The Decline and Fall of the Bo Merlot Empire

There was once upon a time a great band of Wolverine warriors who prowled a region of earth known as The Big Mitten. Proud and fierce, they were led by a god like creature known as Bo. Merlot that is. Three yards and a clod of sod Schembechler. A fine wine was named in honor of the great god Bo. They were hailed as victors far and wide, everywhere they went. Except the Rose Bowl of course, that rarely worked out very well because, you know, PAC teams can actually pass the football.

Anyhoo, enough about ancient history, let us talk about the present. It is bleak. In Ann Arbor, the locals no longer bother with chattering about great wars with the hated Tattooed SweaterVests of Ohio State, for they must spend all their time hiding from their in state Sparty neighbors in green. Green is good, unless you are Blue. You see, the Green Meanie Spartys are 5-1 against the Michigan Men in the last six years, and are looking to get their swerve on yet again today in East Lansing. And Sparty is, frankly, starting to get bored. When asked this week about the looming battle for the coveted “Paul Bunyan Trophy“, pretty much all Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio could muster (apparently while yawning) was:

We have to keep our edge regardless of who we play. If we can’t do that, then we’ve not succeeded.

Michigan-Wolverines-Football-Dave-Brandon_455405196Ooof. Brutal. But, well, what is he supposed to say? The Wolverweenies have not scored a touchdown on Michigan State in the last two years, and last year Michigan rolled up an impressive negative 48 yards rushing for the game. And that was in Ann Arbor, today Sparty is eighth ranked and home cooking. Brady Hoke is right about one thing, this is not Devin Gardner’s problem. The problem at Michigan is far greater than that, it is systemic, and it appears to go all the way up to state Republican apparatchik Dave Brandon, who is the current athletic director. There won’t be a riesling, much less a merlot, named for Dave.

Which leads to the question asked by Marcy, who will fire old and hire new, coaches sooner, Michigan or the Florida Gators? Great question. My guess goes to Florida because I think they are more stable at the athletic director position. Michigan has issues across the board at this point. Jim White can flesh out the Gators’ details further, but things are not good in Gainesville with Will Muschamp either. I kid a lot about both of these programs, but it really is sad. Football is infinitely better when these storied programs are healthy and not woebegone.

Okay, let’s take a brief look at other things sporting in the news. The Royals last night stole a win in San Fancisco to go up 2-1 in the World Series. Ratings for this series are in the dumper, but I cannot fathom why. These are both compelling teams, and the series itself seems great. The Giants are a close to a dynasty as there is in baseball the last decade, and the Royals were once glorious and are finally back on the big stage. That is good stuff, and worth watching.

In the student athlete portion of this weekend’s schedule, apart from the Paul Bunyan fest in East Lansing, ‘Ole Miss at LSU and South Carolina at Auburn could both be surprises and look worth a look. USC at Utah is another upset special in the making. The Trojans are up and down this year, but Cody Kessler is running up impressive quarterback numbers along the way, and Utah can be thrown on. But Utah can score too, and they are always tough as nails in Rice Stadium. I have actually been to Rice Stadium by the way, but it was for a Rolling Stones concert, which was plenty proof the joint can rock. On a more sober note, I hope USC pulls off a big win because the Trojans are the team of my friend Kevin Drum, and life has dealt him a very bad card. Marcy and I have been together at this blogging thing a long time now, but long before that, Kevin became one of the first people in the blogosphere I came to know and interact with off blogs. He is a prince of a man, and I send him all my best wishes, and hope you will too.

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 5.55.27 AMIn the professional football sporting side of things there is much ado about something. First off, in the supposedly game of the week, closest pairing evah etc Thursday night tilt between the Donkos and Bolts, ‘ole Noodle Armed Washed Up Lemon Sucking Face Peyton Manning skewered San Diego. Denver better find a way to sign and lock up BOTH Thomases, Julius and Demaryius, because Peyton looks like he easily has another 2-3 years in him. And those three are magic together. Can the Bungles rebound with a win over the Ravens home in Cinci? I wouldn’t bet on that; Flacco and the boys are on a roll. The Bills at Jets might actually be interesting. By the way, no, that is not a photo from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Acid Adventure there on the right, that is the Tennessee Titan’s new starting quarterback, Zach Mettenberger.

The three real games of the week are, however, Green Bay at the Saints and the Eagles at Arizona. Obviously I will be watching the latter, and think it ought to be a hell of an interesting game. The Iggles offense is, on paper, far more potent than that of the Cards. But this will be Carson Palmer’s second week back from his shoulder nerve injury and Larry Fitzgerald has mad a career of going wild on the Philadelphia defense over the years. So, the offenses may be a wash. Right now, the Cards’ defense seems to be the better of the two and, therefore, and I KNOW I will regret this, I think the edge has to go to the Cards at home. Lightening will strike me down for that I am sure.

