How to get a personal VPN and why you need one now — Quartz

“A computer lets you make more mistakes faster than any other invention with the possible exceptions of handguns and Tequila.” — Mitch Ratcliffe

Soon every mistake you’ve ever made online will not only be available to your internet service provider (ISP) — it will be available to any corporation or foreign government who wants to see those mistakes.

Thanks to last week’s US Senate decision and yesterday’s House decision, ISPs can sell your entire web browsing history to literally anyone without your permission. The only rules that prevented this are all being repealed, and won’t be reinstated any time soon (it would take an act of Congress).

You might be wondering: Who benefits from repealing these rules? Other than those four monopoly ISPs that control America’s “last mile” of internet cables and cell towers?

No one. No one else benefits in any way. Our privacy (and our nation’s security) have been diminished so a few mega-corporations can make a little extra cash.

In other words, these politicians — who have received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the ISPs for decades — have sold us out.

How did this happen?

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) was passed in 1996 to allow Congress to overrule regulations created by government agencies.

Sen. Flake

Prior to 2017, congress had only successfully used the CRA once. But since the new administration took over in January, it’s been successfully used 3 times — for things like overturning pesky environmental regulations.

Senator Jeff Flake — a Republican representing Arizona — lead the effort to overturn the FCC’s privacy rules. He was already the most unpopular senator in the US. Now he may become the most unpopular senator in US history.

Instead of just blaming Flake, though, let’s remember that every single senator who voted in favor of overturning these privacy rules was a Republican. Every single Democrat and Independent senator voted against this CRA resolution. The final vote was 50–48, with two Republicans voting against the resolution, and another two choosing not to vote.

“Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.” — John Perry Barlow

VPN company Private Internet Access paid $600,000 to run this full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times — even though they would make a ton of money if these rules were repealed. That’s how this CRA is — even the VPN companies are campaigning against it.

The CRA resolution passed yesterday in the House of Representatives, where 231 Republicans voted in favor of removing privacy protections against 189 Democrats who voted against it. (Again, not a single non-Republican voted to remove these privacy protections.)

All that’s left is for the Republican president to sign the resolution, which he most certainly will do.

So what kind of messed-up things can ISPs now legally do with our data?

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, there are at least five creepy things the FCC regulations would have made illegal. But thanks to the Senate, ISPs can now continue doing these things as much as they want, and it will probably be years before we can do anything to stop them.

  1. Sell your browsing history to basically any corporation or government that wants to buy it
  2. Hijack your searches and share them with third parties
  3. Monitor all your traffic by injecting their own malware-filled ads into the websites you visit
  4. Stuff undetectable, un-deletable tracking cookies into all of your non-encrypted traffic
  5. Pre-install software on phones that will monitor all traffic — even HTTPS traffic — before it gets encrypted. AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have already done this with some Android phones.

So how do we have any hope of protecting our privacy now?

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 91% of adults agree or strongly agree that “consumers have lost control of how personal information is collected and used by companies.”

But we shouldn’t despair. But as the same British Prime Minister who cautioned us to “hope for the best and prepare for the worst” also said:

“Despair is the conclusion of fools.” — Benjamin Disraeli in 1883

Well we are not fools. We’re going to take the actions necessary to secure our family’s privacy against the acts of reckless monopolies and their political puppets.

And we’re going to do this using the most effective tools for securing online communication: encryption and VPNs.

Step 1: enable HTTPS Everywhere

As I mentioned, ISPs can work around HTTPS if they are able to factory-install spyware on your phone’s operating system. As long as you can avoid buying those models of phones, HTTPS will give you a huge amount of additional protection.

HTTPS works by encrypting traffic between destination websites and your device by using the secure TLS protocol.

The problem is that, as of 2017, only about 10% of websites have enabled HTTPS, and even many of those websites haven’t properly configured their systems to disallow insecure non-HTTPS traffic (even though it’s free and easy to do using LetsEncrypt).

This is where the EFF’s HTTPS Everywhere extension comes in handy. It will make these websites default to HTTPS, and will alert you if you try and access a site that isn’t HTTPS. It’s free and you can install it here.

One thing we know for sure — thanks to the recent WikiLeaks release of the CIA’s hacking arsenal — is that encryption still works. As long as you’re using secure forms of encryption that haven’t yet been cracked — and as far as we know, HTTPS’s TLS encryption hasn’t been — your data will remain private.

“The average busy professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, takes care of personal and family obligations, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she likely committed several federal crimes that day.” — Harvey Silverglate

By the way, if you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you read my article on how to encrypt your entire life in less than an hour.

But even with HTTPS enabled, ISPs will still know — thanks to their role in actually connecting you to websites themselves — what websites you’re visiting, even if they don’t know what you’re doing there.

And just knowing where you’re going — the “metadata” of your web activity — gives ISPs a lot of information they can sell.

For example, someone visiting may be in the market for a new car, and someone visiting may be pregnant.

That’s where using a VPN comes in.

How VPNs can protect you

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network.

  • Virtual because you’re not creating a new physical connecting with your destination — your data is just traveling through existing wires between you and your destination.
  • Private because it encrypts your activity before sending it, then decrypts it at the destination.

People have traditionally used VPNs as a way to get around websites that are blocked in their country (for example, Medium is blocked in Malaysia) or to watch movies that aren’t available in certain countries. But VPNs are extremely useful for privacy, too.

There are several types of VPN options, with varying degrees of convenience and security.

Experts estimate that as many as 90% of VPNs are “hopelessly insecure” and this changes from time to time. So even if you use the tools I recommend here, I recommend you take the time to do your homework.

Browser-based VPNs

Most VPNs are services that cost money. But the first VPN option I’m going to tell you about is convenient and completely free.

Opera is a popular web browser that comes with some excellent privacy features, like a free built-in VPN and a free ad blocker (and as you may know, ads can spy on you).

If you just want a secure way to browse the web without ISPs being able to easily snoop on you and sell your data, Opera is a great start. Let’s install and configure it real quick. This takes less than 5 minutes.

Before you get started, note that this will only anonymize the things you do within the Opera browser. Also, I’m obligated to point out that even though Opera’s parent company is European, it was recently purchased by a consortium of Chinese tech companies, and there is a non-zero risk that it could be compromised by the Chinese government.

Having said that, here’s how to browse securely with Opera:

Step #1: Download the Opera browser

Step #2: Turn on its ad blocker

Step #3: Turn on its VPN

Step #4: Install HTTPS Everywhere

When you’re done, Opera should look like this:

Presto — you can now browse the web with reasonable confidence that your ISPs — or really anyone else —don’t know who you are or what you’re doing.

You can even set your VPN to a different country. Here, I’ve set mine to Singapore so websites will think I’m in Singapore. To test this out, I visited and they did indeed think I was in Singapore.

Since the internet is complex, and data passes through hundreds of providers through a system of peering and trading traffic, US-based ISPs shouldn’t be able to monitor my traffic when it emerges from Singapore.

If you want to take things next level, you can try Tor, which is extremely private, and extremely hard to de-anonymize (though it can be done, as depicted in the TV show Mr. Robot — though it would require incredible resources).

Tor’s a bit more work to set up and use, and is slower than using a VPN. If you want to learn more, I have a getting-started guide for Tor here.

VPN Services

The most common way people get VPNs is through a monthly service. There are a ton of these. Ultimately, you must trust the company running the VPN, because there’s no way to know what they’re doing with your data.

As I said, some VPNs are improperly configured, and may leak personally identifying data.

Before you buy a VPN, read up on how it compares to other here. Once you buy a VPN, the best way to double check that it’s working properly is to visit while using the VPN.

Even though most users of VPNs are companies with remote employees, the NSA will still put you on a list if you purchased a VPN. So I recommend using something anonymous to do so, like a pre-loaded Visa card. (By the way, Bitcoin is not anonymous.)

There are dozens of VPN services, and there’s no clear “winner.” I asked people on Twitter which VPNs they were using and got a variety of answers:

Some routers are designed to work with VPNs at higher speeds than others. If you want to use a VPN at the router level, and your internet connection is less than 100 mps, this router will probably suffice. Otherwise, you’ll need to pay a bit more for a router like this one.

