Lefties Learn to Love Leaks Again

Throughout the presidential campaign, observers have noted with irony that many on the right discovered a new-found love for WikiLeaks. Some of the same people who had earlier decried leaks, even called Chelsea Manning a traitor, were lapping up what Julian Assange was dealing on a daily basis.

There was a similar, though less marked, shift on the left. While many on the left had criticized — or at least cautioned about — WikiLeaks from the start, once Assange started targeting their presidential candidate, such leaks became an unprecedented, unparalleled assault on decency, which no one seemed to say when similar leaks targeted Bashar al-Assad.

Which is why I was so amused by the reception of this story yesterday.

After revealing that Donald Trump’s Secretary of State nominee “was the long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the tax haven of the Bahamas, leaked documents show” in the first paragraph, the article admits, in the fourth paragraph that,

Though there is nothing untoward about this directorship, it has not been reported before and is likely to raise fresh questions over Tillerson’s relationship with Russia ahead of a potentially stormy confirmation hearing by the US senate foreign relations committee. Exxon said on Sunday that Tillerson was no longer a director after becoming the company’s CEO in 2006.

The people sharing it on Twitter didn’t seem to notice that (nor did the people RTing my ironic tweet about leaks seem to notice). Effectively, the headline “leaks reveal details I have sensationalized” served its purpose, with few people reading far enough to the caveats that admit this is fairly standard international business practice (indeed, it’s how Trump’s businesses work too). This is a more sober assessment of the import of the document detailing Tillerson’s ties with the Exxon subsidiary doing business in Russia.

This Guardian article worked just like all the articles about DNC and Podesta emails worked, even with — especially with — the people decrying the press for the way it irresponsibly sensationalized those leaks.

The response to this Tillerson document is all the more remarkable given the source of this leak. The Guardian reveals it came from an anonymous source for Süddeutsche Zeitung, which in turn shared the document with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The leaked 2001 document comes from the corporate registry in the Bahamas. It was one of 1.3m files given to the Germany newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by an anonymous source.

[snip]

The documents from the Bahamas corporate registry were shared by Süddeutsche Zeitung with the Guardian and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington DC.

That is, this document implicating Vladimir Putin’s buddy Rex Tillerson came via the very same channel that the Panama Papers had, which Putin claimed, back in the time Russia was rifling around the DNC server, was a US intelligence community effort to discredit him and his kleptocratic cronies, largely because that was the initial focus of the US-NGO based consortium that managed the documents adopted, a focus replicated at outlets participating.

See this column for a worthwhile argument that Putin hacked the US as retaliation for the Panama Papers, which makes worthwhile points but would only work chronologically if Putin had advance notice of the Panama Papers (because John Podesta got hacked on March 19, before the first releases from the Panama Papers on April 3).

There really has been a remarkable lack of curiosity about where these files came from. That’s all the more striking in this case, given that the document (barely) implicating Tillerson comes from the Bahamas, where the US at least was collecting every single phone call made.

That’s all the more true given the almost non-existent focus on the Bahamas leaks before — from what I can tell just one story has been done on this stash, though the documents are available in the ICIJ database. Indeed, if the source for the leaks was the same, it would seem to point to an outside hacker rather than an inside leaker. That doesn’t mean the leak was done just to hurt Tillerson. The leak, which became public on September 21, precedes the election of Trump, much less the naming of Tillerson. But it deserves at least some notice.

For what it’s worth, I think it quite possible the US has been involved in such leaks — particularly given how few Americans get named in them. But I don’t think the Panama Papers, which implicated plenty of American friends and even the Saudis, actually did target Putin.

Still, people are going to start believing Putin’s claims that this effort is primarily targeted at him if documents conveniently appear from the leak as if on command.

I am highly interested in who handed off documents allegedly stolen by Russia’s GRU to Wikileaks. But I’m also interested in who the source enabling asymmetric corruption claims, as if on demand, is.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Wednesday: Tick-Tock Stock

In this post: A short film depicts a failed/successful love story found in electronic debris and the tick-tock behind yesterday’s stock market’s scramble.

Short film for this week by Victoria Mapplebeck examines personal technology detritus. Some of us have been through many generations of electronic devices used for communications, in which highly intimate details may be found. In Mapplebeck’s case, a failed love story followed by a lifelong relationship are bounded by text messages. What’s in your digital scrap heap? What would pixels you’ve left behind tell about you? Will you decode them as Mapplebeck has, or will they be decrypted by others in this life or after you’ve left it? Food for thought.

