TBR News September 29, 2016

Sep 29 2016

The Voice of the White House    

Washington, D.C.  September 29, 2016: “Now that Congress has passed a bill permitting American citizens involved with the 911 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, that country is furious and is threatening to withdraw monies from this country and to otherwise attempt to punish the US for daring to question Saudi activities, If this escalates past a certain point, it would  not be surprising if the Saudis began to discuss that really lay behind the 911 attacks. The visits of former President George H.W. Bush to that country and his conversations with the powerful Minister of the Interior would make most interesting reading.”

Saudis could pull billions from US economy, hinder access to Mideast bases following 9/11 lawsuits

September 29, 2016


Saudi Arabia and its allies could retaliate against US legislation allowing the kingdom to be sued for the 9/11 attacks, including scaling back investment in the US economy or restricting access to important regional air bases, experts claim.

“This should be clear to America and to the rest of the world. When one Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) state is targeted unfairly, the others stand around it,” Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at United Arab Emirates University, told Associated Press.

“All the states will stand by Saudi Arabia in every way possible.”

On Wednesday, Congress overwhelmingly voted to override President Barack Obama’s veto of the bill that would allow Americans to potentially sue Saudi Arabia for 9/11. Lawmakers said their priority was not Saudi Arabia, but victims and families.

The “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA)” would allow US judges to waive sovereign immunity claims when dealing with acts of terrorism committed on American soil – potentially allowing lawsuits against Saudi Arabia over the 9/11 attacks. 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Chas Freeman, former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm, told AP that Saudi Arabia could respond in a way that risks US strategic interests.

That could include Saudi restricting its rules for overflight between Europe and Asia and the Qatari air base from which US military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are directed, Freeman says.

“The souring of relations and curtailing of official contacts that this legislation would inevitably produce could also jeopardize Saudi cooperation against anti-American terrorism,” Freeman told AP.

Obama vetoed JASTA last week, saying it would erode the doctrine of sovereign immunity and expose the US to lawsuits around the world.

He argued the bill could lead to other governments acting “reciprocally” by allowing their own courts to exercise jurisdiction over the US, including over deadly US drone strikes.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in June that the US has the most to lose if JASTA is enacted.

There have been reports that Riyadh threatened to pull billions of dollars from the US economy if the bill became law, however al-Jubeir has only officially said investor confidence in the US could decline.

“No business community likes to see their sovereign nation basically assailed by another nation,” the US-Saudi Business Council’s CEO and Chairman Ed Burton said.

The Saudi-led GCC, established in 1981, consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Emirates.

Earlier this month, the group expressed “deep concern” over JASTA, with its Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani calling it “contrary to the foundations and principles of relations between states and the principle of sovereign immunity enjoyed by states.”

In a separate statement, the government of Qatar said JASTA ”violates international law, particularly the principle of sovereign equality between states,” according to Reuters.

“Such laws will negatively affect the international efforts and international cooperation to combat terrorism,” said the Emirates Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, according to the state news agency WAM. Two of the 9/11 hijackers were Emirati.

The Half Billion Dollar Glitch

September 28, 2016

by David Dayen

The Intercept

Part 7

Knight Capital made headlines around the world when one of its computers went on a shopping spree that ended up costing the company $440 million. So surely its secrets would come out now.

On August 1, 2012, the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened the day at 13,007.47.

Business headlines that morning included conservative opponents of gay marriage celebrating “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” the continued reluctance of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to offer debt relief to their borrowers, and profit declines at the video game company Electronic Arts.

And then the Glitch happened.

Knight Capital, the company Chris DiIorio had insisted to the SEC for a year was engaged in a monumental fraud, opened the day by inadvertently buying millions of shares in 154 different stocks. The company blamed an untested software installation that triggered the rapid-fire trades.

In an environment where milliseconds can mean millions, it took Knight Capital 45 minutes to turn the software off.

Stock values surged from the high demand, and when Knight sold back the shares it had bought by mistake, it was left with a net loss of around $468 million. The New York Stock Exchange canceled trades in six of the 154 stocks involved but deemed itself “hamstrung” by SEC rules that prevented it from breaking all of them.

Knight could have used the assets on its balance sheet to absorb the loss, but DiIorio had maintained for years that many of those assets were inflated or even fictional — ghost receivables intended to balance out the massive liabilities Knight had accrued by selling stocks it didn’t really have.

And DiIorio alleged that Knight’s immediate efforts to raise the full amount of its Glitch losses, instead of offsetting them with existing assets, proved that something was amiss on its balance sheet.

In one of those attempts, Knight sent 7,000 securities to JPMorgan Chase as collateral for a tri-party loan, but the Wall Street Journal reported that JPMorgan deemed 4,000 of them “unreadable through databases used to reach valuations,” and refused to accept them.

DiIorio saw this as consistent with shares in companies whose CUSIP, or unique identifying symbol, had changed after a reverse merger or split — just what he had been warning about for years. Such stocks would be unredeemable for any real value.

“Those were the stocks that no longer traded!” DiIorio says. “They were pledging worthless collateral.”

The proposed loan collapsed.

The funding Knight did receive, from a consortium of investors that took 73 percent of the company without a shareholder proxy vote, was not collateral-based. In late 2012, Knight announced a merger with rival market maker Getco.

DiIorio filed a new “tip, complaint or referral” form to the SEC — this one vetted by the law firm Berger & Montague — highlighting Knight’s post-Glitch funding issues and how they pointed to evidence of a naked short selling scheme. DiIorio’s “findings — the product of thousands of hours of careful study — can protect others from falling victim to these same frauds,” the TCR concluded.

Berger & Montague eventually parted ways with DiIorio. The lead attorney on the complaint, Daniel Miller, did not respond to requests for comment.

The SEC did not respond to the new TCR, nor did it prevent the Knight/Getco merger. It did fine Knight Capital $12 million related to violations of the market access rule when it committed the Glitch. But compared to DiIorio’s claims, that was miniscule.

DiIorio even tried to collect a whistleblower award for a 2011 enforcement against UBS for violations of Regulation SHO. He wanted to force the SEC to look at his claims again, and hopefully open a new investigation. The SEC denied DiIorio’s application to collect the award. While he is not privy to undisclosed SEC investigations, DiIorio does not believe the agency has investigated Knight’s or UBS’s involvement in penny stocks.

