New Republic - Corn Wars 5-15min

The farm-by-farm fight between China and the United States to dominate the global food supply. ... If China hopes to feed (and pacify) its growing population while also loosening the very real stranglehold that America has on its national food supply, its farmers have to start producing a lot more corn—not just enough to meet their domestic demand in good years but enough to maintain a stockpile to offset their global market impact during bad ones. For decades, China has increased corn yields by putting more acres into production, but they’re running out of arable land, and the USDA now estimates that Chinese corn consumption will rise by 41 percent by 2023, far outpacing production increases. The only tenable way for China to meet its own demand, then, is by planting high-performance hybrids, which can single-handedly double or potentially even triple per-acre corn production. Chinese scientists haven’t developed a significant corn hybrid in years. But Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer, the two American seed giants, have produced so many successful hybrids that they now control 45 percent of all the seed sold in the world. ... The Department of Justice maintains that China is quietly permitting and even encouraging companies to steal American agricultural secrets right out of the ground. Acquiring the technology behind these next-generation hybrids could save companies like DBN Group—and the country—as much as a decade, and many millions of dollars, in research.

Grantland - 30 for 30 Shorts: Spyball 18min

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once told the head of the Office of Strategic Services (precursor to the CIA), “Give my regards to the catcher.” The catcher was Moe Berg, who spent 15 seasons in the majors before taking up espionage for the government. Spyball tells the extraordinary story of Berg, a linguist/Ivy-educated lawyer/.243 lifetime hitter whom manager Casey Stengel called “the strangest man to ever play the game of baseball.” Berg walked in eclectic circles, counting Babe Ruth, Albert Einstein, and the Marx Brothers among his friends, but it was his service to his country that truly distinguished him. His surreptitious filming of Tokyo during a 1934 baseball tour helped develop strategies for the eventual bombing of the city during World War II, and his cloak-and-dagger mind games involving a German scientist helped prove that the Nazis were failing in their attempts to develop an atomic bomb.

Men's Journal - Secrets of a Secret Agent 5-15min

Before he became a novelist, Matthews spent 33 years in the Operations Directorate, the clandestine wing of the CIA. For three decades he was undercover overseas, collecting secrets to help America fight the Cold War and the global war on terror. He began as a junior case officer pounding the streets of Iron Curtain-era Europe and rose to be chief or deputy chief at seven different CIA stations, winning a vaunted Intelligence Medal of Merit along the way. There’s a long tradition of British novelists — le Carré, Fleming, Cumming — with real-life intelligence backgrounds. But Matthews is the only American spy writer who spent most of his life as a spy. ... "Espionage is the world’s second-oldest profession. And what it has in common with the first profession is: Someone’s going to get it in the end." ... "You can tell a lot about a person from the way they eat," Matthews says, digging in. The way they hold their knife and fork, how well they hold their liquor. It’s all part of what he calls "opening the human envelope" — the psychological process of getting to know a potential source and exploiting his vulnerabilities. He says the process can take years, and the success rate is low. ... To recruit someone is to get him or her to agree to something absolutely illogical: committing treason against their country. So there is a modicum of being a little sneaky, a little manipulative, and sometimes a little cruel."

Foreign Policy - Inside the CIA Red Cell 5-15min

How an experimental unit transformed the intelligence community. ... Tenet decided to form a group of contrarian thinkers to challenge conventional wisdom in the intelligence community and mitigate the threat of additional surprises through “alternative analysis.” On that evening, his instructions were simple: “Tell me things others don’t and make [senior officials] feel uncomfortable.” ... It is devoted to “alternative analysis,” which includes techniques like “what ifs,” Team A/Team B exercises, and premortem analysis, all of which are used to identify holes in a plan, model an adversary to understand their weaknesses, or consider all of the conceivable ways a plan can fail beforehand. ... “Given that our mandate is ‘to provoke thought,’ the scope of our readership is a useful metric. In the past couple of years, we have watched Red Cell readership in our online publications grow significantly. Red Cell products have led to vigorous virtual discussions among readers within the [intelligence community]. In addition, we receive a good number of requests for Red Cell products from a diverse set of senior policymakers, suggesting that Red Cell products spark interest and are useful.”

