February 12, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Former Senior FBI Official Is Leading BuzzFeed's Effort to Verify Trump Dossier : Anthony Ferrante coordinated the U.S. government's response to Russian election interference. Now he's helping a news site defend itself from a Russian billionaire's lawsuit. (JANA WINTER, FEBRUARY 12, 2018, Foreign Policy)

Ferrante, a former top FBI official who previously served as director for cyber incident response at the U.S. National Security Council during the Barack Obama administration, is now at FTI Consulting, where he is leading the effort. 

Ferrante joined the FBI as a special agent in 2005, and he was assigned to the bureau's New York field office, where he worked on cyber threats to national security. In 2006, he was selected as a member of the FBI's Cyber Action Team, a group of experts who deploy globally to respond to critical cyber incidents.

As a top FBI cybersecurity official tasked to the White House, Ferrante was in charge of coordinating the U.S. government response to Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, among other responsibilities. Prior to joining the NSC in 2015, Ferrante was chief of staff for the FBI's cyber division at headquarters under then-Director James Comey. Ferrante, still working for the FBI but at the White House, stayed in his position as director for cyber incident response at the NSC through the Trump administration, until April 2017, when he left to join FTI.

At FTI, Ferrante launched what's now been a months-long stealth effort chasing down documents and conducting interviews on the ground in various countries around the world. His team directed BuzzFeed lawyers to subpoena specific data and testimony from dozens of agencies or companies across the country and assembled a cyber ops war room to analyze that data, according to sources familiar with the work.

BuzzFeed is being sued for libel by Russian technology executive Aleksej Gubarev, who argues that the news organization was reckless in publishing a series of memos written by former British spy Christopher Steele. Those memos -- part of a so-called dossier of information about Trump -- include unverified claims that servers belonging to a company owned by Gubarev were used to hack the Democratic Party's computer systems during the 2016 campaign.

BuzzFeed's outside attorneys initially hired FTI to verify aspects of the dossier specifically pertaining to the Gubarev lawsuit, but its scope has since expanded. "If it's fact, it's not libel, that's the idea," one source told FP.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Sessions Praises Sheriffs For Upholding 'Anglo-American Heritage' Of Policing (Cristina Cabrera, February 12, 2018, TPM)

"The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement," Sessions said. "We must never erode this historic office."

Sessions' phrasing deviated from his prepared remarks as published by the Justice Department, where the line was "The Sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage."

Even his staff can't hold back his racism.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Minister: Russia won't abide Iran's presence in Syria for long (Times of Israel, 2/12/18)

Housing Minister Yoav Galant, a member of the high-level security cabinet, cautiously predicts Moscow will ultimately seek to uproot the growing Iranian military presence in Syria. [...]

"As for the Russians, they served for a certain time as 'boots on the ground,' a player in the field who is doing the dirty work. 

Russians killed in clash with U.S.-led forces in Syria, say associates (Maria Tsvetkova, 2/12/18, Reuters) 

Russian fighters were among those killed when U.S.-led coalition forces clashed with pro-government forces in Syria this month, former associates of the dead said on Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


The Effects of Sanctuary Policies on Crime and the Economy (Tom K. Wong, January 26, 2017, Center for American Progress)

To understand the effects of having a sanctuary policy, we statistically match counties based on a broad range of demographic characteristics and then compare sanctuary counties to nonsanctuary counties to better understand the effects that sanctuary policies have on a local jurisdiction.

The data are clear: Crime is statistically significantly lower in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties. Moreover, economies are stronger in sanctuary counties--from higher median household income, less poverty, and less reliance on public assistance to higher labor force participation, higher employment-to-population ratios, and lower unemployment.

Among the main findings:

There are, on average, 35.5 fewer crimes committed per 10,000 people in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.

Median household annual income is, on average, $4,353 higher in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.

The poverty rate is 2.3 percent lower, on average, in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.

Unemployment is, on average, 1.1 percent lower in sanctuary counties compared to nonsanctuary counties.

While the results hold true across sanctuary jurisdictions, the sanctuary counties with the smallest populations see the most pronounced effects.

Altogether, the data suggest that when local law enforcement focuses on keeping communities safe, rather than becoming entangled in federal immigration enforcement efforts, communities are safer and community members stay more engaged in the local economy. This in turn brings benefits to individual households, communities, counties, and the economy as a whole.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Digital darwinism opens the door to an age of assistance (Brian Solis, 2/12/18, Next Web)

For business transformation to succeed, the whole of innovation must be greater than the progress of its parts. But in an era of digital Darwinism, as technology and society evolve faster than many businesses can keep up, it may be up to the "parts" to lead the way toward holistic business transformation. Digital Darwinism doesn't discriminate in selecting which companies survive, thrive or fade. Outcomes are dependent on the impact of business efforts. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Top Justice Department official Brand quit partly over fear she might be asked to oversee Russia probe (JULIA AINSLEY, 2/12/18, NBC News)

The Justice Department's No. 3 attorney had been unhappy with her job for months before the department announced her departure on Friday, according to multiple sources close to Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.

