The Intercept

A Reactionary Wave Points to a Dark Future for Brazil

5 October 2017 - 3:05pm

In March 2013, Dilma Rousseff, then-president of Brazil, boasted 65 percent approval ratings, higher than her predecessors Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso during the same periods in their governments. According to the pollster Datafolha, Brazilians were optimistic about the economy and the purchasing power of their salaries. Just three months later, after the nationwide street protests popularly dubbed the “June Journeys,” Rousseff’s popularity plummeted some 27 points. It was the largest fall in approval between two polls since former President Fernando Collor confiscated Brazilians’ savings accounts in the hyperinflation era of 1990.

But whoever thought the June demonstrations would positively shake up the next election season would be fooled. The following year, Brazil voted in its most conservative Congress since 1964. By 2016, this Congress had ousted the legitimately re-elected president through a parliamentary coup. The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party — Rousseff’s erstwhile ally — pulled an ideological U-turn, joined forces with the opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party, and formed a government more conservative than any we have seen in recent times.

Massive protests broke out across Brazil in June 2013 demanding better public services and bemoaning corruption and massive spending to stage the World Cup.

Photo: Tasso Marcelo/AFP/Getty Images

In 2017, we face a somber scene: a presidential candidate who is an enthusiastic supporter of the torture carried out during the 1964-1985 military dictatorship is polling at 21 percent a year ahead of elections; the Supreme Court has decided that teachers can promote specific religious beliefs in the classroom; the so-called Non-Partisan School legislation, allegedly meant to combat supposed “leftist indoctrination” by teachers, has passed in several cities; a congressman is attempting to amend the constitution to re-criminalize all abortion; art exhibitions in museums have become the target of moralistic outrage and boycott; and a top general  feels comfortable enough to publicly float the idea of a new military coup. These episodes suggest that conservatism is in vogue in Brazil and they are not isolated occurrences. The reactionary wave has become a tsunami, and it appears to have not yet reached its crest.

With a crucifix hung on its wall, the Supreme Court — the top juridical institution in a secular state — voted 6 to 5 that public school educators can teach their own religions in the classroom. The decision arose from a lawsuit filed by the attorney general that sought to define religious instruction as that which concerns “the doctrines, practices, history, and social dimensions of different religions.” Could anything be more coherent and obvious in a country whose constitution defines it as a secular nation?

Let’s not fool ourselves: Only Christian faiths will be taught in classrooms.

The law already mandated that religion be provided in public schools, but it did not specify if a particular faith could be advocated. In light of this vagueness, the government attorney sought to prohibit religious education that indoctrinated students in one specific faith, charging that it violated the principle of a secular state. The majority of justices disagreed, saying that religion classes are voluntary. The fact that they are optional does not change that taxpayers of various faiths, including atheists, are going to pay to promote religions to which they do not adhere.

An evangelical prayer service was held in the chambers of the Rio de Janeiro City Council on September 29, led by a bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God who is also an elected city council member.

Photo: Facebook

This is clearly a violation of the secular nature of our state. This means that priests and pastors, even those who literally demonize Afro-Brazilian faiths, are now allowed by the Supreme Court to catechize in public schools. Let’s not fool ourselves: Only Christian faiths will be taught in classrooms.

While the Supreme Court made it possible for an issue that should pertain to the private sphere to be taught in public schools, the Non-Partisan School project bans teachers from exposing their political views to students. Parties on the right, the evangelical caucus, and the libertarian “Free Brazil Movement” are leading this effort and they’re having success. In one of their anti-communist deliriums, they intend to combat a supposed “Marxist ideological indoctrination” happening at schools. Some 62 pieces of legislation have been proposed at the municipal level across the country. At least four cities have approved such laws. No matter that the federal public ministry, a body of independent public prosecutors, has called such legislation unconstitutional several times, nor that the Supreme Court justice Luis Roberto Barroso suspended one of these laws enacted in the state of Alagoas precisely on the grounds that it violated the constitution. But who gives a damn about the constitution these days?

Pelo que entendi:

Professor ciências sociais
NÃO pode ter ideologia,

Professor de religião
PODE doutrinar na sua
própria religião.


— Beatriz (@be882288) September 27, 2017

As far as I understand:
A social sciences teacher CAN’T have ideology.
A religion teacher CAN indoctrinate students with his own religion.
Oh, OK!

A priest can comfortably teach that humanity came from Adam and Eve, while a history teacher will have to watch their words when talking about the Russian or Cuban revolutions. How will a teacher describe the 1964 military intervention in Brazil? As a coup or a revolution? Was Rousseff ousted through a legitimate impeachment or a parliamentary coup? Who will decide which terms a teacher can use in the classroom? Who will be the censor to determine if there was or was not any ideological indoctrination? It’s not for nothing this legislation is called the “gag law.”

Congressman Jair Bolsonaro is a leading presidential candidate for the 2018 elections. He has garnered headlines and a legion of loyal followers for his reactionary views.

Photo: Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images

The reactionaries are stronger than ever. After the general publicly declared himself open to a military coup, a poll from the Instituto Paraná found that 43.1 percent of Brazilians support such a coup. Even though the pollster is not one of the most reliable, the result doesn’t seem too far from our current reality when the most enthusiastic cheerleader of the military dictatorship is consistently polling as a top presidential candidate, or when Datafolha reports the armed forces to be the most trusted institution in Brazil. What is most remarkable about the poll is that young people between 16 and 24 years old are the most favorable to the idea — so much for the supposed “Marxist indoctrination” from teachers. Last December, Paraná carried out the same poll and found 35 percent of Brazilians in favor of a military coup. That is to say: A military coup became eight percentage points more popular in just nine months. If this pace of growth continues, we could come into the next election with the majority of Brazilians supporting a military takeover of Brasília.

So it’s in this fertile environment that 21 percent of Brazilians say they will vote for the dictatorship-endorsing congressman Jair Bolsonaro, a number we can expect to trend upward. In just one month, he gained seven percentage points. In a field with many candidates, it’s an extremely high number, putting him behind only Lula, who likely will not run next year. As Tomas Chiaverini has written in The Intercept Brasil, there is a certain collective denial about the possibility that Bolsonaro could become our next president. They will argue that he doesn’t have the necessary party infrastructure backing him, that he won’t have enough free allotted time for TV ads, that he’s a loudmouth without enough political understanding and intellect to perform well in debates. Well, I actually believe these factors can be quite favorable to him in these times of generalized dissatisfaction and political disillusionment. The campaigns of U.S. President Donald Trump and São Paulo Mayor João Doria — a former host of “The Apprentice Brazil” — went through similar trajectories. The time for us to sound the red alert has passed. This reactionary tsunami is no joke.

Top photo: Protesters gather outside São Paulo’s Modern Art Museum after an exhibition featuring a naked man sparked an internet furor.

Translation: Taylor Barnes

The post A Reactionary Wave Points to a Dark Future for Brazil appeared first on The Intercept.

The FBI’s Hunt for Two Missing Piglets Reveals the Federal Cover-Up of Barbaric Factory Farms

5 October 2017 - 2:05pm

This article includes graphic images some readers may find disturbing.

FBI agents are devoting substantial resources to a multistate hunt for two baby piglets that the bureau believes are named Lucy and Ethel. The two piglets were removed over the summer from the Circle Four Farm in Utah by animal rights activists who had entered the Smithfield Foods-owned factory farm to film the brutal, torturous conditions in which the pigs are bred in order to be slaughtered.

While filming the conditions at the Smithfield facility, activists saw the two ailing baby piglets laying on the ground, visibly ill and near death, surrounded by the rotting corpses of dead piglets. “One was swollen and barely able to stand; the other had been trampled and was covered in blood,” said Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), which filmed the facility and performed the rescue. Due to various illnesses, he said, the piglets were unable to eat or digest food and were thus a fraction of the normal weight for piglets their age.

Rather than leave the two piglets at Circle Four Farm to wait for an imminent and painful death, the DxE activists decided to rescue them. They carried them out of the pens where they had been suffering and took them to an animal sanctuary to be treated and nursed back to health.

DxE photograph depicting piglets huddled up against their mothers at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah. DxE says the piglets were sick or starving.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

This single Smithfield Foods farm breeds and then slaughters more than one million pigs each year. One of the odd aspects of animal mistreatment in the U.S. is that species regarded as more intelligent and emotionally complex — dogs, dolphins, cats, primates — generally receive more public concern and more legal protection. Yet pigs – among the planet’s most intelligent, social, and emotionally complicated species, capable of great joy, play, love, connection, suffering and pain, at least on a par with dogs — receive almost no protections, and are subject to savage systematic abuse by U.S. factory farms.

At Smithfield, like most industrial pig farms, the abuse and torture primarily comes not from rogue employees violating company procedures. Instead, the cruelty is inherent in the procedures themselves. One of the most heinous industry-wide practices is one that DxE activists encountered in abundance at Circle Four: gestational crating.

Where that technique is used, pigs are placed in a crate made of iron bars that is the exact length and width of their bodies, so they can do nothing for their entire lives but stand on a concrete floor, never turn around, never see any outdoors, never even see their tails, never move more than an inch. That was the condition in which the activists found the rotting piglet corpses and the two ailing piglets they rescued.

Piles of dead and rotting piglets are piled up behind a sow, who is wedged into a crate so tightly that she cannot move away from the mess at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Female pigs give birth in this condition. They are put in so-called farrowing crates when they give birth, and their piglets run underneath them to suckle and are often trampled to death. The sows are bred repeatedly this way until their fertility declines, at which point they are slaughtered and turned into meat.

The pigs are so desperate to get out of their crates that they often spend weeks trying to bite through the iron bars until their gums gush blood, bash their heads against the walls, and suffer a disease in which their organs end up mangled in the wrong places, from the sheer physical trauma of trying to escape from a tiny space or from acute anxiety (called “organ torsion”).

So cruel is the practice that in 2014, Canada effectively banned its usage, as the European Union had done two years earlier. Nine U.S. states, most of which host very few farms, have banned gestational crating (in 2014, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, with his eye on the GOP primary in farm-friendly Iowa, vetoed a bill that would have made his state the 10th).

But in the U.S. states where factory farms actually thrive, these devices continue to be widely used, which means a vast majority of pigs in the U.S. are subjected to them. The suffering, pain, and death these crates routinely cause were in ample evidence at Smithfield Foods, as accounts, photos, and videos from DxE demonstrate.

FBI raids animal sanctuaries

Under normal circumstances, a large industrial farming company such as Smithfield Foods would never notice that two sick piglets of the millions it breeds and then slaughters were missing. Nor would they care: A sick and dying piglet has no commercial value to them.

Yet the rescue of these two particular piglets has literally become a federal case — by all appearances, a matter of great importance to the Department of Justice. On the last day of August, a six-car armada of FBI agents in bulletproof vests, armed with search warrants, descended upon two small shelters for abandoned farm animals: Ching Farm Rescue in Riverton, Utah, and Luvin Arms in Erie, Colorado.

These sanctuaries have no connection to DxE or any other rescue groups. They simply serve as a shelter for sick, abandoned, or otherwise injured animals. Run by a small staff and a team of animal-loving volunteers, they are open to the public to teach about farm animals.

The attachments to the search warrants specified that the FBI agents could take “DNA samples (blood, hair follicles or ear clippings) to be seized from swine with the following characteristics: I. Pink/white coloring; II. Docked tails; III. Approximately 5 to 9 months in age; IV. Any swine with a hole in right ear.”

The FBI agents searched the premises of both shelters. They demanded DNA samples of two piglets they said were named Lucy and Ethel, in order to determine whether they were the two ailing piglets who had been rescued weeks earlier from Smithfield.

A representative of Luvin Arms, who insisted on anonymity due to fear of the pending criminal investigation, described the events. The FBI agents ordered staff and volunteers to stay away from the animals and then approached the piglets. To obtain the DNA samples, the state veterinarians accompanying the FBI used a snare to pressurize the piglet’s snout, thus immobilizing her in pain and fear, and then cut off close to two inches of the piglet’s ear.

The piglet’s pain was so severe, and her screams so piercing, that the sanctuary’s staff members screamed and cried. Even the FBI agents were so sufficiently disturbed by the resulting trauma, that they directed the veterinarians not to subject the second piglet to the procedure. The sanctuary representative recounted that the piglet who had part of her ear removed spent weeks depressed and scared, barely moving or eating, and still has not fully recovered. The FBI “receipt” given to the sanctuaries shows they took DNA samples “from swine.”

Several volunteers at one of the raided animal shelters said they were followed back to their homes by FBI agents, who dramatically questioned them in front of family members and neighbors. And there is even reason to believe that the bureau has been surveilling the activists’ private communications regarding the rescue of this piglet duo.

The FBI specified as part of its search that it was seeking DNA samples from piglets they said were named “Lucy” and “Ethel.” But those were not the names the activists used when publicly discussing the rescue of the two piglets. In their videos about the rescue, they called the pair “Lily” and “Lizzie.” Lucy and Ethel were code names the activists used internally, suggesting that agents were surveilling the activists’ communications — either electronically or through informants — in an effort to find the two piglets and build a criminal case against the group.

Subsequent events confirmed that this show of FBI force was designed to intimidate the sanctuaries, which played no role in the rescue. Weeks after the FBI’s execution of the two search warrants, Luvin Arms — in the midst of an interview with The Intercept — received a telephone call from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, claiming the agency had received “a complaint” that the sanctuary lacked the legally required licenses for animal shelters that are open to the public. “We had never had an FBI visit or a USDA call about licenses, and now suddenly, within weeks, both happened,” the sanctuary representative said.

A piglet that was ill and close to death at Smithfield recovers as she is cared for after being rescued.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Retaliation for exposing cruel treatment

What has vested these two piglets with such importance to the FBI is that their rescue is now part of what has become an increasingly visible public campaign by DxE and other activists to highlight the barbaric suffering and abuse that animals endure on farms like Circle Four. Obviously, the FBI and Smithfield — the nation’s largest industrial farm corporation — don’t really care about the missing piglets they are searching for. What they care about is the efficacy of a political campaign intent on showing the public how animals are abused at factory farms, and they are determined to intimidate those responsible.

Deterring such campaigns and intimidating the activists behind them is, manifestly, the only goal here. What made this piglet rescue particularly intolerable was an article that appeared in the New York Times days after the rescue, which touted the use of virtual reality technology by animal rights activists to allow the public to immerse in the full experience of seeing what takes place in these companies’ farms. The article featured a photograph of the DxE activists rescuing the piglets from the Smithfield farm:

The Times article was published July 6. The search warrant against the sanctuaries was obtained the following month, in mid-August, and then executed on August 31. In the interim, the piglets had become stars of a clearly effective campaign against Smithfield Foods. 

In response to questions from The Intercept, Smithfield insisted that it does not abuse its animals. But, as is typical for factory farms, the company offered little more then generalized denials, accompanied by vague accusations that the videos and photos the activists took are somehow “distorted.”

After they rescued the two piglets, the DxE activists did not try to hide what they had done: They did the opposite. They used a tactic known as “open rescue,” the purpose of which is to publicly detail what has been done to help the public understand the true nature of the abuses.

The activists wrote about the rescue in social media postings that went viral, detailing the horrific conditions they witnessed at Smithfield and describing the suffering of the piglets. They posted videos to Facebook and YouTube that they filmed of the farm and the rescue as it happened, with other videos showing Lily and Lizzie being treated at the sanctuaries and growing into happy, playful, healthy adolescents.

Video: Direct Action Everywhere

Plainly, the “crime” of these activists that has galvanized the FBI is not the “theft” of two dying piglets; it is political activism and investigative journalism, which exposes the cruelty and abuse at the heart of this powerful industry.

In response to a few media reports on the FBI raids at the sanctuaries, bureau spokesperson Sandra Barker told the Washington Post: “I can say that we were at the two locations conducting court-authorized activity related to an ongoing investigation. Because it’s ongoing, I’m not able to provide any more details at this time.”

To an industry feeling endangered by growing public disgust over conditions at industrial farms — driven by scandals within the meat, pork, and poultry sectors — Lily and Lizzie are political and journalistic threats. Animals like them are vital for enabling animal rights activists to demonstrate to the public in a visceral, personalized way that this industry generates massive profit by monstrously and unnecessarily torturing living beings who are emotionally complex and experience great suffering.

Rescued piglets Lizzie and Lily.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Government power abused to intimidate and punish activists

The Justice Department’s grave attention to a case of two missing piglets reflects how vigilantly the U.S. government uses extreme measures to protect the agricultural industry — not from unjust economic loss, violent crime, or theft, but from political embarrassment and accurate reporting that damages the industry’s reputation.

A sweeping framework of draconian laws — designed to shield the industry from criticism and deter and punish its critics — has been enacted across the country by federal and state legislatures that are captive to the industry’s high-paid lobbyists. The most notorious of these measures are the “ag-gag” laws, which make publishing videos of farm conditions taken as part of undercover operations a felony, punishable by years in prison.

Though many courts, including most recently a federal court in Utah, have struck down these laws as an unconstitutional assault on speech and press freedoms, they continue to be used in numerous states to harass and, in some cases, prosecute animal rights activists. As the Times article notes, these ag-gag laws are one reason activists are forced to turn to virtual reality: to show what really happens inside industrial farms without running the risk of prosecution.

Many mother pigs had nipples that were torn into bloody shreds from feeding starving piglets.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Even more extreme and menacing is the federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. As I described previously when reporting on the arrest of two young activists — who faced 10 years in prison for freeing minks from farm cages before the animals could be sliced to death and turned into luxury coats — nonviolent animal rights activists are often designated as “terrorists” under the AETA and are treated in the court system as such, even when no human beings are hurt and the economic loss is minimal:

As is typical for lobbyist and industry-supported bills, the AETA passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (its two prime Senate sponsors were James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.) and then was signed into law by George W. Bush.

This “terrorism” law is violated if one “intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property (including animals or records) used by an animal enterprise … for the purpose of damaging or interfering with” its operations. If you do that — and note that only “damage to property” but not to humans is required — then you are guilty of “domestic terrorism” under the law.

Prior to the 2006 enactment of the AETA, animal rights activism that damaged property was already illegal under a 1992 federal law, as well as various state laws, and subject to severe punishments. The primary purpose of the new 2006 law was to expand the scope of criminal offenses to include plainly protected forms of political protest, and to heighten the legal punishments and intensify social condemnation by literally labeling animal-rights activists as “domestic terrorists.”

The factory farm industry and its armies of lobbyists wield great influence in the halls of federal and state power, while animal rights activists wield virtually none. This imbalance has produced increasingly oppressive laws, accompanied by massive law enforcement resources devoted to punishing animal activists even for the most inconsequential nonviolent infractions — as the FBI search warrant and raid in search of “Lucy and Ethel” illustrates.

The U.S. government, of course, has always protected and served the interests of industry. Beginning when most of the nation was fed by small farms, federal agencies have been particularly protective of agricultural industry. That loyalty has only intensified as family farms have nearly disappeared, replaced by industrial factory farms where animals are viewed purely as commodities, instruments for profit, and treated with unconstrained cruelty.

Downed pigs languish in their own feces at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Lately, opposition is emerging from unusual places. Utah federal judge Robert J. Shelby, an Obama appointee who is a lifelong Republican, recently struck down the state’s ag-gag law on First Amendment grounds, noting in his ruling:

For as long as farmers have put food on American tables, the government has endeavored to support and protect the agricultural industry. … In short, governmental protection of the American agricultural industry is not new, and has taken a variety of forms over the last two hundred years. What is new, however, is the recent spate of state laws that have assumed an altogether novel approach: restricting speech related to agricultural operations.

