Category Archives: Corpocracy

EconoWatch: Whales, climate, fires, nukes


A relatively small collection today, starting with another sort of environmental woe from Newswise:

Living in a Disadvantaged Neighborhood Worsens Musculoskeletal Pain Outcomes After Trauma Exposure

Individuals living in disadvantaged neighborhoods have worse musculoskeletal pain outcomes over time after stressful events such as motor vehicle collision than individuals from higher socioeconomic status neighborhoods, even after accounting for individual characteristics such as age, sex, income, education, and employment status.

These were the findings of a multi-site research study led by Samuel McLean, MD, MPH, associate professor of anesthesiology and emergency medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. The results of the study were published online by the journal Pain.

“We all like to believe that we are immune to the circumstances of our environment,” said Dr. McLean. “These results suggest that when it comes to chronic musculoskeletal pain development after traumatic/stressful events, th

The Asahi Shimbun covers Japanese chutzpah:

Whale meat now on the menu at LDP’s headquarters

Ruling party advocates of whaling tucked into whale meat curry at a restaurant inside the party’s headquarters in Tokyo on Sept. 19 to thumb their noses at the International Whaling Commission.

The IWC on Sept. 18 adopted a resolution calling on Japan to postpone its resumption of “research” whaling in the Antarctic Ocean to 2016 or later.

The restaurant added whale curry to the menu at the request of Toshihiro Nikai, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council. He is from Wakayama Prefecture, the cradle of Japan’s whaling industry.

From the Guardian, all hat, no cattle:

US will not commit to climate change aid for poor nations at UN summit

  • Rich countries pledged to find $100bn a year by 2020, but so far only Germany has made a significant contribution

Barack Obama will not be pledging any cash to a near-empty fund for poor countries at a United Nations summit on climate change next week, the UN special climate change envoy said on Friday.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, has challenged the 125 world leaders attending the 23 September summit to make “bold pledges” to the fund, intended to help poor countries cope with climate change.

The UN has been pressing rich countries to come up with pledges of between $10bn and $15bn.

Agence France-Presse covers climate action in India:

Climate change rally held in India ahead of UN summit

Program notes:

Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming.

From the Los Angeles Times, Golden State aflame:

King fire burns more than 80,000 acres in Northern California

The massive King fire in Northern California has now burned more than 80,000 acres, according to CalFire.

The fire, in the forest east of Sacramento, has forced the evacuation of more than 2,800 people since it ignited last Saturday. It is now 10% contained.

More than 7,600 firefighters continue to battle nine major wildfires in California, most of them in the northern part of the state. But officials consider the King fire the most dangerous after it doubled in size overnight Wednesday to about 114 square miles, becoming California’s second largest wildfire this year in a matter of hours.

From the Guardian, Aussie ruling party arrogance [whale meat, anyone?]:

Green groups accused of trashing Queensland’s reputation overseas

  • State environment minister claims the main aim of conservation groups is to shut down Queensland’s resource industry

Queensland’s environment minister has accused conservation groups of “trashing” the state’s reputation overseas.

Andrew Powell, who is responsible for protecting Queensland’s natural assets, has gone to Paris for talks with Unesco over the status of the Great Barrier Reef.

Unesco has given Australia until February to show that it is properly managing the reef. If it’s not satisfied the reef could be listed as a World Heritage site “in danger”.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, sending the fox to guard the henhouse, via the Mainichi:

New regulator vows to secure independence of nuclear safety body

Satoru Tanaka, who became a commissioner of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority on Friday, vowed to proceed with safety screenings of nuclear facilities with independence, brushing off criticism he has close ties with nuclear power companies.

Tanaka has come under fire for receiving payments and donations in the past from bodies including one linked to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi plant. Critics say the regulator’s fairness and independence could be compromised with his addition to the NRA decision-making panel.

A former chairman of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, Tanaka said at a press conference he will do his job “on the basis of science and technology” and he will show that stance through “my language and behavior.”

NHK WORLD covers a setback:

Completion of nuclear fuel plant to be delayed

The operator of a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northeastern Japan is expected to postpone completion of the plant by about 18 months due to the ongoing government screening.

NHK learned that Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited is making final adjustments to a plan to delay completion from October to early 2016.

The plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has been undergoing screening by the Nuclear Regulation Authority since January. Regulators are trying to determine whether the facility meets new requirements for nuclear plants introduced after the 2011 disaster in Fukushima.

But regulators say they have not been able to conduct screening. They say documents submitted by the operator are insufficient.

From the Asahi Shimbun, a vote in opposition:

Tochigi town passes water-protection ordinance to block nuclear waste plans

A town in Tochigi Prefecture has found a novel way to block the construction of a final disposal site for radioactive waste from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis by passing an ordinance that will protect its natural resources.

The ordinance, passed unanimously by the Shioya town assembly on Sept. 19, will protect an area that includes local springs, as well as mountain forest that was designated by the Environment Ministry as a candidate for the final disposal facility.

The ministry plans to use the site to store designated waste which contains more than 8,000 becquerels of radioactivity per kilogram.

From the Los Angeles Times, nuclear woes on this side of the Pacific:

Energy Dept. faces major hurdles to reopen New Mexico nuclear dump

The Energy Department has identified 7,000 steps needed to reopen its badly damaged nuclear waste dump in New Mexico, but cannot say how long it will take or how much it will cost.

The agency was expected to release a written recovery plan Thursday, but instead provided a few details about the plan, which awaits formal approval by the department.

Outside experts say that the dump will probably not reopen until well after the start of 2016 and that the cost of the accident will approach $1 billion.

Although they didn’t talk about the cost, Energy Department officials reiterated at a briefing in Carlsbad, N.M., on Thursday that there was “strong support” in Congress for putting up the unspecified amount of money required to restart the plant. A Senate aide declined a request by the Los Angeles Times earlier this month for details about the cost negotiations.

More from the Carlsbad Current-Argus:

LANL identifies second nuclear waste drum like container that was breached at WIPP

Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists have identified another nuclear waste drum similar to the drum that caused the February’s radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Terry Wallace Jr., the LANL WIPP recovery leader and principal associate director for global security, testified that the chemical reaction was likely caused by a discarded glovebox glove on Tuesday in front of the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee in Carlsbad.

Because scientists have not been able to re-create the chemical reaction, Wallace said he was unsure about the future of the second drum that currently sits underground in Panel 6 at WIPP.

From the Mainichi, ancient fallout heats up:

‘Missing’ documents reveal 1954 U.S. H-bomb test affected 556 more ships

Recently released government documents reveal that the crews of 556 Japanese ships were tested for radiation exposure in the wake of the United States’ 1954 hydrogen bomb tests around the Bikini Atoll — one of which irradiated the crew of the Daigo Fukuryumaru tuna boat from Shizuoka Prefecture.

The records were released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on Sept. 19 in accordance with the Access to Government Information Act, following a freedom-of-information request by a citizens group in Kochi Prefecture known as the Pacific Ocean Nuclear Disaster Assistance Center and other organizations.

According to representatives from the group and the health ministry, the national and local governments conducted the testing between March and December 1954 on fishing and cargo ship crews from a total of five Japanese ports that had been in waters affected by the U.S. nuclear test in the central Pacific.

And we close on an upbeat Latin note from Agence France-Presse:

New music with recycled instruments at Colombia fest

Program notes:

Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the “RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival”, in Colombian city of Cali.

EnviroWatch: Carnivore costs, fuels, nukes


First up, from Kyodo News, killing to continue:

Despite IWC resolution, Japan to start “research whaling”: Suga

Japan plans to start “research whaling” in the Antarctic in fiscal 2015 despite a resolution by the International Whaling Commission against the practice, the top government spokesman said Friday.

“We will make preparations so we can start new research whaling in the Antarctic in fiscal 2015,” based on a ruling by the International Court of Justice, Suga said at a regular press conference. “It’s extremely regrettable” that the resolution was adopted, he said.

Suga said Japan’s practices are “completely in line with” the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

The Mainichi covers some of the hypocrisy:

Research whaling costs 4 bil. yen per year

Japan has insisted on resuming research whaling because, in the words of a senior Fisheries Agency official, it needs scientific data for resuming commercial whaling.

