Pentagon Is Surveilling Americans Without a Warrant, Senator Says

Illustration for article titled Pentagon Is Surveilling Americans Without a Warrant, Senator Says

Photo: STAFF/AFP

The Pentagon recently signaled to a U.S. senator that it could not publicly reveal if or how it was buying access to Americans’ car, phone, and online metadata, only that, whatever it was doing, it was not violating the 4th amendment and also definitely didn’t need a warrant to do it.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been trying to get to the bottom of how and why the Department of Defense procures data through the private sector. Wyden became interested in the issue after multiple media reports showed that agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Special Forces, and, comfortingly, an agency in charge of drone strikes, have all been turning to the private sector to purchase data from ordinary apps. In January, the Defense Intelligence Agency admitted to buying access to the location data of phones based in the U.S.

Since he began looking into this, Wyden has apparently been engaged in an ongoing back-and-forth with the Pentagon, during which time he’s learned some things about the agency’s data collection practices. On Thursday, Wyden sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, asking the top defense official to share with the American public information that had recently been shared with his office. That letter, first reported on by Vice News and also shared with Gizmodo, shows the U.S. congressman urging Austin to publicly release “information about the Department of Defense’s (DoD) warrantless surveillance of Americans.” You can read the full letter here.

Wyden previously sent a letter to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security in February, requesting information about federal data purchasing practices. The DoD originally responded to Wyden’s letter on March 3, but only answered three out of the eight questions he had asked. Then, on April 21, the agency sent another letter answering the remaining questions, but designated one answer “Classified” and the rest as “Controlled Unclassified Information,” a designation for data that “requires safeguarding or dissemination controls.”

The end result is that most of the Pentagon’s explanations about if or how data collection is being conducted will not be revealed to the public—at least for now. Certain members of Wyden’s staff with security clearances are allowed to see the more sensitive answers, but “some of the answers the DoD provided were given in a form that means Wyden’s office cannot legally publish specifics on the surveillance,” Vice reports.

The apparently forbidden questions that Wyden’s office requested information about concern the specifics of if or how data is being collected, and by what agencies. Questions like: “Other than DIA, are any DoD components buying and using without a court order location data collected from phones located in the United States? If yes, please identify which components.” Or: “Are any DoD components buying and using without a court order location data collected from automobile telematics systems (i.e. internet connected cars) from vehicles located in the United States? If yes, please identify which components.”

In the section of answers that could be shared publicly, the Department of Defense makes its case for why whatever it’s doing is justified. Wyden’s office asked for “a copy of the legal analysis supporting” the DoD’s theory about its data collection practices. The agency responded:

In general, the collection and retention of data by Defense Intelligence Components enable the conduct of authorized intelligence activities (specifically, foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities), which are subject to applicable law, regulation, and policy, including the Fourth Amendment (as understood through the Carpenter opinion and other relevant case law) and the Attorney General-approved procedures in DoDM 5240.01. We understand that DIA has already provided Senator Wyden’s staff with a document that states DIA’s legal conclusions as regards the DIA activity in question. We have no other analyses to provide in response to this question.

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Civil rights groups have raised questions about these practices, questioning whether the government is violating the 4th amendment, which ostensibly protects Americans against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Wyden recently proposed “The Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale Act” which would legally prohibit the “End-Run of Courts by Government Agencies Buying Americans’ Data,” and outlaw this form of data collection without a warrant, Vice reports.

FBI Informants Committed Over 9,000 Crimes in Early Trump Years

FBI Director Christopher Wray (R) testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 14, 2021.

FBI Director Christopher Wray (R) testifies during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing about worldwide threats, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, April 14, 2021.
Photo: Saul Loeb (Getty Images)

Informants working for the FBI committed more than 9,600 crimes under the bureau’s supervision during President Trump’s first two years in office, according to unclassified government reports.

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The so-called “Otherwise Illegal Activity” reports, obtained first by Gizmodo, detail the number of crimes committed by what the bureau calls “confidential human sources.” The name of the report alludes to activities that would have been “illegal” had they not “otherwise” been committed with the bureau’s full knowledge and in furtherance of a federal investigation.

The most recent reports indicate that in 2017, the FBI authorized informants to commit at least 4,734 crimes, while in 2018 that number rose to 4,922. This represents a negligible decrease from recent, previous years.

It’s worth noting that any single authorized criminal activity may have otherwise resulted in multiple criminal charges, constituting multiple crimes.