If you don’t trust the router companies, you can modify a router using Tomato USB. It’s an alternative open source Linux-based router firmware that’s compatible with some off-the-shelf routers.

Privacy is hard. But it’s worth it.

Privacy is a fundamental human right, and has been declared so by the United Nations.

Still, many people believe we live in a “post-privacy” era. For example, Mark Zuckerberg claims privacy isn’t that important any more. But look at his actions. He paid $30 million to buy the 4 houses adjacent to his Palo Alto home so he could have more privacy.

Other people are just too jaded and shell-shocked by all the data breaches around us to believe that privacy is still worth the fight.

But most people who say they don’t care about their own privacy anymore just haven’t really given it much thought.

“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” — Edward Snowden

Last week’s US Senate vote is just the latest in a series of events that show how we can’t trust governments to act in the interest of consumers when it comes to their privacy.

We need stronger privacy protections enshrined in the law.

In the meantime, we’ll just have to look out for ourselves, and educate other people to do the same.


Source: How to get a personal VPN and why you need one now — Quartz

Millennials are obsessed with side hustles because they’re all we’ve got — Quartz

On weekends, Colleen teaches fitness classes. Mary builds websites. Luke sells vintage video games. Tony designs and 3D-prints custom Star Wars miniatures. I write for the internet.

Among my friends, and 20- and 30-somethings as a whole, the side hustle–the gig you work in addition to your day job–is so ubiquitous that, in April, Glamour Magazine posed the rueful question: “You don’t freelance on the side… What kind of urban-dwelling Millennial are you?” Failing to participate in the trend might even lead one to a “Millennial identity crisis.”

Advertisers, including those you might not think of as in the vanguard, have glommed on, too. This Chevy ad suggests owning a Cruze is a way to “#FuelYourHustle.” It’s a two minute long rallying cry to being your own boss. Sure, there’s no explicit mention of using your shiny new car as an Uber. But if you’re under 35, you can probably hear that dog whistle.

I’m not objecting. It’s a relief to see facts leading marketing, rather than the other way around. We are Generation 1099. By our side hustles, ye shall know us. What surprises me is that no one, at least to my knowledge, has tried to explain why.

 Millennials didn’t invent the second job, they just branded it. Maybe that’s because many people assume the side hustle is just financially oriented, simply another adaptive response to recession-era economics. Google “side hustle” and you will find thousands of stories, but they are all focused on the how. As in, Dear internet, how can I make another $200 a month to cover my Verizon bill?

Extra cash is far from the whole story. It’s true, the 2008 crisis forced plenty of people to look for additional sources of income, not least of all the recent graduates who, with little experience and limited networks, were confronting the job market for the first time. But the desire to earn more money on the side predates the crisis (as does the Urban Dictionary definition of “side hustle”). Millennials didn’t invent the second job, they just branded it.

Here’s an example. Those friends of mine whose jobs are the most squarely aimed at the public good–teachers, local-government workers, a college buddy who works for a beloved and worthy nonprofit–they all tell me their side hustles are about survival, about being able to afford to live. Or just to eat at a restaurant once in a while. None would claim these jobs paid well before the recession.

And that’s to say nothing of those who don’t have access to college education, those who can’t find day jobs at all, and those for whom, by choice or not, a 1099 is all there is.

The sheer range of side hustles suggests there’s more in play than money. There are the well known app-based gigs, like Uber and TaskRabbit. You’ve got the day job with a freelance extension–the full-time graphic designer who also has her own clients. Then there’s what you might ungenerously call the side hustle as self-promotion, which covers some yoga teachers and life coaches, though by no means all. Next along the line is the side hustle as self-delusion, i.e. spending years on some (doomed) artistic effort that will make the world care and understand, at last!

If that sounds harsh, well, I should know. Last year, writing for the internet earned me a grand total of $415 before taxes, or about the price of two hotel nights on the outskirts of Manhattan or San Francisco. To say I’m not in it for the money would be understatement. Not because I’m above such earthly considerations. There’s just very little money in it to be for.

 The side hustle offers something worth much more than money: A hedge against feeling stuck and dull and cheated by life. In fact, given all the hours I’ve devoted to it, there’s no question in my mind that I’ve lost more than I’ve made, if only in terms of my Starbucks spend. But I’m not complaining.

The side hustle offers something worth much more than money: A hedge against feeling stuck and dull and cheated by life. This psychological benefit is the real reason for the Millennial obsession, I’d argue, and why you might want to consider finding your own side hustle, no matter how old you are.

Now, you might wonder, what would a bunch of twenty-five year olds know about feeling stuck and dull? Put another way, what happens when a generation raised with a “you can be whatever you want to be” ethos meets the worst job market in years? In which many of the traditional dream careers–from working in the arts to becoming a lawyer–go from being long shots to being totally untenable, or more or less cease to exist altogether?

For me, the biggest laugh in Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck was the notion that, in an ostensible 2014-2015, her character has a “great job” as a staff writer at a (print!) men’s magazine–a job so lucrative she can afford a “sick apartment” and also help to underwrite her father’s nursing-home costs. Romcoms, even when written by a progressive, typically on-point comic like Schumer, aren’t intended to be realistic portrayals. Still, the detail struck me as less fanciful than simply uncanny, more appropriate to a Buñuel film with explicit surrealist intentions.

Much closer to the mark was how, in Lena Dunham’s Girls, Marnie aspires to be an art curator until she is told, by a curator, that “curator as a job doesn’t really exist anymore.” I can relate. The person who encouraged me not to pursue a full-time journalism career was himself a career journalist. We even attended the same journalism school 35 years apart. I’m speaking of my Dad.

Okay, so them’s the breaks. Previous generations have also coped with such semi-tragedy; probably every human ever has been a sort of actor-waiter at some point. In any case, those of us who are employed generally understand ourselves to be lucky. Working as a benefits administrator, an ad-sales rep or even a Facebook engineer might not be the dream job. But your side hustle can keep you from feeling pigeonholed. It’s the distraction from your disappointment, a bridge between crass realities and your compelling inner life.

In the best-case scenario, your side hustle can be like a lottery ticket, offering the possibility–however remote–that you just might hit the jackpot and discover that holy grail of gigs. The one that perfectly blends money and love. The one that’s coming along any day now.

We welcome your comments at [email protected].


Source: Millennials are obsessed with side hustles because they’re all we’ve got — Quartz

After Years of Record-Label Limbo, Michelle Branch Can Tell You That She’s Happy Now :: Music :: Features :: Michelle Branch :: Paste

Sometimes when Michelle Branch goes out for coffee, the barista recognizes the name on her credit card. Assuming that said server was alive and watching MTV or VH1 in the early aughts, they’ll almost certainly ask Branch what she’s been up to since the release of her platinum-selling 2003 sophomore record, Hotel Paper, which is home to rotation-heavy singles like “Are You Happy Now?” and “Breathe.”

The singer-songwriter, 33, is accustomed to this type of well-intentioned third degree; if every career decision had been hers, she explains over tea at the Bowery Hotel in New York, she’d have put out additional solo work a long time ago. Instead, it’s 14 years later, and she’s at last able to release her long-awaited third record, Hopeless Romantic (out on April 7 via Verve).

So, to echo her fans and the occasional server, what was the hold up? Well, with the exception of her time spent in country-pop duo The Wreckers from 2005 to 2007, much of the time between Hotel Paper and now has consisted of a seemingly endless cycle of promotional fits and starts, personnel changes at Warner Brothers (which put out her 2001 commercially lauded debut, The Spirit Room and its aforementioned follow-up), and the fact that, after every setback, her label still refused to drop her.

“There was too much money to be made off of me,” she says matter-of-factly. “It wasn’t personal. I had relationships with people who are still my friends [at Warner]. [We’d] rally the troops and get the right team and everyone would be excited and we would move forward and suddenly it’s like, “Oh, somebody bought Warner Brothers and this guy’s fired and this guy’s going and this new person’s coming in. And as you’re waiting for a new president to come in, he’s gonna make his new hires and he’s going to do some firing. And every time a new person would come in, they’d be like, ‘Well, these recordings are old, maybe you should go in the studio, start writing again.’”