BuzzFeed - Shooter, Passer, Dictator, Spy: The Lost, True Story Of The CIA’s Greatest Basketball Coach 5-15min

How did a 1972 exhibition basketball game between Russia and Uganda become a crucible for Cold War tensions at the dawn of Idi Amin’s brutal regime? Ask the former CIA agent who tried to hit the Soviets where it would hurt them the most: on the court. ... In 1972, in the middle of the Cold War, the Soviet military sent a team of all-stars to Kampala to compete in three goodwill basketball games against Uganda’s top players. The Soviets, who were hoping to curry favor with the leader of the new regime, Idi Amin, didn’t know that the best of the three squads, the Ugandan national team, was at that time being coached by an American named Jay Mullen. And they definitely didn’t know that Mullen was an undercover CIA operative, sent to Uganda earlier that year to spy on the Soviets. ... The space race was winding down, but the nuclear arms race was accelerating at a perilous rate despite talks of limitations. U.S.-backed coups were happening all over the world. Courting and deposing regional leaders was a global game being played by dangerous men. ... His 46-year-old son, Tobey, told me that Mullen often speaks without words, pointing at things he wants. I witnessed as much, but I also saw him initiate conversations with strangers like it was nothing, breaking the ice with at least three different people by asking if they had Nordic ancestry. At dinner one night, without warning, he broke into the New Zealand national anthem, not the last anthem he would sing during my visit. The guy can listen, schmooze, or entertain as needed. ... He would be posing as a researcher on African history; there were plenty of other Americans and Brits at Makerere University among whom Mullen could blend in. But his real job would be to get to know the Kampala-based Soviets.

The New York Times - The Doomsday Scam 5-15min

To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world. This is all the more remarkable given the broad agreement among nonproliferation specialists that red mercury, at least as a chemical compound with explosive pop, does not exist. ... Legends of red mercury’s powers began circulating by late in the Cold War. But their breakout period came after the Soviet Union’s demise, when disarray and penury settled over the Kremlin’s arms programs. As declining security fueled worries of illicit trafficking, red mercury embedded itself in the lexicon of the freewheeling black-market arms bazaar. Aided by credulous news reports, it became an arms trafficker’s marvelous elixir, a substance that could do almost anything a shady client might need: guide missiles, shield objects from radar, equip a rogue underdog state or terrorist group with weapons rivaling those of a superpower. It was priced accordingly, at hundreds of thousands of dollars a kilogram. With time, the asking price would soar. ... Red mercury was a lure, the central prop of a confidence game designed to fleece ignorant buyers. ... When the Crocodile placed his order, Abu Omar said, the smuggler asked how much the Islamic State was willing to pay. The answer was vague. The Islamic State would pay, he said, ‘‘whatever was asked.’’ This was not the practical guidance a businessman needs. So the Crocodile sharpened the answer. Up to $4 million — and a $100,000 bonus — for each unit of red mercury matching that shown in a set of photographs he sent to Abu Omar over WhatsApp, the mobile-messaging service. ... the hoax has roots in an intelligence-service put-on, a disinformation campaign of phony news articles planted decades ago in Russian newspapers by the K.G.B. and one of its successors, the F.S.B.

Bloomberg - Stealing White: How a corporate spy swiped plans for DuPont’s billion-dollar color formula 5-15min

A naturally occurring oxide, TiO2 is generally extracted from ilmenite ore and was first used as a pigment in the 19th century. In the 1940s chemists at DuPont refined the process until they hit on what’s widely considered a superior form of “titanium white,” which has been used in cosmetics and plastics and to whiten the chalked lines on tennis courts. DuPont has built its titanium dioxide into a $2.6 billion business, which it spun off as part of chemicals company Chemours, in Wilmington, Del., last fall. ... A handful of other companies produce TiO2, including Kronos Worldwide in Dallas and Tronox of Stamford, Conn. Chemours and these others will churn out more than 5 million tons of TiO2 powder in 2016. China also produces large amounts of the pigment, and its industries consume about a quarter of the world’s supply. Most of China’s TiO2 plants, however, use a less efficient and more hazardous process than the one developed at DuPont. Starting in the 1990s, if not earlier, China’s government and Chinese state-run businesses began seeking ways to adopt DuPont’s methods. Only they didn’t approach the company to make a formal deal. According to U.S. law enforcement officials, they set out to rip off DuPont. ... Most trade-secret theft goes unreported. Companies worry that disclosing such incidents will hurt their stock prices, harm relationships with customers, or prompt federal agents to put them under a microscope. Theft of trade secrets also rarely results in criminal charges because the cases are time-consuming and complicated, and it’s often difficult to win a conviction for conspiracy to commit espionage. A 2013 study estimated that China accounted for as much as 80 percent of the $300 billion in losses sustained by U.S. companies from the theft of intellectual property. Often, China won’t even release the records or serve the subpoenas that might contribute to a prosecution. To win in court, companies must prove they properly safeguarded their trade secrets, something many fail to do.

The Intercept - Echo Papa Exposed 5-15min

The conversion of crop dusters into light attack aircraft had long been part of Prince’s vision for defeating terrorists and insurgencies in Africa and the Middle East. In Prince’s view, these single-engine fixed-wing planes, retrofitted for war zones, would revolutionize the way small wars were fought. They would also turn a substantial profit. The Thrush in Airborne’s hangar, one of two crop dusters he intended to weaponize, was Prince’s initial step in achieving what one colleague called his “obsession” with building his own private air force. ... The story of how Prince secretly plotted to transform the two aircraft for his arsenal of mercenary services is based on interviews with nearly a dozen people who have worked with Prince over the years, including current and former business partners, as well as internal documents, memos, and emails. Over a two-year period, Prince exploited front companies and cutouts, hidden corporate ownership, a meeting with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout’s weapons supplier, and at least one civil war in an effort to manufacture and ultimately sell his customized armed counterinsurgency aircraft. If he succeeded, Prince would possess two prototypes that would lay the foundation for a low-cost, high-powered air force capable of generating healthy profits while fulfilling his dream of privatized warfare.

Foreign Policy - Fear This Man 5-15min

The Blackwater of surveillance, the Hacking Team is among the world’s few dozen private contractors feeding a clandestine, multibillion-dollar industry that arms the world’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies with spyware. Comprised of around 40 engineers and salespeople who peddle its goods to more than 40 nations, the Hacking Team epitomizes what Reporters Without Borders, the international anti-censorship group, dubs the “era of digital mercenaries.” ... The Italian company’s tools — “the hacking suite for governmental interception,” its website claims — are marketed for fighting criminals and terrorists. ... “Privacy is very important,” Vincenzetti says on a recent February morning in Milan, pausing to sip his espresso. “But national security is much more important.” ... Between 2003 and 2004, Vincenzetti and two college friends worked in their dank, underground apartment and coded what would become the Hacking Team’s flagship software. Called the Remote Control System (RCS), it commandeers a target’s devices without detection, allowing a government to deploy malware against known enemies. (The product was later dubbed Da Vinci, then Galileo.) Think of it as a criminal dossier: A tab marked “Targets” calls up a profile photo, which a spy must snap surreptitiously using the camera inside the subject’s hacked device. Beside the picture, a menu of technologies (laptop, phone, tablet, etc.) offers an agent the ability to scroll through the person’s data, including email, Facebook, Skype, online aliases, contacts, favorite websites, and geographical location. Over time, the software enables government spooks to build a deep, sprawling portfolio of intelligence. ... A hacktivist known as Phineas Fisher had hijacked the Hacking Team’s official Twitter account and posted an ominous message: “Since we have nothing to hide, we’re publishing all our emails, files, and source code.” Following the message was a link to more than 400 gigabytes of the company’s most sensitive data.

