TBR News November 30, 2017

Nov 30 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., November 30, 2017: “We will be out of the office until December 2, 2017. Ed”


Table of Contents

  • White House has plan to replace top diplomat with CIA chief: New York Times
  • Potential Catastrophe: How the Irish Border Became Brexit’s Biggest Hurdle
  • Israel is shooting itself in the foot by declaring its ties to Saudi Arabia, expert warns
  • Twenty-First-Century American Populism
  • Illegally Trying To Pry Into American’s Phone
  • NSA Secretly Helped Convict Defendants in U.S. Courts, Classified Documents Reveal
  • Cryptocurrencies nosedive after record gains, bitcoin drops $2,000


White House has plan to replace top diplomat with CIA chief: New York Times

November 30, 2017


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House has developed a plan to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, within weeks, the New York Times reported on Thursday, citing senior officials.

Under the plan, Republican Senator Tom Cotton would be tapped to replace Pompeo at the CIA, the New York Times said.

The Times said it was not immediately clear whether President Donald Trump had given final approval to the plan.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the report.

Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Tim Ahmann


Potential Catastrophe: How the Irish Border Became Brexit’s Biggest Hurdle

A new “hard” border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland could have dire economic consequences for both sides — and reignite old feuds. Now Dublin is playing hardball with British negotiators.

November 30, 2017

by Markus Becker


Jean Hegarty turns around and points to her buttocks. “This is where the bullet entered Kevin’s body.” Her finger moves upwards, following the path the bullet took through to his upper body. “Kevin was shot from behind, when he tried to crawl away from soldiers.” Kevin McElhinney was one of 13 unarmed young men who died on so-called Bloody Sunday, in the Northern Irish city of Derry, on January 30, 1972. He was Jean Hegarty’s younger brother. He was only 17 years old.Hegarty – small, energetic and prone to bursts of contagious laughter – spends much of her time reminding people about Bloody Sunday. For the past 18 years, she has overseen the small Museum of Free Derry in Bogside, the Catholic neighborhood in the city, which lies close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. The museum is located only a few feet from the place where Hegarty’s brother died. Weapons, bullet casings, gas masks in glass cases serve as reminders of the horrors.

Now that conflict between nationalists, those who want a united Ireland, and unionists, those who want to stay part of the United Kingdom, could reemerge. The Ireland question is currently the most difficult hurdle of the ongoing Brexit negotiations, and the deadline for a solution is approaching. There is a danger that a “hard” border, with inspections of people and goods, and the violence that had supposedly been overcome, might return. If no solution is found, the United Kingdom could exit the EU without a withdrawal agreement – partly at the instigation of the Irish government.

Derry – though unionists prefer the official name of Londonderry – is today still marked by the conflict, known as The Troubles, which resulted in the deaths of over 3,600 people. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 put an end to the killing, and it made the approximately 500-kilometer border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland invisible. Soldiers and barbed wire disappeared. Drivers now only notice they’ve crossed the border because the speed-limit signs switch from kilometers to miles.

Cars cross the virtual border almost 1.9 million times per month: People drive to work, trucks to factories, ambulances to clinics. Both parts of the island are practically united in their everyday lives. Brexit threatens to abruptly end all of this. The virtual border could be turned back into a real one, where police officers and border guards inspect almost everything and everyone. For the island’s economy that would be a catastrophe – and for the peace process, potentially, as well.

‘Mother of all Ducks’

According to the most recent promotional video from Silver Hill Foods, the mother of all ducks comes from Emyvale, a small town close to the border with Northern Ireland. With meat that is juicy and tender, and feathers that are soft, the “best-feathered duck in the world,” is said to not only fills the world’s stomachs, but also the comforters and pillows of countless five-star hotels. The “Silver Hill Duck,” the ad argues, is quite simply the “mother of all ducks.” At culinary duck hotspots, like London’s Chinatown, they have even established a monopoly. “For 10 years, we have had a market share of 100 percent,” boasts Silver Hill CEO Micheal Briody. He explains that the British market has been satiated, which is why they are currently aggressively expanding into Asia.

When the subject turns to the Irish border, even Briody becomes quieter. Three quarters of the 80,000 ducks that are killed every day at the Silver Hill plant in the Republic of Ireland come from Northern Ireland. Eggs, chicks and fledglings cross the border up to five times until the ducks are slaughtered. If border controls were to be reinstituted, Briody says, “it would have a significant impact on our business,” with enormous new time and financial constraints. He says that his company has already stopped signing new contracts with suppliers from Northern Ireland, because one never knows.

If the United Kingdom leaves the EU without a trade agreement, it would mean WTO tariffs of over 30 percent. The demand in the UK would then probably collapse, and the Silver Hill monopoly in the British capital would be over. “London would then have to make do with inferior products,” says Briody, defiantly.

The problems for the economy overall would be even bigger. Eighty percent of the goods exported from Ireland go first to the UK, 66 percent are then distributed to other countries. The British land bridge is thus the lifeline for the Irish economy – and, accordingly, Dublin is very worried about potential customs barriers.

IrAlthough EU diplomats say they are optimistic that the Irish won’t allow the situation to become extreme – and want to put pressure on Dublin in case of an emergency — they cannot be certain, because the government in Dublin is worried about having only one shot. Once Brexit negotiations move to the second phase, Ireland’s veto rights are gone. The withdrawal agreement only requires a qualified majority in the European Council to pass. “When Ireland and the EU task force say that we need significantly more progress and reassurance and clarity on the Irish border issue, we mean it,” said Coveney. “We are not in the business of building barriers on the island of Ireland ever again.”

But nobody knows how that can be avoided. British Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly made it clear that her country will be leaving the single market and the customs union when it exits the EU on March 29, 2019. According to the law, new personal and customs inspections will be carried out at the new outer EU border from that point onward.

Unionists Reject Special Status for Northern Ireland

Although the British government also emphasized in its official paper on the Ireland issue that they do not want any new screenings of goods and people, they pointed out that this would require an “unprecedented solution.” London did not describe in detail what this would look like and EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier promptly dismissed the British offer.

An obvious solution, which Coveney also suggests, would be to give Northern Ireland special status and allow it to remain in the customs union and the single market. The border would then, in practical terms, be relocated to the Irish Sea. But the Northern Irish unionists reject this outright: They fear a loosening of Northern Island’s ties to the UK and a move towards the island’s reunification. One problem: The Democratic Unionist Party has been propping up the UK government since Theresa May’s disastrous snap election. If they withdraw their support, the prime minister falls.

Based on the current positions, people in diplomatic circles argue, the Irish question is currently unsolvable. On top of this, they argue, it’s utterly unclear how a compromise could be found. The Irish government also narrowly avoided a no-confidence vote in parliament this week, after the deputy premier, Frances Fitzgerald, was accused of being aware of a smear campaign against a whistleblower in the Irish police. Fitzgerald stepped down on Tuesday, averting an early election at a crucial time.

Ultimately, said Foreign Minister Coveney, the border question is about much more than trade and barrier-free travel. “It is about peace.” A new hard border, people in Dublin government circles are saying, wouldn’t just inflict economic damage, and cause a rise in unemployment and dissatisfaction, but also present a new target for old hatreds. People in Ireland rarely talk about peace, instead speaking of a peace process. That process is far from over.

Irish Government Threatens Veto

As a result, the Irish government is dramatically increasing the pressure on London in the Brexit negotiations. Dublin is insisting on a written guarantee that there will be no hard border. Otherwise, according to the barely concealed threat by Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Ireland would use its veto to scuttle the transition to the second Brexit negotiation phase.

The Republic of Ireland is currently in a rare position of power. The other 27 EU member states claim they are only willing to talk to the British government about their common future and a trade agreement once “sufficient progress” has been made on three issues: London’s financial obligations, the future rights of affected citizens and the Ireland question. This decision must be made unanimously by all 27 heads of state and government. Without Ireland, nothing will happen.

But, although there is movement on the question of citizen rights and even on the heated issue of Brexit’s exit bill, little progress has been made on the Ireland question. If there is no breakthrough at the next EU summit in mid-December, then the schedule of the negotiations could completely fall apart. In the most extreme case, a Brexit could happen without a withdrawal agreement, with terrible consequences for the EU economy and worse consequences for the British one.

The Irish Want to Use Their Chance

The Irish are putting on a poker face. Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, addressing journalists from several EU countries in Belfast last Wednesday, said that it was necessary to have a written agreement about at least the framework for the future border. “We can’t accept the promise of a check in the post.”


Israel is shooting itself in the foot by declaring its ties to Saudi Arabia, expert warns

A war on corruption, collaboration with Israel and an enthusiastic crown prince: A look at the dramatic changes underway in Saudi Arabia

November 30, 2017

by Ayelett Shani


Talking to: Dr. Michal Yaari, 43, lives in Tel Aviv; researcher and expert on Saudi Arabia, teaches at Tel Aviv University and the Open University. Where: A Tel Aviv café. When: Thursday, 10 A.M.

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot recently gave an unprecedented interview to a Saudi news site, in which he asserted that Israel and Saudi Arabia are in full agreement about Iran.

To really understand the Middle East – subscribe to Haaretz

Yes. Since the Arab Spring erupted, and more especially during the past year, Israel and Saudi Arabia have drawn significantly closer, owing to their common interests or common enemies – Hezbollah, Iran and ISIS. Saudi Arabia’s fear of its enemies is indeed pulling it closer to Israel, but it is limited in its ability to manage these collaborations, at least publicly, as long as the Palestinian problem remains unresolved.

>> Before Islam: when Saudi Arabia was a Jewish Kingdom

There are reports of business collaborations. But at the official level, both sides naturally deny this. The Saudi foreign minister stated in a television interview not long ago that his country does not maintain ties with Israel.

He also reiterated the traditional Saudi demand for Israel to enter into regional negotiations on the basis of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. That surely upset those who assumed that, given the heightened Iranian threat, the Saudis would become more flexible about the Palestinian issue. Look, there is cooperation, whose scope and nature we don’t know, but it’s very limited. Israel apparently believes that the situation in which we receive from Saudi Arabia without giving anything in return, is good for us. But that’s not so – or, at least, not sufficiently so.

>> What would Saudi Arabia’s Jew-hating founder think about his kingdom’s public flirtation with Israel | Opinion

Why not?

Because the Saudi government is promoting vast projects involving infrastructure, green energy, cyber and so on, which are being implemented by foreign companies. They don’t allow the use of Israeli components or workers in these projects – but if the situation were to change, the Israeli economy could benefit to the tune of billions. That’s the estimate of experts, not mine. In any event, I think it’s a mistake for Israel to refer publicly – implicitly or directly – to the nature of its relations with Saudi Arabia. A statement such as “Israel’s relations with countries with which it has no relations of peace are unprecedented,” is extremely problematic, because it pushes Saudi Arabia into a corner in terms of the Arab world [in general], and endangers the cooperation as such.

Who made that statement?

The prime minister, in a speech at the Foreign Ministry.

Of course. Actually, I’d like for us to focus on Saudi Arabia’s citizens. On day-to-day life in the kingdom.

There is a very dramatic disparity between the picture we get of Saudi Arabia in the media, and everyday life there. Many of the subjects that occupy the Saudi public also occupy us.

Such as?

Along with headlines about Iran, Saudi newspapers address the housing crisis, the unemployment problem, the younger generation’s difficulties in coping with the cost of living. Many groups in Saudi Arabia espouse liberal views, including women who think and believe that Saudi Arabia should look different, and are doing something about it, particularly through social networks.

Do you think that the modest protest you’re describing has already registered achievements? That it engendered the new law allowing women to drive, for example?

