TBR News December 6, 2018

Dec 06 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. December 6, 2018:” First a point and then a counterpoint.

There are dozens of American governmental agencies who spend most of their time spying on the great bulk of the population. Such issues as telephone calls, any kind of mail, computer messaging, photographs taken in public places, and even lavatories, GPS  tracking of private cars, checked out library books, children’s school records, medical reports in hospital files, and on and on without an end.

The public is aware of this and a least some of them are retaliating.

One of the most entertaining counterings is a story about the alleged secret files contained on discs.

It seems that a very deadly virus is put on a computer disc.

This is then labelled ‘secret FBI (or CIA or NSA or DHS) files.

This booby trap is then put into a private bank safe deposit box and a series of emails to others informs that this person has a deposit box full of government secrets.

Without a doubt, soon enough agents arrive at the bank after hours and a willing bank official allows them access to the target box. With ill-concealed glee the boobus americanus triumphantly take the disc, rush back to their office and stick it into an office computer.

Unfortunately, the virus on the disc at once obliterates the computer’s hard drive and, pleasant to contemplate, attacks any other computer system that might be interfacing with the computer blessed with the booby trap.

Rage and consternation cries can be heard for blocks with the windows closed.

This is only one of a number of entertaining solutions to universal spying now in effect.”



The Table of Contents 

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 99
  • No leader, lots of anger: can France’s ‘yellow vests’ become a political force?
  • Elysee fears ‘putschists’, coup attempt during Yellow Vests protests this weekend – media
  • Backlash as federal workers warned not to discuss Trump impeachment
  • Trump’s European diplomats tied in knots over rise of populism
  • Facebook Emails Show Its Real Mission: Making Money and Crushing Competition
  • The U.S. Government Tracks All The Snail Mail You Send Too
  • The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations


Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 99

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

  • Aug 5, 2018

“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Scott McLean, deputy chief for Cal Fire, told the Star that there is no basis, “at all,” for Trump’s suggestion that firefighters there are short of water: “I can reassure you we have water…There is plenty of water.” McLean declined to weigh in specifically on Trump’s claim about the state’s environmental laws, but various experts told California media outlets that these laws are not affecting the firefighting effort. A Los Angeles Times article began: “No one would mistake President Trump for an expert on climate change or water policy, but a tweet he issued late Sunday about California’s wildfires deserves some sort of award for most glaring misstatements about those two issues in the smallest number of words.”

“Presidential Approval numbers are very good – strong economy, military and just about everything else. Better numbers than Obama at this point, by far.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: Trump’s approval numbers are worse than Obama’s at this point, not better. On the date he issued this tweet, August 5, 2018, Trump’s net approval was negative-9.5 — 43.1 per cent approval, 52.6 per cent disapproval, according to RealClearPolitics’s polling average. On August 5, 2010, Obama’s net approval was negative 5.2 — 44.9 per cent approval, 50.1 per cent disapproval, according to RealClearPolitics’s polling average.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times

“Because of Tariffs we will be able to start paying down large amounts of the $21 Trillion in debt that has been accumulated, much by the Obama Administration, while at the same time reducing taxes for our people.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: This claim is nonsensical. Trump himself has repeatedly called tariffs “taxes”; they are paid by the American people in the form of higher prices for products or American businesses in the form of higher costs. Even if tariffs did not succeed in their purpose of reducing imports, the revenue from Trump’s tariffs would be a tiny fraction of the $21 trillion in debt. Trump has so far imposed tariffs on less than $100 billion worth of 2017 imports; even if the tariff revenue amounted to $25 billion, a very generous estimate, the total revenue is just 0.1 per cent of the debt — ignoring the fact that the tariffs have also prompted the Trump administration to offer $12 billion in aid to farmers, and ignoring the fact that the debt is rising fast under Trump, by more than $1 trillion so far.

“Tariffs are working big time. Every country on earth wants to take wealth out of the U.S., always to our detriment. I say, as they come,Tax them. If they don’t want to be taxed, let them make or build the product in the U.S. In either event, it means jobs and great wealth…..”

Source: Twitter

in fact: As the Washington Post explained in its news story on Trump’s tariffs tweets: “This is false, and not how tariffs work. Trump has imposed tariffs on certain goods imported from foreign countries, but the foreign countries do not pay those tariffs. Rather, the U.S. importers bringing the products into the United States pay the tariffs. This makes the products more expensive and less attractive for U.S. consumers. This could drive U.S. importers to stop bringing in certain goods because they are too costly, hurting the foreign manufacturers, but those foreign companies do not pay the tariffs, and neither do the foreign countries where those companies are based.”


No leader, lots of anger: can France’s ‘yellow vests’ become a political force?

December 6, 2018

by Michel Rose, Luke Baker


PARIS (Reuters) – It began as a home-spun Facebook campaign against French fuel tax increases. But in a few weeks it has spiraled into a movement powerful enough to force Emmanuel Macron into the biggest U-turn of his presidency.

Yet the “yellow-vest” movement — named for the fluorescent jackets carried by French motorists — remains an amorphous, hard-to-define group with a rapidly shifting agenda.

It has no leader. It named eight spokespeople, some of whom disagreed with each other and one of whom was promptly sacked. Members are broadly opposed to decision-making authority.

One of its originators, a 51-year-old accordionist from Brittany called Jacline Mouraud who also works in hypnotherapy and makes YouTube videos, received death threats after suggesting the movement should talk to the government.

