The Intercept

Happy Tax Day! Here’s How Corporations Plan to Screw You Over.

17 April 2017 - 10:38am

Few things transform us into frustrated baboons like navigating Turbotax each year. It’s incredible any computers physically survive April.

First there’s the maddening fact, when all is said and done, that the U.S. has something approaching a flat tax system. It’s true that, as right-wing think tanks constantly bleat, the top 1 percent pay a much higher rate than everyone else in federal income tax. But most people pay higher rates than the rich do in payroll and state and local taxes. Add everything together, and everyone from the middle class on up is paying about the same percentage in taxes overall.

Then there’s the grim reality that a big chunk of our money goes to buy things like 21,000-pound bombs, which we drop on, say, Afghanistan, a country with an economy one-one thousandth the size of ours.

And then there’s the process of paying taxes itself, which is mind-numbingly baroque — and for absolutely no reason. After all, the government already has copies of all of your tax forms. Countries like Denmark, Sweden and Spain use that information to fill out your return and send it to you. If it looks good, you sign it and you’re done (or if you think you see a mistake, you can change it). The sole reason we don’t have such a system is that the current disaster makes billions of dollars for tax software companies, which then use a slice of that to relentless lobby Congress to keep the status quo.

But if those are the only things turning you into a rage monkey this Tax Day, you’re not paying attention. As an extensive new report from Oxfam America explains, the biggest U.S. multinational corporations have positioned themselves for a political victory that will not just slash their taxes and leave regular people to pick up the bill, but also will set the stage for further corporate tax cuts in the future.

Corporate America has three main goals when it comes to taxes:

• Bring their “overseas” profits home. The top statutory tax rate for American corporations is 35 percent, on profits earned anywhere on earth. However, taxes aren’t assessed on profits from outside the U.S. until the money is brought back here.

This creates a huge incentive for companies to engage in complicated financial machinations to make it appear that as much of their profits as possible have been “earned” in other countries. They then leave the cash overseas in hopes of arranging a tax holiday allowing them to bring it back at a much lower rate. This already happened once, in 2004, when companies were assessed taxes at 5 percent on repatriated profits.

Oxfam determined that as of the 2015 tax year, the 50 largest U.S. multinational corporations have a gargantuan $1.6 trillion stashed in other countries. That’s about one-tenth the size of the entire U.S. economy.

Even more remarkably, Oxfam found the tally was up $200 billion from the year before. Tim Cook — CEO of Apple, which has more money overseas than any other company — said before last year’s election that he was “optimistic” there would be a new tax holiday no matter who was president. That jump in overseas profits suggests corporate lawyers and accountants throughout the business world were making a special effort to prepare for such an optimistic future.

Oxfam calculated that the top 50 companies spent $2.5 billion lobbying from 2009 to 2015, or about $46 million per member of Congress. The report also tracked the plethora of front groups set up by corporations to make the case for their kind of tax “reform.” The 50 companies belong to two such organizations on average, while eight of the 50 are members of four or more.

In public, the front groups claim that if big corporations can bring their money home at a special low tax rate, they’ll go on a hiring spree in the U.S. and pour money into investments here. In private, when discussing the subject with Wall Street analysts and investors, they explain that they’ll actually spend it on mergers and stock buybacks. An analysis by Goldman Sachs last November said the same thing, predicting that three-fourths of profits brought back to the U.S. would be used for buybacks.

• Bring down the corporate tax rate as far as possible. Read the Wall Street Journal op-ed page on any day or watch five minutes of CNBC, and you’ll learn that America’s 35 percent statutory corporate tax rate is one of the highest in the world.

Corporate America would dearly love to lower that as far as possible, and if that’s all you hear about the subject it sounds like it makes sense.

However, the effective U.S. corporate tax rate — what companies actually pay after taking advantage of every deduction and loophole — is much lower. A 2014 Congressional Research Service report found the effective U.S. rate was 27.1 percent, slightly lower than the 27.7 percent weighted average of the rest of the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development, made up of most of the world’s richest countries. The 2015 Economic Report of the President, covering a more recent period, calculated that the effective marginal tax rate in the U.S. was 23.9 percent, compared to a weighted average of 20.6 percent for Japan, France, Germany, Canada, Italy and the UK.

Looked at another way, in 2014 OECD members raised an average of 2.8 percent of their GDP in revenue from corporate taxes. That same year the U.S. raised significantly less, at 2.2 percent.

In other words, there’s little sign U.S. companies are overtaxed by world standards.

• Use lowered U.S. tax rates to ratchet down rates everywhere else – and then come back for more here. The most important thing to understand about this issue is that multinational corporations will not be satisfied with a one-time tax cut. Instead, their goal is use any reduction in U.S. taxes to force taxes down in the rest of the world, and then start complaining again that U.S. rates are too high.

This process is already well underway around the globe. The Oxfam report points out that in 1990 the average corporate tax rate in the world’s 20 major countries was 40 percent; by 2015 it had fallen to 28.7 percent. Moreover, the average 2.8 percent of GDP that OECD companies raised via corporate taxes in 2014 was significantly down from the 3.6 percent they raised just seven years before in 2007.

Politicians acutely feel pressure to bring down rates to make their countries “competitive.” Speaking last September, Bill Clinton explained that he didn’t mind a 35 percent corporate rate when he was president because at that point “it was precisely in the middle of the OECD countries” — but “it isn’t anymore,” so “we should try to get it as close to the international average as we can.”

Likewise, soon after Donald Trump won the election while calling for a top corporate tax rate of 15 percent, British Prime Minister Theresa May declared that her goal was for the UK to reduce its corporate tax from 20 percent to “the lowest corporate tax rate in the G20.”

The logical endpoint of this beggar-thy-neighbor dynamic is that eventually corporations will pay nothing in taxes, at which point everyone will in fact be beggars. “Rather than competing to win a race to the bottom,” says Robert Silverman, the main author of the Oxfam report, “international tax reform needs to be built on a new framework of cross-border cooperation, transparency and accountability.”

At this point, both the good news and the bad news on this subject is that Donald Trump is president. On the one hand, he animatedly vowed during last year’s debates that “I’ll be reducing taxes tremendously” on corporations and that “it’s going to be a beautiful thing to watch.” With a Republican Congress, the years of lobbying and payoffs by big business should be set to bear not just fruit but an entire orchard. But on the other hand, Trump is so lazy and incompetent he probably couldn’t get Congress to pass a resolution endorsing the American Revolution.

So as of now, Trump appears set to enjoy the same rousing success with taxes as he did with healthcare. He’s apparently thrown out the tax plan on which he campaigned and is starting over again from scratch.

Obamacare, however, was a subject of only tangential interest to corporate America. By contrast, a new and improved tax code could be worth trillions of dollars to them. With the stars so seemingly aligned, it’s unlikely that they’ll let their dream be deferred without a significant fight.

So as you sign your tax return, save some screeching and hooting for this infuriating topic. Regular people think about taxes as little as possible because we have no control over them, and the core unfairness of the U.S. system brings us nothing but vexation. But big corporations think about taxes every day — because they know that sooner or later, one way or another, they’ll get what they want.

Top photo: Mike Seals of Cleveland, Ohio stands outside the Renaissance Center in Detroit, protesting with others as General Electric held their shareholders meeting, on April 25, 2012.

 

The post Happy Tax Day! Here’s How Corporations Plan to Screw You Over. appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump’s Abrupt Regime-Change Pivot Raises Concerns About a “Mad Max Syria” Should Assad Fall

17 April 2017 - 10:32am

President Trump’s cruise-missile strike against Syria was celebrated by establishment politicians and media, their glee at striking a blow against Bashar al-Assad swamping any rational discussion of what happens next.

Assad is undoubtedly the most despicable war criminal in power today. His forces have ruthlessly starved and bombed hundreds of thousands of his own people, and tortured and executed thousands more.

But the enthusiasm to take military action against a hated leader is highly reminiscent of the run-up to U.S. interventions in Iraq and Libya. And the U.S. is even less prepared to cope with the potentially disastrous consequences in Syria.

Throughout his campaign, Trump condemned regime change, and it seemed as if he had learned from previous presidents’ mistakes. Even as late as last month, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters “our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out.”

But after the cruise missile attack, the Trump’s administration instantaneously reversed itself. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said “steps are underway” to seek Assad’s removal, and Haley told CNN it is “hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad [in power].”

What that means in real life is unclear. Trump told Fox Business News that the U.S. is not going to war with Syria, leaving observers to conclude that he either intends to have Assad removed in some other way — or to demand Assad’s removal as a part of peace negotiations like the ones taking place in Geneva.

But swiftly removing the Assad regime would have a dramatic and destabilizing effect on a country that is increasingly governed by local mafias and warlords, and where the largest opposition groups are ISIS and Al Qaeda-connected militias.

“Once the policy people look at what the day after would be — they don’t see any options,” said Josh Landis, the director of the Center For Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “The two strongest militias in Syria are Al Qaeda and ISIS, which would undoubtedly profit and would move into Damascus, were the Assad regime to be destroyed.”

Landis said that any gains made by rebel groups would inevitably lead to sectarian violence against minorities, and would have dire humanitarian consequences for the 15 million people who currently live in Assad-controlled territory.

Although the Assad regime is responsible for the majority of the hundreds of thousands of deaths in the 6-year-old civil war, rebel groups — often U.S.-armed — have also been guilty of horrific human rights violations, from abductions and torture, to mass executions and child beheadings.

Rebel violence has particularly affected Syria’s minorities, like Christians and Alawites — a Shia sect that Assad belongs to — as well as Sunnis from pro-government areas, who have been perceived as supporting Assad.

“We’ve seen that wherever rebel militias have taken Alawite or Christian regions,” Landis said, “the Alawites flee within 24 hours. There are no Alawites left, or else they’re taken captive. And Christians are gone. … That’s what’s most likely to happen in the rest of Syria if the Syrian army were destroyed.”

And if emboldened rebel groups end up fighting over Damascus — Syria’s capital city — it could force millions of minorities and middle-class Sunnis to flee, exacerbating a refugee crisis that has already led 11.6 million people to flee their homes.

The most recent and horrific massacre took place on Friday, when a car bomb likely directed by anti-government forces destroyed buses carrying mostly Shia families fleeing from pro-government towns, killing over 100 people.

“A number of people have argued with me that having a ‘Mad Max Syria’ with roving gangs or roving militias carving out bases would cause fewer deaths than Assad.” Landis said. The day-to-day body counts might go down because there would no longer be an air force, he said. “They would be restricted to shooting at each other with more conventional weapons. But that could go on for a long time.”

A convoy of U.S. forces armored vehicles drives near the village of Yalanli, on the western outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Manbij, on March 5, 2017.

Photo: Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images

One requirement for post-Assad Syria is to reintegrate warlord militias into a government, said Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center.

“Syria is quite broken. It’s not just Jabhat al-Nusra [Al Qaeda] and ISIS and all the other military forces on the ground, but there is this whole network of mafias, warlords — the power structures have changed from inside considerably.”

“Even in territories that are still under the control of the regime,” said Daniel Neep, a professor at Georgetown University and expert on Syrian politics, “security and economic functions have been subcontracted to these local warlords. … There’s going to have to be a certain accommodation of those warlords in whatever post-conflict settlement is made.”

In his 2014 book “No Good Men Among the Living,” journalist Anand Gopal wrote that the U.S.’s failure to understand rival warlords was a key reason why behind the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2002. Gopal explained that U.S. officials understood local politics so poorly that Afghan warlords and former mujahedeen fighters could convince overzealous U.S. military forces to remove their political rivals — even if they supported the government. Gopal documented some cases where U.S. special forces were tricked into killing U.S.-backed Afghan government officials.

In Libya, the U.S.’s inability to make peace among rival warlords and rebel groups was a key reason for the chaos that followed the U.S.-led intervention in 2011 and the killing of Moammar Gadhafi. “Libya’s tragedy was in many ways, that this did not take place, said Yahya. “And this is again what happened in Iraq. You go in, take out the autocrat, and then nothing is left in place.”

There has to be a plan for dealing with all the different militias, Yahya said. “How do they go home, when do they go home, at what point? Do they need some sort of negotiated exit for them? There has to be a very concrete effort for demobilization.”

In short, without an intricate understanding of how local power structures work, the conflict in Syria — and U.S. role in it — could go on for a very long time.

And there’s no sign the Trump administration has thought any of this through.

“In terms of big strategic thinking about what’s happening in Syria, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of overall vision for the future,” Neep said. “It seems to me that the policy is being made on the hoof without any deep understanding of what the future will be.”

Far from being motivated by expert planning and meticulous preparation, Trump seems to base his foreign policy on impulses. Media outlets have reported that Trump was motivated to reverse his previous position and bomb Assad by seeing pictures of sarin gas victims, and by importuning from his daughter Ivanka.

Even the Iraq War, which was based on deceptions about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear and chemical weapons capabilities, was plotted by the Bush administration for more than a year and a half.

The Bush administration’s promises that the war would pay for itself and would be over in a matter of weeks or months turned out to be disastrously wrong, but they at least show there was some calculation on their part, unlike Trump’s impulsive decision to engage Assad.

Neep said he sees one key similarity between the run up to the Iraq War and calls to remove Assad: “State Department influence — the influence of people with actual foreign policy expertise — they seem to have been taken out of this decision making process in a way that’s curiously reminiscent of 2003,” he said.

Top photo: A vehicle drives past a poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and destroyed buildings in the government-held Jouret al-Shiah neighborhood of the central Syrian city of Homs on Sept. 19, 2016.

The post Trump’s Abrupt Regime-Change Pivot Raises Concerns About a “Mad Max Syria” Should Assad Fall appeared first on The Intercept.

A Father Describes Saving His Daughter From U.S. Bombardment of Mosul

16 April 2017 - 8:26am

On March 17, Ala’a Ali left his wife and 4-year-old daughter at the home of relatives in the al Jadida neighborhood of Mosul, and went home to wash before the morning call to prayer. Two minutes after he arrived home, a deafening explosion ripped through the neighborhood, engulfing the narrow street in black smoke.

“I hid in the corner of the building, and smoke crept in through the windows,” 28-year-old Ali told The Intercept. “Then the smell hit me, and I could barely breathe.” As soon as he could, he bolted from his hiding place and ran to the scene of the explosion, and the house where he had left his family.

It had been hit by an airstrike from U.S.-led coalition forces bombing Islamic State fighters.

Corpses were everywhere in the ruins of the building; more than 200 people were reportedly killed. Ali’s wife was among them, but he wouldn’t know that until Iraqi civil defense forces found her body later that day. Ali heard the sound of a child groaning underneath the rubble. It was his daughter, Awra. Her body was charred black with severe burns, and shrapnel had pierced through the side of her head, cutting across her face, and sealing her eyes shut. Miraculously, she was breathing.

“I lifted her up, and started carrying her through the streets, but then an ISIS sniper started to shoot at the army,” Ali said. “I finally was able to leave her at the neighbors for a few minutes, and then take her to the field hospital once the fighting calmed down.”

A hospital bed at West Erbil Emergency in Erbil, Iraq on March 4, 2017.

Photo: Cengiz Yar for The Intercept

Transferred between field hospitals and waiting for hours at checkpoints, Ali and Awra made it to the casualties ward of the West Erbil Emergency Hospital, 50 miles from Mosul and away from the front line. Doctors treated Awra’s infections and set her broken leg in a cast. A few days ago, they operated on her to dislodge a piece of shrapnel from her eye, restoring her vision for the first time since the airstrike.

Though her face is still scarred from burns and shrapnel cuts, Awra is enjoying her newly-recovered sense of sight. She flipped through a picture book and played with leftover gauze, winding and unwinding a fake cast on her uninjured leg, laughing and energetic.

Her grandmother, Alia, tried to keep the child from itching the raw wounds on her head, scolding gently, “You can’t touch it — you will make it hurt more.” With Awra’s mother’s passing, Alia is tending to her full-time. The doctors at West Erbil have been overwhelmed with patients from the airstrike in al Jadida, and so it is Alia who dresses Awra’s wounds.

“Every day, there is more shrapnel,” Alia said, sitting on the linoleum floor of the hospital, stroking the tuft of brown hair on Awra’s head that is growing back after it was shaved to remove the first pieces of metal when she arrived at the hospital. Bits of shrapnel are still coming out of her head wounds, and larger pieces remain lodged in her legs.

