TBR News May 27, 2015

May 27 2015


The Voice of the White House

          Washington, D.C. May 27, 2015: “In spite of their fond beliefs, there is no secrecy any more. The government spies on the rest of us and we spy on them. The Deep Internet is one source the government snoopers cannot get into and many of us know that the so-called ‘Social Networks’  like Facebook, cooperate with government snoops. Avoid it by all means and if you have children, warn them and then block Facebook from their computers. We spy on the Russians, Israel spies on us and the Brits fall all over themselves to please America. The Germans are aware of CIA penetrations of their top-level governmental agencies and indivduals and have taken, and are taking, steps to neutralize them. Both the Ukraine and Greece are totally bankrupt and run around demanding other countries give them money. Their economies are equal to those of some mid-African country. Too many citizens, no products to sell and a heavy birth rate. Hordes of Africans and Arab types are flooding into Europe, looking for free food and housing and the Europeans are becoming very angry about this. The liberal media babbles and chatters about the joys of brotherhood but the public is neither reading or listening. When the Norwegian nut, Brevik, shot up the young campers, he only shot dark-skinned ones, a fact the twits in the media carefully ignored.”


Exclusive: Leaked Report Profiles Military, Police Members of Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs

May 22, 2015

by Jana Winter and Jordan Smith

The Intercept

Nuclear power plant technicians, senior military officers, FBI contractors and an employee of “a highly-secretive Department of Defense agency” with a Top Secret clearance. Those are just a few of the more than 100 people with sensitive military and government connections that law enforcement is tracking because they are linked to “outlaw motorcycle gangs.”

A year before the deadly Texas shootout that killed nine people on May 17, a lengthy report by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives detailed the involvement of U.S. military personnel and government employees in outlaw motorcycle gangs, or OMGs. A copy of the report was obtained by The Intercept.

The report lays out, in almost obsessive detail, the extent to which OMG members are represented in nearly every part of the military, and in federal and local government, from police and fire departments to state utility agencies. Specific examples from the report include dozens of Defense Department contractors with Secret or Top Secret clearances; multiple FBI contractors; radiological technicians with security clearances; U.S. Department of Homeland Security employees; Army, Navy and Air Force active-duty personnel, including from the special operations force community; and police officers.

“The OMG community continues to spread its tentacles throughout all facets of government,” the report says.

The relationship between OMGs and law enforcement has come under scrutiny after it became known that law enforcement were on site in Waco bracing for conflict.

The 40-page report, “OMGs and the Military 2014,” issued by ATF’s Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information in July of last year, warned of the escalating violence of these gangs. “Their insatiable appetite for dominance has led to shootings, assaults and malicious attacks across the globe. OMGs continue to maim and murder over territory,” the report said. “As tensions escalate, brazen shootings are occurring in broad daylight.”

The ATF report is based on intelligence gathered by dozens of law enforcement and military intelligence agencies, and identifies about 100 alleged associates of the country’s most violent outlaw motorcycle gangs and support clubs who have worked in sensitive government or military positions.

Those gangs “continue to court active-duty military personnel and government workers, both civilians and contractors, for their knowledge, reliable income, tactical skills and dedication to a cause,” according to the report. “Through our extensive analysis, it has been revealed that a large number of support clubs are utilizing active-duty military personnel and U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) contractors and employees to spread their tentacles across the United States.”

The report predicted that six dominant OMGs — Mongols, Hells Angels, Outlaws, Pagans, Bandidos and Vagos — would continue to expand, with escalating violence. The groups are known as “one-percenter” clubs, a moniker they proudly use to denote their outlaw status. The report identifies the most violent as Bandidos and Hell’s Angels support clubs — the same groups involved in a deadly shootout in Waco, Texas on Sunday.

The deadly confrontation involved the Bandidos and a rival club, the Cossacks MC, who are backed by Bandidos’ arch rivals, the Hell’s Angels. The shootout was part of a ongoing turf battle: Without permission from the Bandidos, Cossacks members have begun wearing a patch on their vests that claims Texas as the club’s territory — a figurative thumb in the eye of the Bandidos, long the state’s dominant motorcycle club. Nine people were killed and more than 170 bikers were arrested in the noontime showdown.

On Wednesday, law enforcement in Texas confirmed to several media outlets that one of the bikers arrested in the massive post-shootout sweep was a former San Antonio police detective, who joined the Bandidos after retiring from the department after 32 years.

The ATF report identifies the Bandidos as the dominant and most violent of the motorcycle gangs in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, and identifies a staff sergeant instructor in the United States Air Force, currently stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, as the president of the local Pistoleros chapter, a Bandidos support club. According to the report, he routinely hosts parties for active duty military personnel.

In response to questions about the report, an ATF spokesperson said, “This was supposed to be solely a law enforcement tool to help fight violent crime. It was not supposed to be out there in the ether for general consumption.” The Intercept, after consulting with ATF, has redacted some portions of the report.

In an interview, Edward Winterhalder, a former high-ranking member of the Bandidos who left the club in 2003, said that while military veterans have long been involved in motorcycle clubs — many of the current outlaw clubs were formed in the wake of World War II — current-duty military or law enforcement members are not generally involved in the most violent gangs.

According to Winterhalder, biker clubs not associated with the violent one-percenters have many government employees — current military, law enforcement and firefighters — as members. Indeed, some clubs have emerged that pointedly disavow any connections to violence or lawlessness, or that specifically bill themselves as a LEMC — law enforcement motorcycle club.

Among those are the Iron Circle LEMC, a Texas club formed in 2006; the Arizona-founded Roughnecks Country MC — for the “99 percent … that gives a shit about society and the laws that govern the world we live in”; the Iron Order MC, a fiercely independent club that strongly rejects the ethos of the one-percenters; and the Protectors LEMC, which requires a criminal background check for prospective members.

Nonetheless, the report documents extensive involvement of current-duty military and government personnel in the outlaw groups, and does not mention LEMCs.

The report is a testament to how seriously law enforcement takes the issue of outlaw motorcycle gangs, detailing extensive surveillance; the document includes copies of military or government identification photos, some gained from traffic stops, and information from what appears to be close monitoring of military and government officials who attend the groups’ gatherings and activities across the country.


Rove’s Crossroads PAC Is No Longer G.O.P.’s ‘Big Dog’

May 21, 2015

by Eric Lichtblau and Maggie Haberman

New York Times

           WASHINGTON — For three election cycles, American Crossroads, the brainchild of Karl Rove and other leading Republican strategists, has been among the most powerful forces in national politics, a shadow party that has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, data and opposition research to help elect candidates.

But in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign, Crossroads — among the first outside groups to fully exploit the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision unleashing wealthy donors and corporations — has been buffeted by a rapidly changing political landscape that is testing its pre-eminence, and potentially its survival.

The nonprofit arm of Crossroads is facing an Internal Revenue Service review that could eviscerate its fund-raising. Data projects nurtured by Mr. Rove are being supplanted in Republican circles by a more successful initiative funded by the Koch political network, which has leapfrogged the Crossroads organizations in size and reach.

And the group faces intense competition for donors from a new wave of “super PACs” that are being set up by backers of the leading Republican candidates for president, who are unwilling to defer to Mr. Rove’s authority or cede strategic and fund-raising dominance to the organizations he helped start

 In recent weeks, Crossroads has begun carving a niche for itself in attacking Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumed Democratic front-runner. The group will use polling data and opposition research to paint her as “a typical politician who would say or do anything to get elected,” said Steven Law, president of Crossroads.

If the group’s role seems diminished, Crossroads officials are not complaining publicly. If anything, they are lowering expectations for an organization that raised $300 million in the 2012 cycle.

“Our goal is not to make American Crossroads the big dog of 2016,” Mr. Law said in an interview. “Our goal is to win the White House and hold the Senate and the House.”

 He added that in the large field of Republican groups and campaigns, “we’re a first baseman who effectively plays our position.”

