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John Bolton, Trump’s ultra-hawkish new national security adviser, explained

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Bolton has recently called for war with both Iran and North Korea.

President Donald Trump finally jettisoned National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster on Thursday afternoon. His replacement is John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations in the Bush administration — and one of the most radically hawkish voices in American foreign policy.

Bolton has said the United States should declare war on both North Korea and Iran. He was credibly accused of manipulating US intelligence on weapons of mass destruction prior to the Iraq war and of abusive treatment of his subordinates. He once “joked” about knocking 10 stories off the UN building in New York. That means his new appointment to be the most important national security official in the White House has significant — and frightening — implications for Trump’s approach to the world.

Bolton’s new job was announced on Thursday evening, when the president tweeted that McMaster planned to resign and Bolton would replace him. “I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, [John Bolton] will be my new National Security Advisor,” the president wrote.

Bolton had been rumored to be the frontrunner for the job for months, but that doesn’t make the pick any less jarring. His track record in government, connections to anti-Muslim groups, and stated views in op-eds and public speeches all suggest that he will push Trump to take extremely dangerous positions on issues like North Korea, Iran, and ISIS.

“I operate on the assumption that John Bolton should be kept as far away from the levers of foreign policy as possible,” says Christopher Preble, the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “I think I would rest easy if he was dog catcher in Stone Mountain, Georgia. But maybe not.”

Bolton’s elevation illustrates the degree to which the president is influenced by the conservative infotainment sphere, most notably Fox News — where he has long been an on-air fixture. Bolton was, prior to this appointment, a marginal figure in Washington foreign policy circles since his departure from the Bush administration. But he got himself one of the top jobs in the country because of his savvy work in the world of conservative media and advocacy groups.

As a result, American foreign policy may be soon be shaped by someone who seems to truly believe that war is the answer to the world’s most pressing problems.

John Bolton’s early career shows why he’s a dangerous choice for national security adviser

Bolton is, somewhat ironically, a quintessential creature of the Washington swamp.

After graduating Yale Law School in 1974, where he had become friends with future Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, he went into private practice in Washington. He made a name for himself working in conservative politics, becoming vice president of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute and serving in midlevel roles in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

But it wasn’t until the George W. Bush administration that Bolton rose to greater prominence. In May 2001, Bush appointed him to be undersecretary of state for arms control, basically the top diplomat focusing on weapons of mass destruction. This position became fairly important in the runup to the Iraq War, as the Bush administration’s case against Saddam Hussein focused on his alleged nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

Bolton took the hardest of possible lines. He forcefully argued that Iraq had WMDs — “we are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction,” as he put in one 2002 speech. After Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech connecting North Korea, Iraq, and Iran as an “axis of evil,” Bolton insisted that this wasn’t just rhetoric — that there was ‘’a hard connection between these regimes — an ‘axis’ along which flow dangerous weapons and dangerous technology.’’

He was involved in shaping US intelligence in the runup to the war — and not in a good way. In 2002, Bolton’s staff prepared a speech alleging that Cuba had an active biological weapons program. This wasn’t true, and the State Department’s lead bioweapons analyst at the time would not sign off on the claim. Per the analyst’s sworn testimony to Congress, Bolton then called the analyst into his office, screamed at him, and then sent for his boss. In this conversation, per the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, he derisively referred to the analyst as a “munchkin” and attempted to get him transferred to a different department.

This was cruel and unprofessional, but also dangerous. Carl Ford, then the assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, testified that Bolton’s assault on the analyst had a “chilling effect” throughout the department, freezing out dissent on proliferation issues beyond Cuba. John Prados, a fellow at George Washington University’s National Security Archives, came to an even broader conclusion in a study of declassified Bush administration documents: Bolton bears a significant amount of blame for the politicized intelligence used to justify the decision to attack Iraq.

“Although Bolton’s actions did not concern Iraq directly, they came to a high point during the summer of 2002 — the exact moment when Iraq intelligence issues were on the front burner — and they aimed at offices which played a central role in producing Iraq intelligence,” Prados writes. “Analysts working on Iraq intelligence could not be blamed for concluding that their own careers might be in jeopardy if they supplied answers other than what the Bush administration wanted to hear.”

None of this got Bolton fired. In fact, it got him promoted: In March 2005, President Bush nominated him to be US ambassador to the UN, one of the most important diplomatic positions in the entire government.

Bolton’s Senate confirmation hearing turned into a vicious fight, largely over his role in shaping the faulty prewar intelligence about Iraq. But his management style, as exemplified by the munchkin incident, also became a huge issue. When Ford was called to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he bluntly said Bolton’s personality should disqualify him from holding high office. Ford called him a “bully” who “kisses up and punches down,” among other things.

“I’m as conservative as John Bolton is,” Ford told the committee. “But the fact is that the collateral damage and the personal hurt that he causes is not worth the price that had to be paid.”

Multiple people who had worked with Bolton came out of the woodwork to speak to these issues. Perhaps the most harrowing such account came in an open letter written by a former federal contractor named Melody Townsel, recalling a time that she raised issues surrounding the use of funds in a contract Bolton was working on. He didn’t take it well:

Mr. Bolton proceeded to chase me through the halls of a Russian hotel — throwing things at me, shoving threatening letters under my door and, generally, behaving like a madman. For nearly two weeks, while I awaited fresh direction from my company and from US AID, John Bolton hounded me in such an appalling way that I eventually retreated to my hotel room and stayed there. Mr. Bolton, of course, then routinely visited me there to pound on the door and shout threats.

All in all, according to then-Sen. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, testimony from at least five people confirmed multiple instances of Bolton behaving abusively toward subordinates and retaliating against intelligence professionals who challenged his policy positions. For these reasons, Bolton could not be confirmed by the Senate — which was, at the time, controlled by Republicans.

Bolton’s Iraq-era activities are extraordinarily relevant for understanding what he’ll push for as Trump’s national security adviser (a position that doesn’t require Senate confirmation).

Technically, his primary job will be running the National Security Council, which exists to coordinate and synthesize the sometimes conflicting policy proposals that emerge from the Pentagon, State Department, and other agencies. He will present the president with strategic assessments of high-level officials like the secretaries of defense and state, offer his own thinking, and then communicate Trump’s ultimate decision to the agencies and work to ensure it’s implemented.

Put another way, his job is to manage the information that comes to the president and then present a clear-eyed and accurate assessment of what’s happening and how to respond to it. Yet Bolton’s history suggests a long and storied history of cherry-picking intelligence to support his preferred hawkish policies.

“Bolton is so much of an ideologue,” says Eoyang, “that I don’t think he would accurately portray consequences [of policy options] to the president.”

His reported history of berating and undermining anyone who attempted to challenge him is likely to further stifle dissent. He’ll have more power over the White House national security staff as national security adviser than anyone other than the president, giving him unprecedented ability to act as a “bully,” in Ford’s words.

It’s very plausible that Bolton will accelerate the brain drain from the federal government that already seems to be taking shape — not just in the White House but across the various departments that make foreign policy.

“Bolton hates the State Department. He portrays US diplomats as closet Democrats and appeasers,” Richard Gowan, a professor at Columbia University who has studied Bolton’s career, recalls. “As NSA, he would almost certainly encourage the hollowing out of State Trump and [former Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson have begun.”

John Bolton represents the Fox News-ification of foreign policy

Ultimately, Bolton did get the UN ambassador position — though without the Senate’s permission. In August 2005, President Bush appointed him to the post while the Senate was out of session (a so-called “recess appointment”).

Bolton’s year and a half at the UN was characterized by showy condemnations of the organization, which infuriated American allies, but he had little influence on the UN or the overall arc of Bush’s second-term foreign policy.

“Bolton raised hell at the UN, but his actual power was quite limited,” Gowan recalls. “Condi Rice and the mainstream conservatives in the second Bush administration often ignored him. He is quite open about this in his memoirs from that period, which are fun.”

In December 2006, Bolton called it quits, returning to civilian life. He became a fixture on Fox News and conservative talk radio, where his confirmation fight and anti-UN rhetoric was hailed as a sign of his willingness to speak truth to power. He was so prominent in these spheres, mostly through his contract as a Fox contributor, that he considered running for president in both 2012 and 2016.

Bolton was particularly popular among a small but influential group of hardline anti-Islam activists, the “counter-jihad” movement, who believed the US government was being infiltrated by Islamists and that Islamic law was quietly taking over the US legal system.

Bolton wrote the foreword to a book by two of the most prominent counter-jihadists, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, in 2010. In 2016, Bolton spoke at a conference held by the American Freedom Alliance, considered a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, titled “Can Islam and the West Coexist?” His speech contained a “joke” whose punchline was that President Obama was a Muslim.

In his many media appearances and public appearances, Bolton never wavered from the kind of hawkish policy views he established during the Bush administration. In a 2015 New York Times op-ed, Bolton advocated for a US and/or Israeli airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities. “Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed,” he wrote. “Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

Since Trump took office, Bolton has put the media savvy and experience with the conservative movement he’s developed to good use — using various levers to influence the president. In just the first months of 2018, Bolton has appeared on Fox News roughly 20 times. He has used those appearances to sell his policy preferences, warning against diplomacy with North Korea and encouraging Jordan to annex the West Bank (much of which remains under Israeli occupation despite the fact that the vast majority of its citizens are Palestinian).

During the early Trump administration, then-White House senior strategist Steve Bannon approached Bolton as part of a plan to get around Cabinet members, like Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who opposed withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Bolton drafted a five-page memo detailing his proposal for tearing up the deal, which he then published in National Review after Bannon departed the White House.

And in February 2018, he published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing that the US needed to solve the nuclear standoff with North Korea by force.

“Pre-emption opponents argue that action is not justified because Pyongyang does not constitute an ‘imminent threat.’ They are wrong,” Bolton wrote. “It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.”

Bolton’s record in the Bush administration and general hawkishness made him a marginal figure in Washington foreign policy conversations. So after leaving, he cannily aligned himself with Fox News and other influential groups on the right, like the counter-jihadists, who saw him as an experienced and credible commentator. This led not only to television news and book contracts but to platforms through which he could potentially influence actual Republican elected officials.

This reached a kind of apogee with President Trump. Trump sees the world through a televisual lens; he seems to get more information from Fox News than from his daily intelligence briefings. The president values the advice of people he sees on the TV and other friendly media outlets. Bolton is not seen as a relic of the hated Bush administration; he’s seen as an authoritative and expert Fox voice. According to Bolton’s National Review piece, Trump once told him to “come in and see me any time” in the White House.

Now, of course, Bolton will have a permanent home in the White House. The reason he didn’t have an administration sooner, according to some press accounts, is aesthetic. In December 2016, the Washington Post reported that Bolton was eliminated from the running for secretary of state because Trump — I swear I’m not making this up — didn’t like his mustache.

“Donald was not going to like that mustache,” one Trump associate told the Post. “I can’t think of anyone that’s really close to Donald that has a beard that he likes.”

Perhaps because of the mustache, Trump hadn’t taken Bolton’s policy advice to heart in his first year in office. There’s no war with North Korea, and the Iran deal remains (largely) intact.

But now Bolton is national security adviser, with direct access to the president and tremendous influence over a vast and powerful national security bureaucracy. And many foreign policy experts are deeply concerned about what that means.

“The United States has not hit rock bottom in our international relations,” says Eoyang. “[With Bolton], we could go lower.”

Surly Newz / Anti-Fascists Out Wells Fargo Mortgage Consultant
« on: March 21, 2018, 04:45:23 PM »
Never forget, they live among us! Gratified to see that the pressure is still being applied to identify those who participated in the murderous nazi love-fest in Charlottesville last summer. No one should be surprised that this Nazi guy worked at Wells Fargo? That bank has been investigated and sued several times recently for discriminating against POC in their lending practices, as well as paying smaller bonuses to mortgage officers who happen to be of color. And let's never forget what they did to Norman Rousseau. I won't.

Anti-Fascists Out Wells Fargo Mortgage Consultant as Tiki-Torch-Toting White Supremacist

Anti-Fascists Out Wells Fargo Mortgage Consultant as Tiki-Torch-Toting White Supremacist 

Andrew Alexander Murphy Harkins screams, “Cascadia,” a reference to a white nationalist organization, at the precursor to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017.Screenshot:  Bitcoin Uncensored

After receiving photographic evidence that one of its employees was affiliated with some of the most notorious hate groups and marched in Charlottesville, Va.’s Unite the Right rally in August, Wells Fargo announced that the man in question was no longer employed by the company, but that the company had had no idea he was a racist, they swear.

The Oregonian reports that 33-year-old Andrew Alexander Murphy Harkins had been employed as a home-mortgage consultant at the Tigard, Ore., branch of Wells Fargo since 2012. (Apparently, Harkins’ parents intended for him to keep all of the white names for himself.)

When the Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective began looking into Harkins’ activities, aside from asking, “Damn, are you sure he’s not 63?” they noticed that he had a troubling history of cozying up to white supremacists. Known for their use of words like “collective” and “troubling,” the group of anti-fascist activists from Oregon and Washington state is also infamous for tracking down people who affiliate with hate groups.

The collective discovered that Harkins attended the Charlottesville Hate-a-Palooza when they saw pictures of him marching with Identity Evropa, the white supremacist group known for boosting its subconscious penile insecurities by carrying tiki torches and screaming, “You will not replace us!”

Harkins also was caught on video the next day on the front lines of the Charlottesville no-class reunion with the Traditionalist Workers Party, the recently disbanded collection of trailer-park MMA fighters seeking to create their own white nation. TWP is recognized for its use of violence and its members’ weak jawlines.

In one picture, Harkins is seen next to James Alex Fields, who would go on to allegedly commit the terrorist attack that killed Heather Heyer later the same day.

Andrew Alexander Murphy Harkins (background, right) at the Charlottesville, Va., Unite the Right Rally standing next to James Alex Fields (seen to the left of Harkins)Screenshot:  Enough Is Enough

The antifa group also uncovered pictures of Harkins after a June 4 pro-Trump rally in Portland, Ore. The mortgage consultant was having a beer with “alt-white” pioneers including James Allsup and Tim Gionet after a long day of inspiring hate. Allsup is a far-right political commentator on YouTube (which is the the Caucasian equivalent of an Instagram model, but with more-disappointing booty poses). Gionet—who goes by the name “Baked Alaska”—is a famous internet troll who was banned from Twitter for his racism.

Harkins shares a beer with other white supremacists after a pro-Donald Trump rally in Portland, Ore., in June 2017.Photo:  Enough Is Enough

In multiple photos, Harkins is sporting the hat with the logo for True Cascadia. According to the website, True Cascadia seeks to “promote white ethnic consciousness in the Pacific Northwest and prevent, as well as reverse, the increasingly discriminatory policies enacted in opposition to whites in our own homelands.” At the Identity Evropa tiki-torch jamboree, Harkins can be heard screaming the name of the organization in ecstasy. It is unclear if Harkins was rallying his troops or having a Nazi orgasm.

“Wells Fargo has a proud tradition of diversity and inclusion,” Wells Fargo spokesperson Tom Unger spokesman said in a statement to The Oregonian/OregonLive. “We are committed to treating all of our customers, team members and the diverse communities we serve with the utmost dignity and respect.”


Unger added that Harkins was no longer employed by Wells Fargo, but would not offer specifics on how or why Harkins was not working in themortgage-consultant position the company’s website describes as someone “responsible for producing high-quality loans that meet Wells Fargo Home Mortgage guidelines by building relationships with realtors, builders, financial professionals, bank stores, past customers and other nontraditional sources, while providing excellent customer service.”

In January 2017, Wells Fargo settled a $35.5 million class action lawsuit alleging that the bank discriminated against African-American financial advisers. In May 2017, the city of Philadelphia sued Wells Fargo, charging that the financial institution steered black and Latino borrowers toward higher interest rates.

I’m guessing it’s all Andrew Alexander Murphy Harkins’ fault.

Surly Newz / Going Down With the Bad Ship U.S.A.
« on: March 20, 2018, 04:02:20 AM »
Some of that ol' time religion with the always-reliable Glen Ford.

Going Down With the Bad Ship U.S.A.

Going Down With the Bad Ship U.S.A.

Glen Ford, BAR executive editor
15 Mar 2018
Going Down With the Bad Ship U.S.A.
Going Down With the Bad Ship U.S.A.

“All that it can offer to the emerging nations of the world is a bad example and the threat of annihilation.”

There is no mystery to the ideological collapse of U.S. ruling class politics under late stage capitalism and imperial decline. Simply put, the corporate duopoly parties have nothing to offer the masses of people except unrelenting austerity at home and endless wars abroad. A shrunken and privatized Detroit serves as the model for U.S. urban policy; Libya and Syria are the scorched-earth footprints of a demented and dying empire. The lengthening shadow of economic eclipse by the East leaves the U.S. Lords of Capital with no cards left to play but the threat of Armageddon.

As China reclaims its historic place at the center of the earth, alongside the huge and heavily armed landmass of Russia, Washington flails about in a frenzy of firewall-building, buying time with the blood of millions, hoping to somehow preserve its doomed hegemony. But the “exceptional” superpower has no Marshall Plan to rescue itself from the throes of systemic decay, and all that it can offer to the emerging nations of the world is a bad example and the threat of annihilation. Its own people tire of the “Great Game,” finally realizing that they are the ones who have been played.

“Washington flails about in a frenzy of firewall-building, buying time with the blood of millions.”

George Bush drawled the “last hurrah” of empire with his declaration of “Mission Accomplished,” 15 years ago -- and was quickly contradicted. With the failure in Iraq, the pretense of “spreading democracy” came ingloriously undone. A refurbishing of the imperial brand was attempted, with a bright and shiny new face – a Black-ish one -- plus a new logo to justify invasion and regime-change: “humanitarian” intervention. But Obama’s assault on Syria revealed that the U.S. and its junior partners could only project power in the region through an alliance with Islamic jihadist terror. The architects of the War on Terror were, in fact, the godfathers of al Qaida.

“Do you realize now what you’ve done?” Vladimir Putin demanded of the Americans, at the United Nations, in 2015. “It is hypocritical and irresponsible to make loud declarations about the threat of international terrorism while turning a blind eye to the channels of financing and supporting terrorists, including the process of trafficking and illicit trade in oil and arms. It would be equally irresponsible to try to manipulate extremist groups and place them at one's service in order to achieve one's own political goals in the hope of later dealing with them or, in other words, liquidating them.”

The U.S. and its junior partners could only project power in the region through an alliance with Islamic jihadist terror.”

