Tag Archives: U.S. government

Trial Held in North Korea for American Who Violated Tourist Status

North-korea-detained-americans

North Korea put detained American Matthew Miller on trial Sunday, according to reports.

Details of the charges that he faced or of possible punishments were not announced before the trial, according to the Associated Press

Continue reading Trial Held in North Korea for American Who Violated Tourist Status

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Who Owns the World’s Biggest Bitcoin Wallet? The FBI

Bitcoins

Who owns the single largest Bitcoin wallet on the internet? The U.S. government.

In September, the FBI shut down the Silk Road online drug marketplace, and it started seizing bitcoins belonging to the Dread Pirate Roberts — the operator of the illicit online marketplace, who they say is an American man named Ross Ulbricht.

The seizure sparked an ongoing public discussion about the future of Bitcoin, the world’s most popular digital currency, but it had an unforeseen side-effect: It made the FBI the holder of the world’s biggest Bitcoin wallet.

The FBI now controls more than 144,000 bitcoins that reside at a bitcoin address that consolidates much of the seized Silk Road bitcoins. Those 144,000 bitcoins are worth close to $100 million at Tuesday’s exchange rates. Another address, containing Silk Road funds seized earlier by the FBI, contains nearly 30,000 bitcoins ($20 million).

That doesn’t make the FBI the world’s largest bitcoin holder. This honor is thought to belong to bitcoin’s shadowy inventor Satoshi Nakamoto, who is estimated to have mined 1 million bitcoins in the currency’s early days. His stash is spread across many wallets. But it does put the federal agency ahead of the Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who in July said that they’d cornered about 1 percent of all bitcoins (there are 12 million bitcoins in circulation).

In the fun house world of bitcoin tracking, it’s hard to say anything for certain. But it is safe to say that there are new players in the Bitcoin world — although not as many people are buying bitcoins as one might guess from all of the media attention.

Satoshi stores his wealth in a large number of bitcoin addresses, most of them holding just 50 bitcoins. It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare, but most savvy Bitcoin investors spread out their bitcoins across multiple wallets. That way if they lose the key to one of them or get hacked, all is not lost.

“It’s easier to keep track of one address, but it’s also most risky that way,” says Andrew Rennhack, the operator of the Bitcoin Rich List, a website that tracks the top addresses in the world of bitcoin.

According to Rennhack, the size of the bitcoin universe has expanded over the past year, but the total number of people on the planet who hold at least one bitcoin is actually pretty small — less than a quarter-million people. Today, there are 246,377 bitcoin addresses with at least one bitcoin in them, he says. And many people keep their bitcoins in more than one address. A year ago, that number was 159,916, he says.

Although some assume that the largest Bitcoin addresses are held by bitcoin dinosaurs — miners who got into the game early on, when it was easy to rack up thousands of bitcoins with a single general-purpose computer — almost all of the top 10 bitcoin addresses do not fit that profile, says Sarah Meiklejohn, a University of California, San Diego, graduate student.

She took a look at how many transactions in these wallets seemed to match the profile of early-day miners and found that only one of them really fit the bill.

The rest seem to belong to what Meiklejohn calls Bitcoin’s “nouveau riche”: People who are accumulating bitcoins from non-mining sources. “What you’re seeing is this influx of a different kind of wealth,” she says.

Because most bitcoin addresses haven’t been publicly identified — like the FBI’s — it’s hard to say exactly makes up the new Bitcoin top 10. Meiklejohn says that they’re likely to include wallets created by up-and-coming Bitcoin exchanges or businesses. One of them is the wallet that’s thought to contain 96,000 bitcoins stolen from the Silk-Road successor, Sheep Marketplace.

This Fascinating Map Is The Ottoman Empire’s Take On The United States In 1803

ottoman map

What did the United States look like to Ottoman observers in 1803? In this map, the newly independent U.S. is labeled “The Country of the English People” (“İngliz Cumhurunun Ülkesi”). The Iroquois Confederacy shows up as well, labeled the “Government of the Six Indian Nations.”

Other tribes shown on the map include the Algonquin, Chippewa, Western Sioux (Siyu-yu Garbî), Eastern Sioux (Siyu-yu Şarkî), Black Pawnees (Kara Panis), and White Pawnees (Ak Panis).

