TBR News October 16, 2013

Oct 16 2013

The Voice of the White House


          Washington, D.C. October 16, 2013: “A small group of what could best be called ‘Jesus Freaks’ in Congress are creating economic and social havoc in the United States and, in fact, throughout the world. Singing hymns and prating like something found in the back wards of a lunatic asylum, the so-called ‘Tea Party’ nutties ought to be put into straitjackets and dumped into the Potomac River. As their final bubbles burst, the nation will return for what passes as normal. From an historical standpoint, in all probability there never was a Jesus and any competent historian would agree that the New Testament sounds like something posted on one of the nut blogs. Millions have been burnt alive, slaughtered, raped and looted, all in the name of a fictional character with as much believability as the Easter Bunny. Perhaps we could buy a nice island down at Antarctica and ship the lot of them down there to howl like turpentined cats while tormenting the penguins.”



A tea party purge among the GOP


October 15, 2013

by Harold Meyerson 

Washington Post


The Republican Party has reached its Ninotchka period. Ninotchka, you may recall, was the eponymous Soviet commissar played by Greta Garbo in Ernst Lubitsch’s 1939 MGM comedy, released one year after Stalin’s show trials resulted in the execution of all of the tyrant’s more moderate predecessors in the Soviet leadership. “The last mass trials were a great success,” Ninotchka notes. “There are going to be fewer but better Russians.”


Like the Stalinists and the Jacobins, today’s tea party zealots have purified their movement — not by executing but by driving away those Republicans who don’t share their enthusiasm for wrecking their country if they can’t compel the majority to embrace their notions. Today, there are fewer but “better” Republicans — if “better” means adhering to the tea party view that a United States not adhering to tea party values deserves to be brought to a clangorous halt. NBC News-Wall Street Journal polling last week turned up a bare 24 percent of Americans who have a favorable impression of the Republican Party — a share almost as low as the 21 percent who have a favorable impression of the tea party.


Also like the Stalinists and Jacobins, today’s Republicans devour their past leaders. To the hard-core right wing, the Bushes, Mitt Romney, Bob Dole and John Mc­Cain are irritating vestiges of the party’s pussyfooting past; none was sufficiently devoted to rolling back the federal government when he had the chance. Thankfully, the Bushes et al. haven’t met the fate of Bukharin and Danton — but they are as conspicuously absent from today’s Republican rallies and state conventions as Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin are conspicuously present.


If anything illustrates just how far today’s Republicans have drifted from their traditional moorings, it’s the dismay with which their longtime business allies have greeted their decisions to close the government and threaten default. Such pillars of the Republican coalition as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Retail Federation have called for an end to the shutdown and an increase in the debt limit. Bruce Josten, the chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs, told The Post last week that his organization is considering backing primary challenges to tea party incumbents.


Today’s tea party-ized Republicans speak less for Wall Street or Main Street than they do for the seething resentments of white Southern backwaters and their geographically widespread but ideologically uniform ilk. Their theory of government, to the extent that they have one, derives from John C. Calhoun’s doctrine of nullification — that states in general and white minorities in particular should have the right to overturn federal law and impede majority rule. Like their predecessors in the Jim Crow South, today’s Republicans favor restricting minority voting rights if that is necessary to ensure victory at the polls.


The remarkable resurgence of these ancient and despicable doctrines is rooted in the politics of demographic and cultural despair. A series of focus groups that Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg conducted of evangelical and tea party Republicans (who, combined, constitute a majority of party members) found that they entertain a widespread and fatalistic belief that the United States is well on its way to becoming a socialist state by virtue of the growing number of non-white Americans’ dependence on government. Encapsulating the groups’ perspectives, Greenberg writes: “Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities.”


It does not register with these Republicans that Obamacare, which facilitates more widespread access to privatized insurance, is nowhere as socialistic as Medicare and Social Security. It seems that some believe that Obamacare is socialistic because they fear it will chiefly benefit the welfare queens of Republican lore, while Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries include millions of deserving people just like them — the disproportionately elderly and white Republican Party’s members.


It should not have been surprising, then, that demonstrators waved Confederate flags at the tea party demonstration Sunday on the Mall while demanding that congressional Republicans not succumb to the pressure to compromise and that the Obama administration open the Mall’s monuments, the World War II memorial in particular. The tea party’s theory of government and the fear and loathing that many adherents harbor toward minorities find a truer expression in the Confederate flag than in the Stars and Stripes.


It’s not clear whether those waving the Confederate flag on Sunday favored opening the Lincoln Memorial. I suspect, however, that the Republican enshrined there wouldn’t have favored them.


How Christian Delusions Are Driving the GOP Insane

Why aren’t Republicans more frightened of the consequences of a shutdown and default? Part of the reason is magical religious thinking.

October 9, 2013

by Amanda Marcotte 



Why aren’t Republicans more afraid? The entire premise of both the government shutdown and the threats to force the government into debt default is that Democrats care more about the consequences of these actions than the Republicans do. Republicans may go on TV and shed crocodile tears about national monuments being shut down, but the act  isn’t really fooling the voters: The only way to understand these fights is to understand that the GOP is threatening to destroy the government and the world economy in order to get rid of Obamacare (as well as a panoply of other right wing demands). Just as terrorists use the fact that you care more about the lives of the hostages than they do to get leverage, Republican threats rely on believing they don’t care about the consequences, while Democrats do.


So why aren’t they more afraid? Businessweek, hardly a liberal news organization, said  the price of default would be “a financial apocalypse” that would cause a worldwide economic depression.  This is the sort of thing that affects everyone. Having a right wing ideology doesn’t magically protect your investments from crashing alongside the rest of the stock market. 


