Category Archives: Asia

EnviroWatch: Water, weather, plagues, nukes


Today’s compendium of headlines from the intersection of people and planet begins with more of the most compelling story of the moment, via Sky News:

Liberia Closes Schools To Halt Ebola Spread

  • Security forces are ordered to enforce new anti-ebola rules as government workers are made to take compulsory leave.

Liberia has closed all schools and quarantined several communities as it attempts to stop the spread of the deadly ebola virus.

All non-essential government workers were also put on 30 days compulsory leave as the country announced its anti-ebola action plan.

Security forces across the country have been ordered to enforce the new rules.

Liberia had recorded 129 of the 672 deaths blamed on ebola as of July 23, according to the World Health Organisation.

Al Jazeera America covers the later on another subject of ongoing and considerable interest:

Report: World faces water crises by 2040

Wind, solar power increase needed to avoid global drought

The world will face “insurmountable” water crises in less than three decades, researchers said Tuesday, if it does not move away from water-intensive power production.

A clash of competing necessities — drinking water and energy demand — will cause widespread drought unless action is taken soon, researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University, Vermont Law School and the U.S.-funded Center for Naval Analyses Corporation said in the reports.

“There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today,” researcher Benjamin Sovacool, director of the Center for Energy Technology at Aarhus University said in a press release on two new reports released Tuesday.

Globally, there has been a three-fold population increase in the past century and a six-fold increase in water consumption, the report said. If trends in population and energy use continue, it could leave a 40 percent gap between water supply and demand by the year 2030.

Another water story, this time from MercoPress:

Sao Paulo faces water rationing; in 100 days the system could run dry

  • Federal prosecutors have asked the government of Sao Paulo to present water rationing plans for Brazil’s most populous state to prevent the collapse of its main reservoir. If such plans are not presented in 10 days, the prosecutor’s office said on its website it may ask courts to force rationing.
  • Sao Paulo is facing the worst drought in more than 80 years. The key Cantareira water system, which provides water to some 9 million of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo city, is at less than 16% of its capacity of 1 trillion liters.

Citing a study prepared by the state university of Campinas, the prosecutor’s office said that the Cantareira system could run dry in 100 days unless rationing is implemented.

The Sao Paulo state government’s water utility said in an emailed statement that it disagrees with the “imposition of water rationing, for it would penalize the population.”

From Public Radio International, a Brazilian environmental body count:

Activists in Brazil are fighting to protect the environment — and their lives

908. That’s the number of environmental and land-reform activists assassinated worldwide between 2003 and 2013, according to a study by the NGO Global Witness. The number might shock you, but perhaps even more shocking is that nearly half of those murders — 448 — took place in one country: Brazil.

What is it that makes Brazil the most dangerous place in the world to be an activist?

You’ll find clues in the story of Guarabana Bay. The bay, just minutes from downtown Rio’s world famous beaches, is a study in pollution and filth. Dark sludge cakes the shoreline. Garbage floats everywhere. It’s so bad that some sailors set to compete here in the 2016 Summer Olympics are warning colleagues not to let this water touch their ski

While an item in yesterday’s EnvrioWatch noted strong opposition to GMO rice in china, an MIT Technology Review indicates GMO receptivity for another staple:

Chinese Researchers Stop Wheat Disease with Gene Editing

  • Researchers have created wheat that is resistant to a common disease, using advanced gene editing methods.

Advanced genome-editing techniques have been used to create a strain of wheat resistant to a destructive fungal pathogen—called powdery mildew—that is a major bane to the world’s top food source, according to scientists at one of China’s leading centers for agricultural research.

To stop the mildew, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences deleted genes that encode proteins that repress defenses against the mildew. The work promises to someday make wheat more resistant to the disease, which is typically controlled through the heavy use of fungicides. It also represents an important achievement in using genome editing tools to engineer food crops without inserting foreign genes—a flashpoint for opposition to genetically modified crops.

The gene-deletion trick is particularly tough to do in wheat because the plant has a hexaploid genome—that is, it has three similar copies of most of its genes. That means multiple genes must be disabled or the trait will not be changed. Using gene-editing tools known as TALENs and CRISPR, the researchers were able to do that without changing anything else or adding genes from other organisms.

On to the latest Fukushimaposcalypse Now!, starting with a chilly item from NHK WORLD:

Ice put into utility tunnels at Fukushima plant

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has begun putting ice into underground utility tunnels to help freeze radiation-contaminated wastewater.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company began work in April to create a wall of ice between the basement of the No. 2 reactor building and its utility tunnel.

TEPCO initially planned to freeze radioactive wastewater that’s been flowing into underground utility tunnels at the plant. It hoped the measure would prevent the wastewater from mixing with groundwater and flowing out to sea.

Followed by a hotter reception from NHK WORLD:

Emergency radiation exposure limit may be raised

Japan’s nuclear watchdog is considering raising the radiation exposure maximum limit for nuclear plant workers for serious accidents.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told at the body’s regular meeting on Wednesday that the possibility of a nuclear accident, where workers could be exposed to radiation beyond the current legal accumulative limit of 100 millisieverts, cannot be denied. His proposal to study raising the limit was approved at the meeting.

The authority will decide on the level by referring to overseas standards. It will also confer on how to get prior consent from workers and train them for such cases. If a legal amendment is necessary, it plans to send its findings to a relevant government panel for deliberations.

Jiji Press disposes, unhappiness ensues:

Shioya Picked as Candidate Site for Designated Waste Disposal

Japan’s Environment Ministry said Wednesday it has picked state-owned land in the town of Shioya in Tochigi Prefecture as a candidate site for building a final disposal facility for designated waste contaminated by radioactive substances from the March 2011 nuclear accident.

Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinji Inoue visited Shioya Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata to explain the ministry’s decision and to seek the eastern Japan town’s understanding for the conducting of a detailed field investigation.

“I can’t help but feel regret,” Mikata said, expressing the town’s opposition to construction of the facility.

From the Guardian, a fractious fracking flap:

EC serves notice to Poland over shale gas defiance

  • Warsaw accused of breaching EU law on assessing environmental impact of fracking, reports EurActiv

The European commission has begun legal proceedings against Poland for amending its national laws to allow shale drills at depths of up to 5,000 metres without first having assessed the potential environmental impacts, EurActiv has learned.

In June, Brussels sent Poland formal notice that it was opening a case against it for infringing the environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive.

If Warsaw does not now satisfy the commission’s concerns by the end of August, the case could reach the European court of justice (ECJ).

Truthout ponders a rising crisis alert:

Does NASA’s Data Show Doomsday for New York City?

If we don’t do something quick to stop global warming, some of the biggest cities in America could go the way of Atlantis in just a matter of decades.

Sam Carana over at Arctic News has taken the time to analyze the latest data from NASA, and what’s he’s projecting from that data is startling.

Sam suggests that global sea levels may rise rapidly over the next few decades; so rapidly, in fact, that we could see more than 2.5 meters of seal level rise by 2040, which is just 26 years from now.

And because, as Sam Carana points out, sea levels now look like they’re going rise exponentially – on a curve – as opposed to on a straight line, they will continue to rise even faster after 2040.

And for our final item, from CNBC, an alert from left field:

Paul Singer: This threat is ‘head-and-shoulders’ above all others

Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer has issued an unusual warning for investors, calling the threat of a widespread blackout from an electromagnetic surge the “most significant danger” in the world.

Called an “electromagnetic pulse” or EMP, the events can occur naturally from solar storms or artificially from a high-altitude explosion of nuclear weapons.

“While these pages are typically chock full of scary or depressing scenarios, there is one risk that is head-and-shoulders above all the rest in terms of the scope of potential damage adjusted for the likelihood of occurrence,” Singer wrote to clients of his $24.8 billion Elliott Management on Monday in a standard investment update letter. “Even horrendous nuclear war, except in its most extreme form, can [be] a relatively localized issue, and the threat from asteroids can (possibly) be mitigated.”

InSecurityWatch: Pols, ploys, snoops, zones


Today’s collection of tales from the dark side begins with more symbol than substance, via the Guardian:

Obama-backed surveillance reform bill introduced in US Senate

  • Patrick Leahy’s popular bill contains stricter privacy measures than the USA Freedom Act, which the House passed in May

A surveillance reform bill backed by the Obama administration was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday, raising the possibility that Congress could this year take the National Security Agency out of the business of collecting and storing all US phone data.

Introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy, the bill is a counterpart to the USA Freedom Act, which the House of Representatives passed in May, but contains some stricter privacy measures and broader transparency requirements – the absence of which caused civil libertarians, privacy groups and technology firms to abandon their support for the House version. Many of them are backing Leahy’s bill.

The question underlying the legislation is “whether we are in control of our own government or the other way around,” Leahy, the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said on the Senate floor.

From Truthdig, and why are we not surprised?:

NSA Court Judges Invest in Verizon While Surveillance Warps Law and Journalism

We must never be surprised when we learn once again that our lawmakers and law interpreters are in bed with the country’s largest corporations—this is how the American government now operates. A July 25 article in Vice includes documentation that shows three judges from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, the tribunal that evaluates the legality of the NSA’s practices, own stock in Verizon. Although there doesn’t seem to be a direct financial incentive for judges to allow the NSA to rifle through the data (our data) of a company in which they have invested, it does show the intimate relationship the NSA, the FISA Court and Verizon share.

Specifically, the article states: “On May 28 last year, Judge James Zagel, a FISA Court member since 2008, purchased stock in Verizon. In June of this year, Zagel signed off on a government request to the FISA Court to renew the ongoing metadata collection program.” The piece goes on to say that FISA Court Judges Susan Wright and Dennis Saylor also own shares in the company, and although Vice wasn’t able to obtain accurate numbers for the amount invested, it appears to be in the thousands of dollars.

The Vice article notes that judges are supposed to remove themselves from cases in which they might have a “financial stake in the outcome” or from any case in which they might find it difficult to be impartial. The Verge also pointed out that telecommunication companies like Verizon receive millions of dollars from the government in their “record-sharing deals.”

From Wired threat level, a question about California’s plutocratic and most powerful Democrat and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chair:

Personal Privacy Is Only One of the Costs of NSA Surveillance

There is no doubt the integrity of our communications and the privacy of our online activities have been the biggest casualty of the NSA’s unfettered surveillance of our digital lives. But the ongoing revelations of government eavesdropping have had a profound impact on the economy, the security of the internet and the credibility of the U.S. government’s leadership when it comes to online governance.

These are among the many serious costs and consequences the NSA and those who sanctioned its activities—including the White House, the Justice Department and lawmakers like Sen. Dianne Feinstein—apparently have not considered, or acknowledged, according to a report by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

“Too often, we have discussed the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs through the distorting lens of a simplistic ‘security versus privacy’ narrative,” said Danielle Kehl, policy analyst at the Open Technology Institute and primary author of the report. “But if you look closer, the more accurate story is that in the name of security, we’re trading away not only privacy, but also the U.S. tech economy, internet openness, America’s foreign policy interests and cybersecurity.”

And a reminder of Feinstein’s nature, this time as vulture capitalist via Pueblo Lands:

Richard Blum and Dianne Feinstein Make Big Investment in Foreclosure to Rental Housing

I’ve reported for a while now on the phenomenon of the Wall Street landlord. During the depths of the foreclosure crisis private equity firms and real estate investors bought up thousands of single family homes in Florida, Illinois, Arizona, Georgia, and especially California. These investors did quick rehabs on these properties and then rented them out, often to households that lost their homes between 2008 and 2013 due to the global financial crash. These elite investors bet that housing prices would rebound, and thanks to the actions of the US Federal Reserve and Treasury Department they did. They also bet that there would be a shift in America’s housing market toward more renter demand. Households that lost their savings and jobs have been forced into the rental market, creating an opportunity for those with capital to obtain higher returns on real estate.

One of the biggest investors in foreclosed single family homes has been Colony Capital, the private equity firm controlled by Thomas Barrack, Jr. Colony has purchased thousands of foreclosed houses in California and other states. Colony has also sustained recent complaints from tenants who accuse the company and its rental property managers of running slum housing and charging above-market rents. Activists in Los Angeles and other cities are now pressing local and federal officials to take a closer look at the Wall Street landlord business.

But some Washington D.C. insiders have already done due diligence with respect to the new corporate landlords. A recent financial disclosure filing by Richard C. Blum, husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, shows that Blum and Feinstein have made a major investment in Barrack’s Colony American Homes. As a member of the University of California Board of Regents Blum is required to disclose his economic interests each year. In his filing for 2014, Blum listed an investment in Colony American Homes Holdings, LP of over $1,000,000, making Blum and Feinstein major owners of one of the largest Wall Street landlord corporations.

From SECURITYWEEK, another cost of Big Brotherism run amok:

NSA Surveillance Programs Directly Damage Internet Security: Report

  • “The NSA has both weakened overall trust in the network and directly harmed the security of the Internet.”

A report published by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute on Tuesday details the impact of NSA surveillance activities on the United Sates economy, foreign policy and Internet security.

There have been numerous discussions on the intelligence agency’s controversial spying programs over the past year, ever since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden started leaking classified information obtained from the organization’s systems. However, the Open Technology Institute argues that most discussions have revolved around the impact of surveillance programs on privacy and civil liberties, and not so much on how they affect the interests of the United States and the global Internet community.

The 64-page paper focuses on the costs to cybersecurity, the direct economic costs to U.S businesses, the economic and technological costs of data localization and data protection proposals, and political costs to American foreign policy.

Motherboard adds up other costs:

NSA Spying Will Cost US Tech Titans Billions, and That’s Just the Start

The National Security Agency spying scandal will cost the US technology and telecommunications industries billions of dollars in coming years if potential clients—including corporations and governments—take their business elsewhere following revelations of rampant US surveillance, according to a new study.

The financial cost to US corporate giants like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, AT&T and Verizon is just the tip of the iceberg.

The NSA spying scandal, which was prompted by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosure of classified documents, has already harmed US foreign policy efforts, jeopardized key relationships with US allies, and imperiled the ambitious US Internet Freedom Agenda, according to the report, which was published Tuesday by New America’s Open Technology Institute.

The basic architecture of the global internet could also be at risk if governments close off their networks in response to US surveillance efforts, the report warns.

From TechWeekEurope, a notable deal:

BlackBerry Buys Secusmart – The Firm That NSA-Proofed Merkel’s Phone

BlackBerry is to buy the German anti-eavesdropping solutions provider, Secusmart GmbH, which is already its partner in providing secure phones for Angela Merkel and other German officials.

BlackBerrywants to maintain its reuptation for security and capitalise on concerns about the snooping habits of the NSA, exposed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. In 2013 it was revealed that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a target of NSA eavesdropping, a move that soured Germany’s relationship with the US. However, it is believed that any attempts to crack her encryption likely failed, thanks to an ongoing agreement with Secusmart to provide BlackBerry phones with heightened security to German agencies and politicians.

BlackBerry announced the acquisition of Secusmart, for an undisclosed sum, and confirmed reports that the two organisation had previously collaborated to produce Secusmart-equipped BlackBerry phones for German government agencies, as well as German government leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel.

From Techdirt, advice from Big Brother:

UK Government Report Recommends Ending Online Anonymity

  • from the dangerous-and-stupid dept

Every so often, people who don’t really understand the importance of anonymity or how it enables free speech (especially among marginalized people), think they have a brilliant idea: “just end real anonymity online.” They don’t seem to understand just how shortsighted such an idea is. It’s one that stems from the privilege of being in power. And who knows that particular privilege better than members of the House of Lords in the UK — a group that is more or less defined by excess privilege?

The Communications Committee of the House of Lords has now issued a report concerning “social media and criminal offenses” in which they basically recommend scrapping anonymity online. It’s not a true “real names” proposal — as the idea is that web services would be required to collect real names at signup, but then could allow those users to do things pseudonymously or anonymously. But, still, their actions could then easily be traced back to a real person if the “powers that be” deemed it necessary. Here’s the key bit:

From our perspective in the United Kingdom, if the behaviour which is currently criminal is to remain criminal and also capable of prosecution, we consider that it would be proportionate to require the operators of websites first to establish the identity of people opening accounts but that it is also proportionate to allow people thereafter to use websites using pseudonyms or anonymously. There is little point in criminalising certain behaviour and at the same time legitimately making that same behaviour impossible to detect. We recognise that this is a difficult question, especially as it relates to jurisdiction and enforcement.

And a German pol feels the heat, via EurActiv:

German minister under attack over Snowden remarks

Germany’s Justice Minister Heiko Maas has advised US whistleblower Edward Snowden to return to the United States, sparking outrage from opposition parties in the Bundestag. EurActiv Germany reports.

Maas has sparked criticism for suggesting Snowden should go back to the US amid an ongoing debate about whether the former National Security Agency (NSA) employee should testify in Germany on US surveillance activities.

“As we have heard, Snowden’s lawyers are in negotiations with American officials and looking into the possibility of Snowden returning to the US to go on trial,” Maas told the news agency DPA in Berlin.

“From Snowden’s point of view, I can completely understand this,” he said.

Homeland Security News Wire sounds an insecurity alert:

U.S. faces serious future threats in space

Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, said last week that U.S. dominance in space will be challenged by very real threats in the years ahead. The general said that those threats might consist of “jammers, lasers and tactical space nukes,” with any of these challenges exponentially more dangerous than in the past as the technology becomes more common.

Gen. William Shelton, the commander of Air Force Space Command, said last week that U.S. dominance in space will be challenged by very real threats in the years ahead.

As Defense One reports, the general also added that those threats might consist of “jammers, lasers and tactical space nukes,” with any of these challenges exponentially more dangerous thhan in the past as the technology becomes more common.

Off to Asia, starting with an Indian Watergate? From the Economic Times:

Nitin Gadkari bugging issue set to rock Parliament on Thursday again

Congress is set to keep up the heat on BJP over alleged bugging of Union Minister Nitin Gadkari’s house with the opposition party deciding to raise it aggressively in parliament for the second consecutive day tomorrow pressing for a discussion on the issue.

“We will raise it in Parliament tomorrow as well. There has to be a discussion on it, which culminates into an inquiry by a judge. We doubt that some internal agency is involved in the bugging.

“If a minister is being snooped, then it raises doubts that leaders of Opposition parties and other important personalities may also be facing it. That is why we say the inquiry should be done by a judge. The investigation has to be credible,” Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad told reporters here.

Chinese internal security eruption from South China Morning Post:

Dozens of axe-wielding attackers shot dead by police during attacks in Xinjiang

Assailants wielding axes are shot dead by police during ‘organised and premeditated’ violence

Dozens of people, ethnic Han and Uygur, were killed or injured in at least one terror attack in the restive Xinjiang region early on Monday, state media reported late last night.

Xinhua said that a group of assailants, wielding knives and axes, attacked the government office and police station in Elixku township in Kashgar’s Yarkand, or Shache, county. Some attacked residents in neighbouring Huangdi township, the report said.

Police said they shot dead dozens of the attackers, describing the incident as an “organised and premeditated” act of terror.

Gaming in the Asian Game of Zones from the Japan Times:

India naval drill with Japan, U.S. seen as signal to China

Traffic at the Maritime Self-Defense Force base at Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, is typically dominated by Japanese and U.S. warships, but in July it saw an unusual variety of vessel. An Indian frigate and destroyer docked en route to joint exercises in the Western Pacific.

The INS Shivalik and INS Ranvijay’s appearance at the port near Nagasaki showed Japan’s interest in developing ties with the South Asian nation as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government faces deepening tensions with China. Japan for the third time joined the U.S. and India in the annual Malabar drills that usually are held in the Bay of Bengal.

With Abe loosening limits on his nation’s military, the exercises that conclude Wednesday showcase Japan’s expanding naval profile as China pushes maritime claims in disputed areas of the East and South China Seas. For newly installed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Japan’s attention adds to that of China itself, in an opportunity to expand his own country’s sway.

Another Japanese gambit, via Want China Times:

Japan and Brazil to make joint statement against China: Kyodo

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff are to announce a joint statement on August 1 which will include mention of counter-measures against China, reports Japan’s Kyodo International News on July 27.

A leaked draft of the statement says that both Japan and Brazil respect rule of law and that China’s declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea last November and its growing aggression in the East and South China seas require counter measures. The draft states that “conflicts in the South China Sea should be resolved peacefully and in line with international law without the use of force or threat,” according to the report. The statement also says Japan and Brazil will cooperate in their efforts to reform the UN Security Council.

Both Sankei Shimbun and Nikkei Japan Review interpreted Abe’s visit shortly after Xi’s visits to the same region in early July, as intended to strengthen Japan’s influence in Latin America and to counter growing Chinese power there.

And for our final item, the wild card, upping ante. From the Japan Times:

North Korea may be closer to full ICBM test: U.S. think tank

  • Leading U.S. think tank says North Korea may conduct flight test soon

Fresh satellite images suggest North Korea might be wrapping up engine trials on an intercontinental ballistic missile, fueling speculation of a full-scale flight test to come, a U.S. think tank said Wednesday.

Development of a working ICBM would be a game-changing step, bringing the continental United States into range and adding a whole new threat level to the North’s regular nuclear-strike warnings.

“The rocket engine test program may wind down by the end of this year,” The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said on its closely followed 38 North website. “If the engine tests are concluded, the next stage in development of the KN-08 road-mobile ICBM may be full-scale flight tests of the missile.”

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, nukes, GMOs, toxins


We’re really cheery in this edition. . .or not.

Consider first this from CBC News:

Ebola outbreak: More than doctors needed to contain West Africa’s unprecedented crisis

  • Over 1,200 cases already in deadly epidemic, including prominent physicians

Doctors alone aren’t enough to contain West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak, which has already infected, and in some instances killed, key medical personnel, including prominent Western and local physicians.