Anyone who has a “gilet jaune” — and most people in France suddenly seem to — can put it on and become part of the movement, meaning it brings together people of hugely different ages, social classes, occupations and views.

This is its strength but also its weakness.

The government does not know who to engage with, even though the movement has drawn hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, closing roads and fuel depots, and spurring riots and violence in the capital Paris on successive weekends.

Since Macron gave in to the movement’s main demand on Wednesday by scrapping a fuel-tax increase set for January, the “yellow vests” have also been trying to agree on other issues to fight for — from boosting household incomes to reinstating a wealth tax or ousting Macron.

“He betrayed us. He was elected promising to blow out political parties, no left, no right, to reconnect political power with the people,” Christophe Chalençon, a blacksmith from Provence in southern France who has become one of the more recognizable faces of the movement, told Reuters.

“He’s done the opposite. We’re only the mirror of what he had proposed, what he sold to us. We need a new representative body,” said Chalencon, who has been criticized for postings on social media that some have seen as anti-Muslim.


In an age of a populist backlash against globalization in the Western world, the “yellow vest” movement shares many features with other populist forces, such as the Occupy movement in the United States and Italy’s Five-Star, which now governs.

An opinion poll published by the Elabe Institute on Wednesday showed that in the presidential election in May 2017, many in the movement voted for candidates on the far-left or far-right, although many also didn’t vote.

They mostly have a high-school diploma or a lower level of education and live in tight financial circumstances, often in rural or outer-urban areas, where depending on a car to get to work or go to the shops is essential, and increasingly costly.

There is a high level of solidarity among volunteers who mount roadblocks, share food and post pictures together online. Polls show they still have the backing of about 70 percent of thepopulation, despite the violence in Paris which the government blamed on “extremist” groups”.

Some government officials play down the prospects of such a diverse movement uniting as a political force.

“For the time being, no, they’re having trouble just structuring themselves,” a government source said.

But, with elections to the European parliament coming up next May, others warn against complacency, especially as Macron was taken off guard by the protest. Some members of Macron’s team say privately they did not expect the planned rise in fuel prices to be more politically explosive than other reforms.

Macron himself rose to power barely a year after creating his own movement, En Marche, in 2016 on a promise to be “neither of the left nor the right” and to introduce a new style of politics. His campaign book was called “Revolution”.

The “yellow vests” do not have the same education or work background as Macron — he had experience in government as a former economy minister. Yet ironically, they are using some of the same techniques as he used on social media and echoing some of the anti-establishment rhetoric.

“The yellow vests are a political movement, we need to stop feeling sorry for them,” Bruno Bonnell, a lawmaker in En Marche (On The Move) and an early follower of Macron, said.

“In three weeks, it’s transformed itself into the fiery core of a strong populist movement,” he said. “It reminds me of the start of En Marche. They’re our future opposition.”


Macron enjoyed high ratings at the start of his presidency and managed to ram through changes to France’s labour code.

But his brash style alienated some voters and changes to a tax to reduce the burden on the wealthy earned him the label “president of the rich”. His ratings now hover in the low-20s and he is battling to keep his reform agenda on track.

His biggest threat now is from a popular national uprising that, while not associated with a political party, has elements that sympathize with the far-right and far-left and want a radical shake-up — the sort of new politics U.S. President Donald Trump and his former strategist Steve Bannon advocate.

“We can already see they (“yellow vests”) have huge appeal but this is because they are apolitical and can genuinely say they have nothing to do with political parties,” said Charles Lichfield, Europe analyst at Eurasia Group risk consultancy.

“For the ‘gilets jaunes’ to become a political force, they need to accept the notion of leadership and get over the fact that their chosen leaders will need to balance between various contradictory demands.”

France, a nation built on revolution, is not new to populist uprisings. In the 1950s, a shopkeeper called Pierre Poujade spurred anti-tax, anti-elite protests which eventually secured 52 seats in the French parliament in the 1956 election.

Although Poujadism, as it became known, eventually faded from view when war-hero Charles de Gaulle returned to power, it left a lasting legacy. The youngest member of its deputies was Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the far-right National Front.

One of the “yellow vests”, Andre Lannee, has launched Facebook pages for protesters to elect two representatives per region. Another, Jean-Francois Bernaba, has said he is working on a list of candidates for the European Parliament elections, in which French voters traditionally back more populist parties.

Asked to assess the “yellow vests’” chances of contesting the European Parliament elections, which are based on a system of proportional representation, Lichfield said they would first have to organize quickly and find a charismatic leader.

“They will understand that a proportional ballot gives them their best chance of making a splash,” he said.

Additional reporting by Richard Lough and John Irish, Editing by Timothy Heritage


Elysee fears ‘putschists’, coup attempt during Yellow Vests protests this weekend – media

December 6, 2018


With more Yellow Vests protests approaching this weekend Elysee Palace is worried about a possible coup attempt. Calls have been made to attack parliamentarians and police forces, French media report.

Even though the French government abandoned the fuel tax hike after sweeping protests, the movement still calls upon its followers to gather on December 8. “The Act IV” will be held under the motto “we stay on our course.” The Facebook event has already counted 6,000 people who wish to participate and 22,000 others who are “interested.”

On Thursday Eric Drouet one of the movement’s most famous leaders announced the Yellow Vests plans to approach the residence of Emmanuel Macron. “Saturday will be the final outcome, Saturday is the Elysee, we all would like to go to the Elysee,” he said.

