TBR News February 11, 2012

Feb 11 2012

The Voice of the White House


          Washington, D.C. February 11, 2012: “Lurking quietly in the background is a major political and economic scandal that the Obama people are frantically trying to both cover up and wish away. This refers to the so-called MERS scandal that is an official cover-up for the fact that over 60 million Americans can never get clear title to their homes or businesses because the banking industry (the Bank of America is the worst offender) had combined millions of mortgages, put them into what they euphemistically call ‘financial packages’ sliced like sausage with unidentifiable bits sold overseas to wealthy Arabs and the Chinese. There is absolutely no way anyone can identify the actual mortgage owner so clear title is absolutely impossible for anyone with a “financial packaged” mortgage to discover the true owner and neither can the banks. Everyone hopes that a bit of song and dance from Obama and then dead silence from the media will make this terrible problem vanish…until after the November elections. Why are the Obama people worried? Because there is nothing they, or anyone else, can do about it. The deluded mortgage holders could do something but this would be a wonderful subject for Thomas Paine.”


Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS) Inc.

February. 3, 2012

New York Times


The Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, is owned by banks and mortgage finance firms. It was created during the housing boom to smooth the process of turning mortgages into complex securities — and to allow lenders to avoid paying registration fees to counties each time the mortgage changed hands. It is the nation’s largest electronic mortgage tracking system.

In the fall of 2010, as evidence mounted that many foreclosures may have been mishandled, the system was faulted for sloppiness and questions were raised about whether it was used to sidestep legal requirements. The rising calls for halts to foreclosures suggested that the new approach could in fact have created huge new vulnerabilities for lenders.

In October, on the same day that all 50 state attorneys general announced that they would investigate foreclosure practices, JPMorgan Chase & Company became the first big lender to acknowledge that it had stopped using MERS for foreclosures.

In February 2012, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York sued three major banks, accusing them of fraud in their use of MERS, which he said resulted in deceptive and illegal practices, including false documents in foreclosure proceedings. The banks were Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase.

“The mortgage industry created MERS to allow financial institutions to evade county recording fees, avoid the need to publicly record mortgage transfers and facilitate the rapid sale and securitization of mortgages en masse,” Mr. Schneiderman said. By creating this “bizarre and complex end-around of the traditional public recording system,” Mr. Schneiderman’s lawsuit asserts, the banks saved $2 billion in recording fees.

More than 70 million mortgage loans, including millions of subprime loans, have been registered in the MERS system, rather than in local county clerks’ offices, according to the lawsuit, which asserts the database.



The registration system is an electronic database meant to replace the reams of paper that were once the cornerstone of the residential mortgage market. The registry was also meant to eliminate the need to record changes in property ownership in local land records.

Read More…About 60 percent of mortgages in this country show up in local records as being owned by the service. In fact, none are owned by MERS. It was created to act as an agent for others, whether banks or securitization trusts, which own the actual mortgages — an arrangement that lawyers for homeowners and some judges have called into question.

For centuries, when a property changed hands, the transaction was submitted to county clerks who recorded it and filed it away. These records ensured that the history of a property’s ownership was complete and that the priority of multiple liens placed on the property — a mortgage and a home equity loan, for example — was accurate.

During the mortgage lending spree, however, home loans changed hands constantly. Those that ended up packaged inside of mortgage pools, for instance, were often involved in a dizzying series of transactions. So to avoid the costs and complexity of tracking all these exchanges, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the mortgage industry set up MERS to record loan assignments electronically. This company didn’t own the mortgages it registered, but it was listed in public records either as a nominee for the actual owner of the note or as the original mortgage holder.

The problems with MERS began to come to light when “vice presidents” of the firm began to submit affidavits in foreclosures, saying the original note had been lost. In some cases those notes were signed by people who signed thousands of such affidavits, and have now admitted they did not actually review the files, as the affidavits said they had. Nor were those people really employees of MERS.

Cost savings to members who joined the registry were meaningful. In 2007, the organization calculated that it had saved the industry $1 billion during the previous decade. Some 60 million loans are registered in the name of MERS.

When the bottom fell out of the market and delinquencies soared, thousands of foreclosure proceedings began to be filed through MERS. But as cases filed by MERS grew, lawyers representing troubled borrowers began questioning how an electronic registry with no ownership claims had the right to evict people. The system also led to confusion. When MERS was involved, borrowers who hoped to work out their loans couldn’t identify who they should turn to.

In September 2010, a number of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders suspended evictions after disclosures that employees signed documents without ascertaining the accuracy of the material, a legal requirement. Attorney General Eric H.  Holder Jr. said at a news conference on Oct. 6 that the federal Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force is looking at the foreclosure issue, while the attorneys general in as many as 40 states are planning a coordinated investigation.

While the outcry has centered on the question of forged or overly rushed reviews of foreclosure documents, figuring out the role of MERS will be important in the federal and state investigations because it acts as a middleman in the mortgage market, allowing the loans to be sold to investors while keeping track of who actually owns them.

The question being raised by many lawyers for homeowners is whether MERS should be allowed to act in court as the owner of the mortgage, when in fact it is not the owner of them, but only represents a bank who owns the note — or a bank who later sold shares of a pool of mortgages to investors, who could themselves have resold the shares.

If it turns out that this new system does not fit properly in the foreclosure process, then the value of the billions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities sold to investors could be called into question. That could lead to even further litigation against the banks and investment firms that sold mortgage securities if the ability to foreclose on home mortgages is not what it was portrayed to be in the documents used to sell the securities.



Mortgage Plan Gives Homeowners Bulk of the Benefits
February 9, 2012
by Nelson D. Schwarts and Shalia Dewan
New York Times

After months of painstaking talks, government authorities and five of the nation’s biggest banks have agreed to a $26 billion settlement that could provide relief to nearly two million current and former American homeowners harmed by the bursting of the housing bubble, state and federal officials said in Washington on Thursday. It is part of a broad national settlement aimed at halting the housing market’s downward slide and holding the banks accountable for foreclosure abuses.