The FBI relies heavily on the systematic recruitment and operation of human sources in nearly every facet of its wide-ranging investigatory purview, including counterintelligence activities conducted jointly with the Central Intelligence Agency and military intelligence. The identities of informants, many of whom have criminal histories or face criminal charges, are tightly held secrets. Thus, negotiations around their cooperation, and any benefits they may receive—which can include financial compensation—take place largely off the record.

The FBI is required to report the crime figures annually to the Justice Department. When rendered publicly, however—to a reporter citing the Freedom of Information Act, for example—certain details are always omitted.

Redacted information always includes the number of times the FBI authorized informants to engage in serious criminal acts, known as “Tier I” activities. Tier I crimes include those that result in violence, significant financial loss, or corrupt acts by high-ranking public officials. The manufacture, possession, or international trade of narcotics in excessive quantities are also Tier I crimes.

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The FBI is able to hide the number of Tier I crimes committed by its informants by redacting from public documents all numbers except those that combine both lesser (“Tier II”) and serious criminal offenses (“Tier I”).

FBI informant crimes by year:

2011: 5,658 crimes
2012: 5,939 crimes
2013: 5,649 crimes
2014: 5,577 crimes
2015: 5,261 crimes
2016: 381 (likely “Tier I” crimes only — see below.)
2017: 4,734 crimes
2018: 4,922 crimes

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To wit, it is unclear how many of the 4,922 crimes committed by FBI informants in 2018 were considered Tier I. (Tier II crimes, while lesser, may also include felonies, up to and including the trafficking of anything less than 450 kilos of cocaine or 90 kilos of heroin.)

This is not to say there’s no indication of how often the FBI allows informants to commit major crimes.

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In 2017, Gizmodo discovered an FBI reporting error that resulted in only a single tier of crime being reported. Despite anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 annual crimes being routinely reported, in 2016 the FBI reported only 381 such activities. The FBI acknowledged the mistake in a statement to Gizmodo, saying “one tier of data accidentally was not submitted” to the Justice Department.

It is likely, though not confirmed, that it was the lesser Tier II crimes that went unreported that year. This would mean that in 2016, the FBI authorized informants on at least 381 occasions to commit major offenses that resulted in possible violence, acts of public corruption, or trade involving enormous quantities of illicit drugs.

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Telecoms Paid Henchmen to Flood FCC With Anti-Net Neutrality Comments From Stolen Identities

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai testifies before the Senate Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee about his FY2020 budget requests in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 07, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Ajit Pai testifies before the Senate Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee about his FY2020 budget requests in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill May 07, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

A group backed by the largest internet service providers in the U.S. secretly funded the submission of millions of fraudulent comments opposing federal net neutrality rules, according to a report published Thursday by the New York Office of the Attorney General that surprises absolutely no one. The campaigns were, the OAG said, part of an effort to provide cover for former Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to kill the widely popular FCC net neutrality protections.

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Of the 22 million public comments submitted to the FCC in 2017 ahead of its decision to overturn net neutrality protections, 18 million were fake, the NY OAG found. Nearly half of those fake comments, more than 8.5 million, supported overturning federal net neutrality rules and were submitted by firms paid by the nonprofit Broadband for America (BFA), investigators found. The astroturfing campaign was also behind half a million fraudulent letters to Congress. OAG investigators say BFA paid $4.2 million to three lead generation firms—Fluent, Opt-Intelligence, and React2Media—to submit the fraudulent comments.

Another 9.3 million fake comments in support of strong net neutrality rules were submitted by a single, unnamed 19-year-old California college student, the OAG report says. (LOL.)

Unlike the fake pro-net neutrality comments, which were submitted under entirely fabricated names and addresses, many of the BFA-funded comments used the names and addresses of real people, some of whom were dead. In some cases, the firms “used prizeslike gift cards and sweepstakes entries — to lure consumers to their websites and join the campaign,” according to the OAG. Rather than enlist these people to write their own comments opposing FCC net neutrality rules, the report says, the firms generated their own comments, which were submitted as part of the agency’s rulemaking process to create the appearance of opposition to FCC net neutrality protections.

According to the OAG report, “the vast majority of the funding [for the BFA’s campaigns] came from three of the nation’s largest broadband companies.” The OAG report does not name the companies responsible, and instead only names BFA.

Launched in 2009, BFA lists several of the largest ISPs in the U.S. among its members, including AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Cox, and CenturyLink. The other members are telecommunications lobbying groups including, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, CTIA – The Wireless Association, the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), and USTelecom – The Broadband Association. Despite claiming that it “supports net neutrality,” BFA was a vocal opponent of the FCC reclassification of broadband services as “utilities” under Title II of the Communications Act, which gave the FCC authority to forbid ISPs from throttling internet traffic, blocking websites or online services, or prioritizing one site or service over another.

