The tools that governments could use to contain public demonstrations by remote control – firing tear gas from drones, for example – are advancing at a troubling and unregulated rate, says a new report from researchers in the U.K.
These technologies are either fully automatic or semi-automatic, according to the report, and can be used at a distance from the target.
Without further study and regulation, these detached methods of crowd control could lead to serious human rights violations, the report says. “This could include the blanket application of significant quantities of [remote control agents] against large peaceful gatherings or demonstrations resulting in en masse infliction of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The report, titled “Tear Gassing By Remote Control”, was commissioned by the Remote Control Project, a branch of the Oxford Research Group, a think tank partly focused on modern warfare and its long-term consequences.
Its publication comes as almost 200 member states are meeting in The Hague in the Netherlands at the annual Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Conventions, to discuss the progression of chemical warfare worldwide.
The Chemical Weapons Convention, an international arms treaty first drafted in 1992, forbids chemical riot-control weapons from being used in warfare, but sets only ambiguous requirements on law enforcement agents using them—in appropriate “types and quantities.”
“Our research has uncovered a range of companies around the world actively promoting delivery mechanisms to tear gas people by remote control,” the report’s author, Michael Crowley, said in a statement. “This includes devices that can flood prisons with tear gas at the flick of a switch; drones that can drop pepper spray onto the heads of those below; or ground robots that can fire large quantities of [remote control] projectiles at protesting crowds.”
The report includes detailed profiles of technology like a German company’s automatic tear gas machine triggered by a potential robbery, a U.S.-developed machine that releases gas into prisons to herd prisoners, a Chinese automatic grenade launcher, a U.S.-made “tactical robot” advertised as being ideal for “covert surveillance, security, SWAT, tactical response, and law enforcement,” and a Chinese tear gas projectile launcher.
Crowley warned that the unchecked progression of unmanned riot suppression technology could lead to abuse by non-state actors including terrorist groups, inappropriate use in warfare or abuse by law enforcement agents, the potential for large-scale human rights abuses, and the proliferation of autonomous weapons systems.
Top photo: Non-lethal tube launched munition systems.
The post Specter of Drones Firing Tear Gas on Crowds Worries Human Rights Group appeared first on The Intercept.
Big banks will lose a portion of a multi-billion-dollar government handout they’ve enjoyed for over 100 years, thanks to a compromise highway bill released Tuesday. One estimate pegged the loss to the banks at $8 billion to $9 billion over a 10-year time frame.
The bill, as it emerged from a House-Senate conference committee, pays for roads, bridges and mass transit projects in part by reducing what is currently a 6 percent annual dividend on stock that the big banks buy to become members of the Federal Reserve system.
Fed membership offers many perks, from access to processing payments to cheap borrowing. But the dividend could be the sweetest gift, because banks cannot ever lose money on the stock; they’re even paid out if their regional Fed bank disbands.
Despite the total lack of risk, member banks have received the 6 percent dividend payout every year since 1913.
So for example, JPMorgan Chase, which has held stock since then, has made back their investment six times over without risking any loss. And if the bank stock was in place before 1942, that dividend payment is tax-free.
Originally – that is, 100 years ago — the Fed offered the dividend to entice banks into the new Federal Reserve system. But nationally chartered banks are today required by law to become members, and all banks must abide by the standards of membership. So the dividend is just a vestigial sweetener that never went away, pumping billions of dollars in public money to the banks for no discernible reason.
After a report I did in March 2014 about this brazen handout to Wall Street, the Congressional Progressive Caucus included a cut to the dividend in their annual budget proposal. That budget didn’t pass, but when Senate leaders searched for ways to fund highway spending, Barbara Boxer – the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which handles the highway bill – drew upon the Progressive Caucus measure.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, seeing no better option, stuck a version of it in the Senate highway bill. The provision called for cutting the dividend from 6 percent to 1.5 percent, eliminating $17 billion in big-bank subsidy over a ten-year period. It passed.
The banks freaked out, aided by Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who warned of unnamed “unintended consequences”. Through a well-worn lobbying strategy, they managed to get the House of Representatives to remove the dividend cut and replace it with a raid on the Fed’s capital surplus account, which is used to cover losses on the balance sheet.
In other words, Yellen and the Fed quietly preferred flushing their own surplus account over denying banks their full entitlement.
But when the final bill was released Tuesday, the dividend reduction remained in there, albeit with some modifications.
The reduction now applies only to banks with over $10 billion in assets, compared to the $1 billion threshold in the original bill. Instead of cutting the dividend to 1.5 percent, the rate will now match the interest rate of the highest-yield 10-year Treasury note at the point that the dividend is due. For context, the high yield at the last Treasury auction was 2.304 percent.
The Congressional Budget Office has not yet delivered a ruling on how much revenue this would bring in, but rough estimates suggest that it would be between $8 billion and $9 billion over the 10-year time frame, or around half the original figure.
The raid on the Fed’s capital surplus account remains in the final bill as well, but the Fed will be allowed to retain a $10 billion buffer. The savings from these and other measures allowed Congress to authorize highway funding for 5 years, one of the longest-term highway bills in a while.
The final bill must now win passage in the House and Senate, but as a conference report, it cannot be amended. Highway funding authorization runs out on Friday, so a final vote is expected this week.
