We're learning tonight that Michael Hastings -- the 33-year-old journalist whose 2010 Rolling Stone profile of a remarkably unguarded Gen. Stanley McChrystal cost the top commander in Afghanistan his job -- died in a tragic car crash on Tuesday morning in Los Angeles. Hastings may be best known for exposing McChrystal's critical views of the Obama administration, but he also painted memorable portraits of Gen. David Petraeus and American prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl (a blunt, aggressive, and controversial reporter, Hastings also got in the occasional sparring match with the State Department).
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for The Guardian
In December 2011, when Ben Smith, the high-octane reporter and blogger for Politico, jumped ship to become the editor of BuzzFeed, a site then better known for viral slideshows and cat videos, many in the world of political journalism wondered if Smith had lost his mind.
They're not wondering anymore. Smith, 36, quickly established BuzzFeed as a go-to source for political news, hiring a team of smart, hungry, young reporters and bringing the site's signature social media-driven style to coverage of the 2012 campaign.
Now, with the hiring of Miriam Elder, the Moscow correspondent for the Guardian, to be the site's first foreign and national security editor, BuzzFeed is aiming to do the same for world news.
The idea for the expansion, says BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti, took shape after the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings, when the site's 60 million monthly unique visitors were looking for answers -- and old-fashioned facts.
"With the Boston bombings, we saw something new," says Peretti, a 39-year-old former cofounder of the Huffington Post and a new media pioneer. "People started tweeting from the scene, and the front page stats jumped."
"It was a real eye-opening moment," Peretti says. "They don't have a legacy news brand, and they were turning to BuzzFeed, a site they visit every day, to figure out what was happening. ... Our top five stories were all hard news content."
BuzzFeed moved quickly, hiring Lisa Tozzi from the New York Times to be its first news director, and accelerating what were then still formative plans to venture into national security and international coverage (in April, the site made a foray into this territory by collaborating with FP on "11 Buzzfeed Lists That Explain the World").
"We think that there's this new central social conversation -- on Twitter in particular -- around international news and national security, and we think reporting is an important way into that conversation," explains Smith.
So is BuzzFeed going up-market, in a bid to broaden its brand? Not exactly, according to Peretti: "We're not going up-market in the sense that when we hired Ben Smith, a few weeks later we launched an animals vertical."
Nor is there a strict business rationale for going global. "I think there are moments when people care about foreign news more than anything else," notes Peretti. But then, "the week after the Boston bombings, people were sharing really comforting content," such as "21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity."
Peretti likens BuzzFeed's expansion to a TV station or an old-fashioned newspaper diversifying its mix of coverage. "Sometimes people want to be entertained more than they want to be informed, and sometimes it's the other way around. ... The newspaper has the Sunday styles and the crossword sections -- television networks have the sitcoms and the evening news and the late-night variety show."
With Elder, BuzzFeed has hired a journalist who was the first Western reporter to cover Pussy Riot, the punk-rock collective whose members were later prosecuted for their provocative performance art.
"They'd done a shocking performance on Red Square that had piqued my interest," she explains.
"Miriam's a great reporter who both has covered big, complicated stories -- everything from corruption to the failed political revolt against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," says Smith. "She's also a big voice on Twitter, which is necessary but not sufficient these days."
Elder will be based in New York and will supervise an initial team of half a dozen reporters, including Rosie Gray -- an aggressive 23-year-old former Village Voice writer who has already broken stories on Malaysian influence-peddling in Washington and Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev -- as well as full-time correspondents in places like Cairo, Moscow, and Mexico City.
The site's viral teams will be contributing the odd slideshow, and J. Lester Feder, 32, will be covering the international gay rights movement.
Elder, 34, has been in Moscow since September 2006 and did an earlier stint with AFP from 2002 to 2003. She has a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, with a focus on strategic studies and international economics.
Says Smith, "If you can survive covering Russia and do good work there, that's an impressive thing."
Blake Hounshell contributed reporting.
Forget PRISM, the National Security Agency's system to help extract data from Google, Facebook, and the like. The more frightening secret program unearthed by the NSA leaks is the gathering and storing of millions of phone records and phone-location information of U.S. citizens.
According to current and former intelligence agency employees who have used the huge collection of metadata obtained from the country's largest telecom carriers, the information is widely available across the intelligence community from analysts' desktop computers.
The data is used to connect known or suspected terrorists to people in the United States, and to help locate them. It has also been used in foreign criminal investigations and to assist military forces overseas. But the laws that govern the collection of this information and its use are not as clear. Nor are they as strong as those associated with PRISM, the system the NSA is using to collate information from the servers of America's tech giants.
