The Intercept

Don’t Lionize James Comey. The FBI Did Some Terrible Things Under Him.

17 May 2017 - 5:12pm

WHEN DONALD TRUMP asked FBI Director James Comey in February to drop the investigation of former National Security Advisor (and then-unregistered foreign agent) Michael Flynn, the president apparently didn’t realize that Comey would behave like one of his more than 13,000 special agents.

As the New York Times reported from a source close to Comey, the FBI director went back to his office and wrote down from memory a summary of his conversation with Trump.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to a memo the FBI director wrote. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

About three months after Trump allegedly said this, the president fired Comey.

Had this been a normal criminal investigation, and had Comey been a special agent in the field, the memo he would have written would have been known, in the FBI’s parlance, as an FD-302. The FBI does not record conversations with subjects related to criminal investigations. Instead, FBI agents, using their memory and sometimes handwritten notes, draft memos that summarize the conversations and include purportedly verbatim quotes. Federal judges and juries have consistently viewed these memos as indisputable fact. For this reason, Comey’s memo is no normal government memo. It could do lasting damage to Trump’s presidency, if not contribute to costing him the nation’s highest office altogether.

While Comey is now positioned for history to remember him as the cop who took down Trump, or tried to at great professional expense, there should be wariness about lionizing Comey in the way the news media have in recent days. Under Comey, the FBI pushed investigative and surveillance powers to new and controversial limits and employed tactics that were morally and ethically bankrupt.

In short, Comey’s FBI did some terrible things.

Trevor Aaronson’s conversation with Jeremy Scahill on the FBI can be heard on the latest episode of the Intercepted podcast:

 

In an effort to stop terrorist attacks before they happen, Comey expanded the practice instituted by his predecessor, Robert Mueller, to use undercover agents and informants to catch would-be attackers in sting operations. These stings never caught terrorists on the eve of their attack. Notably, the FBI twice investigated Omar Mateen, the Orlando nightclub shooter who killed 49 people and wounded 53 others while claiming allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call, but did not deem him a threat. At the same time, Comey’s FBI agents aided in the prosecution of Sami Osmakac, a Florida man caught in a sting operation, despite having called him in private conversations a “retarded fool.” They also busted penniless, mentally ill homeless men who claimed to be associating with ISIS. In one of those cases, an informant even gave a homeless man $40 so he could purchase the machete and knives he needed for his supposed plot. To catch a lonely Michigan man, the FBI used two female informants to set up a honeypot, in which the FBI informants claimed to be in love with the target so as to manipulate him. The target, in turn, claimed to have an AK-47 and to have attempted to travel to Syria. But it turned out he was just saying all that to impress the ladies.

When the FBI busted the dark web child-porn site Playpen, agents did not shut down the enterprise, going against previous FBI policy. In investigations of child pornography under Mueller, the FBI shut down child-porn websites immediately, believing that allowing distribution of the images and videos would further victimize the children who had been exploited. Comey’s FBI continued to operate Playpen for nearly two weeks in an effort to surreptitiously install tracking software on the computers of its users; child pornography was available from FBI servers during this period of time.

Just days before his firing, Comey testified before Congress that one-half of all smartphone and computer devices analyzed by the FBI can’t be examined “with any technique” due to encryption. During his tenure, Comey worked aggressively to give the FBI access to encrypted devices. Notably, Comey battled in court with Apple over the tech company’s unwillingness to help unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI later paid a hacker somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million to help unlock the phone. At the time, Comey told a House committee: “There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America.”

Despite being portrayed as flawless by movies and television shows, the FBI Laboratory turned out to be a vehicle for bad science and injustice. In 2015, the FBI acknowledged that examiners in its microscopic hair comparison unit had given flawed testimony, including in 32 cases in which defendants were sentenced to death.

Comey endorsed the practice of FBI undercover agents posing as members of the news media, though he called the practice “rare.” Of known cases in which FBI agents pretended to be journalists, they emailed a bomb-threat suspect near Seattle by posing as Associated Press employees, claimed to be a documentary film crew to investigate Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his supporters, and purported to be an investigator working with a journalist to conduct an undercover inquiry in Colorado.

Other examples of problems under Comey’s watch include the following:

  • An FBI translator, Daniela Green, traveled to Syria in 2014 and married Denis Cuspert, an ISIS operative and former German hip-hop artist. The FBI employee wasn’t undercover when this happened. She was in love. When she returned to the United States, Green received favorable treatment by becoming a cooperating witness — just two years in prison for making false statements — despite dozens of FBI cases in which ISIS sympathizers do far less and receive significantly harsher sentences.
  • More than a year after two men attacked a convention center near Dallas where Pamela Geller had organized the “First Annual Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest,” the FBI admitted in a court filing that it had an undercover agent embedded close to the two attackers, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi. After one of the attackers had posted a link to the “Draw Muhammad” event, the undercover agent wrote: “Tear Up Texas.” The undercover agent was on site during the attack but fled when the shooting started. In April, after CBS’s 60 Minutes covered the story, Senator Charles Grassley, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to Comey asking, among other questions: “Did the FBI suspect that Simpson and Soofi planned an attack at the drawing contest? Did the FBI have any formal or informal operational plan to intervene to stop Simpson and Soofi from carrying out an attack?”
  • The FBI expanded its authority to investigate people in the United States even when they are not suspected of being involved in criminal activity. This is commonly done in the service of recruiting informants, of which the FBI has more than 15,000. According to a classified FBI manual on the handling of informants that was updated under Comey, FBI agents are encouraged to build files on possible informants, may use undercover identities to recruit informants, and with proper clearances may recruit minors as well as journalists, clergy and lawyers. The FBI under Comey also codified a policy of using immigration as leverage to recruit informants and the threat of removal to keep coerced informants productive.

Top photo: FBI Director James Comey is reflected during his testimony at a House Appropriations hearing on “World Wide Threats” on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2016.

The post Don’t Lionize James Comey. The FBI Did Some Terrible Things Under Him. appeared first on The Intercept.

Delegados envolvidos em chacinas condenadas internacionalmente foram promovidos e premiados

17 May 2017 - 5:10pm

Quis o destino que, na mesma semana, chegassem ao noticiário a histórica condenação do Brasil pelos abusos de autoridade e violência policial pela Corte Interamericana de Direitos Humanos e o vídeo em que policiais da Rondas Ostensivas Táticas Metropolitanas (Rotam) do Paraná treinam sua corrida matinal gritando os seguintes versos, puxados pelo comandante:

“Bate na cara, espanca até matar
arranca a cabeça, explode ela no ar
arranca a pele e esmaga os seus ossos
joga ele na vala e reza um pai nosso”

O vídeo, publicado em uma página de Facebook que se declara apoiadora da polícia, já passa de 250 mil visualizações e foi criticado por vários veículos. Sua divulgação explicita o argumento da Corte, que aponta para uma formação que incita a violência e pede por uma reestruturação das polícias brasileiras tendo em vista que “a violência policial representa um problema de direitos humanos no Brasil”.

“Num contexto de alta letalidade e violência policial, o Estado tinha a obrigação de agir com mais diligência e seriedade”, diz a sentença sobre duas chacinas cometidas pela polícia do Rio de Janeiro na favela de Nova Brasília, no Complexo do Alemão, em 1994 e 1995.

Apenas na primeira chacina, policiais mataram 13 pessoas e estupraram três mulheres, duas delas ainda adolescentes. Na segunda chacina, desta vez envolvendo também o uso de helicópteros, outras 13 pessoas morreram. Apesar do uso das aeronaves, os corpos tinham sinais de tiros dados a curta distância, característicos de execução. As armas dos policiais que atuaram no chão durante a operação não foram periciadas.

Recebendo informações referentes a outros estados, a Corte aponta “a existência de um padrão” de abuso de autoridade contra os direitos humanos no Brasil, “especificamente por meio da violência policial e do uso excessivo da força”. Expedida em fevereiro, a sentença foi publicada em 12 de maio.

Vídeo: Mídia Ninja

A Corte decidiu que o Brasil deverá adotar — além de inúmeras medidas de indenização específicas às famílias de vítimas e a sobreviventes das operações que resultaram nas duas chacinas — um relatório oficial com dados relativos às mortes ocasionadas durante operações da polícia em todos os estados do país. As informações devem ser analisadas anualmente sobre as investigações de cada incidente que resulte na morte de um civil ou de um policial.

Caso o país não cumpra o determinado, podem ser impostas sanções internacionais, políticas ou econômicas. Entre elas, há a possibilidade de suspensão de concessões da Organização Mundial do Comércio ou do Mercosul.

“Um padrão” de abuso de autoridade contra os direitos humanos no Brasil

A diretora do Centro pela Justiça e o Direito Internacional no Brasil, Beatriz Affonso, foi uma das partes que acionou a Corte sobre os casos. Ela acredita que, com a sentença, fica claro um sistema de compadrio entre polícias, justiça e governo estadual:

“A sentença reconhece que violência perpetrada pelos agentes de segurança pública do estado do Rio de Janeiro é cometida em um contexto sistemático, e conta com a omissão dos administradores de justiça para que essas ocorrências não sejam investigadas e os responsáveis punidos, fomentando uma dinâmica contínua de impunidade como causa e consequência da violência de estado.”

As chacinas cometidas pela polícia do Rio de Janeiro se mantêm tão naturalizadas que, em abril, as jornalistas Cecília Oliveira e Juliana Gonçalves publicaram uma matéria no The Intercept Brasil informando que apenas entre março de 2016 e março de 2017 ocorreram 21 chacinas no estado, resultando em 76 mortes e 45 pessoas feridas.

Em 2016, a polícia de São Paulo também teve sua conta de violência e morte. No início do ano, dois dias após o assassinato de um policial militar, um ataque deixou quatro mortos na capital. Em outra chacina registradas no estado, cinco jovens de periferia foram mortos pelas mãos de policiais, em novembro. À época, uma reportagem da revista Veja revelou que, até a confissão, “o governo de São Paulo ignorou as fortes evidências e relutou em admitir que a polícia era a principal suspeita da chacina”.

A mesma negação foi observada e relatada à Corte sobre as duas chacinas de Nova Brasília, de 1994 e 1995. Um dos problemas apontados pela CIDH sobre as investigações delas foi que “o Estado não se pronunciou em relação ao pedido dos representantes sobre a suspensão dos policiais acusados”.

Para Jurema Werneck, diretora-executiva da Anistia Internacional Brasil, a sentença é importante porque aponta a falha do Estado brasileiro em investigar criteriosamente e responsabilizar os culpados por abusos dos direitos humanos em favelas e periferias:

“As chacinas de Nova Brasília ocorreram há mais de 20 anos e ninguém foi responsabilizado. Nem pelas mortes dos jovens, nem pela violência sexual cometida contra as mulheres, que acabam marcadas duplamente pela violência policial ao perderem seus entes queridos e estarem expostas a todo tipo de abuso. Esta impunidade alimenta o ciclo de violência policial nesses territórios que até hoje sofrem com inúmeras violações.”

Investigados e promovidos

Os mais de cem policiais envolvidos nas chacinas de Nova Brasília agiam sob as ordens de seus comandantes. Em vez de serem demitidos, como pediu à época uma sindicância interna da Polícia Civil, os delegados que lideravam as duas operações policiais que resultaram nas chacinas — José Secundino da Costa Silva, em 94, e Marcos Alexandre Cardoso Reimão, em 95 — foram alçados a titulares de delegacias em 2011 pela hoje deputada estadual Martha Rocha (PDT-RJ). Rocha era membro das duas sindicâncias que investigaram os então delegados.

Em 1994, a então delegada Martha Rocha era chefe da Corregedoria Geral da Polícia Civil, órgão responsável pela fiscalização das ações dos agentes. No mesmo mês da primeira chacina, duas sindicâncias foram abertas para investigar paralelamente o caso: uma da própria Corregedoria e outra criada por decreto do então governador Nilo Batista [que hoje toca um escritório de advocacia e tem seu trabalho focado em direito penal]. Rocha fazia parte das equipes das duas sindicâncias.

A sindicância da Polícia Civil chegou à conclusão, em 1995, que para 10 dos mais de cem agentes envolvidos deveria “ser aplicada a pena de demissão, face às circunstâncias agravantes de terem sido as transgressões praticadas como abuso de autoridade”.

O policial identificado por uma das vítimas de estupro, Plínio Alberto dos Santos Oliveira, ficou de fora da lista por se tratar de um policial militar [a lista tratava apenas de policiais civis]. Um relatório anexado aos autos do processo da Corte Interamericana, a que The Intercept Brasil teve acesso com exclusividade, afirma que, por seus atos, Oliveira pagou apenas 30 dias de prisão disciplinar.

Já Comissão Especial criada pelo governador emitiu seu relatório final em 1994. O então Secretário de Justiça do estado afirmou não restarem dúvidas “de que há fortes indícios da ocorrência de execuções sumárias”. Mas em janeiro de 1995, Marcello Alencar (1925-2014) assumiu o governo do estado.

Mudanças na política de segurança pública e guerra às drogas como justificativa

Com a posse do novo governador, houve uma reestruturação na secretaria de Justiça. Entre as mudanças, a secretaria de segurança, extinta por seu antecessor Leonel Brizolla (1922-2004) voltou a existir, e a Delegacia Especial de Tortura e Abuso de Autoridade, de onde partiram os pedidos pelas sindicâncias internas, fechou as portas.

O novo governador ia recorrentemente à imprensa para defender que policiais envolvidos em operações não fossem punidos ou criticados por participarem de confrontos armados. Em 1995, ele criou a bonificação policial que ficou conhecida como “gratificação faroeste”, que avaliava o desempenho dos policiais por sua participação em operações, dando aumentos de até 50%.

Segundo laudos periciais enviados à Corte Interamericana, entre 2003 e 2009, o processo passou por uma via crucis em forma de troca de mãos incessante entre Ministério Público Estadual e Corregedoria da Polícia. Inúmeros pedidos de postergação de prazo de ambas as partes foram aceitos sem qualquer explicação de motivo. Até que, em 2009, um relatório final foi encaminhado ao MP pedindo a extinção da punibilidade, alegando a prescrição dos crimes e acusando “um lapso temporal de cerca de 14 anos” que prejudicaria o andamento dos autos.

Em 2011, o Secretário de Segurança José Mariano Beltrame ao lado da delegada Martha Rocha, chefe da Polícia Civil, cumprimentam o governador Sérgio Cabral e seu vice, Luiz Fernando Pezão.

Foto: subsecretaria de Comunicação Social do Rio de Janeiro/MARINO AZEVEDO

Dois anos depois, em 2011, Martha Rocha se tornou Chefe da Polícia Civil do Rio de Janeiro. Na cerimônia de posse, estavam o então governador Sérgio Cabral e o então secretário de segurança pública José Mariano Beltrame. A mesma pessoa que, em 1994, fez parte das duas sindicâncias que pediram a demissão do delegado José Secundino por comandar a operação que resultou em chacina e estupros de garotas, agora o tornava titular de uma delegacia.

Curiosamente, hoje atuando como deputada estadual pelo PDT do Rio, Martha Rocha se coloca como combatente aos abusos sexuais. Basta dar uma olhada no site da parlamentar para perceber que todas as notas destacadas em sua página principal são sobre defesa dos direitos das crianças, dos adolescentes e das mulheres. Em 2013, com a reabertura do processo das duas chacinas a pedido do Ministério Público, muitos policiais envolvidos — inclusive Plínio Oliveira, acusado de estupro — chamaram Rocha, ainda chefe da Civil, como testemunha de defesa.

Já o delegado Marcos Reimão, coordenador da operação que matou 13 pessoas na mesma favela, foi escolhido por Marta Rocha para ser titular de uma delegacia logo que ela se tornou chefe da Polícia Civil. Antes disso, porém, ele ainda recebeu, em 1998, a Medalha Tiradentes – maior reconhecimento que a Assembleia Legislativa do estado pode dar a quem tenha prestado “serviços de grande relevância” ao estado.

A honraria já foi feita, por exemplo, ao filósofo Paulo Freire e ao Papa Bento XVI, mas chegou a se tornar motivo de piada na internet por escolhas curiosas de lauredados, como um dos filhos de Sérgio Cabral [à época com 24 anos] e Jair Bolsonaro. Responsável pela homenagem a Marcos Reimão, o então deputado do PSB Cosme Salles ficou conhecido por ter contratado para trabalhar em seu gabinete, na mesma época, um homem acusado pelo MP de envolvimento com a milícia.

“Estas canções não determinam a formação e nem a conduta de atuação dos policiais”

The Intercept Brasil consultou a Polícia Civil do Rio de Janeiro para saber se os delegados citados no processo ainda estão na ativa, já que seus nomes não se encontram mais na lista pública de delegacias.

A Polícia Civil informou que José Secundino da Costa Silva permanece lotado na Delegacia de Acervo Cartorário (DEAC) e que Marcos Alexandre Cardoso Reimão está lotado no Departamento Geral de Recursos Humanos (DGRH), desde 01/07/2015, “sem atividade no momento”. Outros dois delegados envolvidos no caso não estão mais na ativa.

A reportagem entrou em contato com a equipe da deputada estadual Martha Rocha sobre sua atuação nas sindicâncias de 1994 e sobre com a escolha dos dois delegados para serem titulares quando ela se tornou Chefe da Polícia Civil do Rio. Até a publicação da reportagem, os questionamentos não tinham sido respondidos.

Em resposta à publicidade que o vídeo ganhou, a Polícia Militar do Paraná se defendeu, por meio de nota à imprensa, dizendo que “se pauta pela atuação de policiamento comunitário, em consonância com os Direitos Humanos e de absoluto respeito à dignidade da pessoa humana”. A nota também afirma que “estas canções não determinam a formação e nem a conduta de atuação dos policiais militares nas ruas diariamente”.

Foto no topo: Policiais militares apontam suas armas enquanto um jovem passa por eles de bicicleta na Cidade de Deus, no Rio de Janeiro, em novembro de 2016. No dia anterior, sete pessoas foram mortas durante operação policial no local.

The post Delegados envolvidos em chacinas condenadas internacionalmente foram promovidos e premiados appeared first on The Intercept.

Chelsea Manning é uma mulher livre, e seu heroísmo vai muito além do caso WikiLeaks

17 May 2017 - 4:10pm

Quando Chelsea Manning protagonizou um dos mais importantes vazamentos de dados da História, ficou claro que se tratava de um ato de heroísmo. Foi um caso clássico de peso na consciência: aos 20 anos de idade, ela foi ao Iraque lutar em uma guerra que considerava nobre, apenas para descobrir a tenebrosa realidade, não apenas do conflito, mas da atuação dos Estados Unidos no mundo – crimes de guerra, matanças indiscriminadas, cumplicidade com altos funcionários corruptos e uma sistemática manipulação dos fatos.

