Category Archives: Asia

Chart of the day: Global population on the rise


But likely growth patterns are shifting, with Africa on the ascendant in terms of new numbers. From Agence France-Presse, based on new research reported Thursday:

BLOG Population

InSecurityWatch: Spooks, hacks, war, weapons


For the first item in today’s compendium pf the world of spies, snoops, cops, crimes, wars, geopolitics, hackery, and the like, we turn to reassurance from the Guardian:

CIA chief: ‘If I’ve done something wrong, I’ll stand up and admit it’

  • John Brennan expresses frustration with Senate and media while decrying lack of trust in agency at intelligence conference

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency expressed frustration with his Senate overseers and the media on Thursday, even as he and his fellow heads of US intelligence agencies pledged to win back the trust of a skeptical American public.

“I certainly believe having the public’s trust makes all of our jobs much easier and better,” Brennan said on a panel at an intelligence conference, where he was joined by his colleagues at the helms of the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

But ahead of an impending clash with the Senate intelligence committee, which is due to release a public version of a report into CIA torture in the coming weeks, Brennan rejected “the narratives I see floating around the media.”

From Gigaom, someone’s takin’ a bit out of the Apple:

Apple’s “warrant canary” disappears, suggesting new Patriot Act demands

When Apple published its first Transparency Report on government activity in late 2013, the document contained an important footnote that stated: “Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us.”

Writer and cyber-activist Cory Doctorow at the time recognized that language as a so-called “warrant canary,” which Apple was using to thwart the secrecy imposed by the Patriot Act.

Warrant canaries are a tool used by companies and publishers to signify to their users that, so far, they have not been subject to a given type of law enforcement request such as a secret subpoena. If the canary disappears, then it is likely the situation has changed — and the company has been subject to such request.

Now, Apple’s warrant canary has disappeared. A review of the company’s last two Transparency Reports, covering the second half of 2013 and the first six months of 2014, shows that the “canary” language is no longer there.

From the Register, score another one for Edward the Leaker:

Snowden’s NSA leaks have galvanised the storage world

  • Vendors raise their game after gov securo-busting revealed

In a recent CyberArk survey of 373 C-level and IT security executives across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific, 37 per cent of respondents said Snowden’s breach of NSA security had influenced their security strategy more than any other incident over the past year.

Difficult decisions are having to be made across industries. Where and how to store data tops the list of priorities. Who to trust has also become a pertinent question when it comes to access management and procurement processes. Storage and security have become sexy again.

Indeed, one of the material outcomes of Snowden’s leaks has already been realised: inspired by renewed consumer and business interest in privacy, technology is becoming more secure.

From the New York Times, oversharing reported by James Bamford:

Israel’s N.S.A. Scandal

In Moscow this summer, while reporting a story for Wired magazine, I had the rare opportunity to hang out for three days with Edward J. Snowden. It gave me a chance to get a deeper understanding of who he is and why, as a National Security Agency contractor, he took the momentous step of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications as well as metadata such as who was calling whom.

Typically, when such sensitive information is transferred to another country, it would first be “minimized,” meaning that names and other personally identifiable information would be removed. But when sharing with Israel, the N.S.A. evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.

Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” he told me. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”

From RT, bloody irony:

GTA-ISIS: Militants hooking youngsters with ‘Jihad video game’ trailer

Islamic State (IS) militants have released a jihadist video game trailer in which the aim is to destroy Iraqi and US forces, Arabic media report. The game, styling itself as a Grand Theft Auto adaptation, appears specifically aimed at young people.

The recruitment propaganda video trailer aimed to “raise the morale of the mujahedin and to train children and youth how to battle the West and to strike terror into the hearts of those who oppose the Islamic State,” according to the media wing of the IS (formerly known as ISIS), cited in Arabic media.

“The content includes all of the organization’s military tactics against its opponents,” the Islamic state said.

Homeland Security News Wire covers an intelligence failure:

U.S. intelligence, leaders unclear on exact danger posed by ISIS

Considerable discrepancies in the reporting from U.S. intelligence services regarding the strength of the Islamic State (IS) have led critics to the conclusion that the U.S. intelligence community knows little about the terrorists’ actual strength as the United States is in the process of developing a military strategy to defeat the Islamist organization.

Considerable discrepancies in the reporting from U.S. intelligence services regarding the strength ofthe Islamic State (IS) have led critics to the conclusion that the U.S. intelligence community knows little about the terrorists’ actual strength as the United States is in the process of developing a military strategy to defeat the Islamist organization.

From the Associated Press, The Most Transparent Administration in History™ flunks the test, again:

Journalists view Obama administration’s transparency as much worse than Bush’s

Editors and reporters meeting in Chicago raised concerns Wednesday about what they described as a lack of access and transparency undermining journalists’ work, several blaming the current White House for setting standards for secrecy that are spreading nationwide.

Criticism of President Barack Obama’s administration on the issue of openness in government came on the last day of a three-day joint convention of the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Associated Press Photo Managers.

“The White House push to limit access and reduce transparency has essentially served as the secrecy road map for all kinds of organizations — from local and state governments to universities and even sporting events,” Brian Carovillano, AP managing editor for U.S. news, said during a panel discussion.

James Risen, a New York Times reporter who is facing potential jail time as he battles government efforts to force him to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified information, also spoke at the conference. Risen said intense pressure on reporters and their sources is having a chilling effect on newsgathering.

He spoke of scaring one source just by going to his home and knocking on the front door. “He opened the door and he turned white,” Risen said. “He marches me back through the kitchen [to a back exit] and said, “‘Go out that way.’”

Guns beat butter again, via the Guardian:

UN to cut food aid to Syria

Without more money, World Food Programme warns food rations will be reduced and voucher schemes slashed

The UN warned on Thursday that it will be forced to cut food rations for more than 6 million Syrians from next month unless it received more funding.

The World Food Programme said that while it still expects to reach almost 6 million Syrians inside the country and in neighbouring states in October and November, there will be significant cuts to the amount of food delivered. The WFP said it had no money for programmes in December.

A WFP official told Reuters that the food basket for Syrians could shrink to 825 calories, well under half the daily recommended intake.

From the Associated Press, bordering on sanity:

Border Patrol to test wearing cameras

The U.S. Border Patrol will begin testing body-worn cameras on agents next month, the head of its parent agency said Thursday, a step toward seeing if the technology should be used in the field as the government seeks to blunt criticism about agents’ use of force.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, Customs and Border Protection commissioner since March, said a variety of cameras will be tested beginning Oct. 1 at the Border Patrol’s training academy in Artesia, New Mexico.

He didn’t say when or even if cameras will be introduced to the roughly 21,000 agents in the field.

From Sky News, making a good point:

Assange: ‘Google Like A Privatised NSA’

  • Julian Assange tells Sky News the search engine gathers and files information just like America’s National Security Agency.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has accused Google of behaving like a “privatised version of the NSA” in the way it collects and stores information about people.

He told Sky News the internet giant was not doing anything illegal but its behaviour was highly questionable. “It is not doing things which are illegal, what it is doing is legal,” he said. “It is collecting as much information about people as possible, storing it, indexing it, and using it to create profiles of people and then selling that to advertisers and others.

“Those are the same procedures that security agencies go through. That is why the NSA has latched on top of what Google is doing. Since 2009 the NSA had been engaged in the Prism system where information collected online is available to it.”

The accompanying video from Sky News:

Julian Assange ‘Will Leave Embassy With Asylum Intact’

Program note:

Sky’s Sarah Hewson talks to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

From BuzzFeed, and reminding us of the a high school joke about the cat, who crept in, crapped, and crept out:

U.S. Company Distances Itself From Egyptian Surveillance System

  • And the website of its Egyptian affiliate is taken down.