Okay, that is it for this week’s trash talk, whoop it up people. Music this week by the great Mose Allison. On a melancholy music note, it has just been announced that Jack Bruce, the great bass player for Cream, has passed away. In his honor, here is my favorite Jack Bruce/Cream song ever, SWLABR, which Bruce both wrote and sang. It has always been a little disputed what the title stood for, but I have always bought that it really was “She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow” instead of “She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow”. Either way, RIP Jack.

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DNA Sequence Analysis Shows Ebola Outbreak Naturally Ocurring, Not Engineered Virus

In an electron microscope image that has been colorized, Ebola virus particles in blue are being extruded from an African Green Monkey kidney cell in yellow. Photo produced by  National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH.

In an electron microscope image that has been colorized, Ebola virus particles in blue are being extruded from an African Green Monkey kidney cell in yellow, grown in a laboratory cell culture system. Photo produced by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH.

I had really hoped I wasn’t going to have to write this post. Yesterday, Marcy emailed me a link to a Washington’sBlog post that breathlessly asks us “Was Ebola Accidentally Released from a Bioweapons Lab In West Africa?” Sadly, that post relies on an interview with Francis Boyle, whom I admire greatly for his work as a legal scholar on bioweapons. My copy of his book is very well-thumbed. But Boyle and WashingtonsBlog are just wrong here, and it takes only seconds to prove them wrong.

Shortly after getting the email and reading the blog post, I sent out tweets to this summary and this original scientific report which describe work on DNA analysis of Ebola isolated from multiple patients during the current outbreak. That work conclusively shows that the virus in the current outbreak is intimately related to isolates from previous outbreaks with changes only on the order of the naturally occurring mutation rate known for the virus. Further, these random mutations are spread evenly throughout the short run of the virus’s genes and there are clearly no new bits spliced in by a laboratory. Since I wasn’t seeing a lot of traction from the Washington’sBlog post, I was going to let it just sit there.

I should have alerted last night when I heard my wife chuckling over the line “It is difficult to describe working with a horse infected with Ebola”, but I merely laughed along with her and didn’t ask where she read it.

This morning, while perusing the Washington Post, I saw that Joby Warrick has returned to his beat as the new Judy Miller. Along with the line about the Ebola-infected horse, Warrick’s return to beating the drums over bioweapons fear boasts a headline that could have been penned by WashingtonsBlog: “Ebola crisis rekindles concerns about secret research in Russian military labs“.

Warrick opens with a re-telling of a tragic accident in 1996 in a Soviet lab where a technician accidentally infected herself with Ebola. He uses that to fan flames around Soviet work in that era:

The fatal lab accident and a similar one in 2004 offer a rare glimpse into a 35-year history of Soviet and Russian interest in the Ebola virus. The research began amid intense secrecy with an ambitious effort to assess Ebola’s potential as a biological weapon, and it later included attempts to manipulate the virus’s genetic coding, U.S. officials and researchers say. Those efforts ultimately failed as Soviet scientists stumbled against natural barriers that make Ebola poorly suited for bio­warfare.

The bioweapons program officially ended in 1991, but Ebola research continued in Defense Ministry laboratories, where it remains largely invisible despite years of appeals by U.S. officials to allow greater transparency. Now, at a time when the world is grappling with an unprecedented Ebola crisis, the wall of secrecy surrounding the labs looms still larger, arms-control experts say, feeding conspiracy theories and raising suspicions.

/snip/

Enhancing the threat is the facilities’ collection of deadly germs, which presumably includes the strains Soviet scientists tried to manipulate to make them hardier, deadlier and more difficult to detect, said Smithson, now a senior fellow with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, a research institute based in Monterey, Calif.

“We have ample accounts from defectors that these are not just strains from nature, but strains that have been deliberately enhanced,” she said.

Only when we get three paragraphs from the end of the article do we get the most important bit of information to be gleaned from the Soviet work on Ebola:

Ultimately, the effort to concoct a more dangerous form of Ebola appears to have failed. Mutated strains died quickly, and Soviet researchers eventually reached a conclusion shared by many U.S. bio­defense experts today: Ebola is a poor candidate for either biological warfare or terrorism, compared with viruses such as smallpox, which is highly infectious, or the hardy, easily dispersible bacteria that causes anthrax.

