Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o gangue de reformados

É uma história fabulosa: como um grupo de ladrões reformados se juntaram para fazer aquele que foi considerado o maior roubo de jóias do Reino Unido. Ao todo, o golpe terárendido 20 milhões de dólares, dos quais 15 milhões ainda estão desaparecidos. Para ler na Vanity Fair.

Untitled

PROLOGUE

‘It required a team with diverse skills…. It took ingenuity and brute force,” reporter Declan Lawn speculated on BBC television three weeks after what was already being called “the greatest heist in British history,” the audacious April 2015 ransacking of safe-deposit boxes in Hatton Garden, London’s diamond district. The crime was indeed epic. So much cash, jewelry, and other valuables had been taken that the loot, worth up to $300 million according to estimates at the time, had been hauled out of the vault in giant trash containers on wheels. Lawn demonstrated the acrobatic feats the gang must have used, and London’s newspapers were filled with artists’ renderings of the heist, featuring hard-bodied burglars in black turtlenecks doing superhuman things. Experts insisted that the heist was the work of a foreign team of navy-SEAL-like professionals, likely from the infamous Pink Panthers, a Serbian gang of master diamond thieves. Retired Scotland Yard detective Barry Phillips believed it was the work of a highly technical team, assembled by a so-called “Draftsman”—who financed the heist and assembled the players, probably from the U.K. He speculated that no member of the gang would have known any of the others, in order to preserve “sterile corridors,” making it impossible for any perpetrator to rat out the others.

The thieves had surely divided up the spoils into easily transportable lots once inside “the slaughter,” as their hideaway would have been called in London gangster argot. Perhaps they had sneaked the jewels out of the country by stuffing them up the butts of racehorses, the flamboyant villain turned celebrity Dave Courtney theorized on the BBC. The thieves would have been whisked out of Great Britain on a quick ferry trip from Dover to Dunkirk or Calais, from where they could disappear into Europe.

British crime aficionados saw the operation as a refreshing throwback to the meticulously planned, supremely executed jewelry heists of yesteryear, the ones that had inspired such classic crime movies as To Catch a Thief and Topkapi. Many were calling it “the perfect crime.”

But when arrests were made a month later, Great Britain collectively gasped.

THE VILLAINS

Retirement is a bitch.

Your wife has passed away. Most of your mates are in exile, prison, or the grave. Even the cops you once eluded have died, retired, or forgotten you. You skulk around your run-down mansion in the suburbs of London, puttering in your garden, infuriating your neighbors by running a used-car dealership out of your home, and “hobbling over to the news agent,” as one neighbor put it, for the daily papers to read about younger men doing what you used to.

This was the life of Brian Reader at 76. “He ain’t got no friends no more,” a colleague would say of him. “Sitting down there in the café, talks about all their yesterdays,” said another. “He was a thief 40 years ago.”

The Guardian’s veteran crime reporter Duncan Campbell, who met Reader 30 years ago, described him as something of a gent, “an easy-going character, the antithesis of a criminal wide boy, still in touch with his old school friends.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-sema: “Bill Cosby drogou-me”

Há muito que circulavam os rumores dos abusos alegados cometidos por Bill Cosby ao longo dos anos. Em Novembro, Barbara Bowman revelou ao Washington Post como foi drogada e violada pelo actor. Mais tarde foi a vez de Janice Dickinson contar como o mesmo lhe aconteceu. Agora, a antiga modelo Beverly Johnson dar o seu testemunho sobre como Cosby a drogou no seu apartamento.

VICTORIA WILL/AP PHOTO

VICTORIA WILL/AP PHOTO

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o estranho caso do roubo do Stradivarius

Buzz Bissinger é um conceituado jornalista americano. No final da década de 1980 ganhou um prémio Pulitzer na categoria de jornalismo de investigação. Alguns dos seus artigos foram adaptados ao cinema. Nos últimos anos celebrizou-se escreveu vários livros relacionados com desporto. Agora, na Vanity Fair, conta a história de como um criminoso de rua se interessou e foi acusado de roubar um violino Stradivarius.

i.1.1114-VF-stradivarius-01

It isn’t every day that a street criminal—a high-school dropout with two felony convictions—is accused of stealing a centuries-old violin worth as much as $6 million. But nothing about the heist of the Lipinski Stradivarius, which galvanized the music world last winter, was normal, or even logical

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: os seguranças que vão onde os governos se recusam

Há muitos anos que o negócio da segurança privada está em expansão. Não só aquela a que estamos habituados, mas, sobretudo, aquela que é necessária em países de risco: estados falhados, cenários de guerra, locais onde os governos não conseguem manter a ordem. Assim de repente, Afeganistão, Iraque, Sudão, República Centro Africana, Nigéria, África do Sul, Paquistão, Venezuela… Houve quem se apercebesse disso. E começasse a recrutar antigos militares para formar uma empresa que se tornou o terceiro maior empregador privado do mundo com uma força três vezes maior do que o exército britânico. Ainda assim, poucos a conhecem. Chama-se G4S e está em todo o lado. A sua história foi contada na revista Vanity Fair.

w640-4

The Chaos Company

Wherever governments can’t—or won’t—maintain order, from oil fields in Africa to airports in Britain and nuclear facilities in America, the London-based “global security” behemoth G4S has been filling the void. It is the world’s third-largest private-sector employer and commands a force three times the size of the British military. On-site in South Sudan with G4S ordnance-disposal teams, William Langewiesche learns just how dirty the job can get, and how perilous the company’s control.

By William Langewiesche

I. Death on the Nile

Late last fall, at the start of the dry season in the new country called South Sudan, a soldier of fortune named Pierre Booyse led a de-mining team westward from the capital city, Juba, intending to spend weeks unarmed in the remote and dangerous bush. Booyse, 49, is an easygoing Afrikaner and ordnance expert who was once the youngest colonel in the South African Army. He has a full gray beard that makes him look quite unlike a military man. After leaving the army he opened a bedding store in Cape Town, where he became the leading Sealy Posturepedic dealer, then opened a sports bar too, before selling both businesses in order to salvage his marriage and provide a better environment for his young daughter. The daughter flourished, the marriage did not. Booyse returned to the work he knew best, and took the first of his private military jobs, traveling to post-Qaddafi Libya to spend six months surveying the munitions depots there, particularly for surface-to-air missiles. It was dangerous work in a chaotic place, as was the next contract, which took him into the conflict zones of eastern Congo. From there he came here to South Sudan to do minefield mapping and battlefield-ordnance disposal for G4S, a far-flung security company engaged by the local United Nations mission to handle these tasks.

G4S is based near London and is traded on the stock exchange there. Though it remains generally unknown to the public, it has operations in 120 countries and more than 620,000 employees. In recent years it has become the third-largest private employer in the world, after Walmart and the Taiwanese manufacturing conglomerate Foxconn. The fact that such a huge private entity is a security company is a symptom of our times. Most G4S employees are lowly guards, but a growing number are military specialists dispatched by the company into what are delicately known as “complex environments” to take on jobs that national armies lack the skill or the will to do. Booyse, for one, did not dwell on the larger meaning. For him, the company amounted to a few expatriates in the Juba headquarters compound, a six-month contract at $10,000 a month, and some tangible fieldwork to be done. He felt he was getting too old to be living in tents and mucking around in the dirt, but he liked G4S and believed, however wearily, in the job. As he set out for the west, his team consisted of seven men—four de-miners, a driver, a community-liaison officer, and a medic. The medic was a Zimbabwean. All the others were soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the S.P.L.A., now seconded to G4S, which paid them well by local standards—about $250 a month. At their disposal they had two old Land Cruisers, one of them configured as an ambulance with a stretcher in the back.

Four miles out of town, Booyse’s car broke down, and Booyse radioed for help. Juba is a dirt grid on the Nile, a mega-village of several hundred thousand. It lacks municipal water, sewers, and electric power. The company’s compound stands near the center. The radioman there once showed up in a pink suit and tie. He informed Booyse that a mechanic would be dispatched to solve the problem. The arrival time was another matter, and Booyse did not ask. For hours he waited with his team beside the road. Then suddenly the radioman called again—this time about a deadly explosion in a local street market said to be littered with dangerous munitions. The United Nations asked G4S to intervene fast. Booyse commandeered the ambulance and rushed back to town.

The market is called Souk Sita. It occupies a junction of footpaths and dirt tracks in a neighborhood known as Khor William—a garbage-strewn district of shacks and mud huts inhabited largely by impoverished soldiers and their families, and centered on decrepit military barracks belonging to the S.P.L.A. Some of the children there—maybe homeless, and certainly wild—spend their days collecting scrap metal to sell to Ugandan dealers, who occasionally show up in a truck to buy the material for penny-on-the-dollar cash, or for ganja, a potent form of marijuana, apparently laced with chemicals. Routinely the scavenged metal includes live ordnance. That morning the Ugandan traders had arrived as usual, and—in the likeliest scenario—a boy perhaps 10 years old had accidentally detonated a medium-size device while trying to dismantle it. The explosion had killed him and three other boys of about the same age, along with one of the Ugandan adults.

Booyse arrived at Souk Sita at 3:30 P.M., five hours after the explosion. By then the bodies had been taken to the morgue, and all that remained of the carnage was a small crater and some bloody shoes. Booyse’s immediate problem was to remove the visible ordnance before dark, only three hours away, because the place was obviously dangerous and could not be cordoned off. Treading softly among the munitions, he counted three 82-millimeter mortar rounds, two 62-millimeter mortar rounds, seven 107-millimeter rocket warheads, one complete 107-millimeter rocket (fuzed and fired and therefore rigged to blow), seven 37-millimeter anti-tank high-explosive incendiary projectiles, a hand grenade with a sheared-off fuze, and a heavily dented rocket-propelled grenade. He instructed his crew to take a thin-skinned metal box from the ambulance and fill it initially with a few inches of sand to create a stabilizing bed for the ordnance. Over the next few hours he gently laid the items into the box, cradling the pieces and snuggling them into periodic supplements of sand. He drove off with the load at dusk, taking care not to jostle the box on Juba’s atrocious streets, and deposited the lot in a purpose-built bunker at a G4S logistics base on the north side of town.