Brand grew frustrated by vacancies at the department and feared she would be asked to oversee the Russia investigation, the sources said.

Brand Loyalty (Julian Sanchez, Feb. 12th, 2018, JustSecurity)

[I]t's helpful to appreciate two things about Rachel Brand.

The first is that Brand had a solid bipartisan reputation as a conservative lawyer of professionalism and integrity. When confirmed to her post last May, she won praise from Clinton Administration veteran Jamie Gorelick, as well as Barack Obama's former acting solicitor general, Neal Kaytal. When I first encountered Brand, in her previous role as a Republican member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board during the Obama administration, she was as consistent as she was vocal in her disagreement with those of us who believed government surveillance in the name of the War on Terror had gone too far. Yet she also impressed me as a serious and fair-minded advocate for her positions, and many of my colleague in civil society have expressed public disappointment at her impending departure.

The second thing to understand is that if you squint at Brand's resumé, it resolves itself like a Magic Eye stereogram into a single bold-faced, all-caps sentence, which reads: "MY LIFE'S AMBITION IS A SENIOR POST AS A POLITICAL APPOINTEE AT THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT." At Harvard Law School she joined the conservative Federalist Society, and after graduating won a coveted Supreme Court clerkship under Justice Anthony Kennedy. When Elizabeth Dole was considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination, Brand served as general counsel to her exploratory committee, and would later join the judicial advisory committee for Sen. John McCain's campaign. She was on the transition team for the George W. Bush administration, which she would later join, spending five years as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy. Decamping to the private sector, she spent a few years at the firm WilmerHale, returned to public service as a member of the PCLOB, worked at the the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as chief counsel for regulatory litigation, and finally found herself back at Main Justice as one of the early appointees of the fledgling Trump Administration. All of which is to say: This is not the profile of a person who arrives two rungs south of attorney general at the age of 44, then departs after less than a year on the job because she has suddenly realized the private sector pays better.

It should be no surprise, then, to find there's more to this story than a hidden passion for Wal-Mart. As NBC News reported Monday, citing sources close to Brand, the Associate AG "had been unhappy with her job for months," having grown both "frustrated by vacancies at the department" and afraid she would be forced to take up Rosenstein's burden of supervising--and so potentially being ordered to dismiss--Robert Mueller.

The most obvious and immediate inference to draw from this is that Brand, surely as well positioned as anyone to read the writing on the wall, has not been reassured by the White House's repeated assertions that neither Mueller nor Rosenstein are on the chopping block. She regarded it as likely she'd be faced with the Hobson's choice of executing an order to sack Mueller, and in the process immolating her reputation for probity, or defying a Republican president and being sacked herself, which however popular it might make her with MSNBC hosts, would play poorly in the conservative legal circles where she'd built her career.

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Glenn Simpson Has Given Us a Russiagate Road Map (Bob Dreyfuss, JANUARY 26, 2018, The Nation)

At the very start, Simpson points out that his Fusion GPS investigation didn't start by looking only at Trump-Russia. It began, he said, by compiling data on Trump's overseas business deals, tax disputes, "labor practices around his factories," his bankruptcies, and his business partners. And what popped up early on was Trump's connection to Felix Sater, whose company, Bayrock, "was engaged in illicit financial business activity and had organized crime connections." (As The Nation reported in September, it was Sater who in November 2015 wrote Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, "Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.... I will get all of [Vladimir] Putins [sic] team to buy in on this.")

"We also had sort of more broadly learned that Mr. Trump had long time associations with Italian organized crime figures," Simpson told HPSCI, based on his research. "And as we pieced together the early years of his biography, it seemed as if during the early part of his career he had connections to a lot of Italian mafia figures, and then gradually during the nineties became associated with Russian mafia figures."

In his testimony, Simpson didn't provide details to back up his charges about Trump's alleged ties to the mob. However, over the past two years, numerous articles have drawn connections between Trump, his businesses, and both Italian and Russian organized crime. During the primary campaign, Senator Ted Cruz talked about Trump's "business dealings with the mob, with the mafia," and Politifact backed him up. In May 2016, David Cay Johnston, writing in Politico, penned a lengthy piece on the subject. And as recently as November, a joint NBC/Reuters investigation tied Trump to mobsters and other criminals in connection with the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. In his just-released testimony, as we shall see, Simpson refers several times to Trump's possible money-laundering ties to Russians in Panama and elsewhere.

