TIME ebola

Dallas Hospital Scrambles to Explain Initial Release of Ebola Patient

A hospital staffer walks up to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Oct. 1, 2014 in Dallas.
G.J. McCarthy—Dallas Morning News/Corbis A hospital staffer walks up to the emergency room at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Oct. 1, 2014 in Dallas.

Hospital says patient did not acknowledge being around anyone ill in Africa

The Dallas hospital treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first diagnosed case of Ebola in the U.S., suggested Thursday night that a technical flaw contributed to the decision not to admit Duncan on his first visit despite his declared history of travel to West Africa.

Under pressure for its role in potentially exposing scores of Americans to the deadly virus, the hospital said in a statement that a flaw in its electronic health-records system prevented the doctor attending Duncan from seeing that he had recently traveled from Liberia, which was noted by the nurse who screened him.

“Protocols were followed by both the physician and then nurses,” the hospital said, adding that the system, designed to help nurses administer flu vaccines, prevented the note on Duncan’s travel history from automatically appearing for the doctor.

The hospital said it would amend the system to highlight whether patients had traveled to Ebola-stricken regions. “We feel that this change will improve the early identification of patients who may be at risk for communicable diseases, including Ebola,” the statement said.

The statement comes as the hospital faces criticism for its decision not to immediately admit Duncan late on the night of Sept. 25, when he arrived with a 100.1°F fever, complaining of abdominal pains and experiencing decreased urination. Three days later, Duncan returned to the hospital far sicker, and was placed in isolation as a possible Ebola case. He tested positive for the virus on Sept. 30.

The hospital’s decision broadened the pool of people who may have come into contact with the virus. Federal, state and local officials are now assessing about 100 people for possible direct or indirect contact with Ebola. At least four people with direct contact with Duncan have been quarantined in their apartment by order of Texas state officials.

Facing criticism, the hospital in its statement defended its actions, noting that Duncan’s symptoms were “not severe” on his initial visit and “could be associated with many” other afflictions.

The hospital also seemed to be scrambling to cast some blame on Duncan. “When Mr. Duncan was asked if he had been around anyone who had been ill, he said that he had not,” the hospital said. Duncan is thought to have contracted the virus while aiding an Ebola patient in Liberia shortly before embarking on his trip to the U.S. on Sept. 19.

TIME ebola

4 People Quarantined Over Ebola Fears, About 100 More Being Assessed

But health officials are reminding the public Ebola is extremely difficult to spread

Updated 3:08 p.m. ET

Health officials in Dallas were assessing about 100 people for possible contact with the Ebola virus Thursday, while four family members of the Texas hospital patient diagnosed with the disease were placed under quarantine Wednesday night to stem its potential spread.

Thomas Eric Duncan’s close family members, who spent time with Duncan in an apartment near the north Dallas hospital where he is now battling the virus, received hand-delivered orders from Texas and Dallas County officials not to leave the apartment or to receive visitors without approval until at least Oct. 19, the end of the virus’s 21-day incubation period.

The order was given after health officials grew worried about their ability to carry out necessary monitoring of the family members, which includes twice-daily check-ups to take the individuals’ temperatures. Dr. David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, cited “concern about our ability to be confident that monitoring was going to take place the way we needed it to take place.” The order is being enforced by a law enforcement official stationed outside the apartment.

The quarantined family members have taken rudimentary measures to prevent themselves from exposure to the disease, including placing Duncan’s bedding and clothing in a trash bag, said health officials. The officials said they have been working to arrange a professional cleaning service for the family, which is receiving deliveries of groceries.

“There is no perfect response,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. “People are doing their best here.”

Duncan remains in “serious” condition, according to a spokesperson for the hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian. He is being kept in a private ward under the care of top doctors. Duncan has access to a phone to communicate with family members, but is not allowed to receive visitors. Operations elsewhere in the hospital are unaffected.

The number of people being assessed for Ebola symptoms swelled overnight as local, state and federal officials scrambled to compile a list of anyone who had immediate or indirect contact with Duncan, the first person to develop Ebola in the United States. None of the people being monitored have exhibited any signs of the virus.

Of the roughly 100 people on the list of individuals being assessed for possible contact with the virus, only a “handful” are thought to have had potential exposure, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are no plans to isolate additional people, officials said.

Health officials will use a technique known as contact tracing to identify the circle of people who are potentially at risk. It involves finding everyone who came into close contact with the patient and then interviewing them to identify additional potential contacts, who are subsequently tracked down and interviewed themselves. This form of shoe-leather epidemiology will continue until officials are confident that no one is at risk for contracting or spreading the virus, health officials said.

Compiling a list of possible contacts is the preliminary phase of a technique known as contact tracing. The contact tracing will be carried out by a team of five epidemiologists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in concert with county and state health officials. The process involves both phone calls and in-person visits, during which interviews are conducted and possible contacts are provided with information about the virus and informed about best practices to prevent its spread. Health officials will check in with those contacts daily to monitor for symptoms of the virus, which include high fever, severe headache, vomiting and diarrhea.

It is no surprise the tally of possible contacts has grown. Health officials are casting a very wide net, and the number of people on the list of possible contacts is expected to shrink dramatically as the investigation continues and contacts are divided into high-risk, low-risk and no risk categories, health officials said.

The majority of people being monitored did not necessarily have contact with Duncan himself, but rather with someone who Duncan encountered. “No one is symptomatic as of yet,” said Erikka Neroes, a spokeswoman for Dallas County Health and Human Services, “either in the first group or that second group.” Apart from the four family members under quarantine, all the people being monitored are able to move freely. Ebola is not contagious until a person shows symptoms of the virus.

Health officials are not ruling out the possibility that more Ebola cases will emerge, but they say they are confident in their ability to contain the situation. While extremely deadly, Ebola is difficult to transmit. It is communicated through bodily fluids like vomit or blood, but cannot travel through the air.

“The bottom line here is we remain confident that we can contain any spread of Ebola within the US,” said Frieden. Still, he added, “there could be additional cases.”

TIME ebola

Mistake Led to Ebola Patient’s Initial Release

Texas Hospital Patient Confirmed As First Case Of Ebola Virus Diagnosed In US
Mike Stone—Getty Images A general view of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas where a patient has been diagnosed with the Ebola virus on Sept. 30, 2014 in Dallas.

Texas officials are scrambling to trace Ebola patient's contacts after he was sent home from the hospital

Updated 7:45 p.m. Wednesday

The Dallas hospital patient who has tested positive for Ebola virus indicated on his first visit that he had traveled to the city from West Africa, but was released after that information was not communicated to the entire medical team who treated him.

The patient first arrived at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas late on Sept. 25, complaining of a fever and abdominal pains, hospital officials said at a news conference. A nurse administered a checklist, on which the patient indicated that he had recently traveled from Liberia. Nevertheless, the hospital sent him home.

“The overall clinical presentation was not typical at that point yet for Ebola,” said Dr. Mark Lester, vice president and zone clinical leader with Texas Health Resources, noting that the patient lacked some traditional hallmarks of the disease, which include vomiting and diarrhea. “Regretfully, that information was not fully communicated throughout the full team.”

The patient, who was confirmed Tuesday as the first direct case of Ebola on U.S. soil, was re-admitted two days later and placed immediately in isolation. On Wednesday, the hospital said he was in serious but stable condition. He is being held in a private ward under round-the-clock care.

The Associated Press, citing the patient’s sister, reported that his name was Thomas Eric Duncan. Local officials would not confirm the report in accordance with patient confidentiality requirements.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, United Airlines said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told the airline the patient flew two legs of his flight from Liberia to Dallas on Sept. 20 United flights, one from Brussels to Washington, D.C., and then from Washington to Dallas-Fort Worth. The director of the CDC said there is “zero risk” of any Ebola transmission to anybody who was traveling on either flight.

The patient’s initial release will raise questions about whether the miscommunication between hospital staff may have increased the chance of additional people becoming infected. Local, state and federal officials have launched a broad effort to trace the contacts made by the patient between the time he began suffering symptoms and his second trip to the hospital, on Sept. 28.

“This is all hands on deck,” Texas Governor Rick Perry said, flanked by a battery of doctors and political officials.

Dr. Christopher Perkins, Dallas County Health and Human Services Medical Director, said 12 to 18 people were being monitored after possibly coming into contact with the sick patient. Of that number, five were members of his immediate household and five were school-aged children.

Mike Miles, the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, said the children may have come into contact with the patient over the weekend. The children are being kept out of school, but attended earlier this week, Miles said. None of the potential contacts are currently being quarantined.

The ambulance workers who transported the Ebola patient on his second trip to the hospital are in isolation as a precaution. The hospital is still deciding what precautions to take with the medical staff who had contact with the patient. “Contact and exposure are not the same,” said Dr. Edward Goodman, an epidemiologist at the hospital, who stressed that there was little likelihood that anybody at the hospital has been exposed.

Officials cautioned the public not to panic. While deadly, Ebola is not easy to transmit. It is passed on through contact with bodily fluids, such as blood or vomit, but it cannot be transmitted through the air. Patients carrying Ebola are not contagious unless they are presenting symptoms of the disease.

This story has been updated to reflect new information about the patient’s trip to Dallas and the timing of his visit to the hospital.

TIME 2014 Election

How 2014 Became the ‘Gotcha’ Election

Bruce Rauner
M. Spencer Green—AP Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner speaks at an event where he was endorsed by a group of African American ministers on Sept. 22, 2014, in Chicago.

"Fowl play" could decide the fate of the Senate

The story starts with chickens.

Last spring, four hens wandered from an adjacent property onto the lawn of Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley’s lakeside vacation home. Irked by the smell, the Braleys brought the issue to the local homeowners’ association, whose lawyer got involved. No lawsuit was filed, and the neighborly squabble might have ended there—were it not for an enterprising Republican researcher who caught wind of the dispute.

To the GOP, the chickens were a gift. Republicans were looking for ways to attack the character of Braley, the early front-runner in the fight for the Iowa Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Tom Harkin. In short order, the GOP had built a website chronicling the Great Chicken Affair. Operatives handed out giveaway rubber-chicken stress balls to visitors at the Iowa State Fair. The conservative Super PAC American Crossroads cut a Web ad tweaking Braley’s brusqueness. “A true Iowan would have just talked to his neighbors, but not trial lawyer Bruce Braley,” the ad crowed.

The episode cemented a storyline Republicans had been pushing for months: that Braley might be something of a litigious jerk. The suggestion was sparked by an earlier opposition-research score—a video, captured by a conservative tracker, in which Braley questioned whether the state’s Republican Senator, Charles Grassley, would be a suitable Senate Judiciary Chairman given his lack of a law degree. Knocked off kilter, the Democrat’s campaign hasn’t fully recovered: Braley, once a strong favorite, has fallen behind GOP challenger Joni Ernst in recent polls.

Fowl play can make the difference in a close election, and in 2014, it might even determine who controls the Senate. Like Iowa, many of the country’s most important races have been dominated by an emphasis on petty issues and an absence of substantive policy debates. In an election about nothing, one of the dark arts of campaign combat—opposition research, or “oppo” in political parlance—has taken center stage.

Opposition research has become “a lot more important,” says Jeff Patch, the freelance researcher who broke the story of the stray chickens, and who has since become the communications director of the Iowa GOP. “It’s increasingly the way that tech and media play a role in campaigns.”

Growing armies of opposition researchers, employed by campaigns, the two parties and their allies, have exploited a diminished media’s appetite for dishy stories by feeding reporters tips that reshape close contests. It can be hard to determine which hits are the result of journalistic spadework and which are uncovered by outside mercenaries. But many of the most consequential revelations this year have oppo written all over them.

Montana Democratic Sen. John Walsh dropped his re-election bid after the New York Times revealed he had plagiarized sections of a paper he wrote at the U.S. Army War College. Plagiarism allegations have also rocked the campaign of Mary Burke, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Wisconsin. And they dinged GOP Senate candidate Monica Wehby, who also had to fend off a story that surfaced—with the help of a Democratic researcher—alleging she had “stalked” an ex-boyfriend. (No charges were filed in that incident.)

In Illinois, GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner has wrestled with the revelation that he belongs to an exclusive wine club which costs up to $150,000 to join. In Georgia, Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn was the victim of a leaked memo laying out the campaign’s political calculations in all their clinic ugliness.

In Louisiana, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu was the subject of a Washington Post investigation that noted she didn’t own a residence in the state and crashes with her parents on trips home. Similarly, the New York Times revealed that Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts lives in Virginia and shacks up with a donor when he visits. Roberts managed to escape his primary with the help of an oppo hit that noted challenger Milton Wolf, a radiologist, had posted dead patients’ X-rays on Facebook.

Opposition research has been a “growing force” in national politics for some time, says political expert Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “My guess is it seems more visible now because we have so many high-stakes, high-profile Senate races out there,” Ornstein says. “And because you have no shortage of incumbents who do bonehead things.”

Credit also goes to rival partisan research shops that were formed to fight in the trenches of oppo warfare. On the left, the dominant player is American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC founded in 2010 by the liberal activist David Brock. In the 2014 cycle, American Bridge has an $18 million budget, which pays for 44 trackers in 41 states, plus more than 20 researchers in the group’s Washington office. It has caught Rauner on video opposing the minimum wage, captured Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter extolling the billionaire Koch brothers, and documented Michigan Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land arguing that women are “more interested in flexibility in a job than pay.”

“American Bridge has been at the forefront of using research and tracking to define Republican candidates,” says spokesman Jesse Lehrich. “As we have demonstrated time and time again, our extensive archive of video footage and army of researchers are here to ensure that Republicans from Terri Lynn Land to Bruce Rauner to Rand Paul are no longer able to hide.”

On the right, the top practitioner is a for-profit research firm called America Rising, which was created after the 2012 election by three top Republican operatives, including Mitt Romney’s campaign manager. Modeled partly after American Bridge, its goal was to close the oppo edge Democrats enjoyed in 2012 while amassing a research archive that could inform the party’s advertising campaigns.

The group has more than 30 researchers in its northern Virginia headquarters and nearly as many trackers roaming the country. Among its oppo hits this cycle are the original Iowa “lawyer” clip that created the Braley narrative and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s off-color remarks about Asians. But its larger project, says America Rising PAC’s executive director Tim Miller, has been to build an opposition-research database that campaigns and super PACs can harness in ads and on the stump.

“You can hit gold on some of these opposition research hits, like we did with Braley, and have it be very impactful in the races,” Miller says, but “there’s a whole ‘nother level of work we’re spending a lot of time on, which is trying to make the paid media more dynamic.”

It’s no coincidence that the role of opposition research has increased as media outlets scale back their resources, and amid the constant churn of a 24-hour news cycle that covets juicy controversy over dry policy debates. With fewer reporters able to comb through transcripts or attend obscure events, outside mercenaries dig through through public records and feed scraps to eager journalists. American Bridge, for example, has filed more than 1,100 records requests this cycle.

This was the void that Patch, a freelance reporter turned party flack, was filling when he filed the chicken scoop. He got a tip, hopped in his car and drove to the Braleys’ vacation house on Holiday Lake in Brooklyn, Iowa. It took parts of three days on the ground for Patch to talk to canvass neighborhood residents, obtain relevant documents, and post his story on the website of The Iowa Republican. In many ways, it was basic journalism—and it offers a glimmer of hope that journalists can steer the political conversation back to more substantive matters.

But don’t count your chickens.

TIME 2014 Election

GOP Dubs Democrats the Party of the Rich in 2012 Turnabout

Hillary Clinton gives a speech at the 37th Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa on Sept. 14, 2014. ; Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at an election-night rally on April 3, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Jim Young—Reuters/Corbis; Scott Olson—Getty Images Hillary Clinton gives a speech at the 37th Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, Iowa on Sept. 14, 2014. ; Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at an election-night rally on April 3, 2012 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

What worked against Mitt Romney is now being wielded against Democrats

Republicans are turning the Democrats’ own playbook against them.

Two years after Democrats held the White House by painting Mitt Romney as a callous plutocrat, the GOP is borrowing a page from the same populist playbook. In close contests around the country, Republicans are hoping to gain an edge in the battle for control of the Senate by hammering Democrats as the party of the rich.

In Iowa, the Republican Super PAC American Crossroads has run three TV ads this month highlighting Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley’s fundraising links to liberal billionaire Tom Steyer. In Colorado, another outside GOP group, American Commitment, slammed Democratic Sen. Mark Udall for the same ties. In Kansas, advisers to Republican Sen. Pat Roberts are attacking a wealthy independent challenger (who Democrats tacitly support) for insufficient financial disclosures, and are raising questions about his “business dealings in the Middle East and the Cayman Islands.”

Sound familiar? In 2012, Democrats cast Romney as a rapacious “vulture” capitalist who was cocooned in the C-suite and blind to the challenges buffeting the middle class. Perhaps the most memorable ad of the election cycle was a brutal takedown of Romney’s Swiss bank account and tax havens in Bermuda and the Caymans, all set to the former private equity executive’s off-key crooning of “America the Beautiful.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pummeled Romney with unsubstantiated charges that he had used accounting gimmicks to skirt 10 years of tax payments.

The attacks succeeded. As political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vavreck wrote in their book The Gamble, in surveys conducted throughout the race voters described themselves as ideologically closer to Romney than to President Barack Obama. But some of them voted for Obama anyway. The caricature that Democrats created—reinforced by Romney’s own tone-deaf remarks—was part of the reason. Obama regularly trounced Romney on “empathy” polling questions, such as which candidate cares more about “people like me.” Among voters who cited this as the trait that mattered most in a President, Obama won in exit polling by a margin of 81-18.

