Thursday, July 31, 2014

Technology: “'BadBIOS': "And Now, You're Really Hosed"

"And Now, You're Really Hosed"
 by Karl Denninger

"This isn't good at all...* When creators of the state-sponsored Stuxnet worm used a USB stick to infect air-gapped computers inside Iran's heavily fortified Natanz nuclear facility, trust in the ubiquitous storage medium suffered a devastating blow. Now, white-hat hackers have devised a feat even more seminal- an exploit that transforms keyboards, Web cams, and other types of USB-connected devices into highly programmable attack platforms that can't be detected by today's defenses.

This just plain sucks. What they've done here is figure out that (unfortunately) many of the common USB controller chips are reprogrammable in the field and there is no verification of what's loaded to them. Apparently there is also enough storage (or, in the case of a pen drive, lots of storage!) to do some fairly evil things. At the core of this problem is the fact that a USB device has an identifying "class" and vendor ID. If the "class" is one the computer knows it will attach it, usually without prompting of any sort. This is especially bad if the "class" presented is what is known as a "HID", or "Human Input Device"- like a mouse or worse, a keyboard.

Yes, you can have more than one keyboard connected, and all are active at once. And yes, this is as bad as you think it might be. The worst part of it is that various virus and anti-spyware programs can't detect it because the code doesn't run on the host machine, it runs on the device. All the computer sees is a "keyboard"- but it's not really a keyboard, it's your USB pen drive that sends a key sequence down that invokes something (e.g. a browser to go to a specific bad place.)

This can be detected if you're paying attention, but most people don't. You can see what classes a particular device attached, but few people will look and current operating systems don't prompt, with good cause. How do you answer such a prompt if you're plugging in a keyboard- that isn't yet allowed to attach? Ah, there's a chicken and egg problem, eh?

In any event there ARE defenses against this, but they will require significant operating system patches and then a paradigm to be taken care of with USB- which will help, but not prevent these sorts of exploits.  As it sits right now, unfortunately, mainstream operating systems are wide open to this sort of abuse.

For example, if my keyboard is plugged into USB Port 2, and it has a Vendor ID of "X" and a device type of HID/Keyboard, then any other port, or this port, that sees a different vendor ID and/or ANY HID/Keyboard device would bring up a warning that a user input device, specifically a keyboard, was attempting to attach. You could then say "Yes" or "No", and if the device that popped up that prompt was a webcam or USB data stick go looking for your sledge hammer to get a bit of an upper-body workout taking care the problem.

But as it sits right now the only way you'll catch it is if the vendor and device ID don't match a loaded set of drivers and thus the system has to go looking for them- in which case you will get a warning. Sadly, for the common abuses of this (e.g. keyboards and mice in particular) you almost-certainly already have such a driver on the system and thus you're unlikely to catch it. Yeah, this is a problem...  and a pretty nasty problem at that."
*“BadUSB” Exploit Makes Devices Turn 'Evil'”
"Meet “badBIOS,” The Mysterious Mac and PC Malware That Jumps Airgaps"
Like a super strain of bacteria, the rootkit plaguing Dragos Ruiu is omnipotent.
by Dan Goodin

"Three years ago, security consultant Dragos Ruiu was in his lab when he noticed something highly unusual: his MacBook Air, on which he had just installed a fresh copy of OS X, spontaneously updated the firmware that helps it boot. Stranger still, when Ruiu then tried to boot the machine off a CD ROM, it refused. He also found that the machine could delete data and undo configuration changes with no prompting. He didn't know it then, but that odd firmware update would become a high-stakes malware mystery that would consume most of his waking hours.

In the following months, Ruiu observed more odd phenomena that seemed straight out of a science-fiction thriller. A computer running the Open BSD operating system also began to modify its settings and delete its data without explanation or prompting. His network transmitted data specific to the Internet's next-generation IPv6 networking protocol, even from computers that were supposed to have IPv6 completely disabled. Strangest of all was the ability of infected machines to transmit small amounts of network data with other infected machines even when their power cords and Ethernet cables were unplugged and their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards were removed. Further investigation soon showed that the list of affected operating systems also included multiple variants of Windows and Linux.

"We were like, 'Okay, we're totally owned,'" Ruiu told Ars. "'We have to erase all our systems and start from scratch,' which we did. It was a very painful exercise. I've been suspicious of stuff around here ever since." In the intervening three years, Ruiu said, the infections have persisted, almost like a strain of bacteria that's able to survive extreme antibiotic therapies. Within hours or weeks of wiping an infected computer clean, the odd behavior would return. The most visible sign of contamination is a machine's inability to boot off a CD, but other, more subtle behaviors can be observed when using tools such as Process Monitor, which is designed for troubleshooting and forensic investigations.

Another intriguing characteristic: in addition to jumping "airgaps" designed to isolate infected or sensitive machines from all other networked computers, the malware seems to have self-healing capabilities. "We had an air-gapped computer that just had its [firmware] BIOS reflashed, a fresh disk drive installed, and zero data on it, installed from a Windows system CD," Ruiu said. "At one point, we were editing some of the components and our registry editor got disabled. It was like: wait a minute, how can that happen? How can the machine react and attack the software that we're using to attack it? This is an air-gapped machine and all of a sudden the search function in the registry editor stopped working when we were using it to search for their keys."

Over the past two weeks, Ruiu has taken to Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus to document his investigative odyssey and share a theory that has captured the attention of some of the world's foremost security experts. The malware, Ruiu believes, is transmitted though USB drives to infect the lowest levels of computer hardware. With the ability to target a computer's Basic Input/Output System (BIOS), Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), and possibly other firmware standards, the malware can attack a wide variety of platforms, escape common forms of detection, and survive most attempts to eradicate it.

