Chuck Schumer Got Results!

Motherboard has an interesting new detail on the Silk Road investigation from a mostly refused FOIA.

The few pages released show the following timeline:

June 1, 2011: Gawker publishes this story describing Silk Road.

June 5, 2011: Chuck Schumer gives a press conference repeating details from the story and claiming,
The DEA has confirmed they are aware of the site, and while they won’t confirm or deny that an investigation is underway, from my years of experience, I’d bet my bottom dollar in this instance there is one underway,

June 6, 2011: NY Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force gets tasked with investigating Silk Road.

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June 15, 2011: DEA opened a Personal History Report for its investigation into Silk Road

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I find the Gawker to Schumer to New York law enforcement to feds very interesting given yesterday’s events.

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Why Did the Feds Take Down RentBoy?

Yesterday, federal officers (overwhelmingly Department of Homeland Security, not FBI) busted the 7 people who run RentBoy.com, the largest online portal for male escorts. In doing so, they put 10,000 sex workers out of business — or pushed them into more dangerous means of meeting customers.

This is the second time the Feds have taken down a sex worker portal. In June 2014, Feds took down RedBook, which included links to ads but also had a lot of chat rooms. At one level, then, that bust was even more of an assault on First Amendment rights, but the operators were also indicted on money laundering charges (and FBI found profiles of people under 18 posting advertisements, which it used to ratchet up the pressure). Thus far, at least, there’s no indication of additional charges against RentBoy’s operators, even though two outlets yesterday claimed there were money laundering charges involved. Though as I’ll explain, I wouldn’t be surprised to see immigration charges, I bet the government will charge the money laundering they’ve already leaked to the press, and I fully expect once the government wades through the servers they seized yesterday, they’ll come up with a list of advertisers who were also underage.

The bust leaves me with several questions. As Conor Friedersdorf asks, why is this a priority of law enforcement? Aren’t there more pressing crimes — like bank money laundering — to pursue, or more dangerous forms of sex trafficking?

Some potential answers may lie in some observations from the complaint.

Where did this come from?

RentBoy has been operating happily since 1997. So why did the Feds choose to take it down yesterday?

One hint about where this inquiry may have come from is on page 19-20 of the complaint, after all the salacious descriptions of slang for kinds of sex and discussions of a few escorts’ profiles that have been highlighted in other reporting on this. RentBoy twice applied for an H1B for its accountant, Marco Soto Decker.

In September 2010 and March 2013, EASY RENT SYSTEMS, INC. applied to the United States Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services for an H1-B non-immigrant work visa on behalf of SOTO DECKER. The application identified that EASY RENT SYSTEMS, INC. runs RENTBOY.COM which “revolutionized the escorting industry by moving it online and away from agencies and disreputable bars.” The application also said that SOTO DECKER had been operating as the accountant from July 2012, a position that reported directly to JEFFREY HURANT and which required him to prepare all financial statements and to strategically analyze, manipulate, and interpret financial data “in order to develop strategies and make recommendations critical for the CEO to utilize in his work to successfully mange and grow the company.”

In connection with the application, EASY RENT SYSTEMS, INC. also submitted a job offer letter addressed to SOTO DECKER dated July 20, 2012, which identified the duties and responsibilities of the position. Among those duties was meeting with market, IT, sales, and customer service staff to review monthly expenses and see revenue and expenses optimization; supervising the company’s daily e-commerce transactions; managing the entire accounting, budgeting and reconciliation process for the company’s events, including the HOOKIES [an awards ceremony RentBoy puts on].

The application also included some of EASY RENT SYSTEM, INC.’s books and records. Among the expenses identified was a listing for “Viagra — Sean.” In addition, the application included numerous articles about RENTBOY.COM. Man of those articles identified unambiguously that the escorts advertising on RENTBOY.COM were having sex with their customers in exchange for money.

In other words, RentBoy’s parent company twice applied to DHS for an H1B visa for its accountant, the more recent application of which DOJ alleges included clear evidence the company was buying Viagra for an employee and reporting on the company made it clear that RentBoy sold sex.

