Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /home/tbrnew5/public_html/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 284

TBR News January 28, 2019

Jan 28 2019

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. January 28, 2019:” The U.S.’ perceived enemies in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. CIA-owned and controlled drone missiles are now being used by Blackwater against many purely civilian targets in both countries with the sole idea of terrorizing the local population and the added advantage of possibly killing militants, their families or potential supporters.

To those of my readers who know little about this private SS association, perhaps a brief discussion of Blackwater, its owner and previous bloody activities might be in order. In Nazi Germany, it was not the German Wehrmacht who liquidated Communists and Jews in captured German territory in Western Russia but the SS and the SD. Both of these were private, not public, organizations and if a large massacre might be discovered, the military could say that they had no knowledge of it and hence, no responsibility for it.

That many of these killers were hired by the Army, and later the CIA, after the war is a page of history that has not been written. As a parallel, the Blackwater assassins are a private army and official U.S. agencies can have Reagan’s ‘plausible deniability.”

 

The Table of Contents

  • A Bruised Trump Faces Uncertain 2020 Prospects. His Team Fears a Primary Fight.
  • Kamala Harris and the US state looking to take down Trump
  • Russia: Trump & His Team’s Ties
  • Google’s Sidewalk Labs Plans to Package and Sell Location Data on Millions of Cellpho
  • The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations
  • Russia: Trump & His Team’s Ties

 

A Bruised Trump Faces Uncertain 2020 Prospects. His Team Fears a Primary Fight.

January 26, 2019

by Alexander Burns, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman

New York Times

President Trump’s defeat in his border-wall standoff with Congress has clouded his already perilous path to a second term in 2020, undercutting Mr. Trump’s cherished image as a forceful leader and deft negotiator, and emboldening alike his Democratic challengers and Republican dissenters who hope to block his re-election.

The longest government shutdown in history inflicted severe political damage on the president, dragging down his poll numbers even among Republicans and stirring concern among party leaders about his ability to navigate the next two years of divided government. Mr. Trump, close associates acknowledge, appears without a plan for mounting a strong campaign in 2020, or for persuading the majority of Americans who view him negatively to give him another chance.

Compounding the harm to Mr. Trump on Friday was the indictment of Roger Stone, his political adviser for several decades, on charges of lying to investigators and obstructing the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The indictment was taken by some Republicans as the surest sign yet that Mr. Mueller’s investigation is likely to grow more painful to Mr. Trump and his associates before it wraps up.

Mr. Trump still commands the loyalty of a passionate electoral base that has rallied to him in trying moments, and advisers believe he will have room to right himself while Democratic presidential candidates are mired in a long nomination fight. Yet they are also growing anxious that he could face a draining primary of his own next year.

Several prominent Trump antagonists are actively urging other Republicans to take on the president, and a popular governor, Larry Hogan of Maryland, has indicated he is newly open to their entreaties.

In a sign of the White House’s determination to project party unity, a top Trump campaign official, Bill Stepien, traveled to the Republican National Committee meeting in New Mexico this week to orchestrate an ornamental resolution of support for the president. It passed unanimously on Friday afternoon, hailing Mr. Trump for his “effective presidency” even as his shutdown strategy collapsed.

David Winston, a Republican pollster, said the burden was now on Mr. Trump to restore his stature as a leader by forging some kind of border-security deal with Democrats, and to deliver a stronger message on the economy.

“Leadership means results,” Mr. Winston said. “When you have a shutdown, people look at it, basically, as: the political system has failed.”

Mr. Winston said polling data suggested the border wall had been a problematic fight to pick. “Immigration is an important issue,’’ he said, “but people are waking up every day trying to figure out how they’re going to pay a set of bills in front of them.”

For now, Mr. Trump remains wholly focused on appeasing his conservative base, comprising perhaps a third of the electorate, despite private G.O.P. polling suggesting that his agenda on immigration has failed to move the country in his favor, Republicans who work closely with the president said.

But Mr. Trump emerged from the shutdown with nothing to show for it, having angered swing voters with his intransigence, while disappointing hard-line supporters by failing to secure any funding for a border wall.

Conservatives still believe that Mr. Trump cannot afford to abandon his crusade for a barrier. Not long before Mr. Trump agreed to reopen the government, Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a White House ally who leads the hard-line Freedom Caucus, argued that the wall fight was vital to the president’s re-election hopes.

“It’s not lost on any of us that a central component of what he said when he ran in 2016 has to be addressed in a meaningful way,” he said in a recent interview.

Privately, some of Mr. Trump’s 2016 aides have said they are pessimistic about his path to 270 electoral votes after his party’s midterm defeats in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. An Associated Press poll on Wednesday showed that Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating had fallen to 34 percent, with his support among Republicans dipping below 80 percent — a startling turn for a president who strives for total control of the G.O.P., and has usually achieved it.

The Mueller investigation looms as another destabilizing force for the president. David Kochel, a Republican strategist based in Iowa who is opposed to Mr. Trump, said the special counsel’s eventual report could determine whether Mr. Trump is vulnerable in a primary.

“That will be a focusing mechanism for the party,” Mr. Kochel said.

While core Republican voters remain loyal to him and he is not currently facing a contest for the nomination, Mr. Trump’s low standing with political moderates and especially women is leading some G.O.P. officeholders to voice unease about having him at the top of the ticket next year.

“I think it’s healthy and appropriate for the party to consider in 2020 whether this is really the path it wants to continue taking,” said David F. Holt, the Republican mayor of Oklahoma City, where a Democrat won a stunning House upset last year thanks in part to the suburban antipathy toward Mr. Trump.

The 2020 election is nearly two years away and Mr. Trump has ample time to build a political operation, marshal support from financial backers and make his case to the American people. Mr. Trump captured the presidency with a largely improvisational candidacy, guided by his own instincts for personal combat and cultural division, and lacking the strategic discipline of most presidential campaigns.

But even among his own political lieutenants, there is a general recognition that Mr. Trump currently lacks anything resembling a positive message.

Mr. Trump is especially fixated on two well-known Democrats, speaking frequently about Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president whom Mr. Trump regards as his most dangerous potential opponent, and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Some of his advisers are more preoccupied with two other would-be challengers, who would offer a starker generational contrast with the 72-year-old president: Senator Kamala Harris of California and Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas Senate candidate.

In this volatile moment, however, Mr. Trump and his aides have been just as focused on heading off competition from fellow Republicans. In addition to helping direct a resolution of support from the R.N.C. — Mr. Trump tweeted approvingly Saturday morning, suggesting re-election “should be easy’’ — Mr. Stepien, the former White House political director, has been leading an effort to ensure there is no insurrection at next year’s convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Now a top aide on Mr. Trump’s campaign, Mr. Stepien and his deputies have been consulting party leaders about shutting off avenues to a challenge and ensuring that states cannot put forward “favorite son” candidates to contest the president’s renomination.

Mr. Trump has also dedicated a team of aides to guaranteeing that only political loyalists are elected to serve as delegates to the convention. To that end, Mr. Stepien dispatched some of his staff members this month to see that their preferred candidate remained in charge of the Maine Republican Pa

The fruits of some of those efforts were on display at the R.N.C. meeting outside Albuquerque, where enthusiasm for Mr. Trump was undimmed, at least publicly. The party leaders ignored Mr. Stone’s arrest, which took place just hours before they gathered, and Ronna McDaniel, the party chair, did not deviate from her prepared remarks, lashing the media for promoting “manufactured scandals.”

