TBR News December 6, 2015

Dec 06 2015

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 6, 2015: ”An old friend just yesterday showed me a fascinating CIA document relating to the current problems with Turkey. In reading through it, there is no doubt that the CIA has been responsible for assisting the Sunni Saudis creation, ISIS with training and weaponry. One of the benefits of this assistance is the ability of the United States to buy ISIS-looted Syrian oil via Israel. Huge numbers of tank trucks have been moving millions of gallons of badly-needed oil from ISIS-captured Syrian oil centers to Turkey via a highway leading into that country. The Russians, assisting Syria, have been attacking rebel groups but instead of limiting their strikes so as to protect CIA-operated groups and, most importantly, to protect the oil caravans, they struck at all the rebels. As this was killing CIA personnel and as the lucrative oil transfers were being threatened, the Turks, as the strong suggestion of the CIA people in Turkey, shot down a Russian plane “to teach them a lesson.” It backfired on them and now the oil flow has been effectively cut off. ISIS was earning $3 million a day and using the funds to expand the Sunni cause throughout the world. Now with major computer companies breaking into ISIS sites, and identifying potential recruits (who will be dealt with in the US very severely) another door has been shut in their fact. An interesting example of global corruption.”

Holy smoke Batman! Erdogan has to go

December 3, 2015

by Finian Cunningham


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been shooting from the lip over the past week since the fatal shooting down of a Russian fighter jet. He truculently denied accusations of supporting terrorism, challenging Russia to prove it. Well, holy smoke Batman!

Yes, Batman. Not the caped screen hero. Instead, we’re talking about the city of the same name, located in Turkey’s southeastern region. It is where Turkey’s state-owned oil industry is centered.

Batman is also where the oil smuggling routes run by the Islamic State terror network are centered, according to surveillance images released this week by the Russian Defense Ministry.

Air reconnaissance photos show thousands of trucks running stolen oil from Syrian state-owned fields in the east of the country converging on the Turkish city of Batman, near the Syrian border.

The oil smuggling operation has been going for at least two years since the so-called Islamic State (IS) terror group took over the oilfields in eastern Syria near the city of Deir Ezzor. The illicit trade is reckoned to have been earning the jihadists up to $3 million a day to help fund their war against the Syrian government of President Assad.

But smuggled oil needs a buyer for the enterprise to work. Enter Turkey. This week, before the latest data release from the Russian Ministry of Defense, President Vladimir Putin repeated claims that Turkish authorities were involved in facilitating the terrorist oil trade. Putin told world leaders at the Paris climate change conference that this was a factor in why Turkish warplanes shot down a Russian fighter jet last week, with the loss of the pilot’s life and that of another serviceman during a follow-up rescue mission.

Erdogan reacted angrily to the claim, dismissing it as “slander”. Erdogan testily put the challenge to Russia to present its proof.

The accusation that Turkey allegedly buys crude oil from Islamic State is unacceptable, and to say it is amoral,” said Erdogan. “You can’t just say things, you need to present evidence. If documents exist — let’s see them. If this fact is proven, I will not stay in my position.”

If Erdogan is a man of his word, which is doubtful, then he should start packing his bags. Right now.

The evidence presented by Russia’s military high command shows beyond any doubt that Turkey is central to Islamic State’s illegal oil trade and thus the terror group’s ability to fund its violence.

Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov didn’t mince words about the revelation. He said: “According to our data, the top political leadership of the country – President Erdogan and his family – is involved in this criminal business.”

What is particularly incriminating from the Russian data is that the east Syrian oil route operated by IS is destined for the Turkish city of Batman. Batman is the heart of the Turk oil industry. It is where the country’s biggest oilfield is located and where major refineries are based.

From Batman there is a 500-kilometre pipeline running westwards to the Mediterranean port cities of Dortyol and Ceyhan, both located in the Gulf of Iskenderun. The pipeline, which has a capacity to supply up to 30 million barrels of crude oil a year, is owned and operated by Turkey’s state-owned BOTAS Petroleum Corporation.

The port of Ceyhan is where the licensed shipping company BMZ owned by President Erdogan’s son Bilal and other family members is based. BMZ is a big Turkish player in the global oil trade.

Significantly, Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman reported in September this year that Erdogan’s BMZ spent $36 million in acquiring two new oil tankers to bring its total fleet to five. The ships are believed to ferry much of their crude oil cargos to Japan and other Asian countries. Business is booming and it’s no wonder.

Putin had earlier responded to Erdogan’s denials of collusion in terrorist oil smuggling by saying that “it is hard to imagine how the Turkish authorities could not be aware of the industrial-scale transport of oil across its border.”

But now Russian aerial images have presented a complete picture of how this massive oil supply is being routed through Turkey with state-owned companies.

The personal complicity of Erdogan through his family shipping business makes his resignation unquestionable. Furthermore, the Turkish president should face prosecution for gross violations of international law amounting to war crimes.

Surely, the Americans must know about the industrial-scale oil smuggling routes? For more than a year, since the US began bombing raids on Syria, allegedly against the Islamic State terror network, the oil smuggling has been untouched.

This week, General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Congressional committee that it was only in the last two months that the Pentagon got serious with airstrikes on IS oil routes. He admitted that for more than a year, the Pentagon hadn’t bothered because it wasn’t communicating sufficiently with the State Department. Dunford and the US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who was also giving evidence to the same committee, both claimed that the decision not to strike oil trucks run by terrorists was to taken in order to “avoid civilian casualties.”

That explanation does not stack up. The fact is, as Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Lieutenant-General Sergey Rudskoy said; the US has done little to nothing to halt the terror oil trade out of Syria. Russia, by contrast, has destroyed dozens of oil processing facilities and over 1,000 trucks since it began its military intervention less than two months ago – wholesale damage that has cut terror smuggling revenues by 50 percent, according to the Russian military.

Now that Russia has presented a damning picture of how Islamic State and other jihadist terror groups have been financing their terror campaign in Syria a ball of questions is in the US court.

Turkey is a member of the US-led NATO military alliance, the organization supposedly responsible for maintaining security and defense in Europe. Turkey must surely be kicked out of NATO for its role in sponsoring terrorism.

How can France, in particular, remain in the same military alliance with a country that is financing terror groups that were involved in a mass killing on the streets of Paris only three weeks ago?But Washington and its allies have much more to answer for. Oil convoys heading north into Turkey is just one half of a giant racket, with the other half involving convoys of weapons and jihadists fighters heading south into Syria. US and British military intelligence are implicated in this terror transmission, according to American journalist Seymour Hersh.

The weapons supply from Turkey to terror groups in Syria, with the collusion of Turkish state intelligence, is coming to light with the arrest last week of Turkish journalists who have dared to uncover the state-sponsored oil-for-weapons racket.