Tick-tock stock
Something doesn’t sit right about the brief tanking of Boeing’s stock yesterday, besides the absurdity of a president-elect rage-tweeting about the company just before the stock market opened. Let’s take a look at how events unfolded.

FRI 02-DEC-2016 12:00-14:00 CST — Aircraft manufacturer Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg gave a keynote speech to Illinois Manufacturers Association’s annual luncheon in Chicago. He advocated the incoming Trump administration to keep and reopen the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) as it has aided U.S. manufacturers like Boeing to do more business overseas when other forms of financing are unavailable.

FRI 02-DEC-2016 17:58 EST — Bloomberg published a report on Muilenburg’s keynote, with an unspecified update at 19:29 EST.

SAT 03-DEC-2016

SUN 04-DEC-2016

MON 05-DEC-2016 15:24 EST — Washington Post reported, As Trump vows to stop flow of jobs overseas, U.S. plans to make fighter jets in India

TUE 06-DEC-2016 6:40 EST — According to a summary, Fox & Friends cited the Washington Post report that Boeing is building F-16 and F-18 jets in India instead of in the U.S.

TUE 06-DEC-2016 8:30 EST — Chicago Tribune published a story on Muilenburg’s remarks on Trump’s trade policies. The piece does not mention Ex-Im Bank or alternate financing to encourage trade but focuses more closely on Trump’s approach to China and free trade agreements.

TUE 06-DEC-2016 8:52 EST — Trump tweeted, “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!”, apparently misunderstanding the costs in the contract and the nature of the aircraft specifications, which must include the ability withstand certain military threats, unlike any aircraft Trump has purchased for himself or his businesses.

TUE 06-DEC-2016 — 10 seconds later, the market began to sell off of Boeing stock. (In comparison, average human response time required for braking while driving is +3 seconds)

TUE 06-DEC-2016 9:30 EST — New York Stock Exchange opened and the sell-off continued (Note that 9:30 EST = 14:30 London (LSE) = 15:30 Frankfurt (FWB) = 17:30 Moscow (RTS) and all these markets were also open at the same time.)

TUE 06-DEC-2016 ~15:30 EST — A CNBC report asked if algorithms traded on Trump’s tweet.

TUE 06-DEC-2016 12:50 EST — The Atlantic’s David Frum tweeted, asking if “we are to accept [Trump’s] unverified word that he sold all his stocks in June?” Frum linked to The Hill’s report, Boeing Responds to Trump: Air Force One deal is for $170 Million, not $4 Billon.

TUE 06-DEC-2016 18:45 EST — Senator Ron Wyden replied, “.@davidfrum @RealDonaldTrump: I look forward to seeing proof of these stock sales as required by law: https://www2.oge.gov/Web/278eGuide.nsf/Content/Chapter~OGE+Form+278e“, referring to U.S. Office of Government Ethics’ OGE Form 278e.

The timeline spawns questions:

What’s in Trump’s current investment portfolio besides real estate? It’s alleged Trump sold his stocks in June this year, but there is no evidence to that effect. (Timing of such sales is also interesting based on the outcome of the Brexit referendum and Trump’s relationship with pro-Brexit Ukip front man Nigel Farage, but that’s another story.) Will Trump comply with U.S. law and inform the government of his investments? Or will he be as opaque and difficult as he has been so far about his tax returns?

Trump has been in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission before, paying $750,000 in fines back in 1988 without admitting “any violation of the law” after he had purchased large quantities of casino company stock in 1986 without proper notice under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act. The transactions then had been masked as “put-call option agreements.” Is it possible Trump or someone close to him has done the same with Boeing stock, avoiding high-frequency trading but operating within a tight time frame?

When exactly did Trump hear about Muilenburg’s comments; are we to believe he didn’t see the Bloomberg report and relied on the Chicago tribune piece as some suggest? Or instead was he riled up by Fox & Friends’ second-hand report, or by the original Washington Post article on Monday afternoon? It seems odd that two to three entire days went by after Muilenburg’s keynote without reaction until Tuesday morning.

Was Trump’s real problem with Boeing the creation of jobs in the U.S., continuing the craptastic narrative behind the Carrier Corporation jobs story last week? Was the rage-tweet Tuesday morning about a perceived attack on Trump’s China policy? Or was it really about Trump’s position on Ex-Im Bank, masked by the three-plus day delay in response and two other news pegs (Fox & Friends and Chicago Tribune)?

 If Trump’s real problem with Boeing is Muilenburg’s protective stance on Ex-Im Bank which Trump wants to eliminate, why is Trump so adamant that the U.S. can’t provide alternative financing to encourage purchasing of U.S. goods and services? Why would he refer to Ex-Im Bank as “featherbedding”?