But the story gets stranger still. In posts here, here, and here, Ruiu posited another theory that sounds like something from the screenplay of a post-apocalyptic movie: "badBIOS," as Ruiu dubbed the malware, has the ability to use high-frequency transmissions passed between computer speakers and microphones to bridge airgaps.

Bigfoot in the age of the advanced persistent threat: At times as I've reported this story, its outline has struck me as the stuff of urban legend, the advanced persistent threat equivalent of a Bigfoot sighting. Indeed, Ruiu has conceded that while several fellow security experts have assisted his investigation, none has peer reviewed his process or the tentative findings that he's beginning to draw. (A compilation of Ruiu's observations is here.)

Also unexplained is why Ruiu would be on the receiving end of such an advanced and exotic attack. As a security professional, the organizer of the internationally renowned CanSecWest and PacSec conferences, and the founder of the Pwn2Own hacking competition, he is no doubt an attractive target to state-sponsored spies and financially motivated hackers. But he's no more attractive a target than hundreds or thousands of his peers, who have so far not reported the kind of odd phenomena that has afflicted Ruiu's computers and networks.

In contrast to the skepticism that's common in the security and hacking cultures, Ruiu's peers have mostly responded with deep-seated concern and even fascination to his dispatches about badBIOS.

"Everybody in security needs to follow @dragosr and watch his analysis of #badBIOS," Alex Stamos, one of the more trusted and sober security researchers, wrote in a tweet last week. Jeff Moss—the founder of the Defcon and Blackhat security conferences who in 2009 began advising Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on matters of computer security—retweeted the statement and added: "No joke it's really serious." Plenty of others agree.

"Dragos is definitely one of the good reliable guys, and I have never ever even remotely thought him dishonest," security researcher Arrigo Triulzi told Ars. "Nothing of what he describes is science fiction taken individually, but we have not seen it in the wild ever."

Been there, done that: Triulzi said he's seen plenty of firmware-targeting malware in the laboratory. A client of his once infected the UEFI-based BIOS of his Mac laptop as part of an experiment. Five years ago, Triulzi himself developed proof-of-concept malware that stealthily infected the network interface controllers that sit on a computer motherboard and provide the Ethernet jack that connects the machine to a network. His research built off of work by John Heasman that demonstrated how to plant hard-to-detect malware known as a rootkit in a computer's peripheral component interconnect, the Intel-developed connection that attaches hardware devices to a CPU.

It's also possible to use high-frequency sounds broadcast over speakers to send network packets. Early networking standards used the technique, said security expert Rob Graham. Ultrasonic-based networking is also the subject of a great deal of research, including this project by scientists at MIT.

Of course, it's one thing for researchers in the lab to demonstrate viable firmware-infecting rootkits and ultra high-frequency networking techniques. But as Triulzi suggested, it's another thing entirely to seamlessly fuse the two together and use the weapon in the real world against a seasoned security consultant. What's more, use of a USB stick to infect an array of computer platforms at the BIOS level rivals the payload delivery system found in the state-sponsored Stuxnet worm unleashed to disrupt Iran's nuclear program. And the reported ability of badBIOS to bridge airgaps also has parallels to Flame, another state-sponsored piece of malware that used Bluetooth radio signals to communicate with devices not connected to the Internet.

"Really, everything Dragos reports is something that's easily within the capabilities of a lot of people," said Graham, who is CEO of penetration testing firm Errata Security. "I could, if I spent a year, write a BIOS that does everything Dragos said badBIOS is doing. To communicate over ultrahigh frequency sound waves between computers is really, really easy."

Coincidentally, Italian newspapers this week reported that Russian spies attempted to monitor attendees of last month's G20 economic summit by giving them memory sticks and recharging cables programmed to intercept their communications.

Eureka: For most of the three years that Ruiu has been wrestling with badBIOS, its infection mechanism remained a mystery. A month or two ago, after buying a new computer, he noticed that it was almost immediately infected as soon as he plugged one of his USB drives into it. He soon theorized that infected computers have the ability to contaminate USB devices and vice versa. "The suspicion right now is there's some kind of buffer overflow in the way the BIOS is reading the drive itself, and they're reprogramming the flash controller to overflow the BIOS and then adding a section to the BIOS table," he explained.

He still doesn't know if a USB stick was the initial infection trigger for his MacBook Air three years ago, or if the USB devices were infected only after they came into contact with his compromised machines, which he said now number between one and two dozen. He said he has been able to identify a variety of USB sticks that infect any computer they are plugged into. At next month's PacSec conference, Ruiu said he plans to get access to expensive USB analysis hardware that he hopes will provide new clues behind the infection mechanism.

He said he suspects badBIOS is only the initial module of a multi-staged payload that has the ability to infect the Windows, Mac OS X, BSD, and Linux operating systems. "It's going out over the network to get something or it's going out to the USB key that it was infected from," he theorized. "That's also the conjecture of why it's not booting CDs. It's trying to keep its claws, as it were, on the machine. It doesn't want you to boot another OS it might not have code for." To put it another way, he said, badBIOS "is the tip of the warhead, as it were."

“Things kept getting fixed”: Ruiu said he arrived at the theory about badBIOS's high-frequency networking capability after observing encrypted data packets being sent to and from an infected laptop that had no obvious network connection with—but was in close proximity to—another badBIOS-infected computer. The packets were transmitted even when the laptop had its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cards removed. Ruiu also disconnected the machine's power cord so it ran only on battery to rule out the possibility that it was receiving signals over the electrical connection. Even then, forensic tools showed the packets continued to flow over the airgapped machine. Then, when Ruiu removed the internal speaker and microphone connected to the airgapped machine, the packets suddenly stopped.

