Wikileaks’ hidden agenda

The Atlantic reports: Considerable evidence shows that the Wikileaks dump was an orchestrated act by the Russian government, working through proxies, to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“This has all the hallmarks of tradecraft. The only rationale to release such data from the Russian bulletproof host was to empower one candidate against another. The Cold War is alive and well,” Tom Kellermann, the CEO of Strategic Cyber Ventures said.

Here’s the timeline: On June 14, the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, under contract with the DNC, announced in a blog post that two separate Russian intelligence groups had gained access to the DNC network. One group, FANCY BEAR or APT 28, gained access in April. The other, COZY BEAR, (also called Cozy Duke and APT 29) first breached the network in the summer of 2015.

The cybersecurity company FireEye first discovered APT 29 in 2014 and was quick to point out a clear Kremlin connection. “We suspect the Russian government sponsors the group because of the organizations it targets and the data it steals. Additionally, APT29 appeared to cease operations on Russian holidays, and their work hours seem to align with the UTC +3 time zone, which contains cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg,” they wrote in their report on the group. Other U.S. officials have said that the group looks like it has sponsorship from the Russian government due in large part to the level of sophistication behind the group’s attacks.

It’s the same group that hit the State Department, the White House, and the civilian email of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The group’s modus operandi (a spear-phishing attack that uploads a distinctive remote access tool on the target’s computer) is well known to cybersecurity researchers.

In his blog post on the DNC breaches, CrowdStrike’s CTO Dmitri Alperovitch wrote: “We’ve had lots of experience with both of these actors attempting to target our customers in the past and know them well. In fact, our team considers them some of the best adversaries out of all the numerous nation-state, criminal and hacktivist/terrorist groups we encounter on a daily basis. Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter.”

The next day, an individual calling himself Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be the culprit behind the breach and released key documents to back up the claim, writing: “Shame on CrowdStrike.”

Crowdstrike stood by its original analysis, writing: “these claims do nothing to lessen our findings relating to the Russian government’s involvement, portions of which we have documented for the public and the greater security community.”

Other security firms offered independent analysis and reached the same conclusion. The group Fidelis undertook its own investigation and found Crowdstrike to be correct.

A Twitter user named @PwnAlltheThings looked at the metadata on the docs that Guccifer 2.0 provided in his blog post and found literal Russian signatures.

His findings were backed up by Dan Goodin at Ars Technica. “Given the evidence combined with everything else, I think it’s a strong attribution to one of the Russian intelligence agencies,” @PwnAllTheThings remarked to Motherboard.

Motherboard reporter Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai actually conversed with Guccifer 2.0 over Twitter. The hacker, who claimed to be Romanian, answered questions in short sentences that “were filled with mistakes according to several Romanian native speakers,” Bicchieri found.

A large body of evidence suggests that Guccifer 2.0 is a smokescreen that the actual culprits employed to hide their involvement in the breach.

That would be consistent with Russian information and influence operations. “Russian propagandists have been caught hiring actors to portray victims of manufactured atrocities or crimes for news reports (as was the case when Viktoria Schmidt pretended to have been attacked by Syrian refugees in Germany for Russia’s Zvezda TV network), or faking on-scene news reporting (as shown in a leaked video in which ‘reporter’ Maria Katasonova is revealed to be in a darkened room with explosion sounds playing in the background rather than on a battlefield in Donetsk when a light is switched on during the recording),” notes a RAND report from earlier in July.

The use of Wikileaks as the publishing platform served to legitimize the information dump, which also contains a large amount of personal information related to democratic donors such as social security and credit card numbers. This suggests that Wikileaks didn’t perform a thorough analysis of the documents before they released them, or simply didn’t care. [Continue reading…]

Wikileaks describes itself as a “source-protection organization” — without a reliable commitment to that goal, it’s unlikely they would have any material to publish. So, this layer of secrecy is a necessity.

But what exactly is Wikileaks’ mission? The closest they come to offering a mission statement is this:

WikiLeaks is a multi-national media organization and associated library. It was founded by its publisher Julian Assange in 2006.

WikiLeaks specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption. It has so far published more than 10 million documents and associated analyses.

“WikiLeaks is a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents. We give asylum to these documents, we analyze them, we promote them and we obtain more.” – Julian Assange

This is a description of what Wikileaks does, but it doesn’t explain why.

One might assume that anyone involved in the “liberation” of censored information would be a firm believer in transparency.

Wikileaks doesn’t just leak secrets; it’s trying to undermine and challenge deeply entrenched cultures of secrecy — or so we have been led to believe.

Yet if this is indeed Wikileaks’ mission, shouldn’t we expect the organization to demonstrate greater transparency in its own workings?

Sure, they need to protect their sources, but if the only explanation they have about their own decision-making processes is that they are guided by public interest, then Wikileaks turns out to be no less secretive than the governments and organizations it exposes.

Wikileaks can say they released their trove of DNC emails in the public interest, but that doesn’t explain the timing.

A datadump right before the Democratic National Convention was sure to garner the maximum amount of publicity and have the maximum disruptive effect. As a PR decision, it’s easy to understand.

But given the political consequences of Wikileaks actions, it’s worth asking what political agenda they are supporting and who is driving that agenda.

Since the DNC emails Wikileaks has just published cover a period that ended on May 25, 2016, it’s reasonable to assume that Wikileaks received the emails shortly after that time. Indeed, in an interview in early June, Julian Assange said: “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton.” It sounds like he must have been referring to the DNC emails — although if that was the case, he misled the interviewer by failing to correct the interviewer’s presupposition that Assange was referring to emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server. This interview took place before the DNC hacking had become public knowledge.

