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TBR News May 17, 2017

May 17 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. May 17, 2017: “”An empire in decline is fearful to behold.

When Austria lost her physical empire to Germany and Italy, she snatched land in the Balkans, confronted the militant Serbs and began intensive spying and surveillance on her own citizens.

The United States gained world prominence through war and threat of war, not unlike Great Britain, and as long as she could maintain momentum, all was well and good.

But when economic and geo-political forces began to change the scenery on the stage, instead of becoming flexible and accommodating, America redoubled her efforts at the use of physical and economic force.

Her leaders view the mass of the public as little more than providers of useful, and controlled, taxation monies they could get rich from dipping into.

If a government promises marvelous things and does not follow through on their promises, they are objects of annoyance but if they take something away from the tax-paying public that is needed and used, the consequences are deadly.”

Table of Contents

  • America Reloaded
  • CIA is world’s most dangerously incompetent spy agency – Assange
  • Russia’s response to Trump leak reports: don’t read U.S. newspapers
  • Turkish PM Yildirim: Germany must “decide” if it wants better relations
  • Putin offers transcript to prove Trump did not pass Russia secrets
  • Trump’s Leakers Have Only Made Things Worse
  • Cybercrime just tip of iceberg in organized criminality, study finds

 America Reloaded

The Bizarre Story Behind the FBI’s Fake Documentary About the Bundy Family

May 16 2017

by Ryan Devereaux and Trevor Aaronson

The Intercept

Ryan Bundy seemed uneasy as he settled into a white leather chair in a private suite at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. As the eldest son of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who had become a national figure for his armed standoff with U.S. government agents in April 2014, Ryan had quite a story to tell.

Eight months had passed since Cliven and hundreds of supporters, including heavily armed militia members, faced off against the federal government in a sandy wash under a highway overpass in the Mojave Desert. Now, here in the comforts of the Bellagio, six documentary filmmakers trained bright lights and high-definition cameras on Ryan. They wanted to ask about the standoff. Wearing a cowboy hat, Ryan fidgeted before the cameras. He had told this story before; that wasn’t the reason for his nerves. After all, the Bundy confrontation made national news after armed agents with the Bureau of Land Management seized the Bundy family’s cattle following a trespassing dispute and the accumulation of more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees. But the Bundys, aided by their armed supporters, beat back the government, forcing agents to release the cattle and retreat.

Images of armed Bundy supporters with high-powered rifles taking on outgunned BLM agents circulated widely on social media. As a result, the Bundys became a household name, lionized by the right as champions of individual liberty and vilified by the left as anti-government extremists.

But something seemed off to Ryan about this interview in the Bellagio. While the family’s newfound fame had attracted fresh supporters to their cause, it had also inspired suspicion. With a federal investigation looming, who among these new faces could they really trust?

Among the more recent figures in the Bundy orbit was this mysterious documentary film crew. The director, Charles Johnson, was middle-aged, with a silver goatee, slicked-back hair, and a thick southern accent. His assistant, who identified herself as Anna, was tall and blond. A website for their company, Longbow Productions, listed an address in Nashville, Tennessee, but the Bundys could find no previous examples of their work.

As the cameras recorded, Ryan’s skepticism was plain. At times, his right eye rolled back into his head, the result of a childhood accident that paralyzed half of his face, and his gaze shifted to figures outside the shot. “There’s been a lot of red flags in the community about Longbow Productions,” one of his companions explained to the film crew. “No bullshit, straight talk. … It’s almost like you’re trying to make us incriminate ourselves.”

With a conspicuously placed copy of the U.S. Constitution poking out of his left breast pocket, Ryan turned his gaze to Johnson.

“We really do want to work with you, if that’s really what’s going on,” he said. But his family needed to know, “Is this just a mole project to garner information that will then be given to the feds?”

Johnson insisted the project was a legitimate endeavor. “I want a truthful documentary.”

“Alrighty,” Ryan said. “Let’s proceed.”

“Quiet on the set,” Johnson told his crew.

Ryan should have trusted his instincts. Johnson and his colleagues were not documentarians. They were undercover FBI agents posing as filmmakers. By the time they sat down with Ryan, Johnson and his team had spent eight months traveling to at least five states to film interviews with nearly than two dozen people about the Bundy standoff, all part of an FBI effort to build criminal cases against the Bundys and their supporters.

The story of the FBI’s fake documentary crew, revealed in more than 100 hours of video and audio recordings obtained by The Intercept, offers an unprecedented window into how federal law enforcement agents impersonate journalists to gain access to criminal suspects. The raw material produced by the FBI was presented under seal in the U.S. District Court in Nevada, where Ryan Bundy, his father, Cliven, and his brothers, as well as more than a dozen supporters, were charged with conspiracy, assault, weapons offenses, and other crimes related to their standoff with the government.

The Bundys consider themselves true men and women of the American West. Cliven Bundy, a Mormon patriarch with 14 children and at least 60 grandchildren, operates a cattle ranch with his family 80 miles east of Las Vegas that was settled by Cliven’s ancestors in the 1880s. “The ranch has been home for me most all my life,” Cliven told Johnson and the other undercover FBI agents, believing they were making a documentary about his life and the standoff.

Cliven and his family aren’t wealthy ranchers, and their land has only offered a subsistence lifestyle at best. As generations of western ranchers have done, Cliven’s family built a home near a water source on private property and then allowed cattle to graze freely on surrounding lands owned by the U.S. government. A dilapidated semi-trailer, broken-down cars, old tires, and wooden shipping pallets litter the dirt road leading into the Bundy property. The ranch is set up like a wagon wheel, with the Bundy home at the center surrounded by irrigated fields of alfalfa and melons. From there, the ranch then extends out in every direction, covering more than 600,000 acres, counting government land, where Cliven’s 400 head of cattle graze.

The Bundy family’s dispute with the federal government began nearly 30 years ago, when conservation officials declared the desert tortoise an endangered species, resulting in severe restrictions to grazing rights for ranchers in Clark County, Nevada. Some of Cliven’s neighbors fought the government in court, but in time, all but Cliven abandoned their ranches. Cliven took another tack, refusing to renew his permit for grazing rights. He continued to allow his cattle to graze federal lands, damn the consequences. As far as Cliven was concerned, the land was public and no one was using it anyway. The government hauled Bundy into court, and in 1998, a U.S. District Court judge issued an order prohibiting Cliven from using the lands. Cliven refused to comply, and his unpaid grazing fees piled up, reaching more than $1 million. In July 2013, another District Court judge issued an order demanding that Cliven not trespass on federal lands. And then in April 2014, the Bureau of Land Management, with the help of so-called contract cowboys, began to round up Cliven’s trespassing cattle.