DiIorio thinks the agency could audit Knight’s profit and loss statements to understand its concentration in penny stocks. Or officials could deny the numerous penny stock reverse mergers and reverse splits that DiIorio says drive the scheme. Or they could investigate why the splits proliferate.

SEC spokesperson Ryan White declined to comment. SEC Chief of the Office of the Whistleblower Sean McKessy and Chief of Enforcement Andrew Ceresney did not respond to requests for comment. The agency did recently tout its whistleblower program as “a gamechanger … in its short time in existence.”

In July, McKessy announced his exit from the agency after five years running the Office of the Whistleblower. In September, he became a partner at the law firm Phillips & Cohen, which has won for clients one-third of the total whistleblower awards granted by the SEC.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is reportedly investigating Knight, now known after the merger as KCG, over allegedly executing stock trades to shortchange its clients. KCG’s most recent quarterly report acknowledges that “the Company is currently the subject of various regulatory reviews and investigations,” including by the SEC and the Justice Department.

But there’s been no public acknowledgment of any investigation into penny stock activity.

KCG declined to comment, through its spokesperson Sophie Sohn. UBS only responded to multiple requests by saying, “UBS applies strict due diligence and anti-money-laundering standards to all its business.”

Knight’s own trading data confirms that it never stopped selling penny stocks. It boasted in its 2013 annual report of being “the clear market leader in over-the-counter (OTC) traded stocks.” And it increased its volume  in 2014, trading 19.1 billion shares of OTC and Pink Sheet stocks per day in February of that year, up from a little over 4 billion a day in the previous quarter. While those volumes have lessened somewhat, to this day between 73 and 80 percent of Knight’s share volumes are in OTC and Pink Sheet stocks.

“The activity continues today and the investing public remains at risk,” DiIorio says.

DiIorio is highly skeptical of the SEC’s intentions at this point. He believes the agency has all the information it needs to move on the scheme. But prosecuting Knight and UBS would raise questions about the SEC’s silence before and during the Glitch, and its decision to dismiss criminal charges against UBS in 2010 on the grounds that UBS had changed its ways.

“How are they going to say that [UBS] did penny stock money laundering?” DiIorio asks.

The charge is explosive. It’s hard for a member of the public, lacking access to the SEC’s data and analytics, to fully vet DiIorio’s claims. This rankles even securities regulators. “I have no authority to look at a reverse split unless someone alleges fraud on the markets,” said Joseph Borg, director of the Alabama Securities Commission. “Enforcement is after you burn down the forest. I can’t blow out the match because I can’t even ask what you’re doing in the forest to begin with!”

Since the Bernie Madoff scandal, the SEC’s Office of the Whistleblower has professed a greater desire to fully investigate cases. Part of the post-Madoff recommendations mandated that the SEC’s Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations vet all whistleblower information. But last year, when DiIorio contacted Kevin Goodman, director of OCIE for broker-dealers, Goodman responded, “Thank you for your recent emails. I wanted to acknowledge them and let you know I have received and will consider the information you have provided.” To DiIorio, that suggested Goodman had not seen the claims before. The SEC would not make Goodman available for comment.

Frustrated with the SEC, DiIorio reached out to the Financial Industry Regulatory Agency, the security industry’s self-regulatory organization. DiIorio had a two-hour conference call in August 2012 with a team leader at Finra’s whistleblower office shortly after the Glitch. He had another meeting later with FBI agents. And this April, he met with IRS officials.

Since he first contacted Finra, the agency has issued several complaints against brokers other than Knight over failing to comply with anti-money laundering regulations. Some of them cited penny stocks DiIorio highlighted in his claims.

In particular, Finra fined Brown Brothers Harriman $8 million for violating money-laundering rules by turning a blind eye to “suspicious penny stock transactions,” executed “on behalf of undisclosed customers of foreign banks in known bank secrecy havens.” But none of those foreign banks or their customers were named.

“Who does that protect?” DiIorio asked.

Richard Best, the lead enforcement official at Finra on the Brown Brothers Harriman case, now runs the Salt Lake City regional office for the SEC. The agency declined to make him available for comment.

Five years after alerting the SEC to his allegations, DiIorio has never been brought in for a meeting. He’s going public now because he’s fed up with the inaction. “I’ve always said to the SEC, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow, I’ll come without an attorney,’” DiIorio says. “They won’t even pick up the phone.”

DiIorio doesn’t do much investing anymore. But he never sold off his original investment in Best Rate Travel, now known as Yora International, which has traded at a fraction of a penny for several years. It’s still sitting in his IRA account, the shares having been reduced through more reverse splits to 3,299.

Under market value, it just says, “$NP,” or “no price.”

Two Pakistani soldiers killed in ‘surgical’ Indian strikes in Kashmir

India says it launched nighttime attack on disputed territory to foil terrorist plot to infiltrate country

September 29, 2016

by Jon Boone in Islamabad and Michael Safi in Delhi

The Guardian

Two Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the contested territory of Kashmir after India launched what it described as “surgical strikes” against “terrorists … waiting to infiltrate the nation”.

The multiple nighttime strikes across the line of control (LOC) that divides the Himalayan region marked a major escalation of a deepening crisis between the nuclear armed rivals.

Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, India’s director-general of military operations, said the attacks were against militants preparing to cross the LOC, a ceasefire line agreed in 1972, into Indian-controlled territory and had resulted in “significant casualties … to terrorists and those trying to shield them”.

“There were launchpads across the line of control where terrorists were present waiting to infiltrate the nation and attack areas in Kashmir and metros across the country,” Singh said.

He said militants captured in the operation had “confessed to their training in Pakistan or in Pakistan-controlled region”. No Indian troops were killed and there were no “plans for further continuation of operations”, he added.

Quoting army sources, the Indian news agency ANI reported that Indian special forces were parachuted into five sites between 500 metres and 2km across the ceasefire line. The operations reportedly commenced just after midnight and lasted about four hours.

Pakistan’s army announced the “martyrdom” of two of its soldiers during five and half hours of fighting. “Pakistani troops befittingly responded to Indian unprovoked firing” on four sections of the line of control, an army statement said.

A statement issued later in the day denied Indian claims its troops had crossed the border into Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

“There has been no surgical strike by India, instead there had been cross-border fire initiated and conducted by India, which is [an] existential phenomenon,” it said. “As per rules of engagement same was strongly and befittingly responded by Pakistani troops.”