With the speakers and mic intact, Ruiu said, the isolated computer seemed to be using the high-frequency connection to maintain the integrity of the badBIOS infection as he worked to dismantle software components the malware relied on. "The airgapped machine is acting like it's connected to the Internet," he said. "Most of the problems we were having is we were slightly disabling bits of the components of the system. It would not let us disable some things. Things kept getting fixed automatically as soon as we tried to break them. It was weird."

It's too early to say with confidence that what Ruiu has been observing is a USB-transmitted rootkit that can burrow into a computer's lowest levels and use it as a jumping off point to infect a variety of operating systems with malware that can't be detected. It's even harder to know for sure that infected systems are using high-frequency sounds to communicate with isolated machines. But after almost two weeks of online discussion, no one has been able to rule out these troubling scenarios, either.

"It looks like the state of the art in intrusion stuff is a lot more advanced than we assumed it was," Ruiu concluded in an interview. "The take-away from this is a lot of our forensic procedures are weak when faced with challenges like this. A lot of companies have to take a lot more care when they use forensic data if they're faced with sophisticated attackers."

The Economy: "How America's Working Stiffs Got Stiffed"

"How America's Working Stiffs Got Stiffed" 
by Bill Bonner

"Amazing how much difference a few years make. We first visited China in the 1980s. It was an appalling dump. Few cars. Few roads. Almost no decent restaurants or hotels. Now in Beijing you see large black luxury automobiles everywhere... and modern highways crisscrossing in front of huge hotels and apartment buildings. The Chinese have made real progress! Thank You, Deng Xiaoping!

Nobody had any money in China in the 1980s. In contrast, today you lose control of your car in downtown Beijing and you are bound to run over at least a couple of millionaires. "We are very much aware of our extraordinary good fortune," said a Chinese man in his 50s. "We grew up with nothing. Now we are able to dine in fine restaurants, live in fine houses and travel to other parts of the world. I thank Chairman Deng Xiaoping for having the wisdom to point us in the right direction... and the Party leadership for having the good judgment to keep us on the right road." 

The Party leadership is not infallible. Neither in China nor in the US. In both countries, the feds – looking out for themselves – make policy decisions that are disastrous for others. 

We were in China for only a few days. We have no idea what calamity the central planners will cause there. But we can take a fair guess of what they will do to America. Broadly, China's feds build too many factories, malls and apartments. America's feds encouraged the opposite error – borrowing and spending too much for consumption purposes. China's real wages doubled in the last 10 years... after doubling in the previous 10 years. That is why the Chinese feel so much better off. They ARE much better off. "Yes, we know there may be a slowdown... or even a financial crisis... coming. But we have gone ahead so far so fast we can put up with a little backsliding," said our friend cheerfully.

Losing Ground: Americans are not likely to be so cheerful about it. They've lost ground, not gained it. And now, down at the bottom of the pay ladder, US workers are fed up. From Bloomberg: "Thousands of fast-food workers from restaurants such as McDonald's Corp. and Wendy's Co. walked off the job beginning today to protest for higher pay. 

American fast-food and retail workers have been striking this year for higher wages, and the protest starting today seeks wages of $15 an hour, 66% higher than the $9.02 that US fast-food cooks earn, on average. In April, employees from McDonald's and Yum! Brands Inc., which owns the KFC and Taco Bell chains, joined workers from Macy's Inc. and L Brands Inc.'s Victoria's Secret chain in walking off the job in Chicago and New York for higher pay. 

The leisure and hospitality industry, which includes restaurants, is adding jobs faster than any other sector in the US. In June, the sector added 75,000 jobs, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fast-food cooks make $9.02 an hour, or about $18,760 a year, on average, according to 2012 data from the Washington-based agency."

Let's see... According to the official numbers, $1 when we were born (right after World War II) was worth about $10 today. But the official numbers are fishy. An average house in 1950 sold for less than $10,000. Today (after a big sell-off following the subprime mortgage debacle of 2008) the typical house sells for about $150,000. 

On that basis, keeping up with your No. 1 cost – housing – would require 15 times as much money as it did in 1950. Do people earn 15 times more now? After the war, a typical family had a single wage earner with a salary of about $250 a month – or $3,000 a year. The minimum wage was 75 cents an hour – or about $120 a month. On an average wage, a man was able to support a family and buy a new car every three or four years. A new Oldsmobile Rocket 88 cost about $1,500 – or about half of a year's wages. 

Today, a median wage earner gets $30,000 a year – 10 times as much in nominal terms. But now, despite the feds' phony numbers, he has much less buying power. Without even staring to calculate the effects of higher taxes, health care and education expenses, we can see he has to devote at least a whole year's wages to buying a new family car – twice as much as in 1950. As for the house, that's five years of wages – also twice as much as it was in the 1950s. 

Bamboozled by Credit: As you can see, the real wages of the typical working man in the US have gone down for the last 60 years. In terms of his time, his most important purchases are more expensive today than they were in 1950. 

How did American workers survive with lower real wages and higher living costs? First, they began to work longer hours. Wives went to work. Husbands worked a second job. Now Americans work more hours than any other group. Second, and most importantly from our point of view, they began to borrow. Aided, induced and bamboozled by the feds' EZ credit policies... they went deep into debt to keep up with their own standards of living. More to come...“

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"The Last Whale"

 "As I rocked in the moonlight,
And reefed the sail.
It'll happen to you
Also without fail,
If it happens to me.
Sang the world's last whale."

- Pete Seeger

“North America: Massive Numbers of Sea Creatures Dying Along the West Coast”

“North America: Massive Numbers of Sea 
Creatures Dying Along the West Coast”
by Michael Synder

“Never before have we seen so much death along the west coast of North America. Massive numbers of sea stars, bluefin tuna, sardines, anchovies, herring, oysters, salmon, marine mammals and marine birds are dying, and experts are puzzled. We are being told that we could even see "local extinctions" of some of these sea creatures. So are all of these deaths related? If so, what in the world could be causing this to happen? What has changed so dramatically that it would cause massive numbers of sea creatures to die along the west coast? The following are 15 examples of this phenomenon. Most scientists do not believe that these incidents are related. But when you put them all together, it paints quite a disturbing picture... 