Note, the complaint didn’t tell us what happened with those applications. That there were two of them suggests Soto Decker may have either gotten it renewed (I need to double check but I believe it is still the case you can get two H1Bs for a total of 6 years, then you have to go home to your home country for a period) or been denied in the first application. Assuming he got the H1B would also suggest that immigration authorities not only agreed with Easy Rent that Soto Decker was a skilled employee (there’s no reason to doubt that) but also that the company could find no Americans to do an accounting job. Immigration authorities are very lenient with those H1B determinations, but they almost certainly could have refused that visa back in 2013.

Still, that application to DHS in March 2013 was almost 30 months ago, and there’s just one sign I saw of active investigation since in the complaint. That detail appears on page 14.

HURANT was present at the 2015 HOOKIES, where he provided an undercover agent a card with the RENTBOY.COM name on one side. On the opposite side the card says “Jeffrey Davids, Principal.” It also lists his email address as “[email protected]” HURANT was asked by the undercover agent how the Hookies awards started. HURANT responded “Have you ever had sex with anyone and it was so good you had to tell someone? That’s what it’s all about!”

In other words, in March 2013, Easy Rent submitted an H1B application that may have given DHS an opening to start this investigation. Two years later, they had an undercover officer attend the Hookies and get RentBoy’s CEO to say some damning things.

That timeline — if it indeed shows the span of the investigation — is interesting for several reasons.

First, it would suggest the investigation was started while Loretta Lynch was still US Attorney in Eastern District of NY (more on that in a sec). If this investigation started in 2013, it means Lynch, now the Attorney General, may well have been the one ultimately overseeing the investigation.

Second, the investigation — with an undercover officer attending awards ceremonies and who knows what else — was active after the time the head of RedBook pled guilty in December 2014. DOJ had a proof of concept in that earlier bust.

Finally, as a reader noted, the investigation had already started before the time, in July, when a RentBoy escort exposed his discussions with Tim Geithner’s brother, David, at Gawker. That is, this investigation is not retaliation for a RentBoy escort embarrassing the family member of a very powerful New Yorker. But the bust did happen after that. (And if I were that escort, I’d be very worried about what evidence that DHS seized yesterday might be used in a blackmail case against me.)

One more note on timing: One of the employees busted yesterday, Diana Milagros Mattos, left Easy Rent in June, in spite of being its highest commissioned sales agent. There’s no explanation of why she left. I find that worth noting.

Why was this charged in EDNY?

I always ask this question, but you have to ask it. Why was this charged in the Eastern District of NY, when RentBoy is headquartered in Manhattan, in the Southern District, and only one of the employees appears to live in EDNY (though the complaint reviews three profiles whose owners live in Brooklyn)? When asked yesterday, one of the Feds apparently simply said, “the Internet is everywhere.” But that response raises more questions than it answers.

I raise this not just for the Loretta Lynch connection, but also because by virtue of JFK airport’s location in EDNY, where many defendants get flown into, the district has developed a slew of precedents having to do with asserting a fairly aggressive jurisdiction overseas. Again, it’s possible this whole thing started from an immigration inquiry. But I wonder whether there’s some more to it, especially since RentBoy has facilities in England.

In other words, is this just the first step in a larger, more international crackdown?

What other investigative means did they use?

As noted, someone leaked to several outlets yesterday this case involved money laundering, but there’s no hint of that in this complaint or even that they used investigative methods to prove it. While RentBoy’s ISP, Cogent Communications, is mentioned in an aside — in the context of how communications with the ISP described Soto Decker’s responsibilities — there’s no mention of any orders for traffic logs or other electronic service provider records. Still, it’s fairly clear the Feds do have some records from Cogent they aren’t yet telling us about.

