The Intercept

European Court to Decide Whether U.K. Mass Surveillance Revealed by Snowden Violates Human Rights

7 November 2017 - 2:42pm

British spy agencies are under scrutiny in a landmark court case challenging the legality of top-secret mass surveillance programs revealed in documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

A panel of 10 judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, held a hearing Tuesday to examine the U.K. government’s large-scale electronic spying operations, following three separate challenges brought by a dozen human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Privacy International, the American Civil Liberties Union, Big Brother Watch, the Open Rights Group, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties.

The case is the first of its kind to be heard by the court, which handles complaints related to violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, an international treaty by which the U.K. is still bound despite its vote last year to leave the European Union. The court’s judgments could have ramifications for future U.K. surveillance operations.

The human rights groups are arguing that British spy programs violate four key rights protected under the convention: the right to privacy; the right to a fair trial; the right to freedom of expression; and the right not to be discriminated against. They cite a 2015 ruling by a U.K. tribunal, which found that British eavesdropping agency Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, had unlawfully spied on the communications of Amnesty International and the South Africa-based Legal Resources Centre.

Dinah Rose, a lawyer representing the human rights groups, acknowledged in court Tuesday that some serious security threats require the use of covert government surveillance. But, she added, “excessive and unaccountable state surveillance puts at risk the very core values of the free and democratic societies that terrorism seeks to undermine.”

The British government has insisted that it does not carry out “mass surveillance,” preferring instead to use the term “bulk surveillance,” which it says is necessary to discover previously unknown threats. Documents leaked by Snowden describe how GCHQ planned to carry out “population scale” surveillance; boasted that it had “massive access” to internet communications; and monitored more than 50 billion “events” about communications each day.

Government lawyer James Eadie told the court that using surveillance systems to collect and store communications is not itself a violation of privacy. Instead, he said, privacy is only violated when there is “sentient examination” of communications – in other words, when a human analyst reads or listens to individual messages or calls. This will be a key point of contention for the Strasbourg judges to consider.

Last year, a complaint filed in the case by 10 of the human rights groups named more than a dozen surveillance programs that allegedly violate rights and do not have adequate safeguards against abuse. Among them are GCHQ programs, such as KARMA POLICE, which was first exposed by The Intercept. KARMA POLICE was designed to allow the GCHQ to build “a web-browsing profile for every visible user on the internet.” The complaint also focuses on NSA-operated programs that have been shared with British spies, such as XKEYSCORE, a tool that can be used to sift through masses of emails, online chats, and virtually every other kind of internet data.

Nick Williams, Amnesty International’s senior legal counsel, said in an email that the case represented a “watershed moment for people’s privacy and freedom of expression” across the world. “The case concerns the U.K., but its significance is global. By bringing together human rights defenders and journalists from four different continents, it serves to highlight the dangers mass surveillance poses to the vital work of countless organisations and to individuals who expose human rights abuses and defend those at risk.”

Scarlet Kim, a legal officer with Privacy International, said in a statement: “For years, the U.K. Government has been intercepting the private communications and data of millions of people around the world. At the same time, it can access similarly enormous troves of information intercepted by the U.S. Government. These practices are unlawful and violate the fundamental rights of individuals across the world, assailing privacy and chilling thought and speech.”

A spokesperson for the U.K. government’s Home Office declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said in a statement that British intelligence agencies “conduct their vital work within a strict legal and policy framework that applies rigorous safeguards and oversight mechanisms to ensure respect for human rights. We will vigorously defend the powers our agencies need to keep us all safe and secure.”

Top photo: City workers use smartphones inside in London on Oct. 30, 2017.

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Em plena crise, Marcelo Crivella reajusta diárias para viagens ao exterior em quase 50%

7 November 2017 - 10:00am

Apesar das constantes queixas de problemas financeiros no caixa do município desde o início de sua gestão, o prefeito do Rio, Marcelo Crivella, ganhou nesta terça (7) o direito de ter um dinheiro a mais para gastar em suas viagens ao exterior.

O secretário municipal da Casa Civil, Ailton Cardoso da Silva, publicou uma resolução em Diário Oficial reajustando as diárias pagas aos funcionários da prefeitura. O que chama mais a atenção são os valores para os deslocamentos no exterior. Quando Crivella e algum de seus secretários forem à Europa, por exemplo, terão direito a gastar cada um 435,87 euros (R$ 1.643, na cotação de hoje) por dia com hospedagem, locomoção e alimentação.  O valor anterior era de 297,27 euros.


Para as viagens ao exterior com exceção da Europa, também houve um aumento semelhante. De US$ 280, o valor da diária de funcionários da cúpula da prefeitura passou para US$ 410,55 (R$1.338, na cotação de hoje).  Já as diárias para viagens dentro do país passaram de R$ 346 para R$ 507,32.

Três viagens com dinheiro público

Desde o início de sua gestão, em janeiro, o prefeito Marcelo Crivella já fez seis viagens internacionais. Três delas foram bancadas pelos cofres do município: Roterdã (Holanda), Moscou (Rússia) e Dubai (Emirados Árabes). Nesta última, realizada no mês passado, por exemplo, o prefeito e o coordenador de Relações Internacionais da prefeitura, Antônio Fernando Cruz de Mello, receberam quatro diárias de US$ 280 cada um, valor que era o padrão até hoje.

O curioso na resolução desta terça é que o secretário usou o mesmo padrão de  aumento – 46,6% – para as diárias em real, euro e dólar. Na justificativa da resolução, Ailton Cardoso da Silva alegou que o aumento é necessário por causa da “inflação acumulada” e da “desvalorização do real frente ao dólar e ao euro”.

No dia 31 de outubro, o prefeito Marcelo Crivella havia publicado um decreto delegando ao seu secretário o direito de estabelecer os novos valores para as viagens.

Valor não mudava desde 2005

Em 2005, na gestão de Cesar Maia na prefeitura do Rio, foi publicado o primeiro decreto que estabeleceu o formato atual de diárias para os servidores do município. De lá para cá, haviam sido publicados outros dois decretos, em 2008 e 2011, com reajustes dos valores. Nenhum deles, porém, havia modificado o padrão internacional até a resolução desta terça, da gestão Crivella. Em 2005, já eram US$ 280 para todas as viagens para fora do país. A partir de 2008, ficou estabelecido também o valor para a Europa (297,27 euros).

Além das viagens oficiais, Crivella também fez outras três viagens de caráter pessoal desde que assumiu o governo: Jerusalém, Orlando (EUA) e Joanesburgo (África do Sul), onde chegou a participar de um evento da Igreja Universal, da qual é bispo licenciado, num estádio local.

The post Em plena crise, Marcelo Crivella reajusta diárias para viagens ao exterior em quase 50% appeared first on The Intercept.

CIA Director Met Advocate of Disputed DNC Hack Theory — at Trump’s Request

7 November 2017 - 9:11am

CIA Director Mike Pompeo met late last month with a former U.S. intelligence official who has become an advocate for a disputed theory that the theft of the Democratic National Committee’s emails during the 2016 presidential campaign was an inside job, rather than a hack by Russian intelligence.

Pompeo met on October 24 with William Binney, a former National Security Agency official-turned-whistleblower who co-authored an analysis published by a group of former intelligence officials that challenges the U.S. intelligence community’s official assessment that Russian intelligence was behind last year’s theft of data from DNC computers. Binney and the other former officials argue that the DNC data was “leaked,” not hacked, “by a person with physical access” to the DNC’s computer system.

In an interview with The Intercept, Binney said Pompeo told him that President Donald Trump had urged the CIA director to meet with Binney to discuss his assessment that the DNC data theft was an inside job. During their hour-long meeting at CIA headquarters, Pompeo said Trump told him that if Pompeo “want[ed] to know the facts, he should talk to me,” Binney said.

A senior intelligence source confirmed that Pompeo met with Binney to discuss his analysis, and that the CIA director held the meeting at Trump’s urging. The Intercept’s account of the meeting is based on interviews with Binney, the senior intelligence source, a colleague who accompanied Binney to CIA headquarters, and others who Binney told about the meeting. A CIA spokesperson declined to comment. “As a general matter, we do not comment on the Director’s schedule,” said Dean Boyd, director of the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs.

Binney said that Pompeo asked whether he would be willing to meet with NSA and FBI officials to further discuss his analysis of the DNC data theft. Binney agreed and said Pompeo said he would contact him when he had arranged the meetings.

It is highly unorthodox for the CIA director to reach out to someone like Binney, a 74-year-old ex-government employee who rose to prominence as an NSA whistleblower wrongfully persecuted by the government, for help with fact-finding related to the theft of the DNC emails. It is particularly stunning that Pompeo would meet with Binney at Trump’s apparent urging, in what could be seen as an effort to discredit the U.S. intelligence community’s own assessment that an alleged Russian hack of the DNC servers was part of an effort to help Trump win the presidency.

William Binney, former National Security Agency intelligence official-turned-whistleblower, arrives to testify at the Bundestag commission investigating the role of the NSA in Germany on July 3, 2014 in Berlin.

Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images

It is possible Trump learned about Binney and his analysis by watching Fox News, where Binney has been a frequent guest, appearing at least 10 times since September 2016. In August, Binney appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox show to discuss his assessment that the narrative of Russia hacking the DNC during the 2016 campaign is untrue, stating that “many people are emotionally tied to this agenda, to tie the Russians to President Trump.” Binney said he is not sure how Trump found out about his analysis.

However the meeting came about, the fact that Pompeo was apparently willing to follow Trump’s direction and invite Binney to discuss his analysis has alarmed some current and former intelligence officials.

“This is crazy. You’ve got all these intelligence agencies saying the Russians did the hack. To deny that is like coming out with the theory that the Japanese didn’t bomb Pearl Harbor,” said one former CIA officer.

Binney, for his part, is happy that the meeting occurred and eager to help Pompeo and Trump get to the bottom of the DNC email theft because he believes the intelligence community has not told the truth about what happened.

“I was willing to meet Pompeo simply because it was clear to me the intelligence community wasn’t being honest here,” Binney said, referring to their assessment of the DNC email theft. “I am quite willing to help people who need the truth to find the truth and not simply have deceptive statements from the intelligence community.”

The analysis by Binney and his colleagues aligns neatly with Trump’s frequent public skepticism of the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 campaign to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and help elect Trump. The declassified summary of a U.S. intelligence community report, based on the work of the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA and made public in early January before Trump’s inauguration, stated that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.” Trump has frequently raged against the accusation that he won the presidency thanks to help from the Russians, labeling the charge “fake news.”

Binney’s claim that the email theft was committed by an insider at the DNC also helps fuel one of the more bizarre conspiracy theories that has gained traction on the right: that the murder of a young DNC staffer last year was somehow connected to the data theft. Binney said he mentioned the case of Seth Rich to Pompeo during their meeting.

The meeting raises questions about Pompeo’s willingness to act as an honest broker between the intelligence community and the White House, and his apparent refusal to push back against efforts by the president to bend the intelligence process to suit his political purposes. Instead of acting as a filter between Trump and the intelligence community, Pompeo’s decision to meet with Binney raises the possibility that right-wing theories aired on Fox News and in other conservative media can now move not just from conservative pundits to Trump, but also from Trump to Pompeo and into the bloodstream of the intelligence community.

Some senior CIA officials have grown upset that Pompeo, a former Republican representative from Kansas, has become so close to Trump that the CIA director regularly expresses skepticism about intelligence that doesn’t line up with the president’s views. Pompeo has also alienated some CIA managers by growing belligerent toward them in meetings, according to an intelligence official familiar with the matter.

The CIA, however, strongly objected to this characterization. “The Director has been adamant that CIA officers have the time, space and resources to make sound and unbiased assessments that are delivered to policy makers without fear or favor,” Boyd said in an email to The Intercept. “As he has stated repeatedly, when we deliver our assessments to policy makers, we must do so with complete candor. He has also pushed decision making down in the organization, giving officers greater ownership of their work and making them more accountable for the outcomes. These changes are designed to make CIA more agile, aggressive and responsive.”

Yet indications of Pompeo’s willingness to support Trump at the risk of tainting the intelligence process have occasionally broken into the open in recent months. In August, the Washington Post reported that Pompeo had taken the unusual step of having the CIA’s Counterintelligence Mission Center, which would likely play a role in any inquiries by the agency into Russian election meddling, report directly to him. That move has raised concerns within the agency that Pompeo is seeking to personally control the CIA’s efforts to investigate accusations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

More recently, at a Washington event in October, Pompeo said that U.S. intelligence had determined that Moscow’s intervention hadn’t impacted the outcome of the election. He was quickly criticized for the comments, and the CIA had to issue a clarification saying that the intelligence assessment on Russia hadn’t been altered.

While Pompeo seems to be actively taking Trump’s side on contentious issues like Russian collusion, Dan Coats, the former Republican senator who now serves as director of national intelligence, has been largely missing in action. Coats has been reluctant to push for an aggressive Trump-Russia investigation, according to a source familiar with the matter.

By contrast, Coats’s predecessor, James Clapper, saw himself as the public face of the intelligence community and its spokesperson. Now out of government, Clapper, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, has become an ardent advocate for a thorough investigation of Trump and Russia. Clapper told Politico in late October that the Russian election hacking was designed to help Trump win. “The Russians have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations,” he said.

With Coats largely out of the picture and Pompeo actively siding with Trump, the intelligence community is effectively leaderless as it struggles to come to grips with its role in the Trump-Russia inquiry. The lack of aggressive support from the intelligence community could hamper the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between Trump and Russia. Eventually, that lack of support could make it more difficult for Mueller’s team to glean information from inside Russia.

President Donald Trump speaks on April 19, 2017, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington.

Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

Pompeo’s meeting with Binney came just days before the first charges from Mueller’s investigation were made public on October 30. Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates were charged in a 12-count indictment in connection with their work with a pro-Russian party in Ukraine. It was also disclosed that George Papadopoulos, a former Trump foreign policy adviser, pleaded guilty earlier in October to making a false statement to the FBI in connection with his efforts to develop Russian ties during the campaign. Through a plea agreement, Papadopoulos is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigators.

Clearly anxious as the Mueller investigation looms over his presidency, Trump has continued to promote alternative theories that would exonerate him and his campaign. Binney’s analysis falls squarely into that category.

Binney’s adherence to a widely disputed theory about the DNC email theft that is favorable to Trump marks a new twist for a retired government employee who has become an outspoken critic of the intelligence community to which he once belonged. Binney grew up in Pennsylvania, majored in math at Penn State, and joined the Army in 1965. He was assigned to the U.S. Army Security Agency, learning communications traffic analysis and, in 1967, was assigned to NSA headquarters. In 1970, he joined the NSA as a civilian and remained at the agency for the rest of his career. He rose through the ranks to become the agency’s technical director for world geopolitical and military analysis and took over the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center, a kind of skunkworks to test out new ideas.

Late in his career, he began to clash with NSA management, particularly over efforts to drag the hidebound agency into the internet age. He advocated for a sophisticated data search and analysis project called ThinThread that his team had developed in-house, which he believed would help the agency more effectively sift through the torrent of digital information that was starting to appear on the internet. But Binney was outraged when the NSA’s leaders went instead with a more expensive alternative called Trailblazer, offered by an outside contractor. Binney, who thought Trailblazer was deeply flawed and represented a massive sop to a powerful defense company, took his concerns to a congressional staffer involved with NSA oversight. By doing so, Binney angered top NSA officials who were pushing Trailblazer.

Binney retired in the fall of 2001, but not before he learned that the agency was beginning its massive post-9/11 domestic spying program. Binney did not go to the press to discuss the NSA’s domestic spying program, but he did, along with others, complain to the Defense Department’s Inspector General about the Trailblazer program.

After the New York Times disclosed the domestic spying program’s existence in 2005, Bush administration officials wrongly suspected Binney was part of a small group of NSA officials who were sources for the story. As part of a criminal leak investigation, Binney and others had their homes raided by the FBI.

They were never charged, but Thomas Drake, another NSA official who the government thought was part of the same group, was charged under the Espionage Act and accused of leaking information about the controversial Trailblazer program to the Baltimore Sun. The government’s case against Drake eventually collapsed, ending with his agreement to plead guilty to one misdemeanor count of “exceeding the authorized use” of an NSA computer.

Drake and Binney both emerged from the government’s draconian leak investigation as prominent whistleblowers. Their fame grew after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden went public in 2013 and provided the press with access to a trove of NSA documents about the agency’s mass surveillance programs. Binney was featured in “Citizenfour,” the Oscar-winning 2014 documentary about Snowden directed by Laura Poitras; he was also the subject of a 2015 documentary titled “A Good American.” (Poitras co-founded The Intercept following Snowden’s 2013 disclosures.)

In the 2016 presidential election, Binney says he opposed Clinton and voted for Trump. This past summer, as the Mueller investigation was heating up, Binney co-authored a memo, published by members of a group of former intelligence officials called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), making the case that the DNC emails were not hacked by Russia, but stolen by an insider. The memo argued that the emails were likely downloaded directly from a DNC computer onto a thumb drive or some other external device.

“Forensic studies of ‘Russian hacking’ into Democratic National Committee computers last year reveal that on July 5, 2016, data was leaked (not hacked) by a person with physical access to DNC computer,” the memo states. The memo’s conclusions were based on analyses of metadata provided by the online persona Guccifer 2.0, who took credit for the alleged hack. “Key among the findings of the independent forensic investigations is the conclusion that the DNC data was copied onto a storage device at a speed that far exceeds an Internet capability for a remote hack.”

The memo garnered attention on the right, but its claims have been disputed. It cited timestamps embedded in the Guccifer files showing when they’d been copied, and used this data to extrapolate how quickly they’d been copied from one computer to another. The analysis on which the VIPS memo was based, conducted by a blogger called “The Forensicator,” showed that the files were transferred at a speed roughly equivalent to the rate at which data can be downloaded to a USB thumb drive. VIPS claimed that speed was “much faster than what is physically possible with a hack,” and so the files had to have been stolen by an insider with direct access to the computer system.

But this argument led to a tense split within the VIPS group. Among others, Drake, who for so long had been closely associated with Binney, publicly opposed the memo, joining a group of dissenting VIPS members who have attacked it.

“A number of VIPS members did not sign this problematic memo because of troubling questions about its conclusions, and others who did sign it have raised key concerns since its publication,” states a competing memo written by Drake and other VIPS members and published September 1 on the website of The Nation magazine, which had earlier published a story about the Binney memo.

Drake and the dissenters complain that the original memo was deeply flawed and came to biased conclusions based only on a sketchy analysis of information that originated with Guccifer 2.0, which the U.S. intelligence community believes is a front for Russian intelligence. The dissenters also point out that it is indeed possible for a remote internet transfer to occur at the speeds identified in Binney’s memo. “The environment around Trump, Russia, et al. is hyperpolarized right now, and much disinformation is floating around, feeding confirmation bias, mirroring and even producing conspiracy theories,” the Drake memo says.

“In an ideal world, VIPS would at least retract its assertion of certainty. Absent real facts regarding proof of leaks or hacks (or both), how many hypotheses can one copy onto the head of a digital pin?”

