Top World News Now

Odd World News

Monday, February 9, 2015

FBI Disses Wikipedia

To review the FBI files on a dead person (or as much of the files as the Bureau will release), one has to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the organization with evidence the person has died (unless the subject's birth date is more than 100 years ago). Such "proof of death" can include "copy of a death certificate, Social Security Death Index, obituary, or other recognized reference source" (emphasis ours).

We have made such FOIA requests many times, including recently for Harry Towers, a deceased entertainment producer once linked to some political intrigue of interest to us.

For proof of Towers' death, we provided the FBI with his Wikipedia page, see it here, which includes links to obituaries from well-known publications Variety, The Guardian and The Independent.

However, the FBI kicked back our request, saying: "The FBI does not accept Wikipedia as a recognized reference source" (see the letter below).

In our experience, Wikipedia entries on dead celebrities are generally accurate and usually include links to outside publications that can certainly be considered reliable and "recognized reference source(s)."

But the FBI's policy again raises questions about Wikipedia's accuracy  -- questions that surface with some regularity. Back in 2005, the well-recognized journal "Nature" reported Wikipedia was almost as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. That analysis sparked a debate that continues until today, a debate well summarized by -- you guessed it -- this Wikipedia entry. [Worth noting is that the FBI, in our experience, is always eager to find ways to dismiss FOIA requests at their earliest stages, so the motive here may also involve making it harder for requesters to provide acceptable "recognized reference sources." Another example: the FBI told our network that it could not find any records on North Korea's top intelligence and terrorist organizations; see here.]

So what do you think: Should the FBI accept Wikipedia entries for proof of death, even if that means an FBI processor might have to visit the page to double check the sources? Or is the Bureau correct to reject this crowd-sourced information as a "recognized reference source?"





Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Millennials" Are Security Threat, Says Army's WikiLeaks Investigation

Along with a host of bureaucratic shortcomings, cybersecurity flaws and leadership screw-ups, the US Army investigation of 2010's massive WikiLeaks compromise of classified information identifies a major threat: "Millennial Generation "soldiers, those born between 1980 and 2000. [Note: Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker who released massive amounts of classified information after the Manning case, is also a Millennial according to the definition in this report.]

Also known as the "Net Generation," they are the most technologically savvy yet, but bring a "new culture" in conflict with key military standards, says the 2011 report, recently released by the Army in redacted form (see excerpts below from "AR15-6 Report -- Compromise of Classified Information to Wikileaks (sic)").

WikiLeaks' source, PFC Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, is a "bellwether" of this "new cohort of Soldiers (sic) who enter military service with attributes and beliefs that differ markedly from those espoused by their predecessors," reports the investigation's author, Army Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, Jr., currently superintendent of West Point. [Manning pled guilty to leaking the documents -- which the US government says disrupted diplomatic relations, endangered US troops and exposed Afghan informants -- and is now serving a long sentence.]

Their "new culture" is based on social medial, isolated from "the real world," dismisses the need for confidentiality and ignores potential "tangible results" from online activities.

"Millennials develop values and loyalties in the virtual world that often clash with more traditional values and loyalties in the physical world," the general writes, "Millennials believe it acceptable to act in any way one wishes -- their actions generate no perceived consequences for which they may be held to account," asserts the report.

This creates a substantial threat, given the military (and broader government and intelligence world) shift after 9/11 in the philosophy or providing access to classified information -- from the old "need to know" to the new "need to share."

The Army must train its leaders (often from "Generation X," with some "Baby Boomers") about the "new culture" and have them drum into their Millennial subordinates an awareness that releasing sensitive information can risk the lives of their Army buddies -- or as the report puts it, "secrets and security are both necessary and appropriate in an Army at war; failure to safeguard sensitive information has the undesired consequence of putting them and their buddies in the unit at risk."

Along with the Millennial management issue, Gen. Caslen (a Baby Boomer) notes an almost unbelievable litany of failures in security doctrine, technology and management. Manning -- who suffers from gender dysphoria and is now suing the military for sex-change therapy in prison -- lied, publicly proclaimed his lack of patriotism, exhibited glaring emotional and psychological problems, had work problems and got into fights. At one point, he went berserk while being counseled for repeated tardiness -- his superior responded by removing the bolt of his weapon, presumably to keep Manning from gunning down other soldiers and/or himself. Despite all this, he kept his job processing highly-sensitive information.

The general concludes that Army leaders, after years of war, are now strong in combat leadership, but weaker in leading and managing soldiers in the garrison.

Though not someone with whom the grizzled Gen. Caslen likely texts or Snapchats, novelist Bret Easton Ellis, bard of his "Generation X," is coincidentally now in the news for his own critique of the Millennials, whom he dubs "Generation Wuss." Ellis cites their "over-sensitivity, their insistence that they are right despite the overwhelming proof that suggests they are not, their lack of placing things within context, (and) the overreacting..."

