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 Military

Why the Pentagon Is Honoring the Late Saudi King

CJCS visits Saudi Arabia
Then-Crown Prince—and now king—Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud meets Dempsey in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last June. DoD photo / D. Myles Cullen

What an essay contest reveals about Washington's relationship with Riyadh

You can get whiplash inside the Pentagon. The last time the Defense Department achieved notoriety as a platform for views on Saudi Arabia was in 2002, between the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s when a Rand Corp. analyst told a high-level panel behind closed doors that the kingdom was “active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologist to cheerleader.” Washington, he said, should declare the Saudis the enemy and threaten to take over the oil wells if they didn’t do more to combat Islamist terrorists (the briefing was 10 months after the 9/11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudi).

The Pentagon quickly distanced itself from Laurent Murawiec’s presentation to the Defense Policy Board. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the Saudi Foreign Minister to apologize. Murawiec, who made the presentation on his own time, resigned from Rand several weeks later.

On Monday, the top U.S. military leader, Army General Martin Dempsey, announced the Pentagon would be conducting a “research and essay competition” to honor Saudi King Abdullah, who died Jan. 23 at 90, as “a man of remarkable character and courage.”

Critics pounced.

“I wonder if Raif Badawi, the Saudi blogger who has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for postings critical of Islam and the House of Saud is eligible to enter?” one posted on Dempsey’s Facebook page. “That’s an essay that might be worth reading.”

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz died at age 90
Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdelaziz in Cairo, Egypt, last June. Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Foreign-policy experts questioned Abdullah’s reputation as a King who pushed for change in Saudi society. “There were persistent stories alleging that Abdullah was a reformer, but no one could ever articulate for me what he actually stood for and wanted. It seemed to me that he wanted what everyone in the Saudi royal family wants — stability and business as usual,” Steven A. Cook, an Arab expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote Monday. “There is no denying that the Saudis under Abdullah had an extremism problem about which they were apparently in abject denial until terrorists started targeting them in 2003. More recently, Abdullah oversaw the beheading of eighty-seven individuals in 2014, mostly poor guest workers that no one cares about. So far this year, which is only twenty-six days old, Saudi executioners have separated ten more people from their heads.”

And you don’t have to rely on ivory-tower scholars. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a secret 2009 memo that Saudi Arabia is an ATM for terrorism. “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” she wrote, adding that the King and his government had been reluctant to shut down such cash pipelines.

This is the challenge of the 21st century world. With the end of the Cold War, forces have been unleashed that have toppled dictators along an arc of crisis from Libya to Egypt to Iraq. Saudi Arabia’s monarchy is the key to U.S. policy in the region, and it, too, is a non-democracy that hardly squares with U.S. ideals.

The U.S.-Saudi relationship boils down to quid-pro-petroleum: We need their oil, and they need U.S. military protection. The Saudi military’s F-15 fighters, AWACS aircraft, Patriot missiles, M-1 tanks, Bradley fighting Vehicles and AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships are all U.S.-built and maintained. Absent continued U.S. support — spare parts, upgrades, software — for such an arsenal, Saudi Arabia would find itself defenseless in a matter of months. Shi’ite Iran’s growing clout in the region, just across the Persian Gulf from the kingdom, unnerves the Sunni Saudis.

Dempsey was stationed in Riyadh, a month after earning his first star as a brigadier general, when Murawiec gave his infamous Pentagon briefing. He was overseeing 350 U.S. troops and civilians, and more than 1,000 contractors, as chief of the Saudi Arabian National Guard Modernization Program. The commander of the Saudi Arabia National Guard: none other than Abdullah, who would become King two years after Dempsey left Saudi Arabia.

“In my job to train and advise his military forces, and in our relationship since, I found the King to be a man of remarkable character and courage,” Dempsey posted on his Facebook page Friday. “He will be truly missed and his loss will be felt by his country and ours.”

But don’t confuse the Saudi Arabia National Guard run by the future King, and trained by Dempsey, with the U.S. military’s National Guard.

“Saudi Arabia really has two different armies,” the senior U.S. enlisted man assigned to SANG from 2006 to 2008 wrote in 2009. Then-U.S. Army Sergeant Major James E. Wafe Jr. added:

The Saudi Arabia National Guard (SANG) is not like the U.S. National Guard. It is a tribal force forged out of those tribal elements loyal to the Saudi family. The SANG’s mission is to protect the royal family from internal rebellion and the other Saudi army should the need arise.”

That other, “official” army’s rule, Wafe continued, is “to protect the country from external threats, and to serve as a balance against SANG, should the royal family decide to eliminate some clan hostile to the King’s rule.”

