Category Archives: Governance

InSecurityWatch: Debt, death, hacks, disorder


Lot of ground to cover, with major disruptions in Hong Kong after the jump, plus much more.

We begin with the greatest bomb threast to global civilization, the debt bomb, via the Guardian:

Record world debt could trigger new financial crisis, Geneva report warns

  • Concerted effort required to tackle economic woes as slow growth and low inflation cause global debts to balloon

Global debts have reached a record high despite efforts by governments to reduce public and private borrowing, according to a report that warns the “poisonous combination” of spiralling debts and low growth could trigger another crisis.

Modest falls in household debt in the UK and the rest of Europe have been offset by a credit binge in Asia that has pushed global private and public debt to a new high in the past year, according to the 16th annual Geneva report.

The total burden of world debt, excluding the financial sector, has risen from 180% of global output in 2008 to 212% last year, according to the report.

From the New York Times, spy anxiety:

Spy Agencies Urge Caution on Phone Deal

An obscure federal contract for a company charged with routing millions of phone calls and text messages in the United States has prompted an unusual lobbying battle in which intelligence officials are arguing that the nation’s surveillance secrets could be at risk.

The contractor that wins the bid would essentially act as the air traffic controller for the nation’s phone system, which is run by private companies but is essentially overseen by the government.

And with a European-based company now favored for the job, some current and former intelligence officials — who normally stay out of the business of awarding federal contracts — say they are concerned that the government’s ability to trace reams of phone data used in terrorism and law enforcement investigations could be hindered.

On to the other bomb-athon, with The Hill leading the way:

Rogers: Intel officials warned Obama about ISIS ‘for over a year’

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said the intelligence community had warned President Obama about the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria for “over a year.”

“This was not an Intelligence Community failure, but a failure by policy makers to confront the threat,” Rogers said in a statement Monday.

His statement comes after the president said that intelligence officers had underestimated ISIS in an interview that aired on “60 Minutes” Sunday.

RT covers an unfolding scenario:

ISIS+Al-Nusra Front? Islamists reportedly join forces, new threat against West issued

Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front has issued a new threatening audio message featuring its leader warning the West “will pay the heaviest price” for its actions. The Syrian group is reportedly now joining up with the estranged Islamic State militants.

The leader of Syria’s most prominent terrorist group, Abu Mohamad al-Golani, in denouncing the US-led air strike campaign, has urged Westerners everywhere to do the same “by standing against the decisions of your rulers,” otherwise bloodshed would be brought to their soil.

“Muslims will not watch while their sons are bombed. Your leaders will not be the only ones who would pay the price of the war. You will pay the heaviest price,” Reuters cited him as saying. He threatened viewers that the fight would be brought “to the hearts of your homes.”

Der Spiegel covers reconsideration:

The Caliphate Next Door: Turkey Faces Up to its Islamic State Problem

  • For years, Ankara has been tolerating the rise of the extremist Islamic State. But now that the jihadists are conquering regions just across the border in northern Syria, concern is growing that Islamist terror could threaten Turkey too.

The country has been strangely reserved when it comes to dealing with the Islamic State. It is the neighboring country that is perhaps most threatened by the jihadist fighters, but it has refrained thus far from joining US President Barack Obama’s anti-terror coalition, even if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan strongly hinted over the weekend that it might do so soon. When it comes to combatting the Islamic State and putting an end to the Syrian civil war, Turkey has a key role to play.

The government in Ankara had justified its hesitancy by pointing to the dozens of Turkish diplomats taken hostage by the Islamic State in Mosul. Now that they have been released, however, all eyes are on Turkey to see what responsibilities it might take on. On the way back to Turkey from the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Erdogan told reporters that his country is now prepared to join the coalition. At the World Economic Forum meeting in Istanbul on Sunday he added, in reference to the fight against the Islamic State: “We cannot stay out of this.”

From the US perspective, Turkey has often been a difficult partner. Still, after the civil war in Syria began, the two countries expanded cooperation, with American intelligence agencies operating centers in southern Turkey and delivering information about intercepted extremist communications to their Turkish counterparts in near real time.

News Corp Australia covers collateral damage:

Office fitout company ISIS Group Australia considers name change after staff abused as ‘terrorists’

A NATIONAL construction company could be forced to change its name of 25 years because staff members are being abused as “terrorists”.

ISIS Group Australia — an Australian company that has specialised in commercial office fit-outs and refurbishments since 1989 — has been forced to scale back signage on worksites and asked workers to not wear uniforms branded with the company name.

It comes as a Sydney family has been urged to change the name of their eight-year-old girl, whose name is Isis.

In recent weeks, site workers have been abused as “terrorists” by passers-by and angry messages have been left on the company’s office line.

Salon poses allegations:

Glenn Greenwald: U.S. manufactured militant threat as pretext to bomb Syria

  • In an extensive new report, The Intercept questions whether the much-hyped Khorasan Group actually exists

Until the Obama administration announced last week that it was launching air strikes in Syria to target the Islamic State (ISIS) and an al-Qaida affiliate called the Khorasan Group, most Americans had never heard of the latter organization.

That’s because the U.S. government invented the threat, the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain charge. In an extensive new report, the journalists document a carefully orchestrated campaign by U.S. officials to depict an imminent threat of terror attacks by Khorasan against U.S. targets. Media outlets suddenly zeroed in on Khorasan, hyping the alleged threat the group could pose, Greenwald and Hussain write.

Claims that Khorasan planned to launch attacks on the U.S. came from anonymous officials who provided thin evidence that any such plans were at risk of being carried out. But, Greenwald and Hussain contend, “American media outlets – eager, as always, to justify Americans wars – spewed all of this with very little skepticism.”

Greenwald’s report is here.

Well-grounded boots from the Los Angeles Times:

U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan after historic transfer of power

Afghanistan’s new government plans to sign a strategic agreement Tuesday with the United States that would allow for approximately 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country after the U.S.-led NATO coalition’s mandate expires in December.

U.S. officials say the extended troop presence is needed to continue training Afghanistan’s 350,000 soldiers and police, and to conduct counter-terrorism operations.

The pact – which outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to sign in his final months in office, fueling tensions with Washington – is expected to be signed by U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham and a senior member of the Afghan government.

International Business Times casts a pall:

US Troops In Afghanistan Could Lose Combat Role, Face Bigger Risk From Taliban Attacks

Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as the new president of Afghanistan Monday, clearing the path for a bilateral security agreement that will allow nearly 10,000 U.S. military personnel to stay in the country beyond the end of 2014. The agreement will see U.S. military personnel deployed as  advisers to train and equip Afghan security forces, with U.S. special-operations personnel for anti-terrorism missions against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

While the new role puts an end to regular combat missions for the U.S. military, the reduced number of overall personnel may leave the force more exposed.

“In terms of the protection issues, this was a concern of the vice president who wanted the zero personnel option, but Obama disagreed,” said Lisa Curtis, senior research fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center. Vice President Biden’s “main concern was that as U.S. forces decrease, they will become more susceptible to being attacked.”