The U.S.-based Blue Coat company has issued a statement distancing itself from a project to monitor Twitter, Facebook, and Skype in Egypt, following a BuzzFeed News report.

Egyptian officials had told BuzzFeed News that a company called See Egypt had won a tender to begin providing the government with a surveillance system that would allow them to comb through data from Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among others. In interviews, the Egypt-based SeeEgypt called itself a “sister company” to Blue Coat, and listed the company as one of their affiliates.

Now, Blue Coat has issued a response saying that their products are not being resold to the Egyptian government.

From the Dissenter, gee, are we surprised:

Email Suggests Manufacturer of Stingray Surveillance Equipment May Have Lied to FCC

The American Civil Liberties Union has accused the manufacturer of StingRay surveillance products of providing inaccurate information and possibly even lying to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is the agency that is supposed to regulate communications over cable, radio, satellite, television and wire.

Harris Corporation is one of the leading manufacturers of StingRay technology. The technology was “initially designed for the military and intelligence community” and “operates by mimicking cellular service providers’ base stations and forcing all cellular phones in range to register their electronic serial numbers and other identifying information,” according to the ACLU.

The ACLU of Northern California chapter managed to obtain a series of emails from 2010 between the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) and Harris Corporation employees, where the “equipment authorization application for law enforcement use of Harris’ StingRay line of products” is being discussed.

After the jump, a death sentence for an Iranian blogger, beating the messenger in Russia, Plasticopalypse Now!, a horrifying traffic scenario suggested, China bases more claims in troubled waters, and a top cop’s curious pal. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Illness, fires, toxins, Fukushima


First, via Al Jazeera America, a biological bubble enlarging:

World population growing, not slowing

  • New methodology reverses earlier predictions, projects Africa population will quadruple this century

The possibility that the world’s population will climb to 11 billion by the end of the century is gaining traction now that demographers are using probability methods for their projections.

A paper published online on Thursday in the journal Science details new methodology that shows that most of the world’s anticipated growth is in Africa, where population is projected to quadruple from about 1 billion today to 4 billion by 2100.

“For the last 20 years, prevailing opinion was that world population would go up to 9 billion and level off in the middle of the century and maybe decline,” said Adrian Raftery, one of the paper’s lead authors and a professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington. “Population is going to keep growing. We can say that with confidence.”

From the London Daily Mail, another outbreak closer to home:

Cases of rare and severe infant respiratory illness enterovirus 68 confirmed in 14 states as it spreads quickly among children across America

  • As of Wednesday both Minnesota and New Jersey have confirmed cases of the severe virus enterovirus 68
  • Officials say Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania together have 130 lab-confirmed cases
  • There are also suspected cases in Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Utah
  • A child in Minnesota told Children’s chief nursing officer Roxanne Fernandes it felt like he had ‘an elephant sitting on his chest’
  • The virus has caused no deaths but has put some children in intensive care and on life support

And from Science, malpractice certain to feed the ISIS media mill:

Sixteen children in Syria die in measles immunization campaign

Sixteen children, all or most under age 2, have died after receiving an injection in a measles immunization campaign in an opposition-held area of northern Syria. Up to 50 more children were sickened.

Details are hazy, says a World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Geneva, Switzerland, but at this point the cause looks like a “very bad human error,” in which a strong muscle relaxant was administered instead of the measles vaccine. The tragic deaths threaten to undermine all vaccination efforts across Syria, where childhood immunization rates have dropped precipitously after years of civil war.

WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have dispatched an investigation team but for now are dependent on secondhand information from nongovernmental organizations and other partners in northern Syria, says WHO’s Christian Lindmeier. (For security reasons, neither organization has staff on the ground in Idlib, where the deaths occurred.) Until the cause is confirmed, rumors will continue to circulate, he warns; various press accounts are alleging a plot by the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or perhaps the terrorist group ISIS.

According to Lindmeier, the children died almost immediately on Tuesday after receiving the shot, part of a measles immunization campaign under way in Idlib and Deir al Zour, two governorates of Syria.

Reuters covers a burning issue:

New evacuations ordered as California wildfire doubles in size

More residents of Northern California mountain communities were told to leave their homes on Thursday after an out-of-control wildfire doubled in size overnight, scorching more than 100 square miles of drought-parched timber and brush.

Nearly 3,700 firefighters struggled to stop the forward march of the King Fire, the largest and most dangerous of 11 major wildfires raging across California, but had managed to cut containment lines around just 5 percent of the flames as of Thursday morning, officials said.

The blaze raced across some 43,000 acres of forest land late on Wednesday and early on Thursday and has now burned more than 70,000 acres of state land in the El Dorado National Forest northeast of Sacramento.

The Associated Press covers a culprit:

Man arrested in fast-growing California wildfire

A man with a lengthy criminal history has been charged with deliberately starting a Northern California wildfire that has shown explosive growth and driven nearly 2,800 people from their homes, authorities said Thursday.

Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, was arrested late Wednesday in Placerville and booked into El Dorado County Jail, where he was being held on $10 million bail.

Huntsman faces a forest-land arson charge, along with a special allegation of arson with aggravating factors because the blaze east of Sacramento put a dozen firefighters in serious danger, forcing them to deploy their fire shields. They all escaped unharmed.

From Environmental Health News, another menace:

Kids exposed in the womb to plasticizers more likely to have asthma

New York City children exposed in the womb to moderate levels of two plasticizers had a 72 to 78 percent higher chance of developing asthma, according to a new study published today.

The study is the first to link childhood asthma, which has been increasing in recent decades, to prenatal exposure to phthalates.

“These results suggest that phthalates may be one of the factors associated with that increase,” said Robin Whyatt, a Columbia University environmental health scientist who led the study. She added, however, that more studies are needed to understand how important a risk factor these chemicals may be.

Phthalates, used in the manufacture of vinyl and some cosmetics, have been connected to a number of health effects in lab animal and human studies, including airway inflammation, altered male genitalia, attention and learning problems and premature births.

Environmental Health News again, with another menace:

Mass murder by botulism: Surge in Great Lakes bird deaths driven by invaders

The nonnative creatures have been driving a deadly surge in avian botulism in the Great Lakes over the past 15 years, killing an estimated 80,000 birds, including loons, ducks, gulls, cormorants and endangered piping plovers. Now scientists are searching for what has triggered this change in intensity of the disease: If they can unravel where and why the lethal toxin is building up in food webs, they can predict which shorelines are death traps for birds.

The botulism bacterium “is the most toxic natural substance on Earth. Just one gram could kill off like 2 million people,” said Stephen Riley, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “And for these birds it’s essentially just widespread food poisoning.”

Outbreaks were first documented in the Great Lakes in the 1960s, but they ebbed and flowed until 1999, when they intensified on Lakes Erie, Huron, Ontario and Michigan.

Common Dreams covers another controversy:

USDA’s Greenlighting of ‘Agent Orange’ Crops Sparks Condemnation

  • Following widespread outcry, Dow’s new genetically engineered corn and soybeans get approval.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision this week to approve two new genetically engineered crops is being denounced by watchdog groups as a false solution to herbicide-resistant weeds and a move that threatens human and environment safety alike.

The crops are Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist corn and soybeans, engineered to be resistant to its Duo herbicide, which contains 2,4-D, a component of the notorious Agent Orange. 2,4-D has been linked to Parkinson’s, birth defects, reproductive problems, and endocrine disruption. Dow states that the new system will address the problem of weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s widely-used Roundup.