The roundup set off a storm of rumors among the Bundys and their local supporters — that the cattle were being mistreated, that they were dying or being killed intentionally, and that the government was burying them in mass graves. On April 9, the Bundys and other locals intercepted a convoy of contract cowboys protected by BLM agents. The crowd stopped the line of trucks in an attempt to see whether they were transporting dead cattle. A confrontation ensued. Cliven’s 57-year-old sister was thrown to the ground by a BLM agent. Cliven’s son Ammon kicked a BLM dog and was tased twice as result. All of it was captured on camera.

One video in particular, shot by Pete Santilli, blew up online and would later be referenced repeatedly by subjects in the FBI’s undercover documentary production. The clip, which has now been seen more than 1.8 million times on YouTube, turned Cliven’s story into a cause célèbre among rural conservatives, right-wing groups, and anti-government militias, who viewed the cattle roundup, and the force used during that confrontation, as an abuse of government power. Cliven, who had appeared on Santilli’s radio show the day before the clash describing how hundreds of contract cowboys protected by hundreds of armed federal agents were taking over his ranch, won a massive audience of fired-up supporters from around the country. “They have my home surrounded,” Cliven said. The news quickly spread through social media, fueled by photographs that appeared to show federal agents aiming sniper rifles from a hilltop. Sean Hannity soon interviewed Cliven on Fox News about the situation.

Cheered by Tea Party conservatives, the Bundys garnered public support from Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Dean Heller of Nevada. That support later faded after Cliven was caught on video making racist comments about “the negro” and suggesting that African-Americans would be “better off as slaves.” There was no question that the Bundys energized some devout bigots. Stanley Blaine Hicks, aka Blaine Cooper, a propagandist for the family’s cause, once filmed himself smearing a Quran with bacon, setting its pages on fire, then shooting it with a bow and arrow (he boasted about the stunt in a secretly recorded conversation with the FBI). At the same time, however, the family’s supporters were not a monolith. For many, the Bundys’ high-profile battle with the federal government became symbolic of economic and cultural losses that resonate deeply in western ranching communities.

Hundreds of people, including militia members with assault rifles, began to arrive at the Bundy ranch. “We need guns to protect ourselves from a tyrannical government,” said Jim Lordy, from Montana, in an interview with a Las Vegas TV news crew. Local authorities, in a poorly planned attempt to corral protesters into designated areas, set up zones marked by signs that read, “First Amendment Area.” The signs only inflamed perceptions that the government was overstepping its constitutional authority.

The protests grew so large that the Bundys’ supporters blocked a stretch of Interstate 15 between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City. The situation came to a head on April 12, when scores of protesters confronted the BLM in a wash outside the Bundy ranch, as gunmen took up positions on the hillsides and overpasses around them. While the authorities had already set in motion plans to release the cattle the night before, the presence of so many armed militiamen, armed federal agents, and unarmed civilians escalated tensions dramatically. In its indictment against Cliven and his followers, the government would later describe the standoff as a “massive armed assault.” Fearing for the safety of its agents, and envisioning another violent showdown like the Ruby Ridge incident of 1992, the BLM released Cliven’s cattle that day and withdrew from land near the Bundy ranch on April 21, 2014.

Cliven had beaten the government, or so he thought. What he didn’t realize was that an undercover FBI investigation, intended to build cases against the Bundy patriarch and his supporters for what happened during the standoff, was about to begin.

The FBI office in Las Vegas called on an undercover agent using the name Charles Johnson to take part in an operation that would reveal how the Bundy protests were organized and whether anyone had violated federal law. They came up with the idea of creating a fake documentary production company whose filmmakers would interview Cliven and the protesters.

Johnson would later testify that the plan was “unique” and “a little bit different,” in that instead of seeking to expose a crime that had not yet happened, the fake documentary sought to uncover information “after the fact.”

The agent’s assessment was true, but it was also an understatement. Not only did the FBI’s plan involve detailing events that had already taken place, the events in question were widely documented, as was the involvement of the individuals the bureau ultimately targeted. A quick Google search would reveal hundreds of interviews, photographs, and social media posts chronicling nearly all those individuals’ participation in the standoff. What’s more, even if the undercover team could coax interviewees into making comments more incriminating than the information already available in the public sphere, any evidence gleaned from the operation would require disclosing in court that the FBI had taken the controversial step of impersonating journalists.

Despite a clear risk that considerable resources would be expended to gather publicly available information, incurring a guaranteed backlash from legitimate members of the news media along the way, Johnson and the FBI pressed on, setting up a fake website for the production company and deploying cameras, lights, sound equipment — everything they needed to appear professional — for the operation. The working title of the FBI’s documentary was “America Reloaded.”

While the scale of the operation was unlike anything that has been revealed in recent years, this wasn’t the first time FBI agents had impersonated the news media. In June 2007, a 15-year-old high school student near Seattle repeatedly emailed bomb threats to his school, causing daily evacuations of the building. Because the student used proxy servers to hide his location, the FBI was unable to track him. As a result, FBI agents posed as an Associated Press journalist and emailed the student individual links to a fake news article and photographs that surreptitiously installed a tracking program allowing the FBI to determine the student’s location.

When the FBI’s actions were revealed nearly seven years later, the Associated Press and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, representing 25 other news organizations, wrote letters to FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Eric Holder objecting to the practice of impersonating journalists in criminal investigations. In a November 6, 2014, letter to the New York Times, Comey defended the practice. “That technique was proper and appropriate under Justice Department and FBI guidelines at the time,” he wrote. “Today, the use of such an unusual technique would probably require higher level approvals than in 2007, but it would still be lawful and, in a rare case, appropriate.”

In June 2016, the FBI adopted an interim policy that requires undercover operations involving the impersonation of news media to be approved by the deputy director of the FBI in consultation with the deputy attorney general. Because the FBI’s fake documentary project in Nevada began before this policy was enacted, it’s unclear whether senior leaders at the FBI signed off. The FBI did not respond to questions for this story, including a request for that information. Instead, the bureau released only a prepared statement to The Intercept: “The FBI conducts investigative activity in accordance with the Attorney General’s Guidelines and the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. These authorities provide safeguards intended to ensure that FBI employees act in accordance with the law and the Constitution.”

On the night of June 14, 2014, two months after BLM agents released Cliven Bundy’s cattle and retreated from the armed supporters, Johnson placed his first call to the Bundy ranch. The undercover FBI agent had hoped to speak to Cliven, but Cliven’s son Ammon took the call. If Johnson and his team had done their research, it was not evident from this first phone call. Despite the fact that Ammon was the most famous member of the Bundy clan after his father, the FBI agent appeared to have no idea who he was.

Johnson laid out the “business opportunities” he envisioned for the Bundy family. “I do a lot of documentary work,” he said. “I’ve kind of been watching this situation unfold, kind of from a distance, and just to be real honest with you, I’m amazed at the support and the actual momentum that your dad has been able to gather. It’s truly impressive to me.” Johnson said his vision for the documentary was to tell the story of Cliven, whom he described as a “folk hero,” and the movement he inspired.

