When Technology Can Be Used To Build Weapons, Some Workers Take A Stand

Liz O’Sullivan says she struggled for months as she learned more about the military project her in which her employer, Clarifai, was participating.

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On the night of Jan. 16, Liz O’Sullivan sent a letter she’d been working on for weeks. It was directed at her boss, Matt Zeiler, the founder and CEO of Clarifai, a tech company. “The moment before I hit send and then afterwards, my heart, I could just feel it racing,” she says.

The letter asked: Is our technology going to be used to build weapons?

With little government oversight of the tech industry in the U.S., it’s tech workers themselves who increasingly are raising these ethical questions.

O’Sullivan often describes technology as magic. She’s 34 — from the generation that saw the birth of high-speed Internet, Facebook, Venmo and Uber. “There are companies out there doing things that really look like magic,” she says. “They feel like magic.”

Her story began two years ago, when she started working at Clarifai. She says one of her jobs was to explain the company’s product to customers. It’s visual recognition technology, used by websites to identify nudity and inappropriate content. And doctors use it to spot diseases.

Clarifai was a startup, founded by Zeiler, a young superstar of the tech world. But shortly after O’Sullivan joined, Clarifai got a big break — a government contract, reportedly for millions of dollars.

Matt Zeiler, CEO of Clarifai, says his company’s technology will help American soldiers and civilians.

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Courtesy of Clarifai

It was all very secretive. At first, the people assigned to work on the project were in a windowless room, with the glass doors covered.

O’Sullivan would walk by and wonder: What are they doing in there?

Zeiler says the contract required secrecy, but everyone working directly on the project knew what it was about. “We got briefed before even writing a single line of code,” he says. “And I also briefed everybody I asked to participate on this project.”

NPR spoke to one employee who did work directly on the project. That person, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, says many of the workers in that room were not entirely clear what this was going to be used for. After all, the technology they were putting together is the same that they had been working on for other projects.

In the months that followed, former employees say, information started trickling down.

They were working with the Department of Defense.

Then, people working on the project got an email that outlined some details. The text included a brief reference to something called Project Maven.

The Pentagon told NPR that the project, also called Algorithmic Warfare, was created in April 2017. Its first task was to use computer vision technology for drones in the campaign against ISIS.

“This could be more effective than humans, who might miss something or misunderstand something,” explains Ben Shneiderman, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland. “The computer vision could be more accurate.”

Shneiderman had serious ethical concerns about the project. And he wasn’t alone. Many people in the tech world were starting to wonder: What will the technology we’re building be used for down the road?

O’Sullivan says this question began to haunt her too.

The big fear among tech activists is that will this be used to build autonomous weapons — ones that are programmed to find targets and kill people, without human intervention.

The Department of Defense’s current policy requires that autonomous weapons “allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment.”

It’s a definition many find murky. And last year, tech workers began to ask a lot of questions. “It’s a historic moment of the employees rising up in a principled way, an ethical way and saying, we won’t do this,” Shneiderman says.

In 2018, Microsoft employees protested their company’s work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And several thousand employees demanded that Google stop working on Project Maven. Google did not renew its contract with the project.

Last June, Clarifai CEO Matt Zeiler also weighed in. In a blog post, he explained why the company was working on a military project.

O’Sullivan read that with interest. “You know, the people running these companies are sort of techno-Utopians. And they believe that tech is going to save the world and that we really just have to build everything that we can, and then figure out where the cards fall. But there are a lot of us out here saying, should we be building this at all?”

Former Clarifai employees told NPR that at the office, the mood got tense.

There were plenty of people who felt comfortable working on Project Maven. Others resented that it had been so secretive. And some just found it morally troubling.

As the months went by, O’Sullivan says she realized she couldn’t change the direction of the company. So at the beginning of this year, she wrote that letter to Zeiler and sent it to the whole staff.

“We have serious concerns about recent events and are beginning to worry about what we are all working so hard to build,” she wrote.

She went on to ask a bunch of questions. Many of them are the same ones being asked across the tech world today.

Are you going to let us know who we’re selling our stuff to?

Are you going vet how it’s used?

Do we care if this is used to hurt people?

A week after she sent that letter, she says Zeiler spoke at a staff meeting. “He did say that our technology was likely to be used for weapons,” O’Sullivan says, “and autonomous weapons at that.”

Zeiler does not deny this. In fact, he says, countries like China, are already doing it. The U.S. needs to step it up.

“We’re not going to be building missiles, or any kind of stuff like that at Clarifai,” he says. “But the technology … is going to be useful for those. And through partnerships with the DOD and other contractors, I do think it will make its way into autonomous weapons.”

This is where he and O’Sullivan disagree.

Should companies like Clarifai, Google and Amazon be involved in military projects?

Zeiler says Clarifai’s technology will help save American soldiers. “At the end of the day, they’re out there to do a mission. And if we can provide the best technology so that they can accurately do their mission, in the worst case, there might be a human life at the other end that they’re targeting. But in many cases it might be a weapons cache, [without] any humans around or a bridge, to slow down an enemy threat.”

And, Zeiler says, it’s going to help minimize civilian casualties by improving the accuracy of weapons.

O’Sullivan wasn’t buying that. She quit the day after the staff meeting. She describes herself as a conscientious tech objector.

She went on to join a startup that advises companies on how to make trustworthy artificial intelligence.

She says she still thinks tech can be really wonderful — or really dangerous. Like playing with magic.

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States Sue Drugmakers Over Alleged Generic Price-Fixing Scheme

Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

Jose A. Bernat Bacete/Getty Images

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong has a skin condition called rosacea, and he says he takes the antibiotic doxycycline once a day for it.

In 2013, the average market price of doxycycline rose from $20 to $1,829 a year later. That’s an increase of over 8,000%.

Tong alleges in a new lawsuit that this kind of price jump is part of an industry-wide conspiracy to fix prices.

The suit is a whopper — at least 43 states are suing 20 companies and the document is over 500 pages long. It was filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut.

The lawsuit alleges that sometimes one company would decide to raise prices on a particular drug, and other companies would follow suit. Other times, companies would agree to divide up the market, rather than competing for market share by lowering prices.

It says these kind of activities have been happening for years, and that companies would avoid creating evidence by making these agreements on golf outings or during “girls nights outs” or over text message.

In several examples, the suit cites call logs between executives at different companies, showing a flurry of phone calls right before several companies would all raise prices in lockstep.

All of this, according to the lawsuit, resulted “in many billions of dollars of harm to the national economy.”

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong says the generic drug industry is profiting “in a highly illegal way” from Americans. Tong is at the forefront of a multi-state lawsuit filed May 10, which alleges companies worked together to set prices.

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Frankie Grazian/Connecticut Public Radio

Consumers don’t always notice when a generic drug’s price increases rapidly. People without insurance, of course, pay full price, but even people with insurance can feel the impact.

“More people than ever before are paying based on the price of the drugs,” explains Stacie Dusetzina, a professor at Vanderbilt University who studies drug pricing. Often, patients have to meet a deductible before their health plan’s coverage kicks in, so “they pay full price until they reach a certain level of spending, or they pay a percentage of the drug’s price — we call that a coinsurance.”

Surveys show more Americans are having trouble paying out-of-pocket medical costs. The average annual deductible in job-based health plans has quadrupled in the past 12 years and now averages $1,300.

But, Dusetzina says, even if you only pay a modest copay — such as $5 for every prescription you pick up — if your insurance company is paying more for prescription drugs, it can raise your health plan’s premiums the following year. “So ultimately these costs do get borne by the consumer in some way,” she says.

Dusetzina says what this lawsuit alleges is “very disappointing” — a situation in which consumers put up with the high price of branded drugs because of the implicit promise that a generic is coming some day and will eventually bring the price down.

But that outcome doesn’t happen automatically — it relies on healthy competition and market forces to work. If there’s only one generic version available, that drugmaker can set the price at pretty much the same level as the brand name.

“The higher the number of competitors, the more we see price reductions from the branded drug price,” she says. “So the magic number seems to be around four manufacturers.”

And that assumes those drugmakers aren’t talking to each other and agreeing to coordinate rather than compete.

The main drugmaker cited in the lawsuit is Teva, an Israeli company. In a statement, Kelley Dougherty, Vice President of Communications and Brand, Teva North America told NPR that the company is reviewing the allegations internally and that Teva “has not engaged in any conduct that would lead to civil or criminal liability.”

The company has also asserted that there’s nothing new here, and it’s true that the new lawsuit is similar to past lawsuits, though none of them included so many states as plaintiffs.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong has emphasized that the investigation is ongoing, and given the amount of political appetite there is to bring drug prices down, there are certainly more lawsuits to come.