Quebec doctor Marc Forget, who has been on the front lines of the epidemic in Guinea for seven weeks, told CBC News that past Ebola outbreaks were contained quite quickly with the intervention of international groups such as Doctors Without Borders working in conjunction with a country’s ministry of health.

This time, he says, “the magnitude of the disease is unprecedented,” and a stronger response is required, both in resources and personnel — including water, sanitation and logistics specialists, as well as medical staff.

Here’s a Reuters map of Ebola outbreaks via CBC News. Click on the image to enlarge:

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The Independent watches the borders:

Is Ebola coming to Britain? UK health officials issue warning to doctors as outbreak fears grow

  • One of world’s deadliest viruses – which makes people bleed from their eyes, nose and mouth – has now been flown out of main affected countries

Public health experts have issued urgent warnings to British doctors and border officials to watch for signs of the Ebola virus arriving in the UK.

It comes after an infected man in Liberia was allowed to fly from disease-affected West African country to the major international travel hub of Lagos, Nigeria.

Experts from Public Health England (PHE) are meeting with representatives from the UK Border Agency and individual airports to make sure they are aware of the signs to look for and what to do if “the worst happens”.

United Press International covers a notable casualty:

Top Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone dies from infection

  • Dr. Sheikh Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s leading medical expert on the Ebola virus, has died after becoming infected with the disease.

Dr. Sheikh Umar Khan, a doctor in Sierra Leone who was actively working to control the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus, died Tuesday of the disease.

Khan became infected last week and had been in quarantine in an Ebola ward run by Medecins Sans Frontiere.

His death was confirmed by chief medical officer Dr. Brima Kargbo, who said his passing “is a big and irreparable loss to Sierra Leone as he was the only specialist the country had in viral hemorrhagic fevers.”

Corporate contagion challenged, via Shanghai Daily:

China vows zero tolerance and harsh punishment for rule-violating sales and growing of GM rice

CHINESE authorities have vowed zero tolerance and harsh punishment for rule-violating sales and growing of genetically modified (GM) crops days after a media exposure of GM rice on sale at a supermarket in central China.

“The ministry will punish any companies or individuals that ignore regulations to grow or sell GM grains,” the Ministry of Agriculture said Tuesday in a statement. “There will be no tolerance for those violating practices.”

China Central Television (CCTV) found GM rice, which is not allowed to be commercialized in China, on sale in the supermarket in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, the broadcaster reported on Saturday.

And from Common Dreams, a GMO-no:

Brazil Farmers Say GMO Corn No Longer Resistant to Bugs

  • Farm lobby group calls on Monsanto and other biotech companies to reimburse for additional pesticide treatments

Brazilian farmers say their GMO corn is no longer resistant to pests, Reuters reported Monday.

The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region said farmers first noticed in March that their genetically modified corn crops were less resistant to the destructive caterpillars that “Bt corn” — which has been genetically modified to produce a toxin that repels certain pests — is supposed to protect against. In turn, farmers have been forced to apply extra coats of insecticides, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.

The association, which goes by the name Aprosoja-MT, is calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow companies to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses. In a release posted to the Aprosoja-MT website, spokesman Ricardo Tomcyzk said farmers spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides, and that the biotech companies promised something they didn’t deliver, “i.e. deceptive advertising.” (via Google Translate)

Another Brazilian story about another plague, from BBC News:

Amazon: Yanomami tribe’s Davi Kopenawa gets death threats

Davi Kopenawa of the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon rainforest said armed men had raided the offices of lawyers working with him. He said they were hired gunmen who had asked for him and wanted to kill him.

In February a major operation began to evict hundreds of gold miners from Yanomami land. Davi Kopenawa has been at the forefront of the struggle to protect Yanomami land for decades.

He told the BBC: “Illegal gold miners are still invading our land. They have leaders who organise the supplies and transport and support the invasion of our land. Ranchers have also invaded with their cattle.

Killing species to sate fashionable appetites, via the Independent:

African Pangolins at risk of extinction after becoming east Asian food favourites

  • More than a million pangolins are believed to have been snatched from the wild over the past decade

The pangolin, or scaly anteater, has become such a popular dish in affluent Asian circles that it is in danger of becoming extinct, according to a stark warning from a leading conservation organisation.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has just added the four African pangolin species to its list of species threatened with extinction after an escalation of poaching driven by the rapid economic growth across much of the East. This means that all eight pangolin species – the other four from Asia – are now on the list, raising the prospect of the anteater being wiped out altogether.

Pangolins have long been caught and killed for their purported medicinal properties, which include being a treatment for psoriasis and poor circulation.

From the Guardian, another kind of extinction:

New Zealand’s ‘dramatic’ ice loss could lead to severe decline of glaciers

  • Study says Southern Alps mountain range has lost 34% of permanent snow and ice since 1977

New Zealand’s vast Southern Alps mountain range has lost a third of its permanent snow and ice over the past four decades, diminishing some of the country’s most spectacular glaciers, new research has found.

A study of aerial surveys conducted by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) discovered that the Southern Alps’ ice volume has shrunk by 34% since 1977.

Researchers from the University of Auckland and University of Otago said this “dramatic” decrease has accelerated in the past 15 years and could lead to the severe decline of some of New Zealand’s mightiest glaciers.

On to those pesky Japanese nuclear woes, first from NHK WORLD:

Poor quake resistance to keep Ikata plant offline

The restart of a nuclear power plant in western Japan has been put off until at least early next year after its emergency control room failed to pass a more rigorous quake resistance review.

Shikoku Electric Power Company made the announcement about its Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture on Friday.

The room failed the review when the utility raised the estimated peak ground acceleration from a potential earthquake at the plant to 620 gals.

The review was part of the ongoing safety screening of the No. 3 reactor being undertaken by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

NHK WORLD again, disposing:

Agency: Nuclear waste can be directly disposed of

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is reported to be looking at the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing it.

NHK has obtained a draft report compiled by the agency which analyzed the environmental impact of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

The conclusion of the analysis is expected to touch off controversy, because the government has long maintained the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel. It has conducted few studies about disposing of it as waste.

Spent nuclear fuel is known to have higher radiation levels than high-level radioactive waste.

More fuelishness, this time from the Japan Times:

U.S. energy secretary defends possible German nuclear waste imports

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Monday defended his agency’s controversial move to consider processing spent nuclear fuel from Germany at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site nuclear facility, saying the proposal is consistent with U.S. efforts to secure highly enriched uranium across the globe.

The United States has for years accepted spent fuel from research reactors in various countries that was produced with uranium of U.S. origin as a part of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy and treaties.

Receiving the German spent fuel would be “very much in line with our mission of removing the global danger of nuclear weapons material,” Moniz told reporters before a visit to the South Carolina nuclear facility.

Displacing history for the yachting crowd, via the Asahi Shimbun:

Tahiti memorial commemorating those impacted by French nuclear tests in danger of removal

The French Polynesian government’s decision to remove a monument on Tahiti dedicated to those who suffered from repeated French nuclear testing in the South Pacific is facing growing opposition, including from survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On June 11, the government, headed by French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse, decided to rescind permission to use the current location in a park that sits along the ocean in the capital, Papeete.

“It is desirable to construct new facilities to accept yachts and boats and renovate (current) facilities for tourists,” Flosse said.

MintPress News covers other problems from other fuels:

Western Penn. Residents Request Fracking-Related Illness Probe

  • Scientists are asked to either prove or refute theories connecting a range of health problems with nearby fracking operations.

Across the nation, communities are challenging claims that fracking is safe. Residents living near the litany of well pods that are being built or are already in operation continue to report nosebleeds, headaches, skin rashes, dizziness and nausea. Research is increasingly supporting theories connecting such symptoms to fracking well proximity. According to a Jan. 28 Colorado School of Public Health report, for example, mothers living close to a cluster of fracking wells have as much as a 30 percent additional risk of their child being born with a birth defect. A second study, released by the Endocrine Society in December, found that exposure to fracking fluid could disrupt hormone functioning, leading to a greater chance of infertility, cancer and other health problems.

While some states, such as New York and Maryland, have taken these health concerns seriously, and have issued statewide moratoriums on fracking, other states, drawn to the revenue the expanded oil and natural gas drilling would bring to their coffers, have allowed fracking operations to set up with virtually no state regulation and no vetting of the safety of the process. The drive toward making America energy-independent has also led to the federal government taking a hands-off approach in regards to dealing with fracking, with several pieces of legislation in place to make it difficult for federal agencies to impose safety regulations on oil and gas companies.

In fracking-heavy Washington County, Pennsylvania, residents have reached out to a group of local scientists to prove definitively that their illnesses are being caused by the fracking well pods. The group, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, is offering free health evaluations to families local to the drilling sites. In Pennsylvania, there are no planned or ongoing health studies in place with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection — which oversees the state’s oil and gas industries — and none of the impact fees the state collects from drilling operations go toward health programs or initiatives.

And for our final item, there’s exxxcellent news for Montgomery Burns from the Independent:

Luxury cruise line accused of offering ‘environmental disaster tourism’ with high-carbon footprint Arctic voyage

A luxury cruise operator in the US has announced it will offer a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip to experience the environmental devastation of the Arctic – using a mode of transport that emits three times more CO2 per passenger per mile than a jumbo jet.

It will be the first ever leisure cruise through the Northwest Passage, only accessible now because of the melting of polar ice, and is being marketed at those with an interest in witnessing the effects of climate change first-hand.

Tickets for the trip, scheduled for 16 August 2016 and organised by Crystal Cruises, will cost between $20,000 (£12,000) and $44,000.

Yet there is no mention on Crystal Cruises’ promotion or FAQ for the journey of the boat’s own carbon footprint.

InSecurity Watch: Censors/spooks/zones/deals


Today’s collection of tales from the worlds of spooks, deep politics, resurgent militarism, and more opens with the latest — stunning — revelation from WikiLeaks:

Australia bans reporting of multi-nation corruption case involving Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam

Today, 29 July 2014, WikiLeaks releases an unprecedented Australian censorship order concerning a multi-million dollar corruption case explicitly naming the current and past heads of state of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, their relatives and other senior officials. The super-injunction invokes “national security” grounds to prevent reporting about the case, by anyone, in order to “prevent damage to Australia’s international relations”. The court-issued gag order follows the secret 19 June 2014 indictment of seven senior executives from subsidiaries of Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). The case concerns allegations of multi-million dollar inducements made by agents of the RBA subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia in order to secure contracts for the supply of Australian-style polymer bank notes to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries.

The suppression order lists 17 individuals, including “any current or former Prime Minister of Malaysia”, “Truong Tan San, currently President of Vietnam”, “Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (also known as SBY), currently President of Indonesia (since 2004)”, “Megawati Sukarnoputri (also known as Mega), a former President of Indonesia (2001–2004) and current leader of the PDI-P political party” and 14 other senior officials and relatives from those countries, who specifically may not be named in connection with the corruption investigation.

The document also specifically bans the publication of the order itself as well as an affidavit affirmed last month by Australia’s representative to ASEAN Gillian Bird, who has just been appointed as Australia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. The gag order effectively blacks out the largest high-level corruption case in Australia and the region.

The last known blanket suppression order of this nature was granted in 1995 and concerned the joint US-Australian intelligence spying operation against the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.

Wikileaks has posted the court order here.

The Christian Science Monitor covers a concession:

US is no safer after 13 years of war, a top Pentagon official says

The outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency says that new players on the scene are more radical than Al Qaeda, and the core Al Qaeda ideology has lost none of its potency.

The nation is no safer after 13 years of war, warns a top US military official who leads one of the nation’s largest intelligence organizations.

“We have a whole gang of new actors out there that are far more extreme than Al Qaeda,” says Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which employs some 17,000 American intelligence collectors in 140 countries around the world.

That the United States is no safer – and in some respects may be less safe – even after two wars and trillions of dollars could prove to be disappointing news for Americans, noted the journalist questioning General Flynn at the Aspen Security Forum last week.

From the Guardian, a legislative battle against The Most Transparent Administration in History™:

Senators consider obscure rule in CIA torture report declassification debate

  • Mark Udall said procedure could be invoked to compel Obama administration to release more of landmark Senate report

Senators are considering the use of an obscure parliamentary procedure to compel the Obama administration to release more of a landmark Senate report into the Central Intelligence Agency’s abusive post-9/11 interrogations should they be unsatisfied with the administration’s first version.

“If the redacted version of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study that we receive appears to be an effort to obscure its narrative and findings — and if the White House is not amenable to working toward a set of mutually agreed-upon redactions — I believe the committee must seriously consider its other option,” Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat on the intelligence committee, told the Guardian on Monday.

It is believed that the White House will provide its completed redactions to sections of the Senate intelligence committee’s landmark torture report in the coming days. The committee will subsequently review the redactions as preparation for the report’s public release, something chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat, had wanted to happen in early May.

From The Hill, groping toward compromise?:

Leahy unveils ‘historic’ NSA reform bill

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday introduced legislation to put sweeping new limits on U.S. surveillance and peel back the curtain on controversial spying programs.

The aggressive bill seeks to address concerns that tech companies and civil liberties proponents had over the House’s attempt to rein in the National Security Agency (NSA) by restricting agents to narrow, targeted searches of records about people’s phone calls as well as making the spying regime more transparent.

For civil libertarians, it is the best hope for reining in the NSA this year, though defenders of the spy agency in Congress are likely to push back.

“If we can enact this bill, get it signed into law, it would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act 13 years gap,” Leahy said on the Senate floor

But Ars Technica notes a subtlety with deep significance:

Analysis: Bill banning phone metadata collection gives NSA access to it

  • Proposal “is not perfect” but less surveillance is better than mass surveillance.

A prominent senator unveiled legislation Tuesday that would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of all telephone metadata—a package that still provides the nation’s spooks limited access to the data of every phone call made to and from the US. And the probable-cause standard under the Fourth Amendment is not present.

Conceding the realpolitik, civil rights groups and others are backing the proposal from Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though the NSA may acquire the data absent constitutional protections.

And signs of repair efforts from Techdirt:

Senators Wyden And Udall Pledge To Strengthen USA Freedom Act By Closing Surveillance Backdoor

  • from the that-would-be-good dept

By now, it should be well known that Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall are the two key truth-tellers in Congress when it comes to what kind of surveillance is being done by the intelligence community. If they ask a question, assume the answer is “yes.”

With the introduction of the new USA Freedom Act in the Senate, we noted that, while it does take a big step forward, there is a lot more that can be done.

Wyden and Udall have released a statement noting that they plan to seek to strengthen the bill with an amendment to close the backdoor search “loophole” which is used by the entire intelligence community to spy on Americans. It’s unfortunate that Leahy didn’t include that in the original bill — and it suggests that there might not (yet) be enough support to close the backdoor. But

From The Verge, a profitable but hardly surprising transition:

Former NSA chief makes up to $1 million a month selling cybersecurity services

  • Gen. Keith Alexander stepped down from the NSA after the Snowden leaks, now he’s back with a new security firm related to his government work

General Keith Alexander was in charge of the National Security Agency when all hell broke loose and former security contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents showing the organization was spying far beyond the extent to which most people were aware (or comfortable with). But he’s not letting that episode stop him from launching what looks to be an exceptionally lucrative private career selling…you guessed it, cybersecurity software.

As Bloomberg first reported last week, Alexander has spent the last few months since his retirement as NSA head in March giving paid talks on cybersecurity to banks and other large financial institutions. Bloomberg also noted that Alexander has charged up to $1 million a month for his services, and even co-founded his own private security firm, IronNet Cybersecurity, Inc. In a more recent interview with Foreign Policy, Alexander admitted that his firm has developed “unique” technology for detecting and fighting so-called “advanced persistent threats” — cyberattacks that can extend for months or years at a time without being noticed, and are directed against specific targets like big companies or governments.

Beyond the somewhat uncomfortable optics created by America’s leading spymaster turning his skill-set to the private security sector, there are other problems with Alexander’s new job. As Foreign Policy points out, the former NSA chief plans to file patents on his firm’s technology, patents that are “directly related to the job he had in government.” In other words, Alexander stands to profit directly off of his taxpayer-funded experience, and may do so with a competitive advantage over other competing private firms.

From the Dept. Of Extremely Curious, via the Guardian:

US government increases funding for Tor, giving $1.8m in 2013

  • Despite attempts by the National Security Agency to crack the anonymous browser, the US increased state funding through third parties

Tor, the internet anonymiser, received more than $1.8m in funding from the US government in 2013, even while the NSA was reportedly trying to destroy the network.

According to the Tor Project’s latest annual financial statements, the organisation received $1,822,907 from the US government in 2013. The bulk of that came in the form of “pass-through” grants, money which ultimately comes from the US government distributed through some independent third-party.

Formerly known as “the onion router”, Tor is software which allows its users to browse the internet anonymously. It works by bouncing connections through encrypted “relays”, preventing any eavesdropper from determining what sites a particular user is visiting, or from determining who the users of a particular site actually are. That makes it popular amongst organisations trying to promote freedom of speech in nations like China and Syria – but also popular amongst users trying to evade surveillance in the West.

CBC News covers a trans-Pacific hack

Chinese cyberattack hits Canada’s National Research Council

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird raises issue during visit to Beijing

A “highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor” recently managed to hack into the computer systems at Canada’s National Research Council, according to Canada’s chief information officer, Corinne Charette.

The attack was discovered by Communications Security Establishment Canada.

In a statement released Tuesday, Charette, confirmed that while the NRC’s computers operate outside those of the government of Canada as a whole, the council’s IT system has been “isolated” to ensure no other departments are compromised.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was in Beijing as news of the cyberattack became public.

The Guardian covers a done deal:

UK-US sign secret new deal on nuclear weapons

  • Closed contents of updated Mutual Defence Agreement
  • Vital for Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system
  • MPs also demand debate on UK’s future world role

A new agreement critical to Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system, was signed the other day by British and US officials.

Whitehall was silent. We had to rely on the White House, and a message from Barack Obama to the US Congress, to tell us that the 1958 UK-US Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) had been updated.

A new amendment to the treaty will last for 10 years. Obama told Congress it will “permit the transfer between the United States and the United Kingdom of classified information concerning atomic weapons; nuclear technology and controlled nuclear information; material and equipment for the development of defense plans; training of personnel; evaluation of potential enemy capability; development of delivery systems; and the research, development, and design of military reactors.”

From intelNews, high crime by a vanished regime?:

Did South African spy services kill Swedish prime minister in 1986?

The usually tranquil waters of Swedish national politics were stirred violently on February 28, 1986, when the country’s Prime Minister, Olof Palme, was shot dead. He was walking home from the cinema with his wife when he was gunned down by a single assassin who shot him from behind in Stockholm’s central street of Sveavägen. Following the 1988 acquittal of Christer Pettersson, who had been initially convicted of the assassination, several theories have been floating around, but the crime remains unsolved to this day.

Now the BBC has aired an investigation into the incident, which revisits what some say is the most credible theory behind the killing: that Palme was targeted by the government of apartheid-era South Africa because of his strong support for the African National Congress (ANC). Palme was among the leading figures of the left wing in Sweden’s Social Democratic Party.

He had served as Prime Minister from 1969 to 1976, and was reelected in 1982 on a left-wing program of “revolutionary reform” that included expanding the role of the trade unions and increasing progressive taxation rates. He was also a strong international opponent of South Africa’s apartheid system and under his leadership Sweden became the most ardent supporter of the ANC.

On to the Asian security from, starting with suspicion of security crimes from the New York Times:

China Says Zhou Yongkang, Former Security Chief, Is Under Investigation

In President Xi Jinping’s most audacious move yet to impose his authority by targeting elite corruption, the Communist Party on Tuesday announced an investigation of Zhou Yongkang, the retired former head of domestic security who accumulated vast power while his family accumulated vast wealth.

Mr. Zhou, who retired from the Politburo Standing Committee in late 2012, is the most senior party figure ever to face a formal graft inquiry. Until now, no standing or retired member of the Standing Committee has faced a formal investigation by the party’s anticorruption agency.

The party leadership has “decided to establish an investigation of Zhou Yongkang for grave violations of discipline,” Xinhua, the state-run news agency, reported Tuesday, citing a decision by the party’s anticorruption agency. The terse announcement gave no details of the charges against Mr. Zhou.

Want China Times covers a goose getting gander sauced:

‘Cradle of Chinese hackers’ sees 70-80 cyber attacks a day

Shandong Lanxiang Vocational School’s ties with the military have led it to be seen increasingly as an incubator for Chinese hackers, and as a result the school has experienced frequent cyber attacks.

The school began assisting the People’s Liberation Army in training soldiers in various fields shortly after its establishment in 1984.

The school has also worked with state businesses and agencies under the State Council.

School founder Rong Lanxiang acknowledges that the school worked with the military during its early days and had introduced members of the military into its management.

The Japan Times covers the latest symptoms of centuries’ old tensions:

Japan feels ‘strong concern’ over France-Russia warship deal

The government on Tuesday expressed “strong concern” about the planned sale of French helicopter carriers to Russia, joining some EU countries in opposing the deal as the West believes Russia has failed to meet international demands to end violence in Ukraine.

President Francois Hollande has defied allies Britain and the United States by confirming plans to deliver a helicopter carrier to Russia.

A €1.2 billion ($1.62 billion) contract for two warships, signed by France’s then-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government in 2011, was the first by a NATO member country to supply Russia with military equipment.

Jiji Press question resurgent militarism:

DPJ’s Noda Urges Abe to Clarify Risks of Collective Self-Defense

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called on incumbent Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday to explain the risks involved in Japan exercising its right to collective self-defense.

“Obviously, risks increase when the scope of activities by the Self-Defense Forces is extended. Abe should fully explain if he raised the issue out of concern for the future of Japan,” Noda said in a speech to the Research Institute of Japan, a Jiji Press affiliate.

Noda, a member of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, urged Abe to tell the public about the risks including the possibility that the SDF may become involved in combat.

While the Japan Times covers a possible militarism-enabler:

Abe eyes Ishiba for new Cabinet post on defense legislation

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to replace Shigeru Ishiba as the No. 2 man in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and has sounded him out about assuming a newly created Cabinet post for defense legislation, a party source said Tuesday.

The envisioned changes would be part of Abe’s Cabinet reshuffle scheduled for the first week of September, his first since taking office in December 2012. Abe, who heads the LDP, also plans to reshuffle party executives.

Ishiba, the LDP’s secretary-general, is widely regarded as a potential future prime minister. He has refrained from making his stance clear on the proposed move, the LDP source said.

Nikkei Asian Review courts compromise:

Europe sees rule of law as key in South China Sea disputes

The European Union (EU) on Tuesday prodded countries with competing territorial claims in the South China Sea to resolve their disputes peacefully through the rule of law.

In a joint briefing with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario following a bilateral meeting, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, restated the EU position:

“The European Union encourages all parties to seek peaceful solutions through dialogue and cooperation in accordance with the international law, in particular with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Ashton said.

From Want China Times, a remarkable statistic:

North Korea has largest fleet of submarines worldwide

North Korea has the largest fleet of submarines in the world, with 78 currently in its arsenal, according to the Global Firepower Index of the Business Insider based in New York.

The United States has six fewer at 72, while China came in third place with 69 submarines. Russia was ranked fourth with 63 and Iran was in fifth place fifth with around 31 submarines, while Japan has 16 and South Korea has 14.

The Global Security website run by a group of defense and intelligence experts estimated that the Korean People’s Navy is in possession of at least 78 submarines, including eight semi-submersible infiltration crafts.

And for our final item, the London Daily Mail covers a costly security gesture:

Rick Perry: National Guard on US-Mexico border can’t make arrests but serve as ‘a powerful reminder that what you are doing is a crime’

  • Texas governor deployed up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border this month but didn’t give them arrest powers
  • He argues that their deterrent factor alone is worth the exercise
  • Troops will work alongside state police agencies Perry activated as a supplement to what he says are inadequate measures from Washington
  • Hundreds of children and teens pour across the border from Mexico every day, following a 2012 amnesty announcement from President Obama that only affects illegal immigrants brought to America as children before 2007

EnviroWatch: Fires, toxins, nukes, crops


Our compendium of news environmental begins with Golden State burning, via the Christian Science Monitor:

California fire threatens 500 homes, more high temps forecast

California fire crews are battling the so-called Sand Fire, which doubled in size over the weekend, as well as a fire near Yosemite National Park. Intense heat is expected to continue in the state this week.

More than 1,000 residents have been evacuated from the Sierra Nevada foothills as wildfire threatens 500 homes.

The so-called Sand Fire doubled in size over the weekend, burning 13 homes and outbuildings and scorching six square miles of grassland and timber near Plymouth, Calif., some 30 miles east of Sacramento. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze with the help of a DC-10 air tanker, but high temperatures and gusting winds continue to fan the flames. The blaze, which began on Friday, is currently 50 percent contained.

The intense heat is expected to continue throughout the week, further complicating efforts to battle the fire and heightening the potential for other outbreaks, Sacramento-based National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Peterson told the Los Angeles Times.

From CBC News, corporate poisoning north of the border:

Mercury survivors neglected by government, Grassy Narrows First Nation claims

A northwestern Ontario First Nation has released a five-year-old report confirming the community suffers ongoing effects from mercury poisoning, but it says the government has never acted on the findings.

At a news conference in Toronto on Monday, members of Grassy Narrows First Nation presented the 2009 report that they say should have been made public long ago.

The report was commissioned by the Mercury Disability Board, an organization established in 1986 through an out-of-court settlement to assess and manage claims related to mercury contamination in the Wabigoon/English River system.

A Dryden-based paper company dumped mercury into the river between 1962 and 1970, contaminating the main source of fish for Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabesemoong Independent Nations.

And from EcoWatch, troubled waters on the northern border:

Plastic Pellets Pollute Lake Erie

Millions of industrial plastic pellets pollute the sands beneath our feet, but you can’t see them unless you look closely, and no beach cleanup will ever make it better.

“We picked up all the bags and bottles already,” said one young volunteer that collected trash on Whiskey Island at Wendy Park’s Sandy Beach, along the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland as part of the Burning River Fest. I was sitting next to her on the ground sifting through leaf litter picking up the little pieces. I yelled, “I’ll give a dollar to the first person to find a pellet!” Within a few minutes a dozen volunteers were on their hand and knees picking up thousands of them. The amount of pellets on this beach is equivalent to a least one plastic bottle every three feet.

Industries that make or use preproduction plastic pellets contribute to the problem of uncontrolled pellet loss. Preproduction plastic is the raw plastic resin materials that are molded into finished plastic products, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. Preproduction plastics are often produced in a resin pellet format, occasionally termed as “nurdles.” These small, 1- to 5- mm diameter pieces are produced in various shapes, colors and plastic types. Preproduction plastics can be produced in powder, granule and flake form.

From the Guardian, the best “science” money can buy:

Bee research tainted by corporate funding, MPs say

  • Report warns against letting pesticide companies fund key research for government plan to boost pollinators

Criticial future research on the plight of bees risks being tainted by corporate funding, according to a report from MPs published on Monday. Pollinators play a vital role in fertilising three-quarters of all food crops but have declined due to loss of habitat, disease and pesticide use. New scientific research forms a key part of the government’s plan to boost pollinators but will be funded by pesticide manufacturers.

UK environment ministers failed in their attempt in 2013 to block an EU-wide ban on some insecticides linked to serious harm in bees and the environmental audit select committee (EAC) report urges ministers to end their opposition, arguing there is now even more evidence of damage. Millions of member of the public have supported the ban.

“When it comes to research on pesticides, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is content to let the manufacturers fund the work,” said EAC chair Joan Walley. “This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the department responsible for it. If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step. Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full”.

On to Latin America for two contrasting agricultural stories via Public Radio International:

Brazil is set to become the world’s biggest soy producer — and that might be bad news for its forests

In the soy bean world, all eyes are now on the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil.

It’s covered by millions of acres of industrial farms and deep green soy fields. If this year’s harvest — the best in Brazilian history — comes in as expected, Brazil is poised to surpass the US and become the world’s largest soy producer. Soy beans have boosted Brazil’s economy and even brought President Dilma Roussef to Mato Grosso to congratulate farmers in person.

But in a nearby indigenous village, no one is celebrating. The boom in soy production coincided with a spike in deforestation. And Hiparidi Toptiro, an activist from the indigenous Xavante people, says local soy farmers are willing to do anything for a chunk of the forest where the Xavante live.

“Throughout our lands, people show up wielding false deeds to the area,” Toptiro says.  “And they have begun to plant soybeans inside our lands. They pay off one of our villages with a little money, which complicates the relationship between all of us in the reserve. “ He calls it dividing and conquering with trinkets.

The Guardian looks at the alternative:

Can ‘agroecology’ bring food security to Latin America?

  • A home-grown, alternative approach to farming is bad news for pesticides, monoculture and food poverty in Brazil

In response to problems caused by agribusiness, including contamination of natural resources, increases in food prices, soil infertility and health problems, agroecology has emerged as a marriage between science, traditional agriculture and social movements.

Family farming, the practice which agroecology is based on, involves about 500 million people worldwide, according statistics from UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Agroecological farmers produce relatively more food. In South America, family farming takes place on 18% of the territory and produces about 40% of its food.

María de Los Angeles is an Ecuadorian representative of the agroecological movement of Latin America and the Caribbean. She says conventional production is not sustainable because it degrades the soil and is based on fossil fuels.

“Agroecology recovers elements of each territory and knowledge developed by farmers for thousands of years. Instead of monoculture, we’re talking about preserving biodiversity and humankind itself.”

Off to Japan for the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with an offering from Jiji Press:

No Clear Effect of Fukushima Groundwater Bypass: TEPCO

Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted Monday that it still cannot confirm whether a so-called groundwater bypass operation at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is working.

In May, the utility began the operation to pump untainted groundwater into the sea so that the water will not flow into reactor buildings and increase the amount of radioactive water at the plant.

TEPCO official Teruaki Kobayashi told a news conference Monday that the company is still unable to see tangible results from the operation in reactor buildings.

From the Asahi Shimbun, justifiable skepticism:

ASAHI POLL: 59% oppose planned restart of Kyushu reactors

Nearly 60 percent of citizens are opposed to the planned restart of reactors at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, the first such restart under tougher standards introduced after the Fukushima crisis, according to an Asahi Shimbun survey.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on July 16 concluded that reactors at the Kyushu Electric Power Co. plant meet the safety standards introduced after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

It is the first time since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began that a nuclear plant has passed the NRA’s stricter inspections.

The Asahi Shimbun again, with cause for even more skepticism:

Former Kansai Electric Power executive reveals 18 years of secret payments to prime ministers

A former top official at Kansai Electric Power Co. has come forward to reveal a nearly 20-year history of doling out “top secret” huge donations to Japanese prime ministers, funded on the backs of ratepayers.

Chimori Naito, 91, a former KEPCO vice president, said that for 18 years from 1972, seven prime ministers received 20 million yen (about $200,000 now) annually from Yoshishige Ashihara, who served as both KEPCO president and chairman.

At that time, political donations to individual lawmakers were not illegal. However, in 1974, electric power companies declared a ban on corporate donations to politicians because of strong public opposition to the use of electricity fees to pay for such contributions.

Naito had long taken pride in working closely with Ashihara in making the donations as part of efforts to promote nuclear energy and to further develop the electric power industry.

NHK WORLD covers a hot real estate deal:

Govt. won’t nationalize radioactive storage site

The government says it will allow landowners to keep their property rights for the land where it will build temporary storage facilities for radioactive debris in Fukushima Prefecture. It had originally planned to buy the land for the facilities.

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Reconstruction Minister Takumi Nemoto met Fukushima Prefecture Governor Yuhei Sato and the mayors of Futaba and Okuma in Tokyo on Monday. The two towns host the crippled nuclear power plant.

The government had planned to buy land from landowners in the towns to build the intermediate storage facilities for radioactive soil and waste from the nuclear power plant. But some landowners had refused to sell.

From the Guardian, fracking Britain’s heritage:

Fracking: oil exploration already occurs in national parks, says energy minister

  • Tory MP Matthew Hancock’s remark comes as firms are invited to bid for first onshore oil and gas licences in six years

Ministers are right to leave the door open to fracking in national parks because oil and gas have been exploited uncontroversially in such areas for decades, Matthew Hancock, the new energy minister, has said.

Unveiling the first new competition for onshore oil and gas licences for six years, the Conservative MP said there would need to be exceptional circumstances for shale drilling in protected countryside but people should remember that national parks cover 16% of the UK.

The government is on Monday to advertise around half of the UK to companies which want to exploit shale gas, in the first sale of new onshore licences since experts discovered the scale of the UK’s reserves.

And for our final item, a chiller from News Corp Australia:

The arrival of an Ebola-infected air passenger in Nigeria has airlines and airports scrambling to respond around the world

A MAN collapses at an international airport: It’s a hackneyed scene from almost every plague film ever made. But now it has happened — airports around the world are on high alert as fears mount that the deadly Ebola virus is on the move.

Nigerian health authorities are racing to stop the spread of the flesh-eating Ebola virus after a man sick with one of the world’s deadliest diseases carried it by plane to Lagos, Africa’s largest city with 21 million people.

Nigeria is so concerned it has ordered the establishment of “disease isolation centres” at international airports across the country to prevent any further entry of the untreatable disease.

But the horse may have already bolted.

InSecurity Watch: Spies, pols, laws, flaws


Lots of ground to cover and the hour’s growing late, so on with the show, starfing with the latest from the Asian wild card via SINA English:

North Korea threatens nuclear strike on White House

A top-ranking North Korean military official has threatened a nuclear strike on the White House and Pentagon after accusing Washington of raising military tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The threat came from Hwang Pyong-So, director of the military’s General Political Bureau, during a speech to a large military rally in Pyongyang on Sunday on the anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Hwang, who holds the rank of vice marshal in the Korean People’s Army, said a recent series of South Korea-US military drills, one of which included the deployment of a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier, had ramped up tensions.

Heading to the other wise of the Pacific and the not-so-surprising but tragic, via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Obama’s crackdown on leakers damages constitutional protections, activists say

Recent revelations of the U.S. government’s pervasive surveillance program and its crackdown on leaks are making it increasingly difficult for American journalists and lawyers to do their jobs, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report released Monday.

It’s becoming impossible to ensure privacy for sources and clients by protecting their information, the report found. Government officials not only are substantially less willing to be in contact with journalists than they were a few years ago, but they also are even refusing to discuss unclassified matters or personal opinions.

“They are afraid of losing their security clearances, being fired or even being prosecuted,” Alex Sinha, the author of the report and a fellow at Human Rights Watch, said in a news conference at the National Press Club.

More from Common Dreams:

Government Surveillance Threatens Journalism, Law and Thus Democracy: Report

  • Interviews with dozens of leading journalists and attorneys found that U.S. government overreach is eroding critically important freedoms

The impunity with which the American government spies on journalists and attorneys is undermining the American people’s ability to hold their leaders accountable, thus threatening the core of our democracy, charged a joint report published Monday by two leading rights organizations.

The report—With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy, published by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch—draws from extensive interviews with dozens of top journalists, lawyers and senior government officials. What the authors found is that recent revelations of widespread government surveillance have forced many professionals to alter or abandon work related to “matters of great public concern.”

According to the report, “Surveillance has magnified existing concerns among journalists and their sources over the administration’s crackdown on leaks.” With increasing prosecution of whistleblowers, restrictions on communication between intelligence officials and the media, and snitch programs for federal workers, journalists say that their sources have become “increasingly scared to talk about anything.”

On a related note, there’s this from MintPress News:

You’ve Got Mail: Judge Grants Feds Unrestricted Access To Gmail Account

In giving law enforcement unfettered access to search for “some needles” in one individual’s “computer haystack,” a judge fans the flames of the data debate.

Privacy advocates were dealt a major blow on July 18, when a federal judge in New York ruled that law enforcement has the legal authority to search the entire email account of an unnamed individual who police believe was involved in a money laundering scheme.

Google is now legally required to hand over the entire contents of the unnamed individual’s Gmail account — including all emails sent, received and drafted, all contacts, and other information —  to federal prosecutors.

In his 23-page ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein wrote that email accounts should be treated like hard drives when it comes to search and seizure principles. In other words, Gorenstein believes law enforcement should be able to go through an individual’s entire email account if prosecutors can demonstrate probable cause showing a “sufficient chance of finding some needles in the computer haystack.”

Next up, the latest on the iSpy — er, iPhone, via PandoDaily:

Apple hit with class action suit for spying on iPhone users

Apple has been hit with a class action suit on behalf of 100 million iPhone users who, allegedly, are being spied on by the phone’s location tracking tools.

According to the suit, filed in Federal Court in San Jose by lead plaintiff Chen Ma…

In or around September 2012, Apple released iPhone 4 which contains an iOS operating system software that enables iPhone 4 to track its users’ whereabouts down to every minute, record the duration that users stay at any given geographical point, and periodically transmit these data stored on the users’ devices to Apple’s data base for future references.

…Plaintiff alleges that while using her iPhones, including her current iPone [sic] 5S, she was not given notice that her daily whereabouts would be tracked, recorded, and transmitted to Apple database to be stored for future reference. She was not asked for and thus has not given her consent, approval and permission nor was she even made aware that her detailed daily whereabouts would be tracked, recorded and transmitted to Apple database.

Want China Times adds insult to injury:

Apple admits iPhone security flaw

Consumer electronics giant Apple has admitted for the first time that company employees can circumvent backup encryption to extract personal data including text messages, contact lists and photos from user iPhones, according to a report from Reuters.

Tech researcher Jonathan Zdziarskiv said at a conference presentation last week that because Apple is collecting a lot more data as part of its diagnostic services than necessary, the company’s staff, law enforcement agencies or anyone else with access to “trusted” computers to which Apple devices have been connected can use the same methods to gain access to this highly personal data.

The problem is compounded by the fact that Apple users are not notified that the services are running, meaning there is no way they can know what computers have been granted trusted status. They also cannot disable the service by “unpairing” a device from a computer unless the phone is formatted, Zdziarski said.

From CNN, making out like bandits:

Pentagon security clearance holders owe $730M in taxes

About 83,000 Defense Department employees and contractors with security clearances to protect the nation’s secrets have delinquent federal tax debts totaling $730 million, according to an internal government audit.

The findings in the new Government Accountability Office study raise security concerns for the U.S. government. Officials say employees and contractors who have financial problems are top targets of foreign intelligence agents.

Federal regulations governing security clearances say that a person “who is financially overextended is at risk of having to engage in illegal acts to generate funds” and that indebtedness should be among factors considered when someone applies for a clearance, the GAO study said. But the study found that government agencies in charge of the issue can’t readily collect data on tax debt, in part because IRS privacy rules prohibit sharing certain taxpayer data.

And from intelNews, a blast from the past that fortunately fizzled:

FBI searched for Soviet atom bombs in 1950s’ New York, files show

American authorities suspected that Soviet intelligence had smuggled atom bombs in New York City and that Moscow was planning to detonate them “at an expedient time”, according to declassified documents. The revelation comes from a set of internal FBI files, which were declassified and released in redacted form in 2010.

Copies of the documents, which date from the early 1950s, were posted (.pdf) on The Government Attic, a website specializing in publishing US government files obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents were then noticed last week by The Village Voice’s Anna Merlan. The file, titled “Atomic Bomb in Unknown Consulate, New York City”, is nearly 80 pages-long. It indicates that the search for a supposed Soviet atomic weapon in New York began shortly after the summer of 1950, when the FBI received a tip from a source in Brazil. The source reportedly told the Bureau that Soviet operatives had “placed an atom bomb in a consulate [...] in New York City to be detonated at such time as the Soviets consider expedient”.

The problem was that the FBI was not aware of the identity of the consulate, which was presumed to belong to the USSR or to a country politically aligned with it. The Bureau thus actively engaged in searching for the bomb during the years of 1951 and 1952.

Off to Europe and a more contemporary blast [of sorts] from TheLocal.no:

Swedish terror expert slams Norway terror alert

A Swedish terrorism researcher has blasted Norway’s handling of its recent terror threat, saying the day the threat began was a “total intelligence failure”.

Sweden has started analysing Norway’s reaction to its recent threat.

“It created unnecessary anxiety in Norway,”  Magnus Ranstorp, terrorist expert at the Swedish National Defence College, told The Local.

Norway has been on high-powered, ultra-defensive tip-toe for the past few days, since its intelligence service (PST) said last Thursday that it suspected an “imminent” terror attack.

And from TheLocal.se, a pullback:

Norway set to reduce terror alert

Norway’s terror alert level will be reduced from Tuesday, but security will still be somewhat tighter than normal, police chiefs said on Monday.

Police director Odd Reidar Humlegård informed at a press conference on Monday afternoon in Oslo that all police forces have received a directive to lower security across Norway.

Humlegård said: “The police are still going to be armed, but we are to start preparing for a reduction of visible presence.”

He announced a gradual reduction and change of measures, now more focused towards intelligence and analysis. Humlegård said that the increased security alert level has already come at the cost of several tens of millions of kroner of police resources.

The Guardian covers a setback for Washington:

Venezuelan government joy as Aruba frees former military intelligence head

  • President Maduro’s supporters jubilant after Hugo Carvajal is released instead of facing extradition to the US

Venezuela’s former military intelligence head Hugo Carvajal, wanted by the United States over drug accusations and arrested four days ago on the Caribbean island of Aruba, was released on Sunday.

Instead of being extradited to the US, the retired general flew home after the Netherlands government ruled he had diplomatic immunity, his lawyer and Venezuelan officials said.

Jubilant Venezuelan officials at a congress of the ruling Socialist Party celebrated the release as a “victory” over their ideological foes in Washington who wanted to extradite him.

And from the Independent, playing by the rules of a familiar game:

The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts

  • The slickness of Israel’s spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by the pollster Frank Luntz

Israeli spokesmen have their work cut out explaining how they have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, compared with just three civilians killed in Israel by Hamas rocket and mortar fire. But on television and radio and in newspapers, Israeli government spokesmen such as Mark Regev appear slicker and less aggressive than their predecessors, who were often visibly indifferent to how many Palestinians were killed.

There is a reason for this enhancement of the PR skills of Israeli spokesmen. Going by what they say, the playbook they are using is a professional, well-researched and confidential study on how to influence the media and public opinion in America and Europe. Written by the expert Republican pollster and political strategist Dr Frank Luntz, the study was commissioned five years ago by a group called The Israel Project, with offices in the US and Israel, for use by those “who are on the front lines of fighting the media war for Israel”.

Every one of the 112 pages in the booklet is marked “not for distribution or publication” and it is easy to see why. The Luntz report, officially entitled “The Israel project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary, was leaked almost immediately to Newsweek Online, but its true importance has seldom been appreciated. It should be required reading for everybody, especially journalists, interested in any aspect of Israeli policy because of its “dos and don’ts” for Israeli spokesmen.

Off to Asia and the latest on the Game of Zones, starting with a headline from Kyodo News:

Japan announces additional sanctions on Russia over Ukraine

Japan will impose additional sanctions on Russia for failing to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, where the recent downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet killed all 298 people aboard, the government said Monday.

Assets held in Japan by individuals or groups directly involved in Russia’s annexation of Crimea or the instability in eastern Ukraine will be frozen, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a daily press briefing.

Japan will also follow the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s recent decision to freeze funding for new projects in Russia, and limit imports of Crimea-made products, Suga said.

But the McClatchy Washington Bureau makes an interesting point:

U.S. sales to Russia have only risen since sanctions imposed

In the months since the United States imposed sanctions on Russian businesses and close associates of President Vladimir Putin’s, an odd thing has happened: U.S. exports to Russia have risen.