A commentator in a Saudi paper maintains that what Saudi women succeeded in achieving in recent years outdoes what women in the West achieved in 50 years. Without a doubt, there has been a meteoric leap in the kingdom’s attitude toward women, but the truth is that real change in the situation of women in Saudi Arabia is the result of necessity.

What do you mean?

The reality is that, in order to survive economically, Saudi Arabia needs to carry out basic reforms. It cannot allow itself to have 50 percent of the potential workforce be jobless. There’s an understanding that it is essential to integrate women into the labor market, and for that to happen, they need to be able to get to work. The use of private chauffeurs is declining, due to the cost of living. Uber is the interim solution that’s been found.

Seems a bit weird: Women aren’t allowed to take a taxi, but they can travel in a car with a man they don’t know?

It’s a matter of appearances. Uber cars aren’t marked like taxis, and an outside observer can’t know that the lady is not being driven by the family’s private chauffeur. Women accounted for 85 percent of Uber’s clients in Saudi Arabia. At a certain stage, the women grasped that this was a trap, because it’s a solution that continues to sustain the status quo and prevents change. When the women decided to stop using Uber, [Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman decided to allow them to drive.

Bin Salman is the strongman in Saudi Arabia today; his father is thought to be suffering from dementia.

Rumors abound, and naturally we don’t know and will not know what his father’s real condition is. What’s clear is that he is functioning at a far from optimal level.

And in practice, his 32-year-old son is running the kingdom.

The king appears mainly at official and ceremonial events, and the real decisions, large and small, go through Mohammed bin Salman, who has been genuinely surprising. Take the war on corruption, for example. Three weeks ago, the king announced the formation of a committee, under the crown prince, to fight corruption, and immediately afterward something unprecedented happened: High-ranking figures in the kingdom were arrested, among them princes and businessmen.

A country where corruption is integral to the system declares war on corruption, and all the powers of investigation, arrest and sanctions are concentrated in the hands of the crown prince. Who exactly is supposed to believe that?

With all due respect to the desire to fight corruption, there were of course many opposition figures among those arrested; it’s not clear whether this is an authentic attempt to quash corruption or a case of political liquidation in a respectable guise. At the level of sheer vested interest, the prince wants to attract foreign investors, who of course do not want to invest in a corrupt country. On the other hand, corruption really is part of Saudi Arabia’s DNA, and the royal house is far from constituting a model of virtue in this regard. Last year, King Salman went on a vacation in Morocco that cost $100 million.

The king is known not to travel lightly. I remember another story, about a three-day trip he took with 500 tons of equipment and gold escalators.

Yes, and the Saudi public, most of whom are young – two-thirds of the country’s population is below the age of 30 – see the waste and are outraged. When the prince declares a war on corruption, he is obliged to convey to the public the message that he means what he says, that he truly intends to clean out the stables.

His father catapulted him in the line of succession, twice pushing aside the true successors.

The Saudi monarchy has many branches, which effectively compete with one another, and one of the king’s functions is to maintain a very complex division of powers and functions, to keep everyone happy. The present king simply shattered the balance of the order of succession, on top of which the son started to appropriate even additional powers, to the point where he now exercises vast power. That antidemocratic act, however, in a country which is not democratic to begin with, might well become the way to get controversial decisions made and ensure their implementation. Until now, the government did not have the courage or the public support needed to carry out such moves.

Such as a lengthy series of [budget] cuts. Saudi Arabia is finding it difficult to provide its citizens with the benefits they’ve become accustomed to, which were paid for with oil money, or what remained of that money after the government plundered it.

In Saudi Arabia there is no such thing as a state budget, of course. The oil funds are used for the king’s management and deportment, and he and his confidants decide how to slice the pie. What guides them, of course, is the preservation of power. But beyond the vast sums that are transferred to the religious establishment and to tribal leaders, for example, the government sees to most of Saudi citizens’ needs. They don’t have to pay for education, infrastructure, health services, electricity, cooking gas or water.

There are also no taxes in Saudi Arabia, a situation that to Westerners sounds completely insane. All in all, apart from beheadings, discrimination against women and the climate, it’s a pretty attractive life.

That arrangement really worked just fine when the price of oil was high and the population was relatively small. But today’s Saudi Arabia has a population of 20 million, not six or seven million like in the 1960s. The price of oil has plummeted and crashed. The government is no longer able to provide those conditions to its citizens. The immense welfare basket that Saudi citizens received in return for their silence and absolute obedience to the government has shrunk persistently over the years, and when the royal house declares that it’s time for belt-tightening, the people aren’t willing to cooperate.

They say, “Just a minute, friends, or we’ll start the cutting with you – maybe you’ll simply pack fewer gold escalators when you go abroad.”

Exactly. Young Saudis are suffocating from the cost of living. It’s difficult for them to find housing, and I’m talking about rental, because buying is out of the question. It’s hard for them to find jobs, and they can’t marry, because the bride price is very high in Saudi Arabia, and they have nothing to offer the fathers, who ultimately sell their daughters. So bachelorhood is a growing phenomenon among both women and men, as is the phenomenon of Saudi men marrying foreign women. Sixty-four percent of the marriages of Saudi men to non-Saudi women are said to be to Filipinas. It’s a safe assumption that these are not passionate love marriages.

How high is the bride price?

A Saudi friend of mine told me that the bride price for a woman of her status – the upper middle class – is about a million riyals [about $267,000]. Not to mention the fact that to live with a Saudi woman is very expensive.


Naturally, it very much differs from one family to another and from one social status to another. To generalize crudely, there are status symbols. After all, the face of a Saudi woman is not to be seen. What can be seen? Fingernails, handbag, shoes, jewelry. They will of course be the most expensive to be had. I can say that whenever I meet with one of my female Saudi friends in London, I barely dare enter [hotel] the lobby, because I feel like I’m in “Pretty Woman.”

You sent me a link to a clip in which a Saudi dentist furiously burns his diploma, because he can’t find work. Could you explain a little about the singular situation of the Saudi labor market?

To find work in Saudi Arabia ranges between difficult and impossible. The Gulf states, which were nomadic desert states where people lived a quite basic life – what is known as a date economy – grew very rich overnight, thanks to petroleum. Effectively, they had to build a state from scratch. There was no trained labor, and they had no choice but to import workers. And not only for the menial jobs but also for prestigious professions such as the law, engineering, medicine and architecture. Saudi Arabia found itself in a situation in which foreign workers controlled the labor market.

In fact, two of every three people in the private market are foreigners.

That’s an estimate, without taking into account the illegal workers, of whom it’s hard to keep track. The number is 10 million, in a country of 20 million. That is extremely problematic. To begin with, the country is totally dependent on these workers. Second, the development of a consciousness of lordship – there are many reports of employers behaving shamefully toward workers, and clips that show harsh physical and verbal violence, sexual harassment and rape. The abuse is so widespread that some poor countries, such as Bangladesh, prohibit women from going to Saudi Arabia to work. Saudi Arabia is aware that it must reduce the number of foreign workers and get Saudis into the labor market, but there are many problems along the way.

Such as that the population, all of whose needs have been supplied by the state, has atrophied a bit. They haven’t acquired the relevant skills, are uneducated in how to save money and to act efficiently, and constitute a huge burden on the economy – I’ve read insane data about electricity consumption in Saudi Arabia.

Electric power in Saudi Arabia is based on oil, and consumption is incredibly wasteful – for example, people have no problem going away for two weeks and leaving all the air conditioners running. There is no energy-saving awareness. According to forecasts, if things go on like this, within a few years, Saudi Arabia will be transformed from an oil exporter into an oil importer. That will create a huge problem both at the level of governance and at the level of regional status. Mohammed bin Salman understands this well, and is therefore setting himself clear goals, such as reducing dependence on oil, developing additional sources of revenue and replacing foreign labor with local people. But a Saudi citizen who was educated in the Saudi school system has nothing to offer an American high-tech firm that’s considering a move to Saudi Arabia, let’s say. If Saudi Arabia wants to solve its foreign-workers problem, it will have to make a deep change in education, so that its content becomes relevant to the [needs of the] labor market.

But the education system is under the control of the religious establishment.

Yes. In Saudi Arabia the religious establishment has a monopoly on education and culture, and in return it is obligated to protect the regime. Accordingly, when Mohammed bin Salman wants to adapt the education system to the era of science and technology, he is endangering his rule in a certain sense. Some time ago, as part of the campaign against obesity, it was decided to allow young and adolescent girls to exercise in school. That might seem like a small change, but it required so much work. Who will the physical education teachers be? Who will train those women? What equipment is needed? What will be allowed and what forbidden? How will schools accommodate sports classes? So when you talk about reforming the education system from the ground up and adjusting it to the Western world, it’s impossible to imagine what it will entail, still less the political price in terms of the religious establishment.

Isn’t bin Salman loosening the grip of the religious police?

The religious police, who are supposed to preserve the values of Saudi society, have become a cruel and destructive body, and have made themselves hated by the public. The religious police can suddenly enter a restaurant in a mall and order everyone, in the midst of their meal, to go out and pray.

They also attack women who violate the rules of modesty.They are very violent to women. They’ve been filmed dragging women out of their cars, smashing a guitar of a woman who dared to play the instrument in a public park, raiding and breaking up parties and smashing all the bottles. Those clips generated a great change, I think, because the Saudi public suddenly saw itself from the outside, and began asking why they can’t play an instrument in a park or put on makeup. Until now, whenever the religious establishment was angry with the king, the solution was to give them more powers and more money.

But the present generation is itself angry at the religious establishment, which is disconnected from the people and speaks an archaic language, which limits them. Until recently, culture was unavailable in Saudi Arabia. There is no cinema, because it’s not considered modest, and because men and women are liable to sit together in the same hall. There is no music, because it’s not moral. All that remains for the country’s younger people is to watch on the internet as their brethren in the West enjoy all the abundance, and to be envious. Mohammed bin Salman understands that this pressure cooker has to have a release, and that people must be allowed to start enjoying themselves. He commissioned an American company to start building multiplexes. Gradually other cultural events are also starting to happen. Last month there was a motorized acrobatics show, and thousands of people flocked to it, there’s a huge thirst.

The interesting question is what is motivating him. Is he in essence a liberal, or pragmatic and utilitarian?

There was an amazing interview a few weeks ago in which he talked about Saudi Arabia having deviated from its course and adopted an extreme form of Islam in reaction to what happened in Iran, and about needing to revert to the moderate Islam of the past. I think it’s a combination of two things – that he is both a pragmatist who understands that reality is forcing him to change the tough policy toward the citizens, and also, ultimately, that he espouses far more liberal opinions than the aged kings who have ruled Saudi Arabia until now. He is young, he is connected to the life of the young people. Overall, his set of traits is his blessing and his curse alike.

Please explain.

He has the determination, he has the charisma and he has the vision – all the traits that Saudi Arabia needs after years of governmental inaction. On the other hand, those are the exact traits that have led Saudi Arabia into a complex, not to say destructive reality. The escalation of language and policy toward Iran, the Hariri episode, the difficulty of climbing down from the high tree of the expensive and unnecessary war in Yemen, and also projects like the building of the city of Neom – these are very dramatic decisions that depart from Saudi Arabia’s conciliatory, measured policy. History will judge his actions, and we will see whether this set of traits [of bin-Salman’s] advanced Saudi Arabia or toppled it into the abyss.


