Sunday, March 10, 2013

Judge accepts Bradley Manning's guilty pleas on 10 lesser charges; trial on 12 others set for June

Patrick Semansky / AP file
Army Pfc. Bradley Manning steps out of a security vehicle as he is escorted into a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., on Nov. 29, 2012, for a pretrial hearing.
By Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube, NBC News

6:33pm, EST

FORT MEADE, Md. – A military judge on Thursday accepted guilty pleas by Army Pfc. Bradley Manning to 10 lesser charges against him, leaving the ex-intelligence analyst to face 12 other counts for allegedly leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents to the WikiLeaks website.

The acceptance of the "naked guilty pleas" -- meaning there is no agreement between the government and the defense that would limit the sentence – at a pre-trial hearing means that Manning faces up to 20 years in prison, even if he is ultimately acquitted of the most-serious charges against him.

Col. Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over the case, also accepted Manning’s “not guilty” pleas to the remaining charges, including "aiding the enemy." His court martial on those charges, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, is scheduled to begin on June 3.

During the day-long pre-trial hearing, Manning acknowledged that his actions were a discredit to the service and that he knew WikiLeaks was not authorized to have the information he provided.

At one point when Lind asked him whether he knew what he was doing was wrong, he answered simply, "Yes, your honor."

More than an hour of Thursday's hearing was consumed by Manning's composed reading of a 35-page prepared statement that offered his first public explanation of his motives for leaking the government documents to WikiLeaks. He said he did so to “spark domestic debate” on foreign policy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Manning painted himself as a young man with an "insatiable thirst for geopolitical information" and a desire for the world to know the truth about what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. But he said he became increasingly disillusioned after being sent to Iraq by actions that "didn't seem characteristic" of the U.S., the leader of free world.

Manning said under oath that the first documents he sent to WikiLeaks in early 2012 were the combined information data network exchanges for Iraq and Afghanistan, which he described as the daily journals of the "on-the-ground reality" of the conflicts in Iran and Afghanistan.

He said he sent the information while on leave and staying at his aunt's house in Potomac, Md., using a public computer at a Barnes & Noble store in Rockville or North Bethesda. He said included a brief note calling the information the most significant documents of our time, and closing with, "Have a good day."

He said he tried to send the information to the Washington Post and the New York Times before turning to WikiLeaks. He said he later sent information to WikiLeaks eight other times from his personal laptop at Contingency Base Hammer in Iraq.

Manning is facing 22 criminal charges that include "aiding the enemy" and could face a life sentence if convicted of the most serious charges.

Manning said he decided to release the first batch information because he was depressed and frustrated, and felt "a sense of relief" when he returned to Iraq. He said he finally had a "clear conscience" because someone else knew what was happening.

His most detailed explanation involved the release of aerial weapons team video showing airstrikes that killed some Iraqi civilians and several Reuters journalists.

“It was troubling to me" that the U.S. military in Iraq wouldn't release the video, he said. Also disturbing was the "seemingly delightful blood lust" exhibited when members of the air crew referred to the civilians as "dead bastards" and congratulated one another on their ability to kill large numbers of people. He said he was encouraged by the public response, that others were "as troubled" as he was.

In addition to the charge of aiding the enemy, Manning pleaded not guilty to counts alleging theft of U.S documents or videos -- including allegations that he stole the list of all of the emails and phone numbers of U.S. military and personnel in Iraq at the time -- unauthorized access of that information and downloading unauthorized software onto government computers.

The charges to which he pleaded guilty included intentionally causing intelligence information to be published on the Internet, improper handling of classified information and counts of conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline.

Specifically, Manning acknowledged that he had unauthorized possession of information, that he willfully communicated it, and that he communicated it to an unauthorized person. However, he only acknowledged that for nine specific files or pieces of information, including:
Combat engagement video of a helicopter gunship;
Two Army intelligence agency memos;
Certain records of the combined information data network exchange Iraq (which tracks all significant acts and patrol reports);
Combined information data network exchange Afghanistan records;
Some SOUTHCOM files dealing with Guantanamo Bay;
An investigation into an incident in a village in Farah, Afghanistan;
Some Department of State cables.

Related story: WikiLeaks case: Bradley Manning seeks first public statement on motive

At his court martial, Manning’s defense is expected to argue that he considered himself a "whistleblower" and released the documents with "no malicious intent" or the intent to do "any harm to anyone." The government contends the release of the documents put some lives at risks, including the names of Afghans who were working with the U.S. military and intelligence.

Jim Miklaszewski is NBC News’ Chief Pentagon Correspondent and Courtney Kube is NBC News’ National Security Producer.
The Emancipation of Barack Obama
Why the reelection of the first black president matters even more than his election 

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Charles Dharapak/AP

In early 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, the Georgia politician Henry Benning appealed to the Virginia Secession Convention to join the Confederate cause. In making his case, he denounced the “Black Republican party” of President Abraham Lincoln, arguing that his election portended “black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything.” The predicted envelopment surely took longer than he thought, but by 2008, Benning looked like Nostradamus. After the black governors, the black legislators, the integrated juries, Benning’s great phantom—“black everything”—took human form in the country’s 44th president, Barack Obama.

