The Intercept

Jared Kushner Tried and Failed to Get a Half-Billion-Dollar Bailout From Qatar

10 July 2017 - 11:25am

Not long before a major crisis ripped through the Middle East, pitting the United States and a bloc of Gulf countries against Qatar, Jared Kushner’s real estate company had unsuccessfully sought a critical half-billion-dollar investment from one of the richest and most influential men in the tiny nation, according to three well-placed sources with knowledge of the near transaction.

Kushner is a senior adviser to President Trump, and also his son-in-law, and also the scion of a New York real estate empire that faces an extreme risk from an investment made by Kushner in the building at 666 Fifth Avenue, where the family is now severely underwater.

Qatar is facing an ongoing blockade led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and joined by Egypt and Bahrain, which President Trump has taken credit for sparking. Kushner, meanwhile, has reportedly played a key behind-the-scenes role in hardening the U.S. posture toward the embattled nation.

That hard line comes in the wake of the previously unreported half-billion-dollar deal that was never consummated. Throughout 2015 and 2016, Jared Kushner and his father, Charles, negotiated directly with a major investor in Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, known as HBJ for short, in an effort to refinance the property on Fifth Avenue, the sources said.

Trump himself has unsuccessfully sought financing in recent years from the Qataris, but it is difficult to overstate just how important to Kushner the investment at 666 Fifth Avenue is for him, his company, and his family’s legacy in real estate. Without some outside intervention or unforeseen turnaround in the market, the investment could become an embarrassing half-billion-dollar loss. It’s unclear precisely how much peril such a loss would put Jared’s or his family’s finances in, given the opacity of their private holdings.

HBJ, a former prime minister of Qatar who ran the country’s $250 billion sovereign wealth fund, is a billionaire and one of the world’s richest men. He owns a yacht worth $300 million called Al Mirqab, the same name he gave to the private investment firm that Kushner pitched. The former emir of Qatar summed up HBJ’s power with a quip: “I may run this country, but he owns it.”

HBJ ultimately agreed to invest at least $500 million through Al Mirqab, on the condition that Kushner Companies could raise the rest of a multibillion refinancing elsewhere. The negotiations continued long after the election, carried out as recently as this spring by Charles Kushner. “HBJ basically told them, we’re good for 500, subject to a lot of things, but mainly subject to you being able to raise the rest,” said one source in the region with knowledge of the deal. The talks were confirmed by two additional sources with knowledge of the talks. One of those sources claimed that the potential deal was not contingent on the rest of the money being raised and that the HBJ investment was on hold as the overall structure of the financing was reconsidered. None of the sources would agree to talk on the record about a private financial transaction that has until now remained a secret.

After the election, Kushner Companies found many more suitors interested in doing business, one of the sources, who is U.S.-based, said. One of the investors taking the deal more seriously in the end of 2016 and early 2017, the U.S. source said, was “Hamid bin what’s-his-name,” referring to HBJ. Top executives at Kushner Companies, the source said, “are dumb enough to not know that why they want to deal with them has nothing to do with the real estate. Around the New Year they were like, ‘LPs” — industry slang for limited partners, or investors — “are engaging more!’ It’s like, I wonder why?”

Or, perhaps, they know quite well what’s going on. The $500 million still left the Kushners far short, and to try to fill the financing hole, the company turned to China. An insurance firm there with close ties to the country’s ruling elite had been pursued for months, but, like the other investors, wasn’t truly interested in the deal until after the election. (A source familiar with the dealmaking said that the Kushners had been in discussions with HBJ since before Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015. When a potential deal with Anbang was first reported by the New York Times in January 2017, company spokeswoman Risa Heller said the talks began “well before the president-elect’s victory,” right around when he officially sealed the Republican nomination.)

White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks referred questions to Kushner Companies; a spokesman there declined The Intercept’s request for comment. HBJ declined to comment.

In March, the details of the talks between Kushner and the firm, Anbang, became public. Anbang would invest $400 million in the project and the Kushners would put up $750 million, and additional investors, of which The Intercept’s sources say HBJ was to be one, would contribute a total of almost $2 billion more, according to a document being shown to investors that was shared with Bloomberg. The investment would have fit a trend of increasing Qatari investment in New York City real estate: Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, which HBJ used to run, has increased its investment in New York City real estate in recent years, and HBJ has a number of property investments in London and New York.

Anbang’s $400 million, plus $100 million from other investors, would flow to the Kushners, meaning the family would recoup the entirety of their initial $500 million investment, a startling turnaround given that the New York Times’s detailed analysis of the building’s woes found the Kushners’ investment was now essentially worthless.

Crucially, in addition to its cash investment, the deal called for Anbang to take out a $4 billion loan to finance the demolition of the current building and the construction of an 80-story Zaha Hadid-designed residential and retail tower in its place. (The total cost for the project would be around $7.5 billion.) Only a handful of companies in the real estate business, such as Blackstone or Brookfield, are big enough to secure that size of loan, and to date they appear unwilling to take on the level of scrutiny the deal would bring, never mind offer terms as favorable as Anbang’s. Additionally, any borrower would have to get their loan from somewhere, and one dynamic stymying the deal may be that any bank that underwrote such a loan would face just as much scrutiny for their financial and political judgement as the investor they gave it to.

Anbang pulled out after the deal was criticized as a conflict of interest, given Kushner’s role in the White House. With Anbang, and its ability to secure a $4 billion construction loan, out, the Qatari condition wasn’t met, and the Gulf deal fizzled, according to a source in the region. That chain of events was disputed by a source who said said the deal between HBJ and the Kushners wasn’t dead, but on hold as the deal’s mix of loans and equity was reconsidered.

The revelation of the half-billion-dollar deal raises thorny and unprecedented ethical questions. If the deal is not entirely dead, that means Jared Kushner is, on the one hand, pushing to use the power of American diplomacy to pummel a small nation, while on the other, his firm is hoping to extract an extraordinary amount of capital from there for a failing investment. If, however, the deal is entirely dead, the pummeling may be seen as intimidating to other investors on the end of a Kushner Companies pitch.

The crisis dates to May, when President Trump visited Saudi Arabia and met with regional leaders there, laying his hands on the now-famous orb. The Emir of Qatar met with Saudi King Salman, a high-level Qatari sources told The Intercept, and it went well. “The Emir was in Jeddah before the summit, had a meeting with King Salman. King Salman did not bring up any subject about differences with Qatar,” he said. “After the summit, the Saudis and the Emirates, they thought, after signing all these contracts, they can have the upper hand in the region and they don’t want any country not to be in the same line.”

Whatever the reasoning, on June 5, a diplomatic crisis broke out, as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with Egypt and Bahrain, downgraded ties with Qatar, citing Qatar’s funding of terrorist organizations. Weeks earlier, the same countries blocked a number Qatari-backed media outlets citing derogatory public comments by the Emir, which Qatar insisted were fabricated and the result of a hack.

On June 6, President Trump took sides, taking credit for the moves by the Gulf nations.

During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017

So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding…

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017

…extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017

On June 9, after Saudi Arabia and the UAE had begun to blockade Qatar, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sought to calm nerves, calling for mediation and an immediate end to the blockade.

Within hours, Trump, at a White House ceremony, contradicted Tillerson, slamming Qatar again and claiming it had “historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”

Trump’s White House remarks, Tillerson came to believe, had been written by UAE Ambassador Yousef Al-Otaiba and delivered to Trump by Jared Kushner.

The blockade continued. At a private fundraiser in late June, he aimed at Qatar again, this time mocking the pronunciation of the country’s name. “We’re having a dispute with Qatar — we’re supposed to say Qatar. It’s Qatar, they prefer. I prefer that they don’t fund terrorism,” he quipped, according to an audio recording of his speech obtained by The Intercept.

The Kushners’ purchase of 666 Fifth Avenue for a record-breaking $1.8 billion in 2007 was capstone to an era marked by high prices and reckless amounts of debt. The Kushners invested $500 million in the building, and took out debt to cover the rest. But even at the height of a bubbling New York real estate market, there were clear signs that the price was too high and the debt was too much. The Kushners paid $1,200 a square foot, twice the previous per square foot record of $600, while records show that even with the building initially almost fully rented out, revenue only covered about two-thirds of the family’s debt costs.

When the financial crisis hit, rents went down, vacancies went up, and the Kushners were short on cash to pay their debts. They sold off the Fifth Avenue retail space for $525 million and used the proceeds to pay off non-mortgage debt on the building. Then, in 2011, the Kushners sold off just under 50 percent of the building’s office space to Vornado, as part of a refinancing deal with the publicly traded real estate giant.

The $1.2 billion interest-only mortgage is due in February 2019. The office space is worth less than its mortgage and “there is no equity value” left in the office section of the building, Jed Reagan of Green Street Advisors told the New York Times in April. (Because they sold the retail space to make payments on other debt tied to the building, the office space is the only part of the tower the Kushners still have a stake in.) As a result, the family’s initial $500 million investment, once heralded as an example of Jared’s emergence as a brash real estate star, has for now effectively been wiped out. A massive refinancing and construction of a new tower that dramatically increases the building’s value is one way to try to get out of that hole.

The Kushners are also looking for loans totaling $250 million to pay off debt it used to build an apartment building in Jersey City, Bloomberg first reported in June. The tower, called Trump Bay Street, was financed in part by Chinese investors. Those investments were made through the E5-B visa program, which gives green cards to wealthy foreigners in exchange for investments in the U.S. The family also owes CIT Group $140 million, which it must repay by September. A company spokesman later confirmed to the New York Times that it was indeed seeking the $250 million loan.

The Kushners came under fire in May when the New York Times reported that Jared’s sister Nicole Meyer had pitched her family’s ties as part of a roadshow to raise money for another Jersey City building under the same pay-for-residency visa program. After the report, the family backtracked and said they would not take part in the roadshow going forward.

Meanwhile, the water is rising on the Fifth Avenue investment. And the blockade continues.

Had the Qataris known where things were heading diplomatically, said the source in the region, they’d have happily ponied up the money, even knowing that it was a losing investment. “It would have been much cheaper,” he said.

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Top photo: A businessman walks by the 666 Fifth Avenue skyscraper owned by Kushner Companies in New York on March 29, 2017.

The post Jared Kushner Tried and Failed to Get a Half-Billion-Dollar Bailout From Qatar appeared first on The Intercept.

Só piora: Ivanka Trump toma o lugar do pai durante reunião do G20

10 July 2017 - 10:00am

Durante o encontro do G20 em Hamburgo, no último sábado, o presidente norte-americano Donald Trump decidiu não participar de um debate sobre o que os líderes das 20 maiores economias do mundo poderiam fazer para ajudar países africanos a melhorar a qualidade de vida dentro de suas fronteiras – e evitar que seus cidadãos arrisquem suas vidas para emigrar para a Europa.
Não faltava membro do gabinete para tomar o lugar de Trump na cadeira entre o presidente da China, Xi Jinping, e a primeira-ministra do Reino Unido, Theresa May.A delegação norte-americana que foi a Hamburgo contava com o secretário de Estado Rex Tillerson, que é o quarto na linha de sucessão, o secretário do Tesouro Steven Mnuchin, o secretário do Comércio Wilbur Ross e o conselheiro de segurança nacional H.R. McMaster.
O fato de Trump ter escolhido sua filha Ivanka para se sentar à mesa de negociações com outros 19 chefes de Estado talvez seja a prova mais clara e chocante de que ele não vê a completa falta de experiência dela em assuntos de Estado como uma barreira para tratá-la como se fosse sua vice.

I understand Ivanka Trump is sitting at the #G20 leaders table this morning instead of US President Donald Trump.

Source: "Incredible!!!"

— Alberto Nardelli (@AlbertoNardelli) July 8, 2017

Tuíte do editor da BuzzFeed News Alberto Nardelli: “Parece que Ivanka Trump se sentou à mesa de líderes do #G20 hoje de manhã no lugar do presidente dos EUA Donald Trump. Fonte: ‘Inacreditável!!!'”

Uma foto compartilhada no Twitter (e mais tarde apagada) por Svetlana Lukash, representante do presidente russo Vladimir Putin no G20, confirmou a presença da primeira-filha na mesa principal.

Tuíte de Svetlana Lukash, representante russa no G20: “E substitui Pres. Trump à mesa do #G20 depois que ele se retirou para reuniões bilaterais”.

A imagem mostra a chanceler alemã Angela Merkel e o presidente da Turquia Recip Tayyip Erdogan sentados próximos à primeira-filha.
Um funcionário da Casa Branca tentou minimizar o incidente e afirmou à agência France-Presse que Ivanka tinha apenas “participado momentaneamente da mesa principal após o presidente ter se retirado”.
No entanto, outro membro do governo que estava na sala disse à Bloomberg News que ela tomou o lugar de Trump em pelo menos duas outras ocasiões.
Ao ser questionada sobre o ocorrido, Merkel, que conseguiu a proeza de ser eleita para o cargo mais importante da Alemanha sem ser herdeira de um magnata, minimizou o incidente.

"She works at the White House & is engaged in certain initiatives" – Angela Merkel on Ivanka Trump at leaders' table

— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) July 8, 2017

Ela trabalha na Casa Branca e participa de algumas iniciativas” – Angela Merkel sobre a presença de Ivanka Trump na mesa de líderes.

Já alguns norte-americanos não se mostraram tão dispostos a relevar o episódio descarado de nepotismo.

Tuíte de Xeni Jardin: “Eu não votei em Ivanka. Ninguém votou. Não é assim que mulheres íntegras querem ver outras mulheres representadas na política. Isso é corrupção”.

Unelected and unqualified hand bag designer, sitting at a table as an equal with world leaders. America has never looked so ridiculous.

— steven pasquale (@StevePasquale) July 8, 2017

Tuíte de Steven Pasquale: “Designer de bolsas, não-eleita e não-qualificada, senta-se à mesa como se fosse igual a outros líderes mundiais. Os Estados Unidos nunca fizeram um papel tão ridículo”.

When @IvankaTrump puts herself in meetings w/ heads of state she embarrasses professional women in public service, our democracy & herself.

— Carrie Cordero (@carriecordero) July 8, 2017

Tuíte de Carrie Cordero: “Ao se meter em reuniões com chefes de Estados @IvankaTrump envergonha servidoras públicas, nossa democracia e a si mesma”.

Trump's style is more Uzbek…that of an authoritarian backwater, not a superpower

— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) July 8, 2017

Tuítes de Anne Applebaum: “Na China, os filhos dos líderes são “princelings” que merecem todo um tratamento especial. Mas mesmo assim não consigo imaginar Xi dando seu lugar no G20 à filha”; “O estilo de Trump está mais para uzbeque… mais para um fim de mundo autoritário do que uma superpotência”.

This kind of thing happens all the time. In dictatorships.

— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) July 8, 2017

Tuíte de Amy Siskind: “Esse tipo de coisa acontece o tempo todo. Em ditaduras”.

This could not conceivably have happened in any previous admin.
(VP / SecState / SecTreas / SecDef / Ambass etc would take that chair)

— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) July 8, 2017

Tuíte de James Fallows: “Isso seria inimaginável em qualquer governo passado (vice-pres./sec. de Estado/sec. do Tesouro/sec. da Defesa/embaixador etc teria assumido o posto)”.

Had Michelle Obama (more qualified than Ivanka) filled Barack's seat at the G-20, the media and the GOP would be calling for impeachment.

— Terrell J. Starr (@Russian_Starr) July 8, 2017

Tuíte de Terrell J. Starr: “Se Michelle Obama (mais qualificada do que Ivanka) tivesse sentado no lugar de Barack no G10, a mídia e o partido republicano estariam pedindo impeachment”.

Ivanka sitting in for Trump at G20 reminds us that day by day, Trunm is eroding our democracy and turning it into a nepotistic monarchy.

— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) July 8, 2017

Tuíte de Trita Parsi: “Ivanka substituindo Trump no G20 nos lembra que, dia após dia, Trump destrói nossa democracia para transformá-la numa monarquia nepotista”.

Defensores da família Trump tentaram insinuar que a foto teria sido tirada em outro evento ocorrido no mesmo dia e para o qual Ivanka Trump tinha sido convidada – o lançamento do novo fundo do Banco Mundial de apoio a mulheres empreendedoras. Nessa ocasião, ela se sentou entre Jim Yong Kim, presidente do Banco Mundial, e Christine Lagarde, diretora do FMI.

“Ministro Freeland modera o painel sobre Programa de crédito a mulheres empreendedoras no #G20 em #Hamburgo #WeFi


Trump e Merkel também compareceram ao evento, como mostra o vídeo compartilhado pela Ruptly, agência de notícias do governo russo.

Merkel and Trump join Ivanka Trump at #G20 panel on female entrepreneurship

— Ruptly (@Ruptly) July 8, 2017

Tuíte de Ruptly: “Merkel e Trump se juntam a Ivanka Trump no painel do #G20 sobre empreendedorismo feminino”.

Durante essa reunião, o presidente norte-americano afirmou, lendo anotações: “Tenho muito orgulho da minha filha Ivanka”. Na sequência, ergueu a cabeça e, falando de improviso, sugeriu que seu orgulho estava menos ligado aos feitos da filha do que à sua mera existência: “Sempre tive. Desde seu primeiro dia de vida, posso dizer a vocês, desde seu primeiro dia de vida, ela sempre foi ótima. Uma campeã, ela é uma campeã”.

Logo depois, o homem que herdou a própria fortuna acrescentou, aparentemente sem nenhum senso de ironia: “Se ela não fosse minha filha, tudo seria muito mais fácil para ela”.

