Today, Barrett Brown, a journalist and activist accused of working with Anonymous, was sentenced to 63 months in federal prisonand fined $890,000. Brown has been in custody since September 2012, when he was arrested for threatening an FBI agent on YouTube. Additional charges followed, including allegedly hindering the arrest of Jeremy Hammond—who was convicted in 2013 of hacking the intelligence firm Statfor—and trafficking in stolen credit card information after he posted a link to the hacked Stratfor files. The original slate of charges against Brown could have resulted in more than 100 years in prison.
Many of the original charges against Brown were dropped. Today's sentencing followed his pleading guilty to obstructing Hammond's arrest and hiding a laptop during an FBI search of his mother's home. He will likely spend somewhere between one and three years behind bars due to time served and a potential supervised release.
Brown's case spawned a campaign to free him that focused on the First Amendment issues raised by the feds' aggressive prosecution. As Kevin Drum wrote about the case in 2013, "This is almost a textbook case of prosecutorial overreach…[T]he government considers him a thorn in their side and wants to send a message to anyone else planning to follow in Brown's footsteps. That just ain't right."
Brown addressed these issues in the statement he made prior to his sentencing this morning. "This is not the rule of law, Your Honor," Brown said, "it is the rule of Law Enforcement, and it is very dangerous."
About an hour later, someone claiming to be a supporter of ISIS took over the United States Central Command's Twitter feed and YouTube channel. Over the course of about a half hour, several messages were posted to CENTCOM's Twitter account:
Another message posted what was purported to be the personal information of US generals (we blurred out some of the details):
They also tweeted a link to this message, which warned, "American soldiers, we are coming, watch your back."
There were also several screenshots purporting to show war scenarios for various areas around the world:
It's unclear whether whoever did this had access to Pentagon computer systems or whether they just took publicly-available material and posted it after gaining control of CENTCOM's Twitter account. CENTCOM confirmed that its Twitter and YouTube accounts were "compromised" in a statement Monday, adding: "We are taking appropriate measures to address the matter. Our initial assessment is that no classified information was posted." A Twitter spokesperson told Mother Jones that the "Pentagon has requested our assistance with an account security issue, and we're working with them to resolve it."
UPDATE: CENTCOM issued a more complete statement later Monday: "Earlier today, U.S. Central Command's Twitter and YouTube sites were compromised for approximately 30 minutes. These sites reside on commercial, non-Defense Department servers and both sites have been temporarily taken offline while we look into the incident further. Centcom's operational military networks were not compromised and there was no operational impact to Centcom. Centcom will restore service to its Twitter and YouTube accounts as quickly as possible. We are viewing this purely as a case of cybervandalism. In the meantime, our initial assessment is that no classified information was posted and that none of the information posted came from Centcom's server or social media sites. Additionally, we are notifying appropriate DoD and law enforcement authorities about the potential release of personally identifiable information and will take appropriate steps to ensure any individuals potentially affected are notified as quickly as possible."
One of the many messes the United States is leaving behind as it formally withdraws from Afghanistan is that it's more or less a narco state. Despite the United States spending nearly $8 billion to fight the Afghan narcotics trade, the country is producing more opium than ever. It's unlikely to get better anytime soon: Last month, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reported that counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan "are no longer a top priority."
The roots of the problem really aren't that complicated, says Edward Follis. "It really does come down to basic economics." The Taliban "has decided they would exploit the economic dearth of all these people that can't provide for themselves, and they take it from there."
For several years, Follis headed up the Drug Enforcement Administration's efforts in Afghanistan as the agency's country attaché,reporting directly to the US ambassador. After chasing drug kingpins in Thailand, Mexico, and Colombia, Follis was sent to Afghanistan in 2006 and was tasked with bringing down the figures behind its narcotics trade. He spent 27 years with the agency. Today he is director of special projects for 5 Stones Intelligence, an intel and investigative firm based in Miami.
Follis recounts his experiences in his memoir (with co-author Douglas Century), The Dark Art: My Undercover Life in Global Narco-Terrorism, which was published last year. In the book, Follis recounts making drug deals with Mexican cartels, setting up phony gun deals, working deep undercover to help take down the notorious Shan United Army in Burma, and hanging out with a major Lebanese drug trafficker at Disneyland. In Afghanistan, he befriended accused Taliban financier Haji Juma Khan. While some American officials wanted to take out Khan in a drone strike, Follis claims that he convincingly argued that he should be brought in alive. Khan is now awaiting trial in New York City on charges of conspiring to distribute narcotics to support a terrorist organization.
Last year, it was reported that a small city in China had created a texting-only lane for pedestrians. The story went viral before it was somewhat debunked—turns out the lane is in a theme park, and it's just 100 feet long—but there's a reason it got eyeballs: everybody's worried about "texting while walking," and no one knows what to do about it.
According to a 2012 Pew study, most grownups have bumped into stuff while looking at their phones, or been bumped by someone else on their phone. A Stony Brook University study in 2012 found that texting walkers were 61 percent more likely to veer off course than undistracted ones, a finding backed up by other researchers.
Jack Nasar, professor of urban planning at Ohio State University and one of the study's co-authors, said the real number of injuries could be much, much higher. "Not every pedestrian who gets injured while using a cell phone goes to an emergency room," he told Mother Jones. Some lack health insurance or (erroneously) decide their injuries aren't serious. Others will deny a phone had anything to do with their injury. "People who die from cell-phone distraction also don't show up in the emergency room numbers," says Nasar.
For one thing, local governments often define "pedestrian" quite broadly. In San Diego, anyone who chooses to "walk, sit, [or] stand in public places" is a pedestrian; so would a ban mean no more texting at the bus stop? With the endless variation in how people use their phones, and phone technology changing all the time, it's hard for lawmakers to keep up. And for some politicians, proposed bans raise "nanny-state" hackles. Utah State Rep. Craig Frank, a Republican who opposed a ban in Utah in 2012, said at the time, "I never thought the government needed to cite me for using my cell phone in a reasonable manner."
Melodrama aside, the video raises the obvious question: is it really that hard for pedestrians to police themselves? A July 2014 experiment by National Geographic in Washington, D.C. set up a texting-only lane at a busy DC intersection, but found that most people just ignored the markings. And there's the rub: If walking and texting is inherently distracting, would people even notice a cell-phone-only lane, or other environmental cues? "I think there is good evidence out there that [engaging a phone after a ring or vibration] is a trained and conditioned response," says Dr. Beth Ebel, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington. She co-authored a study in 2012 that found that people texting and walking were four times less likely to look before crossing a street, or obey traffic signals or cross at the appropriate place in the road. "This compulsive nature applies to all of us," she says.
Maybe the answer lies in the phones. An app called Type n Walk lets you text while the phone's camera shows you what's in front of the phone (but doesn't work with Apple's iMessage). Another app in the works is Audio Aware, which interrupts your music if it hears screeching tires, a siren, or other street sounds. Then there's CrashAlert, a proof-of-concept developed by researchers at the University of Manitoba in 2012, which would use the front-facing camera on your phone to scan for obstacles in your path (but isn't currently in development). It's too soon to say whether these apps will take off, or how well they'd work.
For the time being, Ebel isn't advocating we abandon our phones—"We don't have to go backwards. I love my phone."—but that at the very least we have honest conversations with ourselves about our phone use and the risks we're taking. As for critics who fly the "nanny state" banner whenever texting-and-walking bans come up, Ebel says they're downplaying the danger. "From a law enforcement perspective, this is a form of impairment. It needs to be treated as such."
Additional reporting by Maddie Oatman and Brett Brownell.
Marine Infantry Officer Course students stand by before a helicopter drill in Arizona.
The cost of US war-making in the 13 years since the September 11 terrorist attacks reached a whopping $1.6 trillion in 2014, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
The $1.6 trillion in war spending over that time span includes the cost of military operations, the training of security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, weapons maintenance, base support, reconstruction, embassy maintenance, foreign aid, and veterans' medical care, as well as war-related intelligence operations not tracked by the Pentagon. The report tracks expenses through September, the end of the government's 2014 fiscal year. Here's a breakdown of where most of that money went:
The key factor determining the cost of war during a given period over the last 13 years has been the number of US troops deployed, according to the report. The number of troops in Afghanistan peaked in 2011, when 100,000 Americans were stationed there. The number of US armed forces in Iraq reached a high of about 170,000 in 2007.
Although Congress enacted across-the-board spending cuts in March 2013, the Pentagon's war-making money was left untouched. The minimal cuts, known as sequestration, came from the Defense Department's regular peacetime budget. The Pentagon gets a separate budget for fighting wars.
In the spending bill that Congress approved earlier this month, lawmakers doled out $73.7 billion for war-related activities in 2015—$2.3 billion more than President Barack Obama had requested. As Mother Jones' Dave Gilson reported last year, US military spending is on pace to taper far less dramatically in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars than it did after the end of the Vietnam War or the Cold War.
Other reports have estimated the cost of US wars since 9/11 to be far higher than $1.6 trillion. A report by Neta Crawford, a political science professor at Boston University, estimated the total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—as well as post-2001 assistance to Pakistan—to be roughly $4.4 trillion. The CRS estimate is lower because it does not include additional costs including the lifetime price of health care for disabled veterans and interest on the national debt.