A sober observer could have dismissed Obama’s election in 2008 as an anomaly rather than a sea change. As the first black presidential nominee, Obama naturally benefited from record turnout among African Americans—turnout that might not be sustainable in future elections. He also benefited from an opposition that was saddled with two wars, an unpopular incumbent, and an economy in free fall. In black communities, there was a distinct awareness of the situation: if white folks are willing to hand over the country to a black man, then we must really be in bad shape.

Entering the 2012 election, Obama was no longer a talented rookie; he was the captain of the football team, with a record vulnerable to interpretation, and to attack. The economy was still sluggish. American troops were still being shot in Afghanistan. His base seemed depressed. And the most-loyal members of that base, African Americans, were facing an array of “voter ID” laws that had—what a coincidence—bloomed following his election.

These voter-ID laws were functionally equivalent to a poll tax. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University concluded that the cost of compliance with the recent measures would, in most cases, easily exceed the price of the Virginia poll tax ($10.64 in today’s dollars), which the U.S. Supreme Court famously declared unconstitutional in 1966. This new type of poll tax seemed to foreordain fewer African Americans at the polls, not more, and thus an election that did not resemble 2008 so much as all the elections before it, elections wherein white demography proved to be American destiny.

In fact, these fears proved unfounded. If anything, the effort to reinstate a poll tax appears to have backfired. The black community refused to comply with expectations, and instead turned out in droves. In 2012, minority turnout across the country exceeded 2008 levels; unlike the turnout of other minorities, however, black turnout was not fueled by demographic growth but by a higher percentage of the black electorate going to the polls. For the first time in history, according to a study by Pew, black turnout may even have exceeded white turnout.

You could be forgiven for looking at African American history as a long catalog of failure. In the black community, it is a common ritual to deride individual shortcomings, and their effect on African American prospects. The men aren’t doing enough. The women are having too many babies. The babies are having babies. Their pants are falling off their backsides. But November’s electoral math is clear—African Americans didn’t just vote in 2012, they voted at a higher rate than the general population.

The history of black citizenship had, until now, been dominated by violence, terrorism, and legal maneuvering designed to strip African Americans of as many privileges—jury service, gun ownership, land ownership, voting—as possible. Obama’s reelection repudiates that history, and shows the power of a fully vested black citizenry. Martin Luther King Jr. did not create the civil-rights movement any more than Malcolm X created black pride. And the wave that brought Obama to power precedes him: the black-white voting gap narrowed substantially back in 1996, before he was even a state legislator. The narrowing gap is not the work of black messiahs, but of many black individuals.

The second chapter of the Obama presidency begins exactly a century and a half after Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect. Much like the proclamation, the Obama presidency has been a study in understated and reluctant radicalism. The proclamation freed no slaves in those lands loyal to Lincoln and was issued only after more-moderate means failed. Yet Lincoln’s order transformed a war for union into a war for abolition, and in so doing put the country on a road to broad citizenship for its pariah class. The 2012 election ranks among the greatest milestones along that road. We are not yet in the era of post-racialism. But the time of “black everything” is surely upon us.

Obama’s ’14 tool kit
Why it's so important for the president and his party to force the GOP to vote on his agenda now 
By Steve Kornacki Tuesday, Feb 19, 2013 08:12 AM EST 

(Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster) 
There are two ways of thinking about the ambitious second-term legislative strategy President Obama is pursuing. Calls for new gun laws, comprehensive immigration reform, a hike in the minimum wage, and a “balanced approach” to undoing the sequester and striking a long-term deficit reduction plan highlighted his State of the Union message last week.

It may be that the White House sees this as an opportune moment to pounce, with Republicans still digesting their defeat last November and fissures within the party beginning to surface. So why not take this occasion to put the GOP on the spot on a series of issues where its orthodoxy is out of line with mainstream opinion? Even with Republicans running the House, there may just be enough sentiment from potentially vulnerable incumbents – and from party leaders sensitive to the GOP’s national image – to strike some deals with Obama on his agenda.

If this is Obama’s game, there’s some evidence it’s working. Already this year, we’ve seen Republicans give ground on their anti-tax absolutism, allowing a fiscal cliff deal that raised rates on income over $450,000 to come to the House floor, where just enough GOP members voted “yes” to allow it to pass. Republican leaders and conservative opinion-shapers have also been willing to give Sen. Marco Rubio some latitude in pursuing an immigration deal; even in light of Rubio’s most recent comments on the subject, the prospect that a compromise will be reached is still real. And there has been impressive bipartisan movement toward a tightened background check system for gun purchases.

So it makes sense for the White House to push hard now and test just how far the GOP is willing to budge in its somewhat confused current state. But there’s probably a longer-term calculation at work too, one rooted in a recognition that there’s only so much Obama can achieve with Republicans running the House – and that there’s only so far those Republicans will ultimately go.

This explains why in his State of the Union speech Obama was so emphatic about simply calling for a vote on his gun control agenda – to the point that he even told members of Congress that “you can vote ‘no’ if you want.” This reflects the DOA status of several Obama proposals. A renewed ban on assault weapons, for instance, would have almost no chance of clearing the House, and maybe even the Senate. The prospects for limits on high-capacity magazines aren’t much better. Expanded background checks, though, could pass in some form, along with a crackdown on straw purchases and perhaps new laws to curb interstate trafficking.