Russia’s latest evidence presents a stark choice. The world can now see who is fueling conflict and terrorism in Syria and beyond. Turkey is a state sponsor of terrorism. And other NATO members are also implicated. If legal sanctions do not follow, then we will know, chillingly, that the world has descended into gangsterism and barbarism.

Simply don’t know where they are’: 14,000 illegal migrants vanish, Swedish police say

December 2, 2015


About 14,000 illegal migrants, who were awaiting deportation, simply disappeared off the radar, Swedish police told local media, adding they “don’t know where these asylum seekers are.”

At the end of October, Swedish police asked to enforce deportation of at least 21,748 people. Of these, 14 140 people registered by police as ‘wanted’ have vanished, police told Swedish Aftonbladet tabloid newspaper.

“We simply don’t know where they are,” Patrik Engström, head of the national border police, said.

The rest of the individuals –at least 7,608 people – remain in refugee centers, are in custody, or are living in separate accommodation, awaiting deportation.

Swedish police are currently deploying most of its resources on carrying out ID checks after Sweden introduced temporary border controls to halt the influx of refugees and to screen those trying to enter the country illegally.

“It’s a huge task and it is completely dependent on the police being allocated resources,” said Engström.

In November, Sweden tightened asylum rules in a bid to control the immense influx of refugees coming from troubled regions of Africa and the Middle East. One of major changes was that Stockholm is now issuing temporary residence permits. In addition, the ages of children seeking for asylum will be medically verified and the right for family reunification will be strictly scrutinized, according to new measures.

Swedish authorities say they have welcomed more than 120,000 people since January. By the end of the year, up to 190,000 asylum seekers are expected to reach the country, more than doubling the number who came in 2014, when the Scandinavian country received about 81,000 refugees.

Sweden is the fourth country to re-establish border controls since the start of the migrant crisis this summer. In September, Germany, Austria, and Slovenia temporarily limited the free movement policy within the EU.

Turks in Russia hit by Putin’s ‘serious consequences’ after downing of warplane

Tens of thousands of Turks fear the their lives have irrevocably changed amid diplomatic war between Russian and Turkish leaders

December 2, 2015

by Shaun Walker in Moscow


Vildan Seçkiner was looking forward to seeing the sights of St Petersburg during her first trip to Russia. Instead, the 32-year-old was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport for 16 hours, threatened, and deported. Her crime: holding Turkish citizenship.

Seçkiner, a post-doctoral researcher who lives in Romania, had also planned to give a lecture to a small group of students during her visit, but was stopped at passport control and taken to a holding room. Police told her she could not enter Russia as she did not have a hotel booked, but made it clear the real reason was her Turkish passport.

When they took me to the transit area, there were many Turkish citizens there also being deported. Some had been waiting for 48 hours. Many of them were workers, who had personal belongings in Moscow and didn’t know how they were going to get them back. Others had Russian wives or girlfriends they were planning to visit,” Seçkiner told the Guardian from Bucharest.

In response to the shooting down of a Russian Su-24 warplane by a Turkish air force jet last Tuesday, Vladimir Putin promised “serious consequences”. Economic sanctions have been imposed and all charter flights between the two countries banned. But the vengeance has been felt most keenly by Russia’s large Turkish community and Turkish visitors to the country.

Some police officers were swearing at us in Russian,” Seçkiner said. “Someone in uniform, I don’t know exactly from which agency, got angry with me and pretended to spit at me. I just laughed because I didn’t know how to react. Then he started coming towards me aggressively, but his friends stopped him.”

Orhan Gazigil, a spokesman for the Turkish embassy in Moscow, said it had received many calls from Turkish citizens complaining about document checks and other bureaucratic hassles. The embassy itself was pelted with eggs, paint and stones last week, prompting Ankara to make an official complaint. There are about 80,000 Turkish citizens currently living in Russia, Gazigil said. Several Turkish businessmen based in Russia said they did not want to talk about the situation, even anonymously, due to its sensitivity.

The economic measures taken against Turkey have been described as a “first step” by the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, with fruit and vegetable imports being banned, but leaving major joint energy schemes and many construction projects. Most painful for the Turkish economy will be the ban on charter flights between the countries and the foreign ministry’s advice that Russian citizens should not travel to Turkey. Last year, around 4.4 million Russians visited the country, many on package holidays.

While both sides have said they do not want to escalate the situation further, the abrasive personal styles of Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are not proving conducive to rapprochement.

Erdoğan tried to speak to Putin by telephone in the hours after the plane was shot down but the Russian president did not take his call. The Turkish leader also asked Putin for a meeting at the climate change summit in Paris on Monday, but was snubbed again. Putin will only speak to Erdoğan when he is ready to apologise, aides have said. This is something Erdoğan has pointedly refused to do.

Putin again accused Turkey of profiting from Islamic State oil sales on Monday and this time went further, saying Russia has evidence that Turkey shot the plane down in order to protect the transit corridors for the oil. For his part, Erdoğan has said he will resign if Russia can provide concrete proof of such links; he also asked on Monday whether Putin would also agree to resign if he could not substantiate the links.

While the diplomatic war continues, the thousands of Turks in Russia fear their lives have irrevocably changed. An online petition to Putin and other top officials from Russian women with Turkish husbands had attracted 2,000 signatures by Tuesday.

The petition called for Russian media to stop the “propaganda of national hatred” towards Turks. State television programmes have been devoting large chunks of time to Turkey, branding the country – formerly seen as an ally – a sponsor of Isis and even suggesting that Turkey wants to annex Crimea, which Russia itself annexed from Ukraine last year, in an attempt to rebuild the Ottoman empire. The petition also called for immigration authorities to allow Turkish citizens to remain in the country and continue working.

In the region of Tatarstan, where the dominant Tatar ethnic group is of Turkic origin, Turkish companies have invested more than $1.5bn (£1bn) and were responsible for 25% of all foreign direct investment in 2014, the CEO of the region’s investment development agency, Taliya Minullina, told the Guardian. She said the measures did not prevent Turkish companies from operating in the region, though she admitted there could be “limitations”. The government has said it will not issue new work permits to Turkish citizens not already in the country.

The Tatars and the Turks are fraternal, Turkic nations. This fact is clear to everyone, and it doesn’t depend on politics. Our links are multiple: our origins, language, religion and culture,” said Minullina.

This fraternity is being stretched by the current crisis, however. Culture minister Vladimir Medinsky has written to the governments of Tatarstan and several other regions of Russia with local Turkic ethnic groups ordering them to cut off all contacts with Türksoy, the international agency for Turkic cultures.

On Tuesday, the Russian education ministry said it would summon home all Russian students currently studying at Turkish universities on exchange programmes. The ministry said there would be no official sanctions taken against Turkish students in Russia, but there were reports of harassment and fear in the Turkish student community.

In the city of Saratov, police arrived at a student dormitory on Saturday and searched the rooms of about 20 students with sniffer dogs, selecting them specifically by nationality. The students were questioned about whether they used drugs, had their documents checked and were told to sign blank documents, according to Turkish media. In Voronezh, Turkish students were reportedly ask to write letters voluntarily ending their studies at the university.

On a Facebook group for Turkish students in Russia, students were advised not to attend nightclubs or cinemas, and not to go outside at all “except in an emergency”, and then only in groups. The student union gave its members advice on how to act in the event of a police search: “We should be respectful and cautious during inspections by officials, and we should stick to our Turkish culture and show them Turkish hospitality. Let’s welcome officials with a smiling face and offer them a cup of Turkish tea if possible.”

High chances for Russia to build Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline to Europe – experts

December 1, 2015

by Lyudmila Alexandrova


MOSCOW, December 1. /TASS/.  European countries objecting to the construction of the third and fourth stages of Russia’s Nord Stream gas pipeline will hardly be able to impede the implementation of this project supported by Germany and large European companies, Russian experts say.

Chances are high for Russia to carry it through, they say.

Nine European countries have sent a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk with a demand to include the Nord Stream-2 project implementation in the agenda of the EU summit in December, The Financial Times reported.

The countries that made this demand included Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Baltic states. In their opinion, the Nord Stream-2 project implementation “will strengthen Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas,” which “contradicts the EU policy for energy security and diversification.”

The United States is also objecting to the decision to build the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany: the Obama administration has openly spoken against the project.

The Nord Stream-2 project envisages building the gas pipeline’s third and fourth stretches to add another 55 billion cubic meters to its capacity. The project’s consortium comprises Gazprom, OMV, Shell, BASF/Wintershall, Engie and E.On.

Energy Development Fund Director Sergei Pikin said he was confident in the viability of the Nord Stream-2 project.

“From the viewpoint of Brussels bureaucracy, a major violation stemmed from Gazprom’s participation in the construction as a shareholder of a part of the EU gas transportation system,” the Free Press web portal quoted the expert as saying.

“The Nord Stream ideology is quite different: our company forms a consortium with European partners to build the pipeline’s underwater stretch, which does not fall under the Third Energy Package. We extend the pipeline to the coast in the area of Greifswald while Europeans build the entire ground infrastructure,” the expert said.

As for protests by some European countries, it should be taken into account that Poland and the Baltic states “are our traditional energy spoilers in Europe, which are fulfilling Washington’s geopolitical order,” he added.

“They have now built loss-generating regasification terminals and are beginning to buy US liquefied shale gas. Of course, Washington and new EU members [from among former socialist camp countries] loyal to it will exert all possible pressure on Berlin.”

The countries that have written a letter to Tusk are mostly offended states, which do not want to lose their transit advantages, leading analyst of the National Energy Security Fund Igor Yushkov told TASS.

“When Russia was saying that it would give up gas transit across Ukraine after 2019, these countries understood that they might get a piece of a ‘transit pie.’ Irrespective of whether the talk was about the South Stream or the Turkish Stream project, it was presumed that the gas pipeline would run across the territory of Eastern and Southern European countries. As for the Baltic states and Poland, they always join all anti-Russian sanctions. Besides, Lithuania and Poland have already built LNG terminals and signed long-term contracts with the suppliers of expensive US LNG and it is advantageous for them to see the smallest possible volume of Russian gas coming to the European market so that the market prices there grow to match the prices they have to pay,” the expert said.

At the same time, the Nord Stream-2 project will be supported by Germany, which will become a transit country and actually a gigantic gas hub, he added.

“The point is that the additional volume of about 55 billion cubic meters that will be pumped via the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will be distributed all across Europe. The Nord Stream 1 pipeline is also expected to be loaded at full capacity,” the expert said.

Gazprom is currently taking part in gas sale auctions to get out of the restrictions imposed by the Third Energy Package, Yushkov said.

Natural gas is sold at the border where it is purchased by traders. So, it turns out that already European gas is pumped farther via the pipeline and, consequently, the OPAL pipeline now only 50% filled with Gazprom’s gas can also be loaded to a greater capacity, the expert said.

Apart from Germany, large European companies operating on the gas market are interested in the Nord Stream-2 project implementation, he added. “Big European business will also actively lobby its interests. Of course, they will exert pressure on the European Commission.”

However, it was the Bulgarian government and not the European Commission that blocked the South Stream gas pipeline project, the expert said.

“The Bulgarians revoked the issued permission for the construction after a 30-minute talk with US senators. But Germany is not Bulgaria and has much more potential to resist pressure. Germany understands that the United States pursues its own economic interests in this case,” the expert said.

“In these conditions, chances are quite high to build the Nord Stream-2 pipeline,” the expert added.

Big Banks Suffer Rare Fail as Congressional Deal Cuts Nearly $1 Billion a Year in Handouts

December 1, 2015

by David Dayen

The Intercept

Big banks will lose a portion of a multibillion-dollar government handout they’ve enjoyed for over 100 years, thanks to a compromise highway bill released Tuesday. One estimate pegged the loss to the banks at $8 billion to $9 billion over a 10-year time frame.

The bill, as it emerged from a House-Senate conference committee, pays for roads, bridges, and mass transit projects in part by reducing what is currently a 6 percent annual dividend on stock that the big banks buy to become members of the Federal Reserve system.

Fed membership offers many perks, from access to processing payments to cheap borrowing. But the dividend could be the sweetest gift, because banks cannot ever lose money on the stock; they’re even paid out if their regional Fed bank disbands.

Despite the total lack of risk, member banks have received the 6 percent dividend payout every year since 1913.

So for example, JPMorgan Chase, which has held stock since then, has made back its investment six times over without risking any loss. And if the bank stock was in place before 1942, that dividend payment is tax-free.

Originally — that is, 100 years ago — the Fed offered the dividend to entice banks into the new Federal Reserve system. But nationally chartered banks are today required by law to become members, and all banks must abide by the standards of membership. So the dividend is just a vestigial sweetener that never went away, pumping billions of dollars in public money to the banks for no discernible reason.

After a report I did in March 2014 about this brazen handout to Wall Street, the Congressional Progressive Caucus included a cut to the dividend in their annual budget proposal. That budget didn’t pass, but when Senate leaders searched for ways to fund highway spending, Barbara Boxer — the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which handles the highway bill — drew upon the Progressive Caucus measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, seeing no better option, stuck a version of it in the Senate highway bill. The provision called for cutting the dividend from 6 percent to 1.5 percent, eliminating $17 billion in big-bank subsidy over a 10-year period. It passed.