Ammon was not sold on the idea, explaining that his family had received many media and documentary requests since the standoff. “We want to reach a lot of people,” Ammon explained. “But we also can’t do 100 different documentaries.”

Johnson then proposed buying the rights to the Bundy family’s story. But Ammon said they weren’t interested in money. “I’d be willing to meet and talk with you, but I think you need to get more familiar with the story first and then really see if you want to take on this thing,” Ammon said.

It was a rocky start for the undercover FBI operation, but the agents pushed forward. Less than two weeks later, Johnson, Anna, and at least two other undercover agents went to the Bundy ranch. As they rolled up on the property, Anna read into a concealed microphone the license plates of vehicles she saw.

“Someone’s walking towards us,” she then said. “Here we go.”

It was Brian Cavalier, a heavily tattooed supporter from Arizona. Cavalier wore a handgun holstered on his right hip and a hoop earring in one of his ears. Everyone around the Bundy ranch called him “Booda” for his bald head and round, hairless belly covered with a poorly sketched tattoo of the Chinese Buddha. He had joined the Bundys after watching the video of BLM agents tasing Ammon Bundy. He served as the Bundys’ bodyguard and in the months following the standoff became something of a gatekeeper to the family. As the undercover FBI agents arrived on the property, Cavalier informed them that their visit had not been approved, but he allowed them on the ranch anyway.

As they toured the property, Cavalier described his deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as a U.S. Marine, and his work with the mercenary company Blackwater.

“Did you ever kill anybody?” Anna asked.

“Yeah,” Cavalier said. “I was a United States Marine Corps Scout Sniper.”

(The U.S. Marine Corps has no record of Cavalier having served.)

The FBI team had come to the ranch to interview Cliven Bundy but only managed to interview Cavalier and Cliven’s wife, Carol. Had Cavalier or Carol known anything about filmmaking, the FBI’s on-camera interviews would have blown their cover. Both were interviewed outdoors, the Bundy matriarch in the harsh sunlight and Cavalier near a livestock pen where the winds were so gusty the audio is at times inaudible. They also filmed dubious B-roll of the ranch, with Johnson directing shots at the horizon, while the cameraman repeatedly directed his attention to the license plates of cars parked around the property. This wasn’t cinéma vérité; it was amateur hour. The FBI was just lucky no one at the Bundy ranch knew the difference.

Johnson considered the outing a success. “I think what today does is it gives us tremendous credibility,” he told his FBI colleagues in a conversation captured by hidden body microphones the agents wore.

But in the same conversation, Johnson admitted to concerns that they seemed to be documenting history, not investigating active crimes. “Do you think there’s any more stuff to be gotten out here?” Johnson asked one of his colleagues. “The problem is, we’re the last one to the dance.”

But Johnson’s fake documentary crew would get a lucky break. That afternoon, Cavalier, who was prone to running his mouth, offered a tantalizing lead when asked if the Bundys had any help from people in law enforcement. “There’s a finder’s fee,” Anna offered, suggesting the film crew was ready to pay for such information.

“Is the camera off now?” Cavalier asked.

“Can you turn it off?” Anna said to the cameraman. The body mic Anna wore continued to record the conversation.

“The information I can give you is very, very sensitive,” Cavalier said. “I can tell you this much, just to give you a taste: Every three days, Mr. Bundy’s name is ran through a database to check for any wants or warrants, because if they’re going to come down here and serve warrants or do anything stupid, they’re going to come that way first.” As for compensation, Cavalier added, it was on the film crew to make an offer. “It’s gonna cost you something, because my ass is on the line and I don’t put my ass on the line for nobody,” he said.

Less than a week later, Johnson and his crew met Cavalier in a Las Vegas hotel room. They filmed the bodyguard in disguise. The lights were turned down. With a green scarf over his face, Cavalier made claims about the Bundys’ penetration of law enforcement, saying they had sources at the BLM and the FBI. Cavalier said that he regularly contacted law enforcement during the standoff to run background checks on individuals showing up at the ranch.

“We definitely ran you guys and found out that you’re not related to FBI, BLM, or ATF,” Cavalier told the undercover agents.

Whether Cavalier’s claims about government sources were true is unclear. What is clear, however, is that questions surrounding law enforcement support for the Bundys became part of a broader script the FBI deployed throughout the summer of 2014 in phone conversations and sit-down interviews conducted with individuals present during the standoff.

Anna coordinated the interviews. The undercover agent would call subjects with a general framing of the documentary, enthusiastically describing the Bundy standoff as the American people’s first victory in standing up to the U.S. government in 200 years. Then, presenting herself as a scatterbrained journalist with zero understanding of the Bundys or militia movements in general, Anna would ask interviewees if they feared for their lives during the standoff, if they were willing to die for their cause, and if they were prepared to take a life for the movement.

Despite a deep-seated distrust of the U.S. government, often rooted in right-wing conspiracy theories, a majority of the people Anna contacted were more than willing to describe their views and participation in the events that day with what appeared to be a somewhat clueless member of the press.

On August 4, 2014, Anna called a Bundy supporter named Greg Burleson, who claimed to have spent more than a decade among Arizona’s right-wing extremists, for a time taking part in vigilante border patrols with J.T. Ready, a neo-Nazi who murdered his family and killed himself in 2012. “I am a freaking wild man,” Burleson told Anna during their second conversation.

Burleson appeared to be exactly the type of character the FBI was hoping to find. He was hardly in hiding, though. Both before and after the Bundy standoff, Burleson posted Facebook status updates threatening to kill members of law enforcement and asserting that he had pointed his weapon at BLM agents in Nevada. And if the FBI team wanted further information on him, they could have called their colleagues in Arizona, where Burleson had worked as a paid FBI informant.

Over the years, Burleson had provided information to agents in Phoenix, and in 2013, his FBI handler transferred him to Special Agent Adam Nixon, who later participated in the investigations of the Bundys. For reasons that have not been disclosed, Nixon closed Burleson as an informant. By the time Anna called, Burleson was off the FBI books.

Burleson’s eccentricities and paranoia were evident from the beginning. During one call with Anna, he answered the phone with a fake accent. “I do that because I’ve got people targeting me now,” he explained. Burleson later claimed to have access to sensitive law enforcement documents proving he was being watched.

The Longbow Productions team interviewed Burleson on camera on October 28, 2014, at the FireSky Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. A rangy man with a ponytail and a thick mustache, Burleson wore a pistol to the taping and said his AK was in the car.

“Would you like something to drink?” Johnson asked him.

Burleson asked for bourbon. “No chaser,” he added.

Hidden cameras recorded as the FBI agents got acquainted with their interview subject. They reviewed a map of the area around the Bundy ranch, with Burleson describing where he had been positioned during the standoff. Once the lights were on and his interview began, Burleson, bourbon in hand, described his bloodlust for federal agents. “I literally went there to put them six feet under,” he said.

