Category Archives: Asia

InSecurityWatch: Spies, lies, hacks, laws, drones


And the deepening mystery of those missing Mexican college students, plus lots more. . .

We begin with the London Telegraph, and surely a wonderful thing — but in the hands of a police state, your worst nightmare:

Mind-reading device invented by scientists to eavesdrop on ‘inner voice’

  • Scientists at the University of California were able to pick up several words that subjects thought using a new mind-reading device

It might seem the stuff of science fiction, but a mind-reading device is being developed by scientists which can eavesdrop on your inner-voice.

Reseachers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a machine and computer programme which converts brain activity into sounds and words.

Speech activates specific neurons as the brain works interpret the sounds as words. Each word activates a slightly different set of neurons.

Now scientists have started to develop an algorithm that can pick up the activity and translate it back into words in the hope it might help people who are unable to speak.

The war de jour from the Washington Post:

Airstrikes against the Islamic State have not affected flow of foreign fighters to Syria

More than 1,000 foreign fighters are streaming into Syria each month, a rate that has so far been unchanged by airstrikes against the Islamic State and efforts by other countries to stem the flow of departures, according to U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

The magnitude of the ongoing migration suggests that the U.S.-led air campaign has neither deterred significant numbers of militants from traveling to the region nor triggered a spike in the rate of travel among Muslim populations inflamed by American intervention.

“The flow of fighters making their way to Syria remains constant, so the overall number continues to rise,” a U.S. intelligence official said. U.S. officials cautioned, however, that there is a lag in the intelligence being examined by the CIA and other spy agencies, meaning it could be weeks before a change becomes apparent.

More from the Independent:

Isis in Iraq: Army’s triumph at Jurf Al-Sakhar lays bare the cost of defeating the militants

On Tuesday, hundreds of militiamen trundled out of Jurf al-Sakhar in trucks and buses, handing over control of the town and outlying villages and farms to Iraqi security forces. As flatbed trucks carrying field artillery waited to move out, Humvees and bomb disposal vehicles burned in streets that the insurgents had laced with explosives.

In the town centre, the smell of death lingered in the air. The Shia forces could not remain in the area, militia commanders said, as their presence would spark accusations of sectarian killings.

Already revenge attacks have been reported. As a convoy of trucks blaring religious music from loudspeakers drove out of the town, the men in the trucks were jovial and flashed peace signs, but the decaying body of an alleged insurgent was being dragged behind.

CBC News covers the recruiting ground:

In Tunisia, democracy triumphs but troubles remain

  • Poster child for Arab democracy, Tunisia is also big source of recruits for ISIS

Today, Tunisia stands as the great Arab hope for democracy, the possible light in a region where the other Arab Spring countries have descended into civil war or military dictatorship.

Its parliamentary election this week — the second since the initial revolt — was notable for its transparency, and saw the more secular Nidaa Tounes party overtake the Islamist Ennahda party, which had been forced into a bi-partisan, unity government earlier in the year because of a long-running political crisis.

But with the swing of the democratic pendulum now comes the very real problems of governing.

“There are no jobs,” says Ayouni Nasreddine, an unemployed, 28-year-old university graduate who lives here. “That is why the revolution began in Sidi Bouzid. Many men are unemployed and have no money.”

And the Washington Post covers a domestic warning:

Pentagon security agency: Watch out for Islamic State attacks in the U.S.

Recent threats made against U.S. troops by the Islamic State call for vigilance, including varying routes to work, limiting social media activity and hiding Defense Department IDs while in public, according to a new warning from the agency that protects the Pentagon.

The warning was issued Oct. 24, and posted online by the Military Times newspaper chain Wednesday. It was issued by the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, a civilian-run organization in the Defense Department that is responsible for protecting occupants and visitors at the Pentagon and other facilities.

The Pentagon’s security warning referenced threats and recent attacks in Canada, Britain and France, and urges Department of Defense employees to exercise caution.

The latest drone strike from the Associated Press:

Drone strike kills 2 militants in NW Pakistan

Suspected U.S. drone-fired missiles struck a house early on Thursday in a restive tribal region in northwest Pakistan, killing two militants, officials said.

Two intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media, said the missiles hit a house in Azam Warsak village in the South Waziristan tribal region.

The house, owned by a local tribesman, Ashraf Mahsud, was occupied by Arab militants affiliated with al-Qaida, the officials said but did not provide more details about those killed or the airstrike itself. Mahsud, who is known to be associated with Uzbek militants operating in other parts of the region, was not at the house at the time, the officials said.

According to one of the two officials, who is based in Wana, the main town of South Waziristan, most of the al-Qaida-linked foreign militants have left the tribal regions but some are still hiding in inaccessible pockets in the area.

From El País, citing the Bush doctrine in Spain:

Military court drops prosecution of soldiers who beat Iraqi prisoners

  • Judges suggest inmates may not have been protected by Geneva Conventions

A military court has decided it will no longer pursue the prosecution of five soldiers who were under scrutiny for allegedly abusing two prisoners at the Spanish base in Diwaniya, Iraq in 2004.

The servicemen, who are all current or former members of the elite military unit known as La Legión, were facing between 10 and 25 years in prison if found guilty, according to the Military Penal Code.

The case came to light in March 2013 when EL PAÍS released video footage showing three soldiers kicking two defenseless men inside a cell, under the watchful eyes of three other soldiers.

The suspects were a captain who now works at the National Intelligence Center (CNI), two corporals – one of whom is still with La Legión and the other with the Civil Guard – and two Civil Guards who were legionnaires at the time.

In a surprising interpretation, the court states that the Geneva Conventions on the protection of prisoners of war “in no way extends to terrorists” and that the victims of this particular crime could, in fact, be “the three alleged terrorists” who were transferred to the Diwaniya base on January 27, 2004 and thought to be involved in the mortar attack against Tegucigalpa Base, a US installation in Iraq.

The idea that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to alleged terrorists is nothing new. The doctrine was applied by former US president George W. Bush to justify the detention center in Guantánamo (Cuba). The US administration considered detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan “illegal enemy combatants” rather than prisoners, thus denying them the rights encoded in the conventions.

CBC News covers a high profile hack:

White House cyberattack confirmed by National Security Council

  • Officials declined to say who was suspected of launching attack

An attack by hackers on a White House computer network earlier this month was considered so sensitive that only a small group of senior congressional leaders were initially notified about it, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

The officials said the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives and the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, collectively known as the “Gang of Eight,” were told last week of the cyberattack, which had occurred several days earlier.

Security experts said this limited group would normally be informed about ultra-secret intelligence operations and notifying them of a computer breach in this way was unusual.

Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said, “Consistent with sensitive intelligence matters, the director of the FBI notified congressional leadership and the chairs and ranking members of the intelligence committees.”

And from the Washington Post, a verdict:

Murky Pentagon contract to build silencers ends in guilty verdicts

A Navy intelligence official and a California hot-rod mechanic were found guilty Wednesday on federal conspiracy charges stemming from a mysterious scheme to manufacture hundreds of AK-47 rifle silencers for a secret military project.

Lee M. Hall, a civilian Navy intelligence official at the Pentagon, and Mark S. Landersman, the mechanic, were convicted of conspiring to build 349 untraceable silencers — without a firearms license — and shipping them across state lines for a sensitive mission that was never fully explained in court.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema, who delivered the verdicts after bench trials in Alexandria, said she was unconvinced by defense attorneys’ assertions that the silencers were needed for a clandestine purpose and were necessarily obtained outside of normal channels.

Another drone story from Deutsche Welle:

France investigates mystery drones over nuclear plants

France has launched an investigation into unidentified drones spotted over several of its nuclear plants. The incident has reignited the debate about nuclear safety.

Unidentified drones seen over several of France’s nuclear reactors in recent weeks prompted the French government to launch an investigation on Thursday.

“Measures are being taken to know what these drones are and neutralize them,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told France Info Radio.

According to the state electricity company EDF, the unmanned aircraft were spotted over seven nuclear plants across the country between October 5th and October 20th, without any impact on the plants’ safety or functioning.

It is not known who was behind the mysterious flights. Aircraft are not permitted to fly within a 5-kilometer (3-mile) radius and an altitude of 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) over nuclear plants.

Aspirational from Jiji Press:

U.N. Panel Adopts Japan-Led Resolution on Nuclear Abolition

The U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee on Wednesday adopted a Japanese-led resolution confirming U.N. member states’ “determination” to take “united action” for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

The U.N. panel on disarmament approved the resolution by a vote of 163 to one, with 14 abstentions. Among the proponents were the United States, Britain and France, while such nations as Russia, China, India and Pakistan abstained. The only dissident was North Korea.

The First Committee adopted such a resolution for the 21st straight year. A record 116 countries, including Japan, the United States and Britain, jointly sponsored the latest resolution, Japanese officials said.

Panopticon on the march from Al Jazeera America:

With FBI biometric database, ‘what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas’

  • Agency officials defend police militarization and urge cops to adopt sophisticated technology to help identify suspects

The FBI has invested considerable energy in recent months in marketing a massive new biometric database to local cops, whom the agency will rely on to help feed it billions of fingerprints, palm prints, mug shots, iris scans and images of scars, tattoos and other identifiers.

But it took senior FBI consultant Peter Fagan just nine words this week to capture the ambitious scope of the agency’s aims with the new system, which is gradually replacing traditional fingerprint identification with facial recognition and other biometric identifier technology.

“What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas anymore,” Fagan told a roomful of police executives at the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Orlando on Tuesday.

He said that reaching the FBI’s goal of better tracking criminal suspects from town to town depends on local cops’ ability to adopt increasingly sophisticated new technologies and to share their data with federal law enforcement. He urged police to begin to “pack the record[s]” by collecting as many high-quality biometric identifiers from arrested criminal suspects as possible.

And the National Journal covers the QT:

The FBI’s Secret House Meeting to Get Access to Your iPhone

  • The administration argues that encryption is making it difficult for police to catch dangerous criminals

The Obama administration is ramping up its campaign to force technology companies to help the government spy on their users.

FBI and Justice Department officials met with House staffers this week for a classified briefing on how encryption is hurting police investigations, according to staffers familiar with the meeting.

The briefing included Democratic and Republican aides for the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, the staffers said. The meeting was held in a classified room, and aides are forbidden from revealing what was discussed.

It’s unclear whether the FBI is planning a similar briefing for Senate aides.