Jeff Kent, the party committeeman from Washington State, offered perhaps the most ferocious tribute to the president, brandishing his red “Make America Great Again” hat as he addressed officials.

“To the press in the back of the room,” said Mr. Kent, his voice rising, “please go tell the world we will always proudly wear this hat and we will always proudly support our great president, Donald A. Trump.” (The president’s middle initial is “J.”)

Other Republicans view Mr. Trump’s political stumbles as an opportunity to lure a challenger into the race, with Mr. Hogan emerging as a new subject of their efforts. At a December conference hosted by the Niskanen Center, a right-of-center think tank, Mr. Hogan spoke briefly with William Kristol, an implacable Trump critic in the conservative press, who argued that the president is weaker than widely understood, people briefed on the conversation said.

Mr. Hogan, 62, is set to meet more formally in the coming weeks with Mr. Kristol and Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist helping marshal opposition to Mr. Trump. Mr. Kristol and Ms. Longwell have been meeting with Republican donors and potential challengers, sharing focus-group and polling data about the president’s vulnerability with what they call “Reluctant Trump Voters,” according to a copy of their presentation reviewed by The New York Times.

Mr. Hogan is planning a trip to Iowa in his capacity as an officer of the National Governors Association. But his advisers also recently reached out to Mr. Kochel, the Iowa-based strategist, to ask that he put together a dinner with similarly minded Republicans while Mr. Hogan is there, according to an associate of Mr. Kochel briefed on the exchange.

Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center, said Mr. Hogan had “made it clear that the door is open to a potential candidacy, but no decision has been made.”

In addition to Mr. Hogan, William F. Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, is weighing a challenge to Mr. Trump as a small-government moderate, people who have spoken with him said. Mr. Weld, 73, who was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2016, has discussed either opposing Mr. Trump in the Republican primaries or seeking the Libertarian presidential nomination.

Mr. Weld declined to comment on his deliberations, and Mr. Hogan declined through an aide to be interviewed.

Other Republicans known to be entertaining campaigns against Mr. Trump include John R. Kasich, the former governor of Ohio, who ran in 2016; Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska; and Jeff Flake, the former senator from Arizona. But Mr. Sasse is said to have grown uneasy about the idea, and Mr. Kasich and Mr. Flake are pursuing opportunities in television.

Bruce Berke, a Republican strategist in New Hampshire aligned with Mr. Kasich, said he currently saw Mr. Trump as unassailable in a G.O.P. primary.

“A primary challenge in 2020, as of today, would be futile for anyone,” Mr. Berke said.

Still, Republican donors will want to know just how damaged the president may be by the end of this year before they truly commit to a challenge.

Asked if he would be willing to raise money for a primary opponent to Mr. Trump, Stanley Druckenmiller, a New York-based investor who has given millions to Republican candidates, said, “If I thought such a candidate would be a good president and had a realistic chance of securing the nomination, yes, of course.”

A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 27, 2019, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Standoff Adds to Trump’s Vulnerability for 2020.

 

Kamala Harris and the US state looking to take down Trump

January 28, 2019

by Anthony Zurcher

BBC News

Oakland, California-The propulsion of senator and lawyer Kamala Harris to front-runner status among the Democrats hoping to take on President Donald Trump in 2020 has underlined the resurgent political power of her home state.

A California senator is one of the front-runners for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

A California congresswoman is Speaker of the House of Representatives.

California’s new governor is a young, progressive champion promising to offer an alternative to the “corruption and incompetence” of Donald Trump’s White House.

The so-called Golden State has become solidly Democrat blue, and its politicians are flexing their muscles on the national stage. But this golden opportunity doesn’t come without risk for the progressive cause.

A campaign kick-off is a political show of force. It’s a chance to demonstrate that a candidate’s appeal exists beyond op-ed think-pieces, lines on a fund-raising report or clicks on a social media post. Nothing drives home the potential of ballot-box success quite like a throng of faces in a cheering crowd.

On a warm Sunday afternoon at a public square in Oakland, California, Kamala Harris made just such a statement, packing in an estimated 20,000 people as she officially launched her presidential bid.

“These are not ordinary times, and this is not an ordinary election, but this is our America,” the California senator said. “At stake is not the leadership of our party and our country. It is the right to moral leadership of this planet.”

Her speech, carried live on US cable news networks, was geared towards a national audience, including promises of universal healthcare and pre-kindergarten childcare, debt-free college, a working- and middle-class tax cut, and an immigration system that welcomes refugees and provides some undocumented migrants a pathway to citizenship.

The choice of this northern California city across the bay from San Francisco to launch her campaign, however, was no accident for the woman just two years into her first term in Washington.

It’s where Ms Harris, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, was born. It’s also where she first held public office, as a deputy district attorney.

Oakland, she notes, is where she stood before a judge as a prosecutor for the first time and said “five words that would guide my life” – “Kamala Harris, for the people”.

It’s a line she has now adopted as her campaign slogan.

Ms Harris would go on to rise through the ranks, first as San Francisco district attorney and then California attorney general, before making the leap to the Senate.

“It’s exciting to see someone from California, from the Bay area, run for president,” says Danny Marquis, a dentist from San Francisco who brought her 11-year-old son, Gabe, to the event.

“She represents some of my values, somebody who’s hardy, who has been out there and who has walked the walk that I’m on right now, who will fight for and represent people like me.”

Ajay Bhutoria, a Fremont, California, business consultant who served on the national finance committee for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, says the turnout on Sunday shows just how desperate people are for change.

“California is the leader in innovation, and they’re sending a message today,” he says. Bhutoria adds that while he’s still keeping an open mind over whom he will support, Ms Harris is a “great candidate”.

The senator’s potential was being heralded on the national level even before Sunday’s choreographed launch in front of her hometown fans.

Liberal cable news host Rachel Maddow recently said Ms Harris had a “good chance” of being the 2020 Democratic nominee. An analysis on the election forecasting site fivethirtyeight.com said she “comes out looking stronger than any other potential candidate”.

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote a piece titled, simply, “Kamala Harris, a front-runner”.

Given the size of the field – and the fact that the first nominating contest is more than a year away – these kinds of predictions are risky. At this point in 2015, many Republicans were busy fitting Jeb Bush with their party’s crown, after all.

The conventional consensus, however, is that Ms Harris is at the head of the pack – and California is a big reason why.

The state is a fund-raising power base with little parallel. In the 24 hours after Ms Harris announced, she reported $1.5m (£1.1m) in donations, breaking a record set by Senator Bernie Sanders in 2016.

Last year her campaign committee and related fund-raising organisations brought in more than $23m, with six-figure contributions from individuals associated with entertainment giant WarnerMedia, the University of California, Los Angeles based Creative Artists Agency and the parent company of Bay area tech giant Google.

California’s primary also has an influential spot in the 2020 calendar, having moved from June in 2016 to early March.

If Ms Harris can stay in the race that long – and it certainly seems she will have the money to do it – the senator could be poised to reap the mother lode of Democratic convention delegates in her home state.

A golden month

Ms Harris may be seeking the top prize, but her presidential announcement was only the capstone on a month that thrust the state of California firmly onto the national stage. It began with San Francisco Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi returning as Speaker of the House of Representatives after eight years in the political wilderness.

