TBR News June 8, 2016

Jun 08 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. June 8, 2016: “Given all the concocted pap being shoveled out by the American media, such as: “Hillary surges ahead!” “Trump microwaves kittens,” “Obama cures cancer,” “US-led coalition destroys IS garbage can.” we never see real stories published that could actually impact on voters. One of these has been circulating around influential circles for some time and is concerned with a California State Police report about Hillary. Fresh out of Yale law school, Hillary Rodham went to work for Oakland, California-based left-wing labor lawyer , Robert Treuhaft. She worked with the Black Panthers whom Treuhaft represented. During a Panther adventure in Sacramento, the Panthers and their supporters were raided by the State Police and Hillary was discovered, naked, in bed with a black woman. This incident was written up in the San Francisco Chronicle at the time. Some employee of the State Police absconded with the entire file and gave it to a friend. Copies of it have been circulating in Washington for several years. Also with the file are reports that Hillary is Jewish, that her family came originally from Lodz in Poland, that her sibling marriages have all be to other Jews. This explains HIllary’s basic hostility towards men and her worshipful attitudes towards the right-wing movements in Israel. All of this information can be checked but the media prefers to see Hillary constantly surging ahead and ignores less palatable fact.”


The Müller Washington Journals   1948-1951

At the beginning of December, 1948, a German national arrived in Washington, D.C. to take up an important position with the newly-formed CIA. He was a specialist on almost every aspect of Soviet intelligence and had actively fought them, both in his native Bavaria where he was head of the political police in Munich and later in Berlin as head of Amt IV of the State Security Office, also known as the Gestapo.

His name was Heinrich Müller.

Even as a young man, Heini Müller had kept daily journals of his activities, journals that covered his military service as a pilot in the Imperial German air arm and an apprentice policeman in Munich. He continued these journals throughout the war and while employed by the top CIA leadership in Washington, continued his daily notations.

This work is a translation of his complete journals from December of 1948 through September of 1951.

When Heinrich Müller was hired by the CIA¹s station chief in Bern, Switzerland, James Kronthal in 1948, he had misgivings about working for his former enemies but pragmatism and the lure of large amounts of money won him over to what he considered to be merely an extension of his life-work against the agents of the Comintern. What he discovered after living and working in official Washington for four years was that the nation¹s capital was, in truth, what he once humorously claimed sounded like a cross between a zoo and a lunatic asylum. His journals, in addition to personal letters, various reports and other personal material, give a very clear, but not particularly flattering, view of the inmates of both the zoo and the asylum.

Müller moved, albeit very carefully, in the rarefied atmosphere of senior policy personnel, military leaders, heads of various intelligence agencies and the White House itself. He was a very observant, quick-witted person who took copious notes of what he saw. This was not a departure from his earlier habits because Heinrich Müller had always kept a journal, even when he was a lowly Bavarian police officer, and his comments about personalities and events in the Third Reich are just as pungent and entertaining as the ones he made while in America.

The reason for publishing this phase of his eventful life is that so many agencies in the United States and their supporters do not want to believe that a man of Müller¹s position could ever have been employed by their country in general or their agency in specific.

Tuesday, 1 August 1950.

Large Otto (Skorzeny, ed.) will be here the first week of August to confer with Wisner and others and we will all get together. Angleton is concerned that someone might notice him (after all, Otto is huge and badly scarred from his student days) so we will meet on a boat out on the river. We can dine (and Wisner can drink himself into his usual stupor) and Otto and I can discuss the old days while the lights of Washington glitter in the distance.

Otto will be bringing an Irishman with him whom everyone here seems to be genuinely terrified of. He is a secret power in the IRA (Irish Republican Army, a group of Irish freedom fighters, ed.) who has a reputation for violence and savagery that terrifies even the CIA. Of course they are only theoretical murderers. I can’t imagine any of them actually killing anyone and most of them would wet their pants if they had to witness one of their assassination projects. I should like to meet this holy terror and probably will.

Bunny and I have picked out a good deal of furniture, both from Washington and the showrooms of New York. There is a gang of workers painting, polishing, mending and such in Virginia and we have postponed our wedding until the first day of September. The house should be done by then and even now; my people are starting to crate everything. The back terrace is piled high with lumber, a saw and such so all day long we hear the sounds of hammering and the scream of the saw.

Maxl knows something is going on and looks at me very anxiously with his brown eyes but I keep talking to him and I know he trusts me. I think he will have a marvelous time down in Virginia and he and Bunny get along very well. This is a good sign. If my dog doesn’t trust someone, neither do I.

No one at work knows I am moving and I intend to keep it that way. None of them would be of the slightest help and hopefully, the new place is far enough away to discourage any casual visiting. This Georgetown area is incestuous, believe me. Chattering gossips of both sexes, greed, ambition, lies, licentiousness, drunkenness and a pathological thirst to be Someone Who Knows. That’s the way it is.

None of these ninnies wants to be left out or be thought of as someone not important enough to know important people or events. “Oh yes,” one of them will say upon hearing of some state secret being openly discussed at a raucous cocktail party at the Greek embassy, “Oh yes, I know all about that and only last week the President told me…” But the President doesn’t even know them and wouldn’t want to. All the Russians would have to do would be to give parties at their embassy and they wouldn’t need a spy ring at all.

Gabble, gabble, just like a flock of geese. And most of them act like geese, too. Rip up everything and shit all over it.

Sunday, 6 August 1950

A marvelous weekend was had by at least two of the participants.

Large Otto arrived here, along with his fearsome Irishman, and was put up at a safe house that I am sure the Russians are watching.

After it got dark, we all got onto a nice excursion boat that was staffed with CIA men and went for a nice cruise up and down the Potomac. As I thought, Otto has gained weight, Wisner got very drunk and vomited all over some aide before falling down and I met the notorious Irishman.

Very interesting, the Irish. I found this one, who calls himself Fergus (but who isn’t) to be exceptionally intelligent if somewhat cruel. Otto is working with the IRA now at the CIA’s request. The Army got Otto out of detention camp in Germany after he had been acquitted of war crime charges and then Wisner took him over.

It seems that the U.S. has financial interest in certain business properties in England and Ireland and the CIA cut a deal with the very militant IRA to protect this property (the Irish love bombs).

The agreement?

We would train and arm the IRA provo wing and others of a like-minded attitude providing they kept away from U.S. property. Otto is doing the job very well and Cummings is supplying the Irish with British weapons he bought in India! How entertaining! The Irish are killing the British and their various informers with their own weapons!

Fergus has a very sharp sense of humor, speaks very well but with an accent and I found him quite delightful. He is a very literate man, well versed in history and invective, and once he heard that I was German and detested the British, we at once became good friends.

Later, I spoke with both Fergus and Large Otto in private and found that Otto now has a new chief of staff who is every bit as capable as Radl whom we used to call “Skorzeny’s Nanny.”

Otto is a decent fellow but not overly bright but his aide makes up for it. He and I discussed Irish authors, playwrights and Schiller for some time and I have made up my mind I will invite him to visit me in Virginia. We could hear Wisner cursing from the cabin when he woke up and found himself all alone but no one paid any attention to him at all. His aide, covered with royal puke, was cleaning off his coat in the lavatory and the rest of us were sitting out on the deck enjoying the cooler air and so on.