The American Bankers Association called the compromise “bad public policy” and lamented that banks were being used “as an E-Z Pass for highways.”
But if Congress passes the highway bill, an irrelevant public policy that served as a money faucet for the largest financial institutions will see a small tightening of the spigot, in a rare instance of a progressive budget policy becoming the law of the land.
And don’t weep for the banking industry. Numerous other provisions in the final bill deregulate portions of the financial industry, including pre-empting states from regulating companies that advise small businesses, removing certain private equity firm oversight restrictions, and enabling “emerging growth” companies from hiding their financial activities from investors.
A late entry to the bill will force the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to shift resources to determine whether mortgage companies are “rural lenders.” Under Dodd-Frank, lenders in rural communities can offer riskier mortgages without giving consumers stronger protections. Even firms that don’t predominantly operate in rural areas can qualify for the rural lender designation, according to the bill’s language.
The post Big Banks Suffer Rare Fail as Congressional Deal Cuts Nearly $1 Billion a Year in Handouts appeared first on The Intercept.
My first reaction, when I heard that Robert L. Dear had shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, was, oh no, not another religious nut. The media seemed to tiptoe around the question of motive, portraying Dear’s comments about “no more baby parts” as incoherent ramblings and his reasoning as fundamentally unknowable. I felt a burbling frustration. I believed his motives were obvious. Did we really need to know what church he attended (if any) to know he subscribed to some strain of Christian nationalism? Weren’t the manifestos of ISIS also rambling and incoherent? And yet no one would hesitate to call that group ideological.
The attacks in Paris last month struck close. I studied abroad in France as an undergraduate. My boyfriend did as well. He lived in Paris for a year. This past summer, he spent a couple of months there again, living in an apartment on the Rue Sedaine, not a 10-minute walk from the Bataclan, La Belle Équipe, or the Charlie Hebdo offices for that matter. The 11th Arrondissement, where most of the attacks clustered, is my favorite neighborhood in the city. In the end, though, I remain a tourist; my sentimental affection for Paris, or for a particular corner of Paris, is just sentiment.
But a shooting at Planned Parenthood strikes closer. Planned Parenthood, I hold dear. I served on the board of its Western Pennsylvania branch for six years. I’ve given money and time. I regularly waded through the protesters who congregated outside of its downtown Pittsburgh offices when I attended meetings. They were mostly perfectly polite, perhaps even a little abashed as they held pamphlets in the general direction of passersby, but every once in a while, assuming, I suspect, that since I was a man in a suit arriving at a clinic in the middle of the day, I must be a doctor, someone would call me a murderer and tell me I was doomed. We worried about the steady tick of arsons and bombings, and after the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller by Scott Roeder, we worried increasingly about the safety of our medical staff.
If you search for “Paris + radicalized,” Google returns page after page of relevant results. True, many of them hew to a familiar meta-narrative, where banal biographies of poor economic opportunity and incomplete cultural assimilation lead young men into the hands of “radical imams” and internet preachers. But compared to the dead-eyed jingoism of the cable news, these results are almost heartening. As depressingly regular as our own political rhetoric has become in regard to “radical Islam,” there exists some reasonably intelligent mainstream commentary, at least if you turn off the catastrophe that is CNN. NPR, for example, is willing to broach touchy topics like the role of the French prison system in fomenting “home-grown” terrorists — even as it seems to willfully ignore the possibility of a political motivation for terrorism amid decade after decade of Euro-American intervention in the Middle East and South Asia, comprising coups, invasions, occupations, the funding of dictators, feckless hand-waving at Israeli colonization, etc.
Of course, the next day, the same host on the same public radio program interviewed a former French Ambassador as well as a Le Monde columnist, and the ambassador took the opportunity to be thankful “that France is presently the only country in the European Union to have a serious defense effort and to project its forces outside of Europe in order to protect the European continent.” The columnist, Sylvie Kauffman, merely regretted the failure of the French “people and political leaders” to confront “the problems that arise from […] diversity.”
If, on the other hand, you search Google for “Robert L. Dear + radicalized,” the relatively few results are mostly from liberal types archly observing that the media have not, generally speaking, leaped to ascribe religious or ideological motives to the man who attacked the Planned Parenthood clinic; the New York Times, in a now-infamous and rewritten passage, even referred to Dear as a “gentle loner.” This sort of media coverage is commented upon ironically, much like the even more frequent observation that the cops managed to take Dear alive, as they did Dylan Roof after he allegedly killed nine African Americans in a South Carolina church, and as they have any number of other dangerous white men, quite in contrast to their trigger-happy and frequently deadly treatment of unthreatening people of color.
No one is suggesting that the police shoot more white people to tip the scales; quite the contrary, they’re suggesting that this capacity to end violent confrontations without further bloodshed should be extended to everyone. But I detect in the criticism of Dear coverage a certain desire to give the political Right some of its own medicine, to reach into journalism’s terrorism toolkit and construct a narrative in which Dear, marinated in the poisonous, violence-condoning language of the extreme anti-abortion movement and spurred on by evil videos and the whacked-out comments of Ted Cruz, becomes a kind of American Christian holy warrior.
