Most people check out eBay for vintage shoes, collectable Lord of the Rings swords, and limited edition Bruce Springsteen posters. But last week, eBayers had the opportunity to bid on national security surveillance equipment, intended to be disguised in a fake rock (rock not included, although you can get one at Home Depot). The technology was allegedly accredited by the Department of Defense and developed for Lockheed Martin in the early 2000s. But Lockheed never bought the commissioned project. So Gregory Perry, a former subcontractor who has done cybersecurity work for the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA), advertised that for a starting bid of $3 million—or a "buy it now" price of $10 million—you could get hundreds of pages of development instructions, two years of email backups with Lockheed, and some hardware, including a specialized radio. All of this would supposedly equip you to build your own "RockCam," intended to be used to take encrypted video and audio of US critical infrastructure, like nuclear power plants and oil and gas pipelines.
Welcome to the bizarre world of fake-rock subcontracting.
"Selling this collection of information is an attempt at recouping all or a portion of my investment of time, effort, personal monies, and sweat equity," Perry tells Mother Jones. Perry, who has 100 percent positive buyer's feedback on eBay, received dozens of bids when he first put the item up weeks ago. He took it down because he felt his story had received adequate exposure—and none of the bids were anywhere close to his original $10 million asking price. But he relisted the auction last week with a minimum bid because he "might have a serious buyer at this juncture." As of publication, Perry had ended the auction on Sunday with zero bids, which is also the case with the $1,795 3-D printer that Perry was selling.
In the late '90s, Perry worked for NETSEC Inc, a contractor that installed firewalls and did intrusion detection for EOUSA. (His employment by NETSEC was confirmed to Mother Jones by Zal Azmi, former chief information officer for EOUSA and the FBI.) Then, in 2002, Perry was hired by a subcontractor called Advanced Wireless Automation (AWA), where he owned a 10 percent founder's share of the company. The subcontractor's shining product was the RockCam, which is either a video camera with a lot of batteries or a high-tech piece of surveillance equipment, depending on who you ask. Perry says that RockCams—which on the outside, look like rocks—contain devices capable of sending encrypted information via 900 MHz radio to a main communication hub. According to the eBay listing, each high-resolution image and video is tagged with geographic coordinates, and the rock also contains environmental hardware, "such as temperature and humidity sensors for sampling weather-related data from the area." The batteries last for three years. Here is a picture of the technology:
Perry says that Lockheed agreed to pay between $250,000-$500,000 for the final version of the device. (A Lockheed financial statement Perry sent Mother Jones shows that Lockheed was billed $4,000 for each public key encryption system, which doesn't include the rest of the hardware.) Perry says his $96,000 salary was funded by these purchases as well as the investors that put money into the company. But Perry claims that after the RockCam was certified by DoD, he was fired by his fellow AWA shareholders (none of whom contacted by Mother Jones would comment) and the company dissolved because Lockheed did not pick up the product. Then, a couple years later, "spy rock" arrived:
Last year, Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to Tony Blair, admitted that MI6, the British secret service, had used a spy rock, planted in a park in Moscow, to communicate with secret agents there in 2006. Powell called the security breach "embarrassing." After the rock was discovered, Russian leader Vladimir Putin then ordered a crackdown on foreign-funded NGOs, accusing them of destabilizing the country.
Perry claims that spy rock borrows technology he developed with RockCam—and as a result, he wants compensation for his 10 percent shareholder's claim. However, there's no evidence that Lockheed made the famous spy rock (MI6 does not answer press questions). According to Wired, it's not entirely outside the realm of possibility that Lockheed is in the fake surveillance rock business, as it's leaving small wireless sensors—disguised as rocks—across the Afghan countryside, in order to perform "unobtrusive, continuous surveillance" for decades. But one technology expert told Mother Jones that RockCam is a glorified camera, and spy rock acts as a mailbox for uploading wireless files, so the only thing they have in common is the fake rock (Perry argues that his design has "wireless networking capabilities").
Melissa Dalton, a spokesperson for the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Skunkworks Group, would not comment on the eBay sale nor documents Perry sent Mother Jones allegedly showing his relationship with the company. Mark Wright, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, says that on cursory investigation, "We couldn't find any knowledge of DOD involvement with this project." However, after sending additional requested information about the project, another DOD spokesperson said that "we're researching it" but did not respond by deadline.
Wayne Mitzen—a technology developer with several patents who worked with Perry at NETSEC and currently makes sex toys—says that this eBay listing isn't actually that unusual. "One of my clients, who invented wireless microphone technology, mentioned his stuff's ended up on eBay, too. It happens," he says. "It's the Snowden effect. Everybody thinks they're Snowden, you know?"*
*Update: Mitzen contacted Mother Jones to clarify that he did not liken this particular eBay listing to Snowden.
Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told the Associated Press that the meeting was "outrageous and counterproductive" as it "gives legitimacy to the Klan as an organization you can talk to." At the very least, it was awkward. Here are the six most uncomfortable moments:
1. "Next Question." From the Casper Star-Tribune:"A certain amount of segregation is a good thing, [Abarr] says. White police should stay in white neighborhoods and black officers in black neighborhoods. Color-blindness doesn't even make sense. Interracial marriage? No. It's better if the races are kept separate. Completely opposed. 'Because we want white babies,' he says. The line hangs in the air. Next question."
2. "What I Like to Do is Recruit Really Radical Kids" From the Star-Tribune: "[Abarr] says he's seen a rush of recruits due to the presidency of Barack Obama—mostly men in their 20s and 30s, angry, violent and ready for action. 'What I like to do is recruit really radical kids, then calm them down after they join,' he says. Sometimes recruits will decide Abarr's Klan isn’t hateful enough and go somewhere else. As long as recruits look white and think white, that's good enough for Abarr, even though some potential recruits have 'confessed' to him they’re quarter Mexican."
3. "Just Terrible" From the Star-Tribune: "Beatings of black men in Gillette? Those are hate crimes, Abarr agrees. Something must be done. Talk to the police. His tone is clear: Who would think of doing such a thing? Just terrible."
Keisha Simmons, secretary of the NAACP Casper branch, listens to John Abarr. Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune
4. "I did not give it a green light" From the Star-Tribune: Rosemary Lytle, president of the NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State Conference, says the meeting wasn't even supposed to happen in the first place. "In fact, I did not give it it a green light when it was proposed,” she told the paper. "The appropriate chain of command would have started with my approval."
5. Getting Insight Nevertheless, "Abarr told The Associated Press on Tuesday he filled out an NAACP membership form so he could get the group's newsletters and some insight into its views. He said he paid a $30 fee to join, plus a $20 donation."
6. "I'd Love to Shake Your Hand" From the Star-Tribune: NAACP member Mel Hamilton, in summing up the meeting, says: "I'd love to shake your hand tonight and truly believe that you have good will towards all people, and I can't seem to come to that point.”
Jimmy Simmons, left, president of the NAACP Casper branch, listens to John Abarr Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune
Update: CNN reports that a Pennsylvania judge ruled Thursday that Hanes must "cease and desist from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex applicants [and] from accepting the marriage certificates of same-sex couples." Hanes is reportedly complying with the order but considering an appeal.
Gay marriages are illegal in Pennsylvania. But if you go to D. Bruce Hanes, you can get one anyway.
Hanes is an Army veteran and Democratic county clerk in Montgomery County, outside Philadelphia. In July, he started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Pennsylvanians Loreen Bloodgood and Alicia Terrizzi, 17-year partners who are the mothers of two sons, were first in line.
"Based on the recent Supreme Court decisions over the Defense of Marriage Act, I felt that Pennsylvania's Marriage Act was indeed unconstitutional," Hanes tells Mother Jones. "So in this office, we no longer ask people their gender." Since enacting the policy, Hanes' office has issued more than 160 licenses to same-sex couples. "Couples come from all over to Montgomery County to get the licenses," Hanes says.
Now a Pennsylvania state court has to decide whether what Hanes did was legal—and what to do about the licenses he already issued. Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's Department of Health has sued Hanes for failing to enforce Pennsylvania law, arguing that the marriage licenses are invalid. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday. The outcome of the suit will determine whether a single local official can cite federal precedent to decree a state's same-sex-marriage law unconstitutional.
Bodies are buried in Ghouta, Syria, after a chemical weapon attack killed as many as 1,300.
UPDATE August 30, 2013, 1:00 PM EST: The Obama Administration has released its assessment of the chemical weapons attack in Syria. According to the document (view it here), the US government "assesses with high confidence" that the Syrian government carried out the attack, using a nerve agent. The document also says that the Syrian regime maintains a stockpile of numerous chemical agents, including mustard, sarin, and VX.
Here is the map released by the White House showing areas reportedly affected by the August 21 chemical attack (click to enlarge.)