Understandably, the extent to which Branch felt caught in a major-label web caused her to start questioning the very quality of her work. “At the end of the day, you start thinking, ‘I’m the common denominator. Maybe none of this is good enough.’ It was a complete mindfuck.”

Despite the red tape and vault-locked recordings (she came close to releasing an album called West Coast Time in 2011), Branch has managed to keep busy. She says that she’s played a selection of private acoustic shows; she’s “worked on a food show with a friend,” she spends time with her 11-year-old daughter, Owen. And throughout all of this, Branch has always been recording, forever optimistic that her solo music would see daylight.

Finally, more than a decade after the release of Hotel Paper, she got her chance. In the summer of 2014, a few months before finalizing her divorce from ex-husband Teddy Landau, Warner did drop Branch. The following winter, she bumped into The Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney at a Grammy party. Like everyone else, he immediately asked where she’d been. “He was sitting in the corner and everyone was doing their whole obnoxious L.A. party thing,” she says. “I kind of walked in not knowing anyone, and he was like, ‘Michelle? What’s going on? Why haven’t you put out an album?’

“The thing about Pat is that he’s a sucker for the underdog,” she continues. “I told him about being stuck at Warner Brothers and not having music out, and in his mind it was as if I had dropped a puzzle in front of him. It was like, ‘Okay, the pieces are here, why hasn’t anyone put them together?’ We started talking about music, and I was like, ‘Listen, I’m a huge fan of yours. I don’t know if you’d ever be open to it, but I’d love to send you music and maybe you could produce?’ He was really self-deprecating and said, ‘I don’t know, are you sure you want to ask me? I might ruin it.’ And I was like, ‘No, no, I really would love your opinion.’”

Coincidentally, Branch had thought about reaching out to The Black Keys before. But (of course) her label was on the fence. “My A&R guy at the time was like, ‘Uhhhh, I don’t know if that collaboration would work. That’s kind of weird.’ And I think they reached out to Dan and not Patrick. I never heard back, so I figured they weren’t interested.”

Despite his trepidation, Carney listened to Branch’s demos, which she describes as “everything from iPhone recordings to bad, half-assed recordings with built-up tracks.” Carney saw where Branch’s mind was, and he sent back references for her to consider—bands Branch’s old label probably would’ve balked at. Bands like The Cardigans and Beach House.

At this point, you might think Branch had completely come out of the woods in terms of record-label mismanagement, but she wasn’t there yet. Signed to Verve in the summer of 2015, Branch played a few new songs for her new label, who weren’t quite sold on the idea of her working with Carney. “The label guy came to the studio, and we were all sitting around and ordered lunch and turned on the music. At the end he was like, ‘Michelle, I think you’re making a huge mistake. This doesn’t sound like you.’ It was really frustrating, because here’s this middle-aged guy who doesn’t play music, who’s from a radio-promotional background, and he was like, ‘You’re this.’ But I’m like, ‘That was 15 years ago.’”

Carney and Branch felt deeply discouraged. Was this really happening again? Another record-label exec telling her that her music wasn’t authentically her? “We were so bummed,” she says. “Patrick was like, ‘You know what? You’ve been through the wringer, and you need to get music out. You can’t wait around for a label anymore.’” Carney was so frustrated on Branch’s behalf that he offered to finance the record himself. “Let’s finish the record,” she remembers him saying. “The worst thing that could happen is you turn it in and they won’t like it and they’ll drop it and you’ll own the record.”

In a strange turn of events, by the time Hopeless Romantic was done in May 2015, Verve’s label president had been fired and replaced. The new one was, thankfully, more on board with Branch’s new direction, telling her, “Don’t change a thing.”

“It was a huge lesson in betting on yourself,” she says. “Had I listened to the old president and gone and listened to the pop-writing team he wanted to put me with, I don’t know if I would even still be on the label, I probably would have been dropped. And that record would have never been finished. Not only that, but my relationship with Patrick turned romantic towards the end.”

Branch’s relationship with Carney eventually brought her to Nashville, where he lives. Although initially she had been planning on spending a year in England, a moment she describes as “a little Eat, Pray, Love.” Either way, whether it had to do with her divorce or simply a symbolic break from her past with Warner Brothers, she knew that she needed to move.

“I’d wanted out of L.A. back before I met Patrick,” she recalls. “My ex-husband—who I’m thankful it was an amicable split, all very Modern Family—he had kind of given me the green light where all this stuff was happening in my life. I was like, ‘What if I move to England for a year?’ I was like, “I know it’s far away, but I need to go somewhere where I don’t know anyone and I don’t have anything familiar.’”

Ultimately, though, her relationship with Carney did bring her to the South, an arrangement she admits works out well, as Owen can see her dad with more regularity than a move to Europe would have allowed.

After relocating in the summer of 2016, she did more than just ready her new material. In the lead up to Hopeless Romantic, Branch and Owen proudly participated in the local Women’s March in January. ”[Owen] wrote on poster board, ‘A Racist Pig Is Not My President,’ and she had his face with like a pig mask,” she recalls. “She knew what she wanted to say.” Branch (naturally) suffered some social-media pushback when she posted her daughter’s sign to Instagram, but she brushes those comments off. “Being a mom, I can’t let shit slide by,” she says. “It got to the point where I literally had to post like, ‘If you don’t believe in these basic human rights that should be a no-brainer, then unfollow me now.’” (It’s not the first time Branch has been outwardly political—in May of last year, she sang an updated rendition of “Goodbye to You” as “Goodbye Ted Cruz” on Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.)

In addition to inspiring a move to The Music City, Branch’s feelings for Carney, who plays percussion in her live band, also openly affect Hopeless Romantic, which not only edges her pop-rock aesthetic into moodier territory, but its content captures the emotional peaks and valleys that occur as one relationship ends and another begins. Each track shudders with equal parts excitement and vulnerability: On the moaning “Best You Ever,” Branch addresses her ex, singing, “We used to be for real / But now you make me feel / Like I’ll never be enough.” Yet on the next song, the sensual “You’re Good,” she sighs in ecstasy at having found a new lover: “I know the way you feel in the dark / Move in the dark / So slow / Like a song, I know you by heart.” On the springy “Heart Break Now,” she shrugs, “You can’t help who you love,” as if reassuring herself that it’s safe to take a chance on partnership again.

Longtime Branch fans will also notice a direct shift in musical style. Where her earliest hits—the skittering alt-pop jam “Everywhere” and the piano-tinged “Goodbye To You”—feature a post-adolescent Branch singing her lungs dry in a high-pitched bubblegummy voice, the tracks on Hopeless Romantic demonstrate maturity in songwriting and sound, with Branch downshifting in octave and experimenting with grooving, minimalist arrangements. “A lot of people don’t know this, but your voice changes when you have a baby and when you get older,” she says. “So when I play ‘Everywhere’ or ‘All You Wanted’ live, now, they’re down a half step.”

When I ask Branch what her relationship is to her oldest material, she says that she’s happy to play songs like “Everywhere” live, but she chafes somewhat at hearing those tracks on the radio. “I can’t sing in that register anymore, and there are production choices I wish we didn’t make.”

She continues: “That was a time in my life that was crazy. I went from small-town Arizona to literally traveling the world before I was even 20. Now it’s really fun because I’m going on tour this summer, and we’re working in these old songs with the new ones and it’s like breathing new life into them and trying to find a way to make them modern and fit with the new stuff. It’s been a lot easier than you’d think. We did a showcase in New York in January and played six songs. One of them was ‘Are You Happy Now?,’ and you wouldn’t even know that it was out of place. But if it came on the radio while I was in a car alone I would change it. If it’s on in, like, a CVS while I’m buying tampons, I’d be like, ‘Oh, god!’”

Source: After Years of Record-Label Limbo, Michelle Branch Can Tell You That She’s Happy Now :: Music :: Features :: Michelle Branch :: Paste

Rep. Ted Yoho says Devin Nunes works for Donald Trump.

Calfornia Rep. Devin Nunes is in the soup a bit at the moment because he’s been conducting the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the Trump-Russia-wiretapping scandal in such a way that seems designed to serve the interests of the White House rather than, like, the public. (Most prominently, Nunes announced that he’d seen classified information that suggested Trump associates had been treated inappropriately without disclosing that he apparently received that information during a meeting in an office on the White House grounds with Trump administration officials.) Even one Republican congressman (North Carolina’s Walter Jones) has criticized Nunes’ seeming lack of impartiality and called on him to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation.

