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TBR News February 1, 2014

Jan 31 2014

The Voice of the White House


I would be surprised to find one of my friends on Facebook, or any other social network scam. But many millions are and the FBI (and other agencies) are happy they are. It saves them so much trouble in building files.


But if I started a fake religion (are there genuine ones?) about the Easter Bunny, wrote a tome entitled “The Book of the Bunny” and carried on with a choir and orchestra, in a for-rent restaurant dining room, believe me, there would be many thrilled by the Virgin Birth of the Great Rabbit, various miracles wrought by Him and His lessons and preachments would capture the imagination.


The sort of bipedal idiot that read their daily Bunny Lesson would also be on Facebook, Twitter, Tweet, Grunt, etc. seriously engaged in trying to spangle their shriveled and pathetic lives with thrilling imaginary experiences, new friends and, best of all, attention.


I do not recall exactly how many times I have been breathlessly invited to “join all your friends” on Facebook.


On the other hand, I might do this and lard my pages with sly references to the “secret headquarters” of a powerful new organization that has been developed to spy on the agencies.


A few hints would lead the blubber-guts with the comb-overs, badges and black vests into a dense woods and, thinking the hut over there on the little hill is where the organization meets, waddle out into the very damp ground and push through the reeds to the point where they fall into the quicksand and drown, screaming for their mothers to help them.


Is this murder or pest control?


The pathetic public is slowly but surely becoming aware of the true nature of Facebook and the other information-gathering entites, and leaving them. They will find substitutes and believe it, Our Protectors will rush to set up something in that area.


And whenever you see a story in the compliant ‘New York Times’ about an “absolutely secure telephone scrambling system,” do not fall for this. The system has a trapdoor built into it that one could drive two semi-trucks through, side by side.


Swift was dead-on and so was Barnum. 



Spy Agencies Scour Phone Apps for Personal Data


January 27, 2014

by James Glanz, Jeff Larson and Andrew W. Lehren

New York Times


When a smartphone user opens Angry Birds, the popular game application, and starts slinging birds at chortling green pigs, spies may be lurking in the background to snatch data revealing the player’s location, age, sex and other personal information, according to secret British intelligence documents.


In their globe-spanning surveillance for terrorism suspects and other targets, the National Security Agency and its British counterpart have been trying to exploit a basic byproduct of modern telecommunications: With each new generation of mobile phone technology, ever greater amounts of personal data pour onto networks where spies can pick it up.


According to dozens of previously undisclosed classified documents, among the most valuable of those unintended intelligence tools are so-called leaky apps that spew everything from users’ smartphone identification codes to where they have been that day.


The N.S.A. and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters were working together on how to collect and store data from dozens of smartphone apps by 2007, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. Since then, the agencies have traded recipes for grabbing location and planning data when a target uses Google Maps, and for vacuuming up address books, buddy lists, phone logs and the geographic data embedded in photos when someone sends a post to the mobile versions of Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and other services.


The eavesdroppers’ pursuit of mobile networks has been outlined in earlier reports, but the secret documents, shared by The New York Times, The Guardian and ProPublica, offer far more details of their ambitions for smartphones and the apps that run on them. The efforts were part of an initiative called “the mobile surge,” according to a 2011 British document, an analogy to the troop surges in Iraq and Afghanistan. One N.S.A. analyst’s enthusiasm was evident in the breathless title — “Golden Nugget!” — given to one slide for a top-secret 2010 talk describing iPhones and Android phones as rich resources, one document notes.


The scale and the specifics of the data haul are not clear. The documents show that the N.S.A. and the British agency routinely obtain information from certain apps, particularly some of those introduced earliest to cellphones. With some newer apps, including Angry Birds, the agencies have a similar capability, the documents show, but they do not make explicit whether the spies have put that into practice. Some personal data, developed in profiles by advertising companies, could be particularly sensitive: A secret 2012 British intelligence document says that spies can scrub smartphone apps that contain details like a user’s “political alignment” and sexual orientation.


President Obama announced new restrictions this month to better protect the privacy of ordinary Americans and foreigners from government surveillance, including limits on how the N.S.A. can view “metadata” of Americans’ phone calls — the routing information, time stamps and other data associated with calls. But he did not address the avalanche of information that the intelligence agencies get from leaky apps and other smartphone functions.


And while he expressed concern about advertising companies that collect information on people to send tailored ads to their mobile phones, he offered no hint that American spies routinely seize that data. Nothing in the secret reports indicates that the companies cooperate with the spy agencies to share the information; the topic is not addressed.


The agencies have long been intercepting earlier generations of cellphone traffic like text messages and metadata from nearly every segment of the mobile network — and, more recently, computer traffic running on Internet pipelines. Because those same networks carry the rush of data from leaky apps, the agencies have a ready-made way to collect and store this new resource. The documents do not address how many users might be affected, whether they include Americans, or how often, with so much information collected automatically, analysts would see personal data.


“N.S.A. does not profile everyday Americans as it carries out its foreign intelligence mission,” the agency said in a written response to questions about the program. “Because some data of U.S. persons may at times be incidentally collected in N.S.A.’s lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for U.S. persons exist across the entire process.” Similar protections, the agency said, are in place for “innocent foreign citizens.”


The British spy agency declined to comment on any specific program, but said all its activities complied with British law.


Two top-secret flow charts produced by the British agency in 2012 show incoming streams of information skimmed from smartphone traffic by the Americans and the British. The streams are divided into “traditional telephony” — metadata — and others marked “social apps,” “geo apps,” “http linking,” webmail, MMS and traffic associated with mobile ads, among others. (MMS refers to the mobile system for sending pictures and other multimedia, and http is the protocol for linking to websites.)


In charts showing how information flows from smartphones into the agency’s computers, analysts included questions to be answered by the data, including “Where was my target when they did this?” and “Where is my target going?”


