TBR News October 4, 2017

Oct 04 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., October 4, 2017: “The official response by Madrid to the Catalonian referendum on independence was to send in armed police to prevent the event. They were seen beating up the elderly, dragging voters into the street and kicking them and other unpleasant actions. This has succeeded in swinging a great deal of support to the Catalonian project and now the Basques are moving towards separatism and the Scots are watching the events with interest. Didn’t the self-righteous President Wilson speak of the “self-determination of people?” Of course his actions at Versailles led directly to Hitler and Mussolini but by that time, Wilson was dead, Times change and we must change with them.”

 Table of Contents

  • Pro-independence Catalans defy King Felipe VI’s warning
  • Catalonia moves to declare independence from Spain on Monday
  • Sympathy for Catalan independence grows in Madrid
  • French police arrest couple with rocket launcher and Kalashnikov assault rifle in their car near Marseille
  • ISIS wants to create ‘new global terrorist network’ – Russia’s FSB chief
  • The Jürs Newsletter
  • Masquerading Hackers Are Forcing a Rethink of How Attacks Are Traced
  • The American Religion of War
  • Roosevelt and the beginning of perpetual war for perpetual peace
  • Special Report: The bankrupt utility behind Puerto Rico’s power crisis
  • More than 70% of US fears robots taking over our lives, survey finds

 Pro-independence Catalans defy King Felipe VI’s warning

October 4, 2017

BBC News

Pro-independence Catalan leaders are pressing ahead despite an emphatic warning from King Felipe VI.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told the BBC he would declare independence “at the end of this week or the beginning of next”.

The European Union said it was “time to talk” to find a solution to the crisis in Catalonia.

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the Spanish constitution must be followed.

Mr Timmermans, addressing the European Parliament, described the images of violence from Catalonia as “saddening”, but emphasised the importance of upholding the rule of law.

In his intervention, late on Tuesday, King Felipe branded Sunday’s referendum in the north-eastern Spanish region illegal and undemocratic.

But correspondents say his failure to acknowledge the violent repression of the vote has fired up rather than deterred independence supporters.

Meanwhile, Spain’s high court has summoned the head of Catalonia’s regional police force to testify as a suspect in a investigation of alleged sedition – inciting rebellion against the state.

Josep Lluís Trapero and three other people are expected to appear in court on Friday in a move likely to inflame sentiment further amid Spain’s deepest political crisis in decades, say correspondents.

What are the pro-independence Catalans doing?

Following the BBC interview in which he said there would be a declaration of independence in the coming days, Carles Puigdemont said he would make a statement at 21:00 (19:00 GMT) on Wednesday.

Groups in the Catalan parliament have agreed that parliament should meet in full assembly on Monday. Mr Puigdemont could also use that occasion to make a unilateral declaration of independence.

When asked what he would do if the Spanish government were to intervene and take control of Catalonia’s government, Mr Puigdemont said it would be “an error which changes everything”.

Under Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, the government in Madrid is permitted to impose direct rule on autonomous regions.

Is there any dialogue going on at all?

Mr Puigdemont says not, and Spanish President Mariano Rajoy has kept silent since the scenes of police violence which accompanied Sunday’s vote.

The Spanish government has vowed to resist any declaration of independence, with Mr Rajoy previously saying the vote made a “mockery” of democracy.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau has called on both sides to talk. “Neither a unilateral declaration of independence nor article 155. More than ever we need dialogue and bridges,” she tweeted.

The European parliament was due to debate the crisis on Wednesday afternoon, but any resolution passed will be non-binding.

Why is the king’s intervention significant?

In his televised address, King Felipe said the Catalan leaders who organised the referendum showed their “disrespect to the powers of the state”.

“They have broken the democratic principles of the rule of law,” he said.

But many Catalans were more concerned about what the king did not say, reports the BBC’s Patrick Jackson who watched the address in a bar in Barcelona city centre.

“There were no words about the scenes of police beating voters on Sunday, no urgent appeal for dialogue between the Spanish and Catalan governments, no acknowledgment of the real hunger here for independence or at least a proper, legal referendum, not even a word or two of Catalan,” he says.

It was a missed opportunity to push the two sides towards dialogue, said one customer in the bar.

What about this sedition investigation?

News that the head of the local police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, his deputy and two civic organisers are to be questioned as part of the high court’s sedition investigation will likely further aggravate the situation.

On 20 September members of the national security forces were trapped by an angry crowd of pro-independence supporters during a raid on the regional economy ministry, aimed at disrupting Sunday’s poll.

The Mossos has been accused of failing to respond properly to their urgent requests for back-up.

What happened during Sunday’s vote?

Nearly 900 people were hurt as police violently tried to enforce a Spanish court order suspending the vote, which the government had declared illegal.

Some police officers were seen firing rubber bullets, storming into polling stations and pulling women by their hair.

Thirty-three police officers were also injured, local medical officials said.

Shocked by what they had seen, hundreds of thousands of Catalans joined street protests on Tuesday. A general strike was also called in protest at “the grave violation of rights and freedoms” seen during the ballot.

How convincing were the ballot results?

More than 2.2 million people voted on Sunday, according to the Catalan government. Officials put the vote in support of independence at nearly 90%, but official results have not yet been released.

There are several reports of gaping irregularities, partly attributed to a system which permitted voters to cast their ballots anywhere in a bid to get around the police measures to stop the vote. Spanish media carried reports of some Catalan areas counting far more votes than residents.

Catalan officials said the turnout was 42%, potentially weakening the position of Mr Puigdemont


Catalonia moves to declare independence from Spain on Monday

October 4, 2017

by Angus Berwick and Sonya Dowsett


BARCELONA/MADRID (Reuters) – Catalonia will move on Monday to declare independence from Spain following Oct. 1’s banned referendum as the European Union nation nears a rupture that threatens the foundations of its young democracy.

