Julia Harte

Writings & wanderings.

U.S. looks to Facebook, private groups to battle online extremism

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February 24, 2016, Reuters

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa

The U.S. government, acknowledging its limited success in combating Islamic extremist messaging, is recruiting tech companies, community organizations and educational groups to take the lead in disrupting online radicalization.

The change in strategy, which took a step forward on Wednesday when the Justice Department convened a meeting with social media firms including Facebook Inc, Twitter and Alphabet Inc’s Google , comes despite what critics say is scant evidence on the effectiveness of such efforts.

The meeting was “a recognition that the government is ill-positioned and ill-equipped to counter ISIS online,” Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, said after attending the event, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

The federal government is not best placed to counter extremist online recruitment efforts with messaging of its own, said George Selim, director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office that coordinates the government’s “countering violent extremism” (CVE) activities.

The goal now, he said, is to help “communities and young people to amplify their own messages.”

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Written by juliaharte

February 24, 2016 at 3:42 pm

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U.S. eyes ways to toughen fight against domestic extremists

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February 4, 2016, Reuters

DESTROYED ALFRED P MURRAH FEDERAL BUILDING FILE PHOTOThe U.S. Justice Department is considering legal changes to combat what it sees as a rising threat from domestic anti-government extremists, senior officials told Reuters, even as it steps up efforts to stop Islamic State-inspired attacks at home.

Extremist groups motivated by a range of U.S.-born philosophies present a “clear and present danger,” John Carlin, the Justice Department’s chief of national security, told Reuters in an interview. “Based on recent reports and the cases we are seeing, it seems like we’re in a heightened environment.”

Over the past year, the Justice Department has brought charges against domestic extremist suspects accused of attempting to bomb U.S. military bases, kill police officers and fire bomb a school and other buildings in a predominantly Muslim town in New York state.

But federal prosecutors tackling domestic extremists still lack an important legal tool they have used extensively in dozens of prosecutions against Islamic State-inspired suspects: a law that prohibits supporting designated terrorist groups.

Carlin and other Justice Department officials declined to say if they would ask Congress for a comparable domestic extremist statute, or comment on what other changes they might pursue to toughen the fight against anti-government extremists.

The U.S. State Department designates international terrorist organizations to which it is illegal to provide “material support.” No domestic groups have that designation, helping to create a disparity in charges faced by international extremist suspects compared to domestic ones.

A Reuters analysis of more than 100 federal cases found that domestic terrorism suspects collectively have faced less severe charges than those accused of acting on behalf of Islamic State since prosecutors began targeting that group in early 2014.

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Written by juliaharte

February 4, 2016 at 4:21 pm

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Mass release of U.S. prisoners spells deportation for hundreds

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October 30, 2015, Reuters

Chris Willis, 34, works out in the exercise yard at San Quentin state prisonAlmost a third of 6,000 federal prisoners scheduled to be freed between Friday and Tuesday, part of a push to reduce America’s soaring incarceration rate, will immediately be turned over to U.S. immigration authorities for deportation proceedings.

While this weekend will be a happy occasion for the thousands of inmates who are U.S. citizens and will reunite with their families, many of the roughly 1,780 foreign inmates to be put on the deportation track will leave family members behind in the United States.

Despite Obama administration assurances that the transfer of ex-convicts into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a routine occurrence, immigrant advocates worry they may not receive due process as they leave.

Most of the foreign inmates are Mexicans, according to ICE.

Final deportation orders are in effect for 763 of the foreign inmates, who could be deported within days. The rest will be transferred to immigrant detention centers to await orders.

The latest mass release, one of the largest in U.S. history, is a result of retroactive reductions to mandatory minimum sentence guidelines for certain non-violent drug offenses.

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Written by juliaharte

October 30, 2015 at 2:13 pm

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The Pentagon Is Still Terrible at Accounting for Your Tax Dollars

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Aug. 3, 2015, The Center for Public Integrity / Foreign Policy / NBC News

PentagonA celebration by the Marine Corps of its accounting prowess turns out to have been premature, with a discrepancy in a key audit of $800 million.

Defense Department officials celebrated last year after their auditor certified that the Marine Corps had successfully accounted for all the money it received and spent in 2012. They said it was a key milestone in the Pentagon’s long, troubled quest to earn that certification for all its billions of dollars in annual spending.

Then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the comptroller at the time, Robert Hale, who oversaw the Corps’s work, marked the occasion at a February 2014 event in the building’s Hall of Heroes, where they presented a framed copy of the certification to the Corps’s assistant commandant. Hagel boasted that “we don’t spend a lot of time using big megaphones to tout our great accomplishments.… We get the job done. This is another example of, we’re getting the job done.”

The self-congratulations turned to embarrassment this March, however, when the Pentagon’s auditor suddenly reversed itself and withdrew its endorsement, saying newly discovered facts called into question “the completeness of the information on which we based our opinion,” according to a memorandum sent by a senior auditor to the Pentagon’s comptroller and other top defense officials.