The willingness of Republicans to take the debt ceiling and the federal budget hostage in order to try to extract concessions from Democrats is probably the most lasting gift that the Tea Party has granted the country. More reasonable Republican politicians  fear being primaried by Tea Party candidates. A  handful of wide-eyed fanatics in Congress have hijacked the party. The Tea Party base and the hard right politicians driving this entire thing seem oblivious to the consequences. It’s no wonder, since so many of them—particularly those in leadership—are fundamentalist Christians whose religions have distorted their worldview until they cannot actually see what they’re doing and what kind of damage it would cause. 


The press often talks about the Tea Party like they’re secularist movement that is interested mainly in promoting “fiscal conservatism”, a vague notion that never actually seems to make good on the promise to save taxpayer money. The reality is much different: The Tea Party is actually driven primarily by fundamentalist Christians whose penchant for magical thinking and belief that they’re being guided by divine forces makes it tough for them to see the real world as it is.


It’s not just that  the rogue’s gallery of congress people who are pushing the hardest for hostage-taking as a negotiation tactic also happens to be a bench full of Bible thumpers.  Pew Research shows that people who align with the Tea Party are more likely to not only agree with the views of religious conservatives, but are likely to cite religious belief as their prime motivation for their political views.  White evangelicals are the religious group most likely to approve of the Tea Party. Looking over the data, it becomes evident that the “Tea Party” is just a new name for the same old white fundamentalists who would rather burn this country to the ground than share it with everyone else, and this latest power play from the Republicans is, in essence, a move from that demographic to assert their “right” to control the country, even if their politicians aren’t in power.


It’s no surprise, under the circumstances, that a movement controlled by fundamentalist Christians would be oblivious to the very real dangers that their actions present. Fundamentalist religion is extremely good at convincing its followers to be more afraid of imaginary threats than real ones, and to engage in downright magical thinking about the possibility that their own choices could work out very badly. When you believe that forcing the government into default in an attempt to derail Obamacare is the Lord’s work, it’s very difficult for you to see that it could have very real, negative effects.


It’s hard for the Christian fundamentalists who run the Republican Party now to worry about the serious economic danger they’re putting the world in, because they are swept up in worrying that President Obama is an agent of the devil and that the world is on the verge of mayhem and apocalypse if they don’t “stop” him somehow, presumably be derailing the Affordable Care Act.  Christian conservatives such as Ellis Washington are running around telling each other that the ACA  will lead to “the systematic genocide of the weak, minorities, enfeebled, the elderly and political enemies of the God-state.”  Twenty percent of Republicans believe Obama is the Antichrist.Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner argued that Obama is using his signature health care legislation to promote “the destruction of the family, Christian culture”, and demanded that Christians “need to engage in peaceful civil disobedience against President Obama’s signature health care law”. 


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined in,  demanding that the Republicans shut down the government rather than let Obamacare go into effect. The excuse was their objection to the requirement that insurance make contraception available without a copayment, saying ending this requirement matters more than “serving their own employees or the neediest Americans.”


The Christian right media has been hammering home the message that Christians should oppose the Affordable Care Act.  Pat Necerato of the Christian News Network accused the supporters of the law of committing idolatry and accused people who want health care of being covetous. The Christian Post  approvingly reported various Christian leaders, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, saying things like the health care law is “a profound attack on our liberties” and lamented “Today is the day I will tell my grandchildren about when they ask me what happened to freedom in America.”


Some in the Christian right straight up believe Obamacare portends the end times. Rick Phillips,  writing for Christianity.com, hinted that Obamacare might be predicted in Revelations, though he held back from saying that was certain. Others are less cautious. On the right wing fundamentalist email underground, a conspiracy theory has arisen claiming that  Obamacare will require all citizens to have a microchip implanted. While it’s completely untrue, many Christians believe that this means the “mark of the beast” predicted in Revelations that portends the return of Christ and the end of the world. 


In other words, the Christian right has worked itself into a frenzy of believing that if this health care law is implemented fully, then we are, in fact, facing down either the end of American Christianity itself or quite possibly the end times themselves. In comparison, it’s hard to be too scared by the worldwide financial collapse that they’re promising to unleash if the Democrats don’t just give up their power and let Republicans do what they want. Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.


This is a problem that extends beyond just the immediate manufactured crisis. The Christian right has become the primary vehicle in American politics for minimizing the problems of the real world while inventing imaginary problems as distractions. Witness, for instance, the way  that fundamentalist Christianity has been harnessed to promote the notion that climate change isn’t a real problem. Average global temperatures are creeping up, but the majority of Christian conservatives are too worried about the supposed existential threats of abortion and gay rights to care.


Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that it’s easy for Christian conservatives to worry more about imaginary threats from Obamacare than it is for them to worry about the very real threat to worldwide economic stability if the go along with their harebrained scheme of forcing the government into default. To make it worse, many have convinced themselves that it’s their opponents who are deluded.  Take right wing Christian Senator Tom Coburn, who celebrated the possibility of default back in January by saying it would be a “wonderful experiment”. Being able to blow past all the advice of experts just to make stuff up you want to believe isn’t a quality that is unique to fundamentalists, but as these budget negotiations are making clear, they do have a uniquely strong ability to lie to themselves about what is and isn’t a real danger to themselves and to the world.



TSA’s new Pre-Check programs raises major privacy concerns


October 3, 2013

by Christopher Elliott 

Washington Times


            When the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-Check formally launches sometime this fall, its trusted-traveler program will already have the enthusiastic endorsement of frequent travelers — and an equally enthusiastic denouncement from privacy advocates.