Mireia Boya, a Catalan lawmaker from the pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, said on Twitter that a declaration of independence would follow a parliamentary session on Monday to evaluate the results of the vote to break away.

“We know that there may be disbarments, arrests … But we are prepared, and in no case will it be stopped,” she said.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont earlier said he would ask the region’s parliament to declare independence following the poll, which Spain’s government and constitutional court say was illegal and in which only a minority of Catalans voted.

“This will probably finish once we get all the votes in from abroad at the end of the week and therefore we shall probably act over the weekend or early next week,” he told the BBC in remarks published on Wednesday.

In an interview with German newspaper Bild, Puigdemont said he already felt like “a president of a free country where millions of people have made an important decision”.

He said the Madrid government’s refusal to negotiate had left Catalonia “no other way” than to declare independence and accused it of authoritarianism.

“The Spanish government is letting political opponents be arrested, it is influencing media and blocking Internet sites. We are under observation day and night,” Puigdemont said.

“What is that other than an authoritarian state?”

Spain was only restored to democracy following the death in 1975 of dictator Francisco Franco, under whom the Catalan language and traditions were suppressed.


Sympathy for Catalan independence grows in Madrid

For months now the media in Madrid have taken a hardline course against the Catalan independence referendum. The Spanish government’s response to the vote on Sunday inspired a change of heart.

October 4, 2017

by Stefanie Müller


Anyone watching the official Spanish television channels TVE1 or TVE 24h on Sunday could see with their own eyes hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating on the streets of Catalonia for their right to self-determination. They witnessed the images of citizens caught between heavily armed national and Catalan police who sometimes came to blows. The harsh response of the Spanish national police to aggression and violations of the law by Catalan voters was especially startling. Even Spanish media kept showing images of Catalans covered in blood.

However, the interpretation of these images on the official broadcasters in Madrid and Barcelona could not have been more different. On the official local television channel TVE3, the police intervention in Catalonia was interpreted as “repression” and a “Francoist offensive,” while the conservative Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy was indirectly labeled a delegate of a totalitarian state. Meanwhile, its Spanish counterpart spoke of “enforcing the law” and an “illegal referendum.” One country, two realities.

The real loser of the referendum is Mariano Rajoy

However, the viewpoint of the private TV broadcasters in Madrid (Telecinco, Antena3, La Sexta and Cuatro) has shifted slightly since Sunday – in the Catalans’ favor. The real loser of this trial of strength between the official broadcasters is Prime Minister Rajoy. Against the backdrop of the emotional scenes coming out of Barcelona, his stock phrases – always the same, always trotted out in the same tone of voice – appear empty and unreal.

On the private channels, the casualties – Catalans say nearly 900 people were wounded – are being blamed primarily on Rajoy and his instructions to the Guarda Civil and Policia Nacional. On Tuesday, broadcaster Antena3 showed the violent footage repeatedly, commenting that “the actions of the Spanish police were excessive.” However, the channel also explained how this impression came about: “The Catalan police [Mossos] didn’t do enough, and in some cases they also refused to shut the illegal polling stations in order to avoid any connection with the violence.”

The referendum was above all a media success for the Catalans and their cause. According to a report by Reporters Without Borders, for weeks now the regional government has been exerting a lot of pressure on journalists and opponents of the referendum.

The power of pictures has changed people’s view of the Catalans

All the Madrid media now seem worried about Spain’s image. The European parliamentarian Andrej Hunko of the Left party, who went to Spain to observe the referendum, said he was appalled, and issued a press statement saying that he would denounce the violence before European institutions. But there were other images that also caught the attention of people in the capital; like those of happy, singing Catalans in Tarragona celebrating the referendum day in their own language.

TV channel LaSexta, which is based in Madrid but financed in part by the Catalan media concern Mediapro, has long been critical of the government. In recent months it had always emphasized that the referendum was illegal. Now, though, it is saying: “When so many people take to the streets, we should listen to them.” Yesterday Mediapro also opened up the international press center in Barcelona, which was what made comprehensive media coverage possible.

The Catalans have shown Madrid they’re serious

The leader of the Spanish Social Democrats, Pedro Sanchez, has also adapted his stance on Catalonia. Yesterday evening he stated that his party, PSOE, was on the side of the Spanish constitutional state, thereby distancing himself from the left-wing Madrid party Podemos, which supported yesterday’s referendum. However, Sanchez has also made clear that he believes Rajoy’s government made a big mistake: “Whether we like it or not, there is a growing separatist movement in Catalonia: We have to sit down at the table with them and find a solution.” Sanchez called on Rajoy, as head of government, to initiate this process.

However, the general view in the media is that Sanchez is more likely to be the one to take the lead. Commentators are saying that since the governing PP party also successfully opposed the new draft constitution for Catalonia (Estatut) initiated in 2006 by the then-Social Democrat government, and after the harsh police intervention on Sunday, it has virtually no credibility. TV channel Antena3 agrees with the Spanish opposition party Ciudadanos that the dialogue has to begin now, before the head of the Catalan government, Carles Puigdemont, can unilaterally declare an independent Catalonia.

Using strikes to force concessions from Madrid

The general strike this week can be seen as the unions’ official response to the harsh intervention by the Spanish police. “The government must look things in the face,” said Ruben Vidal, a Catalan living in Berlin. “For years, all it’s done is look away. The radicals in Catalonia have been able to mobilize the masses and manipulate the whole education system. You don’t just sit and wait for problems to go away. Madrid has to engage with the separatists; there’s no other way.”


