Law of Secrecy

"While all deception requires secrecy, all secrecy is not meant to deceive" - Sissela Bok

German Chancellor Secretly Brokering Ukranian/Crimean Peace Deal With Vladimir Putin

As the US Obama Administration continues to increase sanctions against Russia for their perpetuation of the Ukraine/Crimea crisis, one world leader has been secretly working very closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin on brokering a possible peace deal; German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Revealing the secret negotiations that have been occurring between the two heads of state, UK publication The Independent reported today:

Reaching a solution to the ongoing dispute is pertinent for the Germans as Russia is their single biggest trading partner. Under Ms Merkel, the Russo-German axis has strengthened significantly and, until the plane shooting, her government had been staunchly against punitive sanctions for commercial but also diplomatic reasons. 

The terms of the potential peace agreement would appear to grant Russia a victory for their six-month campaign of supporting the separatists, granting sovereignty to a pro-Russian and separate Crimea while Ukraine would maintain a non-NATO membership status:

The Independent can reveal that the peace plan, being worked on by both Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, hinges on two main ambitions: stabilising the borders of Ukraine and providing the financially troubled country with a strong economic boost, particularly a new energy agreement ensuring security of gas supplies.

More controversially, if Ms Merkel’s deal were to be acceptable to the Russians, the international community would need to recognise Crimea’s independence and its annexation by Russia, a move that some members of the United Nations might find difficult to stomach.

Sources close to the secret negotiations claim that the first part of the stabilisation plan requires Russia to withdraw its financial and military support for the various pro-separatist groups operating in eastern Ukraine. As part of any such agreement, the region would be allowed some devolved powers.

At the same time, the Ukrainian President would agree not to apply to join Nato. In return, President Putin would not seek to block or interfere with the Ukraine’s new trade relations with the European Union under a pact signed a few weeks ago.

Second, the Ukraine would be offered a new long-term agreement with Russia’s Gazprom, the giant gas supplier, for future gas supplies and pricing. At present, there is no gas deal in place; Ukraine’s gas supplies are running low and are likely to run out before this winter, which would spell economic and social ruin for the country.

The deal also would include a $1 billion back-payment by Russia to Ukraine for the rent of Russian military bases in Crimea prior to the crisis (to put into context the “strong economic boost” referenced above).

But the unexpected July 17th killing of 300 innocent passengers and crew members on a Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine by missile-fire from suspected pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists militants has caused delay for the German Chancellor’s commitment to the peace process.  As described by The Daily Mail’s article today:

Talks have reportedly been put on ice since the shooting down of MH17 in eastern Ukraine which has been blamed on pro-Moscow rebels, but sources insist the deal is ‘still on the table’.

It comes as Ukraine today announced it had suspended its military offensive in the east for one day to help international experts reach the downed Malaysian airliner’s crash site.

Dutch and Australian police experts have been trying for five days to access the area where the remains of around 80 of the 298 people killed have been decomposing in sweltering temperatures since the crash on July 17.

From a #LawofSecrecy perspective, one has to wonder about the effect revealing the secret negotiations will have on their success.  Secrecy can help negotiating parties reach a tentative agreement and float proposals without worrying about political backlash and nitpicking at specifics.  On the other hand, this may be a strategic leak aimed at gaining support and sending the idea up the flagpole so that major objections can be addressed.

-RM

USA Freedom Act Lands In Senate; Creates Mixed Feelings

On Tuesday, the Senate’s version of the USA Freedom Act was introduced to the floor by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT).  With the support from privacy advocates such as the ACLU, many see the Senate’s version of the bill as a big step in the right direction from the House’s version passed in May

The USA Freedom Act has become a spotlighted piece of legislation since the revelations came out concerning the NSA and their interactions with private meta-data gathering organizations.  Many believe that the powers currently held by the security agency pose a risk to private citizens’ constitutional rights, in particular regarding the privacy protections in the Fourth Amendment, and legislation is necessary to ensure the agency’s legitimacy.  The New York Times reported on the bill and its intentions to reign in the unchecked powers of the NSA:

Mr. Leahy said at the time that he wanted to write a stronger bill, and, after negotiating with the White House, he has. Both bills would stop the flow of telephone data into the computers of the National Security Agency, keeping the information with the phone companies, where it belongs. But the Senate bill takes a major step in limiting how much of that data the N.S.A. can request.

