Category Archives: Governance

InSecurityWatch: Cops amok, hacks, spies, zones


We begin today’s look at the world of the dark side with America’s sudden realization that America’s police forces look a lot like those of a police state.

First up, the San Francisco Chronicle looks at the impact on Bay Area cops:

How local police forces got outfitted for warfare

The paramilitary hardware that police in Missouri deployed against demonstrators angered by an officer’s killing of an unarmed black teenager has become commonplace in police departments in the Bay Area and around the country, thanks to billions of dollars in homeland security money and surplus military equipment that the federal government has showered on communities.

Big-city police departments have long had riot gear, shields and even lightly armored vehicles to deal with unrest. What has changed in recent years is the volume of military equipment finding its way to smaller, suburban police agencies like the ones that confronted protesters last week in Ferguson, Mo.

The federal programs that delivered heavy weaponry and armored vehicles to police there are the same ones that allowed the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to obtain a decommissioned Coast Guard cutter. They enabled Concord police to acquire an armored personnel carrier that the U.S. military once used in Kuwait.

Police in South San Francisco, Vallejo, San Jose, Napa and Antioch now have specially reinforced armored personnel carriers like those that carried U.S. troops in battle areas in Afghanistan and Iraq, courtesy of a Pentagon program that distributes surplus war equipment to cities around the country.

From the Daily Dot, we hope it’s more than wishful thinking:

Social media may have turned the tide of police militarization

In many respects, last Wednesday night may turn out to be the single most important event in the history of American law enforcement in a generation.

For most of the week, the images flooding out of Ferguson, Mo., and onto social media resembled nothing so much as a military occupation. Officers from the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department patrolled the streets in full body armor while toting machine guns, as millions of Americans started to suddenly wonder why law enforcement officials were outfitted as if they were going into a war zone.

When all you have is riot gear, even peaceful protests start to look like riots. By giving police officers the tools to use overwhelming force and military-style tactics at every opportunity, it creates a situation that may be safer for individual police officers, but is significantly more dangerous for society as a whole.

From Bloomberg of all places, confronting a real source of national insecurity:

Ferguson Unrest Shows Poverty Grows Fastest in Suburbs

A week of violence and protests in a town outside St. Louis is highlighting how poverty is growing most quickly on the outskirts of America’s cities, as suburbs have become home to a majority of the nation’s poor.

In Ferguson, Missouri, a community of 21,000 where the poverty rate doubled since 2000, the dynamic has bred animosity over racial segregation and economic inequality. Protests over the police killing of an unarmed black teenager on Aug. 9 have drawn international attention to the St. Louis suburb’s growing underclass.

Such challenges aren’t unique to Ferguson, according to a Brookings Institution report July 31 that found the poor population growing twice as fast in U.S. suburbs as in city centers. From Miami to Denver, resurgent downtowns have blossomed even as their recession-weary outskirts struggle with soaring poverty in what amounts to a paradigm shift.

On to the world of secrecy-cloaked acts of dubious legality with the Guardian:

UK ambassador ‘lobbied senators to hide Diego Garcia role in rendition’

  • Rights groups claim that top-level talks were part of bid to redact link to Diego Garcia from report

Logs released under the Freedom of Information Act have reinforced claims that the UK lobbied to keep its role in the CIA’s torture and interrogation programme out of what is expected to be a damning Senate report.

They show that the UK ambassador to the US met members of the Senate select committee on intelligence 11 times between 2012 and 2014 – as they were investigating the CIA’s rendition programme. This included two meetings with the committee’s chair, Diane Feinstein, which took place as crucial decisions were being made regarding how much of its report into the programme should be made public.

The revelation has prompted fresh concern that the government lobbied for key parts of the report referring to Diego Garcia, a British territory in the Indian Ocean leased to the US as a military base, to be redacted. Human rights groups believe that the territory played a key role in facilitating the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme – the movement of high-value terrorist suspects to “black sites” around the world without legal oversight.

The Register looks at hacking made easy:

Who needs hackers? ‘Password1′ opens a third of all biz doors

  • GPU-powered pen test yields more bad news about defences and passwords

Hundreds of thousands of hashed corporate passwords have been cracked within minutes by penetration testers using graphics processing units.

The 626,718 passwords were harvested during penetration tests over the last two years conducted across corporate America by Trustwave infosec geeks.

The firm’s threat intelligence manager Karl Sigler said in a post that half of the plundered passwords were cracked within “the first few minutes”.

While Computerworld rings an alarm:

Microsoft urges customers to uninstall ‘Blue Screen of Death’ update

  • One of last week’s security updates has bricked an unknown number of PCs running Windows 7

Computerworld – Microsoft on Friday quietly recommended that customers uninstall one of last week’s security updates after users reported that it crippled their computers with the infamous “Blue Screen of Death” (BSOD).