 French police arrest couple with rocket launcher and Kalashnikov assault rifle in their car near Marseille

October 3, 2017

by Harvey Day

The Daily Mail/UK

Officers made the discovery during a road stop in Port-de-Bouc

The pair, in their twenties, have not yet been named

The 25-year-old male was known to police for abusing his female partner

The 25-year-old male was reportedly known to police for abusing his female partner, who was arrested with him.

He was not permitted to contact her, according to reports.

The judicial police in Marseille are responsible for the investigation.

According to La Provence newspaper, the man was known for petty crimes and did not have known connections to Islamist extremist groups.


ISIS wants to create ‘new global terrorist network’ – Russia’s FSB chief

October 4, 2017


The leftovers of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) could try to form a new terrorist network after its eventual defeat in the Middle East, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Aleksandr Bortnikov warns.

The terrorists have been “almost defeated while attempting to build their caliphate in Iraq and Syria,” he noted.

Yet, “the leaders of IS and other international terrorist groups have defined their global strategic objective as the creation of a new, worldwide terrorist network,” Bortnikov stated at a meeting of security services and law enforcement agencies from Russia and 73 other countries in the Russian city of Krasnodar.

This expansion can be seen through attacks hitting not only war-torn states, such as Iraq and Syria, but also Spain, Turkey, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the UK, he noted.

The terrorists must “demonstrate to their current and potential future sponsors and sympathisers” that they still have the ability to take further action.

Terrorists have been rapidly losing ground in Iraq and Syria over the past months. Now, Bortnikov noted, “militants are purposefully spread out beyond the Middle East, concentrating in unstable regions with the aim of creating new hotspots of tension and armed conflict.”

The most important of these regions was Afghanistan, Bortnikov explained, where IS has already got a foothold in certain areas and may try to spread its influence into India, China, Iran and Central Asia.

Additionally, other terrorist strongholds are emerging in Yemen, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Bortnikov also revealed that the terrorists pose a threat not only in the real world, but online as well. Besides spreading propaganda and finding new recruits, they are also forming new “cyber-divisions” which can be deployed to attack key infrastructure. This kind of threat, the FSB chief warned, requires worldwide co-operation.

Considering that many computer attacks are of an international nature, the effectiveness of countering them is largely determined by the organization and co-operation of national security agents reacting to computer incidents,” said the official.

To counter the evolving global threat, the official proposed to “expand practical co-operation in reacting to computer incidents and to consider forming an international legal framework for banning the development of malicious software.”

The respective software may come in the form of malware, spyware, viruses and other programs that can be used to damage or infiltrate computer systems.

Bortnikov’s remarks come after a number of serious global cyberattacks on computer systems.

In May, over 250,000 computer systems from 150 countries around the world, including Russia, the United States, the UK, India, Brazil and Japan, were infected with the WannaCry ransomware. A month later the WannaCry was followed by a similar, but smaller attack using the Petya ransomware, which is said to have affected more than 20,000 people around the world.


The Jürs Newsletter

October 4, 2017


An Official Overview of Global Terrorism

The following is the opening of a CIA report which is far too prolix to repeat in its entirety.

The key factors that spawned international terrorism show no signs of abating over the next15 years. Facilitated by global communications, the revival of Muslim identity will create a framework for the spread of radical Islamic ideology inside and outside the Middle East, including Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Western Europe, where religious identity has traditionally not been as strong. This revival has been accompanied by a deepening solidarity among Muslims caught up in national or regional separatist struggles, such as Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq, Kashmir, Mindanao, and southern Thailand, and has emerged in response to government repression, corruption, and ineffectiveness. Informal networks of charitable foundations, and other mechanisms will continue to proliferate and be exploited by radical elements; alienation among unemployed youths will swell the ranks of those vulnerable to terrorist recruitment.

We expect that by 2020 al-Qa’ida will be superseded by similarly inspired Islamic extremist groups, and there is a substantial risk that broad Islamic movements akin to al-Qa’ida will merge with local separatist movements. Information technology, allowing for instant connectivity, communication, and learning, will enable the terrorist threat to become increasingly decentralized, evolving into an eclectic array of groups, cells, and individuals that do not need a stationary headquarters to plan and carry out operations. Training materials, targeting guidance, weapons know-how, and fund-raising will become virtual (i.e., online).

Terrorist attacks will continue to primarily employ conventional weapons, incorporating new twists and constantly adapting to counterterrorist efforts. Terrorists probably will be most original not in the technologies or weapons they use but rather in their operational concepts—i.e., the scope, design, or support arrangements for attacks.

Strong terrorist interest in acquiring chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons increases the risk of a major terrorist attack involving WMD. Our greatest concern is that terrorists might acquire biological agents or, less likely, a nuclear device, either of which could cause mass casualties. Bioterrorism appears particularly suited to the smaller, better-informed groups.

We also expect that terrorists will attempt cyber attacks to disrupt critical information networks and, even more likely, to cause physical damage to information systems.


Masquerading Hackers Are Forcing a Rethink of How Attacks Are Traced

October 4 2017

by Kim Zetter

The Intercept

The growing propensity of government hackers to reuse code and computers from rival nations is undermining the integrity of hacking investigations and calling into question how online attacks are attributed, according to researchers from Kaspersky Lab.

In a paper set for release today at the Virus Bulletin digital security conference in Madrid, the researchers highlight cases in which they’ve seen hackers acting on behalf of nation-states stealing tools and hijacking infrastructure previously used by hackers of other nation-states. Investigators need to watch out for signs of this or risk tracing attacks to the wrong perpetrators, the researchers said.