Under the plan, federal officials said, about $5 billion would be cash payments to states and federal authorities, $17 billion would be earmarked for homeowner relief, roughly $3 billion would go for refinancing and a final $1 billion would be paid to the Federal Housing Administration. 

If nine other major mortgage servicers join the pact, a possibility that is now under discussion with the government, the total package could rise to $30 billion.

Because of a complicated formula being used to distribute the money, federal officials say the ultimate benefits provided to homeowners could equal a larger sum — $45 billion in the event all 14 major servicers participate. The aid is to be distributed over three years, but there are incentives for banks to provide the money in the next 12 months.

More than just an attempt to aid consumers and stabilize the housing market, administration officials cast the settlement as an effort to finally hold banks accountable for their misdeeds, more than three years after the mortgage meltdown brought on a full-scale financial crisis.

The deal announced Thursday is about “righting the wrongs that led to the housing market collapse,” said Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general. “With this settlement, we recover precious taxpayer resources, fix a broken system and lay a groundwork for a better future.”

Financial shares were mixed after the announcement, but most analysts said they considered the settlement to be good news because it removed one cloud hanging over the industry. They also said the five mortgage servicers in the agreement — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial — had already set aside most of the money.

Bank of America, which will pay the most as the nation’s biggest mortgage servicer, actually rose half a percent to $8.18 a share in late morning trading.  

“I wouldn’t say it’s a panacea for the housing industry but it is good for the banks to get this behind them,” said Jason Goldberg, an analyst with Barclays.

Despite the billions earmarked in the accord, the aid will help a relatively small portion of the millions of borrowers who are delinquent and facing foreclosure. The success could depend in part on how effectively the program is carried out because earlier efforts by Washington aimed at troubled borrowers helped far fewer than had been expected.

Still, the agreement is the broadest effort yet to help borrowers owing more than their houses are worth, with roughly one million expected to have their mortgage debt reduced by lenders or able to refinance their homes at lower rates. Another 750,000 people who lost their homes to foreclosure from January 2008 to the end of 2011 will receive checks for about $2,000.

The deal grew out of an investigation into mortgage servicing by all 50 state attorneys general that was introduced in the fall of 2010 amid an uproar over revelations that banks evicted people with false or incomplete documentation.

In the 14 months since then, the scope of the accord has widened from an examination of foreclosure abuses to a broad effort to lift the housing market out of its biggest slump since the Great Depression. Four million Americans have been foreclosed upon since the beginning of 2007, and the huge overhang of abandoned homes has swamped many regions, like California, Florida and Arizona.

In New York State, more than 46,000 borrowers will receive some form of benefit from the settlement, including an estimated 21,000 who are expected to owe less because their principal will be reduced, according to estimates by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Other multimillion-dollar settlements were announced on Thursday in connection with the years-long mortgage and foreclosure crisis:

¶ A mortgage servicing subsidiary of Bank of America agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it illegally assessed more than $36 million worth of fees against struggling homeowners, in violation of an earlier settlement with the F.T.C.

¶ Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo also agreed to pay a penalty of $394 million as part of a settlement over foreclosure abuses, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said.

As more and more states signed on to the $26 billion settlement this week, the negotiations with the banks became especially intense, said one participant, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. Two bank officials, Frank Bisignano of JPMorgan Chase and Mike Heid of Wells Fargo, played a critical role in the talks with Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Thomas J. Perrelli, the associate attorney general at the Justice Department. Bank of America, facing the largest payout, moved more cautiously, the participant said. The settlement money will be doled out under a formula that gives banks varying degrees of credit for different kinds of help. As a result, banks are incentivized to help harder-hit borrowers with homes worth far less than what they owe.

Mortgages owned by the government’s housing finance agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will not be covered under the deal, excluding about half the nation’s mortgages.

About one in five Americans with mortgages are underwater, which means they owe more than their home is worth. Collectively, their negative equity is almost $700 billion. On average, these homeowners are underwater by $50,000 each.

A recent estimate from the settlement negotiations put the average aid for homeowners at $20,000.

“I just don’t think it’s going to be a life-changing event for borrowers,” said Gus Altuzarra, whose company, the Vertical Capital Markets Group, buys loans from banks at a discount.

Several billion dollars would cover the direct cash payments to foreclosure victims and provide money for states’ attorneys general to services like mortgage counseling and future investigations into mortgage fraud.

Though many economists identify the moribund housing market as the greatest drag on the recovery, it is not clear how much the settlement will help.

Christopher J. Mayer, a housing expert at Columbia Business School, said the accord could give banks more certainty that they can clear their large backloads of seized homes, restoring the flow of those homes into the market.

“It may be good for individual homeowners, but if you don’t do something to help the foreclosure process, it’s not going to help the housing market,” he said.

Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, said that while the settlement looked small compared with the scope of the problem, it was not necessary to erase all, or even most, of the nation’s negative equity to turn the market around.

About a third of houses on the market now are distressed, or have been through foreclosure, he said, and reducing that percentage by just a small amount could be enough to put a floor under housing prices.

More than the dollar figures, the settlement had been held up amid concern by New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, that it provided too broad of a release for banks for past misdeeds, making future investigations much more difficult.

Mr. Schneiderman was able to win significant concessions from the banks in recent days.

In the agreement’s expected final form, the releases are mostly limited to the foreclosure process, like the eviction of homeowners after only a cursory examination of documents, a practice known as robo-signing.

The prosecutors and regulators still have the right to investigate other elements that contributed to the housing bubble, like the assembly of risky mortgages into securities that were sold to investors and later soured, as well as insurance and tax fraud.

Officials will also be able to pursue any allegations of criminal wrongdoing. In addition, a lawsuit Mr. Schneiderman filed Friday against MERS, an electronic mortgage registry responsible for much of the robo-signing that has marred the foreclosure process nationwide, and three banks, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, will also go forward.

