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    After 30 Years Insisting on His Innocence, Claude Garrett Is Free / TheIntercept · Yesterday - 14:35 · 8 minutes

A few hours after a judge authorized Claude Garrett’s release from prison, the small crowd outside Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tennessee, got a message to their group text. It came from Garrett’s daughter, Deana Watson. Garrett was packed and ready to go, but there was paperwork to be done downtown. She typed a version of an update she herself had received countless times over the years: “Still waiting.”

It was just after noon on May 10. Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Monte Watkins had vacated Garrett’s conviction the previous Friday. Someone speculated that the person with the paperwork must have gone on their lunch break. Another person joked that it was being transported via carrier pigeon. But nobody was really complaining. “It’s over and the best is yet to come,” someone wrote in the group text.

Garrett was used to waiting. It had taken about 28 years, after all, for the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office to make the decision to reinvestigate his case. When the DA’s Conviction Review Unit finally agreed with what Garrett had insisted all along — that he’d been wrongfully convicted of setting the fire that killed his girlfriend in 1992 — there was another round of waiting: first for an evidentiary hearing in which fire scientists explained why the case against Garrett had been fatally flawed, and finally for the judge to sign the order vacating his conviction.

Earlier that day Garrett had been transported downtown for one last court appearance, where Sunny Eaton, the director of the Conviction Review Unit, announced that the DA was dropping the charges against him. Garrett’s friends and family expected him to walk out of court, but they were told by his lawyers that he would be taken back to Riverbend first. The maximum-security prison sits less than 20 minutes from downtown Nashville, near a small airport on a mostly industrial stretch of road. Unsure when he might be released, a small group gathered first at a nearby gas station, then at a spot just outside the prison’s entrance.

In a baseball cap and sunglasses, Denny Griswold held a black umbrella over his wife to protect her from the sun. Griswold had met Garrett through the prison outreach ministry at his church 14 years earlier. Over time he had become a mentor to Garrett — and a firm believer in his innocence. Griswold came to court that morning with a change of clothes for him. Garrett had not asked for anything in particular. “He’ll look like an average old man,” Griswold said, smiling.

A few feet away, veteran fire investigator Stuart Bayne stood quietly, holding a book he’d been waiting to give to Garrett, which he’d asked everyone to inscribe. It was a memoir by the founder of a nonprofit organization that advocates for the wrongfully convicted. The title was enough to move Bayne to tears: “When the Truth Is All You Have.” From the moment he first studied the evidence as an expert witness for Garrett’s 2003 retrial, Bayne had been consumed by what was clearly a miscarriage of justice. For years he had been one of Garrett’s sole advocates; it was only relatively recently that a wave of leading fire scientists joined the cause.

In phone calls with Garrett, Bayne occasionally joked about showing up with champagne in the parking lot on the day of his release. Garrett reminded him that was contraband. But now Bayne was more contemplative than celebratory. At one point, Watson sent a photo of a large plastic box truck containing piles of paperwork her dad was taking home with him. “Wow,” Bayne said quietly. “That represents 30 years of his life. He kept everything. All our letters, all his appeals, all the stuff I’ve sent him. My goodness.”

It was just after 1:30 p.m. when Watson’s black SUV finally made its way down the hill from the prison. Seconds later, Garrett emerged from the passenger’s seat. “Who do I hug first?” he asked. A TV camera followed Bayne as he strode toward the car. Garrett approached the man who had been fighting to help him clear his name for more than 20 years. They shook hands and then broke into a hug. “Welcome to the free world,” Bayne said.


Stuart Bayne gifts Claude Garrett the book “When the Truth is All You Have” upon Garrett’s release from prison.

Photo: Radley Balko

A World Transformed

Garrett’s release was the culmination of a long legal fight whose outcome would have been hard to foresee just a few years ago. In the decades he spent insisting upon his innocence, Garrett never fathomed that the same office that sent him to prison for life would eventually advocate for his release. Yet the statement from Eaton was clear: “Following an extensive collaborative investigation between the Nashville District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit and the Tennessee Innocence Project, Claude Garrett has been exonerated for the wrongful conviction of the murder of Lorie Lance.”

Garrett was twice convicted of setting the fire that killed 24-year-old Lance in the small home they shared in Old Hickory, Tennessee. The couple had returned from a local bar in the early morning hours of February 24, 1992, when Garrett said he awoke to find a fire in the living room. According to Garrett, he woke up Lance and ran with her toward the front door, only for Lance to turn and run toward the rear of the house. Firefighters later found her in a utility room, dead from smoke inhalation.

Although neighbors initially described Garrett as frantic, investigators became suspicious upon smelling kerosene at the scene. The lead investigator, James Cooper — a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — seized on a so-called pour pattern on the living room floor as proof that an ignitable liquid had been used to start the fire. Perhaps most critically — and despite evidence to the contrary — Cooper also concluded that the utility room had been locked from the outside, trapping Lance.

Garrett’s case is one of countless convictions across the U.S. based on forensic evidence that has since been debunked. In the decades following Lance’s death, new developments in fire science transformed the techniques used to determine whether a fire was arson. But even as investigators have discarded the myths they once relied on in favor of the scientific method, prosecutors have been slow to revisit old convictions. This problem spans well beyond arson cases. Many DA’s offices continue to fight to preserve convictions even when the underlying evidence has been exposed as junk science.

Today the Davidson County DA’s office is an exception to that rule. Since Eaton took charge of the Conviction Review Unit in 2020, the office has ramped up its work. Last year it exonerated a Nashville couple accused of raping and murdering a 4-year-old child in 1987. That conviction was based on the faulty analysis of a medical examiner who also played a key role in Garrett’s conviction.

The decision to reinvestigate Garrett’s case was prompted largely by The Intercept’s coverage , dating back to 2015. Although a number of fire experts had concluded by then that the conviction was based on junk science, the first in-depth story revisiting the case attracted an additional cohort of fire scientists, who studied the evidence and released new reports debunking the state’s arson theory. While the courts initially dismissed this new evidence, a follow-up story in 2018 caught the attention of the DA’s office, which had recently launched the Conviction Review Unit.

Standing outside the prison after his release, Garrett thanked The Intercept and all who had drawn attention to his wrongful conviction. It was only recently that he had even allowed himself to think about a future beyond prison walls. For years, Bayne said, Garrett would say, “It’s too early to think about this. … It’s too early to plan these things. … I just gotta get the door open.” Now Garrett wanted to focus on making up for lost time with his daughter. Watson was only 4 years old when Garrett went to prison. She now had a son that same age. That afternoon Garrett spoke to his grandson via FaceTime — “one of the best parts of the day.”

Later that evening, Garrett sat next to Watson at a restaurant just north of downtown Nashville. He’d changed out of his prison blues and into the clothes Griswold gave him: a gray collared shirt and dark blue jeans. As Watson ordered appetizers, Garrett sampled a little bit of everything — truffle fries, crab-stuffed mushrooms — but declined an entrée. He was trying to pace himself, he explained. After leaving prison earlier that day, they had stopped for food at Chick-fil-A, where he’d gotten a sandwich. “I’ve still got half of it,” he said.

