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Vladimir "Secret Squirrel" Putin meets the Gipper, 1988


Here's a photo that purports to show Vladimir Putin -- during his time as a KGB agent -- in plainclothes, inconspicuously hanging out near Ronald Reagan during the Gipper's visit to the USSR in 1988.

[Allegedly] Vladimir Putin (far left) when he was a KGB agent posing as a family member out for a stroll in Red Square when Reagan was visiting the USSR, 1988

FBI agent tries to copyright super-secret torture manual, inadvertently makes it public

The ACLU has spent years in court trying to get a look at a top-secret FBI interrogation manual that referred to the CIA's notorious KUBARK torture manual. The FBI released a heavily redacted version at one point -- so redacted as to be useless for determining whether its recommendations were constitutional.

However, it turns out that the FBI agent who wrote the manual sent a copy to the Library of Congress in order to register a copyright in it -- in his name! (Government documents are not copyrightable, but even if they were, the copyright would vest with the agent's employer, not the agent himself). A Mother Jones reporter discovered the unredacted manual at the Library of Congress last week, and tipped off the ACLU about it.

Anyone can inspect the manual on request. Go see for yourself!

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Prisoner on literary censorship in Guantanamo Bay


Writing from Guantanamo Bay via his lawyer, Shaker Aamer, the last UK citizen imprisoned at the camp, describes the Kafkaesque regime of censorship practiced by the camp guards. His lawyer brings him books every three months, but so far, guards have confiscated Russell Brand's memoirs (too sweary), "The Gulag Archipelago" and "The Rule of Law" by Lord Bingham. They allowed Dershowitz's "Blasphemy: How the Religious Right Is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence," but redacted certain passages. Unsurprisingly, Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" did not attain the Gitmo stamp of approval. Aamer's favorite book is (of course), "Nineteen Eighty-Four."

The piece is written with admirable resilience and humour, but it's a reminder that the US government is still maintaining a torture camp where people who haven't been convicted of any crime are imprisoned indefinitely.

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Oklahoma City cops charge Keystone XL protesters with "terrorism hoax" because their banner shed some glitter


Two protesters who held up an anti-Keystone-XL-pipeline banner at the Oklahoma City headquarters of Devon Energy have been charged with perpetrating a "terrorism hoax" because some of the glitter on their banner fell on the floor and was characterized by OKC cops as a "hazardous substance."

The arrest is an extreme example, but it's not an isolated one. Indeed, leaked documents show that TransCanada has an army of spies assembling dossiers on protesters, and has been briefing the FBI and local law on techniques for prosecuting anti-pipeline protesters as terrorists.

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NSA and GCHQ targeted NGOs, charities, EU chief, Israeli defense minister for deep surveillance


The latest Snowden leak reveals a list of bizarre targets for NSA/GCHQ surveillance, including the World Health Organization, Unicef and Medecins Sans Frontiers; the VP of the European Commission (whose file included EU competition policy); the UN's special representative to Darfur; German diplomatic networks; and other diplomatic targets. The program was run through GCHQ's Bude listening station in Cornwall, which receives large amounts of funding from the NSA. There's no colourable claim that this surveillance had anything to do with preventing terrorism or enhancing national security. It's an incoherent mishmash of out-and-out industrial espionage, institutional mistrust of humanitarian relief agencies, and a reflexive need to spy. And it's going to piss a lot of people off.

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UK spies cooperated in torture, didn't want to upset US spies

A UK government inquiry into the practice of torture of suspects rendered by MI5 and MI6 found that British spies did not speak out against torture because they didn't want to offend the CIA. Cory 10

Merkel compares NSA to Stasi

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a frank exchange of views with Barack Obama in which she compared the NSA to the Stasi. Merkel grew up in the former East Germany, where the Stasi secret police agency was a force of nearly unparalleled evil and corrosion. It's probably not an apt comparison: the NSA's digital wholesale spying makes the Stasi's towers of analog filing cabinets and jars full of odors look like a quaint kindergarten playground game of Orwell-and-Seek. Cory 5

Getting your head around the Pentagon's titanic, enormous, unauditably large budget


A long, infographic-laden Mother Jones explainer tries to make sense of the US's insanely gigantic military budget, which dwarfs all US spending save Social Security. America's military owns more than 170 golf courses and manages enough land to host 93 Los Angeleses, and the Afghan/Iraq invasions have no meaningful peace dividend -- they're a permanent upward ratchet on the military budget.

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US spy agency adopts globe-encircling giant octopus as new logo

This terrifying, betentacled vision of a globe-circling monster octopus is the actual, no fooling new logo for the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that operates America's spy satellites. A spokewoman explains: "NROL-39 is represented by the octopus, a versatile, adaptable, and highly intelligent creature. Emblematically, enemies of the United States can be reached no matter where they choose to hide."