U.S. Census Bureau foreign trade data show that exports rose 17 percent from March through May _ the most recent months for which the data is available _ compared with the previous three months, before sanctions were imposed. The value of exports has risen in each consecutive month this year, an unusual trend in a trade relationship that historically fluctuates on a monthly basis.

Russian markets account for less than 1 percent of U.S. exports, but what the U.S. sells to Russia is largely high-tech and expensive goods, including technology and equipment for the energy sector, which faces the threat of targeted sanctions.

Meanwhile, Japan makes a push ion a new venue. From Nikkei Asian Review:

Japan moves to counter China, Russia influence in Caribbean

Japan’s prime minister met here Monday with leaders and top officials representing 14 Caribbean nations, in a bid to shore up ties in a region where Russia and China have recently made robust overtures of their own.

Attending a summit of the Caribbean Community, or Caricom, Shinzo Abe pledged continued economic assistance and sought support for Japan’s bid for a nonpermanent seat in the United Nations Security Council election next year.

As an ally of the U.S., Japan also aims to counter recent moves by China and Russia to strengthen their influence in what is effectively “America’s backyard.”

And from Xinhua, another blast from the past:

Japanese war criminal confession reveals persecution of Chinese

A written confession by Japanese war criminal Ryusuke Sako made public on Sunday revealed the persecution of thousands of Chinese including underground anti-Japanese operators during World War II.

The document is the latest in a series published on the website of China’s State Archives Administration (SAA) following denials of war crimes by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Japanese right-wing politicians.

According to Sako’s confession, before his capture in August 1945, he served as section chief of Inspection Department of the Railway Security Police Forces of the “Manchukuo” puppet state and major general and brigade commander of Railway Security Forces in Jilin and Mudanjiang.

And for our final item, Frontera NorteSur covers a travesty of justice:

Massive Rights Violations Charged at New Mexico Detention Facility

After touring a New Mexico detention facility housing Central American refugees, immigrant advocates and lawyers have charged the Obama Administration with violating due process rights.

In a July 24 telephonic press conference hosted by the National Immigration Law Center, representatives of an advocates’ group that were allowed to conduct a short visit July 22 of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLTEC) in Artesia, New Mexico, where hundreds of Central American women and children are being held, detailed a laundry list of grievances.

In comments to reporters, advocates said women and children were held in crowded conditions; not adequately informed of their due process rights or given timely access to legal counsel, as per U.S. refugee law;  hustled through deportation proceedings; and forced to read  complex forms in English.  Additionally, serious concerns were raised about the physical and emotional health of children and their mothers.

InSecurity Watch: Spies, lies, laws, zones, drones


Our latest edition of tales form the dark side begins with a legal question from Wired:

New Ruling Shows the NSA Can’t Legally Justify Its Phone Spying Anymore

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said no this week to tracking your movements using data from your cell phone without a warrant when it declared that this information is constitutionally protected.

The case, United States v. Davis , is important not only because it provides substantive and procedural protections against abuse of an increasingly common and highly invasive surveillance method. It also provides support for something Christopher Sprigman and I have said before — that the government’s other “metadata” collection programs are unconstitutional.

The Davis decision, in effect, suggests that the U.S. government’s collection of all kinds of business records and transactional data — commonly called “metadata” — for law enforcement and national security purposes may also be unconstitutional.

The Washington Post raises more legal questions:

4 senators worry about NSA collection of Americans’ e-mails, phone calls

Four Democratic senators have sent a letter to the director of national intelligence expressing concerns about the scope of the collection of Americans’ e-mails and phone calls under a National Security Agency program that targets foreigners overseas.

The lawmakers, led by Jon Tester (D-Mont.), told Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. that they were concerned by recent reports by The Washington Post and an independent executive branch panel about the surveillance.

The Post examined 160,000 communications intercepted under the program, which was authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008. The law does not require individualized warrants.

The Post found that “nearly half of the surveillance files . . . contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.”

And Wired offers opposition:

A Convicted Hacker and an Internet Icon Join Forces to Thwart NSA Spying

The internet is littered with burgeoning email encryption schemes aimed at thwarting NSA spying. Many of them are focused on solving the usability issues that have plagued complicated encryption schemes like PGP for years. But a new project called Dark Mail plans to go further: to hide your metadata.

Metadata is the pernicious transaction data involving the “To”, “From” and subject fields of email that the NSA finds so valuable for tracking communications and drawing connections between people. Generally, even when email is encrypted, metadata is not. Dark Mail ambitiously aims to revamp existing email structures to hide this data while still making the system universally compatible with existing email clients.

The project has made for an interesting pairing between Texas technologist Ladar Levison and convicted hacker Stephen Watt, whom he’s hired to help develop the code. Both have had previous battles with the government in very different ways.

From Social Science Research Network, a research summary raises troubling questions:

Government Surveillance and Internet Search Behavior

This paper uses data from Google Trends on search terms from before and after the surveillance revelations of June 2013 to analyze whether Google users’ search behavior shifted as a result of an exogenous shock in information about how closely their internet searches were being monitored by the U. S. government.

We use data from Google Trends on search volume for 282 search terms across eleven different countries. These search terms were independently rated for their degree of privacy-sensitivity along multiple dimensions.

Using panel data, our result suggest that cross-nationally, users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the U. S. government. In the U. S., this was the main subset of search terms that were affected. However, internationally there was also a drop in traffic for search terms that were rated as personally sensitive. These results have implications for policy makers in terms of understanding the actual effects on search behavior of disclosures relating to the scale of government surveillance on the Internet and their potential effects on international competitiveness.

From The Hill, another agency, another challenge:

Ex-officials demand to see CIA report

Former top officials at the CIA want to make sure that they get a chance to see an upcoming report about the spy agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to new reports on Saturday.

Former CIA Directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden drafted a letter asking to see the Senate’s executive summary of the so-called “torture report,” which they sent to Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the New York Times reported.

The three chiefs and two former acing directors, John McLaughlin and Michael Morell, did reportedly get a chance to see the document, which reviews how controversial practices such as waterboarding were used. But many other top staffers did not.

About a dozen former officials who are named in the report were initially promised the chance to read it, according to the Associated Press. That offer was taken back on Friday, however, due to what CIA officials said was miscommunication.

More from Techdirt:

Senator Wyden Toying With The Idea Of Releasing The Senate’s CIA Torture Report

  • from the the-pressure’s-on dept

Senator Ron Wyden is apparently getting tired of waiting for the White House to use up its buckets of black ink in redacting everything important in the Senate’s big torture report. He’s publicly pondering the idea of using Senate privilege to just release it himself.

As you may recall, the Senate Intelligence Committee spent years and $40 million investigating the CIA’s torture program, and the 6,000+ page report is supposedly devastating in highlighting (1) how useless the program was and (2) how far the CIA went in torturing people (for absolutely no benefit) and (3) how the CIA lied to Congress about all of this. The CIA, not surprisingly, is not too happy about the report. At all. Still, despite its protests, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify the executive summary of the report.

However, the CIA got to take first crack at figuring out what to redact, which seemed like a massive conflict of interest. Either way, the CIA apparently finally ran out of black ink in late June, and asked the White House to black out whatever else was left. The State Department has already expressed concerns that releasing anything will just anger the public (our response: probably should have thought of that before sending the CIA to torture people). And, now it appears the report is being held up due to “security” concerns.

From Motherboard, Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane ! It’s Fibbie Drone!:

Do the FBI’s Drones Invade Your Privacy? Sorry, That’s Private

The FBI has been flying drones since 2005, according to a trickle of documents released over the last eight months. Agents called in a small surveillance drone on a hostage situation in Alabama in February 2013, and to monitor a dog-fighting scheme in August 2011.

But despite a mandatory process designed to mitigate privacy concerns, the question of how FBI drones may be impacting Americans’ privacy rights remains unanswered.

Federal law requires the FBI to assess its own surveillance technologies for potential privacy and civil liberties snags. While these technology assessments are typically prepared for public consumption, the FBI has refused to release its privacy reviews on drones.

The E-Government Act of 2002 obliges federal agencies to conduct a privacy impact assessment (PIA) prior to deploying any information technology that collects personal information. Per Department of Justice guidelines, the PIA process ensures that privacy protections “are built into the system from the start—not after the fact,” in order to “promote trust between the public and the Department by increasing transparency of the Department’s systems and missions.”

Meanwhile, another conflict, another sanction from South China Morning Post:

EU hits Russian intelligence chiefs in new round of sanctions over Ukraine

  • European Union announces broadened sanctions on Russia targeting 15 new individuals and 18 entities with asset freezes and visa bans

The European Union announced on Saturday it had widened its sanctions against Russia over Moscow’s role in conflict-torn Ukraine to include the heads of intelligence services.

The Russian foreign ministry responded later on Saturday, saying the measures put at risk international cooperation over security issues

The director of the FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, and the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Mikhail Fradkov are on the new list of 15 people and 18 entities targeted by an asset freeze and visa bans, the EU’s Official Journal said. Also on the list is Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

And from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, mythbusters:

The evidence that shows Iron Dome is not working

In the early weeks of July, the conflict between Palestinians in Gaza and Israel flared up again, resulting in a new round of large-scale rocket attacks, launched by Hamas, operating from Gaza, against Israeli population centers. The last such large-scale rocket attacks occurred in November 2012.

Initially, the Israeli military responded to the rocket attacks with air strikes in Gaza, and with protective measures that include deployment of the Iron Dome rocket-defense system and a civil defense effort that includes an efficient system for early warning and sheltering of citizens. As of this writing, only one Israeli had died from Hamas fire, apparently from a mortar round (although that number increased with the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip begun late last week).

During the November 2012 conflict, a detailed review of a large number of photographs of Iron Dome interceptor contrails revealed that the rocket-defense system’s success rate was very low—as low as 5 percent or, perhaps, even less. A variety of media outlets have attributed the low casualty number to the supposed effectiveness of the Iron Dome system, quoting Israeli officials as saying it has destroyed 90 percent of the Hamas rockets it targeted. But close study of photographic and video imagery of Iron Dome engagements with Hamas rockets—both in the current conflict and in the 2012 hostilities—shows that the low casualties in Israel from artillery rocket attacks can be ascribed to Israeli civil defense efforts, rather than the performance of the Iron Dome missile defense system.

From the Associated Press, who do they think they are? The NSA?:

Turkey: 20 police arrested for illegal wiretaps

Turkey’s state-run news agency says an Istanbul court has charged 20 police officers with illegal wiretapping and ordered their arrest pending a trial.

The Anadolu Agency says 49 other officers are still waiting on Saturday to be questioned and face possible charges.

The officers were detained on July 22 in raids to their homes on suspicion of wiretapping officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After the jump, off to Asia for the latest installment of the Games of Zones, Google’s persistent cyberstalking, cops in the Klan, and so much more. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: China’s new navy dwarfs Japan’s


From South China Morning Post, comparisons of the relative sizes at the time of the Sino-Japanese War 120 years ago and today. Click on the image to enlasrge:

BLOG Sino Japan navies

Chart of the day: China boosts rare earth exports


Without rare earths, production of military technology, cell phones,  solar cells, wind turbines, and countless other technologies would collapse, and China just happens to sit on the globe’s largest reserves of the precious elements. China had imposed a cap on exports, one of the measures that had sparked more tensions between Beijing and Washington [developments we have covered here]. But the Global Times reports that the Chinese government has abruptly raised exports, which, esnl presumes, has a deeper context yet to emerge:

BLOG Rare earths

EnviroWatch: Scofflaws, nuke woes, more


Our second headline collection focuses on the environment, and the costs of living a world where consumption — and the attendant damages to the earth, our fellow living creatures, and ourselves — has become the driving impetus of the systems of power and control.

First up, MintPress News covers stark reality:

Criminal Prosecution Rates For Corporate Environmental Crimes Near Zero

Grappling with a shrinking budget and limited manpower, the EPA pursues criminal charges in “fewer than one-half of one percent” of total legal violations.

While U.S. regulators are actively flagging and tracking corporate violations of federal environmental laws, the government is rarely pursuing criminal penalties for those infractions.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the key department in safeguarding the country’s health from pollutants, pursues criminal charges in fewer than one-half of one percent of total violations, according to new research. Both the EPA and the Department of Justice do continue to score high-visibility accountability successes for environmental crimes every year, but most of these are civil charges, which require less evidence to prove and fewer resources to prosecute.

Yet critics worry that civil proceedings, which typically result in fines but no jail time or restitution, don’t offer the robust deterrent effect necessary to substantively impact corporate decision-making or offer compensation to affected communities.

“More than 64,000 facilities are currently listed in agency databases as being in violation of federal environmental laws, but in most years, fewer than one-half of one percent of violations trigger criminal investigations,” according to a newinvestigation from the Crime Report, a publication of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

BBC News combines the deplorable and the devastating:

Global decline of wildlife linked to child slavery

New research suggests the global decline in wildlife is connected to an increase in human trafficking and child slavery.

Ecologists say the shortage of wild animals means that in many countries more labour is now needed to find food.

Children are often used to fill this need for cheap workers, especially in the fishing industry.

The decline in species is also helping the proliferation of terrorism and the destabilisation of regions.

From Mother Jones, a subject of our ongoing concern:

California Farms Are Sucking Up Enough Groundwater to Put Rhode Island 17 Feet Under

In addition to affecting agricultural production the drought will cost the state billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a whole lot of groundwater, according to a new report prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by scientists at UC-Davis. The authors used current water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and other methods to predict the economic and environmental toll of the drought through 2016.

  • The drought will cost the state $2.2 billion this year: Of these losses, $810 million will come from lower crop revenues, $203 million will come from livestock and dairy losses, and $454 million will come from the cost of pumping additional groundwater. Up to 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs will be lost.
  • California is experiencing the “greatest absolute reduction in water availability” ever seen: In a normal year, about one-third of California’s irrigation water is drawn from wells that tap into the groundwater supply. The rest is “surface water” from streams, rivers, and reservoirs. This year, the state is losing about one-third of its surface water supply. The hardest hit area is the Central Valley, a normally fertile inland region. Because groundwater isn’t as easily pumped in the Valley as it is on the coasts, and the Colorado River supplies aren’t as accessible as they are in the south, the Valley has lost 410,000 acres to fallowing, an area about 10 times the size of Washington, DC.
  • Farmers are pumping enough groundwater to immerse Rhode Island in 17 feet of it: To make up for the loss of surface water, farmers are pumping 62 percent more groundwater than usual. They are projected to pump 13 million acre-feet this year, enough to put Rhode Island 17 feet under.
  • “We’re acting like the super-rich:” California is technically in its third year of drought, and regardless of the effects of El Niño, 2015 is likely to be a dry year too. As the dry years accumulate, it becomes harder and harder to pump water from the ground, adding to the crop and revenue losses. California is the only western state without groundwater regulation or measurement of major groundwater use. If you can drill down to water, it’s all yours. (Journalist McKenzie Funk describes this arcane system in an excerpt from his fascinating recent book, Windfall.) “A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Richard Howitt, a UC-Davis water scientist and co-author of the report. “We’re acting like the super-rich, who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”

The report is posted online here [PDF]:

From Project Syndicate, another ravaged continent:

Antarctica’s Point of No Return

Recent satellite observations have confirmed the accuracy of two independent computer simulations that show that the West Antarctic ice sheet has now entered a state of unstoppable collapse. The planet has entered a new era of irreversible consequences from climate change. The only question now is whether we will do enough to prevent similar developments elsewhere.

What the latest findings demonstrate is that crucial parts of the world’s climate system, though massive in size, are so fragile that they can be irremediably disrupted by human activity. It is inevitable that the warmer the world gets, the greater the risk that other parts of the Antarctic will reach a similar tipping point; in fact, we now know that the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica, as big or even bigger than the ice sheet in the West, could be similarly vulnerable.

There are not many human activities whose impact can reasonably be predicted decades, centuries, or even millennia in advance. The fallout from nuclear waste is one; humans’ contribution to global warming through greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and its impact on rising sea levels, is another.

Indeed, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated, in uncharacteristically strong terms, that the sea level is “virtually certain” to continue to rise in the coming centuries or millennia. Moreover, the greater our emissions, the higher the seas will rise.

Via DutchNews.nl, Big Pharma strikes again:

Criminal investigation begun into banned antibiotic in animal feed

The public prosecution department has launched a criminal investigation into the use of a banned antibiotic in Dutch animal feed from a producer near Utrecht.

In a statement on Friday the department said business premises and a private house have been searched as part of the investigation.

Food safety inspectors have shut 102 Dutch pig and veal farms and 11 in Germany because they were delivered feed containing the antibiotic furazolidone, the Financieele Dagblad said earlier on Friday.

From the Economic Times, conditional reistance to the globalization regime in the name of food autonomy:

US sees ‘crisis’ in WTO over customs disaccord with India, others

The World Trade Organisation is facing a “crisis” because of disagreement, most notably with India, over improved customs procedures, the United States said Friday.

“We are deeply disappointed that backsliding on Trade Facilitation has brought the WTO to the brink of crisis,” the US ambassador to the world trade body, Michael Froman, said in a statement.

“The current state of play on Trade Facilitation threatens to deal a serious blow to the credibility of the multilateral trading system and to set back the development needs of many countries around the world,” he said.

Off to Japan and the latest installment of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first from NHK WORLD:

TEPCO: Groundwater bypass showing limited effects

Work to pump up groundwater to keep it from flowing into the contaminated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is apparently having limited effects.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, reported the results of the operation so far at a meeting of experts at the industry ministry on Friday.

TEPCO began the so-called groundwater bypass operation in May. It involves draining water from wells and releasing it into the sea to keep it from flowing into reactor buildings and becoming contaminated.

NHK WORLD reassures

Agency: Nuclear waste can be directly disposed of

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is reported to be looking at the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing it.

NHK has obtained a draft report compiled by the agency which analyzed the environmental impact of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

The conclusion of the analysis is expected to touch off controversy, because the government has long maintained the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel. It has conducted few studies about disposing of it as waste.

Spent nuclear fuel is known to have higher radiation levels than high-level radioactive waste.

And speak of the devil! From Nextgov:

Did a Misplaced Glove Cause Nuke Waste Dump Fire?

A glove accidentally left in a drum of nuclear waste may have been responsible for rupturing the container leading to the spewing of radiation in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in February.

That’s according to a new report this week filed by Patrick Malone of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Nan Sauer, associate director for chemistry, life and Earth sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory, told the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee the container “held a volatile mix: a lead-laden glove, highly acidic waste, organic kitty litter and trace metal residue,” which ripped open the container stored in the WIPP – the country’s only storage site for waste generated during the development of nuclear weapons.

The Associated Press ties it up:

U.S. Fukushima report: Think about unthinkable disasters

A U.S. science advisory report says Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident offers a key lesson to the nation’s nuclear industry: Focus more on the highly unlikely but worst case scenarios.

That means thinking about earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, solar storms, multiple failures and situations that seem freakishly unusual, according to the National Academy of Sciences report released on July 24. Those kinds of things triggered the world’s three major nuclear accidents.

“We need to do a soul searching when it comes to the assumptions” of how to deal with worst case events, said University of Southern California engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati, the panel’s technical adviser. Engineers should “think about something that could happen once every, perhaps 1,000 years” but that’s not really part of their training or nature, he said.

Echoes of an earlier disaster resonate anew. From the Guardian:

Belarus anti-nuclear activist fears for ‘another Chernobyl’ on her doorstep

  • Tatyana Novikova says new Russian-funded nuclear plant bypassed planning rules and violates international conventions

In 2009, Tatyana Novikova bought a wooden house near the border between Belarus and Lithuania. She chose the area carefully, she says. It’s next to a lake, untouched by industry and – crucially for the mathematician who worked on contamination models in the aftermath of Chernobyl – unaffected by the fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

But six months after she bought her dream home, Belarus announced that a new nuclear power station, financed by Russia, would be built nearby in Ostrovets.

“I’m completely devastated,” says Novikova, who says the government bypassed official planning regulations, ignored safety concerns and failed to carry out an adequate environmental impact assessment for the plant.

The beneficiaries of all this mayhem, via United Press International:

85 wealthiest are richer than poorest 3.5 billion

  • The report found 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day.

The U.N.’s annual Human Development Report released Thursday shows that the world’s 85 richest people are wealthier than the poorest 3.5 billion.

The top five countries ranked in the Human Development Index (HDI) are Norway, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States. The bottom five are all from Africa: Mozambique, Guinea, Burundi, Burkina Faso and Eritrea. The U.N. attributed slowing improvements in health, education and income to worsening income inequality, climate change and government corruption.

The authors found that nearly one-third of people are poor or vulnerable to poverty with 1.2 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day. The report says that human development can be improved by “universal access to basic social services, especially health and education; stronger social protection, including unemployment insurance and pensions; and a commitment to full employment, recognizing that the value of employment extends far beyond the income it generates.”

And to close, one of those beneficiaries wages war on the commons, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Vinod Khosla blames costly demands for Martins Beach trial

The ugly courtroom clash over Martins Beach, near Half Moon Bay, would not have happened if government and environmental zealots had not made unreasonable and costly demands, billionaire investor Vinod Khosla said Thursday in defense of a beach closure that has captivated Californians up and down the coast.

The venture capitalist said he closed the 53-acre property to the public after San Mateo County, the California Coastal Commission and the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation unfairly tried to impose their will on him.

“If they wanted you to make your backyard a park, would that hurt you?” he asked. “The Coastal Commission and the county have been completely unreasonable. They have been taking an extreme view and don’t want to compromise on anything.”

Closing arguments were given last week in the Martins Beach civil trial, which is seen by many as a test case of California laws declaring that beaches are public property below the mean high tide line and that they must remain open.

