FDL Book Salon Welcomes Peter Finn and Petra Couvee, The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book

Welcome Peter Finn (WashingtonPost) (Twitter), Petra Couvee (ZhivagoAffair.com) and Host Marcy Wheeler (Emptywheel.net) (Twitter)

The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book

Earlier this week, Washington Post reporter Adam Goldman described a scuttled CIA plan to distribute demon-faced Osama bin Laden dolls to Pakistani children as part of an influence campaign. Today’s guests, Peter Finn and Petra Couvee, discuss their book on the golden age of CIA influence campaigns, The Zhivago Affair.

Within a larger narrative about the life and Russia’s persecution of poet and novelist Boris Pasternak, Finn and Couvee describe CIA’s successful efforts to publish and distribute Pasternak’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, Dr. Zhivago. Somehow, MI6 got a copy of the manuscript and shared it with the CIA, which had it published in Russian by a Dutch publisher and distributed at the Vatican’s exhibit at the 1958 Brussels World Fair. Russian efforts to suppress the book and its coercion of Pasternak to publicly disclaim the publication and the Nobel prize brought international criticism. The operation was — Finn and Couvee describe CIA concluding — “a successful stunt.” (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Julia Angwin, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance

Welcome Julia Angwin (JuliaAngwin.com) (ProPublica) (Twitter) and Host Marcy Wheeler (emptywheel.net) (TheIntercept) (Twitter)

Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance

Back in July 2012, long before Edward Snowden’s leaks heightened the general public’s concern about online privacy, then Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin set off on a picaresque quest to find some kind of online privacy. The chronicle of that quest, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Surveillance, serves as a kind of user’s guide for our new dragnet world.

I decided, against all odds, to try to evade the dragnets. I would attempt to avoid being monitored during everyday activities such as reading and shopping. I would obscure my location–at home and while out and about. I would seal my e-mails and texts with the digital equivalent of hot wax. I would find ways to freely associate with people and ideas. I would try to find a way to protect my kids from building a digital trail that would haunt them later in their lives.

Dragnet Nation describes the efforts she took — some of which she has retained, some of which she dropped — to regain some privacy for herself and her family. She paid her 8-year old daughter to come up with random passwords. She obtained as much of the data that brokers had collected on her, and made a somewhat futile effort to get them to purge it. She gave up Google for DuckDuckGo. And she created a false identity named Ida Tarbell who could receive her online purchases, make restaurant reservations, and obtain a phone.

Along the way, Angwin describes the stakes for reclaiming some control over our own privacy. She describes how one lesbian got outed to her family when the president of her college’s Queer Chorus added her to the Facebook discussion group and another had gay-targeted ads come up on her work computer because of ad trackers. She tells how the FBI started tracking one American of Egyptian descent — accessing his phone and email content and putting a GPS on his car — because of comments he and another Arab-American made on Reddit. She describes studies of what happens to people who are under constant surveillance.

Perhaps most controversially, Angwin compared the data collected by Google and LinkedIn with that collected by East Germany’s Stasi. Her guide to the Stasi archives was impressed, because the kind of network mapping the government and marketers now routinely do had been a challenge for East Germany’s secret police. “The Stasi would have loved this,” the Stasi expert said. After Angwin collected all her data broker data, she reflected “Even in their wildest dreams, the Stasi could only fantasize about obtaining this amount of data about citizens with so little effort.”

Ultimately Angwin ends her book and her quest for privacy on an ambivalent note. She judges her efforts to regain some privacy amount to no more than civil disobedience that might start a conversation about privacy.

I came to believe that may actions were likely more effective at changing the conversation about privacy than at countering surveillance. They reminded me of the lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s, when black students in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat at a “whites only” lunch counter in an F.W. Woolworth store, in order to protest the company’s policy of racial segregation. The sit-ins did not immediately destroy segregation, but they led to a national conversation that ultimately unraveled it.

My hope is that if enough people join me in refusing to consent to ubiquitous indiscriminate surveillance, we might also prompt a conversation that could unravel it.

At the same time, however, Angwin didn’t like the paranoia that her quest had fostered.

I didn’t want to live in the world that I was building — a world of subterfuge and disinformation and covert actions. It was a world based on fear. It was a world devoid of trust. It was not a world that I wanted to leave to my children.

She ends with a call to bring more fairness and power balance to surveillance dragnets, in part by making all of us watchers.

