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6 Historical Snitches (Who Weren't Named Judas)

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We're blowing our whistles on the top turncoats in history and giving away all their dirty little secrets.

BY CHRISTOPHER CONNOLLY

1. Anna Sage: Dillinger's Deadly Date

The Tale: Anna Sage was a Romanian immigrant who came to America in 1909 and found work in a brothel in East Chicago, Ind. Although she was successful in this venerable and established field (she opened several of her own houses of ill repute in Indiana and Illinois), the Department of Labor sought to deport her as an "alien of low moral character." But when famed bank robber John Dillinger—whom she met through mutual gal pal Polly Hamilton—asked her to a movie, Sage thought she'd found a way to stamp her Green Card. Dillinger was wanted in five states, and Sage hoped that if she turned him in, the good karma would translate into an invitation to stay in the U.S.

Picture 10.pngThe Tattle: To stage the arrest, Sage called her ex-boyfriend, Martin Zarkovich, at the East Chicago Police Department, and was put in contact with agent Melvin Purvis, who was working the Dillinger case for the FBI. Sage told Purvis about her upcoming date with Dillinger at the Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934. (O.k., maybe she didn't specify the year"¦) In order to be identified in the crowd, Sage agreed to wear a white blouse and orange skirt that night, even though history would later dub her the "Lady in Red." (Historians believe the lights of the marquee made her outfit appear red, spawning the moniker.) As she, Dillinger, and Polly Hamilton exited the theater, Purvis confronted the group. Dillinger tried to run, which worked pretty well until four FBI bullets put a hitch in his stride. He died at the scene.

The Aftermath: Sage collected $5,000 for information leading to Dillinger's "capture," but was soon sent back to Romania. According to most sources, agents at the FBI told Sage they couldn't prevent her deportation because of the organization's lack of influence over the Department of Labor, but recent research suggests a more devious motive. In Jay Robert Nash's book Dillinger: Dead or Alive, the author suggests the whole episode was a setup. Because the FBI's failure to capture the elusive Public Enemy No.1 was a source of considerable consternation, Nash believes the scene outside the theater that night was the shooting of an innocent man staged by Sage, Zarkovich, and the FBI. The goal? Alleviate pressure on the FBI and help keep the "Lady in Red" in the country. Nash claims Sage's hasty deportation was part of the cover-up, and also points to discrepancies between the body of the dead man and Dillinger. John Dillinger was widely known for his blue eyes and missing upper tooth. The body from the scene, however, had brown eyes and a full set of teeth. Adding further credence to Nash's theory is the disappearance of local criminal John Lawrence the night of the shooting.

2. Aldrich Ames: Soviet Mole and CIA Rat

Picture 15.pngThe Tale: Aldrich Hazen Ames was pretty much born a CIA agent. His father spied for the CIA in Burma during the 1950's, and at age 16, Aldrich went to "The Farm," a CIA training facility, to learn the ropes himself. Despite his pedigree, it seems unlikely that Ames will win CIA Employee of the Year. Not now. Not tomorrow. Not ever. Why? Because Ames was the most damaging mole in CIA history. Beginning in 1985, he sold out every spy the CIA and FBI had in the then-USSR, and we doubt a "my bad" will cover that.

The Tattle: Ironically, Ames started out at the CIA recruiting Soviets to spy on their government, but he soon discovered he wasn't very good at convincing people to snitch. Luckily for him (and his career), his next assignment was with a Soviet Diplomat to Colombia named Aleksandr Dmitrievich Ogorodnik. Ogorodnik had already been convinced to spy for the U.S., but he didn't prove very useful until he was transferred to Ames' CIA department. In Ames' hands, Ogorodnik (code-named Trigon) was reassigned to the Russian Foreign Ministry, where he developed a knack for photographing sensitive documents and files. Although Ames had never successfully recruited a single spy, his handling of Trigon earned him a promotion. He became the Counterintelligence Branch Chief of Soviet Operations, where he had access to information on every aspect of U.S. operations in Russia. Life was looking swell for Ames until he ran into some girl trouble. Ames was having an affair with a Colombian woman named Maria del Rosario Casas. He brought Rosario to Washington, D.C., and it wasn't long before she started making trouble. She demanded Ames divorce his wife, which he did, wiping out almost all of his savings and assets. Rosario also spent money like it was going out of style, calling home daily and swiftly digging Ames nearly $35,000 into debt.

Ames became so desperate for funds that he considered robbing a bank. But then he remembered that the Soviets paid $50,000 for the names of U.S. spies working in their country. He arranged a meeting with Sergei Chuvakhin of the Soviet Embassy and gave him the names of three CIA spies. In exchange for this information, Ames received $50,000. The story could have ended here but for the arrest of another tattletale, former Navy Warrant Officer John Walker, Jr., who was caught selling information to the Russians. Ames got so freaked out that he, too, would be exposed that he decided to beat all possible blabbers to the chase. He contacted Chuvakhin and gave him the names of every single "human asset" the CIA had in Russia. To make the deal sweeter, he also reportedly gave up a British spy and nearly seven pounds of documents that he'd carried out of the CIA office in his briefcase. For his generosity in "playing the game," the double agent was made the world's highest-paid spy, with an annual salary of $300,000.

The Aftermath: Ames named 25 spies. All of them were caught, and at least 10 were executed. Meanwhile, the unsuspecting CIA transferred him to its office in Rome. Ames felt Rosario would be happier there and wanted to distance himself from all his mischief. He did not, however, distance himself from the cash the Russians were paying him, and he and Rosario lived lavishly. Although his CIA salary was $70,000 a year, he wore a Rolex watch and drove a Jaguar to work. It only took the CIA nine years to notice that something didn't quite add up, and the couple was arrested in 1994. Today, Ames is serving out a life sentence, and Rosario was shipped off to Colombia after serving a five-year jail term.

3. Doña Marina: Dictator's Translator

Picture 16.pngThe Tale: To this day, Doña Marina remains a controversial figure in Mexican history. To some, she's the embodiment of treason for her role in helping the Spanish conquer the Aztecs. Others believe she was simply a victim. To still others, La Malinche (as she was called) is the symbolic mother of the Mexican race who saved hundreds of Aztecs from the conquistadores.

This is what we do know: Doña Marina was born to a noble tribal chief in the southeast part of the Aztec Empire. As firstborn, she was to become her father's successor. After her father died, however, her mother remarried and had a son whom she wanted to rule the tribe. To make sure La Malinche didn't make too much trouble over the deal, her parents sold her into slavery. She spent several years as a slave in the present-day state of Tabasco. When Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés invaded the country, she became one of his servants.

The Tattle: Although described as intelligent, forward, and ambitious, La Malinche's most important attribute was her linguistic skill. A native speaker of the Aztec tongue, Nahuatl, her years in Tabasco also left her fluent in Mayan. This was of tremendous help to Cortés, who was negotiating with Mayan tribes as a means of usurping power in Mexico. Her talents were discovered when she began speaking in Mayan to a member of Cortés' party, a friar named Gerónimo de Aguilar. It was unusual for a Spanish monk like Aguilar to know Mayan, but as luck would have it, he had been shipwrecked in Mexico in 1511 and spent seven years living among the Mayan tribes and learning their language. Before long, Aguilar was translating La Malinche's Mayan into Castilian for Cortés. This was a major breakthrough in communicating with the Aztecs, but the process was slow and cumbersome. Fortunately, La Malinche quickly achieved fluency in Castilian, converted to Christianity, took the name Doña Marina, and was promoted to Cortés' personal staff. Soon, she became Cortés' constant companion (read: mistress) and played an essential role in the Spanish conquest.

The Aftermath: Aided by Marina (not to mention his superior weapons and military tactics), Cortés subdued the Aztecs in 1521, marking the official fall of the Aztec Empire. Amid all of his conquering, Cortés and Marina had a son who, as the product of Native American and European ancestry, is recognized as the first official Mexican citizen.

Today, much of the Hispanic world sees La Malinche only as a woman who betrayed her people. In fact, her name eventually coined the term malinchista, which describes a Mexican who favors and/or imitates the language and customs of another country. Some modern Mexican feminists even claim that the stereotypical disdain that Mexican men display toward their women is rooted in their anger at Marina's betrayal. Is all this anger misplaced? There's evidence to suggest so. Many historians contend that Marina's diplomacy saved Aztec lives and brought civility to an otherwise barbaric society. Still, to this day, the house Marina and Cortés shared in Mexico City is not even adorned by a plaque. Current resident Rina Lazo explained, "For Mexico to make this house a museum would be like the people of Hiroshima creating a monument for the man who dropped the atomic bomb."

4. Mordechai Vanunu: Paying the Price of Going Public

Picture 14.pngThe Tale: Mordechai Vanunu was a Moroccan who immigrated to Israel in 1963 with his parents and his ten siblings. Upon arrival, Vanunu served in the Israeli army before finding employment at the Dimona Nuclear Research Center in the Negev desert. Happy to have a job, he worked there from 1976 to 1985 before concluding that Dimona was a secret nuclear weapons production plant that was covertly producing military warheads. That's when he started to feel a smidge uncomfortable. The "research facility" housed an enormous plutonium separation plant that rendered the Israeli nuclear arms program vastly more advanced than the international community suspected and operated entirely without the knowledge of the Israeli people. Fully aware of the harsh repercussions he could face, Vanunu felt it was incumbent on him to share this information with the world.

The Tattle: Despite having signed an "Official Secrets Pact," Vanunu brought a camera to work one day and stealthily photographed the facility. Soon thereafter, he fled Israel and went public with his information. On October 5, 1986, The London Sunday Times headline blared, "Revealed: The Secret of Israel's Nuclear Arsenal." The cat was out of the bag, and it was sharing Israel's secrets with anyone who'd listen.

