TIME Food and Drug Administration

Candidate to Lead FDA Has Close Ties to Big Pharma

Dr. Robert Califf
Jared Lazarus—Duke Photography Dr. Robert Califf

Duke's Dr. Robert Califf sees closer collaboration between government and industry

Last May, Duke University’s Vice Chancellor for clinical research, Dr. Robert Califf, told an audience of executives that the American system for developing drugs and medical devices was in crisis. Using slides [pdf] developed by Duke’s business school, he said the system was too slow and too expensive, and required disruption and transformation. Towards the end of his talk, he put up a slide that identified a key barrier to change: regulation.

Such views are not uncommon in industry, academic research and on Capitol Hill, but they are noteworthy coming from Califf because he could soon be America’s top regulator overseeing the safety and efficacy of the country’s drugs and medical devices. Califf is already set to become deputy commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) next month. Now sources familiar with the process tell TIME he is on President Barack Obama’s short list to run the agency following this month’s announcement that its long-serving commissioner, Margaret Hamburg, will step down in March.

The White House declined to comment on pending personnel decisions, but word that Califf is in contention for the top spot at the FDA comes at a key moment. The agency faces potentially dramatic changes this year as Congress prepares to rewrite many of the rules for how drugs and medical devices are reviewed and tested for safety and efficacy. Califf is widely respected in the public and private sectors, but his candidacy is seen by some as a threat to the independence and authority of the FDA, thanks to his views on the need to accelerate change and his deep financial and intellectual ties to the pharmaceutical and medical device industries.

Califf says his salary is contractually underwritten in part by several large pharmaceutical companies, including Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly and Novartis. He also receives as much as $100,000 a year in consulting fees from some of those companies, and from others, according to his 2014 conflict of interest disclosure [pdf]. In an interview with TIME, Califf estimates that less than half of his annual income comes from research money provided by the pharmaceutical industry, though he says he is not certain because he doesn’t tend to distinguish between industry and government research funding. He says he is divesting his holdings in two privately-held pharmaceutical companies he helped get off the ground.

Califf says such collaboration, not just between industry and academia, but with government, too, is the way of the future. “The greatest progress almost certainly will be made by breaking out of insular knowledge bases and collaborating across the different sectors,” Califf says. He says there is “a tension which cannot be avoided between regulating an industry and creating the conditions where the industry can thrive, and the FDA’s got to do both.” He says it would be “useful to have someone [leading the FDA] who understands how companies operate because you’re interacting with them all the time.”

Diana Zuckerman, President of the National Center for Health Research, which advocates for FDA regulatory authority, says such ties “should be of great concern.” Dr. Califf is “a very accomplished, smart physician who’s been an important name in the field,” Zuckerman says, but his “interdependent relationships” raise questions about his “objectivity and distance.” She cites several studies suggesting the medical products industry uses such ties to influence the behavior and decision making of doctors and researchers, even when the scientists don’t realize it.

The tension over Califf’s collaboration with industry gets to the heart of the future of the FDA at a pivotal moment. While FDA defenders see the collaboration as a threat to its independence, others see close relationships between government, industry and academia as the model for the future. Califf heads a successful and powerful clinical research program, the Duke Translational Medicine Institute, which brings together industry drug researchers, academic scientists and federal regulators to speed drug development and approval. Califf estimates 50-60% of its $320 million in annual research funding comes from industry.

Capitol Hill is considering codifying parts of that collaborative model for the FDA. The powerful Energy and Commerce Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced a draft bill called 21st Century Cures, which would loosen the drug approval and post-market oversight process. Califf says because the bill is still in draft it is too early to pass an overall judgment on it but he says, “I support a lot of the concepts in the bill.”

In the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee has begun work on its own bill, with committee chairman Lamar Alexander declaring, “It takes too long and costs too much to develop medical products.” In a report paving the way for his legislation, Alexander concluded the FDA has grown too large, has fallen behind scientific innovation and threatens American leadership in biomedical innovation. Reform efforts in the Senate may be aided by the support of liberals like Elizabeth Warren who back looser regulations on the medical device industry.

The FDA uses a model for drug testing and oversight largely developed in the early 1960s, with phased trials before drugs and devices are approved for sale to ensure they are safe and effective, and “post-market” studies afterwards to monitor them. Over time, the agency has come to rely on the medical product industry for more than 60% of its budget for post-market monitoring. Accused of regulatory capture by those who see undue industry influence, the FDA has faced attacks from both sides.

That means the FDA has few defenders and will rely heavily on its next commissioner to stand up for it in public and on Capitol Hill. “This is a very dangerous time for the agency,” says Zuckerman of the National Center for Health Research, “It’s under fire in a way that is unprecedented in the last 20 years.”

