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TBR News August 9, 2016

Aug 08 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. August 9, 2016:”Although I do  not consider myself to be a Hillary Clinton fan, I admit to having mixed emotions about her mental state. I once worked in Washington and know many officials still there and many of them are aware of various psychological and now, physical, problems she had and does have now. Two Secret Service agents I know, both now retired, have said she had Borderline Personality Disorder when she was First Lady. She would suddenly, and for no reason, erupt into screaming rages directed any anyone near her, staff, her husband, Secret Service agents, government officials and others. Now, I think her bizarre public behavior has become evident to a large number of the American public. There are far too many television clips circulating and increasing discussion by legitimate sources about her serious impairments to ignore them or blame them on the Republicans or the Russians. Hillary Clinton is quite simply unfit to occupy the Oval Office and ought to have the good grace to withdraw from the race but such is not the way of those who have had power and crave for more. Her personal staff and her family may suffer her incoherent rages and bizarre behavior but the country ought not to.”

Hillary Clinton revealed to have serious health issued and probably permanent brain damage

August 8, 2016

by Robert Powell

Regated

Increasing evidence has emerged over the past several months that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton may be suffering serious physical health problems that would very likely be impacting her judgement and mental faculties. A photo recently released would appear to confirm rumors that Clinton is suffering some type of physical or mental impairment.

On December 17, 2012, CNN reported that then-Secretary of State Clinton sustained a concussion after becoming dehydrated and fainting, rendering her unable to testify that coming Thursday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Benghazi. Her press aide reached out the NFL for PR advice on the concussion. She was later hospitalized after doctors discovered a blood clot during a follow-up exam. Neurologists have noted that Clinton was at a relatively increased risk of developing post-concussion syndrome, which is more likely in women and older individuals.

Post-concussion syndrome is a form of traumatic brain injury and is associated with a range of symptoms, not limited to but including difficulty concentrating, headaches, irritability, mood swings, dizziness, and memory loss; Clinton was referred to as “often confused” in an email by top aide Huma Abedin, and she is known by her staff to suffer severe headaches. Her celebration of Nancy Reagan as a hero in the fight against AIDS was met with bewilderment, as one of the biggest criticisms of the Reagans by gay groups was their handling of the AIDS crisis. Clinton actually attempted to march in New York’s Pride Parade in June, but only managed to walk around four blocks before she was rushed into a waiting vehicle.

Clinton has been having “coughing fits” since she began her campaign, the hacking sometimes interrupting her in the middle of a speech or meeting. Perhaps most obvious are her sudden, bizarre emotional reactions and sharp head movements; this video of Clinton “reacting” to an unexpected mob of reporters strongly resembles a seizure. Another such moment occurred at the DNC when Clinton accepted her nomination. Experts note that sufferers of these types of seizures become adept at playing them off by quickly altering their facial expressions.

On August 4th, Secret Service rushed the stage at one of Clinton’s rallies to protect her when protestors showed up, a very common occurrence at Donald Trump’s rallies that generally doesn’t require security to storm the stage. On stage was a man who appeared to be a Secret Service agent holding Clinton’s hand, patting her on the back and telling her softly, “It’s OK, keep talking, we’ll handle it, we’re not going anywhere”. Clinton replies, “OK, we’ll keep talking”. Whatever his position, he appeared to be in charge, moving quickly around and directing the other agents on stage.

This same man appears in this photo walking next to Clinton, carrying what has been identified as an emergency Diazepam syringe in his hand. Diazepam, the generic name for Valium, is a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and a range of conditions, but its primary purpose in emergency epi-pen style syringes is a first line medication to stop seizures.

Following the spreading of this image on social media, the hashtag #HillarysHealth began trending on Twitter before it was removed by Twitter staff. Clinton’s campaign has refused to comment or elaborate on her health conditions. Although she released her medical records last year, details are scant on the exact nature of the aftermath of her concussion. According to those records, she remains on blood thinners.

Democrats’ Tactic of Accusing Critics of Kremlin Allegiance Has Long, Ugly History in U.S.

August 8, 2016

by Glenn Greenwald

The Intercept

A frequent weapon for Democrats in the 2016 election is to publicly malign those they regard as critics and adversaries as Russia sympathizers, Putin stooges, or outright agents of the Kremlin. To put it mildly, this is not a new tactic in U.S. political discourse, and it’s worth placing it in historical context. That’s particularly true given how many people have now been targeted with this attack.

Strongly insinuating that the GOP nominee, Donald Trump, has nefarious, possibly treasonous allegiances to Moscow has migrated from Clinton-loyal pundits into the principal theme of the Clinton campaign itself. “The depth of Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin is revealing itself by the day,” her website announced yesterday, and vital “questions” must be answered “about Trump’s cozy relationship with Russia.” The Clinton campaign this weekend released a 1-minute video that, over and over, insinuates Trump’s disloyalty in the form of “questions” – complete with menacing pictures of Red Square. Democrats cheered wildly, and really have not stopped cheering, ever since the ex-Acting CIA Director (who, undisclosed by the NYT, now works for a Clinton operative) went to The New York Times to claim “that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.”

But this smear tactic extends far beyond Trump. It is now used to vilify anyone perceived to be an impediment to Clinton’s victory. When WikiLeaks published thousands of DNC emails shortly before the Democratic Convention, which ultimately forced the resignation of four top officials, it was instantly asserted that it was The Russians who gave them those emails (even though The Washington Post cited an intelligence official as saying that “the intelligence community . . . has not reached a conclusion about who passed the emails to WikiLeaks” and “We have not drawn any evidentiary connection to any Russian intelligence service and WikiLeaks — none”). Democrats not only treated this evidence-free conspiracy theory as Truth, but – following the Clinton campaign – proceeded to smear WikiLeaks as a Kremlin operation.

After converting Trump and WikiLeaks into arms of the Kremlin, Democrats turned their smear campaign to media outlets and journalists who simply reported on the contents of the leaked DNC emails: beginning with The Intercept, the first to report on it. That The Intercept and its journalists and editors proved themselves to be witting or unwitting Kremlin weapons and guilty of being Russia apologists and sympathizers was pronounced by MSNBC’s most enthusiastic neo-McCarthyite host, a Clinton-revering Boston Globe columnist, the Communications Director of California Democratic Congressman John Garamendi (including the outright lie below), and one of the growing legion of Hillary’s neocon supporters.

When Bernie Sanders looked earlier this year to be the one who was standing in Clinton’s way, slimy suggestions began emerging of his dark connections to Russia. In January, Clinton’s Senate ally Claire McCaskill went to The New York Times to warn of ads “with a hammer and sickle” if Democrats nominate Sanders (smearing opponents by pretending to be concerned about how they’ll be attacked by the GOP is a Clinton speciality: it’s how her 2008 campaign justified inflaming the Obama-is-a-Muslim falsehood by being the first to circulate the now-infamous picture of Obama in Muslim garb while in Indonesia).

Meanwhile, Clinton operative David Brock said “Sanders is a socialist” and “has got a 30 year history of affiliation with a lot of whackadoodle ideas and parties,” and pro-Clinton pundits linked Sanders to Communists through his 1980s praise of Castro and the Sandinistas. All of that culminated in Republicans like Lindsey Graham and National Review citing Sanders’ honeymoon in the Soviet Union as proof of his suspicious loyalties.