Otto asked me, in his Viennese German, if I thought Hitler was dead. I told him he knew the answer to that but he winked and pointed to a CIA man who was listening from the other side of an awning.

I assume the man spoke German or I would have suggested to Otto that we might see if the man could swim. As it was, I got up, asked the man if we could help him and he looked very annoyed and walked away. It’s too bad Arno wasn’t here or he and Fergus might have had some fun.

The rest of the trip was devoted to technical matters and some light humor. Wisner sobered up and began to talk to himself. This is always a bad sign because Frank is a certifiable lunatic who will one day end up at St. Elizabeth’s monkey house.

St. Elizabeth is an establishment for the insane in Washington. When prominent members of Congress had alcoholic or psychotic lapses, they went to Bethesda where a whole floor had to be set aside for their care and feeding. An entire floor was necessary because of the numbers of the afflicted.

Frank Wisner eventually went completely insane and had to be confined in such an institution. He never fully recovered from the Hungarian Revolt fiasco and eventually blew his brains all over the ceiling with a shotgun.

The American involvement with the IRA has never been discussed before in public. One of the members whom Otto Skorzeny had trained was part of the team that blew up Lord Louis Mountbatten, close relative of the British Queen.

At a later period, persons on the CIA’s Canada desk supplied the Quebec Librè movement with weapons, money and assistance. The rationale behind this was that if Quebec separated from Canada, that country would no doubt break up into various independent units and the U.S. could obtain British Columbia, a province which was felt to be important both geographically and as a repository of useful natural resources.

A number of plastique bombs were detonated, people were killed and civil disorder broke out but that bothered no one at Langley because bombs were always being detonated, people were always being killed and civil disorder was the natural by product of their manic experiments. If any of these projects ever succeeded, no one has ever discovered it but when the inmates run the asylum, one cannot expect order to follow.


Global peace deteriorating as world violence hits new all-time high

Global violence has reached its highest level in the last 25 years. That’s despite a new ranking showing that the world would be growing more peaceful – if it weren’t for conflicts in the Middle East.

June 8, 2016


The 2016 Global Peace Index, which measures 23 indicators, including incidents of violent crime, levels of militarization and imports of weaponry, said conflicts in the Middle East were mostly to blame for the rising levels of global conflict.

Most attacks classed as “terrorist” were concentrated in five countries: Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Quite often, in the mayhem which is happening in the Middle East currently, we lose sight of the other positive trends,” said Steve Killelea, founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which produces the index.

“If we look in the last year, if we took out the Middle East … the world would have become more peaceful,” Killelea said.

Over 100,000 people were killed in conflicts in 2014, up from almost 20,000 in 2008. Syria, with about 67,000 such deaths in 2014, accounted for most of that increase.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said the number of displaced people had probably “far surpassed” a record 60 million in 2015. Funding for UN peacekeeping operations reached record highs in 2016, IEP said.

High costs

The economic cost of violence in 2015 was $13.6 trillion (12 trillion euros), or 13.3 percent of global GDP, according to the index. That is about 11 times the size of global foreign direct investment.

“However, peacebuilding and peacekeeping spending remains proportionately small compared to the economic impact of violence, representing just 2 percent of global losses from armed conflict,” Killelea said.

Europe remains safest part of the world

Europe is the most peaceful region in the world, although the region’s peace score dropped in the wake of attacks in Paris and Brussels. Iceland is the world’s most peaceful country listed in the index, followed by Denmark, Austria, New Zealand and Portugal.

The United States was ranked 103rd most peaceful out of 163. Japan was ninth, Germany came in 16th and Britain was 47th. After last year’s terror attacks, France dropped only one place to 46th.

The least peaceful country is Syria, followed by South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Facing Data Deluge, Secret U.K. Spying Report Warned of Intelligence Failure

June 7 2016

by Ryan Gallagher

The Intrcept

A secret report warned that British spies may have put lives at risk because their surveillance systems were sweeping up more data than could be analyzed, leading them to miss clues to possible security threats.

The concern was sent to top British government officials in an explosive classified document, which outlined methods being developed by the United Kingdom’s domestic intelligence agency to covertly monitor internet communications.

The Security Service, also known as MI5, had become the “principal collector and exploiter” of digital communications within the U.K., the eight-page report noted, but the agency’s surveillance capabilities had “grown significantly over the last few years.”

MI5 “can currently collect (whether itself or through partners …) significantly more than it is able to exploit fully,” the report warned. “This creates a real risk of ‘intelligence failure’ i.e. from the Service being unable to access potentially life-saving intelligence from data that it has already collected.”

A draft copy of the report, obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, is marked with the classification “U.K. Secret” and dated February 12, 2010. It was prepared by British spy agency officials to brief the government’s Cabinet Office and Treasury Department about the U.K.’s surveillance capabilities.

Notably, three years after the report was authored, two Islamic extremists killed and attempted to decapitate a British soldier, Lee Rigby, on a London street. An investigation into the incident found that the two perpetrators were well-known to MI5, but the agency had missed significant warning signs about the men, including records of phone calls one of them had made to an al Qaeda-affiliated radical in Yemen, and an online message in which the same individual had discussed in graphic detail his intention to murder a soldier.

The new revelations raise questions about whether problems sifting through the troves of data collected by British spies may have been a factor in the failure to prevent the Rigby killing. But they are also of broader relevance to an ongoing debate in the U.K. about surveillance. In recent months, the British government has been trying to pass a new law, the Investigatory Powers Bill, which would grant MI5 and other agencies access to more data.

Silkie Carlo, a policy officer at the London-based human rights group Liberty, told The Intercept that the details contained in the secret report highlighted the need for a comprehensive independent review of the proposed new surveillance powers.

“Intelligence whistleblowers have warned that the agencies are drowning in data — and now we have it confirmed from the heart of the U.K. government,” Carlo said. “If our agencies have risked missing ‘life-saving intelligence’ by collecting ‘significantly’ more data than they can analyze, how can they justify casting the net yet wider in the toxic Investigatory Powers Bill?”

The British government’s Home Office, which handles media requests related to MI5, declined to comment for this story.

“Lack of staff and tools”

The leaked report outlines efforts by British agencies to conduct both “large-scale” and “small-scale” eavesdropping of domestic communications within the U.K. It focuses primarily on an MI5 program called DIGINT, or digital intelligence, which was aimed at transforming the agency’s ability to covertly monitor internet communications.

DIGINT was established for counterterrorism purposes, and “more generally for wider national security purposes,” the report said. The program was described as being focused on “the activities of key investigative targets, and on those exploitation activities that will drive greatest investigative benefits with respect to U.K. domestic threats.”

The amount of data being collected, however, proved difficult for MI5 to handle. In March 2010, in another secret report, concerns were reiterated about the agency’s difficulties processing the material it was harvesting. “There is an imbalance between collection and exploitation capabilities, resulting in a failure to make effective use of some of the intelligence collected today,” the report noted. “With the exception of the highest priority investigations, a lack of staff and tools means that investigators are presented with raw and unfiltered DIGINT data. Frequently, this material is not fully assessed because of the significant time required to review it.”