We’ve reached out to all the companies and organizations listed as BFA members and will update this post when we hear back. An attempt to contact BFA through its website would not send. (LOL.)

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The BFA-funded comment campaigns included a web of intermediaries and subcontractors. Fluent, which is based in New York and is said to have submitted roughly 4.8 million fraudulent comments as part of the BFA campaign, “never obtained consent from any individuals to submit a comment on their behalf,” the report says. “In fact, it never asked a single person for their consent.” Opt-Intelligence, meanwhile, served as an intermediary and subcontracted the fake-comment work to Fluent and another intermediary, which in turn subcontracted that work to other companies, including React2Media, according to investigators. The OAG said Opt-Intelligence was “responsible” for 250,000 of the fake comments, while it pinned 329,000 fake comments on React2Media. In total, nine firms were involved in the BFA-backed campaigns, several of which are unnamed in the OAG report.

Beyond the fake comments submitted to the FCC, investigators say, BFA’s lobbying firm hired Fluent for two additional campaigns targeting members of Congress. In total, Fluent was responsible for 360,000 of the more than half a million fraudulent letters sent to U.S. lawmakers, according to the report.

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In an agreement with the OAG, Fluent, Opt-Intelligence, and React2Media must pay $4.4 million in penalties and disgorgement and “adopt comprehensive reforms in future advocacy campaigns,” according to the OAG’s office.

The flood of fake comments was part of BFA’s plan to “manufacture” the appearance of support for overturning the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality protections, according to the OAG. “The broadband group believed this support—in conjunction with press outreach, social media campaigns, and coordinated filings from the broadband industry and free-market economists—would ‘give [FCC Chairman Ajit] Pai volume and intellectual cover’ for repeal,” the report says, quoting a March 2017 email between BFA executives and BFA’s lobbying arm. “Indeed, one broadband industry executive—himself a former chairman of the FCC—advised members of BFA’s executive committee, in an email, that ‘we want to make sure Pai can get those comments in so he can talk about the large number of comments supporting his position.’

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Rather than provide cover, however, the flood of fake comments became a scandal. In response, Pai, a two-time Courage Award winner, later blamed the fake comments on Russian accounts—despite the fact that the FCC denied in court filings that it had evidence to support this “fact,” as Pai called it.

Ultimately, the fake comment scandal—and the fact that Americans overwhelmingly support net neutrality protections—did nothing to dissuade the Pai-led FCC from overturning its net neutrality rules in December 2017. And since leaving office, Pai’s already received the cushy corporate position that goes to all government officials who bend the knee to corporate interests long enough.

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US Will Support Lifting Patent Restrictions on Covid-19 Vaccines

Empty vials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Empty vials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
Photo: Michael Ciaglo (Getty Images)

After weeks of back-and-forth discussions within the Biden administration, the U.S. is now preparing to back the temporary waiving of patent rights over covid-19 vaccines—a policy that advocates say is needed to speed up the production and acquisition of vaccines for developing countries. As part of its support, the US is expected to work with the World Trade Organization to negotiate the language of these waivers.

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Since last October, more than 50 countries and several human rights organizations like Amnesty International have been pleading with the WTO to enact a waiver of its Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) that would effectively suspend the protection of intellectual property for covid-19 treatments during the pandemic, including vaccines. This TRIPS waiver would then allow these countries to produce or purchase vaccines at a much lower cost. But the pharmaceutical industry, supported by the U.S. and other wealthy countries (as well as a certain powerful divorcee), has fiercely opposed the move and the WTO has so far declined to grant such a waiver.

Following the latest refusal by the WTO in March 2021, though, a wellspring of political and grassroots support for the waivers has since emerged. Leaders in the U.S., such as Senator Bernie Senators, have called for the federal government to change its mind before the next general meeting by the WTO this month, while polls have shown that the U.S. general public is supportive of these waivers as well. The issue has also gained more attention in the midst of renewed outbreaks throughout the world, particularly India, which is now experiencing millions of cases a week along with too many deaths to be counted accurately.

Recent reporting had indicated that the Biden administration was possibly close to changing its mind. But comments this week from Anthony Fauci, the long-time public health official and Biden’s current chief medical advisor, suggested otherwise. On Wednesday afternoon, Ambassador Katherine Tai, the current United States Trade Representative, finally answered the burning question.

“The US supports the waiver of IP protections on covid-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and we’ll actively participate in WTO negotiations to make that happen,” Tai wrote on Twitter Wednesday, along with providing a formal statement.