Diante dessas descobertas, ela arriscou a própria liberdade para revelar documentos e contar a verdade ao mundo – sem receber nada por isso. Passei anos alardeando a nobreza dos atos de Manning, defendendo que o material vazado era de natureza vital e que o público tinha o direito de conhecer o seu conteúdo.

É difícil negar a importância daquelas revelações. Além de ter divulgado um dos vídeos mais chocantes das últimas décadas – mostrando a matança indiscriminada de civis pelas forças americanas –, o vazamento de Manning é visto como um dos catalisadores da Primavera Árabe até por críticos do WikiLeaks como Bill Keller, editor-executivo do “New York Times”. Mais importante ainda, a revelação da execução de civis iraquianos por militares americanos – que chegaram a pedir um bombardeio aéreo para disfarçar o crime – impediu que o governo iraquiano concedesse imunidade às tropas dos EUA, que o então presidente Obama tentava obter para poder continuar a guerra no país.

“Massacre gravado: exército americano confirma a autenticidade de vídeo arrepiante que mostra a morte de jornalistas”

Embora o caso de Manning tenha sido influenciado pela evolução da percepção pública do WikiLeaks ao longo dos anos, o fato é que ela entrou em contato primeiramente com veículos tradicionais da imprensa como “New York Times”, “Washington Post” e “Politico”, mas foi ignorada. Em uma troca de mensagens online da soldado com um indivíduo que posteriormente se tornaria informante do governo e a delataria, ela disse que tinha feito o vazamento para “provocar discussão, debates e reformas no mundo inteiro”, e acrescentou: “Quero que as pessoas saibam a verdade, não importa quem elas sejam, porque elas precisam estar informadas para tomar decisões.”

Após as revelações, o governo dos EUA – como costuma fazer – afirmou que os vazamentos colocavam vidas em risco, e que a pessoa responsável tinha “as mãos manchadas de sangue”. Porém, segundo avaliações posteriores das agências Associated Press e McClatchy, essas afirmações não têm nenhum fundamento. Até o secretário de defesa Robert Gates ridicularizou a histeria das declarações do governo sobre o suposto perigo dos vazamentos, classificando-as de “bastante exageradas”.

Embora a militar tenha sido menosprezada e ignorada por boa parte dos círculos mais importantes de Washington, ela fez tudo o que se espera de um denunciante. Manning quis provocar o debate e revelar ao público casos de corrupção e crimes que nunca deveriam ser ocultos. E ela fez isso sabendo que poderia ser presa, mas preferiu se deixar guiar pela consciência em vez do próprio bem-estar.

 

No entanto, o heroísmo de Manning é multifacetado e vai muito além da denúncia inicial, por mais corajosa que ela tenha sido. Consequentemente, ela virou fonte de inspiração para diversas pessoas no mundo todo. Atualmente, quase podemos dizer que os vazamentos de 2010 passaram para o segundo plano, e que o impacto de Manning como ser humano tem sido muito mais profundo. Sua bravura e convicção não se resumiram àquele episódio; sua trajetória nesses sete anos de encarceramento está repleta de determinação, dignidade e inspiração.

A prisão de Manning foi notoriamente dura. Em 2010, nos primeiros meses de detenção em uma prisão militar em Quantico, no estado da Virginia, surgiram os primeiros relatos de visitantes sobre as condições abusivas a que ela havia sido submetida: longos períodos confinada na cela sem nenhum contato humano, uma vigilância onipresente e exagerada e outras medidas ainda mais degradantes. Liguei para a prisão para investigar essas afirmações, que, para minha surpresa, foram confirmadas do outro lado da linha, no tom mais natural do mundo.

Assim, escrevi pela primeira vez que Manning estava sendo detida “em condições cruéis e desumanas, que em certos países poderiam até ser consideradas como tortura”. Esse artigo gerou muita controvérsia, que culminou com o pedido de demissão do porta-voz do Departamento de Estado, P.J. Crowley, que descreveu o tratamento reservado a Manning como “ridículo, contraproducente e estúpido da parte do Departamento de Defesa”.

Mas a história de abusos estava apenas começando. Meses depois da publicação do artigo, o “New York Times” revelou que Manning estava sendo sujeita a humilhações como ser obrigada a “ficar nua na cela por sete horas”, inclusive durante inspeções de rotina. Foi nessa época – em 2011 – que apareceu o primeiro relato dizendo que Manning pensava em se suicidar. A Anistia Internacional denunciou suas condições de detenção como “uma violação dos padrões e tratados internacionais por parte dos EUA” e convocou protestos para pedir o fim dos abusos.

Porém, não era nada fácil conquistar o apoio da opinião pública e da imprensa. Boa parte da direita via os autores de vazamentos como traidores e se deleitava com a desgraça da soldado, enquanto muitos liberais leais a Obama chegaram a ridicularizar o sofrimento de Manning. Mas finalmente um relator especial da ONU sobre tortura investigou o caso e concluiu, em 2012, que “o exército americano é culpado, no mínimo, de tratamento cruel e desumano”, e que “impor condições tão severas a um indivíduo que sequer foi julgado é uma violação do direito à integridade física e psicológica, bem como da presunção de inocência”.

Manchete de 12 de março de 2012 do jornal The Guardian: “‘Manning recebeu tratamento cruel e desumano’, afirma relator da ONU”

A polêmica gerada pelo relatório levou o governo de Obama a transferi-la de Quantico para uma base militar em Fort Leavenworth, no Kansas, onde ela aguardaria julgamento. Lá, embora seu tratamento fosse mais profissional e humanizado, o heroísmo de Manning alcançou proporções ainda maiores.

Em julho de 2013, ela foi condenada por “espionagem”, embora tenha sido absolvida da acusação mais grave, equivalente a traição, de “colaborar com o inimigo”. No dia 21 de agosto, ela foi condenada a 35 anos de prisão. No dia seguinte à promulgação da sentença, ela fez uma declaração se identificando como Chelsea Manning, uma mulher transexual, e exigiu das autoridades militares acesso a um tratamento hormonal para completar a mudança de sexo:

“É assim que me sinto desde a infância, e quero fazer uma terapia hormonal o mais rápido possível. Espero que apoiem minha decisão. Também solicito, a partir de hoje, ser tratada pelo meu novo nome e pelo pronome pessoal feminino, exceto nas correspondências oficiais endereçadas ao centro de detenção.”

É difícil imaginar quanta coragem e determinação são necessárias para fazer isso. Menos de 24 horas depois de ser informada de que passaria os próximos 35 anos em uma prisão militar, ela se identificou publicamente como uma mulher transexual e exigiu acesso ao tratamento hormonal ao qual tinha legal e moralmente direito.

Para nos darmos conta da valentia que aquilo exigia, temos que entender a situação dela à época. Em 2015, visitei Manning em Fort Leavenworth. Para chegar até lá, é preciso pegar um avião até Kansas City e depois seguir viagem de carro através dos bosques do Kansas – literalmente no meio do nada. Ao chegar, deparei-me com a grande base militar de Fort Leavenworth, e não foi nada fácil conseguir entrar. Uma vez lá dentro, é preciso seguir de 15 a 20 minutos de carro até o centro de detenção, que por sua vez é um labirinto de grades e medidas de segurança que deve ser atravessado para só então se chegar até Manning, nas entranhas da prisão.

Em outras palavras, era impossível estar mais isolado da sociedade do que Chelsea Manning. Sair do armário como transexual e encarar o processo de mudança de sexo é extremamente difícil, mesmo nas melhores condições. Os transexuais ainda enfrentam muitos problemas na sociedade – inclusive uma epidemia de violência –, mesmo nas cidades mais liberais e com o apoio de pessoas próximas. Agora imaginem o que deve enfrentar uma mulher trans em uma prisão militar no meio do Kansas, onde seu dia-a-dia depende exclusivamente dos carcereiros. É extremamente difícil – e exige extrema coragem.

As dificuldades de Manning na prisão, inclusive as tentativas de suicídio – pelas quais recebeu um castigo absurdo e cruel – foram divulgadas publicamente. Embora a prisão tenha fornecido uma parte da terapia hormonal pedida pela soldado, ela também impôs novas e mesquinhas restrições. Manning não pôde deixar o cabelo crescer e não recebeu todo o apoio que era necessário.

Como eu estava na lista de visitantes admitidos, pude ter longas conversas com ela por telefone ao longo dos anos. A experiência dela com a prisão e a mudança de sexo foi marcada por dificuldades gratuitas causadas por autoridades maldosas ou ignorantes.

Mas o que mais impressiona em Chelsea Manning é a sua perseverança. Em um tom humilde porém determinado, ela insiste em trilhar o que considera ser o caminho certo, mesmo correndo o risco de ser prejudicada. E foi com essa atitude que ela se tornou uma heroína para o movimento LGBT e muitas outras pessoas no mundo, não só por causa dos vazamentos, mas por lutar pelo direito de ser o que é e viver como um ser humano livre, mesmo nas condições mais opressoras.

 

Este artigo não pretende ser imparcial. Para mim, Chelsea Manning é uma boa amiga e uma das grandes heroínas dessa geração. Sua libertação não deixa de ter um sabor amargo. Como esquecer a injustiça que é passar boa parte da juventude sofrendo abusos na cadeia por um ato que na verdade merece a nossa gratidão? Mas é uma grande felicidade saber que ela poderá finalmente viver como uma mulher livre. Estou ansioso para ver tudo o que ela ainda pode realizar agora que finalmente conquistou a liberdade.

First steps of freedom!! ?https://t.co/kPPWV5epwa#ChelseaIsFree pic.twitter.com/0R5pXqA1VN

— Chelsea Manning (@xychelsea) May 17, 2017

“Os primeiros passos em liberdade!”, postou Chelsea Manning em sua conta no Twitter.

No fim das contas, o que faz de Chelsea Manning uma pessoa especial não é tanto seu ato de heroísmo político, e sim a sua maneira de encarar a vida depois dele. Como eu disse em uma carta de apoio ao seu pedido de clemência, ela é um dos indivíduos de maior empatia e compaixão que já conheci. Quando eu falava com Manning, era difícil conter a raiva contra a injustiça que ela sofrera e continuava a sofrer. Mas ela nunca demonstrou o mesmo sentimento, e às vezes até defendia aqueles que a maltratavam, colocando-se na pele deles.

É claro que a transição de volta à vida normal não será fácil. Manning ficou presa dos 22 aos 29 anos de idade. Ela tem consciência de que é uma figura controversa e não sabe o que a vida fora de Fort Leavenworth lhe reserva. Ela terá que se readaptar em vários sentidos.

Mas Manning é uma das pessoas mais inteligentes, contagiantes e inspiradoras que já conheci. Ela tem o apoio e a admiração de pessoas no mundo inteiro, como prova o sucesso da campanha de arrecadação de fundos para ajudá-la a se adaptar à vida fora da prisão. Em todos os lugares por onde passei, a simples menção do nome “Manning” bastava para que as pessoas a aplaudissem de pé. Ela poderá buscar forças em todo o amor e gratidão que recebeu ao redor do mundo para realizar o que quiser.

É raro encontrar inspiração em histórias políticas, principalmente nos últimos tempos. Mas a última década da vida de Chelsea Manning e o potencial dela para o futuro é um desses casos. Não podemos idealizar o que aconteceu com ela; sua história é repleta de injustiças, mágoas e ultrajes. Porém, ela não só serviu de inspiração para muitas pessoas como agora está finalmente livre, e isso é motivo de festa. É um lembrete de que o ser humano, com valores e determinação, é capaz de, sozinho, mudar o mundo para melhor.

Foto do alto da página: um cartaz com a imagem de Chelsea Manning na Parada do Orgulho Gay em San Francisco, em 29 de junho de 2014.

The post Chelsea Manning é uma mulher livre, e seu heroísmo vai muito além do caso WikiLeaks appeared first on The Intercept.

As verdadeiras causas do último ciberataque global: militarismo e ganância

17 May 2017 - 2:16pm

Na sexta-feira, uma espécie devastadora de malware contaminou computadores com Windows. O vírus continuou a se disseminar durante o fim de semana, deixando centenas de milhares de dispositivos praticamente inutilizáveis. A grande surpresa da história é que o vírus deve sua existência a hackers do governo norte-americano que trabalham na Agência de Segurança Nacional (NSA). Mas a caça às bruxas não termina aí – e nem deveria.

Agora que o vírus, que ficou conhecido como WannaCry, foi barrado, temos tempo de sobra para discutir e apontar mais culpados, além dos hackers anônimos que usaram códigos roubados da NSA para criar o vírus e de quem quer que tenha decidido transformá-lo num ransonware, um tipo de malware que sequestra dados do computador e cobra dinheiro pelo resgate.

A Microsoft não está nem preocupada em medir palavras. Em um comunicado mais audacioso e franco que o normal, 0 presidente Brad Smith acusou diretamente a NSA não só de criar e “armazenar” as falhas que viabilizaram o WannaCry, mas também de perder totalmente o controle sobre elas, como um Frankenstein cibernético:

“Ações como essa estão se tornando padrão em 2017. Já vimos vulnerabilidades identificadas pela CIA aparecendo no Wikileaks. Agora, uma falha que estava sendo armazenada pela NSA afetou consumidores do mundo inteiro. Brechas de segurança descobertas por órgãos do governo vazaram para o domínio público, causando danos em larga escala. Para fazer um paralelo com armas convencionais, é como se roubassem mísseis Tomahawk do Exército americano. O ataque mais recente sugere ainda um elo desconcertante, mesmo que involuntário, entre os dois tipos mais graves de ameaça à segurança digital: as que partem de um país e as que partem do crime organizado.”

Quando a NSA (ou a CIA, ou o FBI) detecta uma falha em um software e decide usá-la em benefício próprio sob total sigilo, empresas como a Microsoft obviamente não ficam sabendo. Do contrário, elas poderiam lançar uma atualização para manter seus clientes seguros. [Há quem considere isso uma coisa boa e necessária, há quem ache o contrário. Essas opiniões tem muito a ver com a forma como cada um enxerga a NSA: a agência prioriza demais seu potencial ofensivo em detrimento da privacidade e da segurança de cidadãos americanos e das pessoas em geral?]

A decisão de segurar ou divulgar a descoberta de uma falha é determinada por um procedimento chamado Vulnerabilities Equity Process (VEP), cujos princípios são bem pouco conhecidos. A função do VEP é pesar, de um lado, as vantagens do sigilo e, de outro, os potenciais riscos para o resto do mundo.

Quando a NSA adiciona ao seu arsenal de ataques uma falha do tipo “dia zero”, até então desconhecida, e não notifica o desenvolvedor do software, qualquer cibercriminoso que consiga descobri-la sozinho estará livre para explorar essa brecha na segurança como bem entender – às vezes, por anos a fio. Em muitos casos, as coisas até acontecem dentro do planejado pela NSA, mas o fato é que essa política de armazenamento de falhas prioriza o potencial ofensivo das áreas militar e de inteligência em detrimento da segurança digital de… bem, literalmente, do resto do mundo – e isso, claro, é bastante polêmico.

Só que, de acordo com a Microsoft, as coisas não têm saído conforme planejadas e o pessoal que guarda os segredos tem tido muita dificuldade em manter suas armas cibernéticas longe dos Shadow Brokers, Wikileaks e companhia. O argumento de Smith é válido e contundente: seja por conta de vazamentos internos ou de invasores externos, alguns dos melhores instrumentos de combate de duas das melhores agências secretas do mundo foram não só revelados como usados como armas contra hospitais britânicos, universidades chinesas e até contra a FedEx. O deputado Ted Lieu, um dos raros membros do Legislativo com algum conhecimento em ciência da computação, considera o WannaCry como uma oportunidade para reformular o VEP em prol de uma maior transparência: “Atualmente, o VEP não é transparente. Muito pouca gente entende como o governo toma decisões tão delicadas”, afirmou o deputado democrata da Califórnia num comunicado divulgado no dia em o WannaCry assolou o mundo. “O ataque global de hoje mostra o que acontece quando a NSA ou a CIA prefere desenvolver malware em vez de alertar o fabricante do software”.

A NSA não criou o WannaCry. O que a agência fez foi descobrir falhas em várias versões do Windows e, a partir disso, desenvolver programas para que agentes norte-americanos pudessem invadir computadores que rodassem o Windows. Um desses programas, batizado de ETERNALBLUE, foi adulterado por hackers ainda não identificados, permitindo que o WannaCry se espalhasse de maneira rápida e incontrolável. Você pode ou não achar que a NSA tem algum tipo de responsabilidade moral nisso tudo, mas o que é certo é que sem o trabalho da agência, não existiria ETERNALBLUE; e sem ETERNALBLUE, não existiria a crise do WannaCry de maio de 2017. Desse ponto de vista, a Microsoft está certa – mas não para por aí.

A Microsoft também não criou o WannaCry. Mas criou algo quase tão ruim quanto: o Windows Vista, um sistema operacional tão inchado, defeituoso e irritante que muitos usuários pararam de vez de atualizá-lo, optando por manter o antigo Windows XP. Até hoje, muita gente continua usando o sistema desenvolvido uma década e meia atrás, para o qual a Microsoft não oferece mais atualizações.

A Microsoft respondeu às primeiras notícias sobre o vazamento do ETERNALBLUE dizendo que o Windows já estava protegido contra esse tipo de ameaça graças a um patch, um programa para consertar imperfeições de um software. Mas a empresa esqueceu de mencionar que os usuários do XP ficaram de fora. Continuar a usar um sistema operacional após a data de expiração é imprudente – mas, para ser justo com milhões de pessoas que ainda utilizam versões antigas do Windows, esperar que os consumidores comprem periodicamente um software caro e de qualidade duvidosa também é. Só recentemente que a Microsoft começou a dar uma melhorada no Vista (e no confuso Windows 8).

Os defensores da NSA sempre se apressam em culpar os donos dos computadores e os administradores de sistema por não manter o software atualizado. Mas não costumam apontar o dedo para a Microsoft por escrever códigos poucos seguros, alienar clientes com sistemas operacionais fajutos e obsolescência planejada ou abandonar os muitos consumidores que ainda usam sistemas antigos. [Por sinal, o fato da Microsoft ter lançado um patch específico para Windows XP no fim de semana do ataque WannaCry prova que é totalmente possível manter seguros os antigos softwares] É importante frisar que deixar as versões mais antigas do Windows num estado de permanente insegurança é uma estratégia de negócios e uma decisão de engenharia, uma opção por abandonar os clientes à própria sorte quando algo como o WannaCry surge. Para grandes organizações com grandes responsabilidades, como hospitais ou usinas, atualizar o Windows não é só uma questão de esperar a barra completar 100%. É um emaranhado aterrorizante de problemas de compatibilidade, hardware altamente especializado e softwares independentes. Manter uma rede de computadores no Windows XP pode até ser negligência, mas não tanto quanto perder uma arma cibernética ou abandonar clientes à própria sorte com seus computadores funcionando razoavelmente bem.

