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The Week My Husband Left And My House Was Burgled I Secured A Grant To Begin The Project That Became BRCA1

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The week of April Fools’ Day of 1981 began badly. That Sunday night my husband told me he was leaving me. He had fallen in love with one of his graduate students, and they were headed back to the tropics the next day.

I was completely devastated. It was totally unexpected. 33 years later, I still don’t know what to say about it. I was just beside myself.

He gave me a new vacuum cleaner to soften the blow.

It was the middle of spring quarter at Berkeley, so the next morning I had my class, as usual. And I had to either teach it or explain why not. It was far easier to teach, so I dropped off our daughter, Emily - who was five and three-quarters at the time - at kindergarten, along with her faithful Aussie, her Australian shepherd, who went everywhere with her. I headed down to school and taught my class.

As I was leaving, my department chairman caught up with me. He said, “Come into my office.”

I said, “Fine.” (I had hoped to escape.)

I went into his office, and he said, “I wanted to tell you, I’ve just learned you’ve been awarded tenure.” And of course I burst into tears.

Now, this department chairman, bless him, was a gentleman a full generation older than me. He had three grown sons. He had no daughters. He had certainly never had a young woman assistant professor in his charge before.

And he took my shoulders, and he stepped back, and he said, “No one’s ever reacted like that before.” He said, “Sit down, sit down. What’s the matter?”

I said, “It’s not the tenure. It’s that my husband told me last night he was leaving me.”

He looked at me, opened the drawer of his desk, pulled out a huge bottle of Jack Daniels, poured me a half a glass of it, and said, “Drink this. You’ll feel better.” It was 9:30 on Monday morning. So I did - and I did. I made it through the day, got sober, and around 3:30 headed back up the hill to pick up Emily from school. She hopped in the car with Ernie, her dog, and we drove home.

We got home, walked up the stairs, opened the house... and it was absolute chaos.

Someone had broken in. Everything was completely trashed. In retrospect what must have happened was that my then husband had often worked at home, and whoever had been casing the neighbourhood must have left our house aside because he was often there. But that day, of course, he hadn’t been there, so we were vulnerable, and we were robbed.

So I called 911, and a young Berkeley police officer came up and went through the house. Of course, I had no idea what had been taken and what hadn’t, because my husband had taken many things with him on Sunday night. I wasn’t sure what should still be there or not. I explained that to Officer Rodriguez, and he said, “As you figure it out, make a list.”

Then he went upstairs with Emily. They opened the door of her room, and it was eighteen inches deep of just chaos. The bed had been pulled apart, curtains pulled down, drawers all dumped out. Emily -five and three-quarters - looked at Officer Rodriguez and said, “I can’t tell if the burglars were in here or not.” And Officer Rodriguez, to his eternal credit, did not crack a smile. He handed her his card and said, “Young lady, if you discover that anything is missing, please give me a call.”

So now it’s Monday night. I was scheduled later that week to give a presentation in Washington, D.C., to the National Institutes of Health. The way this worked in those days was, if you were a young professor, applying for the first time for a large grant, you were quite frequently asked to come to the NIH and give what was called a “reverse site visit.” You’d explain what you planned to do, and then it would be decided if you were going to be granted quite a substantial amount of money over five years.

It was terribly important. I had not done this before. It was brand-new. It was going to be my first large grant on my own. The plan had been for Emily to stay with her dad and for my mom to come out, arriving the next day - Tuesday - to help out. That had seemed, at the time, like a great plan.

My mom, who was living in Chicago, obviously didn’t know anything about the events of the previous 24 hours, so I thought, I’ll just wait and explain it to her when she gets here. It seemed far better than calling her at what, by now, was quite late in Chicago because of all the business with the burglary and the police and all that.

So the next day, we picked up my mom at San Francisco Airport, and driving back to Berkeley, I explained to her what happened on Sunday. She was very, very upset. She said, “I can’t believe you’ve let this family come apart. I can’t believe this child will grow up without a father” (which was never true and has never been true since).


“How could you do this? How could you not put your family first?” Emily was sitting there in the car.

And, “I just cannot imagine,” she said. “I’m going to go talk to Rob.”

I said, “He’s back in Costa Rica.”

“This just can’t be,” and she became more and more upset. By the time we got home to Berkeley, she was extremely agitated. Emily was terrified. It was clearly not going to work for her to care for Emily.