At that time, Bernie Sanders had not conceded defeat to Hillary Clinton and Wikileaks, had it been so inclined, could have tossed a spanner into the primary process and given the Sanders camp some greater political leverage in its negotiations with the Clinton campaign. (At the same time, let’s not forget about that irksome detail from the outcome of the primaries that gets ignored by some Sanders supporters: At the end of the process Clinton had received 16,847,075 votes to Sander’s 13,168,214 and she had won in 34 states while he won 23.)

Given that Wikileaks made the DNC email release at a time of its choosing and it chose July 22, the evidence strongly suggests that its interest was in harming Clinton without helping Sanders. The only immediate beneficiary of the leak was Donald Trump.

The reasons Vladamir Putin would like to see Trump become president have already been presented at length. The reasons why Wikileaks would back Trump are far from clear.

Is Wikileaks being manipulated by powers it doesn’t recognize, or does it receive encouragement, guidance, or directions from sources it is compelled to keep secret, not in the name of source-protection but for the sake of self-protection?


Trump camp inciting murderous hatred of Hillary Clinton


If an assassination attempt is made on Hillary Clinton, will Donald Trump come under investigation for inciting murder?

Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire state representative who advises Donald Trump on veterans’ issues, says that Clinton is “a piece of garbage,” and says that she should be “put in the firing line and shot for treason.”

The Guardian reports: “Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Trump and his campaign did not agree with Baldasaro’s remarks.”

There’s a difference between disavowing such a statement and not agreeing with it. Maybe the disagreement is on the method of execution. Perhaps like West Virginia Republican lawmaker, Mike Folk, Trump prefers public hangings to firing squads.

Although Baldasaro’s statement grabbed headlines and has caught the attention of the Secret Service, the sentiment he expressed is far from being out of line with the unmeasured hostility towards Clinton that is constantly being fueled by the Trump campaign.

The comments, coming from a chief adviser for a signature issue of Trump’s campaign, are far from the only incendiary remarks directed at the former secretary of state during the Republican national convention, where Clinton has loomed large. On Superior Avenue in downtown Cleveland, men hawking T-shirts reading “Trump This Bitch!” and “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica” have done brisk business.

The anti-Clinton fervor has often dominated the primetime stage of the convention itself. During a highly charged speech on Tuesday night, New Jersey governor Chris Christie presided over arena-wide chants of “Guilty!” and “Lock her up!” as the former federal prosecutor argued in a mock trial “the case now, on the facts, against Hillary Clinton”.

Later that evening, the former presidential candidate Ben Carson departed from his prepared remarks to imply that Clinton admired Satan.

Whenever Trump and the tone of his campaign inspire individuals to engage in acts of violence, the Republican presidential campaign can always claim he had no intention of having this effect.

The more relevant question, however, is what if anything he has done to discourage violence and the growth of hatred. In that regard, the evidence seems clear that he has done little to nothing.

This gets to the heart of incitement: It’s not simply about outsourcing criminal behavior, but it’s about doing this in such a way that a false separation is constructed between the direct and indirect perpetrators of the crime.

Trump may never face prosecution, but that does nothing to absolve him from responsibility for spreading lethal rage across this country.


Erdogan sees attempted coup as ‘gift from God’


I don’t have much patience for conspiracy theories, but the one incontrovertible fact about all coups is that, by definition, coups involve conspiracies.

A conspiracy of some kind has been unfolding in Turkey over the last 24 hours. What is unclear is who was involved, what exactly they had planned, and what was the basis of their expectations.

President Tayyip Erdogan now says: “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”

Indeed. Turkey’s president comes out of this event the big winner. He can present himself as a man of the people strong enough to withstand any domestic challengers.

The Telegraph reports:

When he arrived in Istanbul in the early hours of the morning, Mr Erdogan, grave and ashen-faced, warned that his foes would “pay a heavy price” for their “treason and rebellion”.

The deputy leader of his AK party demanded the return of the death penalty so that putschists could be “executed”. Meanwhile, the deputy prime minister promised to rid the government of all enemies. “Even if they went into the tiniest veins of the state, they will be purged,” he declared.

Whatever steps he now takes to consolidate and expand his power, he can do so in the name of defending peace and stability — Erdogan, the guardian of democracy, dedicated to preventing Turkey ever again coming under military rule.

As soon as news broke about the coup attempt, the first question everyone had was about the president’s whereabouts. In any coup, typically one of the first steps is to kill or capture the head of state. In this case, Erdogan was away on vacation in the resort town of Marmaris, but he claims to have eluded several assassination attempts last night.

When Erdogan made his first television appearance via Facetime, it would be hard to say he looked presidential, but then again, he didn’t have a gun pointed at his head.

Meanwhile, shutting down some bridges and sending some tanks into the streets is an effective way of creating news footage for television and social media, but it would have taken a much larger show of force to convince the residents of any of Turkey’s major cities that the military had really taken control. There’s a big difference between ordering a curfew and having the ability to impose one.

If the plan devised for carrying out this coup seems to have been poorly conceived and poorly executed, the plan for handling the outcome seems stunningly detailed and is being implemented faster than the coup itself.

2,839 soldiers, including high-ranking officers, have been arrested and 2,745 judges have also been dismissed today.

The investigative procedures in Turkey are either extraordinarily efficient, or, more likely, a lot of decisions about how to deal with this coup were made well before the coup itself took place.

The purge of Ergodan’s enemies hasn’t just begun, but it will now move forward with a dramatic advance in pace.


Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, ISIS, and the empathy gap

“Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in Sharia they should be deported,” Newt Gingrich told Fox News’ Sean Hannity after the Nice attack.

This is idiotic and yet there’s no doubt millions of Americans support this kind of ostensibly tough approach to “the Muslim threat.”

But as Jeffrey Goldberg correctly notes: “ISIS seeks to convince devout Muslims that there is no place for them in the West. Suggestions like Gingrich’s reinforce this core ISIS message.”

