TBR News October 24, 2016

Oct 24 2016

A Compendium of Various Official Lies, Business Scandals, Small Murders, Frauds, and Other Gross Defects of Our Current Political, Business and Religious Moral Lepers.

“When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes… Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”- Napoleon Bonaparte, 1815


“Corrupted by wealth and power, your government is like a restaurant with only one dish. They’ve got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of Democratic waiters on the other side. But no matter which set of waiters brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same Wall Street kitchen”. – Huey Long


“I fired [General MacArthur] because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. That’s the answer to that. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail “- Harry S Truman


“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” -Thomas Jefferson.


“Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage”

– H.L. Mencken


 “For a quarter of a century the CIA has been repeatedly wrong about every major political and economic question entrusted to its analysis.” 

-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

The New York Times, 1991.


Don’t tell a lie! Some men I’ve known
Commit the most appalling acts,
Because they happen to be prone
To an economy of facts;
And if to lie is bad, no doubt
’Tis even worse to get found out!


My children, never, never steal!
To know their offspring is a thief
Will often make a father feel
Annoyed and cause a mother grief;
So never steal, but, when you do,
Be sure there’s no one watching you.


The Wicked flourish like the bay,
At Cards or Love they always win,
Good Fortune dogs their steps all day,
They fatten while the Good grow thin.
The Righteous Man has much to bear;

    The Bad becomes a Bullionaire!



 The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C.  October 24, 2016:”I wrote a negative article on the terrible state of American public education, with especial reference to the many fake and worthless “univertsities” now spreading across the land. In return, I received an email from a university professor that is worth repeating, in toto:

When I was an undergrad, there were no loans and grants, but once the financial aid scheme was introduced, universities were snorting meth. And today, there are as many online “universities” as there are mushrooms in moldy cellars.

The proliferation of useless degrees benefits the administration and the football team, while faculty and students wink and nod, trading low expectations in the classroom for positive faculty evaluations by the students. Also, I kept data of the grammar/spelling/punctuation skills of incoming journalism students for more than a decade, and I documented a steady decline in the mean scores of all students until today, incoming students seldom have adequate skills to advance in the program, so I created a course in 2008 that is only some of the basics that should have been mastered in high school.

Yes, I supposed that both students and teachers in those institutions are high, but certainly not i achievement. I told my students this semester that I believed today’s K-12 system teaches confidence wthout competence. These are the people who want to elect the Clinton Crime Family back into the White House.

I hope what we hear about a movement in the country will result in a landslide win for Donald Trump.’”

Negative tone of White House race sours young voters.

October 24, 2016

by Scott Malone


BOSTON-The exceptionally negative tone of this year’s race for the White House is souring young Americans, turning some away from the democratic process just as the millennial generation has become as large a potential bloc of voters as the baby boomers.

Reuters/Ipsos polling shows that Americans aged 18 to 34 are slightly less likely to vote for president this year than their comparably aged peers were in 2012. Some political scientists worry that this election could scar a generation of voters, making them less likely to cast ballots in the future.

Young Americans on the left and right have found reasons to be dissatisfied with their choices this year. Senator Bernie Sanders had an enthusiastic following of younger people before he lost the Democratic primary race to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. On the Republican side, some are unwilling to vote for Donald Trump, citing the New York businessman’s sometimes insulting rhetoric on women, minorities and immigrants.

Brandon Epstein, who turned 18 on Monday, had looked forward earlier in the year to casting his first vote for Sanders. Now, the resident of suburban Suffolk County, New York, plans to sit out the vote on Election Day, Nov. 8.

“It’s because of the selection of the candidates. I find them to be not just sub-par, but unusually sub-par,” said Epstein, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Something’s gone terribly wrong.”

That sentiment is broadly reflected in poll data that show that young Americans are less enthusiastic about their choices in November than they were four years ago when Democratic President Barack Obama faced a re-election challenge from Republican Mitt Romney.

Some 52.2 percent of respondents aged 18 to 34 told Reuters/Ipsos they were certain or almost certain to vote, compared with 56.1 percent who reported that level of certainty at the same point in 2012.

The national tracking poll was conducted online in English in all 50 states. It included 3,088 people between 18-34 years old who took the survey from Oct. 1 to Oct. 17, and 2,141 18-34 year olds who took the poll on the same days in 2012. It has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 2 percentage points for both groups.


For at least the past half century, young Americans have voted at lower rates than their elders. But this year’s decline in enthusiasm is of particular concern because it comes as the millennial generation – people born from 1981 through 1997 – has become as large a bloc of eligible voters as the baby boomers – born between 1946 and 1964. Each group’s number of eligible voters is approaching 70 million people, according to the Pew Research Center.

“This generation has never trusted the government, Wall Street or the media less,” John Della Volpe, director of polling at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, said of the millennials. “That’s likely to result in turnout of less than 50 percent and of those who do turn out, there is still a deep cynicism regarding the impact of their vote, whether or not it will make a difference.”

The projected low turnout is a particular concern given recent research showing how important habit is in encouraging voter participation. Put simply, a person who votes in one election is about 10 percent more likely to vote in the next than an eligible voter who opted to stay home, said Alexander Coppock, an assistant professor of political science at Yale University.

“If you extend that logic, if you have an election that fails to turn people on to voting, you’d expect that you wouldn’t get that cumulative effect,” said Coppock, whose article “Is Voting Habit Forming?” was published in this month’s issue of the American Journal for Political Science.

However, not all young voters unhappy with their choices will be staying home. Some plan to cast a ballot anyway, even if only in protest, rather than sitting out.

That group includes Cameron Khansarinia, a 20-year-old vice president of the Harvard Republican Club, who said he would cast a ballot even though he opposed Trump.

“I will definitely vote, I just don’t know if I will be writing someone in or voting for (Libertarian) Gary Johnson or even voting for Hillary Clinton when it gets down to it,” said Khansarinia, who is registered to vote in heavily Democratic California. “Once this is over, come Nov. 9, we will need people here to rebuild the party.”

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Dakota Access Pipeline: Police fire on media drones, mass arrests, treaty rights declared

October 24, 2016


Protests over development of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in North Dakota led to more than 125 arrests and a highway blockade over the weekend, as pipeline opponents claimed “unceded territory” in the direct path of construction.

Meanwhile, local law enforcement fired on two unmanned media drones, claiming that “protesters attacked a helicopter with a drone,” and that the helicopter pilot and passengers were “in fear of their lives.”

The weekend developments marked a distinct heightening of tensions between self-proclaimed water protectors and law enforcement. Roadblocks went up on State Highway 1806 on Sunday, as water protectors declared eminent domain and set up a new winter camp on private land known as Cannonball Ranch. The property was recently purchased by Dakota Access pipeline company, a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, developer of the pipeline.

The Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) camp coordinator Mekasi Camp-Horinek said Oceti Sakowin’s new frontline camp — just east of State Highway 1806 and 2.5 miles north of the Cannonball River, along the proposed path of the pipeline — is part of an occupation that is planned to persist “until the pipeline is permanently stopped.”

“Today, the Oceti Sakowin has enacted eminent domain on DAPL lands, claiming 1851 treaty rights. This is unceded land,” Camp-Horinek said Sunday in a news release, adding, “We need bodies and we need people who are trained in non-violent direct action. We are still staying non-violent and we are still staying peaceful.”

Three blockades in all were established on Sunday “to ensure the protection of this new camp from overtly militarized law enforcement,” the release says. The Highway 1806 blockade was lifted around 5:00pm CDT, according to videographer Unicorn Riot.