The truth, though, is that it’s not a bad thing that the media hesitated to construct a pat character arc for Dear or a smooth-edged model of his motivation. The idea that violence, including political violence, emerges out of a coherently ideological set of beliefs is simplistic. (I know any number of utterly devout Christians who believe abortion is a moral abomination and crime; yet I don’t worry that one of them will, upon learning of my pro-choice activism, try to blow up my house.) In interviewing captured ISIS fighters, Oxford academic Lydia Wilson found complex and contradictory beliefs—among the most notable: that they weren’t necessarily terribly religious. Salah Abdeslam, the Belgian fugitive from the Paris attacks, may have frequented gay bars. Humans—including those who commit terrible crimes—are inherently irreconcilable. To return to Robert L. Dear and the infelicitous New York Times passage: it actually is possible that a “gentle loner” can coexist with an angry, quarrelsome, even violent man. The contradiction isn’t unbelievable. We aren’t automata, robots acting out a repeating algorithm of behavior.
We should hope for a kind of journalism that approaches with unbending skepticism any just-so story about the terrors of the world. The trepidation the media evidently felt in calling Dear an anti-abortion Christian terrorist is a quality we should demand in its coverage of the perpetrators of any act of violence, particularly when that violence is inflected by our current politics. The individualized and idiosyncratic nature of the paths to violence, and the messy interplay of legitimate political grievance, social and economic injustice, and yes, religious commitments and beliefs aren’t easily reduced to a predictable (or predictive) narrative. If our media is tentatively willing to accept such ambiguity in the face of white, Christian violence, then it should be no less able where other racial and religious categories obtain. This sort of coverage provides no easy solutions—bomb Syria harder; preemptively arrest more pro-life extremists—but it may yet provide a truer picture of the violent problems we wish to solve.
The post Stop Immediately Linking Violence to the Perpetrator’s Beliefs — Islamic, Christian, or Other appeared first on The Intercept.
Lawyers for the House of Representatives have escalated their legal fight to block the first-ever congressional insider trading investigation.
The case revolves around allegations that Brian Sutter, a former senior staff member of the Ways and Means Committee, passed along nonpublic information concerning a Medicare reimbursement rate change to a lobbyist with Greenberg Traurig in April 2013.
The information was then disclosed to a consulting firm that shared the tip with it’s financial clients. A number of the hedge funds appeared to use the insider tip to trade on stocks that would be impacted.
The Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation and served subpoenas on Sutter and the Ways and Means Committee.
Despite passing a bipartisan law to address the very issue of congressional insider trading — the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act, or STOCK Act of 2012 — congressional attorneys have fought the SEC investigation at every turn. First they refused to comply with the subpoenas.
Then, when the SEC sued, the House attorneys claimed that the case should not proceed because lawmakers and their staff are constitutionally protected from such inquiries. “Communications with lobbyists, of course, are a normal and routine part of Committee information-gathering,” they argued in a brief filed last year.
On November 13, U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe agreed with most of the SEC’s claims and ordered Congress to comply with the subpoena within 10 days. “Members of Congress and congressional employees are not exempt from the insider trading prohibitions arising under the securities laws,” he wrote. Gardephe reminded the attorneys that “Congress barred such claims of immunity when it adopted” the STOCK Act.
Kerry W. Kircher, the House general counsel, requested more time. Then, shortly before Thanksgiving, on November 25, he filed a motion to appeal the subpoena to the 2nd Circuit. Kircher argued that the STOCK Act did not explicitly authorize the SEC to issue subpoenas to Congress, even to investigate inside trading.
The appeal, which could obstruct the investigation or at least delay it for months, is the latest move by Congress to undermine its own ethics law. The STOCK Act remains the only significant congressional ethics reform measure passed into law since 2007.
Lawmakers at the time patted themselves on the back, hailing the STOCK Act as a major step toward curbing corruption. “Insider trading should never occur and should never be tolerated,” Rep. Paul Ryan, now the House speaker and Kircher’s boss, said in a statement.
Away from the spotlight, however, congressional leaders continue to fight enforcement and to shore up the target of the SEC inquiry. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, and Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., two lawmakers who served on the same committee as Sutter, have used PAC money to donate to the legal defense fund set up to defend him.
The post Congress Moves Again to Block Investigation of Congressional Insider Trading appeared first on The Intercept.
NEARLY A YEAR AFTER THE RELEASE of the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, a major human rights group is calling for the immediate prosecution of U.S. government officials responsible for authorizing and carrying out the abuses.
In a detailed report titled “No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture,” Human Rights Watch identifies a legal basis for prosecution of government officials and calls on the U.S. Attorney General’s office to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct criminal investigations into those responsible for post-9/11 torture. The report also calls for the release of the full text of the Senate report, which remains classified.
Among those the report calls on to be criminally investigated for their roles in authorizing torture are some of the leading figures of the George W. Bush administration, including former CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice — and Bush himself.
“Nobody should be above the law, and there needs to be credible criminal investigations against both those who authorized and carried out abuses against detainees that amounted to a conspiracy to commit torture,” Laura Pitter, senior national security counsel at Human Rights watch and co-author of the report, told The Intercept on Tuesday. Although the names of many of those who actually tortured detainees remain unknown to the public, they are not unknown to the CIA and Department of Justice, Pitter added. “There’s no reason for the public to be kept in the dark about the worst of these abuses and who committed them. We need to see prosecutions at all levels of the torture program, including those who actually carried out torture.”
