August 13, 2014

Author and journalist James Bamford recently gained unprecedented access to NSA leaker Edward Snowden, whose temporary asylum in Russia was just extended for three more years. The result is a thorough, exclusive interview published in the September issue of Wired.

According to Bamford, a gaunt-looking Snowden is taking great pains to evade his NSA and CIA pursuers. He limits his contact with outsiders, avoids American-trafficked areas in Russia, and switches computers and email accounts constantly. During their meetings, Bamford wasn't allowed to bring his iPhone because he was warned that "a cell phone can easily be turned into an NSA microphone" even when it is turned off. Despite such vigilance, Snowden believes it's only a matter of time before he is caught. "I'm going to slip up and they're going to hack me. It's going to happen," he says.

But Snowden isn't afraid of jail time, he claims, "so long as it was for the right purpose." He adds, "I care more about the country than what happens to me. But we can't allow the law to become a political weapon or agree to scare people away from standing up for their rights, no matter how good the deal. I'm not going to be part of that."

Perhaps the most interesting revelations in Bamford's article, however, are about the final events that pushed Snowden to become a leaker. In the spring of 2013, Snowden learned of an NSA program called MonsterMind that hunted for the beginnings of foreign cyber attacks. Unlike similar, competing software, MonsterMind would automatically fire back, with no human involvement. That was a problem for Snowden, Bamford writes:

In addition to the possibility of accidentally starting a war, Snowden views MonsterMind as the ultimate threat to privacy because, in order for the system to work, the NSA first would have to secretly get access to virtually all private communications coming in from overseas to people in the U.S. "The argument is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we're analyzing all traffic flows," he says. "And if we're analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time." [Wired]

Read Bamford's complete interview at Wired. Lauren Hansen

10:19 a.m.

Bernie Madoff, the former Wall Street financier who was convicted of carrying out a massive Ponzi scheme, died in prison on Wednesday morning at age 82, a Bureau of Prisons spokesperson told The Daily Beast.

Madoff was carrying out his sentence at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, due to a terminal kidney disease. His death was of natural causes, The Associated Press reports, and is not believed to be COVID-19 related. In 2009, Madoff pleaded guilty and admitted to "swindling thousands of clients out of billions of dollars in investments over decades," writes AP. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Madoff said he was "deeply sorry and ashamed."

His scheme, considered the largest in U.S. history, nabbed an estimated $17.5 million from investors, and "around $13 billion has been recovered since his conviction," reports The Daily Beast. The Week Staff

9:31 a.m.

U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario has filed a lawsuit alleging two Virginia police officers violated his constitutional rights and assaulted him following a traffic stop in December.

As it turns out, the 27-year-old Nazario, who is Black and Latino, was related to Eric Garner, the Black man who died in Staten Island in 2014 after an officer placed him a chokehold. Garner's last words were, infamously, "I can't breathe."

Nazario called Garner his uncle, The Washington Post notes, though their exact relation, aside from sharing a cousin, is unclear. He also grew up around the corner from Garner's mother, Gwen Carr, in Brooklyn.

After Garner's death, their mutual cousin told Nazario the news and reportedly reminded him that if he was ever confronted by a police officer, he needed to "stay calm, comply, never make them feel threatened," the Post writes. As footage captured by Nazario's phone and the officers' body cameras suggests, Nazario did just that during the arrest despite the escalating situation. Carr told the Post she believes that composure and Nazario's decision to drive to a well-lit area, while unable to spare him from drawn guns and pepper spray, kept him alive. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

9:05 a.m.

Colton Underwood, former star of The Bachelor, has come out as gay in an emotional interview on Good Morning America.

Underwood, who was the star of the hit reality show's 23rd season in 2019 after previously being a contestant on The Bachelorette, opened up in a conversation with ABC's Robin Roberts that aired on Wednesday, revealing he "came to terms" with his sexuality earlier this year.

"I've ran from myself for a long time," he said. "I've hated myself for a long time."

Underwood told Roberts he struggled with thoughts of suicide and that it was a "wake-up call" when he got to a "dark" place where he "would have rather died than say I'm gay." Looking back on his time on the show, Underwood said he wishes he hadn't "dragged people into my own mess of figuring out who I was." He apologized to the women who were contestants during his season, including winner Cassie Randolph. They ended their relationship in 2020, with Randolph filing for a restraining order against Underwood that she later dropped.

"I loved everything about her," he said. "It's hard for me to articulate exactly what my emotions were in going through that relationship with her was because I obviously had an internal fight going on."

Opening up further about struggling with his sexuality, Underwood revealed that when he was cast on The Bachelor, he thanked God "for making me straight" after being raised Catholic and taught that being gay was a sin. But since coming out, Underwood said he's received "love" and "support" from his friends and family, so much so that he wishes he would have had more "faith" in them before.

"I'm emotional, but I'm emotional in such a good, happy, positive way," Underwood said. "I'm the happiest and healthiest I've ever been in my life, and that means the world to me." Brendan Morrow

7:58 a.m.

It seems recent reports about Sylvester Stallone joining former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club may not have been rock solid.