“We have never ceded this land,” said Joye Braun, organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. “If DAPL can go through and claim eminent domain on landowners and Native peoples on their own land, then we as sovereign nations can then declare eminent domain on our own aboriginal homeland. We are here to protect the burial sites here. Highway 1806 has become the no surrender line.”

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier called encampment “intentional, planned, coordinated and outright unlawful.”

“Individuals trespassing on private property can’t claim eminent domain to justify their criminal actions,” he said in a statement.

The $3.78 billon, 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline has been the subject of heated protests for months. The protests have been led by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which has alleged the project would destroy several cultural sites and burial grounds, and claimed it would taint their water supply. DAPL is planned to come within a half mile of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation

If completed, the pipeline would travel across four states and is expected to carry nearly half-million barrels of crude oil daily from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. The pipeline would travel through North and South Dakota, under the Missouri River, through Iowa to an existing pipeline in Illinois.

On Saturday, 127 people — including journalists — were arrested during a “prayer walk near ancient burial sites and close to DAPL construction,”according to independent media collective Unicorn Riot, members of which have been arrested in the process of documenting the ongoing  DAPL protests. Law enforcement used abusive tactics, including the spraying of mace, to arrest protesters on suspicion of criminal trespassing on private property, Unicorn Riot said.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department called the scene “a riot.”

“Today’s situation clearly illustrates what we have been saying for weeks, that this protest is not peaceful or lawful,”said Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. “It was obvious to our officers who responded that the protesters engaged in escalated unlawful tactics and behavior during this event. This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities.”

The Standing Rock Sioux have called on the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to address escalating tensions at the protest sites, tribe chairman Dave Archambault II said Sunday.

“Thousands of water protectors have joined the Tribe in solidarity against DAPL, without incident or serious injury,” he said in a statement. “Yet, North Dakota law enforcement have proceeded with a disproportionate response to their nonviolent exercise of their First Amendment rights, even going as far as labeling them rioters and calling their every action illegal.”

Archambault told NBC News that the Department of Justice “should be enlisted and expected to investigate the overwhelming reports and videos demonstrating clear strong-arm tactics, abuses and unlawful arrests by law enforcement.”

Early Sunday, law enforcement shot projectiles at unmanned aircraft that were recording protest events from above in violation of US Federal Aviation Administration rules, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Office. The shots were fired because the drones flew at a surveillance helicopter “in a threatening manner,” the sheriff’s office said, adding that a deputy aboard the helicopter reported that the pilot and passengers were “in fear of their lives.”

“The drones being operated near the local protests and the camps south of Mandan generally are not being operated within the regulations,” Sheriff Kirchmeier said. “Reports of drones not being operated within the FAA guidelines or in a reckless and unsafe manner are being investigated and forwarded to the Morton County States Attorney’s office.”

The sheriff’s office also condemned the Sunday blockade, which triggered a closure of the highway. In a Facebook message to “protesters who illegally blocked 1806,” the sheriff’s office said, “If something happens, you will be liable. I’m worried about the people in Standing Rock needing emergency services.”

A total of 269 arrests related to the DAPL construction have occurred since August 10, according to the sheriff’s office.

Spies for Hire

October 24, 2016

by Jenna McLaughlin

The Intercept

In July, Simone Margaritelli, an Italian security researcher, boarded a Boeing 777 in Rome headed for Dubai, a city now billing itself as a tech startup hub.

He had a big job interview with a new, well-funded cybersecurity company called DarkMatter, whose self-described mission is to “safeguard the most complex organizations,” from government to the private sector, by preventing and fighting malicious cyberattacks and providing secure methods of communication — defensive cybersecurity, rather than offensive, which involves breaking into online systems and devices for espionage or destruction.

A friend of a friend had recommended Margaritelli, who was invited to spend five days in the United Arab Emirates at the company’s expense to learn more about the job. When he arrived in Dubai, the City of Gold, he found a full schedule of outings and a deluxe suite at the Jannah Marina Bay Suites hotel.

Margaritelli used to be a “blackhat” — a hacker looking to break into electronic systems. Now he works for a mobile security firm called Zimperium, where he still hunts for security flaws but does so to help people fix them. I “break stuff to make the world a safer place,” his website reads. He’s most well known for a portable tool he developed called Bettercap, used to perform a man-in-the-middle attack, where a hacker can eavesdrop or sometimes alter private communications between individuals.

When he arrived at the 29th floor of the Marina Plaza for his interview, the company representative described a plan to deploy electronic probes all over major cities in the UAE, which a team of hackers would then break into, guaranteeing access for DarkMatter and its customer — the Emirati government. The mission would be for the “exclusive” benefit of national security, Margaritelli was told. “Imagine that there’s a person of interest at the Dubai Mall, we’ve already set up all our probes all over the city, we press a button and BOOM! All the devices in the mall are infected and traceable,” Margaritelli wrote in a blog post recounting his experience.

Margaritelli declined to pursue the job offer. After his post, titled “How the United Arab Emirates Intelligence Tried to Hire Me to Spy on Its People,” began circulating, DarkMatter issued a single terse Twitter reply. The company said it preferred “talking reality & not fantasy.”

“No one from DarkMatter or its subsidiaries have ever interviewed Mr. Margaritelli,” Kevin Healy, director of communications for DarkMatter, wrote in an email to The Intercept. The man Margaritelli says interviewed him, Healy continued, was only an advisory consultant to DarkMatter — and that relationship has since ended (though several sources say he was employed by the company and had a DarkMatter email address).

“While we respect an author’s right to express a personal opinion, we do not view the content in question as credible, and therefore have no further comment,” Healy wrote.

DarkMatter denied outright Margaritelli’s assertions that it was recruiting hackers to research offensive security techniques. “Neither DarkMatter – nor any subsidiary, subset, research wing, or advisory department—engage in the activities described,” Healy wrote. “We conduct rigorous testing on all our products to ensure they do not include any vulnerabilities.”

Indeed, the idea of a UAE-based company recruiting an army of cyberwarriors from abroad to conduct mass surveillance aimed at the country’s own citizens may sound like something out of a bad Bond movie, but based on several months of interviews and research conducted by The Intercept, it appears DarkMatter has been doing precisely that.

Most of those who spoke with The Intercept asked to remain anonymous, citing nondisclosure agreements, fear of potential political persecution in the UAE, professional reprisals, and loss of current and future employment opportunities. Those quoted anonymously were speaking about events based on their direct experience with DarkMatter.

Margaritelli isn’t the only one who insists that DarkMatter isn’t being truthful about its operations and recruitment. More than five sources with knowledge of different parts of the company told The Intercept that sometime after its public debut last November, DarkMatter or a subsidiary began aggressively seeking skilled hackers, including some from the United States, to help it accomplish a wide range of offensive cybersecurity goals. Its work is aimed at exploiting hardware probes installed across major cities for surveillance, hunting down never-before-seen vulnerabilities in software, and building stealth malware implants to track, locate, and hack basically any person at any time in the UAE, several sources explained. As Margaritelli described it in an email to me, “Basically it’s big brother on steroids.”

