How to lose the propaganda war with ISIS

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The New York Times reports: The Obama administration on Friday announced an overhaul of its efforts to respond to online propaganda from the Islamic State after months of acknowledgments that it had largely failed in its attempts to counter extremist recruitment and exhortations to violence on social media.

The administration has emphasized that it needs the assistance of some of the nation’s biggest technology companies, and a group of top White House and national security officials flew to California on Friday to plead their case with executives.

“Given the way the technology works these days, there surely are ways that we can disrupt paths to radicalization, to identify recruitment patterns and to provide metrics that allow us to measure the success of our counter-radicalization efforts,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said before the meeting began in California.

A task force will be created in the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to coordinate the government’s new effort. The State Department announced the creation of a center to respond to disinformation from extremist groups by highlighting their misdeeds and creating positive images of the West. [Continue reading…]

If one was to picture America as a complex filtration system with Washington DC at its core, the way this operates guarantees that by the time someone passes through the system’s many layers and reaches a position as an influential decision-maker, their psyche has been stripped of every last trace of imagination.

Picture the many meetings that must have taken place over recent months in which policymakers repeatedly said: in order to stop ISIS we need to improve the image of the West.

This proposition should have been met with howls of scorn and yet instead, multiple teams of straight-faced bureaucrats from multiple agencies nodded their heads in agreement.

At the same time, I greatly doubt anyone believes this kind of PR exercise will have any value whatsoever and yet the consensus of support derives from one fact: no one has come up with a better idea.

Better to do something worthless than to do nothing at all — so the thinking goes.

The term radicalization has been pathologized, thereby divorcing it from its psychological meaning. It’s viewed as a disease, with the implication that if the right steps are taken, the contagion can be controlled.

But to be radicalized is to rebel and anyone who has taken up such a position of defiance has, in the case of ISIS, already reached a conclusion about the West. Indeed, they have most likely reflected more deeply on the West than the majority of their generational counterparts who, being less likely to engage in cultural critiques of any kind, don’t have a particularly coherent view of the West — good or bad.

The problem here is not one if inadequate availability of positive images of the West.

Although it’s often said that this is an ideological struggle, ideology is I suspect of less significance than a core value: the willingness to die in the name of ones cause.

This isn’t a value that governments anywhere want to challenge because every state wants to be able to recruit citizens who are willing to die in defense of their country.

Most states don’t overtly recruit would-be martyrs and yet all states promote the idea that anyone who dies for their country has died in the name of a noble cause.

At the same time, this has become an increasingly ambiguous value as professionalized military forces promote their ability to minimize their own loses. They want their soldiers to remain willing to die and yet decreasingly fearful that they might face such a risk.

The religious zealot who is willing to die for what he believes in, will inevitably have a sense of superiority over the non-religious soldier who has submitted to the commands of the state rather than the command of God.

If Washington thinks it can steer ISIS recruits in a different direction, it’s because it sees this as a contest between the might of the United States and the wrong-headed ambitions of a cadre of hapless youth. But the contest inside the minds of these young people is between divine authority and human design. They inevitably side with God.

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The ‘No Fly List’ operates in secret, and its power to exclude is vast

Jeffrey Kahn writes: The No Fly List is not a government program easily challenged. Indeed, it operates in secrecy, from an undisclosed location, administered by an office – the Terrorist Screening Center – that doesn’t accept public inquiries. When challenged in court, the watchlisters routinely declare their methods safe but secret and fight the disclosure of their standards and criteria for inclusion.

The British Muslim family recently denied travel to Disneyland might soon discover this, despite the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron has been called upon to examine the case.

The Guardian reported that, despite prior US approvals, the entire family was turned away from Gatwick’s departure lounge. Without warning or a hearing, their freedom to travel was stripped away at great expense and deep humiliation. Instantly, they were reduced to the status of suspected terrorists by anonymous US officials working without any judicial oversight.

Imagine your family in their shoes. If you can’t, then you don’t understand the power of the US No Fly List. [Continue reading…]

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How fear slammed America’s door on Syrian refugees

Molly O’Toole reports: The United States, which accepts more refugees per year than any other country, has all but closed its door to the millions of Syrians who are part of the world’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. A recent decision to admit more Syrian refugees this year opened that door a crack, but the Obama administration insists that national security concerns constrain it from going further. Yet officials at more than a dozen agencies could not point to any specific or credible case, data, or intelligence assessment indicating that Syrian refugees pose a threat.