Along with how broad the releases would be, California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, also pushed for her state to be able to use the state’s False Claims Act. That would enable state officials and huge pension funds like Calpers to collect sizable monetary damages from the banks if officials could prove mortgages were improperly packaged into securities that later dropped in value.

California to get $18 billion under mortgage deal

Feb 9, 2012

Reuters –

            California’s attorney general said on Thursday her state will receive up to $18 billion in benefits under a federal-state mortgage settlement to be announced later today.

More than $12 billion will be used to cut mortgage debt for California’s distressed homeowners and help with short sales, Attorney General Kamala Harris said in a statement.

U.S. Justice Department officials are expected to announce a $26 billion deal at 10 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) on Thursday.

(Reporting By Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)


Obama didn’t see backlash on birth control coming

  • AP foreign, Saturday February 11 2012


Associated Press= WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s not like he wasn’t warned.

As President Barack Obama considered a decision on birth control that would turn into an unexpected political nightmare, he heard it from inside and outside his White House: He risked a fierce backlash if he required religious employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception in violation of their beliefs.

Over the course of months, Catholic groups and officials spoke with White House aides, sent letters and wrote opinion columns. Vice President Joe Biden and Obama’s then-chief of staff, Bill Daley, both Catholics, and other top administration officials spoke of the need to aware of the consequences, given how Catholic groups would view the decision and how it would affect them.

But the president was hearing from the other side, too. Women’s health advocates and their allies inside the White House were adamant about the importance of making free contraception available to all women; to them, it was a matter of health and fairness. Democratic senators and senior advisers joined in.

In the end, that’s where Obama came down.

What came next evidently surprised the White House.

There were furious protests from Catholic groups, including administration allies. Republicans and even some Democrats were infuriated.

The rising furor threatened to overwhelm the president’s message and affect his re-election hopes. With no sign of the firestorm abating, Obama announced a hasty and embarrassing backtrack Friday.

“This is an issue where people of good will on both sides of the debate have been sorting through some very complicated questions to find a solution that works for everyone. With today’s announcement, we’ve done that,” Obama said. “Religious liberty will be protected, and a law that requires free preventive care will not discriminate against women.”

Under the approach, employees at church-affiliated institutions such as Catholic hospitals or charities still could get free birth control coverage, but it would come directly from their health insurer. Employers would not provide or pay for it.

This solution soothed some concerns from religious groups while keeping women’s groups satisfied.

So why wasn’t this approach taken in the first place?

Similar solutions had been advocated to the White House for months.

According to a senior administration official, some approaches were considered and rejected as unworkable, but what came out Friday simply hadn’t occurred to administration officials weeks earlier.

Back then, administration officials perhaps didn’t feel the same sense of urgency, according to the official, who said the policy process could have been stronger. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

To many, it seemed a needlessly self-inflicted wound for a president known for taking a politically cautious approach. The White House insisted Obama was attuned to the concerns of religious employers, especially since he had worked with Catholic parishes early in his career in Chicago, and that he intended to address those concerns in time.

But to some Catholics it appeared the administration failed to understand their concerns and how the decision would resonate.

“Lord knows we tried” to warn the administration, said Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby.

Campbell said the administration seemed focused on the health issues involved in putting Obama’s health care law in place. “Even though a bunch of us weighed in and said there was this other layer of concern, it’s like above where they ordinarily focus, so it just didn’t compute,” Campbell said.

“I don’t think they fully understood the religious liberty side and I certainly don’t think they understood just how it would be received by Catholics,” said Stephen Schneck, a political scientist at the Catholic University of America.

They soon would find out.

The administration announced the original policy on Jan. 20.

Within hours, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called it an affront to religious liberty and urged Catholics to tell their elected leaders to rescind it. Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York, the conference’s president, appeared in a Web video to accuse the administration of being “on the wrong side of the Constitution.”

About a week later, priests read letters from bishops in churches across the nation, expressing their concerns.

Republicans soon pounced. GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich accused the president of an attack on religion. Congressional Republicans announced plans to overturn the policy.

The White House began hearing from generally supportive outsiders as well.

Commentators such as E.J. Dionne and Mark Shields jumped on Obama for displaying a tin ear to Catholic concerns.

Former Indiana congressman and ambassador Tim Roemer and other moderate Democrats spoke out. Among the organizations that mobilized was Democrats for Life of America.

“It became apparent that this was not going to be something that was just going to lose steam,” said Kristen Day, the group’s executive director. “The ranks were actually increasing rather than decreasing.”

Former Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said he and Roemer offered the perspective of two lawmakers who had represented conservative Democratic districts.

Stupak said he wondered, “Why would you pick this fight in an election year? In any year, to tell you the truth.”

“At first they were sort of cool: ‘We know what we’re doing, we’ll get it resolved,'” Stupak said of the White House. “Toward the end, in the last week, it was more like, ‘We’re working on it, we’ve heard you. We’ll get this thing behind us.'”

Several Democrats broke publicly with the president. Former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a recent chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the White House “made a bad decision.”

Even as pressure mounted, Democrats supporting access to contraceptives pushed to make sure the White House didn’t retreat.

For New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and other Democratic women in the Senate, their last opportunity to make their case came Wednesday, when the president took his motorcade to Nationals Stadium in Washington to meet with Senate Democrats.

Obama offered no hint an announcement was two days away, but under questioning he offered an assurance.

“He said to all of us that he was committed to the principle that women should have access to that contraceptive coverage,” Shaheen said.

That same day, administration officials including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and the first lady’s chief of staff, Tina Tchen, convened a meeting with women’s groups at the White House to urge more women to speak out in support of the president’s decision, a Democratic official said.

Participants discussed reframing the debate as less about the Catholic Church and more about a war on women, the official said, insisting on anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

By then it was already becoming clear that Obama would have to change course. Some 48 hours later, he stepped before the microphones in the White House briefing room to announce that he was.

Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Julie Pace, Ken Thomas, Ben Feller and Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.


The return of the Keyboard Warriors

February 11, 2012

by Pepe Escobar

Asis Times

Waiting for the end of the world,
Waiting for the end of the world,
Waiting for the end of the world.
Dear Lord, I sincerely hope you’re coming
‘cause you really started something.

Elvis Costello, Waiting for the end of the world

            Be afraid. Be very afraid. The Return of the Keyboard Warriors – a prized Return of the Living Dead spin-off – is at hand. From Republican chicken hawks to public intellectuals, right-wing America is erupting in renewed neo-conservative revolt. The year 2012 is the new 2002; Iran is the new Iraq. Whatever the highway – real men go to Tehran via Damascus, or real men go to Tehrannon-stop – they want a war, and they want it now.

Go ahead and jump

            Exhibit A is an op-ed piece at the Wall Street Journal [1] – similar to countless others popping up virtually everyday not only in this Masters of the Universe vehicle but also in the Washington Post and myriad rags across “Western civilization”.
            The festival of fallacies ranges from the usual “diplomacy has run its course” to “the sanctions are too late” – culminating in the right-wing weapon of choice; “Iran is within a year of getting to the point when it will be able to assemble a bomb essentially at will.” Why bother to follow what the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is doing, not to mention the National Intelligence Estimates released by the US intelligence community?
            And why not add imperial disdain tinged with racism, as in “Iran is a Third World country that can’t even protect its own scientists in the heart of Tehran”. Of course not; they are being killed by the Iranian terror group Mujahideen-e-Khalq, merrily trained, financed and armed by Israel’s Mossad, as US corporate media has just discovered. [2] Everybody in Iran has known this for months.
            As a climax, still another fallacy – “the Islamic Republic means to destroy Israel” – unveils the real agenda; “the broader goal of ending the regime.” Oh, if we could only have our Persian gendarme of the Gulf back.
            This is what passes for geopolitical analysis in Rupert Murdoch-controlled US corporate media – read and relinked daily by the Masters of the Universe. Scary monsters, super freaks
Exhibit B is an op-ed piece at Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast, [3] signed by Niall Ferguson, professor of history at Harvard, senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford.
            Recently, I actually took the trouble of reading Ferguson’s latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, during my favorite West-to-Rest flight, the 16-hour New York to Hong Kong (from the American century to the Asian century).
            Ferguson sets out to refute the reasons why Israel should not attack Iran. He assumes “the Saudis stand ready to pump out additional supplies” of oil (wrong). He assumes a “military humiliation” will lead the regime in Tehran to collapse (wrong). He claims that Tehran will not “become a sober, calculating disciple of the realist school of diplomacy … because it has finally acquired weapons of mass destruction” (multiple wrong; Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is very sober and calculating, and he has banned nuclear weapons as anti-Islamic).
            Former US vice president Dick Cheney would have been proud to hire Ferguson as an apparatchik, as he states that “preventive war can be a lesser evil” and duly advocates “creative destruction”.
            Ferguson ranks Israel as “the most easterly outpost of Western civilization”; not bad for an isolated, supremacist theocracy/ethnocracy armed with at least 200 (undeclared) nuclear weapons whose favorite sport is to terrorize Palestinians and now Iranian scientists. Talk about a sponsor of terror state springing from the womb of “Western civilization”.
            Ferguson’s toxic fusion of arrogance and ignorance – about the Middle East, about Persian culture, about Asia, about the nuclear issue, about the oil industry, about, in fact, “the Rest” – would be just innocuous hadn’t he be hailed as a top public intellectual. The best thing about his piece are actually the comments, ranging from “I’m shocked that a research fellow at Jesus College would advocate the bombing of Muslims” to “What’s with all these Brits that look to the USA as a platform to re-inflate their dreams of Empire?”
            If this is what passes for intellectual analysis in the upper strata of the Anglo-American axis, no wonder the whole business of Empire is doomed.
            Far more insidious than The Invasion of the Keyboard Warriors is its effect on the warrior-in-chief, US President Barack Obama. Recently, Obama has been conducting product placement for Robert Kagan’s new book, The World America Made. Kagan, a neo-con stalwart, advises Mitt Romney – who may, or may not, become the Republican presidential nominee, assuming he wins over the visceral repulsion he provokes in extreme right-wing circles.
            As Andrew Levine from the Institute for Policy Studies has shrewdly observed, [4] Obama the neo-con may be a very clever move to pre-empt Mitt and win even more votes. But it may be an exercise in transparency, as Obama, even before his State of the Union address, has been reciting Kagan to the letter, as in forget Asia, this will be another American century, and I will be at the helm; thus remember, it is I that coined the only change you can believe in.
            And that’s when this really becomes a scary movie; if Obama the neo-con concludes that to get to his new, dominant American century first he needs to do some vacuum-cleaning in Southwest Asia, blowback or not, he’ll do it – to the delight of the Keyboard Warrior brigade.

1. (How) Should Israel Bomb Iran? by Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, February 7.
2. Israel teams with terror group to kill Iran’s nuclear scientists, U.S. officials tell NBC News, February 9.
3. Israel and Iran on the Eve of Destruction in a New Six-Day War February 6.
4. Why the Neo-Con Turn? by Andrew Levine, Counterpunch, February 9.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His most recent book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeusa@mac.com


Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. in Sangin, Helmand province, Afghanistan.

‘Anonymous’ Knocks CIA Site Offline

February 10, 2012

by Doug Aamoth


            Hacking group Anonymous has apparently claimed credit for knocking the Central Intelligence Agency’s website offline.

Sure enough, as of 4:16pm ET on Friday, the CIA.gov website isn’t loading. RT.com reports that the site was initially taken down around 3:10pm ET.