Julia Angwin may not have a solution for the societal problem of the dragnet, but she offers an accessible guide to tools we can use to protect ourselves until we find that solution.

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Julia Angwin, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance

Welcome Julia Angwin (JuliaAngwin.com) (ProPublica) (Twitter) and Host Marcy Wheeler (emptywheel.net) (TheIntercept) (Twitter)

Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance

Back in July 2012, long before Edward Snowden’s leaks heightened the general public’s concern about online privacy, then Wall Street Journal reporter Julia Angwin set off on a picaresque quest to find some kind of online privacy. The chronicle of that quest, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Surveillance, serves as a kind of user’s guide for our new dragnet world.

I decided, against all odds, to try to evade the dragnets. I would attempt to avoid being monitored during everyday activities such as reading and shopping. I would obscure my location–at home and while out and about. I would seal my e-mails and texts with the digital equivalent of hot wax. I would find ways to freely associate with people and ideas. I would try to find a way to protect my kids from building a digital trail that would haunt them later in their lives. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Trevor Aaronson, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism

Welcome Trevor Aaronson (Florida Center for Investigative Reporting) (Brandeis Univ – Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism) and Host Marcy Wheeler (EmptyWheel.net)

The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism

In the days before Thursday’s start to the trial for alleged Portland Christmas Tree bomber Mohamed Osman Mohamud, pre-trial hearings revealed two new details. First, the government failed to reveal to the defense an effort to “pitch” Mohamud on October 27, 2009, 13 months before they arrested him in an FBI-created plot. This comes on top of earlier revelations about a key meeting the FBI failed to tape, another failure to reveal FBI contacts, and Abu Zubaydah’s brother’s claim that, as an FBI informant, he was asked to track the then-16 year old Mohamud as early as 2008.

In addition, the defense revealed that,

… banter between FBI employees (when Mohamud was not present) includes comments about whether superiors at FBI headquarters will find the case “sexy enough”; mention of a possible book deal; and what [Mohamud’s lawyer] described as a gleeful statement that their suspect was “done for.”

The FBI’s efforts to hide its years-long cultivation of Mohamud as a “terrorist,” juxtaposed with its banter about looking for “sexy” cases to please FBI superiors, demonstrates the importance of Trevor Aaronson’s The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism.

As Aaronson explains, the book arose out of his effort to categorize all of DOJ’s self-claimed terrorist prosecutions, to figure out how many involved real terrorists.

How many so-called terrorists prosecuted in U.S. courts since 9/11 were real terrorists?

That effort–first published as a database as part of a larger Mother Jones project–provided real numbers to what close watchers know anecdotally. The overwhelming majority of the people being prosecuted as terrorists are vulnerable young men set up by the FBI.

The FBI’s thousands of informants and billions of dollars have not resulted in the capture of dozens of killers ready and able to bomb a crowded building or gun down people in a suburban shopping mall. Instead, the FBI’s trawling in Muslim communities has resulted largely in sting operations that target easily susceptible men on the margins of society…

While we have captured a few terrorists since 9/11, we have manufactured many more.

Aaronson’s book collects these young men’s troubling stories, including Mohamud’s, in one volume. He describes the problems with the way the FBI uses informants to manufacture terrorist plots. He documents the frequency with which the FBI “mistakenly” fails to record key conversations.

And he adds a critical component to it: a description of the bureaucratic imperative within the FBI that has led it to go into the terrorist-creation business.

With $3 billion directed at counterterrorism, the FBI can’t come back to Congress and say, “We spent all the money, and the good news is that we didn’t find any terrorists.” Having a well-financed counterterrorism program means that the FBI must find terrorists to justify the program’s existence, and terrorism sting prosecutions provide a convenient and efficient means to show that a threat exists.

There’s a dangerous flip side to FBI’s focus on creating terrorists, of course. As an FBI agent’s email he quotes explains, it means finding public corruption or money laundering is not rewarded.

The truth is, they could waterboard me and I still would not say that … the whole intel-based model of how the Bureau is expected to operate is anything more than smoke and poorly aligned mirrors. Yet another irony is that after struggling for twenty years to develop quality sources, I finally succeeded, only to be told that I’m still a failure, because although my sources provide timely, pertinent, actionable information about ongoing public corruption and money laundering, they know nothing of Somali pirates or Chinese hackers.