Califf’s supporters point out that he is among the ten most cited medical authors in America, and that he has spent his career as a clinician helping patients. Regarding the danger of regulators being “captured” by their interactions with industry, Califf says, “The difference between capture and collaboration towards improving human health is a pretty big difference.”

The White House has set no time frame for its decision on Hamburg’s replacement. It has announced the acting commissioner will be Dr. Stephen Ostroff, a scientist and long-time official at the Health and Human Services department, when she steps down in March.

TIME Cybercrime

This Could Be the End of User Name and Password

Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services Benjamin Lawsky Interview
Scott Eels—Bloomberg/Getty Images Benjamin Lawsky superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York on Nov. 24, 2014.

Anthem, J.P. Morgan hacks could lead to tougher online security.

A top New York State regulator is “very likely” to impose new cyber-security rules on much of the banking and insurance industries after high profile cyber-intrusions at Anthem and JP Morgan Chase, law enforcement officials tell TIME.

The move could spell the beginning of the end for a decade-long debate among state and federal regulators over whether to require companies to go beyond the simple user name and password identity checks required to access many computer networks at the heart of America’s financial system and could affect everyone from employees at those firms to the consumers they serve.

Early investigations in the Anthem case suggest foreign hackers used the user name and password of a company executive to get inside Anthem’s system and make off with personal data for 80 million people, including names, addresses and Social Security numbers, the law enforcement officials tell TIME. Anthem had invested in extensive cyber defenses in recent years, but the officials say initial investigations suggest the theft could have been averted if the company had embraced tougher methods for verifying the identity of those trying to access its systems.

That shortcoming reflects systemic weaknesses found throughout the industry in an upcoming study by the New York State Department of Financial Services, a version of which was reviewed by TIME. Among the most worrying findings was a marked level of over-confidence among insurance industry officials regarding the security of their systems. “Anthem is a wake-up call to the insurance sector really showing that there is a huge potential vulnerability here,” says Benjamin Lawsky, the department’s superintendent.

While many big health, life and property insurers boast robust cyber-defenses, including encryption for data transfers, firewalls, and anti-virus software, many still rely on relatively weak verification methods for employees and consumers, and have lax controls over third-party vendors that have access to their systems and the personal data contained there, according to the report. The study follows a similar review by Lawsky’s office of the banking sector late last year that led to tighter cyber-examinations for banks doing business in New York.

As the fourth-largest state and the home to many of the corporations in question, New York could affect consumers in other states with its decisions.

For more than a decade, federal and state regulators have debated measures to require increased security at banks and insurance companies that handle the financial and personal details of hundreds of millions of Americans. In 2005, the federal body charged with setting the examination standards for federal regulators concluded [pdf] that simple user name and password systems were “inadequate” for “transactions involving access to customer information or the movement of funds to other parties,” but stopped short of requiring tighter measures. Updated guidance in 2011 [pdf] also stopped short of requiring them.

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The primary federal regulator of big banks, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) says different banks need to assess their own risks in determining whether to use additional verification methods. Other regulators have worried that if one agency, like the New York State Department of Financial Services, tightens standards on its own, the result will be a patchwork of rules that make life difficult for banks doing business across the country.

Still, most agree that username and password security alone is increasingly vulnerable to hackers. As American Banker reports:

Most of the security breaches that occur in banking today use compromised credentials. More than 900 million consumer records have been stolen [in 2014] alone, according to Risk Based Security; 66.3% included passwords and 56.9% included usernames. According to Verizon’s latest Data Breach Investigations Report, weak or stolen login credentials were a factor in more than 76% of the breaches analyzed.

The additional measures New York State is likely to require are known as “multi-factor authentication” and include a range of approaches to verify the identity of those trying to sign on to a computer system. Options include sending a confirmation number to an individual’s cell phone, using a fingerprint or other biometric authentication, or using a separate identification source, like a swipe card.

Lawsky has not decided whether his new rule would require institutions to use multi-factor authentication only for employees and third-party vendors, or whether consumers would be required to use them too. However, requiring major banks and insurers under his purview—such as Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Anthem and others—to adopt multi-factor authentication could change the industry standard.

Lawsky says he is eager to see that change. “The password system should have been buried a long time ago, and its high time we buried it,” Lawsky tells TIME. “We really need everyone to go to a system of multi-factor verification. It is just too easy, whether through basic hacking or through phishing or stealing basic information, for hackers to get a password and a user name and then to get into a system,” he says.

MORE Why Your Passwords Are Easy To Hack

State and federal officials have argued that banking and insurance cyber vulnerabilities pose a threat not just to the accounts of individual consumers, but potentially to the stability of the entire financial system. The Obama administration’s recently released National Security Strategy says, “the danger of disruptive and even destructive cyber-attack is growing,” thanks to “malicious government, criminal, and individual actors,” targeting the networked infrastructure on which economy, safety, and health rely.