As Shelby detailed, those ag-gag laws were not used until activists began having success in showing the public the true extent of cruelty that industrial farms impose on animals:

Nobody was ever charged under these [early ag-gag] laws, and for nearly two decades no new ag-gag legislation was introduced. That changed, however, after a series of high profile undercover investigations were made public in the mid to late 2000s.

To name just a few, in 2007, an undercover investigator at the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company in California filmed workers forcing sick cows, many unable to walk, into the “kill box” by repeatedly shocking them with electric prods, jabbing them in the eye, prodding them with a forklift, and spraying water up their noses. A 2009 investigation at Hy-Line Hatchery in Iowa revealed hundreds of thousands of unwanted day-old male chicks being funneled by conveyor belt into a macerator to be ground up live.

That same year, undercover investigators at a Vermont slaughterhouse operated by Bushway Packing obtained similarly gruesome footage of days-old calves being kicked, dragged, and skinned alive. A few years later, an undercover investigator at E6 Cattle Company in Texas filmed workers beating cows on the head with hammers and pickaxes and leaving them to die. And later that year, at Sparboe Farms in Iowa, undercover investigators documented hens with gaping, untreated wounds laying eggs in cramped conditions among decaying corpses.

The publication of these and other undercover videos had devastating consequences for the agricultural facilities involved. The videos led to boycotts of facilities by McDonald’s,Target, Sam’s Club, and others. They led to bankruptcy and closure of facilities and criminal charges against employees and owners. They led to statewide ballot initiatives banning certain farming practices. And they led to the largest meat recall in United States history, a facility’s entire two years’ worth of production. Over the next three years, sixteen states introduced ag-gag legislation.

In other words, both the legislative process and law enforcement agencies are being blatantly exploited — misused — to protect not the property rights but the reputational interests of this industry. Having the FBI — in the midst of real domestic terrorism threats, hurricane-ravaged communities, and intricate corporate criminality — send agents around the country to animal sanctuaries in search of DNA samples for two missing piglets may seem like overkill to the point of being laughable. But it is entirely unsurprising in the context of how law enforcement resources are used, and on whose behalf.

A piglet at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Smithfield Food’s defenses

It makes sense that Smithfield Foods would be petrified of the public learning of many of its practices. But in this particular case, they are specifically trying to hide the pure evils of gestational crates. This video, taken by an investigator with the Humane Society in 2012, shows the widespread but hideous reality of gestational crates at a Smithfield farm:

In response to the public controversy over this practice, generated by activists filming what was going on, Smithfield announced in 2012 that they would phase out gestational crating in 10 years — by 2022. They then claimed that by the end of 2017, they would transition completely to “group housing systems.” But as the DxE videos show, gestation crates are exactly what activists found in abundance when they visited Smithfield’s Circle Four.

Indeed, when Wayne Hsiung and DxE visited Circle Four over the summer, they saw no signs whatsoever of any construction or reform efforts to move away from gestational crates, Hsiung told the Intercept. As the videos show, Circle Four had thousands of pigs suffering in such crates. That was where the activists found the two piglets, close to death.

When Smithfield learned that The Intercept was reporting on these issues, a spokesperson emailed a statement and invited further questions. The statement claims that in response to DxE’s reporting, Smithfield “immediately launched an investigation and completed a third-party audit,” and “the audit results show no findings of animal mistreatment.”

This is a typical industry tactic: When they claim, as they almost always do, that their paid auditors discovered “no findings of animal mistreatment,” what they mean is that there was no evidence that their employees engaged in activities that corporate procedures explicitly prohibit (such as beating the animals or administering electric shock).

But what the audit does not do is ask whether the procedures themselves (such as gestational crating) are abusive and thus constitute “mistreatment.” Smithfield failed to provide a response to The Intercept’s follow-up questions about what it does and does not mean when their auditors claim no “mistreatment” was discovered; the company simply reiterated that “the animals observed on the farm by the audit team were in good condition, appeared comfortable, free of clinical disease, and showed no signs of fear or intimidation in the presence of people.” Simply review the DxE video above, and the featured photos showing what they found at Circle Four, to judge for yourself.

Cramped conditions lead to many pigs being trampled to death at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

In its statement, Smithfield also accused the activists who rescued the two piglets of “risk[ing] the life of the animals they stole and the lives of the animals living on our farms by trespassing” — an odd claim from a company that plans to slaughter all of those same animals. When asked to specify how the activists endangered the lives of the sick animals they rescued, Smithfield told The Intercept that “the video’s creators violated Smithfield’s strict biosecurity policy, which prevents the spread of disease on farms.” The statement added: “The piglets were not ‘extremely ill’ or ‘on the verge of death.’ These piglets, along with other animals living on the farm, are well cared for throughout their lifetime.”

But in response, Hsiung told the Intercept: “Our activists use better biosecurity protocols than the company’s own employees, as evidenced by the dead, rotting piglets on the farm. Allowing baby animals to rot to death is, in fact, a serious violation of biosecurity and food safety. Taking photographs of animal cruelty is not.”

Smithfield also accused the activists of manipulating their film, claiming that “the video appears to be highly edited and even staged in an attempt to manufacture an animal care issue where one does not exist.” But Smithfield did not respond to this question from The Intercept about the staging allegation: “How would these activists stage hundreds of pigs in gestation crates and dozens of piglets rotting to death — all in virtual reality, no less? It would take a Hollywood blockbuster budget and the most sophisticated team of computer-generated imagery for that. What’s Smithfield’s theory about what they fabricated in this video?”

The only specifics Smithfield offered was the assertion that “based on the review of animal care experts, it appears piglets were moved from one section of the barn to another to support the inaccuracies and falsehoods described in the video by its creators.”

But Hsiung said: “The video speaks for itself. I don’t know how we can fake a rotting piglet.” Regarding the accusation that they moved piglets, he added: “I imagine what they are seeing is piglets in the wrong sort of pen, gestation rather than farrowing. But that is a testament to their own failed animal care practices. We were shocked and horrified, as well, to see piglets born and housed in inappropriate conditions that left them exposed to trauma.”

In sum, the industry has long responded to these videos — which they tried in the first instance to use their lobbying power to criminalize — by insisting that the videos are distorted. Yet they never specify what these supposed distortions are. Now that activists are using virtual reality technology, which allows the viewer to see everything the activists see, such claims are even more untenable than they were before.

A rescued piglet, named Lily, recovers under a blanket.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

Revolving door with agribusiness

A recent change in U.S. political discourse — spurred by events such as the 2008 financial crisis, the Occupy movement, and the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign — is the increasingly common use of the words “oligarchy” and “plutocracy” to describe the country’s political system. Though dramatic, the terms, melded together, describe a fairly simple and common state of affairs: power exerted by and exercised for the exclusive benefit of a small group of people who wield the greatest financial power.

It is hard to imagine a more vivid illustration than watching FBI agents don bulletproof vests and execute DNA search warrants for Lily and Lizzie, all to deter and intimidate critics of a savage industry that funds politicians and the lobbyists that direct them.

Substantial attention has been paid over the last several years to the “revolving door” that runs Washington — industry executives being brought in to run the agencies that regulate their industries, followed by them returning to that industry once their industry-serving government work is done. That’s how Wall Street barons come to “regulate” banks, how factory owners come to “regulate” workplace safety laws, how oil executives come to “regulate” environmental protections — only to leave the public sector and return back to lavish rewards from those same industries for a job well done.

Though it receives modest attention, this revolving door spins faster, and in more blatantly sleazy ways, when it comes to the USDA and its mandate to safeguard animal welfare. The USDA is typically dominated by executives from the very factory farm industries that are most in need of vibrant regulation.

For that reason, animal welfare laws are woefully inadequate, but the ways in which they are enforced is typically little more than a bad joke. Industrial farming corporations like Smithfield know they can get away with any abuse or “mislabeling” deceit (such as misleading claims about their treatment of animals) because the officials who have been vested with the sole authority to enforce these laws — federal USDA officials — are so captive to their industry. Courts have repeatedly ruled that private individuals, animal rights groups, and even state authorities have no right to sue to enforce animal welfare laws, because the “exclusive authority” lies with the U.S. government, which has no real interest in actually enforcing those laws.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on July 12, 2017, in Atlanta.

Photo: Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP

The current secretary of agriculture, former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (pictured, right), is just one example, but he vividly highlights the revolving door form of legalized corruption that dominates this industry.

Perdue was raised on a Georgia row farm and obtained his doctorate in veterinary medicine. Despite those seemingly benign credentials, the factory farm industry celebrated the news of his nomination by President Donald Trump. The National Chicken Council, for instance, demanded that he be “confirmed expeditiously.” The enthusiasm was for good reason.

“Georgia was pretty friendly to food-industry interests during Perdue’s two terms,” Grub Street reported, and Perdue “took about $330,000 in contributions from Monsanto and other agribusinesses for his campaigns.” In 2009, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the lobbying group for genetically modified foods, named Perdue its “Governor of the Year” because, it said, “he has been a stalwart advocate of the biosciences in Georgia and truly understands the promise of our industry.” As Georgia governor, Perdue supported the rapid expansion of factory farm giant Perdue Farms (to which he has no familial relation), with its long history of allegations of animal abuse.

And Perdue has extensive ties to the agribusiness sector he’s now supposed to oversee and regulate. The firm of which he is the founding partner and his family owns and runs, Perdue Partners LLC, is an agribusiness at the heart of this industry:

After being confirmed, Perdue wasted little time lavishing his agribusiness industry with gifts. In February, the USDA “abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities,” reported the Washington Post. Then, two senators who have received large sums from farmers and ranchers — Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Republican Pat Roberts — agitated for the recession of the Obama administration’s mild regulations on organic eggs, designed to improve conditions for chickens, and the Perdue-led USDA “put the new standard on hold and suggested that it might even be withdrawn.”

In sum, with industry insiders dominating the sole agency (USDA) with the authority to regulate factory farms, animals that are captive, abused, tortured, and slaughtered en masse have little chance, even when it comes to just applying existing laws with a minimal amount of diligence. The politics of the U.S. — including the fact that a key farm state, Iowa, plays such a central role in presidential elections — means there are massive forces arrayed behind factory farms, and very few in support of animal welfare.

Piglets are raised in cramped, filthy conditions at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

From fringe to the mainstream

But the animal rights movement, despite receiving relatively scant media attention and operating under the threat of federal prosecutions for terrorism, boasts some of the nation’s more effective, shrewd, and tenacious political activists. They have made significant strides in turning the public against the worst of the prevailing practices on these farms, and more generally, in forcing into the public consciousness the knowledge of how this industry imposes suffering, abuse, and torture on living beings on a mass and systematic scale, all to maximize profits. 

Just a decade ago, the cause of animal cruelty and exploitation was a fringe position, rarely appearing outside far-left circles. That has all changed, thanks largely to the efforts of these activists, many of whom have been imprisoned for their efforts. Most activists say that it was unimaginable even a decade ago for major newspaper columnists such as the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof or Frank Bruni to take up their cause, yet that’s precisely what they have done in a series of columns over the last several years.

“If you torture a single chicken and are caught, you’re likely to be arrested. If you scald thousands of chickens alive, you’re an industrialist who will be lauded for your acumen,” Kristof wrote in one 2015 column. He described the savagery of the process used to slaughter chickens by the millions and scornfully dismissed industry’s claim that no abuse or mistreatment was found by their auditors.

In a column the year before, Kristof detailed the barbarism and misleading claims that chickens are “humanely raised” at Perdue Farms — the company USDA Secretary Perdue helped to expand — and concluded: “Torture a single chicken and you risk arrest. Abuse hundreds of thousands of chickens for their entire lives? That’s agribusiness.”

And that’s to say nothing of the other significant costs from industrial farming. There are serious health risks posed by the fecal waste produced at such farms. And the excessive, reckless use of antibiotics common at factory farms can create treatment-resistant bacterial strains capable of infecting and killing humans. There is also increasing awareness that industrial farming meaningfully exacerbates climate problems, with some research suggesting that it produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined. Reviewing the meat industry in 2014, Kristof summarized what he learned this way:

Our industrial food system is unhealthy. It privatizes gains but socializes the health and environmental costs. It rewards shareholders — Tyson’s stock price has quadrupled since early 2009 — but can be ghastly for the animals and humans it touches.

Bruni wrote in a 2014 column headlined “According Animals Dignity” of “a broadening, deepening concern about animals that’s no longer sufficiently captured by the phrase ‘animal welfare.’” Instead of simply curbing the most egregious abuses, he wrote, a more principled awareness of the intrinsic worth and rights of animals is emerging: “an era of what might be called animal dignity is upon us.”

Some progress is indeed undeniable. Laws are being re-written to recognize that dogs and other pets are more than property; places such as Sea World and Ringling Brothers’ circuses can no longer feature imprisoned animals forced to perform; and some states are enacting laws criminalizing the worst extremes of animal cruelty.

One U.S. Senator, Democrat Cory Booker of New Jersey, has placed animal rights protections as one of his legislative priorities. Booker, who has been a vegetarian since college and recently announced his transition to full veganism, has sponsored a spate of bills to fortify the rights of animals: from banning the selling of shark fins to limiting the legal uses of animals for testing to requiring humane treatment of animals in all federal facilities.

While he has been attacked by the New York Post for “animal rights extremism” after he announced his veganism, Booker now regularly and unflinchingly invokes the core principles of animal rights: “I want to try to live my own values as consciously and purposefully as I can. Being vegan for me is a cleaner way of not participating in practices that don’t align with my values.” Rather than these legislative efforts being scorned, a spokesman for Booker told the Intercept that “Sens. Merkley and Whitehouse have been reliable allies on animal testing and other efforts; the Shark Fin effort has a number of cosponsors as well; and Sens. Schatz, Markey, Warren, Feinstein, Blumenthal have been partners as well.”

The devastating cost of industrial farming and the mass torture and slaughter on which it depends — moral, spiritual, physical, environmental — are being documented in scholarly circles with increasing clarity. A group of public health specialists jointly wrote in a New York Times op-ed in May: “This sweeping change in meat production and consumption has had grave consequences for our health and environment, and these problems will grow only worse if current trends continue.”

Rescued pig Lizzie gives affection to her rescuer, Wayne Hsuing of DxE.

Photo: Wayne Hsiung/DxE

In general, the core moral and philosophical question at the heart of animal rights activism is now being seriously debated: Namely, what gives humans the right or justification to abuse, exploit, and torture non-human species? If there comes a day when some other species (broadly defined) — such as machines — surpass humans in intellect and cognitive complexity, will they have a valid moral claim to treat humans as commodities whose suffering and death can be assigned no value?

The irreconcilable contradiction of lavishing love and protection on dogs and cats, while torturing and slaughtering farm animals capable of a deep emotional life and great suffering is becoming increasingly apparent. British anthropologist Jane Goodall, in her groundbreaking book “The Inner World of Farm Animals,” examined the science of animal cognition and concluded: “Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear, and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined … They are individuals in their own right.”

All of these changes have been driven by animal rights activists who, often at great risk to themselves, have forced the public to be aware of the savagery and cruelty supported through food consumption choices. That’s precisely why this industry is so obsessed with intimidating, threatening, and outlawing this form of activism: because it is so effective.

Dissidents are tolerated to the extent they remain ineffectual and unthreatening. When they start to become successful — that is, threatening to powerful interests — the backlash is inevitable. The tools used against them are increasingly extreme as their success grows.

To call the FBI’s actions in raiding these animal sanctuaries a profound waste of its resources is both an understatement and beside the point. The real short-term goal is to target those most vulnerable — volunteer-supported animal shelters — to scare them out of taking care of rescued animals. And the ultimate goal is to fortify and intensify a climate of intimidation and fear designed to deter animal rights activists from reporting on the horrifying realities of these factory farms.

There is a temptation to turn away from and ignore this mass suffering and cruelty because it’s so painful to confront, so much more pleasant to remain unaware of it. Animal rights activists are determined to prevent us from doing so, and we should all feel gratitude for their increasing success in making us see what we are enabling when we consume the products of this barbaric and sociopathic industry.

Top photo: Two dying piglets were rescued by Direct Action Everywhere activists from cruel conditions — where they were left to suffer to death — at Smithfield-owned Circle Four Farm in Utah.

The post The FBI’s Hunt for Two Missing Piglets Reveals the Federal Cover-Up of Barbaric Factory Farms appeared first on The Intercept.

Com hackers disfarçados, técnicas de rastreamento de ataques precisam ser repensadas

5 October 2017 - 11:25am

A crescente tendência entre hackers que trabalham para governos de reutilizar o código e os computadores de nações rivais está prejudicando a integridade das investigações sobre hacking e colocando em questão a forma como são atribuídos os ataques online, de acordo com pesquisadores da empresa de segurança virtual  Kaspersky Lab.

Em um artigo publicado nesta quarta-feira na conferência de segurança digital Virus Bulletin, em Madrid, os pesquisadores destacam casos em que flagraram hackers que agiam em nome de alguns Estados se apropriando de ferramentas e sequestrando infraestruturas já usadas por hackers de outros países. Os pesquisadores alertam que os investigadores precisam estar atentos aos sinais desse tipo de ação para evitar atribuir ataques aos autores errados.

Os pesquisadores de ameaças cibernéticas desenvolveram toda uma indústria para identificar grupos de hackers e compilar seus perfis para compreender os métodos que usam, prever futuros ataques e criar estratégicas para combatê-los. A atribuição de autoria dos ataques é feita “agrupando” arquivos maliciosos, endereços de IP e servidores que costumam ser usados em invasões, por saber que os agentes de ameaça costumam reutilizar códigos e infraestrutura para economizar tempo e esforço. Assim, quando os pesquisadores encontram os mesmos algoritmos de criptografia e certificados digitais sendo usados em vários ataques, por exemplo, eles presumem que tenham sido perpetrados pelo mesmo grupo. A questão é que nem sempre é o caso.

Obter a informação correta é especialmente importante porque as empresas de investigação de segurança vêm desempenhando um papel cada vez maior na atribuição de autoria dos ataques de hackers a governos. Os ataques no ano passado ao Comitê Nacional do Partido Democrata, por exemplo, foram atribuídos a grupos de hackers associados à inteligência russa, em grande parte com base na análise feita pela empresa de segurança privada CrowdStrike, que descobriu que as ferramentas e as técnicas usadas eram semelhantes às de ataques anteriormente atribuídos a grupos de inteligência russos.

Embora os pesquisadores da Kaspersky considerem que essa autoria está correta, alertam que os pesquisadores precisam ser mais cautelosos ao presumir a autoria dos mesmos agentes com base nas  ferramentas e técnicas usadas.

Agências de inteligência e hackers militares estão em situação privilegiada para despistar os pesquisadores por meio de reutilização de código e de ferramentas, porque praticam o que os autores do artigo chamam de coleta quaternária de dados (fourth-party collection). Essa categoria de coleta de dados pode abranger uma série de atividades, incluindo invadir a máquina de uma vítima que outros hackers já tenham invadido e coletar informações de inteligência sobre os hackers naquela máquina, roubando suas ferramentas. É possível também hackear os servidores a partir dos quais outros hackers lançam seus ataques, que podem armazenar o arsenal de ferramentas maliciosas e código-fonte que utilizam. Se um grupo se apropria das ferramentas e do código-fonte de outro, é bem simples dar mais um passo e começar a reutilizá-los.

“A Agência A poderia se apropriar do código-fonte de outra agência e promovê-lo como próprio. Nesse caso, o agrupamento e a atribuição já começariam a falhar”, escreveram Juan Andrés Guerrero-Saade, principal pesquisador de segurança da Kaspersky, e seu colega, Costin Raiu, que comanda a equipe global de pesquisa e análise da Kaspersky.