Then there’s the means by which the agent who wrote this, Susan Ruiz, identified aliases of some of the employees. In footnote after footnote, she says she compared the defendant’s driver’s license picture with an online picture and decided they were the same person. Neither those aliases nor the means by which she identified them are critical at this point. But I would suggest she almost certainly used more reliable means to connect the identities of these people. That could just be an insider’s testimony, but it could also include traffic logs connecting certain computers with the online profiles using those aliases.

In other words, I suspect they’ve got electronic records they don’t want to tell us about, even as simply as records obtained from Cogent using a subpoena.

Why didn’t they bust DaddysReviews.com?

As the complaint makes clear, RentBoy has clear warnings against advertising sex and prices (which will be one of the defenses the accused will use). It bills itself as an escort site that will not permit the selling of sex.

To prove that the profiles the complaint describes in depth involve prostitution, it relies heavily on DaddysReviews.com, which is a review site that not only describes completed acts of sex, but the price paid for that sex.

I’m going to ask people who know the industry better than I about this. But I do wonder why DHS and DOJ chose to bust the site that doesn’t explicitly tie sex to payment, but didn’t bust the one that does.

Update: One suggestion on this question is that DaddysReviews wouldn’t be prosecuted because they don’t take money.

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Blumenthal, Booker Point to Unsuccessful Attack for Call for TSA in Trains

Richard Blumenthal and Cory Booker are using a thwarted attack on a train in Paris as reason to call for more TSA presence in trains.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) are urging the TSA to “to implement security and safety improvements … to our country’s public transportation and passenger rail systems” that the duo said were “mandated by Congress in 2007 but still not implemented.”

“This effort comes on the heels of an attempted terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train last week in which three Americans successfully subdued the attacker,” Blumenthal’s office said in a statement previewing an appearance by the Connecticut senator at Hartford’s Union Station.

That’ll fix Amtrak’s woes: to make taking the train as humiliating and time-consuming as flying.

As it happens, DHS’ Inspector General is looking at what TSA is doing for Amtrak security right now.

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So the Senators might wait until that is done.

More interesting, however, the National Transportation Safety Board still hasn’t solved the May 12 derailment in Philadelphia that killed 8 and wounded 200. Last we heard, NTSB was asking, again, for trains (both freight and passenger) to be equipped with the kind of recording equipment that would help determine the cause of accidents.

Call me crazy, but passengers stand at least a decent chance of thwarting a gun attack on a train. Not so something wrong with the train itself.

Maybe we should work on fixing the trains themselves — and while we’re at it the infrastructure. Only then should prioritizing this kind of policing take precedence.

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Under CISA, Would Wyndham Be Able To Pre-empt FTC Action?

The Third Circuit just issued an important ruling holding that the Federal Trade Commission could sue Wyndham Hotels for having cybersecurity practices that did not deliver what their privacy policies promised. The opinion, written by Clinton appointee Thomas Ambro, laid out just how bad Wyndham’s cybersecurity was, even after it had been hacked twice. Ambro upheld the District Court’s decision that FTC could claim that Wyndham had unfairly exposed its customers.

The Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” 15 U.S.C. § 45(a). In 2005 the Federal Trade Commission began bringing administrative actions under this provision against companies with allegedly deficient cybersecurity that failed to protect consumer data against hackers. The vast majority of these cases have ended in settlement.

On three occasions in 2008 and 2009 hackers successfully accessed Wyndham Worldwide Corporation’s computer systems. In total, they stole personal and financial information for hundreds of thousands of consumers leading to over $10.6 million dollars in fraudulent charges. The FTC filed suit in federal District Court, alleging that Wyndham’s conduct was an unfair practice and that its privacy policy was deceptive. The District Court denied Wyndham’s motion to dismiss, and we granted interlocutory appeal on two issues: whether the FTC has authority to regulate cybersecurity under the unfairness prong of § 45(a); and, if so, whether Wyndham had fair notice its specific cybersecurity practices could fall short of that provision.1 We affirm the District Court.