Burleson told the crew that he had taken aim at specific people that day — “I leveled off and I sighted-in the people that I was targeting” — with the hope that the situation would turn violent. “A lot of people say, ‘Thank god it wasn’t bloody,’” Burleson added. “I’m saying, ‘Damn, I’m disappointed.’”

While it was the FBI’s former informant who expressed the greatest desire for violence to the fake documentary crew, the bureau’s own recordings show the Arizona militiaman’s eagerness to do battle with the federal government was not shared by many of the Bundy standoff participants.

Eric Parker, who was featured in an iconic image of the standoff pointing his rifle in the direction of federal agents, made it clear to the undercover FBI team that he had no interest in bloodshed. An electrician from Idaho, Parker was hesitant to meet with the filmmakers and expressed his concerns that discussing the events that day could leave him legally exposed. At the same time, Parker was deeply frustrated with how the story had been presented. “We were all pinged as right-wing extremists and gun nuts,” he said during his first call with Anna. Still, he said, his lawyer had given him strict guidance on talking to the press.

“This is not about getting people in trouble,” Anna assured him. “This is about spreading your message.”

Parker eventually agreed to take part in the project. On August 17, 2014, the Longbow crew traveled to a lodge in Montana, where Parker and his family, along with his friend and fellow standoff participant Scott Drexler, were planning a relaxing weekend of fishing in the mountains. Parker took a seat on a porch outside.

In the two-hour interview, Parker explained that his motivation for traveling to Nevada was twofold. First, he saw the video depicting the BLM tasing Cliven’s son and throwing his sister to the ground as part of a broader trend of police brutality. Second, he viewed the establishment of the free speech zones, coupled with the presence of well-armed federal agents, as an attack on the First Amendment. By traveling to Nevada with weapons, Parker explained, he and his friends hoped to prevent what they viewed as unlawful arrests or use of force against protesters.

“They got 200 armed men with body armor rolling around,” he said. “We need 200 armed men with body armor rolling around.” Far from the coordinated operation government prosecutors would later allege, Parker said the actual confrontation was disorganized and ultimately terrifying. “I thought we would be there, armed, of course, and stand our ground and make sure the protesters don’t get pepper-sprayed and make sure that the illegal arrests stopped,” he explained. “I wouldn’t have thought in 100 years we would be on a bridge staring down federal agents.”

When he took his position on the pavement, the moment when the famous photo was taken, Parker said his hands were shaking.

“How do you acquire your target?” Johnson asked him.

“There’s no picking the target,” Parker answered. “I wasn’t chambered, and my finger wasn’t on the trigger. … Nobody wanted to die.”

On November 14, 2014, Anna called Ryan Bundy. She told Ryan she was with Longbow Productions and reminded him that they had filmed at the ranch in June. Anna then asked if they could set up a time during the first week of December to interview Ryan, his father, and his brothers Ammon and Melvin in a hotel room in Las Vegas. She even offered tickets to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas that week.

“I’d go for that,” Ryan said with excitement. “It’s been a few years since I’ve got to go to the NFR. So I’d go for that.”

After talking for a few more minutes, Ryan asked Anna about the documentary: What would it be about? When would it be released?

“We want the American citizens to know that for the first time in almost 200 years, normal, average citizens, hardworking Americans, stood up, and they stood up against, you know, the tyrannical government, and they were able to get the government to back down,” Anna explained. It was a line she had used many times.

“So who’s your audience?” Ryan asked.

“I’d like to get it out to all America,” Anna answered.

Ryan told Anna he’d check with his father and brothers about coordinating interviews, but he remained suspicious and began to investigate Longbow Productions. Three days later, Anna called again.

“I just want to be straight forward with you,” Ryan told her. “With your company, there’s been a bunch of red flags go up in our mind. And that hasn’t happened with a lot of other companies.”

“OK,” Anna said.

“Now, we looked up your address, and it looks like your business is being run out of a federal building,” Ryan said. “Is that correct?”

“What?” Anna said, her voice rising.

“Is your address to your main company a federal building in Nashville, Tennessee?”

“No,” Anna said, giving Ryan an address to an office building about a mile from Vanderbilt University.

“But that’s not a federal building?” Ryan asked.

“No,” Anna insisted.

It’s unclear why Ryan thought the government owned the building. In fact, it’s a BlueCross BlueShield corporate building. But Ryan was indeed onto something; he just didn’t fully understand what. Ryan explained that he was concerned after hearing from other interviewees that the filmmakers had been asking questions about guns and ammo. “We deem those questions to be inappropriate,” Ryan said. “The Second Amendment gives us the right to keep and bear arms, and it doesn’t matter whether we have a BB gun or something bigger.” He also expressed concern that his family couldn’t find previous examples of Longbow’s work. Ryan said he suspected the filmmakers could be government spies.

“I’m not a liar,” Anna replied.

But Anna was a liar, and a good one, skilled enough to undercut Ryan’s suspicions and persuade him, his father, and his brothers to sit for interviews. Three weeks after this phone call, Cliven Bundy arrived at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Cliven, dressed in a tan hat and a black leather vest, sat in the same white leather chair. The framing for the shot was sloppy: A white piece of trim molding can be seen running vertically across the left side of frame. The corner of a large, generic piece of floral hotel artwork dominated the right side of the frame. No professional cinematographer would have approved the shot.

Johnson, conducting the interview, asked Cliven about the militias, appearing to probe whether Cliven was coordinating their actions at the standoff. But Cliven maintained the armed groups just showed up; he had nothing to do with it. “The ranch was out of control,” Cliven said. “The feds had total control of everything there.”

“People either look at you as a folk hero or kind of a — that you were the one who instigated it, because if you were just doing what was right, why did you need all those people? How would you respond to that?” Johnson asked.

“I mean, you know, I gotta face this,” Cliven said. “And the militia steps up there, and they do a service for me. Now as far as I can say, all I can say is that I’m thankful for that service.”

What’s extraordinary about Cliven’s interview is that, despite spending nearly a year trying to get the rancher before the camera, the FBI couldn’t get him to say anything that he wouldn’t otherwise gladly say to legitimate radio and TV stations. Cliven even alluded to this in his interview. “Almost every day I have an opportunity to talk to people, just like I’m talking to you,” he said. “Every day I have that opportunity. Today, I’ve already did a couple of interviews. I interviewed with a magazine, a newspaper. I know three interviews with radio on my board there I haven’t taken care of.” To Cliven, Johnson and the undercover FBI agents were just another group of journalists.

About two months later, Johnson and his crew traveled to Arizona, where they filmed Ammon in a similarly unrevealing interview, despite Johnson’s repeated attempts to goad Ammon into talking about the potential for violence at the standoff.

“If this escalated and was not peaceful, did you think you might have to take a life?” Johnson asked at one point.