The Guardian - The day we discovered our parents were Russian spies 5-15min

Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Those were Canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys’ parents. ... Their real names were Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. They were both born in the Soviet Union, had undergone training in the KGB and been dispatched abroad as part of a Soviet programme of deep-cover secret agents, known in Russia as the “illegals”. After a slow-burning career building up an ordinary North American background, the pair were now active agents for the SVR, the foreign spy agency of modern Russia and a successor to the KGB. They, along with eight other agents, had been betrayed by a Russian spy who had defected to the Americans. ... Nearly six years since the FBI raid, I meet Alex in a cafe near the Kiev railway station in Moscow. He is now officially Alexander Vavilov; his brother is Timofei Vavilov, though many of their friends still use their old surname, Foley. ... “They showed us photos of our parents in their 20s in uniform, photos of them with medals. That was the moment when I thought, ‘OK, this is real.’ Until that moment, I’d refused to believe any of it was true,” Alex says. He and Tim were taken to an apartment and told to make themselves at home; one of their minders spent the next few days showing them around Moscow; they took them to museums, even the ballet. An uncle and a cousin the brothers had no idea existed paid a visit; a grandmother also dropped by, but she spoke no English and the boys not a word of Russian.

Forbes - Inside Israel's Secret Startup Machine 5-15min

Much has been made of Israel’s status as “Startup Nation.” Not even the size of New Jersey, with a population smaller than New York City’s, Israel is home to more Nasdaq-listed companies than any country except the U.S. and China. On a per capita basis Israel boasts more venture capital, more startups and more scientists and tech professionals than any other country in the world. ... To understand these dizzying numbers, you need to understand the mysterious Unit 8200. While no one has ever disclosed how large it is, FORBES estimates the unit has, at any given time, 5,000 people assigned to it, all mandated to deploy the latest technology, often in life-or-death situations, with surprisingly little guidance. ... what’s in 8200′s special sauce? After speaking with more than two dozen 8200 veterans, we narrowed it down to five things that, taken together, provide a pretty good blueprint for Startup Nation–and a pretty powerful cheat sheet on how to launch a successful tech startup. ... Unit 8200 predates Israel’s war of independence in 1948. Starting in the British Mandate period of the 1930s, what was then known as Shin Mem 2 (an acronym of the Hebrew phrase for information service) bugged phone lines of Arab tribes to learn about planned riots. In 1948 it was renamed 515–a random number so that it could be discussed without using words. In 1956, the year of the second war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, the name was changed again, to 848. ... Unit 8200′s turning point came when Israel’s did, in 1973, after the Yom Kippur War ... That moment, which led to national soul-searching, resulted in a reboot. The unit would then be known as another random number, 8200. And it would become completely departmentalized, so that various teams in the unit wouldn’t know what other teams were doing. Each squad, like a startup, was pretty much on its own.

Newsweek - Women of the CIA: The Hidden History of American 24min

Women have been central to American spycraft since 1776, and they continued to play important roles in the World War II–era Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the CIA’s predecessor. Even so, the agency has a long history as a chauvinistic old boys’ club rife with sexism. ... Hollywood hasn’t prepared us for women like Bennett—or, say, Maja Lehnus, the CIA’s deputy chief financial officer, who’s been married for 29 years, has two children and was the first woman to hold six different leadership positions at the agency, including serving as the first female chief of the center responsible for combating the spread of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. ... At a time when the country may be just weeks away from electing its first female president, many Americans still have no concept of who’s keeping them safe—and that women play a critical role in that effort. Some may think CIA women were confined to the counterterrorism unit that pursued Osama bin Laden, which gained extraordinary attention after his death. In fact, women are operating at unprecedented levels on every floor of CIA headquarters and throughout its far-flung global outposts. Perhaps hoping to combat this misconception, the CIA granted Newsweek access to seven women from all parts of the agency, including a clandestine operations officer, a bombing expert and a weapons and space analyst. ... if you found yourself sitting across from any of them on the New York City subway, she’d look more like a tourist from the Midwest than a master spy.