Washington’s jihadist strategy has rapidly unraveled ever since. The empire was unmasked in the world’s most public forum, revealing the utter depravity of U.S. policy and, more importantly, the weakness of Washington’s position in the region. The mighty fortress of global capital, the self-appointed defender of the world economic “order,” was revealed as, not just in collusion with head-chopping, women-enslaving, sectarian mass-murdering terrorists, but militarily dependent on the very forces it claims to wage a twilight, “generational” battle to destroy. The U.S. has been spouting The Mother of All Lies, and most of humanity knows it. Deep down, most Americans suspect as much, too.

With its intervention in Syria as a stalwart foe of jihadism and in defense of the principle of national sovereignty, Russia spoke the language of international law and morality, presenting a fundamental challenge to U.S. imperial exceptionalism. By deploying his forces against Washington’s jihadist proxies, in a region infested with American bases, Putin put muscle behind his call for a “multi-polar” world order.

China understands clearly that the ultimate U.S. aim is to block China’s access to the region’s energy and markets, at will. Beijing has praised Russia’s military role in the war, and stood with Moscow in vetoing western Security Council resolutions targeting Damascus. China routinely joins with Russia – and most other nations on the planet -- in pursuit of a more “multi-polar world.”

“Putin put muscle behind his call for a “multi-polar” world order.”

The U.S. now uses the desperate Kurdish militia as surrogates in Syria, in an attempt to justify its presence in the country, while continuing to arm, finance and train other “rebel” groups, reportedly including former ISIS fighters. The U.S. has always avoided targeting the al Qaida affiliate in Syria, formerly known as the al Nusra Front -- which, with ISIS on the run, remains the most effective anti-government force in the country.

The Trump administration declares that it will remain in Syria for the foreseeable future -- without even a fig leaf of legal cover. Although there is now no possibility for a jihadist victory, Washington seems intent on drawing out the war as long as possible. The truth is, Washington doesn’t know how to extricate itself, because to do so would amount to yet another admission of defeat, and lead quickly to the dissolution of the jihadist networks the Pentagon has so long cultivated.

Withdrawal from Syria -- and, sooner rather than later, from Iraq, whose parliament this month called for a timetable for U.S. forces to vacate the country -- would totally unravel U.S. strategy to dominate events in the oil-rich region. Obama launched the jihadist war against the Syrian government in 2011 to force his way into the country. ISIS’s seizure of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, gave the U.S. the opportunity to return to that country, militarily. There will be no third chances, in Syria or Iraq.

“Washington doesn’t know how to extricate itself, because to do so would amount to yet another admission of defeat.”

The American people will not stand for another such adventure. They feel tainted by the experience in both Syria and Iraq, and don’t trust what their government says about the “good guys” and the “bad guys” in the Arab world. If only for reasons of racism, they want out.

Everyone smells U.S. defeat, inside and outside the empire. It is a stink that only Americans that were conscious in the Vietnam era can remember. It makes folks anxious -- like the loss of a cocoon. Just as whites reaped a “psychological wage ” from Jim Crow privileges, according to W.E.B. Dubois, even if they were poor, so do citizens of empire feel psychological benefits, even when the cost of the war machine is impoverishing the country. U.S. politics in the era of imperial decline will be nasty, stupid, petty and racist -- just as we are already experiencing. There must be scapegoats for the national de-exceptionalization. The Russians fit the bill, for now, and so does anybody that talks like a Russian, or a Chinese -- for example, people that would like to live in a “multi-polar world.”

Do not expect the Republicans or the Democrats to make any sense of a world of diminishing empire. The duopolists are incapable of seeing any future beyond their rich patrons’ vision –- and the rich have no vision beyond continued accumulation of wealth, which requires a harsher and harsher austerity.

Most dangerous, they cannot imagine a world in which they are not on top. We will have to fight to keep them from blowing us all up, in rich man’s despair.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at .

Surly Newz / Did Carter Page Call Devin Nunes From Moscow?
« on: March 18, 2018, 06:29:23 AM »
Dirty, dirty, dirty.

Did Carter Page Call Devin Nunes From Moscow?

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Did Carter Page Call Devin Nunes From Moscow?

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Is Devin Nunes directly on an FBI intercept with Carter Page, receiving instructions for the Trump Transition team directly from Moscow? I believe he must be. Here’s the evidence.

Carter Page Spoke to Both the Transition Team and Russian Government

In December of 2016, Carter Page went back to Russia. Trump had won the election, and Devin Nunes, along with Boris Epshteyn, was part of the Transition Team, headed by Vice-President Mike Pence.

Officially, Carter Page was no longer part of Team Trump. But we now know from Rep. Adam Schiff, leader of the Democratic Minority on the House Intelligence Committee, that a FISA warrant had been granted –  with Mr. Page as its direct target – on October 21, 2016.

Page made headlines on that trip, not least at Heat Street, the Dow Jones site whose editor I was. Could it be that both he and the Russian government revealed, in real time, their collusion? Masha Froliak reported that Page announced Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State at a press conference hosted by Sputnik – actually hosted by the Russian state –  in which he was grossly offensive about Hillary Clinton. More importantly, Tillerson had not yet been announced by Trump as his pick in America. Tillerson was announced on December 13th; but Page announced him on December 12th, the day before.

Furthermore, Page had clearly not received this intelligence on the spur of the moment. He presented, without any ambiguity, Tillerson as Secretary of State using slides that had clearly been drawn up in advance; slides which featured photographs and graphics. These slides will doubtless feature in Bob Mueller’s investigation. We illustrated our piece using screengrabs from Russia Today’s video of the event. One slide featured an obviously “designed” graphic that was clearly not made by Page himself; with a side-by-side comparison of Hillary Clinton and Rex Tillerson’s “achievements” in regard to Russia, the graphic for the Clintons shows them all as Russian dolls, with the largest Russian doll being a figure of Monica Lewinsky. Reviewing the lecture and Froliak’s reporting, it is plain in retrospect that not only the graphics, but the text of the slides were provided to Page by Russian actors.

It was a calculated insult to the United States to announce Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State in Moscow before Trump announced him in America. A cocky, even euphoric Russian media and government had clearly miscalculated dramatically over the strength of the US Constitution, the NATO alliance and the USIC. During this period, Russia was engaging in face to face communication with Trump’s team both in Washington and Moscow. (That was partly because of my own reporting, oddly enough. Sources told me much later that as soon as I published the FISA story on both Russian banks’ servers, talking to the Trump server, being under a FISA warrant, they ceased to communicate with Alfa Bank in Moscow; Team Trump and Team Putin then needed human contact, believing email to be unsafe).

In early December, Ambassador Kislyak met Flynn, Bannon and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower. At that meeting, Kislyak and Kushner set up the January 11th Erik Prince-Kirill Dimitriev meeting.  Kislyak subsequently met with Avi Berkowitz, formerly of the “Trump Data” team, to ask that Kushner meet the Russian banker, Sergei Gorkov, a Russian intelligence and government proxy.

Carter Page then traveled to Moscow, apparently to receive and relay messages – orders, in fact – between Putin’s government and Team Trump. And this is not speculation – it is fact, confessed by both sides at the time. Carter Page said:

“I am not directly involved in the transition, but I have talked to various people”

He also said he was in Moscow to meet with “thought leaders”.  Sadly for both Carter Page and Vladimir Putin, Sputnik, which is an official government entity, said that

thought leaders… may include government officials.

In summary, then, Carter Page in Moscow, in Dec 2016:

  • Was the target of a FISA warrant, and would have been under surveillance by US intelligence, with any evidence received from intercepting his phone calls and emails admissible in court
  • Announced Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State the day before Trump did
  • Used materials obviously prepared in advance to do so, including ‘fake news’ style graphics
  • Used materials which, I argue, were prepared for him by Russian intelligence, including a detailed breakdown of Rex Tillerson’s interactions with Russia
  • According to himself, was communicating with the Trump Transition team
  • According to the Russian government, was meeting with Russian governmental officials

Page Was Accompanied By Jack Kingston of Russia Today

Jack Kingston, the Russia Today pundit, accompanied Carter Page to Russia by design, joining in meetings and discussing sanction repeal – absolutely illegal while Obama was President. Kingston lied that he was a private person, but at the same time admitted he had a role in Trump’s campaign:

“I was an active soldier in the foxhole, but not a general deploying troops”

The American Chamber of Commerce in Russia billed Kingston openly as acting as “a senior adviser to President-Elect Donald Trump”. In a paragraph all involved will regret, they detailed Kingston’s status with the Campaign and Mike Pence. “He participated in the campaign’s daily briefings…. his relationship with Team Members is extensive… he served as Senior Adviser to Trump during the campaign”

Jack Kingston served as Senior advisor to President-Elect Donald Trump during the campaign. In this capacity he participated in the campaign’s daily briefings and also as an outside surrogate, appearing on TV over 130 times on behalf of the campaign. His relationship with team members is extensive. For example, he has known Newt Gingrich for over 30 years, Kellyanne Conway for over 20 years and served with Mike Pence for 12 years in Congress. He also dealt with other campaign leaders and members of the Trump family.

But Did Page Talk to Devin Nunes?

Both my FISA article of Nov 7th, and Paul Wood’s article for the BBC in January 2017, reported that the FISA warrant of October 15th, targeted at two Russian banks, was intended to cover three individuals working with the Trump campaign, plus Mr. Trump himself, although we both acknowledged that the Russian banks were the target. Neither of us named the three individuals at that time. Later, I reported on this blog that the three Trump campaign associates were Page, Manafort and Epshteyn. Wood, myself and the Guardian’s Julian Borger all reported that a June application to FISC had failed.

The reason that I, as the journalist who broke the story, did not name the Trump associates was that Mr. Epshteyn was not officially part of the campaign. I described him as a “media surrogate” as distinct from Page and Manafort, both of whom had officially been part of the campaign at one point. However, at Patribotics I was able to report on Epshteyn as a public figure because he then became officially part of the Trump Transition team. (Mr. Epshteyn is, incidentally, the only figure in the Trump Russia affair that I have actually called a ‘Russian spy’ as opposed to a Russian asset. My sources, multiple Western intelligence sources from more than one nation, state that Epshteyn is an FSB agent. He adamantly denies it.)

Devin Nunes inspired me to write that piece naming the FISA targets. On Dec 11th, the day before Page’s Moscow speech, Nunes wrote

Today I was honored to have been named to the executive committee of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team. In this role, I will advise President-elect Trump on the appointments of his Cabinet members and on appointments to other top positions in the new administration.

Indeed. Nunes probably acted as a cut-out: Page is told whom Moscow has picked as Secretary of State, Page calls Devin Nunes from Moscow, and Devin Nunes tells Trump. If I am correct, then this call or calls will be on legally admissible intercepts, gathered under a FISA warrant. Not only will Carter Page be going to jail, Devin Nunes will too.

Nunes notorious press conference in March after his trip to the White House – in which his former counsel Michael Ellis leaked intelligence transcripts to him – appears in retrospect to confirm this theory. Politico reported that Nunes’ complaints of “unmasking” were in fact invented. Adam Schiff said:

“In my conversation late this afternoon, the chairman informed me that most of the names in the intercepted communications were in fact masked, but that he could still figure out the probable identity of the parties,” Schiff said.

Mr. Nunes flat panic indicates that he saw a reference to himself in those transcripts. That would mean that he knows that Page – the legal target of a FISA warrant – was recorded, and he is “US Person X” in those transcripts.


In March, the press was confused by the Nunes reference to “incidental collection”, assuming that he must be talking about Kislyak intercepts with Mike Flynn. FISA warrants are normally granted on foreign entities; the direct targeting of Carter Page was very unusual, and the press had no idea that Page was under a FISA warrant in December. It should be noted that Nunes said that Trump, too, appears on these transcripts.

Nunes Leaked That the FBI Was Investigating Boris Epshteyn on Fox News

To recap my piece, I chose to reveal that Page, Manafort and Epshteyn were named in the June FISA warrant application because Devin Nunes was revealing evidence on live TV. On March 19th, Nunes said to Fox’s Chris Wallace

“If you look at the folks today who are working at the Trump White House, I don’t think there’s anybody there but one who are under any kind of investigation or surveillance activity”

So Nunes literally broadcast to America that he knew a White House staffer was under investigation and surveillance!

On March 24th, Director Comey arrived at the White House. On March 27th, Boris Epshteyn unceremoniously resigned. Some time after this, I reported exclusively, and events subsequently confirmed, that Devin Nunes had his clearance – access to view TS/SCI materials – stripped, leaving him only with ‘Top Secret’ access. He was unable to write the nonsense Nunes memo because, as Adam Schiff pointed out, despite being chairman of the House intelligence committee, Nunes is unable to look at the upper Top Secret classification.

I am confident that all Mr. Page’s conversations from Moscow are on legal intercepts that Mueller can use in court; and that Devin Nunes is on those intercepts.

Patribotics needs your support to keep going. If you can support our work, please consider

EXCLUSIVE: Devin Nunes Has Top Secret Clearance Revoked

Surly Newz / "Like Nixon on Steroids:" The Cambridge Analytica Files
« on: March 18, 2018, 05:35:37 AM »
It’s an incredible revelation. It also encapsulates all of the problems of outsourcing – at a global scale, with added cyberweapons. And in the middle of it all are the public – our intimate family connections, our “likes”, our crumbs of personal data, all sucked into a swirling black hole that’s expanding and growing and is now owned by a politically motivated billionaire.

The smoking fucking gun. Now the question remains, "What are we going to do about it?"

The Cambridge Analytica Files
‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower

For more than a year we’ve been investigating Cambridge Analytica and its links to the Brexit Leave campaign in the UK and Team Trump in the US presidential election. Now, 28-year-old Christopher Wylie goes on the record to discuss his role in hijacking the profiles of millions of Facebook users in order to target the US electorate


The first time I met Christopher Wylie, he didn’t yet have pink hair. That comes later. As does his mission to rewind time. To put the genie back in the bottle.

By the time I met him in person, I’d already been talking to him on a daily basis for hours at a time. On the phone, he was clever, funny, bitchy, profound, intellectually ravenous, compelling. A master storyteller. A politicker. A data science nerd.

Play Video
Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: 'We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles' – video

Two months later, when he arrived in London from Canada, he was all those things in the flesh. And yet the flesh was impossibly young. He was 27 then (he’s 28 now), a fact that has always seemed glaringly at odds with what he has done. He may have played a pivotal role in the momentous political upheavals of 2016. At the very least, he played a consequential role. At 24, he came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that went on to claim a major role in the Leave campaign for Britain’s EU membership referendum, and later became a key figure in digital operations during Donald Trump’s election campaign.

Or, as Wylie describes it, he was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool”.

In 2014, Steve Bannon – then executive chairman of the “alt-right” news network Breitbart – was Wylie’s boss. And Robert Mercer, the secretive US hedge-fund billionaire and Republican donor, was Cambridge Analytica’s investor. And the idea they bought into was to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology – “information operations” – then turn it on the US electorate.

It was Wylie who came up with that idea and oversaw its realisation. And it was Wylie who, last spring, became my source. In May 2017, I wrote an article headlined “The great British Brexit robbery”, which set out a skein of threads that linked Brexit to Trump to Russia. Wylie was one of a handful of individuals who provided the evidence behind it. I found him, via another Cambridge Analytica ex-employee, lying low in Canada: guilty, brooding, indignant, confused. “I haven’t talked about this to anyone,” he said at the time. And then he couldn’t stop talking.

By that time, Steve Bannon had become Trump’s chief strategist. Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, had won contracts with the US State Department and was pitching to the Pentagon, and Wylie was genuinely freaked out. “It’s insane,” he told me one night. “The company has created psychological profiles of 230 million Americans. And now they want to work with the Pentagon? It’s like Nixon on steroids.”

He ended up showing me a tranche of documents that laid out the secret workings behind Cambridge Analytica. And in the months following publication of my article in May, it was revealed that the company had “reached out” to WikiLeaks to help distribute Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails in 2016. And then we watched as it became a subject of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible Russian collusion in the US election.

Wylie oversaw what may have been the first critical breach. Aged 24, while studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.

“We ‘broke’ Facebook,” he says.

And he did it on behalf of his new boss, Steve Bannon.

“Is it fair to say you ‘hacked’ Facebook?” I ask him one night.

He hesitates. “I’ll point out that I assumed it was entirely legal and above board.”

Last month, Facebook’s UK director of policy, Simon Milner, told British MPs on a select committee inquiry into fake news, chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins, that Cambridge Analytica did not have Facebook data. The official Hansard extract reads:

Christian Matheson (MP for Chester): “Have you ever passed any user information over to Cambridge Analytica or any of its associated companies?”

Simon Milner: “No.”

Matheson: “But they do hold a large chunk of Facebook’s user data, don’t they?”

Milner: “No. They may have lots of data, but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.”

Alexander Nix
Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica CEO. Photograph: The Washington Post/Getty Images

Two weeks later, on 27 February, as part of the same parliamentary inquiry, Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, asked Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix: “Does any of the data come from Facebook?” Nix replied: “We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data.”

And through it all, Wylie and I, plus a handful of editors and a small, international group of academics and researchers, have known that – at least in 2014 – that certainly wasn’t the case, because Wylie has the paper trail. In our first phone call, he told me he had the receipts, invoices, emails, legal letters – records that showed how, between June and August 2014, the profiles of more than 50 million Facebook users had been harvested. Most damning of all, he had a letter from Facebook’s own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica had acquired the data illegitimately.

Going public involves an enormous amount of risk. Wylie is breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risks being sued. He is breaking the confidence of Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer.

It’s taken a rollercoaster of a year to help get Wylie to a place where it’s possible for him to finally come forward. A year in which Cambridge Analytica has been the subject of investigations on both sides of the Atlantic – Robert Mueller’s in the US, and separate inquiries by the Electoral Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK, both triggered in February 2017, after theObserver’s first article in this investigation.

It has been a year, too, in which Wylie has been trying his best to rewind – to undo events that he set in motion. Earlier this month, he submitted a dossier of evidence to the Information Commissioner’s Office and the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit. He is now in a position to go on the record: the data nerd who came in from the cold.

There are many points where this story could begin. One is in 2012, when Wylie was 21 and working for the Liberal Democrats in the UK, then in government as junior coalition partners. His career trajectory has been, like most aspects of his life so far, extraordinary, preposterous, implausible.

Wylie grew up in British Columbia and as a teenager he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. He left school at 16 without a single qualification. Yet at 17, he was working in the office of the leader of the Canadian opposition; at 18, he went to learn all things data from Obama’s national director of targeting, which he then introduced to Canada for the Liberal party. At 19, he taught himself to code, and in 2010, age 20, he came to London to study law at the London School of Economics.

“Politics is like the mob, though,” he says. “You never really leave. I got a call from the Lib Dems. They wanted to upgrade their databases and voter targeting. So, I combined working for them with studying for my degree.”