“[N]osso argumento no artigo era: isso é o que encontraríamos [se alguém fizesse uma operação de bandeira falsa {false-flag operation}] (…) e esses foram os casos em que vimos as pessoas tentarem e falharem”, disse Guerrero-Saade.

O recente ataque de ransomware [código malicioso que exige pagamento de resgate para liberação de dados] WannaCry é um exemplo claro de apropriação e reutilização de um malware. No ano passado, um misterioso grupo conhecido como Shadow Brokers se apropriou de um conjunto de ferramentas de hacking que pertenciam à Agência de Segurança Nacional dos EUA, e publicou tudo na Internet alguns meses depois. Uma das ferramentas — conhecida como zero-day, que explora vulnerabilidades até então desconhecidas — foi reeditada pelos hackers responsáveis pelo WannaCry para espalhar o ataque. Nesse caso, foi fácil estabelecer uma conexão entre a apropriação do código da NSA e a sua reutilização com o WannaCry, porque o ataque original recebeu ampla divulgação. Outros casos semelhantes, no entanto, podem não ser tão óbvios, e confundir os pesquisadores sobre a efetiva autoria de um ataque.

“[S]e uma superpotência (…) invadisse, por exemplo, o grupo DarkHotel amanhã, roubasse todo o seu código e tivesse acesso a toda sua [infra-estrutura de comando e controle], não teríamos nem notícia desse evento monumental”,  disse Guerrero-Saade ao The Intercept, em referência a um grupo de hackers que conduziu uma série de ataques sofisticados contra hóspedes em hotéis de luxo. “Nessa situação, eles estariam em condições de reproduzir as operações no detalhe (…) sem que ninguém soubesse.”

Juan Andrés Guerrero-Saade, à direita, principal pesquisador de segurança da Kaspersky, fala sobre operações de bandeira falsa na conferência Virus Bulletin em Denver, no ano passado.

Captura de tela: Virus Bulletin Youtube

Espiando os espiões

Não é segredo para ninguém que espiões espionam espiões. Documentos vazados pelo ex-agente da NSA Edward Snowden descrevem como a agência e seus parceiros de espionagem faziam inspeções de rotina nas máquinas das vítimas que hackeavam para verificar se havia outros hackers à espreita. A NSA tem uma ferramenta própria, semelhante a um antivírus, chamada ReplicantFarm, que implanta nos sistemas que invade para verificar a presença de outros agentes conhecidos. Isso é feito para assegurar que as ferramentas de outros agentes em cada máquina não irão interferir nas operações da agência e para subsidiar tanto operações ofensivas quanto a defesa das redes governamentais dos EUA com informações sobre elas. A NSA captura essas ferramentas e aplica engenharia reversa, e eventualmente copia para uso próprio as técnicas que julga inteligentes.

Embora copiar as técnicas seja comum, dois ex-hackers da NSA contaram ao The Intercept que, durante seu período de atuação, nunca se depararam com efetiva reutilização de código, e duvidam que a agência tenha conduzido as chamadas operações de bandeira falsa.

“Quando pegamos ferramentas de agentes estrangeiros, nós nos apropriamos das técnicas”, disse uma das fontes ao The Intercept. Mas “há um monte de problemas quando você faz uma atribuição falsa. (…) É possível começar uma guerra por conta disso. É provável que seja mais comum em outros países, mas nos EUA (…) o objetivo normalmente é impedir a atribuição, não falseá-la.”

Acrescentou ainda que, se algum ente do governo dos EUA pratica operações de bandeira falsa, o mais provável é que seja a CIA.

Um ex-funcionário da CIA contou ao The Intercept que seu antigo empregador de fato pratica esse tipo de operações cibernéticas para ocultar sua identidade, mas não para atribuir a responsabilidade a terceiros.

Guerrero-Saade acredita que a NSA e seus parceiros na aliança dos “Cinco Olhos” (Five Eyes alliance), que inclui, além dos EUA, Reino Unido, Canadá, Austrália e Nova Zelândia, muito provavelmente não sejam a maior preocupação no que se refere à reutilização de código e infraestrutura nas operações de bandeira falsa.

“Em geral, os Cinco Olhos são mais contidos”, ele comentou. “[Mas] sabemos que os grupos chineses, os supostamente israelenses e mesmo os grupos [russos] estão dispostos a qualquer coisa. Os grupos israelenses, em especial, são (…) extremamente audaciosos”.

Bandeiras falsas na prática

Os pesquisadores da Kaspersky encontraram diversos exemplos de situações reais em que um agente de ameaça ligado a um Estado teve sua infraestrutura invadida por outro. Em uma dessas situações, uma backdoor foi instalada em um servidor de teste e relay (usado para transmitir dados roubados) de um grupo conhecido como NetTraveler, ligado a um Estado. A Kaspersky não sabe quem instalou a backdoor, mas seu provável objetivo era monitorar o NetTraveler ou roubar suas ferramentas e os dados que o grupo, por sua vez, havia roubado das vítimas.

Em outro caso, a infraestrutura de um agente de ameaça foi sequestrada por outro para lançar secretamente seus próprios ataques. O grupo DarkHotel — que se acredita ser sul-coreano — com frequência invade sites para lançar ataques contra alvos chineses. Revelou-se que um desses sites hospedava scripts maliciosos pertencentes a outro grupo, que a Kaspersky chama de ScarCruft, e que então usava o mesmo site para lançar seus próprios ataques contra alvos russos, chineses e sul-coreanos.

Em mais um caso, pesquisadores da Kaspersky localizaram uma trojan backdoor chamada Decafett, que parecia ligada aos grupos Lazarus e BlueNoroff — acredita-se que ambos sejam vinculados à Coreia do Norte — mas também usava um sistema de DNS dinâmico obscuro e incomum, que anteriormente só havia sido usado pelo grupo DarkHotel.

E um misterioso grupo hacker conhecido como TigerMilk usou, em ataques a instituições militares e governamentais do Peru, um certificado digital que tinha sido usado no famoso ataque Stuxnet ao programa nuclear iraniano. Os autores do ataque Stuxnet, que se acredita serem a NSA e a inteligência israelense, haviam assinado seu código malicioso com um certificado digital roubado de uma empresa em Taiwan para enganar as máquinas no Irã, fazendo seus arquivos maliciosos se passarem por software legítimo dessa empresa.

O grupo TigerMilk usou o mesmo certificado para assinar seus arquivos maliciosos, muito tempo depois que o certificado, tornado famoso pelo ataque Stuxnet, já havia sido revogado e invalidado. Como um certificado inválido não tem muita utilidade para permitir aos invasores inserirem seu código malicioso em uma máquina, os pesquisadores da Kaspersky entendem que a única razão para seu uso pelo TigerMilk era “enganar os grupos de resposta a incidentes e os pesquisadores, para que culpassem o conhecido grupo Stuxnet”.

Pode parecer que todas as atribuições de responsabilidade passariam a ser discutíveis uma vez que os grupos de hackers roubem e reutilizem as ferramentas dos rivais para lançar suspeitas sobre eles. Os pesquisadores da Kaspersky, porém, dizem que verdadeiras operações de bandeira falsa são raras e difíceis de realizar. Os exemplos que eles descobriram eram tentativas simplórias de confundir os pesquisadores. Para efetivamente atribuir um ataque a outros, um grupo de hackers precisa copiar ou imitar convincentemente todas as táticas, técnicas e procedimentos do grupo em questão, não apenas algumas delas. Basta um erro para desfazer a ilusão.

“[P]ara colocar em prática uma verdadeira e incrível operação de bandeira falsa, em que você realmente incorpora outro grupo de todas as formas possíveis, é preciso conhecer a fundo o funcionamento do grupo (…), como agem quando estão do lado da vítima, [você precisa usar] o código-fonte, os payloads e a mesma criptografia, a mesma estrutura de comando e controle — porque nos apegamos a quaisquer anomalias para dizer que algo não parece adequado”, afirmou Guerrero-Saade.

Ele apontou ainda um caso recente em que a comunidade de pesquisa estava rastreando o que parecia ser um grupo de hackers russo desconhecido. Por seis a oito meses, os pesquisadores observaram cuidadosamente o grupo e começaram a suspeitar que se tratava na verdade de um outro grupo russo chamado Turla — exceto pelo fato de que o código e a infraestrutura usados pelo grupo eram muito diferentes dos usados pelo Turla. Eles já estavam prestes a concluir que de fato se tratava de um grupo novo e totalmente distinto, quando os hackers cometeram um deslize e usaram uma das ferramentas mais antigas e bem típicas do Turla. Em vez de se tratar de um novo grupo russo, os pesquisadores concluíram que era simplesmente o Turla usando um novo lote de ferramentas para tentar ocultar sua identidade e sua atividade. Esse incidente ilustra bem como os pesquisadores precisam ter paciência e não se apressar quando vão atribuir a responsabilidade por um ataque, pois a pressa pode levar a conclusões falsas.

Guerrero-Saade destacar que, ao falar sobre reutilização de código e operações de bandeira falsa, ele e Raiu não estão tentando colocar todas as investigações sob suspeita. Ele considera que operações de bandeira falsa são raras e que a maior parte das atribuições de responsabilidade por ameaças feitas pelos pesquisadores são corretas. Mas é preciso repensar as limitações e os parâmetros daquilo que os pesquisadores podem saber com certeza, “para que possamos entender quando estamos vacilando e quando estamos sendo enganados, e para que possamos admitir quando não há como saber. Existem, sim, situações em que não há como saber.”

Tradução: Deborah Leão

The post Com hackers disfarçados, técnicas de rastreamento de ataques precisam ser repensadas appeared first on The Intercept.

Progressive Candidates Seek to Upend the Democratic Establishment in Upcoming Ohio Elections

5 October 2017 - 8:00am

Voters in Columbus — Ohio’s largest city — will head to the polls this November to choose between a group of Democratic Party-endorsed incumbents for city council and the school board and a slate of progressive challengers backed by the Working Families Party. The challengers, running under the banner of “Yes We Can,” were inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign and seek to unsettle a narrative that claims “Columbus Is Already Great.”

By many measures, Columbus is doing pretty well. It’s the fastest-growing city in the Midwest, it recently won a $50 million competitive grant from the U.S Department of Transportation to revamp its transportation systems, and it’s one of the few cities in the nation to boast a AAA bond rating, a signal of its strong financial position. Its Democratic mayor, Andrew Ginther, has taken to calling Columbus “America’s Opportunity City,” an epithet reiterated recently by national publications.

“Columbus is a great place to live, we are a very diverse city, and we have maintained a strong economic base,” Mike Sexton, chair of the Franklin County Democratic Party, said to The Intercept. “I think people are pretty happy with the direction that Columbus is going in.”

Will Petrik, a Yes We Can candidate running for city council, doesn’t think so. “We’re here to say no, we actually have mass income inequality, one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, and a drug crisis that’s tearing apart families and communities,” he said. “Saying everything is awesome doesn’t reflect the experience of all Columbus residents, [and] we need to be honest in order to develop real solutions to improve people’s lives.”

Grievances are written on Post-it notes.

Photo: Yes We Can via Facebook

Despite the city’s booming aura, it’s true that sharp disparities exist in Columbus. The Brookings Institution released a report this year that found that 42 percent of jobs created in the Columbus region between 2010 and 2015 were low wage. Richard Florida, an urban policy professor at the University of Toronto, found that among all U.S. metropolitan areas with over 1 million people, Columbus ranks second in terms of economic segregation.

The races in Columbus are emblematic of a question the Democratic Party is grappling with nationwide: Does the future belong to the populist left à la Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders, or will more moderate Democrats continue to dominate the party? Progressive candidates have been finding success in municipal elections. For instance, Christine Pellegrino, who was a Sanders delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, was elected to the New York State Assembly this year, and Edie DesMarais became the first Democrat to win a state House seat in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Just this week, populist Randall Woodfin, supported by the Sanders-backed campaign group Our Revolution, was elected mayor of Birmingham, Alabama.

Yes We Can, which held its first meeting in Petrik’s living room in January 2016, felt that the Democratic Party too often overlooked quality candidates in favor of operatives who had sufficiently demonstrated their loyalty and “paid their dues.” Inspired by the recruitment process of Brand New Congress, a PAC formed by former staffers and supporters of the Sanders presidential campaign, Yes We Can sought to urge new kinds of people to throw their hat into the political ring. For example, Jasmine Ayres, a first-time candidate and community organizer, is running for city council with Yes We Can, and Erin Upchurch, a social worker and first-time candidate, is pursuing a spot on the school board. 

“[We] know we need to change the game, not just play it,” reads one Yes We Can flyer. “That’s why we’re the only group in Columbus focused on electing new, progressive leaders who speak up about income inequality, tax giveaways to wealthy developers, violence in our communities, and the challenges facing our schools.”

The national progressive movement has taken notice: On Tuesday, Our Revolution endorsed the three Yes We Can candidates who performed best in the primary elections: Ayres for city council and Upchurch and Amy Harkins for school board.

ENDORSEMENT: We're joining @YesWeCanCbus to support these local progressives running for Columbus City Council & Board of Education!

— Our Revolution (@OurRevolution) October 4, 2017

The Democratic Party in Franklin County isn’t so thrilled about these new challengers in the nonpartisan elections.

Jen House, who chaired Franklin County’s most recent Democratic endorsement process, was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch in May as saying that Yes We Can was trying to undermine the work of the local Democratic Party. When The Intercept asked for further clarification, House expressed frustration at those “who call themselves Democrats standing out there and refusing to acknowledge” the good things that Democrats are doing. And “being constantly negative,” she added, fuels a feeling in Columbus and throughout the state that government can’t do anything right. “It’s really easy to stand on the sideline and throw rocks, but it’s a whole different ballgame when you’re forced to govern,” she said.

House also pushed back against the idea that Columbus has long been a safe bet for the party. “Things have been run by Democrats for a very long time in other cities, but in Columbus, it’s all still relatively new,” she told The Intercept, adding that some countywide offices are still held by Republicans, including the county prosecutor who was re-elected last year.

The Franklin County Democratic Party endorsed the establishment candidates for city council and the school board months before the primary elections, drawing criticism that it rubber-stamped the incumbents. House defended the party’s actions, emphasizing that all candidates received equal time to make their case before the screening committee. In the end, she said, her committee felt the incumbents had more experience, had done good work, and deserved their support. “What’s getting lost is that people just assume that we did not put a lot of thought into this,” House said. “We do not just automatically support incumbents, but we endorse candidates we think are worthy.”

Columbus Democrats also question Yes We Can’s affiliation with the Working Families Party, a national political organization that helps elect progressive candidates for office. The group endorsed Yes We Can in March, its first official endorsement in Ohio, where only the Democratic, Republican, and Green parties are recognized. Under state law, candidates’ party affiliation is determined by how they voted in the last partisan primary. All five Yes We Can candidates voted during the last Democratic primary, meaning they are considered Democrats.

“It seems a little disingenuous to call themselves a party when [WFP] is not recognized in Ohio,” said House. “And then they also get to call themselves Democrats. It’s not really fair to voters.”

Joe Dinkin, WFP’s national communications director, said that for his organization, a party is defined as a group of people who share a set of values and work together to make change through the electoral process. “That can take a lot of forms,” he told The Intercept, “including backing a challenger in a Democratic primary, helping a progressive Democrat beat a Tea Party Republican, or fielding candidates in nonpartisan races, or putting an initiative on the ballot.” In other words, the group’s definition of a political party extends beyond the formal party structure.

WFP is recognized as an official political party in New York, Connecticut, and Oregon, three states that allow for cross-endorsements, meaning a candidate can accept more than one party’s nomination. The strategy has helped the group get candidates elected, most notably in the 2013 election of Bill de Blasio as New York City’s mayor. But in Ohio, where cross-endorsements are not permitted, WFP has no strategic incentive to seek formal party status.

As Yes We Can candidates seek to distinguish themselves from the local Democratic establishment, they have begun to highlight the issue of police violence. “None of our elected officials — especially those running in this election — are speaking up about police brutality,” said Upchurch. “There’s absolute silence, and it speaks volumes.”

The city has witnessed a number of incidents of unchecked police violence in the recent past, and locals are dissatisfied with the official response. In June 2016, two Columbus plainclothes police officers shot and killed Henry Green, a 23-year-old black man. Three months later, a Columbus police officer fatally shot Tyre King, a 13-year-old black boy who pulled a BB gun from his waistband. None of the three cops involved in Green and King’s deaths were criminally charged, and following King’s death, the city’s mayor stressed that Columbus is still “the safest big city in America.”

Then last month, more than 100 protesters took over a Columbus City Council meeting to call for the firing of police officers recently caught on camera beating a man and threatening to “choke the life out of [him].” Following the meeting, the city council president reiterated that he had confidence in the police department and the police chief.

Yes We Can also sees an opportunity to change the narrative around Columbus public education, in part by scrutinizing the school board through a social justice lens. One issue the candidates have focused on is the number of tax abatements the city has been awarding developers, largely at the expense of school funding.

In September, the Columbus Education Association, the city’s local teachers union, voted “no confidence” in the seven-person Democratic school board. After a period of intense negotiations, the union ratified a new contract that many members felt was disrespectful. “It was the board’s final offer, we were not satisfied,” said Tracey Johnson, the union’s president. Johnson would not tell The Intercept whether the Columbus Education Association would be endorsing the school board incumbents or the Yes We Can candidates, though she said her union would make its announcement soon.

Regardless of which Democratic Party wing succeeds in the Columbus elections, the Republicans, who have supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature, have worked to sharply limit what blue cities like Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati can accomplish on their own. In a lame-duck session at the end of 2016, the Ohio legislature rushed through a measure that prohibits Ohio cities from raising their local minimum wage, joining 22 other states that passed similar “preemption” laws.  

“I will say, there are people in Yes We Can who think the Columbus City Council should just take up the challenge — raise the minimum wage — and go fight the state in court,” said House. “However, our city prosecutor has said he doesn’t think it would be successful, in part because there is only one Democrat on the Ohio Supreme Court.” House thinks the move would result in a large, unsuccessful legal expense for local taxpayers, and that perhaps the best route to raising the minimum raise in Columbus is working to elect Democratic state House candidates in rural Ohio.

Upchurch told the Intercept that at the very least, she sees more room for local progressive governments to make noise. “We can raise awareness, I know for a fact that most of our residents don’t even know what’s happening at the state-level around the minimum wage,” the school board candidate said. “Progressive leaders can start these conversations, and then advocate fiercely around them.”

Petrik concedes that Yes We Can’s odds of uprooting the Democratic establishment are a long shot, but winning this year is not necessarily the goal. “Bernie didn’t win, but he shifted the conversation and inspired a movement,” Petrik told The Intercept. “There is a new base of people who’ve become politically engaged, and they understand how broken the system is. We know change takes time, so it might not be this year, and may not be in three years, but we believe that we will win.”

The post Progressive Candidates Seek to Upend the Democratic Establishment in Upcoming Ohio Elections appeared first on The Intercept.

Internal Emails Show ICE Agents Struggling to Substantiate Trump’s Lies About Immigrants

4 October 2017 - 2:41pm

As hundreds of undocumented immigrants were rounded up across the country last February in the first mass raids of the Trump administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials went out of their way to portray the people they detained as hardened criminals, instructing field offices to highlight the worst cases for the media and attempting to distract attention from the dozens of individuals who were apprehended despite having no criminal background at all.

On February 10, as the raids kicked off, an ICE executive in Washington sent an “URGENT” directive to the agency’s chiefs of staff around the country. “Please put together a white paper covering the three most egregious cases,” for each location, the acting chief of staff of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations wrote in the email. “If a location has only one egregious case — then include an extra egregious case from another city.”