From the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, with the documents at the link:

New Documents Shed Light on One of the NSA’s Most Powerful Tools

Today, we’re releasing several key documents about Executive Order 12333 that we obtained from the government in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that the ACLU filed (along with the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School) just before the first revelations of Edward Snowden. The documents are from the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and others agencies. They confirm that the order, although not the focus of the public debate, actually governs most of the NSA’s spying.

In some ways, this is not surprising. After all, it has been reported that some of the NSA’s biggest spying programs rely on the executive order, such as the NSA’s interception of internet traffic between Google’s and Yahoo!’s data centers abroad, the collection of millions of email and instant-message address books, the recording of the contents of every phone call made in at least two countries, and the mass cellphone location-tracking program. In other ways, however, it is surprising. Congress’s reform efforts have not addressed the executive order, and the bulk of the government’s disclosures in response to the Snowden revelations have conspicuously ignored the NSA’s extensive mandate under EO 12333.

The order, issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, imposes the sole constraints on U.S. surveillance on foreign soil that targets foreigners. There’s been some speculation, too, that the government relies directly on the order — as opposed to its statutory authority — to conduct surveillance inside the United States.

More from The Intercept:

The Ghost of Ronald Reagan Authorizes Most NSA Spying

U.S. intelligence agents have broad authority to spy on U.S. companies as long as they are “believed to have some relationship with foreign organizations or persons” — a description that could conceivably apply to any company with foreign shareholders, subsidiaries, or even employees—according to newly released government documents published this morning by the ACLU.

The trove, which includes documents from the NSA, Department of Justice, and Defense Intelligence Agency, confirms long-standing suspicions that the bulk of U.S. foreign surveillance operations are governed not by acts of Congress, but by a 33-year-old executive order issued unilaterally by President Ronald Reagan.

The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School, and they detail the extent of the order — which is extraordinarily broad and until recently largely obscure — and which underpins expansive U.S. surveillance programs, like siphoning internet traffic from Google and Yahoo’s overseas data centers, recording every call in the Bahamas, and gathering billions of records on cellphone locations around the world.

Recruitment advancement from the Associated Press:

Israel’s shadowy Mossad looks to recruit online

It used to be that if you wanted to join one of the world’s most secretive espionage organizations you had to sneak into a foreign embassy, answer a cryptic newspaper ad or show up in a nondescript building in Tel Aviv to meet a shadowy recruiter. Now all it takes to apply for a job at Israel’s Mossad spy agency is a click of the mouse.

The typically hush-hush Mossad revamped its website last week to include a snazzy recruiting video and an online application option for those seeking employment. With versions in Hebrew, English, French, Russian, Arabic and Persian, the sleek site looks to revolutionize the way Israel’s legendary agency seeks out potential agents after generations of backdoor, cloak-and-dagger antics.

“We must continue to recruit the best people into our ranks so that the Mossad might continue to lead, defend and allow for the continued existence of the state of Israel,” Mossad Chief Tamir Pardo said in a statement announcing the launch. “The Mossad’s qualitative human capital is the secret of our success.”

From the Guardian, the latest from The Most Transparent Administration in American History™:

US bid for secret Guantánamo force-feeding hearings prompts cover-up fears

  • The Guardian is among several news organisations planning to file a motion to challenge the administration’s secrecy reques

The Obama administration has asked a federal judge to hold a highly anticipated court hearing on its painful force-feedings of Guantánamo Bay detainees almost entirely in secret, prompting suspicions of a cover-up.

Justice Department attorneys argued to district judge Gladys Kessler that allowing the hearings to be open to the public would jeopardize national security through the disclosure of classified information. Should Kessler agree, the first major legal battle over forced feeding in a federal court would be less transparent than the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay.

Attorneys for Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian detainee on hunger strike whose court challenge is slated to begin next week, said the government was using national security as an excuse to prevent the public from learning the extent of a practice that the judge in the case has considered brutal.

A spooky brew-ha-ha from the London Daily Mail:

Inside the CIA’s Starbucks: Coffee shop known as Store Number 1 bans names on cups and runs background checks on baristas

  • Cafe is deep inside the agency’s Langley, Virginia, forest compound
  • Is referred to as ‘Store Number 1′ on customers’ receipts
  • However agents working in the building call it the ‘Stealthy Starbucks’
  • Baristas are given security briefings on a regular basis
  • Staff are also escorted by agency ‘minders’ when they leave work
  • Double espressos and sugary Frappuccinos are said to be popular orders

From PCWorld, a cell for cell phone hacking?

CEO indicted for company’s alleged mobile spyware app

The CEO of a Pakistani company has been indicted in the U.S. for selling a product called StealthGenie that buyers could use to monitor calls, texts, videos and other communications on other people’s mobile phones, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

The indictment of Hammad Akbar, 31, of Lahore, Pakistan, represents the first time the DOJ has brought a criminal case related to the marketing and sale of an alleged mobile spyware app, the DOJ said in a press release Monday.

Akbar is CEO of InvoCode, the company selling StealthGenie online. Akbar is among the creators of StealthGenie, which could intercept communications to and from mobile phones, including Apple, Android and BlackBerry devices, the DOJ said.

On to the world of online insecurity, starting with this from Network World:

Malvertising campaign delivers digitally signed CryptoWall ransomware

The cybercriminals behind the CryptoWall ransomware threat have stepped up their game and are digitally signing new samples before using them in attacks in an attempt to bypass antivirus detection.

Researchers from network security firm Barracuda Networks found new CryptoWall samples that were digitally signed with a legitimate certificate obtained from DigiCert. The samples were distributed through drive-by download attacks launched from popular websites via malicious advertisements.

Several websites in the Alexa top 15,000 list were affected by this latest malvertising—malicious advertising—campaign including hindustantimes.com, the site of Indian daily newspaper Hindustan Times; Israeli sports news site one.co.il; and Web development community codingforums.com.

“In every case, malicious content arrived via the site’s use of the Zedo ad network,” the Barracuda researchers said in a blog post Sunday.

Serious insecurity from SecurityWeek:

What We Know About Shellshock So Far, and Why the Bash Bug Matters

Security researchers around the world have been working around the clock analyzing the recently disclosed flaw in Bash which can be exploited to execute code and hijack vulnerable devices. Attackers are already targeting the bug, which has been nicknamed Shellshock, and security experts warned organizations to prepare for more attacks and messy cleanup.

The investigation is still in the early stages and there are a many unanswered questions about how Shellshock can be abused. Opinions also vary wildly among experts as to its potential impact. What is known—and agreed upon—at this point, is that Shellshock is a very serious vulnerability because it allows remote code execution and gives the attacker full access to the system. Being able to get shell and execute any kind of program on the target system is a major coup for attackers

Bash “is widely used so attackers can use this vulnerability to remotely execute a huge variety of devices and web servers,” said Tod Beardsley, engineering manager at Rapid7.

