would include all of New York City except for Staten Island and all of Fairfield, Connecticut. “Many scholars have already argued that any evacuation plans shouldn’t be called plans, but rather ‘fantasy documents,’” Daniel Aldrich, a professor of political science at Purdue University, told the New York Times.

Paul Blanch, a nuclear engineer who worked in the industry for 40 years as well as with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), thinks a worst-case accident at Indian Point could make the region, including parts of Connecticut, uninhabitable for generations.

According to a report from the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, there were 23 reported problems at the plant from its inception to 2005, including steam generator tube ruptures, reactor containment flooding, transformer fires, the failure of backup power for emergency sirens, and leaks of radioactive water laced with tritium. In the latest tritium leak, reported only last month, an outflow of the radioactive isotope from the plant has infused both local groundwater and the Hudson River. (Other U.S. nuclear plants have had their share of tritium leaks as well, including Turkey Point nuclear plant in Florida where such a leak is at the moment threatening drinking water wells.)

Experts agree that although present levels of tritium in groundwater near the plant are “alarming,” the tritium in the river will not be considered harmful until it reaches a far greater concentration of 120,000 picocuries per liter of water. (A picocurie is a standard unit of measurement for radioactivity.) Tritium is the lightest radioactive substance to leak from Indian Point, but according to an assessment by the New York Department of State, other potentially more dangerous radioactive elements like strontium-90, cesium-137, cobalt-60, and nickel-63 are also escaping the plant and entering both the groundwater and the river.

Representatives of Entergy Corporation, which owns the Indian Point plant, report that they don’t know when the present leak began or what its source might be. “No one has made a statement as to when the leak started,” wrote Paul Blanch in an email to us. “It could have started two years ago.” Nor does anyone seem to know where the leak is, how much radioactive matter is leaking, or how it can be stopped. The longer the leak persists, the greater the likelihood of isotopes more potent than tritium contaminating local drinking water.

According to David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and once a trainer for NRC inspectors, the danger of flooding at the reactor should be an even greater focus of concern than radioactive substance outflows, since it could result in a reactor core meltdown. Yet despite repeated calls for Indian Point’s shutdown from the early 1970s on, it keeps operating.

On April 2, 2000, the NRC rated one of Indian Point’s two reactors the most troubled in the country, and it has been closed for lengthy periods because of system failures of various sorts. This, it turns out, is typical of Entergy-owned reactors. There were 10 “near-miss” incidents at U.S. nuclear reactors last year, a majority of them at three Entergy plants, according to a UCS report on nuclear plant safety. A near-miss incident is an event or condition that could increase the chance of reactor core damage by a factor of 10 or more. In response, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must send an inspection team to investigate.

The number of such incidents has declined since UCS initiated its annual review in 2010, “overall, a positive trend,” according to report author Lochbaum. “Five years ago, there were nearly twice as many near misses. That said, the nuclear industry is only as good as its worst plant owner. The NRC needs to find out why Entergy plants are experiencing so many potentially serious problems.” Upstate New York’s Ginna plant, he adds, has been operating as long as Indian Point, but with only two “events” in its history. At Indian Point “there’s a major event every two to three years.”

What troubles Lochbaum more than anything else is Indian Point’s vulnerability to flooding. “There was a problem in May 2015 where a transformer exploded,” he told us. “There was an automatic fire sprinkler system installed to put this out. But it ended up flooding the building adjacent to where the explosion had taken place. Fortunately a worker noticed that an inch or two of water had accumulated. If the room had flooded up to five inches, all the power in the plant would have been lost. It would have plunged unit 3 into a ‘station blackout.’”

This might indeed have led to some kind of Fukushima-on-the-Hudson situation. In Fukushima, after the earthquake wiped out the normal power supply and tsunami floodwaters took away the backup supply, workers were unable to get cooling water into the reactor cores and three of the plant’s six reactors melted down.