Anonymous has recently claimed takedowns of sites belonging to the Boston Police Department, the FBI, the DOJ, the U.S. Copyright Office and two of Brazil’s largest banks.

The group also recently intercepted a conference call between the FBI and Scotland Yard, which entailed cybercrime investigators discussing Anonymous’ activities.

[via AFP]

Israel, MEK and State Sponsor of Terror Groups

February 10, 2012

by Glenn Greenwald



One of the most under-reported political stories of the last year is the devoted advocacy of numerous prominent American political figures on behalf of an Iranian group long formally designated as a Terrorist organization under U.S. law. A large bipartisan cast has received substantial fees from that group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), and has then become their passionate defenders. The group of MEK shills includes former top Bush officials and other Republicans (Michael Mukasey, Fran Townsend, Andy Card, Tom Ridge, Rudy Giuliani) as well as prominent Democrats (Howard Dean, Ed Rendell, Bill Richardson, Wesley Clark). As The Christian Science Monitor reported last August, those individuals “have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak in support of the MEK.” No matter what one thinks of this group – here is a summary of its activities – it is formally designated as a Terrorist group and it is thus a felony under U.S. law to provide it with any “material support.”

There are several remarkable aspects to this story. The first is that there are numerous Muslims inside the U.S. who have been prosecuted for providing “material support for Terrorism” for doing far less than these American politicians are publicly doing on behalf of a designated Terrorist group. A Staten Island satellite TV salesman in 2009 was sentenced to five years in federal prison merely for including a Hezbollah TV channel as part of the satellite package he sold to customers; a Massachusetts resident, Tarek Mehanna, is being prosecuted now ”for posting pro-jihadist material on the internet”; a 24-year-old Pakistani legal resident living in Virginia, Jubair Ahmad, was indicted last September for uploading a 5-minute video to YouTube that was highly critical of U.S. actions in the Muslim world, an allegedly criminal act simply because prosecutors claim he discussed the video in advance with the son of a leader of a designated Terrorist organization (Lashkar-e-Tayyiba); a Saudi Arabian graduate student, Sami Omar al-Hussayen, was prosecuted simply for maintaining a website with links “to groups that praised suicide bombings in Chechnya and in Israel” and “jihadist” sites that solicited donations for extremist groups (he was ultimately acquitted); and last July, a 22-year-old former Penn State student and son of an instructor at the school, Emerson Winfield Begolly, was indicted for — in the FBI’s words — “repeatedly using the Internet to promote violent jihad against Americans” by posting comments on a “jihadist” Internet forum including “a comment online that praised the shootings” at a Marine Corps base, action which former Obama lawyer Marty Lederman said “does not at first glance appear to be different from the sort of advocacy of unlawful conduct that is entitled to substantial First Amendment protection.”

Yet here we have numerous American political figures receiving substantial fees from a group which is legally designated under American law as a Terrorist organization. Beyond that, they are meeting with the Terrorist leaders of that group repeatedly (Howard Dean told NPR last year about the group’s leader, Maryam Rajavi: “I have actually had dinner with Mrs. Rajavi on numerous occasions. I do not find her very terrorist-like” and has even insisted that she should be recognized as Iran’s President, while Rudy Giuliani publicly told her at a Paris conference in December: “These are the most important yearnings of the human soul that you support, and for your organization to be described as a terrorist organization is just simply a disgrace”). And, after receiving fees from the Terrorist group and meeting with its Terror leaders, these American political figures are going forth and disseminating pro-MEK messages on its behalf and working to have it removed from the Terrorist list.

Given all the prosecutions of politically powerless Muslims for far fewer connections to Terrorist groups than the actions of these powerful (paid) political figures, what conceivable argument is there for not prosecuting Dean, Giuliani, and the rest of them for providing “material support for Terrorism”? What they are providing to MEK is the definitive “material support.” Although these activities (along with those of the above-listed prosecuted Muslims) should be protected free speech, the U.S. Government has repeatedly imprisoned people for it. Indeed, as Georgetown Law Professor David Cole noted, these activities on behalf of MEK are clearly prosecutable as “material support for Terrorism” under the standard advocated by the Bush and Obama DOJs and accepted by the Supreme Court in the Holder v. Humanitarian Law case of 2009, which held that even peaceful advocacy on behalf of a Terrorist group can be prosecuted if done in coordination with the group (ironically, many of these paid MEK supporters have long been advocates of broad application of “material support” statutes (when applied to Muslims, that is) and have even praised the Humanitarian Law case). If we had anything even remotely approaching equal application of the law, Dean, Giuliani, Townsend and the others would be facing prosecution as Terrorist-helpers.

Then there’s long been the baffling question of where MEK was getting all of this money to pay these American officials. Indeed, the pro-MEK campaign has been lavishly funded. As the CSM noted: ”Besides the string of well-attended events at prestigious American hotels and locations, and in Paris, Brussels, and Berlin, the campaign has included full-page advertisements in The New York Times and Washington Post — which can cost $175,000 apiece.” MEK is basically little more than a nomadic cult: after they sided with Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran, they were widely loathed in Iran and their 3,400 members long lived in camps in Iraq, but the Malaki government no longer wants them there. How has this rag-tag Terrorist cult of Iranian dissidents, who are largely despised in Iran, able to fund such expensive campaigns and to keep U.S. officials on its dole?

All of these mysteries received substantial clarity from an NBC News report by Richard Engel and Robert Windrem yesterday. Citing two anonymous “senior U.S. officials,” that report makes two amazing claims: (1) that it was MEK which perpetrated the string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists and (2) the Terrorist group “is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service.” These senior officials also admitted that “the Obama administration is aware of the assassination campaign” but claims it “has no direct involvement.” Iran has long insisted the Israel and the U.S. are using MEK to carry out Terrorist attacks on its soil, including the murder of its scientists, and NBC notes that these acknowledgments “confirm charges leveled by Iran’s leaders” (MEK issued a statement denying the report).