The most obvious initial targets will be large hosting providers, “which are riddled with bash-enabled administrative functions, as well as innumerable PHP-based forums, blogs, stores,” suggested Daniel Ingevaldson, CTO of Easy Solutions.

From Network World, corporate surveillance anxieties:

Facebook’s new ad sales plan raises hackles in Germany

As Facebook began rolling out a global advertising network on Monday that will capitalize on all it knows from tracking users across the web, German consumer organizations immediately raised their voices in protest.

Called Atlas, the new ad network is supposed to allow advertisers to use Facebook’s detailed knowledge about its users to reach their desired customers across devices and target ads at them across apps and websites.

From The Verge, foiling 4Chan?:

George Clooney gave his wedding guests burner phones to prevent photo leaks

It’s a tricky security problem: how do you let your wedding guests take photos, but make sure none of the photos leak? If you’re George Clooney, you collect everyone’s phone and give each of them a burner phone just for the occasion, to be tossed away once the big day is over. It’s an expensive way around the problem, sure, but if you’re a movie star, it’s a small price to pay.

The bigger question, tossed around in security circles, is how all this actually worked. Supposedly, Clooney’s people had access to all of the photos taken with the burner phones, so they would know who took which photos and would be able to trace back any leaks that came out. Vogue had bought exclusive photography rights to the wedding (donating the fee to charity), so Clooney had reason to be protective of the photos. But as some in the security world have noted, it may not have been an airtight system.

Of course, from a security perspective, the race is hard to win anyway. If someone was really dead-set on leaking that million-dollar wedding photo to TMZ, they could have just smuggled in a camera of their own. If the burner phones worked — and Clooney’s photo embargo has held, so far — it may be more due to well-behaved guests than airtight infosec.

After the jump, Indian police bust self-snappers, Jerry Brown vetoes a bill to curb cop drone ops, 58 Mexican students “disappeared” and a politician gunned down in public, privatized security abuse in Germany, China censors online posts about the turmoil in Hong Kong and condemns the protests, Beijing warns would-be interveners, media savvy and Global solidarity rallies called, Beijing’s deepest fear, a significant move in the Game of Zones, a Chinese missile advance and a demonstration of force, and an ill-matched pair divorces. . . Continue reading

Profiteering banksters and European separatism


From the Real News Network, a Mike McGuire interview Benedictine nun and theologist Sister Teresa Forcades, a physician with a doctorate in public health who is a prominent activist in the movement to detach Catalonia from Spain.

The focus is on the role banksters and the austerian neoliberal Eurocrats who have enabled their rampage of looting in Southern Europe.

From The Real News Network:

Spanish Independence Movements and the Recolonization of Southern Europe

From the transcript:

MCGUIRE: And it’s not just in Catalonia. It’s all over Spain. The context where this exchange of money is happening is also one of devastatingly high unemployment, especially among youth, correct?

FORCADES: Right. I can give you the numbers. It’s–like, general unemployment rate is greater than 25 percent–that’s one-fourth, one of every four people. But among young people it’s 50 percent, so one out of every two. And this is also in the context, as I said, of a situation that makes this social precariousness, right, go worse because of the political decisions that are being made. Yes, that’s right.

And also I wanted to add something, which is, when we speak of this crisis, right, we have to remember that in Spain the total debt at the beginning of the crisis, 2007, was–public debt was only 19 percent. That’s less than the U.S. debt, much less than that, and, actually, one of the lowest in the whole Europe. So this idea that Spain had not done the things right and that’s why the state itself had such a big debt, that’s not true. It had a 19 percent debt. The 81 percent was private debt, and that is, of course, not only banks–also private families, small businesses.. But that’s a very minor part of the private debt. So the greatest, more than 90 percent of the private debt, which is 81 percent of the total debt, that was big institutions, big corporations, and particularly banking institutions.

So the decision was made: like in the States, also here the banks were rescued, at a greater cost, or really great cost. So in Spain, the same thing, right? We cannot let these big institutions fall, because everybody would fall after them. So now we’re going to do this operation of giving money to them. We don’t have the money; we have to lend the money from the European bank. And then [in comes (?)] this mechanism that I explained. So that is what has happened, and many people, as I said, think this should be reversed.

And so we, in our movement, but also many other movements, are calling for something similar to what has happened in Ecuador with President Correa, which is they also were under the debt that actually precluded the evolution or the growth of the country, because such a great percentage of their total gain were needed to pay the interests of the debt, right? That’s a perverse mechanism. Actually, I think in truth we can call that a slavery mechanism. And that is what we now have agreed to, right, as a country.

EnviroWatch: Illness, climate, nukes, & fuels


And so much more.

We begin with a mysterious outbreak here in the U.S. via the Washington Post:

CDC probing reports of paralysis in 9 Colorado children, including some with Enterovirus 68

Several children in Colorado, including some that have tested positive for the Enterovirus 68 respiratory illness, also reported neurological symptoms including muscle weakness and paralysis.

Colorado health officials say nine children were identified between Aug. 8 and Sept. 17 after they developed neurological symptoms that are not commonly associated with Enterovirus 68, which causes severe breathing problems particularly in children with pre-existing asthma or respiratory problems.

That virus has been confirmed in the District of Columbia and all but 10 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it has sickened more than 277 people, mostly children.

A video report from WTHR television:

Mystery illness gives Colorado kids polio-like symptoms

The Japan Times covers the ongoing outbreak in Japan:

Another type of dengue virus found in Japan

The government said Monday that a man in Shizuoka Prefecture is infected with a dengue virus that has a different genetic sequence than the virus first detected in Japan in August.

The finding indicates that the new-type virus arrived in Japan via someone other than the person carrying the virus that infected several people through mosquitoes, mainly at Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo.

The man in his 20s was identified Sept. 18 as having developed a dengue symptom on Sept. 10. But the site of his infection has not been fixed as he said he visited Tokyo in early September and was bitten by a mosquito Sept. 9 or 10 in the eastern part of Shizuoka Prefecture.

The Latin American Herald Tribune covers a lethal outbreak on another island:

Chikungunya Kills 3 in Puerto Rico

Three people in Puerto Rico have died after being infected with the Chikungunya virus, Health Department chief epidemiologist Brenda Rivera Garcia said.

Two of the dead were residents of greater San Juan, while the third lived in the northeastern coastal town of Fajardo. Health authorities are investigating two other fatalities to determine if the Chikungunya virus was the cause.

There have been more than 2,000 confirmed cases of Chikungunya in Puerto Rico, though health officials suspect the actual number is higher, pointing out that the symptoms are similar to those of dengue fever.

From the Express Tribune, rising numbers in a Pakistani outbreak:

10 more cases of polio reported as national total rises to 184

Even as vaccination drives kicked off in various parts of the country on Monday, a government official confirmed that ten more polio cases have been reported from different parts of the country.

An official from the health ministry said the polio cases were tested at the polio virology laboratory at National Institute of Health (NIH) and then confirmed.

