(USA Today Sports Images)
Four people were stabbed outside of Sports Authority Field following the Denver Broncos’ loss to the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night, according to the Denver Post.
One of the stabbing victims was in critical condition, the Post said.
“Stadium Management Company is aware of an incident that occurred in a parking lot adjacent to Sports Authority Field at Mile High. We are currently working with authorities to gather more information,” the Broncos’ stadium management company said in a statement.
The Denver Police Department announced it had suspects in custody:
#BREAKING: Officers have parties in custody and are not currently looking for any other suspects at this time.
— Denver Police Dept (@DenverPolice) December 13, 2013
The police announced that the incident was called in as a disturbance at an intersection close to the stadium at 9:55 p.m., about a half hour after the game ended.
On Dec. 1, when the Broncos played at the Chiefs, there was a homicide in the parking lot of Arrowhead Stadium. Kyle Van Winkle, 30, died after a fight. Van Winkle left the game early, got into a Jeep that looked like the vehicle he came to the game in, and that led to an argument and a fight, according to the Associated Press.
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- Society Culture
- Sports Recreation
- Denver Broncos
- San Diego Chargers
- Denver Police Department
- Sports Authority
By Gerry Shih
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Twitter Inc was forced to nix a change to its “block” feature on Thursday after attracting a wave of protest from users who said the new policy empowered perpetrators of online abuse.
The humbling reversal on one of the most sensitive policy issues facing the social network came as Twitter encountered user revolt for the first time as a public company.
Under the short-lived change on Thursday, a blocked Twitter user could view or tweet at the person who blocked him or her, but that activity would have been rendered invisible to the victim as if the offending account did not exist.
Under the re-instated policy, users could prevent their harassers from following them or interacting with their tweets. Users are also explicitly notified if they are blocked.
Before it backtracked, Twitter had said Thursday that the change was meant to protect victims of harassment who wanted to filter out abusive messages but feared that the act of blocking a user would prompt retaliation.
“We have decided to revert the change after receiving feedback from many users – we never want to introduce features at the cost of users feeling less safe,” vice president of product Michael Sippey wrote in a blog post.
Chief Executive Dick Costolo initially sought to address the mounting criticism by saying on Twitter that the new features were widely requested by victims of abuse.
But many were not convinced. Within hours, the service was flooded with angry users, including many who did not understand the nuances of the new policy, and hundreds had signed an online petition to reverse the change.
“New @twitter block policy is like a home security system that instead of keeping people out puts a blindfold on YOU when they come in,” said user @edcasey.
“‘Just ignore them they’ll stop’ is a dangerous thing to say to bullied kids a dangerous thing to say to stalked/harassed Twitter users,” wrote @red3blog, another user.
Keeping abuse in check is a key issue for the company, which needs to keep hold of existing users and attract hundreds of millions of new ones to justify the stratospheric valuation that investors have placed on its stock.
Twitter shares have risen 35 percent to $55.33 the past two weeks on investor expectations that the company can sustain its growth for years and mature into an internet powerhouse.
The changes were announced Thursday after the market close.
The company’s swift about-face similarly drew an outpouring of relief.
“The people have spoken and Twitter listened, thanks,” said user @samar_ismail.
The controversy highlighted Twitter’s dilemma over how it should police the freewheeling service or stamp out abuse.
Twitter, which once espoused a radically hands-off approach to moderating content, was pressed in August to strengthen its “report abuse” functions after two high-profile women in the United Kingdom, feminist and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez and Labour Party politician Stella Creasy, were subjected to a deluge of death and rape threats.
Twitter’s top executive in the U.K., Tony Wang, and Del Harvey, the head of its trust and safety team, issued personal apologies to the women after revising Twitter’s rules.
Twitter said Thursday that the company’s policies were still evolving and that the block feature remained problematic because some users were fearful that their harassers would be notified when they become blocked.
“Moving forward, we will continue to explore features designed to protect users from abuse and prevent retaliation,” Sippey, the Twitter executive, wrote.
“We’ve built Twitter to help you create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers. That vision must coexist with keeping users safe on the platform.”
The backlash was a rare event for a company that for the most part has been hailed for championing its users, who now number more than 250 million worldwide.
Although Twitter has made unpopular design tweaks, it has maintained a better policy record than social media rival Facebook Inc, which has repeatedly upset users with abrupt changes to its privacy policies.
(Editing by Matt Driskill and Stephen Coates)
- Technology Electronics
- Social Online Media
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — The execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s uncle brought a swift and violent end to a man long considered the country’s second most powerful. But while Jang Song Thaek is now gone, the fallout from his purge is not over.
In a stunning reversal of the popular image of Jang as a mentor and father figure guiding young Kim Jong Un as he consolidated power, North Korea’s state-run media on Friday announced he had been executed and portrayed him as a morally corrupt traitor who saw the death of Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011 as an opportunity to make his own power play.
Experts who study the authoritarian country, which closely guards its internal workings from both outsiders and citizens, were divided on whether the sudden turn of events reflected turmoil within the highest levels of power or signaled that Kim Jong Un was consolidating his power in a decisive show of strength. Either way, the purge is an unsettling development for a world that is already wary of Kim’s unpredictability amid North Korea’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
“If he has to go as high as purging and then executing Jang, it tells you that everything’s not normal,” said Victor Cha, a former senior White House adviser on Asia.
The first appearance of the new narrative came out just days ago, when North Korea accused Jang, 67, of corruption, womanizing, gambling and taking drugs. It said he’d been eliminated from all his posts. Friday’s allegations heaped on claims that he tried “to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state.”
“He dared not raise his head when Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were alive,” it said, referring to the country’s first leader and his son. But after Kim Jong Il’s death, it claimed, Jang saw his chance to challenge Kim Jong Un and realize his “long-cherished goal, greed for power.”
The purge also could spread and bring down more people, Cha said. “When you take out Jang, you’re not taking out just one person — you’re taking out scores if not hundreds of other people in the system. It’s got to have some ripple effect.”
South Korean intelligence officials say two of Jang’s closest aides have already been executed last month.
Narushige Michishita, a security expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, suggested that Jang’s removal shows “that Kim Jong Un has the guts to hold onto power, and this might have shown his will to power, his willingness to get rid of anything that stands in his way.”
One of the biggest opportunities for the world to see what may happen next will come on Dec. 17, which is the second anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death. North Korea watchers will be closely following whether Jang’s wife, Kim Kyong Hui, the younger sister of Kim Jong Il, and other figures are present in the official ceremonies marking the day.
Jang’s removal leaves no clear No. 2 under Kim, whose inner circle now includes Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, Premier Pak Pong Ju, and Kim Yong Nam, the ceremonial head of state.
News of Jang’s execution was trumpeted across the nation by North Korea’s state media — with unusually vitriolic outbursts on TV, radio and in the main newspaper — as a triumph of Kim Jong Un and the ruling party over a traitor “worse than a dog” who was bent on overthrowing the government.
