David Shepherd: News Blog

Journalist's Notebook

Accused Russian Spies Gathered Intel on Nuclear Weapons; Other Sensitive Information

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Monday, June 28, 2010

It sounds more like an old spy novel than reality.  10 people were arrested for allegedly spying on the United States for the Russian Federation, the Justice Department announced Monday.

As details continue to unfold, the more bizarre and potentially dangerous the situation seems.  Authorities say the 10 have been living in the United States for close to 20 years; going to great lengths to cover up any ties to the Russian government.  Officials say they used American names to conceal their identity; using secret code words and making document exchanges in public places like New York City’s Central Park.

The Justice Department says the alleged spies had a special, “deep-cover” mission:  Penetrate U.S. policy-making circles while posing as U.S. civilians.

But now, it appears their lives were anything but ordinary.  They lived across Manhattan, Boston, Montclair, NJ, Yonkers, NY and Arlington, VA while secretly working for the Russian intelligence service, or SVR.  They are the successor to the Soviet KGB.

While 10 of the suspects were arrested Sunday, one was still at large as of Monday night.

Suspects Allegedly Worked For Russian Intel Agency

Court documents show a message sent from the headquarters of the SVR, intercepted by U.S. government officials, to two of the defendants says, “You were sent to USA for long term service trip. Your education, bank accounts, car, house, etc. — all these serve one goal: fulfill your main mission, i.e., to search and develop ties in policy-making circles in the US and send intels (intelligence reports) to Center.”

Another intercepted message talks about one of the alleged spies, known as Cynthia Murphy.  It states she “had several work-related personal meetings” with a man the documents describe as a prominent New York-based financier who was active in politics.

Court documents describe other messages from the suspects to Moscow discussing turnover in the highest levels of the CIA and the 2008 presidential election between President Obama and Senator John McCain.

Sources say the information was received during private conversations between at least one of the suspected spies and a former legislative counselor on Capitol Hill.

Mission: Gather U.S. / World Nuclear Info.

The Justice Department also says Russian intelligence officials wanted one defendant to gain information from a man, who has not been identified, who worked at a U.S. government research facility back in 2004.

The suspect’s intelligence report allegedly said that researcher, “Works on issues of strategic planning related to nuclear weapon development.

That same report claims the suspect had conversations with the researcher about “programs on small yield high penetration nuclear warheads (also known has nuclear “bunker-buster” warheads) recently authorized by the United States Congress.

U.S. intelligence officials say Moscow encouraged the suspects to “try to build up little by little relations,” and to gain more information about U.S. foreign policy, and about the White House “internal kitchen.”   It’s not yet clear what they mean by “internal kitchen.”

Moscow is also accused of sending directives to some of the defendants in advance of President Obama’s visit to Russia last year.  Documents show Moscow wanted information on the United States’ position on a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty as well as intelligence information about Afghanistan and Iran’s nuclear programs.

But, according to court documents, the alleged espionage didn’t stop there.  The documents show the defendants developed a short-range wireless network between laptop computers to communicate with other Russian agents.

As the investigation continues, U.S. intelligence officials are trying to determine how much the spies were able to learn during their time in the United States and if, or how, they damaged current or previous U.S. intelligence operations.

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June 28, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Column: Do Gays Have It Better Today & Is It Enough?

Do Gays Have It Better Today & Is It Enough?

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]

Editor’s Note:  This column is one reporter’s opinion and do not necessarily reflect those of WTWO-TV, NBC Universal, Nexstar Broadcasting, or any of their sponsors.  This column contains strong language and sexual material that may not be appropriate for all readers.  Reader discretion is advised.

Faggot, queer, homo:  they are words commonly used today to disparage and hurt others.  They are words that are used, not just targeting homosexuals, but anyone who is the target of bullying.  Ever hear someone say, “Oh, that’s so gay?”  But it seems America is turning a corner where, in many places, those words are no longer tolerated (much like the word nigger). 

Many Americans today, gay and straight, see those words as ignorant and closed minded.  But still, we hear it much too often on our streets, in our schools, and just about anywhere else we go in public.

 Looking back at it now, in 2010, it’s hard to believe there was a time in the United States where homosexuality was considered a mental disorder.  Gay men and women were institutionalized for the “perverted compulsions” and an employee could be fired if he or she were suspected of being homosexual.

For centuries, the gay stigma terrified so many people that coming out and living life openly gay was unsafe.  Those courageous enough to come out were often blackballed; thought of as deviants and mentally sick.  There were no laws protecting a homosexual’s rights to housing, employment, college acceptance, marriage or any other gay issue you can think of.

Matthew Shepard’s Brutal Killing Brings Gay Issues Front and Center

It wasn’t until the brutal killing of gay student Matthew Shepard in October of 1998 that gay rights issues took center stage, both in the national media and in Congress.  Shepard was kidnapped by two men in Laramie, Wyoming, tied to a fence and beaten to death because he was gay. 