The officials generally funnelled questions to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Certain groups have openly stated they will attempt to exploit the current situation with respect to large numbers of migrants seeking asylum in Europe and refugee resettlement,” said a DHS official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because department leaders would not authorize anyone to speak on the record about the threat assessment of Syrian refugees. “We must balance a very real threat with the potential propaganda value here.” [Continue reading…]

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American paranoia and govt. red tape creates multiple barriers for Syrian refugees

Olivia Goldhill writes: [O]nce the US agrees, in theory, to resettle a refugee, authorities then begin a laborious vetting process that can take up to two years, a State Department spokesman told Voice of America.

The refugees, who have already been vetted by the UN, must then be screened by US authorities — involving the National Counterterrorism Center, the Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense, the FBI, and Homeland Security officers, former State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in February.

Syrians who have been approved for resettlement are often survivors of torture, female-led families without protection, and unaccompanied minors. They can be in danger throughout the vetting process, and delays are common, Daryl Grisgraber, senior advocate for the Middle East and North Africa at Refugees International, tells Quartz.

“Once the person is cleared medically, that medical clearance may even expire while the security check is happening,” she says from Washington. “There’s a whole cycle that makes the process quite slow.”

Syrian refugees face particularly long delays because of anxieties about terrorism in the Middle East. But excessive fears can make the resettlement process redundant. The US does not accept refugees who have given “material support” to armed groups, but this has previously been used to block people for the slightest excuse — a Burundi refugee was detained for 20 months because armed rebels robbed him of $4 and his lunch. The immigration judge decided this counted as “material support.” [Continue reading…]

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Activists want more transparency in counterterrorism efforts

The Associated Press reports: Muslim groups and civil rights activists across the nation Thursday called for greater transparency in a program by President Barack Obama’s administration that’s aimed at countering homegrown terrorism.

Organizers, including representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spoke out at coordinated events in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis — the three cities where the Countering Violent Extremism program is being piloted.

Among their concerns is that organizers still refuse to share basic information about what the localized efforts will actually look like. They also object to federal authorities conducting invitation-only discussions about the program, referred to as CVE, to the exclusion of dissenting groups.

Last week, more than 200 academics, terrorism experts and government officials gathered for a conference in Arlington, Virginia, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. It was titled “Radicalization and Violent Extremism: Lessons Learned from Canada, the UK and the US.”

Among the attendees and panelists were leaders of the CVE efforts in the pilot cities, according to a copy of the program provided to The Associated Press.

“This isn’t a community-based process,” Nadeem Mazen, a city councilor in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and board member of the local CAIR chapter, said during a small gathering in front of Boston City Hall. “This is a whole different level of federally coordinated assault on our civil liberties.” [Continue reading…]

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TSA, an ‘abominable failure’

Politico reports: In only 13 years of operation, the TSA has racked up a lengthy rap sheet.

With accusations of employees stealing from passengers, snoozing behind X-ray scanners, illegally gambling at airports, spending money on lavish parties and showing basic disregard for humanity by racially profiling and physically abusing passengers, time and time again scandals have reminded the American public that the agency is more than just an airport annoyance.

But on Monday, news that the Transportation Security Administration failed to detect 67 of 70 mock weapons in a secret test shook the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees it, and led to renewed calls for the TSA to clean up its act.

On Monday night, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson unceremoniously demoted acting head Melvin Carraway and urged the Senate to act quickly to confirm U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Pete Neffenger, whom President Barack Obama nominated in April.

The White House also weighed in, with press secretary Josh Earnest saying on Tuesday that Obama “does continue to have confidence that the officers of the TSA … continue to protect the American aviation system,” despite the findings from the DHS inspector general. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Gould-Wartofsky: The new age of counterinsurgency policing

In the part of Baltimore hardest hit by the recent riots and arson, more than a third of families live in poverty, median income is $24,000, the unemployment rate is over 50%, some areas burnt out in the riots of 1968 have never been rebuilt, incarceration rates are sky high, 33% of the homes are vacant (thanks to an ongoing foreclosure crisis), and water service is being shut off for people who can’t afford to pay rising water rates.  Residents, mainly black, live in what is really an unofficially segregated, hollowed-out Rust Belt city that just happens to be located on the East Coast.