Threat researchers have built an industry on identifying and profiling hacking groups in order to understand their methods, anticipate future moves, and develop methods for battling them. They often attribute attacks by “clustering” malicious files, IP addresses, and servers that get reused across hacking operations, knowing that threat actors use the same code and infrastructure repeatedly to save time and effort. So when researchers see the same encryption algorithms and digital certificates reused in various attacks, for example, they tend to assume the attacks were perpetrated by the same group. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Getting this information right is particularly important because the investigations of security companies are increasingly playing a role in government attribution of hacking attacks. The attacks last year on the Democratic National Committee, for example, were attributed to hacking groups associated with Russian intelligence based in part on analysis done by the private security firm CrowdStrike, which found that tools and techniques used in the DNC network matched those used in previous attacks attributed to Russian intelligence groups.

Although the Kaspersky researchers believe the DNC attribution is correct, they say researchers need to be more cautious about assuming that when the same tools and techniques are being used, the same actors are using them.

Intelligence agencies and military hackers are uniquely positioned to trick researchers through code and tool reuse because of something they do called fourth-party collection. Fourth-party collection can encompass a number of activities, including hacking the machine of a victim that other hackers have already breached and collecting intelligence about the hackers on that machine by stealing their tools.  It can also involve hacking the servers the hackers use to launch their assaults. These machines sometimes store the arsenal of malicious tools and even source code that the attackers use for their attacks. Once the other group’s tools and source code are stolen, it’s easy to go a step further and reuse them.

“Agency A could steal another agency’s source code and leverage it as their own. Clustering and attribution in this case begin to fray,” wrote Juan Andrés Guerrero-Saade, principal security researcher with Kaspersky, and his colleague, Costin Raiu, who leads Kaspersky’s global research and analysis team.

“[O]ur point in the paper was: This is what it would look like [if someone were to do a false-flag operation] … and these are the cases where we’ve seen people trying and failing,” said Guerrero-Saade.

The recent WannaCry ransomware outbreak is an obvious example of malware theft and reuse. Last year, a mysterious group known as the Shadow Brokers stole a cache of hacking tools that belonged to the National Security Agency and posted them online months later. One of the tools — a so-called zero-day exploit, targeting a previously unknown vulnerability — was repurposed by the hackers behind WannaCry to spread their attack. In this case, it was easy to make a connection between the theft of the NSA code and its reuse with WannaCry, because the original theft was well-publicized. But other cases of theft and reuse won’t likely be so obvious, leaving researchers in the dark about who is really conducting an attack.

“[I]f a superpower … were to break fully into, let’s say, the DarkHotel group tomorrow and steal all of their code and have access to all of their [command-and-control infrastructure], we’re not going to find out about that monumental event,” Guerrero-Saade told The Intercept, referring to a hacker group that has conducted a series of sophisticated attacks against guests in luxury hotels.“At that point, they’re in a position to mimic those operations to a T … without anyone knowing.”

Spying on Spies

It’s no secret that spies spy on spies. Documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden describe how the agency and its spying partners routinely inspect the machines of victims they hack to see if other hackers are lurking inside. The NSA has a custom anti-virus-like tool called ReplicantFarm that it deploys on systems it hacks to check for the presence of other known actors. The agency does this to ensure that the tools of other actors won’t interfere with its own operations in the machine, and to study the tools and methods of these actors to inform both offensive operations and its defense of U.S. government networks. The NSA will grab these tools and reverse-engineer them — sometimes copying clever techniques for use in its own operations.

Though copying techniques is common for the NSA, two former NSA hackers tell The Intercept they never saw the agency reuse actual code during their time there and say they doubt the agency would conduct a false-flag operation.

“When we catch foreign-actor tools, we’ll steal the techniques themselves,” one of the sources told The Intercept. But “there are a host of issues when you falsely attribute. … You could start a war that way. It’s probably more prevalent in other countries, but in the U.S. … the goal is usually to be not attributed, not falsely attributed.”

He said if any U.S. government entity conducts false-flag operations, it would likely be the CIA.

An ex-CIA official told The Intercept that his former employer does engage in a form of cyber false-flag operations to hide its identity, but not to throw blame on someone else.

Guerrero-Saade believes the NSA and its partner countries in the “Five Eyes” alliance of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are likely not the problem when it comes to code and infrastructure reuse for false-flag operations.

“The Five Eyes in general is restrained,” he said. “[But] we all know that the Chinese groups, the presumably Israeli groups, even the [Russian-speaking] groups, are willing to do whatever. The Israeli groups are … ballsy to the extreme.”

False Flags in the Wild

The Kaspersky researchers have seen several examples in the wild where the infrastructure of one nation-state threat actor has been compromised by another. One example involved a backdoor that had been installed on a staging and relay server (used for transmitting stolen data) used by a nation-state group, known as NetTraveler. Kaspersky doesn’t know who installed the backdoor, but it likely had been installed to monitor the group or steal its tools and the data NetTraveler had stolen from victims.

Another case involved one threat actor hijacking another’s infrastructure to secretly launch its own attacks. DarkHotel — believed to be a South Korean operation — routinely compromises websites to launch attacks against Chinese targets. One of these compromised sites turned out to be hosting exploit scripts apparently belonging to another group, which Kaspersky calls ScarCruft. This group used the site to then launch its own attacks against Russian, Chinese, and South Korean targets.

In yet another case, Kaspersky researchers found a trojan backdoor called Decafett that appeared to be tied to the Lazarus and BlueNoroff groups  —  both believed to be connected to North Korea — while also using an obscure and unusual Dynamic DNS provider that previously had only been used by the DarkHotel group.