There was so much to navigate. Some things he had long anticipated, like learning to use a cellphone. But he hadn’t realized that everybody would be looking at their phones all the time. Then there were the things other people took for granted. At Griswold’s house earlier that day, where he spent his first few hours of freedom, there was a bowl of berries in the kitchen. He realized that he hadn’t seen a strawberry in 30 years.

One of the most overwhelming things was seeing the city of Nashville itself. In the decades he’d been in prison, the city had completely transformed. Garrett remembered a trip downtown for a hearing in the late 1990s. Turning off the highway toward the courthouse, “You could see all of downtown,” he said. “It occurred to me right then … ‘All of that is against you.’” Coming to the restaurant that evening, he realized that he was in the same spot, although one of the street names had changed. “I looked at it again, and I’m like, what the hell happened?”

Other changes were more painful. Garrett counted the number of friends and family who had died in the decades he’d been gone. It was more than 50 people. Among the few plans he had made was going to Kansas to visit his mother’s grave. Otherwise, he said, “I’m not gonna try to plan much. I’m gonna let it unfold as it goes.”

The post After 30 Years Insisting on His Innocence, Claude Garrett Is Free appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Jewish Progressives Sound the Alarm as Pro-Israel Groups Target Marginalized Candidates / TheIntercept · Yesterday - 11:00 · 15 minutes

In the closing days of the 2020 general election, a PAC associated with Democratic Majority for Israel spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads warning Americans about the dangers of electing a wealthy, out-of-touch New Yorker. Those ads were not geared toward undecided voters in swing states who were considering a vote for Donald Trump. Instead, DMFI was trying to reach Democrats in a dark-blue district in California who were preparing to vote in a low-profile race between two Democratic congressional candidates.

Their target was Jewish progressive Sara Jacobs. A local anti-poverty activist and heir of the Qualcomm fortune, Jacobs was locked in a contentious fight for California’s 53rd Congressional District against fellow progressive and San Diego City Council president Georgette Gómez, a queer Latina and daughter of working-class immigrants. Both supported most cornerstone progressive issues such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.

The key difference between the two candidates — the difference that brought almost half a million dollars in spending from DMFI — lay in their stances on Israel. In a December 2019 interview with San Diego Jewish World, Jacobs spoke passionately about using U.S. policy and its assistance to Israel to promote peace with Palestinians. She also criticized a number of efforts — such as legislation condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem — that hard-line pro-Israel organizations supported.

“The window for two states may be closing faster than we would like for logistical reasons,” she said. “I think all U.S. assistance needs to be viewed through the lens of ‘does it move things closer to peace?’”

In a series of events that progressive Jewish activists warn is becoming increasingly malicious and predictable, Jacobs’s discussion of her Jewish identity and pro-peace views activated a wave of outside attacks from organizations dedicated to preserving Israel’s brutal status quo. The signal to target Jacobs went out shortly after she finished first in the March 2020 primary. (In California, all candidates, regardless of party, run in a single primary, and the top two vote-getters advance to the general election.)

The following month, DMFI rolled out its endorsement of Gómez in a story with friendly outlet Jewish Insider, which also highlighted the candidate’s newfound support from two former presidents of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The article argued with scant evidence that Gómez was a staunch and consistent advocate of Israel with deep ties to local Jewish communities. But before the general election, Gómez had seldom made public statements on the subject — an omission the publication neglected to address. Gómez argued that her endorsements from progressive groups like Justice Democrats did not mean that she agreed with their criticisms of Israeli policies. Justice Democrats, which had raised over $18,000 for Gómez’s campaign, suspended its fundraising in the race following the article’s publication.

DMFI more than made up the difference. In the course of a few months, its PAC spent nearly half a million dollars on the race, mostly to purchase negative ads attacking Jacobs. The underlying critique — that Jacobs’s fortune and privileged life put her out of touch with the needs of ordinary Americans — is well within the bounds of normal political discourse. But the imagery and language employed by many of the ads are reminiscent of common antisemitic tropes, and the group’s decision to highlight Jacobs’s wealthy background flew in the face of its ongoing support for several corporate-friendly candidates.

One widely distributed ad consists of panorama shots of skyscrapers and monuments in New York and Washington, D.C., flashes of the Wall Street sign, and closeups of Jacobs’s face. The narrator criticizes the candidate, a San Diego native, for having lived in New York and D.C., and for owning substantial stock holdings in large corporations. The caption declares that Jacobs “doesn’t share our views,” though the ad does not criticize any of her policy positions.

In an email exchange with The Intercept, DMFI spokesperson Rachel Rosen denied characterizations of the ads as antisemitic. “Discussions of residency in states and congressional districts are fairly common in campaigns, including in your publication,” she said. She did not address the other objectionable elements of the advertisements, and she did not reply to multiple requests to elaborate on what steps DMFI takes to make sure its advertising, the vast majority of which has targeted progressive Jews and people of color, does not incite violence or utilize racial or ethnic stereotypes.

DMFI’s campaign against Jacobs ultimately flopped. The hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable negative ads that they financed proved to be no match for the millions that Jacobs and her family poured into her campaign. Despite its loss, DMFI continued to refine the candidate recruitment process that they pioneered with Gómez. Nine months and $2 million later, the group’s persistence was vindicated in Ohio. Its preferred candidate for the 11th District, Shontel Brown, overcame a large deficit in early polling to defeat Nina Turner.

Following DMFI’s success, AIPAC launched a PAC of its own — AIPAC PAC — as well as a super PAC — United Democracy Project — at the end of 2021. In February, yet another PAC with ties with AIPAC and DMFI was launched called the Mainstream Democrats PAC. Taken together, these organizations appear poised to make every competitive Democratic primary this cycle into a multimillion-dollar affair. And leaders connected to these groups have moved from flirting with antisemitic tropes to using white nationalist rhetoric to criticize the progressive Jews and women of color who most of the spending is set to oppose.

The Intercept interviewed over a dozen progressive Jewish activists across multiple organizations about the stakes of the 2022 primaries. All expressed some level of alarm about the surge in negative political spending from AIPAC, DMFI, and their affiliates. Most emphasized that DMFI and AIPAC share a similar network of donors and operatives who seek to flatten the diversity of opinion that American Jews have on Israel. While some expressed hope that the push was evidence that Jewish progressives are succeeding at shifting the Overton window on Israel policy, others warned that it posed a serious and immediate threat to the political power and physical safety of progressive Jews and women of color who have fought to make a place for themselves in the Democratic Party.

AIPAC, DMFI, and their affiliates appear poised to make every competitive Democratic primary this cycle into a multimillion-dollar affair.

When asked to comment on the concerns raised by Jewish progressives in this article, AIPAC spokesperson Marshall Wittmann did not deny that a disproportionate amount of his organization’s spending has been directed at progressive Jews and women of color, but he emphasized that support or opposition for candidates is “exclusively based on the candidate’s views on the U.S.-Israel relationship.” He also pointed to a number of candidates of color who identify as progressive and have received AIPAC support, including several members of House Democratic leadership and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Rosen, the spokesperson for DMFI, also pointed to candidates from underrepresented backgrounds her organization supports but did not directly respond to a recounting of the concerns raised by progressive Jews. Instead, she opted to criticize The Intercept and its founding donor, Pierre Omidyar.

