August 22, 2015
Crisis: Spyware, CIA Tortures, Adultery, Shell & Obama, Holocaust, Economic Crisis

 "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next


Inside the Spyware Campaign Against Argentine

2. Who Was the CIA Official Who Found Torture Revolting?
3. Adultery website Ashley Madison faces $578m class
     action over data breach

Shell will despoil the Arctic. But Barack Obama is the real
     villain here

5. Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to
     children's genes

Dow drops more than 500 points as US markets plummet
     amid global sell-off

This is a Nederlog of Saturday August 22, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 6 items with 6 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article that explains how spyware is used in South America; item 2 is about
what is known (some) and is not known (a lot) about the American partially
released torture report; item 3 is a bit more about the Ashley Madison hack;
item 4 is about Shell and Obama (but I didn't like the article much); item 5 is about holocaust survivors (with a bit by me because my father survived 4 German concentration camps as a political prisoner, and I know rather a lot about the subject); and item 6 is about the crisis: there are now considerable disturbances and falls worldwide, since China devalued its yuan (three times in three days).

1. Inside the Spyware Campaign Against Argentine Troublemakers 

The first article of today is by Morgan Marquis-Boire on The Intercept:
  • Inside the Spyware Campaign Against Argentine Troublemakers
This starts as follows:

Alberto Nisman, the Argentine prosecutor known for doggedly investigating a 1994 Buenos Aires bombing, was targeted by invasive spy software downloaded onto his cellular phone shortly before his mysterious death. The software masqueraded as a confidential document and was intended to infect a Windows computer.

An investigation by The Intercept indicates that this targeting was likely not an isolated event. The person or persons behind the attempted monitoring appear to have run other surveillance operations involving various locations throughout South America, at least one apparently targeting a rabble-rousing Argentine journalist. In the process, they created at least four distinct spyware bundles, all communicating with the same server set to receive Nisman’s data. They also left traces showing that their operations were active as recently as March, raising the possibility that the online spying continues today.

Here is some more:

Nisman (..) made powerful enemies inside and outside of Argentina. In his decade-long investigation into the suicide bombing of a Jewish organization and community center, Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina, he indicted a top Hezbollah operative and several Iranian officials, including a former president, former intelligence minister, and a former foreign minister. Four days before his death, he accused the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and her foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, of being involved in a criminal conspiracy to let Iranian officials off the hook for the attack. He was called to testify before Congress.

But the night before he was slated to deliver that testimony, Nisman was found in his apartment dead from a bullet wound to the head. An autopsy ruled his death a suicide. But as details of the police investigation emerged, so did more and more questions into the manner of his demise. There was no suicide note, nor was any gunpowder residue found on Nisman’s hands.
There is considerably more in the article, which also contains rather a lot more information about computer spying in Latin America. I think it is interesting, but there is little to summarize and I leave the rest to your interests. 
2. Who Was the CIA Official Who Found Torture Revolting?

The next article is by Jenna McLaughlin on The Intercept:
  • Who Was the CIA Official Who Found Torture Revolting?

This starts as follows:

In early December 2014, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., released a summary of her staff’s five-year investigation of the CIA’s interrogation programs following 9/11.

Best known as the “Torture Report,” the document revealed searing details of ghastly abuses ranging from “rectal feedings” to “near drowning” on the waterboard.

But, for the American Civil Liberties Union, the report also raised a whole new set of questions.

“For all its revelatory, gruesome details, [the report] also revealed more about what we don’t know,” Eliza Relman, an ACLU legal assistant wrote in a blog post.

The ACLU has obtained over 100,000 pages of torture-related documents through FOIA requests and legal action over the last 10 years. But the Senate report helped identify some specific gaps.

This is an interesting article, although it is - inevitably, seeing that the U.S. government tries to keep secret as much as they can - full of questions, sometimes with partial answers.

Here is a quite interesting one:

Q. What else was in an email sent by the CIA’s chief of interrogations telling the CIA he would have nothing to do with the detainee interrogation program? And who was he?

The Senate report hints at some dissension in the ranks when it came to the extreme interrogation tactics, but does not go into much detail about who was concerned, how widespread the concern was, or how the concern was handled.

In a 2004 email, the then-CIA chief of interrogations expressed disgust with the program, writing that he would “no longer be associated in any way with the interrogation program due to serious reservations,” calling it a “train wreack [sic] waiting to happen” and stating that he wanted to “get the hell off the train.”

I say. Then again, there presently are quite a number of former government employees, some with decades of service in high positions, who gave up on
- at least - parts of the government, and who write against it.

One such individual is Ray McGovern (<- Wikipedia), who co-founded in 2003 the
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity ("VIPS") and who seems a quite sensible, smart and courageous man.

Also - as far as I know - both Ray McGovern and the VIPS publish a good part of their usually quite interesting articles on Consortiumnews (<- Wikipedia), which you can find here.

And yes, here I was relaying information that I found since 2013, and Consortium- news is a quite interesting site.