Pyongyang residents crowded around newspapers posted at the capital’s main subway station to read the story. State media said Jang was tried for treason by a special military tribunal and executed Thursday.
“He’s like an enemy who dares to be crazy enough to take over power from our party and our leader,” said Pak Chang Gil, echoing the media’s official line. “He got what he deserved.”
That’s a long way from the popular perception that “Uncle Jang” was nurturing his nephew as a regent appointed by Kim Jong Il. Jang was seen prominently behind Kim Jong Un as he walked by his father’s hearse during his 2011 funeral. He was also a fixture at the new leader’s side as he toured the country.
The KCNA report was unusually specific in its accusations. It criticized Jang for not rising and applauding his nephew’s appointment to a senior position because Jang “thought that if Kim Jong Un’s base and system for leading the army were consolidated, this would lay a stumbling block in the way of grabbing the power.”
It stressed repeatedly that Jang had tried to assemble a faction of his own, suggesting the purging process could still be playing out.
Jang’s death could herald a “reign of terror,” including more purges, said Lim Eul Chul, a North Korea expert at South Korea’s Kyungnam University.
Another question mark is how the purge will impact North Korea’s relationship with its only major ally, China. Jang had been seen as the leading supporter of Chinese-style economic reforms and an important link between Pyongyang and Beijing. China has called Jang’s execution a domestic issue and has avoided further public comment.
North Korea has recently turned to attempts at diplomacy with South Korea and the United States. But tensions have remained high since Pyongyang’s threats in March and April, which included warnings that it would restart nuclear bomb fuel production.
Another resident of Pyongyang, Ri Chol Ho, said he did not believe Jang alone was deserving of the harshest punishment.
“For this group of traitors who were going to destroy our single-hearted unity, execution is too lenient,” he said. “They should be torn up and thrown into the rubbish bin of history.”
Klug reported from Seoul. Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Eun-young Jeong in Seoul and Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo contributed to this report.
- Politics Government
- Kim Jong Il
- Kim Jong Un
- North Korea
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Tooryalai Wesa was sitting in his office just three months after starting his new job as governor of Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan when he heard the deafening noise of rockets and bombs exploding nearby.
As it turned out, the attack was only the first of nine times that the Taliban have tried to assassinate the 63-year-old former professor of agriculture since December 2008, when he left his position at a Canadian university for what is arguably one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.
Still, he stays.
The determination of Wesa, and other highly educated Afghans who returned from self-imposed exile after the collapse of the Taliban, has taken on increased importance ahead of a 2014 deadline for most U.S. and allied troops to withdraw. The pullout could put billions of dollars in annual international military and development aid at risk and place increasing importance on the role of local and national politicians and civil workers to fill the vacuum in rebuilding the country.
“I have survived nine attacks from different directions but I stay because I feel I have made a difference,” Wesa said in a recent interview from behind his desk, which was cluttered with papers, files and a souvenir mug from Niagara Falls.
So far this year, the Taliban have killed nearly three dozen government officials, including police chiefs and provincial council leaders, according to statistics kept by The Associated Press. The Islamic militant movement said earlier this year that it would step up targeting of senior officials in a campaign to undermine the Western-backed government and intimidate Afghans from joining government institutions. The systematic assaults have turned government offices throughout the country into bunkers.
Many of those killed had left places of refuge in the West to help narrow the yawning gaps in expertise left by three decades of war that devastated large swaths of Afghanistan and drove millions to flee the country.
In July 2011, a suicide bomber killed Wesa’s friend, Ghulam Haider Hamidi, who had left the United States to be Kandahar’s mayor. In October, the governor of eastern Logar province, Arsala Jamal, also a Canadian, died when a bomb hidden in a microphone exploded as he greeted worshippers at a mosque.
Wesa, who has held his post longer than any of his predecessors installed after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban, said he won’t be frightened out of his job.
“I didn’t choose Kandahar, the president chose me,” he said inside his office crowded with overstuffed chairs and a giant portrait of Karzai. “I am ready to give my life. Never before has anyone served five consecutive years.”
Wesa said he continues to make education a priority and while progress has been slow, enrollment has risen steadily since Karzai appointed him to be governor.
“It is the youth that brought me back,” he said, launching into a reminiscence of his childhood in Kandahar before successive wars devastated the education system. During the Taliban’s five-year rule that ended in 2001, education was denied girls and a strict interpretation of Islam was imposed. Despite progress, education remains a major problem in Afghanistan where the majority of teachers are poorly qualified, the curriculum is antiquated and facilities are often dilapidated. “I am so sorry for today’s youth. What I had, today’s young cannot even dream of.”
Wesa visited the school he attended as a teenager in Kandahar. Its condition exemplified the trouble faced by today’s students. He found cluttered workshops, broken equipment and chairs piled up in grimy hallways, paint peeling off the vaulted ceilings. He listened to teachers and students complain about the lack of electricity and jobs for graduates.
His performance as governor has received mixed reviews in Kandahar, where many attack the government for the relentless poverty and high unemployment that remains despite U.S.-Afghan offensives and reconstruction efforts. Yet others applaud his efforts to promote education and his criticism of international development aid that he says has been wasted because donors “came and said ‘this is what you need,’ instead of asking ‘what do you need?’”
Wesa fled the country with his family in December 1991, months before the pro-Communist government collapsed, paving the way for the U.S.-backed Islamic guerrillas or mujahedeen to take control. Their relentless killing and thieving allowed the Taliban to assume power in 1996.
He said his return to Afghanistan also has been a family affair.
His wife Rangina, a gynecologist, trains midwives and two of his daughters — one a lawyer, the other an economist — are advising government ministries in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Soon after arriving in Kandahar, Rangina fled back to Canada and begged her husband to come with her after finding the remnants of a secret prison in the basement of the temporary residence where the family lives while the 150-year-old governor’s mansion is being renovated.
“It smelled like an anatomy lab,” she said, recalling the sight of spikes and chains on the blood-stained floor, apparently tools used by one of her husband’s post-Taliban predecessors to torture his opponents.
It took six months for Wesa to persuade his wife to return.
“He was calling and telling me ‘it would get better, we had much to do,’” she said, playing with the pale blue scarf that covered her head.
The governor’s wife also remembered that first attack targeting her husband, which involved five suicide bombers and a truck packed with explosives. From her basement safe room, she heard the relentless machine-gun fire as guards battled the attackers, then explosions from rockets fired from a nearby building, and finally the massive truck bombing. The next morning she stepped outside her gate to find body parts still strewn across the pavement.
Hamid M. Saboory, another Canadian educator who teaches law at a private university in the Afghan capital, said the Taliban campaign has failed to scare away most Afghans with dual nationalities. Several are even running for president in next year’s elections.
“I think there is a sense of nationalism among Afghans who chose to return,” said Saboory. “They see that there is a clear danger, especially for high profile government officials in very unstable regions, yet they willingly accept the job.”
Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be followed at www.twitter.com/kathygannon
- Politics Government
- Unrest, Conflicts War
- Tooryalai Wesa
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) December 12, 2013
President Obama is back on the offensive when it comes to promoting the Affordable Care Act. But White House aides may want to hit the spell-checker next time before they get carried away promoting the president’s message.
On Thursday, the White House tweeted a picture of Obama holding a sign with the Twitter hashtag “#GetCovered Because.” The message on the president’s sign read: “Nobody should go broke just because they get sick.”
The photo immediately launched a small social media tidal wave, with people creating their own “GetCovered” images.
But the White House may have unintentionally created one of the more humorous signs. Shortly after imploring the account’s four million-plus followers to get covered because “it’s the smart thing to do,” the White House posted another image:
Of course, that’s piece, as in a piece of cake. Not the kind of peace John Lennon urged people around the world to give a chance.
As far as typos go, it might not be quite as precious as this 2012 “pubic affairs” spelling mistake from the University of Texas, but you can’t get much more high-profile than the White House ― and its 4.4 million Twitter followers.
Naturally, the Internet was quick to pounce:
— Razor (@hale_razor) December 12, 2013
For the uninitiated the #GetCovered hashtag was a social media push launched by Obama and some of his biggest celebrity supporters back in September in the days leading up to the official launch of the Affordable Care Act.
So far, the hashtag has resulted in more than 2.8 billion impressions, according to Topsy. There’s no way of knowing for sure how many, if any, people have signed up for health care as a result of the push. But for supporters and opponents of the law alike, we do have tangible evidence that it’s resulted in at least one golden Internet meme.
— BadWolf (@Nickiebrickie) December 12, 2013
— JR Delage (@JR_Delage) December 12, 2013
— Talk GOP (@GOPtalk) December 12, 2013
— NavyTim (@ChiefNavyTim) December 13, 2013
And of course, it was a prime opportunity to bring back up … the most analyzed seat switch in the history of the world:
— Oceania Sun-Times (@lheal) December 12, 2013
- Arts Entertainment
- The White House
- President Obama
HONOLULU (AP) — When Coast Guard rescuers flew to waters near the Hawaiian island of Molokai to the scene of a small plane crash, they found smoking flares from the Navy, nine people floating in yellow life vests and debris scattered across a half-mile of ocean waters with choppy waves about six feet high. The only thing missing — the single-engine plane itself.
“There was nothing recognizable immediately as aircraft debris, just general debris in the water,” U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Weston Red Elk said. “I’m not sure at what point the main body of the aircraft submerged, but it was not present when we got there.”
Red Elk’s team of rescue swimmers and pilots maneuvered two helicopters and an HC-130 airplane about 50 feet above the water, using the flares as a guide to locate two clusters of passengers, eventually rescuing them with Maui Fire personnel. One passenger swam the long distance to shore, the pilot and others went to hospitals with injuries that weren’t serious. Only one passenger died.
As the rescue started, Rescue Swimmer Mark Peer said he lowered himself toward a man about 100 yards from the plane who looked to be in his 70s. As he swam to the passenger, the man wasn’t panicking, Peer said.
“He was happy to see us. Just kind of grabbed my arm and gave me a thumbs up,” Peer said.
The next passenger Peer tried to save, Hawaii Health Director Loretta Fuddy, was not responsive and he couldn’t find a pulse.
“It was not a good feeling,” he said.
In the final moments of her life before rescuers arrived, Fuddy clung to the hand of her deputy while floating in the water.
Fuddy, who gained notoriety in 2011 for her role in making President Barack Obama’s birth certificate public, held hands with deputy director Keith Yamamoto as he tried to help her relax, said the Rev. Patrick Killilea, who consoled Yamamoto after the ordeal.
“He recounted how he said he helped Loretta into her life jacket and he held her hand for some time,” the priest said. “They were all floating together and she let go and there was no response from her.”
The people in the water when rescuers arrived seemed calm while floating on their backs, Coast Guard rescuers said.
“I’m sure they were exhausted,” Aviation Survival Technician P.J. Ornot said.
The crash occurred when the single engine of the 2002 Cessna Grand Caravan failed soon after it took off from Molokai and made its turn toward Honolulu, said Richard Schuman, owner of Makani Kai Air, operator of the plane.
Schuman said the pilot did his best to get the plane down safely and keep the passengers together in the water. Asked how they survived, he responded: “Will.”
“There’s only one engine on that plane, and when it quits on you, you just have to deal with it in that moment,” he said.
It was unclear Thursday how Fuddy, 65, was killed and how the others survived. Molokai General Hospital Vice President Randy Lite said Fuddy’s body will remain at the hospital until an autopsy is conducted.
Schuman said he did not yet know why the engine failed because he has not been able to see the plane. The aircraft had no previous problems, he said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said investigators planned to speak with the pilot, whose name was not released, and some passengers about the crash.
However, the location of the wreckage, combined with wind and wave conditions, likely means it won’t be recovered, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie said Fuddy was loved and respected. About 100 Health Department employees lined up to pay their respects to Fuddy’s family members who attended a gathering in her memory at the department’s parking lot Thursday.
Immediately after the crash, Fuddy’s body was taken to a care home at Kalaupapa, where Killilea, the pastor of Kalaupapa’s St. Francis Church, said he made the sign of the cross on her forehead as she lay on a gurney surrounded by nurses and the distraught Yamamoto.
Three survivors were transported by helicopter to a Honolulu hospital, two declined to be medically evacuated, and three were taken to Molokai General Hospital with minor injuries, officials said.
Molokai hospital staff helped them dry their clothing and gave them a place to rest until they could get rooms at the island’s only hotel, Lite said. They checked out of the hotel early Thursday.
No further information was available on the other passengers or the pilot.
Fuddy and Yamamoto were on the flight after an annual visit to Kalaupapa, where the state exiled leprosy patients until 1969. The area is accessible only by plane or mule.
The leprosy settlement on Kalaupapa is still run by the Health Department, though only a few former leprosy patients continue to live there.
The NTSB had no records of accidents for Makani Kai Air dating back to 1962, while the FAA had records of only two minor incidents that resulted in no injuries.
In 2012, a piece of trash got caught in a helicopter causing the pilot to abort takeoff. In 1998, a pilot heard a noise in the main rotor and landed in an open field with no injuries.
Associated Press writers Oskar Garcia and Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.
- Disasters Accidents
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea said Friday that it had executed Kim Jong Un’s uncle as a traitor for trying to seize supreme power, a stunning end for the leader’s former mentor, long considered the country’s No. 2 official.
In a sharp reversal of the long-held popular image of Jang Song Thaek as a kindly uncle guiding Kim Jong Un as he consolidated power, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency indicated that Jang instead saw the death of Kim Jong Il in December 2011 as an opportunity to challenge his nephew and win power.
Jang had been tried and executed, North Korea said, for “attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state.” It called him a “traitor to the nation for all ages” and “worse than a dog.”