The strategy worked well enough that Republicans have dusted it off and put it use themselves. The campaign team dispatched to rescue Roberts in Kansas has seized on the vast wealth of independent challenger Greg Orman as a potential liability. They have attacked Orman, a businessman whose campaign filings indicate he is worth up to $86 million, as “another millionaire politician” with ties to a tainted Goldman Sachs exec and a private-equity partnership in the Caymans. In normal times, a seven-figure income and affiliation with high-flying financiers are badges of honor in the party. In campaign season, they are cudgels.

The GOP is hardly the only team trotting out this attack. Democrats have made the lavish political spending of the billionaire Koch brothers a centerpiece of their national strategy. In races around the country, they are painting conservative candidates as pawns of the Kochs’ political empire. It’s not clear whether the tactic will work when half the country has never heard of them. But this year, Republicans have found a foil of their own. They’re elevating Steyer, a liberal billionaire who has pledged to fork over $50 million to candidates this year, as the Democrats’ own billionaire bogeyman. That’s why he’s showing up in ads in multiple states, and why the Republican Governors Association has created a website introducing voters to a man they dubbed “Steyer the Liar.”

The truth beneath all the rhetoric is that both parties are desperate to recruit wealthy donors and candidates alike. But in a nation with rising inequality and millions of anxious voters, pitchfork populism will remain a staple of both parties’ campaign playbook before and after the midterm elections. The early rumblings of the 2016 race have focused on Hillary Clinton’s wealth: her massive book advance, her family’s speaking fees, her spacious homes. The media spent a month this summer chewing over how a multimillionaire could consider herself “dead broke.” In national politics these days, everybody seems to be cashing in at the polls on someone else’s money.

TIME National Security

The Meaning of the New ISIS Videos

Screenshot shows British hostage John Cantlie held by Islamic State militants at an undisclosed location on Sept. 23, 2014.
EPA This still frame from a video released by ISIS on Sept. 23, 2014 shows British hostage John Cantlie who is currently being held hostage at an undisclosed location.

ISIS has switched propaganda tactics, swapping snuff films for sermons

The orange jumpsuit is the same, but now there is no masked executioner, no knife, no barren desert backdrop. The new video series produced by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) features one of the militant group’s captives, British journalist John Cantlie, giving disquisitions from behind a desk.

As the United States begins a bombing campaign against targets in Syria, ISIS has switched propaganda tactics, swapping snuff films for sermons. In the first two installments of the ISIS lecture series, released on Twitter in recent days by the group’s Al-Furqan media center, Cantlie warns the West against the march to war.

“After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why is it that our governments appear so keen to get involved in yet another unwinnable conflict?” Cantlie says in the first video. “I’m going to show you the truth behind the systems and motivations of [ISIS].”

But for ISIS, the motivation behind the video is probably fear, says Rita Katz, the director of SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks Islamist extremism online. The murder of U.S. and British citizens failed to forestall the airstrikes, so the group is using the videos to argue the folly of foreign intervention against the self-declared Islamic caliphate.

To make the case, ISIS uses a familiar jihadist tactic: quoting Westerners critical of the West’s actions. In Cantlie’s second forced lecture, an almost six-minute clip released Tuesday, the British journalist, reading from a prepared script, quotes the former CIA officer Michael Scheuer, whom he praises for “considerable” knowledge of the Muslim world.

“Let’s get straight to the point with a quote from former-C.I.A.-chief-turned-vigorous anti-intervention-campaigner Michael Scheuer: ‘President Obama does not have the slightest intention of defeating the Islamic State,'” Cantlie says, quoting Scheuer to argue that a military strategy that relies on bombing but foreswears ground troops is a half-measure. Later in the video, Cantlie quotes a second U.S. official, former New Jersey Republican Gov. Tom Kean, saying the U.S. “failed to anticipate” the emergence of ISIS.

This is a shopworn rhetorical device for jihadi propagandists. In video lectures to the faithful, Islamist leaders regularly mix in reproachful quotes from top Western officials to buttress criticism of the U.S. and its allies. “There’s nothing better,” Katz says, “than using our own words against us.”

Scheuer—a veteran of the CIA’s Osama Bin Laden task force turned staunch critic of U.S. foreign policy—is something of a favored source for jihadists. His quotes have been invoked in propaganda videos and literature at least 16 times since 2007, according to a database compiled by SITE. He’s been referenced by figures ranging from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to al-Qaeda’s American-born spokesman, Adam Gadahn, to a high-ranking official with the Somali Islamist group al-Shabab.

But the old CIA hand is hardly the only U.S. insider whose insights are deployed by jihadists. Both Bin Laden and Zawahiri have quoted journalist Bob Woodward’s reporting from within the inner circles of the presidency. Gadahn has twice invoked the writing of American author John Perkins, whose books purport to reveal the economic incentives of U.S. military adventures abroad. A native Californian with a finger on the pulse of his former country, Gadahn name-checked Bernie Madoff in a 2009 speech assailing the avarice of the U.S. financial system.

The words of Presidents and senior administration officials are regularly repurposed in Islamist propaganda for one cause or another. So are the columns of well-known pundits. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been invoked at least three times by Zawahiri, while Bin Laden liked to borrow criticism from the political commentator Noam Chomsky to argue America’s depravity in one form or another.

The new ISIS video filches a term from Obama himself. “The president once called George Bush’s conflict ‘a dumb war,'” Cantlie notes, suggesting Bush’s successor was slipping into one of his own. As long as the terrorist lecture series continues, so too will the pattern of using the enemy’s words against them.

TIME National Security

Government Veterans to Take Fight to Extremists on Online Battleground

The Counter Extremism Project aims to wage cyberwar with groups like ISIS

A group of top former government officials on Monday launched a new organization devoted to fighting global extremism, including a program that will study the digital strategy of groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in an effort to combat their success at spreading propaganda online.

The nonpartisan group, known as the Counter Extremism Project, said one of its initial goals will be to amass data on how ISIS distributes information and recruits sympathizers on the Internet. Over time, the group will try to help the U.S. government and global partners squelch the terrorists’ organizing advantage online, where government officials have lagged behind their enemies.

“You’ve got to think of the cyber-realm as a new battlefield, and we’ve been kind of absent,” Frances Townsend, the group’s president, told TIME. “We’ve not done it very effectively.”

The swift rise of ISIS has showcased the group’s proficiency on social media, where they have used platforms like Twitter to lure foreign fighters and sow terror through both polished propaganda and crude videos, such as the beheading of American journalists and a British aid worker.

In recent months, the U.S. State Department has ramped up its efforts to neutralize ISIS’s success at recruiting on the Internet by pointing out the group’s religious hypocrisy and penchant for brutal violence. But ISIS remains a step or two ahead of counter-terrorism efforts, flitting from platform to platform and finding new ways to disseminate their brutal message.

“The U.S. government doesn’t seem … to be that nimble,” says Townsend, a former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush. The group will try to “build that tactical capability to counter that and push back.”

It’s not clear how the new organization will succeed where others have failed. Townsend said the “Counter Narrative Program” will start by collecting ISIS propaganda, learning how they tailor their message to target different audiences and providing translation services so that academics, journalists and researchers can study the terrorist group’s techniques.

From there, the program will craft a counter-messaging campaign, Townsend said, which might, for example, note ISIS’s record of human-rights abuses and its record of atrocities committed against women, children and civilians. But she said that it was too early to discuss specific tactics. “We’re going to take baby steps before we can walk or run,” Townsend says.

The Counter Extremism Project is modeled after United Against Nuclear Iran, a hawkish research and policy group, and shares some of the same top advisers. In addition to Townsend, the new organization’s leadership includes Mark Wallace, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and senior adviser to Republican presidential candidates, and former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman.

Another key element of the group’s mission will be to research and expose the financial networks that have propped up the rise of groups like ISIS. It will have offices in New York and Brussels, plus an additional location in Europe and likely a second office in Washington. The size of the organization will hinge on its fundraising prowess.

To encourage wealthy patrons, the Counter Extremism Project is structured as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that will shield the identity of its donors. “As a fundraising technique,” Wallace explained at a press conference on Monday, “keeping our donors secret inspires them to give.”

TIME Crime

Grand Jury Process Raises Questions About a Ferguson Indictment

Residents Of Ferguson Continue To Call For Change Over Handling Of Michael Brown Shooting
Scott Olson—Getty Images Police block demonstrators from gaining access to Interstate Highway 70 on Sept. 10, 2014 near Ferguson, Mo.

The ongoing grand jury proceedings may suggest the prosecutor is trying to avoid backlash if Wilson isn't indicted

Officer Darren Wilson testified this week in the grand jury investigation into his shooting of Michael Brown, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The newspaper’s scoop was unusual. Unlike most criminal-justice proceedings in the U.S., grand juries are highly secretive. Leaking information about them is a criminal act.