It’s still possible that the WTO may not decide to lift the patent restrictions, if unlikely, given the prominence of the U.S. as a trading partner. Earlier today, WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stated that countries should quickly work out the best way to grant these waivers, following a closed-door meeting of ambassadors from developed and developing nations.

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While public health experts and advocates have argued that waiving these patent rights is critical to helping poorer nations secure vaccines faster, they also acknowledge that it will have to be the first step of many.

At the very least, countries expected to produce these vaccines will need an ample supply of raw materials to scale up their manufacturing, along with technical advice, since some of the vaccines are dependent on relatively new technologies. This process also won’t bring immediate relief to the most vulnerable nations currently, since it will take time before mass production is possible.

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That said, at least some experts involved in vaccine-making have said that production in modern factories could be ready to go in four to six months. And given that the current timetable for vaccinating the world against covid-19 is somewhere between 2023 to 2024, waiving these patents should make for a major improvement.

New Climate Pledges Give Us a 50-50 Shot at Meeting the Paris Agreement

President Joe Biden speaks during climate change virtual summit from the East Room of the White House on April 22, 2021,

President Joe Biden speaks during climate change virtual summit from the East Room of the White House on April 22, 2021,
Photo: Brenda Smialowski (Getty Images)

Updated climate pledges the U.S., China, and a dozen other nations have made in recent weeks will likely put the world on track for 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 degrees Celsius) of warming by the end of the century, according to a new analysis. This is a modicum of good news, assuming countries actually follow through, though more needs to be done to protect the climate.

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The analysis comes from Climate Action Tracker, a scientific group that measures the governmental climate plans, and is based on revised pledges from, among others, the European Union, China, Japan, and the UK released around President Joe Biden’s Earth Day Summit last month. Before these new commitments, the group’s forecast stood at 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit (2.6 degrees Celsius) of warming by 2100, so it’s a modest improvement. Even current levels of warming have created conditions that endanger society.

“The world has already warmed by 1.2 degrees [Celsius, or 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels], and you can look around and see the amount of extreme weather, floods, fires, that we’re facing already because of it, and you see that’s already quite significant,” said Claire Stockwell, Climate Action Tracker’s senior climate analyst. Even with these new pledges, we’re looking at double that level of warming.

The report shows that if 131 of the Paris Agreement’s 190 signatories—which together account for 73% of global emissions—actually reach their net zero targets, the world will have a 66% chance of limiting warming to 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2.2 degrees Celsius). Somewhat hearteningly, we’d have a 50% chance of meeting the 2 degrees Celsius goal of the Paris Agreement. Doing so would stave off truly catastrophic impacts such as reaching a tipping point that would unleash dozens of feet of sea level rise.

But that estimate still shows the world will blow past the 1.5-degree-Celsius (2.7-degree-Fahrenheit) temperature threshold also enshrined the Paris Agreement as an optimal target. It isn’t arbitrary, either. A groundbreaking 2018 United Nations report found that crossing that line would usher in irreversible climate damages, including sea level rise that could render some small island nations unlivable, widespread extinction, destruction of many coral reefs, and severe drought that would upend the livelihoods of millions of farmers.

The report’s findings show that almost no nations’ targets would set the world on that pathway. The exception is the UK, and even it is lagging behind what Climate Action Tracker said should be expected of it because due to its historically high levels of emissions. A just climate plan for the UK—and other rich countries that are responsible for the majority of historic emissionswould mean not just reducing national carbon pollution, but also paying developing countries to help them mitigate theirs as well.

Some current large emitters, including India and Indonesia, haven’t updated their targets under the Paris Agreement yet. Nations were expected to do so by the end of last year.

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Pledges by themselves don’t lower carbon emissions, and the authors have reason to doubt that they’ll turn into real policy change. At Biden’s climate talks last month, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro updated the nation’s climate pledge, bringing the goal of net-zero forward 10 years from 2060 to 2050. Yet that “commitment is dubious,” the authors of the report wrote, because last year, Bolsonaro actually weakened the nation’s 2030 target, putting the longer-term targets further from reach. Bolsonaro also weakened Amazon protections immediately after promising to increase them at the summit, showing the emptiness of even his recent promises. Similarly, Australia promised last month to reach net zero emissions at an unspecified date, yet failed to announce stronger 2030 targets.

“You’ve still got the policy implementation gap,” said Stockwell. “Countries need to be thinking not only about how much they will pledge to lower their emissions but also about what policies they need to meet those targets. And I mean not only their 2030 reduction targets but also what policies they need to implement to get all the way to net zero by 2050 or before.”

