Crossing Russia Off My Travel Plans: Thoughts on MH 17 and the Current Situation in Russia

I started my first lawsuit against the TSA almost 4 years ago because the TSA had infringed on something I love: the ability to get up, take yourself to an airport, and hours later end up anywhere in the world. Only perhaps 60 years ago was this feat impossible for the average person, and it is truly a gift that we can do so today. When the TSA conditioned that gift upon acceptance of government-sponsored sexual assault, I found it revolting and pushed back with everything I had.

Last week, for me at least, the ability to travel the world has shrank just a bit more. As best one can tell based on the evidence we’ve seen, rebels in the Ukraine armed and supported by Russia were provided with a surface-to-air missile system which they did not know how to use. While targeting what they thought was a military plane, these Russian-sponsored militants accidentally shot down a Boeing 777 passenger plane, killing nearly 300 innocent people from all over the world.

Russia is unapologetic, refusing to admit (while also failing to deny) that it provided the means to the people responsible for this tragedy. It has annexed a part of a sovereign nation, and stands ready to seize any opportunity to take over the remainder of the Ukraine (a possibility that now seems less likely due to the increased international attention brought upon Russia as a result of MH 17). And while I’m not happy about many of the things that are going on in my own government — from NSA spying to rampant police thuggery, a Congress that does nothing except when it is bought, and a President who thinks he is above the law (yes, the last president thought he was above the law, too) — the internal situation in Russia is heading from bad to worse. Reports of restrictions on free speech, criminalizing homosexuality, and violently silencing political opponents threaten to take Russia back to the olden days of Soviet oppression.

Sadly, I love Russian culture. I’ve been to Russia four times in the last 6 years (and the Ukraine several more), I’ve learned a good amount of the Russian language, made many Russian friends, and have absolutely loved my time in that country. But, the downing of MH 17 makes it impossible to ignore that Russia is not a safe place and that much of the leadership of Russia intends to do bad things to both their own countrymen and anyone who has anything that they want. With disappointment, I cross Russia off of the list of places I’m planning to travel until Russia decides to return to being a good citizen. I hope that as, one by one, people, companies, and countries stop doing business with Russia, they will eventually see that there is more to gain by being a contributor to the world than a taker.

28 thoughts on “Crossing Russia Off My Travel Plans: Thoughts on MH 17 and the Current Situation in Russia

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  1. Well Jonathan, I understand your concerns about the absence of democracy in Russia. However, Vlad is not so bad. When you consider that the prime minister of the Ukraine, who attained power by deposing the previous corrupt and evil premier of Ukraine, made one of his first acts in office the issuing of a proclamation that those calling for rule by Russia should be ‘severely punished’. No wonder Vlad became alarmed. Ukraine is an adjacent territory, like Mexico is for you. How would you respond if the Mexican leader started issuing official threats threat those who sought ties with the USA were to be ‘severely punished’? Yes, the plane was shot down illegally by self appointed militia who are poorly trained and have a code of discipline which real military professionals find, um, amusing. Yes, that is to some extent Vlad’s responsibility. But what if Mexican drug rebels shot down a Russian aircraft using US made hardware? Would your shit for brains Doofus O’Hamburger own responsibility? Yes, Vlad has women flogged with wire in the streets by Cossacks. But US police have just started arresting people for growing vegetables in their gardens, because they infringe local by laws. In fact US police are mostly brutish thugs who operate to maintain their power regardless of rule of law, which has been dismantled, if youtube clips are anything to go by. I think Vlad should nuke the US for being such Doofus Hamburger hypocrites. Finally, Russia is not and never has been a democracy and it makes no claims to be. The US is a mean and spiteful childbeating Islamo-Christian police theocracy where bureaucracy, big business, vested interests and criminals in the government ensure that in actuality, it is no longer a democracy and rule of law has been replaced by your favourite word – assholery. Please, stop your arrogant insistence that the US is the good guy, its nonsense. Before casting missiles put your own house in order. Please put your Doofus Hamburger away. The US could lead by example, theoretically, but as an Islamo-Christian childbeating police theocracy, the sooner it shuts up about other countries the better.