Politics is also where he feels most comfortable. He hated school, but as an intern in the Canadian parliament he discovered a world where he could talk to adults and they would listen. He was the kid who did the internet stuff and within a year he was working for the leader of the opposition.

It showed these odd patterns. People who liked 'I hate Israel' on Facebook also tended to like KitKats

“He’s one of the brightest people you will ever meet,” a senior politician who’s known Wylie since he was 20 told me. “Sometimes that’s a blessing and sometimes a curse.”

Meanwhile, at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, two psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, were experimenting with a way of studying personality – by quantifying it.

Starting in 2007, Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on “big five” personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles. Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook “likes” across millions of people.

An example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test.
Examples, above and below, of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. “They had a lot of approaches from the security services,” a member of the centre told me. “There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

“There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.”

The defence and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research. Boeing, a major US defence contractor, funded Kosinski’s PhD and Darpa, the US government’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is cited in at least two academic papers supporting Kosinski’s work.

But when, in 2013, the first major paper was published, others saw this potential too, including Wylie. He had finished his degree and had started his PhD in fashion forecasting, and was thinking about the Lib Dems. It is fair to say that he didn’t have a clue what he was walking into.

An example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?
A visual message test from the app thisismydigitallife. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?

“I wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century,” Wylie explains. “And I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands it’s weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data.

“And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behaviour, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems they’re absent-minded professors and hippies. They’re the early adopters… they’re highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.”

Here was a way for the party to identify potential new voters. The only problem was that the Lib Dems weren’t interested.

“I did this presentation at which I told them they would lose half their 57 seats, and they were like: ‘Why are you so pessimistic?’ They actually lost all but eight of their seats, FYI.”

Another Lib Dem connection introduced Wylie to a company called SCL Group, one of whose subsidiaries, SCL Elections, would go on to create Cambridge Analytica (an incorporated venture between SCL Elections and Robert Mercer, funded by the latter). For all intents and purposes, SCL/Cambridge Analytica are one and the same.

Alexander Nix, then CEO of SCL Elections, made Wylie an offer he couldn’t resist. “He said: ‘We’ll give you total freedom. Experiment. Come and test out all your crazy ideas.’”

An example of the visual messages trialled by GSR’s online profiling test. Respondents were asked: How important should this message be to all Americans?

In the history of bad ideas, this turned out to be one of the worst. The job was research director across the SCL group, a private contractor that has both defence and elections operations. Its defence arm was a contractor to the UK’s Ministry of Defence and the US’s Department of Defense, among others. Its expertise was in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance”, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.

SCL Elections had used a similar suite of tools in more than 200 elections around the world, mostly in undeveloped democracies that Wylie would come to realise were unequipped to defend themselves.

Wylie holds a British Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa – a UK work visa given to just 200 people a year. He was working inside government (with the Lib Dems) as a political strategist with advanced data science skills. But no one, least of all him, could have predicted what came next. When he turned up at SCL’s offices in Mayfair, he had no clue that he was walking into the middle of a nexus of defence and intelligence projects, private contractors and cutting-edge cyberweaponry.

“The thing I think about all the time is, what if I’d taken a job at Deloitte instead? They offered me one. I just think if I’d taken literally any other job, Cambridge Analytica wouldn’t exist. You have no idea how much I brood on this.”

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

What was he like?

“Smart,” says Wylie. “Interesting. Really interested in ideas. He’s the only straight man I’ve ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.”

Wylie meeting Bannon was the moment petrol was poured on a flickering flame. Wylie lives for ideas. He speaks 19 to the dozen for hours at a time. He had a theory to prove. And at the time, this was a purely intellectual problem. Politics was like fashion, he told Bannon.

If you do not respect the agency of people, anything you do after that point is not conducive to democracy

Christopher Wylie

“[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.”

But Wylie wasn’t just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: “information operations”, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US military’s doctrine of the “five-dimensional battle space”. His brief ranged across the SCL Group – the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.

I tell him that another former employee described the firm as “MI6 for hire”, and I’d never quite understood it.

“It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.”

When I ask how Bannon even found SCL, Wylie tells me what sounds like a tall tale, though it’s one he can back up with an email about how Mark Block, a veteran Republican strategist, happened to sit next to a cyberwarfare expert for the US air force on a plane. “And the cyberwarfare guy is like, ‘Oh, you should meet SCL. They do cyberwarfare for elections.’”

U.S. President Trump’s former chief strategist Bannon walks in Piazza Navona in Rome
Steve Bannon: ‘He loved the gays,’ says Wylie. ‘He saw us as early adopters.’ Photograph: Tony Gentile/Reuters

It was Bannon who took this idea to the Mercers: Robert Mercer – the co-CEO of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, who used his billions to pursue a rightwing agenda, donating to Republican causes and supporting Republican candidates – and his daughter Rebekah.

Nix and Wylie flew to New York to meet the Mercers in Rebekah’s Manhattan apartment.

“She loved me. She was like, ‘Oh we need more of your type on our side!’”

Your type?

“The gays. She loved the gays. So did Steve [Bannon]. He saw us as early adopters. He figured, if you can get the gays on board, everyone else will follow. It’s why he was so into the whole Milo [Yiannopoulos] thing.”

Robert Mercer was a pioneer in AI and machine translation. He helped invent algorithmic trading – which replaced hedge fund managers with computer programs – and he listened to Wylie’s pitch. It was for a new kind of political message-targeting based on an influential and groundbreaking 2014 paperresearched at Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre, called: “Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans”.

“In politics, the money man is usually the dumbest person in the room. Whereas it’s the opposite way around with Mercer,” says Wylie. “He said very little, but he really listened. He wanted to understand the science. And he wanted proof that it worked.”

And to do that, Wylie needed data.

How Cambridge Analytica acquired the data has been the subject of internal reviews at Cambridge University, of many news articles and much speculation and rumour.

When Nix was interviewed by MPs last month, Damian Collins asked him:

“Does any of your data come from Global Science Research company?”

Nix: “GSR?”

Collins: “Yes.”

Nix: “We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.”

Collins: “They have not supplied you with data or information?”

Nix: “No.”

Collins: “Your datasets are not based on information you have received from them?”

Nix: “No.”

Collins: “At all?”

Nix: “At all.”

The problem with Nix’s response to Collins is that Wylie has a copy of an executed contract, dated 4 June 2014, which confirms that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Cambridge-based academic Aleksandr Kogan, specifically premised on the harvesting and processing of Facebook data, so that it could be matched to personality traits and voter rolls.

He has receipts showing that Cambridge Analytica spent $7m to amass this data, about $1m of it with GSR. He has the bank records and wire transfers. Emails reveal Wylie first negotiated with Michal Kosinski, one of the co-authors of the original myPersonality research paper, to use the myPersonality database. But when negotiations broke down, another psychologist, Aleksandr Kogan, offered a solution that many of his colleagues considered unethical. He offered to replicate Kosinski and Stilwell’s research and cut them out of the deal. For Wylie it seemed a perfect solution. “Kosinski was asking for $500,000 for the IP but Kogan said he could replicate it and just harvest his own set of data.” (Kosinski says the fee was to fund further research.)

Dr Aleksandr Kogan
An unethical solution? Dr Aleksandr Kogan Photograph: alex kogan

Kogan then set up GSR to do the work, and proposed to Wylie they use the data to set up an interdisciplinary institute working across the social sciences. “What happened to that idea,” I ask Wylie. “It never happened. I don’t know why. That’s one of the things that upsets me the most.”

It was Bannon’s interest in culture as war that ignited Wylie’s intellectual concept. But it was Robert Mercer’s millions that created a firestorm. Kogan was able to throw money at the hard problem of acquiring personal data: he advertised for people who were willing to be paid to take a personality quiz on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. At the end of which Kogan’s app, called thisismydigitallife, gave him permission to access their Facebook profiles. And not just theirs, but their friends’ too. On average, each “seeder” – the people who had taken the personality test, around 320,000 in total – unwittingly gave access to at least 160 other people’s profiles, none of whom would have known or had reason to suspect.

What the email correspondence between Cambridge Analytica employees and Kogan shows is that Kogan had collected millions of profiles in a matter of weeks. But neither Wylie nor anyone else at Cambridge Analytica had checked that it was legal. It certainly wasn’t authorised. Kogan did have permission to pull Facebook data, but for academic purposes only. What’s more, under British data protection laws, it’s illegal for personal data to be sold to a third party without consent.

“Facebook could see it was happening,” says Wylie. “Their security protocols were triggered because Kogan’s apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use. So they were like, ‘Fine’.”

Kogan maintains that everything he did was legal and he had a “close working relationship” with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.

Cambridge Analytica had its data. This was the foundation of everything it did next – how it extracted psychological insights from the “seeders” and then built an algorithm to profile millions more.

For more than a year, the reporting around what Cambridge Analytica did or didn’t do for Trump has revolved around the question of “psychographics”, but Wylie points out: “Everything was built on the back of that data. The models, the algorithm. Everything. Why wouldn’t you use it in your biggest campaign ever?”

In December 2015, the Guardian’s Harry Davies published the first report about Cambridge Analytica acquiring Facebook data and using it to support Ted Cruz in his campaign to be the US Republican candidate. But it wasn’t until many months later that Facebook took action. And then, all they did was write a letter. In August 2016, shortly before the US election, and two years after the breach took place, Facebook’s lawyers wrote to Wylie, who left Cambridge Analytica in 2014, and told him the data had been illicitly obtained and that “GSR was not authorised to share or sell it”. They said it must be deleted immediately.

Christopher Wylie
Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach
Whistleblower describes how firm linked to former Trump adviser Steve Bannon compiled user data to target American voters

• How Cambridge Analytica’s algorithms turned ‘likes’ into a political tool

The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.

Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”

Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.

The New York Times is reporting that copies of the data harvested for Cambridge Analytica could still be found online; its reporting team had viewed some of the raw data.

The data was collected through an app called thisisyourdigitallife, built by academic Aleksandr Kogan, separately from his work at Cambridge University. Through his company Global Science Research (GSR), in collaboration with Cambridge Analytica, hundreds of thousands of users were paid to take a personality test and agreed to have their data collected for academic use.

However, the app also collected the information of the test-takers’ Facebook friends, leading to the accumulation of a data pool tens of millions-strong. Facebook’s “platform policy” allowed only collection of friends’ data to improve user experience in the app and barred it being sold on or used for advertising. The discovery of the unprecedented data harvesting, and the use to which it was put, raises urgent new questions about Facebook’s role in targeting voters in the US presidential election. It comes only weeks after indictments of 13 Russians by the special counsel Robert Mueller which stated they had used the platform to perpetrate “information warfare” against the US.

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are one focus of an inquiry into data and politics by the British Information Commissioner’s Office. Separately, the Electoral Commission is also investigating what role Cambridge Analytica played in the EU referendum.

“We are investigating the circumstances in which Facebook data may have been illegally acquired and used,” said the information commissioner Elizabeth Denham. “It’s part of our ongoing investigation into the use of data analytics for political purposes which was launched to consider how political parties and campaigns, data analytics companies and social media platforms in the UK are using and analysing people’s personal information to micro-target voters.”

On Friday, four days after the Observer sought comment for this story, but more than two years after the data breach was first reported, Facebook announced that it was suspending Cambridge Analytica and Kogan from the platform, pending further information over misuse of data. Separately, Facebook’s external lawyers warned the Observer it was making “false and defamatory” allegations, and reserved Facebook’s legal position.

Steve Bannon

 Key Trump adviser Steve Bannon Photograph: Alain Robert/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

The revelations provoked widespread outrage. The Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced that the state would be launching an investigation. “Residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica,” she said on Twitter.

The Democratic senator Mark Warner said the harvesting of data on such a vast scale for political targeting underlined the need for Congress to improve controls. He has proposed an Honest Ads Act to regulate online political advertising the same way as television, radio and print. “This story is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West. Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that, left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency,” he said.

Last month both Facebook and the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix, told a parliamentary inquiry on fake news: that the company did not have or use private Facebook data.

Simon Milner, Facebook’s UK policy director, when asked if Cambridge Analytica had Facebook data, told MPs: “They may have lots of data but it will not be Facebook user data. It may be data about people who are on Facebook that they have gathered themselves, but it is not data that we have provided.”

Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, told the inquiry: “We do not work with Facebook data and we do not have Facebook data.”

Wylie, a Canadian data analytics expert who worked with Cambridge Analytica and Kogan to devise and implement the scheme, showed a dossier of evidence about the data misuse to the Observer which appears to raise questions about their testimony. He has passed it to the National Crime Agency’s cybercrime unit and the Information Commissioner’s Office. It includes emails, invoices, contracts and bank transfers that reveal more than 50 million profiles – mostly belonging to registered US voters – were harvested from the site in one of the largest-ever breaches of Facebook data. Facebook on Friday said that it was also suspending Wylie from accessing the platform while it carried out its investigation, despite his role as a whistleblower.

At the time of the data breach, Wylie was a Cambridge Analytica employee, but Facebook described him as working for Eunoia Technologies, a firm he set up on his own after leaving his former employer in late 2014.

The evidence Wylie supplied to UK and US authorities includes a letter from Facebook’s own lawyers sent to him in August 2016, asking him to destroy any data he held that had been collected by GSR, the company set up by Kogan to harvest the profiles.

That legal letter was sent several months after the Guardianfirst reported the breach and days before it was officially announced that Bannon was taking over as campaign manager for Trump and bringing Cambridge Analytica with him.

“Because this data was obtained and used without permission, and because GSR was not authorised to share or sell it to you, it cannot be used legitimately in the future and must be deleted immediately,” the letter said.

Facebook did not pursue a response when the letter initially went unanswered for weeks because Wylie was travelling, nor did it follow up with forensic checks on his computers or storage, he said.

“That to me was the most astonishing thing. They waited two years and did absolutely nothing to check that the data was deleted. All they asked me to do was tick a box on a form and post it back.”

Paul-Olivier Dehaye, a data protection specialist, who spearheaded the investigative efforts into the tech giant, said: “Facebook has denied and denied and denied this. It has misled MPs and congressional investigators and it’s failed in its duties to respect the law.

“It has a legal obligation to inform regulators and individuals about this data breach, and it hasn’t. It’s failed time and time again to be open and transparent.”


We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of profiles. And built models to exploit that and target their inner demons

Christopher Wylie

A majority of American states have laws requiring notification in some cases of data breach, including California, where Facebook is based.

Facebook denies that the harvesting of tens of millions of profiles by GSR and Cambridge Analytica was a data breach. It said in a statement that Kogan “gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels” but “did not subsequently abide by our rules” because he passed the information on to third parties.

Facebook said it removed the app in 2015 and required certification from everyone with copies that the data had been destroyed, although the letter to Wylie did not arrive until the second half of 2016. “We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information. We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens,” Paul Grewal, Facebook’s vice-president, said in a statement. The company is now investigating reports that not all data had been deleted.

Kogan, who has previously unreported links to a Russian university and took Russian grants for research, had a licence from Facebook to collect profile data, but it was for research purposes only. So when he hoovered up information for the commercial venture, he was violating the company’s terms. Kogan maintains everything he did was legal, and says he had a “close working relationship” with Facebook, which had granted him permission for his apps.

The Observer has seen a contract dated 4 June 2014, which confirms SCL, an affiliate of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with GSR, entirely premised on harvesting and processing Facebook data. Cambridge Analytica spent nearly $1m on data collection, which yielded more than 50 million individual profiles that could be matched to electoral rolls. It then used the test results and Facebook data to build an algorithm that could analyse individual Facebook profiles and determine personality traits linked to voting behaviour.

The algorithm and database together made a powerful political tool. It allowed a campaign to identify possible swing voters and craft messages more likely to resonate.

“The ultimate product of the training set is creating a ‘gold standard’ of understanding personality from Facebook profile information,” the contract specifies. It promises to create a database of 2 million “matched” profiles, identifiable and tied to electoral registers, across 11 states, but with room to expand much further.

At the time, more than 50 million profiles represented around a third of active North American Facebook users, and nearly a quarter of potential US voters. Yet when asked by MPs if any of his firm’s data had come from GSR, Nix said: “We had a relationship with GSR. They did some research for us back in 2014. That research proved to be fruitless and so the answer is no.”

Cambridge Analytica said that its contract with GSR stipulated that Kogan should seek informed consent for data collection and it had no reason to believe he would not.

GSR was “led by a seemingly reputable academic at an internationally renowned institution who made explicit contractual commitments to us regarding its legal authority to license data to SCL Elections”, a company spokesman said.

SCL Elections, an affiliate, worked with Facebook over the period to ensure it was satisfied no terms had been “knowingly breached” and provided a signed statement that all data and derivatives had been deleted, he said. Cambridge Analytica also said none of the data was used in the 2016 presidential election.

Steve Bannon’s lawyer said he had no comment because his client “knows nothing about the claims being asserted”. He added: “The first Mr Bannon heard of these reports was from media inquiries in the past few days.” He directed inquires to Nix.


The following is the transcript of an interview Jeremy Scahill (JS) conducted with Alfred McCoy (AM) for "Intercepted," a weekly podcast put out by the Intercept. I listened to it during my commute and was amazed and edified. You'll remember Prof. McCoy from some reviews and discussion of his recent book, “In the Shadows of the American Century," mentioned below. In this interview, one he discusses the working of Empire, you easily infer how the John Perkins phenomenon fit into the conduits of control, although he never addresses that directly.

If you are interested in listening to the entire podcast, find it here:



It also features an interview with Immortal Technique, a highly political rapper. I am NOT a fan of rap, yet the interview, and his work, was compelling.
Caveat Emptor.

Historian and Professor Alfred McCoy Breaks Down the History of America’s Geopolitical Maneuvering and How It Has Shifted Under President Trump

JS: This week, I’m in Wisconsin. It’s my home state. I’m giving some talks here. And I decided since I was in town, to check in with one of the most interesting historians of our time: Alford McCoy. He is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of the now-classic book: “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade.” Al McCoy’s latest book is “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.”

Last summer, Al McCoy joined us on Intercepted for a wide-ranging discussion on Trump and Russia, the history of CIA interference in elections around the world, the Iran-Contra Scandal, CIA crack-cocaine epidemic, U.S. proxy wars, narco-trafficking in Afghanistan, and much more. In that interview, Al McCoy predicted that China is set to surpass the influence of the U.S. globally, both militarily and economically and he says it’s going to happen by the year 2030. At that point, Al McCoy asserts, the United States empire as we know it will be no more. He also told us that the Trump presidency is a byproduct of the erosion of U.S. global dominance but not its root cause.

Al McCoy joins me now. Al, welcome back to Intercepted.

