TBR News March 28, 2017

Mar 28 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. March 28, 2017: “Forced out of Roman-controlled Judea by the Romans following a long and bloody series of revolts, internal massacres and destructive activities, the Jews were eventually expelled from Judea and went to reside in various places such as Alexandria, Egypt.

These deportees are today known as Sephardic Jews and are the descendants of the original Semitic inhabitants of Judea.

Another, larger, group of Jews are called Ashkenazi and are the direct descendents of the Khazar tribes of Central Asia. Originally nomadic peoples, the Khazars were located on the west bank of the Caspian Sea, noted for their savage behavior and in about 700 AD, were converted by their king to Judaism.

Defeated by the Russians, the Khazars spread to Russia, what is now Poland and other eastern European areas. They are not Semitic by background and today, 95% of the citizens of Israel are descended from these nomads, which were composed of Mongols, the occasional Swedish rus or Viking and other diverse ethnic groups.

The oft-repeated claim by Israel that they were the original inhabitants of Judea or Palestine is, from a historical point of view, entirely false.

Modern Zionism was the creation of Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) a Hungarian Jewish writer who advocated a Jewish state in Palestine. That the area was occupied, as it had been for thousands of years, by Arabs, themselves of Semitic origins, did not seem to bother the modern Zionists at all.

Following the end of the Second World War when huge masses of Eastern European Jews had been displaced from their countries in Poland, the Baltic states, Hungry, Romania, Greece, Germany, Austria and other European countries, they decided to move to Palestine and form their own state.

From 1944 through 1948, the entire area was subject to a literal reign of terror as large groups of DPs (Displaced Persons) descended on Palestine, wreaking havoc on the area. Murders, kidnappings, bombings, counterfeiting, bank robberies, blowing up hotels full of people and drive-by shootings were commonplace.

Eventually, the disruptions proved to be too much for the British, who occupied Palestine after the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire which once controlled it, withdrew and in 1948, the state of Israel was proclaimed.

Israel, a study of the UN report immediately puts the motivating factors behind the long-ongoing bloodshed in accurate perspective.

What is past is certainly prologue.”

Table of Contents

  • Russiagate’s Unasked Questions
  • ‘Terrorism Godfather’ Erdogan pursuing ‘Third Reich-style’ foreign policy – top German MP
  • Exclusive: Inside Diego Garcia, America’s highly secretive military baseA two year investigation reveals the US military’s poor treatment of contract workers on the controversial island.
  • Ferocious Cyclone Debbie batters north-eastern Australian coast
  • After 12 Rejections, Apple Accepts App That Tracks U.S. Drone Strikes
  • Your browsing history may be up for sale soon. Here’s what you need to know
  • Do Muslims Commit Most U.S. Terrorist Attacks?
  • Supreme Court sides with death row inmate who claims intellectual disability
  • Three teenage burglars shot dead in US
  • Scottish parliament backs second independence referendum vote
  • Beijing demands answers after Paris police shoot dead Chinese national
  • Germany proposes EU sanctions on countries not taking back illegal immigrants
  • Lawsuit Seeks Transparency as Searches of Cellphones and Laptops Skyrocket at Borders

Russiagate’s Unasked Questions

Comey’s testimony settles nothing.

March 27, 2017

by Philip Giraldi

The American Cnservative

Call me confused. Last week’s House Intelligence Committee hearing on possible Trump associates’ collusion with the Russian government, which featured FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers, provided very little new information even as it confirmed troubling revelations that had already appeared in the media.

If the FBI began its investigation of team Trump in late July—after the nomination process but before the election—and the Trump campaign office was located in Trump Tower, doesn’t that confirm that Donald Trump is right when he insists that his office was “wiretapped” during the summer even if his word choice was not apt? And given that former Central Intelligence Agency head John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence (DNI) chief James Clapper have been most frequently cited as the Obama administration’s possible bag men in arranging for the generation, collection, dissemination, and leaking of information disparaging to Trump, why weren’t they also being questioned?

For the overall vapidity of the proceedings, I’ll go with Politico on what were plausibly the high points. In an article that could have been written before the actual event transpired, Politico editors concluded that: Comey is no Trump lackey; that Trump’s words matter; that Republicans are mostly interested in leaks; that Democrats can smell blood; and that the investigation could take a while.

But as a qualifier for those observations, which really don’t tell us much, one might be better served by paying attention to the comment of Committee Chair Devin Nunes, who observed in his opening remarks: “Let me be clear, I’ve been saying this for several weeks. We know there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower. However, it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”

Two days later Nunes elaborated: “I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community collected information on U.S. individuals involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons involved in the incoming administration with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value were widely disseminated in intelligence community reports.”

Pat Buchanan made the same point, noting in addition that only two crimes are known to have been committed: first, someone hacked into email accounts of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and those of Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, and second that someone in the national security apparatus leaked to the media either a highly classified transcript or a summary thereof relating to a series of conversations between soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Buchanan accepts that the Russians did the DNC hack. Although no evidence has been produced confirming that judgment, I agree with him that everything else is speculation. He also notes that Comey and former DNI James Clapper agree that, in spite of eight months of investigation, no evidence has been developed that ties any Trump campaign official to inappropriate behavior with the Russians.

The issue of Russiagate itself appears to be receding as it becomes clearer that there is little or no danger of exposing any Manchurian candidate-type collusion, even though inquiries will undoubtedly drag on into the summer. Last week, President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort volunteered to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. Even former CIA acting director Michael Morell, an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter who once described Donald Trump as an “unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” has now recanted and conceded that, “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all.”

Regarding the FBI investigation itself, someone in the White House had to authorize such a highly sensitive initiative as it is difficult to conceive that the Bureau would undertake such a task on its own without any political cover. Comey, for his part, failed to provide a roadmap and refused to either confirm or deny whether the White House knew or authorized the investigation of the Trump associates—just as he would neither confirm nor deny whether President Obama had received a copy of the transcript of the Flynn-Kislyak conversations. Indeed, the FBI Director spent most of his time refusing to confirm or deny anything.