      1. Order your own house first. Doofus O’Hamburger is a murderer also. What an earth are you doing in your thinking, Jonathan? America is not a democracy, your leaders do terrible things and the ninny childbeating islamochristian population suck it up gladly. What’s with the ‘full stop’? Is that supposed to give your terse comment some kind of emphatic authority? Because it doesn’t, it just makes you sound like a politician. Your argument is untenable: blaming Vlad for being a murderer is fine if you put your own leaders in the same basket of shit, but if you are singling him out as being more worthy of censure because he’s more evil then you are just part of the general assholery of US imperialism – “we are right because we are the good guys”. You have lost your impartiality and your rationality here, boy. What is the US doing in Pakistan with drones? How many women and children have you murdered?

        1. Sorry, no. American leadership has a ton of problems and I can respect your criticism of my country, but we do not murder political opposition as the Russian leadership does. He is absolutely “more worthy of censure” than anyone in the American government.

          Your comment was that “Vlad is not so bad.” Again, you are saying that a murderer is “not so bad” — think about that for a second. This remark invalidates any credibility your comment may have had because you show your inability to distinguish those who lead a country’s military policy in a way that is undesirable with someone who kills those who disagree with him, and this is why any reasonable reader would make a “full stop” at that sentence.

          Put another way, in America, I can speak out against — indeed, publicly humiliate — the TSA without fearing for my life. In Russia, I could not do the same. *That* is the difference.

          1. As far as you know Hamburger Doofus doesn’t murder his political opponents. What proof do you actually have about Vlad’s murder victims? Also, are you advocating retaliation on the basis that Vlad might be a murderer? You did that in Iraq and look where its got you. You need to pull your horns in and be a bit humble, you are not the policemen of the world, its not your place to impose your moral values on others. Vlad moans a bit but he does not threaten you. He does not park his warships off the coast of Mexico. I repeat my question – how many women and children have your drones murdered in Pakistan? Was it 300 or 3000? I forget now?

          2. Are you intending to go to war with Russia on the basis of your belief that the Impaler murders his political opponents? I do not distinguish in any degree between the shit you have in the White House and the shit they have in the Kremlin. It all stinks. To argue that because your country isn’t so bad, you therefore have the moral right to apply sanctions to try and force Russia to be less bad, is an example of the witless ninnyhood which has made a once great nation intensely disliked and feared throughout the world. And, I think you are seriously mistaken about less bad, I think the US does terrible things, it murders women and children without, apparently, a qualm. You have made no response to this charge, perhaps because there is no response you can make. I am aware of the details of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. I have not seen any hard evidence although I would be unsurprised if the Impaler were the source. I could not in all conscience use that as a basis for applying sanctions or going to war. There are a number of instances of US politicians and or senior administrators who came to a sticky end with causes unknown, I seem to recall. That certainly has been the case in the UK also. My assessment remains the same: Put your own house in order first!

          3. > Are you intending to go to war with Russia

            Reading comprehension, Jack. No one ever suggested anything about war. I’m simply saying I will not personally be traveling to Russia until they stop their oppressive tactics.

          4. You’re not going to war, no, but what about your potty president and of course, the potty Eu, both pots calling the kettle black. They and presumably you personally, want to punish Vlad for being more bad. The US (and its millions of people who make the mistake in perception that you’re making) has made this kind of mistake too many times for sanity. There was Vietnam, the Gulf wars and the eventual ignominious surrender (“negotiated terms”) to the Taliban after tens of thousands of civilian deaths, Iraq where the whole world knows that if Hussein had been left in power there would have been at least no car bombings. And then of course the actual quality of life for ordinary people in the USA who are in fear of the police – there are many, exact number unknown, who have been detained under so called terror laws and who have no right to a trial, or to legal help and no means of ascertaining even the reason for their detention. There have been claims of torture. Have you thought maybe you would be safer somewhere else, that the US uses “oppressive tactics”?