And a mysterious hacking group known as TigerMilk used a digital certificate in attacks on the Peruvian military and government institutions that had famously been used in the Stuxnet assault on Iran’s nuclear program. The authors of Stuxnet, believed to be the NSA and Israeli intelligence, had signed their malicious code with a digital certificate stolen from a company in Taiwan to trick the machines in Iran into thinking their malicious files were legitimate software from this company.

TigerMilk used the same certificate to sign its malicious files, but it did so long after the certificate had gained infamy in the Stuxnet attack and long after the certificate had been revoked and made invalid. Because an invalid certificate is of little use to attackers to help them get malicious code on to a machine, the Kaspersky researchers surmised that the only reason TigerMilk used it in their attacks was “to fool incident responders and researchers into casting blame on the notorious Stuxnet team.”

It might seem that all attribution becomes suspect if hacking groups steal and reuse the tools of adversaries in order to cast suspicion on them. But the Kaspersky researchers said that true false-flag operations are rare and difficult to pull off. All of these examples they uncovered involved fairly unsophisticated attempts to confuse researchers. To effectively pin an attack on another player, a hacking team has to convincingly copy or mimic all of the other group’s tactics, techniques, and procedures, not just some of them. Make one mistake and the illusion can collapse.

“[I]n order to claim an amazing, true … false-flag operation where you genuinely embodied somebody else in every possible way, you have to know how they function in every possible way … how they act when they’re in the victim boxes, [you need to use] the source code and the payloads and the same encryption, the same command-and-control infrastructure — because any anomalies are the things we latch onto and say, OK that doesn’t look right,” said Guerrero-Saade

Guerrero-Saade pointed to a recent case in which the research community was tracking what appeared to be a previously unknown Russian-speaking nation-state group. For six to eight months, researchers watched the group carefully and suspected it might actually be a well-known Russian-speaking group named Turla — except the code and infrastructure the group used was very different from Turla’s. The researchers were almost ready to conclude that it was in fact a completely new and different group, until the attackers slipped up and used one of Turla’s old and well-known tools. Instead of an entirely new Russian-speaking attack group, the researchers concluded that it was simply Turla using a batch of new tools in an attempt to obscure its identity and activity. The incident provides a good illustration for why threat researchers need to be patient and take their time when doing attribution, since hasty work can lead to false conclusions.

Guerrero-Saade said that in talking about code reuse and false-flag operations, he and Raiu aren’t trying to cast doubt on every investigation that occurs. He thinks false flags are rare and that most attribution that threat researchers do is accurate. But researchers need to rethink the limitations and parameters of what they can know for sure, “so that we know when we’re faltering and so that we know when we’re being tricked and so we can admit when we cannot know. There are situations when we cannot know.”


The American Religion of War

A few thoughts on violence and military idolatry in America

October 4, 2017

by William J. Astore


If you believe the polls, America is a nation of believers. A nation of faith. But is our faith truly in a pacific god of love? Or do we instead worship a god of war? Current and past events suggest that too often Americans place their faith in war and the military. We continue to believe despite the evidence our belief is both wrongheaded and destructive.

We have a cult-like affection for war and the military. It drives what we see – what we perceive. Believing is seeing. The military confesses to believe in “progress” in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, so we invent metrics that show how we’re winning (which is exactly what we did fifty years ago in Vietnam).

We are not a rational society. We are a faith-based society. And our temples and crosses are military bases and weaponry, which we export globally. The U.S. has 800 overseas bases, and America dominates the international trade in arms. Meanwhile, our missionaries are our Special Ops troops, which we send to 130 countries, spreading the American gospel. The gospel of war and the gun.

The icons of American militarism are our weapons. Our warplanes, our drones, big bombs (the MOAB), the list goes on. They have become the iconic symbols of an idolatry of destruction.

A xenophobic form of patriotism exacerbates a religion of violence. Exclusive rather than inclusive, it sets the boundaries of “us” versus “them.” Critics and dissenters are cast out and exiled.

Meanwhile, in far-off foreign lands, we reject the reality of ruins and rubble. We couch it instead in terms of salvation: “we had to destroy the village to save it.” It’s another aspect of our evangelical approach to war. It’s like being born again. You must tear yourself down before you’re born again in the spirit of Christ. We seem to believe cities must be ruined before we can declare victory over the enemy.

Consider 9/11/2001. An inward-looking people may have kept the ruins of 9/11 as a monument to the victims. But not us. That’s expensive real estate, and on those ruins we were born again, building Freedom Tower, exactly 1776 feet in height. Thus our fall was reinterpreted as rebirth, our defeat as victory, tragedy as triumph. Even 9/11 itself is now celebrated as a day of patriotism.

Yes, we can reconstruct our own rubble, as we did after 9/11. But will foreign rubble ever be reconstructed? Cities like Mosul? Well, who cares? They are not of the body. They are not us. They are outcasts. Let them survive in what’s left of their blasted buildings and homes.

Our TV shows reinforce our belief in violence and militarism. New ones include “The Brave” on NBC, which begins by focusing on a pretty White female doctor kidnapped by Muslim terrorists and “brave” efforts to rescue her; “Valor” on the CW channel, featuring lots of helicopters and flags and automatic weapons; and the rather obvious “SEAL Team” on CBS, with elite Navy SEALs standing in for the superheroes of the past. If you get tired of watching military heroics on TV, there’s always military-themed “shooter” video games. Indeed, the military experience is everywhere, even in Madden football, where in “story mode” you can play against quarterback Dan Marino on an Army base in Iraq. (The field is surrounded by a fortified fence, rocky hills, and a helicopter pad, among other exotic military features.)

America is being consumed by a religion of violence and mayhem. We’re trapped in a dark maelstrom of death and destruction. Yet how can we repudiate our god of war when we are so busy feeding him? When we talk of “thoughts and prayers” after each tragedy, do we truly know which god we’re calling upon?