“We’re a critical player,” he said, “but part of the team.”

The group still plans to get heavily involved in some Senate primaries and in defending Senate seats in the general elections in 2016, officials involved with Crossroads said. The creation of the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC blessed by Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and operated by Crossroads leadership, will be a major vehicle for that. But Crossroads’s involvement in the presidential race is still under discussion.

Mr. Rove, the veteran Republican operative whom President George W. Bush called the architect of his 2004 re-election campaign, declined to comment on the group’s role in the 2016 campaign, referring questions to Mr. Law.

But there is no doubt other groups have emerged that have moved beyond simply flooding the airwaves with television ads — traditionally the major priority of Crossroads. Charles G. and David H. Koch, who began Americans for Prosperity about the same time as Crossroads was founded, have expanded their political network, focusing on grass-roots organizing, developing a sustainable trove of voter data, and starting an initiative called Libre, which is aimed at engaging Hispanic voters.

Republican presidential candidates, using fund-raising techniques that Crossroads itself helped pioneer, are creating their own super PACs that have enabled large donors to make unlimited contributions directly through them rather than through outside groups like Crossroads.

Chief among them is Right to Rise, the super PAC that is supporting Jeb Bush, whose donor network overlaps significantly with that of Crossroads.

The group is facing a long list of other political and financial obstacles as well. Two of the biggest donors to Crossroads — Bob Perry and Harold Simmons — have died since the 2012 campaign. In that election, many of the congressional candidates it backed — along with Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president — took a drubbing, raising questions about whether donors got much bang for their buck.

The group has also lost some of its most visible fund-raisers over time. Ed Gillespie, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, left in 2012 to join Mr. Romney’s campaign, and Haley Barbour, who also once held the chairman title and is a prodigious fund-raiser, departed in early 2013. A fund-raising advisory group formed by Crossroads after Mr. Barbour’s departure failed to accomplish much.

More recently, Carl Forti, the longtime Crossroads political director who simultaneously worked on the pro-Romney super PAC Restore our Future, in 2012, is said by four people with direct knowledge of the discussions to have been in talks with at least one 2016 campaign  — that of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who is not yet an official candidate. Mr. Forti did not respond to an email seeking comment.

A history of personal tensions between Mr. Rove and Jeb Bush could further undercut the group’s role in the presidential race, should Mr. Bush emerge as his party’s nominee.

Although Mr. Rove was George W. Bush’s top political adviser, his relationship with Jeb Bush has long been described as strained. Mr. Rove was seen by Jeb Bush’s team as poaching some of their stump speech material when the two brothers were running for governor in Florida and in Texas in 1994,  and relationships between him and Mike Murphy, Jeb Bush’s top strategist, have long been tense, although some say there has been a thaw of late.

And while Mr. Rove is beloved by a number of Republican donors, many grass-roots Republicans regard him as too closely tied to a presidency they see as having been insufficiently conservative.

Several donors who had grown familiar with the Crossroads pitches over the last four years said the group had been fairly quiet on the fund-raising circuit since the 2014 midterms. But Crossroads officials say that there is no threat to their fund-raising base, predicting that many donors will be willing to write two large checks — one to them and another to committees tied to a particular candidate.  In 2014, Crossroads, despite a slow start, raised more than $100 million by November.

“People are as enthusiastic as ever about what we are trying to accomplish, and we are enjoying significant support from donors, including from those who have also supported specific presidential candidates,” said Ian Prior, a spokesman for Crossroads, who joined the organization this month in one of four new senior-level hirings.

          Mr. Law said the group planned to double the number of staff members to about two dozen in the next nine months as it gears up for the election. But he would not say how much it hoped to raise.

Donald F. McGhan, a Republican campaign-finance lawyer, said it was not clear how those efforts would play out. “It’s really too early to tell this cycle who is going to be the dominant one and whether Crossroads is going to be more relevant or less relevant,” he said.

But Mel Sembler, a strong backer of Mr. Bush who is also involved with Crossroads, said speculation about the group’s changing role was exaggerated. He said that Crossroads was already drawing large numbers of donors who were also supporting Mr. Bush, and he predicted that would accelerate in the months ahead.

“Crossroads has been amazing,” he said, “in raising money and deploying it effectively.”

Anthony Scaramucci, a Republican donor and financier who is currently supporting Governor Walker, said he expected that Mr. Rove — and Crossroads — would find a way to maintain their influence.

“I would never underestimate him,” he said.

Eric Lichtblau reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York. Nicholas Confessore contributed reporting from New York.


Russia to adopt tough position if Ukraine defaults: PM Medvedev

May 23, 2015


Russia would adopt a tough position if Ukraine decided not to pay off debts owed to Moscow by its previous government, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview broadcast by Russian TV on Saturday.

Russia has spoken out against a new Ukrainian law allowing a moratorium on foreign debt repayments, threatening to take Ukraine to court if it fails to repay $3 billion that Russia lent it in 2013.

In his interview, Medvedev called the new law “contradictory”.

“Probably they are talking about private debts, but at the same time they are hinting that they aren’t prepared to pay off the debts of the (former Ukrainian president Viktor) Yanukovich government,” Medvedev said.

“If it is actually formulated in this way this would undoubtedly be a default of Ukraine … We would adopt as tough a position as possible in this case and defend our national interests,” Medvedev told the Vesti on Saturday program on state TV channel Rossiya.

He added that any such refusal would “undoubtedly influence the process of their agreement with the International Monetary Fund” – a seeming reference to IMF rules that require financial assistance recipients to honor debts to other governments.

Medvedev also said that Russia was “not indifferent” to debts owed by Ukraine to private Russian creditors, as the bulk of these debts are owed to banks with state ownership.

“We will collect (the debts),” Medvedev said. “Banks will use all instruments that exist, including, naturally, judicial procedures,” he said.




Medvedev also said his government had an interest in seeing a predictable rate for the rouble, but he defended the central bank’s policy of allowing the rouble to float, saying it was “optimal” to achieve a balance in the forex market between supply and demand.

Analysts have been speculating that the authorities are concerned the rouble has strengthened too much after the dollar fell below 50 rubles per dollar — a large rebound from the ruble’s all-time low of 80 in December.

Medvedev said the current exchange rate was “practically at the present moment the real value of the rouble.” But he added: “Some economists consider that this is even excessive strengthening.”


Reporting by Jason Bush; Editing by David Holmes and Raissa Kasolowsky



Insecure, narcissistic people more likely to post on Facebook – report

May 25. 2015


          People suffering from low self-esteem are more likely to post their relationship status on Facebook, a new study has found.

 A report from Brunel University, published Friday, found that the popular Facebook “relationship status” feature was used by individuals with low self-esteem to generate attention to distract from their own feelings.

“People with low self-esteem are more likely to see the advantage of self-disclosing on Facebook rather than in person,” the report said.

However, rather than providing a boost of self-confidence, the romantic status posts “tend to be perceived as less likeable,” it added.

Data collected from a sample of 555 Facebook users took into account the frequency with which users engaged with the social network, whether or not they were involved in a relationship and the amount of time they spent checking Facebook.

“Sixty-five percent of participants were currently involved in a romantic relationship, and 34 percent had at least one child,” the report said.

A total of 57 percent checked Facebook on a daily basis, and spent an average of 108 minutes a day actively using it, it added.

The report also found that “narcissists” were likely to post about their achievements, rather than relationships, “indicating that narcissists’ boasting may be reinforced by the attention they crave.”

They were also more likely to post about health and fitness regimes “suggesting that they use Facebook to broadcast the effort they put into their physical appearance,” the report said.

Psychology lecturer Dr Tara Marshall, from Brunel University London, said: “It might come as little surprise that Facebook status updates reflect people’s personality traits. However, it is important to understand why people write about certain topics on Facebook because their updates may be differentially rewarded with ‘likes’ and comments.”

“People who receive more likes and comments tend to experience the benefits of social inclusion, whereas those who receive none feel ostracized,” she said.