If Japan is forced to pull out of scientific whaling, the chances of resuming commercial whaling will evaporate, and even limited coastal hunts for small whales may be further scaled down.

According to an estimation made by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), there are 515,000 minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean. As there are no other whale varieties with populations this big, Japan believes it is reasonable to turn to minke whales for scientific purposes.

But scientific whaling in the Antarctic and Northwest Pacific costs about 4 billion yen a year. Japan’s nonprofit Institute of Cetacean Research is in charge of the project. It has sold whale meat gleaned from scientific whaling to help run its operations, but the number of whales it has caught in the Antarctic has been far lower than its targets due to interference from anti-whaling groups. The Fisheries Agency says the government supplements the institute’s budget with an annual subsidy of about 1 billion yen because proceeds from whale meat are not enough to fund its operations.

From Salon, crying foul on corporate factory fowls:

White House: Factory farms are putting the public at risk — but we’re not going to do anything about it

  • New executive orders aimed at staving off “the next pandemic” both acknowledge and ignore livestock’s contribution

The Obama administration is finally making serious moves toward addressing antibiotic resistance, calling up an executive task force and presidential advisory committee dedicated to the problem. The executive orders signed Thursday, the AP reports, also call for “new regulations to make sure there is appropriate oversight of the use of antibiotics in hospitals” and “encourage better tracking of antibiotic use and the development of new antibiotics and tests.”

Some experts, according to the New York Times, were impressed just that the president decided to take on this issue. But even though we’ve known about the threat of antibiotic resistance for years, warnings have recently become especially charged. This past April, the World Health Organization released a report characterizing antibiotic-resistant superbugs as a world-wide threat to public health: the bacteria that cause “common, serious diseases” bloodstream infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea, it found, are developing resistance to the drugs needed to treat them, including those classified as “last resort.” In July, CDC Director Thomas Frieden called for immediate action to address the crisis, which he warned could lead to the “next pandemic.” Currently, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for at least 23,00 deaths in the U.S. each year. So you could also argue that the problem has become pretty much un-ignorable.

Considerably less awesome is the fact that the government will continue to ignore the abuse of antibiotics in livestock, which in the U.S. occurs at astounding rates. To give just one example of how widespread the problem is, a recent Reuters investigation revealed that the use of antibiotics at the nation’s largest poultry companies is reserved not for illness, but is instead “a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives.”

From the Independent, another climate alarm:

Greenland’s dark snow may start global warming ‘feedback loop’

Dr Jason Box, a glaciology professor, has just finished his 23rd expedition to the Danish-owned island since 1994, a series of trips that included spending a year camped on the country’s inland ice. And this time, said Dr Box, he had never seen anything like it.

“Where I took the photos I was stunned by how large an area had such a dark appearance,” said Dr Box, who works for the Geological Survey of Greenland. “This rocket ride has just gotten off the launchpad. I expect the snow and ice to continue darkening – every indication is that the Arctic climate will continue warming and the number of wildfires will keep increasing.”

Unlike the black ice found on Britain’s streets, which is clear and takes on the colour of dark surfaces underneath it, Greenland’s ice and snow really is becoming darker. Dr Fox, who co-founded the Dark Snow Project to measure the impact of the blackening ice on its ability to reflect sunlight, has calculated that the ice sheet is 5.6 per cent darker this year than last.

From the Guardian, Global Corporate University strikes again:

University of California rejects student call to divest from fossil fuels

  • Straying from the precedent set by Stanford and Harvard, university’s board of regents will continue to invest in fossil fuels

The University of California voted on Friday to maintain its investments in fossil fuels, frustrating a student-led effort to divest its portfolio in oil, natural gas and coal.

UC is among the major college endowments have been reluctant to shake up their portfolios by pulling out of fossil fuels after Stanford University, one of the most prestigious and wealthiest in America, took that step in May.

Jagdeep Bachher, UC Regent’s Chief Investment Officer, said in a presentation that UC’s fossil fuel holdings amounts to $10bn of the $91bn in the college’s investment portfolio.

Mining the same vein, but across the Pacific, via Reuters:

China power plants exempt from ban on using low-quality coal: sources

China’s bid to limit the consumption of low-quality thermal coal in major cities to help curb pollution will not apply to power plants, traders and utility sources said, exempting a sector responsible for half the country’s coal use.