From the Intercept, imagine that!:

Secret Manuals Show the Spyware Sold to Despots and Cops Worldwide

When Apple and Google unveiled new encryption schemes last month, law enforcement officials complained that they wouldn’t be able to unlock evidence on criminals’ digital devices. What they didn’t say is that there are already methods to bypass encryption, thanks to off-the-shelf digital implants readily available to the smallest national agencies and the largest city police forces — easy-to-use software that takes over and monitors digital devices in real time, according to documents obtained by The Intercept.

We’re publishing in full, for the first time, manuals explaining the prominent commercial implant software “Remote Control System,” manufactured by the Italian company Hacking Team. Despite FBI director James Comey’s dire warnings about the impact of widespread data scrambling — “criminals and terrorists would like nothing more,” he declared — Hacking Team explicitly promises on its website that its software can “defeat encryption.”

The manuals describe Hacking Team’s software for government technicians and analysts, showing how it can activate cameras, exfiltrate emails, record Skype calls, log typing, and collect passwords on targeted devices. They also catalog a range of pre-bottled techniques for infecting those devices using wifi networks, USB sticks, streaming video, and email attachments to deliver viral installers. With a few clicks of a mouse, even a lightly trained technician can build a software agent that can infect and monitor a device, then upload captured data at unobtrusive times using a stealthy network of proxy servers, all without leaving a trace. That, at least, is what Hacking Team’s manuals claim as the company tries to distinguish its offerings in the global marketplace for government hacking software.

And they’re surprised? Via the Washington Post:

ICE twice breached privacy policy with license-plate database

After the Department of Homeland Security canceled a plan for broad law enforcement access to a national license-plate tracking system in February, officials established a policy that required similar plans be vetted by department privacy officers to ensure they do not violate Americans’ civil liberties.

Two months later, however, officials with DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency bypassed the privacy office in purchasing a one-year subscription for a commercially run national database for its Newark field office, according to public contract data and department officials. In June, ICE breached the policy again by approving a similar subscription for its Houston field office. The database contains more than 2.5 billion records.

The policy was created after Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who oversees ICE, canceled a solicitation that could have given ICE field offices across the country — more than 12,000 personnel — access to a national license-plate database.

From CNN, down and in:

Undercover sting: FBI agents posed as Internet repairmen

In sting operation last July, undercover FBI agents gained access to a hotel suite by disabling the hotel’s Internet, and then posing as Internet repair technicians.

Now one of the suspects who was charged in the sting is crying foul.

At Caesar’s Palace, a casino hotel on the Strip in Las Vegas, FBI agents deliberately cut off the Internet for a suite used by Paul Phua, a high-stakes gambler. Then, they showed up at the suite and made a bogus service call.

On their undercover video, you can hear the imposters asking their targets what the trouble is.

BuzzFeed covers dismay:

Senator Leahy Criticizes FBI For Creating Fake News Story

The letter comes after agents created a fake Associated Press article to nab a suspected school bomber in Seattle in 2007. This is the latest in a series of incidents in which cops have been criticized for pretending to be someone else.

Senator Patrick Leahy isn’t happy with feds pretending to be journalists online — even if they are going after dangerous suspects.

On Thursday, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to review “all techniques involving federal law enforcement officials impersonating others without their consent.”

Leahy’s letter comes just days after the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation created a fake Associated Press article, as part of a 2007 operation to catch a potential school bomber.

After the jump, a Ferguson hack, and a massive hack of industrial vulnerabilities, malware in your magazine, credit card data theft refined, on to Mexico and those missing students starting with a violent protest at a gubernatorial manse, a presidential meeting fail, a mayoral resignation, global attention, and a parallel protest in Washington, violent dissent in Burkina Faso, an ominous declaration from Beijing, island-building by China and Vietnam in disputed waters, a Korean court hits a Japanese corporation with wartime reparations, and a French crackdown on creepy clowns. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Toxins, pests, fracking, nukes


First up, plastic perils from Environmental Health News:

Plastics chemical linked to changes in baby boys’ genitals

Boys exposed in the womb to high levels of a chemical found in vinyl products are born with slightly altered genital development, according to research published today.

The study of nearly 200 Swedish babies is the first to link the chemical di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) to changes in the development of the human male reproductive tract.

Previous studies of baby boys in three countries found that a similar plastics chemical, DEHP, was associated with the same type of changes in their genitalia.

Less is known about the reproductive risks of DiNP, a chemical which scientists say may be replacing DEHP in many products such as vinyl toys, flooring and packaging. In mice, high levels block testosterone and alter testicular development.

“Our data suggest that this substitute phthalate may not be safer than the chemical it is replacing,” wrote the researchers, led by Carl-Gustaf Bornehag at Sweden’s Karlstad University, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

From the Pump Handle, a needed challenge:

Lawsuits challenge EPA’s approval of new herbicide

Despite substantial public opposition and the “grave concerns” of about 50 members of Congress and significant unanswered questions about human and environmental health impacts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a new herbicide called Enlist Duo for use on genetically engineered corn and soybeans in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. EPA, which says it has approved Enlist Duo “to manage the problem of resistant weeds” is now considering approving Enlist Duo for use in ten more states: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota.

Immediately following the EPA announcement, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed suit in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to block the registration of the new weed killer. A week later, on October 22nd, a coalition of farmers and environmental organizations – the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group, Earthjustice, Pesticide Action Network North America, Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Biological Diversity – filed suit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on behalf of their membership in the six Midwestern states  where the herbicide would be used. They are also seeking to block the EPA’s approval of Enlist Duo. Both lawsuits contend that the EPA failed to adequately assess the herbicide’s impacts on human health and wildlife, including imperiled monarch butterflies.

Manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, Enlist Duo combines glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup, the most commonly used herbicide in the US – with what’s called a choline salt of 2,4-D – the country’s third most widely used herbicide. Enlist Duo would be used on corn and soybean seeds genetically engineered to withstand this herbicide combo. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved these seeds last month. The aim of Enlist Duo is to tackle weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate that is now used on about 94 percent of the corn and about 89 percent of the soybeans planted in the US. The new seeds have been engineered to resist 2,4-D as well as glyphosate. A DowAgro Sciences press release calls the EPA’s approval of Enlist Duo, “a true victory for farmers” now grappling with glyphosate-resistant weeds across tens of millions of acres of American farmland.

From Global Times, trading one problem for another in China:

Eco-concerns as city tackles mosquitoes in dengue fight

“Cherish lives, including those of mosquitoes,” Wu Mingliang, chief engineer of Guangzhou Huicheng Pest Control Company, told the Global Times.

With 20 years of experience in controlling mosquito populations, Wu has bemoaned the overuse of pesticides for an outbreak of dengue fever in South China’s Guangdong Province in September.

A total of 41,827 dengue cases were reported in Guangdong as of Wednesday, an increase of around 20 times over the previous year. More than 80 percent of all cases were detected in Guangzhou, the provincial capital.

This year’s outbreak is believed to be the worst in two decades, the Xinhua News Agency reported on October 6. Six deaths were reported in Guangdong.

Dengue, also referred to as “breakbone fever” for its characteristic symptoms of severe joint and muscle pain, is a mosquito-borne disease.

The Independent covers a real alien invasion:

Deadly fungus killing British newts after spread from east Asia

The international trade in pet newts and salamanders has spread a deadly skin fungus from east Asia to Europe, posing a further threat to the endangered great-crested newt of Britain, scientists said.

A previously unknown fungus called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans was first discovered last year and a survey of more than 5,000 amphibians across the world has revealed its global spread from its native Asia.

Scientists believe the pet trade has helped the fungus to spread from Thailand, Vietnam, China and Japan to Europe, where it has already caused the collapse of fire salamanders in the Netherlands.

From the Pacific Standard, inadvertent disclosure:

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

  • An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed

When billionaire Chris Cline’s company bought an option to mine a swath of northern Wisconsin in 2010, the company touted the project’s potential to bring up to 700 well-paid jobs to a hard-pressed part of the state.

But the Florida-based company wanted something in return for its estimated $1.5 billion investment—a change to Wisconsin law to speed up the iron mining permit process.

So, Cline officials courted state legislators and hired lobbyists. And, unbeknownst to Wisconsin voters and lawmakers, the company waged a more covert campaign, secretly funding a non-profit advocacy group that battered opponents of the legislation online and on the airwaves.

Fracking the air with Vice News:

Here’s What Fracking Is Doing To Air Quality

Dangerously high levels of known carcinogens around wells using the controversial technique of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, could pose serious health risks to nearby communities, according to a study published in Environmental Health.

“These aren’t just anecdotal stories about how people are being affected by this industry,” Ruth Breech, co-author of the report and program director at Global Community Monitoring (GCM), told Vice News. GCM trains people how to monitor environmental quality.

The study found that several chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde, and benzene, frequently exceeded federally recommended levels. In some cases, hydrogen sulfide samples were 90-66,000 times higher than recommended safety levels, while formaldehyde was 30-240 higher and benzene, an EPA classified carcinogen, 35-770,000 times higher.

Exposure to benzene increases the risk of leukemia, along with dangerous respiratory problems. Hydrogen sulfide can cause short and long term neurological, upper respiratory, and blood-related symptoms and formaldehyde is known to cause cancer.

More fracking questions from InsideClimate News:

Pennsylvania Congressman Launches Frack Waste Investigation as Concern Rises

The move follows a report by ICN and the Center for Public Integrity that documented how and why toxic oil and gas waste is virtually unregulated.

In a reflection of growing national concern about the disposal of oil and gas waste, a Pennsylvania congressman launched an investigation Wednesday into the way his state regulates the discarding of the unwanted, often toxic material.

Rep. Matthew Cartwright, a first-term Democrat from eastern Pennsylvania, wants to know more about how the contaminated leftovers from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are regulated.

In an email exchange with InsideClimate News, Cartwright said “preliminary reports indicate there are big gaps in protections and oversight that the federal government might have to fill.”

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:

TEPCO to postpone nuclear fuel removal at Fukushima No. 1 reactor

A series of delays will push back by years the start of operations to remove spent and melted nuclear fuel from the No. 1 reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, sources said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the central government were expected to announce the new schedule at an Oct. 30 meeting of the team in charge of handling the decommissioning process and the radioactive water accumulating at the plant.

Under the original plan, TEPCO was to start removing spent fuel from the No. 1 reactor building in fiscal 2017 and begin lifting out the melted fuel as early as fiscal 2020.