The update, identified as MS14-045 in Microsoft’s numbering, was one of nine released on “Patch Tuesday,” Aug. 12, was designed to fix three separate flaws, including one related to a font vulnerability and another in the Windows kernel, the heart of the operating system.

Within hours of its release, however, users reported that MS14-045 had generated a Stop 0x50 error on some systems, mostly on Windows 7 PCs running the 64-bit version of the OS.

Off the Asia, first with South China Morning Post:

More than 20,000 rally in Islamabad, calling for Sharif to resign as PM

  • Cleric Qadri and cricket star turned politician Khan lead rallies in capital

More than 20,000 anti-government protesters flooded the centre of Pakistan’s capital yesterday, vowing to stay in the streets until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigns.

The numbers were far below what protest organisers expected, but the power of protesters to paralyse the central business district has presented the biggest challenge yet to the 15-month-old civilian government.

The unrest has raised questions about Pakistan’s stability, at a time when the nation of 180 million is waging an offensive against Pakistani Taliban militants and when the influence of anti-Western and sectarian groups is growing.

More from the Express Tribune in Karachi:

Govt to form separate committees to negotiate with Imran, Qadri

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has said that the government is willing to listen to each and every constitutional demand of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Express News reported.

“As a goodwill gesture, we have decided to constitute two separate committees to negotiate with PTI and PAT,” said Nisar while addressing a press conference late Sunday night. “We are ready to hear all their constitutional demands,” he added.

Earlier in the day, PAT chief Tahirul Qadri and PTI chief Imran Khan reiterated their demand for the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in separate addresses to their supporters, with the latter announcing the launch of a civil disobedience movement.

Reuters covers another form of protest:

Pakistan opposition leader calls for tax boycott in anti-government protest

Leading opposition politician Imran Khan urged Pakistanis on Sunday not to pay taxes or utility bills as a protest against the government and vowed to force the country’s “corrupt” prime minister to step down this week.

“After two days … your time is up,” Khan shouted to thousands of supporters at a rally in central Islamabad.

Police estimated on Sunday that around 55,000 people have occupied two streets in the center of the Pakistani capital as part of separate protests led by Khan and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri.

From the Diplomat, walking a fine line of the subcontinent:

India-China Border Engagement

As India races to catch up on infrastructure, its military is increasingly engaged with the PLA.

For the Indian military, this is a time of some fairly fundamental changes.

After decades of pursuing Pakistan-centric war planning, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force are recalibrating their sights towards the hitherto neglected northern frontiers with China, giving a hard push to improving its war-fighting capabilities against its more powerful neighbor and at the same time, increasing on-the-ground interaction with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

This two-track policy, outcome of the experience of the past five years, is aimed at preventing any unnecessary flare ups along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as the contested border between the two countries is known.

While the Times of India invokes dubious imagery:

I’m Hitler for thieves misusing funds, Telangana CM says

A crucial meeting between two warring chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana failed to bring about a change of heart as both chose to remain on the warpath over several issues, including the Governor’s special powers in Hyderabad and the controversial household survey, on Sunday.

Governor ESL Narasimhan had brought K Chandrasekhar Rao of Telangana and N Chandrababu Naidu of AP to the negotiation table, for the first time since the bifurcation of the state. But the two chief ministers stuck to their guns, with KCR threatening to be a “Hitler” for those who allegedly misuse government’s schemes and funds, ahead of the controversial household survey.

“There is nothing wrong in being a Hitler for the people’s cause. I would like to be a Hitler for those who want to misuse the government schemes and funds. Yes, I am a Hitler for thieves,” he said after the meeting.

And Deutsche Welle covers another protest, this tiem one against another protest:

Tens of thousands stage Hong Kong pro-government rally

A protest march with tens of thousands of participants has taken place in Hong Kong. The rally was organized in response to a planned pro-democracy disobedience campaign in the former British colony.

Tens of thousands of people protested in Hong Kong on Sunday against plans by pro-democracy activists to shut down the semi-autonomous Chinese city’s financial district with a mass sit-in unless China allows electoral reforms.

The Alliance for Peace and Democracy, which organized Sunday’s rally in sweltering heat, claims that most people in the city of seven million do not support the pro-democracy campaign run by the Occupy Central group.

The Alliance says it has so far collected almost 1.5 million signatures – including that of leader Leung Chun-ying – from people opposed to the Occupy campaign on the grounds that it would tarnish Hong Kong’s reputation and harm business.

From Reuters, another spooky saga:

Chinese national charged with hacking U.S. defense contractors

A Chinese businessman has been indicted in California on charges he hacked the computer systems of Boeing Co and other U.S. defense contractors and stole confidential plans for military aircraft, federal prosecutors said on Friday.

According to the indictment in federal court in Los Angeles, Su Bin traveled to the United States at least 10 times between 2008 and 2014 and worked with two unidentified co-conspirators based in China to steal the data.

Prosecutors said the trio stole plans relating to the C-17 military transport plane and F-22 and F-35 fighter jets, and attempted to sell them to Chinese companies.

The Japan Times orders:

U.S. military told troops not to visit Yasukuni Shrine

  • Trip to war-related shrine canceled before Obama visit in April

U.S. military leaders in Japan advised against a planned visit by some of their troops to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in early April, before President Barack Obama’s visit to Tokyo, apparently out of consideration to South Korea and China, an American military source said Saturday.

U.S. Forces Japan headquarters warned against the visit to the controversial shrine by more than 20 troops, leading to the trip’s cancellation, according to the source.

The Shinto shrine honors past Japanese leaders convicted as Class-A war criminals, along with millions of war dead. Beijing and Seoul consider it a symbol of Japan’s past militarism and wartime aggression and bristle when Japanese politicians make state visits viewed as glorifying the war.

From SINA English, another play:

Japan freezes assets of N Korean shipping firm for smuggling arms

Japan has frozen the assets of the operator of a North Korean ship seized for smuggling arms, the Foreign Ministry said, just as Tokyo is engaged in talks with Pyongyang to return Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago.

The sanction against Ocean Maritime Management, which operated the ship detained near the Panama Canal a year ago carrying Soviet-era arms, follows similar steps by the United States and U.N. blacklisting of the North Korean firm in July.

It is not immediately clear how much assets, if any, Ocean Maritime Management holds in Japan, the Finance Ministry said Saturday.

The Diplomat poses a scary question:

Nuclear Weapons for South Korea

Under threat of a possible fourth North Korean nuclear test, should South Korea develop its own nuclear weapon?

Nuclear tensions are again ratcheting up on the Korean Peninsula, with Pyongyang threatening a fourth nuclear weapons test in what one U.S. analyst described as its new “allergic reaction” to routine military exercises by South Korea and United States scheduled to start on August 18.

A fourth nuclear test could further influence the debate in Seoul and Washington over whether South Korea should consider the “nuclear option.” Such a decision – if South Korea were to seriously consider it – could upturn the 60-year South Korean-U.S. alliance, global nonproliferation efforts, not to mention dozens of international obligations that tie one of Asia’s wealthiest nations to the global economy.

Even talk of “going nuclear” has some in South Korea’s political class worrying out loud that the debate has already moved from the political fringe to occupy center stage.

From Want China Times, bulking up:

China considers buying four Russian Amur-Class AIP submarines

China reportedly signed two military sale frameworks with Moscow, of which Russia will jointly build four Amur-Class AIP submarines with China and sell them to the country while China will buy 24 Su-35 fighters from Russia, reports Sina’s military news portal.

It is the first major military procurement China has made with Russia in 10 years, said the report. China needs submarines to counter threats from India’s fleet and build a fleet to resist America’s influence, said the Voice of Russia, the Russian government’s international radio broadcasting service. A manager for a Russian national defense export company said Moscow and Beijing have been negotiating over submarine technologies. China has not revealed how many submarines it wants to buy and has not scheduled to sign a supply contract.

It is natural for India and China to show interest in Russia’s Amur-Class submarines, said a retired Russian Navy general named Sivkov. The submarine is superior to the export version of China’s 877 submarine and China would want the Amur-Class vessel since India has them. The Russian submarine can also effectively fight against American submarines and destroy Los Angeles and Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines from long distances.

Jiji Press bolsters the borders:

Japan to Strengthen Analysis of Information on Foreigners

Japan’s Justice Ministry will set up an intelligence center at the Immigration Bureau to strengthen the ability to analyze information on foreigners in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, informed sources said Sunday.

The ministry will seek about 220 million yen in related expenditures as part of its fiscal 2015 budget request, the sources said.

By 2020, the government aims to boost the annual number of visitors to Japan to 20 million, about double the 10.36 million in 2013.

From the Japan Times, learning from the University of California:

Japan plans fund to develop military technology with universities

  • Ministry plans fund to aid schools engaged in military research

The Defense Ministry plans to set up a fund to develop military technology by aiding research projects at universities and other civilian institutions, government sources have revealed.

In a move aimed at keeping down development costs and bolstering civilian-military cooperation, the ministry plans to seek roughly ¥2 billion for the fund in its budget request for fiscal 2015 beginning next April, raising it to ¥6 billion in three years, the sources said Saturday.

The fund, which will be modeled after the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to expand the nation’s military capabilities. It will finance promising projects in such fields as surveillance radar technology and aviation materials.

