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Georgia legislature advances bill that could label protesters as “domestic terrorists”

by on Mar.15, 2017, under News Events

Georgia has become the latest state to take up legislation seemingly designed to have a chilling effect on First Amendment rights. Georgia’s State Senate passed SB1 earlier this month and the bill is now before the lower house of the state’s General Assembly. It goes further than many of the other so-called ‘anti-protest bills’ introduced in other states, by expanding the legal definition of domestic terrorism and creating a state-level Department of Homeland Security with surveillance and intelligence sharing capabilities.

For more on SB1 and its implications, FSRN’s Shannon Young spoke with Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director at Project South, a grassroots social justice organization based in Atlanta.

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Shannon Young: Let’s start with what SB1 is purported to fight, which is domestic terrorism. How does the bill define domestic terrorism and how does it change the definition already in law?

Azadeh Shahshahani: It widely expands the definition of domestic terrorism in a way that would allow law enforcement to target groups of citizens who demonstrate in public places. So, for one thing, it vaguely suggests that efforts to advance any belief could be categorized under a new definition of domestic terrorism. It also broadens the definition of terroristic threats to include actions “with the purpose of otherwise causing serious public inconvenience.” The concern is there is no clear definition of a public inconvenience and there’s no clarity on who or what agency gets to define what this entails. Obviously, we are concerned that this bill will be used as a mechanism to further crack down on the rights of people who want to exercise their First Amendment right to protest.

SY: Thrown in at the end of one of the sections of the legislation is quote: “This Code section shall not apply to constitutionally protected speech or lawful assemblies.” Do you find that reassuring?

AS: No. That language is there, but if there’s some type of an activity – potentially violent activity – at one of the protests, the other people at the protest who may not be really involved or behind the violent action could similarly get targeted. That language, in the context of a broad bill that is designed to crack down on freedom of speech, provides to assurance to us.

SY: Now, you’ve outlined your concerns about peaceable assembly and the right to protest, what about due process concerns?

AS: Right, exactly. Agencies under this bill will be required to share information about known or suspected terrorists, and SB1 provides no access to the right to due process for anyone on this list to appeal mistakes or to be removed from this list. Already, we’ve seen what has happened with the No Fly list and the various watchlists on the federal level, where there was zero to minimum due process for people who were often mistakenly placed on this list, and how really their lives are wrecked on multiple levels. And so now we’re seeing a copying of this at the state level.

SY: The bill also has lengthy sections on surveillance and subpoena powers. Can you sum up some of the broader points?

AS: Right, so this new Department of Homeland Security that is going to be established on the state level has been empowered with monitoring and sharing information about people who could be suspected of engaging in acts of terrorism. Already, we’re seeing, on the local level especially, a move towards monitoring of free speech activities. Just a few weeks ago, we heard reports about Muslim activists being approached by local police and interrogated for half an hour about their political beliefs. And then, when we followed up with them, the local police mentioned that this is part of an outreach effort, which very much sounds like massive surveillance efforts to us. The concern is that this new legislation, with this new Department of Homeland Security, with the new commissioner, all of the new officials that are going to be based there, are going to have even more power to surveil our immigrant, Muslim and activist communities.

SY: Some have painted this legislation as an anti-hate crimes bill. This comes as Jewish Community Centers and mosques around the country have reported incidents ranging from bomb threats to arson to vandalism. There have even been cases of violence used against South Asian immigrants, who have been targeted by perpetrators who are mistaking them for Muslims. Do you see the political will in Georgia to really go after hate crimes and is this bill conceivably part of that?

AS: Well, unfortunately I don’t think this bill is going to do anything on that front. I think the hate crimes and unfortunate hateful rhetoric that we’re seeing targeted by hate groups in our communities, is very much tied to the hateful and racist and Islamophobic rhetoric that has been coming down on the federal level since before the elections. You can’t divorce the two… We have a president who has made it a priority to target, both in terms of rhetoric and in terms of policies, Muslim communities and communities of color and queer and trans people, and so there should be no surprise when our communities are actually physically attacked.

SY: On a personal level – as an immigrant from one of the Muslim-majority country on the travel ban list – did you ever imagine seeing something like this transpire in the United States?

AS: We’ve seen this happen before. We saw the internment of Japanese-Americans in relatively recent history. We’ve seen the murder of black individuals by the police. We’ve seen the crackdown against indigenous communities that are claiming their right to their natural resources. We have seen evidence of this trend of repression coming. Most disturbing was a comment by an adviser to Trump after the elections, saying something to the effect that internment of Japanese-Americans was okay given the circumstances. I don’t ever remember hearing anybody legitimize that in recent history. So, I think we should really look back closely at the history of this country and the repression that has happened and learn from the resistance that has been able to fight back. And so not be surprised, but be prepared to fight back.

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Candice Wiggins says 98 percent of WNBA is gay, claims she was bullied for being straight

by on Feb.22, 2017, under News Events

The WNBA has historically been the most forward-thinking sports league in America when it comes to gay rights. The league has actively courted LGBTQ fans for several years (, if anything), has had several star players come out of the closet with little controversy, and generally been ahead of the NBA, its relatively socially progressive parent league, on every related issue. While the WNBA hasn’t always made the LGBTQ community proud with how it chooses to promote and accommodate its gay players, it’s fair to say that they’ve made meaningful strides. There’s a level of acceptance on the court, in locker rooms, and in the stands that virtually every other pro league in the United States cannot match.

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One prominent retired WNBA player says that culture consequently makes it difficult for straight players to thrive. Candice Wiggins, the No. 3 pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft and a champion in 2011 with the Minnesota Lynx, announced her retirement last March. In a new interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Wiggins says that “98 percent” of the WNBA is gay and that she would have played two more years if not for the “toxic” environment that affected her as a straight woman:

“I wanted to play two more seasons of WNBA, but the experience didn’t lend itself to my mental state,” Wiggins said. “It was a depressing state in the WNBA. It’s not watched. Our value is diminished. It can be quite hard. I didn’t like the culture inside the WNBA, and without revealing too much, it was toxic for me. … My spirit was being broken.”

Wiggins, a four-time All-American at Stanford, asserts she was targeted for harassment from the time she was drafted by Minnesota because she is heterosexual and a nationally popular figure, of whom many other players were jealous.

“Me being heterosexual and straight, and being vocal in my identity as a straight woman was huge,” Wiggins said. “I would say 98 percent of the women in the WNBA are gay women. It was a conformist type of place. There was a whole different set of rules they (the other players) could apply. […]

“People were deliberately trying to hurt me all of the time. I had never been called the B-word so many times in my life than I was in my rookie season. I’d never been thrown to the ground so much. The message was: ‘We want you to know we don’t like you.’” […]

“It comes to a point where you get compared so much to the men, you come to mirror the men,’ she said. “So many people think you have to look like a man, play like a man to get respect. I was the opposite. I was proud to a be a woman, and it didn’t fit well in that culture.”

Players’ union president Nneka Ogwumike, reigning WNBA MVP and a Stanford product like Wiggins, released a statement on the comments to Howard Megdal of VICE Sports:

“Our union is only as strong as our loyalty to and support for one another. What is key to that loyalty and support is our commitment to diversity and inclusion. As a union, we should and we will continue to celebrate the diversity that makes us special and lead by example. We must respect the rights of those we don’t agree with when they speak their mind. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the comments made recently by a former player or whether one has seen or experienced anything like what she has described, anything that impacts an inclusive culture should be taken seriously.”

Megdal also reached out to WNBA president Lisa Borders, who declined to comment.

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Several current players have strongly disagreed with Wiggins:

Bria Hartley, Mistie Bass, Dearrica Hamby & Taylor Hill have had babies in the past year. So according to the numbers, I identify as gay now

It’s tough to assess all of Wiggins’s statements, because she is ultimately describing a personal experience that have not yet been refuted. It’s entirely possible that she was bullied by her teammates and had such a bad experience in the WNBA that retirement was her best option. Plus, the interview features several less controversial reasons for her decision to step away from the game, including the toll of having to play a physically demanding sport year-round due to the salaries in women’s basketball.

In fact, Wiggins specifically cited those financial and physical stresses — she’s had eight surgeries — when she retired via a The Players’ Tribune article. That piece did not feature any explicit reference to the pressure of being straight in a very gay league.

It’s difficult to read this piece, then, without wondering exactly where Wiggins is coming from. For one thing, her “98 percent” estimate seems laughably extreme. Each of the WNBA’s 12 teams has 12 players, which means it would take just three straight women to exceed her two-percent threshold. Using hyperbole to make a point is not inherently wrong, but doing it to cast a historically marginalized group (gay women, many of whom are also black) as a bullying force raises concerns. For that matter, Wiggins’s comment that she was “proud to be a woman” makes it unclear if she alienated her peers while they were looking down upon her.

There is clearly more to this story than what has been revealed. In such circumstances, the best approach is that of San Antonio Stars forward Monique Currie, who tries understand Wiggins even as she disagrees with much of what she has to say:

I can say in my eleven seasons in the WNBA I’ve never witnessed the kind of bullying Wiggins describes in her interview. This does not mean it did not happen but I’m proud to be apart of a league that supports inclusion and celebrates all players regardless of their race, religion or sexuality. We are a family made up of players that love and respect the game of basketball. We are dedicated to growing the game and our league through integrity, honesty and hardwork. I feel awful that Candice had these experiences while playing in the WNBA but I encourage her to not only speak out about the negative aspects of her career but also shed light on how we can prevent this from ever happening again. The WNBA gave you a platform to emerge as an advocate for HIV/AIDS in which you have a very personal connection. The WNBA supported you, worked with you, gave you a voice. Why now? Why bring down the league you say you want to be successful? Why not uplift, advocate, and encourage young women to be themselves as you were during your playing days. Let young girls know that it’s ok to be “different”, teach them how to overcome, how to survive and to come out on top. Your voice will be much more appreciated and received that way.

In a world where we are already so divided I think it is important for people to tell their stories and to share their experiences. It’s equally important for people to listen and to care. I commend Candice Wiggins for telling her story and I look forward to seeing how she uses her experiences to to ensure this never ever happens to anyone again.

If nothing else, this sensational story is an opportunity to learn more. Here’s hoping it doesn’t end with a few attention-grabbing headlines.

– – – – – – –

Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Obama Options on Russian Hacks Range From Covert to Military

by on Dec.28, 2016, under News Events

President Barack Obama has vowed that the U.S. will respond to Russian hacking undertaken during the U.S. presidential campaign. Yet the public may never hear about it.

During his presidency, Obama favored a policy of deterrence when it came to responding to cyber attacks, in what U.S. officials call “naming and shaming.” He’s indicted Iranian and Chinese hackers and signed an executive order allowing the Treasury Department to impose financial sanctions on hackers. He could take similar steps against Russia, which has repeatedly denied accusations of hacking.

Another possible route, though, is an offensive cyber operation. Obama said Dec. 16 that he would respond in a “thoughtful, methodical way,” and some of it “we do publicly. Some of it, we will do in a way that they know but not everybody will.” Several former military and intelligence officials explained how an offensive response might play out.

Intelligence Agencies vs Pentagon Response

One key step would be deciding which part of the vast U.S. national security apparatus the administration taps for the job. The administration could turn to the Pentagon or the intelligence community to draft “proportional” responses to a breach, said Ted Johnson, a retired U.S. Navy commander and cyber fellow at the New America Foundation. That would ensure the U.S. plays by the norms of international conflict and reduces the risk of escalation.

“Your response to someone’s action against you should be proportional. So, if you get punched in the mouth you don’t blow up their home, because that’s not proportional,” Johnson said.

In making that decision, the president could choose a covert action by intelligence agencies, under a law called Title 50, or a military response, under the law known as Title 10.

Spy Agency Options

If a covert action by the Central Intelligence Agency or National Security Agency is sought, it would come after gathering as much data as possible on the specific “entities and individuals” involved in the U.S. attack, according to Terry Roberts, founder and president of cybersecurity firm WhiteHawk Inc. and former deputy director of U.S. Naval Intelligence.

That could involve wiping out hard drives connected to Russia’s intelligence community, exposing Russian hacking tools on the web or revealing where the hackers operate in the so-called dark web. Or if the specific hackers involved use bitcoin currency, the U.S. could delete their online financial cache, Roberts said. This could be done without attribution, so it’s not obvious the U.S. was behind the action.

“If I want to just quietly take out their capability and send a very sneaky message and not an overt message, I would probably do a covert action,” said Bob Stasio, a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and former chief of operations at the National Security Agency’s Cyber Operations Center.

Another possibility, according to another former NSA official, includes “deny, disrupt, degrade” attacks, where agency hackers could take down websites or networks, or break into non-government institutions and leak information. That could also include hacking into companies that have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin or leaders supporting him, or leaking information about Russia’s role in another country, deflecting the focus from the U.S.