The New York State Department of Financial Services study of the insurance industry shows most are largely convinced they are confronting and defeating hackers. 58% claimed they had experienced no security breaches during the three years preceding the 2013-14 study, while 35% said they had only between one and five such incidents.

To some that suggests naiveté on the part of the industry. As FBI Director James Comey said last fall, “There are two kinds of big companies in the United States. There are those who’ve been hacked by the Chinese and those who don’t know they’ve been hacked by the Chinese.”

In addition to the new rules on identity verification, Lawsky expects to impose new requirements on third-party vendors that have access to insurance company databases. Those vendors often have lower cyber-security standards and are not required to describe those standards to the companies even though they often have full access to personal data held by the company.

Read next: The 7 Biggest Lies You’ve Been Told About Hacking

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TIME FDA

The Head of the FDA is Leaving. Here’s Why That’s a Big Deal.

Interview With FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg
Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), listens to a question during an interview in Washington, D.C. on May 28, 2014.

More changes at the powerful agency may be in the works

There are a lot of high-level positions in the federal government that can be filled with any warm body, and many often are. But every now and then a job opens up at a time when the person who fills it makes a big difference, not just in the headlines but in the lives of everyday Americans for years to come.

On Thursday, the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Hamburg, announced her intention to step down in March after six years in one of the toughest jobs in government. Inheriting the FDA at a moment of crisis, she endured a few scandals of her own while stabilizing the agency, so her departure after such a long and challenging tenure is not necessarily a surprise.

But the timing is significant, because it comes at what one close FDA observer, Professor Daniel Carpenter of Harvard, calls “a deregulatory moment” at the FDA. The agency faces a bipartisan push on Capitol Hill to reform key elements of its authority, including how it approves drugs and medical devices, the reach of its oversight authority and possibly the methods by which it is funded.

The effects of those changes could be anything but bureaucratic. The FDA is arguably the most powerful regulatory agency in the world, making and enforcing the rules for as much as one quarter of the consumer goods economy in America—and therefore, by extension, the rest of the world. Through its decisions about everything from food labeling to drug testing, it affects the health, safety and wealth of billions of people around the globe.

Hamburg took over the FDA in 2009 after multiple scandals over political influence and drug safety, including the approval and oversight of dangerous anti-depressants, anti-inflammatories and painkillers. Once on the job, she faced criticism for deaths caused by tainted steroids known as compounded drugs and for her handling of a plan to expand availability of the Plan B morning after pill to teenagers.

However both sides of the aisle praise her for stabilizing the agency. On Capitol Hill, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the head of the Senate’s FDA-controlling Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), said he was “grateful to Dr. Hamburg for her leadership.” His Democratic counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington praised Hamburg’s “dedication to protecting public health … and strengthening patient and consumer safety.”

The HELP committee announced this week that it would begin work on legislation controlling the FDA. Even before he took over the committee this year, Alexander commissioned a report on the medical review and approval process so that he could hit the ground running with hearings and an effort to move legislation. Much of his focus has been on getting drugs and medical devices to market faster. Alexander said the goal is “to modernize the way drugs and medical devices are discovered, developed and approved.”

The role of the FDA Commissioner will be central in deciding when and whether to defend the agency’s powers in the face of deregulatory reforms, not least because both parties and the White House support varying degrees of change. “The administration is very engaged,” in the changes afoot on Capitol Hill, says one Democratic Senate aide, and “Any incoming FDA commissioner is going to play a big role in the process.”

Dr. Stephen Ostroff, a long-time employee of the Health and Human services department and currently the chief scientist at FDA, will become Acting Commissioner when Hamburg steps down in March. Hamburg recently appointed Robert Califf of Duke University to be Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco. He is due to start that job in late February, and is considered a leading contender to succeed Hamburg—the Wall Street Journal notes that he was interviewed twice for the job under the Bush administration.

The FDA Commissioner in nominated by the President and requires Congressional approval.

TIME elizabeth warren

Elizabeth Warren Goes to Bat for Medical Device Industry

Elizabeth Warren
J. Scott Applewhite—AP Sen. Elizabeth Warren is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 8, 2015.

The populist Senator backs regulatory changes, tax credits and more government funding for home state heavyweights.

Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic star who just last week unveiled a bill targeting the profits of large drug makers, doesn’t sound like much of a populist when it comes to another group of big health care corporations, the medical device manufacturers, many of which happen to be headquartered in the Senator’s home state of Massachusetts. Warren’s coziness with those companies is now earning her criticism within her party, with one former Democratic Senate staffer describing some of her positions as “repulsive.”

Warren took to the floor of the Senate on Jan. 29 to unveil a bill she said would act as a kind of multi-million dollar “swear jar” for pharmaceutical companies that break the law, penalizing them when they get caught and using the funds to supplement scientific research. With the folksy delivery that has made her a favorite of progressives across the country, she said that powerful, moneyed lobbyists had opposed the bill, but that her message to them and their big business bosses was, “If they don’t want to put a dollar in the swear jar, then stop swearing.”

What Warren didn’t say was that her bill has a loophole in it for medical device manufacturers. Those companies, which make everything from latex gloves to Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines, would be exempt from her proposed penalties unless they also make drugs. At the same time, her bill explicitly ensures that the so-called “medtech” companies would benefit from the research dollars that her “swear jar” would generate.

Warren is widely seen as the defender of everyday Americans against the scourge of business interests that she says manipulate Washington, rig regulation and fuel corporate welfare. But when it comes to the medical device industry, she sings a different tune, albeit quietly. Since she launched her campaign for the Senate in 2011, Warren has come out in favor several medical device industry priorities, including rewriting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, bolstering federal research funding and making permanent certain temporary tax credits for research and development.

Most visibly, she wants to repeal the medical device taxes that help fund President Barack Obama’s signature health reform, the Affordable Care Act. That position has brought her into a surprising, if temporary, alliance on the issue with the new Republican leaders of Congress, who see repeal of the medical device tax as their most likely legislative vehicle to chip away at Obamacare.

All these pro-business positions have not gone unnoticed. “We’ve enjoyed the opportunity to work with Sen. Warren during her tenure in Congress,” says JC Scott, the head of government affairs for the medical device industry’s top lobbyist, AdvaMed. Scott says Warren “certainly has been engaged with a focus on improving the regulatory efficiency” at the Food and Drug Administration, which approves and regulates medical devices, thanks to her position on the agency’s Congressional oversight authority, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee.

In many ways there is nothing extraordinary in Warren’s positions: they are the work of an elected representative ensuring the interests of her constituents. Medical devices are big business in Massachusetts. In 2010, the latest date for which numbers are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical device companies claimed responsibility for more than 23,000 jobs in Massachusetts, 13% of its export economy and $17.6 billion worth of the state’s economy. Warren also represents major academic research institutions that are primary beneficiaries of programs that also benefit the medical device industry. “This is a very powerful industry,” says Paul Thacker, a former medical device and pharmaceutical investigator for the Republican staff of the Senate Finance committee, “And she’s looking out for jobs in her home state.”

Warren first enunciated her medtech positions during her close race against then-incumbent Senator Scott Brown in 2012. For the campaign, Brown received $170,650 from the medical device industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, while Warren didn’t break the top 20 recipients for industry campaign contributions, receiving only $16,550. In late March 2012, Brown attacked Warren for her support of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, saying it would hurt the medtech industry in Massachusetts.

Two weeks later, Warren published an editorial in an industry newsletter broadly supporting medtech’s policy agenda. Among the positions she espoused were changing FDA regulations to speed approval of medical devices, advancing Congressional research funding for medical devices, making permanent federal tax credits for research and development, and repealing the medical device tax in Obamacare. Warren ended up winning by 8 percentage points, or more than 200,000 votes, in a race that cost both sides more than $77 million.

Warren’s record supporting the medical device industry, which had $336 billion in domestic revenues in 2013, contrasts with her criticism of other industries. On a section of her website devoted to “leveling the playing field” she says, “The most profitable corporations should have to pay their fair share.” The Obamacare medical device tax that she wants to repeal will cost the industry $29 billion over ten years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. In a hearing this year on a Republican bill that she said would have lowered the cost of Obamacare on businesses, Warren said, “I’m against adding $53 billion to the deficit so that corporations can push their costs and responsibilities onto the government.”

Warren’s position on the repeal of the medical device tax in the Affordable Care Act draws particular ire from those who fought to pass it into law. Unlike the pharmaceutical and hospital industries, the medical device industry refused to negotiate directly with the bill’s authors over how much of the cost of Obamacare the device makers would bear, say Senate aides familiar with the negotiations. The medical device tax that was ultimately included in the 2010 bill was the result of intense negotiations between its authors and Democratic senators supporting the industry. “The idea that Elizabeth Warren thinks that one industry should get a sweetheart deal from paying their fair share for providing healthcare to poor Americans is repulsive,” says one former Democratic Senate staffer involved in the negotiations.

The Medical Innovation Act [pdf] Warren proposed last week is also a study in contrasts. Big pharma companies have repeatedly been subject to legal action by the Justice Department, but so too have some medical device manufacturers. One of the biggest device makers, the Minnesota-based Medtronic, paid $23.5 million in Dec. 2011, and $9.9 million in May 2014 to resolve alleged violations of the False Claims Act. It was also the subject of a 2012 Senate Finance Committee investigation into alleged manipulation of studies into its products.

Warren and her staffers declined to comment on her bill or her positions on medical device regulation, oversight and funding, but her office confirmed that she still holds the positions she took in the 2012 op-ed. Warren’s defenders say she believes the medical device tax in the Affordable Care Act impedes innovation and should be replaced with another source of revenue. They say her positions on the medical device industry are in line with her broader approach to funding research and development and simplifying regulation. They argue that her bill shields small companies, not medical device makers, by targeting only those companies that make blockbuster drugs that received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Her defenders also point out that some big drug makers are also medical device makers, and so could be subject to the penalties.

Warren is realistic about the slim chances her Medical Innovation Act has to pass. “I don’t kid myself,” she said as she presented the bill last week, “A handful of actors with money and power like things just the way they are.” Warren will get a chance to help change things starting next week, though, as the GOP-led HELP committee begins rewriting the regulations and funding mechanisms for both the FDA and the NIH. At stake are the rules controlling how closely the FDA oversees the approval of new medical devices and how much funding the industry gets from government. The House is already moving legislation. “We’re really excited in the House and Senate to move forward with legislation to address regulatory challenges,” says AdvaMed’s JC Scott.

TIME The Holocaust

The Selection at Auschwitz

Auschwitz survivors and families visit the Birkenau Memorial carrying candles on Jan. 27, 2015 in Oswiecim, Poland.
Ian Gavan—Getty Images Auschwitz survivors and families visit the Birkenau Memorial carrying candles on Jan. 27, 2015 in Oswiecim, Poland.

Primo Levi's account of his arrival at the death camp

Seventy years ago today, Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied southern Poland where, from 1942 on, the Nazis killed at least 960,000 Jews, 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma (Gypsies), 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and 10,000-15,000 others. Most were killed in gas chambers designed and constructed for the purpose.

In February 1944, less than a year before the liberation, the Italian chemist Primo Levi arrived at the camp with more than 600 other Jews who had been deported from German-occupied Italy in sealed train cars. In all, some 10,000 Jews were deported to concentration and extermination camps from Italy after the German occupation in September 1943.

Following is Levi’s account of the selection process by means of which the Nazis determined who would be killed and who would be kept alive for slave labor, from Survival in Auschwitz, (Simon and Schuster):

The climax came suddenly. The door opened with a crash, and the dark echoed with outlandish orders in that curt, barbaric barking of Germans in command which seems to give vent to a millennial anger. A vast platform appeared before us, lit up by reflectors. A little beyond it, a row of lorries. Then everything was silent again. Someone translated: we had to climb down with our luggage and deposit it alongside the train. In a moment the platform was swarming with shadows. But we were afraid to break that silence: everyone busied himself with his luggage, searched for someone else, called to somebody, but timidly, in a whisper.

A dozen SS men stood around, legs akimbo, with an indifferent air. At a certain moment they moved among us, and in a subdued tone of voice, with faces of stone, began to interrogate us rapidly, one by one, in bad Italian. They did not interrogate everybody, only a few: ‘How old? Healthy or ill?’ And on the basis of the reply they pointed in two different directions.

Everything was as silent as an aquarium, or as in certain dream sequences. We had expected something more apocalyptic: they seemed simple police agents. It was disconcerting and disarming. Someone dared to ask for his luggage: they replied, ‘luggage afterwards’. Someone else did not want to leave his wife: they said, ‘together again afterwards’. Many mothers did not want to be separated from their children: they said ‘good, good, stay with child’. They behaved with the calm assurance of people doing their normal duty of every day. But Renzo stayed an instant too long to say good-bye to Francesca, his fiancée, and with a single blow they knocked him to the ground. It was their everyday duty.

In less than ten minutes all the fit men had been collected together in a group. What happened to the others, to the women, to the children, to the old men, we could establish neither then nor later: the night swallowed them up, purely and simply. Today, however, we know that in that rapid and summary choice each one of us had been judged capable or not of working usefully for the Reich; we know that of our convoy no more than ninety-six men and twenty-nine women entered the respective camps of Monowitz-Buna and Birkenau, and that of all the others, more than five hundred in number, not one was living two days later…

This is the reason why three-year-old Emilia died: the historical necessity of killing the children of Jews was self-demonstrative to the Germans. Emilia, daughter of Aldo Levi of Milan, was a curious, ambitious, cheerful, intelligent child; her parents had succeeded in washing her during the journey in the packed car in a tub with tepid water which the degenerate German engineer had allowed them to draw from the engine that was dragging us all to death.

Thus in an instant, our women, our parents, our children disappeared. We saw them for a short while as an obscure mass at the other end of the platform; then we saw nothing more.

[The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum]

[Centro Primo Levi, New York]

Read next: Eva Kor: What It Was Like to Be Experimented on During the Holocaust

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TIME Justice Department

Sloppy Russian ‘Spymasters’ Burn a Deep Cover Operative in New York

Busted in the Bronx, he faces 20 years in prison.