Note also that, in order to make Ebola more scary, Warrick completely fails to mention the escape of weaponized anthrax from a Soviet facility in 1979, infecting 94 and killing 64, dwarfing the toll from the two Ebola accidents.

And lest we calm down about Ebola and the other bioweapons the Soviets worked on, Warrick leaves us this charming tidbit to end the article: Continue reading

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Two Men with Weapons But No Passports in Another Country

The more I think about this story, the more ridiculous it appears.

WSJ’s sources are concerned, apparently, that US counterterrorism officials did not have prior knowledge of two men who each killed a Canadian soldier this week.

Neither of the two Canadian men who attacked soldiers and Parliament this week were on a terror watch list in the U.S.—one because of privacy laws in Canada—raising concerns among American officials about possible intelligence gaps close to home.

On Monday, Martin Rouleau used his car to strike and kill one Canadian soldier and injure another outside Montreal, before being killed by police. On Wednesday, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau used a rifle to kill a soldier in Ottawa, then stormed Parliament where he died from shots fired by security personnel, including the sergeant-at-arms.

Neither were marked in U.S. databases of security threats, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

The concern is particularly crazy given that neither man had a passport, in the first case because it had been taken away; in the second because he had not yet obtained one.

In Mr. Rouleau’s case, that was especially alarming because Canadian authorities say they had taken away his passport and put him on a watch list because he had attempted to travel to Syria to join fighting there.

[snip]

Canadian investigators say Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau didn’t have a passport, but had come to Ottawa in the hopes of getting one so he could travel to Syria. Canadian officials have said that while they were aware of Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau, he wasn’t on their watch list.

Sure, either of these men could have snuck across the border in the wilds of Minnesota and then attempted what they attempted in Canada. Which, had the succeeded in our more vigilant society, would make them less lethal than the latest school shooting.

Doesn’t the US have more dangerous things to worry about than every single disgruntled man in another country who happens to have a gun — or a car? I mean, if these guys starting actually plotting – making them a much bigger threat – then their very act of plotting would be likely to bring greater scrutiny.

The disproportionate nature of this concern is all the more apparent when you consider Mexico, where authorities — authorities that often have ties to our DEA  – can disappear 43 students without immediate alarm. Shouldn’t we be more concerned that lethal DEA allies will walk across the southern border and start disappearing students here? US authorities seem perfectly complacent about the often officially sanctioned violence in that adjoining country.

ISIL is a threat. Angry men armed with guns are a threat, whether they’re Muslim or not.

But a drive for omniscience divorced from any real awareness of how the failure of governance — not jus the vacuums we’ve contributed to in the Middle East, but increasingly here — fosters threats yoked to fear blown entirely out of proportion will not eliminate the threat, and it will suck the life out of our country in so many other ways.

Perhaps we’d be far better served offering an ideology that can compete with ISIL’s rather than simply dragnetting everyone?

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Maybe the Spooks Don’t Want FTC to Know NSA’s Tricks?

In awesome news, the Federal Trade Commission has hired Ashkan Soltani — the tech expert who helped Bart Gellman on many of his most important Snowden scoops — as its new Chief Technology Officer.

The news has elicited wails from NSA’s mail mouthpieces, Stewart Baker and Michael Hayden.

“I’m not trying to demonize this fella, but he’s been working through criminally exposed documents and making decisions about making those documents public,” said Michael Hayden, a former NSA director who also served as CIA director from 2006 to 2009. In a telephone interview with FedScoop, Hayden said he wasn’t surprised by the lack of concern about Soltani’s participation in the Post’s Snowden stories. “I have no good answer for that.”

[snip]

Stewart Baker, a former NSA general counsel, said, while he’s not familiar with the role Soltani would play at the FTC, there are still problems with his appointment. “I don’t think anyone who justified or exploited Snowden’s breach of confidentiality obligations should be trusted to serve in government,” Baker said.

I find Hayden’s wails especially disgusting, given the way — it is now clear — the government spent so much effort covering up how he extended the illegal wiretap program in March 2004. I mean, I’m not trying to demonize the fella, but he’s a criminal, and yet he’s complaining about the press reporting on abuses?

That said, I’m curious whether this isn’t the real reason there seems to be organized pushback against Soltani’s hire.

Soltani is scheduled to give a presentation Nov. 19 at the Strata+Hadoop World conference in Barcelona, Spain, on “how commercial tracking enables government surveillance.” According to the conference website, Soltani’s presentation will explore how “the dropping costs of bulk surveillance is aiding government eavesdropping, with a primary driver being how the NSA leverages data collected by commercial providers to collect information about innocent users worldwide.”

At FTC, Soltani will be in a role where he can directly influence the kind of regulatory pressure placed on data collectors to protect user privacy. He understands — probably far more than we know from the WaPo stories — how NSA is capitalizing on already collected data. Which means he may be able to influence how much remains available to the spooks.

So maybe all this wailing is an effort to sustain the big commercial data’s unwitting support for big spooky data?

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Wyden Doesn’t Know What NSA Does with Its Dragnet Overseas

Kim Zetter has an interview with Ron Wyden that goes over a number of things I have already reported. She describes him hedging when asked when he first learned of the phone dragnet; as I have shown the government did not brief the Internet dragnet to the Intelligence Committees, not even during the PATRIOT reauthorization in 2005. Wyden describes the months — “literally months” –during which he tried to get the Intelligence Community to correct what Keith Alexander had said to DefCon before he asked James Clapper the question he is now so famous for; I laid that out here and here. Wyden describes how — “incredible as it sounds” — the Bush Administration shut down NSA’s back door search authorities., which I noted here. Zetter and Wyden also discuss how to manage zero day exploits.

But the most important detail in the interview, in my opinion, comes where Wyden makes clear he doesn’t know enough about what the government does under EO 12333.

But no one, not even lawmakers on Capitol Hill, have a full grasp of how EO 12333 is being used.

Wyden says, “I’m not sure we’re at the bottom or close to it” when it comes to understanding how it’s being used.” Wyden is suspicious that the White House and intelligence community have agreed to halt the phone records collection program, in the wake of intense criticism, only because the spy agency has other tricks to get the same data, possibly through EO 12333.

“The intelligence community is endorsing eliminating bulk-collection of phone records, and it makes me wonder what are the authorities under 12333 [through which they might do the same thing]?” he asks. “You can get a bill passed and everybody says, ‘Hey we banned bulk collection.’… [Then] we see the government go off in another direction. I will tell you that I don’t know today the full ramifications of 12333 on bulk collection. But I’m going to be spending a lot of time digging into it.”

I had pointed to Wyden’s concern about this issue when he raised it at the turn of the year and noted that the Administration made public its belief it can engage in the phone and Internet dragnet without any Congressional authorization just as the USA Freedom Act debate resumed.

But  Wyden’s confirmation that he doesn’t know what the government does overseas raises questions about, first, whether he knows what the government did with the Internet dragnet when he and Udall convinced the government to end the domestic collection of it in 2011. But it also underscores just how empty are the promises that there is adequate oversight of the NSA’s work.

If someone on the Intelligence Committees (a critic, admittedly, but he is one of the legal overseers of the Agency) doesn’t know, and doesn’t think he’d necessarily know, if the government replaced a congressionally limited program with the same program overseas, that means there’s no way the Intel Committees could ensure that the government had stopped practices Congress told it to stop.

Of course, given that Wyden got legislation passed in 2004 defunding any data mining of Americans only to have the Bush authorized dragnet continue, that must be a familiar position for the Senator.

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Connecting the Dots on the CIA Torture Report

I want to pull several details of the HuffPo’s last two pieces on the CIA torture report together (kudos to HuffPo for stealing Ali Watkins from McClatchy).

Tuesday’s story presents conflicting claims about whether the CIA impersonated SSCI staffers to access the part of the server dedicated to their work.

One side — explicitly relying on the CIA Inspector General’s own report — say the CIA impersonated staffers, and possibly worse.

According to sources familiar with the CIA inspector general report that details the alleged abuses by agency officials, CIA agents impersonated Senate staffers in order to gain access to Senate communications and drafts of the Intelligence Committee investigation. These sources requested anonymity because the details of the agency’s inspector general report remain classified.

“If people knew the details of what they actually did to hack into the Senate computers to go search for the torture document, jaws would drop. It’s straight out of a movie,” said one Senate source familiar with the document.

The quote from the other side issued a non-denial denial (though perhaps there was a more direct denial not quoted): CIA did not use Administrator access (which is not what the other source claimed).

A person familiar with the events surrounding the dispute between the CIA and Intelligence Committee said the suggestion that the agency posed as staff to access drafts of the study is untrue.

“CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said.

Now consider today’s story, which describes the inconclusive result of the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms report. Here, the dispute is portrayed as a disagreement over whether the CIA has the original access logs, or only copies of them.

Computer records may have provided evidence on how the CIA document made its way into the Intelligence Committee’s hands. Those records, Senate sources said, were erased by the CIA.

The claim is technically true. The computer audit logs that recorded activity on the CIA computers used for the committee’s report were overridden from the machines’ local drives at regular intervals throughout the five-year study, HuffPost has learned. The records, however, continued to be stored elsewhere, and were provided to the Sergeant-at-Arms office for its inquiry. The CIA said that the Senate office received the computer audit records earlier this year.

“CIA cooperated fully with the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms review and provided all the relevant information that the [Sergeant-at-Arms] requested,” said CIA spokesman Dean Boyd. “In fact, audit data was specifically provided to the [Sergeant-at-Arms] in July 2014. Furthermore, CIA continues to maintain copies of this audit data to this day. Claims alleging otherwise are patently false.”

[snip]

A source familiar with the Senate inquiry has since said that the CIA submitted copies of records to the Sergeant-at-Arms, rather than the records themselves, which the investigators considered unreliable.

The Sergeant-at-Arms “can’t verify any of what CIA is saying,” said the source, who was briefed on the investigation.

In other words, the Sergeant-at-Arms got records that they can’t actually use to verify what happened on the servers. They would have gotten those logs after this issue had already blown up.

I’m reminded of the White House emails, where the content of the emails appears to have been doctored right as Patrick Fitzgerald was subpoenaing specific accounts.

If the CIA had doctored the access logs they stored, they would have been able to eliminate any trace of CIA using SSCI credentials to access the server.

So where does the claim that CIA impersonated the SSCI staffers come from? And what as the inaccurate information based on which the CIA IG referred Senate staffers for investigation?

The CIA had asked the Department of Justice to pursue criminal charges against the Senate staff for removing the document, which the Justice Department declined in June to investigate. The CIA’s inspector general has since determined that the criminal referral was based on “inaccurate information.” The inspector general also publicly accused CIA staff of misleading the offices’ investigators during its inquiry.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Inspector General was working with dodgy access logs. CIA has any number of ways to lie — it’s what we pay them to do. By 2010, after all, the CIA had already altered or destroyed all this evidence of their torture:

Since there are so many incidences of destroyed or disappearing torture evidence, I thought it time to start cataloging them, to keep them all straight.

  • Before May 2003: 15 of 92 torture tapes erased or damaged
  • Early 2003: Gitmo commander Mike Dunlavey’s paper trail documenting the torture discussions surrounding Mohammed al-Qahtani “lost”
  • Before August 2004: John Yoo and Patrick Philbin’s torture memo emails deleted
  • June 2005: most copies of Philip Zelikow’s dissent to the May 2005 CAT memo destroyed
  • November 8-9, 2005: 92 torture tapes destroyed
  • July 2007 (probably): 10 documents from OLC SCIF disappear
  • December 19, 2007: Fire breaks out in Cheney’s office

(I put in the Cheney fire because it happened right after DOJ started investigating the torture tape destruction.)

Add to that the 920 documents (potentially pertaining to White House involvement) stolen back from the server after they had originally been made available.

After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions, CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee. This included roughly 870 documents or pages of documents that were removed in February 2010, and secondly roughly another 50 were removed in mid-May 2010.

Again, we don’t know that the CIA altered the access logs.

But if they didn’t, it would almost constitute an exception to their rule of destroying evidence.

Update: As a reminder, here were the conclusions in the CIA IG Report summary that was publicly released.

Agency Access to Files on the SSCI RDINet: Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the SSCI Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet.

Agency Crimes Report on Alleged Misconduct by SSCI Staff: The Agency filed a crimes report with the DOJ, as required by Executive Order 12333 and the 1995 Crimes Reporting Memorandum between the DOJ and the Intelligence Community, reporting that SSCI staff members may have improperly accessed Agency information on the RDINet. However, the factual basis for the referral was not supported, as the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based. After review, the DOJ declined to open a criminal investigation of the matter alleged in the crimes report.

Office of Security Review of SSCI Staff Activity: Subsequent to directive by the D/CIA to halt the Agency review of SSCI staff access to the RDINet, and unaware of the D/CIA’s direction, the Office of Security conducted a limited investigation of SSCI activities on the RDINet. That effort included a keyword search of all and a review of some of the emails of SSCI Majority staff members on the RDINet system.

Lack of Candor: The three IT staff members demonstrated a lack of candor about their activities during interviews by the OIG.

Update: Katherine Hawkins reminds me that Manadel al-Jamadi’s blood-stained hood disappeared.