If these senior U.S. officials are telling the truth, there are a number of vital questions and conclusions raised by this. First, it would mean that the assurances by MEK’s paid American shills such as Howard Dean that “they are unarmed” are totally false: whoever murdered these scientists is obviously well-armed. Second, this should completely gut the effort to remove MEK from the list of designated Terrorist groups; after all, murdering Iran’s scientists through the use of bombs and guns is a defining act of a Terror group, at least as U.S. law attempts to define the term. Third, this should forever resolve the debate in which I was involved last month about whether the attack on these Iranian scientists constitutes Terrorism; as Daniel Larison put it yesterday: “If true, the murders of Iranian nuclear scientists with bombs have been committed by a recognized terrorist group. Can everyone acknowledge at this point that these attacks were acts of terrorism?”

Fourth, and most important: if this report is true, is this not definitive proof that Israel is, by definition, a so-called state sponsor of Terrorism? Leaving everything else aside, if Israel, as NBC reports, has “financed, trained and armed” a group officially designated by the U.S. Government as a Terrorist organization, isn’t that the definitive act of how one becomes an official “state sponsor of Terrorism”? Amazingly, as Daniel Larison notes, one of the people who most vocally attacked me for labeling the murder of Iranian scientists as “Terrorism” and for generally arguing that Terrorism is a meaningless, cynically applied term — Commentary‘s Jonathan Tobinyesterday issued a justification for why Israel should be working with Terrorist groups like MEK. As Larison wrote about Tobin’s article:

In other words, Israeli state sponsorship of a terrorist group is acceptable because it’s in a good cause. . . . Because Israel is overreacting to a perceived threat from Iran, Tobin believes it is entirely defensible for Israel to partner with a recognized terrorist group. In other words, Tobin believes that terrorism is “entirely defensible” so long as it is committed by the right people and directed at the right targets. It’s as if he is going out of his way to vindicate Glenn Greenwald.

Of course, as I documented in my last book, those who are politically and financially well-connected are free to commit even the most egregious crimes; for that reason, the very idea of prosecuting Giuliani, Rendell, Ridge, Townsend, Dean and friends for their paid labor on behalf of a Terrorist group is unthinkable, a suggestion not fit for decent company, even though powerless Muslims have been viciously prosecuted for far less egregious connections to such groups. But this incident also underscores the specific point that the term Terrorism is so completely meaningless, manipulated and mischievous: it’s just a cynical term designed to delegitimize violence and even political acts undertaken by America’s enemies while shielding from criticism the actual Terrorism undertaken by itself and its allies. The spectacle whereby a designated Terrorist group can pay top American politicians to advocate for them even as they engage in violent Terrorist acts, all while being trained, funded and aided by America’s top client state, should forever end the controversy over that glaringly obvious proposition.

* * * * *

Four notes: (1) The book event I did with Noam Chomsky last November in Boston will be broadcast several times this weekend on C-SPAN; the schedule is here; (2) The New Zealand political journal Listener has an interview and profile of me and With Liberty and Justice for Some; (3) the video for two of the civil liberties events I did this week are now online: this one at Indiana University/Purdue and this one from Columbia University; and (4) I’ll be the keynote speaker at the annual dinner of the ACLU in Idaho tomorrow night; ticket information is here.

* * * * *

According to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a NATO airstrike yesterday in Afghanistan killed 8 children. Meanwhile, the Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar yesterday patiently explained that drone strikes — which Americans widely support, including American liberals — are “completely illegal and unlawful” and “counterproductive” because they “fuel terrorism,” since people tend to become quite angry at the foreign power which slaughters their children, their spouses, their parents, their neighbors, etc., i.e., for every Terrorist the U.S. allegedly kills, it creates five more people wanting to attack the U.S. (see her answers to the two questions beginning at 4:30):

Drones over U.S. get OK by Congress

February 7, 2012

by Shaun Waterman

-The Washington Times

Look! Up in the sky! Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s … a drone, and it’s watching you. That’s what privacy advocates fear from a bill Congress passed this week to make it easier for the government to fly unmanned spy planes in U.S. airspace.

The FAA Reauthorization Act, which President Obama is expected to sign, also orders the Federal Aviation Administration to develop regulations for the testing and licensing of commercial drones by 2015.

Privacy advocates say the measure will lead to widespread use of drones for electronic surveillance by police agencies across the country and eventually by private companies as well.

“There are serious policy questions on the horizon about privacy and surveillance, by both government agencies and commercial entities,” said Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation also is “concerned about the implications for surveillance by government agencies,” said attorney Jennifer Lynch.

The provision in the legislation is the fruit of “a huge push by lawmakers and the defense sector to expand the use of drones” in American airspace, she added.

According to some estimates, the commercial drone market in the United States could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars once the FAA clears their use.

The agency projects that 30,000 drones could be in the nation’s skies by 2020.

The highest-profile use of drones by the United States has been in the CIA’s armed Predator-drone program, which targets al Qaeda terrorist leaders. But the vast majority of U.S. drone missions, even in war zones, are flown for surveillance. Some drones are as small as model aircraft, while others have the wingspan of a full-size jet.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. use of drone surveillance has grown so rapidly that it has created a glut of video material to be analyzed.

The legislation would order the FAA, before the end of the year, to expedite the process through which it authorizes the use of drones by federal, state and local police and other agencies. The FAA currently issues certificates, which can cover multiple flights by more than one aircraft in a particular area, on a case-by-case basis.

The Department of Homeland Security is the only federal agency to discuss openly its use of drones in domestic airspace.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency within the department, operates nine drones, variants of the CIA’s feared Predator. The aircraft, which are flown remotely by a team of 80 fully qualified pilots, are used principally for border and counternarcotics surveillance under four long-term FAA certificates.

Officials say they can be used on a short-term basis for a variety of other public-safety and emergency-management missions if a separate certificate is issued for that mission.

“It’s not all about surveillance,” Mr. Aftergood said.