The banks freaked out, aided by Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who warned of unnamed “unintended consequences.” Through a well-worn lobbying strategy, they managed to get the House of Representatives to remove the dividend cut and replace it with a raid on the Fed’s capital surplus account, which is used to cover losses on the balance sheet.

In other words, Yellen and the Fed quietly preferred flushing their own surplus account over denying banks their full entitlement.

But when the final bill was released Tuesday, the dividend reduction remained in there, albeit with some modifications.

The reduction now applies only to banks with over $10 billion in assets, compared to the $1 billion threshold in the original bill. Instead of cutting the dividend to 1.5 percent, the rate will now match the interest rate of the highest-yield 10-year Treasury note at the point that the dividend is due. For context, the high yield at the last Treasury auction was 2.304 percent.

The Congressional Budget Office has not yet delivered a ruling on how much revenue this would bring in, but rough estimates suggest that it would be between $8 billion and $9 billion over the 10-year time frame, or around half the original figure.

The raid on the Fed’s capital surplus account remains in the final bill as well, but the Fed will be allowed to retain a $10 billion buffer. The savings from these and other measures allowed Congress to authorize highway funding for 5 years, one of the longest-term highway bills in a while.

The final bill must now win passage in the House and Senate, but as a conference report, it cannot be amended. Highway funding authorization runs out on Friday, so a final vote is expected this week.

The American Bankers Association called the compromise “bad public policy” and lamented that banks were being used “as an E-Z Pass for highways.”

But if Congress passes the highway bill, an irrelevant public policy that served as a money faucet for the largest financial institutions will see a small tightening of the spigot, in a rare instance of a progressive budget policy becoming the law of the land.

And don’t weep for the banking industry. Numerous other provisions in the final bill deregulate portions of the financial industry, including preempting states from regulating companies that advise small businesses, removing certain private equity firm oversight restrictions, and enabling “emerging growth” companies from hiding their financial activities from investors.

A late entry to the bill will force the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to shift resources to determine whether mortgage companies are “rural lenders.” Under Dodd-Frank, lenders in rural communities can offer riskier mortgages without giving consumers stronger protections. Even firms that don’t predominantly operate in rural areas can qualify for the rural lender designation, according to the bill’s language.

Facebook bows to Belgian privacy ruling over cookies

December 3, 2015

by Chris Baraniuk

BBC News

Facebook has said that it will respond to a privacy ruling in Belgium by requiring users to log in to view pages on the site.

The original ruling, made by the Belgian Privacy Commissioner (BPC) in November, relates to Facebook cookies that track the activity of non-users.

The company expects to receive an order this week, which it will contest.

But in the meantime, cookies will not be set for non-users and accounts will be needed to access content.

Cookies are text files that record the web activity of users and the one in question, which Facebook has named datr, can live in a web user’s browser for two years.

Facebook has argued that the cookie provides better security for the site’s members by preventing the creation of fake accounts, reducing the risk of accounts being hijacked, protecting users’ content against theft and deterring denial-of-service attacks.

“We had hoped to address the BPC’s concerns in a way that allowed us to continue using a security cookie that protected Belgian people from more than 33,000 takeover attempts in the past month,” said a Facebook spokeswoman.

“We’re disappointed we were unable to reach an agreement and now people will be required to log in or register for an account to see publicly available content on Facebook.”

Cookie crunch

In a letter on Tuesday, the company told the BPC it would comply “fully” with the order as soon as it was received.

As well as blocking access to pages for non-users, datr cookies will no longer be set for non-users and existing cookies for such individuals will be deleted where possible.

Facebook also says it will implement cookies for users who are logged in to protect against certain attacks on its network.

“We continue to have significant concerns that requirements set forth during these proceedings in respect of cookie practices have not been applied fairly and equitably within Belgium to other internet services, as demonstrated in the reports we have submitted in the past,” commented Facebook in the letter.

EU interest

“I think the other protection authorities all over Europe will be looking at this,” said Paul Bernal, a privacy commentator and law lecturer at the University of East Anglia.

“Belgium isn’t applying Belgian law, it’s applying European law, so if they’re applying it in Belgium why shouldn’t they apply it everywhere in Europe?”

Dr Bernal added that while blocking access to pages for non-users might give added privacy protection to those individuals, it was likely there would be some disappointment among Belgian business owners, for example.

“[If] people cannot now find their Facebook pages [the business owners] will not be happy about it,” he said.

Dead, White, and Blue:The Great Die-Off of America’s Blue Collar Whites 

by Barbara Ehrenreich


The white working class, which usually inspires liberal concern only for its paradoxical, Republican-leaning voting habits, has recently become newsworthy for something else: according to economist Anne Case and Angus Deaton, the winner of the latest Nobel Prize in economics, its members in the 45- to 54-year-old age group are dying at an immoderate rate. While the lifespan of affluent whites continues to lengthen, the lifespan of poor whites has been shrinking. As a result, in just the last four years, the gap between poor white men and wealthier ones has widened by up to four years. The New York Times summed up the Deaton and Case study with this headline: “Income Gap, Meet the Longevity Gap.”

This was not supposed to happen. For almost a century, the comforting American narrative was that better nutrition and medical care would guarantee longer lives for all. So the great blue-collar die-off has come out of the blue and is, as the Wall Street Journal says, “startling.”

It was especially not supposed to happen to whites who, in relation to people of color, have long had the advantage of higher earnings, better access to health care, safer neighborhoods, and of course freedom from the daily insults and harms inflicted on the darker-skinned. There has also been a major racial gap in longevity — 5.3 years between white and black men and 3.8 years between white and black women — though, hardly noticed, it has been narrowing for the last two decades. Only whites, however, are now dying off in unexpectedly large numbers in middle age, their excess deaths accounted for by suicide, alcoholism, and drug (usually opiate) addiction.

There are some practical reasons why whites are likely to be more efficient than blacks at killing themselves. For one thing, they are more likely to be gun-owners, and white men favor gunshots as a means of suicide. For another, doctors, undoubtedly acting in part on stereotypes of non-whites as drug addicts, are more likely to prescribe powerful opiate painkillers to whites than to people of color. (I’ve been offered enough oxycodone prescriptions over the years to stock a small illegal business.)

Manual labor — from waitressing to construction work — tends to wear the body down quickly, from knees to back and rotator cuffs, and when Tylenol fails, the doctor may opt for an opiate just to get you through the day.

The Wages of Despair

But something more profound is going on here, too. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman puts it, the “diseases” leading to excess white working class deaths are those of “despair,” and some of the obvious causes are economic. In the last few decades, things have not been going well for working class people of any color.