The controversy surrounding the July VIPS memo didn’t seem to deter Pompeo from meeting with Binney. In late September, Binney was in Amsterdam, where he has been working to set up a new data analysis firm called Pretty Good Knowledge, when his wife called to tell him that he had received a call at home from the CIA director’s office, asking to set up a meeting. Binney returned the call to Pompeo’s assistant and scheduled the October 24 meeting.

Binney, who has serious medical problems and uses a wheelchair, asked a colleague from Pretty Good Knowledge, Chris Parker, to accompany him. Parker said in an interview that he helped Binney get into Pompeo’s seventh-floor office at CIA headquarters, shook hands with the CIA director, and then waited outside the office during their meeting. Marco Visser, a Dutch employee of Pretty Good Knowledge who happened to be in Washington at the time, said in an interview that he wanted to accompany Binney and Parker because he had never been to CIA headquarters and was excited to see it, but was not allowed to go because he is a foreign national.

Binney said he was not told what the meeting was about until he sat down with Pompeo. He said that in addition to Pompeo, two other CIA staffers, who gave only their first names, attended the meeting and asked technical questions about Binney’s analysis. When Pompeo asked Binney what evidence he had to support his analysis of the DNC email theft, Binney says he told him that it was based only on the online analyses of information published by Guccifer 2.0.

Binney said that since their meeting, he has not heard from Pompeo about scheduling follow-up meetings with the NSA and FBI.

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

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Republicans in Minnesota Try a New Line of Attack on a Socialist Candidate: She’s Not a Democrat!

7 November 2017 - 8:03am

As voters go to the polls today in Minneapolis for a municipal election, the city could be poised to elect its first socialist candidate in nearly a century, as Ward’s 3 Socialist Alternative city council candidate Ginger Jentzen has run a robust and well-funded campaign.

Her campaign has brought the ire of Minneapolis’s big developers and wider business community, who have barraged the district with mailers attacking her as “nutty“; the business PAC Minneapolis Works! late last week started running ads featuring a baby with a set of matches, calling Jentzen “dangerous”:

Another #MinneapolisWorks attack, the GOP-linked PAC funded by groups that ACTUALLY taxed wrking ppl 4 @USBank Stadium #SendItBack #Mpls2017

— Ginger Jentzen (@gingerjentzen) October 31, 2017

Although Minneapolis city council elections are technically nonpartisan, candidates are allowed to declare a party on the ballot. The mailer focuses heavily on the fact that Jentzen is running as a Socialist Alternative ticket candidate; two of her three opponents are running as Democrats. It notes that she has “rejected the DFL” (the state’s Democratic Party) and is not planning to caucus with them. The intent is clear: this is a Democratic ward, why vote for someone who isn’t a Democrat?

The irony is, while the newly-formed group is backing a number of conservative DFL candidates this election to try and prevent the city council from moving left, it has ties to the GOP.

Disclosures released last week show that the group paid $26,518 to the 1858 Group for “Polling/Consulting/Research.” Although the firm has virtually no web presence, Minnesota’s database of business disclosures reveal that it is headed by Mark H. Drake.

Drake is a long-time GOP-aligned operative who was previously the president of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition (MJC). MJC is credited as one of the groups that helped flip control of the state house from Democrats to Republicans. Drake formerly worked for a slew of high-level Minnesota Republicans, ranging from Tim Pawlenty to Norm Coleman. His Twitter page is replete with digs at DFL candidates.

Multiple requests for comment given to Drake were not returned at the time of publication.

Fundraising emails sent out before the election by local business figures asked donors to give to both Minneapolis Works! and the MJC; Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce president Jonathan Weinhagen and developer Steve Minn both cited both groups as worthy of their donors’ support. As local reporter Peter Callaghan notes, the latest disclosures do not show MJC transferring any funds to Minneapolis Works!, but they do not cover last-minute donations which will not be disclosed until after the election.

The candidate Minneapolis Works! is backing in Jentzen’s Ward, Tim Bildsoe, served as a nonpartisan city councilman in Plymouth, Minnesota, but has faced accusations from Democrats of being sympathetic to the Republican Party. Although he is running as a Democrat in Tuesday’s election, in 2005, he served as the campaign chairman for Republican Judy Johnson’s campaign for state senate.

“I served for 16-years as a council member in a large suburban Minnesota city were party affiliation wasn’t asked or required. Over the years, I have supported candidates from both parties, basing my choices on their positions, not their party affiliation,” Bildsoe said to The Intercept in a statement. “Over the past 10 years, my positions have become centered in the Democratic (DFL) Party. I became increasingly active in the Minnesota DFL Party, culminating with my election in 2017 as a delegate to the DFL Ward and City Conventions. I have been warmly received by DFL party members, who recognize my experience in local government as an asset to Minneapolis and the DFL, and are well-supported by my actions and priorities. I welcome voters of the Minneapolis City Council Ward 3 to review my experience and positions at'”

Asked about his support for Johnson, spokesperson Steve Bonoff added, “Tim served as honorary chair for a Judy Johnson campaign more than a decade ago. Reflecting his changing views, Tim subsequently publically supported a Johnson opponent, Terri Bonoff, DFL candidate for MN Senate and DFL candidate for US Congress. Terri Bonoff and Judy Johnson remain united in their support of Tim Bildsoe.”

At least one of Minneapolis Works!’s donors — Steve Minn, who sent the joint fundraising email for MJC’s legislative arm and Minneapolis Works! —  has also donated to Republicans in the past, backing GOP candidate Keith Downey in a House race. Downey is running for governor next year to try to end Democratic control of the state.

To be sure, a number of loyal Democrats have funded Minneapolis Works! as well. Former General Mills and Northwest Airline executive James A. Lawrence, donated $60,000 to the group’s operations.

But what Jentzen’s race shows is that while the group is citing party affiliation as a way to turn the ward’s DFL voters against her, it has no problem teaming up with a Republican-led firm to take her down.

It wouldn’t be the first time the Democrats and Republicans teamed up to defeat a socialist in Minneapolis. Historian David Paul Nord notes how the Democratic and Republican parties teamed up in the early 20th century to take on Socialist Thomas Van Lear:

Frightened by Van Lear’s strong showing…Minneapolis Democrats and Republicans united to push through the 1911 legislative session a nonpartisan primary law. It provided that the two candidates receiving the highest vote totals in a nonpartisan June primary would be on the ballot in November. In 1912, the year of the first municipal election held under the new law, things at first went according to plan. The winners in the primary were Charles D. Gould, a Democrat, and Wallace G. Nye, a Republican. But Van Lear was nominated later by petition and soon became a leading contender again. When it looked as if the Socialist might win in a three-way race, Gould was persuaded by a visit from a group of the city’s leading bankers, brokers, and industrialists to withdraw. The final vote was 19,963 for Van Lear, 1,258 for Gould, and 22,384 for Nye, the Republican “nonpartisan.”

But the story didn’t end there. As Nord notes, this “seeming political suicide on the part of the Democratic candidate not only raised suspicions of corruption, but tended to confirm the Socialists’ claim that there was no significant difference between the two major parties.” Van Lear later ran again, and won in 1916, serving from 1917 to 1919.


Top photo: A portrait of Ginger Jentzen while she was out canvasing a neighborhood in Minneapolis, Minnesotaon October 20, 2017 .

The post Republicans in Minnesota Try a New Line of Attack on a Socialist Candidate: She’s Not a Democrat! appeared first on The Intercept.

Promessa de Trump de atacar EI com força “dez vezes maior” é garantia de mais atentados nos EUA

7 November 2017 - 6:57am

Quem disse que Donald Trump não cumpre suas promessas? Durante a campanha presidencial, o astro de reality show prometeu “bombardear loucamente” o Estado Islâmico (EI). E é exatamente o que ele vem fazendo desde que assumiu a presidência: em agosto, por exemplo, a coalizão liderada pelos Estados Unidos lançou mais de 5 mil bombas sobre posições do EI. Foi o mês com o maior número de bombardeios nos três anos da campanha para derrotar o EI, de acordo com o Comando Central da Força Aérea dos EUA.

Bombardear loucamente o EI se tornou a marca registrada de Trump. “O que estamos fazendo é que, cada vez que somos atacados (…), contra-atacamos com uma força dez vezes maior”, declarou o presidente a repórteres na sexta-feira, após o último ataque terrorista inspirado pelo EI em Nova York. Prometeu ainda que os EUA iriam “atacar [o EI] de um jeito que vocês nem vão acreditar”.

Aí está o problema, no entanto: embora o objetivo de Trump seja soar forte e durão, sua estratégia — se é que uma resposta que se resume a bombas e mais bombas pode ser chamada de “estratégia” — serve apenas para tornar os Estados Unidos um alvo ainda maior do EI e colocar em risco muito mais vidas inocentes de americanos.

E não sou só eu quem digo. Tomem como exemplo a denúncia contra Sayfullo Saipov, o imigrante uzbeque acusado de usar um caminhão para assassinar oito pessoas em Manhattan semana passada, em nome do EI. Ele teria começado a planejar o ataque, descreve a denúncia, “aproximadamente um ano atrás”. Saipov, ainda de acordo com o documento, “ficou motivado a cometer o ataque depois de assistir a um vídeo em que [o líder do EI] Abu Bakr al-Bahgdadi […] indagava o que os muçulmanos nos Estados Unidos e em outros lugares estavam fazendo para responder à matança de muçulmanos no Iraque.”

Soa familiar? Bem, Saipov obviamente não é o primeiro terrorista da Al Qaeda ou do EI a fazer referência às mortes de civis muçulmanos no exterior como motivação para praticar atos de extrema violência nos EUA. Faisal Shahzad, responsável pelo atentado a bomba em Time Square, contou a um juiz federal em 2010 que sua intenção era se vingar dos ataques de drones norte-americanos no Paquistão, sua terra natal — ataques que “matam mulheres, crianças, matam todos”.

O atirador de Fort Hood, major Nidal Malik Hasan,”estava insatisfeito com a política externa dos EUA e tinha feito vários comentários de que os EUA não deveriam estar no Iraque e no Afeganistão”, nas palavras de um ex-colega. Dzhokar Tsarnaev, um dos dois responsáveis pelo atentado a bomba na Maratona de Boston, teria dito aos interrogadores, de acordo com o Washington Post, que “as guerras norte-americanas no Iraque e no Afeganistão haviam motivado ele e seu irmão a realizar o ataque”. Testemunhas oculares relatam que o atirador de Orlando teria contado ao operador da linha de emergência 911 que havia atacado a casa noturna Pulse em 2016 “porque queria que os Estados Unidos parassem de bombardear” o Afeganistão.

Como certa vez indagou Marc Sageman, o grande especialista em terrorismo e ex-funcionário da CIA: “Em que momento vocês pretendem começar a escutar os relatos de agressores sobre os motivos dos ataques?”

Políticos e peritos, porém, não escutam as palavras “Iraque”, “Afeganistão” ou “drones”, porque estão ocupados demais com sua obsessão pela frase “Allahu Akbar” ou com a análise do comprimento da barba de um terrorista. E assim perdura um dos maiores tabus de todos: levar em consideração o papel que a política externa beligerante dos EUA parece desempenhar na incitação aos ataques terroristas contra o país.

Sayfullah Habibullahevic Saipov, em foto divulgada pelo Departamento de Correções de St. Charles County (Missouri), em 31 de outubro de 2017.

Foto: Departamento de Correções de St. Charles County (Missouri)/AFP/Getty Images

No dia seguinte  ao ataque de  caminhão em Manhattan, recebi Sageman na Universidade de Georgetown em Washington D.C., onde ministro uma aula semanal sobre “Terror, Islã e Mídia”.

Psiquiatra forense destacado para a base da CIA em Islamabad, no Paquistão, durante a jihad afegã nos anos 1980, Sageman desde então estuda as biografias de centenas de extremistas e atua como perito técnico em inúmeros julgamentos de terroristas nos EUA. Ele não tem tempo para tabus. “A violência política é, em primeiro lugar, política”, disse ele aos meus alunos, explicando como os “neo-jihadistas” tendem a ser movidos por uma mistura de “desilusão” com as manifestações pacíficas e “indignação moral” com os ataques aos companheiros muçulmanos no exterior.

“Não teriam ocorrido ataques [do EI]” dentro dos EUA, defende Sageman, se os Estados Unidos tivessem se mantido fora do Iraque e da Síria. Ele lembrou à turma que o primeiro ataque inspirado pelo EI em solo norte-americano ocorreu em Garland, no Texas, em maio de 2015, nove meses depois de o governo Obama dar início os bombardeios ao EI em agosto de 2014.

O ex-funcionário da CIA explicou como ele entende que a “violência política” — termo que prefere a “terrorismo” — pode ser compreendida por um processo bastante direto e newtoniano de “ação e reação”. Nós bombardeamos, eles bombardeiam. Eles bombardeiam, nós bombardeamos. Sageman escreve em seu recente livro “Misunderstanding Terrorism” (“Entendendo errado o terrorismo”, em tradução livre, sem edição no Brasil) que a situação se tornou “um ciclo de violência mútua sempre crescente”.

Não faltam relatórios oficiais e estudos com conclusões semelhantes. O Conselho de Ciências da Defesa, ligado ao Pentágono, observou em 1997, quatro anos antes dos atentados de 11 de Setembro: “Dados históricos mostram uma forte correlação entre o envolvimento dos EUA em situações internacionais e um aumento dos ataques terroristas contra os Estados Unidos.” Em 2004, três anos depois dos ataques às Torres Gêmeas, outro estudo feito pelo mesmo Conselho afirmou: “Os muçulmanos não “odeiam nossa liberdade”, eles odeiam nossas políticas.” Um dos presidentes da Comissão do 11/09, o ex-congressista Lee Hamilton, tentou incluir no relatório final da comissão um “reconhecimento” de que “a presença das forças norte-americanas no Oriente Médio era uma importante motivação para os atos da Al Qaeda.”

Mas qualquer menção a esses vereditos é recebida com escárnio, desprezo e zombaria, sem contar as acusações de “apologia” e “negacionismo”. A verdadeira negação, no entanto, diz respeito ao claro papel desempenhado pelas ofensas da política externa no assim chamado processo de “radicalização”.

Enquanto isso, o presidente dos Estados Unidos da América se gabe de planejar responder a um ataque contra civis norte-americanos, que teria sido motivado pela “matança de muçulmanos” no Oriente Médio, por uma matança ainda maior de muçulmanos no Oriente Médio. É uma insanidade. Para ser mais claro: ataques aéreos lançados desde 2014 pela coalizão liderada pelos EUA podem até ter removido mais de  60 mil soldados do EI do campo de batalha, mas também resultaram na morte de milhares de civis inocentes. De acordo com uma investigação da Airwars para The Daily Beast, “aparentemente mais de 2.200 civis adicionais podem ter sido mortos em investidas da coalizão desde que Trump foi empossado”; “em todos os meses de 2017, foi atribuído à coalizão liderada pelos EUA um número maior de supostas vítimas civis do que à Rússia.” Em maio, por exemplo, um ataque aéreo promovido pelos EUA num subúrbio ocidental de Mosul, no Iraque, matou mais de cem pessoas, incluindo mulheres e crianças.

Espera-se mesmo que acreditemos que esses ataques letais não têm consequências? Que não receberão resposta? Que nenhum tiro vai sair pela culatra?

Se Trump não quer escutar nem a mim, nem a Marc Sageman, nem ao Conselho de Ciências da Defesa, nem ao presidente da Comissão do 11/09, talvez ele escute seu ex-conselheiro de segurança nacional, o general reformado Michael Flynn. Diante de proximidade de um possível indiciamento por Robert Mueller, talvez poucos se lembrem que, em meados de 2015, dezoito meses antes de deixar o governo Trump em desgraça por supostos contatos com a Rússia, Flynn admitiu para mim, no meu programa em inglês na Al Jazeera, que “quanto mais bombas nós lançamos, mais isso (…) alimenta o conflito.”

Nós bombardeamos, eles bombardeiam; eles bombardeiam, nós bombardeamos. Será que isso um dia terá fim?

Foto do título: Socorristas chegam ao local do ataque em West Street, Manhattan (31/10/17).

Tradução: Deborah Leão

The post Promessa de Trump de atacar EI com força “dez vezes maior” é garantia de mais atentados nos EUA appeared first on The Intercept.

Rahm Emanuel on Donna Brazile Claims: “This is Really, Totally Irrelevant.”

6 November 2017 - 5:04pm

Senior Democratic officials were quick to dismiss recent claims by Donna Brazile that the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign exercised extensive influence over the Democratic National Committee, including an agreement that gave the campaign power to vet communications by the party during the presidential primary.

“Lee, I love you, but this is really, totally irrelevant,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in response to a question about the fairness of the DNC-Clinton agreement. “Let’s focus on what we got to do to win not only in 2018 and 2020 going forward, and it ain’t looking back in 2016 and thinking about some agreement everybody’s done before.”

Minyon Moore, an at-large member of the DNC and senior adviser to Clinton, said the agreement wasn’t unusual “because the DNC is always considered the stepchild, and we want candidates who want to help build the party.”

Maria Echaveste, a former aide in Bill Clinton’s administration who backed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, said she had not read the agreement but asserted that any “notion that the Hillary campaign controlled the DNC and therefore rigged the election, the selection process, is nonsense.” But, she added, that “in terms of the DNC, we have a lot to learn.”

Emmanuel, Moore, and Echaveste made these comments in response to questions from The Intercept at a Monday event sponsored by Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service celebrating the 25th anniversary of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

After the question from The Intercept, Lauren Mullins, the director of communications at the institute, told us that the question period was reserved for “members of the GPP community,” and asked that we move to the back of the room.

Brazile, who served as interim chair of the DNC from July 2016 to February 2017, published an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir in Politico last week, exposing an agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC that gave the campaign power to pre-approve committee decisions and communications. (On Sunday, Brazile said she found no evidence the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged, tempering the accusations she made in her memoir.)

Brazile’s revelations led to the release of fundraising agreements between the DNC and Clinton’s campaign, as well as a similar agreement with the Bernie Sanders campaign. Notably, Clinton’s joint fundraising agreement with the DNC differed substantially from that of the Sanders campaign, which did not include provisions giving the campaign approval over DNC messaging or decision-making.

The former Bill Clinton aides further defended the current management of the party, including DNC chair Tom Perez’s decision to appoint a number of corporate lobbyists to leadership positions at the party.

As The Intercept reported, Perez moved in October to purge longstanding party officials seen as friendly to Sanders and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., while appointing a number of corporate lobbyists, including registered lobbyists for Citigroup, a nuclear power company, and News Corporation (the parent company of Fox News), as at-large members of the DNC. The at-large committee members also serve as so-called “super delegates,” charged with helping to select the party’s presidential nominee.

The Intercept also asked the speakers to opine on lobbyists serving as DNC at-large members.

“As a former lobbyist, I can say there are good lobbyists and there are bad lobbyists,” Echaveste responded. She defended the inclusion of corporate lobbyists by pointing to other groups that employ lobbyists, such as the Sierra Club. “That’s the thing about Americans. We are the most organization-prone people,” Eschaveste said.

Echaveste is the co-founder of NVG LLC, a lobbying shop that serves a variety of clients. Echaveste was previously registered to lobby on behalf a trade group of health insurance companies to influence former President Barack Obama’s health care reform bill, as well as a trade group of payday lenders on a bill designed to provide further regulation of the industry.