The unusually detailed announcement came only days after North Korea said it had “eliminated” Jang from all his posts. Despite the strong language and allegations in the announcement Monday of Jang’s fall, there had been no sign in North Korean media of an imminent execution.
Kim Jong Un has overseen other high-profile purges since taking over after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, two years ago. But none of the purges have been as public — or as close to home — as the downfall of Jang.
Analysts say Kim Jong Un has acted swiftly and ruthlessly to bolster his own power and show strength, but there are fears in Seoul that the removal of Jang and his followers could lead to instability, a miscalculation or even attack on the South. Jang had been seen by outsiders as the leading supporter of Chinese-style economic reforms and an important link between Pyongyang and Beijing.
In Seoul, top presidential security and government ministers began an unscheduled meeting Friday to discuss Jang’s execution and its aftermath, according to the presidential Blue House.
During his two years in power Kim Jong Un has overseen nuclear and missile tests, other high-profile purges and a barrage of threats this spring, including vows of nuclear strikes against Washington and Seoul. His father, Kim Jong Il, took a much lower public profile when he rose to power after the death of his father, Kim Il Sung, in 1994.
Although the high-level purges could indicate confidence, Victor Cha, a former senior White House adviser on Asia, said he sees signs of “a lot of churn in the system.”
“If he has to go as high as purging and then executing Jang, it tells you that everything’s not normal in the system,” said Cha, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. “When you take out Jang, you’re not taking out just one person — you’re taking out scores if not hundreds of other people in the system. It’s got to have some ripple effect.”
North Korea has recently turned to attempts at diplomacy with South Korea and the United States. But tensions have remained high since Pyongyang’s threats in March and April. Those included warnings that it would restart nuclear bomb fuel production.
There was no immediate word about the fate of Jang’s wife, Kim Kyong Hui, the younger sister of Kim Jong Il. She was also seen as an important mentor to Kim Jong Un after her brother’s 2011 death.
The White House said it could not independently confirm reports of Jang’s execution, but has “no reason to doubt” the report from KCNA.
Patrick Ventrell, a National Security Council spokesman, said, “if confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime.”
The KCNA report called Jang a “despicable political careerist and trickster” and “despicable human scum.”
But it was also unusually specific. For instance, it criticized Jang for not rising and applauding his nephew’s previous appointment to a senior position because Jang “thought that if Kim Jong Un’s base and system for leading the army were consolidated, this would lay a stumbling block in the way of grabbing the power.”
Jang was described earlier this week by state media as “abusing his power,” being “engrossed in irregularities and corruption,” and taking drugs and squandering money at casinos while undergoing medical treatment in a foreign country.
Klug reported from Seoul, South Korea.
- Politics Government
- Kim Jong Un
- Kim Jong Il
- Jang Song Thaek
- North Korea
Merry Christmas, America. The House just took a step toward ensuring an entire year without government shutdowns.
Despite a brief minirevolt among hard-line conservative Republicans, the House on Thursday approved a budget resolution that will set spending levels into 2015 with bipartisan support. The nonbinding resolution aims to replace parts of sequestration by offering $63 billion of “sequester relief” and will set spending levels at $1.012 trillion in fiscal year 2014 and $1.014 trillion in fiscal year 2015.
The House passed the resolution 332-94 and the Senate is expected to pass it next week. Because budget resolutions are not intended to become law, President Barack Obama will not sign it, but the measure will provide the appropriations committees in the House and Senate guidelines for spending over the next two years.
The agreement, which is by no means historic, comes five years after Congress agreed to its last bicameral budget resolution, and several failed attempts at a grand bargain. The resolution, which was negotiated between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, a Republican, and Democratic Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, takes only minuscule steps toward reining in the federal debt and deficit. It includes no substantive reforms to the tax code or to the nation’s costly entitlement reforms, nor does it increase tax rates (although it does increase so-called “fees” on certain services).
Republican and Democratic leaders appeared satisfied with the proposal when it was released earlier this week, but not triumphant about its achievements. Given the recent level of discord, lack of productivity and general toxicity in Washington, many appeared impressed with themselves over the mere fact that the parties could come to any sort of agreement at all.
“We’re very unhappy about it, but not enough to say, therefore we’re going to make matters worse by not having an agreement,” Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
At issue for many Democrats is the lack of tax increases in the proposal and the absence of an extension for unemployment insurance. Republicans complained that the measure doesn’t go far enough to achieve debt reduction.
Earlier this week, a coalition of conservative groups moved to pressure Republican lawmakers to oppose the deal, an effort that received a sharp rebuke from Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who was furious that they spoke out against the proposal before it was finalized.
“It’s not everything I wanted, but when groups come out and criticize an agreement that they’ve never seen, you begin to wonder just how credible those actions are,” Boehner told reporters Thursday. “I came here to cut the size of government. That’s exactly what this bill does. And why conservatives wouldn’t vote for this is — or criticize the bill — is beyond any recognition I can come up with.”
In the end, conservative groups couldn’t muster enough opposition, and enough Democrats came on board to pass the bill.
The result will be a future untainted by the threat of government shutdowns for the next two years. But do not lose heart, political animals! Congress will no doubt find plenty of other petty issues to debate in the meantime.
- Politics Government
- President Barack Obama
- budget resolution
WASHINGTON (AP) — In March 2007, retired FBI agent Robert Levinson flew to Kish Island, an Iranian resort awash with tourists, smugglers and organized crime figures. Days later, after an arranged meeting with an admitted killer, he checked out of his hotel, slipped into a taxi and vanished. For years, the U.S. has publicly described him as a private citizen who traveled to the tiny Persian Gulf island on private business.
But that was just a cover story. An Associated Press investigation reveals that Levinson was working for the CIA. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts — with no authority to run spy operations — paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world’s darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian government for the U.S.
The CIA was slow to respond to Levinson’s disappearance and spent the first several months denying any involvement. When Congress eventually discovered what happened, one of the biggest scandals in recent CIA history erupted.
Behind closed doors, three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined. The CIA paid Levinson’s family $2.5 million to pre-empt a revealing lawsuit, and the agency rewrote its rules restricting how analysts can work with outsiders.
But even after the White House, FBI and State Department officials learned of Levinson’s CIA ties, the official story remained unchanged.
“He’s a private citizen involved in private business in Iran,” the State Department said in 2007, shortly after Levinson’s disappearance.
“Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip to Kish Island, Iran,” the White House said last month.
Details of the unusual disappearance were described in documents obtained or reviewed by the AP, plus interviews over several years with dozens of current and former U.S. and foreign officials close to the search for Levinson. Nearly all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive case.
The AP first confirmed Levinson’s CIA ties in 2010 and continued reporting to uncover more details. It agreed three times to delay publishing the story because the U.S. government said it was pursuing promising leads to get him home.
The AP is reporting the story now because, nearly seven years after his disappearance, those efforts have repeatedly come up empty. The government has not received any sign of life in nearly three years. Top U.S. officials, meanwhile, say his captors almost certainly already know about his CIA association.