After a couple of hours, my mom said, “I’m going home. I just can’t imagine that this has happened. You must stay here and take care of your child. How can you even think of running off to the East Coast at a time like this?”

To put it into context now, years later, my father had died not long before, after my mom had nursed him for more than 20 years. Just two months after this visit, my mother was diagnosed with epilepsy. So, in context, her reaction was not as irrational as it seemed in that moment, but at the time, of course, it was devastating. So I said, “Okay. You’re right. I’ll arrange for you to have a ticket to go home tomorrow. We’ll take you out to the airport, and I’ll cancel the trip.”

I called my mentor, who had been my postdoc adviser at UC San Francisco until just a couple of years before. He was already in Washington, D.C., by happenstance at an oncology meeting, and I said, “I’m not going to be able to come,” and I explained briefly what had happened. Of course, he knew me well. And he just listened to all this. He had grown daughters and said, “Look, come.”

I said, “I can’t.”

He said, “Bring Emily. Emily and I know each other. I’ll sit with her while you’re giving your presentation.” He had grandchildren of his own.

He said, “It will be fine.”

I said, “She doesn’t have a ticket.”

He said, “As soon as we hang up the phone, I’m going to call the airline and get her a ticket. Pick up the ticket at the airport tomorrow when you take your mom back. It’ll be on the same flight as yours. Everything will be fine.”
I said, “You sure?”

And he said, “Yes. I have to call the airline now. Good night,” and he hung up. (In those days it was very easy to rearrange tickets.)

I arranged for my mother to have a ticket to go back to Chicago. Her flight was at 10 o’clock in the morning. So we left Berkeley in plenty of time, in principle, to get to San Francisco Airport. But it was one of those days where the Bay Bridge was just totally jammed up. It was a horrible drive across. What should have been a drive of 45 minutes took an hour and 45 minutes. When we finally arrived, my mom’s flight was about to leave in 15 minutes, Emily’s and my flight was going to leave in 45 minutes, and in front of the counter to pick up tickets was a long, long line. And, of course, we had our suitcases. My mom was carrying hers, and she was already fairly frail.

So Emily and my mother and I were standing in the line, and I said, “Mom, can you make it down to your plane on your own?” Bear in mind, there were no checkpoints in those days, but there were, of course, very long corridors.

She said, “No.”

So I said to Emily, “I’m going to need to go with Grandmom down to her plane.”

And my mother shrieked, “You can’t leave that child here alone!” (Fair enough.)

Suddenly this unmistakable voice above and behind me said, “Emily and I will be fine.”

I turned around to the man standing behind us, and I said, “Thank you.”

My mother looked at me and said, “You can’t leave Emily with a total stranger.”

And I said, “Mom, if you can’t trust Joe DiMaggio, who can you trust?”

joe di maggio

Joe DiMaggio, a famous American baseball player, who just like us was standing there, waiting in line - looked at me, looked at my mother, and gave Emily a huge grin. And then he put out his hand and said, “Hi, Emily, I’m Joe.”

Emily shook his hand, and she said, “Hello, Joe, I’m Emily.”

And I said, “Mom, let’s go.”

So my mother and I headed down the hall. We got to the plane, and my mother got on fine. It was probably 25 minutes by the time I got back, and by that time Emily and Joe were all the way up at the front chatting with each other by the counter.

Joe DiMaggio had wrangled Emily’s ticket for her. She was holding it. He was clearly waiting to go to his plane until I got back. I looked at him, and I said, “Thank you very much.” And he said, “My pleasure.”

He headed off down the hall. He turned right. He gave me this huge salute and wave and a tremendous grin and went off to his own plane.

Emily and I went to Washington, DC. The interview went fine. I got the grant, and that was the beginning of the work that now, 33 years later, has become the story of inherited breast cancer and the beginning of the project that became BRCA1.

marie claire king

This story is cross-posted from The Moth’s latest book for a special edition of HuffPost UK’s Life Less Ordinary blog series. You can buy the book here and listen to Mary-Claire tell her story live here.

Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you’ve got something extraordinary to share please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.

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For conference/meeting planners: note that a family friendly meeting environment was critical to research into BRCA1
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I DEMAND Bassel Khartabil’s DATE OF DEATH and REMAINS...