Republican Florida Rep. Ted Yoho is having none of that checks-and-balances nonsense, though, as you can see in the clip above of an exchange this morning with MSNBC’s Craig Melvin. The transcript:

Source: Rep. Ted Yoho says Devin Nunes works for Donald Trump.

This Is Almost Certainly James Comey’s Twitter Account

Digital security and its discontents—from Hillary Clinton’s emails to ransomware to Tor hacks—is in many ways one of the chief concerns of the contemporary FBI. So it makes sense that the bureau’s director, James Comey, would dip his toe into the digital torrent with a Twitter account. It also makes sense, given Comey’s high profile, that he would want that Twitter account to be a secret from the world, lest his follows and favs be scrubbed for clues about what the feds are up to. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that it only took me about four hours of sleuthing to find Comey’s account, which is not protected.

Last night, at the Intelligence and National Security Alliance leadership dinner, Comey let slip that he has both a secret Twitter and an Instagram account in the course of relating a quick anecdote about one of his daughters.

Who am I to say no to a challenge?

As far as finding Comey’s Twitter goes, the only hint he offered was the fact that he has “to be on Twitter now,” meaning that the account would likely be relatively new. Regarding his Instagram identity, though, Comey gave us quite a bit more to work with:

… I care deeply about privacy, treasure it. I have an Instagram account with nine followers. Nobody is getting in. They’re all immediate relatives and one daughter’s serious boyfriend. I let them in because they’re serious enough. I don’t want anybody looking at my photos. I treasure my privacy and security on the internet. My job is public safety.

Both a noble sentiment and an extremely helpful clue for tracking down the FBI director’s social media accounts. Because, presumably, if we can find the Instagram accounts belonging to James Comey’s family, we can also find James Comey.

Unfortunately, Instagram isn’t exactly conducive to custom searching, and there was no way any of his five children or his wife would be using their full names. Twitter, however, gives us a little more leverage.

After some trial and error, I found that his 22-year-old son, Brien Comey, seemed to have the largest online presence as a basketball star at Kenyon College. Go Lords.

It wasn’t easy to find Brien Comey on Twitter, though, because his first name is also the middle name of his father, who more people than you might think call “James Brien Comey” on Twitter.

After a few frustrated attempts, I tried the following Twitter search on a whim:

This would bring up any mentions of the younger Comey while leaving out any references to his father.

That led me to this tweet from the Twitter account of the Kenyon College basketball team, on which the younger Comey played as an undergraduate. It showed Comey teaching basketball to some schoolkids, and @-mentioned the now-dead Twitter account “@twittafuzz.” That account, if you search through its mentions, appears to have been previously owned by Brien Comey—if you believe the folks on Twitter congratulating @twittafuzz for his dad’s ascension to the head of the FBI.

The trail ultimately led me here:

Click through to the linked photo, and you’ll find that a well-wisher has left a comment in which none other than Brien Comey is tagged. Now, our FBI Director has trained his son well. His Instagram account is locked down. Instagram itself, however, offers a little loophole that is terrible for user privacy but wonderfully helpful for our purposes today.

Using the fake Instagram account I keep for the sole purpose of tracking Donald Trump Jr. and Newt Gingrich, I requested access to Brien Comey’s account. As soon as I did, this popped up:

The suggestions were algorithmically selected based on the account I requested to follow, a significant number of which bore the last name “Comey” (Patrice is his wife). Among the various Comeys, only two of the suggested accounts lacked both real names and profile photos. And only one of these had anywhere near the “nine followers” that James Comey claimed to have. That account was reinholdniebuhr.

I still wasn’t sure that this was, in fact, James Comey. But a quick Google search turned up this article on Comey’s time at the College of William and Mary, and my doubts were assuaged:

By senior year, Comey was a double major in religion and chemistry, writing a senior thesis on theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and televangelist Jerry Falwell and on his way to the University of Chicago Law School

With Instagram solved, it was time to move back to Twitter. Though there is an @ReinholdNiebuhr, based on the tweets alone I was pretty sure that he was not our guy.

But fortunately for us, there are only seven accounts on Twitter currently using some variation of “Reinhold Niebuhr” as a user name.

And only one that seemed to be operating in stealth: @projectexile7.

But how to be sure? There is only one person currently following the account: Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare. Wittes is no Twitter neophyte. He is an active user with more than 25,000 followers, and he only follows 1,178 accounts—meaning he is not a subscriber to the “followback” philosophy. If he is following a random egg—and is the only account following it—there is probably a reason.

That reason could be the fact that, as Wittes wrote here, he is a personal friend of James Comey. (We’ve reached out to Wittes for comment but have yet to hear back.)

Project Exile happens to be a federal program that James Comey helped develop when he was a U.S. attorney living in Richmond. And then, of course, there are the follows.

ProjectExile7 follows 27 other accounts, the majority of which are either reporters, news outlets, or official government and law enforcement accounts. The New York Times’ Adam Goldman and David Sanger and the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima and David Ignatius, all of whom have been aggressively covering the FBI investigation into Trump’s contacts with Russian agents, made the list, as did Wittes and former Bush Administration colleague Jack Goldsmith. Donald Trump is on there, too, but @projectexile7 seems to have begun following him relatively recently (its first follow was @nytimes).

There are two outliers: William & Mary News (where Comey attended undergrad) and our colleagues at The Onion (everyone deserves to have fun):

And of the 39 total tweets the account has liked thus far, eight refer directly to the FBI or James Comey himself:

One deals with an active FBI investigation:

And four refer to the Trump administration in general:

Of course, none of this is definitive proof @projectexile7 is FBI Director James Comey, but it would take a nearly impossible confluence of coincidences for it to be anyone else. Take what you will from the fact that the director of the FBI appears to have liked a tweet from the New York Times about Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner meeting a Russian envoy in December.

We’ve reached out to the FBI for comment, and will update if and when we hear back.

In the meantime, @projectexile7, I would love a follow.

Update 3:56 p.m.:

Benjamin Wittes has responded with the following:

I actually commented earlier today on Comey’s Twitter account—on Twitter, no less.

Beyond that public statement, I have nothing to say.

This story was produced by the Special Project Desk of Gizmodo Media Group.

Ashley Feinberg is a senior reporter for the Special Projects Desk, which produces investigative work across all of Gizmodo Media Group’s web sites.

PGP Fingerprint: 1B2B 2229 8096 1A6E 7744 8847 F32A CCC5 1E69 7FED|PGP Key

Source: This Is Almost Certainly James Comey’s Twitter Account

LGBTQ Americans Won’t Be Counted in 2020 U.S. Census After All – NBC News

Orlando Continues To Mourn The Mass Shooting At Gay Club That Killed 49
A same-sex couple holds hands. Spencer Platt / Getty Images, file

LGBTQ advocacy groups are outraged after proposed questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity were quickly removed Tuesday from a just-released draft of the 2020 U.S. Census.

The U.S. Census Bureau, which is part of the Department of Commerce, is required to issue a list of categories it plans to track three years before the survey is conducted. Tuesday’s list showed categories ranging from race and gender to the type of plumbing in homes and the length of a person’s daily commute to work. Each category is followed by a table showing the federal agencies that rely on the data to make decisions about law enforcement, health care, equal employment opportunities and more.

No previous U.S. Census has ever included LGBTQ Americans, which makes it challenging for federal agencies and researchers to accurately track the size, demographics and needs of the community. In addition, the more detailed American Community Survey also leaves out LGBTQ categories. Tuesday’s initial release from the Census Bureau proposed including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people on both surveys.

Advocacy groups have been campaigning for years to include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, and were briefly elated when the 2020 Census draft was released. But hopes were dashed when the proposed addition suddenly disappeared, and a statement was issued by the Census bureau that called the LGBTQ inclusion a mistake.

“The Subjects Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey report released today inadvertently listed sexual orientation and gender identity as a proposed topic in the appendix,” the U.S. Census Bureau said in a statement to NBC News. “This topic is not being proposed to Congress for the 2020 Census or American Community Survey. The report has been corrected.”