Pre-Check offers an appealing shortcut past the often long airport security lines. After you pay an enrollment fee and submit to a background check and interview, the TSA promises to treat you like a VIP. You’ll be sent to a preferred line, where you can leave your shoes, light outerwear and belt on, leave your laptop in its case and keep your bag of liquids and gels in your carry-on.


“I can’t say enough about how much I love it,” says Ralph Velasco, a photographer based in Corona del Mar, Calif. “It’s saved me many, many hours. I’d highly recommend it.”


How do Velasco and others know about the benefits of Pre-Check?


Because the agency assigned to protect U.S. transportation systems has slowly rolled out the program in 40 airports since 2011.


Travelers could opt in to Pre-Check through their frequent-flier program or through another government trusted-traveler initiative, such as Global Entry, a similar program that allows travelers to cut the customs line when they return to the United States from overseas.


Velasco, for example, belongs to Global Entry, which is operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.


But you might think twice before plunking down the $85 that a five-year Pre-Check membership is expected to cost. Privacy advocates and some consumers are uneasy about government trusted-traveler programs like this one. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be approved, and if you aren’t, you may never know why. And Pre-Check status is no guarantee that you can avoid a standard TSA screening, which includes a full-body scan or a so-called “enhanced” pat-down.


“If you sign up, you’ll want to keep your nose clean for the rest of your life,” says Gregory Nojeim, a director at the Center for Democracy & Technology. “Because that’s how long the FBI will keep your fingerprints.”


True, as part of the application process, TSA collects a cache of personal information about you, including your prints. They’re held in a database for 75 years, and the database is queried by the FBI and state and local law enforcement as needed to solve crimes at which fingerprints are lifted from crime scenes, according to Nojeim. The prints may also be used for background checks.


“What started as a criminal database to link arrestees to other crimes is being turned into an all-purpose database of fingerprint identifiers,” Nojeim says.


It isn’t what Pre-Check is now — we don’t really know that yet — but what it could someday become that worries privacy-watchers. In the future, it isn’t too difficult to imagine a faster line for pre-screened train passengers waiting to board. TSA’s roaming Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams already selectively screen Amtrak passengers and attendees at special events such as NFL games and political conventions. It also wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see the program requiring passengers to be pre-approved before they can fly.


“I would not apply for one of these trusted-traveler programs, which in the past have involved giving the government more information or authorizing it to get more information about me,” says Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates on privacy issues.


The concept of a line for elite travelers who can afford to pay a fee also strikes many observers as unfair, if not un-American. Critics say that, in the interests of safety, all travelers should be given the same careful screening whenever they fly.


Another problem with trusted-traveler programs: You might not be approved, and even if you are, you could lose your preferred status at any time. Consider what happened to Melanie Hansen when she recently applied for the Global Entry program. A few weeks after her interview, she received a form letter rejecting her.


Turns out that when she and her husband were leaving Hong Kong 24 years ago, they failed to declare two valuable watches that they’d purchased in China. “I admitted not properly declaring items on my application for Global Entry, and the approximate date of that incident,” says Hansen, a writer who lives in Columbia, S.C. “When the Global Entry representative brought it up, I could only say that I was young and stupid.”


Actually, Hansen is fortunate. Many Americans who apply for a trusted-traveler program never find out why they were turned down and are left to speculate. Appeals to the government are often answered with vague responses. The Customs and Border Protection Web site notes that having a criminal record or a past violation of CBP laws, regulations or policies “may render you ineligible” for participation in all trusted-traveler programs, but if you appeal, the exact reasons for denial or suspension are not always given.


Program membership can also be terminated at any time, leaving travelers wondering what they did to get themselves expelled but never knowing the answer. But a TSA spokesman said Pre-Check is run by TSA and will have its own appeals process in place, which will allow passengers to ask for a second look if they’re rejected.


Assuming that you’re green-lighted for Pre-Check and you don’t do anything that gets you kicked out of the program, you still might be sent to the slow lane. Even passengers with a Pre-Check designation on their boarding passes aren’t guaranteed expedited screening, according to the TSA, which vows to continue incorporating what it calls “random, unpredictable screening measures” into airport security.


The early enthusiasm for Pre-Check may be a product of the relief air travelers feel when they’re exempted from the TSA’s normal screening methods, which some have criticized for being invasive and unconstitutional. But as the program expands and more stories begin to emerge of passengers being rejected or removed from this pricey trusted-traveler program, the tide of public opinion could turn.


By then it might be too late. The government seems determined to know more about you before you fly, whether you’re willing to pay for the privilege or not. In a little-noticed proposal, the Department of Homeland Security says that it plans to upgrade to its Secure Flight system, which pre-screens all passengers. The results would be indicated on your boarding pass, with some observers speculating that the TSA would use a “green” designation for trusted travelers, “yellow” for non-members of Pre-Check and “red” for probable security risks.


TSA says that the new Secure Flight would be used to send non-members who are tagged as low-risk passengers through the Pre-Check lines, even if they aren’t members.


Travelers have until Oct. 10 to leave comments on the government’s Regulations.gov Web site. It may be your last, best chance to let the government know what you think of its plan to pre-approve you for travel.


E-mail Christopher Elliott at chris@elliott.org.
ScareMail plugin will flag all your email to the NSA

Gmail plugin appends scary-sounding gibberish to the bottom of all your mail – and the aim is to clog the spies’ filters


October 10, 2013

by Alex Hern



An Illinois-based digital artist has created a Gmail plugin that automatically adds blacklisted words to every email in an attempt to protest against online surveillance.