Jenna McLaughlin's article also is quite interesting, and she treats some other questions, which I copy here, but without her text, which I leave to your interests:

Q. What concerns did the CIA’s Office of Medical Services raise about its role in the torture program?

Q. What is in the still-hidden sections of the CIA’s 2004 Inspector General report?

Q. What were the techniques the CIA used to get around restrictions on waterboarding?

For more, click the last dotted link.

Adultery website Ashley Madison faces $578m class action over data breach

The next article is by Associated Press (in Toronto) on The Guardian:

  • Adultery website Ashley Madison faces $578m class action over data breach

As it happens, I wrote yesterday about Ashley Madison, and that is the main reason the present article is here. That starts as follows:

Two Canadian law firms have filed a $578m class-action lawsuit against the companies that run Ashley Madison after a hacker group’s data breach exposed some 39 million memberships in the adultery website earlier this week.

Charney Lawyers and Sutts, Strosberg, both of Ontario, said Friday that they filed the lawsuit on behalf of Canadians who subscribed to Ashley Madison and whose personal information was disclosed to the public. The website, with its slogan “Life is short. Have an affair,” is marketed to facilitate extramarital relationships.

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in the Ontario superior court of justice, targets Avid Dating Life and Avid Life Media, the Toronto-based companies that run Its class-action status “still needs to be certified by the court”, the statement says.

Ashley Madison did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It has said that the personal details exposed in the initial data leak can’t be used to prove the infidelity of their clients.

I say. There probably will be a lot more legal action, that very well may take years to come to judgment. I will not be following that, but this is the start.

Incidentally, the reply by Ashley Madison in the last quoted paragraph is baloney for at least two reasons: (i) it may not be a proof, but it certainly is circum- stantial evidence of some kind, and (ii) the point of the legal complaint is not about affairs or infidelities, but about (a) failing to protect the users' privacy, and especially (b) for asking and receiving money from users to have their data removed, which then was not removed.

Also I may have to return to Ashley Madison, for the following reason:

There are hundreds of email addresses in the data release that appear to be connected to federal, provincial and municipal workers across Canada, as well as to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the military
The credit-card information of US government workers, some with sensitive jobs in the White House, Congress and the justice department, was also revealed in the data breach.
But this is as may be, and I will not write about ordinary men and women who
used this site to have an affair.

4. Shell will despoil the Arctic. But Barack Obama is the real villain here

The next item is by John Vidal on The Guardian:

  • Shell will despoil the Arctic. But Barack Obama is the real villain here
This is from not far from the beginning:
This week the Obama administration granted the world’s second largest oil company final approval to restart its search for Arctic oil, and its platforms will soon begin to drill 2,400 metres deep. The exploration season is short and the dangers great, but after 10 years of trying and $7bn spent hoping to unlock the region’s resources, Shell clearly still believes it can find and exploit a giant new oil field to secure its future for decades.
And there is this:
Here, say his friends – including Hillary Clinton – is Obama caving in to Big Oil, giving a licence to continue business as usual. Here is the US – claiming to be the leader in the fight to reduce emissions – backing the riskiest, least-needed oil in the world while saying that the future is clean energy.

Clinton nailed Obama this week: “The Arctic is a unique treasure. Given what we know, it’s not worth the risk of drilling,” she wrote. Others put it more strongly: “It’s perplexing and depressing to hear President Obama say he wants to fix climate change but then approve Arctic drilling. It’s like a doctor diagnosing a patient but then refusing to write a prescription,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
There is a considerably larger amount of text, but I didn't like it very much, because it is mainly accusation with little or no evidence.

To be sure, I agree Obama made the decision and the decision was a mistake, but (i) there is a whole paragraph that starts with "Don't blame Shell" because it "
is still based on the old 19th-century explore-exploit-risk-reward capitalist business model that owes nothing to anything beyond the company", which is plain nonsense were it only because we are living in the 21st century, while (ii)
there is no information at all about the ties Obama's government has with the oil companies.

That last item is relevant, if only because everyone in Bush Jr.'s government - Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, and quite a few others - had extremely close ties with various big oil companies (which itself is part of an explanation why Iraq was attacked by the US under Bush Jr). (Incidentally, this is information from Gore Vidal.)

I thought Obama and his government got most of its money and support from the managers of the big banks (quite a few of whom had governmental jobs under Obama), but then he may also have been getting lots of money from the oil companies, as did Bush Jr.'s government.

I don't know, and this article did little to inform me.

5. Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children's genes

The next item is by Helen Thomson on The Guardian:

  • Study of Holocaust survivors finds trauma passed on to children's genes

This starts as follows:

Genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations.

The conclusion from a research team at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital led by Rachel Yehuda stems from the genetic study of 32 Jewish men and women who had either been interned in a Nazi concentration camp, witnessed or experienced torture or who had had to hide during the second world war.

They also analysed the genes of their children, who are known to have increased likelihood of stress disorders, and compared the results with Jewish families who were living outside of Europe during the war. “The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parentsone,” said Yehuda.

I say, though I also remain skeptical. And I will explain myself, and start with saying why this might be of some concern to me:

Both of my parents were in WW II in the communist resistance against the Nazis, and both my father and his father were arrested in July of 1941, handed over to the SS, and were convicted as "political terrorists" to the concentration camp, which my grandfather did not survive, while my father survived 3 years, 9 months and 14 days of them, probably because he was a communist, even though he also at one point weighed 37.5 kgs, which was less than half of his normal weight (and he never was obese).

There is some more on my parents yesterday. Now why I am rather skeptical (also as a psychologist, with excellent methodological skills):

In part, the weakness of the research that was reported in the article is that most of the mechanisms it presupposes are supposed rather than proven. There is a whole lot of information about genes and chemical tags that right now is not known, as it is also not known how genes or chemical tags are related to actual  behavior, thoughts, values and choices.

Indeed, as the article says:
The idea is controversial, as scientific convention states that genes contained in DNA are the only way to transmit biological information between generations. However, our genes are modified by the environment all the time, through chemical tags that attach themselves to our DNA, switching genes on and off. Recent studies suggest that some of these tags might somehow be passed through generations, meaning our environment could have and impact on our children’s health.
Note the many qualifications ("might", "could have").

Second, quite a few of the psychological effects of surviving a concentration camp as a prisoner, including the possibility that their children also may have been - somehow - effected, dates back to the 1950ies, though in the 1950ies this was not taken very seriously, and indeed the presumed mechanisms were psycho- logical rather than biological.

Third, when this was taken more serious, from the early 1960ies onwards, in large part because by then more and more former concentration camp prisoners did have to cope with PTSD (as it is now known: a term that goes back to the late 70ies), in Holland - not elsewhere - the research and the treatment of former concentration camp prisoners was almost exclusively in the hands of the late psychiatrist Bastiaans, who certainly was an incompetent (in the end his medical career was stopped, but this was in the 90ies) and probably a sadist, for his "cure" consisted in giving former concentration camp prisoners LSD and other strong drugs, and force them to move through violent concentration camp scenes, with the - false - promise that this would cure them. [1]

Indeed, my father - who did have problems with PTSD since around 1960, and who dreamt every night he was in the camp - was treated briefly in 1971 by Bastiaans, when my father sent for me to ask whether I thought he should take LSD, which I strongly opposed, based on considerable knowledge, and which he also didn't do.

Fourth, in my eyes it was and is a crime to prescribe concentration camp prisoners LSD: It was and is very ill-researched; it was then illegal to be used and prescribed, but Bastiaans got special permission to do so from Parliament; and the whole idea that you could cure seriously shocked persons by seriously shocking them once or several times more with LSD and sodium pentothal (truth serum) just seemed (and seems) utter trash to me. [2]

In fact, it was utter trash, but this did not become known till well into the 2000s, and after Bastiaans had died. In case you read Dutch, here are links to two pieces I wrote about it, one in 2005 (when to the best of my knowledge I only spoke for myself) and a longer one in 2009 after it came to my knowledge that Bram Enning had been promoted on a study about Bastiaans, which left very little or nothing standing of Bastiaans' many claims.

In case you want to read something in English, there is this from 1998: "The LSD Therapy Career of Jan Bastiaans, M.D." (but this is a bit more careful than later more critical Dutch articles).

Fifth and last (though there is more I could say), I really object to the title of the article: Whatever might have been passed - and as I said: a lot of knowledge is simply missing now - it was not "trauma".

6. Dow drops more than 500 points as US markets plummet amid global sell-off

This last item is by Rupert Neate and Phillip Inman on The Guardian:

  • Dow drops more than 500 points as US markets plummet amid global sell-off

This starts as follows:

US stock markets dropped dramatically on Friday afternoon, dragging overall global markets to their worst week of the year as concerns about the health of the Chinese economy rattled investors across the world.

All of the main US indices closed down more than 3% on Friday, the fourth consecutive day of falls. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 531 points, or 3.1%, to 16,460 – the S&P 500 lost 3.2% to 1,971 and the Nasdaq closed down 3.5% to 4,706.

Most major markets around the world also suffered bruising losses as new data suggested Chinese factory activity had slowed to levels last seen in 2009 and added to investors’ fears about the country’s economy since Beijing devalued its currency last week.

US oil prices also crashed down to below $40 a barrel a one point, a level not seen since the financial crisis.

I say, though I can't say I am much amazed, at least not since I published about the third consecutive devaluation of the Chinese yuan. And yes, this is certainly crisis news.

There is a considerably larger amount of information in the article, that shows the situation is serious. I will leave that to your interests, and probably will wait until Monday to return to the topic.


[1] The main psychological reason I can see for some of his claimed "successes" (which are very vague claims, because one of the specialisms of Bastiaans was not to document his cases (!)) is cognitive dissonance: Taking LSD may be very frightening for healthy people, let alone for former concentration camp prisoners.

[2] I note that I had seen some 60 people - at least - tripping on LSD or mescalin (mostly in 1970 in the Amsterdam Sleep-In I then led) and also had seen quite a few (always: young people without known serious psychological problems) get into "a bad trip", i.e. something best described as a quite frightening though in their cases usually limited psychosis. Also, I had read up on LSD, and knew little was known about it (with any good scientific status).

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