TBR News February 21, 2016

Feb 21 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 21, 2016: “There is strong and growing anger in the United States, and elsewhere, over the menace of mass surveillance of the public by government agencies. Private parties, political organiztions, business entities are all spied on regularly by the governments. If they do not now spy on children, they have the capacity to do so at any time. A business friendly to the government has its rivals spied on and inside information given to them and, let us say, someone who is viewed as a potential political nuisance is also subject to all kinds of surveillance. But what the agencies do not know is that they, themselves, are being spied on and their most secret communication read on a daily basis. For instance, someone was able to obtain a list of the CIA’s German governmental individuals who had been subverted by the CIA to pass sensitive information to Langley. This person promptly passed the list to the German BND. Also, very top level discussions about dissing Turkey as an ally, parallel with similar talks about ditching the Saudis (who are running out of oil) are being passed around. How is this mirror-image channel operating? It is called the “Deep Internet.” This is a system that the government cannot break into, try as they do. It was set up by advanced computer experts to communicate with each other free of domestic spies. That it has expanded is beyond a doubt and someone recently told me that there are no more secrets in the world and the only way for a person to keep a secret is to tell no one else and put nothing down on paper, or file on the Internet.”

Conversations with the Crow

On October 8th, 2000, Robert Trumbull Crowley, once a leader of the CIA’s Clandestine Operations Division, died in a Washington hospital of heart failure and the end effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Before the late Assistant Director Crowley was cold, Joseph Trento, a writer of light-weight books on the CIA, descended on Crowley’s widow at her town house on Cathedral Hill Drive in Washington and hauled away over fifty boxes of Crowley’s CIA files.

Once Trento had his new find secure in his house in Front Royal , Virginia, he called a well-known Washington fix lawyer with the news of his success in securing what the CIA had always considered to be a potential major embarrassment. Three months before, July 20th of that year, retired Marine Corps colonel William R. Corson, and an associate of Crowley, died of emphysema and lung cancer at a hospital in Bethesda, Md. After Corson’s death, Trento and his Washington lawyer went to Corson’s bank, got into his safe deposit box and removed a manuscript entitled ‘Zipper.’ This manuscript, which dealt with Crowley’s involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, vanished into a CIA burn-bag and the matter was considered to be closed forever

After Crowley’s death and Trento’s raid on the Crowley files, huge gaps were subsequently discovered by horrified CIA officials and when Crowley’s friends mentioned Gregory Douglas, it was discovered that Crowley’s son had shipped two large boxes to Douglas. No one knew their contents but because Douglas was viewed as an uncontrollable loose cannon who had done considerable damage to the CIA’s reputation by his on-going publication of the history of Gestapo-Mueller, they bent every effort both to identify the missing files and make some effort to retrieve them before Douglas made any use of them.

Douglas had been in close contact with Crowley and had long phone conversatins with him. He found this so interesting and informative that he taped  and later transcribed them.

These conversations have been published in a book: ‘Conversations with the Crow” and this is an excerpt.



Conversation No. 55

Date: Monday, December 30, 1996

Commenced: 8:45 AM CST

Concluded: 9:21 AM CST

RTC: Hello, Gregory. Have a nice Christmas?

GD: Wonderful. I got a sled, some bunny slippers, a silencer for my shotgun, a pornographic Bible, three pair of socks that were too small and a dead turtle. Yourself?

RTC: Somehow, I don’t believe you. Christmas was fine here. I take it you did not have an extensive Christmas.

GD: The rabbit died and we were in deep mourning. But then we ate it and felt much better.

RTC: I could send a sympathy card.

GD: Just flush it down the loo. It might meet up with what’s left of the rabbit. Robert, to be serious, you said that Corson did not like Mark Lane. He represented Carto in a lawsuit and I was wondering what was the reason for the bad feeling?

RTC: My God, Gregory, this is like an old auntie’s sewing circle. Everyone here hates everyone else, tells lies, sticks out their tongues at each other and acts like small children. There was a lawsuit of the Keystone Cops type. Victor Marchetti, who used to be one of ours but got booted out, wrote an article for the Spotlight paper saying that Hunt had been in Dallas on the day Kennedy was shot. He was. Hunt sued the paper and got a judgment. The paper fought back and got Mark Lane to defend them.

GD: The Oswald lawyer?

RTC: The same. So they went back and forth. Marchetti is a fat slob who thinks he is very important when we who really know him consider him to be a chattering nut. Hunt is grossly incompetent but the reason why Corson hates Lane and everyone else, is that Marchetti claimed he got this information about Hunt in Dallas on November 22nd from Corson. Corson got dragged over the coals by Lane and clearly was proved to be a liar. However, there was a third person there when Corson told his little story to Marchetti and that’s what nailed him. Poor Bill. He always has to put his oar in, needed or not.

GD: Well, he told Kimmel that he knew some secret British soldier who told Corson about the Roosevelt/Churchill conversation. Corson claimed he backed it up. Kimmel went for this like a duck after a June bug, but I can’t believe it. Who was this mysterious witness? Corson said his lips were sealed.

RTC: Too bad that isn’t true.

GD: Back and forth. I know Corson has lectured me on a subject that I knew far better that he did but I just kept quiet and acted impressed. Didn’t he get court-martialed?

RTC: My God, Gregory, don’t ever go into that one. Look, these people like Bill and Trento, Marchetti and the rest of them, are like squirrels in the park running around begging nuts from the public. This is the Beltway, Gregory. It’s a hot house. Someone sees the President from about two hundred feet away, driving past in his armored limousine and then tells his friends that he had a chance to talk to the President that afternoon and the President told him….and that’s how it goes. Trento thinks he is a brilliant writer, Bill thinks he’s a mover and shaker, Marchetti sees himself as a secret agent and Hunt has just enough sense to put on his pants before going outside to get the paper. These are the hangers-on, Gregory, the wannabes as the current generation calls them.

GD: Ah, Robert, but you were actually there, you knew from doing it. The sun versus the moon. The moon reflects the glory of another. Does that role make you happy?