It wouldn’t take long to demonstrate just how much power the San Franciscan now wields, as she faced down the president in the 35-day battle over border-wall funding and the resulting government shutdown.

In November Democrats picked up 40 seats in the chamber – seven from California alone, primarily in what was long thought to be the solidly conservative Los Angeles suburbs of Orange County. Mr Trump’s unpopularity in California essentially eviscerated the state’s pro-business, socially moderate Republican Party in the land that once helped vault Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to presidential success.

“There was an old Reagan quote that ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’ were the scariest words,” says Bill Whalen, a fellow at Stanford University’s conservative-leaning Hoover Institution. “Those words don’t scare people in California anymore.”

For the first time the largest state in the US both in terms of people and economic muscle speaks almost entirely with one political voice. And the message it’s sending stands in stark contrast to the Trump-style conservatism that has dominated the national conversation for the past two years.

A few days after Ms Pelosi used her gavel to usher in a Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives, she flew back west to have a front-row seat at the inauguration of California’s newly elected governor, Gavin Newsom.

Under tents erected to ward off the rain at the state capitol in Sacramento – just over an hour’s drive north of the Oakland square where Ms Harris formally started her presidential bid three weeks later – the 51-year-old former California lieutenant governor and mayor of San Francisco had his moment in the spotlight.

He used his inaugural address to lash out at the “corruption and incompetence” of the White House and position his state as the liberal counterweight to Donald Trump’s America.

The country is watching us,” he said. “The world is waiting on us. The future depends on us. And we will seize this moment.”

Outside the tents, Mr Newsom’s spirit was contagious.

“California is the resistance to the Trump administration,” says San Jose schoolteacher Andrea Reyna. “We’re the fifth-largest economy in the world by having strong leaders who are voices for equality, who are voices for freedom. It gives us a privilege and thus a responsibility to take a lead.”

The California boom

This idea of California’s special obligation as a progressive beacon permeated the inaugural proceedings in the state capitol.

“As everybody has been saying, California has been the place where policy experimentation has created amazing results,” says Jennifer Granholm, the former Michigan governor who now teaches at the University of California – Berkeley and served as master of ceremonies for the inauguration of the state’s lieutenant governor. “This is California’s moment to shine.”

It’s hard to dispute those claims right now, as California – and the Democrats in power – are riding high.

The state has been the engine fuelling the record-breaking US economic expansion, accounting for a fifth of the nation’s economic growth since 2010. In 2017 its gross domestic product expanded by 4.7% – more than twice the rate of the US as a whole.

Per-capita income is rising faster than any other state, and its government budget is running a multi-billion dollar surplus, giving Mr Newsom flexibility to enact sweeping new social programmes.

“Think of everything Democrats want to do in Washington but can’t – universal healthcare, more entitlements, more rules, more regulations – without backlash from an opposition party or the public,” says Whalen. “California is really the Democratic dream in that regard, and the Newsom administration is putting that dream to the test.”

In his inaugural address, the newly sworn-in governor did, in fact, talk about dreams, although he styled his progressive priorities as the “California dream” – of good jobs, quality education and a comfortable retirement.

“Not to get rich quick or star on the big screen, but to work hard and share in the rewards,” Mr Newsom said. “To leave a better future for our kids.”

After the speech, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti – who is contemplating his own presidential campaign – expanded on the governor’s thoughts.

“Certainly people dream in other states, but nobody talks about the Missouri dream or the Alabama dream,” he says. “This is a unique place that almost the whole world knows, even if they’ve never been here. They feel California as at once an idea and a place.”

As if to drive home the point that California politics and the Trump administration are headed on an ideological collision course, just a few days after Mr Newsom’s inaugural salvo, the president lashed out at the state via Twitter, threatening to withhold disaster relief funds for victims of the state’s recent spate of fatal forest fires “unless they get their act together”.

A golden age for Democrats

California Democrats dreaming big – and holding their state up as an example to the rest of the US and even the rest of the world – could seem in some ways inevitable. The most formidable state in the US, run by progressives under progressive policies, would appear destined to produce ambitious politicians intent on translating the success of their state into national prominence.

This sense of inevitability, however, is a relatively recent development.

“California is a funny place,” says UCLA lecturer and former Los Angeles Times reporter Jim Newton. “You don’t have to look back very far for it to be fairly reliably Republican. This notion of it being an absolutely rock solid Democratic bastion is a relatively new phenomenon.”

Mr Newsom’s inauguration, in fact, marked the first time since the 1870s that two Democrats in a row have occupied the California governor’s mansion. Ms Harris is the first California politician to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in a quarter century.

Part of the reason for this is generational. Jerry Brown, California’s governor for the last eight years, was in his 70s during his second stint in office, after serving two terms in the 1970s and early ’80s. He had already run for president three times, in 1976, 1980 and 1992, and his national ambitions were long since dimmed.

Dianne Feinstein, the state’s senior senator, is in her 80s, and Ms Harris predecessor, Barbara Boxer, never showed interest in a White House bid.

With a new cadre of Democrats taking the reins comes new ambitions.

It’s more than that, however. For long stretches over the past three decades, California has been an economic basket case. The state was devastated by the recession of the early 1990s, the tech bubble collapse of 2002 and the Great Recession in 2008.

“In 2010, the conventional wisdom was that California was headed the way of Greece; that it was ungovernable” says Newton. “People were openly debating the question of what would happen if a state the size of California declared bankruptcy. It was called, quite literally, a failed state.”

Part of the reason California suffers so grievously in times of economic downturn is because the state is heavily dependent on income and corporate taxes as a revenue stream. When people and corporations make less money, once bursting government coffers quickly go empty.

And so while California Democrats are touting the opportunities that California can present as a model of progressive success, the flip side of this opportunity is danger. If California fails – if it slips back into an economic morass – it will quickly become a conservative cautionary tale instead of a liberal beacon

The Gray ghost

In a front row at Mr Newsom’s inauguration, like a ghost of presidential ambitions past, was a man who provides a telling example of just how quickly California fortunes can change.

Democrat Gray Davis was elected governor of California in 1998, breaking a Republican hold on the job that stretched back to the end of Mr Brown’s first stint in 1982. The Golden State was booming, and government spending shot up. The milquetoast Davis was even being bandied about as a future presidential contender.

Shortly after Mr Davis’s 2002 re-election, however, the dotcom collapse eviscerated California’s economy. Revenues plummeted, and Mr Davis’ attempts to raise state fees to compensate led to a voter rebellion that ended in his 2003 recall election and replacement by actor-turned-Republican-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.

After Mr Newsom gave his speech, Mr Davis reflected on his experience.

“Recessions can take a $15 or $20bn surplus and make it a $15 or $20bn deficit,” he says. “I think [Mr Newsom] appreciates all the hard work and tough decisions that led to this phenomenal surplus, and I don’t think he wants to be the person who squanders that.”

Already there are some dark linings to the silver clouds of Californian prosperity. Profits – and stock valuations – for high-profile Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Facebook and Tesla are down.

Property values, which have been skyrocketing, are starting to soften. And in major metropolitan areas where they aren’t, working-class families have long since been priced out of desirable homes and neighbourhoods.

While the state leads the way in economic growth, it is also tied with Louisiana and Florida for the highest poverty rate in the US, at 19%. More than 130,000 Californians are homeless, with Los Angeles second only to New York City among US cities.

“It’s a complicated story,” says Whalen. “I can take you to parts of California, and you will fall in love with it. But there are problems with the blue paradise, as well.”

If the economy falters, the problems that Whalen suggests – homelessness, a lack of adequate healthcare, overcrowding and traffic in the cities, and an uneven quality of public education – will get worse as the money dries up.

Risk and reward

The progressive challenge over the coming months will be to find a way to enact their priorities on healthcare, the environment, education and immigration while insulating the state from the business cycle’s inevitable downturn.

Their success or failure will clearly impact upon the national ambitions of men like Mr Newsom and Mr Garcetti, but even Ms Harris – whose presidential campaign will try to cast a broader net – could be tarnished.

Already the senator is taking heat for her time as the state’s attorney general and a San Francisco city prosecutor, during which critics say was she was not sufficiently supportive of criminal justice reform. If the Democratic regime in California, of which she was recently a part, oversees a budgetary train wreck in the coming year, it will be difficult for her campaign to emerge unscathed.

Whalen doesn’t think Democrats are up to the task. UCLA’s Newton, on the other hand, sees this as the party’s biggest challenge – and opportunity.

“There’s going to be a downturn, and how Newsom handles that really will help send the message of whether this state is something different or just better than most at riding an upward business cycle,” he says.

And even if the things stay stable, the cadres of ambitious California Democrats – including Ms Harris, Mr Garcetti, Mr Newsom, and others – will have to prove that their state really is a model that can be applied to the nation as a whole.

“For this state to be meaningful beyond electing liberal leaders,” Newton says, “it has to show that there is something qualitatively different about what it’s like to live under this government than it is under a Trump government.

“If this is a state that can manage wealth, that can handle downturns, it can balance economic growth and environmental protection, that can be welcoming to immigrants at a time when the rest of the country is unsure of that, that’s a genuine counterproposal.”

In the days and months ahead, this progressive counterproposal will be put to the test – in California and among Democratic primary voters across the US.

 

Russia: Trump & His Team’s Ties

by Congressman Eric Michael Swalwell Jr

Despite Russia’s harmful national interests against the U.S., and its human rights violations around the world, President Trump and his team are directly and indirectly tied to Russia.

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, President Trump not only refused to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, but was even friendly and accommodating in his remarks. In his own words, President Trump called President Putin “highly respected.” More recently, President Trump put the U.S. on equal moral footing with Russia when responding to Bill O’Reilly’s question about Putin being a “killer,” saying “We’ve got a lot of killers… you think our country’s so innocent?” This is absolutely false moral equivalence, and unheard of for the President of the United States to insult and demean the country he leads.

President Trump has harshly criticized NATO, and exclaimed that only the NATO allies that paid equally to the alliance deserved protection from the United States. Though these remarks were softened by British Prime Minister Theresa May, who claims that President Trump fully supports the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), it’s still unclear how supportive he will be of NATO allies like the Baltic states in light of his relationship with Russia.

President Trump has also surrounded himself with people who do business with and are sympathetic to Russia. The New York Times reported that members of Trump’s 2016 campaign and other Trump associates had frequent contact with senior Russian intelligence officials throughout the campaign. In addition to these questionable communications, here are a few other associates with ties to Moscow:

