TBR News February 19, 2016

Feb 19 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 19, 2016: “Hillary Clinton is coming into public view advocating increasingly strong ties with Israel. This is not surprising, considering that Hiillary herself is Jewish. But it has been America’s unconditional support of Israel that has led to acts of terrorism against her and has created so much hostility in the Muslim world that the current IS eruiptions are entirely understandable. Israel has no oil, does not occupy a strategic position the the Middle East and, aside from Jewish business support in the American political scene, is as useless to American global interests as tits on a boar pig. There are growing rumors of BW attacks on Israel which are indicative of the level of hatred that country has engendered and perhaps a serious reevaluation of American support might well be mandated.”

Conversations with the Crow

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, 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 his Washington 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

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversatins with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped  and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.



Conversation No. 47

Date: Wednesday, November 20, 1996

Commenced: 1:50 PM CST

Concluded: 2:22 PM CST

GD: Good afternoon, Robert. Am I being inconvenient?

RTC: No, Gregory. I’ve finished lunch, done a bit with the Switzers, read the papers and the rest of the day is free. How are you doing? Getting ready for Thanksgiving?

GD: Oh yes. I was reading a Sheldon ‘Furry Freaks’ cartoon that showed a bunch of hippies at Thanksgiving. One of them was making a terrible face and he said to the girlfriend, who had obviously cooked the bird, ‘This stuffing is really terrible. What is it?’ And she replied that it came already stuffed from the organic foods shop. It obviously had not been emptied of its innards and I was wondering how much of it they ate.

RTC: Typical long-hair stupidity. I take it your turkey is not from an organic turkey farm?

GD: Free range turkeys? No, they stuff them in little pens, fatten them and then into the eye with the icepick and into the defeathering machine. As Cromwell was supposed to have said about Charles I, ‘Cruel necessity.’ But it tastes fine if you aren’t socially conscious.

RTC: It smacks of the concentration camp soap stories.

GD: And don’t forget the shrunken heads and the lampshades while you’re at it, Robert. We mustn’t be callous and forget the crime of the century. Of course, it’s interesting that the Turkish murders of a million unarmed Armenians some years ago seems to be strangely forgotten.

RTC: Well, the Israelis are friends with Turkey and since they run the media here, they have an understanding about that. There can’t be stories that would eclipse their very own big money maker and which at the same time would offend one of their only allies.

GD: Oh, the bitter realities of realpolitik. You recall talking about the Pedophile Academy you people run?

RTC: I do. You aren’t interested in joining, are you?

GD: No, actually, I lust after sheep. Just think of it as Farrah Fawcett in a fur coat and all will come out in the end.

RTC: A pun is the lowest form of humor, Gregory.

GD: I know and I am so ashamed. but they do look so cute in lacy panties.

RTC: I am certain you’re joking, Gregory. Do you have lamb at Easter?

GD: Sir, think you I am so callous? Months of true love to be followed by sordid death and the roasting pan? Terrible, Robert, terrible. Oh well, I suppose there in our imperial city things are really pure and noble.

RTC: Hardly. You mentioned the kiddie’s club. There’s a lot worse than that in our fair city, believe me.

GD: Oh, I am sure of that. Prominent Evangelical leaders meeting in a basement dungeon while someone like Pat Robertson, dressed in mesh stockings and a feather boa, whipping teen-aged acolytes with a cat of nine tails. I’ve heard Washington is famous for things like that.

RTC: Actually, yes it is. For example, one of the less appetizing aspects of our little Company has been the fairy club.

GD: You mean you hire all those nasty florist types?

RTC: No, I mean we have an entire subsection devoted to the care and feeding of queers. Its under the Science and Technology people and consists of raging homos whose job it is to infiltrate groups of prominent Beltway queers, get the information on them so we can blackmail them into doing what we want. We’ve set up male whorehouses around here, all equipped with special mikes and cameras so we can get the evidence on the creeps and then twist their arms. They staff these places with young military personnel…mostly Marines but quite a few Army people, and naturally sailors. We have a lot of Congressmen in the basket and one hell of a lot of senior military people around to do what we want, not to forget foreign diplomats, important business people and, as you say, some impressive religious leaders. It’s mostly the military that we bag and a large number of the far right and the very fanatical religious types.

GD: That’s not surprising. Most of those people are drawn to strength and a well-muscled Marine with a leather belt is a pretty good illustration of what they consider strength. Far right types like leather boots and domination. I suppose the marks pay for sex?

RTC: Oh, yes, and pay very well. First they pay cash and then they pay later in services. You would be astounded the number of fairies in high places here and most of them are in our little bags. And they do perform for us. A proper vote on yearly cash allotments, no questions asked, shutting off people who don’t like us, promoting or assisting those who are known to be on our good list. We have one Supreme Court justice, at least five appellate court judges, God knows how many senior FBI people, quite a few NSA personnel and, who would be shocked, enough State Department queers to stock a good hotel. I, personally, have nothing to do with this, but my friend Ed is involved in the administration of this and he has mentioned governors, senior senators and so on that he can jerk around at leisure. Of course, we set up the male whorehouses, but never, never have any of our people on the premises. We have surveillance monitors all over the neighborhood and perhaps next door listening to the tapes and turning on the TV cameras but we don’t want one of our straight people bagged if the local cops raid a place. The DC cops are stupid and corrupt beyond belief, but one never knows if they’ll get a wild hair up their ass and pull a raid. If they did, of course, we could quiet it down in the court system here, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. It does pay off, Gregory, and I can assure you that I, personally, have nothing to do with it.

GD: I don’t question that, Robert. Anyone I might know about?

RTC: Oh, God, it would be wonderful if you put all of this into your books, but if you did, don’t talk about it in front or you would have many problems. Faggotry is a fact of life, Gregory, but none of these assholes want to be exposed. Nixon had his times with Bebe Rebozo, too, but of course never in one of our DC peg houses. That never went anywhere, but I know it’s true. There are tapes. We bug all kinds of rendezvous places like certain motels, beach houses and so on. For example, we couldn’t bug Nixon’s place in Florida, but we certainly could bug Rebozo. It’s quite an area of exploitation, Gregory. Once we nailed a very senior Israeli diplomat who liked to be whipped by muscular young blacks and when we wanted some information, Jim just casually showed him some stills from a surveillance tape and you would be amazed how much instant cooperation we got on a certain Arab matter. And speaking of diplomatics, the Saudis are absolutely the worst. They’ll fuck anything in sight if it’s warm, and my, they do have lots of money.

GD: I recall an old Persian poem I once read out loud in Lit class that goes, ’Across the river there is a boy with an ass like a peach, but alas, I cannot swim.’ I had to go home for two days for that but the class had quite a laugh.

RTC: You must indeed have been quite a scholar.

GD: No, I was quite a trouble-maker. One of my teachers once told me, in front of the class, that I was an idiot’s delight. I told her right back that I was pleased to make her so happy. This time, I went on leave for a week.

RTC: Well, she had it coming.