Food and environmental safety groups, however, say that it speaks to the failure of the genetically engineered crops strategy that fosters herbicide expansion—profitable for the chemical companies—and ignores the paradigm shifted needed in the industrial agriculture system.

From Al Jazeera America, on the rise:

Canary in a coal mine: Extreme weather, rising seas plague atoll nation

  • Marshall Islands president issues a call to action ahead of international climate summit next week hosted by the UN

As global leaders gear up to meet at next week’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York, the president of a small Pacific island nation vulnerable to rising seas caused by global warming said the future of his people depends on creating a carbon-free world by 2050.

“Out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, climate change has arrived,” Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak said in a video address to his fellow heads of state. “Our atoll nation stands at the front line in the battle against climate change.”

In the video, Loeak stands in front of a sea wall he built to protect his home and family from rising seas which have already engulfed several of the nation’s atolls — making them disappear forever.

After the jump, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including a decontamination claim, skeptical fishermen, a radioactive waste disposal plan, uncovering a hidden agenda, a major loss of seismic expertise, and rising chances for yet more reactors worldwide. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Law, wars, hacks, cops, spies


We begin with a hopeful finding, via the Guardian:

High school students care more about free speech than adults, poll finds

  • For first time in poll’s history, American students are more in favour of the first amendment than adults

American high school students are more concerned about freedom of speech and the first amendment than adults, including their teachers, a new poll has found.

The national study of 10,463 high school students and 588 teachers was released Wednesday to coincide with the celebration of Constitution Day and was funded by the John S and James L Knight Foundation.

This was the first time in the poll’s history that students were more in favour of the first amendment than adults. Ten years ago when the poll began 35% of students said the amendment went too far compared with 30% of adults.

The poll also found that students who consumed the most news online were the most supportive of free expression. And those who had been taught about the first amendment were more supportive still.

Salon covers a half-measure:

Los Angeles schools will relinquish grenade launchers … but not rifles or armored vehicles

  • L.A. Unified says that M-16 automatic rifles are “essential life-saving items”

The Los Angeles Unified school police announced on Tuesday their intention to give up military-grade weaponry obtained through the 1033 federal program that gives civilian police departments surplus military equipment. The school police said it intended to relinquish three grenade launchers, but notably will keep 61 rifles and one Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored vehicle.

The Yomiuri Shimbun investigates:

Attorney general: U.S. will launch study of policing bias

Broadening its push to improve police relations with minorities, the Justice Department has enlisted a team of criminal justice researchers to study racial bias in law enforcement in five American cities and recommend strategies to address the problem nationally, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday.

The police shooting last month of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri underscored the need for the long-planned initiative, Holder said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He said the three-year project, which will involve training, data analysis and interviews with community residents, could be a “silver lining” if it helps ease racial tensions and “pockets of distrust that show up between law enforcement and the communities that they serve.”

And from Al Jazeera English, heading down a familiar road:

US lawmakers back plan to arm Syrian rebels

  • House of Representatives vote 273 to 156 to approve President Obama’s train-and-equip plan meant to defeat ISIL

US lawmakers have voted to authorise training and arming of vetted Syrian rebels to combat fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a crucial step in President Barack Obama’s bid to thwart the self-declared jihadist group surging across Iraq and Syria.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 273 to 156 to approve Obama’s train-and-equip plan despite misgivings by both Democrats and Republicans.

Some war-weary Democrats say the move could open the door to full-blown American military intervention in the Middle East.

The Los Angeles Times coveys reassurance:

Obama reiterates that U.S. forces have no ‘combat mission’ in Iraq

Emphasizing the American military’s unrivaled expertise, President Obama thanked service members Wednesday and repeated that U.S. forces taking on the Islamic State militant group would not serve in combat, a day after his top general repeatedly raised that prospect.

American forces “do not and will not have a combat mission,” Obama told troops at the U.S. Central Command headquarters here. “They will support Iraqi forces on the ground as they fight for their own country against these terrorists.”

He made that pledge a day after Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military’s top officer, described for a Senate panel the challenges of fighting the militants without combat troops on the ground.

But the New York Times conveys counterspin:

U.S. Army Chief Says Ground Troops Will Be Needed Against ISIS

The United States general who beat back Islamic extremists in Iraq in 2007 suggested on Wednesday that the battle against Islamic State jihadis would only succeed with the use of ground forces.

Speaking a day after his commander, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that American ground troops might be needed in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno was careful not to specify that those ground troops had to be American. But he made clear that success would be dependent on the presence of forces from all of Iraq’s sectarian groups.

Airstrikes have halted the advance of the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, General Odierno, now the Army chief of staff, told journalists from four news organizations, including The New York Times, in what aides said were his first public comments on the current situation in Iraq. Ultimately, though, “you’ve got to have ground forces that are capable of going in and rooting them out,” he said, referring to the Islamic extremists.

And from the Washington Post, tramp, tramp, tramp:

U.S. boots are already on the ground against the Islamic State

Talking with U.S. and foreign military experts over the past week, I’ve heard two consistent themes: First, the campaign against the Islamic State will require close-in U.S. training and assistance for ground forces, in addition to U.S. air power; and, second, the best way to provide this assistance may be under the command of the Ground Branch of the CIA’s Special Activities Division, which traditionally oversees such paramilitary operations.

There are some obvious drawbacks with this approach: These “special activities” may be called covert, but their provenance will be obvious, especially to the enemy; they will build irregular forces in Iraq and Syria that may subvert those countries’ return to a stable, transparent system of governance and military operations; and history tells us (from Vietnam to Central America to the Middle East) that black operations, outside normal military channels, can get ugly — opening a back door to torture, rendition and assassination. That’s why clear guidelines and congressional oversight would be necessary.

Though these paramilitary operations are rarely discussed, the United States has extensive experience with them, especially in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East. The 2001 campaign to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan was led by the CIA, using teams of Special Operations forces to mobilize fighters from the Northern Alliance. In 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, Kurdish special forces were brought to a base in the Western United States and trained in insurgency tactics. They conducted fierce attacks as the war was beginning.

In other words, it’s the same old foreign policy so eloquently expressed by Nancy Sinatra way back in 1966:

From Defense One, points we often made back in the days of Vietnam:

The Constitution Is More Than Just an Obstacle To Fighting ISIL

Congress seems to be on track to authorize President Obama to address the situation in the Middle East. Strikingly enough, however, it is authorization for one small part of it—to provide arms to Syrian rebels. Currently, U.S. law prevents the president from transferring weapons to rebel groups, and Obama wants an exception for Syria.

What about the prolonged campaign he announced last week to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy?” Obama’s strategy—systematic airstrikes against ISIS targets “wherever they are”; material support to Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian forces fighting ISIS on the ground; intelligence and counterterrorism campaigns against ISIS; and humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the fighting—sounds like what I will call, for lack of a better term, “war.”

And war needs authorization from Congress. Not little dribs and drabs of authorization, and not small measures tucked onto spending bills, but a resolution, adopted after a serious debate, authorizing the whole thing, setting out our war aims, and indicating when or how the authority will expire.

The president says he has the authority to do what he wants but wouldn’t mind if Congress wants to tag along by voting him “more” authority. Members of Congress say, variously, Why is he asking us? Why isn’t he already doing more without it? Can’t we wait to see what happens? Can we go now?

From the Guardian, media mania:

Islamic State video threatens to target White House and US troops

  • Video purports to be trailer for film entitled Flames of War with strapline ‘fighting has just begun’

Islamic State militants have threatened to target the White House and kill US troops in a new slickly made video response to Barack Obama’s campaign to “degrade and destroy” the organisation.