Minyon Moore, a principal at the lobbying firm Dewey Square Group, was one of the Perez-appointed at-large members of the DNC. She bristled at the notion that her firm engages in lobbying.

“I am happy to tell you publicly that I have never been a lobbyist, and if I was, I would own up to the reason why,” Moore said. “But what I do for a living is I actually help corporations probably get to where your values are.”

Asked after the event to explain how she advises corporate clients and how she defines her role at Dewey Square Group, Moore declined to comment. Witnessing the encounter, Mullins intervened to block any further questions.

She claimed that “reporters on campus are not allowed to ask questions,” even after an event concludes. Mullins further explained that reporters are welcome to silently attend the event, but are barred from interviewing speakers at any time on campus.

Mullins, a former registered lobbyist for the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, said that it is “Georgetown’s policy” to prevent reporters from speaking to any student or speaker during or after a public event.

Moore is not a registered lobbyist, but her firm is well-known as a top Democratic lobbying firm. Dewey Square Group worked on behalf of health insurance companies to shape the Affordable Care Act. The firm touts its ability to win “favorable legislative or policy outcomes” for its business and nonprofit clients. Federal lobbying-disclosure laws are infamously vague and many firms engaged in lobbying activities arbitrarily decide whether or not to register all of their employees.

Dewey Square Group is currently registered in Massachusetts to lobby public officials on behalf of clients such as Walgreens, Tenet Health, Spectra Energy, Capital One, and Apple. Emails obtained by the House Oversight Committee in 2009 revealed that Moore was part of the Dewey Square Group lobbying team that played a central role in assisting Countrywide, the subprime mortgage lender, to shape legislation on Capitol Hill.

“Doug — Minyon Moore is a former White House Staffer and lead lobbyist for Dewey Square whom we have on retainer. The lobbying company is also one of Angelo’s preferred,” Jimmie Williams, a former mortgage banking lobbyist, wrote to a colleague in 2004, recommending a loan from the “Friends of Angelo” program for discounted mortgages. The VIP loan program was an internal effort by former Countrywide Chief Executive Officer Angelo Mozilo to influence political insiders in Washington, D.C.

Countrywide’s parent company, Bank of America, paid a $335 million settlement over claims that Countrywide, during the height of the housing crisis, systematically discriminated against African American and Hispanic borrowers with inflated fees.

The recent controversy sparked by Brazile’s book has cast a new spotlight on the influence of lobbyists and establishment political figures over the Democratic Party.

On CNN last Thursday, Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen argued that the tell-all memoir is simply a distraction. “I have to say for Democrats to spend a second re-litigating this primary fight, could not be stupider,” Rosen declared.

Not mentioned during the segment, however, is Rosen’s financial interest in the debate. In Brazile’s book, ‘Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-Ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House,’ she complains that the DNC was beset with “hangers-on and sycophants.” From the Washington Post:

In her first few days on the job, Brazile writes that she also discovered the DNC was $2 million in debt and that the payroll was stacked with “hangers-on and sycophants.” For instance, Wasserman Schultz kept two consulting firms — SKDKnickerbocker and Precision Strategies — each on $25,000-a-month retainers, and one of Obama’s pollsters was still being paid $180,000 a year.

Rosen serves as managing director of SKDKnickerbocker.

As for Georgetown’s policy on campus interviews, a spokesperson subsequently provided the campus policy to us, which, it turns out, does not prevent any post-event interviews:

Georgetown University expects that any speaker visiting campus takes questions from members of our community. While many events are open to members of the media, we aim to ensure that the question and answer period allows our students, faculty, and staff to ask questions of the speaker. It is up to individual speakers whether they grant interviews to members of the media outside of the allotted time for the event.

Indeed, members of the press routinely ask questions at Georgetown University events.

Georgetown University has touted itself as a champion of the First Amendment on college campuses. In September, the university hosted Attorney General Jeff Sessions for a major speech on challenges to free speech on university campuses. That month, former college president Sanford J. Ungar also announced a Georgetown project to “study the condition of free speech in America today, both in higher education and in civil society, in an attempt to create frameworks that promote public discussion about divisive issues in a civil manner.”

The Ungar project will reportedly study challenges to press freedom.

Update: November 6, 2017

This story was updated to include information on Georgetown’s media access policies.


Top photo: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton walks on stage to accept her nomination during the fourth and final night of the Democratic National Convention at Wells Fargo Center on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The post Rahm Emanuel on Donna Brazile Claims: “This is Really, Totally Irrelevant.” appeared first on The Intercept.

Top Trump Ally Tom Barrack Made a $1.5 Million Loan to Paul Manafort

6 November 2017 - 12:51pm

Tom Barrack, a top Trump ally and CEO of the private equity firm Colony Capital, made Paul Manafort a $1.5 loan in 2007, he told the Washington Post in an interview conducted before the former Trump campaign chairman was indicted.

That interview takes on new significance now that Manafort has been charged with money laundering. Prosecutors, in the indictment, allege Manafort’s criminal scheme began in at least 2006 and involved short-term loans tied to property.

Owen Blicksilver, a spokesman for Barrack, told The Intercept that, in fact, the loan Barrack made was not to Manafort himself, as he’d told the Post, but to Manafort’s wife. He added that whatever tax-avoidance strategy Manafort may have been employing would not have been known to Barrack.

“Without opining on the validity of the charges in the indictment, do you really think someone making a personal loan reviews the individual’s tax filings?” Blicksilver said.

Indeed, Barrack could very well have been unaware of Manafort’s offshore activity. Barrack is one of Trump’s closest friends and confidants and speaks with Trump regularly. His name has been floated as a possible chief of staff should the president decide to replace John Kelly.

Barrack has been friends with Manafort for decades, and was in fact one of the first people to recommend Manafort to Trump’s campaign. According to the New York Times, Barrack wrote a cover letter calling Manafort “the most experienced and lethal of managers,” and “a killer.”

Manafort’s charges are mostly connected to overseas income he was allegedly sheltering from federal authorities using a network of offshore accounts in Cyprus. And in what is likely an extraordinary, only-in-the-Trump-administration coincidence, prosecutors allege that most of the offshore accounts were tied to the Bank of Cyprus. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was vice chairman of that bank until he divested to join the administration.

Manafort used the accounts to purchase property in the U.S., then take out loans using the property as collateral. The loans would then become clean, untaxed cash.

But it required a lot of different loans. And ten years ago, Barrack gave Manafort the $1.5 million loan to help refinance his mortgage for a home in the Hamptons. Manafort paid off the loan 14 months later, and Barrack told the Washington Post that the loan was the only financial transaction between the two.

As the 2007 financial crisis pummeled many real estate investors, Barrack bought up discounted property or debt. He wound up holding part of the debt on a project controlled by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who had purchased a 41-story Fifth Avenue office tower at the height of the market and was having trouble making the loan payments. When Kushner tried to restructure his debt — meaning some investors would receive less than expected — he flew to California to get Barrack’s support. After Barrack talked with Trump about the matter, he went along with Kushner’s request.

Around the same time, Barrack helped Manafort, loaning Trump’s future campaign manager $1.5 million to refinance a home in the Hamptons. Barrack said the loan was repaid in 14 months and was the only financial transaction between the two.

The transaction could be entirely innocent and distinct from his alleged criminal scheme, but it fits into the pattern of loans described in Manafort’s indictment. Manafort sometimes used his offshore accounts to pay off mortgages, and sometimes other loans. The indictment points to a cycle in which Manafort used newer mortgages to pay off older ones – the continuous loans gave him cash infusions while allowing him to evade the IRS. Manafort is also accused of telling an assortment of lies to get bank loans at more favorable interest rates so that when the loans had to be repaid, he wasn’t losing much of his offshore fortune.

The indictment even references a Hamptons home as one of the vehicles for alleged money laundering at around the same time.

Blicksilver, asked about the property referenced in the indictment, said that “what you are suggesting is outrageous even if your facts were accurate, which they are not,” noting that the loan was repaid before June 2008, the first date in the table above.

After Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign amid scandal, Rick Gates – who has been described as Manafort’s right-hand man — hung around. Earlier this year, he was ousted from his role at a pro-Trump super PAC that he helped found. He was immediately hired as a consultant by a company owned by Barrack. Last Monday, Gates was also indicted, and Barrack fired him.

Top photo: Tom Barrack, CEO of Colony Capital speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Thursday, July 21, 2016.

The post Top Trump Ally Tom Barrack Made a $1.5 Million Loan to Paul Manafort appeared first on The Intercept.

Donald Trump’s Vow to Hit ISIS “10 Times Harder” Guarantees More Terrorism Against Americans

6 November 2017 - 12:45pm

Who says Donald Trump doesn’t keep his promises? On the campaign trail, the reality TV star pledged to “bomb the shit” out of the Islamic State. And that’s what he has been doing since coming to office: In August, for example, the United States-led coalition dropped more than 5,000 bombs on ISIS positions, “the most of any month in the three-year campaign to defeat ISIS,” according to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command.

Bombing the shit out of ISIS has become Trump’s signature move. “What we’re doing is every time we are attacked from this point forward … we are hitting them 10 times harder,” the president told reporters on Friday, in the wake of the latest ISIS-inspired terror attack in New York City, vowing that the U.S. would “hit [ISIS] like you folks won’t believe.”

But here’s the problem: Trump may want to sound tough and strong yet his strategy — if you can even call a response based on bombs, bombs, and more bombs a “strategy” — only makes the United States a much bigger ISIS target and puts many more innocent American lives at risk.

Don’t take my word for it. Consider the federal criminal complaint against Sayfullo Saipov, the Uzbek immigrant accused of using a truck to murder eight people in Manhattan last week on behalf of ISIS. He began planning the attack, it states, “approximately one year ago.” Saipov, the complaint continues, “was motivated to commit the attack after viewing a video in which [ISIS leader] Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi … questioned what Muslims in the United States and elsewhere were doing to respond to the killing of Muslims in Iraq.”

Sound familiar? Well, Saipov isn’t of course the first Al Qaeda or ISIS attacker to refer to the deaths of Muslim civilians abroad as a motivating factor for murderous violence inside the United States. Faisal Shahzad, the Time Square bomber, told a federal judge in 2010 that he wanted to avenge U.S. drone strikes in his native Pakistan that “kill women, children, they kill everybody.”

The Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, in the words of a former colleague, “had been unhappy about U.S. foreign policy and had made several comments that the U.S. should not be in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Dzhokar Tsarnaev, one of the two Boston Marathon bombers, told interrogators, according to the Washington Post, that “the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack.” Eyewitnesses say the Orlando shooter Omar Mateen told the 911 dispatcher that he had attacked the Pulse nightclub in 2016 “because he wanted America to stop bombing” Afghanistan.

As Marc Sageman, a leading terrorism expert and former CIA case officer, once said to me: “At what point are you going to start listening to the perpetrators who tell you why they’re doing this?”

The political and pundit classes, however, don’t hear the words “Iraq” or “Afghanistan” or “drones”; they are too busy obsessing over the phrase “Allahu Akbar” or examining the length of an attacker’s beard. And so it remains one of the the biggest taboos of all: Citing the role that a belligerent U.S. foreign policy seems to play in provoking terror attacks against the United States.

This photo released by the St. Charles County Department of Corrections in Missouri on Oct. 31, 2017 shows Sayfullah Habibullahevic Saipov.

Photo: St. Charles County Dept. of Corrections in Missouri/AFP/Getty Images

The day after the truck attack in Manhattan, I hosted Sageman at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., where I teach a weekly class on ‘Terror, Islam and the Media.”

A forensic psychiatrist who was deployed to the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, during the Afghan jihad in the 1980s, Sageman has since studied the biographies of hundreds of extremists and served as an expert witness in countless U.S. terror trials. He has no time for taboos. “Political violence is first and foremost political,” he told my students, explaining how “neo-jihadists” tend to be driven by a mixture of “disillusionment” with peaceful protest and “moral outrage” over attacks on their fellow Muslims abroad.

“There would have been no [ISIS] attacks” inside the U.S., Sageman claimed, had the United States stayed out of Iraq and Syria. The first ISIS-inspired attack on U.S. soil, he reminded the class, was in Garland, Texas, in May 2015, nine months after the Obama administration began bombing ISIS in August 2014.

The former CIA officer outlined how he believes “political violence” — a phrase he prefers to “terrorism” — can be understood via a rather straightforward and Newtonian process of “action and reaction.” We bomb them, they bomb us. They bomb us, we bomb them. It has become, writes Sageman in his recent book “Misunderstanding Terrorism,” “an ever-escalating cycle of mutual violence.”

A plethora of official reports and studies have come to similar conclusions. As the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board observed in 1997, four years before 9/11: “Historical data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States.” In 2004, three years after the attacks on the Twin Towers, another study by the DSB averred: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom’ but rather, they hate our policies.” The co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, tried to include an “acknowledgment” in the commission’s final report that “the presence of American forces in the Middle East was a major motivating factor in Al Qaeda’s actions.”

Yet to mention such verdicts is to invite scorn, derision, and ridicule, not to mention accusations of “apologism” and “denialism.” The real denial, however, is of the clear role played by foreign policy grievances in the so-called radicalization process.

Meanwhile, the president of the United States openly boasts of how he plans to respond to an attack on American civilians allegedly motivated by the “killing of Muslims” in the Middle East by … killing more Muslims in the Middle East. This is madness. To be clear: U.S.-led coalition airstrikes since 2014 may have removed more than 60,000 ISIS fighters from the battlefield, but they have also resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. According to an Airwars investigation for The Daily Beast, “more than 2,200 additional civilians appear to have been killed by Coalition raids since Trump was inaugurated,” and “in every month of 2017, more alleged civilian casualty events have been attributed to the U.S.-led Coalition than to Russia.” In May, for example, a U.S. airstrike on a western suburb of Mosul, Iraq, killed more than 100 people, including women and children.

Are we seriously expected to believe that such deadly attacks by the U.S. have no consequences? That there will be no response? No blowback?

If Trump doesn’t want to listen to me, or Marc Sageman, or the Defense Science Board, or the co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, perhaps he might listen to his former national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn. With a possible indictment from Special Counsel Robert Mueller beckoning, few now remember that, in the summer of 2015, 18 months before he left the Trump administration in disgrace over his alleged contacts with Russia, Flynn was willing to admit to me, on my Al Jazeera English show, that “the more bombs we drop, that just … fuels the conflict.”

We bomb them, they bomb us. They bomb us, we bomb them. Will it ever end?

Top photo: First responders at the scene of an incident along West Street in Lower Manhattan, Oct. 31, 2017.

The post Donald Trump’s Vow to Hit ISIS “10 Times Harder” Guarantees More Terrorism Against Americans appeared first on The Intercept.

Youtube e Facebook estão removendo provas contra criminosos de guerra

6 November 2017 - 11:25am

Abdulsalam estava no  meio da prece de sexta-feira na mesquita de seu bairro em al-Bab, Aleppo, quando ouviu um estampido: uma padaria ali perto tinha se desintegrado com a força de uma bomba de barril, um mortífero recipiente metálico cheio de fragmentos de metal e explosivos, muito usado pelo exército sírio.

Olhando para o céu, viu que o helicóptero que havia lançado a arma ainda sobrevoava a área. Ele tentou tirar fotos enquanto a aeronave pairava sobre os destroços, mas as imagens saíram borradas. Abdulsalam então subiu na traseira de uma ambulância que passava, e foi dos primeiros a chegar à cena. Testou a câmera na fachada fumegante de uma padaria, mudou o foco para uma série de barraquinhas de comida destruídas na explosão, e enfim mirou suas lentes nos corpos destroçados. Seguiu tirando fotos em rápida sequência, até que avistou seu primo no meio da carnificina. Guardou a câmera, decidiu se unir às forças de resgate e ajudou seu parente a chegar ao hospital mais próximo.

Era janeiro de 2014, quase dois anos depois que o exército da Síria abrira fogo sobre manifestantes na cidade natal de Abdulsalam, al-Bab, ao norte da província de Aleppo, levando a guerra em curso no país até uma comunidade agrícola que vinha permanecendo praticamente intocada. Desde então, ele vem trabalhando com um grupo local de ativistas de mídia para trazer a público o custo humano da guerra civil, enquanto guerreiros rebeldes estabeleciam uma base um al-Bab e o regime de Assad atacava a cidade de cima.

Poucas horas depois do ataque que feriu seu primo, Abdulsalam baixou suas fotos para o Facebook, pensando que seria a melhor forma de, ao mesmo tempo, preservar as imagens – ele não sabia quando sua câmera ou seu computador poderiam ser destruídos – e divulgá-las para o mundo. “Foi um bombardeio especialmente terrível”, ele me contou recentemente. Tinha havido uma trégua nos combates naquela semana, e as famílias que passaram meses se escondendo dentro de casa tinham finalmente saído para caminhar por um mercado a céu aberto, próximo à mesquita.

Sete meses depois, Abdulsalam recebeu um e-mail automático do Facebook, notificando-o de que suas imagens tinham sido removidas. Outros usuários haviam reclamado que elas eram muito sangrentas. Quando o e-mail chegou, as outras cópias que Abdulsalam tinha das fotos já estavam perdidas: seu disco rígido tinha sido queimado, juntamente com seu pequeno escritório, quando o Estado Islâmico (EI) invadiu al-Bab, e Abdulsalam fugiu pela fronteira com a Turquia.

Há bons motivos para crer que as fotos de Abdulsalam poderiam ter sido usadas para trazer à tona as atrocidades que ele havia presenciado. Desde que a guerra civil na Síria começou, investigadores da Human Rights Watch (HRW), organização de defesa dos direitos humanos, têm viajado regularmente a Aleppo para documentar potenciais crimes de guerra. Dentre eles, um padrão assustador de helicópteros sírios explodindo padarias com bombas de barril. Quando Abdulsalam tirou suas fotos, o Estado Islâmico tinha começado a entrar na cidade, e a HRW já não tinha condições de coletar provas no local. Ole Solvang, pesquisador da HRW que visitou Aleppo mais de uma dúzia de vezes, em parte para investigar os ataques a padarias, disse sobre as fotos de Abdulsalam, que não chegou a ver, que “se em algum momento houver um julgamento, esse é o tipo de coisa que pode se tornar uma prova importante.”

Civis reagem depois de um ataque aére no distrito de Tariq al-Bab na cidade de Aleppo, no norte da Síria. Foto tirada em 1º de fevereiro de 2014.