Goldberg goes on to observe:

There is much to critique in Gingrich’s approach, but I was struck in particular by his statement that “Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization.” One of the Middle East countries that officially endorses sharia as a legal system is one of Gingrich’s most favored countries, Israel, which is, by his lights — and mine — a crucial component of Western civilization. Israel’s sharia courts, which are supervised by the Ministry of Justice, allow the more than 15 percent of Israel’s population that is Muslim to seek religious recourse for their personal dilemmas. These courts have been in operation since Israel’s founding, and yet the country does not seem to have been fatally undermined by their existence.

Americans are famously naive, but anyone who’s been through the immigration process will be aware that the system for establishing who is entitled to become a resident or citizen includes a series of bizarre questions.

For instance, the U.S. government asks each prospective permanent resident whether they intend to engage in espionage. Seriously — everyone gets asked that! Did anyone ever answer “yes”?

Setting aside this baseless notion that belief in Sharia can serve as a litmus test for extremism, why is it that Gingrich imagines that the people he wants to exclude from this country are going to offer an honest account of themselves?

The effect of Gingrich’s comments and those being made by Donald Trump is not to improve security; they merely amplify the Islamophobic hysteria that runs rampant in many parts of America.

The more that fear of Muslims gets ramped up, the more this empowers ISIS and other extremists who assert that the West is at war with Islam.

When Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was questioned yesterday by French police before he went on his deadly rampage, I’m sure they didn’t ask him whether he believed in Sharia — or whether he was planning to carry out an act of terrorism. They wanted to know what he was doing with his truck and he said he was delivering ice cream. He was a resident of Nice and clearly, nothing about his behavior or appearance made him seem out of place.

It turns out to be tragic that the police didn’t ask to see the contents of his truck where they would have found weapons, yet they should not be faulted for failing to apply some kind of cockeyed terrorist screening process.

This is what we now know about the man described by his own cousin as an “unlikely jihadist“:

The 31-year-old – who wreaked terror on the Nice seafront as he turned an evening celebrating Bastille Day into a night of terror in which he murdered 84 innocent people – drank alcohol, ate pork and took drugs.

He never prayed or attended a mosque, and hit his wife – with whom he had three children – and was in the process of getting a divorce.

Bouhlel, who had been known to the French police since January, had been on the radar for six months for petty criminality.

It is understood he lost his job as a delivery driver when he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into four cars.

Just as the Trump camp is helping boost terrorism with its intemperate rhetoric, each time there is a mass killing in the West that gets tied to Muslims, Donald Trump’s chances of reaching the White House improve.

After the Nice attack, Trump asked: “When will we learn?

This is a fake rhetorical question — his insinuation is that the way forward will be clear once we’re living under the leadership of President Trump.

George Monbiot asks a more relevant question:

Each time there is a ghastly headline-grabbing act of violence, there is a genuine need to understand what happened and most importantly, to understand the mindset of the killer(s).

What we can surmise already is that Bouhlel lacked a shred of empathy for the people whose lives he tore apart.

This was an act of brutality that required even more callousness than that shown by a suicide bomber whose own demise is simultaneous with that of his victims. The Nice killer was both the perpetrator of and witness to his own murderous instincts as he destroyed life after life.

Did the windshield of his truck construct some kind of psychological separation as though he was witnessing a parade of death displayed on a screen? Did this enable some macabre blending of fiction and reality?

In his inhumanity we see evidence of someone who, for reasons we may never clearly know, had lost the capacity to value the humanity of others. There is an arc of dehumanization that ties the killer to his victims.

When politicians are quick to make declarations of war in the wake of each new atrocity, rather than showing genuine empathy for the victims, they are more like vultures swooping down to grasp some political advantage.

The bluntest display of this came on 9/11 when Benjamin Netanyahu said the attacks were a “good thing.”

These days the grim celebrations are more circumspect, always preceded by some perfunctory expressions of sympathy.

The actual human loses, however, are permanent. The war cries bring back no lives. They provide no real consolation.

Terrorism as hideous as it is, is just the most extreme form of an affliction that really does span the whole world.

In the terrorist we see the death of empathy, but elsewhere and to much greater ill effect we see an empathy deficit.

Healing the world requires closing that deficit — not an endless war that counterproductively widens the empathy gap.


Srebrenica: Why every life matters

In the West, the top three watershed geopolitical events of the modern era are commonly seen as the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the al Qaeda attacks in the U.S. in 2001, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, has largely been forgotten and outside the Muslim world its significance never widely grasped.

Yet as Brendan Simms noted in Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present:

In the Muslim world, the slaughter of their co-religionists in Bosnia contributed substantially to the emergence of a common consciousness on foreign policy. According to this global discourse, Muslims were now on the defensive across the world: in Palestine, Bosnia, Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. A large number of Arab, Turkish, Caucasian, central Asian and other Mujahedin – in search of a new jihad after Afghanistan – went to Bosnia to fight. It was among European Muslims, however, that the Bosnian experience resonated most forcefully. ‘It doesn’t really matter whether we perish or survive,’ the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina [Dr. Mustafa Cerić] remarked in May 1994, ‘the lesson will always be there. And it is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue.’ This ‘Zionist’ message echoed across the immigrant communities in western Europe, especially Britain. ‘Bosnia Today – Brick Lane tomorrow’ warned the banners in one East London demonstration. Some of the most prominent subsequent British jihadists such as Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnapping and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl, and the Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg – were radicalized by Bosnia. In other words, the new Muslim geopolitics of the mid-1990s was a reaction not to western meddling but to nonintervention in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing [my emphasis].

A decade later, when Nadeem Azam interviewed Cerić (who in 2003 in recognition of his contributions to inter-faith dialogue, tolerance and peace, was awarded UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny peace prize) he reiterated his message on the necessity of Muslim self-reliance.

What are your feelings about the future of Islam in Europe?

Not very good. The rise of fascism combined with an officially-sanctioned tendency to be unreasonable when it comes to discussion about Islam are bad omens. I am not a soothsayer but I can see the reality of a day when the treatment of a Muslim in Europe will be worse than that of serial killer: we are, I am afraid, on the verge of seeing a situation develops whereby it would be a crime to be a Muslim in Europe. The events of 11 September, 2001, have made things worse. May Allah protect us.

But having such feelings does not depress me. It actually should motivate us and make us even more resolute in our efforts. More importantly it should make us think of planning and organising. If the day comes – like it did in Bosnia – you might be unable to control events around you but you should at least be ready to do what is needed to be done by a Muslim at such an hour.
The message of the four year-long war we fought is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue; they must always rely on God and the faith, goodness and compassion within their communities. This is very important. Our strength will always be reflective of the strength of our communities.

Today, Cerić’s fears are clearly all the more well-founded as across Europe xenophobia and Islamophobia relentlessly grow and in the United States a presidential candidate gains the strongest boost to his campaign by promising a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims.

The lesson that Srebrenica taught many Muslims in the West was that even when they are in no sense foreign or culturally set apart, they are still at risk of exclusion and elimination.

Last month after the EU referendum in the UK, a resident of Barnsley, South Yorkshire (five miles from where I grew up), when asked to explain why he had voted for Brexit said: “It’s to stop the Muslims coming into this country. Simple as that.”

Among opponents of the war in Iraq, a widely accepted narrative has long been that the antidote to the unintended consequences of so much ill-conceived Western meddling in the Greater Middle East over the last 15 years is to simply step back and disengage. This sentiment, in large part, is what got Barack Obama elected in 2008. Let the region sort out its own problems or let closer neighbors such as the Russians intervene, so the thinking goes. The U.S. has much more capacity to harm than to help.

Yet as the killing fields of Syria have grown larger year after year, the message from Srebrenica merely seems to have been underlined: the magnitude of the death toll in any conflict will be of little concern across most of the West so long as the victims are Muslim.

After Donald Trump called for Muslims to be shut out of America, Michael Moore declared: We are all Muslim. And he promoted the hashtag #WeAreAllMuslim.

Expressions of solidarity through social media are easy to promote and of debatable value, yet the isolation of Muslims in this instance, rather than being overcome, merely seemed to get reinforced. #WeAreAllMuslim was mostly deployed as a sarcastic slur shared by Islamophobes.

The global trends are strong and clear, pointing to a future marked by more and more social fragmentation as people withdraw into their respective enclaves where they believe they can “take care of their own.”

We live in a world in which we are getting thrown closer together while simultaneously trying to stand further apart. It can’t work.

At some point we either embrace the fact that we are all human and have the capacity to advance our mutual interests, or we will continue down the current path of self-destruction.

* * *

Last year, Myriam François-Cerrah, a British journalist who is also a Muslim, took a group of young people from the UK — all of whom were born in the year of the genocide — to Srebrenica where they learned lessons that arguably have more relevance now than they have had at any time since 1995.


The events immediately leading up to the genocide are recounted in this segment from the BBC documentary, The Death of Yugoslavia:



Donald Trump’s rigged system

As Donald Trump warns about a “rigged system,” he’s indirectly training terrorists.

No, he doesn’t have secret training camps in Montana or Utah. Nor does he need to disseminate any information about bomb-making. He doesn’t even need to have the desire to see anyone turn to violence.

All he needs to do is carry on bottling rage, distributing it far and wide and sooner or later this incendiary infusion is bound to explode.

Whenever and wherever this happens — and there’s no telling how many times it has already happened — it will be hard to pin the blame directly on Trump. The ticking time-bombs within the brittle minds of many an American are scattered from coast to coast.

Rage contained will get released when the person within whom it has been festering no longer feels like this is their own possession — their own demon that they must struggle to restrain.

As rage gets sanctioned and fueled by a powerful and prominent man like Trump who has positioned himself as a champion of the people, then the would-be perpetrator of violence who previously went unnoticed now believes he has been transformed into an instrument of a higher law and an expression of the will of his nation.

Not my will, but Thy will be done, thinks the American terrorist for whom this country, its people, and God form a holy trinity.

When Trump says this is a “rigged system,” he’s telling his followers they don’t live in a democracy.

Figuratively or literally, this is a call to arms — and that’s exactly the message that some of Trump’s followers are receiving.

Trump, like every experienced white collar criminal, is an expert in covering his tracks. As an agitator, he adopts the posture of an impassive witness, observing events without telling anyone what to do. But as Alex Massie observed after Jo Cox was murdered in the UK:

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

When Trump calls out to his followers that the FBI’s decision not to indict Hillary Clinton means that he and they are up against a “rigged system,” these are the kinds of responses he triggers:

“There’s a place in hell for this CARELESS, CORRUPT, LYING WITCH! 😡” tweets @MiddleClazzMom.

“I’d like to see her on fire in hell, and our sick terrorist Obama” tweets @vickilynne58.

“Disband the FBI!! Start a Citizen Secret Police to interorgate them!! Yes! I’m pissed!!” tweets @wiley4454.

“When #Government doesn’t follow the #Laws the #Citizens don’t need to!” tweets @drginareghetti.

“We all received a major blow today but like our founding Fathers this will not stop us from wining the war #MAGA #Trump2016” tweets @jrmadmen.

When you say the system is rigged, this isn’t a callout to voters — it’s a declaration that voting is worthless.

This is the message that ardent Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, hears loud and clear: “The Fix Is In: @HillaryClinton Will Be The Next President! #RiggedSystem”

“If this DONT WAKE THE AMERICAN people up, I dont know what will.. Time for the pitchforks,” tweets @BeezakaMrB.

But don’t expect a big rush on farm-supply stores, because in a country where it’s easier to buy an assault rifle than it is to track down a pitchfork, those who feel most enraged about a rigged system won’t be grabbing agricultural implements.

