TBR News November 30, 2016

Nov 30 2016

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C.  November 30, 2016:” ” The frantic efforts to attack and discredit the alternative media found on the Internet are due, solely to prevent the public from reading and crediting the coming Wikleaks releases. Instead of ruining Clinton’s campaign, the new attacks will be directed against America’s international image by releasing deadly messaging from the U.S. Department of State. Cognizant of the damage Wikileaks did to Clinton, the government is now, through its media fronts, doing everything it can to turn the public’s eyes elsewhere. When the Arab Spring attacks were launched, and poor Bradley Manning was used as a dupe, this was not Wikileaks but a domestic intelligence agency making war on another domestic intelligence agency. Snowden quit the CIA in disgust and went to Wikileaks with his discoveries. Then Snowden, at their direction, went to work for Booz Hamilton and downloaded tens of thousands of highly sensitive documents. Wikileaks then sent someone from Moscow to escort Snowden and his laptops filled with treasures, onto a Russian state-owned airplane and the security of Moscow. We are seeing what is, in effect,  a cyberwar between Russia and the United States. It should be noted that the entire business began years ago when the US tried to get control of Russian oil and were blocked by Putin. The war started in earnest over the Crimea and its oil and now is in full operation. A problem for the US government is that the released documents are not fakes (like the baskets-full of fake stories the government packs into its obedient media on a daily basis) and if they accurately reflect a side of US government activity that is highly negative, what is the purpose of blaming Wilileaks from telling the truth?”

The Washington Post teaches us how to make fake news go viral

November 30, 2016

by Bryan MacDonald


The Washington Post has the temerity to accuse other news outlets of creating “fake news.” In reality, the paper from the Potomac is a skilled purveyor of the black arts itself. And it has once again proved its proficiency.

So, get this. Last week WaPo ran a whopper, based on an anonymous source and the testimony of a few online trolls, that labeled dozens of unconnected – and ideologically disparate – news organizations and online blogs as part of a “sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign” designed to “undermine faith in American democracy.”

Furthermore, there were calls for blacklists and allusions to how numerous writers and journalists are apparently traitors. Nevertheless, it was the kind of nonsense that anyone who’d spent more than a few days in a decent journalism school could debunk fairly rapidly.

Notwithstanding this, the Post published regardless. And it’s hard to understand what its editors were thinking. A dodgy website used to justify the defamation of 200 news organizations as “Russian agents” with all the negative connotations that branding has in America. To heighten the shambles, WaPo staffers also failed to contact any of the vilified outlets before they published their story.

Many years ago, there was a newspaper I knew which, in a drive for market share, invested heavily in ‘star’ columnists and reporters to establish itself in a then-lucrative market. The problem was that most of them, content with fat pay checks, were both lackadaisical and rather useless. Thus, some terribly inaccurate – or frankly contrived – waffle regularly got into the product.

The fact it was a Sunday title made matters even worse. Because it turned out that Monday editions of the dailies, produced by a skeleton weekend staff, had even fewer scruples. Thus, apathetic hacks across town simply ‘lifted’ copy from the day before, ensuring that plenty of the baloney found a wider audience.

Back then, it was regarded as questionable content, albeit with worrying ethical implications. Yet, a sort of informal omertà appeared to decree that as long as no significant harm was done, it could be overlooked. Plus, as a lowly freelance, I certainly had no outlet to expose such nefarious practices in the pre-WordPress days.

Anyway, with Facebook restricted to Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm and Twitter a glint in the milkman’s eye, innocuous celebrity tittle-tattle had limited range. But it’s different now. In the age of the World Wide Web, we live in a time when bad eggs can do considerable damage by spreading “fake news.”

New tools, old ideas

For instance, there are folks making six-figure sums from concocting trash like “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president” and “FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide.” Naturally none of these are remotely true, but they’ve spread like wildfire across Facebook, and the omnipresent internet giant has done little or nothing to tackle them. Indeed, I’ve seen London pub landlords make a greater effort to silence conspiracy theory-wielding drunks across bar counters.

Given that social media has been overwhelmingly contaminated by this practice, you’d hope there’d be a fail-safe somewhere in the system. A kind of panic zone to rescue us from “fake news” and present us nourishing spoonfuls of only the truthful stuff. And the most obvious candidates for this role would be members of the establishment press. Hence, outlets like The Independent, Associated Press, The New York Times and USA Today would immediately spring to mind.

However, it appears these entities are also in the business of “fake news” right now. Which greatly complicates matters. And, somewhat amazingly, the once acclaimed Washington Post is leading the way. Right now, poor Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford must be inconsolable.

Holes in one

You see, the WaPo report, citing the research of a thing called “Prop Or Not” (the Twitter account of which, only set up in August, is fond of tweeting out WW2 Ukrainian nationalist slogans) had more holes than Augusta National Golf Club.

As a result, its premise was quickly torn to pieces by talented journalists like Glenn Greenwald comments Ben Norton, Matthew Ingram, Matt Taibbi and Yasha Levine.

Indeed, The Washington Post itself has already added two clarifications to the original text at the request of this network. Those corrections are due to RT being wrongfully accused of generating fake stories and using a #CrookedHillary hashtag promoted by Donald Trump.

Yet, despite this thorough discrediting of WaPo’s fictionalized report and the fact that proper news people and Russia experts have rubbished it, the fabrication has gone viral across the popular media. And the list of organizations who have spread it is mind-boggling.

It’s time for editors at The Independent, Chicago Tribune, Daily Mail, Associated Press, USA Today and The New York Times to take a dishonorable bow. Because they have all, without proper examination, spread WaPo’s ‘fake news’ this week.

In fact, only USA Today even remotely considered the possibly that they’d all been hoodwinked by referencing an RT editorial which punctured the balloon. Meanwhile, Mediaite – a relatively influential press affairs site – went the full Joseph McCarthy by more-or-less smearing Ed Schultz and Larry King, both associated with RT America, as treasonists.