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I DEMAND Bassel Khartabil’s DATE OF DEATH and REMAINS returned to his family for mourning to begin #freebassel http://thndr.me/zCyV79

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Trump Supporter: 'He Called For Unity, I Never Saw Obama Call For Unity'

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One of the things we've learned over the past year is that events like the violence in Charlottesville, Va., are often viewed very differently in different places. Places like rural white communities that make up President Donald Trump's most loyal base. One such place is Mineville, N.Y., a tiny rust-belt town in the Adirondack Mountains north of Albany, where on Sunday afternoon we found Christopher LaMothe sitting on a bench.

In these small towns, events like what happened in Charlottesville are also portrayed differently in the conservative media. When Trump first responded to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, he blamed the rioting and bloodshed on "many sides," failing to name the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who organized the march. It sparked a huge backlash even from many Republicans.

But the president's words sat just fine with LaMothe. "I think when he called for the unity of the country, that should have been what was pounded on," LaMothe says in between taking a drag on his cigarette. By pounded on, LaMothe means respected. He loves Trump and says the president never gets a fair shake from the media.

He says he hates the idea of neo-Nazis and recalls when growing up, he had friends who were black. But now he thinks the white guys he saw on his TV marching in Charlottesville have some reasonable arguments.

"This is a different white supremacy movement than before, because I don't think whites are saying, 'well we're better.' They're saying why can't we be treated all as equal?"

LaMothe thinks affirmative action programs should be scrapped. He also thinks neo-Nazis who sparked mayhem in Charlottesville are no worse than a lot of activist groups on the left. "I didn't hear anything from Barack Obama about Black Lives Matter and that was another hate group," he says.

In fact, Black Lives Matter has no history of violence or racial bigotry comparable to America's far-right militias, neo-Nazis or Klan groups. But that's not how this plays even in fairly mainstream conservative media, where liberal groups are often portrayed a radical or dangerous.

"I think the president nailed it, condemned in the strongest possible terms hatred and bigotry on all sides," Pete Hegseth, co-host of Fox and Friends said during a broadcast Sunday. He echoed the narrative that white nationalist groups have legitimate concerns and compared them with groups on the left.

"Antifa also ought to be called out, just like the violent aspects of Black Lives Matter ought to be called out," he said.

Antifa means "anti-fascist." It's a kind of catch-all name for far-left students and anarchists who often stage counterprotests in cities where far-right conservatives march or stage rallies. And their approach is confrontational. In Charlottesville, Antifa protesters chanted that people should "punch a Nazi in the mouth."

The left-wing movement is tiny, but it's become a major fixation for the far-right. Over the weekend, a reporter from the media site Breitbart, which has close ties to the White House, urged Virginia Gov. Terry McCauliffe to criticize Antifa protesters, as well as neo-Nazis.

"Governor, will you condemn Antifa as well?" he asked repeatedly.

McCauliffe didn't reply.

People who speak for the Antifa movement acknowledge they sometimes carry clubs and sticks. They have clashed in recent months with police. But James Anderson who runs an anarchist website rejects comparisons between the militant left and white supremacists, pointing out that their goals and aims are far different.

"I mean the idea that we should organize against the Klan or stop the Klan or stand up to the Klan, most people would be like, 'yeah, obviously,' " Anderson says. "The Klan is bad, it kills people, it lynches them."

But for many rural white conservatives, it's not that clear. Cultural and political lines that once seemed sharply drawn to a lot of Americans just aren't any more. In their media and in their worldview, groups like Black Lives Matter seem just as radical as the Klan.

When asked if it wouldn't be better if President Trump had just condemned neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville using blunt language, LaMothe shakes his head impatiently.

"He's in a no win situation," LaMothe says. What he did do — and no one's giving him credit for that — he called for unity. I never saw Obama call for unity."

In fact, Barack Obama did call for national unity numerous times during his presidency, especially during times of racial conflict and violence. That message was often downplayed or ignored in much of the conservative media that shapes opinion in rural America.

NPR's Maquita Peters produced this story for the Web.

Copyright 2017 NCPR. To see more, visit




When President Trump first spoke about the deadly violence in Charlottesville, he blamed the rioting on, quote, "many sides." That sparked a firestorm of criticism, but his words match a set of beliefs held widely in conservative culture and also in right-wing media. Many of Trump supporters think that much of America's political violence is now caused by the left. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports on rural culture and conservative media. He joins us now via Skype. Hi, Brian.


SMITH: Brian, you've been talking to people in rural upstate New York, where you live. How are Donald Trump's words and his framing of Charlottesville playing there?

MANN: Well, a lot of people here think President Trump got it pretty much right. I mean, in these areas where the population is largely white and rural, a lot of people think urban unrest and violence has more to do with liberal groups and groups on the left than it does with neo-Nazis and white supremacists I talked today with Christopher Lamothe. He's a Trump voter in Mineville, New York.

CHRISTOPHER LAMOTHE: I think he was right on. Of course, they want to condemn him because he didn't go specifically after the white supremacists. But I didn't hear anything from Barack Obama about Black Lives Matter, and that was another hate group.

SMITH: Well, Brian, I mean Black Lives Matter does not have a record of violence or terrorism or anything like the neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups do. Where is this idea coming from?

MANN: It's actually really common in conservative media, places like Fox News and Breitbart and also a.m. talk radio for years. They've portrayed Black Lives Matter and now anti-fascist street groups that people often refer to as antifa. They describe them as being the equivalent of the KKK or Nazis, even though as you say, you know, these parallels just don't hold up factually. Here's an example of kind of a discussion today that happened on Fox News, where GOP strategist Evan Siegfried basically laid out this argument that everybody is equally to blame in Charlottesville.


EVAN SIEGFRIED: I think that we also have to see the president come out and condemn antifa. I haven't heard Democrats condemn antifa either because they go there, and their entire MO is to provoke violence and violent clashes with the extreme right.

SMITH: Brian, talk a little bit more about antifa. Conservatives have been focusing a lot of attention on them lately. Who are they?

MANN: Yeah. It's this loose coalition of anarchist and student protesters. They often wear masks. And police have identified them as a real problem during some protests. But again, the record of violence is much smaller than we've seen from, say, neo-Nazi militias in America. Here's antifa spokesman James Anderson.

JAMES ANDERSON: You know, who's really escalating this thing? Are we blowing up mosques and synagogues across the United States? Are we putting swastikas on places of worship? No, we're not.

SMITH: Brian, the president has gotten a lot of blowback for his comments yesterday, particularly for not specifically condemning white supremacy groups. The White House has come out with a statement today saying, of course the president condemns white supremacy. How is all that playing out among conservative groups?

MANN: Well, you know, one of the things that's complicating about this and that it sort of rings differently in rural conservative culture is that many people here think some white nationalist arguments have legitimacy. People here are angry about things like affirmative action programs. They also just think that Donald Trump doesn't get a fair shake. They think anything that he says is going to get attacked. And they point to the fact that he did call for unity here today and over the last couple of days. And so that's what people are focused on, not what he didn't say but what he did say.

SMITH: Brian Mann joins us from North Country Public Radio. Brian, thank you.

MANN: Thank you, Stacey.


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Worth a listen.

Conservatives, like Trump, who live in an ignorance echo chamber think that Black Lives Matter is a hate group. So they see a false equivalence between BLM and Neo Nazis and blame "both sides".
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Lawsuit: Fox News concocted Seth Rich story with oversight from White House

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The story, the lawsuit said, was part of an attempt to discredit the US intelligence community's determination that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and obtained a trove of emails released by Wikileaks.

For months, right-wing conspiracy theorists had floated unproven theories that Rich was the person who provided Wikileaks with the DNC emails, and suggested his death was retribution for his supposed leak. No real evidence was ever provided to support such claims.

The theory, however, resurfaced in May when Fox News published a story that quoted Rod Wheeler, a Fox News contributor and former homicide detective hired on the Rich family's behalf by wealthy Republican businessman Ed Butowsky to investigate Rich's death. According to the story, Wheeler said there was in fact evidence showing Rich had been in contact with Wikileaks. The story quickly fell apart when Wheeler contradicted aspects of it in an interview with CNN. Fox News eventually deleted it from its website, saying in a note left in its place that it failed to meet the network's editorial standards.

Related: Story on DNC staffer's murder dominated conservative media -- hours later it fell apart

Now Wheeler, in his lawsuit, which was first reported by NPR, is coming forward with what he claims is the backstory: Fox News reporter Malia Zimmerman, with the "knowledge and support" of Butowsky, fabricated a pair of quotes attributed to Wheeler. It was all part of an effort to distract from the Russia narrative, the lawsuit said.