  • Donald Trump: Not only does his past and current team have ties to Russia, but the President himself also does. He has traveled to Russia extensively, done business there often, and has ties to Russian interests. For example, in 2008 he made a real estate sale to Russian billionaire, Dmitry Rybolovlev. Trump bought a Palm Beach mansion in 2004 during a bankruptcy sale for $41 million, and less than four years later, without ever having moved in, Trump sold the mansion to Rybolovlev for $95 million. In a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office, he revealed highly classified information to the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. US media was banned from this meeting, but a Russian photographer was allowed in the session, later releasing these photos on the Russian state-owned news.
  • Michael Flynn: Flynn, President Trump’s former National Security Advisor, was asked to resign just weeks after he was sworn in. His resignation came after it leaked that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his communications with Russian officials, specifically Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, before President Trump’s inauguration. In these communications, Flynn discussed sanctions imposed by the Obama administration on Russia – while President Obama was still in office. Earlier last year, he stated that the U.S. needs to respect that “Russia has its own national security strategy, and we have to try to figure out: How do we combine the United States’ national security strategy along with Russia’s national security strategy,” raising troubling questions. In 2015, Flynn delivered remarks at a Moscow gala honoring RT, Russia’s propaganda arm, where he was seated next to Putin. Flynn accepted $33,750 for this speech by RT, and did not correctly report the payment, thus concealing payment from a foreign government, and possibly violating the law in the meantime. Flynn continued to appear on RT as a foreign policy analyst. Altogether, Flynn was paid more than $67,000 by Russian companies before the 2016 presidential election.
  • Jeff Sessions: Sessions, President Trump’s Attorney General, had two conversations with Ambassador Kislyak during the 2016 presidential election. However, during later confirmation hearings, he claimed that he “did not have communications with the Russians” when prompted by Senator Al Franken. Once reports of his meetings with Kislyak surfaced, Sessions recused himself from any investigation into Russia’s interference in our 2016 presidential election. Many officials are continuing to call for his resignation.
  • Rex Tillerson: Tillerson, President Trump’s former Secretary of State, worked on energy projects in Russia for two decades during his career at Exxon. He has publicly described his “very close relationship” with President Putin and was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship in 2013, the highest state honor possible for a foreigner.
  • Jared Kushner: Kushner is President Trump’s son-in-law and current Senior Advisor. Along with Michael Flynn, Kushner met with Ambassador Kislyak during the Presidential transition. The White House later acknowledged that following that meeting, Ambassador Kislyak requested a second meeting, which Kushner had a deputy attend. However, at Kislyak’s request, Kushner did later meet with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Russia’s state-owned development bank, who has close ties to President Putin. The U.S. placed this bank on its sanctions list following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The Senate Intelligence Committee plans to question Kushner about his meetings with Russian officials. The New York Times recently reported that Kusher failed to disclose dozens of contacts with foreign leaders on his application for top-secret security clearance — one of those contacts being Ambassador Kislyak.
  • Donald Trump, Jr.: Trump, Jr., President Trump’s son, met with Fabien Baussart, a leader of a Syrian opposition group backed by the Russian government, and others about how the U.S. could work with Russia on the Syrian conflict weeks before Donald Trump was elected President. He has also been quoted saying that his father’s businesses “see a lot of money pouring in from Russia”, and that he had visited Russia on business over a half-dozen times. In June 2016, he met with a Russian billionaire, Emin Agalarov, under the premise that Emin had “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” from the Crown prosecutor of Russia, and that this was part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
  • Paul Manafort: Manafort, who has business connections to Russia and Ukraine, was hired as Trump’s campaign manager in March 2016. He then resigned in August of the same year, after reports surfaced that suggested he had received $12.7 million from Victor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russia former president. It was recently revealed by AP that Manafort proposed in a strategy plan from as early as June 2005 that he would work to influence politics, business deals, and media inside the U.S. and Europe to benefit Putin. This plan was pitched to Oleg Deripaska, a “Russian aluminum magnate” with close ties to Putin. Manafort eventually signed a $10 million contract with Deripaska in early 2006. The Trump Administration and Manafort have both said that Manafort never worked for Russian interests. Since the FBI confirmed in a House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on March 20 that investigators are examining whether the Trump campaign and its associates coordinated with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, the White House has made attempts to distance itself from Manafort, claiming that he played “a very limited role” in the campaign, despite his clear leadership role as campaign chairman leading up to the Republican National Convention. On October 27, 2017, Manafort was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy against the United States, among other charges.
  • Carter Page: Page, hired as a foreign policy advisor to Trump’s 2016 campaign, was known to have deep ties to Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas company. In July 2016, a month after Russia’s DNC meddling was reveled in the press, Page traveled to Moscow to make a speech. The Trump campaign approved this trip, saying he would not be traveling as an official representative of the campaign. In the speech he delivered in Moscow, he criticized American foreign policy as being hypocritical – remarks which ultimately led to his resignation from Trump’s campaign. Before joining the campaign, he was a businessman “of no particular renown” working in the Moscow branch of Merrill Lynch before creating his own consulting agency. Previously, Trump identified Page as one of a small group of advisors helping to craft his foreign policy platform during the campaign. However, President Trump’s staff now claims that “Carter Page is an individual who the [then] president-elect does not know.” Page met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in 2016. Buzzfeed recently reported that Page had met with a Russian intelligence agent named Victor Podobnyy in 2013, who was reportedly trying to recruit Page. Podobnyy was later charged by the U.S. for acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government.
  • Tevfik Arif: Arif, who founded Bayrock, a real estate group known to have many deals with Trump, had a 17-year career in the Soviet Ministry of Commerce and Trade.
  • Roger Stone: Stone, a former advisor to Trump, had back channel conversations with Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, which is the organization that published the DNC leaks and Podesta emails during the 2016 elections. He also had exchanges with Guccifer 2.0 — a hacker believed to be linked to Russia involved in the 2016 hacking of Democratic National Committee emails — in August 2016. Also in August, he tweeted “it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrell.” About two months later, Wikileaks began posting John Podesta’s emails.
  • Felix Sater: Sater, formerly a senior advisor to the Trump Organization, is a Russian-born Bayrock associate with extensive involvement in organized crime. In 2015, he wrote an email to Trump’s lawyer, Cohen, referencing then-candidate Trump saying: “Our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
  • Alex Shnaider: Born in Russia, Shnaider co-financed a real estate project with Trump. Shnaider’s father-in-law, Boris J. Birshtein, was a close business associate of Sergei Mikhaylov, the head of one of the largest branches of the Russian mob.
  • JD Gordon: Gordon, a national security advisor for the Trump campaign met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, who he told he would like to improve US – Russia relations. He advocated for a change to the GOP national platform to make their policies more pro-Russian and less pro-Ukraine, a change which Gordon said was directly supported by then-candidate Donald Trump.
  • Wilbur Ross: Ross, President Trump’s Secretary of Commerce, was the top shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus, an institution with deep Russian ties and investors who made fortunes under Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to McClatchy, the banking system in Cyprus, because of its dependence on Russian investors, is money-laundering concern for the US State Department. Ross served as the vice chairman of the board of directors for the Bank of Cyprus. The second largest investor in the Bank of Cyprus was Viktor Vekselberg, who once served on the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft, which is under partial sanction by the US Treasury Department. Vekselberg is known to have a close relationship with Vladimir Putin. In February, six senators sent a letter to Ross inquiring about his relationship to Vekselberg. The senators also inquired about Ross’s relationship with Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, who is also linked to the Bank of Cyprus, was a former KGB agent, and is believed to be a Putin associate.
  • Erik Prince: Prince, who had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, had a secret meeting with a Russian close to President Putin, arranged by the United Arab Emirates, the Washington Post recently reported. The meeting reportedly took place around January 11, 2017 on the Seychelles islands, and was allegedly part of an effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Russia and then President-elect Trump. The UAE agreed to facilitate the meeting in order to explore Russia’s willingness to curtail its relationship with Iran. Prince was a supporter of Trump, and has ties to Steve Bannon and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is his sister. He was also seen in Trump transition offices in December.
  • Michael Cohen: Cohen is a longtime associate of President Trump’s and is his current personal lawyer. He has come under scrutiny for pursuing a Trump Tower deal in Moscow while Trump was campaigning to be President, and for alleged meetings with Russian officials in Prague. In January 2017, he met with a Ukrainian opposition politician and Felix Sater to discuss a plan to give Russia long term control over Ukraine and lift sanctions against Russia. They then put this plan in a sealed envelope and left it in the office of then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
  • George Papadopoulos: Papadopoulos was a foreign policy advisor for the Trump Campaign. On October 27, 2017 it was revealed that Papadopoulos had plead guilty to making a false statement to federal investigators “about the timing, extent and nature of his relationships and interactions with certain foreign nationals whom he understood to have close connections with senior Russian officials.” While working for the Trump Campaign, Papadopoulos met with an overseas professor who told him about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” He repeatedly sought to use his connections to arrange a meeting between the campaign and Russian government officials. On March 31, 2016, at a foreign policy meeting with Trump and other campaign advisers, Papadopoulos shared that he could help arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin. He sent multiple emails to other members of the campaign about his contact with “the Russians” and “outreach to Russia.”

In addition to these ties, it appears that Trump and his team are conscious of their guilt. In late February 2017, CNN reported that “the FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign.” This request may be a violation of procedures that limits communications between the White House and FBI on pending investigations.

Why is America’s leader and his team so close to Russia? This is either due to poor judgement or a deeper personal, financial, or political link between President Trump and Russia. It is not normal for the leader of our country to be so extensively tied to a foreign government that has sought to undermine democracies across the globe, and connections like these should be concerning to American citizens everywhere.

Eric Michael Swalwell Jr. is an American politician from California, who serves as the U.S. Representative from California’s 15th congressional district. He is a member of the Democratic Party.

 

Google’s Sidewalk Labs Plans to Package and Sell Location Data on Millions of Cellphones

January 28, 2019

by Ava Kofman

The Intercept

Most of the data collected by urban planners is messy, complex, and difficult to represent. It looks nothing like the smooth graphs and clean charts of city life in urban simulator games like “SimCity.” A new initiative from Sidewalk Labs, the city-building subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has set out to change that.

The program, known as Replica, offers planning agencies the ability to model an entire city’s patterns of movement. Like “SimCity,” Replica’s “user-friendly” tool deploys statistical simulations to give a comprehensive view of how, when, and where people travel in urban areas. It’s an appealing prospect for planners making critical decisions about transportation and land use. In recent months, transportation authorities in Kansas City, Portland, and the Chicago area have signed up to glean its insights. The only catch: They’re not completely sure where the data is coming from.

Typical urban planners rely on processes like surveys and trip counters that are often time-consuming, labor-intensive, and outdated. Replica, instead, uses real-time mobile location data. As Nick Bowden of Sidewalk Labs has explained, “Replica provides a full set of baseline travel measures that are very difficult to gather and maintain today, including the total number of people on a highway or local street network, what mode they’re using (car, transit, bike, or foot), and their trip purpose (commuting to work, going shopping, heading to school).”

To make these measurements, the program gathers and de-identifies the location of cellphone users, which it obtains from unspecified third-party vendors. It then models this anonymized data in simulations — creating a synthetic population that faithfully replicates a city’s real-world patterns but that “obscures the real-world travel habits of individual people,” as Bowden told The Intercept.