No ramifications

Now, I’ve a really good theory for why the purportedly proficient professionals at these allegedly authoritative organs dirtied their bib. That’s because they simply don’t care. You see, I’ve been following media coverage of Russia for long enough now to realize how nobody has ever suffered grievous career consequences for being hopelessly wrong about the country. You can literally accuse “the Kremlin” of anything and get away it. “Vladimir Putin is hiding a $200 billion fortune” (WaPo again!), “Russians are in contact with Aliens (The Daily Express) or “Putin’s about to invade Europe” (Newsweek, this week!) or “Sergey Lavrov Ate My Hamster.” Okay, that last one actually hasn’t happened yet but is probably in the pipeline somewhere.

Right now, the narrative is “fake news” and Russia’s alleged part in it. However, when I personally think of made up stories which caused genuine and lasting damage, it’s the infamous Iraq ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ pretext that springs to mind. And which media concern did more than basically any other to promote this falsehood? Why it was The Washington Post, with an incredible 140 front page stories, and 27 editorials pushing for America’s illegal invasion, which left close to one million people dead and continues to leave a trail of destruction across the Middle East.

Now, that sort of “fake news” is far from harmless, isn’t it? In fact, it’s clear how The Washington Post has been showing us how.

Publications Called Russian-Propaganda Distributors Consider Suing Anonymous ‘Experts’

Some editors say the person or group called PropOrNot crafted a ‘McCarthyite’ list that defamed them.

November 29, 2016

by Steven Nelson


Several American news outlets are considering legal action against the anonymous person or group that last week published a widely distributed list of alleged Russian propaganda outlets and “bona-fide ‘useful idiots’” of the Kremlin.

Online publications including the influential news-aggregating Drudge Report, the primary-source publisher WikiLeaks and news outlets of various leanings made “the list” hosted on the website PropOrNot.com.

The Washington Post leaned heavily on the anonymous group’s claims last week in an article reporting that “two teams of independent researchers” – including the Foreign Policy Research Institute and PropOrNot – had found a “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’” ahead of the recent presidential election.

The term “fake news” has become a flashpoint since the election, with many mainstream media outlets claiming an epidemic of bogus reporting during the election campaign, soliciting stiff pushback from independent outlets that say the term is being used in a bid to censor social media and news platforms of independent viewpoints.

The anonymous website offers no individual analysis to justify its listing of sites, many of them with political views distinct from the mainstream media, such as the Ron Paul Institute, Antiwar.com, and the finance blogs Zero Hedge and Naked Capitalism.

The list includes actual Russian government-funded outlets such as Russia Today and Sputnik News but does not distinguish them from the large group declared guilty of “echoing Russian propaganda.”

I haven’t had any financial damages yet, so that’s the only reason I haven’t started a libel suit,” says Doug Owen, senior editor of Blacklisted News, a popular independent news-hosting website.

The editor of a separate news and commentary website said his organization also is considering a possible libel lawsuit, perhaps as a cooperative effort with other sites on the list. He asked not to be named as this point but said a decision on whether to sue likely would come “fairly soon.”

Mark Allin, chief operating officer of The Above Network, which runs the large news discussion board AboveTopSecret.com, says “at this time we are reviewing our options, nothing is off the table.”

Two editors at the progressive news site CounterPunch also say they are keeping their options open as they work to determine who tarred them as Russian propagandists.

“It’s totally ridiculous – apparently they’ve never even read what I’ve written on Russia in Syria!” editor Joshua Frank says in an email. In June, he condemned Russia’s “murderous air bombardments” producing “piles of dead kids” in Syria and predicted the ultimate demise of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally.

“My own writings on [Russian President Vladimir] Putin have been nothing but critical,” adds Jeffrey St. Clair, the other CounterPunch editor, adding that “the Russian writers we’ve published, such as Boris Kagarlitsky, are Russian dissidents.”

St. Clair says CounterPunch is “exploring our options and digging on our own into the misty background of PropOrNot.”

The Washington Post reported that the executive director of PropOrNot spoke with the paper “on the condition of anonymity to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”

For now, the identity of PropOrNot’s operator or operators remains stubbornly hidden, as the site is registered with Domains By Proxy, which allows for anonymity. Legal action might have better success at unmasking the individual or entity, which directs inquires to a Gmail email address and maintains accounts on Facebook, Twitter and reddit.

Journalists including Glenn Greenwald and Ben Norton of the Intercept and Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone described the 200-website list as a present-day example of McCarthyism, a term named for former Sen. Joe McCarthy, who infamously claimed in 1950 he had a list of 205 communists within the State Department without providing evidence. The Intercept said the Post story ironically peddled “fake news” itself.

PropOrNot’s methodology for identifying Russian propaganda distributors is unclear.

“We have used a combination of manual and automated analysis, including analysis of content, timing, technical indicators, and other reporting, in order to initially identify (‘red-flag’) the following as Russian propaganda outlets,” the website claims. “We then confirmed our initial assessment by applying whatever criteria we did not originally employ during the red-flag process, and we reevaluate our findings as needed.”

The person or people who operate PropOrNot – which describes itself as “an independent team of concerned American citizens with a wide range of backgrounds and expertise, including professional experience in computer science, statistics, public policy, and national security affairs” – did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Uselessness of NATO

Do we really need to defend Montenegro?

November 30, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


The latest entrant into the NATO alliance, Montenegro, underscores both the absurdity of this archaic cold war relic and the dangers it poses to the United States.

Yes, Montenegro is a real country, kind of: with a little over 600,000 citizens, and around 5,000 square miles, it has an army of under 2,000 soldiers and sailors. During the medieval era it was divided into warring clans who were unified only by their fierce opposition to Ottoman rule: the boundaries, and the rulers who presided over what became a duchy, were fluid, like the boundaries of neighboring Balkan states whose instability and propensity for conflict gave rise to the phrase “balkanization” as a synonym for volatility. Once the ancient bastion of Serbian nationalism – the country was bombed by the US during the Kosovo war – Montenegro’s demographics underwent a transformation and now the country is pretty evenly split between Serbs and other nationalities: the country’s politics, too, are polarized, with the pro-Serb pro-Russian opposition parties and the pro-EU pro-NATO parties almost evenly matched, although the latter have tenuous control of the government at present.