It called the announcement of surgical strikes “an illusion being deliberately generated by Indian to create false effects”. “This quest by Indian establishment to create media hype by rebranding cross border fire as surgical strike is fabrication of truth. Pakistan has made it clear that if there is a surgical strike on Pakistani soil, same will be strongly responded,” the statement said.

Wednesday’s raids are the first military response to an attack on 18 September by militants on an Indian army outpost in Uri, close to the ceasefire border that divides Kashmir, a Himalayan territory claimed and fought over by both countries since 1947.

The Uri attack, which India has blamed on Pakistan-sponsored militants, killed 19 soldiers and provoked calls for India to drop its policy of so-called strategic restraint against its neighbour.

India has launched a diplomatic offensive in the aftermath of the attack, denouncing Pakistan at the UN as the host of the “Ivy League of terrorism” and voicing support for separatists in Balochistan, a restive Pakistani province.

Islamabad says India has provided no evidence the attack was the work of Pakistan-based militants or the country’s intelligence agencies, which have long been accused of links to anti-India jihadi groups.

Zahid Hussain, a Pakistani security analyst, described the attacks as a “very serious escalation”. “We have seen firing on the line of control before but this is much more dangerous in the context of the rising tension between the two sides,” he said. “I am not saying that this could lead to a full state confrontation but this is how things start to get out of control.”

India last announced it had conducted cross-border strikes in June 2015 against rebel camps in Myanmar, in response to an ambush that killed at least 18 Indian soldiers in the north-eastern state of Manipur. The Indian government described the raid as unprecedented at the time and signalled similar tactics could be used along its western border with Pakistan.

On Wednesday, in a sign of deepening Pakistani isolation in the region, India and three other countries announced they were boycotting the forthcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit, which was scheduled to be held in Islamabad in November.

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, has also raised the possibility New Delhi could alter or walk away from a major river-sharing agreement that permits Pakistan to draw water from three rivers that flow downstream from India, providing water to 65% of the country’s landmass.

Justice Department Is Fighting Fired FBI Agent’s Use of Whistleblower Defense

September 28, 2016

by Jenna McLaughlin

The Intercept

John Parkinson, an Iraq War veteran who led a special operations unit in FBI’s Sacramento field office, first filed whistleblower complaints almost a decade ago when he became concerned with his coworkers’ behavior. He identified a colleague as having “a career-long pattern of soliciting prostitutes,” who used an FBI’s surveillance plane to travel to Reno to pay for sex. He alleged another colleague had a porn habit, even viewing explicit material at work. At one point, Parkinson removed furniture from an FBI office to keep it from getting soiled by the colleague, according to court documents.

After filing his complaint, Parkinson found himself the subject of what he says was a retaliatory investigation, and was eventually fired. He has been fighting that decision for the past four years through a Kafkaesque maze of courts and internal appeals.

On Monday, his attorneys filed a brief to the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals arguing for his right to raise a whistleblower retaliation defense.

Parkinson’s ordeal began eight years ago when he decided to lodge a whistleblower complaint about his colleagues’ alleged sexual misconduct. What followed was a little noticed whirlwind of professional reprisals, investigations, and legal battles.

After his complaint was filed, Parkinson’s boss removed him from his leadership position and gave him poor performance reviews, sending him to a different field office — actions he interpreted as retaliation. He reported those concerns in a letter to Rep. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who forwarded it to the Department of Justice’s inspector general.

When the DOJ inspector general interviewed Parkinson in 2009, he thought it was about his whistleblower complaint; instead they questioned him about his own conduct, without mentioning he was the target of an investigation. The colleagues he reported for abuse had, in turn, claimed Parkinson misused funds on a construction project during his time in Sacramento, according to his attorney.

The FBI later claimed he obstructed the investigation into the alleged misuse of funds by communicating with witnesses, and that he “lacked candor” in his responses concerning those allegations.

In 2012, he was fired for those offenses.

FBI agents are typically required to make whistleblower complaints internally — a system Parkinson says he attempted to follow. But protections for FBI whistleblowers are notoriously slow and ineffective. As a military veteran, however, the defense argued and the court ultimately agreed, that Parkinson has special rights to raise his whistleblower defense outside the Department of Justice.

Thanks to the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, military veterans who work for the FBI can challenge personnel decisions through the Merit System Protection Board — an independent panel.

After he was fired, Parkinson turned to the the Merit System Protection Board, and when the panel didn’t reverse the FBI’s firing decision, he took his case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The court decided in March that Parkinson didn’t intentionally mislead investigators, but agreed the obstruction charge could stand. Because the remaining charges against him weren’t firing offenses, the court said the FBI was wrong when it terminated Parkinson. In fact, the court said the obstruction charge allowed for, at most, a 30-day suspension.

The court also agreed that if Parkinson were to appeal the obstruction charge, he should be allowed to raise a whistleblower defense.

After the federal appeals court ruled the FBI wrongly fired him, the Department of Justice fought back. Its attorneys filed legal briefs in June, writing that the court “erroneously held” that agents who served in the FBI “may raise whistleblower reprisal claims” outside internal channels because of the “sensitive” nature of such disclosures.

While Parkinson’s case was winding its way through appeals, Sen. Grassley proposed a bill in December 2015 that would give FBI whistleblowers the same protections as other government employees. “It’s no secret that FBI whistleblowers often face harsh consequences for simply trying to address failures or misconduct at work,” he said in a statement announcing the bill. That legislation hasn’t passed, however.

In the meantime, Parkinson’s case could set a precedent for military veterans in the FBI, while highlighting the general deficiencies of whistleblower protections for all FBI agents.

“The Civil Service Reform Act unambiguously grants FBI preference eligible veterans appeal rights …including affirmative defenses,” — and that includes whistleblower defenses, said Kathleen McClellan, one of Parkinson’s attorneys at Expose Facts, a nonprofit dedicated to providing legal protection to whistleblowers.

In the latest legal maneuver, the Department of Justice requested and received a special hearing to review the whistleblower defense. Depending on the court’s decision, the rights of military veterans in the FBI could be threatened.

“This is going to impact all future veteran FBI whistleblowers,” McLellan said in an interview with The Intercept.

Parkinson was unavailable for comment, according to his lawyer, as he is currently serving on active duty in the Marine Corps.

The FBI declined to comment on the case.