I grew up in an America where a man with a strong back — and better yet, a strong union — could reasonably expect to support a family on his own without a college degree. In 2015, those jobs are long gone, leaving only the kind of work once relegated to women and people of color available in areas like retail, landscaping, and delivery-truck driving. This means that those in the bottom 20% of white income distribution face material circumstances like those long familiar to poor blacks, including erratic employment and crowded, hazardous living spaces.

White privilege was never, however, simply a matter of economic advantage. As the great African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in 1935, “It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage.”

Some of the elements of this invisible wage sound almost quaint today, like Du Bois’s assertion that white working class people were “admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools.” Today, there are few public spaces that are not open, at least legally speaking, to blacks, while the “best” schools are reserved for the affluent — mostly white and Asian American along with a sprinkling of other people of color to provide the fairy dust of “diversity.” While whites have lost ground economically, blacks have made gains, at least in the de jure sense. As a result, the “psychological wage” awarded to white people has been shrinking.

For most of American history, government could be counted on to maintain white power and privilege by enforcing slavery and later segregation. When the federal government finally weighed in on the side of desegregation, working class whites were left to defend their own diminishing privilege by moving rightward toward the likes of Alabama Governor (and later presidential candidate) George Wallace and his many white pseudo-populist successors down to Donald Trump.

At the same time, the day-to-day task of upholding white power devolved
from the federal government to the state and then local level, specifically to local police forces, which, as we know, have taken it up with such enthusiasm as to become both a national and international scandal. The Guardian, for instance, now keeps a running tally of the number of Americans (mostly black) killed by cops (as of this moment, 1,209 for 2015), while black protest, in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement and a wave of on-campus demonstrations, has largely recaptured the moral high ground formerly occupied by the civil rights movement.

The culture, too, has been inching bit by bit toward racial equality, if not, in some limited areas, black ascendency. If the stock image of the early twentieth century “Negro” was the minstrel, the role of rural simpleton in popular culture has been taken over in this century by the characters in Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. At least in the entertainment world, working class whites are now regularly portrayed as moronic, while blacks are often hyper-articulate, street-smart, and sometimes as wealthy as Kanye West. It’s not easy to maintain the usual sense of white superiority when parts of the media are squeezing laughs from the contrast between savvy blacks and rural white bumpkins, as in the Tina Fey comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. White, presumably upper-middle class people generally conceive of these characters and plot lines, which, to a child of white working class parents like myself, sting with condescension.

Of course, there was also the election of the first black president. White, native-born Americans began to talk of “taking our country back.” The more affluent ones formed the Tea Party; less affluent ones often contented themselves with affixing Confederate flag decals to their trucks.

On the American Downward Slope

All of this means that the maintenance of white privilege, especially among the least privileged whites, has become more difficult and so, for some, more urgent than ever. Poor whites always had the comfort of knowing that someone was worse off and more despised than they were; racial subjugation was the ground under their feet, the rock they stood upon, even when their own situation was deteriorating.

If the government, especially at the federal level, is no longer as reliable an enforcer of white privilege, then it’s grassroots initiatives by individuals and small groups that are helping to fill the gap — perpetrating the micro-aggressions that roil college campuses, the racial slurs yelled from pickup trucks, or, at a deadly extreme, the shooting up of a black church renowned for its efforts in the Civil Rights era. Dylann Roof, the Charleston killer who did just that, was a jobless high school dropout and reportedly a heavy user of alcohol and opiates. Even without a death sentence hanging over him, Roof was surely headed toward an early demise.

Acts of racial aggression may provide their white perpetrators with a fleeting sense of triumph, but they also take a special kind of effort. It takes effort, for instance, to target a black runner and swerve over to insult her from your truck; it takes such effort — and a strong stomach — to paint a racial slur in excrement on a dormitory bathroom wall. College students may do such things in part out of a sense of economic vulnerability, the knowledge that as soon as school is over their college-debt payments will come due. No matter the effort expended, however, it is especially hard to maintain a feeling of racial superiority while struggling to hold onto one’s own place near the bottom of an undependable economy.

While there is no medical evidence that racism is toxic to those who express it — after all, generations of wealthy slave owners survived quite nicely — the combination of downward mobility and racial resentment may be a potent invitation to the kind of despair that leads to suicide in one form or another, whether by gunshots or drugs. You can’t break a glass ceiling if you’re standing on ice.

It’s easy for the liberal intelligentsia to feel righteous in their disgust for lower-class white racism, but the college-educated elite that produces the intelligentsia is in trouble, too, with diminishing prospects and an ever-slipperier slope for the young. Whole professions have fallen on hard times, from college teaching to journalism and the law. One of the worst mistakes this relative elite could make is to try to pump up its own pride by hating on those — of any color or ethnicity — who are falling even faster.

How Russia is smashing the Turkish game in Syria

December 3, 2015

Pepe Escobar


So why did Washington take virtually forever to not really acknowledge ISIS/ISIL/Daesh is selling stolen Syrian oil that will eventually find its way to Turkey?

Because the priority all along was to allow the CIA – in the shadows – to run a “rat line” weaponizing a gaggle of invisible “moderate rebels”.

As much as Daesh – at least up to now – Barzani mob in Iraqi Kurdistan was never under Washington’s watch. The oil operation the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) runs to Turkey is virtually illegal; stolen state-owned oil as far as Baghdad is concerned.

Daesh stolen oil can’t flow through Damascus-controlled territory. Can’t flow though Shiite-dominated Iraq. Can’t go east to Iran. It’s Turkey or nothing. Turkey is the easternmost arm of NATO. The US and NATO “support” Turkey. So a case can be made that the US and NATO ultimately support Daesh.

What’s certain is that illegal Daesh oil and illegal KRG oil fit the same pattern; energy interests by the usual suspects playing a very long game.

What these interests are focused on is to control every possible oil asset in Iraqi Kurdistan and then in “liberated” Syria. It’s crucial to know that Tony “Deepwater Horizon” Hayward is running Genel, whose top priority is to control oil fields that were first stolen from Baghdad, and will eventually be stolen from the Iraqi Kurds. 

And then, there’s the Turkmen powder keg.

The key reason why Washington always solemnly ignored Ankara’s array of shady deals in Syria, through its fifth column Turkmen jihadis, is because a key CIA “rat line” runs exactly through the region known as Turkmen Mountain.

These Turkmen, supplied by Ankara’s “humanitarian” convoys, got American TOW-2As for their role in preserving prime weaponizing/ smuggling routes. Their advisers, predictably, are Xe/Academi types, formerly Blackwater. Russia happened to identify the whole scam and started bombing the jihadis. Thus the downing of the Su-24.

The Turkmen fifth column

Now the CIA is on a mission from God – frantically trying to prevent the “rat line” from being definitely smashed by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) on the ground and Russia in the air.