The program comes at a time of growing unease with how tech companies use and share our personal data — and raises new questions about Google’s encroachment on the physical world.

If Sidewalk Labs has access to people’s unique paths of movement prior to making its synthetic models, wouldn’t it be possible to figure out who they are, based on where they go to sleep or work?

Last month, the New York Times revealed how sensitive location data is harvested by third parties from our smartphones — often with weak or nonexistent consent provisions. A Motherboard investigation in early January further demonstrated how cell companies sell our locations to stalkers and bounty hunters willing to pay the price.

For some, the Google sibling’s plans to gather and commodify real-time location data from millions of cellphones adds to these concerns. “The privacy concerns are pretty extreme,” Ben Green, an urban technology expert and author of “The Smart Enough City,” wrote in an email to The Intercept. “Mobile phone location data is extremely sensitive.” These privacy concerns have been far from theoretical. An Associated Press investigation showed that Google’s apps and website track people even after they have disabled the location history on their phones. Quartz found that Google was tracking Android users by collecting the addresses of nearby cellphone towers even if all location services were turned off. The company has also been caught using its Street View vehicles to collect the Wi-Fi location data from phones and computers.

This is why Sidewalk Labs has instituted significant protections to safeguard privacy, before it even begins creating a synthetic population. Any location data that Sidewalk Labs receives is already de-identified (using methods such as aggregation, differential privacy techniques, or outright removal of unique behaviors). Bowden explained that the data obtained by Replica does not include a device’s unique identifiers, which can be used to uncover someone’s unique identity.

However, some urban planners and technologists, while emphasizing the elegance and novelty of the program’s concept, remain skeptical about these privacy protections, asking how Sidewalk Labs defines personally identifiable information. Tamir Israel, a staff lawyer at the Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic, warns that re-identification is a rapidly moving target. If Sidewalk Labs has access to people’s unique paths of movement prior to making its synthetic models, wouldn’t it be possible to figure out who they are, based on where they go to sleep or work? “We see a lot of companies erring on the side of collecting it and doing coarse de-identifications, even though, more than any other type of data, location data has been shown to be highly re-identifiable,” he added. “It’s obvious what home people leave and return to every night and what office they stop at every day from 9 to 5 p.m.” A landmark study uncovered the extent to which people could be re-identified from seemingly-anonymous data using just four time-stamped data points of where they’ve previously been.

There are also lingering questions about how Sidewalk Labs sets limits about the type and quality of consent obtained. As the past year’s tsunami of privacy breaches has shown, many users do not understand how closely they are being tracked and how often their data is being resold to advertisers or third parties or programs like Replica. “We need to do a better job in ensuring the type of express consent commensurate with sensitivity of data is actually being enforced when data is collected,” Israel noted. Consent has historically been defined by broad and vague terms of service, leveraging companies’ knowledge of intricate technical details at the expense of users too pressed for time to read — let alone understand — their jargon-laden privacy policies. The Times investigation found, for instance, that “the explanations people see when prompted to give permission are often incomplete or misleading.” Even while they may retain a broad right to sell or share location data in an opaque privacy policy, many apps do not explicitly tell their users that they are doing so.

It’s difficult to evaluate who might be consenting when it’s not clear where the data comes from. Sidewalk Labs explains that Replica’s data is purchased from telecommunications companies and companies that aggregate mobile location data from different apps. “We audit their practices to ensure they are complying with industry codes of conduct,” said Bowden. “No Google data is used. This extensive audit process includes regular reporting, interviews, and evaluation to ensure vendors meet specified requirements around consent, opt-out, and privacy protections.”

Yet because the exact sources of data have not been revealed, it is unclear whether Replica draws from the ranks of unregulated apps that profit from indefinite privacy policies to continuously collect users’ precise whereabouts. Publicly available documents from cities piloting or purchasing Replica offer conflicting information about Replica’s exact sources of data. A document from the Illinois Department of Transportation describes Replica’s data sources as “mobile carrier data, location data from third-party aggregators and Google location data, to generate travel data for a region.” This data sample, it adds, “is not limited to Android devices” and “is collected from individuals for months at a time, allowing for a complete picture of individual travel patterns.” In Portland, documents filed with its city council state that the data is sourced from “Android Phones and Google apps.” Officials at the Portland Bureau of Transportation told Oregon Public Broadcasting that some of the sources of Sidewalk Lab’s mobile location data may also come from other sources, not yet known to them. Minutes from a regional transit planning meeting for Kansas City suggest that it’s possible for Replica “to get data on things like Uber & Lyft,” while a city PowerPoint states that the tool is “based off of Google data.”

At stake with Replica is the value that can be produced by aggregating data about our movements and then selling it back to governments. The program was originally pitched by Sidewalk Labs “to support the development” of Quayside, the controversial “smart” city planned for Toronto’s eastern waterfront. (A Sidewalk Labs spokesperson told The Intercept that there are no plans to bring Replica to Toronto.) Yet Torontonians have been watching Replica’s plans closely. Some see the project as an example of the way the proprietary tools and techniques developed by Sidewalk Labs at Quayside might be exported — or imported — to other cities, without creating any additional economic benefits for the residents who have produced this data.

“Replica is a perfect example of surveillance capitalism, profiting from information collected from and about us as we use the products that have become a part of our lives,” said Brenda McPhail, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Privacy, Technology, and Surveillance Project. “We need to start asking, as a society, if we are going to continue to allow business models that are built around exploiting our information without meaningful consent.”

 

The CIA Confessions: The Crowley Conversations

January 28, 2019

by Dr. Peter Janney

 

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, on 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 the well-known Washington fix-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.

The small group of CIA officials gathered at Trento’s house to search through the Crowley papers, looking for documents that must not become public. A few were found but, to their consternation, a significant number of files Crowley was known to have had in his possession had simply vanished.

When published material concerning the CIA’s actions against Kennedy became public in 2002, it was discovered to the CIA’s horror, that the missing documents had been sent by an increasingly erratic Crowley to another person and these missing papers included devastating material on the CIA’s activities in South East Asia to include drug running, money laundering and the maintenance of the notorious ‘Regional Interrogation Centers’ in Viet Nam and, worse still, the Zipper files proving the CIA’s active organization of the assassination of President John Kennedy..

A massive, preemptive disinformation campaign was readied, using government-friendly bloggers, CIA-paid “historians” and others, in the event that anything from this file ever surfaced. The best-laid plans often go astray and in this case, one of the compliant historians, a former government librarian who fancied himself a serious writer, began to tell his friends about the CIA plan to kill Kennedy and eventually, word of this began to leak out into the outside world.

The originals had vanished and an extensive search was conducted by the FBI and CIA operatives but without success. Crowley’s survivors, his aged wife and son, were interviewed extensively by the FBI and instructed to minimize any discussion of highly damaging CIA files that Crowley had, illegally, removed from Langley when he retired. Crowley had been a close friend of James Jesus Angleton, the CIA’s notorious head of Counterintelligence. When Angleton was sacked by DCI William Colby in December of 1974, Crowley and Angleton conspired to secretly remove Angleton’s most sensitive secret files out of the agency. Crowley did the same thing right before his own retirement, secretly removing thousands of pages of classified information that covered his entire agency career.