DarkMatter made its public debut when the CEO, Faisal Al Bannai, gave a keynote speech surrounded by government officials, engineers, and businesspeople at the 2nd Annual Arab Future Cities Summit in Dubai. DarkMatter launched its portfolio of cybersecurity products as a “digital defense and intelligence service” for the nation. Al Bannai’s speech and DarkMatter marketing materials were peppered with buzzwords like cyber network defense and secure communications. Following its launch, the company routinely boasted, online and during conferences and radio interviews, about its would-be world-changing defensive cybersecurity missions, including developing its own encryption platforms and potentially secure phones in house, defending national and corporate networks, bug-sweeping and countersurveillance, and more, all under a single umbrella.

Local tech blogs praised the company and celebrated its connection to the UAE government. They described DarkMatter as a savior to UAE businesses and institutions at constant threat of cyber intrusion, citing attacks against several banks in 2015 that temporarily crippled the country’s online banking infrastructure.

Soon, DarkMatter had hired a roster of top-level talent from major tech giants around the world, including Google, Samsung, Qualcomm, McAfee, and even a co-founder of the encrypted messaging service Wickr. The new star-studded squad traveled to conferences like San Francisco’s annual RSA summit, appearing on radio and TV shows along the way. They rolled out a secure voice and chat application, partnered up with Symantec to improve digital threat detection in the Middle East, and opened a research and development center in Canada, as well as offices in China.

But sometime last year, a segment of the company’s mandate grew from providing defense and forensics research to developing a powerful team capable of cyber offense, multiple sources tell The Intercept. According to one source, DarkMatter’s newfound interest in offensive operations coincided with revelations contained in leaked emails that the Italian company Hacking Team had sold surveillance equipment to a large number of repressive regimes. Out of Hacking Team’s ashes, DarkMatter rose.

While cybersecurity companies traditionally aim to ensure that the code in software and hardware is free of flaws — mistakes that malicious hackers can take advantage of — DarkMatter, according to sources familiar with the company’s activities, was trying to find and exploit these flaws in order to install malware. DarkMatter could take over a nearby surveillance camera or cellphone and basically do whatever it wanted with it — conduct surveillance, interfere with or change any electronic messages it emitted, or block the signals entirely.

It’s not clear that the company’s defensive employees have any idea; in fact, multiple sources suggested those projects are likely hidden from them. One source explained how company representatives tried to insist that the offensive research they were recruiting for would be conducted outside DarkMatter, with some sort of partner organization or offshoot. But several sources, Margaritelli included, said top leadership was directly involved in interviews and knew the truth.

DarkMatter’s spokesperson said the company is “privately held” and “does not receive any funding from the United Arab Emirates.”

There do, however, appear to be strong links between the company and the government. In press releases, the company identifies itself as “already a strategic partner to the UAE government,” and its offices are located on the 15th floor of the round Aldar Headquarters in Abu Dhabi, two floors away from the country’s intelligence agency, the National Electronic Security Authority. DarkMatter’s senior vice president of technology research used to hold the same position at NESA.

By the early months of 2016, DarkMatter’s recruitment push was already well underway. The company’s publicly identifiable employees came from across the U.S. national security establishment. According to public LinkedIn profiles, one current DarkMatter employee was a global network exploitation analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense who “strategized activities against particular networks” and supported “foreign intelligence collection.” Another was a counterintelligence “special agent” for the Pentagon, whose LinkedIn boasts an “active” top-secret security clearance with a polygraph screening. Another experienced cryptographer working for DarkMatter was a senior technical adviser to the NSA, where he was intricately involved in designing “U.S. voice and data systems.”

But the company hasn’t been upfront about all the jobs it’s recruiting top talent for, Margaritelli and multiple other sources suggest. DarkMatter’s recruiters reached out to the information security community, promising high-paying, exciting jobs that would be focused on cyberdefense, according to more than a dozen security researchers interviewed by The Intercept, some of whom shared recruitment materials. A number of cybersecurity experts claimed on Twitter to have been contacted by recruiters, including Charlie Miller, an Uber security researcher and former NSA analyst; Chris Valasek, a noted car hacker who has teamed up with Miller; and Fabio Assolini, a security researcher for Kaspersky Labs.

One recruiting email reviewed by The Intercept offered a carefree, tax-free life in Dubai, with housing, meals, health care, children’s education, and transportation all provided free of charge. The email said the job was with a newly formed “public/private partnership” that would be the “Cyber Security provider for all UAE Government.” Another email said DarkMatter’s plan was to hire 250 “geniuses” before the end of 2016. One security researcher said DarkMatter recruiters had contacted him on LinkedIn five or six separate times.

Some potential recruits didn’t respond, but others were excited; the job offered the chance to innovate the cybersecurity of an entire nation. The lucrative payday also attracted them; according to one source, who requested anonymity fearing professional reprisal, some offers were as high as half a million dollars a year — a number similar to other offers shared with The Intercept.

According to a source familiar with the company, an American citizen named Victor Kouznetsov who splits his time between the U.S. and the Middle East was a key recruiter for DarkMatter in the United States.

A man answering a cellphone identified in public records as belonging to Kouznetsov insisted that he must have been contacted in error; he did not work for DarkMatter and his name was not Victor. When asked why his voicemail message gave his name as “Victor,” he hung up. Reached by The Intercept via email, Kouznetsov declined to answer questions. “As you can imagine my NDA with DarkMatter prevents me from disclosing exactly what I do for the company, but I could say that none of it is recruiting researchers in offensive security,” he wrote.

One recruiting email said DarkMatter’s plan was to hire 250 “geniuses” before the end of 2016.

Several researchers whom DarkMatter approached, including Margaritelli, confirmed they were specifically told they would be working on offensive operations. In Margaritelli’s case, he was informed the company wanted to install a set of probes around Dubai, including base transceiver stations — equipment that allows for wireless communication between a device and a network — wireless access points, drones, surveillance cameras, and more.

The probes could be installed by DarkMatter surreptitiously or facilitated by telecoms tacitly agreeing to the surveillance setup, and the company could attach an offensive implant directly onto the probes capable of intercepting and modifying digital traffic on IP, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. Anyone with a cellphone or using a device to connect to a wireless network connected to one of the probes would be vulnerable to hacking and tracking.

As Margaritelli explained it, the software DarkMatter originally designed to penetrate the probes “does not scale well enough” and therefore couldn’t handle the massive amounts of traffic it would be intercepting — forcing the need for a second team of hackers to do the job. The company wanted him to help solve the problem.

Margaritelli’s account is the most revealing, but several other sources discussed similar projects proposed by DarkMatter, including researching and developing exploits for zero-day vulnerabilities, as well as deploying and developing some of the same stealth malware implants Margaritelli was asked to work on. DarkMatter asked one researcher, who has discovered and reported bugs to Facebook, Google, and other major technology companies, to use his vulnerability research “to allow them to have access on trusted domains.” Basically, he would find a flaw in a website that would allow DarkMatter to manipulate it to help spread malware to targets without being detected. The researcher, who spoke anonymously, said he refused, even after getting an offer for more money, because, in contrast to DarkMatter’s proposal, “what I’m doing is ethical hacking.”

But what two sources and several security researchers The Intercept consulted were most concerned about was DarkMatter’s plan to become a certificate authority. A certificate authority is a trusted third party, typically a company or official agency, that issues digital certificates — basically, electronic “passports” that verify a user’s identity and that software is legitimate.

Web traffic and code from Microsoft, Facebook, Mozilla, and others is trustworthy because the company digitally signs off on it. But DarkMatter, as a certificate authority, could pretend to be someone else and issue its own digital certificate. There are mechanisms in place to prevent this type of attack, called certificate pinning, but many sites don’t use those precautions — and they still might not prevent DarkMatter from signing code, such as for a software update, as someone else. In theory, the company could sign an anti-virus update that looked like it came from Kaspersky Labs, when in reality it is sending malicious code.