The point, though, is that Obama and Democrats will have to settle for half a loaf on gun control, at best. And further-reaching ideas, like a federal buyback program, aren’t even on the agenda right now. Which is why it’s so important for them to get members of Congress on record on everything Obama now is proposing. In the wake of Sandy Hook, the public is hungry for action on gun violence in a way it hasn’t been since the early 1990s, when exploding violent crime rates were the impetus. Even if the assault weapons ban fails now, “no” votes could then be used in the 2014 campaign against potentially vulnerable House members and senators. This threat is reinforced by the engagement of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is prepared to use big bucks to go after anti-gun control candidates.

Potentially, this could create a post-2014 political climate that’s even more favorable to gun legislation. If a consensus emerges that gun control was the driving issue in a series of key ’14 races, it could prompt traditionally pro-gun members of the next Congress (Republican and Democrat) to rethink their views. And it could make it impossible for Republicans to refuse to hold further votes on even more ambitious gun proposals.

The same goes for other Obama agenda items. Take the minimum wage hike, which House Speaker John Boehner seemed to rule out as soon as Obama proposed it. But already, Democrats are preparing to turn that resistance into a ’14 campaign issue, attacking Republicans if no vote is allowed (or for voting “no” if one is permitted). Again, if in the wake of the ’14 vote this is interpreted by the political world as a winning message for Democrats, Republicans will be much more likely to act in 2015.

On immigration, the GOP seems well aware of the need to strike a deal this year. But it’s an open question what parameters conservative leaders will accept. If there is a final product and it’s watered down, it will give Democrats another ’14 weapon; give us more votes in the next Congress and we can go further, they can promise.

Optimistic Democrats point to the possibility that their party will use these and other weapons to reclaim a House majority in ’14, and to hold onto the Senate as well. If this were to happen, Obama and Democrats would have a fresh two-year window to push an even more expansive agenda than Obama is now proposing — although since there’s no chance Democrats will break the 60-vote mark in the Senate next year, Republicans would still be able to stymie them with filibusters. It’s also very hard to see Democrats winning back the House, given the significant geographic advantage the GOP enjoys at the House level.

Chances are that next year’s election will leave the GOP in charge of the House. But if Democrats campaign on the issues Obama is now pushing and fare better than expected – suffering minimal losses, or maybe even gaining a seat or two – it would generate new momentum for his policy goals. And that momentum just might be enough to help Obama fight off the dreaded lame duck label until late in his second term.

President Obama met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the White House in February 2012. (Martin H. Simon/Pool via Bloomberg)

Chinese hacking: Obama admin. signals it will elevate issue with Beijing
By Max Fisher , Updated: February 19, 2013

When U.S. cyber-security firm Mandiant released a lengthy report {below}this morning on Chinese hacking, tracing an extensive cyber-espionage campaign against American corporations back to a specific unit in the Chinese military, it implicitly raised a question that has loomed over such reports. At one point does this become a diplomatic issue between the U.S. and China?

There are signs that the Obama administration is elevating the hacking issue in its diplomacy, putting more emphasis on publicly signaling its unhappiness with the Chinese government.

The New York Times reports, “Obama administration officials say they are planning to tell China’s new leaders in coming weeks that the volume and sophistication of the attacks have become so intense that they threaten the fundamental relationship between Washington and Beijing.” That’s a pretty significant elevation.

This, below, is from the Washington Post’s story on the report, by Beijing-based William Wan and cyber-security report Ellen Nakashima (my emphasis added):
[The Mandiant report] also comes days after President Obama issued an executive order aimed at better securing the computer networks run by critical U.S. industries, such as transportation and energy.

“We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets,” Obama said in his State of the Union address. “We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.”

On Tuesday, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the administration was aware of the Mandiant report and reiterated that the United States “has substantial and growing concerns about the threats to U.S. economic and national security posed by cyber intrusions, including the theft of commercial information.”

Before she left office this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the United States has elevated the cyber-espionage issue to the strategic dialogue level with China. “We have to begin making it clear to the Chinese that the United States is going to have to take action to protect not only our government, but our private sector, from this kind of illegal intrusions,” Clinton said.

This is not a small thing: the U.S.-China relationship is complicated, important to both countries and at times quite thorny. While that relationship is not necessarily zero-sum, elevating a touchy subject like hacking does have the potential to distract from other issues, such as trade, currency manipulation, regional territorial disputes or human rights.

The Obama administration surely knows this, as does Beijing. So it will be interesting to watch how both countries incorporate this newly elevated dispute into their larger diplomatic efforts. Will the Obama administration’s displeasure substantively change China’s behavior on cyber-security? Will it introduce greater tension into the relationship that could distract from other issues? Or maybe some combination of both?

READ: Zero Day — A special report on the threat in cyberspace

The Threat in Cyberspace: To succeed in addressing risks in the digital universe, global leaders must understand one of the most complex, man-made creations on Earth: cyberspace.

Digital universe riddled with holes

Robert O’Harrow Jr. JUN 2, 2012

PART ONE | To defend themselves, governments, businesses and individuals will need to decipher one of the most complex, man-made environments on Earth: cyberspace.
Graphic: How a ‘fuzzing’ hack works
C-SPAN: Washington Post cybersecurity event
C-SPAN: Interview with Post reporter

Search engine reveals risks to machines

Robert O’Harrow Jr. JUN 3, 2012
PART TWO | A new search engine called Shodan finds industrial control systems connected to cyberspace and unsettles the balance of security online.