The Japan Times again, with another sort of education:

Japan to hold seminar to pitch defense equipment exports to ASEAN

The government plans to hold a seminar in late September attended by officials from ASEAN countries to make a pitch for exports of Japanese-made defense equipment to those Asian nations, government sources said Sunday.

It will be the first gathering of Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to hold full-fledged discussions concerning such exports since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet decided in April to ease restrictions on arms exports.

During the seminar in Tokyo, the government plans to discuss how Japanese equipment and technology could help enhance the defense capabilities of ASEAN nations, as it seeks business opportunities to export Japanese defense equipment.

And for our final item, JapanToday covers box office militancy:

Film on 1597 victory over Japan breaks Korean box office records

A film depicting a famous 16th century naval victory against Japanese invaders has set records at the South Korean box office, drawing the largest audience and becoming the first local movie to take more than $100 million.

“Myeongryang” (“Roaring Currents”) attracted 13.62 million viewers as of Saturday after 18 days of screening, distributor CJ Entertainment.

The previous frontrunner, Hollywood blockbuster “Avatar”, drew 13.61 million Korean cinema goers over a span of four months.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, glacial melt, nukes, more


Today’s headlines from the world of the interface between people and planet opens again with the story of the year, at least so far.

From Foreign Policy, a frightener by a public health expert:

You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola

  • Experimental drugs and airport screenings will do nothing to stop this plague. If Ebola hits Lagos, we’re in real trouble.

Attention, World: You just don’t get it.

You think there are magic bullets in some rich country’s freezers that will instantly stop the relentless spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa? You think airport security guards in Los Angeles can look a traveler in the eyes and see infection, blocking that jet passenger’s entry into La-la-land? You believe novelist Dan Brown’s utterly absurd description of a World Health Organization that has a private C5-A military transport jet and disease SWAT team that can swoop into outbreaks, saving the world from contagion?

Wake up, fools. What’s going on in West Africa now isn’t Brown’s silly Inferno scenario — it’s Steven Soderbergh’s movie Contagion, though without a modicum of its high-tech capacity.

The Associated Press adds a new number:

Ebola may leave 1 million starved

The deadly Ebola virus that has killed more than 1,000 in West Africa is disrupting the flow of goods, forcing the United Nations to plan food convoys for up to a million people as hunger threatens the largely impoverished area.

Amid roadblocks manned by troops and pervasive fear among the population of the dreaded disease, the worst-ever outbreak of Ebola is increasingly impacting the food supply in three countries.

While none of the regulations restricts the movement of basic necessities, fear and inconvenience are disrupting supplies. Some 1 million people in isolated areas might need food assistance in the coming months, according to the U.N. World Food Program, which is preparing a regional emergency operation to bring food by convoy to the needy.

From the Associated Press again, ramped up efforts:

Liberia expands Ebola treatment in capital

Liberian authorities expanded Ebola treatment centers in the capital Saturday to cope with increasing numbers of patients, while two more airlines announced they were halting flights to the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the deepening crisis.

Kenya Airways and regional carrier Gambia Bird join a number of other airlines in temporarily cancelling flights to avoid transmitting the disease beyond the four countries already affected in West Africa.

The Kenya Airways flights will stop as of midnight Tuesday, said Titus Naikuni, the chief executive officer of Kenya Airways. The decision was made with guidance from the country’s health ministry, Naikuni said. Gambia Bird said it had stopped flying to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

And the New York Times offers hope for a very, very few:

3 Liberian Health Workers With Ebola Receive Scarce Drug After Appeals to U.S.

Three Liberian health care workers who have contracted Ebola received an extremely scarce experimental serum on Friday at a hospital outside the national capital, Monrovia, a Liberian health official said Saturday.

The official, Tolbert G. Nyenswah, an assistant minister of health and social welfare, would not say if any of the three were doctors.

The drug, a mix of monoclonal antibodies called ZMapp, has been tested in animals, but has not been studied for safety or effectiveness in humans. It arrived in Liberia on Wednesday after appeals by leaders there to top officials in the United States and a letter from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia to President Obama.

From the New York Times again, a quackery alert:

Agencies Issue Warnings Over Bogus Ebola Cures

Panic over Ebola has the makers of dietary supplements aggressively targeting Africans, claiming to have a cure for the lethal virus.

Late this week, both the World Health Organization and the United States Food and Drug Administration issued strong warnings about false Ebola cures. The latter threatened American companies with penalties if they continue making such claims. Neither agency listed products or companies they accused of fraud or explained why they had acted so suddenly.

Nigeria’s health minister was widely reported on Thursday to have endorsed an American nutritional supplement, one that the W.H.O. said was an example of the sort of “false rumors of effective products” it was trying to quell.