DarkMatter, according to one source, would be able to use its authority to sign its own rootkits — software tools that allow undetected and unauthorized access to computer systems — in order to carry out man-in-the-middle attacks. “This is huge,” the source said.

DarkMatter has a business unit dedicated to public key infrastructure “or national root certificates of trust for countries regionally and internationally,” Healy confirmed. “While DarkMatter is not a central [public key infrastructure] authority for the UAE, we currently provide consulting and management services and intend to launch our own commercial Certification services soon.”

While DarkMatter denied any plans to use its capabilities for cyber offense, if the company continues to develop secure messaging platforms, or hardware including its own phones, it would have access to all the internal schematics of those products: bug reports, security standards, and more. DarkMatter’s hackers could secretly take advantage of that information while its defensive staff works to fix the flaw and push an update to consumer devices, a process that can take years.

When asked about the possibility of selling its own phones, Healy wrote that DarkMatter is, in fact, considering developing hardware.

Recruiting wasn’t the only way DarkMatter snapped up top offensive talent. Last winter, the company poached a large number of employees from an American company, a Baltimore startup called CyberPoint International, formally on contract with the Ministry of the Interior of the United Arab Emirates. CyberPoint, founded by CEO Karl Gumtow and his wife, Vicki, in 2009, billed itself as a defensive operation — protecting financial information, intellectual property, business records, and other forms of communications. It won multiple contracts with different parts of the U.S. government, including $6 million from the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and Gumtow was nominated last year for the Maryland region Entrepreneur of the Year award. News articles also listed CyberPoint as one of the companies that sent employees to the United Arab Emirates to train its intelligence agency, NESA, essentially the equivalent of the United States NSA.

But last summer, CyberPoint made headlines for teaming up with the Italian surveillance peddler Hacking Team, whose internal emails were leaked — revealing an extensive account of sales to repressive regimes. The leaked emails indicated that representatives from CyberPoint had worked with Hacking Team to facilitate the sale of what appeared to be surveillance equipment to the UAE government. Around the end of 2015, there was an internal struggle within CyberPoint over the UAE contract, five sources familiar with the company told The Intercept. Former CyberPoint employees spoke to The Intercept on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal and concern for the safety of associates still living in the Emirates.

After the Hacking Team emails leaked in July, there were loud, angry meetings in CyberPoint offices — people deciding what to do now that their internal operations in the Middle East had been exposed to the world. As a result of those discussions, two things happened: A vast chunk of CyberPoint staff jumped ship to DarkMatter, which was already dangling massive yearly salaries and luxurious benefits. DarkMatter even helped some employees legally shift their state residency to South Dakota to get more lenient tax breaks while living overseas, according to one source. DarkMatter does not “comment on individual employment contracts,” Healy wrote to The Intercept. “In summary we abide by the law in our employment and operational activities in all the jurisdictions in which we operate.”

CyberPoint employees in the UAE who weren’t offered — or didn’t accept — jobs at DarkMatter weren’t promised contract extensions. CyberPoint sent out a notice in December, one former employee said, announcing two months’ notice on the contract. For some who left, it was a surprise, and they still aren’t totally sure what happened. Others suggested DarkMatter was only interested in the more technical staff. One source described the exodus of employees as more of a “hostile takeover” directed by the United Arab Emirates government — ending CyberPoint’s original UAE contract and offering positions within the country instead, to get engineers under its own roof.

DarkMatter confirmed that some CyberPoint employees joined the UAE company but said this was nothing extraordinary. “DarkMatter recruits talent from across the globe and currently has over 400 team members, some of whom joined us from CyberPoint. They now occupy a diverse set of duties and responsibilities across several departments,” Healy said.

According to Gumtow, CyberPoint’s CEO, the company has gone through “quite a few changes” since it pulled out of the UAE for good. He sent responses to questions submitted by The Intercept via LinkedIn messages. There are no longer any CyberPoint employees in the Emirates, and no part of the company was acquired or bought by DarkMatter or anyone else, he wrote. CyberPoint, Gumtow said, never contracted with DarkMatter.

Additionally, Gumtow clarified that CyberPoint isn’t in the business of developing “cyberweapons.” Instead, the company conducts “penetration tests and security assessments,” he wrote. “We use commercial and custom tools that are widely available all around the world.”

However, those same tools used for improving cyberdefense can be turned around to infect unsuspecting targets. Even if the intelligence community uses those tools lawfully to infect targeted systems during national security investigations, others can steal or adapt the code to hack unsuspecting journalists or activists. “The overlap between offense and defense is very large,” Nicholas Weaver, a security researcher at the International Computer Science Institute, wrote in an email to The Intercept. “Especially when it comes to network monitoring: The exact same tools can be used to monitor your network to detect attacks and monitor a network for bulk surveillance.”

CyberPoint International did “good work, maybe noble, in some cases,” one former employee said. But a small percentage of the work was “shady,” suggesting it involved offensive research against different online platforms.

Another source stated that research, development, and coding conducted within CyberPoint ended up being used for a targeted spyware attack on journalists and activists in the Emirates between 2012 and the present. The attack involved spyware sent through Twitter, spear-phishing emails, and a malicious URL shortening service. These types of attacks are familiar to Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor. He told The Intercept that he hasn’t encountered DarkMatter but was warned about the company recently by a friend, who told him, “They are doing the hacking for UAE security bodies.”

Security researchers nicknamed the hacking group behind the attack “Stealth Falcon.” The researchers noted that “circumstantial evidence suggests a link between Stealth Falcon and the UAE government,” based on “digital artifacts.”

Stealth Falcon attacked some UAE targets after CyberPoint left the UAE, and some employees who worked on the spyware or had access to it joined DarkMatter, according to the source, who said that not every instance of the malware attack has yet been detected. “There’s a lot that hasn’t been discovered,” the source said.

DarkMatter, Healy said, is not aware of Stealth Falcon or the offensive tools used to access journalists’ information. “As we have explained previously, we do not own or develop any cybersecurity solutions for offensive purposes.”

At one point in time, CyberPoint was essentially capable of penetrating millions of devices regardless of brand, given its awareness of vulnerabilities — undiscovered or unpatched — in software around the world, one source explained. Those included vulnerabilities in Tor Browser, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Office.

The United Arab Emirates appears to be hoping to create its own cyber offense team, another source explained. Those capabilities could include cyber network attack teams and cyber network exploitation teams, for disruptive cyberattacks to disable adversaries’ online resources, as well as for espionage and spying — capabilities being developed in governments worldwide with varying levels of oversight and restriction.

According to Ryan Duff, a security researcher and former cyber operations tactician for U.S. Cyber Command, computer network exploitation and computer network attacks are distinguished based on the purpose of the intrusion: intelligence collection versus destruction. Exploitation “basically means gaining access to a machine for the purpose of collection. So you would have some type of software, malware, or implant installed on the machine” to monitor it, he said. Network attacks, on the other hand, also rely on gaining access but are aimed at destruction, such as “wiping a hard drive, destroying servers,” or using a botnet to launch a denial of service attack. These types of network attacks are linked to military action or covert missions.

Most evidence so far points toward espionage. DarkMatter may have hired members of CyberPoint, with knowledge of code capable of infecting users through Twitter and other online platforms, to help.