China said on Monday that from 2015 it would restrict the production, consumption and import of coal with high impurity levels in a bid to fight smog, much of which is caused by using coal for heating and electricity.

The government set three new quality thresholds, with the most stringent requirement banning the use of coal with more than 16 pct ash and 1 percent sulphur content in key population centers like Beijing and the Yangtze river delta region.

Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

Tainted water problems still plague Fukushima, despite some positive signs

To improve the situation, Tepco has been taking steps to reduce the daily buildup of tainted water and to empty the filled trenches running beneath it.

One of those steps, the so-called groundwater bypass, finally began showing progress this week. The bypass is designed to reduce the amount of groundwater merging with tainted water from the plant by pumping it up beforehand and discharging it into the sea.

Other steps have proved unsuccessful, including a recent effort to build ice walls between two of the flooded turbine buildings and their trenches.

The mingling of the waters is a huge headache for Tepco: 400 tons of groundwater seep into the cracked reactor and turbine buildings every day. It then mixes with highly radioactive water in the flooded basements of reactors 1, 2 and 3, which were hit by the meltdowns, and increases the overall volume.

The Asahi Shimbun encounters obstacles:

TEPCO struggling to win approval of fishermen over water-discharge plan

Local fishermen are crying foul over Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s latest plan to discharge processed contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean.

TEPCO and the central government held the first explanatory briefing over the plan on Sept. 18, seeking to win the approval of fishermen operating in southern Fukushima Prefecture.

Their explanation was apparently unconvincing. “I can’t believe anything TEPCO says,” one of the attendees said after the meeting.

The Asahi Shimbun stays the course:

Outgoing NRA commissioner insists safety screenings for reactors were fair

An outgoing commissioner of the Nuclear Regulation Authority rejected criticism from the pro-nuclear community, saying the safety screenings for restarting the nation’s idled nuclear reactors were conducted in a fair manner.

“No part of the safety screening process was strict,” Kunihiko Shimazaki, whose two-year tenure as deputy chairman of the nuclear watchdog ended on Sept. 18, told reporters. “Everything was done in a sensible manner.”

Another commissioner, Kenzo Oshima, a former diplomat, left the post the same day.

Shimazaki, a seismology specialist, proved a thorn in the side of power utilities with his calls for reassessing the potential force inflicted by seismic waves and tsunami upon nuclear plants.

NHK WORLD disposes:

Govt. aims to begin waste transport in January

Japan’s environment minister says the government wants to start transporting radioactive waste produced by the Fukushima nuclear accident to interim storage facilities in Fukushima next January as scheduled.

Yoshio Mochiduki said on Friday that the government wants to proceed with preparations for the transport quickly, and it has no plan to change the target date.

The government started studying transportation routes and negotiations with landowners after the Fukushima government agreed earlier this month to build the facilities in the prefecture.

For our final item, NHK WORLD opposes:

Towns vote to block radioactive waste dumps

The assemblies of 2 towns north of Tokyo have voted unanimously to block or limit the construction of final disposal sites for radioactive waste in their towns.

Kami Town in Miyagi Prefecture and Shioya Town in Tochigi Prefecture have both been named by the central government as candidate sites for the facilities.

Sludge, ash, and other waste containing more than 8,000 becquerels of radioactive materials per kilogram are to be permanently stored at the sites.

The government plans to build such facilities in 5 prefectures near Fukushima, where the 2011 nuclear accident occurred.

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

EbolaWatch: Politics, woes, and warnings


We begin with high politics from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

U.S. submits Ebola draft to UNSC

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations has presented to U.N. Security Council members a draft of a Security Council resolution on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, calling for a coordinated international response to the deadly virus.

The draft of the resolution obtained by The Yomiuri Shimbun on Tuesday calls on nations to provide urgent aid and lift travel restrictions that could isolate the Ebola-infected region.

The United States seeks to hold an emergency Security Council session on the Ebola outbreak on Thursday and have the resolution adopted at the meeting.

It is unusual for the Security Council to adopt a resolution on public health.