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Why It’s So Hard To Stop Women From Sleeping In A Menstrual Shed

Manisha Jaisi, 16, poses at the shed outside her house where she sleeps when she has her period. Jaisi got her period two months after her neighbor, Dambara Upadhyay, died while sleeping in a similar shed in 2016 of unknown causes. Jaisi says she never goes without her phone in the shed because she’s scared after Upadhyay’s death.

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Every year in Nepal, women die while sleeping in a shed outside their home because they are on their period. The cause of death is often smoke inhalation from lighting a fire to stay warm.

The practice, called chaupadi, is linked to Hindu beliefs around religious purity and the idea that menstruation is spiritually polluting. In much of the country, this means that a woman who is menstruating will avoid temples, prayer rooms and kitchens – places important to keep pure in the Hindu religion.

In parts of the remote west, an extreme version means nights sleeping outside in a hut or shed.

Last August, the government of Nepal announced punishments for anyone who forces a female family member to sleep outside while on her period: three months in jail or a fine of 3,000 rupees, roughly $30.

Toiletries sit on the shelf of a shed where women from the Upadhyay family sleep while menstruating: Vicks VapoRub for Nirmala Upadhyay’s headaches and a cracked mirror and face cream that belong to her 14-year-old niece. In 2016, family member Dambara Upadhyay died while sleeping in a shed that the family subsequently tore down — and then replaced.

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The practice was previously banned by the Supreme Court in 2005 but without penalties attached.

So far, the legislation is off to a slow start.

Consider the case of Dambara Upadhyay.

Three years ago, Upadhyay, age 21, died inside a menstrual shed in the village of Timilsena. Family members say her husband had asked her to stay in the family home that night, but she had said she was afraid that if she broke the rules, harm could come to her family.

Mina Rana sleeps in this shed when she is on her period. According to her community’s interpretation of the practice called chaupadi, she is forbidden to stay inside the house.

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Sajana Shrestha for NPR

The next morning, her sister-in-law, Nirmala Upadhyay, now 40, found her body in the shed.

The cause of death remains unknown. The family quickly tore down the shed, fearing that her spirit would haunt them — but perhaps also because local officials sometimes tear down the sheds in an attempt to enforce the law.

For a while, the women of the family slept inside the house while menstruating, though in a separate room that they would later have to purify.

But six months ago, the family built a new shed. Now, the women usually sleep there, including Upadhyay’s 14-year-old niece, who recently got her first period.

The family’s return to the shed is a sign of how hard it is to stop the practice.

Why The Law Isn’t Working … Yet

The August law had been enacted after a series of highly publicized deaths, including Upadhyay’s in November 2016. Just a month later, in December, a 15-year-old died of suffocation after lighting a fire inside the shed. Seven months after that, in July 2017, another teen died of a snakebite. Deaths of other women and girls followed.

Four people have died in sheds since the start of 2019, including two children sleeping beside their mother – all three reportedly died from smoke inhalation after lighting a fire inside the confined space of the shed. But no one has been prosecuted since the new law was announced.

Mohna Ansari, a member of Nepal’s Human Rights Commission in Kathmandu, says myriad reasons prevent the law from having much effect. For one, a woman who reports a family member might be kicked out of the family with no way to support herself on her own. It’s also tricky to prove someone was forced to sleep in a menstrual shed when many women do so out of societal pressure and their own fear of the consequences.

“It’s a deep-rooted belief if they will not go [to the shed] something [bad] will happen,” Ansari says. Family members could get sick, livestock could die, crops could fail.

Janak Bahadur Shahi is the deputy superintendent of police in Achham district, where many of the deaths have occurred and where Upadhyay lived. He agrees that fear of spiritual retribution trumps the law.

“They [are] afraid with the God, not with the police,” he says.

Next door to the Upadhyay home, Koshila Khatri, 27, talks about a time when the dishes she ate from while menstruating were accidentally brought into the house. Then a tiger killed two of the family goats. Khatri isn’t totally sure whether to blame this attack on menstruation.

Khatri’s father-in-law, Dilli Prasad Jaisi, who heads the household, says the mishap with the goats is an example of why laws prohibiting the practice won’t work. “One buffalo costs 20,000 rupees [about $180]. If it dies because a menstruating woman touched it, is the government going to pay for that?” Jaisi asks.

Other Consequences Of Chaupadi

Even when women don’t actually sleep outside, menstrual restrictions take a psychological toll, says Subeksha Poudel, senior manager for communications and gender and social inclusion at Possible Health, a health-care organization that focuses on maternal health in the region.

“If you’re labeling and treating girls as impure, it’s the same as treating [them] as untouchable,” Poudel says, comparing it to the caste system. In fact, colloquially, Nepalis use the phrase that means “to become untouchable” for a woman who is menstruating.

Religion and health care are intertwined too. People believe that illnesses may have a spiritual cause, and a shaman may be the first person called when someone falls sick. Drawing upon Hindu traditions, a shaman may say the illness is the result of breaking menstruation rules and angering God.

The belief is that, because most homes have a prayer room, God inhabits the home. So even if menstruating women didn’t touch religious items, their very presence in the home could be considered enough to contaminate them.

God Inside — And Outside — The House

In a village a few hours away from Timalsena, the local government is teaming up with shamans to find a workaround: keep God outside the house so women can stay in. The campaign’s slogan translates to: “God outside, menstruating women inside.”

With the endorsement of the shamans, the municipal government is constructing outdoor community temples where families can store items they use for prayer, like sacred cloths and bells typically kept in prayer rooms inside their houses. With no symbolic representation of God inside the home, the government hopes that women can sleep inside while they’re menstruating and families will not be afraid.

“We still need to pray, but for our safety, now we put God outside,” says Ratna Tamata, a 55-year-old woman from Ramaroshan, standing at one of the temples under construction.

The Ramaroshan municipal government is trying a few tactics to end the practice of menstrual isolation. Vice chairperson Saraswati Rawal says they’ll refuse to issue birth certificates, for example, for children in families that practice chaupadi.

Krishna Bhakta Pokhrel is a parliamentarian involved with drafting the anti-chaupadi measure that went into effect in August. Pokhrel told NPR that several municipalities are considering the withholding of government services processed at the municipal level like citizenship documentation and social security registration.

Of course, families can simply lie about whether they practicing chaupadi.

Women Taking A Stand

The campaign with the shamans has inspired a group of women activists in Ramaroshan to push back.

“Men and women are equal, their blood is the same. They can live happily together,” the women sang at a demonstration when NPR visited their village in March. Clad in a bright blue and pink sari like the rest of the group, their leader, Ganga Devi Saud, says that women can show how nothing bad will happen if they abandon the practice.

At the Nepal Fertility Care Center in Kathmandu, executive director Pema Lhaki wants to help more women and girls decide whether or not to stop.

Lhaki co-authored a study published in February in the journal Global Public Health. It found that only around a quarter of nearly 700 women and girls surveyed in Nepal knew menstruation was “to prepare for pregnancy.” More than half thought it was to release impure blood.

The Center has teamed up with other organizations and the government of Nepal to improve reproductive education in schools so students understand that menstruation is a normal biological process — not a curse or form of a spiritual pollution.

In the village of Masthamandu, a younger generation of women have come up with their own way to stay safe without disrupting the social order. Aishwarya Kunwar, 24, is finishing up a prenatal session with a health-care worker. At nine months pregnant, she doesn’t have to worry about periods right now, but she and other women have pretended that they’d received hormonal birth control injections and told their in-laws that as a result, they would not menstruate.

Kunwar says their husbands know about and support their deception.

Back in Timalsena, Nirmala Upadhyay, the sister-in-law of the late Dambara Upadhyay, is waiting for generational change. For now, she still has to follow the rules of the house where she lives with her in-laws.

Things will be different, she says, when she’s in charge. “When my mother-in-law and father-in-law are no longer with us, we’ll do everything. We’ll stay inside, milk the buffalo, cook food. We just won’t go to the temple. Everything else we’ll do.”

Danielle Preiss is a freelance print and radio journalist based in South Asia. She tweets @daniellepreiss.

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How Public Health Outreach Ended A 1990s Measles Outbreak And What’s Different Now

Sign advertising free measles vaccines and information about measles are displayed at the Rockland County Health Department in Pomona, N.Y. The county in New York City’s northern suburbs has had more than 200 measles cases since last fall.

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Seth Wenig/AP

This year’s measles outbreak is the largest since the 1990s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevented announced Monday that 75 more measles cases were confirmed last week in 23 states, bringing the total to 839 so far this year.

The outbreak from 1989 through 1991 was much larger than today’s, with more than 27,000 cases in 1990 alone. But the conditions that lead to that outbreak and what it took to end it are dramatically different from the ones the city is seeing today.

The bulk of cases today are concentrated in New York state. New York City alone is responsible for at least 466 cases since the outbreak began last September with 34 people hospitalized.

In New York, public health authorities attribute the ongoing outbreak to anti-vaccination sentiments among a small sub-group of religious, Orthodox Jewish residents where the virus has spread. The outbreak in the early 1990s hit poor black and Latino communities the hardest, in Central Brooklyn, upper Manhattan and the south Bronx.

The outbreak in New York City took off in spring 1990. And once the public health response got underway, parents got on board.

“Children were dying,” says Dr. Irwin Redlener, who founded the Children’s Health Fund to bring health care to New York City’s poorest areas. “It was like all hands on deck. The city, the not-for-profit organizations, were all focused on the same mission with the enthusiasm of parents.”

According to news reports from the time, criminal courts had to halt proceedings when inmates at the Rikers Island jail, got sick. There were outbreaks on college campuses and in homeless shelters. One defunct hotel turned city shelter that Redlener visited was so overcrowded, it was an outbreak waiting to happen, he says.

“The conditions in the hotel, and the lack of access to care — you have basically set up a scenario that is very conducive to the spread of a disease like measles,” says Redlener.

The outbreak continued that fall, into the next year and through the summer of 1991. By the time it was over, there were more than 5,000 measles cases in the city and at least 21 deaths. It wasn’t just in New York City either; starting in 1989, Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia were experiencing large outbreaks as well. From 1989 through 1991 more than 55,000 were sickened and more than 100 people died across the country, the highest numbers since the early 1970’s, according to data from the CDC.

Public health historians partially attribute the outbreak to budget cuts that took place during President Ronald Reagan’s presidency that impacted federal funds directed towards immunization and public health initiatives.

“There was just less White House support for childhood immunization,” says Elena Conis, an associate professor at University of California Berkeley, where she specializes in medical history.

Immunization rates peaked in the early 1980s due to investment in the prior administration of President Jimmy Carter. There was just one death attributed to measles in 1984, the lowest number ever recorded by the CDC. But as federal investment didn’t keep up with inflation or with increases in the cost of the vaccine, immunization levels crept back downward, particularly in areas where parents couldn’t afford vaccinations.

Some federal funds that had been earmarked for immunizations in the past, were instead given in lump sums to states, Conis says. And, according to Conis, there was a third issue.

“We had a health care system that simply wasn’t designed to serve low-income kids living in cities who were more reliant on public clinics, which weren’t necessarily open all the time … or were few and far between,” Conis says.

By the time the outbreak hit in 1990, the CDC estimated that about half of all inner city toddlers in New York City had not been vaccinated by their second birthday.

“Over the past years of tight budgets, the immunization programs have been eroded … The results have been predictable,” California Congressman Henry Waxman said at a 1991 hearing about the nationwide outbreaks. “The problem is clear to see. Vaccination programs are limited. Clinics are inaccessible. Appointments are required and waiting lists have also grown.”

What’s worse, without access to preventive care, kids who got really sick with measles ended up in the hospital.

“We saw…a lot of kids with measles and pneumonia, measles and croup, measles and acute encephalitis,” says Dr. Joel Forman, who was just starting his pediatric residency at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York in the summer 1990. Years later, one of Forman’s patients died from an extremely rare complication from measles called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.

“When he first was sick of measles, he was 7 months — I remember that,” Forman says. “He recovered uneventfully and only presented years later with a lethal complication.”

By the summer of 1991, New York officials redoubled their efforts with Mayor David Dinkins and Governor Mario Cuomo working in concert. Measles messages were flashed across the giant Sony computer screen in Times Square. Buses outfitted as mobile health clinics offered free immunizations. One immunization drive featured Michelangelo from the the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who emerged from a sewer at the South Street Seaport to encourage kids to get the vaccine. Shots were given to kids at parks and beaches and outdoor concerts, including, one featuring Latin Jazz icon Tito Puente. The outbreak eventually petered out.