Graphic: How the Stuxnet worm worked
Poll: Computer habits that could pose risks
Q&A: 6 basic questions on cybersecurity
Graphic: ‘Fuzzing’ to find a zero day
Diane Rehm Show: Post reporter discusses series

Behind a framework, a cautionary cyber tale

Robert O’Harrow Jr. JUL 11, 2012

PART THREE | The Tridium company’s widely used technology is a marvel of modern connectivity, but after its networks were found to be vulnerable to hackers, it is moving to boost its security.
Hackers exploit ‘guest user’ account of software
DHS warns of hackers targeting Niagara software
Document: Homeland Security alert for Niagara
Graphic: The framework’s connectivity and risks
Document: Confidential security bulletin to users
Timeline: Key tech advances and notable hacks

Facebook and Twitter are prime sources for hackers. (Post)
Hackers exploit humans to gain access

Robert O’Harrow Jr. SEP 26

PART FOUR | The greatest threat to security in the Cyber Age comes from attacks known as “social engineering.”
Graphic: Using social media for cyberattacks
Hackers break into energy technology company

(Eric Schulzinger / Lockheed Martin via Reuters)
Hacking kits fuel cyberspace arms race

Robert O'Harrow Jr. NOV 13
PART FIVE | Tools make breaking into networks almost as easy for hackers as ordering food off a menu.
Graphic: Hacker menu
Washington Post Live cybersecurity conference

(Mark J. Terrill / AP)
PART SIX | “It might look to some people like a toy or game,” but program prepares government for digital attacks.
Graphic: Practicing for cyberwar

(Daniel Acker / BLOOMBERG)
PART SEVEN | A Post examination of cybersecurity has found that health care is among the most vulnerable industries.

Video: A new domain of war

JUN 2, 2012

For global leaders to address risks in the digital universe, they must understand cyberspace.

JUN 2, 2012

Explore some of the technological advances that led to cyberspace, along with notable hacks.

Chinese cyberspies have hacked most Washington institutions, experts say
By Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima, Published: February 20 

Sat Jun 02 2012
Government and business leaders in the United States and around the world are rushing to build better defenses - and prepare for the coming battles in the digital universe. To succeed, they must understand one of the most complex, man-made environments on Earth: cyberspace.

Whitney Shefte, Sohail al-Jamea and Robert O'Harrow Jr./ The Washington Post

Start asking security experts which powerful Washington institutions have been penetrated by Chinese cyberspies, and this is the usual answer: almost all of them. 

The list of those hacked in recent years includes law firms, think tanks, news organizations, human rights groups, contractors, congressional offices, embassies and federal agencies.

The information compromised by such intrusions, security experts say, would be enough to map how power is exercised in Washington to a remarkably nuanced degree. The only question, they say, is whether the Chinese have the analytical resources to sort through the massive troves of data they steal every day.


“The dark secret is there is no such thing as a secure unclassified network,” said James A. Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which has been hacked in the past. “Law firms, think tanks, newspapers — if there’s something of interest, you should assume you’ve been penetrated.”

The rising wave of cyber-espionage has produced diplomatic backlash and talk of action against the Chinese, who have steadfastly denied involvement in hacking campaigns. A strategy paper released by the Obama administration Wednesday outlined new efforts to fight the theft of trade secrets.

Cyberspying against what could be called the “information industry” differs from hacks against traditional economic targets such as Lockheed Martin, Coca-Cola and Apple, whose computer systems contain valuable intellectual property that could assist Chinese industrial or military capabilities.

Instead, journalists, lawyers and human rights workers often have access to political actors whose communications could offer insight to Chinese intelligence services eager to understand how Washington works. Hackers often are searching for the unseen forces that might explain how the administration approaches an issue, experts say, with many Chinese officials presuming that reports by think tanks or news organizations are secretly the work of government officials — much as they would be in Beijing.

“They’re trying to make connections between prominent people who work at think tanks, prominent donors that they’ve heard of and how the government makes decisions,” said Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise Institute, which also has been hacked. “It’s a sophisticated intelligence-gathering effort at trying to make human-network linkages of people in power, whether they be in Congress or the executive branch.”

China’s aggressive effort

Russia and some other nations also are said to engage in cyber-
espionage against private companies and institutions, but security experts and U.S. officials say China’s effort is the most aggressive and comprehensive. The infor­mation-technology staffs of private groups have scrambled to neutralize the intrusions, often hiring outside specialists to expel hackers and installing monitoring systems to keep them out.

Yet such efforts do not always succeed, security experts say. Hackers often build secret “back door” access to computer systems or redouble their efforts to penetrate again once they’ve been purged.

Not long after the Wall Street Journal reported last month that its systems had been infiltrated, the chief executive of its parent company, Rupert Murdoch, tweeted, “Chinese still hacking us, or were over the weekend.” The New York Times and The Washington Post have also reported being victims of cyber-intrusions probably conducted by the Chinese.

The former head of cybersecurity investigations for the FBI, Shawn Henry, said his agents used to alert dozens of companies and private institutions about breaches every week, with Chinese hackers the most common suspects.

“I’ve yet to come across a network that hasn’t been breached,” said Henry, president of CrowdStrike Services, a security company. “It’s like having an invisible man in your room, going through your filing cabinets.”