The National LGBTQ Task Force published both versions of the 2020 Census plan to its website, showing the removed row in the “Subjects Planned for the 2020 Census and American Community Survey” section.

Image showing removal of LGBT category from 2020 Census
Illustration: The National LGBTQ Task Force

“If the government doesn’t know how many LGBTQ people live in a community, how can it do its job to ensure we’re getting fair and adequate access to the rights, protections and services we need?” Meghan Maury, Criminal and Economic Justice Project Director at the National LGBTQ Task Force, asked in a statement Tuesday.

Maury told NBC News her organization plans to ask Congress for an oversight hearing, demanding answers from the Trump administration about why the category was suddenly removed.

“The National LGBTQ Task Force will continue to push for accurate data collection on LGBTQ people,” Maury added. “Whether it’s through lobbying for legislation in Congress, pushing the administration to adopt new policies or serving on the U.S. Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations.”

The removal of the LGBTQ category came just over a week after the Trump administration removed questions about LGBTQ senior citizens from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants. Those questions, which helped determine funding for groups that work with older LGBTQ Americans, had been added to the annual survey in 2014.

The push to tally LGBTQ Americans in the census has been ramping up in recent years. In April 2016, a bipartisan group of nearly 80 members of Congress asked that the census and the American Community Survey add questions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2009, the National LGBTQ Task Force launched a campaign encouraging LGBTQ people to place “Queer the Census” stickers on their survey packets when they mailed them back to the government. According to the Task Force, more than 100,000 LGBTQ people included the sticker on their 2010 census envelopes.

In a statement, GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis said the census confusion was just the latest in a series of Trump administration moves against the LGBTQ community—starting with the immediate removal of all LGBTQ-related content from the White House website on January 20 and continuing with moves to roll back protections for transgender students, remove LGBTQ people from two other federal surveys and cut funding for HIV/AIDS research.

“By erasing LGBTQ Americans from the 2020 U.S. Census, the Trump Administration is adding a disgusting entry to a long list of tactics they’ve adopted to legally deny services and legitimacy to hard-working LGBTQ Americans,” Ellis said.

NBC News reached out to the White House for comment and was told through email, “Since this simply is a mistake, as Commerce explained in their statement, we won’t be commenting any further.”

On Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson posted a statement on the bureau’s blog addressing the “error.”

“There have been a number of questions raised about the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity due to an error in the appendix of the report. Our proposal to Congress was that the planned subjects remain unchanged from the 2010 Census and will cover gender, age, race/ethnicity, relationship and homeownership status. It did not include sexual orientation or gender identity,” Thompson stated.

“In April 2016, more than 75 members of Congress wrote to the Census Bureau to request the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity as a subject for the American Community Survey. We carefully considered this thoughtful request and again worked with federal agencies and the [Office of Management and Budget] Interagency Working Group on Measuring Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to determine if there was a legislative mandate to collect this data. Our review concluded there was no federal data need to change the planned census and ACS subjects,” Thompson’s statement continued.

Editor’s Note: The original version of this article was updated to include a statement from the director of the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Source: LGBTQ Americans Won’t Be Counted in 2020 U.S. Census After All – NBC News

Can You Figure Out Why Lucasfilm Hates This Photo of Luke Skywalker?

There’s nothing at first glance that would tell you why Lucasfilm refused to release this behind-the-scenes photo from A New Hope. But once you hear it, and put it together with George Lucas’ need to control details, it makes total sense.

Yesterday, a fan account tweeted the above photo of Mark Hamill. And since Hamill’s twitter account is one of the few truly pure places on the internet, he responded with an explanation of why the photo had been MIA for years:

How dare there be a photo of Hamill wearing only part of his costume! Although, if it was supposed to be an official portrait of Luke Skywalker, that does make a bit more sense. Either way, it’s out now and thank god Hamill is here to tell us fun facts about it.

[via The Hollywood Reporter]

Katharine is a staff writer for io9 and Gizmodo

Source: Can You Figure Out Why Lucasfilm Hates This Photo of Luke Skywalker?

The Death Of A US Contractor Has Exposed America’s Failures In Syria – BuzzFeed News

American survivors tell the inside story of the fatal explosion that killed a US military contractor with two children. The blunders that led up to his death expose deep problems in farming out much of America’s Syria strategy to private companies. Now, the feds are investigating.


When the Bulgarian nurses jostled Mike Dougherty onto the hospital bed, he noticed that the sheets were red and damp with someone else’s blood.

The American lay in a hospital in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, disoriented and in pain, hoping he wouldn’t die or lose his foot. A Bulgarian doctor had hurriedly bandaged his shredded hands, peppered with shrapnel, and sutured the gash on his bleeding foot. At the open window, pigeons clustered on the sill, cooing.

Suddenly, a Bulgarian plainclothes intelligence officer arrived with an English interpreter and ordered the medical staff to leave the hospital room.

What were you doing handling weapons in our country? was the gruff question.

Dougherty immediately understood this was Bulgaria’s version of the KGB and that he could be facing years in a Bulgarian prison if he didn’t cough up the right answers.

Who gave you authorization to be in our country and fire military weapons?

As he lay there getting grilled, he realized he didn’t actually know the answers. While he had served in the US Army for 23 years, now he was a just private contractor, one of the legions of former soldiers who perform jobs once carried out by the US military. He’d been hired for this contract less than a month before.

What he knew was this: He was part of America’s covert, high-stakes effort to get weapons and training for Syrian rebels and sway one of the bloodiest wars in the world, a six-year conflict that has killed an estimated 450,000 people, forced more than 4.5 million people to flee as refugees, and sparked an anti-immigrant backlash across Europe and even in the United States. Dougherty knew his mission involved the secretive Special Operations Command, known as SOCOM (pronounced “SOH-com”), which oversees elite forces that run covert operations around the world. But he had never talked to any US government official about this job.

So all the wounded man could think of was how to avoid more questions. Dougherty moaned, letting the pain take over so he could fool the intelligence officer into thinking he was so delirious that he couldn’t answer.

“I had no idea if I was going to be letting the government down,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I had thought everything was approved, but I had no idea.”

Federal Investigation

The operation that Dougherty was protecting from disclosure that afternoon in the grimy Bulgarian hospital was connected to one of the most important — but worst executed — US foreign policy initiatives of the time, Obama’s hapless effort to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to battle ISIS. By the end of it, just a handful of fighters were actually trained, and they lost most of their US-funded equipment to al-Qaeda.

The episode in Bulgaria was a small part of America’s overall Syrian mission, but it pulls back the curtain on that failure, exposing how the Pentagon entrusted part of America’s crucial Syrian operation not to seasoned and skilled operators but to a tiny and inexperienced company named Purple Shovel.

Outside the military’s rigorous and time-honored chain of command, overseeing contractors and subcontractors can be difficult — and when Americans die, sifting out whom to hold accountable can be all but impossible.

In this case, as BuzzFeed News has previously reported, SOCOM granted two contracts in 2014 worth over $50 million to Purple Shovel, a virtually unknown player in the arms business, to provide weapons and equipment for Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. The company was also supposed to train American commandos how to use the weapons it provided, so that they, in turn, could train the Syrian rebels.

Purple Shovel was the “prime contractor,” meaning it signed the deals directly with SOCOM. But Purple Shovel farmed out crucial work to two other American companies, according to sources, government records, and court documents. SkyBridge Tactical was to provide a few highly skilled trainers who could teach American special operations soldiers how to handle Russian-designed weapons being sent to Syrian rebels. And Regulus Global, a Virginia firm, was to help Purple Shovel obtain powerful weapons for the rebels.

Regulus was led by a CEO who was found by state securities regulators to have committed “fraud or deceit” against an investor, and by a president who was prosecuted on federal bribery charges that were dismissed after his trial ended in a hung jury. Regulus, in turn, outsourced work to a Bulgarian arms company, Alguns, whose top executive, documents show, had links to a notorious organized crime figure known as the Baron.

The contracts were beset by snafus. But by far the most serious problem was the grenade explosion that put Dougherty in the Bulgarian hospital. The cause of the blast is still unclear. That explosion also wounded a colleague, retired Green Beret Jerry Parker, and killed another, Navy veteran Francis Norwillo, the jovial father of two young children.