Foto: Mohammed Al-Khatieb/AFP/Getty Images

O desaparecimento das fotos de Abdulsalam faz parte de um padrão que está causando pânico silencioso entre os grupos de defesa dos direitos humanos e os investigadores de crimes de guerra. As empresas de mídia social podem remover conteúdo sem maior atenção ao seu valor probatório, e muitas vezes o fazem. Relatos em primeira pessoa de execuções sumárias, limpezas étnicas e exércitos investindo contra civis podem desaparecer quase sem aviso, e algumas vezes antes que os investigadores se deem conta. Quando os grupos percebem que provas em potencial foram apagadas, recuperá-las pode se tornar um esforço kafkaniano. As empresas por trás das redes sociais enfrentam diversas pressões – resguardar a privacidade dos usuários, combater propaganda extremista, coibir o assédio, e, mais recentemente, conter a expansão das chamadas “fake news”, as notícias falsas. Diante de tudo isso, elas frequentemente optam por ignorar, e, algumas vezes, até mesmo atrapalhar o trabalho dos grupos de defesa de direitos humanos lutando para reunir provas contra criminosos de guerra.
“Isso me tira o sono”, diz Julian Nicholls, advogado sênior do Tribunal Penal Internacional (TPI), onde é responsável pela acusação contra criminosos de guerra. “Essa ideia de que existe um vídeo ou foto por aí que eu poderia usar, mas antes que consigamos encontrá-los ou preservá-los, eles desaparecem”.

A preocupação com o desaparecimento de provas não é apenas teórica. Em meados desse ano, o YouTube apresentou um novo sistema de inteligência artificial (IA) programado para identificar conteúdo violento que possa ser propaganda extremista ou simplesmente algo considerado chocante pelos usuários. Praticamente de um dia para o outro, o sistema removeu 900 grupos e indivíduos que documentavam a guerra civil na Síria. Entre eles estava um canal administrado pela Bellingcat, uma reconhecida organização britânica que se dedica a analisar imagens de zonas de conflito, incluindo Síria, Ucrânia e Líbia. O YouTube também tirou do ar conteúdo do grupo AirWars (Guerras Aéreas), que monitora o número de ataques aéreos norte-americanos no Iraque e na Síria. Inúmeras organizações de mídia sediadas na Síria também foram removidas, incluindo o Idlib Media Center (Centro de Mídia Idlib), um dos poucos grupos a produzir vídeos na última província síria controlada por rebeldes. Enquanto isso, em setembro, o Facebook começou a remover fotos e imagens que documentavam a limpeza étnica e a tortura sofridas pela minoria étnica dos Rohingya nas mãos do governo de Myanmar. Como no caso das imagens feitas por Abdulsalam, outros usuários haviam marcado as imagens do Rohingya como fortes, e o Facebook concordou.

As remoções, assim como os processos nebulosos que levam a elas, representam uma mudança drástica em relação ao período impetuoso da Primavera Árabe, quando os manifestantes publicavam fotos de forças governamentais atirando contra as manifestações, e os executivos das redes sociais promoviam suas plataformas como instrumentos praticamente ilimitados em prol das reformas. “Qualquer pessoa com um aparelho de celular e acesso à internet poderá fazer parte da cobrança por responsabilidade”, escreveu em 2013 o presidente do Conselho de Administração do Google, Eric Schmidt, em seu livro “A Nova Era Digital”. Na mesma época, o presidente do Facebook Mark Zuckerberg declarou, num artigo de dez páginas sobre preparar o mundo para a internet: “eu considero que a conectividade é um dos direitos humanos.”
“Eles podiam ter dito: ‘não usem nossas plataformas para isso'”, diz Alexa Koenig, diretora-executiva do Human Rights Center (Centro de Direitos Humanos) na universidade UC Berkeley. “Mas eles na verdade tentaram convencer as pessoas a usarem essas plataformas [para isso] – eles mesmos se colocaram como árbitros do bem social, e uma vez que criaram essa dependência, eu diria que adquiriram uma responsabilidade ampliada.”

“Eles tinham ideias grandiosas”, acrescentou Keith Hiatt, ex-engenheiro de software que se tornou ativista dos direitos humanos e vem servindo como uma espécie de intermediário entre a indústria da tecnologia e a comunidade dos direitos humanos. Ele é atualmente o vice-presidente dos Programas de Direitos Humanos na ONG Benetech, que investe na criação e distribuição de programas para fins de justiça social, e é membro do Conselho Consultivo de Tecnologia do TPI, um grupo de especialistas que tenta aproximar os investigadores e a área tecnológica. “A história que essas empresas contavam para justificar a imensa liberdade com que operavam era que suas tecnologias levariam a uma maior abertura – e a abertura levaria à democracia e à liberdade”, disse ele.

Agora que seu próprio comportamento está em discussão, as empresas de mídia social parecem ignorar o que está em jogo, diz Mohammad Al Abdallah, diretor-executivo da ONG Syrian Justice and Accountability Center (Centro de Justiça e Responsabilidade da Síria, SJAC), apoiada por mais de trinta países, incluindo os EUA, e que trabalha para preservar as provas de atrocidades que estão nas mídias sociais.

“Eles não gostam do que está acontecendo em suas plataformas”, acrescentou. “Não levam isso tão a sério quanto deveriam.”

O Facebook não respondeu às perguntas específicas sobre provas de crimes de guerra. Um representante, que não aceitou dar entrevista nem ser nomeado, informou que o Facebook tentou ser flexível e permitir que conteúdo violento fosse veiculado na plataforma quando tivesse valor social ou documental, e indicou um post de blog em que a empresa declara que iria “trabalhar em colaboração com especialistas, editores, jornalistas, fotógrafos, e defensores da segurança na internet para melhorar a forma como decidimos quais são os tipos de itens permitidos.”

O YouTube defendeu a forma como lida com provas de crimes de guerra e suas relações com os grupos de defesa de direitos humanos que reúnem essas provas. “Temos o compromisso de assegurar que os ativistas de direitos humanos e os jornalistas cidadãos tenham suas vozes no YouTube, e temos orgulho de como o nosso serviço vem sendo usado para expor o que acontece ao redor do mundo”, declarou Juniper Downs, diretora de políticas públicas do YouTube. “Colaboramos em diversas questões com a sociedade civil, e inclusive trabalhamos com os grupos de defesa dos direitos humanos para entender melhor as necessidades dos criadores de conteúdo local. A expertise dessas pessoas nos ajuda a criar políticas e tomar decisões mais inteligentes, e damos muito valor a essa colaboração.”

Provas obtidas em mídias sociais vêm sendo cada vez mais usadas pelas organizações de defesa dos direitos humanos, pelos tribunais europeus com “jurisdição universal” que podem instaurar processos contra crimes de guerra e por investigadores da ONU para instruir processos contra praticantes de violações. Em meados desse ano, o TPI expediu um mandado de prisão para um comandante líbio acusado de praticar execuções sumárias no campo de batalha, fundamentando o mandado, em parte, com vídeos publicados no Facebook. (Um dos promotores desse caso é Nicholls, o advogado do TPI que se inquieta com o desaparecimento nas redes sociais das provas sobre atrocidades.)

Ano passado, na Alemanha, um combatente do Estado Islâmico foi julgado culpado de posar com prisioneiros decapitados, também com fundamento, em parte, nas provas encontradas no Facebook. Esse ano, na Suécia, o regime sírio e os guerreiros rebeldes foram processados por crimes de guerra com uso de provas obtidas no Facebook e no YouTube. No total, estão em curso trinta investigações de crimes de guerra em tribunais suecos e alemães, relativas a crimes que teriam sido cometidos na Síria e no Iraque. Do outro lado do mundo, o governo de Myanmar barrou o acesso de ONGs e agências à região Norte do país, onde os grupos de defesa dos direitos humanos relatam estar ocorrendo o genocídio da população Rohingya. Colaboradores dos direitos humanos muitas vezes se valem das redes sociais para documentar as atrocidades. Ao mesmo tempo, a ONU lançou uma investigação independente sobre o conflito sírio – conhecida como Mecanismo Internacional Imparcial e Independente – que tem mandato específico para coletar indícios de crimes de guerra na Síria, muitos dos quais estão hospedados em plataformas de mídia social.

Mark Zuckerberg, presidente e fundador do Facebook, fala durante o evento Oculus connet 3 em San Jose, California, na quinta-feira, 6 de outubro de 2016.

Foto: David Paul Morris/ Bloomberg/ Getty Images

Para algumas pessoas que usam as mídias sociais para documentar atrocidades em curso, as remoções parecem, na melhor das hipóteses, destruição de provas – e, na pior, cumplicidade com as atrocidades em questão. “Três anos de documentação, simplesmente apagados em um instante”, lamentou Obayda Abo-Al Bara, gestor do Idlib Media Center. Mohammad Anwar, um dos ativistas Rohingya cujos posts foram deletados pelo Facebook, disse a The Intercept que “eu senti que o Facebook era cúmplice do regime de Myanmar no genocídio dos Rohingya.”
O Facebook se recusou a comentar diretamente essa acusação, mas por meio de um representante informou que está abrindo exceções aos seus padrões da comunidade especificamente para esse conflito, atuando em parceria com ONGs, e admitiu que foram cometidos erros na forma como a rede social lidou com os posts de Myanmar, como foi revelado pelo Daily Beast em Setembro.

Os investigadores imaginam uma constelação de provas nos tribunais do futuro – o conteúdo das redes sociais será apresentado em conjunto com materiais tradicionais, como testemunhas oculares e documentos oficiais, para instruir de forma mais robusta e durável os processos contra criminosos de guerra. As redes sociais nunca substituirão testemunhas de carne e osso ou perícias à moda antiga, mas essa categoria de prova tem importância cada vez maior – e está concentrada de forma bastante peculiar nos servidores das grandes empresas do Vale do Silício.

“Essas plataformas são hoje essencialmente repositórios privados de provas”, disse Cristoph Koettl, analista sênior na organização Anistia Internacional.

“Mas esses empresários não atuam no ramo de depósito de provas de defesa de direitos humanos; essa atividade não está incluída no seu modelo de negócios.”

Koettl, que também é fundador do Citizen Evidence Lab (Laboratório de Provas Cidadãs), um grupo que treina pesquisadores de direitos humanos no uso das redes sociais para coletar provas de atrocidades, recebeu recentemente um link do YouTube de uma fonte, que informou se tratar de filmagem de uma execução sumária na Nigéria. Porém, quando clicou no link, o conteúdo havia sido removido. Quando entrou em contato com a empresa para solicitar a restauração, ele conta que foi informado de que não seria possível. Um representante do YouTube contou a The Intercept que, nesse cenário, a empresa precisa respeitar o desejo de quem publicou o vídeo originalmente – mesmo que um grupo de defesa de direitos humanos como a Anistia Internacional sinalize que o conteúdo é uma prova em potencial de crimes de guerra.
Casos como o vídeo da Nigéria colocam as empresas de redes sociais em uma posição complicada, tentando encontrar o equilíbrio entre a busca por provas de atrocidades e as garantias de privacidade dadas aos usuários. Grupos de defesa de direitos sem fins lucrativos também enxergam prioridades menos nobres em jogo. Koenig, do Human Rights Center, trabalhou por muitos anos ajudando a estabelecer uma cooperação entre os paladinos dos direitos humanos e as grandes empresas de redes sociais.

Em 2014 ela ajudou a organizar uma reunião entre investigadores do TPI e grandes empresas de tecnologia de São Francisco; o Google mandou um representante, mas o Facebook desistiu no último minuto. (Koenig conseguiu conversar com o Facebook na semana seguinte à reunião de 2014 do RightsCon, uma conferência anual digital de direitos humanos.) Foi a primeira reunião desse tipo, diz ela, e as diferenças entre os dois lados foram expostas. “Quando se trata de empresas privadas, leais a seus acionistas, elas pensam em cronogramas trimestrais e em maximização de lucros”, ela acrescentou.  “No que se refere aos crimes de guerra, falamos de um conjunto totalmente diferente de prioridades, e um cronograma mínimo de cinco anos.”

A atitude do Vale do Silício não é o único obstáculo para a utilização de conteúdo de mídia social em processos por crimes de guerra. Juízos e promotores ainda estão estabelecendo como as provas podem ser usadas, como valorá-las, e como assegurar que os advogados de defesa possam refutá-las de forma justa. Há ainda a eterna questão de como distinguir o que é real do que é falso: um vídeo no YouTube é uma execução autêntica ou é ensaiado? Para abordar essas preocupações, investigadores e ativistas estão se apressando para padronizar a forma de arquivamento das provas de mídia social, para torná-las pesquisáveis e facilitar sua verificação. Uma das prioridades é filtrar centenas de milhares de vídeos e fotos para separar as assim chamadas provas da materialidade, que indicam que um crime ocorreu, das “provas de autoria”, que ligam os suspeitos àquele crime.

Além da questão de como tratar as provas há o desafio de obtê-las, em primeiro lugar. Tribunais em países europeus, onde geralmente ocorrem os processos por crimes de guerra, só podem expedir mandados para empresas norte-americanas de mídia social por meio de processos complicados que operam por meio de tratados de assistência jurídica mútua (MLATs, na sigla em inglês) entre esses países e os EUA. Por esses canais, podem se passar anos até que os dados cheguem às mãos dos promotores. Uma dificuldade adicional é que o TPI está impedido de solicitar quaisquer dados de mídia social (ou outras informações) a empresas estadunidenses, graças ao American Service-Member’s Protection Act (Lei de Proteção aos Militares Americanos), uma lei sancionada pelo ex-presidente George W. Bush em 2002 que blinda os soldados norte-americanos de processos por crimes de guerra, e também impede as empresas dos EUA de entregarem provas ao TPI.

Obviamente, informações compartilhadas abertamente nas redes sociais são liberadas, e é difícil supervalorizar a importância dessas provas, ou as consequências de sua remoção. Tome-se por exemplo o julgamento de Haisam Omar Sakhanh, em fevereiro desse ano. Ele é ex-guerreiro rebelde sírio, que pediu asilo na Suécia e foi investigado pelas autoridades suecas por ter supostamente ocultado detalhes de seu passado. Durante essa investigação, veio à tona sua atuação em uma execução sumária no campo de batalha na Síria em 2012, e ele foi acusado de violação à legislação internacional. Ele foi posteriormente condenado, e recebeu pena de prisão perpétua.

As provas obtidas em mídia social foram cruciais, contou a The Intercept o promotor-chefe do processo, Henrik Attorps. Um vídeo publicado pelo New York Times em 2013 mostrava Sakhanh, no meio de uma milícia anti-Assad conhecida como os Soldados Suleiman, executando prisioneiros imobilizados depois de uma batalha na província de Idlib, no norte do país.

Sakhanh alegou que os prisioneiros haviam sido condenados à morte em um extenso processo judicial. Attorps conseguiu usar mídia social para derrubar essa defesa. Ele pesquisou o nome de Sakhanh no Google e encontrou vídeos publicados no YouTube que o mostravam participando da batalha de Idlib. Posteriormente, intimou o YouTube a fornecer os horários, com precisão, em que os vídeos foram publicados. Intimou também o Facebook a fornecer os dados de uma conta já apagada dos Soldados Suleiman, incluindo anúncios, com marcação de horário, sobre o ataque do grupo aos soldados sírios. Attorps então organizou uma linha do tempo mostrando que, entre o anúncio dos Soldados Suleiman no Facebook, a própria batalha e a execução, não poderiam ter transcorrido mais de 48h.

Se o YouTube tivesse removido os vídeos que mostravam a participação de Sakhanh naquela batalha, Attorps poderia não ter conseguido a condenação. Ainda assim, os promotores se sentem divididos sobre a política das empresas de mídia social de remover imagens fortes que também poderiam ser provas de crimes de guerra. “Como promotor nessa área do Direito, eu me preocupo”, ele admitiu. “Mas como cidadão, fico um pouco aliviado”.  Attorps entende que essas fotos e vídeos podem ser chocantes para o público em geral, e também servir de propaganda para grupos extremistas como o EI.

As empresas de mídias sociais sofrem pressões fortíssimas para negar a esses grupos um refúgio seguro para propaganda. Em setembro, a Primeira-Ministra do Reino Unido Theresa May exigiu que essas empresas criem uma maneira de remover o conteúdo extremista até duas horas depois de publicado. Um funcionário graduado do YouTube contou ao The Intercept que se trata de um verdadeiro dilema: a propaganda extremista para uns é a prova de crimes de guerra para outros.

Um jovem filma as consequências de uma bomba de gás lacrimogêneo atirada por um

Foto: Peter Macdiarmid/ Getty Images

“Um vídeo de um ataque terrorista pode ser uma reportagem informativa se tiver sido publicado por um veículo de notícias ou um jornalista cidadão”, diz Downs, do YouTube. “Mas esse mesmo vídeo pode ser glorificação da violência se publicado num contexto diferente, por outro usuário.”

Cientes dessas tensões, grupos de defesa dos direitos humanos estão elaborando formas de preservar provas de crimes de guerra fora do alcance das empresas de mídia social – uma espécie de arquitetura emergente e anárquica para coleções de mídia. Esse esforço está centralizado na guerra civil síria; o grupo Syrian Archive (Arquivo Sírio), por exemplo, está desenvolvendo um repositório paralelo de provas, baixando e organizando milhares de horas de vídeo, com uma equipe de seis pessoas e um orçamento de 96 mil dólares. Os pesquisadores também estão inventando maneiras de reunir provas de atrocidades cometidas em conflitos em outras regiões, incluindo a África subsaariana, o Leste Europeu e a Ásia.

“As ONGs estão fazendo o trabalho que deveria ser das empresas”, diz Dia Kayyali, gerente de programas de tecnologia e de promoção de direitos na Witness (Testemunha), um grupo que também mantém uma rede de contato em zonas de conflito para documentar em vídeo as violações de direitos humanos. “Elas [as empresas] deveriam contratar pessoas para manter contato com esses grupos e estabelecer um relacionamento com eles.”

Obviamente, os grupos de defesa de direitos humanos que reviram as mídias sociais em busca de provas têm relacionamentos duradouros com as plataformas – em especial o YouTube. Em 2012, o YouTube fez uma parceria com a Witness para lançar uma ferramenta que permite aos ativistas borrar rostos nos vídeos, para que os investigadores pudesse coletar depoimentos de testemunhas anônimas. Mais recentemente, o YouTube trabalhou com Eliot Higgins, fundador da Bellingcat, a ONG do Reino Unido atingida pela inteligência artificial do Google em meados desse ano, para desenvolver uma ferramenta chamada “Montage” (Montagem) e ajudar os investigadores a usar crowdsourcing na análise de vídeos de conflitos.

Os ativistas de direitos humanos dizem, no entanto, que o Facebook tem se mostrado menos aberto a essas colaborações. “O Facebook sempre foi uma bagunça”, Higgins contou a The Intercept. Ele exemplifica com um caso ultrajante: em 2013, depois que o regime sírio lançou um ataque químico sobre a população civil de Damasco, Higgins conta que 80% dos relatos em primeira mão do ataque publicados no Facebook, incluindo vídeos e fotos, foram apagados da plataforma. (O Facebook se recusou a se manifestar sobre a acusação de Higgins)

Até mesmo grupos de defesa de direitos humanos com fortes ligações com as empresas de mídia social frequentemente se sentem atingidos pelos caprichos dessas plataformas. Regras sobre o que pode ou não ser compartilhado às vezes mudam sem muito aviso. Em 2014, por exemplo, o YouTube decidiu alterar sua API [Application Program Interface, Interface de Programas de Aplicativos], que é essencialmente a linguagem que as organizações externas utilizam para criar programas que extraem dados da plataforma ou estabelecem com ela outras formas de interação. O Syria Justice and Accountability Center, que já coletou centenas de milhares de vídeos de crimes de guerra em potencial na Síria, foi pego desprevenido, e seu sistema caiu. Em meados desse ano, quando o YouTube introduziu sua nova inteligência artificial, os canais que alimentavam o SJAC desapareceram novamente.