In the morning he returned with his team and continued with the surface cleaning, gathering scrap metal into piles, and finding plenty of small-arms ammunition. Two days later, when I first met him, he was still at it—a bearded figure in sunglasses and bandanna working with one of his de-miners in intense heat while the rest of the crew went door-to-door to ask about other munitions and to try to establish the identities of the victims. Booyse invited me into the work area, saying, “It’s probably safe—just please don’t bang your feet on the ground.” We stood by the crater. He guessed it had been made by a medium-size mortar. His de-miner swept a patch of ground with a detector that squealed loudly. Booyse raked the patch and uncovered a spoon, a nut, a nail, a twisted wire bundle, and several AK-47 rounds. Leaning on the rake and sweating, he said, “Ach,you just get more and more the more you go down.” But the chance of finding anything large was small. The door-to-door search was hardly better. That morning the team had found five pieces of unexploded ordnance, but two had disappeared before they could be collected. Most of the residents questioned had professed ignorance, and a few had demanded cash. With more fatigue than humor Booyse said, “Because, you know, the African five-point plan is ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”

Four days after the accident, the names of the dead remained unknown, and the South Sudanese government could not be roused to care. This was now high on the list of concerns, because for the U.N. no job is finished until the paperwork is complete. With Booyse busy securing the market, G4S managers decided that someone should go to the morgue to see what could be learned directly. For this they enlisted the company’s indispensable man, a typically tall Dinka named Maketh Chol, 34, who first went to war in 1987 at the age of 9, and now—in street clothes, as a serving S.P.L.A. lieutenant—works as the chief liaison officer and fixer for G4S. The Dinka constitute the dominant tribe of South Sudan, whose men are born to rule and taught to disdain menial labor, but Chol is not just one of them—he is also a member of LinkedIn. On his page he lists G4S as a recreational company, but that is merely a mistake. Feel free to contact him directly if you have a good commercial idea. Beyond his duties at the headquarters compound he is an energetic entrepreneur. Among his ventures already, he owns a sewage-trucking company that empties the septic tanks of certain establishments in town and disposes of the waste somewhere somehow. And he would be a good partner in other affairs. He speaks at least four languages. He is reliable. He has a wife and three young children whom he supports in Kenya because the schools are better there. He spent 20 years in a particularly brutal liberation war—two million dead among huge populations uprooted—but he seems not to know that he should be traumatized.

He invited me to accompany him to the morgue. It occupies a small building behind the so-called Juba Teaching Hospital, a facility overwhelmed by needs. We parked our Land Cruiser a short walk away and approached a small group of people waiting somberly on a concrete veranda. An old ambulance waited beside them with its rear doors open, exposing an empty interior and a battered steel floor. Chol quietly got the story. When word of the explosion spread through Juba, it caused no immediate concern, because so many children are wayward now, and in recent memory so many went to war. But after four days without sight of two young cousins, a family in Khor William began to fear the worst and sent two emissaries—an uncle and aunt—on a trip to the morgue. These people were Nuer, traditional adversaries of the Dinka, who had been nominally integrated into the government—some of them as members of the presidential guard—but were increasingly marginalized. The aunt was 20, the uncle somewhat older. At the morgue, the uncle left the aunt outside and went inside alone.

There he found—his nephews lying dead in front of him. He recognized the other boy too. He was a kid from the neighborhood, but the uncle did not know his name. The shredded remains of the fourth boy—the one who apparently triggered the explosion—had been taken away, as had the Ugandan man. The uncle arranged for transport of the remaining three back to the neighborhood for immediate burial. The morgue lacked power and refrigeration, so decomposition had set in fast, and the stench was strong. Chol collected names from the staff. The dead Ugandan was Malau Daniel, maybe 24 years old. The boy who had been shredded and taken away was James Fari Lado, about 10, a Mandari from the cattle country north of town. The two cousins were Garmai Biliu Ngev and Lim Sil Koh, both 13 and from Khor William. The name of the last boy, their friend and neighbor, remained unknown.

A door opened. Workers in surgical masks carried out the dead boys on metal stretchers, and flopped them into the back of the waiting ambulance. The corpses were naked, hunger-thin, and younger-looking than 13. Their blood had smeared the stretchers and dribbled red trails across the ground. They lay loosely intertwined with their mouths stretched open in ghastly screams, their teeth contrasting sharply with the color of their skin. The driver shut the ambulance doors and prepared to leave. The aunt began to sob, her shoulders heaving. The uncle stood by helplessly, holding his hand over his heart. Chol offered them a ride, assisted the aunt into the front seat, and followed the ambulance as it set out through the city traffic. The uncle and I sat in the back on benches along the side. In Khor William, out beyond the S.P.L.A. barracks, the ambulance climbed a hillock and parked in the shade of a tree for the burial; we climbed another hillock to the Nuer encampment. As we arrived at the huts the aunt began to wail. A crowd of women rushed from their households, shrieking and crying around the mothers, who collapsed to the ground.

It was a rough scene. Chol was still missing the name of the cousins’ dead friend. He asked women standing near the grieving crowd. They indicated a cluster of huts a short distance away and said the men there might know. Leaving our vehicle behind, Chol and I walked to the huts, where the men came out to meet us. These were the Nuer presidential guards. Only a few were in uniform, and several were drunk. They were wary of Chol, this Dinka who towered over them asking questions that might have been traps. Finally one of them volunteered that the dead friend was known only as Gafur, and that his mother had been missing for days. That was enough for Chol, and we started back toward the vehicle. The men kept pace with us and the group grew larger. The mood turned ugly, subtly at first, then with accusations that we had allowed the boys to die. Chol calmly kept explaining his role, even as we got into the Land Cruiser and, after several tries, got the engine to start. The men had surrounded the car, but eventually they parted, and we rolled away slowly, down past the S.P.L.A. barracks and toward the center of town.

On a main street we passed a convoy of ambulances moving in the opposite direction. They were carrying victims from villages attacked by insurgents the night before. The insurgents were from a despised group called the Murle, and led by a former political candidate named David Yau Yau, who was angry because he had lost a rigged election. The men under Yau Yau’s command were perhaps less interested in politics than in the chance to capture women, children, and cattle. Merely two years after official independence, South Sudan was fracturing as a country, but the names of the Souk Sita victims could be inserted into the U.N. forms, and for G4S the day had been a success.

II. The Rules

Maps that show the world to be wholly divided among sovereign countries, each with meaningful boundaries and a central government, reflect an organizational model that has never been practical in many places and now seems increasingly obsolete. Globalization, communication, fast transportation, and the easy availability of destructive technologies have something to do with this, as does the fact that all systems eventually tire, and the future cannot be thought up in classrooms. For whatever reason, the world everywhere is getting harder to manage, and governments are increasingly unable to intervene.

Into the void left by governments’ retreat, private-security companies have naturally arrived. The size of the industry is impossible to know, given difficulties with definitions and the thousands of small companies entering the business, but in the United States alone security guards may now number two million, a force larger than all the police forces combined, and during the war in Iraq private military contractors sometimes outnumbered U.S. troops, as they do in Afghanistan today. Globally the private-security market is believed to exceed $200 billion annually, with higher numbers expected in the coming years. A conservative guess is that the industry currently employs about 15 million people. Critics worry about the divisive effects of an industry that isolates the rich from the consequences of greed and at the extreme allows certain multi-national companies, particularly in oil and mining, to run roughshod over the poor. People also object in principle to the industry’s for-profit intent, which does lead to abuses and seems to be an unworthy motivation when compared with the lofty goals ascribed to government. Nonetheless history has amply shown that national governments and aspirants to national power routinely commit abuses far greater than private security could. Furthermore, for the purpose of understanding the industry, the important point is this: the growth of private security is determinedly apolitical. These companies provide a service that people of whatever bent can buy.

G4S stands out primarily because of its size. To place it in perspective, the company fields a force three times larger than the British military (albeit mostly unarmed), and it generates revenues of $12 billion annually. That said, the head offices in England are impressively small. They occupy a boxy building in Crawley, a bland service town near Gatwick Airport, as well as the fifth floor of a modern multi-tenant building in central London, close to Victoria Station. Both locations are brightly lit and tightly controlled, with escorts required beyond the reception areas, apparently because of regular protests that some British activists manage to fit into their busy protest schedules. Currently the main point of contention seems to be the company’s role in Israel, where G4S supplies surveillance equipment to checkpoints and prisons, and in Palestine, where it provides security to supermarkets in the Jewish settlements.

The protesters could not have picked a more difficult target for their concerns. Because it is a public company, G4S is subject to shareholder pressure, but as investors must know, its very reason for being is to stand firm in the face of trouble. Furthermore, this has always been so. The enterprise dates back more than a century, to 1901, when a cloth merchant in Denmark founded a 20-man guard company called Copenhagen-Frederiksberg Nightwatch. Shortly thereafter the company was acquired by its own accountant, a man named Julius Philip-Sörensen, who understood the first of three simple rules that continue to shape the industry today. Rule 1 is that in a business built of low-value-added units (labor consisting of single watchman-nights) it is essential to expand the volume, and this is best done by absorbing existing companies, which come with workers and customers in place.

Subsequent to the founding of the original night-watch company, the story of acquisitions, spin-offs, and name changes is complex but can be reduced to a few essentials. Denmark remained neutral during World War I and prospered by selling to both sides. For Philip-Sörensen, business was good, and it remained so after the war. Two decades later, the fate of the company during the Nazi occupation of Denmark is not clear—the record is blank here. Julius Philip-Sörensen died a wealthy man, in 1956, just as the family moved into the British market by buying up small security ventures there. In 1968 it merged four of the British concerns into an amalgam called Group 4, under an adroit third-generation scion named Jörgen Philip-Sörensen. By following Rule 1 about expansion, Group 4 grew large in a short time, enveloping armored-car and cash-management services, and in the 1980s moving into markets in South Asia and the Americas, among other places. In the early 1990s, while pioneering the private-prison business and prisoner-escort services in Britain, the company suffered some damage to its reputation after eight detainees escaped during the first few weeks of the contract and others rioted in an immigration detention center under the company’s control. For a while, Group 4 was mocked in the press. Years later, having tightened the corporate reins, Jörgen Philip-Sörensen pointed out that, however poorly Group 4 had performed, the British government generally performs worse—with more escapes and riots, and at greater expense. This leads to Rule 2 of the industry: Security is an inherently messy business, but a company need only to perform better than the government to make the case for its offerings.