The Ottoman Empire, which at the time this map was drawn included much of the Balkans and the Middle East, used a version of the Turkish language written in a slightly modified Arabic script. Ottoman script works particularly well on maps, because it allows cartographers to label wide regions by elongating the lines connecting individual letters.

This appears to be the first Ottoman map of the United States, but Ottoman maps of North America have a much longer history. The first were the 16th-century nautical charts of the famous Ottoman cartographer Piri Reis. Some of the last, drawn before the new Turkish Republic switched to Latin script in 1928, show air routes spanning the continental U.S.

American relations with the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century were either commercial or missionary. American missionaries to the empire first tried to win Christian converts. But after meeting with little success, they turned to creating schools to spread the much more popular American gospel of English fluency and engineering excellence.

At times, the mercantile and missionary impulses came into conflict, such as when Greek Christians rebelled against the Ottoman sultan. Many Americans felt their government had a moral duty to stand with co-religionists against a Muslim despot.

The U.S. government, however, felt a more pressing duty to stand with its merchants and sea captains, who’d been doing brisk business with the sultan. Supposedly, it was in recognition of U.S. support of the establishment that the empire later sided with the Union during America’s own civil war.

Click on the image to reach a larger version, or visit the map’s page in the digital collections of the Osher Map Library, University of Southern Maine.

Gig Economy Explosion: 53 Million American Freelancers Are Their Own Bosses

If the findings are accurate, a majority of Americans would like to spring from their desks right now and make a run for it, if they could.

Earlier this year, a Conference Board survey reported that less than half of Americans were satisfied with their jobs, perhaps due to a widespread decline in benefits and health care coverage. But a new survey on the American workforce suggests that a new kind of worker has adapted to this weird economy: The freelancer.

According to a new survey commissioned by Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk, freelance workers make up 53 million people, or 34% of the American workforce.

In 2006, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) put the number of freelancers at 42 million, though it’d be difficult to make a direct comparison between the two figures because of differences in methodology.

But there is some evidence to attest to the idea that the number of freelancers is increasing: Freelancers Union reports that its membership has grown 400% since 2007, and Elance-oDesk says that the freelancer earnings it tracks have increased by 50%.

The survey paints a generally sunny picture of what it’s like to be a freelancer, with 77% reporting that they make as much, if not more, than they did with a steady job. More than 40% said they even expected to make more in this coming year.

The study also suggests that far more Americans are doing some kind of freelance work–even to supplement their primary jobs–than previously thought. The findings certainly run contrary to the popular notion that freelancers are perpetually starving, overworked types who don’t get paid on time.

“This is an economic shift on par with the Industrial Revolution,” writes Sara Horowitz, executive director of Freelancers Union. “We’re seeing a new economy rise up all around us. Many freelancers see this way of working as the best way to take back control of their lives.”

That’s not to diminish the very real challenges of working without a safety net. Income stability is a major challenge–and so is access to benefits. Freelancers Union is working on some of that, with a new platform that helps freelance workers find those resources.

Yet, it’s also important to recognize that the Freelancers Union/Elance-oDesk survey leaves out a significant number of workers who, without a primary job, can’t call themselves “freelancers” with the “free” association of the term.

Temp labor makes up one of the fastest growing areas of the economy, often placing unskilled workers in dangerous and exploitative circumstances.

These aren’t people with advanced degrees who choose to become their own bosses. Yet some 2.87 million people work in corporate warehouses, farms, and offices without much autonomy or protection whatsoever.

Steven Sotloff, killed by Islamic State, had deep roots in Israel

Steven Sotloff prior to his execution (screen capture)

Freelance journalist captured and beheaded in Syria was Jewish, held Israeli citizenship and earned his undergraduate degree at IDC

The Embassy of Israel announced on Twitter that Steven Sotloff, whose murder was announced by the Islamic State on Tuesday, was a dual citizen of the United States and Israel.

The Times of Israel then reported that the American journalist Sotloff, 31, was Jewish, held an Israeli passport and had spent a lot of time in the country. He was from Miami, but moved to Israel in 2008 to complete an undergraduate degree.