“Essas empresas nem mesmo nos consultam ou nos dão orientações didáticas sobre como publicar, para evitar que as coisas sejam bloqueadas”, contou a The Intercept o diretor executivo do grupo, Abdallah.

Até mesmo a Witness foi surpreendida pela implementação da nova IA da empresa. Muitos dos grupos com os quais estabelecem parcerias em zonas de conflito tiveram conteúdo removido.

“Quem desenha essa inteligência artificial? Que compreensão têm desses conflitos? Não temos como saber”, diz Kayyali. “Grandes empresas precisam reconhecer que cada mudança que fazem… Terá um efeito sobre usuários ligados à defesa dos direitos humanos”, acrescentou Kayyali. “Em vez de tentar resolver os problemas depois que as políticas e as ferramentas já foram instituídas, faz mais sentido manter contato com as partes interessadas.”

Captura de tele do site Syrian Archive

Algumas vezes, de acordo com os ativistas, parece que as empresas de mídia social não estão acompanhando a questão de perto. Por exemplo, quando a Syrian Archive falou com o YouTube sobre a urgência de restaurar alguns dos vídeos que a IA tinha removido, os representantes do YouTube pareciam não fazer ideia de que o TPI tinha acabado de expedir um mandado histórico citando provas em mídia social. “Não me parece que eles estejam destruindo as provas intencionalmente, mas que não compreendem do que realmente se trata”, diz Jeff Deutch, pesquisador da Syrian Archive e bolsista do Center for Internet and Human Rights (Centro de Internet e Direitos Humanos).

Quando a nova inteligência artificial do YouTube removeu milhares de vídeos associados com direitos humanos e investigação de crimes de guerra, isso causou um pequeno escândalo. Higgins reclamou da empresa para seus 60 mil seguidores no Twitter: “Até agora, a tentativa do YouTube de remover conteúdo do Estado Islâmico e da Jihad se mostrou um completo fracasso, cheio de falsos positivos”, ele escreveu. O YouTube tem atuado com os grupos de defesa de direitos humanos para restaurar os vídeos e canais que sua IA tirou do ar. Um representante da empresa admitiu que a implementação não foi bem executada, e que esses grupos deveriam estar mais por dentro do que iria acontecer.

“É inevitável que pessoas e máquinas cometam erros. Usamos esses erros para retreinar nossas equipes e nossa tecnologia”, disse Downs, representante do YouTube. “Também estamos desenvolvendo formas de ensinar àqueles que compartilham vídeos com o objetivo de expor a violência como adicionar informações de contexto para que os nossos revisores possam distinguir seus vídeos daqueles que são carregados com intenções maliciosas.”

No entanto, mais de três meses depois da implementação fracassada da IA, os grupos de defesa dos direitos humanos ainda estão se recuperando:

“Todos os nossos esforços foram direcionados para lidar com essa história do YouTube”, conta Hadi al-Khatib, co-fundador da Syrian Archive.

Ele costumava passar os dias arquivando provas de potenciais crimes de guerra; agora está envolvido numa batalha de Sísifo contra o algoritmo do YouTube. “Gastamos todo o nosso tempo auxiliando organizações de mídia da Síria cujo conteúdo é apagado – olhamos suas contas, verificamos se estão fazendo tudo certo, e enviamos para o YouTube”, ele explicou. “Uns dias depois, é apagado de novo.” Para Khatib, isso não poderia acontecer num momento pior. O regime sírio e seus aliados estão rapidamente retomando vastas extensões de território dos grupos rebeldes e dos extremistas islâmicos. “Eles estão destruindo todos os tipos de provas de propósito – uma parte do que coletamos é a única coisa que resta para indicar que um crime aconteceu”, diz ele. No meio de outubro, por exemplo, o YouTube removeu um sangrento vídeo que comprovava um ataque aéreo russo que, segundo Khatib, se direcionava a alvos civis no interior de Idlib. “Isso foi crucial”, ele diz. “Foi uma violação da legislação internacional, e até agora não conseguimos recuperar o vídeo.”

Esse processo caso a caso para recuperar vídeos provoca diversos questionamentos. Grupos e indivíduos na Europa e nos EUA que têm ligações com as empresas de mídia social têm alguma chance de conseguir seu conteúdo de volta, mas isso não está ao alcance dos demais: Talal Kharrat, gestor da Agência de Notícias Qasioun, sediada na Turquia, conta que sua organização depende de oitenta correspondentes espalhados pela Síria, alguns deles disfarçados. Desde 2014, no entanto, de acordo com ele, cerca de 6 mil vídeos de sua agência foram removidos do YouTube. Às vezes o conteúdo é recuperado, e às vezes, não. Ele relata que tentou diversas vezes entrar em contato com alguém no YouTube usando o botão “ajuda” na sua conta pessoal.  “Não recebi resposta”, ele disse a The Intercept. “Por favor diferenciem as pessoas como nós, que trabalham em zonas de conflito colocando nossas vidas em perigo, de quem está publicando imagens violentas em lugares normais, ou de extremistas”, ele pede.

O Idlib Media Center só conseguiu recuperar alguns de seus vídeos depois de pedir ajuda à Syrian Archive. E Ro Nay San Lwin, um ativista Rohingya cuja conta foi desativada e depois restaurada pelo Facebook em setembro, diz que só conseguiu entrar em contato com a empresa porque um amigo conhecia alguém lá. “Não é tão fácil alcançá-los”, ele contou a The Intercept.

Essas dificuldades angustiam Alexa Koenig, a especialista em direitos humanos na UC Berkeley: “temos imensas preocupações de equidade: que histórias estamos perdendo? Quais vozes não estamos ouvindo? Quem está em situações terríveis de que não temos conhecimento?”

Abdulsalam, o fotógrafo sírio, está agora na Turquia e é sensível ao dilema que uma empresa como o YouTube enfrenta.  Ele é grato à plataforma, à qual dá crédito por ajudar a “espalhar a voz” dos sírios em situação de dificuldade. “Também compreendo por que eles não têm interesse em conteúdo sangrento”, disse por telefone. “Só o que peço é que lidem com essa questão com mais integridade”.

Abdulsattar Abogoda e Rajai Bourhan contribuíram com essa reportagem.

The post Youtube e Facebook estão removendo provas contra criminosos de guerra appeared first on The Intercept.

How Twitter Secretly Benefits From Bots And Fake Accounts

6 November 2017 - 9:55am

Twitter may have a fake accounts scandal on its hands. And it’s remarkably similar to the scandal that rocked Wells Fargo last year.

Leslie Miley, a former engineering manager at Twitter, described to Bloomberg on Friday how he uncovered a trove of spam accounts with IP addresses from Russia and Ukraine in 2015. He recommended deletion, but Twitter’s “growth team” controlled all removals of accounts. And they declined to purge them. “They were more concerned with growth numbers than fake and compromised accounts,” Miley told Bloomberg.

The only difference between this and the Wells Fargo scandal is the identity of who created the accounts.

Contrary to popular belief, the Wells Fargo scandal was not really about the bank earning money directly from customers enrolled in fake accounts its employees created. Most of the accounts had no money in them. The initial funds Wells Fargo returned to customers who were charged fees on the accounts came out to about $25 per customer, less than the cost of one overdraft fee. That undersells the real impact to those whose credit scores may have been weakened by unwanted accounts, but Wells Fargo didn’t profit from that.

Wells Fargo did benefit when it came to Wall Street, though. Executives repeatedly touted its industry lead in sales growth to investors. They bragged in earnings calls about this. They highlighted the average number of accounts per retail banking customer in annual reports; after getting caught in 2016 they stopped reporting the number, but in 2015 it was over 6 accounts per customer.

At the same time, managers pressured line-level employees to constantly increase sales figures, leading to the fake account creation. Top executives eventually learned what was happening on the ground to goose the numbers. But they didn’t disclose that to investors until settling with federal regulators. From 2011 to mid-2015, Wells Fargo stock doubled, in large part because of sales growth. So while the company wasn’t making much money off of the bogus accounts, shareholders — including executives whose wealth is tied up in company stock — were making lots of it. The company hid from investors the truth behind this growth, driven by fake accounts.

That’s exactly what this engineer accuses Twitter’s growth team of doing. Twitter has lagged well behind Facebook and other rivals in terms of user growth, with a little over 300 million users compared to Facebook’s 2 billion. According to ex-engineering manager Leslie Miley, the company didn’t want to excise the bots and spam accounts, as doing so would widen that gap even further. Stock prices would tank if monthly active users fell dramatically. Investors looked at that number as the most important metric.

The Bloomberg report cites ten anonymous former employees reinforcing Miley’s description (Miley is only named because he declined Twitter’s severance package when he left the company, which came with a non-disclosure agreement). They said that Twitter engages in little, if any, verifications for its accounts, which anybody who has created an account can attest to. And Miley claimed that a significant number of dormant accounts had Russian and Ukrainian IP addresses.

When Miley told his manager about the inactive and fake accounts, he was told, “Stay in your lane, that’s not your role.” The growth team, responsible for deleting such accounts, took no action on them. These accounts roused to life during the 2016 election.

Propaganda and U.S. elections aside, Miley’s story suggests that the team responsible for user growth at Twitter knew about fake accounts and chose not to delete them, because they wanted to preserve higher user numbers for investors — even though the accounts weren’t being used. That’s exactly what Wells Fargo did, and it can be credibly painted as securities fraud, a material misrepresentation of the company’s performance. A Twitter spokeswoman, meanwhile, told Bloomberg that it was suspending and taking “other enforcement actions” against Russian and Ukrainian accounts to the tune of “millions per week.”

Now that Congress is involved, Twitter is making a show of purging certain Russian-linked accounts, which they say number over 36,000. Twitter’s general counsel claimed in testimony this week that less than 5 percent of accounts on the platform are fake; independent research puts the number at around 15 percent.

Twitter stock is down after last week’s grilling in Washington.

Top photo: With a display showing President Donald Trump retweeting a fake Russian Twitter account, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) questions witnesses during a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing titled ‘Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation Online’ on Capitol Hill, October 31, 2017 in Washington, DC.

The post How Twitter Secretly Benefits From Bots And Fake Accounts appeared first on The Intercept.

John Kelly Loves America — He Just Hates Americans

5 November 2017 - 9:34am

It was huge news when White House Chief of Staff John Kelly appeared before the White House press corps two weeks ago to defend President Trump’s phone call to the widow of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson.

But Kelly’s most peculiar remarks went largely unnoticed. U.S. soldiers, Kelly said, volunteer even though “there’s nothing in our country anymore that seems to suggest that selfless service to the nation is not only appropriate, but required.” This was, Kelly lamented, because nothing in America is “sacred” anymore, like women or religion. We’ve also, according to Kelly, discarded the “sanctity of life” (i.e., abortion is legal).

In other words, Kelly may love whatever version of America’s past that he has in his mind. But he is not particularly fond of this actual country, today, or Americans themselves (unless they’ve been in the military).

Kelly went on to express similar feelings in his recent Fox News interview when discussing Trump’s call to Myeshia Johnson, which Florida Democrat Rep. Frederica Wilson criticized for upsetting Johnson. (Trump told Johnson that her late husband “knew what he was getting into,” and Johnson believed Trump had trouble recalling La David’s name.) Wilson’s statements, Kelly said, made him wonder if “doing anything” for the United States “is worth it anymore.”

Moreover, Kelly has clearly felt this way for quite some time. In a 2007 speech he claimed that America has “lost something of quality over the years. … Today, unfortunately, to most it’s about quick gratification, and what’s in it for me. Memorial and Veteran’s Day are more about a day off to take advantage of the big sales at the malls.” Indeed, he said, it’s almost inexplicable why anyone would join the military, given how awful the U.S. is, including the “great pressure from our society to sit it out and not get involved.”

By contrast, the military is an ideal institution that has never lost a war, although it has been stabbed in the back by the terrible people back in America: “When we have lost,” according to Kelly, “we lost at home, and others declared defeat — not us.”

Of course, it’s completely legitimate to criticize the U.S., and it would be truly worthwhile to sit down with Kelly and explore why he feels this way. But an honest discussion wouldn’t go the way he anticipates.

First, Kelly’s perspective is noticeably Marxist. As the Communist Manifesto famously claims, under capitalism “All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away … All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned.” But it’s unlikely Kelly wants to face the reality that much of his anger should be directed at America’s economic system.

Kelly also might be surprised that women did not experience not being able to vote, or to have credit cards in their own name, or to have legal protection from being fired for being pregnant, as being “sacred.” He could also usefully ponder, particularly since he’s from Boston, whether the previous sanctity of the Catholic Church had something to do with priests sexually abusing children for decades with impunity.

And an examination of the most valid part of his bill of indictment – the unconscionable burden our wars place on a small slice of the U.S. population – would be particularly uncomfortable for Kelly. He believes that we are locked in a deathmatch with countless, merciless savages, and resents the fact that most young people don’t agree enough to enlist. From a certain angle this is understandable, especially given the fact that one of his sons was killed in Afghanistan and another is still in the Marines.

But then Kelly should immediately have a talk with both Donald Trump and George W. Bush, who not only haven’t persuaded most Americans of these stakes, but can’t even persuade their own children — every single one of whom has instead chosen the kind of civilian, sybaritic, careless life Kelly finds so distasteful. Kelly might also consider that the Pentagon does not want lots of additional volunteers, and loathes the idea of the draft, because the fewer Americans involved in our wars the freer political hand the generals have to prosecute them.

It may seem like a weird contradiction for Kelly to speak constantly about his devotion to his country, while finding his fellow citizens so detestable. But if you pay attention, you’ll see this kind of worldview is common among the loudest patriots everywhere on earth.

President Richard Nixon sits in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 2, 1974 in Washington.

Photo: David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

No one, of course, was a bigger patriot than Richard Nixon. He vaulted into power by rooting out various communist traitors, even if they weren’t communists or traitors. In the midst of Watergate, he went on national television to tell everyone that there would “be no whitewash at the White House … because I love America.”

Meanwhile, in private, taped conversations with aides, Nixon would expound on how repellent huge swaths of Americans are. It turns out that Mexican Americans “steal, they’re dishonest.” However, there was some hope for them, because “they do have some concept of family life. They don’t live like a bunch of dogs, which the Negroes do live like.”

Another of Nixon’s insights was that “the Jews are born spies.” He asked his chief of staff, “What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? … I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists.” Irish-Americans weren’t quite as bad, but “Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks.” Italians “don’t have their heads screwed on tight.” Nixon also felt strongly about “fags” and “fairies,” who, together with drugs, are “the enemies of strong societies.”

Israeli leaders have felt similar disgust about Israelis, and sometimes Jews more generally. In 2002 Sara Netanyahu, the wife of current Israeli prime minister Bibi, was taped telling a friend that Bibi was the “one person who can save this country” and in fact he was “greater than this entire country.” If Israelis didn’t elect him, she said, “We’ll move abroad. This country can burn. … People here will be slaughtered.”

This seems like a promising campaign slogan:

Israel: This Country Can Burn
Vote Netanyahu!

Then there’s a famous 1982 interview by Amos Oz with “C.”, an anonymous top officer in the Israeli military. C. emphasized that “I don’t hate Arabs,” but did in fact despise “Yids,” both in Israel and elsewhere. The “sweetest fruit” of Israel’s recent invasion of Lebanon, said C., was that now the world purportedly “also hate[d] all those Feinschmecker Jews in Paris, London, New York, Frankfurt and Montreal, in all their holes. At last they hate all these nice Yids.” He then fantasized about Jewish cemeteries being desecrated, synagogues being burned down, and Jewish children being shot, so the Jewish diaspora would be forced to move to Israel en masse.

But if “C.” didn’t hate Arabs, Arab leaders certainly have. Ahmed Chalabi, whom U.S. neoconservatives hoped to install as Iraq’s leader after the U.S. invasion, was from a wealthy Arab family. When Chalabi became angry at one of his CIA handlers, he delivered a stinging insult: The CIA operative, he said, “was thinking like an Arab.”

This perspective was shared by Chalabi’s minions in his organization, the Iraqi National Congress. After Saddam Hussein was deposed, Mideast expert Glen Rangwala visited Chalabi’s new headquarters – at Uday Hussein’s favorite hunting club in Baghdad. It was “bizarre,” Rangwala reports, with “waiters bringing you free cocktails under elaborate chandeliers, whilst an INC goon tells you about how stupid Arabs are.”

Next door, in Iran, regular people are also appalling. Moshen Makhmalbaf, a famed Iranian filmmaker and dissident, wrote a series of articles in 2009 about Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Khamenei’s wife, according to Makhmalbaf, believes “the Iranian people are fawning liars and traitors” who grovel before him even as they plot against the government.

Then of course there are the dreadful Palestinians, whom Yasser Arafat called an “ungrateful people.”

Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, center, attends the funeral of Shukat Haji Mushir, a high ranking official of Party United Kurdistan (PUK), in a cemetery Feb. 9, 2003 in Sulaymaniyah, North Iraq.

Photo: Abdullah Zaheeruddin/Getty Images

The psychology behind this pattern among the greatest self-professed patriots is transparent. They see themselves as their country’s rightful rulers, and hence the rightful role of the rest of us is simply to follow orders and intermittently erupt in applause. Any resistance to their whims is therefore maddening and a clear sign of moral decay among the peasantry.

So it makes perfect sense that John Kelly has risen to the top of the Trump administration. On this issue he and the president are soul mates. No one is louder than Trump about loving America, even as his only goal seems to be to insult every American individually, one by one, via Twitter. Why? Because, like Kelly, he hates us. You don’t need to take my word for it; Trump himself has said it clearly: “For the most part, you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

Top photo: John Kelly listens to questions during a press conference related to President Donald Trump’s recent executive order concerning travel and refugees, Jan. 31, 2017 in Washington.

The post John Kelly Loves America — He Just Hates Americans appeared first on The Intercept.

Four Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in the Last Week Alone That are False

5 November 2017 - 9:30am

There is ample talk, particularly of late, about the threats posed by social media to democracy and political discourse. Yet one of the primary ways that democracy is degraded by platforms such and Facebook and Twitter is, for obvious reasons, typically ignored in such discussions: the way they are used by American journalists to endorse factually false claims that quickly spread and become viral, entrenched into narratives, and thus can never be adequately corrected.

The design of Twitter, where many political journalists spend their time, is in large part responsible for this damage. Its space constraints mean that tweeted headlines or tiny summaries of reporting are often assumed to be true with no critical analysis of their accuracy, and are easily spread. Claims from journalists that people want to believe are shared like wildfire, while less popular, subsequent corrections or nuanced debunking are easily ignored. Whatever one’s views are on the actual impact of Twitter Russian bots, surely the propensity of journalistic falsehoods to spread far and wide is at least as significant.

Just in the last week alone, there have been four major factually false claims that have gone viral because journalists on Twitter endorsed and spread them: three about the controversy involving Donna Brazile and the DNC, and one about documents and emails published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. It’s well worth examining them, both to document what the actual truth is as well as to understand how often and easily this online journalistic misleading occurs:

Viral Falsehood #1: The Clinton/DNC agreement cited by Brazile only applied to the General Election, not the primary.

