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CNN Punished Its Own Journalist for Fulfilling a Core Duty of Journalism

The Intercept - Engl. - Ven, 20/11/2015 - 18:23

CNN yesterday suspended its global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, for two weeks for the crime of posting a tweet critical of the House vote to ban Syrian refugees. Whether by compulsion or choice, she then groveled in apology. This is the original tweet along with her subsequent expression of repentance:

Everyone, It was wrong of me to editorialize. My tweet was inappropriate and disrespectful. I sincerely apologize.

— Elise Labott (@eliselabottcnn) November 20, 2015

This all happened after The Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple complained that her original tweet showed “bias.” The claim that CNN journalists must be “objective” and are not permitted to express opinions is an absolute joke. CNN journalists constantly express opinions without being sanctioned.

Labott’s crime wasn’t that she expressed an opinion. It’s that she expressed the wrong opinion: after Paris, defending Muslims, even refugees, is strictly forbidden. I’ve spoken with friends who work at every cable network and they say the post-Paris climate is indescribably repressive in terms of what they can say and who they can put on air. When it comes to the Paris attacks, CNN has basically become state TV (to see just how subservient CNN is about everything relating to terrorism, watch this unbelievable “interview” of ex-CIA chief Jim Woolsey by CNN’s Brooke Baldwin; or consider that neither CNN nor MSNBC has put a single person on air to dispute the CIA’s blatant falsehoods about Paris despite how many journalists have documented those falsehoods).

Labott’s punishment comes just five days after two CNN anchors spent 6 straight minutes lecturing French Muslim civil rights activist Yasser Louati that he and all other French Muslims bear “responsibility” for the attack (the anchors weren’t suspended for expressing those repulsive opinions). The suspension comes just four days after CNN’s Jim Acosta stood up in an Obama press conference and demanded: “I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world. …  I guess the question is — and if you’ll forgive the language — is why can’t we take out these bastards?” (he wasn’t suspended). It comes five days after CNN anchor Christiane Amanpour mauled Obama on-air for not being more militaristic about ISIS (she wasn’t suspended); throughout 2013, Amanpour vehemently argued all over CNN for U.S. intervention in Syria (she wasn’t suspended).

Labott’s suspension also comes less than a year after Don Lemon demanded that Muslim human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar state whether he supports ISIS (he wasn’t suspended); in 2010, Lemon strongly insinuated that all Muslims were responsible for the 9/11 attack when he defended opposition to an Islamic Community Center in lower Manhattan (he wasn’t suspended). During the Occupy Wall Street protests, CNN host Erin Burnett continuously mocked the protesters while defending Wall Street (she wasn’t suspended) and also engaged in rank fear-mongering over Iran (she wasn’t suspended). I could literally spend the rest of the day pointing to opinions expressed by CNN journalists for which they were not suspended or punished in any way.

By very stark contrast, career CNN producer Octavia Nasr was instantly fired in 2010 after 20 years with the network for the crime of tweeting a positive sentiment for a beloved Shia imam who had just died, after neocons complained that he was a Hezbollah sympathizer. Earlier this year, Jim Clancy was forced to “resign” after 30 years with CNN for tweeting inflammatory criticisms of Israel. As I’ve pointed out over and over, “journalistic objectivity” is a sham for so many reasons, beginning with the fact that all reporting is suffuse with subjective perspectives. “Objectivity” does not ban opinions; it just bans opinions that are particularly disfavored among those who wield the greatest power (obviously, no CNN journalist would be punished for advocating military action against ISIS, for instance).

But there’s a more important point here than CNN’s transparently farcical notion of “objectivity.” In the wake of Paris, an already-ugly and quite dangerous anti-Muslim climate has exploded. The leading GOP presidential candidate is speaking openly of forcing Muslims to register in databases, closing mosques, and requiring Muslims to carry special ID cards. Another, Rand Paul, just introduced a bill to ban refugees almost exclusively from predominantly Muslim and/or Arab countries. Others are advocating exclusion of Muslim refugees (Cruz) and religious tests to allow in only “proven Christians” (Bush).

That, by any measure, is a crisis of authoritarianism. And journalists have historically not only been permitted, but required, to raise their voice against such dangers. Indeed, that is one of the primary roles of journalism: to serve as a check on extremism when stoked by political demagogues.

The two most respected American television journalists in the history of the medium are almost certainly Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. The legacies of both were shaped by their raising their voices in times of creeping radicalism and government overreach. Murrow repeatedly inveighed against the extremism of Congressional McCarthyism, while Cronkite disputed Pentagon claims that victory in the Vietnam War was near and instead called for its end: “the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.” Neither could survive at the climate created at CNN:

As Murrow said in justifying his opposition to the Wisconsin Senator and his allies: “there is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his [sic] responsibilities.”

It’s not hard to envision the impact that this CNN action will have on the next journalist who considers speaking up the way Labott (very mildly) just did: they know doing so could imperil their career. In the face of the kind of emerging extremism now manifest in the U.S. (and Europe), that journalistic climate neuters journalists, renders them impotent and their function largely irrelevant, and — by design or otherwise — obliterates a vital check on tyrannical impulses. But that’s what happens when media outlets are viewed principally as corporate assets rather than journalistic ones: their overriding goal is to avoid saying or doing anything that will create conflict between them and those who wield the greatest power.

* * * * *

I did two interviews yesterday where I was able to more or less to comprehensively set forth my views on the behavior of the U.S. media following Paris, which I must admit — notwithstanding my very low expectations — has surprised (and horrified) me in terms of how subservient it is. First, there was this interview on Democracy Now (starting at 13:00; relevant segments are here and here), which generated more response than any I’ve ever done on that show, and this shorter one on France24.

The post CNN Punished Its Own Journalist for Fulfilling a Core Duty of Journalism appeared first on The Intercept.

In Mali and Rest of Africa, the U.S. Military Fights a Hidden War

The Intercept - Engl. - Ven, 20/11/2015 - 17:15

THE GENERAL LEADING the U.S. military’s hidden war in Africa says the continent is now home to nearly 50 terrorist organizations and “illicit groups” that threaten U.S. interests. And today, gunmen reportedly yelling “Allahu Akbar” stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali’s capital and seized several dozen hostages. U.S. special operations forces are “currently assisting hostage recovery efforts,” a Pentagon spokesperson said, and U.S. personnel have “helped move civilians to secured locations, as Malian forces clear the hotel of hostile gunmen.”

In Mali, groups like Ansar Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa have long posed a threat. Major terrorist groups in Africa include al Shabaab, Boko Haram and al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM). In the wake of the Paris attacks by ISIS, attention has been drawn to ISIS affiliates in Egypt and Libya, too. But what are the dozens of other groups in Africa that the Pentagon is fighting with more special operations forces, more outposts, and more missions than ever?

For the most part, the Pentagon won’t say.

Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, chief of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, made a little-noticed comment earlier this month about these terror groups. After describing ISIS as a transnational and transregional threat, he went on to tell the audience of the Defense One Summit, “Although ISIS is a concern, so is al Shabaab, so is the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa and the 43 other illicit groups that operate in the area … Boko Haram, AQIM, and other small groups in that area.”

Bolduc mentioned only a handful of terror groups by name, so I asked for clarification from the Department of Defense, Africa Command (AFRICOM), and Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA). None offered any names, let alone a complete accounting. SOCAFRICA did not respond to multiple queries by The Intercept. AFRICOM spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Falvo would only state, “I have nothing further for you.”

While the State Department maintains a list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), including 10 operating in Africa (ISIS, Boko Haram, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, al Shabaab, AQIM, Ansaru, Ansar al-Din, Ansar al-Shari’a in Tunisia, as well as Libya’s Ansar al-Shari’a in Benghazi and Ansar al-Shari’a in Darnah), it “does not provide the DoD any legal or policy approval,” according to Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, a Defense Department spokesperson.

“The DoD does not maintain a separate or similar list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations for the government,” she said in an email to The Intercept. “In general, not all groups of armed individuals on the African continent that potentially present a threat to U.S. interests would be subject to FTO. DoD works closely with the Intel Community, Inter-Agency, and the [National Security Council] to continuously monitor threats to U.S. interests; and when required, identifies, tracks, and presents options to mitigate threats to U.S. persons overseas.”

This isn’t the first time the Defense Department has been unable or unwilling to name the groups it’s fighting. In 2013, The Intercept’s Cora Currier, then writing for ProPublica, asked for a full list of America’s war-on-terror enemies and was told by a Pentagon spokesman that public disclosure of the names could increase the prestige and recruitment prowess of the groups and do “serious damage to national security.” Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School who served as a legal counsel during the George W. Bush administration, told Currier that the Pentagon’s rationale was weak and there was a “very important interest in the public knowing who the government is fighting against in its name.”

The secret of whom the U.S. military is fighting extends to Africa. Since 9/11, U.S. military efforts on the continent have grown in every conceivable way, from funding and manpower to missions and outposts, while at the same time the number of transnational terror groups has increased in linear fashion, according to the military. The reasons for this are murky. Is it a spillover from events in the Middle East and Central Asia? Are U.S. operations helping to spawn and spread terror groups? Is the Pentagon inflating the terror threat for its own gain? Is the rise of these terrorist organizations due to myriad local factors? Or more likely, is it a combination of these and other reasons? The task of answering these questions is made more difficult when no one in the military is willing to name more than a handful of the transnational terror groups that are classified as America’s enemies.

Before 9/11, Africa seemed to be free of transnational terror threats, according to the U.S. government.

In 2000, for example, a report prepared under the auspices of the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute examined the “African security environment.” While noting the existence of “internal separatist or rebel movements” in “weak states,” as well as militias and “warlord armies,” it made no mention of Islamic extremism or major transnational terror threats.

In early 2002, a senior Pentagon official speaking on background told reporters that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan might drive “terrorists” out of that nation and into Africa. “Terrorists associated with al Qaeda and indigenous terrorist groups have been and continue to be present in this region,” he said. “These terrorists will, of course, threaten U.S. personnel and facilities.”

Pressed about genuine transnational threats, the official drew attention to Somali militants, specifically several hundred members of al Itihaad al Islamiya—a forerunner of al Shabaab — but admitted that even the most extreme members “really have not engaged in acts of terrorism outside Somalia.” Questioned about ties between Osama bin Laden’s core al Qaeda group and African militants, the official offered tenuous links, like bin Laden’s “salute” to Somali fighters who killed U.S. troops during the infamous 1993 Black Hawk Down incident.

The U.S. nonetheless deployed military personnel to Africa in 2002, while the State Department launched a big-budget counterterrorism program, known as the Pan Sahel Initiative, to enhance the capabilities of the militaries of Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. In 2005, that program expanded to include Algeria, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia and was renamed the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership.

In the years that followed, the U.S. increased its efforts. In 2014, for example, the U.S. carried out 674 military missions across the continent — an average of nearly two per day and an increase of about 300 percent since U.S. Africa Command was launched in 2008. The U.S. also took part in a number of multinational military interventions, including a coalition war in Libya, assistance to French and African forces fighting militants in Central African Republic and Mali, and the training and funding of African proxies to do battle against extremist groups like al Shabaab and Boko Haram.

The U.S. has also carried out a shadow war of special ops raids, drone strikes and other attacks, as well as an expanding number of training missions by elite forces. U.S. special operations teams are now deployed to 23 African countries “seven days a week, 24/7,” according to Bolduc. “The most effective thing that we do is about 1,400 SOF operators and supporters integrated with our partner nation, integrated with our allies and other coalition partners in a way that allows us to take advantage of each other’s capabilities,” he said.

The U.S. military has also set up an network of bases — although it is loath to refer to them in such terms. A recent report by The Intercept, relying on classified documents leaked by a whistleblower, detailed an archipelago of outposts integral to a secret drone assassination program that was based at the premier U.S. facility on the African continent, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. That base alone has expanded since 2002 from 88 acres to nearly 600 acres, with more than $600 million allocated or awarded for projects and $1.2 billion in construction and improvements planned for the future.

A continent relatively free of transnational terror threats in 2001 is — after almost 14 years of U.S. military efforts — now rife with them, in the Pentagon’s view. Bolduc said the African continent is “as lethal and dangerous an environment as anywhere else in the world,” and specifically invoked ISIS, which he called “a transnational threat, a transregional threat, as are all threats that we deal with in Africa.” But the Pentagon would not specify whether the threat levels are stable, increasing, or decreasing. “I can’t get into any details regarding threats or future operations,” Lt. Col. Baldanza stated. “I can say that we will continue to work with our African partners to enable them in their counter-terrorism efforts as they further grow security and stability in the region.”

In the end, Bolduc tempered expectations that his troops might be able to transform the region in any significant way. “The military can only get you so far,” he told the Defense One Summit audience. “So if I’m asked to build a counter-violent extremist organization capability in a particular country, I can do that … but if there’s not … a valid institution to plug it into, then we are there for a long time.”

Top photo: Republic of Mali and United States Special Operations Forces troops stand in formation next to each other during the opening ceremony of the Flintlock 10 Exercise held May 3, 2010 in Bamako, Mali. 

The post In Mali and Rest of Africa, the U.S. Military Fights a Hidden War appeared first on The Intercept.

Tragic Farce of Anti-Refugee Threats: U.S. Was No Sanctuary for Syrians in the First Place

The Intercept - Engl. - Ven, 20/11/2015 - 16:16

I’M CONCERNED for the education of Reese Kasich. The 15-year-old daughter of the Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate, John Kasich, has reportedly received some troubling lessons from her father. In a foreign policy address Tuesday, the governor said he’s been explaining to his child why the U.S. should not accept Syrian refugees. “Reesy, you know, we understand these people are in trouble,” Kasich recounted saying. “But think about us putting somebody in our street, in our town, in our country who mean us harm. We can’t do that, can we, Reesy?”

For a teenager living in Westerville, Ohio (population: 36,120), I could imagine that 10,000 might sound like a lot of people. But I am keen to reassure Reese Kasich that she need not fear the U.S. government’s plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the course of the next fiscal year. This is a very limited number of extensively vetted individuals who go through the slow, staggered, and bureaucratically arduous process of refugee resettlement in the United States. No one is putting harmful people on your street, Reesy. Daddy’s trying to scare you.

Following the attacks in Paris last Friday, for which there is no solid proof of Syrian refugee involvement, more than half of U.S. governors — all Republican but one — and a number of conservative lawmakers stated that they would block the entry of Syrian refugees into their states. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday called for a “pause” in the program accepting refugees from Syria. Then, on Thursday, the House passed a bill that would see the program suspended until a stricter vetting system is established; the legislation now heads to the Senate.

Governors have no power to exclude refugees — federal agencies alone make those decisions. Their threats should be dismissed as the worst political posturing, but taken seriously as an index of the current atmosphere of ignorance and bigotry. The political will to block all Syrian refugees from this country is troubling, tout court. But it also gives the false impression that the Obama administration had planned to make much space for Syrians at all.

“The U.S. contribution towards resettlement has been really minimal, given the size of the catastrophe, and our capacity,” Eleanor Acer, senior director of refugee protection at Human Rights First, told The Intercept. In September, the president announced that the government would expand its refugee resettlement program to accept at least 10,000 Syrians over the course of the next fiscal year. Since 2012, about 1,800 Syrians have been granted refugee status in the U.S., after a process requiring 18 months to two years of vetting for each individual.

Obama’s announcement was met with little fanfare. David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee, called the offering “cold comfort,” while Oxfam’s vice president for police and campaigns, Paul O’Brien, said it “scratche[d] the surface.” Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both said that the U.S. should take 65,000 Syrian refugees. “A number of former government officials advised that the U.S. could admit 100,000,” Acer told The Intercept. Currently, there are 4 million Syrian refugees outside the beleaguered nation’s borders, and 7.6 million internally displaced people within.