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After Acid Attacks on Women, Rouhani Speaks Out Against “Discord” “Under the Flag of Islam”

In the historic  city of Isfahan in Iran yesterday, several thousand protesters gathered in front of the judiciary building and shouted slogans against assailants who have thrown acid on a number of women in recent weeks. Even though a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary announced Monday that four attackers had been arrested and that the harshest possible punishment will be handed out, the protesters appeared to feel that not enough is being done.

The Guardian describes the situation that led to the protests:

Assailants riding on motorbikes, in a similar sequence of events, have thrown acid in the face of at least eight women who were driving in the street with their windows pulled down. Local media say the number of victims could be higher. The attacks have so far claimed one life, an opposition website said.

Many Iranians believe that victims were targeted because they were women wearing clothes that could be deemed inappropriate in the eyes of hardliners – a claim vehemently denied by the authorities.

Isfahani citizens, horrified by the scale of vicious assaults, gathered in front of the city’s justice department on Wednesday, calling on the authorities to put an end to the crimes which has highlighted the striking challenges women face in Iran, where hijab is obligatory.

A number of protesters in Isfahan chanted slogans that described the attackers as Iran’s own version of Isis, the extremist group that has committed many atrocities in Iraq and Syria.

A number of videos of the protest appear to exist. Interestingly, they appear to be from Iranian opposition groups. One of the groups also put up some photos from the protest.

Somehow, I suspect that these opposition groups will be very unhappy with Thomas Erdbrink’s coverage of the protest, though. Erdbrink notes that the protest appears to have been organized through social media, which may be a hint that he thinks the opposition groups helped to organize it. The opposition groups would go along with Erdbrink’s coverage of a proposed new law at the heart of the controversy:

The acid attacks have prompted a heightened resistance to the new law, which Parliament passed on Sunday. The law is aimed at protecting citizens who feel compelled to correct those who, in their view, do not adhere to Iran’s strict social laws. The details of the law, which would officially empower the government and private citizens to give verbal or written statements on social mores, have yet to be completed.

While strict rules on dress, alcohol, sexual relations and much more are not new, the law is aimed at defining crimes against propriety or decency, which in the past would often be corrected informally. In Iran, where most people live in cities and many are highly educated, conservatives are trying to avert changes in attitudes by enforcing traditions.

But Erdbrink points out that Hassan Rouhani spoke out very forcefully against the law, providing a stark contrast to the image the opposition paints of him going along with harsh punishment meted out by conservatives:

President Hassan Rouhani strongly criticized the new law on Wednesday, saying that he feared it would divide society because, as many observers have pointed out, in reality it offers the country’s small but influential faction of hard-liners more power.

“The sacred call to virtue is not the right of a select group of people, a handful taking the moral high ground and acting as guardians,” Mr. Rouhani said during a trip to the provincial city of Zanjan. “It is upon all Muslims to exhort love, respect for others and human dignity.”

“May such a day never come that some lead our society down the path to insecurity, sow discord and cause divisions, all under the flag of Islam,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion.

What a powerful statement. Imagine if Barack Obama said “May such a day never come that some lead our society down the path to insecurity, sow discord and cause divisions, all under the flag of Christianity”. And imagine if he said it with a voice shaking with emotion.

Sadly, both Iran and the United States have already reached that point where religious conservatives have caused insecurity, sown discord and caused divisions. And that is what makes Rouhani’s statement so dangerously courageous and prevents Obama from ever contemplating doing the same.

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No, Obama Doesn’t Need Legislation to Fix the Dragnet–Unless the “Fix” Isn’t One

In an editorial calling on Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, the USA Today makes this claim.

Obama’s proposal last January — to leave the data with phone companies, instead of with the government — can’t happen without a new law. And, as in so many other areas, the deeply divided Congress has failed to produce one.

I don’t know whether that is or is not the case.

I do know 3 Senate Intelligence Committee members say it is not the case.

Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich wrote Obama a letter making just this point in June. They argued that Obama could accomplish most, if not all, of what he claimed he wanted without legislation, largely with a combination of Section 215 Orders to get hops and Pen Registers to get prospective collection.

[W]e believe that, in the meantime, the government already has sufficient authorities today to implement most, if not all, of the Section 215 reforms laid out in your proposal without delay in a way that does not harm our national security. More comprehensive congressional action is vital, but the executive branch need not wait for Congress to end the dragnet collection of millions of Americans’ phone records for a number of reasons.

First, we believe that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s (FISC) expansive interpretation of the USA PATRIOT Act to allow the collection of millions of Americans’ phone records makes it likely that the FISC would also agree to a more narrowly-drawn interpretation of the law, without requiring further congressional action. Certainly, it seems likely that the FISC would permit the executive branch to use its current authorities to obtain phone records up to two “hops” from a suspicious phone number or to compel technical assistance by and compensation for recipients of court orders. Unless the FISC has already rejected such a request from the government, it does not seem necessary for the executive branch to wait for Congress before taking action.