“I never did once think I’d have to take a life, because I knew that my stand would be one where someone would take my life and they would do it with me standing against them but not threatening their life,” Ammon told the undercover FBI agents.

Then, in April 2015, the Longbow Productions crew returned to the Bundy ranch for the anniversary of the standoff. The Bundys had set up a small makeshift stage below the overpass where the standoff occurred. About 100 white folding chairs were set up in front of the stage.

Anna, wearing a body mic, once again walked around the ranch and read aloud the license plates of cars parked there. The FBI agents brought a quadcopter drone with them. In the afternoon, as people of all ages milled about the stage, setting up for the event, the agents flew the drone high above to capture the scene. As it came down to land, the highway overpass visible in the background, a young girl ran over in bare feet, looking at the drone in amazement.

The drone then took off again, and down below, Bundy supporters could be seen staring up at the flying camera — unaware that they were being filmed as part of a U.S. government production.

The Bundy family describes their standoff with the government and the people from around the country who came to their aid as a movement. It’s a strong word for what occurred, but not entirely inaccurate. Proof of that came a few months after the FBI shuttered its fake documentary operation, when Ammon Bundy began to publicize on social media the criminal cases of two Oregon ranchers.

Like Cliven Bundy, Dwight Lincoln Hammond and his son Steven Dwight Hammond had a decadeslong antagonistic relationship with the Bureau of Land Management. The two Oregon ranchers were convicted at trial in 2012 of setting fire to federal lands on which the Hammonds had grazing rights for cattle. The Hammonds argued that the five-year mandatory minimum sentence that came with the charges was unconstitutional, and a U.S. District Court judge agreed, sentencing Dwight to three months in prison and Steven to one year and a day. They served those sentences, but an appeals court vacated them, and another federal judge sentenced the pair to the mandatory minimum of five years.

Ammon and Ryan Bundy saw similarities in their own family’s struggles with the government. They traveled to Oregon in late 2015 to help the Hammonds, who declined the offer of assistance. So the Bundy brothers, accompanied by three dozen supporters, including Cavalier and several others from the Nevada standoff, took over a U.S. government building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon. Ammon, naming his group the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, then posted videos to social media calling on militants to join them in Oregon. Local police and federal officials surrounded the government building. The Bundy family was again at the center of a national story.

For more than a month, the Bundys and their supporters holed up in the building while federal agents, concerned about a gunfight that could leave dozens dead, waited them out. On January 26, 2016, a Jeep and a Dodge Ram pickup left the wildlife refuge. Ammon and Cavalier were in the Jeep. Inside the pickup were Ryan Bundy and four supporters, including Robert “LaVoy” Finicum. FBI and Oregon police vehicles pulled over the Jeep. Ammon and Cavalier surrendered, but the pickup, driven by Finicum, took off at high speed. As he approached a roadblock, Finicum’s truck plowed into a snowbank. He exited the vehicle, and the FBI and Oregon police opened fire, killing Finicum and wounding Ryan Bundy. (FBI agents are under investigation for alleged misconduct in the shooting.)

The shootout and the arrests were followed by federal indictments against 38 people, charging the group members with various crimes related to the standoffs at the Bundy ranch and Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. So far, the government’s record in prosecuting the Bundys and their supporters has been mixed. Three supporters have pleaded guilty and another six, including former FBI informant Greg Burleson, have been convicted at trial. But seven have been acquitted, and a trial in Nevada last month resulted in a hung jury for four defendants, including Eric Parker. The stakes will be raised in Las Vegas on June 26, when the trial of Cliven Bundy and his sons is scheduled to begin. Federal prosecutors plan to play clips from “America Reloaded.”

Terrance Jackson, Burleson’s attorney, plans to appeal his client’s conviction. Burleson is facing a minimum of 57 years in prison. “I think the FBI used their resources to go after the people that are the least culpable,” Jackson told The Intercept, adding, “They used methods that need to be carefully scrutinized.” Jess Marchese, Eric Parker’s attorney, said a number of the jurors he spoke to were turned off by the government’s presentation of the Longbow evidence.

Beyond its implications in the Bundy case specifically, the FBI’s decision to create a fake media company raises critical questions about the federal government’s practice of impersonating the press. Following the 2014 revelations that it had been impersonated by the FBI, the Associated Press, along with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed a lawsuit demanding more detail on the FBI’s practice of posing as journalists, arguing that “the practice endangers the media’s credibility and undermines its independence.” In February, a federal judge ruled that the FBI has said enough about the matter. To date, it is unclear how many times, or how often, the bureau has deployed agents under the guise of newsgathering.

Following the flurry of arrests last year, several of the targets of the Longbow investigation were interviewed by federal agents. Summaries of their conversations were written up in FBI reports obtained by The Intercept. Brian Cavalier, the Bundy bodyguard who first allowed the crew onto the ranch, reportedly “felt that the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders when he was arrested,” telling the FBI that he never believed in the Oregon occupation and that several of the individuals there “did not want the occupation to end peacefully.” Greg Burleson, for all his tough talk about killing federal agents, was arrested without incident outside his apartment in Phoenix — he has lost his vision in the months since he traveled to Nevada and now uses a wheelchair. While he stood by his decision to take part in the standoff, Burleson reportedly told the FBI that “if he had it to do all over again, he would do a little more research.”

Eric Parker, the man from the famed sniper photo, was arrested on March 3, 2016. In a 10-page account of his conversation with his arresting agents, Parker said he had been contacted by at least two organizations “offering to put armed security at his house to shoot it out with the FBI when they arrived.” Parker said he declined because he “does not want to see any violent confrontation with the FBI.” Parker was the only standoff participant who mentioned his brush with a suspicious documentary film crew.

“A media company called Longbow Productions later interviewed Parker for a documentary about the Bundy situation, but the movie has never been released,” Parker’s arresting agent noted. “Parker believes the documentary film crew must be associated with the FBI.”

CIA is world’s most dangerously incompetent spy agency – Assange

May 16, 2017

RT

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has described the CIA as “dangerously incompetent,” in response to the US agency branding him a “friend of terrorists.” The war of words started after RT asked the CIA to comment on reports of its hacking exploits.

“Dictators and terrorists have no better friend in the world than Julian Assange, as theirs is the only privacy he protects,” CIA spokesperson Heather Fritz Horniak told RT in an email.

The scathing response came after RT asked the CIA to comment on the assessment of former agency analyst Ray McGovern. He suggested that the capability to falsify digital fingerprints, exposed by WikiLeaks as part of its ongoing Vault 7 disclosure, cast doubt on allegations against Russia in connection with the 2016 US presidential election.

“Could it be that the ‘Russian hack’ was really done by John Brennan of the CIA? If I were asked to bet on that, then I would bet that that was exactly the case,” McGovern told RT’s Going Underground program.

“What does that mean? It means that these trumped-up charges against Trump, pardon the pun, are baseless,” McGovern added.