On the federal level, things were changing too. In 1993, newly elected President Bill Clinton pledged to raise childhood immunization rates. That year, Congress created the Vaccines for Children program, which funded vaccination for children whose parents couldn’t afford them, and federal funding increased seven-fold from $37 million in 1990 to $261 million in 1995.

Measles vaccination rates climbed above 90 percent, where they’ve remained in most places. New York became the first state to require a measles booster shot, which is now required across the country; and is said by the CDC to increase effectiveness of the vaccine from 93 percent to 97 percent.

Today’s measles outbreak in New York is far smaller than the one in the 1990s. And the reasons behind it are very different.

“Then it was people who couldn’t get access to health care,” Redlener says. “Now it’s this cult-like atmosphere of people who are refusing to immunize.”

Since last October when the outbreak began, city health officials say, more than 20,000 doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine have been administered to children in Brooklyn neighborhoods. City health officials have met with community leaders, published ads in community papers, sent out robocalls, and hosted conference calls with doctors.

Still, they’re facing a small, but mobilized subgroup of the ultra-Orthodox community, who oppose vaccines and have links to the larger, secular anti-vaccination movement. This has hindered the city’s ability to stop the spread of measles so far, said Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Demetre Daskalakis at a April 17 meeting of the city’s Board of Health.

He spoke of parents not seeking medical care for sick kids or some intentionally exposing children to the measles virus at “measles parties,” and of the ongoing spread of misinformation about the vaccine.

“There’s a lot of things we’re working against,” he said.

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CIA Recruiting Comes Out Into The Open

The CIA had a booth at the recent Awesome Con gathering for movie and comic book superheros in Washington. It’s one quirky example of the way the spy agency is reaching out to a broader potential pool of recruits.

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Greg Myre/NPR

At a superhero extravaganza in Washington, comic book fans dressed the part. No matter which way you turned, middle-aged men were in Batman costumes.

Not exactly the place you’d expect a CIA discussion on recruiting foreign spies. And yet CIA staff historian Randy Burkett, wearing khakis and a polo shirt with the CIA logo, was doing exactly that.

“We came up with this game,” explained Burkett, who handed out copies of an actual letter Albert Einstein sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 warning about early Nazi efforts on an atomic bomb.

Einstein was already in the U.S. by this time. But for this game, the twist was to pretend he was still in Nazi Germany and figure out how to recruit him — without getting him arrested or killed.

A man dressed as the Joker explained: “Clearly a stable individual, forward thinking. It’s going to be difficult to get in and out of Germany.”

Presence on social media

CIA Director Gina Haspel has made just two public speeches since she took over the top job a year ago, and has emphasized recruiting in both of them. In this speech at Auburn Univ. in April, she said, “We just had our best recruiting year in a decade.”

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Courtesy of CIA

This is just one quirky example of the agency’s new outreach to a broader base of potential recruits. For generations, the CIA recruited its workforce discreetly — by word of mouth, a tap on the shoulder, or through a friend of a friend.

But under Director Gina Haspel, the CIA is reaching out in very public ways it’s never done before. The agency says it needs a wider range of specialized skills than ever before — from linguists to scientists to cyber experts. It advertises positions on Twitter and Facebook. And it just joined Instagram.

In a recent speech at Auburn University, Haspel noted the change since she applied in the mid-1980s.

“I wrote a letter to the CIA on my manual college typewriter. I mailed it to CIA with my resume. I didn’t have an address. So I just put, ‘CIA. Washington, DC,'” said Haspel. “And here I am.”

Haspel’s two speeches since taking over as CIA director a year ago have both been delivered at universities and come with explicit recruiting pitches.

The CIA doesn’t talk specifics, though broadly speaking, applications shot up after 2001 al-Qaida attacks. They dipped in more recent years.

But, Haspel says, “We just had our best recruiting year in a decade.”

There are still plenty of challenges. President Trump has been a persistent critic of the intelligence community.

Haspel is linked to the post 9/11 controversies involving waterboarding of suspected terrorists. She ran a CIA prison in Thailand in the early 2000s, which was the focus of her Senate confirmation hearing last year.

And it prompted this heckler at her Auburn speech:

“Tell these young children, tell them who you tortured. You know their names. They’re still in Guantanamo Bay,” he shouted before being escorted out of the hall by security.

CIA staff historian Randy Burkett leads a discussion with members of the public in a recent event in Washington. Participants were asked how they might try to recruit Albert Einstein to spy for the U.S. from Nazi Germany without getting him arrested or killed.

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Style or substance?

Another harsh critic, Edward Snowden, worked for the CIA before he became a contractor at the National Security Agency and disclosed some of that agency’s most sensitive surveillance programs in 2013. He sees the more public face of the CIA as a change in style, not substance.

“They get Twitter accounts, Instagram accounts with puppies and everything like that, because they want to be friendly. They want to be on your side,” said Snowden, speaking from Russia, where he’s lived the past six years. He made his comments on the Motherboard podcast Cyber.

He said the intelligence community had trouble recruiting after his revelations, and believes this explains the new approach.

“They went: ‘Maybe the real story of 2013 isn’t that we got caught breaking the law. We got caught violating everybody’s rights, so we should pull back a little bit,” he said. “Instead, what we really have here is a PR issue.”

A few hours after Haspel spoke at Auburn, several dozen Auburn students turned up for a CIA recruiting session in the evening.

“With every organization you go into, you have to think the ethical, and the implications of what they do, and what their real mission is, undercover, and what they say to the public,” said Sydney Kelsey, who is graduating this spring.

So is she going to apply?

“Oh, yes. Most definitely,” she said.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent. Follow him @gregmyre1.

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A Fishing Line Encircles Manhattan, Protecting Sanctity of Sabbath

This fishing line, barely visible between Manhattan buildings, is an eruv, used by observant Jews to create a symbolic domestic perimeter for the Sabbath.

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A clear fishing wire is tied around the island of Manhattan. It’s attached to posts around the perimeter of the city, from 1st street to 126th. This string is part of an eruv, a Jewish symbolic enclosure. Most people walking on the streets on Manhattan do not notice it at all. But many observant Jews in Manhattan rely on this string in order to leave the house on Sabbath.

The concept of the eruv was first established almost two thousand years ago, to allow Jews to more realistically follow the laws of Sabbath rest, particularly one — no carrying on the Sabbath.

According to the laws of Sabbath rest, nothing can be carried from the domestic zone into the public zone on Saturday. That means no carrying house keys or a wallet. It also means no pushing a baby stroller. For parents of young children, no carrying would mean not leaving the house on Saturday.

The eruv symbolically extends the domestic zone into the public zone, permitting activities within it that would normally be forbidden to observant Jews on the Sabbath.

Imagine a whole day cooped up in a Manhattan apartment with a toddler and no electricity. “You might be going a little bonkers because your apartment is so small,” says Dina Mann. “But you don’t realize it’s so small until you’re stuck in there and you can’t go anywhere.”

The Jewish Center in Manhattan maintains an interactive Google Map marking the boundary of the eruv.

The Jewish Center


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The Jewish Center

Mann lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her husband and two young children. They observe Sabbath rest, including refraining from carrying. She says, “If you’re really really really strict, then you would not even pick up your child.”

Dina Mann and her son on a walk in Riverside Park. The eruv boundary runs directly behind her.

Monique LaBorde for NPR


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Monique LaBorde for NPR

Mann and many others rely on the eruv every Saturday to leave the apartment with their children. Luckily, Manhattan’s eruv has never been down. Rabbi Mintz, co-president of the Manhattan Eruv says, “It has never been down for a Sabbath. Never. We always save it at the last minute.” Mintz noted that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade is always a particularly trying time.

More than two hundred cities around the world are partially encircled by an eruv. Manhattan’s certainly isn’t the largest, but according to Rabbi Mintz, it’s the most expensive eruv in the world. It costs between $125,000 and $150,000 a year to maintain. Rabbi Mintz helps raise the funds every year from synagogues and private donations.

Every Thursday before dawn, a rabbi drives the perimeter checking to see if wind or a fallen branch has broken the line. There are usually a few breaks so a construction company is called and the rabbi gets in a cherry picker with fishing line in hand to repair the eruv. That’s the part that costs so much.

As it turns out, resting on the Sabbath takes a lot of preparation. Dina Mann says the eruv does more than just help her enjoy a Saturday walk in the Central Park, it lets her enjoy the Sabbath. “There’a a warmth in the house the minute you light the candles because you’re rushing, rushing, rushing, making sure all the lights are on, making sure the candles are in there, making sure all the food is cooked … Then you just light the candles and just like let go of everything.”

Most important of all, the eruv allows her to rest from worry.

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