Under the new schedule, spent fuel removal will start in fiscal 2019, while the melted fuel operations will begin in fiscal 2025, according to the sources.

A recruiting drove from the Asahi Shimbun:

Anti-nuclear protesters try to fire up corporate workers in Tokyo

Men and women in business attire thronged the Shinbashi district of Tokyo on Oct. 29 to encourage fellow office workers to protest against moves to restart the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan.

The municipal assembly and the mayor of Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, gave the green light a day earlier to restarting the two-reactor Sendai facility operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. It is the first plant to win such approval under new safety requirements since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture in 2011.

Michihiko Senda, a 48-year-old company worker in Tokyo who helped organize the rally, said it was aimed at garnering like-minded white-collar workers who he believes should be thinking about the issue.

And to close, more troubles from NHK WORLD:

Completion of spent nuclear fuel plant delayed

A Japanese nuclear fuel company has decided to postpone the completion of a facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to March 2016 due to ongoing rigorous government screening.

It is the 22nd time work has been delayed at the facility in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan. The problem-prone plant has yet to go into operation after more than 20 years of construction work.

The president of Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited, Kenji Kudo, informed Aomori Prefecture Vice Governor Ikuo Sasaki of the latest decision to postpone completion on Thursday.

EbolaWatch: Politics, quarantines, Africa


But we begin with another aspect of the crisis from the World Food Program:

Ebonomics: The Price Of Keeping The Ebola Crisis From Becoming A Hunger Crisis

Program notes:

WFP’s Chief Economist Arif Husain visits West Africa to analyse how the outbreak affects the overall economy, particularly the food sector, and explains what types of assistance WFP is offering to different communities depending on their needs.

From Reuters, expectations:

Americans may still see some Ebola cases, Obama says

President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that Americans may continue to see individual cases of Ebola in the United States until the outbreak in West Africa is contained.

Obama said it was essential the United States and other countries work to stop the Ebola outbreak at its source in Africa.

Until the outbreak is stopped, he said, “we may still continue to see individual cases in America in the weeks and months ahead.”

“We can’t hermetically seal ourselves off,” he said at the White House.

From the Associated Press, impasse:

Maine in standoff with nurse over Ebola safeguards

Insisting she is perfectly healthy, nurse Kaci Hickox again defied the state’s Ebola quarantine Thursday by taking a bike ride with her boyfriend, and Maine health authorities struggled to reach a compromise that would limit her contact with others.

Hickox, 33, stepped out of her home on the remote northern edge of Maine for the second day in a row, practically daring authorities to make good on their threat to go to court to have her confined against her will. On Wednesday evening, she went outside for an impromptu news conference and shook a reporter’s outstretched hand.

By evening, it was unclear whether the state had gone to court or whether there had been any progress toward ending the standoff that has become the nation’s most closely watched clash between personal freedom and fear of Ebola. The governor’s office and Hickox’s lawyers would not comment.

More form the Los Angeles Times:

Maine fails to reach quarantine compromise with nurse Kaci Hickox

It’s the type of battle made for flinty New England, where personal liberty vs. the government’s interpretation of public good has been a frequent theme. A nurse, hailed by some as a hero for helping treat Ebola patients in Africa, has defiantly rejected the power of Maine officials seeking to quarantine her in the name of protecting the public from a virus that the healthcare worker insists she doesn’t have.

Maine health authorities so far have failed to reach a compromise with nurse Kaci Hickox that would require her to keep her distance from other people. Hickox has personified the closely watched clash between personal freedom and fear of Ebola since she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey last Friday and found herself in quarantine.

Early Thursday, Hickox stepped out of her home in Fort Kent, at the remote northern edge of Maine, and took a bicycle ride with her boyfriend. It was the second time in as many days that Hickox had flouted the state’s rules that she stay away from the public until Nov. 10, the end of the 21-day incubation period for the Ebola virus.

Complications from Reuters:

In U.S. Ebola fight, no two quarantines are quite the same

In the U.S. battle against Ebola, quarantine rules depend on your zip code.

For some it may feel like imprisonment or house arrest. For others it may be more like a staycation, albeit one with a scary and stressful edge.

If they are lucky, the quarantined may get assigned a case worker who can play the role of a personal concierge by buying groceries and running errands. Some authorities are allowing visitors, or even giving those in quarantine permission to take trips outside to walk the dog or take a jog.

A month after the first confirmed case of Ebola in the United States, state and local health authorities across the country have imposed a hodgepodge of often conflicting rules.

Politics from CNN:

State Department denies it has a secret plan to admit foreign Ebola patients

The State Department discussed plans to transport non-U.S.citizens infected with Ebola to the United States for medical treatment, but decided to shelve the proposal and insists it was never considered at senior levels.

But Congressional Republicans are seizing on an internal State Department memo outlining a possible joint State-Homeland Security department program to provide Ebola care at U.S. hospitals for non-Americans. They say the memo is evidence the Administration was working on a new plan but wasn’t being transparent about it.

The memo, obtained by CNN, is labeled “SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED – PREDECISIONAL” and drafted by State Department officials. It recommends that the two federal agencies come up with a system to admit into the United States non-citizens “as long as they are otherwise eligible for medical evacuation from the Ebola affected countries and for entry in the United States.” It outlines the steps the U.S. government would need to take to contract with a commercial aviation company that specializes in bio containment. It also mentions other non-governmental agencies the U.S. is working with to assist with medevacing health care workers out of West Africa to European countries.

More of the political from the Washington Post:

Politicians fueling Ebola fear before midterms

Program notes:

Polling shows the public is worried about an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. — and politicians on both sides of the aisle are feeding into the fear, just weeks away from the midterm elections.

Strategizing from the Associated Press:

Nations in Americas join in battle against Ebola

Countries from around the Americas have agreed to work together in their response to Ebola, adopting similar procedures in such things as the establishment of epidemiological monitoring centers and coordinating the transport of biological samples.

About 200 epidemiology experts and health officials from 24 countries, including the United States and Canada, met in Havana on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss their response to the epidemic.

A document from the meeting lays out “lines of action” that the countries say they’ll follow to combat the disease.

And a walkout from the Contra Costa Times:

National Nurses Union plans strike to demand greater protections against Ebola

Stepping up demands to protect nurses from Ebola, the national nurses’s union said Thursday that nurses coast-to-coast are planning a National Day of Action on Nov. 12 that includes strikes at 21 Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California.

Zenei Cortez, co-president of the California Nurses Association, which is part of National Nurses United, said Kaiser nurses plan to strike Nov. 11-12.

When it comes to Ebola, “the message that nurses have been getting around the nation is that we are expendable,” said Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United and president of the California Nurses Association. “At first there was shock, then anger — and now we want action.

“They don’t have the appropriate training and protection,” she said of nurses in her organization and nationwide, urging that hospitals provide nurses with hazmat suits, proper protective equipment and training to safeguard against Ebola. “These are human beings. We’re talking about our nurses that are heroes and take care of this country.”

Genetics from the Japan Times:

Ebola symptoms may hinge on gene functions: U.S., Japanese researchers

Ebola’s symptoms may differ depending on whether certain genes in the victim are active or not, a U.S.-based research team said in a paper published in Science magazine on Thursday.

The findings from experiments on mice are likely to help understand why Ebola manifests itself differently from one case to another. They may also aid the treatment of critical patients, the researchers said.

Led by Michael Katze of the University of Washington, the research team includes Japanese scientist Atsushi Okumura and members of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

More from the London Telegraph:

Ebola outbreak: Ebola may not be a deadly disease for everyone, scientists find

  • Researchers have found that natural immunity may exist to Ebola, after discovering that some animals get over the disease quickly, without major symptoms

Ebola may not be a deadly disease for everyone, after scientists discovered that some people are likely to be naturally immune to the virus.

A study in mice showed that genetic variations govern how ill victims will get after contracting the disease.

Some completely resist the disease, while others suffer only a moderate illness. However many still succumb to bleeding, organ failure and shock.

The research was conducted in a highly secure, state-of-the-art bio lab in Montana, US.

Researchers found that all mice lost weight in the first few days after infection. However, nearly one in five of the mice not only survived, but also fully regained their lost weight within two weeks.

The Los Angeles Times covers the seriocomic:

When an Ebola joke becomes a crime

An Ohio man was arrested and jailed after he told a dealer at a Cleveland casino that he was there, ha ha, to keep his distance from his ex, who had come back from Africa with Ebola.

The charge against Emanuel Smith:  “felony inducing panic.” Smith is alleged to have broken a law that in part bans “initiating or circulating a report of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime or other catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning is false.”

In Ohio, if a crack about Ebola causes a panic or costs a business money, you could face criminal charges.

Smith’s ex-wife, of course, didn’t have Ebola, but after the remark was reported to management, the casino cleared out the pit where he’d been gambling, which meant lost revenue, and according to the law in Ohio, the more money is lost by the “panic,”  the more serious the felony.

Another joke gone bad from RT:

‘Ebola’ coffee cup puts plane on lockdown at Dublin Airport

An unidentified man who scribbled an Ebola warning on a cup of coffee caused quite a stir on a Dublin-bound flight. After putting the plane on lockdown for nearly an hour in the Irish capital, authorities determined that it was all a hoax.

The incident occurred on Air Lingus Flight EI 433, which had set off from Milan on Thursday. Upon arriving in Dublin, passengers were held onboard for roughly 50 minutes until paramedics were able to investigate the matter.

“Following a minor security incident on board an Aer Lingus flight from Milan to Dublin, passengers were held on board the aircraft after it landed at Dublin Airport just before 1pm today,” a spokesperson for Dublin Airport Authority told the Irish Independent.

From USA TODAY, harkening to the days of the “Dark Continent”:

Ebola fears spark claims of racism in Europe

Italian mothers in suburban Rome recently organized a petition drive to keep a 3-year-old black girl from attending kindergarten after her family traveled to Uganda — a country thousands of miles away from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

In Germany, soccer fans chanted “Ebola, Ebola” when Charles Atsina, a black player from Ghana, came onto the field to play.

Two British landlords refused to rent an apartment to a black Sierra Leone radio newscaster, Amara Bangura, who was moving to England to study. The landlords feared he might bring the deadly virus with him.

As Americans debate quarantining health workers returning from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone or banning travelers from those countries — as Australia has already done — fears of Ebola have also gripped Europe. And that fear is giving some people license to vent racist attitudes.