Roosevelt and the beginning of perpetual war for perpetual peace

October 4, 2017

by Christian Jürs



There is no question whatsoever that during the Roosevelt administration, many radical leftists joined his New Deal and their ill-conceived and abrasive activities infuriated many Americans. In a democracy, such behavior can usually be curbed if it becomes too prevalent. However, during the Roosevelt era, the President was battling the Great Depression, which suddenly flared up again in 1938, and his skillful presentation of right-wing dictatorships in Germany, Italy and Japan were viewed as potential threats to America. These two factors, economic and ideological, helped keep Roosevelt in office. Although, after his own dictatorial attempt to control the Supreme Court failed in Congress in 1936, his popularity in the polls was steadily shrinking.

After Roosevelt actively aided and abetted the United States’ entry in the war, his tenure in the White House was secure until the war was over. Those historians who praise Roosevelt as a great man, claim that he, indeed, schemed to involve America in global war but did so because Germany and Japan were planning to invade the continental United States. However, post-war searches of captured German and Japanese state archives have not produced a shred of evidence in support of this invasion theory.

Throughout his entire life, Roosevelt was dominated by his mother who was possessed of exceptionally strong personal prejudices. She ran her only child like a Swiss railroad. On her annual European trips, Mrs. Roosevelt preferred to mingle with correct British society and found her hotel stays in Germany abhorrent. Mrs. Roosevelt was anti-Semitic and her deep hatred of Germans was instilled in her son from an early age. She constantly referred to black Americans as “niggers,” and so her prejudice became his prejudice, also.

The flowering of leftist views in Washington left many Americans furious but because of the President’s general popularity, America was powerless to vote him out of office. This continuing frustration produced a flood of savage anti-Roosevelt commentary and a heightened detestation of the shrill importunings of the extreme left governmental appointees.

When Roosevelt died suddenly in 1945, his successor Harry Truman was viewed as an unknown entity. Truman, who was no fan of Stalin or his ideology, acted cautiously to remove the New Deal activists from power. This earned Truman unpopularity with some factions of the media and especially the American motion picture industry, which was a strong supporter of left-wing causes.


Special Report: The bankrupt utility behind Puerto Rico’s power crisis

October 4, 2016

by Nick Brown, Robin Respaut and Jessica Resnick-Ault


SALINAS, Puerto Rico/NEW YORK (Reuters) – In the rural village of Salinas in southern Puerto Rico, frayed electric lines hanging from a utility pole blew in the breeze last week near the town square.

But the damage didn’t come from Hurricane Maria.

“Those wires were actually there before,” said Fermin Seda, 68, a Salinas resident who said he has grown accustomed to downed lines and power outages.

Two weeks after the storm plunged the island into a blackout, less than 10 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million people have seen power restored – and many will wait months.

Restoring the grid after the worst storm to hit here in nine decades would be a monumental task even for a well-run utility. It will be much harder for the chronically underfunded Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which went bankrupt in July amid mounting maintenance problems, years-long battles with creditors, a shrinking workforce and frequent management turnover.

Interviews with more than two dozen officials and consultants who work for or with the U.S. territory’s government, PREPA or its creditors reveal a utility that was unprepared for a major storm despite the ever-present risk to this Caribbean island. When Maria hit, PREPA was trying to simultaneously finance an operational overhaul and dig out from about $8 billion in debt.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, in an interview with Reuters on Saturday, said none of the utility’s storm response plans could account for years of poor maintenance of the dilapidated electric network.

”The emergency plan was as follows: There is no way to fix the nature of the grid,” Rossello said.

He added that the network was so feeble it would have collapsed even in a much weaker storm than the one that hit Puerto Rico at Category 4 wind strength – the second highest level in the five-tier U.S. storm gauge.

“If you have an old grid susceptible to collapse, there is no way – until you change it completely – that it can sustain the winds of a Category 4, or even really a Category 2,” the governor said.


A host of chronic problems at PREPA left the island’s electric grid vulnerable to collapse in a major storm, Reuters found. They include:

Ricardo Ramos, who took over as the utility’s chief executive in March, told Reuters that the number of employee departures over the past five years is actually closer to 4,000 – with the vast majority being key operational workers such as linemen, power plant operators and mechanics.

They were exactly the kind of workers the utility couldn’t afford to lose.

“PREPA did not invest in new power plants or new generation, so our power plants are very, very old; our distribution system is very, very old,” Ramos said in an interview on Monday.

One pivotal question now is whether the United States will work merely to patch the existing network or allocate billions of dollars in federal funds to overhaul it. The government is open to spending money on modernization, Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert said at a briefing last week.

The White House did not respond to Reuters’ inquiries seeking comment on the short- and long-term U.S. roles in restoring power to this U.S. territory.‘THE LONG HAUL’

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) told Reuters that the agency is “in this for the long haul” but offered no details on the level of funding it could commit to the island’s power grid.

Citizens of Puerto Rico do not receive services equal to U.S. states but also do not pay federal income tax.

The collapse of the grid isn’t the only cause of the island’s suffering. The U.S. relief effort so far has been unable to supply Puerto Rico with all the fuel it requires, for instance, leaving motorists waiting in long gasoline-station lines and depriving many backup electricity generators of diesel.

The lengthy electrical outages are a bitter pill for storm victims, who before Maria had already endured frequent service interruptions and rates higher than any U.S. state except Hawaii, according to PREPA and the U.S. Energy Department.

The impacts go well beyond temporary discomfort. The lack of power has been a key factor in a humanitarian crisis as residents with no refrigeration for food and medicine scrambled to find open stores and waited in endless lines.