Ala’a Ali, 28, stands in his 4-year-old daughter Awra’s hospital room at West Erbil Emergency in Erbil, Iraq on April 10, 2017.

Photo: Cengiz Yar for The Intercept


“These airstrikes are the biggest of all of the crimes in this war,” Alia said. “They’re killing families and children. We can’t live in safety, so long as they continue.”
Downstairs, Mubasher Zanoon sat next to his sleeping brother, who is his last remaining sibling after 20 of his family members perished in the same strike that nearly blinded Awra. The brother’s arm is pinned in place, barely intact.

“We don’t have anything left to go back to,” he said. Zanoon escaped the attack by seeking shelter in one of the adjacent homes, and it was four days before he was able to find his brother in the ruins.

The month of March saw an unprecedented number of civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes in both Iraq and Syria. While the strikes have been crucial in assisting the Iraqi Security Forces to recapture Mosul from the Islamic State, as the fight moves closer into the Old City, narrower streets and older buildings means a greater concentration of civilians — and greater potential for deadly incidents like the strike that hit Awra.

The Pentagon has acknowledged that it struck a truck full of explosives in the area on March 17, and that the attack may have caused civilian deaths, though there are conflicting reports about the precise number of casualties and their cause. Major General Najim al-Jabbouri, the Iraqi Security Forces Commander in charge of Mosul operations, told The Intercept that there may have been an ISIS car bomb or “an ISIS booby trap that also contributed to civilian casualties.” He stated that the airstrike had hit one building, killing 101 civilians; an Iraqi civil defense official told the Los Angeles Times that there were several homes struck, and 278 victims had been removed from the rubble. Other local groups put the death toll even higher.

Adding to the confusion, the March 17 strike was not the only coalition airstrike in al Jadida that week; just four days before, another attack killed as many as 29 civilians, according to the U.K.-based monitoring group Airwars. Due to the neighborhood’s dangerous position near the front line, Iraqi civil defense forces did not reach the scene until after March 17, and some of the bodies included in their casualty count may have been rotting for days.

“What is absolutely clear is that a significant number of civilians died primarily as a result of incoming air and ground bombardments from both the U.S.-backed coalition and the Iraqi forces,” said Chris Woods, a conflict specialist with Airwars. In all, Airwars estimates a minimum of 2,900 civilians have died from coalition strikes in both Iraq and Syria since 2014. The Pentagon has acknowledged killing 229.

Awra Ali, 4, on her hospital bed at West Erbil Emergency in Erbil, Iraq on April 10, 2017. (posed)

Photo: Cengiz Yar for The Intercept

After almost one month in the hospital, Alia and Awra are packing their bags to leave. Ala’a Ali has rented a small house in one of the neighborhoods in eastern Mosul that has been taken back from ISIS, where he hopes Awra can complete her recovery and the family can start a new life with a modicum of peace.

“Because of this airstrike, we won’t be able to go home, to our old house,” Alia said, becoming tearful as she looked at the black garbage bags filled with the family’s belongings. “We tried so hard not to be refugees, but here we are.”

Top photo: Awra Ali, 4, sits in her hospital bed at West Erbil Emergency in Erbil, Iraq on March 30, 2017.

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Paul Ryan Raised $657,000 While Avoiding His Constituents During Recess

15 April 2017 - 10:40am

House Speaker Paul Ryan snubbed his Wisconsin  constituents during the President’s Day congressional recess, refusing to hold even a single town hall. Local activists appeared at his office in Racine to demand a meeting. Others placed a tongue-in-cheek missing person advertisement on Craigslist, asking for the whereabouts of their elected representative. Ryan “fled sometime in and around January 20, 2017, and hasn’t been seen since,” the ad stated.

Newly filed campaign filings show what Ryan was doing instead: jetting around the country, raking in a whopping $657,400 in contributions in just nine days.

We already reported, based on fundraising brochures we obtained, that Ryan had scheduled a whirlwind of stops for his Team Ryan PAC — in Miami, Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, Dallas, Houston, and Menlo Park — rather than meet with constituents.

The massive fundraising haul during a relatively short period was enabled by the structure of Ryan’s joint-fundraising committee.

The Supreme Court’s 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC ruling eliminated the cap on the total amount any individual can contribute to federal candidates established after the Watergate scandal. Then Congress moved to increase party contribution limits, allowing joint fundraising accounts — which allow candidates to share their fundraising with their respective political party accounts — to take in even more money. The Team Ryan committee distributes part of the money it raises to the National Republican Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans.

As a result, these joint committees can receive up to $244,200 per person. Several donors made five- and six-figure contributions during the recess to Team Ryan, including Paul Foster, the chairman of Western Refining, who gave $100,000. Jerome Falic, an executive who runs Duty Free Americas, and six members of his family each gave between $10,000 and $15,000.

In the first three months of the year, Ryan’s joint fundraising committee brought in an astounding $17,272,248 in contributions. Ryan’s affiliated Super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, also raised $4,496,473 during that same period. The CLF account, which can accept unlimited contributions from virtually any source, was buoyed by large checks from major corporations. The Geo Group, the Florida-based private prison company, gave $100,000 and Chevron gave $250,000.

Ryan’s pedigree as a fundraiser often goes overlooked given his carefully crafted image as a “policy wonk.”

During the Kansas special election that was held last Tuesday, nearly all of the independent expenditures came from the Ryan-backed NRCC and CLF, which collectively spent $180,000 to boost Ron Estes, the GOP candidate. The Democratic candidate, James Thompson, a local civil rights attorney, did not receive any significant financial support from his party. Despite an unprecedented surge in voter support for the Democratic nominee in a traditionally Republican district, Thompson was defeated.

The post Paul Ryan Raised $657,000 While Avoiding His Constituents During Recess appeared first on The Intercept.

New York Times Promises Truth and Diversity, Then Hires Climate-Denying Anti-Arab White Guy

14 April 2017 - 4:18pm

Following Donald Trump’s election, The New York Times promised its readers that it would aggressively pursue truth and challenge power in the days and months ahead. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and executive editor Dean Baquet wrote an open letter to readers on November 13, vowing to “hold power to account, impartially and unflinchingly.”

And readers responded in droves. During the last three months of 2016, the Times added 276,000 digital subscribers — readers who were presumably drawn to the promise of aggressive and adversarial writing that was firmly based in reality.

“The truth is more important now than ever,” the Times proclaimed in an ad during the Oscars in February.

The Times has also strongly committed itself to diversity in its hiring. Times CEO Mark Thompson told hiring managers last year that supervisors who failed to recruit minority candidates would be encouraged to leave or fired.

“Only by having a staff as wide as it is deep, broad in perspective, backgrounds and experiences are we able to capture the multitude of voices of America and the world, with true fidelity,” the company proclaims in its mission statement.

But the Times’s editorial page — which is distinct from the newsroom — apparently has other priorities.

In the paper’s biggest marquee hire since the election, the Times has poached the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens as a regular columnist.

In a statement announcing the hire, Editorial Page Editor James Bennet  explained the move in glowing terms.

“He’s a beautiful writer who ranges across politics, international affairs, culture and business, and, for The Times, he will bring a new perspective to bear on the news,” Bennet wrote. He summarized Stephens as a “generous and thoughtful colleague with a deep sense of moral purpose and adventure about our work.”

But Stephens’s voice is hardly new to the media landscape — it echoes the powerful and attacks the powerless, specifically marginalized groups like Arabs and Muslims who have little representation in U.S. media.

And although Stephens has been hailed as an anti-Trump conservative, he and Trump share a very significant belief that defies reality: They both deny the existence of climate change. Stephens used his Wall Street Journal columns to compare climate science to a religion, saying that environmental groups “have been on the receiving end of climate change-related funding, so all of them must believe in the reality (and catastrophic imminence) of global warming just as a priest must believe in the existence of God.”

In April of 2010, he proclaimed that “global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time. Which means that pretty soon we’re going to need another apocalyptic scare to take its place.”

He then mockingly proposed “a readers’ contest to invent the next panic. It must involve something ubiquitous, invisible to the naked eye, and preferably mass-produced. And the solution must require taxes, regulation, and other changes to civilization as we know it.”

And as a white male member of the media elite, he hardly brings diversity to the stable of editorial page columnists. Indeed, several regulars already hold right-wing or center-right views. And although the editorial board consistently espouses liberal positions in the editorial column, the op-ed page by and large has to outsource to publish genuinely left perspectives on most major issues.

The Times editorial page currently does not have a female minority columnist and, despite frequently writing about conflicts in the Middle East, employs no regular Arab American or Muslim American writers.

On the contrary, at a time when Arab American and Muslim American civic society faces unprecedented demonization from a presidential administration, the Times has chosen to hire someone who takes part in it regularly.

For instance, Stephens used Egyptian judo player Islam El Shehaby’s politically-based refusal to shake hands with his Israeli opponent at the Rio Olympics last year as an excuse to launch into a long racist tirade against the state of the Arab world.

“If you want the short answer for why the Arab world is sliding into the abyss, look no further than this little incident,” Stephens wrote. “It did itself in chiefly through its long-abiding and all-consuming hatred of Israel, and of Jews.”

He claimed that “the Arab world’s problems are a problem of the Arab mind, and the name for that problem is anti-Semitism.”

This “Arab mind,” in Stephens’s telling, has few achievements. “Today there is no great university in the Arab world, no serious indigenous scientific base, a stunted literary culture,” he explained — all of which would continue until the Shehabys of the world would embrace their Israeli judo counterparts.

Responding to a wave of violence between Palestinians and Israelis in 2014, Stephens shrugged off the international consensus that occupation and statelessness is the root of the conflict, instead blaming it on “Palestinian blood fetish.” To him, they had “been seized by their present blood lust — a communal psychosis in which plunging knives into the necks of Jewish women, children, soldiers and civilians is seen as a religious and patriotic duty, a moral fulfillment. Despair at the state of the peace process, or the economy? Please. It’s time to stop furnishing Palestinians with the excuses they barely bother making for themselves.”

In January 2017, Stephens wrote that “maybe” Palestinians are entitled to a state, but then ticked off a long list of other peoples, including “Native Hawaiians,” who also lack a state, so “what gives Palestinians the preferential claim?” At least they aren’t being ruled by the Chinese, he argued: “Have they experienced greater violations to their culture than Tibetans? No: Beijing has conducted a systematic policy of repression for 67 years, whereas Palestinians are nothing if not vocal in mosques, universities and the media.”

Stephens also frequently appears in the media arguing for military attacks and regime change in the Middle East.

He has directly helped activists lobby to scuttle diplomacy. In 2015, as Congress was debating the nuclear deal with Iran, he held an off-the-record call with the Christian Zionist group Christians United For Israel, where he advised them on how to lobby members of Congress.

He is, however,an outspoken supporter of one prominent Muslim: Egypt’s autocratic leader Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, who he interviewed in 2015 in an article titled “Islam’s improbable reformer.”

Many Times readers took to social media to decry Stephens’s hiring:

Bret Stephens is a climate change denier and calls concern about climate change 'Stalinism' so glad my NYT sub is now paying his salary LOL https://t.co/kAVrSiOxat

— ????? (@RokhlK) April 13, 2017

 

@ParkerMolloy @nytimes I've enjoyed NYT for years. Sad to have to cancel. Hiring an anti science climate denier Bret Stephens is my red line. Disgusted.

— huprice (@huprice) April 13, 2017

Hey @nytimes, subscription cancelled. No money to support global warming denial. What a tone deaf decision to hire Bret Stephens.

— Mark Hoofnagle (@MarkHoofnagle) April 14, 2017

 

Top photo: Pedestrians walk by the outside The New York Times building on June 30, 2016 in New York City.

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Leaked NSA Malware Threatens Windows Users Around the World

14 April 2017 - 3:35pm

The ShadowBrokers, an entity previously confirmed by The Intercept to have leaked authentic malware used by the NSA to attack computers around the world, today released another cache of what appears to be extremely potent (and previously unknown) software capable of breaking into systems running Windows. The software could give nearly anyone with sufficient technical knowledge the ability to wreak havoc on millions of Microsoft users.

The leak includes a litany of typically codenamed software “implants” with names like ODDJOB, ZIPPYBEER, and ESTEEMAUDIT, capable of breaking into — and in some cases seizing control of — computers running version of the Windows operating system earlier than the most recent Windows 10. The vulnerable Windows versions ran more than 65 percent of desktop computers surfing the web last month, according to estimates from the tracking firm Net Market Share.

The crown jewel of the implant collection appears to be a program named FUZZBUNCH, which essentially automates the deployment of NSA malware, and would allow a member of agency’s Tailored Access Operations group to more easily infect a target from their desk.

via Matthew Hickey

According to security researcher and hacker Matthew Hickey, co-founder of Hacker House, the significance of what’s now publicly available, including “zero day” attacks on previously undisclosed vulnerabilities, cannot be overstated: “I don’t think I have ever seen so much exploits and 0day [exploits] released at one time in my entire life,” he told The Intercept via Twitter DM, “and I have been involved in computer hacking and security for 20 years.” Affected computers will remain vulnerable until Microsoft releases patches for the zero-day vulnerabilities and, more crucially, until their owners then apply those patches.

“This is as big as it gets,” Hickey said. “Nation-state attack tools are now in the hands of anyone who cares to download them…it’s literally a cyberweapon for hacking into computers…people will be using these attacks for years to come.”

Hickey provided The Intercept with a video of FUZZBUNCH being used to compromise a virtual computer running Windows Server 2008–an industry survey from 2016 cited this operating system as the most widely used of its kind.

Susan Hennessey, an editor at Lawfare and former NSA attorney, wrote on Twitter that the leak will cause “immense harm to both U.S. intel interests and public security simultaneously.”

A Microsoft spokesperson told The Intercept “We are reviewing the report and will take the necessary actions to protect our customers.” We asked Microsoft if the NSA at any point offered to provide information that would help protect Windows users from these attacks, given that the leak has been threatened since August 2016, to which they replied “our focus at this time is reviewing the current report.” Asked again, the spokesperson replied that Microsoft has “nothing further to share.”

Top photo: People sit in front of devices running the Microsoft Windows 8 operating system at a press conference launch of the system in New York City, on Oct. 25, 2012.

The post Leaked NSA Malware Threatens Windows Users Around the World appeared first on The Intercept.

As Arkansas Prepares for Seven Back-to-Back Executions, A Victim Requests Clemency

14 April 2017 - 11:33am

On a Monday morning in late March, Dina Windle sat quietly inside the Varner Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction, some 80 miles southeast of Little Rock. A 51-year old Latina woman, Windle is just under five feet tall with a slight frame and cropped black hair. She wore a flowered skirt and a navy blue blazer, a small cross pendant hanging from her neck. On the wall behind her, next to the vending machines, a sign read “Break the Silence! Sexual assault/abuse is not part of an offender’s sentence.”

A few feet from where Windle sat, a row of visitation booths stretched down toward the wall, with iron bars visible behind the plexiglass. This was where people on death row had their non-contact visits with family and loved ones. But that day, dozens of chairs had been brought in and grouped into three separate sections throughout the room. Windle’s side was largely empty apart from a pair of lawyers and a handful of reporters. Across the room was a much larger group of people who appeared to be government officials. They were well-dressed, chatting pleasantly. And in the middle, at a long table along the back wall, a row of seven people sat with paper name plates in front of them — the members of the Arkansas Board of Parole.

On its website, the parole board defines its mission as “evidenced-based decision-making,” providing opportunities for “positive behavioral change” while emphasizing public safety and the “empowerment of victims.” That morning, members were considering the clemency appeal of Marcel Williams, scheduled to die on April 24. Williams was one of eight men whose execution dates had been simultaneously set by Governor Asa Hutchison earlier this year. The rush to execute was due to a practical dilemma: The state’s batch of midazolam, the first of Arkansas’ three-drug cocktail for carrying out executions, was set to expire at the end of the month. After nearly 12 years without carrying out the death penalty — and despite growing objections to the recklessness of the plan — the lethal injections were set to occur in twos, beginning on April 17 and ending on April 27.

Facing the board, public defender Jason Kearney sat at a small table covered in a white tablecloth. He wore a blazer and tie. The murmur of small talk ended when his client, 46-year-old Williams, emerged from the holding cell behind him, flanked by guards and wearing handcuffs. A large black man, Williams was dressed in the prison’s standard inmate attire: all white, down to his sneakers.

