RealClearInvestigations Newsletters: RCI Today

RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week

RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week
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RealClearInvestigations' Picks of the Week
November 14 to November 20, 2021

Featured Investigation:
You Too Can Enlist Your Own Cyber-Thief.
But Better Watch Your Pockets.

The dark art of cybercrime is now being offered as a service readily available to you at a click. But it comes with a caveat to the crooked emptor -- the real target for these hackers is often the people who hire them. At RealClearInvestigations, John F. Wasik reports on the booming market for professional “black hat” cybercriminals, the risks to their clients, and the ethical “white hats” combatting them:

  • Big Brother is now a vast array of anonymous, third-party entrepreneurs and gangs thriving in a world in which nearly everyone is connected – and preyed upon.
  • Experts say the pandemic, remote work, and e-commerce have created countless opportunities for such mischief.
  • Once confined to the dark web, “black hat” hackers -- often run by sophisticated criminal networks -- now hang their shingles up in plain sight online.
  • One study shows that a third of cybercrimes in the U.S. last year, victimizing over 240,000 people, involved “phishing” and “pharming,” where cyberthieves use false identities to steal personal information like bank and credit card data.
  • But hackers for hire frequently offer a menu of other nefarious services, including shutting down networks and ransomware.
  • “Maybe 90% -- closer to 100% -- of these services are trying to get money out of you and prey on people,” says a security consultant.
  • Businesses are increasingly hiring ethical “white hat” hackers -- some of them reformed “black hats” -- for protection.


Featured Investigation:
With Rogue Juror, Opioid Plaintiffs Face
New Setback Most Foul

Plaintiffs could be headed for a new setback in litigation against drug makers and pharmacies over the nation's opioid scourge, Eric Felten reports for RealClearInvestigations. Only this time the problem may be less a controversial legal theory than a freelance Miss Marple on the jury.

Felten reports:

  • In Cleveland, jury deliberations began in a case pitting two Ohio counties against Walgreens, Walmart, and CVS. 
  • But during the trial, a member of the unsequestered jury decided to do a bit of digging on her own for jurors' edification -- in a manner that recalled Agatha Christie's famous amateur detective.
  • That was against the judge's explicit instructions.
  • But once the judge found out, he did not declare a mistrial.
  • Now the case faces multiple chances for reversal, thanks in part to the rogue juror.
  • Another big problem: The "public nuisance" legal theory that plaintiffs are using against the drug business. It has been rejected in previous litigation, with pharmacies arguing not only that there's nothing illegal about filling prescriptions, but state laws require them to do so.


Biden, Trump and the Beltway

FBI Tracks Parent Threats vs. Educators 
Wall Street Journal
During an Oct. 21 House Judiciary Committee hearing, Attorney General Merrick Garland faced questioning about a memo his office released calling for the FBI and other federal authorities to coordinate with their state and local counterparts to address purported threats against public school officials. The memo came in response to a letter from the National School Board Association (NSBA) claiming a slew of threats against, among others, school board members. The NSBA letter equated those threats with “domestic terrorism,” and called on the DOJ and other federal agencies to use powers up to and including the Patriot Act to combat them. AG Garland told Congress: “I can’t imagine any circumstance in which the Patriot Act would be used in the circumstances of parents complaining about their children, nor can I imagine a circumstance where they would be labeled as domestic terrorism.” Subsequently, we learned the NSBA had coordinated with the White House prior to drafting that letter. The NSBA would later recant it. But before that, according to an FBI whistleblower who leaked to House Republicans, the FBI sprang into action, suggesting AG Garland may have misled Congress. According to this article, in response to the attorney general’s memo, a day before he gave seemingly conflicting testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, the FBI sent a communication detailing it had created a process to track threats against school-board members and teachers -- in response to AG Garland’s directive. Quote:

The heads of the FBI’s criminal and counterterrorism divisions instructed agents in an Oct. 20 memo to flag all assessments and investigations into potentially criminal threats, harassment and intimidation of educators with a “threat tag,” which the officials said would allow them to evaluate the scope of the problem.