Trump praises his daughter Ivanka, who sat in for him at a G20 meeting: "If she weren't my daughter it'd be so much easier for her."

— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) July 8, 2017

Tuíte do BuzzFeed News: “Trump elogia a filha Ivanka, que ocupou seu lugar durante uma sessão do G20: ‘Se ela não fosse minha filha, tudo seria muito mais fácil para ela”.

Foto em destaque: Ivanka Trump, filha do presidente dos Estados Unidos Donald Trump, no início da terceira sessão da reunião do G20 em Hamburgo, Alemanha (08/07/2017).

The post Só piora: Ivanka Trump toma o lugar do pai durante reunião do G20 appeared first on The Intercept.

Study Finds Relationship Between High Military Casualties and Votes for Trump Over Clinton

10 July 2017 - 6:00am

A new study suggests that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump won more votes from communities with high military casualties than from similar communities which suffered fewer casualties.

Recall that Trump campaigned as a somewhat antiwar candidate who would break with bipartisan pro-war consensus (a promise he has not lived up to, and which didn’t exactly match his past record). His Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, ran a campaign more or less embracing the war status quo — with the emphasis occasionally, as with the case of Syria, on more.

Boston University political science professor Douglas Krinera and University of Minnesota Law professor Francis Shen studied the relationship between military casualties and pro-Trump votes. Comparing the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, they concluded that regions that had seen high concentrations in casualties over the past 15 years of warfare saw a swing in support towards Trump.

They demonstrated this relationship in a scatterplot:

The researchers controlled for a number of other factors, including race, income, and education; they also controlled for the percentage of the population that lives in rural areas and the military veteran population — both populations tended to support Trump overall, so controlling for these variables means that the number of military casualties was still a statistically significant driver of the vote, even in rural areas that share many of the same characteristics.

Their model also suggests that three swing states — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan — could very well have been winners for Clinton if their war casualties were lower.

In an interview with The Intercept, Shen speculated that this angle of the election has not been explored as much because academics and the media are not from communities that have been besieged with war deaths.

“Those writing both in universities and in most of the media are not regularly experiencing the cost of war. It’s not, again, on average their communities who are seeing as many deaths and it is more likely on average communities that are poorer, less educated, and are more rural,” he said. “And I think its plausible, it’s certainly plausible I think that the … rhetoric of Trump’s campaign may have resonated with that group.”

Towards the end of their paper, Krinera and Shen suggest there are a number of political implications from their conclusion — one of which is that Trump does not deviate from the pro-war consensus, it may very well cost him in 2020. That is, they write, if the Democrats offer an alternative:

Our results also have important implications for Democrats. Currently the Democratic Party is engaging in a period of fitful soul searching in a quest to understand its inability to connect with many working class and rural voters who abandoned the party of Roosevelt for Trump. Much of this introspection has focused on the party’s position on trade policy, economic inequality, and emphasis on identity politics. However, Democrats may also want to reexamine their foreign policy posture if they hope to erase Trump’s electoral gains among constituencies exhausted and alienated by fifteen years of war.

Top photo: A United States flag that covered the casket of a U.S. army sergeant is folded by members of the burial team during the soldier’s burial service at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 5, 2016.

The post Study Finds Relationship Between High Military Casualties and Votes for Trump Over Clinton appeared first on The Intercept.

Josh Walker Fought Against ISIS. He Almost Got Killed. Now He’s Charged With Terrorism.

10 July 2017 - 4:36am

It was a quiet night until the bombs began crashing out of the sky. Only a few minutes earlier, on the roof of a gray, single-story building not far from the city of Manbij in northern Syria, Josh Walker had been peacefully sleeping. Now the walls were collapsing beneath him, he was surrounded by fire, and his friends were dead.

Walker, a 26-year-old university student from Wales in the United Kingdom, was in Syria volunteering with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a Kurdish-led militia that has been a leading force in the ground battle against the Islamic State. He had made the long journey to Syria after flying out of a London airport on a one-way ticket to Istanbul, appalled by the Islamic State’s brutal fascism and inspired by the YPG’s democratic socialist ideals.

Over the course of six months last year, Walker learned to speak Kurdish and shoot AK-47 assault rifles. He trained and fought alongside militia units made up of Kurds, Arabs, and young American, Canadian, and European volunteers. He faced Islamic State suicide bombers in battle and helped the YPG as it advanced toward Raqqa, the capital of the extremist group’s self-declared “caliphate.”

In late December, Walker returned to London. There was no welcome home party waiting to greet him. Instead, there were three police officers at the airport who swiftly arrested him. The officers took him into custody, interrogated him, searched his apartment, and confiscated his laptop and notebooks. After risking his life to fight against the Islamic State, Walker was charged under British counterterrorism laws — not directly because of his activities in Syria, but because the police had found in a drawer under his bed a partial copy of the infamous “Anarchist Cookbook,” a DIY explosives guide published in 1971 that has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide.

The case against Walker is highly unusual. He is the first anti-Islamic State fighter to be prosecuted by British authorities under terrorism laws after returning to the U.K., and he appears to be the only person in the country who has ever faced a terror charge merely for owning extracts of the “Anarchist Cookbook.” The authorities have not alleged that he was involved in any kind of terror plot; rather, they claim that because he obtained parts of the “Cookbook” — which is freely available in its entirety on the internet — he collected information “of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.”

Walker is due to go to trial in October, where in the worst-case scenario he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. Until then, he is free on bail, living with his mother and working part time as a kitchen porter in a restaurant. In an interview with The Intercept, he talked in-depth about his experiences in Syria and shared stories about the harrowing scenes he witnessed on the front line, which have profoundly affected his life. He also discussed for the first time the British government’s charges against him, which have not previously been publicized due to court-ordered reporting restrictions that have prevented news organizations in the U.K. from disclosing information about the background of his case. A judge lifted the restrictions late last month.

Josh Walker lights a cigarette in Bristol, England, on June 7, 2017.

Photo: Andrew Testa for The Intercept

The sun is beating down on a hot summer’s day in Bristol, the largest city in southwest England, with a population of about 449,000. Outside a derelict former electronics store on a busy residential street in the St. Werburgh’s area of the city, Josh Walker is waiting. He is thin, about 5 foot 9 with a thick head of wavy, dark brown hair, wearing a faded green T-shirt, black trousers, and sneakers, and carrying a white plastic bag. We walk to a nearby park, where Walker pulls out two cans of cold beer from his bag, lights a cigarette, and begins explaining how he wound up on a journey to fight the Islamic State in Syria.

After leaving high school at age 18 in 2009, Walker had a variety of temporary jobs — he worked in construction, in gardening, and in an office as a volunteer for a politician who would later become the mayor of Bristol. In 2014, he decided to enroll at a university in Aberystwyth in Wales, about 210 miles west of Bristol, and he began studying for a degree in international politics and strategic studies.

As an avid follower of global affairs, Walker had been keeping a close eye on the fallout from the Arab Spring — the democratic uprisings that in late 2010 spread across the Middle East and North Africa. By 2016, the major unrest in most of the countries — like Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, and Egypt — had largely petered out. In Syria, however, the demonstrations evolved into a full-blown civil war and led to the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

What began as protests against the tyrannical leadership of Bashar al-Assad morphed into something far more complex, with a multitude of warring militias fighting one another to gain control of territory across the country. Islamist extremists were quick to capitalize on the chaos. The Islamic State group, which had previously been active primarily in Iraq, entered into the fray and took control of large swaths of Syria through 2013 and 2014, imposing strict Islamic rules and draconian punishments for anyone who disobeyed.

At university, Walker had watched it all unfold and discussed the events with his friends and professors. But he was not content to view the crisis on television as a passive observer. He wanted to help.

“I had enough of talking about history while it was being made,” he recalls. “I couldn’t just let it play out without being involved somehow and without seeing it for myself.”

So he hatched a secret plan to travel to Syria.

Walker was particularly drawn to what was happening in the Rojava region of northern Syria, where the Kurdish-led YPG had seized territory in the summer of 2012. The radical left-leaning group was implementing a “social revolution,” building secular, multiethnic communities that prize gender equality, ecology, and direct democracy.

Walker had read George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia,” which describes the author’s journey to fight in the Spanish Civil War against fascist nationalists in the 1930s. He had also read stories about Welsh miners who — like Orwell and some 3,000 other Brits — traveled to Spain to take up arms against fascism, battling alongside a ragtag coalition of anarchist, socialist, and communist militias.

He was inspired by these tales and saw parallels with what was happening in Rojava. Like the dozens of other young Westerners who have made the treacherous journey to Rojava in recent years, he identified with the progressive society that the YPG was trying to create, and in equal measure, he despised the violent fascism of the Islamic State. “They are the very worst aspects of the state and conservative order,” Walker says. “The militarism, the hierarchy, the repression, the prejudice, the misogyny — all of it rolled up into one in its most imperialist, genocidal form.”

But it was more than just the allure of the YPG’s social experiment and a desire to combat fascism that motivated him. He also felt an affinity for the Kurdish people, who have faced repression across the Middle East for decades, particularly in Turkey, where even teaching children to speak Kurdish remains a hotly contested subject after being banned for the better part of a century. Walker, who was born in Wales, saw some similarities between the plight of the Kurds and that of the Welsh people, whose own language was suppressed in favor of English in some Welsh schools during the latter part of the 19th century.

“There’s something to be said about a mountain-dwelling people with a history of resistance and their own strange language,” Walker says, referencing the Kurdish-Welsh connection. “People who are being shat on look out for each other and help each other out. It’s about solidarity — real solidarity.”

The Lions of Rojava, seen in March 2015, are a multinational troop fighting against the Islamic State in Syria.

Photo: Veronique de Viguerie/Paris Match/Getty Images

In the spring of 2016, Walker contacted a group called the Lions of Rojava, which is affiliated with the YPG and helps recruit foreigners for the fight in Syria.

Walker told the group, through messages sent via its Facebook page, that he wanted to come out and learn about its work. He explained that he had studied military strategy as part of his university coursework and noted that he had read “Democratic Confederalism,” a pamphlet authored by Abdullah Öcalan, one of the founding members of the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Öcalan’s 47-page text — heavily influenced by anarchist and libertarian theory — outlines his vision of a stateless, participatory democracy that is controlled and structured at a grassroots level through voluntary meetings and councils. In Rojava, the YPG has attempted to put Öcalan’s principles into practice, using his pamphlet as a sort of blueprint for its revolution in the region.

The volunteers behind the Lions of Rojava seemed impressed by Walker’s knowledge. At least, they were impressed enough to invite him to travel out to Syria and join them.

At first, Walker was concerned that the British government might try to prevent him from going to the war-torn region. In a bid to avoid any potential online surveillance, he limited his contact with the Rojava Facebook group to only a few messages and restrained himself from performing even the most basic Google searches about, for example, learning to speak Kurdish.

He purchased a ticket to fly from London to Istanbul from one travel agency. From another company, he booked a flight from Istanbul to Sulaymaniyah, a city in northeastern Iraq controlled by a Kurdish socialist party informally allied with the YPG in Rojava.

“The last thing I wanted was for the police to be able to crack down on my family and accuse them of aiding and abetting terrorism.”

Walker told only two of his closest friends about his plans. He kept his parents — who are separated — largely in the dark, telling his mother that he was going to the Middle East to work with refugees and his father that he’d be going to Iraqi Kurdistan to help people fighting against the Islamic State.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone because I didn’t want to be stopped before I could go there,” Walker explains, taking another puff of his cigarette. “The consequences after I went were something else, because I might not make it back, I might die. But if I don’t get there at all, or I end up facing legal trouble or get my passport taken … it just would have made the whole thing a waste of time and caused a whole lot of problems without any real benefit.”

The YPG has proven itself to be a major force against the Islamic State in Syria, playing a key role in seizing the strategically important town of Kobani in early 2015 and now making progress on the outskirts of Raqqa. The group has been backed by the U.S. government, which has bolstered its operations with airstrikes and agreed to provide it with weapons and ammunition.

But Walker was concerned that amid the chaos and uncertainty in Syria, the Western position on the YPG could quickly shift. At the forefront of his mind was the YPG’s loose affiliation with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party — otherwise known as the PKK — which the U.S. and the European Union have designated a terrorist group.

“I was prepared for the possibility that I could end up being deemed a ‘terrorist’ while out there through a change in government policy that perhaps overplayed the YPG’s links to the PKK or bowed to Turkish pressure,” Walker says. “That’s another reason why I didn’t want to tell my parents that I was going out to fight with the YPG. The last thing I wanted was for the police to be able to crack down on my family and accuse them of aiding and abetting terrorism.”

Josh Walker, second left, on the banks of the Euphrates in Syria alongside fellow YPG fighters Andok, Michael Israel, and Anton Leschek.

Photo: Josh Walker

In late June 2016, Walker arrived at the airport in Sulaymaniyah. From there, he made his way to a shopping center in the city, where a contact associated with the Lions of Rojava had arranged for him to be picked up. He was taken to a safe house nearby and met four other foreigners who had also traveled to volunteer with the YPG — a Canadian, two Americans, and a German.

After a couple of days in the safe house, a young Danish-Kurdish YPG fighter named Joanna Palani drove Walker and the other volunteers northwest toward the Syrian border. In the dead of night, they were handed over to people smugglers, who helped lead the group on foot through dry, hilly scrubland filled with spiky bushes. The journey was fraught with risk: The group had to dodge minefields as well as armed patrols organized by the Kurdistan Democratic Party, a right-leaning political party in Iraqi Kurdistan that has been trying to stifle the flow of fighters into Rojava.

The trek took about eight hours in total, and Walker had no water to drink through most of it. At one point, he and some of the other foreigners managed to scoop up some water from the banks of the Tigris River and drink it through a filter. By the time he arrived at his destination in Syria, he was exhausted and dehydrated. “All of us had been doing a lot of exercise and preparation, but still in the conditions it was a very difficult crossing,” Walker recalls.

He was brought along with the other foreign volunteers to a makeshift YPG training academy in northeastern Syria. It was located in the shadow of a mountain, beneath a base that was slightly concealed so it could not be seen from a distance. The living quarters were basic. There was a TV and a shower, a mess hall, and a kitchen for dining. The recruits slept on mats on the floor with pillows that were so hard they were used at one point as makeshift sandbags. “They were like concrete,” Walker says with a laugh.

The training itself lasted about a month. Each day would begin at about 5 a.m. with an hour or so of exercise. There would be breakfast, then several hours of lessons, focusing on history and learning the Kurdish language. Of course, there was also a strong military aspect to the academy, and it was here that Walker learned to shoot an AK-47 for the first time. Occasionally his commanders would stage ambushes, preparing the new recruits for the surprise attacks that they would later endure on the front line against Islamic State fighters.

Walker became close friends with one of the other foreign volunteers — a 24-year-old Canadian named Nazzarino Tassone, known as Naz. Tassone was with Walker from the start of his journey; they had first met at the safe house in Iraq. “Basically, he never fucking shut up,” Walker recalls. “He was very talkative and had very lowbrow humor. He was a little more center-right in his politics, but sympathetic to the Kurdish cause.” Tassone was not so much interested in the academic side of the training as he was the military aspect. He was a gun nut and desperate to get out on the front line.

Before long, he would get his opportunity.

Map: The Intercept

The first time Walker encountered the Islamic State, he was in a farm building in an abandoned village not far from the Tishrin Dam, about 80 miles east of Aleppo. He and Tassone were keeping watch with a sniper rifle and binoculars when they noticed something suspicious. About a mile in the distance, there was a person approaching in an unusually large car. The pair shouted to some of the local Kurdish fighters, who called a commander to prepare an anti-aircraft weapon they could use against the approaching vehicle. Before the commander had arrived, however, Tassone spotted an Islamic State fighter creeping toward their base on foot, and he swiftly fired shots at him. Then “it just went crazy,” Walker says. “ISIS started firing at us, we were firing back. And this is the first time I’ve ever been in this situation.” He was scared, nervous, and lost his focus — before Tassone shouted at him to snap out of it.

He put down the sniper rifle he was holding, picked up a Kalashnikov, and took up a firing position. There was a flurry of gunfire, and amid the frenzy, an Islamic State suicide bomber attempted to drive a truck into the YPG’s position. Luckily, the truck was disabled after one of the Kurdish fighters blasted it with a rocket-propelled grenade. Once the fighting calmed down, Walker’s unit returned to their base, and another YPG unit held the position at the farmhouse.

Walker and Tassone were eventually separated and sent to different units. Walker spent about six weeks on the front line, where he estimates he was involved in about six days of fighting in total. It was his final experience of the conflict that affected him the most.

On November 24, Walker was sent out with several units of fighters to a position in a small town called Arima, between the northern Syrian cities of Manbij and Al Bab. His unit was tasked with guarding a crossing on the eastern side of the town. His team established a base inside a compound that had large red iron doors and two houses within it. They arrived at Arima early in the morning, just as the sun was coming up, and spent the day using machine guns to fend off Islamic State suicide bombers, who were charging at them in cars packed with explosives.

By nightfall, the fighting had paused. Walker and the five other fighters in his unit were taking turns to stand guard and get some sleep. Around midnight, on the roof of one of the buildings in the compound, Walker was woken up by one of the young Arab fighters in his unit, as it was his turn to stand guard. His commander had just returned to the scene in an armored car, and he could hear the loud hum of the engine rumbling in the background.

Then, in a flash, there was a massive explosion that seemed to come out of nowhere. Walker was thrown to the ground, his head smashed forcefully on the edge of the roof. Luckily, he had just put on his helmet, which possibly spared him his life in that instant.

“They say ‘war is hell,’ but I didn’t realize they meant it literally. I saw hell.”