A video report covers some of the reasons for the finally aroused anxieties of the North, via CCTV America:

WHO assessing which countries can deal with Ebola virus

Program notes:

There are worrying reports for Ebola–Free African nations. The World Health Organisation has been assessing which African countries could handle in case there’s an outbreak. As CCTV America’s Jane Kiyo reports, apparently only two countries are up to the challenge.

Star Africa News has one nation’s death toll:

Liberia Ebola-related deaths at 1,424 – Report

Liberia’s Ebola-related deaths since the epidemic began in the country in March has reached 1, 424, according to a report by the Ministry of Health.

The report released on Wednesday showing the latest update on the situation of the epidemic in the country, said the figure concerns deaths in confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola.

The report entitled the Ebola Situation Report covers March 22 through September 13, 2014.

And from France 24, we get the all-too-usual emphasis on non-Acfrican sufferers:

French MSF volunteer contracts Ebola in Liberia

A French volunteer working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) in Liberia has contracted the Ebola virus, the medical charity said in a statement on Wednesday.

This is the first confirmed case of a French national catching the disease in the current outbreak. The volunteer was put in quarantine on Sept.16 when the first symptoms of the illness appeared.

She will be evacuated to a specialised treatment centre in France.

From Joel Pett, editorial cartoonist of the Lexington Herald-Leader, anxieties expressed:

BLOG Cartoon pett

Reuters covers preventative efforts:

West African powerhouse Ivory Coast battles to keep out Ebola

The worst recorded outbreak of the virus has killed over 2,400 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, wreaking havoc on their fragile economies, and has also spread to Nigeria and Senegal.

If it reaches Ivory Coast, the powerhouse of French-speaking West Africa, the economic consequences could be yet worse. The country of 20 million people exports 40 percent of the world’s cocoa, the raw material for chocolate, and supplies its landlocked neighbors with everything from rice to fuel.

Ivory Coast is taking the kind of aggressive anti-infection measures that its poorer, smaller western neighbors were slow to adopt. Hand washing stations have appeared at the entrances of government buildings and office towers in Abidjan, the bustling economic capital. People have abandoned the traditional three-kiss greeting.

The Guardian covers a radical measure:

Ebola lockdown in Sierra Leone: nationwide three-day curfew

  • Unprecented national shutdown, with health workers going house-to-house to identify Ebola cases; MSF raises concerns about capacity to cope

Residents across Sierra Leone, one of three countries at the centre of the biggest ever Ebola outbreak, scrambled on Wednesday to prepare for a three-day, unprecedented nationwide “lockdown” in a radical step intended to curb the spread of the killer virus, but which some health experts believe could worsen the epidemic.

Citizens will not be allowed to leave their homes from Thursday until Sunday. Known as “ose to ose” in the widely-used local Krio, health workers will also go house-to-house identifying cases and raising awareness. More than 2,300 have died across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the nine-month epidemic that the World Bank warned this week could lead to deaths in the “tens of thousands” if unchecked by the end of the year.

Some 21,000 people have been recruited to enforce the lockdown, bulking up thousands of police and soldiers already deployed to quarantine districts in the worst-hit regions near the border with Guinea. But some international health experts have advised against the move, citing both practical concerns and disastrous attempts at the mass quarantine of the biggest slum in neighbouring Liberia.

Ghana lends a hand, via the Liberian Observer:

Accra to Serve as Transit Point for Flights

  • President Mahama Discloses; Frowns on Isolation of Ebola-affected Countries

The President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, has been in consultation with the United Nations secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to allow Accra to serve as a transit center for international flights that might be bringing in logistics, medicines and other relief items for the affected countries.

Accra is the capital of Ghana, but President Mahama said his consultation is in his capacity as chair of the regional body, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This is a  demonstration of how Ghana is prepared to help affected the countries.

He spoke on Monday September 15, when he paid a one-day solidarity visit with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Monrovia.

The New York Times covers financial alarms:

Ebola Could Devastate West African Economies, World Bank Says

The three West African countries most affected by Ebola could experience a “potentially catastrophic blow” to their economies because of the epidemic, the World Bank Group warned Wednesday.

The outbreak could cut gross domestic product by nearly 12 percent in Liberia and nearly 9 percent in Sierra Leone in 2015 if it is not curbed, according to the report. The impact to Guinea would be less severe, at around 2 percent.

