TBR News September 29, 2017

Sep 29 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., September 29, 2017: “Here is an email posted on a truly lunatic Internet site which, if true, is funnier than watching Hillary having an epileptic seizure during one of her speeches:

‘What you say about the Potter books is 100% correct! Our son Pauli, who was only 9 years old, set the cat on fire last week and poor Mr. Spats made terrible cries and ran around the living room until he burned up. He ran under a couch and set it on fire and my husband, Karl, was so upset that he chased Pauli outside and beat him with a garden hoe but in the meantime, the couch set the house on fire and Grandma Tom was asleep upstairs and didn’t make it out.

We found the Potter book in Pauli’s tree house along with terrible pictures of naked ladies and an empty muscatel bottle so I agree that these books have to be banned forever! Now that Pauli and Grandma Tom are dead, the writer of this book and the bookstores that sell it ought to be shot.

Maybe we can get CaptainPissGums to do this for us. Won’t a fellow blogger help us? America turns her eager eyes to you, sir.’”


Table of Contents

  • Chaos and hackers stalk investors on cryptocurrency exchanges
  • Iraqi Kurds Have Again Made Statehood an Issue But There Are Risks
  • Police Used Private Security Aircraft for Surveillance in Standing Rock No-Fly Zone
  • Yet Another Major Russia Story Falls Apart. Is Skepticism Permissible Yet?
  • Russia says ready to work with North Korea to resolve missile crisis
  • Catalans occupy voting stations to defy Madrid’s order to stop referendum
  • Winston Churchill: A retrospective


Chaos and hackers stalk investors on cryptocurrency exchanges

Online exchanges for trading bitcoins and other virtual currencies can make fortunes for their owners. But they are largely unregulated, besieged by hackers and thieves, and fraught with risk for consumers.

September 29, 2017

by Seve Stecklow, Alexandra Harney, Anna Irrera, and Jemima Kelley


LONDON/SHANGHAI/NEW YORK – Dan Wasyluk discovered the hard way that trading cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin happens in an online Wild West where sheriffs are largely absent.

Wasyluk and his colleagues raised bitcoins for a new tech venture and lodged them in escrow at a company running a cryptocurrency exchange called Moolah. Just months later the exchange collapsed; the man behind it is now awaiting trial in Britain on fraud and money-laundering charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

Wasyluk’s project lost 750 bitcoins, currently worth about $3 million, and he believes he stands little chance of recovering any money.

“It really was kind of a kneecapping of the project,” said Wasyluk of the collapse three years ago. “If you are starting an exchange and you lose clients’ money, you or your company should be 100 percent accountable for that loss. And right now there is nothing like that in place.”

Cryptocurrencies were supposed to offer a secure, digital way to conduct financial transactions, but they have been dogged by doubts. Concerns have largely focused on their astronomical gains in value and the likelihood of painful price crashes. Equally perilous, though, are the exchanges where virtual currencies are bought, sold and stored. These exchanges, which match buyers and sellers and sometimes hold traders’ funds, have become magnets for fraud and mires of technological dysfunction, a Reuters examination shows, posing an underappreciated risk to anyone who trades digital coins.

Huge sums are at stake. As the prices of bitcoin and other virtual currencies have soared this year – bitcoin has quadrupled – legions of investors and speculators have turned to online exchanges. Billions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies – which aren’t backed by any governments or central banks – are now traded on exchanges every day.

“These are new assets. No one really knows what to make of them,” said David L. Yermack, chairman of the finance department at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “If you’re a consumer, there’s nothing to protect you.”

Regulators and governments are still debating how to handle cryptocurrencies, and Yermack says the U.S. Congress will ultimately have to take action.

Some of the freewheeling exchanges are plagued with poor security and lack investor protections common in more regulated financial markets, Reuters found. Some Chinese exchanges have falsely inflated their trading volume to lure new customers, according to former employees.

There have been at least three dozen heists of cryptocurrency exchanges since 2011; many of the hacked exchanges later shut down. More than 980,000 bitcoins have been stolen, which today would be worth about $4 billion. Few have been recovered. Burned investors have been left at the mercy of exchanges as to whether they will receive any compensation.

Nearly 25,000 customers of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, are still waiting for compensation more than three years after its collapse into bankruptcy in Japan. The exchange said it lost about 650,000 bitcoins. Claims approved by the bankruptcy trustee total more than $400 million.

In July, a federal judge in Florida ordered Paul Vernon, the operator of a collapsed U.S. exchange called Cryptsy, to pay $8.2 million to customers after he failed to respond to a class-action lawsuit. The judge ruled that 11,325 bitcoins had been stolen but did not identify the thief. “This is no different than bank robbers in the Old West,” said David C. Silver, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “Cryptocurrency is just a new front.” Vernon could not be reached for comment.

Another challenge for traders: government intervention. This month, Chinese authorities ordered some mainland Chinese cryptocurrency exchanges to stop trading. The order, however, did not apply to exchanges based in Hong Kong or outside China, including those affiliated with mainland Chinese exchanges.

So-called “flash crashes” – when cryptocurrencies suddenly plummet in value – are also a threat. Unlike regulated U.S. stock exchanges, cryptocurrency exchanges aren’t required to have circuit breakers in place to halt trading during wild price swings. Digital coin exchanges are also frequently under assault by hackers, resulting in down times that can sideline traders at critical moments.

On May 7, traders on a U.S. exchange called Kraken lost more than $5 million when it came under attack and couldn’t be accessed, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in Florida. During the incident, the suit alleges, the exchange’s price of a cryptocurrency called ether fell more than 70 percent and the traders’ leveraged positions were liquidated. They received no compensation. The exchange declined to comment on the lawsuit. In a court filing, it asked for the case to be dismissed and said the claims should be decided by arbitration.

Another two flash crashes occurred this year on the U.S. exchange GDAX. The exchange said it compensated traders who lost money.

Not surprisingly, many banks are leery of cryptocurrency exchanges and some have refused to deal with them. At a bank investor conference this month in New York, Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Co, called bitcoin “a fraud” and predicted it will “blow up.”

Boycotts by banks can make it impossible at times for exchanges to process wire transfers that allow customers to buy or sell cryptocurrencies with traditional currencies, such as dollars or euros. In March, Wells Fargo stopped processing wire transfers for an exchange called Bitfinex, leaving customers unable to transfer U.S. dollars out of their accounts, except through special arrangement with the exchange’s lawyer. Wells Fargo declined to comment.

