TBR News December 23, 2016

Dec 23 2016

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. December 23, 2016:

Defense Intelligence Agency

Washington, DC 20301        20 APRIL 1978

SUBJECT: Soviet Intelligence Report on Assassination of President KENNEDY


The following report has been prepared at your request in response to a Soviet report on the assassination of President John F. KENNEDY on 22 NOV 1963. The Soviet document (see Enclosure a) has been obtained from a fully reliable source and duly authenticated.

This report is an analysis of the Soviet document and is done on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis.

Material in this analysis has been taken from a number of sources indicated in the Appendix and is to be considered classified at the highest level. Nothing contained in this report may be disseminated to any individual or agency without prior written permission of the Director or his appointed deputy.

This agency does not assume, and cannot verify, the correctness of the material contained herein, although every reasonable effort has been made to do so. Any use of information contained in this report must be paraphrased and sources, either individual or agency, must not be credited.



1 Enclosure

1 Appendix                                   Chief, Soviet/Warsaw Pact Division 11                                                                  Directorate for Intelligence Research

Note: The Russian language file is not attached to this report and exists in official translation only

Enclosure A

The Soviet Intelligence Study (translation)

  1. On 22 November, 1963, American President John Kennedy was shot and killed during a political motor trip through the Texas city of Dallas. The President was riding at the head of the procession in his official state car, seated in the right rear with his wife on his left side. Seated in front of him was the Governor of Texas and his wife, also on his left side. The vehicle was an open car without side or top protection of any kind. There was a pilot car in front, about a hundred feet, and the President’s car was flanked by motorcycle outriders located two to a side roughly parallel with the rear wheels of the State car.
  2. The President and his party were driving at a speed of about 20 kilometers per hour through the built-up area of Dallas and greeted the many people lining the streets along his route. Security was supplied by the Secret Service supplemented by local police. There were two Secret Service agents in the front of the car. One was driving the car. Other agents were in cars following the Presidential vehicle and Dallas police on motorbikes were on both sides of the Presidential car but at the rear of it. There was a pilot car in front of the President’s car but it was at some distance away.
  3. The course of the journey was almost past all the occupied area. The cars then turned sharply to the right and then again to the left to go to the motorway leading to a meeting hall where the President was to speak at a dinner. It is considered very bad security for such an official drive to decrease its speed or to make unnecessary turnings or stops. (Historical note: It was just this problem that led directly to positioning the Austrian Heir in front of waiting assassins at Sarajevo in 1914.) The route was set by agents of the Secret Service and published in the Dallas newspapers before the arrival of the President and his party.
  4. After the last turning to the left, the cars passed a tall building on the right side of the street that was used as a warehouse for the storage of school books. This building was six stories tall and had a number of workers assigned to it. There were no official security people in this building, either on the roof or at the windows. Also, there were no security agents along the roadway on either side. All security agents were riding either in the Presidential car (two in the front) and in the following vehicles.
  5. As the President’s state car passed this building, some shots were heard. The exact source and number of these shots was never entirely determined. Some observers thought that the shots came from above and behind while many more observers in the area stated that the shots came from the front and to the right of the car. There was a small area with a decorative building and some trees and bushes there and many saw unidentified people in this area. Many people standing in front of this area to watch the cars stated that shots came from behind them.
  6. When the first shots were fired, the President was seen to lean forward and clutch at his throat with both hands. Immediately when this happened, the Secret Service driver of the President’s state car slowed down the vehicle until it was almost stopped. This was a direct breach of their training which stated that in such events where firing occurred, the driver of the President’s car would immediately drive away as quickly as possible.
  7. At the same time as the first shot, there was a second one, this one from behind and above. This bullet struck the Governor, sitting in front of the President and slightly to his right, in the right upper shoulder. The bullet went downwards into the chest cavity, breaking ribs, struck his wrist and lodged in his left upper thigh. There were then two shots fired at the President’s car. The first shot initiated the action and this one appears to have hit the President in the throat. If so, it must have been fired from in front of the car, not behind it.
  8. Right at that moment, there was one other shot. The shell obviously struck the President on the upper rear of the right side of his head, throwing him back and to the left. Also, at this time, blood, pieces of skull and brains could be seen flying to the left where the motorbike police guard was struck with this material on his right side and on the right side of his motorbike.
  9. Immediately after this final shot, the driver then began to increase his speed and the cars all went at increasing speed down under the tunnel.
  10. The fatally injured President and the seriously injured Governor were very quickly taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. The President was declared as dead and his body was removed, by force, to an aircraft and flown to Washington. The badly wounded Governor was treated at the hospital for his wounds and survived.
  11. Within moments of the shots fired at the President, a Dallas motorcycle police officer ran into the book building and up to the second floor in the company of the manager of the establishment. Here, the policeman encountered a man later positively identified as one Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee of the book storage company. Oswald was drinking a Coca-Cola and appeared to be entirely calm and collected. (Later it was said that he had rushed down four flights of steps past other employees in a few moments after allegedly shooting the President. It is noted from the records that none of the other employees on the staircase ever saw Oswald passing them.) The elevator which moved freight and personnel between the floors was halted at the sixth floor and turned off so that it could not be recalled to persons below wishing to use it.
  12. After meeting the police officer and apparently finishing his drink, Oswald went down to the main floor and left the building, unnoticed.
  13. Oswald then went to his apartment by a public bus and on foot, dressed in new clothes and left the building. His apartment manager observed that a police car stopped in front of the building and blew its horn several times. She was unaware of the reason for this.
  14. Oswald was then stated to have been halted by a local police officer whom he then was alleged to have shot dead. The only witness who positively identified Oswald as the shooter was considered to be unstable and unreliable.
  15. Oswald then entered a motion picture house and was later arrested there by the police. He was beaten in the face by the police and taken into their custody.
  16. When the captured Oswald was photographed by the reporters, he claimed that he was not guilty of shooting anyone and this was a position he maintained throughout his interrogations.
  17. All records of his interrogation, carried out by the Dallas police and the Secret Service, were subsequently destroyed without a trace.
  18. During the course of the interrogations, Oswald was repeatedly led up and down very crowded corridors of the police headquarters with no thought of security. This is an obvious breach of elementary security that was noted at the time by reporters. It now appears that Oswald’s killer was seen and photographed in the crowds in the building.
  19. The American Marine defector, Lee Harvey Oswald, entered the Soviet Union in October of 1959. Initially, Oswald, who indicated he wanted to “defect” and reside in the Soviet Union, was the object of some suspicion by Soviet intelligence authorities. He was at first denied entrance, attempted a “suicide” attempt and only when he was more extensively interrogated by competent agents was it discovered that he was in possession of material that potentially had a great intelligence value.
  20. Oswald, who as a U.S. Marine, was stationed at the Atsugi air field in Japan, had been connected with the Central Intelligence Agency’s U-2 intelligence-gathering aircraft program and was in possession of technical manuals and papers concerning these aircraft and their use in overflights of the Soviet Union.
  21. The subject proved to be most cooperative and a technical analysis of his documentation indicated that he was certainly being truthful with Soviet authorities. In addition to the manuals, Oswald was able to supply Soviet authorities with a wealth of material, much of which was unknown and relatively current. As a direct result of analysis of the Oswald material, it became possible to intercept and shoot down a U2 aircraft flown by CIA employee Gary Powers.
  22. On the basis of the quality of this material, Oswald was granted asylum in the Soviet Union and permitted to settle in Minsk under the supervision of the Ministry of the Interior. This was partially to reward him for his cooperation and also to remove him from the possible influence of American authorities at the Embassy in Moscow.
  23. Oswald worked in a radio factory, was given a subsidized apartment in Minsk and kept under constant surveillance. He was very pro-Russian, learned to speak and read the language, albeit not with native fluency, and behaved himself well in his new surroundings.
  24. Although Oswald was a known homosexual, he nevertheless expressed an interest in women as well and his several casual romantic affairs with both men and women were duly noted.
  25. Oswald became involved with Marina Nikolaevna Prusakova, the niece of a Minsk-based intelligence official. He wished to marry this woman who was attractive but cold and ambitious. She wished to leave the Soviet Union and emigrate to the United States for purely economic reasons. Since his marrying a Soviet citizen under his circumstances was often most difficult, Oswald began to speak more and more confidentially with his intelligence contacts in Minsk. He finally revealed that he was an agent for the United States Office of Naval Intelligence and had been recruited by them to act as a conduit between their office and Soviet intelligence.
  26. The official material on the CIA operations was entirely authentic and had been supplied to Oswald by his controllers at the ONI. It was apparent, and Oswald repeatedly stated, that the CIA was completely unaware of the removal of sensitive documents from their offices. This removal, Oswald stated, was effected by the ONI personnel stationed at Atsugi air field. Oswald was unaware of the reasons for this operation but had been repeatedly assured that the mission was considered of great national importance and that if he proved to be successful, he would be afforded additional and profitable future employment. It appears that Oswald was considered to be a one time operative and was expendable. His purpose was to establish a reputation as a pro-Russian individual who would then “defect” to the Soviet Union and pass over the U2 material. He did not seem to realize at the time he “defected” that once he had been permitted to live in the Soviet Union, on an official governmental subsidy, returning to America would be very difficult, if not impossible.
  27. Now, with his romantic, and very impractical, attachment to Prusakova, he was being pressured by her to marry and then take her with him back to the United States. Oswald was informed that this was not a possible option for him. He became very emotional and difficult to deal with but finally made the suggestion that if he were allowed to marry and return to the United States, he would agree to work in reality for the Soviet Union.
  28. After referring this matter to higher authority, it was decided to accede to Oswald’s requests, especially since he was of no further use to Soviet intelligence and might well be of some service while resident in America.
  29. Marriage was permitted and his return was expedited both by the Soviet authorities and the Americans who were informed, via a letter from Oswald,that he was in possession of intelligence material of value to them. This valuable information was duly given to him, a reversal to be noted on his original mission!
  30. Oswald was given prepared information of such a nature as to impress American intelligence and permitted to contact intelligence officials in the American Embassy in Moscow. He was then permitted by the Americans to return to the United States with his new wife.
  31. In America, Oswald no longer worked with the ONI because he was not able to further assist them. Besides, he was viewed as dangerous because he had knowledge of the ONI theft and use of CIA documents.
  32. While in America, Oswald then worked as a paid informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation who had contacted him when he returned and requested his assistance with domestic surveillance against pro-Soviet groups. He was assigned, in New Orleans, the task of infiltrating the anti-Castro groups which were nominally under the control of the CIA.
  33. It is noted that there exists a very strong rivalry between the FBI and the CIA. The former is nominally in charge of domestic counterintelligence and the latter in charge of foreign intelligence. They have been fighting for power ever since the CIA was first formed in 1947. Oswald has stated that the FBI was aware of this ONI-sponsored defection with stolen CIA U2 documents but this is not a proven matter.
