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Stories You Shouldn't Miss From 2013

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As the year wraps up, I thought I would share some of the articles that might have skipped past you in the realms of national security, civil liberties and criminal justice. Prosecutors run amok, prisoners of profit and the spooks on the loose -- crank up your Instapaper, here is a non-exhaustive list of stories from 2013 that deserve another look.

National security and foreign policy

"Covert action in Colombia" by Dana Priest in the Washington Post on December 21:

The 50-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), once considered the best-funded insurgency in the world, is at its smallest and most vulnerable state in decades, due in part to a CIA covert action program that has helped Colombian forces kill at least two dozen rebel leaders, according to interviews with more than 30 former and current U.S. and Colombian officials.

"The A-Team Killings" by Matthieu Aikins in Rolling Stone on November 6:

Last spring, the remains of 10 missing Afghan villagers were dug up outside a U.S. Special Forces base -- was it a war crime or just another episode in a very dirty war?

"Did an 8-Year-Old Spy for America?" by Gregory D. Johnsen in the Atlantic on August 14:

When U.S. allies in Yemen needed help targeting an alleged al-Qaeda operative for an American drone strike, evidence suggests they turned to one of the people closest to him.

"At the second kneel of the prayers, the attack began" by Patrick Kingsley in the Guardian on July 18:

In the early hours of 8 July, 51 Muslim Brotherhood supporters camped outside the Republican Guard club in Cairo were killed by security forces. Egypt's military claimed the protesters had attempted to break into the compound with the aid of armed motorcyclists. After examining video evidence and speaking to witnesses, medics and protesters, the Guardian finds a different story.

Surveillance, digital rights and civil liberties

"After 30 Years of Silence, the Original NSA Whistleblower Looks Back" by Adrian Chen for Gawker on November 12:

In 1972, a 25-year-old Perry Fellwock sat in a Berkeley IHOP with the co-editors of Ramparts, Peter Collier and David Horowitz. He had no hesitations about talking then. He had mailed the leftist magazine an article he'd written under the name Winslow Peck, explaining that he was an Air Force veteran who had been attached to the NSA and now wanted to expose the agency.

"Facial recognition, once a battlefield tool, lands in San Diego County" by Ali Winston for the Center for Investigative Reporting on November 7:

On a residential street in San Diego County, Calif., Chula Vista police had just arrested a young woman, still in her pajamas, for possession of narcotics. Before taking her away, Officer Rob Halverson paused in the front yard, held a Samsung Galaxy tablet up to the woman's face and snapped a photo.

"Privacy Fears Grow as Cities Increase Surveillance" by Somini Sengupta for the New York Times on October 13:

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Federal grants of $7 million awarded to this city were meant largely to help thwart terror attacks at its bustling port. But instead, the money is going to a police initiative that will collect and analyze reams of surveillance data from around town -- from gunshot-detection sensors in the barrios of East Oakland to license plate readers mounted on police cars patrolling the city's upscale hills.

"Power in the Age of the Feudal Internet" by Bruce Schneier in Mind in October:

During its early days, the Internet gave coordination and efficiency to the powerless. It made them powerful, and seem unbeatable. But now the more traditional institutional powers are winning, and winning big. How these two fare long-term, and the fate of the majority of us that don't fall into either group, is an open question -- and one vitally important to the future of the Internet.

"WikiLeaks' Teenage Benedict Arnold" by Ryan Gallagher for Slate on August 9:

How the FBI used a baby-faced WikiLeaks volunteer to spy on Julian Assange.

"The Dangerous Logic of the Bradley Manning Case" by Yochai Benkler in the New Republic on March 1:

The guilty plea Manning offered could subject him to twenty years in prison -- more than enough to deter future whistleblowers. But the prosecutors seem bent on using this case to push a novel and aggressive interpretation of the law that would arm the government with a much bigger stick to prosecute vaguely-defined national security leaks, a big stick that could threaten not just members of the military, but civilians too.

"License-plate recognition has its eyes on you" by Jon Campbell for San Diego CityBeat on February 20:

Where's your car? Well, dude, it's in a huge Orwellian police database. That might seem like the plot of a bad movie, but since around 2010, police agencies in San Diego County have quietly used a network of sophisticated devices called license-plate readers (LPR) to monitor and record the movements of thousands of everyday drivers.

"Why Should I Care That No One's Reading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev His Miranda Rights?" by Emily Bazelon for Slate on April 19:

When the law gets bent out of shape for him, it's easier to bend out of shape for the rest of us.

Prisons and criminal justice

"How An HIV-Positive Man Was Sent To Prison For Having Sex -- With A Condom" by Sergio Hernandez for BuzzFeed/ProPublica on December 1:

Nick Rhoades was clerking at a Family Video store in Waverly, Iowa, one summer afternoon in 2008 when three armed detectives appeared, escorted him to a local hospital and ordered nurses to draw his blood. A dozen miles away, his mother and stepfather looked on as local sheriff's deputies searched their home for drugs -- not illegal drugs, but lifesaving prescription medications. Lab results and a bottle of pills found in the Rhoades' refrigerator confirmed the detectives' suspicions: Nick Rhoades was HIV-positive.

"Orleans Parish Prison whistleblower who helped expose problems fears for his job" by Naomi Martin for the New Orleans Times-Picayune on October 31:

An Orleans Parish jailer who helped expose rapes, stabbings and poor conditions at the lock-up by secretly providing information to the Southern Poverty Law Center for a civil-rights lawsuit that led to federal intervention, could lose his job and face criminal prosecution as the office has launched an investigation.

"The Shame of Our Prisons: New Evidence" by David Kaiser and Lovisa Stannow for the New York Review of Books on October 24:

As recently as five years ago, American corrections officials almost uniformly denied that rape in prison was a widespread problem. When we at Just Detention International--an organization aimed at preventing the sexual abuse of inmates--recounted stories of people we knew who had been raped in prison, we were told either that these men and women were exceptional cases, or simply that they were liars. But all this has changed.

"Prisoners of Profit" by Chris Kirkham for the Huffington Post on October 22:

The private prison industry has long fueled its growth on the proposition that it is a boon to taxpayers, delivering better outcomes at lower costs than state facilities. But significant evidence undermines that argument: the tendency of young people to return to crime once they get out, for example, and long-term contracts that can leave states obligated to fill prison beds. The harsh conditions confronting youth inside YSI's facilities, moreover, show the serious problems that can arise when government hands over social services to private contractors and essentially walks away.

"The Untouchables: America's Misbehaving Prosecutors, And The System That Protects Them" by Radley Balko for the Huffington Post on August 1:

NEW ORLEANS -- Some questions seem particularly prone to set John Thompson off. Here's one he gets a lot: Have the prosecutors who sent him to death row ever apologized?

"A Prosecutor, a Wrongful Conviction and a Question of Justice" by Joaquin Sapien for ProPublica on May 23:

Edwin Oliva, a 29-year-old petty thief and drug addict, says he was a wreck as he sat in a chair in the Brooklyn District Attorney's office in winter 1995. A year earlier, he'd told police a lie that helped implicate a possibly innocent man in a murder. Now, prosecutors wanted him to repeat his story in court; he wanted to take it back.

"Officer Serrano's Hidden Camera" by Jennifer Gonnerman for New York magazine on May 19:

The stop-and-frisk trials of Pedro Serrano: NYPD rat, NYPD hero.

"Everybody Wants a Piece of Kimani Gray" By Nick Pinto with Ryan Devereaux for the Village Voice on March 20:

How a boy's death became street theater in Flatbush.