Entry not denied from Science:

Ebola researchers still welcome at European infectious diseases meetings

As ScienceInsider reported yesterday, the state of Louisiana has told researchers to stay away from the world’s biggest tropical medicine meeting next week if they have been in contact with Ebola patients in the past 21 days—or even if they’ve just visited Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone, the three nations where the epidemic is raging. Many scientists object to the policy; the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which organizes the event, disagrees but accepts Louisiana’s decision, says incoming president Christopher Plowe.

But Ebola is a hot topic at many special sessions and late breakers these days. Are scientists who may have been exposed to the virus still welcome at other infectious diseases meetings? Here’s a quick sample.

People returning from West Africa are definitely expected, and are welcome, at the European Scientific Conference on Applied Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, held next week in Stockholm. Sweden currently does not have travel restrictions for people coming from affected countries, says a representative for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which organizes the event.

From Voice of America, a map of countries placing some restrictions on trvel from the hot zone:

BLOG Ebola travel

After a ban, back in the hot zone from FrontPageAfrica:

Back to Ebola Zone – Washington Post Duo –DuCille and Bernstein Return

Just days after he was barred from a teaching workshop class at Syracuse University over fears that he may have been infected with the deadly Ebola virus following his recent assignment to Liberia, Washington Post Photographer Michel duCille is heading back to the epicenter of the outbreak. DuCille, along with health reporter Lenny Bernstein will arrive in Monrovia Friday for a second assignment stint since the outbreak in March.

Michel DuCille, a three-time Pulitzer prize winning photographer received the shock of his life recently when he was disinvited by the university over fears that he had Ebola after covering the virus outbreak in Liberia, even though he is symptom-free and has been in the United States for more than the recommended incubation period. FrontPageAfrica’s Newsroom Chief Wade Williams received similar news the same day when she too was disinvited from a previously-arranged speaking engagement at the University of Georgia.

DuCille did not hide his disgust of the University’s decision to disinvite him when he told Time: “I am disappointed in the level of journalism at Syracuse, and I am angry that they missed a great teaching opportunity. Instead, they have decided to jump in with the mass hysteria. They missed a great teaching opportunity here for the students; to show them how to report the facts and practice good journalism Instead they went the alarmist route.”

Asian readiness from Reuters:

In Guangdong, nervy Chinese ramp up Ebola watch

Chinese authorities have identified the southern province of Guangdong, home to Asia’s biggest African population, as a frontline in their efforts to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from entering mainland China.

The province bordering Hong Kong has proven susceptible to infectious diseases in the past, shouldering a large share of SARS and bird flu cases, prompting local authorities to take no chances with Ebola.

Local authorities say they have expanded testing procedures at provincial entry ports and 27 hospitals have been designated to handle possible Ebola cases. Travelers arriving from Ebola-affected nations must leave their contact details.

“The central government has asked Guangzhou to strengthen preventative measures,” Mao Qun’an, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, told Reuters. “Of course in Guangzhou, there are many people from outside China’s borders.”

And another warning from the Japan Times:

Chinese risk of Ebola outbreak ‘not rocket science’: expert

A scientist who helped to discover the Ebola virus says he is concerned that the deadly disease could spread to China, given the large numbers of Chinese workers traveling to and from Africa.

Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said Thursday it’s not “rocket science” that with many exchanges between the two regions the disease could spread.

“The concern I have is that I don’t think you can really stop people from traveling. These patients will show up in any country in the world, but China is quite vulnerable,” Piot said.

“The issue is: What is the quality, the standard of infection control? In public hospitals in China, the ones that I’ve visited, the level of infection control is very poor,” he said.

Unprepared from NHK WORLD:

Hospitals in Japan not fully prepared for Ebola

An NHK survey shows that most hospitals in Japan designated to treat Ebola patients are not fully prepared.

NHK surveyed 45 designated medical institutions across the country, and received responses from 39. Regarding preparedness to accept Ebola patients, 32 hospitals, or 82 percent, said they are not fully prepared.

As for the reason, 75 percent cited insufficient training for doctors, nurses and other health workers. 53 percent said they have not yet carried out drills for accepting Ebola patients. 38 percent cited a lack of supplies such as protective suits to prevent secondary infections of health workers.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore takes it all the way:

North Korea orders Ebola quarantine on all foreigners

Britain, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, issued a travel advisory on its government website on Thursday (Oct 30), detailing the quarantine order which was apparently issued to all foreign missions in the North Korean capital

North Korea has announced it intends to quarantine all foreigners entering the country for 21 days, no matter what their country of origin, as a measure against the spread of the Ebola virus.

Britain, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, issued a travel advisory on its government website on Thursday (Oct 30), detailing the quarantine order which was apparently issued to all foreign missions in the North Korean capital.

According to the advisory, travellers to North Korea from regions or countries that Pyongyang considers affected by the Ebola virus, will be quarantined for 21 days “in a government-appointed hotel under medical supervision”. Travellers from any other country or region will also be quarantined in hotels appointed by the organisation hosting their visit.

After the jump, on to Africa and more World Bank loans for the hot zone, Chinese military help, Nigerian helpers bankrolled, a prescription of trust, and a sad colonial heritage, and a funereal solution prescribed, on to Sierra Leone and cremations enforced, a plea for help from a Japanese volunteer, scenes from a crisis center, a plea to end air embargoes, a campaign against misinformation, and official optimism, then on to Liberia and cremation confusion, waiting in limbo, and the plight of a the multiply victimized, thence to Guinea and ravaged agriculture, Gambia next and actors enlisted for prevention, plus a warning form the World Bank. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Who’s the most satisfied?


From People in Emerging Markets Catch Up to Advanced Economies in Life Satisfaction [PDF], a new report from the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Happy

InSecurityWatch: Robots, terror, hacks, drones


And a lot more.

We begin with a threat to jobs, one that will only get worse and lead to yet more global instability. First, from TheLocal.ch:

Nestlé to ‘employ’ robot clerks in Japan stores

Swiss-based food giant Nestlé says its Japan unit is hiring 1,000 robots as sales clerks at stores across the country.

The first batch of the robots — a chatty humanoid called Pepper — will report to work by the end of this year at outlets that sell coffee capsules and home espresso machines.

“From December, they will start selling coffee machines for us at big retail stores,” said Nestlé Japan spokeswoman Miki Kano.

“We are sure that our customers will enjoy shopping and being entertained by robots.”

More from PCMagazine:

Lowe’s Hires Robots for the Holidays

Lowe’s is hiring some new workers for the holiday season, but they’re not human.

The hardware store just announced plans to test customer service robots, which will be able to help you locate items in the store, and share real-time information about product promotions and inventory. Dubbed OSHbot, the robots can speak multiple languages and remotely connect with expert employees in other locations to answer project-related questions.

Unfortunately, the robots won’t yet be making an appearance at Lowe’s stores nationwide. Lowe’s will deploy two of the bots at its Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, Calif. to see whether customers and employees embrace the technology.

The OSHbots roll right up to you, say hello, and ask what you need. They also feature 3D-scanning technology, so you can bring in a spare part, scan it under a 3D-sensing camera, and OSHbot will identify the product, tell you how much it costs, and then guide you to where you can find it on store shelves.

And another robotic development that’s particularly spooky, via United Press International:

Israeli company showcases manned/unmanned patrol boat

  • A patrol boat for homeland security applications that can operate autonomously or by personnel on board is being highlighted by Israel Aerospace Industries at an exhibition in France

A manned/unmanned patrol boat for homeland security and other applications is being highlighted in France this week by Israel Aerospace Industries.

The vessel being shown at the Euronaval International Naval Defense and Maritime Exhibition is the Katana, which the company launched earlier this year.

The Katana can operate autonomously through the use of an advanced command-and-control station or controlled by personnel on board.

On to the crisis of the year, via BBC News:

Islamic State crisis: Peshmerga fighters head to Turkey

Iraqi Kurdish forces are travelling to Turkey, from where they plan to cross into Syria to battle Islamic State (IS) militants besieging the town of Kobane.

Officials said a plane carrying 150 Peshmerga had left Irbil. Their heavy weapons will be transported by land.

Turkey agreed to the deployment last week after refusing to allow Turkish Kurds to cross the border to fight.

Earlier, the Turkish prime minister rejected claims that he was not doing enough to end the jihadists’ assault.

More from Reuters:

How the West buys ‘conflict antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria (and funds terror)

“Many antique collectors unwillingly support terrorists like Islamic State,” Michel van Rijn, one of the most successful smugglers of antique artifacts in the past century, told German broadcaster Das Erste this month.

And smuggling is booming in Iraq and Syria right now. In Iraq, 4,500 archaeological sites, some of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, are reportedly controlled by Islamic State and are exposed to looting. Iraqi intelligence claim that Islamic State alone has collected as much as $36 million from the sales of artifacts, some of them thousands of years old. The accounts data have not been released for verification but, whatever the exact number is, the sale of conflict antiquities to fund military and paramilitary activity is real and systematic.

Grainy video from soldiers fighting for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime at Palmyra, an ancient capital in what is now Syria, shows delicate grave reliefs of the dead, ripped out, gathered up and loaded into the back of their truck. The soldiers present the heads of decapitated statues to the camera. Other stolen Palmyrene treasures were exposed by an undercover reporter for The Sunday Times. Sculptures, pillar carvings and glass vessels were found to be on sale for knock-down prices in Beirut, Lebanon. Roman vases had been robbed from graves and were being sold by the box.

And this from Der Spiegel:

Interview with an Islamic State Recruiter: ‘Democracy Is For Infidels’

  • How does Islamic State think? How do its followers see the world? SPIEGEL ONLINE met up with an Islamic State recruiter in Turkey to hear about the extremist group’s vision for the future.

The conditions laid out by the Islamist are strict: no photos and no audio recording. He also keeps his real name secret as well as his country of origin, and is only willing to disclose that he is Arab. His English is polished and he speaks with a British accent.

He calls himself Abu Sattar, appears to be around 30 years old and wears a thick, black beard that reaches down to his chest. His top lip is shaved as is his head and he wears a black robe that stretches all the way to the floor. He keeps a copy of the Koran, carefully wrapped in black cloth, in his black leather bag.

Abu Sattar recruits fighters for the terrorist militia Islamic State in Turkey. Radical Islamists travel to Turkey from all over the world to join the “holy war” in Iraq or Syria and Abu Sattar examines their motives and the depth of their religious beliefs. Several Islamic State members independently recommended Abu Sattar as a potential interview partner — as someone who could explain what Islamic State stands for. Many see him as something like an ideological mentor.