InSecurity Watch: Spooks, hacks, & tensions


Today’s collection of headlines about matters of spooks, soldiers, and privacy privateers begins with the unsurprising but notable, via the Washington Post:

Proliferation of new online communications services poses hurdles for law enforcement

Federal law enforcement and intelligence authorities say they are increasingly struggling to conduct court-ordered wiretaps on suspects because of a surge in chat services, instant-messaging and other online communications that lack the technical means to be intercepted.

A “large percentage” of wiretap orders to pick up the communications of suspected spies and foreign agents are not being fulfilled, FBI officials said. Law enforcement agents are citing the same challenge in criminal cases; agents, they say, often decline to even seek orders when they know firms lack the means to tap into a suspect’s communications in real time.

“It’s a significant problem, and it’s continuing to get worse,” Amy S. Hess, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Science and Technology Branch, said in a recent interview.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, Big Brother is watching:

After CIA gets secret whistleblower email, Congress worries about more spying

The CIA obtained a confidential email to Congress about alleged whistleblower retaliation related to the Senate’s classified report on the agency’s harsh interrogation program, triggering fears that the CIA has been intercepting the communications of officials who handle whistleblower cases.

The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.

At the time, the CIA was embroiled in a furious behind-the-scenes battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee over the panel’s investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, including accusations that the CIA illegally monitored computers used in the five-year probe. The CIA has denied the charges.

The email controversy points to holes in the intelligence community’s whistleblower protection systems and raises fresh questions about the extent to which intelligence agencies can elude congressional oversight.

Defense One charts spooky trepidation:

The CIA Fears the Internet of Things

The major themes defining geo-security for the coming decades were explored at a forum on “The Future of Warfare” at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, moderated by Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron.

Dawn Meyerriecks, the deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s directorate of science and technology, said today’s concerns about cyber war don’t address the looming geo-security threats posed by the Internet of Things, the embedding of computers, sensors, and Internet capabilities into more and more physical objects.

“Smart refrigerators have been used in distributed denial of service attacks,” she said. At least one smart fridge played a role in a massive spam attack last year, involving more than 100,000 internet-connected devices and more than 750,000 spam emails. She also mentioned “smart fluorescent LEDs [that are] are communicating that they need to be replaced but are also being hijacked for other things.

And from The Intercept, partners in crime:

The NSA’s New Partner in Spying: Saudi Arabia’s Brutal State Police

The National Security Agency last year significantly expanded its cooperative relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Interior, one of the world’s most repressive and abusive government agencies. An April 2013 top secret memo provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden details the agency’s plans “to provide direct analytic and technical support” to the Saudis on “internal security” matters.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior—referred to in the document as MOI— has been condemned for years as one of the most brutal human rights violators in the world. In 2013, the U.S. State Department reported that “Ministry of Interior officials sometimes subjected prisoners and detainees to torture and other physical abuse,” specifically mentioning a 2011 episode in which MOI agents allegedly “poured an antiseptic cleaning liquid down [the] throat” of one human rights activist. The report also notes the MOI’s use of invasive surveillance targeted at political and religious dissidents.

But as the State Department publicly catalogued those very abuses, the NSA worked to provide increased surveillance assistance to the ministry that perpetrated them. The move is part of the Obama Administration’s increasingly close ties with the Saudi regime; beyond the new cooperation with the MOI, the memo describes “a period of rejuvenation” for the NSA’s relationship with the Saudi Ministry of Defense.

IDG News Service covers another partnership:

Dutch spy agencies can receive NSA data, court rules

Dutch intelligence services can receive bulk data that might have been obtained by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) through mass data interception programs, even though collecting data that way is illegal for the Dutch services, the Hague District Court ruled Wednesday.

The possibility that data received by Dutch intelligence services AIVD and MIVD could have been collected in a way that would not be legal for the Dutch services, doesn’t mean that receiving this data violates international and national treaties, the court said.

The Hague District Court ruled in a civil case file by a coalition of defense lawyers, privacy advocates and journalists who sued the Dutch government last November. They sought a court order to stop the AIVD and MIVD from obtaining data from foreign intelligence agencies that was not obtained in accordance with European and Dutch law.

A tale of dissension from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

In Kansas, candidates spar over NSA

As a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo had a front-row seat to the brouhaha that erupted in Washington last year over revelations that the government was secretly collecting Americans’ data.

Todd Tiahrt, Pompeo’s challenger in the upcoming Republican primary for Kansas’ 4th Congressional District, has seized on the incumbent’s proximity to the controversy _ and his voting record _ to attack him. Now Pompeo finds himself in the awkward position of defending the National Security Agency’s surveillance program while campaigning as a tea party stalwart who sympathizes with voters’ distrust of the federal government.

Tiahrt is vulnerable on the issue of privacy too. As a former congressman who also served on the intelligence committee, he voted in favor of warrantless wiretapping and the Patriot Act, which expanded the government’s surveillance powers _ facts that the Pompeo campaign is quick to point out.

While the Washington Post covers the not-so-spooky:

CNN’s Diana Magnay is latest reminder that Twitter can be a journalist’s worst enemy

Since the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other instantaneous digital platforms, reporters have lost their jobs, been suspended or been reassigned after posting things deemed inappropriate by readers, viewers and — most important — their bosses. The objectionable posts have usually called into question the journalists’ ability to remain neutral and fair to both sides of any story.

The latest casualty: CNN correspondent Diana Magnay, who last week stirred criticism for a tweet about a group of Israelis who were cheering a missile attack on Gaza. Magnay said in her tweet that members of the group had threatened her. “Scum,” she concluded. Amid an outraged reaction, the network apologized, saying Magnay was referring only to the group’s alleged harassment of her, not to its support of the military action. She was quickly reassigned to Moscow.

The incident echoed CNN’s dismissal in 2010 of Octavia Nasr, a longtime foreign-affairs editor. The network cut Nasr loose after she tweeted her thoughts about the death of a leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist organization, calling him “one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

From intelNews, Washington pulls the reins:

Aruba arrests ex-head of Venezuelan intelligence, after US request

The former director of Venezuela’s military intelligence, who was a close associate of the country’s late president Hugo Chavez, has been arrested in Aruba following a request by the United States. Authorities in the Dutch-controlled Caribbean island announced on Thursday the arrest of Hugo Carvajal Barrios, former director of Venezuela’s Dirección General de Inteligencia Militar (DGIM), which is Venezuela’s military intelligence agency. A close comrade of Venezuela’s late socialist leader, Carvajal was accused by the US Department of the Treasury in 2008 of weapons and drugs smuggling. According to the US government, Carvajal was personally involved in illegally providing weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftwing guerrilla group involved in a decades-long insurgency war against the government of Colombia.

It also accused the Venezuelan official of helping the FARC smuggle cocaine out of the country, in a bid to help them raise funds to support their insurgency against Colombian authorities. But the government of Venezuela rejects all charges and has been sheltering Carvajal. In January of this year it appointed him consul-general to Aruba, a Dutch colony in the Caribbean located just 15 miles off Venezuela’s coast.

Bloomberg raises the terror alert:

Norway on High Alert Amid Warnings of Attack Next Week

Police in Norway are on high alert after receiving intelligence that nationals returning from Syria may be plotting a terrorist attack within days against the Scandinavian country.

Information obtained by Norway’s security service, PST, suggests an attack could be imminent, the unit’s chief, Benedicte Bjoernland, said July 24. Authorities have strengthened their presence at Norway’s borders, airports and train stations, and police in all districts are at a heightened state of preparedness.

Police officers in Norway’s capital, Oslo, have been stationed at focal points in the city including parliament and the royal palace as well as at shopping centers, spokesman Kaare Hansen said by phone yesterday. Authorities have followed up on a number of tips received since yesterday, the police said, without providing more details.

More from TheLocal.no:

Statoil tightens security amid terror threat

Statoil, Norway’s biggest energy company, has ‘increased’ security after this week’s terror warning announcement, said the firm’s CEO on Friday.

Helge Lund, Statoil’s CEO, said to NTB that: “The security level of Statoil has increased as a consequence of the terror threat.”
“We are following the situation very closely. We have close contact with Norwegian authorities and are taking the measures we think are necessary, based on their threat evaluations.”

One-and-a-half year ago the company was struck by the worst terror action that has ever been directed towards a Norwegian company, when terrorists attacked the gas facility Tigantourine in In Aménas in Algeria. Five Norwegian Statoil employees were killed during the four days the hostage drama lasted.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Globe and Mail covers consequences of aggression:

The Gaza war has done terrible things to Israeli society

Earlier this month, one of Israel’s most famous writers announced in his weekly newspaper column that he was packing up his family and moving to the United States – permanently. Sayed Kashua, an Arab-Palestinian citizen of Israel who resides in Jerusalem, is the author of critically acclaimed novels and a popular television series, all written in Hebrew with wit and insight into the complex, conflicted society of Arabs and Jews living uneasily side-by-side. But after more than two decades of believing that ultimately Arabs and Jews would find a way to co-exist as equals, he wrote, something inside him “had broken.” He no longer believed in a better future.

Mr. Kashua’s decision to emigrate came in response to a series of events that were marked by violence and incitement against the Arab population, from the government to the street. One member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, called for a war against the Palestinian people on her Facebook page. Another called an Arab legislator a “terrorist” during a parliamentary committee session, while still another, the leader of an ostensibly centrist party, submitted a proposal to ban an established Arab nationalist party with sitting members of the Knesset. The editor of a right-wing newspaper suggested that now was the time to transfer the Arab population out of the occupied West Bank. In Jerusalem, mobs of hyper nationalist youth rampaged through the cafe-lined downtown streets chanting “death to Arabs,” assaulting random passersby because they looked or sounded Palestinian.

Most horrifically of all, a 17 year-old Palestinian boy from East Jerusalem was abducted from the street by six young Jewish men, three of them minors. The police found Mohammed Abu Khdeir’s corpse in the nearby Jerusalem Forest shortly after CCTV cameras recorded some young men forcing him into a car. He had been doused with gasoline and burned alive. Three of the six boys confessed to the crime and re-enacted it for the police.

On to the latest developments in the trans-Pacific Game of Zones, via China Daily:

Confessions of Japanese war criminals online

The State Archives Administration started releasing a large number of files on major Japanese war criminals on its website on Thursday to offer a clearer picture of history.

“The confessions written by all the war criminals and the detailed trial records contained in the archived files are irrefutable evidence of the heinous crimes committed by the Japanese militarist aggressors against the Chinese people,” Li Minghua, deputy director of Central Archives of China, said on Thursday.

Since the Abe Cabinet came to power in Japan, it has openly confused right and wrong to mislead the public on history, he said at a news conference of the State Council Information Office.

With the upcoming 77th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident – an incident that marked the start of Japan’s full aggression against the nation – the release of such materials can prove their crimes during the Japanese War of Aggression against China, experts said.

Pressure from Foggy Bottom, via the Japan Daily Press:

U.S. Senators seek Obama’s help to resolve issue of ‘comfort women’

With Japan’s announcement last week that it has begun reviewing the accounts of former “comfort women,” a euphemistic term for those forced into sexual labor by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War, former victims and their supporters have expressed outrage over the development. Three senators from the United States are urging President Barack Obama to keep its interest and exert more effort in addressing the matter.

The letter calling for Obama’s actions was signed and sent by Senators Martin Heinrich, Tim Johnson and Mark Begich. The trio called upon the US president’s passionate statement regarding the atrocities done to the women. In his recent trip to Asia, Obama called what was done to the comfort women as a “terrible and egregious violation of human rights.” The trio of senators echoed his statement, noting “We affirm your statement that the ‘women were violated in ways that even in the midst of war was shocking.” They further went on to describe the women’s plight as deserving “to be heard and respected.” The letter closed by expressing their request that he continue to help resolve this particular issue.

The senators believe that finding a resolution to the issue of comfort women will be vital in further improving trilateral ties of the United States with Japan and South Korea. While both Asian countries are known U.S. allies, the two remain at odds with each other because of their wartime history that has prevented them from fostering cordial ties in recent years.

The Asahi Shimbun raises the heat:

NHK governor’s remarks on prewar Koreans in news show may violate law

A conservative Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) governor complained about comments made on prewar Korean immigrants to Japan in a news program, possibly violating the Broadcast Law that forbids governors from interfering with shows, according to insiders.

Naoki Hyakuta questioned and disputed NHK newscaster Kensuke Okoshi’s remarks at a July 22 meeting of the NHK Board of Governors.

Hyakuta, handpicked for the 12-member board by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is a writer who has generated controversy over his conservative stance on historical issues, such as calling the Nanking Massacre a fabrication crafted to cancel out U.S. atrocities.

Haruo Sudo, a professor emeritus of Hosei University whose specialty is media theory, said Hyakuta’s latest outburst was an obvious violation of the Broadcast Law.

Nextgov covers insecurity closer to home:

Virtual Border Fence Project Halted After Raytheon Protest

A major border security project involving the deployment of 50 surveillance towers across southern Arizona is temporarily on hold, following a protest by Raytheon that the government improperly awarded the work to a rival.

In a protest decision released Thursday afternoon, the Government Accountability Office ruled the Department of Homeland Security should reevaluate the competitors’ proposals. Among other things, it is possible Raytheon was “prejudiced by the agency’s errors” during an evaluation of proposals, the ruling stated.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection — part of DHS — had planned to initially build seven towers during the first year of a potentially 8 and 1/2 year, $145 million deal with vendor EFW, of Fort Worth, Texas. The contract was awarded in February, after a two-year competition among 14 companies.

PandoDaily resets the WABAC  Machine:

Report: Google has removed around 50,000 links thanks to Europe’s “right to be forgotten”

Europeans have asked Google to remove more than 91,000 links from its search results, and the company has granted more than half of those requests, according to a Bloomberg report. Combined, the requests are said to apply to more than 328,000 Internet addresses. The majority of removal requests have come from people who are living in France and Germany.

Google is thought to have revealed these numbers to privacy watchdogs and the press to show that it’s taking the right to be forgotten, which it has criticized in the past for being too broad and difficult to implement, more seriously than it seems. As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Google’s disclosure could also soothe tensions with privacy regulators, who called Thursday’s meeting and have been critical of how the search company has implemented the ruling. Some have been demanding that Google end its notifications to websites that have been the subject of right to be forgotten requests, which have in some cases made it possible to identify the person making the request.

From IDG News Service, a familiar plea, this time from Moscow:

Russian government offers money for identifying Tor users

The Russian Ministry of Interior is willing to pay 3.9 million roubles, or around US$111,000, for a method to identify users on the Tor network.

The Tor software anonymizes Internet traffic by encrypting it and passing it through several random relays in order to prevent potential network eavesdroppers from identifying the traffic’s source and destination. The software was originally developed as a project of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, but is now being maintained by a nonprofit organization called The Tor Project.

The Tor network is popular with journalists, political activists and privacy-conscious users in general, but has also been used by pedophiles and other criminals to hide their tracks from law enforcement.

Four our final items, we focus on another cause for insecurity, at least for half the population. First, this from Newswise:

Link Between Ritual Circumcision Procedure and Herpes Infection in Infants Examined by Penn Medicine Analysis

A rare procedure occasionally performed during Jewish circumcisions that involves direct oral suction is a likely source of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) transmissions documented in infants between 1988 and 2012, a literature review conducted by Penn Medicine researchers and published online in the Journal of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society found. The reviewers, from Penn’s Center for Evidence-based Practice, identified 30 reported cases in New York, Canada and Israel.

The practice—known as metzitzah b’peh—and its link to HSV-1 infections have sparked international debate in recent years, yet no systematic review of the literature has been published in a peer-reviewed journal examining the association and potential risk. During metzitzah b’peh, the mohel, a Jewish person trained to perform circumcisions, orally extracts a small amount of blood from the circumcision wound and discards it.

Lead author Brian F. Leas, MS, MA, a research analyst in the Center for Evidence-based Practice at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, identified six relevant studies for the systematic review. All six studies were descriptive case reports or case series that documented neonatal HSV-1 infections after circumcision with direct oral suction.

And it’s not just babes in arm with cause for concern. Form the Independent:

US patient Johnny Lee Banks sues doctors over circumcision that ended up as amputation

Something was absent without leave when Johnny Lee Banks came out of the anaesthetic after what should have been a routine circumcision at a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, last month. That, at least, is the claim in a medical malpractice suit filed this week that has men across the state, if not America, clenching their midriffs in horror.

“When the plaintiff … woke from his aforesaid surgical procedure, his penis was amputated,” the lawsuit states. It goes on to contend that no one at the Princeton Baptist Medical Centre in Birmingham has been able to explain why it had become necessary to remove the entire organ rather than just the foreskin as he had expected.

“My client is devastated,” said John Graves, a lawyer for Mr Banks. The lawsuit names two doctors as defendants in the suit as well as the facility attached to the hospital that was responsible for the procedure. It was filed jointly by Mr Banks, who is 56, and his wife, who is claiming the marvellously legalistic “loss of consortium”.

InSecurity Watch: Spooks, woes, and dirty deals


While we’re unsure what’s to become of our blog, we remain committed to pointing out developments likely to impinge on the future of folks, both those alive today and the yet-to-be-born.

Developments in the realm of technology and their potential to shred the last remaining vestiges of privacy in the interests of corporations and their symbiotes in the National Security State in an era of enforced globalization — and thus creating a new context for the human experience in which all our vulnerabilities become transparent to folks with a powerful interest in exploiting them in the interests of deep politics and corporate profiteering.

And with that preamble, on with the shoe, starting with deplorable military action in a perennial tinderbox. Via The Independent:

Israel-Gaza conflict: UN school shelled by Israeli tanks, leaving 15 dead and 200 wounded

  • Doctors and officials described the strike as a ‘massacre’ mostly impacting children

While the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had no immediate comment on the incident, news agency photographers reported seeing pools of blood on the ground in the courtyard of the school near the apparent impact mark of a shell.

Israeli Radio, without citing a source, said that most of those killed at the UN compound were children.

It comes after the UN’s humanitarian chief drew attention to the “major concern” of child fatalities in the conflict, which has seen one child killed every hour over the past three days.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said: “There is literally no safe place for civilians [in Gaza].”

From The Hill, the ornamental fruits of ornamental umbrage:

Senate NSA compromise likely to come next week

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is close but not yet ready to unveil a negotiated measure to rein in government surveillance.

Despite reports that the bill could be revealed this week, people familiar with the discussions said Leahy will actually release the compromise legislation as early as Tuesday.

Leahy has been working with the administration on a compromise.

Earlier this week, an aide said conversations had turned a corner and they were “within inches” of an agreement. Leahy said Tuesday that he was “far more encouraged that we can finally come up with some legislation that will do two things.”

Whilst the Guardian adds critical context:

US warned: surveillance reform hinges on change to Reagan executive order

  • John Napier Tye, a former State Department official, says Americans’ data remains vulnerable until executive order that provides NSA with a path to collect data is reformed

John Napier Tye is not Edward Snowden. He says he has no surveillance documents to disclose to journalists. He takes a nuanced position on Snowden’s disclosures.

Yet the 38-year old former State Department official has raised a Snowden-like alarm that Americans’ communication data remains highly vulnerable to surreptitious collection by the National Security Agency – and will remain vulnerable despite the legislative fixes wending through Congress to redress the bulk domestic phone data collection Snowden revealed.

Like Snowden, Tye means to spark a debate on the proper boundaries of NSA authorities. His focus is on an obscure, Reagan-era executive order that serves as a foundational set of rules for the intelligence apparatus. The order, known as Executive Order 12333, renders the current surveillance debate hollow, he said, even as it shows signs of traction in the Senate.

Next up, a critical Washington ally grows increasingly pissed, via intelNews:

Up to 20 US spies inside German government: media reports

German counterintelligence has intensified its surveillance of “certain employees of the United States embassy” in Berlin, after internal reports suggested that “up to 20″ agents of the American government are operating inside the German federal bureaucracy.

Citing information “from American security circles”, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag said on Sunday that the agents are German citizens who are secretly employed by a variety of American civilian and military intelligence agencies in return for money.

The Berlin-based tabloid noted that at least a dozen such agents have infiltrated four departments of the German federal government, namely the Ministries of Defense, Finance, Interior, as well as the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The paper said that the latter has been targeted by the US Central Intelligence Agency because it is routinely employed by the BND, Germany’s main external intelligence organization, as a cover for clandestine activities.

From The Independent again, a response:

Germany begins spying on Britain and America for the first time since 1945

  • Government responds to a series of spy scandals which began last year with revelations that the NSA had bugged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone

Chancellor Angela Merkel has ordered her counter-espionage services to begin surveillance of British and American intelligence gathering in Germany for the first time since 1945 in response to a series of US spy scandals which have badly soured relations between Berlin and Washington.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung and two-state funded German TV channels, WDR and NDR, quoted an unnamed Berlin government source who said Ms Merkel’s Chancellery and her interior and foreign ministries had agreed to launch counter-espionage measures against Britain and the US for the first time.

“Right now we need to send a strong signal,” the Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted the source as saying. The extraordinary measures are a direct response to a series of embarrassing US and British spying scandals in Germany which began last year with revelations that the US National Security Agency had bugged Ms Merkel’s mobile phone.

More from Spiegel:

Keeping Spies Out: Germany Ratchets Up Counterintelligence Measures

  • Officials in Berlin were long in denial that their closest allies were spying on Germany. Now, ministries are undertaking measures to improve security and counterintelligence. They’re anticipating frosty relations with the US for some time to come.

Last Wednesday, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière paid a visit to his colleague in the Foreign Ministry, Frank-Walter Steinmeier for a strictly confidential conversation about the currently tense relationship with the United States. Specifically, they planned to address the latest spying revelations and accusations. Before the meeting began, both ministers turned in their mobile phones. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has a small side room he uses for this purpose; part of the Foreign Ministry is in the former Nazi Reichsbank and has very thick walls. The room is now used to store smartphones and tablet computers when sensitive discussions take place.