SOCOM, for its part, insists that while it may have hired Purple Shovel, the explosion had nothing to do with any contracts it issued. The contractors say they were doing SOCOM’s work and deny responsibility for the fatal blast. But in a lawsuit against Purple Shovel, SkyBridge, and Regulus, Dougherty and Norwillo’s widow argue that all three companies are at fault.

Now there is a federal investigation. Four sources, three of whom were involved in the contract, told BuzzFeed News that the Department of Defense Inspector General is examining how and why officials at SOCOM gave Purple Shovel its contracts. They are also investigating whether the contractors and subcontractors complied with the law as they bought weapons for the secret program, the sources said, and they are trying to figure out what caused the fatal blast.

While the broad outlines of the botched contract have been sketched out, what happened on that deadly day — and the blunders that led up to it — has never been fully revealed. Now, based on court documents, other records, and exclusive interviews, that tale can be told.

No Body Armor

Dougherty was home in Tennessee when he got the call in mid-May 2015 from SkyBridge. He’d never heard of the firm but was told it was working on a government contract. Was he available, immediately, for a short-time gig, 78 days or so? The pay, he was told, was over $600 a day.

When SkyBridge called Parker, the retired Green Beret, he had just left the Special Forces 3rd Group, and he and his fiancé had a new baby daughter named Rebel Rose. “The $1,800-a-month retirement was not going to pay the bills,” he recalled. “I told my old lady, ‘It sucks, but here’s a job.’”

Mike Dougherty Courtesy of Mike Dougherty

Norwillo, too, had recently left a job as a civilian contractor in Afghanistan and was having a hard time landing new work stateside. The money SkyBridge was offering was too good to turn down, and he told his wife, Ziecha, he was excited about it. Still, she told him she was nervous about the assignment. “I thought he wouldn’t return. I had a weird feeling,” she said. “On the way to the airport, I told him, ‘What happens if you don’t come back?’ I asked him not to take his wedding ring.”

One thing that bothered the men, according to Dougherty and Parker, was that they didn’t get the protective gear they would have had if they were training on a US military range.

“My biggest concern,” said Parker, “was body armor and helmet.” He said in all his military experience, even among the battle-hardened professionals of the Special Forces, everyone complied with the stringent protective requirements for weapons training: “You need to be wearing body armor, long shirt, and helmet, and eye and ear protection when you are firing weapons.”

So he said he’d pushed SkyBridge repeatedly to get body armor and protective gear. “They said no. I brought it up numerous times.”

SkyBridge did not respond to requests for comment, and the company’s lawyer declined to comment.

Francis Norwillo and his son in 2010. Ziecha Norwillo

A mere week after they had been called, all three men were on a plane together, jetting to Sofia, Bulgaria. “The whole thing was put together fast and in a hurry,” Parker said. “I did not have a warm and fuzzy about the mission.”

“They rushed everything,” said Dougherty. He said they didn’t get the medical clearance that the contract required or the routine training given to overseas contractors.

In Bulgaria, they soon met up with Alexander Dimitrov. His company, Alguns, would be supplying them with the weapons and facilities for training, which would take place at a range run by a huge state-owned Bulgarian arms company. He drove a sharp-looking black Maserati, and he had a black Land Rover, too. Dimitrov did not respond to requests for comment, but he had previously told BuzzFeed News that he did not provide the grenades and that he was not responsible for anything that went wrong.

Dimitrov has a connection to one of Bulgaria’s major mafia figures, Boyan Petrakiev Borisov, nicknamed the Baron, whose criminal record dates back to at least 1977, according to Bulgarian law enforcement records. Dimitrov denied any connection to the mob, but for years, Bulgarian incorporation documents show, the two men owned a company together. But Dougherty and the other two Americans knew nothing about this.

At least, not at first.

Dougherty said friendly hotel clerks told him that Dimitrov had a reputation for being close to organized crime. “People at the hotel,” Dougherty said, “referenced the Russian mob.”

“No Loose Lips” — Secret Trip to Belarus

But though things had been rushed, Dougherty said, when they arrived in Bulgaria there were no weapons to train on, so they just cooled their heels and gathered information on the internet about the weapons they were supposed to learn how to use. “We were stuck in no-man’s-land,” he said.

One of the types of weapons that SOCOM wanted for the rebels was the wire-guided Konkurs anti-tank missile. A Russian-designed weapon, it was already a mainstay of the war in Syria, appearing in YouTube videos that have chronicled the arms used by all sides.

But guided anti-tank missiles have been hard to come by in recent years — the wars in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere have depleted the stockpiles. So Purple Shovel and Regulus, in a bizarre move for a US deal, were buying the Konkurs from the sanctioned nation of Belarus, which had been under European Union arms embargo and is often called “Europe’s last dictatorship.” It’s considered a rogue state, dealing with Syria, Iran, and North Korea. BuzzFeed News has previously revealed that SOCOM was aware the missiles were being bought from Belarus.

What hasn’t been reported is that Dougherty, Norwillo, and Parker made a secret trip to Belarus for training.

According to court filings and the accounts of Dougherty and Parker, the men got an email while they were in Bulgaria. The email was written by William Somerindyke, the CEO of Regulus Global, the one regulators in Virginia had found had committed a dozen securities violations, including “fraud or deceit” against an investor. The Americans, he said in the email, would be sent to Belarus for part of their training.

“I had to pull a ninja move to get all this training coordinated,” he wrote. “There are a lot of favors,” he added, “that will need to be owed.” Company officials from both Purple Shovel and SkyBridge were cc’d on the email.

He pushed for extreme secrecy. “I need no loose lips,” he wrote. “It is VERY VERY important the 3 guys do not mention to anyone Tuesday through Friday in Bulgaria that they were in Belarus.”

Dougherty, Parker, and Norwillo flew through Vienna to Minsk. At the airport, a sullen official demanded “fees” of $200 in cash for each of the new visas, Dougherty recalls. The next morning, a car took them to a nondescript warehouse on the outskirts of town. There, a Belorussian man who spoke English briefed them on the Konkurs and showed them a simulator of the missile, guiding them on how to load and fire it.

Their second night in Minsk, Dougherty recalled, a Belorussian businessman who seemed to be in charge treated them to a lavish dinner. When they arrived at the restaurant, customers who were already seated at a large table on a patio were ignominiously ordered to move and sit at different tables so the Americans and their host could drink shots of vodka, toast each other’s countries, and feast on plate after plate of food.

Dougherty began to think their Belorussian host was using the occasion to pump them for information about the arms contracts, he recalled, so he stopped downing vodka shots. “I certainly wasn’t going to allow myself to be drawn into a compromising situation,” he said.

Dougherty said he never knew that Belarus was a sanctioned nation where US arms dealers were usually not allowed to buy weapons.

Earlier this month, SOCOM told BuzzFeed News that it didn’t sign off on the trip. “If the subcontractor sent three people to Belarus for training,” SOCOM spokesperson Kenneth McGraw said in an email, “we did not and would not know that.”

This week, though, McGraw said, “Someone may have been told SkyBridge Tactical sent employees to Belarus for training.”

While SkyBridge declined to comment, Purple Shovel, which hired SkyBridge, said through its lawyer that “PS maintained close and constant coordination with USSOCOM on all facets of our contract,” including the training.

Norwillo firing an RPG in Bulgaria. Jerry Parker

“A Kind of White”

The men got back to Bulgaria from their Belarus trip on June 2, Dougherty recalled. They checked into a new hotel near one of the country’s biggest arms manufacturing companies. Dougherty said that Dimitrov, the Bulgarian arms dealer with the organized crime ties, provided them with a driver, who on June 6 took them to the weapons range.

There, they practiced firing the huge SPG-9 rocket launcher, the rapid-firing AGS-17 grenade launcher, and the RPG-7, another grenade launcher familiar to anyone who has watched war movies or seen footage from Syria or Afghanistan. Dougherty says many of the munitions were visibly corroded, and they set those aside.

The wind gusts from the northwest were fierce on the expansive plains in central Bulgaria that day, buffeting the trees on the side of the military range. The ridged mountains a few kilometers away framed the rusted hulks of armored personnel carriers and trucks used for target practice.