Ben Grosser has designed the ScareMail plugin in a way that, he says, will be ensure that even benign emails are picked up by the security filters of America’s National Security Agency.


Grosser’s idea takes the opposite tack to encryption tools including PGP and Silent Text, and to the IP-masking service Tor, which are designed to hide the contents of messages or the sender.


“One of the strategies used by the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) email surveillance programs is the detection of predetermined keywords. These “selectors”, as they refer to them internally, are used to identify communications by presumed terrorists,” said Grosser.


“Large collections of words have thus become codified as something to fear, as an indicator of intent. The result is a governmental surveillance machine run amok, algorithmically collecting and searching our digital communications in a futile effort to predict behaviours based on words in emails.”


ScareMail generates a chunk of text to append to the end of every email sent, containing as many selectors as possible.


“If every email contains the word ‘plot’ or ‘facility,'” Grosser writes, “then searching for those words becomes a fruitless exercise. A search that returns everything is a search that returns nothing of use.”


The text is deliberately gibberish to a human eye, but formatted in such a way that it can’t easily be discounted by a computer. A sample paragraph reads: “‘I’m sorry. One crashes to fail careful.’ He mutated but had not important, we mustn’t vaccinate Palestine Liberation Organisation, seem it!'”


The plugin warns recipients by prefacing the text with the warning “Following Text Generated by ScareMail” — which would make it trivial for the NSA to ignore it in its current form.


“The ability to use whatever words we want is one of our most basic freedoms, yet the NSA’s growing surveillance of electronic speech threatens our first amendment rights,” said Grosser.


“All ScareMail does is add words from the English language to emails written by users of the software. By doing so, ScareMail reveals one of the primary flaws of the NSA’s surveillance efforts: words do not equal intent.”


ScareMail is available as a plugin for Chrome, Firefox and Safari, and the source code is free for all at Github.


• Three MIT students wrote a program to generate gibberish – that gets accepted by academic conferences


FBI struggles to seize 600,000 Bitcoins from alleged Silk Road founder

Having seized 26,000 Bitcoins belonging to site users, authorities battle to control Ross Ulbricht’s personal wallet

October 7, 2013

by Alex Hern



The FBI has found that seizing an anonymous decentralised peer-to-peer currency was trickier than it seemed, following the Bureau’s bust of the international drugs marketplace, Silk Road.


When Ross Ulbricht, known as Dread Pirate Roberts to users of the site, was arrested last week, the FBI seized 26,000 Bitcoins belonging to Silk Road customers. But it also attempted, unsuccessfully, to claim the nearly 600,000 – thought to be worth around $80m – which Ulbricht himself is thought to be holding.


Bitcoin is a digital currency based on a methods of cryptography similar to those used to protect confidential emails. Due to its decentralised nature – the currency does not rely on any centralised agency to process payments, instead relying on work done by users’ computers – it is popular for a number of fringe-legal and illegal uses. One of those uses was Silk Road, where Bitcoin was required for all transactions.


In order to transfer Bitcoins out of a “wallet”, the name for the digital file which contains the encrypted information necessary to spend the currency, users need to know that wallet’s password or “private key”.


According to Forbes’ Kashmir Hill, that hurdle is causing the FBI difficulty.


“The FBI has not been able to get to Ulbricht’s personal Bitcoin yet,” wrote Hill. An FBI spokesperson said to Hill that the “$80m worth” that Ulbricht had “was held separately and is encrypted”. At current exchange rates, that represents slightly more than 5% of all bitcoins in circulation.


Even if the FBI is not able to transfer the money, now that Ulbricht is in captivity and most of his possessions have been seized, the funds are likely to stay where they are. A few high-security ways of storing bitcoins, such as a “brainwallet”, a way of converting a bitcoin address into an easy-to-remember phrase, could still bypass their authority, but there is no indication at present that Ulbricht has used them.

            • This article has been amended to clarify why Ulbricht’s funds have apparently remained untouched.

Ross Ulbricht’s Silk Road Millions Remain Out of Reach of FBI

October 7, 2013

by David Gilbert



             Speaking to Forbes, an FBI spokesperson said Ulbricht’s Bitcoins were held separately from the 26,000 Bitcoins seized from Silk Road accounts last week, and because they were encrypted, the FBI has not been able to access them as of yet.


            Ross William Ulbricht, known on the illicit Silk Road website as Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested in San Francisco last Tuesday charged with drug-trafficking, money-laundering, computer hacking and soliciting a Silk Road member to murder another user of the website.


             Ulbricht, 29, appeared in court on Friday denying all charges against him and successfully argued to have his bail hearing put back until 9 October.


            In his complaint against Ulbricht, FBI special agent Christoper Tarbell said the underground website was suspected of having generated 9.5 million Bitcoins in sales, with Ulbricht pocketing 600,000 Bitcoins in commission. In today’s valuation, that equates to $1.2 billion in sales and $80m in commission for Ulbricht.




Following the arrest the FBI seized 26,000 Bitcoins ($3.2m) from various Silk Road accounts but these were Bitcoins held in escrow by the site for its customers who used Silk Road as an anonymously online marketplace to buy and sell everything from class A drugs to machine guns and counterfeit currency.


The Bitcoins were then transferred to a new address on Bitcoin wallet service blockchain.info.


Unfortunately for the FBI, a Reddit user identified the account and since last Wednesday when the seized Bitcoins began appearing in the FBI’s wallet, disgruntled Silk Road fans have been using it to post messages of annoyance at the website’s shutdown.




By donating to the FBI’s account you are allowed to leave a public message and with tiny donations, those who don’t agree with Ulbricht’s arrest have a public forum for their anger.