The mastermind of Russia's approach to the 2016 election, according to Simpson, didn't reside within Russia's foreign-intelligence service, the SVR. Instead, he said, it was run by Sergei Ivanov, "the head of the presidential administration" (that is, Putin's chief of staff). "As I dug into some of the more obscure academic work on how the Kremlin operates by some of the more distinguished scholars of the subject, I found that Ivanov is, in fact, or was at the time, in fact, the head of a sort of internal kind of White House plumber's operation for the Kremlin and that he seemed to have the kind of duties that were being described in [the dossier]." (By "White House plumbers," of course, Simpson is making an analogy to President Richard Nixon's Watergate team, nicknamed "the plumbers" because their initial job was to find and plug the sources of leaks from the White House.)

According to Simpson, Russian organized crime is far more sophisticated than the Italian version, especially when it comes to money laundering, with closer ties to major businesses, especially in real estate. Asked whether Fusion GPS found any evidence that Trump was linked to such money-laundering activity, Simpson was cautious. "'Evidence,' I think, is a strong word. I think we saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering.... various criminals were buying [Trump's] properties." One of them, a major Russian organized-crime figure, "was running a high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower, while he himself was a fugitive for having rigged the skating competition at the Salt Lake [City] Olympics and a bunch of other sporting events engaged in rigging." When Trump went to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, this gangster was in the VIP section "with Mr. Trump and lots of other Kremlin biggies." Simpson said that the individual was called "Taiwanchik," an apparent reference to Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov, who, according to the Moscow Times, is an alleged gangster sought by the United States.

Trump's various golf resorts were the subject of intense scrutiny by Simpson. Taking note of statements by Eric Trump that the golf-course projects benefited from Russian investments, Simpson began digging. "So we were able to get the financial statements. And they don't, on their face, show Russian involvement, but what they do show is enormous amounts of capital flowing into these projects from unknown sources and--or at least on paper it says it's from The Trump Organization, but it's hundreds of millions of dollars. And these golf course [sic] are just, you know, they're sinks. They don't actually make any money," said Simpson. "If you're familiar with Donald Trump's finances and the litigation over whether he's really a billionaire, you know, there's good reason to believe he doesn't have enough money to do this and that he would have had to have outside financial support for these things."

Which raises two questions: Did Trump, knowingly or unknowingly, help Russians launder money through investing in his golf resorts? And did those investments obligate Trump to shadowy Russian interests or make him vulnerable to blackmail? [...]

Gradually, Simpson and Steele concluded that a pattern was emerging. "Back then we had what appeared to be credible allegations of some sort of a pattern of surreptitious contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian people either working for the government or acting on behalf of the Russian Government," said Simpson. "I think that the evidence that has developed over the last year, since President Trump took office, is that there is a well-established pattern of surreptitious contacts that occurred last year that supports the broad allegation of some sort of an undisclosed political or financial relationship between The Trump Organization and people in Russia."

Under questioning by Representative Adam Schiff, the Democrat who is the ranking minority member on HPSCI, Simpson began to lay out detailed recommendations on which people, which bank records, which real estate transactions, ought to be mined for potentially incriminating information--including in connection with Trump's golf resorts and other properties in Panama, Toronto, and elsewhere.

It's not that hard, Simpson said. "I'm trying to think of the creative way to do this. I mean, as you may know, you know, most of these transactions are cleared through New York. And the other sort of central place for information is SWIFT in Brussels. But I would go for the clearing banks in New York that cleared the transactions," said Simpson. "And there's--again, it's these sort of intermediary entities that have no real interest in protecting the information, and all you have to do is ask for it and they just sort of produce it by rote. So we've done a lot of money laundering investigations where we go to the trust companies and the clearing entities."

When Schiff ended his round of questioning, Representative Tom Rooney, a Republican from Florida, picked up the thread. This hilarious exchange followed: "All those questions that Mr. Schiff asked about, you know, with the subpoena power and where we would go if we wanted to find out about Scotland and Panama and Toronto and Ireland, and you were talking about like the brokers and I guess the banks in Switzerland and New York, my only question is, why didn't you do that?" asked Rooney. Answered Simpson: "I don't have subpoena power."

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming (KEVIN ROOSE, FEB. 10, 2018, NY Times)

"All you need is self-driving cars to destabilize society," Mr. Yang, 43, said over lunch at a Thai restaurant in Manhattan last month, in his first interview about his campaign. In just a few years, he said, "we're going to have a million truck drivers out of work who are 94 percent male, with an average level of education of high school or one year of college." [...]

To fend off the coming robots, Mr. Yang is pushing what he calls a "Freedom Dividend," a monthly check for $1,000 that would be sent to every American from age 18 to 64, regardless of income or employment status. These payments, he says, would bring everyone in America up to approximately the poverty line, even if they were directly hit by automation. Medicare and Medicaid would be unaffected under Mr. Yang's plan, but people receiving government benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could choose to continue receiving those benefits, or take the $1,000 monthly payments instead.