Or, as the last story Aaronson recounts warns, the disproportionate focus on creating Muslim “terrorists” leads the FBI to ignore domestic terrorists who may be far more dangerous.

Muslim community and human rights groups have been complaining about these tactics for years. Aaronson’s book provides an important addition, both because the meticulous data analysis that went into his book validates their complaints, and because his interviews with FBI sources provides the bureaucratic understanding we need to try to change this. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Trevor Aaronson, The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism

Welcome Trevor Aaronson (Florida Center for Investigative Reporting) (Brandeis Univ – Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism) and Host Marcy Wheeler (EmptyWheel.net)

The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism

In the days before Thursday’s start to the trial for alleged Portland Christmas Tree bomber Mohamed Osman Mohamud, pre-trial hearings revealed two new details. First, the government failed to reveal to the defense an effort to “pitch” Mohamud on October 27, 2009, 13 months before they arrested him in an FBI-created plot. This comes on top of earlier revelations about a key meeting the FBI failed to tape, another failure to reveal FBI contacts, and Abu Zubaydah’s brother’s claim that, as an FBI informant, he was asked to track the then-16 year old Mohamud as early as 2008.

In addition, the defense revealed that,

… banter between FBI employees (when Mohamud was not present) includes comments about whether superiors at FBI headquarters will find the case “sexy enough”; mention of a possible book deal; and what [Mohamud’s lawyer] described as a gleeful statement that their suspect was “done for.”

The FBI’s efforts to hide its years-long cultivation of Mohamud as a “terrorist,” juxtaposed with its banter about looking for “sexy” cases to please FBI superiors, demonstrates the importance of Trevor Aaronson’s The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Nada Prouty, Uncompromised: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of an Arab American Patriot in the CIA

Welcome Nada Prouty (NadaProuty.com), and Host Marcy Wheeler (EmptyWheel.net)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

Uncompromised: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of an Arab American Patriot in the CIA

In her memoir, Uncompromised: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of an Arab American Patriot in the CIA, Nada Prouty cites this passage from Malcom X’s Autobiography to describe her excitement as she felt herself adopting her new nationality:

Yes, one only truly becomes an American through a kind of conversion, and that conversion arises out of a desire to join in a common hunger for the rule of law, for equality for all, and for the benefits of cultural heterogeneity.

I found it a striking choice for an American immigrant to describe what it means to be American. Malcom X had such troubles achieving this American dream. But as it turned out, Prouty has had to fight to get America’s promised rule of law and equality, too.

The book describes how she escaped the Lebanese civil war by enrolling in college in the US. To gain the ability to work her way through school, she entered into a “Green Card marriage.” A number of years, several accounting degrees, and a “real” marriage later, she joined the FBI as one of its rare recruits with native Arab fluency and the sangfroid acquired from surviving a civil war. While at the FBI—and, later, at the CIA—she investigated a range of al Qaeda and Hezbollah attacks, including the Cole bombing and 9/11.

Yet none of her efforts in the war on terror put her, an Arab-American (though not a Muslim), beyond the suspicions of Detroit-based FBI agents investigating her Lebanese-American brother-in-law. When they failed to make a tax evasion investigation against him into a terrorism charge, they turned to trumping up a case against Prouty, ultimately using her “Green Card marriage”—which she had disclosed to the FBI—to get her to plea to a charge of unauthorized computer access and immigration fraud, which DOJ then spun publicly as a terrorism charge.

This book is Prouty’s attempt to tell what really happened—partly in hopes to regain her American citizenship.

At one level, Prouty’s life story—before the FBI targeted a woman who had done so much for the Agency—reads like a classic, exceptional, immigrant success story. But so much of what the government used against her has been used on Muslims and other Arab-Americans without the means to fight back:  [cont’d.] (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Nada Prouty, Uncompromised: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of an Arab American Patriot in the CIA

Welcome Nada Prouty (NadaProuty.com), and Host Marcy Wheeler (EmptyWheel.net)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

Uncompromised: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of an Arab American Patriot in the CIA

In her memoir, Uncompromised: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of an Arab American Patriot in the CIA, Nada Prouty cites this passage from Malcom X’s Autobiography to describe her excitement as she felt herself adopting her new nationality:

Yes, one only truly becomes an American through a kind of conversion, and that conversion arises out of a desire to join in a common hunger for the rule of law, for equality for all, and for the benefits of cultural heterogeneity.