Claro que a NSA quer atuar em total sigilo, sem compromisso com mais nada ou mais ninguém – esse é o trabalho deles. E claro que a Microsoft quer continuar a vender versões sucessivas de Windows de tantos em tantos anos, esquecendo pouco a pouco as tentativas anteriores – é o trabalho deles, também. Mas esses dois propósitos (o sigilo militar absoluto e a maximização do lucro no mercado de softwares) criam um ambiente favorável à propagação de fenômenos como o WannaCry, que derrubam hospitais e estações de trem.

The post As verdadeiras causas do último ciberataque global: militarismo e ganância appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Praises Erdogan, Whose Bodyguards Then Assault Protesters in Washington

17 May 2017 - 12:32pm

Updated: 1:37 p.m. EDT

Casting aside his predecessor’s concerns about human rights abuses and the suppression of free speech in another nation, Donald Trump lavished praise on another autocratic foreign leader on Tuesday, calling it “a great honor to welcome the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to the White House.”

Just hours after Trump focused his remarks on “the exemplary valor of the Turkish soldier,” however, Erdogan’s presidential bodyguards were caught on video punching and kicking protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington.

Images recorded by the Turkish-language service of Voice of America, a Congressionally funded broadcaster, showed the Turkish security guards battering about a dozen demonstrators, after scuffles between the protesters and Erdogan supporters.

Another witness captured video of the aftermath, as some of those injured in the attack received treatment, and an Erdogan supporter stomped on the flag of a Syrian Kurdish group that is fighting the Islamic State with the support of the United States.

Kurdish protesters attacked in front of the residence of Turkish ambassador. 7-8 ppl injured, treated in GW hospital. 1 attacker detained pic.twitter.com/r8h33YptvI

— Mutlu Civiroglu (@mutludc) May 16, 2017

One of the Kurdish protesters injured in front of the ambassador's residence. She is being treated in the hospital now pic.twitter.com/NuGobtxGcx

— Mutlu Civiroglu (@mutludc) May 17, 2017

Some of the Turkish officials were seen kicking prone demonstrators who had already been knocked to the pavement across from the diplomatic compound, where Erdogan had arrived a short time earlier.

This fucking guy is the one I want prosecuted first. pic.twitter.com/0sFtXQ7RSE

— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) May 17, 2017

One Turkish official was photographed throttling a young woman.

This afternoon in front of the residence of the Turkish ambassador in Washington pic.twitter.com/nb1X3A0prm

— Mutlu Civiroglu (@mutludc) May 16, 2017

Far from disputing that Erdogan’s security team was involved in the melee, a state news agency confirmed it, reporting, inaccurately, that the president’s team had been forced to step in because the American police had failed to stop an “unauthorized protest” by supporters of a Kurdish terrorist group.

A pro-government newspaper, Yeni Safak, also blamed the DC police for not stifling the protest, and claimed that the Kurdish protesters had “shouted racist slogans against Turkey and attacked Turkish citizens.”

Turkish daily claims that Erdogan's guards were helping the american police since the police couldn't handle the unauthorised demonstration. pic.twitter.com/Bd1uEPvkny

— Zohra Cizîr (@Z_Cizir) May 17, 2017

In fact, as video recorded just before the bodyguards charged the protesters showed, the demonstrators had been chanting “Erdogan: terrorist!” while holding signs decrying Turkey’s repression of its Kurdish minority and the jailing of a Kurdish political leader, Selahattin Demirtas.

One pro-Erdogan journalist, Fatih Tezcan, even shared video of the attack set to thrilling music, in which it seemed to have been provoked by a woman tossing water in the direction of the president’s supporters.

Cumhurba?kanl??? Korumalar?'n?n yüzüne kar?? Terörist Erdo?an diye ba??r?rsan seni Amerikan Polisi bile kurtaramaz tabi…

Ellerine Sa?l?k! pic.twitter.com/fkGl9ZMvIw

— Fatih Tezcan (@fatihtezcan) May 17, 2017

“Yesterday afternoon we witnessed what appeared to be a brutal attack on peaceful protesters at the Turkish ambassador’s residence,” Peter Newsham, the chief of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department told reporters on Wednesday afternoon. “As a result of the assault, 11 people, and one police officer, were injured.”

The police chief said that his officers were scouring through video of the incident and could file charges against those responsible for the attack, but did not yet know if any of the assailants had diplomatic immunity.

Newsham also said that such repression of dissent is “not something that we will tolerate here in Washington, D.C. — this is a city where people should be allowed to come and peacefully protest.” He noted, too, that the fact that some of the Turkish bodyguards were armed made the situation “dicey” for police officers.

While Erdogan’s guards had engaged in similar behavior during a visit to a Washington think tank last year, on that occasion the Turkish leader had not been invited to the White House by Trump’s predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

Obama’s United Nations ambassador, Samantha Power, and former National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor, were among those who expressed disgust at images of the assault on protesters in Washington on Tuesday.

Clearly Erdogan's guards feel complete impunity, drawing on tools of repression they use at home & knowing he has their back,no matter what https://t.co/jq1tFHwv35

— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) May 17, 2017

Today Turkish President Erdogan's goons beat the shit out of American protestors in Washington, DC. We cannot allow this to stand. https://t.co/h7JAhSQl5L

— Tommy Vietor (@TVietor08) May 17, 2017

Turkish goons bloody assault on protestors in DC was assault on America—saying fuck your laws & values we can stomp here in your capital.

— Philip Gourevitch (@PGourevitch) May 17, 2017

Trump’s warm embrace of Erdogan, whose name he repeatedly mispronounced, seemed to continue a pattern of ignoring the repressive behavior of autocratic leaders — from Vladimir Putin to Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to, briefly, Bashar al-Assad — who try to cast their crackdowns on dissent as part of a broader war on Islamist terror.

The post Trump Praises Erdogan, Whose Bodyguards Then Assault Protesters in Washington appeared first on The Intercept.

Chelsea Manning is a Free Woman: Her Heroism Has Expanded Beyond Her Initial Whistle-Blowing

17 May 2017 - 9:52am

Ever since Chelsea Manning was revealed as the whistleblower of one of the most important journalistic archives in history, her heroism was manifest. She was the classic leaker of conscience: someone who went at the age of 20 to fight in the Iraq War believing it was noble, only to discover the dark reality not only of that war but of the U.S. government’s role in the world generally: war crimes, indiscriminate slaughter, complicity with high-level official corruption, and systematic deceit of the public.

In the face of those discoveries, she knowingly risked her own liberty to disclose documents to the world that would reveal the truth, with no expectation of benefit to herself. As someone who has spent years touting the nobility of her actions, my defenses of her always early on centered on the vital nature of the material she revealed and the right of the public to know about it.

It is genuinely hard to overstate the significance of those revelations: aside from some of the most visceral footage of indiscriminate slaughter by the U.S. military seen in decades, even harsh WikiLeaks skeptics such as New York Times’ Executive Editor Bill Keller credited the leaks with helping to spark the Arab Spring. Even more significantly, revelations about how the U.S. military executed Iraqi civilians, then called in a bombing raid on the home to cover-up what they did, prevented the Iraqi Government from granting the Obama administration the troop immunity it was seeking in order to extend the war in Iraq.

Though Manning’s case has been somewhat colored by the changing perceptions over time of WikiLeaks, she actually first attempted to contact traditional media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Politico with her revelations, only to be thwarted by a failure to get their attention. In the online chats that she had with a deceitful individual who thereafter became a government informant and turned her in, she said her motive in leaking was solely to trigger “worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms,” adding: “I want people to see the truth … regardless of who they are … because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.”

In the wake of these disclosures, the U.S government – as it reflexively does – claimed that the release of the documents would endanger lives, and that those responsible for publishing the leaks had “blood on their hands.” But subsequent investigations by AP and McClatchy found those accusations utterly unfounded, and ultimately, even Defense Secretary Robert Gates ridiculed the hysteria driving the government’s claims about the leak’s harms as “significantly overwrought.”

In sum, though Manning was largely scorned and rejected in most mainstream Washington circles, she did everything one wants a whistle-blower to do: tried to ensure that the public learns of concealed corruption and criminality, with the intent of fostering debate and empowering the citizenry with knowledge that should never have been concealed from them. And she did it all knowing that she was risking prison to do so, but followed the dictates of her conscience rather than her self-interest.

 

But as courageous as that original whistle-blowing was, Manning’s heroism has only multiplied since then, become more multi-faceted and consequential. As a result, she has inspired countless people around the world. At this point, one could almost say that her 2010 leaking to WikiLeaks has faded in the background when assessing her true impact as a human being. Her bravery and sense of conviction wasn’t a one-time outburst: it was the sustained basis for her last seven years of imprisonment that she somehow filled with purpose, dignity and inspiration.

The overarching fact of Manning’s imprisonment was its enduring harshness. In 2010, during the first months of her detention in a U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, I began hearing reports from her handful of approved visitors about the vindictive and abusive conditions of her confinement: prolonged solitary confinement, being kept in her cell alone for virtually the entire day, gratuitous, ubiquitous surveillance, and worse. When I called the brig to investigate these claims, I was startled when a brig official confirmed to me, in the most blasé tones, their accuracy.

That enabled me to report for the first time that Manning was being imprisoned “under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture.” That report sparked a major controversy, ultimately culminating in the resignation of President Obama’s State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, after he denounced the treatment of Manning as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defense.”

But that turned out only to be the beginning of the abuse she endured, not the end. Several months after my report, the New York Times reported that Manning was being subjected to deliberately humiliating rituals in which she “was stripped and left naked” in her cell “for seven hours,” and “required to stand naked” outside her cell during inspection. It was back then, in 2011, that the first report of Manning’s suicidal thoughts surfaced. Amnesty International denounced her detention conditions as a “breach of the USA’s obligations under international standards and treaties,” and ultimately called for protests to demand a cessation of the abuse.

It was nonetheless difficult to generate large amounts of public or journalistic support for Manning: many on the right long viewed leakers as traitors and thus took glee in her suffering, while many liberals loyal to Obama literally mocked the abuse Manning endured. But ultimately, the UN special rapporteur on torture investigated the conditions of Manning’s imprisonment and concluded in 2012 “that the US military was at least culpable of cruel and inhumane treatment,” and “that imposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of his presumption of innocence.”

All of the controversy generated by those reports ultimately compelled the Obama administration to transfer her from Quantico to a more professionalized but still harrowing prison, in the middle of Kansas, on a military base at Fort Leavenworth, as she awaited her trial. While her imprisonment then became more normalized, her heroism multiplied to entirely new levels.

 

In July, 2013, Manning was convicted of multiple counts of “espionage” for her whistleblowing (though she was acquitted of the most serious charge she faced: the treason-equivalent of “aiding the enemy”). On August 21, she was sentenced to 35 years in prison. On August 22 – the very next day – she issued her statement identifying herself as Chelsea Manning, a trans woman, and demanded that she receive from military authorities the medical therapy she needed to complete her transition:

Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition. I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun (except in official mail to the confinement facility).

It is hard to describe the courage and determination that required. Less than 24 hours after she learned that she had been consigned to spend the next 35 years in the custody of a military prison, she publicly identified as the trans woman she is and demanded the medical therapy to which she was legally and ethically entitled.

To truly grasp the bravery that required, it’s necessary to understand her situation at the time. In 2015, I visited her at Fort Leavenworth. To get there, one must fly to Kansas City, then drive more than an hour into the woods of Kansas, in the proverbial middle of nowhere. One arrives at a sprawling, completely militarized base, Fort Leavenworth, where it was quite difficult to gain access. Upon entering, one drives another 15 to 20 minutes deep into the military base to arrive at the military brig, which itself is a labyrinth of cages and security measures that must be navigated in order to finally meet her somewhere in the bowels of that prison.

In sum, it’s almost impossible to be more isolated, more cut off from society, than Chelsea Manning was. Coming out as a trans person, and embarking on the transition process, is extraordinarily difficult even under the best of conditions. Trans people still face incomparable societal hurdles – including an epidemic of violence –  even when they enjoy networks of support in the middle of progressive cities. But to do that while in a military brig, in the middle of Kansas, where your daily life depends exclusively upon your military jailers, is both incomprehensibly difficult and incomprehensibly courageous.

Manning’s struggles in prison, including her suicide attempts and grotesquely cruel punishments for them, were publicly reported. Although the military prison begrudgingly gave her some of the therapy she sought, they also imposed petty restrictions, including a refusal even to let her grow her hair and a failure to provide much of the support that was needed.

As one of the few people on the list of approved visitors, I spent many hours on the phone with her during this period. Her experience both in prison generally and transitioning specifically was filled with completely gratuitous challenges and difficulties caused by malicious or ignorant prison authorities.

But what is ultimately most striking about Chelsea Manning is her unyielding persistence. In the most humble yet determined tones, she insists on following what she knows is the right path regardless of the risks and costs to her. And in doing so, far beyond the initial acts of whistleblowing, she became a hero to LGBTs around the world, and so many other people, by demanding the right to be who she is, and to live freely, even under the most oppressive conditions.

 

This is not a case where I feign journalistic objectivity or neutrality. I regard Chelsea Manning as one of this generation’s greatest heroes, as well a valued friend. While her release today is somewhat bittersweet – how can one forget the grave injustice that she spent almost all of her 20s in prison for having done something that merited our collective gratitude, and the abuse she continually endured? – I am thrilled that she will finally live as a free woman, and incredibly excited about what she can achieve, how she can inspire people, now that she is now finally released.

First steps of freedom!! ?#ChelseaIsFree pic.twitter.com/2Pt2AqNNXK

— Chelsea Manning (@xychelsea) May 17, 2017

Ultimately, what makes Chelsea Manning unique is not so much her political heroism but rather the way she has personally navigated her life after that. As I recounted in the letter I wrote in support of her clemency petition, she is the single most empathetic and compassionate person I have ever met. When I would speak to her, it was difficult for me to contain my anger and resentment over the abuse she had suffered and continued to suffer. Yet she never displayed or even seemed to share any of that anger, instead often defending even those who wronged her by empathizing with their own predicaments and mitigating their behavior.

To be sure, her transition back into freedom is not going to be easy. She’s been imprisoned since she’s 22 years old. She knows that she is a controversial and polarizing figure and is unsure what life outside of Fort Leavenworth has in store for her. It will naturally be a huge adjustment in all sorts of ways.

But Manning is one of the most intelligent, engaging and inspiring people one could ever hope to meet. There is a massive amount of admiration and support for her all over the world, as evidenced by the incredibly successful fundraising campaign to ease her transition out of prison. No matter where I have spoken in the world, the mere mention of her name prompts sustained standing ovations for her. All of that – her seeing how much love and gratitude there is for her – will undoubtedly strengthen her in whatever she chooses to do.

It is rare, especially lately, to find inspiration in any political stories. But the last decade of Chelsea Manning’s life, and the potential it now holds for the future, is one of those cases. One shouldn’t idealize what happened to her: there is a lot of injustice, and harm, and outrage in her story. But the way she has inspired so many, and the fact that today she is truly free, is a cause for real celebration, and a valuable reminder of how human beings, through pure acts of conscience and determination, can single-handedly change the world for the better.

Top photo: A poster depicting Chelsea Manning at the San Francisco pride parade on June 29, 2014.

The post Chelsea Manning is a Free Woman: Her Heroism Has Expanded Beyond Her Initial Whistle-Blowing appeared first on The Intercept.

A Short History of Presidential Obstruction of Justice

17 May 2017 - 9:39am

What exactly is obstruction of justice? And has President Donald Trump engaged in it, by reportedly telling FBI Director James Comey that he hoped Comey would “let go” of the bureau’s investigation of Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and then firing Comey months later?

The answer to the first question is: Criminal obstruction of justice is broadly defined, and according to 18 U.S. Code § 1503, includes “any threatening letter or communication [which] influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice.”

The Criminal Resource Manual for U.S. Attorneys points out that “the Supreme Court has concluded that ‘endeavor’ is broader than ‘attempt’” – and quotes the court stating that in the statute it means “any effort or essay to accomplish the evil purpose that the section was enacted to prevent.” Therefore, says the Justice Department, “it follows that an endeavor to obstruct justice need not be successful to be criminal.”

But the answer to the second question is this: Trump may or may not have engaged in obstruction of justice under normal judicial standards, but that’s irrelevant – the only thing that matters is whether Congress decides he did so under whatever standards they believe are appropriate.

It’s nearly certain that presidents can’t be prosecuted under criminal law while in office. No one’s ever made a serious attempt to do so, and while no court has ever ruled on whether it’s possible, a 2000 analysis by the Department of Justice agreed with the department’s 1973 examination of the same issue that “a sitting President is constitutionally immune from indictment and criminal prosecution.” (The author of the 2000 memo, Randolph D. Moss, went on to be appointed by President Obama to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.)

There is, however, a remedy for presidential misconduct, provided by Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution: impeachment and removal from office.

According to Section 4, any civil officer of the United States – which of course includes the president – can be removed from their position for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

The process begins in the House of Representatives. Impeachment is the equivalent of an indictment in the regular justice system. If a majority of the House approves one or more articles of impeachment, a trial is held in the Senate under the supervision of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, with senators acting as the jury. If two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict, the official is removed from office — and generally barred from ever again holding any other position, as the Constitution puts it, “of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States.”

What complicates the issue is that, while treason and bribery are relatively clear offenses, the Constitution is silent on what “other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” might be.

This is a particular problem because only two presidents, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, have ever been impeached and tried in the Senate, and neither was convicted. And Richard Nixon, the president most associated with impeachment, in fact was not impeached. Instead, after the House judiciary committee approved three articles of impeachment, he saw the writing on the wall and resigned before they were voted on by the full House.

It is true the Senate has tried 13 lesser officials, mostly judges, who’d been impeached by the House. But that’s still not much to go on; impeachment is essentially a justice system that has held only 15 trials total in 229 years, so there’s little precedent for any part of the process. This means that impeachment is inevitably, irredeemably political: An impeachable offense is whatever Congress decides it is, and no action is impeachable if Congress doesn’t want it to be.

That said, when attempting to impeach presidents, Congress has often tried to hew to criminal law to some degree – which is where obstruction of justice has come in, twice.

Congress did not accuse Johnson of obstruction of justice, instead claiming he was guilty of violating the 1867 Tenure of Office Act, a law which was eventually repealed twenty years later, in 1887, and is now  forgotten.

But the first article of impeachment against Nixon adopted by the House judiciary committee in 1974 centered on an accusation that he had “prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice” – similar to the criminal statutory language of 18 U.S. Code § 1503 quoted above, which may be of interest to Donald J. Trump, that forbids any action that “influences, obstructs, or impedes … the due administration of justice.”