The internal email asks FBI agents to consider the motivation behind any criminal activity and whether it potentially violates federal law. Agents should tag such threats “EDUOFFICIALS” to better track them, according to the memo, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

“The purpose of the threat tag is to help scope this threat on a national level, and provide an opportunity for comprehensive analysis of the threat picture for effective engagement with law enforcement partners at all levels,” says the email signed by Timothy Langan, the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism, and Calvin Shivers, the assistant director of the bureau’s criminal division, who retired this month.


In a related piece at City Journal, Christopher F. Rufo reports on the counter-backlash against parents by authorities, as reflected by the above FBI directive. Rufo writes:

School boards have always attracted their share of controversies: disagreements over curriculum, bitter election fights, and personality clashes. But in recent months, as parents express their frustration over Covid lockdowns, mask mandates, and critical race theory, local school districts and federal law enforcement have upped the ante by monitoring parents, requesting undercover agents at school board meetings, and even arresting parents who attend board meetings to express dissent.

The piece details efforts to pursue parents critical of school policies and officials from Round Rock, Texas, to Loudoun County, Va.

More Biden, Trump and the Beltway

Likely Pork for 13 Defecting House Republicans USA Today
Biden Far-Left Banking Nominee a Shoplifter in '95 Free Beacon
Swiss Billionaire Behind Bankroll of Biden Climate Push Free Beacon
Kamala Harris' Rocky Start as VP CNN


Other Noteworthy Articles and Series

FBI's New Jimmy Hoffa-NJ Landfill Burial Theory
New York Times
The disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, a mystery that has gripped the American imagination for half a century on its ascent to national folklore, is the subject of a new FBI investigation centered on the site of a former landfill in Jersey City. A worker, on his deathbed, said he buried the body of the labor leader underground in a steel drum. This article reports on the myriad failed leads regarding Hoffa’s burial site, why this one is so promising, and how it originated – beginning with a curious scene a teenage landfill worker witnessed back in the summer of 1975 at a work site with his father, who would allegedly oversee the burial.

The new lead is bolstered by records showing that the F.B.I. received tips as far back as 1975, immediately following his disappearance, that Mr. Hoffa was buried in the landfill in Jersey City. Agents searched and, finding nothing, wrote off the tips.

In another story of new revelations concerning the murder of a prominent public figure, this article reports on the overturned convictions two of the men found guilty of the assassination of Malcolm X.

A 22-month investigation conducted jointly by the Manhattan district attorney’s office and lawyers for the two men found that prosecutors and two of the nation’s premier law enforcement agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York Police Department — had withheld key evidence that, had it been turned over, would likely have led to the men’s acquittal.

The two men, known at the time of the killing as Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson, spent decades in prison for the murder, which took place on Feb. 21, 1965, when three men opened fire inside the crowded Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan as Malcolm X was starting to speak.


Coronavirus Investigations

The Lab Leak Fiasco: Media Enforced Falsehoods 
Why did the media make the Wuhan lab leak theory a censorship-worthy iconspiracy theory? This article traces the plight of the lab leak thesis -- from plausible in late January 2020 to utterly outrageous just days later -- to the media’s warped coverage of remarks by Sen. Tom Cotton. Leading outlets conflated the Arkansas Republican's raising of the potential of a lab leak with the idea that the virus had emerged as part of a Chinese bioweapons program. Then the bioweapons theory was tied to a hated figure on the left, Steve Bannon -- daisy chaining it ultimately to President Trump, discrediting a lab leak when he and administration officials raised it. The story connects the media’s original about-face on lab leak to its favorable tone towards China more broadly, born of both economics and politics. It also focuses on the media’s postive coverage of Peter Daszak, the head of EcoHealth Alliance, which received taxpayer dollars to conduct research on coronaviruses with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology that according to recent disclosures look a lot like potentially dangerous gain-of-function work. Daszak was elevated in the media after organizing and signing the ...

… now-infamous Lancet letter of February 2020 signed by 27 scientists, which stated, “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that covid-19 does not have a natural origin.” [The letter failed to disclose Daszak and almost every other signatories’ ties to the Wuhan institute.] 

… For Daszak, The Lancet letter was only the opening salvo in a yearlong media campaign in which the EcoHealth Alliance head would become an Ahmed Chalabi-like presence, leading the media with claims of evidence of zoonotic spillover …

While Daszak was promoted by the media, those with views about lab leak that diverged from Daszak’s were consistently ignored. For example, on topics related to public health, lockdowns, virus transmission, and vaccines, The New York Times had previously cited Stanford microbiologist David Relman at least 20 times, Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch at least 64 times, and Yale immunobiologist Akiko Iwasaki at least 67 times. But it did not turn to any of these experts—all of whom were in favor of exploring the lab leak hypothesis—on the question of the virus’s origins. By contrast, in 2020 Peter Daszak was cited by the Times at least a dozen times as an authority on the virus’s origins.

With Daszak leading the way, the media successfully couched lab leak as a conspiracy theory with roots in Trumpian politics, environmental denialism, and anti-Chinese sentiment. Together, these formed what we might call Daszak’s triangle, a mental model that made lab leak a social and political impossibility for anyone who did not want to be branded as an anti-science, right-wing xenophobe. Conversely, the “correct” (as distinct from “true”) theory of the pandemic’s origins was tied to animal spillover through the well-accepted notion of catastrophic environmental damage caused by human greed.

The article concludes that the false narrative around the pandemic’s origins” may have “represented a tipping point—a comprehensive failure in journalistic quality and mores in a time of national emergency, caused in large part by an overconcentration of corporate power in media, decades of economic and technological turbulence, and a disturbingly supine approach to an authoritarian hegemon.”

How Hospitals Hid Evidence of Covid-19’s Toll 
The Intercept
An investigation by The Intercept reveals that in the first months of the pandemic, only a small number of the more than 6,000 hospitals in the U.S. let journalists inside — and when access was permitted, it was usually limited to a short time span. The upshot, this article reports, is that most hospitals, citing safety and privacy concerns, turned themselves into vaults that hid the strongest evidence of the virus’s lethality. Doors were shut so firmly that an award-winning documentarian even gave up on his effort to film in the U.S. and instead made his documentary about a country where he could get access to covid patients: China. More questionably, the article opines that because hospitals “hid the human devastation in the pandemic’s early days, when opinions and policies were indelibly shaped,” this contributed to America’s death toll. “The Covid-19 pandemic began as a mass censorship event,” the article asserts.

How Vaccination Discord Split One American Family
Washington Post
In a classic of two genres -- the first exploring political and cultural rifts exposed when families get together during the holiday season, and the second taking an anthropological look at flyover country America -- this piece profiles the divide of a West Virginia family over vaccination:

Her text messages with links to medical research had gone unanswered. Her halting pleas at the kitchen table had failed. And by the time Laurel Haught pulled into her driveway to find her daughter Sam’s car newly adorned with an Infowars bumper sticker, she could only conclude that her campaign to persuade her child to get the coronavirus vaccine was going nowhere.

Laurel was vaccinated. Sam was not. They lived together, along with Laurel’s vaccinated husband and Sam’s unvaccinated boyfriend, in a tumbledown chalet above an artificial lake outside Charleston. It was a home with creaking floorboards, bulging photo albums and a fireplace that had burned through three decades of Thanksgiving nights and Christmas mornings. It was a home the Haughts had always cherished, and it was about to come apart.

“Y’all got to move out,” Laurel, then 57, told her daughter. But Sam, then 32, appealed to her father, who didn’t share his wife’s alarm about the risk of contracting the virus. The eviction was overruled. So Laurel decided there was only one thing left to do: She moved out herself.

She drove just eight miles away, finding refuge with another daughter, this one inoculated. But across that short distance was a rift that is dividing households across America.

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