By 2002, after another merger and now known as Group 4 Falck, the company had 140,000 employees and activities in more than 50 countries, with annual revenues of $2.5 billion. It continued to acquire businesses, such as the American private-prison-and-security company Wackenhut. Then, in July 2004, came the big one—a merger with a British giant named Securicor, which itself had started as a night-watch service in 1935. The resulting conglomerate, called Group 4 Securicor, leapt to the front of the industry, with 340,000 employees working in 108 countries, generating $7.3 billion in annual revenues. The youthful boss of Securicor, Nicholas Buckles, was brought in as the chief executive officer of the new concern. Buckles was 44 at the time—a charismatic man who came from a modest background and drove a Volkswagen bug to work. He had joined Securicor as a project accountant 20 years before and through force of personality had propelled himself to the top. In 2006, after two years of consolidation, and now firmly at the helm, he completed the rebranding of the company as G4S, and accelerated its expansion with no limits in sight: 400,000, 500,000—why not a million employees? Buckles wanted G4S to become the largest private employer in history.

Time would show that he was perhaps overconfident, but the share prices responded to his ambition, making G4S a darling of the London exchange. The company kept growing. Primarily it provided guards—to businesses, government buildings, college campuses, hospitals, gated communities, condominiums, rock concerts, sporting events, factories, mines, oil fields and refineries, airports, shipping ports, nuclear power plants, and nuclear-weapons facilities. But it also provided back-office police support, roving patrols, fast-response squads, emergency medical services, disaster-relief services, intruder- and fire-alarm installation and monitoring, electronic-access control systems (including at the Pentagon), security-software integration, airport-security screening, bus- and train-system security (including fare-evasion monitoring), engineering and construction management, facilities management, prison management (from maximum-security through immigrant and juvenile detention), courtroom prisoner escort, prisoner transport, immigrant repatriation, and the electronic tagging and monitoring of people under house arrest and restraining orders. In addition, it had a global cash-management arm that serviced banks, stores, and automatic-teller machines, provided armored cars and secure buildings where the bills could be held and sorted, and offered international transport security for jewelry as well as cash.

All this, however, was not enough for Buckles. In his drive for expansion he strove to go not just wide but deep. He understood that G4S is in the business of handling risk, and that its low-value-added problem (those single watchman-nights) was due to the fact that it operated primarily in countries that were already tame. It was obvious that a higher-value product could be sold in places where the risks were greater—in Africa, for example, or in the war-torn countries of Southwest Asia and the Middle East. This can be summarized as Rule 3 for the industry: A direct correlation exists between levels of risk and profit. By now the conflict in Afghanistan had been simmering for years, the one in Iraq was nearing its peak, and contractors were reaping fortunes from British and American funds. In 2008, Buckles plunged in with the $85 million purchase of a British enterprise called ArmorGroup, which had started as a high-end personal-security company and had gone early into Baghdad, where it had grown into a full-range armed force, pursuing not just its traditional functions but dangerous activities including convoy escort and base defense. Such companies have little to do with the cartoon image of mercenaries—bands of killer elites raising havoc and toppling regimes—but they have been heavily engaged in combat nonetheless. By the time of the G4S acquisition, 30 ArmorGroup employees had been killed in Iraq.

ArmorGroup had a de-mining and ordnance-disposal division. One of its specialists was a former British Army captain named Damian Walker, who is now a director of business development at G4S in London. Walker, 41, is a compact, good-looking man who never married, because his frequent deployments interrupted every love affair he ever had. He graduated from the University of Manchester with a degree in civil engineering, worked for a period at a customer-service center for Barclaycard, grew bored, joined the British Army, spent two years in training as a Royal Engineer, went into Kosovo with NATO, and spent the first few weeks primarily dealing with dead bodies on the chance—sometimes the case in Northern Ireland—that they were booby-trapped. Over the following years Walker served in Bosnia and Afghanistan between training stints (underwater de-mining, surveillance) back in Britain. Along the way he was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for a series of actions, including using a Leatherman multi-tool to defuse an unexploded American bomb in a chemical factory in Kosovo, and, at significant risk to himself, neutralizing a German bomb from World War II that was discovered in a suburban backyard in Reading, west of London. He left the army in 2003, went to Australia for a year to work for a friend selling bomb-squad gear and training, and in January 2005 joined ArmorGroup, which sent him to Iraq to manage a program that was destroying seized munitions. The war was heating up then, and Baghdad was unsafe. Walker stayed for 16 months, living in the company’s fortified compound near the Green Zone but venturing out regularly, by preference in discreet soft-skinned cars. Passersby sometimes sprayed gunfire at the compound walls, and one morning an Iraqi man was found dead outside the gate with a knife stuck in him and a note warning those on the inside that they would be next. Walker shrugged it off as a bluff. Like the other ArmorGroup contractors, he carried three weapons: a pistol, an MP5 carbine, and an AK-47. Mostly this guaranteed that he would die rather than be taken prisoner.

In 2005 a peace agreement in Sudan brought the long civil war to an end, and the North began to withdraw its forces, ceding de facto independence to a new country, South Sudan. In 2006 the United Nations awarded a contract to ArmorGroup to go after unexploded ordnance there and start mapping and clearing the minefields. Walker joined another of the company’s top hands to build the Juba operation from scratch.

It was a tough job, living in tents, surrounded by raids and fighting, saddled with former rebel fighters, many of whom seemed to have been picked by the S.P.L.A. for their very undesirability and now had to be sorted out, trained to some sort of standard, and put into the field fast—all this under expatriate contractors, most of whom would have gone elsewhere if they could have. The initial camp stood east of the Nile a short drive outside of town. Conditions were primitive, with meals mostly of beans and rice. Baghdad seemed luxurious by comparison. One morning after a night of gunfire they discovered that a village just up the road had been sacked and burned. The S.P.L.A. claimed implausibly that the attackers were Ugandans from the Lord’s Resistance Army—a standard explanation for South Sudanese disunity. The following night another nearby village was destroyed. Walker decided to relocate. The provisional government obliged by designating ArmorGroup’s employees as internally displaced persons (I.D.P.’s), and qualified them to pitch their tents in a safer area, on a narrow patch of ground sandwiched between a leper colony and a field of bounding mines. For several months it became the home of ArmorGroup in South Sudan, until the company was able to occupy a dilapidated house in town. This was the operation that G4S absorbed in 2008, when Buckles decided to go deep by going to war. Walker had left ArmorGroup by then to consider a safer line of work, but he was persuaded to return, and he headed G4S in South Sudan for the next three years, deploying de-mining machines for the first time, supervising the move into the current headquarters compound, finding ways to shed the worst of the S.P.L.A. soldiers, overseeing the effectiveness of as many as 19 teams in the field, demolishing ordnance, and releasing previously declared hazardous land as effectively de-mined.

O artigo completo está aqui. 

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o exílio de Julian Assange em Londres

Em Junho de 2012, Julian Assange refugiou-se na embaixada do Equador, em Londres, para evitar ser detido e extraditado para a Suécia, onde é procurado no âmbito de um processo de abuso sexual. O fundador da Wikileaks receia que essa investigação seja apenas um pretexto para o seu envio posterior para os Estados Unidos. E, desde então, nunca mais saiu da representação diplomática equatoriana. No entanto, isso não o fez parar: realizou uma série de entrevistas (transmitidas em O Informador, no ano passado), dirigiu-se à Assembleia Geral da ONU, escreveu um livro, candidatou-se ao senado australiano e, envolveu-se na fuga de Edward Snowden. Este artigo da Vanity Fair explica como. 

Foto da esquerda: OLIVIA HARRIS/REUTERS/LANDOV; Foto da direita: NEIL HALL/REX USA

Foto da esquerda: OLIVIA HARRIS/REUTERS/LANDOV; Foto da direita: NEIL HALL/REX USA

Julian Assange hasn’t set foot outside Ecuador’s London embassy in more than a year—avoiding extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault. But physical confinement seems only to enhance his reach. The WikiLeaks founder has video-addressed the U.N., launched a Senate campaignin absentia in his native Australia, entertained Lady Gaga, and played a key role in the case of N.S.A. leaker Edward Snowden. As several movies depict aspects of Assange’s story, Sarah Ellison focuses on the center of his web.

I. Dead End

Every afternoon, at four o’clock, a small group of demonstrators gathers outside 3 Hans Crescent, in London’s Knightsbridge district, to protest the confinement of a man inside the embassy at that address. The man hasn’t set foot beyond the embassy since June 19, 2012, the day he walked through its doors to avoid extradition from Britain to another country, where he is facing allegations that, he contends, are merely a first step in his eventual extradition to the United States.

The man is Julian Assange, the 42-year-old Australian who is best known as the founder (in 2006) and public face of WikiLeaks, the nonprofit Web site that publishes previously secret material. In April, the organization released its largest trove to date, a database of approximately 1.7 million declassified diplomatic records from the years 1973 to 1976 that WikiLeaks refers to as “the Kissinger Cables.” In 2010, in partnership with The Guardian, Der Spiegel, The New York Times, and others, WikiLeaks began releasing more than 450,000 military documents relating to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan along with 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables. The documents had been provided by Bradley Manning, an army private stationed in Iraq, who, when tried in military court, was found not guilty of “aiding the enemy” but guilty of espionage, theft, and computer fraud. Despite Manning’s statement that he had first tried to get his information to both The Washington Post and The New York Times, the prosecution argued that it was “obvious that Manning pulled as much information as possible to please Julian Assange,” and said that Assange “had found the right insider” in Manning. WikiLeaks is under investigation by the Justice Department, and there are reports that a sealed indictment exists for Assange himself. In the meantime, for the past year, he has been living in a small room—reportedly 15 feet by 13 feet—at the Ecuadoran Embassy, largely unseen by the public. He has most recently surfaced as a prominent adviser to Edward Snowden, a former “infrastructure analyst” at National Security Agency contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, who last June leaked details about top-secret U.S. surveillance programs to The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Assange’s living space, a former embassy office, is located on a ground-floor corner overlooking a small dead-end street. His window sits above one of the hundreds of thousands of security cameras that blanket London, and when I visited the embassy in June, two Metropolitan Police vans were parked just outside. WikiLeaks says the building is watched by about a dozen British police officers at any one time. According to Scotland Yard, the authorities have so far spent $6 million to keep Assange under a watchful eye (and to keep him in place at the embassy). Early on, officials from Britain’s Foreign Office were threatening to remove Assange from the embassy against his will. In his first two months there, the Ecuadoran consul, Fidel Narváez, slept at the embassy to serve as a diplomatic presence at all times and thereby “protect” Assange from the aggressive police attention. Narváez told The Prisma, a London-based newspaper published in both Spanish and English, that he got to know Assange well during that time. “It’s certainly true that we talked a lot over those months, especially at times when we were alone, at night,” Narváez said. In July, Ecuadoran intelligence found a microphone hidden in the office of the ambassador, Ana Albán. The intelligence officials were doing a routine search in preparation for a visit from the country’s foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, who said that the device appeared to have been planted by a private investigation company, the Surveillance Group, Ltd., adding that the bugging represented “a loss of ethics at the international level in relations between governments.” The company has denied involvement.