No one said so at the time, but the Corps had not properly accounted for roughly $800 million worth of transactions on its books, insiders say. That amount represents the sum of misstated and improperly documented transactions by the Corps, according to a report by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) released on Aug. 4.

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Written by juliaharte

August 4, 2015 at 9:45 am

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Capture of U.S.-Trained Fighters in Syria Sets Back Fight Against ISIS

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Aug. 1, 2015, The Center for Public Integrity / TIME / The Independent / Slate / PRI / Global Post

Farhan Al-Jassem

Gaziantep, Turkey – Lieutenant Farhan al-Jassem is not a reluctant soldier, but sadness lurked behind his smile and deep brown eyes when he talked about the last two and half years he spent trying to fight what he considers the good fight in Syria.

On a sultry July night in a tea garden in southeastern Turkey, Jassem, 29, leaned back in his plastic chair and gulped down several bottles of water as he told the story of how he came to lead a key Syrian brigade receiving training and equipment from a U.S.-organized military coalition to take on the Islamic State. As he spoke, 54 members of the larger division his brigade belonged to were finishing up their training with U.S. Special Operations soldiers at a base located roughly 200 miles to the northwest.

Jassem got his first taste of the country’s roiling civil war in early 2012, when he was conscripted into Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad’s army, but he hated it and bought his way out, paying $400 for permission to visit his home town of Manbij, 40 miles northeast of Aleppo. There, he quickly joined the anti-regime Free Syrian Army, before moving to a smaller Turkmen brigade and then to the so-called 30th Division, created by the United States and its allies as the vanguard of Washington’s effort to roll back the Islamic State’s territorial gains.

When he spoke to the Center for Public Integrity in July, Jassem had passed an initial round of vetting to join the training and said he expected to participate in the next class—so long as the U.S. coalition kept its promises to the first set of graduates, especially a promise that the coalition would “protect us against our enemies after the program ends,” he said.

But Jassem’s fate suddenly took an uncertain turn on July 28, when he was captured by a rival anti-ISIS militia, known as the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda and therefore an enemy of any Syrian close to Americans.

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Written by juliaharte

August 1, 2015 at 3:28 pm

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How Many ‘Ghost Schools’ Are There in Afghanistan?

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June 18, 2015, The Center for Public Integrity / NBC News

ATVI 3

Nils Kauffman, who served as an education officer for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Afghanistan, said he noticed irregularities at a vocational training institute the agency was funding during his visits to its campus in downtown Kabul in 2012 and 2013. He recalls being surprised not to see any students in the institute’s laboratories, where volt meters and scientific equipment remained in their original packaging.

Though Kauffman spied students elsewhere, he said he could never get a reliable account of how many were actually enrolled at the school. He also could not verify that the institute had addressed what a 2011 external audit called a host of “deviations” from sound practices, including a lack of accounting software, a cash-based payment system, and $118,000 in spending by the school over a five month period on weapons, international travel, and salary supplements.

Kauffman didn’t have the authority to demand a new, broader audit of the institute, but he reported his concerns to his superiors at USAID. They never acted, he said, and he recalls an official in the agency’s Office of Afghanistan-Pakistan Affairs expressing worry that canceling the institute’s funding would create what the official called “bad press.”

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Written by juliaharte

June 18, 2015 at 3:21 pm

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The Fraud of War

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May 5, 2015, The Center for Public Integrity / Slate / Business Insider

U.S. soldiers walk through a check point in Zafraniya neighbourhood, southeast of Baghdad

U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have stolen tens of millions through bribery, theft, and rigged contracts.

U.S. Army Specialist Stephanie Charboneau sat at the center of a complex trucking network in Forward Operating Base Fenty near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that distributed daily tens of thousands of gallons of what troops called “liquid gold”: the refined petroleum that fueled the international coalition’s vehicles, planes, and generators.

A prominent sign in the base read: “The Army Won’t Go If The Fuel Don’t Flow.” But Charboneau, 31, a mother of two from Washington state, felt alienated after a supervisor’s harsh rebuke. Her work was a dreary routine of recording fuel deliveries in a computer and escorting trucks past a gate. But it was soon to take a dark turn into high-value crime.

She began an affair with a civilian, Jonathan Hightower, who worked for a Pentagon contractor that distributed fuel from Fenty, and one day in March 2010 he told her about “this thing going on” at other U.S. military bases around Afghanistan, she recalled in a recent telephone interview.

Troops were selling the U.S. military’s fuel to Afghan locals on the side, and pocketing the proceeds. When Hightower suggested they start doing the same, Charboneau said, she agreed.

In so doing, Charboneau contributed to thefts by U.S. military personnel of at least $15 million worth of fuel since the start of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. And eventually she became one of at least 115 enlisted personnel and military officers convicted since 2005 of committing theft, bribery, and contract-rigging crimes valued at $52 million during their deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to a comprehensive tally of court records by the Center for Public Integrity.

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Written by juliaharte

May 5, 2015 at 10:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized