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Who's holding up John Brennan's confirmation?

Almost two months after Barack Obama nominated John Brennan to become his next CIA director, the White House counterterrorism advisor's confirmation remains out of reach. Practically no one doubts Brennan will eventually be confirmed, but a few key actors and a few key issues remain obstacles for the White House and its nominee. Here's what's in the way:

Benghazi

On Sunday, fellow amigos John McCain and Lindsey Graham took to CBS's Face the Nation to renew their months-long quest for more information on the terrorist attack in Benghazi -- and to threaten delays for Brennan's confirmation. One of the key sticking points has been the altered talking points provided to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice before she went on a range of Sunday talk shows to discuss the attacks. Last week, the White House provided the senators access to the e-mails discussing the changes in a classified hearing. But Graham and McCain said portions of the e-mails were too heavily redacted. In addition, they also want access to FBI interviews of the survivors. "John and I are hell bent on making sure the American people understand this debacle called Benghazi," said Graham.

Today, McCain, Graham, and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte reitereated everything they know and don't know about Benghazi in a joint press release. When reached for comment, the White House pledged to continue to work with members of Congress. "We are having conversations with members of Congress about their requests, and we will continue those conversations," said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden in an e-mail to FP.

Drones

The administration's targeted killing program via drone strikes remains a sticking point for Sen. Rand Paul. The Kentucky lawmaker says a simple "yes" or "no" answer on whether the White House can authorize a drone strike against an American in the United States would satisfy him. But he'll hold up the confirmation until he gets an answer, he told National Journal last week. "I want to hear the answer that they are not assuming the authority, or they don't believe they have the authority, to kill Americans on American soil with a program from the Department of Defense or the CIA," Paul said. "I think there's a certain bit of arrogance that they are not even willing to respond at all to us on this."

Though the president has said, "The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States,” Paul isn't satisfied, calling the language evasive. This "sort of, to me, implies that they are assuming they have some kind of authority inside the United States," he says.

Torture

Before ending his interview with CBS, McCain added that he had "some questions about torture" without going into detail. The issue of torture, or enhanced interrogation techniques, is what torpedoed Brennan's consideration for the CIA's top post four years ago. Though McCain has been a steadfast opponent of the practice, the opposition to Brennan at the time was spearheaded by liberals. At his confirmation hearing last month, Brennan denied having a key role in the Bush administration's torture of terror suspects. 


Clearly, the White House is not thrilled with what it sees as a distraction from Brennan's inevitable confirmation. In an e-mail to FP, Hayden said as much today. "The confirmation process should be about the nominees and their ability to do the jobs they're nominated for," she said. "As the confirmation hearings clearly showed, John Brennan is extraordinarily qualified to head the CIA, and the President needs him in place now. We face enormous national security and intelligence challenges across the globe, and to hold up these nominees for unrelated reasons is not in our national security interests." 

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Is the Pirate Bay now hosted in North Korea, or are they messing with us? [Updated]

Visitors to the filesharing megasite Pirate Bay today might be surprised to see a North Korean flag on the page's usual Pirate Ship logo. The image links to the following post on the site's blog:

The Pirate Bay has been hunted in many countries around the world. Not for illegal activities but being persecuted for beliefs of freedom of information. Today, a new chapter is written in the history of the movement, as well as the history of the internets.

A week ago we could reveal that The Pirate Bay was accessed via Norway and Catalonya. The move was to ensure that these countries and regions will get attention to the issues at hand. Today we can reveal that we have been invited by the leader of the republic of Korea,[sic] to fight our battles from their network.

This is truly an ironic situation. We have been fighting for a free world, and our opponents are mostly huge corporations from the United States of America, a place where freedom and freedom of speech is said to be held high. At the same time, companies from that country is chasing a competitor from other countries, bribing police and lawmakers, threatening political parties and physically hunting people from our crew. And to our help comes a government famous in our part of the world for locking people up for their thoughts and forbidding access to information.

We believe that being offered our virtual asylum in Korea is a first step of this country's changing view of access to information. It's a country opening up and one thing is sure, they do not care about threats like others do. In that way, TPB and Korea might have a special bond. We will do our best to influence the Korean leaders to also let their own population use our service, and to make sure that we can help improve the situation in any way we can. When someone is reaching out to make things better, it's also ones duty to grab their hand.

The story first appeared a few hours ago on the blog of Swedish Pirate Party founder and chief evangelist Rick Falkvinge. (The Pirate Party and Pirate Bay share political goals and have frequently cooperated but are separate organizations.) Falkvinge writes that the current traceroute for the site can be tracked back to this ISP located in the Potong-gang District of Pyongyang.  "North Korea may have the one government on this planet which takes pride in asking Hollywood and United States interests to take a hike in the most public way imaginable," he added.

Pirate Bay lost its hosting from the Swedish Pirate Party last month, after the group faced legal pressure from an alliance of copyright holders.  The hosting was moved to Pirate Parties in Norway and Catalonia, but the Norwegian party apparently dropped the site earlier today. 

The typically reliable website TorrentFreak quotes at "PirateBay insider," saying “We’ve been in talks with them for about two weeks, since they opened access for foreigners to use 3g in the country... TPB has been invited just like Eric Schmidt and Dennis Rodman. We’ve declined for now.”

So is this for real, or an elaborate prank? TorrentFreak writes, "While it’s hard to believe everything The Pirate Bay says, the site does indeed route through North Korea at the moment."

I'm still not totally buying it, given that back in 2007, the site posted an April Fool's joke about moving its hosting to the North Korean embassy. "We would like to thank Kim Jong-Il for the opportunity and we would like all of our users to review their current feelings towards this great nation!" they wrote at the time. 

In a post last year, the Pirate Bay's blog presented itself as a weapon against North Korean information suppression.  "We receive more than 100 visits daily from North Korea and we sure know that they need it," they wrote. "If there's something that will bring peace to this world it is the understanding and appreciation of your fellow man."

Also, if they were really doing business with North Korea, they would probably know that its official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The "Republic of Korea" is the South.

So there's plenty of reason to be suspicious, though after last week, anything seems possible.

Update: The North Korea Tech blog throws some more cold water on the story: 

The Pirate Bay needs a significant amount of bandwidth — something North Korea doesn’t have.[...]

When I track Internet traffic from my PC to The Pirate Bay’s website, it does appear to flow to North Korea’s Internet gateway point. What happens after that is unclear.

[The track] shows traffic running from Level 3, an Internet backbone operator in the U.S., onto the network of Intelsat. The international satellite operator is one of North Korea’s two providers of Internet connectivity. From Intelsat is runs onto the North Korean Internet, denoted by the Internet address “175.45.177.217? on line 21. But no more data is returned, so it’s difficult to plot the remainder of the path to The Pirate Bay website.

 

I e-mailed Falkvinge, who wrote back that the technical reports casting doubt on the story "look credible":

The Pirate Bay is tremendously skilled at two things: keeping their site online, and pranking the establishment. Given that, I lean toward it being a hilarious hoax.

Update 2: The Pirate Bay comes clean. It was a hoax:

We’ve also learned that many of you need to be more critical. Even towards us. You can’t seriously cheer the “fact” that we moved our servers to bloody North Korea. Applauds to you who told us to fuck off. Always stay critical. Towards everyone!