RTC: It makes me sad sometimes. And they run around acting like old women. Chatter, chatter, boast, back-stab, strut and eventually die. We all die, Gregory, but some take a long time to do it. I’m pleasant with them because perhaps they can help me but I am giving up with most of them. I thought Costello would be a good outlet but I gave up on him long before he died last year. Trento thinks he’s a great intelligence writer but he reminds me of a wino rooting around in old dumpsters for chicken bones. Bill hints at great secrets that only he knows and Hunt is a bumbling idiot and we should have done him instead of his wife. Marchetti is a little bit of all of them. If you listen to them, Gregory, they will convince you that big black cars drive up in front of their homes, every evening, and give them briefcases full of very secret papers. You know the types.

GD: I do, Robert, I really do. I love it when one of your pinheads starts telling me about German intelligence. Oh yes, and what about Nosenko?

RTC: A Russian double agent that Angleton mismanaged.

GD: Was Angleton Italian?

RTC: No, half Mexican. He spoke wop from his father, having lived there and sold cash registers but he was a Mexican. He was well-connected with the mob, though.

GD: Mueller told me about Boris Pash…

RTC: That asshole. A gym teacher with more dreams of glory.

GD: Heini said that Pash tried to kill the Italian Communist leader.

RTC: Togliatti. Yes, but he missed. They always miss, Gregory.

GD: I have an Irish friend who never does. He prefers a knife but bombs will do very well.

RTC: I think you mentioned him. Mountbatten?

GD: The same. Now that’s a professional. And he doesn’t talk like the rest of them.

RTC: Real professionals never do.

GD: So if we both agree on what constitutes a professional agent, how do you analyze Corson, Kimmel, Marchetti, Trento and the others? Are they agents? Kimmel works for the FBI, Marchetti used to work for your people and the others?

RTC: What we have there is the wannabe club, Gregory. All of them think they are important people and, because they have, or have had, connections with the intelligence community, they begin to feel, somehow, that they are possessors of the secrets that others do not have. This elevates them from boredom and real obscurity and makes them believe that they are privy to those who really do walk in the corridors of power. I am the one, pardon the vanity, with the secrets and I am the one who walked once in the corridors of power so they gather around me, snapping up any little bit of information I choose to drop. There are many things I would like people I know, such as my family, to know about. I would like not to leave a legacy of mystery and negativity behind me. I know Corson and the others would like to have a private club type of inner knowledge, to sit around the fire solemnly talking about great secrets they have known. Never happen. When I go, they go. It’s that basic. I had thought once to cultivate Costello and let him speak for me but I gave up on him after his visit with you. The man was brittle, opinionated and as blind as a bat. Kimmel is an establishment man with no creative juices, Corson runs around barking like one of those obnoxious little Mexican dogs that were once raised for food, Marchetti reminds me of a drunken little rat running around in a barn, trying to get out. And when he does get out, he runs around outside trying to get back in. Trento and his wife are delusional and self important and love to mix it up with losers and never-could-have-beens.

GD: Basking, like the moon, in reflected glory.

RTC: Absolutely. And these are at the top of the rank amateur clubs. Down below them, we find the “experts” and the “researchers” who represent the bottom of the pyramid. They are the ones who scribble, jabber and strut. They look upwards to the top for the voices of the masters. They all feed on each other, Gregory. Their little worlds are all they have and if someone like you, especially someone like you, comes along, they loathe, fear and despise you. You see, you are the real thing and they are just wearing Halloween costumes and they know it. After Costello returned from his visit with you and spent hours telling me how terrible and unpleasant you were, I put this down to simple jealousy and thought that perhaps I might look into you myself. And that’s why we’re talking right this very moment.

GD: Thank you for your approval, Robert. I agree with you, but they are wearing the gold-braided clown suits and go to clubs and meetings and, like old peacocks, preen endlessly. What you tell me I already know, Robert, but short of grabbing them by their throats and banging their heads against the wall, there isn’t much I can do…

RTC: Except to out-produce them, Gregory. And they know you can do it and they hate you for it. A week does not go by without my getting some kind of a phone call about what a terrible, evil person you are and warning me never to talk with you. Notice how impressed I have been with these dire warnings. But please make my life a little easier in my old age by not quoting me to any of these cheap hustlers. If they really get it into their heads that I am being informative to you, they will call me every other day, warn Greg and Emily to protect me from you and then do everything in their shabby little power to trash you. Do not, and I repeat, do not trust any of them, ever. I think we understand this all, don’t we?

GD: Oh, yes. I never trusted these sort anyway. They remind me of old aunties or, even worse, academics. Both of them gossip, chatter, denigrate everyone not present and can’t sleep well at night unless they feel they have damaged someone else that day. They see themselves as giants and, in fact, they are small, chattering mice. But, and I am sure you know all about this, we have to put up with them in order to get along with the really important matters. Don’t worry about making myself vulnerable to these types. It ends up that they make themselves vulnerable to me in the end. What is the saying? Out of nothing, nothing is made.

(Concluded at 9:21 AM CST)

This Is the Real Reason Apple Is Fighting the FBI

February 18, 2016

by Julian Sanchez


If the FBI wins, it could open the door to massive surveillance

The first thing to understand about Apple’s latest fight with the FBI—over a court order to help unlock the deceased San Bernardino shooter’s phone—is that it has very little to do with the San Bernardino shooter’s phone.

It’s not even, really, the latest round of the Crypto Wars—the long running debate about how law enforcement and intelligence agencies can adapt to the growing ubiquity of uncrackable encryption tools.

Rather, it’s a fight over the future of high-tech surveillance, the trust infrastructure undergirding the global software ecosystem, and how far technology companies and software developers can be conscripted as unwilling suppliers of hacking tools for governments. It’s also the public face of a conflict that will undoubtedly be continued in secret—and is likely already well underway.

First, the specifics of the case. The FBI wants Apple’s help unlocking the work iPhone used by Syed Farook, who authorities believe perpetrated last year’s mass killing at an office Christmas party before perishing in a shootout with police. They’ve already obtained plenty of information about Farook’s activities from Apple’s iCloud servers, where much of his data was backed up, and from other communications providers such as Facebook. It’s unclear whether they’ve been able to recover any data from two other mobile devices Farook physically destroyed before the attack, which seem most likely to have contained relevant information.

But the most recent data from Farook’s work-assigned iPhone 5c wasn’t backed up, and the device is locked with a simple numeric passcode that’s needed to decrypt the phone’s drive. Since they don’t have to contend with a longer, stronger alphanumeric passphrase, the FBI could easily “brute force” the passcode—churning through all the possible combinations—in a matter of hours, if only the phone weren’t configured to wipe its onboard encryption keys after too many wrong guesses, rendering its contents permanently inaccessible.

So the bureau wants Apple to develop a customized version of their iOS operating system that permits an unlimited number of rapid guesses at the passcode—and sign it with the company’s secret developer key so that it will be recognized by the device as a legitimate software update.

Considered in isolation, the request seems fairly benign: If it were merely a question of whether to unlock a single device—even one unlikely to contain much essential evidence—there would probably be little enough harm in complying. The reason Apple CEO Tim Cook has pledged to fight a court’s order to assist the bureau is that he understands the danger of the underlying legal precedent the FBI is seeking to establish.

Four important pieces of context are necessary to see the trouble with the Apple order.

1. This offers the government a way to make tech companies help with investigations. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies have for years wanted Congress to update the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1992, which spells out the obligations of telephone companies and Internet providers to assist government investigations, to deal with growing prevalence of encryption—perhaps by requiring companies to build the government backdoors into secure devices and messaging apps. In the face of strong opposition from tech companies, security experts and civil liberties groups, Congress has thus far refused to do so.

By falling back on an unprecedentedly broad reading of the 1789 All Writs Act to compel Apple to produce hacking tools, the government is seeking an entry point from the courts it hasn’t been able to obtain legislatively. Moreover, saddling companies with an obligation to help break their own security after the fact will raise the cost of resisting efforts to mandate vulnerabilities baked in by design.

2. This public fight could affect secret orders from the government. Several provisions of the federal laws governing digital intelligence surveillance require companies to provide “technical assistance” to spy agencies. Everything we know suggests that government lawyers are likely to argue for an expansive reading of that obligation—and may already have done so. That fight, however, will unfold in secret, through classified arguments before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The precedent set in the public fight may help determine how ambitious the government can be in seeking secret orders that would require companies to produce hacking or surveillance tools meant to compromise their devices and applications.

3. The consequences of a precedent permitting this sort of coding conscription are likely to be enormous in scope. This summer, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance wrote that his office alone had encountered 74 iPhones it had been unable to open over a six-month period. Once it has been established that Apple can be forced to build one skeleton key, the inevitable flood of similar requests—from governments at all levels, foreign and domestic—could effectively force Apple and its peers to develop internal departments dedicated to building spyware for governments, just as many already have full-time compliance teams dedicated to dealing with ordinary search warrants.

This would create an internal conflict of interest: The same company must work to both secure its products and to undermine that security—and the better it does at the first job, the larger the headaches it creates for itself in doing the second. It would also, as Apple’s Cook has argued, make it far more difficult to prevent those cracking tools from escaping into the wild or being replicated.

4. Most ominously, the effects of a win for the FBI in this case almost certainly won’t be limited to smartphones. Over the past year I worked with a group of experts at Harvard Law School on a report that predicted governments will to respond to the challenges encryption poses by turning to the burgeoning “Internet of Things” to create a global network of surveillance devices. Armed with code blessed by the developer’s secret key, governments will be able to deliver spyware in the form of trusted updates to a host of sensor-enabled appliances. Don’t just think of the webcam and microphone on your laptop, but voice-control devices like Amazon’s Echo, smart televisions, network routers, wearable computing devices and even Hello Barbie.

The global market for both traditional computing devices and the new breed of networked appliances depends critically on an underlying ecosystem of trust—trust that critical security updates pushed out by developers and signed by their cryptographic keys will do what it says on the tin, functioning and interacting with other code in a predictable and uniform way. The developer keys that mark code as trusted are critical to that ecosystem, which will become ever more difficult to sustain if developers can be systematically forced to deploy those keys at the behest of governments. Users and consumers will reasonably be even more distrustful if the scope of governments’ ability to demand spyware disguised as authentic updates is determined, not by a clear framework, but a hodgepodge of public and secret court decisions.

These, then, are the high stakes of Apple’s resistance to the FBI’s order: not whether the federal government can read one dead terrorism suspect’s phone, but whether technology companies can be conscripted to undermine global trust in our computing devices. That’s a staggeringly high price to pay for any investigation.


Brexit’ deal: EU may have signed its own death warrant

February 20, 2016

by Brian MacDonald


David Cameron’s deal with Brussels gives him a fighting chance of winning the so-called Brexit referendum. But it also sets a dangerous precedent for the EU.

Umberto Eco once observed that “the language of Europe is translation.” He also opined about how “people are tired of simple things. They want to be challenged.” Eco departed this world on Friday, just as the leaders of Britain and the European Union were confirming his perceptions.

After two days of theatrical drama, David Cameron and his European colleagues emerged with a deal designed to keep the United Kingdom in the EU. The Prime Minister indicated that all had changed, and changed utterly. However, the reality is different.

Already, Cameron’s own cabinet is divided. Reports indicate that his justice secretary, Michael Gove, intends to campaign for a ‘Brexit’. There is also speculation that London’s Mayor Boris Johnson – hotly tipped to become the next Conservative leader – is ready to oppose his PM. Meanwhile, polls indicate that the British public are almost evenly split on whether to remain in the EU or leave. The latest survey shows the exit camp holding a, slender, 2 percent lead.

While he was all smiles last night, in the safe surroundings of Brussels, Cameron knows that the deal will be a harder sell back home. Sure, he’ll have state-controlled media and much of the corporate press on his side. Big business will, largely, support him and most of the establishment. Yet, the British people, concerned with mass immigration and ridiculous housing-costs, will be a far tougher audience than the Eurocrats he faced this week.

Silly promises

Of course, the irony is that Cameron brought these problems upon himself. Just as he sleepwalked into the Scottish referendum of 2014. By making promises, to win domestic campaigns, without fully comprehending the consequences.

The roots of the ‘Brexit’ referendum can be found in the 2005 Conservative Party leadership election, after the party had been routed by Labour for the third consecutive time. Following the first round of voting, Cameron trailed David Davis, a right-wing MP who supported the reintroduction of the death penalty and a British withdrawal from the EU.

Back then, the Tories harbored so many hardliners that the current PM was seen as a kind of ‘leftie’ within his own party. So, to harden his image, he postured as a ‘Euroskeptic’. Promising to withdraw the Conservatives from the European People’s Party grouping – which also contains Angela Merkel’s CDU – went down well with the Tory base. Naturally, on the flip side, it also greatly diminished British influence in Brussels.

Later, in 2013, terrified by the rise of UKIP, which threatened to cannibalize Conservative support domestically, he offered an in/out referendum to court voters who were attracted to Nigel Farage’s group. Cameron’s strategy helped to deliver a Conservative majority in the 2015 election. Nevertheless, it also left him in a pickle. The PM had essentially used Europe to win a local squabble.

He’d also made a lot of people angry. The White House, used to dictating foreign policy to London, quickly steamed in to slam the plan. French President Francois Hollande ordered the UK to “leave” Europe, after Farage upset him during a Strasbourg debate. Even faraway Japan criticized Cameron’s proposal.

Crystal ball gazing

Now, Cameron’s future depends on securing a ‘yes’ vote in the forthcoming referendum, likely to be held on June 23. If he fails, he’ll have no option but to resign as prime minister.

The deal secured in Brussels on Friday night isn’t spectacular, although it’s also not as lightweight as many Euroskeptics profess. Other European leaders, obviously horrified at the thought of a Brexit, have conceded significant ground to Cameron. He achieved promises on British abstention from an “ever-closer union” and recognition that the Euro is not the only EU currency.

However, the bloc’s eastern members scuppered his most ambitious demand. That Britain could “control migration from the EU by reforming welfare rules.” Cameron, in the 2015 Tory manifesto, had promised that no child benefits would be paid to UK workers if their children lived abroad. He also pledged that EU migrants would be unable to claim ‘jobseekers allowance’ (the Dole) and would be forced to leave the country if unemployed for more than six months.

Shattered hopes

Cameron completely failed on the issue that most annoys British voters. Unfettered immigration and the abuse of the nation’s (relatively generous) social welfare system. Instead, he got a watered-down sop on child benefit, where the offspring of ‘new migrants’ would receive child benefit at the levels of their country of residence.

In other words, Cameron earned reasonable victories on the minutiae but failed the biggest test. It was like a football player dribbling past five defenders and then missing the target from 2 meters out.

A Brexit might be avoided. Cameron may save himself and his country’s membership of the EU. Or, six months from now, Prime Minister Boris Johnson could be leading a newly-sovereign Britain away from Brussel’s oversight. That’s for British voters to decide.

However, the damage the PM’s short-termism has rendered to the EU is beyond comprehension. Now, every anti-EU politician will know that by threatening to leave they can force Brussels to make special exemptions for their country. How long before somebody like Nicholas Sarkozy embraces Euroskepticism – to fight off Marine La Pen’s populist appeal – and France is also looking for a special deal? Or Italy? Or Spain? Or Holland?

On Friday night, Eurocrats set a dangerous precedent. One that may hasten the EU’s demise. It might come back to haunt them.

No ifs and buts’: Turkey demands US support against ‘Kurdish terrorists’

February 21, 2016


Ankara has urged Washington to unconditionally support the expansion of its battle against the terror threat, in particular Kurdish militias, warning that those hindering Turkey’s right to self-defense will be considered terrorists and acted upon accordingly.

The only thing we expect from our US ally is to support Turkey with no ifs or buts,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference after a five-hour security meeting with cabinet and state officials.

Following the car bomb attack on a military convoy in Ankara this week which left 28 people dead, a breakaway faction of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) claimed responsibility for the attack, and Turkey has vowed to intensify its fight against the Kurds both at home and in Syria.

If 28 Turkish lives have been claimed through a terrorist attack we can only expect them [the US] to say any threat against Turkey is a threat against them,” Davutoglu stated.

The US however considers the Syrian Kurdish YPG to be one of the main fighting forces against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Syria. Yet on Friday, during a phone conversation between President Barack Obama and his Turkish counterpart, the US leader stressed that “YPG forces should not seek to exploit circumstances in this area to seize additional territory,” in northern Syria where the Syrian army and the Kurdish militia, aided by Russian air power, have been making large gains.

Turkey in the meantime views all Kurdish militia that are also spread widely throughout Syria and Iraq as a direct national threat. Following on his earlier promise this week Recep Tayyip Erdogan has once again reiterated on Saturday that Turkey will strike Kurds everywhere.

Turkey will use its right to expand its rules of engagement beyond [responding to] actual attacks against it and to encompass all terror threats, including PYD and Daesh in particular,” Erdogan said at a UNESCO meeting in Istanbul.

Furthermore, Erdogan warned that those opposing Ankara’s fight with the Kurds will be deemed as “terrorist” by the Turkish state.

Whoever prevents us from using our right of self-defense, we will recognize it as a terrorist and act accordingly,” he added.

Turkey’s presidential spokesman meanwhile said that supporting YPG in Syria against the Islamic State is making the situation worse.

Those who are supporting terrorist groups in the name of fighting Daesh are only contributing to an already-worsening situation,” Ibrahim Kalin said in an opinion piece in Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper.

He accused the YPG of manipulating the war in Syria: “In the name of fighting Daesh, it is acting as a client organization to the US, Russia and Syrian leader Bashar Assad’s regime at the same time,” the spokesman wrote.

Kalin said that Ankara has “rightly reacted” to continued US support to the YPG, without elaborating further. But he did criticize the way events are unfolding in Syria presenting the Turkish version of the discourse of the war.

While the YPG attacks the other opposition groups fighting against Daesh, Daesh remains as powerful and operational as before and the Assad regime gets stronger by the day,” Kalin said.

Earlier this week, the UN Security Council president released an unofficial warning to Ankara over its actions in the region, urging it to comply with international law and to stop the shelling the Syrian Kurds

On Friday however Washington rejected a Russian draft resolution which condemned any plans for foreign military intervention in Syria. Russia’s latest concerns are related to a dangerous escalation on the Syrian Turkish border amid Ankara’s alleged plans to put boots on the ground in northern Syria, which Damascus has called a violation of Syria’s sovereignty.

U.S. Spurns Turkey Demand to Cut Kurdish Ties After Bombing

February 18, 2016

by Isobel Finkel and Ben Holland


The U.S. said it won’t break off ties to a Kurdish militia that’s fighting Islamic State in Syria, rebuffing the demands of NATO member Turkey, which blames the group for a bombing in the capital Ankara this week.

Turkey says Wednesday’s attack on a military bus, which killed 28 people, was carried out by the PKK and its Syrian affiliates. The U.S. agrees with Turkey that the PKK, which has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s Kurdish regions for three decades, is a terrorist group. But the status of the Kurdish fighters in Syria has been straining ties between the NATO allies, as their interests there diverge after more than five years of war.

The U.S. says defeating Islamic State, also known as Daesh, is the overwhelming priority. Turkey has signed up for that goal, but it’s also trying to prop up rebels in northwest Syria fighting against President Bashar al-Assad, whose Russian-backed army threatens to encircle them. The Syrian Kurds are in position to cut off vital supply lines to Aleppo, where the opposition groups are holed up, and their territorial gains may also set an example for Kurds seeking autonomy inside Turkey.

At a briefing in Washington on Thursday, State Department spokesman John Kirby expressed condolences for the loss of life in Turkey, and praised the country for its contribution to the fight against Islamic State in Syria. But he rejected the increasingly vocal calls from Turkish leaders for the U.S. to choose between its ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Syrian Kurds.


It’s not about choosing sides,” Kirby said. “There’s no doubt about Turkey’s membership in the coalition; obviously, there is no doubt about our commitment to a fellow NATO ally. And there is also no doubt that some of the strongest fighters against Daesh inside Syria have been Kurdish fighters.”

The U.S.-led coalition has carried out airstrikes in the past to support Kurds in Syria as they fought Islamic State.

That kind of coalition support will continue,” Kirby said. The U.S. understands Turkey’s concerns, and has called on the Syrian Kurdish fighters not to seize more territory near the frontier, while also urging Turkey to halt cross-border shelling, he said. But he said that responsibility for the Ankara bombing, which Turkish authorities rapidly pinned on the Syrian Kurdish group, known as the YPG, is “still an open question.”

Turkish Anger

The comments are likely to have angered Turkish leaders who have repeatedly slammed U.S. support for the YPG .

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised speech that he’d be calling his U.S. counterpart later on Friday, and that he wants the Kurdish Syrians designated terrorists. He brushed aside earlier comments by an aide that suggested Turkey was prepared to deny the U.S. access to the airbase from which it’s launching Syria strikes.

In the hours after the Ankara bombing, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey “can’t excuse any NATO ally, including the U.S, of having links with a terrorist organization that strikes us in the heart of Turkey.”

Turkish soldiers have fought alongside Americans in the Korean War, guarded U.S. missiles during the Cold War and led coalition forces in Afghanistan after 9/11.

Earlier in the Syrian war, the NATO allies were in closer agreement on strategy to force Assad to step down. The Russian intervention that started in September has turned the tide in favor of the Syrian leader. As Turkey and Saudi Arabia fretted over battlefield reversals for their rebel allies, the U.S. has favored the diplomatic search for a cease-fire over military moves to shore up the opposition, which now carry the risk of a head-on confrontation with Moscow.

We are not looking at an explicit breakdown of ties, but the U.S. will not be sensitive to any of Turkey’s priorities in Syria,” Naz Masraff, director for Europe at political risk consultants Eurasia Group, said in e-mailed comments.

Russian Spat

Turkey’s once-friendly relationship with Russia has deteriorated even faster than its U.S. ties. That limits Erdogan’s room to defy American wishes, according to Atilla Yesilada, an economist for GlobalSource Partners.

Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet in November, saying its airspace had been violated, and tensions have deepened with the breakdown of business ties since then. Meanwhile the Russians have promised to protect Kurdish fighters in Syria if they’re attacked, according to the head of the Syrian Kurds’ new representative office in Moscow.

If Turkey seriously believes that Obama is going to change course in Syria, they’re delusional,” Yesilada said. “Either they need to operate alone in Syria with whatever objective they want to achieve, or they need to change course.”

Siding With Foreclosure Victim, California Court Exposes Law Enforcement Failure

February 19, 2016

by David Dayen

The Intercept

The California Supreme Court on Thursday ruled unanimously in favor of a fraudulently foreclosed-upon homeowner in a case that should serve as a wake-up call to state and federal prosecutors that mortgage companies continue to use false documents to evict homeowners on a daily basis.

A homeowner who has been foreclosed on by one with no right to do so has suffered an injurious invasion of his or her legal rights at the foreclosing entity’s hands,” the justices wrote.

But maddeningly, practically nobody in a position of authority has stepped up to prevent those injurious invasions.

The case, Yvanova v. New Century Mortgage Corporation, sends a powerful signal from the nation’s biggest state that the massive false document scandal, first discovered nearly a decade ago, is not over, despite mortgage company promises to the contrary.

In this case, Tsvetana Yvanova purchased a $483,000 mortgage in 2006 from New Century, a company that went bankrupt in 2007. Four years later, in December 2011, New Century somehow transferred the mortgage to a trust, from which thousands of pooled mortgages had created mortgage-backed securities. But by law, the mortgages placed in that pool had to be put in it by January 27, 2007.

The eventual trustee, Western Progressive, foreclosed on Yvanova and sold her house at auction in September 2012. Yvanova later argued that her foreclosure was illegal because a bankrupt company (New Century) could not have transferred the deed of trust, and because the trust had closed to new loans four years before the transfer was executed. Therefore, the assignment document was false, and the foreclosure void.

