Operation Christmas Message

Over 200,000 people have been killed during an ongoing conflict in Colombia that pits the government, paramilitary groups and crime organizations against left-wing groups as FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) and ELN (The National Liberation Army). For over fifty years, guerillas hiding deep in the jungle have been playing a deadly cat-and-mouse game, and the government has tried everything to bring them out of the jungles and send them home to their families.

They have even tried an advertising campaign, the likes of which you might see in a mall or on YouTube, to market a company or its products. In this case, the campaign has been powerfully effective.

The goal has been to get FARC and ELN guerrillas to demobilize, and thus weaken the guerrilla bands. The appeal has been to their hearts. And what better way to appeal to the hearts of Colombians is through Christmas and soccer. As explained in this December 11, 2016 60 Minutes report, the Colombian military hired a creative ad executive named Jose Miguel Sokoloff in 2006 to create a campaign that would convince members of FARC to go home.

On December 10, 2010, the military and Sokkoloff launched an advertising campaign called “Operation Christmas,” in which 9 very tall trees were decorated with lights that would only turn on if the motion-detection sensor noticed movement in that area. So if a FARC guerilla walked by one of those designated trees, it would light up like the proverbial Christmas Tree. At the same time, another light would shine on a sign that read:

If Christmas can come to the jungle, you can come home. Demobilize. At Christmas, everything is possible.

As Sokoloff explained in 60 Minutes, “What we did was try to make coming back home for Christmas an important thing. And we knew that if we put up these Christmas trees with that sign up there, we would touch the hearts of the guerrillas, ‘cause my heart was touched. And they went and they did it.”

The result of that campaign was that over 300 guerillas, about 5% of the total, left the jungle and surrendered.

The following year, the Colombian military staged “Operation Rivers of Light,” another campaign to reach further into the jungle by floating plastic balls that contained messages and gifts to the guerillas. They also lit up with soft purple light, to send another powerful message of peace and beauty into the heart of the jungle. Some 7,000 of those balls resulted in the demobilization of another 180 guerillas.

Another campaign was also launched in 2011, in conjunction with the 2011 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which happened to be hosted by Colombia from July 29 to August 20. As Sokoloff said, football moves this country. Football is our passion.” So during this campaign, soldiers had thousands of soccer balls signed by players and celebrities and fans. Theses balls – all with a sticker saying “Demobilize. Let’s play again” – were thrown from helicopters into the jungle, resulting in another wave of guerillas leaving the jungle.

Sokoloff claims that over eight years of this campaign, 18,000 guerillas have come home, and got FARC to the bargaining table.

Still FARC and ELN fight for survival in the jungles, soldiers and guerillas die. But still negotiations continue as the government and FARC look to find peace.

Perhaps it will be quiet today in Colombia, for it is Christmas, and family calls.

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Aly Raisman _60 MInutes
Aly Raisman in 60 Minutes Interview

Aly Raisman is already a two-time Olympian with 6 medals from the 2012 London and 2016 Olympics, including gold medals in the team competition, while serving as captain. She is also the latest gymnast to step forward with allegations of sexual abuse against USA Gymnastics and their team doctor, Larry Nasser.

Thanks in part to the powerful coverage of the Indianapolis Star, and also in part to the recent wave of “#MeToo” revelations against men in power who prey on women, dozens of young women have come out publicly about Nasser, who has been arrested and been slapped with lawsuits.
In an interview with John LaPook of 60 Minutes, Raisman spoke about the denial, confusion and anger she went through upon realizing that she had been abused, and her advice to other girls who may be in an uncomfortable situation alone with an adult. Her words are powerful, and I want to note them:

Denial

Raisman: I was in denial. I was like, “I don’t thi– I d– I don’t even know what to think.” It– you don’t wanna let yourself believe but, you know, I am– I am– I am a victim of– of sexual abuse. Like, it’s really not an easy thing to let yourself believe that.

Raisman: I was just really innocent. I didn’t really know. You know, you don’t think that of someone. You know, so I just– I trusted him.