The more Trump claims he’s up against a rigged system, the more angry his supporters will be when he loses. They won’t accept loss as a defeat; they will view it as a crime.

Seeing themselves as victims of evil global forces, there will be a few who decide that violence is the only path to justice.


How fake bomb detectors made their way from South Carolina to Baghdad

The Washington Post reports: After more than 200 people were killed in a devastating Islamic State bomb attack in the Iraqi capital, Iraqis turned their anger toward a symbol of government corruption and the state’s failure to protect them: fake bomb detectors.

The wand-like devices, little more than an aerial attached to a plastic handle, are still widely in use at security checkpoints around the country even years after the British con man who sold them was arrested for fraud and the U.K. banned their export.

They are used at the entrances to embassies, compounds and government ministries. They are used by security forces at checkpoints such as those on the shopping street at Karrada that was hit in the suicide bombing in the early hours of Sunday morning, and has been targeted numerous times in the past.

As infernos set off by the blast engulfed shopping centers, suffocating and burning to death those inside, Iraqis took to social media to vent about the fake detectors.

An Arabic hashtag began trending for “soup detectors,” mocking the absurdity that these handheld devices can detect explosives. The Ministry of Interior’s website was hacked and a picture of a bloodied baby was posted along with a bomb detector bearing the Islamic State’s markings — making the point that the fake wands aid only those intent on killing civilians. “I don’t know how you sleep at night,” the hacked site read. “Your conscience is dead.”

As anger grew, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Sunday night that all the country’s security forces should remove the handheld devices from checkpoints and that the Ministry of Interior should reopen its investigation into the corrupt deals for the devices.

But they were still in use in Baghdad the following morning, and it’s unclear when the move will be implemented.

“We haven’t received an order yet,” said Muqdad al-Timimi, a police officer at a checkpoint in northern Baghdad who was still using one of the devices. “We know it doesn’t work, everybody knows it doesn’t work and the man who made it is in prison now. But I don’t have any other choice.”

The device, known as the ADE 651, was sold to Iraq by James McCormick, a British man who was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a U.K. court in 2014 for fraud. He had been arrested in 2010 when export of the device was banned by the British government. [Continue reading…]

In 2013, Bloomberg Businessweek reported: The ADE 651, and similar devices sold by McCormick over the decade or so he spent in the explosives-detection business, owe their existence to Wade Quattlebaum, president of Quadro in Harleyville, S.C. At the beginning of the 1990s, Quattlebaum — a sometime car dealer, commercial diver, and treasure hunter whose formal education ended in high school — began promoting a new detection technology he called the Quadro Tracker Positive Molecular Locator, which he claimed could help law enforcement agencies find everything from contraband to missing persons. Quattlebaum said he originally invented the device to find lost balls on the golf course but had since refined it to locate marijuana, cocaine, heroin, gunpowder, and dynamite by detecting the individual “molecular frequency” of each substance.

The Tracker consisted of a handheld unit, with an antenna mounted on a plastic handgrip, and a belt-mounted box slightly smaller than a VHS cassette, built to contain “carbo-crystallized” software cards programmed, Quattlebaum said, with the specific frequency of whatever the user wished to find. No batteries were necessary. The Tracker was powered by the static electricity created by the operator’s own body; when it found what it was looking for, the antenna automatically turned to point at its quarry. Prices for the device varied from $395 for a basic model to $8,000 for one capable of locating individual human beings, which required a Polaroid photograph of the person to be loaded into the programming box. Quadro’s golf ball-finding variant, the Gopher, was available by mail order for just $69.

That Quattlebaum’s gizmo operated independently of any known scientific principles didn’t hurt sales. By the end of 1995, distributors across the U.S. had sold about 1,000 Quadro Trackers to customers including police departments in Georgia and Illinois and school districts in Kansas and Florida. When Ronald Kelly, the agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office in Beaumont, Tex., learned that a local narcotics task force had bought one, he attended a demonstration in which a Tracker was used to find a brick of cocaine. He wasn’t impressed. “I paid reasonable attention in eighth grade science,” Kelly says now. “I pronounced this bullshit.”

Kelly instructed his agents to bring in an example of the device, ran it through the X-ray machine at the Beaumont courthouse to see what was inside it, and sent it to the FBI labs in Washington. “They said, ‘This is a car antenna and a plastic handle. It doesn’t do anything.’ ”

Further analysis by the FBI and Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico established that Quadro’s programming cards were small squares of photocopy paper sandwiched between pieces of plastic. Dale Murray, who examined the device at Sandia, discovered that the Quadro programming method was to take a Polaroid photograph of the desired target — gunpowder, cocaine, or on one occasion, an elephantblow — up the image on a Xerox machine, cut up the copy into fragments, and use these to provide the card with its “molecular signature.” “They had a very naive explanation of how it worked,” Murray says. “They were fascinated by Polaroid photographs.”

Although Kelly is unequivocal about the Quadro principals’ fraudulent intent — “They were con artists,” he says — Murray feels that Quattlebaum, at least, genuinely had faith in it. “I think he did believe in it — it was his invention,” he says. Quattlebaum could have fallen victim to the ideomotor effect, the same psychological phenomenon that convinces users of dowsing rods and Ouija boards that they are witnessing the results of a powerful yet inexplicable force. In response to suggestion or expectation, the body can produce unconscious movements, causing a sensitive, free-swinging mechanism to respond in sympathy. “It’s very compelling, if you’re not aware of what’s causing it,” Murray says. [Continue reading…]

In 1996, a Federal Court imposed a permanent injunction banning the marketing, sale, and distribution of the tracker “and devices of a similar design marketed under a different name.”

The court order noted:

Use of the Quadro Tracker in locating guns or explosives poses a danger to anyone relying on the device for safety. Dangerous weapons or explosives could go undetected and enter schools, airports, office buildings, or any other location where safety is a concern.

Nevertheless, the following year the makers of the tracker were acquitted of fraud. The Associated Press reported:

A jury found Wade Quattlebaum, 63, former president of Quadro Corp., Raymond Fisk, 53, former vice president of the company, and William Long, 57, a distributor of the device, not guilty after deliberating about 11 1/2 hours over three days. The three men — each charged with three counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud — were accused of deceiving customers into buying the Quadro Tracker between March 1993 and January 1996.
U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford said he did not know why the jury rejected prosecutors’ claims that the three men committed fraud.

“We felt that we proved that this was a worthless device,” he said. “In fraud you have to prove intent, and perhaps they did not see clear intent to defraud.”

Defense attorneys said even though scientists who testified could not explain how the tracker works, prosecutors did not prove that it was not functional.

In addition, it’s possible that jurors — like potential buyers of the device — were swayed in their judgment by the fact that its use had been endorsed by individuals such as these: William Koopman, Val-Comm Inc., Albuquerque, NM; Steve Lassiter, Drug Task Force, Albuquerque, NM; Larry DeWees, Principal, Farmington High School, NM; Clifford Weber, School Supt., Bloomfield, NM; Nancy Radford, Vice-Principal, Bloomfield H.S., NM; Troy Daniels, Resource Officer, Bloomfield H.S., NM; Ralph Navarre, Principal, Mesa Alta H.S., Bloomfield, NM; Capt. Ben Boozer, Dept. of Corrections, Crozier, VA; Raymond Gomes, Inspector General, Richmond, VA; Sgt. Marilyn Chambers, National Guard, Richmond, VA; Jim Morrison, National Guard, Richmond, VA; Brian Clements, Dir.of Security, Galena Park, Houston TX; Lt. Bill Munk, Police Department, Austin, TX; Don Plybon, US Customs, Charleston, SC; Cpl. Billie Johnson, North Charleston PD, SC; Bruce Parent, FL Dept. of Trans., West Palm Beach, FL; Pip Reaver, Adlerhorst Training School, Riverside, CA; Pete Blauvelt, Nat. Alliance for Safe Schools, Lanham, MD; Michael Ferdinand, Interquest Group, Inc., Houston, TX.

As one observer wrote, the device “turns out to be good only at detecting suckers.”

In 2011, the year after McCormick’s arrest, BBC Newsnight broadcast the following report:



Donald Trump: The pied piper of American bigotry takes a shot at ‘Jewish money’


Apologists for the Trump campaign, such as former campaign manager, Cory Lewandowski, are trying deflect criticism of the campaign’s use of blatantly anti-Semitic imagery by claiming that the star used in the now infamous “history made” tweet is the same as the star used by American law enforcement.

Let’s see if I understand. When Trump uses imagery that’s meant to reinforce his message that Hillary Clinton is deeply corrupt, he wants to imply she’s as corrupt as what he views as that other widely recognized symbol of corruption… the American sheriff?

That’s strange. I thought Trump was a big fan of the police.

Lewandowski says the reaction to the tweet is ‘political correctness run amok.’

If so, why did the Trump campaign kowtow to their critics by altering the tweet to remove an innocent “sheriff’s star”?

And how come the first place this image is known to have been used before it was co-opted by Trump was a neo-Nazi message board?

What’s really going on inside the campaign?

Does Trump actually feel like he needs to strengthen and expand the coalition of support he already has among neo-Nazis, white supremacists, anti-Semites and every other stripe of bigotry woven into the tapestry of American politics?

Although I think it’s dangerous to underestimate how large a place bigotry holds in American culture, I don’t actually believe that a realistic presidential campaign — even one led by a quintessentially ugly racist American — can conceivably win by appealing to this diseased fragment of the American psyche.

And given that Twitter has had such an important role in Trump’s media strategy, it’s highly implausible that the latest “unforced error” was really that.

Firstly, it seems much more likely that, in part, this is the latest example of what Trump has been doing all along: baiting the media in order to get free publicity.

A campaign that’s already financially stretched is likely to become increasingly desperate in its use of stunts designed to grab headlines.

But wait a minute, some people may be thinking: Why would Trump risk alienating some extremely wealthy Jewish donors — especially Sheldon Adelson — just for a couple of days free but politically costly media attention?

Back in May, Adelson was reported to be “poised” to donate $100 million or more to the Trump campaign at a time that Trump estimated he might need to raise $1 billion.

The money never came through.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Many [inside the Trump campaign] were hoping casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who spent nearly $100 million in the 2012 presidential race, would save the day by starting his own pro-Trump super PAC to provide a trusted safe haven for donors.

But after Trump’s polling numbers tanked with his race-based criticism of a federal judge and response to the Orlando shooting, Adelson has put his plans on hold. The Las Vegas billionaire is “not actually starting a PAC despite what has been reported,” his spokesman said.

So, perhaps Trump’s anti-Semitic tweet might be better understood not as dog whistle to bigots whose loyalty he’s already won, but instead as a counterpunch aimed at Jewish donors like Adelson who now find it impossible to deny Trump’s inherent toxicity.

Trump’s biggest lie was that he would never need anyone else’s money, so nothing now eats his heart out more with bitterness and envy than the sight of his competitor sitting on piles of cash while he has close to none.

As much as Trump may have appeared to possess an extraordinary capacity to avoid being penalized for his irrepressible racism, the reality seems to be that it is driving his campaign to bankruptcy.


The 75%: Young voters in the UK want to remain in the EU

We are the 48,” protesters on the March for Europe chanted in London yesterday.

I guess it’s possible this slogan was meant as a warning against the tyranny of the majority, but it seems more likely it was intended as a way of saying, “we are too many to be ignored.”

Either way, and given the preponderance of young people marching, “We are the 75%,” might have sent a stronger message.

Even so, no sooner had this emphatic support among young voters for remaining in the EU been noted a week ago, then another number started circulating widely — this one from Sky News who reported that among 18-24 year olds, the turnout had only been 36%.

Rather than viewing older voters as having betrayed the interests of their children and grandchildren, it looked like voter apathy among the young was as much to blame for the victory of the Leave camp.

But at the time, Barbara Speed at the New Statesman noted:

Sky isn’t claiming this is collected data – it’s projected, and a subsequent tweet said it was based on “9+/10 certainty to vote, usually/always votes, voted/ineligible at GE2015”. I’ve asked for more information on what this means, but for now it’s enough to say it’s nothing more than a guess.

Francesca Barber, who describes herself as British, European, and American, says “my generation failed to turn up… If we want our world to reflect our values and beliefs, we are going to have to engage and vote.”

But maybe before making strong judgments about generational failure, it’s worth having some renewed skepticism about the numbers in the Sky News tweet.

Michael Bruter, professor of political science and European politics at the LSE, and his colleague, Dr Sarah Harrison, have been analyzing responses from 2,113 British adults questioned between 24 and 30 June.

The Guardian reports:

Bruter and Harrison said they found turnout among young people to be far higher than data has so far suggested. “Young people cared and voted in very large numbers. We found turnout was very close to the national average, and much higher than in general and local elections.

“After correcting for over-reporting [people always say they vote more than they do], we found that the likely turnout of 18- to 24-year-olds was 70% – just 2.5% below the national average – and 67% for 25- to 29-year-olds.

This suggests that even if turnout among young voters had matched the national average, the outcome of the referendum would still have been the same.

For this reason, it’s perhaps worth restating: the outcome of the 2016 EU referendum was conclusive.

Nevertheless, there’s a strong argument to be made that a second referendum will still be necessary at the conclusion of Brexit negotiations, bearing in mind that no one even knows when or if that conclusion will be reached.

The EU has a serious credibility problem when it comes to its perceived lack of commitment to democratic processes. Many EU leaders are currently preoccupied with the fear that favorable terms for Brexit will have a domino effect across the Union. At the same time, some are calling for a “new vision for Europe.”

If the EU gets serious about this and goes beyond measures that are merely forms of damage control, then by the time the UK has finalized its withdrawal terms, the EU the UK will then be about to leave should be quite different from the one to which it now belongs.

This point will be reached in 2019 at the earliest or quite likely some years later. A referendum of British voters at that time would provide the basis for an informed decision.

This is not much different from having an opportunity and the time to read the small print before signing a contract. As things stand right now, British voters bought into a proposition whose terms are completely unknown.

Given that the Council of the European Union, through the Treaty of Nice, employs the use of a form of qualified majority voting which requires support representing 62% of the EU population, the UK could reasonably adopt the same principle in requiring that a second referendum seeking informed consent would need to cross the same threshold.

The EU and the UK have a common interest in showing that Brexit, as it unfolds, demonstrates a mutual commitment to the democratic process whatever the outcome.


Why Brexit means Brexit

As regular readers here will have noticed, over the last week I have given a lot of coverage to the debate on whether Brexit can be dodged, reversed, blocked or somehow avoided by legal and/or political means. I’ve also engaged in that debate myself in several posts.

The careful examination of this issue by experts in constitutional and international law has undoubtedly contributed to a widening sense that it might just be possible that, as John Kerry put it, Brexit can be “walked back.”

Over the weekend, a European diplomat in Brussels said: “If they treat their referendum as a non-event, we will also treat their referendum as a non-event.”

With so many doubts and questions ricocheting back and forth along with the fact that no one knows when the British government will actually formally pull the trigger on Brexit by invoking Article 50, it hasn’t been difficult to get the sense that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU might never happen — that a worse disaster than the immediate one might still be avoided.

As happens all too often, when one gets engrossed in details, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.

What seems to me to be the most salient way of clarifying this issue is to pose a different question.

Suppose last Thursday the outcome of the EU referendum had been what pollsters predicted: 52% for Remain, and 48% for Leave.

Given that outcome, if the disgruntled Leave camp had then spent the following week arguing about why there should be another referendum, why the question had not been settled, and so forth, who outside their camp would have taken these protests seriously? How many legal opinions would have been crafted? How much serious discussion would have ensued?

Virtually none.

In Westminster, Brussels and throughout the financial markets, in the media and across academia, the prevailing sentiment would be that the issue had been settled, the will of the British people determined, and it was time to move forward.

Even though the real outcome of the vote looks to so many of us as an act of self-inflicted harm of historic proportions, what actually matters more than being in or out of the EU, is democracy itself.

The evidence that democracy is working as it should comes exactly at times when the political establishment gets challenged. This isn’t because there’s some inherent virtue in rocking the system. On the contrary, it’s because it is at a time such as this that those people who insist the system is rigged are demonstrably proven wrong.

Everyone’s vote was indeed counted and we should be glad of the fact.

And in the Brexit aftermath, anyone who might be thinking democracy is overrated should pay more attention to those parts of the world where ordinary people must risk their lives if they want to be heard.

The rights we too easily take for granted are rights we risk losing.


Leading Brexiter fears outcome in which ‘we will be worse off than when we were in the EU’

The Guardian reports: The British public have voted to leave the EU in an advisory referendum – but there have been voices in business, diplomacy, politics and European polities desperately asking if the issue can be revisited. Is that feasible?

The short answer is yes, just about, but many forces would have to align.

The referendum, for instance, has thrown up big constitutional questions for Britain.

Oliver Letwin, who was appointed by David Cameron, the outgoing prime minister, to oversee the process of withdrawal, is now at the helm of an expanded European secretariat at the Cabinet Office. But it is clear that very little preparatory work has been done. One of the first questions he will face is the future role of the British parliament in Brexit.