In 2007, when Indian Point’s plant owner applied to the NRC for a 20-year extension of the plant’s operating license, it was found that a flood alarm could be installed in the room in question for about $200,000. As Lochbaum explains, “The owner determined it was cost-beneficial, that if they installed this flood alarm… it [would reduce] the risk of core meltdown by 20%, and [reduce] the amount of radiation that people on the plant could be exposed to by about 40%, at a cost of about two cents per person for the 20 million people living within 50 miles of the plant.” But nine years later, he told us, that flood alarm has still not been installed.

Potential Pipeline Explosions

As if none of this were enough, a new set of dangers to Indian Point have arisen in recent years due to a high-pressure natural gas pipeline currently being built by Spectra Energy. Dubbed the Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline, it is to carry fracked natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation underlying New York and adjacent states to the Canadian border. At 42 inches in diameter, this pipeline is the biggest that can at present be built — and here’s the catch: AIM is slated to pass within 150 feet of the plant’s reactors.

A former Spectra worker hired to help oversee safety during the pipeline’s construction told a reporter that the company had taken dangerous shortcuts in its rush to begin the project. He had witnessed, he said, “at least two dozen” serious safety violations and transgressions.

Taking shortcuts in pipeline construction could, in the end, prove a risky business. Pipeline ruptures are the commonest cause of gas explosions like the one that, in March 2014 in Manhattan’s East Harlem, killed eight, injured 70, and leveled two apartment buildings. Robert Miller, chairman of the National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives, attributed the rising rates of such incidents in newly constructed pipelines to “poor construction practices or maybe not enough quality control, quality assurance programs out there to catch these problems before those pipelines go into service.”

In January 2015, the National Transportation Safety Board published a study documenting that gas accidents in “high-consequence” areas (where there are a lot of people and buildings) have been on the rise. With the New York metropolitan area so close to Indian Point, it seems odd indeed to independent experts that the nuclear plant with the sorriest safety history in the country has been judged safe enough for a high-pressure gas pipeline to be run right by it.

A hazards assessment replete with errors was the basis for the go-ahead. Richard B. Kuprewicz, a pipeline infrastructure expert and incident investigator with more than 40 years of energy industry experience, has called that risk assessment “seriously deficient and inadequate.”

At another nuclear plant subsequently shut down, as David Lochbaum points out, a rigorous risk analysis was conducted for possible explosions based on a worst-case scenario. (“I couldn’t think of any scenario that would be worse than what they presumed.”) At Indian Point, the risk analysis was, however, done on a best-case basis. Among other things, it assumed that any pipeline leak around the plant could be stopped in less than three minutes — an unlikelihood at best. “It’s night and day. They did a very conservative analysis for [the other plant] and a very cavalier best-case scenario for Indian Point… I don’t know why they opted for [this] drive-by analysis.”

Tombstone Regulation

Of all the contaminants released in this industrial world, radioactivity may, in a sense, be the least visible and least imaginable, even if the most potentially devastating, were something to go wrong. As a result, the dangers of the “peaceful” atom have often proved hard to absorb before disaster strikes — as at the Three Mile Island reactor near Middletown, Pennsylvania, on March 28, 1979. Even when such a power plant sits near a highway or a community, it’s usually a reality to which people pay scant attention, in part because nuclear science is alien territory. This is why safety at nuclear power plants has been something citizens have relied on the government for.

The history of Indian Point, however, offers a grim reminder that the government agencies expected to protect citizens from disaster aren’t doing a particularly good job of it. Over the past several years, for instance, residents in the path of the AIM pipeline project have begun accusing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) of overwhelming bias in the industry’s favor. As FERC has a corner on oversight and approval of all pipeline construction, this is alarming. Its stamp of approval on a pipeline can only be contested via appeals that lead directly back to FERC itself, as the Natural Gas Act of 1938 gave the agency sole discretion over pipeline construction in the U.S. Ever since then, its officials have approved pipelines of every sort almost without exception. Worse yet, at Indian Point, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission joined FERC in green-lighting AIM.

