An extra-long edition today because, well, there’s a lot of ground to cover, ranging from the latest Obama idiocy revelation to the last developments in the Asian Game of Zones.
We open with the Obamanation, via the Guardian:
USAID programme used young Latin Americans to incite Cuba rebellion
- HIV workshop was ‘perfect excuse’ for political goals
- Revelations follow failure of ‘Cuban Twitter’ effort
An Obama administration programme secretly dispatched young Latin Americans to Cuba using the cover of health and civic programs to provoke political change, a clandestine operation that put those foreigners in danger even after a US contractor was sent to a Cuban jail.
Beginning as early as October 2009, a project overseen by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sent Venezuelan, Costa Rican and Peruvian young people to Cuba in hopes of ginning up rebellion. The travelers worked undercover, often posing as tourists, and traveled around the island scouting for people they could turn into political activists.
In one case, the workers formed an HIV-prevention workshop that memos called “the perfect excuse” for the programme’s political goals – a gambit that could undermine America’s efforts to improve health globally.
But their efforts were fraught with incompetence and risk, an Associated Press investigation found. Cuban authorities questioned who was bankrolling the travelers. The young workers nearly blew their mission to “identify potential social-change actors”. One said he got a paltry, 30-minute seminar on how to evade Cuban intelligence, and there appeared to be no safety net for the inexperienced workers if they were caught.
International Business Times gets close to the crux of the matter, given that earlier use of polio vaccination programs in Pakistan have played a major role in the resurgence of the disease:
How USAID Cuba Revelations May Threaten Global Health Programs
It’s getting harder for the United States to keep its secrets when it comes to democracy-promotion programs in Cuba. The Associated Press revealed this week a U.S. International Development Agency-funded operation to spur antigovernment activism among Cubans, this time through an HIV-prevention program. U.S. lawmakers and health advocates are lambasting USAID’s use of a health program for political ends, saying it puts the U.S.’s other global health and development programs at risk.
“This blatant deception undermines U.S. credibility abroad and endangers U.S. government-supported public health programs, which have saved millions of lives in recent years around the world,” said Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, in a statement Monday. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont also said the program “tarnishes USAID’s long track record as a leader in global health.”
Global aid network InterAction also told the Associated Press that the United States “should never sacrifice delivering basic health services or civic programs to advance an intelligence goal.”
And the latest leak from the Intercept:
Barack Obama’s Secret Terrorist-Tracking System, by the Numbers
Nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s widely shared database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group, according to classified government documents obtained by The Intercept.
Of the 680,000 people caught up in the government’s Terrorist Screening Database—a watchlist of “known or suspected terrorists” that is shared with local law enforcement agencies, private contractors, and foreign governments—more than 40 percent are described by the government as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” That category—280,000 people—dwarfs the number of watchlisted people suspected of ties to al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah combined.
The documents, obtained from a source in the intelligence community, also reveal that the Obama Administration has presided over an unprecedented expansion of the terrorist screening system. Since taking office, Obama has boosted the number of people on the no fly list more than ten-fold, to an all-time high of 47,000—surpassing the number of people barred from flying under George W. Bush.
Here’s the chart accompanying the article:
And from PandoDaily, a spoilsport story:
“That was our bad.” US government “spoils” the Intercept’s scoop, tips off rival outlet
According to a report by the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) had “spoiled the scoop,” tipping off the AP that the Intercept was preparing a story.
Why would the government care? Grim explains:
To spoil a scoop, the subject of a story, when asked for comment, tips off a different, typically friendlier outlet in the hopes of diminishing the attention the first outlet would have received. Tuesday’s AP story was much friendlier to the government’s position, explaining the surge of individuals added to the watch list as an ongoing response to a foiled terror plot.
A source told Grim that the Intercept promptly hopped on a conference call with the NCTC after the stories hit, during which an official reportedly said the agency did not expect the AP reporter, Eileen Sullivan, to publish her story first. “That was our bad,” the official added, which is perhaps the greatest mea culpa from a government official in US history.
