TBR News January 22, 2015

Jan 22 2015

The Voice of the White House

        Washington, D.C. January 21, 2015: “On the one hand, given the dangerous threats of Muslim fanatics to attack targets in the United States, the surveillance of Internet traffic is a necessary evil, but on the other, those who perform these actions, have decided to expand their efforts to include any individual or group inside the United States that might, in future, prove to be hostile to authority. All agencies need government subsidies to survive and all agencies constantly seek the means to expand their efforts, gain more internal power and have the rational to request greater fundings from Congress. And to claim, as the press often does, that the President and his top aides have no knowledge of the growing encroachment on the private, and harmless, lives of its citizens is complete nonsense. None of the national leaders want a repeat of the immense and very serious public protests of the Vietnam war so the increasing spying on the public will never stop and will only increase in volume and depth.”


Latest FBI Claim of Disrupted Terror Plot Deserves Much Scrutiny and Skepticism

by Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman


The Justice Department on Wednesday issued a press release trumpeting its latest success in disrupting a domestic terrorism plot, announcing that “the Joint Terrorism Task Force has arrested a Cincinnati-area man for a plot to attack the U.S. Capitol and kill government officials.” The alleged would-be terrorist is 20-year-old Christopher Cornell (above), who is unemployed, lives at home, spends most of his time playing video games in his bedroom, still addresses his mother as “Mommy” and regards his cat as his best friend; he was described as “a typical student” and “quiet but not overly reserved” by the principal of the local high school he graduated in 2012.

The affidavit filed by an FBI investigative agent alleges Cornell had “posted comments and information supportive of [ISIS] through Twitter accounts.” The FBI learned about Cornell from an unnamed informant who, as the FBI put it, “began cooperating with the FBI in order to obtain favorable treatment with respect to his criminal exposure on an unrelated case.” Acting under the FBI’s direction, the informant arranged two in-person meetings with Cornell where they allegedly discussed an attack on the Capitol, and the FBI says it arrested Cornell to prevent him from carrying out the attack.

Family members say Cornell converted to Islam just six months ago and claimed he began attending a small local mosque. Yet The Cincinnati Enquirer could not find a single person at that mosque who had ever seen him before, and noted that a young, white, recent convert would have been quite conspicuous at a mosque largely populated by “immigrants from West Africa,” many of whom “speak little or no English.”

The DOJ’s press release predictably generated an avalanche of scary media headlines hailing the FBI. CNN: “FBI says plot to attack U.S. Capitol was ready to go.” MSNBC: “US terror plot foiled by FBI arrest of Ohio man.” Wall St. Journal: “Ohio Man Charged With Plotting ISIS-Inspired Attack on U.S. Capitol.”

Just as predictably, political officials instantly exploited the news to justify their powers of domestic surveillance. House Speaker John Boehner claimed yesterday that “the National Security Agency’s snooping powers helped stop a plot to attack the Capitol and that his colleagues need to keep that in mind as they debate whether to renew the law that allows the government to collect bulk information from its citizens.” He warned: “We live in a dangerous country, and we get reminded every week of the dangers that are out there.”

The known facts from this latest case seem to fit well within a now-familiar FBI pattern whereby the agency does not disrupt planned domestic terror attacks but rather creates them, then publicly praises itself for stopping its own plots.

First, they target a Muslim: not due to any evidence of intent or capability to engage in terrorism, but rather for the “radical” political views he expresses. In most cases, the Muslim targeted by the FBI is a very young (late teens, early 20s), adrift, unemployed loner who has shown no signs of mastering basic life functions, let alone carrying out a serious terror attack, and has no known involvement with actual terrorist groups.

They then find another Muslim who is highly motivated to help disrupt a “terror plot”: either because they’re being paid substantial sums of money by the FBI or because (as appears to be the case here) they are charged with some unrelated crime and are desperate to please the FBI in exchange for leniency (or both). The FBI then gives the informant a detailed attack plan, and sometimes even the money and other instruments to carry it out, and the informant then shares all of that with the target. Typically, the informant also induces, lures, cajoles, and persuades the target to agree to carry out the FBI-designed plot. In some instances where the target refuses to go along, they have their informant offer huge cash inducements to the impoverished target.

Once they finally get the target to agree, the FBI swoops in at the last minute, arrests the target, issues a press release praising themselves for disrupting a dangerous attack (which it conceived of, funded, and recruited the operatives for), and the DOJ and federal judges send their target to prison for years or even decades (where they are kept in special GITMO-like units). Subservient U.S. courts uphold the charges by applying such a broad and permissive interpretation of “entrapment” that it could almost never be successfully invoked. As AP noted last night, “defense arguments have repeatedly failed with judges, and the stings have led to many convictions.”

Consider the truly remarkable (yet not aberrational) 2011 prosecution of James Cromitie, an impoverished African-American Muslim convert who had expressed anti-Semitic views but, at the age of 45, had never evinced any inclination to participate in a violent attack. For eight months, the FBI used an informant – one who was on the hook for another crime and whom the FBI was paying – to try to persuade Cromitie to agree to join a terror plot which the FBI had concocted. And for eight months, he adamantly refused. Only when they dangled a payment of $250,000 in front of him right as he lost his job did he finally assent, causing the FBI to arrest him. The DOJ trumpeted the case as a major terrorism arrest, obtained a prosecution and sent him to prison for 25 years.

The federal judge presiding over his case, Colleen McMahon, repeatedly lambasted the government for wholly manufacturing the plot. When sentencing him to decades in prison, she said Cromitie “was incapable of committing an act of terrorism on his own,” and that it was the FBI which “created acts of terrorism out of his fantasies of bravado and bigotry, and then made those fantasies come true.” She added: “only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr. Cromitie, whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”

In her written ruling upholding the conviction, Judge McMahon noted that Cromitie “had successfully resisted going too far for eight months,” and agreed only after “the Government dangled what had to be almost irresistible temptation in front of an impoverished man from what I have come (after literally dozens of cases) to view as the saddest and most dysfunctional community in the Southern District of New York.” It was the FBI’s own informant, she wrote, who “was the prime mover and instigator of all the criminal activity that occurred.” She then wrote (emphasis added):

As it turns out, the Government did absolutely everything that the defense predicted in its previous motion to dismiss the indictment. The Government indisputably “manufactured” the crimes of which defendants stand convicted. The Government invented all of the details of the scheme – many of them, such as the trip to Connecticut and the inclusion of Stewart AFB as a target, for specific legal purposes of which the defendants could not possibly have been aware (the former gave rise to federal jurisdiction and the latter mandated a twenty-five year minimum sentence). The Government selected the targets. The Government designed and built the phony ordnance that the defendants planted (or planned to plant) at Government-selected targets. The Government provided every item used in the plot: cameras, cell phones, cars, maps and even a gun. The Government did all the driving (as none of the defendants had a car or a driver’s license). The Government funded the entire project. And the Government, through its agent, offered the defendants large sums of money, contingent on their participation in the heinous scheme.

Additionally, before deciding that the defendants (particularly Cromitie, who was in their sights for nine months) presented any real danger, the Government appears to have done minimal due diligence, relying instead on reports from its Confidential Informant, who passed on information about Cromitie information that could easily have been verified (or not verified, since much of it was untrue), but that no one thought it necessary to check before offering a jihadist opportunity to a man who had no contact with any extremist groups and no history of anything other than drug crimes.

On another occasion, Judge McMahon wrote: “There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that James Cromitie could never have dreamed up the scenario in which he actually became involved. And if by some chance he had, he would not have had the slightest idea how to make it happen.” She added that while “Cromitie, who was desperately poor, accepted meals and rent money from [the informant], he repeatedly backed away from his violent statements when it came time to act on them,” and that “only when the offers became outrageously high–and when Cromitie was particularly vulnerable to them, because he had lost his job–did he finally succumb.”

This is pre-emptory prosecution: targeting citizens not for their criminal behavior but for their political views. It’s an attempt by the U.S. Government to anticipate who will become a criminal at some point in the future based on their expressed political opinions – not unlike the dystopian premise of Minority Report – and then exploiting the FBI’s vast financial, organizational, and even psychological resources, along with the individuals’ vulnerabilities, to make it happen.

In 2005, federal appellate judge A. Wallace Tashima – the first Japanese-American appointed to the federal bench, who was imprisoned in an U.S. internment camp – vehemently dissented from one of the worst such prosecutions and condemned these FBI cases as “the unsettling and untoward consequences of the government’s use of anticipatory prosecution as a weapon in the ‘war on terrorism.’”

There are countless similar cases where the FBI triumphantly disrupts its own plots, causing people to be imprisoned as terrorists who would not and could not have acted on their own. Trevor Aaronson has comprehensively covered what amounts to the FBI’s own domestic terror network, and has reported that “nearly half [of all DOJ terrorism] prosecutions involved the use of informants, many of them incentivized by money (operatives can be paid as much as $100,000 per assignment) or the need to work off criminal or immigration violation.” He documents “49 [terrorism] defendants [who] participated in plots led by an agent provocateur—an FBI operative instigating terrorist action.” In 2012, Petra Bartosiewicz in The Nation reviewed the post-9/11 body of terrorism cases and concluded:

Nearly every major post-9/11 terrorism-related prosecution has involved a sting operation, at the center of which is a government informant. In these cases, the informants — who work for money or are seeking leniency on criminal charges of their own — have crossed the line from merely observing potential criminal behavior to encouraging and assisting people to participate in plots that are largely scripted by the FBI itself. Under the FBI’s guiding hand, the informants provide the weapons, suggest the targets and even initiate the inflammatory political rhetoric that later elevates the charges to the level of terrorism.

The U.S. Government has been aggressively pressuring its allies to adopt the same “sting” tactics against their own Muslim citizens (and like most War on Terror abuses, this practice is now fully seeping into non-terrorism domestic law: in a drug smuggling prosecution last year, a federal judge condemned the Drug Enforcement Agency for luring someone into smuggling cocaine, saying that “the government’s investigation deployed techniques that generated a wholly new crime for the sake of pressing criminal charges against” the defendant).

Many of the key facts in this latest case are still unknown, but there are ample reasons to treat this case with substantial skepticism. Though he had brushes with the law as a minor arguably indicative of anger issues, the 20-year-old Cornell had no history of engaging in politically-motivated violence (he disrupted a local 9/11 memorial ceremony last year by yelling a 9/11 Truth slogan, but was not arrested). There is no evidence he had any contact with any overseas or domestic terrorist operatives (the informant vaguely claims that Cornell claims he “had been in contact with persons overseas” but ultimately told the informant that “he did not think he would receive specific authorization to conduct a terrorist attack in the United States”).

Cornell’s father accused the FBI of responsibility for the plot, saying of his son: “He’s a mommy’s boy. His best friend is his cat Mikey. He still calls his mother ‘Mommy.’” His father said that “he might be 20, but he was more like a 16-year-old kid who never left the house.” He added that his son had only $1,200 in his bank account, and that the money to purchase guns could only have come from the FBI. It was the FBI, he said, who were “taking him somewhere, and they were filling his head with a lot of this garbage.”

The mosque with which Cornell was supposedly associated is itself tiny, a non-profit that reported a meager $115,000 in revenue last year. It has no history of producing terrorism suspects or violent radicals.

Whatever else is true, a huge dose of scrutiny and skepticism should be applied to the FBI’s claims. Media organizations certainly should not be trumpeting this as some dangerous terror plot from which the FBI heroically saved us all, nor telling their viewers that the FBI “uncovered” a plot that it actually created, nor trying to depict it (as MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki did in the pictured segment) as part of some larger plot of international terror groups, at least not without further evidence (and, just by the way, Mr. Kornacki: Anwar Awlaki was not “the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen,” no matter how much repeating that false claim might help President Obama, who ordered that U.S. citizen killed with no due process). Nor should politicians like John Boehner be permitted without challenge to claim that this scary plot shows how crucial is the Patriot Act and the NSA domestic spying program in keeping us safe.

Having crazed loners get guns and seek to shoot people is, of course, a threat. But so is allowing the FBI to manufacture terror plots: in the process keeping fear levels about terrorism completely inflated, along with its own surveillance powers and budget. Ohio is a major recipient of homeland security spending: it “has four fusion centers, more than any other state except California, New York and Texas. Ohio also ranks fourth in the nation (tying New York) with four FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs).”

Something has to be done to justify all that terrorism spending. For all those law enforcement agents with little to do, why not sit around and manufacture plots to justify those expenditures, giving a boost to their pro-surveillance ideology to boot? Media outlets have a responsibility to investigate the FBI’s claims, not mindlessly repeat them while parading their alarmed faces and scary graphics.


àEmail the authors: glenn.greenwald@theintercept.com, fishman@theintercept.com


Spies Among Us: How Community Outreach Programs to Muslims Blur Lines between Outreach and Intelligence

January 21, 2014

by Cora Currier

The Intercept


Last May, after getting a ride to school with his dad, 18-year-old Abdullahi Yusuf absconded to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to board a flight to Turkey. There, FBI agents stopped Yusuf and later charged him with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization—he was allegedly associated with another Minnesota man believed to have gone to fight for the Islamic State in Syria.

To keep other youth from following Yusuf’s path, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger recently said that the federal government would be launching a new initiative to work with Islamic community groups and promote after-school programs and job training–to address the “root causes” of extremist groups’ appeal. “This is not about gathering intelligence, it’s not about expanding surveillance or any of the things that some people want to claim it is,” Luger said.


Luger’s comments spoke to the concerns of civil liberties advocates, who believe that blurring the line between engagement and intelligence gathering could end up with the monitoring of innocent individuals. If past programs in this area are any guide, those concerns are well founded.

Documents obtained by attorneys at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, and shared with the Intercept, show that previous community outreach efforts in Minnesota–launched in 2009 in response to the threat of young Americans joining the al-Qaeda-linked militia al-Shabab, in Somalia—were, in fact, conceived to gather intelligence.

A grant proposal from the St. Paul Police Department to the Justice Department, which the Brennan Center obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI, lays out a plan in which Somali-speaking advocates would hold outreach meetings with community groups and direct people toward the Police Athletic League and programs at the YWCA. The proposal says that “the team will also identify radicalized individuals, gang members, and violent offenders who refuse to cooperate with our efforts.”

“It’s startling how explicit it was – ‘You don’t want to join the Police Athletic League? You sound like you might join al-Shabab!’” said Michael Price, an attorney with the Brennan Center.



The Islamic State may be the new face of religious extremism, but for a number of years, law enforcement in St. Paul and Minneapolis have had to contend with the appeal of al-Shabab to members of the country’s largest Somali population—more than 20 young men have reportedly left Minnesota to fight with the group since 2007.

Dennis Jensen, St. Paul’s former assistant police chief, had spent years studying relations between police and the city’s Somali community, which is largely composed of recent immigrants from a war zone who have little reason to trust the authorities. But the al-Shabab threat galvanized the Department to see their work as a frontline for counterterrorism. Jensen told the Center for Homeland Defense and Security in 2009 that extremist recruitment added “a greater sense of urgency about what we are doing,” he said. “We’re up front about what our intentions are. It’s not a secret we’re interested in radicalized individuals.” (Jensen did not respond to emailed questions from the Intercept.)