The official added with these 10 cases, the year’s total has risen to 184. Of these, 127 cases were reported from Fata, 33 from K-P, 17 from Sindh, two from Punjab and five from Balochistan.

And the threat of contagion in Uganda from the Daily Monitor in Kampala:

Government has only 3,000 TB vaccines

Children in Uganda are likely to miss the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine which protects them against TB – at least until the production issues at the global level are sorted.

According to the Uganda National Expanded Programme for Immunisation (UNEPI) manager, Dr Robert Mayanja, the country has been experiencing a shortage since the beginning of 2014.

But the shortage is expected to escalate in the coming months after receiving only 300,000 out of 1.8 million doses of the vaccine they had ordered for the last quarter of 2014.

TheLocal.dk covers an outbreak concealed:

Officials kept yet another food scandal secret

Up to 130 people, including a three-year-old boy, may have gotten ill from salmonella in ground beef in an outbreak that was kept hidden from the public until now.

Metroxpress obtained access to documents that reveal that ground beef infected with multi resistant salmonella was sold by the Vejen-based food company Skare in June.

Skare delivered the beef to stores on June 13th but did not recall it as required by law when an analysis the following day found the presence of salmonella.

The latest numbers from another disaster in Japan via the Associated Press:

5 more bodies found at Japan volcano; toll now 36

Toxic gases and ash from still-erupting Mount Ontake forced Japanese rescue workers to call off the search for more victims Monday as dozens of relatives awaited news of their family members.

Rescuers found five more bodies near the summit of the volcano, bringing the death toll to 36. They have managed to airlift only 12 bodies off the mountain since the start of the eruption on Saturday because of dangerous conditions.

How the victims died remains unclear, though experts say it was probably from suffocating ash, falling rocks, toxic gases or some combination of them. Some of the bodies had severe contusions.

More from the Asahi Shimbun:

Experts warn of second eruption on Mt. Ontakesan

Volcanologists warned that Mount Ontakesan could erupt again, based on the continuing fumes rising from the crater and the volcanic earthquakes that keep jolting the area.

The Japan Meteorological Agency’s committee of volcanologists said Sept. 28 that the eruption the previous day was a phreatic one that released a column of smoke as high as 7,000 meters from the 3,067-meter peak and sent a pyroclastic flow of relatively low temperature down the mountain slope. At least four climbers were killed on the mountain, which straddles Nagano and Gifu prefectures.

The Coordinating Committee for Prediction of Volcanic Eruption said an eruption of a similar scale could take place on Mount Ontakesan, although it would probably not be a major magmatic eruption, which releases magma from the mountain surface. The committee said there are no signs of crustal deformities caused by magma rising through a volcanic vent.

From the Associated Press, climate change symptoms:

Global warming linked to several extreme weather events

  • Better computer models help determine odds of events increasing because of climate change

Scientists looking at 16 cases of wild weather around the world last year see the fingerprints of man-made global warming on more than half of them.

Researchers found that climate change increased the odds of nine extremes: Heat waves in Australia, Europe, China, Japan and Korea, intense rain in parts of the United States and India, and severe droughts in California and New Zealand. The California drought, though, comes with an asterisk.

Organized by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, researchers on Monday published 22 studies on 2013 climate extremes in a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

More from the Oakland Tribune:

Drought linked to greenhouse gases, climate change

Stanford study concludes California’s extraordinary drought is linked to the abundance of greenhouse gases created by burning fossil fuels. It is one of the most comprehensive studies to investigate the connection between climate change and California’s ongoing drought.

California’s extraordinary drought is linked to the abundance of greenhouse gases created by burning fossil fuels and clearing forests, according to a major new paper Stanford scientists released Monday morning.

The new study used a combination of computer simulations and statistical techniques to show that the high pressure system parked over the Pacific Ocean — diverting storms away from California — is much more likely to form in the presence of concentrations of greenhouse gases.

“Our research finds that extreme atmospheric high pressure in this region — which is strongly linked to unusually low precipitation in California — is much more likely to occur today than prior to the human emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s,” said Stanford climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, associate professor of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford, in a prepared statement.

The Sacramento Bee covers one consequence:

California harvest much smaller than normal across crops

It’s harvest time in much of California, and the signs of drought are almost as abundant as the fruits and nuts and vegetables.

One commodity after another is feeling the impact of the state’s epic water shortage. The great Sacramento Valley rice crop, served in sushi restaurants nationwide and exported to Asia, will be smaller than usual. Fewer grapes will be available to produce California’s world-class wines, and the citrus groves of the San Joaquin Valley are producing fewer oranges. There is less hay and corn for the state’s dairy cows, and the pistachio harvest is expected to shrink.

Even the state’s mighty almond business, which has become a powerhouse in recent years, is coming in smaller than expected. That’s particularly troubling to the thousands of farmers who sacrificed other crops in order to keep their almond orchards watered.

Global Times covers other water woes:

Police investigate into polluters in East China

Three chemical factories found illegally dumping wastewater into city sewage systems and the sea have had their cases turned over to police.

After being investigated and fined by the local environment authorities,the three factories in Lianyungang city in East China’s Jiangsu Province will now be probed for possible criminal charges. In one case, a company built its own pipelines to dump toxic wastewater into the sea.

The three cases are very serious and have left a large environmental impact, said a statement by the Ministry of Environmental Protection released in Beijing on Monday.

While the Guardian has some rare good news on the endangered species front:

‘Extinct’ cat-sized chinchilla found alive in shadows of Machu Picchu

  • Living arboreal chinchilla rat thought to have been extinct is tracked down in Peruvian cloud forests, reports Mongabay

Below one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, scientists have made a remarkable discovery: a living, cat-sized mammal that until now was only known from fossils.

The Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rat (Cuscomys oblativa) was first described from two enigmatic skulls discovered in Incan pottery sculpted 400 years ago.

Dug up by Hiram Bingham in 1912, the skulls were believed to belong to a species that went extinct even before Francisco Pizarro showed up in Peru with his motley army. Then in 2009, park ranger Roberto Quispe found what was believed to be a living Machu Picchu arboreal chinchilla rat near the original archaeological site.

But BBC News immediately dampens any exuberance:

World wildlife populations halved in 40 years – report

The global loss of species is even worse than previously thought, the London Zoological Society (ZSL) says in its new Living Planet Index.

The report suggests populations have halved in 40 years, as new methodology gives more alarming results than in a report two years ago.

The report says populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by an average of 52%.

Populations of freshwater species have suffered an even worse fall of 76%.

More endangerment from the New York Times:

UN Experts Say World’s Mangrove Forests at Risk

U.N. experts are warning that the world’s mangrove forests are being destroyed at a more rapid rate than other forest ecosystems because of land conversion, development and pollution.

A U.N. Environment Program report presented Monday said mangroves are disappearing three to five times faster than other forests. It said by 2050, southeast Asia could potentially lose 35 percent of the mangroves it had in 2000.