Plainly, Dempsey and his troops had their hands full training the Saudi national guard, and balancing its capabilities against those of the Royal Saudi Land Forces.

Wafe wrote of the challenges associated with training SANG’s non-commissioned officers — the sergeants and others that are the backbone of the U.S. military — to fight:

The Western Region really wanted their NCOs to be as strong as our NCO Corp, but the lack of knowledge made them not confident in them and also they thought they couldn’t be taught. We had sergeants that held the same rank and position for years, such as a LAV (Light Armor Vehicle) driver. A lot of times, they made the NCOs serve tea and coffee for the generals. We knew we couldn’t teach the NCOs everything, because of time restraints, so we mainly focused on the basic skills to protect and serve his King. These basic skills consisted of marksmanship with their individual assigned weapons and crew serve weapons, Physical Fitness, Night Vision Goggles, and map reading. Their duty hours were only six hours a day, ranging from 0600-1200; this didn’t give us much time to train … The trend that I observed about the SANG Soldiers is that once they return from their Security Mission, they tend to forget everything and we are re-teaching the same skills over again. This becomes a long drawn-out process and a lot times it feels like we only move the SANG Anny inches and this is a plus when it comes to training …

The Omar bin Kattab Brigade (OKE) is stationed in Taif … The NCOs within this Brigade were even worse than the Western Region. The NCOs here did not have any education and they did not know how to read or write. A lot of our training here was hands-on and that took a while to conduct. The equipment they had there were old and they were lacking tools to keep up the maintenance. The Brigade Commanders did have unit money to spend on equipment, but many of them bought furniture for their office and home, instead of taking care of their equipment. Some of the soldiers did not want to replace their periscopes on their vehicle because it was a battle wound from Desert Storm and they wanted to show off their treasured badge of courage. Overall these NCOs and soldiers wanted to learn, but no support was enforced by their higher command …

The SANG Army took on the U.S. tactical and gunnery manuals, but it takes us a while to translate it into Arabic. One major issue we did realize is that an Arabic word doesn’t really mean the same in English. When the [interpreters] are translating the English version to Arabic, sometimes they have to find the word that means the closest to the English word. This can cause a big problem when it comes to gunneries because when it comes to bullets and safety, we have to be very specific. In Arabic, there can be a lot of gray areas which creates the opening for an unsafe act to happen …

The mentality the Saudi officers is if I am the only one in the organization who knows how to … Then I am important and people have to come to me. If others know what I know … then I have lost my power and importance. So U.S. advisors need to know that training the trainers does not always work … the knowledge is not passed down because ‘Information is Power.’

Wafe, who as an enlisted soldier was more likely than an officer to call ’em the way he saw them, issued guidelines for those U.S. troops who would follow in his footsteps to train SANG forces:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 5.05.19 PM

O.K., so the Saudi monarchy is an archaic autocracy with a U.S.-supplied military dedicated to keeping it in power. Bottom line, as Donald Rumsfeld might have said: You defend your oil with the army you have, not the one you wish you had.

TIME Drugs

Report Predicts 18 States Will Legalize Pot by 2020

Whether that pans out depends on Colorado, cash and the federal government

A new report predicts that 18 U.S. states will have legalized recreational marijuana in the next five years, a huge increase from the four states that currently have or are in the process of creating legal markets for pot.

The report, set to be released in February from ArcView Market Research, a firm that pairs investors with marijuana-related businesses, was sponsored by marijuana-industry groups and has a prolegalization tone. But their prediction is not simply self-serving optimism. The map below shows the states where ArcView’s researchers believe recreational pot shops will open their doors:

This chart appears in the executive summary of Arcview Market Research's Marijuana Markets report, 3rd Edition.
This chart appears in the executive summary of Arcview Market Research’s Marijuana Markets report, 3rd Edition.

 

The map has a lot of overlap with the places where the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the group that helped launch legal weed in Colorado, already has workers on the ground in preparation for legalization votes over the next two years. Yet MPP is a bit more cautious in its outlook: the group believes 12 states could join Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska in allowing recreational pot by 2017. Unlike ArcView (whose executive director sits on MPP’s board), they’re not banking on legalization taking root in Montana, New Jersey or Connecticut over the next few years, according to spokesperson Morgan Fox. He says they’re concentrating current efforts in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. They see Texas — yes, Texas —as an outside possibility.

In the report, ArcView claims that “2014 will be remembered as a year when … a sense of inevitability about national legalization became conventional wisdom among elected officials and the general public.” But the issue and the mood of the electorate are far from settled. In November, Gallup released a poll showing that a majority of Americans favor legalization. But it’s a slim majority of 51%, down from 58% in 2013, with many conservatives still balking at the idea.