Monday was a bad day for Evgeny “Zhenya” Buryakov, the alleged spy arrested in the Bronx for his role as a deep cover case officer in a Russian ring targeting female university students, business consultants and the operations of the bank at which Buryakov worked. But it was an even worse day for his alleged spymasters, two Russian officials operating under diplomatic immunity who come across as sloppy, bureaucratic buffoons in the Justice department complaint detailing the alleged conspiracy.

Buryakov nominally faces up to 20 years in prison on two charges of acting as a foreign agent. But practically speaking he will only have to cool his heels in a U.S. jail for a few weeks or months until officials in Moscow find a suitable American operative to arrest and trade for him. Thereafter, he’ll likely return to Moscow, and given what appears to be fairly entrepreneurial work as a deep cover agent in New York, he can probably expect to thrive in the public or private sector there.

His two bosses, on the other hand, broke basic tradecraft rules and exposed Buryakov’s work, as well as other intelligence efforts by the Russian espionage services, according to the complaint. Both have already left the U.S. for other assignments. And while the days of banishment to Siberia for failed spy-handlers are long gone, the two at least face a grim professional future of pushing paper in the bowels of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service in Moscow.

Buryakov was a particularly valuable asset known as a “NOC,” operating under “non-official cover,” according to the complaint. A regular employee of a bank in New York, with no diplomatic immunity, he was able to gain valuable economic intelligence that a Russian government official—even one pretending to be a normal diplomat not a spy—wouldn’t have easy access to, according to the complaint. Placing and maintaining NOC’s is one of the more challenging aspects of running spies in a foreign country.

But Igor Sporyshev, a Russian Trade Representative in New York, and Victor Podobnyy, an attaché to the Russian United Nations mission, managed to expose Buryakov by calling him on an open phone line and by using his true name in a conversation in the New York offices of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Services (SVR) which were apparently being bugged by the FBI’s counterintelligence division.

Even before they outed their deep cover man, the two come across as buffoons in the complaint. In April 2013, the Justice department recounts, Podobnyy tells Sporyshev how disappointed he is at how boring the life a spy runner is, contrasting his life with a James Bond movie. Sporyshev responds that he always “thought that at least I would go abroad with a different passport,” according to the complaint.

The two men also discussed their attempts to recruit young women from a financial consulting firm and from a major university in New York, which a Justice Department official identifies as New York University. Sporyshev blusters that “in order to be close you either need to —k them or use other levers to influence them to execute my requests. So when you tell me about girls, in my experience, it’s very rare that something workable will come of it,” according to the complaint.

But it is in the exposure of the NOC Buryakov that Sporyshev and Podobnyy really shine. First, in May 2013, Sporyshev calls up Buryakov over a phone that was being monitored by the FBI and announces that he needs his help. Sporyshev says a Russian news organization acting on behest of the SVR wants to know what questions to ask a source about the New York Stock Exchange, the complaint claims. Sporyshev says he needs the questions in 15 minutes.

Twenty minutes later, according to the complaint, Buryakov calls back and tells Sporyshev the news organization should ask about how Exchange Traded Funds could be “mechanisms of use for destabilization of markets” (Buryakov has to correct Sporyshev who thinks he says “stabilization”). Buryakov also points Sporyshev towards the issue of automated trading robots, and says he could also ask about the interest of NYSE participants in products tied to the Russia.

Buryakov later shows himself to be entrepreneurial in his efforts. In November 2012 and March 2013, he attended conferences in a foreign country for the bank he worked for, and gathered intelligence about a potential airplane deal that could benefit Russia, the Justice department alleges. The deal was potentially a good one for Russia as it would bring jobs and technology, but unions in the company’s home country were resisting, the complaint says.

Buryakov drafted and submitted to Sporyshev and Pobodnyy a proposal recommending that the SVR’s “Active Measures Directorate” take steps “towards pressuring the unions and securing from the company a solution that is beneficial to us,” according a recording the FBI made of a conversation between the two spy-runners in the SVR offices in late May 2013.

Having a deep cover operative who is capable of getting inside a potential trade deal and is clever enough to see how it might be positively influenced is, despite what movie watchers like Sporyshev and Pobodnyy might think, an unusually fortunate set of circumstances for a spy service. But the bureaucratic Pobodnyy hesitates, according to the complaint, because the action is taking place in the country Buryakov visited for the conference:

VP: It’s strange to offer a [Country-2] proposal from New York.

IS: Why?

VP: It’s considered bad taste. What the —k? Can’t [Country-2] sort this out?

Ultimately, Buryakov’s aggressiveness tripped him up. In the summer of 2014, the complaint alleges, Buryakov met a wealthy investor looking to develop casinos in Russia and willing to trade U.S. Treasury documents he’d obtained from a friend in exchange for help setting up a deal—a plot-line worthy of “American Hustle.” The investor was in fact an undercover FBI agent.