Metadata is not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Content of emails and instant messages -- what PRISM helps gather -- is. An order issued to Verizon by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court instructs the company to supply records of all its telephony metadata "on an ongoing, daily basis." Although legal experts say this kind of broad collection of metadata may be legal, it's also "remarkably overbroad and quite likely unwise," according to Paul Rosenzweig, a Bush administration policy official in the Homeland Security Department. "It is difficult to imagine a set of facts that would justify collecting all telephony meta-data in America. While we do live in a changed world after 9/11, one would hope it has not that much changed."
By comparison, PRISM appears more tightly constrained and operates on a more solid legal foundation. Current and former officials who have experience using huge sets of data available to intelligence analysts said that PRISM is used for precisely the kinds of intelligence gathering that Congress and the administration intended when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 2008. Officials wanted to allow intelligence agencies to target and intercept foreigners' communications when they travel across networks inside the United States.
The surveillance law prohibits targeting a U.S. citizen or legal resident without a warrant, which must establish a reasonable basis to suspect the individual of ties to terrorism or being an agent of a foreign power. In defending PRISM, administration officials have said repeatedly in recent days that the FISA Court oversees the collection program to ensure that it's reasonably designed to target foreign entities, and that any incidental collection of Americans' data is expunged. They've also said that press reports describing the system as allowing "direct access" to corporate servers is wrong. Separately, a U.S. intelligence official also said that the system cannot directly query an Internet company's data.
But the administration has not explained why broadly and indiscriminately collecting the metadata records of millions of U.S. citizens and legal residents comports with a law designed to protect innocent people from having their personal information revealed to intelligence analysts. Nor have officials explained why the NSA needs ongoing, daily access to all this information and for so many years, particularly since specific information can be obtained on an as-needed basis from the companies with a subpoena.
Here's why the metadata of phone records could be more invasive and a bigger threat to privacy and civil liberties than the PRISM system:
1. Metadata is often more revealing than contents of a communication, which is what's being collected with PRISM. A study in the journal Nature found that as few as four "spatio-temporal points," such as the location and time a phone call was placed, is enough to determine the identity of the caller 95 percent of the time.
2. The Wall Street Journal reports that in addition to phone metadata, the NSA also is collecting metadata on emails, website visits, and credit card transactions (although it's unclear whether those collection efforts are ongoing). If that information were combined with the phone metadata, the collective power could not only reveal someone's identity, but also provide an illustration of his entire social network, his financial transactions, and his movements.
3. Administration officials have said that intelligence analysts aren't indiscriminately searching this phone metadata. According to two intelligence employees who've used the data in counterterrorism investigations, it contains no names, and when a number that appears to be based in the United States shows up, it is blocked out with an "X" mark.
But these controls, said a former intelligence employee, are internal agency rules, and it's not clear that the FISA Court has anything to say about them. In this employee's experience, if he wanted to see the phone number associated with that X mark, he had to ask permission from his agency's general counsel. That permission was often obtained, but he wasn't aware of the legal process involved in securing it, or if the request was taken back to the FISA court.
4. The metadatabase is widely available across the intelligence community on analysts' desktops, increasing the potential for misuse.
5. The metadata has the potential for mission creep. It's not only used for dissecting potential homegrown terror plots, as some lawmakers have said. The metadata is also used to help military forces overseas target terrorist and insurgent networks. And it is used in foreign criminal investigations, including ones involving suspected weapons traffickers.
For all these reasons, and probably more yet to emerge, it's the metadata that's of bigger concern. By comparison, PRISM is a cool name, a lame PowerPoint presentation -- and business as usual.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Enjoy (let's just say it doesn't paint the most flattering picture of Obama, and it will make you even more scared of your phone):
Reports by the Washington Post and the Guardian on PRISM, a top-secret National Security Agency program that directly mines digital data from the servers of major Internet companies, raises big questions about the proper balance between privacy and national security, the true nature of the terrorist threat facing the United States, the role leaks play in a free press, and the legality of government surveillance. But they also bring an admittedly more minor question to mind: What in the world is PalTalk?
Let me backtrack a bit. Thursday's reports include a slide from a PowerPoint presentation for senior NSA analysts that charts when the nine tech companies complying with the program signed up. A murderers' row of Silicon Valley giants appears -- with PalTalk sandwiched inexplicably in the middle.
