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TBR News April 23, 2018

Apr 23 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. April 23, 2018:”It is one matter to plot, plan and lie about domestic events and politics but quite another to boil the pot of foreign matters. Israel wants the US to destroy the dangerous Hezbollah and its parent, Iran; far right Americans want the US to put Russia out of business and grab her natural resources (like oil) and our allies, the Saudis (allies as long as their oil holds out that is) want to grab all of the Arab states, convert them to Sunnisim and rule the Middle East. With a president that is totally ignorant of world politics, easily influenced by whoever spoke with him last and unstable, the scene is being set for global eruptions that could well prove to be be fatal. It is far better to stop trouble before it starts than to fight it after it starts.”

 

Table of Contents

  • We Should be Sceptical of Those Who Claim to Know the Events in Syria
  • Another Dodgy British Dossier: the Skripal Case
  • Korean Summit: It’s Not About Us
  • Trump’s Pompeo rant: President tweets frustration at ‘obstructionist Democrats’
  • How the Internet Conquered the Right, Killed the Tea Party, and Elected Donald Trump
  • Anti-Muslim hate crime on the rise in Donald Trump’s US – report
  • Palantir Knows Everything About You
  • How the Border Patrol Faked Statistics Showing a 73 Percent Rise in Assaults Against Agents

 

 

We Should be Sceptical of Those Who Claim to Know the Events in Syria

April 20, 2018

Patrick Cockburn

The Independent

During the bombing of Baghdad in January 1991 I went with other journalists on a government-organised trip to what they claimed was the remains of a baby milk plant at Abu Ghraib which the US had just destroyed, saying that it was really a biological warfare facility. Walking around the wreckage, I found a smashed-up desk with letters showing that the plant had indeed been producing “infant formula” milk powder. It had not been very successful in doing so, since much of the correspondence was about its financial and production problems and how they might best be resolved. It did not seem likely that the Iraqi government could have fabricated this evidence, though it was conceivable that in some part of the plant, which I did see, they might have been manufacturing biological weapons (BW).I was visiting a lot of bombed-out buildings at the beginning of the US-led air campaign and I did not at first realise that “the Abu Ghraib baby milk factory” would become such an issue. I was more impressed at the time by the sight of a Cruise missile passing quite slowly overhead looking like a large black torpedo. But, within hours of leaving Abu Ghraib, the true purpose of the plant there had become a topic of furious controversy. The CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, who was on the trip, had reported that “whatever else it did, it [the plant] produced infant formula”. He saw a lot of powdered milk and, contrary to the Pentagon claim that the place was guarded like a fortress, we could only see one guard at the gate. Arnett did not deny the US government version that the place was a BW plant, but he did not confirm it either. He simply reported that “it looked innocent enough from what we could see”.

Even such mild dissent from the official US version of the bombing turned out to be unacceptable, producing an explosion of rage in Washington. Colin Powell, the US chief of staff, expressed certainty that the Abu Ghraib plant had manufactured BW. The US air force claimed that it had multiple sources of information proving the same thing.

Arnett was vilified as an Iraqi government stooge by the US government. “This is not a case of taking on the media,” said the White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. “It’s a case of correcting a public disclosure that is erroneous, that is false, that hurts our government, and that plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein.” US news outlets, none of which had correspondents in Baghdad, vigorously toed the official line. Newsweek derided Iraq’s “ham-handed attempt to depict a bombed-out biological weapons plant near Baghdad as a baby-formula factory”.

It took years for the official version of the bombing to fall apart. Even though I had been in the plant soon after it was destroyed, I could not prove that it did not produce biological weapons, though it seemed to me highly unlikely. Media interest waned rapidly: the best study I could find about how the destruction of the milk factory was spun by official PR is a piece by Mark Crispin Miller, from which the quotes above are taken, published in 2003.

Proof came slowly, long after public interest had waned. A Congressional report in 1993 on US intelligence successes and failures in the Gulf War revealed the shaky reasoning behind the US air force decision to bomb the site. It turned out that “mottled camouflage” had been used on the roofs of two known BW facilities. The report said: “at the same time, the same camouflage scheme was applied to the roof of the milk plant”. This was enough for the US Air Force to list it as a target. Confident official claims about multiple sources of intelligence turned out to be untrue. One has to burrow deep into an unclassified CIA paper on Iraq’s BW programme, to find a sentence admitting that another plant, which was the real centre of Saddam Hussein’s BW effort, was unknown to the US-led coalition and “therefore was not attacked during the war, unlike the Abu Ghurayb (sic) Infant Formula Plant (the Baby Milk Factory) that the Coalition destroyed by bombing in the mistaken belief that it was a key BW facility”.

The story of the Abu Ghraib baby milk factory is worth retelling because it underlines – in the wake of the US, British and French air strikes on alleged Syrian BW sites on 14 April – the need for permanent scepticism towards claims by governments that they know what is happening on the ground in Syria or anywhere else.

But government duplicity is scarcely new and denunciations of it may obscure an even greater danger. Look again at the attack on Peter Arnett’s story by the White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater who was wrong – and Arnett was right – in saying that it contained “a disclosure that is erroneous, that is false”. But he adds correctly that it was a disclosure “that hurts our government and plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein”.

So it was in a minor way and this brings us to a toxic attitude towards those who question the official version of events increasingly common in Britain and the US. It is overwhelming freedom of speech in Hungary and Poland and has already triumphed in Turkey and Egypt. In all cases, opinions diverging from those of the powers-that-be are branded as disloyal and unpatriotic and “false facts” are being spread by “useful idiots”, to use two ghastly clichés much in use. Marginalisation of dissenting is followed by its criminalisation: Turkey once had a flourishing free press but now any criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or words or actions of which he disapproves can be labelled as “terrorism” and punished accordingly.

There is much tut-tutting in Britain by the commentariat about the spread of authoritarianism in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but less so about the growing limitation on what can be freely expressed at home. Increasingly, anything less than full endorsement of the government line about the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury or the suspected gas attack on civilians in Douma in Syria is characterised as support for Putin or Assad.

A telling instance of this new authoritarianism is the denunciations of a party of Christian clergy and peers who have been visiting Syria to meet church dignitaries and government officials. This is an understandable mission for concerned British Christians because Christians in Syria can do with all the solidarity they can get as they are forced to flee or are kidnapped or murdered by Isis, al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. Like many Syrians, they see their choice as not being between good and bad but between bad and worse. They generally prefer survival under Assad to likely extinction under his enemies.Visiting embattled members of the depleted Christian community in Syria is a good thing to do. And, yes, it could be said that the presence of British Christians in Damascus is very marginally helpful to Assad, in much the same way that Peter Arnett’s truthful report on the baby milk in Abu Ghraib must have pleased Saddam Hussein. The Foreign Office said the Christians’ visit was “not helpful” but then helping the British state should not be their prime concern.

None of the arguments currently being used in Britain and the US to smear those sceptical of the governmental and media consensus are new. The Bolsheviks used to denounce people who said or did things they did not like as “objectively” being fascists or counter-revolutionaries. When those being denounced, often only a preliminary to being shot, replied that they were no such thing, the Bolsheviks would reply: “tell us who supports you and we will tell you who you are”. In other words, the only thing that matters is what side you are on.

 

Another Dodgy British Dossier: the Skripal Case

April 21, 2018

by Gareth Porter

Consortium News

The British government shared what was supposedly a dossier containing sensitive intelligence to convince allies and EU member states to support its accusation of Russian culpability in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, England on March 4.