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A separate analysis from Climate Action Tracker released last year analyzed how far off 36 highly-emitting nations’ current policies are from those needed to meet their stated targets, and found that none of those countries could meet their goals without serious policy changes. It’s not yet updated to include the most recent pledges—a new edition will be released this summer—but it doesn’t paint a particularly rosy picture. That doesn’t mean, however, that the authors don’t have hope the world could turn things around.

“I do think it’s really clear that the Paris Agreement is driving climate action,” said Stockwell. “We were continuing to see an improvement in our temperature estimates based on set targets within the Paris Agreement even before we considered these more ambitious net zero targets that countries recently set so I think that is definitely very encouraging.”

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The challenge now will be twofold. Nations who haven’t submitted more ambitious 2030 targets should do so. And nations that have already done so must implement policies that allow them to actually meet those goals. Stockwell also said she hopes even countries that have updated their commitments will strengthen them further before the UN international climate talks in Glasgow this November.

“It’s good we have new targets. But really, they should just be a floor,” she said.

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Child Sexual Abuse Site With 400,000 Users Shut Down by a Multinational Task Force

Illustration for article titled Child Sexual Abuse Site With 400,000 Users Shut Down by a Multinational Task Force

Photo: Jan Hennop (Getty Images)

An international task force has shut down a large-scale dark web child sexual abuse platform, along with several similarly aligned dark web chat sites. According to an announcement from Germany’s Central Office for Combating Internet Crime (ZIT), “Boystown” had 400,000 registered users and was “one of Europe’s most prolific child sexual abuse platforms on the dark web.” Four suspects, all German nationals, have been identified in connection with the site.

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The task force, led by the German Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt), included Europol, as well as law enforcement agencies from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States (the FBI and ICE).

Investigators report that the site ran since at least June 2019. It was “internationally oriented,” with channels in different languages, and mainly used to exchange images and videos of abuse of boys.

Two suspected founders and admins have reportedly been arrested in Germany in mid-April, and the New York Times reports that a third is awaiting extradition in Paraguay. Police also arrested a 64-year-old man who is believed to be one of the site’s most active members, with over 3,500 posts. The New York Times points out the Germany has recently doubled its maximum sentence for spreading child sexual abuse material (CSAM) to 10 years, while the maximum sentence for abusing a child is 15.

In an announcement, Europol grimly reflected that the site showed how quickly offenders are able to scatter and regroup to evade law enforcement. “The case illustrates what Europol is seeing in child sexual abuse offending: online child offender communities on the dark web exhibit considerable resilience in response to law enforcement actions targeting them,” the write. “Their reactions include resurrecting old communities, establishing new communities, and making strong efforts to organise and administer them.”

In 2017, Europol, working with German law enforcement agents, shut down a CSAM site with 87,000 users. Last year, Dutch, U.S., and German officials along with Europol shut down a site that had been live since 2012 and hosted 2,000 images and videos of child sexual abuse. In March 2021, Europol announced that it worked with Belgian authorities to hunt down 90 suspects associated with nine million images found in a house raid.

Europol plans to use data to identify victims, and the press release promises that “more arrests and rescues are to be expected globally.”

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The EPA Takes First Step to Reduce Some of the Most Dangerous Greenhouse Gases on Earth

An environmental worker recycles an old refrigerator at a recycling plant August 12, 2009 in Livonia, Michigan.

An environmental worker recycles an old refrigerator at a recycling plant August 12, 2009 in Livonia, Michigan.
Photo: Bill Pugliano (Getty Images)

The Biden administration is clamping down on hydrofluorocarbons, an extremely powerful suite of greenhouse gases used in refrigerators, air conditioners, fire extinguishing systems, and building insulation.

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On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules to ramp down the use of these chemicals by 85% over the next 15 years. It’s the agency’s first rule change proposal under the Biden administration. It will soon be submitted for publication in the Federal Register.

The rule change makes good on a key pledge in the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which passed Congress with bipartisan approval in Congress last December.

“Put simply, this action is good for our planet and our economy,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

From a climate perspective, HFCs are incredibly dangerous. Pound for pound, they heat the planet up to 11,700 times more than carbon dioxide. The EPA estimates that the new regulations will allow the U.S. to avoid “4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide—nearly equal to three years of U.S. power sector emissions at 2019 levels.” In fact, it says in 2036 alone, which is the final year of the reduction plan, the rule will prevent emissions “equal to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from one out of every seven vehicles” in the country.

“We expect a lot more from EPA [on HFCs] to come out in the future,” Kristen Taddonio, a senior climate and energy advisor the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said. “This is really just the initial step.”