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Government Transparency about US Position on Israel/Palestine; National Security Advisor Susan Rice Tells All

Sometimes the US government can be transparent, at least if people listen.  Speaking before the National Jewish Leaders Assembly at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. yesterday, National Security Advisor to the President of the United States Susan Rice reiterated the Obama Administration’s, along with the greater United States’, earlier declaration of support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinian Hamas.  Released in the form of transcribed remarks at WhiteHouse.gov, the Executive Office Advisor addressed a wide array of recent Israeli concerns:

This is a time of worry for all who care about Israel.  But, here’s one thing you never have to worry about: America’s support for the State of Israel.   As President Obama declared before the Israeli people in Jerusalem:  “so long as there is a United States of America … you are not alone.”

President Obama has been equally clear about who has been responsible for the violence.  Hamas fired the rockets.  Hamas deliberately targeted Israeli citizens, particularly civilians. Hamas refused an early plan for a ceasefire.  Hamas, in a time of glaring human need, instead of investing in the future of Gaza’s children, built tunnels to kidnap and kill Israelis.  So Hamas initiated this conflict. And, Hamas has dragged it on. 

But, America and Israel are also united by a shared belief we each strive to honor:  that every person is created equal and “b’tzelem elokim”—in the image of God.

Mrs. Rice also recognized the recent difficulties that US Secretary of State John Kerrey has had in trying to negotiate a ceasefire between the IDF and Hamas militants (see here for Washington Post  and New York Post articles on the SecState):

Let me also take a moment to acknowledge, as Ambassador Dermer did, the extraordinary efforts of Secretary Kerry.  I must tell you: we’ve been dismayed by some press reports in Israel mischaracterizing his efforts last week to achieve a ceasefire.  We know these misleading reports in turn raise concerns here at home in America.

The reality is that John Kerry on behalf of the United States has been working every step of the way with Israel, in support of our shared interests.  Both in public and in private, we have strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself against rockets and tunnel attacks, and we’ve engaged together in sensitive negotiations.  We will continue to do so.  And, we’ll continue to set the record straight when anyone distorts the facts.

Mrs. Rice then praised the abilities of the Iron Dome missile-defense program, which has been co-funded by the US since 2010:

During my most recent visit to Israel in May, I saw first-hand the technology at Palmachim Air Force Base.  I met the young Israelis who operate the system—dedicated men and women now working around the clock.   In recent weeks, on average, over 100 rockets a day have been fired at Israel.  Iron Dome has literally meant the difference between life and death.  And I’m deeply proud that President Obama helped make it possible.   And, I’m proud that – with his enthusiastic support—the United States will more than double our investment in Iron Dome.  The President also instructed the Secretary of Defense to inform Congress last week that we support an additional $225 million to accelerate the production of Iron Dome components in Israel this year and maintain Israel’s stockpile of interceptor missiles. Now, Congress has a critical opportunity this week to fund the President’s supplemental request, so that Israel can remain secure.

She then referenced recent events in Turkey, where angry mobs have targeted the Israeli Embassy in Istanbul and the Consulate in Ankara (see how anti-Israeli sentiment has been endorsed by local and national government officials in Turkey):

And, today, we also see anti-Semitism flaring up around the world, including in Europe.  The pretext is the passions coming out of the current conflict, but we all know it has its roots in something ancient and ugly—and we should not shy away from calling it by its name.