The Rocky star has shot down reports that he recently became a member of Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, writing on Instagram, "I would like to say to everyone that this never happened. This is just not true. It NEVER ever happened."

It had previously been reported by Page Six that Stallone was at Trump's club last month after he bought an estate nearby, with a source claiming to the outlet, "Sly just became a member of Mar-a-Lago." That quickly drew backlash on the left, with George Takei simply tweeting, "Seriously?"

It sounds like Stallone really was at Mar-a-Lago recently, as his representative told The Hollywood Reporter he was there for a fundraising dinner, and "from that event it was mistakenly assumed that he was there as a member."

But the representative added that Rocky himself is "officially not a member of the Mar-a-Lago Club," as he "did not join the organization" or "pay initiation dues." He is, however, a member of the Breakers Club in Palm Beach. So there you have it. Stallone while denying the reports wrote on Instagram that he means "no disrespect to anyone," adding — in a phase that could probably use a comma — "so keep punching folks." Brendan Morrow

7:57 a.m.

While India, parts of South America, and other areas of the world are experiencing another wave of COVID-19, the U.S. appears to be treading water with new cases and continuing a downward trend in deaths. According to The Washington Post's tracker, the seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths was 765 on Tuesday, a slight uptick from the weekend but a rate last seen Oct. 20. A running count by economist Patrick Chovanec put Tuesday's seven-day average at 748, the lowest rate since Oct. 17.

While deaths have declined 2 percent in the past week, hospitalizations rose 2.6 percent and new cases were up 11 percent, the Post reports. And some parts of the U.S., notably Michigan, are faring much worse, with per capita cases up 18 percent to a new high and deaths rising 32 percent.

Overall, 563,449 Americans have died from COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. And 122.3 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including 75.3 million people — or 23 percent of the U.S. population — fully vaccinated. Peter Weber

6:20 a.m.

President Biden isn't exactly coated in political Teflon, but he's "well regarded by voters" and "even Donald Trump, the Triumph the Insult Comic Dog of electoral politics, has had troubles landing a punch," Sam Stein writes at Tuesday's Politico Nightly. "His latest nickname for the president — 'Saintly Joe Biden' — was debuted to donors over the weekend. It was meant as derisive … we think."

But the bigger concern for the Republican Party, and a future Trump restoration campaign, is the lack of any real "grassroots movement emerging to confront the White House," Stein reports, noting that the Tea Party was already in full swing at this point in Barack Obama's presidency. "Biden’s perceived benignness — the difficulty in actually getting people to despise the guy" — is one reason, he argues, but the other big factor is Trump himself.

Proto-Tea Partier former Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) and other Republicans told Politico that "a movement like the Tea Party emerges when people galvanize around ideas. When they galvanize around an individual, they're really just waiting for that individual to act or guide them. Put another way: While the Tea Party exploited a GOP leadership vacuum in 2009, there is a need for a vacuum in 2021." And "that may very well be the gift that Trump has given Biden," Stein said. "As the former president sits in Mar-a-Lago, plotting his next move, he has brought stasis to the Republican Party." Read more at Politico. Peter Weber

5:27 a.m.

"In the last few months, we've gotten all sorts of vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Montero — but for at least a little while, it looks like there's gonna be one less," Trevor Noah said on Tuesday's Daily Show. "The FDA has temporarily halted the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while they look into six cases of rare blood clots in people who got that vaccine." And sure, "you don't want the vaccine for one disease to give you another disease," he said, but "you're more likely to get struck by lightning 10 times" than get blood clots from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Noah listed dangerous symptoms of COVID-19, including, yes, blood clots.

The odds of getting blood clots from the Johnson & Johnson shot is "less than one in a million," Stephen Colbert said at The Late Show. "To put that in perspective, it's slightly better odds than you have of getting to visit Willy Wonka's Fantabulous Chocolate Factory — which, for the record, kills or maims four out of the five children who set foot inside." He also caught up on the latest Matt Gaetz troubles — the only "feel-good story on the news horizon," he deadpanned — and tried to dissuade Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson from running for president.

The FDA and CDC are only "recommending a 'pause'" in Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, though "anyone who's ever been dumped was like 'Oh boy, we know what pause means,'" Jimmy Fallon joked on The Tonight Show. "Johnson & Johnson is owned by the same family who owns the New York Jets, so don't think of this as a pause, think of it more like a 50-year rebuild. And today if you had a Johnson & Johnson appointment in New York, they gave out Pfizer instead. Yeah, it's like going to a restaurant and hearing, 'We're out of Coke, is Dom Pérignon okay?'"

"I blame the second Johnson — he never graduated high school," Jimmy Kimmel said on Kimmel Live. "But now the White House is scrambling to restore confidence in vaccines. Public trust is already a major obstacle to achieving herd immunity, so what does this setback mean?" Well, "six out of 7 million means getting the vaccine is safer than not getting the vaccine," he said. "You got it? Then get it."

Well, Lin-Manuel Miranda is still going to get his shot, The Late Show sang.

Late Night's Seth Meyers regretted not making that same Hamilton joke. Peter Weber

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