“It is my understanding that … there were some types of offensive activities that [CyberPoint International] couldn’t or wouldn’t do for the client and the client did not want to be told no so they sought to restructure in a way that a foreign company could not impede their efforts,” one former employee said.

One thing is clear: The new arrangement led dozens of employees to leave the UAE rather than join DarkMatter. Several who opted out of the relationship cited concerns about the UAE’s human rights record, including arbitrary detention and torture of activists and dissidents. One cited the issue with “free speech” as a particular sore point.

A bigger question, perhaps, is whether DarkMatter’s use of American-developed hacking tools is even legal, since it may be covered by U.S. export regulations. According to the Washington Post, the State Department at one point granted CyberPoint permission to advise the UAE on cybersecurity. But two people who spoke with The Intercept questioned whether DarkMatter, which appears to have subsumed CyberPoint’s earlier work in the UAE, would be covered by that license.

The world of cyber exports is a confusing one. Depending on what DarkMatter is actually doing, its sales might be regulated by multiple bodies of law. If the products involve cryptography technology, there may be some arms export restrictions — while hacking tools and zero-days are not typically regulated that way, said Eva Galperin, a global policy analyst for the Electric Frontier Foundation and technology adviser for the Freedom of the Press Foundation. “If you want to sell surveillance malware from the UAE, nothing stops you,” she said during a phone interview.

The United States, however, has attempted to regulate those types of “cyberweapons,” and many U.S. officials wanted to tighten regulations in response to instances like Hacking Team’s sale of surveillance tools to repressive regimes. Critics of those proposed regulations pointed out that such technologies could be used for legitimate purposes, like testing products for cybersecurity or penetration testing.

It’s unclear, however, where DarkMatter’s work may fall in terms of export law. If the work involving U.S.-origin technology or technical expertise involved cryptography, a license would be required from the U.S. State Department. According to Colby Goodman, director of the Security Assistance Monitor and an expert in International Traffic in Arms Regulations, any American employees working on regulated products would need some sort of export license, even if they moved overseas and started working for a foreign company. “If you were a UAE citizen, and I was telling you about something that was ITAR controlled,” he explained, “that would be exporting it, unless I had a license.”

“It’s a similar concept with classified information,” he continued. Just because you leave the country doesn’t mean you forget the classified information — and if you give it away, that’s a violation.

The State Department declined to comment on whether an export license had been issued to cover DarkMatter or its employees, including those formerly from CyberPoint. The Commerce Department, which regulates some security equipment sales, did not respond to a request for comment.

DarkMatter, for its part, said it has obtained proper licenses, though it did not provide details.

“DarkMatter has provided its customers with technologies worth hundreds of millions of dollars, through its global security and technology vendors,” Healy, the spokesperson, said. “A number of these contracts extend to highly sensitive security systems that DarkMatter has applied for and — following the standard screening process — been granted export control licenses from jurisdictions including the U.S. and various European countries.”

At a crowded Las Vegas convention hall in August, representatives from DarkMatter were camped out in several large canopied stations, a short stroll from a vendor making hand-rolled cigars, several open bars, and a booth raffling off a robot dinosaur.

DarkMatter has started showing up in U.S. cybersecurity circles in recent months — including at BlackHat USA, the massive annual security and hacking conference in Vegas, where it handed out swag to attendees, including pens and notebooks adorned with a DarkMatter insignia. A representative at the booth said the company was still busy recruiting.

In his July blog post describing his UAE interview, Margaritelli wrote that he hoped his account would “serve to warn those who, like me, might find themselves dragged into shady affairs, partially or completely unaware, as well as anyone pursuing job offers that entail moving to the UAE. Know that you would be giving up your privacy, and more importantly, your freedom of speech for money.”

Not everyone I spoke with agreed with his view. French security researcher Matt Suiche, whose cybersecurity startup Comae Technologies is also based in the UAE, said that “every country does surveillance” and hiring foreign workers in the UAE was not unusual; the UAE was simply trying to establish its own technology base. “It’s like the UAE Mars mission,” he said.

Some of the former CyberPoint employees in the UAE said they didn’t mind the surveillance work, treating it as an inevitable and natural path for a young modern nation facing legitimate threats. “I was impartial to the work I did,” one former employee told me. For the UAE, the source said, using surveillance to track its own citizens has become normalized. He described himself as a “realist” though admitted he tried to minimize his “exposure to certain things” the company did.

“You can’t blame the bag man for the job you gave them,” he said.

In the lobby of a Vegas hotel during BlackHat, I spoke with Margaritelli about his frustrations with DarkMatter — a Platinum sponsor at the event. He has all the trappings of a hacker from movies, including lip and nose piercings, rectangular glasses, and cigarettes. He avoids cellphones but finds other ways to communicate. He went to school for physics and engineering but never finished his degree. He has a very specific memory for numbers, network domains, addresses, and people. Though he says his English isn’t very good, he can rapidly translate Italian text into colloquial English.

Margaritelli told me he started off wary of DarkMatter. He was familiar with the UAE government’s reputation of locking up and disappearing dissidents and purchasing surveillance equipment from other countries. Plus, his interviewer — a former employee of another controversial surveillance company, Verint — seemed a little too interested in Bettercap, Margaritelli’s well-known hacking tool.

While some researchers may argue that what DarkMatter is doing is simply par for the course in cybersecurity, Margaritelli said that the scale of the endeavor is unprecedented, creating a zombie hoard of infected devices, primed for hacking and surveillance. “In a near future, every single electronic device in the UAE will unwillingly be part of their state botnet,” he said.

Later, in an email, Margaritelli wrote that he works with all sorts of hacking technologies, but he remains shocked by DarkMatter’s ambitions to surveil an entire nation. “What they want to do,” he wrote, “it’s fucking insane.”

CETA collapse evidence of a larger EU problem

As if the EU didn’t have enough problems, it’s being shown up by a tiny regional government. Wallonia in Belgium has blocked the CETA deal with Canada. But this particular problem has many causes..

by Bernd Riegert


To point the finger at the rebellious Walloons and give the staunch socialist region the sole blame for the drama surrounding CETA is to only partially understand what’s going on. The EU Commission, the member states, Belgium, and even Canada itself have had a hand in this disaster.

The Walloons, who feel left behind by international corporations, first signaled their concern to the Belgian government and the EU Commission members negotiating with Canada a year ago. In April, Wallonia’s parliament voted against CETA in a resolution. At that point, the Belgian prime minister and the Commission should have woken up and begun working to counter their resistance. Instead, very little happened. The date for the EU-Canada summit was already set, and despite this, the various parties involved just let things slide.

Special requests

With just a few days to go before the agreement was due to be signed, people were suddenly surprised that the Walloons were sticking to their guns. They felt emboldened by other member states that managed to push through special requests, or threatened to hold the deal hostage. Romania and Bulgaria were able to throw visa-free travel for their citizens back into the mix. The Germans insisted on three last-minute clauses that would allow them to back away from CETA should country’s courts find a fly in the ointment.

Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party turned CETA, TTIP and global trade in general into a campaign issue, encouraging the like-minded socialist government in Wallonia to try their luck.

Horst Seehofer, head of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, weighed in, saying it was only fair for national parliaments to have a say in the complicated CETA negotiations.

Then there is Belgium’s hard-to-comprehend political structure, which affords its regional parliaments unusual rights when it comes to the agreement of international treaties. But clearly, this should not come as a surprise to the Belgian prime minister, nor to the EU Commission, which is based in Brussels. The state reforms of past decades and Belgium’s complex federal structures were well known to anyone who wanted to know.

Aside from this, there is the issue of Belgium’s German-speaking minority, consisting of some 70,000 people in the country’s East. They have also not approved CETA, but their premier, Oliver Paasch, is hiding behind the Walloons. Perhaps the German-speaking community still has a score to settle with the central government in Brussels? It wouldn’t come as much of a surprise, now that the capital region of Brussels has also refused to ratify CETA at the last minute.

But Canada has also made mistakes. In conducting negotiations, the Canadians relied too heavily on the EU Commission, underestimating the individual interests of the 28 member states. Canadian experts have now come to realize that when you negotiate with the EU, you’re actually signing 28 separate contracts, not just one with the EU as a whole.

Dysfunctional union

The CETA drama shows the limits of the European Union. The required unanimity makes it too cumbersome and easy to blackmail. For future negotiations with the United States (TTIP) or Japan, the EU needs a better strategy. The member states and the regions, too, have to be involved earlier, as the case may be. This is tiresome, but unavoidable.

To outsiders, as well as insiders, the EU appears dysfunctional, once again. Even those EU-minded citizens are likely asking themselves what the bloc is good for if it can’t even deliver in the area that’s supposed to be its core competency: trade and the internal market.

Yes, the stalling of the CETA deal is embarrassing. But it’s not the end of the world, or even the end of all trade agreements. Both sides still have overarching economic interests in this deal. We’re still in the signing stage. The actual challenge – the ratification of CETA by the European parliament, 28 national parliaments and a range of regional parliaments (including Wallonia) is still to come. And that’s when Saarland or Saxony, for example, will also have a voice, because in Germany, the federal states are part of the ratification process.

CETA reflects a trend

Looking back, it seems that the Walloons are just saying what many in the EU are secretly feeling: Mistrust about the consequences of global trade and a global economy. Re-nationalization is a growing trend. Britain’s decision to leave the EU is one expression of this gloomy mood. In Germany, too, populists from both the left and the right are standing up against free trade and the EU. The referendum on the EU-Ukraine partnership deal in the Netherlands, the success of the nationalists in the presidential election in Austria, and Hungary’s hostility to refugees are further symptoms of this crisis of faith. And the next vote, the next possible blow, is just around the corner: In Italy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will preside over a referendum that’s being presented by his opponents as a vote on the EU, even if that’s not what’s written on the ballot. In reality, it’s “just” a vote on constitutional reform.

Why Progressives Love the New Cold War

The anti-Russian hysteria coming from the left isn’t surprising

October 24, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


The Clinton campaign’s full-scale effort to turn this election into a referendum on Vladimir Putin is causing liberals like Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, and Glenn Greenwald, the energizing force behind The Intercept, much heartburn. Here is Ms. van den Heuvel wondering what the heck is going on:

“How does new Cold War – which ends space for dissent, hurts women & children, may lead to nuclear war – help what Clinton claims she is for?”

According to both vanden Heuvel and Greenwald, the Clintonian assault on Russia – the crude, J. Edgar-Hooverish smear campaign conducted against WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and especially Donald Trump – is an opportunistic deviation from “true” progressive values. It’s a corruption of American liberalism that has nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with winning the election. As Greenwald puts it, in answer to vanden Heuvel’s question:

“Exploiting Cold War rhetoric & tactics has helped her win the election. I guess the idea is: deal with the aftermath and fallout later.”

Yet this evades what Mrs. Clinton and her supporters have clearly stated about the alleged immediacy and seriousness of the “threat” represented by Russia under Putin.

Clinton has likened Putin to Hitler – and hasn’t that always been the prologue to a regime change operation by the United States? Remember that Saddam Hussein was supposed to be the Iraqi incarnation of Hitler. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was also another “Hitler.” If we go back far enough, we can recall how George Herbert Walker Bush said that Manuel Noriega was “worse than Hitler.”

The ideological underpinning of this nonsense is part and parcel of the American liberal canon, which valorizes World War II as the “good war” –   a heroic struggle against fascism by the forces of progressivism and Goodness – which was only opposed by anti-Semitic cretins and Hitler apologists (a.k.a. “isolationist” conservatives). And it goes deeper than that, for progressivism is an ideology that seeks universal moral “uplift” – not only on the home front, but on a global scale.

Woodrow Wilson’s argument for getting us into World War I – arguably the most futile and unjustifiable conflict ever to be engaged in by the United States – was that it was a “war to end all wars,” a struggle to bring the benefits of democracy and national self-determination to the long-suffering peoples of the world. And this was echoed by the collectivist intellectuals who provided the amen corner for Wilson’s war. One such cheerleader was the philosopher John Dewey, who hailed the war as the beginning of the end of laissez-faire because “private property had already lost its sanctity” and “industrial democracy is on the way.” The revered avatar of American liberalism, Walter Lippmann, in a speech uttered as America was entering the war, enthused:

“We who have gone to war to insure democracy in the world will have raised an aspiration here that will not end with the overthrow of the Prussian autocracy. We shall turn with fresh interests to our own tyrannies — to our Colorado mines, our autocratic steel industries, sweatshops, and our slums. A force is loose in America. Our own reactionaries will not assuage it. We shall know how to deal with them.”

Tied in to the campaign for progressive “reform” was a religious factor: the postmillennial pietist movement that swept the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Stamping out “sin” and stamping out the alleged evils of capitalism were sentiments inextricably intertwined: thus we saw the advent of the “Social Gospel.” The Prohibitionist movement was a key source of the early progressive movement. Yet as the educated classes – the political class – shed the remnants of religious belief, their determination to stamp out “sin” was hardly extinguished: it just took on new, secularized forms.

The modern definition of “vice” was shifted to conform to the new religion of political correctness: instead of drunkenness, prostitution, and other avenues of self-gratification, the new vices have been redefined as “racism,” “homophobia,” “xenophobia,” and all the rest of the “phobias” and “isms” denounced by Hillary Clinton in her infamous “basket of deplorables” speech. Indeed, her condemnation of Trump supporters as “irredeemable” is couched in the very language used by the old-time religionists who saw their political and social enemies as instruments of Satan headed straight for the lowest rungs of Hell.

And this messianic impulse to cleanse humanity of “sin” wasn’t limited to a single country, the United States: if the human race was going to be made ready for the Second Coming it first – according to the postmillennial pietists – had to undergo the reign of virtue for a thousand years. The Kingdom of God on earth – the entire earth –   had to be established: then and only then would the redeemed by saved and ushered into Eternity, whilst the “irredeemables” would burn in hellfire forevermore.

Russia has long been in the crosshairs of the PC set: “homophobia,” “racism,” “nationalism,” i.e. all the “sins” as defined by the paladins of modernity are attributed to the Russian bear. Indeed, this longstanding liberal meme was formalized by Hillary Clinton in her infamous “alt right” speech, in which, after smearing Trump as the avatar of a neo-Nazi revival, she opined:

“The godfather of this global brand of extreme nationalism is Russian President Vladimir Putin. In fact,[UKIP leader and Brexit advocate Nigel]  Farage has appeared regularly on Russian propaganda programs. Now he’s standing on the same stage as the Republican nominee.

“Trump himself heaps praise on Putin and embrace pro-Russian policies.

“He talks casually of abandoning our NATO allies, recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and of giving the Kremlin a free hand in Eastern Europe more generally.

“American presidents from Truman to Reagan have rejected the kind of approach Trump is taking on Russia. We should, too.

“All of this adds up to something we’ve never seen before. Of course there’s always been a paranoid fringe in our politics, steeped in racial resentment. But it’s never had the nominee of a major party stoking it, encouraging it, and giving it a national megaphone. Until now.”

Clinton’s speech outlines a unified field theory of messianic liberalism in the twenty-first century: the forces of homophobia-racism-xenophobia are broadly defined as “nationalism,” which is, in the liberal lexicon, a synonym for Evil. According to the Clintonian theology, the epicenter of this Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy is located in the Kremlin. Putin is Satan with a sword. It’s all very neatly packaged and readily marketable to the liberal college professors, the single women with half a dozen cats, the editorial page editors, and the clueless millennials who can barely read and write but know for a fact that the Founding Fathers were evil racists.

Identity politics have long since trumped – if you’ll pardon the expression – the traditional liberal pieties of opposition to unnecessary wars and mindless militarism. The smug self-righteousness of “humanitarian interventionism” having displaced “We ain’t gonna study war no more,” there are no effective obstacles to Hillary Clinton’s war plans within the precincts of American liberalism. And she has history – the history of progressivism as secularized moral uplift – on her side.

So let us answer Ms. vanden Heuvel’s question: “How does [a] new Cold War – which ends space for dissent, hurts women & children, may lead to nuclear war – help what Clinton claims she is for?”

To begin with, it enables the ongoing legislative tradeoff that has sustained the Welfare-Warfare State for the entirety of its existence. It’s a classic case of what we call log-rolling, or “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” In return for not putting up much of a fight over the liberal demand for more “social spending,” conservatives get the vast expansion of the military that is their stock-in-trade – military spending which, after all, is “needed” in order to “stand up to Vladimir Putin.”

As for the women-and-children angle: what about the poor women and children of Ukraine, who are supposedly about to be rolled over by Russian tanks? We can’t have any of this “America First” nationalism pushed by the likes of Trump – our concern for women and children has to be global.

And what’s this about “space for dissent”? Has Katrina vanden Heuvel been on a college campus lately? And you’ll remember the last time a great progressive leader led America into a world war – that was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who demanded that his Attorney General initiate a sedition trial against war opponents and who signed an executive order putting hundreds of thousands of Japanese-Americans (and Italians) into concentration camps.

“Space for dissent”? Don’t make me laugh!

Rather than confront the ideological canons of what passes for American liberalism today, both Karina vanden Heuvel and Glenn Greenwald stand in agonized awe of the dawning of the new cold war that could quickly turn hot. What, they ask, is going on? To which one can only reply: Brother, you asked for it

An All-American Slaughter

The Youthful Carnage of America’s Gun Culture

by Gary Younge


Every day, on average, seven kids and teens are shot dead in America. Election 2016 will undoubtedly prove consequential in many ways, but lowering that death count won’t be one of them. To grapple with fatalities on that scale — 2,500 dead children annually — a candidate would need a thoroughgoing plan for dealing with America’s gun culture that goes well beyond background checks. In addition, he or she would need to engage with the inequality, segregation, poverty, and lack of mental health resources that add up to the environment in which this level of violence becomes possible.  Think of it as the huge pile of dry tinder for which the easy availability of firearms is the combustible spark. In America in 2016, to advocate for anything like the kind of policies that might engage with such issues would instantly render a candidacy implausible, if not inconceivable — not least with the wealthy folks who now fund elections.

So the kids keep dying and, in the absence of any serious political or legislative attempt to tackle the causes of their deaths, the media and the political class move on to excuses. From claims of bad parenting to lack of personal responsibility, they regularly shift the blame from the societal to the individual level. Only one organized group at present takes the blame for such deaths.  The problem, it is suggested, isn’t American culture, but gang culture.

Researching my new book, Another Day in the Death of America, about all the children and teens shot dead on a single random Saturday in 2013, it became clear how often the presence of gangs in neighborhoods where so many of these kids die is used as a way to dismiss serious thinking about why this is happening. If a shooting can be described as “gang related,” then it can also be discounted as part of the “pathology” of urban life, particularly for people of color. In reality, the main cause, pathologically speaking, is a legislative system that refuses to control the distribution of firearms, making America the only country in the world in which such a book would have been possible.

 “Gang Related”

The obsession with whether a shooting is “gang related” and the ignorance the term exposes brings to mind an interview I did 10 years ago with septuagenarian Buford Posey in rural Mississippi. He had lived in Philadelphia, Mississippi, around the time that three civil rights activists — James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner — were murdered. As I spoke to him about that era and the people living in that town (some of whom, like him, were still alive), I would bring up a name and he would instantly interject, “Well, he was in the Klan,” or “Well, his Daddy was in the Klan,” or sometimes he would just say “Klan” and leave it at that.

After a while I had to stop him and ask for confirmation. “Hang on,” I said, “I can’t just let you say that about these people without some proof or corroboration. How do you know they were in the Klan?”

“Hell,” he responded matter-of-factly, “I was in the Klan. Near everybody around here was in the Klan around that time. Being in the Klan was no big deal.”

Our allegiances and affiliations are, of course, our choice. Neither Posey nor any of the other white men in Philadelphia had to join the Klan, and clearly some were more enthusiastic participants than others. (Posey himself would go on to support the civil rights movement.)

It’s no less true that context shapes such choices. If Posey had grown up in Vermont, it’s unlikely that he’d ever have joined the Klan. If a white Vermonter had been born and raised in Mississippi in those years, the likelihood is that he’d have had a pressed white sheet in the closet for special occasions.

At the time, for white men in Philadelphia the Klan was the social mixing place du jour. It was what you did if you had any hope of advancing locally, did not want to be left out of things, or simply preferred to swim with the tide. Since pretty much everyone you knew was involved in one way or another, to be white and live in Philadelphia then was to be, in some way, “Klan related.” That doesn’t mean being in the Klan should give anyone a pass, but it does mean that if you wanted to understand how it operated, why it had the reach it did, and ultimately how to defeat it rather than just condemn it, you first had to understand its appeal in that moment.

The same is true of gangs today in urban America. On the random day I picked for my book, 10 children and teens died by gun. Not all of their assailants have been caught and probably they never will be. Depending on how you define the term, however, it would be possible to argue that eight of those killings were gang related.  Either the assailant or the victim was (or was likely to have been) part of a group that could be called a gang.  Only two were clearly not gang related — either the victim and the shooter were not in a gang or membership in a gang had nothing to do with the shooting. But all 10 deaths did have one clear thing in common: they were all gun-related.

The emphasis on gang membership has always seemed to me like a way of filtering child deaths into two categories: deserving and undeserving. If a shooting was gang related then it’s assumed that the kid had it coming and was, in some way, responsible for his or her own death. Only those not gang related were innocents and so they alone were worthy of our sympathy.

 Making a “Blacklist”

The more I spoke to families and people on the ground, the more it became clear how unhelpful the term “gang related” is in understanding who is getting shot and why.  As a term, it’s most often used not to describe but to dismiss.

Take Edwin Rajo, 16, who was shot dead in Houston, Texas, at about 8 p.m. on that November 23rd. He lived in Bellaire Gardens, a low-rise apartment complex on a busy road of commercial and residential properties in an area called Gulfton in southwest Houston. It sat between a store selling bridal wear and highly flammable-looking dresses for quinceañera — the celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday — and the back of a Fiesta supermarket, part of a Texas-based, Hispanic-oriented chain with garish neon lighting that makes you feel as though you’re shopping for groceries in Las Vegas. Opposite it was a pawnshop, a beauty salon, a Mexican taqueria, and a Salvadorean restaurant.