[snip]

Wyndham’s as-applied challenge falls well short given the allegations in the FTC’s complaint. As the FTC points out in its brief, the complaint does not allege that Wyndham used weak firewalls, IP address restrictions, encryption software, and passwords. Rather, it alleges that Wyndham failed to use any firewall at critical network points, Compl. at ¶ 24(a), did not restrict specific IP addresses at all, id. at ¶ 24(j), did not use any encryption for certain customer files, id. at ¶ 24(b), and did not require some users to change their default or factory-setting passwords at all, id. at ¶ 24(f). Wyndham did not respond to this argument in its reply brief.

Wyndham’s as-applied challenge is even weaker given it was hacked not one or two, but three, times. At least after the second attack, it should have been painfully clear to Wyndham that a court could find its conduct failed the costbenefit analysis. That said, we leave for another day whether Wyndham’s alleged cybersecurity practices do in fact fail, an issue the parties did not brief. We merely note that certainly after the second time Wyndham was hacked, it was on notice of the possibility that a court could find that its practices fail the cost-benefit analysis.

The ruling holds out the possibility that threats of such actions by the FTC, which has been hiring superb security people in the last several years, might get corporations to adopt better cybersecurity and thereby make us all safer.

Which brings me to an issue I’ve been asking lots of lawyers about, without satisfactory answer, on other contexts.

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act prevents the federal government, as a whole, from bringing any enforcement actions against companies using cybersecurity threat indicators and defensive measures (or lack thereof!) turned over voluntarily under the act.

(D) FEDERAL REGULATORY AUTHORITY.—

(i) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in clause (ii), cyber threat indicators and defensive measures provided to the Federal Government under this Act shall not be directly used by any Federal, State, tribal, or local government to regulate, including an enforcement action, the lawful activities of any entity, including activities relating to monitoring, operating defensive measures, or sharing cyber threat indicators.

(ii) EXCEPTIONS.—

(I) REGULATORY AUTHORITY SPECIFICALLY RELATING TO PREVENTION OR MITIGATION OF CYBERSECURITY THREATS.—Cyber threat indicators and defensive measures provided to the Federal Government under this Act may, consistent with Federal or State regulatory authority specifically relating to the prevention or mitigation of cybersecurity threats to information systems, inform the development or implementation of regulations relating to such information systems.

(II) PROCEDURES DEVELOPED AND IMPLEMENTED UNDER THIS ACT.—Clause (i) shall not apply to procedures developed and implemented under this Act.

Given this precedent, could Wyndham — and other negligent companies — pre-empt any such FTC actions simply by sharing promiscuously as soon as they discovered the hack?

Could FTC still sue Wyndham because it broke the law because it claimed its “operating defensive measures” were more than what they really were? Or would such suits be precluded — by all federal agencies — under CISA, assuming companies shared the cyberattack data? Or would CISA close off this new promising area to force companies to provide minimal cybersecurity?

Update: Paul Rosenzweig’s post on the FTC decision is worth reading. Like him, I agree that FTC doesn’t yet have the resources to be the police on this matter, though I do think they have the smarts on security, unlike most other agencies.

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Dick Cheney Prepares to Fearmonger Again on Aluminum Tube Day

Richard_Cheney_2005_official_portraitOn September 8, 2002, the paper copy of the NYT published this story:

More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today.

In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium. American officials said several efforts to arrange the shipment of the aluminum tubes were blocked or intercepted but declined to say, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence, where they came from or how they were stopped.

The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq’s nuclear program, officials said, and that the latest attempt to ship the material had taken place in recent months.

Scooter Libby’s grand jury testimony strongly suggested Condi Rice was one source for the article. On the 8th, Rice and Dick Cheney took to the Sunday shows to fearmonger in support of war on Iraq, citing back to the NYT article.

”From a marketing point of view,” Andy Card boasted of his PR approach once, ”you don’t introduce new products in August.”

Which is why Aluminum Tube Day is such a wonderful time to roll out a war: one of the first days in September after everyone has returned from their Labor Day holidays.