The video, in the style of a blockbuster movie trailer for what is “coming soon”, purports to show a masked man apparently about to shoot kneeling prisoners in the head. Towards the end of the clip there is shaky footage of the White House filmed from a moving vehicle, suggesting the building is being scoped out for attack.

It was released on Tuesday after US defence chiefs suggested that American troops could join Iraqi forces fighting Isis, despite Obama’s assurance that US soldiers would not be engaged in fighting on the ground.

While the video has been yanked from YouTube, it was still available at LiveLeak when last we looked [and WordPress doesn’t enable embedding videos from that site].

More on that media thing from the Christian Science Monitor:

How Islamic State is wielding the Internet in new ways

Federal prosecutors announced the indictment of a New York man on charges he was trying to recruit for the Islamic State. US officials say they are increasingly concerned about the possibility of a home-grown terror threat.

[E]ven as a handful of Americans attempt to get more engaged with extremist groups, media observers say IS has become one of most sophisticated social media operations yet seen.

“I think that what’s new is the sophistication and focus of the groups like ISIS,” says Nicco Mele, a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in Boston, who focuses on the intersection of media, politics, and power in the digital age. “The frequency and quality and quantity of what’s happening here is significant – it’s sophisticated, clearly planned, and executed with a well-oiled team.”

Up to a hundred Americans have tried to travel abroad to fight alongside IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in recent weeks – including some killed by the US bombing campaign in Iraq. But officials say they are also worried about the solitary, would-be domestic terrorist, inspired by propaganda and instructions found online, who would then attempt to carry out an attack similar to the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013.

Business Insider covers the furor Down Under:

Australian Authorities Say Terrorists Planned To Drape People In ISIS Flags And Behead Them In Public

Police have confirmed Australia’s largest ever counter-terrorism operation targeted a group planning “random acts of violence” against a member, or members of the public, on the streets of Sydney.

News agencies are reporting court documents, to be released later this morning, are expected to reveal the terror group planned to behead a member of the public in Sydney, or potentially engage in a random mass shooting.

Australian Federal Police and intelligence officials launched the “largest counter-terrorism operation” in Australia across a number of suburban areas in Sydney and Brisbane this morning.

From the Express Tribune, a Pakistani blackout continues:

Two years on, no light at the end of the tunnel for YouTube

Two years, a new government and the promise of change, and at least 20 court hearings later, internet users from Pakistan are still denied access to YouTube. This restriction of access has become the symbol of a state which has increasingly become obsessed with controlling the online space in a non-transparent manner.

The ban had been imposed on September 17, 2012 by then prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf following national outrage over a sacrilegious video clip. The video had prompted outrage across the Muslim world and prompted temporary bans on the website in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sudan. Threat of bans in Saudi Arabia prompted YouTube to selectively curb access in that country and it took a court order to censor it in Brazil.

But even after a US court ordered YouTube to take down versions of the video following a suit filed by one of the actors appearing the clip, the site remains inaccessible in Pakistan. The refrain, that the clip hurts religious sentiments of the people, is obscene or hurts national security has acted as an effective screen for a process which is less than transparent and has gone on to impact services and content beyond just pornography and blasphemous videos.

From The Intercept, spooky high dudgeon:

Irate NSA Staffer Doesn’t Like Being Filmed in Public, for Some Reason

The NSA sent someone bearing the nametag “Neal Z.” to the University of New Mexico’s Engineering and Science Career Fair today, in the hopes of recruiting young computer geniuses to help manage the yottabytes of data it is collecting about you. But instead of eager young applicants, Mr. Z. encountered University of New Mexico alumnus Andy Beale and student Sean Potter, who took the rare opportunity of being in the room with a genuine NSA agent to ask him about his employer’s illegal collection of metadata on all Americans. Mr. Z. did not like that one bit.

In two videos posted on YouTube—each shot from a slightly different perspective—you can watch Beale politely question Mr. Z. about NSA programs, and watch Mr. Z. attempt to parry those queries with blatant falsehoods like, “NSA is not permitted to track or collect intelligence on U.S. persons.” As Beale continues to attempt to engage the recruiter on the legality of the NSA’s mass surveillance initiatives, Mr. Z. becomes increasingly angry, calling him a “heckler,” saying, “You do not know what you’re talking about,” and warning, “If you don’t leave soon, I’m going to call university security to get you out of my face.”

After a few minutes of back-and-forth, Mr. Z announces, “You’re done,” and attempts to grab the phone that Potter had been using to film the encounter, literally at the very moment he says, “I’m not touching your phone.” Beale and Potter were later ejected from the facility by campus police for “causing a disturbance,” though their on-camera behavior is unfailingly quiet and civil.

Here’s one of the videos, posted by Andy Beale:

NSA Attacks Student at University of New Mexico

After the jump, a German demand on Google, spooky Danish blowback, a twisted Kiwi concession, public intelligence endangered, spying in the bovine interest, committing covert journalism on the farm, hacks at your bank account at home and abroad, Papuan police punished, allegations of Chinese defense contractor hacks, Chinese line-crossing, a spooky Japanese coup on China, Korean diplomatic shifts, a Japanese panopticon extension, an Asian test of the American fog of war, and a Thai sartorial security alert. . .
Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Fires, climate, toads, fuels


We begin in the Golden State, and the latest disaster from a very dry state with the Los Angeles Times:

California wildfires: Thousands evacuated, fires explode in size

Thousands of residents who live near the American River in the Eldorado National Forest in Northern California remained evacuated Wednesday as a fast-moving wildfire exploded by 6,000 acres overnight.

The King fire continues to threaten thousands of homes and structures as winds drive it east, west and north over mountain and ridges and through deep canyon troughs.

The fire has become one of the largest and most unruly of 11 major wildfires burning across California, mainly in the central and northern parts of the state.

Much smaller fires, however, have proved to be extremely destructive.

More from the Los Angeles Times:

Climate change may add billions to wildfire costs, study says

As wildfires burned in California, a study by several major environmental groups estimated that climate change could mean that future blazes will be much larger and add billions of dollars to already costly losses.

The 46-page study released Tuesday, titled “Flammable Planet: Wildfires and the Social Cost of Carbon,” is part of an ongoing project by three groups to examine what it calls the missing risks, such as wildfires, that climate change can make more expensive. The groups are the Environmental Defense Fund, the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

U.S. wildfires cost as much as $125 billion annually, but climate change could add as much as $60 billion to the bill by 2050, the study said. The projected cost increase is attributed to an expanding area in which wildfires burn — estimated to be 50% to 100% larger by 2050. California “could experience a 36% to 74% increase in area burned by 2085 under a high emissions path,” the study said.

From the New York Times, water woes inside the Beltway:

Climate Report Details Flood Risk to Sites in Washington

The nation’s capital is likely to see record flooding by 2050, putting about $7 billion worth of property, three military bases and parts of the National Mall at risk as a result of climate change that is raising sea levels all over the world, according to a report released Tuesday by the research group Climate Central.

That is one of the group’s more conservative estimates in a report titled “Washington, D.C., and the Surging Sea.”

In the worst case, the group draws an end-of-the-century picture of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials as islands in a flooded Potomac River, and Fort McNair, the Washington Navy Yard and parts of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling completely under water.

From the Guardian, similar woes Down Under:

Rising sea levels a ‘sleeping giant’ that could cost $226bn, report says

  • Analysis by the Climate Council finds Australia is likely to experience rises of 0.4m to 1m, putting infrastructure at risk

Rising sea levels are a “sleeping giant” issue that will put at risk coastal infrastructure worth up to $226bn, a new report has found.