There has been no hint of Levinson’s whereabouts since his family received proof-of-life photos and a video in late 2010 and early 2011. That prompted a hopeful burst of diplomacy between the United States and Iran, but as time dragged on, promising leads dried up and the trail went cold.
Some in the U.S. government believe he is dead. But in the absence of evidence either way, the government holds out hope that he is alive and the FBI says it remains committed to bringing him home.
If Levinson remains alive at age 65, he has been held captive longer than any American, longer than AP journalist Terry Anderson, who was held more than six years in Beirut. Unlike Anderson, Levinson’s whereabouts and captors remain a mystery.
Today, Iran and United States tiptoe toward warmer relations and a deal over Iran’s nuclear enrichment. But the U.S. has no new leads about Levinson’s whereabouts, officials said. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani publicly says he has no information about Levinson’s whereabouts.
Meanwhile, the story of how the married father of seven children from Coral Springs, Fla., became part of the CIA’s spy war with Iran has been cloaked in secrecy, with no public accounting for the agency’s mistakes.
A 28-year veteran of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI, Robert Levinson had a natural ability to cultivate informants. Former colleagues say he was an easy conversationalist who had the patience to draw out people and win their confidence. He’d talk to anyone.
“Bob, in that sense, was fearless,” said retired FBI Assistant Director Mark Mershon, who worked with Levinson in Miami in the 1980s. “He wasn’t concerned about being turned down or turned away.”
As the Soviet Union collapsed, Levinson turned his attention away from Mafia bosses and cocaine cartels and began watching the Russian gangsters who made their homes in Florida. Russian organized crime was a niche then and Levinson made a name as one of the few investigators who understood it.
At a Justice Department organized crime conference in Santa Fe, N.M., in the early 1990s, Levinson listened to a presentation by a CIA analyst named Anne Jablonski and spotted a kindred spirit.
Jablonski was perhaps the government’s foremost expert on Russian organized crime. Former colleagues say she had an encyclopedic memory and could, at the mere mention of a crime figure, quickly explain his place in the hierarchy and his method of moving money. When White House officials had questions about Russian organized crime, they often called Jablonski directly.
In the relatively staid world of CIA analysts, Jablonski was also a quirky character, a yoga devotee who made her own cat food, a woman who skipped off to Las Vegas to renew her vows in an Elvis-themed chapel.
After the Santa Fe conference, Levinson left a note for Jablonski at her hotel and the two began exchanging thoughts on organized crime. Jablonski invited Levinson to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., to speak to her colleagues in the Office of Russian and European Analysis.
By the time Levinson retired from the FBI in 1998, he and Jablonski were close friends. She attended his going-away party in Florida, met his family and harvested his knowledge of organized crime.
In retirement, Levinson worked as a private investigator, traveling the world and gathering information for corporate clients. Jablonski, meanwhile, thrived at the CIA. After the Sept. 11 attacks, former colleagues say, she was assigned to brief Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller about terrorist threats every morning.
In 2005, Jablonski moved to the Office of Transnational Issues, the CIA team that tracks threats across borders. Right away, she arranged for Levinson to speak to the money-laundering experts in the office’s Illicit Finance Group.
In a sixth-floor CIA conference room, Levinson explained how to track dirty money. Unlike the analysts in the audience, Levinson came from the field. He generated his own information.
In June 2006, the head of Illicit Finance, Tim Sampson, hired Levinson on a contract with the CIA, former officials said. Like most CIA contracts, it was not a matter of public record. But it also wasn’t classified.
At its core, the CIA is made up of two groups: operatives and analysts. Operatives collect intelligence and recruit spies. Analysts receive strands of information and weave them together, making sense of the world for Washington decision-makers.
Their responsibilities don’t overlap. Operatives manage spies. Analysts don’t.
Levinson was hired to work for a team of analysts. His contract, worth about $85,000, called for him to write reports for the CIA based on his travel and his expertise.
From the onset, however, he was doing something very different. He wasn’t writing scholarly dissertations on the intricacies of money laundering. He was gathering intelligence, officials say.
He uncovered sensitive information about Colombian rebels. He dug up dirt on Venezuela’s mercurial president. He delivered photos and documents on militant groups. And he met with sources about Iran’s nuclear program, according to people who have reviewed the materials.
Levinson’s production got noticed. The CIA expected he’d provide one or two items a month from his travels. Some months, former officials said, Levinson would send 20 packages including photos, computer disks and documents — the work of a man with decades of investigative experience.
Levinson’s arrangement with the CIA was odd.
The agency instructed him not to mail his packages to headquarters or email documents to government addresses, former officials said. Instead, he was told to ship his packages to Jablonski’s home in Virginia. If he needed to follow up, he was instructed to contact Jablonski’s personal email account.
Jablonski said the analysts simply wanted to avoid the CIA’s lengthy mail screening process. As an employee, Jablonski could just drive the documents through the front gate each morning.
“I didn’t think twice about it,” she said in an interview.
But the normal way to speed up the process is to open a post office box or send packages by FedEx, officials say. And if Levinson were producing only unclassified analytical documents, there would have been no reason he couldn’t email them to the CIA.
The whole arrangement was so peculiar that CIA investigators conducting an internal probe would later conclude it was an effort to keep top CIA officials from figuring out that the analysts were running a spying operation. Jablonski adamantly denies that.
What’s more, the Illicit Finance Group didn’t follow the typical routine for international travel. Before someone travels abroad for the agency, the top CIA officer in the country normally clears it. That way, if a CIA employee is arrested or creates a diplomatic incident, the agency isn’t caught by surprise.
That didn’t happen before Levinson’s trips, former officials said. He journeyed to Panama, Turkey and Canada and was paid upon his return, people familiar with his travels said. After each trip, he submitted bills and the CIA paid him for the information and reimbursed him for his travel expenses.
Neither the analysts nor the contract officers or managers who reviewed the contract, ever flagged it as a problem that Levinson’s travel might become a problem.
It would prove to be a serious problem.
Levinson was assigned a contract officer inside the agency, a young analyst named Brian O’Toole. But Jablonski was always his primary contact. Sometimes, he told her before he left for a trip. Other times, he didn’t. The emails between Jablonski and Levinson, some of which the AP has seen or obtained, are circumspect. But they show that Levinson was taking his cues from her.
The more Levinson did for the agency, the more the analysts ran afoul of the CIA’s most basic rules.
Before anyone can meet sources, seasoned CIA intelligence officials must review the plan to make sure the source isn’t a double agent. That never happened for Levinson.
Levinson’s meetings blurred the lines between his work as a private investigator and his work as a government contractor. Inside the CIA, the analysts reasoned that as long as they didn’t specifically assign Levinson to meet someone, they were abiding by the rules.
On Feb. 5, 2007, Levinson emailed Jablonski and said he was gathering intelligence on Iranian corruption. He said he was developing an informant with access to the government and could arrange a meeting in Dubai or on an island nearby.