“Pro-Israel Democrats who support DMFI PAC won’t be intimidated by bullying from this billionaire-funded propaganda publication which is making utterly false, inaccurate, and even dangerous charges,” she said. When pressed by The Intercept to address the concerns raised by Jewish Americans, Rosen demurred again. “We’re not a Jewish organization and don’t claim to be,” she said. “We are an organization of pro-Israel Democrats.”

The gravity of the political moment is forcing at least one purportedly progressive pro-Israel group to pick a side. J Street, an organization that has at times struggled to operate in the gap between traditional pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and unapologetically anti-occupation Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, is leading the counteroffensive against the flood of cash that AIPAC and DMFI are pouring into Democratic primaries. The group has spent over $100,000 backing progressive Jessica Cisneros over AIPAC-endorsed anti-choice incumbent Henry Cuellar, and its statements indicate plans to multiply that amount by 10 before the cycle concludes. J Street’s conduit PAC has also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for progressive candidates.

Logan Bayroff, J Street’s vice president of communications, told The Intercept that while the group lacks the funding to match AIPAC and DMFI dollar for dollar, its spending does make a difference, especially by providing evidence that progressive Jews and women of color are being dishonestly accused of being antisemitic or anti-Israel. “We are trying to have the backs of those who represent the true values and views of the majority of American Jews and the majority of pro-Israel Americans who don’t believe the AIPAC line,” he said. “We’re doing what we can to push back and call out the smears.”

But he acknowledged that J Street’s actions alone are not enough to counter the “onslaught” facing marginalized progressives. “This is an extremely dangerous time,” he said, “and a lot more needs to be done to call out what AIPAC and their allies are doing and to find ways to mobilize to counter it.”

Morriah Kaplan, the managing director of IfNotNow, pointed to a recent endorsement by the Jewish Democratic Council of America, or JDCA, a nominally progressive pro-Israel group, to illustrate her point. In the primary for Michigan’s 11th District — a rare contest in which, due to redistricting, two Democratic incumbents are competing for the same seat — progressive Jewish Rep. Andy Levin is facing off against Rep. Haley Stevens, a moderate with deep ties to AIPAC and DMFI. “[JDCA] put out this great op-ed about AIPAC’s endorsement of insurrectionists, and then they turn around and endorse AIPAC endorsees,” Kaplan said. “So I suppose that it was a lot of hot air, and I think it’s time for people to get serious.”

“I don’t want this story to be ‘JDCA joins AIPAC and DMFI,’” Halie Soifer, the CEO of JDCA, told The Intercept. “That’s not what we’ve done.” She said instead that JDCA endorsed Stevens because of her relationships with members of the organization. Despite the ideological gap between the two candidates, Soifer claimed that JDCA “looked at their policy positions on a range of issues and found that they were quite similar.” And she argued that Levin’s stances on Israel — which she agreed should be welcomed by the party — were not a factor in the endorsement. “The issue of Israel played very little role in the decision,” she said.

Soifer’s defense of Levin does put JDCA at odds with AIPAC and DMFI. Rosen and Wittmann, the spokespeople for DMFI and AIPAC, respectively, both confirmed to The Intercept that their organizations believe that Levin’s introduction of the Two-State Solution Act and his support for end-use restrictions on U.S. military aid to avoid violating Palestinian rights foreclose him from claiming that he is “pro-Israel.”

Levin, for his part, does not seem to mind. In a recent press release , he joined growing calls for candidates to stop taking money from AIPAC altogether, and he endorsed two progressive Black women — Summer Lee in Pennsylvania and Erica Smith in North Carolina — who have been targeted by this money in their respective House races.

Beth Miller, the political director of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, emphasized the urgency many Jewish activists feel to support progressive women of color who are willing to fight for Palestinian rights. She described the surge in activity from AIPAC and DMFI as an effort to “keep [voices like Lee and Smith’s] away from Washington at all costs.” Miller says it is important to send a message to the women of color under attack that “progressive American Jews have your back.”

In an interview with The Intercept, Levin also expressed alarm at “the extent to which women of color in particular seem to be subject to attacks.” He said his endorsements of Lee and Smith are part of a broader effort to “be a bridge for Jewish people, and Muslim people, and African American people, and immigrants, and everybody else who might be subjected to white supremacist attacks.” According to Levin, that solidarity, which he says “comes straight out of my Judaism,” is also essential to creating the peaceful and secure Israel that he supports. “[Peace] totally depends on realizing the political and human rights of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Lee’s campaign echoed Levin’s call to unite in the face of AIPAC and DMFI’s attacks. In a statement provided to The Intercept, the Lee campaign said voters deserve leaders “who know that our struggles and our safety are interwoven,” and it underlined “the power and possibility of Jewish and Black solidarity” as a tool for fighting white supremacy.That solidarity appears to be very thing some conservative pro-Israel activists fear most. On Tuesday, former Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman accused Levin of “using his Jewishness” as a cover for softness on the U.S.-Israel relationship. Foxman also pointed to Levin’s relationships with the only two Muslim women in Congress — Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. — as evidence that Levin is weak on Israel and antisemitism. Levin has previously said that his friendship with Tlaib, a fellow Michigan representative who is Palestinian, is a model for the possible reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians.

“The framing about Andy Levin being the liberal white Jewish cover for these other supposedly more dangerous elements is like full-on Stormfront stuff — full-on neo-Nazi.”

Foxman’s statements echoed controversial language used by former AIPAC President David Victor in a widely circulated email to members of the Jewish community earlier this year. Victor, who retains considerable influence among Jewish political organizations, pointed to the alliances Levin has formed with progressive women of color like Omar, Tlaib, and Missouri’s Cori Bush to explain why he viewed Levin as the most “corrosive member of Congress to the U.S.-Israel relationship.” Victor goes on to say that Levin’s sincere claims that he is “a lifelong Zionist, proud Jew, and defender of Israel,” make him the “vanguard of [a] threat” to change what it means to support Israel.

Michigan Democratic activist Caryn Noveck, a founding board member of the Michigan Democratic Jewish Caucus, put the stakes of such rhetoric in stark terms. “There’s white nationalist framing about how liberal white Jews are sort of the front for bringing in the people of color and the non-Christians,” she said. “To me, that framing about Andy Levin being the liberal white Jewish cover for these other supposedly more dangerous elements is like full-on Stormfront stuff — full-on neo-Nazi.”

The Intercept’s attempts to reach Foxman and Victor for comment were not returned.

Extremist parts of the American right have long found common cause with extremist parts of the Israeli right in their calls for unconditional support for Israel and their hostility toward disenfranchised people of color. As Washington Post national correspondent Phillip Bump has noted, over half of America’s evangelical Christians support Israel — at least in part — because of antisemitic religious doctrines that posit that Jews must return to Israel in order to facilitate the second coming of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, nearly half of Republicans believe in some form of the “great replacement” theory, which holds that there is a group of people — often implied to be progressive Jews — who seek to replace native-born Americans with immigrants in order to seize political power.