Brennan’s successor as CIA director, Mike Pompeo, sparked concerns in April when he suggested that WikiLeaks, which he described as “a non-state hostile intelligence service,” could be prosecuted for the publication of confidential US documents. He also attacked Assange and his associates, branding them “demons.”

Critics said Pompeo was setting a dangerous precedent, which exposed any media outlet reporting on leaks or the accounts of whistleblowers. They also criticized his comment that Assange “has no First Amendment freedoms.”

When asked for comment, Assange reiterated his earlier criticism of the US intelligence agency.

“The CIA is the world’s most dangerously incompetent spy agency. It has armed terrorists, destroyed democracies and installed and maintained dictatorships the world over,” he said in an email. “There are good men and women at the CIA but if our publications are any guide they work for WikiLeaks.”

CIA spokesperson Horniak also lashed out at RT for questioning the allegations of Russia’s interference in the US election.

“The responsibility of the Russian intelligence services for the election-related hacking is an established fact, but it is not surprising that an identified propaganda outlet like RT would attempt to muddle those facts. No reputable news organization doubts Russian culpability,” Horniak claimed.

In response, RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, said that such unquestioning obedience by the western mainstream media to the US establishment only leads to a decline in their popularity.

“The CIA & Co haven’t bothered to present a shred of evidence besides their own claims, and are now actually boasting about how happy the ever-loyal press is to unquestioningly go along with the story,” Simonyan said, adding, “This is exactly why people have stopped trusting the mainstream media and are seeking out alternative sources of news and analysis.”

So far, no definitive evidence of the alleged hacking has been made public. A declassified report by the US intelligence community didn’t state that such hacking took place, but rather said the agencies had “confidence” that it did.

 

Russia’s response to Trump leak reports: don’t read U.S. newspapers

May 16, 2017

Reuters

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman on Tuesday advised that people don’t read American newspapers, in response to U.S. media reports that President Donald Trump had disclosed classified intelligence at a meeting with Russian officials.

The spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said she had received dozens of messages asking about the reports, which have been denied by the White House.

“Guys, have you been reading American newspapers again?” she wrote on her Facebook page. “You shouldn’t read them. You can put them to various uses, but you shouldn’t read them. Lately it’s become not only harmful, but dangerous too.”

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman on Tuesday advised that people don’t read American newspapers, in response to U.S. media reports that President Donald Trump had disclosed classified intelligence at a meeting with Russian officials.

The spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said she had received dozens of messages asking about the reports, which have been denied by the White House.

“Guys, have you been reading American newspapers again?” she wrote on her Facebook page. “You shouldn’t read them. You can put them to various uses, but you shouldn’t read them. Lately it’s become not only harmful, but dangerous too.”

(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Vladimir Soldatkin)

 

Turkish PM Yildirim: Germany must “decide” if it wants better relations

NATO says it’s not getting involved in a German-Turkish dispute over Incirlik access but the alliance may still be impacted. Analysts say tension between Ankara and Berlin could have an ill effect on NATO solidarity.

May 16, 2017

by Teri Schultz

DW

A day after Turkey blocked German parliamentarians from visiting Bundeswehr troops at Incirlik Air Base, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told Berlin it has a choice to make: to grant asylum to former NATO officials the Turkish government says helped plan last year’s coup or to “turn its face to the Turkish republic”.

In a speech to the Turkish parliament, Yildirim said relations are “strained again” due to the German government’s decision last week to allow former Turkish officials now on the government’s “purge” lists to stay in Germany, acknowledging they would not be able to get a fair trial in Turkey at present.

The move enraged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He responded by rejecting access to the southern air base for a delegation of German lawmakers seeking to visit the roughly 250 military personnel stationed there who fly air sorties in support of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State (ISIS).  German parliamentarians were also blocked from the base last year after the legislature passed a resolution declaring the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces was a “genocide”, which infuriated the Turks.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that if the blockade continues, she will consider moving the squadron of Tornados out of Turkey. “We will continue to talk with Turkey, but in parallel we will have to explore other ways of fulfilling our mandate,” Merkel said Monday. “That means looking at alternatives to Incirlik, and one alternative among others is Jordan,” she said.

A NATO spokesperson told DW that the alliance would have no reaction to the dispute as it does not concern alliance activities. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be implications for NATO, experts say.

NATO not immune

Director of the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels office, Ian Lesser, believes the stand-off represents a “general crisis of confidence and cooperation in Turkey’s foreign policy relationship with Western partners.”  Lesser says that won’t remain limited to this dispute over access to Incirlik.

“Inevitably, it also affects the outlook for cooperation in a NATO context, on other fronts, and underscores the tendency for Ankara to press bilateral differences in the alliance,” he told DW.  “Taken together with Turkey’s decision to explore the purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, and large unresolved issues with Washington in Syria, it suggests a potential crisis in security cooperation with Turkey.  Unchecked, it could spell deepening strategic estrangement, just as the security order around Turkey has collapsed.”

Former European Union ambassador to Turkey Marc Pierini agrees it’s difficult to gloss over the glitch. “It degrades the atmospherics and the alchemy between the second largest conventional army in NATO, Turkey, and the others,” he says, even if the problem is centered on the deployment to the US-led “coalition of the willing”.

Pierini says the other factor is German politics. “Foreign operations of the Bundeswehr are very rare and this comes in the middle of a huge debate about whether to re-engage in foreign operations,” he explained, saying this question has taken on added significance due to unclear signals from the US about its support for Europe.

German participation depends on parliament

Therefore, Pierini underscores, “It is all the more important to have this debate in Germany and it’s all the more important for German politicians to go visit and see how it goes because it’s part of the debate.  Then suddenly an ally in NATO — a member of the Council of Europe, a member of the OSCE member and a candidate to the EU — says ‘no, you are not coming’.”

Erdogan’s consolidation of authority in the recent referendum has made Turkey a particularly difficult “ally”, says the former EU ambassador. The more Erdogan can ramp up the nationalist narrative – including the recent episodes of calling European leaders “Nazi remnants” – the better it is for him. “When you have a leadership clinging to power through non-democratic means, it’s very difficult for a democratic country to fight this.”

While unsure of how serious Merkel is about moving the German squadron out of Incirlik – which he says is a far superior base to the alternative being surveyed in Jordan – he doesn’t expect the rhetoric to continue escalating between the two countries. Merkel will try to tamp down the tension ahead of September elections, Pierini expects, and that suits the other NATO allies fine too, as there’s “immense fatigue with Turkish behavior”.

International leaders have “chosen a path of almost complete silence,” which he predicts will continue at least through the NATO leaders’ upcoming meeting, the G7 talks and the German elections in fall 2017. Pierini believes “they’ll save any decisions for later.”