The email indicated the assignment was due that night, but a day later, an agent at ICE’s San Antonio office sent an internal email saying the team had come up short. “I have been pinged by HQ this morning indicating that we failed at this tasking,” the agent wrote.

As the hours passed, the pressure on local agents to come up with something grew more intense. “As soon as you come in, your sole focus today will be compiling three egregious case write-ups,” an assistant field office director at the agency’s Austin Resident Office wrote to that team on February 12, noting that the national and San Antonio offices were growing impatient. “HQ and SNA will ping us in the afternoon for sure.”

Then the agent added that a team of officers had “just picked up a criminal a few minutes ago, so get with him for your first egregious case.”

A heavily redacted cache of emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by students at Vanderbilt University Law School and published exclusively by The Intercept, reveals how in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, ICE agents in Austin scrambled — and largely failed — to engineer a narrative that would substantiate the administration’s claims that the raids were motivated by public safety concerns. Instead, the emails detail the evolution of ICE’s public statements once it became obvious that the Trump administration’s narrative was not true.

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based civil rights group, said the emails show just “how aggressive and desperate and duplicitous ICE was during these raids.”

“Essentially this is ICE trying to gin up a case for its actions, when really this isn’t at all about public safety,” he told The Intercept after reviewing the correspondence. “We can thoroughly expect that’s what they’re going to try to do again.”

ICE declined to comment for this article.

Starting on February 6, ICE conducted a nationwide sweep of undocumented immigrants in large and small cities across the country, quickly disseminating panic in immigrant communities. The raids — which led to 680 arrests nationwide — were the first in an ongoing series of mass enforcement operations ordered by the Trump administration. Last week, more than 450 people were arrested in a similar sweep the agency dubbed “Operation Safe City.”

At first, immigration officials said they were targeting public safety threats, such as individuals with criminal convictions and gang members. But while they sought to depict those swept up in the raids as dangerous criminals, it immediately became clear that many had only minor violations on their record, and that dozens had no criminal record at all. In Austin, where 51 people were arrested during the February raids, more than half had no criminal convictions. Many of those who did have criminal records were found guilty of drunken driving.

Within hours, stories of ICE’s aggressive tactics dominated the media, as Austin residents reported that agents had set up checkpoints on the street, detained a teenager, and mistakenly apprehended a legal resident with no criminal history as he dropped his kids off at school. As anxiety over the raids escalated, elected officials issued public condemnations, and local and national reporters inundated the agency’s Texas offices with requests for comment.

In their first media responses, ICE officials maintained the line that the raids were in the public interest, telling reporters that “by removing from the streets criminal aliens and other threats to the public, ICE helps improve public safety.”

As criticism escalated, ICE shifted to downplaying the operation as “no different than the routine,” telling reporters that the raids were the same “targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis,” and suggesting off the record that claims to the opposite were “false, dangerous, and irresponsible.” As it became clear that dozens of individuals with no criminal history had been apprehended, ICE shifted gears and told reporters that in addition to targeting safety threats, the raids were always meant to target those whose only crimes were immigration-related, like re-entering the U.S. after deportation: “The president has been clear in saying that DHS should be focused on removing individuals who pose a threat to public safety, who have been charged with criminal offenses, who have committed multiple immigration violations or who have been deported and re-entered the country illegally.”

As they released their own statements, ICE officials were also monitoring elected officials’ public communications — and strategizing about how to respond to them.

“Congressman Castro is tweeting about ICEs enforcement operations taking place this weekend in south Texas,” an internal ICE email sent on February 10 read, forwarding a reporter’s query about Congressman Joaquin Castro’s statement of concern over the raids. “I’m responding to this reporter using our statement. But I’m not responding to what the Congressman is tweeting.” (Castro did not respond to a request for comment.)

“Team, Please be careful.. Austin City councilmember Greg Casar is saying ICE has taken action in the North Lamar/ Rundberg areas arresting people for ‘standing up for our values against people like Abbott and Trump,’” a public information officer emailed in reference to a Facebook post by the council member.

“I think what those emails make very clear is that we have a federal law enforcement agency that’s willing to lie, just like Trump is willing to lie, in order to continue the criminalization of immigrant communities,” Casar told The Intercept after reviewing the emails. “We live in a really scary time where a federal law enforcement agency like ICE is essentially operating as a propaganda machine for the Trump administration.”

“They specifically went out of their way to mislead the public by searching for egregious cases,” he added. “And then you can see in the emails that they couldn’t find egregious cases.”

In fact, ICE’s attempts to provide “egregious” examples of criminals being apprehended in the raids were lagging, the emails suggest. On February 11, an official responded to a colleague’s list of egregious cases by pointing out that they were unrelated to the ongoing operation. “The arrest dates are before any operation and even before the EO’s. What is up with these cases?” the official wrote.

Eventually, ICE managed to promote the detention of a Salvadoran man who had pleaded guilty to sexual assault of a child, but the agency failed to provide more egregious examples — and the media focused instead on ICE’s own egregious tactics.

Hundreds of protesters line the balconies of the state Capitol rotunda in Austin on May 29, 2017, the last day of the legislative session, to protest Senate Bill 4 legislation already passed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that compels local police to enforce federal immigration law.

Photo: Ricardo Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman/AP

Retaliatory Raids

Of all cities targeted in the February raids, Austin yielded the highest percentage of non-criminal apprehensions — more than half, according to a review by the Austin American-Statesman showing that 28 of the 51 people detained had committed no crime other than entering the country illegally. ICE dismissed such arrests as “collateral apprehensions,” suggesting that those apprehended were picked up because they might have been with someone who was wanted.

But many in the city felt that Austin was being targeted for a different reason — a political one.

Days after Trump’s election, Austin’s Sheriff-Elect Sally Hernandez, a Democrat, reiterated her campaign promise to turn Austin into Texas’s first “sanctuary city.” “The sheriff’s office will not be part of a deportation force that sacrifices hundreds and thousands of people, our neighbors, to a broken federal immigration system,” Hernandez said in November.

Hernandez, who was dubbed “sanctuary Sally” by conservative media, faced an uphill battle. Texas’s Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called her refusal to honor ICE requests a “betrayal” of her oath and cut $1.5 million in criminal justice-related grants to Travis County. In May, Abbott signed into law Senate Bill 4, or “SB4,” one of the harshest anti-sanctuary legislations in the country, the constitutionality of which is being disputed in court.

But as the battle over sanctuary cities is fought at the state level, the federal government has other ways to go after defiant local officials: It can make their cities targets for enforcement.

In Austin’s case, rumors that the raids there had been in retaliation for Hernandez’s stance against ICE swirled for weeks, and in March, they appeared to be confirmed by a federal judge who said in court that Austin was being targeted “as a result of the sheriff’s new policy.”

Andrew Austin, a U.S. magistrate judge in the city, made the remarks during a hearing in the case of Juan Coronilla-Guerrero, an undocumented Mexican immigrant who had been detained during the February raids. Coronilla-Guerrero’s case had alarmed immigrant advocates, lawyers, and — the hearing transcript shows — the judge himself because ICE had apprehended him as he exited a courthouse, where he had gone to clear two unrelated charges.

The hearing transcript reveals a level of confusion as court officials began to face the new administration’s immigration policies.

“So this isn’t totally germane, but you’re here and it gives me an opportunity to ask some questions because we’ve been wondering exactly what the new policies will be because things have changed a bit,” the judge said, addressing ICE agent Laron Bryant, one of the agents who arrested Coronilla-Guerrero, before proceeding to quiz him on what courts might expect to see from the new administration.

In that exchange, Austin also revealed that shortly before the raids had begun, he and a fellow judge had been briefed by a senior ICE agent about the upcoming operation, which came in response to Hernandez’s policy, “because the meetings that occurred between the field office director and the sheriff didn’t go very well,” he said.

In an email to The Intercept, Austin declined to comment “any further than what was said in court.” Mark Lane, the other federal judge, who, according to Austin, was also briefed by ICE, declined to comment. A spokesperson for Hernandez wrote in an email to The Intercept that the sheriff “won’t comment on an allegation based on supposition.”

ICE denied targeting Travis County, calling statements that the raids were retaliatory “rumors” and “inaccurate.” But by that point, few seemed to believe the agency. “I’m sorry that ICE lied to me because they told me there was not a target,” said Gerald Daugherty, Travis County’s Republican commissioner. “I have to think a judge is telling the truth.”

As accusations that the Austin raids were political payback piled up, the agency issued a statement saying that “more ICE operational activity is required to conduct at-large arrests in any law enforcement jurisdiction that fails to honor ICE immigration detainers.”

That was ostensibly the reasoning behind the raids in September as well, which the agency said “focused on cities and regions where ICE deportation officers are denied access to jails and prisons to interview suspected immigration violators or jurisdictions where ICE detainers are not honored.”

Immigration advocates say that the focus on sanctuary cities is “politically motivated.”

“Yet again, the Trump administration is attempting to terrorize immigrant communities, keep families in fear, and undermine the trust immigrants have in cities that refuse to subsidize federal immigration enforcement,” said Ana María Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. “Knowing how often ICE has lied about the true purpose of their raids before, it is hard for us to believe any of their claims about Operation Safe City.”

ICE’s Acting Director Thomas Homan said in a statement announcing the more recent raids that ICE was being “forced to dedicate more resources to conduct at-large arrests in these communities.” But he was more blunt about the administration’s intention in a July interview, in which he called sanctuary cities “ludicrous” and made no secret of why he was going after them. “The president recognizes that you’ve got to have a true interior enforcement strategy to make it uncomfortable for them.”

That retaliation has already had an inhibiting effect on some local officials, said Casar, the Austin city council member. “They’re not saying they’re deploying extra federal agents to a dangerous area. … It’s retaliation based on a political reason, not based on any kind of law enforcement purpose,” he said. “These raids really are a terrifying tool and the idea that the Trump administration would specifically use those in places where there’s political disagreement is a really scary thing.”

When he and other local officials take action on immigration issues — for instance, by suing the state over SB4 — they now always ask themselves, “What is the level of potential exposure this has on our constituents?” Casar added. “That’s real political repression, and while it may sound great to say, ‘We just need to do it anyway because we can’t be intimidated by that’ — when you’re in the position of making those decisions, when there are real lives at stake, you really do have to think about it.”

There is no question that there are lives at stake.

While Austin’s comments on the retaliatory nature of the Travis County raids drew fleeting attention to the politicization of federal enforcement operations, Coronilla-Guerrero, the man whose case was under review that day, was eventually deported, despite his wife telling the judge that his life would be at risk in Mexico, from where he had fled because of gang threats.

Last month, armed men dragged Coronilla-Guerrero out of the relatives’ home where he had been staying in the state of Guanajuato, while he was asleep with one of his children. His body was found on the street the next morning.

Top photo: In this photo provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE agents at a home in Atlanta, during a targeted enforcement operation on Feb. 9, 2017.

The post Internal Emails Show ICE Agents Struggling to Substantiate Trump’s Lies About Immigrants appeared first on The Intercept.

Puerto Rico Is On Track for Historic Debt Forgiveness — Unless Wall Street Gets Its Way

4 October 2017 - 2:02pm

For bondholders sitting on Puerto Rican debt, Hurricane Maria may have come just when they needed it, just as a yearslong battle over the fate of the island’s financial future was beginning to turn against them. Or, depending on how the politics shake out, they could see their entire bet go south.

Ahead of Maria, the federally appointed fiscal oversight board now in control of Puerto Rico’s finances had developed a plan that would wipe out 79 percent of the island’s annual debt payments, taking a massive chunk out of the payday hedge funds had been hoping to land from the island.

In the wake of the storm, that fight could go one of two ways: Advocates for Puerto Rico are making the case that the devastation means that 79 percent should be ratcheted up all the way to a full debt cancellation. The hedge funds, meanwhile, see an opening to attack the oversight board and reclaim ownership of the process.

While Congress focuses on the size and shape of the relief package, the battle over the much larger debt — at least $74 billion — is being overshadowed. As hedge funds attempt to undermine the board’s legitimacy in the courts, resentment toward the board from a different end of the political spectrum has made the body unpopular for entirely different reasons: It’s colonial and undemocratic. The difference between the two? The left wants debt relief for Puerto Ricans. Many bondholders want the opposite.

President Donald Trump joined the fray Tuesday evening, indicating that he wanted to erase Puerto Rico’s debt. “They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we’re going to have to wipe that out,” Trump said on Fox News. It wasn’t clear from his statements whether he intended a bailout for Puerto Rico or for its creditors. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney walked back on Trump’s comments to Fox on Wednesday, apparently under the impression it was the latter. He told CNN, “We are not going to bail them out. We are not going to pay off those debts. We are not going to bail out those bondholders.”

As of now, though, the decision on how much debt to cancel legally rests with United States District Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain, and any formal forgiveness on the total sum wouldn’t happen for at least a year. Still, motions in the direction of cancellation could be reflected in an update to Puerto Rico’s current fiscal plan, freeing up millions of dollars for both short and long-term recovery efforts.

“Thousands who lost their homes need urgent shelter, and entire towns are suffering from hunger and dehydration. Inefficiency and the depraved indifference of the Trump administration is rising to the level of criminal negligence,” said Xiomara Caro Diaz, a San Juan resident who is the director of New Organizing Projects at the Center for Popular Democracy. Among the group’s demands is a “complete and irrevocable forgiveness of all Puerto Rican public debt,” alongside a call for a robust relief package and to cut red tape around aid distribution.

Any relief package will come with little assistance from the creditors. The Intercept previously surveyed more than 50 of the island’s known creditors, and none had offered more than thoughts and prayers to the island, and few had even gone that far. David Tepper, the hedge fund manager behind Appaloosa LP, recently made a $3 million gift to the relief effort, the lone burst of generosity from creditors to have become publicly known.

In the meantime, Puerto Rico is still trying to climb out of overlapping crises. As Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in an interview published Monday by El Nuevo Dia, his government could run out of funds as early as this month. It currently costs around $70 million a day to run the government, which has around $2 billion in cash on hand. “But let me tell you what $2 billion means when you have zero collection: It’s basically a month government’s payroll, a little bit more,” Rosselló elaborated.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló arrives in Salinas, Puerto Rico to distribute supplies to those affected by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 27, 2017.

Photo: Vanessa Serra Diaz/GDA/AP

For the same reasons, the fiscal control board and those paying close attention to Puerto Rico’s financial situation are even more skeptical than they were before the storm that the island can pay back any sizable chunk of its debt. The board met last Friday to reconsider its current fiscal plan for the island in light of storm damage and the revenues likely to be lost as a result, though there are still few details as to what (if anything) was decided. There are also increasing calls for the U.S. government to devote money not just to emergency services but also to general operating expenses, and to help lay the foundation for more resilient infrastructure. A staffer for Puerto Rican-born Rep. Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., for instance — one of Congress’s most active members on issues related to the island — told The Intercept that she is requesting that the Treasury extend a line of credit to alleviate Puerto Rico’s liquidity issues.  

Even if the debt is eventually forgiven, the fiscal oversight board will continue to be a presence on the island until the Puerto Rican government maintains a balanced budget for four consecutive years and crafts those budgets in line with the board’s accounting standards. For Puerto Ricans, that could mean austerity measures and a neutered democracy even after the debt is canceled. Yet the hurricane may well have altered the politics around austerity, too, as calls for investment in rebuilding infrastructure could overwhelm the demand for cuts. With increased attention on Puerto Rico after the storm has also come increased outrage over its economic and political crisis.  VAMOS4PR, a coalition of labor, community, and civil rights groups, is planning rallies in 14 cities today calling for “immediate and sufficient aid to RELIEVE AND REBUILD Puerto Rico,” according to a press release, and to zero-out the debt. The event in New York starts just blocks from Swain’s office.

The continued presence of the board, however, also means its privatization agenda could continue to play out long after Puerto Rico’s debts are off the books. (The firm handling the oversight board’s communications declined to comment for this story.)

The trade-off between at least some level of debt forgiveness and undemocratic austerity has been at the core of tensions over the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which created the oversight board and allows for more expansive bankruptcy proceedings than other U.S. municipalities have access to. (For reasons that remain unknown, Puerto Rico hasn’t been able to declare Chapter 9 bankruptcy like other struggling cities and states since 1984.) When it was passed amid protests last summer, PROMESA put a moratorium on most debt payments that has been in place ever since, though Rosselló has attempted to repay portions of it. Since it was installed, the board has begun outlining and implementing deep cuts to the commonwealth’s public sphere.

In some ways, the oversight board acts as a kind of mediator between bondholders and the government and people of Puerto Rico, preempting some of the most draconian terms built into bond repayment contracts, now on hold under PROMESA and as the bankruptcy-like negotiations the bill outlines proceed in the courts. One such provision would have mandated that the government pay back general obligation bonds before providing essential services to its citizens. Though repayment is still on hold, different classes of bondholders are now locked in a legal dispute about which of them is entitled to the revenue from the island’s sales tax, currently set at 11.5 percent. A board-rejected debt restructuring agreement would have mandated that rates automatically rise when demand goes down to satisfy repayment, meaning that, thanks to PROMESA, fewer customers would have to pay drastically higher bills.

Though the board does provide a considerable buffer between bondholders and Puerto Rico, for many residents the body represents just the most blatant iteration yet of the United States’s colonial relationship to the island, which has officially been a U.S. commonwealth since 1952. The arrangement usurps any semblance of local democracy and wrests virtually all decision-making power from the people and to a body that’s only required to have one Puerto Rican member.

Ana Matosantos, José B. Carrión III, and David Skeel of Puerto Rico’s fiscal oversight board hold a meeting at the Pedro Rosselló convention center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 31, 2017.

Photo: Gerald Lopez-Cepero/GDA/El Nuevo Dia/AP

Creditors oppose the board for very different reasons. Sensing at least some level of forgiveness on the horizon — and generally frustrated that the board has moved debt negotiations to the courts so quickly — creditors have launched a series of lawsuits aimed at delegitimizing the board and winning more of their money back. Cate Long, who leads a research service for Puerto Rico bondholders and wrote a recent report for Congress on the status of PROMESA, has been circulating a list of recommendations to lawmakers in Washington in Irma and Maria’s wake, calling for Congress to “consider a tax credit for U.S. multinationals” and the “militarization of the island to provide short to medium [term] security.” The list further suggests that “Congress … proactively request that President Trump remove … and replace the [board] with an appointed administrator who has broad authority to execute contracts, coordinate with federal agencies and oversee reconstruction.”

In an email to The Intercept, Long wrote, “[The oversight board] is seven volunteers who live all over the US and cannot coordinate easily with all the federal agencies, Congress and White House. They are not prepared for the magnitude of rebuilding Puerto.” The U.S. military, she added, “needs to supplement the 15,000 Puerto Rican police officers to maintain law and order.” Long also said she would be recommending to Congress that U.S. multinationals operating in Puerto Rico be able to write down 100 percent of capital expenditures “required to rebuild after Maria or build new factories within a 2-3 year window.”

Perhaps the biggest existential threat to the control boardwhich the document above references, is a suit launched by hedge fund bondholder Aurelius Capital Management. Filed in August, the Aurelius suit alleges that the board bypassed the Constitution’s “appointments clause,” a statute mandating that principal officers of the federal government be appointed by the president and then approved by the Senate. Should the case gain traction, it could put debt repayment back on creditors’ terms.

The creditors have good reason to be nervous. “At this point,” Jubilee USA Executive Director Eric LeCompte says, “no investor in Puerto Rico’s debt should be thinking that they will get any return in the near future.”

Controversially, Jubilee USA supported PROMESA in the lead-up to its passage last summer, causing tension between the group and other civil society organizations aligned against the measure. As they have in similar kinds of debt negotiations, Jubilee USA is now calling for the cancellation with complete restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt, and has been tracking developments there and in Washington closely.

“Now that the hurricanes have happened, and we understand the level of devastation that has taken place on the island, the bankruptcy process that’s in place under Swain now has to take into account this new reality,” LeCompte tells me. “For Puerto Rico, that means a much bigger haircut than we were looking at beforehand.” 

According to LeCompte, there are a couple of ways that forgiveness or cancellation could play out. Beyond outright forgiveness, one idea that’s been popular even among some bondholders is to repackage any remaining debt into a bond that would only be repaid once Puerto Rico crosses a certain threshold of GDP growth. A less likely scenario — though one LeCompte advised to look out for, and Trump himself may have suggested — could see Congress pass a bail-out for bondholders, pouring federal funds into recouping their losses. Another recourse for creditors, he tells me, “is trying to get Congress to amend or change PROMESA legislation to disempower the bankruptcy process.”

LeCompte, though, says signals now are stronger than they’ve ever been for cancellation or deep forgiveness — thanks both to Maria’s devastation and to active pressure from Puerto Rican organizers there and in the diaspora. “In a financial crisis, you’re killing people slowly,” he says, “When these hurricanes hit — when there’s no electricity and no power — you’re watching people get killed quickly.”

Correction: Oct. 4, 2017, 2:11 p.m.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Puerto Rico has officially been a U.S. commonwealth since 1898. Puerto Rico became a commonwealth in 1952. 

Top photo: Irma Maldanado stands with Sussury her parrot and her dog in what is left of her home that was destroyed when Hurricane Maria passed through on Sept. 27, 2017 in Corozal, Puerto Rico.

The post Puerto Rico Is On Track for Historic Debt Forgiveness — Unless Wall Street Gets Its Way appeared first on The Intercept.

Senate Republicans Are Coming for Medicare and Medicaid, This Time Through Tax Reform

4 October 2017 - 1:49pm

Senate Republicans have given up on trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act for now, but that doesn’t mean they’re done messing with health care. Their 2018 budget proposal paves the way for a $1.5 trillion tax cut to be offset by massive cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, according to Senate Democrats who are sounding the alarm.

“A lot of attention has been paid to the Republican plan that will cost trillions and trillions of dollars, but not many Americans know that the president and Republicans are going to try to pay for some of those tax cuts by slashing programs seniors and middle-class Americans rely on,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a news conference Tuesday.

The proposed fiscal 2018 budget resolution Senate Republicans announced last week would lead to a $1 trillion cut to Medicaid and $473 billion cut to Medicare over the next decade, along with slashing other programs low-income individuals rely on, according to a new report prepared by the Senate Budget Committee minority staff.

Graph: Senate Budget Committee Minority Staff

The GOP has not yet publicly outlined the details of its budget proposal, but the report, from Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., warns the cuts would attack safety net programs.

On top of giving massive tax breaks to the people “who need it the least,” the proposed budget resolution would result in $1 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, which “will throw 15 million people off of the health insurance they currently have,” Sanders said Tuesday to reporters on Capitol Hill.

“And then on top of that, what they want to do is provide $470 billion in cuts to Medicare, at a time when so many seniors are struggling to keep their heads above water,” Sanders added.

Republicans on Capitol Hill say it’s unfair to call it a “cut,” because it is instead a reduction in the rate of growth. That slowed growth, however, will come as the population is rapidly aging.

The Republican plan defies President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to save Medicare and Medicaid “without cuts.”  

“I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid,” Trump tweeted one month before he formally announced his bid for the presidency.

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

Sanders’s report predicts that if the cuts are applied proportionately, Republicans in total would cut at least $5 trillion over the next decade from education, health care, affordable housing, child care, nutrition assistance, transportation, and other programs.

“But it’s not only cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, it is cuts to nutrition programs,” Sanders said. “The [Women, Infants, and Children] program, designed to provide help to low-income pregnant women and newly born babies, will be cut when we have more infant mortality, higher infant mortality, than any other country. Head Start programs will be cut, child care programs will be cut, affordable housing programs will be cut.”

Top photo: Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) attends a news conference critical of the Republican tax and budget plan with Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and fellow Democrats at the U.S. Capitol Oct. 4, 2017 in Washington.

The post Senate Republicans Are Coming for Medicare and Medicaid, This Time Through Tax Reform appeared first on The Intercept.

The UAE Secretly Picked Up the Tab for the Egyptian Dictatorship’s D.C. Lobbying

4 October 2017 - 12:31pm

When Egypt went to work to establish the credibility of its repressive government in Washington, it had help from the United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba.

Emails obtained by The Intercept show that Otaiba and the UAE essentially picked up the tab for Egypt’s lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

Egypt in 2013 enlisted the Glover Park Group, a top D.C. public relations and lobbying firm founded by former Clinton White House and Democratic Party officials, to be one of its public faces in the U.S. capital.

In a September 2015 memo to Otaiba, GPG described its work for Egypt as designed to influence both the U.S. government and the “echo chamber” of Washington think tanks and news media in order to influence American policy. The email exchanges provided to The Intercept were discovered in a cache of correspondence pilfered from Otaiba’s Hotmail account, which he used regularly for official business.

Earlier that year, Richard Mintz of the Harbour Group, a firm that has long worked as a lobbyist for the UAE, wrote an email to Otaiba listing GPG’s outstanding bill on the Egypt file — a whopping $2,735,343. GPG is no stranger to the Harbour Group — GPG’s Managing Director Joel Johnson co-founded the Harbour Group in 2001 and worked there until joining GPG in 2005.

Mintz noted to Otaiba that GPG would “like to get paid directly by UAE. But they are still waiting on a final opinion from the FARA [Foreign Agents Registration Act] lawyers to see if it’s possible.” Mintz, who is Otaiba’s public relations adviser, did not respond to requests for comment.

Six months later, Otaiba wrote to Johnson, informing him that the UAE had transferred $2.7 million to Cairo, the bulk of the $3 million payment Egypt later made to the lobbying firm. As of this writing, GPG has not returned multiple requests for comment about the UAE’s role in paying for the firm’s Egypt lobbying.

Lobbying Think Tanks and the Press on Behalf of Sisi

The emails obtained by The Intercept also show Otaiba lecturing journalists and think tank staffers on the benefits of repressive leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s rule, acting as a sort of de facto second ambassador for the country.

Sisi, as chief general of the Egyptian army, led a 2013 coup against then-President Mohamed Morsi. The military man was elected president with 97 percent of the vote in a 2014 election that was largely decried as undemocratic. The UAE and Saudi Arabia were chief backers of the military takeover, providing billions of dollars in support to Egypt.

When Politico’s Michael Crowley penned a piece titled “Trump to welcome Egypt’s dictator” in April 2017 with quotes from human rights experts about Sisi’s brutal crackdown, Otaiba wrote him an email accusing him of having “something against Sisi,” despite being “one of the smartest and most thoughtful journalists in the business.”

He specifically objected to Crowley’s citation of Tom Malinowski, a former Obama administration diplomat who also served as Human Rights Watch’s Washington director from 2001 to 2013. (Human Rights Watch has issued several damning reports about Egypt in recent years, including one that called for an investigation into Sisi’s role in the 2013 mass killings of more than 1,000 protesters in what “probably amounts to crimes against humanity.” Sisi was Egypt’s minister of defense at the time of the killings.)

Crowley pushed back, warning that Sisi’s crackdowns against Egyptian civil society could produce more radicalization. The two went back and forth, and when they concluded, Otaiba forwarded the email chain to U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Dina Powell. “FYI. This is generally what we’re up against,” he wrote. Crowley declined to comment on his exchanges with Otaiba.

In the think-tank world, Otaiba found at least one ally sympathetic to the UAE’s line on Egypt: Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress. Days after Sisi met with President Donald Trump in Washington, Katulis offered the ambassador a detailed Egypt lobbying agenda to present to the White House through Powell.

In that April 2017 correspondence, Katulis advised Otaiba that the Trump administration would likely ask Egypt to make security and counterterrorism a “top priority” and would seek dialogue on trade and investment. The U.S. administration would also likely ask Egypt to release some political prisoners, who had become “unnecessary distraction from the important work,” Katulis noted. (Two weeks later, the Egyptian government released Aya Hijazi, an Egyptian-American aid worker accused of child abuse and human trafficking, from custody after three years of detention. Hijazi’s case was typical of Sisi’s crackdown on aid groups.)

Katulis also suggested the UAE ask the Trump administration to appoint a U.S. ambassador to Egypt, preferably someone the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Powell trust, suggesting the Washington Institute for Near East Peace’s Eric Trager because of his strong rapport with Egypt. Finally, Katulis suggested that the UAE ask the White House to appoint a staffer to deal with dissidents in Congress, as there is “bipartisan pushback on Egypt — a concerted Hill outreach won’t kill that, but it can help navigate it.” Katulis did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.

The CAP fellow ended his note by telling Otaiba that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis trusts him and suggested that the ambassador introduce Katulis to Powell.

CAP (where I worked from 2009 to 2012) is a Democratic Party-aligned think tank that is among the most critical of Trump. Yet Katulis’s pointers to Otaiba, who recently pledged $700,000 to the think tank, depart from Democrats’ typical stance on U.S. policy toward Egypt. Since Sisi assumed power, Democrats have maintained a practical approach on relations with Egypt, emphasizing the country’s regional importance for U.S. national security while consistently criticizing the Sisi regime for its human rights abuses. Former President Barack Obama never invited Sisi to the White House.

But while Katulis was sympathetic to Otaiba’s position on Egypt, others pushed back. Reagan and Bush administration alumnus Elliott Abrams, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, testified about Egypt at a Capitol Hill hearing in April. The day before his testimony, Otaiba lobbied Abrams, telling him that “the trump approach with sisi is working.”

Abrams wasn’t convinced, saying Sisi had “created a jihadi manufacturing plant” through his suppression of dissent.


In the emails with Abrams, Otaiba embraced his role as Sisi’s lawyer. He told Abrams in a July 2016 email that American ally and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an makes “Sisi look like a teddy bear.” Abrams, unimpressed by the comparison, replied, “Therefore what, though? That we should make believe Sisi is not twice as repressive as Mubarak ever was?” Undeterred, Otaiba replied that “Erdogan gets a pass because of nato. While sisi gets beat up by everyone.” Abrams did not respond to a request for comment.

Brookings Institute Executive Vice President Martin Indyk, who served as a special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under the Obama administration, also sparred with Otaiba about his beliefs about democracy.

“I can make a strong case why the region as it is today, is not ready for US style democracy,” Otaiba wrote to Indyk in February 2016.

Indyk pushed back, saying that he can “also make a strong case that Sisi-style suppression is bad for the region.”

Otaiba was not convinced, responding that “I’m not against democracy. But I think democracy as a cure all solution to our problems is naive.”

Indyk then joked, “Bring back the Pharoahs!”

Otaiba replied, “The pharoahs and king Farouk we’re egypt’s best days. Two non democratic systems.”

The Brookings executive’s tone turned serious again, telling Otaiba, “People yearn to be free yusuf. They also yearn to be secure. Finding the balance is the test of leadership. But one without the other is unsustainable.”

“Agreed,” Otaiba conceded. “But we have proven that good leadership delivers good governance and security does not necessarily require democracy.”

Indyk declined to comment on the exchange to The Intercept, citing the private nature of the conversation with Otaiba.

Top photo: In this photo made available by Emirates News Agency, WAM, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, right, receives Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, president of Egypt, at the Presidential Airport in Abu Dhabi.

The post The UAE Secretly Picked Up the Tab for the Egyptian Dictatorship’s D.C. Lobbying appeared first on The Intercept.

Reforma trabalhista frustra investidores que esperavam mais reduções de salários e direitos

4 October 2017 - 11:58am

Incensados na mídia tradicional como se formassem uma entidade sem corpo ou rosto, os “investidores” — também tratados como “o mercado” — finalmente começam a mostrar seus rostos e suas intenções. Em Nova York, durante uma reunião da Câmara de Comércio Brasil-Estados Unidos, representantes de empresas globais falaram abertamente sobre sua frustração com a Reforma Trabalhista: o objetivo era, sim, cortar salários e direitos do trabalhadores brasileiros. E eles estão desanimados porque queriam que os cortes fossem ainda mais profundos.

Na performance “Via Crucis” (SINPRO), feita em Brasília (DF), dia 12 de abril, o governo federal e distrital crucificam os direitos dos trabalhadores.

Foto: Mídia NINJA

Saiu na capa do jornal Folha de S.Paulo desta terça (3): “Reforma trabalhista brasileira desanima investidores nos EUA”. O jornal ouviu alguns dos investidores presentes na reunião realizada na semana passada na Câmara de Comércio Brasil-Estados Unidos. As falas dos empresários deixam claro o que queriam da Reforma Trabalhista.

“Então quer dizer que ainda não vamos poder reduzir salários?”, indignou-se Terry Boyland, da empresa de tecnologia da informação CPQI, segundo a matéria. Por não ter acabado completamente com direitos trabalhistas garantidos pela Constituição, o Brasil foi classificado por Boyland como anticapitalista.

Das cinco empresas ouvidas como referência, duas estão envolvidas na Lava Jato

Tão reveladoras quanto suas falas são suas identidades. Das cinco empresas ouvidas pela Folha no evento, duas foram investigadas ou estiveram envolvidas em episódios investigados pela Lava Jato. As outras três companhias possuem interesses diretos nos efeitos da reforma. Juntas, essas vozes formam um quadro do tal “mercado” que, como já revelado aqui em The Intercept Brasil, foi quem encomendou a Reforma Trabalhista.

A intervenção artística “Via Crucis” foi realizada em abril, duas semanas antes de a Reforma Trabalhista ser votada na Câmara dos Deputados.

Foto: Mídia NINJA

Na reunião, ainda segundo a Folha, Gustavo Salgado, representante do banco Sumitomo Mitsui, reclamou da quarentena de um ano e meio entre a demissão de um trabalhador e a possibilidade de recontratação como pessoa jurídica terceirizada. “Esse é um ponto crítico que falhou”, queixa-se Salgado na matéria.

Representante de banco japonês confirma interesse na “pejotização”

É bom lembrar que aqueles que defendiam a reforma e a terceirização alegavam que o objetivo dos dois textos não era a “pejotização” — a recontratação de funcionários como pessoas jurídicas terceirizadas e com menos direitos.

O próprio relator da Reforma, Rogério Marinho (PSDB-RN), já havia deixado isso claro antes da votação no Congresso: “Ninguém vai demitir um funcionário e esperar um ano e seis meses para admiti-lo. Seria uma burrice extraordinária do dono da empresa”. A fala foi registrada em abril, durante uma visita à sede paulistana da mesma Câmara de Comércio. A julgar pela reclamação de Salgado, as empresas até vão esperar um ano e meio, mas o ideal mesmo seria esperar menos para cortar direitos.

Na manifestação “Via Crucis”, as cruzes representavam postos de trabalho que estão sendo sucateados e atacados pelas reformas trabalhistas e da previdência.

Foto: Mídia NINJA

US$ 5 milhões em propinas para Cunha

O Grupo Mitsui é uma keiretsu, nome que se dá a conglomerados empresariais japoneses que atuam em diferentes mercados. Seu núcleo financeiro tem como empresa-mãe a Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, um dos maiores bancos do Japão. No Brasil, adota o nome de Banco Sumitomo Mitsui Brasileiro e tem laços antigos com o BTG Pactual, cujo ex-sócio André Esteves chegou a ser preso na operação Lava Jato em 2015. O banco tem sede nas Ilhas Cayman, arquipélago que figura em quinto lugar na lista de países menos transparentes do mundo e é reconhecidamente um paraíso fiscal para lavagem de dinheiro.

Na performance “Via Crucis”, feita em Brasília (DF), dia 12 de abril, o governo federal e distrital crucificam os direitos dos trabalhadores.

Foto: Mídia NINJA

Outro braço do mesmo conglomerado — Mitsui & Co., que trabalha com exportação, importação e minérios — também é citado nas investigações da Lava Jato. O lobista Julio Camargo, que representava o grupo Mitsui e a empreiteira Camargo Corrêa na construção de navios-sonda para a Petrobras, afirmou ter pago U$ 5 milhões em propina ao ex-deputado Eduardo Cunha por dois contratos de 2006 e 2007. Em sua delação, o doleiro Leonardo Meirelles também citou o pagamento. O presidente da empresa Shinji Tsuchiya chegou a dar um depoimento na Comissão parlamentar de Inquérito (CPI) sobre a Petrobras, em 2015. Ele afirmou que “a Mitsui não tem ou teve qualquer atuação em quaisquer práticas ilícitas com a Petrobras”, ou pelo menos não que ele soubesse.

O grupo Mitsui continua operando no Brasil, investindo pesado nas privatizações implementadas pelo governo Temer. Inclusive, eles têm direito de preferência na venda de alguns ativos da Petrobras dos quais são sócios. Além de ter o pré-sal na mira, a empresa também quer entrar no mercado de saneamento básico.

Advogada que definiu o clima de “frustração” é sócia de escritório onde Bendine e Odebrecht tiveram reunião secreta

O escritório Mattos Filho fez campanha aberta pela Reforma Trabalhista. Antes e depois da votação, seus sócios deram entrevistas defendendo o texto até mesmo quando a Procuradoria Geral da República o considerou inconstitucional. Na reunião em Nova York, a sócia Glaucia Lauletta foi quem resumiu o sentimento de “frustração” dos investidores durante a reunião, mas vislumbra mais mudanças à frente: “A gente está no limite, e no Brasil coisas só acontecem quando chegam ao limite.”

Na performance “Via Crucis”, feita em Brasília (DF), dia 12 de abril, o governo federal e distrital crucificam os direitos dos trabalhadores.

Foto: Mídia NINJA

Além de figurar nas páginas econômicas dos jornais — por ter entre seus clientes grandes empresas de exploração natural, como a Cosan, de combustíveis, e a Klabin, maior exportadora de papel do país —, o Mattos Filho também foi citado nas páginas policiais.

“A gente está no limite, e no Brasil coisas só acontecem quando chegam ao limite.”

Foi no escritório de São Paulo que aconteceu o encontro oculto entre o ex-presidente do Banco do Brasil, Aldemir Bendine, e Emílio Odebrecht em setembro de 2015, quando Marcelo Odebrecht já havia sido preso. A reunião foi relatada no depoimento de Bendine à Polícia Federal, quando ele foi preso, em agosto deste ano, acusado de receber R$ 3 milhões de propina da construtora.

A “frustração” de quem recebeu uma Reforma diferente da que encomendou

A terceira empresa é a CPQI, que fornece serviços de tecnologia da informação para instituições financeiras. Seu representante, Terry Boyland, foi quem reclamou da impossibilidade de reduzir salários e taxou o Brasil de “anticapitalista”.

Como já mostrado em matérias publicadas por The Intercept Brasil, a reforma cria brechas para que salários sejam reduzidos abaixo da média em casos de remuneração por hora. E muitas dessas brechas foram redigidas pela Confederação Nacional das Instituições Financeiras (CNF), à qual pertencem alguns dos clientes de Boyland.

Na manifestação “Via Crucis”, as cruzes representavam postos de trabalho que estão sendo sucateados e atacados pelas reformas trabalhistas e da previdência.

Foto: Mídia NINJA

No entanto, apesar do esforço da Confederação, ainda impera a subordinação das leis trabalhistas à Constituição, que garante direitos básicos como o piso salarial, o direito ao Fundo de Garantia e ao décimo-terceiro. Por isso, para infelicidade de Boyland e companhia, sim, o salário mínimo de R$ 937 ainda existe. E, para infelicidade da população brasileira, ele ainda não é suficiente para dar as condições básicas de vida a uma família.