The Southwest Cholos ran this neighborhood, complex by complex. There was no avoiding them. “They start them really, really young,” one of Edwin’s teachers told me. “In elementary. Third grade, fourth grade. And that’s just how it is for kids… You join for protection. Even if you’re not cliqued in, so long as you’re associated with them, you’re good. You have to claim a clique to be safe. If you’re not, if you’re by yourself, you’re gonna get jumped.”

In other words, if you grow up in Bellaire Gardens you are a gang member in the same way that Soviet citizens were members of the Communist Party and Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, the Baath Party.  There is precious little choice, which means that, in and of itself, gang affiliation doesn’t tell you much.

Edwin, a playful and slightly immature teenager, was not, in fact, an active member of the Cholos, though he identified with them.  Indeed, you get the impression that they considered him something of a liability. “They accepted him,” said his teacher.  “He hung with them. But he wasn’t in yet.” His best friend in the complex, Camilla (not her real name), was in the gang, as allegedly was her mother. She sported the Cholo-style dress and had a gang name. After several altercations with someone from a rival gang, who threatened them and took a shot at Camilla’s brother, she decided to get a gun.

“We were thinking like little kids,” Camilla told me. “I didn’t really know anything about guns. I just know you shoot with it and that’s it.”

Sure enough, Edwin was at Camilla’s apartment that night and suggested they play with the gun. In the process, she shot him, not realizing that, even though the clip was out, one bullet was still in the chamber. So was that shooting gang related? After all, the shooter was in a gang. She had been threatened by someone from a rival gang and Edwin may indeed have had aspirations to be in her gang.

Or was it an accidental shooting in which two kids who knew nothing about guns acquired one and one of them got killed while they were messing around?

In an environment in which gangs run everything, most things most people do are in some way going to be “gang related.” But defining all affiliation as a kind of complicity in violence not only means writing off children in entire communities for being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, but criminalizing them in the process.

For one thing, the criteria for gang membership couldn’t be more subjective and loose. Gang leaders don’t exactly hand out membership cards. Sometimes it’s just a matter of young people hanging out. Take Stanley Taylor, who was shot dead in the early hours of that November morning in Charlotte, North Carolina. He spent a lot of his time on Beatties Ford Road with his friends. “I ain’t gonna say it was a gang,” says his buddy Trey. “But it was a neighborhood thing. Beatties Ford. We got our own little clique. We on the West Side. North Side is a whole different neighborhood you don’t even fool with. Everybody was together. This my brother, this my brother. We all in the same clique. We got each other’s back. I’m not going to let nobody else touch you. If you hit him, I’m gonna hit you. Cos I’m his brother.”

Stanley was shot at a gas station in the wake of an altercation with Demontre Rice, who was from the North Side, after Rice allegedly almost ran him over as he pulled in. It’s not obvious that either man knew where the other was from and yet if Rice were in a gang (something I can’t even confirm), that would, of course, make his killing gang related.

Sometimes gangs do have actual rites of initiation. Since, however, gang affiliation can be a guide to criminal activity, authorities are constantly trying to come up with more definite ways of identifying gang members. Almost inevitably, such attempts quickly fall back on stereotypes. A 1999 article in Colorlines, for instance, typically pointed out that in “at least five states, wearing baggy FUBU jeans and being related to a gang suspect is enough to meet the ‘gang member’ definition. In Arizona, a tattoo and blue Adidas sneakers are sufficient.” In suburban Aurora, Colorado, local police decided that any two of the following constituted gang membership: “slang,” “clothing of a particular color,” “pagers,” “hairstyles,” “jewelry.”

Black people made up 11% of Aurora’s population and 80% of its gang database. The local head of the ACLU was heard to say, “They might as well call it a blacklist.”

Under the Gun

Gangs are neither new nor racially specific. From the Irish, Polish, Jewish, and Puerto Rican gangs of New York to the Mafia, various types of informal gatherings of mostly, but not exclusively, young men have long been part of Western life. They often connect the social, violent, entrepreneurial, and criminal.

None of this should in any way diminish the damaging, often lethal effects organized gangs have on the young. One of the boys who died that day, 18-year-old Tyshon Anderson from Chicago, was by all accounts a gang member. His godmother, Regina, had long expected his life to come to an early end. “He did burglary, sold drugs, he killed people. He had power in the street. He really did. Especially for such a young kid. He had power. A lot of people were intimidated by him and they were scared of him. I know he had bodies under his belt. I seen him grow up and I loved him and I know he could be a good kid. But there ain’t no point in sugarcoating it. He was a bad kid, too.” If I’d chosen another day that year, I could well have been reporting on one of Tyshon’s victims.

And although gangs involve a relatively small minority of young people, they still add up to significant numbers. According to the National Youth Gang Survey, in 2012 in the United States there were around 30,000 gangs and more than 800,000 gang members — roughly the population of Amsterdam.

What’s new in all this isn’t the gangs themselves, but how much deadlier they’ve become in recent years. According to the National Youth Gang Survey, between 2007 and 2012, gang membership rose by 8%, but gang-related homicides leapt by 20%. It seems that the principal reason why gang activity has become so much more deadly is the increasingly easy availability of guns — and of ever deadlier versions of such weaponry as well. Studies of Los Angeles County between 1979 and 1994 revealed that the proportion of gang incidents involving guns that ended in homicide leapt from 71% to 95%. “The contrast with the present is striking,” argues sociologist Malcolm Klein, after reaching a similar conclusion in Philadelphia and East Los Angeles. “Firearms are now standard. They are easily purchased or borrowed and are more readily available than in the past.”

This raises the stakes immeasurably when it comes to parents and caregivers trying to protect their adolescent children from bad company or poor choices (as parents of all classes and races tend to do). Identifying with a gang and doing something as seemingly harmless as wearing clothing of a certain color or befriending the wrong person can result in an early death.  As a result, Gustin Hinnant’s father in Goldsboro, North Carolina, used to burn his red clothes if he saw him wearing them too often.  Gustin died anyway, hit in the head by a stray bullet meant for another boy who was in a gang. Pedro Cortez’s grandmother in San Jose, California, used to similarly hide his red shirts — the color identified with the local Nortenos gang — just in case. Yet on that same November 23rd, Pedro, who was legally blind, was shot dead while walking in a park. He was dressed in black, but a friend who was with him was indeed wearing red.

Gangs are hardly unique to America, nor do Americans make worse parents than those elsewhere in the world, nor are their kids worse. There is, however, an unavoidable difference between the United States and all other western nations, or the book I wrote would have been inconceivable. This is the only place where, in addition to the tinder of poverty, inequality, and segregation, among other challenges, you have to include the combustible presence of guns — guns everywhere, guns so available that they are essentially unavoidable.

As long as Americans refuse to engage with that straightforward fact of their social landscape, the kinds of deaths I recorded in my book will keep happening with gruesome predictability.  In fact, I could have chosen almost any Saturday from at least the past two decades and produced the same work.

Dismissing such fatalities as “gang related” — as, that is, victims to be dumped in some morally inferior category — is a way of not facing an American reality. It sets the white noise of daily death sufficiently low to allow the country to go about its business undisturbed.  It ensures a confluence of culture, politics, and economics guaranteeing that an average of seven children will wake up but not go to bed every day of the year, while much of the rest of the country sleeps soundly.

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