GD: Oh yes, she did. They never liked me in high school, Robert, and the feeling was mutual. Once, I entered a national patriotic essay contest and, by God, I won a big prize. I wrote about the joys of being a patriot and the usual drivel. Anyway, I got the letter at home and I assume the school was told at the same time. Wonderful responses from them. They had planned for a special assembly to honor the gifted one, but no way would they do this for me. Do you know, they actually called me in and suggested, very firmly, that I step aside and let little Robbie the Pig get the prize? This was the son of the local Methodist minister and a real toad. Chubby, whining, self-righteous and a born stool pigeon. Learned the art from dad, no doubt. Anyway, I flatly refused to yield. Then they called my mother and went to work on her. Of course she didn’t need any leaning and for two weeks, I got nothing but stereophonic yammering from both parents. I just wasn’t a good advertisement for the school and a real gentleman would let them have a grand ceremony for Robbie the Pig. I still wouldn’t budge so they sent the award and the check to me at home and I had a hell of a time getting the check away from my father, who tried to keep it. Lovely.

RTC: Not very civilized behavior, Gregory. I think you did the right thing then.

GD: Oh yes, Robert, and I certainly did the right thing about two weeks later.

RTC: I am almost afraid to ask. No more detergent in the school soup pot?

GD: No, this came before that. I felt I had been dishonored, and as Mueller once said to me, I have a fine fourteenth century mind. One cannot permit that sort of thing. My revenge was fairly simple and direct. Of course, no one suspected me, which is a little of a letdown, but the uproar was worth it. In the main hall of the school, right by the front office, was a large, bronze medallion with a depiction of the school symbol on it. It was set into the floor right in front of another bronze piece that listed all the former students of the high school who died in the Second World War. On both sides were flags, and during school hours, two members of the Honor Patrol stood on both sides of the sacred lares and panares to prevent careless or evil students from trampling on the school crest or not saluting, hand on chest, the plaque. My, my, what an inviting and sacred target. I broke into the school one Saturday night, very easy considering the very pickable locks and the better reality that there was no watchman. Now, I suppose, they would have surveillance cameras every ten feet but we were not so advanced then. I got into the chemistry lab, stole two bottles of concentrated nitric acid and a pair of acid-proof lab gloves, went down the hall and poured one bottle all over the floor relic. Much hissing and bubbling and clouds of stinking smoke. The second bottle I uncorked and poured the contents all down the wall piece. Much hissing, smoking and so on. Then, I tossed the bottles into a convenient trash bin and left by the front door. Outside they had the imperial flag pole in the courtyard. Every morning, the royal honor guard attended the morning flag-raising while someone played some raucous piece, off key of course, on a bugle. As a sort of afterthought, I took out my Swiss Army knife and cut the halyards on the pole and pulled down the lines. The pole was about sixty feet tall and set in concrete so replacing the lines would be a major task. My, my, and I felt so good all the way home.

RTC: Your honor had been avenged?

GD: Yes, and the next day, it was even more pleasurable. I had so little to really enjoy in those days, I treasured every moment, believe me. Came into the school and saw no one. Halls empty. For a hopeful moment, I thought that there was no school but it was not to be. Walking around, I came to the main hall which was packed with very emotional fellow students. Weeping girls and outraged boys. I managed to work my up towards the front of the mourners and saw my handiwork, full in the face as it were. It looked like the sacred relics had been made of brown sugar and melted in great gullies. I didn’t obliterate them but you could only see a few letters on the wall plaque and the mess on the floor looked like it had been at the bottom of the sea for a thousand years. Police all over the place, taking pictures, very angry honor students, people in a state of anger and grief. And all over a few crummy pieces of bronze. Oh, yes, and a scene outside where a fat janitor was risking his life on a ladder that kept slipping, to replace the flagpole ropes. They had to get a local fire truck out later on to do the job. Oh, my, and the police, who made Mongoloid idiots look like Harvard graduates, running all over the place with note books, interviewing everyone that would hold still. Massive grief and anger. A special assembly, mandatory attendance, in which the principal and other lesser lights offered a small reward to any snitches listening. You’d have thought someone took the Shroud of Turin and used it for toilet paper. Ah well, these rare and beautiful moments are ones to be treasured.

RTC: Simple but effective, Gregory.

GD: Always smile at a man when you kick him in the balls, Robert. Oh, that thing played out for about a month and then we were all asked to contribute to a replacement venture. When the collection cup came around in my math class, I spit into it. Another moment of perverse happiness. The soaping of the stock pot was a real, transcendent joy for me, but the curtain raiser was almost as much fun. The thought, and the sight, of most of the student body soiling their clothes, and the floors, was good enough to keep me warm for months but the wailing and cursing of my fellow stoats at the scene of the great sacrilege in the upper hall was not to be denigrated.

RTC: Did you ever tell your friend Heinrich Mueller about this?

GD: No. I don’t think he would have approved of it and I admired him. Listen, do you think you might get a list of your limp-wristed victims? Of course, I assure you that I will publish it, know that in front.

RTC: Not while I’m alive, but yes, I think I can accommodate you. Too bad I wouldn’t be around to read about all the suicides or flights from Congress.

(Concluded at 2:22 PM CST)

150 allegedly ‘burned alive by Turkish military’ during crackdown on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)

February 19, 2016


A member of the Turkish parliament from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party has accused the military of atrocities in Turkey’s southeast, claiming they have ‘burned alive’ more than 150 people trapped in basements.

“In the Cizre district of Sırnak, around 150 people have been burned alive in different buildings by Turkish military forces. Some corpses were found without heads. Some were burned completely, so that autopsy is not possible,” Feleknas Uca told Sputnik, adding that “most” of those killed were Kurds.

While Uca’s statements have not been confirmed by RT on the ground, or independently verified by a third party, the MP warned that more people could face a similar fate as more than 200 people remain trapped inside buildings across the region.

“The situation in Diyarbakir is terrible. Its district Sur is seeing its 79th day of curfew. Two hundred people were trapped in basements and Turkey’s special forces won’t rescue them,” Uca said.

Turkish security forces have been trying to clear southeastern towns and cities of PKK members since last July, when a two-year cease-fire collapsed. Dozens of civilians continue to be trapped in basements in the Cizre district of Turkey’s Sirnak province. Despite an official announcement that the military op was concluded last week, the curfew remains in place.

The reports of the massacre first surfaced earlier this week when the ANHA news agency, reported the discovery of 115 bodies.

The corpses were so badly burned that relatives were only able to identify 10 out of the 115 bodies found in the Sur and Cudi neighborhoods of Şırnak’s Cizre district. According to the report, DNA samples were taken from the victims to identify the bodies.

The Todayszaman newspaper reports that as of last Thursday the Cizre State Hospital morgue had no space for bodies being brought in and they had been sent to other morgues in the region.

Also, last Thursday, Interior Minister Efkan Ala confirmed that targeting of the PKK in Cizre had been completed. On Sunday, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) announced the discovery of 31 bodies during searches in six buildings in Cizre. The army also said the military operations in Cizre, which started on December 14, had killed 659 PKK members.

Yet despite the completion of the operation, wounded people are reported to be still trapped inside basements. Kurdish Netherlands-based ANF News is reporting that DIHA correspondent is trapped with some 30 people underground, with women and children among the wounded awaiting medical treatment. Some are in critical condition.