Admittedly, the fearmongers are already heavily pushing propaganda, using some of the same tired tactics. They’re even getting National Defense University professors to attack the experts supporting — or even just demanding necessary underlying details before condemning — the Iran deal. With more and more Democratic senators announcing support for the Iran deal, Aluminum Tube Day may well be too late to fearmonger this deal.

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But that won’t stop Dick Cheney (and his fellow Iraq War shill Danielle Pletka) from celebrating Aluminum Tube Day by fearmongering again at American Enterprise Institute.

How will you celebrate the 13th anniversary of the kick-off of Iraq War fearmongering?

 

 

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How Does Duty to Warn Extend to Cyberattacks?

Steve Aftergood has posted a new directive from James Clapper mandating that Intelligence Community members warn individuals (be they corporate or natural persons) of a threat of death of seriously bodily harm.

This Directive establishes in policy a consistent, coordinated approach for how the Intelligence Community (IC) will provide warning regarding threats to specific individuals or groups of intentional killing, serious bodily injury, and kidnapping.

The fine print on it is quite interesting. For example, if you’re a drug dealer, someone involved in violent crime, or you’re at risk solely because you’re involved in an insurgency, the IC is not obliged to give you notice. Remember, the FBI did not alert members of Occupy Wall Street someone was plotting to assassinate them. Did they (then) not do so because they considered Occupy an “insurgency”? Would they consider them as one going forward?

But I’m most interested in what this should mean for hacking.

Here’s how the directive defines “seriously bodily harm.”

Serious Bodily Injury means an injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or impairment.

As I have noted, NSA has secretly defined “serious bodily harm” to include threat to property — that is, threats to property constitute threats of bodily harm.

If so, a serious hack would represent a threat of bodily harm (and under NSA’s minimization procedures they could share this data). While much of the rest of the Directive talks about how to accomplish this bureaucratically (and the sources and methods excuses for not giving notice), this should suggest that if a company like Sony is at risk of a major hack, NSA would have to tell it (and the Directive states that the obligation applies for US persons and non-US persons, though Sony is in this context a US person).

So shouldn’t this amount to a mandate for cybersharing, all without the legal immunity offered corporations under CISA?

 

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The Questions the NCSC Doesn’t Want to Answer

A few days ago the WaPo published a story on the OPM hack, focusing (as some earlier commentary already has) on the possibility China will alter intelligence records as part of a way to infiltrate agents or increase distrust.

It’s notable because it relies on the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Bill Evanina. The article first presents his comments about that nightmare scenario — altered records.

“The breach itself is issue A,” said William “Bill” Evanina, director of the federal National Counterintelligence and Security Center. But what the thieves do with the information is another question.

“Certainly we are concerned about the destruction of data versus the theft of data,” he said. “It’s a different type of bad situation.” Destroyed or altered records would make a security clearance hard to keep or get.

And only then relays Evanina’s concerns about the more general counterintelligence concerns raised by the heist, that China will use the data to target people for recruitment. Evanina explains he’s more worried about those without extensive operational security training than those overseas who have that experience.

While dangers from the breach for intelligence community workers posted abroad have “the highest risk equation,” Evanina said “they also have the best training to prevent nefarious activity against them. It’s the individuals who don’t have that solid background and training that we’re most concerned with, initially, to provide them with awareness training of what can happen from a foreign intelligence service to them and what to look out for.”

Using stolen personal information to compromise intelligence community members is always a worry.

“That’s a concern we take seriously,” he said.

Curiously, given his concern about those individuals without a solid CI background, Evanina provides no hint of an answer to the questions posed to him in a Ron Wyden letter last week.

  1. Did the NCSC identify OPM’s security clearance database as a counterintelligence vulnerability prior to these security incidents?
  2. Did the NCSC provide OPM with any recommendations to secure this information?
  3. At least one official has said that the background investigation information compromised in the second OPM hack included information on individuals as far back as 1985. Has the NCSC evaluated whether the retention requirements for background investigation information should be reduced to mitigate the vulnerability of maintaining personal information for a significant period of time? If not, please explain why existing retention periods are necessary?