The rise of pervasive cyber-
espionage has followed broader technological shifts: More and more information is gathered and conveyed online. Rising computing power, meanwhile, has made more of it vulnerable to hackers almost anywhere in the world. This has dramatically lowered the cost of spying — traditionally a labor-intensive pursuit that carries the risk of arrest or worse — and made more institutions viable targets.

The Chinese government has consistently denied having the kind of aggressive cyber-espionage campaign often described by Western officials and security experts, calling such allegations ­irresponsible and unsupported by evidence.

This week, Chinese officials disputed a report by Mandiant, an Alexandria-based security company, detailing the Chinese military unit allegedly responsible for stealing hundreds of terabytes of data from 141 organizations in 20 industries in the United States and around the world.

But official Washington expresses little doubt about the source of the problem. “The Chinese government’s direct role in cybertheft is rampant, and the problems have grown exponentially,” said Rep Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “It is crucial that the administration begin bilateral discussions to ensure that Beijing understands that there are consequences for state-sponsored economic espionage.”

‘Spearphishing’ at The Post

The reported hack into The Post’s computer systems happened in a typical way: An employee fell for what experts call a “spearphishing” scam, hitting a bogus link that downloaded a ­malicious program, infecting the company’s information-technology server, said people familiar with the incident who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details not released publicly by the company. (Post Co. officials have confirmed the hack only in general terms.)

That initial intrusion, which happened in 2009, allowed the hackers to gain access to The Post’s directory of user names, passwords and computers that use Windows-based operating systems. People with knowledge of the infiltration said the company learned of it when Mandiant discovered the breach in 2011.

The Post hired Mandiant to expel the hackers and installed advanced monitoring systems to prevent a recurrence. Experts say it’s difficult for any company to know definitively what information hackers steal while they have access to computer systems — especially if the theft happened months or years before it was discovered.

News of The Post’s infiltration, first revealed this month, alarmed Texas-based religious rights activist Bob Fu. As recently as December, he had obtained a sensitive Chinese document and passed it along by e-mail to a Post correspondent in Beijing. The resulting story named Fu but not the document’s original source within China, who Fu said could have been arrested if discovered.

An associate working for China Aid was briefly detained after the story appeared and was questioned about the document. It’s not clear if any information was gleaned from Fu’s e-mail exchange with the Post correspondent, which took place after the company’s computer system was secured.

“Oh, my goodness, that makes me a little sweaty,” Fu said, recalling the incident. “The consequences could be so unbearable.”

Dissidents have long engaged in cat-and-mouse games with Chinese authorities, accepting that many of their phone calls and e-mails are monitored while still attempting to protect their most sensitive communications from interception.

Canadian researchers in 2009 uncovered a vast global cyber-
espionage network controlled largely by servers in China. The military and political targets whose networks were monitored — including the Tibetan government in exile and the office of the Dalai Lama — strongly suggested a Chinese role in the operation. Among the 1,295 computers infected in 103 countries were several belonging to the Associated Press bureau in London, according to the researchers, who were with the SecDev Group and the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto.

Such infiltrations have unnerved the Chinese dissident community, where accusations of spying are common, said Andrew Nathan, a Columbia University professor active in several human rights groups that do work related to China. “There’s a paranoia that sets in,” he said. “That may be one of the functions of this surveillance.”

Security experts say that, while defenses are becoming more sophisticated against cyber-espionage, hackers continue to improve their skills as well. But even if foreign agents manage to gain access to mounting piles of data, they face a problem familiar to intelligence agencies everywhere: what to do with it.

“Most of us aren’t very interesting most of the time,” said Thomas Fingar, a China expert and former chairman of the National Intelligence Council. “You can waste an enormous amount of time and effort puzzling over something that is totally meaningless.”

William Wan in Beijing contributed to this report.

Revenge of the sources
Posted by Ezra Klein on March 10, 2013 at 9:46 am
I understand why a professional journalist like Nate Thayer would be frustrated at being asked to work for “exposure” rather than work for pay, though I think it’s unprofessional to vent that frustration by publishing the e-mails and the name of the junior editor who made the request.

(Brian Stauffer for The Washington Post/)

But behind this debate lurks an uncomfortable fact: The salaries of professional journalists are built upon our success in convincing experts of all kinds working for exposure rather than pay. Now those experts have found a way to work for exposure without going through professional journalists, creating a vast expansion in the quantity and quality of content editors can get for free.

Call it the revenge of our sources. For a very long time, we got them to work for nothing more than exposure — and sometimes, we didn’t even give them that. Now they’re getting more and more of us to do it.

Ask somebody who writes for a magazine or a newspaper what they do and it’s rare, at least in my experience, to hear them say they’re a “writer.” Instead, they say they’re a “reporter” or a “journalist.” The difference between “writer” and “reporter” or “journalist” isn’t that the journalist reports — she develops sources, calls people, takes them out to lunch, and generally acts as an intermediary between her audience and the world of experts.

The journalist also writes, of course, but anybody can write. Or, if not anybody, then certainly too many people for comfort. But few can get their calls returned by key congressmen, top academics, important CEOs or even, absent the legitimacy of a media organization people have heard of, a factory worker sitting at home on a Tuesday night. That is the powerful advantage that the journalist has over her audience: She’s got sources and they don’t.

If the transaction between the journalist and the audience is that the journalist has the time, talent, and access to clearly communicate the ideas of newsmakers and experts, what then is the transaction between the journalist and those newsmakers and experts? After all, the journalist, and her institution, are profiting, hopefully handsomely, off their contribution to the enterprise. It’s not going too far to say that the whole business would collapse without their participation. Journalists without sources are, well, mere writers.
Moreover, those sources are giving up something of value. They’re giving up time, for one thing. The fine folks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have spent countless hours walking me through the minutia of the federal budget. They’re giving up information that, in other contexts, people pay them for — consider a CEO who gives paid lectures or a tenured academic at a private college. They are exposing themselves to considerable professional risk, both by telling the journalist things they’re not supposed to share and simply by making themselves vulnerable to being misquoted or misinterpreted in public.

So how does the journalist compensate these sources, given how much they contribute to the final product, and given the very real costs and dangers of that contribution? Well, the natural answer in a market economy would be that the sources to get paid. But, in a brilliant (and proper) maneuver, journalism as a profession has deemed it unethical to pay sources for information. We’ve cartelized the decision not to pay sources for their time and risk. Paying sources, we’ve decided, is the province of bottomfeeders like the National Enquirer, and we’ve created such strong norms around that judgment that no one who wants to be taken seriously dares cross it. If I paid a source to talk to me and that information became public, I’d be fired.

No, the transaction between journalists and their sources is that the sources work for exposure — either for themselves or for their ideas — and the journalists repackage that work and sell it for money.

And the exposure isn’t even a sure thing: Sources rarely have any guarantee that they will appear in the final article, and if they do make it into the final piece, they have no control over which two sentences from their hourlong interview will be chosen. Many are the sources who talked to a journalist for hours only to find themselves left out of the final piece or quoted on some bit of useless trivia. Many are the sources who worked hard to help a journalist on a piece only to be misquoted, or embarrassed by the inarticulate or indiscreet quote the journalist chose to publish.

But exposure in the media really is a valuable thing, and except for entering the op-ed submission lottery, what other option did non-journalists have? If sources separate a journalist and her audience, then access to newsprint separates a journalist from her sources.

That, at least, was the situation until the Internet made the supply of “newsprint” virtually infinite. Now, the people who were once sources can write their own blogs, or they send op-ed submissions or even feature articles to editors looking for vastly more content. Think about Brad DeLong’s blog, Marginal Revolution, or the Monkey Cage. This work often doesn’t pay — at least not at first — but it offers a much more reliable, predictable and controllable form of exposure. It’s a direct relationship with an audience rather than one mediated by a professional journalist.

If you look at who’s turning out copy for major media outlets but isn’t being paid, it’s not, by and large, professional journalists, or even wannabe professional journalists. The former typically won’t write without pay and editors generally don’t want to publish the latter. It’s people who, in another world, would be sources for professional journalists. It’s academics and business consultants and market analysts and former politicians. They have the expertise that makes editors –and readers — trust them. They have good ideas for articles. They have day jobs that are happy to subsidize the time they spending working for media exposure. And they’re often very good writers.

There are also, as it happens, a lot of them. And so they’ve created a reality where editors can get a fair amount of high-quality copy from people who don’t demand to be paid, or at least don’t demand to be paid very much. That’s given Web editors the idea that you actually can get good content for nothing, particularly if you’re just asking people to repackage work they’ve already done — that’s the precise situation in which academics are most likely to write pieces for free. And that’s part of how you get a young editor asking Thayer if he could hand over a short version of his feature article for nothing more than exposure.

Working for exposure has long been a crucial element of how professional journalists made their money. It’s just that before, we were the ones profiting off of that work, at least in part, and now, we’re often not.

Furlough Watch: Agency-by-Agency Impacts of Sequestration
 March 7, 2013
Customs and Border Protection Sends Thousands of Furlough Notices 
   March 7, 2013   
Senators Want to Cut Congressional Pay
   March 4, 2013    
An Actual Sequestration Furlough Notice
   March 1, 2013    
Some Federal Workers See Silver Lining in Spring Furloughs
   February 28, 2013 

Air traffic controllers are likely to be among the federal employees furloughed.
Air traffic controllers are likely to be among the federal employees furloughed.David Goldman/AP file photo

This report has been updated.

The across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration now scheduled to hit in two days would have serious implications for federal workers, including mandatory unpaid furloughs for hundreds of thousands of employees, beginning in April. We have compiled a list of possible agency-by-agency effects, should Congress and President Obama fail to reach a deficit reduction agreement in time to avoid the cuts. We will update the list as more information becomes available. Please use the comment section below to let us know if you have additional information about your agency.

Agriculture Department: Food Safety and Inspection Service employees would be furloughed for approximately two weeks, the White House said in a Feb. 8 fact sheet.

Army: Letters to unions dated Feb. 28 and March 1 said federal employees at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Gunpowder, Md., and with the Corps of Engineers in Walla Walla, Wash., will have to take unpaid leave one day a week from April 22 through Sept. 21, according to CNN.

Broadcasting Board of Governors: The agency does not anticipate needing to furlough employees this year, according to a memo obtaind by Government Executive. BBG is required to reduce spending by approximately 5 percent, or $37.6 million, by September 30, the memo said. It will do so by freezing hiring, eliminating bonuses, postponing technical upgrades and reducing broadcasts.

Customs and Border Protection: Started sending furlough notices to all 60,000 of its employees on March 7. The furloughs are slated to begin April 21 and will be spread over several pay periods. Full time employees will be furloughed no more than 14 workdays, and part-time employees will have their furlough time pro-rated.

Defense Department: Secretary Leon Panetta on Feb. 20 informed lawmakers that sequestration would force the Pentagon to put the “vast majority” of its 800,000 civilian workers on administrative furlough. The furloughs wouldbegin in late April and would occur one day a week for up to 22 discontinuous work days. (See separate Armyentry.)

Education Department: Secretary Arne Duncan testified Feb. 14 before the Senate Appropriations Committee that he expected furloughs. “The sequester would … likely require the department to furlough many of its own employees for multiple days,” he wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to the committee.” The letter did not provide an exact number of employees who would be affected.

Environmental Protection Agency: Employees could be subject to as many as 13 furlough days, according to a Feb. 26 internal message from acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe. "We are working to minimize the burden on employees and maintain our ability to do our job," he wrote. "Decisions are not final yet, but one of the ways in which we are trying to soften the impact is by evaluating the furlough need in phases." For instance, the agency is looking into requiring four furlough days before June 1, and then reevaluating the budget situation to see if further furloughs are necessary.

Federal Aviation Administration: Almost all 47,000 workers would be furloughed for one-to-two days per pay period, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FAA head Michael Huerta. Employees should be prepared for 11 furlough days, beginning as early as April 7, according to a Washington Post update. Air traffic control towers at 100 airports would be closed, and midnight shifts at many smaller airports would be dropped. This could lead to 90-minute delays during peak travel times for flights to major cities, LaHood and Huerta said in their Feb. 22 letter to airline industry groups and unions.

Federal courts: 20,000 employees could be furloughed for 16 days.

Government Accountability Office: Plans to avoid furloughs, according to The Washington Post. But, the sequester would affect hiring, employee benefits and travel and contract spending, according to Feb. 26 testimonyfrom Comptroller General Gene Dodaro.

Government Printing Office: Will save money by scaling back technology and other investments, but “if necessary, a furlough of GPO's workforce may also be implemented,” acting Public Printer Davita Vance-Cooktestified before a House subcommittee on Feb. 26.

Homeland Security Department: Law enforcement personnel would face furloughs of up to 14 days, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a Feb. 13 letter to House lawmakers. She did not provide a specific number of employees affected but said it would be a “significant portion” of the department’s front-line law enforcement staff (see Customs and Border Protection entry).

Housing and Urban Development: Secretary Shaun Donovan told the Senate Appropriations Committee furloughs could be necessary. “Specific plans are still being reviewed and finalized, but we believe that furloughs or other personnel actions may well be required to comply with cuts mandated by sequestration,” he said in Feb. 14 testimony.

Interior Department: Secretary Ken Salazar has warned about furloughs of thousands of employees. The National Parks Service plans to furlough permanent staff if other cost-savings measures fail.

Internal Revenue Service: Employees could expect a total of five to seven furlough days by the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, acting Commissioner Steven T. Miller said in a memo to employees. The furloughs would begin "sometime in the summer, after the filing season ends," he wrote. Employees would have no more than one furlough day per pay period.

Justice Department: Would furlough hundreds of federal prosecutors, according to the White House. FBI Director Robert Mueller has said $550 million in cuts to the bureau “would have the net effect of cutting 2,285 employees -- including 775 agents -- through furloughs and a hiring freeze,” according to the FBI Agents Association. The Office of Management and Budget on Feb. 27 said Justice had already sent out formal furlough notices.

Labor Department: Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris told employees in a Feb. 20 email that "not all agencies will be able to find the savings required" and these agencies will be forced to "place staff on unpaid furloughs."

National Institutes of Health: Director Francis Collins said during a Feb. 25 conference call with reporters that the agency would "do everything we can to avoid furloughs." He said that furloughs would barely help the agency manage a 5 percent cut since a bulk of the budget was spent on grants and funding for research. Areas that could face the axe include travel and conference spending, Collins said.

National Labor Relations Board: Has issued formal furlough notices, according to OMB.

NASA: 20,500 contractors could lose their jobs. The agency has not notified federal employees of any furlough possibility, but a spokesman told Government Executive on Feb. 25 that “all possible effects” of sequestration are “still being assessed.”

Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Has ruled out furloughs or salary cuts.

National Nuclear Security Administration: Acting chief Neile Miller said it might not become clear until a month into sequestration whether the agency's employees will have to be furloughed as a result of the across-the-board federal budget cuts.

Small Business Administration: The Small Business Administration will rely on staff cuts made through early retirements in 2012 to avoid furloughs, according to an Associated Press report.

Smithsonian: Does not anticipate furloughs.

Social Security Administration: Remains “uncertain” about reducing its employees’ hours, which would save about $25 million per furlough day, according to a Feb. 1 letter to Congress. It will instead try to reach the reduced budget level through attrition.

State Department: Won't need furloughs, at least through June 30, according to The Washington Post.