Bloomberg‘s Leonid Bershidsky noted that “Sanders’s long-ago ‘honeymoon’ in the Soviet Union is held up by his opponents as evidence of dubious judgment, and even Communist sympathies or anti-American tendencies.” During a CNN debate, Anderson Cooper began a question to him this way: “You honeymooned in the Soviet Union.”

On Saturday, it was Jill Stein’s turn in the Kremlin seat. As the Green Party candidate rises in the polls, it was only a matter of time before Democrats turned their Russia-smearing eyes toward her. One of the most widely-shared tweets of the weekend was this one from Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment: a total fabrication that was nonetheless heralded by dozens of Clinton-support journalists because it did the job of smearing a Hillary dissenter as a Russian tool.

This tweet is, to state it plainly, a lie. Stein simply did not “gush over Russian support for human rights.” To the contrary, in this very video, she criticized Russia for diverting scarce resources into military spending while its people suffered, and merely praised her fellow participants from around the world who attended an RT-sponsored conference. But no matter: Democratic operatives and journalists widely hailed it as proof that she, too, is some sort of Russia dupe or worse.

One Clinton-supporting blog – while also lying by claiming that “she only criticized the US” – attacked Stein for criticizing the U.S. while standing on dirty foreign soil (“with Red Square as her backdrop”), a long-standing trope used by the Far Right to attack liberals and Democrats for being unpatriotic by virtue of criticizing the U.S. while outside its borders. Commenting on that post, numerous Clinton supporters predictably denounced Stein as a traitor, saying “I don’t think it goes too far to suggest these are acts of sedition and possibly treason,” while the blogger himself dismissed objections over his “red-baiting” by saying “Putin is former KGB!” Journalists from major media outlets used all this to announce that Putin now has not one but (at least) two presidential candidates he controls.

So just like that, literally overnight, Clinton-supporting journalists and Democratic operatives converted Jill Stein into an agent of the Kremlin – all because she went to Russia and attended an event where Putin spoke.

So that’s the Democratic Party’s approach to the 2016 election. Those who question, criticize or are perceived to impede Hillary Clinton’s smooth, entitled path to the White House are vilified as stooges, sympathizers and/or agents of Russia: Trump, WikiLeaks, Sanders, The Intercept, Jill Stein. Other than loyal Clinton supporters, is there anyone left who is not covertly controlled by or in service to The Ruskies?

There are so many levels of irony to the Democrats’ reliance on this ugly tactic. To begin with, one presidential candidate who actually has significant, questionable ties to Russia is named . . . Hillary Clinton.

As The New York Times detailed in 2015, Hillary and her husband Bill were at the center of a deal that “gave the Russians control of one-fifth of all uranium production capacity in the United States.” Those responsible for engineering that deal gave millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, which “were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors.” Hillary herself approved the deal as Secretary of State, while Bill personally “received $500,000 for a Moscow speech from a Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock.”

Those are ties far more substantial than either Sanders or Stein have ever been shown to have to Russia. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that The Washington Post recently reported that at least some Moscow factions may prefer Clinton to Trump.

Then there’s the policy basis for insinuating that people like Stein and Trump have misplaced allegiances to Russia rather than the United States of America. Both have been vilified for advocating ways to reduce US/Russian tensions. Trump in particular has been attacked by Democrats for his opposition to arming Ukraine in order to deter Russian aggression, his desire to cooperate with Putin in Syria, and his questioning of the ongoing financial and security value of NATO. All this, we’re told, would benefit Putin, making anyone who advocates it in “alignment” with the Russians deliberately or otherwise.

But there’s another politicians who advocates many of these exact same policies. His name is . . . Barack Obama. Last year, even as bipartisan demands mounted for him to arm anti-Russian elements in Ukraine, Obama adamantly refused, “fearing that it would only escalate the bloodshed.” One of Obama’s key arguments, as he expressed to The Atlantic earlier this year: “Ukraine is a core Russian interest but not an American one, so Russia will always be able to maintain escalatory dominance there.”

Obama’s views on Syria are similar: he wants to work in cooperation with, not in opposition to, Russia, and has proposed a partnership to achieve that. And, of course, Obama famously mocked Mitt Romney in their 2012 debate when the GOP nominee pronounced Russia as the “biggest geopolitical threat” facing the U.S.; said the President: “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”

In sum, Obama has continually downplayed the threat posed by Russia, and has repeatedly advocated and implemented policies that are in accord with Russia’s interests, with the goal of avoiding conflict with them rather than seeking it.

Because of all this, Obama has repeatedly been attacked by the militaristic Right for being “soft on Russia” and an “enabler of Putin.” For Democrats to now adopt this warped template, and try to equate efforts to reduce tensions with Russia with some sort of disloyalty, is nothing short of mad. As my colleague Lee Fang pointed out, Obama’s refusal to capitulate to anti-Russia hysteria and seek conflict with Moscow – something Democrats are now depicting as servitude to Putin – is one of his most important accomplishments,

This Democratic campaign theme not only stigmatizes any efforts to reduce tensions with Russia as wrong-headed – just observe how Stein’s pro-peace message was converted into subversive Kremlin propaganda – but explicitly equates such efforts with evidence of disloyalty and love for Putin. Given Obama’s own record, that tactic is as self-destructive as it is stupid, manipulative and dangerous.

But by far the greatest irony in all of this is that Democrats have now explicitly adopted the exact smears that were used by the Far Right for decades to demonize liberals and the left as disloyal Kremlin stooges. For the entire second half of the 20th Century, any Americans who opposed U.S. proxy wars with Russia, or advocated arms control deals with them, or generally desired less conflict, were branded as Useful Idiots of the Kremlin, loyal to Moscow, controlled by Russian leaders. Democrats have taken this script – one of the most shameful and destructive in American history – and have made it the centerpiece of their 2016 presidential campaign.

The examples are too numerous to cite, but let’s start with the most ironic one. When Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992 against the Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush, one of the primary attacks on him was that he harbored sympathy for Russia or even disloyalty to the U.S. as evidenced by, among other things, his anti-war activism regarding Vietnam and his “unexplained” trip to Moscow as a college student. An October 9, 1992 Guardian article referred to how “the strange case of Mr Clinton’s trip to Moscow” to explain that “the Republicans are scratching away at those doubts about Mr Clinton ‘s character.” The Christian Science Monitor on October 15 of that year described “the Bush camp’s new effort to turn Bill Clinton’s bit part in the anti-war movement that swept the country 25 years ago, plus a student trip to Moscow, into something akin to treason.”

President Bush himself invoked these smears to bolster dark insinuations about Clinton’s loyalty to the Kremlin:

Mr Clinton should “level with the American people on the draft, on whether he went to Moscow, how many demonstrations he led against his own country from foreign soil,” Mr Bush declared on the Larry King television show.

“I don’t have the facts, but to go to Moscow one year after Russia crushed Czechoslovakia, and not remember who you saw – I think the answer is, level with the American people,” Mr Bush repeated.

The prospect of disloyalty became a systematic theme against Bill. As the Los Angeles Times reported on October 9, 1992, “some Republican defenders of Bush suggested that the Clinton trip was, indeed, unusual and deserved close scrutiny. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who was secretary of the Navy at the time of the trip, said Thursday: ‘As far as I know, travel to Moscow in those days was primarily official business.’” That Clinton harbored KGB and Kremlin connections became a staple of far-right attacks on him for years.