Some of the accusations against Nixon in Article I have, at least to date, no parallel with Trump. For instance, the judiciary committee charged Nixon with suborning perjury and withholding evidence. Yet other parts of Article I sound quite familiar. Nixon was, the judiciary committee said, guilty of “interfering or endeavoring to interfere with the conduct of investigations by … the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” This did not include firing an FBI director, but rather a vague offer from a Nixon underling to the judge overseeing the prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg that the judge might be hired as FBI director. According to the Bill of Particulars attached to the three articles of impeachment, this violated 18 U.S. Code § 1503.

Another aspect of Nixon’s obstruction of justice was that he was responsible for “making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted with respect to allegations of misconduct on the part of personnel of the executive branch.” Trump has of course called the various investigations of Russian interference “a total hoax” and a “taxpayer funded charade” that “should have been over with a long time ago.”

Moreover, the committee’s Article II was in some ways similar to the first, charging Nixon with “impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries.” Nixon’s alleged actions included having “knowingly misused the executive power by interfering with agencies of the executive branch, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” All three articles concluded that Nixon’s conduct warranted “impeachment and trial, and removal from office.”

In Clinton’s impeachment, the House Judiciary Committee adopted four articles, two of which were approved by the full House. One of the two, Article III, used exactly the same language as Article I from 1974, accusing the president of having “prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice.”

However, none of the charges in 1998’s Article III against Clinton involved the FBI or were of the level of seriousness of the other accusations against Nixon. Instead, the judiciary committee claimed Clinton was guilty of, among other things, encouraging Monica Lewinsky to file a false affidavit and tampering with a witness.

That brings us to Trump and the possibility that he could be impeached for obstruction of justice.

Significantly, Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Republican who chairs the House oversight committee, sent a letter Tuesday to the FBI requesting any memoranda created by Comey recording his communications with Trump. The committee needs them, wrote Chaffetz, to discover whether Trump “attempted to influence or impede the FBI’s investigation” of Flynn. This language is clearly drawn from the various statutes on obstruction of justice – in particular from 18 U.S. Code § 1503, which, again, makes it illegal to take any action which “influences, obstructs, or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice.”

None of this, of course, means it’s likely the Republican-controlled Congress will produce articles of impeachment, or pass them out of the House, or vote to convict Trump in the Senate. But in the event that that comes to pass, the standard criminal definition of obstruction of justice will suddenly become relevant for Trump — because while presidents can’t be prosecuted while they’re in office, once they leave they can be prosecuted for crimes they committed while there.

That’s why Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon after he resigned. Nixon, he wrote, “has become liable to possible indictment and trial for offenses against the United States” — but that had to be stopped because “the tranquility to which this nation has been restored by the events of recent weeks could be irreparably lost by the prospects of bringing to trial a former President of the United States.”

Given the non-tranquil reaction to Ford’s pardon, it might be politically difficult for President Pence to try it again. So just in case Trump needs to know, the maximum penalty for obstruction of justice under § 1503 is ten years imprisonment – per count.

Top photo: Richard Nixon at the White House with his family after his resignation as President, on Aug. 9, 1974.

The post A Short History of Presidential Obstruction of Justice appeared first on The Intercept.

Intercepted Podcast: Donald Trump and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Presidency

17 May 2017 - 6:01am

Subscribe to the Intercepted podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, and other platforms. New to podcasting? Click here.

 

Donald Trump is spectacularly bad at being president. Maybe the most extreme allegations about him are true: he is a Russian asset, compromised, taking orders from Moscow. He definitely is hiding all sorts of information about his finances. Regardless, it is clear he is wildly incompetent with no interest in even trying to understand his current job or the rules that govern it. Or maybe, Donald Trump is just an idiot. This week on Intercepted, investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler and The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald analyze the latest insanity emanating from the White House. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tim Weiner and Intercept writer Trevor Aaronson discuss the firing of James Comey and debate his FBI legacy. And Palestinian author and journalist Rula Jebreal explains why President Trump is going to Saudi Arabia and Israel on his first international trip.

Transcript coming soon.

The post Intercepted Podcast: Donald Trump and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Presidency appeared first on The Intercept.

Steve Mnuchin’s Old Company Just Settled for $89 Million for Ripping Off the Government on Dodgy Loans

16 May 2017 - 6:46pm

For four years during Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s tenure as Chairman of OneWest Bank, its reverse mortgage subsidiary Financial Freedom ripped off the government by receiving unlawful federal insurance payments on reverse mortgages, according to an $89 million Justice Department settlement made public today.

Financial Freedom serviced thousands of government-insured reverse mortgages from 2011 to 2016. According to the settlement, the company repeatedly filed insurance claims with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and received interest payments, without following program guidelines. This gave Financial Freedom a critical backstop for reverse mortgages that often harmed borrowers.

“This lender failed to comply with FHA servicing requirements and sought to receive financial gains that it was not legally entitled to,” said Inspector General for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, David Montoya, in a statement accompanying the settlement.

Misconduct stemming from Mnuchin’s OneWest tenure has dogged the Treasury Secretary since President Trump nominated him last November. Prosecutors in the California Attorney General’s office recommended suing OneWest over widespread violations of state foreclosure practices. And numerous foreclosure victims have accused OneWest of treating them unfairly and wrongfully foreclosing on their homes.

The Financial Freedom unit appears to have been a particular trouble spot. Reverse mortgages, where seniors borrow against the value of their homes, are intended to give the elderly a source of income at end of their lives to make ends meet. But they can turn harmful amid unscrupulous lenders.

Seniors remain responsible for property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, and when they fail to pay, Financial Freedom often moved quickly to foreclose, without granting repayment options to the borrower. Financial Freedom also reportedly engaged in “widow foreclosures,” evicting a spouse from the home after the borrower on the title died. Data obtained by the California Reinvestment Coalition showed that Financial Freedom was responsible for 39 percent of all reverse mortgage foreclosures since April 2009, yet only 17 percent of all reverse mortgages.

Some of the worst horror stories about OneWest’s foreclosure practices involve Financial Freedom reverse mortgages. 103-year-old Myrtle Lewis slipped into foreclosure after a one-month lapse in homeowner’s insurance coverage. A 92-year-old widow from Florida was evicted over a 27-cent underpayment.

In this settlement, which resolves a Department of Housing and Urban Development investigation into Financial Freedom’s accounting practices, the victim was the FHA.

Reverse mortgage loans come due when the home becomes vacant or the owners die; at that point, the family of the borrowers repay the debt, or lenders sell the property to recoup costs. The FHA guarantees repayment to the lenders, including legacy costs of servicing and maintenance. They even collect interest while the claim is being processed, which often takes years. All lenders have to do is follow the guidelines of the program and they cannot lose.

Financial Freedom, according to the settlement, did not meet those regulatory requirements. Specifically, they did not hit deadlines for appraising the property, submitting claim forms, and initiating sales of the homes. And then they falsely claimed to the FHA they met the deadlines, to collect interest payments.

In other words, Financial Freedom didn’t spend the money required by the reverse mortgage insurance program, but still recouped interest payments from the FHA. Stealing from the program reduces its solvency and the viability of the reverse mortgage program. “We are pleased that Financial Freedom agreed to accept financial responsibility for these failures,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida, who prosecuted the case.

The period of Financial Freedom’s misconduct covers a period that began shortly after Mnuchin became Chairman of OneWest and ended shortly after he and his fellow investors sold the company. He was either unaware of the breakdown in controls at Financial Freedom, or aware of the misconduct and allowed it to continue.

Other OneWest officials have claimed that criticism of their reverse mortgage practices “are really criticisms of the regulations.” But victims and their families contend that Financial Freedom had wide latitude over reverse mortgage foreclosures, not FHA. And the settlement suggests that OneWest, under Mnuchin and afterwards, gamed the regulations to collect unlawful government payments. This suggests Financial Freedom was both ruthless toward borrowers and deceitful toward the FHA.

The Treasury Secretary who presided over this behavior is now in charge of regulating substantial parts of the U.S. financial system.

Sandra Jolley, a whistleblower who fought Financial Freedom over a reverse mortgage taken out by her parents and then became a consultant for other families, first notified the Justice Department of the violations. Under the terms of the $89 million settlement, Jolley will receive $1.6 million for her service. An initial assessment of Financial Freedom’s liability put the cost of the violations at over $200 million, so the lender likely got off easy.

Financial Freedom did not have to admit nor deny wrongdoing. In a statement to The Intercept, CIT, the current owners of OneWest, said they were “pleased to have resolved” the situation. They stressed that Financial Freedom has discontinued the troubled lender from originating new mortgages. “CIT continues to evaluate strategic options for the Financial Freedom business,” said spokeswoman Gina Proia.

CIT may not be out of the woods. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman subpoenaed documents about Financial Freedom’s loan business within the past couple months, according to the company’s financial disclosures.

The post Steve Mnuchin’s Old Company Just Settled for $89 Million for Ripping Off the Government on Dodgy Loans appeared first on The Intercept.

Bolsonaro e o fascínio da mediocridade

16 May 2017 - 4:35pm

“A imaturidade é de um profissional que deveria estar dedicado ao seu aprimoramento militar, através do adestramento, leitura e estudos, e não aventurar-se em conseguir riquezas.”

A avaliação consta de um documento do Conselho de Justificação do Exército sobre condutas – digamos – heterodoxas do hoje deputado Jair Bolsonaro (PSC-RJ) em seu tempo de militar. Resultado de um processo sigiloso obtido pelo repórter Rubens Valente, da Folha de S.Paulo, a análise ajuda a entender a mentalidade de um pré-candidato à Presidência que vem enfileirando fãs e admiradores como quem coleciona curtidas nas redes sociais.

Nas reportagens publicadas ao longo da semana, nas quais o parlamentar é citado em uma série de atos de indisciplina, é possível confirmar o que qualquer análise menos apaixonada já indicava: Bolsonaro é um sujeito marcado pelo “tratamento agressivo dispensado a seus camaradas, pela falta de lógica, racionalidade e equilíbrio na apresentação de seus argumentos”. As palavras não são de um esquerdista disposto a impedir a candidatura do mito, mas do coronel Carlos Alfredo Pellegrino, seu superior à época da ação, nos anos 1980.

“Vocês estão recebendo de quem para me perseguir?”

Bolsonaro não tem merecido outros adjetivos em seu tempo de deputado, que aprovou apenas em 2015 a primeira proposta de emenda constitucional após 25 anos como parlamentar. A sucessão de mandatos é antes marcada por bravatas, ameaças, loas a torturadores, incitação ao ódio e encrencas no Conselho de Ética, o que pode ser observado na tentativa da reportagem em ouvir sua versão, base elementar do bom jornalismo e do direito de resposta: “Vá catar coquinho. Vocês estão recebendo de quem para fazer matéria? Vocês estão recebendo de quem para me perseguir?”.

Deputado de desempenho medíocre, que a um ano da eleição presidencial não foi capaz de esboçar qualquer ideia minimamente clara sobre economia ou questões estruturais, Bolsonaro tem se beneficiado da rejeição aos chamados partidos tradicionais, atingidos no peito pela Lava Jato, e pelo derretimento de antigos símbolos morais de partidos conservadores, caso do senador tucano Aécio Neves (MG).

Conforme cresce nas pesquisas, é natural que as lupas sobre passado e presente do pré-candidato sejam levantadas, o que não necessariamente indica uma desconstrução do encanto alimentado por ele com uma fatia resiliente do eleitorado. Ao menos a se guiar pelo exemplo de Donald Trump nos EUA.

O deputado Jair Bolsonaro, em novembro de 2016, quando o Conselho de Ética rejeitou o processo contra ele por citar Brilhante Ustra na votação do impeachment.

Foto: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil

Na ressaca da eleição do ex-apresentador de TV, entre tantas análises produzidas na época, o escritor americano Dale Beran defendeu que para entender os partidários de Trump seria necessário enxergá-los como “pessoas que nunca apostam no cavalo certo”.

Muito se falou da chamada “classe trabalhadora branca esquecida”, citada por Beran no artigo, mas o interesse dele está nas gerações mais jovens, conectadas e que nunca tiveram os mesmos empregos dos pais, apenas a mitologia dos empregos. Para eles “a América, e talvez a própria existência, é uma cascata de promessas e anúncios vazios”.

Assim, prossegue o autor, esses partidários de Trump têm uma ideologia diferente de um tipo de eleitorado considerado mais óbvio. “Não um pensamento de ‘quando meu cavalo vai ganhar’, mas um trollador e autodepreciativo ‘sei que meu cavalo nunca vai ganhar’”.

Para Beran, o comportamento incompetente, errático e ridículo de Trump é o pilar em que se apoiam seus partidários mais jovens, e a internet acaba funcionando como um catalisador desses afetos.

Guardadas as devidas proporções, o Brasil se tornou também, de uns anos para cá, um depositário de promessas não cumpridas, ou parcialmente cumpridas, desde que sua decolagem foi anunciada pela Economist.

Bolsonaro não chegou até aqui nas pesquisas de intenção de voto pela capacidade de articular ideias e saídas inteligentes para os impasses sociais e políticos do Brasil contemporâneo.

A crise econômica, antes da crise política, colocou a frustração e o ressentimento como alavanca dos afetos políticos, dos quais o “medo” é sempre um aglutinador de votos e discursos. Funciona em cheio com quem acabou de sair da faculdade, por exemplo, e se frustrou com as possibilidades de emprego, mas não só.

A exemplo dos jovens americanos do artigo de Beran, o brasileiro de 2017 fatalmente terá no círculo das relações pessoais algum primo ou amigo de talento duvidoso convicto de que só não se tornou milionário ou CEO aos 25 anos graças a um sofisticado e bem remunerado complô protagonizado por um balaio de movimentos que comporta de mulheres, gays e negros contemplados pelo sistema de cotas aos defensores do politicamente correto, “essa praga que está acabando com o país”, passando por comunistas da velha guarda à turma dos direitos humanos, assim lembrada como se fosse uma gangue.

O medo dos grupos identificados com Bolsonaro diante do protagonismo exercido por mulheres, e o tato em lidar com algumas delas (vide a forma como deputado conversa com as colegas da Câmara), ou o esforço em minimizar as chagas da escravidão no Brasil, são exemplares deste delírio parcamente racionalizado – e que, no entanto, parece ter um apelo profundo em parte do eleitorado mais rancoroso.

Por trás disso parece haver desejos até hoje mal reprimidos na mente do deputado: aos 28 anos, os superiores de Bolsonaro se preocupavam com sua obstinação em enriquecer garimpando ouro; hoje ele ataca terras demarcadas em áreas que poderiam ser exploradas pela mineração.

Ainda falta muito para 2018, mas Bolsonaro não chegou até aqui nas pesquisas de intenção de voto pela capacidade de articular ideias e saídas inteligentes para os impasses sociais e políticos do Brasil contemporâneo. Chegou até aqui com bravatas que, sem projetar nada no lugar, prometem jogar fora a água suja, o balde e o bebê – sim, falamos da democracia.

Na psicanálise, há quem atribua o mal-estar contemporâneo às agruras de lidar com a própria liberdade e o desejo de restaurar, pela força e a moral, uma autoridade que diga o que fazer, o que é certo, o que é errado. É como se a chinelada causasse menos receio do que o peso das próprias escolhas, os próprios limites, as próprias frustrações – profissionais, mas também afetivas e sociais.

Bolsonaro é um deputado e ex-militar que jamais seria admirado ou reconhecido pelo brilhantismo. É a versão local do cavalo errado em quem ninguém apostaria – e que, quando confrontado, te manda catar coquinho. Como ele existe uma multidão perfeitamente identificada. Uma multidão que berra, como o fortão do fundo da sala, animada em disfarçar a mediocridade com ofensas a tudo o que lhe soa como diferente.

Resta entender o que é força política e o que é delírio entre os que veem nesses berros a promessa de restauração de uma autoridade moral supostamente perdida.

 

The post Bolsonaro e o fascínio da mediocridade appeared first on The Intercept.

Meet Philadelphia’s Progressive Candidate for DA: An Interview with Larry Krasner

16 May 2017 - 4:22pm

Philadelphians are heading to the polls today to pick a Democratic candidate for the city’s top prosecutor job. Turnout will almost certainly be low, but many in the city and beyond are looking at this election as a referendum on the criminal justice system at large, and a vote that could send ripple effects across the country and bring greater scrutiny on prosecutors, the system’s most powerful and unchecked actors.

As The Intercept reported yesterday, the field is crowded, and the city’s justice problems run deep: Philadelphia jails more people than any other city in the Northeast, and broken practices like stop-and-frisk, cash bail, and asset forfeiture are rampant and disproportionately impact the city’s poor and black citizens.

But an unconventional candidate has shaken up this race: a criminal defense and civil rights attorney who has never prosecuted a case but instead spent his career defending poor people and protesters and suing the police. The Intercept met with Larry Krasner ahead of the primary to discuss his opposition to the death penalty, what “smart on crime” really means, and how prosecutors nationwide can stand up to the Trump administration.

Alice Speri: You have been a defense attorney your entire career. Why do you want to become a prosecutor now?

Larry Krasner: I’m running now because I think the time is right. People are understanding something that I have understood for a while, just because I am in criminal courts four, five days a week and I have been seeing it for 30 years. What they’re seeing is that the criminal justice system systemically picks on poor people, and those people, at least in Philadelphia, are overwhelmingly black and brown people.

The situation has gotten urgent. When you have more people in jail than any country in the world, that’s a problem. When you have more people of color in jail than South Africa had during apartheid, that’s a problem. When you have the most incarcerated city of the ten largest cities in the United States, that’s a problem. When you have more people doing life sentences whose homicides were committed as juveniles than any state in the country and any country in the world, that’s a problem. We have gotten to the point where it should be pretty obvious something has to change, right?

When I looked at the candidates who were in the field, I was looking at people I knew, and it was business as usual. If there had been a truly progressive candidate in there I would not have run. At this point it just seemed necessary to be honest.

AS: You have made resisting the Trump administration a cornerstone of your campaign. How can DAs do that?

LK: The good news is that the feds don’t have enough law enforcement officers. They have jurisdiction over certain things like drugs and guns, but they still need to have boots on the ground. If they’re going to try to go back to a war on drugs that has failed so miserably, they’ll have a hard time doing it in places where local prosecutors aren’t willing to do it for them. I am not willing to help ICE with mass deportations. I am not willing to help the DEA or the FBI return to the mentality of the war on drugs. Of course I would engage in what I view to be appropriate drug enforcement but that doesn’t look like the war on drugs. If local district attorneys simply stand up and say, “You go ahead, we’re not going to be a part of your plan. We’re not funded for it, we’re not required to do it,” he will have great difficulty carrying out almost all of what he’s trying to do.

AS: You said you want to transform the culture of the DA’s office. How do you do that when prosecutors wield enormous power and have long acted without oversight or accountability, often driven by a convict-at-all-costs mentality?

