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Arrests fail to stop Iranian women from raising hijabs in protest

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

A woman holds a white hijab in protest of Iran's mandatory dress code. (White Wednesdays Campaign )

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  • More Iranian women arrested for going hijab-free
  • The secrets pile up in Washington
  • Super-sketchy statistics surround the Super Bowl

Unveiled acts of defiance in Iran

Police in Tehran have arrested 29 more women for protesting against a law that requires them to wear hijabs.

For weeks now, Iranian women have been engaging in small acts of defiance against the Islamic Republic's theocrats, removing their headscarves in the streets and hoisting them on sticks. Photos and videos of the brief demonstrations have been widely shared on social media and sites like MyStealthyFreedom. A number of women have been jailed.

Today, Tasnim, Iran's semi-official news agency, reported more than two dozen new arrests in the capital, where people were charged with "disturbing public security."

As per usual, Iranian authorities are blaming foreign elements for the demonstrations, saying illegal, U.S. and UK-based satellite channels have been "deceiving" women into participating.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hit a similar theme yesterday in a speech in the southern city of Sirjan, accusing Donald Trump and other American leaders of offering "fake sympathy" and support to the people of Iran when they encourage civil disobedience.

Iranians are all too familiar with "U.S. crimes," said the president, harkening back some 40 years to the arms and money that were given to the late Shah and his secret police, as well as recent economic sanctions.

This is all because Washington "favours insecurity" in the Middle East, charged Rouhani.

Government efforts to stamp out the dissent seem to be having little effect, however. Reports indicate that the protests against headscarves — mandatory in public since the 1979 revolution — have spread to other cities like Shiraz, Esfahan and Rasht. Men are also joining in to show their support.

Earlier this week, a senior cleric even took the unusual step of openly criticizing the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for his failure to deal with public anger over the failing economy and abuses of power by hardline conservatives.

Perhaps most troublingly for the authorities, it appears that a growing number of Iranian women are not afraid.

Spilling secrets

In America, information is power.

Every year, the U.S. government and its agencies declare trillions of new pages of facts, numbers, discussion and speculation to be classified — documents that, by definition, would "damage national security if improperly released."

According to 2015 figures4.3 million people have the security clearance to read and handle such papers — nearly 1.4 million of them at the "top secret" level.

Not that they are able to keep up. The Public Interest Declassification Board, which is supposed to be overseeing a transformation of the system, discovered that just one U.S. government agency — unnamed, natch — was classifying a petabyte of data every 18 months. That would be the equivalent of 20 million filing cabinetsor 13.3 million hours of high-definition video.

Donald Trump's reported plans to authorize the release of a classified memo prepared by his Republican allies on the House Intelligence Committee is dominating U.S. headlines today.

Every year, the U.S. government declares trillions of new pages of facts, numbers, discussion and speculation to be classified. (J. David Ake/Associated Press)

The president hopes the information, understood to have been taken from secret warrant applications surrounding Russian interference in the 2016 election, will show that there is a law enforcement conspiracy against him. The FBI says the disclosure will damage their sources — although they seem more vexed about what hasn't been included in the document.

But the debate obscures other facts of Washington life — namely that much of the information that is protected doesn't actually have to be, and it is disclosed all the time.

Sometimes, the leaks are spectacular, such as Daniel Ellsberg's Pentagon Papers or Edward Snowden's 2013 dump of thousands of National Security Agency surveillance documents. Sometimes they are inadvertent, such as the time Oklahoma Democrat David Boren, then chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, let slip the name of one of the CIA's most senior agents in a media scrum.

Most frequently, classified information is disclosed to shape public and political opinion, as witnessed in the rush to war with Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2003.

And occasionally, leaks are designed to punish, like the 2003 unmasking of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent by a senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. (Plame's husband, a diplomat, had been critical of President Bush's "weapons of mass destruction" claims. The aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, received a presidential pardon.)

But if Trump does follow through and release the memo, at least he'll know that he's spilling secrets.

