A hospital in Afghanistan's Parwan province, which cost US taxpayers almost $600,000, is so ill-equipped, hospital staff are washing newborn infants using untreated river water, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported on Wednesday. SIGAR's visit, which was conducted in November 2013 (photos here), also found mold and mildew throughout the hospital; a lack of furniture and equipment; a serious risk for earthquake damage; and only enough electricity to operate three light bulbs in the entire facility.
In 2009, a local Afghan contractor, Shafi Hakimi Construction Company, was commissioned to build Salang Hospital as part of a Department of Defense-funded reconstruction program. When a US Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) task force first inspected the hospital when it was under construction in 2012, they determined it had major problems and residents of Salang district wouldn't have adequate healthcare until they were fixed. In November 2012, the contractor was paid in full. But when SIGAR inspected a year later, it found "the deficiencies identified by the task force had not been corrected."
NBC News, which recently visited the facility, observed "desperate" hospital staff attempting to administer dental care to a 12-year-old girl—even though they only had access to six pieces of rusty dental equipment. As NBC described it: "The girl was shivering with fear, and began crying after the doctor gave her a shot in her gums. Another man held her still as Sarwy swiftly tilted her head back, opened her mouth and yanked out one of her teeth with a pair of pliers."
Hospital staff told SIGAR that they are paying about $18 a month of their own money to a neighbor, in order to get enough electricity to operate the three light-bulbs in the hospital. Additionally, SIGAR found that the contractor built the hospital two stories high, instead of one, without authorization from US officials or further study. "The hospital does not serve the medical needs of the people of Salang district as intended and may be a danger to its patients and staff because of the potential for the structure’s collapse in an earthquake," the report reads.
This account differs sharply with a press release put out by US Forces-Afghanistan yesterday, which argued that despite the SIGAR report, "the facility is currently providing improved medical services" and noted that, "local ministry officials are currently in the process of hiring a surgeon and other staff and have installed a solar power generation unit." John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, told NBC, "either no one from USFOR-A has actually visited this facility recently or USFOR-A is living in an alternate reality."
Mother Jones has reached out to US Forces-Afghanistan to find out when they last visited the facility. According to a January 21 US Army document obtained by Mother Jones, US forces have been unable to conduct a physical re-inspection of the hospital since the SIGAR notified them of their findings on January 3, due to "reduced combat forces [and] threats in the area."
If you're in a monogamous relationship and you come home at 4 a.m. with no explanation, your significant other may wonder where you've been. According to the FBI, some jealous lovers are going straight to the nuclear option: hiring hackers to find your email password.
On Friday, federal prosecutors charged two Arkansas men, Mark Anthony Townsend and Joshua Alan Tabor, with operating a business that illegally obtained email passwords for customers who hoped to catch cheating spouses. The pair's company, needapassword.com, breached nearly 6,000 email accounts, including some hosted by Google and Yahoo, according to the indictments. Townsend, 49, allegedly established the website, which operated as recently as July 2013 and asked $50 to $350 per password. Tabor, 29, allegedly helped Townsend hack into the accounts. Both men are charged with accessing a protected computer without authorization and facilitating further access by others, a felony that carries a five-year prison sentence.
"Is your spouse cheating with someone? Do you know who they are? You have the right to read the personal thoughts your spouse is writing to others," Townsend and Tabor's website advertised last April, according to the FBI. The men allegedly offered to obtain passwords to Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL, Gmail and other accounts. (You can view a version of the site here.) Tabor and Townsend were caught hacking into Yahoo and Gmail accounts, according to the indictments. Attorneys for the two men did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
In the indictments, the FBI notes that the scheme was dependent on a target logging into his or her email and checking it. A Google spokeswoman says that it appears that its servers weren't directly hacked; instead, users' individual Gmail accounts were hijacked using a technique called spear phishing, in which a hacker sends a fake email that tricks an account owner into providing sensitive information. "We have a wide variety of protections in place at all times to guard our users against account hijacking," the Google spokeswoman said. A Yahoo spokeswoman adds, "Yahoo takes the security of our users very seriously."
After gaining access to an email account, the hackers would send a screenshot of the inbox to the customer as proof, and then solicit payment via Paypal for the password, according to the indictment. One bank account the FBI believes to be associated with the defendants received approximately $150,000 in about a year and a half. According to the FBI, Townsend used a computer system that belonged to the fire department in his home town of Cedarville, Arkansas, where he was a volunteer for the local search and rescue team.
The FBI notes that the scheme wasn't always successful: An agent from the Los Angeles field office interviewed a customer identified in the indictment and search warrant as, "J.B.," who suspected her boyfriend of not being faithful. She signed up for the site, but received a message saying that although the site had obtained a password, it wasn't working: "Maybe he typed it wrong or he's suspicious."