Analysis by the Climate Council found Australia was likely to experience a sea level rise of 0.4m to 1m by the end of the century, with a “high end” scenario of 1.1m possible if the world warmed by about 4C compared with pre-industrial temperatures.

In this worst-case scenario, $226bn in property, including houses, schools, hospitals and ports, would be exposed to flooding and erosion, making much of it unviable.

BBC News covers climate change on a loftier plane:

Austria’s Alps hit by climate change

Austria, with its sensitive Alpine regions, has been particularly hard hit by climate change, a major survey says.

The Austrian Climate Change Assessment Report 2014 says average temperatures in Austria have risen by almost 2C since 1880. This is compared with a global rise of 0.85C in the same period.

The document says that the changes in temperature are mainly man-made and caused by “emissions of greenhouse gases”.

The report was put together by more than 200 scientists and presented in Vienna by Austrian Environment Minister Andrae Rupprechter.

From the Guardian, poles apart in more senses than one:

Antarctic sea ice set for record high as Arctic heads for sixth lowest extent

  • Antarctica poised for record high as figures show Arctic sea ice was millions of square kilometres below long-term average

The extent of sea ice in Antarctica is set to reach a record high, scientists said on Tuesday, as they announced that Arctic sea ice appeared to have shrunk to its sixth lowest level ever.

The NSIDC said that satellite data was expected to shortly confirm whether the maximum extent of sea ice at the opposite pole, in Antarctica, had set a new record.

“Antarctic sea ice is poised to set a record maximum this year, now at 19.7 million sq km (7.6m sq m) and continuing to increase,” the centre, considered one of the world’s top authorities on sea ice data, said in a statement.

Another cost of cleaner air continents apart via the Guardian:

China’s ban on ‘dirty’ coal could cost Australian mining almost $1.5bn

  • Australia exports about 50m tonnes of thermal coal each year to China and the ban is expected to reduce exports by 40%

China’s ban on “dirty” coal could cost Australia’s mining industry almost $1.5bn and force companies to find other markets or face prohibitively high processing costs, according to a leading resources economist.

Under new Chinese regulations, the use of coal with ash content higher than 16% and sulphur content above 1% will be restricted in the main population centres of the country from 1 January, 2015.

There will be a ban on mining, sale, transportation and imports of coal with ash and sulfur content exceeding 40% and 3% respectively. For coal that will be transported for more than 600 km from production site or receiving port, the ash content limit will be 20%.

The move, aimed at helping lift the smog that envelops Chinese cities such as Beijing, is likely to hurt Australian producers, who typically export coal with ash content above 20%. Australia exports around 50m tonnes of thermal coal each year to China and the ban is expected to reduce exports by 40%, a cost of $1.46bn at the current price of $73 a tonne.

BBC Worldwide covers another Australian woe:

Invasion Of The Deadly Cane Toads – Australia with Simon Reeve

Program note:

Simon is on a mission to find Australia’s most destructive creature, but it’s not be quite what he was expecting.

From the Guardian, anthropocentric arrogance at work:

Whaling opponents and pro-whaling nations, led by Japan, remain at odds

  • Diplomats at International Whaling Commission try to find compromise as New Zealand pushes to curb “scientific whaling”

Diplomats were preparing for one last push to find a compromise capable of bridging the divide between whaling nations and their opponents at the biennial International Whaling Commission summit in Slovenia.

A narrow majority of delegates have lined up behind a proposal from New Zealand to curb Japan’s “scientific whaling” ambitions by enforcing strict oversight on the number of whales that it may cull, and the scientific justifications for this, particularly the availability of non-lethal means for conducting research.

As a voluntary body, the IWC cannot compel Japan to stop whaling, but stepping outside its aegis would be undesirable for Tokyo and frantic last-minute attempts are being made to find a consensus deal that could pass without a divisive vote.

And from the Japan Times, consummation:

Japan tells IWC it will resume whaling despite international court’s halt order

Japan told an International Whaling Commission meeting Wednesday that it will resume its so-called research whaling in the Antarctic next fiscal year, while vowing to improve the transparency of the activities over which it lost an international court case earlier this year.

After the International Court of Justice ordered in March that the whaling be halted, ruling it was not for scientific research purposes as claimed by Tokyo, Japan canceled its annual Antarctic whaling voyage for fiscal 2014.

During the meeting in Slovenia, a Japanese official said the ICJ ruling did not deny research whaling in itself and Japan will propose a new whaling plan by taking heed of what the ICJ said in the ruling. Japan also said it will continue its “research whaling” in the Northwestern Pacific, which is not covered by the ICJ order, on a reduced scale.

For our final item, the latest in Fukushimapocalypse Now! from NHK WORLD:

Further step for frozen soil walls approved

Japan’s nuclear regulator has approved a further step in creating frozen soil walls around the crippled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The underground walls are aimed at preventing groundwater from entering reactor and other buildings, and reducing the amount of radioactive water generated there.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company began building parts of the walls in June. But the work has been limited due to difficulty in dealing with contaminated water in tunnels and pipes around the plant.

The firm later compiled measures to prevent radioactive water leaks from the tunnels and pipes on a side of the plant facing a hill.

InSecurityWatch: Wars, threats, hacks, weapons


Lots of ground to cover, so straight ahead with the Guardian:

Pentagon: US ground troops may join Iraqis in combat against Isis

  • Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey refuse to rule out greater role for US ‘advisers’ if airstrikes

The Pentagon leadership suggested to a Senate panel on Tuesday that US ground troops may directly join Iraqi forces in combat against the Islamic State (Isis), despite US president Barack Obama’s repeated public assurances against US ground combat in the latest Middle Eastern war.

A day after US warplanes expanded the war south-west of Baghdad, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate armed services committee that he could see himself recommending the use of some US military forces now in Iraq to embed within Iraqi and Kurdish units to take territory away from Isis.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Isis] targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey said, preferring the term “close combat advising”.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau takes action:

U.S. hits Islamic State south of Baghdad in first strike under new Obama orders

The United States bombed an Islamic State position southwest of Baghdad on Monday in what the U.S. Central Command said was the first airstrike undertaken under expanded rules of engagement President Barack Obama outlined in a speech last week.

The Central Command statement posted Monday night provided no details of the strike, but the area southwest of Baghdad is a Sunni Muslim stronghold where Islamic State forces have been active since June. The statement said the Islamic State forces were firing on Iraqi security forces.

“The airstrike southwest of Baghdad was the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense, as outlined in the president’s speech last Wednesday,” the statement said, using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, hands wringing in anticipation:

Growing global conflict a bonanza for arms makers

Geopolitical instability has left many global corporations jittery.

But the world’s biggest arms producers are doing well, with shares of the top 12 publicly listed firms – based on a list by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute – rising by almost 30 per cent on average in the last year.

Stock price data on the 12 companies reveal most have benefitted in a year in which the number of conflict zones in Europe, the Middle East and Africa has risen. While some companies have under-performed during the period, many have risen by more than 50 per cent.

Customers line up, via Defense One:

Governments Line Up To Buy the Drone That Terrorized Gaza

A few weeks after Israel and Hamas signed an open-ended truce to end their nearly two-month-long war in Gaza, Israeli defense contractors are parading weapons used in the conflict at a conference in Tel Aviv. The annual Israel Unmanned Systems conference, which began Sunday and runs through Friday (Sept. 19), is jointly hosted with the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. According to its website, attendees include “senior officials from commercial and government entities” from Europe, Asia, North and South America.