A referendum severing Montenegro from the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav Federation was successful, but only after a protracted campaign by the state-controlled media – already in the hands of pro-NATO forces – and a 1997 coup led by Milo Djukanovic, the current President. The New York Times describes President Djukanovic as “notoriously devious,” and he is otherwise known as “Mr. Ten Percent,” an allusion to his reputation for corruption. The elections in which Djukanovic displaced his former friend, Momir Bulatovic – both had previously been Communist Party officials with no history of dissidence – featured gangs of Djukanovic’s supporters attacking the opposition, 40,000 questionable voters suddenly added to the rolls, voters registered multiple times, and other “irregularities.” As I reported at the time:

“On election night, as the Djukanovic forces celebrated their victory by shooting their kalashnikovs into the air, the security forces and the secret police moved in on opposition headquarters and cordoned it off.”

This is “democracy” in Montenegro. And it’s been downhill ever since.

The 2006 independence referendum passed the required 55% margin by a few thousand votes, and Djukanovic has managed to retain office by hook or by crook up until now. The most recent elections, however, ended inconclusively, with the ruling party short of a majority able to form a government. Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) campaigned as NATO’s champion, portraying the election as a referendum on the two issues dividing the country along ethnic and ideological lines: Djukanovic’s proposal that Montenegro join both NATO and the European Union.

In what has become a trend of late, the campaign was the occasion for the DPS to charge that the Russians were plotting to steal the election on behalf of Russian “agents,” and a complicated plot was invented, featuring an alleged GRU agent who was supposedly scheming to seize the Parliament building, assassinate Djukanovic & Co., and establish a pro-Russian regime. There is no evidence to support these charges, which the New York Times called “murky.”

In short, this is a somewhat more dramatic version of the same charges Hillary Clinton leveled at Donald Trump during the American presidential contest. (In Germany, too, a version of the “Russians-will-hack-the-election-results” meme floated here by US intelligence agencies and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is currently being circulated.)

Montenegro is a cauldron of ethno-nationalist tensions that could explode into a civil war – or a cross border conflict with any number of its neighbors – at a moment’s notice. The NATO treaty requires signatories to come to the aid of member states who face aggression or any sort of conflict. Montenegro is currently involved in border disputes with Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia. Furthermore, it is bedeviled by a pan-Albanian nationalist insurgency that claims southern Montenegro as part of “Greater Albania,” not to mention a pan-Slavic nationalist movement that wants reunion with Serbia and looks to Russia as its lodestar.

Put another way: the country is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off. Its membership in NATO would require the United States to intervene if any one of these incipient conflicts flared into violence. Divided as it is into pro-Russian and anti-Russian factions, Montenegro is the perfect fulcrum for a wider conflict between the US/NATO on the one hand and Vladimir Putin on the other.

Do we really want to lay the groundwork for World War III with nuclear-armed Russia in order to incorporate Montenegro’s tiny make-believe “army” into NATO?

In a sane world, the clear answer would be: of course not. But we are living in the world created by our political class, which is bound and determined to police the “world order” and push the boundaries of their bankrupt empire as far as their hubris will take them.

The reality is this: we are paying out billions of dollars in order to bear the costs of NATO, while our shiftless “allies” have refused to pay their fair share and instead use their wealth to subsidize generous welfare states – while importing hundreds of thousands of refugees from the devastated sites of their foreign wars.

And why are we footing their bill? In order to “protect” them from a nonexistent threat which hasn’t existed (if it ever did) since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the implosion of the Soviet empire.

During his campaign for president, Trump said that not only is NATO “obsolete,” but that he would have to reevaluate the utility of the alliance to American interests, and that he would think twice about coming to the defense of its deadbeat members. This is half right: what’s needed is a firm commitment to get out of NATO and let these nations defend themselves. NATO is not only expensive, it’s a system of tripwires, any one of which could set us on the road to a military confrontation with Russia.

So let Montenegro join NATO if it wants – juts as long as we are on our way out as they come in.


Did the DEA Nab an International Weapons Dealer, or a CIA Asset Hung Out to Dry?

November 30 2016

by Trevor Aaronson and Murtaza Hussain

The Intercept

In the late evening of December 15, 2014, agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration descended on a hotel in Podgorica, Montenegro, to take into custody a man arrested by local authorities for arms trafficking.

Flaviu Georgescu, an American citizen from Romania, had been in the DEA’s sights for years. A tall, heavyset man in his mid-40s with close-cropped hair, Flaviu worked as a private security contractor in Bucharest.

Over the past several months, Flaviu had been meeting with a Colombian man who claimed to be a member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. This man had sought Flaviu’s help setting up a multimillion-dollar arms deal to help rearm FARC in Colombia. Arrested with Flaviu in the hotel that night was another man, Cristian Vintila, then a high-ranking government minister in Romania and another participant in the alleged arms deal. It seemed like a high-profile nab for the DEA.

Robert J. Scott was among the DEA agents who came to the hotel room that night in Montenegro. Flaviu immediately motioned with his head that he wanted to talk to the DEA agent.

“I’m with the CIA,” he told Scott.

He was working undercover to provide more information, he told Scott that night. Scott wasn’t interested. He’d heard excuses before. A 17-year veteran of the DEA, he knew handcuffed criminals would say just about anything to escape punishment.

Over the next several hours, Flaviu told agents in detail about the proposed deal — how a Southern California man introduced him to the Colombians seeking weapons. He told the agents how he connected with Vintila, as well as with a flamboyant former member of the Italian parliament named Massimo Romagnoli, to piece together the supply chain for the arms deal.

That night, Flaviu helped DEA agents lure Massimo to Montenegro to be detained. As a former member of parliament facing unrelated charges in Italy, Massimo would have been cumbersome for the United States to extradite from that country. But Flaviu, in a DEA-controlled call, coaxed him into the trap.

Flaviu didn’t ask for a cooperating agreement or any other guarantee for his help, insisting to DEA agents that he was working for the CIA and had been gathering information all along. According to him, this was all part of the job.