If Trump has a problem with Muilenburg’s position on trade policy, why is Boeing’s former CEO Jim McInerney meeting with Trump during the first week of the administration as part of the “kitchen cabinet”? Especially since McInerney derided Trump’s trade policies earlier this year?

The timing and tone of Trump’s tweet just don’t make sense given the complexity of Boeing’s situation. How are we supposed to believe his rage-tweet was only about the (misunderstood) cost of the next Air Force One aircraft — the guy who’s going to cost us more than a billion dollars during his term for Secret Service at Trump Towers in NYC?

Especially since Boeing is a client renting office space from a Trump building in Turkey.

Especially since Boeing’s contract to build fighter jets in India maintains a relationship with a potential partner against the spread of radical Islamic fundamentalism.

Especially since Boeing’s relationship with Chinese companies aided by Ex-Im Bank financing creates jobs here in the U.S. (though at a possible loss to Russian competitor United Aircraft Corporation).

Longread: Iceland’s Birgitta Jónsdóttir on reforming democracy
This piece was written nearly two years ago by Jónsdóttir who had been elected an MP in 2013 and co-founded the country’s Pirate Party in 2012. Her concerns then about of the rise of totalitarianism, fascism, and populism, appear prescient now. Worth the time to read what Iceland was doing to address these threats as we may need to do the same here in a hurry. Bonus: she’s a reminder of what WikiLeaks once was for comparison against the organization we see today.

À demain, mes copains!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

DC Cooties

There have been a series of stories fed to the press this week intended to heighten concerns about Trump advisor Paul Manafort’s ties to Russian thugs (but not his numerous ties to other thugs). The NYT had a story about Manafort receiving cash payments from 2007 to 2012 (that is, well before Trump decided to run for President). And the AP has a story headlined, “AP Sources: Manafort tied to undisclosed foreign lobbying” that describes how Manafort’s partner, Rick Gates, funneled funds from a pro-Yanukovych non-profit to two DC lobbying firms.

Paragraph 10 of the story reveals that it relies on sources from the Podesta Group, one of the lobbying firms in question.

Paragraph 15 begins to explain salient information about the Podesta group: that its ties to the Clinton campaign are as close as Gates’ ties to the Trump campaign.

The founder and chairman of the Podesta Group, Tony Podesta, is the brother of longtime Democratic strategist John Podesta, who now is campaign chairman for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The head of Mercury, Vin Weber, is an influential Republican, former congressman and former special policy adviser to Mitt Romney. Weber announced earlier this month that he will not support Trump.

After being introduced to the lobbying firms, the European nonprofit paid the Podesta Group $1.13 million between June 2012 and April 2014 to lobby Congress, the White House National Security Council, the State Department and other federal agencies, according to U.S. lobbying records.

[snip]

One former Podesta employee, speaking on condition of anonymity because of a non-disclosure agreement, said Gates described the nonprofit’s role in an April, 2012 meeting as supplying a source of money that could not be traced to the Ukrainian politicians who were paying him and Manafort.

In separate interviews, three current and former Podesta employees said disagreements broke out within the firm over the arrangement, which at least one former employee considered obviously illegal. Podesta, who said the project was vetted by his firm’s counsel, said he was unaware of any such disagreements.

In other words, the headline and lead of this story should say something to the effect of, “Trump’s campaign manager’s partner funneled potentially illegal funds to Hillary’s campaign manager’s brother.”

Or more succinctly: “DC is a corrupt, incestuous cesspool.”

But it doesn’t. Instead of telling the story about the broken foreign registry system that permits elites of both parties to take funding from some unsavory characters — some we like, some we hate — the story instead spins this as a uniquely Trump and Manafort problem.

Sure. Vladimir Putin is one scary bastard. But there are a lot of scary bastards, and they’re feeding both sides of the DC pig’s trough.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

As Part of Confirmation Process, Loretta Lynch Suggested DOJ Didn’t Have Enough Evidence to Prosecute HSBC

The WSJ has a story reporting what we long pretty much knew: DOJ decided not to prosecute HSBC for helping drug kingpins (this report, like most others and like DOJ’s settlement itself, forgets to mention HSBC also materially supported terrorism) because doing so might create global financial havoc.

U.S. Justice Department officials overruled their prosecutors’ recommendation to pursue criminal charges against  HSBC Holdings PLC over money-laundering failings, according to a House committee report prepared by Republicans that sheds new light on the bank’s 2012 settlement.

The report, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and prepared by the Republican staff of the Financial Services Committee, concluded that former Attorney General Eric Holder overruled the internal recommendation and subsequently misled Congress about the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute the U.K. bank.