Jensen helped design a new program for St. Paul–a two-year initiative called the African Immigrant Muslim Coordinated Outreach Program, which was funded in 2009 with a $670,000 grant from the Justice Department.

The outreach push would help police identify gang members or extremists, using “criteria that will stand up to public and legal scrutiny,” according to the proposal submitted to the Justice Department. “The effort of identifying the targets will increase law enforcement’s ability to maintain up-to-date intelligence on these offenders, alert team members to persons who are deserving of additional investigative efforts and will serve as an enhanced intelligence system,” the proposal reads. The Center for Homeland Defense and Security, in the 2009 interview with Jensen, characterized it as “developing databases to track at-risk youth who may warrant follow-up contact and investigation by law enforcement.”

Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, said that his organization got funding through the program to hire a police liaison. They held meetings once or twice a month for two years, usually involving 20 or so community members and a few local cops. “The officers talked about drug enforcement and gangs and recruitment and domestic violence. Everyone loved it when they brought their bomb-sniffing robot once,” he recalled.

He said he was not told about an intelligence component, though he had been asked to keep track of attendees at outreach meetings. “Several times [the police department] asked me whether that was possible to turn over the list of people at the programs, and I said, ‘It ain’t gonna happen,’” Zaman said.

Steve Linders, a St. Paul Police spokesman, said that “the intelligence aspect never came to fruition. The program evolved away from that.” He said that they would sometimes pass information that community members brought to their attention to the FBI, but that was the extent of the bureau’s involvement.

Linders said that people were not required to sign in to outreach meetings and there was no list of people who refused to participate, as originally proposed. “It was a conscious decision,” not to follow the plan laid out in the grant application, Linders said. “We frankly got more out of the program when we viewed it more as a way to get [community groups] resources and get their trust and partnership,” he said.

For the Brennan Center’s Price, the shifting description just underlines how such programs can mislead the public. “I’m glad to hear they appear to have had a change of heart,” he said, “but it would be in everybody’s interest to clarify at the outset that they are collecting information for intelligence purposes, or that they are not.”

The program “still raises questions for me,” Price added. “What led them to at first propose intelligence gathering, and then do an about face?”



Around the same time that St. Paul developed its program, the FBI was leading a parallel push to leverage community outreach for intelligence. In 2009, it launched “Specialized Community Outreach Teams,” which would “strategically expand outreach to the Somali community to address counterterrorism-related issues” in Minneapolis and several other cities around the country. Then-FBI director Robert Mueller described the teams as part of an effort “to develop trust, address concerns, and dispel myths” about the FBI.

In an internal memo obtained by the Brennan Center, however, the teams were called a “paradigm shift,” allowing “FBI outreach to support operational programs.”

The co-mingling of intelligence and outreach missions would appear to run afoul of the FBI’s own guidelines for community engagement, the 2013 version of which state that officers must maintain “appropriate separation of operational and outreach efforts.”

The FBI would not say if the “Specialized Community Outreach Teams” (which have ended) would be allowed under the new guidance, though in a statement, the FBI said the guidance “does not restrict coordination with operational divisions to obtain a better understanding of the various violations (i.e. terrorism, drugs, human trafficking, white collar crime, etc.) which may be impacting communities.”

“If the guidance would allow this program to continue, then it just confirms that it’s full of loopholes,” said Price, of the Brennan Center.

This isn’t the first FBI outreach program to raise these concerns. The American Civil Liberties Union has documented cases in recent years in San Francisco and San Jose where federal agents visited mosques and attended Ramadan dinners in the name of outreach, all the while keeping records on the participants.

Some of the programs were well-meaning attempts at educating Islamic leaders about the threat of hate crimes, but nonetheless ended up collecting private information, according to Mike German, a former FBI agent who worked on this issue for the ACLU (he is now also with the Brennan Center). In other cases, “FBI agents were going out with outreach officers or mimicking community outreach to exploit it for intelligence purposes,” he said.

Lori Saroya, until recently executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota, said that people weren’t always aware of their rights when faced with outreach visits. “We had cases of people inviting FBI agents in for tea or to have dinner, not knowing they didn’t have to let them in,” she said.

It’s this precedent that gives pause to critics of a new White House initiative to “counter violent extremism.” Though it is ostensibly aimed at extremists of all stripes, the outreach push has largely framed the involvement of Islamic community groups as key to helping authorities “disrupt homegrown terrorists, and to apprehend would-be violent extremists,” in Attorney General Eric Holder’s words.

Luger’s plan for the Minneapolis area is part of this initiative, run jointly between the Justice Department, National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security. Los Angeles and Boston are the other pilot cities. Details about the undertaking are still vague, though the attacks in Paris this month refocused attention on the issue, and the White House abruptly scheduled a summit on the topic for February (it was postponed last fall, without explanation.)

German is doubtful about the prospects. “Countering violent extremism” is a relatively young science, and he points to studies that have failed to identify predictable indicators of what makes someone decide to commit ideologically motivated violence.

Pumping resources into underserved communities is great, says German, but some of these programs may end up just alienating the communities they are intended to work with. “It suggests that the entire community is a threat, or a potential threat, and something to be managed,” he said.



New police radars can ‘see’ inside homes

January 20, 2014

by Brad Heath


Radar devices allowing officers to detect movement through walls have been secretly used by at least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies over the last two years. VPC

At least 50 U.S. law enforcement agencies have secretly equipped their officers with radar devices that allow them to effectively peer through the walls of houses to see whether anyone is inside, a practice raising new concerns about the extent of government surveillance.

Those agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, began deploying the radar systems more than two years ago with little notice to the courts and no public disclosure of when or how they would be used. The technology raises legal and privacy issues because the U.S. Supreme Court has said officers generally cannot use high-tech sensors to tell them about the inside of a person’s house without first obtaining a search warrant.

The radars work like finely tuned motion detectors, using radio waves to zero in on movements as slight as human breathing from a distance of more than 50 feet. They can detect whether anyone is inside of a house, where they are and whether they are moving.

The RANGE-R handheld radar is used by dozens of U.S. law enforcement agencies to help detect movement inside buildings. See how it works in this video provided by L-3 Communications VPCCurrent and former federal officials say the information is critical for keeping officers safe if they need to storm buildings or rescue hostages. But privacy advocates and judges have nonetheless expressed concern about the circumstances in which law enforcement agencies may be using the radars — and the fact that they have so far done so without public scrutiny.

“The idea that the government can send signals through the wall of your house to figure out what’s inside is problematic,” said Christopher Soghoian, the American Civil Liberties Union’s principal technologist. “Technologies that allow the police to look inside of a home are among the intrusive tools that police have.”

Agents’ use of the radars was largely unknown until December, when a federal appeals court in Denver said officers had used one before they entered a house to arrest a man wanted for violating his parole. The judges expressed alarm that agents had used the new technology without a search warrant, warning that “the government’s warrantless use of such a powerful tool to search inside homes poses grave Fourth Amendment questions.”

By then, however, the technology was hardly new. Federal contract records show the Marshals Service began buying the radars in 2012, and has so far spent at least $180,000 on them.

Justice Department spokesman Patrick Rodenbush said officials are reviewing the court’s decision. He said the Marshals Service “routinely pursues and arrests violent offenders based on pre-established probable cause in arrest warrants” for serious crimes.