Putin offers transcript to prove Trump did not pass Russia secrets

May 17, 2017

by Denis Pinchuk and Andrew Osborn

Reuters

SOCHI/MOSCOW-Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump had not divulged any secrets during a meeting in Washington with Russian officials and offered to prove it by supplying Congress with a transcript.

But a leading U.S. Republican politician said he would have little faith in any notes Putin might supply.

Two U.S. officials said on Monday Trump had disclosed classified information about a planned Islamic State operation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when they met last week, plunging the White House into a fresh controversy just four months into Trump’s tenure.

Trump, whose administration has been dogged by allegations that Russia helped him win the White House and that he and his allies are too cozy with Moscow, has defended his decision to discuss intelligence with the Russians after media reports of the meeting alarmed some U.S. and foreign politicians.

President Putin deployed his trademark sarcasm on Wednesday to make clear he thought the accusation that Trump had divulged secrets absurd.

“I spoke to him (Lavrov) today,” a smiling Putin told a news conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

“I’ll be forced to issue him (Lavrov) with a reprimand because he did not share these secrets with us. Not with me, nor with representatives of Russia’s intelligence services. It was very bad of him.”

Putin, who still hopes Moscow can repair battered ties with the United States despite a deepening political scandal in the United States related to Trump’s purported Russia ties, said Moscow had rated Lavrov’s meeting with Trump highly.

If the Trump administration deemed it appropriate, Putin said Russia could hand over a transcript of Trump’s meeting with Lavrov to U.S. lawmakers to reassure them that no secrets were revealed.

A Kremlin aide, Yuri Ushakov, later told reporters that Moscow had a written record of the conversation, not an audio recording.

“If in fact what was in the memo is true, it’s very concerning and we need to get to the bottom of that,” Kinzinger said on CNN.

‘EITHER STUPID OR CORRUPT’

Complaining about what he said was “political schizophrenia” in the United States, Putin said Trump was not being allowed to do his job properly.

“It’s hard to imagine what else these people who generate such nonsense and rubbish can dream up next,” said Putin, referring to unnamed U.S. politicians.

“What surprises me is that they are shaking up the domestic political situation using anti-Russian slogans. Either they don’t understand the damage they’re doing to their own country, in which case they are simply stupid, or they understand everything, in which case they are dangerous and corrupt.”

Russia has repeatedly said that Trump’s opponents are trying to damage him and Moscow by making what it says are false accusations about the billionaire president and the Russian government which initially had high hopes of a rapprochement.

Officials have told Reuters Trump’s alleged disclosure of classified information to Russia’s foreign minister is unlikely to stop allies who share intelligence with Washington from cooperating.

That view was reinforced on Wednesday when British Prime Minister Theresa May said her government had confidence in its relationship with the United States and would continue to share intelligence with Britain’s most important defense and security ally.

(Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs and Maria Tsvetkova in MOSCOW and Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in WASHINGTON; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe and Ralph Boulton)

 Trump’s Leakers Have Only Made Things Worse

Can an anonymous source who does this much damage be taken at face value?

May 16, 2017

by Daniel McCarthy

The National Interest

Suppose that a few months before 9/11, another country’s spies discovered that Islamist radicals were preparing to hijack airliners and fly them into buildings, with the United States as an obvious target. Would Americans expect that country to give us a warning? Would we be understanding if it failed to do so, on the grounds that protecting its own intelligence-gathering capabilities was more important than saving innocent Americans’ lives?

That’s one question to keep in mind as the Washington Post, the New York Times and other outlets claim that President Trump did something wrong by telling Russian officials about a new threat from ISIS—apparently a threat involving bombs concealed in laptop computers. The accusation, which as usual depends on framing provided by anonymous sources, is that the president shared information that came from an ally in the Middle East, and that based on what the Russians now know, they might be able to figure out who that ally is and what its intelligence resources in the region are. This, we are told, may dissuade the ally from sharing more information with the United States in the future.

There are several problems with this story, but the overarching question must be kept in mind: who decides when saving lives outweighs preserving somebody else’s secrets? Is this something for elected officials to decide—and in particular the highest elected official, the chief of the executive branch—or is it something that unelected officials with a habit of handing secrets over to friends in the media should decide? Legally, the answer is clear: the responsibility belongs to the president. However much the press or bureaucracy may despise him, the president has been chosen by the public precisely to make such top-level decisions. That’s the nature of representative government.

The national security advisor, H. R. McMaster, denies that President Trump’s warning to the Russians did, in fact, compromise any third-party intelligence source. McMaster knows exactly what was said: he was in the room when the president spoke to Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak. On Tuesday, McMaster characterized the president’s remarks as “wholly appropriate” and “consistent with the routine sharing of information” about terrorist threats. He said he was “not concerned at all” that any ally would hesitate to provide more intelligence in the future as a result of what the president told the Russians

McMaster dismissed the idea that by naming a city in ISIS-controlled territory where the information came from, President Trump had supplied a vital clue as to how the intelligence was obtained. He made it sound as if the city the president named was one of many obvious places that anyone who keeps up with the news might mention: “You would probably be able to name a few cities, I would think,” McMaster told the press. “It was nothing you would not know from open-source reporting.”

Whatever risks arose here, McMaster claimed, came not from the president’s disclosures but from “those releasing information to the press” that can be used “to make American citizens and others more vulnerable.” Based on what the New York Times and Washington Post themselves have reported, there are reasons to think McMaster is correct.

First, consider this: if what the anonymous sources have claimed is true, and President Trump did reveal to the Russians clues about a U.S. ally’s intelligence resources, how would that ally know that this had happened? Knowing that a treasured secret had been given away might well be grounds for limiting cooperation with the Americans in the future. But no ally had grounds to believe anything of the sort had happened during President Trump’s meeting with the Russians—until anonymous sources started telling the Washington Post that this happened, and the Washington Post proceeded to tell the world, including whatever ally or allies might be worried.

In other words, certain unnamed officials are sowing distrust among America’s allies for the purpose of embarrassing the president. That distrust did not exist based simply on the knowledge that the president had met with Lavrov and Kislyak: the damage is done only when the substance of the meeting is made public by deliberate leaks. And not just that: these unnamed officials who have taken policy into their own hands have apparently told journalists much more and more sensitive information than has already been made public. As the Post acknowledged, “The Post is withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.” So the source of the leaks not only seeded a narrative that would undermine allies’ trust in the United States—a narrative that would not readily exist absent the leaks—but the source also revealed to the media highly sensitive classified specifics. Who else might the source have revealed that information to? Who else might people at the paper have told?

The president has wide-ranging legal authority to declassify secrets, and if he did so in a discreet conversation with Russian leaders, with top U.S. national security official present, there is no scandal there—and would not be, even if an ally didn’t like what was said in the discussion. No ally or outside nation would even know, unless someone from the inside spread that information around. And that’s exactly what the Post’s anonymous sources have done.

The Post may have refrained from revealing everything that it’s source disclosed, such as what city in ISIS-controlled territory was the source of the warnings about the new threat. But the Post and the New York Times have indeed revealed information that provides useful clues to anyone who wants to figure out what ally might have supplied the report in question—information that the Russians may not have possessed until they read it in the American papers.

Note this passage from the New York Times: “the current official said that Mr. Trump shared granular details of the intelligence with the Russians. Among the details the president shared was the city in Syria where the ally picked up information about the plot, though Mr. Trump is not believed to have disclosed that the intelligence came from a Middle Eastern ally or precisely how it was gathered.”

That’s a bombshell: the Russians did not know, based on what the president told them, that the information they were getting could potentially compromise the intelligence assets of a U.S. ally in the Middle East. That angle only came to light when anonymous officials brought it to everyone’s attention—the Russians’ as well as the American public’s—by telling the press about it explicitly. (And now it’s reported, perhaps to no one’s surprised, that the Middle Eastern ally here is in fact Israel; this too has been revealed to the New York Times by “a current and a former American official familiar with how the United States obtained the information.”)

Let’s remember: the president has discretionary authority to declassify many secrets. Anonymous leakers do not have that authority—they are not elected at all, and they are not appointed to decide for themselves which secrets must be kept and which may be shared with the world.

The public value of what these sources has disclosed is dubious, all the more so because the narrative that has been built around the disclosures is misleading. President Trump did not overstep his authority, and if he behaved rashly in saying what he said to the Russians, it does not look as if he was more rash than whoever it is that talked to the Washington Post and New York Times—sources that have put the pieces together in such a way as to fill in the picture for the Russians and alarm America’s ally in the Middle East.

Can an anonymous source who does this much damage—who harms America’s relationship with an ally in the name of supposedly preserving America’s intelligence-sharing relationships—be taken at face value? If someone wanted to damage the relations between America and the Middle Eastern ally in question, this disclosure would be a good way to do it. The most likely rationale, however, is petty infighting within the administration, and between it and the federal bureaucracy.

President Trump is a man with few friends in Washington, perhaps least of all in the Republican wing of the foreign-policy establishment. Embarrassing him and undercutting him, even at a cost to America’s national-security relationships, may seem worth it to those who want to stop him from pursuing a foreign policy different from the one Washington is used to. The effect of the leaks, especially when they involve Russia, is always to push this administration away from new thinking and back toward the insider consensus that Trump was elected, in large part, to change. This remains true even though it is also true that Donald Trump is inexperienced and temperamentally impulsive—but that does not make his calculating and patient foes correct. Where the law is concerned here, they are clearly in the wrong. And they are morally in the wrong, too, where lives are under threat from Islamist radicalism’s latest tactic.

 

Cybercrime just tip of iceberg in organized criminality, study finds

WannaCry may be hogging the headlines, but globalization has yielded an astonishing range of criminal activities. And the definition of organized crime – as well as the methods used to fight it – haven’t kept pace.

May 16, 2017

by Jefferson Chase

DW

“The biggest business in the world” – that’s how the head of Germany’s Forum for Networked Security, Thomas Franke, characterizes organized crime.

The group unveiled a new study of the phenomenon in Berlin on Tuesday, and the news for law-enforcement officials, politicians and citizens isn’t good. Organized crime all over the world is booming, generating between $870 billion and as much as $2.2 trillion (788 billion-2 trillion euros) a year.

Reliable numbers are hard to come by, but even the conservative estimates rattled off by the author of the study, law professor Arndt Sinn of Osnabrück University, are mind-boggling. Since 1998, for instance, the amount of illegal goods confiscated on the EU’s borders has increased by almost 1000 percent.

Drug trafficking remains a massive problem, accounting for 36.7 percent of organized crime in Germany. But piracy is also flourishing, with everything from chicken eggs and to heavy machinery being copied, with various degrees of accuracy, and sold internationally. Fifty percent of all pharmaceutical products sold online are fakes.

“Pharmaceutical drugs are more lucrative than cocaine,” Sinn says.

Cybercrime, including blackmail schemes like WannaCry, make up slightly less four percent of organized crime in Germany, although it, too, is becoming more prevalent. So who’s behind all the wrongdoing, and what can be done to combat it?

New crime for a new world

The study depicts how globalization has changed the nature of crime. 5000 organized crime groups are thought to operate within Germany, 70 percent of which are international. 180 different nationalities are involved.

“When we think about organized crime, we think about classic examples like the mafia godfather or motorcycle gangs,” said conservative security expert and member of parliament Clemens Binninger at the report presentation. “One of the findings that we need to get to grips with is that organized crime is much more than this and is constantly evolving.”

Thanks to the spread of online trade, the study found, 90 percent of all confiscations are now made on goods sent through the mail. That is one area Sinn says needs far greater monitoring.

More disturbing are the increasingly blurred distinctions between organized crime and terrorism. It’s well known that terrorist groups like IS and al-Qaeda use the drug trade to finance themselves, and war-torn Syria is the world’s largest producer of a copycat version of Captagon, an amphetamine used by government troops and terrorists alike to combat fatigue, fear and pain.

Help for would-be blackmailers

Another new phenomenon occupying the grey area between organized and individual crime is cyber-blackmail of the Wanna Cry variety and other scams run by so-called “criminal experts.” A whole secondary industry enabling blackmail has arisen.

“There’s a tool you can download for free on the dark net – you pay 30 percent commission, if it works,” says Sinn. “It’s a box where you input a blackmail message and the email addresses of the people you want to blackmail.”

Cyber-blackmailers and other criminals who use the Internet can work without a large network. Their flexibility makes them difficult to track down. It’s unclear, for instance, whether the WannaCry ransomware should be treated as organized or individual crime.

“Just because the attacked affected 200,000 computers and 100 countries, there doesn’t have to be a large-scale structure behind it,” Binninger says. “The weapon – the software – is that powerful.”

Exploiting everything promising profit

Even with more traditional forms of organized crime, law enforcement authorities face considerable challenges. Many of the world’s pirated goods come from China and Hong Kong, but there is little political will for creating conflict with such large trading partners.

Criminals also exploit the difficulties the 28 members of the EU have in coordinating crime-fighting. Fourteen member states are currently parties to the 2005 Prüm Convention, which commits them to sharing DNA and fingerprint data bases, but states like Italy and Denmark have yet to provide such information. Human traffickers, in particular, have benefited from the cumbersome nature of EU law enforcement.

“Organized crime exploits everything that promises a profit,” Sinn says.

Ultimately, the experts say, organized crime will flourish until individual and groups in civic society recognize the extent of the problem and refuse to profit from it. That includes everything from tourists not buying fake brand-name sunglasses on holiday to service providers checking whether their clients are on the up and up.

“Legal companies transport illegal wares,” Sinn explained. “The principle ‘know your customer,’ which is familiar from money laundering, should be a guiding principle for business in general.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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