Last month the Turkish Human Rights Foundation said more than 160 civilians had been killed since Ankara’s launched its crackdown on the PKK in August. Among those killed are 29 women, 32 children, and 24 people over the age of 60.

Hillary Clinton, With Little Notice, Vows to Embrace an Extremist Agenda on Israel

February 18, 2016

by Glenn Greenwald

The Intercept

Former President Bill Clinton on Monday met in secret (no press allowed) with roughly 100 leaders of South Florida’s Jewish community, and, as the Times of Israel reports, “He vowed that, if elected, Hillary Clinton would make it one of her top priorities to strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance.” He also “stressed the close bond that he and his wife have with the State of Israel.”

It may be tempting to dismiss this as standard, vapid Clintonian politicking: adeptly telling everyone what they want to hear and making them believe it. After all, is it even physically possible to “strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance” beyond what it already entails: billions of dollars in American taxpayer money transferred every year, sophisticated weapons fed to Israel as it bombs its defenseless neighbors, blindly loyal diplomatic support and protection for everything it does?

But Bill Clinton’s vow of even greater support for Israel is completely consistent with what Hillary Clinton herself has been telling American Jewish audiences for months. In November, she published an op-ed in The Forward in which she vowed to strengthen relations not only with Israel, but also with its extremist prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

I have stood with Israel my entire career,” she proclaimed. Indeed, “as secretary of state, [she] requested more assistance for Israel every year.” Moreover, she added, “I defended Israel from isolation and attacks at the United Nations and other international settings, including opposing the biased Goldstone report [which documented widespread Israeli war crimes in Gaza].”

Clinton media operatives such as Jonathan Alter have tried to undermine the Sanders campaign by claiming that only Sanders, but not Clinton, has committed the sin of criticizing Obama: “Hillary stopped criticizing Obama in 2008, when [Obama] was nominee; Sanders stopped in 2015, so he could run as Dem.” Aside from being creepy — it’s actually healthy to criticize a president and pathological to refuse to do so — this framework is also blatantly false. Clinton, in her book and in interviews, has often criticized Obama for being insufficiently hawkish: making clear that she wanted to be more militaristic than the Democratic president who has literally bombed seven predominantly Muslim countries (thus far).

Her comments on Israel have similarly contained implicit criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy: namely, that he has created or at least allowed too much animosity with Netanyahu. In her Forward op-ed, she wrote that the Israeli prime minister’s “upcoming visit to Washington is an opportunity to reaffirm the unbreakable bonds of friendship and unity between the people and governments of the United States and Israel.” She pointedly added: “The alliance between our two nations transcends politics. It is and should always be a commitment that unites us, not a wedge that divides us.” And in case her message is unclear, she added this campaign promise: “I would also invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House in my first month in office.”

Last month, Clinton wrote an even more extreme op-ed in the Jewish Journal, one that made even clearer that she intends to change Obama’s policy to make it even more “pro-Israel.” It begins: “In this time of terrorism and turmoil, the alliance between the United States and Israel is more important than ever. To meet the many challenges we face, we have to take our relationship to the next level.”

With every passing year, we must tie the bonds tighter,” she wrote. Tie those bonds tighter. Thus:

As part of this effort, we need to ensure that Israel continues to maintain its qualitative military edge. The United States should further bolster Israeli air defenses and help develop better tunnel detection technology to prevent arms smuggling and kidnapping. We should also expand high-level U.S.-Israel strategic consultations.

As always, there is not a word about the oppression and brutality imposed on Palestinians as part of Israel’s decadeslong occupation. She does not even acknowledge, let alone express opposition to, Israel’s repeated, civilian-slaughtering bombing of the open-air prison in Gaza. That’s because for Clinton — like the progressive establishment that supports her — the suffering and violence imposed on Palestinians literally do not exist. None of this is mentioned, even in passing, in the endless parade of pro-Clinton articles pouring forth from progressive media outlets.

Beyond progressive indifference, Clinton has been able to spout such extremist rhetoric with little notice because Bernie Sanders’ views on Israel/Palestine (like his foreign policy views generally) are, at best, unclear. Like many American Jews, particularly of his generation, he has long viewed Israel favorably, as a crucial protective refuge after the Holocaust. But while he is far from radical on these matters, he at least has been more willing than the standard Democrat, and certainly more willing than Clinton, to express criticisms of Israel. Still, his demonstrated preference for focusing on domestic issues at the expense of foreign policy has unfortunately enabled Clinton to get away with all sorts of extremism and pandering in this area.

Clinton partisans — being Clinton partisans — would, if they ever did deign to address Israel/Palestine, undoubtedly justify Clinton’s hawkishness on the ground of political necessity: that she could never win if she did not demonstrate steadfast devotion to the Israeli government. But for all his foreign policy excesses, including on Israel, Obama has proven that a national politician can be at least mildly more adversarial to Israeli leaders and still retain support. And notably, there is at least one politician who rejects the view that one must cling to standard pro-Israel orthodoxy in order to win; just yesterday, Donald Trump vowed “neutrality” on Israel/Palestine.

As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Clinton advocates are understandably desperate to manufacture the most trivial controversies because the alternative is to defend her candidacy based on her prior actions and current beliefs (that tactic was actually pioneered by then-Clinton operative Dick Morris, who had his client turn the 1996 election into a discussion of profound topics such as school uniforms). If you were a pro-Clinton progressive, would you want to defend her continuous vows to “strengthen” U.S. support for the Netanyahu government and ensure that every year “we must tie the bonds tighter”?

Upgrade Your iPhone Passcode To Defeat the FBI’s Backdoor Strategy

February 18, 2016

by Micah Lee

The Intercept

Yesterday, Apple CEO Tim Cook published an open letter opposing a court order to build the FBI a “backdoor” for the iPhone.

Cook wrote that the backdoor, which removes limitations on how often an attacker can incorrectly guess an iPhone passcode, would set a dangerous precedent and “would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession,” even though in this instance the FBI is seeking to unlock a single iPhone belonging to one of the killers in a 14-victim mass shooting spree in San Bernardino, California in December.

It’s true that ordering Apple to develop the backdoor will fundamentally undermine iPhone security, as Cook and other digital security advocates have argued. But it’s possible for individual iPhone users to protect themselves from government snooping by setting strong passcodes on their phones — passcodes the FBI would not be able to unlock even if gets its iPhone backdoor.

The technical details of how the iPhone encrypts data, and of how the FBI might circumvent this protection, are complex and convoluted, and are being thoroughly explored elsewhere on the internet. What I’m going to focus on here is how ordinary iPhone users can protect themselves.

The short version: If you’re worried about governments trying to access your phone, set your iPhone up with a random, 11-digital numeric passcode. What follows is an explanation of why that will protect you and how to actually do it.

If it sounds outlandish to worry about government agents trying to crack into your phone, consider that when you travel internationally, agents at the airport or other border crossing can seize, search, and even temporarily retain your digital devices — even without any grounds for suspicion. And while a local police officer can’t search your iPhone without a warrant, cops have used their own digital devices to get search warrants within 15 minutes, as the chief justice of the Supreme Court recently noted.