Dougherty, the senior man in the team, took video from the side, holding his cell phone camera steady as Navy veteran Norwillo, a tall man who towered over the others, carried an anti-personnel rocket-propelled grenade, a long cylinder shaped like a giant pencil, and loaded it into the grenade launcher that Parker held on his shoulder.

Having trained for days, Dougherty knew what would happen now: Norwillo would slide the grenade rocket all the way into the tube, where it would click into place, and then walk off to the side so he’d be clear of the line of fire. Parker would make sure everyone was clear from the backblast that would come from the rear of the weapon, and then he would pull the trigger. The rocket-propelled grenade would launch with a blast, soar away, and explode in the distance.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, the warhead exploded while it was in the launcher, before it even clicked into place.

Dougherty said suddenly there was just “a kind of white” before his senses came back.

He was slammed against a concrete wall by the force of the blast, and then the air pressure sucked him violently the other way against the ground. He looked down and saw that he was covered in blood. He didn’t know it then, but his blood was mixed with the blood and brains of Norwillo, who was killed instantly. Dougherty saw Parker staring at his missing hand and shouting, “My hand!”

Dougherty started crawling, instinctively, to the small whitewashed concrete shed that functioned as a protective bunker. There, he said, he saw a young Bulgarian man in uniform who looked at him, then turned and walked away. So Dougherty pulled his belt free with his injured hands, and tied it around the shredded remnant of his tan cargo pants to form a tourniquet.

Someone put him in a small car, he said, which drove him to the hospital.

It’s a mystery why the rocket grenade, built with numerous safeties, blew up, killing Norwillo.

The grenade was manufactured in 1984, making it more than 30 years old when it exploded, according to the lawsuit filed last year by Dougherty and Norwillo’s widow in state court in Florida. The grenade’s age, the suit contends, rendered “its shelf life expired from degraded and now defective components.” Indeed, the lawsuit claims that the US government itself “had rejected the use of these same grenades because the grenades were defective, unstable, and dangerous.”

“I want answers,” Ziecha Norwillo, wife of the dead contractor, told BuzzFeed News, “and I want to hold people accountable.”

So far, no one is admitting responsibility.

Purple Shovel, the prime contractor, said in court filings that Dougherty and Norwillo caused the accident by their own negligence. The company did not explain how.

In an email to BuzzFeed News, the company’s lawyer said that “Purple Shovel personnel were not present” and that Regulus Global and its subcontractors were solely responsible for selecting the range and providing the munitions. He added that SkyBridge “approved their employees to participate.”

Regulus asked a judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs had failed to put forth any facts in support of their claims. A lawyer for the company said she wasn’t able to comment.

SkyBridge, which declined comment, has not addressed the substance of the allegations but has argued in court that it was acting according to its contract: “At all times, Skybridge Tactical was under the direct and detailed control of federal officers.” In March, a federal judge in Florida agreed, writing that the actions of SkyBridge in Bulgaria “were performed pursuant to a military contract and under the direction and control of military officers.”

Despite that ruling, SOCOM has refused any responsibility, maintaining that it had not commissioned training on the type of weapon that exploded. SOCOM spokesperson McGraw said in an email to BuzzFeed News that “neither the weapon that killed Mr. Norwillo nor training for that weapon were part of the USSOCOM contract. When Mr. Norwillo was unfortunately killed, the activities in which he was involved were not part of or related to a USSOCOM contract.”

He added: “Since your questions and story are based on your incorrect assertion that this incident is tied to a USSOCOM contract is wrong, your questions are not valid for USSOCOM.”

Of course, the best way to determine how Norwillo died would be a full investigation.

The Bulgarian government, according to three sources, has completed one, but it has not been released. As for the US government, at first it did not investigate the blast, potentially losing crucial clues as time passed. Later, the US Government Accountability Office examined the incident, but its 2016 report is classified “secret,” according to the GAO’s Charles Michael Johnson Jr.

Little is known about the Department of Defense Inspector General’s investigation, which has not been previously disclosed. The IG’s office said it does not confirm or deny ongoing investigations.

Heading Home

The day of the explosion, after Dougherty was able to trick the Bulgarian interrogator into thinking that he was in too much pain to answer any questions, a woman in a hospital coat yelled at him as he lay there, he said. Then she threw a biscuit at him. He managed to catch it with his bandaged hands. It was the first thing he ate after the grenade explosion.

The next day, the US ambassador arrived at the hospital. A day later, the US Air Force sent a special C-130 plane fully equipped with a medical team. They pulled Dougherty and Parker out of the hospital and flew them out of Bulgaria.

Over lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year, Dougherty shook his head and explained that he didn’t go to Norwillo’s funeral because he was too shaken. He said he’s had about 10 operations, mostly at the Walter Reed military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. He himself is puzzled, even confounded, that after more than two decades in the Army, and multiple combat tours, it’s what he experienced as a civilian contractor that has most deeply scarred him, emotionally and physically. “I’ve seen a lot of death,” he said, “and I’ve been in a lot of gunfights. And nothing ever got me like this.” ●

Source: The Death Of A US Contractor Has Exposed America’s Failures In Syria – BuzzFeed News

The Price of Vigilance

Illustration by Hanna Barczyk / GMG.

In order to get to the women’s bathroom at Radio City Music Hall, you have to pass through an old-fashioned sitting room lined with yellow upholstered sofas and tan leather chairs. Painted onto the walls are murals of ladies in various stages of powdering their noses. It’s a familiar ritual: women helping women get ready for a night out. But who looks out for them once they leave the safety of the dressing room?

Last October, I saw a girl lying on a one of the yellow sofas during intermission at a concert. Her eyes were closed, her legs stretched out, and she had one hand draped across her forehead. The scene alarmed me: just an hour before, I’d seen this same girl outside of the theater—walking, talking, and perfectly fine. The women coming out of the bathroom seemed to also pick up on the fact that something wasn’t right. As they exited the stalls, they looked over at her not once but twice, as if their intuitions were sending an SOS. I decided I would be the one to check on her—just as soon as I got through the line. But when I stepped out of the bathroom and back out into the lounge, she was already gone.

Almost every night that ends in sexual assault begins just like any other night. That particular evening, my husband and I had gone to see an Icelandic post-rock show. We arrived to find a crowd spilling out of the theater, around the block, and all the way down 48th Street. We found the end of the line at Rockefeller Plaza and then eavesdropped on the couple in front of us to kill time. The woman was a brunette from Switzerland, visiting New York City on a music residency. She wore a red windbreaker, gold American Apparel leggings, and black oxfords. An upside-down triangle had been carefully painted onto her face with liquid eyeliner.

“I like your triangle,” the guy said.

My posture stiffened, like that of a Midwestern dad questioning his daughter’s date at the front door. It seemed as if they’d only just met, and I didn’t like this young man’s flirtatious tone. As it turned out, I was also subconsciously memorizing the details necessary to recreate a police sketch of him: white, American, mid-twenties with a stocky build, wearing light-wash denim and Converse sneakers.

The Swiss girl deflected his compliment by asking what he did, and he cleared his throat before answering. “I work for an, uh, mattress company.”

“Oh, are you…an expert?” She asked.

“Only about ours,” he said before changing the subject. “Going to any other good shows?” It sounded more like a Craigslist ticket sale meet-up than a date. As we approached the concert hall, she listed several bands I’d never heard of. At one point, she pulled an embroidered fabric pouch out of her mini-backpack, and my watchful eye became a little misty. It reminded me of one I had when I was around her age, which I used to store weed, cash, and my prized fake ID.

In my early twenties, I also went abroad, traveling Europe on my own. As a curious student in a constant state of wide-eyed wonderment, I was never fearful. But that changed when I was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance in my early twenties. Afterwards, I suffered from severe anxiety, which didn’t cease until my early thirties. The symptoms eventually led me to therapy, where I uncovered the source: unprocessed trauma.

As a result, I am highly sensitive to potential threats—to the point where I sometimes don’t know when to trust my own instincts. Once, I was in a taxi to the airport in Los Angeles when the driver swerved off of the road and into a deserted alley in Venice to “give me a quick tour” of the canals. He said he would turn the meter off and that “we had plenty of time” before my flight. I suddenly noticed his ultra-long fingernails dangling over the steering wheel and pictured my demise, Buffalo Bill-style. I started screaming at him to turn the car around immediately.