  34. Later, Oswald was transferred to Dallas, Texas, by the FBI and he then secured a position at a firm which dealt in very secret photographic matters. Here, he was able to supply both the FBI and Soviet intelligence with identical data.
  35. FBI reports, kept secret, show clearly that Oswald was paid by the FBI as an informant.
  36. In New Orleans, a center of Cuban insurgent activity, Oswald was in direct contact with FBI officials and worked for a Guy Bannister, former FBI agent. Oswald infiltrated the ranks of Cuban insurgents and reported his findings to the FBI .
  37. At that time, the FBI was involved, at the request of the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, in watching the clandestine activities of the CIA and its Alpha and Omega special commando groups, some of whom were in training in the New Orleans area.
  38. The American President was greatly concerned that continued and fully unauthorized para-military action against Cuba might upset the balance he had achieved in seeking peace with the Soviet Union.
  39. It is knows from informants inside the CIA and also from Cuban double agents that the CIA was, in conjunction with the highest American military leadership, to force an American invasion of Cuba.
  40. These joint plans, which consisted of acts of extreme provocation by American units against American property and citizens, were unknown to Kennedy.
  41. When the American President discovered that Cuban insurgents, under the control of the CIA and with the support of the highest military leadership, were embarked on a course of launching military action against American naval bases under the cover of being Cuban regular troops, he at once ordered a halt.
  42. Kennedy also informed Premier Khruschev directly of these planned actions and assured him that he had prevented them from being executed. The Premier expressed his gratitude and hoped that Kennedy would be successful in enforcing his will and preventing any other such adventures.
  43. The American President, unsure of the depth of his influence with the leadership of the American military and the CIA, ordered the FBI to investigate these matters and ordered the Director, Hoover, to report directly to him on his findings.
  44. Oswald was a part of the FBI surveillance of the Cuban insurgents in the New Orleans area.
  45. Oswald made a number of public appearances passing out pro-Castro leaflets in order to ingratiate himself with the insurgents.
  46. At the FBI request, a local television station filmed Oswald passing out these leaflets and had this film shown on local stations in order to enhance Oswald’s image. When his mission was finished, Oswald was then sent to Dallas to observe and penetrate the Russian colony there.
  47. Two days after the shooting of the American President, the alleged assassin, Oswald was shot to death in the basement of the Dallas Police Department while he was being transferred to another jail. On the day of the assassination, November 22, FBI Chief Hoover notified the authorities in Dallas that Oswald should be given special security.
  48. This killing was done in the presence of many armed police officers by a known criminal and associate of the American Mafia named Jack Rubenstein, or “Ruby” as he was also known. “Ruby” had a long past of criminal association with the Mafia in Chicago, Illinois, a major area of gangster control in America. “Ruby” had once worked for the famous Al Capone and then for Sam Giancana. This man was head of the Chicago mob at the time of the assassination.
  49. “Ruby” was the owner of a drinking establishment in Dallas that specialized in dancing by naked women and was also a close friend of many police officers in Dallas. “Ruby” had been seen and photographed in the Dallas police department while Oswald was being interrogated. It should be noted here that suspect Oswald was very often taken by Dallas police out into the completely unguarded hallways of the building and in the presence of many persons unknown to the police. This is viewed as either an attempt to have Oswald killed or a very incompetent and stupid breach of basic security.
  50. The timing by “Ruby” of his entrance into the guarded basement was far too convenient to be accidental. Also, the method of his shooting of Oswald showed a completely professional approach. “Ruby” stepped out from between two policeman holding a revolver down along his leg to avoid detection. As he stepped towards the suspect, “Ruby” raised his right hand with the revolver and fired upwards into Oswald’s body. The bullet severed major arteries and guaranteed Oswald’s death.
  51. Although “Ruby” subsequently pretended to be mentally disturbed, his actions showed professional calculation to a degree. This play-acting was continued into his trial and afterwards. “Ruby” was convicted of the murder of Oswald and sentenced to death. He died in prison of cancer in January of 1967 after an appeal from his sentence had been granted by the court judge. Information indicates that he was given a fatal injection.
  52. “Ruby’s” statements should not be confused with his actions. He was a professional criminal, had excellent connections with the Dallas police, had been involved with activities in Cuba and gun running into that country and some evidence has been produced to show that he and Oswald had knowledge of each other.
  53. Like Oswald, “Ruby” too had homosexual activities and one public witness firmly placed Oswald in “Ruby’s” club prior to the assassination.
  54. In view of later developments and disclosures, the use of a Chicago killer with local Mafia connections to kill Oswald is not surprising. Stories of “Ruby’s” eccentricity were highlighted by American authorities to make it appear that he, like suspect Oswald, was an eccentric, single individual who acted out of emotion and not under orders.
  55. As in the case of Oswald, there was never a proven motive for “Ruby’s” acts. Oswald had no reason whatsoever to shoot the President, had never committed any proven acts of violence. Although he was purported to have shot at a fascist General, it was badly presented and in all probability was a “red herring” to “prove” Oswald’s desire to shoot people. “Ruby”, a professional criminal with a long record of violence, claimed he shot Oswald to “protect” the President’s wife from testifying. This statement appears to be an obvious part of “Ruby’s” attempt to defend himself by claiming to be mad.
  56. It is obvious that “Ruby” killed Oswald to silence him. Since Oswald was not involved in the killing of the President, continued interrogation of him leading to a court trial would have very strongly exposed the weakness of the American government’s attempt to blame him for the crime.
  57. Silencing Oswald promptly was a matter of serious importance for the actual killers.
  58. Rubenstein was not a man of intelligence but was a devoted member of the American criminal network.
  59. Just prior to the assassination, Rubenstein was in a meeting with representatives of the criminal network and was told that he was to be held in readiness to kill someone who might be in Dallas police custody.
  60. It was felt that Rubenstein was a well-connected man with the Dallas police department and that he might have access to the building without a challenge. He was also informed that he could be considered a “great hero” in the eyes of the American public. Rubenstein was a man of little self-worth and this approach strongly influenced him in his future actions.
  61. A very large number of published books about the assassination have appeared since the year 1963. Most of these books are worthless from a historical point of view. They represent the views of obsessed people and twist information only to suit the author’s beliefs.
  62. There are three main ideas written about:
  63. The American gangsters killed the President because his brother, the American Attorney General, was persecuting them;
  64. Cuban refugees felt that Mr. Kennedy had deserted their cause of ousting Cuban chief of state Castro;
  65. Various American power groups such as the capitalist business owners, fascist political groups, racists, internal and external intelligence organization either singly or in combination are identified.
  66. American officials have not only made no effort to silence these writers but in many cases have encouraged them. The government feels, as numerous confidential reports indicate, that the more lunatic books appear, the better. This way, the real truth is so concealed as to be impenetrable.
  67. It was initially of great concern to our government that individuals inside the American government were utilizing Oswald’s “Communist/Marxist” appearance to suggest that the assassination was of a Soviet origin.
  68. In order to neutralize this very dangerous theme, immediately after the assassination, the Soviet Union fully cooperated with American investigating bodies and supplied material to them showing very clearly that Oswald was not carrying out any Soviet designs.
  69. Also, false defectors were used to convince the Americans that Oswald was considered a lunatic by the Soviet Union, and had not been connected with the Soviet intelligence apparatus in any way. He was, of course, connected but it was imperative to disassociate the Soviet Union with the theory that Oswald, an American intelligence operative, had been in collusion with them concerning the assassination.
  70. The false defector Nosenko, a provable member of Soviet intelligence, was given a scenario that matched so closely the personal attitudes of Mr. Hoover of the FBI that this scenario was then officially supported by Mr. Hoover and his bureau.
  71. Angleton of the CIA at once suspected Nosenko’s real mission and subjected him to intense interrogation but finally, Nosenko has been accepted as a legitimate defector with valuable information on Oswald.
  72. Because of this business, Angleton was forced to resign his post as chief of counter intelligence. This has been considered a most fortunate byproduct of the controversy.
  73. The FBI has accepted the legitimacy of Nosenko and his material precisely because it suited them to do so. It was also later the official position of the CIA because the issue dealt specifically with the involvement, or non-involvement, between Oswald, a private party, and the organs of Soviet intelligence. Since there was no mention of Oswald’s connection with American intelligence, this was of great importance to both agencies.
  74. It is known now that the American gangsters had very close relations with the Central Intelligence Agency. This relationship began during the war when the American OSS made connections with the Sicilian members of the American gangs in order to assist them against the fascists. The man who performed this liaison was Angleton, later head of counter intelligence for the CIA. These gangster contacts were later utilized by the CIA for its own ends.
  75. American foreign policy was, and still is, firmly in the hands of the CIA. It alone makes determinations as to which nation is to be favored and which is to be punished. No nation is permitted to be a neutral; all have to be either in the US camp or are its enemies. Most often, the wishes of American business are paramount in the determination as to which nation will receive US support and which will not only be denied this support but attacked. It is the American CIA and not the Soviet Union, that had divided the world into two warring camps.
  76. American, and most especially the CIA, attempts to destabilize a Communist state i.e., Cuba, could not be permitted by the Soviet leadership. Castro was a most valuable client in that he provided an excellent base of intelligence and political operations in the American hemisphere. As the CIA had been setting up its own ring of hostile states surrounding the Soviet Union, Cuba was viewed officially as a completely legitimate area of political expansion. Threats of invasion and physical actions against Cuba were viewed by the Chairman as threats against the Soviet Union itself.” “It is an absolute fact that both the American President, Kennedy, and his brother, the American Attorney General, were especially active in a sexual sense. A number of sexually explicit pictures of the President engaging in sexual acts are in the official files as are several pictures of the Attorney General, taken while on a visit to Moscow in 1961.
  77. The President was aware that a number of these pictures were in Soviet hands and acted accordingly. In addition to a regular parade of whores into the White House, it was also reliably reported from several sources that the President was a heavy user of various kinds of illegal narcotics. It is also known from medical reports that the President suffered from a chronic venereal disease for which he was receiving medical treatment. 76. In order to better cooperate with the Soviet Union, President Kennedy used to regularly keep in close, private communication with the Chairman. These contacts were kept private to prevent negative influences from the State Department and most certainly from the Central Intelligence Agency. The President said several times that he did not trust this agency who was bent on stirring up a war between the two nations. Through this personal contact, many matters that might have escalated due to the interference of others were peacefully settled.
  78. The pseudo-defector, Oswald, became then important to the furtherance of the plan to kill the American president. He had strong connections with the Soviet Union; he had married a Soviet citizen; he had been noticed in public advocating support of Fidel Castro. His position in a tall building overlooking the parade route was a stroke of great good fortune to the plotters.
  79. Oswald was then reported by the CIA to have gone to Mexico City on 26 September, 1963 and while there, drew considerable attention to his presence in both the Soviet and Cuban embassies. What Oswald might have done in the Cuban embassy is not known for certain but there is no record of his ever having visited the Soviet embassy in Mexico at that time. CIA physical descriptions as well as photographs show that Oswald was not the man depicted. This appears strongly to be a poor attempt on the part of the CIA to embroil both the Soviet Union and Cuba in their affairs.” “It is understood that the actual assassins were subsequently removed in a wet action but that one apparently escaped and has been the object of intense searches in France and Italy by elements of the CIA.

