Nick Baumann

Nick Baumann

Senior Editor

Nick is based in our DC bureau, where he covers national politics and civil liberties issues. Nick has also written for The Economist, The Atlantic, the Washington Monthly, and Commonweal. Email tips and insights to nbaumann [at] motherjones [dot] com. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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NY Times Op-Ed Plugs MoJo Article on Corporate Espionage

| Wed May 7, 2008 10:42 AM EDT

Last month, MotherJones.com broke the story that a private security firm, Beckett Brown International, had spied on Greenpeace and other environmental groups while working for its corporate clients. In today's New York Times, Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser cites the Beckett Brown story and others like it, arguing for congressional hearings on corporate espionage. Doesn't seem hearing-worthy? Maybe you don't know the full story of Beckett Brown. From the piece:

BBI, which was headquartered in Easton, Maryland, on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, worked extensively, according to billing records, for public-relations companies, including Ketchum, Nichols-Dezenhall Communications, and Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin. At the time, these PR outfits were servicing corporate clients fighting environmental organizations opposed to their products or actions. Ketchum, for example, was working for Dow Chemical and Kraft Foods; Nichols-Dezenhall, according to BBI records, was working with Condea Vista, a chemical manufacturing firm that in 1994 leaked up to 47 million pounds of ethylene dichloride, a suspected carcinogen, into the Calcasieu River in Louisiana.

Or what about this, from an internal Beckett Brown document cited in our piece:

Received a call from Ketchum yesterday afternoon re three sites in DC. It seems Taco Bell turned out some product made from bioengineered corn. The chemicals used on the corn have not been approved for human consumption. Hence Taco Bell produced potential glow-in-the-dark tacos. Taco Bell is owned by Kraft. The Ketchum Office, New York, has the ball. They suspect the initiative is being generated from one of three places:
1.Center for Food Safety, 7th & Penn SE
2.Friends of the Earth, 1025 Vermont Ave (Between K & L Streets)
3.GE Food Alert, 1200 18th St NW (18th & M)
#1 is located on 3rd floor. Main entrance is key card. Alley is locked by iron gates. 7 dempsters [sic] in alley—take your pick.
#2 is in the same building as Chile Embassy. Armed guard in lobby & cameras everywhere. There is a dumpster in the alley behind the building. Don't know if it is tied to bldg. or a neighborhood property. Cameras everywhere.
#3 is doable but behind locked iron gates at rear of bldg.

Want more of the dirty details? Read the full story.

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White House Admits It Is Missing Email Backup Tapes From Start of Iraq War

| Tue May 6, 2008 3:27 PM EDT

The White House acknowledged in a court filing last night that it no longer has backup tapes of email from between March 1 and May 22, 2003, a period that includes the beginning of the Iraq war.

Yesterday's filing (PDF) is the latest development in the ongoing White House emails lawsuit, in which two non-profits, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and the National Security Archive (NSA), are suing to force the administration to recover any missing emails and institute a more effective email archiving system. (For the full story on the missing emails, check out our missing White House emails index.) The filing comes on the heels of several seemingly contradictory statements by administration officials about whether the allegedly missing emails are available on backup tapes. The court had asked the administration to clear up the confusion by clearly stating which backup tapes it does and does not have for the period between March 2003 and October 2005.

In their filing, administration officials claim they have 438 backup tapes for the period between May 23, 2003 and September 29, 2003. The White House stopped its foolish policy of recycling backup tapes in early October 2003, so all the backup tapes made after that date are supposedly preserved—some 60,000 of them. But even the emergency recovery backup tapes the White House does have are far from a fool-proof source for recovering missing emails. Any email that arrived and was deleted in between backups wouldn't be preserved, since backup tapes take a digital "picture" of the data on a drive at a given time. And while that problem applies to all the backups, it's especially concerning for the period between May 23 and September 29, 2003, for which the White House says it has 438 backup tapes. That is a low number of backup tapes per day for an entity as large as the Executive Office of the President, so backups may not have been made for all offices in the EOP on all days during that time. Even if backups were made every day for every component of the EOP, emails could still escape archiving if they were sent, received, and deleted in between backups.

Perspective, Please

| Fri May 2, 2008 12:47 PM EDT

Can we get a little perspective here? Yes, Jeremiah Wright's statements (and especially his National Press Club performance) damaged Barack Obama. Yes, Obama is a flawed candidate, and he's connected to some sketchy people. But let's be real: the media's portrayal of Obama as the only candidate with questionable associations is ridiculous.