“Take the drugs, take the domain, but don’t take the people’s Bitcoins. This seizure was only legal because Bitcoin is not recognized as a currency,” says one.


 Another pleads: “‘Ross Ulbricht’ is not the bad guy, you are a bad guy. Please open your eyes, dont be brainwashed, and think yourself!!!”




When asked what the FBI plans on doing with the seized Bitcoins, the spokesperson said: “We will download the Bitcoin and store them. We will hold them until the judicial process is over.”


Adding that the situation is “kind of new to us” and that the agency “will probably just liquidate them.”


The difficulty for the FBI in accessing Ulbricht’s Bitcoin wallet – the name for the file where the cryptographic currency is held – is that to do so they will need the private key, which only Ulbricht will know.


The key to Bitcoins’ current popularity, especially on websites like Silk Road, is their complete anonymity, with authorities being unable to trace where the money has come from or gone to.

C.I.A. Warning on Snowden in 09 Said to Slip Through the Cracks

October 10, 2013

by Eric Schmitt 

New York Times


WASHINGTON — Just as Edward J. Snowden was preparing to leave Geneva and a job as a C.I.A. technician in 2009, his supervisor wrote a derogatory report in his personnel file, noting a distinct change in the young man’s behavior and work habits, as well as a troubling suspicion.


The C.I.A. suspected that Mr. Snowden was trying to break into classified computer files to which he was not authorized to have access, and decided to send him home, according to two senior American officials.


But the red flags went unheeded. Mr. Snowden left the C.I.A. to become a contractor for the National Security Agency, and four years later he leaked thousands of classified documents. The supervisor’s cautionary note and the C.I.A.’s suspicions apparently were not forwarded to the N.S.A. or its contractors, and surfaced only after federal investigators began scrutinizing Mr. Snowden’s record once the documents began spilling out, intelligence and law enforcement officials said.


“It slipped through the cracks,” one veteran law enforcement official said of the report.


Spokesmen for the C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. all declined to comment on the precise nature of the warning and why it was not forwarded, citing the investigation into Mr. Snowden’s activities.


Half a dozen law enforcement, intelligence and Congressional officials with direct knowledge of the supervisor’s report were contacted for this article. All of the officials agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing criminal investigation.


In hindsight, officials said, the report by the C.I.A. supervisor and the agency’s suspicions might have been the first serious warnings of the disclosures to come, and the biggest missed opportunity to review Mr. Snowden’s top-secret clearance or at least put his future work at the N.S.A. under much greater scrutiny.


“The weakness of the system was if derogatory information came in, he could still keep his security clearance and move to another job, and the information wasn’t passed on,” said a Republican lawmaker who has been briefed on Mr. Snowden’s activities.


Mr. Snowden now lives in Moscow, where he surfaced this week for the first time since receiving temporary asylum from the Russian government over the summer. On Wednesday night, he met with four American whistle-blowers who have championed his case in the United States and who presented him with an award they said was given annually by a group of retired C.I.A. officers to members of the intelligence community “who exhibit integrity in intelligence.”


In a television interview, one member of the group, Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department official, said that Mr. Snowden “looked great.”


“He seemed very centered and brilliant,” Ms. Radack said. “Smart, funny, very engaged. I thought he looked very well.”


Another of the whistle-blowers, Coleen Rowley, a former F.B.I. agent who testified before the Senate about missteps in the agency’s investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, said, “We talked about prior examples of great people in history that had themselves been under this kind of pressure, and he’s remarkably centered.”


On Thursday, Mr. Snowden’s father, Lon, arrived in Moscow to see his son after assurances from Mr. Snowden’s legal aide that there would be “no complications” in organizing a meeting with his father. But in a telephone interview later in the day, Lon Snowden said he had not yet been able to meet with his son.


“I can’t tell you the where and the when,” the elder Mr. Snowden said. “I have no idea. I hope something happens.”


It is difficult to tell what would have happened had N.S.A. supervisors been made aware of the warning the C.I.A. issued Mr. Snowden in what is called a “derog” in federal personnel policy parlance.


“The spectrum of things in your personnel file could be A to Z,” said Charles B. Sowell, who until June was a top official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence working on improving the security clearance process. “There’s a chance that that information could be missed and might not be surfaced.”


Mr. Sowell, now a senior vice president at Salient Federal Solutions, an information technology company in Fairfax, Va., emphasized that he left the government before Mr. Snowden’s disclosures became public.


Intelligence and law enforcement officials say the report could have affected the assignments Mr. Snowden was given, first as an N.S.A. contractor with the computer company Dell in Japan and later with Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii, as well as the level of supervision he received.


The electronic systems the C.I.A. and N.S.A. use to manage the security clearances for its full-time and contracted employees are intended to track major rule-based infractions, not less serious complaints about personal behavior, a senior law enforcement official said. Thus, lesser derogatory information about Mr. Snowden was unlikely to have been given to the N.S.A. unless it was specifically requested. As a result of Mr. Snowden’s case, two law enforcement officials said, that flaw has since been corrected and such information is now being pushed forward.


The revelation of the C.I.A.’s derogatory report comes as Congress is examining the process of granting security clearances, particularly by USIS, a company that has performed 700,000 yearly security checks for the government. Among the individuals the company vetted were Mr. Snowden and Aaron Alexis, who the police say shot and killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard last month.


“We have a compelling need to monitor those trusted with this sensitive information on a more regular basis and with broader sets of data,” said Kathy Pherson, a former C.I.A. security officer who belongs to an intelligence industry task force that is expected to issue a report on the matter by year’s end.