As the program accelerated, the N.S.A. nearly quadrupled its budget in a single year, to $767 million in 2007 from $204 million, according to a top-secret Canadian analysis written around the same time.


Even sophisticated users are often unaware of how smartphones offer a unique opportunity for one-stop shopping for information about them. “By having these devices in our pockets and using them more and more,” said Philippe Langlois, who has studied the vulnerabilities of mobile phone networks and is the founder of the Paris-based company Priority One Security, “you’re somehow becoming a sensor for the world intelligence community.”


Detailed Profiles


Smartphones almost seem to make things too easy. Functioning as phones — making calls and sending texts — and as computers — surfing the web and sending emails — they generate and also rely on data. One secret report shows that just by updating Android software, a user sent more than 500 lines of data about the phone’s history and use onto the network.


Such information helps mobile ad companies, for example, create detailed profiles of people based on how they use their mobile device, where they travel, what apps and websites they open, and other factors. Advertising firms might triangulate web shopping data and browsing history to guess whether someone is wealthy or has children, for example.


The N.S.A. and the British agency busily scoop up this data, mining it for new information and comparing it with their lists of intelligence targets.


One secret 2010 British document suggests that the agencies collect such a huge volume of “cookies” — the digital traces left on a mobile device or a computer when a target visits a website — that classified computers were having trouble storing it all.


“They are gathered in bulk, and are currently our single largest type of events,” the document says.


The two agencies displayed a particular interest in Google Maps, which is accurate to within a few yards or better in some locations. Intelligence agencies collect so much data from the app that “you’ll be able to clone Google’s database” of global searches for directions, according to a top-secret N.S.A. report from 2007.


“It effectively means that anyone using Google Maps on a smartphone is working in support of a G.C.H.Q. system,” a secret 2008 report by the British agency says.


(In December, The Washington Post, citing the Snowden documents, reported that the N.S.A. was using metadata to track cellphone locations outside the United States and was using ad cookies to connect Internet addresses with physical locations.)


In another example, a secret 20-page British report dated 2012 includes the computer code needed for plucking the profiles generated when Android users play Angry Birds. The app was created by Rovio Entertainment, of Finland, and has been downloaded more than a billion times, the company has said.


Rovio drew public criticism in 2012 when researchers claimed that the app was tracking users’ locations and gathering other data and passing it to mobile ad companies. In a statement on its website, Rovio says that it may collect its users’ personal data, but that it abides by some restrictions. For example, the statement says, “Rovio does not knowingly collect personal information from children under 13 years of age.”


The secret report noted that the profiles vary depending on which of the ad companies — which include Burstly and Google’s ad services, two of the largest online advertising businesses — compiles them. Most profiles contain a string of characters that identifies the phone, along with basic data on the user like age, sex and location. One profile notes whether the user is currently listening to music or making a call, and another has an entry for household income.


Google declined to comment for this article, and Burstly did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Saara Bergstrom, a Rovio spokeswoman, said that the company had no knowledge of the intelligence programs. “Nor do we have any involvement with the organizations you mentioned,” Ms. Bergstrom said, referring to the N.S.A. and the British spy agency.


Another ad company creates far more intrusive profiles that the agencies can retrieve, the report says. The apps that generate those profiles are not identified, but the company is named as Millennial Media, which has its headquarters in Baltimore


In securities filings, Millennial documented how it began working with Rovio in 2011 to embed ad services in Angry Birds apps running on iPhones, Android phones and other devices.


According to the report, the Millennial profiles contain much of the same information as the others, but several categories listed as “optional,” including ethnicity, marital status and sexual orientation, suggest that much wider sweeps of personal data may take place.


Millennial Media declined to comment for this article.


Possible categories for marital status, the secret report says, include single, married, divorced, engaged and “swinger”; those for sexual orientation are straight, gay, bisexual and “not sure.” It is unclear whether the “not sure” category exists because so many phone apps are used by children, or because insufficient data may be available.


There is no explanation of precisely how the ad company defined the categories, whether users volunteered the information, or whether the company inferred it by other means. Nor is there any discussion of why all that information would be useful for marketing — or


The agencies have had occasional success — at least by their own reckoning — when they start with something closer to a traditional investigative tip or lead. The spies say that tracking smartphone traffic helped break up a bomb plot by Al Qaeda in Germany in 2007, and the N.S.A. bragged that to crack the plot, it wove together mobile data with emails, log-ins and web traffic. Similarly, mining smartphone data helped lead to arrests of members of a drug cartel hit squad for the 2010 murder of an employee of an American Consulate in Mexico


But the data, whose volume is soaring as mobile devices have begun to dominate the technological landscape, is a crushing amount of information for the spies to sift through. As smartphone data builds up in N.S.A. and British databases, the agencies sometimes seem a bit at a loss on what to do with it all, the documents show. A few isolated experiments provide hints as to how unwieldy it can be.


In 2009, the American and British spy agencies each undertook a brute-force analysis of a tiny sliver of their cellphone databases. Crunching just one month of N.S.A. cellphone data, a secret report said, required 120 computers and turned up 8,615,650 “actors” — apparently callers of interest. A similar run using three months of British data came up with 24,760,289 actors.


“Not necessarily straightforward,” the report said of the analysis. The agencies’ extensive computer operations had trouble sorting through the slice of data. Analysts were “dealing with immaturity,” the report said, encountering computer memory and processing problems. The report made no mention of anything suspicious in the enormous lumps of data.


Ginger Thompson contributed reporting. Jeff Larson is a reporter at ProPublica.



What do Pentecostals believe about the “End Days?”

by James Connally

The Antichrist is described by Pentecostals as the “son of perdition” and the “beast.”


They claim that this interesting creature will have great charisma and speaking ability, “a mouth speaking great things”.


The Antichrist, they allege, will rise to power on a wave of world euphoria, as he temporarily saves the world from its desperate economic, military and political problems with a brilliant seven year plan for world peace, economic stability and religious freedom.