Al McCoy: Jeremy, wonderful to be back.

JS: I want to begin with the broad situation with Donald Trump right now. It seems on the outside, and even according to some insiders, that the administration is sort of in a crumbling phase. You’ve studied authoritarian regimes through history, what is your analysis of where we are right now with this administration? Is it crumbling?

AM: Not only is the Trump administration kind of immobilized but indeed the whole U.S. foreign policy apparatus is.

Trump is unique as an American president. First of all, as we know, he alienated all the Republican foreign policy elites so he didn’t have a very deep bench to select from. He picked a man, Rex Tillerson, whose primary objective as a secretary of state is this reorganization and downscaling of the size of the State Department. And Trump then made it very clear by humiliating Tillerson every time he tried an initiative that he was running U.S. foreign policy.

It’s a hyper-centralization in the hands of one man and that man has used that concentration of power, which is remarkable under the American executive, anyway, to kind of deliver hammer blows to U.S. foreign policy.

If you look at his two overseas trips that he’s done, his main one, in May 2017, he traveled to the Middle East and Europe and at the NATO headquarters he, first of all, attacked the allies for their failure to pay their fair share, and then very importantly, he refused there to reaffirm the principle of common defense. And without common defense, NATO is not NATO. And although the White House, later on, said, “Oh yeah, we actually meant to say that,” nonetheless that just reverberated through Europe like shock waves. That’s when all of Angela Merkel said Europe and Germany have to decide their own destiny.

Then in November, he made his big trip to Asia. At the big Asia Pacific Economic Council meeting in Vietnam, he stood up and gave a full-throated defense of his anti-trade, America-first policy. He had already, in his first week of office, canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP, which was going to, as Obama planned it, direct 40 percent of the world’s trade towards the United States.

At that meeting, the surviving eleven members of the TPP, actually announced that they’d made progress. They are now going to inaugurate the treaty minus the United States, because Japan says that if we don’t organize the trade, China will. And China’s got a 16-nation regional cooperation pact that’s going to direct all that trade towards China.

So, in effect, both axial ends of the massive Eurasian landmass, which is the epicenter of global power, Donald Trump has used the power of the president to deliver hammer blows to the U.S. position and NATO in the West and those four critical bilateral alliances in the East: Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia.

JS: Is there an ideology at play here? Or, is there a strategy, or is Trump just sort of doing this seat of his pants and listening to a lot to generals?

AM: First of all, Trump has no strategy per se. He has some ideas he kicks around. OK, but the trouble with relying on the military is that they’re tactically very skilled. You give them a military problem, and particularly given the sophistication of the U.S. military, they will solve it. You want to invade Iraq and rip it to pieces? They can do that for you. You want to blast Syria? They’ll do that for. You want to send troops into Afghanistan? They can, they can do that.

But what they’re not good at, and what the American military has always relied on, is the office of the president to provide the strategy, the overview. And in this case, it’s geopolitics.

And we’re in a changing world, a fundamentally changing world that nobody in Washington and very few among the American foreign policy elite appreciate at all. Look, for 70 years the U.S. global power, U.S. geopolitical power, rested on, apart from the military, the diplomacy, the dominance of the global economy, all that was important, but in the geopolitics, the integration of land, people, and power, making these movable pieces on the global chessboard, the U.S. geopolitical position rested upon an axial anchor in Western Europe, another axial anchor down the Pacific literal of Asia, and then layers of steel tying together the 6th fleet in the Mediterranean, the 5th in the Persian Gulf, the 7th in the Pacific, 100s of air bases and then in the last 10 years, 60 drone bases stretching from Sicily to Guam, these layers, successive layers of steel, and then the mutual defense pacts, all of this meant that we encircled and dominated the Eurasian landmass, the epicenter of global power. And we can find China and Russia behind the Iron Curtain. Well in the aftermath of the Cold War, we were still overwhelmingly powerful, so they even though they were free to range beyond the collapsed Iron Curtain, we still dominated Asia.

What is changing now is a fundamental rearrangement in geopolitics. That China is launching this one belt, one road strategy, $2 trillion to integrate Europe, Asia, and Africa into a unitary landmass linked by a comprehensive infrastructure of roads, rails and pipelines stretching from the Atlantic all the way the Pacific, directing all that trade and power towards China.

And moreover, with global warming, the Arctic seas are melting so that world island has now got a 360-degree ambit as China pulls it together, leaving these other islands like Greenland and North America and South America to float off in the irrelevance.

JS: What is China’s strategy right now? I want to, I want to share with you something that I read in The Financial Times. “China’s largest state-owned conglomerate has expanded its stake in Erik Prince’s private security company,” — Erik Prince being the founder of Blackwater — “with an eye to expanding operations across Asia, including western China and Pakistan … which aims to provide the expertise of U.S. special warfare veterans to Chinese state companies investing abroad.”

But China was constantly hammered on by Trump during the campaign and you would have come away, just on the surface, with believing that Trump was going to really stick it to China. Is there something I’m missing? Why would it benefit quote-unquote America to have someone like Erik Prince operating in that capacity in China?

AM: The Trump Administration has an interestingly ambiguous relationship with the emerging authoritarian challenges to U.S. global power. And, mind you, in every imperial transition, unless it’s an open war, it’s a curious mix of competition and cooperation the last one we saw was a handoff, an imperial handoff from Britain to the United States, where Britain turned over base by base, country by country, to the United States, and then reduced Britain to a tertiary power and took over the residue of its influence.

What we’re looking at right now is this eruption of Russia and China out of the functional Iron Curtain to challenge dominion over Eurasia and challenge the United States for that dominion. The economic intertwining of China and United States was — the liberal, intellectual elites in Washington thought — would actually be cooperative, China would buy into the world on our terms and they bought the world order as long as it served them and now that it’s acquired $4 trillion dollars in surplus capital and access to markets worldwide, it’s now changing the terms of that world order.

Instead of the World Bank  — they don’t mind the World Bank but they’re marginal within it so they created the Asian infrastructure development bank that has 57 nations and half the money of the World Bank already.

You know, there’s NATO so they started the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement with Russia, an alternative structure. They’re creating an alternative universe. And that alternative universe is perfect for the likes of Erik Prince: Again, economic cooperation without any of the ideological trapping that the United States has insisted that’s a mark of the U.S. liberal regime — human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, environmental protection, labor protection. With China — none of that.

JS: I want to talk about the Philippines. Trump is very fond of Duterte, specifically for the very tactics and practices that much of the world condemns and human rights organizations investigate. What is it that Duterte offers someone like Trump?

AM: Duterte is emblematic of a generation of new style, populist political leaders of which Trump is a minor addition.

JS: [Laughs.]

AM: And they thunder a nationalist rhetoric, they have undertones of extreme violence. So, for example, Putin who was in many ways the first of this generation, more or less publicly murders his opponents. He started off doing it kind of quietly. But then he got rather public just gunning people down in Moscow as a show of power.

Well, Duterte not only harasses his enemies, but he has unleashed the Philippine police in this drug war, which between the police and related vigilante organizations, has killed about 8,000 people so far. This was a source of a breach between President Obama and President Duterte. Trump whose own rhetoric of violence and nationalism is very much of that same kind.

JS: I can murder someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t change anything. Right.

AM: Or I can run the biggest drone strike in history in Yemen, I can bomb Syria.

JS: Drop the mother of all bombs in Afghanistan.

AM: Exactly. The spectacular pyrotechnic plays of violence, but, in the words: We’re a global power. We don’t do our violence at home, we do it abroad.

Duterte, a regional power with no geopolitical reach, does it at home. But it’s this intertwining of the nationalism, the power, the blunt speech and the violence that’s a testimony to the power.

And there’s a paradoxical effect by combining the — the nationalism, the aura of personal power, and the violence. The violence is critical for this. They have a way of intimidating and captivating people.

JS: The way that Trump and Jeff Sessions and others in that administration talk about the police, they really appeal to police forces, sheriff’s departments around the country and encouraging them, “Oh, when you’re putting their head in a car, don’t worry about if you smack it against there. In fact, push ’em hard, it’s fine, I told you, you can do it.”

AM: Trump is also dealing with a Republican form of politics that was invented by Ronald Reagan. Reagan picked up Nixon’s drug war, and he gave it two distinct dimensions: One, attacking coca in the Andes, and two, increasing domestic penalties so that the U.S. prison population doubled under Ronald Reagan.

Look, from 1930 to 1980, for 50 years, one figure didn’t change in American public life, from Depression through the boom years of Eisenhower, we had 100 prisoners per 100,000. Today we have 700 prisoners per 100,000. And there is a political logic that Reagan, in his genius, never articulated but practiced.

So, you sweep the inner cities, round up the African Americans, fill the prisons, 53 percent of the federal prisoners of the United States are in for nonviolent drug offenses.

When they’re incarcerated, they’re off the voter rolls. When they come out, in 17 states, I believe it is — it changes — they are disenfranchised for life. Where do you put your prisons? Upstate New York. Northern Wisconsin. Areas with dying populations, you pack thousands of inner-city people who are enumerated in the census. You count those prisoners in that electoral district, but they don’t get to vote.

So who gets the voting power? The prison guards who are very conservative. So, it’s a genius strategy of disenfranchisement of African-Americans. That’s the Republican electoral strategy. It’s a couple of percentage points but you play out of that margin district after district, and before you know it you’ve got majority control of most of the state legislatures in the United States, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate. It works.

JS: What are your thoughts about the special prosecutor Robert Mueller and the line of inquiry regarding Trump-Russia collusion, the 2016 election. How do you see this in the big picture?

AM: Yeah, it’s a part of that eruption of Europe, of Russia and China. And it’s not only a physical eruption of Soviet forces coming into Georgia, Crimea, Ukraine but it’s also Russia beginning to penetrate politics in Europe and the United States.

And this penetration involves not only electoral manipulation but also the use of finance as a political weapon to court allies and build influence. And Mueller, I think, by following the money, is going to lay down a trail that shows collusion between the Kremlin, Russian oligarchs, their surplus capital and loans to key members of the Trump firms, the Trump family — a pattern of financial collusion and intertwining that’s a part of this new world order that we’ve been talking about. Just like China’s dealing with Erik Prince in this bizarre way that was unimaginable during the bifurcation of the Cold War — well, Russia is doing the same thing.

JS: Well I mean one of the parts of the book that Michael Wolff wrote, “Fire and Fury,” that was, you know, all the rage for a while. One part of it that I found interesting was Steve Bannon saying that all of this leads to money laundering. That he was sort of pooh-poohing the idea that there was a political collusion, and you’re tracing it back to the old, original sin: Let’s make as much money as we can.

AM: The two are complimentary. One, collusive packs among elites across the border to build up influence, going into business, making loans and then also, you know, this very powerful media machine that Russia has that Putin operates, that can influence public opinion and shape elections.

I mean, let’s not forget: Carnegie Mellon University did an interesting study that found between 1946 and the year 2000, there were I think about 100 consequential elections worldwide that were influenced by either Russia or the United States, the United States’ influence through penetration, disinformation, bribes, and funding. 70 percent of those elections influenced by foreign powers. This was part of the apparatus of U.S. global power during the Cold War.

And now that our power is waning, once a superpower, we manipulated other people’s elections, now, as a fading, declining power, our elections get manipulated like other countries.

JS: I know the last time that we had you on the show, we talked a bit about Trump being kind of a symptom or a symbol of the decline of the American empire. You sort of characterized it as Trump grew out of this, rather than Trump pushing this decline at a faster rate as the primary factor that we’re discussing. How do you see the Trump presidency in the broader context of the scholarship that you’ve done on American empire and your thesis that states that it is in decline and that it will actually decline to the point that it’s recognizable to ordinary people and across the world?

AM: Who is the Trump figure in past imperial decline? Sir Anthony Eden. OK? Sir Anthony Eden was a British aristocrat, he was Winston Churchill’s acolyte, he worked his way up through the conservative party and although he was fluent in Persian, he became obsessed with Nasser, Nasser threatened him, angered him, upset him and when Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, Anthon Eden freaked out. He lost it. And he launched one of these desperate, dangerous military operations that are the sign of a dying, declining empire, that historians called “micro-militarism.”

He sent this massive military expedition to invade and occupy the Suez Canal. He lied to Parliament about it. He concealed it from his closest ally, shattered the U.S. Alliance, he destroyed Britain’s reputation. A carefully managed imperial recessional which allowed Britain to withdraw from the world, preserving its investments, retaining its military bases, where it wanted them, suddenly that all imploded. And when it was, in a matter of months, Sir Anthony Eden had transferred Britain from a strong power moving to a strong secondary status to a kind of toothless circus lion that would roll over whenever Washington cracked the whip. Trump is that kind of man. The damage he’s doing to U.S. foreign policy, the damage he’s doing to U.S. trade relations, not only presiding of the death of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, but now with his threatened trade war, thinking trade wars are good, that slapping these tariffs, 25 percent on steel, 10 percent on aluminum, China is actually the 10th largest steel exporter of the United States. Canada’s the largest. You go down the list — Germany’s a major one. Key allies.

You know this is an attack on the economic fabric of alliances, the trade that was such a critical part of U.S. global power since the end of World War II. I mean it’s a mindless attack on that that’s provoking a revolt within the ranks of his own Republican Party, but he may plunge ahead.

And then, you know, the capacity for some kind of ill-fated micro-military operation is disastrous as the British Suez — Trump’s capacity to do one of these things is still untested. We still have three more years to go.

JS: And on that, I sometimes wonder now that we’re a year into the Trump era, if Bernie Sanders were president, and you had multiple former recent directors of the CIA, the NSA, DNI, many of the neo-conservative architects of the Bush-era foreign policy, all of those entities are in concert together in attacking Donald Trump, and this gives credibility to the notion that’s floated by Trump allies that the deep state, quote-unquote, is against Trump.

But if Bernie Sanders was president, wouldn’t you and I be sitting here saying the deep state is trying to undermine Bernie Sanders? You’ve got former directors of the CIA in bed now with the MSNBC liberals, in bed with the neo-cons and they’re all attacking Bernie Sanders? I mean there’s all sorts of caveats that need to be in place there, but we would view this, I think, as career CIA people steeped in covert action trying to undermine the democratically elected president of the United States.

AM: I think would have happened to Sanders is what happened to Obama. That Obama was two things: He was a domestic progressive and he was a very traditional American architect of global power. In fact, I put Obama up there as one of the three great American geopolitical players who tried to extend and amplify U.S. global power.

Obama had the CIA right on site. You know, he went to CIA headquarters and announced, in that controversy over torture, that that’s the past and we’re moving on. “Forget it, you guys will not be prosecuted.” I mean he was solid with the intelligence agencies. Obama was very clever in realizing that U.S. global power was declining, the defense budget was essentially unsustainable at the level and so he made a very clever shift away from expensive, heavy military. Obama’s vision was seeing the Middle East because of U.S. energy independence as a geopolitical dead end. In other words: Pull out all the forces possible out of the Middle East, reposition them to rebuild the U.S. position along the axial ends of Eurasia.

Under Obama, the Pentagon committed themselves by 2020, just eighteen months from now, that they would have 60 percent of all U.S. naval, air, space, and cyber resources, concentrated in Asia, challenging and checking China. Well, under Trump, that’s not happening.

So, Obama played a very conservative, very skillful imperial hand. He was a brilliant architect of U.S. global power. And I think Sanders, being a rationalist, would have come to the same sort of opinion. I mean, what would the calculus have been? Well the calculus has been — OK, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, maybe retrograde, but you know what? China’s treaty is even worse: the qualified environmental protections, the somewhat compromised labor protections in the Trans-Pacific Partnership — well, China’s regional cooperation has none of them. So, we may not be great, but we’re better. And so that’s what would get people on the Democratic left to play along with the idea of maintaining U.S. global power.

JS: Well then, what’s behind this strange coalition that is trying to remove Trump from power?

AM: For democratic liberals in the United States, global power is manifest in the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Criminal Court, this liberal apparatus of the global community.

For conservatives, it’s manifest in the other side of it, the military, the trade, the power. But both of them the can agree that America should be a major international presence, should be a world leader and they debate about the tactics but everybody agrees on the strategy and Trump is the first president that’s challenged the strategy.

So almost anybody else, you know, I think Mike Pence, I think Hillary Clinton, I think Bernie Sanders, I mean, Elizabeth Warren — you can go on and name them, they would all more or less if they were in the office, they would do as Obama did as president. They would try and become the leaders, the organizers, the preservers of power.

What’s extraordinary about Trump is that he’s not. That it’s so fundamentally misguided, that even now, in his trade policy, his party is attacking him. They have to! Because it’s devastating. It’s absolutely irrational.

JS: You have to go on a moment to go teach a course on covert action, and I wanted to just, I want to ask you to give an overview of that course for people, because I wish that it could be provided to everyone in this country that we could sort of share your teaching with the world and not just students at the University of Wisconsin, but give an overview of that course that you’re now going to teach?

AM: Sure. Within the apparatus of U.S. global power, there was that delicate duality I was just talking about between the sort of the raw power of military trade and covert operations on the one hand, and then that liberal apparatus. The United States as a global power presided over the decolonization of the globe, transforming six overseas European empires into basically 100 new nations. So this created a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the U.S. global order. The United States stood up for the UN in which every nation in the world is a member and has absolute sovereignty, inviolable sovereignty, immune to foreign intervention. And yet, as the global hegemon, the United States had to exercise asymmetric power, had to intervene.

So how do you intervene in a world order that you’ve created when you can’t intervene? You do it covertly. You do it by surrogate armies when that’s necessary. You do it by coups. Between 1958 and 1965, about a quarter of the sovereign nations on the planet changed government via military coup. The CIA was behind most of them. And then there’s the electoral manipulation.

So what we look at is all of these instruments, and the instruments are many fold: one, psychological warfare; two, covert intervention — Iran, Guatemala. And then, over time a shift via the Internet to cyber warfare, space warfare as a part of the new architecture of U.S. global power. And we’re trying to understand: What is this covert realm? This covert netherworld? And it’s this metaphysical space where criminal syndicates, the traffic and drugs and intelligence agencies that operate covertly beyond the bounds of civil society, where they interpenetrate societies.

And during the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and France they all exercised their power covertly. And as we move into the 20th century, via cyber warfare, via covert operations, U.S. Special Operations Forces are operating at any given time in 75 percent of the countries on the planet, they are the latest adjunct to this covert operettas: 70,000 strong, they give the CIA and the intelligence community boots on the ground in 140 countries in the world over the last couple of years. At any given time, they’re operating worldwide.

