Latest Snowden Leaks: FBI and NSA Targeted Muslim-American Lawyers


Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

At least five Muslim-Americans, including prominent lawyers, a civil rights leader and academics, were targeted for years-long surveillance by the FBI and the National Security Agency, according to new revelations contained in documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Among the targets were the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations—the top civil rights organization in the United States—and a former Bush Administration official who worked for the Department of Homeland Security and held a top-secret security clearance during the time he was under surveillance.

Also among the American targets was an attorney for the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation who famously discovered in 2004 that he and his clients were under surveillance after the Treasury Department mistakenly released to him a document listing calls he’d made to his clients. All of them appear to have been targeted because of their Muslim backgrounds and their activities either defending Muslim clients or on behalf of various causes, and not because they were suspected of committing a crime. Six years after the period the document covers, none of them has been charged with a crime related to the surveillance.

The startling revelations were published Tuesday night by Glenn Greenwald and The Intercept in a long-awaited article that Greenwald planned to publish at least twice before but delayed. The most recent delay occurred after a media partner working with The Intercept obtained information from government officials that appeared to contradict previous government statements, according to Greenwald, who spoke with WIRED before publication of his story.

The new revelations provide confirmation for the first time that the government targeted the attorney and other Americans—possibly without warrants—and giving targets of the domestic surveillance legal standing to sue the government.

The new revelations differ from ones disclosed in a Washington Post article last week, which focused on the incidental collection of people, including Americans, who are not targeted for surveillance but whose communications get caught up in the government’s bulk collection of other data.

The five American targets appeared on a lengthy spreadsheet leaked to Greenwald last year by Snowden, which identifies 7,485 email addresses that were targeted for surveillance between 2002 and 2008. Although the targets are not listed by name, The Intercept was able to identify some of the targets based on their email addresses.

Most of the email addresses on the list appear to belong to foreigners, but under a column with the heading “Nationality,” the government tagged 202 of the addresses as belonging to U.S. persons. Another 5,501 were designated as nationality “unknown” or were left blank.

The five identified Americans—all with Muslim-American backgrounds, include: Faisal Gill, who served as a top advisor for the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush Administration; Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney for Al Haramain and other clients involved in national security cases; Nihad Awad, executive director of the leading Muslim civil liberties group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR); Hooshang Amirahmadi, a Rutgers University professor; and Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University and champion of Muslim civil liberties.

Confirmation that Ghafoor was directly targeted by the government for surveillance, brings his case and the issue of government surveillance full circle. As noted, Ghafoor first learned that his phone calls with clients were under surveillance only by mistake after the government unintentionally released a call log listing his communications with clients. Ghafoor, and another attorney whose calls were also on the list, were forced to return the classified document to the government without ever knowing if they themselves had been under surveillance or if they simply had been caught up in surveillance of their clients.

Ghafoor had sued the government over the issue and was awarded a judgment and attorney fees; but the judgment was later overturned. The Snowden document confirms that the attorney himself was targeted, even though the government has insisted in the past that it doesn’t target lawyers for surveillance.

It’s unclear what authority the government used to conduct the surveillance or whether the FBI obtained warrants to conduct the surveillance. It’s also unclear in some cases how long the surveillance continued, since the spreadsheet only covers surveillance of the targets until 2008, in some cases indicating in a notation at the time that the surveillance had been approved to continue.

The government can conduct such electronic surveillance of U.S. persons under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act only after obtaining an order from the FISA Court. To obtain the court order, the government must show that there is probable cause to believe the individual being targeted is a foreign power or an agent, officer or employee of a foreign power and that the individual is or may be engaged in espionage, sabotage or terrorism.

Although there are some Americans on the list who have been accused of terrorism, the five highlighted in The Intercept piece have all led what appear to be upstanding lives.

To be continued…

Please Let This New Harry Potter Short Story Be the Last


courtesy Scholastic

There was a time when Harry Potter fans sincerely could not imagine a world without more Harry Potter stories. During her seven-book, 13-year run, author J.K. Rowling consistently delivered one great tale after another to her faithful disciples. But after the run ended in 2007 with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, fans were enveloped in a bleak period of mourning. Some even wept.

I should know. I’ve been a hardcore follower of the series from the minute I got my hands on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the fifth grade. I’ve stood in line for hours—in cosplay, no less—to snatch up and immediately devour the next installment of Harry’s seven-year stint at Hogwarts. But today, as the internet goes nuts over the fact that Rowling has released a new wizarding world short story, a pallor has settled over the franchise that just can’t go unaddressed any longer. I say this with every ounce of Potter love that is possible for a human being to express: J.K., please let it die.