The Verge covers the source:
US officials say someone else is leaking documents in the wake of Snowden
- New documents shed light on US terror watch list, revealing almost half the people on it don’t have any known connections to terror groups
Almost a year since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaked information was first revealed to the world, US officials today confirmed to CNN a new leaker is responsible for providing additional secret documents to The Intercept. The Intercept is an investigative website cofounded by Glenn Greenwald, the reporter to whom Snowden entrusted the bulk of his documents, and it has recently been publishing a series on the inner workings of the US government’s terror watch list. Just today, The Intercept published a new article based on leaked information indicating that 40 percent of the 680,000 total people listed on the watch list have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.”
The documents, which The Intercept reported were leaked by someone within the intelligence community, further show that the separate “no fly” list banning people from air travel has expanded under President Obama to include 47,000 names, the highest number since the list was created in 2001. The new information raises the question of why 280,000 names remain on the terrorist watch list if there isn’t evidence linking them to specific terror groups. Are all of these people potentially homegrown terrorists, or are they part of groups that the government hasn’t identified yet, or perhaps they have shown interest in terror groups but haven’t joined them?
Newsweek covers another source of insecurity:
Israel Flagged as Top Spy Threat to U.S. in New Snowden/NSA Document
Israel was singled out in 2007 as a top espionage threat against the U.S. government, including its intelligence services, in a newly published National Security Agency (NSA) document obtained by fugitive leaker Edward Snowden, according to a news report Monday.
The document also identified Israel, along with North Korea, Cuba and India, as a “leading threat” to the infrastructure of U.S. financial and banking institutions.
The threats were listed in the NSA’s 2007 Strategic Mission List, according to the document obtained by journalist/activist Glenn Greenwald, a founding editor of The Intercept, an online magazine that has a close relationship with Snowden, a former NSA and CIA contractor who fled the U.S. with thousands of top-secret documents last year.
From RT, an emergence:
Snowden makes first public appearance, secretly visits Moscow’s Bolshoi theatre
The US whistleblower Edward Snowden has visited Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in his first public appearance since coming to Russia a year ago. Reporters were hardly able to recognize the former CIA employee without his signature look glasses.
The NSA whistleblower apparently decided to mark a year of asylum in Russia by making a public appearance. He attended the Tsar’s Bride opera in Moscow’s historic Bolshoi Theatre.
Snowden slipped in almost unnoticed. He sat in one of the theatre’s boxes, admiring Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera that recounts a tragic love story during the time of Ivan the Terrible’s reign in Russia.
The Hill gets wiki’d:
House staffer edited Wikipedia page to label Snowden a ‘traitor’
Someone working on a House computer updated Wikipedia to call government leaker Edward Snowden an “American traitor who defected to Russia” on Tuesday.
The change, which was picked up by a Twitter account that automatically notes edits from congressional Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, occurred on the Wikipedia page for United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
Last month, Pillay said that the world owes a “great deal” to Snowden and called him a “human rights defender.”
And from Down Under via the Guardian, another victory for the spooky panotpicon:
Data retention proposal revealed to media before cabinet
- Ministers understood to hold strongly differing views on retaining metadata as part of national security legislation
Federal cabinet has been caught unawares by media reports of a national security committee plan to require telecommunications companies to retain customers’ metadata for at least two years.
Cabinet is likely to be briefed on Tuesday morning about the plan, but had no knowledge a decision had been taken before it was revealed in the Daily Telegraph newspaper. The issue is not on the formal cabinet agenda.
Telecommunications companies had not been briefed on the decision before it was revealed in the media and were frantically seeking information on Tuesday morning, although they have responded to several parliamentary inquiries on the issue.
And back to the U.S. for the latest Obama cover-up push via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:
Obama officials, Senate intelligence panel spar over deletions from torture report
The Obama administration and the Senate Intelligence Committee are sparring over the administration’s deletions of fake names from the public version of a long-awaited report on the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods on suspected terrorists, McClatchy has learned.
The outcome of the debate could impact the clarity and narrative flow of the report, the product of the most intensive congressional investigation of CIA operations since lawmakers examined the agency’s role in the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal of the Reagan presidency.
“Redactions are supposed to remove names or anything that could compromise sources and methods, not to undermine the source material so that it is impossible to understand,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., a member of the committee, said Sunday in a statement. “Try reading a novel with 15 percent of the words blacked out. It can’t be done properly.”