The most obvious way to try and crack into your iPhone, and what the FBI is trying to do in the San Bernardino case, is to simply run through every possible passcode until the correct one is discovered and the phone is unlocked. This is known as a “brute force” attack.

For example, let’s say you set a six-digit passcode on your iPhone. There are 10 possibilities for each digit in a numbers-based passcode, and so there are 106, or 1 million, possible combinations for a six-digit passcode as a whole. It is trivial for a computer to generate all of these possible codes. The difficulty comes in trying to test them.

One obstacle to testing all possible passcodes is that the iPhone intentionally slows down after you guess wrong a few times. An attacker can try four incorrect passcodes before she’s forced to wait 1 minute. If she continues to guess wrong, the time delay increases to 5 minutes, 15 minutes, and finally 1 hour. There’s even a setting to erase all data on the iPhone after 10 wrong guesses.

This is where the FBI’s requested backdoor comes into play. The FBI is demanding that Apple create a special version of the iPhone’s operating system, iOS, that removes the time delays and ignores the data erasure setting.   The FBI could install this malicious software on the San Bernardino killer’s iPhone, brute force the passcode, unlock the phone, and access all of its data. And that process could hypothetically be repeated on anyone else’s iPhone.

(There’s also speculation that the government could also make Apple alter the operation of a piece of iPhone hardware known as the Secure Enclave; for the purposes of this article, I assume the protections offered by this hardware, which would slow an attacker down even more, are not in place.)

Even if the FBI gets its way and can clear away iPhone safeguards against passcode guessing, it faces another obstacle, one that should help keep it from cracking passcodes of, say, 11 digits: It can only test potential passcodes for your iPhone using the iPhone itself; the FBI can’t use a supercomputer or a cluster of iPhones to speed up the guessing process. That’s because iPhone models, at least as far back as May 2012, have come with a Unique ID (UID) embedded in the device hardware. Each iPhone has a different UID fused to the phone and, by design, no one can read it and copy it to another computer (iPhone hardware only exposes the  result of encryption and decryption operations using the UID, not the UID itself).

So the FBI is stuck using your iPhone to test passcodes. And it turns out that your iPhone is kind of slow at that: iPhones intentionally encrypt data in such a way that they must spend about 80 milliseconds doing the math needed to test a passcode, according to Apple. That limits them to testing 12.5 passcode guesses per second, meaning that guessing a 6-digit passcode would take at most just over 22 hours.

You can calculate the time for that task simply by dividing the 1 million possible 6-digit passcodes by 12.5 seconds. That’s 80,000 seconds, or 1,333 minutes, or 22 hours. But the attacker doesn’t have to try each passcode; she can stop when she finds one that successfully unlocks the device. On average it will only take 11 hours for that to happen.

But the FBI would be happy to spend mere hours cracking your iPhone. What if you use a longer passcode? Here’s how long the FBI would need:

•7-digit passcodes will take up to 9.2 days, and on average 4.6 days, to crack

•8-digit passcodes will take up to 3 months, and on average 46 days, to crack

•9-digit passcodes will take up to 2.5 years, and on average 1.2 years, to crack

•10-digit passcodes will take up to 25 years, and on average 12.6 years, to crack

•11-digit passcodes will take up to 253 years, and on average 127 years, to crack

•12-digit passcodes will take up to 2,536 years, and on average 1,268 years, to crack

•13-digit passcodes will take up to 25,367 years, and on average 12,683 years, to crack

It’s important to note that these estimates only apply to truly random passcodes. If you choose a passcode by stringing together dates, phone numbers, social security numbers, or anything else that’s at all predictable, the attacker might try guessing those first, and might crack your 11-digit passcode in a very short amount of time. So make sure your passcode is random, even if this means it takes extra time to memorize it. (Memorizing that many digits might seem daunting, but you’re older than, say, 29, there was probably a time when you memorized several phone numbers that you dialed on a regular basis.)

Nerd tip: If you’re using a Mac or Linux, you can securely generate a random 11-digit passcode by opening the Terminal app and typing this command:

python -c ‘from random import SystemRandom as r; print(r().randint(0,10**11-1))’

It’s also important to note that we’re assuming that the FBI, or some other government agency, has not found a flaw in Apple’s security architecture that would allow them to test passcodes on their own computers or at a rate faster than 80 milliseconds per passcode.

Once you’ve created a new, 11-digit passcode, you can start using it by opening the Settings app, selecting “Touch ID & Passcode,” and entering your old passcode if prompted. Then, if you have an existing passcode, select “Change passcode” and enter your old passcode. If you do not have an existing passcode, and are setting one for the first time, click “Turn passcode on.”

Then, in all cases, click “Passcode options,”  select “Custom numeric code,” and then enter your new passcode.

Here are a few final tips to make this long-passcode thing work better:.

•Within the “Touch ID & Passcode” settings screen, make sure to turn on the Erase Data setting to erase all data on your iPhone after 10 failed passcode attempts.

Make sure you don’t forget your passcode, or you’ll lose access to all of the data on your iPhone.

•Don’t use Touch ID to unlock your phone. Your attacker doesn’t need to guess your passcode if she can push your finger onto the home button to unlock it instead. (At least one court has ruled that while the police cannot compel you to disclose your passcode, they can compel you to use your fingerprint to unlock your smartphone.)

•Don’t use iCloud backups. Your attacker doesn’t need to guess your passcode if she can get a copy of all the same data from Apple’s server, which it’s sitting there not protected by your passcode.

•Do make local backups to your computer using iTunes, especially if you are worried about forgetting your iPhone passcode. You can encrypt the backups, too.

By choosing a strong passcode, the FBI shouldn’t be able to unlock your encrypted phone, even if they install a backdoored version of iOS on it. Not unless they have hundreds of years to spare.

Apple v FBI: Your guide to the fight so far

February 19, 2016


The stage is set for a showdown between the FBI and Apple after the tech company’s CEO Tim Cook confirmed he will not assist the feds in hacking the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters.

The outcome is expected to have far-reaching implications in setting a precedent for future battles between digital privacy advocates and US national security interests.

Here’s what you need to know about the fight so far:

So why has this issue arisen?

The FBI contacted Apple two weeks ago with a request for assistance in hacking the iPhone of one December’s San Bernardino mass shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple refused.

The matter was brought before the US District Court in LA on February 16, where US Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym issued a 40-page statement requiring that Apple give “reasonable technical assistance” to the FBI. The tech company was given five days to formally respond to this order.

Apple CEO Tim Cook issued an open letter the next day, saying the company would not comply with the order. He called it an “unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers…which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

What does the FBI want Apple to do?

Apple has already provided the FBI with data from weekly back-ups made on Farook’s iPhone with its iCloud service, but those backups stopped on October 19, according to a federal search warrant request.

The iPhone in question has certain security settings which will result in all personal data on the device being deleted after 10 failed passcode attempts. The FBI want Apple to alter the settings, allowing an unlimited number of attempts to enter the correct code.

The FBI want to control the access process, but say they do not wish to know how it works and this would be a once off use of such a “backdoor” system.