To be sure, most Millennials in the military have performed well, often heroically, and appear to need no training that sharing military secrets on the Internet, where ISIS and other enemies can read them, is not the same as blogging about your lunch.

Previous generations have had their share of leakers and traitors -- could the real issue be that modern technology just makes it easier for people to act on impulses they've always had?

Or do Millennials really represent a new sort of security threat? Let us know your thoughts.


Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, Jr.






Saturday, August 30, 2014

Ukraine Flashback: KGB Plan to Use American Support of Ukrainian Guerrillas to Discredit CIA Director

The folks at the Wilson Center have once again come up with a fascinating document from previously Top Secret Soviet files. This one highlights how Washington-Moscow tensions in Eastern Europe have been going on for decades, including in Ukraine.  This history provides important context to today's news from the region.

The 1960 document concerns a global plan by KGB chief Alexander Shelepin to discredit CIA Director Allen Dulles; it came a month after the embarrassing U-2 incident in which an American spy plan was shot down over the Soviet Union and its pilot captured.

Aside from spy flights, Dulles had also supported guerrilla warfare against Soviet occupiers in several Eastern European countries -- including in places such as Ukraine and Poland, where the guerrilla's side eventually won, but whose leaders must still fear Moscow.

The KGB plan included dirty tricks and propaganda efforts across the world, from planting false news stories in Japan to making claims that US intelligence was working with Israeli spies in the Middle East.

One of the plots involved exposing the KGB's penetration of CIA-supported guerrillas in Ukraine. After World War 2, anti-communist Ukrainian guerrillas killed an estimated 15-30,000 Soviet occupation troops and their local supporters. But the KGB had penetrated the resistance organizations (and those in other communist-occupied countries) and in 1959 killed Ukrainian leader Stefan Bandera with a cyanide gun. [See our declassified documents on the assassination of Bandera here and the guerrilla war in Ukraine here.]

The excerpts below are from the Top Secret June 7, 1960, KGB plan. See the complete document at the Wilson Center site. Please leave comments if you know whether and how the KGB carried out this plan and its subplots...

The failure of the intelligence action prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with the plane “Lockheed U-2” caused an aggravation of existing tensions between the CIA and other USA intelligence services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and also provoked protests by the American public and certain members of the Congress, who are demanding investigation of the CIA activities.

The Committee of state security considers it advisable to make use of this newly complex situation and to carry out the following measures targeted at further discrediting CIA activity and compromising its leader Allen DULLES:
b) to agree with Polish friends about the exposure of the operational game led by the organs of the KGB along with the MSS PPR [Ministry of State Security of the Polish People’s Republic] with a “conduit” on the payroll of American intelligence of the Organization of Ukrainian nationalists (OUN)- “Melnikovists.” To this end to bring back to Poland the Polish MSS agent “Boleslav,” planted in the course of this game on the OUN “conduit,” and to arrange for him to speak to the press and radio about subversive activity by American intelligence against the USSR and PPR. To arrange, in addition, for public appearances by six American intelligence agents dropped on USSR and PPR territory as couriers of the “conduit” in the course of the game.

7. To work out measures which, upon implementation, would demonstrate the failure of the CIA efforts to actively on a concrete factual basis use various émigré centers for subversive work against countries in the socialist camp.

In particular, using the example of the anti-Soviet organization “The Union of the Struggle for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia” (SBONR), to discredit in the eyes of American taxpayers the activities of American intelligence in funding émigré organizations. To bring to light, along with other measures, real or forged American intelligence documents on its finances and guidance of subversive activities of the SBONR.

German U-boats in New York Harbor

The German submarine glided through the icy water past New York City, its captain noting the glowing skyscrapers of Manhattan and then Coney Island’s brilliantly-lit Ferris wheel.  Soon his lookouts spotted a large oil tanker, steaming ahead without escort. Maneuvering into position, the captain easily acquired his target, framed by the city’s lights, and fired a torpedo into the vessel, sending a fireball into the sky worthy of America’s most dazzling city.
It was January 1942, the beginning of one of America’s most important, and underappreciated, campaigns to defend the homeland. Peak operations would continue – below, on and above the seas from Florida to New England – through the summer, influencing the fate of World War II and interring ships and sailors from several countries in watery graves off what are now some of America’s most popular beaches and harbors.
This is the gripping story told in Ed Offley’s newest book, The Burning Shore: How Hitler’s U-Boats Brought World War II to America (Basic Books, 2014). 
While the circumstances of this battle are unique, the oft competing roles played by bureaucratic infighting, intelligence collection, combat leadership and blind luck will be familiar to students of America’s most recent conflicts.
The German submarine, or “U-boat,” threat of early 1942 certainly came as no surprise to America’s political and military leadership. Indeed, the U.S. Navy and German subs had joined battle months earlier, even before war was declared, when President Roosevelt ordered the Navy to protect allied shipping.
When official hostilities began, top brass recognized the “imminent probability of submarine attack” along the East Coast, thanks in large part to British intelligence. Yet the admirals failed to respond effectively. See our review at Real Clear History...