US surveillance satellite's logo: Octopus encircling the world

Potty with built-in tablet holder is "worst toy of 2013"

Reasons My Son Is Crying declared the CTA Digital 2-in-1 iPotty with Activity Seat for iPad to be the worst toy of 2013. Mark called it last February, proving that he is, always, ahead of the curve on toilet-related mobile device technology!

Under normal circumstances, I'd object to this claim -- after all, I haven't had opportunity to review all the toys introduced in 2013. But in this case, it's hard to believe that there could really be anything worse. But if the introduction of this abomination was necessary to cause the fabulous reviews on Amazon to spring forth, it was all worth it.

FreeBSD won't use Intel & Via's hardware random number generators, believes NSA has compromised them

The maintainers of the security-conscious FreeBSD operating system have declared that they will no longer rely on the random number generators in Intel and Via's chips, on the grounds that the NSA likely has weakened these opaque hardware systems in order to ease surveillance. The decision is tied to the revelations of the BULLRUN/EDGEHILL programs, wherein the NSA and GCHQ spend $250M/year sabotaging security in standards, operating systems, software, and networks.

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Canada's spooks were NSA bagmen, established spy-posts in 20+ countries and "transnational targets"


The CBC is reporting on a four-page, top-secret, "hyper-sensitive" Snowden leak that shows that the Communications Security Establishment Canada was used as a kind of innocent-faced bagman by the NSA, going to places where the Americans were not well-liked or trusted in order to install surveillance stations for the NSA's use. Canada established spy-posts in "approximately 20 countries" for the NSA, as well as "transnational targets." The CBC quotes an expert who predicts that the revelation will undermine Canada's diplomatic standing and relations around the world (duh), and who speculates that the Prime Minister himself may have signed off on the arrangement.

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TSA seize tiny, itsy-bitsy gun from sock-monkey


The sock monkey above is called "Rooster Monkburn," and he was created by Phillis May, who makes a sells sock monkeys. When Ms May and her husband traversed the TSA checkpoint at SEA-TAC St Louis airport, an eagle-eyed TSA operative noticed that Rooster was sporting a sub-two-inch toy pistol, which she seized, threatening to call police. Altogether, now, everyone: U! S! A! U! S! A! U! S! A!

May said the TSA agent went through the bag, through the sewing supplies and found the two-inch long pistol.

“She said ‘this is a gun,’” said May. “I said no, it’s not a gun it’s a prop for my monkey.”

“She said ‘If I held it up to your neck, you wouldn’t know if it was real or not,’ and I said ‘really?’” said May.

The TSA agent told May she would have to confiscate the tiny gun and was supposed to call the police.

“I said well go ahead,” said May. “And I said really? You’re kidding me right, and she said no it looks like a gun.”

“She took my monkey’s gun,” said May, who has retained her sense of humor.

TSA agent confiscates sock monkey's toy pistol [Susan Wyatt/King 5 News]

(Thanks, Gary!)

(Image: Phyllis May)

Spooks of Warcraft: how the NSA infiltrated gamespace


A new Snowden leak details how the NSA and GCHQ tasked agents to infiltrate Second Life, World of Warcraft, and other MMOs to find jihadis and spy on them. The battalions of undercover orcs did indeed take much of gamespace, but there's no evidence they ever spotted a plot. I was once questioned by members of an "unnamed branch of the State Department" at a games and public diplomacy event about the likelihood that jihadis were playing MMOs; and I said something like, "Sure, of course. Everyone plays MMOs." I didn't realize they'd take it all quite so much to heart.

The absurdity of sending spies to infiltrate Warcraft can best be understood as a natural outflow of the doctrine that holds that if any two bad guys, anywhere in the world, can communicate in such a way that the NSA can't listen in on them, all of society will crumble. Once you set yourself the insane task of eavesdropping on all conversations, everywhere, always, it's inevitable that you'll send Secret Squirrel and his pals to Azeroth.

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NYPD shoot at unarmed man, hit bystanders, charge man for making them shoot


It's the most heartwarming NYC Christmas story since Miracle on 34th Street: the NYPD shot at a mentally disturbed, unarmed man who was lurching through traffic in Times Square. They ended up wounding a bunch of bystanders. So the DA charged the disturbed man with a felony because his conduct resulted in police officers shooting passersby. He faces 25 years in prison. The officers have been placed on "administrative leave," but their names are withheld because it might be hard on them, being known as the cops who were forced to shoot those bystanders by the unarmed man who was lurching through traffic in a state of mental breakdown.

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