The Washington Post and the Guardian don't go into detail about why PalTalk is on the list, but the Post does offer this clue:
PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted significant traffic during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.
Paltalk is the world's largest video chat community, with more than 4 million active members. Paltalk provides video and chat capabilities that can facilitate virtual face-to-face interactions between individuals and between groups. It is the only provider that can support hundreds of thousands of users simultaneously, including thousands of people within a single chat room.
The Washington Post mentions that PalTalk has received substantial traffic during the Arab Spring and Syrian civil war, but people have also raised concerns for years now about terrorists using its chat rooms (in 2012, for instance, the British press reported that four men plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange had made contact with each other through the service). In 2009, the year PalTalk reportedly began participating in the NSA's program, a U.N. report on the "Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes" expressed concern about al Qaeda propaganda spreading in "debate groups such as Yahoo and PalTalk."
That same year, PCWorld reported that terrorist networks were harnessing PalTalk for recruitment purposes:
Cyberterrorists are using a series of online forums and at least one social-networking site, PalTalk, to recruit people to their cause, Evan Kohlmann, a senior investigator and private consultant for Global Terror Alert, said at the International Conference on Cyber Security 2009 in New York. Many of these people never actually meet in person, but conspire online to launch both cyberterrorist and physical terrorist attacks such as suicide bombings, he said....
[P]eople have actually used PalTalk, a chat-room hosting site, to host a live question-and-answer with people they alleged to be Al-Qaeda leaders, Kohlmann said. He said that he's not sure if the company "actually realizes what is going on with their chat rooms," but that the chat room in question is well known among members of jihadi forums.
"In this case, we are particularly talking about a single chat room, with a slightly-changing-but-mostly-static identifiable name, accessible via the official PalTalk chat room index," he said via e-mail a day after his presentation in New York. "This chat room has been routinely advertised on jihadi Web forums, and it is used on a day-to-day basis to trade download links for Al Qaeda propaganda videos [and] terrorist instructional manuals ... If the company hasn't gotten a hint of any of this by now, then they really need to start re-considering their security policies."
At the time, PalTalk responded to the charge that jihadists were exploiting its chat rooms, highlighting its constraints in taking down forums:
When asked if the company is aware of Al-Qaeda chat rooms, Judy Shapiro, vice president of marketing for New York-based PalTalk, said the company is aware that there are many political-discussion forums. However, if the chat occurring within those rooms does not violate the company's terms of service for troublesome language, freedom of speech applies.
"We absolutely shouldn't discriminate," she said. "We can't constrain people's ability to say what they want. If someone says, I am the head of Al Qaeda, come talk to me, that's perfectly legal."
In its terms of service, PalTalk lists "unacceptable conduct" that would violate those terms as "threatening, harassing, or intimidating another user" or "transmitting any unlawful, threatening, abusive, profane, offensive, defamatory, or hateful text or voice communication or images or other material, or any racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable material, or any material that violates or infringes the intellectual property or privacy or publicity or other rights of any other party," among other kinds of behavior.
PalTalk will take down a chat room with no warning if users report trouble to its moderators. "If someone said, how do I create a bomb I can [detonate] in Times Square," that would obviously raise a red flag, Shapiro said.
In cases where "the level of language" would warrant an investigation, PalTalk would take whatever steps necessary to cooperate with law-enforcement officials or take down the site or both if there is good reason, she said.
(For what it's worth, PalTalk's terms of service don't appear to have changed much since the report.)
All of which is to say: the NSA appears to have had its reasons for reaching out to PalTalk.
Update: PalTalk has issued a statement to the Wall Street Journal denying knowledge of the PRISM program -- a stance several other tech firms referenced in the NSA slides have also taken. "We have not heard of PRISM," the company told the paper. "Paltalk exercises extreme care to protect and secure users' data, only responding to court orders as required to by law. Paltalk does not provide any government agency with direct access to its servers."
On Sunday, FP Editor in Chief Susan Glasser announced that she will be leaving Foreign Policy to launch and run a daily print and online magazine at Politico, where she will be "charged with creating and running new editorial divisions that produce deep, magazine-style journalism and in-the-moment opinion pieces," according to a memo from Politico's John Harris and Jim VandeHei. Her full note to staff is below:
Nearly five years after we started building the new Foreign Policy together, I have decided to leave FP to pursue an unexpected and exciting new opportunity to start Politico magazine, which will appear daily on the web as well as in print. I do so filled with great admiration and pride for all that everyone here has accomplished in growing FP into the leading digital-era destination for international affairs.