According to Noveck, Victor’s statements are also reminiscent of the culture that preceded the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Israeli prime minister who was assassinated by a right-wing extremist in 1995 for his efforts to pursue peace with Palestinians. “I was a kid, but I remember where I was when I heard on the radio in the car that Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated,” she said. “And there was a culture of incitement in Israel against the Jewish left. And it was coming straight from Bibi Netanyahu at the time, who was obviously part of the right-wing Jewish establishment in Israel.”

Noveck pointed out the similarities between Levin’s positions and Rabin’s. While she expressed pride in Levin’s approach, she also expressed fear that inciting language used by his detractors might make him and other Michigan Jews a target for white supremacist violence. “I’ll just say this: I go to the same synagogue as Andy Levin,” she said. “God forbid, someone sees ‘Andy Levin is the vanguard of the threat to Israel in Congress’ and goes to try and harm him and gets me instead sitting next to him.”

Like Levin, Noveck identifies as a pro-peace Zionist. She lamented the ongoing refusal to condemn rhetoric like Victor’s by leaders in high-profile Jewish and pro-Israel political organizations. (Spokespeople for AIPAC and DMFI declined to comment on Victor’s rhetoric.)

Noveck, who said she feels warmly toward Stevens and considers her a family friend, expressed particular dismay at the representative’s silence on Victor’s comments. In an interview with AIPAC after the comments were made public, Stevens praised Victor at length and emphasized how influential his thinking on Israel is to her own. She has given no indication that she takes issue with his exposed remarks. Her congressional office and campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“Does [Stevens] really not understand how dangerous this rhetoric in support of her is to me and the entire local Jewish community?” Noveck said. “Does she not get it? Or does she not care? Because I don’t know which one is worse.”

The post Jewish Progressives Sound the Alarm as Pro-Israel Groups Target Marginalized Candidates appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Does Elon Musk Know Trump Could Have Started Nuclear War via Twitter in 2018? / TheIntercept · 2 days ago - 11:00 · 6 minutes

Elon Musk said Tuesday at a Financial Times conference that if he does indeed purchase Twitter — Friday morning Musk tweeted that the deal was “temporarily on hold” — he will reinstate former President Donald Trump’s account. After the January 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, Trump was permanently suspended by Twitter for using it to incite violence.

Musk added that under his ownership, if users say something “destructive to the world, then there should be perhaps a timeout, a temporary suspension, or that particular tweet should be made invisible. … I think if there are tweets that are wrong and bad, those should be either deleted or made invisible, and a suspension, a temporary suspension, is appropriate, but not a permanent ban.”

This standard, of course, is incredibly vague — everything and nothing could be deemed “destructive to the world” or “wrong and bad.” As Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer at Facebook, pointed out, Musk’s words suggest that he’s given no thought to why the question of content moderation on Twitter is so vexed:

The scary fact is that no one knows what to do about the dangerous chain reaction that can happen when Twitter collides with world leaders generally, and Trump specifically.

Given the fact that Trump could plausibly be elected president again in 2024, we have to hope that someone at Twitter will consider this, rather than, as Musk does now, just blithely advocate “free speech” with some ad hoc, unpredictable restrictions.

That’s particularly true because Mark Esper, Trump’s defense secretary toward the end of his term, has confirmed in his new book “ A Sacred Oath ” that Trump and Twitter could have combined to end human civilization in January 2018.

While it’s largely been forgotten now, there was a significant chance that the U.S. and North Korea would go to war during the first year of the Trump administration. Retired military and diplomatic experts at the time estimated the odds as being 20, 30, or even 50 percent.

Such a war might easily have become, as Trump ally Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said during the period of greatest danger , “one of the worst catastrophic events in the history of our civilization. It is going to be very, very brief. The end of it is going to see mass casualties the likes of which the planet has never seen. It will be of biblical proportions.”

When Trump took office in January 2017, U.S. intelligence believed that North Korea had manufactured dozens of nuclear devices. In July 2017, the North Korean government successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S.

It was this — the possibility that the U.S. was vulnerable to the nuclear sword of Damocles that we had dangled over North Korea’s head for decades — that caused Trump to proclaim in August that “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The next month at the United Nations, Trump similarly said the U.S. might be forced “to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man [i.e., North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] is on a suicide mission.”

Trump then jumped on Twitter that month to proclaim that Kim was “obviously a madman” who “will be tested like never before!” He followed it up the same day by tweeting, “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U. N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!”

Such berserk bellicosity from a U.S. president would be alarming under any circumstances but was especially so involving North Korea. Jeffrey Lewis, a longtime North Korea observer and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, was so worried about Trump’s behavior that he wrote an entire speculative novel imagining how the president might accidentally start a nuclear war via tweet.

“North Korea,” Lewis told me recently via Twitter direct message, “has a nuclear strategy that relies on preemptively using nuclear weapons to repel a US invasion. If North Korean leaders think an invasion is imminent, their plan — at least on paper — is to use nuclear weapons against US forces in South Korea and Japan to destroy any invasion forces and shock the United States.”

And the North Korean government, Lewis said, doesn’t “have the kind of global hi-tech monitoring system the United States does. Instead they have to rely on signs and indicators. We don’t really know what indicators they use, but we think one of the most important indicators that the North Koreans rely on is the presence of military families in South Korea. The North Koreans think the U.S. would evacuate those families to safety before any invasion.”

This was the situation on January 3, 2018, when Trump tweeted, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ … I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”


Then president-Donald Trump took to Twitter to threaten North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Jan. 2, 2018.

Screenshot: Twitter

Esper, then serving as secretary of the Army, learned later that month that Trump was about to order all U.S. military dependents out of South Korea — announcing it on Twitter. “Kim would probably view a U.S. evacuation as a prelude to a conflict,” Esper writes in his book, echoing Lewis’s fears. “Would he strike first, targeting Seoul? … Would this be like the beginning of World War I? … This was a dangerous game of chicken, and with nuclear roosters no less.”

Thankfully for all humanity, someone — Esper still has no idea who — “talked the president out of sending the tweet. … War averted.”

What Twitter should do if Trump is again president is an extraordinary conundrum.

Esper understandably remained anxious throughout the rest of his tenure in the Trump administration, with war with North Korea always at the top of his mind. “Who knew when another doomsday tweet might come?” he asks. “We had to be ready.”

However, Twitter was not and is not ready. What Twitter should do if Trump is again president is an extraordinary conundrum. World leaders obviously have many ways to communicate with the world and the right to do so. But Twitter is unique in that it allows them — at least those who want to — to issue proclamations with no intermediaries or counsel, just by getting their phone out of their pocket. And Trump is uniquely erratic and foolhardy.

It would be nice if there was a universal Twitter policy that dealt with the danger of Trump and Twitter — possibly no presidents and prime ministers, especially ones that lead nuclear powers, should be permitted to have Twitter accounts. They could still deal death and destruction upon the world on purpose, but this kind of circuit breaker might make them less likely to do so by accident.