Twenty-First-Century American Populism

Or Putting Your Mouth Where Your Money Isn’t

by Rajan Menon


Among the stranger features of the 2016 election campaign was the success of Donald Trump, a creature of globalization, as an America First savior of the white working class. A candidate who amassed billions of dollars by playing globalization for all it was worth — he manufactured clothes and accessories bearing his name in low-wage economies and invested in corporations eager to outsource — won over millions of voters by promising to keep jobs here in the U.S.

Admittedly, only a third of his voters earned less than $50,000 a year and cultural and racial resentment, not just economic grievances, drove many of them to Trump.  Still, in an ever more economically unequal America, his populist economic message resonated. It helped him win the presidency by peeling off white working class votes in key regions, particularly the industrial Midwest. Now, he’s stuck with his populist narrative, and here’s the problem for him: it’s not likely to work — not given the economic realities of this planet, not for long anyway.

Fading Economic Hegemony

In the Oval Office, as on the campaign trail, Trump’s refrain remains that the economic woes of American workers, including stagnant wages and job insecurity, are the fault of predatory Asian and Mexican exporters, aided and abetted by inept past presidents who inked lousy trade deals.  During campaign 2016, he promised to kick down doors abroad and force countries running surpluses, notably China, to buy more from the United States or face huge tariff hikes.  He railed against companies that relocate production abroad, depriving Americans of jobs.

Trump’s economic nationalism is, of course, a con job.  He did, however, effectively employ the demagogue’s artifice, which invariably lies in crafting simplistic answers to complicated questions and creating plausible scapegoats for complicated problems. In fact, workers in industries the United States dominated for decades are in distress because of irreversible historic changes and the absence, thanks to a staggeringly lopsided distribution of wealth and political power in America, of progressive policies that would better prepare them to cope with the changes that have occurred in the international economy.

But first, a little history.

For nearly three decades after World War II, the United States dominated the global marketplace in big-ticket industries like steel, automobiles, passenger aircraft, shipbuilding, and heavy machinery.  That hegemony was bound to fade.  As a start, America’s postwar economic primacy owed much to the ravages of that global conflict.  After all, the industrial bases of Japan and Germany lay in ruins.  Wartime allies Britain and France faced long, arduous recoveries.  But the economies of those industrialized, technologically advanced countries were bound to recover — and by the mid-1970s they had.  By then, America’s near-monopoly was ending.

Between 1965 and 2010, the share of the national market held by America’s steelmakers and carmakers plunged from nearly 90% to 45%. By the 1970s, they were already complaining about an influx of “cheap imports” and lobbying Washington to enact countermeasures. Now regarded as the ultimate free trader, President Ronald Reagan would indeed oblige them.  In 1981, for instance, he limited Japanese automobile sales in the U.S., while hiking tariffs tenfold on motorcycle imports to save Harley-Davidson.  European and Japanese steel companies would soon face similar restrictions.

Seen in historical perspective, Washington’s reaction to trade competition was hardly unique.  Britain, too, had preached free trade during its economic heyday — until, that is, its imperial predominance began to wane. In the nineteenth century, the zenith of British free trade cheerleading, the United States relied heavily on protectionism to ensure the growth of its nascent industrial base. As its economic power expanded, however, its own version of such cheerleading began.  Now, China is fast becoming an economic superpower. Unsurprisingly, at conclaves like the Davos World Economic Forum at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, President Xi Jinping is predictably starting to sound more like Adam Smith than Karl Marx, just as Donald Trump’s speeches during his November whirlwind trip through Asia are coming to resemble nineteenth-century American rationales for protectionism.

Since the 1970s, workers in places like Detroit, Bethlehem, and Peoria have faced another challenge: a range of new sources of competition, especially the “Asian tigers” like South Korea and Taiwan.  Once considered inferior, their products have by now become a hallmark of quality, making South Korean or Japanese cars, cellphones, computers, and television sets ubiquitous in this country.

Now, China, which took the top spot in world trade from the U.S. in 2013, is poised to do what Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan already did here (cars included).  And India waits in the wings.

These historical trends suggest that President Trump’s protectionism is already doomed.  The point isn’t that international trade always benefits American workers; it doesn’t.  Trade, national or global, redistributes wealth, especially because the largest and most successful companies have long ceased to think in terms of national markets.  They set up shop wherever it’s most profitable, using complex global supply chains. When it comes to Apple’s iPhone, for instance, more than 200 suppliers worldwide provide parts for final assembly in China.  Good infrastructure and a workforce with skills that match corporate requirements matter.  Yet wage differentials aren’t irrelevant either; that’s partly why China, Mexico, and Vietnam have attracted massive amounts of job-creating investment — and why India, too, has begun to do so.

The relevant question isn’t whether the global economy can be redesigned to protect American workers — it can’t — but what their government will do to help them to gain the skills needed to compete effectively in a rapidly changing marketplace.  Reforming public education might be a good place to start (but don’t look to Donald Trump to do it).  If American workers are to do better in the global marketplace, this country’s public schools must ensure that their students graduate with the math, science, and other skills needed to get decent jobs.  That, however, would mean attacking the inequality that’s increasingly been built into the public education system (as into so much else in this society).

Education: The Zip Code Premium

Horace Mann, the nineteenth-century American educator, referred to public schooling as “beyond all human devices… the great equalizer of the condition of men, the balance wheel of the social machinery.”  Since the early years of the republic, Americans have embraced the idea that schooling is critical in helping individuals realize their aspirations and in guaranteeing equality of opportunity.  In principle, there has been a consensus that economic circumstances beyond the control of children shouldn’t block their way into the future.  In practice, it’s been quite a different story, partially because of how public schools are funded.

Local property and business taxes are the largest source of support for them, so kids born into a community crammed with pricey homes and thriving businesses will attend well-funded public schools that attract good teachers with decent working conditions and salaries. Such students are more likely to have smaller classes, more guidance counselors, nurses, and psychologists, more computers per pupil, better textbooks and instructional equipment, richer curricula, and better libraries.

In addition to local taxes, which provide 45% of public school funds, state revenues provide another 46%, and federal assistance an additional 9%.  Some state governments also offer extra money to poorer school districts, but not enough to begin to close the gap with more affluent ones.  In any case, those funds have been falling since 2008. Additional federal support doesn’t come close to leveling the playing field.

The United States is one of the few countries in the 35-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of wealthy nations, in which central government funding plays such a limited role in reducing disparities between schools.  In those countries, national budgets provide, on average, more than 50% of school funding.

Public schools in affluent communities have another advantage.  Thanks to their incomes, professional qualifications, social networks, and experience, the parents of students in such schools are far more capable of raising private money to supplement school budgets, which means extra educational equipment and instructional materials, and more staff.   Most such private fundraising is done by parent-teacher associations (PTAs), which tend to be more active and more successful in affluent communities.  (Indeed, poor districts may lack PTAs altogether.)

Consider a typical California example.  In Hillsborough, where the median family income is $229,000, the school district raised an extra $1,500 per student; in Oakland, where median income was just under $58,000, it was only $100 per student.  Similarly, in wealthy northwest Washington, D.C., four elementary schools raised $300,000 apiece in one year, sums unthinkable for schools in Washington’s poorer communities like those east of the Anacostia River, where the median household income is $34,000.   Such differences are the norm nationally.

It’s true that PTA funding — $245 million in 2010 (an increase of 300% since 1990) — looks like a drop in the bucket compared to total government spending on kindergarten-through-12th-grade education ($603 billion in 2013).  That, however, misses the point, since the private funding is so concentrated in wealthy neighborhoods.

Money can’t fix everything, but it counts for a lot in an ever more unequal society.  And there’s overwhelming evidence that the educational success gap between the wealthiest 10% of Americans and the rest has been growing for decades — unevenly since the 1940s, at an accelerated rate since the 1970s, and by 30%-40% percent between 1991 and 2010. If you want graphic proof of how the income-achievement divide matters, it’s easy to find: students in schools with greater resources (including wealthy parents), for example, regularly do better in standardized tests and essentially any other metric of academic achievement.

And remember, student performance in high school increases the likelihood both of college attendance and success once there.  All of this indicates the obvious: that one way to improve the economic prospects of American workers would be to ensure that the public school system provides all students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in a global economy that privileges people who have solid technical know-how.  Channeling more funds to schools in poorer communities would, however, require sacrifices from the segments of society that our “populist” president really represents.  So perhaps you won’t be surprised to discover that, though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos favors “school choice,” neither she nor her boss seems to have the slightest interest in doing anything about the growing inequalities and inequities of public education, which Trump’s cherished “base” of working and lower-income people need the most. In fact, cuts in his education budget total about $10 billion and target a raft of programs that help poor and working-class families.

Missing: Worker-Friendly Policies

Once employed, workers will face challenges throughout their lives that their parents, let alone grandparents, couldn’t have imagined.  No matter what Donald Trump does about trade pacts and tariffs, companies will continue to shift production overseas to stay ahead of their competitors, which means that well-paying manufacturing jobs in America will continue to disappear.  They will also export some of what they make abroad back to the United States, increasing job insecurity and driving down wages.  Trump’s rants won’t reverse this well-established trend.

Add in one more thing: automation, robotics, self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence, and e-commerce will continue to reduce the role of human labor in the economy, even as they create new jobs with skill premiums.  Those with high-end jobs (banking, the law, scientific research, and medicine, among others) will, of course, continue to earn significant incomes, but workers without a college education in the service sector, which already accounts for nearly 80% of the country’s gross domestic product, will find it ever tougher to get higher-paying jobs with decent benefits.  This, in turn, means that they will have an even harder time saving for retirement, paying for their childrens’ educations, liquidating accumulated debts, or covering the cost of medical care.

So what to do?

A progressive tax code that actually favored those in Trump’s base and others like them would be one way to start to rectify the situation, but that’s a pipedream in this era.  The two versions of the Trump-backed tax “reform” bill now in Congress tell us everything we need to know about who will gain and who will lose in his populist America.  They couldn’t be more wildly regressive.

Take corporate taxes.  To skirt the present 35% tax on corporate income, American companies have stashed $2.6 trillion in overseas tax havens like Ireland, Luxembourg, Bermuda, and the Netherlands, among other places. If the tax bill passes, corporations will be able to bring that money home and pay only 12% in taxes on it, a bonanza for corporate America.  It’s been argued that such companies will then invest the repatriated funds here, creating new jobs, but the tax plan offers them absolutely no incentives to do so and imposes no penalties if they don’t.  Oh, and that proposed corporate tax cut will be permanent.

More generally, the truly wealthy have particular reason to celebrate.  By 2024, the legislation eliminates the estate tax, which only they now pay.  Though it provides less than one percent of federal revenues, scrapping it would shrink those revenues by $269 billion over a decade. That exceeds the annual budgets of the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention combined.

There’s more: 47% of the gains from the proposed tax cuts will benefit the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers, while the prospective bill won’t touch the biggest financial burden carried by young middle- and working-class Americans: college loans.  Student debt, which has ballooned by $833 billion since 2007, now totals $1.45 trillion.  (The average monthly payment: $351.)

Republican tax policies further skew wealth distribution toward the richest 0.1%.  Big tax cuts that favor this exclusive group are also likely to reduce government revenue, increasing the odds of further spending cuts to programs that benefit workers.

Take job retraining. The United States currently devotes a pitiful 0.05% of its gross domestic product to worker retraining, ranking 21st out of 29 OECD countries for which data is available.  And prospective budget cuts suggest that there will be no improvement on this front (where the president has already proposed a 40% cut in funds).  The 21% cut planned for the Department of Labor will, for instance, slash several job training and employment assistance programs, affecting nearly three million people.  And here’s one for your no-good-deed-goes unpunished file: Trump plans to eliminate the Appalachian Regional Council (ARC), which since 1965 has provided job retraining to coalminers while reducing poverty and boosting high school graduation rates significantly.  Ninety-five percent of the counties the ARC covers voted for Trump.

It’s the same story when it comes to apprenticeships, widely and successfully subsidized in countries like Germany to create a skilled working class. By contrast, the United States now spends a paltry $95 million on such programs and while Trump has called for five million additional apprenticeships in the next five years, a tenfold increase, he’s suggested no additional funding for such a program.  Consider that the definition of not putting your money where your mouth is.

A partnership among community colleges and companies, supplemented by federal funds, could create nationwide apprenticeship programs that would benefit workers and companies.  Furthermore, nearly 90% of those who complete apprenticeships not only land jobs but earn an average yearly salary of $50,000 — nearly 12% above the national median wage. Two million American manufacturing jobs will remain unfilled during the next decade for want of adequately trained workers.

Modernizing the nation’s decrepit infrastructure could create a range of new jobs (as it did in the New Deal era of the 1930s).  But the federal government’s supposed role in President Trump’s much-vaunted infrastructure “plan” to revamp the country’s disintegrating roads, rail lines, bridges, ports, dams, levees, and inland waterways is to “get out of the way”; it will, that is, be confining its contribution to the trillion-dollar plan to $137 billion (mainly in tax credits), though experts reckon that revamping the country’s infrastructure would actually require a $4 trillion investment over a decade.  Private investors will undoubtedly cherry-pick the most profitable projects and so will get a windfall from this tax subsidy.  American workers, not so much.  Sad!

Fake Populism

Rising college costs, stagnant wages — adjusted for inflation, hourly pay has increased a mere 0.2% annually over the past four decades — and the weight of student debt will make it ever harder for Americans to upgrade their skills.  But when it comes to the working class he claims to care deeply about, Donald Trump’s deeds don’t go beyond symbolism — publicizing his love for Big Macs and Kentucky Fried Chicken, engaging in bellicose bombast, trash-talking trade agreements, threatening to raise tariffs, and blaming undocumented immigrants for everything from crime to unemployment.  None of this will actually mitigate the challenges that confront workers, which will only grow in an America in which the top 0.1% have about as much wealth as the bottom 90%.

As is always true when it comes to rulers with an autocratic bent, the question is: When will Trump’s base get wise to his populist charade?  When will the promises he continues to make, from a new deal with China to a new wall with Mexico, begin to ring hollow? Or will they?


Illegally Trying To Pry Into American’s Phone

An officer deployed to Iraq tried to access data on her boyfriend’s son’s phone during a training exercise in 2011. After the breach was discovered, the officer was placed on administrative duty and stripped of access to top secret NSA databases, according to documents released this month.

November 28, 2017

by Jason Leopold


A Navy officer stationed in Iraq “deliberately and without authorization” used an NSA database to try to pry into the mobile phone of her boyfriend’s son, according to a top secret NSA inspector general report obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The 2014 report — one of dozens the NSA just declassified in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit — provides a rare, behind-the-scenes look into how the spy agency responded to an instance of illegal surveillance on an American citizen.

The Navy officer did not access the information on the phone — she was halted by a warning signal. But the inspector general’s report says the officer, whose name was redacted, violated federal regulations and a presidential executive order designed to protect Americans from being spied on by intelligence agencies without a warrant.

The NSA took swift action. The officer was placed on administrative duty, prohibited from entering the classified intelligence collection facility in Iraq and stripped of access to the NSA signals intelligence database. The Navy Criminal Investigative Service also launched an investigation into the matter. The outcome of that investigation has not been made public. A spokesperson for the service did not did not respond to requests for comment.

In a statement to BuzzFeed News, NSA spokesperson Mike Halbig said the agency “takes very seriously allegations of misconduct, and cooperates fully with any investigations — responding as appropriate. NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities.”

The NSA discovered the breach in July of 2011, a month after it happened, during an audit of the signals intelligence — or SIGINT — system, the inspector general’s report says. SIGINT is intelligence gathered through the covert collection of electronic signals and communications.

According to the inspector general’s report, the Navy officer was deployed to Iraq in 2011 as part of a classified program. Information about the program was redacted from the report. Before deployment, the officer had completed two training courses on using sensitive data, including one that “covers, in detail, the rules against targeting United States persons.”

On June 4, 2011, the first day the Navy officer was granted access to the highly classified NSA signals intelligence database, she underwent a third course on how to use it. During a training exercise, she entered her boyfriend’s son’s telephone number into a search field and tried to access data covering the span of a month on the prepaid telephone number. That phone was also used by other members of her boyfriend’s family, the report said.

“She inputted the number into the SIGINT system because it was the only telephone number she could think of at the time,” the inspector general’s report says. “She could not explain why this telephone number came to mind instead of her own telephone number or any other number.”

But she did not obtain data on the phone number because when she queried the database the computer monitor “displayed a bright red warning sign.”

The Navy officer panicked. But her trainer, an Army officer, told her “not to worry” and to just clear out the various search fields on the database. She thought her training officer would report the incident, according to the report, but he didn’t. Neither did she.

After the breach was caught by the audit, the Navy officer told NSA investigators she did not intentionally target the telephone number of her boyfriend’s son. She “attempted to minimize her actions by saying her unauthorized query of a U.S. person was the result of a training accident,” the inspector general’s report states. But “her argument does not change the facts that she had been trained on the proper use of the SIGINT system before deployments, entered the specific telephone number of a U.S. person into the SIGINT system, and conducted a query of a U.S. person without proper authorization.”

The Navy officer was required to complete another training course as “part of non-punitive counseling.”


NSA Secretly Helped Convict Defendants in U.S. Courts, Classified Documents Reveal

November 30 2017

by Trevor Aaronson

The Intercept

Fazliddin Kurbanov is a barrel-chested man from Uzbekistan who came to the United States in 2009, when he was in his late 20s. A Christian who had converted from Islam, Kurbanov arrived as a refugee and spoke little English. Resettled in Boise, Idaho, he rented an apartment, worked odd jobs, and was studying to be a truck driver.

But about three years after entering the U.S., around the time he converted back to Islam, Kurbanov was placed under FBI surveillance. According to emails and internet chat logs obtained by the government, Kurbanov was disgusted by having seen Americans burn the Quran and by reports that an American soldier had tried to rape a Muslim girl. “My entire life, everything, changed,” Kurbanov wrote in a July 31, 2012 email.

After the FBI assigned one informant to live with him and another informant to attend his truck-driving school, Kurbanov was arrested in May 2013. Prosecutors accused him of providing material support to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and possessing bomb-making materials.

During Kurbanov’s trial, the government notified him that his conversations with an alleged Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan associate based in Pakistan had been intercepted. The spying, federal prosecutors said, had been authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which regulates the monitoring of agents of foreign governments and terrorist organizations. Kurbanov was convicted at trial and sentenced to 25 years in prison, after which he’ll be deported to Uzbekistan. He is an apparent success story for U.S. counterterrorism officials. If there was any doubt about Kurbanov’s propensity for violence, he eliminated it by stabbing a prison warden in California, an act for which he is now facing additional charges.

But Justice Department lawyers gained their conviction against Kurbanov after failing to disclose a legally significant fact: Kurbanov’s conversations with his alleged terrorist associate had been captured through PRISM, a National Security Agency mass surveillance program whose existence was revealed in documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Under PRISM, the government obtains communications directly from at least eight large technology companies without the need for warrants, a type of practice authorized in 2008, when Congress provided new surveillance powers under FISA.

While traditional FISA authority permits spying on a particular person or group through warrants issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, under the new powers, codified in FISA Section 702, monitoring is approved in bulk by the court through what is essentially a recipe for mass surveillance. Once approved, such a recipe can be used against thousands of targets. Under Section 702 authority, the NSA is currently monitoring digital communications of more than 100,000 people; it swept up an estimated 250 million internet communications each year as of a 2011 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinion. The FBI frequently searches Section 702 databases when it opens national security and domestic criminal “assessments,” precursors to full investigations.

According to a slide in an NSA presentation, provided by Snowden and published for the first time today by The Intercept, the interception of Kurbanov’s conversations was a “Reporting Highlight” for PRISM. The document indicates that the NSA captured Kurbanov’s Skype conversations from October 2012 through April 2013, roughly the same period the FBI was investigating him with undercover informants. It further details how an NSA unit in April 2013 issued a report describing “how Kurbanov believed he was under surveillance (which he is by the FBI) but was cautiously continuing his work, which was not specified — could be raising money for the IMU or explosive testing.” The alleged terrorist associate with whom Kurbanov was communicating “wanted Kurbanov to set this work in motion, probably related to sending money back to the IMU,” the document added.

The government is obligated to disclose to criminal defendants when information against them originates from Section 702 reporting, but federal prosecutors did not do so in Kurbanov’s case. In fact, when Kurbanov’s lawyers demanded disclosure of FISA-related evidence and the suppression of that evidence, Attorney General Eric Holder asserted national security privilege, claiming in a declaration that disclosure of FISA information would “harm the national security of the United States.” Kurbanov’s lawyer, Chuck Peterson, declined to comment about the government’s use of Section 702 surveillance against his client.

Kurbanov does not appear to be the only defendant kept in the dark about how warrantless surveillance was used against him. A nationwide review of federal court records by The Intercept found that of 75 terrorism defendants notified of some type of FISA spying since Section 702 became law, just 10 received notice of Section 702 surveillance. And yet Section 702 was credited with “well over 100 arrests on terrorism-related offenses” in a July 2014 report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the federal entity created to oversee intelligence authorities granted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Additional documents from Snowden, previously unpublished and dated before the Kurbanov case, provide further examples of how NSA intelligence repeatedly played an undisclosed role in bringing accused terrorists to trial in U.S. courts over the past decade and a half. They also reveal an instance in which the NSA incorrectly identified a U.S. citizen as a foreign target of a FISA warrant.

Civil liberties advocates have long suspected that the Justice Department is underreporting Section 702 cases in order to limit court challenges to the controversial law. Some theorize that the government conceals Section 702 use through a process known as “parallel construction,” in which evidence obtained from the warrantless surveillance authority is reobtained through traditional FISA authorization, and the government only discloses the latter authority in U.S. District Court. One defense lawyer referred to this practice in a court filing as “laundering” Section 702 evidence. Beyond the Kurbanov case, circumstantial evidence in other  prosecutions suggests that this type of parallel construction could be widespread.

“The government intercepts Americans’ emails and phone calls in vast quantities using this spying law and stores them in databases for years,” said Patrick Toomey, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project. “FBI agents around the country then go searching through that trove of data as a matter of course, including in domestic criminal investigations. Yet, over almost a decade, only a handful of individuals have ever received notice.”

The Justice Department, FBI, and NSA declined to comment for this article. The New York Times in 2013 reported that lawyers in the Justice Department’s National Security Division had believed they did not need to disclose in court whether evidence obtained through FISA specifically originated with Section 702 unless they were presenting material received directly from a Section 702 sweep. The U.S. solicitor general then successfully pushed for a change in policy, bolstered by fallout from the Snowden disclosures; this was followed by a review of past cases by the National Security Division, after which prosecutors filed supplemental Section 702 notices in a handful of cases around the country. In four such cases, the defendants had already been convicted by the time of the disclosure. And whatever changes occurred in 2013 were clearly limited, given that fewer than a dozen such notices have ever been given in court cases, and none at all has been filed in the last year and a half. Kurbanov, meanwhile, was convicted in 2015, well after the purported change in policy.