Dealing with the banks “is a constant and ongoing challenge,” said Bitfinex Chief Executive Jean Louis van der Velde. “Citizens and businesses [are] being treated like criminals when they are not, including myself.” He declined to say which banks Bitfinex is now using.

In part, banks say they are concerned about the due diligence cryptocurrency exchanges do on their customers to guard against money laundering, criminal activity and sanctions violations. While regulators require banks to verify who their customers are, some cryptocurrency trading platforms have performed minimal checks, Reuters found.

Internal customer records reviewed by Reuters from the BTCChina exchange, which has an office in Shanghai but is stopping trading at the end of this month, show that in the fall of 2015, 63 customers said they were from Iran and another nine said they were from North Korea – countries under U.S. sanctions.

Americans are generally prohibited from conducting financial transactions with individuals in Iran and North Korea. Statements on BTCChina’s website from 2013 and 2014 identify Bobby Lee, who holds American citizenship, as its chief executive and co-founder. Lee is currently CEO of BTCC, a separate Cayman Islands-registered cryptocurrency exchange company, according to a spokesman for the exchanges.

The spokesman did not respond to repeated questions from Reuters as to Lee’s current role at BTCChina, and Lee did not comment on the issue. The spokesman said that BTCChina complies with Chinese law and “is run by a Chinese citizen, and its legal representative is also a Chinese citizen.”

The spokesman originally said the exchange had “significantly strengthened” its compliance processes over the last two years, including “banning registrations from sanctioned countries such as Iran and North Korea. Our system still has some inactivated accounts from some sanctioned countries for audit and logging purposes.” He said “most” of those accounts had never been used to trade.

He later said that BTCChina has never had any North Korean customers and “has had only one Iranian customer.” The Iranian used a bank account in China, not Iran, “therefore all of that customer’s transactions on our trading platform did not violate” U.S. sanctions, the spokesman said. He said “BTCC has never had and does not have any North Korean or Iranian customers.”

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in Washington, which enforces economic and trade sanctions, declined to comment.

In mid-2016, the Chinese exchange hired a compliance analyst to help monitor any suspicious activity on the trading platform. It selected Constance Yuan, then 23 years old, who told Reuters she had no prior formal training in compliance. On her LinkedIn page, she listed her title as “Senior compliance manager.”

“I was a bit surprised,” Yuan said of her hiring. “I felt I had no experience, and it was a pretty big responsibility.” She said lawyers taught her on the job, which she recently left.

The spokesman for BTCChina told Reuters it has had a vice president in charge of compliance on its staff since 2013 and that person helped to develop a “robust” system to verify customers’ identities.


Bitcoin, the first digital currency to gain widespread acceptance, sprang up during the financial crisis about nine years ago. Its attraction, early proponents maintained, was that it offered a way to bypass banks and governments, and to conduct financial transactions more cheaply. Every transaction is validated and recorded on a public ledger called a blockchain that is maintained by a network of computers. While anonymous, the individual transactions are available for all to see on the internet. They are secured by cryptography, the computerized encoding and decoding of data.

Mike Hearn, an early bitcoin developer, said bitcoin was initially viewed more as a hobby than a serious alternative to traditional money. “People didn’t really think it could take off and get big,” he said. “It was a thought experiment that happened to have some code.”

Though bitcoin turned out to generate huge attention and media coverage, it is still not widely used by ordinary consumers. Few retailers accept it, and processing transactions on the blockchain remains much slower than payment card networks, despite some recent technical changes.

The computer maker Dell, which announced in 2014 that it would accept bitcoin payments, has stopped “due to low usage,” a spokeswoman said. At the U.S. online retailer Overstock.com, only a fraction of one percent of sales are transacted in bitcoins, according to the company.

“Most of the cryptocurrencies right now are more commodities than currency,” said Dan Schulman, chief executive of payments company PayPal. “You trade them based on what you think will happen to their value. They’re not really accepted by many merchants as a currency.”

Instead, cryptocurrencies have proved attractive to those seeking anonymity.

Poloniex, a U.S. exchange, has allowed some customers to trade cryptocurrencies and withdraw up to $2,000 worth of digital coins a day by providing only a name, an email address and a country, Reuters found. In a statement, Poloniex said it “has spent considerable resources developing a culture of compliance and has systems in place to prevent users from abusing the platform.”

The exchange isn’t allowed to accept New York residents as customers because it lacks a state license to operate a cryptocurrency exchange. But Reuters interviewed two New York residents who had claimed that they lived elsewhere and were able to trade on Poloniex. A Poloniex spokesman said, “Any NY resident who submits false profile information in order to trade on our platform is in breach of our terms of service.”

Informed by Reuters of the trading on Poloniex by New York residents, the state’s Department of Financial Services said it would “take appropriate action.” In a statement, the department said: “As New York’s regulator of cryptocurrency, DFS will not tolerate any activity by unlicensed operators who attempt to conduct business in the state.”

In June, a former U.S. federal prosecutor testified before Congress that criminals – including distributors of malicious code called ransomware, “large drug kingpins and serial fraudsters” – were increasingly using unregulated foreign exchanges that don’t verify their customers.

“Criminals can open anonymous accounts, or accounts with phony names to fly under the radar of law enforcement,” Kathryn Haun, a former assistant U.S. attorney, said at a congressional hearing. “Thus, we have received ‘Mickey Mouse’ who resides at ‘123 Main Street’ in subpoena returns.”

Haun left the Justice Department in May and joined the board of Coinbase, which runs the GDAX exchange. She told Reuters she was impressed with Coinbase’s team and vision. A class-action lawsuit was filed last year against Coinbase on behalf of customers of the collapsed Cryptsy exchange. It claims that Coinbase converted bitcoins allegedly stolen from Cryptsy into about $8.2 million that was then withdrawn. Haun and Coinbase declined to comment on the case; in a court filing, Coinbase denied any wrongdoing.

In July, U.S. authorities shut down the website of the BTC-e exchange, one of the world’s largest, and ordered it to pay a $110 million fine. The Treasury Department said it had “facilitated transactions involving ransomware, computer hacking, identity theft, tax refund fraud schemes, public corruption, and drug trafficking.”

BTC-e required only a username, password and email address to open an account, authorities said.

Reuters was unable to contact BTC-e, whose base of operations was unclear, though it continues to have a website using a New Zealand domain name. It now forwards to a new exchange called WEX, which didn’t respond to a request for comment.


