TBR News March 16, 2016

Mar 16 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., March 16, 2016: “And now we have Barbie the Snitch’ on the social platter. What is ‘Barbie the Snitch?’ Children’s dolls that have interactive devices implanted that allow a child possessor to hold rudimentary conversations with their toy. When the snoopers discovered that they could hack into these innocent systems, they did so with great glee. Imagine the valuable information to be gleaned from a nine year old! And then there are the so-called ‘social networks’ that have intimate connections with the same snoopers. And, as another example, persistent rumors among knowing computer experts that the Microsoft 10 program is filled with convenient holes to let the rodent brigade much easier access. And now we hear that Microsoft, in obedience to a Higher Voice, is forcing people with earlier versions into the desired program without permission. And computer owners that are unskilled are objecting to a huge increase in obnoxious pop ups all over their screens. We have found a firm that is able to absolutely shut off all such nuisance exhortations to watch terrible movies or buy useless merchandise and herewith some helpful input based on personal experience. The firm is ‘Top Notch Computers’ and their email address is info@topnotchcomputers.com and a telephone number is (434) 220-9308. They can do their work on the phone. The one-time charge is $35.+ and we have been using them for years with great satisfaction. Understand that this is not a paid advertisement but a personal recommendation designed to be of assistance to frustrated computer users. And they can also remove a client from Microsoft 10 with great ease.”


Conversations with the Crow

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

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md.           After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

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

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

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




Conversation No. 64

Date: Monday, February 10, 1997

Commenced: 11:02 AM CST

Concluded: 11:35 AM CST

GD: Good morning, Robert. What’s going on back there on a nice cold Monday?

RTC: Not very much, Gregory, and after a lifetime of excitement, I rather like it that way.

GD: Are you still in touch over there?

RTC: Sometimes, Gregory, sometimes. A casual conversation here, a visit there. You know how it is. Gone and soon forgotten.

GD: And no memoirs, either.

RTC: No, the code of omerta is with all of us retirees.

GD: But never having worked for your people, I have no such caveat, do I?

RTC: No, you do not.

GD: But Corson never worked for you, did he?

RTC: No, not actually. He wanted to, but he never did. He has been involved in various things but only on the periphery.

GD: People love to dream and eventually, they begin to fantasize and after those take hold, begin to lie in public and later, in print.

RTC: Cruel, Gregory, but close to the truth.

GD: Do you know what really disturbs me, Robert? I mean the CIA people who do not like me writing that the head of the Gestapo worked for them. What I find bad is their utter stupidity. I can appreciate intelligence, even if it is directed towards or against me, but when your people drag up dismal failures like Wolfe who calls himself Doctor when he isn’t, and Landreth who calls himself a television producer when he isn’t. And all the pathetic and utterly predictable kindergarten games they play, trying to lure me into some kind of a trap or to find out what documents I have from a man they claim did not exist….pathetic, Robert, really pathetic. Wolfe is a second-level librarian with delusions of literary grandeur and Landreth claims to run a television company and actually runs a wino soup kitchen in Los Angeles. Can’t Langley find someone with an IQ higher than their belt size?

RTC: Now, Gregory, you are getting loquacious again. I don’t think it’s because these people are stupid, but that you are too intelligent for your own good. Certainly for theirs. You annoy Kimmel, whose middle-class morality is offended by your callous treatment of his station in life, and Bill is terrified of you. I don’t mean he thinks you are going to lure him outside on garbage can night and split his skull with an axe, but Bill is like so many other creative liars; he’s afraid someone like you will come on the scene and expose him.

GD” I don’t do this on purpose, you know.

RTC: Oh, I think there is some malice in what you do, Gregory. I don’t find you either stupid or unkind, but you have a very active streak of destruction in your nature. Why, Gregory, bother to shoot butterflies with a rifle?

GD: Point, but then I don’t put up with these morons gladly. Now, an intelligent and creative approach might get some positive reaction from me, but all of this transparent bleating just annoys me. And after I have dispatched one with withering words or, better, making a fool out of them, why here comes another one down the path, wearing the top half of a clown suit and waving a fan. Jesus wept. You know, their reaction time is marvelous, Robert. I did the first Mueller book in ’95 and just now they are starting to leak negative stories about me. Do they sleep in refrigerators at night? Slow on the draw, Robert. In the Old West of blessed fiction, they would be full of holes. I wonder what sort of attack they will try next? There never was a Heinrich Mueller? I am really a practicing vampire? I misspelled a name once so I can’t be right about anything? Do you think some broken-down academic who teaches animal husbandry at an Arkansas community college will come forward and produce a book showing that Mueller was eaten by Stalin? They did a story like that once about Mueller living in Panama but it turned out to be a huge joke. Then some senile Czech intelligence person’s son claimed his father said Mueller was shot in Moscow. Of course, when the press tried to talk to the father, he was too far gone to do anything but wet himself.

RTC: I don’t think a book, Gregory. And after what you did to that Hungarian Jewess in London, I doubt if any reporter will dare to attack you again.

GD: Fear is a wonderful deterrent, Robert. Pick the loudest of the pack, stick a knife in them and gut them in front of everybody and the rest of the piebald apes run back to the security of the deep forest.

RTC: Well, you don’t fit the mold, Gregory. You were supposed to turn all of Mueller’s highly incriminating material over to that jerk from Time magazine and then they would be done with you. I don’t think the boobery understands that hiring General Mueller, bringing him over here and putting him to work was a very, very sensitive business. After all, FDR’s propaganda machine depicted Mueller’s Gestapo as pure evil…

GD: Which they were not…

RTC: No, just professionals. But necessary targets. And in light of the propaganda, how could we dare to hire the man who personally shoved millions of Jews into the enormous gas chambers that could have been seen from the moon? No, a very private matter indeed. That’s why Jim Critchfield is terrified of you and wants to kill you. If it ever got into the Jewish and far left community…

GD: The same thing…

RTC: Yes, and if it did, Jim would be toast. Therefore, you lie like a rug and no one should ever listen to you. Of course, given your volatile and creative personality, such jabber only gets you angrier and that results in more very ugly mischief. Not to be impudent, Gregory, but how much money have you skinned these people out of?

GD: About a hundred and ten thousand, give or take a few cents. Book advance fees, television rights, outright bribes and so on.

RTC: And what did they ever get for all the taxpayer’s money?

GD: A number ten shoe in their scrotum, Robert.

RTC: It seems that way. Well, I don’t know what their next move will be, but I have seen this all before. The usual method of dealing with people like you, aside from the convenient heart attack or car accident, is to hire worthless but hungry scribblers to submit articles to obedient newspapers, marginalizing you, misspelling your name and, in general, treating you like someone on ticket of leave from a nut house. And then on to other, more important, matters. You know, we have an entire department that invents news stories to feed to our toadies in the press in order to disguise something very bad we just pulled off. We kill the head of the UN and then start a story going about the Yeti being seen in downtown Detroit.

GD: That’s a familiar pattern. How controlled is it?

RTC: Gregory, the US government owns the press, the newspapers, the magazines and the television. They print what we tell them to and they ignore that which we wish them to ignore. We wanted to get rid of Nixon, who was becoming a loose cannon, so the press obliged by daily attacks. We kill Kennedy and suddenly, legions of conspiracy nuts emerge from under their damp rocks with tens of thousands of books filled with more shit than a Christmas turkey.

GD: Are they on the payrolls?

RTC: God no, Gregory. Most of these slime merchants are on their own and we would never dare to pay them…at least not directly. But what we do accomplish is to get their cloaking nuttiness published and distributed through our friends in the media. You know, big New York publishing house does a book that Kennedy was only shot by Oswald, number one on The New York Times book list, even though they only sold three copies, talk show babbling on friendly TV networks and on and on. And the more the literary nut fringe sees and hears others braying like donkeys in public and, very important here, getting attention, they go at it again by proving some Secret Service agent was hiding in the trunk of Kennedy’s car and shot him through the trunk lid.

GD” (Laughter)

RTC: No, don’t laugh. They’re armies of the ignorant out there who believe such crap. You know that.

GD: Yes, I do. And since we’re on the topic, how much of all this insanity is planned?

RTC: Oh, we start it, that’s for certain, but there are many who carry on the good work quite for free. Actually for free. Most of them are pathetic losers and they lust after attention…for recognition…for something other than their bleak and unrewarding existence. They become keepers of great secrets, Gregory, and smug in their inner knowledge.

GD: They delude themselves.

RTC: Yes, but they also delude the public which is often very important.

GD: Why must the CIA, or the Pentagon, or the White House, use such garbage to advance their evil ends?

RTC: I never said we didn’t need rubber gloves and Lysol, dealing with our sources, Gregory. But these twits have produced so much silly garbage about the Kennedy business that our worries are over.

GD: I recall a cartoon in Playboy. A bunch of ancient Hebrews were standing around at the base of a mountain and down the path came a man with a long beard and a little bottle in his hand. One of those below had his head turned to his neighbor and the caption said, as I recall it, ‘Our headaches are over. Here comes Moses with the tablets!’ It said Aspirin on the little bottle.

RTC: (Laughter) Naughty boy, Gregory.

GD: Here, I never did see the cartoon. I’m just commenting on it. All of this reminds me of a scenario. A small child sees a stallion mounting a mare in a pasture and points to it. ‘Mommy, what’s the big horsy doing to the little one?’ ‘Oh,’ said the shocked mother, ‘just look over there, Jimmy! See the nice donkey?’ ‘Why,’ said the entranced child, ‘what’s the donkey doing to cousin Muriel?’ Ah well, Robert, in seeking to avoid Scylla, we fall upon Charybdis.

RTC: Pardon?

GD: A classical Greek nautical problem, Robert.

Concluded at 11:35 AM CST


Pentagon Excess Has Fueled a Civil-Military Crisis

How Civilian Control of the Military Has Become a Fantasy

by Gregory D. Foster


Item: Two U.S. Navy patrol boats, with 10 sailors aboard, “stray” into Iranian territorial waters, and are apprehended and held by Iranian revolutionary guards, precipitating a 24-hour international incident involving negotiations at the highest levels of government to secure their release. The Pentagon offers conflicting reports on why this happened: navigational error, mechanical breakdown, fuel depletion — but not intelligence-gathering, intentional provocation, or hormonally induced hot-dogging.

Item: The Pentagon, according to a Reuters exposé, has been consciously and systematically engaged in thwarting White House efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and release cleared detainees. Pentagon officials have repeatedly refused to provide basic documentation to foreign governments willing to take those detainees and have made it increasingly difficult for foreign delegations to visit Guantanamo to assess them. Ninety-one of the 779 detainees held there over the years remain, 34 of whom have been cleared for release.

Item: The Pentagon elects not to reduce General David Petraeus in rank, thereby ensuring that he receives full, four-star retirement pay, after previously being sentenced on misdemeanor charges to two years’ probation and a $100,000 fine for illegally passing highly classified material (a criminal offense) to his mistress (adultery, ordinarily punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice) and lying to FBI officials (a criminal offense). Meanwhile, Private Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning continues to serve a 35-year prison sentence, having been reduced to the Army’s lowest rank and given a dishonorable discharge for providing classified documents to WikiLeaks that included incriminating on-board videos of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack in Baghdad that killed up to 18 civilians, including two Reuters journalists, and wounded two children, and of a 2009 massacre in Afghanistan in which a B-1 bomber killed as many as 147 civilians, reportedly including some 93 children.

What do these episodes have in common? In their own way, they’re all symptomatic of an enduring crisis in civil-military relations that afflicts the United States.

Hyperbolic though it may sound, it is a crisis, though not like the Flint water crisis, or the international refugee crisis, or the ISIS crisis, or the Zika crisis. It’s more like the climate crisis, or a lymphoma or termite infestation that destroys from within, unrecognized and unattended. And yes, it’s an enduring crisis, a state of affairs that has been with us, unbeknownst to the public and barely acknowledged by purported experts on the subject of civil-military relations, for the past two decades or more.

The essence of the situation begins, but doesn’t end, with civilian control of the military, where direction, oversight, and final decision-making authority reside with duly elected and appointed civil officials. That’s a minimalist precondition for democracy. A more ideal version of the relationship would be civilian supremacy, where there is civically engaged public oversight of strategically competent legislative oversight of strategically competent executive oversight of a willingly accountable, self-policing military.

What we have today, instead, is the polar opposite: not civilian supremacy over, nor even civilian control of the military, but what could be characterized as civilian subjugation to the military, where civilian officials are largely militarily illiterate, more militaristic than the military itself, advocates for — rather than overseers of — the institution, and running scared politically (lest they be labeled weak on defense and security).

That, then, is our lot today. Civilian authorities are almost unequivocally deferential to established military preferences, practices, and ways of thinking. The military itself, as the three “items” above suggest, sets its own standards, makes and produces its own news, and appropriates policy and policymaking for its own ends, whatever civilian leadership may think or want. It is a demonstrably massive, self-propelled institution increasingly central to American life, and what it says and wants and does matters in striking ways. We would do well to consider the many faces of civil-military relations today, especially in light of the role the military has arrogated to itself.

A Crisis Appears and Disappears

University of North Carolina historian Richard Kohn raised the specter of a civil-military crisis in a 1994 National Interest article titled “Out of Control: The Crisis in Civil-Military Relations.” He focused on the ill-disguised disdain of many in uniform for Commander-in-Chief Bill Clinton, highlighting the particularly politicized behavior of Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, who had spoken out in opposition to two prime items on the Clinton agenda: intervention in the Balkans and gays in the military. Typical of how the bounds of propriety had been crossed, Kohn also alluded to the example of the Air Force major general who, at a military gathering, contemptuously characterized the president as “gay-loving,” “pot-smoking,” “draft-dodging,” and “womanizing.”

Too alarmist for many pundits, Kohn’s claim of a growing crisis gave way to the milder thought, advocated most forcefully by journalist Tom Ricks, that there was simply an increasing cultural, experiential, and ideological “gap” between the military and society, a thesis that itself then went dormant when George W. Bush entered office.

Those who profess expertise on civil-military relations have tended to focus almost exclusively on civilian control and the associated issue of the military’s political “neutrality.” That’s why so much attention and controversy were generated over President Obama’s highly publicized firing of General Stanley McChrystal for the climate he created that led to the disparagement of senior Obama officials by his subordinates (as reported in the 2010 Rolling Stone article “The Runaway General”). Yet far bigger and more fundamental matters have gone largely unnoticed.

Civil-military relations are built on a tacit but binding social contract of mutual rights, obligations, and expectations among the military, its civilian overseers (executive and legislative), and society. Four things are expected of the military as part of this compact: operational competence, sound advice, political neutrality, and social responsibility. Operational competence and social responsibility are rarely even part of the discussion and yet they go to the heart of the crisis that exists, pointing both to the outsized presence of the military in American life and statecraft, and to a disturbingly pervasive pattern of misconduct over time among those in uniform.