LK: People are doing things in that office pretty much because that’s how they’ve always done it. In fact, one of the more laughable things about being in court all the time is how you see some good defense attorney or public defender making a legal argument and the response coming from the DA is, “But judge, that’s how we always do it.” Which needless to say is not a legal response. That’s just the systemic familiarity response.

If you have a truly progressive DA, there’s going to be a certain portion of the DA’s office who can’t stand the idea of change. They’re going to leave. There are other people who are going to be made to leave because you cannot bring about real change and leave people in place who are going to fight change every step of the way. The ones who will leave will tend to be my generation, people who started in this business 30 years ago, which means they’ll also tend to be white and male. That results in more openings, opportunities for greater diversity, and if we are to judge by what’s happened in other jurisdictions, the office will become a tremendous magnet for new talent, because there are a ton of people who are either coming out of law school or who are mid-career who would love to work in a truly progressive DA’s office but haven’t been able to find any.

That means you have really committed, dedicated, talented people who are coming into an organization that already contains the dissent, meaning people who have been there for years but might have been frustrated for years. I know some of these folks because some of them would call me and tell me what they knew about corrupt cops, but couldn’t do anything about it from the inside. Those people need to stay, and in supervisor positions, because they represent the kind of change that should come. And there are a lot of just malleable, mostly younger attorneys who did what they were told, and always wanted to do the right thing, and with proper training will do the right thing. I think real cultural change is possible.

AS: Prosecutorial misconduct is a major problem in many DA offices, and it’s hardly ever confronted.

LK: Prosecutors who engage in misconduct or can be shown to have done it in the past are not going to be working for me. Let’s remember something. DAs go into court every day and there are certain mantras they repeat. One of those mantras is, “Well, you should have thought of that before you did what you did.” Another one is, “You need to take responsibility for your actions.” Right? Well, it goes for them too.

Philadelphia District Attorney candidate Larry Krasner speaks with volunteers and supporters during a volunteer thank you event in Philadelphia on May 11, 2017.

Photo: Charles Mostoller for The Intercept

AS: You have been described as the “Black Lives Matter candidate” and to many in law enforcement that means the anti-police one. You have sued the Philadelphia PD at least 75 times. How will you work with the police?

LK: People have a tendency to think of all police as being the same. But they’re not, and in cities as diverse as Philadelphia, a very significant portion of the “Blue Lives,” as the Fraternal Order of Police likes to say, are in fact black lives. If you talk to black officers in Philadelphia about things like stop-and-frisk, their attitude is much more negative. They get stopped and frisked themselves. They watch their teenage sons go out to do nothing wrong and come back with bloody knees, humiliated and angry. And they also have to participate in it, and they realize every confrontation you have with kids who have done nothing wrong is alienating those kids, reminding them that they’re poor, and making them dislike police and not want to give information to police. The head of the FOP in Philadelphia is this reactionary white throwback kind of guy who endorsed Donald Trump — to the outrage of much of the rank and file in Philadelphia, to the outrage of women officers, and there are many, to the outrage of black officers, and there are many, and to the outrage of white officers of good will.

AS: How will you keep police accountable while working with them? Do you believe in the need for a special prosecutor to oversee police abuse cases?

LK: I have been prosecuting police for a very long time. It is not a particularly popular thing to do, it’s one of the most difficult areas of law there is, because juries like to believe in police and are inclined to try to believe in police as much as they possibly can. As district attorney I would have a unit headed by a supervisor whose duties are exclusively investigation and prosecution, where appropriate, of police, and investigation and prosecution, where appropriate, of public officials. I don’t think whoever is heading that unit should simultaneously be using police as witnesses in drug cases or in robbery cases or in homicide cases. It just seems to me that that gets too conflicted. But at the same time, I’m not a fan of the idea that some progressives have that I should just send those cases to the state attorney general.

AS: “Smart on crime” seems to be the new catchphrase among moderates in law enforcement, including in this DA race. The idea is to target the small percentage of offenders who commit violent crimes. In fact, violent offenders are usually excluded from much of the debate around criminal justice reform. Can the justice system be fairer for them too?

LK: For political reasons the rhetoric around this has become violent versus non-violent, and nobody really talks about what violent means. Does violent mean Charles Manson? Or does it mean two workers who get in a fistfight in a bar, one of them has a black eye and the other one is charged with simple assault? That’s violent, but it ain’t Charles Manson. The response to those two things should be careful and thoughtful and three-dimensional. It should not be simply to lump them all together.

There’s this idea that there are just two categories of people, the violent ones and the non-violent ones, and all the non-violent ones are deserving of compassion and all the violent ones are monolithically evil. Let me tell you something that’s non-violent that I think is pretty damn intrusive and awful: economically preying on vulnerable victims by identity theft, by taking advantage of elderly people in contracting, by the epidemic we have in Philadelphia of stealing houses by manufacturing phony deeds — I think that those things hurt a little bit more than a black eye in many ways, and yet we think in binary terms, violent, non-violent. We need to be much more victim-centered and survivor-centered when we think of these crimes, and not equate a bar fight with mass murder, or something that is incredibly intrusive, like identity theft, with other non-violent offenses that really don’t affect anyone like the possession of marijuana.

AS: You oppose the death penalty and said that you will never pursue it. Pennsylvania has only executed three people since 1976 (three individuals that waived their appeals and asked for the executions to be carried out). Why do people still believe that you can’t win an election if you oppose the death penalty?

LK: I was consistently told that I needed to decide whether I wanted to win this election or be the unicorn. And that if I want to be the unicorn then I could raise my fist and say no death penalty, but if I want to win I shouldn’t say that. I said it anyway, just because that’s what I believed for 30 years and it just didn’t make any sense to me to start lying now. It’s controversial, I suppose, but it’s also really dumb that it’s controversial.

AS: You have represented generations of protesters. Are things getting worse for the right of expression and dissent?

LK: There is definitely a sense among the right, and an attitude that has been cultivated by Trump during his campaign rallies, that free speech will not be tolerated, that it’s ok to punch people who disagree with you, it’s ok to throw people out at rallies if they disagree with you, it’s ok to brag about beating them to the point where they have to be taken out on stretchers. We have seen police behavior, from the moment of Trump’s inauguration, that is less tolerant of free speech than what we saw before. I think it’s going to be up to a lot of attorneys and locally elected prosecutors to hold the line and make sure we preserve people’s civil rights. But let’s remember something: there has also been more protest happening. In Philadelphia, when they called for a Women’s March and they thought there were going to be X number of people, it’s been three times that. When people went down to the airport because of the Muslim ban and they thought there were going to be X number of people, it’s been three, four, five times that. We’re seeing a very grassroots response and at the same time we’re seeing a wannabe dictator who is trying to cut off any expression he doesn’t like. Now he’s essentially trying to create a space where protest is not permitted. But he’ll lose. People like him always do.

AS: You have been called the Bernie Sanders of the Philadelphia DA race and a lot of Sanders supporters have campaigned hard for your election.

LK: I do feel like the Bernie in this race. Ain’t nobody perfect but neither am I, so I think it’s great. They stood for change from the outside. When we look back, we have to admit that the old Vermont Jewish socialist septuagenarian would have won. Because he did represent an outside perspective that got channeled in the worst way towards Donald Trump.

AS: If you do become the DA, will you miss being “on the other side” in court?

LK: No, because I don’t think I’ll be on the other side. I always did this because I think trials should always be fair, and innocent people should not be convicted, and individuals’ civil rights should be preserved, and results should be accurate, and guilty people should get the proper outcome. I don’t see a big distinction between doing that as a prosecutor and doing it as a defense attorney. When I came out of law school I had offers from prosecutors’ offices and I had offers from public defenders’ offices. Philadelphia was one of those places where there was only one side to be on, because the culture in the DA’s office was drunk on the death penalty and in love with using poor people to get ahead as a politician. It was gross. It’s been gross for 30 years, so in Philly there was only one choice. But hopefully we can change that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Top photo: Philadelphia District Attorney candidate Larry Krasner at his law office in Philadelphia on Thursday, May 11, 2017.

The post Meet Philadelphia’s Progressive Candidate for DA: An Interview with Larry Krasner appeared first on The Intercept.

The Real Roots of the Worldwide Ransomware Outbreak: Militarism and Greed

16 May 2017 - 3:19pm

A runaway strain of malware hit Windows computers Friday and spread through the weekend, rendering hundreds of thousands of computers around the world more or less useless. The big twist: The virus was made possible by U.S. government hackers at the National Security Agency. But the finger-pointing won’t stop there, and it probably shouldn’t.

As the worm, known as WannaCry, has been contained, more free time has opened up in which to argue and assign blame beyond the anonymous hackers who used leaked NSA code to assemble the virus, and whatever party decided to turn it into ransomware. Microsoft isn’t holding back.

In an unusually bold and forthright post by president Brad Smith, the company called out the NSA by name for not just creating, but “stockpiling” — and then, like Cyber Frankenstein, losing all control over — the attacks that made WannaCry possible:

This is an emerging pattern in 2017. We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the CIA show up on WikiLeaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world. Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen. And this most recent attack represents a completely unintended but disconcerting link between the two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today – nation-state action and organized criminal action.

Every software weakness the NSA (or CIA, or FBI) decides to use for itself in total secrecy is necessarily one it won’t share with a company like Microsoft so that it can write and release a software update to keep its customers safe. (Whether or not you see this as a good and necessary thing likely has a lot to do with your opinion of whether the NSA too often prioritizes its ability to hurt adversaries over the privacy and safety of U.S. citizens or over the privacy and safety of people in general).

The government’s official decision to withhold or disclose is driven by something called the Vulnerabilities Equity Process (or VEP), and its exact mechanism is not entirely known. The VEP is meant to balance the advantages gained by keeping a given software vulnerability secret versus the potential risks to the world at large.

When the NSA adds to its arsenal an undisclosed software vulnerability, known as a “zero day,” rather than reporting it to the maker of the software, any common cybercriminal who happens to independently discover it will be free to exploit the security hole for their own ends, sometimes for years and years. Even if everything goes according to plan for the NSA, this sort of stockpiling values the military and intelligence community’s offensive capabilities over the digital safety of, well, literally everyone else, and is rightfully controversial.

But per Microsoft’s point, things aren’t going according to plan recently, and our nation’s secret keepers have been having a lot of trouble keeping their computer weapons away from the likes of the Shadow Brokers and Wikileaks. It’s a true and damning argument on Smith’s part: Whether due to internal leakers or  external attackers, two of the most advanced and secretive spy agencies in the world have seen some of their most prized offensive tools snatched out of the shadows and not only made public, but weaponized against British hospitals, Chinese universities, and FedEx. Congressman Ted Lieu, a rare legislator with any background in computer science, sees WannaCry as an opportunity to overhaul the VEP in favor of more disclosure: “Currently the Vulnerabilities Equities Process is not transparent and few people understand how the government makes these critical decisions,” the California Democrat wrote in a statement as WannaCry raged around the world. “Today’s worldwide ransomware attack shows what can happen when the NSA or CIA write malware instead of disclosing the vulnerability to the software manufacturer.”

The NSA did not create WannaCry. Rather, it discovered weaknesses in various versions of Windows and wrote programs that would allow American spies to penetrate computers running Microsoft’s operating system, and it was one of these programs, codenamed ETERNALBLUE and repurposed by still-unidentified hackers, that allowed WannaCry to spread as quickly and uncontrollably as it did last week. Whether or not you think the causal chain is such that the NSA is in some sense morally responsible, it’s undeniable that without the agency’s work, there is no ETERNALBLUE, and without ETERNALBLUE, there is no May 2017 WannaCry Crisis. In this sense, Microsoft is right–but the blame shouldn’t end there.

Microsoft also did not create WannaCry. But it did create something something nearly as bad: Windows Vista, an operating system so horrendously bloated, broken, and altogether unpleasant to use that many PC users back in 2007 skipped upgrading altogether, opting instead to stick with the outdated Windows XP, a decision that has left many people on that decade-and-a-half-old operating system even today, years after Microsoft stopped updating it.

When Microsoft responded to the startling initial reports of ETERNALBLUE’s public release by noting it had already inoculated Windows against the threat via software patch, it did not mention that XP users were not included. Using an operating system after its expiration date is unwise, but in fairness to the millions of people around the world still using old versions of Windows, expecting consumers to regularly buy expensive software of uncertain quality is unwise too. It’s only relatively recently that Microsoft has started to shake off the stink from Vista (and the confusing Windows 8).

Some of the NSA’s defenders are quick to blame computer owners and IT administrators for not keeping their software current, but less likely to blame Microsoft for writing insecure code, alienating customers with shoddy operating systems and planned obsolescence, or dropping support for older OSes still in wide use. (The fact that Microsoft did actually release a WannaCry security patch for Windows XP over the weekend shows that it’s entirely possible to make old software safer). It can’t be overstated that the choice to let older versions of Windows lapse into a condition of permanent insecurity is as much a business strategy as an engineering decision, and one that leaves Microsoft customers in the lurch when something like WannaCry breaks loose. In the case of a large, high-stakes organization like a hospital or manufacturing plant, upgrading to the next version of Windows isn’t just a matter of waiting for the progress bar to fill, but a nightmarish web of compatibility issues with specialized hardware and niche, 3rd party software. If letting a computer network in you administer run Windows XP is negligent, it’s surely a negligence that pales compared to losing a military cyberweapon, or leaving customers whose computers work

The NSA surely wants to do its work in full secrecy, undisturbed as much as possible by obligations to anyone or anything else–it’s the business they’re in. Microsoft surely wants to continue to sell successive versions of Windows every several years and gradually forget about its earlier attempts–it’s the business they’re in. But these two agendas, of militarism, absolute secrecy, and software profit maximization create an environment that allows something like WannaCry to stomp all over the globe, hobbling hospitals and train stations in its wake.

The post The Real Roots of the Worldwide Ransomware Outbreak: Militarism and Greed appeared first on The Intercept.

Should Donald Trump’s Hotel Host a Banquet for 800 Friends of Mike Pence?

16 May 2017 - 1:22pm

THE PRESIDENT’S intermingling of his family’s business interests and his official duties now appears to involve a prominent religious group that hosted the vice president as a speaker.

Last Friday, hundreds of conference-goers wearing red lanyards strolled through the lobby of the Trump International Hotel on their way to the “Presidential Ballroom,” a 13,000 square-foot private banquet facility located just a few blocks from the White House. A few of them were priests wearing vestments of the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox churches. They had come to Washington for a four-day event — the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians — organized by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son.

The day before, Vice President Mike Pence had addressed their summit at the Mayflower Hotel, not far away. “I’m here on behalf of the President as a tangible sign of his commitment to defending Christians,” Pence said. “The Christian faith is under siege. Throughout the world, no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than the followers of Christ.” The vice president’s speech was broadcast live on whitehouse.gov, and Pence promoted it with seven tweets from his personal account.

Less than thirty-six hours later, conference-goers were bussed over to Trump’s hotel for a lavish dinner of filet mignon, potatoes au gratin, and asparagus — with revenues from the banquet paid to Trump Old Post Office LLC, adding to the Trump family’s personal fortunes.

Summit organizers said that they booked the dinner two months prior to the event, and that Pence agreed to speak at the Mayflower several weeks later. They said the decision to hold the event at the Trump hotel’s Presidential Ballroom was driven by its capacity, which is significantly larger than the Mayflower’s 7,600 square-foot Grand Ballroom.

“I’ve got no information that we knew anything about a banquet at the Trump hotel,” said an official from the vice president’s office. According to Marc E. Lotter, Pence’s press secretary, “The vice president spoke to the group on Thursday at the Mayflower Hotel as he has long been focused on religious persecution in the world.”

Summit organizers told The Intercept that “800-plus” people attended the dinner. An estimate provided by Trump hotel event planners put the average cost of food at roughly $105 per plate, not including audio-visual and room rental fees. The total cost of a similar event held at the Trump hotel by the Kuwaiti government was $40,000 to $60,000, according to Reuters.

Norman Eisen, a former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic who is currently affiliated with the Brookings Institution, has been a vocal critic of Trump’s conflicts of interest. “There’s this pattern,” Eisen said, regarding last week’s summit events. “The unsavory intersection of special interest influence in the Trump administration, proximity, and access, mingled with the utilization of Trump’s properties. Because he’s retained an ownership interest, there’s cash going into his pocket.”

Trump Old Post Office LLC is leasing the hotel building from the federal government. A March letter from the General Services Administration found that the lease is still valid despite a clause prohibiting elected officials from being “admitted … to any benefit.” According to the letter, the hotel’s LLC is owned by several other Trump family corporations, including the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust and Ivanka OPO LLC. The president used its ballroom for one large press conference during the campaign. He has promised to donate hotel profits from foreign governments back to the U.S. Treasury, though a Trump Organization spokeswoman told USA Today that he will hang onto the money until the end of the year.

A spokesperson for last week’s summit said the event was funded by a large number of small donors. While declining to provide a list of the names to The Intercept, the spokesperson said that none of the backers were foreign governments. If true, this means Trump family corporations would pocket the profits from the event.

A security guard standing outside the presidential ballroom on Friday stopped a reporter from entering, saying it was a “private event.” According to Patricia Tang,  a spokesperson for the hotel, “We never comment on anybody who had an event or who may have had an event, for the privacy of guests.”

The total cost of the summit was $4 million, according to the organizers. As reported by Time Magazine, Pence met with Metropolitan Hilarion, a cleric who leads the external relations department of the Russian Orthodox Church. The two men discussed how Russia and the U.S. could cooperate on Middle Eastern counter-terrorism efforts. Photos posted to an official church homepage show Hilarion meeting Pence on Thursday, Franklin Graham on Friday, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Monday. Kislyak is at the center of a multiple investigations into the Trump administration’s contacts with the Russian government during the campaign and transition.

Trump has had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the Graham family that predates last week’s dinner. He attended Billy Graham’s 95th birthday party in 2013. Days before the 2016 election, Franklin Graham said that at the birthday party, Trump was one of “many people” who “gave their hearts to Christ.” Trump gave $135,000 from his own foundation to Graham family charities beginning in 2012. Franklin Graham backed him through the rocky election, urging his evangelical followers to “hold your nose and vote.” Graham was one of six clergy members — the final one — to deliver prayers from the Capitol at Trump’s inauguration.

Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. on March 3, 2017.

Chelsea Matiash/The Intercept

Eisen said that the dinner was “unsavory but legal, unless there were foreign government donors, in which case this would be a potential violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.” He added, “I think the American people have a right to know who those donors are.”

The Washington hotel is the subject of a lawsuit alleging that Trump is in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal officials from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title” from foreign governments. Trump’s personal attorneys have said that the clause does not cover “routine business transactions,” including payments for hotel rooms. On Monday night, the artist and journalist Robin Bell projected the full text of the Emoluments Clause onto the entrance of Trump’s Washington hotel, along with the words “Emoluments Welcome” and “Pay Trump Bribes Here.”