That Ted Kennedy harbored secret Russian connections and loyalties was also a favorite right-wing smear for decades. In 2006, a new book led the right-wing press to claim that Kennedy had been secretly collaborating with Kremlin leaders to undermine U.S. policy on Russia. They also accused the Massachusetts Democrat of inducing the Russians to interfere in the 1984 election in order to help Democrats defeat Ronald Reagan.

Claims that the Russians were trying to interfere in U.S. elections to help the Democratic candidate beat the Republican was a constant theme of the Far Right for as long as one can remember.

Even Ronald Reagan – who declared the Soviets to be an “Evil Empire” – was not immune from this smear. When Reagan sought to finalize an arms control treaty with the Russians in the 1980s, Howard Phillips, head of the Conservative Caucus, denounced him as Russia’s “Useful Idiot” – now a favorite Democratic Party slur – while another key right-wing activist, Richard Viguerie, declared: “He has quit the fight and left the field of battle.”

This slur – “Useful Idiot” – is now a favorite Democratic insult. If you’re a Hillary critic, or someone who advocates a reduction of tension with Russia, you will literally be called it every day. What’s so amazing about that is that this was the favorite right-wing insult for years, aimed at liberals, Democrats, the left – anyone who opposed U.S. militarism or advocated peace treaties. As The New York Times‘ William Safire wrote in a 1987 column about “useful idiots,” the term “is being used by anti-Communists against the ideological grandchildren of those liberals, or against anybody insufficiently anti-Communist in the view of the phrase’s user.”

National Review has published far too many articles to count accusing Democrats of being the Kremlin’s “Useful Idiots,” while right-wing columnist Mona Charen wrote a 2004 book with that title, arguing: “Meet the ‘Useful Idiots’ Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, Madeleine Albright, Katie Couric, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen, and all the other liberals who were — and are — always willing to blame America first and defend its enemies as simply ‘misunderstood.’”

A 2010 book by right-wing historian Paul Kengor was called “Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.” It argues that “from the Bolshevik Revolution through the Cold War and right up to the present, many progressives have unwittingly aided some of America’s most dangerous opponents.”

And then, of course, there’s the great pioneer of all of this himself: Senator Joseph McCarthy, who rose to fame, and then infamy, by running around accusing all sorts of domestic adversaries of being secretly loyal to, if not controlled by, their masters in Moscow. My favorite image of the Wisconsin Senator is from this YouTube clip, where he voices an accusation that one literally sees from Democrats on a daily basis.

This – at times verbatim – is the ugly, disgraceful, destructive far-right-wing script which Democrats have now fully and enthusiastically adopted in 2016 to smear their adversaries and critics. Notwithstanding the fall of Communism, it works because of the decades of training Americans have received to regard Russians as Evil Enemies, the fact that Putin himself was a former KGB official, that Americans always want and need a Super-Villain Enemy, and the massive benefits received by all sorts of influential factions from maintaining US/Russian tensions as high as possible.

But whatever else is true, there is no doubt that the methods, rhetoric, and tactics Democrats are now using are identical to the ones used by America’s Right for decades to smear liberals and the left. As The Los Angeles Times recently put it, “for decades, Republicans were the fiercest of Cold Warriors . . . winning elections by painting Democrats as the party of the frail and feckless. . . But in one of the most startling turnabouts in a campaign filled with role reversals, it is now the Democrats brandishing fear of Moscow as a club.” Some of them seem quite proud of this role reversal, notwithstanding the fact that they are mimicking and echoing many of the most shameful people and tactics of the 20th Century.

Photo of Clinton having trouble with stairs fuels rumors of bad health

August 8, 2016

RT

Hillary Clinton’s health could be taking a nose-dive, people are speculating, after a February photo re-emerged, showing the presidential candidate escorted by staffers up a flight of stairs on the campaign trail in South Carolina.

The worrying photographs, circulated by major agencies, show Clinton, 68, being led up the stairs of what looks like a private home. Breitbart and other media have ventured a guess that Clinton’s well-documented brain injuries could be causing even mundane daily tasks to seem difficult at times.

The photos re-emerged on social media on Sunday, but were taken during the South Carolina leg of the campaign in February. In January, Breitbart reported that Clinton was facing serious health issues stemming from a prior brain injury, citing law enforcement sources with inside connections to the campaign. Media outlets were awash with speculation when the former secretary of state took an unusually long bathroom break.

CNN’s Brian Stelter, however, is denying the re-appearing photo has anything to do with Clinton’s health, saying she just “slipped.”

Although she is enjoying a lead over Republican candidate Donald Trump, panic over his attitudes and opinions is being offset by some Clinton episodes – particularly when she is caught lying while her staff scrambles to contain the damage.

Recently, during a very extensive Q&A session, she was quoted as saying that FBI Director James Comey branded her account of the email scandal involving her use of a private server as “truthful” – something that Comey never did. Instead, he called her conduct “extremely careless.” Clinton later tried to explain that she “may have short-circuited” on her answer during the TV interview.

The latest Reuters/Getty photos of Hillary’s near-tumble are now fueling the trend #HillarysHealth on Twitter, which has provoked comments ranging from light-hearted to utterly inappropriate.

The Sacrifice Captain Khan Shouldn’t Have Had To Make

Clinton’s rhetoric on the Muslim world might be friendlier than Trump’s, but her record is much bloodier

August 4, 2016

by Peter Certo

AntiWar

It was impossible not to be moved as Khizr and Ghazala Khan, two Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, stood before the Democratic National Convention and mourned their son Humayan, a U.S. soldier who’d been killed in Iraq.

Humayan, his grieving father recalled, was “the best of America.” Yet if it were up to Donald Trump, Khan said, the slain soldier “never would have been in America.” It was a compelling rebuke to the GOP nominee’s unrepentant calls to banish Muslims and immigrants alike.

Trump, in his fashion, responded poorly. The billionaire insisted that, like the Khans, he’s “made a lot of sacrifices.” He sneered that perhaps the bereaved Ghazala had remained silent on stage because “she wasn’t allowed” to talk.

It was sad and ugly. But amid the word salad was a kernel of truth: “Hillary voted for the Iraq war,” Trump cried, “not me!”

There at least, he wasn’t wrong.

As a senator from New York, Clinton not only voted for the war. She was among its most vocal supporters in either party, eagerly rehashing the Bush administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.

“I stand by the vote,” Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations in late 2003, when those weapons had failed to materialize. Six months later, Humayan Khan was killed by a car bomb in Iraq. He was one of 4,424 US soldiers to die in that war – along with perhaps up to a million Iraqi civilians.

The war in which Khan gave his life has been a political football for so long that it’s become hard to appreciate just what an enormous catastrophe it was – and remains. The invasion exploded sectarian tensions across the Middle East and led directly to the rise of ISIS.

As the worst refugee crisis since World War II unfolds across the Middle East and Europe – and as ISIS terrorists murder innocents from Baghdad to Belgium to San Bernardino – the gaping wound we opened in Iraq sits beneath it all like a black hole, eviscerating human lives at ferocious speed even 13 years later.

Yet as late as her first presidential bid, Clinton refused to apologize for supporting the invasion. If you’re looking for “someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake,” she told Democratic voters in 2007, “there are others to choose from.”

As her polling numbers soured, Clinton eventually did cop to making a “mistake” on Iraq. But that didn’t stop her, once she joined Obama’s administration, from supporting escalation in Afghanistan, deeper involvement in Syria, and intervention in Libya’s civil war, which also ended disastrously.