And yet another, even more ridiculous coverup try, via DeepLinks:
UNSEALED: The US Sought Permission To Change The Historical Record Of A Public Court Proceeding
A few weeks ago we fought a battle for transparency in our flagship NSA spying case, Jewel v. NSA. But, ironically, we weren’t able to tell you anything about it until now.
On June 6, the court held a long hearing in Jewel in a crowded, open courtroom, widely covered by the press. We were even on the local TV news on two stations. At the end, the Judge ordered both sides to request a transcript since he ordered us to do additional briefing. But when it was over, the government secretly, and surprisingly sought permission to “remove” classified information from the transcript, and even indicated that it wanted to do so secretly, so the public could never even know that they had done so.
We rightly considered this an outrageous request and vigorously opposed it. The public has a First Amendment right not only to attend the hearing but to have an accurate transcript of it. Moreover, the federal law governing court reporting requires that “each session of the court” be “recorded verbatim” and that the transcript be certified by the court reporter as “a correct statement of the testimony taken and the proceedings had.” 28 U.S.C. § 753(b).
The Court allowed the government a first look at the transcript and indicated that it was going to hold the government to a very high standard and would not allow the government to manufacture a misleading transcript by hiding the fact of any redactions. Ultimately, the government said that it had *not* revealed classified information at the hearing and removed its request. But the incident speaks volumes about the dangers of allowing the government free rein to claim secrecy in court proceedings and otherwise.
We couldn’t tell you anything about that fight because the government’s request, our opposition to it, and the court’s order regarding it were all sealed. But with today’s order by Judge White, the transcript and the arguments over the government’s request to revise it are finally public documents.
Meanwhile, the war on photography continues, as Techdirt reports:
Documents Show 100 Officers From 28 Law Enforcement Agencies Accessed A Photographer’s Records
- from the the-First-Amendment-right-to-be-hassled-endlessly dept
Here’s what exercising your First Amendment rights gets you in certain parts of the US. Photographer Jeff Gray has been filming cops and photographing public structures, as well as documenting the reactions of law enforcement to his activities.
The Department of Homeland Security apparently felt Gray was enough of a “threat” that it opened an investigation on him. After scrutinizing publicly-available information (like Gray’s own YouTube account), it came to the conclusion that his activities were completely protected… it just didn’t like the way he acted.
This subject is exercising his first amendment rights, however the manner in which he lures the officers in is concerning.
Well, you can’t be “lured” if you just respect citizens’ rights — rights that were recently upheld by a Supreme Court decision. Despite the DHS declaring Gray’s actions perfectly fine, local law enforcement officers still took it upon themselves to send social services to his home (after being “tipped” that Gray owned guns) and interviewing his kids at school without his knowledge.
And from Homeland Security News Wire, a major shift in the top threat as seen by cops across the country:
U.S. law enforcement agencies perceive Sovereign citizen movement as top terrorist threat
Sovereign citizen, Islamist extremist, and militia/patriot groups are perceived by law enforcement agencies to pose the greatest threats to their communities, according to a new study from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). While sovereign citizens were the top concern of law enforcement, assessments about whether most groups were a serious terrorist threat actually declined for most groups (for example, the KKK; Christian Identity; Neo-Nazis; Racist Skinheads; Environmental Extremists; Animal Rights Extremists) when compared to a previous study.
START researchers David Carter, Steven Chermak, Jeremy Carter, and Jack Drew recently conducted in-depth surveys with more than 364 officers representing 175 state, local, and tribal (SLT) law enforcement agencies to examine perceptions of: the threat of terrorism; the nature of information-sharing; and whether agencies are prepared to deal with terrorist attacks. Their results are published in Understanding Law Enforcement Intelligence Processes.
A START release reports that the Sovereign Citizen movement was the most highly ranked threat, with 86 percent of respondents agreeing or strongly agreeing that it was a serious terrorist threat. This is a significant increase in ranking from an earlier survey implemented in 2006-2007, which showed Islamist extremists to be law enforcement’s top concern at the time. In that survey, approximately 67 percent agreed or strongly agreed that Islamist extremists were a serious terrorist threat.
