TBR News April 1, 2016

Apr 01 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., April 1, 2016: “Today is known as Congressional Appreciation Day by some and April Fool’s Day to many more. In December, it was so cold in Washington that a Congressman was seen with his hands in his own pockets. And today, the American people have the best representatives that money can buy. Our skies are crowded with surveillance drones, launched by a multiplicity of agencies, watching and reporting, via satellite, everything they see. And in the warm summer months, countless diligent snoopers are being educated by looking at their screens showing sunbathing nudes of both sexes, small children at the beach and luscious sheep in their pastures. And in foreign countries, the drone operators get to watch hospitals, day care centers and crowded market places disintegrated by drone-launched rockets and bombs. Just think of the memories they will have when, and if, they are old and grey. And in the cities, our law and order defenders and busy shooting three year old black children who dared to point their fingers at them in menacing ways or clubbing into a coma protestors who dangerously waved provocative signs above their heads. Sic transit Gloria mundi!”  



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. 41

Date: Sunday, October 6, 1996

Commenced:  8:45 AM CST

Concluded:    9:38 AM CST


GD: Hello to you this morning, Robert. Up and around?

RTC: Well, the sun did come up and animal instincts get us going. And then there is coffee. Are you a coffee drinker, Gregory?

GD: I never used to be, but I am now. I hate the taste of the stuff which is funny because my grandfather was a big-time coffee broker. We had coffee all over the kitchen in little bags. My uncle was an expert and when my father got out of the business, he continued long after my grandfather died. Coffee gets you going but if I drink too much of it, my wiring gets fried.

RTC: The world runs on coffee.

GD: They buy a lot of it. My grandfather wasn’t exactly poor. That’s how I know about your people and the Guatemala business. My uncle was involved in it and it was well-known around the house. Grandfather was tied up with Levi and Zentner…the United Fruit people…. and the Grace Steamship company. Uncle was born in Petropolis in Brazil and was fluent in a number of languages, including Portuguese. Yes, there seemed to have been quite a connection between American business and the CIA. And of course, the White House and Congress.

RTC: Well, you’ve seen the tip of the big iceberg, haven’t you, Gregory?

GD: How big is it?

RTC: It’s not so much the size but the power of it. This country isn’t run by little local political action groups or small town newspapers. Democracy is only a word that sounds good. The public hates to vote although I understand that in Switzerland it is mandatory. They don’t care as long as they make money. Do you know how much money it costs to run for Congress? Many millions. And where does the money come from? Aunt Anna’s cookie and mad money jar? No, it comes from corporate interests who want to keep things balanced on their side of the books.

GD: That’s not a great revelation, Robert. No one really cares, as you say, as long as they have television and a car. Back in the Depression days when people didn’t have television sets and no cars, a lot of the underpaid and overworked workers were Communists. Once Roosevelt got the war started for us, business boomed and the workers ceased to be Communists.

RTC: Oh, that’s absolutely true, Gregory, but don’t underestimate the power of the Communist bugaboo to terrify the public into letting us do what we wanted.

GD: Gehlen told me that in ’48 when he was asked by the Army brass to prepare an intelligence paper proving the Russians were about to launch a huge attack on the West, there were two forces behind all of this bullshit. The first was the Army who didn’t like to be reduced in size. Generals had to retire you know and they didn’t like that. And, business had been booming during the war and they, like the generals, didn’t much like shutting down plants and making less money. This from the horse’s mouth so to speak. Oh, and it worked. Leaked to Congress and Harry Truman, it started the Cold War.

RTC: Nicely put and remember this for Critchfield. Yes, that’s basically the long and short of it. At this moment, the United States is run by four major power sources. They are all interconnected and they have the common goal of protecting their asses and increasing their profits. We have what they call big business which consists of international companies, mostly the huge New York banking giants but some manufacturing companies as well. This country got great by being a manufacturing country but that’s slipping a bit. At the turn of the century it was railroads and steel, but that has faded a little…

GD: A little? A lot.

RTC: Yes, a question of degree, I suppose. Anyway, we have really big business as one entity. The other is the political part of our society. Most Congressmen are put into office to take care of business.

GD: And then we have Huey Long, who was not interested in business.

RTC: Yes, and Roosevelt had him shot very dead, didn’t he?

GD: Yes.

RTC: But Congress passes the laws and since most of them are on the take, they are careful not to pass too many laws to injure their business paymasters.

GD: But under Roosevelt they went the other way.

RTC: But Roosevelt is dead and when he died, we had a new dawn of commerce. And Congress knows where the money comes from and acts accordingly. Eventually we will see someone in the Oval Office who is also Chairman of the Board of Chase Bank. Just joking, but there are those who would love the concept. We have business and political and then we have the Mafia. Yes, it is a huge industry, spawning billions of dollars in revenue. Joe Kennedy turned to them to get Jack elected and then turned on them and began to persecute them using the other brother. Look at all the damage that short-sighted behavior did to the family. And that leads us into our very own CIA. We are at the top of the pyramid, Gregory, for a number of reasons. As you know, we started out as a small advisory group whose job it was to supply Harry Truman accurate international intelligence. Harry never trusted the Army and he found out about the humped Gehlen Report and wanted more facts to work with. Now we got Allen Dulles whose brother, John Foster, was a lawyer with Sullivan and Cromwell in New York. Sullivan and Cromwell was, in essence, a Nazi establishment. They were firm supporters of Hitler and worked with the Schroeder bank in Cologne. And you ought to know that when he was Ambassador to England, Joe Kennedy did business with Hitler and got huge blocks of I.G. Farben stock. It got taken away at the end of the war, seized by the Justice Department and one of the first things Joe did when Jack became President was to have him put Bobby in as AG so he could get his stock back. Oh yes, those people were for Hitler right up to the last week of the war. And even afterwards as well. Of course now that Jews are getting more power here and especially in the CIA, we do not mention any of this. Same thing with your Mueller friend. Of course we used him because he was the top Nazi expert on Communists. Why not? But, of course, if the Jews ever had to face that fact, they would come unglued. Can you imagine the huge headlines in The New York Times?

GD: Yes, I can. We called that Second Coming Type.

RTC: Wrong. The New York Times is run by Jews and sucks at Israel’s tit but they would never discuss this, let alone put it on the front page. Why? Because we have control over what they print. You see, we help our friends in business with delicate political nuisance problems. Like the nice Belgians in the Congo who had all that uranium. Kill off the left wing politicos who tried to grab it all. They really weren’t Communists planning to give uranium to Russia but that’s what we told the President and that’s what our friends who publish The New York Times heard. And that’s what they published and that’s what they condoned. Naturally, with such a dangerous menace, the CIA rushed up to save us all and kill off old Patrice. Same in Guatemala and the same in Iran with Mossadegh. The enemy is identified as dangerous to our business friends. We do studies to prove it to the rabble such as …fake documents and all that…that these enemies are vile Communists, working for the Soviet Union, and a real danger to all of America. On the one hand, get permission to destroy these enemies and on the other, launch a publicity campaign through our many friends in the media to make it just another heroic crusade.

GD: Oh, say it isn’t so, Robert.

RTC: I see you are a baseball fan, Gregory.

GD: No, that’s where it came from, but I am not a baseball fan. I was feigning shock and horror at your dastardly revelations. Do go on, though.

RTC: So we have business, the press, the mob on one side thanks to Jim Angleton’s organization, the legislative branch and that’s it. We don’t control, Gregory, we influence. A press campaign, planned in our offices here, and an assassination or bomb blast there. We have it down to an exact science. A nice balance at that.

GD: And the Mueller business?

RTC: A mere bump in the road. If you had brought this up twenty years before, they would have killed you but by now, it’s unpleasantly cold coffee. They’ll just ruin your reputation by using paid hacks. The media would never discuss this, believe me. You could have Heinrich Mueller’s body in a glass case and the press would be as silent as the grave. We would ask them nicely to drop it and guess what? They would.

GD: The machine seems to run well enough.

RTC: We’ve had time to perfect it. There are always glitches but so far, we have been able to repair them. But it isn’t like it used to be, Gregory. Then it was a band of brothers and now the whole agency has gotten too big, too compartmentalized and too stiff. The power is there but it is an old power, not a dynamic one. One of these days, parts will start falling off and then it will be replaced with another group that will march to a different drummer.

GD: Things always change, Robert, mark that.

RTC: I’m afraid I’m stuck in the old days, thinking the old thoughts and doing what I got used to doing. I told you not to get old, Gregory. I’ve seen it before. Sweet children grow up to be anarchists, faggots, drug addicts, bank robbers, drunks and so on. Wives leave you for someone else, your business changes way past recognition and you become redundant and out you go. You don’t recognize the cars in the street, the music is terrible and the trouble is you remember too much.

GD: And tend to romanticize the past instead of learning from it.

RTC: We write books, but in my case, I can’t. In the first place, I am forbidden to by contract with the Agency and in the second, I can write reports but not books. You write books, though. Of course, so do Joe and Susan. I don’t think very much of Joe, Gregory but I think you might do well to write things up. Joe can see for about two inches in front of his nose, but I find you can see for miles.

GD: It’s a blessing and a curse. I have a secret for you, Robert. You won’t believe me, of course, but here it is, For reasons I don’t even begin to understand, I can meet a new person and almost at once see right into them and know just who and what they are. They may be a professional football player, but if I talk with them for three minutes, I can see that they are gay. Or a religious leader and see he is a drunk. But only face to face. Can’t do it on the phone on by mail. And I think sometimes these people sense I am poking around inside their psyche. I never say a thing to them but some people can sense my invasion of their often rotten soul. And for no reason apparent to a, say, neutral observer, they suddenly hate me.

RTC: They’re afraid of you, Gregory. People fear the predator.

GD: Yes, I’m sure they do, but I am not predatory. I am very understanding of other people.

RTC: Trust me, Gregory, you’re a born predator. That’s one of the reasons I trust you. I prefer to know a wolf as a wolf than a yapping little dog that sneaks around and bites you in the lower leg. You would go for the throat and the kill. No, seeing into people is a gift. I ran enough agents in my time and I know. Always go for the throat.

GD: Yes. I was once confronted with six armed men who were trying to kill some people I happened to be with. I had a gun, a Belgian Browning 9mm. The High Power model with a 13 shot box mag. These fellows were shooting at my friends and at me. I had nothing to do with the business but I had the gun. I got it out and I nailed all six. Five through the head and one in the neck. Before I left the scene with my wounded friend, I went over and shot that one through the head. I didn’t want any witnesses. And I got my brass.

RTC: I never knew that one, Gregory. How old were you at the time?

GD: Seventeen and a couple of months.

RTC: You were in the service?

GD: No. A tourist.

RTC: Six at one throw?

GD: Five on the spot and one a few moments later.

RTC: A dumb question here, but did it bother you?

GD: Yes, terribly. My friend bled all over my shoes before I got him to a safe place. It took a lot of work to get the blood off. And I ruined a very good tie. He got it in the upper leg so I used the tie to keep him from bleeding out. Fortunately, the artery was spared and he survived.

RTC: And it never bothered you?

GD: Why should it? These jerks were shooting at me and in time, they might have killed me, too. Fuck them, Robert. Now they’re turning green in a box somewhere, waiting for the Last Trumpet. Yet in my flesh shall I see God? Oh, I think not. Heaven’s doormat will be a horrible, oozing mess come trumpet day.

RTC: Predatory, Gregory, in word and deed. No wonder the club does not like you.

GD: Club?

RTC: Bill, Tom, Trento and a few others. They warn me about you. I can see why. Their old warning system, the cave man one, is still fitfully working and they can sense you are a danger. Seventeen? Was that the first time?

GD: No, when I was in Germany just before that, I got jumped by a DP. He had an iron bar and I emptied a clip from a .380 into his pump. They had quite a bit of trouble from these DPs from Poland. They were all Polish Jews from the liberated camps and until the Army rounded them all up and shipped them, under guard, to Israel, they cut quite a path. And I got another one over by a putting green. He pulled a knife and his buddy had a wooden pistol. My friend got him and broke his neck and I got the one with the knife using a nine iron. I ruined the club but you should have seen his head. It looked like a cherry pie dropped on the sidewalk. Dragged both of them into the hedges and off we went. The club went into the river. I guess they found them later by the stench and all the flies.