The vagaries of geography mean that Europe is experiencing the largest movement of displaced people since the Second World War. Germany — which is one-quarter the size of the U.S. — expects to register 800,000 refugees this year alone; more than 100,000 of the refugees already registered for asylum are from Syria. Over half these applications have been granted. Turkey expects 1.7 million refugees to enter from neighboring Syria this year. For Europe, as The Guardian’s migration correspondent Patrick Kingsley wrote, the “passage [of refugees] cannot be avoided; it can only be better managed.”

Kellie Strom of Syria Solidarity U.K. stressed the need for establishing routes to asylum to undo the current and perilous aim of reaching European soil. “If refugees had a regular way of seeking asylum at embassies,” she told The Intercept, “or were able to board planes without airlines risking fines, then lives would be saved; millions of dollars would not be lost to the illegal smuggling market; and security measures could be applied in the same way as for other travelers, something not possible when thousands are landing daily on Mediterranean beaches.” Smuggler boats will not traverse the Atlantic Ocean; refugees from Syria will not simply arrive on American soil en masse. The U.S. has shirked international responsibility in offering so few Syrians sanctuary.

Perhaps the most pernicious effect of the governors’ opposition to any and all Syrian refugees is that — on the basis of what the president rightly has called “hysteria” — his administration must defend offering to admit 10,000 people. The political space to push for more is being foreclosed.

The U.S. admits around 70,000 refugees every year. Because of expansions to the program, the admissions ceiling is now at 85,000. This is no historic height; in 1993, largely as a response to the Balkan wars, the U.S. resettled 142,000 people. Bill Frellick, director of Human Rights Watch’s refugee program, told The Intercept that the U.S. refugee resettlement program is structured as a “durable solution,” which is a problem for those seeking a “tool of protection.” Frelick’s point is that the asylum process in the U.S. is stuck in a backlog, precisely because of the lengthy screening procedures involved and multi-federal agency checks. The procedure’s slow-moving gears partially account for the small offering made by the Obama administration toward Syrian refugees; admitting 10,000 Syrians over the next year actually amounts to working through a backlog of referral candidates already put forward, and vetted, by the UNHCR.

“Syrian refugees are vetted more closely than any other population. There are multiple screening levels, and candidates are interviewed in depth by the Department of Homeland Security while still overseas,” Acer said. She added that Congress is kept abreast of the sort of vetting process involved; lawmakers do not have the reasonable excuse of ignorance regarding the extensive security measures already in place.

Nonetheless, the bill passed in the House yesterday demands that Syrian resettlement be paused until even stricter screening procedures are established. The bill would require the three top U.S. security officials — Homeland Security secretary, FBI director and national intelligence director — to certify to Congress that each Syrian or Iraqi refugee is not a security threat before the refugee can be admitted into the country. The White House swiftly issued a veto threat; such extra vetting is time-consuming overkill, to say the least, when we are already talking about the most extensive, multi-level screening process the U.S. carries out.

“That’s the irony, and the obvious politicization of this issue,” Frelick told The Intercept, “that the focus is on refugee admissions, which are the most screened. The number of Syrians with diversity visas [obtained through a lottery and offered to nations with low immigration rates to the U.S.] far exceeds the number let in as refugees.” Marx, it seems, had a point when he commented that if history repeats itself and “all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice,” then it is “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” If the space offered to Syrian refugees by the U.S. was at first tragically small, it is now being farcically scrutinized for political cachet.

Omar Hossino of the Syrian-American Council told The Intercept that his D.C.-based organization had written to the oppositional governors to invite them to meet with some Syrian refugee families and hear their stories, to convey that “no Syrian wants to be a refugee.” We should not have to implore powerful, elected representatives to look in the face of those few who have been granted asylum for them to understand the hydra-headed horrors of living under Daesh or the Assad regime and the need for refuge. But, then again, nor should we have to explain the foolishness of politicians seeing (or rather evoking) terror in 10,000 of the most screened potential U.S. residents. First as tragedy, then as bitter farce.

Top photo: Aerial view of tents at a camp for asylum seekers on the grounds of the former army barracks Schmidt-Knobelsdorf-Kaserne in Berlin, September 9, 2015.

The post Tragic Farce of Anti-Refugee Threats: U.S. Was No Sanctuary for Syrians in the First Place appeared first on The Intercept.

Götterdämmerung - Ven, 20/11/2015 - 11:46

Flüchtlingspolitik vor einem Wandel -

Ein Zwischenruf von PETER VONNAHME, 20. November 2015 -

Die deutsche Flüchtlingspolitik im Spätherbst 2015 gleicht einem Offenbarungseid. Sie ist das Eingeständnis der Ratlosigkeit. Die linke Hand weiß nicht, was die rechte tut. Panik bestimmt politisches Handeln. Vorschläge, die gestern noch entrüstet zurückgewiesen worden sind, gelten heute als der Weisheit letzter Schluss.  

Rechtsstaatliche Gratwanderungen

Angela Merkel, die deutsche Kanzlerin und CDU-Parteichefin, hat in der Vergangenheit die Vollmitgliedschaft der Türkei in der EU strikt abgelehnt. Unter dem Druck der anhaltenden Flüchtlingsströme aus türkischen Lagern reiste die „mächtigste Frau der Welt“, als Bittstellerin zum türkischen Staatspräsidenten Erdogan. Sie machte ihm


Kampferprobte Spezialisten

German Foreign Policy - Ven, 20/11/2015 - 00:00
Eigener Bericht) - Die Bundesregierung forciert auch im Inland die Militarisierung der Flüchtlingspolitik. Offiziellen Angaben zufolge sind mehr als 6.000 Angehörige der Bundeswehr mit administrativen Aufgaben in Bezug auf nach Deutschland einreisende Migranten befasst. Ihnen obliegt unter anderem die sogenannte erkennungsdienstliche Behandlung der Geflohenen; diese umfasst die Aufnahme der Personalien ebenso wie das Anfertigen von Lichtbildern und die Abnahme von Fingerabdrücken. Zunehmend kommen dabei Soldaten aus Spezial- und Eliteeinheiten der deutschen Streitkräfte zum Einsatz, die bereits an Gewaltoperationen im Ausland beteiligt waren. Dies korrespondiert mit einer Vielzahl gängiger Manöverszenarien, bei denen die "Bewältigung von Flüchtlingsströmen" als integraler Bestandteil des "militärischen Auftrags" firmiert. Regelmäßig wird bei entsprechenden Übungen auch die "zivil-militärische Zusammenarbeit" mit Hilfsorganisationen und Polizeidienststellen trainiert, die jetzt bei der Versorgung und Unterbringung von Migranten zum Tragen kommt. Während die Bundeswehr die von ihr organisierte "Flüchtlingshilfe" ausgiebig zu Propagandazwecken nutzt, steht nach wie vor die Beteiligung deutscher Soldaten an der Abschiebung unerwünschter Ausländer im Raum.

Islamischer Staat - Gio, 19/11/2015 - 20:50

Wie ist der IS entstanden, welche Ideologie verfolgt er und mithilfe welcher staatlichen Strukturen versucht er, sich in Gebieten Syriens und des Irak zu etablieren? Welchen Einfluss hatte der Westen bei seiner der Entstehung?

Eine Analyse von CLEMENS RONNEFELDT, 19. November 2015 -

Die Ursprünge des „Islamischen Staates“ (nachfolgend: IS) sind beim irakischen Zweig von al-Qaida zu suchen. Der Jordanier Abu Musab al-Zarqawi kämpfte zunächst in Afghanistan für al-Qaida, bevor er Anfang des neuen Jahrtausends in den Irak ging und von dort Terroranschläge in Jordanien organisierte. Nach dem Irak-Krieg 2003 wurde al-Zarqawi Befehlshaber von


As France Bombs ISIS, Civilians Are Caught in the Middle

The Intercept - Engl. - Gio, 19/11/2015 - 20:50

FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE began his week at the Palace of Versailles with an appearance before parliament. “France is at war,” Hollande told the lawmakers gathered before him. Three days had passed since terrorists killed more than 120 people and wounded hundreds of others in a series of coordinated attacks in Paris. Hollande promised swift and decisive action.

In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State, the dust from France’s first set of retaliatory airstrikes had hardly settled when Hollande began his address — the French response was in fact already underway.

Hollande vowed to triple his country’s capacity to launch airstrikes against ISIS. The French Navy’s flagship vessel, the Charles de Gaulle, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier hauling more than two dozen fighter jets, was set to arrive in the eastern Mediterranean by Thursday, Hollande said. “We will continue the strikes in the weeks to come,” he pledged. “There will be no respite and no truce.”

Echoing his president the following day, France’s defense minister formally called upon the European Union to aid in its fight “either by taking part in France’s operations in Syria or Iraq, or by easing the load or providing support for France in other operations.” According to the EU’s foreign policy chief, France’s invocation of the Lisbon Treaty on Tuesday — which requires member states to provide “aid and assistance by all means in their power” following acts of “armed aggression” — was unanimously agreed upon. As the New York Times noted, however, the agreement does not commit the member states to military action.

The French demands and declarations were the latest in a series of fast-moving events across multiple nations following last week’s attacks. The consequences of these developments are likely to add new layers of complexity to the ongoing air war over Syria, further heightening the danger for civilians caught in the conflict.

Since the fighting began more than four years ago, a dizzying array of armed forces has exchanged gunfire on the ground in Syria. In recent years, the skies over the country have become similarly complicated — and similarly lethal. For at least three years, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has made a habit of dropping crude barrel bombs on densely populated Syrian neighborhoods as a means to hold onto power. In a war that has cost the lives of more than 300,000 men, women, and children, Human Rights Watch claims Assad’s barrel bombs pose the greatest threat to Syrian civilians.

A coalition made up of the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates began striking ISIS targets in Syria in September 2014, with the U.S. military taking the overwhelming lead in the bombings. As of this month, U.S. warplanes had delivered roughly 94 percent of the nearly 3,000 coalition airstrikes in Syria, according to coalition figures. While the coalition has maintained that it operates the most precise weapons systems on the planet, evidence that its strikes have caused civilian casualties has steadily mounted — with some estimates indicating as many as 354 civilians allegedly killed in the coalition’s first year of operations. Still, despite launching thousands of airstrikes in Syria since its campaign began, the U.S. Central Command, as of September, had admitted to just one “likely” incident of a civilian casualty caused by a coalition strike.

France announced it would join the coalition air campaign in Syria a year after the Americans did, in mid-September 2015. Prior to last weekend, however, France had carried out only a handful of airstrikes. Roughly two weeks after France joined the coalition, Russia began bombing Syria as well, along the way collecting steady allegations of displaying a blatant disregard for civilian life. In a report published this month, Physicians for Human Rights said it had “documented 10 attacks on medical facilities by Russian airstrikes in Syria” through the end of October.

Prior to this month, coalition airstrikes in Syria had seen a steep decline since peaking in July, a trend that has been attributed, in part, to Arab allies shifting their attention to another source of tremendous civilian suffering in the region: the devastating Saudi-led and U.S.-backed campaign in Yemen. For the remaining coalition forces, the introduction of Russian fighter jets into Syrian airspace further complicated matters. The attacks in Paris appear to have shifted the picture yet again.

Since Sunday night, French warplanes, taking flight from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, have been dropping bombs on Raqqa daily. There have been questions as to the effectiveness of the strikes, with some reports suggesting little, if any, significant damage to the Islamic State’s infrastructure in Raqqa. The first indication that the strikes were actually killing ISIS members in any significant number did not emerge until Wednesday, when the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the recent attacks had killed at least 33 fighters and that more fighters may have been killed, “but their bodies were so severely dismembered it wasn’t possible to give an estimated figure.”

Details on civilian casualties since the strikes began have been difficult to pin down.
Following the first round of strikes on Sunday, the observatory, citing “reliable sources,” initially reported that coalition warplanes firing on an ISIS machine gun in Raqqa “missed the target and killed three people at least by opening fire on a house.” In the days that followed, however, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, a clandestine activist network that reports on conditions in the city, maintained that no civilians had been killed in the latest strikes. That too changed on Wednesday, when the group tweeted that seven civilians had been killed in an airstrike. The Intercept made several unsuccessful attempts to communicate with the Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently activists since the bombings began and was unable to independently verify their claims regarding the recent strikes. As of Thursday morning the group tweeted that warplanes had resumed bombing unspecified targets in Raqqa.

As the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, the French attacks on Raqqa “followed a U.S. decision to expand intelligence sharing with France in support of the retaliatory bombings of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.” In addition to providing France with ISIS targets, the paper reported, the U.S. also planned “to roll back restrictions that impede intelligence sharing to make it easier for France to intensify its air campaign.” Secretary of State John Kerry, in an unscheduled visit to Paris Tuesday, addressed the increased intelligence sharing among Western coalition forces targeting ISIS.

“The level of cooperation could not be higher,” Kerry said. “We agreed to exchange more information and I’m convinced that over the course of the next weeks, Daesh will feel greater pressure. They are feeling it today. They felt it yesterday. They felt it in the past weeks. We gained more territory. Daesh has less territory.”

The Russians have been bombing Raqqa as well, albeit for different reasons. Sources in the Russian Defense Ministry told Russian media outlets that cruise missiles were fired from a Russian submarine in the Mediterranean into the city Monday night. While Russia has bombed Raqqa in the past, with disastrous results, the recent strikes, which also included aerial bombings, began just hours after the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service announced that a Russian charter jet that exploded over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula two weeks ago was downed by an “improvised explosive device” soon after taking off. ISIS had quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, which took the lives of all 224 passengers on board.

Following Russian confirmation that the jet was bombed, Putin promised to intensify Russia’s military role in Syria. A Pentagon official, speaking to the New York Times, said the Russians provided advanced warning before launching “a significant number of strikes in Raqqa.” In October, the two nations agreed to a set of safety protocols meant to avoid accidents while conducting their respective bombing campaigns. According to the Wall Street Journal, however, Monday’s warning was the first of its kind. France’s Hollande is scheduled to independently meet with Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama next week, triggering speculation over the possible emergence of a unified Russian, French, and U.S. anti-ISIS front.

The U.S. military also claimed a new first in its war on ISIS this week, employing warplanes to attack hundreds of trucks smuggling crude oil on behalf of the terrorist organization on Monday. According to the New York Times, the campaign, dubbed Tidal Wave II, was planned before the attacks in Paris as part of an escalating effort to disrupt the flow of tens of millions of dollars ISIS generates monthly through the production and sale of oil. To avoid killing civilians, the Times reported, U.S. forces had previously held off on directly targeting tanker trucks involved in the Islamic State’s illicit oil trade.

“To reduce the risk of harming civilians, two F-15 warplanes dropped leaflets about an hour before the attack warning drivers to abandon their vehicles, and strafing runs were conducted to reinforce the message,” the paper noted in its description of Monday’s strikes, adding that a U.S. official said “there were no immediate reports of civilian casualties.”

Unraveling the strategic efficacy and tremendous loss of civilian life caused by airstrikes in Syria, which show no sign of slowing down, has bedeviled reporters and human rights organizations for years. As the coalition campaign kicked up in Syria, as well as Iraq, a group of English- and Arabic-speaking journalists and researchers based in Europe and the Middle East came together to build Airwars, a nonprofit that uses publicly available military data, open source reporting, and regional sources to archive the international air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

In August, Airwars published its first report, which pointed to evidence of hundreds of civilian casualties resulting from the first year of coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State. Author and investigative journalist Chris Woods heads up the watchdog project. In an interview with The Intercept Tuesday, Woods described the coalition approach in Syria as the extension of broader trends rooted in the war on terror.