So we’re going to see in the 21st century, I think is more and more covert operations, the kind that we’ve seen Putin exercising, the grey men that turn up in Ukraine and in Crimea that are the cutting edge, that are sort of off-the-shelf military, the media apparatus that’s manipulating, penetrating elections in the United States.

And this part of this geopolitical contestation is going to be increasingly covert.

JS: Well, Al McCoy, thank you for giving us a seminar here that we can share with people across the country and across the world. We’ll let you get to your actual classroom. Thanks so much for joining us again on Intercepted.

AM: Jeremy, it’s been a real pleasure as always.

JS: Al McCoy is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He’s the author of several books. His latest is: “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power.”

The Killers of Kiev: How Putin Created an Assassin’s Metropolis

The Killers of Kiev: How Putin Created an Assassin’s Metropolis

Photo of Joshua Hammer

If you are an enemy of Putin, there’s one city where intrigue and assassins are bound to follow you. The Ukrainian capital of Kiev may be considered just inside the West these days, but it’s a very wild West indeed.

Adam Osmayev—his hand on the wheel, his gaze out the window—was trying hard to make sense of where he was headed. As he nosed his car down a quiet street on the industrial outskirts of Kiev, he noted the tableau of blight: grim warehouses, hulking Soviet-era apartments. In recent weeks, he'd begun adjusting to life in the city, to life far from the battlefield. But he still carried a soldier's sense of unease. Something out here felt strange. Of course, in Kiev, nothing ever feels quite right.

In the backseat, his wife, Amina Okuyeva, studied the hardscrabble neighborhood too. Like Adam, she wasn't expecting trouble, though she'd been trained to stay alert to its potential. The couple was due soon at an appointment at the French Embassy, but they couldn't possibly be headed in the right direction, she thought. Why would an embassy be way out here?

Up front sat Alex Werner, a French journalist for Le Monde, the Parisian daily, providing directions and sounding reassuring. Don't worry, he told the couple, he knew the way. In fact, he told them, they were running a bit early. And so, Werner asked Adam to pull the car over. They could wait for a bit, Werner explained, as the car rolled to a stop on a patch of grass beside a bus stop.

Usually, it was Adam who took charge; Adam who made the plans and plotted the routes. As a commander in the Ukrainian army, he'd spent the past couple of years fighting pro-Russian troops in the east. His wife, Amina, had too, becoming famous as a sniper in a guerrilla outfit. But they were putting the war behind them now. They'd moved to Kiev and were starting over, as best they could. Of course, they knew the exploits of their past would follow them. After all, that's what had lured Werner, the journalist.

The couple had been meeting with him for the past ten days, sharing the tales of adventure and daring they'd acquired in their years fighting Russia. Their saga of love and violence, Werner told them, sounded just like a movie. He wanted to help make a documentary, he said, and before they could think twice about the idea, he'd pulled a film project together. Now only a few details remained, including a trip to the French Embassy, where, Werner had explained, the couple needed to deal with a contract.

On that languid afternoon last June, as the trio sat waiting in the car, Werner seemed grateful for some time alone with Adam and Amina. He'd grown to like the couple, he told them, and—while they waited—he had a gift for Amina. He wanted them to open it together and asked Adam to join his wife in the backseat. The ceremony of the moment seemed strange to Adam, but he'd gotten used to the journalist's eccentricities and he was curious about the present.

With the couple seated together, the journalist plopped a bag onto his lap and pulled out an ornate red box with lush gold lettering. As he did, Adam noticed something unsettling: beads of perspiration on Werner's cheeks. Facing the couple now, Werner opened the red box, revealing a black Glock semiautomatic pistol glinting on a bed of white tissue paper.

In an instant, with his eye on the gun, everything became clear to Adam. He lunged forward and grabbed it by the barrel, thrusting the weapon upward. But Werner had taken the pistol firmly by the stock and as he jerked it down, he squeezed the trigger. A bullet tore into Adam's chest. He felt himself going numb, but he grabbed for the gun again.

Strelyai,” he shouted weakly to his wife. Shoot.

In the cramped space behind the passenger's seat, Amina reached for her hip and unholstered her own handgun. She fired quickly, at incredibly close range, hitting Werner in the arms and shoulder, forcing him backward against the car door.

“Ya sdayus,” he cried, holding up his hands. I give up!

Somehow, Werner tumbled out of the car door and collapsed in the grass. Amina wiggled out of the car too, with her gun all the while still trained on Werner. Without thinking, she fired at him until the magazine was empty. As quickly as the shooting had started, it was done. For now, at least.

Amina Okueva

Amina Okuyeva had spent years as a hero in the fight against Russia when she and her husband moved to Kiev.

Jen Osborne/Redux

Amina's husband, Adam Osmayev, had once been jailed over a plot to kill Vladimir Putin.


Werner slumped in the dirt outside the car. Adam lay sprawled on his back, fighting for air. Both men would live—Werner, shot six times in the limbs, shoulder, and neck, would be hospitalized for months. As for Adam, his liver had been pierced and doctors needed to remove a third of his lung, but he was told he'd recover.

Meanwhile, police quickly confirmed what the couple already realized: that Alex Werner was no French journalist, and that the purported excursion to the embassy appeared to be a meticulously laid trap. Amina and Adam were certain they were supposed to be dead—and just as certain they knew why.

Though they hadn't been in Kiev long, the couple were already well-known. A few years earlier, Adam had been implicated in a supposed plot to blow up the motorcade of then Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin. Though no bombing was ever carried out—and Adam denied knowledge of any plan—he served time in prison. As he did, Amina earned equal renown as a sniper fighting against pro-Russia rebels in the eastern part of Ukraine. When Adam was freed from jail, he joined his guerrilla-fighting wife in the east, where he took command of an outfit of Chechen irregulars and guided them through some of the bloodiest months of the three-year war.

Last spring, eager to find new ways to agitate Putin's regime—and plug into a network of like-minded activists—the couple decided to move to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

Not that the city offered any guarantees of safety. On its surface, Kiev exudes the elegant charm of places like Prague and Budapest. But to residents who occupy a certain substratum of the population—Russian émigrés who've run afoul of the Kremlin, say, or outspoken journalists, or politicians who've developed inconvenient consciences—life in Kiev can be a daily exercise in fear. For people like Amina and Adam, every grocery run, every drive, every encounter with a stranger is a leap into the unknown. Beneath a veneer of high Slavic culture and modern sophistication, the city has, for many, become something darker than it appears: a gangland metropolis. In just the past year, half a dozen enemies of Putin's regime have been killed or grievously injured in Kiev in a rash of bombings and shootings—outbreaks of chaos and violence that have cast an eerie pall over the city.

There can be an otherworldly character to the menace, an odd discordance to the eruption of bomb blasts and gunfire on streets lined with cocktail bars and art galleries. Last March, for instance, on an ordinary morning in the crowded center of town, Denis Voronenkov, a former Russian prosecutor and member of the Russian Parliament who'd earned Putin's ire after attacking him for corruption, was walking past a luxury hotel when a man wearing a hoodie approached from behind. The man shot Voronenkov's bodyguard, and then, as dozens of onlookers watched, he put four bullets into Voronenkov's face and back. Then the bodyguard staggered to his feet, pulled out his own pistol, and fatally shot the assassin.

The brutality is precise and targeted, and almost never causes collateral damage—even at its most spectacular. In July 2016, Pavel Sheremet, a 44-year-old investigative journalist and Putin critic from Minsk, in Belarus, left his home in central Kiev in his wife's red Subaru and began his morning commute. As he inched across a busy crossroads near Kiev's national opera house, a bomb planted beneath the front seat exploded. Surveillance footage shows the vehicle—or rather a smoking, blackened hulk—rolling eerily backward. As police pick through the wreck, horrified pedestrians hustle along to work.

The city's quick descent toward darkness originated, in its own odd way, out of a moment of hopefulness in Kiev. In 2014, after signs of corruption sparked violent street protests, Ukrainians toppled their president, Viktor Yanukovych. The fall of Yanukovych—a Putin supporter who'd been elected with the help of future Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort—was initially greeted as good news by Ukrainians hoping their country could strengthen its ties with the European Union. But days after Yanukovych's downfall, as the strongman was being whisked into hiding in Russia, Putin seemed to initiate his own plans for the country.

Putin rules over a nest of competing factions jockeying to protect their own interests while currying favor with Putin by looking out for his.

Troops in unmarked green uniforms carrying Russian weaponry appeared in Crimea, in the south of Ukraine. Russian state-owned television churned out reports of neo-Nazi thugs prowling the streets of Kiev, and a relentless stream of Russian propaganda helped fan violence in the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country. Today Russian arms, intelligence men, and soldiers move freely across a border zone destabilized by fake news and propaganda.

Meanwhile, Russian oppositionists—Kremlin foes seeking refuge from Putin's regime—have settled in Ukraine as well, mostly in Kiev. Their abundance has lured another sort of character to the city, too. Murky figures like Alex Werner.

Of course, as police discovered, Alex Werner wasn't his real name. In the days after the shoot-out, police announced that the alleged hit man who pursued Amina and Adam was Artur Denisultanov—a thug, thief, and grifter who, according to Russian newspapers, had employed at least a half-dozen identities in recent years to partake in a litany of conspiracies and violent plots.

The mystery of his mission only deepened. Some said that Denisultanov had links to Russian intelligence agents. Others connected him to Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen dictator and fierce Putin loyalist. Some even wondered whether Putin himself might have had a hand in the hit.

To Ukrainian officials, there was no doubt that the murder was ordered by the Kremlin. “A Russian trail of blood in this crime is as clear as the blood on Amina's clothing,” said the communications director for Ukraine's Ministry of the Interior, which took control of the investigation.

Only later did officials begin to contemplate a stranger possibility—that in this ecosystem of subterfuge and terror, a new kind of killer might now stalk the city. It was plausible that Werner was not a sanctioned assassin at all but a figure more dangerous still: a bounty-hunting freelancer, a self-styled Jason Bourne who hoped somehow to earn the gratitude of Putin by carrying out a hit on spec.

Though the Kiev hits have almost invariably targeted his enemies, Putin's own fingerprints have never been found on them—and with good reason. “Russia doesn't work that way,” I was told by Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian parliamentarian now living in exile in Kiev, who was one of the last people to speak to Denis Voronenkov before he was shot in the street. As Ponomarev sees it, Putin rules over a nest of competing factions jockeying to protect their own interests while currying favor with Putin by looking out for his. Self-starters, in other words, who do the work and then try to seek some reward. “It's not like you would go to Putin and say, ‘Vladimir, may I [kill this person]?’” Ponomarev went on. “You are coming to Putin with a head of his enemy, and saying ‘I am a hero, I made it.’”

As one example, consider the prime suspect in ordering Voronenkov's murder: a man named Vladimir Tyurin, an alleged crime lord and the ex-partner of Voronenkov's wife. Now, prosecutors in Kiev claim his motivation was twofold: jealousy and a desire to “silence a valuable witness” who was prepared to testify about Kremlin corruption.

Further muddying the waters is the fact that the triggerman—the guy shot dead by Voronenkov's bodyguard—had fought against pro-Russian forces in the war. Why would the Russians be working with a character opposed to the Russians? Tyurin's lawyer, instead, says that the Ukrainians, not his client, murdered Voronenkov. The Ukrainians insist the hit man was planted by Russian security to sow just this kind of confusion. The whole twisted affair, says Ponomarev, is steeped in the kind of murkiness and ambiguity that Putin's allies have delighted in creating to keep their Ukrainian enemies off guard.

In this world of smoke screens and muddled identities, Denisultanov seems to have glimpsed some opportunity, and, around 2015, he apparently began stalking the enemies of the Russian president. What he was planning isn't entirely clear; the motives of a self-employed secret agent—if that's what he thought he was—can be tough to pin down. Today, the 50-year-old Denisultanov remains difficult to reach: He's in detention, still awaiting trial. But in a series of e-mails we exchanged, he told me about his background and how he found his way to Kiev.

Raised in Chechnya, Denisultanov had lit out for St. Petersburg after high school. There, according to the Russian press, he fell in with Chechen gangsters vying for control of the city's protection rackets. He married, and adopted his wife's last name—the first of a half dozen monikers he'd assume as he wound his way across Europe, blazing a peripatetic path, drawing on a colorful and hard-edged past.

Fact and fiction mingled interchangeably: With a St. Petersburg journalist, he wrote a novel, Oath on the Koran: The Fate of a Chechen, a potboiler rife with shoot-outs and car chases, about a rebel caught up in the first Chechen war of the early 1990s. In our correspondence, Denisultanov described a kinetic life of experimentation and re-invention. “I have had a big number of professions in my life,” he wrote. “I have gone through everything one can go through and tried everything.”

In 2008, Denisultanov popped onto the radar of Austrian authorities when he walked into a police station in Vienna seeking political asylum. In an October statement, he explained that he was an agent of Kadyrov, the violent Chechen dictator, and needed help. He may have changed his mind, though, because soon he was back in Russia—and in the years since, he has denied any association with Kadyrov.

Over the next few years, he continued drifting and grifting. He used another alias to marry again and was convicted of stealing $252,706 from the woman—a charge he described to me in an e-mail as “a fabrication.” Nevertheless, he served time in jail. Then he re-appeared as “Arthur Berger,” the managing director of a company that manufactured the spasmig—a harness-like device for use in rappelling from skyscrapers. The venture collapsed, he says, when the Federal Security Bureau demanded ownership. In late 2015, he left for Kiev, convinced that he could start a new life there.

For a con man unperturbed by violence, Kiev would have seemed ideal. Perhaps such a go-getter could sell information to the Kremlin, or, if more sinister chores needed doing, perhaps he could hire himself out for those, too.


Daylight shoot-outs and brazen bombings—like the one that killed a journalist not long ago in the center of Kiev—are eerily commonplace.


In the months that followed Denisultanov's arrival, several politicians and high-profile figures had odd encounters with him—encounters in which he assumed dubious identities or seemed to harbor mysterious motives. In each case, the person he approached was, in one way or another, a public enemy of Putin.

The first may have been Ilya Ponomarev, the former member of the Russian Parliament who'd opposed Putin's annexation of Crimea and now lives in a kind of unofficial exile in Kiev. In January 2016, while Ponomarev sat in the lobby of the plush Hyatt Hotel, Denisultanov approached and wrapped him in a bear hug. Ponomarev stared unrecognizingly. Denisultanov said his name was Alex Berger, and described himself as an Austrian salesman of medical equipment. He said they'd met a few years back, in Russia. Ponomarev didn't remember the man, but wasn't alarmed by him.

Over the next three weeks, Ponomarev held five more meetings, mostly in the Hyatt, with the supposed salesman, who said he wanted to discuss a series of business plans. But the projects sounded dubious, and Ponomarev backed away.

The next time Ponomarev spotted the man he knew as Alex Berger, it was in a newspaper, over a year later, when he read about the shoot-out with Amina and Adam. It was enough to make Ponomarev wonder anew about the motives of the strange man who'd been cozying up to him.

Late in 2016, Alex Berger reappeared in a popular café in central Kiev. Berger was no longer a salesman, but now a German magazine writer—with a business card that said as much.

He was hoping to chat with a politician named Oleg Lyashko, a critic of Russia and the leader of the Radical Party in Ukraine. At the time, Lyashko was in the news for a brawl he'd just been involved in on the floor of Parliament, a fight begun after he blasted a colleague for his close ties to Putin.

After Berger strolled up to Lyashko's table, he introduced himself. The scene was strange from the start, recalls Igor Mosiychuk, Lyashko's deputy, who was there and who suspected Berger was not who he claimed. Berger handed Lyashko his card and asked for an interview, but the politician turned him down. “He took him for a dubious character,” Mosiychuk told me. (Denisultanov, in an e-mail, denied ever meeting either Lyashko or Ponomarev.)

Just a few weeks after he spoke with me about the dangers faced by Russian dissidents in Kiev, Mosiychuk himself became the latest target of an assassination plot. Two people—including Mosiychuk's bodyguard—were killed by a bomb meant for him. Injured but defiant, Mosiychuk took to social media the next day to blame the Putin regime. “The initiators are in Moscow,” he wrote, “the executors are in Kiev.”

Last fall, just a few months after their shoot-out, Amina Okuyeva and Adam Osmayev agreed to meet me. I wanted to know how they had survived their brush with Denisultanov, but also what it felt like to have been stalked the way they had been—the way they likely still were.

The couple strolled briskly into a nearly deserted restaurant off a side street in Kiev and said hello. Amina, 34, a petite woman with penetrating, pale blue eyes, wore a pink hijab and a pair of sunglasses balanced on her forehead. Adam, who walked without any sign of injury and pronounced himself fully recovered, wore a faint mustache and goatee that shadowed his friendly face. At 36, he looked more like a graduate student than a battlefield commander. It was difficult to reconcile their modest demeanors with what I knew of their past.

Their struggles began in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Chechnya, where they helped locals fight Russian forces. “The rebels were in the forest, and I supplied them with food, first aid, and intelligence,” said Amina, who was born in Odessa, Ukraine, to a Chechen father and a Polish mother. Adam's upbringing was more privileged: His father was the director of the state-owned oil company in Chechnya, and he was sent to school in England. But when Russian troops entered Chechnya in 1999, he went home and began secretly working for the rebels. “Some of [the things I did] I can't discuss,” he told me.

In 2007 he was detained on suspicion of organizing a plot to kill Putin's ally in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Adam denies any such scheme, but admits that he spent those years agitating against Russia and connecting with others in the cause: “I heard from my cousin that there is a girl, crazy like myself, [who] wants to go to war, her name is Amina. I said, ‘Can you give me her number?’”

“I shot as many times as I could. I don't remember how many before the gun jammed. I tried to take exact aim. The whole incident took less than one minute.”

They were married in 2009, but they didn't exactly settle down. In 2012, Adam's apartment was destroyed in a deadly explosion. Badly burned, Adam fled the scene. Ukrainian police later found bomb residue in the wreckage and, on a laptop belonging to Adam, surveillance footage of Putin. Adam was arrested for conspiring to assassinate the Russian prime minister and jailed in Ukraine—only after Russia's extradition request was blocked by the European Court of Human Rights, a stroke of luck because six months after the pro-Russia government there was toppled in 2014, he was freed. He immediately rejoined his wife at the front.

There, despite his inexperience, Adam was thrust into command of the so-called Dudayev Battalion. Some of his fighters grumbled about Adam's quick rise; others spread rumors—never substantiated—that he and his well-known wife were helping themselves to money donated to the Chechen resistance.

Last May, with the war having settled into a stalemate, the pair made their move to Kiev, where they found quick solidarity in a fraternity of Kremlin foes. To their critics, it didn't escape notice that they also enjoyed a comfortable urban lifestyle—a nice apartment, a few cars, a newly purchased house outside of town. The seeming affluence revived old whispers.