“Rather than lacking adequate evidence to prove HSBC’s criminal conduct, internal Treasury documents show that DOJ leadership declined to pursue [the] recommendation to prosecute HSBC because senior DOJ leaders were concerned that prosecuting the bank ‘could result in a global financial disaster,’ ” the 282-page report stated.

[snip]

Holder later said those comments were misconstrued and that the Justice Department doesn’t believe any institution is too large to face legal punishment. “If we find a bank or a financial institution that has done something wrong, if we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, those cases will be brought,” Mr. Holder said at a 2013 House hearing.

The report, which was expected to be released Monday, concluded those comments were misleading because lower-level prosecutors had recommended the department prosecute HSBC, according to Treasury Department emails subpoenaed by the committee.

The report blames Eric Holder for the decision, not Loretta Lynch, who oversaw the case as US Attorney. Indeed, her name doesn’t appear in the WSJ story at all.

But given the claim that line prosecutors believed they had plenty of evidence to charge HSBC, consider how Lynch answered a question about the topic during her confirmation process.

38. As United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, you helped secure nearly $2 billion from HSBC over its failure to establish proper procedures to prevent money laundering by drug cartels and terrorists. You were quoted in a DOJ press release saying, “HSBC’s blatant failure to implement proper anti-money laundering controls facilitated the laundering of at least $881 million in drug proceeds through the U.S. financial system.”

You stated that the bank’s “willful flouting of U.S. sanctions laws and regulations resulted in the processing of hundreds of millions of dollars in [Office of Foreign Assets Control]-prohibited transactions.” Still, no criminal penalties have been assessed for any executive who may have been involved.

a. Did you make any decision or recommendation on charging any individual with a crime?

i. If so, please describe any and all decisions or recommendations you made.

ii. Please explain why such decisions or recommendations were made.

b. If you did not make any decision or recommendation on charging any individual with a crime, who made the decision not to prosecute?

RESPONSE: On December 11, 2012, the Department filed an information charging HSBC Bank USA with violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and HSBC Holdings with violating U.S. economic sanctions (the two entities are collectively referred to as “HSBC”). Pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement (“DPA”), HSBC admitted its wrongdoing, agreed to forfeit $1.256 billion, and agreed to implement significant remedial measures, including, among other things, to follow the highest global anti-money laundering standards in all jurisdictions in which it operates. As the United States District Judge who approved the deferred prosecution found, “the DPA imposes upon HSBC significant, and in some respect extraordinary, measures” and the “decision to approve the DPA is easy, for it accomplishes a great deal.” Although grand jury secrecy rules prevent me from discussing the facts involving any individual or entity against whom we decided not to bring criminal charges, as I do in all cases in which I am involved, I and the dedicated career prosecutors handling the investigation carefully considered whether there was sufficient admissible evidence to prosecute an individual and whether such a prosecution otherwise would have been consistent with the principles of federal prosecution contained in the United States Attorney’s Manual.

I want to reiterate, particularly in the context of recent media reports regarding the release of HSBC files pertaining to its tax clients, that the Deferred Prosecution Agreement reached with HSBC addresses only the charges filed in the criminal violations of the Bank Secrecy Act for failures to maintain an adequate anti-money laundering program and for sanctions violations. The DPA explicitly does not provide any protection against prosecution for conduct beyond what was described in the Statement of Facts. Furthermore, I should note the DPA explicitly mentions that the agreement does not bind the Department’s Tax Division, nor the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division. information, which are limited to violations of the Bank Secrecy Act for failures to maintain an adequate anti-money laundering program and for sanctions violations. The DPA explicitly does not provide any protection against prosecution for conduct beyond what was described in the Statement of Facts. Furthermore, I should note the DPA explicitly mentions that the agreement does not bind the Department’s Tax Division, nor the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division. [my emphasis]

To be fair to Lynch, hers was basically a non-answer. She said she and career prosecutors review the evidence. She implied that there was insufficient admissible evidence to prosecute, but did not say it.

But if the WSJ report is correct (and we should find out soon enough) in fact at least her prosecutors recommended prosecuting.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Hillary’s National Security Alliance for Quivering Over Bank Prosecutions

Fresh off being caught lying about rolling her eyes in response to calls for Palestinian rights, Neera Tanden has rolled out something called the National Security Leadership Alliance. Best as I can tell, it exists mainly on paper right now — I couldn’t even find it on CAP’s site yet. But it seems designed to fear-monger about what will happen if Trump becomes Commander-in-Chief.