            The device the Marshals Service and others are using, known as the Range-R, looks like a sophisticated stud-finder. Its display shows whether it has detected movement on the other side of a wall and, if so, how far away it is — but it does not show a picture of what’s happening inside. The Range-R’s maker, L-3 Communications, estimates it has sold about 200 devices to 50 law enforcement agencies at a cost of about $6,000 each.

Other radar devices have far more advanced capabilities, including three-dimensional displays of where people are located inside a building, according to marketing materials from their manufacturers. One is capable of being mounted on a drone. And the Justice Department has funded research to develop systems that can map the interiors of buildings and locate the people within them.

The radars were first designed for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. They represent the latest example of battlefield technology finding its way home to civilian policing and bringing complex legal questions with it.

Those concerns are especially thorny when it comes to technology that lets the police determine what’s happening inside someone’s home. The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that the Constitution generally bars police from scanning the outside of a house with a thermal camera unless they have a warrant, and specifically noted that the rule would apply to radar-based systems that were then being developed.

In 2013, the court limited police’s ability to have a drug dog sniff the outside of homes. The core of the Fourth Amendment, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, is “the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.”

Still, the radars appear to have drawn little scrutiny from state or federal courts. The federal appeals court’s decision published last month was apparently the first by an appellate court to reference the technology or its implications.

That case began when a fugitive-hunting task force headed by the U.S. Marshals Service tracked a man named Steven Denson, wanted for violating his parole, to a house in Wichita. Before they forced the door open, Deputy U.S. Marshal Josh Moff testified, he used a Range-R to detect that someone was inside.

Moff’s report made no mention of the radar; it said only that officers “developed reasonable suspicion that Denson was in the residence.”

Agents arrested Denson for the parole violation and charged him with illegally possessing two firearms they found inside. The agents had a warrant for Denson’s arrest but did not have a search warrant. Denson’s lawyer sought to have the guns charge thrown out, in part because the search began with the warrantless use of the radar device.

Three judges on the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the search, and Denson’s conviction, on other grounds. Still, the judges wrote, they had “little doubt that the radar device deployed here will soon generate many questions for this court.”

But privacy advocates said they see more immediate questions, including how judges could be surprised by technology that has been in agents’ hands for at least two years. “The problem isn’t that the police have this. The issue isn’t the technology; the issue is always about how you use it and what the safeguards are,” said Hanni Fakhoury, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Marshals Service has faced criticism for concealing other surveillance tools. Last year, the ACLU obtained an e-mail from a Sarasota, Fla., police sergeant asking officers from another department not to reveal that they had received information from a cellphone-monitoring tool known as a stingray. “In the past, and at the request of the U.S. Marshals, the investigative means utilized to locate the suspect have not been revealed,” he wrote, suggesting that officers instead say they had received help from “a confidential source.”

William Sorukas, a former supervisor of the Marshals Service’s domestic investigations arm, said deputies are not instructed to conceal the agency’s high-tech tools, but they also know not to advertise them. “If you disclose a technology or a method or a source, you’re telling the bad guys along with everyone else,” he said.


Follow investigative reporter Brad Heath on Twitter at @bradheath




Europe’s ‘Minority Report’ Raids on Future Terrorists

Terrified by homegrown terrorists hoping to emulate the gun attacks in Paris, Europe is trying to round up its jihadis before they strike.

January 15, 2015


PARIS — In a stunning wave of arrests, the security forces of France, Belgium, and Germany are rounding up suspected jihadis all over the map, especially those who have returned from the Syrian and Iraqi war zones.

In one case, in the small Belgian town of Verviers near the German border, two alleged jihadis were shot dead and one was wounded in a Thursday night firefight.

A spokesperson for the Belgian prosecutor’s office, Eric van der Sypt, said Friday that the Verviers suspects were believed to be on the verge of launching an attack. Four Kalashnikov automatic rifles were found in their possession along with bomb-making materials. Tellingly, they also had police uniforms. Phone taps of conversations among the suspects reportedly indicated the assault was only hours away.

“They had the intention to kill police, targeting them in the streets and at their offices,” van der Sypt said in Brussels on Friday. “We had been following the cell for a while but decided to intervene because the threat seemed imminent.”

He said this was a strictly Belgian cell, but all of this is taking place in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris last week, when known jihadis who had been under surveillance in the past somehow slipped the attention of law enforcement, acquired weapons of war (reportedly in Belgium), and launched a killing spree that took the lives of 17 victims, including journalists at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, police, and Jewish shoppers at a kosher grocery.

What is clear is that the authorities in Europe now believe it is too dangerous to let potential terrorists who have fought and trained abroad continue to roam the streets. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, in the aftermath of last week’s attacks, said flatly that his nation is in a state of war.

The national sense of vulnerability was heigtened on Thursday when officials announced that as many as 19,000 French websites had fallen prey to relatively primitive hacking and pranks since January 10. “It’s the first time a country is confronted with such a large wave of cyber protest,” Vice-Admiral Arnaud Coustillière, head of national cyber defenses, told the press. “In this load of attacks, there are groups that are more or less structured whose names are known, and groups of Islamist hackers that are well known who have larger capabilities and who are in my opinion behind the denials of service,” said Coustillière. Out of the 19,000 attacks, about 10 specifically targeted French defense ministry sites. Only two succeeded, targeting regiment websites of the army on January 9 and 12. “We are taking this crisis seriously,” said Coustillière, insisting “we are absolutely not worried.”

In fact, worry hardly begins to describe the concerns behind the arrests over the last two days. But the legal foundation for detaining suspects varies from country to country, and may create loopholes through which potential terrorist attacks similar to the ones in Paris can still be organized.

Alain Bauer, one of France’s leading criminologists and an expert on counterterrorism, tells The Daily Beast that there’s widening recognition that surveillance tactics and strategies will have to change.

Italy is watching 800 jihadi fighters who are “ready to attack.”“Counterterrorism used to be like counternarcotics,” says Bauer. “You wait and you wait, and then you get another guy, with the idea that you are working your way eventually to the boss. But time, which was the ally of counterterrorism in the past, is now the enemy.” In the old days, suspects were followed from training camp to training camp, from connection to connection, as authorities mapped out whole networks. But the Internet allows connections to be made very quickly, and inspiration for attacks to take effect without any direct connection at all.

In the wake of the Paris slaughter, the concern is partly that there’s a guiding hand somewhere abroad directing this violence in Europe. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed it sponsored the attack on Charlie Hebdo, specifically. The so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) has called for attacks on Western targets in retaliation for the U.S.-led coalition’s efforts to “degrade and destroy” its capabilities. Two of the Paris shooters said they were working for AQAP, but one pledged allegiance to ISIS.

There is also the danger posed by groups that answer to no authority, or follow only vague directives, which could have been the case of the killers in Paris despite the various claims. Other groups or cells, seeing the enormous impact of what happened last week, will simply try to copy them. And the sooner they act, the more impact they are likely to have, with international media and politicians ultra-sensitive at the moment. More than 40 world leaders and more than four million people marched in France last Sunday to show their united opposition to terrorism. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in the French capital today to show Washington’s solidarity. All of which raises the stakes and, unfortunately, the profile of any new terrorist acts.

The threat in France is not considered to be over. Twelve people, nine men and three women, were detained here overnight in connection with last week’s attacks, mainly on suspicion they supplied some sort of logistical support. Under French law, the nebulous charge of association de mafaiteurs, association with wrongdoers, can be used for what amounts to preventive detention. Meanwhile, soldiers and police continue to patrol the streets of Paris, and even the waters of the Seine, as the country remains on the highest state of alert.