The conference’s sponsors include the largest Israeli private defense contractors, among them Haifa-based Elbit Systems. Elbit’s Hermes 450 (pdf), a “multi-role tactical high-performance unmanned aircraft system” (UAS)—in other words, a battle drone—operated this summer in the Gaza Strip, and may have carried out attacks.

Photos taken by an Agence France-Presse photographer that appeared in a July post on The Aviationist, a blog, showed the aircraft flying over the skies of Gaza. It had a pod under each wing that looked like it could be a fuel tank, but which, according to an Israeli source quoted by the blog, was “a firing pod for a light missile.” The source would not independently confirm or deny that it was used in attacks on Hamas positions but David Cenciotti, founder of the blog, told Quartz that it’s highly likely that the Hermes 450 was the IDF’s vehicle of choice for such attacks.

But it looks like one deal came undone, via RT:

Israel nixes drone deal with Ukraine to not anger Russia – report

Israel’s Foreign Ministry blocked the proposed sale of military hardware to Ukraine to avoid a strain in relations with Russia – even after the country’s Defense Ministry approved the transaction – Israeli media reported. The deal with Kiev included UAVs.

Ukraine sent a delegation into Israel in order to arrange for a purchase of weapons and hardware – which reportedly included Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones – to be used against self-defense forces, Israel’s Channel Two reported.

The report revealed that the country’s Defense Ministry approved the sale of drones manufactured by Aeronautics. Later, however, the decision was blocked by the Foreign Ministry out of fear of angering Russia and provoking it to sell more weapons to Syria and Iran, which Israel views as direct threats.

From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, semantics and legality:

Blinding them with science: Is development of a banned laser weapon continuing?

It is clear that lasers are being aimed at eyes in combat situations, but the militaries involved say the intent is not to blind, but to warn or protect against attack.

A 2010 article in the UK version of Wired says that laser “dazzlers” have been used by British soldiers against fighters in remote parts of Afghanistan—well away from public scrutiny. The Green Laser Optical Warner, or GLOW, is meant to temporarily stun, or “dazzle” the eye with glare. With an effective range of 300 meters, or nearly 1,000 feet, GLOW is intended to be used to stop suspicious characters from approaching a military checkpoint. It has been called an escalation of force option, providing an intermediate step before shooting starts. US forces used a similar device in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Green Laser Interdiction System, which has an effective range of a few kilometers at night, Laser Focus World wrote in 2012.

But something bright enough to dazzle at 300 meters can cause permanent eye damage at 50 meters, and these devices can be set to deliver a narrow (and more intense) beam. To get around the ban against blinding weapons, systems like the GLIS run off of a low-power source.

But the developers of the dazzler systems seem to be tiptoeing closer and closer to the line that defines what is a banned weapon and what is not—and their products are becoming more and more readily available. (One dazzler can be purchased for $15,999 on the Internet, although the seller notes that it is subject to government restrictions.)

From the Guardian, boots in the wings:

Pentagon: US ground troops may join Iraqis in combat against Isis

  • Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey refuse to rule out greater role for US ‘advisers’ if airstrikes

The Pentagon leadership suggested to a Senate panel on Tuesday that US ground troops may directly join Iraqi forces in combat against the Islamic State (Isis), despite US president Barack Obama’s repeated public assurances against US ground combat in the latest Middle Eastern war.

A day after US warplanes expanded the war south-west of Baghdad, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate armed services committee that he could see himself recommending the use of some US military forces now in Iraq to embed within Iraqi and Kurdish units to take territory away from Isis.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Isis] targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey said, preferring the term “close combat advising”.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, bombs away:

U.S. hits Islamic State south of Baghdad in first strike under new Obama orders

The United States bombed an Islamic State position southwest of Baghdad on Monday in what the U.S. Central Command said was the first airstrike undertaken under expanded rules of engagement President Barack Obama outlined in a speech last week.

The Central Command statement posted Monday night provided no details of the strike, but the area southwest of Baghdad is a Sunni Muslim stronghold where Islamic State forces have been active since June. The statement said the Islamic State forces were firing on Iraqi security forces.

“The airstrike southwest of Baghdad was the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense, as outlined in the president’s speech last Wednesday,” the statement said, using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State.

Al Jazeera America carries a caution:

Iran warns US against using ISIL threat to push a hostile agenda

  • Analysis: Tehran has played a key role against ISIL in Iraq, but fears a Saudi effort to isolate and pressure Iran

Despite already having demonstrated its centrality to the campaign to push the Islamic State (ISIL) out of Iraq, Iran was pointedly excluded from Monday’s conference in Paris to forge a military coalition against the extremist group. And Tehran was far from happy, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashing out against the Obama administration’s new war plans.

Khamenei decried the Paris conclave as a dangerous effort by the United States and Arab countries hostile to Iran to use the challenge of ISIL as an opportunity to promote an anti-Tehran agenda in Syria and throughout the region. “Iran sees this as an effort by Saudi Arabia and its allies, and the United States, to exert leverage and pressure on Iranian interests, to degrade or weaken Iranian influence in Syria,” said Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council.

Khamenei called Secretary of State John Kerry a liar for saying in Paris that Iran had not been invited to join the coalition, listing numerous moments at which the U.S. had solicited Iranian involvement. “The West assembled a coalition of 40-50 countries against Syria and couldn’t do a damn thing,” Khamenei said, referring to Washington’s previous efforts to rally allies to oust Syria’s Assad regime, which remains a key ally of Iran.

From BuzzFeed, playing the border card:

Texas Congressman: ISIS Could Work With Drug Cartels To Get Into U.S.

  • “I mentioned several weeks ago if ISIS wants to come into the United States they’ll contact the drug cartels.”

“I asked the chief border patrol section…chief, I said, ‘Who’s coming across the border from Mexico?’” Texas Rep. Ted Poe said during an appearance on Tony Perkins’ radio program Washington Watch Monday. “And he said, ‘Since January, people from 144 countries have come across.’ He said, ‘Just before you got here three Ukrainians came across the Texas-Mexico border.’ It’s because it’s open. Wide open for anyone who wishes to cross.”

The Texas congressman also claimed ISIS could work with Mexican drug cartels to enter the United States.

“I mentioned several weeks ago if ISIS wants to come into the United States they’ll contact the drug cartels who bring people to the United States illegally and they will bring them,” he said. “The Pentagon at first said, ‘Oh, that’s not true.’ And now the Pentagon is backing off. So let’s do the obvious. Let’s protect the southern border of the U.S.”

From the Independent, another threat alleged:

Islamic State: Pope is ‘being targeted by Isis’, Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See warns

The Islamic State (Isis) is intent on killing the Pope, the Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See has warned the Vatican.

Habeeb Al-Sadr, who has been the ambassador since 2010, has advised that one of Isis’ goals is to assassinate the Pontiff and warned that the jihadists “don’t just threaten”, according to Italian newspaper La Nazione.

Mr Al-Sadr confirmed he did not have any specific intelligence on an impending attack but said that their “genocide” of Yazidi Christians and destruction of holy Islamic sites was an indication of their intent.

“What has been declared by the self-proclaimed Islamic State is clear – they want to kill the Pope,” he told La Nazione on Tuesday, adding: “The threats against the Pope are credible.”

The Intercept debunks:

No, Snowden’s Leaks Didn’t Help The Terrorists

Did Edward Snowden’s revelations on NSA surveillance compromise the ability of intelligence agencies to monitor terrorist groups? Contrary to lurid claims made by U.S. officials, a new independent analysis of the subject says no. As reported by NBC:

“.…Flashpoint Global Partners, a private security firm, examined the frequency of releases and updates of encryption software by jihadi groups….. It found no correlation in either measure to Snowden’s leaks about the NSA’s surveillance techniques, which became public beginning June 5, 2013.”