The same desperation applies to the Aleppo-Azez-Killis route, which is also essential for Turkey for all kinds of smuggling.

The advanced arm of the “4+1” alliance – Russia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, plus Hezbollah – is taking no prisoners trying to re-conquer these two key corridors.

And that explains Ankara’s desperation – with a little help from ‘His Masters’ Voice’ – to come up with an entirely new rat line/corridor through Afrin, currently under Syrian Kurd control, before Damascus forces and Russia air power get there. 

Once again it’s important to remember that a gaggle of Turkmen outfits are Ankara’s fifth column in northern Syria.

Most Turkmen live in Kurdish territories. And here’s the ultimate complicating factor; the majority happen to live in the Jarablus region, currently controlled by ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. It’s exactly this area that is cutting the geographic connection between the two Kurdish cantons, Kobani and Afrin.

So imagine a continuous Syrian Kurd control/autonomy/corridor all across the Turkish-Syrian border. For Ankara this is the ultimate nightmare. Ankara’s strategy is to move its Turkmen pawns, with added “moderate rebels”, all across the Jarablus region. The pretext: wipe Daesh off the map. The real reason: prevent the two Kurdish cantons – Afrin and Kobani – from merging.

And once again Ankara will be directly pitted against Moscow.

The Russian strategy rests on very good relations with Syrian Kurds. Moscow not only supports the Syrian Kurd canton merger, but qualifies it as an important step on the way to a new Syria rid of takfiris. Russia will even officially recognize the PYD (Democratic Union Party) and allow them a representative office in Russia.

Ankara regards the PYD and its paramilitary arm, the YPG (People’s Protection Units) as branches of the PKK. It gets curioser and curioser when we know that both Moscow and Washington are cooperating with the YPG against ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.

The predictable All-Out Ankara Freak Out came in the form of ‘Sultan’ Erdogan declaring the Euphrates a “red line” for the YPG. If they try to move westward to fight Daesh, sending them out of the Jarablus area, the Turkish Army will strike.

It’s absolutely key for Turkey to control this area between Jarablus and Afrin because here is the site of the would-be “safe zone”, actually a no-fly zone, which Ankara dreams of implementing using the three  billion just extorted from the EU to house refugees but also control northern Syria. Turkmen would be in charge of the area – as well as the Azez-Aleppo line, assuming the SAA does not clear it for good.

The case for UEBA

So Ankara is looking at two very unpleasant Turkmen-filled scenarios to say the least.

Turkmen becoming instruments of Ankara and gatekeepers against the Kurdish YPG; that means a nasty sectarian divide, orchestrated by Turkey, whose greatest loser is the unity of the Syrian nation.

Meanwhile, the SAA and Russian air power are on the verge of total control of Turkmen Mountain.

This will allow the “4+1” to go much deeper fighting against the so-called Army of Conquest and its twin-headed reptile, Jabhat al-Nusra (a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria) and Ahrar al-Sham, the whole lot “supported” and weaponized by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The “4+1” inexorable advance comes with extra benefits; the end of all rat lines in the region, and no more possible threats to Russia’s air base in Hmeimim.  

Make no mistake that Moscow will inflict as much pain on ‘Sultan’ Erdogan as possible.

As Turkish newspaper Radikal quoted him, Prof. Abbas Vali of Bogazici University confirmed, “The PYD was pleased about Russia’s intervention in Syria. An alliance between the PYD and Russia is inevitable. Russia’s bombardment of the radical Islamist groups on the ground will have a huge impact on the PYD operations.”

So no matter which way we look, Turkey and Russia are on a serious collision course in Syria. Moscow will support Syrian Kurds no holds barred as they push to link the three major Kurdish cantons in northern Syria into a unified Rojava.As for Washington’s “strategy”, it now boils down to the CIA need for a new “rat line”. That could imply sitting on the – weaponizing – sidelines watching Turkmen and Kurds slug it out, thus creating an opening for the Turkish Army to intervene, and the Russian Air Force to prevent it, with all hell guaranteed to break loose.

Sultan’ Erdogan badly needs a new CIA-secured “rat line” to weaponize not only his fifth column Turkmen but also Chechens, Uzbeks and Uyghurs. And Bilal Erdogan, a.k.a. Erdogan Mini Me, desperately needs new oil smuggling routes and a couple of new tankers; Russia is watching their every move. The latest news from Russia’s Defense Ministry has struck like a volcanic eruption; the Erdogan family mob was branded as “criminals”, with Moscow presenting only an appetizer of the all the evidence it has in store.

So we have the Afghan heroin rat line. The Libyan oil racket (now over). The Ukraine fascist rat line. The Libya to Syria weapon rat line. The stolen Syrian oil trade. The northern Syrian rat lines. Let’s call them UEBA: Unregulated Exceptionalist Business Activities. What’s not to like? There’s no business like war business.

San Bernardino Massacre: Perception and Propaganda: The weaponization of the US media

December 4, 2015

by Justin Raimondo,


The reaction to the San Bernardino shooting in which 14 people were killed and several more wounded is a textbook case of confirmation bias. The first reactions came from the liberal wing of the Twittersphere, heavily represented by “mainstream” journalists, who immediately took the incident to be a classic “mass shooting” of the Sandy Hook-Columbine variety, and it didn’t take long for the finger-wagging to begin. At once pro-gun control and anti-religious, the meme went out into cyberspace: “thoughts and prayers” aren’t enough, we need to crack down on gun ownership in this country. The front page of the New York Daily News expressed the left-liberal party line: “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS: As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.”

As it turned out, however, the guns used by Syed Farook and Tashveen Malik, the two perpetrators, were bought legally – and their weaponry consisted of a lot more than mere guns. The editors of the Daily News didn’t wait for the facts because they didn’t care about the facts. They just wanted to make a point – one which turned out to be not only wrong but also completely beside the point.

In the same city, in the offices of a very similar – if ideologically opposite – tabloid, the editors of the New York Post were jumping the gun in an entirely different direction. As the ethnicity and religious affiliation of the attackers came out, they ran with a simple two-word headline: “MUSLIM KILLERS,” with a modifying qualifier: “Terror eyed as couple slaughters 14 in Calif.” As more information came out, however, the editors pulled back, and the final edition was quite different: “MURDER MISSION,” read the headline, with a neutral supplementary: “Shooters slaughter 14 in Calif.” These two editions were published hours after the incident, and only a few hours apart – a testament to the dangers of jumping to conclusions.

This reversal is explained by the subsequent release of yet more information about the perpetrators: Syed Farook worked at the San Bernardino Department of Public Health, which had rented a room at the facility where the massacre took place. The event was a holiday party, which Farook attended, but left early after a reported altercation of some kind. He returned with Malik, his wife, armed to the teeth, and the slaughter commenced.