Problem was, Levinson’s contract was out of money and, though the CIA was working to authorize more, it had yet to do so.
“I would like to know if I do, in fact, expend my own funds to conduct this meeting, there will be reimbursement sometime in the near future, or, if I should discontinue this, as well as any and all similar projects until renewal time in May,” Levinson wrote.
There’s no evidence that Jablonski ever responded to that email. And she says she has no recollection of ever receiving it.
A few days later, Levinson joined Jablonski and her husband for dinner at Harry’s Tap Room in the Washington suburbs. Levinson was days away from his trip, and though he was eager to get paid for it, Jablonski says the subject never came up in conversation.
The discussion was more light-hearted, she said. She recalls scolding her overweight friend for not eating right, especially while on the road. At one point she recalls chiding him: “If I were your wife, I’d confiscate your passport.”
On Feb. 12, Levinson again emailed Jablonski, saying he hadn’t heard anything from the contract office. Jablonski urged him not to get the contract team involved.
“Probably best if we keep talk about the additional money among us girls — you, me, Tim and Brian — and not get the contracts folks involved until they’ve been officially notified through channels,” Jablonski said, according to emails read to the AP.
Jablonski signed off: “Be safe.”
Levinson said he understood. He said he’d try to make this trip as successful as previous ones. And he promised to “keep a low profile.”
“I’ll call you upon my return from across the pond,” he said.
While Levinson was overseas, the CIA was raving about information Levinson had recent sent about Venezuela and Colombian rebels.
“You hit a home run out of the park with that stuff,” she wrote. “We can’t, of course, task you on anything, but let’s just say it’s GREAT material.”
Levinson arrived in Dubai on March 3, 2007. Friends and investigators say he was investigating cigarette smuggling and also looking into Russian organized crime there.
On March 8, he boarded a short flight to Kish Island, a tourist destination about 11 miles off Iran’s southern coast. Unlike the Dubai trip, this one was solely for the CIA. He was there to meet his source about Iran.
The biggest prize would be gleaning something about Iran’s nuclear program, one of the CIA’s most important targets.
Levinson’s source on Kish was Dawud Salahuddin, an American fugitive wanted for killing a former Iranian diplomat in Maryland in 1980. In interviews with ABC News and the New Yorker, Salahuddin has admitted killing the diplomat
Since fleeing to Iran, Salahuddin had become close to some in the Iranian government, particularly to those seen as reformers and moderates.
To set up the meeting, Levinson worked with a longtime friend, retired NBC investigative reporter Ira Silverman. Silverman had talked at length with Salahuddin and, in a 2002 piece for the New Yorker magazine, portrayed him as a potential intelligence source if the U.S. could coax him out of Iran. The subtitle of the article: “He’s an assassin who fled the country. Could he help Washington now?”
“I told them to put off until after the U.S. surge in Iraq was completed,” Salahuddin told the National Security News Service, a Washington news site, shortly after Levinson disappeared. “But Silverman and Levinson pushed for the meeting and that’s why we met in March.”
Silverman’s role in helping set up Levinson’s meeting with Salahuddin has been previously disclosed. Silverman declined to discuss Levinson’s disappearance.
Levinson’s flight landed late the morning of March 8, a breezy, cloudy day. He checked into the Hotel Maryam, a few blocks off Kish’s eastern beaches. Salahuddin has said he met with Levinson for hours in his hotel room.
The hotel’s registry, which Levinson’s wife has seen, showed him checking out on March 9, 2007.
Jablonski was in the office when news broke that Levinson had gone missing. She went to the bathroom and threw up.
FBI agents began asking about Levinson’s disappearance and the CIA started a formal inquiry into whether anyone at the agency had sent Levinson to Iran or whether he was working for the CIA at the time.
The response from the analytical division was that, yes, Levinson had given a few presentations and had done some analytical work. But his contract was out of money. The agency had no current relationship with Levinson and there was no connection to Iran.
That’s what the CIA told the FBI and Congress, according to numerous current and former FBI, CIA and congressional officials.
Jablonski never mentioned to internal investigators the many emails she’d traded with Levinson, officials close to the investigation said. When asked, she said she had no idea he was heading to Iran. She didn’t tell managers or that Levinson expected to be reimbursed for the trip he was on, or that he was investigating Iranian corruption.
Jablonski says none of this was a secret; Levinson’s contract and work product were available to others at the CIA, she said.
Because the emails were exchanged from her personal account, they were not available to investigators searching the CIA’s computers. But had anyone at the CIA or FBI conducted even a cursory examination of Levinson’s work product, it would have been immediately clear that Levinson was not acting as a mere analyst.
Had anyone read his invoices, people who have seen or been briefed on them said, investigators would have seen handwritten bills mentioning Iran and its Revolutionary Guard.
That didn’t happen.
So the official story became that Levinson was in Iran on private business, either to investigate cigarette smuggling or to work on a book about Russian organized crime, which has a presence on Kish.
At the State Department, officials told the world that Levinson was a private businessman.
“At the time of his disappearance Mr. Levinson was not working for the United States government,” the State Department said in a May 2007 message sent to embassies worldwide and signed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Levinson’s family feared the government had forsaken him.
The government’s version would have remained the official story if not for Levinson’s friends. One of them was David McGee, a former Justice Department prosecutor in Florida who had worked with Levinson when he was at the FBI. McGee, now in private practice at the Florida law firm Beggs and Lane, knew that Levinson was working for the CIA. He just couldn’t prove it.
As time dragged on, McGee kept digging. Finally, he and his paralegal, Sonya Dobbs, discovered Levinson’s emails with Jablonski.
They were astounded. And they finally had the proof they needed to get the government’s attention.
Armed with the emails, McGee wrote to the Senate Intelligence Committee in October 2007. The CIA had indeed been involved in Levinson’s trip, the letter proved.
The CIA had been caught telling Congress a story that was flatly untrue. The Intelligence Committee was furious. In particular, Levinson’s senator, Bill Nelson, D-Fla., took a personal interest in the case. The committee controls the budget of the CIA, and one angry senator there can mean months of headaches for the agency.
CIA managers said their own employees had lied to them. They blamed the analysts for not coming forward sooner. But the evidence had been hiding in plain sight. The CIA didn’t conduct a thorough investigation until the Senate got involved. By then, Levinson had been missing for more than eight months. Precious time had been lost.
Sampson said he was never aware of Levinson’s emails with Jablonski or the Iranian trip.
“I didn’t even know he was working on Iran,” he said. “As far as I knew he was a Latin America, money-laundering and Russian organized crime guy. I would never have directed him to do that.”
Finally, the CIA assigned its internal security team to investigate. That inquiry quickly determined that the agency was responsible for Levinson while he was in Iran, according to a former official familiar with the review. That was an important conclusion. It meant that, whatever happened to Levinson overseas, the CIA bore responsibility.