1. A "mystery plague" is turning sea stars all along the west coast of the United States and Canada into piles of goo... Sea stars, commonly referred to as starfish, have been dying off in alarming numbers along the entire West Coast, from Baja, Mexico, to Alaska. According to reports from the Seattle Aquarium, some parts of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands have seen population declines of up to 80 percent. 

On the Oregon coast, according to CoastWatch Volunteer Coordinator Fawn Custer, "Last December, we had less than 1 percent of sea star wasting. By May 1, more than 5 percent of sea stars were affected. Now, I would say, in some areas, it is up to 90 percent." A marine epidemiologist at Cornell University says that this is "the largest mortality event for marine diseases we've seen". 

2. The population of bluefin tuna in the Pacific Ocean has declined by 95 percent. Mexico has already banned fishing for bluefin tuna for the rest of the year, and the U.S. government is considering doing the same thing. 

3. Sardine, anchovy and herring populations have dropped dramatically along the west coast in recent years... Pacific sardine populations have shown an alarming decline in recent years, and some evidence suggests anchovy and herring populations may be dropping as well. The declines could push fishermen toward other currently unmanaged "forage fish," such as saury, smelt and sand lance, stealing a critical food source relied on by salmon and other economically important predators. 

In response, the Pacific Fishery Management Council is considering an ecosystem-based management approach that recognizes the fundamental role of forage fish in the Pacific marine food web. Tiny, but abundant, these small schooling fish feed on plankton and, in turn, fill the bellies of Oregon's iconic marine species, including salmon, sharks, whales, sea lions and sea birds.

4. "Record numbers of distressed sea lions have washed ashore in California" for the second year in a row. One news report described these distressed sea lions as "malnourished and dehydrated, too weak to find food on their own". 

5. Marine birds are "disappearing" in the Pacific northwest... From white-winged scoters and surf scoters to long-tailed ducks, murres, loons and some seagulls, the number of everyday marine birds here has plummeted dramatically in recent decades. Scoters are down more than 75 percent from what they were in the late 1970s. Murres have dropped even more. Western grebes have mostly vanished, falling from several hundred thousand birds to about 20,000.

6. Those that work in the seafood industry on the west coast are noticing some very "unusual" mutations. For example, a red king crab that was recently caught in Alaska was colored bright blue

7. Pelicans along the California coastline are "refusing to mate". This is being blamed on a lack of fish for the pelicans to eat. As a result, we are seeing less than one percent of the usual number of baby pelicans. 

8. The oyster population in the Pacific is falling so fast that it is being called "the great American oyster collapse". 

9. The population of sockeye salmon along the coast of Alaska is at a "historic low". 

10. Something is causing herring off the coast of British Columbia to bleed from their gills, bellies and eyeballs. 

11. Scientists have discovered very high levels of cesium-137 in plankton living in the waters of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the west coast. 

12. Back in May, more than six tons of anchovies died in Marina Del Ray over a single weekend. 

13. Just a few days ago, thousands of dead fish were found on Capitola Beach. Authorities are trying to figure out what caused this. 

14. Earlier this month, thousands of dead fish were found on Manresa Beach

15. According to a study conducted by researchers at Oregon State University, radiation levels in tuna caught off the coast of Oregon approximately tripled in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. 

Could it be possible that at least some of these deaths are related to what has been happening at Fukushima? We do know that fish caught just off the shore from Fukushima have been tested to have radioactive cesium that is up to 124 times above the level that is considered to be safe. And we also know that a study conducted at the University of South Wales concluded that the main radioactive plume of water from Fukushima would reach our shores at some point during 2014

Is it so unreasonable to think that the greatest nuclear disaster in human history could have something to do with the death of all of these sea creatures? 

Just consider what one very experienced Australian boat captain discovered when he crossed the Pacific last year. According to him, it felt as though "the ocean itself was dead"... "The next leg of the long voyage was from Osaka to San Francisco and for most of that trip the desolation was tinged with nauseous horror and a degree of fear. "After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead," Macfadyen said. "We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head. It was pretty sickening. I've done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I'm used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen." 

In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes. "Part of it was the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Japan a couple of years ago. The wave came in over the land, picked up an unbelievable load of stuff and carried it out to sea. And it's still out there, everywhere you look."

What do you think? Is Fukushima to blame, or do you think that something else is causing massive numbers of sea creatures to die?"
“Fukushima Equals 6,000 Hiroshima Bombs Today, More Tomorrow; 
There is No Place On Earth to Escape the Rad”
“First thing, grasp the difficult concept that this is an ELE or Extinction Level Event. There is no escaping our fate, there are no solutions.”
A search for "Fukushima" on this blog would be most instructive...

Manuel Iman, “This Moment Called Now”

Manuel Iman, “This Moment Called Now”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“NGC 253 is not only one of the brightest spiral galaxies visible, it is also one of the dustiest. Discovered in 1783 by Caroline Herschel in the constellation of Sculptor, NGC 253 lies only about ten million light-years distant. 
Click image for larger size.
NGC 253 is the largest member of the Sculptor Group of Galaxies, the nearest group to our own Local Group of Galaxies. The dense dark dust accompanies a high star formation rate, giving NGC 253 the designation of starburst galaxy. Visible in the above photograph is the active central nucleus, also known to be a bright source of X-rays and gamma rays.”

Paulo Coelho, "Defeat"

by Paulo Coelho

"Does a leaf, when it falls from the tree in winter, feel defeated by the cold? The tree says to the leaf: ‘That’s the cycle of life. You may think you’re going to die, but you live on in me. It’s thanks to you that I’m alive, because I can breathe. It’s also thanks to you that I have felt loved, because I was able to give shade to the weary traveller. Your sap is in my sap, we are one thing.’