RTC: Very predatory, Gregory.

GD: Self-defense, Robert, self-defense. What else would you call it?

RTC: Good reflexes among other things.

GD: God must hate me for making his doormat so filthy,


(Concluded at 9:38 AM CST)




Don’t believe it: April 1 is day for dog bras, job site for babies

April 1, 2016

by Gina Cherelus


In a political year when reality has often seemed stranger than fiction, pranksters had to work particularly hard in coming up with April Fools Day jokes that rose above the daily noise of the U.S. presidential campaign.

The age-old tradition of hoaxing on the first day of April was alive and well on Friday in bogus ad campaigns hawking everything from dog brassieres to employment agencies for babies.

“It gets more and more challenging to stand out,” said Rachael King, spokeswoman for ThirdLove, a lingerie maker that partnered with DogVacay, a pet sitting service, to unveil the fake line of dog brassieres.The trick is to be outlandish and plausible at the same time: The online campaign for the bras, which promise to create “a smooth lifted shape that is beautiful as a tennis ball,” features photographs of canines wearing brassieres and gazing off into the distance.

Celebrity shenanigans on YouTube figured prominently in the mix this year. Rapper Snoop Dogg used the video service to introduce a fake “SnoopaVision” virtual reality experience, said Lauren Verrusio, spokeswoman for Google (GOOGL.O), which owns YouTube.

In another escapade seen on YouTube, Major League Baseball star Mike Trout and other players on the Los Angeles Angels pull a prank on teammate Garrett Richards, getting him involved in a phony marriage proposal gone wrong in a crowded restaurant.

Even the village of Lake Placid, New York, the home of the 1980 Winter Olympics, got into the act. It ran gag versions of its tourism newsletter on an online blog that say the town is “embracing” the idea of road-deicing salt leaching into groundwater and turning its beloved Mirror Lake into saltwater.

Another prank promotes “Jobs for Babies,” a bogus new service to help babies find their dream jobs, said Tierney Oakes, a spokeswoman for Beck Media & Marketing, which created the stunt for ZipRecruiter, an online job posting service.

Babies are shown pounding on computer keyboards and crawling out of corporate elevators as the video explains their skill set: learning 10 times faster than an adult, quickly picking up languages and staying awake at all hours of the night.

“We want to help babies stand on their own two feet,” the video says.

(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Chris Reese)


Exclusive: 21 Generals Lead ISIS War the U.S. Denies Fighting

There are only 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq—about what a colonel usually commands. But for this ISIS war, as many as 21 generals have been deployed. Why?

March 31, 2016

by Nancy A. Youssef

The Daily Beast

In the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the U.S. military is notably short on soldiers, but apparently not on generals.

There are at least 12 U.S. generals in Iraq, a stunningly high number for a war that, if you believe the White House talking points, doesn’t involve American troops in combat. And that number is, if anything, a conservative estimate, not taking into account the flag officers running the U.S. air war, the admirals helping wage the war from the sea, or their superiors back at the Pentagon.

At U.S. headquarters inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, even majors and colonels frequently find themselves saluting superiors at a pace that outranks the Pentagon and certainly any normal military installation. With about 5,000 troops deployed to Iraq and Syria ISIS war, that means there’s a general for every 416 troops, give or take. To compare, there are some captains in the U.S. Army in charge of that many people.

Moreover, many of those generals come with staffs and bureaucracy that some argue slows decision-making against an agile terror group.

The Obama administration has frequently argued that the U.S. maintains a so-called light footprint in Iraq to reassure the American public that its military is not back in Iraq. Indeed, at times, the United States has not acknowledged where it has deployed troops until one of them died.

But if the U.S. footprint is so small, why does the war demand so many generals?

There is the three-star general in charge of the war, Army Gen. Sean MacFarland, and his two deputies, one of whom is in Iraq at any given time. There is the two-star Army general in charge of the ground war, Army Maj. Gen. Gary Volesky, and his two deputies, who also travel between Iraq and Kuwait. There is the two-star general in charge of security cooperation—things like military sales—and his deputy.

Then there are the one-star generals in charge of intelligence, operations, future operations, targeting, and theater support.

There also are an untold number of Special Forces commanders in the battlefield whom the military does not speak publicly about; the dozen figure presumes at least one one-star Special Forces general.

And that is just the beginning of the top-heavy war fight. That figure doesn’t include the bevy of generals stationed in places like Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar to support the mission. Nor does it count the three-star Air Force general and his two-star deputy in charge of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, which is headquartered at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. Then there is a three-star Marine in charge of Marine Corps Forces Central Command, based out of MacDill Air Force, Florida, and his deputy and their Navy counterparts. All three commands are responsible for the Middle East.

Finally, there are a number of generals from the other roughly 60 coalition countries. The Daily Beast knows of three who support the U.S. generals—from Australia and the United Kingdom.

Once all those additional generals are included, there are at least 21 flag officers in Iraq, a number even military officials concede is conservative, as there likely are other coalition generals and possibly other Special Forces commanders.

Officially, there are only 3,870 U.S. troops, or the equivalent of a heavy brigade, which is usually led by a colonel. One colonel.

As The Daily Beast first reported, however, there are actually more than 5,000 troops, still far short of a footprint that would usually demand a score of generals.

Defense officials defended the deployment of so many generals to The Daily Beast. In a war where there are so many different types of fighters, these officials said, you need generals to coordinate. Today’s warfighter is more lethal, thanks to improved technology, and therefore needs a commander with the appropriate authority to sign off authority on the use of that power. The intelligence reaching the front lines is so complex, it demands the talents of a one-star general, defense officials argued to The Daily Beast

(Of course, it’s odd to brag about such lethality when the Defense Department has said repeatedly that American troops were “not in an active combat mission” in Iraq.)

These officials also say it is only fitting that Iraqi military leaders engage with a U.S. counterpart of the same rank.