Officers who responded to the crime scene later described the 21-year-old Shepard as beaten so badly; the only parts of his face not covered in blood were two streaks running down his cheeks from his eyes where he cried as he was left tied to the fence to die a long, painful death.

In the years following that horrific crime, lawmakers on both the state and federal level, have taken a more serious look at hate crime legislation as well as other gay rights issues.   

Many gay rights activists have praised the work that’s been done thus far, but many will still tell you more work must be done.

Lawrence v. Texas

Gay rights advocates claimed another victory in 2003 when the United States Supreme Court struck down Texas’ sodomy law in the landmark, Lawrence v. Texas case.  Before the high court made their ruling, 14 states still had anti-sodomy laws on the books.  Knowing they could no longer enforce those laws after the Supreme Court’s ruling, those states took the law off the books.

It all started on September 17, 1998.  Harris County police were called out to Lawrence’s home after a neighbor, who later admitted to police he lied, reported there was a weapon disturbance taking place there.  Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Quinn entered the apartment, gun drawn, and caught the two men having consensual anal sex. 

They were arrested, not for the erroneous report of a weapon, but for violating the state’s Homosexual Conduct Law, which prohibited anal and oral sex among people of the same sex but did not apply to those, participating in the same sexual activity, if the participants were members of the opposite sex.

The two men were arrested and each posted $200 bail after spending the night in jail.  A judge fined the two $400 dollars for their crime and were forced to pay over $100 in court costs.

The case eventually made it to the United States Supreme Court.  Their ruling made it so no other same sex couple would ever have to face that kind of discrimination again.

The most frightening, and some would say sickening, part of this is that 14 states had similar laws on the books before the high court’s ruling.

Things Get Even Better For Gay Community

Many states have debated the issue of gay marriage in recent years.  Many states passed constitutional amendments “protecting the sanctity of marriage,” ensuring marriages there stay between one man and one woman.

But 5 states and the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.) have legalized gay marriage as lawmakers in other states are hoping to do the same thing.  President Obama is against gay marriage, but believes in civil unions, which grant gay couples the same rights and benefits as “traditional marriage,” and equal rights for all Americans despite their sexual orientation.

Now, the Obama administration is renewing their vow to the gay community to pass more pro-gay laws including employment non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the controversial, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, baring gay men and women from serving openly in the military.

Allowing gays to serve openly will “hurt morale,” and “disrupt the unit,” according to many military officials.  The problem with that is that same rational was used to bar blacks from serving with whites in the early 1900’s.  The military officials were right.  It did hurt morale and disrupt the unit.  But the unit got over it and today, the thought of racially segregating the brave men and women who serve our country would be thought of as absurd and racist.

Cut the President Some Slack

MSNBC Photo

But not all homosexuals are happy with the administration’s “lack of action.”  As an openly gay man, television journalist, active member of the Episcopal Church, and partner to a wonderful man, Shawn, the gay community needs to cut President Obama some slack.

Many are angry Mr. Obama hasn’t acted on gay rights issues sooner.  When he took office, President Obama was facing huge issues that were affecting millions of Americans.  Mothers couldn’t afford to put food on the table for their families, the job market tanked, and healthcare reform was needed to ensure all Americans have access to quality healthcare for themselves and their children.

The President adopted a national emergency from the previous administration and, in times of such an emergency, social issues need to take a backseat until the devastating problems plaguing our country improve.  Yes, Shawn and I would love to get married, but I can’t justify fast-tracking my social agenda while children are starving and can’t see a doctor because their parents can’t afford it.

As the economy improves and healthcare reform moves forward, Mr. Obama is now making gay rights a priority.  He’s fulfilling his promise and he started as soon as he was responsibly able.  If you expect anything else from the President of the United States, you are kidding yourself.

We are very lucky to have such a progressive President (whether you subscribe to his politics or not) and, quite frankly, he may be the most pro-gay person we will see in the White House for a long time.

Moving Forward and My Prayer

Americans are becoming more accepting of gay issues and homosexuals today have it much better than they did just a few years ago.  That said, yes, there is more work to do.  I’m not an activist by any means, I’m a journalist. 

It’s my hope and prayer that there will be a day where every couple is able to express their love for one another through marriage, gay or straight.  I pray to see a day where our schools crack down on bullying and harassment of all students, no matter what their sexual orientation. 

Progress comes in painfully slow increments.  The only thing we can do, as a society, is continue to love one another with all that we have, fight to ensure all Americans have equal rights, and pray the day will come when we can all join hands together, despite race, sexual orientation, gender or religion, as one people; all children of God.

Sound-Off Web Poll

June 28, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Primetime Address: Lights, Camera, Action???

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Sunday, June 20, 2010

Did President Barack Obama forget to bring some action to his Tuesday night primetime address?  Some say yes.  Americans have been growing increasingly frustrated over the federal government’s response (or lack thereof for some) to the Gulf Oil Crisis.