The government’s handling of its Section 702 authority is particularly important at the moment because the powers are scheduled to expire at the end of the year unless Congress reauthorizes them. Three reauthorization bills are winding through Congress. The Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee have each produced one, while a third has been sponsored by U.S. senators and longtime intelligence community critics Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky. As currently written, the Wyden-Paul bill would strengthen notification requirements and curb the Justice Department’s ability to launder Section 702 evidence through traditional FISA. The bill would require notification of Section 702 surveillance even when evidence derived from that surveillance “was subsequently reobtained through other means.” Meanwhile, the bill that emerged from the Senate Intelligence Committee appears to expand Section 702 without providing additional safeguards.

The undisclosed use of warrantless surveillance to win prosecutions is also troubling from a constitutional standpoint, foreclosing a rare opportunity to discover Section 702 abuses and challenge the law, which civil liberties advocates have argued is unconstitutional. Although FISA stipulates that targets of surveillance may challenge the order that led to spying against them, and although Section 702 is clearly used on a massive scale, courts have been strict in deciding who is a “target” of the surveillance authority, and of similar mass spying programs, and thus has standing to challenge the monitoring. For example, the Supreme Court in 2013 ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that Amnesty International and other plaintiffs could not bring a Section 702-related lawsuit because their claim that they would be targeted or harmed by such eavesdropping was too speculative. During arguments prior to the ruling, the U.S. solicitor general specifically told the justices that more suitable plaintiffs would likely emerge because people charged due to Section 702 surveillance would be notified by prosecutors and could then challenge the use of the surveillance in court.

“The failure to provide notice not only prevents defendants from challenging surveillance programs in court, but also stymies the public’s interest in understanding how and when its vast authorities are used,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “We know that the FBI has a practice of trawling through the vast databases of information captured under Section 702 for information about Americans, but it has only acknowledged relying on such surveillance in a handful of cases and then only when its failure to provide the legally required notice generated public pressure to do so.”

Classified documents provided by Snowden expose the questionable use of NSA surveillance to spy on a U.S. citizen and the covert role NSA played in several investigations that resulted in criminal convictions. More broadly, the documents offer a view into how the relationship between the NSA and the FBI has evolved over more than a decade into a de facto partnership for investigating alleged terrorists who ultimately wind up in U.S. courts.

In the immediate years after the 9/11 attacks, as the FBI and NSA refocused on counterterrorism as their top priority, the NSA was acutely reliant on the FBI for its relationships with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret judicial body that provides oversight of surveillance authorization requests, and with U.S. internet and telecommunications companies. In large measure, in these early years the NSA needed the FBI to function effectively as a signals intelligence agency for counterterrorism purposes. For example, when the NSA required authority to target for surveillance a specific phone number or email address — even when the NSA did not know the identity of the person behind that phone number or email address — the FBI went before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to obtain authorization on the NSA’s behalf. In turn, once that authorization was granted, the NSA needed the FBI to contact the internet or telecommunications company to obtain the data.

An August 17, 2005, edition of SIDtoday, the internal newsletter of the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, disclosed that at the time 40 percent of all NSA counterterrorism reporting was derived from FISA collection. The newsletter added: “NSA gets most of its (counterterrorism)-related FISA collection from the FBI. The FBI collects, formats, and disseminates international terrorism-related FISA intercept to NSA, CIA, and internally to FBI agents and analysts.” In 2004, the NSA began to embed employees in the FBI’s Data Intercept Technology Unit, in Quantico, Virginia, so that NSA employees could speak more directly with U.S. data providers, such as internet companies, about formatting data to NSA specifications. “This is the first time that the NSA FISA team has had direct access to the providers, which has proven to be extremely useful to NSA,” the newsletter stated.

According to internal NSA documents, FISA data obtained by the FBI is funneled into a special partition in PINWALE , the NSA’s massive database of digital communications that can be queried by email address, internet protocol address, and other parameters. From 2002 through 2008, according to internal files, the NSA kept a spreadsheet titled “FISA recap” of 7,485 FISA surveillance targets consisting of email addresses or phone numbers, with columns indicating the start and end dates of the authorized surveillance and whether the target was associated with a U.S. person, defined by law as a citizen or lawful resident.

A decade later, most of these email addresses and phone numbers can’t be traced to anyone; many belonged at the time to foreigners the government suspected were involved with terrorist organizations. Others were used by civil rights activists, lawyers, and academics in the United States who were never charged with federal crimes, such as Nihad Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and Rutgers University professor Hooshang Amirahmadi. To have obtained FISA surveillance authority for those U.S. persons, the government had to have demonstrated to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that they were acting as agents of a foreign power. It’s unknown how the government demonstrates this, since individual FISA applications are secret, even when evidence derived from FISA surveillance is introduced against criminal defendants.

In the case of at least one FISA target, the NSA defined a U.S. citizen’s email address as not being related to a U.S. person when the NSA and FBI should have known this was incorrect, suggesting the government did not have to prove the target was a foreign agent. Tarik Shah, a jazz bassist who had played at Bill Clinton’s inauguration, was arrested in 2005 following an informant-led FBI sting, in which Shah pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda before an undercover agent. Shah’s FISA-authorized surveillance from October 2004 through June 2005 occurred concurrently with the FBI’s sting. Shah had a friend, Mahmud Faruq Brent, who had attended a Lashkar-e-Taiba training camp in Pakistan and complained about how “difficult it was to be back in the United States.” But the primary link between Shah and overseas terrorists was the undercover FBI agent who pretended to be from Al Qaeda. And there was no reasonable reason for ambiguity about whether the email address belonged to Tarik Shah, the U.S. citizen, as opposed to another Tarik Shah somewhere else in the world. The email address was thebassman_12963@hotmail.com, the username a reference to Shah’s music profession. In a September 2006 filing, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asserted national security privilege to prevent disclosure of Shah’s FISA application. Shah pleaded guilty to a material support charge; he is scheduled to be released from prison next year. It’s impossible to know from available NSA records whether the classification of Shah’s email address as a non-U.S. person was an anomaly or part of a broader NSA practice of targeting U.S. persons without having to provide probable cause to the FISA court that they were agents of foreign powers — a requirement intended protect U.S. citizens and legal residents from unreasonable search and seizure.

Because the FBI stood between the NSA and FISA data collection, NSA analysts encountered bottlenecks that frustrated counterterrorism and intelligence operations, internal NSA communication show. In April 2006, for example, the NSA was monitoring Ehsanul Islam Sadequee through a FISA authorization the FBI had obtained. A Bangladeshi-American who was born in the United States and grew up in the Atlanta suburbs, Sadequee came to the attention of U.S. authorities after he and a friend, Syed Haris Ahmed, traveled to Toronto to meet with several young men who were being investigated for terrorism in Canada. After that meeting in Toronto, Sadequee traveled to Bangladesh. He told U.S. counterterrorism agents prior to leaving that he was going to Bangladesh to be married. On April 5, 2006, as the FBI was closing in to arrest Sadequee, an NSA analyst urgently emailed the agency’s FBI liaison asking for the bureau’s help documenting their FISA authorization on Sadequee’s email address. “The reason we are pursing (sic) this is because we would like to retrieve a file that was passed between him and an associate about three weeks ago,” the NSA employee wrote. Sadequee was found guilty at trial of terrorism-related offenses, including material support for terrorists, and sentenced to 17 years in prison. His friend, Ahmed, was also found guilty at trial and received 13 years in prison; he was released in August.

As the NSA was experiencing some gridlock in its FBI-enabled FISA collection, the agency was developing new programs that sidestepped the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — programs that would later be exposed as warrantless wiretapping and would evolve into the programs codified into law by FISA’s Section 702. Internal NSA documents written before the warrantless wiretapping program was exposed to the public reveal that the information flow slowly began to transform from the FBI to the NSA to a more bidirectional stream between both agencies. And in those early days of mass surveillance, NSA information secretly helped investigate accused terrorists who would be prosecuted in U.S. courts, Snowden documents show, although it’s not clear if the intelligence originated with warrantless eavesdropping or other sources.

In 2003, following a sting operation involving two informants and a meeting in Germany, Yemeni cleric Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad was arrested in Frankfurt and extradited to the United States, where he was charged with raising money for Hamas and Al Qaeda. Moayad was convicted at trial in 2005. In an August 3, 2005, edition of SIDtoday, an NSA employee gave the agency credit for Moayad’s conviction. “Although this fact is unknown to the general public, and to the vast majority of the law enforcement community, NSA reporting played a key role in bringing the sheikh to trial,” the NSA employee wrote. It’s not clear what role NSA played in Moayad’s investigation. Moayad, who was not a U.S. person during the investigation, was not notified of FISA surveillance, court records show; nonetheless, his verdict was overturned after an appeals court ruled that testimony about unrelated terrorist activity had been allowed to prejudice the jury. Moayad was deported to Yemen in 2009 as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to conspiring to raise money for Hamas.

A week after crowing about its secret role in Moayad’s trial, the NSA boasted internally through SIDtoday that the agency played a key role in investigating Abdurahman Muhammad al-Amoudi, a U.S. citizen who was involved in financial transactions with Libya and a plot to assassinate the Saudi crown prince. According to SIDtoday, Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi organized the failed assassination plot after a perceived insult and threat by the Saudi crown prince during an Arab League summit. In 2004, Amoudi pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges and was sentenced to 23 years in prison. “NSA’s contributions were significant,” the agency’s newsletter reported.

The NSA also played a previously undisclosed role in the capture of Nancy Conde Rubio, who at the time of her arrest was the fourth-ranking member of Marxist guerrilla group FARC in Colombia. Rubio had joined the FARC when she was 16 years old, and U.S. intelligence indicated that she was the girlfriend of a FARC commander suspected of holding hostage three U.S. citizens. Through digital communications intercepts, the NSA discovered that Rubio was to travel from Venezuela to Colombia without valid paperwork, according to a 2008 SIDtoday article. U.S. government officials provided that information to Colombian law enforcement, whose agents arrested Rubio and extradited her to Washington, D.C., for federal prosecution. She pleaded guilty to material support charges and was sentenced to 11 years and six months in prison.Following the exposure of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping programs, and the legalization of mass surveillance programs through the FISA Amendments Acts of 2008, which added Section 702 and other new provisions, the NSA continued to play a large, and largely secret, role in terrorism prosecutions in the United States.

One of the most notable examples involves Najibullah Zazi, who was arrested before he could move forward in an Al Qaeda-backed plot to bomb the New York subway. Zazi, a legal permanent resident of the United States, pleaded guilty to terrorism-related offenses in February 2010. The next month, on March 11, 2010, SIDtoday celebrated “a watershed period in the fight against terrorism and radical extremist groups,” noting that the NSA first discovered Zazi’s email connections to Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.

“Without that SIGINT lead on Zazi, his activities might not have come to the attention of the US intelligence and law enforcement communities until he actually conducted a terrorist attack against the US homeland,” an NSA employee wrote, referring to signals intelligence.

In July 2015, five years after Zazi pleaded guilty, prosecutors in New York notified him that he had been subjected to Section 702 surveillance. Zazi has not yet been sentenced; he is now a cooperating witness, part of a larger effort to flip well-connected terrorists into government informants. His case has become the prime example for counterterrorism officials defending the utility of Section 702 in stopping attacks in the United States.

Zazi is one of 10 terrorism defendants who have been notified of Section 702 surveillance. Most of those notifications occurred in 2014 and 2015, as supplemental notices intended to correct the record after the Justice Department review of cases in which 702 notice was not provided.