As with so many other political issues, the speed at which states legalize marijuana is going to be affected by the rate at which donors are willing to pour money into elections and lobbying. In 2014, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson proved that there is a Republican with deep pockets willing to spend big to fight against legalization. In Florida’s midterm election, voters considered an amendment to legalize medical marijuana, and Adelson shelled out at least $5.5 million to defeat the measure. It failed by a 2% margin, just shy of the 60% required to pass.

Meanwhile, legalization advocates have lost stalwart funders like Peter Lewis, the chairman of Progressive Insurance who died in 2013. By one estimate, he had spent $40 on legalization efforts since the 1980s. His allies have been scrambling to fill the funding hole left by Lewis. In Florida, the effort to legalize medical marijuana was largely bankrolled by one man, personal-injury lawyer John Morgan, who was behind about $4 million in funds. He has vowed to try again in 2016, but legalization advocates fighting for reform in other states can’t necessarily count on his support. MPP’s Mason Tvert says that while money is obviously important for their cause, “there’s no one individual who is going to be responsible for passing these measures.”

Two other factors will be key to determining if the above map proves accurate: whether the federal government continues to keep its distance from state experiments with legalization (which remain illegal under federal law), and whether states with existing legal markets encounter any major problems.

In Colorado, for example, parties are gearing up for a political fight over edibles, which have led to children who accidentally ingested them being hospitalized. One of those groups is Smart Colorado, which includes parents concerned about the pace at which marijuana laws have been liberalized. “We’re looking out for public safety and our kids,” founder Gina Carbone told TIME in an earlier interview about edibles regulations, “not just expanding this huge market.” According to the new report, legal weed yielded $2.7 billion in retail and wholesale sales in 2014.

Tvert says there’s also the possibility of an “unexpected event” that could thwart or boost their cause, like an endorsement from a major, mainstream celebrity or a high-profile incident that could set the movement back. “A big part of this is really optics,” he says.

TIME National Security

Feds Accuse Three of Being Russian Spies in New York City

The suspects allegedly discussed methods to recruit local New Yorkers by falsely promising rewards in exchange for private documents

Attorney General Eric Holder charged three Russian citizens with conducting economic espionage in New York City on Wednesday, according to a complaint that details secret meetings, coded dispatches and attempts to recruit local citizens into the spy ring.

The complaint alleges that three Russian operatives met on at least 48 occasions in clandestine locations in Manhattan and the Bronx from March 2012 to September 2014. The suspects allegedly discussed methods to recruit local New Yorkers by falsely promising rewards in exchange for private documents.

Evgeny Buryakov, 39, stands accused of gathering field intelligence on topics ranging from U.S. sanctions against Russia to developments in the alternative energy sector. He allegedly gathered the information while posing as a private employee of a Russian bank.

Igor Sporyshev, 40, a trade representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, is accused of relaying covert assignments from Moscow, while partnering with Victor Podobnyy, 27, a diplomatic attache, to analyze the “the fruits of Buryakov’s intelligence-gathering efforts,” according to a complaint filed by the Department of Justice.

Potential recruits included several employees of major companies and young women associated with a major university. “The attempt by foreign nations to illegally gather economic and other intelligence information in the United States through covert agents is a direct threat to the national security of the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Carlin in a public statement.

An investigation was opened against the three suspects shortly after a 2010 bust of a 10-person Russian spy ring. Buryakov was arrested on Monday in New York, and was due to appear in federal court in Manhattan later the same day. Sporyshev and Podobnyy no longer reside in the United States and have not been arrested. Both were protected by diplomatic immunity while they held their diplomatic positions in the U.S.

TIME National Security

Ex-CIA Officer Convicted of Leaking Classified Iran Operation to New York Times Reporter

Jeffrey Sterling, 47, was convicted of leaking information to journalist James Risen to get back at the CIA for perceived mistreatment.

A jury has convicted a former CIA officer of leaking classified details of an operation to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions to a New York Times reporter.

Jurors convicted 47-year-old Jeffrey Sterling, of O’Fallon, Missouri, of all nine counts he faced in federal court on Monday.

Prosecutors said Sterling disclosed the mission to journalist James Risen to get back at the CIA for perceived mistreatment.

Sterling was the handler for a Russian-born CIA asset nicknamed Merlin, who was at the center of an operation to funnel deliberately flawed nuclear-weapons blueprints to the Iranians.

Risen wrote about the operation in a 2006 book. Risen refused to divulge his sources, and prosecutors eventually dropped their effort to force Risen to testify.