On Wednesday, Politico published a blockbuster accusation from Donna Brazile’s new book: that the DNC had “rigged” the 2016 primary election for Hillary Clinton through an agreement that gave Clinton control over key aspects of the DNC, a claim that Elizabeth Warren endorsed on CNN. The Clinton camp refused to comment publicly, but instead contacted their favorite reporters to publish their response as news.

The following day, NBC published an article by Alex Seitz-Wald that recited and endorsed the Clinton camp’s primary defense: that Brazile was wrong because the agreement in question (a copy of which they provided to Seitz-Wald) applied “only to preparations for the general election,” and had nothing to do with the primary season. That defense, if true, would be fatal to Brazile’s claims, and so DNC-loyal journalists all over Twitter instantly declared it to be true, thus pronouncing Brazile’s accusation to have been fully debunked. This post documents how quickly this claim was endorsed on Twitter by journalists and Democratic operatives, and how far and wide it therefore spread.

The problem with this claim is that it is blatantly and obviously false. All one has to do to know this is read the agreement. Unlike the journalists spreading this DNC defense, Campaign Legal Defense’s Brendan Fischer bothered to read it, and immediately saw, and documented, how obviously false this claim is:

The NBC article itself that was originally used to spread this claim now includes what amounts to a serious walk back, if not outright retraction, of the DNC’s principal defense:

DNC and Clinton allies pointed to the fact that the agreement contained self-justifying lawyer language claiming that it is “focused exclusively on preparations for the General,” but as Fischer noted that passage “is contradicted by the rest of the agreement.” This would be like creating a contract to explicitly bribe an elected official (“A will pay Politician B to vote YES on Bill X”), then adding a throwaway paragraph with a legalistic disclaimer that “nothing in this agreement is intended to constitute a bribe,” and then have journalists cite that paragraph to proclaim that no bribe happened even though the agreement on its face explicitly says the opposite.

The Clinton/DNC agreement explicitly vested the Clinton campaign with control over key matters during the primary season: the exact opposite of what journalists on Twitter caused hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, to believe. Nonetheless, DNC loyal commentators continue to cite headlines and tweets citing the legalistic language to convince huge numbers of people that the truth is the exact opposite of what it actually is:

Viral Falsehood #2: Sanders signed the same agreement with the DNC that Clinton did.

To make the Clinton/DNC agreement appear benign and normal, the claim was quickly and widely circulated that Sanders had signed the same agreement with the DNC as Clinton had. This, too, was false – in the most fundamental way possible.

Simply put, the agreement Sanders signed with the DNC – which the Sanders camp appears to have provided ABC News in order to debunk the claim – did not contain any of the provisions vesting control over the DNC that made the Clinton agreement cited by Brazile so controversial. As ABC News put it (emphasis added):

A joint fundraising agreement between the Bernie Sanders campaign and the Democratic National Committee — obtained Friday by ABC News and signed at the start of the primary campaign for the 2016 presidential election — does not include any language about coordinating on strategic decisions over hiring or budget, unlike a fundraising memo between the Hillary Clinton team and the DNC.

It’s possible that had Sanders wanted to invoke his funding arrangement with the DNC, and then signed a second agreement, it might have included similar control provisions. But it’s also possible that it would not have. We’ll never know, because it never happened. What we actually know for certain – what exists in reality – is that Sanders never signed any agreement with the DNC that contained the control provisions that were given in 2015 to the Clinton campaign. In other words, the provisions cited by Brazile in her “rigging” allegation did not exist in any contract signed with the DNC by the Sanders campaign.

Needless to say, a tiny fraction of those who were exposed to the original falsehood (Sanders signed the same agreement as Clinton) ended up seeing this fundamental reversal, because the journalists who promoted the original falsehood felt no compunction, as usual, to provide the less pleasing correction.

Viral Falsehood #3: Brazile stupidly thought she could unilaterally remove Clinton as the nominee.

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article reporting on various claims made in Brazile’s new book. The headline, which was widely tweeted, made it seem as though Brazile delusionally believed she had a power which, obviously, she did not in fact possess: “Donna Brazile: I considered replacing Clinton with Biden as 2016 Democratic nominee.” The article said Brazile considered exercising this power after Clinton’s fainting spell made her worry that Clinton was physically debilitated, and her campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure.”

But Brazile – as a result of her stinging criticisms and accusations of Clinton, Obama and the DNC – is currently Public Enemy Number One among Democrats in the media. So they seized on this headline to pretend that she claimed the power to unilaterally remove Clinton on a whim, and then used this claim to mercilessly vilify her – the chair of Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, last year’s interim head of the DNC, and a long-time Democratic Party operative – as a deluded, insane, dishonest, profiteering, ignorant fabulist who lacks all credibility.

But the entire attack on Brazile was false. She did not claim, at least according to the Post article being cited, that she had the power to unilaterally remove Clinton. The original Post article, buried deep down in the article, well after the headline, made clear that she was referencing a complicated process in the DNC charter that allowed for removal of a nominee who had become incapacitated.

The Post then amended its story to reflect that she made no such absurd claim in her book, but rather noted that “the DNC charter empowered her to initiate replacement of the nominee” and that “if a nominee became disabled, she explains, the party chair would oversee a complicated process of filling the vacancy that would include a meeting of the full DNC.” The Post then added this note to the top of the article:

Journalists on Twitter spent hours yesterday mocking, maligning and attacking the reputation of Brazile for a claim that she simply never made – all because a tweeted headline, which they never bothered to read past or evaluate, made them think they were justified in doing so in order to malign someone who has, quickly and bizarrely, become one of the Democrats’ primary enemies.

Viral Falsehood #4: Evidence has emerged proving that the content of WikiLeaks documents and emails was doctored. 

From the time WikiLeaks began last year publishing emails and documents from the DNC and John Podesta’s email inbox, Clinton officials and their media supporters have constantly insinuated, and sometimes outright stated, that the WikiLeaks documents were frauds because they had been altered. What was most notable about this accusation was how easy it would have been prove it had it really been true: all anyone had to do was show the actual, original email that they sent or received, and then compare it to the altered WikiLeaks version, and that would have been proof that WikiLeaks archive was unreliable.

But that never happened. Never once did any of the dozens of Democratic Party operatives who sent or received the emails published by WikiLeaks point to a single specific case of an alteration – something that, obviously, they would have eagerly done had they been able to. As Politico noted last year (emphasis added):

Clinton’s team hasn’t challenged the accuracy of even the most salacious emails released in the past four days, including those featuring aides making snarky references to Catholicism or a Bill Clinton protégé describing Chelsea Clinton as a “spoiled brat.” And numerous digital forensic firms told POLITICO that they haven’t seen any proof of tampering in the emails they’ve examined — adding that only the hacked Democrats themselves could offer that kind of conclusive evidence.

Similarly, when PolitiFact tried last year to fact-check the Clinton campaign’s claims that the documents were doctored, they noted: “The Clinton campaign, however, has yet to produce any evidence that any specific emails in the latest leak were fraudulent.”

Nonetheless, the desire to believe this persisted. And this week, AP published a report that countless journalists seized upon to claim that proof finally had emerged that the WikiLeaks documents had been altered. The claim in the AP report is incredibly simple and limited. It does not involve any claim that WikiLeaks altered any documents, or that any of the emails it published were frauds; rather, the claim is that Guccifer, on one of the documents that he published, placed a “CONFIDENTIAL” watermark that did not appear on another version:

The first document Guccifer 2.0 published on June 15 came not from the DNC as advertised but from Podesta’s inbox, according to a former DNC official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The official said the word “CONFIDENTIAL” was not in the original document .

Guccifer 2.0 had airbrushed it to catch reporters’ attention.

There are so many reasons to question whether this actually happened. To begin with, the fact that one version of the document is without a “Confidential” watermark doesn’t mean no version has one; it’s common to add watermarks of that sort for different purposes and different recipients. Moreover, AP’s only basis is an anonymous source claiming the document has been altered, along with the version that lacks the watermark. This is very far from proof that Guccifer “airbrushed it to catch reporters’ attention.”

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that Guccifer did, in fact, add a “Confidential” watermark to this document, and did so to entice journalists to view the document as more appetizing. This does not remotely justify the claim that any of the documents and emails published by WikiLeaks were materially altered and were thus unreliable.

First, Guccifer adding a watermark to a document he circulated does not mean that any of the emails published by WikiLeaks in its archive was altered. It’s long been known that Guccifer altered the documents’ metadata to hide its path, but nobody ever tried to cite that as proof that anything published by WikiLeaks was fraudulent (indeed, PolitiFact cited Guccifer’s alteration of metadata when concluding there was no evidence that the WikiLeaks documents themselves had been altered).

Second, this has no bearing on the content of the emails or documents themselves published by WikiLeaks, which to date nobody has demonstrated have been altered in the slightest. Third, if it were the case that any of the emails or documents published by WikiLeaks were fraudulent, it would still be incredibly easy to prove: all anyone would have to do is produce the original and show how the WikiLeaks version was altered; why – a full year after WikiLeaks began publishing these documents – has nobody done this, despite the overwhelming incentive that exists to expose this?

In sum, evidence that the content of any of the WikiLeaks emails was altered is nonexistent, while there is overwhelming reason to believe none has been (beginning with the fact that, as easy it would be to do so, no proof has been provided after all this time). Nonetheless, as a result of journalists’ conduct on Twitter this week, the false claim that emails and documents in the WikiLeaks archive were proven to be altered is now viral and will remain fixed in people’s belief system forever:

There’s no way to prove the negative: that no emails or documents published by WikiLeaks were altered. But one should demand actual evidence before affirming this claim. And despite the ease of providing that proof, and the long period of time that has elapsed, none has been provided. But, unsurprisingly, that did not stop the claim that it had been proven from going viral this week on Twitter – all based on the tenuous claim that Guccifer added a “Confidential” watermark to one of the documents he circulated.

It can certainly be menacing for Russian bots to disseminate divisive messaging on Twitter. But it’s at least equally menacing if journalists with the loudest claim to authoritative credibility are using that platform constantly to entrench falsehoods in the public’s mind.

The post Four Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in the Last Week Alone That are False appeared first on The Intercept.

What Happened in Saudi Arabia Last Night — And How Washington Corruption Enabled It

5 November 2017 - 9:16am

The mass arrest of high-ranking Saudi businessmen, media figures and royal family members Saturday has shaken the global business community. Among 10 other princes and 38 others, the roundup netted Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men, who owns significant shares in everything from Citibank to Twitter to the parent company of Fox News.

Prince Alwaleed has done business with President Donald Trump in the past, but during the campaign turned into a fiery critic, drawing Trump’s Twitter ire.

Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected. #Trump2016

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2015

The move against Alwaleed and the other officials was couched as the result of a secret investigation carried out by a “high committee on fighting corruption.” Minister of Education Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Issa “hailed the royal decree,” according to the Saudi Press Agency, saying, “this committee heralds a future of firmness against those who are trying to to undermine the capabilities of the homeland.”

Whatever the official explanation, it is being read around the world as a power grab by the kingdom’s rising crown prince. “The sweeping campaign of arrests appears to be the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman,” as the New York Times put it. “The king had decreed the creation of a powerful new anti-corruption committee, headed by the crown prince, only hours before the committee ordered the arrests.”

The men are being held, as The Intercept reported, in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh. “There is no jail for royals,” a Saudi source noted.

The move marks a moment of reckoning for Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which struck a bargain of sorts with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. who has been MBS’s leading advocate in Washington. The unspoken arrangement was clear: The UAE and Saudi Arabia would pump millions into Washington’s political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in “reform,” and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it. MBS has won praise for some policies, like an openness to reconsidering Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers.

Meanwhile, however, the 32-year-old MBS has been pursuing a dangerously impulsive and aggressive regional policy, which has included a heightening of tensions with Iran, a catastrophic war on Yemen, and a blockade of ostensible ally Qatar. Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but MBS has dug in harder and harder. And his supporters in Washington have not blinked.

The platitudes about reform were also challenged by recent mass arrests of religious figures and repression of anything that has remotely approached less than full support of MBS.

The latest purge comes just days after White House adviser Jared Kushner, a close ally of Otaiba, visited Riyadh, and just hours after a bizarre-even-for-Trump tweet.

Would very much appreciate Saudi Arabia doing their IPO of Aramco with the New York Stock Exchange. Important to the United States!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 4, 2017

Whatever legitimate debate there was about MBS ended Saturday — his drive to consolidate power is now too obvious to ignore. And that puts denizens of Washington’s think tank world in a difficult spot, as they have come to rely heavily on the Saudi and UAE end of the bargain. As The Intercept reported earlier, one think tank alone, the Middle East Institute, got a massive $20 million commitment from the UAE.

And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries. “Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around,” Otaiba has said privately. For the past two years, Otaiba has introduced MBS around Washington and offered assurances of his commitment to modernizing and reforming Saudi Arabia, according to people who’ve spoken with him, confirmed by emails leaked by the group Global Leaks. When confronted with damning headlines, Otaiba tends to acknowledge the reform project is a work in progress, but insists that it is progress nonetheless, and in MBS resides the best chance of the region.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see a more pragmatic leader in that country. Which is why engaging with them is so important and will yield the most results we can ever get out of saudi,” Otaiba said in one representative note. “I think MBS is far more pragmatic than what we hear is saudi public positions [sic].”

In an email to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Otaiba laid out his thinking clearly while thanking him for a column.

Thank you for taking the time to go out there and meet with MBS. As someone who knows the region well, it looks from how you wrote this piece, that you are beginning to see what we’ve been saying for the last two years. Change!

Change in attitude, change in style, change in approach.

I think we would all agree these changes in saudi are much needed. So i’m relieved to find you saw what we’ve been seeing and frequently trying to convey. Your voice and your credibility will be a huge factor in getting reasonable folks to understand and believe in whats happening.

Our job now, is to [do] everything possible to ensure MBS succeeds.

In an unusual move, Saudi Arabia even recently hired the UAE’s longtime public-relations firm, the Harbour Group, run by Otaiba friend Richard Mintz. Richard Clarke, most well known for his public apology to 9/11 victims for the intelligence failure, was brutal in his criticism of Saudi Arabia in the wake of the attack. An Otaiba friend, he is now chairman of the MEI’s board and has personally lobbied Saudi Arabia for funding, walking out of the Saudi embassy with a $500,000 check. Michael Petruzzello, the longtime Washington hand for Saudi Arabia, is also on the MEI board.

Gulf countries that are family-run dynasties tend to produce the same kind of family rivalries seen the world over. In Abu Dhabi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Otaiba’s mentor and boss who is known as MBZ, has long detested Mohammed bin Nayef, who was in line for the Saudi throne, going so far as to publicly call him a monkey. MBZ and Otaiba saw MBS as the way to derail bin Nayef, and exert control over the larger country by elevating the junior prince.

The campaign worked, and was largely cheered in Washington.

Scholars at the think tanks that are backed with Saudi and UAE money say they pride themselves on their ability to speak and write freely, and bristle at any suggestion that the funding corrupts the intellectual product.

That claim has always been dubious, but the next few days will put it to the test in a way it never has been tested before.

Top photo: In this photo released by Saudi Royal Council, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud, center, attends a ceremony held for pledging Saudi local emirs and other notable people’s allegiance to him as the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on June 21, 2017.

The post What Happened in Saudi Arabia Last Night — And How Washington Corruption Enabled It appeared first on The Intercept.

O partido Novo que já nasceu velho

5 November 2017 - 6:58am

O ex-presidente do Banco Central do governo FHC, Gustavo Franco, anunciou sua desfiliação do PSDB. Na última segunda-feira, ele deu entrevista para a Folha se mostrando bastante decepcionado com a crise ética pela qual passa o partido e decidiu se filiar ao Partido Novo. Foi o mesmo caminho seguido pelo ex-tucano e técnico de vôlei Bernardinho em abril. Com o PSDB dividido entre continuar apoiando ou não um governo marcado pela corrupção, talvez essa revoada de tucanos para o Novo seja uma tendência nos próximos meses. É um caminho natural, as eleições estão aí. Certamente muita gente vai querer dar uma repaginada no visual e trocar o desgastado uniforme azul e amarelo.

Gustavo Franco vai para o Novo, mas o seu projeto político continuará sendo o mesmo que vem sendo implantado pelo conluio PMDB/PSDB desde a tomada do poder: “reformar as instituições públicas para que seus gastos caibam na receita”. Traduzindo do tucanês: privatizar estatais, cortar verbas dos serviços públicos, subtrair direitos trabalhistas para, assim, enxugar o Estado e dar liberdade total para o mercado, que magicamente resolverá todos os problemas sociais. Enfim, trata-se do velho e fracassado receituário neoliberal de sempre. Franco chega ao Novo no momento em que ocupa o cargo de presidente do Instituto Millenium — o think tank liberal patrocinado por grandes empresas e grupos de mídia — o que o torna um reforço ainda mais interessante para o partido.

Mas quem são os fundadores do Novo? Bom, apesar de publicamente dizer que foi fundado por engenheiros, médicos, administradores e outros profissionais liberais, o partido foi criado principalmente por dois homens muito ricos que ocuparam cargos de alto escalão em bancos brasileiros. Ambos apareceram no Bahama Leaks como proprietários de off-shores que, segundo eles, foram devidamente declaradas à Receita Federal.

João Dionisio Amoêdo é engenheiro e administrador de empresas que construiu carreira em bancos e acabou se tornando um banqueiro. Começou estagiário no Citibank e acabou virando sócio da BBA. Tem relacionamento longo e estreito com Armínio Fraga, Gustavo Franco e boa parte do escalão da equipe econômica do governo FHC. Foi presidente do Partido Novo até recentemente, quando deixou o cargo para poder disputar algum cargo nas próximas eleições. É o principal homem da legenda.

O também engenheiro Ricardo Coelho Taboaço, que acabou de assumir a presidência do partido, também construiu carreira no alto escalão de instituições financeiras. Foi sócio diretor do Grupo Icatu e vice-presidente do Citibank.

Os fundadores do Novo se vendem como cidadãos comuns, insatisfeitos com os maus serviços públicos e com os altos impostos. Mas nós vivemos em um país onde os bancos, apesar de sempre lucrarem loucamente, pagam menos impostos que os assalariados. Imagino que mexer nesse privilégio não é — nem nunca será —  uma proposta da legenda dos banqueiros.

É um partido novo, mas que chegou para representar quem sempre esteve muito bem posicionado dentro de todos os governos brasileiros. Mas para não dizerem que não falei das flores, há, sim, uma novidade ou outra ali. Não que isso seja necessariamente positivo, muito pelo contrário. A lógica empresarial é que dá as cartas na estrutura interna do Novo. O partido recruta novos candidatos para disputar eleições como as grandes corporações recrutam trainees. O processo seletivo é mais parecido com o programa “O Aprendiz” do que com a democracia. Este trecho de matéria da revista Exame mostra bem os detalhes:

Todos os pré-candidatos do Novo para uma vaga no Congresso tiveram que pagar uma taxa de inscrição de 600 reais. Aspirantes a uma vaga na corrida eleitoral pela Assembleia Distrital pagaram 300 reais. (…) A primeira etapa, que correspondia à análise curricular e teste sobre valores da sigla, aprovou apenas 284 dos 460 inscritos. Até o final de junho, esse grupo de pré-candidatos será avaliado por uma banca de membros do partido durante entrevistas. Nas próximas fases, a ideia é ver, na prática, como o pré-candidato se sairia em uma campanha.