“Western citizens and governments are burnt out on ground wars and politicians have been reaching for air-only conflicts as a panacea for the last five or six years, pioneered by the CIA in Pakistan and Yemen,” he explained. “Politicians like it because they think it’s risk free. It’s not. It’s risk displaced.”

“The reason Europe is suffering a crisis at the moment around migration is that people are fleeing bombs,” Woods added. “They don’t care who’s dropping them.”

In the near-term, as the Western world continues to grapple with the realities of its bombing campaigns in Syria, Woods emphasized the importance of acknowledging the voices of those living among the explosions.

“We have to remember that however the media paints the Islamic State, they occupy civilian cities. Raqqa, Aleppo, a host of other cities, Mosul, Fallujah, these are all civilian cities under occupation and when we bomb those cities we are bombing civilian cities,” he said. “We have to keep that at the foreground of our discussions, not the background.”

Top photo: Footage of French airstrikes shows rockets slamming into buildings, weapons depots, barracks and checkpoints during a 72-hour bombing campaign in the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, November 2015.

The post As France Bombs ISIS, Civilians Are Caught in the Middle appeared first on The Intercept.

Former Drone Operators Say They Were “Horrified” By Cruelty of Assassination Program

The Intercept - Engl. - Gio, 19/11/2015 - 20:31

U.S. drone operators are inflicting heavy civilian casualties and have developed an institutional culture callous to the death of children and other innocents, four former operators said at a press briefing today in New York.

The killings, part of the Obama administration’s targeted assassination program, are aiding terrorist recruitment and thus undermining the program’s goal of eliminating such fighters, the veterans added. Drone operators refer to children as “fun-size terrorists” and liken killing them to “cutting the grass before it grows too long,” said one of the operators,  Michael Haas, a former senior airman in the Air Force. Haas also described widespread drug and alcohol abuse and said some operators had flown missions while impaired.

In addition to Haas, the operators are former Air Force Staff Sergeant Brandon Bryant along with former senior airmen Cian Westmoreland and Stephen Lewis. The men have conducted kill missions in many of the major theaters of the post-9/11 war on terror, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We have seen the abuse firsthand,” said Bryant, “and we are horrified.”

The Department of Defense did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Beyond the press conference, the group also denounced the program yesterday in an interview with the Guardian and in an open letter addressed to President Obama.

Former drone operators Brandon Bryant, Michael Haas and Cian Westmoreland.

Photo: Joe Fionda

At the press conference, Bryant said drone killings of civilians is exacerbating the problem of terrorism. “We kill four and create ten [militants],” Bryant said. “If you kill someones father, uncle or brother who had nothing to do with anything, their families are going to want revenge.”

The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to keep details of the drone program secret, but in their statements today the former operators opened up about the culture that has developed among those responsible for carrying it out. Haas said operators  become acculturated to denying the humanity of the people on their targeting screens. “There was a much more detached outlook about who these people were we were monitoring, he said. “Shooting was something to be lauded and something we should strive for.”

The deaths of children in strikes was rationalized by many drone operators, Haas said, with minors in the targeted warzones described as “fun-size terrorists” and their potential deaths in strikes likened to “cutting the grass before it grows too long.” As a flight instructor, Haas claimed to have been non-judicially reprimanded by his superiors for failing a student who had expressed “bloodlust,” an overwhelming eagerness to kill.

Haas also described widespread alcohol and drug abuse among drone pilots. Drone operators, he said, would frequently get intoxicated using bath salts and synthetic marijuana to avoid possible drug testing and in an effort to “bend that reality and try to picture yourself not being there.” Haas said  he knew at least a half-dozen people in his unit who were using bath salts and that drug use had “impaired” them during missions.

The Obama administration’s assassination program has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months. This October, The Intercept published a cache of classified documents on the program leaked by a government whistleblower that showed how the program killed people based on unreliable intelligence, that the vast majority of people killed in a multi-year Afghanistan campaign were not the intended targets, and that the military by default labeled non-targets killed in the campaign as enemies rather than civilians.

The operators said that they felt increasing urgency to speak out in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last week; they believe drone assasinations have fed the rise of the extremist group Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Westmoreland said of drones that “In the short term they’re good at killing people, but in the long term they’re not effective. There are 15 year olds growing up who have not lived a day without drones overhead, but you also have expats who are watching what’s going on in their home countries and seeing regularly the violations that are happening there, and that is something that could radicalize them.”

In their open letter to Obama, the former drone pilots made a similar point, writing that during their service they “came to the realization that the innocent civilians we were killing only fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS,” going on to describe the program as “one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.”

At the press conference today, the pilots echoed these sentiments. “It seems like our actions of late have only made the problems worse … The drones are good at killing people, just not the right ones,” Bryant said. “Have we forgotten our humanity in the pursuit of vengeance and security?”


The post Former Drone Operators Say They Were “Horrified” By Cruelty of Assassination Program appeared first on The Intercept.

French Muslims Resist the Lure of Fear

The Intercept - Engl. - Gio, 19/11/2015 - 19:25

AS FRENCH POLICE continue to search for suspected terrorists, many of France’s 6 million Muslims have an additional anxiety. Not only are they reeling from Friday’s attacks, but many within the Muslim community anticipate a surge in racial profiling by the police, as well as hate crimes and violence by ordinary citizens.

“The minute something like this happens, everyone thinks it is us,” said Nora Boukhari, a 39-year-old former police officer of Algerian descent living in the heavily North African 20th arrondissement of Paris. She talks animatedly, while continuously adjusting her white headscarf, and has wrapped an oversized brown woolen jacket over her black embroidered djellaba, a long, traditional Islamic dress, to protect herself from the cold.

Although she was born in the north of France — and speaks only French — Boukhari’s Algerian roots run strong, and her Islamic faith is important to her.

The aftermath of the November 13 attacks brought Boukhari back to 10 months ago, when masked gunmen stormed the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 11 members of its staff. After the attack, divisions within French society arose almost immediately, with those claiming solidarity with the slain journalists claiming “Je suis Charlie” and those critiquing the racist nature of the cartoons saying, “Je ne suis pas Charlie” — I am not Charlie.

“There is no freedom of speech in this country,” Boukhari continued. “If you said, ‘I am not Charlie,’ you were immediately looked at like you were a terrorist.”

Boukhari deliberately declined an invitation to a vigil for the victims of the attacks back in January. She said that if her religion was not respected and she could not pray as a Muslim and practice her faith freely in her workplace — something strictly forbidden under France’s strict legal separation of church and state — she would not honor a double standard and pray for others. Shortly thereafter, she was suspended from her position as a police officer.

“Then it was ‘Je suis Charlie’ and ‘Je ne suis pas Charlie,’” she told me. “Now it is ‘Je suis Paris’ and ‘Je ne suis pas Paris.’”

Despite Boukhari’s cynicism, this time around appears to be different from the January attacks in many ways. Although a mosque was soon vandalized in the north of France, and a halal butcher in the south was graffitied with the words “Wake up, France,” there have been no reported hate crimes directed against Muslims — and little divisive rhetoric over who is French and who is not.

“It is not the same as the Charlie Hebdo attacks,” said Khalil Merroun, an imam in Évry-Courcouronnes, the sleepy suburb on the outskirts of Paris that is now making international headlines as the birthplace of Ismaël Omar Mostefaï — one of the four shooters who gunned down concertgoers in the Bataclan Theater on Friday night.

While most of the town has every marking of an economically depressed Parisian suburb, with businesses that have been closed for months and little life on the street, Merroun’s mosque rises from its drab surroundings as a beautiful, traditionally tiled Islamic cultural center, inviting the neighborhood’s large Muslim community to meet and gather for cultural events, in addition to praying. Nearby are several halal butcheries, and grocery stores selling pickled lemons, brining olives, and other North African delicacies that aren’t available in French supermarkets.

In addition to the Muslim community, Merroun makes a point of welcoming non-Muslims to visit the center, and ask him any questions about Islam.

“This time the terrorists were targeting the diversity in French society — including French Muslims,” he continued.

While the Charlie Hebdo attacks specifically targeted the content of the magazine — which was perceived to be indicative of larger issues of cultural racism within French society — Friday’s attacks went after the “Parisian way of life,” and were thus more collectively frightening. Among the dead were people of several different nationalities, walks of life, and religious backgrounds — including French citizens of North African descent.

“They want to fracture us — and use extremism to make a division between who is Muslim and who is French,” Merroun continued. “But we won’t let them do that this time.”

While Merroun is engaging in a massive public relations offensive — he spends most of his time these days in a small office inside of the mosque fielding questions from foreign journalists about whether or not he knew Ismaël Omar Mostefaï personally (he did not), and how he suspects Mostefaï became radicalized — his suspicions about diversity being the true target of the attacks have been confirmed by the Islamic State itself. In a statement published in its online magazine, Dabiq, in February, the militant group warned that Muslims in the West would soon find themselves unwelcome in their societies, and that their best alternative is to migrate to Syria and join the Islamic State.

“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” it read. “Either you are with the crusade, or with Islam.”

However, for many of France’s Muslims, negotiating their faith within the context of their country is not a new challenge.

“It is true that more people look at you suspiciously, but they’re in shock and grieving,” a Moroccan-French mother of five who declined to give her name following the events told me outside of the Évry-Courcouronnes mosque.

“Most Muslims are trying to wrap their heads around why anyone would do such a thing, just the way everyone else is.”

While the Islamic State’s goal of creating animosity toward Muslim communities is working in other countries, it has been less effective in France. Though mosques in the United States and Canada have experienced threats, and arson attempts, damage to mosques in France has been minimal following last Friday’s attacks. As the United States attempts to use the attacks in Paris as an excuse to further limit entry to Syrian refugees seeking asylum, President Francois Hollande announced that in spite of the recent attacks he will honor his commitment to take in thousands more refugees — with extensive security checks — over the next two years.

“Our country has a duty to uphold this promise,” the French president announced in an address on Wednesday. “We have to reinforce our borders while remaining true to our values.”

The post French Muslims Resist the Lure of Fear appeared first on The Intercept.

An FBI Informant Seduced Eric McDavid Into a Bomb Plot. Then the Government Lied About It.

The Intercept - Engl. - Gio, 19/11/2015 - 19:04

IT WAS A SWELTERING DAY in the summer of 2004, and Eric McDavid, then 26 years old, was in Des Moines, Iowa, for an annual gathering of self-described anarchists.

McDavid had come from his parents’ home outside Sacramento, train-hopping the 1,700-mile journey and scavenging for food where he could, including in dumpsters. An idealistic young man with a shaved head and a thick red beard, McDavid had been drawn to activism following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when his parents gave him a copy of Michael Moore’s book Dude, Where’s My Country? McDavid began to attend protests in the San Francisco area, eventually gravitating toward anti-government views.

In Iowa, McDavid was staying with other activists in a farm house with a large porch. They were attending CrimethInc, which was described, in the gathering’s literature, as an event for anarchists “in pursuit of a freer and more joyous world.” Activists would come and go from the house, talking and smoking cigarettes or pot on the porch.

“Hey, anybody want to go for a ride?” someone shouted. “I’ve got to pick up somebody out on [Interstate] 80 at a truck stop.”

McDavid, in an interview with The Intercept, recalled hopping into the car with another activist. A few minutes later, McDavid spotted her, short and petite, no more than 120 pounds, with pink hair and a camouflage miniskirt. She said her name was Anna. He was quiet on the ride back, impressed and slightly intimidated by the story she told of hitchhiking from Florida with truckers.

McDavid recalled that Anna sidled up to him on the porch.

“So when are we going to bed?” she asked.

McDavid looked at his friend, whose eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“As soon as I get done with this cigarette?” he responded.

McDavid went upstairs and unfurled his sleep sack, offering to share it with Anna. She demurred, which confused McDavid, but she was flirtatious for the rest of the CrimethInc gathering and McDavid became enamored. She told him that she was 24 years old and had spent time in Iraq in the National Guard, which turned her against the government.

“If you’re asking if it made me angry and wanna, you know, destroy it,” she’d say later to one of McDavid’s friends, “then the answer would be yes.”

None of it was true. Anna wasn’t an activist. That wasn’t even her real name, which at the time was Zoe Elizabeth Voss. She was a paid FBI informant.


Watch Eric & “Anna,” a film about an FBI informant and the environmental activist she helped entrap.

Anna would go on to lead McDavid and two other activists in their 20s in a loose plot to bomb targets in Northern California. Maybe in the name of the Earth Liberation Front. Or maybe not. Fitting for the muddied plot, their motivation was as unclear as their targets. Anna, at the direction of the FBI, made the entire plot possible — providing the transportation, money, and a cabin in the woods that the FBI had wired up with hidden cameras. Anna even provided the recipe for homemade explosives, drawn up by FBI bomb experts. Members of the group suggested, in conversations with her, that they regarded her as their leader.

At trial, McDavid’s lawyer, Mark Reichel, argued that the FBI had used Anna to lure McDavid into a terrorism conspiracy through the promise of a sexual relationship once the mission was complete. “That’s inducement,” Reichel told the federal jury. “That’s entrapment.” The jurors weren’t persuaded, however. In 2007, McDavid was convicted of conspiring to use fire or explosives to damage corporate and government property, and he was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison, one of the longest sentences given to an alleged eco-terrorist in the United States. At the time of his conviction, the FBI had built a network of more than 15,000 informants like Anna and the government had classified eco-terrorism as the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat — even though so-called eco-terrorism crimes in the United States were rare and never fatal.

Seven years after his conviction, the government’s deceit was finally revealed. Last November, federal prosecutors admitted they had potentially violated rules of evidence by withholding approximately 2,500 pages of documents from McDavid. Among the belatedly disclosed documents were love letters between Anna and McDavid and evidence that Anna’s handler, Special Agent Ricardo Torres, had quashed the FBI’s request to put Anna through a polygraph test, commonly used by the FBI to ensure informants aren’t lying to agents as they collect evidence. The new documents also revealed which of the letters and emails the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit had reviewed before offering instructions on how to manipulate McDavid and guide him toward a terrorist conspiracy.

Eric McDavid, 37, walks out of the federal courthouse with his attorneys, Jan. 8, 2015, Sacramento, Calif.

Photo: Jose Luis Villegas/Sacramento Bee/AP

McDavid was released earlier this year as part of an unusual settlement: He agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of general conspiracy in exchange for his immediate release. Yet when his lawyers demanded to know why the government had withheld evidence that had been specifically requested before trial, the government made a veiled threat to throw McDavid back into prison for violating the terms of his plea agreement.

“The United States is currently reviewing its potential remedies for McDavid’s breach and whether to pursue those remedies,” federal prosecutors warned in their formal response.

The extent to which the crime was manufactured by the government can be fully measured now, thanks to the release of the hidden documents that became public earlier this year and hours of undercover recordings that were obtained exclusively by The Intercept and Field of Vision, which are releasing a documentary about the case, Eric & “Anna,” directed by one of the authors of this story, Katie Galloway, along with Kelly Duane de la Vega.

“To me, there are big American themes here,” said Ben Rosenfeld, a lawyer who was among those representing McDavid after his conviction. “Man entrapped by FBI and their informant — and railroaded by prosecutors who withhold and distort evidence at trial — is released after serving nine years of an outrageous 20-year sentence. He then dares to ask for an explanation, and the U.S. attorney’s office threatens him with re-prosecution just for asking. The court then runs cover for all of them and refuses even to probe who was responsible. That’s the opposite of accountability.”