Assange took refuge at the embassy in June 2012, shortly after he lost his bid in the British courts to prevent extradition to Sweden, where he is sought for questioning in relation to the alleged sexual assault of two women. (He has yet to be charged with a crime.) At first, Assange slept on an inflatable mattress on the floor that the ambassador brought from her own apartment nearby. Assange found that the noise from the street outside his window disturbed his sleep. After exploring the embassy for a quiet room, he settled on the women’s bathroom, where the embassy staff reluctantly removed the toilet so he could sleep there. He has a lamp that mimics natural light, to enhance his psychological well-being, and he jogs every day on a treadmill, a gift from the film director Ken Loach. The embassy has installed a shower for Assange’s use. There is a fireplace with a Victorian white mantel in his room, and a small round table of blond wood, on which Assange keeps his computer. Several shelves line the walls. Assange eats a combination of take-out food—he keeps the restaurants from which he orders secret, for fear his food might be poisoned—and simple Ecuadoran dishes prepared by the embassy staff. He is able to receive visitors, including Sarah Harrison, the 31-year-old WikiLeaks researcher who met up with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, where Snowden initially hid from the American authorities, and helped deliver to him a temporary Ecuadoran travel document that Assange and Fidel Narváez had reportedly secured.

The Ecuadoran Embassy itself is modest—a suite of 10 rooms on a single floor of a red-brick Victorian pile, with no bedrooms and no facilities except a small kitchenette. For atmospherics, imagine the offices of a private upscale medical practice that for some reason is partial to flags of yellow, red, and blue. Assange’s diplomatic immunity does not extend to the lobby of the building, which is shared with the Colombian Embassy and some 15 well-appointed private apartments upstairs. The entrance to the Men’s Fragrance department at Harrods department store is just half a block away. The door to the embassy is thick black metal and opens immediately onto a full-body metal detector. A portrait of the Ecuadoran president, Rafael Correa, hangs on the walls, along with paintings of tropical birds. The government of Ecuador has stated that Assange is welcome to stay in its London embassy for “centuries.”

Last year, on July 3, the day he turned 41, Assange sent 12 pieces of birthday cake to the 12 protesters standing outside the embassy. On his birthday this year, people outside carried a sign noting that the number 42, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is “the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything.” On ordinary days, protesters carry small signs with photos of Assange, his mouth taped shut by an American flag, and bearing slogans such as “Don’t Shoot the Messenger.” From time to time Assange appears in vaguely papal fashion at the front window, silver-haired and pale, and waves. He gives the occasional press conference from a small balcony. He recently showed up for an interview with Agence France-Presse wearing a coat and tie but no shoes, a gesture to underscore the fact that he has little need for them.

Even before the Snowden affair brought him back into the limelight, Assange had been busy. During his year of confinement at the embassy, he has released a vast cache of documents, written a book, addressed the U.N., founded a political party in Australia and launched a bid for a Senate seat there, entertained socialites and celebrities, maintained contact with leakers and whistle-blowers all over the world, and worked behind the scenes to influence depictions of him that are now hitting movie screens (the most high-profile being a DreamWorks production starring Benedict Cumberbatch). As for the Snowden case, Assange and WikiLeaks have served, in effect, as Snowden’s travel agents, publicists, and envoys; it is still not clear how far back the Snowden connection goes, or precisely how it originated, though the filmmaker Laura Poitras likely played the key role.

Assange cannot move from his quarters, but he is either at his computer or in conference, working in an impressive number of spheres. “He is like any other C.E.O.—plagued by constant meetings,” WikiLeaks told me. He employs sophisticated encryption software, which anyone wishing to make contact with him or his circle is encouraged to use. To gain a sense of his life and work, during the past months I have spoken to Assange’s lawyers and to many longtime or former friends, supporters, and professional associates. (Some have requested anonymity.) Daniel Ellsberg, the former U.S. military analyst who brought the Pentagon Papers to light, has met with Assange and speaks with personal knowledge about the lonely life of a leaker and whistle-blower. “We are exiles and émigrés,” he told me.

But the fact that Assange has had to take himself physically out of circulation has had the effect, oddly, of keeping him more purely at the center of things than he was before. His legal perils have not receded, but his state of diplomatic limbo means that he is no longer being hauled out of black vans and in front of screaming reporters and whirring cameras. The U.S. government has tried to decapitate his organization, which has only made him a martyr. No one is talking, as they were when he was free to mingle with the outside world, about his thin skin, his argumentative nature, his paranoia, his self-absorption, his poor personal hygiene, his habit of using his laptop when dining in company, or his failure to flush the toilet.

“If anything, I think he’s stronger and more sophisticated than he used to be, and so is the organization,” Jennifer Robinson, an Australian human-rights lawyer best known for her work defending Assange in London, told me. “They’ve weathered three years of intense pressure and all forms of legal and political attacks, and they are still here and still publishing and still making headlines.” Today, Assange is alone and unbothered, but not isolated—the unquiet center of a web whose vibrations he can both detect and influence.”

O artigo completo está aqui

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: a ciberguerra já é uma realidade. Só não damos por ela

Neste preciso momento há uma batalha a ser travada. De um lado um país que quer desenvolver um programa nuclear. Do outro, um grupo de Estados que o querem impedir. Esta guerra já provocou danos elevados. E pode ter levado o conflito para um nível totalmente novo. Mas nós não sabemos dela. Ela é travada por funcionários altamente especializados, reunidos em salas, bunkers ou simples cibercafés. Esta é uma guerra electrónica. Cibernética. As bombas são virus criados propositadamente para sabotar os avanços do inimigo. Os tanques assumem a forma de computadores poderosos. Os soldados são hackers. Só uma coisa se mantém em relação a um conflito tradicional. Os civis. Nós. Este artigo da Vanity Fair já é de Julho. Mas mantém toda uma actualidade, sobretudo se pensarmos no recente escândalo das intercepções electrónicas da NSA. Que mais haverá para divulgar?

i.0.cyber-war-america-iran

 

Silent War

On the hidden battlefields of history’s first known cyber-war, the casualties are piling up. In the U.S., many banks have been hit, and the telecommunications industry seriously damaged, likely in retaliation for several major attacks on Iran. Washington and Tehran are ramping up their cyber-arsenals, built on a black-market digital arms bazaar, enmeshing such high-tech giants as Microsoft, Google, and Apple. With the help of highly placed government and private-sector sources, Michael Joseph Gross describes the outbreak of the conflict, its escalation, and its startling paradox: that America’s bid to stop nuclear proliferation may have unleashed a greater threat.

ByMichael Joseph GrossConstruction byStephen DoyleIllustration byChris Mueller

 

I. Battlespace

Their eyeballs felt it first. A wall of 104-degree air hit the cyber-security analysts as they descended from the jets that had fetched them, on a few hours’ notice, from Europe and the United States. They were in Dhahran, in eastern Saudi Arabia, a small, isolated city that is the headquarters of the world’s largest oil company, Saudi aramco. The group included representatives of Oracle, IBM, CrowdStrike, Red Hat, McAfee, Microsoft, and several smaller private firms—a SWAT dream team for the virtual realm. They came to investigate a computer-network attack that had occurred on August 15, 2012, on the eve of a Muslim holy day called Lailat al Qadr, “the Night of Power.” Technically the attack was crude, but its geopolitical implications would soon become alarming.

The data on three-quarters of the machines on the main computer network of Saudi aramco had been destroyed. Hackers who identified themselves as Islamic and called themselves the Cutting Sword of Justice executed a full wipe of the hard drives of 30,000 aramco personal computers. For good measure, as a kind of calling card, the hackers lit up the screen of each machine they wiped with a single image, of an American flag on fire.

A few technical details of the attack eventually emerged into the press. Aboard the U.S.S.Intrepid, in New York Harbor, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told a group of C.E.O.’s that thearamco hack was “probably the most destructive attack that the private sector has seen to date.” Technical experts conceded the attack’s effectiveness but scorned its primitive technique. “It wrote over memory five, six times,” one hacker told me. “O.K., it works, but it’s notsophisticated.” Even so, many current and former government officials took account of the brute force on display and shuddered to think what might have happened if the target had been different: the Port of Los Angeles, say, or the Social Security Administration, or O’Hare International Airport. Holy shit, one former national-security official recalls thinking—pick any network you want, and they could do this to it. Just wipe it clean.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, as forensic analysts began work in Dhahran, U.S. officials half a world away gathered in the White House Situation Room, where heads of agencies speculated about who had attacked aramco and why, and what the attackers might do next. Cutting Sword claimed that it acted in revenge for the Saudi government’s support of “crimes and atrocities” in countries such as Bahrain and Syria. But officials gathered at the White House could not help wondering if the attack was payback from Iran, using America’s Saudi ally as a proxy, for the ongoing program of cyber-warfare waged by the U.S. and Israel, and probably other Western governments, against the Iranian nuclear program.

When the history of cyber-warfare comes to be written, its first sentence may go something like this: “Israel gave the United States an ultimatum.” For a number of years, intelligence reports intermittently indicated that Iran was getting closer to building a nuclear bomb, which the Israeli leadership views as an existential threat. In 2004, Israel gave Washington a wish list of weapons and other capabilities it wanted to acquire. The list—for various kinds of hardware but also for items such as aerial transmission codes, so that Israeli jets could overfly Iraq without having to worry about being shot down by U.S. warplanes—left little doubt that Israel was planning a military attack to stop Iran’s nuclear progress. President George W. Bush regarded such action as unacceptable, while acknowledging that diplomacy and economic sanctions had failed to change Iran’s mind.

Intelligence and defense officials offered him a possible third way—a program of cyber-operations, mounted with the help of Israel and perhaps other allies, that would attack Iran’s nuclear program surreptitiously and at the very least buy some time. As with the drone program, the Obama administration inherited this plan, embraced it, and has followed through in a major way. Significant cyber-operations have been launched against Iran, and the Iranians have certainly noticed. It may be that these operations will eventually change minds in Tehran. But the aramco attack suggests that, for the moment, the target may be more interested in shooting back, and with weapons of a similar kind.

Cyberspace is now a battlespace. But it’s a battlespace you cannot see, and whose engagements are rarely deduced or described publicly until long after the fact, like events in distant galaxies. Knowledge of cyber-warfare is intensely restricted: almost all information about these events becomes classified as soon as it is discovered. The commanding generals of the war have little to say. Michael Hayden, who was director of the C.I.A. when some of the U.S. cyber-attacks on Iran reportedly occurred, declined an interview request with a one-line e-mail: “Don’t know what I would have to say beyond what I read in the papers.” But with the help of highly placed hackers in the private sector, and of current and former officials in the military and intelligence establishments and the White House, it is possible to describe the outbreak of the world’s first known cyber-war and some of the key battles fought so far.

II. Flame, Mahdi, Gauss

‘Ineeded to come up with something cool for self-promotion at conferences,” Wes Brown recalls. The year was 2005, and Brown, a hacker who is deaf and has cerebral palsy, started a business called Ephemeral Security with a colleague named Scott Dunlop. Banks and other corporations hired Ephemeral to hack their networks and steal information, then tell them how to keep bad guys from doing the same thing. So Brown and Dunlop spent a lot of time dreaming up ingenious break-ins. Sometimes they used those ideas to boost their street cred and advertise their business by making presentations at elite hacker conferences—elaborate festivals of one-upmanship involving some of the greatest technical minds in the world.

At a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop in Maine, Brown and Dunlop started brainstorming, and what they produced was a tool for attacking networks and gathering information in penetration tests—which also amounted to a revolutionary model for espionage. By July of that year, the two men completed writing a program called Mosquito. Not only did Mosquito hide the fact that it was stealing information, but its spy methods could be updated, switched out, and re-programmed remotely through an encrypted connection back to a command-and-control server—“the equivalent of in-flight drone repair,” Brown explains. In 2005 the unveiling of Mosquito was one of the most popular presentations at the prestigious hacker conference known as Def Con, in Las Vegas.

Many U.S. military and intelligence officials attend Def Con and have been doing so for years. As early as the 1990s, the U.S. government was openly discussing cyber-war. Reportedly, in 2003, during the second Gulf War, the Pentagon proposed freezing Saddam Hussein’s bank accounts, but the Treasury secretary, John W. Snow, vetoed the cyber-strike, arguing that it would set a dangerous precedent that could result in similar attacks on the U.S. and de-stabilize the world economy. (To this day, the Treasury Department participates in decisions concerning offensive cyber-warfare operations that could have an impact on U.S. financial institutions or the broader economy.) After 9/11, when counterterrorism efforts and intelligence became increasingly reliant on cyber-operations, the pressure to militarize those capabilities, and to keep them secret, increased. As Iran seemed to move closer to building a nuclear weapon, the pressure increased even more.

As Wes Brown recalls, none of the government types in the audience said a word to him after his Mosquito presentation at Def Con. “None that I could identify as government types, at least,” he adds, with a chuckle. But about two years later, probably in 2007, malware now known as Flame appeared in Europe and eventually spread to thousands of machines in the Middle East, mostly in Iran. Like Mosquito, Flame included modules that could, through an encrypted connection to a command-and-control server, be updated, switched out, and re-programmed remotely—just like in-flight drone repair. The Flame software offered a very full bag of tricks. One module secretly turned on the victim’s microphone and recorded everything it could hear. Another collected architectural plans and design schematics, looking for the inner workings of industrial installations. Still other Flame modules took screenshots of victims’ computers; logged keyboard activity, including passwords; recorded Skype conversations; and forced infected computers to connect via Bluetooth to any nearby Bluetooth-enabled devices, such as cell phones, and then vacuumed up their data as well.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Dez décadas, 10 vídeos para celebrar um aniversário

Para celebrar o 100º aniversário, a Vanity Fair pediu a 10 realizadores de renome para dirigirem um vídeo sobre cada uma das décadas da revista. Resultaram daí 10 vídeos que abordam os grandes temas de cada era: dos direitos das mulheres nos anos 20 às epidemias de crack e sida na década de 1980, do boom económico dos anos 50 à histeria provocada pelo bug do milénio. Esta animação, realizada por Nick Hooker, retrata a década de 1940, com a II Guerra Mundial como pano de fundo. Os outros vídeos estão aqui.

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o gangue de Hollywood

Sofia Coppola tem um novo filme: chama-se The Bling Ring e estreou este mês em Portugal. A realizadora conta a história de um grupo de adolescentes que roubou milhões de dólares das casas de celebridades em Hollywood. A parte boa é que esta história é real. E que Sofia Coppola a leu num longo artigo da Vanity Fair, assinado por Nancy Jo Sales (que depois o transformou no livro The Bling Ring), em Março de 2010.  

Photograph by Susanna Howe

Alexis Neiers, um dos alegados membros do grupo. Photograph by Susanna Howe

 

The Suspects Wore Louboutins

The most audacious burglary gang in recent Hollywood history–accused of stealing more than $3 million in clothing and jewelry from Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and other stars–appears to be a bunch of club-hopping Valley kids, motivated by vanity and celebrity-worship.

ByNancy Jo Sales

Alexis Neiers told cops that she and Nick Prugo had been drinking at Beso, a trendy bar-restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard, when Prugo got a call from Rachel Lee telling him to come and meet her. It was July 13, 2009. Neiers said she knew that Prugo and Lee—both 19 and former classmates at Indian Hills, an alternative high school in Agoura Hills, an affluent suburb of Los Angeles—had been burglarizing the homes of celebrities. This “included Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, Audrina Patridge, and others she was not sure about,” according to the L.A.P.D.’s report.

Neiers, 18, said that she was drunk and “not sure what was going on” as Prugo parked his white Toyota on the road by a house in the Hollywood Hills. Later, she said, she would find out that it was the home of Pirates of the Caribbean star Orlando Bloom. Her friends knew that Bloom was in New York shooting a movie; they researched this kind of information on celebrity Web sites like TMZ. They discovered the locations of stars’ homes on Google Maps and celebrityaddressaerial.com.

Neiers said that Lee and another girl, Diana Tamayo, 19, got out of Lee’s white Audi A4, and the four kids walked uphill to Bloom’s residence, a stark, black mansion. Neiers didn’t want to go inside, she said, but still she followed. She told police that Prugo, Lee, and Tamayo seemed to be covering their faces with their hoodies, apparently in order to hide from security cameras. Lee cut a section out of the chain-link fence surrounding the property, Neiers said, and the kids crawled through it.

She said they went around the house, checking windows and doors, finally finding an unlocked door by Bloom’s pool area. They went inside and the other kids started to “ransack” Bloom’s home, according to Neiers. That night, they would allegedly steal close to $500,000 in Rolex watches, Louis Vuitton luggage, clothing, and artwork. “What are you doing? Get me the fuck out of here,” Neiers said she screamed. Then she went outside and threw up and peed in the bushes.

The Fame Monster

On November 16, Neiers arrived at Los Angeles Superior Court for her arraignment with an E! reality crew in tow. Her show, originally intended to be about her life as a party girl on the Hollywood scene, had now become a chronicle of her effort to stay out of jail. She was being charged that day with one count of residential burglary of Orlando Bloom’s home. In the media, she was being called a member of “the Burglar Bunch,” “the Bling Ring,” nicknames for the most successful and outrageous burglary gang in recent Hollywood memory: a gang of well-off kids from the Valley.

Camera crews from local news stations, Good Morning America, Dateline NBC, and TMZ were waiting outside Department 30 on the third floor of the courthouse. Producers from various shows murmured as Neiers—a former hip-hop- and pole-dancing instructor—sat calmly on a bench, allowing a makeup woman to touch her up.

A leggy girl with long, dark hair and shimmering blue-green eyes, Neiers was wearing a tweed miniskirt, a pink sweater, and six-inch Christian Louboutin heels. “I have a pretty cool shoe collection going on right now,” she said.

The L.A.P.D.’s report on the Bling Ring states that Nick Prugo told cops that Rachel Lee—a Korean-American girl from Calabasas, a wealthy suburb in the Valley—was “the driving force of the burglary crew and that her motivation was based on her desire to own the designer wardrobes of the Hollywood celebrities she admired.” Charged in the case are Neiers; Prugo; Lee; Tamayo; their friend Courtney Ames, 19; and Roy Lopez Jr., 27, a bouncer Ames knew from a waitressing job. (All have pleaded not guilty, except for Lee, whose arraignment was pending at press time.)

Between October of 2008 and August of 2009, the alleged members of the Bling Ring collectively stole more than $3 million in jewelry and high-end designer goods from a number of Young Hollywood players: Hilton, Lohan, Patridge (a regular on the reality showThe Hills), Bilson (former star of The O.C.), original Beverly Hills 90210 cast member Brian Austin Green and his girlfriend, actress Megan Fox. They are said to have tried to rob High School Musical’s Ashley Tisdale too, but fled when discovered by a female houseguest.

The thieves apparently had a taste for luxury brands: Chanel, Gucci, Tiffany, Cartier, Prada, Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Yves Saint Laurent. They allegedly stole clothes, shoes, handbags, makeup, perfume, underwear. They also took Green’s Sig Sauer .380 semi-automatic handgun.