Second, we believe that the FISC would likely approve the defined and limited prospective searches for records envisioned under your proposal pursuant to current USA PATRIOT Act Section 214 pen register authorities, given how broadly it has previous interpreted these authorities. Again, we believe it is vital for Congress to enact reforms, but we also believe that the government has sufficient authorities today under the USA PATRIOT Act to conduct these targeted prospective searches in the interim.

Finally, although we have seen no evidence that the government has needed the bulk phone records collection program to attain any time-sensitive objectives, we agree that new legislation should provide clear emergency authorities to allow the government to obtain court approval of individual queries after the fact under specific circumstances. The law currently allows prospective emergency acquisitions of call records under Section 403 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the acquisition of past records without judicial review under national security letter authorities. While utilizing a patchwork of authorities is not ideal, it could be done on an interim basis, while Congress works to pass legislation.

Just weeks before they sent this, Deputy Attorney General James Cole had seemed to say they could (if not already were) getting hybrid orders, in that case mixing phone and location. So it seems like DOJ is confident they could use such hybrid orders, using Section 215 for the hops and Pen Registers for the prospective collection (though, given that they’re already using Section 215 for prospective collection, I’m not sure why they’d need to use hybrids to get anything but emergency orders).

And it makes sense. After all, the public claims about what the Call Detail Record provision would do, at least, describe it as a kind of Pen Register on steroids, 2-degrees of Pen Register. As the Senators suggest, FBI already gets two-degree information of historical records with mere NSLs, so it’d be surprising if they couldn’t get 2 degrees prospectively with a court order.

So at least according to three members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, USA Today is simply wrong.

Mind you, I’m not entirely convinced they’re right.

That’s because I suspect the new CDR provision is more than a Pen Register on steroids, is instead something far more intrusive, one that gets far beyond mere call records. I suspect the government will ask the telecoms to chain on location, address books, and more — as they do overseas — which would require far more than a prospective Pen Register and likely would require super immunity, as the bill provides.

I suspect the Senators are wrong, but if they are, it’s because Obama (or his Intelligence Community) wants something that is far more invasive then they’ve made out.

Still, for USAF supporters, there seems no question. If all Obama wants to replace the phone dragnet is prospective 2-degree call (not connection) chaining on RAS targets, he almost certainly has that authority.

But if he needs more authority, then chances are very good he’s asking for something far more than he has let on.

Update: Note, USAT makes at least one other clear error in this piece, as where it suggests the “the program” — the phone dragnet — imposes costs on cloud companies like Microsoft and Google.

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Plane Meets Plow: The Curious End of Total S.A. CEO Christophe de Margerie

[Photo tweeted by @Enel_Aire, post time stamped 2014-10-21 at 09:45 (time zone unknown)]

[Photo tweeted by @Enel_Aire, post time stamped 2014-10-21 at 09:45 (time zone unknown)]

Forgive my skepticism about the accident Monday night that took the life of Christophe de Margerie. CEO of French oil and gas company Total S.A. We’ve been told by enough analysts that several target countries, including Russia, are under siege, though these experts don’t refer to this openly as asymmetric warfare. The recent and ongoing drop in petroleum prices threatens cash inflows to those countries whose economies rely on oil revenues — Russia and Iran among them. The death of an oil industry executive isn’t unexpected given the amount of money in play; people die daily for far less cash.

Not as much as Moscow, mind you, but we get snow where I live in flyover country USA. Any time between mid-October and mid-April we can expect some frozen precipitation. A blizzard in October isn’t unheard of — we had one 17 years ago this week, in fact. I’ve lived with six months of snow per year for most of my life.

Which is why the photo here of the crash site looks sketchy to me.

Early reports indicated the plane carrying de Margerie hit or was hit by a snowplow driven by a drunken operator, in poor visibility. It’s not clear exactly which hit the other based on different accounts across the internet. A Russian reconstruction video furnished to Le Figaro shows the plane’s wing clipping a vehicle upon landing — but the video exerts more effort on the fire and smoke than it does on the initial impact. Note in this second video of the plane after the crash during daylight hours that the wing which hit the plow as characterized in the video is missing.

At least one article claimed debris was spread 200 meters by the plane after impact. Perhaps the wing was in that debris, but it’s not reflected in the Russian reconstruction video. A more recent report said the snowplow was parked on the runway.