The project, called the National Security Leadership Alliance, will be funded by C.A.P. Action. It will feature a roster of major members of the foreign policy and national security community, including two retired four-star generals; Leon E. Panetta, the former C.I.A. director; Madeleine K. Albright, the former secretary of state; Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general; and Carl Levin, the former Michigan senator. All have endorsed Mrs. Clinton.

There will be an effort to highlight precisely what, in the military arsenal, Donald J. Trump would have access to as president. Mr. Trump has been criticized for his views on foreign policy, criticisms that have been central to the case that Mrs. Clinton has made against him in an effort to describe the stakes of the 2016 presidential election. The Center for American Progress is led by a top outside adviser to Mrs. Clinton, Neera Tanden, and the new project seeks to put a spotlight on what officials are calling a progressive foreign policy vision.

I’m perfectly okay with fearmongering about Trump. But let’s look at this lineup. It features the woman who said letting half a million Iraqi children die was worth the price of enforcing sanctions against the country. It also includes a guy, Panetta, whose exposure of the identities of Osama bin Laden killers’ to Hollywood producers serves to reinforce what a double standard on classified information Hillary (and Panetta) benefit from.

But I’m most curious by a “national security” team that includes both Eric Holder and Carl Levin, especially given the NYT focus, in announcing the venture, on Brexit.

“I think what brought us together is obviously a lot of concern about some of the division and polarization that we’re seeing in the world,” Mr. Panetta said in an interview. “We know we’re living in a time of great change and uncertainty.”

But he added, “The concern we have is we see these forces of division that are prepared to throw out the fundamental” principles of foreign policy in the United States over many decades.

“What we’re learning from ‘Brexit’ is that there’s a price to be paid in terms of letting out emotion dictate policy instead of responsible leadership,” he said, referring to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. “We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Leon Panetta, in rolling out a venture including Carl Levin — who as head of the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations worked tirelessly for some kind of accountability on bank crime — and Eric Holder — who ignored multiple criminal referrals from Levin, including one pertaining to Goldman Sachs head Lloyd Blankfein — says the lesson from Brexit is that we can’t let emotion dictate policy but instead should practice “responsible leadership” guarding the “fundamental principles of foreign policy in the United States over many decades.”

Of course, as David Dayen argued convincingly, to the extent Brexit was an emotional vote, the emotions were largely inflamed by elite failures — the failures of people like Eric Holder to demand any responsibility (Dayen doesn’t deal with the equally large failures of hawks like Albright whose destabilizing policies in the Middle East have created the refugee crisis in Europe, which indirectly inflamed Brexit voters).

Again, I’m okay if Hillary wants to spend her time fearmongering about the dangers of Trump.

But to do so credibly, she needs to be a lot more cognizant of the dangers her own team have created.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Treasury’s New So-Called Transparency about Saudi-Held US Debt

According to Bloomberg, Treasury has for the first time ever not only revealed that it hides how much US debt the Saudis are holding, but how much debt that is: $117 billion dollars this month.

The U.S. would buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plow billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending.

It took several discreet follow-up meetings to iron out all the details, Parsky said. But at the end of months of negotiations, there remained one small, yet crucial, catch: King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud demanded the country’s Treasury purchases stay “strictly secret,” according to a diplomatic cable obtained by Bloomberg from the National Archives database.

With a handful of Treasury and Federal Reserve officials, the secret was kept for more than four decades—until now. In response to a Freedom-of-Information-Act request submitted by Bloomberg News, the Treasury broke out Saudi Arabia’s holdings for the first time this month after “concluding that it was consistent with transparency and the law to disclose the data,” according to spokeswoman Whitney Smith. The $117 billion trove makes the kingdom one of America’s largest foreign creditors.

For the record, I don’t think this is a secret. Some of it has been reported in histories of the JECOR petrol dollar laundering program. And, if I’m not mistaken (my copy is Audible not dead tree), the book The Oil Kings provides much more detail on the negotiations that set this up (and Henry Kissinger’s self-dealing as part of that process).

Also, the number Treasury released “consistent with transparency” is almost certainly bullshit. It’s not just me who thinks this is a bullshit number: so does some anonymous person who knows better.

Yet in many ways, the information has raised more questions than it has answered. A former Treasury official, who specialized in central bank reserves and asked not to be identified, says the official figure vastly understates Saudi Arabia’s investments in U.S. government debt, which may be double or more.