79 From this brief study, it may be seen that the American President was certainly killed by orders of high officials in the CIA, working in close conjunction with very high American military leaders. It was the CIA belief that Kennedy was not only circumventing their own mapped-out destruction of Fidel Castro by assassination and invasion but actively engaged in contacts with the Soviet Union to betray the CIA actions.

  1. The American military leaders (known as the Joint Chiefs of Staff) were also determined upon the same goals, hence both of them worked together to ensure the removal of a President who acted against their best interests and to have him replaced with a weaker man whom they believed they could better control.
  2. President Johnson, Kennedy’s successor, was very much under the control of the military and CIA during his term in office and permitted an enormous escalation in Southeast Asia. The destruction of the Communist movement in that area was of paramount importance to both groups.


The Defense Intelligence Agency Report

  1. The Soviet analysis of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy contains material gleaned from American sources both official and unofficial i.e., media coverage, etc. Some of this material obviously stems from sources located inside various agencies. To date, none of these have been identified.
  2. It has long been a concern of the leadership and intelligence organs of the Soviet Union that blame has been attached to them for this assassination.
  3. The Soviets felt in the days immediately following the assassination that a plot was being developed, or had been developed prior to the act, that would serve to blame either the Cuban government or themselves for this action.
  4. It was felt that the identification of Lee Harvey Oswald as the sole assassin was intended to implicate the Soviet Union in the act because Oswald had been a very vocal supporter of the Marxist theory; had defected to the Soviet Union and had married a Soviet woman with intelligence connections.
  5. The strongly stated official policy of putting Oswald forward as the sole assassin greatly alarmed the Soviet Union which had already weathered the very serious Cuban Missile Crisis, a situation that came perilously close to an atomic war between the two powers.
  6. The Soviet leadership had established a strong, albeit secret, connection between themselves and the American President but with his death, this clandestine communications channel was closed.
  7. The Soviets promptly dispatched a number of senior intelligence personnel and files to Washington in order to reassure President Johnson and his top aides that the Soviet Union had no hand in the assassination.
  8. Johnson himself was a badly frightened man who, having witnessed the murder of his predecessor, lived in constant dread of a similar attack on himself. He also had no stomach for the kind of international brinkmanship as practiced by Kennedy and immediately assured the Soviets that he did not believe they had anything to do with the killing.
  9. The Soviets had learned of the plans formulated by the JCS to create a reason for military intervention in Cuba in 1962-63. They believed then, and still believe, that the killing of Kennedy was done partially to create a causus belli insofar as the Soviet Union itself was concerned.
  10. Their information indicated that while Kennedy had not permitted these provocations to influence his policy, such could not be said for Johnson. He was viewed as an untried individual and best reassured.
  11. One of the strongest supporters of the Soviet point of view was FBI Director Hoover.
  12. Because of the involvement of his agency with Oswald, it was in Hoover’s best interests to absolve the Soviets of any complicity and maintain the accepted fiction of Oswald as a deranged person working without assistance of any kind and certainly without any connection to any U.S. agency.
  13. It has been alleged that Oswald had also worked for the CIA. This has not been proven although it should be noted that Oswald was in direct contact with CIA agents, associated with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, while in Russia and had been debriefed by that agency after his return from Russia.
  14. Oswald also was intimately connected with de Mohrenschildt who was certainly known to be a CIA operative. Oswald’s connections with this man were such as to guarantee that the CIA was aware of Oswald’s movements throughout his residence in the Dallas area.
  15. When Oswald secured employment at the Texas Book Depository, de Mohrenschildt, according to an FBI report, reported this to the CIA.
  16. The existence and location of Oswald’s mail order Mannlicher-Carcano rifle in the garage of his wife’s friend, Ruth Paine, was also known to de Mohrenschildt at least one week prior to the assassination.
  17. The background and development of the Presidential trip as hereinafter set forth is in parallel with the Soviet report.
  18. The Dallas trip had been in train since late July of 1963. Texas was considered to be a key state in the upcoming 1964 Presidential elections. It was the disqualification of over 100,000 Texas votes, in conjunction with the known fraudulent voting in Chicago in 1960 that gave President Kennedy and his associates a slim margin of victory.
  19. The actual route of Kennedy’s drive through downtown Dallas was made known to the local press on Tuesday, November 19. The sharp right turn from Main St. onto Houston and then the equally sharp left turn onto Elm was the only way to get to the on ramp to the Stemmons Freeway. A traffic divider on Main St. precluded the motorcade from taking the direct route, from Main St. across Houston and thence right to the Stemmons Freeway exit.
  20. Just after the President’s car passed the Texas Book Depository, a number of shots were fired. There were a total of three shots fired at the President. The first shot came from the right front, hitting him in the neck. This projectile did not exit the body. The immediate reaction by the President was to clutch at his neck and say, “I have been hit!” He was unable to move himself into any kind of a defensive posture because he was wearing a restrictive body brace.
  21. The second shot came from above and behind the Presidential car, the bullet striking Texas Governor Connally in the upper right shoulder, passing through his chest and exiting sharply downwards into his left thigh.
  22. The third, and fatal shot, was also fired at the President from the right front and from a position slightly above the car. This bullet, which was fired from a .223 weapon, struck the President above the right ear, passed through the right rear quadrant of his head and exited towards the left. Pieces of the President’s skull and a large quantity of brain matter was blasted out and to the left of the car. Much of this matter struck a Dallas police motorcycle outrider positioned to the left rear of the Presidential car.
  23. Photographic evidence indicates that the driver, SA Greer, slowed down the vehicle when shots were heard, in direct contravention of standing Secret Service regulations.
  24. Reports that the initial hit on the President came from above and behind are false and misleading. Given the position of the vehicle at the time of impact and the altitude of the alleged shooter, a bullet striking the back of the President’s neck would have exited sharply downward as did the projectile fired at Governor Connally purportedly from the same shooter located in the same area of the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository.
  25. The projectile that killed the President was filled with mercury. When such a projectile enters a body, the sudden decrease in velocity causes the mercury to literally explode the shell. This type of projectile is designed to practically guarantee the death of the target and is a method in extensive use by European assassination teams.
  26. The disappearance of Kennedy’s brain and related post mortem material from the U.S. National Archives was motivated by an official desire not to permit further testing which would certainly show the presence of mercury in the brain matter.
  27. Official statements that the fatal shot was fired from above and behind are totally incorrect and intended to mislead. Such a shot would have blasted the brain and blood matter forward and not to the left rear. Also, photographic evidence indicates that after the fatal shot, the President was hurled towards his left, against his wife who was seated to his immediate left.
  28. The so-called “magic bullet” theory, i.e., a relatively pristine, fired, Western Cartridge 6.5 Mannlicher-Carcano projectile produced in evidence, is obviously an official attempt to justify its own thesis. This theory, that a projectile from above and behind struck the President in the upper back, swung up, exited his throat, gained altitude and then angled downwards through the body of Governor Connally, striking bone and passing through muscle mass and emerging in almost undamaged condition is a complete impossibility. The bullet in question was obtained by firing the alleged assassination weapon into a container of water.
  29. Three other such projectiles were recovered in similar undamaged condition. One of these was produced for official inspection and was claimed to have been found on Governor Connally’s stretcher at Parkland Hospital. As a goodly portion of the projectile was still in the Governor’s body (where much of it remained until his death some years later), this piece of purported evidence should be considered as nothing more than an official “plant.”
  30. Soviet commentary on Oswald is basically verified from both KGB and CIA sources. Oswald, however, was not being run by the ONI (note here that the USMC is under the control of the USN and that ONI would be the appropriate agency of initial contact) but instead by the CIA. Their personnel files indicate that Oswald was initially recruited by ONI for possible penetration of the very pervasive Japanese communist intelligence organization. Atsugi base was a very important target for these spies.
  31. Because of a shift in their policy, the CIA found it expedient to exploit their U2 surveillance of the Soviet Union as a political rather than an intelligence operation.
  32. The Eisenhower administration’s interest in the possibility of achieving a rapprochement with the Soviet Government created a situation that might have proven disastrous to the CIA continued functions.
  33. Internal CIA documents show very clearly that as their very existence was dependent on a continuation of the Cold War, any diminution of East-West hostility could easily lead to their down-sizing and, more important, to their loss of influence over the office of the President and also of U.S. foreign policy.
  34. It was proposed, according to top level CIA reports, to somehow use their own U2 flights to create an increase in tension that could lead to a frustration of any detente that might result from a lessening of international tensions.
  35. It was initially thought that certain compromising documents could be prepared, sent to the CIA base at Atsugi, Japan, and then somehow leaked to the aggressive Japanese communists. However, it was subsequently decided that there was a strong possibility that the documents might not be forwarded to Soviet Russia and kept in Japan for use in the anti-West/anti-war domestic campaigns.
  36. CIA personnel stationed at Atsugi conceived a plan to then arrange for select documents to be given directly to the Soviets via an American defector. It was at this point that Oswald’s name was brought up by an ONI man. A CIA evaluation of Oswald convinced them that he would be the perfect defector. Psychological profiles of Oswald convinced them that he was clever, pro-Marxist, a person of low self-esteem as manifested in his chronic anti-social attitudes coupled with homosexual behavior.
  37. As Oswald had developed a strong friendship with his ONI control, it was decided to allow him to think that he was working for the U.S. Navy rather than the CIA. (Note: This has always been a hallmark of CIA clandestine operations. Source agents are always considered expendable by that agency and their record of abandonment of these non-CIA agents if felt necessary is well-known to the intelligence community.)
  38. Oswald was told that he was performing a “special, vitally important” mission for the ONI and would be given a very good paying official position when he “successfully returned” from the Soviet Union. CIA and ONI reports indicate that he was never expected to return to the United States after he had fulfilled his function of passing the desired documentation to the Soviet intelligence community.
  39. The subsequent interception and shooting down by the Soviets of a U2 piloted by CIA agent Gary F. Powers using the leaked CIA material was sufficient to wreck the projected Eisenhower/Khrushchev meetings and harden the Soviet leader’s attitude towards the West.
  40. It should be noted that the Powers U2 was equipped with a delayed action self-destruct device, designed to be activated by the pilot upon bailing out. This device was intended to destroy any classified surveillance material on the aircraft. In the Powers aircraft, the device was later disclosed to have been altered to explode the moment the pilot activated it. This would have resulted in the destruction of both the pilot and his aircraft.
  41. After his return to the United States, Oswald was a marked man. He was a potential danger to the CIA, whose unredacted personnel reports indicate that Oswald was considered to be unstable, hostile, intelligent and very frustrated. He was, in short, a loose cannon.
  42. While resident in Dallas, Oswald became acquainted with George S. DeMohrenschildt, a CIA operative. DeMohrenschildt, a Balt, had family connections both in Poland and Russia, had worked for the German Ausland Abwehr and later the SD during the Second World War. He “befriended” Oswald and eventually an intimate physical relationship developed between the two men. This infuriated Marina Oswald and their already strained relationship grew even worse. She had come to America expecting great financial rewards and instead found poverty, two children and a sexually cold husband.
  43. It was De Mohrenschildt’s responsibility to watch Oswald, to establish a strong inter-personal relationship with him and to learn what information, if any, Oswald might possess that could damage the CIA if it became known.
  44. The CIAs subsequent use of Oswald as a pawn in the assassination was a direct result of this concern.
  45. The connections of Angleton, Chief of Counter Intelligence for the CIA with elements of the mob are well known in intelligence circles. Angleton worked closely with the Sicilian and Naples mobs in 1944 onwards as part of his duties for the OSS.
  46. The connections of Robert Crowley, another senior CIA official, with elements of the Chicago mob are also well known in intelligence circles.
  47. The attempts of the CIA and the JCS to remove Castro by assassination are also part of the official record. These assassination plots, called RIFLE show the connections between the CIA and the Chicago branch of the Mafia.
  48. This Mafia organization was paid nearly a quarter million dollars to effect the killing of Castro but apparently kept the money and did nothing.
  49. Subsequent to the assassination, the CIA put out the cover story that Castro had planned the act in retaliation for the attempts on his life. This is not substantiated either from US or Soviet sources.
  50. While the American Mafia had numerous reasons for wishing the removal of the President and, especially, his brother the Attorney General, it does not appear that they were participants in the assassination.
  51. It is evident that contact was made between the Chicago Mafia and its counterpart in Sicily in an effort to locate putative assassins.
  52. French intelligence sources have indicated that a recruitment was made among members of the Corsican Mafia in Marseilles in mid-1963.
  53. French intelligence sources have also indicated that they informed U.S. authorities in the American Embassy on two occasions about the recruitment of French underworld operatives for a political assassination in the United States.
  54. It is not known if these reports were accepted at the Embassy or passed to Washington.
  55. In the event, the Corsicans were sent to Canada where they blended in more easily with the French-speaking Quebec population.
  56. Although the Chicago Mafia did not supply the actual assassins, they did provide the services of one of their lesser members, Jack “Ruby” Rubinstein, a small-time mob enforcer, in the event that Oswald was taken alive.
  57. The use of Jack Ruby to kill Oswald has been explained by the official reports as an aberrant act on the part of an emotional man under the influence of drugs. The Warren Commission carefully overlooked Ruby’s well-known ties to the Chicago mob as well as his connections with mob elements in Cuba.
  58. Ruby’s early Chicago connections with the mob are certainly well documented in Chicago police files. This material was not used nor referred to in the Warren Report.
  59. Ruby’s close connection with many members of the Dallas police infrastructure coupled with a very strong motivation to remove Oswald prior to any appointment of an attorney to represent him or any possible revelations Oswald might make about his probably knowledge of the actual assassins made Ruby an excellent agent of choice. If Oswald had gained the relative security of the County Jail and lawyers has been appointed for him, it would have proven much more difficult to remove him.
  60. The Warren Commission was most particularly alarmed by attempts on the part of New York attorney Mark Lane, to present a defense for the dead Oswald before the Commission. Lane was refused this request. A written comment by Chief Justice Earl Warren to CIA Director Allan Dulles was that “people like Lane should never be permitted to air their radical views…at least not before this Commission…”
  61. Ruby had been advised by his Chicago mob connections, as well as by others involved in the assassination, that his killing of Oswald would “make him a great hero” in the eyes of the American public and that he “could never be tried or convicted” in any American court of law.
  62. Ruby, who had personal identity problems, accepted and strongly embraced this concept and was shocked to find that he was to be tried on a capital charge. Never very stable, Ruby began to disintegrate while in custody and mixed fact and fiction in a way as to convince possible assassins that he was not only incompetent but would not reveal his small knowledge of the motives behind the removal of Oswald.
  63. In the presence of Chief Justice Warren, Ruby strongly intimated that he had additional information to disclose and wanted to go to the safety of Washington but Warren abruptly declared that he was not interested in hearing any of it.
  64. A polygraph given to Ruby concerning his denial of knowing Oswald and only attempting to kill him as a last minute impulse proved to be completely unsatisfactory and could not be used to support the Commission’s thesis.
  65. During his final illness, while in Parkland Hospital, Ruby was under heavy sedation and kept well supervised to prevent any death bed confessions or inopportune chance remarks to hospital attendants. An unconfirmed report from a usually reliable source states that Ruby was given an injection of air with a syringe which produced an embolism that killed him. The official cause of Ruby’s death was a blood clot.
  66. It was later alleged that Ruby had metastated cancer of the brain and lungs which somehow had escaped any detection during his incarceration in Dallas. It was further alleged that this terminal cancer situation had existed for over a year without manifesting any serious symptoms to the Dallas medical authorities. This is viewed by non-governmental oncologists as highly unbelievable and it appears that Ruby’s fatal blood clot was the result of outside assistance.
  67. Following the assassination, a number of persons died under what can only be termed mysterious circumstances. Also, the FBI seized a number of films and pictures taken by witnesses that were considered to be too sensitive to leave in private hands.
  68. Statements by Dallas law enforcement personnel as well as similar statements by witnesses that there had been “several” men in the area of the railroad yard adjacent to the freeway and that these men had “Secret Service” identification created considerable confusion.
  69. According to Secret Service records, the only Secret Service agents at the scene were in the motorcade itself and they had no agents in the railroad yard.
  70. Witnesses and witness statements introduced before the Warren Commission were carefully vetted prior to introduction as evidence. The home movie of the assault was turned over to the FBI and a spliced version of it was released to the public. This doctored version showed Kennedy reacting in a way that was diametrically opposed to his actual reactions.
  71. The concern of Soviet intelligence and government agencies about any possible connection between defector Oswald and themselves is entirely understandable. It was never seriously believed by any competent agency in the United States that the Soviet Union had any part in the assassination of Kennedy and also known that Oswald was a government agent, working for various agencies in his lifetime.
  72. Because of the emotional attitudes in official Washington and indeed, throughout the entire nation immediately following the assassination, there was created a potentially dangerous international situation for the Soviets. Oswald was an identified defector with Marxist leanings. He was also believed to be a pro-Castro activist . That both his Marxist attitudes and his sympathies and actions on behalf of the Cuban dictator were simulations was not known to the Warren Commission at the time of their activities.
  73. To bolster their eager efforts to convince the American authorities that their government had nothing to do with the assassination, men like Nosenko were utilized to further support this contention. It is not known whether Nosenko was acting on orders or whether he was permitted access to created documentation and given other deliberate disinformation by the KGB and allowed to defect. A great deal of internal concern was expressed upon the Nosenko’s purported defection by Soviet officials but this is viewed at merely an attempt, and a successful one, to lend substance to his importance.
  74. James Angleton’s attitude towards Nosenko is a commentary on the duality of his nature. On one hand, Angleton was performing as Chief of Counter Intelligence and openly showed his zeal in searching for infiltraters and “moles” inside his agency while on the other hand, Angleton had very specific personal knowledge that the Soviet Union had nothing to do with the Kennedy assassination.