During the two-and-a-half-year period in which the pipeline was approved and construction began, the mainstream media virtually ignored the project and its potential dangers. Only this February, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been opposed to the relicensing of Indian Point, first raised concerns about the dangers of the pipeline, did the New York Times, the paper of record for the New York metropolitan area, finally publish a piece on AIM. So it fell to a grassroots movement of local activists to bring AIM’s dangers to public attention. Its growing resistance to a pipeline that could precipitate just about anything up to a Fukushima-on-the-Hudson-style event evidently led Governor Cuomo to urge FERC to postpone construction until a safety review could be completed, a request that the agency rejected. In February, alarmed by reports of tritium leaking from the plant, the governor also directed the state’s departments of environmental conservation and health to investigate the likely duration and consequences of such a leak and its potential impacts on public health.

According to Paul Blanch, the risk of a pipeline explosion in proximity to Indian Point is one in 1,000, odds he believes are too high given what’s potentially at stake. (He considers a one-in-a-million chance acceptable.) “I’ve had over 45 years of nuclear experience and [experience in] safety issues. I have never seen [a situation] that essentially puts 20 million residents at risk, plus the entire economics of the United States by making a large area surrounding Indian Point uninhabitable for generations. I’m not an alarmist and haven’t been known as an alarmist, but the possibility of a gas line interacting with a plant could easily cause a Fukushima type of release.”

According to Blanch, attempts to regulate nuclear plants after a Fukushima- or Chernobyl-type catastrophe are known in the trade as “tombstone regulation.” Nobody, of course, should ever want to experience such a situation on the Hudson, or have America’s own mini-Hiroshima seven decades late, or find literal tombstones cropping up in the New York metropolitan area due to a nuclear disaster. One hope for preventing all of this and ensuring protection for New York’s citizenry: the continuing growth of impressive citizen pressure and increasing public alarm around both the pipeline and Indian Point. It gives new meaning to the phrase “power to the people.”




Turkey deal is a ‘spectacular EU failure:’ Greek ruling party MEP

The deal struck between the EU and Turkey to manage the refugee crisis is a “spectacular failure,” Greek politician Dimitris Papadimoulis, who heads the ruling Syriza party’s MEPs, tells DW.

March 31, 2016


DW: What are the mistakes you believe Europe made in dealing with the refugee crisis?

Dimitris Papadimoulis: The first and largest mistake of Europe is that it considers that a European Union with a population of 500 million population is facing a refugee crisis when it’s faced with 1 or 1.5 million refugees. Lebanon is facing a refugee crisis. Jordan is facing a refugee crisis.

The second mistake is that it seemed to be caught off guard, while it was perfectly predictable that the ongoing war in Syria would create these refugee flows.

The third mistake is that Europe failed to apply its own decisions. The decision of the EU last September for the relocation program has a current implementation rate of under one percent.

It also made the mistake of tolerating unilateral actions from certain member states. When last year Greece asked for some more flexibility on the issues of economic policies, we were told that only joint European decisions apply. Now, when joint European decisions should be applied to the issue of refugees, it’s permissible, without any ratification, for a few countries to throw joint European decisions out the window. This is an a la carte Europe.

In light of its slow pace, should the relocation program be abandoned?

The relocation program must be applied, not cancelled. The process must be sped up. The countries that refuse to participate in this voluntary program should take part on an economic basis and pay the equivalent cost to the European Central Bank.

It’s not possible for Poland to have accepted taking 7,000 refugees [last September] and now for them to say they won’t take even one under the excuse of the terrorist attack in Brussels.

What are the mistakes that the Syriza government has made in handling this crisis?

It would be pointless for me to try and hide the mistakes, the delays and the weaknesses. I’ll use the words of Fabrice Leggeri, the director of Frontex. Having experienced the refugee flows on Greek islands, he said that any country, even with perfect administration, that would find itself in Greece’s place would have had problems.