And on a related note, via Reuters:

U.S. boosts security at government buildings, citing calls by terrorist groups

The United States is stepping up security at government buildings in Washington and other major cities in response to “calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Tuesday.

“Given world events, prudence dictates a heightened vigilance in the protection of U.S. government installations and our personnel,” Johnson said in a statement.

From Reuters, a reminder of an earlier regime change venture:

Libya near ‘point of no return’, U.N. says as fighting toll rises

Factional warfare in Libya is pushing the oil producer “very close to the point of no return”, the U.N. special envoy to the country said on Tuesday with efforts to bring about a ceasefire and political dialogue showing no result.

The death toll from two weeks of street fighting between pro-government forces and Islamist armed groups in the eastern city of Benghazi has risen to 170, medics said. Seven people were killed alone on Tuesday, 15 on Monday.

The North African country has had two governments and parliaments since a militia group from the western city of Misrata seized the capital Tripoli in August, setting up its own cabinet and assembly.

From BuzzFeed, can you say “Hubris”?:

Blackwater Founder Blames “Anti-War Left” For The Convictions Of Guards Who Killed Iraqi Civilians

“In the Vietnam War, the anti-war left went after the troops and this time they went after contractors and Blackwater represented anything they love to hate.”

The founder and former CEO of Blackwater Erick Prince blamed the anti-war left Tuesday for the conviction of four former guards for the 2007 shootings of more than 30 Iraqis in Baghdad.

“There’s a lot of politics that surrounds the event,” Prince said on NewsMax TV’s Midpoint. “The government spent tens of millions of dollars after this one case and a lot came after that Nisour Square event.”

“The bureaucratic attack the company withstand because of this. It’s all wrapped into the anger of the Iraq War. In the Vietnam War, the anti-war left went after the troops and this time they went after contractors and Blackwater represented anything they love to hate.”

Panopticon pervasiveness from the Guardian:

GCHQ views data with no warrant, government admits

  • GCHQ’s secret “arrangements” for accessing bulk material revealed in documents submitted to UK surveillance watchdog

British intelligence services can access raw material collected in bulk by the NSA and other foreign spy agencies without a warrant, the government has confirmed for the first time.

GCHQ’s secret “arrangements” for accessing bulk material are revealed in documents submitted to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the UK surveillance watchdog, in response to a joint legal challenge by Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty International. The legal action was launched in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations published by the Guardian and other news organisations last year.

The government’s submission discloses that the UK can obtain “unselected” – meaning unanalysed, or raw intelligence – information from overseas partners without a warrant if it was “not technically feasible” to obtain the communications under a warrant and if it is “necessary and proportionate” for the intelligence agencies to obtain that information.

The rules essentially permit bulk collection of material, which can include communications of UK citizens, provided the request does not amount to “deliberate circumvention” of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which governs much of the UK’s surveillance activities.

And from National Journal, we’ll show you yours if you’ll show us ours:

British Spies Allowed to Access U.S. Data Without a Warrant

Newly released documents from the British government reveal a lack of judicial oversight for how it sifts through communications data collected by the NSA and other foreign governments

British authorities are capable of tapping into bulk communications data collected by other countries’ intelligence services—including the National Security Agency—without a warrant, according to secret government documents released Tuesday.

The agreement between the NSA and Britain’s spy agency, known as Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ, potentially puts the Internet and phone data of Americans in the hands of another country without legal oversight when obtaining a warrant is “not technically feasible.”

The data, once obtained, can be kept for up to two years, according to internal policies disclosed by the British government. GCHQ was forced to reveal that it can request and receive vast quantities of raw, unanalyzed data collected from foreign governments it partners with during legal proceedings in a closed court hearing in a case brought by various international human-rights organizations, including Privacy International, Liberty U.K., and Amnesty International. The suit challenges certain aspects of GCHQ’s surveillance practices.

Threatpost covers the bottom line:

Cyberespionage: ‘This Isn’t a Problem That Can Be Solved’

“This isn’t a problem that can be solved. Don’t think it has a solution,” Joel Brenner, former head of national counterintelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and former senior counsel at the NSA, said in a keynote speech at the Kaspersky Government Cybersecurity Forum here Tuesday. “We are economically interdependent with the Chinese in an extraordinary way.”

Brenner pointed out a number of factors that have hoped lead to the current state of affairs, including the interconnection of virtually every conceivable asset and what he says has been the stasis in defensive thinking and operations in the last 10 years or so.

“If you thought the state of cyber defense had become substantially better in the last ten years, you’d be wrong,” he said. “We’ve been walking backward on cybersecurity for more than a decade and we’ll continue to walk backward unless and until we can address the core issues. The defensive stance needs to change from filter and guard to hunt and kill.”

From the Japan Times, the high price of apocalyptic security:

Imminent U.S. revamp of nuclear weapons, subs and planes is too costly, some say

Over the next 30 years, Washington will have to overhaul or replace much of its nuclear arsenal, an effort that experts say could cost as much as a trillion dollars. The problems will lie in choosing what is truly indispensable, and in how to pay for it.

The congressionally mandated National Defense Panel put it bluntly in a July review of the Pentagon’s defense plans, saying the effort to build a new triad of nuclear bombers, missiles and submarines is “unaffordable” under present budget constraints.

With legislation in 2011 putting in place a decade of budget spending cuts, analysts say the White House will ultimately have to delay some systems, trim others or find more money. Most likely, it will have to do all three.

Gee, they’ve got mail! From the New York Times:

Report Reveals Wider Tracking of Mail in U.S.

In a rare public accounting of its mass surveillance program, the United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations.

The number of requests, contained in a 2014 audit of the surveillance program by the Postal Service’s inspector general, shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax.

The audit, along with interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, offers one of the first detailed looks at the scope of the program, which has played an important role in the nation’s vast surveillance effort since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Kansas City Star’s Lee Judge offers his take on the snail mail “hack”:

BLOG Mailer

And they’re looking for more, via the Guardian:

FBI demands new powers to hack into computers and carry out surveillance

  • Agency requests rule change but civil liberties groups say ‘extremely invasive’ technique amounts to unconstitutional power grab

The FBI is attempting to persuade an obscure regulatory body in Washington to change its rules of engagement that would grant it significant new powers to hack into and carry out surveillance of computers throughout the US and around the world.

Civil liberties groups warn that the proposed rule change amounts to a power grab by the agency that would ride roughshod over strict limits to searches and seizures laid out under the fourth amendment of the US constitution, as well as violating first amendment privacy rights. They have protested that the FBI is seeking to transform its cyber capabilities with minimal public debate and with no congressional oversight.

The regulatory body to which the Department of Justice has applied to make the rule change, the advisory committee on criminal rules, will meet for the first time on November 5 to discuss the issue. The panel will be addressed by a slew of technology experts and privacy advocates concerned about the possible ramifications were the proposals allowed to go into effect next year.

South China Morning Post has the latest plumbing news:

FBI net closing on ‘Edward Snowden-style’ leaker of terror watch-lists

The net is closing on a second “Edward Snowden-style” whistle-blower who has reportedly been identified by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, it emerged yesterday.

Agents had identified an employee of a US contracting firm who was suspected of leaking a US government watch list of terrorists to a journalist linked to Snowden, Yahoo News reported.

Agents had reportedly searched the suspect’s home and a criminal investigation had been opened by prosecutors in the US state of Virginia. However, no one had been arrested or charged, the report said.

It is believed that the suspect was inspired by Snowden.

From the Associated Press, pressing the issue:

AP, Seattle Times object to FBI’s fake news story

The Associated Press and The Seattle Times are objecting after learning that the FBI created a fake news story and website using their names to catch a bomb threat suspect in 2007.

Police in suburban Lacey, near Olympia, sought the FBI’s help as repeated bomb threats prompted a week of evacuations and closures at Timberline High School in June 2007.

After police interviews of potential suspects came up empty, the agency obtained a warrant from a federal magistrate judge to send a “communication” to a social media account associated with the bomb threats, with the idea of tricking the suspect into revealing his location, according to documents obtained by the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The “communication,” which contained a software tool known as a “computer and Internet Protocol address verifier,” turned out to be a link to a phony AP story about the bomb threats posted on a fake Seattle Times webpage. The 15-year-old suspect clicked on the link, revealing his computer’s location and Internet address, and helping agents confirm his identity.

The boy was arrested.

Defense One covers hackery:

NATO’s Take on Cyberspace Law Ruffles China’s Feathers

Recent revelations by a group of security researchers of another China-based hacking group, reportedly more sophisticated than Unit 61398, is likely to set off the usual recriminations and denials, but have very little impact on the U.S.-China bilateral relationship. The Chinese embassy has already responded that “these kinds of reports or allegations are usually fictitious,” a response that Robert Dix, vice president of government affairs for Juniper Networks, colorfully and baldly describes as the Chinese giving “a big middle finger to anybody in the United States that’s tried to out them or point fingers in their direction.”

The report on the group, called Axiom, describes a six-year campaign against companies, journalists, civil society group, academics, and governments, and may preclude any real discussion on cyber issues between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit next week. There was, however, very little chance that their sidebar discussion was going to lead to major progress. The differences between the two sides are deep.

An article that ran last week in the People’s Liberation Army Daily [Chinese] criticizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and efforts to develop the laws of armed conflict in cyberspace shows just how deep the differences are.

And from CNET, most interesting:

People trust NSA more than Google, survey says

  • In a result consistent with previous polling, a new poll has respondents claiming they’re more concerned about Google seeing all their private data than the government

People don’t always say what they think. Especially in business and love.

Please, therefore, consider this question: whom would you trust more with your private data: the NSA, a company like Google, or your mom?

I ask because I’m looking at the results of a survey, conducted between October 9 and12, that asked just that. It asked simple questions, to which its sponsors hoped to get simple answers.

The results went like this. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being “I am shivering uncontrollably with fear”) the idea of Google or a similar concern having access to all your private data got a concerned score of 7.39.

The idea of the NSA having its eyes and hands all over you? 7.06. What about your boss snooping? That merited a mere 6.85. While the notion of your parents knowing it all got a 5.93.

From PandoDaily, another reason to make you hinky about da Google:

You can run, but you can’t hide: Google expands its real-world surveillance system with Google Fit

The company has developed an application that allows Android smartphone owners to collect health-related information in one place. It’s called Google Fit, and besides challenging Apple’s HealthKit service, it also represents Google’s efforts to gather real-world data to complement the information it already has about the digital world.