Evanina has asserted he’s particularly worried about the kind of people who would have clearance but not be in one of the better protected (CIA) databases. But was he particularly worried about those people — and therefore OPM’s databases — before the hack?

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Washington Shocked! Shocked That AP’s George Jahn Is a Tool for Iran Deal Opponents

Greg Sargent this morning walks us through the latest math from the Washington Post on Congressional war hawks trying to obstruct the breakthrough P5+1 agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear technology. Not only does the Post find that Congress has very little chance of overriding a Presidential veto of a vote of disapproval, but as Sargent notes:

It’s not out of the question at this point that opponents will fail to muster 60 votes in the Senate to stop the deal — which would mean that President Obama would not even need to veto the expected measure disapproving of the accord, sparing us a veto-override fight.

So, of course, with the deal looking like it has smoother than expected sailing, opponents have been forced into a desperation move. That hit yesterday afternoon, when known tool of Iran opponents George Jahn (see my posts about his dismal track record here) published an AP story (try that link, but God knows what version of the story you’ll get, see below) that fits his normal pattern. He cites a “draft” of an agreement between the IAEA and Iran on inspection of the Parchin site. Much controversy has surrounded allegations of previous work there. Jahn describes what he saw in the draft agreement and says that “one official familiar with its contents said [it] doesn’t differ substantially from the final version”.

Further complicating matters, Jahn’s story went through several changes in the hours after its release. Fortunately, I don’t have to walk you through all of that or the details of what Jahn claimed. This excellent piece by Max Fisher at Vox walks you through the baffling evolution of the story. The Fisher piece relies heavily on Jeffrey Lewis, who was very quick to note the level of duplicity coming from Jahn even before Fisher talked to Lewis:

In the Fisher piece, Lewis provides us with the perspective that is needed to understand Jahn’s move:

“The oldest Washington game is being played in Vienna,” Lewis said. “And that is leaking what appears to be a prejudicial and one-sided account of a confidential document to a friendly reporter, and using that to advance a particular policy agenda.”

What Fisher completely missed, though, is that George Jahn is the poster child for this behavior that Lewis describes. At the end of the piece, Fisher expresses shock that AP would take part in such a ruse:

But it is disturbing that the AP allowed itself to be used in this way, that it exaggerated the story in a way that have likely misled large numbers of people..

Jahn has been playing precisely this game at AP for years, so it has “allowed itself to be used in this way” many times before by Jahn.

In reading about how events evolved after Jahn put up the first version of the story, it pays to look at these events in the light of the usual process of hurling the lopsided accusation out there and then watching the propaganda develop around it. Iran deal opponents were so fast to to jump on the story that we are left to wonder if they had a heads up as to when it would go live. Republicans in Congress were able to get their condemnation of this “secret side deal benefiting Iran” into some of the earliest revisions of Jahn’s article. And that was the precise reason Jahn was given the copy of the draft agreement in the first place, because it was seen as the last and best chance for Congress to disrupt the deal.

One more point needs noting in this context. Deal opponents, as mentioned above, are quick to spin the agreement between the IAEA and Iran as being kept secret because it is such a sweet deal for Iran. That paints the picture that the IAEA is on Iran’s side. As noted in the Vox piece, though, confidentiality in agreements of this type are the norm. Further, as virtually nobody discussing these developments points out, the Director General of the IAEA, according to WikiLeaks documents, made it known while he was being considered for the position that he “was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program”. [Note that the cable is from July, 2009, so early in the Obama Administration that US strategy on Iran’s nuclear weapons was primarily still that of the Bush Administration.] So, far from being someone to cut a sweetheart secret deal with Iran, perhaps we might want to see Amano more in the light Iran sees him when they accuse the IAEA of leaking the identifying information on Iranian nculear scientists that allowed them to be targeted for assassination.

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What’s the Difference Between Saudi Arabia and ISIS?

At Politico, Will McCants has an excerpt from his new book, in which he argues that ISIS differs from Al Qaeda in its apocalyptic vision.

