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Palantir, the War on Terror’s Secret Weapon

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 23:05 by John Sinteur in category: Security


In October, a foreign national named Mike Fikri purchased a one-way plane ticket from Cairo to Miami, where he rented a condo. Over the previous few weeks, he’d made a number of large withdrawals from a Russian bank account and placed repeated calls to a few people in Syria. More recently, he rented a truck, drove to Orlando, and visited Walt Disney World by himself. As numerous security videos indicate, he did not frolic at the happiest place on earth. He spent his day taking pictures of crowded plazas and gate areas.

None of Fikri’s individual actions would raise suspicions. Lots of people rent trucks or have relations in Syria, and no doubt there are harmless eccentrics out there fascinated by amusement park infrastructure. Taken together, though, they suggested that Fikri was up to something. And yet, until about four years ago, his pre-attack prep work would have gone unnoticed. A CIA analyst might have flagged the plane ticket purchase; an FBI agent might have seen the bank transfers. But there was nothing to connect the two. Lucky for counterterror agents, not to mention tourists in Orlando, the government now has software made by Palantir Technologies, a Silicon Valley company that’s become the darling of the intelligence and law enforcement communities.

The day Fikri drives to Orlando, he gets a speeding ticket, which triggers an alert in the CIA’s Palantir system. An analyst types Fikri’s name into a search box and up pops a wealth of information pulled from every database at the government’s disposal. There’s fingerprint and DNA evidence for Fikri gathered by a CIA operative in Cairo; video of him going to an ATM in Miami; shots of his rental truck’s license plate at a tollbooth; phone records; and a map pinpointing his movements across the globe. All this information is then displayed on a clearly designed graphical interface that looks like something Tom Cruise would use in a Mission: Impossible movie.

As the CIA analyst starts poking around on Fikri’s file inside of Palantir, a story emerges. A mouse click shows that Fikri has wired money to the people he had been calling in Syria. Another click brings up CIA field reports on the Syrians and reveals they have been under investigation for suspicious behavior and meeting together every day over the past two weeks. Click: The Syrians bought plane tickets to Miami one day after receiving the money from Fikri. To aid even the dullest analyst, the software brings up a map that has a pulsing red light tracing the flow of money from Cairo and Syria to Fikri’s Miami condo. That provides local cops with the last piece of information they need to move in on their prey before he strikes.

Scenario: a friend needs to fertilize his lawn, and I want to help him. I borrow his car, and on the way to the store I fill it up (with diesel, it’s a small truck). I pay with my debit card, of course, and I do the same at the store. Before I get back to his place, I am arrested for making a bomb. After all, the apartment I live in has no garden, and I drive a petrol car myself – so why would I buy diesel and fertilizer if I wasn’t planning to create a bomb, right?

Feel safer yet?

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  1. Well, your friend would have to have an extremely big lawn to buy chemicals on a such scale to have enough to be a threat, but your point is made that this system is very likely to have such “false positives” and we do not trust that people won’t come to a nasty fate because of this.

  2. Not to mention that to beat the system, just drive at or under the speed limit. On the other hand, if the system is available to “poke around in” just think how nice that is if you want to hassle somebody protesting income inequality or unjustified wars or insider trading within Congress. It’s pretty clear what the real design focus was …

TIME takes you there… unless you get the American version

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 22:25 by John Sinteur in category: News


What’s remarkable isn’t just that the US covers are different, less intense or less smart (as the FPP suggests), but that some of them are explicitly about making you feel okay that the world is falling apart. Revolution freaking you out? Anxiety is good for you! About to go over a waterfall? Crises keep America great!

The Onion had it right:

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  1. I don’t think Time-Warner is hiding anything from Americans. My bet is that Time-Warner figured out that that kind of cover sells better in the U.S.

Georgia Judge Mocks U.S. Bank Over Denied Mortgage Modification

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 22:19 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


"Sometimes, only the courts of law stand to protect the taxpayer. Somewhere, someone has to stand up," Blackmon wrote in a five-page Nov. 2 order in Carroll County Superior Court. "Well, sometimes is now, and the place is the Great State of Georgia. The defendant’s motion to dismiss is hereby denied."

Blackmon’s order shot down U.S. Bank’s request to throw out a complaint from Georgia homeowner Otis Wayne Phillips, who had tried to get a mortgage modification from the bank. Phillips could not be reached for this story.

The order lays the case out like this: Phillips is in danger of foreclosure. U.S. Bank is among the "poorly run organizations" that recently received massive bailouts from the federal government and agreed to participate in the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program. When Phillips applied for a modification, the bank denied his request "without numbers, figures, or explanation, reasoning, comparison to guidelines, or anything."

HAMP guidelines require banks to consider homeowners for modifications if they are at risk of falling behind on their payments because of a financial hardship and if their monthly mortgage expenses take up more than 31 percent of their income.

"This court cannot imagine why U.S. Bank will not make known to Mr. Phillips, a taxpayer, how his numbers put him outside the federal guidelines to receive a loan modification," Blackmon continued. "Taking $20 billion of taxpayer money was no problem for U.S. Bank. A cynical judge might believe that this entire motion to dismiss is a desperate attempt to avoid a discovery period, where U.S. Bank would have to tell Mr. Phillips how his financial situation did not qualify him for a modification."

If Phillips didn’t qualify, Blackmon wrote — with apologies to folksinger Arlo Guthrie — why didn’t the bank say so with "mathematic equations, pie charts, and bar graphs, all on 8 by 10 glossy photo paper, with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back explaining each winning number"?

"Maybe U.S. Bank no longer has any of the $20 billion left, and so their lack of written explanation might be attributed to some kind of ink reduction program to save money," Blackmon continued. "Clearly, U.S. Bank cannot take the money, contract with our government to provide a service to the taxpayer, violate that agreement, and then say no one on earth can sue them for it. That is not the law in Georgia."

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Spanish savings bank directors suspected of fraud

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 18:20 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


A Spanish savings bank has fired two directors and is investigating two former executives for allegedly syphoning off €20 million ($26.5 million) into secret pension funds, the bank said Saturday.

The board of directors of Caixa Penedes bank had "required the departure" of its president, Ricard Pages, and director general Manuel Troyano. It said both men had agreed to leave, the bank said in a statement.

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Cops bust open face of Black Friday grandpa (VIDEO)

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 18:06 by John Sinteur in category: News


Newman was shopping at a Wal-Mart store in Buckeye, Arizona late Thursday night along with thousands of other Americans who congregate to celebrate consumerism in a post-holiday bargain hunting binge called Black Friday. Newman says he became overwhelmed by the crowds at the Wal-Mart he was shopping at, so he attempted to lift his grandkid into the air to avoid a mob of violent shoppers. To free his hands, Newman says he placed a video game into his waistband and tried to launch the youngster out of the crowd. Police suspected the man of shoplifting, however, and took him down. Hard.

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Ratings Shrink President’s List for Judgeships

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 11:41 by John Sinteur in category: News


The American Bar Association has secretly declared a significant number of President Obama’s potential judicial nominees “not qualified,” slowing White House efforts to fill vacant judgeships — and nearly all of the prospects given poor ratings were women or members of a minority group, according to interviews.

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Shaker Aamer ‘Is Gradually Dying In Guantanamo,’

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 11:23 by John Sinteur in category: News


A British resident with a British wife and four British children, Shaker Aamer has never been charged or tried, and yet, as Clive Stafford Smith reports, in an article, a press release and a letter to the British foreign secretary William Hague, all cross-posted below, he remains held, exactly ten years since he was first seized, even though he was notified that he had been cleared for release in 2007, and even though successive British governments have requested his return to the UK.

Those closest to his case have been obliged to conclude, for many years, that he is still held because, as an eloquent, charismatic man, and the foremost advocate of the prisoners’ rights, he knows too much, and these fears are further confirmed with the knowledge that he stated that, on the night of June 9, 2006, when three other prisoners died in Guantánamo in disputed circumstances (the authorities claimed that it was suicide, while soldiers who were present have suggested that the men may have been killed), he was tortured to within an inch of his life.

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  1. When you read the article you cannot help but think of Nazi Germany. The only difference is that there are no allied forces to rescue these poor soles because it’s one of the allied forces that is holding them.

Bank owner wanted by Lithuania granted bail in UK

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 11:13 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


A London court has released Russian businessman and Portsmouth Football Club owner Vladimir Antonov on bail following his arrest in connection with a massive money-laundering probe in Lithuania.

Antonov, 36, was detained Thursday on a European arrest warrant issued by investigators probing alleged fraud and money laundering at his banks in two Baltic states. He was arrested along with his Lithuanian partner Raimondas Baranauskas, 53.


The Bank of Lithuania said late Thursday that his bank there, Snoras Bank, will be liquidated, calling it the best solution for country’s financial system and economy, which were jolted after the bank was nationalized and its operations halted.

Lithuanian regulators claim that hundreds of millions of euros were siphoned from Snoras, the country’s fifth-largest financial institution, while Latvian authorities have said that similar asset-stripping took place on a massive scale at Latvija Krajbanka, a subsidiary bank controlled by Snoras.

Lithuanian bank chief Vitas Vasiliauskas said the government was liquidating the bank rather than waste taxpayers’ money trying to help “a plane that won’t fly.”

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  1. The US can learn from Lithuania how to effectively deal with failing banks. Take over and liquidate. Goed zo, Litouwen!