More likely, the vehicle of exchange and secrecy set up in 1974 were renewed when the US and Saudis signed the similar Technical Cooperation Agreement in 2008, which got extended in 2013 until 2023. Which would suggest Treasury has a reason to show us the old-style debt holdings, but not whatever they have going on now.So in the interest of “transparency” (that is, in the interest of avoiding any panic as the Saudis threaten to dump US debt if we start releasing information the Kingdom’s role in sowing terrorism) Treasury has revealed the old-style arrangement, but not whatever is the core of what we’ve got going on now.

In other words, what Treasury’s so-called transparency actually tells us is the larger part of Saudi holdings (they threatened to dump $750 billion in US debt) are stashed somewhere even more secret than the original holdings. And they likely rolled out that even-more-secret stash in 2008, long after we knew they were sponsoring terrorism around the world.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Ben Wittes’ Delusion: FBI IS the Intelligence Community

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 10.33.28 AM

Ben Wittes has started a series of posts on how to tyrant-proof the presidency. His first post argues that Jennifer Granick’s worries about surveillance and Conor Friedersdorf’s worries about drone-killing are misplaced. The real risk, Wittes argues, comes from DOJ.

What would a president need to do to shift the Justice Department to the crimes or civil infractions committed—or suspected—by Trump critics and opponents? He would need to appoint and get confirmed by the Senate the right attorney general. That’s very doable. He’d want to keep his communications with that person limited. An unspoken understanding that the Justice Department’s new priorities include crimes by the right sort of people would be better than the sort of chortling communications Richard Nixon and John Mitchell used to have. Want to go after Jeff Bezos to retaliate for the Washington Post‘s coverage of the campaign? Develop a sudden trust-busting interest in retailers that are “too big”; half the country will be with you. Just make sure you state your non-neutral principles in neutral terms.

[snip]

There are other reasons to expect a politically abusive president to focus on the Justice Department and other domestic, civilian regulatory and law enforcement agencies: one is that the points of contact between these agencies and the American people are many, whereas the population’s points of contact with the intelligence community are few. The delusions of many civil libertarians aside, the intelligence community really does focus its activities overseas. To reorient it towards domestic oppression would take a lot of doing. It also has no legal authority to do things like arresting people, threatening them with long prison terms, fining them, or issuing subpoenas to everyone they have ever met. By contrast, the Justice Department has outposts all over the country. Its focus is primarily domestic. It issues authortitative legal guidance within the executive branch to every other agency that operates within the country. And it has the ability to order people to produce material and testify about whatever it wants to investigate.

What’s more, when it receives such material, it is subject to dramatically laxer rules as to its use than is the intelligence community. Unlike, say, when NSA collects material under Section 702, when the Justice Department gets material under a grand jury subpoena, there aren’t a lot of use restrictions (other than Rule 6(e)’s prohibition against leaking it); and there is no mandatory period after which DOJ has to destroy it. It has countless opportunities, in other words, to engage in oppressive activities, and it is largely not law but norms and human and institutional decency that constrain it.

I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise. Indeed, I’ve argued it for years — noting, for example, that a targeted killing in the US would look a lot more like the killing of Imam Luqman Abdullah in 2009 (or the killing of Fred Hampton in 1969) than drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki in 2011 (given that Abdullah’s selling of stolen items got treated as terrorism in part because of his positive statements about Awlaki, it is not inconceivable FBI started infiltrating his mosque because of SIGINT).

My gripe (I have to have gripes because it is Wittes) is on two points. First, Wittes far overestimates how well the protections against abuse currently work. He seems to believe the Levi Guidelines remain in place unchanged, that the 2008 and 2011 and serial secret changes to the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide since then have not watered down limits on investigations for protected activities. He suggests it was a good thing to use prosecutorial discretion to chase drugs in the 1990s and terrorism in the 2000s, and doesn’t consider why the rich donors who’ve done as much damage as terrorists to the country — the banksters, even those that materially supported terrorists — have gotten away with wrist-slap fines. It was not a good thing to remain obsessed with terrorists while the banksters destroyed our economy through serial global fraud (a point made even by former FBI agents).

We already have a dramatically unequal treatment of homegrown extremists in this country based on religion (compare the treatment of the Malheur occupiers with that of any young Muslim guy tweeting about ISIS who then gets caught in an FBI sting). We already treat Muslims (and African Americans and — because we’re still chasing drugs more than we should — Latinos) differently in this country, even though the guy running for President on doing so as a campaign plank isn’t even in office yet!