Why is Apple refusing to help?

In September 2014, Apple introduced new encryption for its iPhone operating system that would make it mathematically impossible for the company to unlock the phones. The move was a response to increased digital privacy concerns following revelations made by NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden.

The company was alleged to be among a number of tech giants who had provided customers’ information to the FBI and the NSA via the PRISM programme, in compliance with court orders since 2012. Apple issued a statement saying they had “never heard” of Prism before June 2013.

Cook said in his statement Wednesday that the software needed to fulfil the FBI’s request does not exist today and “would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession”.

Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor,” he stated.

Hasn’t Apple complied with the FBI before?

Apple has unlocked phones for authorities at least 70 times since 2008, according to prosecutors arguing in a similar case in New York. Apple doesn’t dispute this figure.

The US government has been ordering Apple to grant it access to an iPhone that prosecutors seized as evidence against an admitted methamphetamines dealer for the past three months. Apple has acknowledged that it can conceivably unlock the phone in this case.

A government attorney also acknowledged during the case that one U.S. law enforcement agency has already developed the technology to crack at least some iPhones, without the assistance from Apple that officials are demanding now, according to Daily Beast.So where does the law stand?

The All Writs Act of 1789 is being used to justify the FBI’s demand. The law authorizes judges to issue “all writs necessary” to further a case.

Apple and privacy advocates say it can’t be used to effectively make new law in an unsettled area, according to Forbes.

How have other tech giants reacted?

Whatsapp, Google and Microsoft have all expressed their support for Apple’s stance.

Whatsapp CEO Jan Koum took to Facebook to show his solidarity.

Microsoft chief legal officer, Brad Smith, shared the Reform Government Surveillance (RGS) statement on Twitter which said “technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors”The RGS includes companies – AOL, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, Apple, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai took to Twitter to say the request “could be a troubling precedent”.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist, Chris Soghoian, has pointed to the massive price discrepancy between a new iPhone and a new smartphone powered by Google’s Android software, arguing there is the creation of a “second-class citizen.”

The phone used by the rich is encrypted by default and cannot be surveilled, and the phone used by most people in the global south and the poor and disadvantaged in America can be surveilled,” he said at an EmTech conference last year.

Google android software does not have the same level of end to end encryption as Apple making android users an easier target for law enforcement or intelligence agencies, he claimed.

So, what’s next?

Apple have just a few more days to file a formal response to the court. If both sides are still not happy, the case can be passed to the District Court.

Failing resolution at the District Court, the next step would be for the case to go before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit – the court which handles these types of cases on the US West Coast.

If there is still no resolution, the case could reach the US Supreme Court, which would have the final decision. This scenario could take several years before a resolution is found.

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on the matter on March 1 and has invited Apple to attend, according to The Guardian. 

Were We Lied Into War?; Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

February 10, 2016

by Jason Raimondo


Donald Trump threw down the gauntlet at the last GOP presidential debate with his declaration that the Bush administration lied us into war, and the reverberations are still roiling the political waters on both the right and the left. If his candidacy does nothing else, it will have performed a great service to the nation by re-litigating this vitally important issue and drawing attention to the outrageous lack of accountability by the elites who cheered as we turned the Middle East into a cauldron of death and destruction. Trump has ripped the bandage off the gaping and still suppurating wound of that ill-begotten war, and the howls of rage and pain are being heard on both sides of the political spectrum.

On the neoconservative right, Bill Kristol’s sputtering outrage is a bit too studied to be taken at face value: is he really shocked that no one is coming to the defense of himself and his fellow neocons, who elaborated (with footnotes) the very lies that led us down the primrose path to what the late Gen. William E. Odom called “the worst strategic disaster in our history”?

Kristol’s Weekly Standard magazine promoted every conceivable narrative pointing to Saddam Hussein as the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks, no matter how fantastic and bereft of evidence. Here he is accusing the Iraqis of being behind the dissemination of anthrax through the mails. Here is his subsidized magazine denying that the forged Niger uranium documents – the basis of George W. Bush’s claim in his 2003 State of the Union that Iraq was building a nuke – were an attempt to lie us into war. Here is neocon propagandist Stephen Hayes retailing a leaked “secret” memo to give credence to the debunked story of a meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence.

Every single one of these tall tales has been so thoroughly disproved that it’s enough to recall them in order to embarrass the perpetrators beyond redemption. Kristol & Co. served as a clearing house for these outright fabrications, which were then utilized by the Bush administration to make the case for war. And yet we have Peter Suderman, a senior editor over at Reason magazine, deriding Trump’s calling out of George W. Bush and his neocon intelligence-fabricators as a “conspiracy theory” on a par with birtherism and the weirdo 9/11 “truth” cult:

[H]e is flirting with a kind of 9/11 trutherism when he accuses the Bush administration of having knowingly lied in order to push the country into war in Iraq, as he did in Saturday’s GOP debate.

Now, as Byron York wrote on Twitter yesterday, you can reasonably interpret that charge as a general nod toward the idea that the Bush administration hyped the war effort beyond what the actual evidence could support, that the case for the war was, well, trumped up and ultimately misleading, built on insufficient proof, overconfidence, and mistaken assumptions. But Trump’s attack also leaves room for more radical, less grounded conspiracies about Bush and the war as all, and I suspect this is not an accident.

I would respectfully suggest that it is Suderman who needs “grounding” in the facts of this case. I would refer him to a project undertaken by our very own Scott Horton, whose radio program is essential listening for anyone who wants to be so educated: Scott has prepared a reading list on the occasion of the anniversary of the Iraq war, one that Suderman might want to make use of.

Of special interest is Seymour Hersh’s account of the Office of Special Plans, run by Abram Shulsky. This denizen of the murkier depths of the US intelligence community is a devotee of the philosopher Leo Strauss, who believed – as one scholar cited by Hersh put it – “that philosophers need to tell noble lies not only to the people at large but also to powerful politicians.” The OSP, set up in order to do an end run around the official intelligence community, specialized in retailing the tallest tales of Iraqi “defectors,” later proven to be self-serving fiction.

In another account of the administration’s tactics, Hersh describes how raw (and cherry-picked) “intelligence” marked “secret” was “funneled to newspapers, but subsequent C.I.A. and INR [State Department] analyses of the reports – invariably scathing but also classified – would remain secret.” Hersh points out that when the crude forgeries known as the Niger uranium papers – the basis for George W. Bush’s contention that Iraq was seeking uranium in “an African country – were exposed by the IAEA, Vice President Dick Cheney went on television and denounced the UN agency as being biased in favor of Iraq. Is this someone who was concerned with the truth?

Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked in close quarters with this parallel intelligence operation, says “It wasn’t intelligence‚ – it was propaganda. They’d take a little bit of intelligence, cherry-pick it, make it sound much more exciting, usually by taking it out of context, often by juxtaposition of two pieces of information that don’t belong together.” Those who didn’t toe the neocon party line were purged, and replaced with compliant apparatchiks.

So was this simply ideological blindness, or outright lying? Robert Dreyfuss and Jason Vest, writing in Mother Jones, cite neoconservative foreign policy expert Edward Luttwak, who “says flatly that the Bush administration lied about the intelligence it had because it was afraid to go to the American people and say that the war was simply about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Instead, says Luttwak, the White House was groping for a rationale to satisfy the United Nations’ criteria for war. ‘Cheney was forced into this fake posture of worrying about weapons of mass destruction,’ he says. ‘The ties to Al Qaeda? That’s complete nonsense.’”

Yet the American people didn’t know that at the time. The pronouncements of the Bush administration, and the War Party’s well-placed media network, led 70 percent of them to believe that the Iraqi despot was behind the worst terrorist attacks in American history – to the point that, even after this canard had been debunked (and denied by the White House) a large number of Americans still believed it. Not only that, but they believed the Iraqis had those storied “weapons of mass destruction,” and that the Bush administration was entirely justified in launching an invasion.

This is what Max Fisher’s account of the Trump-generated imbroglio fails to take into account. Fisher, who analyzes foreign policy issues for the left-of-center Vox.com, writes:

Trump’s 10-second history of the war articulated it as many Americans, who largely consider that war a mistake, now understand it. And, indeed, Bush did justify the war as a quest for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not to exist.

The other Republican candidates, who have had this fight with Trump before, did not defend the war as their party has in the past, but rather offered the party’s standard line of the moment, which is that Bush had been innocently misled by ‘faulty intelligence.’

But neither version of history is really correct. The US primarily invaded Iraq not because of lies or because of bad intelligence, though both featured. In fact, it invaded because of an ideology.”

“…This is perhaps not as satisfying as the ‘Bush lied, people died’ bumper sticker history that has since taken hold on much of the left and elements of the Tea Party right. Nor is it as convenient as the Republican establishment’s polite fiction that Bush was misled by “faulty intelligence.”

Fisher’s long account of how the neoconservatives agitated for war in the name of an “idealistic” ideology that sought to transform the Middle East into a “democratic” model is accurate as far as it goes. Yet the idea that the neocons were – or are – above fabricating evidence to make their case is naïve, at best. “If the problem were merely that Bush lied,” says Fisher, “then the solution would be straightforward: Check the administration’s facts. But how do you fact-check an ideology …?” What if the ideology justifies lying for a “noble” end? And of course the Bush administration’s facts were checked, both during and after the war (see above): what we can conclude from this fact-checking is that the policymakers 1) Started out with an agenda, 2) Suppressed all evidence that contradicted it, and 3) Made up “factoids” out of whole cloth, the most egregious being those contained in the Niger uranium forgeries and the outright lies disseminated by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress.

We can see how the neoconservatives within the administration constructed a parallel intelligence-gathering apparatus, independent of – and usually in opposition to – the CIA and the rest of the intelligence community. We can further see how their intelligence product was “stovepiped” up to the highest echelons, and landed on the President’s desk unvetted and unconfirmed. All the safeguards against compromising the US intelligence stream were dismantled – to what purpose? Fisher doesn’t think to ask this vital question. Instead, he attributes it to “ideology”;

It does not appear that the administration encouraged them to lie, but rather that deep-rooted biases led top officials to dismiss the mountains of intelligence that undercut their theories and to favor deeply problematic intelligence that supported it.

“… By all appearances, administration officials believed their allegations of Iraqi WMDs were true and that this was indeed sufficient justification. Why else would the US launch a desperate, high-profile search for WMDs after invading – which only ended up drawing more attention to how false those allegations had been?

Rather, they had deceived themselves into seeing half-baked intelligence as affirming their desire for war, and then had sold this to the American people as their casus belli, when in fact it was secondary to their more high-minded and ideological mission that would have been too difficult to explain. That, more than overstating intelligence on WMDs, was the really egregious lie.”

But of course they had to launch a hunt for the WMD they knew weren’t there – after all, they had justified the war on this basis. And so what if they were never found? They got away with it, didn’t they? There was never any real investigation into the intelligence-gathering activities of the Office of Special Plans, or of efforts to suppress dissent within the mainstream intelligence agencies. This was scotched by the politicians, who never followed through with their “phase two” investigation of the murky circumstances surrounding the administration’s activities.

By the time it was revealed that the war critics were right and that there weren’t any WMD in Iraq, the neocons’ goal had already been accomplished – the destruction of Iraq and the establishment of a permanent pretext for a US military presence in the region. Whatever consequences would follow the revelation of the deception – and deception it was – would be borne by the hapless George W. Bush, who was never the sharpest blade in the drawer to begin – and whom the neocons soon threw overboard as someone not willing or able to carry out their full agenda.

The US intelligence stream had been contaminated for a purpose: some entity with an agenda that included getting us inextricably involved in the Middle East over the long term. But who?

Karen Kwiatkowski, who worked in the office that was to become the Office of Special Plans, is an eyewitness:“In early winter, an incident occurred that was seared into my memory. A coworker and I were suddenly directed to go down to the Mall entrance to pick up some Israeli generals. Post-9/11 rules required one escort for every three visitors, and there were six or seven of them waiting. The Navy lieutenant commander and I hustled down. Before we could apologize for the delay, the leader of the pack surged ahead, his colleagues in close formation, leaving us to double-time behind the group as they sped to Undersecretary Feith’s office on the fourth floor. Two thoughts crossed our minds: are we following close enough to get credit for escorting them, and do they really know where they are going? We did get credit, and they did know. Once in Feith’s waiting room, the leader continued at speed to Feith’s closed door. An alert secretary saw this coming and had leapt from her desk to block the door. ‘Mr. Feith has a visitor. It will only be a few more minutes.’ The leader craned his neck to look around the secretary’s head as he demanded, ‘Who is in there with him?’

This minor crisis of curiosity past, I noticed the security sign-in roster. Our habit, up until a few weeks before this incident, was not to sign in senior visitors like ambassadors. But about once a year, the security inspectors send out a warning letter that they were coming to inspect records. As a result, sign-in rosters were laid out, visible and used. I knew this because in the previous two weeks I watched this explanation being awkwardly presented to several North African ambassadors as they signed in for the first time and wondered why and why now. Given all this and seeing the sign-in roster, I asked the secretary, ‘Do you want these guys to sign in?’ She raised her hands, both palms toward me, and waved frantically as she shook her head. ‘No, no, no, it is not necessary, not at all.’ Her body language told me I had committed a faux pas for even asking the question. My fellow escort and I chatted on the way back to our office about how the generals knew where they were going (most foreign visitors to the five-sided asylum don’t) and how the generals didn’t have to sign in.”

Israeli generals walking in and out of Feith’s office was the least of it. Feith himself, along with Richard Perle, David Wurmser and his wife Meyrav (all with links to Feith’s Office of Special Plans), had once prepared a strategy paper for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term in office. Entitled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” the paper recommended a general offensive against Israel’s neighbors:

Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq – an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right – as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”

Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer showed in their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, that the Jewish state’s American amen corner played an instrumental role in agitating for the Iraq war. As they pointed out, “A Clean Break”

[C]alled for Israel to take steps to reorder the entire Middle East. Netanyahu did not follow their advice, but Feith, Perle and Wurmser were soon urging the Bush administration to pursue those same goals. The Ha’aretz columnist Akiva Eldar warned that Feith and Perle ‘are walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments … and Israeli interests.’”