The Antichrist could well rise out of the current chaos in the Ukraine of the former Soviet Union. The prophet Ezekiel names him as the ruler of “Magog”, a name that Biblical scholars agree denotes a country or region of peoples to the north of Israel. Many have interpreted this to mean modern day Russia. It could also be Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Croatia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, perhaps one of the Baltic States or even the lewd and dissolute Socialist Sweden.


His power base will include the leading nations of Europe, whose leaders, the irrational and disconnected Bible says, will “give their power and strength unto the beast.”


The Bible even gives some clues about his personal characteristics. The prophet Daniel wrote that the Antichrist “does not regard the desire of women.” This could imply that he is either celibate or a homosexual. Daniel also tells us that he will have a “fierce countenance” or stern look, and will be “more stout than his fellows”–more proud and boastful.


Unfortunately, the so-called Book of Daniel was written during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, not many decades earlier as its proponents claim, and has been extensively modified by early Christian writers to predict the arrival of their personal Messiah, or Christ, on the Judean scene. The so-called “wonderful” prophetic statements put into the mouth of Daniel are absolutely and wondrously accurate…up to the reign of Nero and then fall as flat as a shaken soufflé afterwards


It is well known that Pentecostals loathe homosexuals, among many other groups not pleasing to them, and would like nothing better than to shove them into a bottomless pit filled with Catholics, rock and roll fans, teenaged mothers, Communists, gun control advocates, Tarot card readers, autistic children,  Christian Scientists, abortionists, Wayne Newton fans, Asians, African-Americans and Latino Surnamed Hispanics.


The seven-year peace-pact (or covenant) that is engineered by the Antichrist is spoken of a number of times in the Bible, and may even have already been signed in secret. The historic peace agreement signed between Israel & the PLO at the White House on September 13, 1993, vividly illustrates how dramatically events in the Middle East are presently moving in this direction.


Under the final terms of the Covenant, Jerusalem will likely be declared an international city to which Judaism, Islam and Christianity will have equal rights. Scripture indicates that the Jews will be permitted to rebuild their Temple on Mt. Moriah, where they revive their ancient rituals of animal sacrifice.


According to prophecy the Antichrist will not only be a master of political intrigue, but also a military genius. Daniel describes several major wars that he fights during his seven-year reign, apparently against the U.S. and Israel, who will oppose him during the second half of his reign.


For awhile, the chattering lunitics claim, most of the world is going to think the Antichrist is wonderful, as he will seem to have solved so many of the world’s problems. But, three-and-a-half years into his seven year reign he will break the covenant and invade Israel from the North.


At this time he will make Jerusalem his world capitol and outlaw all religions, except the worship of himself and his image. The Bible says that the Antichrist will sit in the Jewish Temple exalting himself as God and demanding to be worshipped.


It is at this time that the Antichrist imposes his infamous “666” one-world credit system


It must be said that the Antichrist does, in point of fact exist. He can be seen on a daily basis on the walls of the Cathedral at Orvieto, Italy in the marvelous frescos of Lucca Signorelli. He looks somewhat like a Byzantine depiction of Christ with either a vicious wife or bad indigestion.


Pentecostals strongly believe that U.S. public schools “departed from the faith” when in 1963 the Bible and prayer were officially banned. Now, Pentecostals believe with horror, thousands of these same schools are teaching credited courses in “the doctrines of devils”–the occult and Satanism.


Even a cursory check of curriculum of a number of American public school districts does not support this claim but then the Pentecostals have stated repeatedly that they represent 45% of all Protestants in America. The actual number, excluding the Baptists, is more like 4%.


What they lack in actual numbers they more than compensate for by their loud and irrational views, so that at times it sounds like the roar of a great multitude when in truth, it is only a small dwarf wearing a clown suit, with a bullhorn, trumpeting in the underbrush while terrifying small animals.


Frantic Pentecostals estimated that according to their private Census for Christ there are over 200,000 practicing witches in the United States and allege there are literally millions of Americans who dabble in some form of the occult, psychic phenomena, spiritualism, demonology and black magic. Their statistics claim that occult book sales have doubled in the last four years.

         What is seen by terrified Pentecostals as The Occult, today is no longer the stuff of small underground cults. They believe that many rock videos are an open worship of Satan and hell that comes complete with the symbols, liturgies, and  rituals of Satanism, and the Pentecostals firmly and loudly proclaim to anyone interested in listening, that “millions of young people” have been caught in their evil sway.


Popular music is termed “sounds of horror and torment” that Pentecostals firmly believe is literally “driving young people insane and seducing them into a life of drugs, suicide, perversion and hell.” It is forgotten now but the same thing was once said about ragtime and later, jazz. If this had been true, perhaps the real reason behind the First World War, the 1929 market crash, the rise of Franklin Roosevelt and the lewd hula hoop can be attributed to Scott Joplin and Ella Fitzgerald.


It is also to be noted that the immensely popular Harry Potter series of children’s books are loudly proclaimed as Satanic books designed to lure unsuspecting children into the clutches of the Evil One. Any sane person who has read these delightful fantasy books will certainly not agree with these hysterical strictures. In point of fact, it would be exceedingly difficult to locate any person possessing even a modicum of sanity who would believe any of the weird fulminations of the Pentecostals.


Outraged Pentecostals now firmly state that in the beginning years of the Twenty First Century, “even the most shameless acts of blasphemy and desecration are socially acceptable.”


“Acts of blasphemy and desecration” sound like human sacrifices carried out at bus stops during the noontime rush hour with meat cleavers or lewd acts with crucifixes performed by drug-maddened transvestites on commercial airlines.


In his weird Book of Revelation, the lunatic John of Patmos claimed he foresaw that in the last days the world would turn away from God in order to worship and follow Satan. John invented a number of similar fables that religious crazies have rushed to embrace. No wonder that Martin Luther refused to include this nonsense in his German translation of the Bible.


 Such a prophecies would have seemed unbelievable to previous generations, but not so in our day. Hard-core Satanism has been called by frenzied Evengelicals “the fastest-growing subculture among America’s teens”, and the revival of witchcraft and the occult is one of the ‘world’s fastest growing religions’ according to Pentecostal Christians.


Of course the Evengelicals are cultists, not main-line religious followers, and their dogma is based entirely on self-serving fictions of their own devising. Talking in tongues, the Parusia, the battle of Armageddon, the Rapture and other entertaining stories were invented, out of whole cloth, and promulgated in the nineteenth century and if one wants to read real codified madness, it is recommended to read current Mormon theology.  


Poll: Grim assessment of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan


January 31, 2014

by Susan Page,



 WASHINGTON — As two of the nation’s longest wars finally end, most Americans have concluded that neither achieved its goals.


Those grim assessments in a USA TODAY/Pew Research Center poll underscore the erosion in support for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the loss of faith in the outcome of the wars, both launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The public’s soured attitudes may make it harder the next time a president tries to persuade Americans of the value of military action when it involves putting thousands of U.S. troops in harm’s way.


In the survey:


• On Iraq, Americans by 52%-37% say the United States mostly failed to achieve its goals. That is a decidedly more negative view than in November 2011, when U.S. combat troops withdrew. Then, by 56%-33%, those surveyed said the U.S. had mostly succeeded.


• On Afghanistan, Americans by a nearly identical 52%-38% say the U.S. has mostly failed to achieve its goals. In 2011, a month after Osama bin Laden was killed, a majority predicted the war would succeed.


“What is especially interesting about these responses is that the public has continued to update its views on Iraq and Afghanistan despite the fact that these wars have received virtually no attention at all from our politicians over the past couple of years,” said Christopher Gelpi, a political scientist at Ohio State University who has studied attitudes toward the conflicts. “This shows that the public is more attentive to costly wars than we might expect, even when politicians try to ignore the conflicts.”


In recent months, news reports from Iraq have centered on renewed fighting with al-Qaeda fighters and a government riven along sectarian lines. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has resisted American demands to sign a security agreement setting out the U.S. role once combat forces are withdrawn by the end of the year.


Americans continue to distinguish between the two conflicts when it comes to the justification made for using military force.


By 10 percentage points, 51%-41%, Americans say the U.S. made the right decision in using military force in Afghanistan, where the Taliban had provided safe haven for the al-Qaeda terrorists who planned the 9/11 attacks. Still, that narrow majority does reflect a significant shift in views. In 2006, two-thirds of Americans said invading Afghanistan was the right decision.


But when it comes to Iraq, support for the decision to go to war has crashed. The invasion was launched in March 2003 with Bush administration officials asserting President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, though they were never found. At the beginning, Americans by 3-1 called it the right decision.


Now, by 50%-38%, they call it the wrong one.


The poll of 1,504 adults taken Jan. 15-19 has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.


The biggest shift in attitudes toward the Iraq War came among Republicans and those who lean to the GOP. In 2011, 65% of them said the war had succeeded; now just 38% do. A double-digit gap between Republican and Democrat views in 2011 has now been largely erased.


There is a difference in partisan attitudes, though. More Republicans say it was right to use military force in Iraq (52%) than those who say the war had succeeded (38%). But more Democrats say the war succeeded (36%) than say it was the right decision to go to war (28%).


In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Obama — who won the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 in part because he had opposed the Iraq War — took credit for the drawdown in U.S. combat forces during his tenure.


“When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Obama said. “Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. … Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.”


The most sustained ovation of the evening came when the president paid tribute to Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger who was seriously wounded during his 10th deployment to Afghanistan. He was seated in the House gallery with Michelle Obama.


“As this time of war draws to a close,” Obama said, “a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life.”


In a study of the impact of Afghanistan on the 2012 election, Ohio State’s Gelpi found that the war’s casualties didn’t affect voter choices because Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney had similar stances. However, casualties in Afghanistan were linked to lower voter turnout in communities that suffered them.


“We think that the failure of politicians to respond to an issue that voters cared about — the casualties of war — discouraged involvement in the election,” he said.


Liberty Reserve founder: FBI wanted my source code


January 27, 2014

by Jorge Sainz


             MADRID (AP) — The man accused of being behind one of the world’s biggest money laundering businesses said Monday he was arrested after refusing to disclose key technical details of his online operation to the FBI.


Liberty Reserve founder Arthur Budovsky, 40, was speaking at a court in Madrid nine months after he was detained at the city’s airport on U.S. charges. He was intercepted on his way home to Costa Rica, where he was living after having renounced his U.S. citizenship.


U.S. officials accuse Budovsky of using Liberty Reserve — a currency transfer and payment processing company based on the Caribbean island — as a kind of underworld bank which handled some $6 billion worth of illicit transactions.


Answering questions from his lawyer, Gonzalo Boye, Budovsky acknowledged founding Liberty Reserve back in 2006, but said he sold his share in the business the following year and was kept on only as a consultant.


Budvosky said he had merely created a secure platform for online financial transactions. Liberty Reserve never accepted hard cash and cooperated with the FBI and other international law enforcement bodies in Britain, France, and Spain when the system detected suspicious transactions, he said.


Budovsky said he was the victim of witch hunt which began in 2011, when the FBI asked him for the source code for Liberty’s Reserve. Source codes are full technical read-outs of a software program’s operation, and although Budovsky didn’t explicitly says why the FBI wanted it, he suggested U.S. authorities wanted to use it to undermine the business.


“I refused. It’s like asking Coca-Cola for their secret formula,” he told the court through an interpreter. “The truth is that the U.S. wants to protect its monopoly on financial transfer platforms.”


Budovsky said that the confiscation of Liberty Reserve’s servers, located in Holland, allowed the United States to access financial information on some 800,000 users and 44 million transactions.