Military Response

If the president chooses an offensive military option, that would fall to U.S. Cyber Command, a relatively new agency headed by Admiral Michael Rogers, who also leads the NSA. This path requires the object of the action be a military target. Possible options here could include a cyber-strike against the systems of the FSB or GRU, Russian intelligence agencies, or launching a ransomware attack against them or manipulating their data.

Using the military could send a strong message and eventually the operation could be made public. Rogers, for instance, has said he expects to declassify some of the offensive tactics being used against Islamic State. But it also raises the idea of overt warfare.

If the U.S. response is a military action, there could be questions around who oversees the operation. “Right now, the Russian geography falls within the European Command area of responsibility,” so the defense secretary or the president will have to determine who heads it up, Johnson, the former Navy commander said. “That is not a question that will be easily resolved.”

Is there precedent for making an offensive cyber attack public?

“The only publicly declared offensive cyber operation that the United States is conducting is against” Islamic State, though few details of that are known, according to Michael Sulmeyer, director of the Cyber Security Project at Harvard’s Belfer Center and a former senior cyber policy adviser at the Defense Department. “I suspect that’s why the administration, if they’re going to choose to go with an offensive cyber response, they’re probably going to be fairly quiet about it,” Sulmeyer said.

Case in point: North Korea. The isolated regime’s internet was disrupted for about 10 hours on Dec. 21 and 22, 2014, days after the Obama administration accused Kim Jong Un’s government of hacking Sony’s computer systems. Although the U.S. didn’t claim responsibility, the administration had vowed to retaliate against North Korea.

The Argument For Going Public

While policymakers face a challenge deciding whether to make a response public, not disclosing the attack raises the specter that the U.S. isn’t actually responding, according to Susan Hennessey, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former NSA lawyer.

“The idea of telling Russia, ‘we know it’s you and we might do something about it,’ the idea that that is sufficient in this case, I just don’t think that’s the case,” Hennessey said. “I think the White House has indicated that they recognize this is an area in which at least a partially visible and really quite consequential response is required.”

What’s Next?

Former officials and analysts say the process for cyber offensive operations isn’t streamlined and can get bogged down by policy discussions. That could be hindering the U.S. from carrying out such campaigns.

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For instance, if Cyber Command presents an option to the president, the National Security Council and a joint task force made up of the intelligence community, including the State Department, “have to determine the collateral effects,” according to Stasio. They consider the impact of the action, such as relations with the other country and civilian casualties. It’s a similar approval process as for a tactical strike.
“There’s generally not a whole lot of agreement in these meetings,” Stasio said.

Despite all this, Obama could have already ordered an offensive operation. Or he may choose to pursue a non-cyber response, or decide to do nothing beyond the public statements he’s made. It all depends on what message the U.S. wants to send. Regardless, U.S. allies and adversaries will closely watch the response.

“We’re in new territory in the digital age, we’re seeing things that we haven’t dealt with before,” Roberts, the former naval intelligence officer said. “Our policies and statutes are woefully behind in keeping up with these new dynamics.”

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Iran Deploys Long Range Missiles, US Drones Retreat from Airspace After Warning

by on Aug.31, 2016, under News Events

Iran Deploys Long Range Missiles, US Drones Retreat from Airspace After Warning

Earlier in 2016, Russia delivered several divisions of S-300 air defense missile systems to Iran and now Tehran is deploying those same systems to the Fordo nuclear facility according to state television.

“Protecting nuclear facilities is paramount in all circumstances,” said General Farzad Esmaili, commander of Iran’s air defenses.  “Today, Iran’s sky is one of the most secure in the region.”

He added that “continued opposition and hype on the S-300 or the Fordo site are examples of the viciousness of the enemy.”

The Fordo site, hidden into a mountain near the city of Qom, is one of Iran’s numerous nuclear enrichment plants.

Within 24 hours after transferring the missiles, Iran’s military detected a U.S. drone entering Iranian airspace on Monday and issued a warning for it to leave.  The drone immediately retreated from its course according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency.

“Iran’s army air defense detected and warned an American drone in the eastern airspace of the country. It was coming from Afghanistan. The drone left the area,” the report says.

Iran continues to stand strong in its defense of the Persian Gulf, declaring last Thursday that “if any foreign vessel enters our waters, we warn them, and if it’s an invasion, we confront.”  Subsequently, the Iranian navy successfully intercepted a U.S. destroyer, followed by a verbal warning from U.S. officials.

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