  2. The corrupt U.S. Government also ‘refuses to admit and fails to deny’ that it has ‘annexed a sovereign people’ by subjugating the life, liberty, and property of U.S. Citizens to the whims of the criminal TSA and DHS agencies. The U.S. Congress is just as corrupt as any former Russian regime.

    1. Indeed so. The US is a nation of corrupt individuals, not necessarily in the financial sense, but also Americans are personally dishonest in their relationships in families and institutions, they lie to themselves and to others sometimes unconsciously sometimes in fearful awareness. The lie has become so pervasive that social truth no longer exists even as a perception. America is small, it has fallen to its own weakness and lies. How ignorant then are those calling for retaliation of some kind against Vlad?

  3. I has a letter from Vlad. He asked me to pass it on to TSAOOOP. Here is what he said:

    “OK, I’m bad, I torture people, I eliminate the opposition, I don’t like gays, I crack down on free speech. The USA does all these things, so what exactly is it I’m doing that you want me to stop because you don’t do it? Or maybe, its because I don’t do things the same way exactly as you do. Perhaps I should send drones to Dearborn and get rid of a few troublesome counter- jihadists for you. Maybe then you’d accept me as no worse than you. I mean Islam hangs gay people, and you really suck up to Islam, so would you like me to appoint an Islamist to supervise the Gay Affairs Directorate? Anything I can do to help, I’m here for you,

    Vladimir XXXX

  4. More than 20,000 Americans who have links to terrorism. At least 800 of them are being prevented from flying on planes.

    The numbers were reported by the investigative online magazine The Intercept, which obtained classified documents pertaining to the government’s Terrorist Screening Database. That database includes names of 680,000 people, mostly foreign residents, who have been placed on watch lists. But more than 40% of those on the list have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation,” according to the documents, making it unclear why the government has to keep an eye on them.

    “You might as well have a blue wand and just pretend there’s magic in it, because that’s what we’re doing with this—pretending that it works,” former FBI agent Michael German, now a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, said of the database. “These agencies see terrorism as a winning card for them. They get more resources. They know that they can wave that card around and the American public will be very afraid and Congress and the courts will allow them to get away with whatever they’re doing under the national security umbrella.”

    The documents “reveal that the Obama Administration has presided over an unprecedented expansion of the terrorist screening system. Since taking office, Obama has boosted the number of people on the no fly list more than ten-fold, to an all-time high of 47,000—surpassing the number of people barred from flying under George W. Bush,” The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux reported.

    The databases just keep growing, at a rate of 900 entries per day, with either new people or updates to other files, they found.

  5. One million people are on watchlists, but all travelers are being watched:

    A million people around the world were listed in the US government’s “Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment” (TIDE) as of August 2013, of whom 680,000 were included in the “Terrorist Screening Database” (TSDB), according to a classified breakdown of watchlist entries and uses published today by The Intercept.

    Two weeks ago, The Intercept made public the US government’s watchlisting/witchhunting manual. Now the same publication from the aptly named First Look Media has provided a first look at how many people are affected by “watchlisting” practices, and who these people are.

    (Ironically, these revelations come at the same time that the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) is advertising “Watchlisting” jobs.)

    The internal government documents published by The Intercept categorize TSDB entries by “group affiliation”, rather than by what (if any) threat these people are believed to pose. But 280,000 of the 680,000 people listed in the TSDB were described as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation”.

    Of the entries on the watchlists in the TSDB, 47,000 were on the no-fly list, and 16,000 were on the “selectee” list of people subjected to more intrusive “screening” whenever they fly. Five thousand “US persons” (US citizens and permanent residents or green-card holders) were on watchlists, including 800 on the no-fly list and 1,200 on the “selectee” list.