Windle had not seen Williams for more than 20 years. In November 1994, when she was a law student in Little Rock, Williams abducted and raped her, leaving her tied up in the closet of an abandoned house. Miraculously, Windle escaped. She was not alone; two other women were attacked by Williams around the same time. A 22-year-old mother of two named Stacy Ericsson was especially unfortunate. Mere days after his assault on Windle, Williams held her at gunpoint at a gas station, taking her to more than a dozen ATMs to withdraw money. He then raped and killed her, burying her in a shallow grave. Williams was arrested eight days later. In 1997, he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson talks with a reporter at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock, on April 13, 2017.

Photo: Kelly P. Kissel/AP

Windle left Little Rock after graduating law school, carrying trauma that would take years to heal. But she did not shy away from the justice system, going to work at a public defender’s office in New Jersey. In 2015, Windle received an automated message through the VINE Program, a system used by the state of Arkansas to update survivors of crime on post-conviction developments in criminal cases. The governor of Arkansas had set an execution date for the murder of Stacy Errickson; Windle was entitled to attend the victim impact hearing, to counter his application for clemency. The message was upsetting. Windle had never supported the death penalty, and she resented that the system assumed she did just because she was categorized as a victim. She contacted her old lawyer friends in Little Rock, who put her in touch with the federal public defender. In March, after the governor imposed a new execution date for Williams, she flew back to Arkansas to ask the board to spare his life.

As a criminal investigator, “I go in and out of state prisons all the time,” Windle later told me over the phone. “I am unintimidated.” But as she drove down to the Varner Unit that morning, the bad memories came flooding back. She was startled at her treatment by the correction officers as she entered the prison. “They told me my skirt was too short,” she said, although it reached her knees. When she did not initially understand the problem, a woman guard “came and pulled down my skirt,” yanking the waistband halfway down her rear. Windle didn’t readjust it, leaving her long blazer to cover her backside, and proceeded gingerly through the outdoor gates. Like anyone who enters prisons regularly, she knows how arbitrarily visits can be denied. “Going in they just assume you’re a bad person. Because you’re there to visit someone that’s incarcerated.”

Shortly after 9 a.m, Kearney addressed the board. He began with an objection for the record: because of the state’s expedited execution schedule, his office had to rush to prepare Williams’ clemency petition, he said. “We believe that deprived him of his due process.” With more time, Kearney could have made a far more substantial case, in keeping with his client’s constitutional rights and his obligation as a defense attorney. Nevertheless, there was still plenty to present. Williams did not profess his innocence, Kearney said. He had admitted his guilt from the start, and had shown remorse for his actions. At the heart of his appeal for clemency was overwhelming mitigating evidence that had never been presented to his sentencing jury, due to the failure of his defense attorneys. From the moment he was born, Kearney explained, Williams had suffered unthinkable abuse and neglect, which his jurors “knew absolutely nothing about.” “We’re gonna ask you to do what his jury could not do,” Kearney said, to recommend the governor commute Williams’ sentenced to life without parole, instead of sending him to die.

No one from Williams’s family attended the hearing. The first witness was Suzanne Ritchie, Williams’ 8th grade English teacher. An older white woman in a polka dot blouse, she described how he was frequently absent from school, how he never seemed to have lunch with him, how he wore the same dirty T-shirt day after day. On a snowy winter day, she remembers seeing him without a jacket. “As teachers, we notice things,” Richie said. She suspected Williams came from a troubled home, and tried to reach his parents to no avail. “I called them many, many, many, many times.”

An undated childhood photo of Marcel Williams that was included in Marcel Williams’ clemency application.

Photo: Marcel Williams Clemency Application

Kearney then played a video that confirmed Ritchie’s worst fears. In interview clips, two of Williams’s cousins described Williams’s childhood home in a violent part of North Arkansas. “The first thing you would notice would be the odor,” Shannon Carthron said. There was a stench of sewage and spoiled food. “There were roaches. Most of the time they didn’t have electricity.” Williams never knew his father; his mother was often absent. When she was at home, she was brutally abusive. One time, Williams’s mother made him strip naked and beat him with an extension cord. His cousins saw him burst through the door screaming; he ran into the backyard, naked and bleeding. “I was scared,” Carthron said. “I thought that he was gonna die.” In another incident described in Williams’s clemency petition, his mother burned him with a pot of boiling water. “The scars are still visible on Mr. Williams’ body,” according to Dr. David Lisak, a clinical psychologist and expert on childhood trauma. Lisak reviewed Williams’s history and interviewed Williams’s mother. In his subsequent statement, he said she began pimping her son out to older women in exchange for food stamps and other necessities, which he described as a form of incest. By the time Williams was 12, she did so “routinely.” He was also sexually abused by men who his mother brought home.

By the time the video ended, Williams was weeping. Windle was horrified. She had never heard any of this history — and yet it was not entirely surprising. The violent crimes she encountered in her work often involved trauma and neglect, along with drugs and alcohol. It was no excuse for what he did, but it did help explain how he came to hurt others. Regardless, it did not change what she planned to say. When she was called up to face the board, she turned toward him. “I forgive you, Mr. Williams.”

Windle urged the board to spare his life. She had let go of her own impulse for vengeance years before, she said. If she hadn’t, the anger would have destroyed her. “It makes no sense to me to kill another human being,” she said. In the video, a prison chaplain had said that Williams had become religious on death row, which resonated with Windle as a Christian. If the state chose to spare his life, perhaps he could be a good influence for others behind bars, she said. “If he could reach one person, isn’t that enough?”

When it was his turn to address the board, Williams struggled, clutching tissues with his cuffed hands. When he spoke, his voice was deep and somber. “Being in this situation has forced me to look at myself,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t like the person you see looking back at you. So, you do what you can to change that, and I’ve tried.”

“To those I hurt, I’m sorry is not enough,” he said. “I wish I could take it back, but I can’t.” He turned to Windle and apologized.

This March 25, 2017, photo shows a sign for the Department of Correction’s Cummins Unit prison in Varner, Ark.

Photo: Kelly P. Kissel/AP

Later that day, at 1 p.m., 70-year-old Carolyn Moore sat in a row of chairs at the parole board’s headquarters in downtown Little Rock. A box of tissues was under her seat. Light poured through large windows where a line of reporters stood along the wall. The board members had reconvened for the victim impact hearing, where Moore would be called to speak, again, about why Williams should finally die for killing her daughter, Stacy, in 1994.

Prosecutors addressed the board first. Assistant Attorney General Tammy Harrelson recalled how she had been horrified by the crime as a young prosecutor, retelling the story of Stacys’s murder: how surveillance cameras had captured Williams dragging her to various ATMs. “You can see the terror on her face,” Harrelson said. How Williams had called her a “bitch.” How he had misled police by inventing an elaborate lie about her whereabouts, cruelly fueling hope that Stacy might still be alive. How she had been discovered in a shallow grave just over a week later, a scene captured in a soundless video.

Moore listened quietly. When she rose to speak, she seemed weary. It was traumatic enough to lose Stacy in such a grisly manner almost 25 years ago. Later, her house had caught fire, destroying all remaining photographs of her daughter. “Most of you guys I saw in 2011,” she said to the board, referring to the last time Williams asked for clemency. Once more, Moore described her daughter as good and hardworking. The fact that Williams never knew his father was irrelevant, she said. “Stacy wasn’t raised by a daddy,” she said, and neither was her twin brother. After Moore, Trista Wussick got to up address the board. Now in her late 30s, she was 12 years old when Stacy died, and was the last person to see her alive. Wussick had been babysitting Stacy’s two children when the crime occurred. She cried as she read from a prepared statement. “Marcel Williams is my boogieman,” she said. “He doesn’t deserve any mercy.”

The Williams petition was “meritless,” the state told the board. He had a fair trial and was represented by competent counsel. Yet at least one court has disagreed with this assessment. In 2006, appellate lawyers for Williams sought a writ of habeas corpus from U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes, who held an evidentiary hearing, where lawyers presented evidence of Williams’s harrowing childhood. Holmes overturned his death sentence, based on evidence that the sentencing hearing had been unfair, and calling it “reasonably probable” a jury would have spared his life had it heard this history.

But “citing a legal technicality,” in the words of Williams’ clemency petition, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Holmes’s decision. The technicality in question was partly rooted in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, which had severely curtailed the habeas rights of people in prison. Since its passage, federal courts have been forced to show more deference to outcomes in state courts. Under AEDPA, the Eighth Circuit concluded that Holmes had been wrong to grant the evidentiary hearing in the Williams case, reinstating the death sentence. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

In a pointed dissent to the denial of certiorari — and joined by Ruth Bader Ginsberg — Justice Sonia Sotomayor cited the evidence presented before Judge Holmes. “The testimony at the hearing established that Williams had been ‘subject to every category of traumatic experience that is generally used to describe childhood trauma,’” Solomayor wrote. This included “sexual abuse by multiple perpetrators; physical and psychological abuse by his mother and stepfather; gross medical, nutritional, and educational neglect; exposure to violence in the childhood home and neighborhood; and a violent gang-rape while in prison as an adolescent.” More to the point, she strongly criticized the actions by the state of Arkansas , which had “affirmatively consented” to the evidentiary hearing ordered by Judge Holmes, only objecting after he ruled in Williams’s favor. “In my opinion,” Sotomayor wrote, “the interests of justice are poorly served by a rule that allows a state to object to an evidentiary hearing only after the hearing has been completed and the state has lost.”

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in Newark, Del., on Sept. 19, 2013.

Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

On the evening after the clemency proceedings, defense attorney Bill James sat in his office, in an elegant house just one block from the governor’s mansion. Framed certificates and bar association awards adorn the lobby of his private practice; he has been consistently ranked as one of the top lawyers in Arkansas. But in 1997, James was just a couple years out of law school when he went to work on the Williams case. He wanted to do death penalty defense work, he said, and he went to lunch with one of the court-appointed attorneys to see if he could learn alongside him.

“It was the first capital murder case I’d ever been involved in,” James said. It was a disaster. James delivered the opening statement, conceding Williams’ guilt from the start. Then, in the penalty phase, rather than call any of the people who could describe their client’s abusive upbringing, their sole witness was a man who had never met Williams, and who was serving a life sentence in an Arkansas prison after his death sentence was commuted. The witnesses testified that the conditions had been better on death row, casting a life sentence as the harshest alternative. “We actually put somebody on the stand to say life is worse than death,” James said, with an air of disbelief.

The failure to present mitigation was their biggest mistake, James said. “I can’t say we even looked for it,” he said. “We had no idea what that meant.” Although the legal rationale for mitigating evidence in modern capital cases was established by the Supreme Court the late 1970s, it did not define what, exactly, qualified. It took decades for lawyers to understand and apply the concept. In the 1990s, James said, Arkansas did not have the same training opportunities they do today; the older attorneys who served as his mentors had not yet learned how to use it. They thought mitigation evidence was proof a defendant was “a Boy Scout.” James had once unsuccessfully explained this at a state hearing to consider evidence of ineffective assistance of counsel. “I mean, we completely and absolutely dropped the ball,” he testified. “I think there was huge amount of mitigation that could have been brought forward.”

Williams’ clemency petition is filled with testimony from people who say they would have taken the stand if they had been asked, not just to describe his frightening childhood, but to describe the good in him. His younger sister, Peggy O’Neal, described how he had tried to provide necessities that their mother did not. Once, he took the bus to the mall to steal a pair of shoes for her to wear. Other times, he tried to intervene when in fights between his mother and stepfather.

Still, James concedes that the jury might have sentenced Williams to death regardless. The facts of the case were objectively heinous — and nothing could erase the fact that Williams had violently victimized multiple women over the course of a few days. When they brought out those other victims during the penalty phase, James said, “there were a couple of [jurors] whose eyes got real big.”

Still, the case has haunted him. In his own appearance in the clemency video, James breaks down when asked what he would say to Marcel Williams if he could see him now. After a long pause, he says, “I’m sorry we didn’t do the things that we needed to do to save you.”

An Arkansas Department of Correction officer patrols a cell block at the agency’s Cummins Unit near Varner, Ark., on Aug. 10, 2009.

Photo: Danny Johnston/AP

On March 29, the parole board rejected Williams’s clemency petition. No one was particularly surprised. Among those I met in Little Rock, several people had speculated that the board was likely to reserve its show of mercy for a different man facing execution, Jason McGehee. A white man convicted of murdering a 15-year-old boy alongside two other defendants who were teenagers at the time, there were serious concerns about McGehee’s culpability. He was only 20 years old, and was not the one who ultimately strangled their victim to death. Like several of the men facing execution, there were serious concerns about his mental health.

But perhaps most important, McGehee had powerful people in his corner. His own trial judge said in his clemency petition that his sentence had been excessive, telling the parole board “I have never written a letter like this” and urging them to “take it seriously.” Ray Hobbs, the former head of the Arkansas Department of Corrections, called McGehee’s record on death row “exemplary,” the best he had seen in his 40-year career. On April 5, by a vote of 6 to 1, the board recommended clemency. A few days later, a court granted McGehee a stay of execution.

If the odds were stacked against Williams, at least one former board member had known him as something other than a sexual predator. Longtime board chairman Leroy Brownlee, who retired last year, had known Williams when he was a counselor at the Pine Bluff Training School, a juvenile reform facility. In the 1980s, he met Williams, who was 12 or 13 at the time. As Brownlee recalled in a 2006 statement, it became clear he was not used to receiving attention; he thrived in the structured environment, and was even reluctant to leave. “The downfall for Marcel was the environment that he was released to go back to,” Brownlee wrote. According to his clemency petition, Williams “immediately committed a robbery,” intending to be sent back to the training school. But at 17, he was sent to an adult prison, where he was gang raped by older men. “As Marcel’s prison record show, he began committing infractions so he could be placed in solitary confinement, as a way of protecting himself.”

With Williams set to die on April 24, his fate is ultimately in the hands of Governor Hutchison. In Little Rock, vigils have continued and a Good Friday rally organized by the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Back in New Jersey, Windle has prayed and prayed for something to keep the executions from moving forward. When she got the news about the parole board’s decision in a text message, she was not surprised. She had left the prison that day feeling deeply discouraged. She was disturbed by the social atmosphere among the board members and government officials, she said, noting wryly that they were dressed to the nines, some wearing skirts shorter than hers. After she spoke, only two members of the board had shaken her hand.

“I thought, wow. This is futile,” she said. The process left little room for victims who support clemency, she said. It is supposed to be an opportunity to talk about the condemned, she said, not to rehash the horrific, familiar details of the crime, which is the one thing that will never change. “That’s done. We’re here to talk about this man and how he has changed. But that’s not what the clemency system is, really.”

“Don’t call it clemency,” she added. “Call it a second trial. Because that’s what it is.”

The post As Arkansas Prepares for Seven Back-to-Back Executions, A Victim Requests Clemency appeared first on The Intercept.

Students at Pakistani University Lynch Classmate Falsely Accused of Blasphemy

14 April 2017 - 10:50am

The brutal lynching of a journalism student by classmates at a Pakistani university on Thursday, shortly after he was accused of blasphemy by administrators, appalled civil society activists, and provided new evidence of the corrosive effects of the nation’s strict blasphemy laws.

Mashal, a bright, young man was killed by his fellow students in #Mardan #Pakistan for alleged #blasphemy. Our education system.. pic.twitter.com/uxziRaPN0L

— Raza Ahmad Rumi (@Razarumi) April 13, 2017

Those who lynched should be hung and made examples off so no one ever dares to again- #mardan

— Sharmeen Obaid (@sharmeenochinoy) April 14, 2017

The murdered student, Mashal Khan, 23, was reportedly shot and beaten to death by a mob numbering in the hundreds, enraged by an apparently false rumor that he had been “promoting the Ahmadi faith on Facebook,” a witness to the killing told Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper. The Ahmadis are a minority sect rooted in Islam declared non-Muslims under the Pakistani Constitution and considered heretics by fundamentalists. It is unclear how Khan, a professed Sufi Muslim who recently shared images of Sufi dervishes on Facebook, was mistaken for a member of the persecuted Ahmadi sect.

Video of the mob that killed Khan chanting an anti-Ahmadi slogan on campus was obtained by Dawn.

The assistant registrar of the university posted an official notice online earlier in the day saying that Khan, a vocal critic of the school’s administration, had been suspended along with two other students pending an investigation into alleged “blasphemous activities.” As one observer noted, given the spate of killings of anyone accused of blasphemy in recent years, that notice was essentially “a death warrant.”