I say this with every ounce of Potter love that is possible for a human being to express: J.K. Rowling, please let it die.

For years Rowling devotees—generations of now-adults hanging onto her every Hogwarts-related breath—lived in hope that she might bend on her promises that Deathly Hallows would be the last Harry Potter book she’d ever write. Fulfilling those hopes is (probably) why she published the supplement The Tales of Beedle the Bard and sold that 800-word Potter “prequel” for charity in 2008. And presumably, it’s why over the last few months the author has been writing short stories for her Pottermore fan site about the 2014 Quidditch World Cup finals, with the latest one featuring an appearance by the “no longer fresh-faced teenagers” of Dumbledore’s Army: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and Luna, all accompanied by their children (and in Harry’s case, his godson Teddy).

Written in the shade-heavy voice of tabloid reporter-slash-gossip-queen Rita Skeeter, the report is essentially an epilogue to the epilogue in Hallows, detailing the ensemble’s return to the Quidditch stands, this time in Patagonia. (If you want to skip the whole tedious Pottermore registration process, the whole story is reprinted here.) It’s hilarious to hear news of the old gang through the bitchy mouth of magical journalism’s biggest liar—Ginny got a job at the Daily Prophet (because she’s famous, of course)! Neville and his wife are (definitely not, but OK) alcoholics!—but nothing actually happens in this story. It’s merely a tableau confirming that, yes, in 2014 Harry and the gang, though graying prematurely in their mid-thirties, are indeed still alive. Nobody says anything, save Skeeter, and it only serves to confirm things we already knew were going to happen when we devoured the original epilogue. Of course Lupin and Tonks’ son Teddy and Fleur and Bill’s daughter Victoire are hooking up. Of course Hermione is a professional tank steamrolling her brilliant way to the top of the Ministry of Magic. Of course Ron went to help George run Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes in the absence of Fred (sniff). It’s all just too familiar.

As desperately as every Potter fan has clung to every word Rowling uttered in the past few years about the wizarding world she created nearly two decades ago, there’s a reason they were all so sad when turning that last page: She said it was the end. At that moment—or perhaps when fans left the movie theater in 2011 after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2—they were forced to grieve and move on, to accept that something that meant so much was now over. While interactive fan sites like Pottermore and Hogwarts is Here are there to help them reminisce about exploring basilisk-filled dungeons and dangerous forbidden forests, Rowling giving fans what they “want” now is like giving them unbirthday presents every day: it just cheapens the sanctity of the thing they loved so dearly.

Like so many half-baked sequels, these (extremely) short stories are starting to read like fan-fiction (no offense to fanfic authors), but unlike those writers Rowling created this story. Drawing it out with totally uneventful tidbits that serve to give lifelong diehards heart attacks for no reason is starting to feel disingenuous. New stories seem fun, but these aren’t really stories; they’re blog posts that devalue not only the magic that made Harry Potter so special, but also the mourning process with which fans already made peace. If the wizarding world is done, let it be done—at the very least so the tears my friends and I shed almost a decade ago weren’t just the overemotional snifflings of hopeless dorks.

The Enormous Ship That Submerges Itself to Carry Entire Oil Rigs


The Dockwise Vanguard carries the Noble Paul Romano in Malta. Dockwise

After the U.S.S. Cole was attacked in Yemen in October 2000, the Navy needed to get the damaged ship to Pascagoula, Mississippi for repairs and refit. But you can’t just tow a ship with a 40-foot hole in its side through the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and hope it stays afloat. So it hired Dockwise, a Dutch shipping outfit whose specialty is moving enormous pieces of cargo.

Dockwise sent the MV Blue Marlin, which sailed up to the Cole and used its huge ballast tanks to submerge itself. It slid underneath the destroyer before rising up and lifting the entire ship out of the water, and carried it just like any other cargo. The 505-foot Cole easily fit on the Blue Marlin’s 584′ x 206′ deck. It was successfully moved from Yemen to Mississippi and returned to Navy service within a few years.


MV Blue Marlin carries the stricken U.S.S. Cole to Mississippi from Yemen. U.S. Navy

Impressive at the Blue Marlin is, it pales in comparison to its younger, much larger brother, the Vanguard. Built in 2012, the world’s largest float-on/float-off ship doesn’t have a traditional stern or bow. All its buoyancy casings, which keep the ship from keeling over, including several that are movable to accommodate different loads, are mounted on the side of ship.

