A new podcast explores the CIA's involvement with writing a hit song for the Scorpions

Journalist Patrick Radden Keefe has done plenty of extensive and gripping longform journalism, including his most recent book, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (which I could not recommend more highly). His newest project is a slight departure from covering topics of crime and radical separationists, but still deals heavily with espionage and subterfuge.

It's about the Scorpions, the English-speaking German rock band who rocked you like a hurricane. And also the CIA.

Here's the official blurb:

It’s 1990. The Berlin Wall just fell. The Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse. And the soundtrack to the revolution is one of the best selling songs of all time, the metal ballad “Wind of Change,” by The Scorpions. Decades later, journalist Patrick Radden Keefe heard a rumor: the song wasn’t written by The Scorpions. It was written by the CIA. This is his journey to find the truth.

Told through exclusive interviews with former CIA officers, on the ground reporting, and more - this podcast embodies the traditional tones of investigative journalism while keeping listeners on their toes through its cinematic pacing, simulating the theatricality of the critically acclaimed film Argo in a podcast. This 8-part series follows Patrick’s search for the truth, a 10 year investigation that traces the 70 year history of our government's meddling into pop music, including everyone from Louis Armstrong and Nina Simone, to Bon Jovi and the Beach Boys.

I've listened to the first two episodes available so far (which is also embedded below), and I'm absolutely hooked. Read the rest

One of the jurors who convicted Whitey Bulger started up a strange pen pal friendship with him

I was on Cape Cod this past weekend — specifically, the town of Eastham, which is way up by the wrist and fairly desolate in winter. What I didn't know at the time was that Janet Uhlar, one of the juror's from Whitey Bulger's trial, was right around the corner from me the whole time. Along with the collection of handwritten letters she'd received from him between 2014 and his totally suspicious prison death in 2018.

NBC News just published a piece about Uhlar and her relationship with Bulger, and how she came to regret her decision to convict him on racketeering charges and 11 counts of murder.

Uhlar started writing Bulger, she said, because she was troubled by the fact that much of the evidence against him came through testimony by former criminal associates who were also killers and had received reduced sentences in exchange for testifying against their former partner in crime.

"When I left the trial, I had more questions," she said.

After Bulger started returning her letters, Uhlar noticed he often dated them with the time he had started writing in his tight cursive style. "He always seemed to be writing at 1, 2 or 3 in the morning, and when I asked him why, he said it was because of the hallucinations," Uhlar said.

Uhlar knew, of course, about Whitey's reputation as a notoriously brutal mobster. And she knew that the FBI had enabled his behavior. Her uncertainty and regret had nothing to do with whether Bulger had actually killed people, either — that's a universally accepted fact at this point. Read the rest

What it's like inside the CIA during Donald Trump's "Deep State" purge

One of the strangest contradictory sensations of the Trump era is the man's relationship towards and with the various U.S. intelligence agencies. In many cases, Trump's broad criticisms about the unaccountable and seemingly limitless scope of intelligence gathering are valid. Or would be, anyway, if the man actually cared about those issues for any reason beyond his larger tantrum over the way those agencies have undermined his ego. Or if he wasn't simultaneously trying to use that same wide jurisdiction to target his own political enemies.

In other words, Trump's not necessarily wrong about the potential abuses of secret and/or warrantless surveillance (or "wiretapping" as he puts it). But he's only mad about those things because they can be used to threaten him and his friends, instead of reinforcing his hunches. Otherwise, illegal spying and invasions of privacy are totally fine with him—as long as they target the right people.

There are moments, then, where it becomes a case of "My enemy's enemy is my friend" — except that "friend" is also an enemy of sorts, which further complicates the whole mess. Case in point: this recent Just Security post by Douglas London, a former CIA operative. In it, London talks about the way that the CIA's priorities have been forced to shift from general intelligence gathering to just kind of soothing Trump's ego, and retroactively justifying all of the man's random baseless instincts:

The revealing and most disconcerting aspect of this episode was not that Pompeo presumed the worst from his workforce before getting the full story, nor his vicious dressing down of a dedicated senior official and decorated officer.

Read the rest

CIA secretly owned world's top encryption supplier, read enemy and ally messages for decades

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret. That company was secretly run by the CIA, which had the ability to read all those communications for decades. Read the rest

One of the CIA's waterboarding torturers called himself "The Preacher" and shouted religious nonsense while performing executions

More word from the ongoing attempt to bring the people responsible for years of CIA torture to justice: one of the three waterboarding specialists at Guantanamo was called "The Preacher" because while he was drowning suspects to the point of near death, he "would at random times put one hand on the forehead of a detainee, raise the other high in the air, and in a deep Southern drawl say things like, 'Can you feel it, son? Can you feel the spirit moving down my arm, into your body?'" Read the rest

The CIA is offering…privacy advice? For trick-or-treaters? WTF?

I don't think I ever related to the White Guy Blinking Meme as much as I did after this tweet crossed my timeline.

I did in fact click through to their "CIA Kids Guide: 5 Ways To Stay Covert This Halloween" and I…I don't even know where to begin.

I kind of love this as a piece of propaganda because the first tip and the last three are at least useful (if completely fucking obvious for anyone who's ever watched a spy movie). But then there's #2, "Think Simple," which … I know this is meant for the CIA's kids' outreach section, but come on. You're not even pretending that you're not indoctrinating kids to make it easier to surveil them!