Or perhaps Trump should be dealt with specifically, if he ever claws his way back to the Oval Office. That wouldn’t be ideal, but then again, neither is global thermonuclear war.

At the very least, it would be nice to imagine that the people running Twitter, whether that’s Musk or anyone else, have spent a great deal of time pondering the existential danger created by their bird app. But as of now, there’s little sign of this on the horizon. (Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether he is aware of this history.)

The post Does Elon Musk Know Trump Could Have Started Nuclear War via Twitter in 2018? appeared first on The Intercept .

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    A terceira via não decola porque está no bolso de Bolsonaro / TheIntercept · 2 days ago - 06:00 · 6 minutes


Ilustração: The Intercept Brasil

Faltando apenas cinco meses para as eleições, as pesquisas indicam um cenário de consolidação da chamada polarização. Lula e Bolsonaro aparecem bem à frente dos demais candidatos e é improvável que haja mudança nesse quadro.

Segundo a última pesquisa CNT-MDA , aproximadamente 80% do eleitorado dos dois afirma que a escolha do voto é definitiva. Enquanto isso, a autodeclarada terceira via ainda nem escolheu candidato. Todos os nomes cogitados até aqui patinam nas pesquisas e estão muito longe de chegar aos dois dígitos.

A consolidação desse cenário deixa a turma da terceira via preocupada. Eles, que ajudaram a eleger um extremista de direita e hoje posam de moderados e centristas, ensaiam uma volta ao aconchego bolsonarista.

A terceira via é aquela direita dita civilizada que hoje passa por um certo constrangimento por ter contribuído para a instalação da selvageria fascistoide em Brasília. Diante da inviabilidade das suas candidaturas, a vergonha pelo que fizeram no verão passado tem diminuído.

Os caciques de MDB, União Brasil, PSDB e Cidadania não admitem publicamente uma possível aproximação com Bolsonaro ainda no primeiro turno, mas a tendência é que boa parte deles busque se abrigar sob o guarda-chuva eleitoral de Bolsonaro.

O deputado federal Luciano Bivar (PSL-PE), presidente do PSL (Partido Social Liberal), durante sessão de promulgação da PEC (proposta de emenda à Constituição) da reforma da Previdência, realizada no Congresso Nacional, em Brasília (DF). ()

União Brasil lançou Luciano Bivar como pré-candidato e enfraqueceu mais a terceira via. Foto: Pedro Ladeira/Folhapress

Governadores do PSDB e do União Brasil, por exemplo, preocupados com as eleições estaduais, têm declarado apoio à candidatura de Bolsonaro no primeiro turno. Os governadores de Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Amazonas e Rondônia já sentaram no colo de Bolsonaro. A expectativa é de que Ceará e Paraíba sejam os próximos. Não é pouca coisa. Mesmo após passar boa parte do mandato em guerra contra os governadores, Bolsonaro não tem encontrado grandes dificuldades para conseguir apoio deles, isolando ainda mais os candidatos da terceira via.

Depois de ser traído por Sergio Moro, o Podemos também ensaia uma aproximação com Bolsonaro , pelo menos no segundo turno. Integrantes do partido consideram mais seguro embarcar em uma das candidaturas que lideram as pesquisas.

O fato é que a candidatura de Bivar dificilmente se manterá de pé e o seu lançamento serviu apenas para enfraquecer ainda mais a terceira via.

O senador Eduardo Girão, que defendeu com unhas e dentes o negacionismo bolsonarista durante a CPI da Covid, já deixou pistas de que pode apoiar Bolsonaro. Em entrevista ao Jovem Pan, o senador afirmou que a candidatura de Lula é “uma aberração jurídica” e que o governo Bolsonaro  “teve pontos positivos e negativos”. Para o bom entendedor meia palavra basta.

Todos esses partidos, ou pelo menos a maioria deles, acabarão apoiando Bolsonaro no primeiro ou no segundo turno, ainda que não seja viável admitir isso publicamente nesse momento. Os partidos que buscam compor a chapa da terceira via haviam anunciado um acordo para o lançamento de um candidato único para o próximo dia 18.

Mas o União Brasil decidiu quebrar o combinado e anunciou que o seu candidato será Luciano Bivar, o ex-bolsonarista indiciado pela PF por comandar um esquema de candidatos laranjas no PSL. O fato é que a candidatura de Bivar dificilmente se manterá de pé, e o seu lançamento serviu apenas para enfraquecer ainda mais a terceira via. Talvez tenha sido essa a intenção.

Apesar da traição do União Brasil, MDB, PSDB e Cidadania aparentemente ainda tentam manter viva a possibilidade de lançar um candidato único da terceira via. Na última quarta-feira, os partidos anunciaram que o candidato será definido após análise de pesquisas quantitativas e qualitativas. Tebet, do MDB, e Doria, do PSDB, são os pré-candidatos que sobraram.

A senadora e pré-candidata a presidência da República, Simone Tebet (MDB) participa de evento da Alma Premium Eleições Debates com pré-candidatos, onde também acontece uma homenagem ao ex-presidente Michel Temer (MDB), na tarde desta sexta-feira (6) no Espaço Helbor na região do Jardim Paulistano em São Paulo.

Candidatura de Simone Tebet pelo MDB está prestes a naufragar, e membros do partido pressionam por alinhamento a Bolsonaro.

Foto: Aloisio Mauricio /Fotoarena/Folhapress

A expectativa é de que a decisão será tomada apenas em julho. Até lá, os caciques terão a árdua missão de convencer governadores, prefeitos e parlamentares eleitos dos seus partidos de que vale a pena apostar em uma candidatura que tem tudo para morrer na praia.

Um levantamento feito pelo MDB com base nos delegados dos diretórios estaduais, nas bancadas e nos prefeitos do partido aponta uma ampla maioria de apoiadores à reeleição de Bolsonaro. Se o partido desistir de candidatura própria — e há grande pressão interna para que desista —, o embarque na candidatura bolsonarista será inevitável.

Em um cenário polarizado, ficar em cima do muro batendo nos dois serviu apenas para deixar a candidatura sem identidade e o eleitor confuso.

São grandes as chances do partido que ajudou a restaurar a democracia no país acabar apoiando a reeleição de um ex-militar golpista alinhado aos ideais da ditadura. Essa é uma tendência que existe também dentro do PSDB. Bolsonaro cooptou boa parte da base política desses partidos através de emendas e outros tipos de direcionamento de verbas públicas. A terceira via está estagnada porque a maioria dos políticos que a compõem já está no bolso do governo federal.

Outro grande motivo para que a terceira via siga patinando nas pesquisas é a decisão de se opor tanto a Bolsonaro quanto a Lula. Em um cenário polarizado, ficar em cima do muro batendo nos dois serviu apenas para deixar a candidatura sem identidade e o eleitor confuso.

Para crescer nas pesquisas, a turma da terceira via deveria escolher um dos dois para se opor frontalmente. Tendo em vista que só um milagre tira Lula do segundo turno e que a terceira via disputa o mesmo eleitorado de Bolsonaro, o mais sensato seria bater no presidente para desidratá-lo e tentar roubar a vaga no segundo turno. Essa seria uma escolha óbvia, mas muito difícil, como diria o Estadão , já que o centrismo da terceira via é apenas de fachada, e as verbas que a máquina federal podem proporcionar são sedutoras.

O governador João Dória, no Palácio dos Bandeirantes.

PSDB de Joao Doria já se aliou ao bolsonarismo em estados do Norte e Nordeste.

Foto: Bruno Santos/ Folhapress

Se ainda havia dúvida sobre as verdadeiras motivações que movem a terceira via, agora ninguém mais tem o direito de tê-la. As máscaras caíram de vez. A fantasia de cordeiro centrista que vestia o lobo direitista foi rasgada. A terceira via não tem candidato porque sua base política se acochambrou com o bolsonarismo e está louca para embarcar mais uma vez na canoa golpista na próxima eleição.

Bolsonaro militarizou o governo e vem ameaçando de maneira sistemática as instituições e o processo eleitoral, mas isso não parece ser um problema tão grave aos olhos da maior parte dos integrantes do bloco dito de Centro.

Não foi à toa que todos os partidos de terceira via citados neste texto apoiaram os projetos bolsonaristas em mais de 75% das vezes nas votações da Câmara dos Deputados. Ninguém poderá se dizer surpreso quando os centristas de fachada virarem o volante novamente para a direita fascistoide.

The post A terceira via não decola porque está no bolso de Bolsonaro appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Baby Formula Industry Successfully Lobbied to Weaken Bacteria Safety Testing Standards / TheIntercept · 3 days ago - 18:38 · 5 minutes

The Abbott Nutrition facility in Sturgis, Michigan, which produces much of the U.S. supply of baby formula, shut down in February, bringing production lines to a grinding halt. Following a voluntary recall and investigation by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the stoppage stemmed from a bacterial outbreak whose effects would be felt months later. Starting last September, five babies who had consumed the plant’s formula contracted bacterial infections . Two of them died.

The production pause is now contributing to a national shortage of formula, a crisis that experts believe will continue for months. Abbott, however, disputes that there is any link between its formula and the infant illnesses.

Questions are now swirling about alleged problems at the Abbott-owned factory, which produces popular brands such as Similac, Alimentum, and EleCare. A recently disclosed whistleblower document claims that managers at the Sturgis plant falsified reports, released untested infant formula, and concealed crucial safety information from federal inspectors.

But eight years earlier, the formula industry rejected an opportunity to take a more proactive approach — not only for increasing supply capacity, but also for preventing a potential outbreak. Records show that the industry successfully mobilized against a 2014 proposal from the FDA to increase regular safety inspections of plants used to manufacture baby formula.

At the time, the FDA had proposed rules to prevent the adulteration of baby formula in any step of the process in order to prevent contamination from salmonella and Cronobacter sakazakii, which led to this year’s Sturgis plant shutdown.

The largest infant formula manufacturers quickly stepped up to delay the safety proposals. The International Formula Council, now known as the Infant Nutrition Council of America, is the lobby group that represents Abbott Nutrition (owned by Abbott Laboratories), Gerber (owned by Nestlé), Perrigo Co., and Reckitt Benckiser Group, the companies that control 89 percent of the baby formula market in the U.S.

In March 2014, the group wrote to FDA officials to request additional time to respond to the proposed rules. The agency, the industry claimed, had used a cost-benefit analysis that “overestimates the expected annual incidence of Cronobacter infection” using “outdated data.” The formula representatives asked for an additional 30 to 45 days.

“We feel the agency and the industry would benefit from this additional time,” wrote Mardi Mountford, an official with the International Formula Council.

That June, after months of deliberation, the FDA released a new interim final proposal that incorporated some of the industry concerns. The rules reduced the frequency of stability testing for new infant formulas from every three months to every four months. The FDA also provided a number of exemptions for manufacturers, allowing them to shirk testing requirements if the “new infant formula will likely not differ from the stability of formulas with similar composition, processing, and packaging for which there are extensive stability data.”

Later that year, the lobby group petitioned the FDA to revisit the safety manufacturing rule with even lower standards, including fewer inspections. In a letter to regulators, Mountford wrote that compliance costs would reach slightly over $20 million a year, including increased personnel and lab fees. “The IFC believes that the additional requirements for end of shelf-life testing under the Final Rule are unnecessary and burdensome and do not provide any additional public health benefit,” Mountford wrote in the September 2014 request . “Based on the frequency of manufacture and store inventories,” the letter noted, “virtually all infant formula is consumed early in its shelf-life (consumers typically purchase and use infant formula between 3 and 9 months after manufacture and do not stockpile infant formula at home).”

The Infant Nutrition Council of America did not respond to a request for comment from The Intercept.

As critics have noted, the formula industry had wide latitude to expand production and increase spending on safety standards. Abbott last year announced that it had spent $5 billion purchasing its own stock.

Abbott Nutrition has declined to inform other outlets whether additional cases of Cronobacter have been identified.

Following publication of this story, a spokesperson for Abbott provided a statement disputing the whistleblower allegations.

“This former employee was dismissed due to serious violations of Abbott’s food safety policies. After dismissal, the former employee, through their attorney, has made evolving, new and escalating allegations to multiple authorities. Abbott is reviewing this new document and will thoroughly investigate any new allegations,” said the Abbott spokesperson.

The spokesperson also provided a statement regarding the Abbott’s trade group lobbying efforts. The International Formula Council’s efforts, said the spokesperson, do “not align with Abbott’s actual past or current practices with regards to testing for Cronobacter sp. Abbott has been conducting finished product testing for Cronobacter sp. in our powdered manufacturing facilities long before the Infant Formula Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) rule requiring this testing was finalized.  Additionally, Abbott has always tested for Cronobacter sp. at more than twice the sample size (volume) that FDA requires in 21 CFR Part 106.”

The company on its website claims that there is “is no evidence to link our formulas” to the recent wave of infant illnesses.”

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce is scheduled to hold a hearing on May 25 to investigate.

The Abbott whistleblower allegation was sent to the FDA and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., in October 2021 and made public last month. DeLauro has demanded that regulators move swiftly in obtaining answers from the company. Despite the whistleblower tip, the FDA did not inspect the Sturgis plant until January 31 of this year, and the recall was not issued until February 17, according to a report from Food Safety News.

Approximately 40 percent of baby formula products were sold out during the week that started on April 24, according to a recent survey. Desperate parents have reportedly turned to eBay, where canisters cost more than six times the retail price. Viral images of empty shelves have alarmed parents, and the Biden administration has said it will take urgent action to address the shortage.

The shortage has other contributing factors. The U.S. maintains strict limits on imports of European brands of infant formula, despite studies showing that products under European Union regulations have high safety and nutrition standards. Competing brands in the U.S. have attempted to ramp up production to make up for the loss of Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis factory but have encountered supply chain problems.

Update: May 14, 2022, 1:36 p.m.
This article was updated with a statement from Abbott.

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    Israel Admits It Might Have Killed Journalist, Attacks Her Funeral / TheIntercept · 3 days ago - 17:40 · 5 minutes

Israeli police attacked the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh in occupied East Jerusalem on Friday, nearly causing mourners to drop the casket of the renowned Palestinian American journalist.

Abu Akleh was fatally shot while covering an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday. Fellow journalists who witnessed the shooting said Israeli forces had fired on them. Israel’s prime minister and other senior officials initially said Palestinian militants were “likely” to blame, but the Israeli army admitted on Friday that one of its soldiers might have fired the fatal shot.

The assault on the mourners, who were beaten with clubs at a hospital in East Jerusalem, stunned viewers who watched it unfold on live television, further enraging Palestinians and the dead journalist’s colleagues and fans.

Israeli police said they attacked the procession because mourners waved Palestinian flags and chanted nationalist slogans. An official Israeli police account shared drone video to support the authorities’ claim that two of the mourners had thrown rocks at them. But a comparison of that video to ground-level news footage showed that the police video had been edited to remove the initial police charge and slowed down to make it seem as if a man who just waved his arms in frustration had thrown something at the officers.

The televised assault on the funeral of a beloved figure only intensified the outrage over her death and the images were quickly remixed and shared across social networks.

Thousands of people later joined the procession for a beloved national hero before a funeral at a Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The suppression of dissent continued throughout the day.

Later on Friday, Israel’s army said the results of an interim internal investigation suggested that its soldiers might have fired the shots that killed the Al Jazeera correspondent and wounded her colleague.

That admission marked a sharp retreat from the initial version of events offered by Israeli officials, who responded to anger over the killing of Abu Akleh on Wednesday by quickly distributing video of a Palestinian gunman firing down an alley during the raid. Officials also released statements calling it “likely” that the journalist was killed by a Palestinian militant, not an Israeli soldier.

Later the same day, however, a researcher for the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, Abdulkarim Sadi, recorded video showing that the Palestinian militant had been in a part of the camp that made it impossible for him to have shot Abu Akleh.

Israel’s military then released body camera video of its soldiers retreating from that part of the camp and emerging on a street where armored vehicles were waiting to extract them. Geolocation by the B’Tselem researcher and others showed that the Israeli armored vehicles were parked on the street where Abu Akleh was shot.

The interim Israeli investigation acknowledged that the Israeli vehicles were parked about 200 meters away from Abu Akleh, and said that if she was shot by an Israeli soldier, it must have been because the soldier “fired several bullets from a special slit in the jeep and through a telescopic site at a terrorist … and there’s a possibility that the reporter stood near the terrorist.”

That version of events was flatly contradicted by several other journalists who were with Abu Akleh at the time and insisted that they were nowhere near any of the Palestinian militants in the camp.

Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem, told me by phone on Friday that there is no reason to expect the Israeli army to release any more of the video it collected from soldiers after the incident. The Israel Defense Forces, El-Ad said, has a track record of only releasing video evidence “when it is beneficial to support the Army version of events.”

The rights activist also called it “grotesque” that the United States had called for Palestinian authorities to conduct a joint investigation with Israel, given that Israel had repeatedly used slow-moving investigations to “whitewash” the killing of Palestinian civilians living under Israeli military rule.

The American pressure on Palestinian officials to allow Israel to take part in the investigation of itself shows the “U.S. complicity in what’s going on here,” El-Ad said, even when the victim is, like Abu Akleh, an American citizen.

Updated: May 14, 2022
This article was updated to add an analysis of Israeli police video that was posted online on Saturday night.

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    Inside the Secret Meeting Between the CIA Director and Saudi Crown Prince / TheIntercept · 3 days ago - 17:26 · 5 minutes

Last month, as part of a regional tour, CIA Director William Burns quietly met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, a port city in western Saudi Arabia. The unusual meeting, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, is the first known encounter between the United States’ top spy and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler — and, according to three sources familiar with the matter, the latest attempt by high-ranking U.S. officials to appeal to Saudi Arabia on oil amid rising U.S. gas prices. Also on the table, two of the sources told The Intercept, were Saudi weapons purchases from China.

President Joe Biden has so far refused to meet with MBS, as he is known, owing to the crown prince’s role in ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But in February, Biden made an effort to begin repairing the relationship with the kingdom , asking King Salman to increase the country’s oil production in return for U.S. military support for its “defense” against Yemen’s Houthis. According to a Saudi readout of the call, Biden was denied. Though Burns again asked for an oil production increase last month, Saudi Arabia announced last week that it would be sticking to its production plan, once more denying the U.S.’s request.

A spokesperson for the CIA declined to comment on Burns’s travels. The Intercept’s sources — a U.S. intelligence official, two sources with ties to the U.S. intelligence community, a source close to members of the Saudi royal family, and a think tank official — interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

The meeting was also an opportunity to broach a subject of intense concern to Washington: Riyadh’s growing relationship with China. In addition to Burns’s ask on oil, the CIA director also requested that Saudi Arabia not pursue a purchase of arms from China, according to the two sources close to U.S. intelligence.

Saudi Arabia’s very public overtures to Beijing — most notably, exploring the possibility of selling its oil in the Chinese currency, yuan — have caused consternation in Washington. This week, in Senate testimony, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines warned of efforts by China and Russia to “to try to make inroads with partners of ours across the world,” mentioning Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as examples.

What is not publicly known, however, is that the Saudi government is planning to import ballistic missiles later this month from China under a secret program code-named “Crocodile,” the source close to U.S. intelligence said. (The other source with ties to U.S. intelligence confirmed that the discussion pertained to arms sales with China.)

Burns also requested the release of numerous high-profile Saudi royals whom MBS has detained, including MBS’s cousin, former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the sources said. MBN, as he is known, was heir to the throne before his ouster by Crown Prince Mohammed in 2017. Because MBN is a close partner to U.S. intelligence, the Biden administration has reportedly pressured for his release amid allegations of torture.

Relying on a CIA director to conduct high-level diplomatic engagement of this sort is extremely unusual, although it does offer at least one big advantage: discretion. Burns’s presence also served as a means of attempting to mend the fraught relationship between MBS and other top Biden administration officials, the source close to U.S. intelligence said. Last year, when Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan brought up the Khashoggi murder, MBS shouted at him, remarking that the U.S. could forget about its request to increase oil production, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported .

Burns’s meeting with MBS was one of several with leaders in the region, including in Qatar, the UAE, and Oman, the source also said. (A prominent think tank official close to the Biden administration confirmed that Burns had been traveling throughout the Middle East.) Burns’s meeting with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed echoed the theme of his meeting with MBS, urging him to stop warming up to China, specifically referring to the construction of a Chinese military base in the UAE. Last year, the Biden administration reportedly warned the UAE that China had been building a military facility at an Emirati port and that its construction could imperil their relations. In the case of Saudi Arabia, U.S. intelligence has assessed that the country has been working with China to manufacture its own ballistic missiles domestically — raising concerns about touching off a regional arms race.

“What’s different about this is the Saudis are now looking to import completed missiles,” the source close to U.S. intelligence said.

“Burns has been doing a lot of the diplomatic heavy lifting, which is terrible.”

Burns has come under criticism for conducting diplomacy for the administration, which is supposed to be handled by diplomats at the State Department. Last year, as Kabul fell to the Taliban, Burns was reportedly in the Middle East, meeting with top Israeli and Palestinian government officials. Shortly thereafter, Burns secretly met in Kabul with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar. Just last week, Burns met with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, urging him not to interfere with his country’s elections.

“Burns has been doing a lot of the diplomatic heavy lifting, which is terrible,” a U.S. intelligence official close to the administration told The Intercept, decrying what he called the “further castration of the Department of State.” This has rankled diplomats at Foggy Bottom, who had hoped that Biden would make good on his campaign pledge to empower diplomacy after years of neglect by the Trump administration.

Concerns about Burns’s role in diplomacy and sidelining the State Department have even come from figures like Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “Intelligence professionals can coerce and threaten unencumbered by the restraints of diplomacy,” Rubin wrote in a recent article for the Washington Examiner. “They are not there to debate and formulate foreign policy.” The Biden administration is currently without an ambassador to Saudi Arabia, having only last month announced its intent to nominate diplomat Michael Ratney for the position.

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    Russia Had "Fourth Man" as Spy Inside the CIA, New Book Says / TheIntercept · 3 days ago - 15:14 · 6 minutes

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a new freeze in relations between the United States and Russia. But for some veterans of the CIA and FBI, the spy wars that punctuated the first Cold War never really ended.

During the 1980s, in the final decade of the Cold War, three Americans who spied for the Soviet Union — CIA officers Edward Lee Howard and Aldrich Ames and FBI agent Robert Hanssen — are known to have helped Moscow identify, arrest, and imprison or execute most of the Soviet agents who were secretly spying for the United States. Those agent losses left the CIA virtually in the dark in Moscow for years. Ames and Hanssen were eventually caught and arrested and today remain in federal prison, while Howard defected to Moscow, where he died in 2002.

Now there is growing evidence that there may have been a fourth major American spy who was never caught. According to a new book, a mole hunt for the “fourth man,” who was suspected of being a CIA officer, began in the 1990s, but no one has ever been arrested or charged in the case. Secret details of that investigation are being disclosed for the first time in “The Fourth Man,” a new book by former CIA officer Robert Baer, which is due to be published Tuesday.

“The story of the Russian double agent in the CIA who got away may sound like some unfinished piece of business from the Cold War,” Baer observes in his book. But “it’s starting to look more like the mystery of the fourth man is a lot more historically significant than an old-school spy tale. It’s part of the much larger story of how America completely missed Putin and the KGB’s resurrection.”

The fact that U.S. officials believe there was a “fourth man” inside the CIA was first disclosed in 2003 in “The Main Enemy,” a book I co-authored with former CIA officer Milt Bearden. Baer has now provided a wealth of new details about the case, including the key role of a KGB agent who supplied crucial information to the CIA on the fourth spy. I interviewed several former CIA and FBI officials this week who agreed that there was a fourth mole.

“I believe there is a fourth man, and a lot of things point that way,” Jim Milburn, a former FBI counterintelligence agent who was involved in the investigation, said in an interview this week. “There is more that I can’t talk about. It all leads to my sense that there is a fourth man.”

“Absolutely there was a fourth man,” added John Lewis, former FBI assistant director for national security. “We had a lot of unexplained things that couldn’t be explained by the three others.”

In many ways, the narrative of the “fourth man” investigation reads like “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” the John le Carré novel about a mole hunt inside British intelligence. Baer’s book reveals that the seeds of the case go back to 1988, when a CIA officer stationed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, first met a KGB officer named Alexander Zaporozhsky. The CIA gave Zaporozhsky the code name “GTZORRO” and nicknamed him “Max.” As a series of CIA officers continued to meet Zaporozhsky over the years, he began to provide clues revealing that the KGB had moles inside U.S. intelligence, according to Baer. At some point, Zaporozhsky suggested that the KGB had two moles, one in the CIA and another in the FBI, although he didn’t know their names. One was known inside the KGB as “Karat,” and the other as “Rubine.”

Zaporozhsky’s information about the existence of two moles came long before either the CIA or FBI was convinced that Moscow had double agents inside U.S. intelligence. Before Zaporozhsky, “there’d been devastating, unexplained losses of CIA Russian agents … and there certainly were those who suspected the problem was a mole. But there was nothing in the way of air-tight evidence to support the theory,” writes Baer.

Zaporozhsky’s evidence ultimately led to Ames at the CIA and Hanssen at the FBI, Baer writes. He describes Zaporozhsky as one of the most important Russian spies the CIA ever had. At some point, Zaporozhsky also began to tell the CIA that there was yet another KGB mole inside the CIA, one who was believed to be ranked higher in the organization than Ames. American spy hunters began to call that the “big case.”

First Arrests

In 1994, Ames was arrested and charged with spying for Moscow, thanks in part to the information Zaporozhsky had provided.

After Ames was arrested, the CIA secretly created a new counterintelligence team to try to determine whether there were any losses that could not be explained by Ames or Howard, who had defected to Moscow in 1985. The agency’s team, Baer writes, included CIA officers Laine Bannerman, Diana Worthen, and MaryAnn Hough. They began to sift through old tips, leads, and other evidence relating to compromised agents and operations that couldn’t be explained by either Ames or Howard. Eventually, they became convinced that there were at least two more moles. Some of their evidence pointed toward Hanssen, who was arrested in 2001.

Baer’s book discloses that the team still believed there was another, fourth mole — thus coming to the same conclusion as Zaporozhsky. This was confirmed to The Intercept by one of the now-retired CIA investigators: “I do believe there is a fourth man,” said Worthen in an interview this week.

In 1996, a CIA officer met again with Zaporozhsky, this time in Tbilisi, Georgia. He told the CIA that he believed he had come under suspicion in Moscow. But he also said he had heard that Russian intelligence had recruited another American CIA officer. This officer had been recruited in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and was now assigned to “the Farm,” the CIA’s training center outside Williamsburg, Virginia. With Zaporozhsky’s information, the CIA was quickly able to identify CIA officer Harold Nicholson as a Russian spy, and he was arrested in November 1996.

But Nicholson had never worked in the CIA’s Soviet or Russian operations and so was quickly ruled out as being the “fourth man.”

In 1998, Zaporozhsky was resettled in the United States by the CIA, pulled out of Moscow along with other agents believed to be in danger. With Zaporozhsky and its other agents gone, the CIA was in the dark in Moscow just as Putin was beginning his rise to power.

Zaporozhsky misread Putin’s Russia too. After he resettled in the United States, he made the mistake of traveling back to Russia, where he was arrested and then spent years in prison. He was released and sent back to the United States in 2010 in one of the biggest spy swaps ever conducted. Zaporozhsky was one of four people whom Moscow sent back to the U.S. in exchange for 10 Russian “sleeper” agents arrested by the United States. The story of the Russian “illegal” agents who had burrowed into American society, including Anna Chapman, who became a celebrity as a result of her spying, became the inspiration for the popular television series “The Americans.”

The post Russia Had “Fourth Man” as Spy Inside the CIA, New Book Says appeared first on The Intercept .