Category Archives: Deep Politics

InSecurityWatch: Cops, spies, drones, zones


Today’s compendium of matters of spies, borders, corportate snoopery, hacking, and such like begins with a reminder that sometimes it’s not Big Brother you’ve got to worry about. Sometimes it’s Big Daddy. From Rumble Viral:

Catching a daughter doing selfies on video

Program note:

Rod Beckham noticed a lot of movement in his rear view mirror and realized his daughter was in the midst of an epic photo shoot of her own creation. After watching and laughing for a minute or so, he realized he needed to capture this for posterity. It will definitely put a smile on your face!

On to the serious, starting with a call from BuzzFeed:

National Progressives Want A “Federal Czar” To Oversee Local Police Forces

“The proliferation of machine guns, silencers, armored vehicles and aircraft, and camouflage in local law enforcement units does not bode well for police-community relations, the future of our cities, or our country.”

A coalition of unions, members of Congress, progressive groups and others wrote a joint letter to President Barack Obama calling for drastic changes to local police forces around the country after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The letter, which was distributed via an ad in the Washington Post, calls for a demilitarization of police forces, an effort to increase diversity, and the establishment of a “federal czar” to promote “the professionalization of local law enforcement.”

“The proliferation of machine guns, silencers, armored vehicles and aircraft, and camouflage in local law enforcement units does not bode well for police-community relations, the future of our cities, or our country,” the letter said.

From Techdirt, sumptuary laws in a world of blue knights:

As Police Get More Militarized, Bill In Congress Would Make Owning Body Armor Punishable By Up To 10 Years In Prison

  • from the only-the-police-can-be-militarized dept

We’ve been writing an awful lot lately about the militarization of police, but apparently some in Congress want to make sure that the American public can’t protect themselves from a militarized police. Rep. Mike Honda (currently facing a reasonably strong challenger for election this fall) has introduced a bizarre bill that would make it a crime for civilians to buy or own body armor. The bill HR 5344 is unlikely to go anywhere, but violating the bill, if it did become law, would be punishable with up to ten years in prison. Yes, TEN years. For merely owning body armor.

Honda claims that the bill is designed to stop “armored assailants” whom he claims are “a trend” in recent years. Perhaps there wouldn’t be so much armor floating around out there if we weren’t distributing it to so many civilian police forces… Not surprisingly, the very same police who have been getting much of this armor are very much in favor of making sure no one else gets it:

Honda said it has been endorsed by law enforcement organizations including the California State Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Peace Officers Research Association of California, according to Honda.

The Guardian deals a blow to a call for a Medievalism, British style:

Cameron dismisses Johnson’s ‘presumption of guilt’ terror plan

  • PM rejects ‘kneejerk response’ after London mayor’s suggestion that people travelling to war zones should be presumed guilty

Downing Street has dismissed a call by Boris Johnson for the government to introduce a “rebuttable presumption” that anyone who visits a war zone without providing notice will be guilty of a terrorist offence.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said David Cameron had no interest in”kneejerk” responses to the threat posed by Islamic State (Isis) fighters. She confirmed that Britain’s intelligence agencies had not been pressing for the London mayor’s idea.

Downing Street said the prime minister was focused on a “patient and resolute” response to what he described last week as the “generational challenge” posed by Isis in Iraq and Syria.

From Reuters, here’s looking at you, kid:

Camera-makers shares jump on interest in surveillance tech

A surge in interest in makers of security cameras drove shares of such companies higher on Tuesday, with heavy volume in particular seen in Digital Ally, which makes wearable cameras.

Digital Ally, which produces cameras compact enough to be pinned to shirts, belts or eyeglasses, has reported heightened demand for its product since Aug. 9, when a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, triggering weeks of protests.

Interest in surveillance technology also drove investors to put money in Image Sensing Systems, a company that produces software and cameras for law enforcement agencies and traffic monitors. The stock spiked more than 40 percent.

From the Guardian, Cold War 2.0:

Nato plans east European bases to counter Russian threat

  • Nato chief announces move in response to Ukraine crisis and says alliance is dealing with a new Russian military approach

Nato is to deploy its forces permanently at new bases in eastern Europe for the first time, in response to the Ukraine crisis and in an attempt to deter Vladimir Putin from causing trouble in the former Soviet Baltic republics, according to its chief.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former prime minister of Denmark, said that next week’s Nato summit in Cardiff would overcome divisions within the alliance and agree to new deployments on Russia’s borders – a move certain to trigger a strong reaction from Moscow.

He also outlined moves to boost Ukraine’s security, “modernise” its armed forces, and help the country counter the threat from Russia.

Droning on? Or more provocatively? From the Associated Press:

AP sources: US surveillance planes fly over Syria

The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, U.S. officials said, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State militant targets there.

While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.

One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data.

Drone it is. But this time, by other folks. From Vocativ:

New Video Shows ISIS Using Drones to Plan Battles

The beheading video that ISIS released last week was a vivid illustration of not only the group’s ruthlessness but also its growing media sophistication. The video, with its slick production values, spread rapidly on Twitter and YouTube.

ISIS, which now controls large stretches of Syria and Iraq, uses an elaborate web of social media accounts to recruit new members, mock the West in unusual ways and showcase its military and tech know-how.

In the latest example of this, a new video appeared this past weekend in an official ISIS forum showing ISIS forces preparing to conquer a key military base in Raqqa in northern Syria. The video includes aerial footage (at around the 1.55 mark) apparently taken by an ISIS drone, and viewers hear militants planning out the attack. One talks about “a truck opening the way so that a second suicide bomber can hit the headquarters.” The video also shows graphic images of ISIS executing Syrian soldiers.

Engadget covers cyberstalking:

Political TV ads will soon know who you are

Like it or not, another US election is almost upon us — and this time around, the incessant political advertising may cut a little too close to home. Both Democrats and Republicans are using a new TV ad targeting system from DirecTV and Dish that takes advantage of voter records to put personalized campaign ads on your DVR. If you tend to swing between both parties, you may get different commercials than lifelong supporters. You may also get reminders to vote early if you frequently cast absentee ballots. And unlike conventional targeting methods, which run ads on shows they believe certain demographics will watch, these promos will automatically appear on any show you record as long as there’s a free slot.

Yes, there’s a chance these pitches will get very annoying; there’s enough data that they could chastise you when you haven’t donated or volunteered. However, the sheer expense of producing customized ads makes it unlikely that candidates will get that specific. The DVR technology may actually spare you some grief, in fact, since politicians won’t waste your time if you’re set in your ways. There is a risk that this approach will further polarize voters by limiting their exposure to different views. With that said, many political TV spots aren’t exactly honest to start with — this may just reduce the amount of propaganda you have to put up with during commercial breaks.

The London Daily Mail gets all metaphorical:

Always use protection! £6 USB ‘condom’ stops hackers from giving you viruses and keeps your private data secure

  • The USB device was created by New York-based security experts int3.cc
  • It aims to protect against public charging stations that can download data
  • The USB condom is a small chip that has both male and female ports
  • These connect between a device and the unknown USB port, effectively severing any data connection but linking up the power cables
  • Millions of people worldwide are engaging in high-risk tech.
  • Now a ‘USB condom’ has been designed by security experts in an effort to keep sensitive data secure.
  • The device allows users to plug their phones or tablets into unfamiliar USB ports without risking being infected with a virus.

From MIT Technology Review, pimping exhibitionism:

How Much Is Your Privacy Worth?

  • Despite the outcry over government and corporate snooping, some people allow themselves be monitored for money or rewards.

People can use your sensitive personal information to discriminate against you.

Anyone paying attention knows that his or her Web searches, Facebook feeds, and other online activity isn’t always safe—be it from the prying eyes of the NSA or those of the companies providing a social networking service.

While a substantial chunk of the populace finds all this tracking creepy and invasive, though, there’s a demographic that collectively shrugs at the notion of being mined for data.

Some startups hope to exploit this by buying access to your Web browsing and banking data (see “Sell Your Personal Data for $8 a Month”). Luth Research, a San Diego company, is now offering companies an unprecedented window into the private digital domains of tens of thousands of people who have agreed to let much of what they do on a smartphone, tablet, or PC be tracked for a $100 a month.

From Motherboard, Ayn Rand is smiling:

Net Neutrality Is ‘Marxist,’ According to This Koch-Backed Astroturf Group

A mysterious conservative group with strong ties to the Koch brothers has been bombarding inboxes with emails filled with disinformation and fearmongering in an attempt to start a “grassroots” campaign to kill net neutrality—at one point suggesting that “Marxists” think that preserving net neutrality is a good idea.

The emails, which come with subject lines like “Stop Obama’s federal Internet takeover,” come from American Commitment, an organization that is nonprofit in name only and has been called out time and time again by journalists and transparency organizations for obscuring where it gets its funding.

In an email I received, American Commitment president Phil Kerpen suggests that reclassifying the internet as a public utility is the “first step in the fight to destroy American capitalism altogether” and says that the FCC is plotting a “federal Internet takeover,” a move that “sounds more like a story coming out of China or Russia.”

From Network World, so there’s more than one born every second?:

Hackers prey on Russian patriotism to grow the Kelihos botnet

The cybercriminal gang behind the Kelihos botnet is tricking users into installing malware on their computers by appealing to pro-Russian sentiments stoked by recent international sanctions against the country.

Researchers from security firms Websense and Bitdefender have independently observed a new spam campaign that encourages Russian-speakers to volunteer their computers for use in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against the websites of governments that imposed sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“We, a group of hackers from the Russian Federation, are worried about the unreasonable sanctions that Western states imposed against our country,” the spam emails read, according to a translation by Bitdefender researchers. “We have coded our answer and below you will find the link to our program. Run the application on your computer, and it will secretly begin to attack government agencies of the states that have adopted those sanctions.”

Motherboard covers the cyberextortionate:

Hackers Will Leak Syrian Stock Exchange Database Unless Assad Tackles ISIS

A group of hackers took down the website of Syria’s only stock exchange this afternoon and are threatening to leak the exchange’s database unless president Bashar al-Assad takes military action against the Islamic State.

The group, called Project Viridium, says that over the last several weeks, it has infected several Islamic State operatives’ computers and have provided the Assad government with information about their whereabouts.

Earlier today, the group tweeted that it had successfully taken down the Damascus Securities Exchange. At the time of this writing, the exchange’s website is still inaccessible, due to what appears to be a fairly common DoS (Denial of Service) attack.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including Indo/Pakistani shelling, internal Pakistani tension, a case of diplomatic hypocrisy against accompanied by a Chinese peace feeler, Sino/Indonesian insular petro tension, an Aussie apology and spooky doings, another aerial line-crossing, supersonic submarines, Chinese military/security realignments, Beijing’s eyes in space, Japanese militarism questions, and much more. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Race, spooks, hacks, Asian heat


Today’s coverage of the things that make governments and citizens insecure [often not the same things in the same ways] begins with a real cause for national insecurity in the U.S. Via MintPress News:

US Has “Much Left to Do” On Racism: Segregation Worse Now Than In 70s

One UN committee member is shocked that “in spite of several decades of affirmative action in the United States to improve the mixing up of colors and races in schools … segregation [is] nowadays much worse than it was in the 1970s.”

An official summary of last week’s discussions between the U.N. experts and civil society groups recorded one committee member’s shock “to realize than in spite of several decades of affirmative action in the United States to improve the mixing up of colors and races in schools … segregation was nowadays much worse than it was in the 1970s.”

Another expert noted that “some 39 million African Americans [are] particularly affected by structural racial discrimination in the United States … part of the broader heritage of slavery,” according to the summary.

Indeed, rights advocates here say that one of the most significant impacts of the race convention has been around the broader understanding of the structural issues of racism that persist in the U.S. — those ways in which institutionalized discrimination becomes considered normal.

Techdirt covers the sadly predictable:

Obama Review Of Military Gear Handed To Law Enforcement; Thinks Real Problem Is ‘Training And Guidance’

  • from the emptiest-of-gestures dept

President Obama, most likely prompted by the invasion of Ferguson by armed forces, has called for a review of military equipment provided to local police departments by the same government he presides over. Presumably, this isn’t the sort of “review” he has in mind.

Not that local law enforcement agencies couldn’t throw an impressive Victory Day parade. The 1033 program, which sends military vehicles, weapons and equipment downstream to law enforcement agencies for pennies on the dollar, has shifted $4.3 billion from the Dept. of Defense to hundreds of police departments across the United States since 1997. Here’s what the President is actually interested in seeing.

“Among other things, the president has asked for a review of whether these programs are appropriate,” said a senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the internal assessment. The review also will assess “whether state and local law enforcement are provided with the necessary training and guidance; and whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of equipment obtained through federal programs and funding.”

In other words, don’t expect much to change, and not any time soon (if at all).

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, a response to cross-border flatulism:

No Evidence of Jihadists in Mexico, Foreign Minister Says

There is no evidence to support the comments by Texas Gov. Rick Perry that jihadists could enter the United States via the southern border, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Jose Antonio Meade said.

“It is very unfortunate that some people make foreign policy on the basis of beliefs, suppositions and completely unfounded and absurd analyses,” Meade said in a press conference on Saturday.

Perry said in an address last week that there was a “very real possibility” that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, terrorists may have entered the United States by crossing the southern border.

The Intercept covers a spooky search engine:

The Surveillance Engine: How the NSA Built Its Own Secret Google

The National Security Agency is secretly providing data to nearly two dozen U.S. government agencies with a “Google-like” search engine built to share more than 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats, according to classified documents obtained by The Intercept.

The documents provide the first definitive evidence that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies. Planning documents for ICREACH, as the search engine is called, cite the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration as key participants.

ICREACH contains information on the private communications of foreigners and, it appears, millions of records on American citizens who have not been accused of any wrongdoing. Details about its existence are contained in the archive of materials provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

RT talks Turkey:

Not-so NATO-ally? Germany spying on Turkey for ‘38 years’

German foreign intelligence agency has been tapping Turkey for almost four decades, reports Focus amid the ongoing spy scandal between Berlin and Ankara. Some German officials defend the practice, saying that not all NATO allies can be treated as friends.

The German Federal Intelligence Service, BND, has been eavesdropping on Turkey since 1976 following the Social Democrat Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s government approval, Focus magazine wrote on Saturday.

Passions over previous spying allegations revealed in the media are still running high, but a new report may add fuel to the fire triggering further tensions between the two long-time North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.

And International Business Times covers a rare case of candor:

Qatar And Terrorism: For Better Or For Worse, A Strong Connection

  • German Development Minister Gerd Mueller blasted Qatar on Wednesday.

“You have to ask who is arming, who is financing ISIS troops?” Mueller said in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF. “The keyword there is Qatar – and how do we deal with these people and states politically?”

The U.S. has also wrestled with Qatar’s connections to Sunni Muslim terrorist organizations. The State Department described Qatar as “largely passive” in cooperating with efforts to cut terrorist funding in an internal cable dated Dec. 30, 2009. The cable concluded that al-Qaeda, the Taliban “and other terrorist groups exploit Qatar as a fundraising locale. Although Qatar’s security services have the capability to deal with direct threats and occasionally have put that capability to use, they have been hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals.”

More recently, the U.S. signed a $11 billion arms and defense deal with Qatar for Apache helicopters, missile defense systems and more in July. The U.S. also keeps an Army base and an Air Force base in Qatar.

From the New York Times, the tragedy resumes:

Egypt and U.A.E. Said to Secretly Bomb Militias in Libya

Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts.

The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied to American diplomats that their military played any role in the operation, the officials said, in what appeared a new blow to already strained relations between Washington and Cairo.

The strikes in Tripoli are another destabilizing salvo in a power struggle defined by old-style Arab autocrats battling Islamist movements seeking to overturn the old order. Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt last year, the new government and its backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched a campaign across the region — in the news media, in politics and diplomacy, and by arming local proxies — to roll back what they see as an existential threat to their authority posed by Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

From Reuters, more blowback:

Rival second Libyan assembly chooses own PM as chaos spreads

The Libyan parliament that was replaced in an election in June reconvened on Monday and chose an Islamist-backed deputy as the new prime minister, leaving the chaotic country with two rival leaders and assemblies, each backed by armed factions.

An election in June had been aimed at rebuilding state institutions in an attempt to quell three years of spreading violence since the ouster of long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

But the old General National Congress (GNC), where Islamists had a strong voice, has refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of its successor assembly, the House of Representatives, which is dominated by liberals and federalists.

From the Washington Post, Big Brother R Us:

For sale: Systems that can secretly track where cellphone users go around the globe

Makers of surveillance systems are offering governments across the world the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a cellphone, whether they are blocks away or on another continent.

The technology works by exploiting an essential fact of all cellular networks: They must keep detailed, up-to-the-minute records on the locations of their customers to deliver calls and other services to them. Surveillance systems are secretly collecting these records to map people’s travels over days, weeks or longer, according to company marketing documents and experts in surveillance technology.

The world’s most powerful intelligence services, such as the National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ, long have used cellphone data to track targets around the globe. But experts say these new systems allow less technically advanced governments to track people in any nation — including the United States — with relative ease and precision.

The Register covers the ludicrous:

Intelligence blunder: You wanna be Australia’s spyboss? No problem, just walk right in

  • Access control? Yeah, we’ve heard of it

The Australian Security Intelligence Service, ASIS, has seemingly demonstrated a peculiar weakness in its access control systems.

A fluke administrative stuff-up allowed its Director-General – its most senior and therefore most sensitive role – to turn up and function for five days while he wasn’t actually employed by the organization.

As outlined by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, D-G Nick Warner’s contract ended, effectively sacking him, and the cack-handed public service’s computer systems didn’t notice.

From the Independent, a cyber assault:

Sony hit by cyber attack that closes PlayStation Network as plane carrying top executive is diverted following bomb threat

Federal investigators in the United States were attempting on Monday to get to the bottom of a fresh cyber-based assault against the Sony Corporation on Sunday that saw a brief a shut-down of its PlayStation Network and the emergency diversion of a commercial airliner that was carrying one of its top executives.

The company said its network had been fully restored and that no customer information had been compromised in what it said had been a “large-scale” attack, which normally involves an intruder using multiple computers to overwhelm the system forcing it to shut down. Meanwhile, John Smedley, its Online Entertainment President, was safe after what appeared to be a false bomb threat against his plane.

Sony suffered a similar event in 2011 when hackers stole credit card information from about 77 million of its customers crippling the network for two months.

From Deeplinks, a call for Comcastigation:

Comcast Data Breach Leaks Thousands of Unlisted Phone Numbers, Threatening Customers’ Privacy

Four years ago, users of Comcast’s phone service who had paid for their personal information to be unlisted noticed that something was amiss. Complaints started appearing from these individuals who found their names, addresses, and telephone numbers in phone directories both online and off.

Later, it was revealed that this breach of confidential information affected more than 74,000 individuals and households in California—over half of Comcast’s users in California with unlisted numbers. While the breach hit California the hardest, it also occurred with Comcast customers in other states. These numbers were treated just like ordinary listed phone numbers, licensed by Comcast to “publishers,” directory assistance providers, and apparently passed on to other databases and published for everyone to see.

This is but one example of how a mistake in an industry built upon the acquisition and selling of personal information can hurt people.  And this is why California law requires phone companies to protect their customers’ unlisted or non-published phone numbers.1 The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has opened up an investigation [pdf] to determine whether and to what extent Comcast may have broken the law in allowing this release of non-published numbers. EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien has submitted testimony [pdf] as an expert witness for the California PUC in this case.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including Sino/American semantic escalation and fears of provocation, a renewed nuclear arms race, two maritime message [one submersible], a Chinese film festival canceled, more Chinese crackdowns and indignation, more Japanese dissent, and more reluctance to acquiesce to Abe’s militarization push. . . Continue reading

Academic research and U.S. drone kill lists


Living in Berkeley, we’re acutely aware of the deep connections between academic research and battlefield body counts, given that Cal played — asnd continues to play — a key role in nuclear weapons development.

But academic research body counts aren’t limited to those incinerated or lethally irradiated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki or other weapons developed at the national laboratories administered by the University of California for the Department of Energy [formerly the Atomic Energy Commission].

Killer tech can also emerge from social science and computer labs, where software evolves to monitor social currents and metadata, in search of patterns boffins declare are likely source of actual or potential threats to the Moloch of national security.

University of California faculty dominate the roster of the JASONS [previously], the battalion of academics recruited to tackle intellectual conundrums for the Department of Defense.

So we note with interest a fascinating segment from Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set featuring Nafeez Ahmed, political activist and Guardian columnist.

Here’s his bio from the Guardian website:

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar. He is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization among other books. He writes for the Guardian on the geopolitics of environmental, energy and economic crises on his Earth insight blog.

Their focus of the segment is the role another Pentagon-funded academic research program, the Minerva Research Initiative, described thusly on the project’s website:

Just as our military forces could not effectively operate without understanding the physical terrain and environment, detection of radical actors and regime disruptions is limited by our understanding of the cultural and political environments where those threats develop. The Minerva Research Initiative, initiated by former Secretary Gates in 2008, seeks to build deeper understanding of the social, cultural, and political dynamics that shape regions of strategic interest around the world.

Deeper understanding of global populations and their variance as provided by Minerva-funded research will yield more effective strategic and operational policy decisions. Minerva scholars have already briefed valuable, warfighter-relevant insights to senior officials such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, decision makers in the defense policy community, and on the ground to our combatant commands.

As the nascent program continues to grow, university-driven Minerva research will further enable critical social and cultural understanding to help decision makers effectively address today’s known and tomorrow’s unknown challenges.

With that out of the way, from Breaking the Set:

How DoD Flawed Algorithms are Basis for Drone Kill List | Interview with Nafeez Ahmed

Program notes:

Abby Martin features an interview with author and journalist Nafeez Ahmed, discussing his four-part investigation into the Pentagon’s mass social science project called The Minerva Research Initiative, as well as his latest book ‘Zero Point’.

InSecurityWatch: War, spooks, hacks, zones


We begin today’s walk on the dark side with a story everyone knew was coming, via the New York Times:

U.S. Weighs Direct Military Action Against ISIS in Syria

The Obama administration is debating a more robust intervention in Syria, including possible American airstrikes, in a significant escalation of its weeks-long military assault on the Islamic extremist group that has destabilized neighboring Iraq and killed an American journalist, officials said Friday.

While President Obama has long resisted being drawn into Syria’s bloody civil war, officials said recent advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have made clear that it represents a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies. The beheading of James Foley, the American journalist, has contributed to what officials called a “new context” for a challenge that has long divided the president’s team.

Officials said the options include speeding up and intensifying limited American efforts to train and arm moderate Syrian rebel forces that have been fighting ISIS as well as fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Another option would be to bolster other partners on the ground to take on ISIS, including the Syrian Kurds.

But as Deutsche Welle notes, some things remain unsayable:

Germany ‘regrets’ comments on Qatar support for ‘IS’

  • Germany has upset Qatar, with one of Angela Merkel’s ministers saying the Gulf monarchy was funding the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” terror group, and another attempting some sensitive World Cup wordplay

The German government said on Friday that it had no direct evidence of Qatar funding the so-called “Islamic State” (“IS”) group active in Iraq and Syria.

“If there were misunderstandings, we regret these,” foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer told reporters in Berlin, after Development Minister Gerd Müller told public broadcaster ZDF earlier in the week that efforts to cut off “IS” funding had the “keyword Qatar.”

Schäfer on Friday said that Qatar had contacted the government in Berlin over the comments, and called the Gulf monarchy an important partner for Germany. However, he said that there were several issues, “where we are not always of the same opinion.”

While the Independent notes that America’s closest Arab ally is still killing people for witchcraft:

Saudi Arabia executes 19 during one half of August in ‘disturbing surge of beheadings’

Saudi Arabia has beheaded at least 19 people since the beginning of August in a surge of executions, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said. The deaths relate to the period from 4 to 20 August and are included in the 34 deaths ordered since the beginning of January.

According to HRW, international standards require that capital punishment should only be reserved for the “most serious crimes” in countries that still use it.

Offences that resulted in the Saudi Arabian death penalties in August ranged from drug smuggling and sorcery.

And closer to home, the latest GOP cross-border xenophobia alert, via Mother Jones:

Iowa GOP Official Warns That Child Migrants Might Be Highly Trained “Warriors”

Iowa Republican National Committee member Tamara Scott has a special theory about the flood of child migrants entering the United States: What if they’re secretly ninjas?

Republican congressmen have previously argued that the 70,000 youths who will come across the border in 2014 are being brought over to bolster Democratic voter rolls at some point in the distant future, or that they are carrying a deadly disease that does not actually exist in their home countries. Scott, in a Thursday radio segment flagged by Right Wing Watch, sought to outdo them all:

For us just to open our borders it’s chaos we don’t know orderly who’s coming in, who’s not. When we see these kids, you and I think young kids, we think maybe 12-year-olds, maybe even…middle-schoolers. But we know back in our revolution, we had 12-year-olds fighting in our revolution. And for many of these kids, depending on where they’re coming from, they could be coming from other countries and be highly trained as warriors who will meet up with their group here and actually rise up against us as Americans. We have no idea what’s coming through our borders, but I would say biblically it’s not a Christian nation when you entice people to do wrong.

Wired threat level totes up another tab:

Personal Privacy Is Only One of the Costs of NSA Surveillance

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

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

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

And the Guardian raises grounds for real domestic insecurity:

Ferguson: officer relieved of duty after ‘black little perverts’ video surfaces

  • Dan Page, among the police working at Ferguson protests, is relieved after video emerges of him saying ‘I’m into diversity, I kill everybody’

A police officer involved in the protests over Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, has been relieved of his duty after video surfaced of him describing black people as “little perverts” and Barack Obama as an illegal immigrant.

Dan Page – who was seen live on CNN earlier this week threatening to arrest the network’s anchor Don Lemon – was recorded in April giving a speech in which he railed against Muslims and gay people, saying: “I’m into diversity – I kill everybody.”

Page is the second St Louis county officer to have been stood down in controversial circumstances surrounding the Ferguson protests. Lieutenant Ray Albers was suspended on Wednesday after video emerged of him pointing his assault weapon at protestors and threatening to kill them.

And closer to Casa esnl, more grounds for insecurity from the Fairfield, California, Daily Republic:

Fairfield cops under investigation for possible database checks on potential dates

A pair of veteran Fairfield police officers are under investigation for possible felony conduct relating to their trolling of personals dating websites while on duty and possibly using confidential law enforcement databases repeatedly to screen women they found appealing.

The officers, Sgt. Stephen Ruiz and Detective Jacob Glashoff, had their desktop computers, their laptop computers, their duty cellphones and a Fairfield police iPad seized by an internal affairs investigator in June, according to court documents filed Thursday. The equipment was turned over to the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force, which was joined in the investigation of the two officers by a data analyst with the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Analysis.

The investigation began in June when another detective reported to his superiors that some of his peers in the Investigations Bureau office at 1100 Texas St. were misusing the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System database. It connects to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and state and federal law enforcement records.

The Miami Herald makes a point with which we agree:

Miami-Dade mayor: ‘I want a camera on every police officer’

In the wake of national outrage over alleged police misconduct in Ferguson, Mo., Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Thursday vowed to make “body cameras” mandatory for all county patrol officers.

His proposed budget calls for purchasing 500 of the mini cameras, enough to outfit about half of Miami-Dade’s patrol force. Made by Taser, they’re small enough to snap onto a pair of glasses or a hat in order to record everything an officer sees.

“I want a camera on every police officer,” Gimenez told the audience at a budget town hall meeting in Little Haiti.

From TechWeekEurope, friends in high places for a high-security service otherwise often decried by governments aplenty:

Tor Is Being Kept Safe By Dissenting GCHQ And NSA Agents, Claims Project Director

  • Apparently a few of the government spies want to keep Tor anonymous and secure

Employees of the UK and US intelligence services have been helping the Tor network maintain anonymity of its users, claims Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project.

Lewman told the BBC that his development team regularly gets ‘tipped off’ when the National Security Agency (NSA) or Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) find a vulnerability that could compromise the security of the network.

“There are plenty of people in both organisations who can anonymously leak data to us to say – maybe you should look here, maybe you should look at this to fix this,” he said. “And they have.”

From the Guardian, a spooky blast from the past:

Botched Nazi spy mission was act of sabotage, says historian

  • German intelligence officials opposed to Hitler’s plans chose agents with poor English for Operation Lena, book suggests

Of the 12 spies who landed in Britain as part of Operation Lena in September 1940, most were arrested without having come closing to fulfilling their mission, and “because of their own stupidity”, as British official records put it. Why Germany sent such inept agents on one of the most important missions of the second world war has remained an enduring mystery.

A book published in Germany this summer comes up with a new explanation. In Operation Sealion: Resistance inside the Secret Service, the historian Monika Siedentopf argues that the botched spying mission was not the result of German incompetence, but a deliberate act of sabotage by a cadre of intelligence officials opposed to Hitler’s plans.

Siedentopf first became interested in the story of Operation Sealion – the German plan to invade Britain – while researching a book on the role of female spies during the war. For many other missions, German spies had been meticulously well-prepared, she noticed, so why not in 1940?

From Techdirt, censorship on campus:

University Bans Social Media, Political Content and Wikipedia Pages On Dorm WiFi

My understanding is that there was once a theory that America’s public universities were havens of free speech, political thought, and a center for the exchange of ideas. I must admit that this seems foreign to me. I’ve always experienced universities primarily as a group-think center mostly centered around college athletics. That said, if universities want to still claim to be at the forefront of idea and thought, they probably shouldn’t be censoring the hell out of what their students can access on the internet.

Yet, as btr1701 writes in about, that’s exactly what Northern Illinois University appears to be doing.

Northern Illinois University enacted an Acceptable Use Policy that goes further than banning torrents, also denying students access to social media sites and other content the university considers “unethical” or “obscene.” A discussion on the ban was brought to Reddit by user darkf who discovered the new policy while trying to access the Wikipedia page for the Westboro Baptist Church from his personal computer in his dorm room. The student received a filter message categorizing the page as “illegal or unethical.” It seems possible to continue to the webpage, but the message warns that all violations will be reviewed.

While DutchNews.nl resists a similar measure on a national scale:

Dutch minister opposes new law to criminalise ‘glorifying violence’

Justice minister Ivo Opstelten has rejected calls for the government to bring in a new law making it a crime to glorify terrorist violence.

Christian Democrat MPs have called for a change in the law following the murder of US journalist James Foley by the Islamic State. The government is currently not doing enough to tackle the problem, CDA leader Sybrand Buma said on Thursday.

Opstelten said in a reaction he is not in favour of the introduction of ‘thought police’. ‘There is freedom of expression,’ the minister is quoted as saying.

While the Mainichi covers a real domestic security threat:

Dominican Republic bans Miley Cyrus concert

The Dominican Republic government commission that oversees public performances is banning a Sept. 13 concert by Miley Cyrus on morality grounds.

The commission said in a statement Thursday that it took the action because Cyrus often “undertakes acts that go against morals and customs, which are punishable by Dominican law.”

Tickets ranging from $27 to $370 for the concert in the capital have been on sale since July.

PandoDaily covers a banner year:

Are the hackers winning? 2014 is shaping up as a record year in security breaches

Hackers have been busy in 2014. According to a Data Breach QuickView report by Risk Based Security (RBS), the first half of 2014 has already surpassed the record set across all of 2013 for the number of consumer records exposed.

The company writes, “Mid-year 2014 data breaches exposed over 502 million records far exceeding the mid-year point in 2013, the previous all-time record setting year… and the recently reported exposure of 1.2 billion email addresses and usernames has not been included.”

This news comes weeks after Target released an analysis of the cost of its 2013 breach which, at 110 million records exposed, was the seventh largest breach in history and and was surely among the most-widely publicized. The final tally: $148 million, plus an incalculable loss of consumer trust. The incident, and a confidence eroding response by management, also ended up cost the company its CEO and CIO.

More hackery news from RT:

User beware: Researchers have 92% success rate hacking into Gmail app

Your smartphone may be far less secure than you think. A group of computer scientists say they’ve found a way to hack into six out of seven popular apps like Gmail on Android, Windows and iOS platforms, with a success rate of up to 92 percent.

The weakness, which was discovered by researchers from the University of California Riverside, means they could get potentially sensitive information, such as looking at emails and changing passwords. Thankfully for unsuspecting citizens, the team says it has no interest in using any personal data, but will instead present its findings in a paper: “Peeking into Your App without Actually Seeing It: UI State Inference and Novel Android Attacks,” at the USENIX Security Symposium in San Diego on Friday.

The team believed they could find a fault in an app because so many are produced by so many different developers. Once a user downloads a number of apps to his or her smartphone they are all running on the same shared platform, or operating system. Therefore users leave themselves open to attacks as an Android phone allows itself to be hijacked or pre-empted.

Network World covers still more hackery:

US warns ‘significant number’ of major businesses hit by Backoff malware

Over a thousand major enterprise networks and small and medium businesses in the U.S. have been compromised by a recently discovered malware package called “Backoff” and are probably unaware of it, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a cybersecurity alert on Friday.

Backoff first appeared in October 2013 and is capable of scraping the memory contents of point of sales systems—industry speak for cash registers and other terminals used at store checkouts—for data swiped from credit cards, from monitoring the keyboard and logging keystrokes, from communicating with a remote server.