Mars Science Laboratory, the Next Mars Rover

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 10:49 by John Sinteur in category: awesome


The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover rolled out to Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station around 8 a.m. EST Friday. Launch is set for 10:02 a.m. Saturday.

The launch team continues working towards liftoff of the Atlas V on Saturday, Nov. 26. No significant launch vehicle or spacecraft issues are being worked on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket or the MSL spacecraft, which includes the rover Curiosity.

Launch day weather remains favorable, with only a 30 percent chance of conditions prohibiting liftoff.

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  1. So cute!

Occupy Austin

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 10:33 by John Sinteur in category: Great Picture

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Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 10:27 by John Sinteur in category: Great Picture

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Have you read this thing?

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 10:17 by John Sinteur in category: Pastafarian News

[Deuteronomy 23:12-14 NIV]:

12 Designate a place outside the camp where you can go to relieve yourself. 13 As part of your equipment have something to dig with, and when you relieve yourself, dig a hole and cover up your excrement. 14 For the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you.

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The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy | Naomi Wolf

Posted on November 26th, 2011 at 9:14 by John Sinteur in category: News


The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on "how to suppress" Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.


I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

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  1. I’m quite concerned about DHS involvement and coordination here, but most of what Wolf claims here amounts to speculative claims at best, and in places is actually wrong. Most notably a study showed that the average congressperson actually does no better as an investor than the market overall, so this claim about Delaware coorporations (oooh, Delaware, scaryyyyyy, sneakyyyyy, yaaaaaawn!) has lmited mileage.

    It seems more plausible to me that a few mayors initiated is meeting and reached out to DHS for advice. Much simpler, requires far less conspiracy.

    Note: I support the things Wolf says the Occupiers want, have a lot of sympathy for the protesters, and am quite upset about the police violence. I just don’t buy these conspiracy theories.

  2. @Desiato Can you give the citation please for: “Most notably a study showed that the average congressperson actually does no better as an investor than the market overall”

  3. Desiato, wait, what – you’re trying to say “they didn’t abuse this gap in the law all that much so it’s okay to keep the gap”?

  4. Ms. Wolf isn’t actually shocked. This is what she’s been writing and talking about for a long time. What is actually surprising is that it took the powers that be so long to actually realize they had/have a problem on their hands and to do anything about it. The “vast right-wing conspiracy” sort of exists, but it’s more of a reaction given a certain ideological stance and a certain problem and far looser than normally understood.

    It seems likely that the authorities did coordinate their reactions in Canada, all the evictions happened at around the same time.

  5. @Mykolas: ““Congressmen don’t beat the market” Now, this covers a different period than the previous paper that got everyone so upset (“Abnormal Returns From the Common Stock Investments of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives”). If you’ve played with stock charts that allow you to compare stocks over time, you’ll know that by changing the period over which you compare them, you can get very different pictures. For example, over the past 6 months, Google (+8.7%) outperforms Amazon (-6.5%) but over the past year it’s the reverse (Google -4.6%, Amzn +2.9%).

    Any any case, I think we should be careful to distinguish between the possibility that *some* members of Congress are acting unethically, which is entirely possible, and the assumption implicit in Wolf’s article that they must all be greedy criminals.

    @John: I didn’t say anything like what you suggest. I’m completely in favor of stronger rules to reduce conflicts of interest, starting with campaign finance reform, but quite possibly including limitations on investments and stock trades.

    I don’t know if you can get rid of the conflict of interest entirely, though. People running for Congress are going to be well enough along in their lives that they’re going to have savings which are mostly likely going to be invested in the stock market. Even if they hold only index funds, it’ll be in their interest to boost stock returns through policy, rather than, say, average wages or employment.

  6. The biggest other problem with the article (among many, IMO) is the suggestion that DHS acted on the orders of a Member of Congress. Without further substantiation, this is just not credible. Congress has oversight over cabinet departments, but not executive control. When DHS wants to know what to do, they don’t go to Congress, they go up the chain internally. What, were Secretary Napolitano and Vice President Biden in Australia, too?

    And this is assuming, as I noted before, that DHS initiated the coordination rather than the more plausible scenario that the mayors reached out to DHS. And do you think that DHS never communicates with local law enforcement? Think about policing that goes on along the border and in the War on Drugs. Of course DHS regularly works with local police in multiple states, probably even in a coordinating fashion. Yet here is Wolf saying that one possible instance of such coordination is a shocking move prohibited by the Constitution. Oh, really?

    I don’t mean to claim that Congress never reaches out to departments and tries to influence what the departments are trying to do. Sure they try. But the claim in the article is of the quality of “well, all the Congresscritters are trying to get rich, so they’re in bed with the banks, so of course they would want to tear down the protests, so they made DHS do it”. It’s just not credible at any step of the “argument”.