One of the criteria traders say they use to select an exchange is trading volume. The more trades an exchange handles, the faster buyers and sellers can be matched.

From about early 2014 until late January this year, Chinese exchanges accounted for about 90 percent of global bitcoin trading volume, according to the website bitcoinity.org, which collates trading data reported by exchanges.

Some of that high volume occurred because traders were attracted by the fact that these exchanges at that time charged no transaction fees. But some of the volume was fake, six former employees at two Chinese exchanges told Reuters. Artificially pumped-up volumes in China could have affected the often volatile price of bitcoin, because investors elsewhere monitor and respond to the activity.

One exchange, OKCoin, inflated volumes through so-called wash trades, repeatedly trading nominal amounts of bitcoin back and forth between accounts, two former executives said. The transactions were logged on the exchanges but not recorded on the blockchain, according to a former employee.

Zane Tackett, who held several positions at OKCoin from 2014 to 2015 including international operations manager, said he resigned partly out of concern about its fake volumes. “The motivation is to seem larger than their competition,” he said.

Changpeng Zhao, a former chief technical officer at OKCoin, stated on the website reddit.com in May 2015 that OKCoin used bots that “are designed to pump up volumes.” In a response to the post, OKCoin said: “OKCoin does not need to have any fake volume.”

In a statement to Reuters, OKCoin said it “never artificially inflated trading volume.”

Four former employees at BTCChina, including one of its co-founders, said the exchange had also engaged in faking its trading volumes. A spokesman for the exchange said it “has never faked its trading volumes.”

The Chinese exchanges’ sky-high volumes appear to have caught the attention of the People’s Bank of China. After a series of inspections by the central bank, Chinese exchanges in January began charging trading fees – as exchanges elsewhere typically do – and volumes in China plummeted.

“A deceptive market is not a healthy market,” said Xiaoyu Huang, a co-founder of BTCChina, who said that the exchange had faked some of its volume. “And, in fact, it was the fake volumes that made the government mistakenly believe that the Chinese market accounted for so much of the global trading volume, and caused the government to supervise bitcoin in China so forcefully.” Huang said he had left the company in part over a disagreement over its direction.

The spokesman for BTCChina said “the Chinese government’s scrutiny into bitcoin exchanges earlier this year was because of a dramatic increase in bitcoin’s price.” China’s central bank declined to answer questions.


Exchanges are frequently targeted by hackers, causing additional problems for investors.

Walle Wei, a Chinese trader based in Guangxi in southern China, said he was trading futures in bitcoin and a cryptocurrency called litecoin on OKCoin.com on July 10, 2015. Betting that the litecoin price, then about $4, would rise, he bought contracts for long positions using borrowed money. This meant that he only had to put down 10 percent to trade. Trading with that much leverage meant that a small move in the price could either wipe out his positions or greatly magnify his gains.

Instead of rising as Wei had hoped, litecoin’s price began falling and OKCoin’s website slowed down, Wei said. He was unable to buy or sell. When he regained access to his account, his contracts had been liquidated. He said he lost 3,136 litecoins, then worth about $12,500.

OKCoin announced on its blog that it had been a victim of “large scale” attacks by hackers who flooded its websites with traffic, preventing some users from accessing their accounts.

On July 13, Wei suffered a second, similar event with bitcoin. He said the exchange’s website became inaccessible, his contracts were liquidated and he lost 57.9 bitcoins, then worth about $16,900.

Wei said he complained and OKCoin covered 15 percent of his bitcoin losses, waived one month’s worth of trading fees and gave him a mobile phone charger. He said he also filed complaints with police and five government agencies, including the central bank and the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC). Most ignored his complaints, he said, and those that replied told him his problem didn’t fall under their jurisdiction.

“They said to find the relevant department. But I don’t know what other relevant government departments there are,” he said.

A person close to the CSRC said cryptocurrency exchanges fall under the purview of the central bank, which declined to answer questions.

In a written response, OKCoin said it had invested heavily in guarding against attacks and there was no precedent for multinational corporations to compensate users for service interruptions. “All trading’s profit or loss should be solely borne by the users,” OKCoin said. To open an account, customers must agree to terms of service that absolve the company of liability for losses from “hacker attacks” and “computer virus intrusion or attack.”

Inaccessible websites aren’t the only way investors can lose money on exchanges. In February, a hedge fund called GABI, based in Jersey, bought a futures contract on OKCoin’s Hong Kong exchange, betting the price of bitcoin would rise. But the contract was liquidated soon afterwards when another investor placed a giant bet the other way that dwarfed it.

In regulated exchanges, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, there are limits to the size of futures contracts to prevent one trader from dominating the market. That’s not the case on some cryptocurrency exchanges.

In its online February newsletter, the hedge fund’s manager called the incident “clear market manipulation.” He said he questioned OKCoin about it: “They confirmed to us that there were no position limits whatsoever and that people were free to do whatever they wanted in their ‘happy trading environment’ (yes, they used those actual words).”

The February bitcoin contract cost the hedge fund between $400,000 and $500,000, according to a person familiar with the matter.

OKCoin said the “two customers traded fairly” and “there is no regulation restricting the trading strategy.” Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission declined to comment.


In the past 15 months, Bitfinex, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, was fined by a U.S. regulator, lost $72 million worth of bitcoins to hackers and was cut off by Wells Fargo, one of America’s biggest banks.

Bitfinex was set up four years ago. Its hundreds of thousands of clients include banks, investment funds and other cryptocurrency exchanges, according to van der Velde, its CEO and co-founder, and its lawyer.

It has no head office, is owned by a British Virgin Islands company and is managed by three executives who live in Hong Kong, the United States and Europe. Besides its Dutch chief executive, they include Chief Financial Officer Giancarlo Devasini, who is Italian, and Chief Strategy Officer Philip Potter, an American who once worked at Morgan Stanley.

In June 2016, the U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission fined Bitfinex $75,000 for offering “illegal” cryptocurrency transactions and failing to register as a futures commission merchant.

“We were happy with the terms of the settlement,” said Stuart Hoegner, Bitfinex’s general counsel.

In August 2016, hackers stole 119,756 bitcoins from Bitfinex.