I found it a striking choice for an American immigrant to describe what it means to be American. Malcom X had such troubles achieving this American dream. But as it turned out, Prouty has had to fight to get America’s promised rule of law and equality, too. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Peter Van Buren, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

Welcome Peter Van Buren, and Host Marcy Wheeler (Emptywheel.net)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

Host, Marcy Wheeler:

You can summarize the story of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People with his assessment of the scams Iraqis pulled off with reconstruction dollars: “It wasn’t so much we were conned, it was as if we demanded to be cheated and would not take no for an answer.” The book describes what he saw of the various reconstruction efforts in Iraq, particularly his experience serving on a State Department Provisional Reconstruction Team in 2009.

While the book catalogs the great variety of stupid projects we funded—including a chapter of the greatest hits—it’s also a book about the power structure of our imperial project in Iraq. Van Buren offers this taxonomy of the “tribes” in his Forward Operating Base in Iraq, from the soldiers driven to enlist for financial reasons, the three different shades of KBR contractors distinguished by their tasks and the size of their biceps, the Iraqi-Americans from Detroit hired though an Alaskan pass-through, and the Ugandans guarding the base, probably working for slave wages. And all that’s before you get to the Embassy, with its impossible green lawn and complete isolation from the rest of Iraq.

Van Buren juxtaposes this taxonomy with the description of a scam a local sheik dreamt up, which not only would have gotten him a free flock of sheep, but would have set up a bunch of widows in hock to him. [cont’d.] (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Peter Van Buren, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

Welcome Peter Van Buren, and Host Marcy Wheeler (Emptywheel.net)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. – bev]

We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People

Host, Marcy Wheeler:

You can summarize the story of Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People with his assessment of the scams Iraqis pulled off with reconstruction dollars: “It wasn’t so much we were conned, it was as if we demanded to be cheated and would not take no for an answer.” The book describes what he saw of the various reconstruction efforts in Iraq, particularly his experience serving on a State Department Provisional Reconstruction Team in 2009.

While the book catalogs the great variety of stupid projects we funded—including a chapter of the greatest hits—it’s also a book about the power structure of our imperial project in Iraq. Van Buren offers this taxonomy of the “tribes” in his Forward Operating Base in Iraq, from the soldiers driven to enlist for financial reasons, the three different shades of KBR contractors distinguished by their tasks and the size of their biceps, the Iraqi-Americans from Detroit hired though an Alaskan pass-through, and the Ugandans guarding the base, probably working for slave wages. And all that’s before you get to the Embassy, with its impossible green lawn and complete isolation from the rest of Iraq. (more…)

Thanks to FDL!

We’re still kicking around the tires a bit, but if you’d like to help us kick those tires, the new home for emptywheel is at emptywheel.net.

As I’m leaving what has been home for the last three and a half years, I wanted to, first of all, wish Kevin Gosztola and Jeff Kaye the best of luck with their new blog “The Dissenter.” You all know the great work Jeff has done, particularly on torture. And Kevin has been doing great work, particularly on WikiLeaks and some other stories–like the FBI’s investigation of peace activists–FDL hasn’t otherwise covered as closely as we should have. As one of his readers, I hope, too, to see Kevin bring more video production to civil liberties discussions at FDL because he did a great job with such things at the Nation.

Now, for some thank yous.

I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Jane Hamsher. Not only has she created this wonderful community at FDL. But even before I moved here in 2007, Jane had worked her magic to make any number of opportunities available to me, from covering the Scooter Libby trial, to Anatomy of Deceit, to the opportunity to say “blowjob” on TV. She even taught me to wear lipstick, for better or worse. Her tremendous mix of fierce determination and generosity makes her a real gift to the progressive community. I look forward to seeing where she takes FDL from here.

I also owe big thanks to the folks backstage here at FDL. You may not know them. But trust me, they make me look a lot smarter than I am. And they keep this place running smoothly. I will sorely miss them as I struggle to keep emptywheel running smoothly without them.

Thanks, too, to those who have financially supported my work over the last several years, through the Marcy Wheeler fund, membership at FDL, or other support. It truly humbles me to consider the tremendous support I’ve received, usually from people I’ve never even met.

Finally, thanks to our absolutely superb readers. Folks from around the blogosphere often tell me how smart and interesting my commenters are–I think they’re jealous! They’re right though: your contribution as commenters adds a tremendous value to this site. I do hope to continue such discussions at the new site.

Which, I guess, is my cue to go join the conversation over there.