The use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, has been widespread since the 1980s when world leaders attempted to phase out another similarly useful class of coolants known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) with the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty that’s widely considered one of the most successful environmental treaties ever ratified. That was good; CFCs were responsible for the massive hole in the ozone layer. The problem is, manufacturers started using CFCs’ close cousins, HFCs, to replace the ozone-depleting compounds.

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In 2019, governments around the world ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol in an attempt to address HFCs. Former President Donald Trump refused to sign onto it when it went into effect in 2019, but President Joe Biden plans to send it to the Senate for its approval and hopefully ratify it this year. The United Nations has found that if “fully supported,” the Kigali Amendment could avert 0.7 degrees Fahrenheit (0.4 degrees Celsius) of global warming by century’s end. Not too shabby.

Many attempts to crack down on greenhouse gas emissions, like proposals to wind down fossil fuel extraction and plastic production, are politically challenging divisive if very much in line with science. But taking on HFCs is a scarce piece of low-hanging fruit. Representatives from both parties are into it, as do refrigerant industry lobbying groups and even the Chamber of Commerce. Back in 2019, conservatives and business interests practically begged Trump to sign onto the Kigali Amendment because it would bring national manufacturing up to code with its many other signatories and boost opportunities for trade. In 2019, the refrigerant industry even published a white paper showing phasing out of HFCs could create 33,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs and $12.5 billion in additional economic output. The popularity of policies to regulate HFCs makes them a no-brainer for the Biden administration.

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“Replacing HFCs is a critical and totally doable first step to head off the worst of the climate crisis, and we have safer alternatives ready to go that will save industry money in the bargain,” David Doniger, senior strategic director in the climate and clean energy program at Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “This is a critical first step toward meeting our ambitious climate goals.”

But the thing is, these regulations could have come a lot earlier. We have the technology to replace HFCs. Companies have already developed hydrofluoroolefin (HFOs) coolant compounds, which could damage the environment but are less warming than HFCs. Propane coolers have existed since the 1850s. Though they’re imperfect because they can be harmful to health when they leak, they’re a hell of a lot better for the climate than HFCs. There are tons of low-tech replacements for cooling technology, too, like well-placed ventilation systems and fans. But big chemical companies like DuPont had replacement HFCs ready and patented pushed to slow down the stoppage of HFC use, and it worked.

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“There’s still a lot that EPA can do,” Taddonio said, noting the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act includes provisions allowing the government to strengthen the timeline to phase out HFCs.

Given how behind we are on our climate goals and how massive the U.S.’s climate responsibilities are as the largest historical polluter, could we not be more ambitious with our HFC phaseout? I’m not saying it could happen overnight, but 2035 is a long way away. Let’s hope meeting the necessary but insufficient promises made in December’s American Innovation and Manufacturing Act are just the beginning, and that the Biden administration will follow this up with stricter, faster policies soon.

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What the U.S.’s ‘Fair Share’ of Emissions Reductions Looks Like

A resident sits outside destroyed houses after Typhoon Vamco hit on Nov. 14, 2020 in Rodriguez, Philippines.

A resident sits outside destroyed houses after Typhoon Vamco hit on Nov. 14, 2020 in Rodriguez, Philippines.
Photo: Ezra Acayan (Getty Images)

The U.S. is the largest historical contributor to planet-warming pollution, responsible for around a quarter of all carbon dioxide ever put in the atmosphere. In the pursuit of just international climate policy, remediating those emissions requires much more than climate pledge President Joe Biden just announced.

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The stated goal of the Paris Agreement is “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit] above pre-industrial levels.” To do that, the world will have to collectively halve its 2018 emission levels by 2030.

A recent report from environmental organizations including Friends of the Earth, ActionAid, and the Sunrise Movement found that, based on estimates that consider U.S. carbon pollution and access to capital, the American “fair share” pledge to the Paris Agreement would be reducing emissions 195% of 2005 levels by 2030. It’s well above Biden’s 50% to 52% reduction. But greenhouse gas emissions last for decades or more in the atmosphere and they don’t respect borders. That means the full weight of American emissions past and present are contributing to the floods, heat waves, and other disasters that disproportionately ravage the Global South. The U.S. owes it to the world to make right on the carbon pollution that allowed it to reach the pinnacle of the world as the richest nation on Earth.

The environmental groups behind the “fair share” analysis acknowledge that it would be all but impossible to eliminate all U.S. emissions in just eight years and also come up with technology to remove the equivalent of 95% of its 2005 levels from the atmosphere. But there’s another way the U.S. could pay its dues.