Right now, Greece has covered most of its obligations, when Europe as a whole has done very little, and Turkey has essentially not even started applying the agreement.

What do you think of the current agreement between Europe and Turkey?

This deal is a spectacular failure of the European Union in its handling of the refugee crisis. The EU had a solution – the decision of last September – and was unable to apply it and so it decided to give Turkey the role of a subcontractor.

We’ve been given assurances that all aspects of human rights will be respected, which would be good if it turns out to be true. I think the criticism of the deal helps us put pressure on the Turkish authorities to do what they have agreed to.

For Greece, with Europe refusing to apply its decisions, and the failure of [Turkish President] Erdogan to curb the activities of the smugglers, this agreement, even with its grey areas, takes some of the pressure off. We need this relief from the pressure, because, don’t forget, we are a country going through two crises – an economic crisis and a refugee crisis.

We’ve received praise for our approach as a country, but if we can’t take off this pressure, it won’t last. We have the issue of the [extreme right] party of Golden Dawn and far-right propaganda. This is a poison that spreads, and it would be a mistake for us not to realize that it needs to be dealt with in a timely manner.

What does it say about the European project that Turkey had to be brought in to work on this, since European countries together could not reach a solution? Should the EU be negotiating with the government of Erdogan given its track record?

I would prefer that the EU had implemented its own decisions for a European solution to the refugee problem and then to negotiate with Turkey from a stronger position with regards to the issue of respecting human rights.

What are the issues with the current agreement of relocating one Syrian refugee to Europe for each one returned from illegally crossing into Europe, and why has the basic problem of people smugglers not been addressed and the risk that they’ll make people use newer and more dangerous routes?

In the agreements that have taken place, the priority is to crush this circle of people smugglers. If they wanted to, Turkey could have done so already. That’s where the pressure needs to be applied, because if we leave the refugee flows to remain high, this system of one in/one out will turn into a dead end.

When it comes to the deal’s application, there are a lot of questions about how the Turkish authorities will correctly apply it. For example, would they send a Syrian Kurd as a refugee to Europe or will they push him right to the bottom of the list? Beyond that, the deal is limited to 72,000 people, after which the deal no longer applies.

So it’s crucial that the smuggling rings are broken up – and this is an issue of the government of Erdogan and [Foreign Minister] Davutoglu – because then the refugee flow will stop and people will stop drowning in the Aegean.

The flow of refugees arriving in Greece has slowed to a trickle in the last week – is this a sign that the new deal is working?

I think it’s a small, encouraging sign, but we must wait to see what happens, because we have the experience from the past to see that these flows stop and start. We have to see the successful and correct application of the deal from all sides at an appropriate time in the future. It’s too early to say that the deal is working.

Dimitris Papadimoulis is a vice president of the European Parliament and heads Greece’s Syriza MEPs in Brussels.



Germany: ‘Press freedom is non-negotiable’ amid diplomatic row over Erdogan satire

Germany has defended its stance on freedom of expression after its ambassador to Turkey was summoned. The song “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan” laments the Turkish president’s crackdown on the press.

March 30, 2016


Responding to questions concerning Turkey’s summoning of a German diplomat last week, a government spokeswoman on Wednesday said German-Turkish relations would not impact the nation’s stance on freedom of expression.

“(It has been) made clear that despite all the interests Germany and Turkey share, the view on press freedom, freedom of expression is non-negotiable for us,” said deputy government spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz during a press conference.

The statement comes after German news outlet “Spiegel Online” published a report that the Turkish foreign ministry summoned German Ambassador Martin Erdmann on March 22 to complain about a satirical song aired on public broadcaster NDR’s “Extra 3” program.

The song’s music video, titled “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan,” shows images of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan juxtaposed with footage of police beating protesters.