There was a second or two of eerie silence immediately after the explosion, followed by a terrible noise. Walker looked up from his position on the roof, and the young Arab soldier who had awoken him seconds earlier had disappeared and one side of the building had collapsed in on itself. A Turkish fighter jet had bombed their position.

“We would never have been sleeping on the roof if we expected to be bombed,” Walker says. “We were fighting Islamic State. We didn’t think the [Assad] regime would bomb us and didn’t expect the Turks to come so far south.”

Walker tried to compose himself. He looked around but struggled to see beyond a wall of smoke and fire that was surrounding him. Before the YPG had seized the village, the fleeing Islamic State fighters had poisoned all of the water tanks by pouring oil into them. When the airstrikes hit, the blasts burst the water tanks and ignited the oil, creating an inferno. In turn, the fire spread across the YPG’s supplies of ammunition, and there were stray bullets firing off in every direction, crackling like popcorn as they exploded in the heat.

Walker caught sight of Kajin, another young Arab soldier from his unit, who was stumbling around badly injured and confused. Part of his head had caught fire and his eyes were glazed over, but there was still life in him. Walker put out the fire on his head, grabbed his hand, and tried to pull him toward a staircase that led down to the ground, shouting in both Arabic and Kurdish that they had to get out. But before they could get off the roof, one of the stray bullets struck the young fighter in the neck, killing him.

“It was the single worst thing I have ever experienced,” recalls Walker, who looks shaken as he describes the incident. “They say ‘war is hell,’ but I didn’t realize they meant it literally. I saw hell. It was just fire and screaming.”

Somehow, Walker managed to escape with no serious injuries. If the bomb had landed just a few meters closer, he would never have survived. He clambered down the crippled staircase, using a mangled iron handrail to guide himself to the ground. He scrambled across the debris and in the distance heard the sound of his commander’s radio. The commander had not been in the building at the time it was hit. But the rest of the fighters in the unit had disappeared. It later emerged that half of Walker’s unit were killed or injured in the blast. Another YPG squad located about 200 meters away also suffered big losses. Two of Walker’s close friends — an American named Michael Israel and a German called Anton Leschek — had been killed, as had two of the local Kurdish fighters: a female sniper named Sarya and a young male recruit named Mordem.

Josh Walker and his friend Nazzareno Tassone, a Canadian YPG recruit.

Photo: Josh Walker

Walker’s unit was taken out of the village and replaced by another group of fighters. The airstrike had shattered his morale, and he was now left with the grim task of having to identify the disfigured corpses of his friends Israel and Leschek in a nearby hospital. He also had to collect the personal belongings of the deceased pair from the YPG’s base so that they could be returned to their families in their respective countries. And there were funerals to attend for the local Arab and Kurdish fighters who were killed.

The YPG had been pushing toward Raqqa, the Islamic State’s main stronghold in Syria. But now the operation was delayed. The Turkish airstrikes hindered progress. External factors — in particular the outcome of the U.S. election — were also having a direct impact.

Through the transition following the November 8 election of Donald Trump, outgoing Obama officials wanted the incoming Trump administration to sign off on sending the YPG weapons to help with its assault on Raqqa. But the Trump transition team — under the guidance of its then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn — rebuffed the plan.

It later emerged that Flynn had been acting as a paid agent for the Turkish government, which views Kurdish groups as its adversaries and opposes arming them. Flynn resigned in February this year; three months later, the Trump administration finally agreed to begin arming the YPG.

By mid-December last year, Walker was still not back out on the front line. He had returned to a YPG base near the eastern bank of the Euphrates, where he had been reunited with his friend Tassone, the Canadian.

Being back together with Tassone had lifted his spirits somewhat. But he was beginning to contemplate returning to England. Part of him wanted to wait for the Raqqa offensive to begin, but another part of him thought it was time to go home. He had spent nearly six months in Syria, and he had always planned to return home if he made it that long. Tassone was encouraging him to stay for the next big fight, but most of the others at the base were advising him to leave, telling him that he shouldn’t tempt fate one last time.

Walker made the decision to depart and traveled out of Syria toward Iraq. In Sulaymaniyah, he was taken to a safe house where people affiliated with the YPG helped him organize his travel to the U.K. While he was waiting for his flight to be arranged, on Christmas Day, he received some crushing news.

Tassone had returned to the front line and been killed in an Islamic State attack.

Josh Walker photographed in Bristol, England, on June 7, 2017.

Photo: Andrew Testa for The Intercept

As he arrived back at London’s Gatwick Airport, Walker knew something was not quite right.

While he was waiting in line to make his way through passport control, he noticed there were a couple of men wearing suits lingering behind the security barrier, and more police than usual. As soon as he got through the passport gate, Walker was approached by one of the suit-wearing men, who asked him to show his passport again. He was then ushered to the side of the room and introduced to a detective from London’s Metropolitan Police and two detectives from Wales’s extremism and counterterrorism unit — one male, the other female. The female detective read him his rights and told him he was being arrested on suspicion of involvement in the “commission, preparation, or instigation of acts of terrorism.”

In the back of an unmarked police car, Walker was driven about 215 miles west to a police station in Ammanford, Wales, where he spent the night in a cell. The officers confiscated most of the possessions he was traveling with, including his YPG uniform, cellphone, diaries, and notebooks. The following day he was interviewed about his time in Syria. The officers told him they had previously dealt with people returning from the Middle East who were suspected of fighting with the Islamic State, but never anyone who had been fighting against the Islamic State. They asked him basic questions about why he had traveled to Syria and about his military experience there, querying whether he had learned how to make bombs. For Walker, the whole scene was confusing. “I was in shock,” he says. “I didn’t know what was going on. I just kept thinking, ‘I’ve survived … but holy shit, I’ve been arrested.’”

It is estimated that at least 300 Westerners have traveled to the Middle East to fight against the Islamic State, but the treatment they receive when they return home has varied wildly. American fighters who have battled alongside the YPG and other pro-democracy militias have re-entered the U.S. without any difficulties. In Australia, police have questioned and confiscated the passports of returning fighters upon their arrival back into the country. In the Netherlands, the authorities arrested a military veteran on suspicion of murder because he had fought with the YPG in Syria, but later dropped the case after a public outcry. And in Denmark, the authorities served a YPG fighter who returned from Syria with a travel ban, and took her into custody after she violated it.

He nearly died fighting Islamic State terrorists, but now he too is being treated as if he were a terrorist.

British authorities’ treatment of fighters returning from Syria and Iraq in recent years has been highly inconsistent. In April 2016, the issue was the focus of a debate in the British Parliament. Robert Jenrick, a Conservative member of Parliament, said during the discussion that he had personally been in contact with the families of 20 British anti-Islamic State fighters. Two of the 20, he said, had been arrested under the Terrorism Act; four were questioned but not arrested; and 14 came and went at will, unquestioned. In several publicly reported cases in the U.K., returning fighters have been arrested or questioned but then not charged. That is what makes Walker’s case particularly unusual.

After his initial interrogation, Walker was released on bail and he was not charged with committing any crimes. But that changed after police searched his apartment in Aberystwyth and found extracts from the “Anarchist Cookbook” in one of his drawers. They subsequently charged him under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act, which states that it is a crime to collect, make a record of, or possess a document containing “information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.”

Walker says that he downloaded an extract of the “Cookbook” while at university, where much of his time was spent learning about the military, intelligence agencies, and counterterrorism. He participated in a role-playing group called the Crisis Games Society, which organized simulations of major political or security crises in an effort to educate students about decision-making in emergency situations. On one occasion, Walker took part in a game in which one team of students performed the role of the security services, and another team played the part of terrorists plotting an attack; the groups were separated in different rooms and had to try to outwit each other. They used the “Anarchist Cookbook” as part of their research for the terrorist aspect.

Through his trial, which will be held in October, Walker’s legal team is likely to argue that he had a “reasonable excuse,” on academic grounds, for his possession of the “Cookbook.” Walker says fellow students have provided witness statements that back up his explanation, and he is confident that he will eventually be exonerated. But still, he is struggling to come to terms with the strange irony of the predicament he has found himself in. He nearly died fighting against Islamic State terrorists, but now he too is being treated as if he were a terrorist.

Josh Walker photographed in Bristol, England, on June 7, 2017.

Photo: Andrew Testa for The Intercept

In mid-May in London, Walker had an early morning hearing at the Old Bailey court, which handles serious criminal cases. He turned up looking tired and scruffy in a black suit jacket, blue shirt, black trousers, and white sneakers. His hearing was scheduled between two others — one involving an accused rapist, and another involving a group of three suspected Islamist extremists who were allegedly preparing to carry out a terrorist attack.

The night before, Walker had struggled to sleep. He had a nightmare about a Turkish jet bombing his father’s house with all his friends sleeping inside, reminiscent of the incident he had experienced in Syria. “It was the most vivid dream I’ve had in a long time,” he says. “My body felt the same. The sounds were the same.”

The horror he witnessed, unsurprisingly, has changed his life. He now gets anxious when passenger jets fly overhead, and he is haunted by flashbacks. On one recent afternoon, he was cleaning the kitchen of the restaurant in Bristol where he has been working part time when he smelled some burned blood from one of the pots or pans that had been used to cook meat. It took him right back to the hospital morgue, where he had to identify the disfigured corpses of his friends Israel and Leschek. He had to quickly leave the kitchen and step outside to get away from the smell.

Many of the friends Walker made in Syria are still there — alive and well — and continuing the fight. Walker is reluctant to be in the spotlight, but he hopes media attention on his case can help educate people about the YPG and its plight in Rojava. “I’m not really that important in all of this,” he says. “There are other people still over there.”

In the short term, pending the outcome of the government’s case against him, he plans to re-enroll in university and complete his studies. He also intends to return to Syria one day, when the war is over, to help rebuild the country. “Sometimes I do still have a bit of a taste for a good fight against some bad fascists,” he says with a wry smile. “Winning a battle — people trying to kill you and failing — it’s an amazing feeling. I miss it in a lot of ways.” He pauses, taking a deep breath. “At same time, I know I’m lucky,” he adds. “I rolled a six on a dice, and I managed to survive.”

Top photo: Josh Walker photographed in Bristol, England, on June 7, 2017.

The post Josh Walker Fought Against ISIS. He Almost Got Killed. Now He’s Charged With Terrorism. appeared first on The Intercept.

Apoiada pela grande imprensa, reforma trabalhista reduzirá o poder do trabalhador

9 July 2017 - 9:42am

Depois de viajar pelo mundo ostentando apoio maciço do Congresso e dizendo fazer parte de um governo semi-parlamentarista, Temer tem visto sua base parlamentar derreter e ensaiar largá-lo ferido na estrada. O presidente é descartável e seu eventual sucessor, Rodrigo Maia, pode muito bem comandar uma das grandes missões patrocinada pela grande mídia e pelo alto empresariado: a reforma trabalhista.

Com a popularidade batendo nos calcanhares e a lama ultrapassando o pescoço, Temer passou a ser um empecilho para os que têm pressa em aprovar uma reforma que também não conta com o apoio da população. Além das pesquisas indicarem que a maioria é contra, o Senado abriu uma consulta pública para saber se o os brasileiros aprovam a alteração da CLT. O resultado até aqui é avassalador: 15 mil são a favor, enquanto quase 170 mil são contra. Mas a falta de apoio popular nunca será um problema para quem destituiu uma presidenta eleita e implantou um plano de governo rejeitado nas urnas. O compromisso da turma do Grande Acordo Nacional é com os setores que patrocinaram o impeachment. O compromisso da turma do Grande Acordo Nacional é com os setores que patrocinaram o impeachment.   

Vendida como uma modernização do trabalho e a única solução para o aumento da oferta de empregos, a reforma foi desenhada unicamente para atender aos interesses dos empresários. Em vez de buscar maior equilíbrio nas relações de poder entre patrão e funcionário, a mudança irá enfraquecer ainda mais a ponta fraca da corda. Apesar de ser uma reforma que altera profundamente as relações de trabalho no país, nenhuma entidade representativa dos trabalhadores participou da elaboração das propostas, o que é inconcebível em um país que se pretende democrático. Boa parte delas foram redigidas por lobistas de bancos, indústrias e transportes.

Uma das principais justificativas para dar força de lei aos acordos diretos entre patrões e funcionários seria o fato do “Brasil ser campeão mundial de ações trabalhistas”. A complexidade da atual legislação trabalhista levaria muita gente a encontrar brechas para processar o empregador. A liderança do Brasil nesse campeonato mundial fictício já esteve no relatório da proposta de reforma trabalhista da Câmara, foi notícia na Band, na Globo, na Record, no Estadão. Acontece que essa é uma falácia que acabou virando senso comum de tanto que se martelou na cabeça dos brasileiros ao longo dos últimos anos. Em recente artigo para o Jota, o especialista em Direito do Trabalho, Cássio Casagrande, desmontou ponto a ponto a cantilena e demonstrou que ela não possui base alguma na realidade. Casagrande se debruça também sobre uma frase proferida em uma conferência em Londres pelo ministro do STF, Luis Roberto Barroso: “A gente na vida tem que trabalhar com fatos e não com escolhas ideológicas prévias. O Brasil, sozinho, tem 98% das ações trabalhistas do mundo.” O número é irreal, não está baseado em nenhum estudo ou pesquisa e, ironicamente, parece ser fruto de uma escolha ideológica prévia do ministro.

No mês passado, um estudo da Repórter Brasil revelou o apoio maciço das grandes empresas de comunicação à reforma trabalhista. A conclusão é de que há pouquíssimo espaço – ou mesmo nenhum – para opiniões contrárias:

“O Jornal da Record foi o menos crítico à proposta apresentada pelo governo, com 100% das reportagens favoráveis. O Globo foi o segundo mais alinhado, com 88% do conteúdo suportando o que defende o Palácio do Planalto. Em seguida, aparecem o Jornal Nacional (77%) e O Estado de S.Paulo (68%). A Folha de S.Paulo (42%) destoou dos outros veículos, já que criticou a proposta em mais de metade dos seus textos.”

O fato do Jornal da Record não disponibilizar sequer um segundo para as críticas à reforma não chega a ser motivo para espanto, já que a empresa é da propriedade do empresário-pastor Edir Macedo, o controlador oculto do PRB, um importante partido da base governista.

O SBT não entrou na análise da Repórter Brasil, mas vem cumprindo com louvor o seu papel de cão de guarda das elites. Logo no dia seguinte a um encontro entre Temer e o empresário Sílvio Santos, a emissora usou da concessão pública para promover as reformas, como se elas fossem um produto Jequiti. Com inserções inesperadas no meio da programação, a empresa veiculou mensagens terroristas como: “Você sabe que, se não for feita a Reforma Trabalhista, você pode deixar de receber o seu salário?”

(Foto: Reprodução/Instagram)

Mas o dono do Baú foi com muita sede ao pote ao utilizar uma concessão pública para defender seus próprios interesses. O SBT foi alvo de um inquérito do Ministério Público do Trabalho que constatou que a emissora estava exibindo “chamadas publicitárias com informações duvidosas sobre o tema”. A procuradora Renata Coelho, responsável pelo inquérito, afirma que “trata-se de propaganda possivelmente sem base fática ou documental, que não exprimiria opinião, mas sim afirmativa que sem a aprovação das reformas o país estará quebrado e o trabalhador ficaria sem salário”. A empresa assinou um termo de compromisso com MPT prometendo veicular mensagens educativas sobre a reforma.

Os colunistões mais prestigiados pelas empresas de comunicação também são unânimes na importância da reforma e repetem incansavelmente que essa é a única saída para a crise econômica. Merval, Sardenberg, Miriam Leitão e Reinaldo Azevedo puxam a fila e ajudam a empurrar goela abaixo da população uma narrativa única.

Por mais que a expressão cause horror, o que vemos é a luta de classes na sua essência. O topo da pirâmide, na ânsia de não querer perder seus privilégios com a crise, coloca todas suas armas na mesa, enquanto a base resiste para não perder direitos conquistados a duras penas. Nesse conflito desigual de interesses, reforma trabalhista tirará o estilingue de Davi e entregará uma metralhadora para Golias. Mas a realidade é dura e o desfecho certamente não será bíblico.

The post Apoiada pela grande imprensa, reforma trabalhista reduzirá o poder do trabalhador appeared first on The Intercept.

Donald Trump Can’t Decide If He’s Destroying, Cutting or Boosting Entitlements

9 July 2017 - 8:00am

Maybe you thought that when Donald Trump was running for president and promised not to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, he meant he’d refuse to reduce the benefits Americans are entitled to under the three programs.

It looks more and more like that wasn’t true at all.

Trump stood out from the rest of the Republican pack for his explicit, repeated pledges not to cut entitlements. Here’s what he tweeted in May 2015 before he was officially a candidate:

I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid. Huckabee copied me.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 7, 2015

Likewise, in his campaign kickoff speech the next month at Trump Tower, Trump proclaimed that he would “save Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security without cuts.”

But what was Trump actually saying?

Most Trump voters, and most Americans, surely assumed that he meant that he would refuse to cut the promised benefits under all three programs.

For instance, someone born in 1970, who made an average of $60,000 per year, and retires in 2037 at age 67 is scheduled to receive a bit under $2,000 in Social Security benefits per month.

During the campaign it seemed clear Trump meant he wouldn’t cut those $2,000 in benefits. As he put it, “I’m not going to cut [Social Security] at all; I’m going to bring money in, and we’re going to save it.” (This was not a reckless claim by any means; increasing Social Security revenue to meet promised benefits would be simple and relatively painless.)

But that was then, and this is now.