Turkey’s National Security Council calls for extension to state of emergency

Turkey’s top national security body has called for an extension to the controversial state of emergency imposed after the July 15 coup. Some 32,000 suspects remain in custody in the unprecedented crackdown.

September 29, 2016


“The emergency should be extended to ensure the protection of our democracy, rule of law, rights and freedoms of our citizens,” the National Security Council (MGK) said in a statement after a meeting on Wednesday chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at his presidential palace in Ankara.

The statement reportedly makes the announcement of the new state of emergency a formality. The MGK did not say whether the next period should also last three months.

The ongoing three-month state of emergency declared on July 20 less than a week after the failed coup has provided the legal framework for the biggest crackdown in Turkey’s modern history.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told NTV television on Wednesday that 70,000 people had been investigated after the attempted putsch on July 15, with 32,000 of them remanded in custody.

Bozdag said that there could be new arrests but gave no no indication as to when trials might start.

Turkish media reports say the authorities plan to build 174 new prisons over the next five years, which would increase the country’s current prison capacity of less than 200,000 by another 100,000.

The council also recommended that July 15 should in future years be marked as Turkey’s annual “Day of Democracy and Freedoms” the statement said.

Opposition speaks out

Activists have accused Ankara of eroding the rule of law with the emergency.

The leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Wednesday made his most severe criticism yet of the crackdown, saying the CHP was against the state of emergency which he said had affected one million “victims” across Turkey. “We must defend justice… I will resist this persecution,” Kilicdaroglu said in a televised speech from the city of Tokat.

Russian MoD: We’re ready for Syria dialogue with US, but threats against our military unacceptable

June 29, 2016


Russia is fully ready to continue the dialogue with the US regarding joint actions to combat terrorists in Syria, the Russian Ministry of Defense has said. It stressed, however, that this is only possible if Washington abstains from “any hints of threats to Russia’s military and citizens.”

The statement came in response to comments made by US State Department spokesperson John Kirby at a press briefing on Wednesday. Kirby said that if the war in Syria continues, “more Russian lives will be lost, more Russian aircraft will be shot down” as “extremist groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria to expand their operations, which could include attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities.”

Speaking on Thursday, Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said: “Once again we declare that we are fully prepared to continue the dialogue with the American side and carry on with the joint actions to combat terrorists in Syria.”

“However, even the slightest hints of a threat to our soldiers and Russian citizens must be excluded from this dialogue. The matter of safety of Russian citizens, wherever they may be, is not up for bargaining. It is our main and unconditional priority,” the spokesman stressed.

Washington, which supports the so-called ‘moderate opposition’ in Syria, has previously promised to separate rebels from the Al-Nusra Front terrorist organization, but has not yet lived up to that obligation.

Regarding Kirby’s “threat of potential losses” to Russia in Syria, Konashenkov pointed out that Moscow is well aware of the whereabouts of American “experts involved in operational planning and supervision of the militants’ actions.”

Kirby’s comments did not go unnoticed by the Russian Foreign Ministry either. The ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, hit back at the US official’s statement on her Facebook page.

“Don’t you think that such ventriloquism about ‘body bags,’ ‘terrorist attacks in Russian cities’ and ‘loss of aircraft,’ sounds more like a ‘get ’em’ command, rather than a diplomatic comment?” Zakharova asked.

Russia will continue its military operation in Syria helping government forces in their fight against terrorists, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Thursday.

“Moscow is continuing its Air-Space Forces operations supporting the anti-terrorist efforts of the Syrian armed forces. This is the most important thing – the fight against terrorists continues,” Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the UN has urged Russia and the US to re-establish their cooperation on bringing about the cessation of hostilities in Syria. The two countries’ efforts recently stalled following discrepancies regarding the conditions of the negotiated ceasefire. While Moscow has been angered by Washington’s inability to separate rebels and terrorists, the US has threatened to halt all cooperation between the two countries unless Moscow and Damascus end the current attack on militants in east Aleppo. The United Nations deputy Syria envoy, Ramzy Ezzeldine Ramzy, on Thursday said that the restoration of the agreement between Russia and the US in order to restore the truce in Syria “will be the best step forward.” According to Ramzy, up to 600 people have recently been injured in besieged east Aleppo. They are in urgent need of evacuation, as medical supplies in the city are scarce and there are only rations for a quarter of the population.

Internal ‘clock’ makes some people age faster and die younger – regardless of lifestyle

Study could explain why even with healthy lifestyles some people die younger than others, and raises future possibility of extending the human lifespan

September 28,2016

by Hannah Devlin

The Guardian

Scientists have found the most definitive evidence yet that some people are destined to age quicker and die younger than others – regardless of their lifestyle.

The findings could explain the seemingly random and unfair way that death is sometimes dealt out, and raise the intriguing future possibility of being able to extend the natural human lifespan.

“You get people who are vegan, sleep 10 hours a day, have a low-stress job, and still end up dying young,” said Steve Horvath, a biostatistician who led the research at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We’ve shown some people have a faster innate ageing rate.”

A higher biological age, regardless of actual age, was consistently linked to an earlier death, the study found. For the 5% of the population who age fastest, this translated to a roughly 50% greater than average risk of death at any age.

Intriguingly, the biological changes linked to ageing are potentially reversible, raising the prospect of future treatments that could arrest the ageing process and extend the human lifespan.

“The great hope is that we find anti-ageing interventions that would slow your innate ageing rate,” said Horvath. “This is an important milestone to realising this dream.”

Horvath’s ageing “clock” relies on measuring subtle chemical changes, in which methyl compounds attach or detach from the genome without altering the underlying code of our DNA.

His team previously found that methyl levels at 353 specific sites on the genome rise and fall according to a very specific pattern as we age – and that the pattern is consistent across the population. The latest study, based on an analysis of blood samples from 13,000 people, showed that some people are propelled along life’s biological tramlines much quicker than others – regardless of lifestyle.

“We see people aged 20 who are fast agers and we look at them 20 years later and they are still fast agers,” said Horvath. “The big picture here is that this is an innate process.”

The scientists found that known health indicators, such as smoking, blood pressure and weight, were still more valuable in predicting life expectancy in the 2,700 participants who had died since the study began, but that their underlying aging rate also had a significant effect.

In a fictional example, the scientists compare two 60-year-old men, Peter, whose ageing rate ranks in the top 5% and Joe, whose rate is in the slowest 5%. If both are smokers and have stressful jobs, Peter is given a 75% chance of dying in the next 10 years compared to a 46% chance for Joe.