Projections of #EmolumentsWelcome at Trump Hotel in Washington, DC 5-15-17 #resist pic.twitter.com/8gkucztYOm

— robin bell (@bellvisuals) May 16, 2017

Top photo: Franklin Graham, right, prays for Vice President Mike Pence during the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians hosted by Graham, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association on May 11, 2017 in Washington.

The post Should Donald Trump’s Hotel Host a Banquet for 800 Friends of Mike Pence? appeared first on The Intercept.

Help Us Sustain and Expand Our Journalism

16 May 2017 - 12:41pm

In 2013, Jeremy Scahill, Laura Poitras, and I founded The Intercept to serve as a platform for the kind of adversarial, independent journalism we believed was missing from mainstream outlets. Central to our mission was editorial independence and journalistic freedom: empowering journalists to pursue their passions and convictions in confronting powerful factions and exposing corruption and injustice — without fealty to any politician or party.

The initial impetus for The Intercept was the need to create a journalistic environment where we could report on the Snowden archive with the fearlessness and aggressiveness those materials required. But from the start, we intended to build on that ethos and apply this style of journalism to all areas we covered. The first three years of The Intercept were devoted to this vision, and it continues to guide us as we expand.

As many of you know, The Intercept has been published and funded by First Look Media, founded by Pierre Omidyar. This support has been critical in enabling us to build our team and preserve editorial freedom for all of our writers. But we believe that diversifying our funding sources is imperative to maintaining this independence over the long term and continuing to expand our journalistic impact and reach.

We’d like to invite you to become a member of The Intercept.

On the simplest level, reader support will increase our funding and enable us to hire more great reporters, editors, designers, researchers, and others who make our journalism possible, ensuring that we continue to thrive and grow. But on a deeper level, being accountable to readers is a highly valuable attribute. Reader support transforms a journalistic outlet from a one-way conversation into a collective endeavor; it is an indispensable means of ensuring that coverage remains exclusively focused on the public interest.

Perhaps most important, reader support is key to our ability to maintain our status as a nonprofit journalistic venture, ensuring our stories are never influenced by click-bait or advertising pressures. That we are not geared toward profit has enabled us to keep our focus where it belongs: on high-impact, substantive, quality journalism.

From the time I began writing about politics on a free blogging platform back in 2005, reader support has been central to my ability to build a journalistic platform that is accountable to nobody but readers. That is the type of freedom and accountability we are determined to maintain at The Intercept, and turning to readers for support is a vital means of achieving that.

Finally, diversity of funding is a healthy model for journalism in general. We have been fortunate to have a publisher that has fully adhered to its commitment to support our journalism without any attempts to dictate or constrain what we do. But a funding model that relies on a range of supporters is inherently preferable to one that relies on a small handful or a single funder. Our new membership program is principally designed to fortify The Intercept for the long term and allow us to expand and strengthen the journalism we are doing now.

Please consider supporting us in our journalistic mission by becoming a member of The Intercept.

The post Help Us Sustain and Expand Our Journalism appeared first on The Intercept.

How an Undercover FBI Agent Ended Up in Jail After Pretending to Be a Journalist

16 May 2017 - 12:36pm

Word traveled fast in tiny Glendale, Colorado, when an undercover FBI agent identifying himself as Charles Johnson began knocking on doors and asking questions.

For nearly a year, as a part of the FBI’s investigation of the armed standoff between a Nevada rancher named Cliven Bundy and Bureau of Land Management agents in 2014, Johnson pretended to be a documentary filmmaker. At one point, he assured Bundy’s suspicious son Ryan, “I want a truthful documentary.” The more than 100 hours of video and audio recordings that Johnson and his team produced while posing as journalists are being used as evidence in criminal trials against Bundy and his supporters. While Johnson was finished with the fake documentary production by the time he arrived in Colorado, he wasn’t done with pretending to be a member of the news media.

It was February 2016, just a couple of weeks after members of the Bundy family and their supporters were arrested following the standoff at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. At the time, Glendale’s civic life was dominated by debate over a $175 million development proposal, called Glendale 180, to create a new nightlife and entertainment district. Glendale Mayor Mike Dunafon has led the campaign to remake the city. An eccentric politician who lives in a home that looks like a castle — it has its own website — Dunafon ran as an independent for Colorado governor in 2014. Wyclef Jean even produced his official campaign song.

But Dunafon’s plans for remaking Glendale have been stalled by a local businessman named Mohammad Ali Kheirkhahi, who runs a Persian rug store on land he owns that would be a centerpiece of Glendale 180. Glendale wanted to purchase the land for the entertainment district, but Kheirkhahi had proposed developing a high-rise condominium tower on the site. The city’s tiny newspaper, the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle, opposed the condo development proposal, referring to it as the “Tehranian Death Star.” The newspaper quoted several citizens in its pages expressing opposition to Kheirkhani’s residential development. For reasons that remain obscure, Johnson started door-stopping people who were quoted in the newspaper, according to police records obtained by The Intercept.

On February 20, 2016, Johnson showed up at the apartment of Sherry Frame, the Glendale city clerk. Johnson didn’t identify himself as an FBI agent. Instead, he said he was an “investigative consultant” who was hired to look into an ethics complaint. As part of that inquiry, Johnson said he needed to talk to Frame.

Feeling threatened by the unannounced visit to her home, Frame called police. Detectives soon discovered that Johnson had also stopped by the homes of two people who worked at Shotgun Willie’s, a local strip club owned by Mayor Dunafon’s wife. A police officer called Johnson’s number and left a message. Johnson returned the call and left another message. Nothing more happened, until the undercover FBI agent returned to town on March 15, 2016, and contacted Douglas Stiff, a disc jockey at Shotgun Willie’s. Stiff agreed to meet with Johnson at a local restaurant, and then he too called the Glendale police.

A roadside sign marks the entrance of the Shotgun Willie’s strip club and Smoking Gun Apothecary, the new marijuana dispensary, in Glendale, Colo., on Feb. 10, 2016.

Photo: Brennan Linsley/AP

Detective Shaun Farley, suspecting that Johnson was working as a private investigator without a state license, suggested setting up a sting. The case became a game of spy versus spy, an undercover cop trying to catch an undercover FBI agent.

According to audio obtained by The Intercept, on the drive to the restaurant, Farley and Stiff worked on their cover story. “Let’s just say we know each other from CU-Denver,” Farley said.

“CU-Denver?” Stiff said. “All right, cool.”

“Just say we had some class together and been friends ever since, for fucking business degrees,” Farley added. “So we share common interest in business degrees, chicks with titties, and music, because you’re a DJ, right?”

“Yep,” Stiff said.

Farley slipped the recording device under his clothing. “I can’t just walk in and set it on the table. Be like, ‘What’s up, dude? Here’s my recorder. Say some stupid shit.’”

Stiff laughed. Then they walked into the restaurant and greeted Johnson, who explained that he was investigating the proposed condo project and community opposition to it. As part of that work, he said he was contacting people who, like Stiff, had been quoted in the local newspaper as opposing the project. Stiff told Johnson that he didn’t like being tracked down and having a stranger show up at his home.

“I didn’t track you down,” Johnson said.

“You came to my front door,” Stiff replied.

“But I didn’t track you down. The person I work for —”

“Who is?” Stiff interrupted.

“She’s a writer,” Johnson answered.

“Who is?” Stiff asked again.

Johnson refused to answer. He explained that he had been hired by a journalist to investigate claims that were made in the local newspaper.

After nearly an hour of talking, with Johnson repeatedly refusing to disclose who had hired him, Farley piped up: “It still seems like you need a license to do this kind of stuff.”

Johnson demurred, saying he was not acting as a private investigator. The undercover cop and the strip club DJ then walked back to the car.

“How often do you have to waste your time like this?” Stiff asked. “Probably a lot.”

“No, it’s not a waste of time,” Farley answered. “He’s about to get pulled over and get arrested.”

“Badass,” Stiff said, excited. “What crime did he commit?”

Farley explained that in Colorado, as of July 2015, anyone doing contract investigations work needed to be licensed as a private investigator in the state.

“Holy shit!” Stiff said.

Another uniformed Glendale police officer then pulled over Johnson, and they agreed to talk at a nearby Starbucks. After interviewing Johnson, the officer let him go, believing that he needed to review the law concerning private investigators before he felt justified in making an arrest. Glendale police officers then reviewed the law, contacted state regulators, and concluded that Johnson was indeed violating state law. They knew from running his plate that he had a rental car that was due back early the next morning. As Johnson dropped off his car, the police approached him. “So I am being placed under arrest?” the undercover agent said.

When he was arrested, Johnson was carrying three different state identification cards, from Tennessee, Hawaii, and Florida, as well as expensive camera equipment. He also had a business card identifying himself as an “investigative consultant” and listing the same Nashville, Tenn., address and phone numbers as Longbow Productions, the fake documentary company the FBI set up to film the Bundys and their supporters. Glendale police booked Johnson and escorted him to an interrogation room, where a camera recorded their conversation. Dressed in blue jeans and a green parka, Johnson maintained his innocence, pointing out that there was an exemption in Colorado law for journalists and that a journalist had hired him to ask questions in Glendale.

“If it was a journalist, what journalist did hire you?” Farley asked.

Johnson shook his head. “And I’m not getting into that because I’m not — because what happened to me, I’m not saying anything about anybody else,” he answered.

The detective followed up: “How did this person reach out to you? How did they even know to contact you?”

“I didn’t know them. From a friend, from a friend who knows what I do,” Johnson said.

None of it added up to Glendale police. So they charged Johnson with unauthorized practice of private investigations and issued a summons to appear in court. Local prosecutors dropped the charges after receiving a letter from the FBI asking them not to prosecute.

It’s unclear what the goal of Johnson’s Glendale undercover operation was or why the FBI’s Denver office decided to use a journalistic cover. “We are not able to comment on the questions you have posed,” said Special Agent Amy Sanders, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Denver office.

In June 2016, four months after this incident, the FBI adopted an interim policy that requires undercover operations involving the impersonation of news media to be approved by the deputy director of the FBI in consultation with the deputy attorney general. As FBI director, James Comey defended the practice of impersonating journalists in criminal investigations but described it as “rare.”

Johnson testified in March in the jury trial of six defendants who had supported the Bundys during the 2014 standoff with federal agents. The trial ended in convictions against two defendants and a hung jury for the other four. Johnson is also expected to testify in the trial of Cliven Bundy and his sons, which is scheduled to begin June 26. The trial may include as evidence video that Johnson produced while impersonating a documentary filmmaker.

The FBI did not respond to questions about Johnson’s arrest in Colorado, including whether it was disclosed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nevada.

Bret Whipple, the lawyer representing Cliven Bundy, had been unaware of Johnson’s arrest in Colorado. “I think it’s absolutely material that could impeach the witness and should have been turned over to us,” Whipple said. “He was breaking local law while acting surreptitiously.”

Top photo: This screen grab made from video released by the Glendale Police shows Charles Johnson during an interrogation.

The post How an Undercover FBI Agent Ended Up in Jail After Pretending to Be a Journalist appeared first on The Intercept.

Na desigualdade entre brancos e negros, o racismo nosso de cada dia

16 May 2017 - 12:14pm

Os dados da pesquisa  sobre as diferenças na qualidade de vida entre a população negra e a população branca, divulgada na última semana pelo Pnud,  evidenciam em números o que faz parte da vida real, para além das estatísticas: passados 129 anos da abolição da escravatura, o Brasil mantém o roteiro de sua herança colonial-escravocrata. Não há nada que seja capaz de mascarar de maneira eficiente que aqui a população negra se constituiu como uma  subclasse, uma população feita para não vingar, não dar certo, uma força de trabalho trazida à força do continente africano mas que, se esperava, não necessariamente constituiria o que seria a “nação brasileira” e, por isso mesmo, deveria desaparecer.

A abolição da escravatura, em 13 de maio de 1888, saiu como o ato maior do altruísmo de uma princesa de ascendência portuguesa. Mas os fatos e os anos pós Lei Áurea mostraram muito mais. Para quem quisesse ver, é claro, a Lei não tornou negros escravizados cidadãos livres. Ao contrário, tornou o Império (e a República em seguida) e suas instituições verdadeiramente livres de continuar “carregando o fardo” dos corpos negros escravos, um atraso na sociedade da época, uma ameaça constante de evasão e levantes nos estados onde o abolicionismo já havia vencido e predominado, onde o capitalismo pedia mercado de consumo e produção assalariada para se legitimar.

Não havia qualquer dificuldade de perceber isso ontem. Não há qualquer dificuldade em perceber hoje.

Como tão bem apontou Florestan Fernandes , “os senhores foram eximidos da responsabilidade pela manutenção e segurança dos libertos, sem que o Estado, a Igreja ou qualquer outra instituição assumisse encargos especiais, que tivessem por objeto prepará-los para o novo regime de organização da vida e do trabalho”. Não havia qualquer dificuldade de perceber isso ontem. Não há qualquer dificuldade em perceber hoje.

Basta ver como o ano de 1888 está situado  entre dois diferentes momentos de nossa história.  De um lado, o incentivo, do Império, cada vez maior a partir de 1870, à entrada de trabalhadores imigrantes no país, principalmente europeus, para as lavouras basicamente do sul-sudeste; de outro, em 1890, a promulgação do Código Penal Brasileiro, em que o sujeito negro é a principal personificação dos “crimes” ali descritos.

A população outrora escravizada via sua mão de obra ser desprezada como ferramenta obsoleta e  seu corpo criminalizado, enquanto brancos das mais diversas nacionalidades ocupavam este lugar agora regido pelo regime assalariado e condições que não poderiam mais ser comparadas à escravidão (ao menos legalmente).

A ditadura militar no Brasil escolheu  investir na  “democracia racial”. Interessava aos militares a ideia do país unido, onde o único inimigo comum, para a toda a sociedade fosse de fato o comunismo e as ideias socialistas.

O intelectual e ex-senador Abdias do Nascimento, cujo principal livro se tornou um clássico e um escândalo, “O Genocídio do negro brasileiro”, já apontava em seu livro que os militares consideraram, em 1969, como “subversiva” uma campanha que abordava a discriminação racial. Eles temiam que a abordagem racial causaria novas áreas de atrito e crítica ao governo. Ou, como afirma o historiador americano Thomas Skidmore, os militares, a partir de 1968, tornaram “a pesquisa de campo sobre relações raciais virtualmente impossível”. E mais, “não só a rubrica raça foi omitida no censo de 1970, mas sobretudo a censura governamental impediu toda e qualquer crítica à imagem da democracia racial brasileira”.

Em nome da “democracia racial”, militantes negros que tentaram destruir o mito, contra a ditadura, foram perseguidos e torturados. E é evidente que, por trás dessa resistência também tem a reverberação da intensidade das lutas dos movimentos pelos direitos civis nos Estados Unidos, a repercussão dos assassinatos de Malcom X e Martin Luther King e como tudo isso inflamava os movimentos negros ao redor do mundo, junto com as lutas anticolonialistas no continente africano e em especial na África do Sul. No Brasil? Democracia racial.

E parece que o mito da democracia racial  venceu. Violentou tanto a mentalidade brasileira, silenciou tanto a população negra, sua memória, que hoje pode ser bem ilustrada, como exemplo, na resistência que as cotas raciais ainda enfrentam entre grande parte da sociedade, que enxerga sentido na cota para pobres mas rejeita em esmagadora maioria o uso das mesmas com recorte racial.

Uma cidade onde a desigualdade entre brancos e negros não compromete seu status de qualidade de vida é o exemplo significativo de quanto a desigualdade se cala, quando a parte mais miserável e explorada da desigualdade é preta.

Os debates sobre o sistema prisional e o encarceramento em massa que insiste em negar o aspecto racial da questão; o alto índice de homicídios no Brasil e por que atinge de forma tão acintosa a população negra, em especial os jovens, com diferenças gritantes e escandalosas em relação a população branca; os menores salários, que insistem em existir entre homens e mulheres, e são ainda mais gritantes quando essa mulher é negra; a academia branca que segue dando o tom na produção de saber e a ausência ainda profundamente perceptível dos autores e pensadores negros nas bibliografias principais; e assim vamos longe.

A pesquisa do PNUD mostra que há 50 municípios brasileiros em que ao menos o IDH da população branca é considerado muito alto. Mas a pesquisa aponta que em absolutamente nenhum (lemos “nenhum”) município do país a população negra chega a ter a mesma oportunidade.

Pela pesquisa, uma cidade como Niterói, no Rio de Janeiro, é a segunda cidade do Brasil com a maior desigualdade entre brancos e negros, atrás de Porto Alegre. Niterói é a cidade celebrada por seus moradores como aquela que ocupa o primeiro lugar em qualidade de vida no Estado do Rio. Uma cidade onde a desigualdade entre brancos e negros não compromete seu status de qualidade de vida é o exemplo significativo de quanto a desigualdade se cala, quando a parte mais miserável e explorada da desigualdade é preta. Ainda no estado do Rio, a segunda cidade com a maior desigualdade entre brancos e negros, Petrópolis, é aquela que já foi considerada a cidade mais segura do Estado. Segurança e desigualdade só podem estar dissociadas se a “segurança” estiver garantida para a parte mais abastada da desigualdade.

Se isto não é um “grito estatístico” que ilustra em números a situação nacional e histórica de nosso racismo e o legado de nosso passado colonial, nada mais pode ser.

Vejam que a pesquisa aponta que só em 2010, a população negra alcançou o IDH que a população branca havia alcançado em 2000. Se isto não é um “grito estatístico” que ilustra em números a situação nacional e histórica de nosso racismo e o legado de nosso passado colonial, nada mais pode ser. Diga-se de passagem que o economista Marcelo Paixão, referência da ONU para a análise do IDH no Brasil e que há duas décadas foi pioneiro em desmembrar a pesquisa no recorte racial, já havia em 2002 divulgado pesquisa em que apresentava “dois Brasis” com dois IDHs pesadamente distintos. Com a população branca, o Brasil ocupava o 46° lugar, enquanto com a população negra, o Brasil era o 101°.

É preciso levar os dados dessa pesquisa a sério, porque ela segue nos mostrando a capilaridade do alcance que o racismo possui, e onde ele se mascara de “desigualdade apenas”. O legado do passado colonial e escravocrata do Brasil não diluiu com o passar do tempo, não desapareceu com o avanço da sociedade no que tange a conquistas de direitos. O legado permanece, e os dados divulgados pelo PNUD só confirmam que ele não desaparecerá apenas com as nossas boas intenções e lembranças em datas comemorativas.

The post Na desigualdade entre brancos e negros, o racismo nosso de cada dia appeared first on The Intercept.