Esqueçam o conceito de representatividade política, tão cara à democracia. No Novo ela só vale para banqueiros e mercado financeiro. Apenas critérios meritocráticos serão levados em conta na escolha dos candidatos. Provavelmente você não verá ver nenhum lixeiro liberal se candidatando pelo Novo para representar a sua categoria. A taxa de inscrição é cara e os candidatos passam por uma “análise curricular”. Com esse conceito torto de democracia, talvez o grande sonho do Novo seja eliminar as eleições e escolher nossos representantes através de concursos públicos.

Outra novidade é que o partido abriu mão do Fundo Partidário. Aparentemente uma iniciativa bastante louvável, mas que não chega a merecer salva de palmas. Convenhamos, quem precisa de Fundo Partidário quando se tem a alcunha de “queridinho do mercado financeiro”? Dinheiro não é problema.

O programa político do Novo é essencialmente econômico. O partido simplesmente se recusa a discutir temas como aborto, casamento gay e legalização da maconha. Mas não esperemos um liberalismo progressista, tão escasso no Brasil. Apesar do terninho bem cortado e do discurso pretensamente moderno, o Novo promete não ser muito diferente de um PSC da vida nessa seara. O perfil do partido no Twitter dá um indicativo de como o partido se posiciona em relação aos Direitos Humanos, por exemplo:

A Declaração Universal do Direitos Humanos é um avanço civilizatório da humanidade. Tratá-la como uma questão ideológica, de esquerda, revela a mais profunda ignorância. É o bolsonarismo gourmet.

Mesmo se furtando a debater questões relevantes para o país, o Novo pretende lançar um candidato à presidência da República. Alguns outsiders vem sendo ventilados, como Flávio Rocha, João Doria, Luciano Huck e o próprio ex-presidente do partido João Amoedo.

Flávio Rocha, dono da Riachuelo, já tem currículo na política e representa o que há de mais velho nela. Foi eleito deputado federal pela primeira vez pelo PFL em 1986. Depois, à convite de Collor, foi para o PRN, onde se reelegeu. Em 1990, chegou a ser candidato à presidência da República, mas foi obrigado a renunciar após de ter seu nome envolvido no escândalo dos bônus eleitorais. Mesmo com todos esses esqueletos no armário, Rocha é considerado por Amoedo uma “pessoa alinhada com os princípios do Novo e um bom gestor. Pode ser um bom nome (do partido à presidência).” Bom, como gestor ele já teve uma de suas fábricas condenada por submeter funcionários a longas jornadas de trabalho em troca de salários abaixo do mínimo, além de cometer abusos físicos e psicológicos. E se estiver tão bem alinhado aos princípios do Novo, então aí é que a coisa piora mesmo, já que na semana passada ele escreveu um artigo delirante alertando sobre o avanço de um plano comunista para dominar o povo brasileiro — tipo Pastor Marco Feliciano.

Luciano Huck recebeu pessoalmente o então presidente do Novo em Angra dos Reis. Segundo a revista Piauí, ele emparelhou sua lancha ao lado do luxuoso iate do apresentador e conversaram por 40 minutos. De lá pra cá, o nome do tucano global vem se tornando cada vez mais forte. Huck ganhou espaço nobre na imprensa para fazer suas análises de conjuntura e falar o que pensa sobre o futuro do Brasil.

Merval Pereira, outro membro do Instituto Millenium, não conseguiu disfarçar sua simpatia pela candidatura do colega global. Para ele, Huck “além de popular, tem muito mais preparo e uma rede de contatos que pode viabilizar um programa de governo com substância”. Eu não sei que preparo Huck tem para comandar um país em profunda crise política e econômica, mas concordo que ele possui uma rede de contatos extensa. Vai de Joesley Batista, Flávio Rocha até Aécio Neves.



Como toda boa sigla de direita no Brasil, o partido tem dificuldades de se assumir como de direita. Prefere se apresentar como uma versão jovem e honesta do velho neoliberalismo. É um partido majoritariamente branco e masculino, como quase todos os partidos tradicionais. De novo o Novo não tem nada. É apenas um PSDB que ainda não sujou o sapatênis de camurça na lama.

The post O partido Novo que já nasceu velho appeared first on The Intercept.

Navy SEAL Under Investigation in Death of Green Beret Is a Former Mixed Martial Arts Fighter

4 November 2017 - 10:36am

One of the Navy SEAL Team 6 operators under investigation for the strangulation of an Army Green Beret in Mali is a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, according to two military officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. Petty Officer Anthony E. DeDolph, those officials said, is being investigated along with a still unidentified SEAL Team 6 teammate, for the death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar, a Green Beret with the 3rd Special Forces Group, in June.

Petty Officer Anthony E. DeDolph, a member of SEAL Team 6, has been put on administrative leave following the death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar, a Green Beret.

Melgar died June 4 in Bamako, Mali, where he was assigned to the U.S. embassy. DeDolph and his teammate were deployed to Mali on a clandestine counterterrorism mission. Melgar’s death and the investigation into the SEALs was first reported by the New York Times last week.

The circumstances around Melgar’s death are still unclear, but investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are trying to determine whether his strangulation was accidental or intentional. DeDolph and his teammate initially claimed they found an unresponsive Melgar in the apartment they shared early in the morning of June 4, tried to revive him, and finally brought him to an emergency clinic in Bamako, where Melgar was pronounced dead, according to a military official and a person familiar with the case, neither of whom were authorized to publicly discuss an open investigation.

The two SEALs were removed from their assignment in Mali and put on administrative leave. At that time, Army criminal investigators viewed them as witnesses.

Three months later a medical examiner concluded that Melgar died of “homicide by asphyxiation,” or strangulation, according to three military officials familiar with the autopsy report.

It was only after after the autopsy that DeDolph and his teammate claimed that the three roommates had been “grappling,” at roughly 5 a.m. in their apartment when Melgar was put in a “chokehold.” Grappling and chokeholds are techniques often used in mixed martial arts. DeDolph and his teammate eventually told investigators that Melgar passed out while they were grappling and they tried to resuscitate him before taking him to the medical facility, according to the military officials.

“NCIS can confirm we are investigating the death of SSGT Melgar on June 4 and that the case was transferred to NCIS from Army CID on September 25,” said Ed Buice, a spokesman for Navy Criminal Investigative Service. “Beyond that, NCIS does not discuss details of ongoing investigations.”

No one has been charged in the case, but DeDolph and his teammate are now considered “persons of interest.” The transfer of the case to NCIS indicates the investigation has now narrowed on the two SEALs as investigators try to determine why Sgt. Melgar was killed, according to the military officials.

DeDolph could not be reached for comment. U.S. Special Operations Command and Navy Special Warfare Command had no comment.

Army Staff Sgt. Logan J. Melgar, a Green Beret whose death is being investigated by the Navy Criminal Investigative Service.

Photo: U.S. Army

This is not the first time the Navy SEALs’ use of mixed martial arts, which has become an integral element in the command’s training program, has resulted in injuries and death. In 2012, four operators from SEAL Team 2 were accused by Army soldiers of beating several Afghan detainees, one of whom ultimately died.

In that case, MMA moves, including a flying jump kick, were used to beat the detainees, according to NCIS files released under the Freedom of Information Act. One of the four SEALs investigated was an MMA enthusiast. No one in the 2012 case has been charged but an NCIS investigation is ongoing.

Mixed martial arts has drawn criticism within SEAL Team 6 for its lack of battlefield utility. “MMA is totally separate from what we do operationally,” said a SEAL commander. “It’s designed for sport and you can’t do it with equipment on.” But some SEALs use it for exercise or as a hobby or to make money, he said. “MMA doesn’t make any sense in a gun fight.”

Melgar’s death and the possibility that members of SEAL Team 6 killed him, even accidentally, is only the latest troubling episode in the much-heralded unit’s history. An Intercept investigation in January revealed a pattern of war crimes and criminal activity since 9/11, often covered up or ignored by the unit’s commanders.

Top photo: U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Daniel Cabrera, a Marine Security Guard (MSG) watchstander, poses for a photo while patrolling the U.S. Embassy, Bamako, Mali, Aug. 29, 2016.

The post Navy SEAL Under Investigation in Death of Green Beret Is a Former Mixed Martial Arts Fighter appeared first on The Intercept.

Indesejáveis: os muçulmanos rohingya que escaparam da limpeza étnica em Myanmar

4 November 2017 - 8:00am

Isolados, apátridas, indesejáveis, eles são os cidadãos de país nenhum. Myanmar e Bangladesh empurram um para o outro o destino dessa população, mesmo quando o exército de Myanmar deixa um recado bem claro para todos os rohingyas que o país já não esteja estuprando ou assassinando: “Vão embora e não voltem mais”. Eles então fogem de seus vilarejos até a fronteira com o estado de Rakhine, seu último refúgio em Myanmar.

Quando podem, embarcam em barcos frágeis que muitas vezes viram, e a maioria não consegue atravessar o rio a nado. Corpos de crianças e mulheres jovens chegam à costa de Bangladesh. Às vezes, uma família inteira se perde no mar. É possível ver a devastação noturna das famílias reunindo os mortos, lavando seus corpos e enrolando-os em mortalhas para o enterro, nas fotos de  Paula Bronstein.

Esta reportagem contém imagens fortes que podem chocar alguns leitores.

Rohingyas esperam por horas na fila enquanto uma distribuição emergencial de comida é organizada pelo Programa Mundial de Alimentos da ONU (PMA) e pela organização Save the Children. Há distribuição de arroz, lentilha, açúcar, sal e óleo. Foto tirada em 7 de outubro de 2017 no campo de Kutupalong, em Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Madia Khatun chora diante dos corpos de cinco crianças de sua família, depois que um barco superlotado que levava rohingyas fugindo de Myanmar virou durante a noite, matando cerca de 12 pessoas. Foto tirada em 9 de outubro de 2017 na ilha Shah Porir Dwip, em Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Homem bate com uma vara em crianças rohingya durante uma distribuição de ajuda humanitária, enquanto as chuvas de monção continuam a castigar a região, causando ainda mais dificuldades. Foto tirada em 7 de outubro de 2017 no campo Thainkhali, em Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

A maior parte dos rohingya se amontoa em vilarejos próximos a Bangladesh, esperando pelas travessias misteriosas. Fotógrafos, despachantes, agências de ajuda humanitária escutam os sussurros: a travessia está próxima. De repente, sob a luz que precede o amanhecer, dezenas de milhares de rohingyas se movem, vadeando os arrozais verdes e encharcados, com pertences em trouxas sobre a cabeça, bebês no colo e feridas nos ombros. “A torneira é aberta e subitamente fechada”, conta Bronstein, que fotografou duas dessas migrações monumentais, em 9 e 16 de outubro. Há coordenação entre as autoridades de Myanmar e de Bangladesh? É uma solução temporária? Ou uma limpeza étnica permanente? Ou ainda uma limpeza coordenada?

Mulheres atrás de um mosquiteiro em 29 de setembro de 2017, no campo de refugiados de Kutupalong, em Bangladesh.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Roupas penduradas no enorme campo de refugiados de Balukhali, em Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Foto tirada em 2 de outubro de 2017.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images


Milhares de refugiados da etnia rohingya fugindo de Myanmar caminham por um enlameado campo de arroz depois de atravessar a fronteira em Palang Khali, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Já em Bangladesh, os refugiados ainda caminham por quilômetros. Alguns param em vilarejos abandonados, outros chegam aos campos de refugiados que existem há décadas, e outros ainda apanham com varas de bambu dos guardas de fronteira, que ordenam que permaneçam nos campos mesmo sem saber o que está acontecendo, onde vão parar, quando isso vai acabar.

Por quê?

Talvez para conseguir mais dinheiro, diz Bronstein.

“Foi assustadoramente desumano. Eles chegaram ao lugar onde conseguiriam água e biscoitos do PMA [o Programa Mundial de Alimentos] e as autoridades disseram: ‘Sinto muito, vocês têm que voltar para o campo, para o arrozal’. Eles choravam, principalmente as crianças. ‘Esses terríveis guardas de fronteira de Bangladesh ameaçam nos bater, e não sabemos o que está acontecendo’. Eles foram mantidos por três dias nos campos enlameados e depois foram registrados. Foi atroz. Não consigo encontrar um motivo para terem feito isso.”

Aneta Begum, de 25 anos, recebe tratamento para um ferimento na cabeça por Jacqueline Murekezi, da equipe dos Médicos Sem Fronteiras. Foto tirada em 4 de outubro de 2017, em Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. A ONG Médicos Sem Fronteiras oferece serviços de saúde básicos em sua clínica de Kutupalong desde 2009. Devido à atual crise, a clínica expandiu sua capacidade de internação e lida com aproximadamente 2.500 pacientes ambulatoriais e mil pacientes de pronto-socorro por semana.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Pacientes aguardam para ser examinados e receber tratamento para tuberculose na clínica de Kutupalong dos Médicos Sem Fronteiras. Foto tirada em 4 de outubro de 2017 em Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Bebê de 15 dias, prematuro e gravemente desnutrido, recebe tratamento na unidade pediátrica e neonatal na clínica de Kutupalong dos Médicos Sem Fronteiras. Foto tirada em 4 de outubro de 2017 em Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. A clínica da ONG oferece serviços de saúde básicos desde 2009.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Começa a chover, e não há onde sentar ou dormir.

“Então o sol aparece e vem um arco-íris”, conta Bronstein. “É lindo e as pessoas estão agonizando. A natureza faz coisas curiosas. Sempre há beleza onde as pessoas sofrem.”

Seguindo a estrada, logo depois dos campos onde dezenas de milhares de rohingyas definham, há um resort de praia onde turistas tiram selfies, nadam e tomam drinks.

crise dos rohingya não é novidade. Grupos humanitários vêm prestando ajuda em campos de Bangladesh há décadas. Os rohingyas continuam chegando a cada onda de violência praticada contra eles pelas autoridades de Myanmar. Relatos surgem, vindos das clínicas e dos que conseguiram escapar, sobre soldados e budistas radicais trucidando os homens e arrastando para a floresta meninas de até 9 anos para estupros coletivos.  O estupro é uma das armas da limpeza étnica. Queime os vilarejos. Trucide os homens. Estupre as meninas. Dizime um povo.

Será que existe vontade política ou instituição com autoridade moral para indiciar alguém por crimes de guerra? Quem apresentaria a acusação? A Rússia? Os chineses não fariam isso, há muito em jogo para eles em Myanmar, econômica e geograficamente. Estão envolvidos na construção de uma nova Zona Econômica que conta com um parque industrial, um terminal de óleo e gás e uma linha férrea, no estado de Rakhine, onde vive o povo rohingya. Quanto aos Estados Unidos, sua influência sobre a Ásia diminuiu consideravelmente — como no restante do mundo –, e o país não tem mais credibilidade nos temas de direitos humanos, nem de internacionalismo.

Hasina Begum, de 18 anos, carrega seu bebê de 8 dias, que nasceu enquanto ela caminhava pela floresta para fugir de Myanmar. Foto tirada em 29 de setembro de 2017 no campo de Kutupalong, em Bangladesh. Ela agora vive num abrigo improvisado, repleto de recém-chegados.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Sajida Begum, 18 anos, sentada em sua tenda improvisada, lava arroz enquanto a fumaça filtra a luz da tarde. Foto tirada em 25 de setembro de 2017, no campo Thainkhali, em Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Existem aproximadamente dois milhões de rohingyas no mundo. Até pouco tempo atrás, a maioria vivia em Myanmar há gerações, com sua identidade questionada e sua história negada. Até o nome Rohingya é fonte de controvérsia. Trata-se de um grupo étnico, político ou religioso? O melhor que se pode dizer é que se trata de uma identidade complexa, arraigada em reinos oscilantes, conquistas muçulmanas, colonialismo, movimentos nacionalistas e limpeza étnica.

Atualmente, cerca de 4,3% da população birmanesa é muçulmana. Mais da metade desse total é parte do grupo dos rohingya. A lei de cidadania de 1982 em Myanmar tornou praticamente impossível para os rohingya se qualificar como cidadãos. (É preciso provar a existência de vínculos na Birmânia antes de 1823, quando os britânicos colonizaram a região, ou pertencer a um dos grupos étnicos aprovados – a lista não inclui os rohingya). Sucessivos governos do país os chamam simplesmente de bengaleses. Por isso, eles não têm direito à liberdade de ir e vir, ao voto, nem ao acesso à educação superior ou a cargos públicos. Eles precisam obter permissão até mesmo para se casar. Desde os anos 1970, a cada nova onda de violência, os rohingyas fogem para Bangladesh, onde também não lhes são conferidos direitos, e de onde muitas vezes são mandados de volta.

A limpeza étnica dos últimos dois meses é a mais grave e a mais sistemática já praticada. Aproximadamente 600 mil pessoas foram expulsas do estado de Rakhine pelo exército de Myanmar e por budistas radicais. Assim, atualmente, cerca 1,3 milhão de rohingyas vivem no limbo, sem um lugar no planeta que possam chamar de “meu país”.

Barcos cheios de gente continuam a chegar às margens do rio Naf, trazendo os rohingyas que se valem da segurança da escuridão. Foto tirada em 30 de setembro de 2017, na ilha de Shah Porir Dwip, em Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

O corpo de uma mulher rohingya jaz na praia, depois que um barco levando mais de cem pessoas naufragou em águas revoltas na costa de Bangladesh. Foto tirada em 28 de setembro perto de Patuwartek, na praia de Inani, em Bangladesh. Dezessete sobreviventes foram encontrados, juntamente com os corpos de 15 mulheres e crianças.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Pessoas atravessam uma ponte de bambu sobre um riacho ao pôr-do-sol. Foto tirada em 13 de outubro de 2017 no campo de refugiados de Kutuplaong, em Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Foto: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Texto de Elizabeth Rubin. Fotografia de Paula Bronstein.

Tradução: Deborah Leão

The post Indesejáveis: os muçulmanos rohingya que escaparam da limpeza étnica em Myanmar appeared first on The Intercept.

She Fled Persecution For Being Gay. Hostile Questioning at U.S. Border Made Her Afraid to Tell The Truth.

4 November 2017 - 7:00am

Sitting in an interrogation room at Dulles International Airport, Ella was paralyzed with fear. Terrified by the uniformed immigration officials lobbing questions at her, the 23-year-old Ugandan woman could think of only one thing: “I can’t go home.”

One year earlier, Ella had been caught in her village in bed with her female partner. Rounded up and taken out into the streets, she and her partner were forced to march naked through the village while being taunted, jeered at, and burned with searing paraffin oil. Police intervened to stop the mob from killing the women, but they arrested both Ella and her partner on charges of immorality. She was beaten in police custody.

After their release the pair fled to Uganda’s capital, Kampala, where they attempted to live in hiding. But the worst was still to come: Ella’s family was determined to find and punish her, so they hired a man to track her down in the city. The man began stalking her and sending threatening messages. Eventually, he found her alone and raped her, in an effort to “cure” her homosexuality by impregnating her.