The problem was not unique to MI5.

Many of the agency’s larger-scale surveillance operations were being conducted in coordination with the National Technical Assistance Centre, a unit of the electronic eavesdropping agency Government Communications Headquarters, better known as GCHQ.

The Centre plays a vital but little-known role. One of its main functions is to act as a kind of intermediary, managing the highly sensitive data-sharing relationships that exist among British telecommunications companies and law enforcement and spy agencies.

Perhaps the most important program the Centre helps deliver is code-named PRESTON, which covertly intercepts phone calls, text messages, and internet data sent or received by people or organizations in the U.K. who have been named as surveillance targets on warrants signed off by a government minister.

A top-secret 2009 study found that, in one six-month period, the PRESTON program had intercepted more than 5 million communications. Remarkably, 97 percent of the calls, messages, and data it had collected were found to have been “not viewed” by the authorities.

The authors of the study were alarmed because PRESTON was supposedly focused on known suspects, and yet most of the communications it was monitoring appeared to be getting ignored — meaning crucial intelligence could have been missed.

“Only a small proportion of the Preston Traffic is viewed,” they noted. “This is of concern as the collection is all warranted.”

“Politically contentious”

For most of the last decade, successive British governments have attempted to obtain more surveillance powers, but their efforts have met with public opposition and ultimately failed. The present government’s effort to push through a sweeping surveillance law — the Investigatory Powers Bill — is currently being considered by the Parliament.

Documents provided by Snowden show that the U.K.’s intelligence and security agencies have wanted to obtain new powers to store domestic data about internet communications to address the “growing range of services available to internet users.” This reflects the position that has been adopted publicly in recent years by the government, which has argued that expanded internet surveillance is necessary to keep up with changes in technology.

However, the Snowden documents also reveal a more candid internal assessment of the need for bolstered spy laws and shine light on major aspects of the U.K.’s existing surveillance apparatus that government and security officials have not publicly acknowledged in their pursuit of the new powers.

In one document dated from 2012, GCHQ stated that it was “not dependent” on a new surveillance law coming into force, presumably due to the extensive capabilities already at its disposal. GCHQ added that new powers were of greater importance to the U.K.’s law enforcement agencies, which were facing “a significant decline” in ability to intercept communications due to people increasingly using internet services — as opposed to conventional landlines and cellphones — to talk or exchange messages.

But passing a new surveillance law would be a “politically contentious [and] technically complex” process, GCHQ said in the document. In the meantime, therefore, it devised something of a workaround by creating a secret stop-gap surveillance solution for law enforcement officials.

As part of a program named MILKWHITE, GCHQ made some of its huge troves of metadata about people’s online activities accessible to MI5, London’s Metropolitan Police, the tax agency Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Serious Organized Crime Agency (now merged into the National Crime Agency), the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and an obscure Scotland-based surveillance unit called the Scottish Recording Centre.

Metadata reveals information about communications — such as the sender and recipient of an email, or the phone numbers someone called and at what time — but not the written content of the message or the audio of the call. GCHQ’s definition of metadata is broad and also encompasses location data that can be used to track people’s movements, login passwords, and website browsing histories, as The Intercept has previously revealed.

The MILKWHITE program was developed as early as September 2009, and it seems to have been operational under both the Labour and the Conservative-Liberal Democrat governments of that period. One of its purposes was to allow law enforcement agencies and MI5 to sift through the troves of metadata to discover internet “selectors” for their surveillance targets — meaning unique identifiers, such as a username or IP address, that can be used to home in on and monitor a person’s online activities.

GCHQ focuses primarily on intercepting foreign communications that are “external” to the U.K. But in the process of doing so — by tapping into international cables that carry phone calls and internet traffic between countries — the agency vacuums up large quantities of data on British calls, emails, and web browsing habits, too. It is this British data — some of which appears to have been made accessible through MILKWHITE — that would be of most interest to MI5, police, and tax officers, as it is their role to conduct “internal” investigations within the U.K.

A GCHQ document dated from late 2010 indicated that MILKWHITE was storing data about people’s usage of smartphone chat apps like WhatsApp and Viber, instant messenger services such as Jabber, and social networking websites, including Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn. Access to the data was provided to law enforcement through an “internet data unit” hosted by the Serious Organized Crime Agency and it was accessible to tax investigators through what one GCHQ document described as established “business as usual” channels.

By March 2011, GCHQ noted that there was “increasing customer demand” for the service offered by MILKWHITE and the agency planned to grow its capacity, seeking £20.8 million ($30.6 million) to update the program’s “advanced analytics” capabilities and to maintain its “bulk” storage of metadata records. “Bulk” is a term GCHQ uses to refer to large troves of data that are not focused on individual targets; rather, they include millions and in some cases billions of records about ordinary people’s communications and internet activity.

Carlo, the policy analyst with Liberty, said the revelations about MILKWHITE suggested members of Parliament had been misled about how so-called bulk data is handled. “While MPs have been told that bulk powers have been used only by the intelligence community, it now appears it has been ‘business as usual’ for the tax man to access mass internet data for years,” she said. “This vindicates the warnings of security experts and the call by opposition parties for an urgent, independent review of bulk powers. The compromise review recently announced is a poor substitute and without the time and technical expertise, will struggle to address this issue of national importance.”

GCHQ declined to answer questions for this story. A spokesperson for the agency said in a statement: “It is long-standing policy that we do not comment on intelligence matters. Furthermore, all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight, including from the Secretary of State, the Interception and Intelligence Services Commissioners and the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee. All our operational processes rigorously support this position. In addition, the U.K.’s interception regime is entirely compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Rehearsing for World War III

Operation “Anakonda 16” is a dangerous provocation

June 8, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


As I write this, US troops are building a bridge across Poland’s Vistula river, and conducting a nighttime helicopter assault to secure the eastern part of the country against a Russian assault.

Has World War III started? Well, not quite yet, although it’s not for want of trying.

This is Operation “Anakonda 16.” Thirty-one thousand troops, 14,000 of them American, are conducting war games designed to secure an Allied victory in World War III. The exercises involve “100 aircraft, 12 vessels and 3,000 vehicles,” and precede the upcoming NATO summit, which is expected to approve the stationing of yet more troops – mostly Americans – in eastern Europe.

NATO claims this is all strictly “defensive” in nature, designed to deter Russian “aggression” – but who is the real aggressor?

It is the Western powers who, ever since the fall of the USSR, have pushed eastward relentlessly, expanding the “defensive” NATO  alliance to include such useless nonentities as Albania and Montenegro, and even extending “associate” status to distant Georgia. Their policy has been to eliminate the buffer between NATO and Russia, absorbing previously neutral Ukraine into the Western orbit by means of a violent coup d’etat, and launching a propaganda war that targets Russian President Vladimir Putin as the second coming of Stalin.

The Russian reaction has been to reverse Nikita Khrushchev’s 1954 decision to hand Crimea to Ukraine, pull out of a treaty limiting the number of troops in Europe, launch a military build up on their borders, and upgrade their nuclear arsenal to parallel a similar effort by the US.