But like the infamous 2003 “dodgy dossier” prepared at the direction of Prime Minister Tony Blair to justify British involvement in the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the intelligence dossier on the Salisbury poisoning turns out to have been based on politically-motivated speculation rather than actual intelligence

British officials used the hastily assembled “intelligence” briefing to brief the North Atlantic Council on March 15, the European Foreign Affairs Council on March 19 and the European summit meeting in Brussels on March 23.

The Need for Dramatic Claims

When Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson ordered the production of an intelligence dossier to be used to convince allies and EU member states to join Britain in expelling Russian diplomats, they had a problem: they were unable to declare that nerve agent from a Russian military laboratory had been verified as the poison administered to the Skripals. As the well-informed former Ambassador Craig Murray learned from a Foreign and Commonwealth Office source, the British government military laboratory at Porton Down had been put under strong pressure by Johnson to agree that they had confirmed that the poison found in Salisbury had come from a specific Russian laboratory. Instead Porton Down would only agree to the much more ambiguous formula that it was nerve agent “of a type developed in Russia.”

So May and Johnson needed some dramatic claims to buttress their argument to allies and EU member states that the Salisbury poisoning must have been a Russian government assassination attempt.

A letter from British national security adviser Mark Sedwill to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg released publicly on April 13, refers to two key claims in the dossier of a Russian program to research ways of delivering nerve agent, including smearing it on door handles, and Russian production and stockpiling of nerve agent during the past decade.

But closer analysis of these claims, based in part on information provided by official British sources to the press, makes it clear that the government did not have any concrete “intelligence” to support those Government claims in the intelligence brief.

The Door Knob Claim

The Sedwill letter referred to a Russian “investigation of ways of delivering nerve agent, including by application to door handles” as being part of a broader alleged Russian government program of chemical weapons research and military training.”  The letter was obviously implying that it had some secret intelligence on which to base the charge, and some in the British press pitched in to support the claim.

The first paragraph of the The Guardian story on the intelligence dossier said, “Russia had tested whether door handles could be used to deliver nerve agent,” attributing the information to “previously classified intelligence over the Salisbury attack made public Friday.”

In another story about the evidence on the Salisbury poisoning, however, The Guardian, apparently reflecting its understanding of what government officials had conveyed, wrote, “Such an audacious attack could have been carried out only by trained professionals familiar with chemical weapons.” That statement hinted that the alleged Russian “investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents, including by application to door handles” was actually a speculative inference rather than a fact established by hard evidence.

A report in the Daily Mirror, evidently intended to support the government line, actually showed quite clearly that what was being presented as intelligence on alleged Russian research on delivering nerve agent via a door handle was in fact nothing of the sort. It quoted a “security source” as explaining how that claim in the intelligence paper was linked to the belief of counter-terrorism investigators that the Skripals first came in contact with nerve agent on the handle of Skripals’ front door.

“The door handle thing is big,” the unnamed source told the Mirror. “It amounts to Russia’s tradecraft manual on applying poisons to door handles. It’s the smoking gun.” The source was not saying that British intelligence had firsthand information about a Russian tradecraft manual; it was suggesting that one could somehow deduce from the assumed application of nerve agent to the door handle of the Skripal house that this was a sign of Russian intelligence tradecraft.

The source then appeared to confirm explicitly that this inference was the basis of the specific claim in the intelligence brief, commenting, “It is strong proof Russia has in the last 10 years researched methods to administer poisons, including by using door handles.”

The Murder that Contradicts the Dossier

The idea that only intelligence operatives with formal training could have applied nerve agent to a door handle was not based on objective analysis. MI6, the British foreign intelligence service, knows very well that a 1995 murder committed in Moscow with a nerve agent developed by Soviet-era scientists was carried out by a private individual, not a government intelligence unit.

Court documents in the 1995 murder of banker Ivan Kivelidi, reported by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, show that in 1994 a Russian criminal syndicate had acquired Novichok nerve agent, which had been synthesized by Soviet scientists, and that it was used the following year to kill Kivelidi and his secretary by applying some of the nerve agent on his telephone receiver.

Boris Kuznetsov, a dissident Russian lawyer involved in the Kivelidi murder case, who fled Russia in 2007 with copies of all the relevant documents, turned them over to the British government after the Skripal poisoning. The knowledge of that episode would account for Prime Minister May’s otherwise surprising acknowledgement on March 12 of the possibility that the poisoning might not have been a Russian government action but the consequence of the Russian government allowing nerve agent to “get into the hands of others”.

An Ongoing Russian Novichok Program?

The Sedwill letter made another sweeping claim of covert Russian production of the line of nerve agent that had been dubbed Novichok. “Within the last decade,” it said, “Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichok under the same programme.” If true, that would have been major evidence bearing on the Skripal poisoning, since such a program would be both covert and illegal under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

But neither the Sedwill letter nor any other statement from the British government has referred to the possession of any evidence for that claim, even in the most generic way. In fact, Prime Minister May said merely that Russia “had previously produced Novichoks and would still be able to do so”.

In contrast to its silence about any kind of information supporting its claim of Russian production and stockpiling of Novichok program in the past decade, the Sedwill letter cited “a combination of credible open-source reporting and intelligence” on the existence of the Russian program that developed the Novichok line of nerve agents in the 1970s and 1980s.

If the UK possessed actual evidence of such a Russian nerve agent program at Shikhany, the former military chemical weapons facility, it presumably would have informed the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of the fact and presented its evidence to the 41-member Executive Council, the governing body of the organization. It clearly has not done so, and it has not suggested that it was prevented from doing so by the fear of compromising an intelligence source within the Russian government.

The British government could also demand a “challenge inspection” at the facility. Any member of the Chemical Weapons Convention can call for an immediate inspection, and Russia would have had no option but to permit it. But it has not done so, signifying that it does not have the information necessary to identify the location of the alleged production and stockpiling of such a weapon, nor does it have the name of anyone who has worked on such a project.

Suspect Intercepted Russian Communications

Another claim in the British “intelligence” dossier is an intercepted Russian communication that allegedly supports the Russian nerve gas operation accusation.

The tabloid Express reported its sources saying such an intercept had been “a key part of Britain’s intelligence evidence.” The sources revealed that on March 4, a message from Damascus to Moscow intercepted by a listening post in Southern Cyprus contained the words, “The package has been delivered.” And the same message was said to have reported that two named individuals had “made a successful egress” – meaning that they had left.

But without knowing the context in which either statement was made, such quotes are meaningless. And one must ask how often something like those exact words would be communicated to Moscow from a diplomatic or military outpost somewhere in the world every single day. Furthermore, the second message to which the dossier is said to have referred actually revealed the names of the two men who had departed, so it clearly had nothing to do with a covert operation.

The May government was able to convince 29 other states, including the United States, to take action against Russia by expelling its diplomats, representing a deliberate step toward higher tensions with Moscow. But the intelligence dossier it deployed in that effort, as reflected in the Sedwill letter and media reporting, was far from being the kind of information one might expect to provoke such a major diplomatic move. It was instead, like the original 2003 “dodgy dossier” on WMD in Saddam’s Iraq, essentially a collection of misleading claims based on politically-skewed logic.

 

 

Korean Summit: It’s Not About Us

But that won’t stop Trump for taking credit for it

April 23, 2018

by Justin Raimondo

AntiWar

Yesterday they told us that President Trump was intent on war – he was about to invade Korea¸ unleash “fire and fury,” and millions would die.

Today many of these very same people are telling us that President Trump has been “snookered” by the wily Kim Jong-un, who doesn’t really mean all the pre-summit concessions he’s already made quite publicly. Trump, they say, is about to give away the farm to the North Koreans without getting anything in return.

The only constant note emitted by the Trump-hating chattering classes is their obsessive focus on That Man in the White House. Yet this development actually has little to do with Trump, at least in its origins: indeed, it’s not about us. The Korean summit came out of the election victory of President Moon Jai-in, whose signature campaign issue was reintroduction of the late lamented “Sunshine” policy of rapprochement with the North.

Moon and Kim will meet this week in a preliminary summit leading up to the supposedly bigger event, the Trump-Kim super-summit. Or so the conventional wisdom would have it: after all, isn’t everything in the world really about us?

Well, no, but you’ll have a hard time telling the pundits and policy wonks that. They don’t realize that the real summit is taking place this week in Korea, as the two leaders form a united front against Washington’s War Party – hoping to enlist Trump on their side.

As for the President, he’s optimistic but rightly says “we’ll see if it works out,” even as he lists the concessions already made by the North, which include:

  • A commitment to complete denuclearization
  • A pledge to end nuclear testing
  • A pledge to end ICBM tests.
  • A statement dropping their longtime demand for the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea.

Significantly, the office of President Moon and the North Koreans have jointly declared their intention to formally end the Korean war, presumably by signing a peace treaty, replacing the current armistice.

Prediction: Trump will make a big show of accepting it, and implicitly taking credit for it. But, hey, the Koreans don’t care who gets the credit, nor do they care about the vagaries of American politics except as they affect the ability of the Korean nation to reunite and recover from their national trauma.

And while the Koreans are the prime movers of the “Sunshine Policy II” initiative, the thaw would have been impossible if not for the enthusiastic endorsement of President Trump. The Koreans would not go to the Trump-Kim summit with a peace treaty without assurances that it would be welcomed by the White House. I think Mike Pompeo’s recent secret trip to North Korea may have something to do with that.

The level of analysis we get from the insta-“experts” on television is a cartoonish rendition of the grim reality of North Korea, made without reference to the historical context in which that impossible creature, a hereditary communist monarchy, was born.

Every single building in North Korea was bombed during the Korean war: the entire country was leveled to the ground. Twenty percent of the population perished. Out of this blasted landscape came the mutant form of communism practiced by the regime since the ascension of Founder-Leader Kim Il-sung, the guerrilla leader who rose to the top of the heap in the wake of the armistice. In rising to power, he had to fight off attempts by pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese factions to displace him, and this internal fight led to the development of North Korea’s unique adaptation of “Marxism-Leninism”: “Juche,” or national self-sufficiency. It is a radical extension of the Hermit Kingdom’s historical position of extreme isolationism: complete economic and social autarchy.

All this developed in reaction to the nation’s tortured history of colonialism, first under the Japanese boot, followed by civil war, foreign invasion, and division. Yet the body politic eventually heals when the cause of the initial inflammation disappears: despite the poverty of this organic analogy, that is – broadly speaking – what is happening on the Korean peninsula today.

Moon and Kim will declare the Korean war officially over, but in reality it ended on July 27, 1953, when the armistice was signed. The North celebrates that day as “Victory Day,” while here in the US no one would think of hailing that war as anything close to a victory, not even the sweatiest old cold warrior. It was, at best, a draw. And so for close on seven decades the Korean peninsula has been frozen in time, stuck in that Cold War moment when the shooting stopped.

The peace initiative has the support of 75% of the South Korean people, and the reason for this is simple: the original reasons for the North-South divide have been outlived. The foreign patrons who made the establishment of the North Korean regime possible – the Soviet Union and “Red” China – are no more, the former literally and the latter in all but form. The East is no longer red: instead, it is the color of money, as China charges down the “capitalist road” (as the Maoists used to put it) at 100 miles per hour and Russia is simply a bit player in the region. Skeptics billed as “experts” ask: Why would Kim Jong-un, the bad boy mini-Stalin, give up his insurance policy of a nuclear arsenal, at the risk of winding up like Ghadafi?

To begin with, the Koreans are not the Libyans. The two scenarios are quite different: if any agreement is reached, and Kim lets in the inspectors, the subsequent reunification process will preclude Western intervention. They’d have to take on the South as well as the North: indeed, nothing would hasten the reunification process more than a “regime change” attempt engineered by the Usual Suspects.

The more fundamental reason for the apparent willingness of Kim to make significant concessions is simple economics: the North Korean people cannot eat Juche. Pyongyang’s “military first” policy has drained the nation of its very substance. Strategically, the best hopes for the survival of the North Korean elite is in some kind of settlement. Kim realizes that: so does President Moon. I won’t venture to say what Trump realizes, but his recent tweets – really all we have to go by – are leaning in the same direction.

It is a tripartite consensus that is the exact opposite of the Washington Consensus, the conventional wisdom of the foreign policy “Blob,” which is ideologically and emotionally committed to maintaining the status quo. These mandarins, who previously warned us that Trump would soon be bombing Pyongyang, are now comically and non-ironically declaring that the very fact of holding talks with Kim “legitimizes” the North Korean regime. To which the Korean people, in the South as well as the North, might well reply: Who is doing the legitimizing here?

What legitimized the mutant communism of the Korean Workers Party, as the North Korean ruling party calls itself, was the war against the Japanese occupiers, and the concentration of pro-Japanese collaborators in the anti-communist armies of the South. What drove the Korean nation asunder – a nationalist reaction to foreign intervention – is reuniting it today.

The timing of the twin summits is crucial: the meeting of the Korean leaders on both sides of the divide will forge a peace agreement that Washington will have a hard time even modifying, never mind vetoing. At that point the situation will have moved into the realm of the previously impermissible, i.e. beyond Washington’s control – and this kind of thing is what really enrages our political class.

Remember that the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the impressive collapse of communist rule throughout the Warsaw Pact, were greeted by then President George H. W. Bush with trepidation and outright hostility. The Brexit vote outraged the Davos crowd in the same way and for the same reason: because nothing that major can be outside their control. This is how hubris – the word the ancient Greeks used to describe a tragic conceit often accompanied by lethal consequences – translates into policy: the belief that any initiatives originating outside the Western world are intolerable violations of the “international liberal order.” The Korean peace initiative certainly puts this old saw to the test.

The stakes are high: there’s a lot of money tied up in the South Korean model of America’s relations to its allies and protectorates. Major outlays of US resources, in the form of troops and treasure – in addition to unbalanced trade relationships – are also required in the cases of Japan and Taiwan respectively. These are all costly tripwires that could set off a major conflict in a very short time, and some people make an enormous amount of money keeping them locked and loaded. This include “defense intellectuals” who maintain a high level of income and professional prestige because they are bought and paid for by the narrow economic interests who profit from the system. This is the ultimate source of the “expert” naysayer’s chorus. Part of the fun of this unfolding drama is watching the complete humiliation of these nattering nabobs of negativity (sorry, Spiro!) as peace breaks out despite their howls of protest.

The Korean summits threaten the basic architecture of the post-WWII American empire: costly bases, large troop concentrations, essentially a full-scale military occupation. This set-up requires huge outlays of tax dollars, and that’s just in direct costs: in short, there’s a huge trough at which plenty of federal contractors feed. If the need for US bases in South Korea disappears, then what about Okinawa, that perpetual source of tension with Japan? If they can close bases in northern Asia, then why not in Europe? After all, are the tens of thousands of US troops in Germany really guarding against the possibility of a Russian invasion?

So Trump is really chiseling away at the foundation stone of our “empire of bases,” as I think Chalmers Johnson dubbed America’s overseas presence. In doing so he is taking on some mighty powerful economic interests. A lot of money is at stake here. More importantly, a principle is at stake here, and that is the persistent belief on the part of our political class that they are called on by a God they don’t believe in to direct the affairs of the world. No matter how many times it is debunked, this conceit returns to haunt us on the op ed pages of the nation’s newspapers and on the airwaves ruled by the cable news shouters. Can Trump, that Samson in the Temple of the Conventional Wisdom, be the one to bring that pillar of empire down?