Ultimately, what we see is a plane that flipped over — either tipped over by the force of a plow, or flipped over after impact.

And no snow. This particular photo is rather pixelated, but it doesn’t reflect reduced visibility due to snowfall. There’s no snow in the second video link above, though visibility has worsened. Continue reading

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New CDC Hospital Ebola Guidelines Fall Short of WHO Guidance on Personnel Flow

I’m either a lone voice in the wilderness or just another angry old man shouting at clouds on this, but, to me, the issue of personnel flow inside a facility treating a patient for Ebola is critical. Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas got that issue terribly wrong in the case of Thomas Duncan, and now, although they provide very good guidance on the issue of personal protective equipment and its use, new guidelines just released by CDC sadly fall short of correcting the problem I have highlighted.

The issue is simple and can even be explained on a semantic level. If a patient is being treated in an isolation ward, that isolation should apply not only to the patient but also to the staff caring for the patient. As I explained previously, National Nurses United complained that health care workers at Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas treated Duncan and then continued “taking care of other patients”.

Allowing care providers to go back to treating the general patient population after caring for an isolated patient is in direct contradiction to one of the basic recommendations by WHO in a document (pdf) providing guidance for treatment of  hemorrhagic fever (HF, includes Ebola):

Exclusively assign clinical and non-clinical personnel to HF patient care areas.

By exclusively assigning personnel to care of the isolated patient, then the isolation is more complete.

The new CDC guidelines, released on Monday, offer updated recommendations on the types of personal protective equipment (PPE) to be used and how it is to be used. The guidelines also stress the importance of training on effective PPE use prior to beginning treatment of an Ebola patient. Unfortunately, though, the guidelines still leave open the possibility of health care workers moving between the isolation area and the general patient population.

In the preparations before treatment of an Ebola patient commences, the guidelines state:

Identify critical patient care functions and essential healthcare workers for care of Ebola patients, for collection of laboratory specimens, and for management of the environment and waste ahead of time.

And then once treatment begins, we have this:

Identify and isolate the Ebola patient in a single patient room with a closed door and a private bathroom as soon as possible.

Limit the number of healthcare workers who come into contact with the Ebola patient (e.g., avoid short shifts), and restrict non-essential personnel and visitors from the patient care area.

So the facility is advised to identify the “essential” workers who will provide care to an Ebola patient and to limit the number of personnel coming into contact with the patient. And even though the patient is to be in an isolated room, the guidelines still fall short of the WHO measure of calling for the Ebola treatment staff to be exclusively assigned. Precautions for safely removing the PPE are described, but once removed, the workers presumably are free to go back to mixing with the general patient population. Hospitals are cautioned against allowing large numbers of care providers into the room and to avoid “short shifts”, but there still is no recommendation for workers to be exclusively assigned to the isolation area.

The first thing that comes to mind in this regard is to question whether the CDC recommendations fall short of the WHO call for exclusive assignment in order to allow US hospitals avoid the perceived expense of dedicating a handful of personnel to treatment of a single patient. Is the ever-constant push to reduce personnel costs responsible for this difference between CDC and WHO guidelines? In the US healthcare system, it appears once again that MBA’s can carry more weight than MD’s on critical issues.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse

bmaz @citizenfour @benwizner I would love to decide. When will you let me see it in Phoenix?
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bmaz Roger Goodell and NFL once again try to screw players: "NFL seeks to dismiss former players' painkillers lawsuit" http://t.co/fZzstcjZ1n
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emptywheel @HearingTrees Halloween costume. Ends on Saturday.
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emptywheel @pwnallthethings My privacy rights arise from the bureaucratic insurance they will be protected. Laws do that. @PatrickCToomey
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bmaz @PhilPerspective @walterwkatz Also, I was disappointed @NBCSN did not have any programming from #COTA in Austin today.
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bmaz @PhilPerspective @walterwkatz @NBCSN Nope, but if it is Road to Ferrari, I have seen it.
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bmaz In private papers a more candid Tim Geithner speaks out http://t.co/nNn7RjDkGK Tim Geithner is a liar+fundamentally dishonest public servant
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emptywheel RT @rahulsagar: NYTimes: Former Navy SEAL Team Member Investigated for Bin Laden Disclosures http://t.co/3JABCASiBu
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emptywheel RT @ppppolls: We'll have a new #VAsen poll out tomorrow showing Mark Warner with a 9 point lead heading into the final weekend
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emptywheel @PatrickCToomey If you're a Yemeni-American extremist cleric, you may enjoy your own life at his grace. @pwnallthethings
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emptywheel I want to be a professional onside kicker. Where do I apply?
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