 A new Associated Press (AP) poll, released Tuesday, shows 52% of Americans disapprove of the President’s handling of the oil spill.  It’s becoming clear this crisis and the federal government’s response, is frighteningly reminiscent of former President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, where the majority of Americans polled felt like Bush’s response was insufficient.

Many hoped Tuesday’s Oval Office address would contain a bit more “Obama Kick-Ass.”  [The President told a reporter recently he met with experts to learn “whose ass to kick,” in the Gulf.]

The President addressed the nation in a somber tone from the hallowed chambers of the Oval Office, comparing the efforts in the Gulf to a battle and vowing to do everything in his power to make it right.

“Tonight I’d like to lay out for you what our battle plan is going forward:  what we’re doing to clean up the oil, what we’re doing to help our neighbors in the Gulf, and what we’re doing to make sure that a catastrophe like this never happens again.”  

But harsh attacks on BP were not the theme of this address.  The President obviously wanted to take a different approach.  He sounded like someone who has been there and understands what the people down there are going through because he has made several trips to the Gulf coast since the spill.

While his tone may not have been what all were hoping for, he did make it clear he will hold BP accountable for their actions.

“We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused.  And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.” 

Mr. Obama used a portion of his address to send a clear message to the American people that he is taking care of business.

Yahoo! News Photo

“Tomorrow, I will meet with the chairman of BP and inform him that he is to set aside whatever resources are required to compensate the workers and business owners who have been harmed as a result of his company’s recklessness.  And this fund will not be controlled by BP.  In order to ensure that all legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account must and will be administered by an independent third party.”

As promised, Mr. Obama met with BP’s CEO at the White House.  In that meeting, the President ordered BP to create a $20 billion compensation guarantee and an apology to the nation from the company.  The fund would set up a large claims fund for shrimpers, restaurant owners and others whose livelihoods depend on the once beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The White House also announced the compensation guarantee account would be led by Kenneth Feinberg, he’s the man who handled the 9/11 compensation account.

 

June 21, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

President Names New National Intelligence Director

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]  –  Sunday, June 6, 2010

Courtesy: MSNBC

President Barack Obama nominated retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper to be the new director of national intelligence.

Clapper, who retired in 1995 after 32 years in the service, has been the top Pentagon intelligence official, will replace Dennis Blair, who resigned last month.

If confirmed, Clapper will be the fourth DNI in the last 5 years.  The position was created after the 9/11 attacks as a way to coordinate and oversee the 16 agencies in the nation’s intelligence community.

June 6, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Estimates Show Much More Oil Gushing Into Gulf Than Once Feared

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]

New estimates show 500,000 to 1 million gallons of oil are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico in the worst oil spill in the nation’s history.

BP engineers are using robots to place a cap onto the jagged edge of the oil well.  This is the company’s latest attempt to restrict the flow of oil gushing from the blown out well in the Gulf of Mexico.

5,000 feet below the Gulf’s surface, maintenance efforts are being hampered because the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil gushing out is reducing visibility.

BP says this is not a fix.  Instead, it is meant to restrict, not cut-off, the flow of oil.  As the work is being done, there is the possibility the oil could flow faster than before for a short time (BP hopes).

A permanent fix won’t be ready until August.  With BP’s failure record, many question whether that fix will actually work.

Until Thursday, BP’s plans to stop the oil have failed time after time.  And while it’s too soon to

MSNBC: BP LIVE Video Feed

know if this plan will work, it’s the closest they’ve come so far.

Fears continue to grow along the Gulf coast where oil continues to spread.  So far, between 21 million and 46 million gallons of oil has spewed out of the blown out well and into the Gulf of Mexico.  As of Thursday, oil was spotted six miles from the white sand beaches along the Florida panhandle.

BP will soon be getting a bill from the federal government.  The White House says BP owes $69 million in costs so far.

What do you think?  Is it time for the federal government to take over the emergency efforts going on in the Gulf?  Leave comments and take my Soundoff news poll.

June 4, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events, Polls, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The White House and BP Telling Different Stories

By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com]

As frustration grows over the handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, questions are surfacing about who fumbled the initial estimates of the size of the spill.

BP’s managing director, Robert Dudley, told CNN’s “State of the Union” the federal government was the first to estimate the amount of oil leaking into the ocean each day.  Dudley insists government satellite imaging of the spill site led to early estimates that 210,000 gallons were leaking into the ocean every day.  Last week, new estimates put the leak at 504,000 to 798,000 gallons a day, that’s more than double the early figures.

President Obama’s assistant on energy and climate change, Carol Browner, told NBC’s Meet the Press that early estimates were offered by BP using their internal figures.  Browner has noted that BP has a “vested financial interest” in downplaying the leak’s size.

June 1, 2010 Posted by | News & Current Events | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment