Voices from Russia

Sunday, 19 March 2017

It’s Time to Start Calling Evangelicals What They Are: The American Taliban

Religion has no place in the public school. As a member of a “minority” faith (Russian Orthodox Christianity), I wouldn’t want our kids contaminated with Evangelical goo. We have a secular state… let’s keep it that way.

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Editor:

The following is prime read n’ heed… it needs no commentary from me.

BMD

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The Council For National Policy is a Conservative Think Tank, made up of a Who’s Who of prominent conservatives… Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Reince Priebus, Tim LaHaye, Bobby Jindal, John McCain… the list goes on… This article, published by the Washington Post, but reported elsewhere, lays out the group’s plan to “restore education in America”, by bringing God into classrooms.

I have said for years and years, the Christian Right is really seeking to establish a theocracy in the USA… at least regionally, throughout the Deep South. This latest effort by the so-called Council for National Policy lays further proof to that claim. The Constitution does NOT support this effort… in spite of what many “Christian” leaders sayThe First Amendment of the Constitution strictly prohibits any Establishment of Religion. This Amendment also guarantees Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. This “Separation of Church and State” has two intentions:

  • It protects religious freedom for everyone
  • It prevents the tyranny of any one religion

However, this fact won’t stop many Southern Christians, who feel it is their duty… as Christians… to make the USA “a godly nation” in their eyes. Moreover, they’ll cite the numerous biblical passages in which God exhorts all nations to be faithful to him and condemns those nations who aren’t, as the basis for this duty… that they feel is their right. I grew up in this world, so I know what I’m talking about. As a kid, during the 1970’s, I attended churches in Atlanta with my devout grandmother. I heard Jerry Falwell speak numerous times at First Baptist on Peachtree. A fiery minister in Smyrna indoctrinated me into the Evangelical way of thinking. I studied my “King James” Bible. I feverishly read Ernest Angley’s book about the “end times” that depicted Christians being boiled alive by the Antichrist. I loved The Omen movies, wholly believing they portended something real. Trust me. I’ve been there. Fortunately, I had the sense to give it up. By age 15, at the peak of my adolescent sexual curiosity, I realised that any religion that demanded giving up my basic humanity was nuts.

Of course, not all Christian Evangelicals share this extreme view. Nevertheless, the extremists always give themselves away with their trademark refrain, “I’ll pray for you”, as if you’re possessed by demons and in need of an exorcism. They seem completely unaware of how this statement makes them appear; that they alone understand “truth”, that everyone else is “ungodly” and in need of “redemption”, as they see it; by being “born again,” and baptised, and accepting their world view. This self-righteous arrogant presumption is at the root of all religious extremism. Evangelicals in churches and state houses across the country support laws and political systems that brutalize and imprison MILLIONS of African-Americans, that deny equal rights and protections to LGBT people and tacitly support violence toward them, and seek to deny women the right to govern their own bodies, often with threats or outright acts of physical violence. They seem hell-bent on ejecting science from education and replacing it with their own creationist ideas.

In doing these things, Evangelicals are advocating a religious extremism that is no different from Muslim extremism, which projects religious authority over all people in their domain, which limits the rights of women, controls and limits education, and enforces strict adherence to a moral code, which naturally rejects and punishes all forms of “decadence”, including “deviant sexuality”, science, reason, and any questioning of authority. Christian fundamentalists, if given the power, will do the same things.

Evangelical Christians in the USA condemn Muslim extremism as a threat to the country and their way of life, while clearly endorsing their own form of extreme religious authoritarianism. This form of religion establishes a tribally divisive “us” versus “them” mentality, which places “our” rights and prerogatives above the needs of any other group. Moreover, they use it repeatedly as the basis for denying other people’s rights… particularly, their freedom to choose and even their right to exist. It’s worth pointing out that in the South religion buttressed this tribal mentality to force a separation between whites and blacks, who they see/saw as inferior. White suburban Christian thinking has this tribalism as a deeply embedded dynamic. They accept it without question. I shouldn’t have to point out that, in the end, this isn’t Christian at all.

Religious extremism is religious extremism. Using words like “righteousness” or “faith” or “Christ-given mission”, and hiding behind ideas like “tradition” and “heritage” and “family values” won’t cover up this fact. It’s up to every freedom-loving person, who prefers freedom of choice, freedom of worship, who cares about protecting women’s rights and equality for all, and advancing reason and scientific knowledge, to be aware and oppose it. I don’t suggest that Evangelicals should give up their faith. However, I strongly suggest they shouldn’t trample on other people’s religious beliefs or insist that people should conform themselves with the Evangelical worldview.

If Evangelicals hate tyranny, they should be very wary of becoming tyrants. Nevertheless, Evangelicals will never see themselves as tyrants, because their faith commands them to be “missionaries for Christ”. This mandate engages them in a zero-sum game to convert the country, indeed the whole world, to their faith. Moreover, over the decades they’ve increasingly reached for more and more political power to achieve this goal. This is exactly what ISIS proposes, by trying to establish a global Muslim caliphate. The goal of religious extremists, regardless of faith, is always the same… Dominion.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the foul of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

Genesis 1.28

Evangelicals are the American Taliban. To many, that seems a garish and inconceivable statement. The entire purpose of this article is to point out that religious extremism also exists in America as it does in other parts of the world, and not just radical Muslims are extreme, it’s also radical Christians… and that religious extremism can start with something as simple as, “I’ll pray for you”.

24 February 2017

J C Weatherby

Church and State

http://churchandstate.org.uk/2017/03/its-time-to-start-calling-evangelicals-what-they-are-the-american-taliban/

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19 March 2017. You Can Have the Ethics of Chief Peter John or Those of Trump the Chump… Choose Well

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You can have the All For Me ethos of Donald Trump or Share It All ethos of Chief Peter John. They’re mutually exclusive… you must choose one or the other. Your choice will mark what kind of person you are. Choose wisely…

BMD

FBI and FSB May Be Chasing Same Gang of Cyber-Crooks

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Editor:

Some made much of “Russians hacking Yahoo”. Now, you don’t hear as much about it. I’d say it’s because the Russian hackers ran a “roll-your-own” criminal enterprise… it wasn’t an official act by the FSB, after all. It just goes to show you that peevishly cutting contacts with someone for no good reason always ends badly. Both the USA and Russia have a common interest in catching cyber-crooks. Perhaps, we can return to sanity, God willing…

BMD

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The naming of Dmitri Dokuchaev in both the Moscow cyber-arrests and the Yahoo suggests the USA and Russia may unwittingly be on the track of the same criminal gang. Earlier this year, reports appeared in the Russian media of a series of arrests of FSB officers and cyber-specialists, including Ruslan Stoyanov, an employee of Russia’s top cybersecurity company, Kaspersky Lab. Subsequently, it came out that some of them (at least) faced treason charges, for the case supposedly involved the USA, with Stoyanov supposedly charged with passing on Russian state secrets to Verigin, a US company. Following the arrests, numerous reports circulated speculating that these arrests were somehow connected to the hacking of John Podesta’s and the DNC’s computers. Some sections of the Western media made claims… strongly denied the Russia… that the individuals arrested were the ones who had carried out the hacking of John Podesta’s and the DNC’s computers. Others, rather more plausibly, speculated that those arrested were some of the informers who provided information to the USA that the US intelligence community used to support its claims of Russian responsibility for the Podesta and DNC hacks.

The case of the arrested FSB officers in Moscow has taken an extraordinary new twist with the US Department of Justice bringing charges against a group of four Russian cyber-criminals, who according to the US Department of Justice’s report, are being charged with:

the 2014 hack into the network of email provider Yahoo, the theft of information about at least 500 million Yahoo accounts and the use of that information to get the contents of accounts at Yahoo and other email providers.

What makes the Yahoo case interesting is that the Department of Justice is saying that two of the individuals charged are FSB officers. The Department of Justice identifies them as follows:

The defendants include two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), an intelligence and law enforcement agency of the Russian Federation and two criminal hackers with whom they conspired to accomplish these intrusions. Dmitri Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, both FSB officers, protected, directed, facilitated, and paid criminal hackers to collect information through computer intrusions in the USA and elsewhere. They worked with co-conspirators Aleksei Belan and Karim Baratov to hack into computers of American companies providing email and internet-related services, to maintain unauthorised access to those computers, and to steal information, including information about users and the private contents of their accounts. The defendants targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and US government officials, including cybersecurity, diplomatic, and military personnel. They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities.

Dmitri Dokuchaev, one of the FSB officers charged by the US Justice Department in the Yahoo hack, appears to be the same Dmitri Dokuchaev arrested in Moscow in the treason case, and whom the London Times described… obviously based on information obtained from British intelligence sources… as “a cyber-spy and former hacker”. The fact that the same man… Dmitri Dokuchaev… faces charges simultaneously in both cases, the one in Washington and the one in Moscow makes it at least possible that the two cases… the Yahoo case in Washington and the treason case in Moscow… are in some way connected, and may involve the same group of cyber-criminals. Importantly, the Department of Justice’s and the FBI’s claims about Dokuchaev and Sushchin, the two FSB officers charged in the Yahoo case, don’t necessarily point to them undertaking an intelligence operation on behalf of the Russian government. Though the wording isn’t completely clear, it isn’t inconsistent with Dokuchaev and Sushchin running a rogue operation for the purpose of self-enrichment. Here is what the Department of Justice report has to say about them:

Belan’s notorious criminal conduct and a pending Interpol Red Notice didn’t stop the FSB officers who, instead of detaining him, used him to break into Yahoo’s networks. Meanwhile, Belan used his relationship with the two FSB officers and his access to Yahoo to commit additional crimes to line his own pockets with money. For those not familiar with the FSB, it’s an intelligence and law enforcement agency and a successor to the USSR’s KGB. The FSB unit that the defendants worked for, the Centre for Information Security, AKA Center 18, is also the FBI’s point of contact in Moscow for cybercrime matters. The involvement and direction of FSB officers with law enforcement responsibilities makes this conduct that much more egregious. There are no free passes for foreign state-sponsored criminal behaviour.

This appears to suggest that the Department of Justice believes that Dokuchaev and Sushchin recruited Belan to carry out illegal hacks of US companies on behalf of the FSB and that Belan used the protection this gave him to carry out more illegal hacks to enrich himself and them. However, it’s equally or perhaps more likely that Dokuchaev and Sushchin were Belan’s accomplices in a series of crimes carried out on their own initiative. After all, it’s hardly unusual for criminals to enlist the services of corrupt law enforcement officers to help them carry out their crimes. Such a thing undoubtedly happens in Russia, just as it happens in most other places. What the FBI itself says about him strongly suggests that Dokuchaev (at least) was a corrupt FSB officer involved in a rogue operation. Here’s the information the FBI provided about his activities, which appeared in the Most Wanted Notice the FBI issued about him:

• Conspiring to Commit Computer Fraud and Abuse
• Accessing a Computer Without Authorisation for the Purpose of Commercial Advantage and Private Financial Gain
• Damaging a Computer Through the Transmission of Code and Commands
• Economic Espionage
• Theft of Trade Secrets
• Access Device Fraud
• Aggravated Identity Theft
• Wire Fraud

The words “purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain” point clearly to a rogue criminal operation and not an official state-sponsored one. What the FBI has to say about Dokuchaev’s alleged accomplice Igor Sushchin in its Most Wanted Notice about him strongly suggests that the FBI’s knowledge of the case still has gaps:

Sushchin has Russian citizenship and is known to hold a Russian passport. Sushchin is alleged to be a Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Officer of unknown rank. In addition to working for the FSB, he is alleged to have served as Head of Information Security for a Russian company, providing information about employees of that company to the FSB. He was last known to be in Moscow, Russia.

These comments about Sushchin cast doubt on whether Sushchin really is an FSB officer. The FBI says that Sushchin is simultaneously an officer of the FSB and the head of information security at a Russian company. Moonlighting in the private sector was a common practice for FSB officers in the chaotic 1990s. It’s hardly conceivable today. It seems more likely that Sushchin is head of information security for a Russian company, but that because of his relationship with Dokuchaev, the FBI supposes him to be an FSB officer. Its Most Wanted Notice about Sushchin shows that the FBI doesn’t know that Sushchin actually is an FSB officer. It merely guesses he is, and on the facts that the FBI itself provides, it’s probably wrong. To add to the uncertainty there is a question mark about Dokuchaev’s own role within the FSB. According to reports in Russia, Dokuchaev isn’t a conventional FSB officer at all, but he’s rather a notorious former hacker and cyber-criminal blackmailed by the FSB into working for them. Here is what the Moscow-based Moscow Times has to say about him:

Major Dmitri Dokuchaev, one of four cyber-security experts arrested by the Kremlin on charges of treason, has allegedly been revealed as an infamous Russian hacker. Dokuchaev worked as a hacker under the alias “Forb” until Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) threatened to jail him, an unverified source told the RBC newspaper. “Forb” gave an interview to the Russian newspaper Vedomosti in 2004, revealing that he specialised in “hacking on request” and stealing money from bank cards… an occupation which he said could earn him anywhere between 5,000 to 30,000 USD (286,100 to 1.717 million Roubles. 34,540 to 207,250 Renminbi. 327,390 to 1.965 million INR. 6,669 to 40,010 CAD. 6,502 to 39,010 AUD. 4,650 to 27,900 Euros. 4,033 to 24,200 UK Pounds) a month. He also claimed that he had carried out a successful attack on US government infrastructure. The FSB ultimately traced Dokuchaev to the card thefts, and threatened to prosecute the hacker unless he agreed to work for the agency, the source alleged.

If what the Moscow Times article says is true (and the story looks well-sourced) then Dokuchaev’s criminal past makes it even more plausible that what he engaged in was a rogue criminal operation not officially sanctioned by the FSB. Recruiting a notorious cyber-criminal to track down other cyber-criminals is a strange idea, but hardly unique in the world of law-enforcement. Possibly the FSB, lacking its own trained cyber-specialists as a result of the crisis of the 1990s, looked to people like Dokuchaev to fill its ranks quickly. If so, then, this has now come back to bite it, with another FSB officer… Sergei Mikhailov, the deputy head of the FSB’s security information centre (the FSB department for which the US Justice Department says Dokuchaev worked), who may have been Dokuchaev’s superior and line manager… seemingly also implicated in Dokuchaev’s activities.

This is a tangled web. However, if we put together what is known about the case in Moscow with what is now known about the case in Washington, then, it’s at least possible that this is a case of two parallel investigations into the activities of the same gang.  Belan and Dokuchaev would presumably be the ringleaders, but it seems that Dokuchaev succeeded in involving at least one other person (Mikhailov) within the FSB as well. Supporting the theory that the treason case in Moscow and the Yahoo case in Washington are the products of two parallel investigations into the activities of the same gang, is a report carried by TASS of the comments of a lawyer familiar with the Moscow case.  The lawyer reportedly said the following:

The CIA isn’t mentioned in the case. Only the country is mentioned. Yes, the talk is about America, not about the CIA.

When I previously discussed this comment in an article written on 2 February 2017, I assumed it referred to the passing of classified information to the US intelligence community, if not to the CIA itself. I overlooked the fact that the lawyer’s comment has no hint of this. Instead, the lawyer merely said, “the talk is about America”. His words are equally consistent with data theft from the USA as with information transfer to the USA. It’s likely that both took place. If the cases in Moscow and Washington involve the activities of the same gang of cyber-criminals, then, it seems that they were equally happy to steal information from the USA and to steal information from Russia and sell it to the USA. That would explain the claim about the passing of classified information to Verigin, with which Stoyanov is charged, which is presumably what lies behind the treason charges. However, in any case, the motive for the gang’s activities would have been the same… the classic criminal one… to make money. As it happens, the US Justice Department confirmed in its report the fact that the gang was targeting Russians as well as Americans:

The defendants targeted Yahoo accounts of Russian and US government officials, including cybersecurity, diplomatic, and military personnel. They also targeted Russian journalists; numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit; and employees of financial services and other commercial entities.

Much is murky about this affair. Although the known facts do suggest that the arrests in Moscow and the charges in Washington concern the same gang or at least the same people, that isn’t yet absolutely certain, and it could be that Dokuchaev, who figures so prominently in both cases, spread his net wide and involved more than one gang in his activities. However, if the two cases do involve the same gang, then, unfortunately, it’s all too clear from the information trickling out of both Washington and Moscow that the relevant law enforcement agencies of the USA and Russia aren’t cooperating with each other and are completely uninformed and possibly even unaware of each other’s investigations. If so, then, that’s regrettable, since it can only increase the chance that the two investigations would work against each other and at cross-purposes, as in fact actually seems to be the case.

At this point, however, one can make a few points with confidence. Firstly, it’s clear that the Moscow arrests have absolutely nothing to do with the hacking of the computers of John Podesta and the DNC. The case in Moscow is a criminal investigation into the activities of a gang of cyber-criminals, who practised criminal activity for financial gain. They may be and probably are the same gang the US Justice Department and the FBI say is behind the Yahoo hack. Regardless, all the stories claiming that the Moscow case somehow has connections to the DNC and Podesta leaks are wrong. Secondly, the claims in the Russian media that the arrests in Moscow had something to do with the Shaltay Boltai hacking group are also clearly wrong. In that case, the confusion is understandable. It seems there’s a wholly separate investigation into the Shaltay Boltai group going on as well. Unsurprisingly, some journalists in Moscow have confused the two, failing to realise that they are two wholly distinct investigations into two different groups of people. Thirdly, if the investigations in Washington and Moscow are, indeed, parallel investigations into the activities of the same gang, then, this shows the huge damage done by the severing of contacts between the US and Russian law enforcement agencies carried out by the Obama administration.

Instead of pooling information to track down and prosecute the same gang of cyber-criminals, they’re conducting two wholly separate and rival investigations in two different countries, which quite possibly involve the same gang. The result is that neither investigation is getting all the facts. Worse, the potential for conflict and misunderstanding between Washington and Moscow increased. Both Washington and Moscow seem to be convinced that what looks to be the same gang was working for the intelligence agencies of the other side. The result is that the USA and Russia are blaming each other for the gang’s activities whilst protesting… correctly… their own innocence.

Perhaps, one day, if Trump finally comes through with his proposed détente with Russia, we’d avoid this sort of muddle and recrimination. If so, then, coöperation between the law enforcement agencies of the two countries would be a further important step in reducing misunderstandings and improving relations. However, until that happens, the sort of confusion, misunderstanding, and exchange of blame and recriminations we’re now seeing will continue unabated.

17 March 2017

Alexander Mercouris

The Duran

http://theduran.com/moscow-cyber-arrests-yahoo-hack/

19 March 2017. Mr Polar Bear Asks: “Is Spring Here to Stay?”

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