IN THE FALL of 2003,  Anna was 17 years old and a sophomore at a South Florida community college. Eager to impress her professor, she proposed an extra credit assignment: infiltrating protests at the upcoming Free Trade Agreement of the Americas summit in Miami.

“I wanted to figure out what they were doing and why they were interested in doing what they were doing,” Anna said at McDavid’s trial. “So I went to Goodwill, and I got some ratty clothes, because I knew the protestors were more into a grunge lifestyle than your average Old Navy or Gap lifestyle.”

She wasn’t a natural spy. Protest organizers suspected a plant and shut her out of their meetings. The next day, she showed up again, this time in a mask, and managed to attend a meeting where organizers discussed their plans.

After Anna presented the report to her class, a classmate who was a state law enforcement agent asked if he could share the paper with his bosses. Anna agreed. She soon received a call from the Miami Police Department, the lead agency during the protest.

“We have some questions about what you did, what you saw,” Anna recalled them saying. “Would you mind coming in this afternoon?”

When Anna arrived, she was greeted by two police officers and an FBI agent who asked if she’d be willing to monitor protestors at the upcoming G8 forum in Sea Island, Georgia, as well as the 2004 Democratic and Republican national conventions. She’d be undercover, they made clear. She signed up immediately.

For the FBI, Anna was a great find — an informant young enough to look the part of the environmental and animal-rights activists she would be infiltrating. As in Muslim communities after 9/11, the FBI created undercover stings that provided the means and opportunity for left-wing activists to cross the line into violent action. While far fewer in number than the stings against Muslims, the stings on left-wing activists have been just as egregious. For example, an FBI informant led five members of the Occupy movement — at least one of whom had been treated for mental health issues — in a plot to bomb a bridge in Ohio. The FBI came up with the plot and financed it. An undercover informant provided the purported bomb.

The government’s interest in McDavid appears to have begun in February 2005, when the FBI arrested a man named Ryan Lewis for his role in planting five incendiary devices in Auburn, California, near Sacramento. Lewis, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison, was a friend of McDavid’s. After Lewis’ arrest, FBI agents went to McDavid’s parents’ house — but McDavid, something of a drifter at the time, wasn’t there.

Anna provided the FBI with a way to gather information about him. Anna and McDavid exchanged emails after meeting at CrimethInc in Iowa. In one email Anna sent — which was among the newly released documents — Anna explicitly suggests the promise of a relationship. “I think you and I could be great,” she wrote on June 27, 2005, weeks before the next CrimethInc in Indiana. “But we have a LOTS of little kinks to work out … I hope in Indiana we can spend more quality time together, and really chat about life and our things.”

In his reply, McDavid didn’t miss the “our things” cue:

hey cheeka, so far as us B’n great, that i think is an understatement … along w/the ‘LOTS of little kinks 2 wk out’ … but if u aint learning, u aint live’n … & I do think we could learn a lot from eachother … ido think that indiana will B a good space 2 start some of that but i’d like 2 look N2 do’n some independently from the scene N the future 2, i think that it’d throw a different light on the subject wich could B helpful … but that’s 4 a future discussion : ) … now so far as plans, u know I don’t have those things anymore, only ideas …

In another email leading up to their Indiana meeting, McDavid made his feelings clear: “Totally miss you. You’re never far from my thoughts or heart. Guess I’ve been fighting that last part a bit. Okay, a lot.” He signed it, “Much love, me.”

Eric McDavid’s handwritten note to “Anna,” the FBI informant.

Photo: FBI

By then, Anna was working with Special Agent Torres, who was based in the FBI’s Philadelphia office. In October 2005, a collection of McDavid’s electronic and handwritten messages were provided to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Virginia, for “behavioral insight into Eric McDavid,” according to an FBI memo. The unit’s analysis and the fact that Anna received such specific guidance — key pieces of evidence that the defense had been seeking before the trial — were made public only in January of this year. At trial, Anna testified that the Behavioral Analysis Unit had offered advice, but it was not disclosed that FBI psychologists had actually reviewed McDavid’s messages.

“They said if he makes another advance at you, what you need to say to him to calm him, to mollify him,” Anna testified. She was instructed not to “shoot him down outright.” Instead, she was advised to tell him, “We need to put the mission first. There’s time for romance later.”

Anna and McDavid saw each other again in 2005 at the next CrimethInc. Anna told her FBI handler, and later said on the witness stand, that McDavid expressed his interest in violence then. “He said that he had gotten a bomb recipe for C4 from an individual in West Virginia. And his plan was to make little C4 bombs,” Anna testified.

But this alleged conversation was not recorded. Anna was the only source. McDavid has denied he said it.

Could Anna be trusted?

Among the documents released years after McDavid’s conviction were FBI reports that requested a polygraph examination for Anna, to make sure she was telling the truth. It’s unclear why the FBI scuttled Anna’s polygraph. The bureau declined to comment for this story. Anna also told her handler that McDavid had two co-conspirators in his supposed bomb plot. Anna claimed that Lauren Weiner, a Philadelphia art student who was 20 years old and went by the nickname Ren, told her that McDavid invited her and Zach Jenson, a 20-year-old sometime travel companion of McDavid’s who went by the nickname Ollie, to join the plot.

Yet the plot, or whatever it really was, was going nowhere by the time Anna told the FBI about it. McDavid had returned to the West Coast and dropped out of contact with her. The FBI decided to jumpstart the plot. “We formulated a plan to get me out to the West Coast under the guise of a sick aunt that I was visiting,” Anna recounted at trial.


USING FBI MONEY, Anna bought a plane ticket for Weiner to fly to Sacramento in the fall of 2005. They met up with Jenson and drove to McDavid’s parents’ house outside Sacramento. It was November 18, 2005. As they arrived, McDavid told them: “Just so everybody’s on the same page, you’re walking into a house of a known anarchist.” He was joking about his friendship with Ryan Lewis and how FBI agents had come to his parents’ house after Lewis’ arrest. They hung around McDavid’s house, smoking marijuana, talking and eating dinner, before finally moving into the backyard to sit around a fire pit, where they discussed the alleged plot. Anna led the conversation, pressuring the group to come up with a concrete plan.

“We could practice shooting, we could do reconnaissance, we could even test something tomorrow and Sunday,” Anna said.

“Hm-hm,” McDavid mumbled, not committing to any ideas.

If McDavid had told Anna that he was planning a C4 bomb attack, as she reported to the FBI, his conversation at the fire pit suggested that his dedication had been momentary at best.

“What do we need to do over winter? What do we need to improve? What do we need to train more on?” Anna badgered.

They spoke vaguely about targets. McDavid talked about pouring sugar into the underground tanks at gas stations. They wondered aloud if dropping a lit cigarette into those tanks would cause an explosion. McDavid described how he met a guy in West Virginia who told him how to make homemade explosives.

Nothing was specific. It was all talk, most of it encouraged by Anna.

McDavid maintains that everything he said was part of an effort to impress Anna, because he wanted a sexual relationship with her. The next morning, as Anna and McDavid drove in the Chevy wired by the FBI with cameras, McDavid made clear that he wanted more out of their relationship. The undercover video of their conversation was among those obtained by The Intercept and Field of Vision.

“So did you want to keep our relationship just professional through this?” he asked.

Anna sighed.

“You’re right,” she admitted. “We have not talked about this.”

“And we haven’t talked about this, and it’s just been something that’s—” McDavid started, before being interrupted.

“Um, I honestly don’t know how I feel right now,” Anna said, then added a few minutes later: “I’m not sure if I’m ready to do that just yet.”

The cabin the FBI rented in Dutch Flat, Calif.

Photo: Douglas Adesko

As 2005 ended, Anna met with her FBI handlers in Philadelphia. They faced a predicament: Anna needed to return to California with an explosives recipe — but they couldn’t take the risk of providing a working recipe.

“We ended up sitting down with some bomb technicians from the Philadelphia FBI office, and we put together a recipe that could be sent to him that was basically a safe bomb,” Anna said at the trial. “It wasn’t a bomb. It wasn’t an explosive. But it was the initial initiator part of an explosive.”

In January 2006, the FBI rented a two-bedroom cabin in Dutch Flat, a wooded area between Sacramento and Reno, Nevada. The bureau also leased a maroon Chevy for Anna. Both the cabin and the car were wired with recording devices. Weiner and Jenson were both back on the East Coast as well. Anna had arranged to pick them up and drive straight through to California. Anna told them that she’d rented the car and cabin using money she’d made from being a stripper in Florida.

During the ride out West on January 7, 2006, Jenson told Anna, in one of the undercover recordings, that he was suspicious of her.

“I had a really silly paranoid thought last night while I was really stoned,” Jenson said.

“Oh, what?” Anna asked.

“That you were still, like, mentally fucked up from being in the National Guard — ” Jenson started.

Anna laughed. “No,” she said.

“And you were, like, going crazy and, like, leading us all into this,” Jenson finished.

“Oh, no,” Anna said. “Are you kidding? I’m fucking not your leader.”

She told him that McDavid was the leader.

“If you want to look for someone who’s been leading or coaxing, you gotta look at D,” Anna told Jenson, referring to McDavid. “It was his idea. He’s the one that brought it up to me.”

“No shit?” Jenson responded.

“Oh, yeah,” Anna said. “Driving out from CrimethInc — ”

“Wow,” Jenson interrupted.

Anna continued: “He said, ‘Hey, I’m going to do this. Wanna join?’ ”

“D’s also a bit crazy,” Jenson added.

“Um, yeah, you kinda need to be crazy,” Anna said, then followed a few minutes later: “So if D’s crazy, is it OK that he’s kind of our leader?”

“He’s not our leader,” Jenson responded.

Of course, the government’s case revolved around the idea that McDavid was the leader, not Anna. She had told the FBI that McDavid had invited Weiner and Jenson into the plot. Yet Jenson was expressing surprise at the idea that the plot was led by McDavid. (Jenson would later testify against McDavid, but following the trial, he stated in a sworn affidavit that the government had bullied him into supporting its narrative.)

Anna, Weiner and Jenson picked up McDavid the next day, on January 8. Having driven 3,000 miles, the trio already had developed a sort of common language. Anna, a Stars Wars fan, had been calling Weiner a “jawa” for how she appeared when she wore a hoodie.

This was the government’s supposed eco-terrorist cell on the make, and they were arguing not about bombs and attacks, but about Star Wars characters. For Anna and the government, it was difficult to get the group beyond meaningless conversation like this. At every attempt, McDavid, Weiner and Jenson rebuffed Anna’s encouragement to come up with a timeline, a plan, anything that required a commitment. On January 10, 2006, after two days of hanging around the cabin together and smoking marijuana, Anna expressed frustration that they weren’t moving forward or translating their talk into action. “I would like to one day stick to a plan,” Anna said.

Anna encouraged the group to drive with her to potential targets in Northern California. They visited the Nimbus Dam, an enormous hydroelectric facility on the American River, as well as the Institute of Forest Genetics. They also shopped at Wal-Mart for supplies for the bomb recipe Anna provided — canning jars, a car battery, coffee filters, bleach, ammonia, mixing bowls, a single-burner hotplate.

The Nimbus Dam

Photo: Wikipedia

AT THE CABIN, McDavid began mixing the bomb recipe — the fake one the FBI had written. He combined bleach and ammonia and boiled the liquid on the hotplate, as instructed. He turned off the burner to let the chemical mix cool, also as instructed. What no one accounted for was the weather. It was January 12, cold outside, and the Pyrex bowl cooled too quickly on the metal burner. It cracked, spilling the chemicals onto the ground.

The tension began to grow. Anna was having trouble getting the group to commit to more than playing around with the bomb recipe and talking big about things they might do one day.

“I don’t like this amorphous crap,” Anna said. “I wish one day we could keep the damned plan. I wish one day you guys could stick to a list. I don’t like how I always have to bend to fit your schedules.”

“We’re all bending,” Weiner said.

Anna, frustrated, walked out of the cabin, and down to where the FBI agents were monitoring what was happening. Torres, her handler, met her on the road, a short walk from the cabin. At McDavid’s trial, he recalled what she told him.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she said. “I’m going back to Philadelphia. I’m done.”

Torres then made the call: They’d arrest the group the next day.

Anna returned to the cabin.

“All right, tomorrow, we’re just going to go into town, get another Pyrex bowl, come back up here,” Anna said, setting the agenda.

The next morning, the four went to K-Mart to purchase more supplies. They split into two groups: Weiner and Jenson, McDavid and Anna. Weiner and Jenson were still in the store by the time McDavid and Anna returned to the car. McDavid hopped onto the trunk and lit a cigarette. Anna sat down in the driver’s seat. As Weiner and Jenson were walking back, McDavid heard the car’s automatic locks engage. A swarm of black vehicles surrounded them. It was the FBI.

Weiner and Jenson agreed to testify against McDavid in exchange for plea deals and reduced sentences. McDavid did not testify but his lawyer stated that Anna was the driving force of the plot and had entrapped him by suggesting that they would have a romantic relationship. Unfortunately, McDavid’s lawyer did not have any written evidence to back up his romantic assertion — because the FBI and federal prosecutors failed to disclose the evidence and specifically denied that it existed.

McDavid’s trial attorney, Mark Reichel, questioned Anna about whether McDavid had written letters.

“You believe he had written you love letters?” Reichel asked.

“A few, yes,” Anna conceded.

“Okay. And we don’t have those anymore, correct?”

“No,” Anna answered. “Correct.”

“And you were still working for the FBI when those disappeared, though.”


Anna conceded only that the letters contained a “slight indication that he might have been interested in me.”

In closing arguments, one of the federal prosecutors, Ellen Endrizzi, even poked fun at McDavid’s claims of budding romance and missing love letters.

“Romance? A bit of a red herring,” she told the jury. “There are supposedly love letters. We’ve got evidence of one. Supposedly Mr. McDavid is falling all over himself for Anna. But you have testimony that Anna rebuffed him.”

McDavid was convicted and sentenced to 19.5 years in federal prison. The missing evidence — and the extent of the government’s misconduct in not producing it for trial — would not be revealed until earlier this year.

McDavid’s lawyers, friends and family continued to fight for him, filing multiple FOIA requests with the federal government in what seemed a futile effort. Until one day, in late 2014, the records that the government had said didn’t exist were provided to his lawyers. They included the emails McDavid had sent to Anna professing his desire for her and a paper trail of the FBI referring those private messages to behavioral psychologists.

When McDavid and his lawyers discovered that the FBI and federal prosecutors had withheld approximately 2,500 pages of discovery, they negotiated a settlement that allowed for McDavid’s release with time served in exchange for changing his conviction to a lesser charge of general conspiracy. In January, during a hearing to approve the plea deal to release McDavid, U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr., who presided over the trial, asked the government to explain its failure to produce key evidence.

“This is something that needs to be dealt with, and I want to know what happened,” England said. “I mean, this is something I never thought I would have to ask the question ‘how did this happen?’ This is something that I don’t expect to have happen in my courtroom.”

“Your Honor, unfortunately, we’re not, the government is not in a position to offer clarity to the court at this point,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andre Espinosa said. “Disappointingly for all of the parties, Your Honor, I can’t provide an accurate explanation for that other than to say that these documents were in the FBI file.”

McDavid’s lawyer in July filed a motion asking the court to force the government to explain how the evidence was withheld and to compel the government to produce new documents, such as the Behavioral Analysis Unit’s report on McDavid’s letters, the instructions Anna was given on how to handle McDavid’s romantic advances, and any memos and correspondence related to the FBI’s decision to schedule, and later cancel, a polygraph examination of Anna.