A state appeals court ruled that Yvanova lacked the ability to challenge the defective assignment, because she was not a direct party to the transfer of ownership. But the state Supreme Court rejected that analysis.

We conclude, to the contrary,” the ruling states, that “an allegation that the assignment was void… will support an action for wrongful foreclosure.”

The 33-page ruling is narrow – the court did not rule on the validity of the assignment itself in the case, nor did it allow state homeowners to pre-emptively challenge threatened foreclosures on these issues. But it did establish that borrowers have a chance to receive compensation for a wrongful foreclosure if they find it to have been executed with false documents.

All seven justices – including potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra Kruger – concurred with the ruling. Appeals Court Judge Richard Huffman heard the case in place of Justice Ming Chin.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed an amicus brief last April supporting Yvanova’s right to challenge her foreclosure. But Harris, like every other state and federal law enforcement official in the country, has not stepped in to prevent the continuing flood of false documents submitted to courts.

The 2012 National Mortgage Settlement with the five largest mortgage companies (Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Ally Bank) included language committing the firms to end the production of false documents. But they continue to be used on a daily basis to evict homeowners. The foreclosure in the Yvanova case occurred in September 2012, seven months after the completion of the National Mortgage Settlement.

State attorneys general and the Justice Department have every authority to assert that companies are not following the terms of the 2012 agreement. But instead they’ve turned a blind eye, at best supporting the efforts of homeowners to challenge their own foreclosures.

The problem is that if homeowners had the resources to go up against deep-pocketed financial institutions in court, they would never have fallen into foreclosure in the first place. Precious few foreclosure cases are ever challenged, and those who try face a flotilla of bank lawyers on the other side. Only attorneys general have the ability to protect the public from false foreclosure documents on a wide scale.

EU’s real brake isn’t Britain but Franco-German impasse

February 221, 2016

by Paul Taylor


Forget Brexit. The real obstacle to deeper European integration is not the awkward British, whether they choose to stay in the European Union with a “special status” or leave.

It is a long-running Franco-German impasse on how to make the euro zone stronger and more sustainable, reconciling two radically different economic and political cultures.

Now that David Cameron has won a deal to enshrine formally Britain’s semi-detached status in the 28-nation bloc – if his skeptical voters don’t detach it completely – the onus will return to Europe’s founding nations to work out a way forward.

European federalists such as Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel are fretting that the terms granted to Britain’s embattled leader may whet others’ appetite for opting out of EU policies and ultimately lead to a disintegration of the union.

“We must not give the impression that Europe is a self-service,” French President Francois Hollande said. “There can be differences but there cannot be a Europe where each country picks out what it wants.”

The risk of a wider unraveling was highlighted by Austria’s unilateral decision last week to impose migrant quotas at its borders, and the refusal of four central European states to take any share of the million migrants who entered the EU last year.

But it is the breakdown of Franco-German leadership in the euro zone – the economic core of the 60-year-old European project – that worries the architects of European integration.

Paris and Berlin have long slept in the same bed with very different dreams.

In the heat of the euro zone debt crisis in 2010-12, they found just enough common ground: The euro zone tightened fiscal rules and created its own rescue fund, a partial banking union with a common supervisor and a mechanism for winding up failed banks with an embryonic common resolution fund.

But since the European Central Bank averted a meltdown of the 19-nation currency zone by pledging in 2012 to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro, reforms to reinforce economic governance and mutualism risk have stalled.


A 2012 blueprint entitled “Towards a Genuine Economic and Monetary Union” signed by the four presidents of the European Commission, the European Council, the ECB and euro zone finance ministers, led to the first steps in banking union but got stuck after that.

The French refused to contemplate the principle of making binding contracts with Brussels to reform their rigid labor market or generous welfare system – issues that could trigger strikes and topple governments.

The Germans and their allies balked at providing financial incentives for countries to sign up to such reforms. Berlin brushed aside ideas for a central euro zone budget, common bank deposit insurance or any joint debt issuance.

A second report last year outlining a more modest three-stage plan for euro zone reform, adding the signature of the president of the European Parliament, got no more traction.

Both main European powers are frustrated and feel cheated. The Germans think fiscal discipline is still not being properly enforced, notably on the French, while the French feel Berlin is still failing to show solidarity with weaker southern economies.

And both have other pressing domestic concerns – a massive influx of refugees to Germany, in which Berlin feels abandoned by most EU partners, and a deadly security challenge from Islamist militants in France.

The moment of truth has been postponed, at least until after national elections in France and Germany in 2017.

Fear of splitting the left and losing another referendum on Europe after the 2005 defeat of the EU constitutional treaty has driven Hollande’s timid European policy, insiders say.

Whether a center-right successor – or a second-term Hollande if the Socialist were re-elected against the odds – would be open to sharing more sovereignty remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the challenge of integrating a million refugees – a project on the scale of reunification with ex-Communist eastern Germany in the 1990s – is likely to cramp the political attention span of Chancellor Angela Merkel or her successor.


A growing power imbalance between an economically successful Germany and a stagnant, reform-shy France has compounded underlying differences of national tradition. Germans dream of a rules-based Europe in which governments transfer sovereignty over national budget balances to a central authority with the power to fine or expel them, and economic reform commitments are made enforceable by EU courts.

In such a union, Berlin might be willing to accept a limited common euro zone budget and common bank deposit insurance but probably never common debt issuance.

A “transfer union” – redistributing wealth from industrious northerners to easy-going southerners – remains many Germans’ nightmare. They see it as an open door to “moral hazard”, a permanent reward for bad behavior.

Many in France still dream of a smaller core euro zone with harmonized taxes at or close to their own high levels, a common minimum wage and unemployment insurance, and a sizeable common budget backed by joint public borrowing.

But with rare exceptions, the French remain allergic to outside control or supervision of their public finances or economic policies.

These divisions will not be dissolved magically whether Britain stays in or leaves the EU, although the shock of a British vote to depart would create political pressure for a bold euro zone initiative.

To be sure, Britain has now given a formal commitment not to obstruct further euro zone integration in return for concessions on migrant workers, exemption from EU political integration and safeguards for the City of London financial sector.