This is not the first time that scientists have observed so-called epigenetic changes to the genome with age, but previously these were put down to wear-and-tear brought about by environmental factors, rather than indicating the ticking of an internal biological clock.

Wolf Reik, a professor of epigenetics at the University of Cambridge who was not involved in the work, said: “It now looks like you get a clock given to you when you’re young. It gets wound up and the pace it’s ticking at is dictated by this epigenetic machinery.”

“I’m sure insurance companies are already quite interested in this kind of thing,” he added.

Horvath said he has no plans to market the test, which costs around $300 per sample in his lab, but admits he has run his own blood through the analysis.

“I’m currently 48 and the test indicated I was 5 years older, which I wasn’t too pleased about,” he said, but adds that for an individual factors like blood pressure and smoking were more decisive. “My innate ageing rate is too fast to become a centenarian, but otherwise I’m not too worried about it.”

The study, published in the journal Aging, suggests that accelerated ageing rather than simply a riskier lifestyle could explain why men die younger. Even by the age of five, Horvath said, the different speeds of aging between genders was apparent and by the age of 40 a biological age gap of 1-2 years opens up. “Women always age a little bit more slowly than men,” he said. “It’s not lifestyle it’s this innate ageing process that favours women.”

Congress rejects Obama veto, Saudi September 11 bill becomes law

September 29, 2016

by Patricia Zengerle


WASHINGTON-Congress on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected President Barack Obama’s veto of legislation allowing relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, the first veto override of his presidency, just four months before it ends.

The House of Representatives voted 348-77 against the veto, hours after the Senate rejected it 97-1, meaning the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” will become law.

The vote was a blow to Obama as well as to Saudi Arabia, one of the United States’ longest-standing allies in the Arab world, and some lawmakers who supported the override already plan to revisit the issue.

Obama said he thought the Congress had made a mistake, reiterating his belief that the legislation set a dangerous precedent and indicating that he thought political considerations were behind the vote.

“If you’re perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that’s a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do,” he said on CNN.

Obama’s 11 previous vetoes were all sustained. But this time almost all his strongest Democratic supporters in Congress joined Republicans to oppose him in one of their last actions before leaving Washington to campaign for the Nov. 8 election.

“Overriding a presidential veto is something we don’t take lightly, but it was important in this case that the families of the victims of 9/11 be allowed to pursue justice, even if that pursuit causes some diplomatic discomforts,” Senator Charles Schumer, a top Senate Democrat, said in a statement.

Schumer represents New York, site of the World Trade Center and home to many of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks, survivors and families of victims.

The law, known as JASTA, passed the House and Senate without objections earlier this year.

Support was fueled by impatience in Congress with Saudi Arabia over its human rights record, promotion of a severe form of Islam tied to militancy and failure to do more to ease the international refugee crisis.

The law grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on U.S. soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government.

Riyadh has denied longstanding suspicions that it backed the hijackers who attacked the United States in 2001. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Family members had tied their last push for the bill to the 15th anniversary of the attacks this month, demonstrating outside the White House and Capitol. On Wednesday, two fire trucks displayed a giant U.S. flag outside the Senate.

“We rejoice in this triumph and look forward to our day in court and a time when we may finally get more answers regarding who was truly behind the attacks,” Terry Strada, whose husband died in the attacks, said in a statement.


Obama argued that JASTA could expose U.S. companies, troops and officials to lawsuits if other countries passed reciprocal legislation, and may anger important allies.

He called Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and wrote a letter to him explaining that he strongly believed enacting JASTA into law would be detrimental to U.S. interests. Reid became the only senator to side with Obama.

Some lawmakers said the White House, which has a history of poor relations with Congress, had waited too long to fight the bill.

The Sept. 11 families have received more than $7 billion, but bill backers said their intention was to allow lawsuits to punish any government that backs terrorism on U.S. soil.

“This bill was carefully negotiated over more than six years,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, another New York Democrat, told the House.

The issue, however, may not be finished. At least 28 senators signed a letter to JASTA’s sponsors, Schumer and Republican Senator John Cornyn, asking that they work with them to mitigate any potential unintended national security and foreign policy consequences.

The Saudi government financed an extensive lobbying campaign against the legislation.

U.S. corporations including General Electric Co and Dow Chemical Co also opposed it, as did the European Union and other U.S. allies.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opposed the bill and CIA Director John Brennan said JASTA had “grave implications” for national security.

Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, and Bernie Sanders, an independent and former Democratic White House contender, did not vote.

Override opponents in the House included Representative Mac Thornberry, Republican chairman of the Armed Services committee, and Adam Smith, its ranking Democrat, citing concern about U.S. forces overseas.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Jonathan Landay in Washington, and Roberta Rampton aboard Air Force One; editing by Marguerita Choy, Leslie Adler and G Crosse)

Israel’s $38 Billion Scam

Bibi wants more and Congress might deliver

September 27, 2016

by Philip Giraldi

Unz Review

As an American it is difficult to imagine a more unseemly bit of political theater playing out than Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance before his cabinet to claim that he had gotten every last dollar of military assistance out of the Obama Administration. Netanyahu argued that he had obtained all that was on the table, adding that his bad blood with President Barack Obama had not proven to be detrimental in the bilateral negotiations that had been ongoing for more than a year. The Prime Minister was on the defensive because some of his critics claimed that he might have gotten $100 million more per annum, admittedly chump change on top of the $38 billion over ten years that the Memorandum of Understand will provide Netanyahu from the U.S. Treasury.

The critics also argued that the “real money” obtained from Washington was less than it seemed because of inflation, but the gift of $38 billion to Israel was nevertheless a considerable increase over the roughly $3.3 billion per year that Israel is currently receiving. The protracted negotiations over the exact sum to be handed over were reportedly due to Netanyahu’s demanding much more money, possibly as much as $5 billion per year. The deal did come with a minor problem for the Israeli defense industries, which had become accustomed to skimming 26% off the top of the annual U.S. grant to build and market their own weapons. Someone in Washington finally figured out that the U.S. taxpayer was directly funding foreign competition for its own defense industries, costing thousands of American jobs. But not to worry, the Israeli companies are now setting up U.S. subsidiaries, so the gravy train will almost certainly continue to deliver.