The Obama administration has moved a fifth destroyer containing cruise missiles into the Mediterranean Sea and seems prepared to take limited punitive military action against Syria for the presumed use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad's regime. The White House is expected to declassify evidence today that will show that Assad's forces launched a poisonous gas attack against civilians earlier this month, killing more than 1,300. A year ago, President Obama set a "red line," noting that the use of chemical weapons would be unacceptable in the Syrian civil war that has raged for over two years and killed over 100,000 people. But with Britain refusing to lend support for a retaliatory strike, some members of Congress are wondering whether the use of chemical weapons is an automatic rationale for America to go to war. Here's a backgrounder on these nasty weapons, who has them, what they do to the body, and how the United States has in the past responded to their use.
What is a chemical weapon? Experts generally categorize chemical weapons based on their biological effects. According to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, chemical weapons include nerve agents, choking agents, blister agents such as mustard gas, blood agents, chemicals that cause psychotic disorders, and riot-control agents, such as tear gas. Also included are defoliants such as Agent Orange, which was used by the United States in Vietnam.
What do these chemicals do to people? Chemical weapons wreak havoc on the body, but are not always lethal. Nerve and choking agents hit hardest. When you inhale a choking agent—such as chlorine gas, which was used extensively during World War I—it forces fluid into your lungs, and that basically drowns you. Nerve agents can kill within minutes (in the case of VX), and cause twitching and seizures prior to death. Symptoms of mustard gas include skin blistering, burning eyes, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and swelling of the respiratory tract that can seal the victim's airway. They take 2 to 24 hours to appear and are not usually lethal if adequate health care is available.
Which chemical agent was used in Syria? Sarin, allegedly. When absorbed through the skin, sarin attacks the nervous system and can kill a person in 5 to 10 minutes. It was developed in 1938 in Nazi Germany and was allegedly tested on people in concentration camps. Sarin was the gas used a deadly 1995 attack on the Tokyo subway by an extremist cult. (See timeline below.)
How are survivors of the Syrian attack being treated? Tim Shenk, a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders, which operates six hospitals and four health centers in the north of Syria, says that the main drug used to treat neurotoxic symptoms is atropine. The group sent approximately 1,600 vials of the drug to field hospitals in Damascus about six months ago. Those were used in the recent incident, and Doctors Without Borders is now sending 15,000 additional vials to facilities in that area. If atropine is injected within one hour of exposure, it can be highly effective—but in Syria, there wasn't enough atropine to treat everyone, and not all patients made it to the hospital in time.
Why are chemical weapons considered worse than, say, bombing women and children? "Unfortunately, there are no international laws against war itself," Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, tells Mother Jones. "But there are rules about how wars can and cannot be conducted…Holding the line against further chemical weapons use is in the interests of the United States and international security, because chemical weapons produce horrible, indiscriminate effects, especially against civilians, and because the erosion of the taboo against chemical weapons can lead to further, more significant use of these or other mass destruction weapons in the future." Chemical weapons also evoke the horrors of World War I and the Holocaust.
But writer Paul Waldman sees international hypocrisy on the subject. "Getting killed by mustard gas is surely awful," he writes in The American Prospect. "But so is getting blown up by a bomb. Using one against your enemies gets you branded a war criminal, but using the other doesn't." Steve Johnson, a visiting fellow at the United Kingdom's Cranfield University and an expert on chemical warfare, said in an interview, "I can understand why [chemical warfare] feels emotive to us—it is insidious, there is no shelter, it is particularly effective on the young, elderly, and frail, and can be a violent and excruciating death." He adds, "When one breaks it down ethically, though, it seems impossible to say that it is more acceptable to kill 100 people with explosives than with nerve agent."
Does the United States usually intervene when chemical weapons are used? Far from it. "As far as I know," the Arms Control Association's Kimball says, "this would be among the first instances when a state's use of chemical weapons would have prompted military action by the US or by others." And Foreign Policy reported this week that unearthed CIA documents show that the United States gave the location of Iranian troops to Iraq in 1988, fully aware that Saddam Hussein's regime was planning to attack Iran with chemical weapons—including sarin.
Here are some of the most notable recent uses of chemical weapons by governments and terrorist groups.
1st Lt. Matthew Chau, commander of Border Team 3, 25th Infantry Division, patrols Halabja, Iraq. Buried in the village cemetery are many victims of the 1988 chemical weapons attack ordered by Saddam Hussein. Wikimedia
1988, Halabja, Iraq: Saddam Hussein's regime unleashed mustard gas on a town overtaken by Kurdish rebels at the end of the Iran-Iraq War, killing about 5,000 civilians.