Stranger things have happened, starting with Trump’s election victory.

 

Trump’s Pompeo rant: President tweets frustration at ‘obstructionist Democrats’

April 23, 2018

RT

President Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to vent his objections to the possibility that Democrats will prevent Mike Pompeo from being approved as secretary of state in the Senate.

“Hard to believe Obstructionists May vote against Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State,”  Trump wrote on Twitter. “The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people, including the Ambassador to Germany. They are maxing out the time on approval process for all, never happened before. Need more Republicans!”

Pompeo was CIA director before being picked by Trump to replace Rex Tillerson as the country’s top diplomat in March. His appointment has been met with opposition from those who point to Pompeo’s hawkish, anti-Muslim stances, along with his defense of torture and climate change denial.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on recommending Pompeo on Monday, and may not have enough votes to do so as all 10 Democrats and Republican Rand Paul don’t want him in the position. The rest of the Senate is expected to have their say on his appointment even if the committee doesn’t recommend him.

The former Tea Party-aligned Kansas congressman holds an anti-Iran stance and agrees with Trump that the Iran nuclear deal is “disastrous.” He is an outspoken critic of Russia, along with WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

As a supporter of an increased surveillance state, Pompeo has called for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to be given the death penalty. Pompeo received $375,000 in donations from conservative super-donors Charles G. and David H. Koch during his six years in Congress.

Trump’s comments about the German ambassador refer to former UN spokesman Ric Grenell, who, despite being voted by the committee for approval, has had his confirmation in the senate delayed by Democrats for months. Democrats are accused of deliberating using a Senate procedure stating 30 hours of debate should be given to each nominee before voting in order to block Trump nominees.

 

How the Internet Conquered the Right, Killed the Tea Party, and Elected Donald Trump

Online, violating expectations for laughs is almost a foundational principle. So why not an about-face on spending? If it goes viral, go with it.

March 19, 2018

by James Poulos

The Daily Beast

Here’s a glaring sign of the turbulence of our political times: No sooner has the Tea Party been pronounced dead than we’re hearing of liberal or progressive Tea Parties on the rise. Fearing his primary challenger is setting a trend, Rep. Dan Lipinski, (D-IL), now warns of a “tea party of the left.” At least one movement analyst proclaims the arrival of a new “tea party of the pragmatic center-left.”

Democrats may take inspiration from the idea that the conservative Tea Party died a particularly ideological death, obsolesced by a pendulum swing in popular opinion toward Trumpian deficit spending on the right and social justice on the left. But if the relatively sudden extinction of the Don’t-Tread-On-Me brigades has a deeper, more serious root, political faith in a follow-on grassroots lurch leftward may be misplaced.

And, as it turns out, there’s reason to believe that the Tea Party fizzled out because it fell victim to the same inexorable force that’s plowing under so many institutions large and small: the internet.

Or, to be more precise, the logic and structure of online discourse. The biggest difference between Republican politics during the Tea Party era and Republican politics today isn’t ideological—although, to be sure, the difference is serious. Even more important is the vast conceptual and practical gulf that separates the very offline Tea Party routine of town halls and meetups from the very online movement that—with slight exaggeration—memed Donald Trump into the White House.

Yes, there were serious post-election efforts to take the Trump movement from social media to the town square. But these plans went terribly, predictably awry, hurting the movement and going viral only in the way of an epic self-own. And as for the mid-election rallies Trump himself loved so much, they took their cues more from the so-called fever swamps of online than they did from the old-fashioned constitutionalist cosplay of the citizen activists who defined the Tea Party.

Still, Democrats have largely convinced themselves that the Tea Party, like the Trump movement, was just a handy vehicle for channeling and organizing simple bigotry. Whether in a Washington wig or a Pepe mask, hate is hate, they might say. The recent Republican retreat from deficit hawkery seemed to ram that point home: When a black president busts the budget, he’s imperiling the Republic, but when an orange president does it, #MAGA!

This account, whatever its lures, misses out on some of what distinguishes a more technological and communications-driven approach. From that standpoint, the key to the Tea Party is that—from Day One, during Rick Santelli’s infamous rant—the movement was thoroughly TV-driven. Although it attracted some online involvement from people who’d go on to fuel the Trump-era digital right wing, the Tea Party didn’t spread like a meme or frustrate counterattack like trolls do because it wasn’t a digital beast. It played by pre-digital rules for pre-digital ends, like better citizenship, better representatives, and better policymaking.

Then the internet took over on the right. It unearthed and organized a new generation—one that didn’t want to use established means to right the wrongs of a systemic crisis. For the new online right, the goal was nearly the opposite: to infect the system and heighten the crisis, forcing the system to replicate behavior the system didn’t want to.

And, to the shock of TV people everywhere, it worked. But the TV-culture view of the digital right is still dangerously wrong. True, the new online right of the Trump era doesn’t care about balanced budgets. True, that’s because it rejects the politics of “responsibility” altogether. But why? Because if you’re on the right and you’re immersed in digital life, the way you approach politics as a whole has been, let’s say, “digitized.”

Online life doesn’t habituate us to transparency and responsibility in financial matters. What it does counsel is that everything continuously expands and can’t be corralled. It teaches that no one entity can encompass the whole. So why would the budget be any different? Online, violating expectations for laughs is almost a foundational principle. So why not an about-face on spending? If it goes viral, go with it. Chances are, you’ll have the momentum and the command of attention it takes to prevail in the aftermath.

For Democrats and Republicans alike, it’s worth carefully considering that the Tea Party is toast because the new right is digitally native, inspired, and organized by a definitive extent to the thought patterns of online life. Because if that experience can rip apart and reconfigure one major party, there’s no reason it can’t do the same to the other. Instead of a mirror-image Tea Party anywhere on the left of center, prognosticators should watch for the rise of an outsize new political force ready to triumph through its mastery of digital life.

 

Anti-Muslim hate crime on the rise in Donald Trump’s US – report

A report has attributed a rise in hate crimes against Muslims in the US partly to the policies and rhetoric of US President Donald Trump. The 2017 rise is lower than the 44 percent spike the previous year, but worrisome.

April 23, 2018

DW

A study published on Monday by advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) revealed 300 recorded cases of hate crimes against Muslims in 2017, a rise of 15 percent.

This is the second consecutive year of increases, according to the the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, which blamed the jump in part to the policies and language used by US President Donald Trump towards Muslims living in or visiting the US.

What the report found:

The 300 recorded anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2017 were up from 260 in 2016.

Last year’s report recorded a 44 percent annual increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2016.

There were 2,599 incidents of anti-Muslim bias in 2017, up 17 percent from 2016.

CAIR’s lawyers investigated 5,650 reported anti-Muslim incidents and found that just under half were authentic.

Over a third of the incidents involved federal agencies.

Unprecedented

“This represents an almost unprecedented level of government hostility toward a religious minority within the US,” the report said.

“There has been nothing like this ever, for the Muslim community to be regularly the punching bag of the president of the US,” said Gadeir Abbas, an attorney with CAIR.

“Not only have anti-Muslim bias incidents continued to increase, but a greater percentage of these instances have been violent in nature, targeting American children, youth and families who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.

“This administration’s targeting of the American Muslim community and of other minority communities is very clear and should shock the conscience of all Americans,” Awad said.

He said the report’s findings are an indictment of the “Trump administration’s unconstitutional policies.”

White House spokeswoman Kelly Love said, “The Trump Administration stands for the rule of law and abhors all forms of lawlessness including hate crimes.”

“President Trump has repeatedly condemned violence, racism and hate groups,” Abbas said.

Hate to say so

What is a hate crime? Recorded hate crimes ranged from the June beating of a Muslim man in the Bronx borough of New York by attackers calling him a terrorist to a November incident when a restaurant owned by a Muslim family was burned down in Kansas.

What is anti-Muslim bias? This included harassment, employment discrimination and Muslims subjected to what CAIR recorded as biased treatment by government agencies.

US authorities to blame: Incidents in which the complainant was inappropriately targeted by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), made up 13 percent of cases of bias. Cases in which the FBI harassed or inappropriately targeted the complainant, made up 10 percent.

Lower than FBI figures: The FBI recorded 307 hate crimes targeting Muslims in 2016.

 

Palantir Knows Everything About You

Peter Thiel’s data-mining company is using War on Terror tools to track American citizens. The scary thing? Palantir is desperate for new customers.

April 19, 2018

by Peter Waldman, Lizette Chapman, and Jordan Robertson

Bloomberg

High above the Hudson River in downtown Jersey City, a former U.S. Secret Service agent named Peter Cavicchia III ran special ops for JPMorgan Chase & Co. His insider threat group—most large financial institutions have one—used computer algorithms to monitor the bank’s employees, ostensibly to protect against perfidious traders and other miscreants.

Aided by as many as 120 “forward-deployed engineers” from the data mining company Palantir Technologies Inc., which JPMorgan engaged in 2009, Cavicchia’s group vacuumed up emails and browser histories, GPS locations from company-issued smartphones, printer and download activity, and transcripts of digitally recorded phone conversations. Palantir’s software aggregated, searched, sorted, and analyzed these records, surfacing keywords and patterns of behavior that Cavicchia’s team had flagged for potential abuse of corporate assets. Palantir’s algorithm, for example, alerted the insider threat team when an employee started badging into work later than usual, a sign of potential disgruntlement. That would trigger further scrutiny and possibly physical surveillance after hours by bank security personnel.

Over time, however, Cavicchia himself went rogue. Former JPMorgan colleagues describe the environment as Wall Street meets Apocalypse Now, with Cavicchia as Colonel Kurtz, ensconced upriver in his office suite eight floors above the rest of the bank’s security team. People in the department were shocked that no one from the bank or Palantir set any real limits. They darkly joked that Cavicchia was listening to their calls, reading their emails, watching them come and go. Some planted fake information in their communications to see if Cavicchia would mention it at meetings, which he did.

It all ended when the bank’s senior executives learned that they, too, were being watched, and what began as a promising marriage of masters of big data and global finance descended into a spying scandal. The misadventure, which has never been reported, also marked an ominous turn for Palantir, one of the most richly valued startups in Silicon Valley. An intelligence platform designed for the global War on Terror was weaponized against ordinary Americans at home.

Founded in 2004 by Peter Thiel and some fellow PayPal alumni, Palantir cut its teeth working for the Pentagon and the CIA in Afghanistan and Iraq. The company’s engineers and products don’t do any spying themselves; they’re more like a spy’s brain, collecting and analyzing information that’s fed in from the hands, eyes, nose, and ears. The software combs through disparate data sources—financial documents, airline reservations, cellphone records, social media postings—and searches for connections that human analysts might miss. It then presents the linkages in colorful, easy-to-interpret graphics that look like spider webs. U.S. spies and special forces loved it immediately; they deployed Palantir to synthesize and sort the blizzard of battlefield intelligence. It helped planners avoid roadside bombs, track insurgents for assassination, even hunt down Osama bin Laden. The military success led to federal contracts on the civilian side. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses Palantir to detect Medicare fraud. The FBI uses it in criminal probes. The Department of Homeland Security deploys it to screen air travelers and keep tabs on immigrants.

Police and sheriff’s departments in New York, New Orleans, Chicago, and Los Angeles have also used it, frequently ensnaring in the digital dragnet people who aren’t suspected of committing any crime. People and objects pop up on the Palantir screen inside boxes connected to other boxes by radiating lines labeled with the relationship: “Colleague of,” “Lives with,” “Operator of [cell number],” “Owner of [vehicle],” “Sibling of,” even “Lover of.” If the authorities have a picture, the rest is easy. Tapping databases of driver’s license and ID photos, law enforcement agencies can now identify more than half the population of U.S. adults.

JPMorgan was effectively Palantir’s R&D lab and test bed for a foray into the financial sector, via a product called Metropolis. The two companies made an odd couple. Palantir’s software engineers showed up at the bank on skateboards. Neckties and haircuts were too much to ask, but JPMorgan drew the line at T-shirts. The programmers had to agree to wear shirts with collars, tucked in when possible.

As Metropolis was installed and refined, JPMorgan made an equity investment in Palantir and inducted the company into its Hall of Innovation, while its executives raved about Palantir in the press. The software turned “data landfills into gold mines,” Guy Chiarello, who was then JPMorgan’s chief information officer, told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2011.

Cavicchia was in charge of forensic investigations at the bank. Through Palantir, he gained administrative access to a full range of corporate security databases that had previously required separate authorizations and a specific business justification to use. He had unprecedented access to everything, all at once, all the time, on one analytic platform. He was a one-man National Security Agency, surrounded by the Palantir engineers, each one costing the bank as much as $3,000 a day.

Senior investigators stumbled onto the full extent of the spying by accident. In May 2013 the bank’s leadership ordered an internal probe into who had leaked a document to the New York Times about a federal investigation of JPMorgan for possibly manipulating U.S. electricity markets. Evidence indicated the leaker could have been Frank Bisignano, who’d recently resigned as JPMorgan’s co-chief operating officer to become CEO of First Data Corp., the big payments processor. Cavicchia had used Metropolis to gain access to emails about the leak investigation—some written by top executives—and the bank believed he shared the contents of those emails and other communications with Bisignano after Bisignano had left the bank. (Inside JPMorgan, Bisignano was considered Cavicchia’s patron—a senior executive who protected and promoted him.)

JPMorgan officials debated whether to file a suspicious activity report with federal regulators about the internal security breach, as required by law whenever banks suspect regulatory violations. They decided not to—a controversial decision internally, according to multiple sources with the bank. Cavicchia negotiated a severance agreement and was forced to resign. He joined Bisignano at First Data, where he’s now a senior vice president. Chiarello also went to First Data, as president. After their departures, JPMorgan drastically curtailed its Palantir use, in part because “it never lived up to its promised potential,” says one JPMorgan executive who insisted on anonymity to discuss the decision.

The bank, First Data, and Bisignano, Chiarello, and Cavicchia didn’t respond to separately emailed questions for this article. Palantir, in a statement responding to questions about how JPMorgan and others have used its software, declined to answer specific questions. “We are aware that powerful technology can be abused and we spend a lot of time and energy making sure our products are used for the forces of good,” the statement said.

Much depends on how the company chooses to define good. In March a former computer engineer for Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm that worked for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, testified in the British Parliament that a Palantir employee had helped Cambridge Analytica use the personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users to develop psychographic profiles of individual voters. Palantir said it has a strict policy against working on political issues, including campaigns, and showed Bloomberg emails in which it turned down Cambridge’s request to work with Palantir on multiple occasions. The employee, Palantir said, worked with Cambridge Analytica on his own time. Still, there was no mistaking the implications of the incident: All human relations are a matter of record, ready to be revealed by a clever algorithm. Everyone is a spidergram now.