Sterling denied leaking anything to Risen, and said it was more likely Risen learned about the mission from Senate staffers who had been briefed on it.

TIME 2016 Election

Watch the Speech That Got People Talking About Scott Walker

Iowa Freedom Summit Features GOP Presidential  Hopefuls
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Scott Olson—Getty Images

A single speech can launch a presidency. Just ask Barack Obama, who got his start toward the White House with a well-received oration at the 2004 Democratic presidential convention.

On Saturday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gave a well-received speech in Iowa, home of the crucial first-in-the-nation caucuses on the road to the 2016 nomination.

While it’s too soon to tell if the speech will actually push Walker into position, it’s worth watching just to see how a well-done speech can capture people’s attention.

TIME 2016 Election

Sarah Palin and Donald Trump Are Not Running for President

Sarah Palin Meets With Donald Trump In New York During Her Bus Tour
Former U.S. Vice presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Donald Trump walk towards a limo after leaving Trump Tower at 56th Street and 5th Avenue on May 31, 2011 in New York City. Andrew Burton—Getty Images

Despite what you might have heard, there is a big difference between a presidential campaign and a reality show.

Anyone can say they are running for President. Just ask Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.

“I have that fire in my belly,” Palin told Fox News. “That’s sort of my problem.” Trump was not far behind. “I can tell you this,” he told a crowd of conservative activists. “If I run and if I win, this country will be respected again.”

Both reality television stars spoke those words in 2011, in what proved to be low-cost feints designed to drum up national attention and raise their profiles before the last presidential campaign. Now they are at it again, with what appears to be a nearly identical playbook. In Iowa over the weekend, both described the same unquantifiable assertion of mental effort—”seriously considering”—to describe their relationship to becoming a candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

There is no evidence that either is any more serious about an actual campaign this time—no fundraising, no staff hires, no grassroots organizing in early states. But both have the same incentives to make the nation, and the political press corps, think differently. And the political press corps, struggling at the moment to interest a nation exhausted with politics in another 20-month campaign, has an incentive to write about Palin and Trump, who truth be told are simply more fun than actual presidential candidates.

A large part of this delight springs from both non-candidates disdain for the political scribblers they court. Trump is well known for personally attacking reporters who doubt his sincerity with school-yard epithets like “loser.” And Palin has increasingly reordered her political worldview around the concept of a “lamestream” media that seeks to undermine the nation, and the decent, God-fearing people who occupy it.

On Saturday, Palin held up an old copy of TIME magazine that carried a cover line “Can Anybody Stop Hillary?,” before interpreting this deliberation on the Democratic nomination fight as an effort to undermine national pride. “The press asks, ‘Can anyone stop Hillary?’ ” she said. “This is to forego a conclusion, right, is to scare us off and convince us that a pantsuit can crush patriots?”

Between the two of them, however, Trump has a far more storied history of propping up and then pulling the football away from political watchers anticipating his candidacy. “I know what needs to be done to make America great again,” Trump said at the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday, in a speech that also promoted a new Trump-branded hotel being built near the White House. Those words borrowed verbatim from speeches he gave before the 2012 campaign. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about Trump is how consistent his messaging has been since he first started flirting with running for President in the 1980s. In 1987, Trump took out full-page ads in several newspapers criticizing the political establishment for its handling of gulf oil states and Japan, stoking speculation that he might join the fray. In 2000, he made moves to win the Reform Party ticket with the same talking points.

If his message has been repetitive, Trump’s policy solutions have varied wildly. In a book that preceded his 2000 non-campaign, he embraced the ides of single-payer healthcare and a one-time 14.25% net worth tax on all Americans worth more than $10 million, two ideas that would horrify most of the people cheering for him in Iowa. (The tax would have exempted net-worth held in primary residences, effectively making Trump’s real estate empire for the wealthy into a new, massive tax shelter.) He has since said he no longer supported either plan.

The timing of Trump’s 2011 campaign tease raised his national profile just as he was finalizing negotiations with NBC News on a new contract for the Celebrity Apprentice. (“I have a big decision to make,” he would say then, of the choice between seeking the Oval Office and evaluating the half-naked selfies of Geraldo Rivera.) Palin launched a multi-state bus tour—she even had the bus wrapped with her mug and signature—raising her profile as a pundit in advance of the campaign. She now sells online subscriptions to her own video network, giving her financial incentive for her publicity even more direct than a book tour.

Just how far Palin and Trump choose go this time down the campaign trail is not possible to predict, though their odds of winning the Republican nomination can be safely handicapped as far more aspirational than practical. Perhaps they might go all the way to a debate stage, if only to prove the skepticism of political reporters wrong. After all, they both have so little to lose, and so much to gain.

 

 

TIME People

Why Republicans Run in Cowboy Boots

Cowboy boots are stylish. They give you a little extra height. And they're a good way of signifying that you "get" rural voters. Perhaps that's why they're so popular with Republican politicians.

TIME 2016 Election

Cruz, Paul and Rubio Defend Outside Spending in Koch Brothers Forum

Marco Rubio
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington on Dec. 17, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Three likely presidential candidates defended the growth of outside spending in politics Sunday evening at a forum hosted by a group affiliated with the billionaire Koch brothers.

The “American Recovery Policy Forum” hosted by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce featured Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio making their case to an audience of well-heeled business owners and featured sharp divisions over foreign policy. But one area of agreement a defense of the rights of billionaires and millionaires who are playing an ever larger role in the political system.

“Do you think there is too much influence in politics by super wealthy donors on both sides,” ABC News’ Jon Karl asked the presidential hopefuls in his final question as moderator. “As opposed to Hollywood or the mainstream media, you mean, or other multi-million dollar entities that try to influence American politics everyday,” Rubio asked, eliciting the loudest applause of the night.

“I believe in freedom of speech: I think that political spending and political activism is a form of protected speech,” Rubio said, noting that Democrats have billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer supporting their efforts. “The people who seem to have a problem with it are the ones who only want unions to be able to do it, their friends in Hollywood to be able to do it, and their friends in the press to be able to do it,” he added, to another big round of cheers.

Sen. Ted Cruz then got in on the action, lambasting Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for his longstanding attacks on the Kochs, whose network is a powerhouse on the Republican side. “There are a bunch of Democrats who have taken as their talking point that the Koch Brothers are the nexus of all evil. Harry Reid says that every week. Let me be very clear: I think that is grotesque and offensive.”

“I would love to see more and more conferences five times this size, 10 this size, of citizens of small business owners across the country fighting to change the direction,” Cruz added.

Karl then asked the three whether they would guarantee that their supporters would not have special access to them should they win the White House. Rubio, speaking for the three, said that doesn’t happen. “We run for office and people buy into our agenda,” he said. “Most of the people who support us support us because they agree with what we are doing, not because we agree with what they’re doing.”

Sen. Rand Paul indicated he would support a narrow effort at campaign finance reform to restrict the political activities of those seeking government contracts.

“Special interests can have a bad influence on government,” he said. “The special interests that I’m concerned about are those who do business with government, get government contracts, get the government money, and then try to get more contracts. And I am for some limitations.”

 

TIME White House

Drone That Crashed at White House Was Quadcopter

Drone Quadcopter
Getty Images

A drone that crashed on the White House grounds Monday, causing a brief lockdown, was a two-foot wide remote-controlled quadcopter that is sold in stores, officials said.

According to a Secret Service spokesman, a uniformed division officer stationed on the South Grounds of the complex “heard and observed” the device flying at a low altitude, before it crashed on the southeast side of the 18-acre secure zone around the executive mansion shortly after 3 a.m. Monday. The incident triggered a lockdown of the White House and nearby buildings, as officials scrambled to study the device and ensure it did not pose a threat.

According to Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary, an individual called the agency Monday morning after seeing news reports of the crash to report that they had been in control of the quadcopter. “The individual has been interviewed by Secret Service agents and been fully cooperative,” he said. “Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device. This investigation continues as the Secret Service conducts corroborative interviews, forensic examinations and reviews all other investigative leads.”

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were in India when the incident occurred. It is not clear whether other family members were present.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed that a device had been recovered. “There is a device that has been recovered by the Secret Service at the White House,” he said in a press briefing in New Delhi early Monday. “Early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat right now to anybody at the White House.”

The crash follows several high-profile security breaches at the White House that have shaken the Secret Service, including an incident last year when a disturbed man armed with a knife jumped a fence and managed to enter the mansion before being apprehended by officers. Obama subsequently asked the agency’s director to step aside, and her interim replacement has taken steps to reform its top leadership.

Under longstanding Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, no unmanned aerial system may be flown in the 12-13 mile area around Washington Reagan National Airport, which includes airspace over the White House, Pentagon, Naval Observatory and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The proliferation of small drones is posing new challenges not just at sensitive government facilities, but around the country, as cheap systems equipped with cameras pose new privacy concerns and reports of close encounters with private and commercial aircraft rise.

The Secret Service released a photo of the device Monday afternoon, identifying it as a member of the popular DJI Phantom line of quadcopters which retail for several hundred dollars online. It was not immediately clear whether the device was equipped with a camera, or whether it was recording during its flight.

United States Secret Service

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser