07/24/2014 archive

How To Get On The Terrorist Watch List Without Ever Trying

Are you on the Department of Homeland Security’s Terrorist Watch List or No-Fly List? If you are, there is no way for you to find out but we now know what the criteria is and it’s pretty fast and loose with the rules. The Intercept investigative journalists Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux have obtained a copy of the guidelines from a document that was issued by the National Counterterrorism Center, the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance.” In an extensive article, they examine how the government is using secret rules  “putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings.”

The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place “entire categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.

Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases-though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list. In an affidavit, Holder called them a “clear roadmap” to the government’s terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: “The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed … could cause significant harm to national security.” [..]

The document’s definition of “terrorist” activity includes actions that fall far short of bombing or hijacking. In addition to expected crimes, such as assassination or hostage-taking, the guidelines also define destruction of government property and damaging computers used by financial institutions as activities meriting placement on a list. They also define as terrorism any act that is “dangerous” to property and intended to influence government policy through intimidation.

This combination-a broad definition of what constitutes terrorism and a low threshold for designating someone a terrorist-opens the way to ensnaring innocent people in secret government dragnets. It can also be counterproductive. When resources are devoted to tracking people who are not genuine risks to national security, the actual threats get fewer resources-and might go unnoticed. [..]

The fallout is personal too. There are severe consequences for people unfairly labeled a terrorist by the U.S. government, which shares its watchlist data with local law enforcement, foreign governments, and “private entities.” Once the U.S. government secretly labels you a terrorist or terrorist suspect, other institutions tend to treat you as one. It can become difficult to get a job (or simply to stay out of jail). It can become burdensome-or impossible-to travel. And routine encounters with law enforcement can turn into ordeals. [..]

The government has been widely criticized for making it impossible for people to know why they have been placed on a watchlist, and for making it nearly impossible to get off. The guidelines bluntly state that “the general policy of the U.S. Government is to neither confirm nor deny an individual’s watchlist status.” But the courts have taken exception to the official silence and footdragging: In June, a federal judge described the government’s secretive removal process as unconstitutional and “wholly ineffective.”

The difficulty of getting off the list is highlighted by a passage in the guidelines stating that an individual can be kept on the watchlist, or even placed onto the watchlist, despite being acquitted of a terrorism-related crime. The rulebook justifies this by noting that conviction in U.S. courts requires evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, whereas watchlisting requires only a reasonable suspicion. Once suspicion is raised, even a jury’s verdict cannot erase it.

Not even death provides a guarantee of getting off the list. The guidelines say the names of dead people will stay on the list if there is reason to believe the deceased’s identity may be used by a suspected terrorist-which the National Counterterrorism Center calls a “demonstrated terrorist tactic.” In fact, for the same reason, the rules permit the deceased spouses of suspected terrorists to be placed onto the list after they have died.

Essentially, once a person is on these lists their Fourth Amendment rights are completely ignored, as Mike Masnick at Techdirt points out individuals are subjected to extra scrutiny, essentially allowing the government to sift through every aspect of a person’s life:

In addition to data like fingerprints, travel itineraries, identification documents and gun licenses, the rules encourage screeners to acquire health insurance information, drug prescriptions, “any cards with an electronic strip on it (hotel cards, grocery cards, gift cards, frequent flyer cards),” cellphones, email addresses, binoculars, peroxide, bank account numbers, pay stubs, academic transcripts, parking and speeding tickets, and want ads. The digital information singled out for collection includes social media accounts, cell phone lists, speed dial numbers, laptop images, thumb drives, iPods, Kindles, and cameras. All of the information is then uploaded to the TIDE (Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment) database.

Screeners are also instructed to collect data on any “pocket litter,” scuba gear, EZ Passes, library cards, and the titles of any books, along with information about their condition-“e.g., new, dog-eared, annotated, unopened.” Business cards and conference materials are also targeted, as well as “anything with an account number” and information about any gold or jewelry worn by the watchlisted individual. Even “animal information” – details about pets from veterinarians or tracking chips-is requested. The rulebook also encourages the collection of biometric or biographical data about the travel partners of watchlisted individuals.

At FDL’s The Dissenter, Kevin Gosztola discusses how this loop-hole ridden criteria violate a person’s rights and are inherently discriminatory towards Muslims:

There are a few general points to make in order to fully understand what this vague criteria for watchlisting means.

First of all, it is important not to ignore the anti-Muslim racism that likely influences a number of aspects of the watchlisting process. The idea that Muslims are “predisposed” to commit acts of violence is pervades the national security establishment. Training materials on fighting terrorism have been used by government agencies in previous years that deal with theories of “radicalization” and such training promotes prejudice, as evidenced by the fact that one NSA official used the slur “Mohammed Raghead” in an NSA memo.

Second, a federal district court in Oregon recently decided violated due process rights of Americans placed on the No-Fly List because it is nearly impossible to challenge inclusion and clear one’s name. The ACLU represented thirteen Americans, who have never engaged in any terrorist activity, in this case. Each person experienced hardship because they ended up on the No-Fly List.

The guidance shows why there needs to be a process established for getting off watchlists, especially the No-Fly List.

Finally, there is absolutely no reasonable justification for why this rulebook and any version of it from 2001 to 2014 should be secret. The watchlisting guidance is marked “unclassified.” There is nothing in it that will endanger any Americans.

Jeremy and Ryna sat down for an an interview with Huffington Post‘s Alyona Minkovski. During the discussion, Ryan called the these guidelines a “global stop and frisk program.”

Recently there were two court rulings that pertain to getting off the No-Fly list and a Supreme Court decision that bars warrantless searches of cell phones. Precisely how how those rulings will impact the guidelines remains to be seen but it is fairly obvious that the Obama administration has little regard for the rule of law.

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial: Gov. Cuomo’s Broken Promises

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ran for office four years ago promising first and foremost to clean up Albany. Not only has he not done that, but now he is looking as bad as the forces he likes to attack.

Last year, Mr. Cuomo created an independent commission that he promised could go anywhere – even his own office – to root out corruption. But a report in The Times on Wednesday showed that he never intended to keep that promise. The commission was not independent, and Mr. Cuomo’s aides blocked it whenever it tried to investigate the governor’s office or his biggest supporters. [..]

After the abrupt shutdown of the commission in March, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, demanded all the documents and unfinished work from the commission. Mr. Bharara was right to take charge. Mr. Cuomo’s administration should make sure it has turned over every document relating to the Moreland fiasco.

It’s not just Mr. Bharara’s job to clean up Albany. It is up to the voters to decide whether to go on endorsing business as usual. As the indictments and embarrassments continue (26 at latest count since 1999), New Yorkers will have to decide if their representatives are politicians they can trust, including Mr. Cuomo.

Thor Benson: President Obama Needs to Cancel Executive Order 12333

There’s a chance you’re being watched right now.

We’re all too familiar with the bulk collection of cellphone metadata-information on whom you contact and when-that Edward Snowden revealed. However, Executive Order 12333 from 1981 (thanks, President Reagan) allows the NSA to collect the actual content from phone calls and Internet communications if they are amassed from outside U.S. borders. John Napier Tye, former section chief for Internet freedom in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, recently wrote about this issue in The Washington Post.

The problem with this executive order is that it allows for a wide range of ways the NSA can gather the content of communications from American citizens, as long as the “point of collection” is abroad. I spoke with Sharon Goldberg, an assistant professor in the Computer Science Department at Boston University who recently wrote about Executive Order 12333, and she pointed out that Internet traffic often leaves U.S. borders while you’re still in the United States. Many websites store data abroad, and “traffic on the Internet will take the cheapest path,” she said. That means that even if you’re using your computer in New York City, the data being transmitted could be collected in Brazil and used by the NSA under Executive Order 12333.

Glen Ford: Obama’s Hot War

The deeper the US slips into economic decline, the higher it ratchets up the pace and stakes of armed conflict.

The United States has set the world on fire. It is nonsense to talk of a “new” Cold War, when what the world is witnessing is multiple conflagrations as intense and horrifically destructive as at any period since World War Two. Virtually every one of these armed conflicts has been methodically set in motion by the only power capable of perpetrating such massive, simultaneous mayhem: the United States, along with its underlings in London, Paris and Tel Aviv – the true Axis of Evil.

Washington is embarked on a mad, scorched earth policy to terrorize the planet into submission through relentless escalation into a global state of war. Unable to maintain its dominance through trade and competition, the U.S. goes beyond the brink to plunge the whole planet into a cauldron of death. As Russia is learning, it is extremely difficult to avoid war when a great power insists on imposing it. That was a lesson inflicted on the world 75 years ago, by Nazi Germany.

Whoever coined the phrase “No Drama Obama” should be sentenced to a lifetime of silence. The First Black U.S. President systematically brought swastika-wearing fascists to power in Ukraine to start a war on Russia’s borders. The passengers of the Malaysian airliner are victims of Obama’s carefully crafted apocalypse, a pre-fabricated conflict that could consume us all. Obama methodically and without provocation laid waste to Libya and Syria, and now the jihadists unleashed by the United States and its allies are destroying Iraq all over again and threatening to erase Lebanon and Jordan and even the oil kingdoms of the Gulf. Obama has signed yet another blank check for Israel’s ghastly war of ethnic annihilation in Gaza – a crime against humanity for which the U.S. is fully as culpable as the apartheid Jewish State, which could not exist if it were not part of the U.S. superpower’s global war machine.

Robert Parry: Kerry’s Latest Reckless Rush to Judgment

Secretary of State John Kerry boasts that as a former prosecutor he knows he has a strong case against the eastern Ukrainian rebels and their backers in Russia in pinning last Thursday’s shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on them, even without the benefit of a formal investigation.

During his five rounds of appearances on Sunday talk shows, Kerry did what a judge might condemn as “prejudicing the case” or “poisoning the jury pool.” In effect, Kerry made a fair “trial” almost impossible, what a bar association might cite in beginning debarment proceedings against prosecutor Kerry.

If you were, say, a U.S. intelligence analyst sifting through the evidence and finding that some leads went off in a different direction, toward the Ukrainian army, for instance, you might hold back on your conclusions knowing that crossing senior officials who had already pronounced the verdict could be devastating to your career. It would make a lot more sense to just deep-six any contrary evidence.

Indeed, one of the lessons from the disastrous Iraq War was the danger of enforced “group think” inside Official Washington. Once senior officials have made clear how they want an assessment to come out, mid-level officials scramble to make the bosses happy.

Daniel Denvir: How to dismantle a school system

Racked by budget cuts, Pennsylvania’s schools are coming apart at the seams

Graduating seniors last month celebrated the end of a difficult year at Philadelphia’s Bartram High School, one prominent example of Pennsylvania’s deepening public education crisis.

Michael Miller, the father of one college-bound graduate, complained that the state keeps “taking money and taking money, and it’s a scary thought where we’ll be in five years.” He returned from military service in Afghanistan just as Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s education budget cuts began to hit the state’s poorest districts.

For years Pennsylvania has served as a testing ground for the conservative theory of small government – more specifically, since 2010, when Corbett signed a no-new-taxes pledge crafted by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist and rode a Tea Party wave into office. The effects have proved deleterious. Corbett’s cuts to public education have been particularly painful, with poor districts like Philadelphia bearing the brunt.

The Breakfast Club July 24, 2014

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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Your Terrorism Industrial Complex Tax Dollars at Work


Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions (.pdf)

Human Rights Watch, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute

July 2014


Terrorism entails horrifying acts, often resulting in terrible losses of human life. Governments have a duty under international human rights law to take reasonable measures to protect people within their jurisdictions from acts of violence. When crimes are committed, governments also have a duty to carry out impartial investigations, to identify those responsible, and to prosecute suspects before independent courts. These obligations require ensuring fairness and due process in investigations and prosecutions, as well as humane treatment of those in custody.

However, since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, the United States government has failed to meet its international legal obligations with respect to its investigations and prosecutions of terrorism suspects, as well as its treatment of terrorism suspects in custory.

This has been true with regard to foreign terrorism suspects detained at the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, most of whom are being held indefinitely without charge. And, as this report documents, it is also too often true with regard to American Muslim defendants investigated, tried, and convicted of terrorism or terrorism-related offenses in the US criminal justice system.

This report examines 27 such cases-from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement-and documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement. Since the September 11 attacks, more than 500 individuals have been prosecuted in US federal courts for terrorism or related offenses-40 cases per year on average. Many prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks. But many others have targeted individuals who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them.

Indeed, in some cases the Federal Bureau of Investigation may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target’s willingness to act. According to multiple studies, nearly 50 percent of the more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot. In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”

In such instances, the government’s purpose appears to have been preventive: to root out and prosecute individuals it believes might eventually plan and carry out terrorism. To this end, it has substantially changed its approach, loosening regulations and standards governing the conduct of terrorism investigations.

While some of these cases involved foreign nationals and conduct overseas, or individuals who are not Muslim, many of the most high-profile terrorism prosecutions have focused on “homegrown” terrorist threats allegedly posed by American Muslims.

Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute found that at times, in aggressively pursuing terrorism threats before they even materialize, US law enforcement overstepped its role by effectively participating in developing terrorism plots-in at least two cases even offering the defendants money to entice them to participate in the plot.

In theory, the defendants in these cases should be able to avoid criminal liability by making a claim of “entrapment.” However, US law requires that to prove entrapment a defendant show both that the government induced him to commit the act in question and that he was not “predisposed” to commit it. This predisposition inquiry focuses attention on the defendant’s background, opinions, beliefs, and reputation-in other words, not on the crime, but on the nature of the defendant. This character inquiry makes it exceptionally difficult for a defendant to succeed in raising the entrapment defense, particularly in the terrorism context, where inflammatory stereotypes and highly charged characterizations of Islam and foreigners often prevail. Indeed, no claim of entrapment has been successful in a US federal terrorism case to date. European human rights law-instructive for interpreting internationally recognized fair trial rights-suggests that the current formulation of the US defense of entrapment may not comport with fair trial standards.

Meanwhile, the law enforcement practices described in this report have alienated the very communities the government relies on most to report possible terrorist threats and diverted resources from other, more effective ways, of responding to the threat of terrorism. Its proclaimed success in convicting alleged terrorist conspirators has come with serious and unnecessary costs to the rights of many of those prosecuted and convicted, to their families and communities, to the public, and to the rule of law. Ultimately, these costs threaten to undermine the goal of preventing and effectively prosecuting and sanctioning terrorism crimes.

Our research explored cases from a chronological and geographic cross-section of the post-September 11 terrorism prosecutions. Cases spanned the months immediately after the September 11 attacks to more recent indictments, in order to explore which trends, if any, persisted or developed over time. We also sought cases from across the United States to examine the impact of such prosecutions on various American Muslim communities and to account for regional investigative and prosecutorial differences. Cases include prosecutions for material support and conspiracy, some resulting in sentences of more than 15 years or life imprisonment.

These cases do not constitute a representative sample that would allow us to generalize about all federal prosecutions, but they raise troubling questions about the fairness and effectiveness of many of the policies, practices, and tactics employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Justice Department, and the Bureau of Prisons in terrorism cases.

In some cases, the unfairness arises from the application of certain laws, some of which Congress greatly expanded after September 11, including material support laws, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the Classified Information Procedures Act.

Report: All But Four Of The High-Profile Domestic Terrorism Plots In The Last Decade Were Crafted From The Ground Up By The FBI

by Tim Cushing, Tech Dirt

Wed, Jul 23rd 2014

Human Rights Watch has just published a report containing the facts needed to back up everyone’s suspicions (.pdf) that the FBI counterterrorism efforts are almost solely composed of breaking up “plots” of its own design. And the bigger and more high-profile the “bust” was, the better the chance that FBI agents laid the foundation, constructed the walls… basically did everything but allow the devised plot to reach its designed conclusion.

Of those four exceptions, two (Boston Bombing/LAX shooting) were successfully pulled off. Feeling safer with the g-men’s increased focus on preventing terrorist attacks?

Within the report is even more damning information that shows the FBI preyed on weak individuals in order to rack up “wins” in the War on Terror.

As much as the DHS and FBI have stated concerns about “radicalization” and domestic terrorism, those captured in FBI sting operations were strongly pushed in that direction by informants and undercover agents. The FBI created threats where none existed.

This sort of activity should have been treated as “own goals” by the agency and some of the more credulous press. Instead, these busts are touted as evidence of the agency’s superior skill and effort, something more closely related to extolling the prowess of someone who has just scored on an empty net.

The FBI took a man whose main hobbies were “watching cartoons” and “playing Pokemon,” a man who a forensic psychologist described (during the trial) as “highly susceptible to the suggestions of others” and fashioned him into a supposed terrorist. The planned subway bombing never happened, thanks to the FBI’s keenly-honed ability to capture terrorists it created. Arrested with the would-be subway bomber was his “co-conspirator,” a high school dropout with drug problems and clinically-diagnosed paranoid schizophrenia.

There’s nothing to celebrate about victories like these. The emphasis on creating plots just to shut them down diverts resources from actual threats — ones arising without huge amounts of FBI prompting. All this does is ensure the agency’s anti-terror funding remains intact — money that will be largely wasted on the FBI’s sting operation Ouroboros. And while the FBI plays with its terrorist dress-up dolls, the real threats will go undetected.

Le Tour 2014: Stage 18, Pau / Hautacam

Le.  Tour.  De.  France.

The big contest yesterday was for King of the Mountains (Climbing competition) which will likely be decided after today with but a single Category 4 left tomorrow between the riders and the Champs-Élysées.  It is our 3rd and last day in the Pyrenees with a riding rest day and an Individual Time Trial left in play before the customary grand procession where it’s considered bad form for any but Sprinters to attempt to change their positions.

Rafal Majka was able to extend his lead in that contest over the 2nd place competitor Vincenzo Nibali and 3rd place Joaquim Rodriguez after withstanding an early charge by Vasil Kiryienka.  As for the General Classification Alejandro Valverde BelMonte, Thibaut Pinot, Jean-Christophe Péraud, Romain Bardet, and Tejay Van Garderen attempted to improve their positions heading into Saturday’s Time Trials where presumably Nibali is weakest (though pre-Tour that was rated his strongest discipline) with most of the attention on the contest between the 2 young French riders, Pinot and Bardet, none of them to much effect.

On the stage it was Rafal Majka, Giovanni Visconti (:29), Vincenzo Nibali and Jean-Christophe Péraud tied at :46, Allesandro De Marchi (:49), and Pierre Rolland (:52).  Frank Schleck led a group of 9 riders at under 2 minutes including Alejandro Valverde BelMonte, Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet, and Tejay Van Garderen.  In the General Classification it is Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde BelMonte (5:26), Thibaut Pinot (6:00), Jean-Christophe Péraud (6:08), and Romain Bardet (7:34).  Everyone else is over 10 minutes behind.  For Points it is Peter Sagan (408), Bryan Coquard (233), Alexander Kristoff (217), Marcel Kittel (177), Mark Renshaw (153), Vincenzo Nibali (149), Greg Van Avermaet (147), and André Greipel (143).  Everyone else is 38 points behind.  In the In the Climbing contest it is Rafal Majka (149), Vincenzo Nibali (118), and Joaquim Rodriguez (112).  Everyone else is 46 points behind.  In Team competition it is AG2R, Belkin (26:43), Movistar (52:30), Sky (56:55), and BMC (59:33).  Everybody else is over an hour behind.  In Youth it is Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet (1:34), and  Michal Kwiatkowski (30:41).  Everybody else is 55 minutes or more behind.

Today’s 90 and a half mile stage from Pau / Hautacam is really about the last chance for a major shuffle.  If Nibali can emerge with anything like the margins he now holds any Time Trial speciallist will be hard pressed to make them up.  There are 80 points available in King of the Mountains so there’s at least the theoretical chance of movement, after today there are virtually no points left.  Peter Sagan would have to have something catastrophic happen and might win despite that.  You can expect Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet to battle to the end in the Youth competition.

This stage looks easy only in comparison to yesterday, 2 Category 3s and 2 Beyond Category.  The Sprint Checkpoint is after the 2 Category 3s.

Distance Name Length Category
Km 28.0 Côte de Bénéjacq 2.6 km @ 6.7% 3
Km 56.0 Côte de Loucrup 2 km @ 7% 3
Km 95.5 Col du Tourmalet (2 115 m) Souvenir Jacques Goddet 17.1 km @ 7.3% H
Km 145.5 Montée du Hautacam (1 520 m) 13.6 km @ 7.8% H

The Col du Tourmalet is legendary and they are going up the hard side.  It is long and steep, a little less than 3 km of 10% gradient.  Montée du Hautacam is, if anything, even worse.  It’s only marginally shorter and has a full 3 km of 10% gradient plus.  The finish is up hill, don’t expect to see a sprint.

On This Day In History July 24

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

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July 24 is the 205th day of the year (206th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 160 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1911, Machu Picchu discovered

American archeologist Hiram Bingham gets his first look at Machu Picchu, an ancient Inca settlement in Peru that is now one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

Tucked away in the rocky countryside northwest of Cuzco, Machu Picchu is believed to have been a summer retreat for Inca leaders, whose civilization was virtually wiped out by Spanish invaders in the 16th century. For hundreds of years afterwards, its existence was a secret known only to the peasants living in the region. That all changed in the summer of 1911, when Bingham arrived with a small team of explorers to search for the famous “lost” cities of the Incas.

Traveling on foot and by mule, Bingham and his team made their way from Cuzco into the Urubamba Valley, where a local farmer told them of some ruins located at the top of a nearby mountain. The farmer called the mountain Machu Picchu, which meant “Old Peak” in the native Quechua language. The next day–July 24–after a tough climb to the mountain’s ridge in cold and drizzly weather, Bingham met a small group of peasants who showed him the rest of the way. Led by an 11-year-old boy, Bingham got his first glimpse of the intricate network of stone terraces marking the entrance to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire. It was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest. It is possible that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travelers before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the area. The latter had notes of a place called Piccho, although there is no record of the Spanish having visited the remote city. The types of sacred rocks defaced by the conquistadors in other locations are untouched at Machu Picchu.

Hiram Bingham theorized that the complex was the traditional birthplace of the Incan “Virgins of the Suns”. More recent research by scholars such as John Howland Rowe and Richard Burger, has convinced most archaeologists that Machu Picchu was an estate of the Inca emperor Pachacuti. In addition, Johan Reinhard presented evidence that the site was selected because of its position relative to sacred landscape features such as its mountains, which are purported to be in alignment with key astronomical events important to the Incas.

Johan Reinhard believes Machu Picchu to be a sacred religious site. This theory stands mainly because of where Machu Picchu is located. Reinhard calls it “sacred geography” because the site is built on and around mountains that hold high religious importance in the Inca culture and in the previous culture that occupied the land. At the highest point of the mountain in which Machu Picchu was named after, there are “artificial platforms [and] these had a religious function, as is clear from the Inca ritual offerings found buried under them” (Reinhard 2007). These platforms also are found in other Incan religious sites. The site’s other stone structures have finely worked stones with niches and, from what the “Spaniards wrote about Inca sites, we know that these (types of) building(s) were of ritual significance” (Reinhard 2007). This would be the most convincing evidence that Reinhard points out because this type of stylistic stonework is only found at the religious sites so it would be natural that they would exist at this religious site. Another theory maintains that Machu Picchu was an Inca llaqta, a settlement built to control the economy of conquered regions. Yet another asserts that it may have been built as a prison for a select few who had committed heinous crimes against Inca society. An alternative theory is that it is an agricultural testing station. Different types of crops could be tested in the many different micro-climates afforded by the location and the terraces; these were not large enough to grow food on a large scale, but may have been used to determine what could grow where. Another theory suggests that the city was built as an abode for the deities, or for the coronation of kings

Although the citadel is located only about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Cusco, the Inca capital, the Spanish never found it and consequently did not plunder or destroy it, as they did many other sites. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew over much of the site, and few outsiders knew of its existence.

TDS/TCR (New York, New York)


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