Comey’s words are significant. One should recall that he is both a lawyer and the head of a federal police agency that has been under fire. He said, regarding Trump tweets claiming that former President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower, that “I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” adding that “no individual”—not even a president—can unilaterally order a wiretap. NSA Director Mike Rogers also testified that “I have seen nothing on the NSA side that we engaged in any such activity nor that anyone ever asked us to engage in such activity.” Comey would not state whether or not an investigation of intelligence community leaks to the media, most notably the Flynn phone calls, were being investigated.

The comments “I have seen nothing” and “I have no information” are not the same as saying something did not occur. And we now have confirmed that there was, in fact, an investigation starting well before the election. As interviewing Trump associates or their alleged Russian contacts during an electoral campaign was presumably not an option, any investigation into whether Trump’s team had been colluding with the Russians would involve electronic surveillance of communications into and out of the campaign committee offices in Trump Tower.

If there is confusion, it appears to come from use of the word “wiretapped,” with its implication of a concealed microphone or transmitter inside the building, as Nunes noted. But that is no longer how electronic surveillance is done. The Bureau and/or the NSA would have been able to intercept phones and internet communications remotely from communications servers or from special facilities that tap directly into the telecommunications switching facilities—something that they do routinely in both criminal and national security cases. The recording of the Flynn calls to the Russian ambassador may have been obtained in that fashion, whether by the Obama administration, presumably either covertly or with the consent of the White House, or by the British.

Meanwhile, holes are beginning to appear in the claim that the Russians were behind the DNC hacking. The FBI was not allowed to examine the Democratic party servers that were allegedly targeted and the reports on accountability came from a contract security company called CrowdStrike, which claimed that the malware used against the DNC was related to malware employed by the Russians in Ukraine. The Ukrainian government, no friend to Russia, as well as a highly reputable British think tank, are now claiming that the allegation is untrue, as is the narrative built around it. Take away the CrowdStrike report and there is no publicly available evidence whatsoever that the Russians were behind the hacking. This is not to say they didn’t do it, but it is yet another indication that verification of claims is lacking.


Last week, Fox News contributor Judge Andrew Napolitano was suspended after claiming that British intelligence was involved in a possible plot to bring down Trump. One might note that the New York Times itself revealed the possible British link on March 1, when it reported how the “Obama Administration Rushed to Preserve Intelligence of Russian Election Hacking.” The article confirmed European intelligence service involvement in the Trump-Russia investigation, but somehow the possibility that a foreign agency might have collaborated with rogue elements in the United States to pursue a certain objective has somewhat fallen out of favor.

The foreign angle is intriguing. Contrary to FBI Director Comey’s claims, the U.S. president can authorize surveillance of anyone using the authorities he already has. But if one is engaging in politically-inspired underhandedness, it is far better to use misdirection in doing so. A foreign connection can be an enabler. This can be accomplished by routing the desired information through friendly liaison services, especially those among the “five eyes”—Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Mike Rogers’ lawyerly response to allegations about British involvement in the snooping on Flynn and possibly others was, “I’ve seen nothing on the NSA side that we engaged in any such activity, nor that anyone ever asked us to engage in such activity.” Again, it was the wrong answer to the wrong question, which should have been, “Did the British provide any information related to the investigation of Trump and Russia?” And, “If so, what was it, where did it come from and how was it conveyed?” The British, for their part, have denied any collaboration, issuing a statement that, “Recent allegations made by media commentator judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct wiretapping against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.” Again, since no one might actually have been asked to initiate a surveillance—only to hand over material already collected—the response can be seen as technically correct but somewhat evasive.

There are some rules in place at NSA and FBI, which can be circumvented, for collecting information on American citizens. But the British obviously have no problem in doing so. They also have access to most NSA collected material as well as their independent resources from GCHQ and MI-6, both formidable intelligence organizations. In practice, friendly intelligence services share information without always going through the bureaucratic loops involved in normal liaison. Agreements on sharing intelligence are routinely violated to allow liaison partners to obtain information that would be constitutionally or legally protected in their own countries. GCHQ would have had considerable information on Trump and it certainly ought to have enjoyed particularly good access to the phone calls made by Flynn from the Dominican Republic on networks used by Cable and Wire, a British company. And then there is the Christopher Steele “dossier” on Trump, which, for all its faults, was clearly prepared with some access to UK intelligence files.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, describes how he has been led to believe that maybe even the Democratic Party, whatever element of it, approached John Brennan at the CIA, maybe even the former president of the United States. And John Brennan, not wanting his fingerprints to be on anything, went to his colleague in London GCHQ, MI-6 and essentially said, “Give me anything you’ve got.” And he got something and he turned it over to the DNC or someone like that. And what he got was GCHQ MI-6s tapes of conversations of the Trump administration perhaps, even the President himself. It’s really kind of strange, at least to me, they let the head of that organization go, fired him about the same this was brewing up. So I’m not one to defend Trump, but in this case he might be right. It’s just that it wasn’t the FBI. Comey’s [also] right, he wasn’t wiretapping anybody.

Wilkerson is referring to the highly unusual abrupt resignation of the Director of GCHQ Robert Hannigan, which took place on January 23. The British Official Secrets Act has meant that there has been little speculation in the UK media about the move, but I and others have wondered if it is somehow connected to possible collaboration with U.S. intelligence officers over Donald Trump.

So there remain more questions than answers when it comes to Russiagate, possible campaign associates’ collusion with Moscow, and the alleged connivance in some circles to delegitimize the Trump presidency. For those who enjoy the continuing soap operas there will certainly be much more to come. But as the two political parties strive to promote their own respective narratives of criminal leaks versus possible treason (neither of which might prove to be demonstrable), the American public might be in for a long, hot spring and summer as the propaganda machines grind and spit out their non sequiturs.