“When you look at what they do and what they are in command of and how they provide support, I think it is justifiable,” one defense official explained to The Daily Beast.

Some defenders offer a more simplistic answer—the U.S. military has always used this structure to deploy generals to places like Iraq.

There are as a rule two types of generals in the U.S. military—those who command troops and those who support the fight. The military argues that in Iraq, the U.S. needs far more of the latter than the former. The Iraqi troops, led by Iraqi generals, should shape the front lines, they said.

But critics argue that such dependency on U.S. generals in areas outside the battlefield not only suggests a lack of Iraqi skills but also obfuscates the U.S. effort.

“Having this many generals and flag officers gives the appearance of commitment without the substance of commitment,” Christopher Harmer, a naval analyst at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, explained to The Daily Beast.

After World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War, the U.S. military downsized its rank and file troops but did not shrink the size of its general and flag officer corps proportionally. The result is a long-standing criticism of a top-heavy military that some argue is costly and not as effective.

A May 2013 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, for example, concluded that “mission and headquarters support-costs at the combatant commands more than doubled from fiscal years 2007 through 2012, to about $1.1 billion.”

Several past defense secretaries have tried to cut the number of generals. Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel tried to reduce the number of general officers and civilians by 20 percent but wasn’t on the job long enough to make it happen. Robert Gates, the defense secretary during the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, proposed eliminating 50 generals and admirals.

If Gates’s efforts succeeded, it is not obvious in today’s military. In addition to all those generals in the Middle East, there are dozens of others at U.S. Central Command in Tampa, which is in charge of the Middle East, and at the Pentagon who also support the U.S. effort in Iraq and Syria—so many that it is impossible to say just how many generals are part of the U.S. war effort.

On Wednesday, two of the leading four-star generals of the war stateside took new command positions. Army Gen. Joseph Votel, the outgoing special operations commander, became the new head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East. Army Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas is Votel’s special operations replacement.

Soon, they’ll be visiting the front lines in Iraq—and adding to the number of American generals on the ground in the ISIS war.


Russia prepared for US tanks in Eastern Europe

Russia’s ambassador to NATO has criticized US plans to deploy an armored brigade to Eastern Europe. But overall Moscow is calm – perhaps because the Russian army has already responded.

March 31, 2016


Russia’s permanent representative to NATO says the Kremlin fears US plans to deploy an armored brigade in Eastern Europe are a threat to his country. Alexander Grushko told DW it was a “further step establishing NATO’s transition to confrontational patterns.”

The plans’ military importance, he said, must be considered together with other efforts of the alliance “to consolidate its eastern flank.” Grushko said these included “permanent troop rotations, exercises, air policing, strengthening its activities in the Baltic and Black Seas, building additional headquarters, modernization of military infrastructure.”

All this, he said, weakens European security, calling into question the viability of the Russia-NATO Founding Act of 1997 as “one of the last effective pillars” of this security. Russian military experts would analyze the US announcements and make appropriate corrections to Russian military planning, Grushko said.

But overall, Russia has reacted relatively calmly to the US plans. Both the foreign and defense ministries in Moscow had no initial comment. Russian media are also not treating it as a headline issue.

Washington explained its decision in terms of supporting NATO members “in the wake of an aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.” The move, it said, came in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Defense by rote

The Pentagon on Wednesday provided greater detail. From February 2017, a complete armored brigade with a total of 4,200 troops, 250 tanks and other heavy military equipment will be stationed on NATO’s eastern flank. The brigade will change its location in various Eastern European countries on a rotating basis. Which countries these are, is still open. Troops and material will be replaced every nine months.

“No-one can be misled any more by talks about NATO’s military activities having only a rotational character,” Grushko said. “Continuous rotations differ little from a permanent military presence in the traditional sense.” The plans called for war materiel to be kept permanently in Europe, he said.

New divisions

Moscow’s lack of anger at these US plans has a simple explanation, said Alexander Golz, an expert on the Russian military. “The deployment of the armored brigade was already decided at the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014. Russia has already responded.”

Moscow already announced it would set up new divisions in the west of the country. Lately there have been conflicting statements about their number. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said a few days ago, Russia planned to station two new divisions permanently in Russia’s Western Military District.

“NATO is expanding its military potential in Europe, including in the immediate vicinity of the Russian border,” he said. Russia was concerned, he said – and forced to react. But earlier, the defense minister had spoken about three new divisions in Russia’s west. One of these divisions would be created from a brigade in the Smolensk region on the border with Belarus.

In addition, the Russian defense ministry announced in early February that it was reactivating the 1st Tank Guards Army, dissolved in 1998, in the west of the country. The new army is being formed from existing divisions and brigades that are to be reorganized and strengthened.

Such a step is “logical” because the US and NATO are pursuing an “increasingly clear strategy of containment of Russia,” state news agency RIA Novosti said. This tank army also forms part of Russia’s response to the increased US military presence in Eastern Europe, Golz said.

No new Cold War

The increased US military presence in eastern NATO states and Russia’s troop reinforcements in its west are “by no means a repetition of the confrontation in the former Cold War,” he said. “At that time, hundreds of thousands of armed men faced each other.”

Golz said the US plans indicate a desire to be prepared for a possible so-called “hybrid war” such as the annexation of Crimea by Russia, in which the absolute numbers of troops or tanks would not be as significant.

Grushko described NATO’s plans as a further burden “for the already complicated relationships” between the alliance and his country. But, he added, it would have little effect on the practical cooperation between the two. “It is difficult to influence something that does not exist,” he said – and blamed NATO for this state of affairs.


NATO: Worse Than ‘Obsolete’

It’s a tripwire that could lead to World War III

April 1, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


Unlike many libertarians, I love presidential election season, because that’s when generally ignored foreign policy issues are discussed beyond the small circle of Washington wonks. And that’s why I’m having such fun with Donald Trump – much to the annoyance of some of my readers, both libertarians and liberals alike: because he’s provoking a much-needed discussion about who benefits (and loses) from “American leadership” on the world stage. Most useful is his recent assertion that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is “obsolete.”