It’s no longer enough for companies to track someone’s activity across the Web by monitoring their emails, analyzing their browsing history, or keeping tabs on their online searches. All that information now needs to be supplemented with data about what someone’s doing in the real world, whether that’s demonstrated through location tracking or through a health application.

Why else would so many companies rush to help people track their steps, count their calories, or collect other health-related information? It’s not just about making self quantification more convenient for the few self-obsessed consumers who actually use that information. It’s also about increasing the amount of information that can be offered to advertisers — maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but certainly as soon as these companies can get away with it.

From the Daily Dot, can you hear them now?:

Verizon is launching a tech news site that bans stories on U.S. spying

  • Verizon is getting into the news business. What could go wrong?

The most-valuable, second-richest telecommunications company in the world is bankrolling a technology news site called SugarString.com. The publication, which is now hiring its first full-time editors and reporters, is meant to rival major tech websites like Wired and the Verge while bringing in a potentially giant mainstream audience to beat those competitors at their own game.

There’s just one catch: In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString are expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world, two of the biggest issues in tech and politics today.

Unsurprisingly, Verizon is deeply tangled up in both controversies.

After the jump, killing the Fourth Estate with impunity, blood on the newsroom floor, White House hackery, a major hack of a cell-phone-based electronic payment system, millions of Californians lose personal data to hackers, a major malware breach of Gmail Drafts, hacking arrests to come at an amoral media baron’s Old Blighty holding, feds crack down on stadium droners while others drones may carry heart-zappers, cops arm for violence in Ferguson, sending a battlewagon to bust grandpa, On to Mexico and probing for graves in the search for missing Mexican students as more arrests ensue and parents confront a president, a police purge in Venezuela, droning up Down Under as civil rights take a hit, an assassination plot in Bangldesh, on to Hong Kong and pressing the fight, two bizarre tales from North Korea, a call for a purge in a Japanese shrine, and those threatening clowns and trolls of Europe. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: GMOs, Big Ag, oil, and nukes


And lots of nuclear news there is after the jump, including problems in reactor complexes in California and Britain.

We begin with an apocalyptic warning from The Physics arXiv Blog:

Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin, Says Black Swan Author

  • Experts have severely underestimated the risks of genetically modified food, says a group of researchers lead by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In 2012, for example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science declared that genetically modified crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques.

Today, Nassim Nicholas Taleb at New York University and a few pals say that this kind of thinking vastly underestimates the threat posed by genetically modified organisms. “Genetically modified organisms represent a public risk of global harm,” they say. Consequently, this risk should be treated differently from those that only have the potential for local harm. “The precautionary principle should be used to prescribe severe of limits on genetically modified organisms,” they conclude.

Taleb and co begin by making a clear distinction between risks with consequences that are local and those with consequences that have the potential to cause global ruin. When global harm is possible, an action must be avoided unless there is scientific near-certainty that it is safe. This approach is known as the precautionary principle.

Other global ag woes from the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Climate change a “threat multiplier” for farming-dependent states-analysis

Climate change and food insecurity are “threat multipliers”, and 32 countries dependent on farming face an “extreme risk” of conflict or civil unrest in the next 30 years, a global analytics firm said on Wednesday.

Food shortages and rising prices have the potential to worsen political, ethnic, class and religious tensions, the risk advisory firm Maplecroft reported in its annual “Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas (CCERA)”.

Analysts noted that several nations’ military leaders are ahead of their governments in focusing on such risks.

In Nigeria, for instance, the rise of the Muslim insurgency Boko Haram may be linked to population movements caused by a west African drought a decade ago, the UK-based company said.

Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Haiti, Ethiopia, Philippines, Central African Republic and Eritrea face the highest level of risk, the Maplecroft report said.

And controversy ensues, via Science:

A disagreement over climate-conflict link heats up

A debate among scientists over climate change and conflict has turned ugly. At issue is the question of whether the hotter temperatures and chaotic weather produced by climate change are causing higher rates of violence. A new analysis refutes earlier research that found a link, and the two lead researchers are exchanging some pointed remarks.

Last year, a team of U.S. researchers reported a robust connection between climate and violence in Science. But in a critique published online yesterday in Climatic Change, a team of mostly European researchers dismissed the connection as “inconclusive.” The Science authors are hitting back, claiming that the critics are fudging the statistics and even manipulating their figures. The new analysis “is entirely based on surprisingly bold misrepresentations of our article, the literature, basic statistics, and their own findings,” says Solomon Hsiang, the lead author of the Science paper and an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Numerous past studies have found a correlation between heat waves and violence, manifesting as conflicts between individuals and between groups. Demonstrating a direct connection between climate change and violence on a global scale, however, is tricky. It requires a meta-analysis of hundreds of already published studies that have slightly different techniques and measurement scales. Hsiang’s team performed just such a meta-analysis and grabbed headlines with their findings that a changing climate appeared to be amping up conflict.

Still more ag woes from Al Jazeera America:

Salt-ruined farmland costs billions of dollars every year, study finds

  • Irrigation methods that fail to employ proper drainage leads to degradation of 5,000 acres a day

Salt residue from soil irrigation degrades around 5,000 acres of farmland every day at a global annual cost of $27 billion dollars in lost arable revenues, according to a study released Tuesday.

Using cheap, short-sighted ways to water land without adequate drainage methods are the chief reason behind the land spoilage, according to the report by the UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water (UNU-INWEH). The total area being affected, the report notes, has shot up over the last two decades — from 111 million acres in 1991 to 160 million in 2013, representing some 20 percent of the world’s irrigated lands.

Researchers warn that big investment is necessary to reverse the trend.

The authors of the study said the most vulnerable parts of the world are arid regions in developing countries, where pressure to increase crop yields in the short term may lead governments to forgo installing or maintaining the simple, but costly, drainage systems necessary to keep salt away from the soil.

Water woes on the Subcontinent from the Hindu:

Cut water, power supply to industries polluting Ganga: SC

Observing that its “last hope” rests on the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Supreme Court referred to it the responsibility to monitor and inspect industrial units along the Ganga and even cut off water and power connections if the units are found to be polluting the river.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice T.S. Thakur said official apathy and “failure at various levels” in both the State and the Central Pollution Control Board had led to the Ganga dying at the hands of “highly” and “grossly” polluting units, which flushed their untreated effluents into the river without any checks.

The inaction had continued even after numerous orders were passed by the Supreme Court directing the authorities to protect the river since 1980s, when a PIL was filed before the court by lawyer M.C. Mehta highlighting the alarming state of the river and its depletion owing to pollution.

Notable buzz from Al Jazeera America:

Tiny bugs could be the key to saving honeybee populations

  • Freshman student’s research on phages being touted as breakthrough against American foulbrood, a scourge of beekeepers

Tiny bacteria devouring viruses could hold the key to saving the U.S. honeybee population from a devastating disease that is destroying hives, according to research from a college freshman that is already yielding results.

American foulbrood, a bacterial infection that attacks bee larvae, has wiped out entire colonies and contributed significantly to worldwide agricultural losses. In order to prevent a larger infestation, affected hives are often burned to the ground to prevent further spread.

But a study into the use of bacteriophages — tiny viruses that infect and consume bacteria known as phages — to fight the bee disease by Bryan Merrill, a student at Brigham Young University (BYU), has raised hopes of a natural remedy to the bee blight. Merrill recently published his findings in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Genomics.

A beekeeper, Merrill is now working to identify the perfect phage for the job. So far, he has identified five phage candidates for honeybee treatment, a release from BYU said.

Hogging profiteers from MintPress News:

Density Of Industrial Hog Farms In North Carolina Prompts Civil Rights Investigation

People living near North Carolina’s large-scale hog farms have complained for decades about health and quality-of-life issues, with communities of color reportedly disproportionately affected. The EPA is now considering whether to launch a full investigation.

U.S. regulators are currently looking into whether the extraordinarily high density of industrial hog farms in eastern North Carolina is having a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, as alleged in a new complaint.

In the coming days, the Environmental Protection Agency will make an initial decision on whether the filing satisfies basic administrative requirements. If EPA officials find that it does, the agency will then begin a full investigation into whether the North Carolina permitting process is in effect discriminating against minority communities in the state’s eastern regions.

While local frustration around this situation is longstanding, the complaint marks the first time that the issue has been appealed to the federal government on civil rights grounds.

“I was at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the early 1990s, and people from eastern North Carolina were telling us these swine facilities were destroying their lives – that they could no longer sit on their porch and that this was a civil rights issue,” Marianne Engelman Lado, the lead attorney on the complaint, told MintPress News.

The Ecologist covers an all-too-familiar crisis:

Ghana’s farmers battle ‘Monsanto law’ to retain seed freedom

Ghana’s government is desperate to pass a Plant Breeders Bill that would remove farmers’ ancient ‘seed freedom’ to grow, retain, breed and develop crop varieties – while giving corporate breeders a blanket exemption from seed regulations. Now the farmers are fighting back.

Farmers in Ghana are on the frontlines of a battle. The national parliament has just returned from its summer break – and the first item on their legislative agenda is the government’s controversial Plant Breeders Bill.

The proposed legislation contains rules that would restrict farmers from an age-old practice: freely saving, swapping and breeding seeds they rely on for their own subsistence, and to feed the country.

Under the laws, farmers that use seed varieties claimed under new intellectual property rights by individuals and companies anywhere in the world risk hefty fines or even imprisonment.

According to the Ghanaian government and its corporate backers, the new laws would incentivise the development of new seed varieties and ensure crops are safe and saleable.

From the New York Times, and dam straight!:

Reversing Course on Beavers

Once routinely trapped and shot as varmints, their dams obliterated by dynamite and bulldozers, beavers are getting new respect these days. Across the West, they are being welcomed into the landscape as a defense against the withering effects of a warmer and drier climate.

Beaver dams, it turns out, have beneficial effects that can’t easily be replicated in other ways. They raise the water table alongside a stream, aiding the growth of trees and plants that stabilize the banks and prevent erosion. They improve fish and wildlife habitat and promote new, rich soil.

And perhaps most important in the West, beaver dams do what all dams do: hold back water that would otherwise drain away.

From CBC News, scum of the sea:

BP spill left big oily ‘bathtub ring’ on seafloor

  • BP says researchers failed to identify source of oil

The BP oil spill left an oily “bathtub ring” on the sea floor that’s about the size of U.S. State of Rhode Island or a little larger than Canada’s Manitoulin Island, new research shows.

The study by David Valentine, the chief scientist on the federal damage assessment research ships, estimates that about 37 million litres (10 million gallons) of oil coagulated on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico around the damaged Deepwater Horizons oil rig.

Valentine, a geochemistry professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, said the spill from the Macondo well left other splotches containing even more oil. He said it is obvious where the oil is from, even though there were no chemical signature tests because over time the oil has degraded.

After the jump, the Great Barrier Reef in peril — and banksters are the solution?, killer amphibians proliferate, Chinese ports polluted, another source of pollution profiteering, while the Russians stake a huge Arctic oil claim, Japanese schools in tsunami peril, and on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including a visit by decommissioning experts,  a nuclear dump site protest, a nuclear plant in a volcanic zone wins a restart vote while another complex gets a seismic green light, fire at yet another reactor complex, major violations at Japan’s fast breeder reactor, Taiwan mulls nuke checks on Japanese food imports, plus allegations of major problems at nuke plants in California and Old Blighty. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Quarantines, panic, pols, & Africa


We begin with root causes, starting with this from the Guardian:

Ebola is a product of a destructive and exploitative global economic system

Deforestation and increasing demands on habitats to produce food don’t just wreck the environment, they are increasing the risk of global pandemics like Ebola

Like a sleepwalker roused from his dream, the world is slowly waking up to the full nightmare of the Ebola outbreak decimating west Africa. With small numbers of cases turning up in western countries, governments here are belatedly pledging action to fight the disease, which has already claimed almost 5,000 lives.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – all countries struggling to recover from wars still fresh in the memory – have buckled under the onslaught of this horrific virus. Inadequate, creaking health services have been no match for a ruthless killer. But while the shocking poverty of these countries provides the fertile ground for the disease to spread, there are bigger issues at play that ought to cause us to think about the macroeconomic conditions that brought us to this point.

Ebola – like HIV, anthrax, Sars, avian flu and other pandemics of recent years – is a zoonotic virus, one that has crossed from animals to humans. It was first identified in 1976 during near-simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The strain of Ebola implicated in the current outbreak is thought to have originated from a mutant pathogen found in fruit bats. This is where we see a direct connection with economic development. The conflicts which have done so much damage to the affected countries have also attracted a range of activities – both legal and illicit – including logging and extractive industries like bauxite mining, which have deforested large swathes of the region.

More from The Ecologist:

Oil palm explosion driving West Africa’s Ebola outbreak

The medical response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been monstrously inadequate, writes Richard Kock. But so has been recognition of the underlying causes – in particular the explosive spread of industrial oil palm, which disrupts the ecology of forests and farms, and undermines local economy and traditional governance, leading to a ‘perfect storm’ of disease.

It is poverty that drives villagers to encroach further into the forest, where they become infected with the virus when hunting and butchering wildlife, or through contact with body fluids from bats – this has been seen with Nipah, another dangerous virus associated with bats.

The likelihood of infection in this manner is compounded by inadequate rural health facilities and poor village infrastructure, compounded by the disorganised urban sprawl at the fringes of cities.

The virus then spreads in a wave of fear and panic, ill-conceived intervention and logistical failures – including even insufficient food or beds for the severely ill.

Take for example the global palm oil industry, where a similar trend of deep-cutting into forests for agricultural development has breached natural barriers to the evolution and spread of specific pathogens.

The effects of land grabs and the focus on certain fruit crop species leads to an Allee effect, where sudden changes in one ecological element causes the mechanisms for keeping populations – bats in this case – and viruses in equilibrium to shift, increasing the probability of spill over to alternative hosts.

Next, some possibly good news from the Guardian:

Ebola may have reached turning point, says Wellcome Trust director

  • Dr Jeremy Farrar says international community is belatedly taking the actions necessary to stem the tide of the disease

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Jeremy Farrar says that although there are several bleak months ahead, “it is finally becoming possible to see some light. In the past 10 days, the international community has belatedly begun to take the actions necessary to start turning Ebola’s tide.

“The progress made is preliminary and uncertain; even if ultimately successful it will not reduce mortality or stop transmission for some time. We are not close to seeing the beginning of the end of the epidemic but [several] developments offer hope that we may have reached the end of the beginning.”

Farrar’s comments come as the World Health Organisation confirmed that the number of Ebola cases in Liberia has started to decline, with fewer burials and some empty hospital beds. But the WHO warned against any assumption that the outbreak there was ending.

“I’m terrified that the information will be misinterpreted,” said Dr Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general in charge of the Ebola operational response. “This is like saying your pet tiger is under control. This is a very, very dangerous disease. Any transmission change could result in many, many more deaths.”

Science qualifies the optimism:

Liberia’s Ebola progress real, but epidemic far from under control

The apparent decline in cases could mean that  families are hiding patients and secretly burying the dead, but it is more likely that a combination of factors has reduced the spread of the disease, said Aylward. “There was a rapid scale up in safe burial practices in the month of September,” he said, adding that many people were isolated in Ebola treatment units, further curbing spread. There also has been intensive education of communities about the disease, including how it is spread, the value of seeking care, and self-protection strategies.

The situations in Guinea and Sierra Leone, the other two hard-hit countries, have not changed as dramatically.

In a disconnect with the drop of cases in Liberia, Aylward noted that WHO has tallied 13,703 cases—a jump of more than 3000 from the figures released 25 October. He said the steep increase reflects reporting on a backlog of cases “With the huge surge in cases in certain countries, particularly in September and October, people got behind on their data,” he said. “They ended up with huge piles of paper and we knew we were going to see jumps in cases at certain times that are going to be associated with more new data coming in that are actually old cases.” He said about 2000 of the latest cases came from old data collected in Liberia, where reporting of cases continues to be a problem. “Data for Liberia are missing for 19, 20, 21, 26 and 27 October,” the latest update from WHO notes.

And from Liberia itself, another caution via The NewDawn:

Ellen warns against early excitement – Chinese military team arrives

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has warned against early jubilation over news of reduction in the infection across the country with news of less than 400 cases nationwide.

The Liberian leader is cautioned citizens and residents against a repeat of a scenario in March this year when people got “too happy too soon” over decline in Ebola infection, thereby giving room for the virus to resurface by June when preventive measures were largely downplayed.

“Yes we feel good, but we want to be cautious. We don’t want people to get happy too soon; we got to continue this fight, and we got to continue it with everything that we got,” President Sirleaf said Tuesday in Monrovia when she received an advance Chinese military delegation of 15 personnel to build ETUs here.

Judging from previous scenario, she warned, “This time we want to be careful, we’ll not be satisfied until we are declared that the last Ebola victim has been cured and is freed of this disease.” President Sirleaf’s warning comes as government prepares to conduct a mid-term election for 15 senators in December.

A video report from euronews:

Ebola: WHO announces ‘slowing rate of new cases’

Program notes:

Liberia may be experiencing a slowdown in the rate of new cases of the deadly Ebola virus according to the World Health Organization.

“We are seeing a slowing rate of new cases, very definitely,” WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward announced.

The African country has reportedly seen a drop in burials and new hospital admissions, while the number of laboratory-confirmed cases has levelled out.

While the Associated Press adds more nuance:

Top UN Ebola official: new cases poorly tracked

Authorities are having trouble figuring out how many more people are getting Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone and where the hot spots are in those countries, harming efforts to get control of the raging, deadly outbreak, the U.N.’s top Ebola official in West Africa said Tuesday.

“The challenge is good information, because information helps tell us where the disease is, how it’s spreading and where we need to target our resources,” Anthony Banbury told The Associated Press by phone from the Ghanaian capital of Accra, where the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, is based.

Health experts say the key to stopping Ebola is breaking the chain of transmission by tracing and isolating those who have had contact with Ebola patients or victims. Health care workers can’t do that if they don’t know where new cases are emerging.

“And unfortunately, we don’t have good data from a lot of areas. We don’t know exactly what is happening,” said Banbury, the chief of UNMEER.

Meanwhile, the crisis remains both critical and costly. From Sky News:

Ebola: DEC Launches ‘Unprecedented’ Appeal

The charity group asks the public for money to halt the “explosive” virus – the first time it has done so for a disease outbreak.

The Disasters Emergency Committee is to launch a major television appeal over the Ebola crisis, the first time it has called for donations in response to a disease.

The committee, which is made up of 13 of the UK’s major aid charities, said it took the decision because the killer virus threatens to become a “catastrophe”.

The DEC described the spread of the virus as “explosive”, and said it was devastating communities, health services and people’s ability to support themselves.

Next, California joins the list of states with Ebola quarantine policies, via the San Jose Mercury News:

Ebola: California is latest state to impose 21-day quarantine for those exposed to Ebola

California on Wednesday became the latest state to order a 21-day quarantine for travelers who have been in close contact with Ebola patients.

In an attempt to avoid the criticism lodged against New York, New Jersey and Maine that had blanket quarantine orders, however, California will allow county health agencies to impose the quarantine on a case-by-case basis.

By working with county health departments to assess the individual risks, the California Department of Public Health said it “respects the individual circumstances of each traveler while protecting and preserving the public health.”

And a case at hand, via KCBS in San Francisco:

Stanford Surgeon Under ‘Modified Quarantine’ In San Mateo County After Returning From Liberia

A Stanford surgeon has been put on modified quarantine in San Mateo County after treating Ebola patients in Liberia for the past month.

Dr. Colin Bucks returned to the Bay Area on Friday, but no state or federal quarantine orders were in place at the time. Dr. Bucks is not experiencing any symptoms of Ebola, but he is the first Californian to be quarantined under the new guidelines. Bucks is considered by health officials to be at “some risk.”

The doctor contacted San Mateo County health officials. After consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the California Dept. of Public Health, Dr. Bucks was told to stay away from work and to stay away from others for 21 days. However, he can leave his house to go jogging by himself. He is taking his temperature every day and has not developed any symptoms.

Politics of pain, via the Los Angeles Times:

Obama urges Americans to honor aid workers fighting Ebola in Africa

President Obama on Tuesday urged Americans to set aside their fears of the Ebola virus and make sure U.S. healthcare workers who go to West Africa are “applauded, thanked and supported” when they return home.

If those workers are successful in fighting the virus at the source of the outbreak, he said, “we don’t have to worry about it here.”