A fear of contagion and what the bank referred to as “aversion behavior” is driving most of the economic losses. Places of employment are being closed, transportation is being disrupted, and vital links with other nations by air and sea are being cut, the analysis found.

Reuters hints at purse strings loosening:

IMF proposes $127 million for three Ebola-hit countries in West Africa

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone could receive an additional $127 million from the International Monetary Fund to help them deal with the worst-ever outbreak of the Ebola virus, the IMF said on Wednesday.

The funds, which must still be approved by the IMF’s executive board, would help cover an estimated $300 million financing gap in the West African countries over the next six to nine months, when the IMF expects the impact of the outbreak to be most acute.

“The Ebola outbreak is a severe human, social and economic crisis that requires a resolute response from the international community,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a statement. “The governments of the three countries have requested additional IMF support to help cover the acute financing needs they are facing as a result of the outbreak.”

The IMF on Wednesday proposed a $40 million loan for Guinea, $48 million for Liberia and $39 million for Sierra Leone. It has said economic growth in Liberia and Sierra Leone has been hurt in particular by the epidemic’s impact on agriculture, mining and the services sectors.

Punch Nigeria precludes:

World Bank excludes Nigeria from $105m W’African fund

The World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors has approved a $105m grant to finance Ebola-containment efforts in West African countries infected with the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease.

A statement issued by the bank in Washington on Wednesday to announce the development, however, excluded Nigeria as a beneficiary of the fund.

The bank said the fund would help families and communities in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to cope with the economic impact of the Ebola crisis as well as rebuild and strengthen essential public health systems in the three worst-affected countries to guard against future disease outbreaks.

The Hill covers cash-inducing anxiety:

Congress worries Ebola could hit US, become more contagious

Lawmakers are increasingly concerned about the spread of Ebola and worry that it could jump to the United States and become more contagious.

President Obama on Tuesday unveiled new plans to surge U.S. support to West Africa that includes sending thousands of U.S. military personnel to the region and establishing a command-and-control center, and new hospitals to aid in the fight.

But lawmakers worry the president’s efforts might not be enough to contain the outbreak. Already, an estimated 2,400 have died from the disease, and the United Nations estimates $1 billion could be necessary to limit the epidemic.

And from Sky News, another vaccine trial, held in the North:

Former Nurse Tests Experimental Ebola Vaccine

  • A former NHS nurse has become the first person to be injected with an experimental ebola vaccine.

Ruth Atkins was given the jab in her arm and then carefully monitored by doctors for any side effects.

She is the first of 60 healthy volunteers to take part in a clinical trial at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute.

She was paid just £380 – not for the risk, but for any loss of earnings.

A video report from the London Telegraph:

British woman first to test Ebola vaccine

Program notes:

Ruth Atkins becomes the first volunteer to be injected with a potentially life-saving new vaccine that scientists hope will tackle Ebola

Another wake-up call received, via TheLocal.de:

Merkel promises help for Liberia in Ebola fight

Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised that Germany will send help to Liberia to tackle the Ebola crisis in response to a personal appeal by the country’s president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

“We will act quickly and stand ready with everything we have available,” Merkel told journalists in Berlin on Wednesday. “The situation in Liberia is in fact very dramatic.”

German help to the stricken West African nation could include air transport, secure return flights for doctors and other workers from international organizations, help building hospital wards and support for the World Health Organization (WHO).

A Merkel spokeswoman said earlier that the German army was also examining what kind of help it might be able to offer Liberia.

African boots on the ground from the Liberian Observer:

AU to Deploys 200 Health Workers in Ebola Affeted Countries

The African Union (AU) is expected to deployed 200 health workers and other professionals,including nurses and doctors to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone to help combat the deadly Ebola virus in the sub-region.

Africa Union’s Special Representative to Liberia, Amb. Toyin Solaja,said the deployment is a part of a joint AU-led military and civilian humanitarian mission code named African Union Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa (ASEOWA).

He puts the cost of the operation to more than 25 million United States Dollars. The Ambassador said a total of two hundred (200) professionals are expected to be deployed in the three countries.