So it is. When the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union dissolved, the rationale for NATO disintegrated along with it. However, as libertarians know all too well, government programs (especially those that benefit the corporate sector) never die, nor do they fade away: they just keep growing to the degree that their constituency wields political clout. In NATO’s case, this clout is considerable.

When the citizens of Berlin did what Ronald Reagan urged Gorbachev to do – “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” – the Soviet leader tried to negotiate with the West. And, to his mind, he succeeded: an understanding was reached with Washington that the Russians would allow German reunification on the condition that the NATO alliance would not expand eastward.

That promise was not kept. Instead, the lobbyists, both foreign and domestic, went into overdrive in a campaign to extend NATO to the very gates of Moscow. It was a lucrative business for the Washington set, as the Wall Street Journal documented: cushy fees for lobbyists, influence-buying by US corporations, as well as political tradeoffs for the administration of George W. Bush, which garnered support for the Iraq war from Eastern Europe’s former Warsaw Pact states in exchange for favorable treatment of their NATO applications.

The Committee to Expand NATO, later re-dubbed the US Committee on NATO, had at its core many of the founding members of Bill Kristol’s Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which played such an instrumental role in agitating for the invasion of Iraq. Yet it was too lucrative to exclude “progressives” of the Clintonian variety, bringing together neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz, Robert Kagan, Stephen Hadley, and Richard Perle, with liberal internationalists such as Will Marshall, of the Progressive Policy Institute, and Sally Painter, a former Commerce Department official under Bill Clinton –turned-lobbyist, who raked in hundreds of thousands in contracts from aspiring NATO countries and their corporate clients in the US.

Founder and president of the NATO Committee was Bruce Jackson, at the time finance director of Bob Dole’s presidential campaign, and vice-president in charge of planning and strategy for Lockheed – today Lockheed-Martin – the biggest military contractor in the country.

The NATO expansion project fit neatly in with Jackson’s day job: all NATO applicants must upgrade their military forces in order to meet uniform standards, and this meant a windfall for the military-industrial complex – with Lockheed first in line. The Lockheed connection was reinforced by Randy Scheunemann, a member of the Committee’s board, and president of Orion Strategies, a public relations firm whose clients include Lockheed.

The Clinton administration fully supported NATO expansion, and the Committee’s activities brought together the White House, members of Congress from both parties, and the Washington lobbyists and their foreign clients for a spate of conferences, dinners, and private meetings. Reams of propaganda were aimed at the mass media, and the political class, including a very visible presence at the national conventions of both political parties.

In short, NATO expansion was – and is – a crony capitalist’s dream, albeit not the sort that gets the same amount of attention from “libertarian” critics of such boondoggles as the Ex-Im Bank, who regularly remind us that Boeing is the Bank’s biggest customer. Forgotten (or evaded) is the fact that Boeing (or Lockheed-Martin, General Dynamics, etc.) gets billions whenever a new applicant is added to NATO’s ranks and has to modernizes its forces.

The NATO expansionists won their battle: Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined in 1999: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia were added in 2004. Albania and Croatia came on board in 2006. The latest applicants are tiny Montenegro, a splinter shaved off of the former Yugoslavia, which will probably be admitted this summer, and Georgia, which is not even in Europe, and is still fighting to join the club: its inclusion is controversial in part because it would be seen as throwing down the gauntlet to Russia, with whom it fought a brief war in 2008 over the breakaway Republic of Ossetia.

Therein lies the real danger posed by NATO expansion – and, indeed, the existence of the alliance thirty years after the Soviet implosion. As Sen. Robert A. Taft put it in a 1949 nationally broadcast speech opposing US entry into NATO, he said:

“It obligates us to go to war if at any time during the next 20 years anyone makes an armed attack on any of the 12 nations. Under the Monroe Doctrine we could change our policy at any time. We could judge whether perhaps one of the countries had given cause for the attack. Only Congress could declare a war in pursuance of the doctrine. Under the new pact the President can take us into war without Congress. But, above all the treaty is a part of a much larger program by which we arm all these nations against Russia… A joint military program has already been made… It thus becomes an offensive and defensive military alliance against Russia. I believe our foreign policy should be aimed primarily at security and peace, and I believe such an alliance is more likely to produce war than peace. A third world war would be the greatest tragedy the world has ever suffered. Even if we won the war, we this time would probably suffer tremendous destruction, our economic system would be crippled, and we would lose our liberties and free system just as the Second World War destroyed the free systems of Europe. It might easily destroy civilization on this earth…

“There is another consideration. If we undertake to arm all the nations around Russia from Norway on the north to Turkey on the south, and Russia sees itself ringed about gradually by so-called defensive arms from Norway and. Denmark to Turkey and Greece, it may form a different opinion. It may decide that the arming of western Europe, regardless of its present purpose, looks to an attack upon Russia. Its view may be unreasonable, and I think it is. But from the Russian standpoint it may not seem unreasonable. They may well decide that if war is the certain result, that war might better occur now rather than after the arming of Europe is completed…

“How would we feel if Russia undertook to arm a country on our border; Mexico, for instance?

“Furthermore, can we afford this new project of foreign assistance?”

Which brings us to Trump’s critique: that NATO is a “bad deal” because we bear a disproportionate share of the costs. He is quite correct on this score. As of today, the US and Estonia are the only two NATO members keeping to the “requirement” that their military spending equals two percent of GDP. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointed this out in a 2011 speech in which he predicted that NATO’s future was sure to be “dim if not dismal.” Our shiftless allies are all too “willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets,” he said.

Added to the direct costs of NATO is the expense of stationing over 60,000 troops in Europe, maintenance of our many bases, and the opportunity costs of money that could have been diverted to productive domestic uses. Taft, it seems, was right that the costs of NATO would turn out to be “incalculable.”

And then there is yet another cost – the price of risking World War III.

NATO expansion has led to Russian rearmament and the nullification of arms treaties negotiated as the cold war neared its endpoint. The Western powers have launched provocative military “exercises” that cannot be seen by the Russians as anything other than a dress rehearsal for war – and the Kremlin has reacted accordingly.