With the collapse of international communism, the need for NATO was obviated, and yet – like any and all  government programs – it not only persisted, it expanded. Complementing the idea of “Greater Europe” and the creation of the European Union, the NATO-crats enlarged the original “defensive” vision that was supposedly the rationale for the alliance and embarked on an ambitious program that involved the creation of a permanent military architecture which inevitably sought to absorb real estate in the east. Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the Baltic states – all eventually joined NATO’s ranks as Moscow looked on in alarm. As the “war on terrorism” commenced, NATO became the instrument of Western military operations in the Middle East, sending its tentacles into the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and insinuating itself into the Caucasus region.

From a cold war policy of containment, US/NATO has since moved into regime change mode: the idea is to encircle Russia militarily, while using “soft power” to undermine pro-Russian regimes in Russia’s periphery and eventually achieve regime change in Russia itself. The Ukrainian operation was an example of the “soft power” approach: utilizing Western-funded “civil society” groups, they succeeded in evicting the democratically elected government from office and installing one handpicked in Washington. With the imposition of sanctions, and the continued encirclement of Russia, the idea is to squeeze the Russian bear until he either gives up or collapses. Which is why “Anakonda” – an iteration of the giant snake that crushes its victims to death and then devours them – is truly an evocative name.

As is usual with the regime-changers in Washington, they approach their task with little or no understanding of their intended victim. In Iraq and Afghanistan, they thought they could destroy the regime, and then create a Middle Eastern version of Kansas. It didn’t work out that way – but our political class is incapable of learning the lessons of experience.

In the case of Russia, they believe that a Russian collapse would have to mean the ascension to power of a figure much like the late Boris Yeltsin, who was too drunk to resist the incursions of Western power most of the time, and went along with the marginalization of his country without too many protests. However, the memory of the Yeltsin era is abhorred by the Russian people, who saw their country plundered by the oligarchs, and their standard of living fall into a veritable abyss, while Russia was pushed around on the international stage like a freshman pledge on fraternity row.

What the NATO-crats want is a “pro-Western” figurehead in power in Russia, but what they don’t get is that Putin is as pro-Western as they come in the current political milieu. His main opponent in the election that brought him to power was the virulently anti-Western Communist Party, which he handily defeated, with the even more anti-Western Russian nationalists coming in third.

Initially, Putin sought to include Russia in “Greater Europe,” and he proposed an agreement with NATO to ensure that Europe would be a “common space.” Yet his initiatives to create an inclusive Europe were met with implacable hostility by the Western powers, who rejected the idea that Russia would be treated as an equal and insisted on the primacy of NATO and the EU. This set up the present standoff, in which the countries of the former Warsaw Pact were forced to choose between Brussels and Moscow.

If and when the West succeeds in collapsing the Russian economy and taking down Putin, it won’t be a Yeltsin-like figure who will inherit the ruins. What comes after Putin, in this context, is something much worse. And in that case, the prospect of war will loom large on the horizon.

If Hillary Clinton gets into the White House, you can be sure the tensions with Russia will reach fever pitch. She has compared Putin to Hitler – always the signal that we are about to embark on yet another crusade – and her neoconservative supporters are eager to restart the cold war. The great danger is that a cold war may very well become a hot one – and that raises the specter that we lived with for half a century, the very real possibility of a nuclear war.

To compare Putin to Stalin, or Hitler, is absurd: Russia has come a long way since the days of the Gulag, when 60 million people were killed and imprisoned. If we want to push Russia back into the darkness, then the policy we are presently pursuing is the way to go: if, however, we want peace, then it’s high time to disband NATO – which is outdated and expensive – give up our dreams of regime change in Russia, and start cooperating with Moscow in solving our mutual problems.

Facebook and Google battle latest FBI attempt to expand surveillance

Silicon Valley wants to stop a rewrite of a US surveillance law that would mean FBI can access web browsing history in the same way they can get telephone records

June 7, 2016

by Danny Yadron

The Guardian

San Francisco-The FBI and Silicon Valley are in a fight over whether web browsing records are the same as telephone bill records.

The latest surveillance battle gripping the technology industry is focused on a rewrite of US surveillance law that would mean the justice department would be able to access a citizen’s web browsing history, location data and some email records without approval from a judge using a so-called “national security letters” (NSLs).

The FBI contends that such data is covered implicitly under current statute, which was written years ago and only explicitly covers data normally associated with telephone records.

Director James Comey now is lobbying Congress to make clear it also applies to the digital equivalent.

Late on Monday, major technology companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo sent a letter warning Congress that they would oppose any efforts to rewrite law in the FBI’s favor.

“This expansion of the NSL statute has been characterized by some government officials as merely fixing a ‘typo’ in the law,” the companies wrote. “In reality, however, it would dramatically expand the ability of the FBI to get sensitive information about users’ online activities without court oversight.”

It marks another battle over a small clause in federal law that could dramatically affect how the US conducts terrorism investigations. For years, the bureau has relied on the controversial national security letters to obtain certain types of data quickly from technology companies. These letters don’t require a warrant and often come with a gag order prohibiting the recipients from discussing them. Technology companies complain the FBI has become too reliant on them, but the FBI complains that cases are getting slowed down because some companies have stopped cooperating.

It’s not so much that technology companies don’t want to give any user data to the government. Rather, their legal teams have problems with the growth of national security letters because the accompanying gag orders prevent companies from telling users much about how they help the government. This can create mistrust and, as happened after the Edward Snowden leaks, eventual embarrassment if the details are disclosed.

Companies also argue NSLs are problematic because of the lack of judicial oversight. They give too much power to one branch of government, they argue, and make it hard to predict what the government may ask for next.

Comey has said expanding NSL rules is one of his agencies top legislative priorities. US senators are exploring multiple ways to pass the law tweak this year.

Technology and legal experts also dispute Comey’s argument that he effectively is asking Congress to correct a typo. In 2008, the justice department’s office of legal counsel said explicitly that the agency can only issue national security letters for “name, address, length of service, and local and long distance toll billing records”.

At the time, the government had asked DoJ’s lawyer if those four types of data are “exhaustive or merely illustrative of the information that the FBI may request and a provider may turn over”.

To which the office of legal counsel responded: “We conclude that the list … is exhaustive.”

Hiring in April at slowest pace in nearly two years

June 8, 2016


The pace of hiring by U.S. employers slowed to near a two-year low in April, pushing up job openings in a potential sign that firms are having a hard time finding workers.

The Labor Department said on Wednesday in its monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, that the rate of hiring fell to 3.5 percent from 3.7 percent in March. That was the slowest rate since August 2014.

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, increased 118,000 to a seasonally adjusted 5.79 million, the highest number since last July. The job openings rate rose to 3.9 percent.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

The day in Brexit: Anti-EU feeling spreading across Europe, study finds

June 8, 2016


Brexit fever is spreading fast across Europe with anti-EU sentiment among some populations surpassing even Britain, a new survey has found. RT takes a look at Brexit mania and the latest in the upcoming referendum.

A Pew Research Center opinion poll of over 10,000 people across Europe found that a growing number of citizens are turning their backs on Brussels.

Support for the bloc is at its lowest in Greece – a country brutalized by years of austerity policies harshly imposed by Brussels. Just 27 percent of Greeks surveyed have a favourable opinion of the EU.

Although one of the founding members of the club, French people are now desperate to leave. Just 38 percent support the bloc. By contrast, UK support stands at 44 percent.

“The British are not the only ones with doubts about the European Union,” concluded Bruce Stokes, chief author of the Washington-based Pew Research Center report published on Tuesday.

Welsh on the fence, Scots afraid to jump

Polling data from YouGov indicates voters in Wales are split down the middle over whether to remain or leave the European Union.

According to a survey conducted last week, Welsh voters are divided 41 percent for Brexit and 41 percent against.

TNS poll published on Wednesday indicates 51 percent of Scots will vote to remain in the EU on June 23.

Contrary to the mutterings of the Scottish National Party (SNP), most Scots do not support pursuing an independent Scotland in the event of a Brexit. Some 38 percent polled by TNS said they backed independence from Westminster, while 48 percent are pro-UK.

Voter registration deadline extended

Emergency legislation in Parliament extended the voter registration deadline for participation in the EU referendum to 23:59 BST on June 9.

The urgent legislation was tabled after Whitehall’s voter registration website crashed under the weight of user traffic on Tuesday night, two hours short of the original cut-off point.

Leave campaign chief executive Matthew Elliot accused the government of “trying to register as many likely Remain votes as possible.”

“Don’t let the government skew the result of the referendum – make sure you and your friends are all registered today,” he said.

Farage in racism spat with Archbishop

Prominent Leave campaigner and UKIP leader Nigel Farage has been bogged down in a quarrel with the UK’s most senior cleric, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Most Rev Justin Welby accused Farage of giving “legitimisation to racism” for political gain on Tuesday, after the UKIP leader warned women are at risk of sexual assault by migrants if Brits stay in the EU.

Farage shot back on Wednesday, accusing the Archbishop of turning a “blind eye” to recent events in Cologne, in which a group of migrant men allegedly sexually assaulted German women during New Year’s festivities.

However Farage’s outburst prompted a similarly harsh attack from fellow Brexiteer Conservative minister Andrea Leadsom, who described his comments as “outright blatant scaremongering.”

1% of world population owns almost half of its wealth

June 8, 2016


Another report shows the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Boston Consulting Group says only one percent of the population can call themselves millionaires or richer, and the share of their wealth is growing.

About 18.5 million households have net assets of at least $1 million, totaling $78.8 trillion, which is near the global annual economic output, Boston Consulting said in its Global Wealth 2016 report.

That also amounts to 47 percent of total global wealth, i.e. financial assets (bonds, shares, cash and deposits) excluding property. Overall, global wealth grew by 5.2 percent to $168 trillion.

In 2013, the share of the wealthy one percent was estimated at 45 percent, and the increase is fuelling concerns global inequality is growing.

The biggest number of millionaires was recorded in the United States (about eight million), followed by China with about two million and Japan with one million. The richest countries per capita are Switzerland and Lichtenstein due to their favorable tax regimes.

The report has shown that tax havens became even more popular in 2015 with demand growing three percent to close to $10 trillion. However, developed countries have become less enthusiastic about them, as “offshore wealth held by investors in North America, Western Europe and Japan declined by three percent in 2015,” the study says.

FBI Whistleblowers Have No Legal Protection For Making Reports Of Wrongdoing

by Kevin Gosztola

June 6, 1016

Common Dreams

A Senate Judiciary Committee report concludes Federal Bureau of Investigation employees, including those in the intelligence community, “enjoy no legal protection for making reports of wrongdoing to supervisors or others in their chain of command.” It supports the passage of legislation to institute and expand whistleblower protections for FBI employees.

In 2014, the Justice Department refused to adopt key reforms that would benefit FBI whistleblowers. The department rejected “judicial review, the incorporation of administrative law judges, time limits for decisions on cases, hearings upon request, and a requirement that federal government employees be produced to provide testimony if it would be relevant to the resolution of a case.”

The proposed Federal Bureau of Investigation Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2016 seeks to correct a system the Justice Department will not change, by offering FBI employees opportunities for judicial review outside the Justice Department. It expands the list of individuals an FBI employee may make “protected disclosures” to when blowing the whistle.

Currently, the FBI takes advantage of a carve-out in the Whistleblower Protection Act. It sets its own regulations for whistleblowers. Employees may only pursue redress for retaliation by going to “nine persons and entities” on a “designated list.” They may not report wrongdoing to an immediate supervisor in their chain of command and reporting to the wrong individual can lead to the “disqualification” of entirely legitimate complaints.

The arrangement contributes to the culture of hostility against whistleblowers within the agency, however, this legislation would make it so FBI employees could report wrongdoing to a supervisor in their chain of command.

Investigations and adjudication of complaints happen entirely within the Justice Department. There is currently no “opportunity for independent review.” The legislation would change that by allowing a federal circuit court of appeals to hear cases.

“Its necessity has been demonstrated by the lengthy delays and lack of transparency in the Justice Department’s current regulatory process for hearing these cases internally,” according to the committee report. “Courts may set aside decisions that are, among other things, arbitrary and capricious, unsupported by substantial evidence, or without observance of procedure required by law.”

Cases have been known to take up to a decade to resolve. The Government Accountability Office examined 62 complaints closed within 2009 and 2013. It found the Justice Department ruled in favor of whistleblowers in only three instances. In those three cases, it took eight to ten and a half years to complete reviews.

Like the committee report states, “The Justice Department has never made available to FBI whistleblowers litigating reprisal cases the precedent of the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management or the Deputy Attorney General. This puts litigants at an extreme disadvantage when trying to assert their rights in a contested proceeding.”

The proposed legislation aims to correct this by requiring the Attorney General and administrative law judges to proactively publish decisions in cases so FBI whistleblowers alleging retaliation may understand case law and put together strong cases asserting their rights.

To reduce extraordinary delays in cases, the “legislation requires the Attorney General to establish and announce publicly the date by which the Attorney General intends to complete his or her review.”

The proposed legislation also contains a provision that would make it possible to strip FBI employees of pay if they take actions to prohibit or threaten a person who makes a whistleblower disclosure. An FBI employee engaged in this retaliation could be removed, suspended without pay, demoted, lose rank, seniority, or status.

It attempts to protect whistleblowers from relocation, transfers, discipline, and loss of benefits or other employee rights as a way of punishing them for complaining about wrongdoing.

The changes in the proposed bill represent reforms whistleblower advocates have spent the past years urging the Justice Department to incorporate so FBI whistleblowers may have some level of protection.

The Justice Department has disregarded calls for meaningful reforms. In addition to maintaining a status quo that stigmatizes whistleblowers, the department has also stonewalled and denied the inspector general access to records it is legally mandated to access for oversight and review of whistleblower complaints.