Smithsonian - The FBI’s Fake Russian Agent Reveals His Secrets 16min

Russian happens to be one of the nine languages Droujinsky speaks, but the job also required agility and urgency. ... It was an open secret in Washington that the FBI wiretapped and watched the Soviet Embassy, though a number of would-be spies either were unaware of that or thought they could avoid detection by concealing their identities. ... I first heard from an intelligence source in the mid-1990s that the FBI had a “fake Russian,” and I had chased him ever since. An FBI contact of mine cautiously confirmed that the bureau had an agent who impersonated a KGB spy handler, but would say no more. After I discovered his name buried in a news article about a court case, I found it in a phone book—a seeming stroke of luck, since most FBI agents are unlisted. But when I called the number I got his son, who has the same name. The son agreed to pass on my request for an interview, and eventually relayed his father’s reply: Sorry, but no. ... I asked him why, after all these years, he had decided to talk to me. “I’ve been out of the bureau for many years,” he told me, “and I didn’t think it would jeopardize anyone.” He deflected my offer to meet at his home, but unlike other counterspies I have interviewed, he said I was free to quote him by name. One lunch led to eight more; over ten months, the FBI’s bogus Russian discussed his life and career with a reporter for the first time.

The Guardian - The spy who couldn’t spell: how the biggest heist in the history of US espionage was foiled 17min

Being underestimated – by family, classmates and colleagues – had been the theme of his life, a curse he had borne silently since childhood. But for the mission he had now embarked upon, it was a blessing. None of his co-workers or managers in the intelligence community could have imagined that he of all people was capable of masterminding a complex espionage plot. ... With fortune, he imagined, respect would follow. Those who had known him would no longer doubt his intelligence. Once and for all, he would shake off the image that had dogged him since childhood. ... The sender of the envelopes was no doubt a bona fide member of the US intelligence community, with access to “top secret” documents, intent on establishing a clandestine relationship with a foreign intelligence service. The person had, in fact, already committed espionage by giving classified information to an enemy country. Carr might as well have been looking at a warning sign for a national security threat flashing in neon red. ... As long as he could get away with it, espionage was a legitimate answer to his troubles.

Wired - Inside the Hunt for Russia’s Most Notorious Hacker 23min

America’s War with Russia’s greatest cybercriminal began in the spring of 2009, when special agent James Craig, a rookie in the FBI’s Omaha, Nebraska, field office, began looking into a strange pair of electronic thefts. ... The leading victim in the case was a subsidiary of the payments-processing giant First Data, which lost $450,000 that May. That was quickly followed by a $100,000 theft from a client of the First National Bank of Omaha. What was odd, Craig noticed, was that the thefts seemed to have been executed from the victims’ own IP addresses, using their own logins and passwords. Examining their computers, he saw that they were infected with the same malware: something called the Zeus Trojan horse. ... The ruse is known as a “man in the browser” attack. While you sit at your computer logging into seemingly secure websites, the malware modifies pages before they load, siphoning away your credentials and your account balance. Only when you log in from a different computer do you even realize the money is gone.

Aeon - Operation: neutrino 13min

Neutrinos are fundamental to the construction of the Universe. They are tremendously abundant, outnumbering atoms by about a billion to one. They modulate the reactions that cause massive stars to explode as supernovas. Their properties provide clues about the laws governing particle physics. And yet neutrinos are among the most enigmatic particles, largely due to their reticent nature: they have no electric charge and practically no mass, so they interact only extremely weakly with ordinary matter. Some 65 billion of them stream through every square centimetre of your body – an area the size of a thumbnail – every second, without your ever noticing them. ... The discovery of the neutrino dates back to the 1930s, when the famed Italian physicist Enrico Fermi helped to hammer out the first workable theory of nuclear phenomena such as radioactive decay. ... Neither Fermi nor anyone else at the time thought that such tiny wisps of matter could ever be detected directly. Before long, the spread of fascism in Europe overshadowed any such lofty thoughts. ... In 1938, he managed a Sound-of-Music-like escape, exploiting a trip to Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize in order to slip out of Europe and head for the United States, where he became one of the early scientific leaders of the Manhattan Project.