Here’s the breakdown from the report [PDF]. Click on it to embiggen:
Next, as at home, Obama’s bucks-and-bombs Realpolitick trumps Hope™ and Change™ in Africa, via the Guardian:
Africa leaders’ summit: why human rights are off Obama’s agenda
- As much of the continent’s leadership meets in Washington, security and trade have trumped pressing issues ranging from suppression of democracy to the criminalising of gay people
Barack Obama has had plenty to say about human rights in Africa over the years but the issue is glaringly absent from this week’s summit with much of the continent’s leadership in Washington.
Activists have taken to reminding Obama of his own soaring rhetoric about the one item not on an agenda that takes in trade and conflict, health and even how to combat of wildlife trafficking.
On his visits to Africa Obama has spoken about human rights with a passion rarely heard from earlier US presidents. “History offers a clear verdict: governments that respect the will of their own people, that govern by consent and not coercion, are more prosperous, they are more stable, and more successful than governments that do not,” he told Ghana’s parliament in 2009.
And from Europe, drones ahoy via TheLocal.dk:
Danish drones want to soar above the rest
- A drone test centre in Odense is positioning itself to take advantage of the rapid growth in the unmanned aircraft market.
The skies of the future will be filled with drones and Denmark wants to lead the way.
An EU Commission report from April predicted bright times ahead for the European drone market.
“The technology for drones is maturing and the market for civil drones is evolving fast. On some estimates in the next ten years civil drones could be worth ten percent of the aviation market. That’s 15 billion euro per year,” a commission report read. “Drones manufacturing may create up to 150,000 European jobs by 2050.”
And a global hackery alert from Mint Press News:
Over 2 Billion Smartphones Are Hacker-Friendly
- Researchers reveal a smartphone security vulnerability that puts the data and private communiques of millions at risk of being hacked and stolen.
In 2013, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that, for the first time, most American adults own a smartphone. With 55 percent of the survey’s respondents using either an iPhone or an Android-enabled device, and with only 44 percent indicating they do not use a microcomputer-based cellphone, it’s apparent that smartphones have become an integral part of everyday life for many.
Two researchers from Accuvant Labs — Matthew Skolnik and Marc Blanchou — have discovered, however, that this dependency on smartphones has put the data and private communiques of millions at risk of being stolen. Utilizing device management software that carriers and phone manufacturers embed into mobile devices for remote servicing, the researchers have discovered that by using a femtocell and a third-party software package, a hacker can remotely and covertly install malicious code into a device and take it over — something that could potentially affect over two billion smartphones worldwide.
A femtocell is a privately-owned small-range cellular-to-broadband connector used to extend cellular range in a residence or business. They are typically available for sale from the major wireless carriers and retailers for $150 to $250, and are thought to offer “5-bars” reception to any device located within 10 meters.
Another one, from Nextgov:
Invisible Web Infection Poses Threat to Federal Computers
A surge of malicious software hit news media websites during the first half of 2014, unleashing a threat to federal agencies that rely on those sites to get information, cybersecurity researchers say.
Media networks were almost four times as likely to attract malware as the average enterprise network, likely because of an increasingly popular hacking tactic called “malvertising,” according to a new Cisco threat intelligence report.
Web publications are magnets for online ads that harbor malware and pass it on to readers. The media industry depends on advertising for revenue, but ads are hardly ever vetted for subversive code.
The Verge confronts the bleak reality:
The internet doesn’t care about security
- Paypal’s two-factor problems are the rule, not the exception
Companies rarely care about security, even if various people within the companies do. Good security is expensive. It often means structuring your service in a certain way that pushes users through an extra step or two, and that’s a sacrifice most companies simply don’t want to make.
Paypal’s bug is a great example. Paypal wanted to make it easy for eBay users to link their accounts, so the company set up a special cookie that identified anyone coming in from eBay. As it turned out, that cookie also let Rogers bypass Paypal’s two-factor protections. Fixing it should be simple, just disable the cookie and make eBay users log in the old-fashioned way. But if PayPal did that, fewer users would link the accounts and it would cost the company money — more money than they’re likely to lose as a result of this bug. Given the choice between security and usability, companies will take usability every time.