The 153-page report recounts in oft-excruciating detail the types of abuses that detainees suffered while in CIA custody, including detainees with broken feet being “forced to stand and walk on their injured legs for days while being subjected to standing sleep deprivation,” sexual abuse including “rectal feeding,” and the frequent use of “water-dousing,” a form of torture described as “virtually indistinguishable” from waterboarding.
Such abuses, which the Senate report investigated, represented those that went beyond the forms of torture that had been “authorized” by Bush administration officials. But Pitter said the torture tactics that were expressly validated by Bush administration lawyers need to be criminally investigated as well.
“The Bush administration concocted spurious legal rationales for its torture policies, such as the claim that high-ranking officials could be excused from legal liability because of the ‘necessity’ of torture,” Pitter said. “These were later removed because they had no basis in the law, but not before they were used to justify acts that were clearly criminal despite being nominally ‘authorized.'”
Like the Senate report, No More Excuses limits itself to abuses related to the CIA detention program. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wide-ranging human rights abuses are also documented to have been carried out by members of the military alongside civilian contractors, including unauthorized practices such as rape and murder. Despite this bracketing of focus, a decision Pitter said was taken for the sake of practicality, the report nonetheless shows how abuses first authorized for the CIA program ended up influencing detention practices in military facilities abroad, particularly through the efforts of former Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who served as a commander at Guantánamo and later went on to propose interrogation guidelines for use by forces in Iraq.
Citing political obstacles and a maxim of “looking forward, not backwards,” the Obama administration has not criminally prosecuted those responsible for torture and other human rights abuses during the Bush era. Despite this refusal, the United States remains a party to the United Nations Convention on Torture, a treaty ratified under U.S. law that imposes a legal requirement to prosecute government officials responsible for the torture program.
Referring to this treaty and calling on Obama to act in accordance with it, the Human Rights Watch report also puts on notice a number of other countries around the world — specifically European Union nations and Canada — where grounds exist to pursue criminal cases against the former U.S. government officials responsible for the program should the U.S. government fail to act.
Above all, Pitter said, it is important that there be some form of criminal responsibility for torture in order to solidify the international consensus against it. “Not prosecuting individuals responsible for torture is really dangerous,” she said. “The U.S. was instrumental in drafting the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and brazenly ignoring its own treaty obligations provides a ready excuse for other countries to begin ignoring them as well.”
The post “No More Excuses” for Not Prosecuting Government Officials for Torture appeared first on The Intercept.
Nach monatelanger Geiselhaft in den Händen des syrischen al-Qaida-Ablegers sind 16 libanesische Soldaten im Zuge eines Gefangenenaustauschs freigekommen. Libanons Regierung habe im Gegenzug 13 Häftlinge mit Verbindungen zur radikalen al-Nusra-Front freigelassen, hieß es am Dienstag aus libanesischen Sicherheitskreisen. Darunter befindet sich auch Saja al-Dulaimi, Ex-Frau von Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, dem Anführer der Terrormiliz „Islamischer Staat“. Al-Dulaimi, deren Bruder nach eigener Aussage der al-Nusra-Front angehört, will sich nun in der Türkei niederlassen.
Der syrische Ableger des Terrornetzwerks al-Qaida hatte die Soldaten im August vergangenen Jahres in der libanesischen Grenzstadt Arsal in seine Gewalt gebracht. Über Monate verhandelten beide Seiten über einen Gefangenenaustausch.
Drei Wochen vor der Parlamentswahl in Spanien hat der Chef der linken Protestpartei Podemos (Wir können), Pablo Iglesias, einer Umfrage zufolge die erste Debatte der Spitzenkandidaten gewonnen. Laut der Onlineerhebung der Zeitung El País, die auch die Diskussion organisiert hatte, setzte sich der 37-jährige Politikdozent mit gut 47 Prozent der Stimmen klar durch.
Der konservative Ministerpräsident Mariano Rajoy blieb der im Netz übertragenen Debatte am späten Montagabend fern und wurde deshalb vor und während der Diskussion kritisiert. Als das Thema Korruption zur Sprache kam, warf Iglesias einen vielsagenden Blick auf das für den Regierungschef reservierte, leere Pult. Rajoys Volkspartei (PP) wurde
AT ONE POINT in Killing Them Safely, Nick Berardini’s new documentary on Taser’s bloodless response over the last decade to the charge that its stun guns have caused hundreds of cardiac deaths, CEO and co-founder Rick Smith gives a wistful PowerPoint presentation to an enthusiastic audience. One slide depicts the old corporate liability proverb of the shark and the coconut tree. The shark, so the story goes, swims faster, has more teeth, and inspires great terror, yet many more people die every year from coconuts falling on their heads than from shark attacks. “We tend to focus on things that perhaps capture our imagination more than the facts,” muses Smith. Whether or not falling coconuts actually pose a deadly threat, there has been only one fatal shark attack in the U.S. this year, but according to a recent Guardian investigation 47 people died in the first 10 months of 2015 immediately after being tased by a police officer.
No doubt Smith meant to admonish those who claim that Tasers are deadly, but his shark parable could be read sideways too, as a statement of purpose. Taser’s business model, founded on a strategic appeal to concerns about safety, depends on the inherent slipperiness of facts. In his film, Berardini makes the case that there’s something fanatical in Taser’s enthusiasm for risk management, for finding language both to create and resolve any imaginable threat.