Recent statements by both Trump and his White House have made clear that he only considers a program to have been “cut” if the overall, absolute level of spending on the program goes down.

Here’s how Trump explained it on Twitter, talking about the fate of Medicaid under the Senate GOP’s Better Care Reconciliation Act:

Democrats purposely misstated Medicaid under new Senate bill – actually goes up.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2017

Meanwhile, a White House blog post made the same case at greater length. We need to “break the beltway mentality,” it said, because “only in Washington would anyone have the nerve to claim an 18 percent increase in government spending on top of inflation is a ‘cut.’”

Graphic: White House website

It is true that under the GOP’s Senate bill that federal spending on Medicaid would go up from $393 billion this year to $458 billion in 2026.

The problem is that it’s projected to require $616 billion in 2026 to pay for current promised Medicaid benefits (including nursing home care, for which Medicaid is the primary source of funding). So spending just $458 billion that year would require cutting those promised benefits by about 26 percent.

The reason Medicaid spending is set to increase so much isn’t because it’s a profligate program that blows wads of cash on solid-gold ventilators. In fact, Medicaid is notoriously frugal. The projected increase in costs is driven by the aging of the U.S. population and an anticipated expansion of Medicaid in additional states.

And logically, Trump’s definition of what it means to “cut” Medicaid applies in exactly the same way to Social Security and Medicare.

The Congressional Budget Office currently projects that spending on Social Security’s Old Age and Survivors Insurance will increase from $762 billion in 2016 to $1,371 billion in 2026. This will happen, again, not because Social Security is so incredibly generous but because there will be many more Americans eligible to receive it. But if Trump signed a bill cutting Social Security benefits by the same amount as the Senate wants to cut Medicaid by 2026 — 26 percent — we would still be spending over $1 trillion on Social Security in 2026, far more than today.

The same goes for Medicare. The federal government spent $588 billion on it in 2016, but projects that it will need $1079 billion to cover it in 2026. This will be due both to the aging of the U.S. population and increasing healthcare costs. That could be cut by 26 percent in 2026 and still be far more than it costs now.

According to Trump the candidate, cuts of these magnitude would be catastrophic. The people on the other end of those cuts would undoubtedly agree.

The White House did not respond to a request for clarification about whether Trump’s perspective on cutting entitlement programs does in fact apply beyond Medicaid.

However, Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, was willing to address the issue. “The reality for Social Security beneficiaries receiving a smaller social security check,” says Richtman, “or seniors paying more for Medicare than under current law, is a painfully obvious cut and would be contrary to President Trump’s repeated campaign promises.”

The quickest way to unveil the gimmick at work here is to look at how Trump has talked about Social Security from a different angle. The CBO projects that the program’s reserve fund will only last until 2029, after which it could only pay out what it took in in taxes — now estimated to be about 71 percent of benefits owed. (Of course, any Congress that allowed that to happen would be thrown out of office en masse.) Trump in his first official speech, had a word for what the program would look like if that 71 percent were delivered: “destroyed.”

But even at 71 percent, total, absolute benefits paid out in 2037 would be higher nominally than they are now in 2017. The new Trump would look at that same destruction and see a generous boost.

Top photo: A small group of activists rally against the GOP health care plan outside of the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York City on July 5, 2017.

The post Donald Trump Can’t Decide If He’s Destroying, Cutting or Boosting Entitlements appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Treasury Ripped Its Tax Cut Recommendations Straight From The Chamber Of Commerce

8 July 2017 - 1:30pm

Treasury Department recommendations for tax regulatory changes released Friday are almost entirely copied from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce memo on the same subject.

The five-page notice, released by the Internal Revenue Service, complies with Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13789, issued April 21. This order mandated a review of all tax regulations finalized since 2016. The interim report was to identify those regulations that imposed an “undue financial burden” on taxpayers, added “undue complexity” to the tax code, or exceeded the IRS’ regulatory authority.

The interim report was due June 20; Treasury did not release the notice publicly until seventeen days later. Delays like this have become a typical feature of federal agencies’ compliance with Trump executive orders.

The tardiness of the Treasury report looks even worse considering one additional factor: in May, the Chamber of Commerce released their own report, highlighting tax regulations they believed created significant burdens and complexities. Treasury treated this report the way a kid who didn’t prepare for a test in school would treat the smart kid’s answer sheet the next desk over.

The kid they cribbed from is more than just the class nerd. The Chamber of Commerce fronts as an organization pushing the broader interests of American business. But in reality, it is a gun for hire, advocating on behalf of individual companies who make largely secret contributions to the organization. It’s unlikely any of the Chamber’s recommendations wound up on that list free of charge.

Of the eight tax regulations cited in the IRS notice, seven of them were identified in the Chamber of Commerce report, a fact first noted by Richard Rubin of the Wall Street Journal. Moreover, they are not the kinds of tax changes from which the average Trump voter would benefit. Rescinding these regulations would make it easier for cities to issue tax-exempt municipal bonds; open a loophole allowing tax-free transfers of property, including intellectual property, to foreign corporations (a favorite way to dodge U.S. taxes); allow partnerships to move around debt instruments; give foreign exchange traders a better chance to take losses from currency sales; let large estates discount assets to lower their estate and gift tax burden; and stop the IRS from retaining outside experts to participate in audits. This last move would be a major boon to taxpayers, such as corporations, who file inordinately complex tax returns. The IRS often contracts with experts to audit such filings, as budget cuts have rendered the task difficult to do internally.

In short, the beneficiaries are all business owners, financiers, and wealthy individuals.

The biggest change would be to a rule aimed at preventing corporate tax avoidance through “inversions,” where a U.S. company merges with an overseas competitor and shifts its headquarters’ address to the foreign country, lowering its tax rate in the process. Under section 385 of the tax code, the rule tries to stop “earnings stripping,” where the company makes internal loans to load up U.S. operations with debt. This gives the impression of corporate losses at the indebted U.S. operations, while the assets in the foreign subsidiary are subject only to the lower tax rate of the foreign country.

The Obama-era earnings stripping rule would have reduced the value of any tax benefits derived from inter-company loans. Rescinding the rule was a high priority of the Chamber of Commerce, who argued that it disrupted “normal business practices.”

The only tax regulation the IRS included in its report that the Chamber did not identify concerned corporate transfers of property into tax-sheltered real estate investment trusts (REITs), another tax avoidance tactic used by businesses and particularly real estate developers. Famously, the president has a real estate business. 

Basing tax and regulatory policy on industry wishes is nothing new for the Trump administration. Treasury’s first report recommending changes to the financial regulatory system cited 244 different banking industry groups, and included entire sections cribbed from trade groups and industry-friendly think tanks.

Caroline Harris, vice president of tax policy for the Chamber of Commerce, told the Wall Street Journal that the rules Treasury highlighted “are some of the most burdensome to the business community, and we applaud Treasury’s recognition for the need for action on them.”

These tax regulations can all be rescinded through the regulatory process, without legislation from Congress. Two of the regulations, the estate tax and tax-exempt municipal bonds changes, haven’t taken effect yet, so they would be simpler to withdraw. The others would need to go through a lengthier notice-and-comment rulemaking process that could take a year or more.

“Treasury intends to propose reforms—potentially ranging from streamlining problematic rule provisions to full repeal,” according to the IRS notice. Those proposals are due in a report to the president by September 18. The agency is requesting public comments on whether to rescind or modify these rules, due by August 7. Commenters can email, with “Notice 2017-38” in the subject line.

You can check the Trump administration’s record on complying with executive orders and memoranda at our interactive tracker.

The post Trump Treasury Ripped Its Tax Cut Recommendations Straight From The Chamber Of Commerce appeared first on The Intercept.

It Gets Worse: Ivanka Trump Takes Her Father’s Seat in Meeting of World Leaders

8 July 2017 - 12:06pm

When President Donald Trump decided on Saturday to skip part of a discussion about what the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies could do to help Africans improve their lives at home — rather than risk them by migrating to Europe — there was no shortage of cabinet members who could have taken his seat between China’s President, Xi Jinping, and the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Theresa May.

The American delegation to the Group of 20 conference in Hamburg, Germany includes Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is fourth in line for the presidency, as well as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

That Trump chose, instead, to seat his daughter, Ivanka, alongside the other 19 heads of state, was perhaps the most stunning illustration to date that he sees a complete lack of experience in affairs of state as no barrier at all to treating her as his de facto vice president.

I understand Ivanka Trump is sitting at the #G20 leaders table this morning instead of US President Donald Trump.

Source: "Incredible!!!"

— Alberto Nardelli (@AlbertoNardelli) July 8, 2017

The first daughter’s presence at the main table was confirmed in a photograph shared on Twitter — and later deleted from the social network — by Svetlana Lukash, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s representative to the G20.

The image shows that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s President Recip Tayyip Erdogan were seated close by during the first daughter’s cameo.

A White House official tried to play down the incident, telling Agence France-Presse that Ivanka had just “briefly joined the main table when the President had to step out.”

However, an official who was in the room told Bloomberg News that she had taken Trump’s place on at least two separate occasions.

Merkel, who somehow managed to get elected Germany’s leader despite not being an heiress, played down the incident when asked about it later.

"She works at the White House & is engaged in certain initiatives" – Angela Merkel on Ivanka Trump at leaders' table

— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) July 8, 2017

American observers, however, were less willing to overlook the implications of the blatant nepotism.

I didn't vote for Ivanka. Neither did anyone. This is not how women of integrity want to see women represented in politics. This is corrupt

— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) July 8, 2017

When @IvankaTrump puts herself in meetings w/ heads of state she embarrasses professional women in public service, our democracy & herself.

— Carrie Cordero (@carriecordero) July 8, 2017

Trump's style is more Uzbek…that of an authoritarian backwater, not a superpower

— Anne Applebaum (@anneapplebaum) July 8, 2017

This kind of thing happens all the time. In dictatorships.

— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) July 8, 2017

This could not conceivably have happened in any previous admin.
(VP / SecState / SecTreas / SecDef / Ambass etc would take that chair)

— James Fallows (@JamesFallows) July 8, 2017

Had Michelle Obama (more qualified than Ivanka) filled Barack's seat at the G-20, the media and the GOP would be calling for impeachment.

— Terrell J. Starr (@Russian_Starr) July 8, 2017

Ivanka sitting in for Trump at G20 reminds us that day by day, Trunm is eroding our democracy and turning it into a nepotistic monarchy.

— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) July 8, 2017

Some of the Trump family’s defenders mistakenly suggested that the image had been taken at another G-20 event held the same day which Ivanka Trump had attended by invitation — the launch of a new World Bank fund to support women entrepreneurs, where she sat between Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank President, and Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund.

Minister Freeland moderates the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative panel at the #G20 in #Hamburg #WeFi

— Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) July 8, 2017

President Trump and Chancellor Merkel attended that event, as seen in video shared by Ruptly, a news agency owned by the Russian government.

Merkel and Trump join Ivanka Trump at #G20 panel on female entrepreneurship

— Ruptly (@Ruptly) July 8, 2017

When the president later addressed the gathering, he read from prepared remarks, “I’m very proud of my daughter Ivanka.” He then looked up and suggested in an ad-lib that his pride apparently has less to do with any of her accomplishments than her mere existence. “Always have been — from day one, I have to tell you that, from day one, she’s always been great. A champion, she’s a champion.”

The man who inherited his own fortune then added, with no apparent sense of irony, “If she weren’t my daughter, it’d be so much easier for her.”

Trump praises his daughter Ivanka, who sat in for him at a G20 meeting: "If she weren't my daughter it'd be so much easier for her."

— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) July 8, 2017

The post It Gets Worse: Ivanka Trump Takes Her Father’s Seat in Meeting of World Leaders appeared first on The Intercept.

“Show Me Your Papers” Becomes “Open Your Eyes” as Border Sheriffs Expand Iris Surveillance

8 July 2017 - 8:10am

Since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has found little funding for his “big, beautiful wall.” In the meantime, however, another acquisition promised to deter unauthorized immigrants is coming to the border: iris recognition devices. Thirty-one sheriffs, representing every county along the U.S.-Mexico border, voted unanimously on April 3 to adopt tools that will capture, catalogue, and compare individuals’ iris data, for use both in jails and out on patrol. Biometric Intelligence and Identification Technologies, the company behind the push, has offered the sheriffs a free three-year trial, citing law enforcement’s difficulties in identifying unauthorized immigrants whose fingerprints can be disfigured through manual labor or self-inflicted wounds.

Iris recognition is just the latest surveillance technology helping fortify what the White House hopes will make up a “digital wall,” a concept that many border sheriffs view as less intrusive than Trump’s envisioned 30-foot barricade stretching from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California. For law enforcement, the tool promises to help identify people without reliable fingerprints and to deter repeat border crossers. And for Biometric Intelligence and Identification Technologies, which frequently goes by BI2, rapid border expansion means its existing national iris database will receive a huge influx of biometric information on unauthorized immigrants, boosting its product’s capabilities to potential law enforcement clients across the country.

While this high-tech approach to immigration enforcement has not generated anything close to the controversy of Trump’s proposed wall, the campaign to expand iris scan collection on the border is of a piece with the president’s denunciations of Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.

According to John Leonard, senior vice president of BI2, the company’s decision to give away this technology was, in part, motivated by law enforcement’s alleged struggles with violent unauthorized immigrants. “The frustration law enforcement has is this: ‘Alright, I got this criminal, the guy raped three kids. He’s back in my community again. I don’t even know who he is, and the federal government has never given me what I need,'” Leonard said during a video call with The Intercept.

“You get all these people that say, ‘Well Trump is going after all these illegals, these immigrants, who have made America great.’ Well there’s a lot of immigrants that have made it great, but there’s a lot of assholes, too,” he said. “So BI2 is stepping up to the plate and donating this.”

John Leonard, senior vice president of Biometric Intelligence and Identification Technologies.

Photo: Casey Mozingo/News-Argus

In the coming months, BI2’s iris recognition devices will be installed in every sheriff’s department along the U.S.-Mexico border. Each department will receive both a stationary iris capture device for inmate intake facilities and, eventually, a mobile version, according to Sheriff Joe Frank Martinez of Val Verde County, Texas, who currently serves as the president of the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition.

The technology works by taking a high-resolution image of a person’s iris with a special infrared illumination camera, and then creating an individualized iris template based on that image. The templates exploit nearly 240 unique characteristic elements in the iris, compared to the 40 to 60 used for fingerprints, resulting in far fewer false matches. To make an identification, BI2’s iris recognition program compares an individual’s iris against the over 987,000 iris scans held in its private database, which collects images from over 180 law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide.

In May, I traveled to Wayne County, North Carolina, to observe the sheriff’s department’s new BI2 iris unit in action. Sgt. Delbert Edwards, an older man in gray, stood at his computer terminal, instructing me to step about eight inches away from a small black lens mounted on a counter. Three red lights flashed in my left eye, then a blue one. Edwards beckoned me to tilt my head back, and suddenly, a green dot popped onto the screen. The camera reflexively tilted upward, having taken what it needed from me. “Right, there you go, perfect,” Edwards said, glancing at a window on his screen where black and white images of my disembodied eyes stared back at him.

Edwards then watched as a green bar zipped back and forth under the iris image, checking against an inmate he picked at random and against hundreds of thousands of other irises captured from inmates across the country. After 20 seconds a message appeared: “Individual was not verified, and the irises didn’t match anybody else.” Behind the message was an image of the county inmate Edwards tested my iris against. On the screen, I could see a woman with brown hair, an orange jumpsuit, and a blank stare.

After scanning the iris, an image appears on the Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System for comparison in a central database.

Photo: Barry Chin/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Sheriff Omar Lucio of Cameron County, Texas, is a big fan of BI2’s iris system. He will be one of the first border sheriffs using it. When I met Lucio in April, the white-haired sheriff sported a dark brown uniform with a cross of gold buttons and a shiny badge over his heart. Above his old-school mustache, his eyes twinkled as he praised the coming iris installation.

“The wall is not going to prevent it. Technology is the way to go,” Lucio said, referring to unauthorized immigration. “It’s not unusual for people caught illegally from Mexico to give fake names and date of births. But it doesn’t matter what you use if we have your features — your iris, your fingerprints. You can use a hundred different names. We still can say, ‘This is the guy.’”

Martinez, the head of the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition, hopes that the mobile version of BI2’s iris scanners will help his deputies when out in the field along the border in Val Verde County. “Let’s say you have an individual who doesn’t want to identify himself. If he’s not suspected of anything, without this tool, we would let him go,” Martinez said in a phone call with The Intercept. “But if we are able to get the iris scanned out in the field, having some probable cause to do so, we can find out if there’s something on him.”

The templates generated from iris images taken with BI2’s mobile application can be compared against hundreds of thousands of other iris templates in just under 20 seconds. The scans are also automatically saved into BI2’s national database, BI2’s Leonard confirmed in an email to The Intercept. Leonard, however, cautioned that ambient light could in some cases interfere with the capture process outdoors.

Giving law enforcement the ability to check and collect people’s irises for criminal history and, in effect, their citizenship information during stops could lead to racial profiling, said Nathan Wessler, staff attorney with the Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “In this country, we’ve long resisted being a ‘show me your papers’ society, but this moves us to that because you increasingly can’t avoid your identity being scooped up in public,” Wessler told The Intercept. “Racial profiling is a serious concern, especially Latinos or people of color are at greater risk for iris checks simply for the color of their skin.”

The 31 border counties’ acquisition of these tools will also help rapidly build up BI2’s private iris database. At present, the database is housed by a third-party vendor in an undisclosed location in San Antonio, Texas, and in three other disaster backup facilities. The database is the largest of its kind in North America, according to Leonard.

The bigger the database, the more valuable it becomes to law enforcement. “If he doesn’t have any criminal record before, you don’t have anything. But once we do this” — scan the iris — “we’re going to have that record. We’re enrolling and you’re going to be there,” said Lucio, the Cameron County sheriff, of a hypothetical detainee. “When he’s arrested, even if he gave you a fake name at the beginning, he’s not going to fool anybody because his record is there.”

Adam Schwartz, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s civil liberties team, said local law enforcement should not be collecting biometric data to help federal immigration agencies, like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “Just because you are walking in a border town and a cop says, ‘Hey, can I talk to you?’ you have no diminished expectations of privacy, and your biometrics should not be collected,” Schwartz told The Intercept. “Whatever legitimate interest police have in capturing biometrics to do ordinary law enforcement jobs, it is not proper to share that information with ICE.” Currently, ICE has direct access to many law enforcement databases.

Lucio acknowledged such technological improvements will put unauthorized immigrants at far greater risk for prison time. “No question about it. Some people have been arrested and they’re coming from across or from another county, so not going to give you any kind of a name,” Lucio said. “They know if you’re arrested a second time, it’s a federal crime” — referring to the stiff federal charges for immigrants caught re-entering the country without authorization.

Kelly Lytle Hernandez, an associate professor in the University of California, Los Angeles’s history department, argues the legal consequences of this development tie in to a much larger story about the U.S.-Mexico border. “It’s particularly interesting that this technology is being sold as a way to identify ‘chronic offenders’ of unauthorized re-entry, a crime that was invented in 1929 by Coleman Livingston Blease, a white supremacist senator from South Carolina who wanted to control the in-flow of Mexicans,” Hernandez said in an interview. “Any technology promising to ratchet up unauthorized re-entry charges is obviously wrapped up in that history.”

People walk on the international bridge at the U.S-Mexico border in Nuevo Laredo, in northern Mexico, on Feb. 22, 2017.

Photo: Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty Images

BI2’s expansionary push along the border comes on the heels of new business opportunities presented by Trump’s immigration enforcement push. On April 12, the Southwestern Border Sheriff’s Coalition, the group BI2 is partnering with in its three-year iris scan pilot program, requested a grant of $750,000 from the Department of Justice to “improve and expand the biometric identification capabilities of the 31 sheriff’s offices along the U.S. and Mexico border.” In a phone call, Leonard told The Intercept that such grant negotiations are “strictly between the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the sheriffs,” adding, “It’s their money and they can allocate it as they propose.”

However, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, a week after the sheriffs’ grant request was issued, Susan Richmond Johnson, a lobbyist with John Ashcroft’s TAG Holdings, attempted to set up meetings about the request with Danielle Cutrona, a senior adviser to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and some sheriffs. Johnson hoped to bring BI2 president Sean Mullin into an eventual follow-up meeting, according to the source, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on the matter and feared professional reprisal. TAG Holdings is an investor in BI2 and Johnson was an adviser to Ashcroft when he was attorney general during the Bush administration. Neither Johnson nor Mullin responded to The Intercept’s requests for comment.

Leonard did not confirm if any such follow-up took place. While some border sheriffs had a call with Justice Department officials about the grant request in the final week of May, he said, “We as a vendor are not able to listen in.”

Over the last 12 years years, BI2’s introduction of iris technology into law enforcement departments across the country has been gradual. In contrast to other countries, especially in the developing world, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. have far less incentive to switch to iris identification because so much fingerprinting infrastructure already exists. “Other countries are developing from the ground up, so iris is appealing because it is considered one of the most accurate and stable biometrics across time,” said Clare Garvie, a fellow at the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law, in a phone call with The Intercept. “Here, we have legacy databases of faces and fingerprints, so the cost and time to deploy those biometric systems is much lower and more appealing.”

The long-standing use of other biometric systems in law enforcement circles has meant that private sector companies like BI2 play a large role in pushing iris identification infrastructure. Law enforcement officials say they don’t worry about the security of the biometric data they collect because BI2 is in charge of holding it for them. “The data is on the server, which is managed by BI2, so we don’t have to manage any data of that sort,” said Binit Nagori, an IT staffer at the Washington, D.C., Department of Corrections. “Our officers just scan it and send it to them. We do not worry about the data. I believe BI2 has the data in a national database.”

Schwartz, the EFF lawyer, worries that law enforcement agencies are not doing enough to ensure residents’ sensitive data is protected. “If the government is saying we just capture the data, push a button, and vendor takes care of it, that is wholly inadequate,” he said. “Every time the data is stored or transmitted there is a risk of breach. And, unlike an address or social security number, you can’t change your iris. So if the government is going to purchase tools from vendors that amass biometric data, it is necessary that they employ privacy officers who know how to prevent security breaches and move the data securely.”

This private sector leadership in the adoption of iris tools, however, means that BI2 enjoys far more access to and control over criminal justice data than one might expect. Sitting in his cabin in North Carolina, Leonard shared a screen with me and used BI2’s interface to log into two law enforcement databases — one in Washington, D.C., and the other in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana.

“Give me the last name of anybody you think might be in the jail,” Leonard instructed me while he was logged into the D.C. Department of Corrections database.

“Garcia,” I said.

He typed in the name Garcia, and a list of inmates popped up, one of whom he selected at random. A new screen then appeared showing the mug shot of a man whose race category was labeled “H.” Next to this image, on my screen, I could also see fields for his social security number, date of birth, gender, booking number, and a few other categories, which, for other mugshots, were filled out but left blank on this entry. Leonard moved on to pick another inmate to show me how iris verification would work.

Leonard clicked on another inmate. “He’s a white guy, OK, he’s one of the only white guys I could find basically,” said Leonard, who then scanned his own eyes, adding them to the program. After about 20 seconds, gray images of Leonard’s eyes disappeared from my screen and a message popped up noting that his irises did not match those of the inmate. The message said the user on the system could click to see the real identity of the irises. Leonard then clicked through and an image of him, sitting in his cabin wearing a hoodie, appeared on the screen.

“This is why it would be important on the border,” Leonard said. “Because as you build, people lie all the time.”

Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio speaks to the media at a conference on July 20, 2016, in Brownsville, Texas.

Photo: Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald/AP

Much like Trump on the campaign trail, BI2 and some border sheriffs highlight notorious stories of violent criminal immigrants to argue for iris identification. During my visit to Cameron County, for example, Lucio mentioned the story of Angel Maturino Resendiz, a serial killer from Mexico who was executed by Texas in 2006.

“I’ll give you a true story that happened with an individual that was from Mexico, so you know about it. He was called the railroad rapist, or killer, OK?” said Lucio, who paused, unable to remember the story exactly. Beckoning to a nearby deputy to remind him of the character, Lucio continued, “Rodriguez was known as the railroad killer, Mike, or rapist?” The deputy leaned in close to his ear and told him the character’s real name.

“Yeah, it was Resendiz, wasn’t it?” Lucio said, now confident in his recollection. “This guy was from Mexico, a young guy, and he used to ride the railroads. And he would go to a place or city or what have you, and he would probably rape somebody or kill. So he was picked up several times, but he would give a false name and then he would be released, so by the time we get the information … the individual would be released, cross here, take off, and go back to Mexico and come back again. I think he killed about three or four people like that.”

Leonard showed me two images of a dark-skinned, middle-aged man with a buzz cut in an orange and gray jumpsuit. Under each mug shot was a different Hispanic or Latino name, and above each was a small thumbnail of a hand with crimson splotches cut across his fingertips.

“Now it’s obvious looking at the two people that this is the same guy, no question about that,” Leonard continued, scrolling his mouse between the two images of the inmate. “But he had surgically cut his fingerprints off — literally had them cut off by a doctor in the Dominican Republic, where’s he’s from,” Leonard said. “This guy was wanted on seven counts of homicide in Texas and Arizona. And we caught him because of his eyes, not because he told the truth, not because his fingerprints worked. It’s a perfect reason why fingerprints can’t be depended upon, you’re not going to cut out your eyes.”

Hernandez, the UCLA professor, contended that these grizzly tales of violence are cherry-picked to paint unauthorized immigrants with a broad criminal brush. The narrative may work to sell surveillance expansion, she argued, but also bolsters unfounded racial hatred against immigrant communities.

“The argument that there are extraordinarily violent individuals living within these populations has always been a part of immigrant exclusion projects,” Hernandez said. “Especially for Mexican-Americans, there was a clear shift in the middle of the 1950s, after Operation Wetback” — a 1950s crackdown on immigration rife with civil rights violations — “which was supposed to have solved the problem of immigration but didn’t actually stop it. So to rationalize the ongoing immigration, authorities explicitly no longer spoke about immigrants as workers, but as criminals. We’ve been stuck with that discourse ever since.”

BI2’s iris surveillance expansion on the border is moving ahead full steam despite these concerns. According to Leonard, the El Paso County sheriff’s department now has iris identification up and running, and Cameron County is next. Leonard says these installations will help authorities finally gain “control” of the border by documenting the undocumented.

“Right now, there is nothing like this on the border because the federal government has never given law enforcement agencies the technology to differentiate anybody in the field for any reason,” Leonard said. “That’s why we have so many illegal aliens: They just get in, and we don’t know who the hell they are and who they’re not.”

Hernandez, however, predicts that BI2’s iris solution will fail to stop migration flows, just as every law enforcement strategy before it failed. “This is just another example of profit making in immigration control, which seems to be on the rise with this administration,” Hernandez said. “We have always seen different waves of investment in technology, but they never have an impact on immigration. Yet we remain eternally convinced this stuff will save us from the larger problems of the border.”

The post “Show Me Your Papers” Becomes “Open Your Eyes” as Border Sheriffs Expand Iris Surveillance appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump’s New CDC Chief Championed Partnership with Coca-Cola to Solve Childhood Obesity

8 July 2017 - 7:01am

The new chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors significant public health concerns, including the impact of sugary beverages on obesity and heart disease, will be led by Brenda Fitzgerald, a Georgia physician whose signature childhood obesity project was underwritten by Coca-Cola.

The announcement to appoint Fitzgerald as the CDC director was made on Friday by a Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Fitzgerald, a former Republican candidate for Congress and advisor to Newt Gingrich, most recently served as the Georgia Public Health Commissioner. Price and Gingrich both previously represented the sixth congressional district in Georgia, now held by Republican Karen Handel.

During her tenure as Georgia’s public health watchdog, in a state that has one of the highest obesity rates in the nation, Fitzgerald and Gov. Nathan Deal launched SHAPE, a statewide effort to address childhood obesity through “physical activity before class, physical activity during class, and more structured recess.”

Muhtar Kent, the chief executive and chairman of Coca-Cola Company, appeared with the governor and Fitzgerald to promote the initiative, along with a pledge of $1 million from his company to fund it. Clyde Tuggle, a Coca-Cola executive responsible for the company’s lobbying strategy, was initially appointed to the board overseeing the state anti-obesity strategy, including Fitzgerald’s SHAPE initiative. (Tuggle announced his retirement from Coca-Cola in March of this year.)

“This generous award will have a significant impact on the lives of our children today and well into the future,” Fitzgerald said at the news conference. “Unless we address this obesity epidemic facing our children right now, they will likely suffer life-long consequences of obesity — diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. With this money we can make a real difference.”

Coca-Cola was so fond of Fitzgerald’s approach to obesity issues that an opinion column authored by Fitzgerald is featured prominently on Coca-Cola’s website.

Public health officials around the country have made obesity a top issue of concern. The United States has the distinction of having the highest rate of childhood obesity in the world, according to a recent report from the New England Journal of Medicine. And multiple reports have found that regular consumption of sugary beverages is a leading driver of obesity, which is linked to heart disease, diabetes, kidney diseases, cancers and hypertension.

More exercise, of course, is a good thing, but the Georgia SHAPE program notably eschewed another well-known step toward healthier living: curbing sugary beverage consumption. Touting Coca-Cola’s support of her program on local news station WXIA-TV, Fitzgerald explained her approach. “We’re going to concentrate on what you should eat,” she said, before simply suggesting that children eat more fruits and vegetables. Fitzgerald did not recommend the approach adopted by public officials around the country, namely that children should cut sweetened soda and junk foods from their diet.

The contrast was laid out explicitly in a presentation in 2015.  In explaining SHAPE, officials from the Georgia Department of Public Health overtly contrasted the “Georgia vs. California” model on the obesity epidemic. Cities in California, the slide noted, passed the first tax on sugary drinks. Georgia, on the other hand, proposed the largest exemption to new federal rules curbing the sale of junk food in public schools.

Coca-Cola, along with PepsiCo and other sugar industry interests, has worked obsessively to defeat attempts to regulate sugary beverages. Sugar industry interests, including Coca-Cola, have spent at least $67 million on campaign efforts to defeat sugar taxes and related labeling ballot measures. Emails hacked from Democratic officials during the 2016 presidential campaign revealed that executives from Coca-Cola, including Clyde Tuggle, the Coca-Cola vice president overseeing SHAPE, attempted to pressure the Hillary Clinton campaign to back down from voicing support for a soda tax. The company was also caught setting up a front group, called the Global Energy Balance Network, designed to downplay the health risks associated with sugary drinks.

The CDC in particular has also been targeted by Coca-Cola, which has long disclosed attempts to lobby the agency to influence public health policy.

Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know revealed that executives from Coca-Cola and the International Life Sciences Institute — an organization founded with support from Coca-Cola — had pressured the agency to partner with the soda giant and allow it to weigh in on debates over sugary soft drinks. In one particular email chain with a CDC official, a former Coca-Cola executive discussed strategies for influencing the World Health Organization’s call for greater regulation of soft drinks. The former Coca-Cola executive called the WHO’s efforts a “threat to our business,” and invited the CDC official out for dinner to further discuss ways to sway decisions at the international body. Clyde Tuggle, the former Coca-Cola executive, was included in the email chain.

While voters have continued to approve new limits on sugary drinks, Coca-Cola may have a new ally at the nation’s premiere public health agency.

Shortly after news of Fitzgerald’s appointment to lead the CDC, Rhona Applebaum, Coca-Cola’s former chief health and science officer, celebrated the pick on social media, tweeting: “An excellent choice!”

The post Trump’s New CDC Chief Championed Partnership with Coca-Cola to Solve Childhood Obesity appeared first on The Intercept.

USP adere cotas raciais, mas racismo ainda é determinante na academia

8 July 2017 - 6:03am

Conselho da USP (Universidade de São Paulo) aceitou a instituição de cotas sociais e raciais para o seu concorridíssimo vestibular a partir de 2018 na última terça-feira(4). A repercussão da notícia, tanto nas redes sociais, quanto nos sites, dá a dimensão da importância de uma instituição como a USP se incluir entre as universidades públicas que reconhecem a necessidade de instrumentos que possibilitem o acesso e a reparação, via sistema de cotas raciais, das desigualdades que distanciam, sobretudo, jovens negros e negras, das mais importantes universidades do país.

Mas o dilema vai muito além disso. Em junho, o Coletivo Nuvem Negra, fundado em 2015 por alunos negros e negras da PUC (Pontifícia Universidade Católica) do Rio, divulgaram uma pesquisa, fruto da campanha “Quantos professores negras/os tem na PUC-Rio?”.

Dados de 2016 gerados pelo Sistema de Gerência Universitária (SGU) da universidade apontaram que apenas 4,3% do corpo docente da PUC-Rio é negro. Mais precisamente: 1,6% de professoras negras e 3,2% de professores negros. Ou seja: apenas 86 dos 1985 professores e professoras da prestigiada universidade da Zona Sul do Rio de Janeiro., A pesquisa também diz – e aqui é extremamente importante observar – que, se for mantido o ritmo dos últimos 10 anos, o número de professores negros na universidade  só irá igualar o de brancos em 2136. Estes 120 anos de intervalo são quase os 128 anos de intervalo da assinatura da Lei Áurea em 1888 até aqui. É um intervalo emblemático, porque, mais de um século depois, a população negra no Brasil não tem sequer os mesmos patamares na medição do IDH (Índice de Desenvolvimento Humano, medido pela ONU), que a população branca. 

Nenhuma instituição representa tanto a ideia de “produção de saber” do que a universidade. Por isso é tão significativo que o recorte racial dos professores das instituições brasileiras receba a devida atenção.

Se a universidade representa o lugar da produção de saber, não é razoável desconsiderar que a condição social e racial influencie no saber produzido?


A USP, que só agora se abre às cotas sociais e raciais como possibilidade de acesso, é a mesma que, em pesquisa publicada em 2005,  no livro de José Jorge de Carvalho, tinha apenas 0,2% de professores negros no seu quadro docente, em 2005. Dos mais de 4,5 mil professores que possuía então, apenas cerca de dez professores eram negros. Isso numa pesquisa que identificava os professores negros como apenas 1% de todo o corpo docente das universidades brasileiras Mesmo a UnB (Universidade de Brasília), pioneira na adesão das cotas raciais, possuía, em 2016, apenas 1,77% de professores negros no seu quadro docente.

Se a universidade representa o lugar da produção de saber, não é razoável desconsiderar que a condição social e racial influencie no saber produzido?

Há de se perguntar, por exemplo, pela ausência de pesquisadores e intelectuais negros nas bibliografias dos cursos de graduação do país. Lélia González, Guerreiro Ramos, Abdias Nascimento, Muniz Sodré, Sueli Carneiro, Jurema Werneck, Luiz Gama, Conceição Evaristo, Nei Lopes, Joel Rufino dos Santos são muitas as referências  para as diversas áreas do pensamento brasileiro que são absolutamente invisibilizados e sua contribuição sempre posta à margem do “cânon” acadêmico.

E o que dizer da ausência da obra de Guerreiro Ramos nos estudos de relações raciais e sobre a condição do negro no Brasil? Em que universidade ele divide o lugar obrigatório de referência ao lado de Gilberto Freyre e Sergio Buarque de Holanda? Ao que parece, talvez apenas Milton Santos fura parte (e apenas parte) desse bloqueio, dado sua presença referencial na bibliografia dos cursos de Geografia.

Na própria PUC-Rio, a antropóloga Lélia González tem a sua trajetória acadêmica, construída ali nesta mesma universidade, completamente esquecida. Lélia chegou a ser diretora do departamento de Ciências Sociais na PUC-Rio, mas sua produção é apagada da bibliografia da graduação na própria universidade, ao passo que Roberto DaMatta, também antropólogo, também professor na mesma instituição, habita o Olimpo acadêmico e desfruta de ser literatura obrigatória na bibliografia não só da PUC-Rio, mas de qualquer departamento de antropologia no país.

Não quero, evidentemente, diminuir a importância de DaMatta, e, inclusive deve-se considerar a produção extremamente distinta dos dois, mas não podemos deixar que apenas esta diferença seja a explicação da relevância e influência de um e o esquecimento e marginalização de outra.

Quantos professores negros você tem?

A campanha do coletivo da PUC-Rio não é a primeira com a intenção de despertar a atenção da sociedade, ou, no mínimo, da academia, para a segregação racial das universidades brasileiras. Em 2015, a Diretoria de Ações Afirmativas da UFJF (Universidade Federal d e Juiz de Fora) lançou a campanha “Quantos professores negros você tem?”, espalhando cartazes gigantes pela cidade e a universidade. Em cada carta, a foto do professor e a frase eram acompanhadas da hashtag #NãoÉCoincidência. E parece não ser mesmo.

Há uma dificuldade histórica no Brasil de se reconhecer os danos da escravidão

Há uma dificuldade histórica no Brasil de se reconhecer os danos da escravidão do período colonial e imperial, além da condição subalternizada e sub-humana das pessoas negras no período republicano, de negras e negros livres, mas em situações absolutamente miseráveis.

A naturalidade com que a presença mínima de professores negros é tratada, sempre abaixo dos 5% em qualquer universidade públicas e particulares de ponta, como PUC e FGV, mostra, de maneira nítida e constrangedora, que os esforços continuam tímidos, e o problema continua não sendo olhado de frente

Mesmo no caso da adesão das cotas pelo Conselho da USP, as cotas raciais entraram como destaque, e não estavam na proposta inicial, que era apenas de cotas sociais. As cotas raciais vieram como fruto de uma pressão de cerca de 300 professores, que exigiram um passo mais ousado na reparação desta desigualdade histórica.

Campanhas como a do Coletivo Nuvem Negra da PUC-Rio vêm nos dizer que nos mantemos distantes do núcleo da questão, distantes de tocar na ferida causada pelo racismo estrutural.

Saberes também disputam, também compõem relações de forças. Há de se perguntar por que vinga o conceito de “democracia racial” e cai no esquecimento, marginalização ou na invisibilidade o conceito de “quilombismo”. Como sai vitorioso o conceito de “homem cordial”e como é ignorado e minimizado o conceito de “amefricanidade”. O coração da estrutura de poder permanece intacto. E branco.

The post USP adere cotas raciais, mas racismo ainda é determinante na academia appeared first on The Intercept.

Rodrigo Maia, o tuiteiro: na rede, presidente da Câmara começa a botar as asas de fora

7 July 2017 - 4:55pm

Seria possível resumir em 140 caracteres um discurso de presidente da República? Qual a hashtag ideal para demonstrar interesse no cargo? Pelo comportamento atual do presidente da Câmara, Rodrigo Maia (DEM-RJ), no Twitter, essas bem que poderiam ser perguntas perambulando em sua cabeça. Normalmente ausente da rede, ele resolveu turbinar as postagens nos últimos dias. Coincidência ou não, ao mesmo tempo em que vê seu nome cada vez mais cotado para o lugar de um desgastado Michel Temer. Estaria mesmo surgindo o #golpedogolpe?

A possibilidade de Maia assumir numa eventual queda de Temer o levou nesta sexta-feira (7) aos assuntos mais comentados do Twitter. O #foramaia também apareceu por lá. Enquanto isso, em sua página, o deputado aproveitou para reforçar a necessidade do país atravessar a pinguela da crise. Pediu “tranquilidade” e “prudência”.

Em sua conta no Twitter, antes dos cinco posts feitos enquanto está em viagem à Argentina, há em espaços de tempo um “vazio” de publicações. As postagens anteriores datam de uma lei que o congressista sancionou em 23 de junho, outro post em 14 do mesmo mês, e depois uma publicação apenas em maio. Definitivamente, Maia não é um twitteiro raiz.

Mas o que teria provocado essa mudança tão repentina em seu comportamento? A prisão do ex-ministro de Temer, Geddel Vieira Lima e o avançar da denúncia de corrupção contra o presidente na CCJ da Câmara foram vistos como indutores do agravamento da crise política. Com isso, Maia pode ter sido picado pela “mosca azul”, e passou a demosntrar uma liderança que pode ser interpretada como desejo em ocupar o trono presidencial.

Não podemos estar satisfeitos apenas com a reforma trabalhista. Temos Previdência, Tributária e mudanças na legislação de segurança pública.

— Rodrigo Maia (@DepRodrigoMaia) July 7, 2017

A mudança de postura do presidente da Câmara foi registrada nessa última quinta, 06, pela colunista Mônica Bergamo. De lá pra cá, o noticiário da grande imprensa reforça a chancela que Maia poderia receber o bastão de Temer para segurar o país até as eleições presidenciais de 2018.

“Foco no controle de gastos” e “apoio às reformas” são frases estampadas nas capas das sociais do congressistas (Twitter e Facebook). Mesmo assim, Maia jura de pé junto não estar interessado no cargo.

Temer e Rodrigo Maia em reprodução do Instagram do presidente da Câmara.

Se o presidente da Câmara estiver mesmo disposto a se dedicar às redes, uma inspiração pode vir de seu pai, o vereador Cesar Maia (DEM). Ele já era era viciado em internet muito antes disso tudo virar modinha. Em 2005, à frente da prefeitura do Rio, criou o seu blog – que em seguida seria chamado de ex-blog.

Cesar montou uma newsletter com cerca de 30 mil cadastrados, entre eles 400 jornalistas que, muitas vezes, encontram ali pautas que acabam virando matérias. Repórteres, aliás, já sabiam que a melhor maneira para se comunicar com o chefe do Executivo do Rio era enviando um e-mail. Hoje, mesmo sendo apenas um vereador, Cesar Maia tem um número maior de seguidores no Twitter do que o filho presidente da Câmara. São 38,8 mil do pai contra 30,1 mil de Rodrigo. Cesar tem nada menos do que 24,1 mil tweets publicados. O filho, 2.619.

Especulado como substituto a Temer, Maia é também citado em diversos escândalos de corrupção. Nas planilhas do departamento de propinas da Odebrecht, o parlamentar recebe a alcunha de “Botafogo”, seu time, e teria recebido R$ 100 mil da empreiteira. Dois inquéritos no STF investigam Maia, suspeito de crimes de corrupção passiva e ativa, corrupção praticada contra a administração pública e lavagem de dinheiro. E então, quantos likes esse presidenciável merece?

The post Rodrigo Maia, o tuiteiro: na rede, presidente da Câmara começa a botar as asas de fora appeared first on The Intercept.

Russia Disputes U.S. Claim Trump “Pressed” Putin on Election Hacking

7 July 2017 - 4:16pm

According to two widely divergent witness accounts, Donald Trump either “pressed” Vladimir Putin repeatedly on Friday to admit that Russia helped him get elected president of the United States — by stealing and releasing embarrassing emails from Democrats — or told the Russian leader that he accepted his claim that Russia had nothing to do with the hacking and called concern over the issue “exaggerated.”

Here it is: The footage of the first Trump-Putin handshake.

— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 7, 2017

Those two very different accounts of what was said in the meeting between Trump and Putin in Hamburg, Germany, came in dueling press briefings given after it by the only other senior officials in the room when the conversation took place: Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, and Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister.

“The President opened the meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Tillerson told American reporters, according to audio recorded by PBS Newshour.

“Now they had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject,” Tillerson continued. “The President pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement; President Putin denied such involvement, as I think he has in the past.”

“The two leaders agreed though,” Tillerson added, “that this is a substantial hinderance in the ability of us to move the Russian-U.S. relationship forward, and agreed to exchange further work regarding commitments on non-interference.”

The Russians, Tillerson said, also asked to see whatever proof of their role in the hacking American intelligence agencies claim to have.

Lavrov, who is fluent in both Russian and English, offered a very different summary of the conversation. Trump, he told Russian reporters, had raised the issue during a broader conversation about threats posed to society by the internet, including terrorism and child pornography.

“President Trump said that in the U.S. there are still some circles who are talking about Russian alleged intrusion and Russian alleged attempts to influence the U.S. election,” Lavrov said, according to translation from Ruptly, a Russian state-owned news agency.

“President Trump said that this campaign has already taken on a rather strange character because over the many months that these accusations have been made, not a single fact has been presented,” Lavrov added. “President Trump said that he had heard the clear statements from President Putin about this being untrue, that the Russian leadership did not interfere in the election, and that he accepts these statements.”

While what exactly was said behind closed doors is a matter of dispute, Ruptly managed to capture an exchange between the two leaders at the start of their meeting, in which they shared a laugh about the American reporters in the room.

"These are the ones that insulted you?" Putin asked Trump, gesturing at the journalists being ushered out of the room. Chuckles all around

— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) July 7, 2017

"??? ??? ???? ????????": ????? ? ????? ???????? ?? ??????? ???????????

— ??????? ??????? (@dimsmirnov175) July 7, 2017

The post Russia Disputes U.S. Claim Trump “Pressed” Putin on Election Hacking appeared first on The Intercept.

Rachel Maddow’s Exclusive “Scoop” About A Fake NSA Document Raises Several Key Questions

7 July 2017 - 1:56pm

(updated below)

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow devoted the first 21 minutes of her Thursday night program to what she promoted as an “exclusive” scoop. The cable news host said that someone had sent her a “carefully forged” top secret NSA document that used a top secret document The Intercept reported on and published on June 5 as a template. That document – from the June 5 Intercept report – was from an unknown NSA official, and purported to describe Russian attempts to hack election officials and suppliers.

Maddow said her report should serve as a “heads up” to other news organizations that someone is attempting to destroy the credibility of those who report on Trump’s connections to Russia by purposely giving them false information. She suggested, without stating, that this may have been what caused CNN and other outlets recently to publish reports about Trump and/or Russia that ended up being retracted.

The grave tone of cloak-and-daggers mystery Maddow used to tell her story was predicated on her time-line of events. If it were the case that MSNBC had received the purportedly forged version of this document before the Intercept published its own version, that would indeed be a major story. That would mean that the person who sent the forgery to MSNBC was one of a relatively small group of people who would have had access to this top secret document.

But that’s not what happened. By Maddow’s own telling, MSNBC received the document two days after the Intercept published it for the entire world to see. That means that literally anyone with internet access could have taken the document from the Intercept’s site, altered it, and sent it to Maddow.

Despite the fact that she received the document two days after the Intercept published it, Maddow nonetheless suggested that the document may have been forged before the Intercept’s publication – meaning that the forger had access to the document prior to our publication of it. Her theory, which posits a remarkable scenario, rests exclusively on one claim: that the “creation date” in the metadata of the document precedes the Intercept’s publication by slightly more than three hours.

Even though Maddow acknowledged what is plainly true – that the time-stamp could have been easily altered to make it appear that the document was created before the Intercept’s publication – she showed a graphic of the purported time-line of events, which depicted the forged document’s creation as occurring just over three hours prior to the Intercept’s publication (12:17:15 pm on June 5):

This seems to be a remarkably thin reed on which to base such an improbable yet consequential theory. To begin with, as Maddow acknowledged, the “creation date” in the document’s metadata could be easily altered. It’s also possible that simple time zones explain the discrepancy: that whoever forged the document was in a time zone several hours behind East Coast time, and June 5, 12:17 pm, in that time zone is after the Intercept’s publication, not before.

The story is much sexier and more dramatic if the forger had access to the document before the Intercept’s publication – and Maddow does a lot of work to suggest this to viewers – but the far likelier version, based on what Maddow presented, is that someone among the millions of people in the public who read the story and saw the document on the Intercept’s site sent an altered version to Maddow.

But here’s the key point, one that guts MSNBC’s theory completely. If you look at the time-stamp on the metadata on the document which the Intercept published, it reads “June 5, 12:17:15 pm” — exactly the same time and date, to the second, as the one on the document received by Maddow:

That’s because time-stamp on the documents published by the Intercept designate the creation date included in the PDF we publish on DocumentCloud: in this case, that occurred just over three hours prior to publication of our article. Both versions – the one we published and the one Maddow received – reflect the same time to the second: literally the exact moment when we created and uploaded the document.

In other words, anyone who took the document directly from the Intercept’s site would have a document with exactly the same time-stamp as the one Maddow showed. Thus, rather than proving that this document was created before the Intercept’s publication, the time-stamp featured by Maddow strongly suggests exactly the opposite: that it was taken from the Intercept’s site.

Nobody from Maddow’s show or MSNBC reached out to the Intercept before running this story. This was odd for many reasons, including the fact that Maddow offered several speculative theories about the Intercept’s reporting on the document, including her belief that a crease that appeared on the document sent to her was the same as the crease which the Trump DOJ, in its affidavit, claimed appeared on the Intercept’s document.

Had MSNBC sought comment from the Intercept before broadcasting this story, they would have learned that the sole piece of evidence on which their entire theory was predicated – the time-stamp that preceded the Intercept’s publication by a few hours – strongly suggests that whoever sent them the document did not have special, early, pre-publication access to it, but rather took it from the Intercept’s site.


Prior to publication of this article, The Intercept sent a series of questions to Maddow about all of this. She said MSNBC did not contact the Intercept prior to broadcasting her report “because we were really only working on the document you published, not in your reporting on it.”

As for the issues of the time-line, Maddow stressed that “we explicitly *didn’t* say it was sent to us prior to your publication. I said — and we even showed a calendar graphic to illustrate — that it was sent to us *after* you published. No one falsely made it appear that it was sent to us prior to your publication. It came to us afterwards — which is what I said on the air.”

Regarding our inquiries about the possibility that the metadata may have been changed, Maddow said: “yes, like I said on the air, we did look into the possibility of altering the metadata to change the apparent creation date, and, as I said, it could definitely have been altered.”

As for our question which pointed out that the exact same time appears in the metadata on the document sent to her as the one we published, strongly suggesting that whoever sent her the document took it from the Intercept’s site, Maddow said: “We got a document *different* than yours, with no purported connection to yours, except we sussed out that someone appears to have used your doc as a template for ginning up a fake one to sent to us. And yes the timestamp absolutely goes to our whole point — someone used the document sent to you as a template for forging the fake document sent to us.”

One can listen to Maddow’s original report and draw your own conclusions. That she was strongly suggesting that the forger obtained the document prior to the Intercept’s publication – and thus must have had special access to it – was something heard by numerous people. Here, for instance, is Lawfare Benjamin Wittes citing Maddow’s report to strongly imply – falsely – that this all happened because of the the Intercept’s poor security and that our servers were “penetrated”:

I will be very interested to learn whether the true lesson of this @maddow story is that the Intercept has, as I predicted, been penetrated.

— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 7, 2017

That is an utter fabrication, but it’s what he – and many others – heard from Maddow’s report. All this accusatory innuendo when – as the evidence proves – the overwhelmingly likely reality is quite mundane: that someone simply took the document from our site after we published it and used it to create a potentially forged document that was sent to Maddow.


None of this is to suggest that there is no newsworthy story here. It appears, at least if one accepts Maddow’s descriptions of the document, that someone did send her an altered document. But there is a massive difference in terms of the importance of this story if it was sent by some random person from the public who obtained the document after the Intercept published it, as opposed to someone who had access to it before publication.

And virtually nothing proves the latter, far more explosive time-line that Maddow’s graphics suggested. To the contrary, all of the available evidence strongly suggests it was taken from the Intercept’s site after we published it.

Maddow is absolutely correct to underscore the critical importance for media outlets to authenticate documents of the type that one receives, particularly when the source is unknown. She also makes the important point that it is “logistically difficult” for news organizations to authenticate documents of this type; given the obvious reluctance of government officials to be of help, it is a serious journalistic challenge to obtain the necessary confirmation that such documents are genuine before reporting on them.

While it is of course possible that there is some widespread, coordinated, official effort to feed news outlets false information in order to discredit stories about Trump and Russia, there is no real evidence for that theory, and this story does not offer any. Maddow’s warnings about the need for caution and authentication are important ones, but if – as seems likely – the document MSNBC received was sent by someone who got it from the Intercept’s site, then the significance of this story seems very minimal, and the more ominous theories her report raises seem to be baseless.


UPDATE: Ben Wittes, to his credit, apologized for the false claims he made after watching Maddow’s report:

…wrong this morning in my suspicion that @maddow's story reflected a compromise of The Intercept's systems.

— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 7, 2017

You're overstating what I said, which was that it raised the question, but your point is well taken, and as I say, I apologize.

— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) July 7, 2017

Top photo: Rachel Maddow on set for her news show on MSNBC in New York on March 9, 2017.

The post Rachel Maddow’s Exclusive “Scoop” About A Fake NSA Document Raises Several Key Questions appeared first on The Intercept.

Por que políticos americanos não gostam de terroristas, mas gostam de grupo iraniano totalitarista

7 July 2017 - 12:19pm

O que um príncipe saudita, um ex-presidente republicano da Câmara dos Representantes dos Estados Unidos e um ex-candidato democrata à vice-presidência do país estavam fazendo num subúrbio de Paris no último fim de semana?
Você ficaria surpreso em saber que o príncipe Turki Bin Faisal, Newt Gingrich e Joe Lieberman se reuniram para prestar apoio a um grupo de exilados iranianos que, de 1997 a 2012, foi categorizado pelo governo norte-americano como “organização terrorista estrangeira” ?

Há muito tempo certos “falcões”, como são conhecidos os políticos mais bélicos e conservadores do cenário norte-americano, se encantaram com o Mojahedin-e Khalq, conhecido como MEK. Tanto é que, em 2012, fizeram um lobby pesado para conseguir tirá-lo da lista de grupos terroristas, estabelecida pelo Departamento de Estado. Fundado no Irã nos anos 1960, o MEK – que significa “combatentes sagrados do povo” – já foi abertamente antiamericano, semimarxista e semi-islamista : jurou derrubar a força o Xá que tinha o apoio dos Estados Unidos e estar disposto a atacar alvos norte-americanos. O MEK é ainda acusado de ter colaborado na tomada de reféns dentro da embaixada norte-americana em Teerã em 1979. O grupo chegou a condenar a libertação dos reféns, classificando-a de uma “rendição” aos Estados Unidos. Mas depois que os governantes clericais se voltaram contra o grupo no início dos anos 1980, os líderes do movimento fugiram do país e deram início a uma série de bombardeios por todo o Irã.

Hoje em dia, a organização é dirigida pelo casal Massoud e Maryam Rajavi, apesar do paradeiro de Massoud ser desconhecido, havendo inclusive boatos de que estaria morto. O grupo afirma ter renunciado à violência e se vende aos seus novos amigos norte-americanos como um movimento 100% secular e democrático de oposição ao governo iraniano. Mas o maior problema do MEK não é o passado de organização terrorista. Vários grupos violentos que já foram considerados “terroristas” conseguiram abandonar as armas e passaram a circular pelos corredores do poder – como o Exército Republicano Irlandês (IRA) e o Congresso Nacional Africano (ANC).

O maior problema de políticos norte-americanos apoiarem o MEK é que o movimento tem toda a cara e todas as armadilhas de um culto totalitário.

O problema também não é o MEK não ter nenhum apoio dentro da República Islâmica. E olha que o oposicionista Movimento Verde renegou o grupo, que já era abominado pela população iraniana por ter lutado ao lado de Saddam Hussein durante a guerra entre Irã e Iraque.

O maior problema de políticos norte-americanos apoiarem o MEK é que o movimento tem toda a cara e todas as armadilhas de um culto totalitário. E não sou só eu quem diz: um relatório do Departamento de Estado registrou, em 1994, que Massoud Rajavi “promovia um culto à sua personalidade” e que isso “afastava muitos expatriados iranianos, que diziam não querer substituir um governo contestável por outro”.

Você acha mesmo que só quem mora em países ditatoriais sofre lavagem cerebral? Em 2009, um relatório do think thank norte-americano RAND Corporation apontou que os integrantes do MEK tinham que “jurar devoção aos Rajavis com a mão sobre o Corão”. Destacou ainda que “as práticas autoritárias e cultuais” incluíam “divórcio e celibato obrigatórios” para os membros (com exceção do casal Rajavi, claro). “O amor aos Rajavis deveria substituir o amor ao cônjuge e à família”, detalha o relatório.

Forças de segurança iraquianas entram pelo portão principal de Camp Ashraf, sede do MEK ao norte de Bagdá (2012).

Photo: Hadi Mizban/AP

Você acha ruim a segregação de gênero dentro do Irã? No Camp Ashraf, no Iraque, espécie de quartel-general onde combatentes do MEK moraram até 2013, “pintavam-se linhas no chão dos corredores para separar os homens das mulheres”, ainda de acordo com o relatório do RAND. Até o posto de gasolina tinha “horários específicos para homens e para mulheres”.

Você pode até entender por que um príncipe saudita, o ex-prefeito de Nova York Rudy Giuliano e o ex-funcionário do governo Bush (e “super-falcão”) John Bolton, que estiveram todos no encontro em Paris, estão mais dispostos a apoiar um conjunto tão bizarro de fanáticos e ideólogos. Mas o que levaria um liberal democrata de Vermont como Howard Dean (que já sugeriu que Maryam Rajavi deveria ser reconhecida como presidente exilada do Irã) a se misturar com eles? O que teria levado gente como John Lewis, deputado da Geórgia e herói dos direitos civis, a defender publicamente o MEK em 2010?

Seria por conta daquele velho quiçá amoral provérbio: “o inimigo do meu inimigo é meu amigo”? Talvez.

Seria por conta daquele velho quiçá amoral provérbio: “o inimigo do meu inimigo é meu amigo”? Talvez. Seria o resultado da ignorância, da incapacidade de figuras experientes da política norte-americana de cumprir com seu dever de diligência? Quem sabe.

Ou seria só uma simples questão de grana? “Muitos desses antigos altos funcionários do governo, que representam todo o espectro político norte-americano, receberam dezenas de milhares de dólares para defender publicamente o MEK”, revela a ampla investigação feita pelo jornal Christian Science Monitor em 2011.

Em Washington, o dinheiro fala. Seja você um democrata como Dean ou um republicano como Bolton, um ex-chefe da CIA como Porter Gross ou um ex-chefe do FBI como Louis Freeh, o que importa é que o MEK costuma assinar uns cheques bem gordos.
Gingrinch, por exemplo, criticou duramente Barack Obama por “fazer reverência ao rei saudita” , mas foi filmado fazendo o mesmo em frente a Maryam Rajavi. Durante o fim de semana em Paris, o ex-presidente da Câmara dos Representantes chegou ao cúmulo de comparar Rajavi a George Washington em seu discurso.

E Giuliani, « o Prefeito da América » que se autointitula um falcão antiterrorista, mas que, desde 2010, não hesita na hora de receber alguns milhares de dólares para endossar um grupo que: assassinou seis americanos no Irã em meados dos anos 1970; se aliou a Saddam Hussein para esmagar os curdos do Iraque no início dos 1990; aparentemente cooperou com a Al Qaeda na fabricação de bombas pouco tempo depois; e, finalmente, combateu tropas norte-americanas no Iraque em 2003.

Esse pessoal não tem vergonha? Para citar Suzanne Maloney, especialista em Irã do think thank Brookings e ex-consultora do Departamento de Estado, “Gingrinch/Giuliani/Bolton/Lieberman dão pouquíssimo valor à própria integridade, a ponto de se venderem ao culto do MEK”.

Enquanto isso, derrubar o regime iraniano voltou com tudo para a lista de prioridades da Washington de Donald Trump. O candidato que detonava as guerras de agressão de George W. Bush no Oriente Médio deu lugar ao presidente que nomeou os falcões anti-Irã James Mattis e Mike Pompeo para comandar, respectivamente, o Pentágono e a CIA. É o mesmo presidente que tem em Giuliani e Gingrich, os garotos-propaganda do MEK, seus principais conselheiros externos e que escolheu Elaine Chao, que recebeu 50 mil dólares dos Rajavis para pronunciar um discurso de 5 minutos em 2015, para trabalhar no gabinete presidencial.

Sejamos claros: o governo Trump, os sauditas e os israelenses (que, de acordo com uma investigação da NBC News, “financiaram, treinaram e armaram” o MEK no passado) estão bem dispostos a derrubar o regime clerical iraniano. O que mais querem é uma Guerra do Iraque Parte II. Para essa sequência, o MEK de Maryam Rajavi está querendo interpretar o papel do partido Congresso Nacional Iraquiano (INC), de Ahmed Chalabi: os 3 mil combatentes do grupo estão prontos para atuar como “ponta de lança”, segundo afirmou o ex-senador-democrata-agora-advogado-do-MEK Robert Torricelli no sábado passado.

É assim que a loucura se espalha. As elites da política, da inteligência, do Exército não aprenderam nada com a desventura mesopotâmica e com a desastrosa contribuição de exilados iraquianos como Chalabi? Bem, vamos dizer que 0s fanáticos doutrinados do MEK fazem o INC de Chalabi parecer a ANC de Mandela.

É difícil, no entanto, discordar do veredito de Elizabeth Rubin, do New York Times, que visitou o MEK no Camp Ashraf em 2003 e, depois, “conversou com homens e mulheres que conseguiram escapar das garras do grupo” e “tiveram que ser ‘reprogramados’”. Como Rubin advertiu em 2011, o MEK “não é só irrelevante para a causa dos ativistas democráticos no Irã, é um culto totalitário que vai voltar para nos aterrorizar”.

Foto em destaque: Maryam Rajavi discursa durante a reunião anual do Mojahedin-e Khalq no centro de convenções de Villepinte, próximo de Paris (01/07/2017). Líderes políticos internacionais também discursaram em apoio a ela.

The post Por que políticos americanos não gostam de terroristas, mas gostam de grupo iraniano totalitarista appeared first on The Intercept.

NYPD Attempts to Block Surveillance Transparency Law With Misinformation

7 July 2017 - 10:59am

Earlier this year, New York City Council members Vanessa Gibson and Daniel Garodnick introduced the Public Oversight of Surveillance Technology Act, which would require public disclosure and dialogue on the New York Police Department’s purchase and use of surveillance equipment. The bill is in the weaker vein of similar legislation passed or under consideration by lawmakers in 19 cities across the U.S., where elected officials hope to write use policies and approve or deny the purchase of surveillance gear.

Criminal justice reform and civil rights groups have praised the POST Act for the transparency it brings to NYPD spy equipment purchases, but the bill already faces a steep path to passage as law. Mayor Bill de Blasio opposes it, meaning the city council will need to approve the legislation with at least 34 votes to override the mayor’s veto.

The tough odds haven’t stopped the NYPD from throwing itself into a bare-knuckles publicity campaign to push back against the proposed legislation.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller laid into the POST Act during a public safety committee hearing on June 14, calling the proposed bill’s disclosure requirements “insane” and “an effective blueprint for those seeking to do us harm.”

“There is a habit now, a trend of calling documented, authorized investigations ‘police spying,’” Miller said at the hearing. “This is all balled up in some kind of paranoia — we operate under strict rules.”

In a June 16 appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Deputy NYPD Commissioner for Legal Affairs Lawrence Byrne said, “This is not about transparency, this is about keeping New York City safe — this is about not revealing confidential law enforcement investigative techniques.” MSNBC did not invite any proponents of the bill to speak on the program, and the show’s hosts lobbed softball questions at Byrne and Miller when they weren’t busy working themselves into a lather about the perfidy of the Brennan Center, one of the prominent supporters of the POST Act.

During their recent testimonies at city council, Miller and Byrne made a number of statements that mischaracterized or omitted crucial details regarding the department’s record of transparency, its use of specific technologies like cell-site simulators, the surveillance of communities of color, and how such technologies are acquired by police. Here’s a rundown of those statements.


The NYPD is notorious for flouting the New York State Freedom of Information Law for even the most routine requests about police activity, contracts, and policies. Regarding surveillance technology, the department has been or is being sued for refusing to release information about facial recognition software, its use of predictive policing software, controversial X-ray vans, and the “mosque raking” program that placed the city’s Muslim communities under mass surveillance. Most recently, the local news channel NY1 sued the NYPD for footage from officers’ body-worn cameras, which are being introduced to precincts throughout the city this year. The police demanded $36,000 to release the footage.

The NYPD also recently invoked the Glomar response — the FBI’s famous “we cannot confirm or deny” construction — in response to requests for public records. It represents a bold new frontier in opacity for New York state’s open records laws, which are supposed to require affirmative or negative responses.

Addressing federal transparency requirements at the June hearing, Miller said that federal law doesn’t require the NYPD to release information on how technology is used for investigative or counterterrorism purposes. While Miller is correct about the exemptions to federal law for Privacy Impact Assessments, which were mandated by the E-Government Act of 2002, federal law enforcement nonetheless publishes highly descriptive documents for many sensitive databases on the open web. Federal authorities have released detailed documentation on the capabilities of ICEGangs, the now-discontinued gang database for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as LeadTrac and FALCON-SA, two of ICE’s data-analysis tools used to track and identify suspects in criminal and civil immigration investigations.

Mass surveillance and Handschu

Since a 1985 settlement over the NYPD’s surveillance of left-wing organizations, the department’s intelligence operations on political activities have been subject to a federal consent decree known as the Handschu agreement. The nature, extent, and unconstitutionality of the NYPD’s spying on political groups first became public during the 1971 trial of 21 Black Panther members accused of attempting to bomb police stations and department stores. The agreement between the department and the federal government established strict guidelines for how the NYPD could monitor First Amendment activity — those are the “strict rules” Miller was referring to during the city council hearing.

The cops, however, chafed at the Handschu restrictions for years. In 2003, they successfully convinced the presiding federal judge to loosen the limits, under the premise that they impeded the NYPD’s counterterrorism operations.

The relaxed regulations on political surveillance manifested in the department’s undercover operations directed at anti-war protesters, transportation activists, left-wing political activists nationwide, and, most notoriously, Muslim Americans. The Demographics Unit, created by former Commissioner Ray Kelly in the mid-2000s, went about mapping Muslim and Middle Eastern communities in the city’s five boroughs. Meanwhile, undercover officers were sent to infiltrate religious congregations and student groups as far afield as Connecticut and New Jersey.

The Demographics Unit has been disbanded and the department’s “mosque-raking” operations led to a legal settlement and further operational restrictions last year, but activists and legal workers say the department’s surveillance in Middle Eastern and South Asian communities is still prevalent.

At the hearing, Byrne claimed the police were not “engaged in a surveillance program of any community” — a statement belied by the NYPD inspector general report that focused on the department’s surveillance operations of political activity involving people of Muslim origin. More than 50 percent of those investigations continued beyond their date of authorization, the report found.

Miller’s and Byrne’s assertions about the NYPD’s human intelligence operations received significant pushback from Queens council member Rory Lancman, who recalled past abuses despite court oversight. “The department has repeatedly over the years pushed the limits of what it can do in terms of intel gathering and surveillance,” Lancman said.

“There’s a reason,” Lancman added, “the Handschu agreement over time, on numerous occasions, has had to be modified and expanded.”

Funding and disclosure of surveillance equipment

For years, the NYPD has kept details of its purchase of surveillance equipment from public view, going so far as to redact even the most anodyne information about grant spending and rejecting my Freedom of Information Law requests about surveillance technology contracts on over 10 occasions since 2006.

There is supposed to be external oversight of the NYPD’s contracts by the independent city comptroller’s office, which registers agency procurements, and the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services. At the June hearing, Byrne explained the process.

“Every contract that the NYPD enters into, whether it’s for confidential technology or equipment or pens and pencils and legal pads, has to be approved by the mayor’s office of contracts and has to be registered by the comptroller,” Byrne said. “If the comptroller does not register the contract, we cannot go forward.”

Contracts for at least two of the NYPD’s major surveillance technologies — the department’s cell-site simulators, which collect information from nearby mobile phones, and the data-mining software from the security analytics firm Palantir — were not turned over by the comptroller’s office pursuant to a Freedom of Information Law request. According to a recent report by BuzzFeed, the NYPD paid Palantir $3.5 million annually for its services, which are reportedly being terminated. The Brennan Center has an ongoing FOIL lawsuit for documentation of Palantir’s work with the NYPD. The request unearthed contract records for the NYPD’s license-plate reader contractor ELSAG, Vigilant Solutions’ national database of billions of vehicle records, and ShotSpotter gunshot detectors that geolocate the sound of gunfire with permanently enabled microphones and issue automatic notifications for police.

There are multiple ways the police department can conceal contract information, aside from its intransigence on records laws. The city Law Department, which is a branch of the mayor’s office and handles most of the city’s legal affairs, can unilaterally declare a contract to be “registered” and not turn it over to the comptroller. The NYPD can also request that the comptroller review a contract in confidence and withhold that information from public disclosure. Or the department can channel the purchase of surveillance technology through the New York City Police Foundation, a private nonprofit organization that is not subject to public disclosure laws and receives major donations from firms like Axon, Palantir, and Microsoft, which sell technology to the NYPD.

The NYPD can also withhold contracts for sensitive technology pursuant to a nondisclosure agreement with the vendor, according to Byrne’s remarks at the council. “Many of these technologies, because they’re only effective if bad people don’t know how they work and how to defeat it, are given to us pursuant to very strict nondisclosure agreements,” he said.

How surveillance technology works

One of the few technologies the NYPD openly discussed at the city council hearings was cell-site simulators, which are devices that mimic cellphone towers to identify, locate, and in some cases, intercept communications from cellphones. Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union released records documenting the NPYD’s use of cell-site simulators over 1,000 times from 2008 through May 2015.

Byrne characterized the department’s use of the devices as “pursuant to a court order supported by probable cause” and affirmed they were only used to track the location of target phones.

However, the NYPD did come under fire last year for using court orders that do not spell out that a cell-site stimulator will be used to track a cellphone. Both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security have abandoned these orders in favor of warrants, which carry with them more privacy protections, for cell-site simulator use.