As Max Blumenthal pointed out when the city’s mayor started denouncing “outside agitators,” more than 70% of Baltimore’s police force lives beyond the city limits, at least 10% of them out-of-state.  The Baltimore PD is also notorious for its brutality, for the numbers of (black) residents it seems to gun down, and for its give-not-an-inch “broken windows” policing policies.  In a city that is 62% black and 28% white, police officers are still 46% white and 80% outsiders heading into neighborhoods that are almost totally black.  Unlike the residents of such neighborhoods, Baltimore’s police lack for little.  Thanks in part to Pentagon and other government programs, the force is armed to the teeth in the increasingly military fashion that has become the post-9/11 state of things (and that TomDispatch has been covering since 2004.)  It acts as if it were, that is, an occupying army, not a neighborhood protector.  In this sense, “community policing” is now a joke in the U.S.

When the CVS stores go up in flames and local stores are looted, politicians denounce what’s happened and demand an instant return to law and order, while calling on police departments to wear body cameras and rethink their attitudes.  But there’s another reality that has to be faced.  Give some credit to Hillary Clinton.  In her recent speech on the police killings of black men from Ferguson to Baltimore, she included this single on-the-mark sentence: “We can start [building on what works] by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.”  Put another way, you can’t arm and militarize the police, as both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security have been doing since 9/11, and send them into impoverished communities as if for war, sporting a mind-set from the global war on terror, without getting what you’ve functionally wished for.  In a sense, in the arms race that is America today, you might say that you are what you “carry.”

Among the illusions of our age, there’s this: the idea that the U.S. can fight wars in whatever fashion it pleases, year after year, in distant lands without changing our society as well.  In fact, those wars have been coming home for a long time in myriad ways, and never more obviously than with American police forces and their practices.  It’s not just that the police (and SWAT units) are now filled with vets from the war on terror, or that they are armed with weaponry directly off its battlefields, but that the mentality that has made those wars such disasters has come home with the troops and weaponry.

As Michael Gould-Wartofsky, author of the new book The Occupiers: The Making of the 99 Percent Movement, suggests, thoroughly militarized, surveillance-heavy forces are bringing counterinsurgency thinking from Iraq and Afghanistan back to this country.  The record of such thinking abroad brings to mind a question first raised by State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren about Washington’s new war in Iraq: What could possibly go wrong? Tom Engelhardt

The wars come home
A five-step guide to the police repression of protest from Ferguson to Baltimore and beyond
By Michael Gould-Wartofsky

Last week, as Baltimore braced for renewed protests over the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) prepared for battle. With state-of-the-art surveillance of local teenagers’ Twitter feeds, law enforcement had learned that a group of high school students was planning to march on the Mondawmin Mall. In response, the BPD did what any self-respecting police department in post-9/11 America would do: it declared war on the protesters.

[Read more…]

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U.S. court lets border patrol agents murder Mexicans with impunity

Guinevere E. Moore writes: A United States court has all but declared open season on Mexican nationals along the US-Mexico border. Border patrol agents may shoot foreign nationals in Mexico with impunity – provided that those at whom they aim are standing within feet of US territory.

According to a ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit last week, agents who shoot and kill people in Mexico while standing on US soil will never be held to account, except before their administrative agencies. No court will ever review these actions and the families of the victims will be left with no avenue for justice. An agent’s actions will not be governed or restrained by the constitution nor subject to review by US courts.

This isn’t a hypothetic situtation: all of this has already happened.

On 7 June, 2010, a US border patrol agent shot and killed a 15-year-old Mexican boy, Sergio Hernandez, who was standing on the Mexican side of the border. The border patrol agent who drew his firearm and shot Hernandez twice, including a fatal shot to the head, alleged that the boy had been throwing rocks.

After three days on administrative leave and an administrative review of his actions, the agent returned to his duties. No criminal charges were filed, and the United States has refused to extradite the agent to stand trial for murder in Mexico. [Continue reading…]

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TSA ‘behavior detection’ program targeting undocumented immigrants, not terrorists

The Intercept reports: A controversial Transportation Security Administration program that uses “behavior indicators” to identify potential terrorists is instead primarily targeting undocumented immigrants, according to a document obtained by The Intercept and interviews with current and former government officials.

The $900 million program, Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, employs behavior detection officers trained to identify passengers who exhibit behaviors that TSA believes could be linked to would-be terrorists. But in one five-week period at a major international airport in the United States in 2007, the year the program started, only about 4 percent of the passengers who were referred to secondary screening or law enforcement by behavior detection officers were arrested, and nearly 90 percent of those arrests were for being in the country illegally, according to a TSA document obtained by The Intercept.

Nothing in the SPOT records suggests that any of those arrested were associated with terrorist activity.

Those results aren’t surprising, according to those involved in the program, because the behavior checklist was, in part, modeled after immigration, border and drug interdiction programs. Drug smugglers and undocumented immigrants often exhibit clear signs of nervousness and confusion, or may be in possession of fraudulent documents.

“That’s why we started rounding up all the Mexicans,” said one former behavior detection officer. [Continue reading…]

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Brutal treatment of migrant children held in ‘ice boxes’ by U.S. Customs and Border Protection

The Guardian reports: Imagine being taken into a room. It is cold – very, very cold – and you shiver under the single layer of clothes that is all you are allowed to wear. The room is concrete and entirely bare: nothing on the walls, no furniture, no bedding of any sort other than the thin sheet you have been given. The only window allows guards to look in at you, but gives you no view of the world outside.

You sit in the room, huddled on the cold, hard floor, seeking warmth under the sheet. The room is lit by neon lights that are kept on 24 hours a day, and after a while you lose track of time. Is it day, is it night – you no longer know. Though there are many other people in the room with you, they are all strangers and no-one speaks to you. You are utterly alone.

And you are 7 years old.

Carla (not her real name) was 7 years old when she was picked up by officers of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) last June, after she crossed the Mexican border into the US near Hidalgo, Texas. At the end of a grueling 10-day journey from El Salvador, which she left to escape danger and poverty and in the hope of being reunited with her parents in New York, she was taken by border patrol officers to a temporary holding station.

For the first two days, Carla had the company of her cousin, a woman in her early 20s, who had made the journey with her. But then her relative was separated from her and released. For the following 13 days – as official immigration papers record – Carla was detained in the concrete room, surrounded by about 15 other undocumented immigrants like herself. [Continue reading…]

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Planned Homeland Security headquarters, long delayed and over budget, now in doubt

The Washington Post reports: The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the George W. Bush administration called for a new, centralized headquarters to strengthen the department’s ability to coordinate the fight against terrorism and respond to natural disasters. More than 50 historic buildings would be renovated and new ones erected on the grounds of St. Elizabeths, a onetime insane asylum with a panoramic view of the District.

The entire complex was to be finished as early as this year, at a cost of less than $3 billion, according to the initial plan.

Instead, with the exception of a Coast Guard building that opened last year, the grounds remain entirely undeveloped, with the occasional deer grazing amid the vacant Gothic Revival-style structures. The budget has ballooned to $4.5 billion, with completion pushed back to 2026. [Continue reading…]

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Todd Miller: The creation of a border security state

Sometimes you really do need a map if you want to know where you are.  In 2008, the ACLU issued just such a map of this country and it’s like nothing ever seen before.  Titled “the Constitution-Free Zone of the United States,” it traces our country’s borders.  Maybe you’re already tuning out.  After all, you probably don’t think you live on or near such a border.  Well, think again.  As it happens, in our brave, new, post-9/11 world, as long as we’re talking “homeland security” or “war on terror,” anything can be redefined.  So why not a border?

Our borders have, conveniently enough, long been Constitution-free zones where more or less anything goes, including warrantless searches of various sorts.  In the twenty-first century, however, the border itself, north as well as south, has not only been increasingly up-armored, but redefined as a 100-mile-wide strip around the United States (and Alaska).  In other words — check that map again — our “borders” now cover an expanse in which nearly 200 million Americans, or two-thirds of the U.S. population, live.  Included are nine of the 10 largest metropolitan areas.  If you live in Florida, Maine, or Michigan, for example, no matter how far inland you may be, you are “on the border.”

Imagine that.  And then imagine what it means.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as Todd Miller points out today, is not only the largest law enforcement agency in the country you know next to nothing about, but the largest, flat and simple.  Now, its agents can act as if the Constitution has been put to bed up to 100 miles inland anywhere.  This, in turn, means — as the ACLU has written — that at new checkpoints and elsewhere in areas no American would once have considered borderlands, you can be stopped, interrogated, and searched “on an everyday basis with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing.”

Under the circumstances, it’s startling that, since the ACLU made its case back in 2008, this new American reality has gotten remarkably little attention.  So it’s lucky that TomDispatch regular Miller’s invaluable and gripping book, Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security, has just been published.  It’s an eye opener, and it’s about time that “border” issues stopped being left to those on the old-fashioned version of the border and immigration mavens.  It’s a subject that, by definition, now concerns at least two-thirds of us in a big way. Tom Engelhardt

They are watching you
The national security state and the U.S.-Mexican border
By Todd Miller

With the agility of a seasoned Border Patrol veteran, the woman rushed after the students. She caught up with them just before they entered the exhibition hall of the eighth annual Border Security Expo, reaching out and grabbing the nearest of them by the shoulder. Slightly out of breath, she said, “You can’t go in there, give me back your badges.”