Homeland Security has deployed drones to support disaster relief operations. Unmanned aircraft also could be useful for fighting fires or finding missing climbers or hikers, he added.

The FAA has issued hundreds of certificates to police and other government agencies, and a handful to research institutions to allow them to fly drones of various kinds over the United States for particular missions.

The agency said it issued 313 certificates in 2011 and 295 of them were still active at the end of the year, but the FAA refuses to disclose which agencies have the certificates and what their purposes are.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the FAA to obtain records of the certifications.

“We need a list so we can ask [each agency], ‘What are your policies on drone use? How do you protect privacy? How do you ensure compliance with the Fourth Amendment?’ ” Ms. Lynch said.

“Currently, the only barrier to the routine use of drones for persistent surveillance are the procedural requirements imposed by the FAA for the issuance of certificates,” said Amie Stepanovich, national security counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a research center in Washington.

The Department of Transportation, the parent agency of the FAA, has announced plans to streamline the certification process for government drone flights this year, she said.

“We are looking at our options” to oppose that, she added.

Section 332 of the new FAA legislation also orders the agency to develop a system for licensing commercial drone flights as part of the nation’s air traffic control system by 2015.

The agency must establish six flight ranges across the country where drones can be test-flown to determine whether they are safe for travel in congested skies.

Representatives of the fast-growing unmanned aircraft systems industry say they worked hard to get the provisions into law.

“It sets deadlines for the integration of [the drones] into the national airspace,” said Gretchen West, executive vice president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry group.

She said drone technology is new to the FAA.

The legislation, which provides several deadlines for the FAA to report progress to Congress, “will move the [drones] issue up their list of priorities,” Ms. West said.



Conversations with the Crow

            When the CIA discovered that their former Deputy Director of Clandestine Affairs, Robert T. Crowley, had been talking with author Gregory Douglas, they became fearful (because of what Crowley knew) and outraged (because they knew Douglas would publish eventually) and made many efforts to silence Crowley, mostly by having dozens of FBI agents call or visit him at his Washington home and try to convince him to stop talking to Douglas, whom they considered to be an evil, loose cannon.          

Crowley did not listen to them (no one else ever does, either) and Douglas made through shorthand notes of each and every one of their many conversation. TBR News published most of these (some of the really vile ones were left out of the book but will be included on this site as a later addendum ) and the entire collection was later produced as an Ebook.

 Now, we reliably learn, various Washington alphabet agencies are trying to find a way to block the circulation of this highly negative, entertaining and dangerous work, so to show our solidarity with our beloved leaders and protectors, and our sincere appreciation for their corrupt and coercive actions, we are going to reprint the entire work, chapter by chapter. (The complete book can be obtained by going to:



Conversation No. 118

Date: Saturday, December 20, 1997

Commenced: 10:29 AM CST

Concluded: 10:50 AM CST

GD: Good morning, Robert.

RTC: And to you.  Getting ready for Christmas?

GD: Just another day, Robert. Christmas used to be something I looked forward to and enjoyed but like childhood, those days have long passed. Another day. My one son is not interested in giving  but he loves to get. The true Christmas season. By the way, did you know what the Jewish Santa said to the children at the local mall?

RTC: A Jewish Santa?

GD: Anything for money, Robert, anything. He said, ‘Ho, ho, ho children. Want to buy some toys?’

RT:C: (Laughter) Not tolerant. A pedophilic Santa would say, ‘Come and sit on Santa’s lap.’

GD: (Laughter) Kill them all, Robert and let God punish the bad ones by making them listen to Wayne Newton records for all eternity. I wonder when we will have a new war? These seem to come in cycles, don’t they? If the politicians had to put on oversized uniforma and get shot at, we would have eternal peace, wouldn’t we?

RTC: No doubt about that. The Vietnam war was a disaster.

GD: Oh yes, a real disaster. The public was getting worked up and we started on the first steps of revolution here. You know that.

RTC: Probably so. Johnson was lousy.

GD: So was MacNamera and all the rest of them.

RTC: We were only there to appease the French.

GD: Yes, and your people killed Diem and made things worse. But I did my bit.

RTC: You were in then?

GD: You might say so, Robert. I did my bit. No I was not in military service but I did terrible damage to it.

RTC: How so?

GD: I ran a group that smuggled young Americans into Canada and security from the draft.

RTC: How many>

GD: Me personally? A little over three thousand.

RTC: My God, how ever did you do it?

GD: I organized some of the more competent ones into small cells and used the services of a commercial truck company to smuggle them into Canada, mostly  Vancouver. And to make a bit of money for the cause, we smuggled immigrant Chinese workers back into the States from Canada to labor in the sweatshops of Chinatown in Frisco. Fifteen hundred a head coming back balanced nothing charged for going up.

RTC: Surely the Bureau must have gotten wind of all this movement.

GD: Of course they did. You see, I worked for a fancy hotel in Santa Monica and always dressed very well. One day, an FBI team hidden in the usual television repair truck, saw me chatting with a know trouble-maker down on the beach and the next day, two of them came into the hotel to visit me. Polite enough. Showed me a picture of this fellow with a ratty beard and I at once said I had met him in Venice. That’s how it got started. I looked respectable and even acted respectable so they asked me to spy for them. They were more than considerate and the money was good. They were looking for someone known as ‘The Doctor’ who was smuggling live bait out of the country. I  could have made their day by telling them that I was the Doctor but why upset people unnecessarily? In essence, they were paying me to find myself. Because I am not schizophrenic, I never met myself but I was well-paid for my efforts. Actually this was a wonderful  cover for my activities because now I could mingle with civil resistance people without fear of detection. They were so happy with my reports, Robert. Clandestine meeting in distant parking lots and envelopes stuffed full of money vanishing into my pocket. And I got rid of rivals and if I spotted a stool pigeon, I got them onto the official shit list. Actually, it was an interesting and rewarding time in my life.

RTC: It was in Vancouver where you did the funny money caper, wasn’t it?

GD: Of course it was. They evicted me when I went there after the Vietham war was over and they threw me out of the country and stole my money. I only went to get it back.

RTC” Kimmel was telling me about this in horror. You cost them millions, didn’t you?

GD: Yes, but I got my money back, every cent of it.

RTC: How much?

GD: Four dollars and ten cents, Robert. Yes, I have two Canadian two dollar bills and a dime in a shadow box over my desk even as I am speaking to you. I told Tom about this and he had a fit.

RTC: I would imagine. He did not think that was amusing.

GD: No, but I did and after all, that’s what really matters, isn’t it?

RTC: In the end, I suppose so. I read a report on your activities once. Corson gave it to me. Actually we both thought it was highly entertaining. Are you really a doctor of something?

GD: No, I lie sometimes. But they lie all the time.

RTC: I won’t ask you who you are talking about.

GD: I could go on for hours.

RTC: Jesus, over three thousand? I heard about this doctor person once as I recall but I have forgotten most of it. Well, now I can say I know a famous outlaw.

GD: I’ll accept that, Robert, in the Christmas spirit of kind giving. Oh and taking as well. You can’t do one without the other. After all, our loss was Canada’s gain. When Carter pardoned all of the escapees, most of them stayed in Canada. Doesn’t speak well of the atmosphere here, does it?

RTC: I suppose not. Having a tree this year?

GD: No, I am not. And I am not buying any toys from the Jewish Santa either. I don’t fancy reindeer shit on my roof.

(Concluded at 10:50 AM CST)



Dramatis personae:

                        James Jesus Angleton: Once head of the CIA’s Counterintelligence division, later fired because of his obsessive and illegal behavior, tapping the phones of many important government officials in search of elusive Soviet spies. A good friend of Robert Crowley and a co-conspirator with him in the assassination of President Kennedy

            James P. Atwood: (April 16, 1930-April 20, 1997) A CIA employee, located in Berlin, Atwood had a most interesting career. He worked for any other intelligence agency, domestic or foreign, that would pay him, was involved in selling surplus Russian atomic artillery shells to the Pakistan government and was also most successful in the manufacturing of counterfeit German dress daggers. Too talkative, Atwood eventually had a sudden, and fatal, “seizure” while lunching with CIA associates.

            William Corson: A Marine Corps Colonel and President Carter’s representative to the CIA. A friend of Crowley and Kimmel, Corson was an intelligent man whose main failing was a frantic desire to be seen as an important person. This led to his making fictional or highly exaggerated claims.

            John Costello: A British historian who was popular with revisionist circles. Died of AIDS on a trans-Atlantic flight to the United States.

            James Critchfield: Former U.S. Army Colonel who worked for the CIA and organizaed the Cehlen Org. at Pullach, Germany. This organization was filled to the Plimsoll line with former Gestapo and SD personnel, many of whom were wanted for various purported crimes. He hired Heinrich Müller in 1948 and went on to represent the CIA in the Persian Gulf.

            Robert T. Crowley: Once the deputy director of Clandestine Operations and head of the group that interacted with corporate America. A former West Point football player who was one of the founders of the original CIA. Crowley was involved at a very high level with many of the machinations of the CIA.

            Gregory Douglas: A retired newspaperman, onetime friend of Heinrich Müller and latterly, of Robert Crowley. Inherited stacks of files from the former (along with many interesting works of art acquired during the war and even more papers from Robert Crowley.) Lives comfortably in a nice house overlooking the Mediterranean.

            Reinhard Gehlen: A retired German general who had once been in charge of the intelligence for the German high command on Russian military activities. Fired by Hitler for incompetence, he was therefore naturally hired by first, the U.S. Army and then, as his level of incompetence rose, with the CIA. His Nazi-stuffed organization eventually became the current German Bundes Nachrichten Dienst.

            Thomas K. Kimmel, Jr: A grandson of Admiral Husband Kimmel, Naval commander at Pearl Harbor who was scapegoated after the Japanese attack. Kimmel was a senior FBI official who knew both Gregory Douglas and Robert Crowley and made a number of attempts to discourage Crowley from talking with Douglas. He was singularly unsuccessful. Kimmel subsequently retired, lives in Florida, and works for the CIA as an “advisor.”

            Willi Krichbaum: A Senior Colonel (Oberführer) in the SS, head of the wartime Secret Field Police of the German Army and Heinrich Müller’s standing deputy in the Gestapo. After the war, Krichbaum went to work for the Critchfield organization and was their chief recruiter and hired many of his former SS friends. Krichbaum put Critchfield in touch with Müller in 1948.

            Heinrich Müller: A former military pilot in the Bavarian Army in WWI, Müller  became a political police officer in Munich and was later made the head of the Secret State Police or Gestapo. After the war, Müller escaped to Switzerland where he worked for Swiss intelligence as a specialist on Communist espionage and was hired by James Critchfield, head of the Gehlen Organization, in 1948. Müller subsequently was moved to Washington where he worked for the CIA until he retired.

            Joseph Trento: A writer on intelligence subjects, Trento and his wife “assisted” both Crowley and Corson in writing a book on the Russian KGB. Trento believed that he would inherit all of Crowley’s extensive files but after Crowley’s death, he discovered that the files had been gutted and the most important, and sensitive, ones given to Gregory Douglas. Trento was not happy about this. Neither were his employers.

            Frank Wisner: A Founding Father of the CIA who promised much to the Hungarians and then failed them. First, a raging lunatic who was removed from Langley, screaming, in a strait jacket and later, blowing off the top of his head with a shotgun.           

            Robert Wolfe: A retired librarian from the National Archives who worked closely with the CIA on covering up embarrassing historical material in the files of the Archives. A strong supporter of holocaust writers specializing in creative writing. Although he prefers to be called ‘Dr,’ in reality he has no PhD

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