As customers and others went online to vent their anger – “@bitfinex is an absolute DISGRACE to the #bitcoin community and needs to go,” one Twitter user wrote – Bitfinex executives weighed their options. Convinced they couldn’t get a bank loan and lacking insurance, they decided to reduce their customers’ balances by 36 percent, regardless of whether the investor accounts had been hacked – a technique known as the “socialization” of losses.

The exchange distributed IOUs in the form of digital tokens, which could be traded on Bitfinex. Some customers converted the tokens into equity in the company that operates the exchange. Although the exchange later redeemed the tokens in full, some customers had already sold them at a loss.

In an interview, van der Velde expressed regret for the hack. But he defended his firm’s response. “I felt – and I still feel – terrible for those people who lost their money,” he said.

He declined to discuss how the hack happened, citing an ongoing police investigation. “We took responsibility. How many financial institutions in the past can you find that say within a very short time, ‘We are good for that loss, and we issue an IOU for that’? Please find me one.”

He also said Bitfinex has acted transparently, has rigorous know-your-customer procedures and cooperates with law enforcement agencies.

Despite its numerous challenges, van der Velde said Bitfinex is now handling about $12 billion in trades a month and is “very profitable.” Last year, the exchange said it expected to make a $20 million profit in 2017. Despite all the Wild West problems besetting cryptocurrencies, van der Velde predicted the final amount will turn out to be even higher.

Steve Stecklow reported from London and Helsinki; Alexandra Harney from Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong; Anna Irrera from New York; and Jemima Kelly from London. Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs in Moscow and the Shanghai newsroom.



Iraqi Kurds Have Again Made Statehood an Issue But There Are Risks

September 28, 2017

by Patrick Cockburn

The Unz Review

The overwhelming vote for Kurdish independence in the referendum in northern Iraq is re-energising Kurdish nationalism and the demand for a separate Kurdish state.

“Bye bye, Iraq! Bye bye, Iraq!”, chanted demonstrators in Irbil, capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), as they danced in the streets after the polls closed.

The impact of the referendum is not confined to Iraq, but is producing outbursts of nationalist enthusiasm in Iran, where thousands of Iranian Kurds marched through the streets of their cities to show their support for the vote. Many wore masks to hide their faces from the Iranian security forces observing the demonstrations.

The angry and threatening response to the referendum by government leaders in states surrounding Iraqi Kurdistan underlines how difficult it will be for any of the 30 million Kurds in the region to win independence. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that he can close the oil pipeline carrying crude from the KRG to the Mediterranean, demanding that the Iraqi Kurdish leadership “abandons this adventure with a dark ending”. The Defence Ministry in Baghdad has announced wide-scale joint military manoeuvres with the Turkish army.

These menaces need not be taken too seriously for the moment. Mr Erdogan often issues apocalyptic warnings directed against his enemies, but is usually more cautious in acting against them, The Iraqi armed forces won a big victory by capturing Mosul from Isis in July this year, but they were able to call in the massive fire power of the US-led coalition. Baghdad would not have the same advantage if it came to war with the Kurds.

But the condemnation of the Kurdish referendum by everybody from Washington to Tehran does show the degree to which the Kurds in Iraq are isolated and without allies, if they do opt for independence. Only Israel has given them full support, something that will hardly win them friends in the region. Critics in Baghdad often accuse the Kurds of wishing to establish “a second Israel” in the Arab world.

In reality, the balance of power between the Iraqi Kurds and their many enemies has not changed much in the long term and remains heavily weighted against them. The balance did swung in their direction in 2014 when Isis defeated the Iraqi army in Mosul and the US stepped in to give air support the Kurdish peshmerga when they in turn were attacked by Isis.

Three years later Isis is close to final defeat and its self-proclaimed caliphate has been battered to pieces. The Kurds in Iraq and Syria, who supplied most of the ground forces to battle Isis, are no longer needed by the international community. Ominously, the Iraqi and Syrian governments have both won military victories against Isis and may now turn their attention to combating the Kurds.

This is a serious point of vulnerability for the Iraqi Kurds. They took advantage of the Iraqi armed forces’ defeat by Isis in 2014 to expand their own territory. By one count they increased the area they controlled by 40 per cent, much of it in zones where Arabs, Kurdish and minority populations mingle. Once Isis is eliminated “the disputed territories” are bound to provoke friction and possible armed conflict.

An all-out war between the central government in Baghdad and Iraqi Kurds does not look likely because both sides have foreign allies who would probably prevent the fighting getting out of hand.

Did President Masoud Barzani make a mistake in holding the referendum, as so many foreign powers now contend? The answer to this depends on whether any of the threats now being made against the Kurds turn out to be more than words. If they remain rhetorical, however belligerent in tone, Mr Barzani can claim that he has successfully put the national aspirations of the Kurds back on the international agenda, even if Kurdish statehood remains a long way off.


Police Used Private Security Aircraft for Surveillance in Standing Rock No-Fly Zone

September 29 2017

by Alleen Brown, Will Parrish and Alice Speri

The Intercept

At the height of the movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline’s construction last fall, the Federal Aviation Administration imposed a rare “temporary flight restriction,” also known as a no-fly zone, covering nearly 154 square miles of airspace above the pipeline resistance. The no-fly zone — a response to the activities of indigenous drone pilots, whose aerial videos documenting the struggle at Standing Rock drew large social media followings — was approved from October 25 to November 4 in 2016 and renewed twice to cover a smaller area, remaining in effect until December 13.Documents obtained via open records requests, as well as material from court cases, reveal new details about how the FAA and state agencies helped police and private security companies wrest control of the airspace above the NoDAPL resistance from indigenous water protectors.

Following the flight ban, the media was no longer permitted to use aircraft to cover the events without undergoing a review process. According to the FAA’s no-fly order, “Only relief aircraft ops under direction of North Dakota Tactical Operations Center [were] authorized in the airspace.” Meanwhile, aircraft operated by Dakota Access Pipeline security officials continued to fly over the area to conduct surveillance. The FAA confirmed to The Intercept that the flights would have been legal only if the private security aircraft were participating in a law enforcement action. Prosecutors have used footage from those flights as evidence in felony cases brought against pipeline opponents, displaying an unusual and troubling partnership between the private security operatives and law enforcement.

As The Intercept has previously reported, pipeline builder Energy Transfer Partners hired the shadowy mercenary firm TigerSwan in September 2016 to oversee its security operation. TigerSwan moved quickly to establish a collaborative relationship with law enforcement. The Intercept received more than 100 leaked documents from a TigerSwan contractor describing those efforts in detail, along with DAPL security’s broader strategy of using aerial surveillance, infiltration, and social media monitoring to counter the water protector movement. TigerSwan, which began as a military and State Department contractor, frequently used the language of counterterrorism to inflate threat assessments, at times comparing the water protectors to jihadi insurgents.