As a presidential candidate this year, Clinton remains committed to launching a “no-fly zone” in Syria. What could go wrong?

Well, in Iraq, a no-fly zone gave way to a full-scale invasion. In Libya, it gave way to regime change and a civil war. Both countries became basket cases and ISIS strongholds, leading the Obama administration to launch new wars in each afterward – most recently with a huge US bombing raid on Sirte, Libya.

Is there any reason to expect Syria to turn out better?

Clinton’s rhetoric on the Muslim world might be friendlier than Trump’s, but her record is much bloodier. Even while she condemns Trump’s erratic statements on foreign policy, there’s no evidence she sees any need to redraw her own hawkish playbook.

The Humayan Khans of America, who freely offer their lives to protect their country, deserve a better approach – one based on diplomacy and human rights. And so do the millions of people of the Middle East, Muslim and otherwise.

Facebook Removes Potential Evidence of Police Brutality Too Readily, Activists Say

August 8 2016

by Alice Speri and Sam Biddle

The Intercept

As more details emerge over last week’s killing by Baltimore County police of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines, activists have directed growing anger not only at local law enforcement but also at Facebook, the social media platform where Gaines posted parts of her five-hour standoff with police.

At the request of law enforcement, Facebook deleted Gaines’ account, as well her account on Instagram, which it also owns, during her confrontation with authorities. While many of her videos remain inaccessible, in one, which was re-uploaded to YouTube, an officer can be seen pointing a gun as he peers into a living room from behind a door, while a child’s voice is heard in the background. In another video, which remains on Instagram, Gaines can be heard speaking to her five-year-old son, who’s sitting on the floor wearing red pajamas.

“Who’s outside?” she asks him. “The police,” he replies timidly. “What are they trying to do?” “They trying to kill us.”

Statements made by officials in the days after the incident revealed little known-details of a “law enforcement portal” through which agencies can ask for Facebook’s collaboration in emergencies, a feature of the site that remains mostly obscure to the general public and which has been criticized following Gaines’ death.

It’s not the first time Facebook has become the stage on which violent encounters between law enforcement and residents play out — and it seems likely more and more such incidents will be documented on the social media hub, given that the company’s livestreaming app, Facebook Live, is only nine months old and spreading at a time when recording police has become an instinctive reflex in some communities. Gaines herself had filmed her interactions with police before, even instructing her son to do the same.

But while it’s common for police to ask Facebook to provide them with users’ information, many observers are troubled that the social media giant would take down accounts at the request of law enforcement.

So far, Facebook seems to have struggled with its role at the heart of the national conversation on race and policing. Just last month, the site removed live video posted by the girlfriend of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old African-American man who was shot during a traffic stop in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, started livestreaming and narrating his death seconds after police shot him, garnering nationwide attention. On that occasion, Facebook said the video’s disappearance, which lasted about an hour, was due to a “technical glitch.” It later reinstated the post, with an added graphic-content warning, and the video has since been viewed 5.7 million times.

Then last week, before Gaines was killed, Facebook deactivated her accounts in response to a request by Baltimore County police — drawing criticism that it censored free speech and even accusations that it was complicit in her death. The accounts have since been reinstated, but most of the videos have not.

“Facebook helped Baltimore police kill #KorrynGaines in the dark,” the artist Ferrari Sheppard tweeted, reflecting a sentiment shared by many on social media. “Letting it sink in.”

Nicole Carty, a campaigner with the corporate watchdog group SumOfUs, told The Intercept that “by deactivating Korryn Gaines’ account, Facebook created a really dangerous precedent of censorship by orders of police… It’s a fundamental threat to civil liberties. Social media and shareable video are instrumental in exposing the epidemic of police violence against black people in the United States.”

“Facebook is acting as a part of the problem,” she added.

Facebook is a private platform — which means that the First Amendment does not constrain what they choose to censor.

“But there’s no question that constitutional values are not only a good idea but they’re also good for a business’s bottom line when that business is selling a platform for speech,” Lee Rowland, a senior attorney at the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told The Intercept. “There’s a real risk for social media companies if they’re perceived as choosing sides in a public debate; by censoring on the request of law enforcement they run the risk of becoming a propaganda wing of the state.”

On August 1, Baltimore county police officers went to Gaines’ home to serve separate warrants to her and her boyfriend. According to court documents reported by the Baltimore Sun, the attempt quickly escalated:

One officer then “kicked the door forcing the door open” and another entered the apartment and saw the woman, later identified as Gaines, holding a shotgun, the warrant states. She pointed the shotgun at an officer and told them to leave, police wrote in the documents. The officer left and called for backup.

But police weren’t just watching Gaines through her door: they were also following her on social media.

At a press conference the day after her death, Baltimore County police chief James Johnson confirmed the department had asked Facebook to deactivate her account while the standoff was still ongoing — “in order to preserve the integrity of the negotiation process,” he said, and for the safety of the officers involved and Gaines’s son, who was in the room with her and was also struck and injured by police fire.

“Ms. Gaines was posting video of the operation as it unfolded, and followers were encouraging her not to comply with negotiators’ request that she surrender peacefully,” Johnson said. He added that it took Facebook nearly an hour to deactivate the account after police filed a request through a “law enforcement portal” available on the site to verified agencies.

The department later elaborated in a statement:

“The content on Gaines’ social media accounts has not been deleted. BCoPD has filed a request with Facebook to preserve this content as evidence. A search warrant will be obtained to obtain these records.

Law enforcement officials do not have the ability or authority to deactivate social media accounts on their own. Facebook maintains a law enforcement portal through which police request assistance. This portal includes an “exigency” option for emergency situations like the one yesterday. BCoPD applied for the exigency deactivation because of a barricade situation involving an armed subject with a child.Facebook evaluates law enforcement requests and determines what action will be taken.”

A Facebook spokesperson confirmed to The Intercept that the company removed the videos, and stressed that they were never Facebook Live streams and that Gaines’ account was back online and “memorialized” (the company offers a special feature to preserve the accounts of the dead). The spokesperson said that, echoing the claims of the police that Gaines’ followers were encouraging violence, removing the videos was a means of preventing “physical harm or death.” With the videos now removed, this is a difficult claim to analyze.

This spokesperson added that some of the videos were also removed not because they represented an actual clear and present danger to someone’s life, but because they violated the site’s “community standards” against “credible threats of physical harm to individuals.”

Interestingly, the mechanism through which law enforcement agents request the deletion of Facebook content is the exact same one they use when requesting the disclosure of content: The law enforcement portal. The portal says it is designed for “a law enforcement agent who is authorized to gather evidence in connection with an official investigation.” On the site, officers can write a message to Facebook with links to the profile or content in question, and a description of the situation.

Facebook provides ample documentation of how law enforcement agents can, for example, request access to someone’s otherwise private Facebook page for the purposes of an investigation. But these guidelines only describe how police can preserve or access information as evidence—not how they can take it down. The specific emergency action policy cited by the Facebook spokesperson describes only data requests, not deletions:

“In responding to a matter involving imminent harm to a child or risk of death or serious physical injury to any person and requiring disclosure of information without delay, a law enforcement official may submit a request through the Law Enforcement Online Request System at facebook.com/records.”

An “unofficial guide” apparently created by the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department to help officers navigate Facebook’s portal, and first discovered by The District Sentinel, goes into greater detail about the process — although it also focuses on information disclosure, rather than deletion.

But while it’s no secret that law enforcement is increasingly relying on social media to conduct investigations and build cases, shutting down accounts presents a different set of questions.