The Freedom Dividend isn't a new idea. It's a rebranding of universal basic income, a policy that has been popular in academic and think-tank circles for decades, was favored by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the economist Milton Friedman, and has more recently caught the eye of Silicon Valley technologists. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen have all expressed support for the idea of a universal basic income. Y Combinator, the influential start-up incubator, is running a basic income experiment with 3,000 participants in two states. [...]

Critics may dismiss Mr. Yang's campaign (slogan: "Humanity First") as a futurist vanity stunt. The Democratic pipeline is already stuffed with would-be 2020 contenders, most of whom already have the public profile and political experience that Mr. Yang lacks -- and at least one of whom, Senator Bernie Sanders, has already hinted at support for a universal basic income.

Opponents of universal basic income have also pointed to its steep price tag -- an annual outlay of $12,000 per American adult would cost approximately $2 trillion, equivalent to roughly half of the current federal budget -- and the possibility that giving out free money could encourage people not to work. These reasons, among others, are why Hillary Clinton, who considered adding universal basic income to her 2016 platform, concluded it was "exciting but not realistic."

"In our political culture, there are formidable political obstacles to providing cash to working-age people who aren't employed, and it's unlikely that U.B.I. could surmount them," Robert Greenstein, the president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research group, wrote last year.

But Mr. Yang thinks he can make the case. He has proposed paying for a basic income with a value-added tax, a consumption-based levy that he says would raise money from companies that profit from automation. A recent study by the Roosevelt Institute, a left-leaning policy think-tank, suggested that such a plan, paid for by a progressive tax plan, could grow the economy by more than 2 percent and provide jobs for 1.1 million more people.

"Universal basic income is an old idea," Mr. Yang said, "but it's an old idea that right now is uniquely relevant because of what we're experiencing in society."

You do have to means-test though and accompany it with a conversion to consumption taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 AM


Darkness At Nunes: Inside The House Intelligence Disaster (Jeff Stein, February 12, 2018, Newsweek)

"Nut job" has clung to Nunes's reputation as long as he's been chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI, in Washington-speak). Or at least among Democrats (and some Republicans) who have decried Nunes's transformation of a once bipartisan national security panel into a GOP platform to attack Democrats.

Janz thinks he knows why: Nunes's mentorship by Michael Flynn, the now disgraced former Trump national security adviser. "I know that they had a pretty close relationship," he said. Nunes served on the executive committee of the Trump transition team with Flynn, he noted, which was headed by Vice President Mike Pence, "and it seems to me like he never left. He's still on that team."

A descendent of Portuguese Azorean immigrants, Nunes grew up on a Central Valley, California farm and concentrated on water issues when he came to Congress in 2003. But his fundraising prowess for fellow Republicans endeared him to Representative Paul Ryan and House Speaker John Boehner, who in 2013 anointed him chairman of the intelligence panel.

Like many hawks back then, Nunes was in awe of Flynn, who had won praise for revolutionizing the hunt for terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. "This guy was one of the best intelligence officers in several generations," Nunes told me in a December 23, 2016 interview. "I don't know if you've ever met him, but Flynn is extremely smart. He really is top notch."

Nunes was speaking fives months after Flynn had startled many former military officers by leading "Lock her up" chants against Hillary Clinton at the Republican National Convention. It was also two years after the Obama White House has forced Flynn's resignation as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. "What happened," Nunes told me, "is...he went out and said a lot of things that Obama didn't like..."

But that's not close to the full story on Flynn, whose battlefield talents didn't transfer well to running the DIA from 2012 to 2014. Not only were his executive skills lacking, according to many observers, including former Army general and Secretary of State Colin Powell, he quickly developed a reputation for indulging in conspiracy theories--or " Flynn facts," his aides derisively called them.

But Nunes embraced them. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 AM


Iran's Rouhani to visit India (Middle East Online, 2/12/18)

 Iran's President Hassan Rouhani will visit India this week for three days, local media reported on Monday.

Rouhani is due to leave for India on Thursday to discuss "the latest regional and global developments", the semi-official ISNA news agency said.

He was invited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year, ISNA said.

India and Iran have collaborated on key projects, most notably the Chabahar port in southeastern Iran that was inaugurated in December.

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 AM


Giving up control of Brussels mosque, Saudi Arabia sends a signal (Alissa de Carbonnel, Stephen Kalin, 2/12/18, Reuters) 

Saudi Arabia has agreed to give up control of Belgium's largest mosque in a sign that it is trying to shed its reputation as a global exporter of an ultra-conservative brand of Islam.