This is an incredibly tough decision: I have been honored and humbled to have the chance to work with such an inspiring group of colleagues and contributors, and immensely proud of our incredibly hard-working, brilliant, and collegial team here that has managed this feat. From its guerrilla launch in January 2009 after just six weeks, the new FP.com last month reached its biggest audience ever, with 4.4 million unique monthly visitors and counting. Most importantly, we've worked together to grow the ambition, impact, and definition of Foreign Policy, to embrace original reporting, hard-hitting accountability journalism and just plain old-fashioned scoops about the making of foreign policy alongside world-class insight and analysis from the best collection of bloggers, columnists, and contributors around.
Together, we've made FP into a unique home for those who care about the world, and those who shape it, publishing world leaders and Nobel Prize winners alongside powerful ground truth from the world's kill zones and award-winning photography. When Hillary Clinton decided to pivot to Asia, she announced it in the pages of FP. Our annual Top 100 Global Thinkers year-end issue has become one of FP's marquee features as well as a successful annual event drawing dozens of the thinkers to Washington. And of course, there are those war dogs and Vladimir Putin's hairless cats...
It was hard to know what exactly would happen back in 2008, when Don Graham made the decision to have the Washington Post Company buy FP from its longtime excellent owner, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. But Don's vision and commitment to journalistic excellence led to the construction of a new Foreign Policy that grew to include not only its print magazine but a new website as vibrant, exciting, and interesting as the subjects it covered. And we've been so honored at the recognition this project has received, including the Overseas Press Club award for online general excellence as well as three National Magazine Awards for digital excellence and 10 overall nominations, including for Magazine of the Year, the industry's highest honor.
When we started this project, we joked that "the world is not a boring place" and throughout this great team has proven that reading about it doesn't need to be either. I am confident that under the leadership of FP CEO David Rothkopf and the wonderful team here, FP will continue to thrive, and look forward to doing anything I can to help in its success. I plan to remain at FP through June to help in the transition.
With great admiration and thanks to everyone, Susan
FP also issued a press release on the move:
Today the FP Group, a division of the Washington Post Company, announced that Foreign Policy editor-in-chief Susan Glasser will leave her position to pursue a new project.
"Susan has been instrumental over the years in helping to build Foreign Policy into the thriving, internationally-respected media organization it is today," said David Rothkopf, CEO and Editor-at-Large of the FP Group. "We're grateful for her leadership and all of her tireless efforts to expand Foreign Policy's multi-award-winning coverage in both print and online, and we wish her the best as she moves on to pursue new career challenges."
FP has enjoyed great success since becoming part of the Washington Post Company in 2008. The 44 year old publication has expanded dramatically its web and live offerings and just last month, announced that FP had broken readership records with 4.4 million unique visitors to foreignpolicy.com in April. Past editors of Foreign Policy have included Samuel Huntington, Richard Holbrooke, and more recently, Moisés Naím, who oversaw the transition of the publication from journal to glossy magazine form.
"Having the chance these last five years to imagine a new Foreign Policy for the digital era and actually start to build it has been the experience of a lifetime," said Glasser. "Don Graham's decision to buy FP and his vision and commitment to journalistic excellence every day since then have been inspiring. So too has working with such an extraordinary group of colleagues and contributors. I'm immensely proud of our incredibly hard-working, brilliant, and collegial team and will miss them as I move on to a new venture."
Included among the new offerings launched by the FP Group in just the past year are:
- FP National Security, a new channel launched last September to cover every aspect of the military industrial complex - from cyber security, to the Pentagon's top brass, has now become one of Foreign Policy's most popular features and a must-read for those in national security.
- FP Events taps the convening power of Foreign Policy to produce dynamic, solution-oriented events focused on the leading issues facing those making the world's most important decisions. In the next 18 months, FP Events will present major programs on four continents and attract high-level audiences from the global government, military, financial and business communities.
- Expanded delivery platforms via mobile and tablets, including FP's dedicated iPad app in addition to a new, forthcoming version set to be released this year.
"There are many more exciting changes, expanding resources and new content initiatives coming to FP that we plan to announce in the weeks and months ahead," said Rothkopf. "We're very much looking forward to the future and sharing what comes next for Foreign Policy."
You can read more details about Susan's new position here, and tributes by Dan Drezner and Marc Lynch to her truly transformative work at FP over the past five years here and here (for a visual of that incredible transformation, just compare FP's website now with how it looked in January 2009, before her ambitious relaunch of the site). We can't wait to see what you create at Politico, Susan. We're going to miss you.
