Headlines of the day I: Spooks. Fabricators, more


Today’s excursion into the black world begins with ominous news from Foreign Policy:

FBI Drops Law Enforcement as ‘Primary’ Mission

The FBI’s creeping advance into the world of counterterrorism is nothing new. But quietly and without notice, the agency has finally decided to make it official in one of its organizational fact sheets. Instead of declaring “law enforcement” as its “primary function,” as it has for years, the FBI fact sheet now lists “national security” as its chief mission. The changes largely reflect the FBI reforms put in place after September 11, 2001, which some have criticized for de-prioritizing law enforcement activities. Regardless, with the 9/11 attacks more than a decade in the past, the timing of the edits is baffling some FBI-watchers.

“What happened in the last year that changed?” asked Kel McClanahan, a Washington-based national security lawyer.

McClanahan noticed the change last month while reviewing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the agency. The FBI fact sheet accompanies every FOIA response and highlights a variety of facts about the agency. After noticing the change, McClanahan reviewed his records and saw that the revised fact sheets began going out this summer. “I think they’re trying to rebrand,” he said. “So many good things happen to your agency when you tie it to national security.”

BuzzFeed covers the latest Congressional mood swing:

More Congressmen Say They’re Open To Clemency Deal To Bring Edward Snowden Back To U.S.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s more of a whistle-blower than a villain,” said Rep. Jim McGovern.

And Los Angeles Times makes the case for states’ rights:

Lawmaker wants to bar state from aiding spying without warrants

Reports of the National Security Agency collecting data on millions of Americans has spurred one of the first state bills of the year in California, a measure that would prohibit state agencies from assisting federal spying and data collection without warrants.

Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) introduced SB 828 Monday after NSA officials admitted collecting phone information on all Americans as part of a program aimed at identifying communications between possible terrorists.

The program is a “direct threat to our liberty and freedom,” Lieu said in a statement.

Techdirt goes Orwellian:

Court Decision Exempts Secret Memo From FOIA, Sets Stage For Future Secret Laws To Go Unchallenged

from the legally-binding-‘deliberations?’ dept

The “most transparent administration” received another win for continued secrecy, thanks to an appeals court decision that allowed it to continue to withhold a DOJ memo that created an exploitable loophole in consumer data privacy protections.

The document at issue is a classified memo issued by the Office of Legal Counsel on Jan. 8, 2010. A report later that year by the Justice Department’s inspector general at the time, Glenn A. Fine, disclosed the memo’s existence and its broad conclusion that telephone companies may voluntarily provide records to the government “without legal process or a qualifying emergency,” notwithstanding the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

TechWeekEurope covers the latest NSA-related scandal:

UAE Alleges US Backdoors Found In Its Spy Satellites

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is reportedly threatening to cancel a 3.4 billion dirhams (£570m) deal to purchase two military imaging satellites from France over claims that two US-supplied components compromise the security of the data transmitted between the satellite and the ground station.

While the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) is not directly named in the matter, the incident, reported by US-based Defense News, recalls concerns over the US spy agency’s allegedly widespread hacking activities, which are claimed to have included mobile and computing devices as well as cloud-based systems.

The satellite deal, signed in July after competition for more than a decade, involves the supply of two high-resolution Pleiades-type Falcon Eye military observation satellites, as well as a ground station and training for 20 engineers, with delivery set for 2018. Airbus Defence and Space is supplying the Astrobus-based satellite platform, with Italian-French joint venture Thales Alenia Space providing the observation and data transmission technology.

Nextgov makes a threat assessment:

Defense Leaders Say Cyber is Top Terror Threat

Defense officials see cyberattacks as the greatest threat to U.S. national security, according to a survey released Monday.

Forty-five percent of respondents to the Defense News Leadership Poll named a cyberattack as the single greatest threat—nearly 20 percentage points above terrorism, which ranked second.

The Defense News Leadership Poll, underwritten by United Technologies, surveyed 352 Defense News subscribers, based on job seniority, between Nov. 14 and Nov. 28, 2013. The poll targeted senior employees within the White House, Pentagon, Congress, and the defense industry.

Techdirt covers more Orwellian buffoonery, perhaps forgetting that once upon a time, he’d have been a chief suspect:

Rep. Peter King Says NSA Should Spy On Congress, Because They Might Be Talking To Al Qaeda

from the or-the-IRA? dept

Every day, Rep. Peter King seems more and more like a TV villain politician. He’s so… over the top in his crazy surveillance state opinions that it’s almost difficult to believe he’s real. Just take a stroll through his previous statements, in which he’s attacked the NY Times for supporting Ed Snowden, whom he calls both a “traitor” and a “terrorist appeaser.” He’s said that it’s a “disgrace” that anyone might call out the fact that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied to Congress. He’s argued that it’s “slander” to call the NSA’s activities “spying.” And he’s argued that Glenn Greenwald should be arrested and prosecuted for reporting on Snowden’s leaks.

A European Orwellian scenario from EUobserver:

EU data law hits set-back in Germany

Germany’s new justice minister, Heiko Maas, wants to delay turning the EU’s controversial data retention directive into German law.

His announcement, made in an interview with German weekly Der Spiegel on Sunday (5 January), comes amid legal action by the European Commission and despite the fact two leading parties in Germany’s grand coalition want to go ahead.

The directive allows governments and intelligence agencies to track the movements, meetings, phone and Internet use of every EU citizen by forcing operators to set up separate databases specifically for police access. The data is retained from anywhere between six months to two years.

Reuters seeks security:

U.S. wants Afghanistan to sign security deal in ‘weeks not months’

The United States wants the Afghanistan government to sign a bilateral security agreement in matter of weeks if a contingent of U.S. troops is to remain there after 2014, the White House said on Monday.

The Afghan government had ignored U.S. demands for it to sign a framework security agreement by the end of 2013, after protracted negotiations that have strained relations between the two countries.

U.S. officials say unless a deal is reached to keep upwards of 8,000 U.S. troops inside the country after 2014, the United States might instead completely withdraw from the country.

Off to Asia, starting with the latest from Korean with the London Daily Mail:

Is Kim Jong-Un’s aunt now dead as well? Reports claim wife of recently executed uncle has suffered fatal heart attack or committed suicide

  • Kim Kyong-hui, 67, is aunt of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, 30
  • Her husband Jang Song-Thaek was executed by Kim Jong-un last month
  • Mrs Kim, whose only child died in 2006, is said to have had heart disease
  • North Korean media say officials believe she is dead but not how or where

South China Morning Post covers a Korean shift:

North Korean coal minister replaced in wake of Jang’s execution

  • Fate of Rim Nam-su unclear after reshuffle in North Korea analyst links to recent purge

North Korea has replaced its coal minister, apparently after the shock execution of leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle, who had been accused of attempting to take control of the country’s lucrative coal export business.

Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency introduced Mun Myong-hak as “minister of coal industry” as it was reporting on the 30th anniversary of the Pukchang area coal-mining complex in the western province of South Phyongan yesterday.

And on to Japan, where Reuters covers the latest pitch from the increasingly bellicose Japanese prime minister:

Japan’s Abe wants to explain shrine visit to China, Korea

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday he wanted to meet Chinese and South Korean leaders to explain why he visited a controversial war shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Tokyo’s wartime aggression.

Abe’s December 26 visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals are enshrined along with other war dead, infuriated China and South Korea and prompted concern from the United States, a key ally.

“Seeking dialogue with China and South Korea is extremely important for the peace and security of this region,” Abe told a news conference after paying a customary New Year’s visit to a shrine in the central Japanese city of Ise.

From China Daily, the immediate blowback:

Beijing rejects Abe’s call for official meeting

Beijing and Seoul responded coolly on Monday after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again requested official meetings with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts.

“Abe has repeatedly claimed that he underscores improving relations with China, but what he said is hypocritical. It was he who closed the door on dialogue,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye also blamed Japan on Monday for strained ties.

More from the Diplomat:

Shinzo Abe Is Not Welcome In China, And Never Will Be

As long as Abe remains Prime Minister, don’t expect China-Japan ties to thaw.

In a recent press conference, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo expressed a desire to meet with Chinese and South Korean leaders to explain why he visited the controversial Yasukuni shrine in late December of 2013. “Seeking dialogue with China and South Korea is extremely important for the peace and security of this region,” Reuters quoted Abe as saying. “I would like to explain my true intentions regarding my visit to Yasukuni.”

The response from China was quick and predictable: no way, no how. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying told the press that China had already “explicitly stated its position” towards the possibility of Abe meeting with Chinese leaders. The answer was (and remains) a resounding no. Hua accused Abe of “playing a double game in China-Japan relations ever since he took office.” Abe pays lip service to improving the relationship, but “the erroneous actions he takes jeopardize the overall interests of China-Japan relations and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”

After the jump, Japan and China hit hyperbolic heights, Russia joins the Game of Zones and Abe ups the ante, Japan creates a killing zone, a spooky murder, and criminal destruction of the commons. . .

The Japan Times takes it to the Tolkien limit:

Japan, China envoys invoke ‘You Know Who’ in tit-for-tat editorials

The diplomatic bickering between Japan and China descended into name-calling in the British press Monday, with ambassadorial claims and counter-claims again invoking the fictional evil wizard of the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort.

In an opinion piece published in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Tokyo’s envoy to London Keiichi Hayashi compared Beijing to the arch-villain of JK Rowling’s top-selling books and resulting movie franchise.

Hayashi’s letter was an apparent response to an earlier op-ed — also referencing the boy wizard’s nemesis — published in the Daily Telegraph on Jan. 1 by Liu Xiaoming, Chinese ambassador to London.

And adding fuel to the fire, a major provocative move lurks in the wings. Via SINA English:

Japan set to nationalize offshore islets

The Japanese ruling party is planning to continue nationalizing 280 offshore islets, a move Chinese experts believe is aimed at further territorial water expansion after the “nationalization” of the disputed Diaoyu Islands in 2012.

The Sankei Shimbun on Sunday quoted official sources as saying that the Liberal Democratic Party had decided to nationalize these uninhabited islets and set them as the new base points of Japan’s territorial waters.

Japan has pursued becoming a maritime power, which pushes it to expand marine territories, Wang Haipeng, an expert in maritime and border studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times, adding that setting the 280 offshore islets as the new base points of Japanese territorial waters would supply support for territorial water expansion in the future.

The Asahi Shimbun pleads for relief:

Komeito chief sees no need to reinterpret pacifist Constitution

New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi questioned the need for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s desire to change the government’s long-standing interpretation of the pacifist Constitution, which prohibits the exercise of the right of collective self-defense.

The junior coalition partner to Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is known for its pacifist-leaning stance, and Yamaguchi’s opposition may hinder the prime minister’s plans.

And the Mainichi tackles the states secret law threatening both journalists and whistleblowers:

Saitama governor shares public concern over secrecy law

Prefectural Gov. Kiyoshi Ueda says he shares the view of many Japanese that the ruling administration rammed a controversial state secrets protection bill through the Diet without sufficient debate. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had the chance to give the impression that the law was designed to protect every citizen, he says. But the way the law was enacted suggested that the government would block moves by those who oppose the new decree.

The intraparty factions within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by former prime ministers Kakuei Tanaka and Noboru Takeshita have been perceived as an embodiment of power. But Ueda, a former House of Representatives member, says the intraparty factions took fully into consideration opposition parties, saying the LDP should listen to 70 percent of what the opposition camp has to say and make concessions for the sake of smooth Diet proceedings. Otherwise, it’s impossible for the LDP to stay in power for a long period of time. Ueda laments that is a waste that a sense of economic stagnation is dissipating under the Abe administration.

The Japan Times rattles a saber:

SDF reservists, private ships may see combat

The government will ask commercial shipping firms to let Self-Defense Forces reservists use their vessels as military transports if remote Japanese islands have been invaded and need to be retaken, a new defense plan says.

The troop deployment plan, an outline of which was shown to Kyodo News, provides the basis for defense guidelines adopted in December by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

It assumes Japan will act in line with the emergency deployment plan when taking back remote islands occupied by foreign troops in a broad area along the Nansei Island chain, stretching southwest from Kyushu and including Okinawa and the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea at the heart of bilateral tensions with China.

And South China Morning Post spots a man on horseback:

Sacked air chief Toshio Tamogami sets sights on Tokyo governorship

Toshio Tamogami – sacked as head of the Japanese air force in 2008 for denying that Japan was the aggressor in the second world war – is now setting his sights on the Tokyo governorship.

The governor election has been set for February 9 and was called after Naoki Inose resigned in December for accepting dubious loans from the operator of a chain of hospitals. Tamogami (pictured) is to announce his candidacy today, a local report said.

While Inose’s politics were slightly to the right of centre, Tamogami’s opinions are far more nationalistic and his candidacy is likely to raise the hackles of China and South Korea. The governments of both of Japan’s immediate neighbours have already expressed their anger at the perceived lurch to the right in Japanese politics since the election of Shinzo Abe as prime minister in late 2012. Should Tamogami be elected, it will be taken as yet more evidence that Japanese society is harking back to the days of its imperialistic adventures.

The Asahi Shimbun adds a new player to the zonal imbroglios:

Russia to argue ‘historical legitimacy’ in Northern Territories dispute

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine may prompt Russia to toughen its stance on historical recognition of World War II events during negotiations over the disputed Northern Territories.

A number of sources close to the negotiations said Moscow will explain the legitimacy of its occupation of the islands off Hokkaido in the waning months of World War II when talks are held between the deputy foreign ministers of the two nations in late January.

Japan’s stance is that Soviet forces illegally seized the islands–Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islets.

And an apparent bloodily aggressive violation of an internationally recognized certainly won’t help Abe’s case with other nations. Via the London Daily Mail:

‘A gruesome, medieval scene’: Shocking images reveal Japanese fleet is slaughtering whales INSIDE an international sanctuary

  • Campaigners say they spotted vessels in Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary
  • Images of whale carcasses on bloodied ship deck captured from a helicopter
  • Another minke whale was being butchered on board, says Sea Shepherd
  • Commercial whale hunting outlawed in 1994
  • Japanese whaling vessels allowed ‘for research purposes’

But Japan has one budding friendship in the works. From Europe Online:

Turkish premier to visit Japan on defence cooperation

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was to arrive in Japan Monday to hold talks with Premier Shinzo Abe on strengthening their defence cooperation, news reports said.

The two are expected to discuss possible joint development of tank engines, the Kyodo news agency reported, citing unnamed government sources.

Abe is likely to agree with Erdogan to beef up bilateral cooperation on defence, including the planned project, Kyodo said.

The Diplomat spots another spooky clash:

Taiwanese Intelligence Accused of Meddling in Hong Kong

Beijing accused Taiwan of seeking to create “chaos” in the territory to discredit the one country, two systems formula.

It’s probably too soon to ask, as Bloomberg did in an article on Jan. 6, whether China is in fact “losing” Hong Kong, where discontent with the way things have gone since Retrocession in 1997 seems to have reached new heights. Without a doubt, the former British colony is turning into a major headache for the Chinese leadership. What’s worse, Beijing now accuses Taiwan of seeking to create “chaos” in the territory to discredit the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong operates, and which China would like to replicate for a future “reunification” of Taiwan.

Chief among Beijing’s worries is the Occupy Central movement, a pro-democracy organization that, among other goals, seeks universal suffrage and the curtailment of Beijing’s veto in the selection of candidates for leadership elections in the Special Administrative Region (SAR). Using civil disobedience and other tactics, the group has become an irritant for Beijing and its supporters in Hong Kong, who warn of possible “chaos” resulting from the campaign.

And the Santiago Times finds an Argentine security furor:

President calls on judiciary to crack down on terrorism

New Supreme Court chief denounces Piñera’s criticisms as ‘unfounded’ and an attack on the ‘foundations of democracy.’

A war of words erupted between the newly appointed president of the Supreme Court and the outgoing president of the republic after the latter claimed the judiciary was not pulling its weight in Chile’s controversial fight against “terrorism.”

During a visit to the Magallanes Region in Southern Chile, President Sebastián Piñera addressed continuing violence and unrest in the country’s Mapuche communities saying the police, courts and government need to be tougher on what his government labels terrorism.

From IntelNews, a spooky assassination:

Exiled Rwandan ex-spymaster found murdered in South Africa

The former head of Rwanda’s external intelligence agency, who had been branded an ‘enemy of the state’ by the Rwandan government, was murdered last week in South Africa.

Police in Johannesburg said the body of Patrick Karegeya, 53, was found in a room at the luxury Michelangelo Towers Hotel, where he had gone to meet a fellow Rwandan. His neck was abnormally swollen and showed signs of strangulation; a rope and a bloodied towel were found tucked inside the hotel room’s safe.

And TheLocal.se spots the spookily peculiar:

Swedish army seeks news anchor for TV job

The Swedish armed forces have posted a job listing seeking an actor who can portray a tough talking American journalist for fake news broadcasts.

Who says there are no jobs for native English speakers who can’t speak Swedish in Sweden? In one of the more bizarre job postings on the Swedish employment’s office (Arbetsförmedlingen) website the Swedish armed forces have put out an SOS to recruit an actor.

Not just any actor mind. The successful candidate needs to be “American speaking” and have some previous experience in broadcasting.

TheLocal.ch covers a perceived security threat:

Vatican riddled with gays: ex-Swiss Guard

A former member of the Swiss Guard, the force responsible for the pope’s safety, alleges that he was solicited for gay sex by cardinals, bishops, priests and other officials in the Vatican several years ago, a report published on Sunday says.

The former guard told weekly newspaper Schweiz am Sonntag that he received up to 20 “unambiguous requests” from members of the clergy, including a dignitary close to Pope John Paul II.

His experience in the 110-man security force, he said, gave credence to reports that a “gay lobby” is active in the Vatican.

From Network World, our final item, the criminal destruction of the commons, this time by traditional criminals:

Cryptolocker scrambles eight years of data belonging to US town hall

  • Some data gone forever

The Cryptolocker ransom Trojan has claimed another victim in small-town America, scrambling eight years-worth of files held by a New Hampshire town authority. Some are believed to be irretrievable.

According to local press, the notorious malware found its way into the network of Greenland town hall on 26 December after an employee opened an attachment that had arrived in an email purporting to be from AT&T.

Town administrator Karen Anderson learned of the infection on 30 December, by which time Cryptolocker’s ransom deadline had expired, taking with it Microsoft Word and Excel files going back most of a decade.

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One response to “Headlines of the day I: Spooks. Fabricators, more

  1. Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    Thank you for your work in collecting and sharing all this news! To my readers- I really like seeing blogs like this one where collecting actual news stories can often give insight into what is really going on-perhaps more clearly than the unjustifiable insider reports that appear to be more speculation than reports of actual occurrences.

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