The precaution reflects the significant disquiet and anxiety in Berlin’s ministries and in the Chancellery as the summer holidays get underway. Slowly, ministry officials are starting to grapple with the true meaning of “360 degree” counterintelligence. It means defending yourself not just usual suspects like Russia or China. But also against Germany’s closest allies, particularly the United States.

A few days ago, Chancellor Merkel reportedly told US President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation that anger over the US spying activities in Berlin’s government quarter as well as the recruitment of an informant inside Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) foreign intelligence service has in no way subsided. Because Obama apparently expressed little understanding for the commotion in Germany, Merkel is now taking action.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, a Washington diplomatic blitzkrieg:

Top Obama aides fly to Berlin to talk about spying allegations

Two weeks after Germany demanded that the top U.S. intelligence official stationed in its country leave, President Barack Obama has dispatched two top aides to Berlin.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for counterterrorism and homeland security, met with their German counterparts in Berlin Tuesday “for intensive talks on the state of bilateral relations and future cooperation,” according to the White House.

The meeting came after German authorities said they were investigating new instances of spying, including one that targeted the parliamentary committee probing National Security Agency eavesdropping. Last year, reports indicated that the NSA was monitoring the communications of millions of Germans, including listening in on Merkel’s cellphone.

Meanwhile, from the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, meet that old Foggy Bottom familiar, Rosy Scenario:

Germany, U.S. rebuild a spy partnership

Given recent German indignation about the National Security Agency, it has been easy to overlook the fact that for decades the German government has cooperated extensively with the NSA on surveillance activities. But after a high-level meeting in Berlin this week, this long-standing but veiled cooperation may have a firmer legal and political base.

The two countries’ past partnership became so extensive that they even developed a special logo for their joint signals—intelligence activity, known by its initials, “JSA.” It shows an American bald eagle against the colors of the German flag, next to the words Der Zeitgeist, or “the spirit of the age.”

Like so much else we know about the NSA, the details about its activities in Germany come from Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor now living in Moscow. He provided a trove of secret documents to Der Spiegel, which published more than 50 online last month.

German anger about American spying boiled over recently with the expulsion of the CIA station chief in Berlin. The Germans were furious when they discovered that the CIA was paying a “walk-in” German agent, adding to their anger that the NSA had tapped Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.

From the New York Times, more fallout from the Dark Side:

European Court Censures Poland Over C.I.A. Rendition Program

The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Poland had violated the rights of two terrorism suspects by allowing their transfer to a secret detention center run by the C.I.A. in Poland, where the two men were tortured.

The ruling says Poland failed to prevent the two men — Abu Zubaydah, born in Saudi Arabia, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen — from being subjected to “torture and inhuman or degrading treatment” after they were brought to a clandestine prison in northeast Poland. It ordered Poland to pay 100,000 euros, about $135,000, to Mr. Nashiri and $175,000 to Abu Zubaydah. Both are being held at the American detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Abu Zubaydah is believed to have overseen the operation of guesthouses in Pakistan where terrorism recruits arrived; he vetted them and provided letters of recommendation allowing them to be accepted for training at a paramilitary camp in Afghanistan, a former Guantánamo detainee said in a military court filing, for example. Mr. Nashiri is accused of plotting the 2000 bombing of the American destroyer Cole.

While The Intercept covers the Kafkaesque:

The Secret Government Rulebook For Labeling You a Terrorist

The Obama administration has quietly approved a substantial expansion of the terrorist watchlist system, authorizing a secret process that requires neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” to designate an American or foreigner as a terrorist, according to a key government document obtained by The Intercept.

The “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance,” a 166-page document issued last year by the National Counterterrorism Center, spells out the government’s secret rules for putting individuals on its main terrorist database, as well as the no fly list and the selectee list, which triggers enhanced screening at airports and border crossings. The new guidelines allow individuals to be designated as representatives of terror organizations without any evidence they are actually connected to such organizations, and it gives a single White House official the unilateral authority to place entire “categories” of people the government is tracking onto the no fly and selectee lists. It broadens the authority of government officials to “nominate” people to the watchlists based on what is vaguely described as “fragmentary information.” It also allows for dead people to be watchlisted.

Over the years, the Obama and Bush Administrations have fiercely resisted disclosing the criteria for placing names on the databases—though the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified. In May, Attorney General Eric Holder even invoked the state secrets privilege to prevent watchlisting guidelines from being disclosed in litigation launched by an American who was on the no fly list. In an affidavit, Holder called them a “clear roadmap” to the government’s terrorist-tracking apparatus, adding: “The Watchlisting Guidance, although unclassified, contains national security information that, if disclosed … could cause significant harm to national security.”

From Newser, the War on Photography continues, this time with violence [as well as another touch of Kafka]:

Border Official Points Gun… at Boy Scout: Troop Leader

  • Another scout gets threatened with 10 years in prison

A couple weeks ago, a US border patrol official held a gun to the head of … a Boy Scout. A troop leader explains what happened now that the scouts and adult volunteers from Mid-Iowa Scout Troop 111 have returned from their 23-day trip: Ten days into the trip, their four vans attempted to cross from Canada into Alaska. One scout made an innocent error: He snapped a photo of a US border official. Troop Leader Jim Fox tells KCCI that officials detained everyone in that van and searched them and their luggage, and one agent confiscated the boy’s camera, telling him “he would be arrested, fined possibly $10,000 and 10 years in prison.” But it didn’t end there.

When another scout removed some luggage to comply with the search, Fox says the boy heard “a snap of a holster, and here’s this agent, both hands on a loaded pistol, pointing at the young man’s head.” No one was ultimately hurt or arrested—just scared—and after a four-hour ordeal, the group was allowed to enter Alaska. A Boy Scout official says the scouts learned an important lesson about being a “good citizen” and following rules. But as for that cited rule against photographing federal agents? It’s not exactly true. According to Reason.com, the American Civil Liberties Union says that photographing “things that are plainly visible from public spaces,” including government officials, “is a constitutional right.”

From ZDNet, suspicions confirmed!:

Forensic scientist identifies suspicious ‘back doors’ running on every iOS device

Forensic scientist and author Jonathan Zdziarski has posted the slides from his talk at the Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE/X) conference in New York called Identifying Backdoors, Attack Points, and Surveillance Mechanisms in iOS Devices.

The HOPE conference started in 1994 and bills itself as “one of the most creative and diverse hacker events in the world.”

Zdziarski, better known as the hacker “NerveGas” in the iPhone development community, worked as dev-team member on many of the early iOS jailbreaks and is the author of five iOS-related O’Reilly books including “Hacking and Securing iOS Applications.”

And from Military & Aerospace Electronics, there’s more than angels looking over our shoulders:

U.S. UAV spending to triple over next 5 years

The U.S. market for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will triple in size over the next five years, and should grow from $5 billion in 2013 to $15 billion in 2020, predict analysts at market researcher Information Gatekeepers Inc. (IGI) in Boston.

The IGI study entitled 2014 UAV Market Research Study takes a look at the total UAV market from large military UAVs to do-it-yourself (DIY) UAVs for amateurs, company officials say.

The study includes the following major market sectors including the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), civil, commercial, small UAVs, amateur and hobby UAVs, and radio-controlled UAVs.

TechWeekEurope covers another private sector initiative:

European Central Bank Held To Ransom Over Stolen Data

  • Hackers steal partially encrypted records from an events website that belongs to the bank

Hackers have breached the public website of the European Central Bank (ECB) and made off with names, email addresses and other personal details of people who had registered for events there.

The attack came to light on Monday, after the organisation received an anonymous email which demanded an unspecified amount of money for the data.

The ECB said most of the stolen information was encrypted, and no sensitive market data has been compromised in the breach. It didn’t indicate whether it was going to pay the ransom.

The institution, which administers the monetary policy of the 18 members of the Eurozone who chose to adopt the single currency, was established by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1998 and is one of the world’s most important central banks.

After the jump, the latest on the ever-escalation Sino-American trans-Pacific confrontation [including Latin American plays],  Britain goes all Orwell, why some Spanish cops have to pee in a bottle daily [and not for te reasons you might expect], and Rob Ford falls prey top a Sharknado. . . Continue reading

Big Pharma latest victims: Europe’s vultures


A livestock drug that has already killed most of India’s once numerous vultures is now coming to Spain, a nation where the magnificent creatures are already threatened by by mistaken cultural beliefs.

From Deutsche Welle:

Program notes:

pain is home to the largest population of vultures in Europe, but their numbers are steadily declining. A new drug for cattle now threatens to wipe out the vultures altogether.

Vultures have long had a bad reputation in Spain. Time and time again, the birds are illegally poisoned, because they are said to prey on living cattle. Now the EU has authorized the administration of veterinary diclofenac to livestock in Spain and Italy – a deadly threat to the four species of vultures that live in Spain.

The anti-inflammatory drug has already led to the near-extinction of the vulture population in India, Pakistan and Nepal. The birds ingest the substance when eating the carcasses of cattle treated with the drug, and die of kidney failure.

Chart of the day: Call them the briCs?


With the big C because. well, this chart from Reuters says it all:

BLOG BRUCS

And now for something completely different. . .


Little Kim gets down, and North Korea expresses its displeasure.

First up, the reason why, via YouTube:

Some background, via NPR:

He grins, he fumes, he fights — and through it all, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un dances his way in and out of preposterous situations. That’s the premise of a video that has become popular in China and reportedly sparked a protest from North Korea.

Citing “a source in China,” the Chosun Ilbo reports that “the North feels the clip, which shows Kim dancing and Kung-Fu fighting, ‘seriously compromises Kim’s dignity and authority.'”

The newspaper says that after North Korea asked China to stop the video from spreading, “Beijng was unable to oblige.”

In the video, Kim’s face is superimposed onto a kitchen sink’s worth of videos, in scenes taken from everything from viral dance videos and TV shows to the vaudevillean action film Kung Fu Hustle.

Read the rest.

H/T to younger daughter, Samantha.

Headlines II: Spies, pols, threats, hacks, zones,


Lotsa ground to cover, so straight ahead, first with the Washington Times:

Greenwald to publish list of U.S. citizens NSA spied on

Glenn Greenwald, one of the reporters who chronicled the document dump by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden via the U.K. press, now said he’s set to publish his most dramatic piece yet: The names of those in the United States targeted by the NSA.

“One of the big questions when is comes to domestic spying is, ‘Who have been the NSA’s specific targets?’ Are they political critics and dissidents and activists? Are they genuinely people we’d regard as terrorists? What are the metrics and calculations that go into choosing those targets and what is done with the surveillance that is conducted? Those are the kinds of questions that I want to still answer,” Mr. Greenwald told The Sunday Times of London.

And a video report from RT America:

Greenwald to reveal Americans targeted by NSA

Program Notes:

Journalist Glenn Greenwald will end his National Security Agency series by revealing the names of American citizens targeted for surveillance by the agency. Documents provided to Greenwald by whistleblower Edward Snowden have been central to his series, revealing the massive extent of the government’s surveillance on international and domestic populations. The journalist promises his last reveal will be similar to a fireworks display; the best and most impressive portion of the show is the finale. RT’s Ameera David has more information on the tantalizing tease by Greenwald.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, there’s a deeper story here:

Spy whistleblower advocate stays put

Less than two months ago, a high-profile government whistleblower advocate found himself under scrutiny — ironically in an investigation of an alleged leak to Congress.

The Pentagon’s inspector general was trying to suspend and possibly revoke the top secret access of Dan Meyer, that office’s former director of whistleblowing. At the time, the news triggered concerns in Congress that he was being retaliated against for doing his job. But Meyer, who is now executive director for intelligence community whistleblowing, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Although he won’t comment on the specifics, he did say his security badge “had been restored.” Asked if he had any concerns about his future, he was cryptic, but upbeat. “I have been treated very well by the intelligence community,” he said.

From NBC News, both spook and eavesdropper:

Edward Snowden Tells Brian Williams: ‘I Was Trained as a Spy’

Edward Snowden, in an exclusive interview with “Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams, is fighting back against critics who dismissed him as a low-level hacker — saying he was “trained as a spy” and offered technical expertise to high levels of government.

Snowden defended his expertise in portions of the interview that aired at 6:30 p.m. ET on Nightly News. The extended, wide-ranging interview with Williams, his first with a U.S. television network, airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

“I was trained as a spy in sort of the traditional sense of the word, in that I lived and worked undercover overseas — pretending to work in a job that I’m not — and even being assigned a name that was not mine,” Snowden said in the interview.

From New Europe, politically inconvenient:

Austria constant partner of NSA: journalist

American journalist Glenn Greenwald has said in an interview with newspaper Der Standard on Monday that Austria “constantly” works together with the American National Security Agency (NSA).

This came despite recent claims from Austrian Minister for Defence Gerald Klug that the two work together only “occasionally.”

The confidant for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said the cooperation is discreet and aimed at specific goals, though added the NSA sees countries such as Austria — which it puts in a “Tier B” category — primarily as a monitoring target, and as a partner “only secondarily.”

He said further documents on the cooperation between Austria and the NSA would “probably” be released as he understood the Austrian public is interested in the information, and added that “we” are currently deciding the best way to distribute the documents amongst journalists to speed up their reporting.

From intelNews.org, raising curious questions:

Alleged CIA spy seeks retrial after Iranian court slashes his sentence

A United States citizen held in Iran since 2011 on spy charges has appealed for a retrial after an Iranian court quashed his earlier death sentence for espionage. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former Marine born in the US state of Arizona, was arrested in August of 2011 in Iran and charged with carrying out a covert mission for the Central Intelligence Agency.

In December of 2011, Hekmati appeared on Iranian state television and acknowledged that he was an operative of the CIA. He said in an interview that he had been trained “in languages and espionage” while in the US Army and that, in 2009, after nearly a decade of intelligence training, he was recruited by the CIA and specifically prepared to carry out what intelligence operatives sometimes refer to as a ‘dangling operation’ in Iran.

The aim of the mission, said Hekmati, was to travel to Tehran, contact Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, and pose as a genuine American defector wishing to supply the Iranians with inside information about American intelligence. His immediate task was to gain the trust of Iranian authorities by giving them some correct information in order to set the stage for a longer campaign of disinformation aimed at undermining a host of Iranian intelligence operations.

From the New York Times, street level spookery:

In Complaint, Activists Seek Audit of New York Police Surveillance

Several groups plan to file a formal complaint on Tuesday seeking an audit of the New York Police Department’s intelligence gathering operations, after recent revelations that the department had been monitoring political activists, sending undercover officers to their meetings and filing reports on their plans.

The groups said the complaint would be the first over surveillance to be filed with the department’s new office of inspector general; it is likely be a closely watched test for the office, whose duty is to oversee the tactics and the policies of the police.

The City Council, despite opposition from former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, created the office last year after complaints about the overuse of stop-and-frisk tactics and surveillance of Muslim communities.

From Homeland Security News Wire, repudiating another form of domestic “security”:

U.S. recalibrating Secure Communities

As more and more municipalities across the country refuse to hold undocumented immigrants in jail on behalf of DHS’ Secure Communities program, President Barack Obama is adopting a strategy to limit deportations to undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of violent crimes. The new strategy would help relieve political pressure on the White House as immigrant rights activists continue to label Obama as the “deporter in chief” for his administration’s aggressive enforcement of immigration laws.

Secure Communities began under the George W. Bush administration to coordinate enforcement of federal immigration laws with local communities. The FBI collects the fingerprints of individuals arrested by local and state police, to identify fugitives or individuals wanted in other jurisdictions. With Secure Communities, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials review the fingerprints against immigration databases to see whther arrested individuals are deportable.

Secure Communities requires that local law enforcement agencies hold detainees until an ICE agent arrives, but police chiefs say that the law has made undocumented immigrants less likely to report crimes when they have been victims or witnesses. “The immigrant community are the prey; they are not the predators,” said Ron Teachman, chief of police in South Bend, Indiana. “We need them to be the eyes and ears. They are exploited in their workplace, in their neighborhoods and in their own homes with domestic violence.”

From the Guardian, revelations assessed:

Privacy under attack: the NSA files revealed new threats to democracy

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know the apparatus of repression has been covertly attached to the democratic state. However, our struggle to retain privacy is far from hopeless

The 20th-century question was how many targets could be simultaneously followed in a world where each of them required hack, tap, steal. But we then started to build a new form of human communication. From the moment we created the internet, two of the basic assumptions began to fail: the simplicity of “one target, one circuit” went away, and the difference between home and abroad vanished too.

That distinction vanished in the United States because so much of the network and associated services, for better and worse, resided there. The question “Do we listen inside our borders?” was seemingly reduced to “Are we going to listen at all?”

At this point, a vastly imprudent US administration intervened. Their defining characteristic was that they didn’t think long before acting. Presented with a national calamity that also constituted a political opportunity, nothing stood between them and all the mistakes that haste can make for their children’s children to repent at leisure. What they did – in secret, with the assistance of judges appointed by a single man operating in secrecy, and with the connivance of many decent people who believed themselves to be acting to save the society – was to unchain the listeners from law.

And from RT, a curious blacklisting:

Snowden, Greenwald, Appelbaum, WikiLeaks ‘blacklisted’ from Stockholm Internet Forum

Key digital rights activists – including Edward Snowden and hacker Jacob Appelbaum – have been blacklisted from the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) on internet openness and freedom. The move has caused a stir at the gathering and outraged Twitter users.

The third annual European meeting of internet activists kicked off in Sweden on May 26, with its main theme being “Internet– privacy, transparency, surveillance and control.”

But strangely enough, those whose names immediately spring to mind when it comes to the issue of surveillance are not allowed to attend the event.

And a video report from RT, focusing on the waffling of program organizations when put to the question:

Where’s Ed? Stockholm web summit slammed as Snowden, Greenwald ‘blacklisted’

Program note:

Blacklisting Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, hacker Jacob Appelbaum and others by the Stockholm Internet Forum (SIF) on internet freedom provoked strong criticism from participants and outrage on Twitter.

From the New York Times, rewards for switching sides:

Hacker Who Helped Disrupt Cyberattacks Is Allowed to Walk Free

The New York man who helped the authorities infiltrate the shadowy world of computer hacking and disrupt at least 300 cyberattacks on targets that included the United States military, courts and private companies was given a greatly reduced sentence on Tuesday of time served, and was allowed to walk free.

Federal prosecutors had sought leniency for the hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur, citing what they called his “extraordinary cooperation” in helping the Federal Bureau of Investigation take down an aggressive group of hackers who were part of the collective Anonymous, of which he was a member, and its splinter groups, which had taken credit for attacking government and corporate websites.

Mr. Monsegur’s information, the authorities said, led to the arrest of eight “major co-conspirators,” including Jeremy Hammond, whom the F.B.I. had called its top “cybercriminal target” and who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in November.

The Washington Post covers an equally spooky form of everyday espionage:

Brokers use ‘billions’ of data points to profile Americans

Are you a financially strapped working mother who smokes? A Jewish retiree with a fondness for Caribbean cruises? Or a Spanish-speaking professional with allergies, a dog and a collection of Elvis memorabilia?

All this information and much, much more is being quietly collected, analyzed and distributed by the nation’s burgeoning data broker industry, which uses billions of individual data points to produce detailed portraits of virtually every American consumer, the Federal Trade Commission reported Tuesday.

The FTC report provided an unusually detailed account of the system of commercial surveillance that draws on government records, shopping habits and social media postings to help marketers hone their advertising pitches. Officials said the intimacy of these profiles would unnerve some consumers who have little ability to track what’s being collected or how it’s used — or even to correct false information. The FTC called for legislation to bring transparency to the multi-billion-dollar industry and give consumers some control over how their data is used.

From the New York Times, caught in the crossfire:

Technology Companies Are Pressing Congress to Bolster Privacy Protections

A law that allows the government to read email and cloud-stored data over six months old without a search warrant is under attack from technology companies, trade associations and lobbying groups, which are pressing Congress to tighten privacy protections. Federal investigators have used the law to view content hosted by third-party providers for civil and criminal lawsuits, in some cases without giving notice to the individual being investigated.

Nearly 30 years after Congress passed the law, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which government officials have interpreted to cover newer technologies, cloud computing companies are scrambling to reassure their customers, and some clients are taking their business to other countries.

Ben Young, the general counsel for Peer 1, a web hosting company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, said his customers were keeping their business out of the United States because the country “has a serious branding problem.”

Defense One asks for spare change:

Are Paychecks the Problem? Senate Considers Bonuses for Pentagon’s Cyber Workforce

Current and aspiring Defense Department personnel with cyber skills could see a boost in pay under a Senate 2015 defense policy bill that lawmakers detailed on Friday.

Defense is up against the private sector’s lucrative salaries as it endeavors to boost cyber mission forces. Pentagon Secretary Chuck Hagel recently said these forces, expected to include 1,800 personnel by year’s end, should number 6,000 professionals in 2016.

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved a measure that directs each military service to determine “whether recruiting, retention, and assignment of service members with cyber skills requires bonuses or special and incentive pays,” according to the new details. The services would have to report their decisions to Congress by Jan. 31, 2015.

BBC News hacks you pocket pal:

Apple devices ‘hijacked for ransom’ in Australia

Several users of Apple devices in Australia have reported that their gadgets have been “hijacked” – with a message demanding money.

Experts believed the hack had targeted users by exploiting the Find my iPhone feature.

A message appeared on some targeted phones asking for “$100 USD/EUR” to be sent to a PayPal account.

Mobile networks have advised affected users to contact Apple, which has not yet commented on the problem.

And it’s not just Down Under, as the London Telegraph reports:

iPhones frozen by hackers demanding ransom

  • People around the world have found their iPads and iPhones frozen by hackers who are demanding cash ransoms to unlock their devices

Owners of iPhones and iPads have been targeted by a hacker who is freezing iOS devices and demanding a ransom of up to £55 to unlock them.