A year after the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Colombia, a new scandal involving U.S. officials may be brewing in Venezuela. The Associated Press is reporting that two officials from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas were injured in a Tuesday morning shooting "inside or outside the Antonella 2012 nightclub" in the capital. The AP identifies the locale as a strip club:
Police said the two U.S. officials were shot following a brawl inside the club, which is in the basement of a shopping center in the upper-middle-class Chacao neighborhood.
The club's Twitter account features racy photos of nude or scantily clad women pole dancing, posing inside cages or reclining on beds. The text under one photo invites visitors to come and watch the club's "sexy show."
"Apparently it was a fight originating in a nightspot where these people were attacked and shots were fired at them and they suffered gunshot wounds," police spokesman Douglas Rico told TV channel Globovision at the health clinic where the victims were taken. He said one was shot in the leg and abdomen and the other was shot in the abdomen.
A police official identified one of the victims as military attache Roberto Ezequiel Rosas. She said he was shot in the right leg during an argument outside the night club in Chacao, which is east of the city center.
The AP appears to be referencing this Twitter feed, which does not make any mention of the shooting in its recent tweets (instead, they mention raffle winners and thank Twitter users for following the club). But the account's images do indeed scream strip club:
Bloomberg has more details on the club:
The shooting took place at the Angelus night club at 4:25 a.m., according to the police report. Angelus, which changed its name to Antonella recently, is a strip club, said Hermando Herrera who has worked as a car park supervisor in the mall for more than 20 years.
"Lots of famous people come here," Herrera, 42, said. "You get a bit of everything - baseball players, basketball players."
Outside the club there are signs prohibiting entry to couples, unaccompanied women and anyone under the age of 30. Inside the club, which was shut today, a wall had black-and-white images of pole dancing women wearing platform heels or knee-length boots.
U.S. officials, not surprisingly, have been far more tight-lipped about the episode. Speaking to reporters today, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell did not identify the embassy employees, referring to them as "other agency personnel" rather than Foreign Service officiers (the Venezuelan press has identified the two men as Roberto Ezequiel Rosas and Paul Marwin). Ventrell said only that the incident took place in "some sort of social spot," though he wasn't sure whether it "was a restaurant, or a nightclub, or what the actual establishment was." If these early reports are accurate, Ventrell won't like the answer.
As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney famously leafed through "binders full of women" who were qualified to join his cabinet. As prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe has a massive database. Or at least that's the plan.
As the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Tuesday, Abe's government is planning to launch a database of female candidates who are qualified to become corporate executives:
The database will be available for businesses after they register with the government. If these firms want to recruit people in the database, they will negotiate directly with them.
The government hopes listed firms will hire women from the database as nonregular outside board members....
According to the Cabinet Office, the number of female board members at listed companies stood at 505 as of May 2011, accounting for 1.2 percent of the total number of executives.
The percentage is far short of the government's target of boosting the proportion of women in leadership roles to about 30 percent by 2020, observers said.
Romney may have been tarred and feathered for his inartful comment, but the binder-full-of-women approach to gender equality does have its supporters. As Amanda Hess wrote in Slate during the U.S. election:
I agree that Romney's positions on health care, contraception, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will do nothing to help women in jobs across America. Binders stocked with intelligence on top-shelf female candidates, though? I'm cool with those. In a rush to discredit Romney's position entirely, commenters are strangely spinning his underlying point-when female candidates don't apply for jobs, employers should find them, and hire them about half the time-as somehow anti-feminist.
The database proposal, in fact, is just Abe's latest effort to make gender parity in the workforce a central pillar of his economic-growth strategy, known as "Abenomics." "Women are Japan's most underused resource," the prime minister declared in June, while urging business leaders to hire at least one female executive per company.
But some see Abe's proposals as superficial reforms that do little to address structural barriers to closing the gender gap in the Japanese workforce. Here's William Pesek over at Bloomberg this weekend:
Abe's proposals hardly match his rhetoric. He has talked about extending child-care leave, expanding day-care facilities and asking companies to hire female board members. He's merely scratching surface and reinforcing stereotypes about the role of women in society.
The government is considering circulating "Women's Notebooks" to warn of the evils of postponing marriage and motherhood. Yes, career-oriented women are selfish. When Abe calls on companies to provide three years of maternity leave, he uses a Japanese expression that a child should be held by its mother until the age of 3. In other words, kids are women's work.
A database won't do much to root out that deeply entrenched perception.
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images
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