AWKUM admin alleges a vocal critic with "blasphemous activities" in a circular. This is a death warrant, & the undersigned knew it. #Mashal pic.twitter.com/MqhDniY3y9

— Imran Khan (@iopyne) April 14, 2017

One of Khan’s teachers told Reuters that he was “brilliant and inquisitive — always complaining about the political system of the country — but I never heard him saying anything controversial against the religion.”

A core group of about 10 students, shouting religious slogans, stripped Khan in the presence of police officers and continued to beat him with planks until his skull was crushed, a deeply distressing video posted on Facebook showed.

The lynching, and the frenzied pummeling of the dead man’s body after it, was recorded in graphic detail by multiple witnesses who shared brutal images of the mob violence on social networks.

Beena Sarwar, a Pakistani journalist, reported that rumors had started circulating on Thursday morning “about Mashal’s alleged ‘gustakhi’ – literally disrespect, but in the context of Pakistan, blasphemy.”

Concerned, some of his teachers had driven him away from campus to another location, but Mashal returned to his hostel, saying, “I have done nothing wrong, why should I hide?”

When the mob came for him, he stood no chance. The police too said they were helpless. Hopelessly outnumbered and inadequately trained, the best they could do for Mashal was to prevent the mob from burning his battered body, which they took away even as dozens of charged young men demanded it back.

This violence – for which there is no justification morally, legally or religiously – falls into a familiar pattern. It starts with rumours that the person has committed some kind of blasphemy. A mob is gathered and incited to attack the accused. While there have been several such instances in the past, this is the first time that students at a university campus have succumbed to the ‘poison in the body politic‘ that Pakistan has been witnessing for some time.

Khan, who described himself on Facebook as a humanist, was an award-winning student who had completed a degree in engineering in Russia before returning home to enroll in a master’s program in communications at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, not far from Peshawar, the regional capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. He did so, according to a family friend writing on Facebook, because “he thought that he could be of use” through public service. “This is what words and knowledge do to you,” the family friend added, “it makes you an idealist, making you throw away your immediate self-service and forcing you to strive for a progressive society.”

The dead man’s recent posts on social networks offered evidence of a thoughtful, progressive disposition.

The more I Know the people, The more I love my Dog.

— Mashal Khan (@mashalkhan20) March 27, 2017

Khan was buried on Friday, as the police announced that eight suspects in his murder had been arrested, and at least 12 more were wanted.

Few courageous men saying goodbye to #Mashaalkhan a student,poet,writer & progressive mind of 21st century #Mardan pic.twitter.com/AjXfkuuybp

— Maria Iqbal Tarana (@mariaItarana) April 14, 2017

RIP! #Mashal pic.twitter.com/o5j3GHYxNI

— Nazia Memon (@NaziaMemon01) April 14, 2017

In dignified remarks at the funeral, Khan’s father, Mohammad Iqbal, told reporters that his son was a journalism student and only questioned the system because he wanted a more just society. “We are peaceful people and believe in peace,” he said. “If there was any honor in fighting, a dog should lead us, because who fights better than a dog,” he added.

Mashal's father; even if I don't get justice it's fine, his death will raise awareness. Because you can't put chains on the rays of sunlight

— Imran Khan (@iopyne) April 14, 2017

The victim was mourned online by friends, including one who witnessed his murder, and by Pakistanis distressed at the spread of religious fundamentalism in their society.

13th April 2017 #BlackDay ill mindset killed 1 more brilliant humanbeing
#Mardan #MashalKhan #Justice4Mashal pic.twitter.com/UUbE0d9XSF

— Maria Iqbal Tarana (@mariaItarana) April 14, 2017

Going thru Mashal Khan's posts on FB and Twitter, he comes across as a very compassionate, intelligent person. A humanist killed by animals. pic.twitter.com/ToFPsNRGV3

— Hasan Zaidi (@hyzaidi) April 13, 2017

Still shaken by Mardan. This is what happens when a govt tells its people it's justified to be uncontrollably enraged by alleged blasphemy.

— Asad Hashim (@AsadHashim) April 14, 2017

Heinous act of violence. No State action/words on underlying issues. Candlelight vigils. Press club protests. Wash, rinse, repeat, die.

— Asad Hashim (@AsadHashim) April 14, 2017

In the past students would hold the Pak state to account. After yrs of brainwashing they now help it kill dissenters for 'blasphemy' #Mardan

— Ammar Rashid (@AmmarRashidT) April 13, 2017

While earlier radicalization was focused on the few, the radicalization around blasphemy is focused on many. It is now many vs a few.

— Saleem (@memzarma) April 14, 2017

Protesters, who put part of the blame on elected officials for currying favor with extremists by calling for strict enforcement of the nation’s blasphemy law, which makes the crime a capital offense, rallied in Peshawar and Lahore.

Protest demanding justice for Mashal Khan at #Peshawar Press Club. #Mardan pic.twitter.com/WBkSrgWlXN

— Manzoor Ali (@Manzoor) April 14, 2017

Protest at press club Lahore happening now to condemn #MashalKhan's killing. pic.twitter.com/73yF18eWVJ

— Nabiha Meher Shaikh (@NabihaMeher) April 14, 2017

Meanwhile, at the university where Khan was killed, a poster celebrated Mumtaz Qadri, a police officer who became a hero to fundamentalists in 2011 for killing Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province, because of the politician’s outspoken defense of a Christian woman convicted of violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

A poster at the entrance of Abdul Wali Khan University #Mardan. pic.twitter.com/3FEHGIdJKY

— Manzoor Ali (@Manzoor) April 13, 2017

Top Photo: Police officers stood guard outside a dormitory at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, where a lynch mob murdered a classmate known for his progressive views on Thursday.

The post Students at Pakistani University Lynch Classmate Falsely Accused of Blasphemy appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump’s CIA Director Pompeo, Targeting WikiLeaks, Explicitly Threatens Speech and Press Freedoms

14 April 2017 - 9:43am

In February, after Donald Trump tweeted that the U.S. media were the “enemy of the people,” the targets of his insult exploded with indignation, devoting wall-to-wall media coverage to what they depicted as a grave assault on press freedoms more befitting of a tyranny. By stark and disturbing contrast, the media reaction yesterday was far more muted, even welcoming, when Trump’s CIA Director, Michael Pompeo, actually and explicitly vowed to target freedoms of speech and press in a blistering, threatening speech he delivered to the D.C. think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.

What made Pompeo’s overt threats of repression so palatable to many was that they were not directed at CNN, the New York Times or other beloved-in-D.C. outlets, but rather at WikiLeaks, more marginalized publishers of information, and various leakers and whistleblowers, including Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.

Trump’s CIA Director stood up in public and explicitly threatened to target free speech rights and press freedoms, and it was almost impossible to find even a single U.S. mainstream journalist expressing objections or alarm, because the targets Pompeo chose in this instance are ones they dislike – much the way that many are willing to overlook or even sanction free speech repression if the targeted ideas or speakers are sufficiently unpopular.

Decreeing (with no evidence) that WikiLeaks is “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”  a belief that has become gospel in establishment Democratic Party circles – Pompeo proclaimed that “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” He also argued that while WikiLeaks “pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice,” but: “they may have believed that, but they are wrong.”

He then issued this remarkable threat: “To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.” At no point did Pompeo specify what steps the CIA intended to take to ensure that the “space” to publish secrets “ends now.”

 

Before delving into the chilling implications of the CIA Director’s threats, let’s take note of an incredibly revealing irony in what he said. This episode is worth examining because it perfectly illustrates the core fraud of U.S. propaganda.

In vilifying WikiLeaks, Pompeo pronounced himself “quite confident that had Assange been around in the 1930s and 40s and 50s, he would have found himself on the wrong side of history.” His rationale: “Assange and his ilk make common cause with dictators today.”

But the Mike Pompeo who accused Assange of “making common cause with dictators” is the very same Mike Pompeo who – just eight weeks ago – placed one of the CIA’s most cherished awards in the hands of one of the world’s most savage tyrants, who also happens to be one of the U.S. Government’s closest allies. Pompeo traveled to Riyadh and literally embraced and honored the Saudi royal next-in-line to the throne.

This nauseating event – widely covered by the international press yet almost entirely ignored by the U.S. media – was celebrated by the Saudi-owned outlet Al Arabiya: “The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, received a medal on Friday from the CIA . . . . The medal, named after George Tenet, was handed to him by CIA Director Micheal Pompeo after the Crown Prince received him in Riyadh on Friday in the presence of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.”

The description of this Pompeo/Saudi award ceremony was first reported by the official Saudi Press Agency, which published the above photographs. It gushed: “In a press statement to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), following the reception, the Crown Prince expressed appreciation of the CIA for bestowing on him such a grace, laying assertion that this medal is a fruit of endeavors and instructions of the leaders of the kingdom, notably the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, bravery of security men and cooperation of all walks of the community to combat terrorism.”

Then there’s the venue Pompeo chose: the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). As the New York Times reported in 2014, the CSIS – like so many of D.C.’s most prestigious think tanks – is itself funded by dictators.

In particular, the United Arab Emirates has become “a major supporter” of the group, having “quietly provided a donation of more than $1 million to help build the center’s gleaming new glass and steel headquarters not far from the White House.” Other CISIS donors include the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Kazakhstan.In return, UAE officials are treated like great statesmen at CSIS.

UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, with CSIS President John J. Harme

Photo: UAE Embassy

This is all independent of the fact that Pompeo’s boss, President Trump, just hosted at the White House and lavished praise on one of the world’s most repressive tyrants (and closest allies of the U.S. Government), Egyptian leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.  And the government of which Pompeo is a part sends arms, money and all kinds of other support to dictators across the planet.

So how could Mike Pompeo – fresh off embracing and honoring Saudi tyrants, standing in a building funded by the world’s most repressive regimes, headed by an agency that for decades supported despots and death squads – possibly maintain a straight face as he accuses otherof “making common cause with dictators”? How does this oozing, glaring, obvious act of projection not immediately trigger fits of scornful laughter from U.S. journalists and policy makers?

Pompeo in Riyadh with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Crown Prince Prince Muhammed bin Nayef

Photo: ABNA

The reason is because this is a central and long-standing propaganda tactic of the U.S. Government, aided by a media that largely ignores it. They predicate their foreign policy and projection of power on hugging, supporting and propping up the world’s worst tyrants, all while heralding themselves as defenders of freedom and democracy and castigating their enemies as the real supporters of dictators.

Try to find mainstream media accounts in the U.S. of Pompeo’s trip to Riyadh and bestowing a top CIA honor on a Saudi despot. It’s easy to find accounts of this episode in international outlets, but very difficult to find ones from CNN or the Washington Post. Or try to find instances where mainstream media figures point out what should be the unbearable irony of listening to the same U.S. Government officials accuse others of supporting dictators while nobody does more to prop up tyrants than themselves.

This is the dictatorship-embracing reality of the U.S. Government that remains largely hidden from its population. That’s why Donald Trump’s CIA Director – of all people – can stand in a dictator-funded think tank in the middle of Washington, having just recovered from his jet lag in flying to pay homage to Saudi tyrants, and vilify WikiLeaks and “its ilk” of “making common cause with dictators” – all without the U.S. media taking note of the intense inanity of it.

 

But it is Pompeo’s threatening language about free speech and press freedoms that ought to be causing serious alarm for journalists, regardless of what one thinks of WikiLeaks. Even more extreme than the explicit attacks in his prepared remarks is what the CIA Director said in the question-and-answer session that followed. He was asked about WikiLeaks by the unidentified questioner, who queried of “the need to limit the lateral movements such as by using our First Amendment rights. How do you plan to accomplish that?” This was Pompeo’s answer:

A little less Constitutional law and a lot more of a philosophical understanding. Julian Assange has no First Amendment privileges. He is not a U.S. citizen. What I was speaking to is an understanding that these are not reporters doing good work to try to keep the American Government on us. These are actively recruiting agents to steal American secrets with the sole intent of destroying the American way of life.

That is fundamentally different than a First Amendment activity as I understand them. This is what I was getting to. We have had administrations before that have been too squeamish about going after these people, after some concept of this right to publish. Nobody has the right to actively engage in the theft of secrets from American without the intent to do harm to it.

Given how menacing and extreme this statement is, it is remarkable – and genuinely frightening – that it received so little notice, let alone condemnation, from the U.S. press corps, most of which covered Pomepo’s speech by trumpeting his claim that WikiLeaks is an agent of an enemy power, or noting the irony that Trump had praised WikiLeaks and Pompeo himself had positively tweeted about their revelations.

Pompeo’s remarks deserve far greater scrutiny than this. To begin with, the notion that WikiLeaks has no free press rights because Assange is a foreigner is both wrong and dangerous. When I worked at the Guardian, my editors were all non-Americans. Would it therefore have been constitutionally permissible for the U.S. Government to shut down that paper and imprison its editors on the ground that they enjoy no constitutional protections? Obviously not. Moreover, what rational person would possibly be comfortable with having this determination – who is and is not a “real journalist” – made by the CIA?

But the most menacing aspect is the attempt to criminalize the publication of classified information. For years, mainstream U.S. media outlets – including ones that despise WikiLeaks – nonetheless understood that prosecuting WikiLeaks for publishing secrets would pose a grave threat to press freedoms for themselves. Even the Washington Post Editorial Page – at the height of the controversy over WikiLeaks’ publishing of diplomatic cables in 2010 – published an editorial headlined “Don’t Charge WikiLeaks”:

Such prosecutions are a bad idea. The government has no business indicting someone who is not a spy and who is not legally bound to keep its secrets. Doing so would criminalize the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations that vet and verify material and take seriously the protection of sources and methods when lives or national security are endangered.

The Obama administration, in 2010, explored theories for how it could prosecute WikiLeaks, and even convened a Grand Jury to investigate. But it ultimately concluded that doing so would be impossible without directly threatening First Amendment press freedoms for everyone. As former Obama DOJ spokesman Matthew Miller yesterday said of Pompeo’s threats:

@ggreenwald it's also hollow. DOJ knows it can't win a case against someone just for publishing secrets.

— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) April 13, 2017

But back in 2010, the Obama DOJ briefly flirted with, but then abandoned, the possibility that it could get around this problem by alleging that WikiLeaks did more than merely publish secrets, that it actively collaborated with its source (Chelsea Manning) on what documents to take. As the New York Times’ Charlie Savage reported then: “a government official familiar with the investigation said that treating WikiLeaks different from newspapers might be facilitated if investigators found any evidence that Mr. Assange aided the leaker, who is believed to be a low-level Army intelligence analyst — for example, by directing him to look for certain things and providing technological assistance.”

Ultimately, though, no evidence was found that this happened. And, beyond that, many in the DOJ concluded – rightly so – that even this “collaboration” theory of criminalization would endanger press freedoms because most investigative journalists collaborate with their sources. As Northwestern Journalism Professor Dan Kennedy explained in the Guardian:

The problem is that there is no meaningful distinction to be made. How did the Guardian, equally, not “collude” with WikiLeaks in obtaining the cables? How did the New York Times not “collude” with the Guardian when the Guardian gave the Times a copy following Assange’s decision to cut the Times out of the latest document dump?

For that matter, I don’t see how any news organisation can be said not to have colluded with a source when it receives leaked documents. Didn’t the Times collude with Daniel Ellsberg when it received the Pentagon Papers from him? Yes, there are differences. Ellsberg had finished making copies long before he began working with the Times, whereas Assange may have goaded Manning. But does that really matter?

The dangers to all media outlets from this theory should have been crystal clear when Joe Lieberman and former Bush Attorney General Mike Mukasey argued that the New York Times itself should be prosecuted for publishing and reporting on WikiLeaks’ secret documents – on the ground that no meaningful distinction could be made between the NYT and WikiLeaks.

But criminalizing WikiLeaks’ publication of documents is clearly part of what Pompeo is now planning. That’s what he meant when he argued that “administrations before have been too squeamish about going after these people, after some concept of this right to publish”: he was criticizing the Obama DOJ for not prosecuting WikiLeaks for publishing secrets. And this is why Pompeo yesterday claimed – with no evidence – that WikiLeaks “directed Chelsea Manning in her theft of specific secret information.” He clearly intends to pursue prosecution of WikiLeaks and Assange for publishing classified information.