But to Amina and Adam, there were more pressing concerns than gossip. They knew they were potential targets and took precautions. They often traveled with a security team and were wary of strangers. So, Amina was appropriately suspicious when her phone rang one afternoon and she didn't recognize the number.

Denisultanov was on the line. He said his name was Alex Werner, from Le Monde, and that he'd gotten her number from a journalist at a TV talk show. He wanted to get together for an interview. Amina checked with the journalist, who acknowledged passing on her information. “That gave me some comfort,” she told me. “We drew down our security and agreed to a meeting.”

They decided to meet at a sushi bar. As he had before, Denisultanov wore a dark suit, gold-framed glasses, and a gold watch. In his pocket he carried an embossed business card, this one identifying him as “General Manager, Le Monde.”

Adam and Amina said he affected a slight French accent and sprinkled bons mots into his fluent Russian patter. “We asked him how come he speaks Russian so well, and he said, ‘I studied in St. Petersburg for a long time,’” Adam recalled. Then he laid out his pitch: Le Monde wanted to publish more stories about those defending Ukraine from Russian aggression. They were taken with Amina, who, he said, “reminded French women of Joan of Arc.” He claimed the paper wanted to fly the couple to France for a documentary project.

Adam, still on an Interpol watch list for his alleged plot to kill Putin, demurred. Amina explained that it would be difficult for her, too. “I said, ‘I cannot come to France, because I cannot bring my weapon there, and without it I don't feel safe,’” she told me, smiling.

As they left the restaurant after their meeting, Adam began to wonder about the journalist. He inspected the business card and noticed it included an e-mail address with the suffix “ru”—typical of those used in Russia. When Adam got home and Googled “Alex Werner” and “Le Monde,” nothing came up. He figured that the journalist must be more of an executive than a reporter. Adam says he checked with his contacts in Ukrainian security and that they saw nothing suspicious about the journalist asking the couple to sign a contract.

They consented to a second meeting, at which Denisultanov said the newspaper was planning to transfer money into their bank account. The offer sounded odd to Adam. “We never get paid by journalists,” he told me.

Still, the three met again on May 31, when Denisultanov told them they needed to travel to the French Embassy. He would send a car the following afternoon, he said. “We will drive ourselves,” Amina said she told him. “We don't trust anybody.”

Fine, said Denisultanov, he'd ride with them, and gave them a dubious address for the embassy.


Violence is now rampant in a city that was already beset by routine protests over war and corruption.


Denisultanov's elaborate charade, of course, didn't end the way he'd planned.

In the backseat of their car, Adam grabbed for the Glock. As he did, Amina reached down and quickly unholstered her own Makarov pistol.

“The only thing I was afraid of was hitting Adam, because he was so close,” Amina told me, placing her hand gently on her husband's. “I shot as many times as I could. I don't remember how many before the gun jammed. I tried to take exact aim. The whole incident took less than one minute.”

Adam stumbled out of the backseat and collapsed. “I didn't have enough oxygen, and I was losing a lot of blood,” he said. Denisultanov lay on the ground, unconscious, possibly dead. Amina rushed to where Adam lay in the grass and then begged a passerby for help. As the bystander tore apart Adam's shirt, Amina fished from her purse a roll of gauze treated with Celox, a clotting agent designed to stop bleeding from gunshot wounds. They carried it with them everywhere, she told me, an ever-present reminder, in her purse, of how their violent pasts had penetrated their quotidian lives.

“I blocked a hole,” she said, “and then I turned him around, and I plugged the other hole in his back.” Amina may have saved her husband's life. “I lost three liters of blood,” he says, “but they were able to infuse it back in.”

“Maybe he was a freelancer, but I’m confident that he was acting under orders of the Russians. He was gathering information, meeting with politicians, getting a target list together. And we were on that list...”

In the three months since the incident, Amina and Adam had replayed their encounters with Denisultanov countless times, they said, and in retrospect the warning signs seemed obvious to them. “It was silly on our part,” Adam told me. “We thought, How could we? But he was a very good actor, and he fooled a lot of people.” I asked him whether he believed that Denisultanov was a paid assassin or was working on his own. “Maybe he was a freelancer, but I'm confident that he was acting under orders of the Russians,” Adam replied. “He was gathering information, meeting with politicians, getting a target list together. And we were on that list, and he was very happy to find us.”

In an interview posted on a Ukrainian news site, Denisultanov offered an explanation that strains credulity, insisting the shooting was a misunderstanding. He had wanted to interview Amina and Adam for a book, he said, and posed as a French journalist out of fear that the couple would avoid him if they discovered he was Chechen. Denisultanov said he was unarmed and was admiring Adam's pistol when it went off accidentally. That's when Amina jumped into action, he said. “Amina was screaming, she was hysterical, she was in a panic,” he said. “She claimed I was an FSB employee, that I was a killer sent here from Moscow.… Only because of these people's paranoia, I am here [in detention]. That's all.”

After the shoot-out, the Interior Ministry provided the couple with a round-the-clock security detail, and Amina and Adam took new precautions. “We don't go to the same places often, we don't work in one place, we change our schedule,” Amina told me.

Such precautions are becoming commonplace. It's said now that in Kiev, nearly every prominent Russian exile, journalist, and politician carries a weapon, and that many change their movements to elude attackers. The targeted explosions and the shootings add disorder to a city already buffeted by frequent protests. Often, the demonstrators turn the heart of the city into a messy conglomeration of barricades, open fires, and tents. Beneath the gaiety of coffee bars and nightclubs, there's something common to the chaos; something normal to the violence. None of it completely explainable, and yet so much of it predictable.

Sure enough, six weeks after I met with Adam and Amina, I received a message from Kiev. The note was chillingly short.

Amina is dead.

It would take a day or so for details to emerge, but soon a picture of Amina's final moments could be glimpsed.

On the afternoon of October 30, the couple had set out for home in Kiev after a weekend in Odessa. Adam was at the wheel, and they were traveling without escorts. Both were wearing flak jackets—a standard precaution since the June attack. At nine o'clock, in total darkness, the car passed Glevakha, a village south of Kiev. It crossed a set of railroad tracks, and then rounded a corner.

In a grove of trees, armed men were waiting in ambush. The assailants opened fire with automatic weapons. “Everything around me was blown, pieces flew around, the car panel, everything,” Adam told reporters from his hospital bed a few hours later. Adam was hit in the leg. Amina took at least one bullet in the head. “I drove on as long as I could, but then the car stopped. They might have fired at the engine,” he said, staring blankly. Outside his hospital room, special-unit soldiers guarded the door, their machine guns resting on a stretcher. “When I stopped, I thought they would come to finish me. But nobody approached; they turned out to be cowards and ran away. That was when I started taking care of Amina.”

She was unconscious and bleeding from her head. Adam tried to use the Celox gauze—presumably from the same package that Amina had showed me a few weeks earlier. “I was holding her all the time, trying not to let her blood run out, but that was impossible,” he said. “Amina died in my arms.”

Ukraine's Interior Ministry again pointed the finger at the Russian special services or Kadyrov, the Chechen strongman. Kadyrov denied responsibility and suggested the Ukrainian government itself was to blame for killing the local folk hero. “The Ukrainian secret services have decided to…get rid of their local female gangster, to distract the attention of Western masters from protest rallies, and to try once again to blame Russia for their troubles,” he declared.

But another theory was making the rounds, one that underscored the difficulty of finding clear answers to political crimes in Ukraine. In this version, the assassins' intended target had not been Amina, but Adam, whose comrades in the Dudayev Battalion wanted him dead. He and Amina, it seemed, were living large in Kiev, while the fighters in the field still suffered. The stolen Chechen donations, it was said, totaled some $3 million. Adam calls the accusations nonsense; he denies stealing anything and blames Russia for Amina's murder.

As questions swirled about Amina's death, she was buried in a traditional Muslim ceremony. Out of fear that it could invite an attack, the service was held in secret. “The war continues,” her husband had explained. “The enemy is near. You cannot endanger people.” When it was over, Adam left the graveside on crutches, hobbling to a waiting vehicle, protected—for the moment—from the dangers that lurked all around.

Joshua Hammerwrote about the rescue mission that followed an Italian avalanche in the August 2017 issue of GQ.

This story originally appeared in the March 2018 issue with the title "Assassinville."

Surly Newz / Policing for Profit
« on: March 07, 2018, 01:42:43 PM »
Few things bring left and right together more than opposition to Policing for Profit. So of course, the Keebler Elf resurrects fed level civil forfeiture as one of the first things he can do. You can see why he resists fat nixon's every attempt to force him out. He can restore the rights of now all levels of "law enforcement" to selectively target and seize citizen property without due process.

And they would never think of using this for political purposes.

This is so bad, it even raised Clarence Thomas from his usual torpor.

The Bipartisan Opposition to Sessions's New Civil-Forfeiture Rules
Attorney General Jeff Sessions expanded the controversial police practice on Wednesday by rolling back Obama-era reforms.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks at a Justice Department meeting.
Attorney General Jeff SessionsWin McNamee / Getty Images

Updated at 4:25 p.m. ET

Attorney General Jeff Sessions rolled back a series of Obama-era curbs on civil-asset forfeiture on Wednesday, strengthening the federal government’s power to seize cash and property from Americans without first bringing criminal charges against them.

In a statement announcing the Justice Department’s new policy directive, Sessions described civil forfeiture as a “key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed.” He also cast it as part of his larger push to imprint the president’s hardline stance on criminal-justice matters onto the federal government’s tactics against crime.

The directive revives the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, a controversial process through which state and local police agencies can seize assets, then transfer those seizures to federal control. In doing so, local agencies can skirt some state-level regulations limiting forfeitures. Under the program, the federal government pools the funds derived from the assets and sends 80 percent of them back to the state or local department itself, sometimes evading state laws that say seized assets should go into a state’s general fund.“President Trump has directed this Department of Justice to reduce crime in this country, and we will use every lawful tool that we have to do that,” he said at a gathering of law-enforcement officials on Wednesday. “We will continue to encourage civil-asset forfeiture whenever appropriate in order to hit organized crime in the wallet.”

Civil forfeiture has existed in some form since the colonial era, although most of the current laws date to the War on Drugs’ heyday in the 1980s. Law-enforcement officials like Sessions defend modern civil forfeiture as a way to limit the resources of drug cartels and organized-crime groups. It’s also a lucrative tactic for law-enforcement agencies in an era of tight budgets: A Justice Department inspector general’s report in April found that federal forfeiture programs had taken in almost $28 billion over the past decade, and TheWashington Post reported that civil-forfeiture seizures nationwide in 2015 surpassed the collective losses from all burglaries that same year.

In its report, the inspector general’s office also raised concerns about how federal agencies take funds, after it found almost half of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s seizures in a random sample weren’t tied to any broader law-enforcement purpose. “When seizure and administrative forfeitures do not ultimately advance an investigation or prosecution, law enforcement creates the appearance, and risks the reality, that it is more interested in seizing and forfeiting cash than advancing an investigation or prosecution,” the report concluded.

“It’s a big-government scheme to take people’s property without due process. End it.”

The practice has been under heavy scrutiny in recent years amid high-profile reports of abuses by law-enforcement officials and growing concerns about its constitutionality. In 2015, Sessions’s predecessor Eric Holder issued a set of modest policy changes that scaled back equitable-sharing proceeds if they were obtained without warrants or criminal charges. Sessions rescinded those policies, but, in a rare nod to critics, imposed some new safeguards on the practice by speeding up notification for owners and requiring more information about the local or state agency’s probable cause for seizing assets.

Those changes did little to dissuade his dissenters on Wednesday. Sessions’s move defied a broad, durable consensus against civil forfeiture on both the left and the right in recent years. Kanya Bennett, a legislative counsel for the ACLU, noted that some polls have shown 80 percent of Americans oppose the practice. “Civil-asset forfeiture is tantamount to policing for profit, generating millions of dollars annually that the agencies get to keep,” she said in a statement. “This is part of Sessions’s agenda to bring back the failed and racist War on Drugs, where this and other ineffective, unjust, and un-American practices were widely used.”

Libertarian and conservative groups also condemned the new Justice Department policy in strong terms. “The only safeguard to protect Americans from civil forfeiture is to eliminate its use altogether,” said Darpana Sheth, a senior attorney at the libertarian nonprofit law firm Institute for Justice, in a statement. “The Department of Justice’s supposed safeguards amount to little more than window dressing of an otherwise outrageous abuse of power.”

Jason Pye, the vice president for legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, a high-profile conservative advocacy organization, called on Congress to “rein in our attorney general” in the wake of Sessions’s announcement. “By expanding government power to take property without appropriate due process, even when state laws don’t allow it, Sessions is signaling he answers to no one,” Pye said in a statement.

Lawmakers joined in as well. “This is a troubling decision for the due-process protections afforded to us under the Fourth Amendment as well as the growing consensus we’ve seen nationwide on this issue,” California Representative Darrell Issa, a conservative Republican, said. “Criminals shouldn’t be able to keep the proceeds of their crime, but innocent Americans shouldn’t lose their right to due process, or their private property rights, in order to make that happen.”

Others were blunter about its constitutionality. “Instead of revising forfeiture practices in a manner to better protect Americans’ due-process rights, the DOJ seems determined to lose in court before it changes its policies for the better,” concluded Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah. “Civil-asset forfeiture is unjust and unconstitutional,” Republican Representative Justin Amash of Michigan tweeted. “It’s a big-government scheme to take people’s property without due process. End it.”

A ruling on civil forfeiture could be on the horizon. Justice Clarence Thomas strongly suggested in April that he thought current civil-forfeiture policies could be unconstitutional. “Whether this Court’s treatment of the broad modern forfeiture practice can be justified by the narrow historical one is certainly worthy of consideration in greater detail,” he wrote in a statement on the Court’s decision not to take up a case, Leonard v. Texas, challenging the practice.

Thomas ultimately agreed with his colleagues on procedural grounds. But he took the opportunity to list his concerns about civil forfeiture in general. “This system—where police can seize property with limited judicial oversight and retain it for their own use—has led to egregious and well-chronicled abuses,” he noted, adding that law-enforcement agencies “frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings.”

Justices typically avoid declaring their positions in cases and issues before they hear them in court, but opinions like Thomas’s are often taken as a not-so-subtle signal about their true feelings on a subject. His words, as well as the increasingly vocal resistance to civil forfeiture in Congress, could indicate that whatever moves Sessions makes to expand the practice are living on borrowed time.


Surly Newz / Notes on "Three Billboards"
« on: March 04, 2018, 06:08:28 AM »
Academy award weekend is a very good time to try to catch up on some of the nominated movies that you have missed. You missed them, of course, because you are a doddering geriatric who would rather piss money away on luxuries like food and heat as opposed to finance a bank loan to finance movie tickets and a large tub of buttered popcorn at the local megaloplex.

Thus, in the comfort of our own home, we watched the magnificent"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" on Friday evening. I had seen Frances McDormand nominated for this movie before, and knew little about the premise. Without wanting to spoil much, I must hardly recommend this movie to anybody with the ability and the means to get themselves in front of it. It is taut, tight (Directed by Martin McDonagh, the director of "In Bruges," another astonishingly good film), and acted by an ensemble cast whose characterizations are pitch perfect. I simply cannot say enough about this film.

As you can see from this article, art has resonances in real life.

Three Billboards—Beyond Ebbing, Missouri

The Oscar-nominated crime drama has inspired activists around the world to put up massive signs to call attention to social issues.


Surly note: The POINT of advertising is to get someone to feel something. If the viewer doesn't, you have failed, and wasted your client's money.

What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns

AR-15 rifles on display

Lisa Marie Pane / AP 

They weren’t the first victims of a mass shooting the Florida radiologist had seen—but their wounds were radically different.


As I opened the CT scan last week to read the next case, I was baffled. The history simply read “gunshot wound.” I have been a radiologist in one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation for 13 years, and have diagnosed thousands of handgun injuries to the brain, lung, liver, spleen, bowel, and other vital organs. I thought that I knew all that I needed to know about gunshot wounds, but the specific pattern of injury on my computer screen was one that I had seen only once before.

In a typical handgun injury that I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ like the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, grey bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.

I was looking at a CT scan of one of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been brought to the trauma center during my call shift. The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, with extensive bleeding. How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?

The reaction in the emergency room was the same. One of the trauma surgeons opened a young victim in the operating room, and found only shreds of the organ that had been hit by a bullet from an AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle which delivers a devastatingly lethal, high-velocity bullet to the victim. There was nothing left to repair, and utterly, devastatingly, nothing that could be done to fix the problem. The injury was fatal.

A year ago, when a gunman opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale airport with a 9mm semiautomatic handgun, hitting 11 people in 90 seconds, I was also on call. It was not until I had diagnosed the third of the six victims who were transported to the trauma center that I realized something out-of-the-ordinary must have happened. The gunshot wounds were the same low velocity handgun injuries as those I diagnose every day; only their rapid succession set them apart. And all six of the victims who arrived at the hospital that day survived.

Routine handgun injuries leave entry and exit wounds and linear tracks through the victim's body that are roughly the size of the bullet. If the bullet does not directly hit something crucial like the heart or the aorta, and they do not bleed to death before being transported to our care at a trauma center, chances are, we can save the victim. The bullets fired by an AR-15 are different; they travel at higher velocity and are far more lethal. The damage they cause is a function of the energy they impart as they pass through the body. A typical AR-15 bullet leaves the barrel traveling almost three times faster than, and imparting more than three times the energy of, a typical 9mm bullet from a handgun. An AR-15 rifle outfitted with a magazine with 50 rounds allows many more lethal bullets to be delivered quickly without reloading.

I have seen a handful of AR-15 injuries in my career. I saw one from a man shot in the back by a SWAT team years ago. The injury along the path of the bullet from an AR-15 is vastly different from a low-velocity handgun injury. The bullet from an AR-15 passes through the body like a cigarette boat travelling at maximum speed through a tiny canal. The tissue next to the bullet is elastic—moving away from the bullet like waves of water displaced by the boat—and then returns and settles back. This process is called cavitation; it leaves the displaced tissue damaged or killed. The high-velocity bullet causes a swath of tissue damage that extends several inches from its path. It does not have to actually hit an artery to damage it and cause catastrophic bleeding. Exit wounds can be the size of an orange.

With an AR-15, the shooter does not have to be particularly accurate. The victim does not have to be unlucky. If a victim takes a direct hit to the liver from an AR-15, the damage is far graver than that of a simple handgun shot injury. Handgun injuries to the liver are generally survivable unless the bullet hits the main blood supply to the liver. An AR-15 bullet wound to the middle of the liver would cause so much bleeding that the patient would likely never make it to a trauma center to receive our care.

One of my ER colleagues was waiting nervously for his own children outside the school. While the shooting was still in progress, the first responders were gathering up victims whenever they could and carrying them outside the building. Even as a physician trained in trauma situations, though, there was nothing he could do at the scene to help to save the victims who had been shot with an AR-15. Most of them died on the spot, with no fighting chance at life.

As a doctor, I feel I have a duty to inform the public of what I have learned as I have observed these wounds and cared for these patients. It’s clear to me that AR-15 or other high-velocity weapons, especially when outfitted with a high-capacity magazine, have no place in a civilian’s gun cabinet. I have friends who own AR-15 rifles; they enjoy shooting them at target practice for sport, and fervently defend their right to own them. But I cannot accept that their right to enjoy their hobby supersedes my right to send my own children to school, to a movie theater, or to a concert and to know that they are safe. Can the answer really be to subject our school children to active shooter drills—to learn to hide under desks, turn off the lights, lock the door and be silent—instead of addressing the root cause of the problem and passing legislation to take AR-15-style weapons out of the hands of civilians?

But in the aftermath of this shooting, in the face of specific questioning, our government leaders did not want to discuss gun control even when asked directly about these issues. Florida Senator Marco Rubio warned not to “jump to conclusions that there’s some law we could have passed that could have prevented it.” A reporter asked House Speaker Paul Ryan about gun control, and he replied, “As you know, mental health is often a big problem underlying these tragedies.” And on Tuesday, Florida’s state legislature voted against considering a ban on AR-15-type rifles, 71 to 36.

If politicians want to back comprehensive mental-health reform, I am all for it. As a medical doctor, I’ve witnessed firsthand the toll that mental-health issues take on families and the individuals themselves who have no access to satisfactory long-term mental-health care. But the president and Congress should not use this issue as an excuse to deliberately overlook the fact that the use of AR-15 rifles is the common denominator in many mass shootings.

A medical professor taught me about the dangers of drawing incorrect conclusions from data with the example of gum chewing, smokers, and lung cancer. He said smokers may be more likely to chew gum to cover bad breath, but that one cannot look at the data and decide that gum chewing causes lung cancer. It is the same type of erroneous logic that focuses on mental health after mass shootings, when banning the sale of semi-automatic rifles would be a far more effective means of preventing them.

Banning the AR-15 should not be a partisan issue. While there may be no consensus on many questions of gun control, there seems to be broad support for removing high-velocity, lethal weaponry and high-capacity magazines from the market, which would drastically reduce the incidence of mass murders. Every constitutionally guaranteed right that we are blessed to enjoy comes with responsibilities. Even our right to free speech is not limitless. Second Amendment gun rights must respect the same boundaries.

The CDC is the appropriate agency to review the potential impact of banning AR-15 style rifles and high-capacity magazines on the incidence of mass shootings. The agency was effectively barred from studying gun violence as a public-health issue in 1996 by a statutory provision known as the Dickey amendment. This provision needs to be repealed so that the CDC can study this issue and make sensible gun-policy recommendations to Congress.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) of 1994 included language which prohibited semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15, and also large-capacity magazines with the ability to hold more than 10 rounds. The ban was allowed to expire after 10 years on September 13, 2004. The mass murders that followed the ban’s lapse make clear that it must be reinstated.

On Wednesday night, Rubio said at a town-hall event hosted by CNN that it is impossible to create effective gun regulations because there are too many “loopholes” and that a “plastic grip” can make the difference between a gun that is legal and illegal. But if we can see the different impacts of high- and low-velocity rounds clinically, then the government can also draw such distinctions.

As a radiologist, I have now seen high velocity AR-15 gunshot wounds firsthand, an experience that most radiologists in our country will never have. I pray that these are the last such wounds I have to see, and that AR-15-style weapons and high-capacity magazines are banned for use by civilians in the United States, once and for all.

Surly Newz / Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds
« on: February 25, 2018, 05:01:20 AM »
Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds
New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.


The vaunted human capacity for reason may have more to do with winning arguments than with thinking straight.

Illustration by Gérard DuBois

In 1975, researchers at Stanford invited a group of undergraduates to take part in a study about suicide. They were presented with pairs of suicide notes. In each pair, one note had been composed by a random individual, the other by a person who had subsequently taken his own life. The students were then asked to distinguish between the genuine notes and the fake ones.

Some students discovered that they had a genius for the task. Out of twenty-five pairs of notes, they correctly identified the real one twenty-four times. Others discovered that they were hopeless. They identified the real note in only ten instances.

As is often the case with psychological studies, the whole setup was a put-on. Though half the notes were indeed genuine—they’d been obtained from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office—the scores were fictitious. The students who’d been told they were almost always right were, on average, no more discerning than those who had been told they were mostly wrong.

In the second phase of the study, the deception was revealed. The students were told that the real point of the experiment was to gauge their responses to thinking they were right or wrong. (This, it turned out, was also a deception.) Finally, the students were asked to estimate how many suicide notes they had actually categorized correctly, and how many they thought an average student would get right. At this point, something curious happened. The students in the high-score group said that they thought they had, in fact, done quite well—significantly better than the average student—even though, as they’d just been told, they had zero grounds for believing this. Conversely, those who’d been assigned to the low-score group said that they thought they had done significantly worse than the average student—a conclusion that was equally unfounded.

“Once formed,” the researchers observed dryly, “impressions are remarkably perseverant.”

A few years later, a new set of Stanford students was recruited for a related study. The students were handed packets of information about a pair of firefighters, Frank K. and George H. Frank’s bio noted that, among other things, he had a baby daughter and he liked to scuba dive. George had a small son and played golf. The packets also included the men’s responses on what the researchers called the Risky-Conservative Choice Test. According to one version of the packet, Frank was a successful firefighter who, on the test, almost always went with the safest option. In the other version, Frank also chose the safest option, but he was a lousy firefighter who’d been put “on report” by his supervisors several times. Once again, midway through the study, the students were informed that they’d been misled, and that the information they’d received was entirely fictitious. The students were then asked to describe their own beliefs. What sort of attitude toward risk did they think a successful firefighter would have? The students who’d received the first packet thought that he would avoid it. The students in the second group thought he’d embrace it.

Even after the evidence “for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in those beliefs,” the researchers noted. In this case, the failure was “particularly impressive,” since two data points would never have been enough information to generalize from.

The Stanford studies became famous. Coming from a group of academics in the nineteen-seventies, the contention that people can’t think straight was shocking. It isn’t any longer. Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed (and elaborated on) this finding. As everyone who’s followed the research—or even occasionally picked up a copy of Psychology Today—knows, any graduate student with a clipboard can demonstrate that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?

In a new book, “The Enigma of Reason” (Harvard), the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question. Mercier, who works at a French research institute in Lyon, and Sperber, now based at the Central European University, in Budapest, point out that reason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa, and has to be understood in that context.

Stripped of a lot of what might be called cognitive-science-ese, Mercier and Sperber’s argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier and Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy or just plain dumb from an “intellectualist” point of view prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective.

Consider what’s become known as “confirmation bias,” the tendency people have to embrace information that supports their beliefs and reject information that contradicts them. Of the many forms of faulty thinking that have been identified, confirmation bias is among the best catalogued; it’s the subject of entire textbooks’ worth of experiments. One of the most famous of these was conducted, again, at Stanford. For this experiment, researchers rounded up a group of students who had opposing opinions about capital punishment. Half the students were in favor of it and thought that it deterred crime; the other half were against it and thought that it had no effect on crime.

The students were asked to respond to two studies. One provided data in support of the deterrence argument, and the other provided data that called it into question. Both studies—you guessed it—were made up, and had been designed to present what were, objectively speaking, equally compelling statistics. The students who had originally supported capital punishment rated the pro-deterrence data highly credible and the anti-deterrence data unconvincing; the students who’d originally opposed capital punishment did the reverse. At the end of the experiment, the students were asked once again about their views. Those who’d started out pro-capital punishment were now even more in favor of it; those who’d opposed it were even more hostile.

If reason is designed to generate sound judgments, then it’s hard to conceive of a more serious design flaw than confirmation bias. Imagine, Mercier and Sperber suggest, a mouse that thinks the way we do. Such a mouse, “bent on confirming its belief that there are no cats around,” would soon be dinner. To the extent that confirmation bias leads people to dismiss evidence of new or underappreciated threats—the human equivalent of the cat around the corner—it’s a trait that should have been selected against. The fact that both we and it survive, Mercier and Sperber argue, proves that it must have some adaptive function, and that function, they maintain, is related to our “hypersociability.”

Mercier and Sperber prefer the term “myside bias.” Humans, they point out, aren’t randomly credulous. Presented with someone else’s argument, we’re quite adept at spotting the weaknesses. Almost invariably, the positions we’re blind about are our own.

A recent experiment performed by Mercier and some European colleagues neatly demonstrates this asymmetry. Participants were asked to answer a series of simple reasoning problems. They were then asked to explain their responses, and were given a chance to modify them if they identified mistakes. The majority were satisfied with their original choices; fewer than fifteen per cent changed their minds in step two.

In step three, participants were shown one of the same problems, along with their answer and the answer of another participant, who’d come to a different conclusion. Once again, they were given the chance to change their responses. But a trick had been played: the answers presented to them as someone else’s were actually their own, and vice versa. About half the participants realized what was going on. Among the other half, suddenly people became a lot more critical. Nearly sixty per cent now rejected the responses that they’d earlier been satisfied with.

“Thanks again for coming—I usually find these office parties rather awkward.”

This lopsidedness, according to Mercier and Sperber, reflects the task that reason evolved to perform, which is to prevent us from getting screwed by the other members of our group. Living in small bands of hunter-gatherers, our ancestors were primarily concerned with their social standing, and with making sure that they weren’t the ones risking their lives on the hunt while others loafed around in the cave. There was little advantage in reasoning clearly, while much was to be gained from winning arguments.

Among the many, many issues our forebears didn’t worry about were the deterrent effects of capital punishment and the ideal attributes of a firefighter. Nor did they have to contend with fabricated studies, or fake news, or Twitter. It’s no wonder, then, that today reason often seems to fail us. As Mercier and Sperber write, “This is one of many cases in which the environment changed too quickly for natural selection to catch up.”

Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, are also cognitive scientists. They, too, believe sociability is the key to how the human mind functions or, perhaps more pertinently, malfunctions. They begin their book, “The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone” (Riverhead), with a look at toilets.

Virtually everyone in the United States, and indeed throughout the developed world, is familiar with toilets. A typical flush toilet has a ceramic bowl filled with water. When the handle is depressed, or the button pushed, the water—and everything that’s been deposited in it—gets sucked into a pipe and from there into the sewage system. But how does this actually happen?

In a study conducted at Yale, graduate students were asked to rate their understanding of everyday devices, including toilets, zippers, and cylinder locks. They were then asked to write detailed, step-by-step explanations of how the devices work, and to rate their understanding again. Apparently, the effort revealed to the students their own ignorance, because their self-assessments dropped. (Toilets, it turns out, are more complicated than they appear.)

Sloman and Fernbach see this effect, which they call the “illusion of explanatory depth,” just about everywhere. People believe that they know way more than they actually do. What allows us to persist in this belief is other people. In the case of my toilet, someone else designed it so that I can operate it easily. This is something humans are very good at. We’ve been relying on one another’s expertise ever since we figured out how to hunt together, which was probably a key development in our evolutionary history. So well do we collaborate, Sloman and Fernbach argue, that we can hardly tell where our own understanding ends and others’ begins.

“One implication of the naturalness with which we divide cognitive labor,” they write, is that there’s “no sharp boundary between one person’s ideas and knowledge” and “those of other members” of the group.

This borderlessness, or, if you prefer, confusion, is also crucial to what we consider progress. As people invented new tools for new ways of living, they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance; if everyone had insisted on, say, mastering the principles of metalworking before picking up a knife, the Bronze Age wouldn’t have amounted to much. When it comes to new technologies, incomplete understanding is empowering.

Where it gets us into trouble, according to Sloman and Fernbach, is in the political domain. It’s one thing for me to flush a toilet without knowing how it operates, and another for me to favor (or oppose) an immigration ban without knowing what I’m talking about. Sloman and Fernbach cite a survey conducted in 2014, not long after Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Respondents were asked how they thought the U.S. should react, and also whether they could identify Ukraine on a map. The farther off base they were about the geography, the more likely they were to favor military intervention. (Respondents were so unsure of Ukraine’s location that the median guess was wrong by eighteen hundred miles, roughly the distance from Kiev to Madrid.)

Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.

“This is how a community of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe. The two have performed their own version of the toilet experiment, substituting public policy for household gadgets. In a study conducted in 2012, they asked people for their stance on questions like: Should there be a single-payer health-care system? Or merit-based pay for teachers? Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently.

Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark world. If we—or our friends or the pundits on CNN—spent less time pontificating and more trying to work through the implications of policy proposals, we’d realize how clueless we are and moderate our views. This, they write, “may be the only form of thinking that will shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes.”

One way to look at science is as a system that corrects for people’s natural inclinations. In a well-run laboratory, there’s no room for myside bias; the results have to be reproducible in other laboratories, by researchers who have no motive to confirm them. And this, it could be argued, is why the system has proved so successful. At any given moment, a field may be dominated by squabbles, but, in the end, the methodology prevails. Science moves forward, even as we remain stuck in place.

In “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us” (Oxford), Jack Gorman, a psychiatrist, and his daughter, Sara Gorman, a public-health specialist, probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves. Their concern is with those persistent beliefs which are not just demonstrably false but also potentially deadly, like the conviction that vaccines are hazardous. Of course, what’s hazardous is not being vaccinated; that’s why vaccines were created in the first place. “Immunization is one of the triumphs of modern medicine,” the Gormans note. But no matter how many scientific studies conclude that vaccines are safe, and that there’s no link between immunizations and autism, anti-vaxxers remain unmoved. (They can now count on their side—sort of—Donald Trump, who has said that, although he and his wife had their son, Barron, vaccinated, they refused to do so on the timetable recommended by pediatricians.)

The Gormans, too, argue that ways of thinking that now seem self-destructive must at some point have been adaptive. And they, too, dedicate many pages to confirmation bias, which, they claim, has a physiological component. They cite research suggesting that people experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports their beliefs. “It feels good to ‘stick to our guns’ even if we are wrong,” they observe.

The Gormans don’t just want to catalogue the ways we go wrong; they want to correct for them. There must be some way, they maintain, to convince people that vaccines are good for kids, and handguns are dangerous. (Another widespread but statistically insupportable belief they’d like to discredit is that owning a gun makes you safer.) But here they encounter the very problems they have enumerated. Providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it. Appealing to their emotions may work better, but doing so is obviously antithetical to the goal of promoting sound science. “The challenge that remains,” they write toward the end of their book, “is to figure out how to address the tendencies that lead to false scientific belief.”

“The Enigma of Reason,” “The Knowledge Illusion,” and “Denying to the Grave” were all written before the November election. And yet they anticipate Kellyanne Conway and the rise of “alternative facts.” These days, it can feel as if the entire country has been given over to a vast psychological experiment being run either by no one or by Steve Bannon. Rational agents would be able to think their way to a solution. But, on this matter, the literature is not reassuring. ♦

This article appears in the print edition of the February 27, 2017, issue, with the headline “That’s What You Think.”

Never underestimate the power of framing an issue to influence outcomes. IMO, Yves has this issue by the scrotum. Especially the trope about people on the left thinking their position is more virtuous, therefore they are done. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Politics is a dirty, scummy business. Get ready to roll around in the filth if you want to prevail. Because right wing money buys a lot of "useful idiots."

Beat the Right Wing Framing: How to Make the Case for a Better, Fairer Economy

Beat the Right Wing Framing: How to Make the Case for a Better, Fairer Economy

Yves here. This post summarizes a major UK research project in how the right wing has sold its economic policies and how progressives can best counter their PR. This is important reading since the researchers tested and refined various messages to settle on the framings that were most effective. Given that neoliberalism is the dominant ideology in the Anglosphere, these findings seem relevant to the US.

It is probably not news to most of you that that the shift in the political center of gravity to the right in America was no accident. Starting in the 1960s, a group of extreme conservatives, many of them aligned with the John Birch Society, embarked on a program to undo the New Deal and make American values and politics more supportive to business interests. That campaign was codified in the so-called Powell Memo. As we wrote in ECONNED:

….wealthy conservative lawyer and later Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell wrote a memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1971 that galvanized the right wing. He argued that corporations needed to launch a coordinated and sustained attack to discredit liberals. Among the key elements was the creation of a well-funded effort that looked like a “movement” to press its cause with the media. Generously financed “scholars, writers, and thinkers” would demand fair treatment and “equal time” as the wedge for forcing the press to treat them seriously. In turn, they would recast issues, with the aim of reshaping opinion from the elite to the mass level.

Too often, people on the left seem to believe that their team is obviously more virtuous than the other side, and they seem to regard having to sell their case as somehow beneath them. The assumption of moral superiority also leads them to dismiss people who differ with them. That may be emotionally satisfying but it is a lousy political strategy.

While some are too deeply invested in their views to be open to new ideas, the reality is that despite “liberal” having been turned into a borderline dirty word, Americans for decades have polled as consistently supporting “progressive” positions, such as strengthening Social Security and Medicare, taxing the rich, reducing war spending, spending more on infrastructure, strengthening social safety nets. Even though the US has become more conservative, the press also depicts the US as more conservative than it really is. So there is more opportunity to move the debate than you might think.

By Rosie Baines, media training officer for the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON) Spokesperson Network. Originally published at openDemocracy

In 2010, the British right wing media and political parties told a very convincing story about the economy that persuaded the public we had no choice but to make massive cuts to public spending. You probably know it already: there was no money left, the economy was like a household budget, we’d maxed out the nation’s credit card, and it was time to tighten our belts. Anyone who watches the news will be familiar with this story, and if you’ve ever gone door knocking, you will have heard people repeat it back to you with total conviction. Since 2010, there have been 120,000 excess deaths linked to austerity, the Red Cross declared a humanitarian crisis in the NHS, and use of foodbanks has soared. Why, in light of all of this, did people still support it?

This was the backdrop for the Framing the Economy project. We believed the public endorsed a right wing story about the economy because progressives had failed to come up with an alternative. There weren’t that many progressive spokespeople on current affairs programmes, and when they were it was like they didn’t know what to say. So four organisations came together to understand how British people understood the economy and what new story could be told to persuade them to share our ideas. The four organisations that led the project were NEF (New Economics Foundation), NEON (New Economy Organisers Network), PIRC (Public Interest Research Centre) and the Frameworks Institute.