According to a review of nationwide court records by The Intercept, the most recent Section 702 notification was delivered in April 2016, when prosecutors in Chicago informed Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, a Palestinian refugee who emigrated from Iraq. Jayab is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to federal agents about fighting with terrorist groups in Syria.

To those who follow these notifications, the absence of any new Section 702 filings for more than 18 months — a period during which more than 50 terrorism defendants have been charged in U.S. courts and counterterrorism officials have trumpeted the critical need for Section 702 — is suspicious.

“Something is funky on one side of the ledger,” said Neema Singh Guliani, a legislative counsel at the ACLU in Washington, D.C.

If the FBI uses parallel construction to conceal intelligence community information, it would not be the only federal law enforcement agency doing so. In 2013, Reuters obtained documents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that showed how agents were trained to “recreate” investigative trails to conceal how intelligence intercepts helped to identify criminal targets. Separately, MuckRock obtained DEA documents that suggested FISA could be used by law enforcement agencies “for prosecutorial purposes in a manner that protects [intelligence community] sources and methods.”

Adding to the suspicion that FBI counterterrorism agents use parallel construction to conceal NSA cooperation is a growing number of filings in terrorism cases in which defense lawyers say circumstantial evidence suggestss some form of mass surveillance program was used against their clients.

In South Florida, the FBI nabbed two brothers, Sheheryar Alam Qazi and Raees Alam Qazi, in an informant-led sting, in which the brothers discussed and planned for a bomb plot in New York. Federal prosecutors notified the Qazis that evidence against them included surveillance authorized under traditional FISA authority. But Sheheryar Alam Qazi’s lawyer questioned whether that evidence might have been first obtained from Section 702 and then re-obtained through traditional FISA. “That argument was what was suspected but no hard evidence to support,” said Daniel L. Ecarius, an assistant federal public defender in Miami. The judge ruled that the government’s FISA notification was legally sufficient.

Across the country, in California, Adam Shafi was accused of providing material support to terrorist groups after the FBI discovered that Shafi had disappeared from his family for two days while they were in Egypt. Shafi later told his family and the FBI that he had traveled to Turkey to see the conditions of Syrian refugee camps, but in an affidavit to support a criminal charge, the FBI disclosed that intercepted communications revealed that Shafi had discussed traveling to Syria to join Nusra Front. Prosecutors in June told Shafi’s lawyer, Galia Amram, that they did not intend to file Section 702 notice in the case. Amram demanded that the judge determine whether Section 702 notice was required, as Qazi’s lawyer had. The judge in California also ruled that the government’s notification was legally sufficient.

The case of Khalid Ouazzani is even more perplexing. In May 2016 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Matthew G. Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, specifically touted Ouazzani’s arrest as a success story for Section 702 surveillance.

“NSA conducted surveillance under Section 702 of an email address used by a suspected extremist in Yemen,” Olsen said. “This surveillance led NSA to discover a connection between the extremist and an unknown person in Kansas City, Missouri, who was then identified as Khalid Ouazzani. The follow-up investigation revealed that Ouazzani was connected to other Al Qaeda associates in the United States, who were part of an earlier plot to bomb the New York Stock Exchange.”

Ouazzani, a used car and auto parts dealer, pleaded guilty in 2010 to sending $23,500 to Al Qaeda. But court records in his case show that he was not notified of either traditional FISA or Section 702 surveillance.

Explaining why Ouazzani would not be notified of Section 702 surveillance while 10 other terrorism defendants were notified of such surveillance is impossible because the Justice Department has refused to release documents related to its notification policy. The ACLU sued the Justice Department in 2013 under the Freedom of Information Act to release documents related to the policy. The Justice Department still refused to comply, claiming none of its documents contained a “binding” interpretation of the obligation to provide Section 702 notice.

“Without knowing the government’s policy, it’s impossible to even begin to audit whether these notifications are taking place in all cases where they are legally required,” said Andrew Crocker, a staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The notification concerns surrounding Section 702 do not affect only accused terrorists. While to date only terrorism defendants have received notification of Section 702 evidence, the FBI does not have a policy limiting the use of Section 702 searches to suspected terrorists. The searches are available for all domestic criminal investigations.

“The immense authorities given to security agencies for counterterrorism purposes should be of concern to every American,” said Patel of the Brennan Center. “The government is able to circumvent the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement to go poking around into private communications. This allows for targeting for reasons of politics and prejudice.”



Strong Evidence that U.S. Special Operations Forces Massacred Civilians in Somalia

An investigation by The Daily Beast on the ground in Somalia appears to confirm that American soldiers were involved directly in the deaths of 10 innocent civilians.

November 29, 2017

by Christina Goldbaum

The Daily Beast

Updated with Defense Department response appended, 1:30 p.m. EST, Nov. 29, 2017.

MOGADISHU, Somalia—It was around five in the morning when Abdullahi Elmi heard the gunfire. Sitting in his small home in Bariire, in southern Somalia, the farm administrator had been recording the names of the laborers who had worked the day before. Stacks of accounting books sprawled on the floor around him. Across the room, his wife sat with their 3-year-old son who dozed as his mother rocked him back and forth in her arms.

When the sound of gunshots began, Abdullahi thought they were too far away to be heading toward his farm. But within seconds they seemed to grow louder, and closer, sending Abdullahi and his wife, carrying their young son, sprinting through the nearby forest of banana trees in search of safety.

Sheltering beneath the long leaves, Abdullahi came across his neighbor, Goomey Hassan, who had also sprinted into the banana grove with his wife when he heard the barrage of gunfire. The two families waited for 20 minutes before they decided it was safe to return, and began walking cautiously back to their homes, both Abdullahi and Goomey careful to walk in front of their wives in case the gunfire returned.

As the women entered their houses, the two men stood outside to see what had happened, eventually spotting Somali National Army soldiers walking in the distance. At first Abdullahi was relieved, the national army must have come to stop their rival clan from attacking their farm, he thought. But as the soldiers saw the men, they raised their weapons, ordering Hassan and Elmi to get down on the ground.

“Blood from a gunshot wound poured into the earth around him.”

“I put my hands up and they told us you are under arrest, then I heard the noise from their big cars and I knew this was more than just a clan fight,” Elmi said. “They told my wife to go back in our home and then they went inside to search. I was pleading with them not to take anything.”

When the soldiers finished their search, they ordered the men to move with them toward the scene of the shooting. There Abdullahi and Goomey saw their fellow farmers’ bodies sprawled across the ground. The small pot that one of them had been using to make tea still stood upright near the corpses. And they also saw what they later estimated to be around 20 American soldiers standing around the bodies. A Somali National Army soldier who was at the scene estimated 10 to 12 Americans were there. Abdullahi felt his chest tighten as he heard his friend, Ali-waay, calling for help, blood from a gunshot wound pouring into the earth around him.

THE U.S.-LED OPERATION on Aug. 25 would result in the death of 10 civilians, including at least one child, and become the largest stain on U.S. ground operations in the country since the infamous Black Hawk Down incident in 1993.

In the operation’s aftermath, hundreds of people in the nearby town Afgoye flooded the city’s streets demanding justice for those killed, and survivors on the farm refused to bury their dead until the Somali government recanted its allegations that they were members Al Shabaab, and offered an apology.

The Daily Beast conducted an investigation into the Bariire operation and its aftermath, interviewing three of the operation’s survivors over the phone from Mogadishu and meeting in person with the Somali National Army Commander in charge of the Somali soldiers who assisted in the operation under the command of soldiers from U.S. Special Operations Forces.

The Daily Beast also met in Mogadishu with over two dozen Somali intelligence officers, political analysts, local leaders, and former and current government officials familiar with the incident. Two of these individuals are also involved in an ongoing local, non-government-sponsored investigation into the incident.

The Daily Beast also met in person with the commander of the Ugandan People’s Defense Forces whose purview under the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping force includes Bariire, and who was approached by the Americans about their plan to re-capture and hold Bariire.

The vast majority of these sources preferred to speak anonymously, either because they were not authorized to discuss the incident or because they feared possible retribution from either the Somali Federal Government or the Americans for doing so.

The details that emerged paint a damning picture of at least one U.S. ground operation in the African nation. This includes U.S. Special Operators firing upon unarmed civilians, using human intelligence from sources widely considered untrustworthy to Somalis in the region as well as government officials, and instructing their Somali counterparts to collect weapons that were being stored inside a home—not displaced on the field in the course of the firefight—and placing them beside the bodies of those killed prior to photographing them. In the aftermath of the incident, according to our sources, American diplomats also pressured the Somali government to bury the unfavorable findings of a Somali Federal Government-led investigation.

Hours after the operation, AFRICOM released a statement noting that it was aware of allegations of civilian casualties in the operation and that AFRICOM was “conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground.” The AFRICOM press release also stated that “the Somali National Army was conducting an operation in the area with U.S. forces in a supporting role.”

Yet a majority of bullet casings collected from the farm that was attacked, which were seen by The Daily Beast, were from American—not Somali National Army—weapons. This appears to confirm that the Special Operations team did not command SNA while remaining behind during the operation, as the AFRICOM statement would have the public believe, but rather were responsible themselves for firing upon and killing unarmed civilians.

According to Maj. Audricia Harris, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense, “this incident remains under investigation” and the DOD cannot comment on any specifics of the employment of U.S. Special Operations forces. She noted that U.S. Special Operations “take all measures during the targeting process to avoid or minimize civilian casualties or collateral damage and to comply with the principles of the Law of Armed Conflict.” (The complete list of queries and responses can be viewed here‍.)

The details surrounding the planning of this incident collected by The Daily Beast suggest, however, that the Special Operations Forces involved in this mission did not sufficiently vet the information they were presented with prior to carrying out this operation.

LOWER SHABELLE has long been a hotspot in Somalia’s decades of conflict, with Bariire town at its heart. The area is one of the most fertile regions in the otherwise barren Somali landscape: here farmers cultivate green fields of bananas, mangos, and tomatoes running parallel to the Shabelle River while businessmen sell the produce in the nearby capital Mogadishu.

But the same lushness that makes the region attractive to farmers has also made it desirable real estate for Al Shabaab: the plentiful crops are ripe for taxation, the vegetation is good for taking cover from drone surveillance, and the Shebelle River creates a natural barrier between Al Shabaab and enemy forces, while its bridges create opportunities for Al Shabaab’s hit and run attacks.

The Islamic extremist group has held sporadic control throughout the region since January 2009, when the Ethiopian forces that had helped oust the Islamic Courts Union, a confederation of Sharia courts that rose to power in southern Somalia in 2006, withdrew from the region. Though in the years following the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia or AMISOM retook some large towns and established Forward Operating Bases throughout Lower Shabelle, the area remains one of the last large swaths of territory where Al Shabaab maintains pockets of control.

For years the heart of Al Shabaab’s dominance in the area of Lower Shabelle near Mogadishu could be found in Bariire town, located just 45 kilometers from the capital. From this town the group ran courts they used to implement Sharia law in the region and organized attacks carried out in Mogadishu. According to Minister of Parliament Ahmed Moalim Fiqi, the town had acted as Al Shabaab’s “small capital” near Mogadishu. “[Bariire] had become a nightmare for the Somali government and created problems for Somalia’s security partners,” Fiqi says. “Every security report [Somali Parliament’s Security Committee] received, Bariire was included.”

“The Americans appeared woefully unaware that in this vast and forest-rich region, Al Shabaab isn’t the only factor contributing to instability.”

And the Somali Parliament wasn’t the only one taking note of Bariire. U.S. Special Operators recognized the town’s strategic significance as well, which is why in July this year they approached the Ugandan People’s Defense Force or UPDF Brig. Gen. Kayanja Muhanga, whose responsibilities under AMISOM include Lower Shabelle, about a plan they had developed to retake Bariire town and the surrounding region. Unlike U.S. operations in years past, this campaign wouldn’t consist of targeted airstrikes or raids, both of which have seen relative success in Somalia. Instead, the U.S. wanted to hold the land they would capture and provide intermittent on-the-ground support with the local force in charge of maintaining control of the territory.

According to Brig. Gen. Muhanga, the Americans were requesting the Department of State sponsored equipment for building Forward Operating Bases or FOBs, such as caterpillars and graders, from a nearby AMISOM FOB, as well as UPDF troops to be retasked with the Somali National Army to hold the terrain in Bariire and beyond. The UPDF general was skeptical of this plan. His troops were already overstretched across the region; not only would they not be able to provide adequate security for the FOB building equipment, but he questioned whether he could lend enough troops to hold a new FOB with the Somali National Army, which he knew to be under-trained, under-equipped, and likely unable to hold any outposts themselves.

And in addition to foolhardy planning of the hold-terrain operation, the Americans also appeared to be woefully unaware that in this vast and forest-rich region, Al Shabaab isn’t the only factor contributing to instability. Further complicating the security landscape is the ongoing conflict among Somali clans, primarily the Habar Gidr and Biyomal. The rivalry between them, like most clan conflict in the country, revolves around land and, with the emergence of a functioning Somali state, power.

Though clan alliances and clan conflicts span centuries, the current flare up in Lower Shabelle dates back five years when Biyomal and Habar Gidr renewed their fight over the majority Habar- Gidr-controlled land. The Biyomal, a smaller clan which have traditionally lived in Lower Shabelle, claim the land is rightfully theirs given their historic presence in the region, while the Habar Gidr began to migrate south to the fertile Lower Shabelle in the 1990s when civil war broke out and their clan won authority in the region. They maintain that having lived on the land for decades they can legitimately call it their own.

But unlike centuries past, clan conflicts in modern Somalia have been complicated first by Al Shabaab and later by the presence of AMISOM, American Special Operations, and other foreign militaries operating in the country.

Since Al Shabaab formed in 2007, the group has thrived on local conflicts, offering support to the militias in their clan wars in exchange for their firepower when Al Shabaab confronts government forces. But farmers in the region, who aren’t part of these militias, though they are often armed to protect their land and livestock, aren’t as lucky. When their territory is taken over by Al Shabaab, they don’t have a choice: either agree to pay taxes to the group and to live under their authority or risk disarmament and death.

This modus operandi creates a military landscape ripe for confusion, where distinguishing Al Shabaab militants from armed farmers in Al Shabaab controlled territories requires accurate, unbiased, on-the-ground intelligence.

Yet because foreign militaries, including U.S. Special Operations, often rely either on clan militias, or the Somali security forces which have incorporated some of these militias into their ranks, for human intelligence, there is ample opportunity for clansmen to label their rivals falsely as “Al Shabaab,” and garner the support of foreign forces, and their much more sophisticated weaponry, in their own clan wars.

When the UPDF commander, cognizant of the difficulties of terrain and this kind of operation, turned down the American’s request for UPDF support and advised against the mission, the Americans turned instead to the Somali National Army’s 20th Brigade, a poor semblance of a military at best.

“These American guys are our friends, but they came in rushing into operations without understanding the SNA capability.”

— UPDF Brig. Gen. Kayanja Muhanga

“I told the U.S. guys the SNA can’t hold ground, they don’t have the weapons to hold ground,” Gen. Muhanga said. “These American guys are our friends, but they came in rushing into operations without understanding the SNA capability because they wanted to achieve something themselves.”Unlike the SNA’s special forces unit, Danab, which has been trained by the Americans to operate alongside them in ground operations, the SNA brigade this U.S. team approached had not only never been trained by any U.S. Special Operators but also was led by a former Al Shabaab commander, Sheegow Ahmed Ali, who had worked closely with the Biyomal militia in the region, led by Abdullahi Ali Ahmed also known as “Wafo,” in the lead-up to this operation.

The Americans seemingly worked with them ignorant of both the clan dynamics pitting Wafo’s militia against Habargidir clansmen like those on the farm and of a complaint, obtained by The Daily Beast, made by the Lower Shabelle Community Elders committee to the regional president, the minister of interior, the United Nations mission, the U.S. Embassy, the E.U. Delegation and the African Union representative last year about Wafo’s Biyomal militia attacking civilians and using AMISOM protection to do so. The letter stated that “AMISOM is sheltering and providing logistical support to Biyomal militia forces….while Biyomal Militia is burning farms, looting properties and killing innocent civilians without discrimination (elders, children, women and youth) under the AMISOM protection in their barracks.”

The Daily Beast also learned from multiple Somali government and security officials, that the Americans were using a translator who had a history of suspected manipulation of U.S. Forces.

The translator, known as Bashir, had been involved in a 2016 operation in Galkayo, northern Somalia, in which a U.S. drone strike targeted and killed 22 members of a local militia which had been working in collaboration with U.S. forces, according to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism. After the incident, many believed Bashir was complicit in providing inaccurate intelligence to the American forces because the local force was from a rival clan to his own. Given that his wife is from the Biyomal clan, many suspect Bashir had helped persuade the Americans that the Habar Gidr on the farm were Al Shabaab as well, though the reason the U.S. would use a translator suspected previously of manipulating them into killing non-Al Shabaab combatants is unclear.

“We don’t believe the Americans have any agenda to kill us, they don’t have an agenda to support one clan against another,” says Ali Osman Diblawe, one of the farmers who was attacked in the operation. “But the Biyomal clan used misinformation and propaganda to wrongly kill us. They persuaded the Somali government and the Americans that we are Al Shabaab, which we are not.”

DIBLAWE’S FARM is located on one of Lower Shabelle’s fault lines where government soldiers and Al Shabaab militants meet.

Six days before the operation on his farm, the fighting had come so close to his village that he and other farmers fled, returning to their homes a day later when the smoke had settled and Al Shabaab militants vacated the area.

The fighting he and other villagers heard was in Bariire town, where even without the UPDF support, the American Special Operations team had begun their campaign to retake and hold first Bariire and then the surrounding area, according to UPDF Gen. Muhanga. At first, the strategy appeared to be working: the U.S. and SNA team successfully retook Bariire and set up four outposts on each corner of the city in order to hold it against Al Shabaab as planned.

With their farm just one kilometer away from Bariire town, now seemingly under government control, Diblawe decided to meet with the SNA in Bariire and explain the ongoing clan conflict in the nearly liberated area. Diblawe and some of his fellow villagers owned small arms, mostly old AK-47s, to protect their land against the Biyomal, which he feared the SNA might misinterpret as the farmers being fighters for Al Shabaab.

Diblawe walked with a friend and fellow villager, Ali-waay, to Bariire town where he met with Gen. Sheegow. A rotund man who stands roughly five foot five inches tall, Sheegow didn’t give Diblawe the impression of a feared military commander.

But a glimpse into the 56-year-old’s life before he joined the Somali National Army proves otherwise. Prior to 2012, Sheegow was an Al Shabaab commander who defected to government forces with between 50 and 100 of his fighters. But most suspect it was a defection born from the fear of being imminently captured by Somali government troops than a change of heart. The first battle his brigade fought with Al Shabaab under the SNA flag, they lost—along with a number of arms and military cars that fell into Al Shabaab’s hands. The incident raised questions about whether the general had lost on purpose in an effort to continue supporting the extremist group.

The Daily Beast met Sheegow in Mogadishu, where three government officials say he was to be reprimanded for the emerging pattern of civilian casualties under his leadership in the part of Lower Shabelle, for which his brigade is responsible. Sheegow denied those claims.

According to Diblawe, during his meeting with General Sheegow he explained that the Biyomal and the Habar Gidr had been fighting over land in the area Sheegow was now responsible for and suggested the general either disarm both groups or reconcile the two clans.

“He told us he would reconcile us with the Biyomal and that there wasn’t anything to worry about,” Diblawe says. Upon returning to his village, he told the villagers about his agreement with Sheegow and instructed them to place all of their small arms in one of the village’s corrugated tin homes, per the instructions of Gen. Sheegow.

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Sheegow denied having met with Diblawe prior to the operation, although immediately after the incident he told local media that he had “talked with the farmers in the area and instructed them to put their weapons in their homes to avoid confusion” about who was and wasn’t Al Shabaab.

Waiting for the next steps in the reconciliation process, Diblawe and other villagers returned to their fields, hoping to hear word from Sheegow about when the reconciliation efforts would begin. But days later Diblawe and others in the village noticed something strange looming over their farms with a noise that pierced the sky around them. Staring at the sky from outside his home, Diblawe though it looked like a strange crow circling the village. But the loud hum that pierced the otherwise peaceful landscape suggested otherwise. Diblawe knew this wasn’t a bird. It was a drone.

“Sheegow was an Al Shabaab commander who defected to government forces with between 50 and 100 of his fighters.”

“It was coming in the morning, around five or six in the morning and again around five in the evening,” Diblawe said. “It was clear the Americans with Sheegow were interested in us, that’s why they were using their spy drone above us.”

Diblawe returned to the general, begging Sheegow to let him speak directly with the Americans so he could clarify who the villagers were. Diblawe suggested the foreign force search their farm so they could see the small arms and Diblawe could explain why the villagers were in possession of them. Again, Sheegow told him to be patient and that the reconciliation process would begin soon. Diblawe returned to his village wary of the general, and feeling disheartened knowing that without the general’s support, he had no chance of trying to communicate with the Americans directly.

The next day villagers spotted the drone hovering overhead again. Diblawe’s concerns grew. He returned to Sheegow for the third time, pleading to speak with the Americans. Again, Sheegow denied him.

That would be Diblawe’s last plea for help. The next morning gunfire tore through his small village and Diblawe’s concerns that the farmers had been mistaken for Al Shabaab were proven true.

AFTER GATHERING with roughly 20 other villagers to say the morning prayer on Friday, Diblawe had crawled back into his bed hoping to rest a bit more before starting his day. Less than 10 minutes later he heard the sound of gunfire and sprinted out of his bed to his doorstep, from which he saw his neighbor, Ali-waay, standing with his hands up and uniformed men in the distance. Diblawe immediately started running toward the forest behind his house.

“I was barefoot and there were a lot of bullets hitting near me but I didn’t stop for one second, I ran and started heading in the direction of Bariire town, I thought the military there could stop the firing,” he said.

Arriving in Bariire, Diblawe first saw an SNA lieutenant, Mohamed Mohamud Abor, and ran up to him, demanding to see Sheegow. The lieutenant brought the winded farmer to Sheegow’s outpost, where looking the general in the eye Diblawe was overcome by a sense of both despair and bewilderment. “I asked him why all of this is happening, we just left him here yesterday and told him our concerns, and now the people were being killed,” Diblawe said. “I told him let us rescue the people who are still alive, let us see if we can save these people.”

Meanwhile on the other side of the farm from Diblawe’s house, Abdullahi and Goomey were being escorted to the center of the village by Somali National Army soldiers. Told to lie down on the ground, the two men could hardly believe the carnage around them. Ten of their friends were sprawled across the ground. Some like Ali-waay—the same man who gone to town with Diblawe the day before—were barely alive and calling weakly for help. The soldiers around them were not listening.

Roughly thirty minutes earlier, Goomey had been praying with most of them, and saw the teapot they had begun to brew still sitting on the ground, the body of a pre-teen boy in a brown t-shirt and dark blue jeans stretched out beside it. He knew the others would have been waiting for the tea when the barrage of gunfire began. The Daily Beast has photographs of the villagers taken after the attack, although many are too graphic for publication. They show the teapot, a black water heater, and a large pot scattered around the boy’s body.

Near the boy, Goomey saw his friend, Dangaweyne, who had traveled with him from the nearby town Afgoye to their small village the day before. A few meters away was another  wounded man, Abdullahi Abdullahi, weakly shouting “save me, save me!” in the direction of Goomey and Abdullahi Elmi. Just beyond was Ali-waay, his chest bleeding, begging the men to help him and another man, asking if someone could move his leg which had been contorted after he fell to the ground from a gunshot wound.

“The body of a pre-teen boy in a brown t-shirt and dark blue jeans stretched out beside the pot where he had boiled tea.”

Abdullahi asked the Somali soldiers if he could help the men. The Somali soldier looked at Abdullahi for a moment and agreed. But as he started to stand up, an American soldier stopped him. “The American guy got angry and directed me to lie down, so I lay down with my chest on the ground and he put his boot on me to keep me there,” Abdullahi said. With his head tilted to his side, Abdullahi could see the Somali soldiers entering the house where the farmers had kept their old AK-47s.

Carrying the weapons out of the home, the Somali soldiers then placed them beside the bodies of the other villagers. He and Goomey also saw three of the American men, who Goomey describes as one tall man with two shorter men next to him, taking pictures of the bodies with the weapons placed beside them. One of the men was taking a picture with with a small black camera that gave off a flash with each photo taken, while the other two were taking photos on their phones, Goomey says. A Somali National Army soldier who arrived later at the scene estimated there were between 10 and 13 U.S. Special Operators in the village who, he said, were Navy SEALS.

As they were taking photos, Abdullahi saw the Americans point the Somali soldiers to a small house. They entered the makeshift shanty and emerged with a roughly 50-year-old man known as Hassan “Dooro,” whose second name means “chicken” in Somali, because he is a chicken farmer. Abdullahi later learned from Hassan, that the Somali soldiers found him lying under his bed where he had hidden once he heard the sound of gunfire.

Back in Bariire, Sheegow had agreed to give Diblawe a vehicle of SNA soldiers to take him to the farm. Sheegow first said he was informing the Americans in Bariire so they could warn their counterparts at the farm, and after around 15 minutes Diblawe headed back in the direction of his village. When they arrived at the scene, Diblawe could hardly believe what he saw and looking at the American soldiers he was amazed by how well equipped they were. While the SNA soldiers were carrying AK-47s, the Americans had machine guns and three well equipped armoured vehicles. A Somali National Army soldier in Bariire later described the American’s weapons as looking like a more modern and smaller version of an M16 which were outfitted with scopes and were extendable at the back. Goomey also noticed the cars, which he describes as the “color of tea when you add milk to it.”

Once Diblawe arrived, the Somali soldiers who came with him also looked with horror at the scene, some of them saying they knew these men and knew they were civilians. “The Somalis who came later were crying as they were looking at these people, one of them was asking why they killed these people and that he knew Ali-waay, why was he shot,” Abdullahi says. A few minutes later the soldier who had told Abdullahi and Goomey to get on the ground, said they were released and got back into their car. With that the Somali and American team packed into their vehicles and left the scene, the message that these were civilians having finally been relayed to them. With the help of the Somali soldiers who arrived with Diblawe and stayed at the scene, they began collecting the bodies of the dead, still in shock from what had just transpired.

When Abdullahi finally went back to his small home, he saw that the money on his shelf was gone. The soldiers had taken everything.

IN THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH of the attack, the Somali Ministry of Information first announced that Somali soldiers had killed eight Al Shabaab fighters in a raid on a farming village near Bariire town and that “no civilians were harmed or killed in this operation.” But as the details of the operation reached Mogadishu, and elders from the Habargidir community as well as local administrators began speaking with local media about the farmers who were attacked, Somali officials started offering conflicting accounts of who the farmers were. The Somali president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, even published a tweet offering condolences to the families of those killed in Bariire which was removed minutes later. And as that news spread, so too did the public anger at the Somali federal government and their American counterparts.

Diblawe and the other farmers refused to bury their dead until the Somali government officially recanted their allegations that the farmers were Al Shabaab militants, bringing the bodies to Mogadishu to be kept in a refrigerated truck and shown to the Somali officials they believed green-lit the operation.

By the time the bodies arrived in Mogadishu, which would have been an unprecedented act for Al Shabaab militants, dozens of family members and elders had spoken out in defense of the farmers and hardly anyone in the city still believed they were extremists. Within days, even the chief of Defense Forces and Minister of Information admitted that it had been civilians killed in the operation.

With the outpouring of public anger, the Somalia federal government opened an investigation into the incident, in the course of which government officials approached Diblawe and others to collect information on who they were, why they had weapons, and what happened during the attack. But to much of the public’s surprise, the federal government never made the outcome of that investigation public nor did the Somali president ever officially admit that civilians had been wrongly targeted during the ground operation.

According to one government official and one former security official, the outcome of that investigation not only confirmed that the farmers were civilians but was buried under pressure from the United States government. According to these sources the U.S. first tried to pressure Somali officials to deny the allegations that the farmers were civilians publicly but knowing the political cost of doing so, the president of Somalia refused. Instead to appease the families of the victims, the Somali government then paid them between $60,000 and $70,000 each, according to both of these sources, one of whom strongly believes was in fact paid for by the American government.

“The farmers refused to bury their dead. They brought the bodies to Mogadishu.”

With little public acknowledgment of wrongdoing from the national government, a former official then began an independent investigation into the operation, in the course of which he collected the shell casings from the area in the days after the attack.

The Daily Beast saw photos of the shells taken at the scene as well as five individual shell casings in person in Mogadishu.

According to multiple weapons experts consulted by The Daily Beast, the casings are a mix of both 7.62×39 mm rounds, mostly likely from AK-47s such as those used by the SNA, and 5.56×45 mm NATO rounds on M27 disintegrating belt links. The 5.56x45mm rounds are used by M249 Squad Automatic Weapons or their lighter versions, the Mark 46 or Mark 48 machine guns, which are known to be used by U.S. Special Operators. These links are also stamped “ALK,” which indicates manufacture at the Lake City Ammunition Plant, a U.S. government owned facility in Independence, Missouri which manufactures and tests small caliber ammunition for the U.S. military.

The Somalia National Army is not in possession of any weapons that would fire such rounds. According to a former high-ranking intelligence official who is now a senior security advisor to the Somali Federal Government, the Somali National Army only carry AK-47s, PKMs, and some DSHk machine guns mounted on the back of pickup trucks due to the longstanding arms embargo the U.N. Security Council imposed in January 1992.

Additionally Diblawe, Goomey, and Abdullahi, all eye witnesses of the attack’s aftermath, noted that the Somali National Army soldiers present were carrying AK-47s which do not incorporate the type of machine gun belt link which composed the majority of those casings collected on the farm, while the American soldiers were carrying what they described as machine guns.

This evidence strongly suggests that the American team themselves fired upon the farmers and that soldiers serving under the U.S. Special Operations Command can be held directly responsible for the deaths of these unarmed civilians.

ON SEPT. 29, roughly one month after this operation, the four outposts the Americans had established with the SNA around Bariire town were overrun by Al Shabaab forces. According to the UPDF commander, the Americans and Somalis had set up three outposts on each corner of the city, two on the north side of the town with Danab, which had been posted to Bariire after the farm incident, and SNA forces and one on the south side across the Shabelle River with Gen. Sheegow’s SNA forces, with a bridge crossing over the river connecting them. Early that morning, Al Shabaab detonated two vehicle born IEDs or VBIEDs in Bariire, the first of which destroyed the bridge connecting Sheegow’s outpost to the two others on the other side of the river.

After the bridge was destroyed, another VBIED hit the Danab base and Al Shabaab fighters began to assault both the Danab and SNA northern outposts. By the end of the two hour long siege, at least 40 soldiers were dead, according to a member of the SNA, and at least 10 of their vehicles and much of their equipment had been seized by Al Shabaab.

“The Americans came with that over-confidence that they could hold Bariire, but even if you have better weapons, you have to know the terrain,” says Gen. Muhanga, who also noted the Americans had visited the outposts the day before they were overrun, but left to return to Mogadishu. “I warned them those outposts would be overrun, I warned them that those boys would be killed.”

The loss of Bariire town signaled the end of the failed U.S. military campaign to retake and hold the area from Al Shabaab. Today, the town is under the control of Al Shabaab—and Diblawe, Abdullahi and Goomey, who have lost ten of their friends, are once again subject to Al Shabaab’s extremist rule.

UPDATE, 1:30 P.M. EST, Nov. 29, 2017:

In an apparent rush to preempt The Daily Beast’s investigation of the Bariire incident, published earlier today, AFRICOM announced this afternoon that it had concluded its investigation. It offers no evidence whatsoever to corroborate its findings. This is the full text:

Aug. 25 civilian casualty allegation assessment results released

After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on Aug. 25, 2017 and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAF) has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants.

By U.S. AFRICA COMMAND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, United States Africa Command Stuttgart, Germany Nov 29, 2017

After a thorough assessment of the Somali National Army-led operation near Bariire, Somalia, on Aug. 25, 2017 and the associated allegations of civilian casualties, U.S. Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAF) has concluded that the only casualties were those of armed enemy combatants.

Before conducting operations with partner forces, SOCAF conducts detailed planning and coordination to reduce the likelihood of civilian casualties and to ensure compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict. U.S. Africa Command and the Department of Defense take allegations of civilian casualties very seriously.

For details on the Aug. 25 operation, visit: http://www.africom.mil/media-room/pressrelease/29846/civilian-casualty-allegations-in-somalia

That link leads to the initial statement about the operation in August, which provides no details whatsoever:

Civilian casualty allegations in Somalia

We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Bariire, Somalia. We take any allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and per standard, we are conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground.

By U.S. AFRICA COMMAND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, United States Africa Command Stuttgart, Germany Aug 25, 2017

We are aware of the civilian casualty allegations near Bariire, Somalia.  We take any allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and per standard, we are conducting an assessment into the situation to determine the facts on the ground.

We can confirm that the Somali National Army was conducting an operation in the area with U.S. forces in a supporting role.

U.S. forces are in Somalia at the request of the Federal Government of Somalia and are committed to helping Somali forces neutralize al-Shabaab and bring stability to the region.


















Cryptocurrencies nosedive after record gains, bitcoin drops $2,000

November 30, 2017


Bitcoin and other digital currencies have failed to stay at record highs on Thursday. The market has seen a correction with digital coins falling from 17 to 30 percent.

The leader bitcoin plunged to $9,300, losing about $2,000 from record highs. Ethereum lost more than 20 percent and was trading at just above $400.

Bitcoin’s decline to below $10,000 comes despite news the Nasdaq is to launch bitcoin futures in 2018.

According to analysts from CoinDesk, bitcoin could drop below $9,000. However, if bitcoin consolidates above the $10,000 mark in the next few days, the cryptocurrency leader could move to fresh record highs.

Many analysts, bankers and most of the central banks don’t recognize cryptocurrencies as money and compare it with a commodity people choose to invest and trade in.

Developments in bitcoin’s price make it “a speculative asset by definition,” the European Central Bank Vice President Vitor Constancio told CNBC. “Investors are taking that risk of buying at such high prices.”

“We don’t have responsibility or even instruments that point to particular prices of particular assets, that is certainly not the role of the central bank,” he added.




























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