Court documents confirm that DAPL security personnel were coordinating their flights with state agencies. In a police report concerning a highly militarized October 27 police raid during the no-fly period, Lt. Cody Trom of the Bismarck Police Department wrote that a team of officers assigned to clear protesters from a bridge at County Road 134 included a “DAPL air asset.” A spokesperson for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, one of the agencies leading the police response at Standing Rock, told The Intercept, “DAPL was not deputized.” The spokesperson did confirm, however, that law enforcement personnel were present on DAPL aircraft. “During no-fly zone periods, a law enforcement officer was always on board the helicopter. The helicopter was flown by a private contractor, and a law enforcement officer accompanied him to conduct aerial surveillance.”

As the temporary flight restriction went into effect, at least one DAPL security aircraft circled the airspace above the police raid on October 27, photographing water protectors and coordinating with police.

The DAPL photos from that day have become key evidence in a federal felony case accusing five indigenous men of helping set fire to barricades on North Dakota County Road 134. If convicted, they each face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

In a January 24 affidavit and in a later court hearing, Special Agent Derek Hill of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives described how he identified at least two of the defendants, Michael Markus and Brennon Nastacio. “While law enforcement was conducting their operation, a helicopter that was being utilized by the Dakota Access Pipeline was monitoring the situation from the air,” Hill wrote in the affidavit. “A passenger in the helicopter was utilizing a digital camera to document the operation, and these digital photos were provided to law enforcement.”

“From a constitutional standpoint, landowners and others who have property rights have every right to show the police evidence that someone has trespassed on their land,” says Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “But if this instead amounted to deputizing a private company to take aerial surveillance of protesters on public property, including streets, and snitch on them to the police, that’s deeply problematic.”

According to water protectors, a DAPL helicopter frequently strayed from Dakota Access property. “The yellow helicopter that we’d identified as being DAPL’s flew to the south of DAPL property lots of times on October 27,” says Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who often filmed and livestreamed from the water protector camps in North Dakota.

A spokesperson for the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services did not respond to a request for comment. Vicki Granado, a spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners, told the Intercept, “We are thankful for the professionalism and the services provided by all the law enforcement teams that were on the ground in North Dakota that ensured the safety not only of our employees, but the safety of those who live and work in the Mandan area. Beyond that, we do not comment on our security programs.” TigerSwan did not respond to inquiries.

A spokesperson for the FAA noted, “The Federal Aviation Administration carefully considers requests from law enforcement and other entities before establishing Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) in U.S. airspace. The TFR over the pipeline protest was approved to ensure the safety of aircraft in support of law enforcement and the safety of people on the ground.”

The FAA spokesperson noted that the flight restriction offered provisions for media to operate aircraft as long as they complied with FAA rules around licensing and safety, and coordinated with the agency before flying. The agency did not respond to questions about how many media operators obtained waivers, stating, “We did not deny any requests from media who met those requirements.” One drone pilot, Rob Levine, eventually obtained a media waiver, but only in a small segment of the restriction zone.

Myron Dewey, a videographer who attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers to his series of DAPL-related videos on social media, was among the people whose use of consumer drones to document the anti-DAPL struggle spurred the request for a no-fly zone.

“I told the FAA, the difference between how we’re approaching this is that I’m exercising sovereignty,” said Dewey, who is Newe-Numah/Paiute-Shoshone. “I said, ‘If you want to bring up a no-fly zone, you need to go to the tribal council and make your request to them.’”

The no-fly zone came at a moment of heightened tension between police and pipeline opponents, as water protectors, claiming what they called “eminent domain,” built a new camp on land owned by Energy Transfer Partners that would have been covered under the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Two days after the no-fly zone was imposed, law enforcement and private security officers forcibly evicted the new camp, using military-grade armored personnel carriers and shooting protesters with rubber bullets and other “less-than-lethal” weapons.

Yet even before the no-fly zone, law enforcement had been targeting drone operators. On October 19, Aaron Turgeon, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe of South Dakota, was charged with two counts of “reckless endangerment” and one count of “physical obstruction of a government function” for flying his drone in the vicinity of a law enforcement operation. Prosecutors also charged Dewey with misdemeanor “stalking” for flying his drone near a DAPL security guard. Turgeon was eventually found not guilty, and Dewey’s charges were dropped.

Law enforcement went so far as to shoot at a drone belonging to Dean Dedman, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, in the days leading up to the temporary flight restriction, claiming that the drone was flying too close to a helicopter.

An October 24 law enforcement email obtained by The Intercept shows police and emergency response officials communicating with a representative of the California-based security company Trak Assets, which had offered a demonstration on “drone defense technology” for the police to use in North Dakota. And a “logistics tracking sheet” shows that law enforcement acquired a “drone shoot down device” from the Dakota Zoo to “disable protestor drones” on November 4. The document notes that the device was eventually returned to the zoo.

This wasn’t the first time the FAA had been accused of allowing law enforcement to use flight restrictions to keep out cameras. The agency came under criticism in 2014 when a temporary flight restriction was put in place over protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. In audio recordings obtained by the Associated Press, an FAA manager described how St. Louis police “finally admitted it really was to keep the media out.”

Recognizing the “substantial sensitivities” of the issue, officials “at the highest levels” of the FAA weighed in on the decision to institute the no-fly zone at Standing Rock. Internal records show the request generated controversy within the agency. “I know this is a high profile event so I wanted you onboard with my denial. I plan on denying the request based on there being no hazard from the ground to [aircraft], exp: no shots fired,” wrote Kevin George, an air traffic control specialist at the FAA, on October 23. George noted that violations of law by drone pilots would be more appropriately pursued individually by police.

When a request to renew the restriction was submitted in November, FAA officials again expressed hesitation. “Candidly,” an FAA official wrote at the time, “some of the involved tribes are arguing that the FAA’s action to implement a [temporary flight restriction] was driven not by a genuine safety/security threat, but rather by the desire of the local [law enforcement agents] handling the situation to prevent the protesters from using drones to surveil unlawful actions on the part of [law enforcement] that infringe on the protesters’ First Amendment rights.”

“A pattern we have to be very vigilant about in the future is that the FAA tends to just respond in lockstep to requests from law enforcement,” the ACLU’s Rowland told The Intercept. “And we need to ensure that law enforcement does not get used to the perverse incentive of asking for an over-broad no-fly zone that creates a blackout on media surveillance.”

Ultimately, North Dakota law enforcement officers helped sway FAA officials by suggesting that anti-DAPL water protectors would take up arms and consumer drones might cause a fatal accident. “There is also good intel they are going to be even more desperate in their actions,” wrote Sean Johnson of the state’s Department of Emergency Services.

In the same email exchange, Johnson alleged that pilots had intentionally flown their drones toward law enforcement aircraft, and “it is only a matter of time until a law enforcement officer, a lawful protester, or member of the public is injured (or worse yet killed) as a result of unlawful actor usage of UAS.” Highway Patrol officer Shannon Henke added, “We can only pray for the best that a flight crew is not lost due to the violations that keep occurring.” Henke claimed that law enforcement had observed protesters wielding “both long guns and handguns” and stated, “We need to ensure the movement of law enforcement trying to protect the innocent is not being broadcast live by the use of drones.”

In the spring of 2017, as TigerSwan expanded its surveillance effort to new camps in multiple states, the security firm encouraged staff to “focus on becoming Certified Drone Pilots to support the DAPL program,” according to a situation report dated May 5 that was leaked to The Intercept. A day later, TigerSwan confirmed that one of its contractors “completed drone training and has successfully passed the drone operator test” and “is now an official drone operator in the state of SD.”


Yet Another Major Russia Story Falls Apart. Is Skepticism Permissible Yet?

September 28 2017

by Glenn Greenwald

The Intercept

Last Friday, most major media outlets touted a major story about Russian attempts to hack into U.S. voting systems, based exclusively on claims made by the Department of Homeland Security. “Russians attempted to hack elections systems in 21 states in the run-up to last year’s presidential election, officials said Friday,” began the USA Today story, similar to how most other outlets presented this extraordinary claim.

This official story was explosive for obvious reasons, and predictably triggered instant decrees – that of course went viral – declaring that the legitimacy of the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election is now in doubt.Virginia’s Democratic Congressman Don Beyer, referring to the 21 targeted states, announced that this shows “Russia tried to hack their election”:MSNBC’s Paul Revere for all matters relating to the Kremlin take-over, Rachel Maddow, was indignant that this wasn’t told to us earlier and that we still aren’t getting all the details. “What we have now figured out,” Maddow gravely intoned as she showed the multi-colored maps she made, is that “Homeland Security knew at least by June that 21 states had been targeted by Russian hackers during the election. . .targeting their election infrastructure.”They were one small step away from demanding that the election results be nullified, indulging the sentiment expressed by #Resistance icon Carl Reiner the other day: “Is there anything more exciting that [sic] the possibility of Trump’s election being invalidated & Hillary rightfully installed as our President?”

So what was wrong with this story? Just one small thing: it was false. The story began to fall apart yesterday when Associated Press reported that Wisconsin – one of the states included in the original report that, for obvious reasons, caused the most excitement – did not, in fact, have its election systems targeted by Russian hackers

The spokesman for Homeland Security then tried to walk back that reversal, insisting that there was still evidence that some computer networks had been targeted, but could not say that they had anything to do with elections or voting. And, as AP noted: “Wisconsin’s chief elections administrator, Michael Haas, had repeatedly saidtthat Homeland Security assured the state it had not been targeted.”

Then the story collapsed completely last night. The Secretary of State for another one of the named states, California, issued a scathing statement repudiating the claimed report

Sometimes stories end up debunked. There’s nothing particularly shocking about that. If this were an isolated incident, one could chalk it up to basic human error that has no broader meaning.

But this is no isolated incident. Quite the contrary: this has happened over and over and over again. Inflammatory claims about Russia get mindlessly hyped by media outlets, almost always based on nothing more than evidence-free claims from government officials, only to collapse under the slightest scrutiny, because they are entirely lacking in evidence.

The examples of such debacles when it comes to claims about Russia are too numerous to comprehensively chronicle. I wrote about this phenomenon many times and listed many of the examples, the last time in June when 3 CNN journalists “resigned” over a completely false story linking Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci to investigations into a Russian investment fund which the network was forced to retract

Remember that time the Washington Post claimed that Russia had hacked the U.S. electricity grid, causing politicians to denounce Putin for trying to deny heat to Americans in winter, only to have to issue multiple retractions because none of that ever happened? Or the time that the Post had to publish a massive editor’s note after its reporters made claims about Russian infiltration of the internet and spreading of “Fake News” based on an anonymous group’s McCarthyite blacklist that counted sites like the Drudge Report and various left-wing outlets as Kremlin agents?

Or that time when Slate claimed that Trump had created a secret server with a Russian bank, all based on evidence that every other media outlet which looked at it were too embarrassed to get near? Or the time the Guardian was forced to retract its report by Ben Jacobs – which went viral – that casually asserted that WikiLeaks has a long relationship with the Kremlin? Or the time that Fortune retracted suggestions that RT had hacked into and taken over C-SPAN’s network? And then there’s the huge market that was created – led by leading Democrats – that blindly ingested every conspiratorial, unhinged claim about Russia churned out by an army of crazed conspiracists such as Louise Mensch and Claude “TrueFactsStated” Taylor?

And now we have the Russia-hacked-the-voting-systems-of-21-states to add to this trash heap. Each time the stories go viral; each time they further shape the narrative; each time those who spread them say little to nothing when it is debunked.

None of this means that every Russia claim is false, nor does it disprove the accusation that Putin ordered the hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s email inboxes (a claim for which, just by the way, still no evidence has been presented by the U.S. government). Perhaps there were some states that were targeted, even though the key claims of this story, that attracted the most attention, have now been repudiated.

But what it does demonstrate is that an incredibly reckless, anything-goes climate prevails when it comes to claims about Russia. Media outlets will publish literally any official assertion as Truth without the slightest regard for evidentiary standards.

Seeing Putin lurking behind and masterminding every western problem is now religious dogma – it explains otherwise-confounding developments, provides certainty to a complex world, and alleviates numerous factions of responsibility – so media outlets and their journalists are lavishly rewarded any time they publish accusatory stories about Russia (especially ones involving the U.S. election), even if they end up being debunked.

A highly touted story yesterday from the New York Times – claiming that Russians used Twitter more widely known than before to manipulate U.S. politics – demonstrates this recklessness. The story is based on the claims of a new group formed just two months ago by a union of neocons and Democratic national security officials, led by long-time liars and propagandists such as Bill Kristol, former acting CIA chief Mike Morell, and Bush Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff. I reported on the founding of this group, calling itself the Alliance for Securing Democracy, when it was unveiled (this is not to be confused with the latest new Russia group unveiled last week by Rob Reiner and David Frum and featuring a different former CIA chief (James Clapper) – calling itself InvestigateRussia.org – featuring a video declaring that the U.S. is now “at war with Russia”).

The Kristol/Morell/Chertoff group on which the Times based its article has a very simple tactic: they secretly decide which Twitter accounts are “Russia bots,” meaning accounts that disseminate an “anti-American message” and are controlled by the Kremlin. They refuse to tell anyone which Twitter accounts they decided are Kremlin-loyal, nor will they identify their methodology for creating their lists or determining what constitutes “anti-Americanism.”

They do it all in secret, and you’re just supposed to trust them: Bill Kristol, Mike Chertoff and their national security state friends. And the New York Times is apparently fine with this demand, as evidenced by its uncritical acceptance yesterday of the claims of this group – a group formed by the nation’s least trustworthy sources.

But no matter. It’s a claim about nefarious Russian control. So it’s instantly vested with credibility and authority, published by leading news outlets, and then blindly accepted as fact in most elite circles. From now on, it will simply be Fact – based on the New York Times article – that the Kremlin aggressively and effectively weaponized Twitter to manipulate public opinion and sow divisions during the election, even though the evidence for this new story is the secret, unverifiable assertions of a group filled with the most craven neocons and national security state liars.

That’s how the Russia narrative is constantly “reported,” and it’s the reason so many of the biggest stories have embarrassingly collapsed. It’s because the Russia story of 2017 – not unlike the Iraq discourse of 2002 – is now driven by religious-like faith rather than rational faculties.

No questioning of official claims is allowed. The evidentiary threshold which an assertion must overcome before being accepted is so low as to be non-existent. And the penalty for desiring to see evidence for official claims, or questioning the validity and persuasiveness of the evidence that is proffered, are accusations that impugn one’s patriotism and loyalty (simply wanting to see evidence for official claims about Russia is proof, in many quarters, that one is a Kremlin agent or at least adores Putin – just as wanting to see evidence in 2002, or questioning the evidence presented for claims about Saddam, was viewed as proof that one harbored sympathy for the Iraqi dictator).

Regardless of your views on Russia, Trump and the rest, nobody can possibly regard this climate as healthy. Just look at how many major, incredibly inflammatory stories, from major media outlets, have collapsed. Is it not clear that there is something very wrong with how we are discussing and reporting on relations between these two nuclear-armed powers?



Russia says ready to work with North Korea to resolve missile crisis

September 29, 2017


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow is prepared to work with Pyongyang to try to find a peaceful resolution to the North Korean missile crisis, the Russian Foreign ministry said on Friday.

The comments came in a statement issued by the ministry after a meeting between Russian ambassador-at-large Oleg Burmistrov and Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North American department of North Korea’s foreign ministry.

Choe also met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, the ministry said.

“The Russian side confirmed its readiness to combine efforts in the interests of finding ways to solve the problems in the region by peaceful, political and diplomatic means,” it said.

Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Editing by Andrey Ostroukh



Catalans occupy voting stations to defy Madrid’s order to stop referendum

September 29, 2017

by Sam Edwards


BARCELONA (Reuters) – Supporters of Catalan independence began occupying polling stations on Friday, setting up a possible confrontation with police who have been ordered to clear them out by Sunday morning to ensure a referendum cannot go ahead.

The central government, which has sent thousands of police reinforcements to stop people voting and has attempted to dismantle the infrastructure needed to conduct the referendum it says is illegal, insisted it would not go ahead.

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont told Reuters in an interview, however: “Everything is prepared at the more than 2,000 voting points so they have ballot boxes and voting slips, and have everything people need to express their opinion.”

Bands played at a closing rally for the referendum campaign in Barcelona where people constructed the slogan “Referendum is democracy” in big white letters on a stage in front of a cheering crowd, many draped in the red-and-yellow Catalan flag.

People preparing to camp out in polling stations in order to defy court orders to close them were also in high spirits. At one Barcelona school, Hector, a 43-year-old local, said five or six families would be spending the night.

“We want to make sure the school is open for activities and at night when they might come to clear us out or empty it, there will be families sleeping or people in the street,” he said, adding that they planned to play ping-pong and cook a fideua seafood dish on Saturday.

The head of the Catalan regional police ordered officers to evacuate and close polling stations by 6 a.m. on Sunday, before the voting is due to open at 9 a.m.

In an internal memo published by La Vanguardia newspaper, the police chief said force should be used only as a last resort.

“At all times, before using force, you must take into account what might be the consequences of this police action and avoid the escalation of this situation, especially when there are children, elderly or other vulnerable people amongst the crowd,” the document, whose authenticity was confirmed by a police spokeswoman, said.


So far, the Catalan police, known as the Mossos, a force that is held in affection in the region, particularly after the Islamist attacks in August, have shown a friendly face.

“The Mossos have come to see what we are doing and they’ve seen we’re having a party,” said 45-year-old Ferran Taberner who was at the school with his daughter. “If it gets complicated we’ll stay inside peacefully and they won’t move us.”

Organizers said 60,000 people had registered to participate in the mass school sleepover which they say will show “peaceful resistance”, even if they are prevented from voting.

“I don’t believe there will be anyone who will use violence or who will want to provoke violence that will tarnish the irreproachable image of the Catalan independence movement as pacifist,” Puigdemont said.

At a news conference, regional officials displayed one of the white plastic ballot boxes bearing the crest of the regional government. Puigdemont has said more than 6,000 were being kept in a secret place.

Police have confiscated thousands of voting slips, and courts have fined and threatened to arrest regional officials.

Catalonia’s High Court ordered Google (GOOG.O) to delete a smartphone application that the Catalan government was using to spread information about the vote. A company spokeswoman said Google removes content when it receives a court order.

Madrid, which claims the authority of a constitution that declares the country to be indivisible, remained implacably opposed to the vote, but also expressed the hope Sunday would be peaceful.

“I insist that there will be no referendum on Oct. 1,” government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo said, adding that organizers would face criminal charges for trying to hold it.

