TBR News December 12, 2014

Dec 12 2014


The Voice of the White House

        Washington, D.C. December 11, 2024: “The revelations of CIA-US government practice of massive torture of prisoners are not new or unknown inside governmental circles but now they have become public…although only in a sanitized form…. there will be the usual self-important breast-beating and calls for reform. Trust me, there will be no reform. The CIA is doing what the White House wants it to do be it destablizing the Ukraine by having its local hires shooting into crowed of protesters in Kiev or attempting to assassinate Edward Snowden. Information gained by torture is virtually worthless and the damage this will do to the reputation of the United States, especially in Muslim countries, cannot be calculated. The American public can do nothing about the CIA’s sadism because they answer to no one but foreign opinion is more important. The Germans are now fully aware of the degree and extent of American spying and maniplulations and in the end, the United States will pay dearly for their actions.”


Bush knew about CIA torture, says Cheney

December 11, 2014

by Dave Clark

Agence France-Presse (AFP)


President George W Bush was fully aware and an “integral part” of the CIA’s torture of terror suspects, his vice-president Dick Cheney said Wednesday.

The long-awaited US Senate report released Tuesday on the program of harsh treatment and torture of detainees said Bush only learned details of it in 2006, four years after it started in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Detainees were beaten, waterboarded — some of them dozens of times — and humiliated through the painful use of medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” and “rectal rehydration”, the report said.

             Speaking to Fox News, Cheney denied Bush was kept out of the loop. He said the then-president “was in fact an integral part of the program and he had to approve it.”

Asked if Bush knew specific details of how specific interrogations were being conducted, Cheney was more vague, saying: “We did discuss the techniques. There was no effort on our part to keep him from that.”

Bush has yet to speak out publicly on the Senate report, which has drawn scathing criticism worldwide of what the CIA has called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, amid and calls for those involved to face trial.

The CIA deliberately misled Congress and the White House about the value of the intelligence its interrogators were gathering, the report concluded.


– ‘Full of crap’ –


But Cheney did not mince his words in rejecting that.

             “The report’s full of crap, excuse me. I said hooey yesterday -– let me use the real word,” he thundered.

The investigation was “deeply flawed” and “didn’t bother to interview key people involved in the program,” he said.

According to the 500-page declassified summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings, the first CIA briefing with Bush on the interrogation techniques was on April 8, 2006.

Some of the prisoners — including Abu Zubaydah, allegedly Osama Bin Laden’s right-hand man, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who allegedly led Al-Qaeda operations in the Gulf — were subjected to the torture starting in 2002, it said.

That US interrogators tortured Al-Qaeda suspects in secret jails was known. But the detailed Senate report into the scandal was seized upon by America’s shocked friends and gloating enemies alike.

China and Iran, whose own human rights records have often been criticized by Washington, denounced the abuses — but so did Germany and the new pro-US leader of Afghanistan.


“Such a gross violation of our liberal, democratic values must not happen again,” German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, reflecting the embarrassment of Washington’s European allies.

America’s great power rival China — often on the end of US censure for its rights record — was equally unimpressed.

“We believe the US side should reflect upon itself, correct its ways and earnestly respect and abide by the rules of international conventions,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.

Sensing an opportunity to poke its traditional foe, Iran seized upon the report to throw back some of the human rights criticism that its own notorious prisons regularly receive.


– ‘Symbol of tyranny’-


Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took to Twitter to declare the United States a “symbol of tyranny against humanity” — not just in the CIA torture program but in domestic law enforcement.

The United Nations said the program violated international law and basic human rights, and British-based advocacy group CAGE demanded criminal proceedings.

Around the world, human rights bodies demanded that current US President Barack Obama — who halted the torture but has not gone after the perpetrators — take legal action.

That is unlikely. In Washington, a senior official told reporters that nothing in the Senate Intelligence Committee report would change a decision not to prosecute.

The report, released by Democratic committee chair Dianne Feinstein over the objections of some of her Republican colleagues, said CIA torture had been more brutal than previously acknowledged.

It was also badly supervised and ineffective, it found.

In response to the report, Obama acknowledged that torture had been counterproductive and contrary to American values.

“No nation is perfect,” he said. “But one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.”


For CIA, fallout from Senate report looks far from over

December 10, 2014

by Mark Hosenball and Warren Strobel



WASHINGTON -As outcry grows over its now-defunct brutal interrogation program, America’s spy agency appears caught in the crossfire of debate over its methods in the ongoing U.S. battle against Islamic militants and whether it has changed its ways.

Inside the Central Intelligence Agency, intelligence officials expressed resentment over what they said was the unfairness of a Senate Intelligence Committee report released on Tuesday that harshly criticized the spy agency’s detention and questioning of militant suspects.

As Senate Democrats urged more information about the program be made public and CIA officials be held accountable, CIA Director John Brennan was scheduled to speak privately to the agency’s employees on Wednesday about the Senate report.

Brennan, who is close to U.S. President Barack Obama, on Tuesday acknowledged the agency made mistakes, but rejected some key Senate panel findings, including its conclusion that harsh interrogation techniques did not produce valuable intelligence about militants that could not be obtained by other means.

“CIA is frequently asked to do difficult, sensitive and sometimes risky things on behalf of the country,” a U.S. intelligence official said. “Congress doesn’t do massive studies of CIA’s successful efforts such as preventing another massive casualty attack on the United States.”

“The intellectual dishonesty of the (Senate) report will eventually be revealed and in the end CIA’s position about the value of the detention and interrogation program will stand as the historical fact,” the intelligence official said.

Countries that cooperated with the CIA’s post-Sept. 11, 2001 detention and interrogation program expressed dismay that its details became public.

“Who now in any form is going to want to continue cooperation in the fight with global terrorism and with opponents of our world view, democracy, in this domain when the system is so dramatically liable to leak?” Polish Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Piechocinski told Poland’s TVN24 broadcaster.

Poland has acknowledged allowing the CIA to operate a secret interrogation center on its territory.

As details of the CIA program dribbled out over the years, the agency has faced Justice Department investigations – no prosecutions materialized – and worried it would lose cooperation from allied intelligence services.

But even some who are sympathetic to the CIA say the agency bears the brunt of blame for the damage.

“It’s just a self-inflicted wound of the worst kind,” said former CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz.




In the continuing tug of war over the CIA program, retiring Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, took to the U.S. Senate floor to disclose findings of an earlier CIA review that he said backs up the Senate Intelligence Committee majority report.

The conclusions of the CIA study, known as the “Panetta Review” after former CIA director Leon Panetta, “fly directly in the face of claims made by senior CIA officials past and present,” Udall said, urging its declassification.

He called for new legislation banning coercive interrogation techniques.

CIA officials have said the Panetta Review was not an investigation that reached conclusions, but merely a factual account of the program’s history.

Significant new limits on the CIA’s role and powers seem unlikely. Obama has placed the agency at the forefront of battling Islamic militants worldwide, including using armed drones.

Obama is known to rely heavily on the counsel of Brennan, formerly his top White House counter-terrorism advisor. And the CIA faces a more sympathetic Congress next year, when Republican Sen. Richard Burr, who was critical of the ‘torture” report, replaces Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.




Obama in 2009 issued an executive order barring the CIA from operating detention facilities and conducting “enhanced interrogation.”

The CIA on Tuesday said it had already taken steps to address issues raised in the report, including better management of sensitive programs and enhanced vetting of CIA officers who participate in them.

Philip Zelikow, who as a top State Department official in 2006 wrote a secret memo arguing some of the CIA techniques were unconstitutional, said the CIA’s assurances were insufficient.

The Senate report “does raise some important issues regarding the management of covert activities,” he said.

The report “will have for some time, and some time can mean for years, a chastening effect. But over time the agency does what it does,” said Glenn Carle, a retired CIA officer who questioned prisoners after 2001.

“I think generations will forget,” he said. “And the institution strives to serve the executive. And there will be mistakes again.”


             (Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and David Rohde in Washington and Pawel Sobczak, Marcin Goettig, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Wiktor Szary in Warsaw; Editing by James Dalgleish)


Assange case – a witch-hunt by Swedish govt pressed by US’

December 8, 2014


          The US, the UK, and Sweden feel threatened by the WikiLeaks data release in 2010, so they work in tandem to keep Julian Assange locked up in London in fear of being sent to the US to face a grand jury, social campaigner Clark Stoeckley told RT.