It’s one thing to use the right of free expression to criticize particular policies of a particular government.  No nation is immune from criticism, fair and otherwise, including our own—take it from me as a former UN ambassador. But an anti-Jewish riot is not a policy critique. It’s not free expression when a protest turns into a mob that attacks a synagogue and a kosher grocery store. It’s one thing when the message is “end the fighting,” but when the message is “Death to the Jews,” it’s an outrage.   And it’s dangerous when the mayor of a major city takes to Twitter to invoke Hitler and incite hostility against the Israeli Embassy, which he called “the despicable murderers’ consulate.”  That’s just hate, and it’s got to stop. As the late Tom Lantos used to say, “the veneer of civilization is paper thin.  We are its guardians, and we can never rest.” 

The Advisor to the POTUS then closed with the following:

My friends, these are difficult days. But as Israel’s former president, my friend Shimon Peres, likes to say: “There are no hopeless situations, just hopeless people.” We all know a few of them.  So let us remember, especially in troubled times, that despair is a sin, and service is a duty. America doesn’t lose hope. The Jewish people don’t lose hope. And the State of Israel doesn’t lose hope. That’s why Israel’s national anthem is “Hatikvah”— the hope. And that’s why, in this imperfect and dangerous world, we ask together for God’s blessing and help.  We pray for security and for peace — but we know that it’s not enough just to pray for it. We’ve got to work for it—together, united, and determined. Because, as President Kennedy once said, “here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”  And that is what we strive to do together every day. Thank you.

Obama Administration Interferes With Discovery Request To Anti-Iran Group

In a rare move to preserve national security, the Obama administration has interfered with a civil action by preventing a private anti-Iran advocacy group, United Against Nuclear Iran, from complying with a lawful discovery request made by the opposing party to the suit.  This behavior by the White House is raising concerns amongst administration outsiders that the US government’s relationships with private special interest groups continues to cross the line.

The New York Times reported yesterday on the government’s interference with the defamation suit between the hard-lining anti-Iran watchdog group and the Greek shipping broker, who was accused by the group for serving as the frontman for the illicit activities of the Iranian regime.  The defamed Greek party demanded that the group provide proof of their claims as well as donor information that very well may demonstrate how politically connected they are; this is where the US government stepped in.  As was reported in the New York Times:

The Justice Department has temporarily blocked the group from having to reveal its donor list and other internal documents in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Greek shipping magnate the group accused of doing business with Iran. Government lawyers said they had a “good faith basis to believe that certain information” would jeopardize law enforcement investigations, reveal investigative techniques or identify confidential sources if released.

Judge Edgardo Ramos of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York called the government’s involvement “very curious.” But since March, he has agreed not to force the group to reveal the information. The government has until Thursday to say whether it will formally claim law enforcement privilege and try to keep the information secret permanently.

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Email a Grey Area in Attorney-Client Privileges for Prison Inmates

The New York Times reported Tuesday that federal courts are taking an ad-hoc approach in determining whether it is lawful for prosecutors to submit as evidence email communications sent by inmates from federal prison facilities that would otherwise be protected under the attorney-client privilege.  The practice of introducing self-incriminating attorney-client emails as evidence in criminal proceedings is becoming the norm in some areas while other federal courts have interpreted the behavior as a blatant violation of the privilege.  Maintaining that the physical mail service remains a viable choice for secure communications, the federal prison system has taken the position that email services for inmates are more of a privilege than a right, a privilege that requires a waiver to the right of privacy.  As reported by The Times:

All defendants using the federal prison email system, Trulincs, have to read and accept a notice that communications are monitored, prosecutors in Brooklyn pointed out. Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants’ emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that, they said.

While prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients, defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient.

Contrasting arguments over unprecedented expectations of digital communications rights are at the root of the case-by-case decisions:

In Brooklyn, Steve Zissou, a lawyer for Mr. DiFiore, tried to persuade a judge to stop prosecutors from monitoring his client’s emails. Prosecutors had confirmed that they “intended to read my communications with Mr. DiFiore over Trulincs,” he wrote. “Regardless of whether such communications qualify for protection under the attorney-client privilege, the government’s decision to read our communications with our client is entirely inappropriate.”