The other critical point Wittes missed in his claim that “delusional” civil libertarians don’t know that “the intelligence community really does focus its activities overseas” is that DOJ, in the form of FBI and DEA, is the Intelligence Community, and their intelligence focus is not exclusively overseas (nor is the intelligence focus of other IC members DHS — which has already surveilled Black Lives Matter activists — and Treasury). The first dragnet was not NSA’s, but the DEA one set up under Bill Clinton. One big point of Stellar Wind (which is what Wittes mocked Granick for focusing on) was to feed FBI tips of people the Bureau should investigate, based solely on their associations. And while Wittes is correct that “when the Justice Department gets material under a grand jury subpoena, there aren’t a lot of use restrictions (other than Rule 6(e)’s prohibition against leaking it); and there is no mandatory period after which DOJ has to destroy it,” it is equally true of when FBI gets raw 702 data collected without grand jury scrutiny.

FBI can conduct an assessment to ID the racial profile of a community with raw 702 data, it can use it to find and coerce potential informants, and it can use it for non-national security crimes. That’s the surveillance Wittes says civil libertarians are delusional to be concerned about, being used with inadequate oversight in the agency Wittes himself says we need to worry about.

Four different times in his post, Wittes contrasts DOJ with the intelligence community, without ever considering what it means that DOJ’s components FBI and DEA are actually part of it, that part of it that takes data obtained from NSA’s surveillance and uses it (laundered through parallel construction) against Americans. You can’t contrast the FBI’s potential impact with that of the IC as Wittes does, because the FBI is (one of) the means by which IC activities impact Americans directly.

Yes, DOJ is where President Trump (and President Hillary) might abuse their power most directly. But in arguing that, Wittes is arguing that the President can use the intelligence community abusively.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

SEC Says Hackers Like NSA Are Biggest Threat to Global Financial System

Reuters reports that, in the wake of criminals hacking the global financial messaging system SWIFT both via the Bangladesh central and an as-yet unnamed second central bank, SEC Commissioner Mary Jo White identified vulnerability to hackers as the top threat to the global financial system.

Cyber security is the biggest risk facing the financial system, the chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said on Tuesday, in one of the frankest assessments yet of the threat to Wall Street from digital attacks.

Banks around the world have been rattled by a $81 million cyber theft from the Bangladesh central bank that was funneled through SWIFT, a member-owned industry cooperative that handles the bulk of cross-border payment instructions between banks.

The SEC, which regulates securities markets, has found some major exchanges, dark pools and clearing houses did not have cyber policies in place that matched the sort of risks they faced, SEC Chair Mary Jo White told the Reuters Financial Regulation Summit in Washington D.C.

“What we found, as a general matter so far, is a lot of preparedness, a lot of awareness but also their policies and procedures are not tailored to their particular risks,” she said.

“As we go out there now, we are pointing that out.”

Of course, the criminals in Bangladesh were not the first known hackers of SWIFT. The documents leaked by Snowden revealed NSA’s elite hacking group, TAO, had targeted SWIFT as well. Given the timing, it appears they did so to prove to the Europeans and SWIFT that the fairly moderate limitations being demanded by the Europeans should not limit their “front door” access.

Targeting SWIFT (and credit card companies) is probably not the only financial hacking NSA has done. One of the most curious recommendations in the President’s Review Group, after all, was that “governments” (including the one its report addressed, the US?) might hack financial institutions to change the balances in financial accounts.

(2) Governments should not use their offensive cyber capabilities to change the amounts held in financial accounts or otherwise  manipulate the financial systems;

Second, governments should abstain from penetrating the systems of financial institutions and changing the amounts held in accounts there. The policy of avoiding tampering with account balances in financial institutions is part of a broader US policy of abstaining from manipulation of the financial system. These policies support economic growth by allowing all actors to rely on the accuracy of financial statements without the need for costly re-verification of account balances. This sort of attack could cause damaging uncertainty in financial markets, as well as create a risk of escalating counter-attacks against a nation that began such an effort. The US Government should affirm this policy as an international norm, and incorporate the policy into free trade or other international agreements.

After which point, James Clapper started pointing to similar attacks as a major global threat.

I don’t mean to diminish the seriousness of the threat (though I still believe banksters’ own recklessness is a bigger threat to the world financial system). But the NSA should have thought about the norms they were setting and the impact similar attacks done by other actors would have, before they pioneered such hacks in the first place.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Hillary’s Bold Plan to Financially Penalize Recidivist Super-Predators

The other day Hillary promised she would appoint Attorneys General like Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. “I will appoint an Attorney General who will continue the courageous work of Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.” Given that the comments came at an Al Sharpton event, I assumed the comment meant to invoke Holder and Lynch’s efforts to reform criminal justice and, presumably, their even more laudable support for civil rights.