In a surprising turn that has not been reported previously, the government responded by making what seemed to be a threat to throw McDavid back in prison. In a reply to the lawyer’s motion, federal prosecutors alleged that McDavid’s request “is likely a breach of the terms of his plea agreement.” The prosecutors added that the government would review “potential remedies” for the breach.

There was yet another twist to come: Judge England, who was outraged in January about the missing evidence, backed down in September, denying McDavid’s request to force the government to explain how it withheld evidence. England wrote in his order that he conducted his “own inquiry into that precise question” and concluded that “the failure to turn over documents in this case was inadvertent, an anomaly, and an incident not likely to be repeated.” According to the order, England’s inquiry consisted only of questioning prosecutors during the January hearing when they said they couldn’t “provide an accurate explanation” for what happened.

In a written statement to The Intercept, Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip A. Ferrari said that of the 2,500 pages of documents not provided to McDavid before his trial, only 11 documents were required to be turned over under the federal rules of evidence. “We don’t know why these documents were not produced, but we have no information indicating that the failure to do so was anything more than a mistake,” Ferrari said. He also maintained that prosecutors’ language, in the motion opposing McDavid’s request for the government to explain why evidence went missing, “contained no threats, veiled or otherwise.”

The informant, “Anna,” in 2008.

Photo: Douglas Adesko

ANNA TESTIFIED THAT SHE was paid about $65,000 for her undercover work with the FBI. Since McDavid’s arrest, she has changed her given name and surname multiple times and moved around the country, public records show. She now lives in a Texas suburb, where she purchased a home this year with her new husband, a software engineer. She did not respond to multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.

On her Facebook page, Anna recently posted a photograph commemorating the 9/11 terrorist attacks as well as pictures of herself dressed as a Stormtrooper from Star Wars, the movie series that a decade earlier she had discussed with the targets of the FBI sting.

In what appears to be a honeymoon picture, Anna and her husband are standing on the beach. He’s wearing a blue, tropical-themed buttoned-down shirt and khaki pants. She’s in a white wedding gown. They’re embracing each other, and both are donning Stormtrooper helmets. Behind them, in the cloudy blue sky, is not the moon but the Death Star.

McDavid, now 38, is resettling in northern California, where he lives with family, attends community college and is attempting to rebuild a life after nearly a decade in prison for a crime that Anna helped the government create. McDavid is adjusting to the newness of telling his life story in front of cameras and crowds. If he holds any anger toward Anna, he doesn’t express it, even when invited during the recent interview with The Intercept.

Last month in San Francisco, McDavid addressed a crowd of activists interested in assisting political prisoners in the United States. Dressed in a tight-fitting T-shirt and baggy blue jeans, he talked about the mounds of mail he received while in prison and how those letters helped him get through nine long years.

“All it takes is a little card,” McDavid told the audience. “That’s all it takes — a smiley face, a heart, 25-cent stamp. That’s it.”

He paused.

“Or is [a stamp] more than that now?” he asked, to laughter.

“I’ve been gone for a bit.”

Research: Sheelagh McNeill
Additional reporting: Kelly Duane de la Vega

The post An FBI Informant Seduced Eric McDavid Into a Bomb Plot. Then the Government Lied About It. appeared first on The Intercept.

Interview with Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega, Directors of “Eric & ‘Anna’”

The Intercept - Engl. - Gio, 19/11/2015 - 19:03

The Bay Area filmmaking team of Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega hasn’t exactly parachuted into the zone of conflict between government surveillance and civil rights. It’s a topic they’ve been addressing, in one form or another, for nearly 20 years. Add in the remarkable fact that they’re both children of civil rights lawyers — their fathers were actually colleagues — and you’ve got filmmakers who are deeply immersed in this thorny terrain. Their last feature film, Better This World, told the story of two radicalized Texas friends who became the target of a domestic terrorism sting at the 2008 Republican National Convention. For Eric & “Anna,” they collaborated with Intercept contributor Trevor Aaronson on a longform article to complement their film. All three talked to Field Notes about the challenges and benefits of crafting a narrative largely (and in the case of the film, entirely) from surveillance material, and of reporting a story for which crucial factual details have only recently been made available — details that call into question the American government’s motives and methods.

Did you originally come together because of a shared interest in these issues — the intersection of surveillance and activism?

Kelly Duane de la Vega: Katie and I met at Berkeley High. We were family acquaintances. Then we both lived in New York on different occasions, both worked as documentary filmmakers, then both moved back to our hometowns and reconnected. Katie had read a New York Times clipping about a couple of activists that got arrested, and there was an entrapment allegation, and we were immediately interested. Within weeks of reconnecting it became our first project. That was in 2009. We’ve been making short to long form documentaries together ever since.

Katie Galloway:: Our fathers worked together as civil rights lawyers, but we didn’t find this out until we worked together. So there’s this history of growing up in the Bay Area in the ’70s and the Black Panthers and SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee], which are our cultural roots. My first film on informants was in the mid-’90s, about the use of government informants in the drug war.

Duane de la Vega: I was in the process of working on a piece about John Walker Lindh, The American Taliban, and was very interested in activism and what is taking it too far, and what happens once you get caught up in the legal system. That film project didn’t end up going forward, but I had a really long-standing interest in that intersection between the government and activism. And then when we made Better This World, it got a lot deeper.

Were you hesitant at all to take on another project in this topic area?

Galloway: For this story, the defense team and the people involved came to us after Better This World because [the stories] were so similar. But we said we couldn’t make this film for a number of reasons, one being that someone else was working on it, but also because we were interested in moving on to other subjects. But it stuck with us. I knew Laura [Poitras] from a long time ago, and we had gone back and forth about the Eric and Anna story for years. So when Eric was released [from prison] I emailed her and said, “Are you interested in doing something on this now?”

Considering how long you’ve been making films in this area, how have you evolved as both journalists and filmmakers over that stretch of time? And would you say those have evolved in tandem, or does one tend to fuel the other?

Duane de la Vega: I think we’re both the kinds of people who are constantly reading newspapers and nonfiction and watching what’s happening. So much has changed [in filmmaking] and we both continued to educate ourselves along those lines and worked on our craft. So in some ways they evolved in tandem and as we’ve grown together as partners.

Galloway: I was raised really in the journalistic model, and did a lot of Frontline [episodes], and so for my subsequent films I’ve been reaching to break free — well not free, but away from a more standard model, towards finding my voice. And I would say Kelly is largely responsible for helping me get there. All of [these films] have been made with no narration, and different storytelling styles that make it much more difficult actually to tell the story. But Kelly and I feel pretty clear that the storytelling we like to do is close to the bone, character-driven narratives with a backdrop that’s huge, that’s at least national but where you can find a very personal way in.

You cover a considerable amount of ground in such a short span of time with this film. My sense of and feelings about both Anna and Eric clearly evolve, and I’m also given a strong larger picture of what it means in terms of justice and government overreach. And yet it’s all communicated through surveillance footage. Was it difficult to manage all of that in just 15 minutes?

Duane de la Vega: It was really difficult because there are layers and layers, and so many options, and the story’s really complicated. But we thought there was power in the surveillance footage in and of itself. That so much of the narrative could evolve from just providing a little window into what was going on. So we tried to pick themes that were representative of the overall picture, and that would allow people to spend time with the characters and get a rhythm of their speech and let them develop, and by doing so paint a portrait of what was going on.

Galloway: When making Better This World we knew that we wanted to make surveillance a character, but we didn’t know quite how it would move and effect people. And so it was quite a natural evolution [on this project] to go, “Why don’t we make it all surveillance?” Leave everything else behind and let the surveillance more or less speak for itself.

I would imagine the editing process for dealing exclusively with surveillance footage was quite different — you’re constructing a story based on what that footage did or didn’t show, on what is or isn’t visible or audible.

Duane de la Vega: Usually it’s a case of trying a lot of different options before you find the right one. That’s the hard part. But once you figure out how you’re going to proceed the stories start to work on their own, and that’s how you know you’re on to something. Beyond that there’s a lot of pre-post — there’s digging, there’s typing up the transcripts, thinking how each will visually play against each other. It was originally developed for Frontline as an hour [-long film], so we had a lot of great stuff pulled. It has to be said of Mike Nicholson, who’s our third producer and graphics editor — we would not be here without him. We would talk with him about ideas and then he would send us back something beautiful.

I like the combination of high and low fi to the film. Graphically, you’ve got typed text and handwritten script, meanwhile you’ve got high-tech surveillance that nevertheless captures pretty cruddy footage. There’s something metaphorically meaningful to that.

Galloway: There’s a quality to these young kids — I mean they’re not kids, she’s a teenager and he’s in his early 20s — there’s kind of a casual, slapdash quality to the whole thing. The scribbled notes, the ellipses and dashes and starting in the middle of things. Here are these young, kind of spacey, not very threatening young people that get presented post-9/11 as someone to fear, as domestic terrorists. And then there’s the style of the FBI’s investigation, where the Ts were not crossed and the Is were not dotted.

You mentioned that Eric & “Anna” was originally intended for Frontline at a longer length. Could you talk about how you adjusted to the shorter length, and what was lost and what might be gained from the adjustment?

Duane de la Vega: Katie and I have produced quite a bit of short format work over the years. We love long format, and we love short format. There’s something really accessible about a short format piece that people can watch at home and on their computer. Obviously with a long format piece there’s a lot of things that would’ve gone into it, probably contemporary interviews and more reenactments. But short form is an incredibly important medium for what we do — it allows us to tell more stories to a wider audience, and not have to crank out a film every three years.

Galloway: You aren’t expected to have all the answers in short form. It sort of unburdens you from this idea that everybody has to have a full picture of everything when they’re done — with the Frontline hour, for example. There are very different standards by which it’s judged. And it’s also lovely to be in conversations with other work.

And with this film you’ve been in direct conversation with Trevor Aaronson’s reporting, which is launching alongside the film for Field of Vision.

Galloway: We worked with Trevor back at the investigative reporting program at Berkeley, where Kelly and I were filmmakers in residence. He wrote a book on post-9/11 domestic security apparatus, taking a broader viewer.

Trevor Aaronson: I was in the group of fellows that came a year after Katie at UC Berkeley. Katie was still working with the program when she was finishing Better This World, and my focus at that time was on the FBI’s use of informants, specifically the use of informants in stings in Muslim communities post 9/11. Katie was orbiting around the same planet, so to speak, in the sense that she was focusing on the use of informants among left wing political activists. The tactics that the FBI uses are similar in the targeting of both Muslims and left-wing activists. The use of stings, the use of informants.

Galloway: So when we decided to do this story we called Trevor and brought him in to do some of the documents research while we were working on the film — to find out what happened with the government burying, losing or not having these documents. He wrote a first draft and sent it to us, and we were able to add details or flesh things out, and we’ve basically been passing the draft back and forth.

How did you conceive of this written piece as working alongside the film?

Aaronson: Our hope was to try to complement the two as best as possible. I tried to keep a lot of information in the story that would take readers kind of beyond what was in the film. But this was a project that had already been off the ground before I came in. The incredible work that Katie and her team were able to do, getting access to all this video and audio footage that hadn’t been made public before. It gave me the opportunity to work from these videos and tell that narrative. At the same time what I try to do in my story, which is something that can’t be as easily done in a visual work, was to leverage the documents as much as possible. Most of my work is really working with court documents and public records to put together a larger narrative, to give a context to the video, and also explain how it is that a man goes to prison for ten years and finds out that there were 2,500 pages of evidence not provided at his trial. So in some ways there is overlap and there’s no way that there couldn’t be overlap with a written story and a visual story on the same thing. Our hope was that for people who watch the film but also read the story that there won’t be a lot of redundancy, that the visuals and the conversations that Katie used would reveal new things to the person who had read my story and vice versa.

When I talked to Glenn Greenwald a couple weeks ago about the piece that he did with Heloisa Passos, he talked about how film can accomplish certain things more efficiently than writing can normally accomplish, and it challenged him to think of how to use the written piece differently in light of that.

Aaronson: In my story I make the case, I think, that Anna was flirtatious and she was leading Eric on. Now you can describe that in a written story, but when you look at Katie and Kelly’s film, there’s that scene, that visual, of her in the car reaching over and touching him on the leg. And that says so quickly what took me like 1,500 words to explain in the story. There was no way I could compete with that very visceral scene where she does that. So my goal was to say hey, let’s try to tell the whole story of how Anna got in that car. Like this idea that she was just a community college student, even though there’s still this perception that FBI informants are these highly trained people who go undercover. When in truth this was a 17-year-old community college student who the FBI recruited to be an informant.

You’re able to go a bit deeper into Eric and Anna’s stories than the short film can.

Aaronson: I think also it provides an opportunity for armchair psychology on Anna. The wanting to impress the community college professor, then later she has this strange relationship with Ricardo Torres, her FBI handler. A young woman’s desire to impress the older man in a position of authority. You can see how that creates a situation where Anna is potentially manipulated and manipulating the situation. I felt what I could contribute was this fuller picture, fleshing out the biography in a way. If you wanted a fuller picture of what happened, it really lends itself well to a longform written piece.

Both pieces, the film and the written feature, speak to the importance of having information. There’s a difference between piecing a story together in an investigative sense, and repopulating a story after years of its details being intentionally blocked.

Aaronson: Right. Unlike other stories that I’ve worked on where the entire story is new and you’re breaking all sorts of new information, this was a story that, since McDavid’s arrest in 2006, had been substantially reported. I think what we were able to do was take the new information, and take what was out there already, and put together a story that is as definitive as possible. There are also a lot of questions that still exist about why this evidence went missing. The government hasn’t come clean, and even the judge, as I mention in the story, has not taken the opportunity to force the government to explain its actions. Basically, the government got away with saying, “We can’t really explain how this happened.” Given that this is a man who spent 10 years of his life in prison, it’s kind of incredible that the government is now saying, “Oops, dog ate our homework,” you know? As I quote Ben Rosenfeld in saying, that’s kind of the opposite of accountability. Eric did stupid things — I don’t think anyone would deny that. But he wasn’t the domestic terrorist the government portrayed him to be.

That’s an incredibly damning line, that this is “the opposite of accountability.” There are still questions, but the nature of the questions have changed. So instead of “what happened?” — we now know what happened — we’re left with the more unsettling question of “why did this happen?” and “why wasn’t this citizen given a fair trial?”

Aaronson: Right — up until recently, it had always just been claims. You know, Eric McDavid claims that Anna led him on and that’s why he did what he did. And even in the prosecution’s closing arguments, they scoff at that and say there’s no proof, there’s only this one letter that we can find. Well, it turns out there were many letters and we now have those letters, and those letters show very clearly that Eric was being led on by Anna. And from the recordings that Katie and Kelly got, it’s clear that McDavid was not the leader of the plot the way the government claimed he was. These are no longer claims — these are things that are facts based on the records that we have. Now the question is, why was this evidence hidden, why couldn’t the government produce it, and why won’t the government explain what orders it gave Anna? Did the government take a 17, 18-year-old girl, and specifically order her to manipulate a 27-year-old through a promise of a sexual relationship in order to make a counterterrorism case? Because that’s the kind of stuff you’d expect on a sleazy Cinemax show. But in reality we hear, “We can’t provide an explanation for how this happened, all we know was this was in the FBI file the whole time.” And I think that’s incredible. The sad thing is I’m not confident we’ll ever get the answers to why that happened.

The post Interview with Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega, Directors of “Eric & ‘Anna’” appeared first on The Intercept.