The lyrics lambast Turkey’s crackdown on the press, stating: “A journalist that writes something that doesn’t suit Erdogan is in jail tomorrow.”

Turkey has come under increased scrutiny for its crackdown on the press, with Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranking it 149 out of 180 countries on its 2015 Press Freedom Index.

“The rule of law, the independence of the justice system and the protection of basic freedoms, including freedom of the press and speech are important commodities that we must all protect together,” Germany’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday confirming their ambassador to Turkey had been summoned.


Turkey Wants Ban on Mocking Its Leader Enforced Abroad Too

March 30, 2016

by Robert Mackey

The Intercept

Now that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has nearly completed a crackdown on dissent at home — closing down opposition newspapers, prosecuting students for joking on Twitter about officials, and putting journalists on trial — he seems intent on silencing critics in other countries as well.

After the president arrived in Washington on Tuesday night, his security team got right to work, harassing protesters and journalists outside his hotel, as writers for one of the papers recently shuttered by Erdogan’s government noted.

That display of intolerance for dissent followed reports this week that Turkey’s foreign ministry had summoned Germany’s ambassador to complain about a satirical music video mocking Erdogan that was broadcast recently on German television. “We demanded,” a Turkish diplomat told Agence France-Presse, that the show “be removed from the air.”

The Germany foreign ministry confirmed the encounter on Tuesday.

A German diplomatic source told AFP that Ambassador Martin Erdmann rejected the request, explaining that “in Germany, political satire is covered by the freedom of the press and of expression, and the government has neither the need for, nor the option of, taking action.”

The music video that prompted the diplomatic crisis was a parody of a 1980s song by the German pop star Nena, “Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgendwann,” (“Anyway, Anywhere, Anytime”). The satirical remix plays on the fact that the German word for “anytime” sounds like the Turkish president’s last name. The new version of the song, “Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan,” broadcast March 17 on NDR, a public television channel, pokes fun at the autocratic president in part by mixing footage of him looking ridiculous with criticism of his egotism and intolerance of dissent.

In response to the Turkish demand that the video be censored, the show that produced it, Extra 3, instead added English and Turkish subtitles to the video.

Over the next 24 hours, the video was viewed nearly three million times more on YouTube, including more than a quarter of a million views of the new Turkish version.

The song’s revised lyrics explicitly cite Erdogan’s attack on press freedom. “When a journalist writes a piece that Erdogan doesn’t like,” the singer notes, “he quickly ends up in jail.”

As the German magazine Spiegel reported on Monday when it first revealed Turkey’s attempt to have the German government censor the video, Erdogan’s government has been incensed about European diplomats openly opposing its crackdown on the media.

Germany’s ambassador is one of several European diplomats to attend the trial of two senior journalists, Can Dündar, the editor-in-chief of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, and Erdem Gül, the paper’s Ankara bureau chief. The two men face life in prison on espionage charges for reporting last year that weapons seized at the country’s border with Syria in 2014 were part of a covert operation by Turkey’s intelligence service to supply Islamist rebels.

“This is a tug of war between Turkish democrats and autocrats,” Dundar told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “The Western world has been supporting Erdogan for years and we were telling them that this was the wrong decision, not only for Turkey, but also for the Western world.”


Turkish firms in Russia struggle as diplomatic row rages

March 30, 2016

by Alexander Winning


Four months after President Vladimir Putin accused Ankara of a “stab in the back”, Turkish business executives in Russia are getting used to saying hasty goodbyes.

“Every week another friend calls to say he’s leaving,” one Turkish businessman based in Moscow told Reuters. “It’s become very difficult for Turks to do business here.”

The row erupted in November when Turkish military jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border, and is still weighing on what had been a close economic relationship.

Putin has imposed sanctions on Turkey and trade between the two countries – which back opposing sides in the five-year Syrian conflict – has dived due to the combined effects of the measures and the collapse in global oil prices.