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

16 May 2017 - 12:00pm

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

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

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

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

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

An excerpt from an interview that the purported Longbow Productions film crew conducted with Ryan Bundy, obtained by The Intercept.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An excerpt from an interview with Cliven Bundy, produced by undercover FBI agents posing as filmmakers and obtained by The Intercept.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ammon Bundy speaks to the media as others look on at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon, on Jan. 4, 2016.

Photo: Rob Kerr/AFP/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cattle that belong to rancher Cliven Bundy are released near Bunkerville, Nev., after U.S. officials ended a standoff with hundreds of armed protesters on April 12, 2014.

Photo: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

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

An excerpt from an audio recording of a phone call between undercover FBI agent Charles Johnson and Ammon Bundy.

 

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

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

An excerpt from an audio recording of a phone call between undercover FBI agent Charles Johnson and Ammon Bundy.

 

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

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

A Go-Pro video, obtained by The Intercept, of undercover FBI agents arriving at the Bundy ranch.

 

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

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

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

“Did you ever kill anybody?” Anna asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Is the camera off now?” Cavalier asked.

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

An excerpt from an interview with Brian “Booda” Cavalier, produced by undercover FBI agents posing as filmmakers and obtained by The Intercept.

 

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

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

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

The Bundy family and their supporters fly the American flag as their cattle are released by the Bureau of Land Management back onto public land outside of Bunkerville, Nev., on April 12, 2014.

Photo: Jason Bean/Las Vegas Review-Journal/AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Parker aims his weapon from a bridge as protesters gather by the Bureau of Land Management base camp, where cattle seized from rancher Cliven Bundy were being held, near Bunkerville, Nev., on April 12, 2014.

Photo: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

An excerpt from an interview with Greg Burleson, produced by undercover FBI agents posing as filmmakers.

 

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

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

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

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

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

An excerpt from an interview with Eric Parker, produced by undercover FBI agents posing as filmmakers.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Bundy speaks to members of the media in front of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters near Burns, Ore., on Jan. 6, 2016.

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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

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

An excerpt from an audio recording of a phone call between an undercover FBI agent and Ryan Bundy.

 

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

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

“So who’s your audience?” Ryan asked.

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

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

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

“OK,” Anna said.

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

“What?” Anna said, her voice rising.

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

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

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

“No,” Anna insisted.

An excerpt from an audio recording of a phone call between an undercover FBI agent and Ryan Bundy.

 

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

“I’m not a liar,” Anna replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A drone video taken during the anniversary of the standoff at the Bundy ranch.

 

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

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

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

Supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy listen to speakers at an event in Bunkerville, Nev., on April 10, 2015.

Photo: John Locher/AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post The Bizarre Story Behind the FBI’s Fake Documentary About the Bundy Family appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Says He Divulged Intelligence to Russians Because He’s Such a Great Guy

16 May 2017 - 10:08am

Twelve hours after his national security adviser called a Washington Post report that he had shared highly classified information with Russia “false,” President Donald Trump chose not to do so, arguing instead that his office gives him “the absolute right” to share “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety” with even an adversary.

In two unusually restrained and carefully worded tweets posted Tuesday morning, Trump seemed to admit that he had, as The Post reported, described “details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft,” in his Oval Office meeting last week with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak.

As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017

…to terrorism and airline flight safety. Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017

Given that Trump is usually so fond of tweeting allegations of “fake news” in response to unflattering reports, that he did not do so in this case appears to be a tacit admission that he did share intelligence on militants in Syria with the Russians and that, as The Post reported, currently serving United States officials are aware that he did.

Rather than contest the accuracy of the report, Trump focused on the fact that, as president, he has the legal authority to declassify information and so cannot be prosecuted for sharing secrets with Russia, as any other government official could be. He also tried to cast it as a generous and wise move.

Since the U.S. government recently barred the use laptops on board flights from the Middle East because of a reported Islamic State plot, however, it is unclear how Trump could have tried to help Russia unless he did share some previously unreported detail.

While the White House argued later in the morning that Trump’s statement was not an admission that he had shared classified information, an official with knowledge of the exchange told The Post that he had. According to the official, Trump made the perhaps inadvertent revelation while boasting about what he knew of a reported Islamic State plot to use a laptop to bomb a commercial flight to the U.S. An excerpt from the reported Trump monologue — “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day” — certainly sounds like something the deeply insecure commander-in-chief would say, as several observers noted.

Trump is a childish braggart, not a deliberate traitor. Which means that he is perfectly capable of leaking again.

— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) May 16, 2017

"Excuse me, where's the lobby?"

"I don't know but here is some classified information on ISIS" pic.twitter.com/CzLOqtVil9

— Dave Jorgenson (@davejorgenson) May 15, 2017

One European nation allied with the U.S. told The Associated Press that the possibility that Trump might share sensitive information obtained by them without their permission could lead them to stop passing on news of threats obtained in the future.

European official tells @AP their country might stop sharing intel with US if Trump gave classified info to Russian diplomats.

— Julie Pace (@jpaceDC) May 16, 2017

The episode also cast new light on Trump’s repeated assertions on the campaign trail that Hillary Clinton was unfit to govern because she had forwarded emails containing classified information to State Department aides so they could print them out for her.

… here's a look at candidate @realdonaldtrump's past comments about @hillaryclinton and how she handled classified information. pic.twitter.com/cFgepMtUps

— fake nick ramsey (@nick_ramsey) May 16, 2017

The president’s decision to abandon the “fake news” defense also appeared to undermine his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who told reporters Monday night, “I was in the room, it didn’t happen.”

Watch McMaster's statement carefully: “at no time were sources or methods discussed.” WaPo report never said Trump revealed sources/methods. pic.twitter.com/SF3rWDqKFi

— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) May 15, 2017

As the Washington Post blogger Aaron Blake pointed out, McMaster’s statement focused on denying things that The Post had not reported — that Trump had discussed intelligence sources or methods directly with the Russians or had disclosed military operations that were not already publicly known.

The national security adviser pointedly did not deny central aspects of The Post’s reporting — that U.S. officials were alarmed that Trump had divulged “aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of” an allied nation, which had not given permission for its intelligence to be shared with Russia, and “revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat,” which could help Russia identify the source of the intelligence and possibly disrupt it in support of the Syrian government.

As Barton Gellman, a former Washington Post correspondent, pointed out, the fact that the newspaper was asked by government officials not to reveal details of the plot divulged by Trump strongly suggests that their report was accurate.

How to tell @gregpmiller and @GregJaffe have it right: They know *which* details Trump told Lavrov. Officials asked WP not to publish them. pic.twitter.com/J1CrVSNTVV

— Barton Gellman (@bartongellman) May 15, 2017

Trump’s admission that he did share information with the Russian diplomats — at an Oval Office meeting only a Russian news agency was allowed to photograph — also contradicted Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign minister’s spokeswoman, who accused The Post of publishing “fake” information as part of a plot to undermine Trump by tying him to Russia. (Zakharova is the Russian official who said recently that, to understand what is really happening in the United States, “You have to talk to the Jews,” instead of reading American newspapers.)

Trump’s contradiction of the Russian spokeswoman also appeared to catch his biggest boosters, the cast of “Fox and Friends,” by surprise, as the historian Keven Kruse noted.

President Trump: It Did Happen pic.twitter.com/bZDOGjfkJK

— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) May 16, 2017

There was some sign, too, that the episode could be eroding Trump’s support among Republicans in Congress. Representative Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who previously served as a Marine intelligence officer in Iraq, called on the White House to provide the House and Senate intelligence committees, which are investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, with a transcript of the president’s conversation with the Russian foreign minister.

For the purpose of transparency, the White House should share a transcript of the meeting with the House and Senate intelligence committees.

— Rep. Mike Gallagher (@RepGallagher) May 16, 2017

As an intelligence officer by training, I know firsthand the life and death implications of safeguarding classified information.

— Rep. Mike Gallagher (@RepGallagher) May 16, 2017

Our allies and partners must have the utmost confidence that sensitive information they share with us will not be disclosed.

— Rep. Mike Gallagher (@RepGallagher) May 16, 2017

The Post’s report that such a transcript does exist also added to speculation that meetings in the Oval Office are, indeed, recorded, as Trump had hinted in a tweet threatening the fired FBI director James Comey last week.

A short time later, Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader, also called on the White House to make a transcript available to the Congressional intelligence committees.

The White House should make the transcript of @POTUS' mtg w/ the Russian Foreign Minister & Ambassador available to Intel Cmtes ASAP

— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 16, 2017

Until the Admin provides the unedited transcript, American ppl will rightly doubt if POTUS can handle our nation’s most closely kept secrets

— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) May 16, 2017

Top photo: In this photograph released by Russian Foreign Ministry, President Donald Trump meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the White House in Washington, on May 10, 2017. The Trump administration barred American journalists from this meeting.

The post Trump Says He Divulged Intelligence to Russians Because He’s Such a Great Guy appeared first on The Intercept.

Can the Anti-Trump Resistance Take Philadelphia’s DA Office?

15 May 2017 - 2:02pm

Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s insurgent candidate for district attorney, has built his campaign around three pledges: to end mass incarceration, to stand up for people’s rights and liberties, and to resist the Trump administration.

In Philadelphia, as in much of 2017 America, those are ambitious plans: The city has the highest incarceration rate in the Northeast and arrests twice as many people on average as other big cities. Philadelphia also has a sordid history of police abuse and a level of official corruption that’s almost legendary — the current DA, Seth Williams, is facing 23 federal charges ranging from bribery to extortion, and is not seeking reelection.

But Krasner, who has never worked as a prosecutor, has a 30-year record showing that he’s always been committed to those promises. As a civil rights and criminal defense attorney he has represented many of those most affected by the city’s troubled justice system. He has defended Philadelphia’s poor and generations of the city’s dissenters — from ACT UP activists in the 1990s to Occupiers, Dreamers, and Black Lives Matter protesters in more recent years. He has sued the Philadelphia Police Department at least 75 times.

“I was just having a damn good time,” Krasner said during an interview at his law firm turned campaign headquarters. “I mean, there was something in it for me. I was contributing to major social change and it was making me feel, I don’t know… significant, whole. Right?”

Becoming a prosecutor won’t change that, he insists, never mind that his job will be sending people to prison. “I always did this because I think trials should always be fair, and innocent people should not be convicted, and individuals’ civil rights should be preserved,” he said. “I don’t see a big distinction between doing that as a prosecutor and doing it as a defense attorney.”

But if working to end mass incarceration and standing up for people’s rights have long been items on Krasner’s resume, it’s his opposition to President Donald Trump that might just sweep him into elected office. And it was Trump’s election that finally got him to give in to those who had been pushing him to run for office.

For someone who has spent thirty years battling a corrupt and unfair system, Krasner has an upbeat way of looking at it all, the Trump presidency included. Trump will be out soon, he speculated two days after the president fired James Comey, and anyway the feds “don’t have enough boots on the ground” in Philadelphia. “If local district attorneys simply stand up and say, ‘You go ahead, we’re not going to be a part of your plan. We’re not funded for it, we’re not required to do it,’ he will have great difficulty carrying out almost all of what he’s trying to do,” Krasner said.

How Philadelphia will handle justice is in the hands of its next DA, then, but getting there won’t be so easy.

A flyer for District Attorney candidate Lawrence Krasner on the ground in South Philadelphia on May 11, 2017.

Photo: Charles Mostoller for The Intercept

With seven candidates crowding up Tuesday’s Democratic primary, and one more candidate running as a Republican, it’s anyone’s guess how Krasner will do. District Attorney races nationwide hardly bring lines to the polls, and Philadelphia, where electoral participation doesn’t match a vibrant community engagement, is no exception. When the current DA was elected, only 12 percent of those eligible to vote turned out at the polls. Even fewer showed up when he ran unopposed for a second term.

The city’s largest police union, which moves votes and endorsed Trump in the presidential election, got behind the Democrat most distant from Krasner’s overthrow-the-system promises.

But this is the Trump era, and many are now watching Krasner’s run in Philadelphia as a test of whether people’s horror with the larger state of electoral politics will lead them to show up or give up, a test of whether people’s anger can turn into votes, particularly in local elections.

At a time when the new administration is promising to roll back police reform, return to harsh sentencing for low-level offenders, and further criminalize immigration, the race for Philadelphia’s top prosecutor job and a number of other DA races across the country are also testing people’s commitment to a criminal justice reform that was finally, if imperfectly, underway. Krasner’s run has electrified Philadelphia’s progressives and brought to the city the expertise and resources of national racial justice advocates as well as Bernie Sanders alumni. It’s also a first test of whether the street and political movements that have sprung up in recent years can sustain losses, overcome differences, and keep going.

A lot of people have stacked their hopes in such an insurgency at the polls. Others, like billionaire George Soros, are investing more than hope. Soros has been injecting money into DA and sheriff races across the country and gave $1.45 million to a PAC supporting Krasner’s run in Philadelphia, raising some eyebrows among the candidate’s progressive base. “We can’t play by a different set of rules than our opponents because that’s how we have allowed the system to get rigged against us,” said Becky Bond, a former advisor to the Sanders campaign whose group is now working on Krasner’s campaign. “So while we work to change the rules and get big money out of politics, we can’t cede elections to people that can bring in big money.”

The ACLU’s Nick Pressley and Kim Selig with Smart Justice campaign members at their office in Philadelphia on May 11, 2017. Charles Mostoller for the Intercept.

Photo: Charles Mostoller for The Intercept

A Prosecutor “For the People”

In Philadelphia, Krasner has earned the endorsement and enthusiasm of a broad and diverse coalition sharing his same progressive values, like his firm opposition to the death penalty, which he promises never to pursue, and his rejection of broken practices like stop-and-frisk, cash bail, and asset forfeiture, which disproportionately affect Philadelphia’s black and poor residents.

So far, he has won the support of activists, pastors, union members, the singer John Legend, and the punk rock band Sheer Mag. The latter had Krasner on stage to sing a cover version of The Clash’s “Clampdown.” “Rage Against The Machine did it, Bruce Springsteen did it, and now Larry Krasner does it,” he joked. A coalition of other groups that cannot endorse candidates because of their tax-exempt status also got involved in the race, naming no names, but calling on Philadelphians to elect a DA who is “for the people.”

Among these groups is the ACLU, which since November has made resistance to the Trump administration its rallying cry.  Now the group is taking its fight for criminal justice reform up a notch by shifting its focus on prosecutors, the system’s most powerful and unchecked actors. In Pennsylvania, the ACLU’s local affiliate is also testing new waters by getting involved for the first time in a DA race, with a campaign aimed at educating voters on the issues at stake on Tuesday. That initiative is a pilot, but the ACLU is already planning similar efforts in nine upcoming races across the country.

“We realized that if we were going to get serious about ending mass incarceration then we had to start affecting who gets elected,” said Nick Pressley, who runs the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s “Vote Smart Justice” campaign. “The DA is literally the most powerful person in the criminal justice system.”

Pressley spoke to The Intercept from a downtown office the group rented out ahead of the primary, before equipping a couple dozen canvassers, most with direct experience with the city’s criminal justice failures, with tablets listing ACLU members’ home addresses, and literature calling on them to vote “smart.”

“There’s no oversight over the DA, there’s no transparency in the office,” Pressley said, citing prosecutors’ power to offer plea bargains, which can decide as many as 97 percent of cases, or to set cash bail, which in Philadelphia is the single greatest driver of incarceration. “Sixty-seven percent of people in Philadelphia jails are awaiting trial,” he added. “And many are in there because they can’t afford bail.”

Donna Carter knows something about that.

When her son was accused of attempted murder, his bail was set at $10,000, even though he maintained his innocence and the victim insisted that he was not the one who had tried to kill him. Still, prosecutors pressed forward, even offering his son a three to seven-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. He refused, and spent the next eight months in jail. His mother thought it wiser to put the bail money towards a lawyer.

Carter, who is unemployed but now makes $15 an hour as a canvasser for the ACLU’s campaign, will sometimes tell that story to the people whose doors she knocks on. “That was my first time really realizing how much power the system had that they didn’t seem to use very wisely,” she said. “That’s why I want to see them not use the cash bail system.”

Donna Carter canvasses on behalf of the ACLU in South Philadelphia on May 11, 2017.

Photo: Charles Mostoller for The Intercept

Carter also talks to voters about the city’s punitive asset forfeiture practices. Her mother’s home was seized because a nephew sold marijuana there while she was at work. Her mother eventually got her home back but many others never do: Philadelphia seized over $64 million in assets between 2002 and 2012, mostly from its poorest citizens. Carter says the people she speaks to are shocked to learn that you don’t need to commit a crime to have your property seized, and that there’s no compensation when you do. “You may think this doesn’t affect you ‘cause you don’t do crimes, but if you have someone in your family who inadvertently pulls you into their crime, it can affect you.”

A few days ahead of the primary, Carter made the rounds of the South Philadelphia neighborhood she grew up in, now quickly gentrifying, knocking on doors. She pointed to newly renovated row houses that looked much nicer than they used to, and remarked on the many progressive signs, some directly addressing the president, that residents had put on their windows in support of black lives, Muslims, and true American values.

Those who opened their doors offered a glimpse into both the enthusiasm of a narrow sector of the city that has rallied around Krasner, and the perhaps broader ambivalence about a race that remains obscure to most. “There’s probably not going to be a lot of people that vote,” said Brian Leboff, a 29 year-old IT consultant who seemed caught off guard when Carter asked him if he planned to. “People probably don’t even know there’s going to be a DA election.”

“I am going to vote for Krasner,” said Wendy Wells, a 65-year-old retiree and monthly ACLU contributor, who said that she started donating to the group “the day after the election,” and that she appreciates Krasner’s opposition to the death penalty and support of LGBTQ rights.  “Although he has no prosecutorial experience, I think maybe that’s not such a bad thing.”

While the ACLU’s canvassers did not tell people whom to vote for, many other groups did, and in recent weeks, they organized panels, canvasses, phone banks, house parties, and a string of other initiatives in support of Krasner.

“This election is kind of the perfect storm, and a number of community organizations are figuring out how to best get involved,” said Bryan Mercer, a member of 215 People’s Alliance, one of a dozen local organizations that have officially endorsed Krasner and are actively working to get him elected. “Part of the response is that, if change can’t happen at the federal level, then we have got to be organized in our communities and push the local officers that we do have a say in to be the best that the can.”

“People understand that and they’re putting in the work,” he added.

At a recent campaign event, a sample of the diverse range of groups and individuals that coalesced around Krasner packed into a café staffed by formerly incarcerated people. The crowd spilled into the street, where the owner hung signs saying “Justice Makes Us Safer.” Krasner’s supporters were white, black, young, and old. There was a sex workers rights advocate, and an elderly man wearing political pins and a handmade “Fuck Trump” pendant.