The GOP knows that Obama is still the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. That's why he's being hit so hard right now while Hillary Clinton is getting relatively fair, issue-based questions and other softballs tossed at her — by Bill O'Reilly of all people. But remember when Clinton was the frontrunner? There wasn't so much of a focus on the skeletons in Obama's closet back then. It was all about Hillary. All the old Right-wing smears were flying: Vince Foster. Whitewater. Cattle Futures. They even made a movie about the Democrat's presumptive nominee. It was named after her, but it wasn't flattering.

It is good and generally-followed rule in American politics that we ignore what our enemies abroad say about our foreign policy — it can be safely assumed that they are operating in bad faith. Democrats would also be wise to ignore their rivals' advice about choosing their leaders. Bill Kristol and Karl Rove are many things, but they are not stupid. They will write and say whatever they think serves their party best. Right now that's attacking Obama, who will almost certainly be the Democrats' nominee. But rest assured that you'd be hearing a totally different tune from the Right and its allies in the media if Hillary Clinton was winning.

White House Emails and The Case of the Missing BlackBerrys

| Mon Apr. 28, 2008 9:46 PM EDT

During a summit in New Orleans last week, a press aide for the Mexican government took two unattended BlackBerrys belonging to U.S. officials. The aide, Quintero Curiel, has since been fired, but questions remain. Curiel told Mexican newspapers that he thought the PDAs had been abandoned and insists he planned to return them. So his intentions may have been noble. The devices have been recovered, and disaster may have been averted.

Of course, he could be lying. Fox News reported that while Curiel "initially denied taking the devices, but after agents showed him [security camera footage of him taking them], [he] said it was purely accidental, gave them back, claimed diplomatic immunity and left New Orleans with the Mexican delegation." The two BlackBerrys that were taken can each hold around 28,000 printed pages worth of information, and all that data can be easily copied to other devices. And Curiel—an employee of the Mexican government—likely had the PDAs in his possession for more than enough time to copy and either hide or transmit all of the data they contained. No one is saying whether there was sensitive information on the devices. And no one is saying whether Curiel was working for Mexico's intelligence agency, CISEN, or spying for any other country. But if he was, it is very likely that nearly 60,000 pages worth of potentially sensitive material is now in foreign hands.

A Very Serious, Very Thoughtful Debate Live Blog

| Wed Apr. 16, 2008 6:05 PM EDT

We've decided to try to hold off on the snark for this, the 1052nd Democratic presidential debate. Instead, we'll deliver a debate live blog of the kind that has never been written with such detail or such care. Joining me in the Mother Jones debate coverage center (read: my living room) is Mr. G, a proud member of the vast left-wing conspiracy.

The main topic of campaign discussion for the past week has been the "bitter" controversy, which I wrote about earlier this week. Everyone's hoping the moderators steer away from the "bitter" stuff (and Hillary's alleged screw the Reagan Democrats comment), but that doesn't seem likely. George Stephanopoulos told Sean Hannity that "electability" issues like the "elitism" controversy and the Jeremiah Wright situation will be a prime focus of the debate. If Stephanopoulos keeps his word, Mr. G (a diehard Yankees fan) and I (a proud member of Red Sox nation) will be itching to switch to ESPN2 (You want to see bitter, watch a Sox-Yankees game with a divided crowd).

8:05: Both candidates spent their fairly uninspiring boilerplate opening statements talking about issues—health care, the economy, government responsiveness. It will be interesting to see how much time the moderators choose to spend asking them about those issues.

8:07: Gibson asks the "dream ticket" question: "Will you take the losing candidate as your vice president?". It's pretty disappointing that ABC led with such a totally unoriginal question that neither candidate is likely to answer in full. But Clinton's answer was very gracious and hit all the right notes.

8:11: Here's the "bitter" question. Let's see how Obama responds.

8:16: Clinton articulated her criticism of the "bitter" controversy very well. Obama seemed a little uncertain.

8:18: Clinton and Obama both say that the other can win.

8:20: Obama's second try at responding to the "bitter" stuff is brilliant. He's attacking the politics of soundbites. This is the clip that will be played all day tomorrow. "This is what passes for our politics."

8:22: Jeremiah Wright. We still haven't heard about issues. Clinton's playing really rough here. But Obama's response to Stephanopoulos' follow-up: "If it's not this, it would be something else," was very clever.

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