Two brothers, Rick and Tom Smith, founded Taser International in 1993. That year, they released their first stun gun, the Air Taser, but quickly found it wasn’t powerful enough to stop “motivated individuals” from fighting through the shock. By 1999, according to former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, in an interview for the film, the brothers “didn’t have a viable product to market” — they were in debt and about to lose the money their parents had invested. That year Taser began developing the M26, a product at least three times as powerful as its predecessor, and then pushed the new product onto the market after light and selective testing on human subjects. Today 17,000 law enforcement agencies in 107 countries use Tasers. The company’s unofficial motto, repeated by executives throughout the film, is that they are in the business of “protecting life, and protecting truth.”
The main threat that launched the Taser founders’ imaginations — and the militarization of policing, which continues its expansion today — was a spike in violent crime in the 1980s. By the time the first Taser was sold in the early 1990s, those numbers were already dwindling, but the racist myth of imminent danger from unbeatable “superpredators” was not. Coupled with this miasmic fear, Taser broadened its appeal by pushing the line that its products save lives with the argument that every Taser jolt administered by a police officer potentially represented the prevention of a gun fatality. In 2011 Rick Smith appeared on ABC News and compared the pain inflicted by a Taser to chemotherapy: “If you have cancer they do awful things to your body to try and save you. Well, our society has a cancer, we’re a violent, dangerous society.”
Like tobacco companies faced with evidence that cigarettes cause cancer, or oil companies faced with climate change, Taser’s reaction to evidence of harm from its product is to sow doubt and uncertainty. But the film also demonstrates the repeated leaps of mythological imagination Taser has made in order to protect its white-knight reputation. In 2008, security cameras captured unarmed 17-year-old Darryl Turner’s final moments as he was tased to death by police, following a verbal altercation with his former boss. The response from Smith, as documented in Berardini’s film, was typical of the company’s attempts to deflect responsibility: “It’s not a well-understood phenomenon why young, otherwise healthy people collapse and die during physically stressful events.”
Or take the case of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who in 2007 got lost in Vancouver’s airport for hours, was inappropriately detained by guards, then tased by police until he died. “What was this guy doing in the airport for nine hours? Flying? Off his cigarettes?” asked Taser vice president Steve Tuttle, not quite rhetorically, before suggesting, “All of these things come into play.” In June the officer who deployed the Taser that killed Dziekanski was given a 30-month prison sentence for perjury and colluding with his fellow officers during the pursuant investigation.
According to the documentary, Taser maintains that its products caused neither of those deaths, and indeed no deaths ever. Now it’s not even the shark that kills you, but your own body as it collapses, coincidentally after having received a 50,000-volt shock. Meanwhile, Taser’s own count of lives the company has saved has grown to around 160,000. The flip side of Taser’s self-serving corporate narrative is that there really isn’t much evidence that Tasers prevent gun fatalities, but there’s plenty of video demonstrating that Taser opened up new opportunities for police violence, handily replacing the inconvenient old cattle prod as a torture device, and that the product has killed and maimed hundreds of people.
Taser’s line of body cameras, which the company has sold since 2006, and its cloud-based video storage system add another absurd twist to the company’s longtime practice of manufacturing entire safety dramas, from threat to solution. The company whose product has contributed perhaps more than any other to the high rate of police violence, aimed in particular at people of color, is now doubling down on delivering the cure.
In the weeks following the killing of Mike Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in August 2014, body cameras became a subject of national discussion, and Taser’s stocks jumped by 50 percent. Advocates of body cameras, from President Obama to Hillary Clinton and Campaign Zero, have maintained that they reduce police brutality by making police interactions with the public more transparent.
That’s a highly contested assertion. Numerous reports have detailed flaws in the technology as well as uneven usage and regulation. Taser’s cameras, for instance, buffer video every 30 seconds, a common feature that allows some images of the interaction directly preceding the recording to be saved, but the buffer doesn’t record sound. Tuttle, speaking at the International Association of Chiefs of Police in October, claimed that the lack of sound was designed to protect officers’ privacy.
In a stunning rendition of the old Taser tagline, Rick Smith told Fortune magazine that Taser’s body cam was “a non-lethal weapon. The average rational person, when you tell them you’re filming them, will act more rationally.” Of course, the idea of a camera being used as a weapon completely misses the point of the movement for police accountability that Taser is capitalizing on, but that’s precisely the kind of reversal that’s fundamental to the company’s business model. If Taser had a spirit animal, I suspect it would be a shark.
The post A New Documentary Challenges Taser’s Corporate Mythology appeared first on The Intercept.