He suggested he was also being singled out because he was considered a “traitor” for having renounced his U.S. citizenship and hinted that his Russian origin also played a role in his arrest.


Budovsky’s lawyer argued that the evidence presented by the U.S. prosecutor would not be sufficienti to open a case in Spain. The European Convention on Extradition demands that the alleged offense must be a crime in both countries.


The U.S. Embassy in Spain did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Budovsky’s statements.


Spain’s judiciary will decide in the coming months whether to order Budovsky’s extradition to the U.S., a ruling which will then have to be ratified by the government. If extradition is refused, Budosky is free to go — he does not face any charges in Spain.


Raphael Satter in London contributed to this report.

Is Kerry in Denial?

January 28, 2014

by Patrick J. Buchanan,


 Does John Kerry understand the world he inherited? Is he in denial?


Consider. At Davos, Switzerland, Kerry called it a “myth” that America is withdrawing, and “the most bewildering version of this disengagement myth is about a supposed U.S. retreat from the Middle East.”


Is he serious? How else does Kerry describe Obama’s pullout of all U.S. troops from Iraq, and from Afghanistan by year’s end?


Syria is “someone else’s civil war,” says President Obama. If we do any strikes there, promised Kerry, they will be “unbelievably small,” and rest assured there will be “no [U.S.] boots on the ground.”


When al-Qaida and its allies seized Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar province, Kerry rushed to the microphones: “We’re not … contemplating returning. We’re not contemplating putting boots on the ground. This is their fight. … this is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis.”


Yes it is. But does this sound like the defiant “This will not stand!” of George H. W. Bush, after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait?


Moreover, a Pew poll last fall found that 52 percent of the nation approves of U.S. disengagement, saying America should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.”


Staying out of other countries’ quarrels and other nations’ wars is what Americans want, and Obama is delivering.


Why does John Kerry deny the obvious?


To his credit, the secretary has undertaken three diplomatic initiatives, the success of any one of which could earn him a Nobel.


The Geneva II Conference on Syria, the U.S.-U.N. negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and the Palestinian-Israeli peace initiative.


Yet Kerry’s own undiplomatic conduct may be imperiling two of his initiatives, and naivete and hubris may be blinding him to the coming collapse of the third.


On arrival at Geneva II, Kerry demanded that Iran be disinvited, then launched into a tirade insisting that Assad get out of Damascus:


“There is no way … that the man who led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.”


Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was right back in his face: “No one, Mr. Kerry, has the right to provide legitimacy … except for the Syrian people.”


Dismissing Kerry’s call for a transitional government without Assad, Moallem implied that not only was Kerry’s position irrelevant – Assad currently holds the whip hand in Syria and is going nowhere – but irrational from the standpoint of U.S. national interests.


“Those doing suicide attacks in New York,” Moallem instructed Kerry, “are the same as those doing it in Syria.”


The Washington Post backed Moallem with a report that Ayman al-Zawahiri has called on all jihadists in Syria to line up in “one rowlike, solid structure in confronting your sectarian, secularist enemy,” the Assad regime, that is backed by “Iran, Russia and China.”


“What makes our hearts bleed,” said Zawahiri, “is the hostile sedition, which has intensified among the ranks of the mujahideen of Islam.”


Can Kerry explain why America’s goal remains the ouster of Assad, when the offensive coordinator for the rebels who would take power is the successor to Osama bin Laden?


Asked what would happen should Iran backslide on the new interim nuclear agreement, Kerry rattled America’s rockets:


“If they do that, then the military option that is available to the United States is ready and prepared to do what it would have to do.”


Who is Kerry to threaten a war Congress has never authorized?


How does it advance diplomacy to threaten publicly to bomb your negotiating partners? Kerry talks as though he were back in the Senate.


The head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard dismissed Kerry’s threat as “ridiculous,” called his negotiating strategy “bankrupt” and warned that “the revolutionary people” of Iran are anxious for battle with the Americans.


If Kerry’s wants a deal, how does this bellicose bluster help?


Kerry now says that Iran will have to “dismantle” centrifuges. But is not America’s objective here proof positive Iran has no nuclear weapon or weapons program, and that its nuclear program is peaceful?


When did the destruction of Iranian centrifuges become the U.S. demand? Tehran has now planted its feet in concrete that there will be no dismantling of centrifuges, and “Bibi” Netanyahu is crowing that this means the failure of the talks.


As for an Israeli-Palestinian deal in which Kerry has invested 10 trips, Israeli economics minister Naftali Bennett calls it “a joke.”


Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon says that Kerry “is acting out of misplaced obsession and messianic fervor,” that his peace plan “is not worth the paper it is written on,” that he wishes Kerry would get his Nobel prize now, and leave Israel alone.


As for Bibi, who resigned from Ariel Sharon’s cabinet rather than accept a withdrawal from Gaza, he now says that not one settler on the West Bank will be uprooted, and not one settlement shut down.


Kerry is heading into a minefield. And so are we.




Dear America, I Saw You Naked

And yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.


January 30, 2014

by Jason Edward Harrington  



            On Jan. 4, 2010, when my boss saw my letter to the editor in the New York Times, we had a little chat.


It was rare for the federal security director at Chicago O’Hare to sit down with her floor-level Transportation Security Administration officers—it usually presaged a termination—and so I was nervous as I settled in across the desk from her. She was a woman in her forties with sharp blue eyes that seemed to size you up for placement in a spreadsheet. She held up a copy of the newspaper, open to the letters page. My contribution, under the headline “To Stop a Terrorist: No Lack of Ideas,” was circled in blue pen.


One week earlier, on Christmas Day 2009, a man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had tried to detonate 80 grams of a highly explosive powder while on Northwest Airlines Flight 253. He had smuggled the bomb aboard the plane in a pouch sewn into his underwear. It was a masterpiece of post-9/11 tragicomedy: Passengers tackled and restrained Abdulmutallab for the remainder of the flight, and he succeeded in burning nothing besides his own genitals.


 The TSA saw the near-miss as proof that aviation security could not be ensured without the installation of full-body scanners in every U.S. airport. But the agency’s many critics called its decision just another knee-jerk response to an attempted terrorist attack. I agreed, and wrote to the Times saying as much. My boss wasn’t happy about it.


“The problem we have here is that you identified yourself as a TSA employee,” she said.


They were words I had heard somewhere before. Suddenly, the admonishment from our annual conduct training flashed through my head—self-identifying as a government employee in a public forum may be grounds for termination.


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I was shocked. I had been sure the letter would fall under the aegis of public concern, but it looked as though my boss wanted to terminate me. I scrambled for something to say.


“I thought the First Amendment applied here.”


She leaned back in her chair, hands up, palms outfaced. Now she was on the defensive.


“I’m not trying to tread upon your First Amendment rights,” she said. “All I’m saying is: Couldn’t you have run those First Amendment rights past the legal department first?”


She dismissed me with the assurance that we would discuss the matter further at some point in the future.


            I never heard anything more about it during the next three years of my employment at the TSA, save for some grumbling from one upper-level manager (“What’s this I hear about you writing letters to the New York Times? You can’t do that here.”) It was the last time I would speak out as a government employee under my real name.


But it was by no means the last time I would speak out.




My pained relationship with government security had started three years earlier. I had just returned to Chicago to finish my bachelor’s degree after a two-year stint in Florida. I needed a job to help pay my way through school, and the TSA’s call-back was the first one I received. It was just a temporary thing, I told myself—side income for a year or two as I worked toward a degree in creative writing. It wasn’t like a recession would come along and lock me into the job or anything.


It was May 2007. I was living with a bohemian set on Chicago’s north side, a crowd ranging from Foucault-fixated college kids to middle-aged Bukowski-bred alcoholics. We drank and talked politics on the balcony in the evenings, pausing only to sneer at hipsters strumming back-porch Beatles sing-a-longs. By night, I took part in barbed criticism of U.S foreign policy; by day, I spent eight hours at O’Hare in a federal uniform, solemnly carrying out orders passed down from headquarters.


            I hated it from the beginning. It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots—the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying.


Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group—a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.


There I was, an aspiring satire writer, earnestly acting on orders straight out of Catch-22.


I quickly discovered I was working for an agency whose morale was among the lowest in the U.S. government. In private, most TSA officers I talked to told me they felt the agency’s day-to-day operations represented an abuse of public trust and funds.


Charges of racial profiling by the TSA made headlines every few months, and working from behind the scenes we knew what was prompting those claims. Until 2010 (not long after the TSA standard operating procedure manual was accidentially leaked to the public), all TSA officers worked with a secret list printed on small slips of paper that many of us taped to the back of our TSA badges for easy reference: the Selectee Passport List. It consisted of 12 nations that automatically triggered enhanced passenger screening. The training department drilled us on the selectee countries so regularly that I had memorized them, like a little poem:


Syria, Algeria, Afghanistan

Iraq, Iran, Yemen

and Cuba,

Lebanon-Libya, Somalia-Sudan

People’s Republic of North Korea.



Each day I had to look into the eyes of passengers in niqabs and thawbs undergoing full-body pat-downs, having been guilty of nothing besides holding passports from the wrong nations. As the son of a German-American mother and an African-American father who was born in the Jim Crow South, I can pass for Middle Eastern, so the glares directed at me felt particularly accusatory. The thought nagged at me that I was enabling the same government-sanctioned bigotry my father had fought so hard to escape.


Most of us knew the directives were questionable, but orders were orders. And in practice, officers with common sense were able to cut corners on the most absurd rules, provided supervisors or managers weren’t looking.


Then a man tried to destroy a plane with an underwear bomb, and everything changed.




We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop.


Our instructor was a balding middle-aged man who shrugged his shoulders after everything he said, as though in apology. At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked him to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines.


“They’re shit,” he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.


We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.


It worked like this: The passengers stood between two enormous radiation sensors—each of the machines twice the size of a refrigerator—and assumed the position for seven seconds, feet spread shoulder-width apart, hands above the head, making Mickey Mouse ears. The policy was to have three officers on the checkpoint floor to coach passengers into position for the machine and administer pat-downs when necessary. The images were analyzed for threats in what was called the I.O. room, short for Image Operator, which locked from the inside.


            I.O. room duty quickly devolved into an unofficial break. It was the one place in the airport free of surveillance cameras, since the TSA had assured the public that no nude images of passengers would be stored on any recording device, closed circuit cameras included.


The I.O. room at O’Hare had a bank of monitors, each with a disabled keyboard—which perfectly summed up my relationship with the TSA. I spent several hours each day looking at nude images of airline passengers with a keyboard that didn’t work, wishing I could be doing what I loved: writing. To pass the time, I phantom-typed passages on the dumb keys: Shakespeare and Nabokov and Baudelaire.


The scans were grotesque, ghostly looking black-and-white images parading across our screens. I found comedy even in the I.O. room’s name. I had been brushing up on my Greek mythology for a writing project at the time, and couldn’t help but relate the I.O. room to the myth of Io and Zeus: Zeus shrouded the world with cloud cover to hide his relations with the beautiful Io from his jealous wife, Hera. But Hera suspected something was going on, and brought the affair to an end.


            Most of my co-workers found humor in the I.O. room on a cruder level. Just as the long-suffering American public waiting on those security lines suspected, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues: Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display. Piercings of every kind were visible. Women who’d had mastectomies were easy to discern—their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area. Passengers were often caught off-guard by the X-Ray scan and so materialized on-screen in ridiculous, blurred poses—mouths agape, à la Edvard Munch. One of us in the I.O. room would occasionally identify a passenger as female, only to have the officers out on the checkpoint floor radio back that it was actually a man. All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.