Israel’s argument for more money, such as it was, was based on claims that Obama had weakened its security by coming to an agreement with Iran over that nation’s nuclear program. Israel objected that sharply limiting Tehran’s ability to develop a weapon was not in its own interest, an odd assertion but explicable in terms of Netanyahu’s real objective in dealing with the Mullah’s, which was to have the U.S. take the lead in bombing them into the stone age.

Missing in the discussions was any benefit obtained for the United States by giving Israel all that moolah. America’s largely invisible National Security Adviser Susan Rice spoke of an “unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security” and commented that the agreement was good for the United States because “our security is linked” though she characteristically did not explain exactly why that was so. She called the deal a “win-win,” creating jobs in America and making our “ally and partner” Israel more secure.

In reality, as Rice knows perfectly well, Israel is a strategic liability. Apart from the annual Danegeld paid to it, it also requires the expenditure of considerable American political capital to protect it in the U.N. It also cannot be used as a forward base for the U.S. military. During Desert Storm in 1991, it had to be bribed by Washington to stay out of the conflict against Saddam Hussein to keep America’s Arab allies on board. As Colin Powell’s former aide Colonel Larry Wilkerson has observed there is indeed an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the Middle East that the U.S. relies on to extend the reach of its armed forces. It is called Kuwait, not Israel, while Bahrain hosts the American Sixth Fleet and the U.S. Air Force operates out of Qatar. They are all Arab countries.

Rice also did not mention another important issue. As money is fungible subsidizing Israel’s military frees up cash in the budget to build new settlements on the West Bank, which U.S. policy nominally opposes. Some critics have also noted that medical care and higher education in Israel are free, a benefit that Americans do not enjoy and which derives in part from the U.S. largesse.

And Israel’s reckless foreign policy has to be considered. There is a tendency for Israeli policy makers to actually use new weapons if only to try them out on live targets. The reality is that providing Israel with a ton of money to buy upgraded weapons will also give Netanyahu a lot of shiny new toys to use on his neighbors while also fueling an arms race in the region as other countries try to keep up to enable their own militaries to deter Israel. Iran has, for example, responded to the often repeated Israeli threats by improving its own air defenses with sophisticated Russian made integrated systems that can easily shoot down U.S. warplanes, while other missiles in its arsenal can defeat the defenses of American aircraft carrier groups.

Focusing on Israel’s $38 billion haul has also obscured how the country benefits in other ways. It has long been a development partner with the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to produce defense technologies that are important to Israel but relatively useless for Washington. This has most recently included Washington’s direct funding of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which Tel Aviv is actively marketing, and anti-tunneling technologies.

Israel also receives billions of dollars every year in the form of charitable contributions from American Jews and Christian Zionists. The money often goes to support foundations that in turn fund settlements on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, developments that are illegal both under international and U.S. law. And then there are direct fund-raisers for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). A 2014 star studded Hollywood gala event raised $33 million tax exempt dollars for an organization known as the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF). FIDF’s slogan is “Their job is to look after Israel. Ours is to look after them.” Similar fundraisers are held all over the United States and there is an annual parade in Manhattan.

As most observers of the odd United States relationship with the Middle East will no doubt agree, when it comes to Israel and the U.S. Treasury “too much” is not part of the vocabulary. Obama’s agreement with Israel stipulated that in return for the guaranteed money every year Israel would not go to Congress seeking more unless there is a war. As “war” was not defined and Israel is both frequently in conflict with its neighbors and also quite capable of cranking up an incident on demand, Netanyahu may have been smiling as he agreed to that stipulation. And knowing that Obama is a lame duck means that the door to the cash vault is closed but will be reopening in January. Given all of that, Netanyahu was apparently willing to back off even though he wanted more money, possibly expecting that the deal will be subject to renegotiation when Hillary invites him to the White House.

And it now appears that many Congressmen also agree that Israel’s leader and America’s best friend did not get what he deserves. Senator Lindsey Graham opined while the negotiations were still in progress that any agreement with Israel would be a base-line, meaning that congress could and should vote additional special appropriations. Currently a bill co-sponsored by Graham and Senators Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Ted Cruz, Mark Kirk, Marco Rubio and Roy Blunt is moving through the Senate that will do just that. It will allow Congress to give Israel more cash and will lift the restrictions on how it is spent, permitting Netanyahu to continue to directly subsidize his own defense industry with U.S. taxpayer money. If Democratic Israel-firsters like Senators Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez rally behind the bill it is quite likely to be passed.

The reality is that U.S. military assistance to Israel is actually all about the effectiveness of an extremely powerful domestic lobby. The tie that binds the two countries has nothing whatsoever to do with either nation’s security or interests but it has a great deal to do with tying Washington to Israel no matter what Israel does. Israel is a wealthy country with a per capita gross domestic product of $35,000 that is greater than that of Japan, South Korea or Italy. It could easily survive without that extra cash from Uncle Sam. It is the greatest military power in its region by every possible metric and it is also the only country possessing nuclear weapons to include both ballistic missiles and submarines to deliver the weapons on target. It is in no way threatened.

Massive amounts of aid to Israel constitute a particularly important element of the push to maintain a “special relationship” that seeks to make Israel appear to be an essential American ally, even though it is anything but. American politicians who call Israel the U.S.’s greatest friend and ally know they are lying as Israel is neither. Instead, Israel and its own parochial interests have been key elements in involving Washington in the spiral of violence that has gripped the Middle East since 2001, including the ill-fated invasion of Iraq.

Is it just business as usual in Washington, though admittedly with an extraordinarily large price tag? Perhaps. But an opinion poll reveals that 81% of Americans oppose giving Israel more money. Unfortunately our bifurcated democratic system means that no one will be able to effectively vote on the issue in November as both major parties are lined up squarely behind Israel even if many Democrats are beginning to wobble.

Groveling to Israel is in the American political DNA. Even progressive groups that claim to be supportive of Palestinian rights and opposed to growing fascism in Israel exhibit the usual ambivalence when it comes to issues that might actually have an impact. They go silent and become curiously absent from the debate. Go to the website of Jewish Voice for Peace and you will find no mention of the $38 billion. Code Pink and End the Occupation claim to oppose weapons sales to Israel but seem to have lost sight of the latest outrage. Strange that. Or perhaps not so strange. J Street, which claims to be pro-Israel and pro-peace, “warmly welcomes the conclusion of a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel that will ensure Israel’s security and its qualitative military advantage over any potential enemy for the next 10 years.”