The judge overseeing that case, Allyne R. Ross, ruled on Thursday that the government was allowed to review the emails. “The government’s policy does not ‘unreasonably interfere’ with Mr. DiFiore’s ability to consult his counsel,” she wrote.

In Dr. Ahmed’s case, the judge, Dora L. Irizarry, ruled against the government last month, barring it “from looking at any of the attorney-client emails, period.”

She seemed to take particular offense at an argument by a prosecutor, F. Turner Buford, who suggested that prosecutors merely wanted to avoid the expense and hassle of having to separate attorney-client emails from other emails sent via Trulincs. The government was not otherwise interested in the contents of those messages, he said.

“That’s hogwash,” Judge Irizarry said. “You’re going to tell me you don’t want to know what your adversary’s strategy is? What kind of a litigator are you then? Give me a break.”

Human Rights Watch Report Alleges Legal Entrapment of Domestic Terrorists

On Monday, Human Rights Watch released a report analyzing the developmental processes of federal domestic terrorism criminal cases.  The 212-page report alleges there to be a growing level of involvement by government agencies in Post 9/11 domestic terrorism cases on how a suspect is identified, what degree of interaction law enforcement officials have with the suspect prior to the arrest, and where terrorists are confined after their conviction (see where #lawofsecrecy covered an agency ‘assisted’ terrorism case here):

Since the September 11 attacks, more than 500 individuals have been prosecuted in US federal courts for terrorism or related offenses—40 cases per year on average. Many prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks. But many others have targeted individuals who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them.

Indeed, in some cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target’s willingness to act. According to multiple studies, nearly 50 percent of the more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot. In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”

In such instances, the government’s purpose appears to have been preventive: to root out and prosecute individuals it believes might eventually plan and carry out terrorism. To this end, it has substantially changed its approach, loosening regulations and standards governing the conduct of terrorism investigations.

The Washington Post reported on the release and its immediate public response:

The report examined 27 federal prosecutions with a total of 77 defendants and documented what it described as the “significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.”

“The report clearly shows, in many respects, the American public is being sold a false bill of goods,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “To be sure, the threat of terrorism is real,” she said. “But in many of the cases we documented, there was no threat until the FBI showed up and helped turn people into terrorists.”

Marc Raimondi, a Justice Department spokesman, said: “The Department of Justice has been a steadfast ally of our nation’s civil rights groups for decades. The report itself acknowledges that the legal process used in the cases it highlighted is not only lawful but is also specifically approved by federal judges. . . . We do not and cannot target individuals solely for engaging in activities protected by the First Amendment, which includes free speech and religion.”

The Intercept releases multi-agency Terrorist Watchlisting Rulebook amidst airline blacklist controversy

In the ‘No-Fly’ news this week, notorious Snowden-affiliated journalist organization The Intercept released the basic operations rulebook for the U.S. government’s terrorist watchlisting processes.  The report was released to the public despite strong opposition from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and amidst an already controversial situation with the FBI’s airline blacklist program.

A product of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), the 166-page sensitive but unclassified memo lays out in detail the government’s processes for selecting individuals for programs such as enhanced surveillance or placement on No-Fly lists.  As explained by The Intercept:

The rulebook, which The Intercept is publishing in full, was developed behind closed doors by representatives of the nation’s intelligence, military, and law-enforcement establishment, including the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. Emblazoned with the crests of 19 agencies, it offers the most complete and revealing look into the secret history of the government’s terror list policies to date. It reveals a confounding and convoluted system filled with exceptions to its own rules, and it relies on the elastic concept of “reasonable suspicion” as a standard for determining whether someone is a possible threat. Because the government tracks “suspected terrorists” as well as “known terrorists,” individuals can be watchlisted if they are suspected of being a suspected terrorist, or if they are suspected of associating with people who are suspected of terrorism activity.