He is in fact an intimate part of "the club" which privately regards ISIS and other murdering rogues as tools to an end, and that end is to destroy Assad and turn Syria into a rump state. The club’s members always falsely describe the situation in Syria as a civil war rather than what it truly is, an invasion of a peaceful land by the creatures of outside powers
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago issued an excellent written ruling on Monday that has broad implications for rights of free speech and political activism in the U.S. The court ruled that Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart violated the First Amendment rights of Backpage.com, an online classified ad site, by pressuring Visa and MasterCard to prohibit payments to the site on the ground that the sheriff dislikes some of the site’s “adult” (i.e. sex) ads, which he believes promote prostitution. Writing for the court, Judge Richard Posner explained that Sheriff Dart previously attempted to prosecute Craigslist for such sex ads and failed, and thus decided to destroy Backpage using a different strategy:
Noting the serious harm to an entity from having a public official suffocate its sources of revenue not through prosecution but extra-judicial coercion, the court ordered the sheriff immediately to cease the threatening behavior and to notify Visa and MasterCard of the ruling, explaining that “the loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”
Beyond the positive outcome in this specific case — What kind of person would become sheriff of Chicago and then choose to spend his time worrying about adult sex ads? — the 7th Circuit’s ruling is crucial for protecting free speech rights generally. That’s because corrupt public officials have realized that they can abuse their power to pressure corporations to “suffocate” private actors whom they dislike but who are breaking no laws.
The most notorious, most dangerous case was in late 2010, when Joe Lieberman blatantly abused his power as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee to implicitly threaten and coerce companies like Amazon to terminate website hosting and payment processing services to WikiLeaks, which had just published the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs and diplomatic cables. That quickly led other companies, including Visa, MasterCard, Bank of America and PayPal, to terminate credit card processing for the group, driving them close to bankruptcy. In other words, Joe Lieberman almost completely destroyed a media and political organization group he disliked not through prosecution but with nothing more than thuggish threats to the companies that serviced it.
Just as was true of the compliant companies in the WikiLeaks case, Visa and MasterCard denied that they terminated Backpage’s accounts due to government pressure, but the 7th Circuit saw right through that falsehood: “It’s true that Visa filed an affidavit stating that ‘at no point did Visa perceive Sheriff Dart to be threatening Visa.’ But what would one expect an executive of Visa to say? I am afraid of the guy?” The court added that “Visa and MasterCard were victims of government coercion aimed at shutting up or shutting down Backpage’s adult section (more likely aimed at bankrupting Backpage — lest the ads that the sheriff doesn’t like simply migrate to other sections of the website).”
As I wrote at the time of the WikiLeaks blockade, “Any attempt by political officials to start blocking Americans’ access to political content on the internet ought to provoke serious uproar and unrest.” That’s because: “no matter what you think of WikiLeaks, they have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime; Lieberman literally wants to dictate — unilaterally — what you can and cannot read on the internet, to prevent Americans from accessing documents that much of the rest of the world is freely reading.”
As a result of that incident, Daniel Ellsberg, The Intercept’s co-founding editor Laura Poitras, John Cusack, Xeni Jardin, and various EFF personnel such as J.P Barlow, along with myself, created a group — Freedom of the Press Foundation — driven by concern over how dangerous these threat-based blockades can be. The initial goal was to circumvent and destroy the Lieberman-led blockade of WikiLeaks by raising money for the group ourselves (which we did in substantial amounts), but the broader goal “was to block the U.S. government from ever again being able to attack and suffocate an independent journalistic enterprise the way it did with WikiLeaks.”
This new ruling from the 7th Circuit highlights how dangerous such extra-judicial pressure campaigns can be, and makes them much more difficult by clearly ruling them to be unconstitutional. As the court explained:
In his public capacity as a sheriff of a major county (Cook County has a population of more than 5.2 million), Sheriff Dart is not permitted to issue and publicize dire threats against credit card companies that process payments made through Backpage’s website, including threats of prosecution (albeit not by him, but by other enforcement agencies that he urges to proceed against them), in an effort to throttle Backpage. See Bantam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan, supra, 372 U.S. at 67. For where would such official bullying end, were it permitted to begin?
To permit such pressure tactics against organizations disliked by political officials is to endorse “a formula for permitting unauthorized, unregulated, foolproof, lawless government coercion. The formula consists of coupling threats with denunciations of the activity that the official wants stamped out, for the target of the denunciation will be reluctant to acknowledge that he is submitting to threats but will instead ascribe his abandonment of the activity to his having discovered that it offends his moral principles.” Anyone who would approve of such tactics, said the court, is “giving official coercion a free pass because it came clothed in what in the absence of any threatening language would have been a permissible attempt at mere persuasion.”
Very few large media outlets objected to Lieberman’s tyrannical coercion campaign against WikiLeaks, even though it so obviously can threaten them as well, because of competitive and ideological dislike for the group. This new judicial ruling underscores why that campaign was so dangerous, and so clearly illegal. As the court concluded about the sheriff’s threats with reasoning perfectly applicable to Lieberman’s: “Those threats were not protected by the First Amendment; they were violations of the First Amendment. “
The post Court Ruling Against Chicago Sheriff Proves Thuggish Anti-WikiLeaks Blockade Was Unconstitutional appeared first on The Intercept.
Soon after launching a brutal air and ground assault in Yemen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia began devoting significant resources to a sophisticated public relations blitz in Washington, D.C.
The PR campaign is designed to maintain close ties with the U.S. even as the Saudi-led military incursion into the poorest Arab nation in the Middle East has killed nearly 6,000 people, almost half of them civilians.
Elements of the charm offensive include the launch of a pro-Saudi Arabia media portal operated by high-profile Republican campaign consultants; a special English-language website devoted to putting a positive spin on the latest developments in the Yemen war; glitzy dinners with American political and business elites; and a non-stop push to sway reporters and policymakers.reported, now retains the brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, the leader of one of the largest Republican Super PACs in the country, and a law firm with deep ties to the Obama administration. One of Jeb Bush’s top fundraisers, Ignacio Sanchez, is also lobbying for the Saudi Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the U.S. has come under particular strain in recent years as the government has not only launched the brutal war in Yemen, but has embarked on a wave of repression. Following the appointment of Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud to the Saudi throne in January, the Kingdom sharply increased the number of people executed — often by beheading and crucifixion — for daring to protest or criticize the government or for crimes as minor as adultery or “witchcraft.” On November 17, a Saudi court sentenced Ashraf Fayadh, a famed poet, to death for “apostasy.”
There have also been reports that Saudi Arabia continues to be a leading driver of Sunni terror networks worldwide, including in Syria and Iraq. The Saudi Arabian government is currently supplying weapons to a Syrian rebel coalition that includes the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in the region. As the New York Times has reported, private donors in Saudi Arabia have also worked as fundraisers for the Islamic State, or ISIS. And there is a renewed, bipartisan push by lawmakers to declassify the 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report, a censored section that reportedly relates to Saudi state support for al Qaeda’s operation.
The Saudi Arabian embassy, which did not respond to a request for comment, has been particularly busy wooing Washington in recent months.
In September, the Kingdom helped sponsor opulent galas for Washington’s business elite at the Ritz Carlton and the Andrew Mellon Auditorium. The events were attended by King Salman, along with the chief executives of General Electric and Lockheed Martin, the chairman of Marriott International, and prominent think tank officials.
Kingdom-backed nonprofits have secured positive press through a number of channels. For instance, on September 21, Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, a new think tank fully funded by the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, penned an opinion column in the New York Times heralding “A Saudi-American Reset.” In the piece, Ibish minimized “two years of perceived slights and supposed snubs” and insisted that “the new contours of a revitalized but evolving partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia are beginning to take shape.”
Ibish also predicted that Saudi Arabia was prepared to “intensify efforts to influence events in Syria.” In reality, the Kingdom ended its airstrikes in Syria that month as it has channeled military resources into the war in Yemen instead. The Times identified Ibish as a “contributing opinion writer” and a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, but offered no hint about the institute’s financial backing.
The Saudi Embassy’s effort to shape media coverage is led by Qorvis, a consulting firm that has worked for the Saudi government since the months following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Qorvis’ recent disclosures under the Foreign Agents Registration Act show that it created an entire website — operationrenewalofhope.com — to promote the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It also “researched potential grassroots supporters in select states” and provided an ongoing effort to reach out to reporters concerning the Yemen war.
Qorvis’ email blasts to the media have been coordinated with Saudi Arabia’s team of contracted lobbyists, including H.P. Goldfield, a lobbyist with the law firm Hogan Lovells and vice chairman of Albright Stonebridge Group.
In July, the Saudi Embassy announced the launch of Arabia Now, an “online hub for news related to the Kingdom,” according to a press release. Since then, the site has work to promote Saudi Arabia as a bastion for human rights and progress, with posts claiming that the Kingdom is the “most generous country in the world.” While Saudi Arabian war ships blocked humanitarian assistance to Yemen, the Arabia Now news hub claimed that “Saudi Arabia was the only country that responded to the humanitarian assistance appeal launched by the U.N. to help Yemen by extending a donation of $274 million.”
Arabia Now purchased promoted tweets in the D.C. area.
Recently filed disclosures show that Targeted Victory, a consulting firm founded by Zac Moffatt, a GOP strategist who served as digital director for Mitt Romney’s campaign, has helped to manage Arabia Now. Moffatt’s firm was brought on by Qorvis.
Qorvis has contracted other firms to gauge public opinion, including Tuluna USA, an online survey company, and American Directions Group, a phone survey company founded by a pollster who previously worked for Bill Clinton.
Qorvis also coordinated the payments of honorarium to prominent political figures. For instance, Mark Kennedy, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, received $2,000 for a speech.
From April through September of this year, Qorvis billed the Saudi government for nearly $7 million, more than twice the amount charged the previous reporting cycle.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Saudi officials have regularly appeared on cable news programs and at Washington, D.C., think tank events to reassure American audiences that the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen is in U.S. interests.
Prince Sultan bin Khaled Al Faisal, a former Royal Saudi Naval Forces commander, spoke at an event in the Rayburn House Office Building.
Asked by The Intercept about reports of Saudi forces bombing a wedding party, Al Faisal said, “What I’m concerned about is the authenticity of the record. We have very, very expensive precision bombs. Do you think that we would use high precision bombs to target weddings or to target schools?”
After his remarks on Capitol Hill, a small crowd of young congressional staffers lined up next to the podium, waiting to take selfies with the Saudi prince.
Photo: Yemenis search for survivors at the site of a Saudi airstrike against Houthi rebels near Sanaa Airport on March 26, 2015, which killed at least 13 people.
The post Inside Saudi Arabia’s Campaign to Charm American Policymakers and Journalists appeared first on The Intercept.
Die Bundesregierung will keine Flüchtlinge aus Afghanistan mehr aufnehmen. Denn angeblich sei am Hindukusch kein "pauschaler Krieg" mehr. Die Wirklichkeit aber sieht anders aus.
Von EMRAN FEROZ, 1. Dezember 2015 -
Vor wenigen Wochen machte die Bundesregierung deutlich, dass Flüchtlinge aus Afghanistan in Zukunft vermehrt aus Deutschland abgeschoben werden. Aufgrund der immensen „Entwicklungshilfe“, mit der man in den letzten Jahren das Land unterstützt habe, sei es unverständlich, warum viele Afghanen das Land verlassen, so der Tenor. „In Afghanistan herrscht kein pauschaler Krieg“, so Regierungssprecher Steffen Seibert auf einer Bundespressekonferenz. Was ein „pauschaler Krieg“ genau sein soll, wurde allerdings nicht erläutert.
die derzeitige bundes“verteidigungs“ministerin ursula von der leyen führt deutschland gleich in zwei neue kriege: mali und syrien. eine öffentliche debatte gab es zuvor nicht.
heute gab frau von der leyen ein interview im deutschlandfunk (mp3/text). frau von der leyen spricht erstaunlich viel von „versöhnungsarbeit“ (das wort kommt im verlauf des interviews x-mal vor) – und lässt zugleich kampfflugzeuge, spionagesatelliten, kriegsschiffe, bewaffnete soldaten einsetzen und eine unmenge waffen in die gebiete liefern, um krieg zu führen bzw. stellvertretend führen zu lassen.
den zynischen und menschenverachtenden duktus der frau von der leyen von „erst krieg führen, dann versöhnungsarbeit unter den menschen anstoßen“ wird sie in einigen jahren als entschuldigung dafür einsetzen, um zu begründen, warum denn auch die einsätze in mali und syrien nicht zu einem „erfolg“ geführt haben. dann sei halt eine mangelnde „versöhnungsarbeit“ dort in den fernen ländern schuld.
ein paar ausschnitte aus dem interview, die einzelnen interview-bruchstücke jeweils durch eine einsekündige pause voneinander getrennt:http://devianzen.de/dlf_20151201_0720_von-der-leyen-krieg-und-versoehnung.ogg
diese kriege werden viel leid erzeugen, viel geld verschlingen. bewegungen wie der „islamische staat“ lassen sich nicht mit kriegerischen mitteln besiegen, siehe afghanistan. krieg befördert den terror.
frau von der leyen bringt diesen terror „made by germany“ nach afrika und in den nahen osten … und schließlich auch zurück nach deutschland. kriegstraumata bei soldatinnen und soldaten, terroranschläge mit anschließender medialer hysterie und der zersetzung demokratischer, freiheitlicher lebensgrundlagen in deutschland. aber über diese rückschlagswirkung sprechen die kriegstreiber*innen nicht.
der folgende ausspruch von frau von der leyen ist merk-würdig:http://devianzen.de/dlf_20151201_0720_von-der-leyen-blutkleber.ogg
noch einmal im wortlaut für die robots:
„verantwortliche, an deren händen blut klebt, werden wir nicht in einer gemeinsamen zusammenarbeit haben.“
Fourteen years after the FBI began using “national security letters” to unilaterally and quietly demand records from Internet service providers, telephone companies and financial institutions, one recipient — former ISP founder Nicholas Merrill — is finally free to talk about what it’s like to get one.
The FBI issues the letters, known as NSLs, without any judicial review whatsoever. And they come with a gag order.
But a federal district court judge in New York ruled in September that the continuous ban on Merrill’s speech about the order was not justified, considering that the FBI’s investigation was long over and most details about the order were already openly available.
After waiting for 90 days to let the government appeal the decision – which it didn’t – the judge lifted the gag on Monday.
Merrill immediately released the FBI’s attachment to the national security letter it sent him 11 years ago, listing the kinds of information it wanted about a particular customer without getting a warrant.
One of the most striking revelations, Merrill said during a press teleconference, was that the FBI was requesting detailed cell site location information—cell phone tracking records—under the heading of “radius log” information. Traditionally, radius log refers to a user’s attempts to connect to a server or a DSL line—a sort of anachronism given the progress of technology.
“The notion that the government can collect cell phone location information, to turn your cell phone into a tracking device, just by signing a letter—is extremely troubling,” Merrill said.
The court ruling noted that the FBI is no longer requesting this type of information using NSLs, but wants to maintain the possibility of doing so in the future.
The question of whether law enforcement should be required to get a warrant before obtaining detailed cell site location information is currently being reviewed in several federal district courts, though the Supreme Court recently turned the case down.
And, according to Merrill, the FBI’s request for “any other information which you consider to be an electronic communication transactional record” also includes incredibly invasive things like a detailed list of all the web searches performed on a computer.
Merrill did not release the name of the target of the investigation and the letter, though he is now legally allowed to do so—“for privacy reasons,” he said.
Otherwise, the newly disclosed list did not provide much new information about the FBI’s investigation practices—a big reason why the court chose to lift the gag order.
In the newly unredacted ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero wrote the case “implicates serious issues, both with respect to the First Amendment and accountability of the government to the people.”
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, around 300,000 NSLs have been issued since 2001. By 2008, the Justice Department concluded that the FBI had been abusing its powers with NSLs, even after changing policies in 2006.
“I feel vindicated today,” said Merrill. “But there’s a lot more work to be done.”
Caption: Attachment to 2004 National Security Letter sent to Nick Merrill.
The post Scope of Secretive FBI National Security Letters Revealed by First Lifted Gag Order appeared first on The Intercept.