Next, a team of counterintelligence officers began unraveling the case.
The investigation renewed some longtime tensions between the CIA’s operatives and analysts. The investigators felt the analysts had been running their own amateur spy operation, with disastrous results. Worse, they said the analysts withheld what they knew, allowing senior managers to testify falsely on Capitol Hill.
That led the Justice Department to investigate possible criminal charges against Jablonski and Sampson. Charges were never pursued, current and former officials said, in part because a criminal case could have revealed the whole story behind Levinson’s disappearance. Officially, though, the investigation remains open.
Sampson offered to take a polygraph. Jablonski says she has consistently told the truth. Recently, as the five-year statute of limitations concluded, FBI agents interviewed her again and she told the same story, officials said.
The analysts argued that many people had seen Levinson’s contract and his work product. Nobody questioned it until he went missing, they said. The way the analysts saw it, the CIA was looking for scapegoats.
“That she would even by accident put someone in harm’s way is laughable,” said Margaret Henoch, a former CIA officer and a close friend of Jablonski. “When I worked with Anne, and I worked very closely with her for a very long time, she was always the one who pulled me up short and made me follow procedure.”
Jablonski said the CIA’s relationship with Levinson was not unusual. But as part of the investigation, the CIA reviewed every analytical contract it had.
Only Levinson was meeting with sources, collecting information, and getting reimbursed for his trips, officials said. Only Levinson was mailing packages of raw information to the home of an analyst.
Despite Jablonski’s denials, her emails convinced investigators that she knew Levinson was heading overseas and, with a wink and a nod, made it clear he could expect to be paid.
In May 2008, Jablonski was escorted from the building and put on administrative leave. Sampson was next. At the CIA, when you’re shown the door, you leave with nothing. Security officers empty your desk, scrutinize its contents and mail you whatever doesn’t belong to the agency.
Both were given the option of resigning or being fired. The next month, they resigned. Their boss was forced into retirement. At least seven others were disciplined, including employees of the contracts office that should have noticed that Levinson’s invoices didn’t square with his contract.
In secret Senate hearings from late 2007 through early 2008, CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes acknowledged that the agency had been involved in Levinson’s disappearance and conceded that it hadn’t been as forthcoming as it should have been, current and former officials said.
The CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, had to explain it all to the White House. Former Bush administration officials recall Rizzo meeting with a stunned Fred Fielding, the White House counsel who asked, since when do CIA analysts get involved in operations?
One of Rizzo’s assistants, Joseph Sweeney, a lawyer, flew to Florida to apologize to Levinson’s family.
The CIA paid the family about $120,000, the value of the new contract the CIA was preparing for him when he left for Iran. The government also gave the family a $2.5 million annuity, which provides tax-free income, multiple people briefed on the deal said. Neither side wanted a lawsuit that would air the secret details in public.
Jablonski now analyzes risk for companies doing business overseas.
Sampson, the former head of CIA’s Illicit Finance group, quickly returned to the government, landing a job at the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence division. O’Toole, the young contracts officer, moved to the Treasury Department. He would not comment.
Inside the CIA, the biggest legacy of the Levinson case might be the strict new rules in place for analysts. Before, analysts were encouraged to build relationships with experts. An analyst could go to dinner with a professor of Middle East affairs or pick up the phone and chat with a foreign affairs expert. The 9/11 Commission encouraged CIA analysts to do even more to solicit outside views.
After the Levinson inquiry, the CIA handed down orders requiring analysts to seek approval for nearly any conversation with outsiders. The rules were intended to prevent another debacle like Levinson’s, but former officials say they also chilled efforts to bring outside views into the CIA.
The U.S. always suspected, but could never prove, that Levinson had been picked up by Iranian security forces. What was not immediately clear, however, was whether Iran knew that Levinson was working for the CIA.
Now, nearly than seven years later, investigators believe Iranian authorities must know. Levinson wasn’t trained to resist interrogation. U.S. officials could not imagine him withholding information from Iranian interrogators, who have been accused of the worst types of mental and physical abuses.
In an October 2010 interview with the AP, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran at the time, said his country was willing to help find Levinson. But he appeared to suggest he knew or had suspicions that Levinson was working for the U.S. government.
“Of course if it becomes clear what his goal was, or if he was indeed on a mission, then perhaps specific assistance can be given,” Ahmadinejad said. “For example, if he had plans to visit with a group or an individual or go to another country, he would be easier to trace in that instance.”
As a CIA contractor, Levinson would have been a valuable chip to bargain with on the world stage. So if Iran had captured him, and knew his CIA ties, why the secrecy?
That question became even more confusing in 2009, when three U.S. hikers strayed across border from Iraq into Iran and were arrested. If Iran had captured Levinson, investigators wondered, why would it publicly accuse three hikers of espionage while keeping quiet about an actual CIA contractor?
Occasionally, Iranian defectors would claim to have seen Levinson or to have heard where he was being held, according to his family, former officials and State Department cables published by WikiLeaks.
A French doctor said Levinson was treated at his hospital in Tehran. An Iranian nurse claimed to have attended to him. One defector said he saw Levinson’s name scrawled into a prison door frame. Someone sent Levinson’s family what appeared to be secret Iranian court documents with his name on them.
But the U.S. could never confirm any of these accounts or corroborate the documents.
Occasionally, the family would hear from someone claiming to be the captor. Once, someone sent an email not only to the family, but also to other addresses that might have been stored on Levinson’s phone. But despite efforts to try to start negotiating, the sender went silent.
The State Department continued its calls on Iran to release information about Levinson’s whereabouts. Then, in November 2010, Levinson’s wife Christine received an email from an unknown address. A file was attached, but it would not open.
Frantic, she sent the email to some computer savvy friends, who opened the file and held the phone to the computer. Christine Levinson immediately recognized her husband’s voice.
“My beautiful, my loving, my loyal wife, Christine,” he began.
The 54-second video showed Levinson sitting in front of a concrete wall, looking haggard but unharmed. He said he was running dangerously low of diabetes medicine, and he pleaded with the government to bring him home.
“Thirty-three years of service to the United States deserves something,” Levinson said. “Please help me.”
The video was a startling proof of life and it ignited the first promising round of diplomacy since Levinson’s disappearance. U.S. officials met privately with members of the Iranian government to discuss the case. The Iranians still denied any knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts but said they were willing to help, U.S. officials said.
Some details about the video didn’t add up, though. The email had been sent from a cyber cafe in Pakistan, officials said, and Pashtun wedding music played faintly in the background. The Pashtun people live primarily in Pakistan and Afghanistan, just across Iran’s eastern border.
Further, the video was accompanied by a demand that the U.S. release prisoners. But officials said the United States was not holding anyone matching the names on the list.
In March 2011, after months of trying to negotiate with shadows, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a statement saying the U.S. had evidence that Levinson was being held “somewhere in southwest Asia.” The implication was that Levinson might be in the hands of terrorist group or criminal organization somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan, not necessarily in Iran.