Even though Baltimore county is in the process of implementing a new body camera program, none of the officers involved in the standoff were wearing one.

“Visual evidence is powerful and there’s no question that the current movement for police accountability has everything to do with powerful images that have been made public of excessive force by police,” said Rowland. “There’s a particular risk when social media takes down video that may represent the only point of view besides that of law enforcement.”

“In general, social media companies should be very hesitant to comply with law enforcement demands in a manner that might circumvent a citizen’s first amendment right to record interactions with the police,” she added.

Some have called for Facebook to instate a public editor to review users concerns about civil rights issues, and many are demanding greater transparency about how, when, and why Facebook decides to comply with law enforcement’s requests.

“Facebook is increasingly put in a position of power by deciding what the public can see,” said Carty, of SumOfUs. “People don’t want to be in a position where they’re trying to communicate with their networks and people who care about them, and trying to bring accountability to officers acting against them, and then have Facebook turn off the switch. That’s terrifying.”

Following Gaines’ death, the group started an online petition calling on the site to “explain its actions and stop this unacceptable practice immediately,” which has already gained more than 55,000 signatures. “Facebook needs to be accountable and transparent about how it’s making these decisions,” said Carty. “And it needs to put in place policies that protect civil liberties and protect the freedom of information rather than curb it down.”

Facebook should do more to assist the police, German officials say

German politicians and security officials accuse Facebook of ignoring information requests and refusing to work with authorities. A new law is supposed to help, especially on terror issues, but experts have their doubts.

August 8, 2016

DW

The attacker that recently blew himself up outside a music festival in Ansbach, seriously injuring 15 people, had no less than six Facebook accounts. He used at least one of them, registered under an assumed name, to distribute Islamist propaganda. And the 17-year-old Afghan that attacked travelers on a train near Würzburg with an axe a few days before also had two Facebook accounts.

The social media pages of criminals contain large reservoirs of information for police and prosecutors – they are therefore incalculably valuable in helping authorities find possible accomplices, understand motivations and rule out the threat of related future attacks. “Perpetrators often boast about their deeds online. They chronicle their preparations, their attacks, where they did what and where they hid their weapons,” explains Saleh R. Iwas, an attorney for internet and data protection law.

Over the last three years, Facebook has received 300,000 information requests from investigative authorities, 16,000 of which were from Germany. The company regularly publishes these numbers in its annual transparency reports. The problem is: Facebook and Co., do not always cooperate. The German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag” (WamS) found that 37 percent of those German requests went unanswered.

Lack of good will?

André Schulz, chairman of the Association of Germany’s Criminal Investigators (BDK) told the paper: “German police authorities submit requests several times a day but they are totally dependent upon Facebook’s goodwill.” He says that in most cases the BDK gets no reply, adding “it only goes quicker if we are dealing with suicide attacks, mass shootings, or terror threats.”

German politicians from all parties agree that the situation has to change – and are therefore calling for a new law. “It has to ensure that these companies have foreign and domestic contact agents that can quickly process information requests,” explains Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann. North Rhine-Westphalian Justice Minister Thomas Kutschaty complains: “If it only takes ten seconds before a photo posted in Germany can be seen in New Delhi, then I expect Facebook to answer investigators’ requests within an hour.” The SPD politician went on to say that he failed to understand “why Facebook is being so resistant.”

Is Facebook being intentionally uncooperative in order to hinder German investigations? The US company denies the accusation, saying that they have been fully supportive, and not just in connection to the attacks in Würzburg, Munich and Ansbach. However, the company also says that many of the requests in other cases were legally so flawed that Facebook could simply not process them.

In those other cases – murder, drug offenses, etc. – local and state police tend to be responsible for investigations, not the BKA. In fact, the BKA says that cooperation with the social network has been good: “Our experience has been that requests to Facebook are answered,” a spokeswoman says. Yet she, too, speaks of formal mistakes.

Formal guidelines often not met

In an interview, the Federal Chairman of the German Police Union, Rainer Wendt, told DW: “A number of formal guidelines must be followed in international legal communication.” For instance, a police agent must adhere to existing legal basis and use the correct terminology. “A lot of mistakes can be made,” he admits. “Of course terror investigators at the BKA also have a completely different set of options at their disposal than local police.” Nevertheless, Wendt does not see a problem in that. He says that it is often enough to investigate a perpetrator’s social surroundings. If that does not lead anywhere, then officers occasionally return to Facebook. Yet, in most cases a look at a perpetrator’s public profile is all they need.

“Facebook has grown too quickly over the last few years, and has too few employees. Therefore there is a prioritization about what needs to be handled first within the company. My experience has been that things that help business – like advising advertisers – have top priority.” Police work and the like come much further down the line.

Wendt thinks calls for a new law are exaggerated. “German lawmakers tend to want to legally regulate the weather,” he says jokingly. He has serious doubts about whether a German law could be passed that would in any way bind an international corporation like Facebook. “What will happen when Facebook ignores such a law? Nothing.” Politicians are kidding themselves with such demands. Wendt says they would be better off improving police capacity; for instance, by hiring good investigators.

The Returnees: Former Islamic State Members Open Up to Investigators

August 8, 2016

by Jörg Diehl, Julia Jüttner, Fidelius Schmid and Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt

Spiegel

Investigators in Germany often know little about the crimes committed by German Islamists who have traveled to Syria. Three returnees have broken their silence — providing a wealth of information and angering members of the radical scene.

When Nils D. turned his back on the Islamic State (IS), he thought about sex. He had spent a year serving the terrorist militia, performing guard duty and working as a cook. He had discovered severed heads on the street and watched beheadings. He had listened to the screams of people being tortured and looked on as they were hung from metal poles with their hands tied behind their backs. These are the kinds of atrocities he had exposed people to as a member of a special unit that was tasked to arrest alleged spies, traitors or other opponents of IS.

But by the beginning of November 2014, he wanted out. He came up with a false pretense to travel to Turkey. He wanted to meet his mother and sister in Istanbul and then journey onward to his home in Dinslaken, Germany, a town in the country’s Ruhr region.

Nils D. has never said what was going through his mind that day, but his mobile phone’s browser history provides some answers. He perused a list of the most wanted criminals on the German Federal Criminal Office’s website because he feared he might get arrested in Germany. He also looked up ferry connections from Turkey and long-distance buses to his home state of North Rhine-Westphalia, because he feared getting checked at the airport. He also looked on the website of a popular retailer for new plus-size clothes because he needed an inconspicuous outfit and was too corpulent for normal attire. In addition, he searched for hotels in Istanbul and for sightseeing tips in the city for the days he would be spending with his mom and sister, Annika.

Most of all, though, Nils D. thought about sex. He searched for terms like “Red Light Istanbul” online. One query result contained the heading, “Bordello in Istanbul.” His phone also saved the names of dozens of relevant porn clips he had played.

Before he boarded a bus from Istanbul back home, he deleted the data stored on his mobile phone. The images of him with his buddies in battle gear, the photo of him standing behind a masked, bound man holding a pistol to his head — all of it was supposed to disappear before his return.

Today, Nils D. is being held in a German prison as a convicted terrorist. The Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf sentenced him to four years and six months behind bars.

High-Value Sources

  1. got away with a fairly light sentence because he is one of the few former jihadists who have cooperated extensively with the German authorities. For investigators, men like D. are highly valuable because in most cases the authorities have no idea what the Islamists from Germany have done in the service of IS. Often they are unable to even verify that the accused had actually been a part of IS, which is essential in order to secure a conviction on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization.