Flaviu spent several weeks in detention at a local prison. In February 2015, the three men — Flaviu, Cristian, and Massimo — were extradited to the United States to face trial on charges of material support for terrorists. In a statement announcing their extradition, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara described them as “ready and willing merchants of death.”

The reality, it turned out, was far more complicated. Flaviu contends he had been running his own sting operation — using skills he developed a decade earlier while working undercover for the FBI. He never considered that another man involved in the transaction would be running a sting of his own. If this is true, Flaviu and his informant adversary were playing opposites sides of a mysterious spy game.

Flaviu says he was not trying to complete an arms deal, but was quietly collecting evidence about the arms network for the CIA.

And he had the phone calls he said would prove it.

Born in Romania, Flaviu Georgescu first came the United States in 1996, settling in Las Vegas after finding work at a gym owned by his cousin that catered to the Romanian community in Nevada.

Flaviu eventually started working as an all-around fixer for wealthy Romanians and other Eastern Europeans visiting Las Vegas. Whatever they wanted, Flaviu could procure: Bugatti sports cars, Gulfstream jets, bodyguards, drivers, exclusive shopping experiences.

In 2000, while serving a wealthy client, Flaviu needed to ship a car to Switzerland. A friend told him of a Romanian in Los Angeles with the same last name as his. “He has really great prices,” the friend told Flaviu. That Romanian was Andi Georgescu, an international wheeler-dealer who runs a shipping company based in Southern California. (Despite their shared last name, Flaviu and Andi are not related.)

Through his Eastern European clients, Flaviu began to learn about criminal activity in Las Vegas, including how organized crime outfits were moving money in and out of the United States. Alarmed, he went to the local office of the FBI. “I grow up [under] Communism, and at that time there was no crimes,” Flaviu recalled later in trial testimony. Flaviu said he believed in the type of iron justice he saw as a boy living under communism. He told the FBI he had information about Eastern European organized crime, giving the bureau names of people to investigate. He said he wanted to help, and according to Flaviu’s telling of the story, an FBI agent gave him his business card. “Call back when you have more information,” the agent told him.

One week later, Flaviu called. “I put everything together, how they work, how they organize, how they move the money,” Flaviu recounted. He continued to provide intelligence to the FBI, never asking for money or favors. At one point, the FBI insisted on paying Flaviu and gave him a $500 check. “I was so proud about that check, I put it in frame and I hold it,” he said. “I never cash that check because it was the only thing which, for myself, it was like I did something, and I’m on this side.”

He was, in his view, one of the good guys.

In 2003, Flaviu’s secret work was revealed when the FBI arrested a man and seized money; Flaviu was the only witness to his crime. “He was not stupid. I was the only one over there,” Flaviu said.

According to Flaviu, a hit was put out on him. So he disappeared. By 2006, Flaviu, now a U.S. citizen, had moved back to Romania, where he scratched out a living selling GPS ankle monitoring devices for use by Romanian law enforcement.

In 2011, out of nowhere, Flaviu received a call from a friend with a familiar name: Andi Georgescu.

Andi said he knew a Colombian looking to purchase weapons. “It’s a lot of money we can make,” Flaviu remembered Andi telling him. Flaviu and Andi spoke several more times. Flaviu decided the situation represented a “direct threat” to the United States, and he recalled the U.S. government’s counterterrorism motto: If you see something, say something. “I was thinking I make a, you know, a difference,” Flaviu said.

So he called the CIA.

“Someone contacted me from Miami,” Flaviu told the CIA employee who answered the tip line, according to a recording of the call. “They have some clients from Colombia, and they are interested to buy some equipment — anything, like, from grenades, ammunition, everything.”

In two phone calls, each with a different CIA employee, Flaviu went into detail about the weapons deal. He said Andi had introduced him to the Colombians, who wanted grenades and ammunition. He suspected the men might be criminals and that they should investigate.

“Let me work for you,” Flaviu told the CIA, adding: “I’ll provide you all the information, because in my opinion, you don’t have to stop anything right now.”

“I appreciate you bringing this information to our attention, and I’ll certainly tread carefully, as we say, as far as how we discuss this issue here at the agency,” the CIA agent, whose name is redacted, said to Flaviu.

What neither Flaviu nor possibly the CIA knew was that the Colombians were undercover informants working for another U.S. government agency.

The main Colombian looking to purchase arms was a stout, shaven-headed man who went by the name Juan. His real name was Alex Diaz, and the 66-year-old had plenty of experience with crime. He emigrated from Colombia to the United States in 1967 and settled in Miami, where he had seven children. Juan landed a job at Sky Chefs, which provided catering services to American Airlines at Miami International Airport, a hub for American flights to and from Latin America.

It was the mid-1980s, and Miami was the capital of the cocaine boom. “I figured out a way to transport the drugs from Colombia to the United States,” Juan later explained in court testimony.

Over a seven-year period, Juan helped move 3,000 kilos of marijuana and 4,000 kilos of cocaine into the United States. But it didn’t last. The DEA arrested Juan, and he rolled over. “I cooperated immediately with the authorities,” Juan said. He pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. In exchange for his cooperation with DEA, Juan served only three years and, upon his release, just three months of probation.

“It was reduced at the request of the DEA so that I could continue collaborating with them,” Juan recalled. The caterer-turned-drug trafficker suddenly had a new career: government informant.

Juan has worked hundreds of cases with the DEA, IRS, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and with local police agencies. He’s been on the government payroll for cases that took him to Panama, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Spain, England, the Cayman Islands, Denmark, Montenegro, Romania, and Greece.

He became a veteran undercover informant who in more than 20 years of working with the DEA had earned $4.9 million in compensation and expense reimbursements.

Working with the DEA in 2011, Juan started down a trail that would lead him to Flaviu. Through another government informant, Juan was introduced to Andi. Soon, the two met up in Fort Lauderdale. According to Juan, they discussed a contact Andi had in Hong Kong who could launder money. The DEA was intrigued with Andi and his extensive international social network. Agents assigned Juan to get closer so they could learn more about Andi’s connections.