The Japan Times reassures:

Ebola unlikely to spread to Japan: health ministry

The Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa recently is unlikely to spread to Japan, health ministry officials say.

Although the probability is deemed low, Japan is making preparations at international airports and other entry points to deal with the possible arrival of Ebola-infected people, the officials also say.

“This is not an unknown disease and we have a system for dealing with it, so the disease is unlikely to spread (in Japan) even if an infected person appears,” a health bureaucrat said. “In developed countries, fatality rates are said to be around 20 percent.”

From the Associated Press, another consequence:

US Basketball: No Africa trip after Ebola outbreak

The U.S. national team has canceled a trip to Senegal after the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The Americans were scheduled to interrupt their World Cup of Basketball preparations to travel to the African continent for the first time, conducting a joint clinic on Aug. 27 with the Senegal national team. They planned to tour Senegal’s Goree Island and attend a reception hosted by the Senegalese government.

But USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Friday the Americans had no choice but to call off the trip because of the risk involved with Senegal’s location near countries where the outbreak has been deadly.

SINA English covers lust for bucks amidst a plague:

Chinese investors’ enthusiasm toward Africa undiminished despite Ebola outbreak

Nigeria, a magical land that raises the biggest population in Africa and boasts the continent’s biggest economy, is like a magnet that keeps attracting Chinese investors.

Even the current rampant outbreak of Ebola virus could not dampen the enthusiasm of Chinese entrepreneurs, who keep coming into the country to build bridges, establish factories and farms, bringing changes to the country and the life of people living there.

And from Defense One, looking for help, Pentagon style:

The Pentagon Wants You to Help Them Find the Next Pandemic

Ever heard of Chikungunya? It’s a mosquito-borne virus that causes joint pain and fever and can be debilitating. It’s also spreading fast, having hit the Americas for the first time in decades at the end of last year and new cases were reported in Florida this last month. There is no official cure, yet, but recent research into a vaccine shown promise.

If you can build a model for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, explain where it’s going next, and do it by the end of September, they’ll give $150,000.

The initial submission, the entry exam if you will, should “contain a detailed description of the planned data sources and model applicability.” That has to be in by Sept. 1. It should include “predictions for the next six months, followed by five monthly update submissions, due on the first of each subsequent month, with predictions for the remaining period of the challenge.”

That model should include items like this, via the London Daily Mail:

Government scientist took shortcuts in handling deadly bird flu virus and then tried to cover up dangerous cross-contamination, CDC says

  • Scientist took shortcuts to speed up the work and accidentally contaminated the samples, mixing a deadly strand with a benign one
  • Accident occurred at Center for Disease Control HQ in Atlanta, Georgia, in January, a new report found
  • CDC shipped a virulent avian flu virus rather than a benign strain to a poultry research laboratory of the Department of Agriculture
  • No one became infected and the pathogen was destroyed
  • Took CDC six weeks to admit to the blunder
  • Follows the recent exposure of dozens of employees to live Anthrax

From the Christian Science Monitor, the melting point:

Humans now the major cause of alpine glacier melt, researchers say

  • The researchers estimate that between 1990 and 2010, some 69 percent of the mass lost by the world’s alpine glaciers can be traced to human influence – basically global warming.

Retreating alpine glaciers in a warming world may seem to have an obvious connection. But glaciers respond to environmental changes, well, glacially. At any point, it’s hard to tell how much of a glacier’s retreat is due to human-triggered factors now and how much is due to natural factors that might have held sway years ago, researchers say.

Now comes an analysis estimating that between 1990 and 2010, some 69 percent of the mass lost by the world’s alpine glaciers can be traced to human influence – basically global warming. That compares with only 25 percent traceable to human influence averaged over the entire study period of 1850 to 2010. The team picked 1850 since that is when a prolonged, modest cooling period known as the Little Ice Age, mainly in the Northern Hemisphere, ended.

The study shows that throughout the 160-year period, an increasing proportion of mass loss could be traced to human influence, which becomes significant from about 1950 on, notes Ben Marzeion, a researcher at the Institute of Meteorology and Geophysics at the University of Innsbruck in Austria who led the team performing the analysis.

CIP Americas covers another environmental dilemma:

Coffee, a crisis about to explode

The dual plagues of blight and price fixing are causing the scarcity and high prices of the fragrant bean, but the real problem for communities is the need to grow other foods.

“The scarcity of coffee and the price increases will have an affect on the indigenous population,” warns Eliseo Gómez Álvarez, member of a small association of coffee growers in the community of San Pedro, in Chenalhó, in the highlands of Chiapas. Jorge Santiago, who works alongside the local communities, explains that “the coffee economy is not an alternative, they have to be able to produce corn and other foods.”