These facts would appear to point in a different direction entirely from the scenario painted by the Post’s initial edition, and so the imagery conjured by the new headline went from that of the rampaging “Muslim Killers” to the “Murder Mission” of what appeared to be a case of workplace violence.

That’s what I thought around midnight last night, when I tweeted my tentative opinion that the workplace violence scenario seemed to be the most likely. My main reason was the nature of the target: why, I asked, would terrorists choose the Christmas party of the San Bernardino Public Health Department as the latest object of their wrath? In addition, reports of a dispute at the event involving Farook seemed to indicate that scenario: he got angry, came back, and started shooting. There were also reports of “turmoil” inside the department where he worked; several people had left amid rumors of disputes with management, and the fact that Farooq and his accomplice were targeting a very specific group of people – and not, say, a military facility, or even a soft target like a mall – seemed to corroborate this conclusion.

However, as more facts came out, this explanation began to make less sense. To begin with, a bomb – actually, three bombs taped together – had been left behind at the scene of the shooting. The bomb was linked to a device found in Farook’s rental car – rented three days prior – that was very similar to the jury-rigged remote-controlled IEDs recommended by al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine, which detailed how to make an explosive device with readily available materials. We don’t yet know why the bomb failed to go off,.

Although reports that the couple came into the venue wearing body armor and Go-Pro body cameras turned out to be false, they were wearing “tactical” clothing, i.e. vests that enabled them to carry large amounts of ammunition. And indeed they were carrying huge amounts, enough to let them reload on the scene, and continue firing up to seventy-five rounds for over 30 seconds. This accounts for the large number of casualties.

Furthermore, the discovery of twelve “pipe-bomb type” devices, hundreds of tools for making more, and “thousands” of rounds of ammunition in the Redlands home rented by Farooq and his wife eliminates the workplace violence scenario. This was, in effect, a bomb-making factory, and neighbors indicate that a number of people were involved: packages were received throughout the day, and activity was observed into the night. One of these neighbors claims they were ready to contact law enforcement but hesitated to do so for fear of being accused of “racial profiling.” Both Farooq and his bride were of Pakistani extraction.

Two factors indicating that this was indeed a terrorist cell carrying out a pre-planned operation, and not a disgruntled employee intent on revenge against his co-workers, are plain enough: 1) The couple dropped off their child at a relative’s house the day before the attack, claiming to have a doctor’s appointment, and 2) The tactics utilized in the shooting of the victims and the gunfight with the police — which included throwing a fake pipe bomb out of their car as the cops pursued them – are evidence of some kind of military training. Such training could have occurred during Farooq’s trips to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

And we are beginning to hear evidence of international contacts with “more than one” terrorist suspect under surveillance by law enforcement. All that’s missing – as of this writing – is a claim of responsibility by some overseas terrorist outfit.

Yet questions remain: again, the target – a holiday party in a small city – hardly seems like the sort ISIS or al-Qaeda would zero in on. Clearly the couple were planning on a much larger operation, but this plan was changed by something that triggered Farooq to act sooner. And we still don’t have the whole picture: there could conceivably be some new information that could alter our whole perception of what motivated Farooq and Malik.

Which brings me to my point: our perception of the facts is shaped – and altered – by our preconceptions. In short, people believe what they want to believe – and the facts be damned. In this case, major media organizations didn’t wait for the facts to come in before they pronounced judgment. They simply rushed into print with what were little more than editorials, bereft of any responsibility to their readers or the truth.

This is why those who proclaim that bias is inherent in all journalism, and that there’s no such thing as objective reporting, are dangerously wrong. Yes, we’re all human; yes, everyone has opinions. But some people wait for the facts to come in before giving vent to those opinions, while others don’t bother with such niceties.

Here at Antiwar.com, we have very definite opinions: yet that doesn’t mean we can’t be objective when it comes to either reporting the news or presenting our opinions. We may not always achieve objectivity, but we do strive for it – and it is certainly worth striving for. We aren’t preaching to the choir, or seeking to construct some alternate universe in which only the facts we approve of are reported and acknowledged: rather, we aim at making a credible fact-based case for a noninterventionist foreign policy and a domestic order based on the rights accorded to all citizens by the Constitution. We won’t be able to do that if we selectively report the news – or make it up as we go along. Nor will we convince anyone of anything if our analysis is divorced from reality.

The reality, as I see it, and given what we know now, is this: San Bernardino was an act of terrorism that may or may not have been directed from overseas. The implications of that are very grave for those of us who oppose our crazed foreign policy of perpetual war, and the relentless assault on our civil liberties on the home front.

The pressure to “destroy them over there before they strike us over here” is going to increase a hundred-fold. The advocates of universal surveillance are going to be empowered as never before. That these tactics haven’t worked in the past – and, indeed, have backfired badly – won’t deter the usual suspects from insisting that war and repression are the answers to the problem of terrorism.

Our answer to the War Party must be that their strategy has failed: the terrorists couldn’t recruit anyone if we weren’t over there bombing what remains of their cities and seeking to impose our will on a populace that will never accept our domination, no matter how many soldiers we send and bombing sorties we launch.

As for the authoritarians who want to use incidents like the San Bernardino attack as a pretext to abolish the Constitution and institute a regime of total surveillance and outright repression: where was their vaunted surveillance system in this case? We didn’t detect this plot – and perhaps that’s because watching everyone, and collecting everyone’s information, blinds us to the real villains hiding in our midst. Then again, perhaps ferreting out villains isn’t the real purpose of government spying.

FBI investigating California massacre as ‘act of terrorism’

December 4, 2015

by Dan Whitcomb and Mark Hosenball

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif./WASHINGTON-The FBI is investigating this week’s massacre in which a married couple killed 14 people in California as an “act of terrorism,” an official said on Friday, saying the female shooter had pledged allegiance to a leader of the militant group Islamic State.

Tashfeen Malik, 27, a native of Pakistan who lived in Saudi Arabia for more than 20 years, and her U.S.-born husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, were killed in a shootout with police hours after the Wednesday massacre during a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center social services agency in San Bernardino, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles. The attack was the deadliest mass shooting the United States has experienced in three years.

Malik had pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an online post, David Bowdich, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Los Angeles office, said at a news conference.

That finding could be a “game changer” in the investigation, two U.S. government sources told Reuters. Another source cautioned there was no indication of evidence that Islamic State “even knew” who the shooters were.

“Based on the information and the facts as we know them, we are now investigating these horrific acts as an act of terrorism,” Bowdich said.

Asked about a reported Facebook post by Malik on the day of the attack pledging loyalty to Islamic State, Bowdich said, “Yes, there was a pledge of allegiance.”