“They are doing God’s work over there,” Obama said, “and they are doing that to keep us safe.”

And a fundamental lack from the Associated Press:

Funding to tame an Ebola outbreak has fallen short

“We don’t really have a pharmaceutical response for Ebola,” said retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen, the former executive director of the Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction. “But could you imagine if there were 20,000 sick people in 10 cities and we did not have a pharmaceutical response? We would be completely overwhelmed.”

Emergency preparedness programs ramped up significantly in the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2001 anthrax scare, said Dr. Gerald Parker, a former principal deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Health and Human Services preparedness office. Those efforts included research and development of vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

“It was recognized that there would be a dual benefit from research on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to counter bioterror threats and emerging infectious diseases,” said Parker, now a vice president at Texas A&M Health Science Center.

But a combination of budgetary constraints and politics has delayed many of those plans.

Other quarantine news from the New York Times:

New York State Ebola Policy Allows for In-Home Quarantine

Offering the first detailed account of how New York State’s quarantine order for health care workers returning from West Africa will be put into effect, the Cuomo administration has issued guidelines that go beyond federal recommendations but seek to allow individuals to spend their enforced isolation in a location of their choosing.

The state documents, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, show an effort by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration to portray the quarantine in a humane manner.

The protocols are meant to ensure “a respectful and supportive approach” to arriving travelers, who are supposed to be “treated with the utmost respect and concern,” according to a document prepared by the State Health Department that outlines the screening procedures.

While the Guardian covers a controversy:

Ebola: Maine deploys state police to quarantined nurse’s home

  • Kaci Hickox, who was held for days in an isolation tent in New Jersey, says she doesn’t plan on obeying home quarantine in her home state

A nurse freed from an Ebola isolation tent in a New Jersey hospital declared on Wednesday the she will not comply with a quarantine request imposed by state officials, saying the policy is not based on science and infringes on her civil liberties.

“I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines,” nurse Kaci Hickox told the Today show from her home in Maine. “I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me, even though I am in perfectly good health and feeling strong and have been this entire time completely symptom-free.”

The governor’s office said in a statement that Maine state police would monitor Kickox’s home “for both her protection and the health of the community”. A TV reporter with the local WLBZ news channel said as of 1pm ET on Wednesday at least two police cars were parked out front of the home.

More from the Washington Post:

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is seeking legal authority to enforce Ebola quarantine on nurse

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is looking for ways to force a nurse released from mandatory Ebola isolation in New Jersey to abide by a similar 21-day quarantine in Maine.

“The Office of the Governor has been working collaboratively with the State health officials within the Department of Health and Human Services to seek legal authority to enforce the quarantine,” LePage’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “We hoped that the health-care worker would voluntarily comply with these protocols, but this individual has stated publicly she will not abide by the protocols.”

Still more from the Guardian:

Maine prepared to go to court to enforce nurse’s Ebola quarantine order

  • Officials plead with Kaci Hickox to abide by 21-day order
  • ‘I have been this entire time completely symptom-free’

Maine’s top public health official has said the state will if necessary seek a court order to ensure a nurse stays quarantined in her home after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.

Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of the state department of health and human services, pleaded with Hickox to abide by the state’s 21-day at-home quarantine order.

“We do not want to legally enforce an in-home quarantine unless absolutely necessary,” Mayhew said on Wednesday afternoon.

More quarantine politics from Reuters:

Obama sees different Ebola rules for U.S. military than for civilians

President Barack Obama on Tuesday appeared to back more rigorous procedures for dealing with soldiers returning from missions to Ebola-hit West African countries, even as he criticized moves by some U.S. states to quarantine returning civilian health workers.

Obama said that American military personnel were in a “different situation” compared with healthcare workers. While civilians may be discouraged from volunteering to help fight the Ebola if they are facing quarantine on their return, troops were sent as part of their mission and could expect such inconveniences.

“They are already by definition if they are in the military under more circumscribed conditions,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “We don’t expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians.”

More from USA Today:

Quarantine ordered for troops returning from W. Africa

U.S. troops returning from Ebola-stricken nations will be isolated for 21 days, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday, a day after the White House raised concerns about states imposing strict quarantines of health care workers returning from West Africa.

Top commanders for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps made the recommendation to Hagel on Tuesday. The Army instituted an isolation requirement for 21 days — the incubation period for the deadly virus — on Monday.

Hagel directed the isolation policy be reviewed in 45 days to see whether it was necessary to continue with it, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary.

Still more from the Guardian:

Conflicting Ebola guidelines put US defense secretary in a tough spot

  • Hagel’s choice on quarantining troops returning from west Africa involves rebuking either government scientists or military leaders

The Ebola outbreak has placed the US secretary of defense on the horns of a dilemma: whether to back the military service chiefs about a quarantine for troops or to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends no such thing.

Defense chief Chuck Hagel has received a recommendation for a “quarantine-like program” for all US servicemembers returning from Liberia and Senegal, where they are supporting civilian efforts to contain the disease, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday.

The recommendation, made by the heads of the military services, would expand across the military a directive made on Monday from the army chief, General Raymond Odierno, to keep soldiers returning from Operation United Assistance in Liberia and Senegal under a 21-day period of “controlled monitoring”.

Kirby said Hagel has yet to make a decision, having received the quarantine recommendation earlier on Tuesday. But imposing a broader military quarantine for returning servicemembers goes beyond new guidance set on Monday by the CDC, which urged a home quarantine only for high-risk individuals, such as those whose body fluids have been directly exposed to Ebola. US troops have not been involved in treating Ebola patients.

And yet more from Reuters:

US isolates troops

The U.S. military has started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa and Australia became the first rich nation to impose a visa ban on the affected countries amid global anxiety about the spread of the virus.

The latest measures, along with decisions by some U.S. states to impose mandatory quarantines on health workers returning home from treating Ebola victims in West Africa, have been condemned by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme.

The top health official in charge of dealing with Washington’s response to Ebola warned against turning doctors and nurses who travel to West Africa to tackle Ebola into “pariahs”.

From Reuters, intranational man of mystery:

In Ebola response, Obama’s ‘czar’ stays behind the curtain

It’s not often that a White House official gets mocked on both Saturday Night Live and a major daily newspaper before he makes his first public appearance.

But Ron Klain’s low-profile first week as President Barack Obama’s behind-the-scenes Ebola “czar” has become another attack point for a White House struggling to show it’s on top of the crisis.

Since starting last Wednesday, Klain has been seen only once, in a photo op on his first day, leaving health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health – and Obama himself – to be the public “face” of the response.

The White House has declined to give details about his activities, especially what role he played as governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey undermined the White House’s attempt to keep the nation calm about the risk posed by healthcare workers returning from Ebola-stricken West Africa.

More predictable politics from the Associated Press:

Jeb Bush: Obama handling of Ebola ‘incompetent’

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday criticized President Barack Obama’s initial handling of the Ebola crisis as “incompetent,” saying it gave rise to unneeded fears among the American public about the virus.

Bush, who is the latest potential Republican presidential candidate to attack the president over Ebola, also said in a wide-ranging discussion at Vanderbilt University that he supports travel restrictions for people who have been to the most severely affected countries in Africa.

Bush said Obama should have been more “clear and concise” about his plans, and lent more credibility to health officials leading the response.

“It looked very incompetent to begin with, and that fueled fears that may not be justified,” Bush said. “And now you have states that are legitimately acting on their concerns, creating a lot more confusion than is necessary.”

Meanwhile, the Obama administration made a notable symbolic move sure to piss off some of Bush’s former Florida constituents, via the Associated Press:

US sends health official to Cuban Ebola meeting

The United States has sent a health official to a Cuban meeting on coordinating Latin America’s response to Ebola. The participation of the Centers for Disease Control’s Central America director is the most concrete sign to date of the two nations’ expressed desire to cooperate against the disease.

The two-day meeting that began Tuesday in Havana is sponsored by ALBA, a forum of left-leaning Latin countries founded by Cuba and Venezuela as a counterweight to U.S. influence in the region.

Cuba is sending at least 256 medical workers to West Africa to treat and prevent Ebola. The World Health Organization says it’s the largest contribution by a single government, although there may be more doctors of other nationalities who are sent by non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. has welcomed Cuba’s response.

Ebolaphobia from the New York Times:

Connecticut Child Barred From School After Trip to Africa; Father Sues

The father of a Connecticut third grader filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, saying his daughter has been unfairly barred from school amid fears she may have been exposed to the Ebola virus while in Africa.

The daughter, Ikeoluwa Opayemi, and her family, who live in Milford, visited Nigeria for a wedding from Oct. 2 to 13, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in New Haven.

When the girl tried to return to the Meadowside Elementary School, she was told by the school district’s health director that she would have to stay home until Nov. 3 “due to concern from certain parents and teachers that she could transmit Ebola to other children,” according to the lawsuit.

More from Ebolaphobics from Science:

Been to an Ebola-affected country? Stay away from tropical medicine meeting, Louisiana says

Ebola fears are interfering with the world’s premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.

ASTMH doesn’t know exactly how many scientists will be affected, but there are several, says incoming president Christopher Plowe, including representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “They are quite disappointed,” says Plowe, a malaria researcher at the University of Maryland. ASTMH sent all meeting registrants an email today containing a letter from Kathy Kliebert, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health & Hospitals, and Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, that outlines the state’s position. ASTMH referred registrants to the state’s health department for further information.

“Given that conference participants with a travel and exposure history for [Ebola] are recommended not to participate in large group settings (such as this conference) or to utilize public transport, we see no utility in you traveling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room,” the letter says.

After the jump, an infectious lie, a sole supplier, North Korean Ebolaphobia, Hong Kong preparedness, fast-tracking a vaccine, anger at Aussie exclusion, Japanese angst leads to a task force, then on to Africa and vigilance in the newest addition to the ranks of the stricken while a border remains open, a study of who survive in Sierra Leone, Tokyo lends mobile assistance, Brits train “Ebola warriors,” missing funds, and survivors are shunned, then on to Liberia and the crisis personified, the healthcare worker’s painful conundrum, another blow to overstretched police resources, long overdue pay for healthcare workers, a cultural belief hampering prevention efforts with specific voices heard, Christian leaders call a three-day fast, a Christian tradition invoked, a change in command of American boots on the ground, and a presidential birthday is deferred, thence to Nigeria and an unanticipated arrival, followed by a precipitous tourism decline in Kenya. . . Continue reading