In interviews with Reuters, expatriate members of the Turkish business community accused Russian authorities of creating obstacles for their firms that go beyond the measures set out in the official sanctions.

This, along with economic crisis in Russia, was why increasing numbers of Turks are heading back home, they said.

Before the plane was brought down, about 1,500 Turkish firms operated in Russia in businesses ranging from construction and tourism to imports of Turkish fruit, vegetables and textiles.

While no numbers are available, one of the expatriates estimated that around 200 Turkish firms have since left.

Many Turkish executives say they have experienced difficulties in getting Russian visas, and some have had to rearrange their affairs.

Of the four businessmen interviewed in Moscow, two said they had registered their companies in the names of Russian relatives or trusted Russian friends to try to avoid additional checks from law enforcement officers.

All said it was difficult to stay as their country was demonized in Russian media. The Komsomolskaya Pravda mass-market tabloid ran a report earlier this month headlined “Turkey never was and never will be a friend of Russia”.

The businessmen requested that their names and those of their firms not be published, citing fears that public comments could result in further pressure from Russian officials.

Russia’s Interior Ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. The Economy Ministry said the problems outlined by Turkish businessmen did not fall within its remit.


Ikbal Durre, a Moscow-based commentator on Russian-Turkish affairs, expressed hope that the row would eventually blow over. “The situation is moving towards stabilization, just not particularly quickly. The first shockwave has passed,” he said.

But the cost has been high. Turkish exports to Russia fell to around $108 million in January, according to the Turkish statistics service, down two-thirds on the previous year. Russian exports to Turkey, mainly of energy, were 30 percent lower at $1.3 billion, reflecting weak oil prices.

The sanctions include a ban on Russian firms importing a range of Turkish foodstuffs as well as cancelling a visa-free regime and restricting Turkish firms from working in certain Russian business sectors including tourism.

Turkish firms had stood to gain from an earlier set of Russian sanctions – restrictions on Western food imports imposed in retaliation for U.S. and European Union sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.

Now Turkish businessmen say that over-zealous Russian officials are subjecting their goods to additional checks at customs and have conducted impromptu searches at their premises.

Dagir Khasavov, managing partner of Moscow-based legal firm Drakonta which has Turkish clients, described the attitude of Russian law enforcement agencies towards Turkish citizens since the downing of the plane as “hostile”.


One Turkish businessman said he had registered his firm, which serves Russia’s metals industry, in the name of a Russian friend to try to avoid problems. “I used to own 100 percent of my firm. Now I feel like a thief of my own goods,” he said.

The first businessman cited in this article said shipments of Turkish textiles were sometimes held up for as much as 20 days at the Russian border, longer than previously.

A Turkish diplomatic source said it was too early to say the two sides had found a way to resolve the dispute. “We hope that a compromise can be found, but we haven’t seen any big shifts so far,” the source said.

Around 80,000 Turkish citizens live in Russia, although not all are involved in business.


Earlier in March a small group of Turkish businessmen based in Moscow returned home to share their concerns with economic policymakers there, one of the businessmen said.

They explained that if the exodus of their compatriots from Russia continues, it will be difficult for Turkish business to regain its former standing in Russia.

“Investment is a sensitive thing, and at the moment there’s no certainty,” one businessman said.

The diplomatic spat has also cast a pall over Turkey’s tourism sector as Russians cut back on trips there.

One potential bright spot is that a Turkish firm, Renaissance Construction, won a tender this month to build a terminal and tunnel at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

However, Renaissance Construction submitted its bid via its Russian subsidiary and the airport operator had no choice on the nationality of its contractor – the only other bidder was another Turkish firm, Limak.

A Russian employee at a Russian-Turkish business group in Moscow said all joint investment projects had been frozen in line with a Russian government order. “For the moment there is a lock-down,” he said. “Informal contacts continue, but it looks like projects will be frozen for this year at least.”

(Additional reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu in Ankara; editing by David Stamp)







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