U.S. intelligence officials working the case still believed Iran was behind Levinson’s disappearance, but they hoped Clinton’s statement would offer a plausible alternative story if Iran wanted to release him without acknowledging it ever held him.
U.S. negotiators didn’t care what the story was, as long as it ended with Levinson coming home.
The following month, the family received another email, this time from a new address, one that tracked back to Afghanistan. Photos were attached. Levinson looked far worse. His hair and beard were long and white. He wore an orange Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuit. A chain around his neck held a sign in front of his face. Each picture bore a different message.
“Why you can not help me,” was one.
Though the photos were disturbing, the U.S. government and Levinson’s family saw them as a hopeful sign that whoever was holding Levinson was interested in making a deal. Then, a surprising thing happened.
Nobody is sure why the contact stopped. Some believe that, if Iran held him, all the government wanted was for the United States to tell the world that Levinson might not be in Iran after all. Others believe Levinson died.
Iran executes hundreds of prisoners each year, human rights groups say. Many others disappear and are presumed dead. With Levinson’s history of diabetes and high blood pressure, it was also possible he died under questioning.
The discussions with Iran ended. A task force of CIA, FBI and State Department officials studied the case anew. Analysts considered alternative theories. Maybe Levinson was captured by Russian organized crime figures, smugglers or terrorists? They investigated connections between Russian and Iranian oil interests.
But each time, they came back to Iran.
For example, during one meeting between the U.S. and Iran, the Iranians said they were searching for Levinson and were conducting raids in Baluchistan, a mountainous region that includes parts of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. But the U.S. ultimately concluded that there were no raids, and officials determined that the episode was a ruse by the Iranians to learn how U.S. intelligence agencies work.
Then, U.S. operatives in Afghanistan traced the hostage photos to a cellphone used to transmit them, officials said. They even tracked down the owner, but concluded he had nothing to do with sending them.
Such abrupt dead ends were indicative of a professional intelligence operation, the U.S. concluded. Whoever sent the photos and videos had made no mistakes. Mobsters and terrorists are seldom so careful.
Iran denies any knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts and says it’s doing all it can.
This past June, Iran elected Hassan Rouhani as president. He has struck a more moderate tone than his predecessor, sparking hope for warmer relations between Iran and the West. But Rouhani’s statements on Levinson were consistent with Ahmadinejad’s.
“He is an American who has disappeared,” Rouhani told CNN in September. “We have no news of him. We do not know where he is.”
Back home in Florida, Christine Levinson works to keep her husband’s name in the news and pushes the Obama administration to do more. Last year, the FBI offered a reward of $1 million for information leading to the return of her husband. But the money hasn’t worked.
In their big, tight-knit family, Bob Levinson has missed many birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and grandchildren.
Levinson was always the breadwinner, the politically savvy investigator who understood national security. Now it is his wife who has traveled to Iran seeking information on her husband, who has meetings on Capitol Hill or with White House officials. They are kind and reassuring.
But nothing changes.
Others held in Iran have returned home. Not her husband.
“There isn’t any pressure on Iran to resolve this,” she said in January, frustrated with what she said was a lack of attention by Washington. “It’s been much too long.”
Follow Apuzzo at http://twitter.com/mattapuzzo
In the wake of last year’s fatal shooting of 20 students and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, many schools are no longer relying solely on the traditional “lockdown” response to an armed intruder and are teaching students and teachers to fight back.
In the past, most teachers were told to lock classroom doors and hide their students if a gunman entered the school. But over the summer, the federal Department of Education endorsed a more aggressive approach, encouraging teachers to evacuate their kids from the building, barricade doors, and even “incapacitate the shooter,” if possible.
Now, school districts are implementing drills — alongside fire, tornado and other safety drills — to practice this new response. Children as young as 6 are told over the loudspeaker that a “bad guy” with a gun is in the school, and then they practice what they would do if that really happened.
Some schools have opted for uber-realistic “active shooter” drills that have angered some parents and teachers. Masked men broke into Pine Eagle Charter School in Halfway, Ore., last April and fired blanks at a group of teachers in an unannounced drill that left some teachers livid.
But federal and local education officials counter that school shootings from Virginia Tech to Columbine to Sandy Hook, though rare, show that the country’s millions of teachers and students must be trained to survive an attack. Sandy Hook was a wake-up call for many that even elementary schools needed to be prepared.
Kindergartners through sixth-graders at a school in Gateway, Ohio, were told to throw objects at a shooter if he enters the classroom to distract him. Playing loud music or making loud noises are other ways to distract a gunman. Teachers, meanwhile, are encouraged to physically overwhelm an armed attacker if possible.
Some safety experts question this change in direction, arguing that the tried-and-true lockdown works, and that more aggressive tactics could leave teachers and kids hurt.
“Lockdowns do work,” said Ken Trump, a school safety consultant. “People have preyed on the emotions after Sandy Hook to marginalize and minimalize lockdowns.”
The Department of Education changed its guidance on “active shooter” training this summer, citing a study of 41 active shooter incidents that found adults were able to stop a shooter 13 of those times by physically restraining him. (The department stresses that it should not be in any teacher’s job description to launch a counterattack against a gunman.)
“There are three basic options: run, hide, or fight,” the department’s new guidance says. “You can run away from the shooter, seek a secure place where you can hide and/or deny the shooter access, or incapacitate the shooter to survive and protect others from harm.”
Some have been able to survive school shootings by going beyond locking the door and hiding. In the Virginia Tech shooting, for example, some students were able to survive by jumping out the window. Others saved themselves by barricading the door to their classroom in addition to locking it.
Greg Crane, the founder of a security services company that trains people how to survive shootings, is one of the leaders of the movement against a lockdown-only approach in schools. He says the more aggressive training is a way to give people more “options” in a shooting situation beyond hiding and hoping for the best.
Crane created a program called ALICE, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. He founded the program 12 years ago, shortly after the Columbine shooting, and his training has reached 2 million students over that time.
In the past year — in response to Sandy Hook — those students have been getting younger.
“For years a lot of the school districts were keeping training to middle school and above,” Crane said. “What Sandy Hook did was move it down to the elementary levels.”
All 32 elementary schools in Akron, Ohio, are currently training its students in the technique. Four times a year, elementary school students will be told over the loudspeaker that a “bad guy” is in the building, and classrooms will either evacuate, or lock and barricade the door.
“It’s a safety drill. We’re not trying to scare kids,” said Dan Rambler, student support services director of the Akron school district.
Kids are taught to barricade the door with furniture or whatever is available to make it harder for a shooter to get in. They’re also told it’s OK to run away or fight back against someone who is attacking them. “The most prevalent place and opportunity for people to be killed ends up being the classrooms that are just locked down,” Rambler said.
The eventual goal is for students and teachers to be prepared for the worst.
“We know what to do when the fire alarm goes off — why do people not know what to do when it’s gunshots going off?” Crane asked.
- Teaching Learning