“Over the past year, the Secret Service has responded to network intrusions at numerous businesses throughout the United States that have been impacted by the “Backoff” malware,” the alert said. “Seven PoS system providers/vendors have confirmed that they have had multiple clients affected.”

Meanwhile, a privacy battle shapes up in Europe, via RT:

Facebook given deadline in ‘largest privacy class action in Europe’

Facebook has been given four weeks to respond to a class action, launched against it by an Austrian activist and supported by 60,000 users. The suit claims Facebook violated users’ privacy, by cooperating with the NSA’s PRISM program.

The class action initiated by Max Schrems, an Austrian lawyer, data privacy activist and founder of Europe vs. Facebook group has passed its first review in the Vienna Regional Court.

Facebook Ireland, which runs the social network’s activities outside the US and Canada, has been given four weeks to respond to the action.

BBC News covers a crackdown on aisle three:

Venezuela plans to introduce supermarket fingerprinting

President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela has announced a mandatory fingerprinting system in supermarkets to combat food shortages and smuggling.

He said the system would stop people from buying too much of a single item.

But the opposition in Venezuela rejected the plan, saying the policy treated all Venezuelans as thieves.

And Factor has Robocop, Mark I:

Bots on patrol: Mobile security robot to be mass produced

In a move that will rock the job security of night watchmen everywhere, the world’s first commercially available security robot is set for mass production in the US.

Designed by Denver-based Gamma 2 Robotics, the robot will now be manufactured entirely in the States, with a process that can be scaled up to full mass production as demand grows.

The robot, which is known as the Vigilant MCP (mobile camera platform), features a digital camera and an array of sensors to detect the presence of unauthorised intruders, and will activate the alarm and send out an alert should it find someone where they shouldn’t be.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including a call for a cyberwar treaty, talks in Karachi, a nautical seizure, a Chinese question, a Sino/American aerial close encounter, North Korean missiles ahead, tensions on the high seas, an Obama administration thumbs up for Japanese militarism, an anti-propaganda call in Japan, posturing by exercise, and still more turmoil over Japanese ethnic intolerance towards Koreans and that the ongoing crisis over Japanese reluctance to fully acknowledge World War II sex slavery. . .   Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, inequality, toxins, nukes


We open today’s coverage of stories about people, place, and their interaction with a much-needed report on an aspect of the Ebola crisis that’s received far too little notice.

From Democracy Now!:

“A Reflection of Growing Inequality”: Dr. Paul Farmer on the Deadly Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

Program notes:

As the death toll from the West African Ebola outbreak nears 1,400, two American missionaries who received experimental drugs and top-notch healthcare have been released from the hospital. We spend the hour with Partners in Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer discussing what can be done to stop the epidemic and the need to build local healthcare capacity, not just an emergency response. “The Ebola outbreak, which is the largest in history that we know about, is merely a reflection of the public health crisis in Africa and it’s about the lack of staff, stuff and systems that could protect populations, particularly those living in poverty, from outbreaks like this or other public health threats,” says Farmer, who has devoted his life to improving the health of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. He is a professor at Harvard Medical School and currently serves as the special advisor to the United Nations on community-based medicine. He has written several books including, “Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues.”

A longer version of the interview is posted online here.

Closer to Casa esnl, some good news, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Sacramento Ebola test comes back negative

Health officials announced Thursday night that a patient in Sacramento who was thought to have been exposed to the Ebola virus after traveling to West Africa has tested negative and does not have the disease.

Dr. Ron Chapman, Director of the California Department of Public Health, said that a blood sample sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came back free of the deadly virus, which has been ravishing West Africa over the last two months, killing more than 1,100 people.

The patient had recently traveled to the region, officials said.

Followed immediately by more bad news, first via BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Speed and extent of outbreak ‘unprecedented’

The World Health Organization has said the speed and extent of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “unprecedented”.

The WHO’s Dr Keiji Fukuda expressed concern over so-called “shadow zones”, areas which cannot be reached and where patients are not being detected.

Speaking at a news conference in the Liberian capital Monrovia, Dr Fukuda said combating the disease would take “several months of hard work”.

“We haven’t seen an Ebola outbreak covering towns, rural areas so quickly and over such a wide area,” he added.

CBC News has the numbers:

Ebola epidemic’s death toll rises to 1,427

  • Ebola ‘road map’ in the works to fight outbreak for 6 to 9 months, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib says

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has led to 1,427 deaths out of 2,615 known cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

In its latest update, the WHO reported 142 new laboratory-confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola and 77 more deaths from four affected countries — Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Al Jazeera America adds another caution:

Ebola virus may not be contained in Nigeria as two more cases emerge

  • The development comes as African nations have tightened travel restrictions against WHO’s advice

Two new cases of Ebola have emerged in Nigeria and, they are outside the group of caregivers who treated an airline passenger who arrived with Ebola and died, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said Friday.

The two are spouses of a man and woman who had direct contact with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, who flew into Nigeria last month with the virus and infected 11 others before he died in July, including the male and female caregiver who both subsequently died of Ebola, Chukwu told reporters in Abuja, the capital.

Nigerian officials initially claimed the risk of exposure to others was minimal because Sawyer was whisked into isolation after arriving at the airport. But Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris later acknowledged that Sawyer was not immediately quarantined the first day.

More from Reuters:

WHO warns of ‘shadow zones’, hidden cases in Ebola outbreak

The scale of the world’s worst Ebola outbreak has been concealed by families hiding infected loved ones in their homes and the existence of “shadow zones” that medics cannot enter, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The U.N. agency issued a statement detailing why the outbreak in West Africa had been underestimated, following criticism that it had moved too slowly to contain the killer virus, now spreading out of control.

Independent experts raised similar concerns a month ago that the contagion could be worse than reported because suspicious local inhabitants are chasing away health workers and shunning treatment.

Under-reporting of cases is a problem especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The WHO said it was now working with Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to produce “more realistic estimates”.

The Guardian covers a consequence:

Ebola has caused Liberia’s cauldron of dissatisfaction to boil over

  • Relations between the Liberian state and its citizens were already in crisis before the Ebola outbreak made things much worse

“We dodged bullets during the war, now Ebola is going to kill us?” my aunt asked me in distress one evening in mid-July, as we sat commiserating at my house on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.

Back then, Ebola seemed like a looming threat in the way that armed conflict had 15 years earlier. But by the end of the month, the Liberian government had declared a state of emergency and, days later, the World Health Organisation designated the Ebola outbreak in west Africa an international health emergency. Ebola has now killed more than 1,000 people, with the number of deaths in Liberia surpassing those in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Yet before the highly infectious disease permeated Liberia’s borders from neighbouring Guinea in March, the country was plagued by a crisis of citizenship. Relations between the Liberian state and its citizens were already volatile.

The Guardian covers First World fear:

Fear and false alarms as Ebola puts Europe on alert

  • After the death of a Spanish missionary who contracted the virus in Liberia, European authorities are taking no chances

There has been only one confirmed Ebola case in Europe since the epidemic broke out in Africa, but a string of false alarms has provoked jitters and charges of overreaction.

From Austria to Ireland, Spain to Germany, there have been at least a dozen cases of west Africans with mild flu symptoms being isolated until it was established that they were not suffering from Ebola. The only recorded case involved a Spanish missionary who contracted the virus in Liberia and died after he had returned to Spain.

In Spain, worries over Ebola have resulted in three false alarms in as many days.

From TheLocal.fr, airborne alarm:

Ebola: Cabin crew told to boycott Air France flights

Pressure mounted on Air France to suspend flights to West Africa on Friday when a trade union called on cabin crew to refuse to board planes to Ebola hit countries. It comes after panic spread through a Paris flight earlier this week.

A trade union representing Air France cabin crew has told its members to refuse to board planes bound for West African countries hit by Ebola.

The UGICT –CGT union said crew were not sufficiently protected against contamination from Ebola and they should boycott flights bound to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

TheLocal.it covers another alarm:

Italian woman in suspected Ebola case

An Italian woman travelling from Nigeria on Friday was stopped at Istanbul airport in a suspected Ebola case, Turkish media reported.

The Italian woman had a high fever and was put under medical supervision on arrival at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Cihan news agency reported.

She had travelled on a Turkish Airlines flight from Kano in Nigeria, where there have been 12 confirmed cases and four deaths of the Ebola virus.

The woman was taken from the airport to Istanbul’s Haseki Training and Research Hospital, Cihan said.

BBC News covers another consequence:

Ebola crisis: Senegal defends Guinea border closure

Senegal has defended the closure of its border with Guinea because of the Ebola outbreak, despite warnings that such measures are counterproductive.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says travel bans do not work.

Senegal’s Health Minister Dr Eva Marie Colle Seck told the BBC the travel ban would not affect humanitarian flights, and that the WHO was “learning, like everybody [else]”.

In Liberia, a boy of 16 shot while protesting about a quarantine has died.

CBC News gets proactive:

Ebola treatment of Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol holds lessons for others

  • Replace fluid and electroytes, U.S. doctor advices colleagues treating Ebola patients in Africa

Two Americans who recovered from Ebola virus infections are contributing to doctors’ understanding of the deadly disease, a physician who treated them says.

Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were infected with the Ebola virus in Liberia while working for Christian aid groups.

They were evacuated from Liberia, treated for three weeks at a hospital in Atlanta and discharged this week.

And The Hill reassures:

FDA seeks to dispel Ebola outbreak fears

The Food and Drug Administration has posted a Web page with quick facts about the Ebola virus and the outbreak in West Africa in order to fight misconceptions about the disease permeating the general public.

“Currently, there are no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola,” the FDA says on its page. “Ebola does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public.”

The FDA plans to update the page with its ongoing assessments of the disease and has provided information for the public to report fake Ebola drugs and vaccines, which have been a major concern for the agency.

While health officials have repeatedly said there is virtually no risk of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S., 4 in 10 people are concerned there will be a large outbreak, and a quarter of people are worried they or a loved one will be infected within the next year according to a new survey by Harvard University.

And that old metadata surfaces anew in another context, via MIT Technology Review:

Cell-Phone Data Might Help Predict Ebola’s Spread

  • Mobility data from an African mobile-phone carrier could help researchers recommend where to focus health-care efforts

A West African mobile carrier has given researchers access to data gleaned from cell phones in Senegal, providing a window into regional population movements that could help predict the spread of Ebola. The current outbreak is so far known to have killed at least 1,350 people, mainly in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

The model created using the data is not meant to lead to travel restrictions, but rather to offer clues about where to focus preventive measures and health care. Indeed, efforts to restrict people’s movements, such as Senegal’s decision to close its border with Guinea this week, remain extremely controversial.

Orange Telecom made “an exceptional authorization in support of Ebola control efforts,” according to Flowminder, the Swedish nonprofit that analyzed the data. “If there are outbreaks in other countries, this might tell what places connected to the outbreak location might be at increased risk of new outbreaks,” says Linus Bengtsson, a medical doctor and cofounder of Flowminder, which builds models of population movements using cell-phone data and other sources.

Meanwhile, the London Daily Mail evokes another specter:

Will climate change cause a rise in dengue fever? Holidaymakers visiting Italy and Spain could be at risk

  • Risk of dengue fever in Europe is likely to increase, researchers claim
  • Dengue is a viral infection carried and spread by mosquitoes
  • Thrive in warm, humid conditions, which could include areas in Europe
  • This is dependent on climate change continuing on its current trajectory
  • Italy’s Po Valley and areas in southern Spain are at risk
  • University of East Anglia’s research is based on data collected in Mexico

On to other environmental news, first with an Al Jazeera America story that evokes concerns raised by Paul Farmer much closer to home:

Alabama community alleges race bias over toxic landfill site

  • Coal ash from earlier environmental disaster is causing health concerns for poor African-American residents

Five-and-a-half years have passed since an earthen dam holding toxic coal ash from a coal plant failed in Harriman, Tenn., spilling more than a billion gallons of the ash into rivers and forests, and destroying several homes. The TVA Kingston Fossil Plant disaster was widely considered one of the worst in U.S. history, or at least one of the biggest by volume. And it’s still causing headaches, hundreds of miles away.

Last week, Environmental Protection Agency investigators traveled to Uniontown, Ala., to interview residents and activists who say a local landfill that accepted much of the Tennessee coal ash is polluting air and water sources nearby, causing people who live in the area to become sick. The residents of the poor, predominantly black area say they are being unfairly burdened with the literal remnants of a disaster they had nothing to do with.

“The landfill is a hill, a mountain, and it’s scary,” said Esther Calhoun, a 51-year-old resident that has lived in Uniontown for most of her life. “Who wants to live in a place that might be bad for your health? But most of us are on a fixed income. We’re stuck here.”

After the jump, endangered species under threat from palm oil logging, claims of plankton alive in space, fire ants invade Hawaii, too much gas in North Dakota, mine fires in Pennsylvania, and the latest chapter of the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: Fukushima’s deadly legacy


From a superb report in Time on the status of Fukushima by Hannah Beech:

Fukushima’s fallout continues to claim victims. Nearly 20,000 -people—-mostly in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures but also in Fukushima -prefecture—were killed by the earthquake and tsunami. Yet only in Fukushima, the epicenter of the nuclear catastrophe, does the number of people who the Japanese government says have since died from causes indirectly linked to the natural disaster now exceed the initial death toll. Stress, both physical and mental, has led to a rise in suicides.

About 125,000 Fukushima residents, most of whom used to reside within an 18-mile (30 km) radius of the nuclear station, still exist as evacuees because their homes are within a government-mandated exclusion zone. Some now subsist in prefab units more evocative of a third-world disaster zone than the world’s third largest economy. In June the Ministry of Environment admitted that decontamination efforts in some towns near the stricken plant had failed; residents cannot return, even if they want to. Fear has infected other neighborhoods as parents wonder whether the radiation clouds that spewed out of the ruined reactors in the days following the tsunami harmed their children. At the disabled plant itself, many experienced employees have reached the official limit on maximum dosages of -radiation—-leaving critical work in less skilled hands.

Despite all this, the Japanese government’s message to the world is, Trust us. Last year Prime Minister Abe visited Fukushima, flashed a grin and bit into a locally grown peach to prove that the area’s -produce—an economic -mainstay—was safe to eat. Shortly after his fruit tasting, Abe traveled to Buenos Aires and gave a speech that propelled Tokyo to victory as the host of the 2020 Summer Olympics. “Let me assure you the situation is under control,” he said. But is it? “This was a grave accident in which many mistakes were made,” says Haruo Kurasawa, one of Japan’s foremost TV commentators on nuclear issues. “But no one has gone to jail, and no one wants to take responsibility. Everyone still wants to look the other way. Nothing has really changed.”

Read the rest.

InSecurityWatch: Media, malarkey, spies, zones


An explanatory note: If you’re wondering why we don’t give more coverage of the events in the Mideast, it’s because those stories are getting wide play, while we tend to focus more on seeking patterns in events that gain widespread attention only sporadically or are otherwise neglected.

First up, via The Intercept, a crucial question in an increasingly Orwellian mediascape:

Should Twitter, Facebook and Google Executives be the Arbiters of What We See and Read?

This week, the announcement by Twitter CEO Dick Costolo that the company would prohibit the posting of the James Foley beheading video and photos from it (and suspend the accounts of anyone who links to the video) met with overwhelming approval. What made that so significant, as The Guardian’s James Ball noted today, was that “Twitter has promoted its free speech credentials aggressively since the network’s inception.” By contrast, Facebook has long actively regulated what its users are permitted to say and read; at the end of 2013, the company reversed its prior ruling and decided that posting of beheading videos would be allowed, but only if the user did not express support for the act.

Given the savagery of the Foley video, it’s easy in isolation to cheer for its banning on Twitter. But that’s always how censorship functions: it invariably starts with the suppression of viewpoints which are so widely hated that the emotional response they produce drowns out any consideration of the principle being endorsed.

It’s tempting to support criminalization of, say, racist views as long as one focuses on one’s contempt for those views and ignores the serious dangers of vesting the state with the general power to create lists of prohibited ideas. That’s why free speech defenders such as the ACLU so often represent and defend racists and others with heinous views in free speech cases: because that’s where free speech erosions become legitimized in the first instance when endorsed or acquiesced to.

The question posed by Twitter’s announcement is not whether you think it’s a good idea for people to see the Foley video. Instead, the relevant question is whether you want Twitter, Facebook and Google executives exercising vast power over what can be seen and read.

From the New York Times, an indictee, making political capital:

Perry Says Terrorists Could Be Entering the U.S. From Mexico

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas warned Thursday that militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other terrorist groups may have already slipped across the Mexican border.

Mr. Perry said there is “no clear evidence” that terrorists have entered the United States illegally across the southern border. But he argued that illegal immigration should be considered a national security issue as well as a social and economic problem, and as evidence he cited the increase in violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

“I think there is the obvious, great concern that — because of the condition of the border from the standpoint of it not being secure and us not knowing who is penetrating across — that individuals from ISIS or other terrorist states could be,” he said during a conference on border security and immigration at the Heritage Foundation.

Homeland Security News Wire covers a familiar tale [as when Reagan/Bush I armed Jihadists to fight communists in Afghanistan:

Kurdish group on U.S. terrorist list now ally in fight against ISIS

Factions long held to be “terrorists” by the United States government are now being seen as allies as they fight against an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) advance into the traditionally Kurdish areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have waged guerilla warfare in Turkey for several decades, and have been seen as terrorists by much of the world community — until recently. The PKK is now being seen as a valuable ally in the fight against ISIS.

Factions long held to be “terrorists” by the United States government are now being seen as allies as they fight against an Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) advance into the traditionally Kurdish areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria.

From the Guardian, more of that good old-fashioned blowback:

Pentagon: Isis is ‘beyond anything we’ve seen’ and must be contained

  • Defence chiefs describe militants as ‘apocalyptic’ group that will need to be defeated but maintain limited strikes are sufficient

Senior Pentagon officials described the Islamic State (Isis) militant group as an “apocalyptic” organisation that posed an “imminent threat” on Thursday, yet the highest ranking officer in the US military said that in the short term, it was sufficient for the United States to “contain” the group that has reshaped the map of Iraq and Syria.

Army general Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, told reporters in a Pentagon briefing that while Isis would eventually have to be defeated, the US should concentrate on building allies in the region to oppose the group that murdered an American journalist, James Foley.

“It is possible to contain them,” Dempsey said, in a Pentagon press conference alongside the defense secretary, Chuck Hagel. “They can be contained, but not in perpetuity. This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated.”

TechWeekEurope takes us into the realm of unalloyed crime in the cybersphere:

UPS Hacked, Customer Financial Data Could Be Compromised

  • The world’s largest package-shipping company says it found malware at 51 retail outlets in the US

United Parcel Service (UPS) has revealed that earlier this year, hackers breached computer systems at 51 of its brick-and-mortar retail outlets across 24 US states, giving them the opportunity to steal customer data, including financial information.

The company didn’t specify the number of customers who might be affected, or the type of malware used in the attack. It also said it doesn’t plan to notify affected customers directly.

“As soon as we became aware of the potential malware intrusion, we deployed extensive resources to quickly address and eliminate this issue. Our customers can be assured that we have identified and fully contained the incident,” said Tim Davis, president of UPS Store.

And Defense One covers a new vein of cash for the publisher of the Washington Post:

Amazon Expands Its Cloud Services to the U.S. Military

Amazon Web Services has become the first commercial cloud provider authorized to handle the Defense Department’s most sensitive unclassified data.

Today’s announcement that AWS has achieved a provisional authority to operate under DOD’s cloud security model at impact levels 3-5 is a major win for the company, as it allows DOD customers to provision commercial cloud services for the largest chunks of their data.

And on to the latest chapter of the Asian Games of Zones, with ongoing tension in Pakistan, India border troubles [external and internal] and new arms orders and a new combat force to add muscle to rhetoric, a Chinese/Korean border buildup, Thai coup consolidation, a Sino/Canadian spooky spat, Korean/Japanese tensions, Japan goes stealthy, a Chinese hypersonic warhead delivery test fail, and yet more “comfort women” agita. . . Continue reading