Last summer, Fox News ran a story about how U.S. satellites had tracked North Korean forces transferring anti-ship cruise missiles to a patrol boat, raising fears in the South China Sea.

Nikki Haley, Trump's ambassador to the UN, was later asked about the report and refused to discuss the matter, saying the information was both classified and leaked.

"I will tell you it's incredibly dangerous when things get out into the press like that," she said. What Haley didn't seem to be aware of was that Trump had already retweeted a Fox News promotion for the story, hours before, technically breaking the law.

Last May, the president met with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador at the White House and disclosed "highly classified" information from a foreign intelligence service.

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The Super Bowl's sketchy math

Christmas is America's biggest secular holiday. The Super Bowl is its biggest religious festival.

From the name on down, everything about the NFL championship is over-hyped. But nothing more so than the dubious numbers about the game that get thrown around every year.

Take for instance, the National Chicken Council's "prediction" that Americans will eat 1.35 billion wings over the course of this weekend, "up 20 million" from last year's impossible-to-verify figure. (Is someone going to go through the trash?)

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, foreground, will be among the key performers in this weekend's Super Bowl. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Or the claim that 14 million people "plan" to feign illness on "Super Sick" Monday in order to recover from their hangovers. Which is based on a survey of 1,100 workerstied to an ad campaign for an anti-mucus medication.

A number of media outlets have been reporting that this year's tickets will be the costliest ever, with an average price of $5,700. Which is based on what people were asking, a week ago, on ticket resale sites, rather than, say, the reality that the game is being played in Minnesota in February.

Speaking of which, even the host committee has gotten into the act with a claim that the festivities will attract one million visitors to the Twin Cities. Which is odd, since the stadium seats 66,655 people and the area boasts 41,000 hotel rooms. The local paper puts the actual number of football tourists at around 125,000.

Of course, there are some numbers that can't be disputed. Like the 9.7 per cent slide in NFL regular season ratings this year, followed by a 13 per cent decline for the wild card games and a 16 per cent drop for the divisional playoffs. (Although Sunday's game should still attract more than 100 million viewers in the U.S. — almost a third of the country.)

And then there's LII, the Roman numeral that the NFL is stuck with for this year's game, the 52nd edition. It was Lamar Hunt, the late owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, who came up with the idea of using an ancient numbering system that actually uses multiple letters and goes both forwards and backwards.

Don't worry if you are among those who don't remember that grade school lesson. You probably know more about football than these Jeopardy! contestants.

Quote of the moment

"I'm asking you as part of the sentencing to grant me five minutes alone in a locked room with this demon."

Randall Margraves, the father of three victims of Larry Nassar, made this request of the judge at today's sentencing of the ex-USA Gymnastics team doctor. Soon after, Margraves lunged at the defendant and was wrestled to the ground by police.

What The National is reading

  • 90 migrants feared dead after boat capsizes off Libya (CBC)
  • Baby formula scandal sends shudders through France (NY Times)
  • Ottawa school board pulls Fraser Institute minimum-wage essay contest (CBC)
  • Steve Wynn calls on casino employees to rally behind him (Wall Street Journal)
  • Researchers find 60,000 Mayan structures hidden in Guatemalan jungle (BBC)
  • Japanese develop banana with edible peel (Telegraph)
  • Nigel, the lonely gannet, dies as he lived, surrounded by concrete birds (Guardian)

Today in history

Feb. 2, 1978: Lorne Michaels and Gilda Radner talk SNL

Lorne Michaels and Gilda Radner talk SNL

Digital Archives

43 years ago
Lorne Michaels and Gilda Radner discuss Saturday Night Live's mass appeal on "90 Minutes Live." 18:48

The Canadian creator of Saturday Night Live and his landed-immigrant star chat with Peter Gzowski about the secrets of success — one of which, apparently, is to refuse to shoot a pilot. "The reaction to the first [live broadcast] was that there would never be a second show. Then the ratings came in," says Michaels, who was the inspiration for Dr. Evil.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.