At her lawyer’s office, a week before her arraignment, Neiers denied any involvement in the burglaries. “I’m a firm believer in Karma,” she said, “and I think this situation was attracted into my life because it was supposed to be a huge learning lesson for me to grow and expand as a spiritual human being. I see myself being like an Angelina Jolie,” she said, “but even stronger, pushing even harder for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet.” She was sounding almost like a real celebrity. “God didn’t give me these talents and looks to just sit around being a model or being famous. I want to lead a huge charity organization. I want to lead a country, for all I know.”

Moments before her arraignment began, a news producer approached, asking Neiers for an interview. “I’m going to make a statement on the courthouse steps,” the pretty defendant promised. She runway-walked into the courtroom as the cameras started rolling.

The Rat

Nick Prugo has a different take on the events of the night of the Bloom burglary. “We didn’t even go to Beso that night,” he said. A slender boy with an angular face and small brown eyes, he was sitting in front of the fire at the Encino home of his lawyer, Sean Erenstoft, on a rainy night in December.

Charged with seven counts of residential burglary, each bringing a possible sentence of two to six years, Prugo is potentially facing serious time. In October, he confessed to police without first getting a deal. For weeks after he was arrested, on September 17 (after being fingered by a tipster), he denied everything; but then, he says, he was finding it difficult to breathe, sleep, eat—“I was even losing my hair.”

“He confessed to crimes we didn’t even know he committed,” Officer Brett Goodkin, the lead investigator in the case, said on the phone. “Even though I was charged with more, you know, things,” Prugo said, “I still think it was the right thing to do.”

He said that on the night of the Bloom burglary “my parents were out of town. Alexis’s mom had kicked her out of the house. So Alexis moved in with me.” Neiers also told cops that her “mother kicked her out of her home.” Prugo, according to the L.A.P.D. report, said the reason was that Neiers had been smoking OxyContin. “Obviously it’s not true,” says Neiers. “Nick Prugo’s credibility is questionable at best,” says her lawyer, Jeffery Rubenstein.

“Miranda Kerr, a Victoria’s Secret model, was dating Orlando Bloom, and Rachel [Lee] wanted Victoria’s Secret model clothes,” said Prugo. Lee’s lawyer, Peter Korn, would say only, “I don’t want to participate in the media attention in this case.”

“We planned to meet” at Bloom’s, Prugo said. “Me and Alexis met Rachel and Diana. We went up to the house.” The surveillance video from Bloom’s residence on the night of the robbery shows four youthful-looking figures coming up a lamplit hill, all covering their heads with their arms and hoods while walking backward, apparently trying to hide their faces from security cameras. “How would a drunk person, so sick, throwing up,” as Neiers claimed she was, “be walking backwards up a hill?,” Prugo asked.

Whenever they robbed celebrities’ homes, Prugo said, it went like this: “You grabbed a suitcase and filled it up with whatever you wanted.” He said Lee called it “going shopping.” “In [Bloom’s] master bedroom, Rachel found a stash of Rolexes and, like, fifteen hundred dollars. Alexis grabbed a Louis Vuitton laptop-size bag and she was rocking it as a purse. Miranda Kerr had a dress there by Alex Perry—like, a one-of-a-kind runway dress. She took that.”

The Bloom surveillance video shows two of the four figures coming and going up and down the hill with large bags several times between three and four a.m. The bags are so unwieldy that one of the figures stumbles. Prugo said that he and Neiers left around five a.m., but Lee and Tamayo went back inside because, Lee said, “‘I want artwork ‘cause I’m moving to Vegas and I want stuff to decorate my house.’”

Some time later, Prugo said, he sold most of Bloom’s Rolexes to Johnny Ajar—a.k.a. “Johnny Dangerous,” and, according to the police report, their “fence”—a thuggish ex-con and promoter at Les Deux who would allegedly get Prugo and his under-age friends into the club. When cops searched Ajar’s home, they found Brian Austin Green’s pistol. Ajar is now in Los Angeles’s Twin Tower Correctional Facility, charged with possession of narcotics and a firearm. “He gave us $5,000 for, like, 10 Rolexes,” Prugo said, “which is I guess a ripoff now that I think of it.”

Ajar’s lawyer, Michael Goldstein, says, “I find it troubling that Prugo, who according to most of the players is the mastermind of these burglaries along with Lee, is now implicating everyone else while my client remains incarcerated.”

“I Loved Her”

It was left to the adults dealing with the aftermath of the Bling Ring—cops, lawyers, the victims—to ask “Why?” “Why did they do this?” asked Audrina Patridge, whose home was burglarized on February 22, 2009, Oscar night. “I watched the surveillance videos,” she said, “expecting it to be these big scary guys, and instead it was these two kids”—allegedly Lee and Prugo.

In the grainy video, a girl and boy who seem to resemble Prugo and Lee enter Patridge’s Hollywood Hills home (they got in through an unlocked door). They pick through her things. The girl looks composed; the boy looks jumpy.

“They took bags and bags of stuff,” Patridge said. “They took my great-grandma’s jewelry, my passport, my laptop, jeans made to fit my body to my perfect shape.” The estimated value of her stolen property was $43,000. Patridge said she believes the thieves were motivated by her fame. “Rachel Lee was a big fan of me. I was her target,” she said she’d heard from cops. “She’s a little obsessed girl, I gotta tell you. She’s going to get what she deserves.”

“Were teenagers too enthralled by stars?” asked The New York Times. “They did it for the money. This was their job,” said Officer Goodkin, who took over the case from detectives when Prugo’s lawyer approached him with his client’s confession. But Goodkin said he was also struck by the “stalkerish” aspect of the crimes. “It may be a stretch, but is wanting to wear somebody’s clothes that different from wanting to wrap yourself up in their skin, like that guy in The Silence of the Lambs?

Meanwhile, Prugo said that he and his accomplices never discussed “why.” “We just did it. I know it sounds dumb, but Rachel just wanted the clothes. She wanted to look pretty.” As for himself, Prugo said, “I was just following Rachel … I loved her almost like a sister.”

Nick and Rachel

Nick Prugo met Rachel Lee in 2006 at Indian Hills, where he had transferred after being kicked out of Calabasas High School for excessive absences. He was a troubled kid who had been diagnosed with A.D.H.D., for which he was prescribed Concerta, and “anxiety issues,” for which he was given Zoloft. He said that Lee was “the first person I felt was, like, my best friend.” They became “inseparable,” in constant contact, phoning, IMing, texting.

She was a fashionable girl whom Prugo and Neiers describe as “spoiled” and “haughty.” She had troubles of her own; apparently she didn’t get along with her mother, Vickie Kwon, a North Korean immigrant and owner of two centers of the tutoring company Kumon. Prugo claims, “Rachel hates her stepfather,” whom her mother married when Lee was in her early teens. (Neither Lee nor Kwon responded to requests for comment.)

Around this time, Prugo said, he was also becoming estranged from his parents, Melva-Lynn and Frank, a senior vice president at IM Global, a film-and-television sales-and-distribution company, and the foreign sales agent for the low-budget blockbuster Paranormal Activity.“Me and my parents had a falling-out,” Prugo said, not wishing to elaborate. “I can’t blame them. Whatever I’ve done, it’s my responsibility.”

He said that he and his new friend, Lee, “bonded over fashion. I like fashion, I like clothes. I like to think that I’m a stylish guy.” He dreamed of designing his own line, as did Lee, who talked about attending the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in L.A. “A lot of the Hills girls went there.”

Throughout the 10th grade, Prugo said, they were a couple of “carefree kids,” “smoking weed, hanging out at Zuma Beach, going to parties with a lot of under-age kids doing beer pong.” And then, that summer, things started to change, when Prugo said Lee proposed they rob the house of a boy in Woodland Hills whom Prugo knew to be out of town. “I’m like, O.K., whatever, just wanting to please her.”

“I’m in the house,” he said, “walking back and forth, freaking out. I mean, it’s weird to go through somebody’s things.” But Lee, he said, was always “very into it, focused”—so relaxed that when they burglarized the home of Rachel Bilson, on May 9, Lee took the time to go into the bathroom and have a bowel movement.

At that first burglary in the Valley, Prugo said, Lee found a box with $8,000 in cash under a bed. Which calmed him down. “We each get four grand. Like, this isn’t so bad. We didn’t kill anybody.” The next day, they went shopping on Rodeo Drive.

Prugo said they fell into a nearly nightly ritual they called “checking cars”—taking credit cards and cash from unlocked Bentleys, Mercedeses, and other fancy rides parked in their neighborhood. The next day, they’d go shopping. “We’d go to, like, Kitson,” a Melrose boutique popular with starlets. “We’d walk in, stylized and beautiful. We’d use the cards—no one would question.”

Meanwhile, Prugo said, he was developing a cocaine habit, “so I was also stealing for drugs.” (Arrested for possession in 2009, he’s entered into a Deferred Entry of Judgment program, hoping to get the charge dismissed. He says he’s clean now.)

He says he doesn’t remember exactly why he and Lee decided to start burglarizing celebrities’ homes, except that “these were women with, like, fashion sense. Rachel watchedThe Hills, Gossip Girl—all those shows. She loved their clothes.” They started “checking up on celebrity Web sites. We’d be like a little research team.” They’d drive by celebrities’ homes to do surveillance, figuring out how to get in.

They picked Paris Hilton as their first victim, Prugo said, because they figured she was “dumb.” “Like, who would leave a door unlocked? Who would leave a lot of money lying around?”

One night in October of 2008, he says, he and Lee entered Hilton’s sprawling tile-roofed mansion in a gated community in the Hollywood Hills, opening the front door with a key they had found under the mat. “Stupid,” Prugo said, shrugging. He said he found the sensation of suddenly being in Hilton’s home “horrifying. There was that percentage of ‘Wow, this is Paris Hilton’s house,’ but as soon as I put my foot in the door I was just wanting to run out.”

He says he served as a lookout at the top of the stairs while Lee went into Hilton’s bedroom to search for valuables. “I was sweating unnaturally. Every five minutes, I was yelling, Let’s get the fuck out of here. She was like, It’s fine, it’s fine, let’s keep going.”

Lee took some expensive bras and a designer dress that night, he says (he can’t remember which; there would be so many). They took a bottle of Grey Goose vodka from Hilton’s “nightclub room.” They took “crumpled cash,” he claims, “fifties, hundreds,” from Hilton’s purses.

The idea was to take so little that the heiress wouldn’t notice—and so they could come back again. Hilton actually didn’t notice or at least didn’t report any of the Bling Ring burglaries until December 19, 2008, when Roy Lopez allegedly stole close to $2 million worth of her jewelry, stuffing it into one of her Louis Vuitton tote bags. Lopez has been charged with one count of residential burglary. His lawyer, David Diamond, says his client “did not steal anything” from Hilton.

“We found about, like, five grams of coke in Paris’s house” on another night, Prugo told police; he says they snorted it and left. Then they “drove around Mulholland, having the best time of our lives.”

“I don’t know why anyone would listen to allegations made by a self-confessed thief,” said Dawn Miller, a rep for Hilton.

My So-Called Real Life

At Alexis Neiers’s home in Westlake Village on the afternoon of her arraignment, the E! reality crew was filming a scene in which Neiers’s parents recount for their younger daughter, Gabrielle, what happened in court that day. Neiers’s mother, Andrea Arlington Dunn, and father, Mikel Neiers, stood in the living room, taking direction from E! supervising producer Gennifer Gardiner, who was feeding them lines: “Tell her, ‘Everything’s going to be O.K., Gabby.’”

“Everything’s going to be O.K., Gabby,” said Dunn, who was still dressed for court in a brown suit. A former Playboy Playmate, Dunn—now married to Jerry Dunn, a production designer for television—is a masseuse and holistic health-care practitioner. Their house, which sits on a rolling, manicured street, is decorated with religious talismans and floor-standing statues of Buddha which Dunn said she got at the closing of a Thai restaurant.

Mikel Neiers, Alexis’s father, a tall man in a blazer and jeans—a former director of photography on Friends who Alexis says “has been in the industry forever”—was looking rather shell-shocked. “He doesn’t really have a place right now,” Dunn said, explaining why her ex-husband sometimes lives with the family.

“I’ve had a lot of struggles with my dad falling off the face of this earth and not being a father,” Alexis had complained earlier. (Her father declined to comment on this.) Continuing on the theme of her difficulties, she said, “I had a boyfriend who was into drugs.”

Alexis’s “dysfunctional background” was the reason why, she said, she “related so well” to Tess Taylor, who sometimes also lives in the Neiers-Dunn household. Taylor, 20, a Playboy Cyber Girl, is still being investigated for her role in the Bling Ring burglaries, according to sources in the L.A.P.D. Taylor’s lawyer, Jeffery Rubenstein, had no comment.

Alexis met Taylor (a stage name; her real name is Adler), a dark-haired bombshell, in ballet class when they were toddlers. “We took her in” six years ago, Alexis said. “My mom kinda fell off the face of the planet,” Taylor said on the phone. She said she doesn’t know where her mother is. “I feel like she’s my other half,” said Alexis, “I love to go out and dance with my sister.” They can also be seen making out with each other in the straight-to-DVD teen flickFrat Party.

It was their ubiquity on the Hollywood club scene that got E! interested in the girls for their reality show, tentatively titled Pretty Wild, last year. The pilot—which airs in March; unfortunately, I may be in it, having been around while they were filming—includes a wild night in which Alexis and Taylor hit the club Wonderland in Hollywood with their friend rapper Mickey Avalon. “He’s such an awesome guy!” Alexis says.

The morning after, October 22, the L.A.P.D. showed up at Alexis’s door with a search warrant. In the house, cops found a Marc Jacobs handbag allegedly belonging to Rachel Bilson and a Chanel necklace allegedly belonging to Lindsay Lohan. Alexis denies stealing the items, saying, “I have receipts for everything.” The reality-crew cameras kept rolling as Alexis exited Van Nuys Jail that night after being bailed out on a $50,000 bond. Taylor was released after questioning.”

Leitura para o fim-de-semana: a história do Instagram

O Instagram é, provavelmente, a aplicação de partilha de fotografias mais bem sucedida do mundo. Não foi por acaso que em Abril do ano passado foi comprada pelo Facebook por mil milhões de dólares. Para ficarem a conhecer os detalhes da sua criação, a conversa ocasional numa praia que levou à introdução dos famosos filtros e de como as negociações com o Facebook foram interrompidas para Mark Zuckerberg ver um episódio de A Guerra dos Tronos, leiam este artigo da Vanity Fair. Chama-se The Money Shot e começa assim:

“There’s no picture of the moment when everything changed for Kevin Systrom. But if there were, it would look something like this: A lanky, very tall, dark-haired man in his late 20s sits on a bench at the Caltrain commuter station in Palo Alto, California. A sepia tone and weathered patina might underscore the mood of weighty contemplation.

It was early April of last year, and Systrom was waiting for his business partner, Mike Krieger, to arrive from San Francisco. Systrom had just left Mark Zuckerberg’s nearby house and was still digesting the offer that the Facebook founder and C.E.O. had made him: to buy Instagram, the photo-sharing app that Systrom and Krieger had launched just 18 months before. The price Zuckerberg offered was $1 billion—$300 million in cash and the rest in Facebook stock, an especially generous-seeming deal, on the eve of his company’s much-anticipated initial public offering.

The offer was even more impressive given Instagram’s size and age. At the time, it had just 13 employees, operating out of a cramped space in the South Park section of San Francisco. Still, the small crew had managed to attract 30 million iPhone users in just a year and a half by offering a service that allowed a person to quickly upload, prettify through the use of filters, and publish images to the Web for friends to see. A version for Google’s Android mobile operating system had launched the week before, gaining another million users in a single day. What’s more, although the app generated no revenue, it had attracted so much attention from venture capitalists that the start-up had nearly closed an impressive new round of funding at a wildly high valuation of $500 million. Zuckerberg had just doubled that, leaving Systrom with a lot to think about on that train-station bench.

Click. If there ever was a money shot to take for Instagram and Systrom, that was it.”

i.0.instagram-kevin-systrom-a

O testa de ferro da máfia

Foto: Sam Jones

Foto: Sam Jones

Merv Adelson não é um nome muito conhecido em Portugal. Produtor de séries como The Waltons ou Dallas, ex-marido de Barbara Walters, já foi um dos homens mais poderosos de Hollywood. Foi, já não é. Caído em desgraça, perdeu a fortuna ganha ao longo de décadas em negócios que começaram na venda a retalho e que evoluíram para a construção de de vivendas e resorts turísticos. No mês passado aceitou falar com a Vanity Fair sobre um assunto que sempre o assombrou (e que sempre negou): as suas ligações à máfia.

Não é normal encontrar alguém que decida falar abertamente sobre o seu passado mais negro. Mas é exactamente o que Merv Adelson faz em Remebrance of Wings Past. Recorda a ida para Las Vegas, como ganhou o primeiro milhão, como conheceu um dos mais importantes mafiosos de sempre – que nunca foi preso nem acusado – os convívios com as grandes estrelas da música como Frank Sinatra, a relação com as mulheres, o poder em Hollywood. Com uma simplicidade de alguém que está resignado por ter perdido tudo – mas que continua a sentir a falta do avião privado. Começa assim

“Down on the beach alongside the Santa Monica Pier, amid the crowds of toned young skaters and wandering tourists, you can sometimes see an elderly man walking his dog. He is 83 years old, lean and tanned, with a tangle of white hair and rheumy blue eyes. While he scuffles along in worn jeans and sneakers, no one has a clue who he is, much less who he was. He lives in a building just steps off the sand, in a tiny apartment, barely 500 square feet of space in all, with a kitchenette and a battered white futon.

What none of his neighbors realize is that the old man once had walk-in closets the size of this apartment. In fact, he was one of the richest and most powerful figures in Hollywood, with a beach house in Malibu, a ranch in Aspen, and a private jet. He made movies and hit television shows and worked from Louis B. Mayer’s old office on the MGM lot. He was married to Barbara Walters, played golf with President Bill Clinton, stayed overnight at the White House, and counted Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu among his closest friends. Before he lost it all, he was worth $300 million. His name is Merv Adelson, and as you might imagine, he has quite a story to tell.

“Well, this is it,” Adelson says, extending an arm as he ushers me into his apartment. “Not much, I know, but it’s all I really need.” He sprawls on the futon, kicks off his shoes, and slowly lifts his feet onto a coffee table, toes wiggling in his white athletic socks. We end up talking for hours, and then days. Adelson’s hearing is failing, but he is lucid and strenuously modest, sprinkling our conversations with comments like “Am I boring you?” and “You don’t want to hear this.” He is candid and upbeat throughout, taking full responsibility for his downfall and refusing any bid for sympathy.

“If you asked me back in the day, ‘What do you miss the most?,’ my answer would have been ‘I miss my jet,’ ” Adelson muses. “You know, there was a time I could pick up the phone here, call my pilot, and I could be in Paris the next morning. But not anymore. I won’t be namby-pamby and say I don’t miss all that money. I do. But I’ve learned to do so much on my own. I made my first million at age 24. Since then I’ve always had people do things for me. Now I pay my own bills. The other day I changed to online banking. It’s so great! And easy!”

He cocks his head toward the kitchenette. “Look over there—the dishwasher is on. Who put those dishes in? I did. It’s all me. That’s satisfying to me now.” He pauses a moment, then glances out the window toward the ocean beyond, then manages a wry smile. “But I’d still love a jet. It’s still the biggest thing I miss. It is.”

If this story was just about the fall of a once mighty mogul, it would still be one heckuva tale. Merv Adelson was the popular executive behind some of the most iconic television shows in history: The Waltons, Dallas, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest, Eight Is Enough. The company he founded, Lorimar, was for years the top independent studio in Hollywood; his boardroom decisions were analyzed on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. Lorimar was renowned for cranking out top executives as well; Adelson’s protégés include Peter Chernin, who for years served as Rupert Murdoch’s number-two man; Leslie Moonves, the C.E.O. of CBS; and Brad Grey, the C.E.O. of Paramount Pictures. Adelson was never quite as successful making movies as he was TV shows, however, and when, in 1989, his pal the late Steve Ross, of Warner Communications, offered to buy him out, Adelson gladly accepted. Overnight, Adelson became a Time Warner vice-chairman, a member of its board, and an independent investor, which is where the story should end happily, but doesn’t.