During the months of January and February 2014, coffee prices rose in Chiapas. One explanation was coffee rust, a fungus that infects coffee trees. However, as local experts explain, there are many factors working together to turn production into a crisis. “There’s not far to go until the situation becomes explosive,” explains Javier Galván, member of the coffee network of the National Union of Regional Autonomous Rural Farmworker Organizations (UNORCA, in Spanish).

And from north of the border. Alien invaders via CBC News:

Goldfish dumped by Coquitlam pet owners become invasive species

  • City says goldfish just one of several invasive species breeding in local lakes where they were dumped

They’re easy to take care of, inexpensive and entertaining, but goldfish and other aquatic pets including exotic fish, turtles, bass and carp are getting into local waterways and breeding and competing with native species.

In Coquitlam, so many goldfish are winding up in Como Lake that the city is cracking down with hefty fines ranging from $2,500 to $250,000.

David Scott, from Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, said there’s good cause for concern. “If you have non-native species that become established in let’s say the Fraser River, they would be competing and influencing dozens of local species that we have here including salmon which are economically important,” he said.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with an NGO [NPO] fraud with friends in high places via Jiji Press:

Tokyo NPO in N-Accident Fraud Scandal May Have Been Dummy

A Tokyo-based nonprofit organization at the center of a fraud scandal related to nuclear accident compensation is suspected to have been a dummy organization since its establishment, it was learned Saturday.

Business reports submitted to the Tokyo metropolitan government by the NPO, established in August 2011, said no operations were carried out in fiscal 2011-2012 for various reasons, showing zeros for all categories of costs such as personnel expenses and energy bill.

The NPO, headed by former Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma, did not submit its business report for fiscal 2013 by the deadline at the end of June 2014.

Associated Press sounds a domestic nuclear dilemma:

Delays for SC nuclear plant pressure industry

Expensive delays are piling up for the companies building new nuclear power plants, raising fresh questions about whether they can control the construction costs that crippled the industry years ago.

The latest announcement came this week from executives at SCANA Corp., which has been warned by its builders the startup of the first of two new reactors in South Carolina could be delayed two years or more. SCANA Corp. and plant co-owner Santee Cooper have not accepted that timeline from the companies designing and building the reactors, nor have they accepted responsibility for additional costs.

That announcement may well foreshadow more delays for a sister project in eastern Georgia, and they have caught the attention of regulators and Wall Street.

And for our final item, TheLocal.at covers more nuclear discontent:

Austrian province wants Swiss nuclear power halt

  • The head of the regional Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in Voralberg, Roland Frühstück, wants to exert pressure on the Swiss government to speed up decommissioning of its aging nuclear power reactors due to concerns over safety.

Switzerland has four remaining active nuclear power plants, one of which is the oldest non-military reactor operating in the world.

The Swiss government decided in 2011 to shut down one of the plants, which was commissioned in 1972.  The plant, in Mühleberg, is now more than 42 years old, and has a similar design to the ill-fated Fukushima plant – although it isn’t on the coast in a tectonically active region.

A similar decision has yet to be taken by Switzerland in connection with its Beznau Nuclear Power Plant, which was commissioned in 1969, making it 45 years old.

InSecurityWatch: Buggery, hacks, spies, zones


Though it’s a Saturday here in ol’ Berzerkeley, the news from the dark side continues to flow unabated.

We open with the disingenuous, via the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

Germans say they accidentally tapped Clinton, Kerry calls

The German Foreign Intelligence Agency has admitted tapping “at least one” phone call each by current Secretary of State John Kerry and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while they were aboard United States government jets, according to German media reports.

The reports claim Kerry’s intercepted communication was a satellite phone call from the Middle East in 2013. Clinton’s communication was also a satellite call, in 2012, and was reportedly to then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Both calls were reported to have been intercepted accidentally while German intelligence was targeting terror suspects in the Middle East and northern Africa.

The intelligence agency (the Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND) told German media that terror groups often use the same frequencies that the secretaries phone calls were made over, so the calls were picked up. The calls were among what the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung said intelligence sources described as several cases of U.S. official phone calls being picked up accidentally during anti-terror communications monitoring.

From the Guardian, more buggery deprecated:

Tony Abbott says phone hack did not compromise talks with Julie Bishop

  • The prime minister responds to a report the foreign minister’s phone was hacked saying sensitive discussions were secure

Following reports the foreign minister’s phone was hacked, the prime minister, Tony Abbott, has said sensitive discussions were conducted over secure phone lines and were not monitored.

The Herald Sun reported that Julie Bishop’s mobile phone was compromised while she was overseas. The newspaper said Australian intelligence officials seized the phone when she returned from a trip negotiating access to the MH17 crash site in the Ukraine.

Australian intelligence agencies know which country those responsible for compromising the phone were from, the report said. The phone was not used to discuss sensitive communications and was replaced.