75.The senior Kennedy, it is known, was heavily involved with rumrunning during the Prohibition era and had extensive mob connections. He had been closely associated with Al Capone, mob boss in Chicago and had a falling out with him over an allegedly hijacked liquor shipment. Capone, Chicago police records indicate, had threatened Kennedy’s life over this and Kennedy had to pay off the mob to nullify a murder contract.” “Anti-Castro Cuban militants viewed Kennedy’s abandonment of their cause with great anger and many members of these CIA-trained and led groups made calls for revenge on the President for his abandonment of their cause.” “Soviet attempts to gain a strategic foothold in close proximity to the United States and certainly well within missile range, was intolerable and had to be countered with equal force. At that time, the threat of major war was not only imminent but anticipated. In retrospect, all out nuclear warfare between the United States and the Soviet Union was only barely averted and only at the last minute.

  1. The President’s highly unorthodox form of personal diplomacy vis a vis the Soviets created far more problems that it ever solved. When it came to light, both the DOS and the CIA were extremely concerned that sensitive intelligence matters might have been inadvertently passed to the Soviets.
  2. Reports from the CIA concerning Oswald’s September/October visit to Mexico City are totally unreliable and were rejected by the FBI as being ‘in serious error.’ The reasons for Oswald’s visit to Mexico are completely obscure at this writing but the individual allegedly photographed by CIA surveillance in Mexico is to a certainty not Lee Oswald. As the CIA had pictures of the real Oswald, their reasons for producing such an obvious falsity are not easy to ascertain at this remove.” “The hit team was flown away in an aircraft piloted by a CIA contract pilot named David Ferrie from New Orleans. They subsequently vanished without a trace. Rumors of the survival of one of the team are persistent but not proven.
  3. A study of the Soviet report indicates very clearly that the Russians have significant and very high level sources within both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Their possession of material relating to certain highly classified American military papers has been referred to the CIC for investigation and action.

 Putin shrugs off Trump’s nuclear plans, says Democrats sore losers

December 23, 2016

by Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin


MOSCOW-Russia’s Vladimir Putin said on Friday he was unfazed by President-elect Donald Trump’s plans to boost the U.S. nuclear arsenal, praising Trump for being in touch with U.S. public opinion while branding the Democrats sore election losers.

Speaking at his annual news conference in Moscow, the Russian president said earlier comments he had made about his country’s own military modernization had been misunderstood in the United States and that he accepted that the U.S. military, not Russia’s, was the most powerful in the world.

Putin said on Thursday Russia’s military was “stronger than any potential aggressor”. Trump later tweeted that the United States “must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

Asked to clarify his comments on Friday, MSNBC reported that Trump had said: “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

But Putin said he did not regard the United States as a potential aggressor and had only been talking about countries he thought might realistically launch an attack on Russia.

“I was a bit surprised by the statements from some representatives of the current U.S. administration who for some reason started to prove that the U.S. military was the most powerful in the world,” Putin said, referring to State Department comments from Thursday.

“Nobody is arguing with that.”

Putin said he saw nothing new or remarkable about Trump’s own statement about wanting to expand U.S. nuclear capabilities anyway.

“In the course of his election campaign he (Trump) spoke about the necessity of strengthening the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and strengthening the armed forces. There’s nothing unusual here,” said Putin.

“If anyone is unleashing an arms race it’s not us … We will never spend resources on an arms race that we can’t afford.”

Trump’s comments, made in a tweet, alarmed non-proliferation experts who said that a boost to the U.S. arsenal could fuel global tensions.


The Russian leader, speaking in a news conference that lasted just under four hours, fielded questions on everything from Syria to the economy, Ukraine and sports doping.

But he only became really animated when talking about the United States, launching a scathing attack on the Democrats.

He said they had forgotten the meaning of their own name and were sore losers.

“The current administration and the leadership of the Democratic Party are trying to blame all their failures on external factors,” said Putin.

“(We are talking about) a party which has clearly forgotten the original meaning of its own name. They (the Democrats) are losing on all fronts and looking elsewhere for things to blame. In my view this, how shall I say it, degrades their own dignity. You have to know how to lose with dignity.”

The Obama administration and U.S. intelligence officials have accused Russia of trying to interfere with the U.S. election by hacking Democratic Party accounts. Information from those hacks was leaked online, causing political problems for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Putin dismissed suggestions Moscow had helped Trump to victory in any way however.

“It’s not like that,” he said. “All of this (the accusations) speaks of the current administration’s systemic problems.”

Putin, who spoke positively of Trump before his election win, said that only Moscow had believed in his victory however.

“Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him,” Putin said, adding with a smile. “Except for you and me.”

Putin said he would be willing to visit the United States if Trump invited him and expected U.S.-Russia ties to return to normal now, particularly in the security and economic spheres.

He was more cagey when it came to his own political future though, saying he needed time before deciding whether he would run for president again in 2018. Most Kremlin-watchers believe he will stand and win again.

“I will look at what’s going on in the country, in the world,” said Putin coyly, calling a reporter who had asked him to provide reasons why people would want to vote for him again “a provocateur”.

(Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova, Vladimir Soldatkin, Denis Pinchuk, Peter Hobson, Maria Kiselyova and Andrey Ostroukh, Gleb Stolyarov, Oksana Kobzeva, Andrey Kuzmin, Anastasia Lyrchikova, Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Berlin attack suspect confirmed dead after Milan shootout – Italian interior minister

December 23, 2016


Anis Amri, a Tunisian national wanted throughout Europe after the truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, was killed by the Italian Police during a shootout in Milan, the country’s interior minister has confirmed.

Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti has confirmed that Anis Amri, wanted after the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market, was killed during a shootout with police officers in the suburbs of Milan on Friday.

Italian newspaper Il Tempo has tweeted a photo of the suspect’s body.

Minniti told a news conference in Rome that “without any shadow of a doubt” the man was Amri, whose identity has been confirmed by fingerprints.

The minister said the officers were on routine patrol and stopped Amri in a Milan suburb on Friday morning. The man pulled out a pistol and opened fire, injuring one of the officers, but was shot dead as the patrol returned fire. Minniti did not elaborate on the issue, adding that his agency is in contact with the Germans, and further developments may come soon.

Peter Frank, Germany’s federal prosecutor, told reporters later on Friday that the investigation is far from over. Investigators will focus on uncovering Amri’s contacts to determine if he had accomplices or was a member of a terrorist network.

He added that it is also crucial to know how Amri had got to Italy despite suggestions that his injuries would have prevented him from covering long distances.

Meanwhile, Milan police say they had received no information warning them that Amri could be in the city, according to Reuters.

“We had no intelligence that he could be in Milan,” Police Chief Antonio De Iesu said at a news conference. “They had no perception that it could be him, otherwise they would have been much more cautious.”

Earlier on Friday, Italian authorities said Amri was killed in a shootout with police in Milan on Thursday night, according to Reuters, citing a security source. The surprise report first appeared in the Italian magazine Panorama.

Conflicting news reports previously suggested the opposite. The German Police claimed that the suspect was hiding in Berlin. On Thursday, RBB released CCTV footage showing him at a local mosque one day after the attack. The police said Amri was injured, and therefore would not risk travelling too far.

On Friday, a man whose appearance matched that of the suspect was spotted in the northern Danish city of Aalborg, local police said in a tweet. According to police, the man, aged between 20 and 30, was “wearing a black hat, glasses, black beard and was unshaven.”

Police warned people to keep away from the area where he was spotted.

Investigators believe that Tunisian suspect Anis Amri was indeed behind the wheel of the truck that plowed into the Christmas market in Berlin on Monday, killing 12 and injuring 48. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that fingerprints and other “new evidence” made it “highly probable” that Amri was the actual perpetrator of the Monday attack.

The Dark Side of VR

Virtual Reality Allows the Most Detailed, Intimate Digital Surveillance Yet

December 23, 2016

by Joshua Kopstein

The Intercept

“Why do I look like Justin Timberlake?”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was on stage wearing a virtual reality headset, feigning surprise at an expressive cartoon simulacrum that seemed to perfectly follow his every gesture.

The audience laughed. Zuckerberg was in the middle of what he described as the first live demo inside VR, manipulating his digital avatar to show off the new social features of the Rift headset from Facebook subsidiary Oculus. The venue was an Oculus developer conference convened earlier this fall in San Jose. Moments later, Zuckerberg and two Oculus employees were transported to his glass-enclosed office at Facebook, and then to his infamously sequestered home in Palo Alto. Using the Rift and its newly revealed Touch hand controllers, their avatars gestured and emoted in real time, waving to Zuckerberg’s Puli sheepdog, dynamically changing facial expressions to match their owner’s voice, and taking photos with a virtual selfie stick — to post on Facebook, of course.

The demo encapsulated Facebook’s utopian vision for social VR, first hinted at two years ago when the company acquired Oculus and its crowd-funded Rift headset for $2 billion. And just as in 2014, Zuckerberg confidently declared that VR would be “the next major computing platform,” changing the way we connect, work, and socialize.

“Avatars are going to form the foundation of your identity in VR,” said Oculus platform product manager Lauren Vegter after the demo. “This is the very first time that technology has made this level of presence possible.”

But as the tech industry continues to build VR’s social future, the very systems that enable immersive experiences are already establishing new forms of shockingly intimate surveillance. Once they are in place, researchers warn, the psychological aspects of digital embodiment — combined with the troves of data that consumer VR products can freely mine from our bodies, like head movements and facial expressions — will give corporations and governments unprecedented insight and power over our emotions and physical behavior.

Virtual reality as a medium is still in its infancy, but the kinds of behaviors it captures have long been a holy grail for marketers and data-monetizing companies like Facebook. Using cookies, beacons, and other ubiquitous tracking code, online advertisers already record the habits of web surfers using a wide range of metrics, from what sites they visit to how long they spend scrolling, highlighting, or hovering over certain parts of a page. Data behemoths like Google also scan emails and private chats for any information that might help “personalize” a user’s web experience — most importantly, by targeting the user with ads.

But those metrics are primitive compared to the rich portraits of physical user behavior that can be constructed using data harvested from immersive environments, using surveillance sensors and techniques that have already been controversially deployed in the real world.

“The information that current marketers can use in order to generate targeted advertising is limited to the input devices that we use: keyboard, mouse, touch screen,” says Michael Madary, a researcher at Johannes Gutenberg University who co-authored the first VR code of ethics with Thomas Metzinger earlier this year. “VR analytics offers a way to capture much more information about the interests and habits of users, information that may reveal a great deal more about what is going on in [their] minds.”

The value of collecting physiological and behavioral data is all too obvious for Silicon Valley firms like Facebook, whose data scientists in 2012 conducted an infamous study titled “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” in which they secretly modified users’ news feeds to include positive or negative content and thus affected the emotional state of their posts. As one chief data scientist at an unnamed Silicon Valley company told Harvard business professor Shoshanna Zuboff: “The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale. … We can capture their behaviors, identify good and bad behaviors, and develop ways to reward the good and punish the bad.”

Head movements are the most common metric being utilized by the handful of companies that form the still-nascent VR analytics industry. By recording a head-mounted display’s gyroscopic sensor data, commercial analytics software like SceneExplorer, created by a Vancouver-based company called CognitiveVR, is used to reconstruct “heat maps” of everywhere a user looks while in VR.

VR products like Oculus Rift are also well-positioned to be used for a burgeoning field known as emotion detection, particularly when paired with sensors used to map real-life body movements to a virtual world. Yotta Technologies, a VR company based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, claims its platform can detect a user’s emotional state using an array of sensors mounted to a VR headset, reading microexpressions by tracking eye and muscle movements in the face. A benefit to end users is that such information can be used to give their VR avatars facial expressions that mirror their own. Speaking with Fusion, the company’s founder said that the company’s primary goal is to “unlock human emotion.”  That goal is shared by Affectiva, an MIT spin-off company that offers “emotion detection as a service,” allowing clients to mine images and video feeds from webcams for emotional data revealing how peoples’ faces subtly react to certain cues.

Eventually, consumer VR systems will be able to capture a full range of human body motion, forming what Madary and Metzinger call a “kinematic fingerprint.” Much like the experimental gait recognition capabilities of some video camera-based monitoring systems, a kinematic fingerprint could be used to uniquely identify and analyze a person based on their body movements and posture, both inside and outside VR. VR sensors like the Oculus Touch and LeapMotion also show that hand tracking and gesture control are already becoming standard features in VR, allowing users to manipulate virtual objects and gesticulate to emphasize speech.

Advertisers are particularly excited about measuring and analyzing these movements. In a September 2016 industry report by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the director of VR at one mobile ad company claims that the collection of this data is already “shedding light on user behavior and brand engagement for our advertisers,” and predicts that consumer VR will “bring unmatched value and measuring capabilities.” While VR adoption has been relatively slow due to prohibitive hardware costs and other factors, investment in the medium dramatically increased this year, suggesting ad companies are expecting to take advantage of those physical tracking capabilities in the near-future.

For now, much of the commercial third-party software that captures physical movements in VR is being ostensibly designed for VR developers, who use the data to identify which parts of their worlds are most engaging, and which parts need tweaking. This cuts down on development costs, allowing designers to easily see how users react to different elements in real time.

Similar tracking systems have been used to study the therapeutic potential of VR. A recent study by researchers at Cornell and Stanford universities found that head movements can be used to measure a person’s level of anxiety while inside a virtual classroom. In the past, researchers have also found that carefully crafted virtual environments can aid in the treatment of post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, and other conditions.

What’s changed is that these insights are no longer limited to a lab testing environment. With the proliferation of consumer VR products featuring a range of increasingly sophisticated sensors, a wealth of physical surveillance data can now be made available to marketers, private corporations, and perhaps inevitably, police and government agencies.

“I think it’s interesting to consider whether people will care more about having their physiological data tracked than they seem to care about having the rest of their lives online recorded,” says Andrea Stevenson Won, a PhD graduate of Stanford’s Virtual Human Interactions Lab and the lead author of the Cornell-Stanford study. “I’m pretty protective of most of my data, so I agree that I don’t want any more collected than is necessary.”

Early experiments suggest that using this data to manipulate users is well within the means of those who control virtual and augmented reality platforms. Researchers have demonstrated that people immersed in VR can be influenced in a number of ways — from causing them to make more environmentally conscious choices to affecting the results of tests for racial bias. But with no laws restricting what kinds of behavioral data consumer VR companies can collect and how it can be used, the door has been left open for more nefarious and profit-seeking applications.

For example, in a 2014 paper on the convergence of VR and online social networks like Facebook, researchers at Dublin City University propose that AI-controlled avatars could be used to “nudge” users into accepting certain ideas or views. “An avatar might respond with a smile if asked about one political or religious idea, and frown when discussing another,” the researchers write. “Artificial avatars would be all the more effective if they can access data about the user’s emotional responses via eye-tracking or emotion capture.”

So far, there haven’t been any formal legislative proposals seeking to limit these novel forms of surveillance. One strategy privacy advocates are eyeing is to create new legislation modeled after Illinois’s Biometric Information Privacy Act, the toughest of only two existing biometric privacy laws in the U.S. and the focus of an ongoing class-action lawsuit against Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and other companies that gather face recognition data. At issue is the use of automatic “tag suggestions” and other features that run afoul of the Illinois law by extracting biometric information from users’ photos without their explicit consent.

Fred Jennings, an attorney with the digital rights-focused law firm Tor Ekeland, PC, says that if the plaintiffs in the Illinois biometric privacy case prevail, it could establish a foothold for future efforts to limit the intimate data collected by VR and AR platforms. But unlike traditional biometric data, like fingerprints and DNA, the murky legal definition of data that records a wide range of voluntary and involuntary physical movements makes it difficult to legislate what can and can’t be done with that data once it’s collected.

“The problem is it falls into this gray area in between medical data, which is pretty well litigated and protected, and communications data,” says Jennings.

Transparency would also need to be a crucial part of any regulation, he says, because in many cases it’s not clear to what extent behavioral analytics platforms have already been integrated into consumer VR products and apps. Facebook, CognitiveVR, and Yotta Technologies did not respond to inquiries about how VR analytics platforms are currently being deployed and how the data they collect might be used.

Oculus’s privacy policy specifically states that it collects “physical movements and dimensions” from users in order to “customize your experiences based on your online activities” and “market to you.” The company also claims the right to share that information with third parties including Facebook, as well as access and preserve it in order to “detect, prevent and address fraud or other illegal activity,” among other uses. Last April, the permissive language led Sen. Al Franken to send an open letter to Oculus expressing concerns about the privacy of Oculus Rift users.

An Oculus representative did not directly respond to several questions about the company’s collection and use of physical movement and behavioral data, instead referring to its May 13 response to Sen. Franken’s letter.  In that response, Oculus general counsel Jordan McCollum wrote that the company needs to collect “physical movements and dimensions” and share that data with its developers “so they can deliver experiences that better respond to peoples’ physical movements, which is a critical feature of a good VR experience.” When asked if Oculus would specifically use the data to manipulate users’ behavior or emotions, like Facebook’s emotional contagion experiment, the representative responded “no.”

“Once upon a time, advertising was a very simple thing to detect, but now that’s no longer the case,” says Jennings. “The Facebook biometric information case is a great example of just how subtle this use of user information has become, and how difficult it can be to detect potentially impermissible uses of that information.”

At the recent Oculus event in San Jose, California, Oculus’s chief scientist Michael Abrash admitted that some of these tracking technologies are not yet reliable enough to be fully integrated into consumer VR hardware. Retina tracking is especially difficult, he says, and “would require inventing a whole new type of eye-tracking technology” to be usable for real-time capture and feedback.

“The technology is changing very quickly. But I do not think that there is any technological barrier to the kinds of manipulation that raise concerns,” says Madary. “Right now I am not aware of virtual environments that change based on the data collected about each particular user. But I don’t see any reason why such a personalized dynamic virtual environment could not be developed and sold (or given) to consumers.”

Additional research: Jeremiah Johnson

Wave of cybersecurity breaches is no surprise to expert exposing online crime

Brian Krebs has been sent heroin and a wreath in an attempt to discredit and intimidate him but sees irresponsible hardware manufacturers as the real threat

December 23, 2016

by Sam Thielman

The Guardian

New York-Brian Krebs does not use heroin, but sometimes people send it to him anyway. The 43-year-old Alabama native writes Krebs on Security, a one-man operation focused on digital crime. His encyclopedic knowledge of the subject and his network of contacts has made his blog essential reading for anyone interested in cybercrime and a coveted lecturer at some of the biggest companies in the world. It has also made him some dangerous enemies – hence the heroin, meant as a sinister, silencing message.

Looking back on a year in which Russian cyber-spies have been accused of meddling in the US election, Yahoo announced that 1bn email accounts were compromised and hackers used internet-connected devices including baby monitors, webcams and thermostats, to take down some of the world’s biggest websites, what surprises Krebs the most is that people are surprised at all.

The problem is cybercrime is easy, Krebs says. Too many individuals and organizations buy cheap hardware because they can’t imagine the damage millions of slightly-too-stupid routers can do; most owners of the hijacked devices that participated in the attack that took down websites, including Netflix, Twitter, Reddit, CNN and PayPal, as well as the entire country of Liberia earlier this year never knew their property had been used to pull millions of computers offline.

“It’s cheap to make hardware that works,” Krebs says. It’s much more expensive to make sure it works only for you. “There are companies that have zero interest in designing a secure device; they just cobble together software libraries.”

When laypeople write to him, Krebs says, it’s often to beg for help. “People get so frustrated and they’re scared and the clock is ticking and they don’t know what to do,” he says. “They ask where do I go? Who do I turn to?” Soon, he says, something will have to give.

Krebs was writing about a similar bug to the one Yahoo claims compromised 1bn user accounts as far back as 2012; for years he’d warned readers about “botnets” like the one that took down the web across the eastern seaboard in October.

What shocked him, he said, was that people kept using Yahoo, and that the political establishment was “somehow surprised that Russian hackers might want to see if they could impact the direction of our election”. Of course they tried, Krebs says – it’s cheap and you don’t lose much by trying.

Krebs earns a living dragging the perpetrators of obscure and horrifying crimes into the light: before the Washington Post laid him off, his column Security Fix exposed Estonian cybercriminal Vladimir Tšaštšin, whose domain-hosting business turned out to be a berth for child abusers and credit card thieves. Writing on his unshowy blog two years later, Krebs broke news of the notorious Stuxnet worm, a tool of corporate espionage capable of intruding on anyone who used Windows.

His subjects don’t enjoy seeing their crimes written about, and sometimes they want to send him a message. In 2013, that message took the form of a gram of pure heroin taped to the back of a magazine.

That year, Krebs had earned the unwanted attention of a man calling himself The Fly, or Flycracker, later revealed to be a 26-year-old career thief named Sergey Vovnenko. Krebs tracked Vovnenko to a forum where he brokered the sale of credit card information, and found that Vovnenko was holding forth on a plan to damage Krebs’s reputation, maybe even land him in jail.

The plan was to have heroin delivered to Krebs, then to call the police. Krebs called the police first. The heroin came a few days after he gave his statement to law enforcement; he turned it over to the cops, and went to work finding who sent it.

Vovnenko fits a profile Krebs says applies to many in the world of information crime: young, arrogant and frankly sadistic, with a chip on his shoulder. Investigators are prone to boil credit card stealing operations and mass identity thefts to simple greed but often it’s more than that. “These guys have such huge egos,” he said. “What are they after? How much is enough? You make 100 grand a month, is that not enough? Or do you really just enjoy fucking things up and attacking people or having power over people.”

After Vovnenko failed to frame him, Krebs wrote about the experience in a blogpost, which the Guardian republished. He says he thinks the post embarrassed Vovnenko, who then sent Krebs’s wife a funereal flower arrangement.

“He had it delivered to our house with a note to her, just to her, saying, ‘Dear Jennifer, you married the wrong guy, but we’ll always take care of you. Rest in peace, Brian.’ And at this point I want to know who this fucker is.”

He found out: Vovnenko – just like the people he stole from – shared passwords between the administrator account on his identity theft forum, and the Gmail address he used to do his dirty work. Krebs learned that Vovnenko didn’t trust his fiancee and had her every keystroke logged and secretly sent to the Gmail account; in those messages was every possible personal detail about Vovnenko’s life.

Vovnenko lived in Naples, Italy. He had a son. He married his fiancee. He bought stolen Italian credit card information, printed and embossed credit cards on machines he owned himself, and cashed the cards out through high-end Italian retailers in the fashionable city, Krebs found.

Krebs decided to get in touch with Vovnenko. Running organized crime was one thing; a Ukrainian running an identity theft ring and printing stolen credit cards in the Camorra’s backyard was another. “I just reached out to him and said, ‘Hey, how’s Italy? How’s your son Max?’” Krebs recalls. “And he said ‘Ahahaha, I wait for FBI.’

“I said: ‘It’s not the FBI you have to worry about.’”

Vovnenko fell afoul of Italian authorities and spent “a while” in what he called “Naples’ worst prison” in a letter of apology he wrote to Krebs. Krebs thinks Vovnenko was in a 12-step program; he also told his victim he “forgave” him for posting a picture and Vovnenko’s address on Krebs on Security when Vovnenko was arrested.

Criminal enterprise, especially with an eye to dominating or inflicting humiliation, tends to be the work of young men. Cybercrime is often very humiliating – Krebs recalls the Ashley Madison hack, in which thieves used the data from the cheating spouses website to write extortion letters filled with details culled from social media – another story Krebs first brought to light. “Here’s the number of the last guy who thought I was bluffing,” they said. “Call him and see if he’s happy with how it turned out.”

Like many security researchers, Krebs says the keys to avoiding cybercrime aren’t complicated. Identity theft has largely ceased to be a matter of targeting a specific person; the responsibility for preventing it lies with irresponsible hardware manufacturers who refuse to secure their devices with basic encryption. Hardware companies are struggling to reconcile the higher cost of securing devices with the danger to billions of users that comes with cheaping out on crucial parts. Meanwhile, it’s up to users to keep track of the basics.

Five things you can do to avoid digital criminals

Like most theft, cybercrime tends to follow the path of least resistance. Here are five online hygiene tips anyone can follow, for free, to make life harder for people looking for an easy way to steal your personal or financial information.

1.Use multifactor authentication, a password plus a code or a question known to you. Google’s authenticator app is a quick download and works easily with many services, including Amazon and Gmail. It’s worth checking to see if there’s a multifactor option every time a website asks you to fill out bank account or credit card information.

2.Don’t share passwords across websites. Almost everyone shares at least a couple of passwords. Don’t. There are plenty of inexpensive password manager phone apps that can help you with this, notably the open-source Password Safe.

3.Refuse to give up information whenever you can. Best Buy doesn’t need your phone number. The more information you part with, the more can be used against you if the retailer is hacked.

4.Check your bank balance regularly. Thieves often try for a small purchase to see if the card works before they go shopping; in particular, look for easy-to-resell items like gift cards and credits on online marketplaces.

5.Close down services you don’t use any more. Do you still have a Steam account from that one time you bought a PC game all your friends were talking about? Are you sure? Is it linked to a credit card you still use? These are the easiest ways for hackers to steal in bulk, and the one-off purchase you make on impulse is probably the one you’ll unthinkingly reuse your old password on, too.

Russia says its air strikes in Syria have killed 35,000 rebels

December 22, 1016


Russian air strikes in Syria have killed 35,000 rebel fighters and succeeded in halting a chain of revolutions in the Middle East, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Thursday.

Speaking at a gathering of top military officials that appeared designed to showcase Russia’s military achievements, Shoigu said Moscow’s intervention had prevented the collapse of the Syrian state.

“We are now stronger than any potential aggressor,” President Vladimir Putin said at the same event at the Defence Ministry in Moscow.

Shoigu said Russian aircraft had flown 18,800 sorties in Syria since the start of the Kremlin’s operation there last year, destroying 725 training camps, 405 sites where weapons were being made and killing 35,000 fighters.

“The chain of ‘color revolutions’ spreading across the Middle East and Africa has been broken,” Shoigu said.

Russia’s intervention in Syria is widely seen as having saved President Bashar al-Assad’s forces from defeat and as being crucial to their retaking full control of Aleppo.

Shoigu also said Russia’s nuclear missile forces would next year be swelled by three extra units armed with modern weaponry and that the air force would receive five modernized strategic bombers.

But Putin warned that while Russia’s military power had grown substantially, “if we don’t want that to change we had better not lose focus.”

Refiles to fix typo in number of training camps in 4th paragraph)

(Reporting by Peter Hobson; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

 The Shia Militias of Iraq

They’re essential to the fight against ISIS. But what happens when the Islamic State is gone?

December 22, 2016

by Jack Watling

The Atlantic

KARBALA, Iraq—Along the road joining the cities of Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq is a line of placards, attached at 50-meter intervals to every lamppost. Each one shows the face of a volunteer killed in the fight against the Islamic State. But these are not the faces of Iraqi army soldiers. They are the faces of fighters from the Hash’d al Shaabi, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) created via fatwa by the senior-most cleric in Shia Islam, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in response to the fall of Mosul in 2014. Sistani declared the fight against the Islamic State “a sacred defense,” and promised that “whoever of you sacrifices himself to defend his country and his family and their honor will be a martyr.”

Today, the PMF is estimated to boast over 60,000 fighters, contributing 35,000 men to the 90,000-strong force currently besieging Mosul. The PMF has played a key role in the attacks on Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baiji, and recently spearheaded the Iraqi advance on Tal Afar, just west of Mosul. But despite the PMF’s importance to the war effort, its status remains ambiguous. On November 26, the Iraqi government passed legislation making the PMF an official component of Iraq’s security forces, subject to military law, with equal status to the army. But two days later, a senior Iraqi MP told me that “the bill is what we’re working towards; it will take time.” Full integration, then, is still some way off.

Members of the PMF refer to theirs as a movement of national liberation, or as a religious crusade against evil. International media have described the group as a “mostly Iranian-backed coalition of Shia militias,” barely controlled by the Iraqi state. Neither description is entirely correct. The PMF itself embodies many of the fault lines of modern Iraq, divided between religious and national identities, state and non-state actors, and private and foreign interests. The 40 core units that make up the PMF range from the Abbas Division, controlled by Sistani but closely aligned with the government and trained by Iraq’s special forces; to the Peace Brigades, loyal to the Iraqi cleric and politician Moqtada al-Sadr; to the Badr Organization, an Iranian proxy militia. Roughly half of the PMF units were formed out of pre-existing Iraqi militias, some of which fought against coalition forces after the 2003 invasion. The rest are new formations, mobilized by Sistani or Iraqi politicians.

The PMF is, itself, a process—a struggle for control over a myriad of armed groups. It could become the basis for a new Iraqi army, with much stronger ties to the communities it is supposed to protect; in Shia areas at least, the PMF are held in higher regard than the army. Or its ascension could lead Iraqi politics into an era of warlordism, in which party factions wield private armies. The worst outcome would see Iraq remain a battlefield, beset by proxies funded by Iran and Gulf countries.

The future of the PMF as an institution has massive implications Iraq. For many members of the PMF, the legitimacy of their struggle is derived from Sistani’s fatwa. If he withdraws it, and the units under his control demobilize, the PMF will be a set of Iranian proxies and political militias, officially part of the state, but not under its control. Alternatively, if corruption drives a wedge between the Iraqi government and Iraq’s clerical establishment, the loyalty of PMF units raised by the Shia shrines could be tested.

At the center of the Iraqi government’s efforts to control the PMF sits the imposing, white-haired Faleh al-Fayad, Iraq’s national security adviser. He is technically in command of the PMF; in practice, he plans operations through negotiations with PMF commanders. He sees Iraq caught in a struggle against global jihad, with sectarianism stoked by outside actors. “Some rich Gulf countries are using the measures of their wealth to give legitimacy to these groups,” he said, noting the quality of the Islamic State’s equipment. “The money supporting Daesh stinks of oil. … Daesh exported oil through Turkey,” he suggested, using another name for ISIS. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar are all part of the coalition fighting ISIS, but concerns have been raised over the flow of funds from individuals in these countries to groups in Syria. Furthermore, weapons supplied to groups in Syria have often found their way into the hands of ISIS. Al-Fayad claimed this was deliberate. But when asked about Iran’s influence on Iraq, he grew cautious. “We are allies of the U.S. and have good relations with Iran,” he said. “After the fall of Mosul, Iran supported us. It is in Iran’s interest to fight Daesh, which is why they support [the PMF]. We have American and NATO advisers. We accept everyone’s help.”

What al-Fayad didn’t say is that five of the largest units in the PMF receive money, support, and direction from Iran. Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq were significant Iranian proxies during the coalition occupation of Iraq, and are now major units in the PMF, while Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada has openly fought in Syria for the Assad government. The Badr Organization, perhaps the most prominent Iranian proxy, is commanded by Hadi al-Amiri, who fought for Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. Amiri is a close friend of Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for covert warfare beyond Iran’s borders. For al-Fayad to openly criticize Tehran could impair his ability to direct those units.

But despite Iran’s machinations, Iraq does retain some control of the PMF. When I spoke to Lahur Talabany, the outspoken head of Kurdistan’s Zanyari intelligence service, about the planning process for the Mosul operation, he said, “You can’t stop the Shia militia taking part” in operations, but “you can give them zones of responsibility,” so that their actions assist the Iraqi army. The PMF, in his view, can be contained, if not controlled.

This process of negotiated cooperation was very much in evidence as PMF units moved toward Tal Afar in late October. The original plan had been to mostly encircle Mosul in a horseshoe, leaving ISIS militants an avenue for escape. The Badr Organization’s al-Amiri had other ideas, bringing intense pressure on the Iraqi government to allow his forces to advance on Tal Afar, and close Mosul’s encirclement. The Iraqis conceded, and the PMF spearheaded the capture of Tal Afar’s airfield, supported by the Iraqi air force.

The mounting concern now, according to British and Iraqi intelligence officers, is that Iran’s interest in Tal Afar had less to do with the town itself than with the highway running westwards across the Syrian border. Al-Amiri himself has weathered suspicions of harboring ties to Syria. In 2013, U.S. General James Mattis, Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, accused al-Amiri of facilitating the movement of weapons to Syria during his time as Iraq’s minister of transportation, a post he left in 2014; al-Amiri denied those allegations. Meanwhile, the presence of Iraqi militias in Syria, including in the final assault on Aleppo this week, has been widely reported. The Badr Organization and other Iranian proxies now have troops traversing Iraq from Diyala province, through Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk provinces, to Ninevah Province and the road into Syria.

“What Iran wants to do with these units is limited. Their main interest is Syria, and the unit commanders have their own motives,” Tom Hardie-Forsyth, the former chairman of NATO’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Committee, and an advisor to the Kurdistan Regional Government, explained. A senior State Department official concurred, noting that Iran’s primary interests in Iraq are economic. Iran also wants to ensure that Iraq never becomes powerful enough to pose a threat, as it did under Saddam.

Iran is not the only power with influence within the PMF either. Iraq’s holy shrines, which are controlled by Sistani, set up three of the best-trained and equipped units of the PMF: the Imam Ali Brigade, Ali al-Akhbar Brigade, and Abbas Division. Their officers are largely nationalists, mirroring Sistani, who is supportive of the Iraqi state. But his religious authority gives the shrines significant, competing political clout: It was Sistani’s loss of confidence in former Prime Minister Maliki that forced him from office.

The shrines also strongly oppose foreign interference in Iraq, and, unlike Faleh al-Fayad, are unafraid of criticizing Iran. The shrines have significant theological disagreements with Iran’s religious leaders, especially over the proper relationship between clerics and the state, with Sistani arguing that religious leaders must remain moral counselors, rather than political leaders in their own right.

Shortly after the shrine units were established, they were offered foreign assistance, including arms and training, from Iran. “We directed them to give the weapons to the Iraqi army to distribute to us,” Sheikh Maitham al-Zaidi, commander of the Abbas Division, told me. “Other countries should respect the sovereignty of Iraq and deal with the Iraqi government so weapons don’t go to the wrong hands.”

Sistani has directed the shrines’ units to work closely with the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. “These are the good Hash’d. We can work with them,” a senior Iraqi officer noted. For those who serve in these units, like Adil Talib, a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army who now oversees logistical operations for the Ali al-Akhbar Brigade, “the Brigade fights for Iraq. It is a national struggle. … We laugh at the name militia. There is no difference between us and the army.” Yet in spite of the shrines’ cooperation with the Iraqi military, differences remain between the two groups. And when they arise, the shrine units listen to Sistani. “We follow orders from Sistani, we don’t just carry his name,” Sheikh al-Zaidi said.

For now, the shrines’ biggest disagreement with the Iraqi government is over the PMF’s future. The shrines supported the PMF law of November 26, and have encouraged the government to bring the PMF under the control of the state. However, if Sistani demobilizes the shrine units, the balance of power within the PMF will swing toward those units currently beyond government control. If members of Iran’s proxies continue to fight in Syria, while the PMF are an official component of Iraq’s security forces, this creates a foreign policy dilemma for the Iraqi government.

“Our existence is temporary. Our vision as the Abbas Division is to follow the fatwa and we will go back to our jobs after victory,” al-Zaidi said. “The other vision comes from the government. They see the Hash’d as an official body of the state. My personal view is that we leave when Grand Ayatollah Sistani calls for us to go home.”

Perhaps, then, it is better to treat the PMF less as institution, and more as a struggle for influence that will decide Iraq’s future, long after ISIS is defeated.

‘With Aleppo retaken, Washington’s plan for regime change in Syria is off the table’

December 23, 2016


The final deal for the evacuation of people and the fighters from Aleppo was achieved not through the Geneva format, but between Russian, Turkish and Iran, foreign policy analyst Jim Jatras told RT’s Ed Schultz.

The Syrian Arab Army has retaken full control of the city of Aleppo. The Syrian government has declared the city is liberated from terrorism and terrorists. Syrian rebels and civilians have been leaving the embattled city for over a week.

Some say this means the United States will have to give up on its purported goal of achieving regime change against the government of President Bashar Assad.

RT:Aleppo has been declared retaken by Syrian government forces. Does this really represent a turning of the tide?

Jim Jatras: Absolutely, it is a great strategic victory for Syria, for the Damascus government. It shows that regime change – the goal of the Obama administration and all of our allies like Saudi Arabia – is simply off the table. That is a huge thing.

RT: What do you think the aftermath of this is going to mean?

JJ: It could. A lot of these fighters or terrorists – however you want to characterize them – have been evacuated to Idlib. They still will be fighting on for a while. But I think the character of the war has changed. Also the character of US policy has changed in the sense that it is clear how irrelevant the Obama administration has become. Let’s remember this final working out of a deal for the humanitarian evacuation of people and also the fighters leaving Aleppo was achieved not through the Geneva format between [Sergey] Lavrov and [John] Kerry, but rather between Lavrov and his Turkish and Iranian counterparts. In a sense, it almost shows that the US is no longer relevant to this crisis.

RT: What does all of this mean for the incoming administration? Does this set a different table for Donald Trump?

JJ: Absolutely. I think it really opens the door to pivot American policy away from this frankly insane notion that we need regime change, we need to be supporting these terrorist groups in Syria, to one that says: ‘Let’s go with the flow. Let’s work with the Russians, let’s work with the Syrians in order to target the real terrorists we know they are out there – not only ISIS of course, but also Al-Qaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, and all the other groups that we’ve been pretending are moderates for all these years.’

RT: You’ve said that this is going to solidify Assad. How sure are you of that?

JJ: I am sure of it because the other side that our mainstream media has not been showing is people going back to their homes; people are celebrating that the city is being liberated. Even some of the media are even beginning to admit that the humanitarian crisis they have been raising the hue and cry over, and naming and shaming and threatening war crimes to the Russians and the Syrians didn’t turn out to be what they said it was going to be.

The Interventionists’ Double Standards

December 19, 2016

by Daniel Larison

The American Conservative

Matt Purple comments on the disparity between Western outrage over the carnage in Aleppo and general indifference to comparably horrible events in Africa:

None of this should be read as a case for nation building or military intervention in Africa. It’s meant merely to marvel at the most glaring hypocrisy of our foreign policy, a blind spot that blots out an entire continent, which bestows the status of global supervillain on Bashar al-Assad while Salva Kiir remains an unknown. The West has a double standard when it comes to Africa.

Purple is certainly correct about that Western media and interventionist political leaders respond to the terrible effects of conflicts in various parts of the world very differently, but the way that responsibility is assigned for these effects is even more telling. It has become commonplace to blame Obama for the horrors of Syria’s war because he “allowed” them to happen or “failed” to stop them, which takes for granted that the U.S. has both the authority and the ability to halt or at least ameliorate the effects of foreign civil wars at an acceptable cost. Obama is almost never faulted for his role in helping to stoke the conflict, because that doesn’t fit the bogus “withdrawal” narrative that his hawkish critics want to promote. It would also require acknowledging that the U.S. is already involved in the war and its involvement has only made things worse (as opponents of our involvement said it would).

By contrast, when the U.S. actively enables and fuels an atrocious war that is causing civilian casualties and creating famine conditions (i.e., the war on Yemen), the responsibility of the Obama administration is rarely mentioned in reports about the war and the extent of U.S. involvement is always minimized or omitted all together. When the Syrian government and its patrons devastate rebel-held parts of Aleppo or other parts of Syria, Obama is blamed when other governments are primarily responsible. When the U.S. is directly contributing to one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world, the president is almost never criticized. When others are to blame for terrible crimes, the U.S. is absurdly faulted for “letting” them commit them, but when our government helps client states commit comparable crimes against a civilian population it goes almost completely unnoticed. The problem here isn’t just a double standard with regard to the plight of people in different war zones. The more alarming problem is that we fail to hold our government accountable for the things that it does that cause enormous harm overseas, but at the same time we pretend that U.S. military action is well-suited to remedying the evils of other foreign conflicts through the application of more force. Interventionists hold up military action as the answer to extremely difficult foreign political problems, and so they dismiss the extensive evidence from recent and ongoing military interventions that prove that it is usually is no such thing.

The demand to “do more” in Syria is fundamentally a disingenuous one, because almost no one making the demand is willing to spell out what it would cost to carry out an intervention that has the slightest chance of success, and even fewer are willing to support the major commitment that it would take. Emile Simpson made an important point that the only practical way that the U.S. might have been able to halt the bloodletting in Syria was with a major, open-ended military commitment:

Conversely, if the West had hypothetically deployed its own forces on the ground in Syria in 2011, it is likely that our forces would have soon faced an Islamist insurgency, if Afghanistan and Iraq are anything to go by. And this would have been a long haul: Look no further than Afghanistan, where Western forces still haven’t left, or Iraq, where they had to return to avert state collapse.

All the commentators grandstanding over the fall of Aleppo to castigate the West for not having “done more” militarily are welcome to explain how they would have rallied U.S. public support in 2011 for another major counterinsurgency effort in Syria. By 2011, after thousands of soldiers had died in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the multitrillion-dollar cost of those campaigns, which was piled on the back of the 2008 financial crisis, the idea that there would have been U.S. public support for such an endeavor is fantasy.

We don’t need to speculate about the lack of political support for a major war in Syria. There was no political support for one in Libya, which is why the intervening governments had no plan for what should follow the collapse of the regime. They had no intention of sticking around to find out what came next. There would have been even less interest in a long-term commitment in Syria. When there was the prospect of an “unbelievably small” air war against the Syrian government, the public backlash was intense and overwhelmingly negative. The opposition to a major ground war would have been and would still be even stronger. The reason for that opposition is that the U.S. and its allies had just wasted a decade in fruitless wars at enormous cost. There was understandably no appetite for repeating that error, and it would have assuredly been a grave error.