  6. TSA Checkpoint Systems Found Exposed On The Net:

    Black Hat USA — A Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) system at airport security checkpoints contains default backdoor passwords, and one of the devices running at the San Francisco Airport was sitting on the public Internet.

    Renowned security researcher Billy Rios, who is director of threat intelligence at Qualys, Wednesday here at Black Hat USA gave details on security weaknesses he discovered in both the Morpho Detection Itemiser 3 trace-explosives and residue detection system, and the Kronos 4500 time clock system used by TSA agents to clock in and out with their fingerprints, which could allow an attacker to easily gain user access to the devices.

    Device vendors embed hardcoded passwords for their own maintenance or other technical support.

    Rios found some 6,000 Kronos time clock systems open on the public Internet, two of which belonged to US airports. The time clock system at San Francisco International Airport has since be taken offline from the Internet, he says. Rios declined to identify the location of the other one, which he says remains online.

    Why would the internal time clock system for the TSA or other organizations be connected to the Internet? “Is it online by default? I don’t know. Kronos can be connected to multiple networks,” Rios told Dark Reading in an interview last week.

    Rios has been investigating TSA systems over the past few months. In February, he and fellow researcher Terry McCorkle revealed that a widely deployed carry-on baggage scanner used in most airports could be easily manipulated by a malicious TSA inside or outside attacker to sneak weapons or other banned items past the TSA checkpoint. The Rapiscan 422 B X-ray system running at many airports was found to have several blatant security holes, including storing user credentials in plain text and a feature that could easily be abused to project phony images on the X-ray display.

    Rapiscan’s baggage scanners remain in most airports, although its contract with TSA is now defunct after TSA learned that the X-ray machines contain a light bulb that was manufactured by a Chinese company. TSA systems cannot include foreign-made parts.

    Read More…—threats/advanced-threats/tsa-checkpoint-systems-found-exposed-on-the-net/d/d-id/1297843

  7. Leaked ‘Do Not Fly’ Document to be Introduced in State Secrets Case

    The plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the use of the “no fly list” to bar a US citizen from boarding an aircraft said last week that he would introduce a leaked copy of the government’s Watchlisting Guidance “to show just how objectionable and evidence-free Defendants’ watch listing process is.”

    The government said it did not acknowledge the authenticity of the leaked document, and that the case should be dismissed since the Attorney General had invoked the state secrets privilege concerning core issues that it raised.

    The lawsuit was filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on behalf of Gulet Mohamed, who said his constitutional rights had been violated by placing him on the no fly list.

    In May 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder filed a declaration asserting the state secrets privilege over documents and information that it said would be needed to litigate the case, and the government moved for dismissal of the entire matter.

    Among other things, the Attorney General said that the state secrets privilege extended to the current Watchlisting Guidance that spells out the criteria and procedures for placing an individual on the no fly list.

    “The Guidance sets forth, in detail, the Government’s comprehensive watchlist scheme related to the identification and placement of individuals in terrorism screening watchlists,” AG Holder wrote in his May 27, 2014 declaration asserting the privilege.

    “If the Guidance were released, it would provide a clear roadmap to undermine the Government’s screening efforts, a key counterterrorism measure, and thus, its disclosure reasonably could be expected to cause significant harm to national security,” he wrote.

    Read More:

  8. Congress Investigates Airline Privacy Practices:

    Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) is currently seeking information from ten U.S. airlines concerning how airlines safeguard consumer traveler data. Senator Rockefeller has requested information regarding:

    (1) the type of information airlines collect;
    (2) airlines’ data retention periods;
    (3) airline privacy and security safeguards governing consumer information;
    (4) whether consumers may access and amend their information;
    (5) whether airlines sell or disclose consumer information and if so, to whom do they disclose the consumer data;
    (6) how airlines inform consumers about airline privacy policies governing consumer information.