The New York Times reported on the release of the memo and the significance of the program’s effects on the public:

Inclusion on one of the lists can keep people off planes, block noncitizens from entering the United States and subject people to greater scrutiny at airports, border crossings and traffic stops. The basic standards for including someone on the lists had been known from a set of rules the F.B.I. disclosed in 2011 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, among other sources. But the rules were later updated, and the Watchlisting Guidance contains additional details.

Terrorism watch list rules have been the subject of several controversies. The Nigerian man who attempted to bomb a Detroit-bound plane on Dec. 25, 2009, was not on the no-fly list, even though he was included in a larger database of people about whom there had been reports of possible ties to terrorism. The Obama administration changed the rules to make it easier to put people on watch lists after that incident.

Civil libertarians have also challenged the watch lists because the standards for being added to them are murky and people are generally not notified that they have been included or told why. Last month, a Federal District Court judge in Oregon ruled that the procedures for reviewing whether it was appropriate to have put someone’s name on the no-fly list were inadequate and violated Americans’ Fifth Amendment right to due process.

[As was reported by the New York Times on 6/25/14:]

That case was brought by 13 people who had been prevented from boarding flights and had submitted requests to the Department of Homeland Security’s Traveler Redress Inquiry Program without success.

In a 65-page ruling, Judge Anna J. Brown of Federal District Court for the District of Oregon said that the procedures for reviewing whether it was appropriate to put someone’s name on the list were inadequate and violated Americans’ Fifth Amendment right to due process.

Judge Brown wrote that the redress procedures were “wholly ineffective” and created a “high risk of erroneous deprivation” of the plaintiffs’ rights, leaving them potentially “doomed to indefinite placement on the no-fly list,” in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

“The absence of any meaningful procedures to afford plaintiffs the opportunity to contest their placement on the no-fly list violates plaintiffs’ rights to procedural due process,” she wrote.

Under the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security must give the plaintiffs more information about why they are on the list and an opportunity to present evidence to rebut the issues. It must also come up with a new mechanism generally for allowing people to challenge their inclusion.

The Oregon judge’s ruling appears to particularly address pages 27-29 of the leaked document, which outline the procedures for removing an individual from the watchlist and how to provide fair and timely review of individual complaints.

Different Views of the Fourth Anniversary of Dodd-Frank

Monday marked the four-year anniversary of the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.  Created in response to the causal factors of the 2008 financial crisis, Dodd-Frank is proving to be the most significant financial reform legislation passed since President Roosevelt’s New Deal after the Great Depression.

Dodd-Frank’s scope undertakes the role of an economy-wide Inspector General.  Just to name a few of the Act’s intentions: mandating transparency for corporations and financial institutions, identifying and preventing “too-big-to-fail” banking scenarios, and preserving the greater public’s interest in whistleblower cases.

The New York Times published an op-ed from Jordan Thomas and Tom Devinepraising the whistleblower protection effects of Dodd-Frank despite the fact that private companies are continuously trying to circumvent the Act.  A growing coalition of organizations are currently petitioning the Securities Exchange Commission to uphold the Act in the private sector and increase their level of participation with national whistleblower concerns:

As Dodd-Frank has steadily increased the probability of detection, companies have become more sophisticated and aggressive in their efforts to discourage employees from reporting possible violations to the S.E.C. and other authorities. The legal countermeasures being deployed include a variety of employment, severance and settlement agreements that weaken both new and existing whistle-blower programs.

Examples include: failing to educate employees about the S.E.C. whistle-blower program and their rights, unlike other corporate, state and federal programs; preventing employees from consulting legal counsel through the use of nondisclosure agreements, effectively eliminating their ability to file anonymously in accordance with S.E.C. rules; exploiting corporate whistle-blowers’ fear of retaliation and blacklisting by requiring notice of external reporting, in violation of their right under Dodd-Frank and S.E.C. rules to report anonymously; de-incentivizing tips by making employees sign agreements waiving any future monetary awards for blowing the whistle; and intimidating potential whistle-blowers with lawsuits to enforce secrecy agreements, a battle few whistle-blower have the desire and resources to fight.