That way, the unobstructed 230-foot wide loading deck runs the length of the 900-foot ship. This allows Dockwise to move loads that may exceed even that impressive length by having enormous items like ships overhang its stern or bow. This thing could carry the Chrysler Building.

Formed by the 1993 merger of two shipping companies, Dockwise is the world’s largest operator of heavy-load “semi-submersible” vessels. It’s used extensively by the world’s navies as well as energy exploration companies looking to install and redeploy offshore drilling platforms for oil and gas development. Though some competitors operate semi-submersibles, Dockwise says its focus on this technology and its fleet of more than 20 ships make it unique in the shipping industry.

The Vanguard is semi-submersible thanks to enormous water tanks that slowly fill to submerge the the ship by more than 50 feet. It can then slide underneath ocean-going behemoths like offshore oil rigs, lift them up, and transport them across the ocean at speeds as high as 14 knots (16.1 mph) thanks to its 27 megawatt twin-screw propulsion system.


The Dockwise Vanguard carries Chevron’s Jack & St. Malo drilling platform from South Korea to the Gulf of Mexico. Dockwise

Upon arrival, the Dockwise ship submerges again and slides away. The company says the Vanguard’s ability to transport enormous rigs weighing as much as 110,000 metric tons fully assembled can save companies time and big bucks. Its next largest ship, the aforementioned Blue Marlin, can only lift structures up to 76,000 metric tons, and is limited by its more traditional ship design with both a bow and stern.

As an added bonus, the Vanguard can act as a drydock, lifting enormous structures for maintenance and overhaul at sea, rather than wasting time and money by hauling them back to land.

The Vanguard was even selected to remove the capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship from the coast of Italy, but it seems the deal fell through.

What Does a Camera Look Like, If You Sand It Down Layer by Layer?

That's what a camera looks like, if you sand it down layer by layer.

That’s what a camera looks like, layer by layer. GIF: WIRED Design/Video: Laurin Döpfner

Everyone at some point has wished they had x-ray vision. What could be cooler than seeing through walls and looking inside stuff? How about looking inside stuff gradually, layer by layer?

That weird superpower is just what we get in this video by Laurin Döpfner, dug up by the good folk at Colossal. Döpfner used an industrial sander to blast away at chunks of wood, cameras, nuts and more, taking snapshots every step of the way–about a hundred slices for each object. Then, he stringed the photographs together as a stop motion clip.

Ride Hard And Leave Fear In the Dust

Jake Stangel

The plan was austere and elegant. I would ride a mountain bike pulling a trailer on a 77-mile loop around the Mojave National Preserve at the height of spring. Wildflowers would blanket my route, and the three-day expedition would merge two loves—riding and camping—into my first bike-packing epic.

Then reality intruded. A week before my departure, a Mojave park ranger told me that my proposed route was nuts. “A very physically fit rider could do it, but I'm concerned about the trailer you'll be pulling,” she wrote in an email. “The rough route may cause the trailer to destabilize your bike, and there will be no water or facilities of any kind—nor will cell phones work.”

I soon found that it didn't matter which route I took. Thanks to broken pipes and a broke government, there were only three guaranteed water stops in the entire 2,398-square-mile preserve, and two of those were within 10 miles of each other.


I took a break from panicking and strategizing to pick up a few smaller items—including a key-chain vial of pepper spray. I figured I might need it for a rogue coyote. The Outdoorsman, the only shop in my hometown that seems to sell it, has bars on the door and shiny handguns lined up under a glass counter like glazed doughnuts. “Are you trying to ward off four-legged or two-legged predators?” asked Blain, the clerk with a ZZ Top beard. “If it's two-legged, you might consider a .44 Magnum. Then again,” he laughed, “if you've never shot a gun, you'd probably have better luck with the pepper spray.”

As I walked out with my powder-pink cylinder of oleoresin capsicum, Blain called cheerily after me, “May you never have to use it!”

His words freaked me out. I hadn't considered the potential for dangerous humans. In lieu of guns, I would have state-of-the-art gear to protect me. I'd be carrying a DeLorme inReach satellite communicator with a big red SOS button and generous battery power, and I had already programmed it so a few key friends could follow my ride online. I didn't set it up for all of my Twitter friends to see. What if one of my followers is a Charles Manson copycat who lives on a ranch in the Mojave?

Jake Stangel

Other essentials I was bringing: 30 spare bike parts and tools recommended by an expert bike-packer friend, a minimalist tarp shelter, a superlight sleeping bag, a 5.5-gallon water container, high-powered lights, a camera, and food. All of this had to fit on a Bob Ibex Plus trailer or in a 20-liter Osprey hydration pack with a pocket for everything. When I loaded the trailer for a test ride, I looked like something out of The Beverly Hillbillies. And that was before I bungeed on the water jug.

At least my bike, the Yeti 575, was hard to beat. With 5.75 inches of springy play on the front shock, the aluminum bike has been around for about 10 years and is a cult classic, renowned for its cushy downhill ride. For 2014, Yeti increased the wheel size from 26 to 27.5 inches and retuned the rear shock to create more support as the spring in the front fork compresses.

It was giving me grief, however: Without refitting the 575 with a special rear axle, you can't properly attach a trailer. I'd ordered the custom axle but had forgotten that this new and improved 575 also had larger wheels and thus required a trailer with a larger fork. OK, no trailer. Which meant no way to carry extra water. Now I was wigging out.

But what ever goes according to plan? Five minutes later I had a plan B: Wing it. Instead of following the loop route, I would set up a base at Hole in the Wall, a campsite with water. Then I'd study the map and pedal from there to whatever destinations looked interesting, returning to the familiarity and comfort of my tent each night.

I set out in my car the next morning. Six hundred fifty miles later, when I turned north off I-40 into the Mojave Preserve, my cell phone bars disappeared and the radio got fuzzy. This is it, I thought. I may never see another whizzing semi again. But then I spotted an old desert tortoise on the two-lane road. They can survive for a year without water, so I took this as an auspicious sign. I hopped out of the car and crept toward it to say hello. But I didn't get close enough to frighten it and cause it to pee through its entire full-year water supply—surprisingly, one way these tortoises can die.

The sun was sinking behind the ridge when I arrived at Hole in the Wall, set at 4,400 feet against volcanic rock cliffs with shiny black whorls that look like melting faces. As I set up my shelter, I bent over a Mojave yucca and stabbed myself in the forehead. Dabbing the blood away, I sat on a rock and breathed in the peaceful scene. I was in a sagebrush and Joshua tree heaven, wrapped in silence and lit by stars.

The Yeti 575 is a versatile full-suspension ride ideal for exploring unknown terrain. Jake Stangel

Dawn was bright and cool. I rode 15 miles up and down washboard roads, past leafless trees and giant boulders that looked karate-chopped by Zeus. As I rode, I groped for the Osprey hydro-pack's bladder nozzle magnetically secured to my chest strap and steadily sipped from it as if on an oral-drip IV.

By 12:30 the temperature was a balmy 80 degrees, but the sun was so intense that it felt much hotter. Seeking shade, I returned to camp and hid under my tarp. I listened to flies buzz and tried to read but soon realized that the only way through this inferno was to lie perfectly still and will the breeze to waft my way.

At around 4 pm I set out again, this time behind Hole in the Wall, up gently sloping Wild Horse Canyon Road. By 6 the wind had died down. The shadows were long, the light was magic. The climb past mesas and fields of fragrant sage was unyielding, but I locked out the front shock, adjusted my seat post via a handlebar lever, and rode in comfort. With no destination in mind, I turned around at sunset at the top of a rise, unlocked the front shock, and let the bike fly. I pedaled as fast as I could back to camp, relishing the 575's perfect symmetry and the beautiful freedom of life with no baggage.

A Screen for Bringing the Web’s Most Beautiful Artwork Into Your Home

In a world already awash in screens, do any of us really need another one? Especially one that only displays art? Jake Levine thinks so.

With his new company Electric Objects, Levine’s aiming to bring digital art into your home. The effort takes the form of EO1, a custom-built display housing a barebones computer that links up wirelessly to a web platform. Log on, select a work of art from the database or upload an image you’ve found yourself, and in seconds it shows up big and bright on your wall. You can think of it like a more sophisticated version of one of those digital picture frames from years back–or, more enticingly, as a canvas for a new age, one in which the world’s creative energy is increasingly being spent in pixels, not paint.

The project, now on Kickstarter, was born of Levine’s growing disenchantment with the internet as we know it. The web, he became convinced, had driven us to a state of addled distraction. What’s more, our hardware was complicit in the crime.

It’s hard to argue with his take. While today’s do-everything devices have given us fantastic new tools for creation and expression, they inevitably have a flattening effect on the stuff they display. Pictures, photographs, tweets, and articles all get homogenized into content to be consumed. All the while, distractions ping and whir, vying for our attention. Our machines may let us do everything, but that doesn’t mean they let us do everything well, especially when it comes to things that aren’t suited for quick hits in streams or tabs.