"Zimmerman, Butowsky and Fox had created fake news to advance President Trump's agenda," said the lawsuit, which named 21st Century Fox, the Fox News Channel, Zimmerman, and Butowsky as defendants. "Mr. Wheeler was subsequently forced to correct the false record and, as a result, lost all credibility in the eyes of the public. Mr. Wheeler has suffered irreparable damage to his reputation and his career will likely never recover."

Related: Read the full lawsuit

Moreover, the lawsuit said, the White House was aware of the Fox News story ahead of publication.

According to the lawsuit, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer met with Butowsky and Wheeler, was provided Wheeler's investigative notes, and "asked to be kept abreast of developments" with the case.

"Ed is [a] longtime supporter of the president's agenda who often appears in the media," Spicer said in an email to CNN. "He asked for a 10 minute meeting, with no specified topic, to catch up and said he would be bringing along a contributor to Fox News. As Ed himself has noted, he has never met the President and the White House had nothing to do with his story."

Asked by CNN for confirmation that Rich had been discussed during that meeting, Spicer responded, "They told me they were working on a story about him and wanted me to be aware of it -- that was it."

Previously, Spicer appeared to deny he had knowledge of the Rich story. During a May 16 gaggle with reporters, he was asked for reaction to Fox News' story on the matter.

"I don't -- I'm not aware of -- generally, I don't get updates on DNC -- former DNC staffers," Spicer said. "I'm not aware of that."

Spicer did not respond to an email from CNN about the apparent discrepancy between what he said in May and his statement Tuesday.

At a press briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, "The president had no knowledge of the story and it's completely untrue that he and the White House were involved."

Huckabee Sanders added at the end of the briefing that she was "not sure" whether Trump believes Rich leaked emails to Wikileaks.

But the lawsuit tells a different story. In addition to noting Spicer met with Butowsky and Wheeler, it included a text message from Butowsky to Wheeler which said, "Not to add any more pressure but the president just read the article. He wants the article out immediately. It's now all up to you. But don't feel the pressure."

Moments before sending that text message, according to the lawsuit, Butowsky also left a voicemail for Wheeler in which he said, "A couple minutes ago I got a note that we have the full, uh, attention of the White House on this. And, tomorrow, let's close this deal, whatever we've got to do. But you can feel free to say that the White House is onto this now."

When Wheeler called Butowsky after Fox News published its story and "demanded an explanation for the false statements" attributed to him, the lawsuit said, Butowsky told him the quotes were included because it was the way Trump wanted the article.

Butowsky told CNN that "the lawsuit is bulls**t" and said Wheeler's lawyer "pulled this out of his butt to make money." He said this message was a joke referring to what he said was Wheeler's desire for a job with the Trump administration.

"This was Rod and I," said Butowsky, who stressed he has never met with the president. "We teased all the time. We were basically telling him you are doing a great job and that the president or the White House or somebody would be interested in meeting you."

Butowsky has maintained he had only hired Wheeler to look into Rich's death in hopes the case could be solved, giving the Rich family some closure.

"As it turned out, Butowsky and Zimmerman were not simply Good Samaritans attempting to solve a murder. Rather, they were interested in advancing a political agenda for the Trump Administration," the lawsuit said.

To advance this political agenda, Butowsky went as far as sending talking points about Fox News' own story to Fox News on-air talent, the lawsuit said. It included a description of an email that it said Butowsky sent regarding Zimmerman's story to "various Fox News producers and on air talent," including the co-hosts of the network's morning show, "Fox & Friends." According to the lawsuit, the email read, in part, "One of the big conclusions we need to draw from this is that the Russians did not hack our computer systems and ste[a]l emails and there was no collusion like trump with the Russians."

No proof was offered in the lawsuit that the producers or hosts saw or acted upon this email. But the next morning, "Fox & Friends" did echo parts of this message.

Related: The wealthy Republican donor at the center of explosive Fox News lawsuit

The lawsuit additionally included claims of racial discrimination by Fox News against Wheeler. It said Wheeler's white colleagues had "received more air time, made more appearances and been hired into full time positions." Wheeler's career, the lawsuit said, had "remained stagnant for 12 years despite his repeated requests to be hired full time." The lawsuit said all of this reflected a "systemic practice" on behalf of Fox News of "discriminating against people of color."