But euro zone countries would first have to agree on how to deepen their monetary union.

The efforts of a pioneer group of 11 euro zone states without Britain to introduce a financial transaction tax, the subject of inconclusive wrangling among finance ministers since 2012, shows just how hard that is likely to prove.

(Writing by Paul Taylor; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Syria truce deal must guarantee terrorists don’t regroup or receive intl support – Assad

February 20, 2016


Damascus is ready for a ceasefire but will not tolerate terrorists exploiting it to restore their positions or receive support from abroad, Syrian president Bashar Assad said as the top Russian and US diplomats discussed “practical cooperation” in implementing the truce.

We have said that we are ready to stop military operations,” Syrian president Bashar Assad stated, while noting that the nationwide cessation of hostilities “relates to more important factors.”

First of all, for the truce to hold, terror groups must be prevented from “using it to improve their positions,” Assad said in an interview with the Spanish EL PAIS Newspaper. Secondly, any ceasefire deal must ensure that “other countries, especially Turkey, are prevented from sending more terrorists and weapons, or any kind of logistical support.”

More than 80 countries supported those terrorists in different ways, some of them directly with money, with logistical support, with armaments, with recruitments,” Assad said. “Some other countries supported them politically, in different international forums.”

When the ceasefire takes place, the fight will still continue against Al-Nusra and ISIS, as well as radical Islamist Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam, the Syrian president said, once again stressing that in order for the truce to work the borders must be sealed.

That is what the Syrian army and the Kurdish forces have been doing around Aleppo lately, Assad said: “closing the roads between Turkey and between the terrorist groups.”

That’s why Turkey has been shelling the Kurds recently,” he added.

Meanwhile the Russian FM, Sergey Lavrov, and his US counterpart, John Kerry, discussed “practical cooperation” on Syria between the US and Russia during a telephone call on Saturday.

The two ministers have discussed humanitarian relief operations and exchanged their views on the practical aspects of cooperation between the two countries in reaching a nationwide ceasefire in Syria that would exclude terrorist groups. They stressed the necessity to establish a close cooperation between the US and Russian military, in order to achieve the goals set by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) in Munich on February 12, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

During the telephone conversation, Lavrov and Kerry also discussed the progress of the inter-Syrian talks in Geneva paying attention to the issue of developing “modalities” towards reaching a ceasefire.

“Those modalities are not yet fully agreed upon, but both ministers appreciated the scope and attention to detail task force members applied in drafting them,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said during a press-briefing commenting on the two ministers’ conversation.

Both sides welcomed the progress in delivering humanitarian aid to the blockaded Syrian territories. The Russian foreign minister also emphasized that “Turkey’s provocative actions that undermine the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic” are “inexcusable.”

In the meantime, the US and Russian representatives in Geneva have reportedly agreed on a document outlining the cessation of violence in Syria that stipulates the measures that each party to the conflict should take in order to reach the truce.

A document on the cessation of hostile actions [by each conflicting party] is ready, Russia and the US have agreed [upon it],” a source in the delegation of the Syria opposition groups that previously met in Moscow and Cairo told RIA Novosti, adding that the document should now be approved “at the high level.”

The document will “come into force within a week after it is adopted,” the source said.

According to the source that saw the draft document, it does not include Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front terrorist groups.

Saudi-backed opposition doesn’t want Al-Nusra Front being targeted – report

At the same time, another group of Syrian opposition factions also known as the High Negotiations Committee, which is backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, has set its own conditions for a “possible” temporary ceasefire that reportedly include demands not to target the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra Front terrorist group.

Various Syrian opposition factions “expressed agreement on the possibility of reaching a temporary truce deal, to be reached through international mediation,” a statement from the High Negotiations Committee said on Saturday adding that Damascus’s allies including Russia must cease fire.

A source close to peace talks earlier told Reuters that one of the conditions was that Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front would not be targeted by the government forces and their allies.

“They have to deal with this very delicately or they are going to end up with a civil war in [Syrian province of] Idlib on their hands,” the source said.

Ding, dong, the dynasty is dead: so long to Jeb Bush and the family legacy

Don’t blame Trump or pity him: Bush bungled his own campaign from the start and may have ended a dynasty of genteel political malfeasance and mass death

February 21, 2016

by Jeb Lund

The Guardian

In announcing the suspension of his campaign, Jeb Bush couldn’t have found a more apt expression for his departure from a contest that was beyond his ken than “I congratulate my competitors who are remaining on the island”. The 2016 Republican presidential primary is a thing forged in madness; as befitting the functional illogic of a reality TV show, it doesn’t make a lick of damn sense beyond itself, but the results cannot be appealed. Jeb has been voted off the island; he is the weakest link; goodbye.

There were signs long ago that he would fail to gain traction among Republican voters despite his political pedigree and all his campaign cash – not necessarily deterministic, but they were there.

The publication of his book Immigration Wars: Forging An American Solution in 2013 is one such sign: even at the time, the book seemed to be a bad idea at best. It hit bookshelves just as the Republican National Committee was putting together a postmortem on the 2012 election that noted – again – that the party needed to appeal to Latino voters.

Yet Bush’s book repudiated his own history of being an inclusive conservative politician who championed in-state college tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants, drivers licenses for the undocumented and supported the Dream Act, so long as it wasn’t implemented by Barack Obama’s executive action. The author Bush argued against any path to citizenship for those who entered this country illegally.

Bush hadn’t even announced at that point – and Trump hadn’t yet rocketed to front runner status by stoking nativist paranoia – and already he’d tied himself into a knot on what everyone knew would be one of the biggest issues of the 2016 campaign. From then on, no position that Bush advocated could escape the label of flip-flopper because he had flip-flopped on immigration. In the purity test of any Republican primary, Jeb was already the establishment, already dangerously a RINO, but now he was also infinitely changeable on the most important policy issue of the day. He might take a hardline on some issue today, but what about tomorrow?