The majority of the attacks have taken place in Australia although there are also reports of Britons being affected.

It appears that the hacker, who goes by the name Oleg Pliss, has managed to exploit the Find My iPhone feature which can track and remotely lock stolen devices.

Reuters covers another hack attack:

Spotify to ask users to re-enter passwords after cyberattack

Music streaming service Spotify AB will ask some of its 40 million users to re-enter their passwords and upgrade their software in coming days after detecting unauthorized access to its internal systems and data.

Chief Technology Officer Oskar Stal said in a blogpost on Tuesday that it has found evidence of attackers accessing just one user’s data, which did not include payment or password information. But as a precaution, it intends to ask “certain Spotify users” to re-enter their log-in credentials, and upgrade their Google (GOOGL.O) Android app.

Spotify said it is not recommending any action yet for users of Apple Inc (AAPL.O) iPhones or devices based on Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) Windows.

From CBC News, a spy in the bedroom, and for a good cause:

Spy cam nabs care worker stealing from 82-year-old Winnipegger

  • ‘What you did is despicable,’ Manitoba judge says in giving thief 2 years probation, community work

Viola Dufresne said she noticed money vanishing from her wallet starting last January, totalling nearly $1,100 over six months.

“My dad taught us morals, and all of a sudden I’m in my home and somebody rips me off. It made me mad,” she told CBC News on Monday.

Winnipeg police told Dufresne there wasn’t much they could do without evidence, so she went online and bought a spy camera. The camera, which resembles a clock radio, showed the home-care aide taking $25 from Dufresne’s wallet.

Techdirt laments:

Former CIA Director And Defense Secretary Says CIA Tried, But Failed, To Do Economic Espionage

  • from the this-doesn’t-make-the-us-look-any-better dept

US intelligence officials still seem to think that there’s some big distinction between the kind of intelligence work the US does versus the kind that other countries do. US officials time and time again claim that they don’t do “economic espionage” — even though it’s pretty clear that they do it, just through indirect means (i.e., while they don’t hand trade secrets over to companies, they’re certainly using economic information to impact policy and trade discussions).

Former Defense Secretary and CIA boss Robert Gates continued this sort of tone deaf line of thinking from US intelligence defenders by claiming that French intelligence downloads the contents of laptops from businessmen visiting Paris:

“There are probably a dozen or 15 countries that steal our technology in this way,” Gates said in an interview the Council on Foreign Relations posted online Thursday. “In terms of the most capable, next to the Chinese, are the French — and they’ve been doing it a long time.”

After the jump, the latest developments in the ongoing, ever-transforming Asian Game of Zones, including the latest American plans for Afghanistan, Sino-American cyberwar gambits, allegations of ramming, corporate targeting, the relentless push for Japanese militarization, and Pyongyang blusters belicosely. . . Continue reading

Headlines: Elections, ejections, pols, pollution


We charge straight into today’s collections of headlines about politics, economics, and the environment — plus the latest episode of Fukushimapocalypse Now! — starting ewith a pathetic news from the Guardian

IMF chief says banks haven’t changed since financial crisis

  • Christine Lagarde tells London conference banking sector is still resisting reform and taking excessive risks

Christine Lagarde told an audience in London that six years on from the deep financial crisis that engulfed the global economy, banks were resisting reform and still too focused on excessive risk taking to secure their bonuses at the expense of public trust.

She said: “The behaviour of the financial sector has not changed fundamentally in a number of dimensions since the crisis. While some changes in behaviour are taking place, these are not deep or broad enough. The industry still prizes short-term profit over long-term prudence, today’s bonus over tomorrow’s relationship.

“Some prominent firms have even been mired in scandals that violate the most basic ethical norms – Libor and foreign exchange rigging, money laundering, illegal foreclosure.”

One indication of why things haven’t changed via Bloomberg News:

Ex-UBS Banker Lack Avoids Prison for 17-Year Tax Scheme

Martin Lack, the fourth ex-UBS AG (UBSN) banker to plead guilty to aiding wealthy Americans in evading taxes, avoided prison for a 17-year scheme in which he helped U.S. clients maintain secret overseas accounts.

Lack, a Swiss resident and citizen and an independent investment adviser, was sentenced to five years of probation and fined $7,500 today in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he was indicted in 2011. He surrendered to U.S. authorities on Oct. 14 and pleaded guilty on Feb. 26, when the judge said he was cooperating with prosecutors.

“I apologize for my conduct,” Lack told U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas. “I was given an opportunity to make amends for what I’ve done, which I did to the best of my ability.”

Via the Contributor Network, reality catches up:

Without the Industry-Promised ‘Ocean of Black Gold,’ CA Senate Committee Approves Fracking Moratorium

In spite of the millions spent by Big Oil on lobbying in Sacramento every year, the California Senate Appropriations Committee voted 4 to 2 to approve a bill, SB 1132, to place a moratorium on fracking (hydraulic fracturing) in the state.

SB 1132, authored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno, now moves to a vote on the Senate floor. Senators Gaines and Walters voted against the bill while Senators De León, Padilla, Hill and Steinberg voted to advance the bill to the floor.

The bill moved forward the same week that the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reduced its previous estimate of recoverable oil in California by 96 percent.

From the Associated Press, greed, baby, greed:

Top U.S. executives mark compensation milestone; median pay hits $10-million

Propelled by a soaring stock market, the median pay package for a CEO rose above eight figures for the first time last year. The head of a typical large public company earned a record $10.5-million, an increase of 8.8 per cent from $9.6-million in 2012, according to an Associated Press/Equilar pay study.

Last year was the fourth straight that CEO compensation rose following a decline during the Great Recession. The median CEO pay package climbed more than 50 per cent over that stretch. A chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker’s salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009.

The best paid CEO last year led an oilfield-services company. The highest paid female CEO was Carol Meyrowitz of discount retail giant TJX, owner of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s. And the head of Monster Beverage got a monster of a raise.

From the Los Angeles Times, no pot luck:

Health insurers just say no to marijuana coverage

Patients who use medical marijuana for pain and other chronic symptoms can take an unwanted hit: Insurers don’t cover the treatment, which costs as much as $1,000 a month.

Marijuana in recent years has gained increased mainstream acceptance for its ability to boost appetite, dull pain and reduce seizures in people with a wide range of disorders and diseases, including epilepsy and cancer.

Still, insurers are reluctant to cover it, in part because of conflicting laws. Although 21 U.S. states have approved it for medical use, the drug still is outlawed by the federal government and most states.

From BBC News, a bubble on the verge of deflation?:

US house price growth slows as demand weakens

US housing price growth slowed to just 0.2% in the first three months of 2014, latest figures show.

According to the S&P/Case-Shiller index, the slowdown in growth compared with the previous quarter was partly caused by tighter bank lending regulations. Further compounding the problem is rising student loan debt, which has discouraged first-time buyers.

Nationally, US home prices are still up 10.3%, compared with a year earlier.

And from the Associated Press, unquenchable thirst, no strings attached:

California’s flawed water system can’t track usage

Nearly 4,000 California companies, farms and others are allowed to use free water with little oversight when the state is so bone dry that deliveries to nearly everyone else have been severely slashed.

Their special status dates back to claims made more than a century ago when water was plentiful. But in the third year of a drought that has ravaged California, these “senior rights holders” dominated by corporations and agricultural concerns are not obliged to conserve water.

Nobody knows how much water they actually use, though it amounts to trillions of gallons each year, according to a review of their own reports by The Associated Press. Together, they hold more than half the rights to rivers and streams in California.

And from MintPress News, why are we not surprised?:

U.S. Investors, Government Policies Leading Global Land-Grabs

Massive land-grabs are driving commercial agriculture and investment around the world, often at the expense of the world’s small-scale farmers – who feed 80 percent of the developing world

The U.S. public and private sectors are among the leading drivers of a global drive to snap up usable – and often in-use – agricultural land, in what critics say remains a steadily increasing epidemic of “land-grabbing.”

Africa and Southeast Asia are together seeing some three-quarters of problematic large-scale land acquisitions, according to new research from the global development group ActionAid. Africa remains a particular focus of this investment drive, constituting six of the top 10 countries experiencing significant land-grabbing. The continent has seen at least 40 million hectares switch hands in recent years as part of large-scale sales or leases.

However, land speculation is currently affecting almost all continents. The report warns of particularly negative effects for the estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide that rely on small-scale agriculture to meet their families’ needs. And this impact is felt far more broadly, as those smallholders, a majority of whom are women, provide the food that feeds some four-fifths of the developing world, according to the United Nations.

North of the border with CBC News and those minimum wage blues:

Restaurant owners seek meeting with PM over foreign worker freeze

  • Restaurant industry asks for urgent meeting with PM over freeze on hiring temporary foreign workers

The group representing Canada’s restaurant owners wants an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss the freeze on temporary foreign workers in the restaurant industry.

Restaurants Canada, which represents restaurants, pubs and caterers, says the program freeze ordered by federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney is already affecting the industry.

Restaurants Canada says it will make a call for urgent action on what it calls a labour crisis due to the moratorium on temporary foreign workers.

On to Europe, and those electoral post mortems, first with a French accent from BBC News:

EU election: France’s Hollande calls for reform of ‘remote’ EU

French President Francois Hollande has said the EU must reform and scale back its power, amid a surge in support for Eurosceptic and far-right parties.

Mr Hollande, whose party was beaten by the far right in last week’s European Parliament election, said the EU had become too complex and remote.

In response, he will tell EU leaders at a meeting in Brussels later that they must focus on boosting the economy.

The Associated Press confers

EU summit seeks way out of election quagmire

Despite their clashing visions for Europe, Britain and France agreed Tuesday that the massive increase in protest votes during the European Union election is a watershed moment that must lead to profound change in how Europe governs itself.

Coming into an EU summit meeting, British Prime Minister David Cameron said the anti-EU vote had shown that Brussels had become “too big, too bossy, too interfering,” and needed to return many powers to its 28 member nations as soon as possible.

The EU leaders met to assess the rise of the far-right, Euroskeptic and anti-establishment parties that took almost 30 percent of the seats in the European Parliament in national elections that ended Sunday. The summit had the major challenge of figuring out how to deal with the grassroots revolt of people turning away from the parties that built the EU.

ANA-MPA agonizes:

Eurogroup head Dijsselbloem says a great deal ‘still needs to be done’

Trying to tell everyday people about economic achievements at state budget level is difficult, Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem told a conference on Europe at Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance on Tuesday.

“Try to tell a Greek who is struggling to survive that Greece now has a primary surplus, something that for us at the Eurogroup constitutes a significant indicator. What does this say, however, to a citizen in Greece?,” Dijsselbloem said, adding that after the latest Euroelections “Europe is no longer something that is beyond doubt.”

He went on to add, “Try to tell a Spaniard who has lost his job that there is a small drop in unemployment in his country, or to an Irish whose house lost a quarter of its value that real estate prices have registered a slight increase.”

And the Amsterdam angle from DutchNews.nl:

EU should focus on added value, and choose new president, says Rutte

‘The voter wants fewer regulations and more work,’ is the conclusion of prime minister Mark Rutte following the success of fringe parties across Europe in the EU elections last week.

Rutte was speaking after a parliamentary debate on the meeting of European heads of state on Tuesday evening in Brussels, the Telegraaf reports.

‘The message to politicians in the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe is that the EU should be involved in fewer matters,’ he said. ‘It should focus on where it can add value, for instance in creating jobs.’

And from Spiegel, a prescription:

German Finance Minister Schäuble: ‘Europe Needs More Self-Confidence’

What does Eurovision Song Contest winner Conchita Wurst have to do with the Ukraine conflict? More than you might think, explains German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in a SPIEGEL interview. It demonstrates the EU’s greatest strengths.

On to Britain with the London Telegraph and a regal prescription:

Prince Charles: reform capitalism to save the planet

  • A “fundamental transformation of global capitalism” is needed in order to tackle climate change, the Prince of Wales has said

Prince Charles has called for an end to capitalism as we know it in order to save the planet from global warming.

In a speech to business leaders in London, the Prince said that a “fundamental transformation of global capitalism” was necessary in order to halt “dangerously accelerating climate change” that would “bring us to our own destruction”.

He called for companies to focus on “approaches that achieve lasting and meaningful returns” by protecting the environment, improving their employment practices and helping the vulnerable to develop a new “inclusive capitalism”.

From the London Telegraph again, a Goldman Sachs alum covers for his pals:

Jailing bankers will not fix bad behaviour, says Mark Carney

  • Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, says fundamental flaws in the industry can only be resolved by changing how markets operate

Jailing bankers for market manipulation or clawing back pay and bonuses will not be enough to curb future misbehaviour or restore public trust in the financial system, the Governor of the Bank of England has said.

Despite a new crackdown on reckless bankers, Mark Carney said fundamental flaws in the industry could only be resolved by changing how markets operate.

“Merely prosecuting the guilty to the full extent of the law will not be sufficient to address the issues raised,” Mr Carney said in a speech in London on Tuesday night.

And the not-so-surprising from the Guardian [although homophobia is down]:

Racism on the rise in Britain

The proportion of Britons who admit to being racially prejudiced has risen since the start of the millennium, raising concerns that growing hostility to immigrants and widespread Islamophobia are setting community relations back 20 years.

New data from NatCen’s authoritative British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, obtained by the Guardian, shows that after years of increasing tolerance, the percentage of people who describe themselves as prejudiced against those of other races has risen overall since 2001.

In an echo of the voting patterns of Ukip supporters in last week’s European elections, the figures paint a pattern of a nation geographically divided – with London reporting the lowest levels of racial prejudice. Older men in economically deprived areas are most likely to admit to racial prejudice.

Sweden next, and from TheLocal.se, the first hint of austerity to come:

Sweden’s labour costs ‘distressingly high’

Labour costs in Sweden are 22 percent higher than the eurozone average, a difference which threatens Swedish industries’ ability to compete, economists warned in a report on Tuesday.

Labour costs have been escalating in Sweden at a quicker pace than they have in the rest of western Europe and the eurozone, and the increasing strength of the krona has compounded the problem, a report by employer group Teknikföretagen stated on Tuesday.

“Swedish industries operate in a global market characterized by tough international competition,” Teknikföretagen economist Anders Rune wrote in the report.

Germany next, first with a power-up from the Japan Times:

Growing number of Germans opting for ‘homemade’ electricity

Of the about 600 terawatt hours Germany consumes each year, 50 twh are self-produced — about 8 percent of the total — in a trend that has seen solar panels installed on home roofs and gas plants set up in factories.

In industry, the share is around 20 percent, according to business and energy consumers’ groups. Their main goal: cost savings.

Homemade power in Germany is not taxed, unlike conventional electricity where one-third of the customer’s bill goes into the public coffers. Germany has among Europe’s highest electricity bills.

TheLocal.de gives a glimpse at life at the bottom:

One in five Germans can’t afford a holiday

More than 20 percent of Germans can’t afford a week’s holiday, and 30 percent said they were unable to cover “unexpected expenses” such as house repairs or big purchases, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The survey, from federal statistics office Destatis which gathered the data in 2012, asked participants whether they could afford to pay for a week away from home each year, and if they felt they could handle unexpected costs – essential purchases costing €940 or more.

It also found around eight percent of respondents felt they could not afford to eat a meal including meat, poultry or fish at least once every two days.

From TheLocal.de, outsider entrepreneurs:

Foreigners set up 40pc of new German firms

Germany is increasingly relying on foreigners to stir entrepreneurial spirit in the country, as the number of new companies being founded by Germans falls.

The number of foreign entrepreneurs setting up new companies in Germany has risen from 90,000 in 2005 to 145,000 last year, despite an overall fall in the number of people setting up on their own.

A study released on Monday by a think-tank for medium-sized business, Institute für Mittelstandsforschung (IfM), showed three-quarters of new foreign-founded companies were in the construction (45 percent), trade (18.2 percent) and hospitality (10.2 percent).

On to Amsterdam, and a real pisser from DutchNews.nl:

Waste water analysis reveals Dutch drug secrets in EU survey

People in Amsterdam, Utrecht and Eindhoven are major users of drugs when compared to other European cities, according to a new analysis of waste water by the EU’s drugs agency Emcdda.

The agency analysed waste water in 42 cities in 21 countries looking for drug residues. The three Dutch cities occupied first, second and third place in terms of the use of party drug ecstasy and ‘abnormal amounts’ were identified in Eindhoven’s waste water, news agency ANP said.

This may be explained by the fact the production of ecstasy is concentrated in the region and that chemicals are dumped into the drains, the organisation said. The quantity of amphetamine found in Eindhoven water was also extremely high.

In terms of cannabis use, Amsterdam comes in second place, behind Novia Sad in Serbia. Eindhoven is seventh and Utrecht 13th.

Brussels next, and a quandary from EUobserver:

Belgian king gives coalition-forming mandate to Flemish republican

  • Will the man who wants the end of Belgium be the next Belgian prime minister? In a land where absurdity is a form of art, it’s not impossible.

King Philippe on Tuesday (27 May) asked N-VA chairman Bart De Wever to “inform” him about possible coalition governments, a first step to forming such a government.

On Sunday Belgians not only voted for the EU Parliament, but also for the national and regional parliaments. Belgium is a highly decentralised country, with powerful regional governments. On the Flemish (northern) side, there’s a strong demand to make those regions even stronger.

The hardliners simply want to split Belgium, although nobody knows how to do that with the bilingual – and very rich and important – Brussels right in the middle of the country.

The winner of the elections is the devolution-minded N-VA. Until a few years ago, it was a small party of hardline Flemish separatists. Thanks to the immense popularity of party leader Bart De Wever, the party took about 32 percent of the votes in Flanders at the weekend. This makes it by far the biggest party in Belgium.

Austria next, with post-electoral blues from TheLocal.at:

SPÖ row after attack on chancellor

A row has broken out among Austria’s Social Democrats (SPÖ) after the party failed to emerge as the winner among Austrian parties in Sunday’s European Parliament elections.

A member of Burgenland’s regional government, Peter Rezar, has launched an attack on Chancellor Werner Faymann – and provoked a storm of protest from the SPÖ’s top politicians.

The conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) won Sunday’s vote with 27 percent, ahead of its ruling partners the SPÖ at 24 percent.

On to France, with aspirations from Spiegel:

A Real National Front: The French Far Right Aims High

  • After its triumph in European elections on Sunday, the French far-right Front National is hoping to increase its power back home, with Marine Le Pen aiming for the presidency in 2017. With François Hollande’s popularity plummeting, it is not out of the question.

After pulling in a triumphant 25 percent of the vote, the Front National will now have the largest number of seats of any French political party in the European Parliament. Marine Le Pen has every intention of using the party’s presence at parliament’s headquarters in Strasbourg and Brussels for political gain. Some within the far-right in France are already considering their political futures — all the way up to the presidential palace in Paris.

The first step in the “long march,” as Marine Le Pen has termed it, is the creation of a party group in the European Parliament comprised of skeptics of the euro common currency, EU opponents and the far-right or right-wing populists. Doing so would provide the parties with greater access to money and key posts and would also raise their profile. To create a group, at least 25 members of parliament from seven different EU member states must join together in a bloc. Given the divergent ideologies on Europe’s right wing, that won’t be an easy task.

The only true support Le Pen can count on is from the Austrian right-wing Freedom Party. Right-wing populist parties in Belgium and the Netherlands failed to deliver on Sunday, managing only disappointing results. Meanwhile, radical political forces in Denmark and Britain have said they will not join an alliance with the Front National.

Partnering up with the Guardian:

Marine Le Pen to meet other far-right leaders in move to create EU bloc

  • Front National leader rules out joining forces with extreme-right parties Golden Dawn, Jobbik and Ataka

France’s Front National leader Marine Le Pen will meet other far-right and eurosceptic leaders on Wednesday in an attempt to create a powerful bloc in the European parliament.

However, Le Pen ruled out joining forces with the extreme-right Golden Dawn in Greece, the Hungarian party Jobbik or Ataka in Bulgaria.

Having spent years trying to shake off the FN’s reputation as a refuge for Nazi sympathisers – her father, the party’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, once dismissed the Holocaust as a “detail” – Le Pen said she did not envisage meeting newly elected German MEP Udo Voigt of the neo-Nazi NPD.

And a branding problem from EUbusiness:

Germany’s Schaeuble terms France’s far-right FN ‘fascist’

Germany’s finance minister on Tuesday described France’s far-right National Front (FN), which came out on top in France’s weekend vote for a new European Parliament, as a “fascist” party.

Wolfgang Schaeuble told a forum on Europe that the outcome in Europe’s second biggest economy was a vote “not for a right-wing party but for a fascist party”.

The result is a reality check “for everyone in Europe, not only for our friends in France”, Schaeuble, a veteran and strongly pro-EU member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, added.

And while the far right has smooth sailing, not so for the traditonal right, as the London Telegraph reports:

Crisis for France’s Right as Sarkozy party head quits over funding scandal

  • Jean-François Copé, leaders of UMP party, to step down over allegations a company run by friends signed off €10 million of “false invoices” to bankroll Nicolas Sarkozy’s failed 2012 election bid

The head of France’s main conservative opposition party is to step down after a scandal over funding for Nicolas Sarkozy’s failed attempt to win the presidency in 2012.

Jean-François Copé, leader of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), agreed to leave his post by June 15. Mr Cope’s position was already weakened after the UMP was beaten into second place in Sunday’s European Parliament elections by the Front National (FN).

The revelations cast a shadow over Mr Sarkozy’s chances of mounting a comeback in 2017. He is said to be “furious” and to feel “betrayed”, but none the less is likely to face questions over claims that more than €10 million (£8.1 million) of “false invoices” for his 2012 re-election campaign were billed as party expenses.