In Germany, some 250 police raided 11 apartments to break up a group thought to be linked to ISIS. Two men were placed under arrest, formally under suspicion for planning an attack in Syria and laundering money. German authorities did not link those detained to plots for attacks inside Germany or Europe.

Tobias Kaehne, a spokesman for the German criminal court in Berlin, told The Daily Beast’s Nadette De Visser that those arrested were not being held as a purely preventive measure. “It is difficult to put someone in prison on suspicion alone, if you don’t have proven facts,” he said. “We have the history of the Nazi regime, in which the citizens’ rights didn’t really exist, especially those of minorities.” Nobody wants that history to repeat itself.

But without strong measures aganst organized murderers, police find themselves scrambling to protect every possibe target. In Belgium, France, and Germany, for instance, Jewish schools are either being heavily guarded or temporarily closed down, lest they come under attack.

In Britain, crackdowns on suspected jihadis have been escalating for some time. In September there were a series of dawn raids targeting known terrorist sympathizers. The Daily Beast’s Nico Hines reports from London that one of those men subsequently skipped bail and turned up in the Islamic State with his baby and an automatic rifle, highlighting Britain’s inability to keep these people out of trouble.

Britain does not have preventive detention as such, but it does have something called Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures, which allows the Home Secretary to force suspects to wear electronic tags even though they have been found guilty of no crime. Nonetheless, some people have managed to escape.

Even the new radical proposals for heightened security measures in the U.K. don’t include preventive detention, although they would allow the government to relocate you to another city away from your suspected terrorist “cell.”

Hines reports “that doesn’t mean to say you can’t be charged and jailed for something vague like preparing for terrorism or inducing terrorism, e.g. by tweeting in favor of jihad.”

The maximum pre-charge detention, which was temporarily extended to 28 days after the 9/11 attacks, went back down to 14 in 2011.

In Italy, reports The Daily Beast’s Barbie Latza Nadeau, the government is watching 800 jihadi fighters who are “ready to attack,” according to today’s Espresso magazine, which got its hands on the secret security-service files detailing the allegations against these men and women. They will fall under the same laws as those that apply to the Mafia and organized crime, and, in fact, Espresso says the jihadi fighters use the mobs’ criminal networks to acquire arms and false documents.

Italy can hold anyone suspected of a crime up to a year without charging them, and can continue to keep them in jail if there is risk of flight or of their repeating the offense.

“Authorities here work on the theory that Italy is a corridor between the Middle East and Europe where guns and money can be smuggled with ease,” Nadeau reports, “and they are constantly trying to break those networks down.”

But the challenge is growing by the day.


Firebombs and pigs heads thrown into mosques as anti-Muslim attacks increase after Paris shootings

Muslim-owned businesses also targeted as hate crimes increase

January 14, 2015

   by Jon Stone

The Independent/UK


Twenty-six mosques around France have been subject to attack by firebombs, gunfire, pig heads, and grenades as Muslims are targeted with violence in the wake of the Paris attacks.

France’s National Observatory Against Islamophobia reports that since last Wednesday a total of 60 Islamophobic incidents have been recorded, with countless minor encounters believed to have gone unreported.

Amongst the incidents, a mosque in Le Mans was hit with four grenades, and gunfire directed through one of its windows.

While Islamophobic incidents are nothing new, there appears to have been a marked increase in attacks in the wake of the shootings at the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Muslim-owned businesses including restaurants have also been targeted with bomb attacks.

Other incidents include racist graffiti, theats, and intimindation.

Senior French politicians have warned against linking the gunmen with peaceful Muslims, of which France has the biggest population in Europe.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said last week that the word “Islamist” should not be used to described the murderers, but rather “terrorist”.

“The terrorists’ religion is not Islam, which they are betraying. It’s barbarity,” he said.

Armed guards have been placed outside some mosques across the country, including the Grande Mosquée de Paris, which was built in 1926 as a token of gratitude to Muslim soldiers in France’s army during the First World War.

Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday warned that Muslims would suffer at the hands of Islamophobia in the wake of the attacks.

Charlie Hebdo: The first edition since the Paris massacre

“French citizens carry out such a massacre, and Muslims pay the price. That’s very meaningful,” he said.

Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper in whose offices a gunman killed 12 people last week, is seeing its first edition since the massacre.

As of Wednesday lunchtime most newsstands have sold out of the new edition. Five million copies are expected to ultimately be printed of the magazine, up for the usual print run of 40,000.


Russia could soon run multiple Ukraine-sized operations: U.S. general

January 16, 2015

by Adrian Croft



WIESBADEN, Germany – Russia is working to develop within a few years the capability to threaten several neighbors at once on the scale of its present operation in Ukraine, a senior American general said.

Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe, told Reuters an attack on another neighbor does not seem like an immediate threat because Moscow appears to have its hands full in Ukraine for now.

But that could change within a few years, when upgrades sought by President Vladimir Putin would give Russia the ability to carry out up to three such operations at the same time, without a mobilization that would give the West time to respond.

“Right now, without mobilizing, I don’t think they have the capacity to do three major things at one time. They can do one thing, I think, in a big way without mobilizing. But in four to five years, I think that will change,” Hodges said.

“Certainly within the next four to five years they will have the ability to conduct operations in eastern Ukraine and pressure the Baltics and pressure Georgia and do other things, without having to do a full mobilization.”

The war in Ukraine, in which NATO says Moscow has supported pro-Russian rebels with arms and troops, has alarmed some of Russia’s other neighbors, who are seeking greater reassurances for their defense from the Western alliance.

Moscow denies its active troops have fought in eastern Ukraine, but Western governments say they have evidence it has sent armored columns and hundreds of soldiers. More than 4,000 people have died in the conflict, including nearly 300 on board a Malaysian airliner shot down over rebel-held territory.





Putin has committed to spending billions to boost Russia’s military capability, despite an economic crisis caused by sanctions over Ukraine and falling oil prices.

NATO experts say the Ukraine conflict, in which Russian forces swiftly annexed the Crimea region and pro-Russian rebels scored rapid gains in the east, shows Putin’s increased spending has already yielded results. Russian forces, particularly small elite units, have proven far more effective than in a 2008 war in Georgia, they say.

Moscow has also developed what they describe as “hybrid war” capabilities, in which it organizes, funds and arms local insurgents while deploying its own elite troops in unmarked uniforms – known in Crimea as the “little green men” – so swiftly and covertly that it is difficult to develop a response.

Hodges said neighbors like the Baltic states and Georgia appear to be safe for now, but possibly not for long.

“I think their focus is on Ukraine. I do think some of the other countries that are around the perimeter of Russia are watching that and they are thinking they have got two or three years to get ready before they may become the target.”

Hodges led a U.S. army “Russia study day” in Germany this week at which military and civilian experts on Russia briefed commanders from around Europe on Russia’s political and military strategy and its view of the West.

Scores of U.S. officers, hair cropped close and dressed for combat, listened intently at a U.S. base near Wiesbaden as analysts portrayed an increasingly assertive Russian leadership deeply suspicious of Western influence and bent on re-arming.

NATO agreed on a series of responses to the perceived new Russian threat at its summit in Wales in September, including stepping up exercises in eastern Europe and setting up a “spearhead” rapid reaction force.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted this week by TASS news agency as saying Moscow would stick to its modernization plans estimated to cost more than 20 trillion rubles ($300 billion) through 2020.

Plans for this year would include 700 new armored vehicles, 126 new military planes, 88 new helicopters and two brigades of Iskander-M air defense systems, he said. Even so, Moscow’s defense budget of about $68 billion in 2013 was only about one-ninth of Washington’s, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies thinktank.

A NATO military officer said that in recent years the Russians had modernized their rocket forces, submarines and air force, although they have regularly fallen short of their plans.

In the coming year, Russia is expected to improve its northern, Baltic and Black Sea fleets and continue to modernize some land forces, said the officer on condition of anonymity.

The slide in the oil price and Western sanctions could slow its military modernization, he said.

While many analysts believe Russia would not want to risk a direct confrontation with the United States, NATO strategists are giving thought to the possibility Moscow could stage a Crimea-style operation in a country such as Estonia, with a large ethnic Russian minority.

“They (the Russians) have got the capability to mass quickly and conduct an offensive before we could militarily respond fast enough at the same scale,” the NATO military officer said.

Estonian military intelligence chief Lieutenant-Colonel Kaupo Rosin told the meeting that an aggressive new military doctrine signed by Putin in December showed Moscow was “playing hockey while very many Western European countries are doing figure-skating”.

Noting that it had taken weeks to convince some European countries that gunmen operating in Crimea were Russian soldiers, Rosin said Estonia could face a similar problem winning support under NATO’s mutual defense clause if it were attacked.

“My problem would be to produce the necessary evidence.”


(Additional reporting by Thomas Grove and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Editing by Peter Graff)


Donetsk bus hit by mortar as Ukrainian forces lose control of airport

Conflicting reports of who was responsible for mortar attack that killed at least eight in separatist stronghold


January 22, 2015

by Shaun Walker in Donetsk

The Guardian

A new attempt to create a lasting ceasefire in eastern Ukraine was left in tatters in just a matter of hours, after a trolleybus in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk was apparently hit by mortar fire. Conflicting reports put the death toll at between eight and 13.

The trolleybus in Donetsk had all its windows blown out, with pools of blood on the floor. There was also major shrapnel damage to a nearby building.

“I saw dead people on the floor, and injured women screaming for help,” said Ivan, a 74-year-old who lives in the building next to the blast. He had a cut face from his windows, which had been blown out by the explosion. “It was a scene of total chaos.”

As has happened many times during the conflict, both sides had drastically differing versions of the attack.

Rebel gunmen on the scene said the attack had been carried out by a pro-Ukrainian diversionary group, though there was no way of confirming this immediately. Ukrainian officials said their forces were located too far from the spot to be responsible, with the prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, calling it “a terrible act against humanity” committed by “Russian terrorists”.

The location did indeed appear to be out of mortar range of Ukrainian positions, though it also seemed unlikely that separatists would have any reason to carry out the attack. One local person said the rebels had been repairing tanks in a factory across the street from the blast, which was perhaps the target of the attack.

Rebels on the scene said 13 people had died, but the morgue said it had received eight bodies from the scene.

The deaths came after Ukrainian forces admitted they had lost control of Donetsk airport late on Wednesday, and foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine agreed as a meeting in Berlin to move artillery back from the frontline.

A statement from the meeting, also attended by France and Germany’s foreign ministers, said the quartet had agreed artillery should be withdrawn in accordance with a ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk in September. However, so far there has been little sign that a ceasefire can hold, and in recent days a new wave of heavy fighting has broken out, notably at the airport, a symbolic battlefield where Ukrainian forces appear to have sustained many casualties.

One Ukrainian soldier, captured at the airport, was brought by rebels to the scene of the bus attack on Thursday morning, where locals shouted at him and tried to hit him. He was swiftly driven off.

Rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said he would make other Ukrainian prisoners walk from the airport to the scene of the bus attack and “ask for forgiveness”, Interfax reported.

On Wednesday, Moscow and Kiev again traded mutual accusations of warmongering, as fighting and heavy shelling continued on the ground in east Ukraine and residential areas continued to come under fire.

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, told the World Economic Forum in Davos there were currently more than 9,000 Russian soldiers on the ground in east Ukraine, and said it was up to Moscow to end the conflict, which has so far cost at least 4,800 lives.

“The solution is very simple – stop supplying weapons … withdraw the troops and close the border. Very simple peace plan. If you want to discuss something different, it means you are not for peace, you are for war,” he said.

In Moscow, however, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said it was down to Kiev to stop its assault and begin negotiations, and called for an immediate ceasefire.

He again denied that Russian troops were active in Ukraine, saying no proof had been offered, despite evidence of secret military funerals inside Russia, and repeated sightings of Russian military hardware inside Ukraine.

However, despite all the signs that Russia has backed the rebels with firepower and at times manpower, Ukraine has not offered any evidence that would suggest Poroshenko’s 9,000 figure is accurate.

Privately, some rebels in Donetsk admit they have received help from Moscow, but deny that the number of Russian soldiers present is in the thousands. With Russia’s economy in trouble, there have been suggestions that the president, Vladimir Putin, may be looking for a way out of the conflict, and Lavrov again said Kiev should begin talks with representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics”.

A longstanding pattern whereby rebels shell Ukrainian positions from close to residential areas, the Ukrainians fire back imprecisely and civilians die has been continuing in recent days, with a new wave of fighting breaking out that may be about strengthening positions ahead of a putative meeting between Putin and Poroshenko.

The meeting was planned to take place in the Kazakh capital of Astana last week, with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, François Hollande, in attendance, but it was postponed. Instead, the foreign ministers of the four countries met in Berlin late on Wednesday.

“The Russian objective seems to be to sustain a problem rather than find a solution,” said one western diplomat in Kiev. The sides agreed to a ceasefire in Minsk in September, but the truce was broken almost as soon as it started and has collapsed completely in recent days.

The most intense fighting has come at Donetsk airport, which until last May was a shiny new complex built for the Euro 2012 football tournament, but has now become a hugely symbolic military prize. It has been controlled by the Ukrainians since the beginning of the conflict despite several rebel attempts to seize it, and the airport’s defenders, colloquially known as “cyborgs”, have become cult heroes in Ukraine.

However, a renewed rebel offensive has dislodged them from most of the airport, and late on Wednesday evening Ukrainian volunteer brigades admitted they had lost all control over the complex, blaming poor decision-making among the army leadership.

Several Ukrainian soldiers were wounded there on Monday after shelling caused the collapse of a ceiling. Rebel forces took eight Ukrainian soldiers prisoner who were then interviewed on Russian television. Russian journalists also showed what they said were the corpses of Ukrainian soldiers inside the airport building.



Florida police department caught using African American mug shots for target practice

January 16, 2015

by Fred Barbash

Washington Post


 NBC 6 South Florida (@nbc6)


The North Miami Beach police department was discovered last month to be using mug shots of African Americans for sniper practice at a firing range.

NBC News Channel 6 in Miami broke the story Thursday, after hearing from a member of the Florida Army National Guard who showed up with her unit for weapons qualification at the same commercial firing range used by the police and discovered the targets left behind, an array of six African Americans.

North Miami Police Chief J. Scott Dennis, while conceding that his department “could have used better judgment,” denied any racial profiling. He said the department uses pictures of people of all races for target practice.

But the day National Guard Sgt. Valerie Deant showed up, she saw only African Americans. And what really upset her was that among the mug shots riddled with bullet holes was one of her own brother, who had been arrested 15 years earlier in connection with a drag racing incident that resulted in two deaths.

“I was like why is my brother being used for target practice?” Deant told the TV station. She called her brother, Woody Deant, who said he was “speechless….The picture actually has like bullet holes,” Woody Deant said. “One in my forehead and one in my eye.”

“Now I’m being used as a target?” he told the station. Woody Deant served four years in prison and said “I’m not even living that life according to how they portrayed me as. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a career man. I work 9-to-5.”

The station quoted Dennis saying that the sniper team includes minority officers, and that the practice was important for facial recognition drills.

“Our policies were not violated,” Chief Dennis told the station. “There is no discipline forthcoming from the individuals regarding this….We utilize an array of pictures…We have an array for black males. We have an array for white and Hispanic males.”

 “What we are very very concerned about…is that it happened to be someone arrested by this agency. That individual would be someone who would be on the streets of North Miami Beach.”

The story comes at a sensitive time for relations between police and African Americans nationally as a result of the highly publicized killings of unarmed African Americans Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York at the hands of white officers.



Thousands of French Jews flee to Britain despite ‘rising UK anti-Semitism’

January 15, 2015


Thousands of French Jews have migrated to London and other cities in Britain over the last two years in search of economic security and a safe haven to practice their faith.

Senior officials in the Jewish community say many Jews have been drawn to the UK by Britain’s relative economic stability, while others perceive it as a safe space to practice their religious beliefs.

The reports follow a controversial poll published Wednesday that suggested 45 percent of Britons hold anti-Semitic views.

The YouGov poll, commissioned by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA), asked 3,411 UK adults about their attitudes toward Jewish citizens based in Britain.

The survey found that one in eight people polled thought Jews used the Holocaust to garner sympathy.

One in four believed Jewish people “chase money more than others,” while one in six people felt Jews have too much power in the media and think they are superior to others.

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA) said Britain was at a “tipping point” with respect to anti-Semitism.

“Unless anti-Semitism is met with zero tolerance, it will grow and British Jews will increasingly question their place in their own country,” said Gideon Falter, chairman of the CAA.

Others argue reports of anti-Semitism in Britain are unlikely to discourage Jews from settling in the UK.

Marc Meyer, chairman of Hendon United Synagogue, told The Times that Britain is perceived to be a safer environment for Jewish people than France.

Meyer acknowledged a rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in Britain but stressed Jews generally encounter “a feeling of non-aggression” in London.

A survey released on Thursday by The Jewish Chronicle indicates Jewish people remain optimistic about their future in the UK.

The vast majority of Jews polled said they felt safe in Britain, while a mere 11 percent said they had considered emigrating in the wake of the shootings in France.

Meanwhile, a series of recent attacks directed at French Jews over the past fortnight could prompt further numbers to settle in Britain in 2015, a group of UK-based rabbis told The Times.

Precise statistics are hard to garner, but there are estimated to be as many as 20,000 French Jews in Britain, according to French Jewish businessman Simon Tobelem.

Tobelem told The Times that between 4,000 and 5,000 Jews have arrived in Britain in the last four years.

Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, said he encountered a Jewish community in shock when he visited France in recent days.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, some were considering emigrating, he told The Times.

Mirvis is one of many Orthodox rabbis in Europe who are calling for synagogues, mosques and churches to accept limits on their freedom as a means of thwarting religious violence.

The Conference of European Rabbis has proposed a manifesto calling for donations in excess of €5,000 (£3,900) to be publicly disclosed by faith groups.

It has also suggested congregations submit regular reports about potential extremists in their midst.

Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, who is president of the conference, told The Times the “time for platitudes is now over.”

He argued swift action must be taken by religious groups to assist the international fight against terrorism.



Holocaust memorial posters daubed with anti-Semitic graffiti

January 16, 2015


Anti-Semitic graffiti has been sprayed on posters promoting Holocaust Memorial Day in the London borough of Newham.

The graffiti, which is currently being investigated by the capital’s police force, was sprayed on two posters in High Street, Stratford, and on another poster in West Ham Lane, near Stratford Park.

In red spray, the vandals scrawled “liars” and “killers” over the posters. It is understood that the graffiti has since been removed. The police are treating the situation as “racially aggravated criminal damage.”

“I couldn’t believe that anyone would stoop so low as to scrawl that graffiti – not something I expect to see in London in 2015,” resident James Tattle told the Newham Recorder.

Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, also condemned those responsible for the graffiti, saying that he would work with the police to bring those responsible “to justice.”

“This despicable and cowardly hate crime is an assault on the values of decency and mutual respect which the vast majority of us share,” he said.

“This outrage underlines not only the importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive but of standing up to intolerance and hatred at every opportunity,” he said.

Newham Council is to hold a Holocaust Memorial Day event on January 27 in Stratford Town Hall, which will include a firsthand account from a Holocaust survivor.

The attack comes days after a new study revealed more than half of British Jews feel they have “no future” in the UK and that Britain was at a “tipping point” with Jewish families questioning whether they should remain in the country.

The survey, conducted by YouGov, showed that 45 percent of Britons agreed in some form with anti-Semitic sentiments, with one in five saying that Jewish loyalty to Israel made them “less loyal” to Britain than non-Jews.

It also found that one in eight Brits surveyed (13 percent) thought Jews used talking about the Holocaust to get sympathy.



Swiss Franc Soars After Central Bank Drops Cap

January. 15, 2015

by David Jolly and Neil Irwin 

New York Times


PARIS — Switzerland stunned the markets on Thursday by abandoning a crucial part of its effort to hold down the value of its currency, concluding that the strategy was too risky and too costly given the enormous forces pushing in the other direction.

The move underscores the turbulent state of the global economy. Around the world, smaller economies are grappling with how to navigate the aggressive monetary activism of major central banks like the Federal Reserve in the United States and the European Central Bank.

The Swiss central bank had been trying to cap the value of its currency, the franc, against the euro, with nervous investors fleeing the market tumult and seeking the relative safety of Switzerland. But the euro’s decline has been particularly steep — and the rout may accelerate.

The European Central Bank is expected to announce a major new stimulus program next week to pump money into the region’s troubled economy, which is creating downward pressure on the euro. That pressure is particularly marked against the dollar, which is rising in part because of a strong United States economy and plans by the Fed to raise interest rates.

            If the Europeans undertake such an effort, it would make it that much more expensive for the Swiss to buy enough euros to maintain the value of the franc. So the Swiss leaders’ abandonment of its target was taken as a bet that easier money from the European Central Bank is on the way, and potentially on a vast scale.

“Recently, divergences between the monetary policies of the major currency areas have increased significantly — a trend that is likely to become even more pronounced,” the Swiss central bank said in the announcement.

The abrupt decision on Thursday sent the value of the Swiss franc soaring, as the country’s stocks broadly plummeted. The shares of exporters, in particular, got slammed over fears that the rising currency would weigh on profit.

“Words fail me!” Nick Hayek, the chief executive of the Swiss watchmaker the Swatch Group, said in a statement distributed to news media, adding that today’s action “is a tsunami: for the export industry and for tourism, and finally for the entire country.”

The move hit some traders especially hard. FXCM, an online currency trading house based in New York City, said that the “unprecedented volatility” had led to significant losses by clients. The company said it had a negative equity balance of about $225 million. As a result, FXCM said it “may be in breach of some regulatory capital requirements.”

The Swiss policy dates to September 2011, near the height of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

As panic set in, investors and savers dumped euros in favor of the Swiss franc and other safe havens. The rising value of the Swiss franc, however, could contribute to pushing the country into deflation and create problems for the country’s exporters, which suddenly found their products less competitive overseas. Switzerland’s economy is heavily dependent on such companies.

So the Swiss monetary authorities instituted a policy to try to keep the euro to a floor of 1.20 francs. Only last month, it reiterated a pledge to continue to support that floor by buying the euro in “unlimited quantities” if needed.

The Swiss central bank’s strategy, which involves selling francs on the open market in exchange for euros, has been controversial at home. Many exporters had welcomed the decision to hold down the franc.