Outside Powers Must End Their Proxy Wars in Syria

The Intercept - Engl. - Gio, 19/11/2015 - 18:19

A FRENCH NEWS CAMERAMAN burst into the bar of Beirut’s Commodore Hotel, where his colleagues gathered most evenings, on November 17, 1983. “At last,” he shouted, cupping both hands upward, “someone with balls!” French warplanes had just bombed the town of Baalbek, site of magnificent Roman ruins but also of a Shiite Muslim militant barracks. This was France’s revenge for the killing of 58 French troops by a suicide bomber four weeks earlier. On the same morning the French died, the United States had lost 241 American service personnel, most of them U.S. Marines, to another suicide bomber. So far, Washington had not responded. We learned later that Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, who was against sending Marines to Lebanon in the first place, had dissuaded President Ronald Reagan from bombing Lebanon until there was evidence to prove who had done it.

France’s bombardment satisfied one French cameraman. It changed nothing, except for the civilians and militants who died in Baalbek. When the U.S. finally bombed eastern Lebanon in December, Syrian air defenses downed a Navy A-6 Intruder. The pilot, Lt. Mark Lange, died when his parachute malfunctioned. The navigator-bombardier, Lt. Robert O. Goodman, became a prisoner for 31 days until the Syrians released him to Reverend Jesse Jackson. And that was that.

By April 1984, the French and American forces of the ill-advised Multinational Force had left Lebanon. French President Francois Mitterrand’s promise to remain in defiance of those who had murdered his soldiers was forgotten, as was President Reagan’s commitment to peace in Lebanon. The civil war, already in its eighth year, did not end until 1990. The parties behind the bombing of the French and American troops, the Hezbollah militia and its backers, Iran and Syria, emerged more or less victorious. In fact, Syria had proven itself so powerful in Lebanon that the U.S. approved its military occupation to keep order. Syria went too far by assassinating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005, and its troops were forced to evacuate the country two months later.

Supporters of American, French, and British bombing in Syria at this time may exult that these Western powers are displaying their “balls,” but there is every probability that they will balls it up. They have made a mess of Syria since they involved themselves there in the vain attempt to bring down President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. Islamic State fanatics emerged as the dominant power within the anti-Assad forces. They are not anti-dictatorship so much as anti-minority, particularly the ruling quasi-Shiite Alawite minority. The Western powers tolerated ISIS’ crimes, until ISIS turned from its bases in Syria and seized about a third of the American protectorate of Iraq. It was then that the U.S., to save the Kurdish capital at Erbil and the national capital of Baghdad, first bombed ISIS positions. Since then, other countries, including the Russians who sought to save their Syrian protectorate, have joined the crusade against the Islamic State.

ISIS has turned around and murdered people from most of the countries that have challenged it: Shiite civilians in Iraq and Syria; Kurdish and left-wing Turkish peace demonstrators in Ankara; passengers on a Russian airliner over Egypt; Shiites, because of Hezbollah’s involvement, in Beirut; and more than 120 innocents in Paris.

These international attacks, as well as the oppression and terror that ISIS has inflicted on large parts of Syria and Iraq, do not call for a response.They do not call for revenge. They do not call for gestures of the kind that British Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to ram through Parliament in Westminster. They do not call for Europe and the U.S. to deny shelter to refugees who are fleeing from ISIS terror that the world ignored when it was confined to Syria. They do not call for further erosion of privacy and other rights.

The Islamic State’s international attacks call for a strategy. If the goal is to eliminate ISIS from territory it rules in Iraq and Syria, and from which it plots murder elsewhere, the forces opposed to it must come together. It took more than 100 dead in Paris and 224 passengers on a Russian airliner for France and Russia to coordinate their airstrikes in Syria. What will it take for the U.S. to do the same?

Airstrikes, however, do not win wars. Warplanes drop bombs, meaning they function as airborne artillery. No military doctrine holds that artillery alone can conquer territory. That takes forces on the ground. The ground forces exist in both Syria and Iraq, and they are not from the Western world. The Syrian Army, though odious to many Syrians and to the Western powers, is the strongest of these and has weathered four-and-a-half years of war without breaking up. It lost territory to ISIS in northeast Syria and at Palmyra, and it has reclaimed some of it with Russian air support. The Kurds of Iraq, supported by Kurds from Turkey and Syria and by U.S. airstrikes, have clawed back most of the territory that ISIS seized from them last year. The Shiite militias in southern Iraq, which filled the vacuum left by mass desertions from the U.S.-created Iraqi Army, with Iranian support and American air cover saved Baghdad from ISIS conquest and regained lost ground. The war requires infantry, but not American, British, and French troops. Nothing would turn Iraqis and Syrians to the jihadis more quickly than a Western invasion.

Those of us who witnessed the Iraqi uprising of 1991, when Kurds and Shiites used the demoralization of Saddam Hussein’s army in Kuwait to liberate 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, know that it had more potential to save the country than the American-led invasion of 2003 did. The U.S. pulled the plug on that rebellion in March 1991, and launched its own bid to control Iraq in 2003 that it is still paying for.

One step would not involve any combat at all: Close the open supply line between ISIS and the outside world through Turkey. Turkey is an ally, but no friend. Its open border with Syria is the jihadis’ lifeline. Without it, the weapons and ammunition the jihadis seized from the Iraqi Army last year would not be enough for them to defend all their territory. Without it, jihadis trained in Syria would not pass easily into Europe to murder civilians. Without the Turkish supply line, the local forces whose shared hatred of the jihadis — who include the Syrian Army, the Kurds and all of Syria’s and Iraq’s other minorities, Iraq’s majority Shiite population, secular Sunnis in Syria and Iraq, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah — would stand a better chance of defeating them.

View of Damascus and Ummayad Mosque from old Damascus house, Syria.

Photo: ArabianEye/Getty Images

Diplomacy is better than war, and the outside powers who have been using Syria to fight their proxy wars must agree in Geneva or Vienna that enough is enough. The U.S., Russia, Iran, Turkey, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have all played their parts in destroying Syria. It is up to them to end this war that has cost as many as 310,000 lives. No one is winning. No one can win. They provide their clients with the means to fight the war. And they can cut them off.

The question since March 2011, when the first protests began in Syria, is what to do with President Bashar al-Assad. The reason the West, Saudi Arabia, and Israel wanted to dispose of him had nothing to do with dictatorship or repression. Nearly all Arab governments are repressive dictatorships, but only Syria was not a U.S. satellite. Only Syria had a strategic alliance with Iran, dating to Hafez al-Assad’s decision to support Iran against Saddam Hussein in 1980, long before the West declared him a pariah. Syria supported Hezbollah in Lebanon, where it repelled Israel’s invasion in 2006. And the U.S. still had a score to settle with Hezbollah, which turned out to have staged the bombing of the Marines in 1983 and to have kidnapped American citizens like myself in the years that followed.

Last July, on this site, I wrote:

A friend of mine in Aleppo, who refuses to leave despite the battles in his once beautiful city, told me over the telephone, “You have sent hell to us.” That is, he blames me as a Westerner for putting the jihadis in his midst. The day cannot be far off when the jihadi militants, like the poor refugees whom they and the regime have displaced, will bring that hell back to us.

And so the jihadis did. Among the targets ISIS has hit since July have been Beirut and Paris, two cities where I lived for years and where I still have friends and family. It is only chance that spared those relatives and friends from the ISIS suicide bombings. No one can guarantee there will not be more.

And so the jihadis will again, until peace is restored to Iraq and Syria. Peace, not war, will be the downfall of the Islamic State.

Charles Glass, former ABC News chief Middle East correspondent, recently published Syria Burning: ISIS and the Death of the Arab Spring (OR Books).

Top photo: This photo released on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015 by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) shows a French Mirage 2000 jet on the tarmac of an undisclosed air base.

The post Outside Powers Must End Their Proxy Wars in Syria appeared first on The Intercept.

Congressman Chides Refugees, Says If He Were Syrian, He Would Stay and Fight

The Intercept - Engl. - Gio, 19/11/2015 - 16:34

Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., appearing on talk radio this week to discuss his opposition to resettling Syrian refugees, said the “first thing” that needs to be done is to “get away from” referring to the individuals fleeing Syria as “refugees.”

Perry explained that while “some of them” are leaving a civil war, he would have stayed.

“With all due respect, if there’s a civil war in my country, I stay and fight for my country,” Perry said during a discussion with Clarence M. Mitchell IV, known as “C4,” the host of a program carried by WBAL radio in Baltimore.

“There is absolutely no reason they need to be coming to America,” Perry continued.

Listen to the exchange here:

Who Perry thinks they should fight for is not clear. Does he think they should join the ranks of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad? Or is he referring to any number of Syrian rebel groups, including ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, among others? I sent a request for clarification to Perry’s spokesperson but did not receive any word back.

He presumably is not suggesting that children and the elderly take up weapons. Of the over 4 million Syrian refugees counted by the U.N., 38 percent are under age 11, more than half are under 17, and only 22 percent are men between ages 18 and 59.

Perry currently sits on both the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., Perry’s colleague on the Homeland Security Committee, also dismissed the dangers faced by Syrians. In a letter to President Obama this week, Barletta referred to those fleeing Syria as “so-called ‘refugees.'”

Elected officials around the country have used the terrorist attacks in Paris to call for rejecting Syrian refugees. Today, House Republicans plan on bringing a vote on legislation designed to curb refugees entering the United States from Syria.

Top photo: A Syrian man reacts while standing on the rubble of his house while others look for survivors and bodies in the Tariq al-Bab district of the northern city of Aleppo, February 23, 2013.

The post Congressman Chides Refugees, Says If He Were Syrian, He Would Stay and Fight appeared first on The Intercept.

Das Verhältnis von Kunst und Politik beim Adbusting

Indymedia antimil - Gio, 19/11/2015 - 15:55
von: am: 19.11.2015 - 15:55

Mit Kunst Politik zu machen, scheint immer beliebter zu werden. Akteure wie das „Zentrum für Politische Schönheit“ promoten das, was sie unter Kunst verstehen, sogar als der neue Weg effektiv linke Politik zu machen. Dabei blenden sie aus, dass die Wahrnehmungs-Ökonomie von „Kunst“ im Bereich der Politik nur unter bestimmten Bedingungen funktioniert. Und diese Bedingungen haben wenig mit emanzipatorischer Politik zu tun. Eine Analyse der Bedingungen, unter denen Kunst politisch sein kann.

Truppensteller für Syrien

German Foreign Policy - Gio, 19/11/2015 - 00:00
(Eigener Bericht) - Die Bundesregierung schließt einen Bundeswehr-Einsatz in Syrien nicht aus. Wie am gestrigen Mittwoch bestätigt wurde, halten Regierungskreise in Berlin eine deutsche Militärintervention in dem Land zur Überwachung eines künftigen Waffenstillstands für "denkbar". Dagegen lehnt die Bundesregierung eine militärische Unterstützung für Frankreichs Luftschläge gegen den "Islamischen Staat" (IS) ab. Paris hat seine Angriffe auf die Stellungen des IS in Syrien nach den Attentaten vom vergangenen Freitag ausgeweitet und den "EU-Bündnisfall" ausgerufen - eine bislang singuläre Maßnahme, die sämtliche EU-Staaten, auch Deutschland, grundsätzlich zu Hilfeleistungen verpflichtet. Hinter dem französischen Drängen, die Bundeswehr solle sich an den Angriffen auf den IS beteiligen, steckt nicht zuletzt das Aufbegehren gegen die deutsche Dominanz in der EU: Paris will seine herben Einflussverluste der vergangenen Jahre auf den zentralen Feldern der Ökonomie und der Außenpolitik durch militärische Offensiven im Kampf gegen den IS, in dem es bereits jetzt eine bedeutende Rolle spielt, zumindest teilweise wettmachen und die EU bei seinem Syrien-Feldzug hinter sich scharen. Berlin verweigert sich, um dem französischen Rivalen keinen strategischen Vorteil einzuräumen.

Blick in die Presse - Mer, 18/11/2015 - 23:50

Die Anschläge von Paris -

Einige Kommentare in den Mainstream-Medien der letzten Tage heben sich auffallend von der sonstigen Berichterstattung ab.

Auf sie sei hier kurz hingewiesen.

Handelsblatt Morning Briefing

von Gabor Steingart, 16. November 2015 - 

(…) Die Attentäter vom vergangenen Freitag sind für ihre
menschenverachtenden Taten allein verantwortlich und müssen mit der
Härte des Rechtsstaats zur Rechenschaft gezogen werden. Aber für das
feindliche Klima zwischen den Kulturkreisen trägt der Westen eine

Von den 1,3 Millionen Menschenleben, die das Kriegsgeschehen von
Afghanistan bis Syrien mittlerweile gekostet hat, bringt es allein der
unter falschen Prämissen und damit völkerrechtswidrig geführte
Irak-Feldzug auf


Anti-Syrian Muslim Refugee Rhetoric Mirrors Calls to Reject Jews During Nazi Era

The Intercept - Engl. - Mer, 18/11/2015 - 23:42

During the 1930s and early 1940s, the United States resisted accepting large numbers of Jewish refugees escaping the Nazi terror sweeping Europe, in large part because of fearmongering by a small but vocal crowd.

They claimed that the refugees were communist or anarchist infiltrators intent on spreading revolution; that refugees were part of a global Jewish-capitalist conspiracy to take control of the United States from the inside;, that the refugees were either Nazis in disguise or under the influence of Nazi agents sent to commit acts of sabotage; and that Jewish refugees were out to steal American jobs.

Many rejected Jews simply because they weren’t Christian.

In recent days, similar arguments are being resurrected to reject Syrian refugees fleeing sectarian terrorists and civil war.

From talk radio to the blogosphere to leading American politicians, anti-Syrian rhetoric claims that refugees are simply ISIS infiltrators; that migrants are Muslim invaders seeking to establish a “global caliphate” and impose Sharia law on America; and that Syrian refugees are lying about escaping violence and are focused instead on abusing the American welfare system.

And in a rehash of history, politicians are arguing that only Christian, not Muslim, refugees from Syria should be welcomed.

Jews as Dangerous Revolutionaries and Communists:

“I have heard on good authority that an Executive order has given immigration authorities permission to let down the usual bars in favor of the so-called Jewish refugees from Germany,” declared Julia Cantacuzene, a Republican activist in New York, according to a front page New York Times article that ran on May 18, 1938. Cantacuzene, the granddaughter of President Ulysses Grant and an ardent opponent of President Franklin Roosevelt, claimed that the Soviet revolution occurred only because Communist agents had snuck into Russia to “instill their insidious poison onto the Russian people.” She claimed that the same would happen here: “Under these lax regulations, many Communists are coming to this country to join the ranks of those who hate our institutions and want to over throw them.”

During congressional debate in 1940, John B. Trevor, a prominent Capitol Hill lobbyist, argued against  a proposal to settle Jewish refugees in Alaska, claiming they would be potential enemies — and charging that Nazi persecution of the Jews had occurred “in very many cases … because of their beliefs in the Marxian philosophy.” Trevor had notably helped author the Immigration Act of 1924, a law designed to curb Jewish migration from Eastern Europe, in part because of anarchist Jewish Americans of Russian descent including Emma Goldman.

Rep. Jacob Thorkelson, a Republican from Montana, warned at the time that Jewish migrants were part of an “invisible government,” an organization he said was tied to the “communistic Jew” and to “Jewish international financiers.”

William Dudley Pelley, a leading anti-Semite and organizer of the “Silver Shirts” nationalist group, claimed that Jewish migration was part of a Jewish-Communist conspiracy to seize control of the United States. Pelley, whose organization routinely used anti-Semitic smears such as “Yidisher Refugees” and “Refugees Kikes,” attracted up to 50,000 to his organization by 1934. James B. True, an anti-communist activist affiliated with the Silver Shirt movement, coined the term “refu-Jew” to mock refugees, according to researcher David S. Wyman, the author of Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis 1938-1941.