Described in the report as one of the world’s most threatened ecosystems, mangrove forests mitigate global warming by trapping vast quantities of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

Still more grim news from the Guardian:

World Bank accuses itself of failing to protect Kenya forest dwellers

  • Leaked document says World Bank violated its own safeguards in dealings with Sengwer people evicted from their lands

A leaked copy of a World Bank investigation seen by the Guardian has accused the bank of failing to protect the rights of one of Kenya’s last groups of forest people, who are being evicted from their ancestral lands in the name of climate change and conservation.

Thousands of homes belonging to hunter-gatherer Sengwer people living in the Embobut forest in the Cherangani hills were burned down earlier this year by Kenya forest service guards who had been ordered to clear the forest as part of a carbon offset project that aimed to reduce emissions from deforestation.

The result has been that more than 1,000 people living near the town of Eldoret have been classed as squatters and forced to flee what they say has been government harassment, intimidation and arrest.

CIP Americas Program covers another grab of the commons:

Yaqui Tribal Authority’s Jailing in Water Conflict Signals Need to Implement Environmental Justice

Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico — The Sept. 11 jailing of Yoeme (Yaqui) Traditional Tribal Secretary Mario Luna Romero was a wake-up call for environmental and human rights defenders globally.

Symptomatic of escalating repression against indigenous community members who refuse to conform with free trade’s increasing demand for resources, Luna’s arrest on allegedly false charges sparked widespread grassroots response and highlighted the imperative of forging a united front against further abuses of environmental activists.

The most visible leader of the Yoeme resistance to Sonora Gov. Guillermo Padrés Elías illegal aqueduct construction project to divert Yaqui River water from its rightfully entitled users in the tribe’s eight villages, Luna immediately declared himself a political prisoner.

After the jump, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including another breakdown of water containment systems, enduring radiation hazards, a major increase of laborers on the scene, a major anti-nuclear protest coupled by a major push to reopen other nuclear plants, a fuel recycling plant closure to come, a drive for nuclear power in emerging economies, another fuel, another problem in North Dakota, tar sands pipeline pushback in Nebraska, looming disappointment for Chinese fracking, and predictions of a solar boom. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day III: Racism behind the badge


From the Public Religion Research Institute’s American Values Survey, dramatic evidence that an increasing number of American’s see police treatment of minorities as racially biased:

BLO Race

H/T to Sociological Images.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, aid, desperate measures


We begin with a number from Bloomberg:

70: The Magic Number That Could End the Ebola Epidemic

There are a lot of scary numbers floating around about Ebola. Take 1.4 million: the CDC’s worst-case scenario for Ebola cases in Western Africa by the end of January. Or two: the approximate number of healthy people infected by each new Ebola patient.

But perhaps the most important Ebola number right now is 70 percent. That’s the proportion of patients who need to be isolated — in treatment centers or at least in their homes — in order to put a quick end to the Ebola outbreak, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Once 70 percent of patients are effectively isolated, the outbreak decreases at a rate nearly equal to the initial rate of increase,” researchers wrote today in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. If 70 percent of the current outbreak was achieved by late December, the epidemic “would be almost ended by January 20.”

From AllAfrica, just what’s needed, another czar:

West Africa: Obama to Announce Ebola Czar As Businesses, Senators Press for More

President Obama will announce the appointment of a high-level coordinator to manage the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak when he visits Atlanta on Tuesday, administration sources have told AllAfrica.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Friday that the president is visiting the Atlanta, Georgia-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to receive a briefing from officials at the organization, whose director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, visited the region last month.

Obama will also discuss U.S. assistance to fight the Ebola virus and will thank the doctors, scientists and health care workers who have been engaged in the effort to stop its escalating spread. A stepped-up administration plan, which has been discussed by officials from across the executive branch for more than a month, received higher level attention this past week as the scope of the outbreak became more widely acknowledged – at least partly in response to pressure from private sector companies engaged in the most-affected countries and from members of Congress.

From Agence France-Presse, a videographic of a prototypical Ebola treatment center:

Ebola treatment centres

Program notes:

An American doctor who was exposed to the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone has been admitted Sunday to a clinic outside Washington as a precautionary measure. He had been volunteering as a physician in a unit treating those suffering from the tropical fever that has already killed more than 3,000 people in west Africa since the end of last year. Despite being trained in strict infection control practices, medical staff in the region are at constant risk of infection

The Washington Post embraces the military approach:

Will AFRICOM’s Ebola response be watershed moment for international action on human security?

On Sept. 18, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) held an unprecedented emergency meeting on a public health crisis and officially declared the Ebola epidemic that has killed an estimated 2,803 people in West Africa a threat to international peace and security. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the creation of the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER), which he tasked with treating the infected, containing the disease and preserving stability. Last week, President Obama announced the deployment of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), which will set up a joint force command in Liberia to coordinate the activity of 3,000 U.S. forces; expedite the transportation of equipment and supplies; and train an estimated 500 health-care workers per week.

Although Kim Yi Dionne, Laura Seay and Erin McDaniel raised concerns in The Washington Post last week about U.S. military forces engaging in a large-scale humanitarian operation, the deployment of AFRICOM and the creation of UNMEER are different from previous militarized humanitarian missions. The emphasis on human security, supported by the recent UNSC proclamation, shifts the policy conversation. This is a potential watershed moment for future humanitarian interventions if key actors recognize the core comparative advantages of both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and militaries and work together in a partnership.

Shanghai Daily covers an opening:

UN opens Ebola headquarters in Ghana

THE UN mission to combat Ebola opened its headquarters yesterday in Ghana, where it will coordinate aid for the accelerating West African crisis.

The spread of Ebola has spiraled into the worst ever outbreak, and the World Health Organization says it has linked more than 3,000 deaths to the disease, although that is likely an underestimate of the true toll. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been hit hardest. Senegal and Nigeria have also been touched, but have not reported a new case in weeks.

Some have criticized the response to the outbreak as too slow and haphazard. Ebola was first identified in March in Guinea. But more recently promises of aid have poured in, with many countries committing to sending health care workers, building hospitals or providing much-needed supplies, like protective suits for doctors and nurses.

From the Japan Times, on the ground:

Beds, staff scarce in Ebola-hit Monrovia

The Island Clinic recently opened. By the next day, its 120 beds were full.

“As of Friday, we had 206 patients,” a spokesman for the U.N World Health Organization, which runs the center, said.

Like all the NGO-run Ebola centers in Liberia, the Island Clinic is under-resourced and overrun by demand, forced to fill in for a public health infrastructure that has been decimated by 14 years of civil war and grinding poverty.

“There is supposed to be a system to allow the patients to talk to their families while keeping a distance of several meters (yards) — but apparently it’s not up and running yet,” a clearly embarrassed WHO official there says.

More from CBC News:

Ebola outbreak: Liberia’s newest, largest treatment clinic already at capacity

  • CBC News was granted access to the Island Clinic in Monrovia

Liberia’s newest and largest Ebola treatment centre was desperately needed to combat the spread of the fatal virus, yet the facility has barely helped to stop the worst outbreak in recorded history.