            There were other types of bad behavior in the I.O. room—I personally witnessed quite a bit of fooling around, in every sense of the phrase. Officers who were dating often conspired to get assigned to the I.O. room at the same time, where they analyzed the nude images with one eye apiece, at best. Every now and then, a passenger would throw up two middle fingers during his or her scan, as though somehow aware of the transgressions going on.


But the only people who hated the body-scanners more than the public were TSA employees themselves. Many of my co-workers felt uncomfortable even standing next to the radiation-emitting machines we were forcing members of the public to stand inside. Several told me they submitted formal requests for dosimeters, to measure their exposure to radiation. The agency’s stance was that dosimeters were not necessary—the radiation doses from the machines were perfectly acceptable, they told us. We would just have to take their word for it. When concerned passengers—usually pregnant women—asked how much radiation the machines emitted and whether they were safe, we were instructed by our superiors to assure them everything was fine.


We were also ordered to tell the public that the machines were 100 percent effective, security-wise, in the event that any citizens caught wind of rumors to the contrary.


Then, in March 2012, a blogger named Jonathan Corbett published a video on YouTube, titled “How to Get Anything Past the Full Body Scanners.” In it, Corbett revealed one of the greatest weaknesses of the scanners, known to everyone I talked to within the agency: A metal object hidden on the side of the body was invisible to an image operator. Corbett showed how a passenger could bring a pistol to the airport and get it past the full-body scanners and onto a plane.


            More than a million people saw the video within a few days of its being posted. Finally, the public had a hint of what my colleagues and I already knew. The scanners were useless. The TSA was compelling toddlers, pregnant women, cancer survivors—everyone—to stand inside radiation-emitting machines that didn’t work.


Officially, the agency downplayed the Corbett video: “For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss our technology’s detection capability in detail, however TSA conducts extensive testing of all screening technologies in the laboratory and at airports prior to rolling them out to the entire field,” an agency representative wrote on the TSA’s official blog. Behind closed doors, supervisors instructed us to begin patting down the sides of every fifth passenger as a clumsy workaround to the scanners’ embarrassing vulnerability.


I remember one passenger coming through the checkpoint just after the video’s release. He declined to pass through the full-body scanner, choosing instead to receive a full-body pat-down. I asked him why he was opting out.



“Because those things don’t work,” he said, “And I don’t want to be dosed with radiation by a thing that doesn’t work. Didn’t you see the video that just came out the other day?”


“Yes, I did,” I said.


“Well, what did you think about it?”


I told him I wasn’t allowed to express that opinion while on duty as a federal officer, and he smiled.




By 2012, I’d had some experience with blogging—the run-of-the-mill personal blog that only mothers and best friends actually read—as well as contributing humor and memoir pieces to McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.


The thought occurred to me: Why not publish a website by a TSA employee, for TSA employees, which would also serve as a platform to tell the public the truth about what was going on at the agency? And so early that year I created a blog on WordPress. I titled it “Taking Sense Away.” It was to be my forum for telling the public all that I had experienced in my five years of employment with the TSA. Across the top of the site, I used an illustration of body-scan images, front and back views, like we saw in the I.O. room.


I registered the blog on a public computer at a FedEx office in Chicago, anticipating the possibility that someone might eventually be interested in the I.P. address from which the site was launched. At first, I told no one about the project and quietly sketched out articles; by mid-summer, I had enough material to fill out a year’s worth of blog posts. To be safe, I described myself as a “former” TSA employee, though I was still reporting for duty at O’Hare each day. But still I got cold feet when it was time to actually hit publish. For three months, I thought about it every time I walked past a quote painted on one of the walls at O’Hare: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.”


They were the words of the urban architect Daniel Burnham. I knew I could continue down the Path of the Little Plan—cling to my stable job with the TSA, carrying out absurd orders with my head bowed. And I knew that by publishing the blog I could very likely lose my government job and, at worst, even land myself on some sort of government watch list. But I felt an obligation to speak out, consequences be damned.


            One night in late October, on a computer at a UPS store, I published the first post, “All the Airport’s a Security Stage.” It went straight to the heart of what had prompted me to speak out in the first place: the inefficacy of the full-body scanners, the theatrical quality of nearly all airport security and the government’s shameful attempt to hide the scanners’ flaws from the public. “Working for the TSA,” I wrote, “has the feel of riding atop the back of a large, dopey dog fanatically chasing its tail clockwise for a while, then counterclockwise, and back again, ad infinitum.”


I followed that post with several others detailing the day-to-day experiences of a TSA employee. I wrote about my awkward encounters on the job, like having to ask androgynous passengers whether they were male or female, and the absurd rules I had to follow, like having to confiscate snow globes during the holiday season even though we had taxpayer-funded equipment that could test the water inside. I saw the blog as a whistleblowing site with a sense of humor. From the moment I clicked publish, I was nervous about the blowback that was sure would follow.


             Altogether, a total of nine people saw the site in its first six weeks.


I began to worry that no one at all would read what I had written. I didn’t know which was worse: gaining an audience and losing my job for speaking out, or speaking out to a nonexistent audience and working at TSA for the rest of my life.


            Then one day—Dec. 18, 2012—I got home and discovered that a blog devoted to TSA-related news had linked to me, sending several dozen people my way. I was thrilled. One woman wrote in, asking what it was like in the room where we analyzed nude images of the public. I posted her question, along with an answer: Many TSA officers clowned around in the I.O. room, I wrote. I didn’t think much of it at the time.


A couple days later another niche blog picked up my site, delivering a few dozen more visitors.


Two days later, I logged in and saw that the graph for my blog’s web traffic had come to resemble the Burj Khalifa: 60,000 people had viewed it in the eight hours that I had been at work. I sat in front of my laptop until 5 a.m., transfixed, clicking refresh over and over, watching the visitors arrive in real time.