“Alright,” he said as he pulled back out on to the street, heading for the airport. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

In hindsight, he was probably just a weirdo. Still, when I watch something as innocuous as a pained conversation between a man who is interested—and a woman who obviously isn’t, I can’t tell if I’m witnessing average, run-of-the-mill lechery or a clear and present danger. For a person with PTSD, sometimes paranoia is just another word for survival. But in light of the recent political tides, I’m beginning to wonder how much of my fear is pathological—and how much is perfectly justified.

Rebecca Solnit wrote in the London Review of Books, “Women told me they had flashbacks to hideous episodes in their past after the second presidential debate on 9 October, or couldn’t sleep, or had nightmares.” I experienced all three.

Aside from the statistically grim picture of how many women have suffered physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, we live in a society that punishes anything less than complete patriarchal submission. As I watched Hillary Clinton on that debate stage, I saw her facing off not only with the champion for every abusive man in America—but also a jeering embodiment of the misogyny women encounter every day.

The simple act of existing, harassment-free, has become exhausting. We clench our jaws on the street as random men make comments about our bodies or our nonexistent smiles. We reconsider our tweets, for fear of what disgusting horror might fly back in our faces. We even worry about our private photos, lest some online stalker get ahold of one and decide to Photoshop himself into it—as if enough ways to harass a woman hadn’t already been invented.

Still, we minimize these daily defense mechanisms as basic rules of engagement, because quite frankly, we have more pressing concerns—like who we might encounter on our way home that night. Or whether the men at bars who trail us with their eyes plan to slip something into our drinks. Or what harm might come our way, as it most often does, at the hands of boyfriends and husbands.

To remain blissfully unaware of such danger is a form of privilege. And yet, the alternative, to live in a constantly guarded state, comes at a price.

I was already unnerved by the election the night I went to see Sigur Rós play at Radio City. By intermission, I noticed the white wine I’d bought myself had run its course. The line for the women’s bathroom was harrowing, like a perspective drawing of a river rushing down red-carpeted stairs, its rapids twisting and turning over the landings before finally narrowing toward a vanishing point: the doorway to the ladies’ lounge.

When I finally got to the front, I saw the Swiss girl I’d seen outside. She was lying on the couch with her eyes closed. I shifted my weight back and forth to distract from the increasing urgency of my chardonnay situation. I wondered what could have changed so drastically for her in the last hour—and decided I would check, just as soon as I relieved myself. But when I returned from the bathroom to find she’d already disappeared, I headed back to my seat in a low-grade panic.

“We may be the only ones who know something’s wrong,” I hissed, scanning the six-thousand-person theater hopelessly as the lights began to dim once again.

When the show resumed, I accepted there was nothing I could do. So I thought about all of the nights I’d spent on the town alone at her age and emerged unscathed. Once, when traveling in Paris by myself, I went to a bar with three Parisian men I met in a pizzeria. Nothing happened except I got drunk and laughed a lot. Another time, I went on a date with a man in Italy I had never met before. I made out with him in his tiny blue car, and he was a little pushy but stopped when I told him to. Countless times, at house parties in high school or college, I went to a back room to sleep because I didn’t want to risk driving home drunk. Nothing happened there either.

Looking back, I am certain what is wrong with this picture is not that I was reckless, but that I consider these as times I emerged “unscathed,” as opposed to just times when no one chose to commit a sex crime. To me, this raises the question as to why society insists on urging women to live a life of extreme vigilance instead of adequately reprimanding those who choose to assault them. By heaping the burden of prevention on potential victims, we disproportionately bury them in blame when they are victimized.

In 2016 alone, a convicted rapist was given a six-month prison sentence to avoid “severely impacting” his life. A presidential candidate bragged about forcing himself on women and then suggested those who accused him of doing just that were not attractive enough to be sexually assaulted. We saw endless news reports of police mishandling cases, untested rape kits, and accusations deemed not credible because the victims were single, knew their attackers, or didn’t react in the “right” way.

For survivors of sexual assault, the injustices are re-traumatizing, the pace of progress is grating, and our hopes are constantly crushed. We desperately needed our rock bottom to have also been society’s, so we could all move forward together. I’ve been disappointed enough to know that’s not how it works. But I’ve also learned that advocacy, for one’s self and for others, is part of the healing process.

After the concert ended, I went back to the bathroom in hopes of finding the Swiss girl there again so I could replay what had happened, but this time change my behavior. As a survivor myself, I have become quite proficient in mentally revising history. In the new version of any events worth revision, I do what I wasn’t able to the first time.

When I couldn’t find her, I met my husband outside and tried to think positively. But I kept imagining her in therapy ten years from now, poring over every decision she’d made, trying to pinpoint which one it was precisely that had been the nail in her coffin.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I saw the guy across the street, right there.” He pointed for emphasis. “She wasn’t with him.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. He was standing with friends.”

I wanted believe that he was right. That she had just been resting her eyes on the sofa. And that I had projected my own past on the present, managing to both under and overreact—my hyper-vigilance and inaction working in some sort of useless tandem. Perhaps my need to constantly survey the scene was trying to tell me something: I wasn’t quite ready to be out on the front lines fighting for my fellow woman. Maybe I was still a wounded warrior myself.

As I walked toward the subway in the crisp city air, I could feel my ears still ringing from the show, which I realized I’d barely paid attention to. Not to mention my husband, to whom I had spoken but a few sentences the entire evening. I wasn’t even able to enjoy a simple evening at a concert. And in my heightened state, I’d managed to only commit certain details to memory.

It was the same stress response that had allowed me to remember the apartment where I’d been assaulted in vivid detail, the color of the sheets on the bed—even the ugly plaid print on my assailant’s boxer shorts. And yet I have no idea who I’d been with earlier that night or what month it took place in. Even if I hadn’t been in a state of shock—unable to talk about it with anyone—my case would never have stood a chance.

Because instead of being encouraged to report our sexual assaults, women are told to modify our behavior. This is not so much a strategy for prevention as it is advice for becoming a “good victim.” How much we drink will not stop a rapist from raping that night—but it will affect the credibility of our testimony. And how we dress does not in any way compromise our ability to withhold consent, but it’s constantly commented on, as if a struggling, frozen, or limp body somehow confuses men—but only when too much skin is present. Vigilance is not rewarded; only its absence is punished.

I couldn’t have known then what I know now, nor would I have wished that knowledge upon myself. To live in fear is to relinquish one’s freedom. Women shouldn’t have to get ready for an evening by brushing our hair in front of the mirror while also formulating self-defense strategies. We can’t always save ourselves—nor can we save each other. But we can find solace in the fact that we’re not to blame. It’s the one thing that cannot be taken from us.

Sarah Kasbeer lives in New York City. Her writing has appeared in Elle, Vice, Salon, the Hairpin, and elsewhere. Read more of her work at

Source: The Price of Vigilance

ReBoot, the cult classic animated series from the ’90s, is getting a reboot – Polygon

ReBoot, in many ways, was a show that belonged to its time. The series about a group of guardians that lived inside a computer mainframe and protected users from a series of viruses was considered almost revolutionary considering the 3D animation that went into it and the story’s setting.

It’s one of the few shows that remained untouched by studios after it went off the air in 2001, but just like a number of series from the ’90s and early 2000s, ReBoot is getting, well, rebooted.

Corus Entertainment announced yesterday that it was bringing ReBoot back as a live-action/CGI-animated hybrid. The new series “follows four teenagers who discover that they’ve been selected to become the Next-Generation Guardians of cyber space,” according to a news release, and is slated to air in 2018.

After playing “Cyber Guardians,” a popular MMO, the four teens are recruited by a security agency to defend the cyberspace they coexist in. The live-action sequences will follow the teens when they’re out of the game and living their day-to-day lives, but as soon as they’re on duty, it will switch over to CGI animation. The animation will all be constructed using Unreal’s game engine.

More information is expected to be released in the coming months, but the show is currently in pre-production.

Source: ReBoot, the cult classic animated series from the ’90s, is getting a reboot – Polygon