“Although our results suggest that narcissists’ bragging pays off because they receive more likes and comments to their status updates, it could be that their Facebook friends politely offer support while secretly disliking such egotistical displays,” Marshall said.

“Greater awareness of how one’s status updates might be perceived by friends could help people to avoid topics that annoy more than they entertain.”

In the past, the links between usage of social media and emotional stability have been exploited by advertisers and social networks alike.

In July 2014, it was revealed that Facebook was performing manipulative social experiments on unknowing users.

The social media giant changed the information posted on 689,000 users’ home pages and discovered it was able to influence the way users felt via “emotional contagion.”

In their study, conducted with academics from Cornell University and the University of California, Facebook altered the levels of positive and negative “emotional content.”

This approach subtly changed users’ views so they found themselves posting more positive or negative content, depending on levels of exposure.

Activists criticized these social experiments as “dcandalous,” “spooky” and “disturbing.”


Greece says wants to make debt payments but needs aid urgently

May 25, 2015

by Renee Maltezou


           ATHENS | Greece intends to make good on its debt obligations but needs aid urgently to be able to do so, the government said on Monday, after several senior officials insisted Athens had no money to pay a loan installment falling due next week.

Shut out of bond markets and with bailout aid locked, Greece is running out of cash to pay its bills. It must repay four loans totaling 1.6 billion euros ($1.76 billion) to the International Monetary Fund next month, starting with a 300 million euro payment on June 5 that is seen as the next crunch point for state coffers.

Athens has the money to make monthly wage and pension payments this week, government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis told a news conference. But he was less direct when asked about the June 5 payment, reiterating the government’s official stance that it has the responsibility to pay all its obligations.

“Based on the liquidity problems that we have, there is an imperative need for us and the euro zone to have a deal as soon as possible,” Sakellaridis said. “To the degree to which we are able to pay our obligations, we will pay our obligations. It’s the government’s responsibility to be in a position to pay all of these obligations.”

A growing list of senior members of the government — the interior minister among them — have openly said Athens does not have the means to pay the IMF, and would prioritize paying civil servants and pensioners instead.

“We haven’t got the money. We won’t pay. It’s that simple,” Deputy Foreign Minister Nikos Chountis, who holds the European affairs portfolio, told Greek TV on Monday.

Greek officials have frequently threatened to default in recent weeks, arguing the country does not have cash, which euro zone officials have dismissed as a negotiating tactic to raise pressure on creditors to disburse aid.

Adding pressure on the government, prominent opposition lawmaker Dora Bakoyianni said the country risked facing capital controls to stem deposit outflows if it did not reach a deal for aid with the government this week.

Sakellaridis dismissed such “doomsday scenarios”, saying there was “just no chance” of imposing capital controls. He also dismissed reports that the government would try to pay all its June obligations in one lump sum to the IMF.

He voiced optimism about a deal by early June but acknowledged that agreement on value-added tax hikes, pension and labor reform and lower primary surplus targets had yet to be found in negotiations with EU and IMF lenders.

Canadian financier and Fairfax Financial Holdings Chief Executive Prem Watsa met Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Monday and expressed confidence in the country’s recovery and on a deal with lenders, even “at the last minute”.

Fairfax owns a 13.6 percent stake in the Greek lender Eurobank.

“A deal is possible because it is the only logical solution and both sides need it,” Watsa told Eurobank and other officials, according to a statement from the bank.





Not accepting cuts to wages and pensions has been one of the government’s so-called red lines in over four months of negotiations since taking power in January. Such cuts are a sensitive issue in a country where unemployment has soared and incomes have fallen during the six-year economic crisis.

Sakellaridis denied reports that the government was considering an extension to its bailout program that expires in June or that the idea had been proposed to the government.

Ahead of talks between technical teams from Greece and its creditors in the “Brussels Group” which resume on Tuesday, the country’s negotiating team convened to discuss the progress of the negotiations with Tsipras late on Monday.

VAT rates, pension reform as well fiscal targets remain open issues, a Greek government official said, and the two sides disagree over the size of the fiscal gap for this year – the lenders put it at 2 billion euros while Athens puts it at under 1 billion.

On Sunday, the ruling Syriza party’s central committee voted in favor of reaching a mutually beneficial solution with lenders.

A proposal by the party’s hard leftists stating that paying wages and pensions should be a priority versus external debt obligations if the liquidity crunch continues was rejected by 95 members, as many as 75 members voted in favor.


Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris Writing by Deepa Babington; editing by Catherine Evans


Silent Circle shifts to Switzerland to bypass US surveillance

May 26, 2015


          As US mass surveillance continues to make headlines, one man has had enough. Philip Zimmermann, creator of one of the most widely-used encryption systems, has moved his company to Switzerland, claiming societies need to “roll back” surveillance tactics.

Expressing his concerns about mass surveillance, Zimmerman told the Guardian that “every dystopian society has excessive surveillance, but now we see even Western democracies like the US and England moving that way.”

Zimmerman is the inventor of the encryption program Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), as well as the co-founder of three-year-old encryption start-up Silent Circle.

“We have to roll this back. People who are not suspected of committing crimes should not have information collected and stored in a database. We don’t want to become like North Korea,” the Internet Hall of Fame inductee continued.

Silent Circle will now operate from Switzerland – a move prompted by the 2013 Lavabit incident. The founder of Lavabit – which provided email addresses for 410,000 people including NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – was served with a court order in 2013, requiring him to install surveillance equipment. This prompted him to close the service.

Zimmerman paid close attention to the situation, realizing that Washington could also serve Silent Circle – which offered voice, text, and email services – with the same order. He shut down the email service, wiped its database and never looked back.

Now the company is setting up its headquarters in Switzerland – where, according to Zimmerman, he is “less likely to encounter legal pressures.”

On its blog, Silent Circle credits Switzerland with having the “world’s most robust privacy laws,” adding that the company will continue to grow its Washington and London offices, but that “most of our new growth will take place in our new headquarters.”

While the Snowden revelations have opened the world’s eyes to mass surveillance, Zimmerman knew the possibilities all along.

The user manual for PGP, written in 1991 and updated seven years later, warns: “Today, email can be routinely and automatically scanned for interesting keywords, on a vast scale, without detection. This is like driftnet fishing.”

Perhaps it is this insight that has led to such widespread support for Silent Circle. Earlier this year, the encryption system raised US$50 million in a second round of outside funding.

In addition to Silent Circle and PGP, Zimmerman also played a role in developing Blackphone, the world’s most spy-resistant phone. In addition to its sealed operating system largely preventing data leaks, Silent Circle is used on the phone to encode all calls, texts, and contacts.

The second generation of the phone, costing around $700, is expected to be released this year, and will be followed by an attempt at a tablet device.



IRA killers may have been offered immunity

Lord Mountbatten’s murderer could be among ‘on the runs’ covered by secret deal

May 27, 2015

by Robert Mendick, Chief Reporter

The Telegraph/UK

          IRA terror suspects, thought to include the alleged killers of Lord Mountbatten and a British ambassador, were secretly given assurances they were safe from prosecution, according to official documents obtained by The Telegraph.

The correspondence suggests the Irish government covertly put in place a scheme promising suspects they did not face arrest.

Until now, it was thought assurances were given to suspects – known as “on the runs” – only by the British Government during peace negotiations.

However, the minutes of meetings between senior British and Irish officials make it apparent that Ireland was already operating an informal scheme of its own.

It raises the prospect that IRA terrorists who committed atrocities in the Irish Republic – including the murders of Earl Mountbatten of Burma and Christopher Ewart-Biggs, the British ambassador to Ireland – were given assurances that they were not facing arrest.

The disclosure comes days after the Prince of Wales visited Mullaghmore, the village where his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten was murdered by the IRA when a bomb exploded on his boat.