The Islamic State’s brutality and its insistence on apocalypse now and caliphate now set it apart from al-Qaeda, of which it was a part until 2014. We’re used to thinking of al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden as the baddest of the bad, but the Islamic State is worse. Bin Laden tamped down messianic fervor and sought popular Muslim support; the return of the early Islamic empire, or caliphate, was a distant dream. In contrast, the Islamic State’s members fight and govern by their own version of Machiavelli’s dictum “It is far safer to be feared than loved.” They stir messianic fervor rather than suppress it. They want God’s kingdom now rather than later. This is not Bin Laden’s jihad.

He argues the difference arises, in part, because violence works.

But the Islamic State has deliberately provoked the anger of Muslims and non-Muslims alike with its online videos of outrageous and carefully choreographed violence. It showcases the beheading of prisoners—something Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda today, had expressly warned against—and dumps enemy soldiers in mass graves while the camera is rolling. The State revels in gore and wants everyone to know it. And yet it has been remarkably successful at recruiting fighters, capturing land, subduing its subjects, and creating a state. Why?

Because violence and gore work. We forget that this terrifying approach to state building has an impressive track record.

My immediate response to the piece was to suggest the proper comparison was not between al Qaeda and ISIS, but between Saudi Arabia and ISIS. McCants mentions Saudi Arabia, but only to support a historical argument about the efficacy of violence.

More brutal too was the Saud family and its ultraconservative Wahhabi allies, who came to power three times between 1744 and 1926, when the third and last Saudi state was established.

Guess what?! The Saudis are still beheading people, even if Zawahiri is too squeamish to do so. It does so to punish those who question the apocalyptic ideology the Saudis have long used to police order, and never (that I’ve seen) to punish ISIS terrorists.

Though there aren’t many cameras rolling — at least not Western ones — not in Yemen (because they’ve been expelled) and not in Saudi Arabia (because the Western press has little interest in showing the many beheadings our allies carry out).

That’s a point Rosa Brooks makes in this piece arguing that ISIS’ violence is not much different than that used throughout time as part of state-formation (while she talks about our own fight over slavery during the Civil War, she doesn’t mention America’s genocide against native people, annihilation we counted by counting scalps).

The Islamic State can keep right on beheading people, and if we can’t destroy the Islamic State, perhaps we’ll eventually tire of fighting them and decide to cut deals with them. And then, let a few decades pass, and presto! The Islamic State will have a seat at the U.N. — if the U.N. still exists — either as a new state or as a globally acknowledged non-state something or other, and all those terrible atrocities will be politely ignored.

Needless to say, although history suggests that the commission of horrific and widespread atrocities is no bar to entry into polite global society, history also suggests that nothing is inevitable. Plenty of brutal insurgencies and regimes have lived to see their crimes whitewashed and forgotten, but plenty of others have gone down in flames.

When it comes to predicting the future of the Islamic State, there are lots of wild cards. The 24/7 global media environment is quite new, and it’s impossible to say how this — or the universalization of human rights — will affect the Islamic State’s longer-term ability to sustain itself or the international community’s determination to defeat the group. State sovereignty is changing in complex ways, and it’s hard to know what forms global, political, and military power will take 10, 20, or 50 years from now. Elections in the United States may change American military dynamics; China or Russia or any of a dozen other states could decide to cut deals of their own with the Islamic State. Finally, the group remains relatively opaque to outsiders; internal dynamics could also alter its trajectory.

Even so: If I were a bookie, I’d put long odds on the Islamic State being defeated by the United States. The White House can issue as many statements as it wants claiming to have “made considerable progress in our effort to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, but I suspect the group will still be going strong five or 10 years from now.

One of the only things that makes ISIS different than Saudi Arabia — other than the latter has been recognized as a legitimate government by other nations, while those same nations recognize Bashar al-Assad as the leader of Syria — is that media, particularly the degree to which the Western press focuses on its beheadings rather than Saudi ones.