German security agencies are tasked with investigating terrorist networks and preventing attacks. But with the exception of wiretapped telecommunications, they often have too little evidence at their disposal, because most of the more than 200 people who have returned from the combat zone are keeping silent — or lying.

In order to obtain more lenient sentences, a few jihadists are now confessing in court that they traveled to Syria. But their statements seldom go beyond the evidence that has been presented against them, and they don’t turn in other accomplices.

However, three men have proven to be exceptions and have been cooperating extensively with the authorities. They include Nils D. of Dinslaken, Harry S. of Bremen and Harun P. of Munich, who fought in Syria for the terrorist group Jund al-Sham.

The three are taking a considerable risk. Other Islamists consider providing testimony to be treason — and it’s possible they will seek to retaliate.

Having gone from being terrorists to key witnesses, the three appear to have undergone an astonishing transformation. If their statements are to be believed, neither Nils D., 26, Harry S., 27, nor Harun P., 28, knew exactly what they were signing up for in Syria. They were radical Muslims, but they weren’t leaders or fighters — they were more hangers-on. “It’s usually those who were at the periphery of a group, whose ideologies haven’t yet hardened, who work with judicial authorities later,” says one expert who often works with such key witnesses.

From Cards and Cafés to the Caliphate

Prior to his field trip into the realm of the murderous IS band, Nils D. had been a good-for-nothing. He would sleep until mid-day, then surf the Internet and meet up with his buddies in a café, where they took drugs, drank booze and played cards. They didn’t have any hobbies and they lacked any enthusiasm. The company that had provided him with vocational training fired him because he wasn’t attending the vocational school courses that were part of the program. Afterward, the most he found were temporary jobs. “I was a pothead,” Nils D. says. “I didn’t feel like doing anything.”

This continued for years. Then D. discovered Islam through his cousin Philip B. and became a Salafist. He was still serving a sentence for grand theft when his cousin and the other guys went to Syria to fight. Then, during the autumn of 2013, D. also traveled to the “caliphate.”

During his trial in the dock of the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf, Nils D. said “he wanted to see things for himself.” He then quickly became part of the murderous system. In Manbij, he joined a special IS unit. The force’s task was to capture suspected traitors, spies or deserters. D. is believed to have taken part in up to 15 missions.

He also knew what happened to the men he had helped to capture. The former pothead from Dinslaken knew about the wooden crates they would be placed in. There were large ones in which they could stand, sandwiched. And there were small ones in which the prisoners could only crouch — sometimes for days at a time.

Nils D. sported a typical Islamist beard. Whenever he went out, it was always dressed in black and with his face covered. He attended five executions as a spectator. “I had goosebumps all over,” D. would later tell investigators with the State Office of Criminal Investigation in Düsseldorf. “But after a while it bounces off you.”

One time, he held a pistol to the back of the head of a bound prisoner and allowed himself to be photographed. Why? “It was incredibly stupid,” he says today. “I’m sorry. The man probably didn’t even notice.” He claims that he never committed physical violence. Nils D. also denies reports that he abused or killed prisoners.

He told investigators there were several times when he wanted to leave the caliphate. One time a rebel offensive got in his way, and on another occasion a leader didn’t want to send him to Germany on a mission. Nils D. claimed he would have used an attack order like that to escape and said he was not interested in acting on IS’ behalf in Germany. At least by his own account.

‘The Best Thing in the World Is Martyrdom’

But D. still hasn’t made any statements about having broken with IS’ ideology. He says he wanted to leave because the organization has built up a “total surveillance state.”

He managed to get out in November 2014 under another false pretense. He told his superiors he wanted to bring his daughter to IS and traveled to Turkey with their permission. He didn’t come back.

Once he had returned to his mother’s place in Dinslaken, he only partly sought to resume normal life. “He wanted to go party, but that wasn’t his thing,” one of his friends told investigators. “He wanted to go to the brothel, but he couldn’t work up the courage.”

At the same time, he remained an open Islamist. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was “our president,” and, “What he says, we have to do,” he told one acquaintance. “The best, the very best thing in the world is martyrdom,” he instructed his new girlfriend. When he found out that a close friend had died fighting, he took it as good news. “Of course I am pleased when my friend doesn’t burn in hell,” he would later say.

One day he began talking with an acquaintance about his time with IS in his car, which had been bugged. He spoke of the ID he had been given as a member of a special unit. That was enough for investigators. They arrested him in January 2015, three days after the attack on the French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Initially, Nils D. had been far from willing to talk. He told one experienced anti-terror investigator that they had nothing concrete against him and they would “embarrass themselves in court.” He even threatened to retaliate “once I’m out.”

Investigators then left and didn’t return for months. After a while, however, they were able to reconstruct the data on his mobile phone. By that point, they were aware not only of the browser history with the porn, but also of the photo with the hooded prisoner and the images of his fellow fighters from Dinslaken.

“That’s when he changed his mind,” the investigator who questioned Nils D. at the time told the court. When he spoke, he did so soberly, almost without emotion. But the exchange of glances between the investigator and Nils D. during his testimony indicated a certain amount of sympathy. The official had been sympathetic toward the terrorist because he had already testified over 40 times; and Nils D. toward the investigator because he had been fair to him.

Connections Between Germany and Paris Attacks

  1. has since let himself be interrogated even more. He disclosed the connections between the Paris attackers surrounding Abdelhamid Abaaoud and his accomplices in Dinslaken. He made it possible to initiate numerous investigative proceedings and trials. He described the structures of his special IS unit in greater detail than anyone before him.

He also provided new details about the leadership roles of Germans in IS. Among other things, he provided information about a previously unknown German who allegedly worked in the IS security apparatus under the nom de guerre “Abu Hager” — a man who still has not been positively identified to this day.

Nils D. has already completed more than one and a half years of his prison sentence, and it’s possible he’ll get released early for good behavior. He is also participating in a reintegration program organized by the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution in North Rhine-Westphalia, the agency responsible for monitoring extremist behavior in Germany. Intelligence officials and investigators describe him alternately as a “goldmine” of information or a “stroke of luck.” Some even believe he could have made a good police officer. “He’s got a gift for observation, a feel for hierarchies and an excellent memory,” says one person.

But there’s one aspect of policing he doesn’t appear to be very skilled at: prevention. Despite his extensive testimony, Nils D. so far hasn’t distanced himself from radical Islam. Or from the fact that Islamic State murders and terrorizes. That it has nothing to do with Islam. That the tales of heroism in the “caliphate” are nothing but propaganda. There hasn’t been a single word about any of this from Nils D. So what is it that’s driving him to come clean with officials?

“It can be assumed that one of the main reasons is the hope of a shorter prison sentence,” says one high-ranking security official. “There’s no such thing as instant de-radicalization. When someone has been in that deep, it takes months or even years.”

Nils D. apparently hasn’t made it that far.

Harry S., on the other hand, has.

Visitor Room 3 of the Oldenburg prison is a bare space with a green floor and a gray table in the middle. You can see the massive walls topped with barbed wire through the barred window. The rain clatters in the inner courtyard.

Harry S. speaks with a muted voice. He has followed the attacks of the past few weeks on TV from jail. Nice, Würzburg, Ansbach. He had immediately flashed back to images of the atrocities in Syria, Harry S. says: stonings, executions, chopped-off hands, bodies that had been riddled with bullets. These were the atrocities of the terror militia he had joined. The nom de guerre they gave him in Syria was “Abu Saif,” meaning “father of the sword.”