“You could only be a rat not to say something decent about Merv, a totally decent guy who has had a tough last period,” says IAC chairman Barry Diller. “In fact, you never hear anything bad about him, except, obviously, for some really bad judgment. He was a good man.” Les Moonves adds, “Merv will be remembered as a man who started a great television company, one of the greatest in history, one of the most respected Hollywood will ever see. He was a terrific boss, extremely supportive to his people. He treated me like family.” Even Adelson’s ex-wives—well, one at least—regard him warmly. “He was a kind, funny, thoughtful man,” says Barbara Walters, who divorced him in 1992. “Would things have worked out differently for Merv if we had stayed together? I don’t know. Probably not I have no regrets.”

But the sad ending to Adelson’s career is only half the story. What’s truly jaw-dropping is what he now finally acknowledges about his beginnings. It’s the kind of admission one simply doesn’t hear, not from a Hollywood figure of Adelson’s stature, not in the 21st century. But Adelson got his start in the 1950s, in Las Vegas real estate, and for years after he was plagued by rumors, and eventually nasty articles in the press, suggesting that he was too close with some very unsavory characters. For years he denied or downplayed this fact, most notably in a decade-long libel suit against Penthouse magazine.

Sitting in Adelson’s tiny apartment, I was unsure how to broach the subject. To my surprise, he did it first. He talked for hours, in fact, trying hard to make me understand how it was in Vegas back then, how it happened, what he did. Now he admits that for a decade, until he started Lorimar, in 1969, he was essentially a front man for the Mafia. The infamous mobster who served as his key business partner, who went down in history as “the Godfather of Las Vegas,” was not just an acquaintance, or a silent partner, or someone with a murky past Adelson bumped into.

“He was maybe my closest friend,” Adelson says today. “If you used the word ‘mentor,’ well, I couldn’t object to that word.”

O artigo completo está aqui.

Como o Guia Michelin deu cabo das cozinhas

Há alguns dias foi notícia a atribuição de uma estrela Michelin ao restaurante Belcanto do chef José Avillez. Contra a euforia generalizada que o galardão carrega, lembrei-me de um artigo publicado na Vanity Fair de Novembro. O título é Michelin, Get Out of the Kitchen! e explica, entre outras coisas, como o mais famoso guia do mundo se afastou do objectivo inicial. Diz também o seguinte:

“The Michelin guide also created a new type of customer, the foodie trainspotter, people who aren’t out for a good meal with friends but want to tick a cultural box and have bragging rights on some rare effete spirit. Michelin-starred restaurants began to look and taste the same: the service would be cloying and oleaginous, the menus vast and clotted with verbiage. The room would be hushed, the atmosphere religious. The food would be complicated beyond appetite. And it would all be ridiculously expensive. So, Michelin spawned restaurants that were based on no regional heritage or ingredient but grew out of cooks’ abused vanity, insecurity, and fawning hunger for compliments.

(…)

Food writing is already the recidivist culprit of multiple sins against both language and digestion, but the little encomiums of the Michelin guide effortlessly lick the bottom of the descriptive swill bucket. Take this, for instance, but only if you have a paper bag close at hand: “Can something be too perfect? Can its focus be so singular, pleasure so complete, and technique so flawless that creativity suffers? Per Se proves that this fear is unfounded.” That was written in chocolate saliva. Or this: “Devout foodies are quieting their delirium of joy at having scored a reservation—everyone and everything here is living up to the honor of adoring this extraordinary restaurant … Uni with truffle-oil gelée and brioche expresses the regret that we have but three stars to give.” That’s not a review of Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare—it’s a handjob.
This sort of hideously embarrassing faux grandiloquence makes you seriously wonder about the inspectors. The anonymity that was so obsessively preserved as a proof of impartiality is also the sad hiding place of craven hobbyists and amateur wannabes. The Internet has made anonymity a suspect of grubby trolls and smitten stalkers; we no longer trust secrecy to be in our best interests. It’s no accident that the legacy of 100 years of Michelin is not just an emaciated, inhospitable French table but the legion of score-settling adjective junkies populating unreadable Internet blogs. Nerds who photograph their lunch and use food as a bedroom metaphor for feelings and a simile for friends.”

Nem mais.

20121127-022828.jpg
@BY CHRIS CRISMAN.

Seis meses com Obama

Ao longo de seis meses, o jornalista Michael Lewis esteve com Barack Obama em quase todas as situações possíveis: na Casa Branca, no Air Force One, em viagem e até no campo de basquetebol. O resultado foi o artigo Obama’s Way, um trabalho fundamental para perceber como pensa e decide o homem mais poderoso do mundo – que no mesmo dia pode estar a planear o assassinato de Bin Laden, a decidir sobre intervir militarmente na Líbia e a preparar o discurso em que aceita o Prémio Nobel da Paz. No dia do segundo debate entre Obama e Mitt Romney, fica aqui um excerto.

“At nine o’clock one Saturday morning I made my way to the Diplomatic Reception Room, on the ground floor of the White House. I’d asked to play in the president’s regular basketball game, in part because I wondered how and why a 50-year-old still played a game designed for a 25-year-old body, in part because a good way to get to know someone is to do something with him. I hadn’t the slightest idea what kind of a game it was. The first hint came when a valet passed through bearing, as if they were sacred objects, a pair of slick red-white-and-blue Under Armour high-tops with the president’s number (44) on the side. Then came the president, looking like a boxer before a fight, in sweats and slightly incongruous black rubber shower shoes. As he climbed into the back of a black S.U.V., a worried expression crossed his face. “I forgot my mouth guard,” he said.Your mouth guard? I think. Why would you need a mouth guard?

“Hey, Doc,” he shouted to the van holding the medical staff that travels with him wherever he goes. “You got my mouth guard?” The doc had his mouth guard. Obama relaxed back in his seat and said casually that he didn’t want to get his teeth knocked out this time, “since we’re only 100 days away.” From the election, he meant, then he smiled and showed me which teeth, in some previous basketball game, had been knocked out. “Exactly what kind of game is this?” I asked, and he laughed and told me not to worry. He doesn’t. “What happens is, as I get older, the chances I’m going to play well go down. When I was 30 there was, like, a one-in-two chance. By the time I was 40 it was more like one in three or one in four.” He used to focus on personal achievement, but as he can no longer achieve so much personally, he’s switched to trying to figure out how to make his team win. In his decline he’s maintaining his relevance and sense of purpose.

Basketball hadn’t appeared on the president’s official schedule, and so we traveled the streets of Washington unofficially, almost normally. A single police car rode in front of us, but there were no motorcycles or sirens or whirring lights: we even stopped at red lights. It still took only five minutes to get to the court inside the F.B.I. The president’s game rotates around several federal courts, but he prefers the F.B.I.’s because it is a bit smaller than a regulation court, which reduces also the advantages of youth. A dozen players were warming up. I recognized Arne Duncan, the former captain of the Harvard basketball team and current secretary of education. Apart from him and a couple of disturbingly large and athletic guys in their 40s, everyone appeared to be roughly 28 years old, roughly six and a half feet tall, and the possessor of a 30-inch vertical leap. It was not a normal pickup basketball game; it was a group of serious basketball players who come together three or four times each week. Obama joins when he can. “How many of you played in college?” I asked the only player even close to my height. “All of us,” he replied cheerfully and said he’d played point guard at Florida State. “Most everyone played pro too—except for the president.” Not in the N.B.A., he added, but in Europe and Asia.

Overhearing the conversation, another player tossed me a jersey and said, “That’s my dad on your shirt. He’s the head coach at Miami.” Having highly developed fight-or-flight instincts, I realized in only about 4 seconds that I was in an uncomfortable situation, and it took only another 10 to figure out just how deeply I did not belong. Oh well, I thought, at least I can guard the president. Obama played in high school, on a team that won the Hawaii state championship. But he hadn’t played in college, and even in high school he hadn’t started. Plus, he hadn’t played in several months, and he was days away from his 51st birthday: how good could he be?

The president ran a couple of laps around the gym, then shouted, “Let’s go!” He himself divvied up the teams so each one had roughly the same number of giants and the same number of old people. Having put me on his team, he turned to me and said, “We’ll sit you first, until we get a little bit of a lead.” I thought he was joking, but actually he wasn’t; he was as serious as a heart attack. I was benched. I took my place in the wooden stands, along with a few of the other players, and the White House photographer, the medical team, the Secret Service, and the guy with the buzz cut who carried the nuclear football, to watch the president play.

Obama was 20 or more years older than most of them, and probably not as physically gifted, though it was hard to say because of the age differences. No one held back, no one deferred. Guys on his team dribbled past him and ignored the fact he was wide open. When he drives through the streets, crowds part, but when he drives to the basket large, hostile men slide over to cut him off. It’s revealing that he would seek out a game like this but even more that others would give it to him: no one watching would have been able to guess which guy was president. As a player on the other team, who must have outweighed Obama by a hundred pounds, backed the president of the United States down and knocked the crap out of him, all for the sake of a single layup, I leaned over to the former Florida State point guard.

“No one seems to be taking it easy on him,” I said.

“If you take it easy on him, you’re not invited back,” he explained.

I thought to myself, It must be hard not to take it easy on the president.

The point guard laughed, turned to another guy on the bench, and said, “Remember Rey?”

“Who’s Rey?” I asked.

“Rey pump-faked, turned, and just connected with the president right in the mouth,” the other guy said. “Gave him 16 stitches.”

“Where’s Rey?” I asked.

“Rey hasn’t been back.”

Obama could find a perfectly respectable game with his equals in which he could shoot and score and star, but this is the game he wants to play. It’s ridiculously challenging, and he has very little space to maneuver, but he appears happy. He’s actually just good enough to be useful to his team, as it turns out. Not flashy, but he slides in to take charges, passes well, and does a lot of little things well. The only risk he takes is his shot, but he shoots so seldom, and so carefully, that it actually isn’t much of a risk at all. (He smiles when he misses; when he makes one, he looks even more serious.) “Spacing is big. He knows where to go,” said one of the other players as we watched. “And unlike a lot of lefties, he can go to his right.”

And he chattered constantly. “You can’t leave him open like that!” … “Money!” … “Take that shot!” His team jumped ahead, mainly because it took fewer stupid shots. When I threw one up I discovered the reason for this. When you are on the president’s basketball team and you take a stupid shot, the president of the United States screams at you. “Don’t be looking to the sidelines all sheepish,” he hollered at me. “You got to get back and play D!”

@Pete Souza