I personally believe, based on what I have observed and read, that no Trumpster did anything indictable; that the Russians were indeed behind the DNC hack but were not trying to destroy our democracy; that Brennan arranged with the Brits to obtain the surveillance information, which he then leaked; and that Obama knew all about the investigation of Trump and probably worked with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to have the Justice Department initiate it. But what do I know?

‘Terrorism Godfather’ Erdogan pursuing ‘Third Reich-style’ foreign policy – top German MP

March 28, 2017


A top German MP has slammed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, calling him a “terrorism Godfather” and accusing him of pursuing a Third Reich-style foreign policy. The outburst follows Ankara’s Nazi-themed taunts over a ban on Turkish rallies in Germany

“Turkey’s foreign policy priorities… are reminiscent of the Third Reich,” said Sahra Wagenknecht, head of the German Left Party’s parliamentary faction, speaking to other MPs in the Bundestag.

“Namely, it seeks to install [Turkish] minorities in other countries in order to pursue [Turkey’s] own violence-based policy, own geopolitics as well as its own policy of suppression there.”

She also referred to the Turkish president as a “terrorist Godfather.”

“This is a call for terrorism. Here speaks a terrorist, as simple as that,” Wagenknecht said, according to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Wagenknecht was addressing recent remarks by Erdogan, who last week threatened that Europeans would find themselves in danger unless the EU abandoned its policy of allegedly suppressing Turkish political activism.

“If you continue to behave like this, tomorrow in no part of the world, no European, no Westerner will be able to take steps on the street safely and peacefully,” the Turkish leader said last Thursday, as cited by Deutsche Welle.

In early March, authorities in two German states withdrew permission for a number of pro-Erdogan rallies in support of expanding presidential powers. The decision was taken amid growing public outrage over Ankara’s arrest of a Turkish-German Die Welt reporter, but also reflected the widening rift between the two NATO allies.

In retaliation, Erdogan lashed out at Germany, likening its policy to “Nazi measures.” In the days that followed, he reiterated the comparison, slamming European countries such as the Netherlands for employing “fascist” or “Nazi-like” policies.

Berlin later urged Ankara to consider ethical standards and end its anti-German rhetoric.

The political row is likely to have ramifications for the future of Turkish-European relations, as many influential voices in Europe have suggested that important parts of bilateral dialogue – including Turkey’s EU accession bid – be put on hold until Ankara softens its stance.

Berlin maintains that military-to-military ties and cooperation on combatting Islamic State (IS, previously ISIS/ISIL) should be maintained despite diplomatic discord.

Erdogan has come under intense criticism in Europe and beyond after a far-reaching crackdown on political opponents following a failed coup attempt in July last year. Dozens of Turkish journalists and writers have been arrested, along with a large number of civil servants, diplomats and soldiers.

Exclusive: Inside Diego Garcia, America’s highly secretive military baseA two year investigation reveals the US military’s poor treatment of contract workers on the controversial island.

March 28, 2017

by Katie McQue


When Danilo* tore open his first pay slip at his new job, the amount staring back at him was just six dollars. This was his pay for a whole month working as a warehouse caretaker.

It was 2007, and Danilo had begun his two-year contract on the secretive US military base known as Diego Garcia, located on a small island in the Indian Ocean.

This paltry salary was because of hiring costs he was made to pay to his new employer upon starting his job for the US military and the remittance he was required by contract to send to his family in the Philippines.

‘Six dollars was all I got to spend before my next payday. Dang!’ he says. ‘Who would be happy with that?’

Things did not improve throughout his years on Diego Garcia. Five years later his total annual earnings for 2012 stood near to USD$2,200, according to pay-slips seen by the New Internationalist. In 2015, his monthly earnings were around $450 per month, for working a minimum of nine hours per day, six days per week. This works out at about $2 per hour.

Diego Garcia’s non-military staff are almost exclusively from the Philippines. This is because they can be hired for much lower wages than employees from other countries, since jobs in the Philippines are scarce, several workers have said.

Jobs on offer on Diego Garcia include positions as cleaners, warehouse caretakers, and construction workers that spend long days working in the 40-degree heat of the tropical island.

Cheap labour practices on Diego Garcia have spanned decades, and with knowledge and complicity of the US government, documents passed to the New Internationalist reveal.

Over the past two years the New Internationalist has interviewed 11 current and former workers about pay and conditions on the island. They spoke on the condition of their anonymity due to fear of repercussions.

Some of the workers have told New Internationalist they believe that the contract hiring organization exclusively hires Filipinos because they come from a poor country and will accept lower salaries.

Most workers are hired through a contract firm, Centerra Parsons LLC. This is a limited liability company, created for contracting work on the base. Centerra Parsons specifically recruits Filipino workers. Those interviewed have said Centerra Parsons and the US Department of Defense capitalizes on their desperation by paying salaries that are low, even by standards in the Philippines.

Working overtime can be unlimited. Desperate for money to send home, says Arvin*, an engineer, often risks his health to work 12 hour days, 7 days per week, for periods of several months at a time. Having worked on Diego Garcia for 8 years, he has been promoted twice. His salary is now $2.50 per hour – which is considered high compared with some of his colleagues.

The Diego Garcia Island is part of the UK-owned Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean from where the British Army forcefully evicted the indigenous Chagossian population in the 1960s, before leasing it to the United States. It has since hosted America’s largest overseas airbase. Because of its notoriety, the base is shrouded in secrecy.

Only military employees are allowed to set foot there and no journalist has been allowed to visit Diego Garcia since the establishment of the base. The UK announced in November that it is planning to extend the US’s lease for the island for a further 20 years, up until 2036.

Meanwhile, Diego Garcia’s refugees have been left in poverty and uncompensated. Their fight to return to their motherland continues to this day.

The UK also ruled in October 2016 that Chagossian refugees would not be allowed to return home. This was the latest blow in the refugees’ four-decade long fight to go back to the Island.

The island has allegedly served host to the CIA’s post-9/11 secret rendition program, where terror suspects were held and tortured. Former UK foreign secretaries Jack Straw and David Miliband have both denied these allegations, yet a US Senate Intelligence report has stated that suspected terrorists were detained there.

Some 1,000 US Military personnel and almost 2,500 contract workers are based on the Island.

Stationed on the Island base, Arvin remains distant from his family. He has a daughter aged 7 and a son that is 10-years-old. He hasn’t seen them since April 2016 and won’t until April 2018, which is when his work contract ends. To block the pain of this separation he drinks – almost every night. A 12-pack of Miller Light costs nine dollars on the duty-free military base. Sometimes he finishes all 12 cans in one sitting.

‘The hangovers are bad. My supervisor gets angry. We drink lots because we’re homesick. I have no choice, in my situation,’ he says. ‘I cannot see my kids grow up.’

A lot of workers drink to cope, says Danilo. ‘When you are too drunk because of being homesick, it is either you end up in a brawl or on a bed with a dude. That’s the reality on Diego Garcia,’ he adds.

Nimuel*, 28, earns $400 per month working as a domestic helper on the base. He sends most of this home to support his girlfriend and infant son. When asked about the last time he saw his baby, his reply is: ‘Only on Facebook’.

Some Filipino workers are employed directly by the US Navy, and they have seen their wages slashed in cost-saving efforts by the military. Schemes have included indexing salaries to the volatile Philippine peso that resulted in a net decrease of 44 per cent, according to calculations by the US Navy.

In one leaked document a Naval Commander writes that the cut is inconsequential because the ‘employees reportedly believe they are not permitted to form a union.’

New Internationalist has also seen a contract imposing a wage reduction that a female worker was made to sign before she was allowed to leave the island to tend to a personal issue in the Philippines. Other workers have been threatened with being fired if they did not sign contracts that required them to take a pay cut, Navy documents show.

Knowledge of the situation has travelled as high as the House of Representatives, who absolves the United States of responsibility to these workers. A letter dated 2001 states ‘The US Navy, who hires Filipino Third Country Nationals [non-US workers employed overseas], does not have to comply with US Labor standard salary and compensation laws.’

Members of the US Navy have long been shocked when they learn the salaries of their Filipino colleagues. James Patrick, a Commanding Officer of Diego Garcia in the early 2000’s, was compelled to write in a Department of Defense cable that the pay policy is an ‘injustice’, especially considering the employees are living and working in a US dollar-based economy.

‘This situation is seriously affecting TCN [overseas worker] morale, will significantly lower their standard of living,’ Patrick continued in the cable.

When employees arrive on Diego Garcia they have the option to surrender their passports to their employers, New Internationalist understands.

‘Having your passport with you was a risk, in case you lose it or try to do something stupid,’ said Cristanto*, a former worker. ‘In case you have an opportunity to fly away without permission.’

If somebody does want to break their contract to go home early, there can be fines involved, one former US military veteran who was stationed on Diego Garcia says. He met and fell in love with a woman working on the base. For her to leave with him to get married when his tour on the island finished he had to pay a penalty of about USD $3200 to her employer, the United Seamen’s Service. Only then was she allowed to have her documents back.

This situation was typical at the time, he noted.

The US Department of Defense did not respond to the New Internationalist’s request for a comment on the pay issues for Filipinos on Diego Garcia.

Centerra Parsons told the New Internationalist that: ‘Our employees’ base salaries start at the mandated minimum of $400 monthly and progressively increase based upon position category and responsibilities.’

Centerra Parsons also conceded that it deliberately sources low-cost labour.

‘There are lower-cost labour sources available from other Asian and African countries, but we have chosen to hire from the Philippines because of the wealth of skills, abilities and tremendous first-hand knowledge they bring from years of supporting the island community,’ it added.

Work on the island is not always safe. Two former employees told the New Internationalist about accidents and industrial-related deaths occurring over recent years.

The UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office, who are responsible for recording deaths on Diego Garcia provided the New Internationalist with a list of five industrial fatalities that have occurred since 2000, it includes a death caused by ‘extensive head and face crush injuries’. The list, however, is incomplete. When the New Internationalist pointed out to the FCO that it knew of at least one death that had not been included on the list, the FCO acknowledged the omission and that there had also been delays in recording some deaths.

The pay policy for Diego Garcia directly conflicts with US Department of Defense guidelines, says American lawyer Michael O’Hara, of Michael A. O’Hara, PLLC in Kentucky.

Guidelines state foreign national employees will be based on the prevailing wage rates and compensation practices (for comparable work in comparable industries) in the country concerned, which should refer to the UK.

‘They are discriminating based on the national origin of the workers,’ O’Hara says.

‘Diego Garcia is part of the UK. Rather, they’re compensated in comparison with the Philippines,’ says O’Hara. ‘Diego Garcia is not surrounded by the Philippines’s economy. It is also in the middle of nowhere, 12,000km from the nearest landmass. While workers are sending some money back to the Philippines, they are still living in the host country’s economy and they deserve to be paid as that.’

*Names changed to protect identity of those interviewed.

Ferocious Cyclone Debbie batters north-eastern Australian coast

A potentially devastating cyclone is bringing heavy rainfall and hurricane-force winds to coastal areas of north-eastern Australia. Authorities are urging people to get out of the way of Cyclone Debbie.

March 28, 2017


Hundreds of kilometers of coastline along the Australian state of Queensland have been declared a danger zone as Cyclone Debbie bears down in the region. Authorities have warned a tidal surge could inundate low-lying homes.

The storm was upgraded overnight to category four, one level below the most dangerous wind speed level. Debbie’s force has already been felt in the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands, with wind gusts of more than 220 kilometers (135 mph) per hour, forcing tourists to shelter in their locked-down hotels.

Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the region and more than 20,000 homes are without electricity. Authorities have reported damaged roofs and trees ripped out of the ground.

“We’re getting some reports already of roofs starting to lift, including at some of our own facilities in the Whitsundays,” Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Stephan Gollschewski said.

He told national ABC broadcaster that Debbie would remain a category three storm for some 18 hours after crossing the coast.

A ‘monster’

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the evacuations were probably the largest the state had ever seen.

“We are in for a long, tough day,” Palaszczuk said. “The intensity and ferocity of the winds is going to be gradually increasing. Everyone is bunkered down.

The storm has made landfall between the towns of Bowen and Airlie Beach. On social media, Bowen residents say weather conditions worsened as the storm approached.

Authorities have warned against complacency if it appears the storm might have calmed after making landfall

Debbie is the most powerful storm to hit Queensland since Cyclone Yasi in 2011, which ripped houses from their foundations, destroyed crops and devastated island resorts.

After 12 Rejections, Apple Accepts App That Tracks U.S. Drone Strikes

March 28 2017

by Josh Begley

The Intercept

Five years ago, I made a simple iPhone app. It would send you a push notification every time a U.S. drone strike was reported in the news.

Apple rejected the app three times, calling it “excessively objectionable or crude content.”

Over the years, I would occasionally resubmit the app, changing its name from Drones+ to Metadata+. I was curious to see if Apple might change its mind. The app didn’t include graphic images or video of any kind—it simply aggregated news about covert war.

At its core was a question: do we want to be as connected to our foreign policy as we are to our smartphones? My hypothesis was no. Americans don’t care about the drone war because it is largely hidden from view.

In 2014, after five rejections, Apple accepted the app. It remained in the App Store for about a year. According to Apple’s internal statistics, Metadata+ was downloaded by more than 50,000 people.

But the following September, Apple decided to delete the app entirely. They claimed that the content, once again, was “excessively objectionable or crude.”

Well, Apple’s position has evolved. Today, after 12 attempts, the Metadata app is back in the App Store.

As an artist who works with data, I think the story of this app is about more than a petty conflict with Apple. It is about what can be seen—or obscured—about the geography of our covert wars.

For the past 15 years, journalists on the ground in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia have worked hard to uncover the contours of U.S. drone attacks—in some cases at their own peril. Filmmakers, academics, and attorneys have done important work documenting their ghastly aftermath. Websites like The Intercept have published whistleblower exposés about how the covert drone program clicks together.

But buried in the details is a difficult truth: no one really knows who most of these missiles are killing.

Because the particulars of the drone wars are scant, we only have ‘metadata’ about most of these strikes—perhaps a date, the name of a province, maybe a body count. Absent documentary evidence or first-person testimony, there isn’t much narrative to speak of.

The name ‘Metadata’ has a double meaning: the app both contains metadata about English-language news reports, and it refers to the basis on which most drone strikes are carried out. (As General Michael Hayden famously said, “we kill people based on metadata.”)

Smartphones have connected us more intimately to all sorts of data. As Amitava Kumar put it recently, “The Internet delivers ugly fragments of report and rumor throughout the day, and with them a sense of nearly constant intimacy with violence.” Yet information about drone strikes—in Apple’s universe—had somehow been deemed beyond the pale.

What would it mean to be more connected to our wars? Might our phones allow us to think more constellationally?

With a president who plans to lift the Obama-era constraints on drone strikes even further, declaring parts of Yemen and Somalia as “areas of active hostilities,” I’m glad that Apple has decided to stop blocking a news app.

If anything about the app is “excessively objectionable or crude,” perhaps it’s the airstrikes themselves.

Your browsing history may be up for sale soon. Here’s what you need to know

A vote could kill privacy rules that would prevent service providers from selling browsing histories and app usage histories to advertisers – here’s why it matters

March 28 2017

by Olivia Solon

The Guardian

San Francisco-A US House committee is set to vote today on whether to kill privacy rules that would prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from selling users’ web browsing histories and app usage histories to advertisers. Planned protections, proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would have forced ISPs to get people’s consent before hawking their data – are now at risk. Here’s why it matters.

What kind of personal data do internet service providers want to use?

Your web browsing patterns contain a treasure trove of data, including your health concerns, shopping habits and visits to porn sites. ISPs can find out where you bank, your political views and sexual orientation simply based on the websites you visit. The fact that you’re looking at a website at all can also reveal when you’re at home and when you’re not.

If you ask the ISPs, it’s about showing the user more relevant advertising. They argue that web browsing history and app usage should not count as “sensitive” information.

What’s changed?

The FCC has privacy rules for phones and cable television, but they didn’t apply to internet service providers. In October 2016 the agency introduced broad new privacy rules that prevent companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from collecting and selling digital information about individuals including the websites they visited and the apps they used.

The new rules – dubbed the Broadband Consumer Privacy Proposal – would require broadband providers to get permission from subscribers before collecting and selling this data. Currently broadband providers can track users unless individuals opt out. The new rules were due to come into play as early as December 2017.

“Getting these rules was probably the biggest win in consumer privacy in years. If the repeal succeeds it would be pretty bad,” said Jeremy Gillula, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

How could ISPs use my personal data?

They sell it to advertisers. Having all the data relating to your browsing behavior allows them to offer highly personalized targeted advertising at a premium to big brands, which are injected into your browsing experience. AT&T already tried such a program but killed it just before the FCC introduced the new privacy rules.

Meanwhile, Verizon attempted to insert undetectable “supercookies” into all of its mobile customers’ traffic, which allowed them to track all their browsing behavior – even if a web user was browsing in incognito mode or clearing their cookies and history. The company was sued for $1.35m by the FCC for not getting customer permission to track them.

Do all ISPs want to harvest our data?

No, not all ISPs want to abolish the privacy protections. A list of several smaller providers – including Monkeybrains.net, Cruzio Internet and Credo Mobile – have written to representatives to oppose the decision. “One of the cornerstones of our businesses is respecting the privacy of our customers,” they said.

How does this differ from the way Google and Facebook use our data?

It’s much harder to prevent ISPs from tracking your data. You can choose not to use Facebook or Google’s search engine, and there are lots of tools you can use to block their tracking on other parts of the web, for example EFF’s Privacy Badger.

Consumers are generally much more limited for choice of ISP, in some cases only having one option in a given geographical area. This means they can’t choose one of the ISPs pledging to protect user data.

Are any rules keeping ISPs in check?

In January the major ISPs signed a voluntary set of privacy principles, pledging to insist on opt-in consent before sharing “sensitive” information such as social security numbers and opt-out choice for “non-sensitive” customer information. Unfortunately, browsing history was included as “non-sensitive”.

These principles are based on rules created by the Federal Trade Commission, which used to be able to punish ISPs for violating customers’ privacy but is prohibited from regulating common carriers.

So how can users protect their browsing history?

You need to encrypt all your internet traffic. Some websites are already encrypted – marked out with HTTPS at the beginning of the URL – but ISPs would still be able to see which websites you have visited, just not the individual pages.

To mask all of your browsing behavior you can use a VPN service (which incurs a subscription cost) or try using Tor.

“Both make everyday browsing more complicated,” Gillula said.

Do Muslims Commit Most U.S. Terrorist Attacks?

Nope. Not even close.

March 24, 2017

by Ronald Bailey


“It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it,” asserted President Donald Trump a month ago. He was referring to a purported media reticence to report on terror attacks in Europe. “They have their reasons, and you understand that,” he added. The implication, I think, is that the politically correct press is concealing terrorists’ backgrounds.

To bolster the president’s claims, the White House then released a list of 78 terror attacks from around the globe that Trump’s minions think were underreported. All of the attackers on the list were Muslim—and all of the attacks had been reported by multiple news outlets.

Some researchers at Georgia State University have an alternate idea: Perhaps the media are overreporting some of the attacks. Political scientist Erin Kearns and her colleagues raise that possibility in a preliminary working paper called “Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others?”

First they ask how many terror attacks have taken place between 2011 and 2015. (The 2016 data will become available later this summer.) The Global Terrorism Database at the University of Maryland, which catalogs information on over 150,000 incidents since 1970, defines terrorism as an “intentional act of violence or threat of violence by a non-state actor” that meets at least two of three criteria. First, that it be “aimed at attaining a political, economic, religious, or social goal.” Second, that there is “evidence of an intention to coerce, intimidate, or convey some other message to a larger audience (or audiences) other than the immediate victims.” And finally, that it be “outside the precepts of International Humanitarian Law.”

The Georgia State researchers report that the database catalogs 110 terrorist attacks in the U.S. over the most recent five-year span period in the database. (Globally, there were more than 57,000 terrorist attacks during that period.) In some cases, the media tended to report several attacks perpetrated by the same people as a single combined story; following their lead, the researchers reduce the number to 89 attacks.

They then set out to answer four different questions: Would an attack receive more coverage if the perpetrators were Muslim, if they were arrested, if they aimed at government employees or facilities, or if it resulted in a high number of deaths?

From a series of searches at LexisNexis and CNN.com, Kearns and her colleagues gathered a dataset of 2,413 relevant news articles. If each attack had received equal media attention, they would have garnered an average of 27 news articles apiece. Interestingly, 24 of the attacks listed in the GTD did not receive any reports in the news sources they probed. For example, a cursory Nexis search failed to turn up any news stories about a 2011 arson attack on townhouses under construction in Grand Rapids, Michigan. An internet search by me did find several local news reports that cited a threatening letter warning residents to leave the neighborhood: “This attack was not isolated, nor will it be the last. We are not peaceful. We are not willing to negotiate.” The GTD reports so far that no one has been apprehended for the attack.

For those five years, the researchers found, Muslims carried out only 11 out of the 89 attacks, yet those attacks received 44 percent of the media coverage. (Meanwhile, 18 attacks actually targeted Muslims in America. The Boston marathon bombing generated 474 news reports, amounting to 20 percent of the media terrorism coverage during the period analyzed. Overall, the authors report, “The average attack with a Muslim perpetrator is covered in 90.8 articles. Attacks with a Muslim, foreign-born perpetrator are covered in 192.8 articles on average. Compare this with other attacks, which received an average of 18.1 articles.”

Some non-Muslims did get intense coverage. Wade Michael Page, who killed six people in an attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, generated 92 articles, or 3.8 percent of the dataset. Dylann Roof’s murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, inspired 179 articles, or 7.4 percent. Robert Dear’s slaying of three people at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs led to 204 articles, or 8.5 percent. Still, “Controlling for target type, fatalities, and being arrested, attacks by Muslim perpetrators received, on average, 449% more coverage than other attacks.”

No doubt this greater media focus on Muslim perpetrators has badly skewed the public’s—and Trump’s—impressions about the sources of terrorist attacks in the U.S. On the other hand, the Georgia State researchers do not acknowledge an important difference between the purveyors of jihadist ideology and domestic racists like Page and Roof. ISIS and Al Qaeda are adroit publicists who have leveraged their relatively few attacks into successfully instilling a sense of terror into many Americans.

The Georgia State researchers conclude: “By covering terrorist attacks by Muslims dramatically more than other incidents, media frame this type of event as more prevalent. Based on these findings, it is no wonder that Americans are so fearful of radical Islamic terrorism. Reality shows, however, that these fears are misplaced.”