The centre, known as Island Clinic, was exactly seven days old when CBC News toured the “green zone,” or safe zone, of the facility on Sunday. It has almost doubled the Ebola treatment capacity in Liberia’s capital city of Monrovia, a major urban centre overwhelmed by an exponentially increasing number of cases of the deadly virus.

When it opened, there were 120 beds available. Within hours, the clinic was already stretched — every space available filled with the city’s most frightened and seriously ill. Somehow, room was made for more patients and currently, by adding beds and sofas where possible, staff estimate the total number is likely closer to 200.

AllAfrica covers another facility in another country:

Sierra Leone: President Koroma Commissions Mobile Lab and Holding Centre

As Government continues to intensify its efforts in the fight against the Ebola virus disease (EVD), President Ernest Bai Koroma on Friday 26th September 2014, commissioned the BSL-3 mobile laboratory at the Sierra Leone-China Friendship Hospital at Jui.

The occasion also saw in attendance officials from the Ministries of Health and Sanitation and Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and experts from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Medical team from China.

President Koroma noted that the facility will increase the response time in sample throughput, especially during this trying moment of the Ebola outbreak and also create opportunities for capacity development of health workers in the country. With this, President Koroma urged Sierra Leoneans working at the Hospital to exploit the opportunities and develop their various capacities.

From the Guardian, a public health basic:

Media and communications: the first line of defence against Ebola

  • As well as healthworkers, journalists are on the frontline of the Ebola outbreak and have vital role in stopping the epidemic

Misinformation is hampering efforts to tackle the Ebola outbreak in west Africa as rumours and speculation exacerbate the epidemic. In such a climate, local media can help to save lives.

In recent weeks, fear and misunderstanding have claimed new kinds of victims, including the three journalists killed in Womme, Guinea, along with five health workers, after they were attacked by villagers so terrified of the disease that they feared any outsider could infect their village.

In Womme, a local policeman said villagers believe that Ebola is nothing more than an invention of white people, to kill black people.

On Monday, a Liberian official said misinformation is hampering efforts to tackle the outbreak there, citing rumours that an educational film shown to villagers is intended merely to distract people while officials literally poison the wells.

TheLocal.de encounters an obstacle:

Germany’s Ebola mission stranded in Gran Canaria

Germany’s military transport planes are causing embarrassment for yet another Bundeswehr mission. The military’s much-heralded delivery to help Ebola-stricken countries in western Africa has stalled in Gran Canaria.

The poor state of the Bundeswehr’s Transall planes led to delays last week to Germany’s delivery of arms and soldiers to northern Iraq. Two of the 50-year-old planes broke down.

And on Monday it emerged that a flight delivering medicine and field tents to Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone has been stuck in Gran Canaria since Friday.

The Transall C-160 plane has a defect and technicians and a replacement plane are being flown to the Spanish island.

Star Africa News covers another aid infusion:

China grants DRC $900,000 to fight Ebola

The Chinese government has disbursed $900,000 to help the Democratic Republic of Congo’s fight the Ebola epidemic, which has ravaged the north-east of the country, an official source informs APA on Sunday.A funding agreement was signed on Friday in Kinshasa between Congo’s International and Regional Cooperation vice-minister, Dismas Mangbengu and China’s ambassador to the DR Congo, Wang Ying Wu.

President Joseph Kabila, on Thursday claimed in an address at the 69th United Nations General Assembly that the Ebola epidemic has been contained in its area of origin, located in Djera sector, about 1,200 km from Kinshasa, in Equateur Province.

About forty people have died of the disease there.

From the Daily Monitor in Kampala, Uganda, aid from closer to hand:

35 train in handling Ebola cases

A team of health workers from East Africa have completed training in prevention and control of diseases, especially epidemics such as Ebola. Majority of them will be sent to West African countries to help to manage Ebola that has killed thousands of people.

The team of 35 personnel from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Gambia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, as well as other participants from the US and UK were trained on infection prevention and control measures.

Twenty three of the participants said they were ready to be deployed in West Africa where they will be expected to train another 300 health workers.

Yet another alarm in Europe from TheLocal.se:

Fresh Ebola case investigated in Sweden

Doctors in Stockholm are checking a patient suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus.

The patient is understood to be at least the fifth case investigated in Sweden since the virus started spreading rapidly in Africa earlier this year.

They have been been transferred to the infectious diseases clinic at Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, according to news agency TT.

“Despite the fact that there were very low suspicions, we decided to take the test. We will get the answer within a day,” Åke Örtqvist, spokesperson for doctors dealing with infectious diseases in the Stockholm region.

Science covers a lamentation:

Ebola vaccine tests needlessly delayed, researchers claim

Stephan Becker is tired of waiting. The virologist at the University of Marburg in Germany is part of a consortium of scientists that is ready to do a safety trial of one of the candidate vaccines for Ebola. But the vaccine doses he’s supposed to test on 20 German volunteers are still in Canada. Negotiations with the U.S. company that holds the license for commercialization of the vaccine—which contains a gene for the Ebola surface protein stitched into a livestock pathogen known as vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV)—have needlessly delayed the start of the trial, Becker and several other scientists tell Science. “It’s making me mad, that we are sitting here and could be doing something, but things are not moving forward,” Becker says.

Today and tomorrow, Ebola scientists and representatives from companies and regulatory bodies are meeting at the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss how to speed up clinical development of vaccines, a process that normally takes years. More and more public health specialists believe that vaccines will have an important role to play in stopping the catastrophic outbreak in West Africa, which has so far caused at least 6553 cases and more than 3000 deaths in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. (Those are the reported numbers; the real toll is known to be much higher.)

Given the urgency, it’s inexplicable that one of the candidate vaccines, developed at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) in Winnipeg, has yet to go in the first volunteer’s arm, says virologist Heinz Feldmann, who helped develop the vaccine while at PHAC. “It’s a farce; these doses are lying around there while people are dying in Africa,” says Feldmann, who now works at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Hamilton, Montana.

And Punch Nigeria has help anticipated:

2,000 German volunteers expected in Africa over Ebola

Over 2,000 Germans have heeded the German government’s call to register as volunteers, indicating their readiness and availability for deployment to fight against Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, said AU in a statement on Monday.

German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has informed AU Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, after the Chairperson briefed him on AU’s ongoing efforts to fight the disease.

The two officials met on the sidelines of the 69th UN General Assembly in New York, said the statement.

On to coverage of day to day life via the African media, starting with this from The Analyst in Liberia:

Bassa Ebola Toll Rises -Six Survivors Rejoin Families

Six persons who survived the Ebola virus in Grand Bassa County have been reunited with their families and communities, a county health official has disclosed. Speaking during the Ebola Task Force briefing held in Buchanan at the weekend, Joyce Garblah, a member of the County Health Team, said the six survivors who earlier tested positive with Ebola, were transferred to the Ebola Treatment Unit in Monrovia.