Known as “The Crow” within the agency, Robert T. Crowley joined the CIA at its inception and spent his entire career in the Directorate of Plans, also know as the “Department of Dirty Tricks,”: Crowley was one of the tallest man ever to work at the CIA. Born in 1924 and raised in Chicago, Crowley grew to six and a half feet when he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in N.Y. as a cadet in 1943 in the class of 1946. He never graduated, having enlisted in the Army, serving in the Pacific during World War II. He retired from the Army Reserve in 1986 as a lieutenant colonel. According to a book he authored with his friend and colleague, William Corson, Crowley’s career included service in Military Intelligence and Naval Intelligence, before joining the CIA at its inception in 1947. His entire career at the agency was spent within the Directorate of Plans in covert operations. Before his retirement, Bob Crowley became assistant deputy director for operations, the second-in-command in the Clandestine Directorate of Operations.

Bob Crowley first contacted Gregory Douglas  in 1993  when he found out from John Costello that Douglas was about to publish his first book on Heinrich Mueller, the former head of the Gestapo who had become a secret, long-time asset to the CIA. Crowley contacted Douglas and they began a series of long and often very informative telephone conversations that lasted for four years. In 1996, Crowley told Douglas that he believed him to be the person that should ultimately tell Crowley’s story but only after Crowley’s death. Douglas, for his part, became so entranced with some of the material that Crowley began to share with him that he secretly began to record their conversations, later transcribing them word for word, planning to incorporate some, or all, of the material in later publications.

Conversation No. 70

 

Date:  Thursday, February 27, 1997

Commenced: 6:15 PM CST

Concluded: 6:38 PM CST

RTC: Gregory? Have I interrupted your dinner?

GD: Not at all. I eat later, if I think about it that is. I thought you’d be in bed by now, Robert. A problem?

RTC: Actually, yes, there is…or might be. Do you have some time there?

GD: Sure. Not a problem.

RTC: It’s about that Atwood person we spoke of earlier. Remember the one?

GD: Oh, yes, I do remember Atwood. Did old Critchfield off him?

RTC: No, not as I understand but there is unhappiness about Atwood’s proclivity to talk to the wrong people and you are certainly considered the wrong people. By Critchfield’s crowd. Jim does not like me any more over that Angolia business but one of our mutual friends was in touch with me yesterday about this and I thought I ought to discuss it with you. There are, or were, certain aspects to Atwood’s activities, both on and off the board, that there is some anxiety about. It’s known he had very dubious dealings with you six or seven years ago and you are considered to be a loose cannon. Atwood is considered to be a loose mouth and in my calling, that is not considered to be either wise or conducive of a long and happy life. Might I ask you what, if anything, Atwood discussed with you concerning his activities with the Company? Can you recall?

GD: My memory is very good, Robert, as you might have noticed.

RTC: I have. At times a great asset, Gregory, but at other times, a great liability. If you take my meaning?

GD: Oh, I do. Atwood? I got to know him while I was living in Munich in ’65. I was selling German militaria via the Shotgun News….

RTC: And that was….?

GD: Is. It’s a trade paper for gun and military collectors. In Hastings, Nebraska. I was a guest of Franzi von Otting and I used his name. Con premise and he got a percentage of the take. Anyway, Jimmy saw the advert and since he was in Germany, decided to look me up. He wrote and made an appointment and I met him in the lobby of the Vierjahrezeiten.

RTC: Pardon?

GD: A posh Munich hotel. He was staying there with two tarts. Bargirl types if you know what I mean. He was very polite and civil. Slight southern accent. Anyway, we had a long conversation about the collecting trade. Jimmy had written a book on Nazi daggers and was, as he admitted over a drink or two, having these made up in Solingen and selling them. He was making very good money and was highly ambitious. Made up Hermann Goering’s wedding sword and shoved it off on some stupid collector and, as I recall, Hitler’s suicide pistol. A Walther with ivory grips. Got it on the cover of Argosy magazine and sold it to another sucker in Canada. Anyway, we had a talk about creative selling and, as I recall, he was interested in my expertise on the historical aspects. I pointed out to him that in the picture of the alleged Hitler gun, the maker was Walther but their factory was in Ulm, not in what was now the DR. He laughed and said, as I remember, ‘well…you caught me….’ and on we went. I don’t drink very much but he certainly could put it away. And we went out to a restaurant and continued the talking. I learned a lot about him, the more he drank, but he learned nothing about me. Considering everything, that was just as well. I know he had a good opinion of me because in ’90 we went to Austria and dug up some buried Nazi concentration camp loot an SS general buried there in ’45.

RTC: And who might that have been?

GD: A Slovene named Globocnik. Had been the Gauleiter of Vienna until Hitler sacked him for stealing.

RTC: I was told about him. Not a nice person.

GD: No, but you used him after his faked suicide. The Brits sold him to you and you sent him down to Syria to help the rag heads.

RTC: Gregory, you are most interesting and informative. And I hope you are also discreet.

GD: Oh, I can be. Why the interest in Jimmy?

RTC: It has slowly dawned on certain exalted people that perhaps you might have gleaned some forbidden information about brother Atwood in the course of your wild career. Do go on

GD: Well, I don’t know what was, or is, forbidden, and what isn’t.

RTC: Why not just go on and let me be the judge of that. Please continue about Atwood.

GD: I will. Atwood was one of your people and was not only involved in merchandising and otherwise making a profit selling fake German militaria…

RTC: By German, you specifically mean Nazi, don’t you?

GD: Yes, of course. I’ll tell you about the market in a few minutes. Right now, I am going to fill you in on what I learned from James. I give you some background here on the very off chance that you know nothing about it. Since at least 1981 and probably earlier, there exists a worldwide network of ‘free-standing’, or especially and specifically. no direct U.S. government ties companies, including airlines, aviation and military spare parts suppliers, and trading companies, set up that  have been put to good use by the CIA and the U.S. government to illegally ship arms and military spare parts to Iran and to the Contras. And, of course, to smuggle people who can’t go by commercial airlines and, let us not forget, drugs

RTC: I rather wish you would forget about drugs. I don’t think brother Atwood was involved with drugs. Do go on.

GD: Yes. These companies were set up with the approval and knowledge of senior CIA officials and other senior U.S. government officials and staffed primarily by ex-CIA, ex-FBI and ex-military officers. I am correct here?

RTC: Yes. Go on.

GD: You will probably end up hating me if I do, Robert, but I note you asked me to continue.

RTC: I think I am above that, Gregory.

GD: OK. Now let’s look at the Iran Contra business. I know all about at least a part of this so we can go into it a little. Secord’s arms shipments, arraigned through the CIA, transferred weapons destined for Central America to Merex. This was known officially as Merex International Arms and was, and is, based in Savannah. The Merex address was occupied by Combat Military Ordinances Ltd., controlled by Jimmy Atwood. He had been in the Army in MI and then went to work for your people. James was involved in major arms trades with your sponsored international buyers, specifically Middle Eastern Arab states. Monzer Al-Kassar utilized the Merex firm for some of his weapons transactions with the Enterprise.   Now Merex was originally set up, after the war, by old Skorzeny co-worker, one Gerhard Mertins. Gerhard had been a Hauptmann (captain to you, Robert) in the German paratroopers and got the Knight’s Cross in, I believe, ’45. After the war, Mertins went to work in Bonn and the Merex arms business was considered a CIA proprietary firm. Mertex was close to and worked with the BND, the German intelligence service evolved from the CIA-controlled Gehlen organization. Atwood was involved with Interarmco, run by Samuel Cummings, an Englishman who ran the largest arms firm in the world. Cummings died in Monaco because he had looted his CIA employers and found that principality safer than Warrenton, Virginia. Also connected with Atwood’s firm were Collector’s Armory, run by one Thomas Nelson, whose nickname was ‘Red Nelson’ because of his hair color, not his politics, and a George Petersen of Springfield, Virginia, and one Manny Wiegenberg, a Canadian arms dealer. Jimmy was heavily involved in your support of Canadian separatists and I know something of his role in supplying weapons and explosives to the Quebec Libré movement. The head of your Canada Desk was actively encouraging this group to split away from Canada. I know for a fact that your people do not want ever to mention this little historical aside.