“The Times of Israel held this story for several weeks out of fear of endangering Sotloff’s life by writing about his Jewish and Israeli connections,” the website said, before detailing his deep interest in and extensive coverage of the turmoil in the Middle East as a journalist for U.S. and Israeli publications. It was this reporting that led Sotloff to Syria one year ago.

File photo dated June 02, 2011 courtesy Etienne de Malglaive shows American journalist Steven Sotloff (center with dark helmet) talking to Libyan rebels (photo via AFP)

 

A video released by the Islamic State showed his brutal beheading, and contained a message from the knife-wielding killer to America: “I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy against the Islamic State.”

Two weeks ago, James Foley, another American journalist, died in a similar manner. Both men were wearing orange jumpsuits and delivered a propaganda message to the U.S. government, apparently written by their captors. Both videos appeared on YouTube.

The U.S. Government confirmed on Wednesday the authenticity of the video.

“The U.S. Intelligence Community has analyzed the recently released video showing U.S. citizen Steven Sotloff and has reached the judgment that it is authentic,” it said in a statement.

The Feds Are Going After Angelo Mozilo — Bank of America braced for $17bn settlement over mortgages case

countrywide mozilo

Countrywide Financial Corp. co-founder Angelo Mozilo hasn’t entirely escaped prosecutors’ wrath for his company’s risky lending. A U.S. government task force wielding an innovative legal strategy plans to bring a civil case against him over the excesses of the subprime-mortgage boom.

The last-ditch effort comes three years after the Justice Department abandoned a criminal probe of Mozilo. In 2012, public anger over the lack of prosecutions stemming from the financial crisis spurred the Obama administration to create a team devoted to investigating fraud in mortgage-backed securities. The group has wrestled at least $20 billion from Wall Street banks using a law with a relatively low threshold for suing and a long period to bring cases.

Relying on the same anti-fraud law, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles is preparing to sue Mozilo and as many as 10 other former Countrywide employees, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The case may be helped along by an imminent U.S. settlement with Bank of America Corp., which acquired Countrywide in 2008. That resolution may come as soon as today with Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America expected to pay as much as $17 billion and to acknowledge improper mortgage practices at Countrywide.

File photo of Countrywide Financial Corporation CEO Mozilo on Capitol Hill in Washington

’Record Penalty’

“There is no sound or fair basis, in law or fact, to pursue any claim against Angelo Mozilo,” David Siegel, his lawyer at Irell & Manella LLP in Los Angeles, said yesterday. Mozilo, 75, “stands virtually alone among banking and mortgage executives to actually have been pursued by this government before and already paid a record penalty,” Siegel said.

Until now, the harshest penalty imposed on Mozilo has been a $67.5 million accord with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission from 2010 to resolve allegations that he misled Countrywide investors. He earned $535 million from 1999 to 2008, according to compensation-research firm Equilar Inc.

The size of the sanction in the SEC case, in which Mozilo didn’t admit or deny wrongdoing, compared with his pay has fueled criticism from lawmakers and public-interest groups that executives walked away from the housing bust enriched and mostly unscathed.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, declined to comment on a possible suit against Mozilo.

FILE - This July 16, 2013, file photo shows a Bank of America branch on Peachtree Street, in Atlanta. How much will Bank of America’s expected $17 billion mortgage settlement cost the company? The answer is, almost certainly not $17 billion. In mega-settlements negotiated with the U.S. government, a dollar is rarely worth an actual dollar. Inflated figures make sensational headlines for the Justice Department, and $17 billion would be the largest settlement by far arising from the economic meltdown in which millions of Americans lost their homes to foreclosure. But the true cost to companies is often obscured by opaque accounting techniques. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

Month Away

While U.S. prosecutors have notified lawyers that their clients are targets of civil cases, any suit against Mozilo and other former Countrywide executives may be more than a month away, said one of the people, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the case publicly.

The Justice Department has been focused on first wrapping up the Bank of America case, people familiar with the matter have said. It stems from how mortgage securities issued by Countrywide and Merrill Lynch & Co., which Bank of America bought in 2009, were marketed to investors in the run-up to the financial crisis.

Mozilo said he has “no regrets” about how he ran Countrywide, according to a June 2011 deposition he gave in a lawsuit between the mortgage lender and bond insurer MBIA Inc.