It is four years since WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was accused of rape and sexual assault and two years since he fled into Ecuador’s embassy in London.

RT: It’s been four years since Julian Assange was first charged, and he had an appeal denied last month in Sweden. What’s the next step for him now, in your opinion?

Clark Stoeckley: He has gone to several human rights groups around the world to appeal to the Swedish government to have this case dropped because Assange has not been charged with any crime. Today is four years that he has been either under house arrest or in the Ecuadorian embassy. This could have been resolved a long time ago if the Swedish government had decided to come to England to question Assange, to have an STD test done. As we have seen, the two women involved in Sweden have not claimed to have been raped and neither of them has really pursued this. It has been a kind of witch-hunt by the Swedish government with believed pressure from the US government.

Essentially what is going on there, you have three countries – the US, the UK and Sweden – who are a kind of the worst warmongers in the world, and they are all three somewhat threatened by what Manning released in 2010 and WikiLeaks published, especially the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs. These things showed that governments of those countries were in fact committing war crimes in the Middle East, and so they have worked in tandem to keep Assange in London in the fear that if Assange is extradited to Sweden he’ll be sent to the US to face a secret grand jury that has been going on ever since those releases in 2010. It’s hard to say what the options are, but I feel that the chess match is being played out to the point where the Swedish government has to be held accountable now because you have got the Mayor of London who doesn’t want to continue policing the Ecuadorian embassy which is costing them over $15,000 a day for absolutely no good reason whatsoever. It’s also making these countries looking absolutely bad internationally because they are breaking the law and extradition treaties, they are not granting Julian asylum or access to get asylum in the physical country of Ecuador. I think a lot of options have been played out, but I’m not sure exactly what Julian’s law team has for the next course of action.

RT: Website govwaste.co.uk shows exactly what waiting for Assange to leave Ecuador’s embassy is costing taxpayers. Right now the figure is £8 million and counting. Will that spending go on indefinitely? And is it worth it?

CS: It’s certainly not worth it. I believe that the taxpayers in the UK have to wonder why they are being burdened with this. It seems like a complete waste of money when obviously they could be using that to fight crime. And essentially that is what WikiLeaks does – it exposes crimes. WikiLeaks is the truth teller, and the fact that we are going after not just whistleblowers but also the people who publish leaks or information that shines a light on corruption is absolutely absurd. It’s absurd that Julian is still four years without charge, essentially a prisoner. Chelsea Manning is facing 35 years in jail; Jeremy Hammond is facing ten years in jail. So you look at that and at the fact that we have got police officers in the US like Daren Wilson and Eric Gardner’s killer with no indictment whatsoever. The justice in the US right now is really weird and the fact that the Obama Administration has gone after so many whistleblowers as well as having FBI raids and subpoenas of these journalistic organizations as well, it’s very frightful. I think we are living at the time when justice is definitely not being seen on the streets and also in the internet. We need some major changes, and it’s not going to change until we make it possible for whistleblowers to expose the truth when our government and corporations are doing wrong.

RT: Do you think there’s any chance Assange will eventually stand trial? And if so can he get a fair one in either Sweden or the US?

CS: I don’t think there are any grounds for an actual trial in Sweden because it doesn’t seem like anyone is pressing charges. It seems like it was a political bent by a prosecutor and some other politicians during the time of an election. As far as what is going on in the US, I’m sure they would like to get Assange back to the US. There has been secret grand jury going on since 2011 and it’s very obvious that the US government wants to shut WikiLeaks down in any possible way. Pretty much everyone who has worked for WikiLeaks feels uncomfortable or won’t come to the US whatsoever because of this. The US has not said that they would not prosecute Assange; they haven’t said they would try not to prosecute anyone from WikiLeaks or extradite them for that matter. We didn’t get this agreement from the US; we also didn’t get this agreement from Sweden. Assange was willing to comply with the Swedish government for over three and a half years now in a way that would have allowed this worry about being extradited to the US being completely removed from the table, but they weren’t willing to allow that. They were trying to play another game – a political game – with their geopolitical partners, the ones that they have vested interest in the military-industrial complex, being in the Middle East and making sure that their weapons are being used.

The US holds its fist and has control over its allies in Europe, essentially telling them that “You are going to play our game and Assange is whom we want.” Until there is some kind of guarantee Assange will not be brought to the US, he’ll continue to be in the Ecuadoran embassy, and that’s a travesty of justice worldwide not just for human rights, but especially for journalists and anyone who is trying to report the truth. It seems like it’s across the board, the truth is trying to be swept under the carpet.

RT: Do you think the verdict against Bradley Manning and this case against Assange could discourage others from following their example?

CS: I hope no one will be discouraged to blow a whistle when they see a wrongdoing or corruption within a government or corporation that they are working for. I hope that in the past five years or so that people have learned new ways of delivering information to the public. And we saw that with Snowden, he learned a lot of what to do and what not to do from Chelsea Manning and other whistleblowers. I hope no one is discouraged by this, I hope that we always learn how to do it better, how to make sure that our whistleblowers are protected in the future not only from having to move to another country but to make sure that their jobs are still there and they can continue to work. One thing that we have seen with Julian is that his work has been severed a little bit because he doesn’t have freedom and mobility to travel to different countries, to organize, put together and collaborate with other journalists. They have tried to cut him off at the knees. Likely he is continuing to fight the good fight but certainly the damage had been done by this whole process. I hope for the day that he has freedom and can get out. I’d also like to see him compensated by both the UK and the Swedish governments for this because there is a complete lack of any kind of judicial precedent. It has obviously very political in nature and it has no real resonance within the legal and human rights communities.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.



Poverty-stricken neighborhoods almost triple in US

December 11, 2014


             Contrary to the perception in the media, poverty – not gentrification – is booming in US neighborhoods. When such conditions double or triple, areas quickly fall into disrepair, services are cut, and crime escalates, according to a new report.

Media attention tends to focus on poor neighborhoods that are rapidly undergoing gentrification by way of investments and an influx of wealthier new residents, but a paper by cityobservatory.org shows a troubling trend that is more prevalent. The number of poor people living in high-poverty urban neighborhoods has more than doubled, the report found, from two million to four million over the past 40 years. Additionally, the number of high-poverty neighborhoods has nearly tripled from 1,100 to 3,100.

“The direct negative economic consequences of concentrated poverty are well established…fewer local job prospects…poor physical connections to growing job centers…[worse] health…poor quality public services that worsen the experience of poverty for neighborhood residents, and make it harder to attract new residents and businesses, adding to a cycle of decline,” said the report’s authors Joe Cortright and Dillon Mahmoudi.

The study, titled ‘Lost in Place,’ looks into why the persistence and spread of concentrated poverty – not gentrification – is the biggest urban challenge in the US. It analyzed changes in high-poverty neighborhoods in 51 of the largest metropolitan areas between 1970 and 2010. In these areas, 30 percent or more of the population lives below the poverty line.

Several factors contributed to concentrated poverty. People that could leave the neighborhoods because of education and income did, leaving poorer residents behind. Because of poverty, aging buildings and infrastructure became neglected. As the buildings got older, their value went down and became more affordable for low income families.

             “Because the slow decline is more common and less visible, it is seldom remarked upon, while gentrification, when it happens – which is both unusual and dramatic – is far more evident change,” explains the report.

The report shows that Brooklyn, for example, went from having four poor neighborhoods to having five, while it went from having zero rich neighborhoods to having two. Despite gaining a poor neighborhood, Brooklyn was singled out as having the least amount of affordable housing in the US.

Concentrated poverty disproportionately affects persons of color, too, the report found. About 75 percent of those living in high-poverty neighborhoods are African-American or Latino. The federal poverty threshold is currently set at approximately $23,000 per year for a family of four.

In the USA, there are now more census tracts of concentrated poverty than have never been recorded before, resulting in more than 11 million Americans, or four percent of the population, living in severely distressed neighborhoods,” said Rutgers professor Paul Jargowsky.

“The increase in concentrated poverty was highest in the Midwest, which experienced a 132 percent increase in the number of people living in high poverty neighborhoods, to 2.7 million; followed by the South, which suffered a 66 percent increase to 4.6 million.”



Torture, deny, repeat: ‘Enhanced interrogation’ never works, the CIA never learns

December 12, 2014

by Tim Weiner  


            When the United States was attacked on 9/11, every member of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine services had a rule book on the conduct of interrogations. It was clear and concise.

It outlawed the following methods: “Torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment, or prolonged detention without charges or trial.” It was based on five decades of experience.

President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the leaders of the CIA threw out the rule book as they set out on their global crusade against terrorism. This was unwise.

Anyone who was in New York or Washington after 9/11 remembers the fear — every day, every night, every time the phone rang — that there would be another attack. I sat down with George Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence, not long after 9/11. The exhaustion, the fear — and the terror — that I saw in his eyes is an image I will never forget.

Fear trumped wisdom for the next seven years.

CIA Director John Brennan said on Thursday that some intelligence officers used “abhorrent” methods on the people they detained after the attacks. He said it was “unknowable” whether the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques — EITs, in CIA jargon, torture in plain English — yielded useful intelligence.

“We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs,” Brennan said, “… that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees.”

This much we know: The CIA threw out the rule book instructing its officers that torture does not work as a method of gathering intelligence. And out with the rule book went the agency’s institutional knowledge and hard-won wisdom.

During the Korean War, the CIA created clandestine prisons — the biggest was in the Panama Canal Zone — where suspected Russian double agents were injected with drugs and brutally interrogated. The agency gave four suspected North Korean double agents the same treatment in occupied Japan.

“Like Guantanamo,” a charter member of the CIA, Tom Polgar, told me in a 2005 interview. “It was anything goes.”

The CIA searched for many years for a magic potion — a truth serum that would draw confessions from incarcerated subjects, especially suspected enemy spies — using LSD, heroin, amphetamines and other “special techniques in CIA interrogations,” to quote from a 1952 CIA report.

The legendary CIA Director Allen Dulles approved an expanded program code-named ULTRA, in which, to cite one among many examples, seven prisoners at a federal penitentiary in Kentucky were dosed with LSD daily for 11 weeks. When the agency slipped the drug to an unsuspecting army civilian employee named Frank Olson, he jumped out of the window of a New York hotel.

All the subjects of these tests were human guinea pigs in the Cold War. They were expendable. The CIA destroyed most of the records of these tests. But a 1956 progress report described the continuing “planning of overseas interrogations” and new “special interrogation” techniques under research and development.

In 1964, the CIA secretly incarcerated Yuri Nosenko, a KGB defector, suspecting he knew something about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. With the approval of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the CIA threw Nosenko into a secret prison at the CIA’s training grounds in Virginia. As if in a Soviet gulag, under a single bare light burning 24 hours a day, Nosenko suffered psychological assault, physical hardship and solitary confinement for nearly four years.

CIA Director Richard Helms finally determined that the agency had kept an innocent man “in durance vile … against the laws of the United States.”

During the Vietnam War, thousands of enemy combatants were interrogated, often fatally, in search of intelligence under the CIA’s Phoenix program. But that search proved largely futile. Helms said the CIA “could not determine what was going on” inside the enemy’s camp. At the root of this failure was “our national ignorance of Vietnamese history, society and language,” Helms lamented. That was, in part, why the enemy won the war.

When Nosenko died in 2008, Clair George, a former chief of the CIA’s clandestine service, told the Washington Post that his incarceration had been “a terrible mistake.” But after all, George said: “You can’t be in the spy business without making mistakes.”

What, then, did we learn from our mistakes with “enhanced interrogation techniques” — or, if you prefer, torture?

The CIA had firmly rejected cruel and unusual punishment, Richard Stolz, chief of the clandestine service under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, said in 1988 — “not only because it is wrong, but because it has historically proven to be ineffective.” The CIA’s 1990s codes of conduct stated: “Inhumane physical or psychological techniques are counterproductive because they do not produce intelligence and will probably result in false answers.”

I added the emphases for reasons that may be obvious. Former leaders of the CIA – and Cheney — insist that torture works.

That is false. The Senate report released Wednesday makes this painfully clear. It uses the CIA’s own records to make an irrefutable case. The report contains no great revelations about violations of the Geneva Convention in the CIA’s secret prisons, the “black sites.”

But it shows that the claim that torture worked is a delusion, and the insistence that it produced unique intelligence is a lie.

            “The use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation,” the Senate report says. “Multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence … on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.”

This information comes from the CIA’s own records. And false intelligence is worse than no intelligence.

The report looks at 20 of the most prominent examples of “purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques.” In some of those cases, “there was no relationship between the cited counterterrorism success and any information provided by detainees.” In the rest of the 20 cases, “the CIA inaccurately claimed that specific, otherwise unavailable information was acquired from a CIA detainee ‘as a result’ of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.”

These are lies that CIA officers told to themselves, to one another and then repeated to their colleagues in the government of the United States.

We must leave the questions of deception for another day, but they begin with self-deception — a grave danger in the business of secret intelligence.

Better to conclude with two pieces of wisdom. One is something Helms told me a long time ago. He started out in the CIA in the very beginning, back in 1947, and served as director for seven years — until President Richard M. Nixon cut his throat, figuratively speaking, in 1972. Helms was talking about political assassination. Let’s forget about the laws of man and God and war, he said. It’s a practical question: If you try to kill their leaders, why shouldn’t they try to kill yours?

A professionally distinguished and highly intelligent former FBI counterterrorism agent, Ali H. Soufan, said much the same today on page one of The New York Times. His words broke my heart, hardened by six postings in Afghanistan. Soufan knows whereof  he speaks: He witnessed, and warned against, the use of torture by the CIA in the darkest days of the black sites.

“We played into the enemy’s hands,” he said. “Now we have American hostages in orange jumpsuits because we put people in orange jumpsuits.”



 Who are the unlikely interrogators?

December 9, 2014

BBC News

            Two psychologists hired by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to develop enhanced interrogation procedures lacked the relevant experience, a new report finds.

The contractors had no background in counterterrorism, yet were paid more than $80m (£51m) for their services.

The CIA also allowed the men to assess the effectiveness of their own interrogation programme.

The revelations are outlined in a new Senate report on the “brutal” interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects in the years after the 9/11 attacks.

Suspects were interrogated using methods such as waterboarding, slapping, humiliation, exposure to cold and sleep deprivation.

Such procedures were developed, managed and reviewed by two contract psychologists with experience at the US Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school.

But the report says “neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialised knowledge of al-Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise”.

And yet, the two men were said to have personally participated in the interrogation of some of the CIA’s “most significant” detainees.

            They also determined whether a detainees’ psychological state allowed for the ongoing use of enhanced interrogation, the report finds.

Meanwhile, the men served as liaisons between the CIA and foreign intelligence services, and were allowed by the intelligence agency to assess the effectiveness of their own work – work that was ultimately found by the Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee to be brutal and ineffective.

Identified under the pseudonyms Dr Grayson Swigert and Dr Hammond Dunbar in the report, the two men have been revealed by US media as military retirees Jim Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

Dr Mitchell joined the Air Force in 1974, specialising in bomb disarmament before earning a doctorate in psychology focusing on diet, exercise and hypertension, according to the New York Times.

Dr Jessen, meanwhile, earned a doctorate focusing on “family sculpting” and later became a psychologist with the Air Force Survival School responsible for screening instructors posing as enemy interrogators.

Both men, said to be lieutenant colonels, became defence department experts on resisting enemy interrogations – but fellow psychologists reported scepticism and even concern regarding their methods, the New York Times adds.

After the 9/11 attacks, the Senate report says Dr Mitchell proposed using a concept called “learned helplessness” in interrogating al-Qaeda suspects to ensure complicity with captor’s demands.

At the time, experienced interrogators argued such a strategy would demoralise a prisoner to such an extent that he would say whatever the interrogator expected.

In 2002, both men were tasked with reviewing a seized al-Qaeda manual which coached terrorists in how to resist interrogation.

In response, the men proposed introducing brutal techniques, including sleep deprivation and waterboarding, into US procedures.

When US operatives captured high-value target Abu Zubaydah, two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents used conventional methods to interrogate him at a Thailand CIA facility.

Then the CIA, as advised by Dr Mitchell, stripped the suspect and blasted music at him to prevent sleep. In the following weeks, Dr Mitchell reportedly took control of the interrogation and directly questioned the suspect himself.

Mr Jessen later joined the effort, and the suspect was waterboarded 83 times before it was determined he had no further information to offer.

According to the Senate report, a cable said to be authored by the two men indicated the interrogation of Zubaydah was a success.

It “should be used as a template for future interrogation of high value captives,” they wrote, not because it produced useful information but instead because it confirmed the suspect did not possess the intelligence information the CIA had believed he was withholding.

Meanwhile, FBI agents involved in questioning the suspect objected to the strategy, with one special agent reporting to headquarters the two CIA psychologists had acquired “tremendous influence”.

The Senate intelligence report was a years-long, Democrat-led effort into US interrogation techniques

The FBI also argued that all usable information gathered from questioning the suspect came directly from earlier FBI-led inquiries.

The psychologists’ methods were subsequently used at least two dozen more times, including in the 2003 interrogation of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

According to the Senate report findings, the two men assessed the suspect – said to be waterboarded more than 100 times – and recommended only they should further interrogate him on a monthly basis, charging four times that of other interrogators.

This prompted government concerns about conflict of interest, according to the Senate report.

This was “nowhere more graphic than in the setting in which the same individuals applied an [enhanced interrogation technique] which only they were approved to employ, judged both its effectiveness and detainee resilience, and implicitly proposed continued use of the technique – at a daily compensation reported to be $1800/day”.

In 2005, the psychologists formed Mitchell Jessen and Associates with offices in Washington state and Virginia. By 2007 the company had grown to nearly 60 employees, earning millions from CIA contracts after the agency outsourced nearly all its interrogation operations.

But, in 2009, US President Barack Obama’s then-CIA director Leon Panetta decommissioned the agency’s secret jails and vowed contractors would no longer conduct interrogations, terminating the partnership.

By then, Dr Jessen and Dr Mitchell had received nearly half of their $180m CIA contract. This was not before the CIA had already agreed to a $5m indemnification contract covering, among other things, criminal prosecution.

In 2007, Mitchell Jessen and Associates hired a law firm and billed the CIA more than $1m in legal expenses through 2012.

Under the CIA’s current contract with the company, they are obligated to pay legal expenses until 2021.


Kids’ Privacy Under Threat: Mobile Apps Secretly Collect Data on Children

18:25 08.12.2014


Mobile app makers ignore US federal privacy rulings, collecting vast amount of sensitive data through software aimed at kids. Using third-party “libraries” software developers often don’t realize how much user data is being passing to advertisers.

             MOSCOW, December 8 (Sputnik), Ekaterina Blinova — Mobile applications are still collecting vast amount of sensitive data on unsuspecting young users, ignoring US federal privacy rulings on mobile apps for kids.

“Kids are such a lucrative market, especially for apps. Unfortunately, there are still companies out there that are more concerned about generating revenue than protecting the privacy of kids,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, as cited by the Associated Press.

Software programs specifically aimed at children collect various pieces of information – from the users’ location to voice recordings – in an odd and surprising way. It still remains unclear whether developers first seek parental approval for using a kid’s private data or for passing it on to retailers.

In order to prevent the unexpected leakage of sensitive information through kids’ apps, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) obligated software developers in July 2013 to obtain parental consent before gathering personal data – such as the unique identifying device on a phone, a phone number, and location – on children younger than 13, according to the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPRA).

However, PrivacyGrade.org, a site created by a group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, has revealed that some extremely popular kids’ software programs, like ‘Talking Tom’ and ‘Fruit Ninja’, are still collecting data on children and avoiding US federal rulings.

Researchers report that most users have no idea that Fruit Ninja, a fruit slicing game, is collecting their location data, or that Talking Tom is gathering voice recordings along with other data from the phone. Furthermore, consumers don’t know what happens with their data next. They cannot even imagine that mobile games are sharing their private information with advertisers or local governments.

“In some of our past research people were ok with ads and their data being used for advertising purposes, but only if they were aware with what’s going on. When they don’t, it’s a problem,” said Jason Hong, the lead researcher, as quoted by Forbes.

The majority of app makers use third-party libraries in order to create their software products. “Libraries are pieces of code provided by ad networks like InMobi, Twitter’s MoPub, Facebook and Google Analytics,” Forbes explains, adding that “libraries are also responsible for the most sensitive data requests made by apps like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds.” Therefore, app developers themselves have little clue how much of their users’ personal data is being passed to advertisers.

“We talked to many app developers and many don’t know the full extent of what these libraries are doing,” Hong emphasized.

The researcher pointed out that the FTC is “overwhelmed” by the number of apps, sites and hardware is should regulate. Since the new expanded federal regulation came into force last year, only two app makers have been fined for breaching the FTC’s ruling: Yelp Inc. paid $450,000 and TinyCo. $300,000 for collecting data on children via their mobile software products.

“I think parents should have a healthy skepticism about what their kids are doing with digital technologies,” said Kathryn Montgomery, a communications professor at American University in Washington, as quoted by the New York Times.

The professor underscored that parents should carefully read the privacy and security policies of applications before they allow their kids to use software products. She noted, however, that since data collection is so widespread, parents “can do little to contain it.”

“It’s like asking what parents can do to protect their kids from global warming. It’s out of their control in many ways,” she said.


Cops scan social media to help assess your ‘threat rating’

December 12, 2014

by Brent Skorup 


A national spotlight is now focused on aggressive law enforcement tactics and the justice system. Today’s professional police forces — where officers in even one-stoplight towns might have body armor and mine-resistant vehicles — already raise concerns.

            Yet new data-mining technologies can now provide police with vast amounts of surveillance information and could radically increase police power. Policing can be increasingly targeted at specific people and neighborhoods — with potentially serious inequitable effects.

One speaker at a recent national law enforcement conference compared future police work to Minority Report, the Tom Cruise film set in 2054 Washington, where a “PreCrime” unit has been set up to stop murders before they happen.

While PreCrime remains science-fiction, many technology advances are already involved with predictive policing — identifying risks and threats with the help of online information, powerful computers and Big Data.

New World Systems, for example, now offers software that allows dispatchers to enter in a person’s name to see if they’ve had contact with the police before.  Provided crime data, PredPol claims on its website that  its software “forecasts highest risk times and places for future crimes.” These and other technologies are supplanting and enhancing traditional police work.

Public safety organizations, using federal funding, are set to begin building a $7-billion nationwide first-responder wireless network, called FirstNet. Money is now being set aside. With this network, information-sharing capabilities and federal-state coordination will likely grow substantially. Some uses of FirstNet will improve traditional services like 911 dispatches. Other law enforcement uses aren’t as pedestrian, however.

One such application is Beware, sold to police departments since 2012 by a private company, Intrado. This mobile application crawls over billions of records in commercial and public databases for law enforcement needs. The application “mines criminal records, Internet chatter and other data to churn out … profiles in real time,” according to one article in an Illinois newspaper.

Here’s how the company describes it on their website:

Accessed through any browser (fixed or mobile) on any Internet-enabled device including tablets, smartphones, laptop and desktop computers, Beware® from Intrado searches, sorts and scores billions of commercial records in a matter of seconds-alerting responders to potentially deadly and dangerous situations while en route to, or at the location of a call.

Crunching all the database information in a matter of seconds, the Beware algorithm then assigns a score and “threat rating” to a person — green, yellow or red. It sends that rating to a requesting officer.

For example, working off a home address, Beware can send an officer basic information about who lives there, their cell phone numbers, whether they have past convictions and the cars registered to the address. Police have had access to this information before, but Beware makes it available immediately.

Yet it does far more — scanning the residents’ online comments, social media and recent purchases for warning signs. Commercial, criminal and social media information, including, as Intrado vice president Steve Reed said in an interview with urgentcomm.com, “any comments that could be construed as offensive,” all contribute to the threat score.

There are many troubling aspects to these programs. There are, of course, obvious risks in outsourcing traditional police work — determining who is a threat — to a proprietary algorithm. Deeming someone a public threat is a serious designation, and applications like Beware may encourage shortcuts and snap decisions.

It is also disconcerting that police would access and evaluate someone’s online presence. What types of comments online will increase a threat score? Will race be apparent?

These questions are impossible to answer because Intrado merely provides the tool — leaving individual police departments to craft specific standards for what information is available and relevant in a threat score. Local departments can fine-tune their own data collection, but then threat thresholds could vary by locale, making oversight nearly impossible.

Tradition holds that justice should be blind, to promote fairness in treatment and avoid prejudgment. With such algorithms, however, police can have significant background information about nearly everyone they pull over or visit at home. Police are time-constrained, and vulnerable populations – such as minorities living in troubled neighborhoods and the poor — may receive more scrutiny.

No one wants the police to remain behind a thick veil of ignorance, but invasive tools like Beware — if left unchecked — may amplify the current unfairness in the system, including racial disparities in arrests and selective enforcement.

Intrado representatives defend Beware’s perceived intrusiveness, pointing out that credit agencies have similar types of information. This data-mining program, however, goes beyond financial records to include social media, purchases and online comments when assigning a rating.

And no system is foolproof. Congress, for example, recognizes the sensitivity of the information that lenders and employers have, because errors can cause serious financial harm. The Fair Credit Reporting Act therefore gives consumers the right to access their credit reports and make corrections.

The risks to life and property, however, are far higher and more unpredictable in the law enforcement context. Yet there is no mechanism for people to see their threat “ratings” — much less why the algorithm scored it. You have no ability to correct errors if, say, someone with the same name has a violent criminal record.

Another effect is that these technologies give law enforcement the ability to routinely monitor obedience to regulatory minutiae and lawmaker whims. Police officers now boast, for example, that the Beware system allows the routine code enforcement of a nanny state — such as identifying homeowners so overgrown trees on a property can be trimmed.

Beware can also encourage fishing expeditions and indiscriminate surveillance in the hopes of finding offenders. Police used Beware recently at a Phish concert in Colorado, for example, checking up on concertgoers based on car license plates.

Perhaps the most serious issue is that such systems may be used as pretext in unconstitutional investigations. John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke reported for Reuters last year that a secretive Drug Enforcement Administration unit regularly funnels information to other law enforcement agencies in order to launch criminal investigations. This information is frequently acquired via intelligence intercepts, wiretaps and informants. As the FirstNet national wireless network rolls out, federal-state coordination will likely increase opportunities for police to receive sensitive information from powerful federal agencies.

Data-mining gives police significantly more information to create reasonable suspicion for suspects that federal agencies flag. Officers could receive a search or arrest warrant with the help of information gleaned from Beware and other databases, like those tracking license plates. If an arrest follows, data-mining helps provide the police with the legal pretext to engage in these fishing expeditions. Defendants will likely have no opportunity to challenge the legality of the original surveillance that led to their arrest.

As predictive policing investment ramps up, and local police and federal agencies increasingly coordinate, more secrecy becomes more valuable. Local police and prosecutors often refuse to disclose how they gain information about defendants because federal agencies prohibit them from discussing these technologies. In Baltimore, for example, police recently dropped evidence against a defendant rather than reveal information about cellphone tracking that the FBI did not want disclosed in court.

Yet police might not acquire some of this equipment if the local community is made fully aware of its use. Consider, the city council of Bellingham, Wash., recently rejected a proposed purchase of Beware. The police department had applied for, and received, a one-time $25,000 federal grant to cover some of the $36,000 annual cost of Beware. At a mandatory hearing about the purchase, Bellingham citizens discovered how Beware worked and opposed the purchase because of both the cost and the privacy implications. The funds were subsequently redirected.

This rejection demonstrates that many modern policing techniques — and the accompanying secrecy — can antagonize the average citizen. The occasional appearance of sniper rifles and military vehicles only stokes that sentiment. Local police forces increasingly receive military surplus equipment and federal lucre from an alphabet soup of U.S. agencies and opportunistic contractors. Now police are using, typically without residents’ knowledge, powerful databases, along with cellphone and license-plate trackers.

Police need guidance about under which circumstances these sophisticated databases can be used. An inaccurate threat level for a residence, after all, can change how police approach a situation. Failure to update who lives at a particular residence, for example, could transform a green rating into a red rating — turning a midday knock on the front door into a nighttime SWAT raid.


The Abolition of Abolition

How the President Who Pledged to Banish Nuclear Weapons Is Enabling Their Renewal

by James Carroll


            Mark these days. A long-dreaded transformation from hope to doom is taking place as the United States of America ushers the world onto the no-turning-back road of nuclear perdition. Once, we could believe there was another way to go. Indeed, we were invited to take that path by the man who is, even today, overseeing the blocking of it, probably forever.

It was one of the most stirring speeches an American president had ever given. The place was Prague; the year was 2009; the president was the recently sworn in Barack Obama. The promise made that day is worth recalling at length, especially since, by now, it is largely forgotten:

“As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act… So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly — perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now, we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can…’”

President Obama had been in office only three months when, boldly claiming his place on the world stage, he unequivocally committed himself and his country to a nuclear abolition movement that, until then, had at best existed somewhere on the distant fringes of power politics. “I know,” he added,

“that there are some who will question whether we can act on such a broad agenda. There are those who doubt whether true international cooperation is possible… and there are those who hear talk of a world without nuclear weapons and doubt whether it’s worth setting a goal that seems impossible to achieve. But make no mistake. We know where that road leads.”

The simple existence of nuclear weapons, an American president declared, paved the road to perdition for humanity.


Obama as The Captain Ahab of Nuclear Weapons

At that moment, the foundations for an imagined abolitionist world were modest indeed, but not nonexistent.  The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) had, for instance, struck a bargain between nuclear haves and have-nots, under which a path to abolition was treated as real.  The deal seemed clear enough: the have-nots would promise to forego obtaining nukes and, in return, the world’s reigning nuclear powers would pledge to take, in the words of the treaty, “effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.”

For decades before the Obama moment, however, the superpower arsenals of nuclear warheads continued to grow like so many mushrooms, while new nuclear states — Israel, Pakistan, India, North Korea — built their own impressive arsenals.  In those years, with the singular exception of South Africa, nuclear-weapons states simply ignored their half of the NPT bargain and the crucial clause mandating progress toward eventual disarmament was all but forgotten.

When the Cold War ended in 1991 with the disappearance of the Soviet Union, and the next year Americans elected as president Bill Clinton, who was famously against the Vietnam War, it was at least possible to imagine that nukes might go the way of internationally banned chemical weapons. But Washington chose otherwise.  Despite a paucity of enemies anywhere on Earth, the Pentagon’s 1994 Nuclear Posture Review insisted on maintaining the American nuclear arsenal at Cold War levels as a “hedge,” an insurance policy, against an imagined return of Communism, fascism, or something terrible in Russia anyway — and Clinton accepted the Pentagon’s position.

Soon enough, however, even prominent hawks of the Cold War era began to worry that such a nuclear insurance policy could itself ignite a global fire. In 1999, a chief architect of the nuclear mindset, Paul Nitze, stepped away from a lifetime obsession with building up nuclear power to denounce nukes as “a threat mostly to ourselves” and to explicitly call for unilateral disarmament. Other former apostles of nuclear realpolitik also came to embrace the goal of abolition. In 2008, four high priests of the cult of nuclear normalcy — former Senator Sam Nunn, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, and former Secretaries of State George Schultz and Henry Kissinger — jointly issued a sacrilegious renunciation of their nuclear faith on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. “We endorse setting the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons,” they wrote, “and working energetically on the actions required to achieve that goal.”

Unfortunately, such figures had come to Jesus only after leaving office, when they were exempt from the responsibility of matching their high-flown rhetoric with the gritty work of making it real.

Obama in Prague was another matter.  He was at the start of what would become an eight-year presidency and his rejection of nuclear fatalism rang across the world. Only months later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in large part because of this stunning commitment. A core hope of the post-World-War-II peace movement, always marginal, had at last been embraced in the seat of power. A year later, at Obama’s direction, the Pentagon, in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, actually advanced the president’s purpose, committing itself to “a multilateral effort to limit, reduce, and eventually eliminate all nuclear weapons worldwide.”

“The United States,” that document promised, “will not develop new nuclear warheads.” When it came to the future of the nuclear arsenal, a program of responsible maintenance was foreseen, but no new ground was to be broken. “Life Extension Programs,” the Pentagon promised, “will use only nuclear components based on previously tested designs, and will not support new military missions or provide new military capabilities.”

Obama’s timing in 2009 was critical. The weapons and delivery systems of the nuclear arsenal were aging fast. Many of the country’s missiles, warheads, strategic bombers, and nuclear-powered submarines dated back to the early Cold War era and were effectively approaching their radioactive sell-by dates. In other words, massive reductions in the arsenal had to begin before pressures to launch a program for the wholesale replacement of those weapons systems grew too strong to resist.  Such a program, in turn, would necessarily mean combining the latest technological innovations with ever greater lethality in a way guaranteed to reinvigorate the entire enterprise across the world — the polar opposite of “effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament.”

Obama, in other words, was presiding over a golden moment, but an apocalyptic deadline was bearing down. And sure enough, that deadline came crashing through when three things happened: Vladimir Putin resurfaced as an incipient fascist intent on returning Russia to great power status; extremist Republicans took Congress hostage; and Barack Obama found himself lashed, like Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab, to “the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on half a heart and half a lung.” Insiders often compare the Pentagon to Moby Dick, the Great White Whale, and Obama learned why. The peaceful intentions with which he began his presidency were slapped away by the flukes of the monster, like so many novice oarsmen in a whaling skiff.

Hence Obama’s course reversals in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; hence the White House stumbles, including an unseemly succession of secretaries of defense, the fourth of whom, Ashton Carter, can reliably be counted on to advance the renewal of the nuclear force. The Pentagon’s “intangible malignity,” in Melville’s phrase, was steadily quickened by both Putin and the Republicans, but Obama’s half-devoured heart shows in nothing so much as his remarkably full-bore retreat, in both rhetoric and policy, from the goal of nuclear abolition.

A recent piece by New York Times science correspondent William J. Broad made the president’s nuclear failure dramatic. Cuts to the U.S. nuclear stockpile initiated by George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, he pointed out, totaled 14,801 weapons; Obama’s reductions so far: 507 weapons. In 2010, a new START treaty between Moscow and Washington capped future deployed nukes at 1,500. As of this October, the U.S. still deploys 1,642 of them and Russia 1,643; neither nation, that is, has achieved START levels, which only count deployed weapons. (Including stored but readily re-armed and targeted nukes, the U.S. arsenal today totals about 4,800 weapons.)

In order to get the votes of Senate Republicans to ratify the START treaty, Obama made what turned out to be a devil’s bargain.  He agreed to lay the groundwork for a vast “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which, in the name of updating an aged system, is already morphing into a full-blown reinvention of the arms cache at an estimated future cost of more than a trillion dollars. In the process, the Navy wants, and may get, 12 new strategic submarines; the Air Force wants, and may get, a new long-range strike bomber force. Bombers and submarines would, of course, both be outfitted with next-generation missiles, and we’d be off to the races. The arms races.

All of this unfolds as Vladimir Putin warms the hearts of nuclear enthusiasts everywhere not only by his aggressions in Ukraine, but also by undercutting the landmark 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by testing a new ground-launched cruise missile. Indeed, just this fall, Russia successfully launched a new intercontinental ballistic missile. It seems that Moscow, too, can modernize.


On a Twenty-First Century Road to Perdition


Responding to the early Obama vision of “effective measures” toward nuclear disarmament, and following up on that 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, senior Pentagon officials pursued serious discussions about practical measures to reduce the nuclear arsenal. Leading experts advocated a shift away from the Cold War’s orgasmic strike targeting doctrine that still necessitates an arsenal of weapons counted in the thousands.

In fact, in response to budget constraints, legal obligations under a jeopardized non-proliferation treaty, and the most urgent moral mandate facing the country, America’s nuclear strategy could shift without wrenching difficulty, at the very least, to one of “minimal deterrence.” Hardcore national security mavens tell us this. Such a shift would involve a reduction in both the deployed and stored nuclear arsenal to something like 500 warheads. Even if that goal were pursued unilaterally, it would leave more than enough weaponry to deter any conceivable state-based nuclear threat, including Russia’s, no matter what Putin may do.

Five hundred is, of course, a long way from zero and so from the president’s 2009 goal of abolition, and yet opposition even to that level would be fierce in Washington. Though disarming and disposing of thousands of nukes would cost far less than replacement, it would still be expensive, and you can count on one thing: Pentagon nuclearists would find firm allies among congressional Republicans, who would be loathe to fund such a retreat from virtue’s Armageddon. Meanwhile, confronting such cuts, the defense industry’s samurai lobbyists would unsheathe their swords.

But if a passionate Obama could make a compelling case for a nuclear-free world from Prague in 2009, why not go directly to the American people and make the case today? There is, of course, no sign that the president intends to do such a thing any longer, but if a commander-in-chief were to order nuclear reductions into the hundreds, the result might actually be a transformation of the American political conscience. In the process, the global dream of a nuclear-free world could be resuscitated and the commitment of non-nuclear states (including Iran) to refrain from nuclear-weapons development could be rescued. Most crucially, there would no longer be any rationale for the large-scale reinvention of the American nuclear arsenal, a deadly project this nation is even now preparing to launch. At the very least, a vocal rededication to an ultimate disarmament, to the actual abolition of nuclear weapons, would keep that road open for a future president to re-embark upon.

Alas, Pentagon advocates of “minimal deterrence” have already been overridden. The president’s once fiercely held conviction is now a mere shadow of itself. As happened with Ahab’s wrecked whaling ship, tumultuous seas are closing over the hope that once seized the world’s attention. Take it for granted that, in retirement and out of power, ex-president Obama will rediscover his one-time commitment to a world freed from the nuclear nightmare. He will feel the special responsibility proper to a citizen of “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The then-former president’s speeches on the subject will be riveting and his philanthropy will be sharply targeted. All for naught.

Because of decisions likely to be taken this year and next, no American president will ever again be able to embrace this purpose as Obama once did. Nuclear weapons will instead become a normalized and permanent part of the twenty-first century American arsenal, and therefore of the arsenals of many other nations; nuclear weapons, that is, will have become an essential element of the human future — as long as that future lasts.

So yes, mark these days down. Nuclear abolition itself is being abolished. Meanwhile, let us acknowledge, as that hopeful young president once asked us to, that we know where this road leads.


James Carroll is a Boston Globe columnist and Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence at Suffolk University


Racial Divide: The Tragedy of America’s First Black President

December 3, 2014

by Markus Feldenkirchen and Holger Stark


Police killings of black youth in Ferguson and Cleveland have outraged many in the US. The tragic events show how deep the societal divide remains between blacks and whites. Many have given up hope that President Obama can change anything.

On the evening after the city burned, a man in a black leather jacket and white clerical collar is standing on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. He shakes his head and looks as though he is fighting back tears. Once again, young black men and women are standing across from older, slightly pudgy white policemen in front of the local station. They look like armies, like they are at war.

“It won’t ever stop,” says the man, a black pastor named Alvin Herring. He has been accompanying the protests since the beginning of August, ever since white police officer Darren Wilson shot an unarmed, 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown. “A deep, festering wound has opened up in the heart of American culture and society,” Herring says.

The systematic racism that these young people are confronted with each day has made them deeply angry, Henning continues. “It is impossible for them to feel loved, or even respected. They no longer believe they are needed or that their lives are worth anything.”

At exactly this moment, eight police officers rush over to a black man and pull him out of a group, accusing him of throwing an empty plastic bottle. They jump on top of him, press his cheek to the asphalt and handcuff him with zip ties before dragging him into the station.

Ever since the protests began all those months ago, Pastor Alvin Herring has hoped that Barack Obama, the country’s first black president, would visit Ferguson. Henning says Obama could have sent a powerful message that he understood the frustrations of young black people by making the trip.


High Hopes Dashed


On this evening, one which would see this town north of St. Louis sink into violence yet again, Herring misses Obama particularly acutely. “The president is much too careful, much too hesitant,” he says. “The president should be here in Ferguson tonight. He should demonstrate more commitment.”

Herring is merely putting into words what many African Americans think about their president — and not just since the predominantly white grand jury that decided against prosecuting the policeman who shot Michael Brown. And not just since the jury’s decision propelled thousands of black people to take to the streets of 170 US cities in protest.