Whose interests were they pursuing while they manufactured talking points based on “faulty” intelligence in order to bamboozle Congress and the American people into fighting Israel’s war on Saddam Hussein?

But that was just the beginning of the long tortured road they led us down. As Ariel Sharon told a visiting delegation of American congressmen at the time, Iran, Libya, and Syria were next on Israel’s agenda:

“’These are irresponsible states, which must be disarmed of weapons mass destruction, and a successful American move in Iraq as a model will make that easier to achieve,’ said the Prime Minister to his guests, rather like a commander issuing orders to his foot-soldiers. While noting that Israel was not itself at war with Iraq, he went on to say that ‘the American action is of vital importance.’”

Two down, one to go.

Much of the “faulty” intelligence that found its way to the desks of Bush and Cheney originated with foreign intelligence agencies, and there is plenty of evidence that much of it came straight from Tel Aviv. Certainly the Israelis had an interest in using the United States military as a cat’s-paw against their traditional Arab enemies, notably Iraq. And the defense of Israel was often cited by the administration as a justification for targeting Saddam Hussein. This wasn’t the first time a foreign entity launched a covert operation to lure the United States into an overseas conflict, and it certainly won’t be the last – that is, unless and until we learn the real lesson of the Iraq war.

Yes, it was ideology that led us to commit ourselves to become the policemen of the Middle East – but the adherents of that ideology utilized methods that included fabricating “evidence” of Iraqi WMD. One aspect of neoconservative ideology conveniently left out of Fisher’s otherwise comprehensive analysis of the neocon mindset is their dedication to Israel as a model “democracy” and our ideal ally which must always be defended. An odd omission, to say the least.

If we look at the Iraq war as a wildly successful covert operation to lure us into a position from which it is almost impossible to extricate ourselves – all to the advantage of a certain Middle Eastern “democracy” beloved by the neocons – then the whole disastrous episode begins to make sense. If such is the case, then why should the perpetrators care if no WMD were found after the invasion? It would be no skin off the Israelis’ noses: Bush would get the blame, not Bibi. And of course the operatives inside the administration responsible for skewing the intelligence could always claim to have been mistaken: after all, everybody thought the WMD were there, and in any case they would never be held to account. Since when is anybody in our government held accountable for anything?

Yes, I know, this is a “conspiracy theory,” and therefore we aren’t allowed to consider it, let alone examine the facts that back it up. Nations never engage in conspiracies, and government officials never lie.

And if you believe that, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn you might be interested in purchasing….

The Hawkish Cult of ‘Leadership’

February 17, 2016

by Daniel Larison

The American Conservative

Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) repeated some boilerplate hawkish nostrums on foreign policy in a recent op-ed. They concluded:

We say this delicately, as we work hard to respect the office of the presidency, but our allies everywhere are baffled. We asked one head of state, What single lesson would you like us to report back to our bosses, our constituents? The reply: “Get us a U.S. president who will know that the U.S. needs to lead. We need you. All the freedom-loving nations of the world need you.”

Reasonable citizens and candidates for office should wrestle with what — and where and when and how — U.S. leadership looks like in the world. But the necessity of U.S. leadership is inarguable [bold mine-DL] — for our allies and for us.

Whenever someone says that something is “inarguable,” it’s a good bet that this is the weakest part of the argument. It is very questionable whether U.S. “leadership” in the abstract is needed in many parts of the world, and it is even more debatable whether it is desirable for us to exercise that “leadership” in certain regions. The U.S. has frittered away trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on ill-conceived attempts to show “leadership” in the Near East, and in the process inflicted enormous harm on the region with virtually nothing to show for the effort. A lot depends on what the senators mean by “leadership,” and their statements earlier in the op-ed confirm the suspicion that they equate “leadership” with meddling in foreign conflicts, interfering in the affairs of other nations, and generally having the U.S. make unnecessary and unwise commitments overseas.

Sasse and Ernst assert that “[g]lobal stability is at its lowest point since the Cold War’s conclusion in 1989.” This is false and perniciously so. Across most of the world, there is more political stability and less violent conflict than there was at the end of the Cold War and during most of the previous century. They claim that the Syrian war “has now spread to dozens of nations.” Once again, this is untrue. The war itself is limited to Syria and Iraq, and Syria’s other immediate neighbors have borne the brunt of the the war’s effects. As hawks always do, the senators are grossly exaggerating the extent of instability and upheaval in the world to instill fear in the public. The senators also engage in fear-mongering when they warn about an invasion of Ukraine during our next presidential transition. All of this is irresponsible alarmism and should be dismissed as such.

It is difficult to evaluate the statement from the nameless “head of state” the senators quote, since we have no idea who said this to them or what his agenda might be in saying it. Americans should be wary of claims that other nations “need” the U.S., which is very often another way of saying that other governments want the U.S. to fix their regional problems at our expense. It’s not that the other governments couldn’t handle the problem themselves, but that they would prefer to have the U.S. bear the costs and risks of doing so. It would be worth knowing whether the “head of state” they cite actually presides over a free country, or if he is one of the client despots that throws fits when the U.S. doesn’t do everything he wants. When a foreign leader demands that the U.S. “lead,” this more often than not means that the foreign leader wants the U.S. to advance the interests of his government for him even if it comes at a cost to U.S. interests. There may be occasions when it is appropriate for the U.S. to take a leading role in response to a crisis, but the reflexive, cultish devotion to U.S. “leadership” as an end in itself is something that the U.S. needs to cast aside.

FBI Won’t Explain Its Bizarre New Way of Measuring Its Success Fighting Terror

February 18, 2016

by Jenna McLaughlin

The Intercept

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has quietly developed a new way to measure its success in the war on terror: Counting the number of terror threats it has “disrupted” in a year.

But good luck trying to figure out what that number means, how it was derived, or why it doesn’t jibe with any other law-enforcement statistic, most notably the number of terror suspects actually charged or arrested.

In the section on “Performance Measures” in the FBI’s latest financial statement, the bureau reports 440 “terror disruptions” in the 12 months ending September 30, 2015. That’s compared to 214 in fiscal year 2014. And it’s more than three times the 2015 “target” of 125.

In a vacuum, that would appear to suggest that the FBI’s terror-fighting mission – which sucked up $5.3 billion, or 54 percent of the bureau’s $9.8 billion budget in 2015 – is exceeding expectations.

But that number – 440 – is much higher than the number of arrests reported by the FBI. The Washington Post counted about 60 terror-related arrests in 2015; a study by George Washington University found 71 arrests related to the Islamic State from March 2014 to the end of 2015.

Of those arrests, many were of people trying to travel abroad or trying to help others do so. Many more involved people planning attacks that were essentially imaginary, often goaded by FBI informants.

And according to a document from the Department of Homeland Security obtained by The Intercept in November, there was only one genuinely “foiled attack” in the United States between January 2014 and September 2015. And that one, involving would-be shooters in Garland, Texas targeting a cartoon drawing event inspired by the Prophet Muhammad, was stopped by the local police department.