With his plan – or, rather, inclination – to abandon the old NATO and replace it with some sort of multilateral counterterrorist operation, and his insistence that our “allies” pay up, Trump is forcing an issue onto the stage that hasn’t been seen since the days of Bob Taft. And with the bogeyman of Communism absent, he is free to say he could get along with Vladimir Putin and only catch flak from committed neocons.

NATO isn’t just an expensive luxury of the sort we can no longer afford – it is a tripwire that could be set off by a minor border conflict involving Moldova, the status of Kaliningrad, or – more likely – another round of hostilities in Ukraine.

Would we start World War III in defense of the oligarchs of Kiev?

I wouldn’t put it past them.

That’s why, no matter what the fate of Trump’s presidential bid, we all owe him for raising this vital issue – and within the GOP, no less, a party which has been, up until now, a bastion of support for the NATO-crats and the new cold war against Russia.


Turkish president threatens to sue those who insult him

March 31, 2016

by Idrees Ali and David Rohde


WASHINGTON -Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan warned on Thursday that he will continue to sue critics who insult him in Turkey, where journalists and other critics of the president have been imprisoned.

He issued the admonition in Washington, a day before a hearing in Istanbul resumes in the trial of two high-profile Turkish journalists.

“I would (thank) each and everyone one of those who criticize me but if they were to insult me, my lawyers will go and file a lawsuit,” said Erdogan, speaking at an event on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit.

A Turkish court on Friday resumes hearings in the trial of the two journalists for publishing footage that purportedly showed Turkey’s intelligence agency shipping truckloads of weapons to opposition fighters in Syria in early 2014.

As protesters chanted and waved banners outside, Turkish security personnel tried to block three Turkish journalists from covering the event, held at the Brookings Institution think tank.

Adem Yavuz Arslan, a reporter with Ozgur Dusunce, a Turkish opposition newspaper affiliated with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally, said the security guards threatened him.

“They said, ‘We are going to kill you. You are a terrorist,'” said Arslan.

A prosecutor has charged Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief, with trying to topple the government by publishing video purporting to show Turkey’s state intelligence agency helping to truck weapons to Syria in 2014.

Erdogan, whose government has come under international criticism for restrictions of press freedom, has vowed Dundar will “pay a heavy price”. The two journalists could face life in prison if convicted.

In his speech in Washington, Erdogan said there were no journalists in jail because of their work, adding that most of the 52 journalists in Turkish prisons have been convicted on or face terrorism charges. Journalism rights groups say the government uses vague terrorism charges to silence journalists.

Since becoming president in August 2014, Erdogan has filed a record 1,845 court cases against individuals for insulting him, resulting in a more than a dozen sentences, activists have said. Insulting the president carries a maximum of four years in prison in Turkey.

The New York-based advocacy group Committee to Protect Journalists describes Turkey as a “country of concern” with at least 13 and as many 20 journalists in prison for their work.

Erdogan also said the West needed to take more responsibility in dealing with Syrian refugees, accusing it of failing its commitments under international human rights accords.

“Even though almost all EU nations are wealthier than us, they have taken a (handful) of Syrian refugees while we have opened our doors,” he said.

Turkey agreed with the EU this month to take back all migrants and refugees who cross illegally to Greece in exchange for financial aid, faster visa-free travel for Turks and slightly accelerated EU membership talks.

The returns are supposed to begin on April 4 under the plan, which aims to close the main route by which a million migrants and refugees poured across the Aegean Sea to Greece in the last year before heading north mainly to Germany and Sweden.

Erdogan also said he expected a meeting of Turkish and Israeli officials next month to yield positive results, after the sides collaborated closely following a bomb attack in Istanbul that killed Israeli tourists.

(Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Don Durfee and David Gregorio)


CIA left explosive material on Loudoun school bus after training exercise

March 31, 2016

by Clarence Williams and Moriah Balingit

Washington Post

The CIA left “explosive training material” under the hood of a Loudoun County school bus after a training exercise last week, a bus that was used to ferry elementary and high school students to and from school on Monday and Tuesday with the material still sitting in the engine compartment, according to the CIA and Loudoun County officials.

The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and the CIA said in statements Thursday that the explosive material was left behind after a training exercise at Briar Woods High School during spring break. The CIA said it was a training scenario for explosives-detecting dogs.

CIA officials said in a statement that the material “did not pose a danger to passengers on the bus,” which was used on March 28 and 29. Authorities held a joint training program at Briar Woods from March 21 to 24.

Loudoun schools spokesman Wayde Byard said the CIA indicated the nature of the material but asked the school system not to disclose it. Byard described it as a “putty-type” material designed for use on the battlefield and which requires a special detonator; such putty, or plastic, explosives — including the well-known C-4 — are used in demolition and are considered stable.

Byard said law enforcement agencies use school facilities on occasion to conduct realistic training exercises, including active-shooter drills.

As part of last week’s training exercise, CIA trainers placed explosive material into the engine compartment of a school bus on Thursday to test a dog’s ability to sniff it out. They also placed the material in parts of the school. Byard said the dog successfully found the material in the engine compartment, but some of the material fell deeper inside the compartment and became wedged beneath the hoses.

He said school bus drivers check under the hoods of their buses before they take them out on the road, but the package was wedged too far deep inside the engine compartment and was the same color as the hoses, so it could not easily be seen.

The bus shuttled students to and from school for two days with the explosive material under the hood, making eight runs totaling 145 miles and carrying 26 students attending Rock Ridge High School, Buffalo Trail Elementary School and Pinebrook Elementary School.

The bus was taken to a school system facility on Wednesday for routine maintenance. Byard said the county’s buses are regularly taken off-line to check their spark plugs, hoses and to rotate tires. It was during a routine inspection that a technician discovered the explosive material.

The school system immediately notified the county sheriff’s office and the fire marshal, who removed it. The CIA also helped remove the material.

“The training materials used in the exercises are incredibly stable and according to the CIA and Loudoun County explosive experts the students on the bus were not in any danger from the training material,” according to a Sheriff’s Office statement.

Officials said they checked all other buses at the school as a precaution.

School officials on Thursday met with the CIA, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the fire marshal and county administrators and determined that all law enforcement training exercises at schools would be suspended until stronger protocols are established.