The intelligence services have reported to the Elysee Palace, the official residence of the president, that there have been “calls to kill” and “carry arms to attack” parliamentarians, government officials and police officers, Le Figaro newspaper said on Thursday.

“They are putschists. [There is] a coup attempt,” a source claimed. The ministry has even been reportedly instructed to forbid its staff and ministers from working this weekend.

Security forces were also tipped that Saturday’s demonstrations may be hit by unprecedented violence caused by both “radicalized…extreme right and extreme left,” Le Figaro added.

Yellow Vest protests, named after high-visibility jackets all drivers in France must carry in their vehicles, are entering their third week. Started as unprompted rallies called on social media against fuel price hikes and Macron’s unpopular reforms, they have evolved into one of the most dangerous challenges for the nation in recent decades.

December 1 protests turned violent across the whole country and saw over 130 people injured and more than 400 arrested. Four people, including an elderly woman, died amid the fierce clashes between rioters and officers.

The French government had to concede to the protesters’ demands and abandoned the fuel tax hike plan – at least for the 2019 budget. However, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe who broke the news, did not clarify whether Paris might reintroduce the hike in a budget update later in 2019.

The real problem lies in the government that has lost touch with its people, Yellow Vest protesters recently told RT. The government has to “put humane attitude first, and not the money,” one more demonstrator said. Another added that they “would prefer to be at work, than to find [themselves] on the streets shouting, hoping for nothing.”

According to Jean Bricmont, a French writer and political commentator, the fiery protests have more to do with the “incompetent,” EU-dependent government policy than the rising gas prices. “The revolt is not just about the gas prices, it’s a general revolt against the policy of the government,” he told RT.


Backlash as federal workers warned not to discuss Trump impeachment

Unions and free speech advocates say official advice on expressing political opinions at work overly restricts dissent

Decenber 6, 2018

by Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington

The Guardian

New guidance warning federal workers not to discuss Donald Trump’s potential impeachment or the so-called “resistance” movement has sparked controversy, with some ethics advocates voicing concerns over what they see as an effort to crack down on free speech and limit dissent.

A memo released by the Office of Special Counsel last week clarified what constitutes political activity at the federal workplace, stemming from Trump seeking re-election as president in 2020.

In addition to avoiding topics that might suggest views favorable or unfavorable toward Trump, the document stipulated “strong criticism or praise of a presidential administration’s policies and actions” also amount to political activity.

The move prompted immediate backlash from government watchdogs and unions, who said the interpretation of political activity is too broad and exposes more than 2 million federal employees to undue risk and could hurt their free speech rights.

“This guidance is a broad reach that employees may find confusing. It could unnecessarily have a chilling effect on employees’ first amendment free speech,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal employees in 33 departments and agencies.

At issue is the Hatch Act, a law dating back nearly eight decades that was designed to prevent federal employees from engaging in partisan politics at work or while in their official capacity as civil servants. The law has long been enforced by the OSC, an independent federal agency unrelated to special counsel Robert Mueller and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The office typically investigates complaints against employees accused of engaging in partisan activity at work, and can recommend disciplinary measures that could result in dismissal.

Faced with criticism that its definition of political activity was too far-reaching, the OSC insisted there had been no substantive changes in how such scrutiny was being applied.

The guidelines did not bar employees entirely from discussing what presidential conduct may warrant impeachment or sharing their thoughts on the matter, the office said. It noted that what would instead be inappropriate would be to advocate for – or against – the president’s impeachment while in the workplace.

The reason behind the memo’s release, according to the OSC, were questions that arose from federal employees and ethics officers given the frequency of such conversations – particularly at a time when Trump would clearly be seeking re-election. In addition to impeachment and the idea of “resisting” Trump, the OSC noted that federal employees were prohibited from wearing, displaying or distributing items from Trump’s campaign, such as anything bearing his Make America Great Again slogan.

Government watchdogs nonetheless saw a power grab; some made the case that talk of impeachment was not inherently linked to Trump’s re-election prospects, but instead a separate matter having to do with grounds for removal from office.

“The OSC needs to stand down and recognize that the Hatch Act permits advocacy for and against Trump’s impeachment,” Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University who served as a government ethics lawyer in the DC attorney general’s Office, wrote in an op-ed this week.

“This might not sit well with some in the federal government, but the first amendment protects this kind of political speech even when the government would prefer silence.”

Others took issue with the notion that federal employees could not stake out a position for or against administration policy, which they said ignored the fact that some issues transcended politics.

Ward Morrow, assistant general counsel of the American Federation of Government Employees, pointed to internal disagreement within the administration over the threat of global warming as an example.

Trump recently dismissed a landmark climate change study, produced by his own administration, while casting doubt on the underlying science. Morrow said it would not be unreasonable for an employee at the Environmental Protection Agency to voice disagreement or push for deferring to the consensus of the scientific community, but questioned if doing so would now be grounds for punishment under the Hatch Act.

“It’s not about someone running for office,” he said. “It may be a Trump policy, but it’s not about the Democratic or Republican party.”

The rules do not apply to employees once they leave their place of work; they are free to discuss their political views or engage in political activity in their free time.

But some argued that the Hatch Act had increasingly been misused to penalize workers, while instead ignoring the abuses of upper-level management.

Earlier this year, the OSC confirmed that Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act on two occasions by advocating against political candidates while appearing on Fox News and CNN in her official capacity as counselor to the president.

Conway’s comments were made ahead of the Alabama Senate election, when she stopped just short of endorsing the Republican candidate Roy Moore while blasting the record of his Democratic opponent, Doug Jones.