Does a man who spent years preparing to climb the highest mountain in the world feel defeated on reaching that mountain and discovering that nature has cloaked the summit in storm clouds? The man says to the mountain: ‘You don’t want me this time, but the weather will change and, one day, I will make it to the top. Meanwhile, you’ll still be here waiting for me.’

Does a young man, rejected by his first love, declare that love does not exist? The young man says to himself: ‘I’ll find someone better able to understand what I feel. And then I will be happy for the rest of my days.’

Losing a battle or losing everything we thought we possessed will bring us moments of sadness, but when those moments pass, we will discover the hidden strength that exists in each of us, a strength that will surprise us and increase our self-respect.

Wait patiently for the right moment to act. Do not let the next opportunity slip.

Take pride in your scars. Scars are medals branded on the flesh, and your enemies will be frightened by them because they are proof of your long experience of battle. Often this will lead them to seek dialogue and avoid conflict. Scars speak more loudly than the sword that caused them.”

"Why We Don’t Remember: The Gift of This Journey"

"Why We Don’t Remember: The Gift of This Journey"
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM
"If you would behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the
 body of life. For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one."
- Kahlil Gibran

"There is a gift in not remember who we are when we are born into this lifetime; the gift is the journey. Many of us wonder why we do not remember who we were before we were born. We wonder what it was like to be a soul without a body and what it will be like to be one again. Many of us have a strange sense that we do remember, as if we did experience a bodiless existence, but we can’t quite recall the details. We may remember feeling as if we were flying, or as if we were just incredibly light and unrestricted in our movements. Still, most of us do not recall anything in detail about the time before we incarnated into a human body.

There are many possible reasons for this deep forgetting, one of which is that remembering would probably impinge upon our ability to fully commit to this life. Experiencing life on earth without any memory of an alternative existence allows us to be here completely, and that is what is required in order for us to learn much of what we must learn here. Most of us are not meant to spend our time here preoccupied with concerns beyond the realm of this lifetime. Instead, it is our job to occupy our bodies and our planet with a fullness that would not be possible if we were constantly aware of another, and extremely different, realm of existence.

There is no doubt that life on earth is difficult in ways that life outside of a body is not. As we modulate our energy to move into a body, our consciousness changes, and this is a necessary change. Forgetting other levels of being protects us from a confused and divided experience. Soon enough, we will be back where we started, so thinking too much about it now is a bit like being on a fascinating journey and spending the whole time thinking about going home. It is more in alignment with our purpose here to be fully present in the gift of this journey, unreservedly offering our energy to the experience we are having right now."
"Children can have verifiable past life memories that can be independently corroborated. They can present specific names, places and events that they never can had a chance to know about. These specifics can be confirmed by going back years in the public records. Birth marks and birth defects can show up in situ of weapons wounds that caused their often violent or traumatic death."

"Past Life, Near Death Experience, Reincarnation Studies"
Rebirth scientific research:

BBC documentary on Near Death Experiences:

A baffled US homicide detective proves his past painter life!

CG Jung: Death is not the end & then What?

The Cardiologist on the Near-Death Experience 1

The Cardiologist on the Near-Death Experience 2

"My Purpose..."

“The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars...”

~ from “Ulysses,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Daily "Near You?"

Anacortes, Washington, USA. Thanks for stopping by.

Chet Raymo, "ICBW IDTS"

by Chet Raymo

"Which means, according to text messagers, "It could be worse (but) I don't think so." It seems a Finn has published a 332-page novel written entirely in text messaging abbreviations. Leave it to the Finns, who essentially invented mobile phone culture.

Well, that's one novel I will never read. At my age, I might as well try to learn Finnish as the language of TXT MSG. I've had a mobile (as they call them in Europe) for three years now, and I've yet to have an incoming call. Not surprising, since no one has my number, and even if they did the phone is never on. I had an instant message once, but it was in English, from another IM illiterate. The mobile is a handy thing, which I take with me when I travel. I have a cheapo calling plan that gives me 100 minutes for 90 days. I've never used more than 10.

I know a cultural revolution is passing me by, and IMHO a rather significant one. It's like we are all being raptured out of our bodies into the ether. In the new dispensation, protoplasm is less important than pixels. Me, I'll stay in the world where we still go eye-to-eye, hold hands, mush lips, and make babies in double beds.

A hundred years ago, it was the telephone, which "Scientific American" magazine then saw as "nothing less than a new organization of society- a state of things in which every individual, however secluded, will have at call every other individual in the community, to the saving of no end of social and business complications, of needless goings to and fro." Another pundit of that time proclaimed an "epoch of neighborship without propinquity." Or, as I suppose we'd say now, ILY W/O F2F. Propinquity survived the telephone. Propinquity will doubtless survive TXT MSG There are some things we can't get via that tiny scrolling screen. A decent haircut? A dozen red roses? A coronary bypass? BCNU...”

The Poet: Jeanne Lohmann, "Questions Before Dark"

"Questions Before Dark"

"Day ends, and before sleep
when the sky dies down, 
consider your altered state: 
has this day changed you?  
Are the corners sharper or rounded off? 
 Did you live with death?  
Make decisions that quieted?  
Find one clear word that fit? 
 At the sun's midpoint did you notice a pitch of absence,
bewilderment that invites the possible? 
 What did you learn from things you dropped
 and picked up and dropped again? 
Did you set a straw parallel to the river, 
let the flow carry you downstream?"

- Jeanne Lohmann,
"The Light of Invisible Bodies"

"The Life You Have Left..."

 “The life you have left is a gift. Cherish it.  
Enjoy it now, to the fullest. Do what matters, now.”     
~ Leo Babauta

“Making Time for Reflection: Going on Retreat”

“Making Time for Reflection: Going on Retreat”
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOM

“Going on retreat can be a powerful way to process what is happening in your life. Giving ourselves time to reflect and heal can be a powerful way to process the things that are happening in our lives, and one of the best approaches to do this is by going on a retreat. Going on a retreat means that we have set the intention to heal and learn more about our spirit, and doing this is a decision that we make for ourselves.

Since everyone sees and experiences the world differently, it is important to choose a type of retreat that works best for us. Even though a friend or loved one may recommend something, we have to trust our intuition and select a path that really connects with what our soul needs most at the time. The most essential thing is to be willing to respect our unique stage of development and to be patient with ourselves since any thoughts or issues that arise are simply part of the process of healing. Just remembering that a retreat is an intense period of time where serious soul searching takes place can help us allow whatever may happen to us to fully unfold. Going on retreat may sound like a vacation, but most retreat experiences ask you to look deep inside of yourself, and sometimes this can be uncomfortable or stir the pot of our soul.

Putting our trust in the retreat process will make space for the necessary work we have to do, making it easier for our hearts and minds to explore wholly the innermost reaches of our soul. By paying attention to these messages, we pave the way for greater healing and transformation, since spending time in contemplation at a retreat will give us the gift of insight and understanding that we can use in all aspects of our daily lives.”

"How It Really Is"

"All Government..."

"All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are."
- H.L. Mencken

“Leaked U.S. Terrorist Watchlist Rulebook Reveals ‘Global Stop and Frisk Program’"

“Leaked U.S. Terrorist Watchlist Rulebook 
Reveals ‘Global Stop and Frisk Program’"
By Amy Goodman

“In an interview with Democracy Now!, investigative reporters Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux of The Intercept spoke about obtaining a leaked copy of a government guidebook, indicating that the Obama administration’s expansion of the national terrorist watchlist system. According to the book, "irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary" to be deemed a "terrorist" target. 

“What we have here is tantamount to a system that’s sort of like a global stop-and-frisk program,” Scahill explains, “because the standard for putting people on a list where they are going to be designated as known or suspected terrorists—the acronym is KST; you’re a KST, a known or suspected terrorist—and there’s no way of determining, if you’re a law enforcement official and you get this information, whether there’s actual evidence against someone to suggest that they’re involved with a terror plot or their phone number popped up in the phone of someone who is suspected of potentially being a terror suspect.”

Below is a transcript of the interview with Scahill and Devereaux:

AARON MATÉ: The Obama administration has expanded the national terrorist watchlist system by approving broad guidelines over who can be targeted. Reporting for The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux obtained the government’s secret watchlist from an intelligence source. The guidebook says that to be deemed a terrorist target, quote, "irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary." Both "known" and "suspected" suspects are tracked, and terrorism is so broadly defined, it includes people accused of damaging property belonging to the government or financial institutions. Other factors that can justify inclusion include postings on social media or having a relative already deemed a terrorist. The guidebook’s criteria also apply to the no-fly list and selectee list. In a statement, Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union said, quote, "Instead of a watchlist limited to actual, known terrorists... the government is secretly blacklisting people as suspected terrorists and giving them the impossible task of proving themselves innocent of a threat they haven’t carried out."

AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! invited the National Counterterrorism Center to join us on our program; they declined our request. A spokesperson sent us a statement that read in part: "Without speaking to the authenticity of the document referenced in the article, the watchlisting system is an important part of our layered defense to protect the United States against future terrorist attacks. Before an American may be included on a watchlist, additional layers of scrutiny are applied to ensure that the listing is appropriate," they said.

Well, for more, we’re joined by Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux of The Intercept. Their new article is headlined "The Secret Government Rulebook for Labeling You a Terrorist." Jeremy is also the producer and writer of the documentary film, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, and author of a book by the same name.

We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Jeremy, first, how did you get a hold of this book?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, we’re not going to discuss sources. Or, you know, the Obama administration likes to talk about sources and methods, and ironically now, journalists have to be very, very careful in protecting our sources and how we get information, so we’re not going to talk about the way that we got the document. But the document itself is something that has been fiercely and actively kept secret by the Obama administration, and the principles upon which this document is based were fiercely guarded, as well, by the Bush administration. In fact, Eric Holder went so far as to say, in a sworn affidavit in a court suit that was brought by an American citizen challenging their watchlisting status, that it’s a state secrets privilege covered, and that if this were to be released, it would provide a roadmap, essentially, for undermining the watchlisting system.

What we have here is tantamount to a system that’s sort of like a global stop-and-frisk program, because the standard for putting people on a list where they are going to be designated as known or suspected terrorists—the acronym is KST; you’re a KST, a known or suspected terrorist—and there’s no way of determining, if you’re a law enforcement official and you get this information, whether there’s actual evidence against someone to suggest that they’re involved with a terror plot or their phone number popped up in the phone of someone who is suspected of potentially being a terror suspect. The standard that they use to put people on this is what’s called "reasonable suspicion." We talked to former FBI agents, one of whom was a Los Angeles police officer for several decades, and he said, you know, "If I can’t find reasonable suspicion to stop anyone I want, then I’m not a good cop." And so, what they’re essentially doing is saying that if someone, not based on concrete facts or irrefutable evidence, but if someone within the intelligence community thinks someone is suspicious—maybe they’re posting something on Facebook, maybe they’re posting something on Twitter, that they think indicate that they have sympathies in favor of some sort of a jihadist group—let’s go ahead and designate them as a suspected terrorist.

Imagine what could happen, the implication of this, for all sorts of communities. But the way that Muslims, Arabs, Pakistanis, others in our society are targeted in this post-9/11 world, imagine if you are an Arab man and you have a beard, and you are driving your car in a rural community somewhere in the South in the United States, and you have a busted tail light, and a sheriff’s deputy pulls you over at night because of the busted tail light. The sheriff goes up, he takes your license, he goes back, and he runs it. He sees that he has someone that has been designated by the U.S. intelligence community as a known or suspected terrorist. What kind of danger is this individual going to be in now? And let’s say that it’s a case of mistaken identity, that he’s not actually a known or suspected terrorist, but he has the same name as someone, or his number popped up in someone else’s phone. The likelihood of that sheriff thinking he has a suicide bomber in the car is probably pretty high. And so, this could have real-life implications for the liberty and also life of people.

But in a broader sense, this designation can secretly be used in court proceedings. It can prevent you from getting employment. You can be designated as a representative of a terrorist organization, even if you are not affiliated with that terrorist organization. You can have a designation of being a part of a terrorist group, even if the U.S. government has not designated that group as a terrorist organization. The short of it is this, Amy: When you take the reasonable suspicion standard, which is like stop and frisk, where you say, "Oh, these kids look like they’re hanging out, up to no good. I’m going to go and frisk all of them right now," when you take that, and then you look at this wide-ranging definition of what constitutes terrorist activity, there is so much room open for massive violations of civil liberties.

The other component of this that Ryan and I discovered that I think bears a lot of scrutiny is that all of these principles, in this previously undisclosed watchlisting guidance, were shared in some form or another with at least—it’s 22 foreign governments, with a network of private contractors. The NCTC would not tell us the corporate entities that are given this information, nor would they tell us the foreign governments. Our government is sharing this information, including designating its own citizens as known or suspected terrorists, with all of these foreign states and with private entities, private contractors, and not sharing what amounts to a parallel shadow legal system where we’re not allowed to know the rules. We’re not allowed to know what it would be that we would do that would have our government secretly designate us as a known or suspected terrorist.

AARON MATÉ: Ryan, who decides the people that get on this list? And what are the implications for combating crime, having such broad criteria for inclusion?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: Well, the watchlisting community is composed, as Jeremy said, of foreign governments, private contractors, as well as a broad range of executive departments and agencies—obviously, CIA, FBI, you know, local law enforcement. All of them sort of work together to share information about people, known or suspected terrorists, and sort of disseminate that information broadly.

The law enforcement impacts and the counterterrorism impacts are actually really important to look at, because for years this system has been criticized in internal government reports, in the media, for gathering too much information, basically creating a haystack, a huge haystack, which makes it much more difficult to find the needle. So, basically, you have people within the watchlisting community complaining that they’re drowning in information. This is a criticism that’s surfaced again and again for years.

AMY GOODMAN: How many people are on the list?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: Well, it depends on what list you’re talking about. If you’re talking about the Terrorism Screening Database, which is the watchlist, it’s increased to several hundred thousand people over recent years. The TIDE database, which is the government’s largest repository for terrorism information—obviously, they keep these numbers secret—is much larger than the actual watchlist. And that information is kept classified.

AMY GOODMAN: The number, Jeremy, at the time of 9/11—


AMY GOODMAN: —on the list?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, just, yeah, to give you a sense of how much this has grown, there was no such thing as the no-fly list when 9/11 happened. There were 16 people that were designated what they called "no transport," meaning that they were going to be prevented from flying on aircraft in the United States or coming to the United States. There were 16 people on that list. And now it’s exploded, and it’s reached its highest point under President Obama.

So, if you sort of think of it, what Ryan was describing is an inverse pyramid. You have this classified database that has all sorts of fragmentary information on people. It could be phone intercepts. It could be text messages, metadata, identities of people from a wide range of sources, some of them clandestine. So, in other words, the CIA or the NSA has hacked into a system or has accessed a database. And they have all of this information in there. Then, from that, they drill it down to what is traditionally known as the watchlist, as Ryan said, the Terrorist Screening Database, the TSDB. And everyone on that list is what is considered to be watchlisted, and it’s well into the hundreds of thousands. Then you drill down from that, and you have a selectee list. And those are people—and this has happened to me repeatedly—who are pulled aside for additional screening at the airport. And then you have the actual no-fly list. And the U.S. government, it’s been years since they gave anything resembling hard statistics on how many people are in each of these databases.

But when you have that kind of an encounter, if you are stopped because you’re on one of these lists, and you’re pulled aside, one of the things that we discovered in this document is that the so-called screeners, the people that are going to encounter you, either in person or they have some kind of digital contact with you—you’re applying for a visa, you’re applying for federal employment, or you’re applying for a grant from USAID, which is one of the more scandalous sort of little nuggets in this piece, that USAID is part of the system feeding intelligence back to entities like the CIA, the NSA and others, that have to do with their grants that are supposedly about promoting democracy—you know, USAID has a long history of working as a front for the CIA, of course, but, you know, this part of it wasn’t known. And USAID confirmed to us that they do in fact participate in this program.

AMY GOODMAN: So, wait, explain what they would do.

JEREMY SCAHILL: So, someone goes in—I mean, this is according to what USAID also told us. I mean, in the document, it says that USAID has its own intelligence analysts that are stationed with the watchlisting community that is governing this whole system and that they are collecting data from people that are applying for grants, for contractors that they’re working with. I mean, of course they’re going to do diligence, you know, to make sure that the people that they’re giving grants to are not terrorists. I mean, there’s nothing scandalous about that. The idea, though, that USAID is then taking this information, that it gets from people who are applying for something having to do with, you know, agriculture in India, and then translating that into information that could be used to designate people as known or suspected terrorists, means that USAID is not some kind of impartial pro-democracy entity, that it’s actively engaged in a system of putting people on watchlists that are based on flimsy legal standards of evidence.

But the point I was getting at here is, among the items that can be copied, collected, noted are the condition of books in your car, whether they’re dog-eared and worn, are there notations in it; your E-ZPass; veterinary information, including the electronic chips in your pets; your health insurance information, your health cards. We’ve gone through and looked at this over and over. The message that’s sent to people who are so-called screeners is basically: There’s no such thing as the Fourth Amendment, if you have someone who’s on one of these lists. We want—take it all. Collect it all. I mean, this should be a scandal in Congress. The tea party should be up in arms about this for all that they’ve said about the TSA and, you know, Obama who’s like Chairman Mao in power. Where are they on this issue? Where are the tea party senators and congresspeople on the issue that we are essentially empowering a whole network of people, including private contractors, to actively violate our Fourth Amendment rights against illegal search and seizure.

RYAN DEVEREAUX: And one thing to add there—Jeremy’s talking about encounters here—while this system may not be perfect for countering terrorism, it’s very, very useful for creating situations in which law enforcement, in which FBI agents can have somebody who’s sitting in a room waiting to travel, waiting to get on their way, and they’re there. The FBI can now use this person as a potential informant and in an attempt to flip them. There was a huge report that came out last week about the FBI using informants for its counterterrorism cases. This sort of system creates situations in which people have to deal with law enforcement and have to face the governmnet.

AARON MATÉ: Well, in April, Democracy Now! spoke with Naveed Shinwari, one of the four American Muslims who filed a lawsuit accusing the FBI of unjustly placing them on the no-fly list and trying to coerce them to spy on their community. He explained what happened to him.

NAVEED SHINWARI: Late February of 2012, I got—I was trying to obtain a boarding pass in Dubai. My flight was from Kabul to Dubai and then to Houston. And I was denied boarding pass in Dubai. I was told that I had to go outside and meet with the immigration, U.S. immigrations, or the embassy, consulate. I had to obtain a temporary visa. And my mother and I, we went out, out of the airport. And then I was interrogated by two FBI agents for roughly about four hours, and I was told to—I was pressured to give them everything that I knew in order to go back home. And then they will—the more that I give them, the better chances of me coming back home that I had.

AARON MATÉ: That’s Naveed Shinwari speaking on Democracy Now! Ryan, in June, there was a court ruling saying that the no-fly list is unconstitutional.

RYAN DEVEREAUX: Yeah, and wholly ineffective. Basically, what the judge ruled here was that the process for getting off of these lists was unconstitutional and wholly ineffective, and that’s because there’s essentially no way for you to confirm whether you’re on a list, and the process by which you get off is done internally. You just basically submit a form through the Department of Homeland Security, and that’s bounced around within these agencies. Now, if there are multiple agencies who have contributed information on your file, then all of those agencies have to agree that you should be removed. And when you’re removed, you don’t get any notification whatsoever.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the threat-based upgrade, the TBU?

RYAN DEVEREAUX: Yeah, this was one of the most striking elements of this guidance, to us, in reviewing it. Basically, the threat-based upgrade is an amazing power vested in a senior White House administration official who has not been elected to their position, and it affords that official the authority to upgrade the watchlisting status of an entire category of people for up to 72 hours without any—without conferring with any of their peers. And then that upgrade can be continued for another 30 days upon review by a circle—Obama’s basically inner circle. And that upgrade can continue on a sort of rolling status. It can be renewed until the intelligence community determines that whatever threat is out there, whatever threat that they’ve detected, is gone. Now, we asked the government about what constitutes a category, but we were given no information. We do know that this has been used, though, and it seemed to be directed at people from a given area, of a certain age range.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Like military-age males in Yemen. It’s worth pointing out, too, you know, one of the greatest, unelected, non-Senate-confirmed power grabs in recent American history was enacted by John Brennan. John Brennan—when Obama was first elected, he wanted Brennan to be the CIA director. And some Democrats actually had a spine back then and said, you know, "Because of his involvement in the Bush torture apparatus and some of his positions on torture and other things, we’re going to hold up that nomination." So they created a post specifically for John Brennan, so that he could effectively serve as the czar in charge of all of these policies, when it came to counterterrorism, homeland security and others, and basically was running the show. He became, you know, the drone kingpin and all of these things. This position was created essentially by John Brennan for John Brennan, this threat-based upgrade, so he then gave himself, because he was in charge of doing the watchlisting guidance and coordinating it—he gave himself this power to just unilaterally upgrade an entire category of people. I mean, and as Ryan said, we tried to understand how they define "category" in this, and they wouldn’t say to us. The best that we have on the record is Pete Williams of NBC News, in a follow-up story about this—

AMY GOODMAN: Former spokesperson for the Pentagon.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Former spokesperson for the Pentagon, right, Pete Williams. But he actually did a pretty solid report on this, and he—it’s a minor note in his story, but he’s the one who said, the specific example, that it could be males of a certain age from a certain area of Yemen. So, and as Ryan said, there is nothing democratic about this process at all. Courts are not involved with this. There is no review of your watchlist status by an outside body. It’s all internal oversight.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we have 30 seconds. How do you get off of this list, if you’re constantly stopped, if you understand you’re on this list?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, if you would ask the government, they would say, "Well, we have this thing called the DHS TRIP program, and if you think that you may be on this list, you submit it. And trust us. We’ll review it, and if your status is inappropriate, you’re not going to get stopped anymore in the airport." In reality, it’s almost impossible to get off of this list. I mean, I don’t want to talk about future reporting that Ryan and I are doing, but we’re staying on this beat, and we’ve learned information that indicates that even if you think you’re removed from the list, you may end up on another part of the list. I mean, once you get sucked into the vortex of the watchlisting system, it’s almost impossible to come back up for air. You’re stuck.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux, thank you so much, staff reporters with The Intercept. Their new article, "The Secret Government Rulebook for Labeling You a Terrorist."