One thing that falls squarely in that category? Art. Levine, a member of the team who successfully revitalized the social news site Digg last year, came to believe that the utilitarian bent of modern computers was keeping us from fully appreciating all the beauty those same machines bring into the world. “To us there’s this 20, 30, 40 year trend of artists exploring the boundaries of digital creation and distribution,” Levine says. “But the devices we use today just can’t live up to that. They weren’t designed for contemplation–they were designed for interaction and productivity and entertainment.” Imagine if you could only experience MP3s while sitting at your laptop, listening through its crummy built-in speakers as some Kia ad blared on in a different window. That’s basically the ignominious existence of much visual art on the internet today.

With Electric Objects, Levine wanted to build a new kind of machine, one that would let people live with digital works instead of simply offering access to them. In a broader sense, it’s an effort to explore a more passive mode of consumption–an attempt to envision what the internet might look like when it’s not driven by the forces of advertising. It’s also a bid to build a piece of consumer electronics that soothes us, instead of agitating us. As Levine puts it, “this thing should never be a source of anxiety or distraction. The goal is to have a relationship with this screen that’s akin to the relationship with a painting or a photograph.”

Electric Objects' EO1 is a screen designed expressly for displaying digital art.

Electric Objects’ EO1 is a screen designed expressly for displaying digital art. Electric Objects

The process began, rather unglamorously, with a cheap external monitor. Electric Objects’ first run of prototypes–one of which I’ve had in my apartment for the last month and a half–was a no-name display hooked up to a Raspberry Pi (Levine and co. included helpful instructions for prying the screen from its plastic casing for a more streamlined look.) After founding the company early this year, Levine quickly raised $1.7m in VC funding, hired Zoë Salditch, a former program director at digital art non-profit Rhizome, and tapped Ben Pieratt, the designer behind the much-loved and recently-shuttered product discovery site Svpply, to put together a rough version of an Electric Objects site. Eventually, the team grew to include Bill Cowles, an industrial designer, and Jacob Bijani, Tumblr’s longtime creative director, who’s now serving as head of product.

The hardware was in some sense the easy part; the screen is essentially intended to be an unobtrusive frame for whatever it’s displaying. Still, arriving at the final design involved testing a slew of graphics cards, figuring out the best solutions for stands and mounts, and even sourcing a power cord that was a little more elegant than your average flat screen’s–a “necessary evil” of a connected canvas, as Levine puts it.

The greater challenge for Levine and his team will be figuring out the web component. In addition to letting you select new pieces to display, the plan is for the Electric Objects website and mobile apps to serve as a sort of community and storefront for digital art. That last bit, especially, is uncharted territory.

While screen owners will be able to display whatever images they find around the web for free, the platform will include a marketplace that lets people pay for works made available by artists themselves. “We’ve decided that we need to plant a flag when we launch and say, ‘this content is worth dollars,’” Levine says. The team is yet to pin down a pricing model, but technically speaking, the artistic possibilities are manifold. The final hardware will support not only static images but also video pieces, WebGL animations, and potentially even data-driven visualizations and other generative works, and a handful of artists are already busy creating works expressly for Electric Objects. In a sense, you could think of it not just as a new canvas but as a new medium unto itself.

All that said, the appeal of Electric Objects won’t be obvious to all. At a point when we’ve grown accustomed to electronics doing more and costing less, a $500 digital art screen might seem like an extravagance, to put it gently. (Early supports on Kickstarter can snag one for $300, and compared to a framed print, it ain’t really that bad anyway.)

Still, I was an instant convert, as I imagine many others who already seek out the arts on their computers will be. Having lived with the early version of Electric Objects for just short stretch, it’s hard to imagine not having this sort of screen in my home going forward. Taking stuff I’ve seen only in the context of a busy web browser and giving it the chance to luxuriate on my wall has been a unique pleasure. Before long, I’m sure I’ll start thinking of it as the natural habitat for many of these works.

And then there’s that bigger idea going on–the one concerned with finding alternatives to today’s machines and the insane digital metabolism they engender. There, too, my trial run was a success. I still pull to refresh all my apps like a madman, sure. But in the six weeks I’ve had my prototype set up, I’ve displayed exactly two images. Just two! They remained there not because I was lazy or forgetful but simply because they seemed fresh every time I turned the thing back on. And that, to me, gets at what’s ultimately so exciting about Electric Objects. It’s the only screen I own that doesn’t made me itch for something new just for the sake of seeing something new.