In an eight-page memo written on May 3 2000, Sir Jonathan Stephens, then associate political director at the Northern Ireland Office, outlined discussions that had taken place at the Irish embassy in London the evening before.

He wrote: “On OTRs [on the runs], the British side undertook to operate the Irish procedure of clarifying the position of named individuals and reviewing cases where appropriate, but with no guarantees of the outcome: Sinn Fein want an undertaking that the general principle of not pursuing OTRs will be recognised by July.”

Sir Jonathan, now permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland Office, added under the subject heading OTRs: “Reflecting earlier discussions in Downing Street, Jonathan Powell [Tony Blair’s chief of staff] said we were prepared to operate a similar system to the Irish one. If we were given a list of names, we would clarify with the police and the prosecuting authorities the position of those individuals and, where appropriate, review whether it remained in the public interest to pursue a prosecution.”

Senior Irish government officials attended the talks at the embassy, and Sinn Fein was represented by Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, its senior leaders.

In a second memo, sent to Mr Powell on Dec 6, 2000, an official in the Northern Ireland Office wrote of continuing discussions about on the runs: “The Irish plugged away at their Attorney-General’s idea of using the royal prerogative of mercy.”


Tony Blair ‘betrayed victims of IRA’


A senior Westminster source said: “These memos show that the British scheme was inspired by the Irish. It will lead to fears that suspects involved in the murder of Lord Mountbatten were given some form of immunity.

“Tony Blair wanted to wipe the slate clean for the whole of Northern Ireland and the Irish government were pulling the strings. This really shows the political interference in the Irish justice system.”

Kate Hoey, the former Labour minister and a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee that investigated the on-the-run scheme in the last parliament, said: “This is something that our committee will be concerned about.

“There is clearly still a huge amount of information that the Irish government has chosen not to put in the public domain and until that happens, there will be inevitable speculation that suspects involved in terrible atrocities are wandering free.”

The existence of the British on-the-run scheme, secretly pushed through by Mr Blair, then prime minister, emerged only last year after the collapse of the trial of John Downey, who was charged with the murder of four soldiers in the Hyde Park bombing in 1982.

He had been given a “comfort letter” assuring him he was not wanted for any terrorist offence, leading to his trial being halted. The letters were issued to assuage Sinn Fein’s concerns that suspects on the run needed immunity from future prosecution after the Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998.

A former IRA member told The Telegraph he would be “very surprised” if Downey was not involved in Lord Mountbatten’s murder. Sean O’Callaghan, a convicted former IRA killer turned supergrass, said: “John Downey was running training camps in Donegal [at the time]. It is not conceivable in my mind that John Downey was not involved.

“I would be very surprised if John Downey was not in the loop. John Downey was knocking around the area at the time.”

According to Mr O’Callaghan, terror attacks carried out on Irish Republic soil had to be approved by the senior IRA leadership. Attacks were generally forbidden in the Irish Republic.

The murder of Lord Mountbatten in 1979, along with two teenage boys – one his grandson, the other a boat hand – would have been approved only after careful consideration by the IRA leadership. The only man convicted of the crime, the bomb-maker Thomas McMahon, was in custody at the time of the explosion, meaning accomplices must have detonated the device from the shore.

Francie Molloy, a Sinn Fein MP, said Mr O’Callaghan’s claim of Mr Downey’s possible involvement was “fanciful”. Mr Molloy said: “That is just an assumption he has made.”

Three years before Lord Mountbatten’s murder, Mr Ewart-Biggs, the British ambassador in Dublin, was assassinated when the car he was travelling in drove over a landmine. Another passenger, Judith Cooke, a Northern Ireland Office private secretary, was also killed.

Nobody has ever been convicted of the killings, again raising the possibility that suspects later received reassurances. In 2006, Foreign Office files disclosed that a partial fingerprint found at the scene matched Martin Taylor, an alleged IRA member suspected of running guns from the US. Mr Taylor has denied any involvement in the murders. The fingerprint, found on a crash helmet, was not considered strong enough evidence to bring a prosecution.

The Irish ministry of justice has denied sending specific “comfort letters” to suspects. A spokesman said: “The Good Friday Agreement, while dealing with the early release arrangements for convicted persons, did not address the issue of persons who might in the future face prosecution or conviction.

“It is a matter of record that over subsequent years it was recognised publicly by the governments in Ireland and the UK that dealing with these cases was a logical follow-on from the Good Friday provisions.”

The spokesman added: “There is not, and never has been, in operation here any form of amnesty for persons wanted for the commission of terrorist offences.

“An Garda Síochána [the Irish police] will pursue fully evidence which comes to light in relation to any cases, including the ones referred to. It would be a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions alone to decide whether charges should be preferred in any case submitted to her.”


The Worst of All Possible Worlds:Did Market Leninism Win the Cold War?

by John Feffer

Tom Dispatch

           Imagine an alternative universe in which the two major Cold War superpowers evolved into the United Soviet Socialist States. The conjoined entity, linked perhaps by a new Bering Straits land bridge, combines the optimal features of capitalism and collectivism. From Siberia to Sioux City, we’d all be living in one giant Sweden.

It sounds like either the paranoid nightmare of a John Bircher or the wildly optimistic dream of Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, however, this was a rather conventional view, at least among influential thinkers like economist John Kenneth Galbraith who predicted that the United States and the Soviet Union would converge at some point in the future with the market tempered by planning and planning invigorated by the market. Like many an academic notion, it didn’t come to pass. The United States veered off in the direction of Reaganomics. And the Soviet Union eventually collapsed. So much for “convergence theory,” which like EST or cold fusion went the way of most crackpot ideas.

Or did it? Take another look at our world in 2015 and tell me if, somehow we haven’t backed our way through the looking glass into that very alternative universe — with a twist. The planet currently seems to be on the cusp of a decidedly unharmonic convergence.

           Consider what’s happening in Russia, where an elected autocrat presides over a free market shaped by a powerful state apparatus. Similarly, China’s mash-up of market Leninism offers a one-from-column-A-and-one-from-Column-B combination platter. Both countries are also rife with crime, corruption, growing inequality, and militarism. Think of them as the un-Swedens.

Nor do such hybrids live only in the East. Hungary, a member of the European Union and a key post-Communist adherent to liberalism, has been heading off in an altogether different direction since its ruling Fidesz party took over in 2010. Last July, its prime minister, Viktor Orban, declared that he no longer looks to the West for guidance. To survive in an ever more competitive global economy, Orban is seeking inspiration from various hybrid powers, the other un-Swedens of our planet: Turkey, Singapore, and both Russia and China. Touting the renationalization of former state assets and stricter controls on foreign investment, he has promised to remake Hungary into an “illiberal state” that both challenges laissez-faire principles and concentrates power in the leader and his party.

The United States is not exactly immune from such trends. The state has also become quite illiberal here as its reach and power have been expanded in striking ways. As it happens, however, America’s Gosplan, our state planning committee, comes with a different name: the military-industrial-homeland-security complex. Washington presides over a planet-spanning surveillance system that would have been the envy of the Communist apparatchiks of the previous century, even as it has imposed a global economic template on other countries that enables enormous corporate entities to elbow aside local competition. If the American tradition of liberalism and democracy was once all about “the little guy” — the rights of the individual, the success of small business — the United States has gone big in the worst possible way.

The convergence theorists imagined that the better aspects of capitalism and communism would emerge from the Darwinian competition of the Cold War and that the result would be a more adaptable and humane hybrid. It was a typically Panglossian error. Instead of the best of all possible worlds, the international community now faces an unholy trinity of authoritarian politics, cutthroat economics, and Big Brother surveillance. Even though we might all be eating off IKEA tableware, listening to Spotify, and reading the latest Girl With the Dragon Tattoo knock-off, we are not living in a giant Sweden. Our world is converging in a far more dystopian way. After two successive conservative governments and with a surging far-right party pounding its anti-immigrant drumbeat, even Sweden seems to be heading in the same dismal direction.

Indeed, if you squint at the history of the last 70 years, you might be persuaded to believe that the convergence theorists were right after all. For all the excitement the fall of the Berlin Wall generated and the paradigm shifts it inspired, the annus mirabilis of 1989 may not have been the end of one system and the victory of the other, but an odd interlude in a much longer evolution of the two.


Bats Do It, Whales Do It


Bats and whales don’t look at all alike. But they both operate in similarly dark environments. Bats hunt at night, while whales navigate the murk of the ocean. Because neither animal can rely on visual clues, they have developed the ability to echolocate, to use, that is, sound waves to find their way around. This clever strategy is an example of convergent evolution: adaptation by different creatures to similar environmental conditions.

Some social scientists in the Cold War period looked at Communism and capitalism in much the same way that evolutionary biologists view the bat and the whale. Both systems, while structurally different, were struggling to adapt to the same environmental factors. The forces of modernity — of technological development, of growing bureaucratization — would, it was then believed, push both systems in the same evolutionary direction. To achieve more optimal economic results, the Communists would increasingly rely on market mechanisms, while the capitalists would turn to planning. Democracy would take a backseat to bureaucracy as technocrats with no particular ideology ran the countries in both blocs in that now-distant two-superpower world. What would be lost in participation would be gained, it was claimed, in efficiency. The resulting hybrid structures, like echolocation, would represent the most effective ways to operate in a challenging global environment.

Convergence theory officially debuted in 1961 with a short but influential article by Jan Tinbergen. Communism and capitalism, the Dutch economist argued, would learn to overcome internal problems by borrowing from each other. More contact between the two foes would lead to a virtuous circle of more sharing and greater convergence. Further exposure came with John Kenneth Galbraith’s 1967 bestseller, The New Industrial State. From there, the concept spread beyond the economics profession and the transatlantic alliance.  It even found adherents, among them nuclear physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union.

In the 1970s, the coming of détente between the two superpowers suggested that these theorists had been on the mark. Policies emphasizing “coexistence,” adopted by each of the previously implacable enemies and facilitated by scientific exchanges and arms control treaties, seemed to herald a narrowing of differences. In the United States, even Republicans like Richard Nixon began to embrace wage and price controls in an effort to tame the market, while the rise of cybernetics suggested that computers might overcome the technical difficulties that socialist countries faced in creating efficient planned economies. In fact, with Project Cybersyn, an early 1970s effort to harness the power of semiconductors to regulate supply and demand, the government of Chile’s democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende planned to usher in just such a technotopia.

Of course, Allende went down in a U.S.-backed military coup. Détente between the two superpowers collapsed in the late 1970s and, under the sway of Reaganism, American government officials began to dismantle the welfare state. At the same time, the Soviet Union, now headed by aged bureaucratic leaders like Leonid Brezhnev, sank into an economic funk before Mikhail Gorbachev made one last desperate, failed effort to preserve the system through a program of reforms. In 1991, the Soviet Union disappeared and the victory of rampant global capitalism was proclaimed.

Not surprisingly, in the early 1990s several scholars wrote epitaphs for what clearly seemed to be a conceptual dead end. Convergence was dead. Long live, well what?


            The Short-Lived End of History


Even as convergence theory was bowing out ungracefully, political theorist Francis Fukuyama was reinventing the concept. In the summer of 1989, with his controversial essay “The End of History” in which he proclaimed the eternal triumph of liberal democracy (and the economic system that went with it), he anticipated the central question of the era: What would replace the ideological confrontation of the Cold War?

Several months before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the outbreak of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, Fukuyama argued that Communism would no longer pose an alternative to liberal democracy and that the European Union, the “universal homogeneous state” of his philosophical mentor, Alexandre Kojève, would ultimately be victorious. The endpoint of global political and economic evolution, in other words, was once again a political bureaucracy and an economic welfare state patterned on European social democracy. For Fukuyama, the tea leaves were clear: convergence was back as the way of the future.

What would have thrilled the architects of European integration — and the likes of Jan Tinbergen and John Kenneth Galbraith — was, however, a grave disappointment for Fukuyama, who was already in a premature state of mourning for the heroism that epic confrontations inspired.  The ideological conflict that had given shape to the Cold War and meaning to all those who fought in its political and military skirmishes would, he feared, be defused and diminished.  All that might then be left would be polite exchanges over minor disagreements in a boardroom in Brussels. The end of history, indeed!

Soon enough, Fukuyama’s thesis, briefly hailed here as the endpoint of all speculation about our global fate, came up visibly short as other potent ideologies reemerged to challenge the generally liberal democratic ethos of the West. There were, as a start, the virulent strains of ethno-nationalism that tore Yugoslavia apart and continued to rage across the expanse of the former Soviet Union. Similarly, religious fundamentalism, especially Islamic extremism, challenged the hard power, the multicultural ethos, even the very existence of various secular states across the Middle East and Africa. And the row of Communist dominoes toppling eastward stopped at Mongolia. China, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam at least nominally retained their governing ideologies and their single party structures.

At the same time, the European Union expanded, absorbing all of East-Central Europe (except for a couple of small Balkan states), even incorporating the Baltic countries from the former Soviet Union. Convergence, Fukuyama-style, came in the form of acceding to the requirements of EU membership, a lengthy process that reshaped the political, economic, and social structures of its eastern aspirants. The war in Yugoslavia eventually ended, and Europe seemed to have avoided a much deeper clash of civilizations. Even in Bosnia, the Orthodox, Muslim, and Catholic factions achieved a grudging modus operandi, though the country remains far from a well-functioning entity.

Fukuyama had, in fact, suggested a variant of convergence theory — that it would take the form of absorption. In this more ruthless narrative of evolution, the blue whale survives as the largest leviathan of the deep, while the immense shark-like Megalodon disappears. The Soviet Union made its bid for the proletariat of the world to unite and push capitalism into extinction. It failed. Instead, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany vindicated the capitalist theorists. So did the absorption of East-Central Europe into the European Union.

And once again, that was supposed to be the end of the story. The EU would be a diluted version of the Sweden that the original convergence theorists had posited — generally peaceful, modestly prosperous, and passably democratic. The “common European home,” which Gorbachev invoked at the peak of his prestige, might one day even include Russia to the east and transatlantic partner America to the west.

Today, however, that common European home is on the verge of foreclosure. It’s not just that Russia is heading off in an entirely different direction or that the United States recoils from even the weak Scandinavian social democracy that the EU promulgates. Greece is contemplating what once was heresy, its own Grexit or departure from the Eurozone. More troubling, in the very heart of Europe in Budapest, Viktor Orban is turning his back on the West and facing East, while anti-EU, anti-immigrant right-wing parties are gaining adherents across the continent. A new axis of illiberalism might one day connect Beijing to Moscow, Hungary, and possibly beyond like a new trans-Siberian express. The vast Eurasian landmass, the historic pivot of geopolitics, is sinking into despotism with a corporate face and cosmetic democracy.

And Hungary is no European outlier, despite the EU’s censure of Orban’s authoritarian tendencies. Other leaders in the region, from the conservative Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland to the social democrat Robert Fico in Slovakia, look enviously at Orban’s model and his political success. Euroskepticism is spreading westward, with the far Right poised to take over in Denmark, the National Front capturing the most seats in the last European parliamentary elections in France, and the recently victorious Conservative Party in Great Britain planning to go ahead with a referendum on continued membership in the EU.

In other words, a geopolitical game of Go is underway. And just when you thought that the liberal pieces had spread successfully from the Atlantic to the western edge of Russia — and under former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin possibly to the very shores of the Pacific — the anti-liberals made a few key moves on the margins and the board began to shift in their favor. Croatia’s entrance into the EU in 2013 may well have been the high-water mark for that structure. An economic crisis in Greece, a political crisis in Great Britain, and a liberal crisis in Hungary could combine to unravel the most upbeat scenario for the recrudescence of convergence theory.

With the EU potentially on its way out, brace yourself for something considerably less anodyne.


Convergence American-Style


The United States prides itself on being an exception to the rules, hence the endless emphasis by American political leaders of every stripe on the country’s “exceptionalism.” The U.S. remains the world’s only true superpower. It refuses to sign a range of international treaties. It reserves the right to invade other countries and even assassinate its own citizens if necessary. How could such a unique entity converge toward anything else?

These days, it’s usually just right-wing nuts who sound like old-fashioned convergence theorists. They’re the ones who label President Obama a secret agent of European socialism and believe that his health care plan will pollute the country’s precious bodily fluids, much as Dr. Strangelove’s General Jack D. Ripper worried about fluoridation. Despite the ornate fantasies of such figures, the United States has clearly moved in the opposite direction. Today’s Democrats are considerably more conservative economically than the Republicans of the 1970s and the Republicans have effectively purged all moderates from their ranks in their surge rightward.

           Instead of converging toward Scandinavian socialism, the U.S. has been slouching toward illiberalism for some time now. The Tea Party bemoans the “nanny” and “gun-control” state, but misses the deeply sinister ways in which that state has been captured by the forces of illiberality. The United States has expanded its archipelago of incarceration, our homegrown gulag, so dramatically that we have more people in prison — in total and by percentage of population — than any developed country on Earth. Our political system has been taken over by a club of the rich — our own nomenklatura — with corruption so embedded that no one dares call it by that name and critics instead speak of the “revolving door” and “voter suppression” and the “influence of money in politics.” The deterioration of public infrastructure has, as in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, turned the country into an embarrassment of falling bridges, exploding gas lines, bursting pipelines, backward railroads, unsecured power plants, and potential ecological catastrophes.

Add in spreading governmental surveillance and secrecy, unsustainable military spending, and a disastrously interventionist, military-first foreign policy and the United States is looking a lot like either the old Soviet Union or the Russia of today. Neither is a flattering comparison. America has not yet descended into despotism, so the convergence is hardly complete. But it might be only one right-wing populist leader away from that worst-case scenario.


Where Does History End?


In the long sweep of history, development is not a one-way street that leads all traffic toward a single destination. No doubt the Romans in the first century AD and the Ottomans of the sixteenth century imagined that their glorious futures would be full of successful Caesars and sultans. They didn’t anticipate any great leaps backwards, much less the future collapse of each of their systems. Why should the EU or the American colossus be exempt from history’s serpentine ways?

And yet America consoles itself that what’s happening in Russia and China is only a temporary detour. Fukuyama might have been premature in his 1989 declaration of history’s end, but his historical determinism remains deeply imbedded in how Western liberal elites look at the world. They sit back and wait impatiently for countries to “come to their senses” and become “more like us.” They arrogantly expect convergence by absorption to proceed, if not tomorrow then eventually.

But if, in fact, the signs along the highway are not all pointing toward the same destination, then maybe we should stop checking our watches to see when North Korea will finally collapse, the Chinese Communist Party implode, and Putinism grind to a halt. These are not evolutionary dead-ends awaiting another political meteor, like the one in 1989, to strike the planet and wipe them out. For all we know, they might even outlive their Western challengers. The Chinese hybrid, for instance, seems no less stable at the moment than any liberal democracy, particularly now that its economy has surpassed that of the U.S. to become the largest in the world. Nor does Beijing appear to be intent on ending its one-party rule any time soon.

Convergence theorists expected that certain global trends, from technological innovation to economic development, would push different ideological systems toward a merger at some point in the future. They may well have been right about the mechanism, but wrong about the results. A different set of factors — global financial crisis, widening economic inequality, increasingly scarce natural resources, anti-immigrant hysteria, persistent religious extremism, and widespread dissatisfaction with electoral democracy — is pushing countries toward a considerably less harmonic kind of convergence. Forget about the “new industrial state.” Welcome to the new post-industrial despotism.

The ongoing convulsions of geopolitics are throwing up all manner of new hybrids. Many of these market authoritarian regimes are deeply troubling, the offspring of a marriage of the less savory aspects of collectivism and capitalism. But they are also potent reminders that, because we are not the slaves of history, we can transform our putatively triumphant liberalism, with all its manifold defects of corruption, inequality, and unsustainability, into something more optimal for both human beings and the planet. The bats did it, the whales did it, and even though it’s not inevitable, we humans can do it, too.


John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies,


Criminals access 100,000 IRS tax returns

May 27, 2015

BBC News

A security breach has allowed criminals to access the tax returns of more than 100,000 people in the United States.

It appears that the criminals used stolen personal data taken from other websites that had been hacked, to pretend to be legitimate users.

The Internal Revenue Service was warned of the potential for unauthorised access to the accounts in March.

The online IRS’ Get Transcript app involved in the breach has been shut down and an investigation is underway.


Organised Crime

The scam’s perpetrators managed to set up fake tax returns and file for tax refunds. The IRS told the New York Times that it had paid nearly $50m (£32.5m) in refunds before it had detected the scheme.

The IRS says more than 200,000 attempts to view past tax returns using stolen information were made from February to mid-May with around half of those being successful.

“We’re confident that these are not amateurs,” said John Koskinen, the IRS commissioner.

“These actually are organized crime syndicates that everybody in the financial industry is dealing with.”

Security experts are concerned that the IRS’ system appeared not to use multi-factor identification, for example sending a one-off code to a users’ mobile phone for them to tap into the website, so as to verify that the person giving the information has access to the phone number on record.


Previous warning

The cybersecurity blog Krebs on Security warned in March that the IRS’ system could be breached when it reported on the case of Michael Kasper, who had tried to file his tax return only to be told that he had already done so.

In that case criminals had set up an account in Mr Kasper’s name using his social security number, but with a different email address. They filed a false tax return in order to claim a tax refund and had conned the IRS into paying that “refund” into a bank account that Mr Kasper did not recognise.

“The IRS’ process for verifying people … is vulnerable to exploitation by fraudsters because it relies on static identifiers and so-called “knowledge-based authentication” — ie challenge questions that can be easily defeated with information widely available for sale in the cybercrime underground and/or with a small amount of searching online,” said the security website, commenting on Mr Kasper’s case.

The IRS has sent letters to the taxpayers whose accounts had been compromised, and said it would offer them free credit monitoring.

The authority said its main computer system, which handles tax filings, had not been breached.


Russia’s Oil and Gas Activities in the Arctic

by Malte Humpert

The Arctic Institute

As the U.S. and E.U. keep a very close eye on the situation with Russia and Ukraine, Russia is also increasing its presence and influence elsewhere: the Arctic – a melting region that is opening up prime shipping lanes and real estate with an estimated $1 trillion in hydrocarbons.[1] With the opening of two major shipping routes, the North Sea route and the Northwest Passage, the potential for economic competition is fierce, especially among the eight members of the Arctic council: Canada, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Russia, and the United States.[2]

President Putin made statements this week concerning Russia’s national interests in the Arctic region: chiefly, militarization and the preparation of support elements for commercial shipping routes.[3] The Russian President called for full government funding for “socio-economic development” from 2017-2020, including a system of Russian naval bases that would be home to ships and submarines allocated specifically for the defense of national interests that involve the protection of Russian oil and gas facilities in the Arctic.[4] Russia is also attempting to accelerate the construction of more icebreakers to take part in its Arctic strategy.[5]

The Russian Federation recently staked a territorial claim in the Sea of Okhotsk for 52,000 square kilometers,[6] and is currently preparing an Arctic water claim for 1.2 million square kilometers.[7] The energy giant owns 43 of the approximate 60 hydrocarbon deposits in the Arctic Circle.[8] With Russian energy companies already developing hydrocarbon deposits and expanding border patrols on its Arctic sea shelf (in place by July 1, 2014),[9] Putin is actively pursuing a strong approach to the Arctic region. Russian oil fields, which significantly contribute to the country’s revenue, are in decline – forcing Russian oil companies to actively explore the Arctic region.[10] While the U.S. Defense Secretary called for a peaceful and stable Arctic region with international cooperation, the Arctic has created increased militarization efforts, particularly by Russia.