Jay Wallace, Fox News' president of news, said in a statement provided to CNN that the "accusation that <a href="http://FoxNews.com" rel="nofollow">FoxNews.com</a> published Malia Zimmerman's story to help detract from coverage of the Russia collusion issue is completely erroneous."

"The retraction of this story is still being investigated internally and we have no evidence that Rod Wheeler was misquoted by Zimmerman," Wallace said. "Additionally, FOX News vehemently denies the race discrimination claims in the lawsuit — the dispute between Zimmerman and Rod Wheeler has nothing to do with race."

Fox News retracted the story more than two months ago.

Wheeler declined to comment to CNN, saying he could not "disclose more details" than what was already available in his lawsuit.

Related: Family of slain DNC staffer demands retractions from Fox News, local TV station

In a statement provided by their spokesperson, the Rich family said, "While we can't speak to the evidence that you now have, we are hopeful this brings an end to what has been the most emotionally difficult time in our lives, and an end to conspiracy theories surrounding our beloved Seth."

Xochitl Hinojosa, the communications director for the DNC, said if the allegations in the lawsuit are true "it is beyond vile that the White House -- and possibly even Trump himself -- would use the murder of a young man to distract the public's attention from their chaotic administration and Trump's ties to Russia."

"The Rich family has begged those responsible for these conspiracies to stop. And yet, Trump's allies have ignored their pain and their pleas, degrading the office of the president by spreading repulsive lies," Hinojosa said. "This should outrage any decent human being. There is no excuse for the suffering that Trump's associates and their conspirators at FOX have caused the Rich family and those closest to him. Both parties should denounce these sick and twisted tactics."

CNNMoney (New York) First published August 1, 2017: 10:52 AM ET

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Ayn Rand's one-sided love affair with the FBI


A letter from the author sent the Bureau on a furious inquiry to find out what the heck “Objectivism” was

As a staunch anti-communist, novelist Ayn Rand was no stranger to J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. Files recently released to Mike Best date back as early as 1947, where we find this rather charming review of Rand’s first literary hit.

In fact, Rand appears to have been in not infrequent correspondence with the Bureau, sending clippings concerning books she suspected of engendering communist beliefs …

…such as this bargain-basement knock-off of Animal Farm.

Also included were negative reviews of her own works, because as everyone knows, being anti-anti-communist is the same as being pro-communist.

However, after an article came out in the Saturday Evening Post in which Hoover described himself as an “objectivist,” Rand wanted to take her relationship with the Bureau to the next level. She wrote the Director, asking if this was a reference to her personal philosophy of Objectivism, and if they could meet to “discuss a personal political problem.”

Hoover’s response was characteristically blunt.

An inquiry was immediately launched - what had Hoover actually said? What is objectivism, anyway? Should the Director meet with Rand?

In regards to the first question, a clipping of the article in question showed that the Director had described himself as “objectivist,” but he had simply meant it as a reference to his self-avowed apoliticism.

As for Objectivism, nobody at the Bureau had any clue - though they do note that the publisher Bennett Cerf, one of the founders of Random House, had given Hoover a (presumably unread) copy of Atlas Shrugged.

Though Rand disdained enough of the right people to pass the FBI’s sniff test, it was ultimately determined that she was insufficiently important for the Director to meet her.

As some consolation, neither was Elvis.

Hoover wrote back to Rand, clarifying his views, and while he couldn’t commit to an appointment, he’d be happy to chat if she dropped by when he was around.

Rand, for her part, appeared to take the snub in stride, and a few years later sent Hoover an autographed copy of her latest.

Which promptly ended up in an evidence locker - also presumably unread.

Read the file embedded below or on the request page.

Image via Flickr and is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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Car Wash Hack Can Strike Vehicle, Trap Passengers, Douse Them With Water

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The security problems found in internet-enabled medical equipment and cars in recent years have raised a lot of awareness about the public safety risks of connected devices. But it's not just life-saving implements and fast-moving vehicles that pose potential harm.

A group of security researchers have found vulnerabilities in internet-connected drive-through car washes that would let hackers remotely hijack the systems to physically attack vehicles and their occupants. The vulnerabilities would let an attacker open and close the bay doors on a car wash to trap vehicles inside the chamber, or strike them with the doors, damaging them and possibly injuring occupants.

"We believe this to be the first exploit of a connected device that causes the device to physically attack someone," Billy Rios, the founder of Whitescope security, told Motherboard. Rios conducted the research with Jonathan Butts of QED Secure Solutions. They plan to discuss their findings this week at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas.