Thiel, who turned 50 in October, long reveled as the libertarian black sheep in left-leaning Silicon Valley. He contributed $1.25 million to Trump’s presidential victory, spoke at the Republican convention, and has dined with Trump at the White House. But Thiel has told friends he’s had enough of the Bay Area’s “monocultural” liberalism. He’s ditching his longtime base in San Francisco and moving his personal investment firms this year to Los Angeles, where he plans to establish his next project, a conservative media empire.

As Thiel’s wealth has grown, he’s gotten more strident. In a 2009 essay for the Cato Institute, he railed against taxes, ­government, women, poor people, and society’s acquiescence to the inevitability of death. (Thiel doesn’t accept death as inexorable.) He wrote that he’d reached some radical conclusions: “Most importantly, I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” The 1920s was the last time one could feel “genuinely optimistic” about American democracy, he said; since then, “the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”

Thiel went into tech after missing a prized Supreme Court clerkship following his graduation from Stanford Law School. He co-founded PayPal and then parlayed his winnings from its 2002 sale to EBay Inc. into a career in venture investing. He made an early bet on Facebook Inc. (where he’s still on the board), which accounts for most of his $3.3 billion fortune, as estimated by Bloomberg, and launched his career as a backer of big ideas—things like private space travel (through an investment in SpaceX), hotel alternatives (Airbnb), and floating island nations (the Seasteading Institute).

He started Palantir—named after the omniscient crystal balls in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy—three years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The CIA’s investment arm, In-Q-Tel, was a seed investor. For the role of chief executive officer, he chose an old law school friend and self-described neo-Marxist, Alex Karp. Thiel told Bloomberg in 2011 that civil libertarians ought to embrace Palantir, because data mining is less repressive than the “crazy abuses and draconian policies” proposed after Sept. 11. The best way to prevent another catastrophic attack without becoming a police state, he argued, was to give the government the best surveillance tools possible, while building in safeguards against their abuse.

Legend has it that Stephen Cohen, one of Thiel’s co-founders, programmed the initial prototype for Palantir’s software in two weeks. It took years, however, to coax customers away from the longtime leader in the intelligence analytics market, a software company called I2 Inc.

In one adventure missing from the glowing accounts of Palantir’s early rise, I2 accused Palantir of misappropriating its intellectual property through a Florida shell company registered to the family of a Palantir executive. A company claiming to be a private eye firm had been licensing I2 software and development tools and spiriting them to Palantir for more than four years. I2 said the cutout was registered to the family of Shyam Sankar, Palantir’s director of business development.As shown in the privacy breaches atFacebook and Cambridge Analytica, the pressure to monetize data at tech companies is ceaseless

I2 sued Palantir in federal court, alleging fraud, conspiracy, and copyright infringement. In its legal response, Palantir argued it had the right to appropriate I2’s code for the greater good. “What’s at stake here is the ability of critical national security, defense and intelligence agencies to access their own data and use it interoperably in whichever platform they choose in order to most effectively protect the citizenry,” Palantir said in its motion to dismiss I2’s suit.

The motion was denied. Palantir agreed to pay I2 about $10 million to settle the suit. I2 was sold to IBM in 2011.

Sankar, Palantir employee No. 13 and now one of the company’s top executives, also showed up in another Palantir scandal: the company’s 2010 proposal for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to run a secret sabotage campaign against the group’s liberal opponents. Hacked emails released by the group Anonymous indicated that Palantir and two other defense contractors pitched outside lawyers for the organization on a plan to snoop on the families of progressive activists, create fake identities to infiltrate left-leaning groups, scrape social media with bots, and plant false information with liberal groups to subsequently discredit them.

After the emails emerged in the press, Palantir offered an explanation similar to the one it provided in March for its U.K.-based employee’s assistance to Cambridge Analytica: It was the work of a single rogue employee. The company never explained Sankar’s involvement. Karp issued a public apology and said he and Palantir were deeply committed to progressive causes. Palantir set up an advisory panel on privacy and civil liberties, headed by a former CIA attorney, and beefed up an engineering group it calls the Privacy and Civil Liberties Team. The company now has about 10 PCL engineers on call to help vet clients’ requests for access to data troves and pitch in with pertinent thoughts about law, morality, and machines.

During its 14 years in startup mode, Palantir has cultivated a mystique as a haven for brilliant engineers who want to solve big problems such as terrorism and human trafficking, unfettered by pedestrian concerns such as making money. Palantir executives boast of not employing a single sales­person, relying instead on word-of-mouth referrals.

The company’s early data mining dazzled venture investors, who valued it at $20 billion in 2015. But Palantir has never reported a profit. It operates less like a conventional software company than like a consultancy, deploying roughly half its 2,000 engineers to client sites. That works at well-funded government spy agencies seeking specialized applications but has produced mixed results with corporate clients. Palantir’s high installation and maintenance costs repelled customers such as Hershey Co., which trumpeted a Palantir partnership in 2015 only to walk away two years later. Coca-Cola, Nasdaq, American Express, and Home Depot have also dumped Palantir.

Karp recognized the high-touch model was problematic early in the company’s push into the corporate market, but solutions have been elusive. “We didn’t want to be a services company. We wanted to do something that was cost-efficient,” he confessed at a European conference in 2010, in one of several unguarded comments captured in videos posted online. “Of course, what we didn’t recognize was that this would be much, much harder than we realized.”

Palantir’s newest product, Foundry, aims to finally break through the profitability barrier with more automation and less need for on-site engineers. Airbus SE, the big European plane maker, uses Foundry to crunch airline data about specific onboard components to track usage and maintenance and anticipate repair problems. Merck KGaA, the pharmaceutical giant, has a long-term Palantir contract to use Foundry in drug development and supply chain management.

Deeper adoption of Foundry in the commercial market is crucial to Palantir’s hopes of a big payday. Some investors are weary and have already written down their Palantir stakes. Morgan Stanley now values the company at $6 billion. Fred Alger Management Inc., which has owned stock since at least 2006, revalued Palantir in December at about $10 billion, according to Bloomberg Holdings. One frustrated investor, Marc Abramowitz, recently won a court order for Palantir to show him its books, as part of a lawsuit he filed alleging the company sabotaged his attempt to find a buyer for the Palantir shares he has owned for more than a decade.

As shown in the privacy breaches at Facebook and Cambridge Analytica—with Thiel and Palantir linked to both sides of the equation—the pressure to monetize data at tech companies is ceaseless. Facebook didn’t grow from a website connecting college kids into a purveyor of user profiles and predilections worth $478 billion by walling off personal data. Palantir says its Privacy and Civil Liberties Team watches out for inappropriate data demands, but it consists of just 10 people in a company of 2,000 engineers. No one said no to JPMorgan, or to whomever at Palantir volunteered to help Cambridge Analytica—or to another organization keenly interested in state-of-the-art data science, the Los Angeles Police Department.

Palantir began work with the LAPD in 2009. The impetus was federal funding. After several Sept. 11 postmortems called for more intelligence sharing at all levels of law enforcement, money started flowing to Palantir to help build data integration systems for so-called fusion centers, starting in L.A. There are now more than 1,300 trained Palantir users at more than a half-dozen law enforcement agencies in Southern California, including local police and sheriff’s departments and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The LAPD uses Palantir’s Gotham product for Operation Laser, a program to identify and deter people likely to commit crimes. Information from rap sheets, parole reports, police interviews, and other sources is fed into the system to generate a list of people the department defines as chronic offenders, says Craig Uchida, whose consulting firm, Justice & Security Strategies Inc., designed the Laser system. The list is distributed to patrolmen, with orders to monitor and stop the pre-crime suspects as often as possible, using excuses such as jaywalking or fix-it tickets. At each contact, officers fill out a field interview card with names, addresses, vehicles, physical descriptions, any neighborhood intelligence the person offers, and the officer’s own observations on the subject.

The cards are digitized in the Palantir system, adding to a constantly expanding surveillance database that’s fully accessible without a warrant. Tomorrow’s data points are automatically linked to today’s, with the goal of generating investigative leads. Say a chronic offender is tagged as a passenger in a car that’s pulled over for a broken taillight. Two years later, that same car is spotted by an automatic license plate reader near a crime scene 200 miles across the state. As soon as the plate hits the system, Palantir alerts the officer who made the original stop that a car once linked to the chronic offender was spotted near a crime scene.

The platform is supplemented with what sociologist Sarah Brayne calls the secondary surveillance network: the web of who is related to, friends with, or sleeping with whom. One woman in the system, for example, who wasn’t suspected of committing any crime, was identified as having multiple boyfriends within the same network of associates, says Brayne, who spent two and a half years embedded with the LAPD while researching her dissertation on big-data policing at Princeton University and who’s now an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Anybody who logs into the system can see all these intimate ties,” she says. To widen the scope of possible connections, she adds, the LAPD has also explored purchasing private data, including social media, foreclosure, and toll road information, camera feeds from hospitals, parking lots, and universities, and delivery information from Papa John’s International Inc. and Pizza Hut LLC.

The LAPD declined to comment for this story. Palantir sent Bloomberg a statement about its work with law enforcement: “Our [forward-deployed engineers] and [privacy and civil liberties] engineers work with the law enforcement customers (including LAPD) to ensure that the implementation of our software and integration of their source systems with the software is consistent with the Department’s legal and policy obligations, as well as privacy and civil liberties considerations that may not currently be legislated but are on the horizon. We as a company determine the types of engagements and general applications of our software with respect to those overarching considerations. Police Agencies have internal responsibility for ensuring that their information systems are used in a manner consistent with their policies and procedures.”

Operation Laser has made L.A. cops more surgical—and, according to community activists, unrelenting. Once targets are enmeshed in a spidergram, they’re stuck.

Manuel Rios, 22, lives in the back of his grandmother’s house at the top of a hill in East L.A., in the heart of the city’s gang area. Tall with a fair complexion and light hair, he struggled in high school with depression and a learning disability and dropped out to work at a supermarket.

He grew up surrounded by friends who joined Eastside 18, the local affiliate of the 18th Street gang, one of the largest criminal syndicates in Southern California. Rios says he was never “jumped in”—initiated into 18. He spent years addicted to crystal meth and was once arrested for possession of a handgun and sentenced to probation. But except for a stint in county jail for a burglary arrest inside a city rec center, he’s avoided further trouble and says he kicked his meth habit last year.

In 2016, Rios was sitting in a parked car with an Eastside 18 friend when a police car pulled up. His buddy ran, pursued by the cops, but Rios stayed put. “Why should I run? I’m not a gang member,” he says over steak and eggs at the IHOP near his home. The police returned and handcuffed him. One of them took his picture with a cellphone. “Welcome to the gang database!” the officer said.

Since then he’s been stopped more than a dozen times, he says, and told that if he doesn’t like it he should move. He has nowhere to go. His girlfriend just had a baby girl, and he wants to be around for them. “They say you’re in the system, you can’t lie to us,” he says. “I tell them, ‘How can I be in the hood if I haven’t got jumped in? Can’t you guys tell people who bang and who don’t?’ They go by their facts, not the real facts.”

The police, on autopilot with Palantir, are driving Rios toward his gang friends, not away from them, worries Mariella Saba, a neighbor and community organizer who helped him get off meth. When whole communities like East L.A. are algorithmically scraped for pre-crime suspects, data is destiny, says Saba. “These are systemic processes. When people are constantly harassed in a gang context, it pushes them to join. They internalize being told they’re bad.”

In Chicago, at least two immigrants have been detained for deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers based on erroneous information in gang databases, according to a pair of federal lawsuits. Chicago is a sanctuary city, so it isn’t clear how ICE found out about the purported gang affiliations. But Palantir is a likely link. The company provided an “intelligence management solution” for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office to integrate information from at least 14 different databases, including gang lists compiled by state and local police departments, according to county records. Palantir also has a $41 million data mining contract with ICE to build the agency’s “investigative case management” system.

One of the detained men, Wilmer Catalan-Ramirez, a 31-year-old body shop mechanic, was seriously injured when six ICE agents burst into his family’s home last March without a warrant. He’d been listed in the local gang database twice—in rival gangs. Catalan-Ramirez spent the next nine months in federal detention, until the city of Chicago admitted both listings were wrong and agreed to petition the feds to let him stay in the U.S. ICE released him in January, pending a new visa application. “These cases are perfect examples of how databases filled with unverified information that is often false can destroy people’s lives,” says his attorney, Vanessa del Valle of Northwestern University’s MacArthur Justice Center.When whole communities are algorithmically scraped for pre-crime suspects, data is destiny

Palantir is twice the age most startups are when they cash out in a sale or initial public offering. The company needs to figure out how to be rewarded on Wall Street without creeping out Main Street. It might not be possible. For all of Palantir’s professed concern for individuals’ privacy, the single most important safeguard against abuse is the one it’s trying desperately to reduce through automation: human judgment.

As Palantir tries to court corporate customers as a more conventional software company, fewer forward-deployed engineers will mean fewer human decisions. Sensitive questions, such as how deeply to pry into people’s lives, will be answered increasingly by artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms. The small team of Privacy and Civil Liberties engineers could find themselves even less influential, as the urge for omnipotence among clients overwhelms any self-imposed restraints.

Computers don’t ask moral questions; people do, says John Grant, one of Palantir’s top PCL engineers and a forceful advocate for mandatory ethics education for engineers. “At a company like ours with millions of lines of code, every tiny decision could have huge implications,” Grant told a privacy conference in Berkeley last year.

JPMorgan’s experience remains instructive. “The world changed when it became clear everyone could be targeted using Palantir,” says a former JPMorgan cyber expert who worked with Cavicchia at one point on the insider threat team. “Nefarious ideas became trivial to implement; everyone’s a suspect, so we monitored everything. It was a pretty terrible feeling.”

 

 

How the Border Patrol Faked Statistics Showing a 73 Percent Rise in Assaults Against Agents

April 23 2018

by Debbie Nathan

The Intercept

Last November, reports that a pair of U.S. Border Patrol agents had been attacked with rocks at a desolate spot in West Texas made news around the country. The agents were found injured and unconscious at the bottom of a culvert off Interstate 10. Agent Rogelio Martinez soon died from his injuries. Early reports in right-wing media outlets such as Breitbart suggested that the perpetrators were undocumented immigrants, and President Donald Trump quickly embraced the narrative to bolster his campaign for a border wall.

To people familiar with the harsh terrain and the habits of undocumented border crossers, however, the news made little sense. Why would immigrants seeking entry to the U.S. hang out in the middle of nowhere, miles from the border, waiting to randomly attack law enforcement officers?

It was four months before the FBI concluded its investigation and determined that the most likely cause of Martinez’s death was an accidental fall. Meanwhile, media outlets across the political spectrum repeated statistics showing a sharp upward trend in the number of assaults against Border Patrol agents even as the number of undocumented immigrants apprehended while crossing the southern border has dropped.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, assaults on Border Patrol officers increased dramatically in fiscal year 2016, reversing a long downward trend. That year, CBP claims, there were 454 assaults on agents nationwide, compared with 378 in fiscal year 2015, a 20 percent increase. The increase from 2016 to 2017 was even more surprising. In 2017, according to CBP, there were 786 assaults, a spike of 73 percent, even as apprehensions fell from 415,816 to 310,532.

Almost the entire increase — 271 purported assaults — was said to have occurred in one sector, the Rio Grande Valley, in South Texas. A large number of the assaults supposedly occurred on a single day, according to charts and details provided by Christiana Coleman, a CBP public affairs spokesperson. In response to questions from The Intercept, Coleman explained in an email that “an incident in the Rio Grande Valley Sector on February 14, 2017, involved seven U.S. Border Patrol Agents assaulted by six subjects utilizing three different types of projectiles (rocks, bottles, and tree branches), totaling 126 assaults.”

According to conventional law enforcement accounting, this single incident should have been tallied as seven agents assaulted — not seven agents times six perpetrators times three projectiles. Subtracting the seven agents from 126 leaves 119 extra “assaults” that falsely and grossly inflate the data, making it appear to the public that far more agents were assaulted.

Coleman did not respond when later asked if any of the seven agents were injured. According to the FBI, most Border Patrol agents for whom assault data has been publicly reported were not injured. Rocks and water bottles don’t always hit their mark. Or they are never thrown in the first place — for reporting purposes, apparently, the mere brandishing of an object constitutes assault.

In addition to this one instance of clear inflation admitted to The Intercept, data from the Rio Grande Valley indicate 98 additional events in 2017, and several of these also appear to be padded. In almost all other Border Patrol sectors, a review of aggregate statistics for 2017 shows that the average number of assaults per incident is one, or at most two. But in the Rio Grande Valley, the average is about four assaults per incident. In all, the Rio Grande Valley contributed over 300 suspicious-looking “assaults” to CBP’s 2017 database, creating the illusion that agents were suddenly being assailed that year.

According to James Tomsheck, former director of internal affairs at CBP, the agency’s method of counting assaults is highly unusual.

During a phone interview with The Intercept, Tomsheck said law enforcement agencies count the number of people assaulted, not the discrete acts of violence that occur during an incident. And that’s how it was done when he worked at CBP (he left in 2014). “Five rocks [thrown at] an agent would have been considered one assault,” Tomsheck said.

Tomsheck said that during his more than three decades of police work, he has never heard of any law enforcement agency multiplying assaulted officers by the perpetrators and the weapons. When I asked Franklin Zimring, a criminologist at the University of California, Berkeley and author of “When Police Kill,” if he’d ever heard of such a method, he burst out laughing. “No,” he said, laughing again. “I haven’t.”

When asked why CBP started using this irregular method, CBP spokesperson Carlos Diaz emailed The Intercept that “it is the most transparent method of reporting.”

Tomsheck’s recollections and Zimring’s assessment are borne out by years of data kept by the FBI, which compiles an annual national statistical report called LEOKA — short for Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted. The FBI has been publishing LEOKA reports since 1982. The FBI data is gathered from local and federal law enforcement agencies, including CBP.

A review of the LEOKA data shows that for years, the number of assaults on Border Patrol agents reported to the FBI exactly matched the figure published by CBP. In 2012, for instance, CBP reported 555 assaults on Border Patrol agents, and the FBI’s LEOKA website listed 555 as well. The next year, 2013, both agencies again used the same figure: 468. In 2014, the numbers were also identical: 373. When the Border Patrol published the number of assaults during those years, it meant “officers assaulted.”

Then, with no public discussion, the agency apparently veered sharply from traditional reporting practices to a new system that counts the number of agents assaulted during an incident, then multiplies that figure by the number of perpetrators and the weapons used, thus neatly reversing the downward trend on the number of assaults.

In October 2014 — the beginning of fiscal year 2015 — CBP began rolling out this new system, according to Coleman. The new accounting was piecemeal, rather than systematic, but it produced a 378 “assaults” figure for fiscal year 2015.

By contrast, the FBI’s LEOKA data shows that the downward trend in assaults continued in 2015, when, according to the FBI, 349 Border Patrols agents were victims of assault. The next year, the FBI lists 397 assaults, an increase over 2015, but nothing like the 454 figure published by CBP.

Rather than a picture of increasing violence against Border Patrol agents, what emerges from the FBI’s data is that the Border Patrol’s job has never been safer. The decrease was so significant that by 2016, according to FBI statistics, Border Patrol agents were about five times less likely to be assaulted than officers in local police departments — and only half as likely to be killed on the job by homicide or by accident. As the Cato Institute observed in November, “Regular Americans are more than twice as likely to be murdered in any year from 2003 through 2017 than Border Patrol agents were.” But even as Border Patrol work was getting safer, the agency began manipulating its data to claim increasing danger and advance a political agenda.

At first, CBP did not promote its new assault data. The numbers remained buried in obscure documents. The new system was fully put in place in early 2016, according to Diaz, the agency spokesperson, and later that year — three weeks after the election of Donald Trump — CBP’s hyped “assault” statistics were shared with politicians and the media.

In late November 2016, then-Border Patrol Chief Mark Morgan led the charge, telling a Senate committee that assaults on agents working near the Mexico border had seen a 200 percent increase from a year earlier. In subsequent months, Border Patrol Deputy Chief Carla Provost made additional dire claims about assaults on agents.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas office in the Rio Grande Valley was hearing allegations from migrants of attacks by Border Patrol agents. Some immigrants accused of assaulting Border Patrol agents during chases were claiming that they were innocent and that, in fact, it was the agents who had assaulted them.

Eliseo Luis-Garcia, a slender Guatemalan, was tried in Laredo earlier this year, accused of punching a burly Border Patrol agent during a chase. Marjorie Meyers, a federal public defender in the Southern District of Texas, described him as “this little guy who was more injured than the agent was.” The jury saw the evidence, Meyers said, and apparently believed it was not the immigrant who had assaulted the agent, but the other way around. Luis-Garcia was acquitted.

The acquittal garnered no publicity. But following Rogelio Martinez’s death in West Texas, CBP’s claimed 73 percent increase in attacks on agents was reported with fanfare by right-wing press. Some mainstream outlets also reported the statistic uncritically, including National Public Radio, Arizona Public Media, the Houston Chronicle, the Christian Science Monitor, and Newsweek.

It was as if pitched warfare had exploded in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, ground zero for the purported spike in assaults. Yet CBP issued virtually no press releases about mass assaults on agents by migrants. Nor did the purported spike make sense demographically. Large numbers of migrants fleeing violence in Central America, many of them women, are seeking refugee status in the U.S. They cross into Texas with children in tow, and instead of trying to escape from or resist the Border Patrol, they were detained. Adult men are the demographic most likely to tussle with agents, and their numbers have steadily declined over the past few years.

Michael Seifert, of the Brownsville office of the ACLU of Texas, called CBP’s inflation of statistics for political ends “deceptive to lawmakers and taxpayers.” Worse, he said, “their exaggerated claims erode the quality of life for all people who call the border home.”

The FBI will not be publishing its 2017 “officers assaulted” number for CBP until late May and declined to provide it to The Intercept. CBP also refused. Meanwhile, the agency continues to cite its inflated statistics, and the phony numbers continue to be used to justify Trump’s agenda. At the Department of Homeland Security’s 15th anniversary celebration in March, Vice President Mike Pence talked about why the Border Patrol needs $21 billion in additional funding “to provide our front-line agents with the personnel, the technology, the equipment, and the facilities to do their job.”

Pence said all this was needed because “one of the most shocking stories we heard was in the last fiscal year” when “attacks on our Border Patrol agents had increased by 73 percent.” This, he added, was why the Trump administration was seeking $18 billion for a border wall.

“And we will build that wall,” Pence thundered, “for the American people and our security.”

 

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