Treasury Department: Acting Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin told the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier in February that the department would try to avoid furloughs by instituting hiring freezes, and reducing spending on support, travel, training and supplies, but noted that if the sequester takes effect, “most Treasury employees would face furloughs, which would have a cascading effect on employees’ families as well as on the economy at large.” The Internal Revenue Service would be particularly hard hit, he said (see separate IRS entry).

Veterans Affairs Department: Mostly exempt from sequestration.
Want to contribute to this story? Share your addition in comments.

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Questions on the House Republican Budget

For Immediate Release:

March 8, 2013

Next week, Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and House Republicans are reportedly planning to put forward a budget that balances in 10 years. Rep. Ryan told the Wall Street Journalthat we shouldn’t expect any big surprises, but we’ve still got plenty of questions about the fuzzy math and ambiguous spending cuts. Take a look at our top 10 questions for Rep. Ryan:
Can you let us in on the magic asterisks of savings you include in your budget, which don’t include any specifics on what those savings are or what policies you would implement to achieve them?
If you can’t lay out exactly what you’re cutting and instead include enormous, unspecified cuts, how can people take this budget seriously?
How do you plan on telling your conservative friends that you’ve recognized that additional revenues are necessary to bring down budget deficits, which is why you’re including the revenues from the fiscal cliff deal in your budget?
Are you planning to let the untargeted, irrational sequester cuts stay in place?
Are you ready to admit that your budget uses the exact same Medicare savings that you criticized President Obama for last year?
How is it possible to balance the budget in a decade and NOT allow your Medicare voucher program to affect anyone over 55?
Are you once again planning on converting many critical programs for our most vulnerable, such as food stamps and Medicaid, into state block grants with few federal controls?
Why did you decide to make adjustments for an expected decline in war spending that could reduce assumed expenditures by up to $600 billion over the next decade after you consistently mocked war savings as “phantom savings” when Democrats included the same number in our budget? Change of heart?
Since your budget was widely panned last year and rejected by Americans in November’s election, are you expecting a different reception this time around?
With the Republican budget already drawing flak from House Republicans, how do you plan on keeping your party “united” this time around?

We’ll be waiting for the answers.

Syrian Opposition President: 21 U.N. peacekeepers safe

March 7th, 2013
11:55 AM ET
By Pete Burn and Michael Martinez

(CNN) - Twenty-one U.N. peacekeepers being held by rebels in Syria were taken from an area near the Golan Heights for their own safety, Syrian opposition coalition President Moaz al-Khatib said Thursday.

Khatib told CNN's Christiane Amanpour he wants the Red Cross to pick them up.

"There was a U.N. convoy at risk" in an area under bombardment for seven days, al-Khatib said.

The rebels are "ready to release them on the condition that the Red Cross come and receive them from the border," al-Khatib said. Injured civilians, including women and children, should also be rescued by the Red Cross, he added. The 21 peacekeepers are Filipino, the Philippine government said earlier Thursday.

"The apprehension and illegal detention of the Filipino peacekeepers are gross violations of international law," Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.

The peacekeepers are reportedly unharmed, and negotiations are under way to secure their safe release, the Philippine government said. The Department of Foreign Affairs said it is coordinating efforts with the United Nations' peacekeeping agency.

Tension has been growing amid the United Nations' demand that the peacekeeping forces be released.

A spokesman with the U.N. peacekeeping department said the agency was still waiting Thursday for the release of its forces. The mission has spoken with the peacekeepers over the phone and confirmed they are unharmed, the spokesman said.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters Thursday that decisions on withdrawing peacekeepers from the Golan Heights rest with the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force.

"The security conditions on the ground are not easy and we have said so in recent days," Nesirky said. "It's for the commander of UNDOF to be able to assess the security situation with regard to the mission and patrols they carry out."

A video posted on the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights' YouTube website shows six of the peacekeepers sitting in a room. CNN couldn't immediately verify the authenticity of the video.

On it, one peacekeeper gives a statement to the camera:

"We are here safe in this place. We are here because while we are passing through position (unintelligible) to Jamlah, there were bombing and artillery fires. This is why we stopped and, civilian people tell us, for our safety, and distributed us in different places to keep us safe. And they give us good accommodation and give us food to eat and water to drink."

The rebels have said the peacekeepers entered a Syrian village near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, an area where peacekeepers should not be and where intense fighting has been raging for days between rebels and government forces.

The rebels said they suspected the peacekeepers were trying to aid their enemy - the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The United Nations said the peacekeepers were on a "regular supply mission."

Two other videos that rebels posted on YouTube present the rebels' point of view.

In one, a rebel insists that the peacekeepers will be held until al-Assad's forces withdraw from the village of al-Jamlah, where fighting has been heavy.

The other video shows rebels walking near several U.N. trucks. "This U.N. force entered Jamlah village to assist the regime ... and (the U.N. is) claiming that they are here just to stop the clashing," a rebel says.

Members of the U.N. Security Council condemned the detainment.

Also this week, al-Khatib posted on the rebels' Facebook page a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the leaders of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the League of Arab States.

"What is happening (is a) genocide for the Syrian people with the world watching and listening (and) will lead to the gravest consequences," he wrote.

"The blood of the people of Syria will be a curse on the whole world if there" is "no effective action," it said.

There has been "hardly a Syrian village spared from the regime bombing," the letter said.

"This might be the last message to you," it warns. "I call on you all to bear your international responsibilities before God and the people."