Rios, working at times alone and with colleagues, has exposed many security problems over the years in drug-infusion pumps that deliver medicine to hospital patients; in airport x-ray machines designed to detect weapons; and in building systems that control electronic door locks, alarm systems, lights, elevators, and video surveillance cameras.

An attacker can send an instantaneous command to close one or both doors to trap the vehicle inside, or open and close one door repeatedly to strike the vehicle a number of times as a driver tries to flee.

This time his focus was on the PDQ LaserWash, a fully-automated, brushless, touchless car wash system that sprays water and wax through a mechanical arm that moves around a vehicle. PDQ car washes are popular throughout the US because they don't require attendants to operate. Many of the facilities have bay doors at the entrance and exit that can be programmed to automatically open and close at the start and end of a day, and a touchscreen menu that allows drivers to choose their cleaning package without interacting with any workers.

The systems run on Windows CE and have a built-in web server that lets technicians configure and monitor them over the internet. And herein lies the problem.

Rios says he became interested in the car washes after hearing from a friend about an accident that occurred years ago when technicians misconfigured one in a way that caused the mechanical arm to strike a minivan and douse the family inside with water. The driver damaged the vehicle and car wash as he accelerated quickly to escape.

A successful trip through the car wash. Researchers could not obtain permission to publish video of the hack from car wash owners.

Rios and McCorkle examined the PDQ software two years ago and presented their findings about vulnerabilities at the Kaspersky Security Summit in Mexico in 2015. Although they believed the vulnerabilities would allow them to hijack a system, they weren't able to test the theory against an actual car wash until this year when a facility in Washington state agreed to cooperate, using the researchers' own pickup truck as the victim.

Although the PDQ systems require a username and password to access them online, the default password is easily guessed, the researchers said. They also found a vulnerability in the implementation of the authentication process, making it possible to bypass it. Not all PDQ systems are online, but the researchers found more than 150 that were, using the Shodan search engine that searches for devices connected to the internet, such as webcams, printers, industrial control systems, and, in this case, car washes.

They could also manipulate the mechanical arm to hit the vehicle or spew water continuously, making it difficult for a trapped occupant to exit the car.

They wrote a fully automated attack script that bypasses authentication, monitors when a vehicle is getting ready to exit the wash chamber and cause the exit door to strike the vehicle at the appropriate time. All an attacker has to do is choose the IP address for the car wash they want to attack, then launch the script. The car wash's software tracks where a carwash is in its cycle, making it easy to know when the wash is about to end and a vehicle to exit. An attacker can send an instantaneous command to close one or both doors to trap the vehicle inside, or open and close one door repeatedly to strike the vehicle a number of times as a driver tries to flee.

Although infrared sensors detect when something is in a door's path to prevent this from happening, the researchers were able to cause the system to ignore the sensors. They could also manipulate the mechanical arm to hit the vehicle or spew water continuously, making it difficult for a trapped occupant to exit the car. They didn't try this during their live tests, however, to avoid damaging the arm.

A software-based safety mechanism prevents the arm from hitting a vehicle normally, but they were able to disable this, too.

"If you're relying purely on software safety, it's not going to work if there's an exploit in play," Rios said in an interview. "The only thing that's going to work [in this scenario] is hardware safety mechanisms."

Although the researchers filmed the tests with a mobile phone, the car wash owner won't let them publish the video.

This isn't the first time someone has hijacked a robotics system. In May, researchers at Trend Micro showed how they could recalibrate a robotic arm used in manufacturing plants to alter its movement. But the car wash attack has "broader potential impact to the masses," Rios said. "There aren't actually that many things … that are in the public space… and can [be made to] hit you."

The researchers reported their findings to the Department of Homeland Security and the vendor and are releasing a report this week in conjunction with their Black Hat talk.

A spokesperson for PDQ told Motherboard in an email that it is "aware" of the Black Hat talk and is working on investigating and fixing the security issues with the system.

"All systems—especially internet-connected ones—must be configured with security in mind," Gerald Hanrahan of PDQ wrote. "This includes ensuring that the systems are behind a network firewall, and ensuring that all default passwords have been changed. Our technical support team is standing ready to discuss these issues with any of our customers."

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55 days ago
San Diego, CA, USA
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