Ella arrived at Dulles airport in Virginia this August on a student visa she had obtained to attend a small college in the state. But she needed time to gather herself after her ordeal and wanted to defer her enrollment for a semester and request political asylum. She planned to meet a cousin in Seattle who knew about her plight and offered to take her in. (Ella is a pseudonym, as the woman is still under threat from her family members.)

“When I got to Washington I was interviewed by the officers, they saw that I had some tickets to go stay at my cousin’s place, and she said you’re not going to school,” Ella recounted in a conversation with The Intercept. “They took away my phone, and I couldn’t call anyone who could explain. I tried to tell them what was happening with me, but they didn’t understand.”

As a person fleeing violent oppression, Ella could have asked for asylum. If Customs and Border Protection determined that she had a “credible fear” of returning home, she could stay in the United States while her asylum claim was adjudicated.

But Ella wasn’t able to articulate what had happened to her. In response to questions from The Intercept, a spokesperson for CBP said that Ella admitted that “she had no intention of attending school” and said that she was going to Seattle to visit her boyfriend.” CBP also stated that “this traveler declined the opportunity to apply for political asylum and denied any fear of returning to her home country.”

Ella says that she simply broke down under questioning and went along with what CBP demanded of her.

“You cannot imagine what it is like to sit before an officer who has your whole life in her hands,” Ella wrote in a statement she provided to The Intercept. She “thought the new president does not like gay people, and if I told the officer I was gay, she would deport me on the spot.” She said that the officer “forced me to say that my cousin was my boyfriend, because that is what she wanted to hear.”

In our telephone interview, Ella choked up. “For my whole life, I had to hide my sexuality and the whole time I was there being questioned, I didn’t know what to say. All I was thinking was I was afraid to tell them and afraid to be raped again.”

Articles and headlines in Ugandan tabloid newspaper Red Pepper, in Kampala, Uganda, November 2012.

Photo: Tadej Znidarcic/Redux

Ella’s story illustrates how hard it can be for complex cases, especially those involving trauma, to make it past the first step in the asylum process. Advocates say that rather than taking these sensitivities into consideration, the Trump administration is instead making it harder for vulnerable people with legitimate claims.

lawsuit filed earlier this year accused CBP and Homeland Security officials of engaging in “systematic” violation of the rights of asylum-seekers, particularly at the southern border. But experts say that denial of legitimate asylum claims are happening at ports of entry throughout the country, including airports. Reports say CBP officials have denied access to counsel, failed to record expressions of fear, or intimidated asylum-seekers until they recanted their claims. An increase in the use of fast-track deportation proceedings, known as “expedited removal,” also means that asylum-seekers can be ordered out of the country without a chance to make their case.

At a high level, the Trump administration has sought to delegitimize the asylum process as a whole, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying recently that the “system is subject to rampant abuse and fraud” and “overloaded with fake claims.” Rights groups say that there is no basis to those claims.

“This is part of a larger picture of how asylum-seekers are being treated at the border,” says Azadeh N. Shahshahani, a human rights attorney with the advocacy group Project South. “Treatment of asylum-seekers by CBP was already a problem during Obama administration, but with the changes that have occurred since Trump came to office – particularly the executive orders on immigration – instances of mistreatment and denial of entry are likely going to get worse.”

A spokesperson for CBP told The Intercept that the agency “strives to treat all travelers with respect and in a professional manner,” and that its officers are “extensively trained to detect verbal and non-verbal communications cues of travelers in distress.” They added that “during the secondary examination, CBP officers ask inadmissible foreign nationals multiple questions concerning whether they possess any fear or concern about being returned to their home country.”

For many people detained at the border the problem is simple: They lack access to legal counsel. CBP says that “admissibility determinations are administrative actions, not criminal investigations” and points to existing regulations that state there is no right to a lawyer during inspections. Legislation filed by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., earlier this year would mandate that people in detention at border checkpoints be able to talk with an attorney. The bill was filed partly in response to chaotic airport scenes following Trump’s first travel ban. Speaking at the time, Harris stated that her intention was to ensure that “when [detained] individuals ask to speak to the lawyer [who] is literally on the other side of the door waiting to talk to them, they are not denied that request.”

While Ella was being held at Dulles, a lawyer contacted by her cousin repeatedly tried to call Ella in detention, but was denied access to her by CBP officials. Had the lawyer been able to speak with her, making an asylum claim would have been straightforward.

“Ella’s case shows a badly broken system that allows officers to deny the basic human right to seek protection to the most vulnerable — those who lack the capacity to even talk about what they’ve been through,” said the lawyer, Hassan Ahmad, a legal activist with the Dulles Justice Coalition. “A system that denies detained people access to counsel and one that also removes [CBP] officers from accountability.”

Instead, Ella was subjected to expedited removal and ordered back to Uganda immediately. Under the expedited removal process, first introduced in 1996 under the Clinton administration, CBP officials have broad latitude to subject individuals at the border to immediate deportation. Unlike other deportation cases that often need legal oversight, only one CBP officer and a supervisor need to sign off on an expedited removal.

The federal government seems to be moving forward with plans to expand the use of expedited removal procedures throughout the country, putting both undocumented residents and potential asylum-seekers at greatly increased risk of detention and deportation. In contrast to claims by Sessions and others that asylum-seekers are being coached to game the system, many, like Ella, arrive at the border terrified, distraught and unable to express the reason they fled their homes.

“It is quite common to feel intimidated talking about trauma, particularly sexual trauma, in front of an armed guard at the border, which is one of the reasons why expedited removal is such a troubling practice,” said Clara Long, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Someone being turned away without a fair chance to present their asylum claims – then given a deportation order that removes their chance of ever receiving asylum in the future – shows how serious the flaws are in the treatment of vulnerable people at the border.”

Ella got on the plane back to Uganda in a state of near panic and spent the long flight crying. During her layover in Dubai, she fled the plane. She was granted temporary asylum by officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who were made aware of her case though Ahmad and other activists, and allowed to live in the airport for roughly a month. From there, she was sent to Kenya, where Ugandans are allowed to live legally for a short period of time. She’s still in Kenya today, staying with friends, in a state of legal limbo.

Lawyers for Ella in the United States have filed a motion to reconsider her removal, calling on CBP to rescind their expedited removal order. Medical and psychological evaluations included in their filing demonstrate that she has “several strong indicators of anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder,” as well as physical injuries consistent with rape and with other repeated instances of torture. Her lawyers have asked for her to be paroled back to the United States to make an asylum claim, but so far CBP has refused this request.

“There is no way I can go back to Uganda after everything that happened,” Ella told The Intercept. “All I want is a chance to come back [to the U.S.] to make my case.”

Top photo: Girls attend the “Social Friday” at FARUG, a monthly appointment for the lesbian community, where they can chat and watch movies in a safe environment in Kampala, Uganda, in June 2016.

The post She Fled Persecution For Being Gay. Hostile Questioning at U.S. Border Made Her Afraid to Tell The Truth. appeared first on The Intercept.

A Business-Friendly Mayoral Candidate in Atlanta Is Pulling in Some Very Odd Contributions

4 November 2017 - 7:00am

A poster advertises a fundraiser in October in support of Keisha Lance-Bottoms’s mayoral bid.

Photo: Keisha Lance-Bottoms for Mayor

On November 7, Atlantans will go to the polls to decide who will succeed Mayor Kasim Reed as the city’s leader.

The nonpartisan, 12-way race is unpredictable; conservative Mary Norwood is widely expected to make a December runoff, but who will face her is up in the air. The Bernie Sanders-backed progressive candidate and former state Sen. Vincent Fort is vying to be Norwood’s challenger alongside a number of city council alumni who are more allied with Reed’s pro-business politics.

One of those candidates, Keisha Lance-Bottoms, has been endorsed by Reed and benefited in the home stretch from a gusher of corporate fundraising — much of it flowing in a way that allows it to get around the ordinary limits of giving.

Procurement corruption has cast a long shadow over the mayoral race. In September, the FBI raided the offices of a city vendor and the city’s top purchasing office pled guilty to accepting bribes in exchange for millions of dollars of city contracts. Earlier this month, Lance-Bottoms returned more than $25,000 in contributions from one of the city contractors at the center of the investigation.

The legal contribution limit for an individual to a mayoral candidate in the general election is $2,600. But a number of major contractors that do business with Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport — the world’s busiest airport and an entity the city oversees — used shell companies and other means to boost their donations to Lance-Bottoms into the tens of thousands. The concession contracts, to operate fast food restaurants and other franchises, are a multibillion-dollar opportunity for vendors.

Individuals associated with Miami-based Master ConcessionAir (previously known as World Wide Concessions) have given $23,525 to Lance-Bottoms’s campaign. Much of this giving was done through other entities. For instance, on Lance-Bottoms’s finance disclosures, you’ll see a $2,500 donation from the Florida-based Concessions Development Group. Lest you think this entity is unrelated to ConcessionAir, you can see that one of the people it’s registered under is Jose Alberni. Alberni lists himself as a managing director at ConcessionsAir.

Individuals involved with the company in the past previously came under investigation for “allegedly receiving $1.7 million from a Miami airport vendor to meet federal minority-business requirements while not actually opening a restaurant,” as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes, although no charges were ever filed in the case.

World Wide Concessions Chief Executive Peter Amaro Jr. originally appeared to give twice to Lance-Bottoms by changing his first name from Peter to Pedro for the second contribution, as well as adding a digit to his address. Remember that the legal contribution limit for the general election is $2,600, and Amaro gave $5,100. The donations were first flagged on Twitter by Nathaniel Horadam, a master’s student at Georgia Tech. In the amended finance report released Thursday, the second donation is amended to Patricia, his wife. Amaro’s company manages over two dozen franchises at the Atlanta airport, including a Starbucks and Chick-fil-A.

In Thursday’s disclosure, Carlos Aguilera, the company’s director of food and beverage operations, pitched in an additional $2,500 — but left out his employer information.

Master Concession Air/World Wide Concessions did not respond to a request for comment.

Another airport vendor, OTG Management, surpassed the $2,600 limit by giving directly as OTG Management and also as OTG Management EWR, which shares the exact same address. OTG Management has not at this time responded to a request for comment.

Darrell Anderson is a limousine company owner and long-time family friend of Reed who won a shuttle contract at the airport that lasted four years (he was also an investor in the company Reed’s father ran). Anderson himself has given $1,000 to Lance-Bottoms. But his company A-National Limousine Service has given $2,500 collectively between two donations this year. Through a network of other shell companies that Anderson owns or share the same address as A-National Limousine Service, he collectively gave almost $27,000. That’s 10 times the legal limit of what an individual can give.

In the most recent disclosure, released Thursday, Lance-Bottoms returned $5,600 of those contributions, $1,000 from Atlanta Airport Shuttle, $2,000 from Atlanta Metropolitan Auto, $2,600 from New Day Productions.

Lance-Bottoms is publicly thanking some of these donors. On Thursday, she took to Twitter to cite the support of Giovanni di Palma, the owner of Antico Foods — which has a presence at Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Antico gave $2,600 to Lance-Bottoms’s campaign in September; di Palma himself gave $2,600 the same month. Lioni Latticini Mozzarella & Specialty Foods, which has, in the past, served as their cheese supplier, pitched in $2,600 as well.

In 2015, the Labor Department ordered Antico to pay nearly $300,000 in back wages after it withheld overtime from dozens of employees.

The Thursday disclosures also show a $2,500 donation from Florida-based Advanced Consulting Service. This firm is registered to Christopher Korge, who founded NewsLink, a firm that is bidding on contracts to open a new shop at the airport. Korge previously gave $2,000 in January. A phone call to Korge & Korge LLP confirmed that Christopher also owns SFB Consulting, which gave $2,500 in the latest disclosure.

The campaign finance report from early October also reveals donations from other city contractors and, interestingly, from a number of individuals living in New Orleans. One donor to Lance-Bottoms, Blair Boutte of B3 Consulting, owns a bail bond company in Louisiana cited in a recent report over abusive bail bond practices. Blair’s Bail Bonds of New Orleans is facing a lawsuit for allegedly kidnapping and extorting a man for money he claims he didn’t know that he owed.

Horadam posited that the flow of Louisiana cash to Lance-Bottoms may relate to scheme to trade donors with Desiree Charbonnet, the business-friendly mayoral candidate running in New Orleans. Charbonnet’s campaign has received an influx of donations from Atlanta contractors, including firms and individuals who have donated to Lance-Bottoms, suggesting donors backing each candidate have found a way to elect two establishment-backed politicians while essentially doubling the amount they can legally donate.

Top photo: A poster advertises a fundraiser in October support of Keisha Lance-Bottoms’s mayoral bid.

The post A Business-Friendly Mayoral Candidate in Atlanta Is Pulling in Some Very Odd Contributions appeared first on The Intercept.

Angry About the DNC Scandal? Thank Obama.

3 November 2017 - 11:58am

In the fall of 2015, a year before the presidential election, the Democratic National Committee, we now know, was bought for the equivalent of a pawn shop by the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

The party organization was still deeply in debt from the 2012 campaign, owing millions to banks and vendors, burning through what little cash it had at a stunning rate of some $3 million to $4 million per month. By August 2015, the DNC was becoming unable to make payroll and approaching the equivalent of bankruptcy, according to a former senior party official, who requested anonymity, arguing that being quoted publicly criticizing the DNC in a news outlet connected to Intercept founder Glenn Greenwald, who is a critic of the DNC, would be damaging professionally. 

And so the DNC, to save itself, sold everything to the only bidder. The Clinton campaign bailed out the DNC and, in exchange, effectively took it over, according to Donna Brazile, who served as the organization’s acting chairperson from July 2016 to February 2017. 

“The agreement — signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias — specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff,” Brazile wrote in an explosive excerpt of her book published Thursday in Politico. “The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.”

Brazile’s belated acknowledgement that the DNC was, in fact, under the direct control of the Clinton campaign, rather than a neutral arbiter of the race, has enflamed a long-burning fight between Clinton’s backers and those of 2016 presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, lending official credence to the argument that the DNC was tilted in Clinton’s favor.

There will be plenty of Facebook and Twitter threads to hash that out between now and the apocalypse. There will also be a chance to ponder the thinking behind Brazile’s timing — after it could have made a difference in the DNC chair race and a week before the Virginia gubernatorial election — as well as the motive, both personal and political. Indeed, during the campaign, Mook subjected Brazile to regular indignities, according to people who observed the relationship. 

All that is fodder for a good flamewar, but walking away rather unscathed is the man who set the blaze in the first place: former President Barack Obama. “Nobody wanted to out the fact that Obama had let it get so bad,” said the DNC official. 

Brazile’s reference to Marc Elias in her exposé was an extra twist of the knife. Elias was the Clinton campaign’s attorney and also the attorney for the DNC. A partner at Perkins Coie, Elias replaced Bob Bauer — another Perkins Coie attorney — when Obama brought him into the White House.

President Barack Obama makes phone calls to volunteers at an Organizing for America field office with Alexa Kissinger, left, and, Suzanne Stern, right, on Oct. 14, 2012, in Williamsburg, Va.

Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP

It didn’t have to be this way. Obama’s campaign operation, Obama for America, took small-dollar giving to never-before-seen heights and opened up the possibility of a transformation of politics. But he quickly decided to marginalize his group after the 2008 election. He renamed it Organizing for America, but ordered it to do very little organizing, worried that if grassroots activists attacked Blue Dog Democrats, they would bolt from the president and lose in 2010. Then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously told activists such a strategy was “fucking retarded.” (Most lost anyway in 2010, as the tea party wave swept them out.)

OFA became Obama’s primary campaign apparatus, supplanting the DNC, which became an afterthought handed to Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who later became Clinton’s running mate. After the 2010 wave, Obama put Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz on top of the moribund institution, a clear signal that he was uninterested in it as a central component of the party. Obama’s poor relationship with Wasserman Schultz was widely known and written about, but he left her in the job for six years regardless. “Part of the reason they were in this position, as it was told to me, is he just didn’t wanna deal with Debbie,” the party official said. 

Raising money for a bland outfit like the DNC isn’t easy in the best of times, but with Obama offering little to no help, and clinging to his invaluable email list, Wasserman Schultz was set up to fail, even if she would have done so on her own.

Obama instead reasoned that he could become the party, his dynamic and charismatic personality carrying it at the national level.

Obama was re-elected, but the party itself went on a historic losing spree, ultimately shedding nearly 1,000 seats across the country. Even after Democrats lost the Senate in 2014, and the DNC continued spending money on consultants at an eye-popping rate, Obama decided not to make a leadership change. Instead, he left it saddled with debt — debt the Clinton campaign would later agree to pay off in exchange for control.

Obama finally became interested in the party after the 2016 loss. His final gift to the party apparatus was Tom Perez, his labor secretary, who he recruited to stop Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., from winning the race for DNC chair. Obama and Perez won. DNC funding has been anemic, and it recently had to add to its roughly $3 million in debt.

Top photo: A Secret Service agent stands alert amid balloons that were released following Hillary Clinton’s keynote address as she accepted the Democratic presidential nomination at the DNC on July 28, 2016.

The post Angry About the DNC Scandal? Thank Obama. appeared first on The Intercept.

House GOP Simultaneously Pushes for New Abortion Ban and End to Adoption Tax Credit

3 November 2017 - 11:42am

House Republican lawmakers are sponsoring legislation that would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after a heartbeat is detected. In fact, 169 lawmakers — all are Republicans but one — have co-sponsored the bill, known as the “Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017.”

The House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice held a hearing on the bill this week, with House Republicans promoting it in the context of the anti-abortion movement. “It is important that Congress passes such a strong pro-life bill now because President Trump will hopefully appoint one or two more justices to the Supreme Court, making this a profound moment in the pro-life movement,” Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King said at the Wednesday hearing.

At the same time, the Republican tax proposal released Thursday would make it more difficult for American parents to turn to what many anti-abortion groups offer as an alternative: adoption.

The House Republican tax reform bill would completely eliminate the adoption tax credit, which has been in the tax code since 1997. It was a bipartisan achievement pushed through by former Texas Republican Rep. Bill Archer, who was chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Designed to help cover “reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, and other expenses,” the credit is available for up to $5,000 per child.

Advocates for adoption reacted with scorn to the Republican plan.

“RESOLVE and its advocates are outraged at this action,” Barbara Collura, president and chief executive officer of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, said in a statement. “The Adoption Tax Credit, a credit for middle-income Americans to help offset their costs associated with adopting a child, could be gone.”

Republicans cut a number of tax credits to bring down the cost of the bill, offsetting the cost of tax cuts for the very rich. For instance, the bill also calls for reducing the corporate tax rate to just 20 percent.

By supporting the tax framework, GOP lawmakers have made a value judgment: Reducing taxes for the wealthiest citizens is more important than helping defray the costs of adoption for Americans. And as adoptions become more difficult, the number of abortions is likely to rise.

Top photo: A fetal monitor at a hospital in Fridley, Minn.

The post House GOP Simultaneously Pushes for New Abortion Ban and End to Adoption Tax Credit appeared first on The Intercept.