Then came the campaign rollouts: Bush launched The New Bush Experience by gathering around him every establishment neoconservative from either the Reagan or the Bush II years – a soulless sludge of amoral warmongering boobery that, ethically-speaking, resembled the invitees to a North Korean state dinner. (They are the sort of people who put on jackets covered with epaulettes and ribbons from armchair campaigns before mounting their rider mower and treating the lawn like they’re about to daisy-cutter Vietnam.) Bush insisted he was his own man by announcing that he’d listen to advice from the people who belonged to at least one other institutional failure.

And any question of Bush hearing their counsel but keeping his own fell flat when he stumbled over multiple answers about whether the Iraq War was a good idea. This was the one question he had to have an answer for – that, indeed, it would be absurd for any American to not have an answer for – and he flubbed it repeatedly for days, before arriving at the self-evident: he would not have invaded. The fourth time was the charm, but it wasn’t charming.

When it couldn’t conceivably get any worse, Donald Trump entered the race. Blaming Jeb’s failure on him devalues just how badly Bush could’ve simply screwed his campaign up on his own. Trump was the accelerant, but Bush had to fumble and drop a lit cigarette into his pants cuff before the Trump-branded gasoline could do its work.

Trump didn’t make Bush reply to a mass shooting with, “Stuff happens”. He didn’t make Bush, a man married to a Mexican woman and the father of mixed-race children who almost exclusively speaks Spanish in his own home, say that we shouldn’t live in a multicultural society. He didn’t make Bush say that people in this country needed to work longer hours. He didn’t tell Bush that Obama’s daughter’s name was “Malala” (which is the name of the Nobel peace prize winning Taliban shooting victim turned women’s rights activist), not “Malia”.

Yes, Trump just did his own thing, and ridiculed Jeb, but if a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to call it weak, it still falls down.

None of that even gets to all those weird, doomed attempts by Bush’s campaign to make him go viral: pictures of Bush flashing the liners to his blazers, showing his JEB! emblem on a white background. Or the picture of a somewhat pathetic and forlorn Jeb standing in a hoodie, staring at the camera, as if pleading to know when this ends. Or him taking a selfie in front of the “Peachoid”. Or that last, harrowing Twitter picture, of a gun with his name engraved on it; Bush simply tweeted, “America.”

So, for as much as surrounding circumstances might have sped up the process, the bumbling began with the campaign itself, and there was nothing Jeb or his advisors could do to stop it.

But, perhaps despite the sadness on his face as he took his leave of the race, and despite his wife’s tears, and despite the fact that, by comparison, he is probably a less odious person than many of the men left in the race, there’s no need to feel pity. The Bush dynasty lost this once; given what it’s done for America in the past, that might ultimately be a good thing.

The Bush clan is a pack of jackals that has skittered among the tall grass of politics now for four generations. Granddad Prescott was a senator who made his cash at Brown Brothers Harriman, in part by investing in Germany’s financial rebuilding on the road to WWII. George HW Bush worked at Brown Brothers Harriman, too, before becoming an oil wildcatter, then a congressman, the head of the CIA (where he overlooked domestic anti-communist terrorism) and finally president, where he pardoned away the dregs of Iran-Contra and solidified the post-Watergate blueprint for America’s refusal to prosecute its greatest political criminals.

You know all about Jeb’s brother, George W “Endless War” Bush. Jeb’s son, George P Bush, once reportedly crashed a car into his ex-girlfriend’s yard after failing to gain entrance via a window (her family opted not to press charges) and is now Texas Land Commissioner – after raising over $3m dollars for the race before he even had a challenger and on the basis of his extensive experience as Bush family member. Maybe Jeb’s failure means his son won’t strive for even higher office. Or maybe not.

After four generations of participating in Republican politics and appealing to Republican voters, the conservative base prefers someone who wants to build impossible walls, expel 11 million people, start trade wars with countries we distrust and bomb anything that moves. There is some consolation in seeing a dynasty of genteel political malfeasance and mass death undone by a TV showman who recognizes that the audience now wants the same product, just bigger, louder and cruder.

But this is the small justice that people seek when they know the system will forever fail them. There is no glee here, just resignation. Besides, interpreting events like that again focuses on Trump, when the visceral truth of the Bush campaign was that we finally saw the rot of their dynasty move to the surface, like cheap composite plywood puncturing through a deep wood veneer.

Jeb Bush was one of the family, and he failed. And if there is one, stark emotional legacy of the Jeb 2016 experience, it is this: despite coming from all that power and money, Jeb Bush ran a campaign so wracked with failure and so thoroughly inept that he could move millions of Americans beyond their richly earned contempt for him and his family. By the end, Jeb Bush actually made people feel sorry for him.

Planned refugee shelter in eastern German town of Bautzen catches fire

A planned home for asylum seekers has been burnt down in Germany’s Saxony state. Police reported onlookers cheering at the burning building and preventing the fire brigade from doing its work.

February 221, 2016


A building meant to house refugees in Bautzen in Saxony caught fire on Saturday night, local officials said. The structure, known as the “Husarenhof,” was originally a hotel and was being modified to shelter asylum seekers.

No one was hurt.

Local police said they were still searching for reasons as to why the fire broke out. The criminal investigation department and a group specializing in right-wing crime were looking at possible motives, police said.

Officials also reported that locals in Bautzen cheered as the building burnt. “Some people reacted to the arson with derogatory comments and undisguised joy,” police said in a statement. Some onlookers were under the influence of alcohol, they added.

Several people present at the scene hindered fire officials from carrying out their work. Three people were expelled from the area and two were taken into police custody after they did not heed warnings, officials said.

Hate crimes on the rise

The incident in Bautzen comes shortly after a mob shouting anti-migrant slogans blocked a bus full of refugees in Clausnitz, also in Saxony. Saxony’s Chief Minister Stanislaw Tillich condemned the incident in the two towns as “disgusting and hateful.”

Nearly 1 million asylum seekers fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and Asia arrived in the country last year. Public response has been largely positive, but possible migrant involvement in cases of sexual assault and a perceived threat to German culture has spurred resentment in some quarters.

There were more than 1,000 arson attacks on planned and completed refugee shelters across Germany in 2015.


Our new President and his Wife, Doris

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