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Now This Is Late, Even for the Department of Veterans Affairs!

An apologetic official from Veterans Affairs has been reaching out to citizens who sought records from the agency under the federal Freedom of Information Act, which requires the government to share many types of information with the public.

The story: A VA FOIA staffer was out on medical leave and the Department has now discovered "a number of old (FOIA) requests that were never gotten around to..."

It's not clear how many requests "fell through the cracks," as the official describes it. But the violation of the regulations is clear. The FOIA law says the Department has 20 business days to respond to an initial request. Our initial request -- for sister site DMZ War -- involves asbestos exposure by US Korean Service veterans and was submitted in December 2012.

Missing a clear legal deadline by more than a year-and-a-half and counting, by an agency that claims it's focused on transparency, is pretty embarrassing. We'd cut them a bit of slack given the current life-or-death demands on VA to reduce its lines for medical care, but this is an entirely different VA department that appears to share the same lax management as the health-delivery side.

Come to think of it, is it possible the FOIA bureaucrat who dropped the ball during medical leave was himself stuck in the VA medical system? If so, we have at least a little sympathy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Google to Ban Ads for Legal Gun Accessories & "Dangerous" Knives: Threatens to Shut Down Sites

This morning we received an email from Google with the following title: "Google AdWords Policy Update - Weapons policy restriction."

The email, from the "Google AdWords Team," announces a new policy starting in September for those who advertise on Google Adwords, a service used to attract traffic to Web sites. It bans Adwords advertising for products such as knives "that can be used to injure an opponent in sport, self-defense, or combat" plus "Any part or component that's necessary to the function of a gun or intended for attachment to a gun
  • Examples: Gun scopes, ammunition, ammunition clips or belts" [and even bb guns!]
We certainly have no problem with Google prohibiting ads involving weapons such as nail bombs and grenades, as it does. But we see a big difference in banning ads for legal products used by many millions of Americans. The ban specifically includes sport and recreational guns and their components.

And it's not just ads that are being threatened. The email (see excepts below) includes the following: "When we make this change, any ads or sites that are identified as violating our revised policy won't be able to run."

In other words, is Google not just threatening to shut down advertising campaigns, but also to address Web sites with content about legal products (or topics?) that it finds politically incorrect? The email does not provide additional detail on the issue of the Web sites. Presumably, Google could stop running ads on sites with the disapproved content, a significant revenue hit in many cases for the site owner, or even shut down sites running on Google's Blogger. Should publishers worry the company might use its dominant search engine to make offending sites sink in search results?

This is no idle threat. As users of Blogger and Adwords know, Google rejects ads and shuts down accounts with regularity, referring to often vague policy guidelines. Appeals -- including, for example, to have a Blogger site reflecting many hours of work restored after it ran afoul (wrongly,we think) of a rule about reusing content -- are routed to customer service personnel outside the country whose written responses and knowledge of the content issues at hand are, to be charitable, uneven.

This ban will no doubt impact Web sites (and advertising campaigns) built by small businesses at great time and expense, potentially including some online stores that invested to build sites selling legal products that may now be banned. [note: We have not yet gone back to Google's existing rules to determine exactly what is being changed by the new announcement.]

To be sure, we very much appreciate Google and its services, both free and paid. But the announcement gives us pause for several reasons.

For example, in the email Google warned us that certain of our ad campaigns/sites are in danger. But it did not specify which ones or why. We can only guess. Have we offended with ads for our military history site on the long American effort to secure the Korean DMZ; our page on how to prepare for a possible war with Syria and Iran; a shuttered site we had on zombies with links to "Zombie kits" from a major knife company; the page on fly fishing in war zones and dangerous places; or something else entirely?

Presumably ads with forbidden messages and/or linking to forbidden sites will be refused. But what if Google goes after our sites directly? What topics and products are next to be banned?

Of course, Google can do what it wants with its services. What Google can give, Google can take away. This is a business, not a 1st Amendment, issue.

Let us know what you think about this Google policy -- Political correctness run amok or a sensible response to potentially dangerous products and the liability threat that goes with them?

XXXX

Check out excerpts from the email and the page to which it links:

Email: "We're writing to let you know about a change to Google's advertising policies that might affect your AdWords account.