This is the central problem of every vulnerability report: researchers want to fix it and companies don’t. I’m usually more sympathetic to the security side, but the companies have a point too. It’s hard to make software with no vulnerabilities, just like it’s hard to make a door that can’t be broken into. As security ramps up, diminishing returns set in fast. You could put a three-inch steel door on your house, but it would be ugly and heavy and you don’t want to. Instead, you trust that no one will want to kick in your door. Aside from once-in-a-generation bugs like Heartbleed, most security failures don’t have much fallout, particularly for the companies that spawn them. Six months later, it’s hard to argue that Goto-Fail had much effect on Apple’s bottom line.
And from the New York Times, another massive hack attack:
Russian Gang Amasses Over a Billion Internet Passwords
A Russian crime ring has amassed the largest known collection of stolen Internet credentials, including 1.2 billion username and password combinations and more than 500 million email addresses, security researchers say.
The records, discovered by Hold Security, a firm in Milwaukee, include confidential material gathered from 420,000 websites, ranging from household names to small Internet sites. Hold Security has a history of uncovering significant hacks, including the theft last year of tens of millions of records from Adobe Systems.
Hold Security would not name the victims, citing nondisclosure agreements and a reluctance to name companies whose sites remained vulnerable. At the request of The New York Times, a security expert not affiliated with Hold Security analyzed the database of stolen credentials and confirmed it was authentic. Another computer crime expert who had reviewed the data, but was not allowed to discuss it publicly, said some big companies were aware that their records were among the stolen information.
Meanwhile, the Big Box goes Big Brother, via CBC News:
Robin Walsh upset Wal-Mart withheld ‘inappropriate’ baby photos
- Wal-Mart ‘deeply regrets’ any inconvenience for Gander, N.L., teacher and mother of 2
A mother in central Newfoundland says she was surprised and upset when a Wal-Mart employee said she couldn’t pick up her photos because they were flagged as “inappropriate” by a processing technician.
Robin Walsh, a mother of two and a teacher in Gander, said she dropped off a batch of roughly 100 photos to be processed at the local Wal-Mart, but an employee refused to return three of them. “Initially I laughed, especially when I saw what photos they were referring to, ‘cause I kind of thought that it was a joke, but I was surprised,” said Walsh.
Two of the photos were of Walsh’s infant daughter holding an empty beer bottle. Another picture showed her daughter and five-year-old son lying partially naked on their stomachs before a bath.
Paris gets its own version of the French Connection heist, via France 24:
€2.5 million in cocaine ‘disappears’ from Paris police HQ
French investigators have launched an inquiry after more than 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of seized cocaine, worth approximately €2.5 million, went missing from the Paris police headquarters, French media reported Friday.
The cocaine, which was seized in multiple police raids in northern Paris in early July, had been stored in a special room secured with an armoured door at the imposing Paris police headquarters located at 36 quai des Orfèvres in the heart of the French capital, just steps away from famed Paris monuments such as Notre Dame.
According to the French daily Le Parisien, the cocaine was last seen on 23 July. The disappearance was reported Thursday and an investigation was immediately launched.
On to Russia, and another casualty of the war on the press, via the Guardian:
Russian journalist’s body found after disappearance
The body of an independent Russian journalist was found in a wood the day after he had gone missing following threats from law enforcement authorities.
Timur Kuashev worked for the magazine Dosh (or Dosch) as its correspondent in Nalchik, the capital of the autonomous Kabardino-Balkar republic in the Russian Caucasus.
His body was found on Friday (1 August) in a wood near the Nalchik suburb of Khasania after he went missing the previous evening. There were no visible signs of violence. At the time of his burial on Saturday, the results of an autopsy to determine the cause of his death were unknown.
Kuashev had written about alleged human rights abuses by the security forces in the course of anti-terrorism operations. He also criticised Russian policy in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Business Insider sounds an alert from Moscow:
Russia Calls For Emergency UN Security Council Meeting As Troops Fortify On The Border
Russia called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday over what it called an urgent humanitarian situation in Ukraine, according to a report from the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.
“We are convening an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine,” Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed “readiness” to discuss its plan to deploy a “humanitarian mission” to Ukraine, which some consider to be a pretext for an invasion by Russian forces.
After the jump, the latest from the ever-intensifying Game of Zones in Asia, including a raft of inflammatory rhetoric reaching form Afghanistan to the Philippines, including attacks both military and rhetorical, orders to arm Vietnam’s fishing fleet, spy arrests, and new problems much closer to home. . . Continue reading