While it is unclear what exactly the supervisor’s negative report said, it coincides with a period of Mr. Snowden’s life in 2009 when he was a prolific online commenter on government and security issues, complained about civil surveillance and, according to a friend, was suffering “a crisis of conscience.”


Mr. Snowden got an information technology job at the C.I.A. in mid-2006. Despite his lack of formal credentials, he gained a top-secret clearance and a choice job under State Department cover in Geneva. Little is known about what his duties were there.


Mavanee Anderson, who worked with Mr. Snowden in Geneva and also had a high security clearance, said in an article in The Chattanooga Times Free Press of Tennessee in June that when they worked from 2007 through early 2009, Mr. Snowden “was already experiencing a crisis of conscience of sorts.”


“Anyone smart enough to be involved in the type of work he does, who is privy to the type of information to which he was privy, will have at least moments like these,” she said.


Later, Mr. Snowden would tell the newspaper The Guardian that he was shocked and saddened by some of the techniques C.I.A. operatives in Geneva used to recruit sources. “Much of what I saw in Geneva really disillusioned me about how my government functions and what its impact is in the world,” he told The Guardian. “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”


There were other signs that have since drawn investigators’ attention. In early 2009, someone using Mr. Snowden’s screen name expressed outrage at government officials who leaked information to the news media, telling a friend in an Internet chat that leakers “should be shot.”


“They’re just like WikiLeaks,” Mr. Snowden — or someone identified as him from his screen name, “TheTrueHOOHA,” and other details — wrote in January 2009 about an article in The New York Times on secret exchanges between Israel and the United States about Iran’s nuclear program.


He later told The Guardian he was disappointed that President Obama “advanced the very policies that I thought would be reined in.”


“I got hardened,” he said.


Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting from Washington, and Andrew Roth from Moscow.

Guardian to publish more Snowden intelligence revelations

October 9, 2013

BBC News


             Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger says he plans to publish more revelations from Edward Snowden despite MI5 warning that such disclosures cause enormous damage.


Mr Rusbridger insisted the paper was right to publish files leaked by the US intelligence analyst and had helped to prompt a necessary and overdue debate.


His comments come after criticism from the new head of MI5, Andrew Parker.


Making public the “reach and limits” of intelligence-gathering techniques gave terrorists the advantage, he said.


Mr Snowden, a former CIA contractor, fled to Russia with a wealth of secret data including some 58,000 files from GCHQ, Britain’s electronic eavesdropping agency.


The stories that followed in the Guardian newspaper, based on material provided by Mr Snowden, revealed the huge capacity of British and US intelligence agencies – GCHQ and NSA – to monitor communications.


Mr Rusbridger said more stories would be published in the future as the leaked documents were “slowly and responsibly” worked through.


In his first public speech since his appointment to director general in April, Mr Parker said intelligence gathered by GCHQ had played a vital role in stopping many UK terrorist plots over the past decade.


Without mentioning Mr Snowden by name, he said ”it causes enormous damage to make public the reach and limits of GCHQ techniques”.


He warned that terrorists now had tens of thousands of means of communication “through e-mail, IP telephony, in-game communication, social networking, chat rooms, anonymising services and a myriad of mobile apps”.


Mr Parker said it was vital for MI5 to retain the capability to access such information if it was to protect the country.


Mr Rusbridger said those on the security side of the argument wanted to keep everything secret and did not want a debate.


“You don’t want the press or anyone else writing about it. But MI5 cannot be the only voice in the debate,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.


He added that his newspaper had revealed the “extent to which entire populations are now being potentially put under surveillance”.


“I just spent a week in America where everybody is talking about this, from the president down.”


He added: “It’s quite surprising to me that the number of MPs in this country who have said anything at all in the last four months can be counted on one hand – Malcolm Rifkind, Tom Watson, David Davis.


“So, if Parliament’s not going to have this discussion and if the courts can only do this in private then I think absolutely it falls to the press to stimulate a discussion, which as I say, throughout America, throughout Europe, is one that the public are intensely interested in.”


Asked about Mr Parker’s suggestion that publishing the documents was helping terrorists, Mr Rusbridger said: “They will always say that. You read histories of intelligence and you go back to the 1990s and the security people were saying the same.”


The independent MP Patrick Mercer said intelligence data should not be published if it compromised public security.


“If in any way our security is compromised by revealing too much, that’s a mistake. Just imagine if we had revealed the whole Enigma secret during the Second World War.


“That might have been in the public’s interest – but we’d have lost the war.”


Arctic melt means more pirate chases, say Polish climate hosts

Organisers of upcoming climate change conference are under fire for a ‘crazy’ blogpost about melting polar ice

October 10, 2013

by Adam Vaughan



             Melting ice could open the Arctic to new drilling and the opportunity to “chase pirates, terrorists and ecologists”, according to the organisers of this year’s UN climate talks in Poland, in comments that have been branded outrageous by campaigners.


The blogpost, published this week on the Polish site for November’s Warsaw meeting, said that not only would melting ice allow ships to cut their journey times by taking the north-west passage, but “we may also build new drilling platforms and retrieve natural resources hidden below the sea bed”.


It added that there was also the possibility of, “Chasing the pirates, terrorists and ecologists that will come to hang around …”


Byrony Worthington, the Labour peer and environmental campaigner, said the text was “outrageous and should be withdrawn”. Other European observers called the post crazy, and said it brought shame on the meeting, which is considered a key step towards reaching an international climate change deal in Paris at the end of 2015.


But the Polish environment minister, Marcin Korolec, defended the entry, saying it “only pointed out problem we face”. He said that while a rush to exploit the mineral resources of the Artic was “not nice”, it would be “real if we [did] nothing”.