Already the Arctic has seen powerful warships of Russia’s Northern Fleet, strategic bomber patrols, and airborne troop exercises.[11] In fact, Russian military forces have been permanently stationed in the Arctic since summer 2013.[12] According to a source in the Russian General Staff, a new military command titled Northern Fleet – Joint Strategic Command, will be created and tasked to protect Russian interests in its Arctic territories; a strategy that was approved in 2009.[13] Furthermore, weapons developers are being tasked with creating products that can face the harsh Arctic environment. According to an RT report, “Putin ordered the head of the Russian arms industry, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, to concentrate the efforts on creation of Arctic infrastructure for the soonest deployment of troops. Rogozin reported that all Russian weapons systems can be produced with special features needed in the extreme North and the weapons companies were ready to supply such arms to the Defense Ministry.”[14]

The “Arctic infrastructure” that Rogozin refers to will include Navy and Border Guard Service bases.[15] These bases are part of Putin’s aim to strengthen Russian energy companies and military positions in the Arctic region. In 2013, a formerly closed down base was reopened in the Novosibirsk Islands and is now home to 10 military ships and four icebreakers – a move that Reuters called “a demonstration of force.”[16] The Defense Ministry is also planning on bringing seven airstrips in the Arctic back to life.[17]

Russia’s militarization in the Arctic region is only a part of its increasing activity throughout the globe. Vice Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said, “It’s crucially important for us to set goals for our national interests in this region. If we don’t do that, we will lose the battle for resources which means we’ll also lose in a big battle for the right to have sovereignty and independence.”[18] On the contrary, Aleksandr Gorban, a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry is quoted saying that a “war for resources”[19] in the Arctic will never happen.

But what was once a more hands-off region of the world that provided international cooperation and stability is now turning into a race for sovereignty and resources claims – as evidenced not only by Russia’s increasing military presence, but also Canada and the United States. Canada is now allocating part of its defense budget towards armed ships that will patrol its part of the Arctic Circle,[20] while the United States has planned a strategy of its own. In addition to conducting military exercises with other Arctic nation members, the U.S. Navy has proposed a strategy titled The United States Navy Arctic Roadmap for 2014 to 2030 that was released in February 2014. The 2013 National Strategy for the Arctic Region, cited in the Arctic Roadmap, provides the Navy’s two specific objectives for the Arctic: 1) advance United States’ security interests; and 2) strengthen international cooperation.[21] According to the strategy, the Navy’s role will primarily be in support of search and rescue, law enforcement, and civil support operations.[22] However, this may grow to a more militarized strategy depending on the U.S. government’s view of Russia’s increased military activity in the Arctic region over the next few years. In either case, the U.S. is falling behind in Arctic preparation. It has very few operational icebreakers for the Arctic region where its only primary presence is seen through nuclear submarines and unmanned aerial vehicles, according to an RT article.[23] Until 2020, the Navy will primarily use its submarines and limited air assets in the Arctic, while its mid-term and far-term strategy emphasizes personnel, surface ships, submarines, and air assets that will be prepared for Arctic conditions and operations.[24] Despite its mid and long-term strategy, the U.S. will already be lagging in establishing a military presence to compete with Russia’s, who already has strategies in motion until 2020 and later.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a united Canadian-U.S. counterbalance to Russia’s Arctic presence, pointing out “they have been aggressively reopening military bases.”[25] While the U.S. cannot legitimately criticize Putin for opening military bases and simultaneously avoid blatant hypocrisy, it is worth noting that Russia is developing a strong military presence in a potentially competitive region. Russia’s plans to reopen bases and create an Arctic military command fosters the conclusion that Russia wants to be the first established dominant force in a new region that will host economic competition and primary shipping lanes, albeit in a harsh environment that makes it difficult to extract resources. Nicholas Cunningham aptly stated “both Russia and the West fear losing out to the other in the far north, despite what appears to be a small prize.”[26]

Although the Arctic holds a mass of the world’s oil and gas deposits, the extreme environment and remote location makes it difficult to produce energy quickly and efficiently. Despite this, the Russian Federation is focused on developing disputed hydrocarbon areas that it claims are part of the country’s continental shelf. In addition, Russia is allocating funds and forces to the Arctic to protect its interests. While the U.S. is currently lacking in natural resource development and exploitation in the Arctic Circle, it desires to display a show of strength in the cold region to compete with potential Russian domination and influence. But because the Defense Department faces constant budget cuts, preparing an Arctic naval force will be slow and difficult. For now, the United States can only show strength through nuclear submarines and drone technology.

Putin and the Russian Federation are laying disputed claims to territories both inside and outside the Arctic while creating the foundation for a potential military buildup in the Arctic – provided that the U.S. and Canada can even allocate sufficient budgets for Arctic military expansion. One thing is sure: if the Arctic region continues to melt and open up vital shipping lanes, there must be international cooperation to provide security and rescue elements for commercial shipping. Since Russia has significant territorial claims and the most coastlines in the Arctic Circle, it would be natural for the Russian Federation to have a wide security presence in the region, but this must be coupled with international cooperation in commercial shipping lanes and by providing support elements, such as search and rescue. The United States will not be able to fully compete with a country that is heavily investing in the Arctic region – particularly due to budget constraints and lack of Arctic-prepared vessels. If the U.S. desires to limit Russian influence and territorial claims, it must do so by partnering with other members of the Arctic council – not by entering into a military buildup simply to dominate Russia in the Arctic.



[1] “US Navy admits it needs massive investment to fight for Arctic seaways control,” RT, February 28, 2014, accessed April 22, 2014, http://rt.com/usa/us-navy-arctic-plans-146/.


[2] “Arctic Resources: The fight for the coldest place on Earth heats up,” RT, April 15, 2014, accessed April 22, 2014, http://rt.com/news/arctic-reclamation-resources-race-524/.


[3] “Russia to create united naval base system for ships, subs in Arctic – Putin,” RT, April 22, 2014, accessed April 22, 2014, http://rt.com/news/154028-arctic-russia-ships-subs/.


[4] Ibid.


[5] Ibid.


[6] Ibid.


[7] Ibid.


Your Data is Showing: Breaches Wreak Havoc While the Government Plays Catch-Up

May 27, 2015

by Farai Chideya

The Intercept

When Kansas City, Missouri, real estate appraiser Dave Markus learned he was one of about 80 million people whose personal data was exposed in the Anthem health insurance breach discovered at the end of January, he immediately signed up for an identity protection service. But then he got a letter from the IRS in March. “Basically they said, ‘Before we send you your return, we want you to get ahold of us and verify your identity for your 2014 return.’ But we hadn’t filed yet.”


His wife spent time in “IRS voicemail hell.” She, and later he, went to the local office, where they were told to file a paper return, including photocopies of their drivers licenses and social security cards. It’s not clear whether the Anthem breach was even related to Markus’s tax woes. As in many cases of identity theft, which data breach was the cause will never be known. And the local IRS officials seemed confounded as to who should get involved. “They wanted me to file a police report with St. Louis,” Markus recalls. “And I said ‘Why?’ Are they going to fly to Shanghai or St. Petersburg or wherever these guys are?’”

Markus’s predicament is increasingly common. Just this week, news broke that criminals penetrated the IRS to pilfer nearly $50 million in refunds that belonged to more than 100,000 taxpayers. The agency claimed the perpetrators had seized data from other breaches. “These are extremely sophisticated criminals with access to a tremendous amount of data,” said an IRS spokesperson on Tuesday. The tax breach has drawn fire from critics who say that the government should have done a better job protecting citizens’ data. For its part, the IRS reiterates that it’s been facing cyberthreats in an environment of budget cuts, which since 2010 have cut 10,000 jobs from its enforcement staff.