George Van Horn Moseley, a retired general active in Christian nationalist groups, traveled the country warning that Jews were financing a communist revolution, and that citizens should arm themselves for a coming confrontation. He also protested the resettlement of Jewish refugees and called for forced sterilization of refugees that had arrived in the country.

Breckinridge Long, the assistant secretary of state who was responsible for a series of actions in 1940 and 1941 that tightly restricted Jewish refugee migration into America, was influenced heavily by the idea that Jews were communist infiltrators. According to Wyman, Long’s diary referred to his opponents as “the communists, extreme radicals, Jewish professional agitators, refugee enthusiasts.” After reading Adolf Hilter’s Mein Kampf, Long wrote that it was “eloquent in opposition to Jewry and to Jews as exponents of Communism and chaos.”

Jews Will Leach Resources From America:

Just as prominent American voices call for Syrian refugees to be settled elsewhere — anywhere but here — anti-Semites used a similar strategy to reject Jewish refugees.

Charles Coughlin, a right-wing Catholic priest who was one of the most popular radio voices during the 1930s, regularly smeared Jewish refugees as foreign agents. Coughlin’s magazine, Social Justiceargued that there is “no well-founded reason for transporting [Jewish refugees] to America … Soviet Russia, which now claims to be the most prosperous nation in the world, would be an ideal haven for them.”

Senator Robert Reynolds, a Democrat from North Carolina and an outspoken opponent of Jewish migration, claimed Jews were “systematically building a Jewish empire in this country,” and often argued that Jews were alien to American culture. “Let Europe take care of its own people,” Reynolds argued, “we cannot care for our own, to say nothing of importing more to care for.”

Reynolds disseminated his nativist views through a publication he founded called the Vindicator. The publication carried headlines about the “alien menace” such as “Jewish Refugees Find Work,” “Rabbi Seeks Admission of One Million War Refugees,” and “New U.S. Rules Hit Immigration of German Jews.” Defending himself against critics, Reynolds told Life magazine that he simply wanted “our own fine boys and lovely girls to have all the jobs in this wonderful country.”

Rep. J. Will Taylor, a Tennessee Republican, argued that the New Deal showed more concern for European refugees than for the 10 million American refugees that walked city streets in desperation, according to researcher Wesley Greear of East Tennessee State University.  Similar arguments were advanced by Sen. Rufus Holman, and Oregon Republican, and Rep. Martin Dies, a Texas Democrat.

Jewish Refugees as a Fifth Column:

President Roosevelt, who was slow to respond to the need to accept more Jewish refugees during much of World War II, fueled the political opposition’s “fifth column” conspiracies by repeatedly warning that Nazi agents might pose as refugees to gain entry into the country.

The State Department played a key role in fanning fears. Julian Harrington, the head of the visa division, argued that Germany had coerced refugees to spy for the Nazis. Both the Washington Post and New York Times promoted the accusation.

Roosevelt himself publicly imagined how Jewish refugees might be pressured into acting as Nazi agents. “We are frightfully sorry, but your old father and mother will be taken out and shot,” Roosevelt said during a press conference.

As Reason magazine’s Jesse Walker reported on Tuesday, the press also fanned these fears. The Saturday Evening Post told its readers that Nazis “disguised as refugees” were working around the world as “spies, fifth columnists, propagandists or secret commercial agents.”

As paranoia about a fifth column of Nazi infiltrators spread, legislators reacted with a series of anti-immigrant and anti-refugee legislation. The 76th Congress, from January 1939 to January 1941, fielded 60 anti-alien proposals, according to Henry L. Feingold, author of Politics of Rescue. One such proposal, from Rep. Stephen Pace, a Georgia Democra, demanded that “every Alien in the United States shall be forthwith deported.”

The bills were supported by the American Legion, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and a number of Christian and nationalist organizations.

The editors of The Nation and The New Republic challenged the State Department to prove a single instance of coerced espionage involving Jewish refugees, according to researcher Wesley Greear.  The State Department supplied no such evidence.

As Walker also noted in his article, historian Francis MacDonnell concluded that “Axis operations in the United States never amounted to much, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation easily countered the ‘Trojan Horse’ activity that did exist….Though the Germans practiced espionage, sabotage, and subversion in United States, their efforts were modest and almost uniformly unsuccessful.”

But fearmongering against Jewish refugees certainly influenced public opinion. As the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor reported this week, a poll published by Fortune magazine in July 1938 found that fewer than 5 percent of Americans believed that the United States should encourage refugees fleeing fascism. A poll taken in January 1939 found that 61 percent of American opposing the settlement of 10,000 refugee children, “most of them Jewish,” in the United States.

By 1941, the United States severely restricted refugee resettlement, in part through the Smith Act, which gave individual American consuls power to deny refugee visas, and gave Breckinridge Long, the assistant secretary of state who opposed Jewish migration, greater control of refugee policy.

As nativist voices were triumphing over refugee policy, over six million Jews were exterminated during Nazi reign of terror.

Photo: May 1944: Jewish deportees, with the yellow stars sewn on their coats, arrive at Auschwitz concentration camp.


The post Anti-Syrian Muslim Refugee Rhetoric Mirrors Calls to Reject Jews During Nazi Era appeared first on The Intercept.

From Paris to Boston, Terrorists Were Already Known to Authorities

The Intercept - Engl. - Mer, 18/11/2015 - 19:03

WHENEVER A TERRORIST ATTACK OCCURS, it never takes long for politicians to begin calling for more surveillance powers. The horrendous attacks in Paris last week, which left more than 120 people dead, are no exception to this rule. In recent days, officials in the United Kingdom and the United States have been among those arguing that more surveillance of Internet communications is necessary to prevent further atrocities.

The case for expanded surveillance of communications, however, is complicated by an analysis of recent terrorist attacks. The Intercept has reviewed 10 high-profile jihadi attacks carried out in Western countries between 2013 and 2015 (see below), and in each case some or all of the perpetrators were already known to the authorities before they executed their plot. In other words, most of the terrorists involved were not ghost operatives who sprang from nowhere to commit their crimes; they were already viewed as a potential threat, yet were not subjected to sufficient scrutiny by authorities under existing counterterrorism powers. Some of those involved in last week’s Paris massacre, for instance, were already known to authorities; at least three of the men appear to have been flagged at different times as having been radicalized, but warning signs were ignored.

In the aftermath of a terrorist atrocity, government officials often seem to talk about surveillance as if it were some sort of panacea, a silver bullet. But what they always fail to explain is how, even with mass surveillance systems already in place in countries like France, the United States, and the United Kingdom, attacks still happen. In reality, it is only possible to watch some of the people some of the time, not all of the people all of the time. Even if you had every single person in the world under constant electronic surveillance, you would still need a human being to analyze the data and assess any threats in a timely fashion. And human resources are limited and fallible.

There is no doubt that we live in a dangerous world and that intelligence agencies and the police have a difficult job to do, particularly in the current geopolitical environment. They know about hundreds or thousands of individuals who sympathize with terrorist groups, any one of whom may be plotting an attack, yet they do not appear to have the means to monitor each of these people closely over sustained periods of time. If any lesson can be learned from studying the perpetrators of recent attacks, it is that there needs to be a greater investment in conducting targeted surveillance of known terror suspects and a move away from the constant knee-jerk expansion of dragnet surveillance, which has simply not proven itself to be effective, regardless of the debate about whether it is legal or ethical in the first place.

Map of 10 recent attacks carried out in Western countries by Islamic extremists.

1. Paris attacks: November 13, 2015

Victims: 129 dead. 400+ wounded.
Named suspected perpetrators: Ismaël Omar Mostefaï (29; French), Samy Amimour (28; French), Ibrahim Abdeslam (31; French), Bilal Hadfi (20; French), Abdelhamid Abaaoud (27; Belgian), Salah Abdeslam (26; French).
Weapons: Assault rifles, hand grenades, suicide vests.

Known to authorities? At least three of the men involved in planning and carrying out the French attacks were known to European authorities. Ismaël Omar Mostefaï, who helped carry out the massacre at the Bataclan concert venue, had been flagged as a radicalization risk in 2010. French police reportedly ignored two warnings about Mostefaï before he carried out the attacks. Some of his friends claimed to have tried to alert French police about his radical views, but said they were told the authorities could do nothing. Samy Amimour, another of the men involved in the Bataclan massacre, had been previously charged with terrorist offenses “after an abortive attempt to travel to Yemen,” according to Paris prosecutors. The alleged mastermind behind the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was also well-known to European police; he featured prominently in jihadi propaganda and was named as a wanted extremist after a gun battle in Belgium in January. Others involved in the attacks are also likely to have been on the radar of police and intelligence agencies due to their travels to Syria. Bilal Hadfi, for instance, was living in Belgium after having returned from Syria, where he is believed to have fought with Islamic State militants. Hadfi apparently attended the Instituut Anneessens-Funck college in Brussels; his former history professor recalled that, following the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015, Hadfi defended the attacks. The professor reported him to management due to concerns about his radical views, but management “decided not to intervene, to avoid stigmatizing the young student.” In June, Hadfi reportedly posted on his Facebook page encouraging terrorist attacks: “Those dogs are attacking our civilians everywhere. Strike them in their community of pigs so they can’t feel safe again in their own dreams.” The family of Ibrahim Abdeslam, who detonated a suicide vest inside a cafe during the attacks, said he too had spent “a long time” in Syria before returning to Europe.

Rescue workers gather to treat victims in Paris’ 10th arrondissement, Friday, Nov. 13, 2015.

Photo: Jacques Brinon/AP

2. Thalys train attack, France: August 21, 2015

Victims: No deaths. Two wounded.
Alleged perpetrator: Ayoub El Khazzani (26; Moroccan).
Weapons: Pistol, assault rifle, box cutter, bottle of petrol.

Known to authorities? Khazzani was reportedly known to European authorities for his Islamic radicalism. While living in Spain, he had come to security agencies’ attention after he was observed defending jihadis and attending a radical mosque in Algeciras, Spain.

French police stand guard on the platform next to a Thalys train at the station in Arras, northern France, on Aug. 22, 2015, the day after an armed gunman was overpowered by passengers. 

Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images

3. Curtis Culwell Center attack, Garland, Texas: May 3, 2015

Victims: One wounded.
Perpetrators: Elton Simpson (30; American) and Nadir Soofi (34; Pakistani-American).
Weapons: Assault rifles, handguns.

Known to authorities? Elton Simpson had reportedly been placed on the U.S. no-fly list and had been convicted of a terror-related offense in 2011 after being caught discussing traveling to Somalia to engage in violent jihad. Soofi, on the other hand, was reportedly “relatively unknown to federal investigators,” though he lived with Simpson. A third man, Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem, was allegedly responsible for supplying the guns and ammunition used in the attack. Kareem was investigated in 2012 after he was suspected of developing a plot to attack a Super Bowl game in Arizona with explosives.

An FBI evidence response team member investigates the crime scene after a shooting outside of the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, May 4, 2015 .

Photo: Ben Torres/Getty Images

4. Shootings in Copenhagen, Denmark: February 14-15, 2015

Victims: Two dead. Five wounded.
Perpetrator: Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein (22; Danish-Jordanian-Palestinian).
Weapons: Assault rifle, pistols.

Known to authorities? Hussein was reportedly well-known to Danish security agencies. Prior to the Copenhagen shootings, he had been imprisoned for stabbing a teenager in the leg on a train. While he was in jail, prison officials filed a concern report to the Danish intelligence agency PET, warning that his behavior had changed and that he had become extremely religious. Two weeks after he was released from jail he went on the shooting rampage that left three dead and five wounded in different parts of Copenhagen. Shortly before the attacks, Hussein had apparently sworn allegiance to ISIS in a post on his Facebook page.

The body of a shooting suspect lies on the pavement as Danish forensic police officers examine the scene, Feb. 15, 2015, Copenhagen Denmark.

Photo: TV2 Norway/AP

5. Shootings in Paris (Charlie Hebdo and Jewish supermarket): January 7-9, 2015

Victims: 17 dead. 20 wounded.
Perpetrators: Chérif Kouachi (32; French), Saïd Kouachi (34; French), Amedy Coulibaly (32; French).
Weapons: Assault rifles, submachine guns, grenade launcher, pistols, shotgun.

Known to authorities? Chérif Kouachi was well-known to French security agencies as an Islamic extremist. In 2005 he was detained trying to board a plane for Syria and in 2008 he was jailed for three years for his role in sending militants to Iraq. Both Chérif and his brother Saïd were alleged to have been involved in a 2010 plot to free from prison Smaïn Ait Ali Belkacem, the French-Algerian extremist responsible for the 1995 Paris metro station bombing. The brothers were never prosecuted over the prison-break plot due to a lack of evidence. In 2011, Saïd traveled to Yemen and allegedly trained with al Qaeda. The U.S. reportedly provided France with intelligence in 2011 showing the brothers received terrorist training in Yemen and French authorities monitored them until the spring of 2014. Amedy Coulibaly was also well-known to the authorities. In 2013 he was sentenced to five years in prison for providing ammunition as part of the 2010 prison-break plot that the Kouachi brothers were also suspected of involvement in. However, Coulibaly reportedly only spent about three months in jail and was released in March 2014.

Screen grab of the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine, Paris, France, Jan. 7, 2015.

Photo: Youtube

6. Cafe seige, Sydney, Australia: December 15-16, 2014

Victims: Two dead. Four wounded.
Perpetrator: Man Haron Monis (50; Iranian-Australian).
Weapon: Shotgun.

Known to authorities? Two months prior to taking 17 people hostage in a Sydney cafe, Monis wrote a letter to Australia’s attorney general seeking advice about the legality of communicating with ISIS. He was “well-known” to federal and state police, as well as the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, and had sent “hate letters” to families of Australian soldiers killed in overseas conflicts. Before carrying out his attacks, Monis apparently pledged allegiance on his website to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This was reported to Australian authorities, who reviewed Monis’ website and social media posts but (erroneously) concluded he was unlikely to carry out an act of violence.

A hostage runs toward tactical response police officers after escaping from a cafe under siege in the central business district of Sydney, Australia, Dec. 15, 2014.

Photo: Bob Griffith/AP

7. Canada attacks (Quebec car ramming and parliament shooting): October 20 and 22, 2014

Victims: Two dead. Four injured.
Perpetrators: Michael Zehaf-Bibeau (32; Canadian-Libyan) and Martin Couture-Rouleau (25; Canadian).
Weapons: Rifle, car. 

Known to authorities? Couture-Rouleau was known to Canadian authorities prior to an attack in which he rammed two Canadian soldiers, killing one and injuring another. He had reportedly been “considered some kind of threat by the Canadian government” and had posted a variety of pro-jihadi materials on his Facebook page. Police had been monitoring him over concerns that he had become radicalized and his passport had been seized to prevent him from traveling abroad to join militants. Zehaf-Bibeau, who shot dead a soldier at a war memorial near the Canadian parliament, was a habitual offender who had a criminal record for a number of offenses, including robbery and drug possession. Zehaf-Bibeau was reportedly “on the radar” of federal authorities in Canada and his email address had been previously found on the computer hard drive of someone charged with a “terrorist-related offense.”

Police, bystanders and soldiers aid a fallen soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada, the site of an apparent terrorist attack, Oct. 22, 2014.

Photo: Cuddington/Barcroft Media /Landov

8. Jewish Museum killings in Brussels: May 24, 2014

Victims: Four dead.
Perpetrator: Mehdi Nemmouche (29; French)
Weapons: Automatic rifle, handgun.

Known to authorities? Nemmouche had been incarcerated on five occasions in France for various crimes, including armed robbery. In 2013 he had traveled to Syria. When he returned to Europe he was reportedly placed under surveillance by French counterterrorism police, who suspected he had joined with Islamic extremist fighters while in Syria.

A forensic expert enters the Jewish Museum in Brussels, May 24, 2014.

Photo: Yves Logghe/AP

9. Beheading in Woolwich, London: May 22, 2013

Victims: One dead.
Perpetrators: Michael Adebolajo (28; British-Nigerian) and Michael Adebowale (22; British-Nigerian).
Weapons: Cleaver, knives, pistol.

Known to authorities? Both attackers were known to British authorities and were suspected of having been radicalized prior to their murder of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, London. According to a U.K. parliamentary report published following the attack, Adebolajo was investigated under five separate police and security service operations. He was believed to have links to several extremist networks and was suspected of having tried to travel overseas to join a terrorist organization. Adebowale was investigated by British spies after he was identified as having viewed extremist material online. London counterterrorism police also received an uncorroborated tip that Adebowale was affiliated with al Qaeda. Investigators reviewed Adebowale’s cellphone records and apparently did not find anything of interest. But they did not check his landline call records, which if they had would have revealed that he had been in contact with an individual in Yemen linked to al Qaeda. Covert surveillance of both Adebolajo and Adebowale had ceased prior to their attack in London in May 2013, though Adebowale was still the subject of a terrorism-related investigation at the time.

A British police officer carries an evidence bag containing a knife near the scene where a soldier was murdered in Woolwich, Britain, May 23, 2013.

Photo: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA /Landov

10. Boston Marathon bombing: April 15, 2013

Victims: Five dead. 260+ wounded.
Perpetrators: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (19; Kyrgyzstani-American) and Tamerlan Tsarnaev (26; Kyrgyzstani-American).
Weapons: Pressure-cooker bombs, semi-automatic pistol, improvised explosive devices.

Known to authorities? Dzhokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan, who orchestrated the attacks, was placed on two different U.S. government watchlists in late 2011. Russian security agency FSB tipped off the FBI and CIA in 2011 that Tamerlan “was a follower of radical Islam,” and he and his family were subsequently interviewed by American agents, according to the Associated Press. The CIA reportedly “cleared [Tamerlan] of any ties to violent extremism” two years before he and his younger brother carried out the bombing of the marathon.

Boston Marathon participants run toward the finish line as an explosion erupts at the race, Boston, Mass., April 15, 2013.

Photo: Dan Lampariello/Reuters /Landov

The post From Paris to Boston, Terrorists Were Already Known to Authorities appeared first on The Intercept.

Signs Point to Unencrypted Communications Between Terror Suspects

The Intercept - Engl. - Mer, 18/11/2015 - 17:32

In the wake of the Paris attack, intelligence officials and sympathizers upset by the Edward Snowden leaks and the spread of encrypted communications have tried to blame Snowden for the terrorists’ ability to keep their plans secret from law enforcement.

Yet news emerging from Paris — as well as evidence from a Belgian ISIS raid in January — suggests that the ISIS terror networks involved were communicating in the clear, and that the data on their smartphones was not encrypted.

European media outlets are reporting that the location of a raid conducted on a suspected safe house Wednesday morning was extracted from a cellphone, apparently belonging to one of the attackers, found in the trash outside the Bataclan concert hall massacre. Le Monde reported that investigators were able to access the data on the phone, including a detailed map of the concert hall and an SMS messaging saying “we’re off; we’re starting.” Police were also able to trace the phone’s movements.

The Telegraph reported that “eyewitness accounts and surveillance of mobile telephone traffic” suggested that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected strategist of both the Paris attack and one that was foiled in Belgium, was staying at the safe house.

Details about the major ISIS terror plot averted 10 months ago in Belgium also indicate that while Abaaoud previously attempted to avoid government surveillance, he did not use encryption.

A prescient bulletin sent out in May by the Department of Homeland Security assessed “that the plot disrupted by Belgian authorities in January 2015 is the first instance in which a large group of terrorists possibly operating under ISIL direction has been discovered and may indicate the group has developed the capability to launch more complex operations in the West.”

Abaaoud’s planned operation in Belgium was blown when authorities, who had been closely surveilling his three accomplices, stormed their safe house in the city of Verviers after determining that they were planning a major attack – very much like the one that took place in Paris on Friday. A pitched firefight between Belgian commandos and the ISIS veterans firing Kalashnikov rifles and lobbing grenades ended with two suspects dead and a third captured.

Belgian investigators concluded that Abaaoud directed the foiled operation there by cell phone from Greece — and that despite his attempts to avoid surveillance, his communications were in fact intercepted. Just a few days after the raid, Belgian news website RTL Info ran a whole article entitled “What the Terrorist Suspects under Surveillance Were Saying.” It described surveillance over several months, through wiretaps and listening devices placed in the suspects’ car and their apartment.

Screen grab of Abdelhamid Abaaoud wearing a GoPro camera.

Photo: RTBF video

Some of the telephone conversations that were intercepted used code or obscure Morroccan dialects. Ironically, the suspects were overheard discussing the need to frequently swap out their cellphones.

Abaaoud has a brilliant history of avoiding capture — in fact, in an interview with ISIS’s Dabiq magazine he bragged that his “name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.”

But when it comes to defeating electronic surveillance, there’s good reason to question his tradecraft. After all, he wore a video camera on his head (what is that, a GoPro 3?) And he lost a cellphone in Syria that was full of unencrypted pictures and videos.

A journalist, Etienne Huver, obtained the phone from sources in a Syrian refugee camp last year. His report for RTBF Belgian television, about the contents of the phone of the most wanted man in Europe included footage of Abaaoud clowning around, posing with a rifle, and driving a car dragging the corpses of Free Syria army fighters.


The post Signs Point to Unencrypted Communications Between Terror Suspects appeared first on The Intercept.

Overwhelmed NSA Surprised To Discover Its Own Surveillance “Goldmine” on Venezuela’s Oil Executives

The Intercept - Engl. - Mer, 18/11/2015 - 16:46

A TOP-SECRET NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY DOCUMENT, dated 2011, describes how, by “sheer luck,” an analyst was able to access the communications of top officials of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela.

Beyond the issue of spying on a business, the document highlights a significant flaw in mass surveillance programs: how indiscriminate collection can blind rather than illuminate. It also illustrates the technical and bureaucratic ease with which NSA analysts are able to access the digital communications of certain foreign targets.

The document, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, is a March 23, 2011, article in the NSA’s internal newsletter, SIDtoday. It is written by a signals development analyst who recounts how, in addition to luck, he engaged in a “ton of hard work” to discover that the NSA had obtained access to vast amounts of Petróleos de Venezuela’s internal communications, apparently without anyone at the NSA having previously noticed this surveillance “goldmine.”

That the NSA, unbeknownst to itself, was collecting sensitive communications of top Venezuelan oil officials demonstrates one of the hazards of mass surveillance: The agency collects so much communications data from around the world that it often fails to realize what it has. That is why many surveillance experts contend that mass surveillance makes it harder to detect terrorist plots as compared to an approach of targeted surveillance: An agency that collects billions of communications events daily will fail to understand the significance of what it possesses.

This newest revelation of NSA spying, reported as part of The Intercept’s partnership with teleSUR, comes just weeks after the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. government has launched “a series of wide-ranging investigations” into alleged corruption at Petróleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA. That the NSA had obtained access to the electronic communications networks of key PDVSA officials raises the question of whether the agency’s spying has secretly aided the criminal investigations into corruption as well as other government actions targeting the company.

Access to these official PDVSA communications came at a critical moment in U.S.-Venezuela relations, which have been fraught since Hugo Chávez was first elected president in 1998 and particularly since a failed 2002 coup attempt by U.S.-funded groups. Two months after the discovery of this spying access, the U.S. State Department announced the imposition of economic sanctions against PDVSA, accusing the company of trading with Iran in violation of unilateral U.S. restrictions.

At the time, Venezuela was also confronting multibillion-dollar arbitration cases in international tribunals filed by U.S. oil giants Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips. The companies claim the Chávez government illegally expropriated large-scale drilling operations in the Orinoco oil belt and handed them over to PDVSA subsidiaries without just compensation.

A heavy crude treatment plant operated by Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA, in the oil-rich Orinoco belt, April 16, 2015.

Photo: Carlos Garcia/Reuters /Landov

Spying on PDVSA: Discovering “a goldmine” by “sheer luck”

The NSA analyst who stumbled into this access began his investigation inauspiciously. As he recounts, he opened PDVSA’s website in a browser and wrote down the names of the company’s leaders. He then simply plugged those names into a handful of internal NSA tools and databases such as CADENCE, UTT and PINWALE.

He quickly compiled an enormous cache of valuable leads: over 10,000 employee information forms containing email addresses, phone numbers, and other identifying details — information that could be used to retrieve communications stored in the agency’s huge databases and for future targeting. The analyst also obtained 900 username and password combinations, which he handed off to the NSA’s top hacking team, Tailored Access Operations, to penetrate the company’s network and infect its leadership’s computers with malware.

“By sheer luck, (and a ton of hard work) I discovered an important new access to an existing target and am working with TAO to leverage a new mission capability,” he wrote.

“They’re capturing so much information from their cable taps that even the NSA analysts don’t know what they’ve got.” Prior to this breakthrough, the NSA’s spying efforts against Venezuelan energy operations were producing very little fruit, but not for lack of interest. Petroleum represents “more than half of all government revenues,” wrote the analyst, and thus, “to understand PDVSA is to understand the economic heart of Venezuela.” But a 2010 review showed that collection had gone “stagnant.”

One “telltale sign” that the NSA was failing on this target set, he said, was that “most reporting was coming from warranted collection.” That likely meant that the only surveillance the NSA was able to exploit was coming from communications transiting U.S. soil, which would require a secret warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

To ratchet up warrantless surveillance, the analyst decided to rebuild the collection strategy from scratch, running what he called a “target reboot” in search of “information at the highest possible levels” of PDVSA: “namely, the president and members of the Board of Directors.”

The analyst initially searched for those names in PINWALE, the NSA’s database of digital communications that have been automatically culled from the massive flows of intercepted data using a dictionary of search terms, or “targeting selectors,” including email addresses, IP addresses and user IDs.

This produced few emails from PDVSA’s leaders, but the 10,000 employee contact profiles, included those of PDVSA’s then-president, Rafael Dario Ramírez, and former company vice president Luis Felipe Vierma Pérez. “Now, even my old eyes could see that these things were a goldmine of valid selectors,” the analyst wrote, full of previously unmonitored “work, home, and cell phones, email addresses, LOTS!” In other words, the analyst had uncovered another set of leads to run against larger NSA data sets.

A screenshot from a top-secret NSA document showing the internal contact profile of Rafael Dario Ramírez, then-president of PDVSA.

Later, the analyst gleefully realized that these profiles were not available on the public web. They were all being served to private IP addresses. “WTHeck??? Yep, seems I had been looking at internal PDVSA comms all this time!!!”

Accessing a foreign private network is often technically challenging but bureaucratically simple by NSA standards, requiring low levels of internal review and legal authority. For a target such as an oil company, internal communications are the most valuable intelligence resource possible.

“It’s interesting that the analyst ‘discovered’” access to internal PDVSA communications, Matthew Green, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, wrote in an email to The Intercept after reviewing the document. The word “discovered” suggests that the NSA either “didn’t realize” it was collecting on this important source or there was an internal communications failure. The NSA possesses the equivalent of “a very ugly version of Google with half the world’s information in it” and a plethora of automated tools to exploit it, said Green, but “an analyst has to occasionally step in and manually dig through the data” to find the treasures hiding in plain sight.

“They’re capturing so much information from their cable taps that even the NSA analysts don’t know what they’ve got,” he added.

“PDVSA funds and runs the revolution”

Petroleum has long defined U.S. government and corporate interest in Venezuela, which possesses the largest proven reserves in the world. In a 1974 State Department cable, then-U.S. Ambassador Robert McClintock wrote: “As a principal supplier of oil and iron ore to the U.S., as a major trading partner and host to a large U.S. private investment, Venezuela is fa[r] too important to allow us to drift into an adversary relationship.”

Two years later, Venezuela would nationalize its oil reserves, but U.S. interests continued to be served for decades by a series of U.S.-friendly, U.S.-supported right-wing governments. That all changed when Hugo Chávez swept into the presidency in 1998 on a populist mandate and began to change the decadeslong status quo.

“Along comes Chávez and closes the loopholes in the 1976 nationalization law and alters the nature of the relations between the state and the foreign companies,” Miguel Tinker Salas, historian of Venezuela’s oil industry at Pomona College, told The Intercept.

Washington viewed the Chávez government as an economic and political threat that derived its power from petrodollars. According to a 2009 State Department cable released by WikiLeaks, “PDVSA funds and runs the revolution.”

A sign at a gas processing plant east of Caracas, Venezuela, shows former President Hugo Chávez.

Photo: Diego Giudice/Bloomberg News/Getty Images

Previous Snowden revelations show that PDVSA is not the only major petroleum company to be targeted for economic espionage. Brazil’s government-controlled oil company, Petrobras, as well as its ministerial overseer, the Ministry of Mines and Energy, were targeted by the NSA and Canada’s CSEC, respectively, according to documents published by TV Globo in 2013. Russia’s Gazprom was also listed as a “target.” Intelligence reporting on oil in Venezuela is referenced in a 2013 presentation detailing the NSA’s PRISM program.

Prior to the Petrobras revelation, an NSA spokesperson told the Washington Post, “The [defense] department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber” (emphasis in the original).

After the Globo story, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper significantly narrowed that broad claim. In a statement, he acknowledged that the United States does conduct economic espionage: “It is not a secret that the Intelligence Community collects information about economic and financial matters, and terrorist financing.”

But Clapper denied such intelligence is used to directly benefit U.S. corporations. “What we do not do, as we have said many times, is use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line,” Clapper said.

Subsequent to the PDVSA “target reboot,” the U.S. executive branch has undertaken multiple actions — including sanctions against the state-run company in 2011, a money-laundering finding and an executive order, both in March 2015, and multiple reported corruption investigations — putting additional economic and reputational pressure on a company already squeezed by low global oil prices and protracted court battles with U.S. oil majors.

According to Tinker Salas, the Pomona professor, “It is difficult to imagine that the [U.S.] sanctions and the ongoing dispute with Exxon are not connected.”

In the lead-up to next month’s legislative elections, U.S. actions against the Venezuelan government have amounted to a “full-court press,” Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told The Intercept. “In recent months, Washington has been campaigning to de-legitimize the Venezuelan election, with leaks and even indictments from the Justice Department and DEA.”

On November 10, weeks before Venezuela’s national elections, DEA officials arrested two relatives of President Nicolas Maduro, who were indicted for allegedly conspiring to traffic cocaine to the United States.

Anonymous government officials told the New York Times last year that defendants in U.S. courts “have no right to know” if warrantless NSA surveillance collected abroad was used to build the case against them.

President Maduro said last month that he will file a lawsuit in the U.S. to challenge the executive order against his country.

The U.S. Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment from The Intercept.

PDVSA and Venezuelan government officials declined to comment for this story, as did the NSA.


Documents published with this article:


The post Overwhelmed NSA Surprised To Discover Its Own Surveillance “Goldmine” on Venezuela’s Oil Executives appeared first on The Intercept.


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