And Network World goes for the vulnerable:

British spy agency scanned for vulnerable systems in 32 countries, German paper reveals

British intelligence agency GCHQ used port scanning as part of the “Hacienda” program to find vulnerable systems it and other agencies could compromise across at least 27 countries, German news site Heise Online has revealed.

The use of so-called port scanning has long been a trusty tool used by hackers to find systems they can potentially access. In top-secret documents published by Heise on Friday, it is revealed that in 2009, GCHQ started using the technology against entire nations.

One of the documents states that full scans of network ports of 27 countries and partial scans of another five countries had been carried out. Targets included ports using protocols such as SSH (Secure Shell) and SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol), which are used for remote access and network administration.

The results were then shared with other spy agencies in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. “Mailorder” is described in the documents as a secure way for them to exchange collected data.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, they’d tell us, but then they’d have to kill us:

(REDACTED) memo released on killing (REDACTED) American overseas

The government on Friday made public a heavily redacted memo that was used to legally justify the killing of an American overseas.

Acting under pressure from a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the New York Times, the Justice Department turned over the long-sought Feb. 19, 2010 Office of Legal Counsel memo relating to the killing of Anwar al-Aulaqi.

Characterized as “egregiously over-redacted” by ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, the seven page memo is signed by then-Acting Assistant Attorney General David J. Barron. Barron is now a judge on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

The only words that survive the redacting knife on pages 2 and 3 are “top secret.” Snippets that survive include the ominous sounding word play “killings in self-defense are not assassination.” More elaborately, the memo declares that “the use of lethal force would not violate the Fourth Amendment” if certain conditions prevail, including a “capture operation ts infeasible and the targeted person is part of a dangerous enemy force and poses a continued and imminent threat to U.S. persons or interests.”

Ars Technica covers the action:

Five American Muslims sue FBI, attorney general over travel watch list

  • Plaintiffs decry “invisible web of consequences that are imposed indefinitely.”

A group of five Muslims (four of whom are United States citizens) have sued top American government officials, alleging that their constitutional rights have been violated for having been put on a federal watch list.

The plaintiffs’ lawsuit, which was filed on Thursday in federal court in Detroit, accuses numerous leaders—including the attorney general, the directors of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, and others—of violating their constitutional rights to due process and the right to be free from religious discrimination.

In the complaint, each person outlines a similar story: being detained at the border, often having digital devices seized, and being subject to prolonged physical searches. One was told that he was on the no-fly list and was later offered a chance to work on behalf of federal law enforcement in exchange for removal. He seems to have declined.

Next up, with all the talk about militarized police in the U.S., just how well has Uncle Sam armed them. A Los Angeles Times graphic has the numbers:

BLOG Cop arms

From International Business Times, context for Missouri misery:

Mike Brown Shooting: What It’s Like To Grow Up Black In A Town Where 94% Of Cops Are White

When Gregory Carr was growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, his father gave him and his four brothers advice about dealing with the police.

“He’d say ‘let me tell you something, when you’re black and you get stopped by the man you just say, yes sir, no sir, and cooperate. Because that man will crack your head.’”

A generation later, Carr, 49, who teaches speech and theater at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis, said that he tells his own son the same thing.

“I’m very concerned, he’s only six years younger than Mike Brown,” he said, referring to the shooting of Brown, 18, who was unarmed when he was killed by police Saturday in this St. Louis suburb, an incident that sparked six days of protests, a violent police backlash, sympathetic protests across the country and a national discussion about race and segregation in America.

From the Independent, hooded bigotry gone bananas:

Michael Brown shooting: Ku Klux Klan raises ‘reward’ for officer who shot unarmed teen in Ferguson, Missouri

The Missouri chapter of a faction of the Ku Klux Klan is allegedly raising money as a reward for the white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson a week ago.

On its website, the South Carolina-based New Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) has published a series of racist posts describing Brown as “a black punk” and “not a good kid”, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch (SCPLCHW) blog has reported.

The group has also advertised a fundraiser asking for donations of $10 (£6) and above, with all proceeds going to “the cop who did his job against the negro criminal”.

And from Boing Boing, a note about a podcast for the modern journalist:

Essential gadgets while reporting on civil unrest

In this episode, we talk to journalist Quinn Norton, who writes about digital rights, hacker culture, copyright, and the strangeness of the world and the complexity of the people who inhabit it for Medium and other outlets. She has covered the Occupy Wall Street movement and civil unrest around the world for Wired and other publications.

News Corp Australia covers aquatic hack attacks:

Sharks eat the internet but Google fights back

A NEW food craze is sweeping the underwater world with sharks taking a fancy to Google’s undersea data cables.

Vision has emerged showing sharks munching away on the cables, mistaking them for dinner.