Juan eventually asked Andi if he knew anyone who sold weapons. It wasn’t a simple arms deal. Working off DEA instructions, Juan told Andi that he represented FARC, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. Juan wanted anti-aircraft missiles, AK-47s, and just about anything else that could kill or maim U.S. military personnel operating in Colombia. In March 2012, the DEA sent Andi a list of weapons FARC purportedly wanted to purchase.

This wasn’t the first time the DEA had posed as FARC members in the market for arms. In fact, for a decade now, the DEA has exploited a 2006 change to the Patriot Act that established narcoterrorism as a crime, giving the DEA broad authority to investigate criminals anywhere in the world who allegedly operate at the nexus between drugs and terrorism. The change was part of a larger effort by President George W. Bush’s administration to fold the drug war into the newest war — the war on terror. In 2002, the Bush administration began airing public-service announcements that linked drugs to terrorism. One proclaimed: “Drug money supports terror. If you buy drugs, you might too.”

“Drugs undermine the health of our citizens; they destroy the souls of our children. And the drug trade supports terrorist networks,” Bush said in a speech five months after the 9/11 attacks. “When people purchase drugs, they put money in the hands of those who want to hurt America, hurt our allies. Drugs attack everything that is the best about this country, and I intend to do something about them.”

For the DEA and its longtime rivalry with the FBI, the shift was ironic. In the 1980s, as the drug war reached its apex, the FBI received concurrent jurisdiction over narcotics with the DEA, and the FBI became a big player in the drug war. Two decades later, with the drug war declining as the hunt for terrorists reached a fever pitch, the DEA muscled into the FBI’s expanded counterterrorism enterprise.

Narcoterrorism has meant more money for the DEA. For 2017, Congress allocated $472 million in the DEA budget to international enforcement — up from $287 million in 2006, just as the DEA received authorization to investigate narcoterrorism.

There’s plenty of debate about how much the global drug trade funds terrorism. The 9/11 Commission found “no persuasive evidence” that al Qaeda funded itself from the drug sales. The Islamic State has been funded by oil revenue and extortion rackets, not drugs. FARC is an exception — in 2013 Colombia’s police chief said the terrorist organization controlled 60 percent of the nation’s drug trade — which is likely why DEA stings often involve undercover informants posing as FARC representatives. But these DEA stings usually follow the FBI’s controversial counterterrorism sting playbook: undercover informants or agents play the part of the terrorists, raising questions about whether links to terrorism were manufactured to justify the investigation. The DEA’s narcoterrorism operations rely almost exclusively on sting operations. And when arrests are made, narcoterrorism defendants are extradited to the United States and prosecuted in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, even when evidence in the cases showed no link to drug sales or terrorist activity in the United States.

An example is the case of Jamal Yousef. “This is about capitalism inside the bureaucracy,” Joshua L. Dratel, a lawyer for Yousef, said of the DEA’s move into narcoterrorism stings. “The war on drugs in the United States is waning, so you have to find new markets. Terrorism is the big thing.” A former Syrian military officer, Yousef was a fraud artist who lived in Mexico and was purportedly trying to start a retail business in Honduras. He took out a $200,000 loan from an individual and offered to repay the loan with weapons from Lebanon. He traveled to Lebanon, inspected weapons, but then never delivered, despite keeping the money. When Yousef returned to Mexico, he went to the U.S. Embassy and became an informant, telling the FBI’s legal attaché office about U.S. weapons being stolen by U.S. military personnel in Iraq and sold to Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to court documents, Yousef became an informant in the hopes of making money from his FBI relationship. About two year later, while living in Honduras, Yousef was approached by DEA informants posing as FARC representatives. Yousef claimed he had weapons in a storage facility in Mexico, which was a lie, and agreed to exchange the supposed weapons for over a ton of cocaine. Despite his dubious ability to obtain weapons, and the only connection to terrorism being undercover DEA informants, Yousef was extradited to New York, where he pleaded guilty to providing material support for terrorists and received 12 years in prison.

“These cases are a lot like FBI terrorism stings here in the United States,” Dratel said. “Without the DEA, there is no connection to terrorism or the United States.”

While DEA narcoterrorism stings have netted serious arms traffickers — such as Monzer al-Kassar, a Syrian arms dealer linked to the Contras, the Palestinian Liberation Front, the Iraqi insurgency, and others; and Viktor Bout, a Russian arms trafficker known for funneling weapons to conflict zones around the world — many of the DEA targets over the last decade appear to be like Flaviu Georgescu and Jamal Yousef, more hustler than weapons dealer.

The DEA’s sting targets have claimed associations with FARC, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and the Taliban — but their connections to terrorists are often questionable. In late 2009, for example, federal prosecutors indicted three Malians — Harouna Touré, Oumar Issa, and Idriss Abdelrahman — following a DEA narcoterrorism sting in which the three allegedly conspired to transport cocaine through Africa to support FARC and al Qaeda. Touré, Issa, and Abdelrahman pleaded guilty to material support for terrorists, but received light sentences — Touré and Issa five years and Abdelrahman less than four. U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones said Touré was not an al Qaeda supporter but rather was “motivated primarily, if not entirely, by money.” All three Malians have since been released from prison.

While the DEA declined to discuss specific cases, Russ Baer, a spokesman for the agency, defended narcoterrorism stings as a valuable law enforcement tool. “We go after folks that are drug traffickers, arms traffickers, whatever the case may be,” Baer said. “They are predisposed to criminal acts. All we do is allow the means, to give them opportunity to commit these crimes they would otherwise commit without us … If you look at these cases, it’s not just one meeting that culminates in an arrest. It’s several meetings, in various countries, with defendants committing overt acts in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy. These defendants have every opportunity to walk away.”

In a series of recorded phone conversations in March 2014, Andi Georgescu told Juan he found someone in Romania who could facilitate the weapons purchase.

“First we gonna fly to Italy to finalize it, and then we gonna get the stuff and wait for it in Montenegro. That’s all we do. Couple of days,” Andi told Juan on March 19, 2014.