The Aftermath: Even before the Times story ran, the Israelis knew what Vanunu was up to. Agents from Israel's intelligence institute, Mossad, lured him to Italy, where he was kidnapped, drugged, and cargo-shipped back to Israel. (Details of this abduction were made public when Vanunu inked them on his hand and allowed quick-thinking news photographers to snap pictures.) In Israel, Vanunu was charged with treason and espionage. Despite international outcry, the closed-door trial led to an 18-year prison sentence, the first 11 of which he spent in solitary confinement. In 1998, Vanunu was allowed to join the general prison population, and in 2004, he was "conditionally" released. While currently "free," the Israeli government still refuses to let Vanunu leave the country, and he is forbidden to speak with the international media. He remains an unrepentant whistleblower and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.

5. Elia Kazan: Snitch To The Stars

Picture 13.pngThe Tale: Between 1945 and 1957, Elia Kazan enjoyed a hot streak few in Hollywood could even dream about. He directed 13 acclaimed motion pictures (including "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "East of Eden") and was nominated for four Best Director awards. Kazan was riding high when Hollywood entered the blackest period in its history (barring the second and third installments of the "Matrix" trilogy): the Communist witch hunts of the 1950's.

The Tattle: A philosophical and politically passionate man, Kazan had been a founding member of the leftist Group Theater in New York and, for a little more than a year, was a member of the Communist Party. In 1934, however, Kazan's ideals began to diverge sharply from those of the Party, and he soon found himself a zealous anti-Communist. Wanting names, the government pressured Kazan to spill the beans, even threatening to have him blacklisted by major Hollywood studios. After wrestling with the question of whether or not he should sacrifice his career for people whose ideals he disdained, Kazan decided to share his knowledge of Communists in Hollywood with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. In 1952, he went before the Committee and named eight of his Group Theater buddies who had been members of the Communist Party with him.

The Aftermath: After Kazan's testimony, the government was fast on the tails of those he'd named, pressuring them for yet more names, and it was officially witchhuntin' season! Many actors, writers, and directors were blacklisted, and scores of careers were ruined. The era remains one of the least tinselly in Tinseltown history.

Not surprisingly, pretty much everyone not already in the business of rooting out Commies reviled Kazan. His longtime friend and confidant, Arthur Miller, explained his feelings on the matter in his allegorical play "The Crucible." Not to be outdone, Kazan shot back by crafting a sympathetic informer character in his film "On The Waterfront," which Miller rebutted in "A View From The Bridge." (Jeez, guys, just pick up the phone or something.) But the controversy surrounding Kazan was yet to abate. In 1999, Kazan was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars, and more than 500 people showed up to protest. Writer and director Abraham Polonsky, whom 20th Century Fox had fired and blacklisted for his refusal to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee, said of the event, "I'll be watching, hoping someone shoots him." Um, Mr. Polonsky, do you think you could put that in the form of a play?

6. Sammy "The Bull" Gravano: Blabbing on the Boss

Picture 12.pngThe Tale: Probably the world's most notorious hairdresser-turned-hitman, Salvatore "Sammy The Bull" Gravano was the highest-ranking Italian Mafia member ever to break omerta, the mob code of silence. Born in Brooklyn and nicknamed "The Bull" for his short stature, thick neck, and ruthless fighting tactics, Gravano rose to the position of underboss in the Gambino crime family. Allegedly responsible for 19 murders, Gravano was no angel, and no tight-lips, either. Sammy's damning testimony sealed the fate of many in the organization, including his former boss, John Gotti.

The Tattle: The reason Gravano snitched varies depending on whom you ask. Some claim he did it to receive a lighter prison sentence, while others say he got mad after hearing Gotti badmouthing him on a wiretap. But in Underboss: Sammy The Bull Gravano's Life In The Mafia, Gravano says Gotti needed to be taken down because he was addicted to publicity, and all the attention was harming the mob. Either way, Gravano delivered such damaging testimony in court that lead Gotti prosecutor John Gleeson described him as having rendered "extraordinary, unprecedented, historic assistance to the government."

The Aftermath: Information provided by Gravano created a ripple effect throughout the Mafia underground, and numerous corroborating witnesses came forward. Dozens of luminaries in the Cosa Nostra crime syndicate were convicted, jury-rigging schemes were exposed, mobsters already in jail had their sentences extended, and high-ranking members of the Gambino, Colombo, DeCalvacante, and Lucchese families were imprisoned. In 1995, Gravano got a cushy five-year sentence for his 19 murders, and was later placed in the Witness Protection Program. After his release, Sammy made the most of his second chance by teaming up with some neo-Nazis and getting busted for selling Ecstasy. Not so bright, Bull. He got 19 years in the slammer this time, a sentence he's still serving.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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