Asa Khalif, one of the city’s most recognized Black Lives Matter activists, has been a regular on the campaign since Krasner, who once defended him in court, announced his candidacy. Local office candidates often asked for his support, Khalif said, but he never gave it, shunning elections as a compromised effort, as many within the movement continue to do.

“Black Lives Matter — we don’t endorse candidates, but Larry is a friend,” he said. But it wasn’t just friendship that convinced an activist whose political battle is fought on the street and who calls cops and prosecutors pigs. “It is a strategy, it is game of thrones if you will. We have to play this game, and also be able to change the rules, but you can’t change the rules if you’re not in the game.”

“Protest is going to get us to the table, once we’re at the table we need to have an agenda, we cannot just keep screaming no justice no peace, we need to be in the mix,” Khalif continued. “We need allies in government that are going be true to their word. We have a lot of people who promise a lot of things; we need someone that we can pick up the phone and they will answer when we make that call.”

Philadelphia District Attorney candidate Lawrence Krasner and Wayne Jacobs, founder of X-Offenders Community Empowerment, walk together to a campaign event in Philadelphia on May 11, 2017.

Photo: Charles Mostoller for The Intercept

A National Strategy

Philadelphia activists are not the only ones strategizing around this race. In fact, what’s happening in the city is both a product of a grassroots-led turnout in response to local problems and part of a carefully planned national strategy that aims to put progressive candidates into office and build political power around issues like mass incarceration and police violence.

Already before Trump’s election, the national group Color of Change was among the first that seized on the momentum of the racial justice movement by starting a PAC and launching the “voting while black” campaign, calling on black voters to turn up for elections that matter most to their communities. In 2016, the group rallied voters around specific candidates in six high-profile prosecutor races, mostly aiming to unseat problematic ones. They actively campaigned for the elections of Aramis Ayala, Florida’s first black female state attorney, and Kim Foxx, who ousted incumbent Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez. Alvarez’s handling of the Chicago police killing of Laquan McDonald had sparked the massive, grassroots “Bye Anita” campaign, and brought about new public interest in prosecutor races.

“When folks know about the race and know that they have a choice to make that has clear consequences for their communities, they’re very willing to engage,” said Arisha Hatch, who leads Color of Change’s voter engagement effort. “It’s a matter of not taking black voters for granted.”

“It’s really important, especially in a political time when people feel very disenchanted about the willingness of the federal government to protect them, that we begin to talk about these local races,” she added.

Color of Change PAC is one of the national groups throwing their weight and resources behind Krasner’s candidacy in Philadelphia. Another one is Real Justice PAC, formed by alumni of Bernie Sanders’ presidential run in an effort to apply that campaign’s organizing strategies and technologies to boost mass participation in local elections.

“In the past, you’d have progressive activists who see elections as compromised, who’d rather stay outside of the process and critique it than go inside and take power, and part of the reason why is that a lot of the forces that have helped people get elected pushed candidates to compromise,” said Bond, the former Sanders advisor and Real Justice PAC’s president. “What we’re seeing now is progressive advocates get involved in elections to take power behind candidates that are uncompromising.”

Bond credits Sanders supporters — a movement made up of many newcomers to politics who took a virtually unknown candidate to 46 percent of the Democratic Party’s delegates — for unseating the establishment’s narrative that certain candidates are “unelectable.” She also credits Trump’s election with much the same outcome, and with inspiring insurgent candidates like Krasner to run, and people to vote for them.

“We saw a candidate that we thought was totally unelectable, Donald Trump, now be the president of the U.S.,” said Bond. “We don’t have to suck it up and support the candidate that the establishment tells us is viable, we can make candidates viable.”

There were lessons learned during the Sanders campaign, including a realization, by some at least, that criminal justice is “not an issue that’s only talked about with some voters, but one of the central issues of our time,” Bond said. Last year, both Democratic presidential candidates failed to realize that, and one of the greatest criticisms levied against the Sanders campaign has been about its insistence on a colorblindness that alienated many black voters.

“Racial justice was not part of a broad message to all voters,” said Bond. “This is where we’re seeing an important course correction in Philadelphia; you are seeing activists come together and say actually, racial justice and criminal justice reform need to be at the heart of any agenda for change.”

Philadelphia District Attorney candidate Lawrence Krasner speaks with former Bernie Sanders campaign senior advisor Becky Bond during a volunteer thank you event in Philadelphia, on May 11, 2017.

Photo: Charles Mostoller for The Intercept

Whether he wins or not, Krasner’s supporters say that his candidacy has already succeeded in pushing the entire field to the left, though it remains to be seen whether the next DA can live up to those promises. Most importantly, this race has shined a spotlight on problems like the city’s cash bail and asset forfeiture practices — issues that have long affected black and poor Philadelphians but that are now on the radar of a much broader range of the city’s residents.

That kind of interest dominated the DA race. “I was surprised to hear everyone talking about the importance of rehabilitation, of diversion programs, of really trying to lessen the number of people going through jails,” said Mercer, of 215 People’s Alliance. “Not a single one of those candidates was talking about being tough on crime.”

That’s because criminal justice reform has in recent years become a bipartisan talking point, and anyone running for DA has better chances promising reform than pledging to be tough on crime. Still, there’s a wide spectrum of positions on what that reform should look like — with Krasner’s proposal much closer to an overhaul.

“You’re seeing a lot of people who are in this race who are now adopting positions that they maybe didn’t have at the beginning of the race and that they certainly haven’t been advocating throughout their careers,” said Bret Grote, legal director of Pittsburgh-based Abolitionist Law Center, a public interest law firm that is not endorsing any candidate. While skeptical of those adopting the language of reform without the credentials to back it up, Grote credits Krasner with putting specific policies on the table, like his pledge to review past convictions or to make sure all discovery is turned over to defendants’ lawyers — quite a departure from the way prosecutors normally operate.

“If you had told me a year ago that a leading candidate for the Philly DA race would be somebody who’s never been a prosecutor and who is showing up at a church with 150 people to talk about life without parole sentences, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Grote.

“If Krasner pulls it off in the primary next Tuesday, this could have reverberations across the country,” Grote added. “There’s potential for insurgency candidates, like attorneys who have spent their careers battling the system, seeing a model of what it could be like to put someone in there.”

Top photo: Philadelphia District Attorney candidate Lawrence Krasner confers with his campaign staff at his law office in Philadelphia on May 11, 2017.

The post Can the Anti-Trump Resistance Take Philadelphia’s DA Office? appeared first on The Intercept.

“As mulheres não deviam ter vergonha de falar sobre aborto”: uma conversa com a escritora Carol Sanger

15 May 2017 - 1:37pm

As últimas semanas não foram animadoras para milhões de mulheres americanas. No dia 4 de maio, a Câmara dos Deputados dos EUA aprovou uma reforma do sistema de saúde do país que, se entrar em vigor, retira os direitos conquistados pelas mulheres com a promulgação do Affordable Care Act (ACA), conhecido popularmente como “Obamacare”. A nova reforma também pretende cortar o financiamento público da ONG Planned Parenthood, colocando em risco a saúde de mais de 1 milhão de mulheres que dependem dos programas públicos de saúde.

Embora a reforma ainda esteja longe de entrar em vigor, Donald Trump atacou imediatamente a obrigatoriedade da cobertura de contraceptivos estabelecida pelo ACA, que permitiu que cerca de 55 milhões de mulheres tivessem acesso gratuito a métodos anticoncepcionais.

Como se não bastasse, Trump nomeou dois notórios inimigos do aborto e dos contraceptivos para altos cargos no Departamento de Saúde e Serviços Humanos. Uma delas, Teresa Manning, será a nova diretora de um programa federal que fornece anticoncepcionais a mulheres de baixa renda.

As manobras do governo para restringir os direitos reprodutivos são capitaneadas por ativistas antiaborto como Marjorie Dannenfelser, da organização Susan B. Anthony List, cujo grande objetivo é a proibição da prática.

Com tantos inimigos da liberdade reprodutiva em posições de destaque, poderíamos pensar que o apoio ao aborto legal tem diminuído. Porém, segundo pesquisas, a opinião pública continua defendendo o direito à interrupção da gravidez: 57% dos americanos acham que o aborto deveria ser permitido “em todos ou quase todos os casos”.

Existe, portanto, uma percepção equivocada da questão, reforçada pela influência exagerada de grupos como o de Dannenfelser na elaboração de políticas públicas relativas aos direitos reprodutivos nos últimos anos.

Mas também há outra questão em jogo, levantada por Carol Sanger, professora de Direito da Universidade de Columbia, em seu novo livro: a resistência das mulheres a falar abertamente sobre sua vida reprodutiva – particularmente quando se trata de aborto.

Em About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America (“O aborto: interrupção da gravidez nos EUA do século XXI”, em tradução livre), Sanger argumenta que uma questão íntima – abortar ou não – ficou tão politizada e estigmatizada que as mulheres passaram a sentir a necessidade de mantê-la em segredo para evitar a humilhação pública. Isso permite que pessoas como Dannenfelser assumam o controle da narrativa sobre o aborto, acabando por influenciar a formulação de políticas públicas.

Visto que o número de abortos praticados nos EUA anualmente chega a quase 1 milhão – uma taxa de 15 para cada mil mulheres em idade fértil -, podemos concluir que milhões de mulheres poderiam estar lutando por uma política de saúde reprodutiva mais racional se não se sentissem tão inseguras para falar do assunto.

Com a atual conjuntura política – marcada pelas preocupantes declarações de Donald Trump sobre os direitos das mulheres –, talvez seja mais importante do que nunca despir o aborto da condição de tabu e dar voz às mulheres que o procuram.

No mês passado, entrevistei Sanger sobre seu livro, as relações entre política e o aumento das restrições ao aborto e a questão da privacidade e do segredo no contexto da liberdade reprodutiva.

Carol Sanger, professora de Direito da Universidade de Columbia

Foto: Alan S. Orling

The Intercept: Uma das coisas fascinantes no seu livro é um argumento exposto com uma franqueza que eu nunca tinha visto: a oposição entre privacidade e segredo. Abortar deveria ser um assunto de saúde privado, como qualquer outra questão íntima, mas essa privacidade acabou possibilitando que os antiabortistas controlassem a narrativa sobre o aborto, confinando-o ao silêncio. Acho que foi esse processo que acabou permitindo a aprovação de sucessivas restrições ao aborto nos EUA.

Carol Sanger: Uma coisa importante é que consideramos o aborto como uma questão privada por diversas razões. É algo que diz respeito ao nosso corpo, ao sexo, à reprodução; é um tratamento médico. As pessoas não gostam de falar publicamente sobre essas coisas. Se eu faço sexo ou passo por uma intervenção médica – mesmo que seja cosmética –, o que os outros têm a ver com isso?

Porém, como eu digo no livro, há uma grande diferença entre não falar sobre isso porque você está no controle da sua própria vida e decidiu que essa era a melhor opção e manter tudo em segredo por medo de ser prejudicada. Essa diferença de motivação me parece fundamental. Se uma mulher decide não falar para respeitar a sua privacidade, tudo bem. Mas quando ela é obrigada a ficar em silêncio para não ser publicamente humilhada por todas essas leis que tentam dissuadi-la, dizendo que abortar é errado, então a situação é outra.

Há duas formas de não exposição. A primeira é a privacidade, que é positiva. Porém, quando você mantém algo em segredo, não porque quer, mas para não ser estigmatizado e perder o emprego, o relacionamento ou o amor dos pais, então é diferente. Não podemos confundir as duas coisas.

TI: Como essa dicotomia entre privacidade e segredo influenciou o diálogo sobre o aborto?

CS: Ela acaba com qualquer diálogo. O silêncio faz parte do segredo. Muita gente pensa que não conhece ninguém que tenha abortado, mas sabemos que cerca de um terço das mulheres vai fazer um aborto até o fim da idade reprodutiva, porque estamos falando de um período muito longo.

Entre 1973 a 2016, milhões de mulheres – inclusive as que hoje já são avós – devem ter abortado alguma vez. E isso sem levar em conta os abortos ilegais. O que é preocupante é ouvir o vice-presidente Mike Pence dizer que vai “jogar o caso ‘Roe x Wade’ nas cinzas da história, que é o lugar dele”. Não posso acreditar que vamos voltar atrás, pois as cinzas da história estão cheias de mulheres que morreram ou ficaram estéreis por culpa dos abortos ilegais.

TI: Você fala sobre a “normalização” do aborto no livro. Parece que a dicotomia privacidade/segredo acaba sendo instrumentalizada pelas poucas mulheres que falam sobre suas experiências.

“About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America”, de Carol Sanger

No Texas, por exemplo, fui a diversas audiências públicas sobre o tema, e havia sempre o mesmo grupo de mulheres falando sobre a experiência terrível que tiveram com o aborto. Não estou dizendo que não tenho pena delas, mas não é bom para o debate ter sempre as mesmas pessoas falando as mesmas coisas. Fica parecendo que a questão tem apenas um lado, o que facilita a aprovação de medidas restritivas. Minha pergunta é: o que significa “normalizar” o aborto?

CS: Ótima pergunta, porque a normalização assume muitas formas. Uma jornalista chamada Lindy West criou o movimento Shout Your Abortion (“grite o seu aborto”, em tradução livre). Ela disse que sabia tudo sobre as amigas; conhecia seus namorados, pais e tudo o mais. Mas ela nunca tinha ouvido falar de um aborto sequer. Então ela começou a incentivar as mulheres a romperem o silêncio.

Mas eu não sou do tipo que grita – sou mais de falar baixinho. Então a minha sugestão é que as pessoas comecem a falar sobre aborto no momento certo, com seus familiares. Durante muito tempo, as mulheres não falavam sobre abortos espontâneos por vergonha. Quem não levasse a gravidez até o fim não era uma mulher de verdade. Havia todo um estigma social. As mulheres se sentiam extremamente isoladas, mas, com o tempo, começaram a falar sobre o assunto e a descobrir que não estavam sozinhas. Era um grande consolo saber que você não era a única que havia perdido o bebê no seu trabalho. Acho que esse é um bom exemplo. O tema foi surgindo aos poucos, e para isso foi preciso coragem.

Também acho que, às vezes, é preciso correr o risco de conversar com alguém que amamos. Eu espero que – e não acho que isso seja nada de exagerado –, se você descobrir que a sua mãe fez um aborto… Será que você vai deixar de amar a própria mãe? Você cortaria os laços com a sua mãe? Acredito que não.

Fui professora na Inglaterra durante muito tempo. Um dia, durante uma aula sobre aborto, os estudantes não entendiam o porquê de tanta controvérsia nos EUA. Uma aluna levantou a mão e disse: “Duas semanas atrás, fui a um hospital público para fazer um aborto, e meus amigos foram comigo para me dar apoio”. Eu pensei: “Nossa, ela disse isso em plena sala de aula!” Mas ninguém na sala pareceu chocado. Esse momento foi muito importante para mim.

Você disse que, no Texas, eram sempre as mesmas mulheres que apareciam nas audiências. Em Dakota do Sul, os deputados criaram uma comissão para tratar do assunto. Foi feito um estudo com 2 mil mulheres, e 99% delas afirmaram que o aborto tinha sido o pior acontecimento de suas vidas e que devia ser proibido. Não duvido da sinceridade dessas 2 mil mulheres, mas deve haver outras mulheres em Dakota do Sul que se sentiram aliviadas por não terem tido que se casar com um canalha, ou por terem tido quatro em vez de cinco filhos. Ou simplesmente porque não era o momento certo de engravidar e elas puderam assumir o controle dessa parte das suas vidas. Ou seja, não é que eu duvide das mulheres que você viu no Texas ou dessas 2 mil de Dakota do Sul. Mas elas são apenas parte da história.

Esse tema pode ser discutido. Você não é obrigado a discuti-lo, mas ele devia ser tratado como qualquer outro assunto íntimo que você gostaria de compartilhar com alguém.

Não se trata de expor ninguém, mas acho que devíamos mudar a forma de falar sobre isso. É por isso que escrevi um capítulo sobre o pai e o feto. Será que dá para deixar de lado a questão de gênero durante 15 páginas? Não podemos tratar isso como uma decisão familiar em vez de um assassinato? Podemos parar de apontar o dedo e chamar de egoístas as mulheres que abortam? Por que não aprendemos alguma coisa?

TI: Gostaria que você explicasse isso um pouco mais, porque eu acho fascinante essa ideia de deixar de lado a questão de gênero. Quem trabalha nessa área sempre ouve coisas como “se os homens engravidassem, isso nem estaria em debate”.

CS: Eu queria saber o que os homens fariam se fossem responsáveis por um feto ou embrião. O mais próximo que cheguei de uma resposta foi no caso dos embriões congelados. Nesses casos, casais usam técnicas de reprodução assistida para engravidar e criar embriões. Infelizmente, depois de alguns anos eles acabam se separando. De certa forma, os embriões congelados que não foram usados também são um bem do casal, e é preciso decidir o que fazer com eles depois do divórcio. Essa questão já foi parar no tribunal diversas vezes.

O caso “Roe x Wade” influenciou algumas causas nesse sentido. Na sentença de 1973, decidiu-se que nenhuma mulher podia ser obrigada a ser mãe contra a vontade. Pela mesma lógica, nenhum homem pode virar pai contra a vontade, então o embrião não pode ser implantado sem o consentimento do homem.

Os casos que estudei se inserem nesse contexto. Descobri que os homens não tinham a menor hesitação na hora de justificar a destruição dos embriões, o que é interessante. Eles diziam coisas como: “Não quero manter nenhuma relação com aquela mulher”. Ou então: “Sou jovem e quero me divertir um pouco antes de ter que sustentar uma família”. Você jamais ouviria uma mulher dizer isso. Uma mulher nunca ia dizer: “Quero abortar para poder curtir a vida”. É algo totalmente inaceitável.

Descobri que os motivos dos homens para destruir os embriões são parecidos com as justificativas das mulheres para abortar. A diferença é que os homens abrem o jogo – e não são chamados de egoístas por isso. “Você vai destruir seus embriões em vez de implantá-los em uma desconhecida ou na sua esposa? Vamos protestar contra esse absurdo!” Não, isso não acontece.

Eu queria descobrir se as pessoas são capazes de compreender por que uma mulher decide interromper a gravidez; se a impressão causada por um homem dizendo “vou mandar descongelar esses embriões porque já tenho quatro filhos e não sei se posso dar conta de cinco” seria tão ruim quanto a de uma mulher justificando um aborto. E parece que não. Um homem que diz isso soa até mais responsável.

Esta entrevista foi editada por uma questão de concisão e clareza.

Tradução: Bernardo Tonasse

Foto no topo da página: médico da ONG Planned Parenthood confirma a gravidez de uma paciente em 6 de fevereiro de 2017. Austin, Texas (Estados Unidos).

The post “As mulheres não deviam ter vergonha de falar sobre aborto”: uma conversa com a escritora Carol Sanger appeared first on The Intercept.

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