Such fears are indeed misplaced. Your risk of being killed in a jihadist terror attack in the last 15 years amounted to roughly 1 in 2,640,000. Even if you stretch the period back to include 9/11, the risk would still just have been 1 in 110,000. Your lifetime risk of dying in a lightning strike is 1 in 161,000, and your chance of being killed in a motor vehicle crash is 1 in 114. Given that our government has already squandered more than $500 billion on homeland security, while encroaching on our liberties, it is vital that Americans keep the threat of terrorism in perspective. This new study is one small step in that direction.

Supreme Court sides with death row inmate who claims intellectual disability

Ruling stated that Texas used outdated medical criteria to make decide that Bobby James Moore, convicted for 1980 murder, does not have mental disability

March 28, 2017


The Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with a Texas death row inmate who claims he should not be executed because he is intellectually disabled.

The justices, by a 5-3 vote, reversed a Texas appeals court ruling that said inmate Bobby James Moore was not intellectually disabled.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her majority opinion that Texas’s top criminal appeals court ignored current medical standards and required use of outdated criteria when it decided Moore isn’t mentally disabled. That ruling removed a legal hurdle to Moore’s execution for the shotgun slaying of a Houston grocery store clerk in 1980.

“Texas cannot satisfactorily explain why it applies current medical standards for diagnosing intellectual disability in other contexts, yet clings to superseded standards when an individual’s life is at stake,” Ginsburg said.

The decision was the second this term in which the high court has ruled for a Texas death row inmate. In February, the justices said race improperly tainted inmate Duane Buck’s death sentence.

Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, along with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Roberts agreed that the Texas court used the wrong factors to determine mental disability. But he said the court also made a separate and independent determination about Moore’s intellectual abilities, finding they were not low enough to warrant a finding he was mentally disabled.

“Clinicians, not judges, should determine clinical standards,” Roberts said. “And judges, not clinicians, should determine the content of the eighth amendment.”

The Supreme Court held in 2002 that people convicted of murder who are intellectually disabled cannot be executed. The court gave states some discretion to decide how to determine intellectual disability. The justices have wrestled in several more recent cases about how much discretion to allow.

In 2014, the court ruled unconstitutional a Florida law that barred any other evidence of intellectual disability if an inmate’s IQ was over 70.

Texas looks at three main points to define intellectual disability: IQ scores, with 70 generally considered a threshold; an inmate’s ability to interact with others and care for themselves and whether evidence of deficiencies in either of those areas occurred before age 18.

The case is Moore v Texas, 15-797.

Three teenage burglars shot dead in US

March 28, 2017

BBC News

Three teenagers who broke into a home in Oklahoma were killed by the homeowner’s son firing an assault-style AR-15, say police.

“They were dressed in black, all had masks on, and all had gloves on,” Deputy Nick Mahoney told reporters.

The intruders – who police say were armed with brass knuckles and a knife – were shot by a 23-year-old man in an act of “self-defence”, officers said.

The son may not face charges due to so-called stand your ground laws.

“This may be a case of ‘stand-your-ground,’ however, it’s still too early to say for sure, and we’re still looking into all aspects of this,” Mr Mahoney told local media.

He was referring to the laws in some states that say a citizen can legally use lethal force if they feel that their life in is imminent danger.

Two of the teenagers died inside the home and one ran outside before dying in the driveway.

The teenagers broke through a sliding glass door in the back of the house before encountering the homeowner’s adult son, who was armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle, police say.

The man, who authorities say also lives at the address with his father, opened fire on the teens after they had a “short exchange of words”.

Authorities say they have no reason to believe the home residents knew the teens.

Two of the teens are under 17 years old and one is between 18 and 19.

A fourth person has been arrested and is facing murder and burglary charges.

Elizabeth Marie Rodriguez, 21, turned herself in at the Broken Arrow police station and has admitted to serving as a getaway driver.

Nearby residents tell local media that there have been a string of burglaries in the area, but police have made no link.

Scottish parliament backs second independence referendum vote

Scottish lawmakers have backed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s bid for a new referendum on independence from the UK. The vote gives Sturgeon a mandate to seek permission from Westminster to go ahead with the vote.

March 28, 2017


Scotland’s parliament on Tuesday backed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s calls for another independence referendum by a majority of 69 to 59.

The vote allows Sturgeon to make a formal request to the British government to hold a referendum and comes a day before Prime Minister Theresa May formally launches Brexit proceedings.

Last year’s Brexit vote in June resulted in a significant strain between the UK’s constituencies, with England and Wales voting to leave the European Union and Scotland and Northern Ireland choosing to remain.

Sturgeon has said she wants to hold an independence plebiscite in late 2018 or early 2019, when the terms of the UK’s divorce from the EU become clear.

However, there is no guarantee that May will sanction the referendum. The Prime Minister said that “now is not the time” and that the UK’s efforts should be focused on securing a good Brexit deal that would suit all parts of the UK.

Beijing demands answers after Paris police shoot dead Chinese national

China has summoned a French embassy representative after Paris police shot and killed a Chinese national in his Paris apartment. The shooting has prompted clashes between authorities and Paris’ Chinese community.

March 28, 2017


France’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday launched an enquiry into the killing of a Chinese national by Paris police after Beijing filed an official complaint and urged French officials to “get to the bottom of the incident as soon as possible.”

A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry also said that the steps should be taken to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens living France after around 100 members of the Chinese community protested in the French capital Monday night.

The French Foreign Ministry also sought to calm concerns in Beijing, saying the security of Chinese citizens was a priority. “Additional (security) measures have been taken in recent months and everything has been done to provide them with the best conditions for living here and for their security,” the ministry said in a statement.

Three policemen were injured and 35 people were arrested in Monday night’s demonstrations in the northeast of the capital. One police vehicle was damaged by an incendiary device.

Victim’s family disputes official version of events

Sunday’s incident saw police shoot dead a Chinese national in his apartment in front of his family. The police officer had been called to the scene to investigate an alleged altercation with a neighbor. Paris authorities maintain that the man attacked the policeman with scissors.

However, lawyer Calvin Job said the family of the dead man “totally disputes this version of events,” saying that the man, a father of four, had been trimming fish with the scissors when police came to the door.

“Police forced open the door of the apartment, pushing him back,” Job said, adding that the police “shot without warning” even though the man did not rush towards them.

Discrimination against France’s Chinese population

France’s Chinese population has routinely accused the police of not doing enough to protect them from racism, as well as the media of neglecting their plight.

“Chinese are victims of racist attitudes in France – especially from other ethnic groups like Arabs,” Pierre Picquart, Chinese expert at the University of Paris VIII, said. “They are targets for crime because they often carry cash and many don’t have residence permits, so can be threatened easily. They’re angry with police for not protecting them enough.”

Last September, some 15,000 people rallied protest calling for an end to discriminatory violence and ethnic tensions after a Chinese tailor was beaten to death.

“Chinese people do not like to protest or express themselves publicly, so when we see them like this it means they are very, very angry,” Picquart said. “They’ve had enough of discrimination.”

France is home to some two million ethnic Chinese, more than any other European country.

Germany proposes EU sanctions on countries not taking back illegal immigrants

March 28, 2017


Germany suggests the EU should impose sanctions on countries refusing to take back their nationals deported from the bloc. The measures include tightening “generous” visa policies towards these countries’ senior officials, as well as curbs on financial aid.

Addressing an EU meeting in Brussels, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the 28-member bloc needs to get tough on countries reluctant to take back failed asylum applicants, Spiegel reported on Tuesday.

Berlin’s proposal to unleash “a whole range of policy measures to encourage the readiness to receive the returnees” has been met with “great approval,” the magazine said.

It is mandatory under international law to take one’s own citizens back,” de Maiziere stated, adding that “many states are not pleased to do so.”

“If a country is not ready to take its own citizens back, it has to understand that visa policies which allow travel to Europe are not as generous as they used to be, maybe even for the country’s leadership,” de Maiziere said.

The minister added it is necessary “to put all eggs you have in the negotiation basket” while talking to North African and other countries.

According to government statistics cited by Spiegel, around 207,000 migrants were obliged to leave Germany as of the end of 2016, including approximately 99,000 failed asylum seekers. Last year, 27,000 people were deported, while another 54,000 decided to leave voluntarily after receiving government cash offers incentivizing them to return home.

Some EU countries, however, resist the implementation of certain repatriation schemes, particularly the Dublin Regulation stipulating that refugees can be returned to the first EU state they arrived in. Greece has recently said it will cease to take refugees back as its immigration capacities are all but on the verge of collapse.

On Sunday, Greek Immigration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas told Spiegel “it would be a mistake to make Greece’s burden heavier by the revival of the Dublin agreement,” accusing Germany of forcing Athens “to bear a large portion of the burden.”

The European Commission demands that Greece take back all migrants who arrived in the country since March 15 this year, de Maiziere maintained, adding that there are “not many of them.” Greece received “a lot of money” to accommodate migrants in compliance with human rights standards, he said.

Lawsuit Seeks Transparency as Searches of Cellphones and Laptops Skyrocket at Borders

March 27 2017

by Murtaza Hussain

The Intercept

A lawsuit filed today by the Knight First Amendment Institute, a public interest legal organization based at Columbia University, seeks to shed light on invasive searches of laptops and cellphones by Customs and Border Protection officers at U.S. border crossings.

Documents filed in the case note that these searches have risen precipitously over the past two years, from a total of 5,000 searches in 2015 to 25,000 in 2016, and rising to 5,000 in the month of February 2017 alone. Among other questions, the lawsuit seeks to compel the federal government to provide more information about these searches, including how many of those searched have been U.S. citizens, the number of searches by port of entry, and the number of searches by the country of origin of the travelers.

Civil rights groups have long claimed that warrantless searches of cellphones and laptops by government agents constitute a serious invasion of privacy, due to the wealth of personal data often held on such devices. It is common for private conversations, photographs, and location information to be held on cellphones and laptops, making a search of these items significantly more intrusive than searching a simple piece of luggage.

A number of recent cases in the media have revealed instances of U.S. citizens and others being compelled by CBP agents to unlock their devices for search. In some instances, people have claimed to have been physically coerced into complying, including one American citizen who said that CBP agents grabbed him by the neck in order to take his cellphone out of his possession.

The legality of warrantless device searches at the border remains a contested issue, with the government asserting, over the objections of civil liberties groups, that Fourth Amendment protections do not apply at ports of entry. Some particularly controversial cases of searches at the border have involved journalists whose electronic data contains sensitive information about the identity of sources. Last year, a Canadian journalist was detained for six hours before being denied entry to the United States after refusing to unlock devices containing sensitive information. It has also been alleged that border agents are disproportionately targeting Muslim Americans and people with ties to Muslim-majority countries for both interrogation and device searches.

This February, Sen. Ron Wyden sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security head John Kelly stating that he was “alarmed by recent media reports of Americans being detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and pressured to give CBP access … to locked mobile devices.” Wyden’s letter also indicated plans for legislation that would require agents to obtain a warrant before conducting these searches.

The rapidly growing number of searches has prompted a legal effort to demand constraints and controls on the practice. In a press release issued today announcing the lawsuit, the Knight First Amendment Institute indicated more plans to scrutinize these searches in the future.

“These searches are extremely intrusive, and government agents shouldn’t be conducting them without cause,” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director. “Putting this kind of unfettered power in the hands of border agents invites abuse and discrimination and will inevitably have a chilling effect on the freedoms of speech and association.”



No responses yet

Leave a Reply