It has long been a dream of the far right, as well as hawkish Obama followers, to prosecute journalists and outlets that publish secret information based on this theory. As Newsweek noted in 2011: “Sarah Palin urged that Assange be ‘pursued with the same urgency we pursue Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders,’ and The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol wants the U.S. to ‘use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators.'”

This same “collaboration” theory that Pompeo is advocating is what various Obama loyalists, such as MSNBC’s Joy Reid, spent months hyping in order to justify the prosecution of the journalists (such as myself) who reported the Snowden materials: that we did not merely report them but “collaborated” with our source. Her theory then became the basis for her NBC colleague David Gregory asking if I should be prosecuted on the ground that I “aided and abetted” Snowden.

This – the “collaboration” theory propounded back then by Bill Kristol and Joe Lieberman and Joy Reid, and now by Mike Pompeo – is the mentality of people who do not understand, who do not practice, and who hate journalism, at least when it exposes the bad acts of the leaders they revere. Just as is true of free speech abridgments, if you cheer for it and endorse it because the people targeted in the first instance are ones you dislike, then you are institutionalizing these abridgments and will be unable to resist them when they begin to be applied to people you do like (or to yourselves).

WikiLeaks now has few friends in Washington: the right has long hated it for publishing secrets about Bush-era war crimes, while Democrats now despise them for its perceived role in helping defeat Hillary Clinton by exposing the secret corruption of the DNC. But the level of affection for WikiLeaks should have no bearing on how one responds to these press freedom threats from Donald Trump’s CIA Director. Criminalizing the publication of classified documents is wrong in itself, and has the obvious potential to spread far beyond their initial target.

People who depict themselves as part of an anti-authoritarian #Resistance — let alone those who practice journalism — should be the first ones standing up to object to these creepy threats. The implications of Pompeo’s threats are far more consequential than the question of who one likes or does not like.

Top photo: CIA Director Mike Pompeo speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, on April 13, 2017.

The post Trump’s CIA Director Pompeo, Targeting WikiLeaks, Explicitly Threatens Speech and Press Freedoms appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump’s Deepening Embrace of Bahrain’s Repressive Monarchy May Lead to More Instability

14 April 2017 - 9:21am

On the morning of March 14th, 2011, military forces from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crossed the 16-mile causeway from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain to crush a popular uprising that had arisen there against the Bahraini monarchy. The military intervention was the first salvo in a series of counterrevolutions launched against the Arab Spring uprisings, pitting largely unarmed democracy activists against the repressive force of local security forces and militaries. Six years later, many of the Bahraini civil society leaders whose protests briefly captured the world’s imagination languish in prison, their brief democratic moment snuffed out with the help of regional powers.

Under Barack Obama, the United States stood by quietly while its GCC allies suppressed the Bahraini revolution. Since taking office, the Trump administration has signaled it will strengthen U.S.-Bahrain ties, recently lifting human rights restrictions on arms sales to its government to clear the path for a multi-billion dollar sale of F-16s. Such measures are likely to be taken by the regime as a green-light to escalate repression, while dimming hopes for the release of the estimated 4,000 political prisoners still held in Bahraini prisons, some analysts say.

But while the regime portrays itself to the United States as a bulwark of regional stability, the grim ferocity of its crackdown might make escalated conflict within Bahrain inevitable — and potentially even draw in outside powers like Iran. As the window for political reform closes under the Trump administration, an increasingly violent, unstable future may await Bahrain and the Gulf region as a whole.

“One way that the Trump administration is seeking to differentiate itself from its predecessor is by lowering any public criticism of human rights violations and repression in the Gulf States,” says Cole Bockenfeld, Deputy Director for Policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy. “Obama identified arms sales as a point of U.S. leverage in the Gulf and attempted to use them to exert some controls over human rights violations, whereas Trump is clearly de-linking human rights conditions from future sales.”

The suppression of the majority-Shia opposition by Bahrain’s Sunni-led monarchy has been framed by some analysts as another theater in a regional sectarian proxy war between Iran and the Gulf Arab states. The Bahraini regime has encouraged this framing, portraying itself as the only protector of the minority Sunni population against what it describes as “terrorists” backed by Iran. Its response to the 2011 uprising deliberately inflamed sectarian tensions, targeting ancient Shia mosques for demolition in what many believe was an effort to divide the opposition along religious lines.

Family members mourn during a funeral for slain anti-government protester Ali Ahmed al Muameen in Sitra, Bahrain, on Feb. 18, 2011.

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

“It was both Sunnis and Shias that rose up against the government in Bahrain, but the Shias have been disproportionally targeted for reprisals, with the government demolishing dozens of their mosques in an effort to transform the revolution into a purely sectarian issue,” says Bockenfeld. “The regime in Bahrain has been using the same line describing the opposition as Iranian-backed terrorists for years, but the reality is that it has always been facing a homegrown movement for democracy and human rights.”

Bockenfield also fears that the regime’s repression, coupled with increasing international acceptance of its rule, could lead to an escalation towards violence in the foreseeable future. “As we’ve seen in so many other countries, if all peaceful opposition is crushed, disorganized and frustrated youth will likely start seeing violence as the only option left,” he says.

Over the past several months, a rising number of journalists and activists have been killed in Bahrain, either in encounters with security forces or mysterious shootings that many activists have blamed on the regime. Earlier this year three men were executed by the government after being convicted of killing three Bahraini police officers, in a trial that was widely viewed as unfair. Last week the ruling government approved measures that would allow trying civilians in Bahrain in military courts, a step that will do little to assuage concerns about a justice system widely viewed as brutal and corrupt.

The U.S. government has remained muted about this intensifying repression, while signaling its intention to work more closely with Gulf Arab countries. For their part, Bahraini leaders have expressed enthusiasm for Trump’s presidency, with Foreign Minister Ahmed al-Khalifa telling Reuters in an interview last week that Trump’s election proves that “things are working in America.”

These developments put democratic activists in Bahrain in a desperate position. With the United States and other Western countries heavily arming local security forces and dropping any pretensions of concern about human rights, some feel that they have nowhere to turn. While the United States initially expressed support for the 2011 uprising in Bahrain, there is a growing sense that it has now betrayed the same people whose aspirations it once encouraged.

“Among many Bahrainis, there is a feeling that the West has enabled and supported the government crackdown, and the United States and United Kingdom are now widely equated with the regime itself,” says Maryam al-Khawaja, a prominent Bahraini activist leader, whose father is among the thousands now held in Bahraini prisons. This week her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, began a hunger strike in protest of his detention, one of several that he has undertaken since being sentenced to life in prison in 2011. “After the protests started in 2011, the ruling family reached a point where they could no longer control the situation and had to choose between reform or ruling with an iron fist,” she says. “Because of the support they’ve received, they’ve been able to do the latter.”

Reached for comment, a State Department official said that they can not yet comment on the recent U.S. arms sales to Bahrain, but added that on a broader policy level “this Administration has made it clear that it will strengthen its partners.” The official also told The Intercept that the U.S. continues to urge the Bahraini government to “promote reconciliation [and] advance reform efforts,” adding that the targeting of human rights activists in the country, “run[s] counter to Bahrain’s long term security and our mutual interests in regional stability.”

But six years after the original 2011 uprising, many Bahrainis have become disillusioned with such assurances from the United States. al-Khawaja in particular fears that the desperation felt by many in the country could turn violent, as activists are both terrorized by the government and denied any avenue for political change. “As a non-violent activist I would never condone anyone taking up arms, but at the same time you have to understand that when people are oppressed and offered no hope, they will seek to defend themselves,” she says. “The world reserves the term ‘terrorist’ only for people in the opposition, but it is the government here that has been inflicting more violence than anyone.”

Shortly after a Saudi state visit to the United States this March, the State Department designated a number of Bahraini citizens as terrorists, accusing them of having ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. While there is little evidence of widespread Iranian military support for the opposition — which has mostly employed non-violence and whose religious ties are closer to Iraqi Shia groups — escalating repression could end up create an opening for Iran’s involvement. A report earlier this month in the Washington Post cited U.S. intelligence officials who claimed that Iran had begun to provide sophisticated weapons and training to militants in Bahrain seeking to challenge the government.

“For Iran, Bahrain serves as a way to talk about U.S. double-standards and hypocrisy,” says al-Khawaja. By embracing the regime, the Trump administration “is going to create a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding Iranian influence, because Shia communities there will feel like the only protector they have left is Iran and Hezbollah.”

Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, making it a key staging point for U.S. military operations in the Gulf. The United States thus has a logical interest in preventing violent unrest in Bahrain, above and beyond its stated commitment to promoting democracy in the region.

But rather than security or stability, some argue that the Trump administration’s goals in the Gulf are primarily economic — and that the White House is willing to pursue short-term economic gain even at the expense of American strategic interests. The GCC states are among the biggest consumers of American arms, with Saudi Arabia alone purchasing more than $100 billion worth of arms under the Obama administration, including weaponry that has been used to commit likely war crimes in Yemen. This March, Amnesty International called on Trump to halt pending deals with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, saying that weapons sales to these regimes “could implicate [Trump’s] administration in war crimes or violations of international humanitarian law.”

Husain Abdulla, executive director of the advocacy group Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, is among those who believe that the Trump administration is putting economic considerations above human rights, or even American strategic interests. 

“The Trump’s administration’s position towards the Gulf is primarily that of a savvy businessperson looking to sell its products in a lucrative market. So from this perspective, it doesn’t matter what bad things happen as a result of their relationships in the Gulf,” he says. “If Trump cuts deals that help the American economy in the short-term, he can put himself in a position to be reelected in four years time.”

Abdulla fears that the situation in the Gulf will only deteriorate. Without an avenue for democratic change, popular discontent may lead to a period of violent upheaval that threatens the stability of Bahrain, as well as the broader GCC region. In recent years, violent intolerance of political opposition by rulers in the Middle East has led to major conflicts in Libya and Syria. While Bahrain’s population is smaller and easier to control, Abdulla says the regime cannot count on repression solving its problems indefinitely.

“Regime hardliners in Bahrain are already viewing Trump’s moves as a green-light for repression and acting on that, but their actions are simply heightening the pressures within Bahraini society, not bringing stability,” Abdulla says. “When you crush people who are simply calling for democracy and reform, you put them on the margins and embolden those who may actually be a threat.”

“I fear that without a change of course, we will end up with an explosive situation in Bahrain that does not serve American interests, nor the interests of the people of the GCC,” he says.

Top photo: A Bahraini man walks past portraits of men reportedly detained after attending anti-government protests, displayed behind a mosque in the village of Diraz, west of Manama, on July 10, 2015.

The post Trump’s Deepening Embrace of Bahrain’s Repressive Monarchy May Lead to More Instability appeared first on The Intercept.

O amigo de 35 milhões: como o ex-presidente Lula está envolvido nas delações da Lava Jato

13 April 2017 - 7:34pm

O envolvimento do ex-presidente Lula no esquema de corrupção agora revelado por quase 80 executivos, diretores e funcionários da Odebrecht sempre foi um dos principais pontos de tensão política ao longo da Lava Jato. As delações agora reveladas apontam que Lula não apenas saberia de tudo como, de acordo com depoimentos de diferentes delatores, se beneficiou diretamente dos desvios – e vai muito além de pedalinhos, reforma de sítio ou mesmo a compra de um triplex.

Em meio a tantas informações fragmentadas sobre o caso, The Intercept Brasil faz um panorama sobre quais são, afinal, os pontos que comprometem Lula de maneira relevante – a ponto de, eventualmente, impedir sua candidatura à Presidência no ano que vem, caso seja condenado pelo juiz Sergio Moro e tenha a sentença confirmada em segunda instância. Ao todo, Lula poderá ser investigado em pelo menos 11 inquéritos distintos, segundo indícios apontados pela Procuradoria-Geral da República.

Ele era considerado figura-chave nos planos da Odebrecht. Ele era considerado figura-chave nos planos da Odebrecht para garantir influência e vantagens. De acordo com os depoimentos dos delatores da empresa, parecia estar situado em um patamar acima dos demais políticos na hierarquia da empreiteira.

Enquanto nomes de alto escalão como Aécio Neves e Dilma Rousseff mantinham relações diretas com Marcelo Odebrecht, presidente do grupo a partir de 2008, Lula preferia conversar com Emílio Odebrecht, pai de Marcelo e o mais velho dos membros do clã ainda na ativa.

O relacionamento era aparentemente bastante aberto – Emílio narra, em sua delação, até uma espécie de “sermão” que deu no petista, que reclamava constantemente da relação turbulenta entre Marcelo Odebrecht e Dilma Rousseff. O vínculo, de acordo com o próprio Emílio, começou ainda nos anos 1980, quando Lula iniciava a carreira como sindicalista na Grande São Paulo.

Entretanto, a proximidade com o patriarca, que hoje ocupa o cargo de presidente do Conselho Administrativo da Odebrecht, não impediu que ele e outros executivos da empresa implicassem o petista em seus depoimentos.

Os informantes afirmam que, depois que Lula deixou a Presidência, em 2010, foi aberta uma conta com R$ 35 milhões para seu uso pessoal, contabilizados à parte de eventuais repasses para o governo do PT. Além disso, teriam sido realizados pagamentos para seu filho, Luís Cláudio, que sonhava em criar uma liga profissional de futebol americano no país.

“Foi uma opção da empresa, mas o Lula sempre soube que ele tinha uma ajuda nossa, sempre soube. Eu dava essa ajuda trimestralmente.”

De acordo com Emílio, o ex-presidente também se comprometeu a auxiliar a empresa na tramitação de duas medidas provisórias, em 2009. Lula teria conversado com o ex-ministro Guido Mantega para resolver pendências das MPs 470 e 472, que tratavam do refinanciamento de dívidas empresariais e que beneficiariam companhias do grupo Odebrecht.

Além do benefício ao filho, o irmão do ex-presidente também recebia uma mesada do grupo Odebrecht. De acordo com a delação do executivo do grupo, Alexandrino Alencar, a empreiteira pagava R$ 5 mil por mês para o irmão de Lula, conhecido como Frei Chico. “Foi uma opção da empresa, mas o Lula sempre soube que ele tinha uma ajuda nossa, sempre soube. Eu dava essa ajuda trimestralmente”, contou Alencar.

Petição da Procuradoria-Geral da República que cita “mesada” para o irmão de Lula.

Reprodução

Alencar relata que, antes de Lula ser presidente, Frei Chico recebia para fazer a interlocução da Odebrecht com sindicatos. Quando Lula tomou posse a “mesada” foi mantida para manter boa relação, mesmo ele não prestando mais serviços para a empresa. O irmão de Lula era tratado nas planilhas da propina da Odebrecht pelo codinome “Metralha”.

Tentáculos internacionais

Outra demonstração do poder de Lula – e também da importância que ele tinha para os planos da empreiteira – teria acontecido em um negócio com ramificações internacionais. Um dos casos mais relevantes, senão o mais relevante, envolveu interesses da empresa em Angola.

Marcelo Odebrecht, em depoimento para o juiz Sergio Moro em audiência de 10 de abril, é questionado sobre uma planilha que está no processo contra ele, com data de 31 de julho de 2012. Entre os pagamentos listados estava um caso envolvendo o país africano.

O presidente da empreiteira conta que em 2009, começo de 2010, ocorreu uma negociação de uma linha de crédito envolvendo Angola que se dava nos dois países. “Tínhamos fechado vários contratos em Angola e que só demandavam essa linha de crédito para fazer essa exportação de bens e serviços”, lembra.

“Sempre dava ciência a Palocci, que me ajudava se precisasse.”

A linha de crédito negociada era de US$ 1 bilhão, e Marcelo afirma que recebeu um pedido do ex-ministro Paulo Bernardo para liberar o crédito entre os países. Esse pedido teria chegado a ele, segundo narra Odebrecht, por indicação do ex-presidente Lula:

“Nesse caso, até porque eu acho que estava chegando a eleição, veio o pedido solicitado para mim por Paulo Bernardo, que veio por indicação do presidente Lula, para que a gente desse uma contribuição de US$ 40 milhões e eles aprovariam a linha de US$ 1 bilhão de exportação e crédito. E isso também beneficiaria a Odebrecht. Fui checar com nosso diretor no país e já tínhamos montado contratos que davam US$ 600 milhões, US$ 700 milhões, só precisava a linha de crédito para exportar, então perguntei se a gente conseguiria alocar esse pedido [de propina] no custo da obra. Ele disse que sim, iria reduzir a margem, mas conseguia. Eu acabei então aceitando”.

A propina paga, diz o empresário, foi de US$ 36 milhões, descontando o custo de operação dos repasses. Essa cobrança por parte de um emissário de Lula e seu correspondente pagamento aconteceram quando Lula ainda presidia o país.

Marcelo ainda relata que toda essa condução foi feita por Paulo Bernardo porque, na época, ele era o ministro do Planejamento. Guido Mantega não se envolveu nesse assunto, mas toda a transação foi acompanhada por Antonio Palocci. “Sempre dava ciência a Palocci, que me ajudava se precisasse”, completa.

Apagando incêndios

Dilma Rousseff e Marcelo Odebrecht tinham uma relação difícil, de acordo com mais de um delator. Em seu depoimento, o executivo Alexandrino de Alencar descreve uma convivência turbulenta. “Os dois têm personalidades muito fortes e de dificuldades”, afirmou.

Segundo Emílio Odebrecht, o problema também foi diagnosticado por Lula, que se queixava constantemente sobre o assunto. Em um encontro que teve com o ex-presidente em Angola, o empresário sugeriu uma solução: padrinho político de Dilma, ele poderia agir para mediar os conflitos.

“Eu disse ‘chefe’, o senhor não iria toda hora estar me fazendo essas reclamações se o senhor também não tivesse convencimento, concordando, usando o nome dela [Dilma] para reclamar, então vamos fazer um acordo”, relatou.

Como parte do acordo, Emílio teria convocado Alencar para prestar uma espécie de consultoria para Luís Cláudio, filho de Lula que é um dos gestores da Touchdown, grupo que organizava a maior liga de futebol americano do Brasil, na época. Em 2015, último ano em que o torneio foi disputado, a competição contou com transmissão televisiva no canal pago TNT e patrocínio da cervejaria Budweiser.

“Introduzi Alexandrino para que acompanhasse o assunto. Orientei para que procurasse patrocinadores, procurei ajudar como se meu filho fosse, para ajudar no empreendedorismo”, disse Emílio. A ajuda não veio apenas com conselhos, porém. O diretor não soube precisar valores, mas seus advogados presentes no depoimento esclareceram que, durante três anos, a Odebrecht pagou uma quantia entre R$ 50 mil a R$ 60 mil por mês para uma empresa de marketing que dava suporte ao negócio de Luís Cláudio, a Concept Idea Marketing & Empreendimentos LTDA. Os pagamentos teriam sido feitos entre 2012 e 2014 e estão registrados em documentos anexados aos termos da delação.

Alexandrino Alencar esclarece que foi ele quem trouxe a Concept para auxiliar o empreendimento do filho de Lula, já que a empresa atuava com o gerenciamento de marcas da Odebrecht. Ele narra também um esforço para dissimular o papel da empreiteira no negócio. “Eu combinei com o Luís Cláudio que nós pagaríamos 90% do custo da Concept e ele, com a Touchdown, pagaria 10%, para não parecer que éramos só nós no negócio. A Concept foi remunerada em torno de R$ 700 mil por nós, ou R$ 630 mil por nós e R$ 70 mil por ele [Luís Cláudio], totalizando cerca de R$ 700 mil por ano, durante três anos”, afirma.

“A gente entendia que ele ainda teria muita influência dentro do PT.” Para mostrar que a influência de Lula não iria acabar após ele deixar o Palácio do Planalto, Marcelo Odebrecht, em acordo com o ex-ministro Antonio Palocci, resolveu que iria deixar uma parte do dinheiro arrecadado no chamado saldo “amigo” que seria usado por orientação do ex-presidente. Esse saldo seria de R$ 35 milhões. “A gente entendia que ele ainda teria muita influência dentro do PT”, diz Odebrecht.

Na verdade, o valor que Lula tinha à sua disposição a partir dos cofres da Odebrecht (sempre bom lembrar, abastecidos de dinheiro desviado de obras públicos) era ainda maior, segundo depoimento de Marcelo Odebrecht. O plano da conta dos R$ 35 milhões era dele, Marcelo. Mas seu pai, Emílio, e Alexandrino Alencar deixavam de avisar quando Lula fazia pedidos a ele. Com isso, esses valores não eram descontados da conta Amigo, e o saldo permanecia intocado.

Além dessa, existiam mais duas contas geridas por petistas ilustres: a “Itália”, de responsabilidade do ex-ministro Antonio Palocci, e a “pós-Itália”, gerenciada pelo também então ministro da Fazenda, Guido Mantega, e pelo novo governo.

O ex-ministro Antônio Palocci seria o responsável por solicitar as movimentações para Lula, que geralmente aconteciam na forma de saques em dinheiro vivo. O ex-presidente jamais teria feito solicitações pessoalmente.“O Lula nunca me pediu diretamente. Eu combinei via Palocci. Ao longo de alguns usos ficou claro que era para o Lula”, afirmou Marcelo Odebrecht, em depoimento para o juiz Sérgio Moro.

As suspeitas, relata o empresário, foram confirmadas graças a algumas operações específicas. Entre elas, está a compra em 2010 de um terreno na rua Dr. Haberbeck Brandão, no bairro da Vila Clementino, que seria utilizado para a construção de uma nova sede do Instituto Lula em São Paulo – negociação que acabou não se concretizando, de modo que o valor foi estornado para os “créditos” da conta. Marcelo afirma não lembrar exatamente de quem partiu o pedido de verbas, mas relata que veio ou de Paulo Okamoto, presidente do instituto, ou de José Bumlai, pecuarista e notório amigo do ex-presidente.

Ex-ministro Antônio Palocci, que seria o responsável por solicitar as movimentações para Lula, segundo delações.

Foto: AFP/Getty Images

Ainda sobre o terreno do Instituto Lula, em depoimento para o juiz Sergio Moro em audiência de 10 de abril, o diretor do Setor de Operações Estruturadas da Odebrecht, Hilberto Mascarenhas, detalha uma planilha de pagamentos. O juiz pergunta sobre uma anotação “Prédio IL 12422”, e Mascarenhas confirma que seu setor chegou a fazer um pagamento para a compra do terreno para a nova sede do Instituto Lula.

“Isso foi uma solicitação de um saque dessa conta para compra de um terreno que seria do Instituto Lula, que terminou não sendo. Terminou depois vendendo esse terreno, devolveram esse dinheiro”, explica em áudio do depoimento.

Moro pergunta, então, por que não foi estornado na planilha. “Criou-se um crédito aqui em cima [entende-se que aponta na planilha]. Deve ter sido dado algum crédito aqui. Eu não podia estornar aqui. Eu tinha que lançar outro para eu saber com foi a história”, explica.

O imóvel foi adquirido pela DAG Construtora, mas na verdade foi pago pela Odebrecht. Com base nas quebras de sigilos fiscais e bancários dos investigados, os procuradores apontaram que a Odebrecht pagou, em 2010, R$ 7,6 milhões para a empresa DAG Construtora, que adquiriu o imóvel investigado. Essa compra é ponto central na denúncia em que o ex-presidente Lula é acusado de corrupção passiva e lavagem de dinheiro.

Bem relacionado

Em sua colaboração premiada, o empresário Emílio Odebrecht, presidente do Conselho de Administração da Odebrecht, confirma que pediu ao então presidente Lula para que conversasse com o ministro da fazenda Guido Mantega para destravar a questão dos Refis da crise, por ser um assunto de interesse da Braskem, petroquímica do grupo Odebrecht, e de vários outros setores.

“Fui ao Lula e inclui este item na minha agenda pedindo a ele que procurasse verificar porque o Guido estava colocando dificuldade para resolver o assunto. Se estava precisando coragem ou se estava precisando de alguma coisa que ou nós pudéssemos suprir ou o próprio governo”, relata.

“Vou falar com o Guido para verificar e qualquer coisa eu lhe falo”, teria respondido Lula, segundo Emílio.

Lula diz que não sabe de nada

O Instituto Lula enviou notas ao longo dos últimos dias desmentindo as acusações ou informando que o ex-presidente não tem conhecimento de fatos narrados pelos delatores. Sobre a conta com os R$ 35 milhões, ele disse não ter conhecimento ou relação com qualquer planilha na qual outros possam se referir a ele como “amigo”.

O instituto também reforça que Lula jamais solicitou ou recebeu qualquer recurso indevido para a Odebrecht ou para qualquer outra empresa e sempre agiu dentro da lei antes, durante e depois de ser presidente da República democraticamente eleito por dois mandatos.

“Seus familiares tiveram seus sigilos fiscais e telefônicos quebrados, sua residência e de seus familiares sofreram busca e apreensão há mais de um ano, mais de 100 testemunhas foram ouvidas em processos e não foi encontrado nenhum recurso indevido ou ilegalidade cometida pelo ex-presidente”, diz a nota do instituto.

Colaboração: Jéssica Sbardelotto, Guilherme Zocchio, Kleyson Barbosa, Lúcio Lambranho e Renan Antunes de Oliveira.

The post O amigo de 35 milhões: como o ex-presidente Lula está envolvido nas delações da Lava Jato appeared first on The Intercept.

“Mother of All Bombs” Never Used Before Due to Civilian Casualty Concerns

13 April 2017 - 6:07pm

Fulfilling Donald Trump’s campaign promise to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, the Pentagon dropped the “mother of all bombs” — one of its largest non-nuclear munitions — for the first time on Thursday, in Afghanistan. The 21,600 pound weapon was developed over a decade ago, but was never used due to concerns of possible massive civilian casualties.

The Pentagon said it used the weapon on an ISIS-affiliated group hiding in a tunnel complex in the Nangarhar province. The group, according to the Pentagon, is made up of former members of the Taliban.

The Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” has a mile-long blast radius.

When it first introduced the bomb, the Pentagon said it was designed to terrify America’s enemy into submission. “The goal is to have the capabilities of the coalition so clear and so obvious,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in 2003, “that there is an enormous disincentive for the Iraqi military to fight against the [invading] coalition.”

Thursday’s attack drew condemnation from Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed former president of Afghanistan. “This is not the war on terror,” he said, “but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.”

Marc Garlasco, a former senior targeting official in the Bush-era Pentagon, told The Intercept on Thursday that the weapon was never put to use “due to collateral damage concerns.”

US never dropped the MOAB in Iraq due to collateral damage concerns. I was on the targeting team that considered it @barbarastarrcnn https://t.co/ypq6uyVSbg

— marcgarlasco (@marcgarlasco) April 13, 2017

Garlasco was the Pentagon’s chief of high-value targeting, and ran the intelligence cell whose goal was to “find, target, and kill Saddam Hussein.”

Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst for the Human Rights Watch organization gestures as he speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, on June 30, 2009.

Photo: Sebastian Scheiner/AP

The Pentagon considered using the MOAB in Iraq in 2003, he said.

“We were going after a target, I would say, in a similar manner,” said Garlasco. “But the concern there was that once the weapon was put forward as an option, we reviewed it, did a collateral damage estimate, and well let’s just say the collateral damage was impressive. It was decided that the civilian harm greatly outweighed the military gain.”

Garlasco said the strike would have been in a “high-collateral region.” And he said that to his knowledge that was the only time the use of the MOAB was ever suggested.

“It’s got a huge blast radius. I mean, it’s beyond huge,” Garlasco said. “I’m sure the collateral damage estimate is going to be fairly extensive. And you’re not talking about just blast, and people within that blast, you have to consider secondary and tertiary effects of use of the weapon. So looking at things like: How does that affect the water supply to people? Is it going to destroy power within the area?”

Thursday’s bomb drop came a week after the death of Army Special Forces Sgt. Mark De Alencar, the first combat death in Afghanistan in 2017. Alencar was assisting Afghan forces in an operation against a local ISIS group when he was hit with small-arms fire, the Pentagon said.

While the MOAB strike has attracted far more media attention, the U.S. and Afghan government forces have killed increasing numbers of people lately. According to a U.N. report in February, airstrikes from the Afghan government forces and the U.S.-led coalition killed nearly 600 civilians — almost double the number in 2015 — and have been repeatedly accused of bombing residential areas.

Top photo: The MOAB, a precision-guided munition weighing 21,500 pounds, is prepared for testing at the Eglin Air Force Armament Center.

The post “Mother of All Bombs” Never Used Before Due to Civilian Casualty Concerns appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump 90 Days Ago: “My People Will Have a Full Report on Hacking Within 90 Days!”

13 April 2017 - 5:01pm

Exactly 90 days ago — on Friday, January 13 — Donald Trump, then president-elect, issued a series of tweets attacking the claims in former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele’s “dossier” that the Russian government had long been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Trump.

Trump called the allegations “phony” and “totally made up” and pledged that “My people will have a full report on hacking within 90 days!”

No such full report has appeared, nor is there any evidence that any investigation by the Trump administration is currently underway — or was ever initiated.

Reached by phone, Senior Assistant White House Press Secretary Michael Short said, “I’m in the parking lot, I don’t have an update” on the promised report. Asked when he might be able to provide an update, Short repeated, “I’m in the parking lot.” Then he said “I’ve got to run” and hung up.

In fairness to Trump, he might have meant that his administration would produce a full report within 90 days of his inauguration.

That leaves them another week.

It now turns out that the phony allegations against me were put together by my political opponents and a failed spy afraid of being sued….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017

Totally made up facts by sleazebag political operatives, both Democrats and Republicans – FAKE NEWS! Russia says nothing exists. Probably…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017

released by "Intelligence" even knowing there is no proof, and never will be. My people will have a full report on hacking within 90 days!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017

 

Top photo: President Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 6, 2017.

The post Trump 90 Days Ago: “My People Will Have a Full Report on Hacking Within 90 Days!” appeared first on The Intercept.

Lawmakers Who Championed Repeal of Web Browsing Privacy Protections Raked in Telecom Campaign Cash

13 April 2017 - 4:58pm

The two lawmakers most responsible for rolling back landmark internet browsing privacy protections were richly rewarded by telecommunication giants.

Congress voted last month to repeal privacy rules written by the Obama administration to prevent internet service providers from harvesting and selling users’ internet browsing history. The main — in fact only — constituency for the repeal was the telecom industry.

Verizon, AT&T, Cox Enterprises, the U.S. Telecom Association and CTIA, the trade association for the major cell phone carriers, appeared to single out the original sponsors of the repeal resolution — Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. — for particularly generous campaign contributions.

A Verizon political action committee filing shows that most lawmakers received between $500 and $1,000 from the firm during the first three months of this year. But Flake received $8,000 and Blackburn received $4,500.

Blackburn received $5,000 from the CTIA, the most of any House member. Speaker Paul Ryan only received $2,500 from the group during the same time period.

Republican Senator from Arizona Jeff Flake speaks to reporters after a closed briefing at the Capitol in Washington, on April 7, 2017.

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Telecom Association, which includes CenturyLink and Verizon, also singled out Blackburn for more donations than any other lawmaker in the beginning of this year, providing $3,000 to her campaign account.

The repeal legislation passed both houses of Congress and was quietly signed by President Donald Trump.

Major telecom firms have already signaled their interest in breaking into the lucrative online advertising market, which analysts say is worth $83 billion.

The repeal of privacy protections incited anger on pro-Trump online forums, leaving many to wonder if Congress was simply acting in the interest of the telecom lobby.

“They betrayed you for chump change,” wrote the Verge’s T.C. Sottek, in a blog post highlighting the career donations from firms such as Comcast and AT&T to members of Congress.

A  few progressive civil rights group opposed the privacy rule. As we previously reported, they were also recipients of telecom donations, and their decision to lobby against the FCC rule was organized by a group infamous for acting on behalf of the telecom industry.

Direct, reportable campaign donations are, of course, only one small way that major corporations secure their agenda in Washington. For instance, many large corporations provide campaign support to loyal politicians not through disclosed political action committees, but through campaign entities that are not required to disclose any donor information. Verizon or Comcast may donate several million dollars to a group like the American Action Network, which does not disclose donor information, that may spend an unlimited amount on behalf of politicians that are known to toe the line to the telecom industry legislative agenda. The revolving door between high-paying corporate jobs and Capitol Hill is also a powerful incentive for staffers and lawmakers.

Top photo: Rep. Marsha Blackburn is surrounded by reporters after leaving the office of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on March 23, 2017.

The post Lawmakers Who Championed Repeal of Web Browsing Privacy Protections Raked in Telecom Campaign Cash appeared first on The Intercept.

Governo está comprando apoio editorial à Reforma da Previdência

13 April 2017 - 4:51pm

Acendeu o sinal amarelo no Planalto. Uma rachadura na antes sólida base aliada está dificultando a aprovação da Reforma da Previdência. Segundo levantamento feito pelo Estadão, 275 deputados são contra as mudanças e apenas 101 são a favor. Por isso, o governo passou a distribuir cargos e emendas parlamentares em troca de apoio. Até aí, nenhuma novidade. Esta é uma prática comum na democracia brasileira e todos os governos anteriores lançaram mão dela. Mas uma outra estratégia do governo foi anunciada essa semana sem o menor pudor: distribuição de verbas publicitárias em troca de apoio editorial à Reforma da Previdência.

O plano foi desenhado pelo ministro da Secretaria-Geral da Presidência, Moreira Franco (PMDB), o Gato Angorá, que é um propineiro de mão cheia segundo ex-executivos da Odebrecht. Percebam que o governo não pretende apenas comprar espaço publicitário para promover a reforma, mas fazer isso em troca de uma opinião favorável de jornalistas e apresentadores:

“A estratégia do Palácio do Planalto para afastar as resistência à reforma é fazer com que locutores e apresentadores populares, principalmente no Nordeste, expliquem as mudanças sob um ponto de vista positivo. Os veículos de comunicação que aderirem à campanha terão direito à publicidade federal.”

Mas a situação é ainda mais grave do que isso. A indicação dos veículos de imprensa para receber publicidade ficará a cargo de deputados e senadores. Eles poderão, inclusive, indicar seus próprios veículos. Portanto, a reforma ganharia apoio não só da imprensa contemplada com publicidade, mas da bancada governista que tem se colocado contra este assassinato dos direitos dos aposentados. Como bem disse um auxiliar de Temer, a estratégia “mata dois coelhos com uma só cajadada”. Eu diria que ela mata os direitos previdenciários e compra a imprensa com um só golpe.

Mata os direitos previdenciários e compra a imprensa com um só golpe.

Com a eleição de 2018 se aproximando, vocês devem imaginar quantos parlamentares não estão louquinhos para fazer um agrado à imprensa da sua região. E uma pergunta se faz pertinente: que moral um congresso atolado na lama tem para fazer reformas que afetam tão profundamente a vida dos brasileiros?

Tudo isso seria um escândalo em qualquer país. Seria um escândalo neste país se o governo fosse o anterior. Mas não foi.

A notícia foi dada por Monica Bergamo na Folha de São Paulo e por Vera Rosa e Tânia Monteiro no Estadão —  que apoia a reforma com muito entusiasmo em seus editoriais  — mas não ganhou nenhum destaque nas capas impressas e dos seus portais. O Estadão preferiu colocar na capa uma foto dos tucanos Alckmin e Doria sorrindo ao lado da seguinte frase do governador sobre o prefeito: “Seria ótimo candidato” — talvez as prévias tucanas sejam mais importantes que o governo federal comprando apoio jornalístico.

Nos outros principais veículos do país, a notícia teve repercussão próxima de zero. As Organizações Globo, por exemplo, ignoraram completamente o fato. O que era para ganhar status de grande escândalo tornou-se um acontecimento irrelevante na mídia brasileira. Não é difícil imaginar o porquê.

Citado 34 vezes na Lava Jato, Moreira Franco (PMDB) lidera estratégia governista de compra de apoio político na imprensa

(Agência Brasil)

Priorizar os veículos nordestinos é uma escolha certeira. A popularidade de Temer na região vem desabando com maior intensidade que no resto do país e comprar apoio editorial para a reforma também significa, por tabela, comprar apoio ao seu governo.

Esse é o drama do povo brasileiro. Enquanto o governo federal empurra a conta da crise para os trabalhadores com cortes profundos nos direitos sociais, trabalhistas e previdenciários, há aumento de verbas para a imprensa e perdão de dívidas bilionárias para banqueiros.

Na última segunda-feira, o CARF (Conselho Administrativo de Recursos Fiscais)  — órgão investigado pela Operação Zelotes por manipular decisões em favor das empresas — decidiu por 5 votos a 3, que o banco Itaú não precisa pagar R$ 25 bilhões em impostos referentes à fusão com Unibanco. Essa notícia também teve pouquíssimo destaque. E, enquanto esses R$ 25 bi deixavam de entrar nos cofres públicos, o programa Ciência Sem Fronteiras, que levava jovens para estudar no exterior e custava em torno de R$ 3 bilhões por ano, foi encerrado por falta de verbas.

The post Governo está comprando apoio editorial à Reforma da Previdência appeared first on The Intercept.

Como alguém que recebeu propina via caixa 2 se torna fiscal das contas do país

13 April 2017 - 4:24pm

A principal função dos tribunais de contas no Brasil é fiscalizar o uso do dinheiro público. É o que manda a Seção IX da Constituição: “Da fiscalização contábil, financeira e orçamentária”. Quando um ministro do Tribunal de Contas da União é denunciado pelos próprios crimes que deveria combater — menos de duas semanas após praticamente todo o conselho de um Tribunal de Contas estadual ser levado para a prisão por práticas similares — é sinal de que há algo muito errado com o sistema de controle do dinheiro público.

O caso de Vital do Rêgo Filho, ex-senador do PMDB e atual ministro do TCU, um dos citados pelos delatores da Odebrecht, joga luz sobre um problema no sistema de fiscalização das contas públicas brasileiras.

Eis apenas dois fragmentos do pedido de inquérito sobre o ministro:

“Nesse contexto, houve pedido especi?fico de repasse de vantagem a pretexto de campanha de VITAL DO RE?GO, cujo pagamento foi feito via contabilidade paralela, de forma na?o oficial, sendo operacionalizado pela equipe de HILBERTO SILVA na forma ja? relatada anteriormente.

(…)

No Termo de Depoimento n° 9, JOSE? DE CARVALHO narrou que, em 2014, FERNANDO REIS solicitou-lhe que desse contribuic?a?o para o enta?o Senador VITAL DO RE?GO no valor de 350.000,00 (trezentos e cinquenta mil reais), tendo este lhe apresentado um assessor dele e depois passado a senha e o enderec?o de entrega para ele.”

Uma observação deve ser frisada: a delação se refere a 2014, apenas um ano antes de Rêgo se tornar ministro do TCU. Naquele mesmo ano, ele foi indicado ao cargo pelo Senado. A decisão anunciada em novembro por Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL), então presidente da casa.

A posse de Vital do Rêgo como ministro do TCU; estiveram presentes Renan Calheiros (PMDB-AL), o então vice-presidente Michel Temer e Ricardo Lewandowski, além do ex-presidente José Sarney.

Foto: Agência Senado

Como ele foi parar ali?

O TCU é o órgão máximo na fiscalização “contábil, financeira, orçamentária, operacional e patrimonial” de dinheiro público, conforme descrição do próprio órgão. E isso envolve orçamentos de políticos, administrações públicas, empresas estatais e também empresas privadas contratadas por órgãos públicos.

Paralelamente a ele, existem os tribunais de conta dos estados e municípios, que fazem trabalho similar, mas com ação mais restrita. O problema inicial se encontra na escolha dos principais chefes desses tribunais: ela é majoritariamente política. E isso também está definido na Constituição: Ou seja, dos nove ministros apenas dois são técnicos de carreira. Os demais são indicados pelos mesmos políticos que deverão fiscalizar. Luciene Pereira, diretora da Associação Nacional dos Auditores de Controle Externo dos Tribunais de Contas (ANTC), critica a maioria política na composição de tribunais de conta de todas as esferas, afirmando que esta é uma das variadas formas de minar a independência do auditor: “A gente não pode permanecer com esse modelo desproporcional. Se os políticos são maioria, eles se fecham em bloco e excluem os técnicos, se blindando e fazendo o que querem”.

Nos estados, indicações políticas são ampla maioria

Pereira explica que isso foi levado ao extremo no tribunal do Rio de Janeiro, onde seis dos sete conselheiros foram afastados por denúncias de corrupção, sendo cinco deles presos provisoriamente no dia 29 de março e soltos após uma semana.

A composição dos tribunais de contas estaduais pode variar de acordo com as constituições dos estados, que regram como devem ser escolhidos os conselheiros. No caso específico do Rio, a única conselheira que passou incólume pela apreensões da Polícia Federal foi Mariana Montebello. Não por coincidência, ela também era a única dos nove indicada pelo Ministério Público Estadual. Todos os outros foram colocados no cargo por indicações do governador ou da assembléia legislativa do estado.

Em São Paulo, o conselheiro Robson Marinho foi denunciado esta semana pela Procuradoria-Geral da República. Ele é acusado de receber propina da empresa francesa de transportes Alstom. Os pagamentos seriam para beneficiar a companhia em contratos com o governo do estado de São Paulo em projetos do metrô da capital, no caso que ficou conhecido como Trensalão.

Em nota técnica, a Associação da Auditoria de Controle Externo do Tribunal de Contas da União (AUD-TCU) apontou as diferenças salariais desproporcionais entre cargos comuns e de liderança como motivadoras de “dependência financeira” que acabaria com a independência dos profissionais, além do excesso de cargos comissionados:

“a permissividade com a participação de comissionados sem vínculo, servidores cedidos, em desvio de função e até terceirizados nos postos de liderança e na execução da atividade finalística de controle externo são fatores críticos que precisam ser superados.”

A saída possível

Uma Proposta de Emenda Constitucional com a finalidade de alterar a forma de composição dos tribunais de contas foi formulada pela Associação Nacional do Ministério Público de Contas (AMPCON) e acolhida pela Frente Parlamentar de Combate à Corrupção. A PEC propõe que o universo de escolha dos ministros e conselheiros de tribunais de contas seja restrito a pessoas com experiência e formação profissional em direito, administração, economia ou contabilidade.

 A PEC propõe que o universo de escolha dos ministros e conselheiros de tribunais de contas seja restrito a pessoas com experiência e formação profissional.“Hoje chegamos a ver chefes de equipes e conselheiros com apenas ensino médio. Essas pessoas têm o poder de, com uma canetada, derrubar relatórios feitos por equipes dezenas de auditores formados e experientes no assunto”, critica a diretora da ANTC. Atualmente, a PEC encontra-se na Comissão de Constituição e Justiça da Câmara dos Deputados, sob a relatoria do deputado federal Alessandro Molon (Rede-RJ).

O presidente da Associação Nacional dos Auditores Fiscais da Receita Federal do Brasil (Anfip), Vilson Antonio Romero, critica o fato de os relatórios feitos pelos técnicos do tribunais serem encaminhados a conselheiros e ministros escolhidos por indicação política: “Como você pega um relatório contábil feito por pessoas com gabarito para isso e entrega na mão de políticos que não sabem nem de que lado do relatório que se deve colocar os números?” Ele se vê incrédulo sobre a possibilidade de a Câmara aprovar a PEC, tendo em vista que “quem tem poder de mudança sobre isso são os maiores interessados em se manter da forma como está”.

Por meio de nota, o ministro do TCU Vital do Rêgo e sua defesa afirmaram que não tiveram acesso ao conteúdo do pedido de abertura de inquérito mencionado pela imprensa. A nota diz ainda que o ministro está à disposição das autoridades e mostrou confiança que será comprovada a “falta de relação entre ele e os fatos investigados”.

The post Como alguém que recebeu propina via caixa 2 se torna fiscal das contas do país appeared first on The Intercept.

Assad Suggests Chemical Attack Was “a Play” Staged by Al Qaeda and the U.S.

13 April 2017 - 3:13pm

Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, suggested in an interview broadcast on Thursday that social media evidence of a deadly chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in northern Syria last week was fake. The images that shocked the world, he said, were most likely of “a play,” staged by Islamist rebels affiliated with both Al Qaeda and the United States.

Speaking to the French news agency AFP in English, Assad first noted that the town of Khan Sheikhoun, where the mass poisoning took place, “is under the control of Al Nusra Front, which is a branch of Al Qaeda — so the only information the world has had till this moment is published by Al Qaeda.”

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says the gas attack in #Syria is "100% fabrication", and explains here what he thinks really happened pic.twitter.com/WIiOfrwVFs

— Sky News (@SkyNews) April 13, 2017

“No one has any other information,” he added, ignoring the first-hand accounts of the attack’s aftermath from two photographers working for AFP and civil defense workers who are not militants. “We don’t know if the whole pictures or video that we’ve been seeing are true, or fabricated,” the Syrian president insisted.

Assad also claimed that the air attack on the town carried out that day by his forces took place hours after the first images appeared on social networks of civilians suffering the effects of exposure to a nerve agent. A spokesman for the Russian ministry of defense first suggested last week that the Syrian raid on the town had come later in the day, but Major General Igor Konashenkov also claimed that the nerve agent was dispersed by a Syrian jet’s accidental strike on a rebel store of chemical weapons.

In Assad’s account, his forces played no role at all in the chemical exposure that reportedly killed more than 80 men, women, and children.

Asked directly what happened that day, the Syrian president then followed the lead of his Russian ally, President Vladimir Putin, by suggesting that the whole thing was most likely a “fabrication.”

“Our impression,” Assad replied, is “that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack.”

“It wasn’t attack because of what happened in Khan Sheikhoun,” Assad said of the American missile strike on a Syrian airbase, “it’s one event.”

“It’s a stage one — the play that we saw on the social networking and on TV, the propaganda — and the stage two — the military attack,” he added. “That’s what we believe is happening, because it’s only a few days, two days, 48 hours, between the play and the attack.”

Assad offered no evidence at all to support his theory, but that is not new.

Since the very first days of the uprising against Assad’s rule in 2011 — when peaceful protests were met with deadly violence — the outside world has been forced to rely to an unusual degree on information gleaned from the Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts of opposition activists for any evidence of what was happening in Syria.

But that was largely the result of an intentional strategy by Assad’s government, which made it almost impossible for foreign correspondents to report freely from inside the country, and then contested the reliability of social media evidence from opposition activists it sought to tarnish as Islamic extremists.

Then, once Assad’s forces shattered the protest movement and gave momentum to an armed insurgency by actual Islamic extremists, the kidnapping and execution of journalists by the jihadists made reporting from the country very dangerous.

The resulting haze of uncertainty around many of the war’s events, and suspicion that Assad’s forces have also kidnapped foreign reporters, has dovetailed perfectly with his government’s strategy of claiming that all evidence of brutality by its forces is fake.

What makes it difficult at times to refute the Syrian government’s blanket denials and conspiracy theories is that there are very few truly non-partisan sources of information for outside observers to rely on.

To take the example of what’s known about the attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Assad’s claim that “the only information” indicating chemical weapons were used was “published by Al Qaeda,” is untrue, but most of the witnesses to the horrible aftermath do indeed want to see him deposed.

That includes one of the two AFP photographers who documented the suffering of the victims in heart-breaking detail.


<p>A suspected chemical attack killed at least 58 civilians including several children in rebel-held northwestern Syria, a monitor said, with the opposition accusing the government and demanding a UN investigation. / AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)" />

A father carried his daughter’s body from a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, Syria last week, after she was killed by exposure to a nerve agent following a government air strike.

Photo: Omar Haj Kadour/AFP/Getty Images

Omar Haj-Kadour, who took devastating images of a father holding his dead daughter, has a reputation for accurate reporting, but he also identifies himself on Instagram as a “Media activist – Photographer,” and on Facebook as one of the “coordinators of the revolution in the city of Binnish.”

Five days after the attack, he posted a photograph on Twitter of protesters, including children, holding up signs and flags right beside what activists identified as the impact crater of the chemical-laden explosive dropped on Khan Sheikhoun.

#????_????????#???_?????#?????_????????
Omar haj kadour / AFP pic.twitter.com/HCYqvQrbOr

— omar haj kadour (@omar_hajkadour) April 9, 2017

Another key witness to last week’s attack in Khan Sheikhoun, a British doctor named Shajul Islam, is a volunteer medic in northern Syria, who left behind his career at the National Health Service to lend his support to anti-Assad rebels in 2012.

Do u still doubt that #Sarin is being used on us? Non-reactive pinpoint pupils! We have samples. Will anyone care!? Who will stop it?#Syria pic.twitter.com/WmhDZgLVA6

— Dr Shajul Islam (@DrShajulIslam) April 4, 2017

After Islam recorded video of the victims and spoke to NBC News on the day of the attack, his credibility was called into question by a Lebanese journalist, Jenan Moussa.

Moussa reminded her Twitter followers that the doctor was suspected on having played a role in the kidnapping of an English photojournalist, John Cantlie, in 2012, and was arrested and charged when he returned home to Britain that year.

I cant believe NBC interviewed this guy. Talk to Syrian doctors. This guy was involved in kidnapping 2 journalists https://t.co/UgDkYyrL3U https://t.co/1jypPijYf5

— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) April 6, 2017

While the doctor was acquitted the following year, his trial was cut short because the main witness, Cantlie himself, had failed to show up to testify against him. It subsequently emerged that Cantlie was absent because he had returned to Syria to make a film about his captivity and was then kidnapped again, along with the American journalist James Foley.

While Islam maintains that he played no role in Cantlie’s first kidnapping, apart from treating him for a gunshot wound inflicted by his jihadist captors, the doctor’s history was seized upon after the attacks by Assad’s supporters, including the Russian embassy in London, who wanted to discredit his testimony.

That pretty much says it all – evidence on “Assad crimes” supplied by a committed jihadist (not even a doctor) pic.twitter.com/BfPyH3zd4z

— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) April 7, 2017

Even though the doctor’s witness account appears genuine, and his assessment that a nerve agent was used was born out by subsequent testing, rumors about his past have made it easier for Assad supporters to dismiss his testimony out of hand.

In a brief interview with The Intercept, conducted online, the doctor confirmed that he “did treat John,” but shared a link to a video interview in which he denied any role in the kidnapping.

That interview was conducted by one of the few foreign journalists embedded with the rebels in northern Syria, Bilal Abdul Kareem, a former stand-up comedian from New York who converted to Islam.

As Abdul Kareem told the New York Times last month, he is not entirely non-partisan himself. As a Muslim, he sees his role as giving the various participants in the rebellion against Assad, including aid workers like the British doctor, and Islamist factions, including Al Qaeda, a way to explain themselves to Western audiences.

On the day of the attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Abdul Kareem produced a report on the effort to save those exposed to the nerve agent featuring the doctor’s own harrowing footage.

The post Assad Suggests Chemical Attack Was “a Play” Staged by Al Qaeda and the U.S. appeared first on The Intercept.

The Strangers Who Got Snowden’s Secrets in the Mail

13 April 2017 - 3:05pm

The story of Edward Snowden’s disclosure of NSA secrets to the press has been told and retold in books, films, and countless articles. Left unreported has been the quiet role of two journalists who literally had Snowden material mailed to them in a cardboard box.

In a new article in Harper’s Magazine, the duo finally tells their story of beginners’ encryption, convoluted codewords, and extreme paranoia. They also reveal that they are not the only people to have received Snowden files without the public knowing about it.

Dale Maharidge is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism, but was only pulled into the Snowden leak because of a Brooklyn house party he attended one night in December 2011, where he met filmmaker (and Intercept co-founder) Laura Poitras. The two bonded quickly over their work and, throughout the following year, as their respective reporting and film projects allowed, spent time together in New York and at Maharidge’s “very remote” coastal dwelling in Northern California. Then, near the beginning of 2013, Poitras was contacted by an anonymous source claiming to possess materials that would reveal the scope of American surveillance. She confided in Maharidge:

We talked about the source over dinner, and Laura told me that this person wanted a physical address to use in case (as the source put it) “something happens to you or me.” We speculated that perhaps this person might want to send her a parcel. Hard copy? Data? It was unclear. Needless to say, the material couldn’t go directly to Laura: her mail was surely being scrutinized. Nor could I receive it, because of our connection. She said we needed a third party, someone who wouldn’t be on the NSA’s radar.

All the while, Poitras and Maharidge communicated using code words — but not, interestingly, any means of digital encryption:

We would call the unnamed source the “architect” and refer to the mysterious shipment as “architectural materials.” The recipient of the package would be called the “sink.” Should that person prove to be unavailable, I would find a backup choice, whom we would call the “other sink.” The NSA or FBI would be called the “co-op board”—a tribute to the truculent nature of such boards in New York City. And if either of us wrote, “The carpenter quit the job,” that meant it was time to start over with a new plan.

Maharidge suggested his friend Jessica Bruder, a fellow reporter and journalism instructor, receive the source’s package. It would then be relayed to Maharidge, and finally to Poitras, reducing the risk that law enforcement or other bad luck would intervene in the shipping process. The anxiety of awaiting this mystery shipment was overlaid with confusion; Poitras and Maharidge would sometimes become confused about whether they were discussing a national security whistleblower or the actual renovation Poitras was undertaking in her loft, Bruder writes.

Finally, Snowden’s box arrived at Bruder’s apartment building — where packages were often stolen — and then her doorstep.

I picked up the box. The words ARCHITECT MATS ENCL’D were scrawled in block letters on the front. How long has this been sitting here? I wondered. After letting myself into the apartment, I took a closer look. Nothing about the package appeared unusual at first. It had been postmarked May 10 in Kunia, Hawaii, and sent via USPS Priority Mail. I shook the box gently, like a child guessing at the contents of a gift. Something inside made a clunk- ing noise. Otherwise it gave up no secrets.

Then I noticed the return address:

B MANNING
94-1054 ELEU ST
WAIPAHU, HI 96797

Incredibly, for all Poitras’ efforts to establish a discreet delivery channel, Snowden had shipped the package with a return address that nearly matched his actual location in a small Hawaiian town, altered only by one street number digit. Bruder writes that she was “amazed” and worried that Snowden, in the midst of so much extreme caution, had used an an address so close to his own, along with the name of a famous leaker — Bradley Manning, who had not yet become Chelsea Manning — while in the very process of leaking via Bruder’s own real name and address. The two still don’t know why Snowden would have taken such an exceptional, potentially disastrous step to tempt fate, other than that it was perhaps the equivalent of nervous laughter in the face of possible ruin.

From Bruder’s doorstep, the box was relayed to Poitras, who in turn entrusted Maharidge with a backup copy of its contents: NSA files sent by Snowden. Maharidge now had to decide what to do with a copy of the most dangerous files one could imagine at that moment in time, a copy no one was supposed to find out he possessed. The material took a harrowing journey, moving from hidden in plain sight as airline carry-on baggage to being, in Marahridge’s words, sealed “inside a fifty-five-gallon barrel of old shit” underneath an outhouse.

At some point, at least three other people would receive backup copies of the Snowden material, Maharidge and Bruder write:

Of the three people who got copies, one remains unknown to us. Another asked to remain private. The third was Trevor Timm, a lawyer, journalist, and activist who is the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Trevor received a nondescript package in 2013, with the return address of somebody he knew. “Nobody said a package was coming for me,” he told us.

Eventually, Maharidge decided to keep his cache of files 80 feet up in a fir tree, where they became incorporated into a bird’s nest; today, they are at a new, undisclosed location. “Why keep it at all?,” Bruder and Maharidge wonder. “There is always the possibility that it could be seized as evidence. Yet we hang on to such items.” For all the anxiety the box has caused them, neither seem ready to end their part in the story.

Top photo: The Mira hotel in Hong Kong, where Edward Snowden had been staying, is pictured in Hong Kong on June 11, 2013.

The post The Strangers Who Got Snowden’s Secrets in the Mail appeared first on The Intercept.

Temer enfrenta, com imunidade, uma das acusações mais graves da Lava Jato

13 April 2017 - 1:51pm

O presidente da República, Michel Temer, quando ainda era candidato a vice-presidente, nas eleições de 2010, estava sentado na cabeceira da mesa de sua sala de reuniões no escritório que mantinha em São Paulo, na manhã do dia 15 de julho. Ao seu lado esquerdo, os deputados federais Eduardo Cunha e Henrique Eduardo Alves e um lobista de confiança do PMDB. À sua direita, dois representantes do grupo Odebrecht.

Ali, segundo um dos delatores da Odebrecht, o hoje presidente testemunhou, em posição de comando, Eduardo Cunha dizer que, se um contrato de US$ 800 milhões fosse confirmado pela Diretoria Internacional da Petrobras para a Odebrecht, a empresa teria de fazer “uma contribuição muito importante” para o PMDB, à época presidido por Temer.

O compromisso, segundo o homem sentado logo à direita de Temer, Márcio Faria, executivo da área internacional da Odebrecht, era o pagamento de 5% do valor do contrato – ou seja, US$ 40 milhões.

Trata-se da mais grave acusação contra Temer na Lava Jato. Como ele é o presidente da República, está protegido por imunidade relativa a investigações de casos que ocorreram fora do período em que ocupa o posto. O PSOL, no entanto, questiona no Supremo Tribunal Federal esse entendimento da Procuradoria-Geral da República. Ainda não há decisão sobre o assunto.

A “cúpula do PMDB” queria a benção de Faria para o compromisso dos US$ 40 milhões.

O valor negociado tinha sido definido dias antes em recado passado pelo lobista João Augusto Henriques, à esquerda de Temer, para Rogério Araújo – outro diretor da Petrobras e também presente à reunião. Henriques era o responsável por cuidar da interlocução entre a diretoria internacional da Petrobras, dona dos maiores contratos da estatal, e o PMDB.

Márcio Faria foi chamado até o escritório de Temer por Rogério, dois dias antes. Segundo ele, a “cúpula do PMDB” queria a benção de Faria para o compromisso dos US$ 40 milhões. A benção foi concedida, segundo o próprio.

“Eduardo Cunha tomou a palavra, e disse: ‘Olha, o pessoal está no processo de contratação do PAC SMS da Petrobras, diretoria internacional, e tem o compromisso de que, se realmente for adjudicado e assinar o contrato, vai ter uma contribuição muito importante pro partido. [Disse] olhando para mim, porque eu que teria que confirmar esse entendimento. Eu fui lá para abençoar esse compromisso”.

Michel Temer não ficou calado no encontro. Pouco antes de Cunha puxar o assunto “sério”, Temer e os demais presentes falariam amenidades. Márcio Faria diz ter perguntado para Temer como era ser candidato a vice de Dilma, que tinha fama de “complicada”.

“Se acontecer qualquer coisa, esses rapazes aqui [em referência a Eduardo Cunha e Henrique Eduardo Alves], pode deixar que ela vem e fica aqui”, disse Temer, apontando para o colo, uma brincadeira machista que, caso realmente tenha acontecido, indicava que Temer sentia que poderia “segurar” Dilma enquanto Cunha e Alves ajudariam a Odebrecht.

A história não aparece de forma isolada na narrativa da Lava Jato. Eduardo Cunha tentou trazer isso à tona ao fazer 41 perguntas que deveriam ser respondidas por Michel Temer. Parte delas foi indeferida pelo juiz Sergio Moro. Uma delas, a de número 34, fazia referência exatamente a essa reunião, ocorrida em 15 de julho de 2010:

“Vossa Excelência tem conhecimento se houve alguma reunião sua com fornecedores da área internacional da Petrobras com vistas à doação de campanha para as eleições de 2010, no seu escritório político na Avenida Antônio Batuira, nº 470, em São Paulo/SP, juntamente com o sr. João Augusto Henriques?”

Um dos procuradores que interrogava Márcio Faria chegou a perguntar se Temer, Cunha e Alves não imaginavam que aquele acerto não seria uma contribuição normal de campanha.

“[Foi] totalmente vantagem indevida, porque era um percentual em cima de um contrato. Ninguém falou em diretório, nada”, disse Faria.

The post Temer enfrenta, com imunidade, uma das acusações mais graves da Lava Jato appeared first on The Intercept.

Some Populist! Trump Caves to Big Business in Epic “Bank of Boeing” Flip-Flop.

13 April 2017 - 1:11pm

The Export-Import Bank is a big corporate welfare program that likes to keep a low profile. But in the past few years, the anti-establishment Republicans of the House Freedom Caucus and a handful of progressive Democrats including Bernie Sanders turned it into a rousing populist issue, first refusing to re-authorize the bank, then blocking nominations of new board members.

The bank dishes out billions of dollars of taxpayer-backed loan guarantees to a few U.S. corporations who use the subsidies to sell their goods abroad. Critics have dubbed it the “Bank of Boeing” because the aerospace giant receives more assistance than any other single firm; in 2014, $7.4 billion in long-term guarantees — 68 percent of the total made by the Ex-Im Bank — were for Boeing.

Candidate Donald Trump was strongly on the side of the reformers.

“I don’t like it because I don’t think it’s necessary,” he told Bloomberg’s With All Due Respect in early August 2015. “It’s a one-way street also. It’s sort of a feather bedding for politicians and others, and a few companies. And these are companies that can do very well without it. So I don’t like it. I think it’s a lot of excess baggage. I think it’s unnecessary. And when you think about free enterprise, it’s really not free enterprise. I’d be against it.”

But what Trump said then is no longer operative. As on many other issues, it turns out either Trump didn’t mean what he said, or he’s been manipulated into changing his mind, or both.

Much as he pivoted from opposing wars of choice to launching illegal airstrikes in Syria, or blasting Goldman Sachs in his final campaign ad and then hiring more than half a dozen former Goldman staffers to senior positions, Trump has once again abandoned the insurgent campaign rhetoric he insisted was deeply principled, to instead do the bidding of the Washington establishment. (There were actually five different pro-establishment policy flip-flops from Trump on Wednesday.)

The first sign that Trump would flip-flop on the bank was found in the White House’s budget blueprint, released in early March. The budget spared the bank, leaving open the question of whether the Trump administration would simply put off reforms until later or was in fact reversing itself.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Trump put the question to rest.

“It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies are really helped, the vendor companies,” Trump told the Journal, now giving lip service to precisely the kind of deceptive rhetoric he once mocked.

He also justified his about face by saying other countries also subsidize exports. “But also, maybe more important, other countries give [assistance]. When other countries give it we lose a tremendous amount of business.”

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended the move in an interview on Tuesday with CNBC.

“Have you accepted as a matter of administration policy that you’re going to take money from taxpayers and give it to the Ex-Im Bank?” interviewer John Hardwood asked. “Yeah. We did talk about the Ex-Im Bank because, as you know, I was a fairly significant critic of that in my time on the House,” Mulvaney replied. “And I’m very comfortable with where we got, which is I believe I have a commitment this from this president.”

Indeed, Mulvaney, too, opposed the bank, back when he was in Congress. “Just because the Senate votes on a piece of crap doesn’t mean we have to vote for it,” he said about attempts by Senate Republicans to pressure dissident House members to support re-authorization in 2015.

One thing that’s changed since the campaign is that Trump and Boeing have become a mutual admiration society.

In December 2016, shortly after being elected, Trump took to Twitter to slam Boeing for the price of the new Air Force One, even calling for the plane to be cancelled.

But the two sides quickly struck a more amicable tone. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg met with Trump and publicly pledged to get the project done for less than the costs Trump cited. The following month, Muilenberg met again with the president and praised him in front of reporters. “I think Mr. Trump is doing a great job of engaging with business,” he said. “We’re on the same page here.”

Trump took credit at a February 2017 rally for getting Boeing to reduce the price of the new Air Force One “by over $1 billion” — but the Air Force, which is in charge of the project, told the press that they were not aware of any new savings. Boeing, however, did not contradict him.

Trump visited a South Carolina-based Boeing plant the same month, and praised its new 787 Dreamliner. “I have to say also: That is one beautiful airplane,” he said.

Boeing and others who benefit from the Ex-Im Bank have also been publicly pressuring the administration. For example, on March 10 the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), one of the groups involved in lobbying for re-authorization, sent a letter to the administration touting the benefits of the bank.

The letter, signed by the CEOs of Boeing, Raytheon, and other aerospace firms, specifically pointed to the issue of ensuring a “quorum” on the bank’s board of directors; currently, only two out of the five seats are filled, preventing it from making certain transactions which require the approval of at least three board members.

In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump promised to fill two vacancies on the bank’s board, which would allow the bank to make larger transactions, including ones of over $10 million. The Washington Post noted last year that more than 30 deals worth $20 billion are on pause due to a lack of quorum, although the names of the specific companies who would benefit were a secret.

Former Boeing CEO and chairman Jim McNerney netted a spot on Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum in December, which was set up to allow corporate executives to advise the president on various matters. Like many others in the advisory group, McNerney had in the past aligned himself with Democrats and the Washington establishment but he quickly found a friendly ear in the Trump administration.

Top photo: President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One as he arrives at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on April 9, 2017.

The post Some Populist! Trump Caves to Big Business in Epic “Bank of Boeing” Flip-Flop. appeared first on The Intercept.

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