1989, Tbilisi, Georgia: Russian security agents allegedly use a World War I-era gas against protesters. About 4,000 people seek hospitalization.
1994, Matsumoto, Japan: Aum Shinrikyo, a cult obsessed with the idea of apocalypse, released sarin at several sites, killing seven people and injuring more than 200.
1995, Tokyo, Japan: Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas on the subway, killing at least 12 people and injuring more than 5,500.
Are chemical weapons allowed under international law? Nope. In 1925, following the large-scale use of nerve gas, tear gas, and other deadly agents during World War I, countries signed a Geneva protocol prohibiting the use of gas as a method of warfare on the grounds that it has been "justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world." Using chemical weapons is a war crime under the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). A legally binding arms control treaty on chemical weapons, the Chemical Weapons Convention, was drafted in 1992. Its signatories agreed to not use or produce chemical weapons, and to destroy their remaining stockpiles. Since 1997, when the treaty went into effect, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has inspected more than 2,600 chemical weapons sites declared under the treaty. Here's a map showing which countries have not yet signed and/or ratified the treaty, or ratified it only in the last five years:
Who still has chemical weapons? As of February 2013, Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia, and the United States still have declared chemical weapons stockpiles. (This doesn't count the five countries that have not signed nor ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, or nations that may have secret stockpiles.) Since 1997, at least 80 percent of the world's stockpiles have been destroyed—the United States and Russia have been dragging their feet, according to Cranfield University's Johnson. Thirteen countries, including China, the United Kingdom, the United States, Iraq, and France also have declared existing chemical weapons production facilities—but of those 70 total declared facilities, 64 have been destroyed or converted for peaceful purposes. All have been inactivated.
Which nations support US military intervention on the basis of a chemical weapons attack? British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged his support for a US strike against Syria, but he was rebuffed by parliament, including members of his own Conservative Party. The UN Security Council meeting on the topic ended in a stalemate, without authorization for military intervention. Russia passionately opposes intervention, as it blames Syrian rebels for the chemical attacks. France could turn out to be the crucial backer for Obama, as President Francois Hollande has expressed his support, and is not bound by his parliament's vote.
A notorious internet troll—known for allegedly harassing feminists on Twitter and uploading YouTube clips edited to depict women saying degrading things—has forced a major social-media site to choose between free speech and punishing an alleged harasser. This latest controversy has heightened the online debate about whether tech giants are doing enough to protect victims of harassment.
Earlier this month, at least five women contacted Xavier Damman, the CEO of Storify, to complain that a user who goes by the handle "elevatorgate" was harassing female users via Damman's popular social-media curation site. Storify allows users to compile public content from a wide spectrum of social-media networks, including Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. The women told Damman that elevatorgate—who identifies himself as a "human rights activist" in his Storify bio—was republishing dozens, sometimes hundreds, of their tweets, triggering notification emails that flooded their inboxes.
Although elevatorgate's use of Storify was limited to triggering a deluge of email alerts, the women who complained about him say he has a history of sending abusive and misogynistic messages on other social networks. Elevatorgate's Twitter account is suspended, but his YouTube page includes a video of Rebecca Watson, a 32-year-old New Yorker who runs Skepchick, a site about feminism and atheism, edited to make it sound like she's saying she "had sex with Richard Dawkins," the famous evolutionary biologist and author. Another video on elevatorgate's YouTube page has been edited to make it appear that a female writer says, "heck yeah, I want to hook up" and "would you like to come up to my room now and have sex?"
Storify's terms of service specify that users can't "publish, submit or transmit any content" that promotes "harassment." But when several of the women raised the point that this behavior might constitute harassment, Damman tweeted back with a link that cited Voltaire's vow to defend freedom of speech to the death. "[I] can't do anything about [elevatorgate]," Damman said, other than "momentarily block" elevatorgate's ability to send email notifications. Later, as the controversyheatedup, Storify did turn off elevatorgate's ability to send notifications. It also created a mechanism for users to flag inappropriate content. But elevatorgate's Storify account still stands.
Damman says he still believes elevatorgate's right to compile content is a free speech issue, and adds that Storify's rules about harassment were written to cover people who are "writing original content that is upsetting people and mentioning those people by name." That means that simply collecting tweets—not adding original commentary—doesn't necessarily qualify as harassment, as far as Storify is concerned.