For one, the U.S. should do all it can to eliminate its own climate impact—the report says the U.S. should aim for at least a 70% reduction by 2030. The damage wrought by climate change can’t be mended just by U.S. investments in clean energy at home. And the U.S. is flush with cash to help other countries prepare their energy systems—and society—for the 21st century.

These funds should be directed, in particular, at nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis who have by and large contributed the least to it but lack the means to prepare. Putting meaningful resources into the Green Climate Fund, the United Nations grantmaking body that furnishes capital for international climate action, is one avenue to meet the U.S. climate debt. The new report suggests $8 billion. For context, John Kerry, the Biden administration’s climate czar, promised $2 billion. That would only fulfill the nation’s existing pledges.

But the Green Climate Fund is only one avenue. USAID and other international development programs could also channel still more money to mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage financing. Ambitiously, the authors of the fair share pledge suggest the country invest up to $3 trillion into a debt relief and green recovery package to help poor countries with limited means adhere to the Paris Agreement’s goals. That should all come without strings attached since it should help relieve the burdens of debt, not create more of it.

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Climate change isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s also exacerbating other crises that the U.S. has contributed to or outright caused. Just look at how the reverberations of U.S. invasions of Iraq or Libya have played out in a warming world.

International aid shouldn’t only apply to climate-specific actions, but the host of other problems tied with America’s sprawling influence and how it intersects with the climate crisis. Research shows that U.S. companies have reduced their emissions and pollution at home by offshoring manufacturing to poorer nations with looser regulations. In the already stifling heat in places like India and Bangladesh, that offshored pollution can become more deadly. American consumption has also created environmental crises abroad. The U.S. is responsible for more plastic pollution than any other country, which can harm marine ecosystems already under stress due to hotter waters and ocean acidification.

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Even if we do all this and do it well, global warming wouldn’t come to an immediate halt. That means some people may still face extreme climate challenges, leading to migration. We should welcome them with open arms. The climate crisis has already catalyzed extreme weather from the Middle East to Central America that has forced people to leave home. As these disasters happen, the U.S. should recognize its role in global destabilization and grant people protections within its borders.

None of this should come at the expense of ordinary Americans. Communities within U.S. borders have also been exploited, from California to Appalachia to the South. This is the wealthiest nation in the world, and the climate crisis is the most urgent threat facing us. There’s no reason to choose between transformative national and international action. We need both.

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This won’t be easy, but the alternative is simply immoral. The U.S. has spent too long extracting wealth and resources, hoarding wealth and power. Reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions isn’t enough.

Biden Pledges to Cut U.S. Carbon Emissions 50% by 2030

President Joe Biden listens during a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate with 40 world leaders in the East Room of the White House April 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.

President Joe Biden listens during a virtual Leaders Summit on Climate with 40 world leaders in the East Room of the White House April 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.
Photo: Al Drago-Pool (Getty Images)

On Thursday morning, the Biden administration unveiled a pledge to slice the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half compared to 2005 levels by the end of the decade. It will accomplish this, it says, by investing in infrastructure, funding a green economic recovery from the covid-19 pandemic, taking on pollution, and bolstering American production of clean energy technologies to use at home and abroad.

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“The U.S. is not waiting, the costs of delay are too great, and our nation is resolved to act now,” reads a White House fact sheet.

The long-awaited commitment will be codified in the country’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), a plan under the Paris Agreement to keep global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The White House says meeting these new goals will also “create millions of good-paying, union jobs” by building out green energy technologies and fixing infrastructure. It’s not alone in that assessment. An analysis released on Monday from Energy Innovation shows that chopping emissions in half by 2030 could create more than 3.2 million new job-years by 2030 and, if the nation continues on that path, create 2 million more by 2050. The report found the associated reductions in pollution would also avoid more than 45,000 premature deaths and 1.3 million asthma attacks by 2050 nationally.

The announcement came just hours before the Earth Day international climate talks, for which the Biden administration is convening with 40 world leaders on Thursday and Friday to “galvanize efforts by the major economies to tackle the climate crisis.”

Both the Earth Day summit and the new NDC signal a major shift away from the nation’s last four years of climate policy. The Trump administration pledged to leave the Paris Agreement June 2017. It followed through last year, one day after the presidential election, but Biden quickly reversed course on his first day in the Oval Office.

The coming NDC to cut emissions between 50% and 52% below 2005 levels is the most ambitious international climate strategy the U.S. has ever committed to. It nearly doubles the 10-year U.S emissions reduction target that the Obama administration set in 2015.