Around September, we'll be clarifying and simplifying our policy on knives, guns, gun parts, and other weapons designed to injure others in combat, self-defense, or sport. Some products that we currently allow won't be allowed under the new policies. Examples of products that will no longer be allowed include paintball guns, airsoft guns, BB guns, gun scopes, ammunition belts, stun guns, and tactical knives...When we make this change, any ads or sites that are identified as violating our revised policy won't be able to run.
Our system identified the following accounts associated with your email address as potentially affected by this policy change:"

The email directed us to a Web page entitled "Dangerous Products and Services," which says the new standards will become effective in September. Here are excerpts from the page:

 "Functional devices that appear to discharge a projectile at high velocity, whether for sport, self-defense, or combat 
(Note that we err on the side of caution and apply this policy to sporting or recreational guns that can cause serious harm if misused, or that appear to be real guns.)


  • Examples: Handguns, rifles, shotguns, hunting guns, functioning antique guns, airsoft guns, paintball guns, bb guns

  •  Any part or component that's necessary to the function of a gun or intended for attachment to a gun


  • Examples: Gun scopes, ammunition, ammunition clips or belts

  •  "Dangerous knives"
  •  Knives that are designed or promoted as products that can be used to injure an opponent in sport, self-defense, or combat" 
  • Thursday, June 12, 2014

    Why is the Air Force Still Classifying Information on the Hunt for Hitler & 60-Year-Old Research Projects?

    We like a spy story about a glamorous Nazi test pilot as much as the next guy, so we were excited when we saw what was inside a recent delivery of documents we'd asked the Air Force to declassify.

    But what jumped out was the fact the Air Force is still keeping part of the story secret after almost 70 years.

    President Obama promised in 2009 "...my Administration is committed to operating with an unprecedented level of openness. While the Government must be able to prevent the public disclosure of information where such disclosure would compromise the privacy of American citizens, national security, or other legitimate interests, a democratic government accountable to the people must be as transparent as possible and must not withhold information for self-serving reasons or simply to avoid embarrassment."

    Yet historical information decades older than the President is still being kept classified. That's frustrating for historians but heartbreaking for others, especially the families of Korean War POW/MIAs who are still not allowed to see 60-year-old record files -- from various military and civilian agencies -- believed to have answers on the fates of their loved ones.

    Here's an example of a 1955 military document -- from a collection that has revealed important POW/MIA information -- that is still being kept secret at the National Archives. There are many more.



    Anyway, back to the story of the Nazi test pilot, Hanna Reich (or Reitsch). You can see her below giving a Nazi salute (German Federal Archive via Wikimedia). She's said to be the only woman to get a WWII Iron Cross, as well as a volunteer for a German "kamikaze" unit that never got off the ground (bureaucratically and literally).



    Her story is told in a 1977 interview of a former Air Force human intelligence officer named Col. Robert Work, who provided an oral history of his Cold War adventures. That report was turned into a 1999 Air Force history report, classified Secret. We asked for it to be declassified in August 2012 and it arrived last week -- it took almost two years for the military to process a 15-year-old document based on a 37-year-old interview concerning events dating back 69 years.

    Soon after the end of WWII, Work got a message from his superiors concerning Reich."She's known to have flown out of Berlin in the last days of the war, and carried a male passenger who might have been Hitler," said the message. "It occurred to me that we could be sitting on one of the greatest stories of the war. Had Hitler flown out of Berlin, had Hanna Reich piloted him, and was he somewhere in Austria? The message had indicated though that 'we doubt Hitler is still alive.'" But...

    So what comes immediately after that build up? The Air Force has decided to keep it secret.

    The released part of the document goes on to reveal that a US agent found Reich on a departing train and convinced her to toss down her bags and jump off.

    During her interrogation Reich sounded disappointed the man she had flown out of Berlin was not the Fuehrer, "Oh! If only it had been." She reported he was actually the new Chief of the Luftwaffe. However, her information provided crucial details on the final hours in Hitler's bunker and helped persuade US intelligence that Hitler, whose body had not been found, was really dead (decades later it was revealed the Soviets had disposed of his remains).

    During his 1977 interview, Col. Work went on to describe another of his most important projects, a program called WRINGER to get information from people escaping the Soviet Union during the late-1940s into the 1950s.

    These reports -- there were about a million of them by the end -- were an important part of Air Force intelligence, including nuclear targeting, in the days before satellites could collect information from the Soviet Union.

    "In fact, WRINGER reports were piling up on the floors of the fifth floor corridors in the Pentagon, almost endangering traffic in those corridors."

    But what comes next is also censored as still being classified.

    "(F)ortunately we in the Air Force learned some lessons and began working more effectively," the Colonel later notes. So what were those lessons? They may be in the next part of the document, which as you probably guessed is censored due to classification.

    Finally, Col. Work gets around to discussing one "clandestine operation which ran for years" and provided special contributions. What was it? You're right, it's still classified.

    To be sure, the Air Force gave us 60 days to appeal the withholding of this information. Experience tells us we might even hear back in a couple years. As for the relatives of the Korean War POW/MIAs, many of those in the know assume they will be dead before all the records they seek are declassified.