The report itself goes on to make the point that, “Well prior to Edward Snowden, online jihadists were already aware that law enforcement and intelligence agencies were attempting to monitor them.” This point would seem obvious in light of the fact that terrorist groups have been employing tactics to evade digital surveillance for years. Indeed, such concerns about their use of sophisticated encryption technology predate even 9/11. Contrary to claims that such groups have fundamentally altered their practices due to information gleaned from these revelations, the report concludes. “The underlying public encryption methods employed by online jihadists do not appear to have significantly changed since the emergence of Edward Snowden.”

And while we’re at it, at RT story from April 05, 2014, and the links between spooks and the corporateer agenda:

US blasts Europe’s plan for anti-snooping network as ‘unfair advantage’

US officials on Friday slammed plans to construct an EU-centric communication system, designed to prevent emails and phone calls from being swept up by the NSA, warning that such a move is a violation of trade laws.

Calling Europe’s proposal to build its own integrated communication system “draconian,” the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) said American tech companies, which are worth an estimated $8 trillion per year, would take a financial hit if Brussels gives the initiative the green light.

“Recent proposals from countries within the European Union to create a Europe-only electronic network (dubbed a ‘Schengen cloud’ by advocates) or to create national-only electronic networks could potentially lead to effective exclusion or discrimination against foreign service suppliers that are directly offering network services, or dependent on them,” the USTR said in its annual report.

In the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing activities at the National Security Agency, which proved that much of the world’s telecommunication meta-data is being stored away in the United States, European countries – notably Germany and France – are desperate to get a handle on their own networks without relying on a meddlesome middleman.

RT again, though from today this time, beat the press:

Governments spy on journalists with weaponized malware – WikiLeaks

Journalists and dissidents are under the microscope of intelligence agencies, Wikileaks revealed in its fourth SpyFiles series. A German software company that produces computer intrusion systems has supplied many secret agencies worldwide.

The weaponized surveillance malware, popular among intelligence agencies for spying on “journalists, activists and political dissidents,” is produced by FinFisher, a German company. Until late 2013, FinFisher used to be part of the UK-based Gamma Group International, revealed WikiLeaks in the latest published batch of secret documents.

FinFisher’s spyware exploits and monitors systems remotely. It’s capable of intercepting communications and data from OS X, Windows and Linux computers, as well as Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile portable devices. Three back-end programs are required for the spy program to operate. FinFisher Relay and FinSpy Proxy programs are FinFisher suite components that route and manage intercepted traffic, redirecting it to the FinSpy Master collection program. The spyware can steal keystrokes, Skype conversations, and even connect to your webcam and watch you in real time.

From Techdirt, implementation prior to evaluation:

FBI Rolls Out Biometric Database On Schedule, Accompanying Privacy Impact Assessment Still Nowhere To Be Found

  • from the move-along,-nothing-to-see-but-millions-of-faces dept

The FBI has just announced that all systems are go for its biometric database.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division announced today the achievement of full operational capability of the Next Generation Identification (NGI) System. The FBI’s NGI System was developed to expand the Bureau’s biometric identification capabilities, ultimately replacing the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) in addition to adding new services and capabilities.

This puts the agency pretty much right on schedule for its stated goal of “full operational capacity in fiscal year 2014.” As was to be expected from its earlier foot-dragging, the press release makes no note of the Privacy Impact Assessment that was supposed to precede the roll out.

The system itself has been in the works since 2008. Coincidentally, this is also the last time anyone at the FBI delivered a Privacy Impact Assessment. Since then, the database’s sweep and power has increased immensely. The PIA promised in 2012 still hasn’t been delivered and there’s no indication at the FBI’s website that one is right around the corner.

More from News Corporation Australia:

FBI’s facial recognition system will combine faces of criminals and ordinary citizens

THE FBI has launched its “next generation” facial recognition system — and the implications are terrifying.

It not only draws on a database of criminal mugshots, it searches through ordinary people too. Anyone who has ever had a background check when applying for a job could be identified in a police hunt.

And the system is hardly infallible — a search will pull up 50 faces, with only an 85 per cent likelihood that the suspect will be on list, by the FBI’s own estimation.

From Salon, endorsement:

Obama administration throws support behind body cameras for cops

  • One of the most widely supported reforms being pushed in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing gets a big endorsement

Responding to an online petition made in response to the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown that quickly racked-up more than 150,000 signatures, the Obama administration announced on Monday through a written statement from White House adviser on Justice and Urban Affairs Roy Austin that while it cannot force the nation’s policy to wear small cameras on their uniforms by decree, it supported the growing movement within law enforcement itself to embrace the practice, reports the Associated Press.

“We support the use of cameras and video technology by law enforcement officers, and the Department of Justice continues to research best practices for implementation,” Austin wrote in response to the petition, after noting that such a law would have to come from Congress, not the White House. Austin also noted that while the White House’s support for the idea was secure, the administration was not unmindful about the policy change’s likely costs (both financial and in terms of personal privacy).

Austin announced that the Department of Justice had plans to launch a thorough evaluation of how body cameras on police uniforms were working out for those forces that had already decided to use them. According to the Associated Press, the DOJ also has a report suggesting that when cops and civilians know their interactions are being recorded, both behave more calmly and cooperatively. The footage could prove valuable for training purposes, too.

And from the Guardian, what is it about Missouri cops?:

FBI investigate Missouri police stun gun incident that left teenager injured

  • Police in Kansas City used a stun gun to subdue a 17-year-old during a traffic stop, leaving him in critical condition

The FBI is investigating after a police officer in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, used a stun gun to subdue a 17-year-old during a traffic stop, leaving him hospitalized in critical condition.

An Independence police officer used the stun gun on Bryce Masters of Independence on Sunday afternoon after stopping a car Masters was driving because it had a warrant attached to it, police said in a statement.

The officer, identified by the police department as Tim Runnels, has been placed on administrative leave.

After the jump, Italian payoffs, a petro hack attack, Google keeps mum on its Koch Brothers ties, drone deals canceled, Obama sends subs to counter China, a Chinese crackdown justification, Private spy cams and bugs banned in China, another kind of worrisome nuclear stockpile in Japan, and the open Mideast nuclear secret. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Dengue, coal, water, whales


And more. . .

First up, seeking profit in a spreading ailment via Nikkei Asian Review:

Japanese drugmakers get serious about tackling dengue

Pharmaceutical companies have largely been unwilling to develop vaccines and treatment for dengue fever, citing small demand due to the disease primarily occurring in emerging nations. But as the disease spreads, with the current outbreak in Japan already topping 100 cases, major drugmakers are now rushing to tackle the threat.

“I suddenly felt a chill and had a fever of nearly 40 degrees. It was an unimaginable experience,” said a Japanese trading house official based in Jakarta who contracted dengue fever for the first time earlier this year.

The disease is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus. It is estimated that more than 50 million people develop the disease every year worldwide, primarily in tropical areas.  Sufferers typically experience headaches and joint pain, with fever lasting a week or so. In the most severe cases, patients die due to plasma leakage.

And the accompanying graphic, showing the global occurrence of the disease:

BLOG Dengue

Coughing up cash with The Contributor:

Two Senators Who’ve Received Nearly $2M from Dirty Energy Complain About the Impact of EPA Regulations on Regular Folks

Two Republican members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be releasing a white paper later this week that will allegedly make the case that “regulations” and legislation that “raises energy costs” are damaging America’s underclass.

Senators Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Tim Scott (South Carolina) have teamed up with the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research to once again push the bogus theory that government regulations and environmental safeguards are costing American consumers too much money and destroying jobs. The paper will officially be released at a Manhattan Institute event on September 18.