LaPook: You thought it was medical treatment.

Raisman: I didn’t know anything differently. We were told he is the best doctor. He’s the United States Olympic doctor and the USA Gymnastics doctor, and we were very lucky we were able to see him.

Simone Biles tweets support for Aly Raisman
Simone Biles tweets support for Aly Raisman

Confusion

Raisman (when asked quite suddenly by an investigator to comment on Nasser): And I said, you know, “Well, he– his touching makes me uncomfortable, but he’s so nice to me. And I– I don’t think he does it on purpose because, you know, I think he cares about me.”

LaPook: So it was only after the investigator left that you began to put the pieces together.

Raisman: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s important for people to know too I’m still trying to put the pieces together today. You know it impacts you for the rest of your life.

 

Anger

Raisman: Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up? Why not look at what about the culture? What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?

LaPook: You’re angry.

Raisman: I am angry. I’m really upset because it’s been– I care a lot, you know, when I see these young girls that come up to me, and they ask for pictures or autographs, whatever it is, I just– I can’t– every time I look at them, every time I see them smiling, I just think– I just want to create change so that they never, ever have to go through this.

 

“Grooming”

Raisman (explaining the predatory practice of “grooming”): He would always bring me, you know, desserts or gifts. He would buy me little things. So I really thought he was a nice person. I really thought he was looking out for me. That’s why I want to do this interview. That’s why I wanna talk about it. I want people to know just because someone is nice to you and just because everyone is saying they’re the best person, it does not make it okay for them to ever make you uncomfortable. Ever.

 

Where Were the Parents?

Lynn Raisman (Aly’s mother): We were there. But if she’s not knowing that it’s wrong — never in a million years did I ever even think to say, “Hey, when you see the team doctor, is there someone with you?”

LaPook: If you could hit the rewind button, is there anything you would have done differently?

Lynn Raisman: I think the most important thing, if anyone takes anything away from this interview is sit down with your kids and explain to them that predators aren’t just strangers. They can be highly educated. They can be very well-respected in the community. It could be a family member, it could be a family friend. So, you know, that’s really, the, I mean, if I could go back in time, I would do that.

 

The Advice

As 60 Minutes explains, USA Gymnastics has always had a policy that an adult should “avoid being alone with a minor.” Clearly that policy was not publicized or enforced. But as far as Raisman is concerned, it’s time to publicize and enforce.

Raisman: Nobody ever educated me on, “Make sure you’re not alone with an adult.” You know, “Make sure he’s not making you uncomfortable.” I didn’t know the signs. I didn’t know what sexual abuse really was. And I think that needs to be communicated to all of these athletes, no matter the age.

 

Watch the 60 Minutes’ interview here.

femke-van-den-driessche
Femke Van den Driessche _Sporza

It’s been suspected for a while. The effortless speed. The wheels continuing to spin way longer than they should after a crash.

Tiny motors in bicycles.

“Bike doping.”

And finally, on January 28, 2017, a bicycle of a racer who had dropped out of the cyclocross world championships in Zolder, Belgium was seen to have electrical cables coming out of part of its body, according to this article. Upon further investigation, a small motor was found.

The bike belonged to a 19-year old Belgian cyclist named Femke Van den Driessche, a champion of Belgian national cyclo-cross and junior mountain bike tournaments. She was a favorite in the Zolder event until a mechanical problem ended her race. It has also put her career in suspension as Van den Driessche was banned for six years, and would be required to forfeit all results since October 10, 2015.

Van den Driessche said “It wasn’t my bike — it was that of a friend and was identical to mine,” according to this article. But her coach, Rudy De Bie said he was “disgusted.” “We thought that we had in Femke a great talent in the making but it seems that she fooled everyone,” he told Sporza.

Coincidentally, the day after this first publicly realized case of “bike doping”, the American news program, 60 Minutes, aired a segment entitled “Enhancing the Bike“. Correspondent, Bill Whitaker went to Budapest, Hungary to meet an engineer named Stefano Varjs, who designed a motor small enough to fit unseen inside the frame of a bike and powerful enough to motor an adult up a hill with relative ease.

stefano-varjas-and-bill-whitaker
Stefano Varjas and Bill Whitaker_60 Minutes – click on image to watch this 60 Minutes’ segment.

When Varis showed this invention to a friend in 1998, the friend said he had a buyer who wanted this technology and would pay a handsome sum, if the buyer was assured of exclusive right to this technology for 10 years. Varis was paid USD2 million, an offer he simply could not refuse.

From that point on, it has been suspected that motorized bikes have been used in competitions, even the Tour de France. Here is part of the transcript of the 60 Minutes report:

Jean-Pierre Verdy is the former testing director for the French Anti-Doping Agency who investigated doping in the Tour de France for 20 years.

Bill Whitaker: Have there been motors used in the Tour de France?

Jean-Pierre Verdy: Yes, of course. It’s been the last three to four years when I was told about the use of the motors. And in 2014, they told me there are motors. And they told me, there’s a problem. By 2015, everyone was complaining and I said, something’s got to be done.

Verdy said he’s been disturbed by how fast some riders are going up the mountains. As a doping investigator, he relied for years on informants among the team managers and racers in the peloton, the word for the pack of riders. These people told Jean-Pierre Verdy that about 12 racers used motors in the 2015 Tour de France.

Bill Whitaker: The bikers who use motors, what do you think of them and what they’re doing to cycling?

Jean-Pierre Verdy: They’re hurting their sport. But human nature is like that. Man has always tried to find that magic potion.

Watch the video below to see an example of a possible bike that’s been doped.

Daraya Pishchalnikova
Darya Pishchalnikova

On June 17, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) barred the entire Russian track and field team from competing in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio this August due to revelations of Russia’s state-sponsored doping of its athletes. As the head of the IAAF, Sebastian Coe, stated during this historic announcement, “Politics was not playing a part in that room today. It was unambiguous.”

The scale of this ban due to doping is unprecedented in Olympic history, and will have a significant impact on the Rio medal tally as Russia won 18 medals in track and field, including 8 gold medals, at the 2012 London Games. This is a tragedy for Russians, who likely were fully expectant of their citizens bringing home medals and glory from Brazil. But it is also a victory for athletes who live clean sporting lives, and a bit of redemption for athletes whose final results may have been affected by a tainted Russian athlete.

But this a complex tale of good and bad, with victims, heroes and dreamers. Here are a few of the players in this tragedy:

The Whistle-Blowing Victim, Darya Pishchalnikova: Way back in December of 2012, a female discus thrower from Astrakhan Russia wrote a very sensitive email in English, and sent it to the World Anti-Doping Agency. Darya Pishchalnikova took a chance by opening up to the global doping regulatory authority, expecting her whistle lowing to be handled with the utmost confidentiality. According to this New York Times article, Pishchalnikova’s email was sent to the top three WADA officials at the time, with a note explaining that the discus thrower’s accusations were “relatively precise”, filled with facts and names. What did WADA do with Pischalnikova’s email? They forwarded it to the Russian sports authorities

What is interesting is that she had actually tested positive for an anabolic steroid prior to the 2012 London Games in May, 2012. She blew the whistle 7 months later, explaining how she had taken banned substances as a part of a systematic doping program in Russia. But perhaps predictably, after the Russian authorities were forwarded Pischalnikova’s email from WADA, the Russian Athletics Federation banned her from competing any further for Russia.

Rusanova of Russia competes during the woman's 800 metres semi-final heat 1 at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu
Yuliya Rusanova of Russia; REUTERS/Michael Dalder

The Reluctant Hero, Yuliya Stepanova: Like Pishchalnikova, Yuliya Stepanova (now Rusanova) was a standout athlete who was banned by the IAAF due to abnormalities with her bloodwork. Her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, was actually a member of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), who was growing disenchanted with RUSADA’s lack of integrity. At one point, the 800-meter specialist took steps to divorce herself from her crusading husband. But after Yuliya was banned by the IAAF for two years, the couple committed to work together, and began to think about ways to share their insight into systematic doping of Russian athletes. Eventually, they agreed to go on camera with German news broadcaster, ARD, for a documentary that blew the lid off Russia’s state-sponsored doping system. Fearing for their safety, the couple, now married, are living in the United States.

Sochi Winter Olympic Games - Pre-Games activity - Wednesday
Sir Craig Reedie

The Reluctant Sheriff, WADA: We know that the World Anti-Doping Agency was aware of allegations into Russian state-sponsored doping, as early as December, 2012 based on Pischalnikova’s case. We also know according to this 60 Minutes account that Yuliya’s husband, Vitaly sent 200 emails and 50 letters to WADA, detailing what he knew as an insider at RUSADA. As 60 Minutes stated, “his crusade eventually cost him his job.”

WADA’s president is Craig Reedie. In this New York Times article, he acknowledges that Vitaly contacted him, but also implied he did not act on it. In fact, he even confirmed “that he had sent a reassuring email to the Russian sports ministry in April — four months after the ARD documentary was broadcast — in which he praised the sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, for his efforts in the fight against doping and said there was ‘no intention in WADA to do anything to affect’ their relationship.”

Wow.

The Hopeful, Yelena Isinbayeva: Pole vaulting has been an Olympic event for women for only four Olympiads, debuting at the 2000 Sydney Games. In that period, Russian Yelena Isinbayeva has won gold in 2004 and 2008 before taking bronze in 2012. She has never tested positive for drugs. And despite the ban, she still hopes to participate in her fifth and

Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov on 60 Minutes
Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov on 60 Minutes. Click on picture to go to video.

On May 8, CBS aired Armen Keteyian‘s interview of Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov, Russians who fled to the United States after the world learned that they were the informants to a German documentary on massive state-sponsored doping of athletes in Russia. As a result of that documentary and a subsequent investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the IAAF banned Russian track and field athletes from competing in international competitions, including the 2016 Rio Olympics.

In this interview, Vitaly explained that he had surreptitiously taped a talk with Grigory Rodchenkov, the man who ran the drug-testing lab in Russia and was now in the United States as well because of what he believed was a threat to his life if he stayed. (Two of his colleagues had died unexpectedly in February according to the New York Times.) Rodchenkov said that not only was the state-sponsored doping widespread throughout the Russian government, not only were Russian athletes competing in the Summer Olympics tainted by doping, but at least four gold medal winners of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia doped.

Grigory Rodchenkov
Grigory Rodchenkov

On May 12, the New York Times released an article based on an interview with Rodchenkov, who was introduced by the producer of a documentary on Russia doping. According to the Times, Rodchenkov developed a “three-drug cocktail of banned substances that he mixed with liquor” that helped potentially dozens of Russian athletes, and that some of Russia’s biggest names in cross-country skiing and bobsledding at the Sochi Games were given this cocktail.

Rodchenkov also actively covered up the doping by ensuring tainted urine would not be tested. Here’s how the Times explained the operation:

In a dark-of-night operation, Russian antidoping experts and members of the intelligence services surreptitiously replaced urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine collected months earlier, somehow breaking into the supposedly tamper-proof bottles that are the standard at international competitions, Dr. Rodchenkov said. For hours each night, they worked in a shadow laboratory lit by a single lamp, passing bottles of urine through a hand-size hole in the wall, to be ready for testing the next day, he said. By the end of the Games, Dr. Rodchenkov estimated, as many as 100 dirty urine samples were expunged.

hole in the wall
The hole in the wall (covered by a removable cap) through which tainted urine samples were passed and replaced by clean samples during the Sochi Games, according to Dr. Rodchenkov. NY Times

The big question hanging over the Rio Olympics is whether the ban on the entire Russian track and field team would be lifted in time for competition at the Games starting on August 5. According to the CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, in the 60 Minutes piece, this new information from Rodchenkov does not bode well.

Look, it’s a stunning revelation. And if true it’s a devastating blow to the Olympic values. It’s clearly the final nail in the coffin for Russian track and field.