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from David Rohde:

The ‘secrecy industrial complex’

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An undated photo of National Security Agency headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland. REUTERS/NSA/Handout via Reuters

An odd thing is happening in the world’s self-declared pinnacle of democracy. No one -- except a handful of elected officials and an army of contractors -- is allowed to know how America’s surveillance leviathan works.

For the last two years, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) have tried to describe to the American public the sweeping surveillance the National Security Agency conducts inside and outside the United States. But secrecy rules block them from airing the simplest details.

Over the last few days, President Barack Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have both said they welcome a national debate about the surveillance programs. But the president and senator have not used their power to declassify information that would make that debate possible.

from Unstructured Finance:

Ray Dalio went into this year even more bullish than we thought

By Matthew Goldstein

Hedge fund titan Ray Dalio is really bullish on stocks and all things risky--at least he was in early January.

A few weeks ago, our competitors at Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal did a good job reporting on Dalio's macro market thesis for 2013 when they got a transcript of an investor call (Bloomberg) and a sneak peak at Bridgewater Associates' year-end report to investors (WSJ). But after taking my own recent look at Bridgewater's year-end investor note--book is probably a better description for the 300-page plus bound treatise--you realize that bullish just doesn't describe Bridgewater's stance going in 2013.

from Unstructured Finance:

Jim Chanos and the bears come out of hibernation

By Matthew Goldstein 

The year is young, but so far its been a rough one for bearish stock investors with the S&P 500 is up 7.25% The surge in equity prices has left  a lot of short sellers--traders who bet on a stock sliding in value--with glum looks on their faces. And it's with that bullish backdrop that several dozen of Jim Chanos' closest friends gather in Miami for the noted short seller's annual meeting of the bears.

The gathering of 40 or so people from Wednesday through Friday is a chance for Chanos and other like minded investors to kick around their best short ideas. A year ago, there was a lot of talk about shorting companies in the natural gas space.

from David Rohde:

Obama’s legacy of secrecy

John Brennan’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday was a microcosm of the Obama administration’s approach to counterterrorism: The right assurances, with little transparency.

Brennan said the United States should publicly disclose when American drone attacks kill civilians. He called waterboarding “reprehensible” and vowed it would never occur under his watch. And he said that countering militancy should be “comprehensive,” not just  “kinetic,” and involve diplomatic and development efforts as well.

from Unstructured Finance:

Eminent Domain reader

Jenn Ablan and I have done a lot reporting on Mortgage Resolution Partners' plan to get county governments and cities to use eminent domain to seize and restructure underwater mortgages. As we've reported, it's an intriguing solution to the seemingly intractable problem of too much mortgage debt holding back the U.S. economy. But it's also a controversial one that threatens to rewrite basic contractual rights and the whole notion of how we view mortgages in this country.

And then there's the issue of just who are are the financiers behind Mortgage Resolution Partners and whether they've gone about selling their plan in the right way.

from The Great Debate:

Sometimes leaking classified information is perfectly fine

The brewing controversy over leaks of classified information presumes that disclosures of classified information to unauthorized persons are always impermissible and undesirable. But that presumption does not correspond precisely to the reality of government operations as they are conducted in practice.

The leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees said last week that they would work “to ensure that criminal and administrative measures are taken each time sensitive information is improperly disclosed.”

from Jack Shafer:

WikiLeaks’ 16th minute

This piece originally appeared in Reuters Magazine, a special edition publication ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

In late October, a deflated Julian Assange called a press conference in London to announce he may have to mothball WikiLeaks. The reason, he said, was money. Visa, MasterCard, Western Union and Paypal were preventing supporters from donating to the organization, Assange explained. He warned that unless the bankers' blockade was lifted at once, the cash-strapped organization would soon die.

from Reuters Investigates:

Nevada’s Big Bet

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By Brian Grow

What happens in Nevada, stays in Nevada. Literally. Especially when it comes to Nevada shell companies.

That’s the gist of our latest special report in the SHELL GAMES series, "Nevada's big bet on secrecy."

from Unstructured Finance:

Steve Cohen’s forbidden transcript

By Matthew Goldstein

Hedge fund titan Steve Cohen is taking steps to appear more open these days.  Over the past year or so, he's been showing up at industry conferences, charity events--even allowing himself to be photographed with his wife for a glossy spread in Vanity Fair magazine.

But there are some things the SAC Capital founder is drawing a line in the sand over when it comes to greater transparency, including some of his own words.

from Photographers' Blog:

Can you keep a secret?

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Want to hear a secret?

"U.S. President Barack Obama will make an unannounced visit to Afghanistan but you cannot tell anyone." Those seemed like simple enough guidelines, but it certainly wouldn’t end up that way.

President Barack Obama meets with troops at Bagram Air Base, December 3, 2010.    REUTERS/Jim Young

It started with a call from Washington Editor in Charge Jim Bourg during my shift at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. "I never know how to start these kind of conversations..." he said. “You know when we have these trips where we really can't talk about it?" I had a feeling I knew where this was headed. He kind of paused a bit trying to find the words to say it, without really saying it. But I stopped him and said, "I know where you are going with this and you don't have to go any further." Obama would make a surprise visit to Afghanistan. I was careful not to answer his questions out loud, so that anyone standing by wouldn't figure out the questions or the subject matter, but we were on the same page. He just said it was tomorrow night. The trip would be about 30 hours there and back, with 25 of those hours in the air. I would finish my shift as usual and go to see him in the office to get more details.

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