To be sure, the vast majority of companies want to do the right thing. Many need guidance on lawful boundaries for standard employment agreements. Others appear to be intentionally crossing the line and using gag orders to chill external reporting. While no court has issued an opinion on the legality of these agreements in light of Dodd-Frank, many of them are clearly at odds with public policy, not justified by a legitimate corporate interest and inconsistent with principles of employment, contract and securities law. Because of the systemic nature and continuing harm, we have just filed a petition with the S.E.C. that will provide companies clear direction regarding these troubling agreements.

We are joined by a broad and growing coalition, representing more than 250 organizations and nearly two million citizens, including Americans for Financial Reform, the National Employment Lawyers Association, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and other prominent groups. This coalition has also submitted a petition, urging the S.E.C. to hold a series of hearings around the country to discuss the problem of workplace retaliation and explore new ways to increase reporting, internally and externally. It also asks the agency to create an advisory committee on whistle-blower reporting and protection to recommend program improvements and best practices; and engage in appropriate rule-making to clarify and strengthen whistle-blower protections.

With whistle-blowers beginning to break Wall Street’s code of silence, it would be a historic mistake if the S.E.C. and other authorities allowed corporations to systematically dismantle this landmark investor protection reform through private agreements and legal bullying. If their rights are protected, in the coming years, enforcement records will be broken and many of the S.E.C.’s most significant cases will come from courageous whistle-blowers. More important, whistle-blowers will become the enforcers of a new culture of integrity on Wall Street that deters future violations and restores the public’s trust in our financial system.

Clearly representing the ‘redder’ end of the geo-political light-spectrum, The Wall Street Journal also published an article commemorating the Act’s anniversary, slamming the effects of Dodd-Frank since its passage:

There is always a trade-off between regulation and economic growth, but Dodd-Frank—by far the most intrusive and costly financial regulation since the New Deal—placed few if any limitations on regulatory power. Written broadly and leaving regulators to fill in the details, the act has often left regulators in doubt about what Congress meant. Even after regulations have been finalized, interpreting them can be a trial. For example, the regulations implementing the inconsistent Volcker Rule, which prohibited banks and their affiliates from trading securities for their own account, took more than three years to write, but key provisions are still unclear.

These uncertainties, costs and restrictions have sapped the willingness or ability of the financial industry to take the prudent risks that economic growth requires. With many more regulations still to come, Dodd-Frank is likely to be an economic drag for many years.

Dodd-Frank also created the Financial Stability Oversight Council, consisting of the leaders of all federal financial regulators and headed by the Treasury secretary. FSOC has the extraordinary power to designate certain nonbank financial firms as “systematically important financial institutions” (SIFIs) if, in the judgment of the council, the firm’s “material financial distress” would cause financial “instability.” By definition, then, SIFI designation means a nonbank financial institution is “too big to fail.” Although we are currently saddled (thanks to past government policies) with several enormous banks that may be too big to fail, the act gave the FSOC the power to create more too-big-to-fail institutions in other industries.

The SIFI process is underway, with AIG, Prudential Financial and GE Capital already designated. These firms are now subject to bank like regulation by the Fed—though the central bank has given no hint of what this regulation will ultimately entail.

There is much more, but one example says it all. Several months ago J.P. Morgan Chase announced that it plans to hire 3,000 more compliance officers this year, to supplement the 7,000 brought on last year. At the same time the bank will reduce its overall head count by 5,000. Substituting employees who produce no revenue for those who do is the legacy of Dodd-Frank, and it will be with us as long as this destructive law is on the books.

Russia Given Back Cuban Listening Post In Exchange For Debt Relief

During a visit to Cuba last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin jointly announced with Cuban leader Raul Castro that it would re-open a Soviet-era listening post on the Caribbean island nation.  In exchange for Russia being permitted to operate the post, roughly $35 billion in outstanding Cuban debt to the former USSR has been forgiven.