The astonished students had barely caught a glimpse of the dazzling pavilion of science-fiction-style products in that exhibition hall at the Phoenix Convention Center. There, just beyond their view, more than 100 companies, including Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Verizon, were trying to sell the latest in futuristic border policing technology to anyone with the money to buy it.

The students from Northeastern Illinois University didn’t happen to fall into that category. An earnest manager at a nearby registration table insisted that, as they were not studying “border security,” they weren’t to be admitted.  I asked him how he knew just what they were studying.  His only answer was to assure me that next year no students would be allowed in at all.

Among the wonders those students would miss was a fake barrel cactus with a hollow interior (for the southern border) and similarly hollow tree stumps (for the northern border), all capable of being outfitted with surveillance cameras. “Anything that grows or exists in nature,” Kurt Lugwisen of TimberSpy told a local Phoenix television station, “we build it.”

[Read more…]

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Why has President Obama deported more immigrants than any president in U.S. history?

Alejandra Marchevsky and Beth Baker report: On March 13, President Obama ordered the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to review its deportation practices, acknowledging the toll that record-high deportation rates are taking on local communities. A White House statement issued later that day read, “The president emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.”

The President’s pledge came in response to growing pressure from immigrant rights advocates and progressive Democrats outraged by the Obama administration’s five-year deportation spree. Since taking the oath of office, Obama has deported immigrants at a faster rate than any other president in US history, nearly a record 2 million people. On a typical day, there are over 30,000 immigrants imprisoned in the world’s largest immigration detention system. Most deportees never see an attorney or have a hearing before a judge before they are expelled from the country. Deportation carries a high price for families and communities across America: one-quarter of all deportees are separated from their US citizen children and countless others from spouses and other family members.

Obama’s claim to sympathize with immigrant families’ “pain” obscures a troubling fact: while the review he ordered may lead to more “humane” treatment of some undocumented immigrants — a welcome if still-modest outcome — it will do nothing for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who get snared each year in the nation’s thickening national security and criminal enforcement webs. And these immigrants represent the majority of persons deported during the Obama era.

For the last twenty-five years, and particularly since the start of the “War on Terror,” immigration has become increasingly tangled with criminal enforcement and national security. George W. Bush cemented the relationship in 2003 when he folded the Immigration and Naturalization Service into a mammoth new agency, the Department of Homeland Security, which was charged with overseeing both counterterrorism and immigration enforcement. The message was obvious: immigration was a threat to the country, and thus, immigration authorities had become an arm of the national security apparatus. [Continue reading…]

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Russia warned U.S. about Tsarnaev, but he slipped through immigration thanks to a spelling error

n13-iconNBC News reports: The Russian government warned U.S. authorities that Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a violent radical Islamist more than a year and a half before the April 2013 bombing, but authorities missed multiple chances to detain Tsarnaev when he was traveling to and from Dagestan for terror training, according to a soon-to-be released Congressional report.

In one instance, according to the report prepared by investigators for the House Homeland Security Committee and copies of documents reviewed by NBC News, Tsarnaev was supposed to be pulled aside for questioning at JFK airport because he was considered potentially armed and dangerous, but he slipped through undetected because someone had misspelled his last name in a security database.

“This sounds like a huge hole and an opportunity missed,” said Ed Davis, who was Boston’s chief of police at the time of the Marathon bombing.

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Israeli spies find it increasingly difficult to enter the U.S.

n13-iconIntelNews.org reports: Articles in the Israeli media have accused the United States of quietly instituting a policy of denying entry visa requests from members of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In an article published on Tuesday, centrist newspaper Maariv cited “senior security personnel” who have allegedly been barred from entering the US. The centrist Hebrew-language daily said the past 12 months have seen “hundreds of cases” of employees in the Israeli intelligence community who have been told by US consular officials that they could not step foot on US soil. The paper said the visa rejections appear to affect mostly members of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security agency, and the Mossad, which conducts covert operations abroad. Visa bans have also affected employees in Israel’s defense industries, said the article. The report suggests that the targeting of Israeli security and intelligence personnel appears to be deliberate, adding that it applies even to those Israeli intelligence or security officers that are already stationed on US soil. In what seems to be a change in policy, the latter are now being issued short-term visas, rather than multiyear entry permits. As a result, the paper says they are “forced” to cross from the US into Canada at regular intervals, in order to apply to have their visas renewed.

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