Of to Spain and a papal slapdown from TheLocal.es:

Pope slams ‘inhumane’ jobless rate in Spain

Pope Francis on Tuesday criticized an “inhumane” system which causes a youth unemployment rate of “50 percent” in Spain and “60 percent” in Andalusia in the wake of recent European elections.

Speaking during a press conference on his return from a trip to Middle East, the pope admitted he hadn’t had time to follow the European elections.

He also owned up to not being fully up to speed on issues like populism and the confidence, or lack of confidence in the Euro. But Pope Francis said he did understand words like “unemployment”.

“We are living under a world economic system that has money at its centre, and not human beings. This system, to maintain itself excludes (people),” the Pope was quoted as saying by Italy’s La Stampa.

But the IMF wants more Spanish misery, with higher taxes for the pooir and lower corporate taxes. From El País:

IMF calls on Spain to raise VAT and lower corporate taxes

  • Other measures recommended by local mission include tax pardons for struggling companies

Higher consumer taxes, lower corporate rates and few changes to income tax. Those were the proposals for the Spanish economy presented by the International Monetary Fund in Madrid on Tuesday, in the latest report issued by its mission in the country.

“There is room for increasing indirect revenues,” the report reads. “Raising excise duties and environmental levies, and gradually reducing preferential treatments in the VAT, would bring Spain’s collection effort more in to line with its European peers. This should be combined with clearly identified measures to protect the most vulnerable.

“There is scope for gradually cutting corporate income tax rates to promote growth (though not to 20 percent, which is below the EU average),” the report continues. “However, given the imperative to sustain revenues and preserve progressivity, there is less scope for significantly cutting top personal income tax rates.”

An electoral outside from the Spanish prede cessor of the Occupy movement wins election, via TheLocal.es:

‘Hippy’ politician stuns Spain’s political elite

Some see him as a ponytailed Fidel Castro, others think he’s the only honest politician Spain has had in decades. Either way, Pablo Iglesias is on everyone’s lips after he helped his poorly-funded, three-month-old party reach fourth place in the European Elections.

Rest assured, you’re not alone. Had Iglesias’ party Podemos (We Can) not won five seats in Brussels he may have remained a household name only in Spain. But their 1.2 million votes on Sunday have made the news across Europe and further afield, with Iglesias at the centre of all the intrigue.

How did they manage to do so well?

Perhaps the most crucial factor is the massive drop in support for Spain’s ruling conservative Popular Party (PP) and their socialist opponents PSOE. Both have been embroiled in corruption scandals and, when handed the reins of power by the country’s disillusioned population, they’ve seemed equally unable to solve the grave issue of unemployment and poor economic performance.

The other significant cause is Pablo Iglesias himself and how he has come to represent the educated but disgruntled youth who took part in Spain’s Real Democracy Now protest, popularly known as the 15-M, which gained worldwide coverage when thousands of young people camped out in Madrid’s iconic Puerta del Sol for months in 2011.

More from El País:

Podemos: A party under construction

  • The surprise success story at Sunday’s elections has its roots in the 15-M protest movement
  • With an undefined structure, the group must now get organized to hold its eurodeputies accountable

For now at least, the party has no leadership bodies and no membership cards. Yet it will have five seats in the European Parliament after receiving 1.2 million votes at Sunday’s poll.

As of Monday, Podemos is facing the new challenge of organizing itself and creating a leadership that will make day-to-day decisions and hold its five eurodeputies accountable. This is especially important because if Sunday’s results are repeated in Spanish general elections in 2015, Podemos could hold the key to local and regional governments. And it will have to make decisions.

“We were practically born on the campaign trail. To this day, we are a campaign team rather than a party proper. Now we need to begin a constitutional process,” says Íñigo Errejón, 30, who has a PhD in political science from Madrid’s Complutense University and acts as campaign director for Podemos.

And TheLocal.es evicts:

Protesters clash with police over squat eviction

Police clashed with protesters who burned bins and vehicles in Barcelona on Monday as anger boiled over at the eviction of activists from a well-known squat.

Officers made several arrests as hooded youths smashed windows and hurled stones at police and journalists in the streets of the north-eastern city.

Police had earlier evicted occupants who had chained themselves down inside the “Can Vies”, a building owned by the local transport authority but occupied since 1997 by activists who have used it as a community centre.

Italy next, and advice for a sourpuss from TheLocal.it:

Spin doctor tells ex-comedian Grillo to smile

A strategist for Italy’s Eurosceptic Five Star Movement (M5S) has told the party’s leader, Beppe Grillo, that he needs to smile more after the organization was outstripped in the European Elections.

Gianroberto Casaleggio, the founder of the Milan-based Casaleggio and Associates and a driving force behind the party’s successes, told the former comedian that he needs to “tone down” his aggression during a post-mortem of the party’s election performance on Monday.

“You have to force yourself to smile; we must smile more,” the advisor was quoted in Corriere della Sera as saying.

After the jump, the latest from Greece [including stunning support for neo-Nazis by Greek police], more Ukrainian struggles, an election extension in an apathetic Egyptian contest, more Libyan turmoil, an Indian electoral reminder, the tightening Thai coup, mixed economic signals from China, toxins, fires, and other environmental agonies, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .
Continue reading

Is The South China Sea On The Brink Of War?


A documentary from ABC Australia on the increasing tension in the oil-rich region of the Pacific where a host of nations are struggling to control potentially vast undersea petroleum and gas reserves — the struggle we’ve dubbed the Game of Zones.

Shot from a Philippine perspective and reported by Eric Campbell, the documentary gives the viewer an excellent first-hand view of the daily jockeying for possession consuming the politicians and military of a half-dozen Asian nations, hungry for the potential riches below.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Is The South China Sea On The Brink Of War?

Program notes:

The Spratly Islands are an unremarkable scattering of reefs and sandbars in the South China Sea. But, rich in resources and claimed by six countries, could they be the trigger for the world’s next major conflict?

“We call our Kalayaan Island group the submerged Saudi Arabia of the Philippines.” Eugenio Bito-Onon is mayor of a seemingly innocuous islet municipality, home to just 150 residents.

But with the region crosshatched by important shipping lanes, the undersea bed replete with oil and gas, and the marine life furnishing vast fishing grounds, the surrounding waters are simmering with tension. China, the Philippines,

Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei all lay claim to a portion of the territory, in a little-known diplomatic contest that for decades has regularly brought the area to the brink of war, and put it firmly off-limits to Western media.

“China is doing a lot of things besides bullying our fishermen and small navies,” explains the mayor as he points out a Chinese development on a small atoll known as ‘Mischief Reef’. Here, the only way to secure the land is to occupy it. So as competing claimants continue to build, could this high-stakes game of island Monopoly erupt into a fully fledged conflict?

Headlines II: Spies, laws, lies, zones & more


And lots of ground to cover in today’s tales from the dark side, including political shenanigans, spooky revelations, and all the latest from the ongoing and ever-escalating Asian Game of Zones.

For our first headline, the Buenos Aires Herald covers a major Obama security breach:

The White House blows top CIA official cover in Afghanistan

The White House inadvertently included the name of the top CIA official in Afghanistan on a list of participants in a military briefing with President Barack Obama that was distributed to reporters yesterday, the Washington Post reported.

The newspaper said the official, identified as “Chief of Station” in Kabul, was named as being among those at a briefing with Obama during the president’s trip to Bagram Air Base near the Afghan capital.

The list of names was sent by email to reporters traveling with Obama on his surprise Afghanistan visit and included in a “pool report” shared with correspondents and others not on the trip.

The Post said the White House issued a revised list deleting the CIA official’s name after it recognized the mistake.

From the Guardian, guess who helped in the cover-up?:

White House staff tried to ‘un-ring the bell’ after revealing CIA chief’s identity

  • White House press office unaware it had circulated name
  • Washington Post journalist sounded alert after filing report

The White House blew the cover of the top CIA agent in Afghanistan on Sunday, when the person’s name was included on a list given to reporters during a visit to the country by President Barack Obama.

The name was then emailed by the White House press office to a distribution list of more than 6,000 recipients, mostly members of the US media.

The agent in question, listed as chief of station, would be a top manager of CIA activity in Afghanistan, including intelligence collection and a drone-warfare programme under which unmanned aerial vehicles mount cross-border attacks into Pakistan.

From IDG News Service, a snitch in time saves nine [years?]:

US seeks leniency for ‘Sabu,’ Lulzsec leader-turned-snitch

  • Prosecutors contend the seven months time he has served is enough for Hector Xavier Monsegur

U.S. prosecutors say a hacking group’s mastermind should be spared a long prison sentence due to his quick and fruitful cooperation with law enforcement.

The man, Hector Xavier Monsegur of New York, is accused of leading a gang of international miscreants calling themselves “Lulzsec,” short for Lulz Security, on a noisy hacking spree in 2011, striking companies such as HBGary, Fox Entertainment and Sony Pictures.

Lulzsec, an offshoot of Anonymous, led a high-profile campaign that taunted law enforcement, released stolen data publicly and bragged of their exploits on Twitter. Their campaign touched off a worldwide law enforcement action that resulted in more than a dozen arrests.

From intelNews.org, they shall be released:

Spain shelves charges against French alleged ‘assassin’ spies

A court in Spain has quietly shelved charges against two French spies who were caught in Barcelona with a custom-designed sniper rifle. The two men were detained in the Catalonian town of Manresa in April of 2002. The Audi car in which they were riding was stopped at a checkpoint manned by members of the Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan regional police, who promptly searched it.

In the back of the car, police officers found a large PVC tube that contained a sniper rifle complete with a laser telescopic light and a silencer. The two men carried French travel documents identifying them as “Christian Piazzole” and “Rachid Chaouati”. Piazzole’s documents were found to be false, and there were suspicions that Chaouati’s may also have been forged.

Spanish authorities concluded that the two men, who admitted they were officers of France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), were in Spain to conduct an assassination. In a words of a state prosecutor in Barcelona, the DGSE spies had come to Spain “to kill”. Their arrest prompted an emergency visit to Madrid of a high-level French government delegation headed by General Philippe Rondot, a former senior intelligence officer at the DGSE. Rondot told Spanish officials that the two men were “on a training exercise”.

Feelin’ insecure theatrically Down Under, via RT:

Security stunt: Australian politician brings pipe bomb into parliament

An Australian senator stunned fellow politicians after bringing explosives into a session, saying he had “brought this through security: a pipe bomb,” which brought gasps from stunned onlookers.

Senator Bill Heffernan wanted to make a point about relaxed security in the building. The 71-year-old wheat farmer has been warning for months about a rising security risk facing the $1 billion building.

Under a 12-month trial, hundreds of MPs, senators, political and departmental staff no longer need to be scanned by metal detectors or have their bags checked.

And the stunt itself, via the Liberal [i.e., conservative] senator who serves on the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. From the Australian Senate video feed via ABC News [Australia]:

Liberal Senator brings fake pipe bomb into Parliament

Program notes:

Senator Bill Heffernan presents a fake pipe bomb he has smuggled into Australian Parliament House to demonstrate the potential risks of reduced security arrangements.

From Ars Technica, woe to esnl:

Unsafe cookies leave WordPress accounts open to hijacking, 2-factor bypass

  • Accounts accessed from Wi-Fi hotspots and other unsecured networks are wide open.

Memo to anyone who logs in to a WordPress-hosted blog from a public Wi-Fi connection or other unsecured network: It’s trivial for the script kiddie a few tables down to hijack your site even if it’s protected by two-factor authentication.

Yan Zhu, a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, came to that determination after noticing that WordPress servers send a key browser cookie in plain text, rather than encrypting it, as long mandated by widely accepted security practices. The cookie, which carries the tag “wordpress_logged_in,” is set once an end user has entered a valid WordPress user name and password. It’s the website equivalent of a plastic bracelets used by nightclubs. Once a browser presents the cookie, WordPress servers will usher the user behind a velvet rope to highly privileged sections that reveal private messages, update some user settings, publish blog posts, and more. The move by WordPress engineers to allow the cookie to be transmitted unencrypted makes them susceptible to interception in many cases.

Cause for insecurity in Africa, via Antiwar.com:

Sisi Is Torture and Suffering, Confirms Sisi

Orchestrating a military coup against a demcoratically elected government, leading a junta that killed thousands of protesters and has sentenced many more to death for organizing those protests, Egypt’s incoming president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is worried people think he’s “too soft,” and gave a harsh statement on his incoming regime in a television interview and leaked comments associated with it.

“I’m not leaving a chance for people to act on their own,” Sisi declared, going on to promise he would forcibly turn Egypt into a “first-class nation.”

“People think I’m a soft man. Sisi is torture and suffering,” declared Sisi, who among other things, vowed to send troops to people’s houses to install energy efficient lightbulbs as a way of solving the nation’s fuel shortage.

After the jump, the latest developments in the ever-accelerating, ever expanding Asian Game of Zones, including claims of a new top dog, hacks, exclusion threats, a ship sinking, threats, warnings, and the latest moves in the Washington-pushed Japanese remilitarization drive. . . Continue reading

Headlines II: Spies, laws, pols, zones, drones


For today’s tales from the dark side, we begin with this from MintPress News:

Will The House’s Gutted USA Freedom Act Really Stop The NSA?

“While it represents a slight improvement from the status quo, it isn’t the reform bill that Americans deserve,” says a staff attorney with the ACLU.

In a Thursday op-ed for Hays Post, Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp explained his reasoning for not voting for the USA Freedom Act, which cleared the House earlier in the day in a 303-121 vote.

“[The] bill presented on the House floor today does not address many of privacy and constitutional concerns expressed by Kansans over the warrantless bulk collection of Americans’ personal information,” wrote Huelskamp.

Huelskamp was an original sponsor to the bill. Originally meant to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of metadata from Americans’ phone records, the bill was initially heralded as the first serious attempt to bring balance to the way the nation handles electronic surveillance.

From the Guardian, the obvious conclusion:

The year of living more dangerously: Obama’s drone speech was a sham

  • We were promised drone memos. And a case for legal targeted killing. And no more Gitmo. We’re still waiting

Twelve months ago today, Barack Obama gave a landmark national security speech in which he frankly acknowledged that the United States had at least in some cases compromised its values in the years since 9/11 – and offered his vision of a US national security policy more directly in line with “the freedoms and ideals that we defend.” It was widely praised as “a momentous turning point in post-9/11 America”.

Addressing an audience at the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington, the president pledged greater transparency about targeted killings, rededicated himself to closing the detention center at Guantánamo Bay and urged Congress to refine and ultimately repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which has been invoked to justify everything from military detention to drones strikes.

A year later, none of these promises have been met. Instead, drone strikes have continue (and likely killed and wounded civilians), 154 men remain detained at Guantanamo and the administration has taken no steps to roll back the AUMF. This is not the sort of change Obama promised.

Coming up with a drone report the old-fashioned way with RT:

Over 60% of US drone targets in Pakistan are homes – research

The CIA has been bombing Pakistan’s domestic buildings more than any other targets over the past decade of the drone war launched by the US, says the latest research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Almost two thirds, or over 60 percent, of all US drone strikes in Pakistan targeted domestic buildings, says joint research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), a London-based non-profit news group, along with Forensic Architecture, a research unit based at Goldsmiths University, London, and Situ Research in New York.

The authors of the paper analyzed thousands of media reports, witness testimonies and field investigations to obtain the data on drone strikes in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).

According to the study, at least 132 houses have been destroyed in more than 380 strikes over the past decade with at least 222 civilians being among the 1,500 or more people killed.

Security checks and no security, from Quartz:

You should fear background checks even if you’ve done nothing wrong

  • 41% error rate

This issue matters not only because innocent people and employers who hire screening companies are getting ensnared by a digital dragnet; it also matters because 65 million Americans have criminal records, and those who want to turn their lives around are hurt by background check mistakes. Maybe you don’t care that employers end up screening out deserving applicants. Maybe you scoff at liberals like me who worry that background screening has a discriminatory impact on people of color.  At least you should care that the mistakes cut both ways: employers can end up hiring applicants whose full criminal records are not showing up on background screens.

You can find a litany of common screw-ups in this report by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC). It’s impossible to quantify the extent of the errors, partly because the industry has no registration requirements and any fly-by-night operation with web access can set up shop. But the NCLC says “tens of millions of workers may pay for these third-party errors with their jobs.” One screening company studied federal corrections databases and found a “41% error rate.”

If you got arrested 30 years ago for selling a little weed but were never charged, or if you went to trial but were never convicted, you still might be tagged with a criminal record. That’s because too many screeners don’t bother to check original court records to verify the status of cases, according to Welby. These screening companies often rely only on bulk databases that aren’t properly updated.

Techdirt covers another reason for insecurity:

Another Bogus Hit From A License Plate Reader Results In Another Citizen Surrounded By Cops With Guns Out

  • from the verification-to-be-performed-at-gunpoint dept

We recently covered a story about a lawyer who found himself approached by cops with guns drawn after an automatic license plate reader misread a single character on his plate as he drove by. The police did make an attempt to verify the plate but were stymied by heavy traffic. Unfortunately, it appears they decided to force the issue rather than let a potential car thief escape across the state line.

As I pointed out then, the increasing reliance on ALPRs, combined with the one-billion-plus records already in storage and the millions being collected every day, means the number of errors will only increase as time goes on — even as the technology continues to improve. This person was lucky to escape with nothing more than an elevated heart rate. Others won’t be so lucky… like Denise Green of San Francisco.

Green’s civil rights lawsuit has just been reinstated by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which overturned an earlier decision that granted summary judgment in favor of the San Francisco Police Department. The lower court found that the officers had made a “good faith, reasonable mistake” when they performed a felony stop of Green, which included being ordered out of her vehicle and onto the ground at gunpoint and held in cuffs for nearly 20 minutes while officers verified the plates and filled out paperwork.

From the Christian Science Monitor, righting wrongs:

Dallas targets wrongful convictions, and revolution starts to spread

The Conviction Integrity Unit formed in Dallas to correct wrongful convictions has become a national model that is slowly changing prosecutors’ willingness to reopen the books nationwide.

Some of these units are window dressing created mostly for public relations, critics say. But the Dallas CI Unit has had a profound impact in the city and has come at a time when concerns about wrongful convictions are rippling through the American justice system.

Indeed, as exonerations nationwide force prosecutors to reconsider their role in public safety, Mr. Watkins has cast himself as a leading reformer, taking on the insular culture within district attorneys’ offices and challenging the credo that the most effective district attorney is the one who wins the most convictions.

“One overriding truth is that the prosecutor is by far the most important and powerful actor in the criminal justice system,” says Samuel Gross, editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.

RT covers a curious possibility:

Snowden ‘considers’ returning to US – report

American whistleblower Edward Snowden is “considering” returning home to the USA under certain conditions, his lawyer told German news magazine Der Spiegel.

“There are negotiations,” Snowden’s German lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck told Der Spiegel. “Those who know the case are aware that an amicable agreement with the US authorities will be most reasonable.”

All efforts are now focused on finding a solution acceptable for Edward Snowden, at least in the medium term, according to Kaleck, who is also secretary-general for the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.

From Medill News Service, snitchin’ in the kitchen?:

With ‘Internet of Things,’ your fridge will know when milk is low

Americans are adapting to a world in which virtually everything _ from cellphones and cars to washing machines and refrigerators _ is going to be connected to the Internet or networks. Many of these devices will _ and do _ “talk” to one another via tiny sensors that function almost like human senses, logging information such as temperature, light, motion and sound.

Theoretically, the sensors could allow a new refrigerator, for example, to send an alert to a homeowner’s smartphone whenever the fridge is running low on milk. This concept of device conversation is known as the Internet of Things. The technology will make life easier, but it also means more people are vulnerable to device malfunction or hacking.

Experts and government officials acknowledge the transformative power of the Internet of Things. But the authors of a White House report in May on the effects of big data _ including all the information that devices collect _ are also concerned about the potential for privacy abuses that comes with the technology.

Getting censorious with the New York Times:

Twitter Agrees to Block ‘Blasphemous’ Tweets in Pakistan

At least five times this month, a Pakistani bureaucrat who works from a colonial-era barracks in Karachi, just down the street from the former home of his country’s secularist founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, asked Twitter to shield his compatriots from exposure to accounts, tweets or searches of the social network that he described as “blasphemous” or “unethical.”

All five of those requests were honored by the company, meaning that Twitter users in Pakistan can no longer see the content that so disturbed the bureaucrat, Abdul Batin of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority: crude drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, photographs of burning Qurans, and messages from a handful of anti-Islam bloggers and an American porn star who now attends Duke University.

The blocking of these tweets in Pakistan — in line with the country-specific censorship policy Twitter unveiled in 2012 — is the first time the social network has agreed to withhold content there. A number of the accounts seemed to have been blocked in anticipation of the fourth annual “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” on May 20.

Digital Alzheimer’s from the Associated Press:

Europe’s move to rein in Google would stall in US

Europe’s moves to rein in Google — including a court ruling this month ordering the search giant to give people a say in what pops up when someone searches their name — may be seen in Brussels as striking a blow for the little guy.

But across the Atlantic, the idea that users should be able to edit Google search results in the name of privacy is being slammed as weird and difficult to enforce at best and a crackdown on free speech at worst.

“Americans will find their searches bowdlerized by prissy European sensibilities,” said Stewart Baker, former assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “We’ll be the big losers. The big winners will be French ministers who want the right to have their last mistress forgotten.”

Mountain View, California -based Google says it’s still figuring out how to comply with the European Court of Justice’s May 13 ruling, which says the company must respond to complaints about private information that turns up in searches. Google must then decide whether the public’s right to be able to find the information outweighs an individual’s right to control it — with preference given to the individual.

After the jump, the latest developments from the Asian Game of Zones, including Chinese strategy, bonding afloat with Moscow and Beijing, playing chicken over the China Seas, nukes afloat, Chinese domestic insecurity, and Japan’s relentless remilitarization push. . . Continue reading