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Yet despite its ambition, environmental organizers say the commitment is not enough if the U.S. is to meet the challenges of rectifying its total climate impact.

“President Biden’s new climate target demonstrates that he and his administration are serious about tackling the climate crisis—but the hard work is just beginning,” Abby Maxman, president of Oxfam America, said in an emailed statement.

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The U.S. is currently responsible for some 15% of greenhouse gas emissions—but it’s the largest historical emitter. A new report from the environmental justice organization Friends of the Earth suggests that that to meet the nation’s historic responsibility, it would have to reduce global emissions by the equivalent of 195% of 2005 U.S. levels through aiding the transition to clean energy in developing countries. The new NDC is nowhere near that ballpark. But details on climate finance, including international debt relief and aid for poorer nations to transition away from fossil fuels, could help pave the way for emissions reductions beyond U.S. borders.

“We hope the Biden administration will build from today’s announcement to create more space to listen to the voices and solutions of those at the frontlines of the climate crisis, advance climate-compatible policies to unlock real funding for climate finance, and craft a more transformative vision for change,” Bridget Burns, Director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, said in an emailed statement.

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Postal Service Cops Are Monitoring Social Media, ‘Sensitive’ Internal Document Says

Illustration for article titled Postal Service Cops Are Monitoring Social Media, 'Sensitive' Internal Document Says

Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds (Getty Images)

Add another pushpin to the string wall of America’s shadowy force of postal service cops. Yahoo News reports that the USPS’s security arm, the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), monitored social media for potential threats of domestic violence. According to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo obtained by Yahoo News, the USPIS collected “inflammatory” Parler and Telegram posts ahead of planned March 20 protests and shared them with other agencies.

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The previously unknown operation is called the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). It’s unclear whether this is an ongoing program or was established for the sole purpose of collecting right-wing social media posts. The investigation seems to include posts from Facebook and other social media platforms, but the full breadth of the investigation is not clear from the document. The QAnon-promoted protests, against vaccines and covid-19 safety measures, were set for March 20, a date some believed would mark Donald Trump’s surprise return to the White House.

The two-page document, which is labeled “law enforcement sensitive” and was distributed by a DHC intelligence “fusion center,” reads in part:

Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021…Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.

Neither the USPIS nor the DHS immediately responded to our requests for comment.

You’ll recall that USPIS agents were the armed guys who arrested Steve Bannon on his yacht last year, which piqued our curiosity. (This receded while Postmaster General Louis DeJoy dismantled the rest of the place, cut back hours and proposed reviewing postal workers’ pension payments.) As for what that had to do with the postal service, Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale said at the time: “the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is committed to identifying and investigating anyone who exploits others for their own benefits.”

Mail tie-ins seem to be sort of loose. In a 2019 year-end report, the USPIS said that it employed 1,289 inspectors charged with enforcing “roughly 200 federal laws, covering crimes that include fraudulent use of the U.S. Mail and the postal system.” This surprisingly thrilling tie-in means that they hunt down prolific mail thieves, mail marketers, dark web-sourced mailed drugs, drug delivery bribes, and even on a $7 billion fraud scheme. But it also has a long-running unit for investigating child exploitation material, which, it seems, may or may not be detected through the process of flowing through mail. In its 2019 year-end report, for example, USPIS said that it was handed an investigation into a hard drive (which had at one point been mailed) containing child sexual abuse material, but the investigation was passed along from a Rhode Island internet child abuse task force, not seized en route or at a delivery point.

And, as the Washington Post has noted, the postal service’s investigatory powers granted since 1775 make it the oldest law enforcement agency in the country. The USPIS’s report suggests that it collaborates with virtually every federal investigatory body, including the Securities and Exchange Commission, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Justice, the Department of Defense, the FBI, the DEA, and more.

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The USPIS told Yahoo News that the iCOP program’s mission represents that of the overall USPIS mission to assess “threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information.” But it added that the USPIS “collaborates” with federal, state, and local law enforcement to protect employees and also “customers.”

By the “customers” metric, it seems that, like the mail, USPIS knows no jurisdiction. In its mission statement, the USPIS says that it works to keep up the reputation of the USPS, or “provide the investigative and security resources that ensure America’s confidence in the U.S. Mail.”

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UPDATE 4/21/2021 7:20 p.m. ET: The USPIS declined to respond to Gizmodo’s request for information on USPIS’s relationship with DHS and the scope of its operations. It shared a general statement about USPIS operations, cited by Yahoo News: “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service occasionally reviews publicly available information in order to assess potential safety or security threats to Postal Service employees, facilities, operations and infrastructure.”