So who is responsible (even setting aside the Iraq War’s role in ISIS’s rise) for the effect of its violence, for the efficacy McCants claims it has?

ISIS is doing the same kind of things we tolerate in our Saudi allies. The US would do well to consider why it finds one tolerable and the other the prime enemy.

 

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The Rise of the Counter-Drone Industry

This was predictable.

After Congress pushed for years for the Federal Aviation Administration to rush through permissions to let drones fly above America, local authorities are discovering what countries throughout the Middle East at least pay lip service to: having drones flying freely overhead undermine the illusion of sovereign law on the ground.

As concerns rise about a security menace posed by rogue drone flights, U.S. government agencies are working with state and local police forces to develop high-tech systems to protect vulnerable sites, according to sources familiar with the matter.

[snip]

Asked about the development of counter-drone-technology, the Department of Homeland Security said it “works side-by-side with our interagency partners” to develop solutions to address the unlawful use of drones. Officials with the Defense Department, FAA and New York Police Department declined to comment.

But the sources acknowledged that efforts to combat rogue drones have gained new urgency due to the sharp rise in drone use and a series of alarming incidents.

The number of unauthorized drone flights has surged over the past year, raising concerns that one could hit a commercial aircraft during landing or take-off, or be used as a weapon in a deliberate attack, the sources said.

Drones have flown perilously close to airliners, interfered with firefighting operations, been used to transport illegal drugs into the United States from Mexico, and sparked a security scare at the White House, among other incidents.

But U.S. authorities have limited tools for identifying drone operators, many of them hobbyists, who violate federal rules that drones fly no higher than 400 feet (120 meters) and no closer than 5 miles (8 km) to airports. One reason for the enforcement gap is that Congress in 2012 barred the FAA from regulating recreational drones.

A system capable of disabling a drone and identifying its operator would give law enforcement officials practical powers to block the flights.

The all-American solution, of course, is more products, more profit. Most of the rest of the article describes efforts to develop technology that can ID and take control of drones deemed by authorities to be operating illegally (though of course such technology could just as easily be used to limit the flight of a media drone tracking police abuse).

There’s no thought, in the article, of the alternative: slowing the enthusiastic roll-out of drones until issues of basic governance can be worked out (or until people realize that drones pose fairly unique challenge to governance as we have it now). Doing that would not only eliminate the opportunity to grow yet another new market for previously unnecessary technology, but raise uncomfortable questions about how we operated our unlawful drones around the world.

Update: As bloopie2 pointed out, a guy in San Diego just got busted for killing a drone surveilling him at the beach with his tee shirt.

And the WaPo reports there have been hundreds of near-misses between drones and planes that the FAA doesn’t want to tell us about.

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emptywheel @ColMorrisDavis Martinis?!?!?! Have you ever even BEEN to Ann Arbor!?!?! Think I saw about 7 martinis in 15 years there. @JohnDingell
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emptywheel @ThusBloggedA See?!?! Also you're prolly a bacon loyalist. @JasnTru
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emptywheel @ThusBloggedA You don't know that. I liked dirtbags for my first ~5 boyfriends. Changed my taste after a while. @JasnTru
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emptywheel .@JasnTru What I'm struck by is I had remembered Miss Piggy to be buxom. But she's not, really. Maybe Kermit likes flat-chested women?
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emptywheel Kermit the Frog girlfriend cleavage is a weird thing.
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emptywheel @PhilPerspective No no no no. When a Wolverine Jet gets treated better than a Wolvering Pat you KNOW something's up.
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emptywheel RT @ProFootballTalk: Jay Feely told Judge Berman about the 2009 Jets K ball incident, which resulted in no investigation of the kicker http…
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bmaz No no, Khan was just collateral damage. Really, that's what my government told me. https://t.co/Bwu8CFx97h
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JimWhiteGNV When will the #Rays ever learn that Kirby Yates has no business in #MLB?
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emptywheel @Green_Footballs @nytimes @SusieMadrak Maybe @Sulliview has an answer for why NYT can't report this as critically as others?
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