What’s more, Byrne’s assertion that the department’s cell-site simulators only gather data on target cellphones misrepresents how the devices actually work. They function by hoovering up signals from all cellphones within range, allowing searches through that pool of data for the target device’s identifying number.

Byrne’s remarks disturbed Michael Price, an attorney at the Brennan Center who testified in favor of the POST Act at the city council hearing. “NYPD literally believes that cell-site simulators work like PEN registers,” Price told The Intercept, referring to an older technology that tracks calls made and received by a target phone. “It is either a misunderstanding on Byrne’s part or a misrepresentation that underscores the need for the kind of disclosure outlined in the POST Act.” Price pointed out that both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security acknowledge the collection of nontarget data by cell-site simulators and require deletion within 30 days of collection.

No vote has been held yet on the POST Act. The NYPD campaign to oppose the bill in the court of public opinion has already won favorable coverage in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages. The department’s legendary intransigence on public disclosure and oversight, then, is likely to continue. And the city council, which has faced NYPD overreaches on issues like stop and frisk, will likely be stymied. If the POST Act represents the council’s last chance to shed some sunlight on the surveillance practices of the country’s largest police department, it may yield only a failed effort.

Top photo: An NYPD security camera hangs atop a light pole across the street from Trump Tower in New York on March 7, 2017.

The post NYPD Attempts to Block Surveillance Transparency Law With Misinformation appeared first on The Intercept.

Here’s Why Washington Hawks Love This Cultish Iranian Exile Group

7 July 2017 - 8:00am

What were a Saudi prince, a former Republican House Speaker and a former Democratic vice-presidential candidate doing together in a suburb of Paris last weekend?

Would you be surprised to discover that Prince Turki Bin Faisal, Newt Gingrich and Joe Lieberman were speaking on behalf of a group of Iranian exiles that was officially designated a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” by the United States government between 1997 and 2012?

Iran hawks long ago fell head over heels for the Mojahedin-e Khalq, known as the MEK, and loudly and successfully lobbied for it to be removed from the State Department list of banned terror groups in 2012. Formed in Iran in the 1960s, the MEK, whose name translates to “Holy Warriors of the People,” was once an avowedly anti-American, semi-Marxist, semi-Islamist group, pledged to toppling the U.S.-backed Shah by force and willing to launch attacks on U.S. targets. The MEK even stands accused of helping with the seizure of hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran; the group condemned the hostages’ release as a “surrender” to the United States. But after the Iran’s clerical rulers turned on the group in the early 1980s, its leaders fled the country and unleashed a series of bombings across Iran.

These days, the organization — run by husband and wife Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, though the former’s whereabouts are unknown and he is rumored to be dead — claims to have renounced violence and sells itself to its new American friends as a 100 percent secular and democratic Iranian opposition group. The biggest problem with the MEK, however, is not that it is a former terrorist organization. Plenty of violent groups that were once seen as “terrorists” later abandoned their armed struggles and entered the corridors of power — think of the Irish Republican Army or Mandela’s African National Congress.

Nor is it that the MEK lacks support inside of the Islamic Republic, where it has been disowned by the opposition Green Movement and is loathed by ordinary Iranians for having fought on Saddam Hussein’s side during the Iran-Iraq war.

Rather, the biggest problem with U.S. politicians backing the MEK is that the group has all the trappings of a totalitarian cult. Don’t take my word for it: A 1994 State Department report documented how Massoud Rajavi “fostered a cult of personality around himself” which had “alienated most Iranian expatriates, who assert they do not want to replace one objectionable regime for another.”

You think only people inside of dictatorships are brainwashed? A 2009 report by the RAND Corporation noted how MEK rank-and-file had to swear “an oath of devotion to the Rajavis on the Koran” and highlighted the MEK’s “authoritarian, cultic practices” including ‘mandatory divorce and celibacy” for the group’s members (the Rajavis excepted, of course). “Love for the Rajavis was to replace love for spouses and family,” explained the RAND report.

Iraqi security forces enter through the main gate of Camp Ashraf in Khalis, north of Baghdad, Iraq in 2012.

Photo: Hadi Mizban/AP

You think gender segregation inside of Iran is bad? At Iraq’s Camp Ashraf, which housed MEK fighters up until 2013, lines were “painted down the middle of hallways separating them into men’s and women’s sides,” according to RAND, and even the gas station there had “separate hours for men and women.”

You might understand why a Saudi prince, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, or uber-hawk and former Bush administration official John Bolton — who all attended the Paris rally — might be willing to get behind such a weird collection of fanatics and ideologues. But what would make a liberal Democrat from Vermont such as Howard Dean — who has suggested Maryam Rajavi be recognized as the president of Iran in exile — want to get into bed with them? Or Georgia congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis, who spoke out in favor of the MEK in 2010?

Could it be because of the old, if amoral, adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”? Perhaps. Could it be the result of ignorance, of senior U.S. figures failing to do due diligence? Maybe.

Or could it be a consequence of cold, hard cash? “Many of these former high-ranking U.S. officials — who represent the full political spectrum — have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak in support of the MEK,” revealed a wide-ranging investigation by the Christian Science Monitor in 2011.

In Washington, D.C., money talks. Whether you’re a Democrat like Dean or a Republican like Bolton, a former head of the CIA like Porter Goss or an ex-head of the FBI like Louis Freeh, what seems to matter most is that the MEK can cut fat checks.

Take Gingrich, who once lambasted Barack Obama for “bowing to the Saudi king” but has himself been caught on camera bowing to Maryam Rajavi. The former House speaker bizarrely compared Rajavi to George Washington in his speech in Paris over the weekend.

Or Giuliani, “America’s Mayor” and self-styled anti-terror hawk, who nevertheless has had no qualms accepting thousands of dollars since 2010 to shill for a group that murdered six Americans in Iran in the mid-1970s; joined with Saddam Hussein to repress Iraq’s Kurds in the early 1990s; allegedly worked with Al Qaeda to make bombs in the mid-1990s; and fought against U.S. troops in Iraq in 2003.

Have these people no shame? To quote Suzanne Maloney, an Iran analyst at Brookings and a former adviser to the State Department: “How cheaply Gingrich/Guiliani/Bolton/Lieberman value their own integrity to sell out to MEK cult.”

Meanwhile, regime change in Tehran is very much back on the agenda in Donald Trump’s Washington. Candidate Trump, who blasted George W. Bush’s Middle East wars of aggression, has been replaced by President Trump, who appointed Iran hawks such as James Mattis and Mike Pompeo to run the Pentagon and the CIA, respectively; counts MEK shills such as Giuliani and Gingrich among his closest outside advisers; and appointed Elaine Chao, who took $50,000 from the Rajavis for a five-minute speech in 2015, to his cabinet.

Let’s be clear: The Trump administration, the Saudis and the Israelis — who have “financed, trained and armed” the MEK in the past, according an NBC News investigation — are all bent on toppling the Iran’s clerical rule; they long for a bad sequel to the Iraq war. And Maryam Rajavi’s MEK is auditioning for the role of Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress: The group’s 3,000-odd fighters, according to former Democratic senator-turned-MEK-lawyer Robert Torricelli last Saturday, are keen to be the “point of the spear.”

That way madness lies. Have U.S. political, intelligence, and military elites learned nothing from their Mesopotamian misadventure and the disastrous contribution of Iraqi exiles such as Chalabi? Well, the brainwashed fanatics of the MEK make the INC look like the ANC.

It is difficult, therefore, to disagree with the verdict of Elizabeth Rubin of the New York Times, who visited the MEK at Camp Ashraf back in 2003 and later “spoke to men and women who had escaped from the group’s clutches” and “had to be reprogrammed.” The MEK, warned Rubin in 2011, “is not only irrelevant to the cause of Iran’s democratic activists, but a totalitarian cult that will come back to haunt us.”

Top photo: Mariam Rajavi speaks at the annual meeting of the Mojahedin-e Khalq at the Villepinte exhibition center near Paris on July 1, 2017. International political leaders also made speeches to support her.

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Republican Lawmakers Buy Health Insurance Stocks as Repeal Effort Moves Forward

6 July 2017 - 5:33pm

Just as the House Republican bill to slash much of the Affordable Care Act moved forward, Rep. Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican and member of Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership team, added a health insurance company to his portfolio.

An account owned by Conaway’s wife made two purchases of UnitedHealth stock, worth as much as $30,000, on March 24th, the day the legislation advanced in the House Rules Committee, according to disclosures. The exact value of Conaway’s investment isn’t clear, given that congressional ethics forms only show a range of amounts, and Conaway’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

It was a savvy move. Health industry stocks, including insurance giants like UnitedHealth, have surged as Republicans move forward with their repeal effort, which rolls back broad taxes on health care firms while loosening consumer regulations which prevent insurance companies from denying coverage for medical treatment. UnitedHealth has gained nearly 7 percent in value since March 24.

He wasn’t the only one. As the health care system overhaul advanced last month on the other side of Capitol Hill, Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma purchased between $50,000 to $100,000 in UnitedHealth stock. Inhofe, a staunch supporter for GOP efforts to rollback the Affordable Care Act, did not respond to a request for comment.

The issue of insider political trading, with members and staff buying and selling stock using privileged information, has continued to plague Congress. It gained national prominence during the confirmation hearings for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, when it was revealed that the Georgia Republican had bought shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics, a relatively obscure Australian biotechnology firm, while legislating on policies that could have impacted the firm’s performance.

The stock advice had been passed to Price from Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., a board member for Innate Immunotherapeutics, and was shared with a number of other GOP lawmakers, who also invested in the firm. Conaway, records show, bought shares in the company a week after Price.

Conaway, who serves as a GOP deputy whip in the House, has a long record of investing in firms that coincide with his official duties. Politico reported that Conaway’s wife purchased stock in a nuclear firm just after Conaway sponsored a bill to deal with nuclear waste storage in his district. The firm stood to directly benefit from the legislation.

Some of the biggest controversies stem from the revelation that during the 2008 financial crisis, multiple lawmakers from both parties rearranged their financial portfolios to avoid heavy losses. In one case, former Rep. Spencer Baucus, R-Ala., used confidential meetings about the unfolding bank crisis to make special trades designed to increase in value as the stock market plummeted.

Congress eventually acted with the STOCK Act, legislation designed to curb insider trading abuses. But the law was quickly watered down with amendments, and some provisions of it were later repealed. As we’ve reported, the House of Representatives has actively fought efforts to enforce the law after the Securities and Exchange Commission attempted to investigate one congressional staffer accused of passing health care information to a set of hedge funds.

Top photo: Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, now leading the House Intelligence investigation after Rep. Devin Nunes was forced to recuse himself, arrives for a hearing featuring former Director of the CIA John Brennan at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 23, 2017.

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Clinton Strategist Mark Penn Pushes Democrats to Move to Center — And Quietly Profits From GOP Victories

6 July 2017 - 5:15pm

Democrats would do best if they abandon broad economic reforms and a more leftward political program, argued Mark Penn, a strategist known best for advising Bill and Hillary Clinton, in the pages of the New York Times Opinion section. Penn wrote that the Democratic Party must “move to the center and reject the siren calls of the left.”

Progressives have long viewed Penn with deep skepticism, noting that he has repeatedly used his close ties to Democratic officials as a vehicle for promoting his corporate clients. But there’s another wrinkle to Penn’s advice: He now invests in Republican advocacy firms — and profits from the electoral defeat of Democrats.

In March, Penn’s investment firm Stagwell Media LLC announced that it had acquired a minority stake in Targeted Victory, a major Republican digital consulting company. Targeted Victory, founded by personnel from Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, was provided consulting services for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. More recently, following Penn’s investment in the firm, Targeted Victory assisted Republican Karen Handel in her successful campaign against Democrat Jon Ossoff in the Georgia special election last month.

Stagwell Media did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Penn’s opinion column sparked a number of rebuttals on social media, with many pointing to his disastrous role advising Hillary Clinton during the 2008 primaries as a major reason people should distrust Penn’s advice. According to one report, Penn designed Clinton’s strategy based on the false assumption that California’s primary awarded delegates on a winner-take-all basis, instead of a proportional system. Such basic mistakes by the Clinton campaign were reportedly pivotal in Barack Obama’s primary victory.

While Penn gained a new fortune by advising Microsoft, in more recent years he has slowly grown an investment portfolio that includes several lobbying and public affairs firms. Penn also owns SKDKnickerbocker, a Democrat-run company that develops policy campaigns on behalf of corporate clients including for-profit colleges, AT&T, and Herbalife.

Top photo: Mark Penn, chief strategist and pollster for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton, speaks to reporters in the “spin room” after the Democratic debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire on January 5, 2008.

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Preso por fraudar licitação de creche, deputado comanda sessão da Comissão de Educação da Câmara

6 July 2017 - 2:30pm

Mais um capítulo da surreal cena política de Brasília marcou a quarta-feira (5) no Congresso. Preso no mês passado sob a acusação de fraudar uma licitação para a construção de uma creche quando era prefeito de Três Rios (RJ), em 2003, o deputado Celso Jacob (PMDB) se sentou na cadeira de presidente da Comissão de Educação da Casa, após o titular, Caio Narcio (PSDB-MG) ceder o lugar de honra. Jacob, que atualmente cumpre a sentença de sete anos e dois meses de detenção determinada pelo STF em regime semiaberto, ainda recebeu o carinho de colegas.  

“Você pode ter tido um erro administrativo, mas não justifica o que fizeram. A cada dia que passa essa Casa se acovarda. É uma alegria tê-lo conosco presidindo esta comissão”, afirmou o deputado Damião Feliciano (PDT/PB) durante a sessão.

Antes de Damião, o presidente da comissão, Caio Narcio, que convocou Jacob ao deixar o plenário, também fez questão de mostrar sua solidariedade: “Reafirmo o apoio à conduta do colega, que jamais atuou contra os interesses do povo de seu estado”.

Mesmo condenado, Jacob mantém os mesmos direitos do que os outros parlamentares não condenados. O congressista continua a receber os R$ 34 mil de salário e pode contratar até 25 servidores, mas sem estourar os R$ 101.971,94 da cota que é destinada a cada parlamentar. O pacote inclui carro oficial, TV por assinatura, internet, telefone fixo, transporte e alimentação, auxílio moradia e saúde. Todos pagos pela Câmara dos Deputados com dinheiro do contribuinte.

Da Câmara para a Papuda

Quando o relógio marca 18h30m de uma sexta-feira, enquanto o restante de seus pares costuma voltar para casa ou viajar a seus estados, Jacob precisa tomar o rumo da Complexo Penitenciário da Papuda, que fica a 13 quilômetros do Congresso, e tem capacidade para receber até 5 mil detentos.

Por lá já passaram outros políticos importantes do cenário brasileiro: o ex-ministro petista José Dirceu; o “homem da mala” de confiança de Michel Temer, Rocha Loures; e Geddel Vieira Lima, braço-direito do presidente, levado recentemente para uma cela do presídio. Todos são acusados de corrupção.

O belo gabinete do deputado Celso Jacob na Câmara

Foto: George Marques

Em dias de sessões que ultrapassem o horário das 18h30m, como costuma ocorrer às terças e quartas, Jacob é obrigado a apresentar uma certidão, a ser emitida pela Câmara, atestando que esteve no plenário no período noturno. O descumprimento da ordem pode levar à revogação do benefício do regime semiaberto.

Procurado pela reportagem e após mais de duas horas de espera, Jacob mostrou-se econômico nas palavras. “Só falo na presença do meu advogado”, adiantou, em tom intimidatório.

“Acho que estão usando vossa excelência como bode expiatório pra achincalhar esta casa”

The Intercept Brasil perguntou ao parlamentar sobre sua rotina de poder ir à Câmara só em dias úteis, das 9h às 12h, e de 13h30m às 18h30m. “Tudo normal, a vida tem que seguir, é algo desconfortável, mas irei mostrar minha inocência”. Talvez Jacob não tenha percebido que o último recurso já se esgotou e foi negado no STF.

Mas, se dependesse de seus colegas, Jacob seria absolvido. A sessão da Comissão de Educação teve uma carga intensa de solidariedade, recheada de frases de efeito. “Eu quando sou provocado fico mais valente”, proclamou o vigoroso Átila Lira (PSB/PI) em defesa de Jacob. Segundo Lira, a Câmara precisa aprimorar os mecanismos de “proteção” às investidas externas que visam unicamente constranger outros poderes. “Eu me sinto provocado e com muita mais coragem de enfrentar aquilo que é injusto quando vejo a justiça tentando nos constranger”, afirmou.

“Eu só confio na justiça divina.”

“Acho que estão usando vossa excelência como bode expiatório pra achincalhar esta casa”, esclareceu Sóstenes Cavalcanti (DEM/RJ), deputado com origem na Baixada Fluminense, em Duque de Caxias (RJ), ligado ao pastor Silas Malafaia. O congressista classificou a decisão da justiça contra Jacob de um “erro”. “Eu só confio na justiça divina. A sua insegurança, deputado, é a insegurança de todos os brasileiros deste país”, disse.

Há entre parlamentares no Congresso uma espécie de rede de amparo quando um colega é preso ou levado para depor pela polícia. Outros tipos de autoproteção são vistas também quando um senador, por exemplo, usa os milhões de votos de Aécio Neves (PSDB/MG) para livrá-lo do processo de cassação no Conselho de Ética. A autoproteção coletiva é justificada na premissa que hoje foi a vez do Jacob. Amanhã, pode ser a vez de qualquer um.

Foto em destaque: O deputado Celso Jacob em sessão na Câmara em outubro de 2016.

The post Preso por fraudar licitação de creche, deputado comanda sessão da Comissão de Educação da Câmara appeared first on The Intercept.