“Então quer dizer que ainda não vamos poder reduzir salários?”

Estavam ainda na reunião Alberto Camões, um dos fundadores da Stratus (que comprou sete outras companhias, entre elas a rede de cinemas CineSystem e a Maestro, uma empresa de terceirização de frotas) e John Gontijo, da consultoria tributária Farkouh, Furman & Faccio, atuante em mais de 70 países. Na plataforma “Glassdoor”, onde funcionários podem falar de forma anônima sobre as empresas onde trabalham, há vários relatos sobre a extensa carga horária nos escritórios da rede, que pode chegar a 13 horas por dia. O fundador Fred Farkouh já se posicionou contra a oferta de planos de saúde como parte dos abonos salariais, questionando se valia a pena para a empresa.

Na manifestação “Via Crucis”, as cruzes representavam postos de trabalho que estão sendo sucateados e atacados pelas reformas trabalhistas e da previdência.

Foto: Mídia NINJA

Reduzir direitos para aumentar os lucros

A CPQI de Terry Boyland publicou nota chamando a matéria da Folha de “jornalismo de sarjeta” por usar “um comentário fora de contexto”. Mas já era tarde: as falas dos demais investidores presentes corroboram o discurso e fazem cair a máscara que cobria a intangível entidade do “mercado”.

Basta ver como estas empresas tratam seus funcionários para entender o que elas esperavam da Reforma Trabalhista brasileira. Suas posturas internas e suas falas no cenário pós-aprovação da Reforma revelam seus interesses reais em reduzir direitos para aumentar os lucros.

The post Reforma trabalhista frustra investidores que esperavam mais reduções de salários e direitos appeared first on The Intercept.

Pranks, Coughs, and Gags About Dead Libyans: Disarray in the U.K. as Brexit Looms

4 October 2017 - 9:35am

Four months after an election debacle that cost her a majority in Parliament, British Prime Minister Theresa May stumbled through a speech at her Conservative Party’s conference in Manchester on Wednesday, beset by a coughing fit, a failing voice, and the intervention of a satirist who interrupted her address to hand her a prank notice that she had been fired.

.Theresa_May struggles to get through her party conference speech after having a coughing fit #CPC17

— (@needleholeshop) October 4, 2017

Theresa May’s speech at Conservative Party Conference is disrupted by the comedian @RealLeeNelson, also known as Simon Brodkin.

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) October 4, 2017

May had hoped to convince members of her party and the British public that the United Kingdom is in safe hands as she leads it out of the European Union, but the Conservative conference instead highlighted the disarray at the top level of a government still deeply divided over Brexit.

The comedian who handed May the fake P45 form (the British equivalent of a pink slip), before being ejected from the hall, shouted that he had been put up to the stunt by Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, who is widely believed to have his eyes on toppling or succeeding May.

The results of "Legend of the Year" are in – it's this guy. #CPC17

— EL4C (@EL4JC) October 4, 2017

Hi @BorisJohnson, I gave Theresa her P45 just like you asked.

— Simon Brodkin (@simonbrodkin) October 4, 2017

The prankster’s P45, found by May’s lectern

— Robert Peston (@Peston) October 4, 2017

Later in the speech, the set behind May further sabotaged her, as the letter F fell off a slogan promising that the Conservatives would ensure that the U.K. “works for everyone.”

Few problems with the set as Theresa May gives her speech! Watch behind the PM… #CPC17

— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) October 4, 2017

During one prolonged coughing fit that forced the prime minister to halt her address, Johnson was seen being scolded by Home Secretary Amber Rudd — another possible contender for the party leadership after May — for not taking part in a standing ovation offered in sympathy by members of the cabinet.

Amber Rudd telling Boris Johnson to stand for May

— Mollie Goodfellow (@hansmollman) October 4, 2017

Earlier in the week, Johnson suffered a self-inflicted wound when he attempted to joke about the dire state of affairs in Libya during a speech to a gathering on the conference sidelines. Audio of the speech caught the foreign secretary joking that the Libyan city of Sirte could soon be a “new Dubai” once the bodies are cleared away.

Tory audience laughs as Boris Johnson says Libya can be the next Dubai “if they clear the dead bodies away."#CPC17

— James Melville (@JamesMelville) October 4, 2017

The post Pranks, Coughs, and Gags About Dead Libyans: Disarray in the U.K. as Brexit Looms appeared first on The Intercept.

Intercepted Podcast: Guns Before Country

4 October 2017 - 6:01am

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


The Coalition of the Killing — gun lobbyists, politicians and weapons manufacturers — are the only beneficiaries of the massacre in Las Vegas. This week on Intercepted, Jeremy analyzes the way we talk about mass shootings, the role of race and speaks with Dave Cullen, author of a book on the Columbine school shooting. Trump threw rolls of paper towels at hurricane survivors in Puerto Rico and gave himself an A+ for his (lack of a) response to the disaster. Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff shares stories about exploring her Puerto Rican roots and performs what turned out to be prescient songs from her new album, The Navigator. Former US Army Ranger Rory Fanning talks about how his slain comrade, former NFL star-turned soldier Pat Tillman, supported his decision to become a conscientious objector. And he responds to Trump using Tillman’s name to defend his call for an NFL boycott. Historian Jeanne Theoharis digs deep into the manufactured and sanitized mythology used by politicians to misuse the legacies of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement. And Donald Trump takes his love of guns into the Twilight Zone.

Transcript coming soon.

The post Intercepted Podcast: Guns Before Country appeared first on The Intercept.

Masquerading Hackers Are Forcing a Rethink of How Attacks Are Traced

4 October 2017 - 6:00am

The growing propensity of government hackers to re-use code and computers from rival nations is undermining the integrity of hacking investigations and calling into question how online attacks are attributed, according to researchers from Kaspersky Lab.

In a paper set for release today at the Virus Bulletin digital security conference in Madrid, the researchers highlight cases in which they’ve seen hackers acting on behalf of nation states stealing tools and hijacking infrastructure previously used by hackers of other nation states. Investigators need to watch out for signs of this or risk tracing attacks to the wrong perpetrators, the researchers said.

Threat researchers have built an industry on identifying and profiling hacking groups in order to understand their methods, anticipate future moves and develop methods for battling them. They often attribute attacks by “clustering” malicious files, IP addresses, and servers that get re-used across hacking operations, knowing that threat actors use the same code and infrastructure repeatedly to save time and effort. So when researchers see the same encryption algorithms and digital certificates re-used in various attacks, for example, they tend to assume the attacks were perpetrated by the same group. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Getting this information right is particularly important because the investigations of security companies are increasingly playing a role in government attribution of hacking attacks. The attacks last year on the Democratic National Committee, for example, were attributed to hacking groups associated with Russian intelligence based in part on analysis done by the private security firm Crowdstrike, which found that tools and techniques used in the DNC network matched those used in previous attacks attributed to Russian intelligence groups.

Although the Kaspersky researchers believe the DNC attribution is correct, they say researchers need to be more cautious about assuming that when the same tools and techniques are being used, the same actors are using them.

Intelligence agencies and military hackers are uniquely positioned to trick researchers through code and tool re-use because of something they do called fourth-party collection. Fourth-party collection can encompass a number of activities, including hacking the machine of a victim that other hackers have already breached and collecting intelligence about the hackers on that machine by stealing their tools.  It can also involve hacking the servers the hackers use to launch their assaults. These machines sometimes store the arsenal of malicious tools and even source code that the attackers use for their attacks. Once the other group’s tools and source code are stolen, it’s easy to go a step further and re-use them.

“Agency-A could steal another agency’s source code and leverage it as their own. Clustering and attribution in this case begin to fray,” wrote Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade, a senior security researcher with Kaspersky, and his colleague, Costin Raiu, who leads Kaspersky’s Global Research and Analysis Team.

“[O]ur point in the paper was: This is what it would look like [if someone were to do a false-flag operation] … and these are the cases where we’ve seen people trying and failing,” said Guerrero-Saade.

The recent WannaCry ransomware outbreak is an obvious example of malware theft and re-use. Last year, a mysterious group known as the Shadow Brokers stole a cache of hacking tools belonging to the NSA and posted them online months later. One of the tools — a so-called zero-day exploit, targeting a previously unknown vulnerability — was repurposed by the hackers behind WannaCry to spread their attack. In this case it was easy to make a connection between the theft of the NSA code and its reuse with WannaCry, because the original theft was well publicized. But other cases of theft and re-use won’t likely be so obvious, leaving researchers in the dark about who is really conducting an attack.

“[I]f a super power … were to break fully into let’s say the DarkHotel group tomorrow and steal all of their code and have access to all of their [command-and-control infrastructure], we’re not going to find out about that monumental event,” Guerrero-Saade told The Intercept, referring to a hacker group that has conducted a series of sophisticated attacks against guests in luxury hotels.“At that point, they’re in a position to mimic those operations to a tee … without anyone knowing,”

Guerrero-Saade (R) talks about false flag opertions at the Virus Bulletin conference in Denver, Colorado last year.

Screenshot: Virus Bulletin Youtube

Spying on Spies

It’s no secret that spies spy on spies. Documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden describe how the agency and its spying partners routinely inspect the machines of victims they hack to see if other hackers are lurking inside. The NSA has a custom anti-virus-like tool called ReplicantFarm that it deploys on systems it hacks to check for the presence of other known actors. The agency does this to ensure that the tools of other actors won’t interfere with its own operations in the machine, and to study the tools and methods of these actors to inform both offensive operations and its defense of US government networks. The NSA will grab these tools and reverse-engineer them — sometimes copying clever techniques for use in its own operations.

Though copying techniques is common for the NSA, two former NSA hackers tell The Intercept they never saw the agency re-use actual code during their time there and say they doubt the agency would conduct a false flag operation.

“When we catch foreign-actor tools we’ll steal the techniques themselves,” one of the sources told The Intercept. But “there are a host of issues when you falsely attribute  … you could start a war that way. It’s probably more prevalent in other countries, but in the U.S., …the goal is usually to be not attributed, not falsely attributed.”

He said if any U.S. government entity conducts false flag operations, it would likely be the CIA.

An ex CIA official told The Intercept that his former employer does engage in a form of cyber false flag operations to hide its  identity, but not to throw blame on someone else.

Guerrero-Saade believes the NSA and its partner countries in the “Five Eyes” alliance of the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are likely not the problem when it comes to code and infrastructure re-use for false flag operations.

“The Five Eyes in general is restrained,” he said. “[But] we all know that the Chinese groups, the Israeli groups, even the Russians are willing to do whatever. The Israeli groups are…. ballsy to the extreme.”

False Flags in the Wild

The Kaspersky researchers have seen several examples in the wild where the infrastructure of one nation-state threat actor has been compromised by another. One example involved a backdoor that had been installed on a staging and relay server (used for transmitting stolen data) used by a nation-state group known as NetTraveler. Kaspersky doesn’t know who installed the backdoor, but it likely had been installed to monitor the group or steal its tools and the data NetTraveler had stolen from victims.

Another case involved one threat actor hijacking another’s infrastructure to secretly launch its own attacks. DarkHotel — believed to be a South Korean operation — routinely compromises websites to launch attacks against Chinese targets. One of these compromised sites turned out to be hosting exploit scripts apparently belonging to another group, which Kaspersky calls ScarCruft. This group used the site to then launch its own attacks against Russian, Chinese and South-Korean targets.

In yet another case, Kaspersky researchers found a trojan backdoor called Decafett that appeared to be tied to the Lazarus and BlueNoroff groups  —  both believed to be connected to North Korea — while also using an obscure and unusual Dynamic DNS provider that previously had only been used by the DarkHotel group.

And a mysterious hacking group known as TigerMilk used a digital certificate in attacks on the Peruvian military and government institutions which had famously been used in the Stuxnet assault on Iran’s nuclear program. The authors of Stuxnet, believed to be the NSA and Israeli intelligence, had signed their malicious code with a digital certificate stolen from a company in Taiwan to trick the machines in Iran into thinking their malicious files were legitimate software from this company.

TigerMilk used the same certificate to sign its malicious files, but it did so long after the certificate had gained infamy in the Stuxnet attack and long after the certificate had been revoked and made invalid. Because an invalid certificate is of little use to attackers to help them get malicious code on to a machine, the Kaspersky researchers surmised that the only reason TigerMilk used it in their attacksmwas “to fool incident responders and researchers into casting blame on the notorious Stuxnet team.” 

It might seem that all attribution becomes suspect if hacking groups steal and re-use the tools of adversaries in order to cast suspicion on them. But the Kaspersky researchers said that true false flag operations are rare and difficult to pull off. . All of these examples they uncovered involved fairly unsophisticated attempts to confuse researchers. To effectively pin an attack on another player, a hacking team has to convincingly copy or mimic all of the other group’s tactics, techniques and procedures, not just some of them. Make one mistake and the illusion can collapse.

“[I]n order to claim an amazing, true … false flag operation where you genuinely embodied somebody else in every possible way, you have to know how they function in every possible way … how they act when they’re in the victim boxes, [you need to use] the source code and the payloads and the same encryption, the same command-and-control infrastructure — because any anomalies are the things we latch onto and say okay that doesn’t look right,” said Guerrero-Saade 

Guerrero-Saade pointed to a recent case where the research community was tracking what appeared to be a previously unknow, Russian speaking, nation-state group. For six to eight months researchers watched the group carefully and suspected it might actually be a well-known Russian-speaking group named Turla — except the code and infrastructure the group used was very different from Turla’s. The researchers were almost ready to conclude that it was in fact a completely new and different group, until the attackers slipped up and used one of Turla’s old and well-known tools. Instead of an entirely new Russian-speaking attack group, the researchers concluded that it was simply Turla using a batch of new tools in an attempt to obscure its identity and activity. The incident provides a good illustration for why threat researchers need to be patient and take their time when doing attribution, since hasty work can lead to false conclusions.

Guerrero-Saade said that in talking about code re-use and false flag operations he and Raiu aren’t trying to cast doubt on every investigation that occurs. He thinks false flags are rare and that most attribution that threat researchers do is accurate. But researchers need to rethink the limitations and parameters of what they can know for sure, “so that we know when we’re faltering and so that we know when we’re being tricked and so we can admit when we cannot know. There are situations when we cannot know.”

The post Masquerading Hackers Are Forcing a Rethink of How Attacks Are Traced appeared first on The Intercept.

Populists are on the March in the South: Bernie-Backed Insurgent Randall Woodfin Defeats Birmingham’s Incumbent Mayor

3 October 2017 - 10:22pm

Birmingham’s Mayor William Bell, first elected in 2010, was supposed to have an easy re-election. A poll released in early August found that 57 percent of his city’s residents thought he was doing an “excellent” or “good” job.

But populist challenger Randall Woodfin, a 36-year-old former board of education president backed by the Bernie Sanders-backed campaign group Our Revolution, topped Bell in the first round of voting in August. On Tuesday night, Woodfin finished the job in the runoff, stunning Alabama and winning the mayor’s race comfortably. With 46 of 71 polling stations reporting, Woodfin was leading by 20 points.

“We sent nearly 8,000 get out the vote text messages to supporters and sent over 70 volunteers to his campaign,” Diane May, communications director for Our Revolution, told The Intercept about the group’s support for the candidate leading up to the first round. In advance of the runoff, they made over a thousand calls and sent 11,000 text messages to voters. Sanders himself phoned in robocalls for Woodfin.

The Woodfin campaign’s director of field operations, activist Daniel Deriso, was an alum of Sanders’s 2016 campaign.

Woodfin’s platform is by itself far from radical in post-2016 Democratic politics. He seeks to make community college free for students who graduate from Birmingham’s high schools. He wants to expand pre-K, invest in public transit and job training. Woodfin backed Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary, making the Our Revolution backing something of a wound-healing exercise.

He is also looking to boost the city’s police force; Birmingham has the seventh highest homicide rate of cities of over 100,000 people. He had his own personal connection to the city’s sky-high crime: his nephew was shot and killed during the course of the campaign. The boy’s father, Woodfin’s older brother, was killed in a shooting five years before that.

But Woodfin’s campaign did not take place in a vacuum. His election comes just months after Jackson, Mississippi — the state’s largest city — elected Chokwe Lumumba, Jr., a young populist who has vowed to make it the “most radical city on the planet.”

In November, Atlanta’s voters will go to the polls to choose the next mayor. One of the candidates, former state senate Democratic whip Vincent Fort — a longtime foe of Wall Street and the city’s Democratic establishment — is also being backed by Our Revolution as well as Sanders himself. Although the twelve-candidate non-partisan race makes the results difficult to predict, Fort’s impact on the race can be seen in the changing behavior of the city council — it recently voted to raise the wages of city workers to $15 an hour and decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, both causes Fort had worked towards for years.

Should Fort succeed, the largest cities in Mississippi, Alabama, and Atlanta will be run by mayors running from anti-establishment to downright radical — all within the span of six months of elections.

Top photo: Birmingham mayoral candidate Randall Woodfin speaks during a meeting of the Downtown Democrats at the Harbert Center in Birmingham, Ala., Friday, Sept. 8, 2017.

The post Populists are on the March in the South: Bernie-Backed Insurgent Randall Woodfin Defeats Birmingham’s Incumbent Mayor appeared first on The Intercept.

The U.S. Voted Against a U.N. Resolution Condemning Death Penalty for LGBTQ People

3 October 2017 - 6:34pm

President Donald Trump’s administration is facing strong backlash from civil rights groups after voting against a U.N. resolution that condemns using death penalty to punish “consensual same-sex relations.”

The U.N. Human Rights Council approved the measure on Friday with a 27-13 vote, with seven countries abstaining. The United States, led by Amb. Nikki Haley, voted for an amendment to the resolution that said the death penalty was not necessarily a human rights violation, and voted against amendments urging countries to stop using experimental drugs in executions.

The Human Rights Campaign called the vote “beyond disgraceful,” and former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice took aim at Trump:

Shame on US! I was proud to lead U.S. efforts at UN to protect LGBTQ people, back in the day when America stood for human rights for all ??

— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) October 3, 2017

The Trump administration’s vote is nothing new — presidents from both parties have long objected to U.N. resolutions critical of capital punishment. In December 2016, for example — in the final weeks of Obama’s presidency — the U.S. voted against a resolution urging states not to execute minors, pregnant women, and the intellectually disabled.

While last week’s vote is not evidence of any significant policy change, it does show what kind of company the U.S. keeps among nations that support the death penalty. Twelve other countries joined the United States in voting against the resolution, including Egypt, which executes political dissidents, Ethiopia, which is considering the death penalty for same-sex activity, and Saudi Arabia, which, in 2015, beheaded more people than ISIS.

A 2014 report by Amnesty International found that even though the death penalty in on the books in one-third of the world’s countries, only nine countries have regularly used it in past years – including Iran, Sudan, China and North Korea. In other words, when the United States defends the death penalty, it defends the practice of some of the world’s worst human rights violators.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. did not return a request for comment from The Intercept.

Top Photo: Nikki Haley, United States ambassador to the United Nations, looks on during an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council at United Nations headquarters, July 5, 2017 in New York City.


The post The U.S. Voted Against a U.N. Resolution Condemning Death Penalty for LGBTQ People appeared first on The Intercept.

Donald Trump’s Disgusting Remark On Puerto Rico Is More Revealing Than He Knows

3 October 2017 - 6:27pm

President Trump arrived in Puerto Rico on Tuesday and immediately began lauding himself and his administration for their response to Hurricane Maria. But mixed in with the self-congratulation were several references to how much relief efforts were costing.