Investigators have determined that the Malik and Farook engaged in extensive planning before the attack, he said.

Bowdich also said the FBI also was examining crushed cellphones found near the shooting scene and had established that there were “telephonic connections” between the couple and other people of interest in FBI probes.

The couple had two assault-style rifles, two semi-automatic handguns, 6,100 rounds of ammunition and 12 pipe bombs in their home or with them when they were killed, officials said.

Turkey angered by rocket-brandishing on Russian naval ship passing Istanbul

December 6, 2015


Istanbul- Turkey accused Russia of a “provocation” on Sunday after a serviceman on the deck of a Russian naval ship allegedly held a rocket launcher on his shoulder while the vessel passed through Istanbul.

Relations have deteriorated sharply since Turkey last week became the first NATO member in more than half a century to down a Russian plane, which it said had violated its airspace while flying sorties over Syria. The pilot was killed.

The NTV news channel broadcast photographs that it said showed a serviceman brandishing a rocket launcher on the deck of the landing ship Caesar Kunikov as it passed on Saturday through the Bosphorus Strait, which bisects the city of Istanbul. It said the ship was believed to be en route to Syria.

“For a Russian soldier to display a rocket launcher or something similar while passing on a Russian warship is a provocation,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters, according to the Hurriyet news site. “If we perceive a threatening situation, we will give the necessary response.”

The Bosphorus offers the only passage to the world’s oceans for the Russian Black Sea fleet. A World War One-era treaty obliges Turkey to allow all ships to pass during peacetime.

Turkey had considered Russia a strategic partner as its main energy supplier, despite deep differences over Syria. But since Turkey shot the plane down, Moscow has introduced economic sanctions including a ban on Turkish foods and other products worth as much as $1 billion.NTV said three NATO frigates with Canadian, Spanish and Portuguese flags had been moored in Istanbul as the Caesar Kunikov passed through.

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Removing the gag: how one man took on the FBI for nearly 12 years and won

After years of silence and secrecy, internet service provider Nick Merrill can reveal an FBI demand for confidential information and its attendant gag order

December 6, 2015

by Nicky Woolf in New York

The Guardian

On a snowy afternoon in February 2004, an FBI agent came to Nick Merrill’s door, bearing a letter that would change his life.

At the time, Merrill was running a small internet service provider called Calyx, with offices just below Canal Street on Manhattan’s west side.

The man who came to see him was well-built; older, with white hair. It was snowing; the man at the door wore a trenchcoat. “He looked like an FBI agent from central casting,” Merrill said. “He was so classically FBI.”

The envelope that the agent carried contained what is known as a “national security letter”, or NSL. It demanded details on one of his company’s clients; including cellphone tower location data, email details and screen-names.

It also imposed a non-disclosure agreement which was only lifted this week, when – after an 11-year legal battle by Merrill and the American Civil Liberties Union, he was finally allowed to reveal the contents of the letter to the world.

The NSL which Merrill was given was a new use for what was a relatively old tool; the FBI had long – if sparingly – used them if there was probable cause for them to make such a requisition, for example to oblige a hotel to turn over information on its guests.

But the Patriot Act vastly expanded the scope of what an NSL could be applied to; they have been used to obtain credit reports, banking information, internet records, phone and email records. The FBI greatly increased the number issued; according to a 2007 inspector general’s report, the NSL that Merrill was handed by the agent was one of nearly 57,000 issued that year.

All of those thousands of NSLs were accompanied by a non-disclosure agreement, or “gag order” – which barred recipients were ever disclosing that they had received an NSL – even to the person whose records were being sought.

Merrill read his letter at the office door. When he got to the gag order, he looked up at the agent – who was still standing there – in shock. “I said: ‘What about my lawyer?’” Merrill recalled. The agent replied that he was “not authorised” to answer his questions.

First, Merrill went online. He read the Patriot Act, but found it confusing and full of clauses like nesting matryoshka dolls. After stewing for a couple of days, building up his courage to break the terms of the letter, he called his lawyer and asked him to meet him in person.

His lawyer, a friend of Merrill’s who specialises in corporate law, quickly recognised that he would need backup. He and Merrill contacted the American Civil Liberties Union’s New York branch, who used Calyx for web services. There they met with Arthur Eisenberg, who introduced Merrill to a young lawyer called Jameel Jaffer.

I had never seen a national security letter at that point,” Jaffer said. “We had to scramble around to figure out what it was.” Jaffer was particularly appalled by the circular nature of the gag order.

The only entity named was the FBI, and it was the FBI that had imposed the gag order,” he said. “That was what was most offensive to me.”

With the ACLU, Merrill went to court to challenge the constitutionality of the letter, especially of the gag order.

The case, in which Merrill was listed as a “John Doe” because of the terms of the order, was against the attorney general, John Ashcroft, FBI director, Robert Mueller, and FBI senior counsel Marion Bowman.

The same year, Victor Marrero, a district court judge, sided with Merrill against the federal government, finding that the letter violated his fourth amendment rights. A year later, in response, Congress amended the statute. Merrill went to court again; again, the district court struck down the law. In 2008, a second circuit judge affirmed that decision.

Throughout the process, the gag order kept Merrill in frustrated silence. “Over the course of seven years I had two different girlfriends, and they both knew something was going on that I wouldn’t tell them about,” he said. “They didn’t like it.” He said that he felt that if he told anyone, he would be making them as burdened with this secret as he was.

You’re obviously lying by omission all the time, because people come up [to you] and say, ‘Hey you seem down today, what’s going on’, and you can’t tell them. Or certain days, like when the court stuff was going well, I’d be really excited but couldn’t share it with anyone. It cut me off from the people who in normal life would be your support network. Close friends, family. So it was extremely weird.”

The problem was, Jaffer said, that the FBI were implementing laws in secret, and – until Merrill – largely with impunity. “It turns out that the government’s interpretation of the law is much, much broader than anyone had thought,” he continued.

You see this pattern over and over again: you have a relatively narrow surveillance law that is implemented in a sweeping way, in secret. So the public thinks there are limits on government’s surveillance powers, [but] the government interprets the limits in the weakest possible way.”

In 2014, Merrill sued again, helped by graduate students at the Yale Law Clinic. Finally, in August, the news came that the judge had ruled that the gag order be completely lifted.

          After waiting out the period in which the Department of Justice could appeal,

Merrill received permission on Monday to publish the full, unredacted version of the letter.

He said he had no idea how to respond. “I have this weird feeling that maybe this is a dream, maybe I dreamed I was allowed to talk about it,” he said.

As a result of this challenge, anyone who gets a gag order can walk into a federal court and challenge [its] legitimacy,” Jaffer said. “That’s not something that was true in 2002.”

It had taken Merrill almost 12 years of silence and secrecy.

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