For years, senators and representatives have shown quite a bit of deference to the Justice Department, even though their culture of hostility toward FBI whistleblowers is completely indefensible. They have held off pursuing legislative reforms, believing the Justice Department would embrace reasonable administrative changes. But there are senators, like Senator Chuck Grassley, Senator Claire McCaskill, and Senator Ron Wyden, who apparently will not wait any longer for the Justice Department to change its corrupt culture against whistleblowers.

The Web’s Creator Looks to Reinvent It

June 7, 2016

by Quentin Hardy

The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Twenty-seven years ago, Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web as a way for scientists to easily find information. It has since become the world’s most powerful medium for knowledge, communications and commerce — but that doesn’t mean Mr. Berners-Lee is happy with all of the consequences.

“It controls what people see, creates mechanisms for how people interact,” he said of the modern day web. “It’s been great, but spying, blocking sites, repurposing people’s content, taking you to the wrong websites — that completely undermines the spirit of helping people create.”

So on Tuesday, Mr. Berners-Lee gathered in San Francisco with other top computer scientists — including Brewster Kahle, head of the nonprofit Internet Archive and an internet activist — to discuss a new phase for the web.

Today, the World Wide Web has become a system that is often subject to control by governments and corporations. Countries like China can block certain web pages from their citizens, and cloud services like Amazon Web Services hold powerful sway. So what might happen, the computer scientists posited, if they could harness newer technologies — like the software used for digital currencies, or the technology of peer-to-peer music sharing — to create a more decentralized web with more privacy, less government and corporate control, and a level of permanence and reliability?

“National histories, the story of a country, now happen on the web,” said Vinton G. Cerf, another founder of the internet and chief internet evangelist at Google, in a phone interview ahead of a speech to the group scheduled for Wednesday. “People think making things digital means they’ll last forever, but that isn’t true now.”

The project is in its early days, but the discussions — and caliber of the people involved — underscored how the World Wide Web’s direction in recent years has stirred a deep anxiety among some technologists. The revelations by Edward J. Snowden that the web has been used by governments for spying and the realization that companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google have become gatekeepers to our digital lives have added to concerns.

On Tuesday, Mr. Berners-Lee and Mr. Kahle and others brainstormed at the event, called the Decentralized Web Summit, over new ways that web pages could be distributed broadly without the standard control of a web server computer, as well as ways of storing scientific data without having to pay storage fees to companies like Amazon, Dropbox or Google.

Efforts at creating greater amounts of privacy and accountability, by adding more encryption to various parts of the web and archiving all versions of a web page, also came up. Such efforts would make it harder to censor content.

“Edward Snowden showed we’ve inadvertently built the world’s largest surveillance network with the web,” said Mr. Kahle, whose group organized the conference. “China can make it impossible for people there to read things, and just a few big service providers are the de facto organizers of your experience. We have the ability to change all that.”

Many people conflate the internet’s online services and the web as one and the same — yet they are technically quite different. The internet is a networking infrastructure, where any two machines can communicate over a variety of paths, and one local network of computers can connect with other networks.

The web, on the other hand, is a popular means to access that network of networks. But because of the way web pages are created, managed and named, the web is not fully decentralized. Take down a certain server and a certain web page becomes unavailable. Links to pages can corrode over time. Censorship systems like China’s Great Firewall eliminate access to much information for most of its people. By looking at internet addresses, it is possible for governments and companies to get a good idea of who is reading which web pages.

In some ways, the efforts to change the technology of creating the web are a kind of coming-of-age story. Mr. Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web while working at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, as a tool for scientists. Today, the web still runs on technologies of the older world.

Consider payments. In many cases, people pay for things online by entering credit card information, not much different from handing a card to a merchant for an imprint.

At the session on Tuesday, computer scientists talked about how new payment technologies could increase individual control over money. For example, if people adapted the so-called ledger system by which digital currencies are used, a musician might potentially be able to sell records without intermediaries like Apple’s iTunes. News sites might be able to have a system of micropayments for reading a single article, instead of counting on web ads for money.

“Ad revenue is the only model for too many people on the web now,” Mr. Berners-Lee said. “People assume today’s consumer has to make a deal with a marketing machine to get stuff for ‘free,’ even if they’re horrified by what happens with their data. Imagine a world where paying for things was easy on both sides.”

Mr. Kahle’s Internet Archive, which exists on a combination of grants and fees from digitizing books for libraries, operates the Wayback Machine, which serves as a record of discontinued websites or early versions of pages.

To make that work now, Mr. Kahle has to search and capture a page, then give it a brand new web address. With the right kind of distributed system, he said, “the archive can have all of the versions, because there would be a permanent record located across many sites.”

The movement to change how the web is built, like a surprising number of technology discussions, has an almost religious dimension.

Some of the participants are extreme privacy advocates who have created methods of building sites that can’t be censored, using cryptography. Mr. Cerf said he was wary of extreme anonymity, but thought the ways that digital currencies permanently record transactions could be used to make the web more accountable.

Still, not all the major players agree on whether the web needs decentralizing.

“The web is already decentralized,” Mr. Berners-Lee said. “The problem is the dominance of one search engine, one big social network, one Twitter for microblogging. We don’t have a technology problem, we have a social problem.”

One that can, perhaps, be solved by more technology.

Israeli minister wants to annex half of West Bank and kick out the Palestinians

June 8, 2016

by William Booth

The Washington Post

JERUSALEM — A top Israeli minister said he wants the government to take complete control of more than half of the West Bank and remove the Palestinian residents of the territory.

While traveling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a state visit to Russia on Tuesday, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told the Times of Israel that the world should forget about a Palestinian state.

“We have to aspire to the annexation of Area C; these are areas where there are no Arabs at all,” Ariel said. “We would remove a few thousand, who do not constitute a significant numerical factor.”

According to the Oslo Accords, the West Bank is divided into three areas. Area C comprises more than 60 percent of the West Bank and is under complete Israeli military control, both for security and civil affairs.

Estimates of the Palestinian population in Area C are a subject of mystery and debate.

The United Nations agency that provides aid to Palestinians reported that there were 297,500 Palestinians in Area C in 2014.

An Israeli human rights group, Bimkom, estimates that 150,000 to 180,000 Palestinians live there.

The Israeli military division that controls Area C gives an estimate of 50,000 Palestinians.

Area C — which covers about 1,300 square miles of the West Bank — is where the Jewish settlements are located. More than 350,000 Israelis live on 125 settlements and about 100 outposts. The international community calls the settlements illegal; the United States views them as illegitimate and obstacles to peace; the Israeli government disputes this characterization.

Ariel is a longtime advocate for the settler movement and lives in a settlement, Kfar Adumim, east of Jerusalem.

The Times of Israel did not reveal Ariel’s thinking on the method of transfer of Palestinians from Area C. “Ariel did not specify how those Palestinians would be removed, or where they would be relocated,” the media outlet reported.

This is not the first time that Ariel has advocated annexing Area C. He has done so repeatedly. In January, Ariel said it was time to take full possession of the land.

“If someone asks about Areas A and B, then their time will come. When, we will see,” Ariel said. “For now, let’s agree on Area C. There is more than 60 percent of the territory, with 50,000 Arabs. They do not pose a problem to the state of Israel.”