For several weeks, Andi led Juan on, suggesting that all they needed to do was travel to Italy and meet the arms supplier. The deal is solid, he said, but offered few details.

“Andi, buddy, you think everything is pretty good with this guy?” Juan asked on April 4, 2014.

“Yeah, yeah,” Andi replied. “I wouldn’t go otherwise.”

In May 2014, Juan, along with a complement of DEA agents, flew to Rome expecting to meet Andi and his arms supplier. But no one showed up. Juan reached Andi by phone on May 12, and Andi offered an excuse about being stuck in Abu Dhabi and his arms connection being detained somewhere.

“Andi, I made it all the way here from freakin’ Miami to here. From Colombia, actually. Don’t let me down, because it’s going to be stupid,” Juan said.

Andi asked Juan if he was in Rome or Miami.

“What are you talking about? I’m here in fucking Rome, brother,” he said, annoyed. “You need to come to Rome. Come over here, c’mon.”

“Well, you mentioned Miami.”

“Bullshit, I’ve been talking to you the last two days about being in Rome on the 12th,” Juan said.

The next day, following promises to Juan that he’d get someone to meet him in Italy, Andi gave Juan a new name — Flaviu Georgescu — and said Flaviu could meet him in Italy. Juan left several messages with Flaviu. No response. “If no one is coming, tell me … Just be honest with me,” a frustrated Juan said to Andi by phone on May 14, 2014.

On May 16, just hours before Juan was scheduled to leave Rome, he talked to Flaviu on Skype.

“Where are you now?” Juan asked Flaviu.

“Right now I’m in London,” Flaviu said. “And finally I got a guy. He wants to talk to you. He’s from Romania.”

After Juan returned to the United States with his DEA handlers, he spoke on the phone with Flaviu.

“You’re saying that you have the person now … who could take care of the [weapons] list I gave you, right?” Juan asked Flaviu.

“Yeah, he’s the person connected to it. He’s not the middleman. He’s the direct person. It’s his business,” Flaviu said.

Juan wanted to coordinate a meeting between Flaviu’s contact and his FARC people. But given that they’d just been stood up in Italy, they wouldn’t travel again on promises, Juan told Flaviu. “We will not travel until I know you are sitting in either Rome or Montenegro, OK?” Juan said. “It’s very important because of the time and money these people wasted going there.”

For the next six months, Flaviu and Juan spoke by phone, with Flaviu constantly changing the plans. First they were to meet in Eastern Europe. Then Flaviu asked if they could meet in Liverpool. Juan grew increasingly frustrated. “This is — excuse the Spanish word — this is bullshit,” he said angrily in English. Later that day, in a separate call, Juan added: “You guys are not serious. You change every five minutes.”

Flaviu eventually lined up a potential contact for Juan, a Russian who went by the name Gintas. But after talking to Juan, the Russian quickly backed out, apparently suspicious of the deal. Flaviu then told Juan he found another seller, a Romanian.

“Can you come to Romania?” he asked Juan.

On September 24, 2014, Juan met Flaviu for the first time in person, at a Marriott hotel in Bucharest. Juan brought Cristian Vintila, an imposing 45-year-old Romanian government official with deep connections to the country’s defense industry.

Flaviu gave Juan a gift at the meeting, a Romanian flag.

Juan looked to Cristian, who sported a buzz cut. “You know, you make me nervous,” he said.

“Don’t be nervous,” Cristian assured him.

“OK, this is for you,” Juan said, handing a package to Flaviu. He then turned to Cristian. “I didn’t know you were coming,” he said, explaining why he didn’t have a gift for him.

“Thank you very much,” Flaviu said, accepting his gift.

“Colombian coffee,” Juan said. “Juan Valdez.”

The three men talked in the hotel bar. Cristian showed Juan catalogues from the Romanian weapons industry. Juan was impressed, but had one problem: They needed an end-user certificate — something stipulating who the recipient of the arms would be.

A few days later, back in the United States, Juan spoke with Flaviu on the phone.

“You have to come to Montenegro to discuss with your friend, because I have everything in my hand,” Flaviu told Juan, suggesting he had found a way to get an end-user certificate.

“You guys are not serious. You change every five minutes.”

“With who? The same guy? The last guy or the first guy?” Juan asked, referring to whether the arms transaction would happen through the Russian named Gintas, or through Cristian Vintila, the Romanian.

“No, no, no. Come over there. I have everything ready to go. I have the papers. I have everything. If you want to do it, come over there at least to set up the necessary everything, to discuss everything.”

“How about transportation?” Juan asked.

“Everything. You have to come over there.”

Indeed, Flaviu had everything arranged. Cristian connected them to a Serbian weapons manufacturer, and Flaviu now brought in one more person — Massimo Romagnoli, the former member of the Italian parliament. Massimo had a friend in the Ethiopian Embassy in France who could provide an end-user certificate showing a final sale to Ethiopia. From there, the weapons could be surreptitiously shipped to Colombia, into the hands of the FARC.

Juan agreed to meet Flaviu, Cristian, and Massimo in Montenegro on October 8, 2014. Juan came with two other informants — Diego and Jorge — who were also pretending to be FARC members.

Juan recorded the meeting with a camera disguised as a wristwatch.

Diego asked Flaviu and his colleagues if they could get a Russian-designed surface-to-air missile system known as a “Strela.”

“You can get it, but Strela is …,” Flaviu said, then offered a chuckle. “Yeah, Strela is expensive,” he said. “I know, we shoot that one.”

“How many?” Cristian asked Diego.“Ten, twenty,” Diego responded.

“That one is an expensive item,” Flaviu added.

“It’s OK,” said Jorge, the third undercover informant. “I think we can afford it.”

Two months later, Juan met them again in Montenegro. Flaviu and Cristian were there for the meeting.

At this point, the DEA decided it had enough evidence to move in for the arrest. Local police descended on the hotel in Podgorica, with DEA agents arriving soon after to interrogate the men they’d been tracking for months. The “arms deal” had been foiled.

“This is not a classic terrorism case,” Albert Dayan, Flaviu’s lawyer, told reporters following the arraignment hearing. Dayan had previously represented Viktor Bout, the so-called “merchant of death,” who had been caught in another DEA sting.

Flaviu, Cristian, and Massimo were extradited to the United States in February 2015 to face charges of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group and conspiring to kill U.S. government officials. (Andi Georgescu never faced any charges.)

The three defendants were held at New York City’s Manhattan Detention Complex to await trial. Cristian and Massimo were placed together in the same cell. Massimo often sat in the cell and cried. Soon, he and Cristian realized that their best chance for freedom was to turn against Flaviu. They signed a cooperation agreement with the government. “We decided together, while we were staying together in the same cell, to tell the truth,” Cristian later testified.

Both men agreed to plead guilty to the charges against them in exchange for lighter sentences. In return, they agreed to testify at trial that Flaviu was the main player in the arms deal. Flaviu found himself the sole defendant on trial for the arms deal he had years earlier reported to the CIA.

In his opening statements, Flaviu’s lawyer argued that his client was an “American hero” who had volunteered to investigate an arms-trafficking ring out of a sense of patriotic duty.

Central to this argument were the CIA calls Flaviu made. Those calls, his lawyer argued, gave the case “built-in reasonable doubt.” Flaviu also had a history of cooperating with law enforcement without compensation. His contacts with the CIA, in which he said the agency had indirectly given him permission to gather more information about the arms traffickers, led to his decision to meet with them and connect them to the plot, his lawyer argued. The CIA declined to comment on Georgescu’s calls to the agency.

Juan, the DEA informant, conceded at trial that Flaviu never solicited money. There was never an explicit arrangement for Flaviu to be paid anything as part of the deal, an odd move for an international arms dealer. In fact, Flaviu repeatedly declined offers of money. In recorded phone conversations, Andi told Flaviu to ask Juan to reimburse his expenses, something Juan later testified that Flaviu never did.

Juan, on the other, was paid $276,000 for his work on the bogus arms deal.

The prosecution in turn argued that Flaviu was “a deal maker, a broker in it for the influence, the connections, the money.” They played for the jury audio clips of Flaviu’s conversations with the informants, including one in which Flaviu described the United States as being “built on bullshit.”

Flaviu took the stand in his trial, repeating his claim that he had been working on behalf of the government and had told the CIA precisely what he would do to help gather information. In a recording of his CIA call played by his lawyer, Flaviu told the CIA official: “If you want to find more, you have to allow me to continue the deal to see the end-user certification, the middlemen, the everything, and I can provide you with more, more, and more information, because in this moment we get stuck, you know, it’s just a small deal.”

Explaining this statement in his testimony, Flaviu said he intended to give “a framework about what kind of intel I can get” to the CIA.

In their arguments, prosecutors dismissed Flaviu’s CIA calls as an attempted cover for the arms transaction, claiming that he had cynically manipulated the government using knowledge from his past work with the FBI. Flaviu’s claims to have been working for the government were implausible, they argued, since he did not attempt to contact them again after his initial phone calls.

On May 26, after a two-week trial, Flaviu was convicted on charges of conspiring to kill officers and employees of the United States and providing material support to a terrorist organization. Flaviu remained silent as the verdict came down, his eyes cast to the courtroom floor.

A request by The Intercept to interview Flaviu was declined by the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. Another attempt, after Flaviu was moved to a new facility, was stymied when the prison refused to notarize a form granting his permission for the interview. Later, he expressed concern, through his wife, that giving an interview prior to sentencing might result in a harsher punishment.

He will be sentenced this week, on December 2. He faces the possibility of life imprisonment.

FBI to gain expanded hacking powers as Senate effort to block fails

November 30, 2016

by Dustin Volz


WASHINGTON-A last-ditch effort in the Senate to block or delay rule changes that would expand the U.S. government’s hacking powers failed Wednesday, despite concerns the changes would jeopardize the privacy rights of innocent Americans and risk possible abuse by the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden attempted three times to delay the changes which, will take effect on Thursday and allow U.S. judges will be able to issue search warrants that give the FBI the authority to remotely access computers in any jurisdiction, potentially even overseas. His efforts were blocked by Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican.

The changes will allow judges to issue warrants in cases when a suspect uses anonymizing technology to conceal the location of his or her computer or for an investigation into a network of hacked or infected computers, such as a botnet.

Magistrate judges can currently only order searches within the jurisdiction of their court, which is typically limited to a few counties.

In a speech from the Senate floor, Wyden said that the changes to Rule 41 of the federal rules of criminal procedure amounted to “one of the biggest mistakes in surveillance policy in years.”

The government will have “unprecedented authority to hack into Americans’ personal phones, computers and other devices,” Wyden said.

He added that such authority, which was approved by the Supreme Court in a private vote earlier this year, but was not subject to congressional approval, was especially troubling in the hands of an administration of President-elect Trump, a Republican who has “openly said he wants the power to hack his political opponents the same way Russia does.”

Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana also delivered speeches voicing opposition to the rule changes.

The U.S. Justice Department has pushed for the changes to the federal rules of criminal procedure for years, arguing they are procedural in nature and the criminal code needed to be modernized for the digital age.

In an effort to address concerns, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell wrote a blog post this week arguing that the benefits given to authorities from the rule changes outweighed any potential for “unintended harm.”

“The possibility of such harm must be balanced against the very real and ongoing harms perpetrated by criminals – such as hackers, who continue to harm the security and invade the privacy of Americans through an ongoing botnet, or pedophiles who openly and brazenly discuss their plans to sexually assault children,” Caldwell wrote.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz, editing by G Crosse)

 Something Happened to Activist Email Provider Riseup, but It Hasn’t Been Compromised

November 29 2016

by Micah Lee

The Intercept

Over the last week, rumors have been spreading across the digital activist community that the technology collective riseup, which provides email, chat, VPN, and other services to activists, may be compromised after receiving a secret government subpoena accompanied by a gag order. The collective provides email service to roughly 150,000 users, hosts activism-related mailing lists with 6.8 million subscribers, and delivers more than 1 million emails per day. According to a representative of the riseup collective, the rumors are outsized. But it is clear that something happened, and that riseup is unable to speak about it publicly. “Riseup will shut down rather than endanger activists,” the spokesperson said. “We aren’t going to shut down, because there is no danger to activists.”

Riseup, which began in Seattle in 1999, is one of the most privacy-friendly and anti-surveillance service providers online today. “We believe it is vital that essential communication infrastructure be controlled by movement organizations and not corporations or the government,” the collective’s website states. “Riseup does not log IP addresses and has not done so since the early ’00s,” the collective member told me in an encrypted email. “We work hard to minimize the amount of data (and metadata) stored as [much as] possible. The only way to protect the information of activists around the world is by not having the information in the first place.” Riseup’s privacy policy promises that the service will log as little as possible and never share user data with any third party.

Riseup publishes a warrant canary, a statement that the collective has never received a secret government subpoena, has “never placed any backdoors in our hardware or software and has not received any requests to do so,” and has “never disclosed any user communications to any third party.” If riseup ever does get such a government request, and if the request comes with a gag order that prohibits the collective from informing its users, it won’t update its warrant canary, and from this users can infer that something is wrong.

Riseup’s warrant canary is supposed to get updated “approximately once per quarter.” The last update was from August 16, 2016 — nearly two weeks past the last three-month deadline. Some users have noticed that riseup’s canary seems to have died, and they inferred that something is wrong. Users have also noticed that some of riseup’s recent tweets appear to contain hidden messages, like this screenshot from the policies section of its website where it promises to shut down its service before submitting to “repressive surveillance by any government”:

The warrant canary’s apparent expiration, together with riseup’s tweets apparently full of hidden meaning, caused some people to speculate publicly that riseup had been compromised, or at the very least, had received a secret national security order and was currently fighting it in court. This speculation started right before the Thanksgiving holidays.

“Due to Thanksgiving and other deadlines, our lawyers were not available to advise us on what we can and cannot say,” the collective member told me. “So in the interest of adopting a precautionary principle, we couldn’t say anything. Now that we have talked to [counsel], we can clearly say that since our beginning, and as of this writing, riseup has not received a NSL, a FISA order/directive, or any other national security order/directive, foreign or domestic.”

On November 24, riseup tweeted that there was no need to panic.

To be fair, since riseup began publishing a warrant canary, it has updated it 10 times, and not at regular intervals. The shortest amount of time between updates was just over two months and the longest was more than four months. Technically, the August 16 canary update could still fall within the precedented window — which is to say that not enough time has passed to infer that it has expired. When I pointed this out, the collective member told me, “Yes, this is a bad system, we should have a specific date. The ambiguity is no fun for anyone.”

And yet, when I asked if riseup had received any request for user data since August 16, the collective did not comment. Clearly, something happened, but riseup isn’t able to talk about it publicly.

However, the spokesperson did provide some context: “There are a lot of conspiracy theories going around because people think that this is something bigger than it actually is,” he said. “The reality is that these theories are way out of proportion to the truth. It isn’t something that people should freak out about, or be scared, or burn their computer, and run for the hills.”

In short, riseup is asking its users to trust it. “It’s annoying that we can’t detail why people should believe us when we say that, but people have put their trust in us for over 16 years, so we hope you would believe us when we say that you should continue to do that.”

The spokesperson also pointed out that some people might think that the government could be forcing them to say that, “but the reality is that compelled speech by the government is incredibly rare, and really only done for consumer protection (such as requiring warning labels on cigarettes) or other safety regulations.” He pointed to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s warrant canary FAQ and blog posts about Apple’s fight against the FBI for detailed information about compelled speech law in the United States.

The riseup collective is currently having internal discussions about when it will be able to update its warrant canary.

In December, riseup is launching a new feature called personally encrypted storage. All messages and metadata of email users will be encrypted with the users’ passwords so that the collective itself won’t have access to that data and therefore can’t be compelled to hand it over to any government. Riseup will publish all of the code that makes this possible as an open source project, so that other service providers can use it as well. “It is designed to protect the service provider from ever being able to comply with a subpoena or warrant,” the spokesperson told me. While the new system isn’t perfect, “this will help us all breathe a lot easier.”

In the meantime, riseup has published tips for how users can reduce the amount of data stored on their servers. “These are uncertain times for all service providers,” the collective member said. “Technology won’t solve social problems, but in this specific case we believe that new technology under development will dramatically improve the outlook for service providers.”

Globalization fears strongest in Austria, France

Globalization fears are the main drivers behind more and more Europeans leaning towards populist and right-wing parties. At least this is what the Bertelsmann Foundation concluded in a recent poll among EU citizens

November 30, 2016


Fear of globalization is the most decisive factor in pushing Europeans toward populist and right-wing parties, Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation says in a survey based on a poll among close to 15,000 EU residents.

The study released Wednesday showed that related fears were most pronounced in Austria where 55 percent of respondents viewed globalization as a threat. France is a close second, with 54 percent of those polled expressing the same view.

While France and Austria are the only two EU nations where a majority of people voiced that opinion, the lowest rate was recorded in the UK, but even there it stands at an alarmingly high 36 percent.

No ignoring the trend

The results of the survey could deepen concerns among mainstream parties ahead of a presidential run-off vote in Austria on Sunday which could make Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer the first far-right head of state in Western Europe since World War II.

Backlash against globalization

In France, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen is expected to do well in the 20117 presidential election.

“The established parties need to incorporate globalization fears into their work,” Bertelsmann Foundation Chairman Aart de Geus said in a statement, adding that a growing number of Europeans felt they had been left behind.

Across the 28-nation EU, 45 percent of respondents said they viewed globalization as a menace rather than an opportunity. The study made a point of emphasizing that the lower people’s education levels and the older they were, the higher the likelihood of them rejecting globalization, that is the process by which people, companies and countries around the world had become more interconnected through trade, investment and advances in technology.






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