The Failure of Operational Competence

If we enjoyed a truly healthy state of civil-military relations, it would be characterized by a strategically — not just a militarily — effective force. By implication, such a military would be capable of successfully accomplishing whatever it is called upon to do. The military we have today is, arguably, ineffective not only militarily but demonstrably strategically as well. It doesn’t prevent wars; it doesn’t win wars; and it certainly doesn’t secure and preserve the peace.

No, the military doesn’t prevent wars. At any given time over the past quarter century, on average roughly 40 violent conflicts a year have been underway around the world. The U.S. military has had virtually no discernible influence on lessening the outbreak of such conflicts. It isn’t even clear that its size, configuration, and positioning, no less the staggering sums invested in it, have had any appreciable deterrent effect on the warring propensities of our so-called peer competitors (Russia and China). That they have not sought war with us is due far less to simplistic Washington assumptions about deterrence than to factors we don’t even grasp.

And no, the military doesn’t win wars anymore. It hasn’t won one of note in 70 years. The dirty wars in the shadows it now regularly fights are intrinsically unwinnable, especially given our preferred American Way of War: killing people and breaking things as lethally, destructively, and overwhelmingly as possible. It’s an approach — a state of mind — still largely geared to a different type of conflict from an era now long since past and to those classic generals who are always preparing for the last war. That’s why today’s principal adversaries have been so uniformly effective in employing asymmetric methods as a form of strategic jujitsu to turn our presumed strengths into crippling weaknesses.

Instead of a strategically effective military, what we have is quite the opposite: heavy, disproportionately destructive, indiscriminately lethal, single-mindedly combat-oriented, technology-dominant, exorbitantly expensive, unsustainably consumptive, and increasingly alienated from the rest of society. Just as important, wherever it goes, it provokes and antagonizes where it should reassure and thereby invariably fathers the mirror image of itself in others.

Not surprisingly, the military today doesn’t secure and preserve peace, a concept no longer evident in Washington’s store of know-how. Those in uniform and in positions of civilian authority who employ the military subscribe almost universally and uncritically to the inherently illogical maxim that if you want peace, you had best prepare for war. The result is that the force being prepared (even engorged) feeds and nurtures pervasive militarism — the primacy of, preference for, and deference to military solutions in the conduct of statecraft. Where it should provide security, it instead produces only self-defeating insecurity.

Consider just five key areas where military preferences override civilian ones and accentuate all manner of insecurity in the process.

Rapacious defense spending: The U.S. military budget exceeds that of the next 10 countries combined, as well as of the gross domestic products of all but 20 countries. At 54% of federal discretionary spending, it surpasses all other discretionary accounts combined, including government, education, Medicare, veterans’ benefits, housing, international affairs, energy and the environment, transportation, and agriculture. Thanks to the calculations of the National Priorities Project, we know that the total cost of American war since 2001 — $1.6 trillion — would have gotten us 19.5 million Head Sta rt slots for 10 years or paid for 2.2 million elementary school teachers for a decade. A mere 1% of the defense budget for one year — just over $5 billion — would pay for 152,000 four-year university scholarships or 6,342 police officers for 10 years. What we spend on nuclear weapons alone each year — $19.3 billion — would cover a decade of low-income healthcare for 825,000 children or 549,000 adults.

Promiscuous arms sales: The United States remains by far the world’s leading proliferator of conventional arms, accounting for some 50% of all global sales and 48% of all sales to the developing world. During the 2011-2014 period alone, U.S. weapons deliveries included a wide array of advanced weapons technologies: 104 tanks and self-propelled guns, 230 artillery pieces, 419 armored personnel vehicles, 48 supersonic aircraft and 58 other aircraft, 835 surface-to-air missiles, and 144 anti-ship missiles, much of that to the volatile Middle East. Skeptics would say that such transactions are motivated less by an urge to enable recipient countries to defend themselves than by the desire to buy influence abroad while aiding and abetting arms manufacturers at home. The result of such massive sales is, of course, the creation of yet more instability where stability should be.

Garrisoning the planet: The military maintains up to 800 bases in more than 70 countries and stations more than 200,000 active-duty personnel in some 150 countries. This global presence represents the geostrategic equivalent of Parkinson’s law: operational and social entanglements expanding exponentially to fill the space created by these far-flung outposts.

The nuclear black hole: The military remains the permanent keeper and executor of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal: an estimated 4,700 nuclear warheads on some 800 delivery systems, as well as another 2,340 “retired” but still intact and presumably usable warheads. A three-decade, trillion-dollar upgrade of this already monstrous arsenal is now underway. The Economist has called this Washington’s “unkicked addiction.” It should be clear, but apparently isn’t, that these are weapons of disuse. Other than for destroying the planet if used, their only value is as a measure of muscularity against mirror-image peers. They deter nothing at other levels of muscle-flexing but do feed an insatiable thirst for emulation among jealous non-possessors of such weaponry.

Spurning the rule of law: Though the U.S. regularly espouses and pretends to practice the rule of law, administration after administration has chosen to forswear important international agreements for parochial, largely military reasons. Among those not even signed are the 1969 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, the 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, the 2002 Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, the 2006 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. Among those Washington has signed but not ratified are the 1977 Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions, the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Add to this list the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, ratified in 1972, from which the U.S. withdrew in 2002. Then there are agreements to which the U.S. is a party, but which we nonetheless choose to ignore or circumvent, wholly or in part. These include the 1928 Kellogg-Briand General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy; the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (Article VI of which states: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”); and the United Nations Convention against Torture and selected provisions of the Geneva Conventions. (We don’t do prisoners of war; we do “unlawful enemy combatants.” We don’t do torture; we do “enhanced interrogation.” And of course we don’t engage in other illegalities, like “extraordinary rendition” or targeted killing or the use of black sites where hostile parties can be disappeared.)

Militarizing America’s World — At Home and Abroad

Added to the foregoing excesses are many examples of what we might call organizational hypertrophy. Institutions like the military are, by nature, self-selecting, self-fulfilling, self-perpetuating constellations of values and practices that generate their own realities and can rarely be disestablished once born. As at Hotel California, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Of particular note in the post-9/11 world is our bloated intelligence apparatus of 16 separate agencies, nine of which are military organizations (if you count Coast Guard Intelligence). Most notably, there is the National Security Agency (NSA), always commanded by a general or admiral who now also heads up the U.S. Cyber Command. NSA’s massive surveillance culture and capabilities foreshadow a totalizing new-age cyber warfare regime guaranteed to completely redefine traditional notions of aggression, self-defense, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in hair-trigger terms.

The military itself has nine combatant commands, six of which are regional and divvy up the planet accordingly. Except for NATO, there are no regional ambassadors, so the face we show to the world, region by region, is military — and combatant — not diplomatic. Even the “homeland” now has its own combatant command, the U.S. Northern Command. In tandem with the “civilian” Department of Homeland Security, it has produced the militarization of the domestic front, dispensed with historical border sensitivities vis-à-vis Canada and Mexico, magnified concerns about civil liberties, and fed a permanent state of paranoia and alarm among the public about both illegal immigration and terrorism.

Special attention also must be given to the massive expansion of U.S. Special Operations Command, once a modest cohort of elite specialists, into a force now larger than the militaries of many countries. Its ostensible raison d’être is waging permanent “war” against terrorism. The growing presence of and preference for using special operations forces globally ought to command the attention of anyone concerned with civil-military relations. Each armed service has a special operations command, as does each combatant command, including Northern Command. Estimates are that special operations personnel already number or are expected to number around 70,000 (roughly the equivalent of four and a half Army divisions). This provides an almost infinite amount of potential space for meddling and “mission creep” abroad and at home due, in part, to the increasingly blurred lines between military, intelligence, police, and internal security functions.

Of the various ways the military could be configured — for warfighting; peacekeeping, nation-building, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response; or covert special operations — the last poses by far the greatest threat to effective civilian control of the military. An increasing reliance on and reverence for Special Operations forces (SOFs) only exacerbates already existing civilian deference to military preferences, practices, and mindsets. Conducting a range of operations, from low-profile assignments unknown to most Americans to secret missions beyond the bounds of stringent congressional oversight, the very nature of SOF missions fosters a military culture that is particularly destructive to accountability and proper lines of responsibility. Especially in times of divided government, as at present, when working around Congress is a preferred norm for getting things done, the temptation to employ forces that can circumvent oversight without objection is almost irresistible.

The Failure of Social Responsibility

As an institution, the military is accorded carte blanche authority to possess and wield violence on behalf of the state. It is also a mammoth social institution that reaches deep into American society and many other societies worldwide. It thus is tacitly expected to comport itself in a socially responsible manner and its members to demonstrate professionalism in their conduct. And yet the pervasive, long-term misbehavior of those in uniform is striking, even alarming. This is where civilian subjugation to the military manifests itself most glaringly, and where the lack of a willingly accountable, self-policing military comes most clearly into view.

Each year for at least the past two decades, literally hundreds of incidents have occurred that undermine any claims the military might make to moral superiority: atrocities, corruption and bribery, fraud and waste, sexual misconduct, cover-ups, racial and religious persecution, and acts of cultural intolerance. Moral arrogance is in abundant supply among those in uniform, genuine moral superiority in short supply. To cite just a small sample of such incidents from the recent past:

* The continuing “Fat Leonard” scandal that involved an exchange of bribes, gifts, and prostitutes for classified information on ship movements, implicating at least seven officers and officials and leading to the censure of three rear admirals.

* The ongoing Army National Guard recruiting fraud and kickback scandal involving thousands of soldiers and tens of millions of dollars in illegal payments.

* The four-star former head of U.S. Africa Command, reduced in rank and forced to pay restitution for lavish spending of public funds on private business; the three-star former deputy nuclear force commander who used counterfeit poker chips at a casino; the two-star commander of the ICBM force who went on a drunken binge and insulted Russian counterparts at a joint exercise; the one-star commander of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, relieved of duty for adultery and physically assaulting his mistress; the one-star assistant division commander of the “elite” 82nd Airborne Division, fined $20,000 and reduced in rank for multiple affairs and other sexual misconduct; and the one-star commander of special operations forces in Latin America, relieved of command and reduced in rank for drunken altercations.

* The forced resignation of the under secretary of the Navy over a scandal in which the brother of a naval intelligence official billed the military $1.6 million for weapons silencers that cost only $8,000 to manufacture.

* The proficiency exam cheating scandals that implicated several dozen Air Force and Navy nuclear weapons personnel.

* The Army staff sergeant, sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering 16 civilians and wounding six others in Afghanistan.

* The Army staff sergeant, also sentenced to life imprisonment, and five other soldiers who, as part of a “thrill kill” unit, murdered three Afghan civilians for sport and took their body parts as trophies.

* The Rolling Stone exposé of the Special Forces A-Team that allegedly “disappeared” 10 men and murdered eight others in Afghanistan.

* The video of four Marines urinating on dead Afghan bodies, alleged to be Taliban fighters.

* The photos of 82nd Airborne Division soldiers posing with body parts of dead Afghan insurgents.

* The burning of as many as 100 Korans and other religious texts by American troops in Afghanistan.

* The unceasing surfeit of sexual assault reports in the military (22,000 between 2010 and 2014).

Such episodes aren’t, of course, only of recent vintage. Walking the calendar back a few years reminds us of many other similar examples:* 2011: the suicides of Marine Lance Corporal Harry Lew and Army Private Danny Chen after hazing and harassment by fellow soldiers.

* 2010: the Khataba raid in Afghanistan in which Army Rangers killed five civilians, including two pregnant women and a teenage girl.

* 2009: the massive sex scandal at Lackland Air Force Base, in which 43 female trainees were subjected to sexual predation by instructors.

* 2008: revelations about a Pentagon military analyst program in which retired senior officers working as news commentators received special access to insider briefings and information in return for publicly promoting Bush administration policies.

* 2007: a U.S. Naval Academy scandal involving a Navy doctor secretly videotaping midshipmen engaged in sex acts; a Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal involving extensive patient neglect and execrable living conditions; and revelations concerning massive Iraq War contracting fraud, bribery, and kickbacks totaling $15 million.

* 2006: the rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl and the murder of her family by five Army soldiers in Mahmudiyah, Iraq; the murder of an Iraqi man in Hamdania, Iraq, with associated kidnapping, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy, by seven Marines and a Navy corpsman; and the relief of the USS Enterprise captain for producing and showing sexually explicit and offensive videos on board.

* 2005: the massacre of 24 Iraqi men, women and children by Marines in Haditha, Iraq, and the associated cover-up in which all criminal charges were dismissed; and the Pentagon’s planting of stories favorable to the war effort in the Iraqi press.

* 2004: the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman and the tragedy’s associated cover-up, extending up the chain of command to the Pentagon.

* 2003: massive acts of prisoner sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder by Army personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

* 2002: the deaths of two unarmed civilian Afghan prisoners, who had been chained to the ceiling and beaten by U.S. troops, at the Bagram internment facility in Afghanistan.

All of this is but the tiniest tip of the military misbehavior iceberg, a sample of countless incidents that have regularly occurred over an extended period of time. Remember the Tailhook sexual assault scandal, the Aberdeen sex scandal, the Camp Lejeune water contamination scandal, the Cavalese cable car disaster, the firing and reduction in rank of the sergeant major of the Army for sexual misconduct, the murder of Private First Class Barry Winchell, the discharge of Air Force Lieutenant Kelly Flinn?

Such a tidal wave of ethical breakdowns can’t be dismissed as mere exceptions to the rule or deviations from the norm. Institutional defenders nonetheless persist in claiming that such incidents represent the actions of a few bad apples in an otherwise healthy cultural barrel. In this, they are simply wrong, yet their positions are eternally bolstered by the fact that annual opinion polls of public trust and confidence in society’s institutions invariably place the military at or near the top of the list.

What Is to Be Done?

To this question — What is to be done? — there is no easy answer, perhaps no answer at all. Part of the reason is that the underlying crisis in civil-military relations has gone largely unrecognized, unacknowledged, and unaddressed for decades now. A first step, therefore, might simply be to break the bonds of denial and admit that there is a problem.

A second step — admittedly a far march onto an unknown planet — would be to encourage serious, thoroughgoing institutional self-reflection from both the military and civilian authorities. This would, of course, mean facing up to those facets of military culture that warrant reengineering: aggression, intolerance, authoritarianism, parochialism, congenital secrecy, and pronounced anti-intellectualism among them. It would also mean acknowledging the numerous myths that have come to define the institution over time — for example, that the military nurtures and rewards leadership (rather than dutiful followership); that it instills discipline (rather than indiscipline); that it exemplifies competence and efficiency (rather than incompetence and inefficiency); that it is committed to accountability (rather than cover-ups and secrecy); and that its members, especially at senior levels, regularly demonstrate moral courage (rather than moral cowardice).

A third step would involve a concerted educational effort, inside and outside the institution, to enhance strategic thinking, ethical thinking, and civic literacy (especially, but not exclusively, among those in uniform).

A fourth step — ultimately the most fundamental and paradigm-shattering, as well as the least likely to occur — would be to reconsider the very purpose and function of the military and to reorient it accordingly. That would mean transforming a cumbersome, stagnant, obsolescent, irrelevant warfighting force — with its own inbuilt self-corrupting qualities — into a peacekeeping, nation-building, humanitarian-assistance, disaster-response force far more attuned to a future it helps shape and far more strategically effective than what we now have. Translated, counterintuitive as it might sound, this would mean seeking to demilitarize the military, an overarching strategic imperative if bona fide lasting peace is ever to be achieved on this planet.

Humpty Dumpty posed the question to Alice in Through the Looking Glass of whether words are to be the masters of men or men the masters of words by determining their meaning. Similarly must we ask whether an institution, the military, supposedly endowed with supernal character by objective circumstances, is to master us, or we to master it by determining for ourselves what it properly is and does.


Putin’s high-stakes gambit in Syria has paid off – for Moscow

The withdrawal of Russian forces leaves the ball in Damascus’s court, and reinvents Russia as a tough and decisive player in the Middle East

March 15, 2016

by Jonathon Steele

The Guardian

Vladimir Putin’s dramatic decision to cut his military intervention in Syria has flatfooted everyone from the White House to Bashar al-Assad, and yielded predictably cynical reaction. “It’s a pretty brilliant tactical move,” says the independent military analyst Alexander Golts. Putin has “reaped a positive return” from his intervention, according to the former US assistant secretary of state PJ Crowley. But there is a more nuanced view.

Putin is essentially telling Assad that, five years after the uprising started, he must take the Geneva talks seriously and finally compromise. The Syrian foreign minister’s recent press conference statement that Assad’s future cannot be discussed in Geneva will have irritated Putin. It may have tipped him into making his surprise announcement.

Even though Russia’s warplanes changed the balance of power on the ground in Syria, the Kremlin’s stark message is that Assad cannot rely on the Russians to bring him military victory. There has to be a political solution.

Western politicians have often claimed that Russia will always be ready to bail Assad out, but there has been contrary evidence for some time. At the meeting between Putin and Assad in Moscow last autumn, shortly after the Russian air campaign began, it was noticeable that in his public remarks before the cameras withdrew Putin repeatedly praised “the Syrian people” for their courage and determination in standing up to terrorism. He never praised Assad personally.

Putin also insisted that the purpose of his military intervention was to accelerate the peace process. Yes, we can stop you being overrun and defeated, he was telling Assad; but you cannot expect us to keep you in power for ever.

This message was made clear again when the Russians and Americans, along with the other outside powers involved, met for two rounds of talks in Vienna to hammer out a framework for negotiations among Syrians. In language that Assad and his officials have never copied, the Russians described the conflict in Syria as “a civil war”. Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, even used the phrase “the legitimate armed opposition”. This was a sharp departure from Assad’s terminology. The Syrian president continues to describe the struggle as a battle against terrorists, adding that if only Turkey and other states were to stop arming jihadis, everything would go back to normal.

The Russians will have none of this. They have seen the reality, which is that this war remains primarily an internal conflict, however much it has been hijacked by outside powers. Lavrov has invited Free Syrian Army representatives to Moscow for discussions. The Kremlin has had talks with other anti-Assad groups, such as the Syrian Kurds, who have been the best “boots on the ground” against Islamic State. They have just opened an office in Moscow.From the outset, Putin made clear that his intervention was not open-ended. His decision to reduce it within less than six months probably follows the sober assessment his military advisers must have given him. Much has been made of the appalling toll of civilian life the conflict has caused. Syrian aircraft have supremacy, and have been dropping barrel bombs with impunity. The impression the outside world receives is that 90% of the death toll in Syria consists of civilians. It is certainly a refrain that civil society groups in Syria, as well as the non-Islamist aarmed groups, constantly put across on social media.

They still cling to the fantasy that if they can highlight the humanitarian effects of the war the west will come in militarily, as it did in Libya in 2011.

One cannot, and should not, underplay the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of displaced and starving Syrians. But there is a specific point to be made: the record shows less than half the people killed in Syria were civilians. Take the first month of this year, when Russian and Syrian airstrikes were at their height. Figures for January from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights 2016 show that 4,680 people died. Of these, about 30% were civilians; 1,487 troops from the government army and the pro-regime militias, the National Defence Forces, were killed. As many as 1,080 non-Syrian jihadis also died, along with 603 anti-Assad fighters.The figures are illuminating. Although the mantra is constantly repeated that “Assad is killing his own people”, they show opposition forces are killing fellow Syrians too. This is a classic civil war, in which it is men with guns much more than civilians who are bearing the brunt. The Russians have seen that and learned the lesson. Their air power paved the way for Assad’s forces to capture some parts of rebel-held Aleppo, and for a time in December and January it seemed they might take the whole city. But things did not turn out so well. Pro-regime forces paid a high price and still did not succeed in their goal.

Putin is telling Assad: “We gave you a new lease of life. We propped you up in your heartland around Latakia and Idlib and prevented it from falling. We helped you advance around Aleppo. With the Americans and their clients we have brokered a ceasefire. Now it’s up to you to reach a compromise with your legitimate opponents.”

For Putin, the Syrian intervention has been a high-stakes game in which he has, so far, done well. He has reinserted Russia into the Middle East as a decisive and tough player. He has become a key player in the region’s diplomacy. And he leaves the ball in Damascus’s court.


‘Everything is great’: Crimea marks 2 years since historic referendum to rejoin Russia

March 16, 2016


Two years ago an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted in favor of reuniting with Russia – a move that was met by Western condemnation and sanctions. While the sanctions persist, attitudes towards the people’s choice are changing.

Crimea’s population refused to recognize the new government in Kiev, which came to power on February 21, 2014, viewing it as illegitimate. The citizens of the autonomous republic, home to an ethnic majority Russian population, feared the coup-imposed leadership wouldn’t represent their interests and respect their rights and choices.

Crimea and Sevastopol, a city with a special status on the peninsula, voted for independence from Ukraine and to rejoin Russia in a referendum on March 16, 2014. The decision was supported by more than 1.2 million people, or roughly 97 percent of voters with an 83-percent turnout.

Yet, the West, led by the US, refused to recognize the Crimean people’s choice and slapped Moscow with sanctions that continue to this day. Two years ago, US President Barack Obama called the referendum “illegal,” while British Prime Minister David Cameron said the decision to “annex” Crimea would result in Russia facing “serious consequences” for its alleged breach of international law.

The policy of “non-recognition” of the Crimean referendum continues today, but this attitude is slowly changing, as Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, explained to RT.

Sakwa said in the West the perception of “territorial boundaries change.” Westerners have come to “an acceptance that the overwhelming majority of the Crimean people did want to rejoin Russia.”

He said this was reinforced by a “very important” independent German GfK poll in February 2015, titled: “The Socio-Political Sentiments in Crimea”, which according to Sakwa also confirmed the results of the referendum of March 2014.

“There is an understanding of the aspirations of the Crimean people. Plus of course the blockade put by radical forces within Ukraine does not really help the Ukrainian cause,” Sakwa said.

In the meantime, French politician Christian Vanneste told RT that in due course Europeans will recognize Crimea’s choice.

“I’m certain the Crimean referendum will be recognized because it is just common sense,” Vanneste told RT, adding that Crimea was artificially transferred to the Ukrainian Republic in 1954, and that the peninsula historically belongs to Russia.

At the same time, Sakwa acknowledged there is a “big division” among European leaders, who have always used the word annexation, while those on the “other side” understand Crimea was only under Kiev’s control from 1991, when the USSR ceased to exist.

“The Ukraine phenomenally has mismanaged it all. The idea was, and this was the principle of Russia in the 1997 Treaty of Friendship with Ukraine – it was the recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty. It was quite clearly the breakdown of the Ukrainian state system in 2014 [that caused] the Russian principle of accepting the sovereignty of Ukraine [to break down].”

Professor Sakwa said Kiev is to blame for the current status of Crimea. It failed to account for the interests of the peninsula’s population, as it pursued its right-wing agenda throughout the country.

“Also the other element of this crisis is the failure of the Ukrainian government in the last two years to become more pluralistic. The paradox at the moment is that this relatively nationalistic in Ukraine, and some quite intolerant actions [are] effectively being supported by some within the European Union. There is criticism. But on the whole it is being endorsed. And this is the other paradox, a government which repudiates some of the fundamental principles of the European Union is being supported by the European Union and the United States,” Sakwa said.

Vanneste blamed the Western attitudes towards Crimea and Russia on the dissemination of false information.

“I hope that gradually this disinformation, which is largely influenced by American actions, will disappear. Right now we are witnessing inequality relating to the situation surrounding Crimea,” the French politician said.

However, observers noted that sanctions on Russia in relation to Crimea were forced on the European Union by Washington.

“People that wanted sanctions were the Americans, but not in fact the Europeans. Now the Europeans are fed up with the sanctions. They think it is very bad for the economy because there is a lot of exchange between Europe and Russia. A lot of Western European government would like to stop the sanctions, but they need an agreement with the United States,” former MEP Ivan Blo told RT.

“For businessmen it is very clear, they are in favor of cooperation with Russia. For politicians it is always the same thing, a lot of them are in favor of cooperation with Russia,” Blo added.

In an effort to reverse the Western outlook on cooperation with Russia, a number of foreigners and Western politicians have visited Crimea over the last two years.

French lawmakers led by Thierry Mariani were the first foreign politicians to visit Crimea after reunification with Russia in the summer of 2015. Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi visited last autumn and had a meeting there with Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2015.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s Lega Nord (North League) party, and Kimura Mitsuhiro, the head of the Japanese socio-political organization Issuikai, have also visited Crimea.

These moves are pushing the Europeans to reconsider the wider relationship with Moscow, Sakwa explained.

“There are some leaders, the Italian leader, and some other countries are talking about what sort of deal could be established to allow Crimea to thrive in the new circumstances, but above all for some sort of more satisfactory relationship between Russia, Ukraine, and Europe as a whole,” Sakwa said.

As for the Crimeans, two years after the historic referendum, they are happy to be part of Russia and don’t want to return to Ukraine.

“Everything is great,” one young man told an RT crew on the streets of Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.

“Everything has changed for the better,” another man told RT. “It is peaceful in Crimea compared to Ukraine.”


‘Someone is going to die’: experts warn lawmakers over self-driving cars

Auto executives and US senators clash over calls for universal standards in robotic vehicles at Senate commerce committee hearing

March 15, 2016

by Sam Thielman

The Guardian

The robot car revolution hit a speed bump on Tuesday as senators and tech experts sounded stern warnings about the potentially fatal risks of self-driving cars. “There is no question that someone is going to die in this technology,” said Duke University roboticist Missy Cummings in testimony before the US Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation. “The question is when and what can we do to minimize that.”

Automotive executives and lawmakers sniped at each other over whether universal standards were necessary for self-driving cars, with private sector saying that standards would slow progress and legislators replying that they’d heard the same objections over updated seatbelt standards in 1998.

Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, who have cosponsored legislation that proposes minimum testing standards for automated drivers, told equivocating industry representatives to fall in line.

“If I asked somebody: ‘Do you think that that red light means stop?’ and they came back to me and said: ‘We have great respect for stoplights,’ I would say, ‘The answer is ‘yes’,” Blumenthal told General Motors’ Michael Ableson. “The credibility of this technology is exceedingly fragile if people can’t trust standards – not necessarily for you, but for all the other actors that may come into this space at this point.”

Markey, in conversation with Delphi Automotive’s Glen DeVos, cut the executive off when he tried to answer a question about whether the industry would support a minimum legal standard by pointing to his company’s own high standards.

“I know you do, but not all the bad companies do,” said Markey, smiling. “We don’t pass murder statutes for our mothers. We do it for all the people who might commit murders.”

The standards are already becoming morally complex. Google X’s Chris Urmson, the company’s director of self-driving cars, said the company was trying to work through some difficult problems. Where to turn – toward the child playing in the road or over the side of the overpass?

Google has come up with its own Laws of Robotics for cars: “We try to say, ‘Let’s try hardest to avoid vulnerable road users, and beyond that try hardest to avoid other vehicles, and then beyond that try to avoid things that that don’t move in the world,’ and then to be transparent with the user that that’s the way it works,” Urmson said.

Cummings said the industry was by no means ready to start road-testing cars on public byways and that the rush to market would be very dangerous, in part because of technical limitations but also because of malice. “[W]e know that people, including bicyclists, pedestrians and other drivers, could and will attempt to game self-driving cars, in effect trying to elicit or prevent various behaviors in attempts to get ahead of the cars or simply to have fun,” she said.

The roboticist also decried what she characterized as the industry’s attempt to substitute public demonstrations for rigorous testing without making its own testing protocols available for public scrutiny.

“We know that many of the sensors on self-driving cars are not reliable in good weather, in urban canyons, or places where the map databases are out of date,” said Cummings. “We know gesture recognition is a serious problem, especially in real world settings. We know humans will get in the back seat while they think their cars are on ‘autopilot’. We know people will try to hack into these systems.”


Terrorist Watchlist Errors Spread to Criminal Rap Sheets

March 15, 2016

by Alex Kane

The Intercept

Last February, attorney Anisha Gupta represented a Latino man charged with two misdemeanors: trespassing and resisting arrest. At her client’s arraignment, the first appearance before a judge where a bail determination is made, Gupta thought her client would be quickly let out on his own recognizance — meaning a release without posting bail; the prosecution was not even asking for bail to be set.

The judge interrupted proceedings, however, and in open court announced that Gupta’s client, who spoke no English, had a terrorist watchlist notation on the last page of his record of arrest and prosecution, better known as a rap sheet.

In New York, the first part of an individual’s rap sheet lists his or her in-state criminal history, obtained from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, or DCJS. The last part shows any criminal history that occurred out of state or at the federal level. Gupta typically considered the last pages to be of little relevance for court hearings in the Bronx, because they are frequently rife with errors. Judges and prosecutors don’t tend to focus on them, according to Gupta.

“I said to her, ‘Judge, I don’t think he’s on the terrorist watchlist. There are so many errors on the last pages of people’s rap sheets,’” recalled Gupta, who works in the criminal defense practice of the Bronx Defenders. “And the judge said, ‘Well, counsel, I’ve never seen this terrorist watchlist thing. We’re going to have to check on it. I’m not going to release him.’”

“Counsel, he could be a sleeper,” the judge continued, according to Gupta.

Gupta’s client is one of an unknown number of criminal defendants who have found out their name is on the terrorism watchlist because a judge, prosecutor, or public defender noticed a notation on their rap sheet while they were in court on an unrelated matter. The notations are provided by the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, an FBI-run database of criminal records that is used by virtually every law enforcement agency in the U.S. to investigate suspects the agencies encounter.

That database includes information culled from the Terrorist Screening Database, or TSDB, which is known as the “watchlist” and overseen by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. The watchlist includes hundreds of thousands of names. Getting arrested and going through airport security are currently the only ways for individuals to find out if they are on the terrorism watchlist, since the list is only seen by law enforcement and is not available to the public, even to those included on the list. There are no available numbers for how many criminal defendants are on the terrorist watchlist.