Robert Cyglicki, programme director at Greenpeace Poland, told the Guardian: “These blogs illustrate the Polish government is not the most credible host to the upcoming climate negotiations – keeping fossil fuels in the ground is clearly not on their agenda.” WWF Poland also joined the call for the post to be removed.


Greenpeace activists who scaled a Russian oil rig in the Arctic in September in protest at exploitation of fossil fuels in the region were arrested by Russian authorities, and are currently being held in jail awaiting a court case over piracy charges that could lead to a 10- to 15-year prison sentence.


Ed Davey, the energy and climate secretary, was in Poland last week for a pre-meeting with Korolec and other environment ministers ahead of the conference in November, known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP19.


The Polish organisers have previously come in for criticism from environmentalists for the companies that COP19 is partnering with, which include PGE Polish Energy Group, the state operator which runs several coal power plants in the country including Belchatow, Europe’s single biggest emitter of carbon pollution. Poland’s electricity is supplied almost exclusively by coal power.


• 2.30pm update: The COP19 website has subsequently published a new blogpost, saying: “Our recent entry on north-west passage was widely discussed but unfortunately misunderstood. The readers considered the forthcoming, bitter, but unfortunately possible scenario as option we like. We do not. But how to react to the featured situation? Should we be silent? We are glad, that the topic caused so much interest and discussion, because the matter is really very serious.”


The US is losing control of the internet

October 12,1013

by Duncan Geere

Shutterstock.co.uk .


All of the major internet organisations have pledged, at a summit in Uruguay, to free themselves of the influence of the US government.


The directors of ICANN, the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Architecture Board, the World Wide Web Consortium, the Internet Society and all five of the regional Internet address registries have vowed to break their associations with the US government.


In a statement, the group called for “accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing”.


That’s a distinct change from the current situation, where the US department of commerce has oversight of ICANN.


In another part of the statement, the group “expressed strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance”.


Meanwhile, it was announced that the next Internet Governance Summit would be held in Brazil, whose president has been extremely critical of the US over web surveillance.


In a statement announcing the location of the summit, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff said: “The United States and its allies must urgently end their spying activities once and for all.”

NSA backlash sparks new technology

Anti-surveillance technology created in light of NSA expose


October 12, 2013

The Associated Press


From Silicon Valley to the South Pacific, counterattacks to revelations of widespread National Security Agency surveillance are taking shape, from a surge of new encrypted email programs to technology that sprinkles the Internet with red flag terms to confuse would-be snoops.


Policy makers, privacy advocates and political leaders around the world have been outraged at the near weekly disclosures from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden that expose sweeping U.S. government surveillance programs.


“Until this summer, people didn’t know anything about the NSA,” said Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University co-director Amy Zegart. “Their own secrecy has come back to bite them.”


Activists are fighting back with high-tech civil disobedience, entrepreneurs want to cash in on privacy concerns, internet users want to keep snoops out of their computers and lawmakers want to establish stricter parameters.


Some of the tactics are more effective than others. For example, Flagger, a program that adds words like “blow up” and “pressure cooker” to web addresses that users visit, is probably more of a political statement than actually confounding intelligence agents.


Multiple online identities

Developer Jeff Lyon in Santa Clara, California, said he’s delighted if it generates social awareness, and that 2,000 users have installed it to date. He said, “The goal here is to get a critical mass of people flooding the Internet with noise and make a statement of civil disobedience.”


University of Auckland associate professor Gehan Gunasekara said he’s received “overwhelming support” for his proposal to “lead the spooks in a merry dance,” visiting radical websites, setting up multiple online identities and making up hypothetical “friends.”


And “pretty soon everyone in New Zealand will have to be under surveillance,” he said.


Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins in San Francisco has a more direct strategy: by using encrypted email and browsers, he creates more smoke screens for the NSA. “Encryption loses its value as an indicator of possible malfeasance if everyone is using it,” he said.


And there are now plenty of encryption programs, many new, and of varying quality.


“This whole field has been made exponentially more mainstream,” said Cryptocat private instant messaging developer Nadim Kobeissi.


This week, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University released a smartphone app called SafeSlinger they say encrypts text messages so they cannot be read by cell carriers, Internet providers, employers “or anyone else.”


CryptoParties are springing up around the world as well. They are small gatherings where hosts teach attendees, who bring their digital devices, how to download and use encrypted email and secure Internet browsers.


“Honestly, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you are doing, if the NSA wants to find information, they will,” said organizer Joshua Smith. “But we don’t have to make it easy for them.”


Apparently plenty agree, as encryption providers have seen a surge in interest.


Encryption services

Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, a free encryption service was being loaded about 600 times a day in the month before Snowden’s revelations broke. Two months later, that had more than doubled to 1,380, according to a running tally maintained by programmer Kristian Fiskerstrand.


Andrew Lewman, executive director of TOR, short for The Onion Router, said they don’t track downloads of their program that helps make online traffic anonymous by bouncing it through a convoluted network of routers to protect the privacy of their users.


But, Lewman said, they have seen an uptick.


“Our web servers seem more busy than normal,” he said.


Berlin-based email provider Posteo claims to have seen a 150 percent surge in paid subscribers due to the “Snowden effect.”


Posteo demands no personal information, doesn’t store metadata, ensures server-to-server encryption of messages and even allows customers to pay anonymously — cash in brown envelopes-style.


CEO Patrick Loehr, who responded to The Associated Press by encrypted email, said that subscriptions to the $1.36 US per month program rose to 25,000 in the past four months. The company is hoping to offer an English-language service next year.