“We’re all very upset by what happened, but we’re going to review everything that did happen,” Byard said. “Obviously we’re concerned. The CIA really expressed its deep concern and regret today, and it was sincere.”

CIA officials acknowledged the error in a statement and confirmed that an agency canine unit ran a training exercise with local agencies last week in the county. Agency officials said they were notified by Loudoun officials Wednesday and coordinated with them to recover the material.

The intelligence service said that both CIA and Loudoun County experts said the explosive material did not pose a danger to passengers on the bus. The agency statement said they would take “immediate steps to strengthen inventory and control procedures in its K-9 program” and that they will investigate the canine training program.

The CIA said in the statement that the agency accounted for all training explosives after performing a full inventory Thursday.


Intelligence Community Olive Branch on Data Sharing Greeted With Skepticism

April 1, 2016

by Jenna McLaughlin

The Intercept

Top intelligence community lawyer Robert Litt has offfered a rare olive branch to privacy advocates on Wednesday, in the form of information.

In a post on one of their favorite blogs on Wednesday, Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, outlined new intelligence data-sharing guidelines that he said will be released soon.

The post, on Just Security, was essentially a response to reporting last month from the New York Times’s Charlie Savage that the NSA would soon be sharing with other government agencies the raw, unfiltered intelligence from the depths of its massive overseas spying programs.

“There has been a lot of speculation about the content of proposed procedures that are being drafted to authorize the sharing of unevaluated signals intelligence,” Litt wrote.

The New York Times story raised concerns that the data, which inevitably includes information about Americans, would become too easily accessible by intelligence agencies including the FBI, potentially leading to fishing expeditions.

Litt provided his assurances that “these procedures are not about law enforcement, but about improving our intelligence capabilities.”

He also emphasized that there would be no additional collection of information—and that all the same privacy protections that currently exist will apply.

Privacy advocates and policy analysts interviewed by The Intercept were pleased Litt made the effort to reach out, noting some positive features of his announcement—like the possible restriction on sharing intelligence with state and local law enforcers.

Nathan White, senior legislative manager for digital rights organization Access Now, had entreated the intelligence community just the day before for more information on how the FBI would get access. “I hope that Litt replied to my op-ed means they’re taking these concerns seriously,” White wrote in a message to The Intercept.

But White also indicated that his appetite for information has not been satisfied. “All I can really say is that we need to see the rules. We need details. We need to declassify the DOJ’s guidelines,” he wrote.

“I’m not reassured that the procedures won’t expand law enforcement agencies’ access to Americans’ information for use in regular criminal investigations,” wrote Liza Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice, in an email to The Intercept.

Litt’s post “says that there must be a valid foreign intelligence purpose for sharing the information. But once that purpose is met and the data is shared, what prevents FBI agents conducting ordinary criminal investigations from running searches on the data?” she asked.

Patrick Toomey, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, questioned Litt’s assumptions. “The premise of Litt’s response seems to be that there is an impermeable barrier—or ‘wall’—between the FBI’s intelligence and law-enforcement roles. But that’s the wall the [intelligence community] spent the last 15 years tearing down,” Toomey wrote in an email.

In fact, ever since the September 11 terror attacks, the intelligence community has been working to get information out of agency “stovepipes” so that it can be better used to stop terrorist attacks — even though that was not actually the problem pre-9/11.

When conducting criminal investigations, the FBI can currently search through data the NSA gives it from programs run under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Those programs are designed to target the communications of overseas persons, but “incidentally” grab some American communications, too. Those FBI’s searches have been likened to “backdoor surveillance.”

“It seems very likely that the new 12333 procedures will permit the same thing, giving the FBI nearly unfettered access to an even bigger pool of data,” wrote Toomey.

Litt’s assurances that NSA’s current privacy protections would be maintained also prompted skepticism.

“That’s like saying ‘don’t worry, it’s not that I’m about to shoot at you, it’s that I’m requiring other agents to put kevlar on you before you are shot,’” wrote Sean Vitka, fellow at digital rights group X-Lab in an email to The Intercept. “Intelligence agencies should stop simply stop shooting at — that is, violating the privacy of — the people they are obliged to protect.”


Exclusive: North Korea to pursue nuclear and missile programs – envoy

April 1, 2016

by Stephanie Nebehay


GENEVA-North Korea will pursue its nuclear and ballistic missile program in defiance of the United States and its allies, a top Pyongyang envoy said on Friday, adding that a state of “semi-war” now existed on the divided Korean peninsula.

So Se Pyong, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, denounced the huge joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises taking place which he said were aimed at “decapitation of the supreme leadership of the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)” and conquering Pyongyang.

North Korea conducted a fourth nuclear test in January and launched a long-range rocket in February. The South Korean military said on Friday that North Korea had fired a missile into the sea off its east coast.

“If the United States continues, then we have to make the counter-measures also. So we have to develop, and we have to make more deterrence, nuclear deterrence,” So, who is also North Korea’s envoy to the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament, said in an interview with Reuters conducted in English.

“Simultaneous policy is the policy of my country, and my party also, meaning nuclear production and economic development,” he said, referring to the twin aims of the policy course of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un which is expected to be endorsed at a congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in May, the first in 36 years.

So had no information about the latest missile firing or about South Korean allegations that his country was disrupting GPS signal reception which Seoul says has forced some boats to return to port amid heightened tensions.

“They (Seoul) are making too many manipulations, too many false reports,” he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama joined South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday in vowing to ramp up pressure on North Korea in response to its nuclear and missile tests. The three leaders recommitted their countries to each others’ defense and warned they could take further steps to counter threats from Pyongyang.

“Actually that summit, we call it … a kind of propaganda,” So said, dismissing the talks on securing vulnerable atomic materials to prevent nuclear terrorism.


Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday also called for dialogue to resolve the “predicament” on the Korean peninsula during a meeting with Park in Washington, Xinhua news agency said on Friday.

Asked whether his reclusive country felt pressure from its ally China and other powers, So replied: “Whether they are going to do anything, we don’t care. We are going on our own way.

“(We are) not having dialogue and discussions on that.”