The feds aren't just cracking down on people who allegedly do the hacking, they're going after customers too: indictments unrelated to the "needapassword" case were issued last week against three Americans who paid between $1,011 and $21,675 to hackers in order to obtain email passwords.
Up until now, tech companies have only been allowed to report a very rough figure on the number of national security letters they receive, and the number of users affected. (The FBI and other agencies use these secret requests to force businesses to hand over certain customer records.) Meanwhile, firms like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and others have been forbidden from sharing any information on orders they receive via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. Now, the New York Times reports:
Companies will be able to disclose the existence of FISA court orders. But they must choose between being more specific about the number of demands or about the type of demands. Companies that want to disclose the number of FISA orders and national security letters separately can do so as long as they only publish in increments of 1,000. Or, companies can narrow the figure to increments of 250, but only if they lump FISA court orders and national security letters together.
"It's a pretty absurdly tiny incremental increase in transparency," Julian Sanchez, a research fellow at the Cato Institute who focuses on privacy and civil liberties issues, tweeted Monday. Not only are tech companies still barred from reporting the government requests they receive in real time—there's a six-month delay—but the information they are now allowed to disclose still tells Americans little about the requests the government is making. For example, the administration's now policy only allows FISA orders to be reported under "content" and "non-content" categories. And the number of accounts affected can still only be disclosed in ranges of 1,000.
This week, Apple CEO Tim Cook reiterated that, "We need to say what data is being given," after revealing that his company is under a government gag order. The president's surveillance advisory board recommended in December that he reform the process by requiring judicial approval before sending national security letters. (Judicial approval is currently not required.) And members of Congress have introduced a bill that would limit the kinds of records that can be obtained. But the administration has yet to take meaningful steps at surveillance reform.
UPDATE, Tuesday, January 28, 2014: Nate Cardozo, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, sent Mother Jones another reason Obama's announcement doesn't go far enough: "The deal won't allow the companies to disclose which legal authorities the government is using in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. We need that information especially, since we're currently trying to reform those very laws. True transparency—as well as the First Amendment—requires that companies be allowed to map the scope of the United States government's surveillance apparatus, including the legal authorities it claims to rely on."
It has been almost a month since Congress let emergency unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million Americans. Since then, Republicans and Democrats have bickered about how to reinstate these benefits, with little progress—a comprehensive unemployment bill recently failed in the Senate, and similar measures in the GOP-run House haven't even gotten a vote. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, has promised to press the issue when lawmakers return from recess next week. But until Congress comes to some sort of agreement, unemployed Americans will have to wait.
Shortly after Christmas, we spoke to sevenAmericans who were set to lose their benefits. We checked back with a few of them this week to ask how their situations have changed. We've also collected a few new stories—some directly, and some from other news outlets. Many of these people quoted here have chosen to remain anonymous so as not to damage their job prospects. Their responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Name: Anonymous (previous story here) State: New York
"I hate to acknowledge it or admit it, as that seems to make it seem more real, but it is getting worse by the day. I am relying on money from relatives for necessities like heat, gas, food. I have simply stopped servicing any of my debt. It's a miserable feeling. The calls are coming daily. I was approved for food stamps in the month of November, but in December, my benefits were greatly reduced. [See more on reduced benefits here.] My ex is providing some help, for example, paying the co-pay for our son's diabetic supplies. Because my youngest is diabetic, with an allergy to peanuts, cheaper staples like pasta, white bread, rice, and peanut butter are not an option for us. The other three boys eat pasta all the time, but we cannot have peanut products in the house. I did not get the job I interviewed for and of course driving to/from the interview cost quite a bit. But I have at least a dozen resumes out just today. And we have heat, access to health care, relatives who will take us in, and I'm well educated. I'm in much better shape than most, I suspect. Something will happen soon and this will all be a nasty little memory."
Name: Heidi S. State: Michigan "I am 45 years old. I got divorced three and half years ago while I was self-employed. I wasn't making enough money to support myself, but I also couldn't find a good job, because I didn't finish my bachelor degree years ago. So I went back to college and took out loans for the whole thing. (I now owe more than $40,000.) I graduated with my degree in professional writing and journalism in December 2012. In February 2013, I realized that there weren't that many decent jobs in this field where I live, so I freelanced a bit while looking for a job and still collecting unemployment. I finally started to make enough to perhaps get off unemployment when I fell and broke my wrist and ankle in July 2013. Because of this, I couldn't do anything for two months. I lost the new clients I had found and couldn't pay my rent. I was also uninsured, so I now I have medical bills over $2,500. In September, 2013, I was evicted and ended up moving into my parents' summer cottage for the winter. I've been applying for 5-10 jobs each week, for the last two years. I've been told I am either too qualified or not qualified enough.
"When I had unemployment, I was able to put gas in my car and pay rent, utilities, and insurance. Now I cannot. I'm also running low on dog food, laundry soap, toilet paper, and things like that, which aren't covered by food stamps. I haven't bought any new clothes in more than three years, so my interview and work clothes are seriously outdated. I was able to pay my phone and internet bills for this month, but I'm worried how I will pay for both next month, without the unemployment. Without a phone or internet, I'm not sure how I will be able to find a job. The nearest library with computers is 20 minutes away."
Name: Anonymous (previous story here) State: Washington
"I'm lucky to have skills that can bring in some freelance income. I had already cut back many discretionary costs when I lost my job and was getting benefits. What's left now are mostly my fixed costs, so there's not much more I can cut. I don't have cable, but need my internet + DSL for job hunting. Still, I'm luckier than many. I am not in danger of losing my house or my car anytime soon, and at least I have long-term savings I can tap, even though I am loath to borrow from my future. My closest friends check in often and are very supportive. I have enough to eat and so does my dog. I am putting off a (not major) surgery she needs, though. A tooth started to ache yesterday. If I need a root canal, there goes another $2,000 I can't afford! Things feel precarious. After this many months, it gets harder to resist the stigma and harder to resist believing that there must be something really wrong with me, or I would have found work by now. I saw the first crocus blooming in my yard yesterday. It's a new year. Spring will come, and with it, a change in my circumstances, I hope!"
Name: Tara Dublin (previous story here) State: Washington
"Unfortunately, I'm still in the exact same place. I'm very worried about losing my house, I still apply for waitressing and retail jobs and all the other jobs I feel I could do, and I get no response. I'm incredibly terrified and frustrated. Right now I'm deciding if I should pay the power bill or buy gas for my car."
Name: Anonymous State: Illinois
"I'm a skilled technician in my thirties—just a few credits shy of my undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago—and I live with my brother to make ends meet. I worked as an office manager/IT professional after college, and then switched jobs in 2012. I ended up having a micro stroke that I was subsequently fired for. I was on emergency unemployment benefits from May to December. If I didn't sell drugs, I'd be dead. I sell weed primarily, but I will buy and sell anything. I'm looking to go back to school, but I will need more loans, and medical bills have been eating me alive. Luckily I have the support of friends and family. And I'm industrious, connected, and safe enough to have an illegal job, yet still make money (and am constantly being told I'm the most professional drug dealer they've ever met). I'm trying to get that money to be legal, but, baby steps."
Here are a few stories from other news outlets:
Lena Rouse, Ohio: "I have zero income right now, zero…This is the first month things haven't been paid yet." (WOSU)
Stan Osnowitz, Maryland: "I have two choices…I can take a job at McDonald's or something and give up everything I've studied and everything I've worked for and all the experience that I have. Or I can go to retirement." (Politico)
Kerstin Foster, Connecticut: "I'm one of the lucky people who has a job coming. What's going to happen to all the rest?" (CNN)
Clarissa Garcia Jewett, Florida: "You go from it being bad to being dire" (National Journal)
Amber Chatman, Texas: "I mean, I'm down to the basics. I don't have a fancy new car. I have my rent, my utilities, to provide a roof over me and my son's head." (Kera News)
Hunter Moore, "The Most Hated Man on the Internet"
Thursday morning, the FBI arrested 27-year-old Hunter Moore, the founder of "Is Anyone Up," a now defunct website dedicated to publishing revenge porn—softcore or hardcore amateur pornography supposedly submitted by scorned, anonymous exes and usually accompanied by the purported names and addresses of the people (usually women) depicted. Moore—dubbed "The Most Hated Man on the Internet" byRolling Stone—was taken into custody along with Charles Evens, 25, for allegedly conspiring to hack into the email accounts of hundreds of victims in order to steal nude photos and post them online. Moore and Evens were indicted in federal court in California and charged with one count of conspiracy, seven counts of unauthorized access to a protected computer, and seven counts of aggravated identity theft.
According to the Village Voice, Moore's website posted over two dozen nude photos a day, almost always of women, along with screenshots of the victims' names, social media accounts, and location, which he added in order to maximize Google search traffic. Last year, he was fined $250,000 for defamation after accusing an anti-bullying activist of possessing child porn. The local US attorney's office released a statement on the arrest. Here's an excerpt:
To obtain more photos to populate the site, Moore allegedly instructed Evens to gain unauthorized access to – in other words, to hack into – victims' e-mail accounts. Moore sent payments to Evens in exchange for nude photos obtained unlawfully from the victims' accounts. Moore then posted the illegally obtained photos on his website, without the victims' consent. The indictment alleges that Evens hacked into email accounts belonging to hundreds of victims.