Michael Dougherty has said that lamenting the fall of Aleppo is a “freebie” for moralizing Westerners because it costs them nothing to do it, but it could end up costing all of us more down the road. The danger is that the lesson many people will draw from Syria is that the U.S. needs to be much faster in taking sides in foreign wars. The correct lesson to be learned here is that the U.S. and its clients need to refrain from fueling other nations’ civil wars so that we don’t prolong and intensify the conflict. If we spent much more time holding our government accountable for the destruction it causes abroad and less time berating them for their supposed “inaction,” we would end up with a wiser, juster foreign policy that would be better for America and the rest of the world.

Are ‘Russian Hacks’ the New ‘WMDs’?

No matter what faceless spooks assure us, it’s far from clear the Russian government directed the leaks of the DNC or John Podesta emails.

December 20, 2016

by Andrea O’Sullivan


The Russians have hacked our democracy! At least, that’s been the chorus from much of the American media following anonymous reports on a secretive CIA assessment of the 2016 presidential election. Even President Obama has started to beat the drums of “cyberwar,” announcing last Friday that the U.S. must “take action” against the Russian government for “impacting the integrity of our elections.” This is some tough talk given the very tenuous evidence offered so far about Russia’s alleged influence.

Obviously, it is crucial that America maintain a fair electoral process—flawed though “democracy” may be—and the prospect of a foreign power deliberately sabotaging this can strike a primal fear in Americans’ hearts. Yet this kind of mass anxiety can also be opportunistically stoked by government operatives to further their own agendas, as history has demonstrated time and again. Responsible Americans must therefore approach claims made by unnamed intelligence officials—and the muddying media spin on them—with clear eyes and cool heads. And we must demand that these extraordinary claims be backed by appropriate evidence, lest we allow ourselves to be lead into another CIA-driven foreign fiasco.

So, let’s start by separating reporting from spin. What, exactly, is being claimed here?

Back in October, the Obama administration publicly accused the Russian government of hacking into American political organizations in order to influence the presidential election. In early December, The Washington Post went a step further, reporting on a secret CIA assessment that Russia intervened specifically to help Donald Trump win. Citing only anonymous “officials briefed on the matter,” the Post wrote that “individuals with connections to the Russian government” provided Wikileaks with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta emails, exposing the party’s sordid underbelly to the world. The next week, another gaggle of unnamed intelligence officials would tell NBC News that the rascally Vladimir Putin personally directed the hacks.

Later reports scaled back some of these claims. Reuters, for instance, cited more unnamed intelligence officials who claimed that other intelligence bodies dispute the CIA’s conclusions. Russia might have hacked us, they think, but we can’t know that it was specifically to help Donald Trump. Then The Washington Post rustled up yet another batch of unnamed officials, who cited an internal memo from CIA Director John Brennan claiming that FBI Director James Comey is on the same page.

Neither the FBI nor the CIA has publicly commented upon such stories, and they refuse to brief congressional intelligence panels on the hacks. Meanwhile, Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange broke the site’s longstanding prohibition against discussing sources to deny that Wikileaks received the explosive leaks from the Russian government.

There are quite a few problems with the claims made by this veritable army of unnamed intelligence agents, as we’ll soon discuss. And media commentators often confused the situation further with muddying rhetoric and bombastic leaps of logic. Somewhere along the way, earlier campaign paranoia that Russia could hack into voting machines morphed into the rhetorically useful but epistemologically questionable soundbite that “Russia hacked our election.”

Consider the Clinton supporters. Rather than doing some soul-searching about their candidate’s revealed corruption and amazing tone-deafness to the concerns of the American working class, these petty partisans prefer to just blame Putin instead. Indeed, Clinton herself took to the podium to declare that the Russian president “has a personal beef” with her.

The vague assertions of the secret CIA memorandum have been repeated so assuredly and emphatically as to sometimes echo the jingoistic lead-up to the disastrous Iraq War. Keith Olbermann provided perhaps the most comical contribution to the new Russian scare, crawling out from under his American flag blankie to rave that “we are the victims of a bloodless coup engineered by Russia.” Other commentators were not quite so colorful, yet they largely uncritically repeated the CIA narrative that Russia “hacked the election” to secure a Trump victory. And this kind of hyperbole was not limited to the press: the White House went so far as to accuse the president-elect of knowingly benefiting from Russia’s assistance.

The Trump camp, obviously, vigorously denied such insinuations.

We might expect them to do so even if the evidence was solidly against them, but in this case, the notorious difficulty of hack attribution indeed plays to their favor. In computer forensics, it is extremely hard to conclusively “prove” who is responsible for a particular hack, unless you actually catch them in the act. There are many ways that hackers can conceal their digital tracks or make it appear as if someone else was responsible for their cyber hijinx, making attribution more of an art of guesswork than a science of established facts.

In terms of the CIA’s claims, the guesswork is tenuous indeed. The idea that Russia was behind the DNC hacks started this summer when the DNC hired a private security firm called Crowdstrike to investigate the breach. In a public blog post about the investigation, Crowdstrike wrote that the hacks involved “two separate Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries,” which it identified based on the use of two spying techniques, or “advanced persistent threats” (APTs), that were already known to researchers. APT 28, or “Fancy Bear,” is thought to be affiliated with a Russian intelligence unit called the GRU, which breached the DNC network in April 2016. APT 29, or “Cozy Bear,” is thought to work with a separate Russian intelligence body called the FSB; the FSB is believed to have hacked the DNC back in 2015.

In October, another security firm, SecureWorks, investigated the hack of Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s email account. The phishing email that fooled Podesta into granting hackers access to his account is, amusingly, present in the leaked email cache. SecureWorks believes the bit.ly link Podesta clicked on, leading to a fake Google log-in page, was also the work of Cozy Bear.

In other words, these security researchers say the DNC and Podesta hackers used methods thought to have been used previously by groups suspected to be linked to Russian intelligence agencies in the past.

Maybe the Russian government did direct or help these groups this time around. But maybe, as security researcher Jeffrey Carr has suggested, patriotic Russian hackers undertook these missions with no aid or urging from their government at all. It’s also possible that other foreign intelligence agencies used tools associated with Russia to throw the scent off their own trail(s), which has been done in the past.

Or perhaps these particular, detected breaches have nothing to do with the public email leaks at all. Groups backed by the Russian government, Russian “patriots,” or non-Russian actors—perhaps all three—may have used Cozy Bear or Fancy Bear methods to access the DNC and Podesta emails (for whatever reasons) and yet still not be the ones responsible for sharing them with Wikileaks. Some suspect that the DNC leaks were actually the work of a Democrat insider, a theory that seems to be invited by Julian Assange’s bounty for information on the suspicious death of DNC staffer Seth Rich.

The point is that regardless of what a sea of faceless spooks may assure us, it’s far from clear that the Russian government directed the leaks of the DNC or John Podesta emails. It’s easy to see why the Russian government might want to do so, but it’s much harder to establish whether they truly did.

And while one normally expects responsible government bodies to stay mum with the delicate geopolitical accusations of aggression until the case is watertight, it’s also easy to see why American groups involved in the hacks might be quick to cast blame on a nation-state actor. When you have been as embarrassed as the DNC and Clinton campaign have been, you don’t want to leave yourself open to speculation that your security was so weak that any “400-pound” hacker could get in. No, you want to blame a powerful foreign government. Plus, in terms of international law, governments only have recourse against other governments, not private groups.

The US intelligence community could have some incontrovertible proof that the Russian government leaked information to help Donald Trump win the presidency. But if they do, it is hard to understand exactly why they have not made it public by now. It can’t be that they fear unnecessarily antagonizing foreign governments or spooking the American public—they’ve already done that handily. But better late than never. Flaunt it if you’ve got it, US intelligence community!

In the meantime, however, the American public should think carefully about precisely what U.S. intelligence agencies are claiming. The core of their accusations is not that foreign hacking physically endangered Americans or compromised connected systems: It is that powerful politicians were embarrassed, and perhaps politically harmed, when their own internal dealings were made public. Perhaps we should spend more time examining such domestic threats to our democracy, and stop allowing ourselves to be rallied against foreign ghosts that distract us from these vital conversations.

Does Italy play a special role for Islamic terrorists?

It’s no accident that after carrying out the truck attack in Berlin, Anis Amri fled to Milan. Terrorism expert Marco Lombardi talked to DW about the Salifist scene in the area and Italy’s role in Islamic radicalization.

December 23, 2016


DW: Anis Amri was shot in Milan, a city said to be a sort of hotspot for the Islamist scene in Italy. Do you have any idea where he could have gone?

Marco Lombardi: Milan is not really a hotspot, [but more so] towns around Milan. Especially north of Milan – the area of Varese, which is very easy to get to from Sesto San Giovanni, where the Tunisian [Anis Amri] was shot, for example. And all the surrounding areas are hotspots, especially if you go to Bergamo and Brescia. Most of the arrested people come from that area, where we also have a lot of mosques that are not official mosques. We do not have official mosques in Italy except the one in Rome.

There are many little mosques and sometimes radical Salafist mosques especially to the north and northeast of Milan… But it is a big question mark where the Tunisian was going. It is not clear.

The hypotheses we have are firstly; that the idea was to go back to the south of Italy. That could be because he was in jail in southern Italy for four years. So he probably had some connection in that area. Or secondly; the other hypothesis is that he was going to the Balkans area and that could be of interest because many of the Salifists around Milan [know people] in the Balkans.

Q: Can you describe the Salifist scene in Italy, what sets it apart?

A: First you have to remember that the number of radicalized people is not so huge in Italy. Just to give you an idea, when we talk about foreign fighters, we count only 112 foreign fighters. Of those 112, no more than six or eight have returned to Italy. So it is really a different number of foreign fighters compared with Germany or France or Belgium and so on. On the other hand, there are quite a number of “radicalized people” not really joining the [“Islamic State”] (IS) in the field but are a threat for Italy and Europe through their ideas and their involvement with IS. Most of those are people coming through the illegal migration channels.

It doesn’t mean from my point of view that migrants are terrorists. That’s a stupid idea, but what politicians have to consider is the exploitation of the illegal [migration] channels by terrorism to transfer people from the other areas of the world to Europe.

Q:You said Italy only has about 100 foreign fighters. That is relatively few. Is there a reason for that?

A:There is a difference in the sociological and demographic structure of the population. If you look at the other countries of Europe, you can see that… most of the radicalized people are migrants of the third generation. Look at France, they are French because they have the French ID but all those people are French with a name that is Muhammed. So those people are people of the third generation of migrants and as all the studies of migration say, usually the third generation is the angrier generation

Migration in Italy is quite recent. It started in this way in the early 1990s… so we do not have a third generation.

I can also say that Italy’s intelligence apparatus is quite capable of detecting the first signs of radicalization and terrorism.

Anis Amri appears to have been radicalized in Italy, moved freely through Europe, then returned to Italy. In your opinion, what role does Italy play for the jihadis?

The question is, is Italy safer because in some ways it is a logistical base for IS, so it is not useful to target the rest of the country? This is a big question mark we have to explore and we need to understand better why Amri moved to Berlin, and then from Berlin he moved back to Italy and he never tried to target Italy.

This kind of analysis can help us to understand if there is some logistical reason that makes Italy safer.

Q: You describe a jihadi world view. What role does this play in relation to other radical phenomena – such as socially or a desire for adventure?

A: This question is discussed intensively in the fight against terrorism.  At this point… we cannot say that radicalization is driven only by religious faith or ideological convictions. We also have very angry men, madmen, psychopaths. There are many paths to radicalization. This is important to understand if we want to interrupt the radicalization processes. At the same time, we have to look at terrorist attacks independent from the motives.

An attack is a terrorist attack because the result of the attack is to spread fear, not because of the [motives of the attacker.]

Marco Lombardi is a sociologist and terrorism expert who teaches at the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. His recent book is titled “Il terrorismo nel nuovo millennio” (Terrorism in the New Millennium).

The interview was conducted by Kersten Knipp




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