Federation of American Scientists secrecy expert Steven Aftergood said it is crucial now for policymakers to clearly define limits.


“Are we setting ourselves up for a total surveillance system that may be beyond the possibility of reversal once it is in place?” he asked. “We may be on a road where we don’t want to go. I think people are correct to raise an alarm now and not when we’re facing a fait accompli.”


U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who introduced a bipartisan package of proposals to reform the surveillance programs last month, told a Cato Institute gathering Thursday that key parts of the debate are unfolding now.


“It’s going to take a groundswell of support from lots of Americans across the political spectrum,” he said, “communicating that business as usual is no longer OK, and they won’t buy the argument that liberty and security are mutually exclusive.”


Seeing Its Own Money at Risk, China Rails at U.S.

October 15, 2013

by Mark Landler 

New York Times


             WASHINGTON — China has become shrill in its criticism of the fiscal train wreck in the United States, arguing that the answer to a potential government default is to begin creating a “de-Americanized world.” Beijing’s alarm is understandable, given that it is the world’s largest investor in American public debt, with at least $1.3 trillion in holdings.


But China does not have many options beyond wringing its hands. Despite its efforts to steer its economy away from exports and toward domestic demand, China generates billions of dollars of excess cash that it needs to park somewhere. And for all the chaos in Washington, Treasury bonds remain a safer investment than most of the alternatives.


That dependence may help explain the stridency of a recent commentary published by the official Xinhua news agency. It called for the replacement of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency “so that the international community could permanently stay away from the spillover of the intensifying domestic political turmoil in the United States.”


“As U.S. politicians of both political parties are still shuffling back and forth between the White House and the Capitol Hill without striking a viable deal to bring normality to the body politic they brag about,” the news agency said, “it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.”


Chinese officials made similar noises five years ago, when the United States was being buffeted by a banking crisis. In March 2008, the leader of China’s central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan, proposed creating a new “supersovereign currency” that would diminish the importance of any individual national currency, not least the dollar.


But economists who follow China’s monetary policy say that while Beijing has somewhat diversified its foreign exchange reserves, it continues to rely heavily on Treasury bills and other American government-backed debt.


Part of the problem is the lack of easy alternatives: euro-denominated debt has been hurt by the European Union’s crisis, except in Germany. Analysts estimate that 60 percent of China’s $3.66 trillion in reserves are still in dollar-denominated debt, though the precise numbers are a secret.


In its commentary, Xinhua embellished its call for a new reserve currency with a scathing indictment of the United States’ broader role in the world, saying that the Obama administration claimed “the moral high ground” while covertly “torturing prisoners of war, slaying civilians in drone attacks and spying on world leaders.”


Edwin M. Truman, an economist and former Treasury Department official, said: “This is political blather. It is a politically defensive response to the choices China has made.”


That does not mean a brush with default will not have long-term damaging consequences for the United States. Even if China continues to buy Treasury bonds, economists said, it may opt for those with shorter maturities, which would drive up long-term interest rates in the United States, hurting home buyers and owners of small businesses.


The sour taste from the budget impasse will also motivate the Chinese to intensify their efforts to deepen their own debt markets. Already, China has negotiated swaps for its currency, the renminbi, with the European Central Bank and other institutions, a step toward making the currency convertible and, someday, a rival to the dollar and euro.


“This gives them a kick in the pants to do it,” said Kenneth S. Rogoff, professor of public policy and economics at Harvard and a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.


Any decline in the status of the dollar will be gradual, said Mr. Rogoff, who pointed to the erosion of the British pound sterling over several decades as a precedent. But, he said, “Memories are long: you do this once, you do this twice, and people start to think.”


President Obama appeared to have those long-term effects in mind when he was asked last week what message he had for big bondholders like the Chinese and Japanese. After saying that he had assured world leaders that the United States would continue to pay its bills, he noted that the specter of default, and the fact that the United States had flirted with it once before, could sow lasting doubts overseas.


“We saw what happened in 2011,” Mr. Obama said. “I think the assumption was that the Americans must have learned their lesson, that there would be budget conflicts, but nobody again would threaten the possibility that we would default. And when they hear members of the Senate and members of Congress saying maybe default wouldn’t be that bad, I’ll bet that makes them nervous. It makes me nervous.”


For all the anxiety, though, the prevailing belief overseas is that the United States will avert a default. At last weekend’s meetings of the World Bank and I.M.F. in Washington, Mr. Rogoff said, none of the visiting finance ministers expressed genuine fear that Congress and the White House would not find a way out.


The fiscal deadlock, he said, cast such a long shadow over the gathering that the ministers did not have to dwell on the financial and structural problems in their own economies.


China is a case in point. While the Chinese government has taken steps to shift its economy from a dependence on exports toward one fueled by domestic demand, the progress has been fitful. At the behest of its exporters, it continues to artificially depress its exchange rate, which it does by using its export earnings to buy dollars and other foreign currencies.


In the first quarter of this year, economists say, the Chinese government added more to its foreign exchange reserves than in all of 2012.


On one level, China’s $3.66 trillion hoard is a symbol of its financial might. But on another, it has tied Beijing’s hands. China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, cannot dump its Treasury bonds without driving down their value and incurring a painful loss on paper.


“This is certainly a wake-up call for them that holding U.S. government securities is not risk-free,” said Nicholas R. Lardy, an expert on the Chinese economy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “What they should be doing is quit adding to their foreign reserves.”


            This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:


Correction: October 15, 2013


            An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the president of China’s central bank.  He is Zhou Xiaochuan, not Zhao.


No responses yet

Leave a Reply