In Salinas, 54-year-old Maria Sanchez wept as she threw out all of the food inside her mother’s fridge. By Saturday, she and six family members were surviving on crackers after eating all the other non-perishable food in the house.

“We are not rich – to throw away food like that. We’re running out of food – like fast,” she said, sitting on the porch, where a mild sea breeze offered little reprieve from the oppressive heat.

Diabetic Nancy Rivera lost more than food.

“All of my insulin is ruined,” said Rivera, 59, of Santurce, a district in San Juan, who stopped taking her spoiled medicine four days after the storm.


Winds of up to 155 mph (250 km/hr) during Maria knocked out about 80 percent of PREPA’s distribution network, said Ramos, the utility’s chief executive. Since the storm, power has been limited to key locales such as hospitals and hotels using generators fueled with a scarce supply of diesel.

Damage assessment for the grid, usually completed within 48 hours of a hurricane in the mainland United States, took a week-and-a-half, Ramos said. The assessment went as fast as possible given the widespread damage, he said, and the utility had three working helicopters to survey the network.

FEMA last week put the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – often tasked with infrastructure projects – in charge of short-term power restoration, in coordination with the Energy Department, the American Public Power Association and the New York Power Authority.

Gil Quiniones, CEO of NYPA, said the Army Corps had asked his utility for experts in power systems – which isn’t a Corps specialty – who can “think strategically on how to triage the situation and how to prioritize the work.”

The task is made more daunting by the island’s ill-maintained infrastructure. And PREPA’s strapped finances mean it cannot keep large standing orders for full-scale repair operations to swarm in after disasters, as utility repairman did last month in Florida after Hurricane Irma.

Ramos said PREPA has about 30 days worth of existing supplies for repairs following a storm; more is being ordered, to arrive in the next few weeks, he said.


On the south side of Puerto Rico, near most of the island’s power plants, broken wires and blackouts were common before Maria.

“They tell me that right now, they’re evaluating damage to the power grid in our region,” Salinas Mayor Karilyn Bonilla said on Friday. ”And they can’t tell me how long that will take.”

Bonilla said she has seen workers remove a few transformers since Maria hit but no one fixing downed power lines.

The amount of time power plants were down due to unplanned outages, measured in megawatt hours, more than doubled between mid-2015 and mid-2016, according to Synapse, the consultant firm.

By summer 2016, residents were experiencing four to five times the number of outages as the average U.S. customer, the consultants wrote.

The system’s deficiencies were laid bare in September 2016, when a transformer fire knocked out half of the island’s power, which wasn’t fully restored for nearly a week, forcing the governor to declare a state of emergency.

“Basically it was what you can call an unfortunate set of events, but really it is what I have said since I began at PREPA: lack of maintenance,” Ramos said.

One of the biggest factors in the outages: a constantly shrinking staff, driven away by costly medical benefits and unsafe conditions. The utility’s April report notes PREPA had a greater-than-average number of safety incidents for U.S. utilities, with more than 14,000 accidents and 15 fatalities in a 10-year period.

Many workers left for better opportunities, Ramos said. Because Puerto Ricans are American citizens, they face no legal barriers in leaving the island for the mainland.

“The truth of the matter is they make a lot more money in the U.S.,” said Ramos.


U.S. utilities are regulated by the states in which they operate, and by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission if they operate across state lines. U.S. federal oversight of PREPA is limited to environmental and safety standards and does not cover the transmission network.

Unlike utilities in U.S. states, PREPA had no regulator for decades and essentially governed itself. In 2014, the Puerto Rico Energy Commission was created by the island’s legislature, which sought greater oversight in response to perceived neglect by PREPA’s leadership at the time, which resisted the intervention.

Weeks after the act passed, PREPA became insolvent.

Today, the political squabbling over control of PREPA – and blame for its problems – continues even as utility officials respond to a historic crisis.

Ramon Luis Nieves – former head of Puerto Rico’s senate energy committee and a champion of the 2014 legislation – blasted former utility officials for poor oversight in an interview last week.

“Using their powers of self-regulation, PREPA itself was judge and jury,” he said as he waited in a five-hour gasoline line.

Energy Commissioner Angel Rivera said former PREPA officials gave the new regulator nothing in the way of disaster plans.

“If PREPA did any sort of analysis like this when they were creating the system, we would not know,” said Rivera, who was appointed in November 2014.

PREPA also fought the commission’s requirements to integrate renewable energy, said Nieves, the former senator. The commission rejected the utility’s first long-term plan to create a more reliable, cost-effective grid as inadequate, according to commission records.

Attempts by Reuters to reach PREPA’s previous chief executive, Javier Quintana, were unsuccessful.

Ramos – Quintana’s successor and a former engineer and PREPA employee – said he agreed with the need for an oversight commission when it was formed. But he now believes the commission wields too much power, citing its pushback on the utility’s capital spending.

“I basically have no power,” he said. “Basically, they wanted to run PREPA except during a hurricane, because now they are nowhere to be found.”

Jose Roman, interim chairman of the energy commission, disputed the notion that the commission wanted to run the utility, saying it only aimed to protect customers.


What remains unclear is the level of commitment from FEMA, the Army Corps and U.S. utilities for longer-term upgrades to buttress the system against future storms.

Bossert, the U.S. Homeland security advisor, said on Sept. 28 that the power grid would have to be rebuilt, “so we’re going to put federal money into this.”

The costs will be steep: The $4 billion estimate for modernization from PREPA does not include additional damage from Maria.

The task will be complicated by PREPA’s battles with creditors, who are led by hedge funds and mutual funds. The parties had been in debt restructuring talks for three years before the agency filed for bankruptcy in July.