The OSC referred its findings to Trump “for appropriate disciplinary action”, but the White House rebuked the report and no subsequent action against Conway was taken.

Senior officials have previously violated the Hatch Act under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. But the Trump administration has routinely made headlines for ethics violations, from the White House to cabinet officials, further calling into question the disproportionately higher standard placed on workers.

“The way it is under the law, and certainly the way it’s been enforced, has always been stacked against workers instead of managers throughout history,” said Steve Hollis, a former computer programmer at the US Department of Agriculture who retired in 2014.

Hollis said he believed efforts to expand the Hatch Act undermined the first amendment and ignored the critical role federal workers play in implementing policy – thus better positioning them to understand what does and doesn’t work.

“We need a much bigger say from those who actually do the work,” he said.

“The whole idea of workers having a say at work is to be able to criticize our bosses and disagree with them.”


Trump’s European diplomats tied in knots over rise of populism

US-accredited university in Hungary is latest victim of American mishandling of foreign policy

December 6, 2018

by Shaun Walker in Budapest

The Guardian

It was a triumph for Hungary’s populist Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. A university founded in 1991 by one of his chief antagonists, George Soros, decided this week to quit Hungary next year, forced out by a row over its legal status.

But it was a failure for the US ambassador, an 80-year-old jewellery magnate and longstanding personal friend of Donald Trump, who had made it his mission to protect the US-accredited university.

When David Cornstein arrived in Budapest this summer, he came with a message of full support for Orbán’s far-right populist government, in an abrupt departure from previous US policy.

Despite concerns about corruption, rule of law and media freedom, as well as divisive rhetoric on immigration and refugees, Cornstein declared: “The government here has the support of the American government. I think they have the support of the secretary of state. I know they have the support of the American ambassador.”

He was one of a new crop of Trump-appointed ambassadors who have appeared willing to depart from diplomatic protocols to support nationalist, populist governments and politicians who may have similarities with the US president.

However, so far the approach has led to few foreign policy gains, and has caused much damage among traditional allies as well as resentment within the state department. Cornstein’s overtures to the government in Budapest seemingly had little effect in protecting the Central European University (CEU).

Some 1,000km north of Budapest, another US ambassador rapidly discovered the perils of politicising diplomacy.

Richard Grenell, Trump’s envoy to Berlin, declared his intention to “empower other conservatives throughout Europe”. He also raised eyebrows by inviting representatives of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party to his 4 July celebrations.

The political class was not amused. The former SPD leader and chancellor candidate Martin Schulz said: “Grenell is behaving not like a diplomat but like a far-right colonial officer … Ambassadors are representatives of their nations not of political movements.” Fellow SPD politician Johannes Kahrs tweeted that if the quotes were right Grenell “should leave the country”.

Across the border in the Netherlands, there was further controversy when the new US ambassador, Peter Hoekstra, tied himself in knots by claiming he had never spoken about Muslim no-go zones in Europe, an obsession for the far-right, when he had.

All three are political appointees – part of a longstanding practice whereby presidential loyalists or campaign donors are rewarded with ambassadorial jobs, usually in pleasant cities and with a lavish official residence.

Anthony Gardner, the US ambassador to the European Union until 2017, said it had become increasingly obvious to him that some of Trump’s choices in Europe appeared keen to foment nationalist, populist forces.

“There are some, yes. It is totally unacceptable and out of keeping with their diplomatic mission,” said Gardner, who was appointed by President Barack Obama and served in Brussels for nearly three years from March 2014.

The dynamic is part of an age-old debate on whether engagement or admonition is the best policy when dealing with problematic governments abroad. For all the lofty talk of freedom and democracy, many US administrations have also played nice when its strategic or economic interests are at stake.

What is different now, however, is that there is a US president whose domestic rhetoric is often similar to that of nationalist populist regimes in central Europe. It would be hard for US diplomats to continue taking Orbán to task for using derogatory language about refugees, or for demonising George Soros, or for attempting to crack down on the media, when Trump’s Twitter feed is pumping out a similar agenda on a daily basis.

Trump’s affinity with nationalists in central Europe was on display last year when he gave a furious speech in Warsaw about impending civilisational clashes which was music to the ears of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party.

“The government saw that you have a president that has not only chosen Poland as the main counterpoint to old Europe, but has come and presented a vision very in line with theirs. This sent all the wrong messages and emboldened the government to do more in the direction they were already taking,” said Polish analyst Wojciech Przybylski.

Since then, however, the Trump-appointed ambassador to Poland, Republican donor Georgette Mosbacher, has emerged as a more traditional figure, surprising the Polish leadership with rebukes over the intimidation of journalists.

For many US diplomats in postings where career diplomats remain as ambassador, the calculation is simple: pretend Trump doesn’t exist. “The fact that the Balkans is not that important to Trump meant in many ways we could carry on the same as before,” said a career US diplomat who was most recently posted in a Balkan country and left the foreign service earlier this year.

Having to represent a president who seems to stand for a lot of things that US diplomats have traditionally criticised in rightwing populists abroad is too much to take for some in the foreign service. “Whenever I would go out and give a speech on women’s rights or press rights I’d come home and think ‘God’, and feel like a hypocrite,” said the diplomat.

In so far as there is any centralised direction to policy in the region, it comes from Wess Mitchell, assistant secretary of state responsible for Europe. Mitchell has a background in central Europe and is a pragmatist when dealing with difficult allies.