The placement of terror watchlist notations on rap sheets highlights the broad dissemination of the list, which has ballooned in size since the September 11 attacks. Every police force in the country has access to the NCIC, which includes files of information on people collected from lists like the sex offender and terrorism databases. When a police officer enters a name into this database, any watchlist information associated with that person comes up. This is how a routine traffic stop can turn into a terrorism investigation.

Civil liberties advocates believe that being included on the watchlist — which happens with little oversight and sometimes with no concrete proof of terrorist activity — could have an unfair impact on the treatment of those who interact with the police and the criminal court system. And attorneys from the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility project at CUNY School of Law, known as CLEAR, say including the watchlist notations on rap sheets is a violation of DCJS regulations because the notations do nothing to establish a criminal record and can be inaccurate. CLEAR attorneys also say the dissemination of watchlist information to judges and prosecutors runs counter to federal policy stating that the watchlist should be used for investigative purposes — not for criminal justice purposes like setting bail.

“The federal watchlists that the compilers of rap sheets draw on for these notations are notoriously arbitrary and inaccurate. People are placed on these lists without ever being told why or given an opportunity to contest their listing. And the lists appear to focus disproportionately on individuals with Muslim-sounding names,” said Ramzi Kassem, an associate professor at CUNY School of Law and the founder and director of CLEAR, in an email.

New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services “provides criminal justice agencies with criminal history records on file with New York state, the FBI, and other states, in addition to information contained in the FBI’s NCIC database, which includes terrorism watchlist information,” said Janine Kava, a spokesperson for DCJS. She added that the criminal justice agencies that receive the information “are in the best position to determine whether or how the information they are permitted to receive should be used in a particular case, consistent with federal and state laws and regulations.”

Gupta found her client’s watchlist notation strange, however. The first and last names did not match her client’s at all. They were common Muslim names, whereas her client was a Spanish speaker with a very common Latino name. The only detail on the watchlist notation that matched her client was the birthdate.

Despite the different names, Gupta’s client was forced to sit in jail for a few more hours after his arraignment because of the watchlist notation. Eventually, for reasons not disclosed to Gupta, court officers told the judge that her client was not a threat, and he was released. After he got out, he called Gupta and asked, “Do people think I’m a terrorist?”

Rap sheet errors are extremely common: One study by the Legal Action Center estimated that at least 2.1 million rap sheets in New York contain mistakes. Adding information from the error-riddled terror watchlist — a 2009 Justice Department audit found that over a third of the names on the watchlist were based on outdated information — onto already error-prone rap sheets is bound to compound this problem.

The watchlist has drawn increasing criticism in recent years as its numbers have exploded. More than 40 percent of the people on the watchlist — who number over 680,000 — are not linked to any specific terrorist group, according to an Intercept investigation published in 2014. In 2011, the FBI revealed that people could remain on the list even if they were acquitted on terrorism-related charges in criminal court.

“You have the word ‘terrorist’ printed on a rap sheet that a judge is looking at to determine whether to release someone or to set bail and, in effect, ensure that they remain behind bars. That notation is very loaded. I think judges, just like anybody else, are subject to the same biases and prejudices that exist in the rest of the community,” said Gupta. “The fact that your freedom could be taken away based on a mysterious designation you didn’t even know about, and that is probably wrong, is a very scary thing indeed.”

The inclusion of the information on rap sheets shows how the war on terror’s dragnet is ensnaring criminal defendants faced with charges that have nothing to do with terrorism.“The notations can distort how the criminal justice system interacts with a defendant — it can make it more likely that the prosecutor will dig in his heels, that the judge will set a higher bail or deny it outright, that a harsher sentence is meted out, or that parole is denied,” said CLEAR’s Kassem. “Outside of the criminal justice system, these rap sheet notations can cost someone their taxi driver’s license or lead a police officer to treat them more harshly during a routine traffic stop.”

In another case handled by the Bronx Defenders, a defendant with a common Muslim name was arrested in the Bronx in February 2014 for driving while intoxicated. Molly Schindler, the attorney who represented the man, said he had no prior criminal record. But he did have a terrorist watchlist notation on his rap sheet.

The notation listed a first name starkly different from her client’s, but an identical last name and birthdate.

After the arrest, the police held the defendant’s car as evidence for the upcoming case, even though it could not be brought into a courtroom. In April of that year, Schindler called an assistant district attorney to ask for the release of the car. He refused, however, because of the watchlist notation. “He saw the rap sheet notation, and he said, ‘I want to check with the feds in case they need to make sure there’s no bomb in the car or something,’” Schindler recalled in an interview.

About a week later, the state agreed to release the car, which Schindler’s client needed to get to work. The client eventually pleaded guilty to a noncriminal traffic infraction for driving while intoxicated.

The Intercept reviewed three instances of watchlist notation on rap sheets in New York. These notations can also show up on criminal records in other states. Washington State Patrol and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, for instance, both told The Intercept that watchlist notations appear on criminal record histories in their states.

The notations assert that the individuals have “possible ties” to terrorism and instruct law enforcement to contact the Terrorist Screening Center. They also say, “Do not advise this individual that they are on a terrorist watch list.”

The watchlist notations on rap sheets can also have severe consequences for people’s lives outside of the criminal justice system.

In February 2015, a Yemeni immigrant who asked that his name not be used was being arraigned on second-degree assault charges in New York County Criminal Court when his lawyer told him he was on the terrorism watchlist. Though the charges he faced (which have since been dropped) had nothing to do with terrorism, there was a notation on his rap sheet stating he was on the watchlist.

“I went crazy, and I was screaming,” he said through a translator in a phone interview. “I told [my lawyer] I am not a terrorist, and I don’t know any terrorists. Me and my family members, or even people from my town, we have nothing to do with this. I don’t know what this means.”

His life took a turn for the worse after he got out of jail 24 hours later. He told friends and his employer at a grocery store about his watchlist ordeal, but instead of offering support, they shunned him. He lost his job and said nobody talks to him or picks up his phone calls anymore.

“Everybody’s saying, ‘If I hire you, there might be problems for me,’” he said. A green card holder, he worries that being labeled a terrorist might impact his citizenship prospects.

Civil liberties advocates have long criticized the criteria used to put a person in the database as shoddy and based on an elastic standard of “reasonable suspicion.” The FBI-run Terrorist Screening Center says an individual is included on the list when he or she “is reasonably suspected to be, or have been, engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism and terrorist activities.” In its briefing on the watchlist, the American Civil Liberties Union states that this standard is “baffling and circular” in that “it essentially defines a suspected terrorist as a suspected terrorist” and “lacks any requirement that an individual knowingly engage in wrongful conduct.”

Even celebrated political leaders like former Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy and South African leader Nelson Mandela have been mistakenly placed on the watchlist.

In a November 2012 letter to DCJS, attorneys from CLEAR and the Fordham University School of Law protested the placement of watchlist information on rap sheets, because it does not establish a criminal record.

“We are concerned about the prejudicial effect the inclusion of this opaque, yet toxic, information has on our clients’ cases and lives,” the attorneys’ letter said. “Such contaminated information has no place on a document that plays a critical role in the adjudication of important matters pending in criminal courts.”

The division responded in February 2013, saying that it is authorized to share information beyond a criminal record — like watchlist notations — with relevant agencies. While the letter said DCJS would further review the issue, the law schools have not heard back from the agency since that time.


How many people can our planet really support?

We do not know if today’s population of seven billion is remotely sustainable, or what the limit is

March 14, 2016

by Vivien Cumming


Overpopulation. It is a word that makes politicians wince, and is often described as the “elephant in the room” in discussions about the future of the planet.

You often hear people citing overpopulation as the single biggest threat to the Earth. But can we really single out population growth in this way? Are there really too many people on our planet?

It is clear to all of us that the planet is not expanding. There is only so much space on Earth, not to mention only so many resources – food, water and energy – that can support a human population. So a growing human population must pose some kind of a threat to the wellbeing of planet Earth, mustn’t it?

Not necessarily.

“It is not the number of people on the planet that is the issue – but the number of consumers and the scale and nature of their consumption,” says David Satterthwaite, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. He quotes Gandhi: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

The number of “modern human beings” (Homo sapiens) on Earth has been comparatively small until very recently. Just 10,000 years ago there might have been no more than a few million people on the planet. The one billion mark was not passed until the early 1800s; the two billion mark not until the 1920s.

As it stands now, though, the world’s population is over 7.3 billion. According to United Nations predictions it could reach 9.7 billion people by 2050, and over 11 billion by 2100.

Population growth has been so rapid that there is no real precedent we can turn to for clues about the possible consequences. In other words, while the planet might hold over 11 billion people by the end of the century, our current level of knowledge does not allow us to predict whether such a large population is sustainable, simply because it has never happened before.

We can get clues, though, by considering where population growth is expected to be strongest in the years ahead. Satterthwaite says that most of the growth over the next two decades is predicted to be in urban centres in what are currently low and middle-income countries.

On the face of it, the global impact of adding several billion people to these urban centres might be surprisingly small. This is because urbanites in low- and middle-income countries have historically consumed little.

The emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases give us a good indication of how high consumption is in a city.

“We know of cities in low-income nations that emit less than one tonne CO2-equivalent per person per year,” says Satterthwaite. “Cities in high-income nations [can] have six to 30 tonnes CO2-equivalent per person per year.”

Citizens of more affluent nations leave a much greater footprint on our planet than people living in poorer countries – although there are exceptions. Copenhagen is the capital of a high-income nation – Denmark – while Porto Alegre is in upper-middle-income Brazil. Living standards are high in both cities, yet per capita emissions are relatively low.

Satterthwaite goes on to say that if we look at an individual’s lifestyle, the differences between wealthy and non-wealthy groups are even more dramatic. There are many low-income urban dwellers whose consumption is so low that they contribute almost nothing to greenhouse gas emissions.

So a world with a human population of 11 billion might put comparatively little extra strain on our planet’s resources. But the world is changing. Low-income urban centres may not continue on low-carbon development trajectories.

The real concern would be if the people living in these areas decided to demand the lifestyles and consumption rates currently considered normal in high-income nations; something many would argue is only fair. If they do, the impact of urban population growth could be much larger.

This fits with a general pattern that has played out over the past century or so, explains Will Steffen, an emeritus professor with the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the Australian National University. It is not the rise in population by itself that is the problem, but rather the even more rapid rise in global consumption (which of course is unevenly distributed).

This leads to an uncomfortable implication: people living in high-income nations must play their part if the world is to sustain a large human population. Only when wealthier groups are prepared to adopt low-carbon lifestyles, and to permit their governments to support such a seemingly unpopular move, will we reduce the pressure on global climate, resource and waste issues.

A 2015 study in the Journal of Industrial Ecology looked at environmental impact from a household perspective. It puts consumption firmly in the spotlight.

The analysis showed that household consumers are responsible for more than 60% of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 80% of the world’s land, material and water use. What’s more, the researchers found that the footprints are unevenly distributed across regions, with wealthier countries generating the most impacts per household.

Diana Ivanova at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, the author of the study, explains that the finding comes from simply changing our perspective on who is responsible for emissions associated with producing consumer goods. “We all like to put the blame on someone else, the government, or businesses,” she says.

For instance, consumers in the west might argue that countries that produce many consumer goods, such as China, should take responsibility for the emissions needed to make them. Ivanova and her colleagues argue the consumers themselves are just as responsible. “If we change our consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint as well.”

By this reasoning, there needs to be a fundamental change in the core values of developed societies: away from an emphasis on material wealth, and towards a model where individual and societal well-being are considered most important.

Even if those changes occur, it seems unlikely that our planet could really sustain a population of 11 billion. So Steffen suggests that we should stabilise the global population, hopefully at around nine billion, and then begin a long, slow trend of decreasing population. That means reducing fertility rates.

There are actually signs that this is already beginning to occur, even as population numbers continue to rise. The rate of population growth has been slowing since the 1960s and the UN Population Division’s world fertility patterns show that, worldwide, fertility per woman has fallen from 4.7 babies in 1970-75 to 2.6 in 2005-10.

However, it could still take centuries for any meaningful reductions to happen, says Corey Bradshaw at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

The trends are so deeply set, he says, that even a dramatic catastrophe might not change their course. In a 2014 study, Bradshaw concluded that if two billion people died tomorrow – or if every government adopted controversial fertility policies such as China’s recently-ended one-child policy – there would still be as many if not more people on the planet by 2100 as there are today.

What is urgently needed, then, is ways to speed up the decline in fertility rates. One relatively easy way to do so might be to raise the status of women, especially in terms of their education and employment opportunities, says Steffen.

The UN Population Fund has calculated that 350 million women in the poorest countries did not want their last child, but did not have the means to prevent the pregnancy. If these women’s needs were met, it would have a significant impact on global population trends. According to this reasoning, creating a sustainable population is as much about boosting women’s rights as it is about reducing consumption of resources.

So if a world population of 11 billion is probably unsustainable, how many people, in theory, could Earth support?

Bradshaw says that it is nearly impossible to say what this number would be, because it is entirely dependent on technologies like farming, electricity production and transport – and on how many people we are willing to condemn to a life of poverty or malnutrition.

Many people argue that we are well over a sustainable number already, given the lifestyle choices many of us have made and our reluctance to change them. In support of this, they point to the problems of climate change, the biodiversity extinction crisis underway, mass ocean pollution, the fact that one billion people are already starving and that another one billion people have nutrient deficiencies

A 2012 UN report summarised 65 different estimated maximum sustainable population sizes. The most common estimate was eight billion, a little larger than the current population. But the estimates ranged from as few as two billion to, in one study, a staggering 1,024 billion.

These estimates all depend on so many assumptions that is difficult to say which is closest to the truth.

Ultimately the real determinant is how we choose to run our society. If some or all of us consume a lot of resources, the maximum sustainable population will be lower. If we find ways to each consume less, ideally without sacrificing our creature comforts, Earth will be able to support more of us.

Changes in technology, which are often wildly unpredictable, will also affect the maximum population.

In the early 20th Century, the global population problem was as much about the fertility of soil as the fertility of women. George Knibbs, in his 1928 book The Shadow of the World’s Future, suggested that if global population reached 7.8 billion, there would have to be much more efficient use of its surface.

Just three years later Carl Bosch won a Nobel Prize for helping develop chemical fertilisers, the production of which probably did more than anything to fuel the dramatic 20th-Century human population growth.

In the very distant future, technology could lead to much larger sustainable human populations if some people could eventually live off planet Earth.

In the few decades since humans first ventured out into space, our ambitions have jumped from simple stargazing to the living away from Earth and inhabiting other planets. Many eminent thinkers, including physicist Stephen Hawking, say colonising other worlds is critical for the ultimate survival of our species.

However, even though NASA’s Kepler mission has discovered a large number of Earth-like planets, we do not know much about them and they are all very far beyond our reach. So a move to another planet does not offer an imminent answer to our problems.

For the foreseeable future, Earth is our only home and we must find a way to live on it sustainably. It seems clear that that requires scaling back our consumption, in particular a transition to low-carbon lifestyles, and improving the status of women worldwide. Only when we have done these things will we really be able to estimate how many people our planet can sustainably hold.


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