According to The Hill, a representative from Murkowski’s office said that the Senators will be speaking about “the economic, political, and social consequences of allowing energy insecurity to rise in America.”

From the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal, coughing up their lungs:

Severe black lung returns to 1970s levels

Coal miners in Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia are contracting serious cases of black lung disease at rates not seen since the early 1970s — just after preventive regulations were enacted, according to a study published Monday.

Only 15 years ago, progressive massive fibrosis — an advanced form of black lung for which there is no cure — was virtually eradicated, health researchers say. But now, the prevalence of the disease in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia is at levels not seen in 40 years. .

“Each of these cases is a tragedy and represents a failure among all those responsible for preventing this severe disease,” wrote researchers for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the latest issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

BBC News calls foul on David Cameron’s hypocrisy, rivaled on by Barack Obama’s promise the The Most Transparent Administration in History™:

Red card on environment for ‘greenest government ever’

The government is failing to reduce air pollution, protect biodiversity and prevent flooding, a cross-party body of MPs has said.

The Environmental Audit Committee dished out a “red card” on these three concerns after examining efforts made since 2010. The MPs said on a further seven green issues ministers deserved a “yellow card” denoting unsatisfactory progress.

The government said it strongly disagreed with the findings.

From the Guardian, playing for time:

Obama delays key power plant rule of signature climate change plan

  • A week before major UN talks on climate change, EPA extends comment period for rule to cut carbon pollution from plants

Barack Obama applied the brakes to the most critical component of his climate change plan on Tuesday, slowing the process of setting new rules cutting carbon pollution from power plants, and casting a shadow over a landmark United Nations’ summit on global warming.

The proposed power plant rules were meant to be the signature environmental accomplishment of Obama’s second term.

The threat of a delay in their implementation comes just one week before a heavily anticipated UN summit where officials had been looking to Obama to show leadership on climate change.

From the Guardian, no longer so pumped-up:

California dumps ‘pump-as-you-please’ groundwater rules amid drought

  • Governor Jerry Brown signs bill into law to overhaul policy in state stricken by drought, sinking land and drying basins

California will no longer be the only western state with a “pump-as-you-please” approach to groundwater.

Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation on Tuesday overhauling the state’s management of its groundwater supply, bringing it in line with other states that have long regulated their wells.

Groundwater makes up nearly 60% of the state’s water use during dry years but is not monitored and managed the same way as water from reservoirs and rivers.

Supporters of the legislation say the worst drought in a generation inspired them to rethink California’s pump-as-you-please approach, which has led to sinking land and billions of dollars in damage to aquifers, roads and canals.

From the Los Angeles Times, and we resist the obvious puns:

Wildfire engulfs Northern California logging town as residents flee

Officials plan to send a damage assessment team to the Northern California community of Weed on Tuesday, where a wildfire destroyed or severely damaged more than 100 buildings, including a church and the town sawmill.

More than 1,500 residents were evacuated to the Siskiyou County fairgrounds as the Boles fire, last reported at 350 acres, tore through the town.

The fire broke out about 1:30 p.m. Monday near the town, which is about 50 miles south of the California-Oregon border. Daniel Berlant, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the flames were fueled by 40 mph winds and dry conditions.

The San Francisco Chronicle chronicles an immigrant:

Australian mosquito appears in California

Officials say an Australian mosquito has made what is believed to be its first U.S. appearance in the Los Angeles area.

Los Angeles County vector control officials said in a statement Tuesday that the mosquito that goes by the nickname Aussie Mozzie has been found in Monterey Park and nearby Montebello.

The mosquito can transmit the nonfatal Barmah Forest and Ross River viruses to humans, though neither has ever been reported in the county. It also can give heartworm to dogs.

From the Guardian, maybe there’s cetacean hope after all?:

IWC ‘has majority’ to curb Japanese whale culls

New Zealand proposing that world’s whale conservation body also add strict conditions to any future scientific whaling permits

A narrow majority of delegates at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) summit support moves to extend a ban on Japan’s scientific whaling plans until at least 2016 in a vote due on Wednesday.

Despite fierce opposition from Japan, New Zealand is proposing that the IWC endorse a ruling by the international court of justice (ICJ) and add strict conditions to any future permits it issues for scientific whaling.

Whaling nations such as Japan, Norway and Iceland, supported by a clutch of African and Caribbean states, claim that lethal research can be the most effective form of marine science.

But until then, via JapanToday:

Season’s first dolphins slaughtered at Taiji

The first dolphins of the season were slaughtered on Tuesday in the small town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, campaigners said, commencing an annual cull repeatedly condemned by animal rights groups.

Activists from the environmentalist group Sea Shepherd have been monitoring a bay in Taiji since the six-month dolphin hunting season began earlier this month.

“First pod of 2014-2015 being driven into cove now,” the activists from Sea Shepherd, who call themselves “Cove Guardians”, tweeted at 10:33 a.m.

From the Guardian, water woes Down Under:

Sydney’s waters could be tropical in decades, here’s the bad news…

  • Our research points to a widespread ‘tropicalisation’ of temperate coastlines such as Sydney within the next few decades. This may sound pleasant, but it might not be

Climate models suggest that ocean temperatures off Sydney are just decades away from becoming “tropical”. A “business as usual” scenario of increasing CO2 emissions suggests winter sea surface temperatures will consistently exceed 18C between 2020 and 2030. And summer sea surface temperatures will consistently exceed 25C between 2040 and 2060.

Eastern Australian waters represent a climate change hotspot, with warming rates occurring twice as fast as the global average. A key reason for this is a strengthening of the East Australian current, which pushes warm tropical water southwards.

Other oceanic hotspots around the world include southern Japan, south-east US, south-east Africa and eastern South America. All these regions have in common the influence of strong ocean currents running close to the shore bringing warm tropical water.

With that, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with this from ENENews:

Ocean hits record high for radioactive Strontium at all 6 locations near Fukushima reactors — Levels up to 20 times higher than reported last week — Officials: Contamination from highly radioactive ‘debris’ is seeping into ground and flowing out to sea

This newly published data shows record levels of Strontium-90 have been detected at all 6 seawater monitoring locations in front of the destroyed reactors. At 3 of 6 locations levels are around triple the previous record set last year.

Yet a report released by TEPCO days later on Sept. 12, 2014 claims: “Results indicate efforts to protect water are succeeding… inside the port area, concentrations of radioactivity have been steadily decreasing… Strontium… nearest the reactors… show levels of 70-100 Bq/L … Strontium 90 has been reduced to approximately a third of earlier levels [and] are projected to further reduce… Strontium 90 outflows to one-fortieth of the current estimated amount of outflow.”

According to a TEPCO document from last month: “Groundwater around reactor buildings (Unit 1 to 4) is confirmed to contain radioactive materials which have mixed with rainwater having been contacted with contaminated debris left on the ground surface due to the accident… contaminated water in the buildings theoretically does not mix with the groundwater flowing around the buildings.”

And to close, this from NHK WORLD:

Panel starts discussion on nuclear fuel recycling

An expert panel of Japan’s economy and industry ministry is studying whether the government should provide financial support for nuclear fuel recycling.

The panel began their discussions on Tuesday. Its members say they can’t decide what kind of role nuclear power should play in the nation’s energy policy until they have a clear idea about how to operate costly fuel recycling.

Some say power companies are shouldering the cost of fuel recycling at present, but the government needs to be involved because the electricity market is undergoing liberalization. Others express doubt about government involvement, saying the public will have to pay for the cost.