The point is that giving Israel $38 billion over ten years is robbery pure and simple having nothing whatsoever to do withanyone’s security. It is stealing from the American taxpayer because certain politicians aided and abetted by the media and acting in deference to a powerful lobby would have it so. Israel is no ally, has never been an ally, and is being rewarded for doing nothing. The only Americans who benefit from the deal are defense contractors. If it were Goldman Sachs or General Motors doing the stealing there would at least be some outcry. But as it is, because it is Israel, the media and chattering class are silent.

China’s Mass Counterfeiting of American coins

by Harry von Johnston PhD

With the collapsing American economy, many Americans are rushing to invest in gold; either coins or bar, and also silver. One of the most popular forms of this investment are American coins.  Where there is a need, there is always someone to fill it and in this case, the filling consists of  the massive counterfeiting of gold coins, silver coins, and even Swiss gold bars in China. Initially, it appeared they were only faking Morgan dollars, but then it turned out they were also making $20 Liberty, and Indian Head gold $2.50, $5, and $10 coins, of all dates. Evidently, this is extremely easy with today’s computer-and-laser-die-cutting technology, and the fakes are being die-struck in vast quantities, not cast, and visually at least, are superb copies.

The good news is that these fakes are readily detectable with a 0.01 – gram scale, as the Chinese in their greed are using lower carats of gold and lower grades of silver than the genuine coins, to maximize profit, and thus, in most cases, the fake coins and bars are lighter than the real ones. In a few cases, the silver coins of high numismatic interest are actually OVER weight – it appears that the supply of accurate planchet stock is a major difficulty for the forgers.

Here are links to a two-part article about this in Coin World Magazine:



Note: They are even faking PCGS and ANACS slabs!!:


A friend who has an extremely wealthy friend in Europe (on the order of several hundreds of millions) asked this person to make enquiries at his bank. The bank told him candidly that indeed, the Chinese are also faking sovereigns, half sovereigns, French 20 Franc gold, and various denominations of Nicholas II Russian Rubles, of all dates, as well as Swiss gold bars. They said any gold bars they are offered for purchase are both weighed and the serial numbers checked with the manufacturers. The Chinese do not know the serial and manufacture date numbering systems on the gold bars, and so that error is quickly detectable.

The US Secret Service has just this week been made aware of this problem, which was new to them, and if they decide to launch an investigation, they have indicated that while they cannot do anything about the operations in China, they can, and will, seize any counterfeit US coins they come across. Dealers in these fakes would also be liable to fines and jail time. Foreign fakes are not under their purview, but if that business turns out to be substantial, there could conceivably be an FBI investigation of fraud in interstate commerce, targeting companies who are mail-ordering fake foreign coins. Individuals who have been cheated might also sue their suppliers – in short, this could turn into a huge mess.

General appearance aside, it is very easy it is to spot fakes – just with a scale reading to 1/00th of a gram, and a table of the correct weights and sizes of the coins or bars they are buying. (In the case of large-size bargold, unless buying from the manufacturer or a reputable bank, the serial numbers need to be verified, so that one does not buy a Chinese bar with a lead or mercury core)

Herewith a listing of what I have uncovered so far:

  1. The U.S .Morgan silver dollar. All dates and all mint marks;
  2. The U.S. gold coins viz the $2.50, $5.00 and $10.00 Indian head issues
  3. The U.S. copper penny viz 1909 S vdb
  4. Three gold Imperial Russian roubles from the reign of Nicholas II
  5. A gold 20 franc coin with the head of Napoleon I on the obverse
  6. The South African Krugerrand
  7. British sovereigns and half sovereigns of different monarchs and dates

And in addition, they are also making fake gold bars from the Credit Suisse people.

It was always considered that numismatics as a relatively fraud-free area of collecting, but it appears that a coin collector today has to carry a digital scale around. This doesn’t affect me very much, but I too have wondered at the sudden appearance of all the Morgan dollars. Fortunately, the ones I have came down to me from my grandfather, and I’ll be very careful picking up individual pieces that fill blanks.

As for Krugerands and similar gold pieces that are traded for bullion prices, it is obvious that the Chinese have lowered the purity and thus debase the value; otherwise, a fake Krug would have as much gold as a real one.

Police surveillance: The US city that beat Big Brother

September 29, 2016

by Brian Wheeler

BBC News

Washington DC-Mass surveillance of citizens without their knowledge is on the rise in America. This is the story of how one city fought back – and is teaching others how to do the same.

A deprived port city, across the bay from San Francisco, with a history of high crime rates and radical politics, Oakland has seen its share of policing scandals over the years.

Surveillance of ordinary citizens and protest groups – from the Black Panthers in the 1960s to Occupy Oakland in the 2000s – is nothing new in California’s eighth largest city.

“Police-community relations in Oakland are terrible,” says Ali Winston, a reporter with the East Bay Express. “They have been terrible for a long time.”

But Winston and his colleague Darwin BondGraham were still not fully prepared for what they would discover in the summer of 2012, when they were going through court records and council papers.

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“We saw some things that raised questions. Why are they running fibre optic cables out there? That kind of thing,” says BondGraham.

Winston recognised the name of a security company on a council agenda and knew immediately what they were dealing with – a Domain Awareness Centre.

Most cities, including Oakland, have cameras monitoring traffic intersections and public areas. But a Domain Awareness Centre, or DAC, is far more sophisticated. It is still based around a bank of screens, but the camera feeds are augmented by data from weather reports, shipping movements, social media chatter, email records, emergency calls and other data sources.

The port of Oakland had been given federal funds in 2008 to build a DAC as part of a post-9/11 push to protect critical infrastructure from terrorist attack.

At some point, the city council decided to extend the system to cover the whole of Oakland and its population of 400,000 people.

“The feeling from the port seemed to be, ‘We are building these really cool systems, why don’t we make them city-wide?’,” says BondGraham.

Hundreds of new cameras would be installed across the city and data would be incorporated from from licence plate readers, gunshot-detection microphones, social media, and, in later phases, facial recognition software and programmes that can recognise people from the way they walk.

The city said it needed an early warning system to give “first responders” a head start when dealing with emergencies like chemical spills and earthquakes, as well as major crime and terrorist incidents.

But privacy campaigners in the city were alarmed at the thought of the Oakland Police Department having access to an all-pervasive real-time surveillance network. Particularly one that did not have a policy on what data would be stored and for how long.