The Security Council unanimously passed a resolution in early March expanding U.N. sanctions aimed at starving North Korea of funds for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“We are going against that resolution also because that is not fair and (not just). At this point, because this is really the war now … We are busy to deal with this semi-war status of the situation on the peninsula now.”

Regarding the joint military exercises being conducted by U.S. and South Korean forces, he said that 300,000 troops were taking part: “Now they open (show) their true color, meaning the decapitation of the supreme leadership of DPRK.”

Asked about prospects for resuming stalled six-party talks on his country’s nuclear program, So replied that denuclearisation of the peninsula was no longer on the table.

“If the United States stops their hostile policy towards the DPRK and comes to the peace treaty, then something (might be) different,” he said.

(Editing by Richard Balmforth)


How disconnecting the internet could help our identity

April 1, 2016

by David Baker


As the internet has developed and social media has grown, people’s online identity has shifted increasingly away from their real-life personas. But how has this online influence changed us?

In 1993, in the early days of the world wide web, a cartoon appeared in The New Yorker.

It showed a dog, sitting at a computer, turning to another dog and saying: “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

The cartoon by Peter Steiner and one of the magazine’s most reproduced ever, captures the thrill of those early days when the internet, then a matter of slow dial-up connections and clunky text-only “bulletin boards”, provided a way for people to reengineer their identity online.

Men could pose as women, the young as old, amateurs as experts, country loners as sophisticated urbanites.

Last year, 22 years on, The New Yorker published another cartoon on the subject, drawn by Kaamran Hafeez. This time, two dogs are watching their owner surf the web. The caption: “Remember when, on the internet, nobody knew who you were?”

The internet has had a huge impact on our sense of identity since its explosion into popular use about 25 years ago. It has brought into our lives people, ideas, viewpoints and cultures that, otherwise, we would never have met or heard of.

And that has forced us to reconsider our identities in comparison with theirs. It has allowed us to ally with people with a similar outlook and become part of their group, even if they live thousands of miles away.

And, above all, it has given us a way to re-engineer our identity almost continually and discover what it is like to be someone very different from our “real” selves.

This is not new, of course. Through make-up, clothing, the music we like, the books we read, the opinions we express, the people we vote for, and so on for ever, we have always been busy defining and redefining our identity.

But, before the internet, that busy-ness took place in the small arena of our friends, family and colleagues – and indeed, much of it was about developing separate identities to show to each group.

Now the potential audience for our identity – and so much of identity is about performance – has increased to levels that, a quarter of a century ago, we would have had only if we were a film star or a rock musician.

If we have 300 friends on Facebook and each of them has 300 friends – and many people, of course, have more – that’s 90,000 people who are two degrees of separation away.

And even if 90% of those are duplicates (people who are also friends with our friends), that leaves 9,000 people observing our life, Like-ing, or not, our opinions and commenting on our photos.

That’s an audience that would have been almost impossible, for someone not working in the arts, politics or the media, to reach in pre-internet times. Now it’s commonplace. Is it surprising that many of us spend a huge amount of time managing our online identity?

Not only has the internet given us these vastly bigger audiences for our identity, it has changed the way we understand how other people see us, from a (usually) private and intimate process to a very public scrutiny of who we are.

Through Likes, comments, ratings and so on, we receive almost instantaneous feedback on the adjustments we make to our identity, and these then become part of our identity itself, as other people can see them.

This is not quiet feedback from close friends – the traditional way that we understand how our identity is perceived. This is the opinion of the masses, viewed by the masses.

Social media has, in part, become a huge exercise in public judgement. And, as anyone who has been shamed or bullied online knows, it can be incredibly powerful.

In small groups of individuals who know each other, the clash between how we see our identity and how others see it can be managed. Managing our identity on the internet takes much more work.

A man called “Jack” told the Guardian recently that he checks his social media profiles tens of times a day and how that takes him away from the physical world around him.

“I’ll often see moments as ‘good content’ for my social media followers,” he said. “It’s almost like the photographing and sharing of a cool time is more important than actually appreciating it in real life.”

This ability to comment on others, often from a distance, has given us a significant power without much corresponding responsibility.

Online, we regularly rate and comment on people and services in ways that, if we are British at least, we wouldn’t think of doing face to face – and that changes our own identities too, from, to put it crudely, being reasonable human beings to acting as cowardly bullies.

The internet is heralded as being about connection. But in many ways it has given us the opportunity to disconnect our acts from their effects. How often do we, for example, consider the consequences of giving an Uber driver a low rating because we didn’t like the way they spoke to us?

Yet falling below an average score of 4.5 stars puts Uber drivers at serious risk of being thrown off the network. Is that really what we had in mind when we tapped out our rating on the way out of the cab?

As well being a world of huge numbers, the internet is also about very high speeds – churning big numbers very quickly is about the only thing computers are good at. And we humans are in danger of trying to keep up with it – a race we can never win.

This means that the world feels much faster than it did even a quarter of a century ago. The same effect was felt in the early days of the industrial revolution in the late 18th Century.

We fret about replying quickly to emails and WhatsApp messages, we worry about not having instant answers to problems we face in life – the illusion created by Google – and we also flit very quickly between identities.

A good example of this is online activism. There are many organisations online that bring about significant change in the world by amassing the power of large numbers of people. And the internet gives us a way of expressing our opinions on geopolitical developments even from a long way away.

But, encouraged, I think, by the speed of the internet, we are also very fickle in the campaigns we support, because they require almost no effort to get involved.

Is it still the case that #weareallCharlieHebdo? Or that we are desperately concerned about the fate of the 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria in 2014? Or was it just too easy to send a tweet or sign a petition and then move on?

In one sense, of course, the world has (sadly) long been like this, with the news-cycle’s intrinsic short attention span feeding our own. But identity is just as much about purpose and a cause as it is about appearance and opinion, and it is about our actions too. And when those actions stop at clicking on a link and entering our email address, it makes our identity, at the very least, dangerously superficial and fragile.

But, for me, the biggest threat to our identities comes from the internet’s noise. I teach at The School of Life, which was set up by the philosopher Alain de Botton to help people think better about the lives they live.






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