I had gone viral.


I barely ate. It was the feeling of being in love and being scared for one’s life, all at the same time. I spent each day wondering if my co-workers or bosses had seen the site. I came home one day to an e-mail from an ABC News reporter, requesting an interview and my real name, a request I ignored. Hours later, Jezebel linked to me. Then Fox News.


            Within a week, an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times with a TSA spokesperson issuing an official government response, denying the claims of the anonymous blogger:




January 06, 2013 | By Hugo Martin


The TSA made the statement in response to a blog post purportedly written by a former TSA screener on the blog Taking Sense Away … the author of the post said he had witnessed “a whole lot of officers laughing and clowning in regard to some of your nude images, dear passenger.”


At work soon afterward, one of my colleagues told me: “Whoever it is, they’ll find him.”


            At first I only used public computers—a FedEx office here, a public library there. Then, I began posting at home but masked my IP address via TOR, the same network that WikiLeaks uses to ensure its informants’ anonymity. Programs such as TOR make it difficult for investigators to track online activity back to a name—by no means impossible, but difficult. I quickly came to understand why people make mistakes and leave behind digital fingerprints, though: Shielding one’s identity is a cumbersome enterprise. I eventually surrendered all hope of total anonymity and began posting from home, unmasked.


Paranoia gnawed at me. One of my jobs at O’Hare was to guard the airport exit lanes to make sure no one snuck into the secure side. I was also responsible for allowing credentialed law enforcement officers in. Several times a day, CIA and FBI agents would approach me at the exit lane, shiny shoes and all. After my site took off, I couldn’t shake the fear that they were approaching not to show me their badges and be waved through, but to confront me about my blog.


My roommates were the only ones who knew. I came home from work each day to two scruffy, thirty-something guys. The three of us sat around the living room, our laptops open in front of us. They played online poker and “World of Warcraft;” I tracked my site’s web traffic. They read aloud the news sites that linked to my blog, while I watched the hits coming in from the very same outlets.


 We joked that it all looked like a scene from the movie Hackers. “Did you hack into the mainframe?” one of my roommates once asked, glancing over at my screen.


            As a writer, the only thing of value that I could glean from my time at the TSA was the story of it all—the sheer absurdity of working for one of America’s most despised federal agencies. In the six months that I secretly blogged as a TSA employee, I did my best to record every notable piece of stupidity TSA and O’Hare had to offer.


There was “The Things They Ran Through the X-Ray,” a post that detailed the craziest items I had seen put through the X-Ray belt at O’Hare: dildos, puppies, kittens. Even a real live TSA officer: In 2009, one of my friends had run her male colleague through a carry-on X-Ray machine. (It was a slow night.) When management happened upon video footage of the episode, they were both fired.


There was also “No, You Don’t Know What It Is,” a post revealing that the enhanced screening you receive is often just as mystifying to the TSA officer administering it as it is to the traveler. “Random” security “plays” were passed down from headquarters every day, or ordered by our supervisors. The enhanced screening was also triggered by SSSS stamps, which could show up on passengers’ boarding passes for any number of reasons, often reasons we would never know. But we would also sometimes pull a passenger’s bag or give a pat down because he or she was rude. We always deployed the same explanation: “It’s just a random search.”


            Then there was the infamous “guyspeak” in my “Insider’s TSA Dictionary.” One of the first terms I learned from fellow male TSA officers at O’Hare was “Hotel Papa,” code language for an attractive female passenger—“Hotel” standing for “hot,” and “Papa” for, well, use your imagination.


I hinted several times on the blog that a determined terrorist’s best bet for defeating airport security would be to apply for a job with the TSA and simply become part of the security system itself. That assertion stemmed from personal experience. A fellow officer once returned to O’Hare from a trip to TSA headquarters and confessed that he had run into some complications: Someone realized that his background check had never been processed in the four years he had been an employee. He could have been anyone, for all TSA knew—a murderer, terrorist, rapist. The agency had to rush to get his background investigated. Who knows how many similar cases there were, and are, at airports around the nation.




As much as I wished I could maintain my behind-the-scenes view of the security circus, my heart was not heavy on the May afternoon when I went to turn in my uniform and tell the TSA I wouldn’t be coming back.


“You’ll have to sign all these papers,” the woman in HR told me, barely glancing my way as she handed me a clipboard with a packet of documents. She was accustomed to people coming in and resigning unexpectedly; it seemed as though everyone wanted out of the TSA.


“But as for your uniforms,” she said, “You’ll be giving those to your exit interviewer.”


I was conflicted about whether to go to the interview. I could simply refuse, claiming some sort of emergency—drop my uniforms off in a cardboard box out in front of headquarters, like an unwanted baby. My roommates told me I would be stupid to go. After all, if some government official was going to sit me down for questioning about my involvement with an anonymous whistleblower site, the exit interview would be the place it would happen.


            I decided to show. I had committed no crime in daring to speak out; I had only provided information the public had a right to know. As I saw it, $40 million in taxpayer dollars had been wasted on ineffective anti-terrorism security measures at the expense of the public’s health, privacy and dignity. If asked during my exit interview whether I knew anything about a website called “Taking Sense Away,” I decided I would tell the truth.


But the exit interview turned out to be nothing more than a pleasant conversation with a woman in admin. There was no last-minute grilling by a grim-faced government suit. It was just “Jane,” the exit interview girl who had moved from Georgia to Chicago, Southern hospitality intact. The interview consisted of Jane reading from a checklist of TSA uniform pieces I was on record as owning, and me, for the most part, apologizing for having lost many of them years ago.


Jane smiled, assuring me it was fine. She shook my hand, wished me luck in my new role as a grad student, and that was it. I left headquarters, officially relieved of my federal post.







Jason Edward Harrington is a writer and is working on a novel based on his time at the TSA. Follow him on Twitter @Jas0nHarringt0n.




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