Nevertheless, it was a disturbing comment, given that Holder and Lynch have also both coddled the bankers who crashed our economy. Indeed, when Hillary tries to defend her huge donations from bankers, she always points to Obama’s even huger ones, and insists that there’s no evidence he was influenced by them. But the Obama DOJ record on bank crime is itself the counter to Hillary’s claim those donations didn’t influence the President.

But then, last night, Hillary said something even more outrageous, which I take to be a solid promise to her funders they’ll continue to get special treatment before the law. Amid a comment shifting from Too Big to Fail into the serial settlements the banks have signed for their crimes, Hillary took the bold step of calling for financial penalties for the people directing that crime.

CLINTON: Dana, let me add here that there are two ways to at this under Dodd-Frank, which is after all the law we passed under President Obama, and I’m proud that Barney Frank, one of the authors, has endorsed me because what I have said continuously is, yes, sometimes the government may have to order certain actions. Sometime the government can permit the institution themselves to take those actions. That has to be the judgement of the regulators.

But, there’s another element to this. I believe strongly that executives of any of these organizations should be financially penalized if there is a settlement.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: They should have to pay up through compensation or bonuses because we have to go after not just the big giant institution, we have got to go after the people who are making the decisions in the institutions.

Granted, under Holder and Lynch, those courageous Attorneys General Hillary would model her own pick on, the banksters haven’t even been asked to do this much.

But the fact that Hillary thought a great punishment for those harming the country with their serial crime wave is to fine them is a testament that she doesn’t even see the underlying crimes.

This is behavior that has continued over years, often after previous settlements. If anyone can be called a super-predator, it’s the bankers who toy with millions of people’s livelihoods and savings to make a buck. If there were a Three Strikes law for bankers most of these guys would be looking at life imprisonment.

And yet Hillary’s bold plan is not to incarcerate them, but instead to take a little bit of their money.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

Tuesday Morning: What’s News, Tiwes?

[Screencap, Newsmap, 0815h EDT]

[Screencap, Newsmap, 0815h EDT]

It’s the day belonging to Tiwes, the Norse god of single combat. What will we engage in battle about today? Looks like sketchy news coverage is a good reason, after taking a peek at Newsmap this morning to check global media coverage of the Panama Papers.

Very thin reporting, according to the results. Canada, come on — Bill Cosby is bigger news than global corruption?

Ditto for India, which covered the HSBC money laundering scandal exhaustively last year. Very little coverage in that country’s English language outlets.

Don’t get all peeved off about the U.S. media, which hasn’t done a particularly good job over the last 24 hours. It’s not just us; the lack of coverage may say something about media ownership around the world.

One possible example on shore here: the acquisition of the Las Vegas-Review Journal last year. Nevada happens to be the eighth most popular tax haven in the world, and Las Vegas is its heart. Was this paper acquired in order to influence reporting in and about this topic?

Mossack Fonseca has a subsidiary in Las Vegas, by the way.

Let’s take a look at science and technology news…

  • No change yet to claims that Panama Papers were obtained by an attack on Mossack Fonseca’s email server (The Register-UK) — Of particular note, this observation by this tech news outlet:

    To date, The Register hasn’t seen a strong presence from the tech sector in the staged release of the documents, perhaps because the “Double Irish Dutch Sandwich” tactic favoured in this business works without hiding companies’ links to their international associates.

    The comments at that link are rather interesting, offering both a perspective from our overseas “cousins” as well as technical assessment about the leak.

  • Are you ready for some Thursday night Twitter streaming? (WaPo) — NFL’s awarded a deal to Twitter for streaming some of its games. This is an interesting development, given how much co-watching TV Twitter users do.
  • I’m afraid I can’t do THAT, Dave: humans aroused by touching robots special places (Phys.org) — Ewww. Don’t ask me to travel through the Uncanny Valley with you on this one.
  • Revolv’s home automation hub now a casualty in the Internet of Things universe (BoingBoing) — Device fell out of the product plans for Google’s home automation subsidiary, Nest. Unfortunately, Revolv was sold with a lifetime subscription which will be defunct in May.
  • “Routine management reshuffle” replaces three senior execs at China’s telecom manufacturer ZTE (Reuters) — coincidentally happens weeks after U.S. authorities revealed attempts by ZTE to circumvent sanctions against Iran.
  • Name a non-Zika disease also transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, facing a drastic vaccine shortage (Science) — You win if you said yellow fever, which has no cure and can be deadly.
  • Article 27: Algorithmic Politics (Furtherfield) — Necrocapitalism. Wrap your head around that term. A thought-provoking essay about a world where algorithms are our political system.

That’s enough for your coffee break or lunch hour. Catch you here tomorrow morning!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.