A group of PREPA’s largest creditors, which include Franklin Advisers, Oppenheimer Funds and BlueMountain Capital, offered a loan of $1 billion after the hurricane. The island’s fiscal oversight committee rejected the offer, calling it a “publicity stunt” and criticizing the repayment and interest terms as unfavorable.

A spokesperson for the creditors declined to comment on that statement but the investment firms’ advisor, investment bank Houlihan Lokey, earlier expressed disappointment that the proposed loan had been rejected without negotiation.

The utility had considered but not yet implemented a wide variety of infrastructure improvements when senior leadership turned over after Rossello became governor at the beginning of the year. The governor typically appoints PREPA’s board and executive director.

Now new honchos are starting over in assessing PREPA’s needs, a repeat of past leadership transitions.

In the summer of 2016, PREPA held its 2017 public budgeting proceeding – the first led by the island’s utility commission rather than the utility itself.

Amid the deep financial problems of the island’s government and the utility, the commission allocated about $400 million for PREPA to address maintenance and repairs for the year, Commissioner Rivera said. Overall capital improvement plans for 20 years come to $2 billion, according to commission consultant Synapse.

Even the long-term plan represents just a fraction of what will be needed, suggesting the grid overhaul will require a serious commitment from the United States. Discussions about that reality are starting now.

“There’s diverging sentiments on the role of U.S. funding,” said a private sector energy executive who is working with PREPA to fix the networks and has been involved in strategy discussions with officials from FEMA and Puerto Rico.

“That’s where things start to get stuck,” he said. “No one argues about a generator in a hospital, but that doesn’t get the lights in the houses turned back on. Nobody knows where the money is going to come from.”

Reporting By Nick Brown and Robin Respaut in San Juan and Salinas, Puerto Rico, and Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York; Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino and Stephanie Kelly in New York and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Writing by David Gaffen and Jessica Resnick-Ault; Editing by Brian Thevenot


More than 70% of US fears robots taking over our lives, survey finds

As Silicon Valley heralds progress on self-driving cars and robot carers, much of the rest of the country is worried about machines taking control of human tasks

October 4, 2017

by Olivia Solon in San Francisco

The Guardian

Silicon Valley celebrates artificial intelligence and robotics as fields that have the power to improve people’s lives, through inventions like driverless cars and robot carers for the elderly.

That message isn’t getting through to the rest of the country, where more than 70% of Americans express wariness or concern about a world where machines perform many of the tasks done by humans, according to Pew Research.

The findings have wide-reaching implications for technology companies working in these fields and indicates the need for greater public hand-holding.

“Ordinary Americans are very wary and concerned about the growing trend in automation and place a lot of value in human decision-making,” said Aaron Smith, the author of the research, which surveyed more than 4,000 US adults. “They are not incredibly excited about machines taking over those responsibilities.”

Pew gauged public perception of automation technologies by presenting respondents with four scenarios, including the development of completely driverless cars; a future in which machines replace many human jobs; the possibility of fully autonomous robot carers and the possibility that a computer program could evaluate and select job candidates with no human oversight .

According to the findings, 72% of Americans are very or somewhat worried about a future where robots and computers are capable of performing many human jobs – more than double the 33% of people who were enthusiastic about the prospect. Seventy-six per cent are concerned that automation of jobs will exacerbate economic inequality and a similar share (75%) anticipate that the economy will not create many new, better-paying jobs for those human workers who lose their jobs to machines.

One of the most visible examples of automation that’s likely to disrupt daily life is driverless vehicles. There’s a broad agreement among proponents of the technology that driverless cars will be safer than those driven by humans, who are often distracted, drunk or falling asleep at the wheel.

The American public disagrees.

“People are not buying the safety argument about driverless vehicles,” Smith said. “There’s widespread concern about being on the roads with them, which conflicts with what is consensus in the technology world.”

A slim majority of Americans (54%) express more worry than enthusiasm for the development of driverless vehicles, with 30% expecting that they would lead to an increase in road fatalities. Fifty-six per cent said they would not want to ride in one if given the opportunity, citing a lack of trust in the technology or an unwillingness to cede control to a machine in a potentially life-or-death situation.

Another unexpected finding was the vehement opposition to robots making hiring decisions, despite the fact that such technology is already starting to creep into the hiring process as well as other areas such as assessing individuals for loans or parole from prison. Proponents say that using AI can make these decisions less biased, but the public is not convinced.

Seventy-six per cent of respondents said they would not want to apply for jobs that use such a computer program to make hiring decisions.

“A computer cannot measure the emotional intelligence or intangible assets that many humans have,” said one 22-year-old female respondent. “Not every quality can be quantitatively measured by a computer when hiring someone; there is much more learned by face-to-face interactions.”

Smith said: “It speaks to the general lack of recognition of just how widespread algorithmic decision making is in our lives by the average people in the street.”

The survey also asked people about their attitudes towards existing workforce technologies such as social media, industrial robots and technologies that help customers serve themselves without the assistance of humans. The findings revealed a big split between college educated respondents (typically white collar workers) and those who didn’t attend college (typically blue collar workers).

“White collar workers see tech as something positive that helps them get ahead and has improved their opportunities for career advancement, giving them agency to do their jobs better, make more money and get promotions,” said Smith.

“When we asked the same questions of working class folk, you don’t get the same sense that it’s something that is helpful to them or improves access to career opportunities.”

These social factors play into people’s attitudes towards the coming wave of automation technologies.

“Those folks who are optimistic hope it will take over the dull and boring work we hate and create new categories of work for humans to do,” said Smith, “but the American public does not buy the notion that it will be good for everyone.”

Three-quarters of Americans expect that machines doing human jobs will increase inequality between the rich and the poor.

“They believe that a small number of people do well and everyone else loses their jobs to the robots,” said Smith.

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