The public backlash began in the summer of 2013, just as Edward Snowden’s first leaks about the National Security Agency’s spying activities were hitting the headlines.

Snowden ignited a “huge” public debate about privacy and data, says Brian Hofer, a former civil rights attorney who led efforts to curb the DAC, which had barely registered as an issue when the plan to expand it citywide had first come before the city council.

Hofer was a relative latecomer to the Oakland Privacy campaign, deciding to get involved after reading a  December 2013 article in the East Bay Express, based on thousands of leaked emails between city officials, which suggested that the real purpose of the DAC was not to combat violent crime but to monitor and track political protesters.

He was among dozens of Oakland residents to speak out against the DAC at a marathon city council meeting on 4 March, 2014, at which the fate of the system would be decided.

By now, stopping the Oakland “spy centre” had become a cause celebre among former Occupy protesters. Some of them waited their turn, their faces covered by masks, to vent their anger.

The meeting also heard from members of the African American community, who argued that the DAC would be used to justify police violence in black neighbourhoods, and from Oakland’s large Muslim community, who were concerned that the DAC would be used to spy on them.

What linked them all was a visceral distrust of the authorities and a feeling that they did not want to live in a city where they would be constantly monitored as they went about their business. A PowerPoint presentation by city officials on the alleged benefits of the DAC did nothing to mollify them.

With the city council tied on the issue, Oakland’s then mayor Jean Quin, who had originally been in favour of the DAC, used her casting vote to back a motion that would dramatically scale it back so that it would be focused solely on the port, as originally planned.

The public gallery erupted with cries of “shame” – the majority of those present that night had wanted the DAC scrapped altogether.

But others believe the city’s leaders caved in too easily to the protesters.

“Occupy are the people that don’t want the cameras,” says Nancy Sidebothan, who chairs a neighbourhood crime prevention committee in Central East Oakland.

“It’s not the ordinary citizens. We want cameras. We want our safety. Because you can’t walk down your street without worrying about whether someone is going to randomly shoot at you. Every night you hear gun shots going off.”

Oakland is a high-crime city, averaging 109 homicides a year for the past 45 years. Many residents and businesses have invested in their own security cameras and are happy to share their contents with law enforcement.

“If you don’t want government to put cameras downtown, what are you hiding from, that you think is going to get picked up on a camera?” says Sidebothan.

Brian Hofer agrees that security cameras can prevent crime but says there is no evidence that mass surveillance does. And he argues that police departments only turn to “shiny gadgets” when relations with the public they are meant to protect, and on who they rely as witnesses, have broken down.

“Instead of trying to repair these relationships we are just throwing more surveillance equipment at the problem. We are smart people here in Oakland. We have Silicon Valley right up the road and we just think all these new tools are going to solve our problems but it just doesn’t work.”

The city council’s decision to limit the DAC was a victory for Oakland Privacy and Hofer, who has since been elected chair of the city’s first Privacy Advisory Commission, which has been given the task of scrutinising every new piece of equipment the police department wants to buy.

He says he has had a largely positive response form city officials and police chiefs, and is working with other Bay Area administrations to improve accountability. Oakland Privacy is also in talks with campaigners in New York and Baltimore – where concern about secret police surveillance of poor, black neighbourhoods is, if anything, even higher than in Oakland – about how they can fight back.

“It is not about prohibiting the use of surveillance equipment, it is about narrowing its scope,” he says.

Hofer’s committee began public hearings last month in to Oakland Police Department’s use of Stingrays – fake cell phone masts that can be used to track suspects.

This is a level of accountability that exists in few other places in the US, where, according to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) national executive director Anthony Romero, surveillance equipment is “acquired in secret and used in secret” often without the knowledge of elected officials, let alone the public.

Last week the ACLU launched proposed legislation in 11 US cities, including New York and Washington DC, that would, if passed, establish community control over police surveillance.

The initiative is inspired, in part, by the Black Lives Matter campaign, although many of the guidelines, such as an annual surveillance audit, come straight from the Oakland Privacy playbook.

“People of colour have long been the targets of government surveillance – but today’s technology makes it more concerning than ever,” said Alvaro Bedoya, executive director of Georgetown University’s Privacy and Technology Centre at the launch of the scheme.

“Communities are being confronted with the very real possibility that law enforcement is tracking them wherever they go – at work, school, places of worship and political gatherings.

“People need to feel safe in their neighbourhoods, and this new effort is an important step in the process of taking back control.”

Equipment catalogue

Many of the systems being offered for sale to law enforcement agencies across the US, and around the world, were developed by defence giants for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is a small selection:

Stingray fake phone masts

About the size of a suitcase, Stingrays work by pretending to be a phone tower in order to strip data from nearby devices, enabling police to track suspects without a warrant. They are also capable of accessing the content of calls and texts. The next generation of the device, Hailstorm, is now on the market.

Licence plate readers

Police cars mounted with automatic license plate readers are thought to be in use in many US cities, gathering data on the location and movements of drivers. Research in Oakland found black neighbourhoods were being disproportionally targeted.

Crime prediction software

Software is being used by police in the US and UK that analyses crime statistics to predict where it will happen next. Microsoft, IBM and Hitachi are among the big players moving in to this market. The latest Hitachi “crime visualisation” software – effectively a Domain Awareness Centre on your computer desktop – is being trialled in Washington DC and is demonstrated in this YouTube video. There is also growing concern about the use of social media analysis software, which monitors hashtags such as BlackLivesMatter and PoliceBrutality to identify “threats to public safety”.

Surveillance enabled light bulbs

LED light bulbs marketed as energy-efficient upgrades to existing light bulbs on city streets that can contain tiny cameras and microphones linked to a central monitoring station.

Through the wall sensors

These use radar to peer through the walls of buildings – currently precise enough to show how many people are in a particular room.

X-Ray, or ‘backscatter” vans

Mobile units that use X-ray radiation to see underneath clothing and car exteriors.

Aerial surveillance

The use of light aircraft to record continuous high definition footage of a city – recently discovered, and stopped, in Baltimore, following a public outcry. Police departments across the US, and in cities around the world, are also buying drones for surveillance.

Listening devices

Shotspotter microphones have been around for more than a decade and are thought to be in use in at least 90 US cities. They are designed to improve police response times but there are concerns they could be used to listen in to conversations.






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