Ariel is a leader of the hard-right faction in the Jewish Home party, which is a member of the government. Other Jewish Home leaders, such as Education Minister Naftali Bennett, also have urged annexing Area C but have not advocated the mass transfer of Palestinians out of the area.

Depending on the annexation plan, the Palestinians would be offered Israeli citizenship or residency or be made the responsibility of Jordan, Bennett has said.

These are not lone voices. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, supports annexation. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked wants to apply Israeli law to Area C, a step toward annexation.

Ariel’s comments come as Netanyahu, the leader of the governing coalition, has been stressing that he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians blasted Ariel’s comments.

Jamal Dajani, a spokesman in the office of the Palestinian Authority prime minister, called the proposal “incitement” as well as “demeaning, racist and dehumanizing.”

Court sides with Berlin over Airbnb ban

A law in the German capital barring property owners from renting out their entire home has survived a legal challenge. The ruling is a victory for the city as it seeks to keep housing affordable and accessible.

June 8, 2016


A Berlin ban against the renting of entire homes and apartments without a proper license, passed to curb the growth of the practice on home-sharing sites like AirBnB, was upheld by the capital’s constitutional court on Wednesday.

The law went into effect on May 1, and city authorities report that dozens of cases have since been filed against it. The case in question Wednesday was brought forward by four property owners who argued that the ban infringed upon their constitutional rights as property owners.

But the city worries that allowing such rentals add undue pressure to a housing market already under stress, leading the short supply of listings to be snatched up by buyers looking for a profit and not a home.

Berlin authorities estimate that 15,000 apartments have been taken off the market to be rented to tourists.

Arguing in favor of the city, Berlin’s administrative court said that “the ownership guarantee provides no claim for a residential property to be used with the expectation of making a profit.”

International impact

As the first substantial challenge to a city regulation against such rental arrangements, which have baffled city administrations across Europe, the ruling was widely anticipated for its ramifications.

“Cities are closely watching each other to see what types of regulations are possible,” Gracia Vara Arribas, a lawyer who has advised the EU on the sharing economy, told Reuters news agency. “Berlin’s verdict will surely impact the behavior of other cities.”

Home-sharing sites such as Airbnb and Wimdu have been involved in the legal fight against Berlin. And the European Commission recently took a stance against legal roadblocks to the sharing economy.

The Berlin law was passed in 2014 and was followed by a two-year transitional period before going into effect, giving affected property owners time to adjust. Neighbors are encouraged to report offenders, who can face fines of up to 100,000 euros ($113,000).

Only registered holiday rental apartments are allowed rented out in full. Home and apartment owners may still rent out rooms.

Turkish security forces kill 7,600 militants since July: Erdogan

June 7, 2016


ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish security forces have killed 7,600 Kurdish militants since July 20, 2015, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, citing the date when the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) abandoned a two-year ceasefire.

“The terror organization had its biggest defeat in its history. The bomb mechanisms to divide the nation blew up in their own hands,” Erdogan said in a televised speech where he addressed families of security forces who have been killed in the violence, most of it in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast.

“We will continue our operations with determination,” he said.

The PKK has waged a decades-long armed campaign for greater autonomy in the impoverished southeast region. The conflict reignited last July after a ceasefire and peace process spearheaded by Erdogan collapsed.

(Reporting by Seda Sezer; Editing by Gareth Jones)

There are weird bursts of energy coming from deep space

Since 2007, astronomers have recorded about 20 mysterious pulses of radio waves from far beyond our galaxy

June 7, 2016

by Marcus Woo


The Universe is never short on the bizarre and the unknown. From black holes to exotic planets, scientists have plenty to ponder.

Lately, though, one puzzle has been especially baffling: mysterious flashes in the sky called fast radio bursts.

These bright bursts of radio waves shine for only a few milliseconds. In that instant, they release about a million times more energy than the Sun.

Since their discovery in 2007, astronomers have found fewer than 20 – all coming from outside our galaxy, scattered randomly across the sky. But telescopes typically observe small patches of space at a time. If astronomers extrapolate to the entire sky, they estimate as many as 10,000 bursts could be flashing every day.

And no one knows what they are.

Astronomers have plenty of ideas, of course, some of which are quite exotic: colliding stellar corpses called neutron stars, exploding black holes, snapping cosmic strings, and even aliens.

“Right now, there are more theories for the nature of the bursts than the actual bursts themselves,” says Duncan Lorimer, an astronomer at the University of West Virginia in the US and leader of the team that discovered the first burst. “It’s kind of a theorist’s paradise at the moment.”

Even if fast radio bursts turn out to be more mundane, they still could be important. These radio signals are like lasers that shoot across the Universe, encountering magnetic fields, plasma, and other cosmic stuff along the way. The bursts thus capture information about intergalactic space, serving as a one-of-a-kind tool for probing the Universe.

“They’re guaranteed to revolutionise our understanding of the Universe by making very precise measurements,” says Ue-Li Pen, an astrophysicist at the University of Toronto.

Before that happens, though, scientists need a better understanding of what fast radio bursts are. Fortunately, in just the last few months, astronomers have made tantalising progress.

The first thing that struck Lorimer about the signal was its brightness

He and a team of astronomers were sifting through archival data taken with the Parkes radio telescope in Australia. They were searching for pulses of radio waves – from, for instance, rapidly-spinning neutron stars called pulsars. These city-sized stars, as dense as an atomic nucleus, can spin more than a thousand times per second. As they rotate, they swing a beam of radiation around like a lighthouse, producing radio signals that appear as pulsating blips.

But this one signal was weird. “The signal was so bright that it saturated the electronics in the telescope,” Lorimer says. “It’s very unusual for a radio source to do that.” The radio source glowed for about five milliseconds and then dropped off.

“I remember when I saw the first graph of what the burst looked like,” says Matthew Bailes, an astronomer at Swinburne University in Australia who was on Lorimer’s team. “I was so excited I couldn’t sleep.”

For about five years, this signal, dubbed the Lorimer Burst, remained an anomaly.

Some thought it was instrumental interference. In fact, a study published in 2015 found that microwave ovens at the Parkes telescope facility produce a comparable signal.

But starting in 2012, astronomers detected several more bursts using other telescopes, confirming that the signals really came from space.

And not just anywhere in space. They are from outside our galaxy, maybe as far as billions of light years away – according to initial measurements of a phenomenon called the “dispersion effect”.

When radio waves travel through the Universe, they interact with electrons in plasma along the way. Those interactions cause a delay, the length of which depends on the radio signal’s frequency. Higher-frequency radio waves arrive a hair faster than low-frequency ones. By measuring this delay, astronomers can calculate how much plasma the signals had to go through, which gives an estimate for the distance travelled.

Radio signals from other galaxies are not new. It is just that none have been so strong.

For example, a black-hole-powered object called a quasar produces prodigious amounts of energy, including radio waves. But quasars in other galaxies are so far away that their signals are weak. They would be easily swamped by even the signal from a mobile phone placed on the Moon, Bailes says.

Fast radio bursts, on the other hand, stand out. “Finding something that’s a million times brighter than anything you’ve ever seen is kind of exciting,” he says.

It is especially exciting because fast radio bursts could be a sign of strange and new physics.