In a sign that large crowds are expected on the streets on Sunday, department store chain El Corte Ingles said it would shut three stores in central Barcelona. The central government said airspace above the city would be partly restricted.

Credit rating agency S&P said that while it did not it expect Catalonia, a wealthy region that borders France, to secede from Spain, protracted tensions between Madrid and Barcelona could have a negative impact on the country’s economic growth outlook.

Additional reporting by Sam Edwards, Paul Day, Raquel Castillo, Inmaculada Sanz and Angus Berwick; Writing by Sonya Dowsett; Editing by Robin Pomeroy


Winston Churchill: A retrospective

September 29, 2017

by Christian Jürs

The personality of Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill could very well be a subject of interest to an alienist who, by definition, is a physician who treats mental disorders. There is a saying that the world is governed with very little sense and there are times when one could add to this statement that it often has been governed by lunatics.

Churchill was born in 1874 and died in 1965. His father was Randolph Spencer-Churchill, a son of the Duke of Marlborough. The first Duke was John Churchill, one of England’s most capable military commanders, who died without male issue in 1722 and the title was given to one of his nephews, a Spencer. As a courtesy, the Spencer family was allowed to add Churchill to its name, separated by a hyphen. Winston always wanted to believe that he was a gifted military leader in the mold of the first Duke but his efforts at generalship were always unqualified disasters that he generally blamed on other people. This chronic refusal to accept responsibility for his own incompetent actions is one of Churchill’s less endearing qualities.

Randolph Churchill died early as the result of rampant syphilis that turned him from an interesting minor politician to a pathetic madman who had to be kept away from the public, in the final years of his life. His mother was the former Jennie Jerome, an American. The Jerome family had seen better days when Jennie met Randolph. Her father, Leonard, was a stock-market manipulator who had lost his money and the marriage was more one of convenience than of affection.

The Jeromes were by background very typically American. On her father’s side, Jennie was mostly Irish and on her mother’s American Indian and Jewish. The union produced two children, Winston and Jack. The parents lived separate lives, both seeking the company of other men. Winston’s psyche suffered accordingly and throughout his life, his frantic desire for attention obviously had its roots in his abandonment as a child.

As a member of the 4th (Queen’s Own) Hussars, in 1896 Churchill became embroiled in a lawsuit wherein he was publicly accused of having engaged in the commission of “acts of gross immorality of the Oscar Wilde type.” This case was duly settled out of court for a payment of money and the charges were withdrawn. Also a determinant factor was the interference by the Prince of Wales with whom his mother was having an affair.

In 1905, Churchill hired a young man, Edward Marsh (later Sir Edward) as his private secretary. His mother, always concerned about her son’s political career, was concerned because Marsh was a very well-known homosexual who later became one of Winston’s most intimate lifelong friends. Personal correspondence of March, now in private hands, attests to the nature and duration of their friendship.

Churchill, as Asquith once said, was consumed with vanity and his belief that he was a brilliant military leader led him from the terrible disaster of Gallipoli through the campaigns of the Second World War. He meddled constantly in military matters to the despair and eventual fury of his professional military advisors but his political excursions were even more disastrous. Churchill was a man who was incapable of love but could certainly hate. He was viciously vindictive towards anyone who thwarted him and a number of these perceived enemies died sudden deaths during the war when such activities were much easier to order and conceal.

One of Churchill’s less attractive personality traits, aside from his refusal to accept the responsibility for the failure of his actions, was his ability to change his opinions at a moment’s notice.

Once anti-American, he did a complete about-face when confronted with a war he escalated and could not fight, and from a supporter of Hitler’s rebuilding of Germany, he turned into a bitter enemy after a Jewish political action association composed of wealthy businessmen hired him to be their spokesman.

Churchill lavishly praised Roosevelt to his face and defamed him with the ugliest of accusations behind his back. The American President was a far more astute politician than Churchill and certainly far saner.

In order to support his war of vengeance, Churchill had to buy weapons from the United States and Roosevelt stripped England of all of her assets to pay for these. Only when England was bankrupt did Roosevelt consent to the Lend-Lease project, and in a moment of malicious humor, titled the bill “1776” when it was sent to Congress.

Hitler’s bombing of England was not a prelude to invasion, but a retaliation for Churchill’s instigation of the bombing of German cities and Churchill used the threat of a German invasion to whip up pro-British feelings in the United States. Threats of invasion by the Germans, in this case of the United States, have been cited by such writers as Weinberg as the reason why Roosevelt had to get into the war. Neither the Germans nor the Japanese had even the slightest intention to invade the continental United States and exhaustive research in the military and political archives of both countries has been unable to locate a shred of evidence to support these theories.

Lord Randolph Churchill died in his Mayfair home after a long, public battle with the unmentionable disease, syphilis. The story varies. One version has it that Churchill contracted the disease while at Oxford: he awoke, after a night of revelry, in bed with an old whore with “one long yellow tooth in her top jaw that waggled as she spoke.” Or was it a Parisian mistress?  Regardless, syphilis is a disease that destroys in stages, offering long periods of remission and apparent health.

The first serious onset came in 1881. A promising MP, Churchill was married and the father of two sons.  He quit public life for several months and, it is assumed, all physical relations with his wife as well.  The disease returned in 1886, the year when Churchill’s career peaked as Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Ravaged by mood swings and heavily drugged with digitalis, Randolph’s behavior became increasingly combative.  He vexed his colleagues and – over a minor point – suddenly resigned his office.  He was now being treated by a renowned London specialist, Dr Buzzard (!), but no treatment could halt his decline.  The resignation effectively ended any major role he might play in serious politics.

After 1886, his infrequent appearances in the House of Commons were painful to behold.  After one such rambling, slurred effort, the Parliamentary correspondent for The Times stated that he had witnessed “nothing more tragical … in our generation.”  In Lord Rosebery’s poignant phrase, Lord Randolph was “chief mourner at his own protracted funeral.”  An 1894 world tour was disastrous. In Japan, Randolph tried to strangle his valet.  In India, his physical collapse was near total.  His final weeks in London were spent in great pain.

When the end came, the cause of death was listed as “general paralysis of the insane,” the unstated left understood.  Winston, his eldest son, recalls racing across snow-covered Grosvenor Square to reach his dying father’s bedside.  Ever the defender of his father’s memory, Winston Churchill died on the same date, seventy years later.




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