But as the central bank’s balance sheet grew by several hundred billion euros, the central bank came under fire from opponents. In a December referendum, those critics tried to force the central bank to convert much of its foreign exchange holdings into gold. That initiative failed.

On Thursday, the central bank surrendered to the market dynamics, saying in a statement that it was giving up the minimum exchange rate.

“This exceptional and temporary measure protected the Swiss economy from serious harm,” the central bank said in a statement. “While the Swiss franc is still high, the overvaluation has decreased as a whole since the introduction of the minimum exchange rate. The economy was able to take advantage of this phase to adjust to the new situation.”

Phyllis Papadavid, foreign exchange strategist at BNP Paribas in London, said after the Swiss central bank action that monetary authorities were “still sensitive” to the overvaluation of the franc, but that they had adapted to changed conditions — particularly the dollar’s recent rise — by changing course.

“They haven’t given up,” Ms. Papadavid said. “They’re clearly going to continue watching it.”

As it scrapped the cap, the Swiss central bank simultaneously cut interest rates, already in negative terrain, hoping to offset some of the damage in foreign exchange markets. It changed the rate on deposits to minus 0.75 percent from minus 0.25 percent, tripling what it costs lenders to park money at the central bank.

But that was too little to stop the tide, and the franc jolted 15 percent higher against the euro. Swiss stocks plummeted in value as investors hastened to sell equities priced in francs.

Shares of Swatch, the global watch brand, fell 16 percent, leading the Swiss Market Index nearly 9 percent lower. But the decline was broad-based, including Nestlé, the food manufacturer; Holcim, the giant cement maker; and the chemical company Syngenta.

“We can only guess at what was in their minds,” Carl B. Weinberg, chief global economist at High Frequency Economics, said of the Swiss central bank’s move. “Maybe they are afraid that the euro is coming on some hard times, and they didn’t want to be tied to a sinking ship.”

Mr. Weinberg said it was hard at the moment to tell what the fallout would ultimately be, but that it would mainly be “micro effects, rather than macro effects.”

“A lot of people were borrowing in Swiss francs because they were cheap,” Mr. Weinberg said. “Well, anyone who borrowed in francs now owes something like 15 percent more than they did yesterday.”

“But anyone who has Swiss assets is a little bit richer today,” he added. “Net, there are winners and losers.”

David Jolly reported from Paris and Neil Irwin from Washington


Anti-Islamization’ demos spread in Europe as PEGIDA voices agenda

January 20, 2015



German ‘anti-Islamization’ movement Pegida is expanding into other European nations, with its Danish branch staging its first rally on Monday. Opposition to their message is also growing stronger, as people viewing them as bigots take to the streets.

Initially based in Dresden, the self-styled “Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West” (PEGIDA) is spreading its weekly ‘night strolls’ into other European countries. In Copenhagen, the Danish PEGIDA branch staged its inaugural rally on Monday.

Some 200 anti-Islamization activists showed up for the event facilitated with the help of local anti-immigrant organizations. Smaller demonstrations took place in Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city, and Esbjerg.

“Our goal is to give the middle class a chance to express their worries concerning violent Islam and to send a signal to politicians that we voters are worried,” said Nicolai Sennels, organizer of the Danish rally, who previously stood for parliament on an anti-immigrant ticket for the Danish People’s Party (DPP).

PEGIDA supporters, however, were outnumbered by their opponents. About 5,000 people took part in a counter-rally in Copenhagen, and both gatherings passed off peacefully. Similar numbers of activists were fielded by the two sides in other parts of Denmark, AFP reported.

A small PEGIDArally in Oslo attracted around 70 supporters, who gathered for the second event of this kind and faced some 200 opponents, who threw snowballs at them, Norwegian public radio reported

In Dresden, PEGIDA’s unofficial stronghold, the traditional Monday rally had to be skipped. Police banned public gatherings due to “credible” threats against the rally andPEGIDAco-founder Lutz Bachmann. Law enforcers didn’t allow PEGIDA’s critics to stage a protest either.

The group called on their supporters to put candles in their windows and hang German flags as a sign of support. Nevertheless, police presence was heavy in the streets of Dresden, with authorities saying they would act if PEGIDA supporters did gather in their tens of thousands.

However, the organization staged demonstrations in other German cities, including Düsseldorf, Kassel and Stralsund.

PEGIDA is fighting an uphill battle to go from the fringe of political discourse towards the mainstream. The movement previously joined forces with right-wing groups, including neo-Nazis as it was growing in prominence, but is now trying to distance itself from such affiliations and appeal to the middle class both in Germany and other countries.

The movement’s German leadership held a press conference on Monday to moderate PEGIDA’s image and detailed their policy in a six-point plan. They called on Canada-style immigration rules to encourage the inflow of skilled immigrants and curb refugee numbers. They also want permanent expulsion of extremists and an end to what they called Berlin’s “warmongering against Russia and other states.”

“The press conference is meant to be the start of a dialogue,” said PEGIDA spokeswoman Kathrin Oertel, adding that “in coming days there will be talks with representatives of mainstream politics.”

Earlier German politicians, notably including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, blasted PEGIDA as Islamophobes, who held views contrary to Germany’s core value of tolerance.



‘German authorities investigating 350 suspects tied to ‘IS’

German police are on the trail of 350 individuals with possible ties to the self-styled “Islamic State,” and 100 suspected Islamist cells, while politicians debate whether to revive a terrorism law ditched in 2002.




German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that investigations were currently ongoing against 350 suspects in connection with the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” organization.

A separate report in Sunday’s Welt am Sonntag paper said that a growing number, currently around 100, suspected terror cells were also under surveillance in Germany. According to the report, the groups usually involved between 10 and 80 people, from a spectrum including prayer groups, online propaganda writers, fundraisers and fighters returning from Syria.

Maas, a Social Democrat, told Bild that the large numbers of ongoing investigations “show that our laws against terrorism are working.” He said that there was no need to revise the German legal code. “Simply acting for action’s sake does not stop any terrorists.”


Are sympathizers criminals?


However, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have been pushing to reinstate a law which Germany scrapped in 2002, which had made it a crime to publicly voice sympathy or support for a terrorist organization.

The CDU’s Peter Tauber told Bild that the high number of active investigations showed the need to bring back the old law. Scrapping it was “a huge mistake by ‘Red-Green’,” he said – referring to the party colors of political rivals the Social Democrats and the Greens, in power in a coalition in 2002 – “and the justice minister has learned nothing new in the mean time.”

The terror sympathizers’ law was first introduced in 1976, in response to domestic German terror group the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF). It was designed to outlaw not just the formation or direct support of a terrorist organization, but also public statements sympathizing with such groups. Spraying the common slogan of the time “RAF lebt” (“The RAF lives”) on a wall, for example, would qualify as an act of terrorism. Very few people were convicted under the law, although it often served as a premise to launch formal investigations against suspects, especially from the German left. The Social Democrat-Green government led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder removed paragraph 129 a from German law again in 2002.

Meanwhile, news magazine Der Spiegel on Sunday also published early excerpts of a feature from this week’s edition, saying that Christian Democrat Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere was working on another draft law that might rankle with the Social Democrats. Merkel’s government is reportedly keen to set up a new law allowing the government to retain citizens’ personal data. The last version was labeled unconstitutional and revoked by the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe in 2010; at the time, the court said that such measures could only be defended if they were the exception, not the norm.

While Interior Minisiter de Maiziere has supported the reintroduction of a data retention law, Justice Minister Maas has said such a law has no chance of clearing the judges in Karlsruhe.


msh/sb (AFP, dpa, Reuters)


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