RTC: No, we do not, Go on.

GD: Also, I know all about Atwood’s connections with Skorzeny and the IRA/Provo wing. I can give you chapter and verse on this one if you want it. One of Atwood’s Irish connections is the man who blew up Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1979 and I have a file on this as well in some safe and private place You might also be aware of the shipping of weapons into the southern Mexican provinces by Atwood and his Guatemala based consortium. Atwood had a number of ex-Gestapo and SD people on board, some of whom were wanted. I recall a former SS officer, Frederich Schwend who worked with your people and was down in Lima. Schwend had been trained by the OSS in the early 1940s after he had informed Allen Dulles that the German SS had hidden millions in gold, cash, and loot as the European war was winding down. Atwood knew about the Weissensee gold hoard that Müller told me about. Jimmy knew about it but I had the overlay so he courted me and we ended up, shovels in hand, in the beautiful mountains in ’90.

RTC: There are conflicting stories about that business. You murdered two British people as I understand it.

GD: No such thing, Robert. As I understand it, and I was there, they fell off the boat in the middle of the Caribbean. Such lies your people make up.

RTC: Well, there are always two sides to every story, Gregory. You are better than two cups of coffee, I must say. I think I ought to get some Pepto Bismol pretty soon. After the Treasure Island adventure, what happened next?

GD: To Atwood? Well, as Jimmy told me, about 1992, he and your Jimmy Critchfield, along with a Russian Jew, formed a partnership in order to obtain a number of obsolete Soviet atomic artillery shells which they then sold to the Pakistanis.  I think the two of them kept the money and no one ever saw the Jew again. If you don’t know this, I can tell you that both Critchfield and the Interarmco people had supplied weapons to the rebels in Afghanistan during their long and vicious guerrilla activities against the Soviet Union. Critchfield also worked with the Dalai Lama of Tibet in a guerrilla war against Communist China and headed a CIA task force during the Cuban missile crisis. He ran regional agency operations when the U.S. and the Soviets raced to secure satellites first in Eastern Europe, then in the Middle East. And note that in the early 1960s, Critchfield recommended to the CIA that the United States support the Baath Party, which staged a 1963 coup against the Iraqi government that the CIA believed was falling under Soviet influence. Critchfield later boasted, during the Iran-Iraq war that he and the CIA had created Saddam Hussein.

RTC: Gregory, where in the sweet hell did you get all of this?

GD: From Atwood when he was drunk.

RTC: You’ve just guaranteed that he will pass to his reward very soon. Does that bother you?

GD: I never liked him. He tried to rip me off once but he was so crude about it that I have no respect for him. Shall I go on?

RTC: I have approach-avoidance conflicts here, Gregory. You might as well ruin the rest of my evening. Proceed.

GD: Are you sure? You don’t sound too happy.

RTC: I am not but do go on.

GD: As you wish. When Arab oil became paramount, your Critchfield became your national intelligence officer for energy and was also an energy policy planner at the White House. He also fronted a dummy CIA corporation in the Middle East known as Basic Resources, which was used to gather OPEC-related intelligence for the Nixon administration. . Critchfield was the chief of the CIA’s Near East and South Asia division in the 1960s and a national intelligence officer for energy as the oil shortage crisis began in the early 1970s. Of course your people, along with the oil barons, forced the price of oil up and up. My, I wonder how much money you all made. Oh well, not important here. Critchfield retired in the mid ‘70s and ended up as both a consultant and the CEO of Tetra Tech International, a Honeywell Inc. subsidiary and which managed oil, gas, and water projects in the strategic Masandam Peninsula. This, in case your geography is weak, is located on the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the West’s oil is transported. And at the same time, Critchfield was a primary adviser to the Sultan of Oman, focusing on Middle East energy resources, especially those in Oman.

RTC: I should never have asked you about this.

GD: The Bible says ask and ye shall receive.

RTC: Yes. We can forget the Bible here. It has no part in the intelligence business. You mentioned Merex. Do you know of other friendly assets?

GD: Surely, Try Aero Systems, Arrow Air, Global International, and how about Zenith?

RTC: Did you get these names from Atwood?

GD: Of course I did. I told you Jimmy was not discreet while he was drinking. I listened to his tales of self-importance and remembered it all. Oh, and I write it up as well.

RTC: Gregory, for the Lord God’s sake, if not mine, or more important, yours, do not discuss any of this with anyone else, your son or people like Willis Carto. If you aren’t careful, Critrchfield will have you eliminated. I shall have to warn him off on that topic but…I mean why would Atwood tell you such terrible things and if he told you, who else could he have told?

GD: One of his German whores, probably. Jimmy goes on and on.

RTC: So I note. And we can ring the curtain down on that one ASAP.

GD: From your reaction, Robert, I assume Jimmy was accurate.

RTC: No comment but Atwood is a dead man.

GD: Well, I might have gotten my insights from the back of a Wheaties’ box but Jimmy is a better candidate. Do you know why I dislike Jimmy and would frame his death notice? His wife stuck with him when he was arrested for tax evasion in smuggling in the ‘60s and as a mark of his appreciation, he deserted her and his two daughters to run off with one of his bar girls. The rest of his activities are one thing but I do not tolerate such domestic treachery. Do you think I’m being too critical?

RTC: What a question. Who cares about his wife and children? This man has gone way beyond the bounds. Way beyond. Of course I believe you. You could never have made all that up and I can assure you it was never in the New York Times. They might know some of it but they wouldn’t dare publish it. No, you got it from Atwood or someone connected with him. Ah, well, I did ask and I did receive. They hate you Gregory, they hate you with a passion but at the same time, they are scared shitless of you. They would have killed you some time ago but others counseled them against it. Who knows what you put down on paper? If you were run over by a truck in the middle of a shopping mall or attacked and eaten by a leopard in your own living room, who knows what might find its way out of some hiding hole and into the public? The public is happy with its football games and beer so we had best not disturb them with such stories.

GD: They might make a good movie out of all this.

RTC: Never, Gregory, I can promise you that. A studio that even considered this would be bankrupt within a few months. No, none of this will ever see the light of day and if you want to continue walking around, remember that silence is golden.

GD: I have no problem with gold. Just think of all that looted concentration camp gold Jimmy and I dug up.

RTC: Yes and I understand you cheated him out of his share.

GD: When thieves fall out, Robert, honest men prosper.

RTC: Meaning no disrespect but do you consider yourself to be an honest man?

GD: Selectively, Robert, selectively. And Jimmy?

RTC: Don’t make book on his seeing Christmas.

 

(Concluded at 6:38 PM CST)

              https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Conversations+with+the+Crow+by+Gregory+Douglas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No responses yet

Leave a Reply