“What you experience there is hell on earth,” Harry S. says. “It was the biggest mistake of my life.” He now only calls IS the “so-called Islamic State,” because for him it is now clear that “this is a criminal organization acting under the cover of Islam.” He says it turns people into monsters.

Harry S. was a member of the terror militia for just under three months before he managed to flee to Turkey in the summer of 2015. He hadn’t yet completed his combat training.

When he boarded his flight to Germany on July 20, operated by an airline called SunExpress, Bremen police special forces were already waiting with an arrest warrant. It took several months for Harry S. to break his silence, but then it all flowed out of him.

Details from Inside a Terror Regime

From October to February, seven days a week from morning until night, Harry S. told intelligence operatives, police officers and investigators from the Federal Prosecutor’s Office about his time with IS. The transcripts of the interrogations are several hundred pages long.

They include disturbing details from inside a terror regime, many of which were previously unknown to authorities. Harry S. told the officers about the internet café in Syria’s IS stronghold, Raqqa, where he and his jihadist friends socialized (“everybody there is German”). He named fighters from Bremen, Wolfsburg, Bonn, Berlin and Solingen. And he said which of the Germans killed prisoners at a mass shooting in the desert of Palmyra.

Harry S. also told the authorities more about the attempts to recruit people for attacks in Germany than any previous IS returnee — one month before the November 13 attacks in Paris.

Inside the prison’s visitor room, Harry S. recalls the situation. He had barely just arrived in Syria when two masked men — supposedly Frenchmen from Marseille, who worked for a kind of IS secret service — showed up at an IS safe house. They asked if he was ready to sacrifice his life for the “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They said there were already enough men in France who were ready to undertake the ultimate act. “But we desperately need people who will go to Germany to carry out attacks,” they told him.

He says that later an Englishman and a German-Russian drove by in a car with black-tinted windows, also masked and heavily armed. He reports they claimed that thus far all volunteers for Germany had gotten cold feet and they needed “action,” and referred to attacks in Germany, England, worldwide, that would be “coordinated to be simultaneous.”

An IS ‘Office’ for Foreign Attacks

Many details suggest the men came from a secret IS unit responsible for operations in foreign countries. Its leader is alleged to be Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. Harry S. talks about an “office” for attacks in foreign countries that creates lists of volunteers.

Würzburg, Ansbach — he believes these are just the beginning. “They want these kinds of reactions, they want the politicians to say it’s the refugees’ fault, that they have brought the terrorism with them,” he says. “They want to create this black-and-white image.”

A few weeks ago, Harry S. had to defend himself in front of the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court of Hamburg. It was a short trial. After only four trial days, the court sentenced him to three years in prison — an unconventionally mild punishment for a member of a terrorist group. S. appeared in a white shirt and recalled even the most minute details.

Sometimes he described things so thoroughly that the presiding judge had to stop him. He interrupted the accused, saying, “This has ended well.” “Yes, it ended well,” S. answered, relieved. His remorse seemed convincing. “Today you are no longer a terrorist,” the judge said in his ruling, “but back then you were far from simply being a follower.” In a propaganda video, S. could be seen carrying the IS flag through the frame while wearing a camouflage uniform with a Beretta sticking out of his holster.

Harry S. would now like to warn young people from making the same mistake he did. Through his lawyer, he has taken up contact with an organization that focuses on preventing Islamist radicalization. Once he has served his sentence, he would like to speak with students and tell them: “No matter what crisis or bad situation you are in, there is no justification for joining IS. You not only throw away your own life, but also the lives of those you love.”

Political, economic and intelligence experts are urgently looking for key witnesses like Harry S., who can convincingly counteract IS propaganda — though so far they haven’t been successful. As a result, the expectations they have of former jihadists are correspondingly high.

“These descriptions could have a strong influence on young people if they reach them personally,” says Peter R. Neumann, professor of security studies at King’s College London. “The testimonies would be an important component of a prevention program. The crucial thing is to reach young people before they are reached by extremists.”

Dangerous Testimony

But these former jihadists are in danger, since their former comrades view them as turncoats who should be punished. The authorities’ third key witness, Harun P., had such an experience.

The German-born son of Afghan immigrants traveled to Syria in September 2013 because he “feared having to serve jail time for previous convictions,” as he later told investigators. He had been caught perpetrating petty crimes in his hometown of Munich.

In Syria he joined not IS, but a terror militia called Jund al-Sham. Harun P. passed the training camp and got to know the house near Latakia where many Germans make a stop on their way to jihad. “Most of the time we didn’t do anything except clean, cook, do laundry, keep weapons clean,” he later said, describing the everyday life of the terrorists in the “two-story villa.”

After his combat training, he took part in an attack on Aleppo’s jail. Harun P. was part of the reserves. He later shot a mortar shell over a wall — which worked against him in court.

As a witness, Harun P. was particularly valuable. He explained the structure of the little-known terrorist group Jund al-Sham to investigators. And he could identify countless members of the militia who later switched to IS.

Harun P. apparently only declined to join IS because he “didn’t like the people.” He told the investigators that one of them “ran his mouth off to me, which I can’t stand at all.”

After his return, he was sentenced to 11 years in jail in Munich in what has been the toughest sentence meted out against a returnee from Syria so far by German authorities. Unlike the cases of Nils D. and Harry S., state prosecutors accused him of having committed acts of violence. The Munich Higher Regional Court prosecuted him for taking part in the attempted murder of 400 people.

Harun P.’s testimonies have led him to be threatened by former comrades. When he recently testified in a trial against a different Islamist, he was attacked in the local prison. Sources in the intelligence community say the lawyers of other jihadists are also trying to go after him legally.

In the Berlin trial, P. once again identified Islamists whom he knew. He also refuted their accounts: “We did almost nothing humanitarian. Food and money from Germany was all given to the fighters,” he reported. Locals had told him: “Screw off! Since you’ve been here, everything is much worse.”

Other extremists are appalled by his willingness to talk. But Harun P. just keeps going. He’s scheduled to appear as a witness in more trials soon.

Turkey’s Erdogan says would approve death penalty if parliament votes

August 7, 2016

by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Humeyra Pamuk;

Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told a rally of more than a million people in Istanbul on Sunday that he would approve the death penalty if parliament voted for it, following last month’s failed coup.

In a speech to the “Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally”, also broadcast live on public screens across the country, Erdogan said the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who he blames for the coup attempt three weeks ago, must be destroyed within the framework of the law.

Politicians concerned over Ankara’s influence on Turks in Germany

August 7, 2016

by Caroline Copley and Sabine Siebold

Reuters

German politicians voiced concern on Sunday about the growing influence of Ankara on people with Turkish roots living in Germany.

Germany has seen violence in the past between nationalist Turks and militant Kurds and officials fret that tensions in Turkish society following last month’s attempted coup could spill over onto its soil.

Thousands of demonstrators from Germany’s Turkish community turned out in Cologne last Sunday to show their support for Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at a rally that ratcheted up diplomatic tensions between Ankara and Berlin.

“People of Turkish origin who live here must abide by our laws and our customs,” Merkel ally Volker Kauder told the Funke Media Group in comments published on Sunday.

“I therefore view with concern attempts by the Turkish government and the ruling AKP party to influence people with Turkish roots living here in Germany,” he added.