I guess it'd be too much to hope for that the CIA might offer helpful advice on VPNs and anti-surveillance attire—but even then, I probably wouldn't trust it.

Image via Katerha/Flickr Read the rest

US sues Edward Snowden, 'Permanent Record' violates NDAs 'signed with CIA & NSA' says Justice Department

Well, pretty much everyone saw this lawsuit coming. Read the rest

The creepy chemist behind CIA's search for a mind control drug

In the 1950s and 1960s, creepy chemist Sidney Gottlieb headed the CIA's efforts to find a mind control drug. Gottlieb and his delightful associates in the MK-Ultra project thought LSD, still legally manufactured, held the most promise. So they bought every drop of acid in the world and ran numerous horrible experiments on unwitting civilians to test its efficacy. Journalist Stephen Kinzer tells the tale in a new book out this week titled Poisoner In Chief. From an NPR interview with Kinzer:

Some of Gottlieb's experiments were covertly funded at universities and research centers, Kinzer says, while others were conducted in American prisons and in detention centers in Japan, Germany and the Philippines. Many of his unwitting subjects endured psychological torture ranging from electroshock to high doses of LSD, according to Kinzer's research.

"Gottlieb wanted to create a way to seize control of people's minds, and he realized it was a two-part process," Kinzer says. "First, you had to blast away the existing mind. Second, you had to find a way to insert a new mind into that resulting void. We didn't get too far on number two, but he did a lot of work on number one..."

Whitey Bulger was one of the prisoners who volunteered for what he was told was an experiment aimed at finding a cure for schizophrenia. As part of this experiment, he was given LSD every day for more than a year. He later realized that this had nothing to do with schizophrenia and he was a guinea pig in a government experiment aimed at seeing what people's long-term reactions to LSD was.

Read the rest

Phone scammer tried to con William Webster, the only person ever to serve as director of both the CIA and FBI: it did not go well

Keniel A Thomas is part of the wave of violent phone scam gangs that have led to chaos in cities across the island; he made the mistake of trying to con the 90-year-old William Webster out of $50,000 with a hamfisted advance-fee fraud scam, not realizing that Webster is a top US spook, the only person ever to have served as chief of both the CIA and FBI. Read the rest

This CIA toolkit is built for concealing in a spy's butt

Everyday carry? From Atlas Obscura:

This CIA-issued tool kit was issued to CIA officers during the height of the Cold War. It was a way for spies to get themselves out of sticky situations: to pick a lock, carve a tunnel, etc. Watch the video above to learn more about the tool kit from historian and curator of the International Spy Museum, Dr. Vince Houghton.

(Thanks for the laff, tuhu!) Read the rest

RIP, George HW Bush: a mass-murderer and war-criminal

They're burying George HW Bush today and even before they planted him, the whitewashing began: we've heard an awful lot about how kind he was to his service dog and his love of colorful socks and a lot less about his role in running an onshore terrorist training camp for Latin America's death squads, his role in toppling democratic governments on two continents, his role in arming and supporting Saddam Hussein, then turning on him and kicking off a genocidal war in Iraq whose goal was to bomb an advanced, heavily populated nation "to the pre-industrial era." Read the rest

Former CIA Chief of Disguise shares how spies use disguises

Jonna Mendez is a real master of disguise. In this fascinating Wired video, the now-retired CIA Chief of Disguise talks about how and why spies are masked so their cover isn't blown.

"You want to be the person who gets on the elevator... and nobody even remembers that you were really there. That is a design goal at disguise labs at CIA."

Fascinating stuff! Read the rest

CIA Director Gina Haspel heads to Turkey for Jamal Khashoggi investigation

Gina Haspel, the director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, is reported to be traveling to Turkey late Monday to assist in “an investigation” over the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Read the rest

What Putin whispered in Trump's ear: 'The Apprentice,' by Greg Miller [Books]

The next Trump book you need to read, which I will as soon as it drops, is The Apprentice, by Washington Post Pulitzer winning natsec reporter Greg Miller. Read the rest

At ex-CIA panelist's insistence, Oxford Union reneges on promise to upload video of whistleblowing debate

Douglas Lucas writes, "The prestigious Oxford Union, where Malcolm X and Mother Theresa spoke, has censored their own video of their own public February whistleblowing panel, which featured among others the lead programmer of the global data commons project GetGee.xyz, Heather Marsh. The ever so famous debating society isn't uploading the footage to YouTube because another panelist, ...former... CIA operative David Shedd, doesn't want them to. Oxford Union's bursar said it was copyright grounds which is laughable since it's their own video, they have the copyright/wrong/official pieces of paper for it..." Read the rest

Senate confirms Trump's pick Gina Haspel to lead CIA. Here are the 6 Democrats who voted 'yes' for torture.

What's a little harsh interrogation between friends? President Donald Trump's pick Gina Haspel was today voted in by the Senate as the new head of the CIA, despite playing a key part in post-9/11 torture programs under President George W. Bush.

Her role in destroying the CIA's damning torture tapes in earlier years makes her the perfect spy boss for Trump, the President for whom force, secrecy, and lies are solutions to every problem. Read the rest

Haspel now likely to get CIA boss confirmation. Thanks, Democratic senators. You had one job.

The psyopsing worked.

Gina Haspel now appears to have secured enough votes to be confirmed as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, after two additional Senate Democrats today announced they will vote for her. Read the rest

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