The FBI didn’t respond to emails asking basic questions such as what qualifies as a disruption, why the number is so much higher than the bureau’s recorded arrests, or how it comes up with its annual “target”.

In a January 2015 Performance Report, Justice Department officials explained that the “targets reflect the number of expected disruptions based on the estimated threat, yet account for potential fluctuations.”

The officials acknowledged that “disruptions can be a challenge to quantify for future years” because the number of potential plots is “outside of FBI control.” Nevertheless, they wrote: “Based on past data trends, coupled with current and emerging threat pictures, the FBI expects to achieve its FY 2015 and FY 2016 targets.”

A Strange Way to Provide Transparency

The “terrorism threat disruptions” metric is a relatively new arbiter of success for the FBI. In a 2013 Department of Justice document about strategic goals, fighting terrorism is identified as Strategic Goal 1 and “Number of terrorism disruptions” is Strategic Objective 1.1.

To provide transparency to its work in the area of counterterrorism, the Department will disclose a key statistic: the number of terrorism disruptions,” the department announced.

But the definition was vague: “A disruption is defined as interrupting or inhibiting a threat actor from engaging in criminal or national security related activity. A disruption is the result of direct actions and may include but is not limited to the arrest; seizure of assets; or impairing the operational capabilities of key threat actors.”

And the department’s idea of transparency was problematic. Because the FBI’s “operational priorities are classified,” the document noted, “it is only possible to report aggregate data that lacks significant detail.”

Experts interviewed by The Intercept suggested two possible explanations for the high number of terror disruptions.

Gold Stars

One possibility, they said, is that the number is just a subjective way to make people at the FBI look good, or to rationalize the cost.

This is how the whole career system works in the FBI—statistics, performance,” said Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent and whistleblower. Individuals use statistics to advance their careers, and the agency, in turn, uses them to justify its budget, she said. “In the agency, this is the way to advance.”

The fact that the agency establishes a target for terrorism disruptions is also troubling, said Michael German, a former FBI agent and fellow for the Brennan Center for Justice. “That the FBI actually sets a performance goal stating the specific number of terrorist disruptions it wants to accomplish over the year would seem to create an incentive to gin up cases where no real threat might exist.”

And if the number is inflated, it wouldn’t be the first time the Department of Justice or the FBI had been criticized for inaccurately estimating the impact of their counterterrorism efforts.

In 2007, an inspector general investigation found that the entire Department of Justice—the FBI included—had messed up its bookkeeping efforts on terrorism. The FBI mistakenly included marriage fraud, immigration cases, and others in their records of anti-terror cases.

And in 2013, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz called out the office that oversees U.S. attorney’s offices for shoddy reporting that significantly overstated the number of terrorism convictions, counting cases that actually dealt with narcotics or money laundering or including defendants who had their charges dismissed.

These inaccuracies are important in part because DOJ management and Congress need accurate terrorism-related statistics to make informed operational and budgetary decisions,” Horowitz said in a statement accompanying the 2013 report.

Easier to Disrupt Than Arrest

Another possible explanation for such a big number, however, is that it accurately reflects a new FBI approach to fighting terror that is occurring outside of public view — where the bureau decides someone is a threat and disrupts their lives in some way that isn’t nearly as subject to oversight and accountability as an indictment or an arrest.

I’m sensing a significant change in counterterrorism policy in the U.S., where we’ve gone from ‘watch and report,’ to ‘let’s just disrupt them any way we can,’ ” David Gomez, a former FBI agent and profiler, as well as LAPD officer, told The Intercept. “This has cut short the way the FBI does long term investigations…they’re not doing that anymore.”

The FBI has indeed been going through some changes.

As a 2013 Congressional Research Service report explains, “Since the September 11, 2001 (9/11) attacks, the FBI has implemented a series of reforms intended to transform itself from a largely reactive law enforcement agency focused on investigations of criminal activity into a more proactive, agile, flexible, and intelligence-driven agency that can prevent acts of terrorism.”

This has led law enforcement agencies to use aggressive, proactive techniques to catch potential terrorists before a crime is committed. According to the CRS report, one technique is the “Al Capone” approach— putting people in jail for a minor crime rather than sticking around and waiting for evidence of a serious violent threat.

Another method is the informant, or “agent provocateur,” who starts communicating with a potential suspect, goading them into committing an act of terrorism in order to catch them in the act.

Where the person targeted really is a terrorist, that might make sense,” said German. “But often when evidence that a person is a terrorist is lacking—that’s because he isn’t a terrorist.”

German, in an email, asked: “Has the FBI secretly prevented people from getting jobs, hazmat licenses, gun permits, security clearances, or barred their travel where no charges were brought, providing no opportunity for them to challenge the accusations against them or prove their innocence? And then chalked that up as a successful ‘disruption’ so they would get a pat on the back and more resources from Congress, regardless of whether the person was actually guilty?”

A 2009 FBI document obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union explicitly allows field offices to engage in “disruption strategies” at the conclusion of a terror assessment or investigation, after “all significant intelligence has been collected, and/or the threat is otherwise resolved.” Disruption strategy involves “a range of tools including arrests, interviews, or source-directed operations to effectively disrupt subject’s activities.”

The FBI’s overbroad and aggressive use of its investigative and surveillance powers, and its willingness to employ ‘disruption strategies’ against subjects not charged with crimes can have serious, adverse impacts on innocent Americans,” the ACLU concluded.

Being placed under investigation creates an intense psychological, and often financial, burden on the people under the microscope and their families, even when they are never charged with a crime,” it continued. “All the more so when a heinous crime like terrorism is alleged, and when the investigators are convinced the subject of their investigation is guilty but they just don’t have the evidence necessary for arrest.”

The Congressional Research Service report noted that such methods are reminiscent of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, and particularly the program called COINTELPRO that engaged in “preventive, covert, intelligence-based efforts to target and contain people, groups, or movements suspected by the Bureau to be ‘rabble rousers,’ ‘agitators,’ ‘key activists,’ or ‘key black extremists.” The FBI “relied on illegal means to curb constitutionally protected activity it deemed threatening to national security.”

The goal of “disruption” has typically been reserved for FBI agents pursuing people like drug traffickers—where “impeding the normal and effective operation of the targeted organization, as indicated by changes in the organizational leadership and/or changes in methods of operation” counts as disruption.

But that standard doesn’t really apply to the “lone wolves” or small groups that make up most of the FBI’s terror suspects.

Great Expectations

The FBI is under a lot of pressure these days—charged with preventing every possible terrorist attack before it happens, while withstanding public scrutiny of its methods.

Gomez, the former FBI agent, cuts them some slack. “As a policeman, we used to have a saying about local drug dealers—we put them in jail for everything, use of heroin, a misdemeanor,” Gomez said. “They’re doing life in prison 60 days at a time.”

The FBI is “going to be under severe criticism” one way or the other, he said. “You can’t win.”

Rowley, though critical of the strategy, said she was also sympathetic. “It’s a bad position of, oh, you better prevent every act of terrorism,” she said.


Our new President and his Wife, Doris

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