She said after undergoing treatment and observation, they were pronounced free of the virus and allowed to rejoin their families. Madam Garblah has disclosed that 26 confirmed Ebola deaths occurred in Grand Bassa County from July to September 26, 2014. She said out of the 26 confirmed Ebola deaths, 15 were males and 11 females, while 44 Ebola probable and suspected cases were recorded in the six districts of the county.

According to statistics, Buchanan District recorded 20, Owensgrove District six, District #One, seven; District #Two, six; District #Three, four and District #Four, one. Meanwhile, Garblah has disclosed that five samples taken to the National Diagnostic Lab in Marshall are awaiting results.

AllAfrica covers a process of elimination:

Liberia: Police Barrack Cleared

Some officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) and their relatives, who were quarantined for 21 days at the Police Barracks on Camp Johnson Road as a result of the deadly Ebola virus, were last week Friday, September 26, 2014, declared free of the virus after intensive medical treatment and thorough observation by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Monrovia.

Those police officers were quarantined along with their relatives at the Police Barracks on Camp Johnson Road after one of their colleagues’ wife died there as a result of the deadly Ebola virus.

The Director of the Liberia National Police, Clarence Massaquoi, disclosed that those officers along with their relatives, who were quarantined for 21 days in the Police Barracks did not complain, but were taking the preventive measures as prescribed by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in collaboration with the WHO.

From the New Republic in Liberia, political concerns:

Cape Mount Ebola Death Toll Troubles Caucus — Sen. Dagoseh

Grand Cape Mount County Senator Edward Dagoseh says the County Legislative Caucus is concerned about the Ebola death rate in the county.

He disclosed that the caucus is formulating strategies to proffer to the County Task Force that will help avoid the further spread of Ebola and destruction of lives.

“The County Legislative Caucus is doing everything possible to seek financial and medical supplies, including PPEs and drugs, for health facilities in the county,” Senator Dagoseh told reporters in Garwular District at the weekend.

Senator Dagoseh is, meanwhile, appealing to health workers in the county to return to work so that health facilities that have been shut down as a result of the Ebola outbreak will re-open to provide services to the people.

The Analyst covers an epidemiological spread in Liberia:

1st Ebola Case Confirmed in Gbarpolu County

Gbarpolu County has registered its first case of the Ebola disease with a 14-year-old boy confirmed positive with the virus. Medical authorities in the county told the Liberia news Agency that the boy contracted the virus from his father who reportedly died of the disease in Parker Farm in Gbarma District.

The authorities said several family members of the boy, including his mother, have been quarantined in the same area by the County Ebola Task Force to avoid the spread of the disease to other parts of the county.

According to the Task Force, the boy was confirmed Ebola positive when the result from his blood specimen test was received by medical authorities working with the Task Force recently. The authorities said modalities are being worked out by the Task Force to have the boy transferred to the new Ebola Center at the old Island Clinic on the Bushrod Island for treatment.

New Republic covers help from another quarter:

Agriculture Ministry Joins Ebola Fight

The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), has disclosed that it has embarked on a nationwide Ebola awareness campaign aimed at helping to eradicate the virus.

In a statement, the Assistant Director of Communications, Ken Kumeh said the outbreak is a national disaster that requires the collective efforts of each and every Liberian regardless of status, religion or political affiliation, indicating that, “the disease does not discriminate.”

Mr. Kumeh said as part of the ministry’s campaign, it last month donated two heavy duty trucks and several food items to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

And for our final item, CCTV Africa has the not-unexpected:

Ebola: Liberians Turn To God for Healing

Program note:

A Plague from God. More Liberians have been expressing their fear of Ebola. They say it is affecting the fabric of society and despite warnings to stay away from public gatherings, Liberians are turning to religion for comfort.

American drones, making children fear blue sky


Yes, John Oliver’s done it again, creating a superb piece of journalistic comedy, this time with a focus on the impact of American drone strikes — yet another domain in which the President of Hope™ and Change™ has managed to surpass the bloody-mindedness of his predecessor.

And his hook, the image that coalesces all the graphics, words, and Strangelovian humor, comes in the words of children in lands where drones reap their capricious body counts, children who fear blue skies and Predators roam freely and embrace clouds and fog, when the airborne killers are blinded.

From HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Drones

Program notes:

The United States has launched a huge number of drone strikes under President Obama.

It’s widely accepted and extremely terrifying.

InsecurityWatch: War, spooks, hacks, drones


We begin with beating war drums from  the Guardian:

Top Republican calls for US ground war amid fresh strikes on Isis

  • New US-led wave of bombing raids target Islamic State oil supplies as John Boehner ramps up military rhetoric

The Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, on Sunday ramped up the political rhetoric over Syria and Iraq by saying American forces will need to be put on the ground in the battle against the Islamic State (Isis).

Boehner’s comment that at some point “boots have to be on the ground” marks a significant inflation in the terms of the debate over how to deal with Isis. President Barack Obama has repeatedly said US ground forces will not be used in the conflict, which on Sunday saw US-led strikes in Syria and the first British strikes in Iraq, though the Pentagon has ordered the dispatch of 1,600 US troops to Iraq for what it insists will be training and other support functions.

Speaking to ABC News, Boehner criticised Obama’s plan to degrade and ultimately destroy Isis. “If the goal is to destroy Isil as the president says it is,” he said, “I don’t believe the strategy he outlines will accomplish it. At the end of the day I think it’s going to take more than airstrikes to drive them out – at some point somebody’s boots have to be on the ground, that’s the point.”

McClatchy Washington Bureau steps up the tempo:

U.S. combat role in Iraq not off table, Gen. Dempsey says

The nation’s top military commander refused Friday to back off his controversial stance in Senate testimony that he would recommend committing U.S. troops to combat in Iraq if he believed they were needed to help defeat Islamic State militants.

The steadfastness of Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed a potential gap between President Barack Obama’s senior military and political advisers over whether there might once more be American “boots on the ground” in Iraq three years after the last American combat troops left.

In another sign of the expanding American mission in the region, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the first U.S. military personnel had arrived in Saudi Arabia to lay the groundwork for training 5,000 “moderate” Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State.

Misunderstimation from the Washington Post:

Obama: United States underestimated rise of Islamic State

The United States has underestimated the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, President Obama said during an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” in which he also acknowledged the Iraqi army’s inability to successfully tackle the threat.

According to excerpts, “60 Minutes” presenter Steve Kroft referred to comments by James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, in which he said, “We overestimated the ability and the will of our allies, the Iraqi Army, to fight.”

“That’s true. That’s absolutely true,” Obama said. “Jim Clapper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.”

USA Today itemizes the bill:

ISIL fight already near $1 billion as strategy shifts

The air war in Syria and Iraq has already cost nearly $1 billion and ultimately could cost as much as $22 billion per year if a large ground force is deployed to the region, according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

The study, due to be released Monday, shows a range of costs based on sustained but low-intensity combat up to a force of 25,000 U.S. troops on the ground.

President Obama and the Pentagon have ruled out the the use of American boots on the ground, making the most expensive option the least likely. Yet as Todd Harrison, the lead author points out, war is “an unpredictable enterprise” and the ability to forecast its costs is limited.

And the Guardian covers the media war:

Isis’s online propaganda outpacing US counter-efforts, ex-officials warn

  • Batch of US initiatives seeking to undermine Isis’s sophisticated online image is unlikely to work on internet-affluent youths

Former US public diplomacy officials fear the sophisticated, social media borne propaganda of the Islamic State militant group (Isis) is outmatching American efforts at countering it.

Aimed less at Isis itself than at potential supporters, a bevy of US diplomatic and communications initiatives seek to undermine Isis’s portrayal of itself as an authentic, successful Islamic resistance. But even some who helped push the State Department into confronting extremists online fear that US counter-propaganda is amorphous, slipshod and unlikely to persuade internet-fluent youths to whom Isis attempts to appeal.

“I honestly don’t think the government should be in the position of directly engaging jihadis on Twitter. It’s a silly game,” said Shahed Amanullah, who last year left the State Department after helping establish programs to promote anti-extremist Muslim voices abroad.

The Independent covers spin:

Isis in Syria: Militant group al-Nusra claims US air strikes are a ‘war against Islam’

The Syrian terror group Jabhat al-Nusra has denounced US air strikes against Isis as “a war against Islam” and vowed to take revenge against the coalition of countries supporting military action in the region.

In an online statement on Saturday, al-Nusra spokesman Abu Firas al-Suri called on jihadists around the world to strike against the global alliance opposing the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

He said: “These states have committed a horrible act that is going to put them on the list of jihadist targets throughout the world”

Deutsche Welle covers a possible casualty:

Khorasan leader believed dead after airstrikes

US-led airstrikes are believed to have killed a leader of an al Qaeda splinter group. The Khorasan group was believed to have been plotting imminent attacks against the West, according to defense officials.

The leader of the al Qaeda splinter group Khorasan, which US officials say was plotting imminent attacks against the West, is believed to have been killed, the SITE (Search for International Terrorist Entities) monitoring service announced on Sunday.

A twitter account managed by an al Qaeda member said that the Kuwait-born Muhsin al-Fadhli, a high-level al Qaeda operative and former close associate of Osama bin Laden, had been killed in coalition airstrikes conducted on September 23 in Syia.

SITE said a series of tweets expressed condolences for the deaths of Fadhli and Abu Youssef al-Turki, another Khorasan leader. The monitoring group said the tweets also bemoaned conditions in Syria, where the US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against “Islamic State” militants.

Defense One looks at munitions:

How American Precision Weapons Opened the Door to an Arab Coalition

President Obama’s insistence that Arab states join in on U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq serves a political purpose for Washington and the region. But that Arab states were able to play a key role in the strikes at all is owed to years of purchases of made-in-America, high-tech, precision-guided bombs.

The U.S. military has gone to great lengths to detail the precision of the air strikes conducted against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

But outside the Middle East, NATO leaders long have expressed concern that the alliance lacked sufficient stockpiles of these types of guided weapons and could limit a countries’ participation in long-term air strike campaign. “We do not have enough precision-strike munitions to carry on a concentrated campaign, at length, helping all of our allies to be there with us,” said Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO supreme allied commander Europe and head of US European Command, last week. “We need to think through where we are on precision munitions.”

Bloomberg mulls blowback:

Asians Chase Apocalypse in Syria, to Tick Like Time Bombs Back Home

As nations around the world grapple with the threat of Islamic State, the Southeast Asians fighting in the Middle East pose a risk in several ways, security analysts say. They could return and breathe new life into militant groups in a region with a history of extremism and occasional large-scale terror attacks, and they could radicalize friends and family at home via social media, aided by slick Islamic State promotional videos.

“It is not IS per se that might pose a danger to the region but rather its extreme militant ideology as well as the skills, battleground experience and international networks that Southeast Asian jihadists got from Syria and Iraq,” said Navhat Nuraniyah, an associate research fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies who looks at terrorism and radicalization.

“If even a small minority of them do return, they will be highly respected by existing local groups,” she said. “If they do intend to continue their mission they will have no problem finding recruits and support.”

Yet another drone strike from the Guardian:

US drone strike kills four suspected militants in Pakistan

  • Two Arab militants and two local allies killed in tribal region along border with Afghanistan, officials say

A US drone strike killed four suspected militants on Sunday in a north-western tribal region in Pakistan along the Afghan border, intelligence officials and Taliban fighters said.

Those killed included two Arab militants and two of their local allies in a compound in the town of Wana in South Waziristan, the two officials and three Taliban fighters said.

All of them spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to journalists. Authorities don’t allow journalists into Pakistan’s tribal areas, which have long been a safe haven for local and al-Qaida linked foreign militants.

German journalist Udo Ulfkotte has some startling allegations, via RT:

‘Bought Journalism’: German bestseller reveals CIA pay Western media for spin & bias

Program note:

The media is a key tool in the battle for hearts and minds. But a new bestseller by a German author reveals some details on journalism that would be considered too outlandish, even in a spy novel. RT’s Peter Oliver reports.

South China Morning Post covers old school spooking:

Arms-smuggling Taiwanese duo snared in FBI sting plead guilty

  • Pair claimed to be acting on behalf of Beijing official when they tried to send hi-tech military gear to mainland; HK ‘mastermind’ awaits trial

Two Taiwanese accomplices of an alleged Hong Kong smuggling mastermind face decades in US prisons after being caught trying to export high-grade military technology to mainland China.

The pair claimed to be acting on behalf of a senior Beijing official when they were snared in an FBI sting, FBI reports and legal documents seen by the Sunday Morning Post show.

Charlie Shen Hui-sheng, 47, and Alice Chang Huan-ling, 43, pleaded guilty in a New Jersey court on Monday to both the arms charge and their involvement in a drug-smuggling operation led by Hongkonger Kow Soon-ah. Kow was extradited to the United States from the Philippines in 2012 and faces 14 drug and contraband charges that could see him jailed for life.

From the Canadian Press, reasonable grounds for suspicion:

Spy watchdog’s past oil ties spark concerns in civil liberties complaint case

A civil liberties group is objecting to Canada’s spy watchdog assigning Yves Fortier to investigate alleged spying on environmental activists, citing a conflict due to his former petroleum industry ties.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association’s lawyer has written to the Security Intelligence Review Committee asking that Fortier “recuse himself from any participation” in the matter since he once sat on the board of TransCanada Pipelines — the company behind the Keystone XL project.

Fortier, one of three review committee members, was recently appointed to lead an investigation into the association’s complaint that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service gathered and shared information about activists opposed to Canada’s energy policies.

After the jump, Internet founder sounds the alarm, a Snowden-inspired push, a Down Under online sting nets a biggie, a rare win for U.S. reporters, Hong Kong turmoil continues [with injuries], Beijing’s opposition, Beijing sends a verbal blast at Tokyo, North Korea sends at verbal blast at Washington, and the vanishing Kim. . . Continue reading