The black population of America had high hopes for “their” president. They had the feeling, when they cast their ballots in 2008 and 2012, that something momentous was taking place. Never before had so many blacks voted as in those two elections. When one of ours ends up in the White House, they seemed to hope, then things will finally improve for us as well.

In March 2008, when Barack Obama, then a candidate for president, gave his big speech on racism, he sounded like the one who could unite the country. But in November of this year, Obama is — contrary to his intentions — the president of a country that is more divided than ever before. And one of the deepest divisions runs between blacks and whites.

That is the real tragedy of America’s first African-American president.

When Obama delivered a statement last Monday evening at the White House about the grand jury decision, he seemed more helpless than at almost any other time during his presidency. Even as he called on blacks in Ferguson to remain calm and peaceful, the first shops were being looted and set on fire. His comments seemed strangely uninspired and apprehensive — as though he had already succumbed to resignation.

Many of the causes of the day-to-day discrimination experienced by blacks, of course, are far outside of Obama’s control. Federalism in America means that he has little influence over the behavior of local police or over the judiciaries in individual states. In such areas, Obama can only resort to appeals — something that many blacks believe he has done too little of. From the perspective of the White House, however, such speeches are often counterproductive.


Less Money, Less Education, Less Influence


“Ferguson marks the end of the Obama era,” says Cornel West, professor emeritus at Princeton University and a leading African American intellectual. It is “a very sad ending,” West says. “We began with immense hopes and we are ending with deep disappointment.” Obama, he says, did nothing to fix a justice system that denies any form of fairness to young people with black or brown skin. He adds that the president shares some of the blame for the “race and class warfare” that is being waged against black people.

The shots fired in Ferguson have become a danger for societal peace in a country that once celebrated itself for being a cultural melting pot — a mixture which whites in America decreasingly see themselves as being a part of. Instead, the US is a divided land with a primarily white elite and an African-American population that tends to have less money, less education and less influence. In many areas, blacks are also now being overtaken by the growing Hispanic population.

To be sure, the US has plenty of black pop stars, black sports icons and, since 2009, even a black president. Nevertheless, most people with dark skin are far away from enjoying true equality. Fifty years after the widespread reforms pushed through by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which established formal equality for blacks, the social gap remains glaring.


Institutional Racism


Making matters worse is the discrimination practiced by state institutions such as law enforcement. The chances that a young black man will be shot dead by the police, for example, is 21 times greater than it is for young white males. The death of 18-year-old Michael Brown is far from abnormal. Just 10 days ago, a 12-year-old boy was shot and killed by a police officer in Cleveland because he was playing with a toy pistol at a playground.

The country-wide protests of the African-American minority demonstrate just how deep the distrust between blacks and whites remains despite the 51 years that have passed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Many white police officers see young black men primarily as a danger to public safety that must be stopped, with a firearm if necessary. In the eyes of many blacks, by contrast, white police officers like Darren Wilson are nothing more than racist murderers.

When the grand jury last Monday decided not to press charges against the 28-year-old Wilson, many African-Americans saw it as proof that they could not expect justice from the state and its judiciary. The case was led by a white public prosecutor who has a reputation for defending police at all costs. Instead of being professionally cross-examined, Wilson was allowed to spend four hours telling his version of the story. If the goal was to definitively destroy the last vestiges of faith blacks may have had in the justice system, the grand jury in the Brown case did excellent work.

On the evening after the grand jury decision was announced, more than a dozen shops in Ferguson were set on fire, with over 1,000 blacks engaging in street battles with the police. The scenes were repeated on subsequent evenings. Last Tuesday, South Florrissant Road was the dividing line, symbolic of a line — sometimes clearly visible, other times hidden — that runs through all of America.

On the one side of the street, both in front of and behind a fence surrounding the police station, are police and National Guard troops, almost all of them white. They are outfitted with riot shields, batons and all manner of firearms, looking not unlike an army preparing to defend Ferguson from the Taliban. The governor of Missouri has ordered 2,100 National Guard troops to St. Louis for the evening.

On the other side of South Florrissant Road are the young blacks of Ferguson. They hold signs up reading “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” Few of them are over 30 years of age.

Their expressions reveal hate and the word “fuck” is everywhere, in combination with words such as police, system, judiciary, government and power. In August, such faces looked different: distraught but also full of hope that something good might come out of Michael Brown’s death. There was hope that change might be on the way.


‘If We Don’t Destroy … They Won’t Pay Attention’


One of the demonstrators on this Tuesday evening is wearing a scarf pulled up over his nose with his cap pulled down low. He is stomping on the asphalt and yelling, “They order us around and kill us like we were dogs!” The 25-year-old asks to be quoted as “Mike Monster,” saying he wants to remain anonymous because he has decided this evening to turn his back on the system of rules and laws that he no longer identifies with. In August, he says, he demonstrated peacefully. But now he is ready for violence. “If we don’t tear anything down, if we don’t destroy anything, if we don’t set fire to anything, they won’t even pay attention,” he yells. “We need a revolution!”

“You can’t stop the revolution,” the crowd around him replies.

A quote from Thomas Jefferson is scratched into the asphalt in front of the South Florrissant police station: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.” It is a slogan that many in Ferguson have taken to heart.

Marley’s Bar & Grill, the only restaurant in the area that has remained open despite the protests, is just 500 meters away from the police station, but it is a totally different world. All 15 people sitting at the counter are white. Three of the televisions inside are showing ice hockey, while just one is tuned to CNN. Suddenly, “Breaking News” begins flashing on the screen: “Police car attacked in Ferguson.”

Voices become raised at the counter. “They are crazy. They need to finally learn how to behave,” one woman shrieks. “Like animals,” her partner adds.

In the history of America, violence has occasionally paved the way for political improvements for the country’s black population. When the escaped slave Shadrach Minkins was captured in Boston in 1851 under the Fugitive Slave Act, for example, slavery opponents stormed the courthouse, assaulted the court marshals and freed Minkins. The incident marked the beginning of a shift in attitudes toward slavery.

Yet peaceful movements, and the courts, have also played a role. Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of a public bus on Dec. 1, 1955 — which led to a Supreme Court ruling that segregation on public transport was unconstitutional — is just one example. But it was the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. that achieved perhaps the greatest victory for racial equality in the form of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, using peaceful protests and civil disobedience. Even so, there was a threat of violence in the background, in the form of Malcolm X and his followers.


Little Change under Obama


At the beginning of his term, Barack Obama likely never imagined that a new wave of violence would take place during his presidency. But it is not an accident. After all, he himself raised hopes that progress would be made. Yet after six years in office, little has changed for blacks in the US.

Obama held the speech that raised the hopes of black Americans on March 18, 2008 as a candidate in Philadelphia. It was a reaction to comments made by his Chicago pastor and friend Jeremiah Wright, who had accused the US government of crimes against blacks. “God damn America … for killing innocent people,” he intoned from the pulpit in a sermon that threatened to derail Obama’s candidacy.

“The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society,” Obama said in his speech. “It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country … is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.”

Obama was referring to a time when blacks were forced to serve whites as slaves; a time when they weren’t even second-class citizens, instead being treated as commodities to be raised and sold at market. But he also was referring to the decades leading up to the 1960s when blacks were not allowed to use the same park benches as whites and were forced to sit at the back of the bus.

In that speech, Obama promised to create “a more perfect union,” in reference to the preamble of the US Constitution. He sought to finally fulfill the promise made 50 years earlier by fellow Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson. In remarks at the signing of the Civil Rights Bill on July 2, 1964, Johnson said he hoped to “eliminate the last vestiges of injustice in our beloved country” and to “close the springs of racial poison.”

Many observers believe that Obama’s speech was a decisive factor in his becoming the first black president in American history half a year later. It is still widely considered to be one of his best.

But the final push to realize Johnson’s dream has still not taken place. The situation today gives the impression that African-Americans are adequately represented “without giving them the possibility to really take advantage” of that representation, says Kareem Crayton, a law professor at the University of North Carolina. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, sociology professor at Duke University, agrees. “Having a black president doesn’t mean much in our day-to-day lives.”