  9. ACLU Touts Agreement on Departure Procedures:

    The U.S. Government agreed to new procedures so foreign nationals without immigration papers know the legal consequences of voluntarily returning to their countries from Southern California, the ACLU announced.

    The ACLU and the law firm Cooley LLP reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Aug. 18 to ease border patrol and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement voluntary return procedures in Southern California.

    The government entered into the settlement without admitting any wrongdoing.

    In a June 2013 class action lawsuit, the ACLU claimed immigration officials used threats and intimidation to force people to accept voluntary departure.

    Lead plaintiff Lopez-Venegas said she was forced to accept voluntary departure in 2011, returning to Mexico with her 11-year-old son, a U.S. citizen with Asperger’s syndrome.

    “The United States derives its core strength from embracing the notions of fairness and due process under our Constitution,” Cooley’s Darcie Tilly said in a statement. “We are heartened that this lawsuit should lead to the cessation of these forced ‘voluntary departures,’ the improvement of our critical border patrol policies and practices, and if approved by the court, a procedure for the reunification of aggrieved individuals with their families.”

    If a person agrees to voluntarily return to their country, immigration officials may skip the lengthy deportation process, which may involve detention and hearings before an immigration judge.


  10. TSA/DHS asks for “do-overs” and delays in no-fly lawsuits

    Faced with a series of Federal court rulings upholding challenges to “no-fly” orders, or allowing them to proceed toward trial, the US government agencies responsible for “no-fly” orders have responded by pretending that they don’t understand what the courts have ordered them to do.

    Instead of complying with court orders, the responsible agencies are asking for months of additional time.

    In one case, the request for delay is to get “clarification” of a straightforward court order — and to prepare and submit a different set of pleadings than the exhibits and summaries of testimony the court had demanded.

    In another case, the government has asked the court — which has already found that the defendants’ secret no-fly decision-making process unconstitutionally denied the plaintiffs due process of law — to remand the case to the defendants themselves, and give them six months to devise and subject the plaintiffs to yet another extra-judicial “review” of the no-fly list by the defendants, before the court even considers whether that (yet to be devised) new-and-improved administrative no-fly listing and internal kangaroo-court “review” system would be Constitutional.


  11. How the U.S. Govt. Tracked Me In Europe (Croatia, Montenegro)

    In less than 45 minutes our coach rolled into the large, rather militaristic border crossing between Croatia and Montenegro. Our guide announced that the border patrol officers often waive the tour buses straight through, but that didn’t happen.

    Instead, our bus was boarded by two serious looking officers who requested we present our passports. As they passed the first few rows, I noticed they were collecting select passports and it caught my attention. The seemingly random collection continued for the next few rows … then I realized the officers were selecting a particular passport.

    As the officer approached my seat near the back of the bus, I caught a glimpse of the navy blue covered passports in the officer’s hand. On a tour bus filled with a mix of German, French, UK, Japanese and American tourists — they were collecting U.S. passports only.

    When they got to our row, my husband presented our Irish passports and we received a head nod from the passing officer. We didn’t even have to open them. We then watched as the officers disembarked with U.S. passports and then returned about eight to 10 minutes later to give them back.

    Less than five miles later, the same event played out when we reached the border control check point for Montenegro. As an American with dual citizenship, I was uncomfortable watching the U.S. passengers being singled out and having their documents collected while the rest were barely checked.

    You hardly, if ever, hear of an external terrorist group targeting Uruguay, Chile, St. Kitts, Finland or Ireland. Countries like those, and many others, don’t need to cast a net around the movement of their citizens.

    By the end of my vacation, I was even more appreciative of my dual citizenship. While I have little doubt that the American government is aware of my travels regardless of which passport I use, having an Irish passport has given me the benefit of creating a lower profile — and it’s why you need to hold dual citizenship and a second passport if you don’t already.


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