One of the more provocative ideas for what they could be involves “cosmic strings”: defects in the fabric of space and time that stretch across the Universe.

Some of these strings might be superconducting and carry electrical current. According to the hypothesis, suggested in 2014, the strings might occasionally snap, exploding in a burst of electromagnetic radiation.

Or, the origin of the bursts could be exploding black holes, Pen says.

A black hole’s gravity is so strong that it prevents even light from escaping, but in the 1970s Stephen Hawking realised that a black hole could radiate energy if it evaporated away into nothingness. If there were tiny black holes forming in the early Universe, they would be evaporating now – possibly exploding in a burst of radio waves.

In February 2016, astronomers made what seemed like a breakthrough.

A team led by Evan Keane of the Square Kilometre Array Organisation at Jodrell Bank in the UK analysed one particular burst, detected in April 2015.

This burst, according to their analysis, originated in a galaxy of old stars six billion light years away. For the first time, researchers had identified a burst’s host galaxy – a crucial discovery.

“The host galaxy is the killer,” says Bailes, who was a member of Keane’s team. “It’s the clincher. Once you get a host galaxy, you know how far away they are.” That then lets you precisely measure the energy of the burst, and you can start narrowing down theories for what they could be.

In this case, the observations were consistent with at least one dramatic scenario: a massive collision between two neutron stars in orbit around each other. An answer to these mysterious bursts seemed near. “I got very excited by the results,” Lorimer says.

But within weeks, Edo Berger and Peter Williams of Harvard University had cast doubt on this story.

Keane’s conclusions had relied on the discovery of what appeared to be a fading radio signal that followed the burst. It was because the source of this signal came from the galaxy six billion light years away that the researchers thought the burst did so too.

Berger and Williams, however, argued that the afterglow had nothing to do with the burst.

When they looked again at the supposed afterglow, using the Very Large Array telescope in the US, they discovered that the afterglow was not an afterglow at all. It was an independent phenomenon caused by the dimming and brightening of the galaxy, thanks to a supermassive black hole gobbling gas and dust at the centre.

In other words, instead of being the source of the fast radio burst, this flickering galaxy just happened to align in front of or behind the burst in the telescope’s field of view. And if the burst did not originate in the galaxy, perhaps it was not caused by colliding neutron stars after all.

There is another problem with the colliding neutron star scenario. “The rate of these fast radio bursts are much higher than the rates expected of neutron star mergers,” says Maxim Lyutikov of Purdue University in the US. Neutron stars do not collide often enough – by orders of magnitude – to explain all the fast radio bursts.

Soon, yet another discovery would make this explanation even less likely.

In March 2016, a team of astronomers reported an astounding result. They used the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to study a burst that had first been detected in 2014, and found that the burst lit up again and again, for a total of 11 times over 16 days.

“That was the single biggest piece of information since the first one was discovered,” Pen says. “That eliminated the vast majority of models that have been proposed.”

Until this finding, all fast radio bursts were isolated one-off occurrences. That meant they could be generated during self-destructive, cataclysmic events that could only occur once, such as the explosion of a black hole or the collision between two neutron stars.

But that cannot account for the bursts if they can sometimes be produced over and over again in quick succession. Whatever it is that produces the bursts has to survive the process and potentially generate a fresh burst.

That narrows things down considerably.

One possibility Lyutikov has explored is that the bursts come from young pulsars, neutron stars that can spin as fast as once every millisecond. Over time, pulsars lose rotational energy and slow down. Some of that energy could go into producing bursts of radio-wave radiation.

It is unclear how exactly a pulsar could produce fast radio bursts, but they have been known to release short bursts of radiation. One is the Crab pulsar, which, at less than 1,000 years old, is relatively young and one of the most powerful pulsars known.

Younger pulsars spin faster and are more energetic. They could be, as Lyutikov calls them, “pulsars on steroids”. Although the Crab is not energetic enough to produce fast radio bursts anymore, it might have been in the years immediately after its birth.

Alternatively, the power source of fast radio bursts might not be a neutron star’s rotation. Instead its strong magnetic field, which can be a thousand trillion times more powerful than Earth’s, could be responsible.

Such highly magnetic neutron stars, called magnetars, can produce bursts through a process similar to the one that generates solar flares. As the magnetar rotates, the magnetic fields in its corona, the wispy outermost layer of its atmosphere, rearrange themselves and become unstable. Eventually, the field lines snap like a whip, unleashing a torrent of energy that accelerates charged particles, which then emit radio bursts.

“Magnetars are plentiful in the Universe,” Bailes says. “They have this kind of sporadic thing that they do, which could perhaps explain the fast radio bursts.”

These neutron-star ideas are less exotic, involving relatively well-known phenomena, which might make them more likely explanations. “The ones I hear about seriously or discuss with people for any length of time involve a neutron star,” Bailes says.

However, he admits there is a potential bias in the field. Many astronomers who are studying fast radio bursts also study neutron stars, so they lean on their own expertise.

Indeed, unconventional ideas remain. For instance, some researchers have suggested that the bursts occur when pulsars crash into asteroids.

And maybe there are multiple answers, each explaining different kinds of fast radio bursts. Maybe some bursts repeat while others do not, keeping the door open for colliding neutron stars or other cataclysmic scenarios.

“It may turn out to be something simple,” Lyutikov says. “But indeed it may turn out to be a window into new physics, and into new astrophysical events and phenomena.”

Regardless of what the bursts are, they could prove to be a boon for cosmology.

For example, they can be used to measure the amount of stuff in the Universe.

During their cosmic journey, the radio waves encounter intergalactic plasma, which delays the signal depending on its frequency – the same dispersion effect astronomers used to estimate their distance. But this delay can also reveal how many electrons lie between our galaxy and the burst.

“Encoded in the radio waves is a census of the Universe’s electrons,” Bailes says. That gives an estimate of the amount of normal matter in the cosmos, which scientists can then use to test models for how the entire Universe came to be.

According to Pen, what makes the bursts most promising is that they act as cosmic lasers. The bursts zip through space in one direction at high intensities, providing laser-like precision to make measurements down to small scales.

“It’s the most precise measurement you can make of structure far away, because you suddenly have a precise probe along the line of sight,” he says.

For example, Pen explains, the bursts can reveal the structure of plasma and magnetic fields near the source of the burst. Plasma can make the bursts twinkle, like how Earth’s atmosphere causes stars to twinkle. Measuring this twinkling allows astronomers to probe the plasma down to scales of a few hundred kilometres.

Because of this potential – and especially because of the mystery – interest in fast radio bursts has swelled in the last couple of years.

“The field is poised to take off,” Lorimer says. “In the past, it was kind of a fringe activity that people did in their spare time.”

Now, astronomers are ramping up their efforts. They are hunting for more bursts, and monitoring known ones to see if they erupt again. Researchers are enlisting multiple telescopes around the world to pinpoint exactly where in the Universe they’re coming from.

For instance, radio telescopes like the array called Chime, for Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment, will be able to survey large swathes of the sky and discover hundreds of bursts in the next few years.

With more data comes better understanding. And perhaps fast radio bursts will be a mystery no longer.



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