The financial crisis was a “cataclysmic situation, unprecedented in the history of this country” that Countrywide did not cause, Mozilo said in the deposition. Mozilo, Countrywide’s former chairman and chief executive officer, said he settled the SEC lawsuit to protect his family from negative publicity.

 Officials familiar with the deal say Bank of America  has reached a record $17 billion settlement with federal and state authorities over its role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.

Tanned Visage

Mozilo, known for his tanned visage, became an American success story after co-founding Countrywide in 1969 and building it into the nation’s largest mortgage lender. His fortunes turned in 2007 during a surge in defaults of loans the company made to borrowers with inadequate credit profiles. Countrywide, based in Calabasas, California, reported its first annual loss in more than two decades that year.

By March 2008, lawmakers tried to make Mozilo a poster child of Wall Street greed as the U.S. economy slumped. They beckoned him toWashington, where he testified before a combative congressional committee about his pay along with the ousted CEOs of Merrill andCitigroup Inc. (C) U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a Bloomberg Television interview two months later that Countrywide “will come to symbolize what went wrong with housing.”

Bank of America, trying to solidify its mortgage business by snatching a stumbling competitor, completed the Countrywide acquisition in July 2008. The purchase turned into an albatross. Bank of America has absorbed almost $55 billion in fines and charges since 2010, mostly attributable to Countrywide.

Court

10 Years

The government’s FIRREA case against Bank of America will follow a $7 billion July accord with Citigroup that relied on the law and a $13 billion agreement reached last year with JPMorgan Chase & Co. The law, approved by Congress in 1989 in response to savings-and-loan scandals, gives prosecutors 10 years to bring cases and has less stringent liability requirements than criminal charges. It allows the government to sue individuals for fraud that affects a federally-insured financial company.

U.S. prosecutors dropped a criminal probe of Mozilo in early 2011, a person with knowledge of the matter said at the time. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, sued theJustice Department in June to try to obtain its records detailing investigations of Mozilo and Countrywide.

The group faulted the government for failing to prosecute either Mozilo or the company “despite substantial evidence of wrongdoing.”

Mozilo agreed to settle the SEC case in October 2010 by paying a $22.5 million fine and disgorging $45 million of gains from stock sales at what the regulator said were inflated prices. Bank of America covered a portion of his penalties.

The SEC’s lawsuit, filed 16 months earlier, accused Mozilo of reassuring Countrywide investors about the quality of the company’s loans, while knowing that its underwriting standards had deteriorated.

The SEC, which banned Mozilo from serving as an officer or director of a public company, also said he sold Countrywide shares based on inside information.

Update: Bank of America braced for $17bn settlement over mortgages case; The US Department of Justice is poised to announce a record $16bn-$17bn settlement with Bank of America over allegations it misled buyers of mortgage-backed securities that proved to be packaged with faulty loans.

 

Hackers Breach Hospital Network, Steal 4.5 Million Patient Records

Hacker

A group of hackers, believed to be from China, has breached a large American hospital network, stealing 4.5 million patients’ records.

The target of the attack, Community Health Systems, revealed the breach in a regulatory filing on Monday. The hackers obtained the “patient names, addresses, birthdates, telephone numbers and social security numbers,” but no credit card numbers or “medical or clinical information,” the company wrote in the filing.

Community Health Systems, as well as Mandiant, a forensic firm part of security company FireEye, believe that the attack stemmed from China.

“The attacker was an ‘Advanced Persistent Threat’ group originating from China who used highly sophisticated malware and technology to attack the company’s systems,” the network, which operates 206 hospitals across the United States, wrote in the filing.

Unlike usual Chinese government-sponsored attacks, the hackers didn’t target intellectual property or trade secrets, according to Community Health Systems.

Patients who got their data stolen will be notified by Community Health Systems, but it’s unclear who will be notified, as there’s no federal data breach law that mandates notifications, just a patchwork of different state regulations, as CNN explained in its report.

However, if a patient is notified or finds out, he or she could theoretically sue the company, since the data stolen is protected by the federal health records protection law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The FBI confirmed to Reuters that it’s investigating the case. In May, the U.S. government brought charges against five members of the Chinese military for their alleged role in protracted cyberespionage operations against U.S. companies. China has long denied sponsoring any such activity, arguing that all U.S. accusations are unfounded.