“The United States must show up, or expect to lose,” he said at a recent event in Washington. The CEU case in Hungary, however, appears to be an example in which the US showed up, sought to placate their hosts, and lost anyway.

Cornstein’s approach was calculated. He believed that by championing Orbán publicly it would be possible to exert pressure on key issues of US interest. The US even cancelled a $700,000 state department grant announced last year meant to boost media freedom, which infuriated Hungarian authorities. In one interview, Cornstein said he had not met a single person who was dissatisfied with the current political climate since arriving in Hungary.

But Orbán simply pocketed the rhetorical support and ignored demands over the university, which announced on Monday it has been “forced to leave” and would relocate to Vienna. Although CEU will retain some courses in Hungary, the move is the first time a major university has been pushed out of an EU country, and was widely interpreted as a blow to academic freedom.

“All the indications are that the interests of the US are systematically ignored,” said Péter Krekó, who runs the Political Capital thinktank in Budapest. “Orbán is the illiberal poster child, so others will be watching to see if he faces any consequences for this.”

Additional reporting by Julian Borger in Washington, Daniel Boffey in Brussels and Josie Le Blond in Berlin


Facebook Emails Show Its Real Mission: Making Money and Crushing Competition

December 5, 2018

by Kevin Roose

The New York Times

British lawmakers on Wednesday gave a gift to every Facebook critic who has argued that the company, while branding itself as a do-gooder enterprise, has actually been acting much like any other profit-seeking behemoth.

That gift was 250 pages’ worth of internal emails, in which Facebook’s executives are shown discussing ways to undermine their competitors, obscure their collection of user data and — above all — ensure that their products kept growing.

The emails, which span 2012 to 2015, were originally sealed as evidence in a lawsuit brought against Facebook by Six4Three, an app developer. They were part of a cache of documents seized by a British parliamentary committee as part of a larger investigation into Facebook’s practices and released to the public on Wednesday.

It should not come as a surprise that Facebook — a giant, for-profit company whose early employees reportedly ended staff meetings by chanting “domination!” — would act in its own interests.

But the internal emails, a rare glimpse into Facebook’s inner workings, show that the image the company promoted for years — as an idealistic enterprise more dedicated to “bringing the world closer together” than increasing its own bottom line — was a carefully cultivated smoke screen.

These emails reveal that in the formative years of Facebook’s growth, the company’s executives were ruthless and unsparing in their ambition to collect more data from users, extract concessions from developers and stamp out possible competitors.

“It shows the degree to which the company knowingly and intentionally prioritized growth at all costs,” said Ashkan Soltani, a privacy researcher and former chief technologist of the Federal Trade Commission.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Facebook said the documents included in the lawsuit were a cherry-picked sample that “tells only one side of the story and omits important context.”

Here are four revelations from the emails that detail Facebook’s aggressive quest for growth:

  1. The company engineered ways to collect Android users’ data without alerting them.

In February 2015, Facebook had a privacy dilemma.

The company’s growth team — a powerful force within Facebook — wanted to release an update to the Android app that would continually collect users’ entire SMS and call log history. That data would be uploaded to Facebook’s servers, and would help Facebook make better recommendations, such as suggesting new friends to Android users based on the people they’d recently called or texted. (This feature, called “People You May Know,” has been the subject of much controversy.)

But there was a problem: Android’s privacy policies meant that Facebook would need to ask users to opt in to having this data collected. Facebook’s executives worried that asking users for this data could bring a public backlash.

“This is a pretty high risk thing to do from a PR perspective but it appears that the growth team will charge ahead and do it,” one executive, Michael LeBeau, wrote.

He outlined the nightmare scenario: “Screenshot of the scary Android permissions screen becomes a meme (as it has in the past), propagates around the web, it gets press attention, and enterprising journalists dig into what exactly the new update is requesting, then write stories about ‘Facebook uses new Android update to pry into your private life in ever more terrifying ways.’”

Ultimately, Facebook found a workaround. Yul Kwon, the head of Facebook’s privacy program, wrote in an email that the growth team had found that if Facebook’s upgraded app asked only to read Android users’ call logs, and not request other types of data from them, users would not be shown a permission pop-up.

“Based on their initial testing, it seems that this would allow us to upgrade users without subjecting them to an Android permissions dialog at all,” Mr. Kwon wrote.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Facebook said that it collects call and text message logs only from Android users who opt in, and that as of 2018, it keeps this information only temporarily, since “the information is not as useful after about a year.”

  1. Mark Zuckerberg personally approved cutting off a competitor’s data access.

In January 2013, one of Mr. Zuckerberg’s lieutenants emailed him with news about Twitter, one of Facebook’s biggest competitors. The company had introduced a video-sharing service called Vine, which allowed users to create and post six-second video clips.

When new users signed up for Vine, they were given the option of following their Facebook friends — a feature enabled through Facebook’s application program interface, or API. This feature was widely used, and had become a valuable tool for new apps to accelerate user growth. But in Vine’s case, Facebook played hardball.

“Unless anyone raises objections, we will shut down their friends API access today,” wrote the lieutenant, Justin Osofsky, now a Facebook vice president.

Mr. Zuckerberg, the chief executive, replied: “Yup, go for it.”

On Wednesday, Rus Yusupov, one of Vine’s co-founders, said on Twitter, “I remember that day like it was yesterday.”

Facebook’s decision to shut off Vine’s API access proved fateful. Months later, Instagram released its own short-form video feature, which many saw as a further attempt by Facebook to hobble Vine’s growth. Vine shut down in 2016, after stagnant growth and heavy competition led many of its stars and users to go elsewhere.

On Tuesday, Facebook changed its developer policies, ending the prohibition on apps that competed with the company’s own features.

  1. Facebook used a privacy app to collect usage data about its competitors.

In 2013, Facebook acquired Onavo, an Israeli analytics company, announcing that Onavo’s tools “will help us provide better, more efficient mobile products.”

One of those tools, an app called Onavo Protect, was especially helpful in helping Facebook sniff out potential competitors. The app, which was billed to users as a way to keep their internet browsing private, also collected data about which apps those people used the most — including apps not owned by Facebook — and fed that information back to Facebook.

According to the emails released on Wednesday, Facebook executives received reports about the performance of rival apps, using data obtained through Onavo.

Sometimes, those reports revealed up-and-coming competitors. One report included in the email cache, dated April 2013, said that WhatsApp, the mobile messaging app, was gaining steam. According to Onavo’s proprietary data, WhatsApp was being used to send 8.2 billion messages a day, whereas Facebook’s own mobile app was sending just 3.5 billion messages daily.

Ten months later, Facebook announced that it was acquiring WhatsApp in a deal valued at $14 billion.

In August, Facebook pulled Onavo Protect from the App Store, after Apple reportedly said that it violated the company’s privacy rules.

  1. Facebook executives wanted more social sharing, as long as it happened on Facebook.

In November 2012, Mr. Zuckerberg sent a lengthy note to several top executives called “Platform Model Thoughts.” It outlined how intensely he wanted Facebook to be the center of everyone’s social life online.

The email addressed a debate that was raging inside Facebook at the time, about whether outside app developers should have to pay to connect their apps to Facebook’s developer platform. Mr. Zuckerberg said that he was leaning away from a charge-for-access model, and toward what he called “full reciprocity” — giving third-party developers the ability to connect their apps to Facebook free, in exchange for those apps’ giving data back to Facebook, and making it easy for users to post their activity from those services on their Facebook timelines.

By giving away access, Mr. Zuckerberg said, Facebook could entice more developers to build on its platform. And by requiring app developers to send data back to Facebook, it could use those apps to increase the value of its own network. He wrote that social apps “may be good for the world but it’s not good for us unless people also share back to Facebook.”

Facebook later put in place a version of this “reciprocity rule” that required developers to make it possible for users of their apps to post their activity to Facebook, but did not require them to send usage data back to Facebook. (Not coincidentally, this “reciprocity rule” explains why for several years, it was virtually impossible to go on Facebook without seeing dozens of updates about what your friends were watching on Hulu or listening to on Spotify.)

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, after the emails were made public, Mr. Zuckerberg wrote that the company had tightened its developer policies in 2014 in order to protect users from “sketchy apps” that might misuse their data.

But back in 2012, the company’s worry was not about data misuse. Instead, the company was chiefly concerned with how to use those developers’ apps to spur its own growth.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, wrote back to concur with Mr. Zuckerberg’s approach to data reciprocity.

“I think the observation that we are trying to maximize sharing on Facebook, not just sharing in the world, is a critical one,” she wrote.


The U.S. Government Tracks All The Snail Mail You Send Too

Forbes Staff

Thanks to top secret documents leaked by Edward Snowden — a.k.a. the man currently starring in the real-life Russian remake of The Terminal — we now know that the National Security Agency has been collecting “metadata” from phone calls and emails, allowing them to keep track of who contacts who and when. It turns out that this tracking is not limited to digital and voice communication. The government has been doing the same thing for postal mail for years.

It came to light last month when the FBI revealed how it tracked down the Z-list actress (Shannon Richardson: you may have seen her as a zombie in The Walking Dead) who sent ricin letters to Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama. Court documents stated that the postal service “photographs and captures an image of every mail piece that is processed,” allowing the FBI to track the poisonous letters sent to these officials back to a post office in the actress’s home town. The New York Times followed up on that revelation today, confirming that the “U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement” as part of an operation called “the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program” (which is a lot less sexy-sounding than the NSA’s email tracking program codename: EvilOlive. Protip, NSA: Take a lesson from the US Postal Service and don’t use the word “Evil” in your codenames.)

“[S]nail mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail,” writes the NYT’s Ron Nixon. Amusingly, “snail mail” is now the official term for the stamped stuff, even in the New York Times. USPS holds on to its scans of the envelopes for who-knows-how-long and will hand it over to investigators if they need them.

As with the high-tech spying on phone calls and emails, the postal tracking does not involve looking at the content of the mail, just at the outside of the envelope which reveals who it’s being sent to and from whom (if they include a return address). If it doesn’t include a return address, as with the ricin letters, it’s possible to look at the pieces of mail around it for an approximate location. The 20 pieces of mail scanned before and after the ricin letters allowed investigators to figure out they were probably sent from a particular zip code in Texas.

Despite the fact that few people realized this was standard practice, it’s been used to justify the other communication metadata collection revealed in the documents leaked by Snowden. Via the NYT:

“Court challenges to mail covers have generally failed because judges have ruled that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for information contained on the outside of a letter. Officials in both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, in fact, have used the mail-cover court rulings to justify the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs, saying the electronic monitoring amounts to the same thing as a mail cover. Congress briefly conducted hearings on mail cover programs in 1976, but has not revisited the issue.

Ah, the old point-to-a-program-no-one-knows-about-to-justify-another-program-no-one-knows-about strategy.

Add this to the list of reasons it’s a bad idea to write anything too revealing (or criminal) on a postcard.



The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

December 6, 2018

by Dr. Peter Janney

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal, Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment.

Three months before, on July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.

After Corson’s death, Trento and the well-known Washington fix-lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever.

The small group of CIA officials gathered at Trento’s house to search through the Crowley papers, looking for documents that must not become public. A few were found but, to their consternation, a significant number of files Crowley was known to have had in his possession had simply vanished.

When published material concerning the CIA’s actions against Kennedy became public in 2002, it was discovered to the CIA’s horror, that the missing documents had been sent by an increasingly erratic Crowley to another person and these missing papers included devastating material on the CIA’s activities in South East Asia to include drug running, money laundering and the maintenance of the notorious ‘Regional Interrogation Centers’ in Viet Nam and, worse still, the Zipper files proving the CIA’s active organization of the assassination of President John Kennedy..

A massive, preemptive disinformation campaign was readied, using government-friendly bloggers, CIA-paid “historians” and others, in the event that anything from this file ever surfaced. The best-laid plans often go astray and in this case, one of the compliant historians, a former government librarian who fancied himself a serious writer, began to tell his friends about the CIA plan to kill Kennedy and eventually, word of this began to leak out into the outside world.

The originals had vanished and an extensive search was conducted by the FBI and CIA operatives but without success. Crowley’s survivors, his aged wife and son, were interviewed extensively by the FBI and instructed to minimize any discussion of highly damaging CIA files that Crowley had, illegally, removed from Langley when he retired. Crowley had been a close friend of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s notorious head of Counterintelligence. When Angleton was sacked by DCI William Colby in December of 1974, Crowley and Angleton conspired to secretly remove Angleton’s most sensitive secret files out of the agency. Crowley did the same thing right before his own retirement, secretly removing thousands of pages of classified information that covered his entire agency career.

Known as “The Crow” within the agency, Robert T. Crowley joined the CIA at its inception and spent his entire career in the Directorate of Plans, also know as the “Department of Dirty Tricks,”: Crowley was one of the tallest man ever to work at the CIA. Born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, Crowley grew to six and a half feet when he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y. as a cadet in 1943 in the class of 1946. He never graduated, having enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel. According to a book he authored with his friend and colleague, William Corson, Crowley’s career included service in Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, before joining the CIA at its inception in 1947. His entire career at the agency was spent within the Directorate of Plans in covert operations. Before his retirement, Bob Crowley became assistant deputy director for operations, the second-in-command in the Clandestine Directorate of Operations.

Bob Crowley first contacted Gregory Douglas  in 1993  when he found out from John Costello that Douglas was about to publish his first book on Heinrich Mueller, the former head of the Gestapo who had become a secret, long-time asset to the CIA. Crowley contacted Douglas and they began a series of long and often very informative telephone conversations that lasted for four years. In 1996, Crowley told Douglas that he believed him to be the person that should ultimately tell Crowley’s story but only after Crowley’s death. Douglas, for his part, became so entranced with some of the material that Crowley began to share with him that he secretly began to record their conversations, later transcribing them word for word, planning to incorporate some, or all, of the material in later publications.

Conversation No. 76

Date:  Friday, April 11, 1997

Commenced: 7:15 PM CST

Concluded: 7:50 PM CST

GD: Good evening, Robert. Too late for you?

RTC: No, finished eating a bit ago and was just about to start a book on the Afghanistan business the Russians had. Not a problem.

GD: Your people armed the natives there.

RTC: Oh, yes, and the Russian helicopters fell from the heavens like leaves from trees in the fall.

GD: You created a Frankenstein’s monster there, Robert. Those tribesmen are deadly guerrilla fighters and when they’re not fighting invaders like Alexander the Great and the British, who knows who they might go after next? Well, history counts for nothing with those who do not understand it. I had some utterly mindless twit talking to me the other day and somehow they got off on out-of-body experiences. They were telling me about this Remote Viewing business and said the CIA had invented it.

RTC: My God, not that crap again, Gregory. Yes, we started it. You see, we got news that the Russians were working on psychic phenomena called psychotronics. The theory, and it was never more than that in my mind, was that an agent who was trained could give information about something hidden from physical observation while the so-called viewer was at a distance from the sought-after object. This was on my watch and was gathering steam about ’69 and into the ‘70’s. Let me see if I can…Gregory, give me a minutes of so and let me get into my files…

GD: Of course


RTC: Here we are. The first program was named SCANATE which, according to this, means scanning by coordinates and we started funding this utter idiocy in ’70.  We got a hold of SRI….

GD: Stanford Research Institute. It’s in Menlo Park, right up the road from me. It was built on Dibble Hospital of the Army. I remember Dibble from the wartime. We used to call it Dribble because they let the nuts out to walk around Menlo Park and piss on parked cars. Dribble. Charlie Burdick used to live in one of the reclaimed Army barracks when he was going to Stanford back in ’52. Sorry to digress, Robert. Please go on.

RTC: No problem, Gregory. We also used the services of Science Applications International Corporation in the same town. What do you know about SRI? As a local?

GD: I met some of their people when I worked at Stanford in the hospital. A bunch of drooling nuts if you asked me. Two of their top people ended up in the hospital’s psych ward. One kept hiding in the toilet, claiming someone was trying to get into his mind and the other just sat around talking to himself and wetting his pants. I remember the CIA’s taking over the hospital basement with that Filipino sailor with the plague…

RTC: Jesus Christ, Gregory, how did you find out about that? That’s a cosmic situation right there.

GD: Everyone on the pathology staff knew it. When the guy died, they came for the body in a special ambulance and there were armed guards all over the cellar and the loading ramp.

RTC: You ought not to talk about that.

GD: What were they doing? Developing something nasty for the Russians?

RTC: No, in this case, for the Red Chinese.

GD: Lovely. Never mind that. Go on about the nut fringe.

RTC: Gregory, I consider myself to be an intelligence agent with an Army background. I consider myself to be innovative enough but not interested in crazy stories about psychic powers. There are no psychic powers, Gregory, only psychos babbling away to themselves. Jesus, some of our people believed all of this. It started out costing about fifty thousand and went upwards from there. A number of us spent some time trying to persuade people like Dulles and Helms to abandon this nonsense, as well as the completely useless MK-Ultra programs that were draining our available funds and spending valuable time on things that did not work and could not work because they were based either on wishful thinking or downright fraud. They had all kinds of con men running around claiming that they were psychic and could see into KGB headquarters. SRI and the morons in the upper levels actually hired the American Institutes for Research crooks to work on some Stargate project in conjunction with the Army and in spite of a total absense of any kind of proof, they only discontinued their crap as late as ’95. I have boxes of gibberish on this. By God, Gregory, we spent twenty million on this fantasy crap before it stopped. McMahon was fascinated with this. He became Deputy Director before he fouled up and got the sack in’82.

GD: What happened to him?

RTC: Went to work for Lockheed Martin as a lobbyist. Poor John was another strange one. And Drs Gottleib and Cameron were two more crazies we paid millions to for the purpose of creating controlled agents…mind controlled that is…that we could use as assassins.

GD: Like the movie.

RTC: Exactly. They killed people by microwaving them, tossing them out of windows, giving them heart attacks and killing off all kind of failed experiments. Gottleib poisoned them and Cameron lured them out into the Canadian wilds and shot them in the head. My God, what raging idiots and not even the slightest successes. Millions wasted. Joe Trento lusts after these files, which I slipped out when I left, but I really don’t think Joe is capable of doing anything with them. If you want them, I’ll get my son to box them up and ship them to you. Could you use this?

GD: Love it.

RTC: Same address in Freeport?

GD: Absolutely. Many thanks in advance, Robert. I might have some trouble getting a publisher but I can work on it.

RTC: Well, we control most of the major publishers or if we don’t, they would never dare to put out anything that would get us upset. Hell, we have our man right there in the New York Times and they jump through the hoops, believe me. The Times is in our pocket absolutely. Of course for silence, we give them inside stories. Sometimes, Gregory, the stories are actually true. Can you believe that?

GD: Why not? I never believe anything I see in the press anyway. But what if the pin heads at Langley…no offense since you’ve left….if the pin heads get wind of this? Don’t tell Trento.

RTC: No. He’s like the rest of them. If he finds out I gave these to you, he’ll run to Langley and squeal like a pig. And do not, I repeat, do not tell either Kimmel or Bill. Kimmel would run to his bosses and Bill would hire a sound truck. Kimmel doesn’t like you at all but Bill has mixed feelings. No man can serve two masters, let alone nine or ten and poor Bill runs around, filled with self-importance and looking for a pat on the head.

GD:If he tries anything on me, I’ll give him something very hard on the head. Or through it.

RTC: Now, now, Gregory, violence is not the solution. If you want to get at either of them, feed them some disinformation and then when they run around chattering about it, in the end, they’ll make fools of themselves. Then, no one will believe them and you will have made your point.

GD: Poor Irving is hysterical about the Mueller book. Such a bad writer and a worse ideologue. That one has about run his course and one of these days, the loud-mouthed Jew will go too far and get nailed.

RTC: Is Irving a Jew?

GD: His mother was so according to Jewish practice, David must be one as well. Well, I know some rabid Nazis, Robert and at least two of them are self-hating Jews. Well, they’re making money with it so God bless them. Yes, I can use anything you send me. That file on Critchfield is pure gold. If I ever published it, he would probably shoot at me but in Washington, people would point at him in the streets and laugh.

RTC: I wouldn’t weep over that but be careful with him. He has friends.

GD: Amazing. I take your point. Maybe he can catch a heart attack or get cancer. Look at what happened to Ruby. Got cancer right in the jail. That can be done, you know, by an injection. The heart attack we both know about. No trace at the post and off to the maggot buffet in a tin box. Better than shooting them at a play or tossing out the window like they did in the ‘40s, right?

RTC: Yes, a little subtlity is not a bad idea at times. Well, it will mean more room here for other things so I’ll see what else I have on these idiot games and see you get it.

GD: Oh, psychics are wonderful, Robert. If you pay them enough, they’ll see all kinds of brilliance in you.  People are such idiots. But still, when I want to really laugh, I read some of the material on the Kennedy business. Umbrellas, men in sewers and everything else. How much of that garbage did your people make up?

RTC: We have people still cranking it out but there are so many nuts out there that we really needn’t bother.

GD: Well, from what I read about the fantasy world of Dallas in ’63, most of the brilliant ones could get their haircuts in a pencil sharpener.

(Concluded at 7:50 PM CST)

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field keywords=Conversations+with+the+Crow+by+Gregory+Douglas



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