But perhaps it should no longer be surprising to see the investigation take an interesting turn. More than a month after Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., the grand jury appears to be nowhere near a decision on whether Wilson should be charged. And the road to justice has been paved with strange decisions.

Several elements of the grand jury’s proceedings have been uncommon, according to legal experts surveyed by TIME. None of these decisions are necessarily improper. But together they have raised eyebrows. “This is not your regular St. Louis grand jury case,” says Susan McGraugh, a veteran Missouri criminal-defense attorney and law professor at St. Louis University.

The investigation has been fraught from the start. Residents of Ferguson, who have massed in protests each day since Brown was killed on Aug. 9, immediately cast doubt on the impartiality of McCulloch, who has been the county’s elected prosecuting attorney since 1991. McCulloch’s father, a police officer, was killed in the line of duty by a black suspect. Critics have pointed to his record of charging police-involved shootings and suggested that his background may cloud his judgment in the case. There were early murmurs that McCulloch would recuse himself or be replaced by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. Instead, McCulloch has delegated the task of presenting evidence to two senior attorneys in his office.

The first unusual decision taken by the prosecutor’s office, experts say, was not to recommend a specific charge for Wilson. Instead, the prosecutors are presenting evidence as it becomes available, and leaving it up to the grand jury to decide what the evidence warrants.

To some members of the community, the decision was taken as a sign that McCulloch may be trying to avoid an indictment. “To present a case to a grand jury, without any direction or instructions with regard to what you want them to achieve,” says Adolphus Pruitt of the St. Louis NAACP, “gives the best odds that an indictment will not occur.”

McCulloch has ordered that all testimony in the case be transcribed. This is rare, because it can be used against witnesses in future legal proceedings. In addition, McCulloch has pledged to immediately release full transcripts and audio recordings of the panel’s testimony in the absence of an indictment. This too is highly unusual.

The prosecutor’s office, which did not respond to an interview request from TIME, has said these decisions were designed with transparency and openness in mind. But they may also be a way to head off criticism. “It will take the heat off McCulloch if the grand jury comes back with something that the public doesn’t like,” says McGraugh.

Without a charging recommendation, the grand jury has the option to indict Wilson on either first- or second-degree murder, or either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. “If they return an indictment for either murder or manslaughter, no one’s going to care that he didn’t have a charging recommendation,” says Jens David Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School. “If, on the other hand, they don’t return an indictment, he can deflect any criticism and say I presented all the evidence to the grand jury, and in their wisdom they decided.”

There is a greater chance that the jury declines to return an indictment than the public may expect, Ohlin says. “It’s a very difficult case.”

With three blacks and nine whites, the grand jury’s composition reflects the demographic makeup of the county, which is roughly one-quarter black. It was empaneled before Brown was shot, and began hearing evidence shortly after. The proceedings could prove unusually lengthy. Authorities originally suggested they expected a decision on whether to charge Wilson by mid-October. But a circuit judge recently extended the panel’s term, giving them until Jan. 7 to decide whether to charge the officer in connection with Brown’s death.

The case is complex, and justice is often slow. But within the community, there are suspicions that the protracted proceedings are a way to drag out the case until the anger on the streets fades—and, perhaps, to gain the benefit of winter weather that might deter protesters.

It won’t work, warns Pruitt of the NAACP. “If there’s no true bill,” he says, “as a community, we are going to be thrust right back into the same discontent and civil disobedience we experienced the first time around.”

TIME States

Californians Turn to Private Security to Police Pot Country

Lear Marijuana Pot Weed Private Security California
Lear Lear personnel during a raid on an illegal trespassing marijuana operation.

The workings of law enforcement are hard to track in the wildlands of California's pot country

On a recent Sunday, a local gardening club gathered with their local sheriff in Laytonville, Calif., a hamlet of 1,227 people in Mendocino County, America’s cannabis cultivation capital. By some estimates, up to 90% of the town’s residents are tied to the pot industry, and the event was a chance to ask about the county’s enforcement policies. Instead, some members of the community wanted to talk about a rumor that had been making the rounds.

Over the summer, residents claimed men in military gear had been dropping onto private property from unmarked helicopters and cutting down the medicinal pot gardens of local residents. Local law enforcement have conducted helicopter raids in the area, but some worried the culprit this time was different: a private-security firm called Lear Asset Management.

The confusion was easy to understand. In the wildlands of California’s pot country, the workings of law enforcement are hard to track, and the rules for growing pot are often contradictory. To add to the mess, the various local, county, state and federal enforcement efforts don’t always communicate with each other about their efforts. The added possibility of private mercenaries, with faceless employers, fast-roping from helicopters raised alarm bells for many farmers.

Founded in 2012, Lear (the name stands for Logistical Environmental Asset Remediation) is a creature of the area’s unique cannabis culture. The company employs about 15 people, who are mostly former military: ex-U.S. Special Forces, Army Rangers and other combat veterans. They fly out on rented helicopters, wearing camouflage fatigues, body armor and keffiyehs around their necks. They are hired by large land owners to do the work of clearing trespass gardens from private property, and perform forest reclamation, sometimes funded by government grant. Deep in the woods, they cut down illegal pot plants and scrub the environmental footprint produced by the backwoods drug trade. They carry AR-15 rifles, lest they meet armed watchmen bent on defending their plots.

Paul Trouette, Lear’s CEO, says his firm was not responsible for the helicopter raids that the town’s residents complained about. “We do not do any kind of vigilante, black ops, Blackwater stuff,” he says, noting the company is licensed and regulated by the state of California, and only works on private land when summoned by the owner. Trouette is neither cop nor soldier; he is a longtime Fish and Game commissioner in Mendocino County, and the head of an organization devoted to preserving local herds of blacktail deer. Security contracting, he says, grew out of volunteer environmental reclamation. “It was a natural for our company to move into security contracting,” he says. “It’s just too much to handle for private ownership.”

 Marijuana Pot Weed Private Security California
LearHighly trained personnel drop into a marijuana raid.

The firm’s business model is rooted in the region’s complicated relationship with weed. Rich Russell, the commander of Mendocino’s major crimes task force, has estimated that about half of the county’s residents work in the marijuana economy. Many longtime growers are remnants of the back-to-the-land movement of the Sixties, who operate within the county’s legal cultivation limits. But the county’s dense forests and ideal cultivation conditions have also been a magnet for more dangerous elements.

In recent years, small bands of criminals colonized the county’s forests, concealing grow sites on vast parcels hidden deep in the woods. In 2011, Operation Full Court Press—a three-week raid jointly carried out by local, state and federal anti-drug agencies—netted some 632,000 marijuana plants in and around the Mendocino National Forest, with a street value in the neighborhood of $1 billion. Illegal growers have a record of shooting at hikers and law enforcement; in 2011, a former local mayor was killed while looking for a marijuana plot.

The perps also produce environmental disaster. They strew trash through the woods, poison wildlife and pollute streams. The environmental devastation is an even greater problem this year. As California copes with a crippling drought, thirsty pot plants from illegal gardens are sucking up the water supply, creating a “holocaust” for fish, Trouette says.

More recently, the trespass grow sites have migrated from public land onto the vast plots owned by private citizens and timber companies. Some of them have hired Lear to deal with the problem. The company has run about nine missions across California’s pot country this year, with more planned this fall, Trouette says. And while the company’s special-ops aspect gets much of the attention, most of the work focuses on environmental reclamation.

While some of Mendocino’s challenges are unique to the region, others highlight the legal tangle that threatens the industry’s growth at a moment when boosters are trying to take marijuana mainstream. Residents are permitted to cultivate up to 25 marijuana plants for medicinal use, about four times the standard for much of the rest of the state. Federal law still prohibits pot, classifying it as a Schedule I drug on part with heroin and ecstasy. The clashing statutes produce a patchwork system of justice, with enforcement sometimes varying from county to county even within states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal. Federal money-laundering law prevent most legitimate pot businesses from banking their proceeds, forcing them to endure the safety hazards and logistical hassles of handling huge sums of cash.

In Mendocino, officials have tried to sort out the murkiness. In 2012, an experimental program that attempted to license legitimate cannabis cultivation under the supervision of the county sheriff was shut down under pressure from the local U.S. Attorney. Meanwhile, the county district attorney has pioneered a controversial program that offers reduced sentences for certain growers who are willing to pay hefty restitution charges: $500 per pound of seized pot and $50 per plant. While the approach has helped clear a case backlog and restocked the department’s coffers, critics say it allows wealthier clients to purchase leniency.

Reports of vigilante marijuana raids on private property may simply stem from a lack of legal clarity. Under the so-called “open fields doctrine” set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment does not protect undeveloped property from warrantless searches. As a result, police may be permitted to cut down private gardens without a warrant.

In the meantime, Lear has flourished, despite the concern among some local growers. But like most people in the Emerald Triangle, Trouette thinks the best thing for the locals would be for the feds to sort out all the confusion. “I think the federal government would do everybody a big favor,” he says, “by regulating this industry.”

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