Six years after Obama’s race speech, more than a quarter of blacks in American live below the poverty line. Among whites, that figure is 12.8 percent. According to the Pew Research Center, the median annual income of a white household was about $27,000 higher than that of a black household in 2011, with the difference having grown over the course of the last several decades. The black “island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” which Martin Luther King complained about 50 years ago, still exists in 2014. Every third African-American child born between 1985 and 2000 grew up in a neighborhood marked by extreme poverty.

“Today, racial segregation can be seen in social mobility,” argues Richard Reeves from the Washington think tank Brookings Institution. Last year, the US Education Department released a study that analyzed data from 97,000 schools across the country. According to its results, black students were suspended and expelled at three times the rate of their white peers. Every fourth school with a high proportion of blacks and Latinos did not offer advanced courses in mathematics.

“It’s the age of Obama, and yet civil rights have gone backwards. What went wrong? asked the New Republic on its cover in August. The issue, which appeared after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, spoke of a “new racism.” Indeed, the kinds of deadly events that took place in Ferguson and Cleveland have now convinced many blacks that it wasn’t Obama who was right back in the spring of 2008. Rather, it was his angry pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

On the Saturday before last, 12-year-old Tamir Rice wandered into Cudell Park at 3:12 p.m. The park is in a section of western Cleveland that is poor and primarily black. Paint flakes off the homes in the area, empty lots are overgrown and shops are secured with heavy padlocks. Tamir was black, and he was carrying a toy pistol. The combination was akin to a death sentence.

Tamir lived across the street in a grim brick building, his mother, the single parent of four children, unable to afford a better apartment. In the park, a bored Tamir wandered back and forth, throwing snow. He was carrying the plastic pistol in his right hand when a passerby saw him and called 911.


‘Is He Black or Is He White?’


“There’s a guy here with a pistol … and he’s like pointing it at everybody,” the caller says. He’s “probably a juvenile,” the caller continues, adding that the pistol is “probably fake,” a suspicion the caller later repeats. The officer taking the call wants to know what the person with the pistol looks like, asking “Is he black or white.” She repeats the question three times.

The dispatcher alerted Timothy Loehmann, 26, and Frank Garmback, 46, who were in a patrol car in the area, notifying them of a black male with a firearm. The officers were not told of the possibility that the firearm was a toy.

At 3:30 p.m., the police car flew across the grass at high speed toward where the boy was playing. Tamir comes toward the car as it screeches to a halt, as though he is curious. The surveillance video of the shooting shows that he had stuffed the pistol under his jacket.

Loehmann jumps out of the passenger door and, according to the two officers, yelled “hands up!” three times. It isn’t clear from the surveillance video of a nearby youth center how, exactly, Tamir responded. The police say he didn’t put his hands up, grabbing instead toward his belt.

One shot hit Tamir in the breast and he collapsed. Between the arrival of the patrol car and the firing of the deadly shots, only seconds had elapsed.

The police officers could have carefully approached the boy, or they could have asked social workers at the youth club, who knew Tamir, to speak with him. But instead, they simply opened fire. Tamir Rice, who dreamed of one day becoming a professional basketball player, died in the hospital.

The American problem has many different facets, but it is accurate to say that it is mostly white men who shoot young African-Americans in the service of the state. The actor Morgan Freeman recently told German newsmagazine Stern that the color of the law is white.

Almost half of all murder victims and about 40 percent of the US prison population are black, even though the African-American share of the population is just 12.6 percent. And in many states, those with a criminal record forfeit many rights, such as access to welfare, for example. In 10 states, those who have been convicted of a criminal offense lose their right to vote for life.


‘You Kill Our Children’


Since that deadly Saturday in Cudell Park, Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams has tried several times to explain why the officers opened fire on Tamir Rice. Williams, who is black himself, is standing in the gymnasium of the Cudell Park recreation center, a radio dangling from his lapel and a firearm affixed to his belt. Williams has come to answer questions — and to try and calm local nerves. Three hundred people have crammed into the hall to hear him speak.

“Our officers are trained to take someone out if he is carrying a weapon,” Williams says. “Shooting someone in the arm or in the leg may happen in the movies, but it doesn’t happen in real life.” In a society with as many firearms as citizens, it seems the police feel like they’re in a constant state of war. Police deal every day with people potentially carrying firearms, and that’s how they approach every call.

Calista Cottingham, 37, is also at the Cudell Park Recreation Center, and she wants to share her story. She has six children, including four sons. One day, she says, she drove one of her sons to football practice. Cottingham says she took him to the playing field and left the other children in a parked car, an act that is illegal in some US states. She was then confronted by two police officers who ordered her to put her hands on the steering wheel and not move. When Cottingham told the officers she hadn’t done anything wrong — given that her oldest son had been sitting in the car — she claims the police threatened her with a Taser. When she got out of the car, she says one of the policeman hit her so hard she had to be taken to the hospital.

Robin Andrews has also shown up at the recreation center this evening. She happens to be Tamir’s aunt. “You guys are trained not to trust us,” she says, with her comments directed at the police chief. “You kill our children and your behavior makes us sick.” Andrews later explains that her own son wants to go on to study medicine, but each day she fears for his life. “The man who murdered my nephew needs to go to prison,” Andrews says. “No justice, no peace.” The sentence has become the slogan of these protests, one that can be heard in this recreation center in Cleveland, in Ferguson and on the streets of Washington, DC and New York.

Barack Obama has heard the rallying cry, which protestors have also been chanting during the past week in front of the White House. But the president is in a Catch 22 situation. On the one side he knows African-Americans have great expectations for him. On the other, he’s prone to attacks every time he speaks out on the issue of race-linked incidents.


White Conservatives View Obama as Threat


Since Obama became president, opinions have become sharply divided within the American population when it comes to events with potentially racist backgrounds. More than two-thirds of Democrats disapproved of the acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, who shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, in Florida in February 2012. But only 20 percent of people identifying as Republicans had a problem with the verdict. And whereas more than half of Democrats surveyed said they thought the anti-slavery film “12 Years a Slave” was worthy of an Oscar, only 15 percent of Republicans thought it deserving of the award.

During Obama’s time in office, Republicans have increasingly become a party of the white elite and rural regions. The party’s most radical supporters viewed Obama’s speeches and proposed legislation as nothing more than a black man’s attempt to exact revenge against the country’s white majority. Even if they don’t always say so, Obama’s opponents have always felt that his actions represent a threat to white people, whether he launched a federal investment programs aimed at economic stimulus or proposed making the healthcare system a little fairer.

Some white conservatives actually still believe today that they are discriminated against due to the color of their skin because African-Americans, on average, profit more from Obama’s healthcare reforms. The extreme resistance to “Obamacare” wasn’t motivated by economic concerns alone.

Some of his detractors even believe that Obama is seeking not only to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, but also from whites to blacks. That helps to explain some of the vehemence behind their attacks.

Obama actually has sought to help the bottom third of American society with his social and economic reforms. “The plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society,” he said in February as he announced a $200 million program to improve education for African-American and Hispanic boys. “And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color,” he said.


Backlash against Obama


His fight to establish a higher minimum wage is likewise one of the projects that the Republicans have fought with the same kind of fervor evident in their battle against healthcare reform. Obama signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 for people working on new federal service contracts, but he failed to get an increase in the national minimum wage through the Republicans in Congress, who view themselves as the defenders of the white middle and upper classes.

At the same time, it is also true that Obama has never really presented himself as an advocate of African-Americans during his time in office. He learned during a very early stage of his presidency the kind of fury he might unleash if he commented on conflicts with a racial element.

When the president said police “acted stupidly” when they arrested black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates in 2009, he faced fierce criticism from his white opponents. Police had accused the professor of trying to break into his own home because his key had gotten stuck in the lock. Obama felt compelled in the end to convene a reconciliatory “beer summit” at the White House to which he invited both Gates and the police officers who arrested him.

Equal opportunity was the subject of Obama’s State of the Union address in January and, in it, he cited two examples. The first was Misty DeMars, a white woman from a Chicago suburb who counts among the long-term unemployed. The second was Estiven Rodriguez, a 17-year-old student from New York who immigrated to the US as a nine-year-old from the Dominican Republican without speaking a word of English.

DeMars was meant to represent the difficulty women face in advancing their careers. And Rodriguez served as an example of how immigrants can succeed when given the chance.

He didn’t mention a single black person in his speech.


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