More from Star Africa News:

Namibia gives $1m to Ebola countries

The Namibia government says it is contributing $1 million as a solidarity support to the West African countries currently battling the Ebola outbreak, the permanent secretary in the ministry of information Mbeuta Ua-Ndjarakana announced on Tuesday.

Ua-Ndjarakana told journalists that the contribution will be channeled through the World Health Organisation (WHO) to the African Public Health Emergency Fund for the containment of Ebola in Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Namibia is heeding the call made by the African Union to its member states and the international community to make contributions in cash or kind to assist its fight against the Ebola outbreak in some West African countries,” Ua-Ndjarakana said.

WHO needs an estimated $I billion to bring the epidemic under control, its officials said in Geneva earlier on Tuesday.

Updating a patient from the North with the Associated Press:

Doctors expect Nebraska Ebola patient to recover

An American aid worker infected with Ebola who’s being treated in Nebraska is now expected to make a full recovery, his doctors said Wednesday.

The medical team treating Rick Sacra also said it’s optimistic that the 51-year-old from Worcester, Massachusetts, will soon be able to leave the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

“However, we are still somewhat cautious because of the severity and unknown factors of this disease,” said Dr. Angela Hewlett, associate medical director of the isolation unit housing Sacra, who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia. “We know from experience how other patients look as their condition improves, but since we have so little experience treating patients with Ebola, that tempers our optimism a little bit.”

The Independent covers another extraordinary measure up North:

Ebola outbreak: Survivor William Pooley flown to US to give doctor with virus emergency blood transfusion

William Pooley, the British nurse who was cured of the Ebola, has been flown to America on a life-saving mission to give blood to a new victim of the deadly virus.

Mr Pooley has travelled to Atlanta for an emergency blood transfusion which could save the life of a doctor who contracted the disease while working in Sierra Leone.

The 29-year-old, who became the first Briton to contract Ebola, could help the US victim fight off the virus because his blood carries antibodies for the disease, the Evening Standard reports.

Mr Pooley was put on a flight on Friday night, paid for by the World Health Organisation, to Atlanta where the doctor is being treated in an isolation unit at Emory University Hospital.

Evangelicals ignoring border bans, with Star Africa News:

Batswana disregard travel ban to Ebola nations

Botswana citizens are defying a ban imposed by the Ministry of Health on travel to countries affected by Ebola, an official said Wednesday.Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Diadi Mmualefe told private radio station Gabz FM that some Batswana continued to visit West Africa despite warnings by the Ministry of Health against travelling to Ebola-affected countries.

He revealed that two Batswana travelled on Tuesday night to Nigeria where they want to attend a church service at the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) led by televangelist TB Joshua.

Botswana is one of southern African countries that have banned travel to Nigeria, Guinea, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Liberia that are at the epicentre of an Ebola outbreak that has so far killed more than 2,000 people in the region since March.

From Agence France-Presse, a graphic look inside an Ebola treatment center, based on a plan from Medicine sans Frontieres:

BLOG Ebola center

From the Guardian, a protest from Down Under:

$7m Ebola contribution is not enough, says Australian Medical Association

  • Brian Owler says additional $7m in Ebola aid should be bolstered by deployment of Australian health workers

Australia’s contribution to fighting the Ebola virus is still inadequate despite the promise of another $7m, the head of the Australian Medical Association has warned.

Brian Owler said last week that the government’s commitment of $1m to the World Health Organisation to control the outbreak in west Africa was inadequate, and on Wednesday the government pledged an extra $7m.

WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières will each receive $2.5m, while $2m will be given to Britain to help combat the disease in Sierra Leone, the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said.

Punch Nigeria covers classroom concerns:

Ebola: Senate urges schools to take precautionary measures

The Senate on Wednesday urged all schools in Nigeria to take precautionary measures to contain the spread of the Ebola virus.

The Senate also appealed to the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States to create regional and continent wide containment programmes to avoid further spread of the deadly virus.

The Senate made this appeal as part of resolutions reached after a debate on a motion, entitled, “The Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria,” sponsored by Senator Ifeanyi Okowa and 106 others.

Punch Nigeria again, with more classroom concerns:

Ebola outbreak: Parents still worry about possible outbreak

All appears set for the September 22 resumption date as directed by the Federal Government. But, in spite of the dramatic change of mind exhibited by the Nigerian Medical Association, parents and guardians are still apprehensive of a possible outbreak and the devastating effects it would have on children and teenagers.

While the NMA said its latest decision that pupils could go back to schools was based on the fact that no confirmed case of EVD in the country again, the Nigerian Union of Teachers has directed its members not to report to work unless safety gadgets are provided for them though it remained to be seen how far the union could go in view of the fact that the government in some states have asked the schools to reopen on Sept 22.

Parents who spoke with our correspondent on Wednesday expressed diverse opinions on the resumption date.

Punch Nigeria again, with still more:

Niger to reopen schools October

THE Niger State Government has decided that all schools in the state will reopen for the new academic year in October, contrary to the Sept 22 date declared by the Federal Government.

The Federal Government had shifted the resumption dates for all private and public schools in the country to next Monday as a result of the recent outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in the country.

However, in announcing the new resumption date for public schools in the state on Wednesday, the Niger State Government said it had taken into account the forthcoming Eid-el Kabir Muslim festival expected to hold worldwide in the first week of October.

And for our final Nigerian school item, again from Punch Nigeria, a union call:

Sept 22: Ekiti NUT tells teachers to stay away

The Nigeria Union of Teachers in Ekiti State has asked its members to comply with the directive of its national body to shun the September 22 resumption date for the 2014/2015 academic session.

Chairman of the union in Ekiti, Samuel Akosile, on Wednesday, said his members would not resume work until certain preventive measures capable of curtailing the Ebola Virus Disease had been put in place .

He urged government to organise seminars and workshops on Ebola for teachers in the state, saying “This will broaden their horizons on what the virus is all about and precautions to be taken to engender safety.”

The NUT chairman urged the state government to procure Infra-red thermometers and provide pipe-borne water and sanitisers in all the state-owned primary and secondary schools in order to give the assurances that government was committed to safety in school environments.

Next, from the Liberian Observer, a growing phenomenon:

Orphaned by Ebola

September 15, 2014, an unidentified toddler is seen standing unaware of the commotion going on around her. She and her gravely sick mother had just disembarked few minutes ago, from a taxi cab. Her mother struggled to take few steps, she collapsed and died. The innocent child was pulled away from her. The woman’s “lifeless body” was immediately dumped over other dead bodies already in a pickup truck waiting to transport the dead either for burial or to the crematorium.

She’s still unidentified.

According to witnesses standing in front of Redemption Hospital, which has quite recently become an Ebola holding center, the little girl and her said mother came to the hospital for treatment.

“Just how they arrived, the mother died in the car and her body was added to the bodies that were being taken out of the hospital today,” stated an LNP officer, who asked not to be named.

And for our final item, Defense One covers the American national security perspective:

Africa Needs the US Military To Fight Ebola

Both civilian and military public health experts understand how to contain highly transmissible infectious diseases, such as SARS, avian influenza, the MERS Coronavirus, and other pandemic-prone diseases. These diseases are threats to global security that could lead to outbreaks with significant costs including massive loss of life, a weakened work force, geopolitical instability, and economic disruption and losses. But given the relative successes in responding to these diseases, it has been surprising and disappointing that collective international actions against Ebola have thus far proven largely unsuccessful.

As Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, rightly points out, Ebola won’t be stopped with principles of global solidarity and earnest appeals. Disjointed and erratic funding efforts, dozens of volunteer health workers, and closing national barriers in West African states is either too little, too late, or too ineffective. Like Heracles slaying the many-headed Hydra, cutting off the beast’s individual heads was not enough; only by cauterizing the stumps was he able to contain the threat. Like Heracles, we must evaluate our futile tactics and engage an asymmetric advantage to bring to a halt this unprecedented yet containable Ebola outbreak.

Changing the dynamics of the West African outbreak requires behavioral changes including adjustments to burial practices and sanitation issues that are particularly conducive to the spread of Ebola. The consumption of bushmeat—that is, animal meat from the wild rather than domestically farmed—is also a significant risk factor. On a societal level, there are more broad-based cultural factors at play including a serious mistrust of health aid workers and the national government.

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