In the past two years alone, well over 100 million people have gotten a letter, call or email notifying that they’ve been victims of a data breach. In some cases, key personal data has been exposed by retailers, including Target; for others, it’s health insurance companies including Anthem, or employers like Sony. Companies are paying a financial price, but in the end it may be relatively modest, and not enough to encourage better data protection practices. For example, Target has incurred more than $250 million in breach-related expenses, according to SEC filings, but only a fraction of that has been committed to consumers. The company agreed to a proposed class-action settlement for $10 million in March, which specified up to $10,000 for each person who could prove they had suffered clear damages and the rest to be split among other victims of the breach, which, if spread across all possible class members, would be less than a dollar a person. Benjamin Dean, a fellow for cybersecurity and Internet governance at Columbia University’s SIPA, wrote, “When we subtract insurance reimbursement, the losses fall to $162 million. If we subtract tax deductions (yes, breach-related expenses are deductible), the net losses tally $105 million. This is the equivalent of 0.1% of 2014 sales.”

In the meantime, both courts and consumers are faced with a quandary. Data leaked now could be used a decade or more hence, and both courts and individuals are left calculating probable future risk as well as current exposure. Consumers face limited options for protecting themselves. A telling measure of frustration is a syndrome that has been termed “data breach fatigue.” A third of people notified about a breach don’t take any action at all, according to a 2014 study by the Ponemon Institute.

In our age of big data, individuals are extremely vulnerable to breaches, but both government and corporations have an interest in collecting as much personal information as possible, from our shopping habits to our cellphone metadata. Columbia’s Benjamin Dean said he questions whether “opaque information sharing arrangements between companies and intelligence agencies” undermine the government’s incentive to advocate for consumer privacy protections. For example, the federal government can not only ask for data about consumers using platforms like Facebook and Amazon, but also require those companies to shroud the details of how many national security-related requests were made. That’s in addition to revelations that the government hacked the world’s largest SIM card manufacturer, giving intelligence agencies the capacity to access a large portion of the world’s cell phone users’ communications.

To be fair, the government has taken some of the right steps. The variety of federal agencies that deal with cybercrime in one form or the other is staggering — including the FBI, IRS and Department of Homeland Security. Some are more hands-on with consumers than others.  The IRS said it stopped 19 million suspicious returns between 2011 and October 2014. Notwithstanding the recent breach, the agency says it prevented almost 3 million suspicious returns this year.  Tax identity theft victims like Dave Markus of Kansas City are offered the chance to get an IRS Identity Protection PIN — a six-digit code that tax filers can use along with their social security number. So far, 1.5 million people affected by tax identity theft have signed up for the IP PIN program, which allows them to file more securely.

But as Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says, “We’ve always known that [federal] entities have internally conflicting missions. On the one hand they do enforce privacy laws and secure networks. But when they go after bad guys, their job is to infiltrate. They are dual-hatted.”

          The Legal process around big data breaches typically unfolds in a now-familiar pattern: victims claim that companies could have been more secure; the companies argue most or all of the people exposed haven’t been harmed; both parties settle out of court. Litigation against Sony, which, according to the U.S. government, was targeted by hackers in North Korea over the movie The Interview, is ongoing. The plaintiffs in one class-action suit describe their exposure as “an epic nightmare,” saying that Sony “failed to secure its computer systems, servers and databases, despite weaknesses that it has known about for years.” The data revealed included mortifying in-house memos between studio executives (including Amy Pascal, who was forced out as chair), but more importantly for employees at large, 47,000 social security numbers, plus medical and salary records. Sony, which refused to comment for this article, said in a filing to dismiss, “There are no allegations of identity theft, no allegations of fraudulent charges, and no allegations of misappropriation of medical information.” Instead, the plaintiffs assert a broad range of common-law and statutory causes of action based on their alleged fear of an increased risk of future harm, as well as expenses they claim to have incurred to prevent that future harm.


Anthem, the healthcare company whose breach affected 80 million, declined an interview request but emailed a statement which read in part, “To date, in working with the FBI, we have found no evidence that the cyber attackers have shared or sold any of our members’ data and there is no evidence that fraud has occurred against our members, including fraudulent tax returns.” An FBI spokesperson confirmed the bureau hadn’t, so far, found that attackers sold or shared data. But it wouldn’t weigh in on the assertion that no fraud had occurred.

          During a Securities and Exchange Commission roundtable last year, attorney Douglas Meal raised a troubling possibility: What if companies just didn’t disclose data breaches? Meal, who consulted with Target — whose 2013 data breach exposed information from 40 million credit cards and data from approximately 70 million shoppers — told the SEC, “I think, just to be someone speaking from the trenches … there is a tremendous disincentive to disclose a breach,” adding the qualifiers, “if the breach isn’t otherwise going to become public” and “if a company can conclude that it doesn’t otherwise have a disclosure obligation.” In his words, once a breach is disclosed, “you are now going to be a target of a lot of class-action plaintiffs, of consumer protection regulators, who will not look at you as the victim of the breach … but will look at you as almost the perpetrator.” Target reacted by saying they favored prompt disclosure — but Meal had spelled out logic that could well appeal to other firms facing a similar predicament. And of course, we’d never know.

          The EFF’s Tien says that keeping data breaches secret from consumers was a common corporate strategy until state regulators began to demand disclosure. (All but three states now have disclosure laws.) And there’s new legislation pending in Congress, including HR 1770, the Data Security and Breach Notification Act of 2015, that would require consumer notification in all states and the District of Columbia. Yet some lawmakers point out the bill actually weakens existing state-level provisions. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., stated that the bill would “weaken existing state law in 38 states,” and in some cases, “this bill would prevent you from being notified about breaches for which your state currently requires notification.” The pending legislation also leaves out the stickier question of what data privacy practices should be in place to prevent breaches from happening, or appropriate legal liability and penalties when breaches occur. “The current legal system has a short circuit because it doesn’t give companies very much incentive to address this,” says Tien.

          Are there paths to better data security for citizens and customers? Right now, several countries including the U.S., the U.K. and Australia that are at the crossroads of commerce, travel and immigration have aggressively pursued access to citizen data. On the other hand, Columbia’s Benjamin Dean applauds the X-Road system of the relatively tiny Estonia (population 1.3 million) for allowing “secure and confidential sharing of information.” X-Road is designed so that data can be securely verified across government agencies without that information being held in a central repository. For example, a citizen can link bank data to a national healthcare system, or quickly validate his or her ID at the border. While some other European nations are experimenting with the X-Road platform, a country like the United States would potentially have to submit to limitations on its direct access to citizen information in order to participate or duplicate this type of effort.

           Meanwhile, individuals are triaging data notices and personal concerns. Rochelle and Paul (last names withheld) found out they were compromised in the Anthem breach at the same time that they were moving Rochelle’s father into assisted living. Two weeks later, she says, “someone’s opened a Paypal Credit account in Paul’s name and charged $682 from a place called Modern Coin.” They called Paypal Credit to close the account, followed up with Anthem, and, via Anthem, got 24 months of credit monitoring from AllClear ID. “But I failed to jump into action immediately. We gave this asshole, whoever opened up the Paypal Credit, the opportunity to do that,” Rochelle says.

          While it would be easy to blame consumers — saying they should monitor their information more closely — the problem of data theft is endemic, and frustration is justified. The EFF’s Tien says, “Back in the day we’d be asked, ‘What are the 10 things a consumer can do to protect themselves?’ I hate to be a gloomy Gus, but the message I give journalists and others is there’s basically nothing you can do. It’s like saying, what can you do about climate change by yourself … when the problem is structural architecture and the flow around your data.” (The EFF does offer individuals Privacy Badger, a tool that blocks third parties from tracking which sites you visit as you surf the Internet.) Politicians, Tien notes, including the first successful data miner in chief, President Obama, have “very mixed incentives about stomping on this area

No responses yet

Leave a Reply