This isn’t the first time the two nations have discussed the former satellite state’s debt situation.  In 2013, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met with Castro to restructure the same debt.  In a foretelling 2013 report, WorldCrunch anticipated the recent headlines:

The terms of the debt restructuring are still unknown, and both sides seem intent on keeping it a secret. But in other cases where Russia has agreed to restructure Soviet-era debt, the deal has involved writing off between 90% and 95% of the debt. So it is unlikely that Cuba will end up owing more than $3 billion. 

It’s not exactly clear yet what the Russian’s intend to do with the physical Lourdes site.  The New York Times reported Wednesday on the history and significance of the Russian surveillance post:

Russia vacated the listening post site at Lourdes, outside Havana, in 2001. At the time, Mr. Putin cited the strapped finances of the post-Soviet Russian government and said the war in Chechnya was a higher priority than maintaining a Cold War relic half a world away.

In its heyday, the Soviet signals intelligence base at Lourdes enabled Moscow to listen in on microwave transmissions of telephone conversations in the southeastern United States, keep an eye on the United States Navy in the Atlantic, monitor the space program at Cape Canaveral and communicate with its spies on American soil. In 1993, when Mr. Castro was chief of the Cuban armed forces, he boasted that Russia obtained 75 percent of its strategic intelligence on the United States through Lourdes.

The facility includes a large array of satellite dishes and antennas spread over about 28 square miles, about 150 miles from the Florida coast. The Kommersant report said that a decade of booming oil revenue meant that Russia could once again afford to operate Lourdes, and that deteriorating relations with the United States prompted a desire to reopen a peephole on a “potential enemy.”

It was not clear what might be left of the equipment at Lourdes, or how useful it would be after 13 years of technological advances and the gravitation of much communications traffic to fiber-optic and satellite links. Even so, Viktor I. Mukharovsky, a retired colonel, said in a telephone interview that the Russian military was “extraordinarily interested” in reactivating the post, which could help it gauge the state of readiness of the American military, among other things.

“It’s no secret that when we left in 2001, we expected to launch a fleet of radio electronic surveillance satellites,” he said. “But we never found the money, and — speaking softly — our satellite surveillance capabilities are still modest.”

I am sure that Putin’s guest, Edward Snowdin, will object to Russia’s use of this post to invade US citizens privacy by listening in on US communications.  Right?  Right?

-RM

Airline Industry Trying to Change Ticket Pricing Through Congress

The US domestic airlines industry is lobbying lawmakers heavily as of late to pass legislation that would provide ticket sellers with greater flexibility in the pricing process. 

Under current legislation, every quoted ticket amount must be the final price, including all taxes and fees.  The proposed legislation, the Transparent Airfares Act, would permit airline companies to advertise their tickets for the price that includes only what their company actually receives from the sale, regardless of the fact that there are other parties requiring immediate payment (gov’t, airports, etc.) for the ticket acquisition to be complete.  In support of the proposed legislation, lobbyists raise the transparency argument that Americans should be aware of how much they are being taxed on their purchases.  What this means to the consumer is that any taxes and fees won’t be included in the advertised price and won’t appear until the final steps of the transaction with the seller.  The Washington Post recognized the airlines’ position in their report yesterday:

“With the latest government tax hike going into effect this month, 21 percent of the price of a typical airline ticket will be made up of government-mandated taxes and fees,” says Victoria Day, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, which represents domestic airlines. “If the administration gets its way in its proposed budget, that percentage would soar even higher, to 26 percent.”

The Transportation Department’s “full fare” advertising rule, which the new law would undo, requires airlines to “hide” taxes in the price of a ticket, she says. But if the bill passes, it would allow consumers to know how much they’re paying in taxes.

“It will help protect consumers from a government that looks to tax air travelers every time it needs revenue,” Day says.

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