“Our country has really gone all out,” Trump said. “It’s not only dangerous, it’s expensive. But I consider it a great honor.”

Trump then explained that Director of the Office of Management and Budget “Mick Mulvaney is here, and Mick is in charge of a thing called budget. I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you are throwing our budget out of whack. We spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that’s fine. We saved a lot of lives.”

Beyond the gross inappropriateness of “joking” about the money the U.S. government is spending even as American citizens continue to die in Puerto Rico, Trump’s attitude is incredibly bad economics. Moreover, his administration, Mulvaney definitely included, knows this.

Mulvaney let the secret out on CNN Sunday when talking about Trump’s proposed tax cuts:

We need to have new deficits … We need to have the growth. … If we simply look at [these tax cuts] as being deficit-neutral, you’re never going to get the type of tax reform and tax reductions that you need to get to sustain 3 percent economic growth.

This shouldn’t have been remarkable, because by describing federal deficits as a positive good, Mulvaney was essentially saying that the sky is blue. But it was genuinely shocking, because whenever Democrats are in power, the Republican Party unites to chant in unison that the sky is green. And Democrats play along.

To understand the significance of this, it’s necessary to look back at the past 100 years.

The world learned a counterintuitive but central insight about capitalism during the 20th century: It’s just too productive. It tends to create much more supply than there is effective demand.

This doesn’t mean that capitalist countries don’t have children who go hungry or people who need to buy a new car but can’t. Far from it. Rather, it means that capitalism is extraordinarily inventive and usually generates the physical ability to produce that food and those cars — but not enough customers who can afford to buy it all. Simultaneously there will be a small number of billionaires at the top with far more money than they could ever spend.

These frequent gluts of supply are why capitalist economies often fall into slow growth and even longterm recessions and depressions. When there’s more stuff than can be bought, factories fire some of the workers making it, then the workers who were fired are forced to buy less, then the factories fire more people, in an ongoing vicious cycle.

One of the best weapons against this, as the U.S. and the rest of the world discovered by ending the Great Depression via World War II, is for the government to run deficits by cutting taxes or increasing spending or both. Well-designed deficits will put money in the pocket of people who don’t have much and will spend it.

But even if deficits generally make life better for most people, from the perspective of the one percent they’re politically repellent. A fast-growing economy means low employment, which puts more power in the hands of workers and less in the hands of employers. It also may generate higher prices, which reduce the value of most kinds of bonds. (A classic explanation of why we have the ability to choose to create economic booms, and the intense resistance among the rich to their countries making such a choice, is the 1943 article “The Political Aspects of Full Employment” by Polish economist Michael Kalecki.)

Thus Republicans pretend to care about deficits during Democratic administrations because they’re desperate to prevent their opponents from benefiting from deficits’ positive effects. Meanwhile, Democratic deficits are often run up with social spending rather than tax cuts, which Republicans oppose because they worry the spending will lead to future tax hikes. (And some just don’t like social spending, period.) But when the GOP takes power it immediately discards its rhetoric to try to utilize deficits’ usefulness for themselves.

For instance, as top GOP conservative Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina recently explained with admirable frankness, being against deficits is “a great talking point when you have an administration that’s Democrat-led … It’s a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration.”

This doesn’t mean that the U.S. can afford anything we want. There are physical limits to what countries can produce (although as World War II showed, they’re looser than we may believe). But it’s those physical limits, not abstract numbers on a government ledger, that matter.

Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, has been an adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.. She’s a forceful advocate of this general perspective known as “Modern Monetary Theory,” which says that there are several key measurements to examine to understand how close we are to those limits.

First, there’s “capacity utilization” — i.e., how much factories and corporations are producing vs. how much they can produce. This graph from the Federal Reserve shows that capacity utilization is 76 percent, a level so low that during the past 50 years it’s usually been reached during recessions. In other words, the U.S. could make far, far more stuff on a moment’s notice.

Then there’s inflation. If we were anywhere near our ability to make things, the government’s spending would be bidding up labor and material and we’d be seeing a sharp increase in inflation. We’re not.

Then, says Kelton, there’s the U-6 gage of unemployment. Unlike the U-3 classification that’s generally mentioned in the media, U-6 includes not just people unemployed and actively looking for work, but those who’ve given up looking and part-timers who’d prefer to work more hours. Currently at 8.6 percent, U-6 was almost two percentage points lower during the late 1990s, without any spike in inflation.

Taken together, this is a clear snapshot of a country that could easily afford to completely rebuild Puerto Rico, as well as Florida and Houston, and do far, far more besides. The only reason for Trump’s ugly remarks about the cost of keeping Americans alive is that it involves using our nation’s incredible wealth to benefit regular people rather than the ultra-wealthy like himself.

Top photo: President Donald Trump takes part in a food and supply distribution at the Cavalry Chapel in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico on Oct. 3, 2017.


The post Donald Trump’s Disgusting Remark On Puerto Rico Is More Revealing Than He Knows appeared first on The Intercept.

Stop Expecting Facebook and Google to Curb Misinformation — It’s Great for Business

3 October 2017 - 5:43pm

We’ve arrived at the sad, dumb point in history at which the only thing less surprising than acts of mass violence are the ways in which our planet’s mega information distributors muck everything up with ensuing frauds, hoaxes, and confusion. The problem is thoroughly identified: Facebook, Google, and, to a lesser extent, Twitter have the quality control of a yard sale and the scale of a 100,000 Walmarts. But despite all our railing and shaming, these companies have a major disincentive to reform: money.

In the wake of yet another American massacre, this time in Las Vegas, media scrutiny is aimed once more at Facebook, Google, and Twitter, for the same old reasons. The sites, time after time, and this time once more, served up algorithmic links to websites peddling deliberate lies and bottom-feeder misinformation. These companies provided an untold mass of online users with falsehoods posing as news resources, as is completely normal now and only noteworthy because it was pegged to a heinous national tragedy. The discussion will now swing from “This is bad” to “What can be done?”, and we can expect all the typically empty pro forma reassurance from Silicon Valley public relations offices. Don’t expect much more.

This email from Google I just got is insane. They talk about 4Chan as if it is a news source. Third bullet point:

— William Turton (@WilliamTurton) October 2, 2017

It’s extremely important to keep Fox News in mind these days. The network is essentially a less sophisticated delivery vehicle for the same sort of news that floats to the top of Facebook and other sites’ traffic: Insincere men barking half-truths and innuendos in order to piss people off. Facebook’s brilliant tweak to this formula was the realization that 1. You don’t need to pay your own team of Bad-Faith Freakout Men; there are plenty in the wild who will do it for free, and 2. Millions of people will take the opportunity to make their peers equally pissed off if given a button to press. The business is the same, though: Piqued emotion is a powerful commodity. It would seem ridiculous to ask Fox News why it doesn’t reform its portrayal of black children as animals and criminals, of Muslims as savages and bombers, and so forth. It’s obvious why they wouldn’t, because these portrayals are their stock-in-trade, and what company would put itself out of business? We find ourselves at a similar impasse with Facebook and friends.

There are a few numbers these companies live and die by. One of these numbers is the quantification of “engagement,” a term kept deliberately vague so it can be expanded more easily; it essentially translates to “things happening on the website.” For Twitter, this means tweets, retweets, favorites, and various other clicking activities. “More” is directly equivalent to “better for business,” no matter what exactly there is more of. For Facebook, this translates to writing posts, sharing posts, liking posts, and so forth. The more people are staring at Facebook or clicking its click-ables, the higher this engagement number goes, and the better the company looks to investors and advertisers, the two parties that determine whether an internet firm will be massively lucrative or dead. Google’s position here is slightly different in that individual user accounts matter less, but the gist is similar: The more people looking and clicking, the better. You only need to spend several minutes on the internet to realize that a lot of this looking and clicking includes things like racist witch hunts, white supremacist evangelizing, deliberate hoaxes, and maybe even electoral interference of some sort (it seems entirely plausible that foreign governments might take to Facebook to throw wrenches in our civic life because they know we love wrenches). For years now, the major internet information brokers have been promising and promising to improve, but delivering only the most marginal signs of improvement. This isn’t a sign of failure but of lack of effort. We have yet to see what it would look like for a major technology company to make a serious, concerted attempt to filter out deliberate acts of harm and deceit.

The notion that Twitter couldn’t curb spam bots and Nazis or that Google couldn’t blacklist 4chan from its news overview is absurd. The issue is that, for revenue purposes, engagement with the informational equivalent of a leaking septic tank is indistinguishable from engagement with news sources that aren’t explicitly trying to deceive and defraud readers. The political Facebook ads that were allegedly purchased by the Russian government went into the same money vault as ads from Nike and Pepsi, and rape-threat tweets count just as much on Twitter’s quarterly earnings calls as announcements from NASA and Denny’s. The increasingly toxic internet is working as designed by the companies that control most of it — corporate monoliths that hold the primary channels of digital information distribution and obligations to shareholders, not civil society.

There is, too, the problem that we just seem to enjoy being lied to and delight in abusing one another. Hoax posts and sketchy sites get traffic not just from fraud bots, but also from eager readers who care much more about tribalism and score-settling than about accuracy. Clearly, the status quo is awful, if not untenable. But there are a few obvious remedies; a tech colossus like Facebook is, as Max Read wrote in a fantastic account for New York magazine, something that transcends categorization, and few people, in the U.S. at least, want the government legislating what’s considered true or newsworthy. It may be that in the near future society decides that no company should have the capacity for distribution that Google, Facebook, and to a much lesser extent Twitter all possess (Twitter’s board no doubt wishes its engagement metrics were high enough to be a legitimate threat to civilization). Maybe the governments and regulatory bodies of the world will decide that no company, least of all Facebook, should be able to contact two billion people at once if it so chose, and break it into smaller, tamer pieces. Until then, at the very least, stop expecting these companies to move anywhere beyond the shortest distance achievable with dragged feet. There’s simply too much money to be made right now in the muck.

The post Stop Expecting Facebook and Google to Curb Misinformation — It’s Great for Business appeared first on The Intercept.

We Can Finally Identify One Of The Largest Holders Of Puerto Rican Debt

3 October 2017 - 5:11pm

For years, the identity of the owner of one of the largest holdings of Puerto Rican debts has been a mystery.

That mystery has finally been solved, with the help of the The Baupost Group, who unmasked themselves to The Intercept. The Baupost Group, a Boston-based hedge fund managed by billionaire Seth Klarman, owns nearly a billion dollars of Puerto Rican debt, purchased under a shell company subsidiary and hidden from public scrutiny. Baupost acquired the debt through an on-paper Delaware-based corporation named Decagon Holdings LLC, whose beneficial owner had been unknown until now.

“The Baupost Group is a holder of COFINA bonds through the Decagon entities,” said Baupost spokeswoman Diana DeSocio. “Baupost regularly makes investments through subsidiary holding entities.” She added that Klarman, one of the richest hedge fund managers in the world, did not hold any Puerto Rican debt individually.

Though the island, currently recovering from a catastrophic hurricane, has been mired in a borrowing crisis for years, it’s difficult to get precise information about the creditors. Many of them scooped up bonds on the cheap, seeking an astronomical payout by forcing the island to pay them back at par (or 100 cents on the dollar). This has led to widespread suffering, as punishing austerity has been imposed to encourage Puerto Rico to pay back the bondholders in full. (Only now has some of this austerity been lifted in the wake of Hurricane Maria.)

Using shell companies to buy Puerto Rican bonds, then, can shield wealthy investors from public knowledge of their complicity in the misery of millions of U.S. citizens.

Julio Lopez, state director of Make the Road Connecticut and a member of the HedgeClippers coalition, which is organized to challenge the concentrated power of hedge funds, said the revelation of Klarman’s involvement will have political ramifications.

“What’s incredible about this is these people were actually hiding,” said Lopez. “In the case of this person, he’s in Boston which has a large Puerto Rican community … Our work right now will be about activating our community in Boston, letting them know this person has been hiding and making sure we go to his houses and his companies to hold them accountable.”

In July, as part of a court order to comply with bankruptcy procedures, a coalition of holders of “COFINA” bonds, backed by the island’s sales taxes, were required to supply the names of its members. The largest member in terms of bond value was Decagon Holdings, which had ten separate purchasing subsidiaries (Decagon 1-10) holding $911.6 million in COFINA bonds.

But there was no information about Decagon in the court filing, other than a Boston address of 800 Boylston Street. That’s the 52-floor Prudential Tower skyscraper in the Back Bay district. The Intercept sent an associate to the Prudential Tower to find Decagon Holdings’ office, and they were not listed in the directory.

A rather primitive website for a Decagon Holdings LLC turned out to be for a different company. “This is a start up organization and has not gained any ground,” a spokesperson for the wrong Decagon Holdings stated to The Intercept. “You aren’t the first to ask these questions.”

It turns out that there were two Decagon Holdings. One, the startup, was incorporated in Nevada in November 2016. But a second, which includes all ten of the entities used by Baupost, was incorporated in Delaware on August 4, 2015, through an agent called the Corporation Service Company. As usual for Delaware incorporation, almost no information accompanied that registration, including its beneficial owner.

800 Boylston Street in Boston houses a number of investment firms, though none of them had the kind of assets that would plausibly include $911.6 million in Puerto Rican bonds. However, Kevin Connor, director of the Public Accountability Initiative, directed The Intercept to an obscure op-ed written for Fox News’ since-shuttered Latino news site in May 2016. Iván Rivera Reyes, a Puerto Rican lawyer and politician, wrote that “COFINA was a creation of Wall Street financial whizzes Goldman Sachs and counts large billion-dollar hedge funds like GoldenTree Asset Management, Whitebox Advisors and Baupost Group as bondholders.”

But while GoldenTree and Whitebox were known COFINA bondholders, Baupost had never publicly stated that they owned Puerto Rican debt. When Roll Call asked Sean Neary, a spokesman for the coalition of COFINA bondholders, about Baupost’s role, he would only say “They are not part of the steering committee group that is the main driver of the coalition.”

This appeared to be a confirmation, or at least a non-denial, of Baupost’s assets. Neary never responded to a request from the Intercept for comment. But contrary to Neary’s claim, Decagon was apparently active in the coalition, according to reports in Puerto Rican media of them “leading” litigation efforts to get repaid.

Baupost had a connection to 800 Boylston, but not through an investment firm. The law office of Ropes & Gray works out of that building, and one of its partners, Jeffrey R. Katz, has worked with Baupost in the past. This SEC filing about the purchase of shares in a pharmaceutical company lists Katz next to Klarman. It appeared that Baupost used Katz’ address to register the Decagon shell companies.

When Connor, the public accountability advocate, contacted Katz about Decagon and Baupost, he hesitated and tried to get Connor off the phone. “He got really flustered,” Connor said. “He said, ‘You probably think you’re onto something big, but I’m a lawyer and I have clients!’” Katz never returned an Intercept request for comment.

The current spokesman for the COFINA bondholders coalition, Greg Marose, did not confirm Baupost’s involvement, but did say “we have a lot of stakeholders with commercial interests,” which could be read as an excuse for hiding ownership behind a shell corporation. Eventually Baupost itself admitted to controlling the Decagon entities and owning the COFINA bonds.

Klarman, who has been described as the Oracle of Boston, has a history of buying unpopular or distressed assets on the cheap in hopes of a payday. Baupost manages over $30 billion in assets. He is known as the top campaign contributor in New England, and has been a major donor in Republican politics in Massachusetts, including largely secret support for 2016’s Question 2, an ultimately unsuccessful effort to lift a state cap on charter schools. Klarman supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, calling Trump “completely unqualified for the highest office in the land.”

(Related from The Intercept: Rachel Cohen writes on the illicit funding by wealthy donors of the Question 2 measure.)

Klarman’s involvement in Puerto Rican debt will surely come as a surprise to activists in Massachusetts and Puerto Rico, who have never mentioned him among the “vultures” who are causing undue pain for the island’s U.S. citizens.

COFINA bondholders have been sparring with holders of Puerto Rico’s general obligation debt over who has the right to be repaid first from a pool of sales tax revenue. Judge Laura Taylor Swain, currently presiding over the bankruptcy-like process in Puerto Rico, suspended COFINA payments in May.

The COFINA group has spent $610,000 lobbying Congress over the past two years. Last week, after an Intercept report about creditor responses — or the utter lack of them — to the disaster in Puerto Rico, COFINA bondholders offered “our heartfelt thoughts and prayers” to those living on the island, and promised that “members of the Coalition will be contributing to the Puerto Rico Chapter of the American Red Cross.”

The amount was not disclosed, nor whether Seth Klarman and the Baupost Group would be contributing.

Update: October 3, 2017:

Politico reporter Marc Caputo adds the context of Klarman’s political giving.

So Seth Klarman buys $1 billion in Puerto Rico debt (breaking news from The @theintercept

But there's more: Klarman showers pols/candidates w/$2.9 million (per Open Secrets) & stops giving 1 month before Congress passes creditor-favored PROMESA Act.

— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) October 3, 2017

TOP PHOTO: Seth Klarman, founder of the Baupost Group LLC, talks on the phone while arriving to a morning session at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, on July 10, 2014.


The post We Can Finally Identify One Of The Largest Holders Of Puerto Rican Debt appeared first on The Intercept.

‘Monopoly Man’ Shows Up At Wells Fargo Hearing As Senate Pushes To Legalize Ripoff Clause

3 October 2017 - 4:38pm

Members of the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday interrogated Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan about his response to a fraudulent account scandal that engulfed the bank last year. Unconvinced that the bank has cleaned up its act in the last year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told Sloan he should lose his job.

Regulators fined Wells Fargo $185 million in September 2016 for opening 2 million bank and credit card accounts without customers’ knowledge between 2011 and 2015. The bank revealed earlier this year that an additional 1.4 million bank accounts were fraudulently created in a scandal that dates back to at least 2009. Sloan defended his company and his position there during his Senate testimony, saying that company executives and employees had been held accountable for their involvement.

In a familiarly testy exchange, Warren effectively accused Sloan of securities fraud. She produced years of transcripts of investor calls, in which Sloan, then chief financial officer, forcefully touted Wells Fargo’s sales growth, a good portion of which was created with fake accounts. “I can’t wait to get a credit card in every one of our creditworthy customers’ wallets,” Sloan said to investors in 2011.

At the time, Sloan also held 2 million shares of Wells Fargo stock, Warren noted, so he had a personal interest in highlighting sales growth to boost the stock price and his personal wealth.

Even after the Los Angeles Times detailed the high-pressure sales culture at Wells Fargo in 2013, Sloan “went back to pumping up the stock price by bragging about sales growth on the next investor call,” Warren said.

Sloan acknowledged he made no move to investigate problems at the bank after the L.A. Times story, claiming that he wasn’t given details. But as The Intercept reported last October, just three months before the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Wells Fargo $185 million for fake accounts, when the bank was well aware of the issue, Sloan responded to a question from American Banker about whether the sales culture had gone too far by saying that “the fundamental strategy that we have is not going to change.”

Warren concluded: “You should be fired. … Wells Fargo is not going to change with you in charge.”

Activist Amanda Werner stands outside the Senate Banking Committee’s hearing room dressed as Monopoly’s Rich Uncle Pennybags to protest the bank’s push to reverse a critical consumer protection rule. Oct. 3, 2017.

Photo: Aída Chávez

Outside the hearing on Capitol Hill, activists protested the financial industry’s use of arbitration clauses, which effectively force consumers to forfeit their right to a day in court. As The Intercept reported last week, Republican senators are scrambling to get enough votes to overturn a CFPB rule that bars companies from forcing consumers into arbitration.

Activist Amanda Werner dressed as Monopoly’s Rich Uncle Pennybags stood outside the hearing room handing “get-out-of-jail-free” cards out to senators, hoping to get one into Sloan’s hands ahead of his testimony.

“Wells Fargo uses forced arbitration clauses to block consumers from suing them for their misconduct in court,” Werner said. “So these get-out-of-jail-free cards represent the Republican attempt to keep that in place by repealing the CFPB arbitration rule.”

The CFPB arbitration rule bars companies from forcing their customers to forfeit their right to a day in court, effectively including a clause in the contract that allows the consumer to be ripped off. In a press conference last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer compared passing a repeal on CFPB’s rule to “the equivalent of Republicans handing out a get-out-of-jail-free card to Wells Fargo and to Equifax.”

Top photo: Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan speaks July 19, 2017 at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo.

The post ‘Monopoly Man’ Shows Up At Wells Fargo Hearing As Senate Pushes To Legalize Ripoff Clause appeared first on The Intercept.

Massive Protests in Catalonia as General Strike Is Observed

3 October 2017 - 4:03pm

Updated: 6:15 p.m. EDT

Businesses ground to a halt here in Barcelona and across Catalonia on Tuesday, as a general strike was observed and protesters poured into the streets. Two days after the Spanish government authorized the use of force to disrupt a referendum on independence from Spain, Catalans for and against secession remain livid.

The small village of Caldes de Montbui, Barcelona #VagaGeneral3O

— 15MBcn_int (@15MBcn_int) October 3, 2017

Milers de manifestants a la plaça Major i fins el c/Verdaguer de Vic. Molt seguiment de l’aturada a la comarca d’#Osona #AturadaTV3 @324cat

— Ferran Vila (@fvilacabanas) October 3, 2017


— Marc Serra (@Marcsg747) October 3, 2017

Girona, este mediodía #3Oct

— El Sol de Baudelaire (@SunOfBaudelaire) October 3, 2017

Mostrem les places de Catalunya… Manresa aqueTa tarda… #aturadaRac1

— Gerard Romero (@gerardromero) October 3, 2017

Mimes stop garbage truck. General strike underway in Barcelona.

— William Booth (@BoothWilliam) October 3, 2017

Segueix l'aturada per la dignitat a l'ARA

— Esther Vera (@estherveraARA) October 3, 2017

A sign on a shuttered business read “Closed for dignity” in Catalan.

Spanish police officers, who injured nearly 900 voters as they attempted to cast ballots on Sunday, were a focus for much of the anger, as fresh images of the attacks continued to circulate.

Un noi colpejat al cap amb la porra diversos cops. Escola Àgora de Nou Barris a BCN durant una càrrega de @policia per impedir votació.

— SER CATALUNYA (@SERCatalunya) October 2, 2017

Rage at police actions intensified as video was broadcast showing Spanish officers in a hotel outside Barcelona applauding their colleagues and chanting “Viva España” late Monday night.

A #PinedadeMar ara mateix.. se senten orgullosos de la feina que han fet… #NooblidaremMAI #noheuaturatres #octubreindependent @324cat

— Guifré Sastre Gómez (@GuifreSastre) October 2, 2017

The Spanish officers were protected, however, by local Catalan police and demonstrators determined to retain the moral high ground through nonviolence.

Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, tweeted that 300,000 people marched in a protest that took over two hours to pass in front of local headquarters of the national police force, where demonstrators slowed to whistle, jeer, and chant, but there were no reports of violence.

Ballots tossed in the air and Antifa flags waving, 2 hours after front of protest march passed by Spanish police HQ in Barcelona. #3Oct

— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) October 3, 2017

"This building will become a library," people chant in front of Spanish police headquarters in Barcelona #3Oct ??

— Catalan News (@catalannews) October 3, 2017

#VagaGeneral3O #1oct

— Raul Gallego Abellan (@raulgaab) October 3, 2017

Among the chants from the crowd filing down Via Laietana were “Fora les forces d’ocupació” (“Withdraw the forces of occupation”) and “La vergonya d’Europa” (“The disgrace of Europe”), which was sung to the tune of “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes.

1 hour 20 minutes after front of protest march passed Spanish police HQ in Barcelona, street is packed and no end in sight to marchers #3Oct

— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) October 3, 2017

Miles d manifestantes #vialaietana en @policia gritan a @policia q son "la vergüenza d Europa" #ReferendumCatalan #CatalanReferedendum

— Alfonso Congostrina (@alfcongostrina) October 3, 2017

Just before the main march had reached the police building, a young man on a bicycle tossed a beer can over the line of Catalan officers outside and was quickly surrounded by other protesters, who chanted “Som gent de pau” (“We are people of peace”) and pressed him to leave the area.

After a guy threw a beer can at the Spanish police HQ, protesters chanted "Som gent de pau" "We are people of peace" and forced him to leave

— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) October 3, 2017

In what could have been a lesson in community policing for the Spanish police officers in riot gear near the back of the building, an officer from the autonomous Catalan force, known as the Mossos, also scolded the young man but did not lay a finger on him.

Later, the Mossos defused an even more volatile situation at the rear of the police building, where a small group of young protesters had gathered to jeer at Spanish officers in riot gear, blocking their exit.

Tense as group of young protesters break off from main march to go behind national police HQ and jeer Spanish officers in riot gear #3Oct

— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) October 3, 2017

Spanish National Police & Guardia Civil are now forces of occupation in Catalunya. #3Oct

— Aodhán Hamill (@HamillOSF) October 3, 2017

After a short time, two Catalan police vans moved into the narrow alley behind the station, and officers from what the protesters called “our police” convinced most of them to move on.

Elsewhere in Barcelona, protesters silently held their hands in the air outside a central government office, demonstrating their intention to remain peaceful.

el silencio del que se corta ante la Delegación del Gobierno ahora mismo

— Clara Blanchar (@clarablanchar) October 3, 2017

Other residents of the Catalan capital rallied at a polling place where Spanish officers had used brutality against voters, again chanting “Som gent de pau.”

#VÍDEO | Protesta a l'escola Ramon Llull #Bcn, assaltada per la @policia durant #CatalanReferendum: Per @victoryus3

— Directa (@La_Directa) October 3, 2017

Girona, este mediodía #3Oct

— El Sol de Baudelaire (@SunOfBaudelaire) October 3, 2017

Among the crowds of pro-independence citizens of Catalonia on Tuesday, there were also some who openly opposed secession from Spain, but wanted to voice their disgust at the use of force to block the vote.

@UN @UNHumanRights This peaceful people deserves international mediation NOW! HELP! Not an internal issue! #catalanmediation #3Oct

— Eduard Vidal (@Common_Seny) October 3, 2017

Apart from anger at the Spanish police, there was also widespread scorn for the role played by Spain’s newspaper and television journalists, who stand accused by protesters of politically motivated, “manipulative” reporting that demonizes Catalan separatists as greedy or violent.

"Prensa espanyola, manipuladora." Protesters chanted bitterly against what they called the manipulative reporting of the Spanish press #3Oct

— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) October 3, 2017

In person, however, the peaceful, even joyous nature of this democratic uprising was hard to miss. A spontaneous gathering of young protesters outside Barcelona’s city hall on Tuesday erupted at times into something more like a party.

Spanish police helicopter hovering over Barcelona's city hall earlier was probably watching out for trouble, but witnessed joy instead #3Oct

— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) October 3, 2017

Still, fears that the Spanish government might take further provocative steps to stoke tensions were amplified late on Tuesday when the government chose to have the King of Spain, Felipe VI, deliver a strident televised address, in which he blamed Catalan separatists for provoking the crisis and failed to even mention the police violence.

Spain's King Felipe condemns organisers of Catalan independence referendum for putting themselves "outside the law"

— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) October 3, 2017

“If people thought that he was going to call for dialogue, it didn’t happen,” Borja Echevarría, a Spanish journalist who is now the digital editor-in-chief of Univision News in Miami, told The Intercept. “He backed totally [Prime Minister Mariano] Rajoy’s position. He condemned Catalan leaders. He didn’t mention what happened on Sunday, the violence.”

The king “was tough and spoke to those who live in Cataluña or Catalans who feel Spanish,” Echevarría added. “He was just speaking to a part of the Catalan population and to Catalan politicians, blaming them. But what happens to those moderates in Cataluña that are fed up of Spanish politicians, and they were not separatists until not so long ago?”

Ramón Lobo, a veteran war correspondent in Madrid, called the king’s remarks “disappointing” and “very rough,” in an interview shortly after the broadcast.

There was no mention at all of dialogue, Lobo pointed out, as if the government was already preparing to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which would permit Spain to suspend the autonomous Catalan government and rule the region directly from Madrid. “Big mistake,” Lobo concluded.

Barcelona’s mayor agreed, calling the speech “irresponsible and unworthy of a head of state,” since it offered no solution, made no mention of the wounded and included no appeal for dialogue.

Ninguna solución. Ninguna mención a los heridos. Ninguna apelación al diálogo. Discurso irresponsable e indigno de un jefe de estado #Rey

— Ada Colau (@AdaColau) October 3, 2017

Pablo Iglesias, the head of the Podemos party, also denounced the speech, telling the unelected king that, as the head of a parliamentary group representing 5 million Spaniards, he did not spoke for them.

Como presidente de un grupo parlamentario que representa a más de 5 millones de españoles, le digo al Rey no votado: no en nuestro nombre

— Pablo Iglesias (@Pablo_Iglesias_) October 3, 2017

The king’s speech was quickly followed by what the Catalans call a cassolada, a form of protest in which dissent is expressed by making a racket, banging on casseroles, pots, and pans.

Cassolada espontània a Sants després del discurs del rei @btvnoticies

— Mercè (@MerceMondelo) October 3, 2017

Cassolada espectacular a Gràcia després del missatge institucional del rei @btvnoticies

— Ainhoa Roca (@ainhoar7) October 3, 2017

The repression of Sunday’s vote in Catalonia set Spain back 40 years, Albano Dante, a member of the Catalan parliament, observed on Twitter. This speech from the king, he added, set it back another 300 years.

El 1-O España retrocedió 40 años. Hoy 300. El Rey Felipe.

— Albano-Dante Fachin (@AlbanoDante76) October 3, 2017

Pro-independence groups mocked the king, with one calling him a “rat” imposed by the Franco regime.

? A aquesta rata imposada pel franquisme ja fa molt de temps que no li tenim cap mena de por. #NiReiNiPor

— Arran #VagaGeneral3O (@Arran_jovent) October 3, 2017

Shortly after the king spoke, Catalan President Carles Puigdemont told the BBC that his government would declare independence within days.

EXCLUSIVE with Catalan President @KRLS; Catalan authorities will declare independence from Spain in a matter of days @BBCNews

— Tom Burridge (@TomBurridgebbc) October 3, 2017

The post Massive Protests in Catalonia as General Strike Is Observed appeared first on The Intercept.

The U.S. Election System Remains Deeply Vulnerable, But States Would Rather Celebrate Fake Success

3 October 2017 - 10:25am

When the Department of Homeland Security notified 21 states that Russian actors had targeted their elections systems in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the impacted states rolled out a series of defiant statements. “Oregon’s security measures thwarted Russian government attempts to access the Secretary of State computer network during the 2016 general election,” chest-thumped Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.

The Florida secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections, was triumphant: “Florida was unsuccessfully targeted by hackers last year.”

In Iowa, Secretary of State Paul Pate trumpeted the Cornhusker State’s cyber sophistication: “Iowa’s elections system was successful in blocking attempted outside intrusions.”

Not to be out done, media reports took those proclamations one step further, claiming that “Russians tried to hack Oregon elections system in 2016” and “Federal government notifies 21 states — including Iowa — of election hacking.”

But in most cases, according to the DHS, Russian actors scanned the public-facing websites of state agencies, apparently looking for vulnerabilities. The DHS said that in almost all of the cases, there was no evidence the operatives attempted to exploit any vulnerabilities. It was not, in other words, a thwarted bank robbery. Instead, Russian operatives surveyed the bank from the sidewalk, and then headed home.

While the states are busy celebrating their successes, they are doing far too little to ensure that operatives don’t get in next time they show up and actually try to infiltrate, say cybersecurity experts.

“The fact that they were scanning meant they were looking for vulnerabilities. If they come back next time, they’re going to come back much deeper,” said Latanya Sweeney, a professor of government and technology at Harvard University and author of a recent report on the possibilities of voter identity theft. “This really begs the question of not how secure were our websites last year, but how easy it is for them to hear of a vulnerability, test for it, and improve? How flexible and malleable are the systems and the infrastructures to be [able to be] changed and updated on the fly? I do think that our study shows that they’re very sluggish and very slow and very resistant, which is not good.”

The Harvard report, titled “Voter Identity Theft: Submitting Changes to Voter Registrations Online to Disrupt Elections,” concludes that online attackers can alter voter registration information in as many as 35 states and the District of Columbia by buying personal information through either legitimate or illegitimate sources. Voter registration information is public, and many states allow citizens to make changes online, even if they registered in person or by mail. A determined hacker could buy voter lists from the 36 jurisdictions that allow online registration, and separately buy the personal information used to confirm a voter’s identification – such as Social Security or drivers’ license numbers – to get in and make changes.

Many states have backend processes to verify changes to voter data. In Connecticut, one of the 21 states the DHS said was targeted by Russian actors, “the online voter registration system is separate from the official voter roll, so when a change is made to the online system, before that change gets made in the central voter database, it physically goes to the office of the registrar, who must confirm and manually make the change,” Gabe Rosenberg, communications director at the Connecticut secretary of state’s office, told The Intercept.

But that’s not necessarily enough, said Ji Su Yoo, a Harvard research analyst who co-authored the study with Sweeney. “If a human is in the loop and there’s an abnormal amount of requests [to change voter information] throughout the day, a human can be useful in saying there’s a red flag,” Yoo told The Intercept. “Another way to beat the human in the system is to insidiously just put in a few requests at a time and have the machine submit changes in a randomized order.”

This type of breach is not theoretical. In Riverside County, California, someone with access to voters’ personal information changed party affiliation information for up to hundreds of voters before the 2016 Republican Party primary. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla responded to that incident much like states have been responding to the DHS’s most recent revelations, by saying there was no evidence of a breach of the voter database. The response is problematic, Sweeney said, because it points out the difficulty in distinguishing between changes made by actual voters and those made by an imposter. “This is harmful because even if an attack happens, those responsible for our systems would be unable to detect the problems,” Sweeney told The Intercept.

Voting software is another potential target for hackers. The Intercept has previously reported on a top-secret National Security Agency report detailing a cyberattack by a Russian intelligence agency on at least one U.S. voting software supplier. The attackers sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before the November election, according to the highly classified report that was provided anonymously to The Intercept. A spokesperson for one state elections division said his office appreciates The Intercept’s reporting on the NSA document, describing it as “seminal.” But that official would only agree to speak anonymously. In public, election officials prefer to take a nothing-to-see-here attitude.

Although the DHS announcement last week unleashed a media frenzy that often conflated a scan of public-facing websites with attempts to breach election systems, the agency did not actually reveal much new information. In short, federal officials on September 22 called election officials in every state to notify them whether there had been attempts to target their election systems prior to the 2016 election. The Associated Press later identified the 21 states that were notified there had been an attempt on their systems, but in most cases, “only preparatory activity like scanning was observed,” DHS spokesperson Scott McConnell told The Intercept in a statement.  “In some cases, this involved direct scanning of targeted systems.  In other cases, malicious actors scanned for vulnerabilities in networks that may be connected to those systems or have similar characteristics in order to gain information about how to later penetrate their target.” To be clear, a network scan is not a hack, or even an attempt at one.

But we already knew that. In June, Jeanette Manfra, DHS acting undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications, testified before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that the Russians targeted 21 election systems, and that a small number were breached, but she did not identify them. Arizona and Illinois last year confirmed that hackers had targeted their voter registration systems. Manfra told the Senate committee that the states had been notified, but officials in at least three states – Alabama, California, and North Dakota – said they were clueless before the recent announcement.

People cheer as voting results for Wisconsin come in at Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump?s election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown on November 8, 2016 in New York City.

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The DHS also got it wrong in at least three states: Wisconsin, California, and Texas. While the agency initially said that Russian actors probed election systems, last Tuesday it reversed itself with regard to Wisconsin, saying that the Russians had tried to access a computer system run by the Department of Workforce Development. “Either someone was right on Friday and this memo today is a cover-up, or they were wrong on Friday and we deserve an apology,” Mark Thomsen, chair of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said to reporters, referring to an email his office received from the DHS about the mix-up. In California, the scanning activity targeted the Department of Technology’s network, not any website affiliated with the elections system, officials said. And Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos on Thursday asked the DHS to “formally correct its erroneous notification to the State of Texas on Friday, September 22, 2017 that the [secretary of state] agency web site was targeted by malicious cyber actors before the November 2016 General Election.” It was a website “not related to the election mission” that was scanned, Pablos wrote in a letter to the DHS.

The federal government has not admitted its mistake. “The Department stands by its assessment that Internet-connected networks in 21 states were the target of Russian government cyber actors seeking vulnerabilities and access to U.S. election infrastructure,” McConnell wrote to The Intercept on Thursday, adding that he would not discuss individual states.

The lack of clarity surrounding DHS’s revelations was compounded by election officials’ responses. In an apparent attempt to minimize the probes and boast about the strength of their security systems, they overstated what actually happened. Oregon’s secretary of state, for example, said in a statement that the DHS confirmed “that Oregon’s security measures thwarted Russian government attempts to access the Secretary of State computer network during the 2016 general election.”

“We block upwards of 14 million attempts to access our network every day,” Oregon’s Chief Information Security Officer Lisa Vasa said in the statement, which was similar to statements released by other elections offices. In a piece headlined “Russians tried to hack Oregon election systems in 2016,” the Associated Press subsequently reported that the Russian government “tried but failed to access the Oregon Secretary of State’s computer network.” But a network scan, which is what the DHS said happened, is not exactly an attempt to access a network and it is definitely not a hack – rather, it is a search for a vulnerability in a system.

In conversations about probes of election systems, it is important to make a distinction between changes to voter registration and a hack that impacts the tallying of the votes, said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Project at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. “Having said that, I have seen no evidence from DHS or anybody else that there was an attack on the counting of the votes, but I think all of this should be a warning shot and a wake-up call for some of us that we’re lucky that we have this now, and we’re doing everything we can to ensure that all systems are protected from tampering,” Norden told The Intercept. Because voter registration is public, Norden added, there’s a good chance people would notice if registration systems are tampered with.

Still, most states lack the mechanisms to deal with large-scale changes to voter registration, said Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity specialist at Harvard’s Berkman Center who has written frequently about the security vulnerabilities of U.S. election systems. “Imagine an election in a state office, where 20 percent of the people can’t vote, and everyone says the voting roll was hacked. There’s no system to deal with that — there’s no plan, no rules,” he said.

“Unfortunately, in all elections, after it’s over, half the country doesn’t want to revisit it,” Schneier told The Intercept, which is why elections offices should prioritize developing a plan to deal with these issues. “The time to create a plan is before the battle lines are drawn, before we know who the hack favored, before we know who won and who lost.”

Top photo: Virginia State House Delegate Mark Keam, right, watches a demonstration of a voting machine by a staff of Fairfax County Office of Elections during the annual KORUS festival, a Korean cultural festival, Oct. 2, 2016 in Tysons Corner, Va.

Top photo: People vote for the next US president in the general election at a polling station in a school gymnasium in New York, November 8, 2016.

The post The U.S. Election System Remains Deeply Vulnerable, But States Would Rather Celebrate Fake Success appeared first on The Intercept.