But if Buryakov was naïve, his handlers didn’t do much to protect him. Sporyshev said it sounded like “some sort of a set up. Trap of some sort.” But rather than warning Buryakov off, Sporyshev told him to go ahead and meet an associate of the “investor”: “You will look and decide for yourself.” Later in the summer, Buryakov allegedly received documents purporting to be from the U.S. Treasury regarding sanctions against Russia and passed them along to Sporyshev at a clandestine meeting.

Acting as a foreign agent without registering with the Justice department is a crime in the U.S., as is receiving coded documents and passing them along. And now Buryakov is under arrest.

TIME Foreign Policy

Why Saudi Arabia’s Neighbor Is the Real Concern for the U.S.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah receives U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the king's Riyadh Palace on April 6, 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah receives U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the king's Riyadh Palace on April 6, 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

A smooth succession is all but guaranteed in the Kingdom — but that won't help imperiled U.S. allies in Yemen

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died Thursday of natural causes at age 90, leaving in place what appears to be a well-laid succession plan that U.S. analysts hope will assure continued stable relations between Washington and the oil-rich country that dominates most of the peninsula.

Unfortunately, in neighboring Yemen, the government of U.S. ally President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi also died Thursday, leaving nothing but the prospect of a failed state and increased sway for Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a powerful and dangerous branch of al Qaeda.

On balance, the bad news outweighs the good.

Abdullah’s successor, Crown Prince Salman, is an established figure in U.S.-Saudi affairs, with a history of collaboration on national security matters dating to his fundraising for the Afghan Mujahedeen during their war against the Soviets in the 1980s, says Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution. One of Salman’s sons, Reidel reports, “led the first RSAF mission against Islamic State targets in Syria last year.”

But while oil futures soared on the news of Abdullah’s death as traders worried about potential instability in Saudi Arabia, former U.S. officials viewed the collapse of central governing authority in Yemen as the real cause for concern. “Rule number one of contemporary national security policy is allow the emergence of no new failed states,” says former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Amb. Daniel Benjamin.

The power vacuum is most worrying because it imperils U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism operations against one of the few al Qaeda off shoots that retains the U.S. as its primary target. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has a talented bomb-maker in its upper ranks, a Saudi fugitive named Ibrahim al Asiri. U.S. officials believe al Asiri is behind several near-miss attempts to bring down Western airliners, at least one of which was foiled by a Saudi double agent who had penetrated the group.

The Houthis are only a threat to the U.S. insofar as they appear to have effected the ouster of the U.S.-backed Hadi and left a collapsed state in his wake. “We were banking on a guy who was very pro-American, but had far less support in his country than we thought,” says Whitley Bruner, a former CIA Baghdad station chief who previously served in Yemen and has worked as a security consultant there in recent years.

The Saudis dislike both the Houthis and AQAP, which dispatched al Asiri’s brother in a suicide attack that nearly killed the Saudi Interior Minister in 2009. But the kingdom has little chance of putting its neighbor back together again: with Yemen’s history of sectarian, tribal and ideological violence, “it’s going to get worse,” says Bruner. AFP reported late Thursday that “four provinces of Yemen’s formerly independent south, including its main city Aden, say they will defy all military orders from Sanaa” now that the capital has fallen to the Houthis.

TIME State of the Union 2015

Barack Obama Warns Against Terrorist Fear Factor in State of the Union

Obama says he wants Americans to fight terrorists but not fear them

President Obama had a mixed message for Congress on terrorism in his State of the Union address Tuesday: don’t fear terrorists, but do authorize me to use military force against them.

Obama’s not the only one advancing that national security paradox. Leaders around the world face the same problem. Terrorists are scary—that’s their point. So how do you get support to fight them without freaking people out and handing them a win?

“We lead best,” Obama said in his speech, “When we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.” And he implicitly attacked his predecessor, George W. Bush, for failing at the task. “Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing?” Obama asked.

MORE How 7 ideas in the State of the Union would affect you

But Bush has been back in Texas for six years and Gallup reports that 40% of Americans are very or somewhat worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism—a slightly higher percentage than when Obama became President in 2009. That’s particularly remarkable when you consider that an American is more likely to be struck by lightening than get hit by a terrorist.

Obama and Bush may not be entirely to blame. The public’s fear of terrorists and its expectations that government will aggressively defend against them are not necessarily the fault of political leaders, says Daniel Byman, co-author of a recent Brookings Institution analysis of the threat posed by foreign fighters returning to the West, “Be Afraid. Be a Little Afraid.”

“It’s very difficult for people to think rationally about low probability events that are high publicity,” Byman says. Furthermore, Byman says, “There are certain things we expect our government to do and one of them is to keep us safe, especially from foreign terrorists—it’s a core government function.”

MORE: Obama made history by using this word during the State of the Union

Which doesn’t make it any less costly to over-react to terrorist threats. Western fear is very specifically what the terrorists are after, as a recruiting tool, as a means of inspiring the troops they have, and as a way of getting opponents to make costly mistakes, Byman says. Some U.S. intelligence officials look at the long-term strategic challenges posed by China, Russia and European economic weakness and think ISIS and the chaos Middle East amounts at best to a diversion and at worst to a trap.

Obama suggested Tuesday that he wants to avoid such a trap. “Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.” Yet his administration has sought broad powers from Congress to go after ISIS, including the authority to put troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria, where the group is principally operating, and to pursue it in other countries as well.

Republicans have the terrorist threat on their mind, too, of course. In her response from the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing room, Iowa GOP Sen. Joni Ernst said, “This is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL, and those radicalized by them,” Ernst said. “We know threats like these can’t just be wished away. We’ve been reminded of terrorism’s reach both at home and abroad; most recently in France and Nigeria, but also in places like Canada and Australia. Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims of terrorism and their loved ones. We can only imagine the depth of their grief.”

In the end, one of the most effective tools against terrorists is domestic resilience, especially an acceptance that some level of violence from terrorists, while extremely undesirable, is probably inevitable. “You have to accept that this is a part of modern life,” says Byman. “We need to resource security services, but you don’t want to make it the focus of foreign policy.”

TIME intelligence

Senate Torture Report Describes CIA Interrogation Program

Senate Democrats say the methods were illegal and ineffective

Thirteen years after the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. by the terrorist group al Qaeda, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a 500-page assessment of the program of harsh interrogation and detention used by the Central Intelligence Agency from 2002 to 2007 on more than a hundred members of the terrorist organization after their capture.

Based on 6.2 million pages of documents, photos and other CIA files, the report presents evidence that the agency’s interrogation methods were brutal and possibly illegal, that they were poorly managed, and that the agency misrepresented it to the White House, the Justice Department, Congress and the American people. Ultimately, the Senate Democrats conclude the methods used were not effective, and were not worth the costs to reputation and national security that resulted from the program.

Aspects of the detention and interrogation of al Qaeda suspects, according to the report, included: a detainee becoming unconscious during the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, requiring medical attention as he regurgitated air and water; a detainee dying from exposure to extreme cold shackled to the floor in what government observers later described as a dungeon; detainees’ injuries being allowed to deteriorate as part of interrogation; and psychological effects from interrogation including hallucinations, paranoia, self-harm and self-mutilation. The report also finds the CIA at times lost detainees and discovered them only after days of neglect.

President Barack Obama said the report detailed a “troubling” program and showed that “some of the actions that were taken were contrary to our values.”

“That is why I unequivocally banned torture when I took office, because one of our most effective tools in fighting terrorism and keeping Americans safe is staying true to our ideals at home and abroad,” Obama said in a statement.

“These techniques did significant damage to America’s standing in the world and made it harder to pursue our interests with allies and partners,” Obama added. “That is why I will continue to use my authority as President to make sure we never resort to those methods again.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chair of the intelligence committee who has spent years fighting CIA and Republican resistance to producing and releasing the report previously said, “If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.”

Current and former intelligence officials, and Republican members of Congress strongly dispute the characterization of the program and the CIA’s actions, arguing that it produced much of the information that led to the successful efforts by the Bush and Obama administrations to roll back the central leadership of al Qaeda. Republican members of the intelligence committee released at the same time a 100-plus page minority report dissenting with some of the findings and conclusions of the Democrat’s document.

The CIA also released a summary of its response to the SSCI report rebutting many of the findings. Of the 20 cases the SSCI report cites to show the CIA program was ineffective, the agency disagrees with all but two. “We acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes,” said CIA Director John Brennan. Brennan said the interrogation of detainees “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.” The agency argues that it is impossible to say whether the harsh techniques produced intelligence that would otherwise have been obtained through less harsh methods. Brennan said the SSCI report provides an “incomplete and selective picture of what occurred.”

The report is likely to produce extended political battles over what information was known about the CIA program, by whom and at what time. The report finds evidence that both the CIA and some at the White House took steps to limit questions about the legality of the program and the number of senior Bush administration officials who were aware of it. It finds that President Bush first learned of the details of the interrogation techniques in 2006 and appeared uncomfortable with some of them, including the image of a prisoner shackled and having to go to the bathroom on himself.

The underlying question that authors and opponents of the report both would like to see settled in the debate is whether the techniques described in the report should ever be used again. Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA director Michael Hayden, and many others argue that it was legal, effective and crucial in the fight against terrorism. Feinstein, President Obama, and many outside human rights groups say the techniques were wrong and crossed the line into torture, violating core American values.

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