Of course a lot has changed since 2010. We didn’t expect the host of The Apprentice to become the American President, for example. But the tumultuous politics of the last eight years do suggest the austerity consensus is breaking down, and that there is a real opportunity for a resonant progressive story about the economy to win public support. After the 2017 election, where the Labour Party defied all odds to destabilise the government on an anti-austerity programme, the need for a project like Framing the Economy seemed more urgent than ever. The public are finally ready to hear about an alternative economy. This project is to help communicators explain how we might create one.

So in June 2016, shortly after 52% of the British public voted to leave the European Union, we got to work. The project consisted of three phases: first, we would conduct in-depth interviews with a cross section of British voters to understand how they conceive of the economy. Second, we would compare these interviews to how progressives think of the same thing, to identify gaps in our ways of thinking. And finally, we would come up with a new and resonant story, rich with metaphor, that would be able to close those gaps. The eventual story would be rigorously tested, so we could safely say it moved people’s thinking from where they were originally to where we wanted them to be.

Our interviews revealed several “cultural models” held by most members of the British public to understand how the economy works. We use the word “how” because cultural models show us how people think of the economy as a whole, rather than what they think about single issues – which is what opinion polls tell us. Cultural models are the durable, deep assumptions we hold to organise information and interpret the world around us. They are shared by all of us. Here are the main cultural models we found:

Cultural Models

What the economy is and how it works

  • People only really understand the economy as the monetary system and expressed this through the metaphor of circulation. They don’t consider things like social care, for example, to be part of the economy.
  • People think the economy is always on the edge of disaster, using language like ‘tumbling’, ‘falling’, and ‘rocketing’ to describe it.
  • People conceive of the economy as a container, with people putting in (contributing) or taking out (draining). The government was assumed to control what goes in and out of the pot, as well as how its contents are distributed.
  • People actually don’t understand how the economy works, by and large – except for in quite limited ways. They also lack confidence in talking about it.
  • People think that the economy exists in competition with the environment – what is good for the environment is thought to be bad for the economy and vice versa.

Why the economy works as it does

  • People think the system is rigged by elites in government, business, and the media who pull the strings of the economy for their own benefit.
  • People viewed the media as having a hidden agenda and were very distrustful. Having said that, several of our participants who said they distrusted the media later dispensed arguments that correspond with popular news frames.
  • People assumed greed is a basic part of human nature: all people are motivated by a desire to enrich themselves, even at the expense of others.

How the economy should work

  • People wanted Britain to have more national self- reliance, producing key products at home and be able to meet its basic needs without relying on other countries. Globalisation and, to a surprisingly small extent, Europe are the foil for this model.
  • People often idealised an earlier time – typically the post-war period – when wages were high, jobs were more secure, inequality was low, there was a greater sense of community, and ‘we did more manufacturing’.
  • People believe the government has overall responsibility for managing the economy.
  • Overall people were extremely fatalistic and didn’t think the economy could be changed for the better. This meant that they often drew a blank when asked about different ways to run the economy.

Telling a New Story

Because we found so much fatalism in the responses of our interviewees, we felt that we could not make economic arguments to the public if there was a pervasive belief that change simply wasn’t possible. For that reason, the story we told argued that the economy had been designed as a result of human choices, made by a small elite, and could be redesigned with different choices. After testing and analysis, we found two powerful but fairly different stories that help shift people’s thinking. If you want to use them in your work, we recommend you read our full report on the project first. It contains lots of information how to best deploy the stories so they’re most effective, and there’s some pointers on what to avoid doing so you don’t undermine your argument.

Story 1: Resisting corporate power

There are a lot of different ways to interpret the term “populism,” so it is important to be clear that when we use the term, we mean a story that pits elites against the people. Story 1 is a fundamentally populist story. It contains the following elements:

  • The value of equality or economic strength
  • The explanatory metaphor of reprogramming the economy
  • An explanation that connects the dots and explains: 1) how corporate elites have programmed the economy and how this has undermined equality/economic strength, and 2) how the economy can be reprogrammed to promote a strong/equal economy.

Here’s a sample message that uses the value of economic strength. Our research shows this value is particularly successful in convincing Conservative voters, but this story can also be employed using the value of equality (but not both at the same time).

Over the last forty years, our government has become a tool of corporations and banks, and as a result our society has served their interests while failing to provide the broad-based supports that our economy needs to work well. This has weakened our economy, so it doesn’t meet people’s needs.

Our economy is like a programme that is constantly being revised and updated. Corporate elites have gained the password to the economy, and have programmed the economy to work well for corporate users. But the public have been locked out, so the parts of the economy they rely on have been neglected. As a result, many users of the economy experience constant glitches, and the economy as a whole doesn’t run well.

By programming the economy for financial services rather than manufacturing, we’ve destroyed the types of good jobs that put money back into the economy. And cutting taxes and privatising industries has undermined our ability to invest in ways that strengthen the economy and keep it running smoothly.

As a society, we need to prioritise a strong economy over the desires of corporations and wealthy elites. We need to reset the password and give control of the economy back to the public. That way, we can reprogramme the economy so it works better. We can create a strong and durable economy by guaranteeing decent wages for the least well-off, investing in local communities, and restoring public ownership of common resources like energy and transport. Creating a good society means taking back the password to the economy from corporate elites and reprogramming the economy so it runs smoothly and makes a good life possible for all users.

Story 2: Meeting our needs

Sometimes it might not be appropriate for communicators to tell a populist story about the economy. So for these cases, we recommend the second story, which doesn’t blame elites but instead focuses on how the economy fails to meet people’s real needs. It includes the following elements:

  • The value of fulfilment
  • The explanatory metaphor of economic tracks
  • An explanation that connects the dots and explains: 1) how our economic tracks have made it difficult for people to reach fulfilling lives, and 2) how the economy can be rebuilt to get people to their real needs.

Here’s a sample message that shows how these elements can be put together:

A good society makes it possible for everyone to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life. Yet, our society is currently focused solely on profit, and people are forced to chase money rather than happiness.

Our economy is like a railway network—it’s built to take people to particular places. The laws and policies that we make lay down tracks that determine where the economy takes people. Right now, our economy is built around profit, rather than being built to get people to their true needs. By allowing businesses to use zero-hour contracts, provide low wages, and require people to work more and more hours for the same pay, we have built economic tracks that move profit forward but leave people without the things they need to achieve wellbeing and realise their potential. When people don’t have decent wages or stable jobs, this undermines wellbeing in all sorts of ways. And for those of us who do have stable jobs, the need to work more hours means less time with our families and to pursue our goals in life outside of work.

As a society, we need to prioritise happiness and fulfilment over profit. We need to lay down economic tracks that make it possible for people to arrive at a meaningful life. We can build an economy that gets people to happiness by guaranteeing decent wages for the least well-off, banning zero-hour contracts, and reducing working hours. Creating a good society means laying down economic tracks that enable us to get to our real needs rather than keeping us all on a train whose only destination is profit.

Making Sure People Listen

So we’ve got a new story on the economy. But we need to make sure the public will actually hear it. To do this, NEON is founding a Communications Hub which will provide tools, research and training to make sure people in communications will be able to get the stories we’ve identified into the public sphere as efficiently as possible. We know certain frames already exist in political discourse – like the ‘system is rigged’ cultural model – but progressives need to insert themselves into public debate to make sure these frames are wielded in a way that does convince people to share our ideas.

The Communications Hub will launch in Spring 2018. It will expand on NEON’s existing programme to train progressive spokespeople who appear in the media, as well as introducing new training programmes like a training programme for press officers. The Hub will also help communicators frame their messages effectively, connect communicators in the same sector to one another, and share the latest research on framing and public opinion. In short it will do all of the things communicators should be doing, but simply don’t have time for. With the Communications Hub and the two stories from the Framing the Economy project, NEON will be able to provide the tools for communicators to fundamentally change the way we talk about economy – and then progressives can start telling stories that are as effective and impactful as the one the public bought into about austerity.

Some of the most dangerous lunatics on the planet.

Dominionists Head To Trump’s DC Hotel To Bring ‘Heaven’s Rule’ To America

By Peter Montgomery | February 21, 2018 12:13 pm
Trump International Hotel, Washington, D.C. (Photo: W. Scott McGill/Shutterstock)

While thousands of conservative political activists gather just outside Washington, D.C., this week for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a gathering of spiritual warriors will pack the Trump International Hotel just blocks from the White House. The sold-out event—The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven National Gathering—has been organized by a group of dominionists who consider themselves to be modern-day apostles and prophets, including Dutch SheetsChuck PierceCindy Jacobs and Lou Engle.

Event leaders are associated with the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes a triumphant, dominion-taking church will help bring about the return of Christ, and many are part of POTUS Shield, a network of self-described apostles and prophets who believe President Trump was anointed by God to help bring that all about.

Sheets, the event’s main promoter, believes the event will play a prophetic role in getting the church to “function as Christ’s Ekklesia, the representatives of His Kingdom government on earth; as such, we will expose the enemies of God, disrupt their plans, enforce Heaven’s rule, and reform America.” As he described it in 2015, “We must realize that we are God’s governing force on the earth, which have been given keys of authority from Him to legislate from the spiritual realm.”

“It seems the spiritual airwaves are filled with prophetic insight regarding this gathering,” Sheets wrote excitedly in an email sent over the weekend. He told a story about a dream that a “trusted prophet” had, which featured hundreds of angels with tuning forks in their hands transforming into an army of special forces.

Sheets is big on the concept of the Ekklesia, a Greek word that is traditionally interpreted in scripture as “the church.” But Sheets imbues the term with governmental authority:

One of the great shifts in process within the Body of Christ is regarding our role as Christ’s Ekklesia (Church). Most of you probably know that in Christ’s day, the Word did not mean a religious service, organization, or building; it was a legislative assembly. We are “representatives” of Christ’s Kingdom government on earth.

Certain streams of the Body of Christ have functioned well as His family and Bride. Few of us, however, have operated at a high level as His Ekklesia. Binding and loosing, opening and closing spiritual doors, releasing Heaven’s decrees to earth—these governmental functions have occurred only at fairly low levels.

This is about to change.

The turnaround for America is only part of God’s plan for this gathering. One prophecy concerning the upcoming Turnaround conference stated that the worldwide prayer movement will be launched into its next phase. Functioning as Christ’s Ekklesia IS that new phase! The Church is about to move into a completely new level of enforcing Kingdom rule and the will of God on earth.

Sheets considers it interesting that the meeting will take place physically between the FBI and the Department of Justice, “two of the agencies from which a few corrupt individuals have tried to destroy the president.”

We will operate in our Kingdom authority while there, breaking the back of this attempt to render President Trump ineffective. We will decree the exposing and failure of all attempts to sabotage his presidency. We will release favor over him, enabling him to accomplish everything for which God sent him to the White House—including the turning of the Supreme Court! President Trump will fulfill all of God’s purposes for him.

“I think it’s so prophetic that we’re doing this in the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C.,” Sheets told fellow prophet Steve Shultz in a January interview. Sheets says that when organizers were looking for a place to hold their event in DC, some venues told them they weren’t welcome. They worried about approaching the Trump International because it is more expensive than anywhere else, he said. But after his team reached out, someone from the hotel called the next morning and said they knew all about the Appeal to Heaven, wanted it in the hotel, and lowered their prices to make it happen.

The event’s February 22 starting date also holds prophetic significance for Sheets and other organizers. Sheets calls the Bible verse Isaiah 22:22 “the key to governmental authority,” describing its power in 2014:

Fifteen years ago, God unequivocally and undeniably gave me Isaiah 22:22 as a life-verse. “Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder, when he opens no one will shut, when he shuts no one will open” (NASB). After 40 plus confirmations over a two-week period—yes, more than 40—I became thoroughly convinced this verse was both a promise and a weapon for me. I have since used the verse hundreds of times throughout America—in all 50 states and in Washington D.C.—to open and close spiritual doors for the Lord.

Lou Engle, who has called on Christians to pray that God would “sweep” the Supreme Court and other federal courts of justices and judges who uphold Roe v. Wade, operates through a group called The Call, which sent supporters a February 7 email about the prophetic nature of the event and the choice of February 22 for its opening. The email asked readers to “take up our rod of authority” and urged people to pray for President Trump:

Pray for the exposing of any lies and subversive plans arrayed against the president. Decree that he will perform all of God’s pleasure while in office (including the appointment of pro-life judges, establishing of Jerusalem, etc.) Isaiah 44:28. Decree that every demonic scheme to entrap or impeach him would come to nothing. Declare a hedge of protection around the president according to Isaiah 44.

Sheets believes that God has a special plan for Trump. “I’m very confident that there is an encounter with God that this man is going to have,” Sheets said of Trump, an encounter that will transform him into a modern-day John the Revelator, author of the apocalyptic biblical book of Revelation. “I already believe God is using him…I believe He wants to make him a father of this nation, for this nation, to this nation.”

Sheets and others have been sending weekly notices calling for prayer and inviting people to take part in prayer calls for gathering. The prayer focus for this week included a specific request that the VIPs just around the corner would make an appearance: “Pray that President Trump and Vice President Michael Pence will honor the invitation and come, even if just briefly.”

Last week’s preparatory prayer call covered conference logistics and prayers that armies of angels would attack the enemies of God, “anti-Christ spirits that want to derail the destiny of this nation.” One leader prayed that God would rebuild and restore America “according to Your original intent.” Another who led prayers on the call said, “We declare it’s no longer the District of Columbia, it’s the District of Christ!”

This isn’t the first time Sheets and Jacobs have held an event in D.C. Back in 2012, they teamed up with the Family Research Council to launch an election-year project. At the launch event, Sheets declared “I’m trying to raise up an army!” and asked God to “raise up kingdom warriors that are ready to do whatever it takes to bring forth your kingdom rule in the earth.” Their pre-election prayer rally that year did not have its intended consequences, but 2016 was a different story.

« on: February 21, 2018, 09:16:52 AM »

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28: Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Chairman James Risch (R-ID) (C) joins Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon, fellow GOP senators and representatives from small business interest organizations to rally for their tax reform legislation in the Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol November 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. Republicans in the Senate hope to pass their tax cut legislation this week and work with the House of Representatives to get a bill to President Donald Trump before Christmas. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

February 21 2018, 11:43 a.m.

IT DIDN’T GET much notice, but Sen. Jim Risch made extremely alarming remarks on Sunday at the Munich Security Conference in which he said President Donald Trump is prepared to start a “very, very brief” war with North Korea that would be “one of the worst catastrophic events in the history of our civilization.” Trump would go to these extraordinary lengths, the Idaho Republican said, in order to prevent the government of Kim Jong-un from developing the capacity to deliver a nuclear warhead to the U.S. via an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Kim claimed in his 2018 New Year’s address that North Korea can already strike all of the U.S. with nuclear weapons. While U.S. intelligence does not believe this is currently true, CIA director Mike Pompeo stated recently that North Korea may be able to hit at least some of the U.S. mainland in a “handful of months.”

Risch will likely become chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations if the GOP maintains control of the Senate and the current chair, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., retires. Risch said he and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, R.-N.H. — who was sitting next to him on stage at the conference in Germany — had “drilled down with the administration” on its North Korea policy. Risch emphasized that the Trump administration was not bluffing.

If Risch is correct, Trump is willing to cause “mass casualties the likes of which the planet has never seen” in a conflict with North Korea rather than rely on principles of deterrence that have prevented nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia and the U.S. and China for many decades.

Risch’s claims are congruent with Trump’s own statements, including that North Korea will face “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if it threatens the United States. Trump’s national security advisor H.R. McMaster recently said that “We’re not committed to a peaceful [resolution], we’re committed to a resolution. … We have to be prepared if necessary to compel the denuclearization of North Korea without the cooperation of that regime.” Last August, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., spoke of how “There is a military option to destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself.”

None of Risch’s remarks addressed the fact that the U.S. Constitution gives Congress, rather than the President, the power to declare war.

These are Risch’s most disturbing words, with video below:

RISCH: There is no more dangerous place on the earth than the Korean peninsula right now. …

The president of the United States has said, and he is committed to, seeing that Kim Jong-un is not able to marry together a delivery system with a nuclear weapon that he can deliver to the United States. …

The consequences of that are breathtaking when you think about how this could happen. …

If this thing starts, it’s going to be probably one of the one of the worst catastrophic events in the history of our civilization. It is going to be very, very brief. The end of it is going to see mass casualties the likes of which the planet has never seen. It will be of biblical proportions. …

The president can do this quickly, and as I said, it is at his fingertips.

Risch’s statement can be see in full here, starting at 11:00, or read below:

RISCH: Turning to North Korea, the answer I’m going to give is really quite easy to give, although the message is pretty dire. And that is that this is a really dangerous situation that we’re facing right now on the Korea peninsula. I would argue that there is no, from a mass casualty standpoint, that there is no more dangerous place on the earth than the Korean peninsula right now.

This is all in the hands and the minds of a single person. And that of course is Kim Jong-un. What he does, what he decides to do, is going to be decisive of how this matter resolves. And it is not going to resolve well if he continues on the course that he is continuing on.

The president of the United States has said, and he is committed to, seeing that Kim Jong-un is not able to marry together a delivery system with a nuclear weapon that he can deliver to the United States. He has said that very clearly. That is, our president has said that very clearly. And anyone who doubts the president’s commitment to see that that doesn’t happen does so really at their own peril.

The consequences of that are breathtaking when you think about how this could happen. There is no “bloody nose” policy. Senator Shaheen and I drilled down with the administration on that, and nobody knows where that came from. It appeared in the national media, the administration says they’ve never used the term, they’ve never considered the strategy, there is no such thing.

And if you think about it, it absolutely makes sense. If this thing starts, it’s going to be probably one of the one of the worst catastrophic events in the history of our civilization. It is going to be very, very brief. The end of it is going to see mass casualties the likes of which the planet has never seen. It will be of biblical proportions.

Anyone who doubts that this president isn’t committed to that, I would suggest that they step back, take a breath, listen to what he has said, review the facts on the ground. This president has at his fingertips the ability to dispense what he has said he’s going to dispense, if the North Korean regime, if Kim Jong-un, that he is, uh, the president can do this quickly, and as I said, it is at his fingertips.

I respect any opinion that any of you may have regarding what’s happened, what should happen, where it’s going to go, but please, please, don’t ignore the facts that are there.

Risch’s most significant words on North Korea were first reported by Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution.

Top photo: Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee Chairman James Risch (R-ID) (C) joins fellow GOP senators and representatives from small business interest organizations to rally for their tax reform legislation in the Mansfield Room at the U.S. Capitol November 28, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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