The British government has not yet said how parliament should implement the decision to leave. It is not clear, for instance, if and what laws would have to be passed to put the referendum decision to leave the EU into effect. [Continue reading…]

Echoing this discussion, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says there are a number of ways Thursday’s vote could be “walked back.”

But in the eyes of many — on both sides of the issue — the fact that this conversation is even taking place is widely viewed as an expression of contempt for democracy. It is seen as a cynical effort to accomplish by questionable means what couldn’t be achieved through a free and fair vote. The argument for rejecting these kinds of political machinations is that the will of the people must be respected.

Setting aside the question of whether there is such a thing as the will of the British people — sacrosanct as that notion is — if we simply accept the fact that the Leave campaign won (a result that no one disputes), then respecting the will of the people in that sense would surely have to mean delivering the outcome Leave voters supported. That is to say: respecting the popular expectations built around the meaning of withdrawal — a return of sovereignty, control over immigration, and so forth.

If leaving the EU leaves the UK in a position where it retains full access to the single European market — the so-called Norway option — on condition of maintaining the “four freedoms” (the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people) then in the words of Richard North, a leading proponent of Brexit, “we will be worse off than when we were in the EU.”

Let’s repeat that: We will be worse off than when we were in the EU!

Wasn’t that the central argument for voting Remain? That Britain would be worse off outside the EU than it is inside? And now Brexiters are warning about the danger of that very outcome!

Today, North writes:

We’ve been fighting the “war” for so many decades, with so little expectation of winning, that we’ve not devoted anything like enough time to winning the “peace”.
Yesterday, I was in London at a Leave Alliance meeting and there it dawned on me how ill-prepared we are to fight the coming battle. It is absolutely true that Whitehall didn’t have a plan, and Vote Leave certainly doesn’t have one. And, of course, neither does Farage. We are, therefore, at risk of losing the battle before many of us even realise what is at stake.

So here’s the irony for Brexit voters who naively imagine they just “got their country back”:

On one side are opponents of Brexit strategizing on how to stop it in its tracks, and on the other side are opponents of Brexit strategizing on how to minimize its effects. In between, the champions of Brexit haven’t a clue what to do next.

This is what happens when you passionately advocate for a goal, but expend very little effort figuring out how it can be accomplished.


Who gets democracy?

Champion of the working-class and editor of the National Review, Rich Lowry, writes:

Democracy is too important to be left to the people.

That is the global elite’s collective reaction to Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, which is being portrayed as the work of ill-informed xenophobes who never should have been entrusted with a decision of such world-historical importance.

Judging by their dismissive tone, critics of Brexit believe that the European Union’s lack of basic democratic accountability is one of its institutional advantages — the better to insulate consequential decisions from backward and short-sighted voters.

To respond to Lowry briefly: bullshit.

To elaborate, let’s first bear in mind that given his reaction to the outcome of the referendum, there’s every indication that the leader of the Leave camp, the Eton-schooled Boris Johnson, promoted an exit from the EU on the assumption it wouldn’t happen but that he would be able to leap frog from the campaign into Downing Street. The latter part of his plan appears destined to succeed but soon he will find himself charting a course he had no plan or prior intention to actually navigate.

Given the stream of lies to which Brexit leaders have confessed since Thursday, there’s every reason to believe that in a rerun of the referendum, large numbers of Leave voters, having seen they were duped, would probably not even vote a second time around. It’s patronizing to Leave voters themselves, to think they would robotically make the same choice even after having seen they were being guided by false promises.

At the same time, the Remain vote would be driven up not necessarily by a significant swing of Regrexit voters but instead by a massive increase in young voters. Even though 75% of 18-24 year-olds voted Remain, 64% of that age group didn’t vote. Having just been given a shocking lesson about the importance of voting, I suspect — given a second chance — they’d demonstrate they have as much interest in exercising their democratic rights as do their grandparents. Moreover, given that the decision at hand would have ramifications for the rest of a lifetime, it would be reasonable to follow the precedent set in Scotland and lower the voting age to 16 — which likewise would provide an additional boost to Remain.

So, this isn’t an argument about who has greater or less respect for the will of the people. It’s about who is or isn’t serious about determining what the will of the people really is, which is to say, discerning the popular will when honest choices are on offer.

Two years ago, Scottish voters were told that if they voted for independence from the UK, they risked thereby casting themselves out of the EU. In those circumstances 55% rejected independence.

That situation has now been reversed and given that an overwhelming majority of voters in Scotland want to remain in the EU, if independence is the only way of staying in the EU, it’s very likely that a second independence referendum will have the opposite result from the one in 2014.

Moreover, for observers with a keen interest in upholding democratic principles, the 2014 vote is of additional relevance here because, unlike the vote last week, the determining factor in voter eligibility was legal residence, not citizenship. On that basis, the power of decision-making was placed in the hands of the people who would be directly impacted by the outcome of the vote, irrespective of whether they identified themselves as Scots.

Last Thursday, 2.7 million people who have made Britain their home were not allowed to vote because although they are EU citizens resident in an EU country, they are not British citizens.

These people are now being told by Johnson and others that they need have no fear about the protection of their rights, yet those reassurances would be a lot more credible if their right to vote in a referendum having such a huge impact on their future had been respected last week. It goes without saying that among that bloc of would-be voters support for Remain would have been close to unanimous and Remain’s victory thus a near certainty.

There are legitimate reasons for arguing that a second referendum cannot soon take place, but it’s disingenuous for people like Lowry to present this as an argument between those who those who value democracy and those who don’t.

Another referendum will indeed be necessary but this one should pose what is becoming the central question: Do you want the UK to remain together or would you prefer to see it break apart?

The Little Englanders who want to leave the EU and destroy the UK are probably are rather small minority of British citizens. They have a right to be heard but not to claim ownership of a country that belongs to many others.