Bernd Riexinger, co-leader of the radical Left party also warned about increasing strains among the Turkish population in Germany.

“Erdogan supporters are already exerting a lot of pressure on dissidents in Germany,” he said. “This must stop. There must not be threats among us.”

Germany is home to around three million people of Turkish origin. In Turkey’s last national elections, 60 percent of them voted for Turkey’s ruling AKP Party, according to the organization of Turkish Communities in Germany.

Gokay Sofuoglu, chairman of Turkish Communities in Germany, told Reuters last month that a hotline number was circulating on social media that supposedly called on people to notify Turkish authorities about Erdogan opponents.

Kauder appealed to Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), which represents more than 70 percent of Muslims living in Germany, to make clear to its members that Germany’s constitution and law were above religion.

“In my opinion we should not allow an association like DITIB, which evidently the mouthpiece of President (Tayyip) Erdogan is, to shape Islamic Religious Education in schools,” he added.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Stephen Powell)

Saudi Arabia’s ambivalent relationship to terrorism

August 8, Saudi Arabia is often accused of supporting jihadist groups. Now, the monarchy is helping Berlin’s security authorities in the fight against terror. What appears to be a contradiction is not.

2016

DW

A jihadi inspired rampage in a regional train near Würzburg; and a bomb attack – designed to kill a large number of people but gone awry – in Ansbach: Both attacks were supposedly orchestrated by men in Saudi Arabia that gave the attackers instructions from afar, via chat.

That is the story the German magazine “Spiegel” is reporting in connection to chat protocols in the possession of federal agencies. The magazine also refers to information provided by a high-ranking government official in the Saudi capital Riyadh. According to the official, several telephone numbers show that the two young men were in close contact with the terrorist organization “Islamic State” (IS) in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has now announced comprehensive cooperation with Germany in investigating the recent attacks in Bavaria.

For years, Saudi Arabia has been the source of what has appeared to be contradictory information. First, the country is accused of exporting an extremely conservative strain of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, which also happens to be the kingdom’s state religion. Shortly after the outbreak of war in Syria, accusations that the monarchy was financing jihadi groups that were not only seeking to topple the Assad government but also create a new “caliphate” under the control of the terror organization “Islamic State” (IS), grew louder. And finally, for years the West has considered Saudi Arabia to be an important partner in the fight against jihadist terror.

Dubious commitment

Sebastian Sons, Middle East expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), tells DW that the news is not as contradictory as it initially seems. “The Saudi government has been involved in the fight against terror since the attacks on America in September 2001. That was partially a reaction to US pressure. But it was also because institutions in the kingdom were increasingly the target of jihadist attacks as well, first by al-Qaeda and later ‘IS.'”

At the same time there are a number of religious foundations in the country, and some of these, as well as a number of wealthy individuals, have great sympathy for the aims of “IS” and provide the organization with financing. “Such money transactions are now being very closely monitored.” Yet, there is no way to exert total control over them. “Firstly, Saudi Arabia doesn’t have the capacity to do so. And secondly, one has to say that there is serious doubt about whether they have the political will to do so.”

Nevertheless, even if the royal house had the will, it would be able to do little about it. Because the House of Saud, which has controlled the country since it was founded in the eighteenth century, is totally dependent upon the conservative Wahhabis. It is the religious movement that lends the Sauds the ideological legitimacy upon which their rule is based.

Alliance between religion and politics

The moral foundation for the rule of the Sauds was established by a religious scholar hailing from an area near what is now the capital Riyadh. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, as the scholar was known, was born in 1703, the son of a judge.

Ibn Wahhab developed an entirely new criteria with which to judge the legitimacy of regional rulers. This legitimacy, he said, only existed as long as rulers abided by the tenets of religious faith. Political leaders, according to Wahhab, must comply to the will of god in all that they do. Should they fail to do so, they forfeit their legitimacy.

Thus, subjects were given a clear criteria with which to judge their rulers: Do their actions express the will of god, or not? It was a radically emancipating idea, yet it carried the seed of later abuses in it from the start: For who determines what god’s will is?

Ibn Wahhab came up with a unique solution to the problem: He directly tied religious power to political power. And he did so by seeking out an alliance with the most powerful partner of his day: Prince Saud l., ibn Abd al-Aziz ibn Muhammad al-Saud, the conquerer of the Emirate of Diriyah, the first Saudi state. The prince secured the theological power of his religious partner with his own military might. And in return, the legitimacy of his political rule received the scholar’s religious blessing.

The alliance between these two families, the ruling Sauds and the descendants of ibn-Wahhab responsible for answering all religious questions in the kingdom, has continued to hold until this day.

Unresolved dilemma

This alliance, by necessity, also determines the royal family’s current reaction to terror. “The royal family sees terrorism as an extreme security threat, but it still has to align itself with the Wahhabi scholars in terms of ideology,” says Sebastian Sons. This means that the monarchy is constantly forced to tolerate its – at times radical – world view. They rarely have the luxury of refusing to give their support. “The structure of the Saudi state is based upon the alliance between Wahhabi scholarship and the House of Saud. That is a unsolvable dilemma for the royal family, even today.”

That means that the rest of the world will have to live with the reality of more attacks being orchestrated from Saudi Arabia. As long as ideological extremism cannot be overcome, security measures can only help to a point.

Android bug fear in 900 million phones

August 8, 2016

by Mark Ward

BBC News

Serious security flaws that could give attackers complete access to a phone’s data have been found in software used on tens of millions of Android devices.

The bugs were uncovered by Checkpoint researchers looking at software running on chipsets made by US firm Qualcomm.

Qualcomm processors are found in about 900 million Android phones, the company said.

However, there is no evidence of the vulnerabilities currently being used in attacks by cyberthieves.

“I’m pretty sure you will see these vulnerabilities being used in the next three to four months,” said Michael Shaulov, head of mobility product management at Checkpoint.

“It’s always a race as to who finds the bug first, whether it’s the good guys or the bad.”

Affected devices included:

◾BlackBerry Priv

◾Blackphone 1 and Blackphone 2

◾Google Nexus 5X, Nexus 6 and Nexus 6P

◾HTC One, HTC M9 and HTC 10

◾LG G4, LG G5, and LG V10

◾New Moto X by Motorola

◾OnePlus One, OnePlus 2 and OnePlus 3

◾US versions of the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Samsung S7 Edge

◾Sony Xperia Z Ultra

Mr Shaulov said six months of work to reverse engineer Qualcomm’s code revealed the problems.

The flaws were found in software that handles graphics and in code that controls communication between different processes running inside a phone.

Exploiting the bugs would allow an attacker to gradually be able to take more control over a device and gain access to its data.

Checkpoint handed information about the bugs and proof of concept code to Qualcomm earlier this year.

In response, Qualcomm is believed to have created patches for the bugs and started to use the fixed versions in its factories.

It has also distributed the patches to phone makers and operators. However, it is not clear how many of those companies have issued updates to customers’ phones.

Checkpoint has created a free app called QuadRooter Scanner that can be used to check if a phone is vulnerable to any of the bugs, by looking to see if the patches for them have been downloaded and installed.

In addition, Mr Shaulov said Android owners should only download apps from the official Google Play store to avoid falling victim to malicious programs.

“People should call whoever sold them their phone, their operator or the manufacturer, and beg them for the patches,” said Mr Shaulov.

Qualcomm has yet to respond to a request for comment.

 

 

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