Google has been forced to take action, reinforcing parts of the trans-Pacific fibre-optic cables and wrapping them in material to keep the sharks at bay.

From TheLocal.dk, information control in the name of IP. [And if you do want to see a picture, Wikipedia has ‘e here]:

Denmark’s icon… that we can’t show you

  • The Little Mermaid is perhaps the most photographed attraction in the entire country, but Danish media outlets are extremely hesitant to publish a photo of the sculpture.

Earlier this week, The Local reported that Seoul’s mayor wants a miniature version of Copenhagen’s famous Little Mermaid statue for his own city.

Rather than illustrate the photo with a beautiful picture of the sculpture – thousands of which can be found all over the internet – we chose a photo in which the famous landmark was surrounded by tourists and thus not the main focus of the image.

There was a reason for that. The family of sculptor Edvard Eriksen is known for being very aggressive about the sculpture’s copyright and numerous Danish media outlets have received a large bill in the mail for using a photo of the Little Mermaid – even though it is arguably the most recognisable image in all of Denmark.

The newspapers Politiken, Berlingske and the now-closed Nyhedsavisen have all been fined for using an image of the Little Mermaid. Berlingske had to pay 10,000 kroner ($1,800) for using a photo of the statue in connection with a 2005 story on Denmark’s tourism industry.

From Ars Technica, check your grocery bills:

Grocery shoppers nationwide probably had credit card data stolen

  • Coast-to-coast: Albertsons, Acme Markets, Jewel-Osco and more were hit

Two major supermarket chains announced that their customers’ credit card information may have been stolen during a network intrusion.

SuperValu, the Minnesota parent company of Cub Foods, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher’s, Shop ‘n Save, and Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, announced that 180 stores in North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, Missouri, North Dakota, and Minnesota were affected.

“The Company has not determined that any such cardholder data was in fact stolen by the intruder, and it has no evidence of any misuse of any such data, but is making this announcement out of an abundance of caution,” SuperValu said in a statement Friday.

Consortiumnews.com covers a sin of MSM omission:

The Hushed-Up Hitler Factor in Ukraine

Behind the Ukraine crisis is a revision of World War II history that seeks to honor eastern European collaborators with Hitler and the Holocaust by repackaging these rightists as anti-Soviet heroes, a reality shielded from the U.S. public, as Dovid Katz explains.

Would America support any type of Hitlerism in the course of the State Department’s effort to turn the anti-Russian political classes of Eastern Europe into paragons of PR perfection that may not be criticized, howsoever mildly?

It was frankly disconcerting to see Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, embracing the leader of Ukraine’s far right, anti-Semitic, pro-fascist Svoboda party last December. It was disturbing to learn of the neo-Nazi elements that provided the “muscle” for the actual Maidan takeover last February (BBC’s Newsnight was among the few major Western outlets to dare cover that openly).

Most disturbing of all has been the mainstream Western media’s almost Soviet-grade wall somehow erected against critical mention of the far-right component of Ukraine’s 2014 history, rendering any such thought as worthy of ridicule on New York Times opinion pages last spring.

And the Associated Press covers an offer:

EU Offers to Take Charge of Gaza Border, Says Status Quo ‘Is Not an Option’

The European Union offered Friday to take charge of Gaza’s border crossings and work to prevent illegal arms flows, insisting on a durable truce and saying a return to the status quo for the region “is not an option.”

As EU foreign ministers held an urgent meeting in Brussels about global conflicts, Hamas negotiators met with the Islamic militant group’s leadership in Qatar to discuss a proposal for a long-term truce with Israel. An official said the group was inclined to accept the Egyptian-mediated offer.

The Gaza blockade remains the main stumbling block. It has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.

After the jump, the last from Asia, where the Game of Zones continue to boil. There’s turmoil in Pakistan, Indian assertiveness, bellicose rhetoric, avowals and disavowals, dubious ploys, and data protectionism — plus a flatulent tale from up north and an apology that’s not nearly enough. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Taps, hacks, zones, bluster


Today’s headlines from the world of spies, deep politics, hackery, state violence, and the ongoing Asian Games of Zones is agenda’s so full we opted to switch the order of our compendia today, and we’ll get straight to it, first with a pair of stories about prominent conversations overheard.

We open with this from International Business Times:

Germany Recorded Hillary Clinton When She Was Secretary Of State, German Media Says

Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) recorded a conversation of Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state, three German media outlets reported on Friday. Clinton was recorded while flying in a U.S. government aircraft. Reports did not specify the exact date of the recording.

Germany’s largest daily newspaper and two public broadcasting services broke the story on the alleged incident and cited anonymous government sources that said the recording was by accident. One source said the recordings should have been destroyed immediately and it was “idiocy” that they weren’t. The report also mentions the BND recorded other “American politicians and other friendly countries,” but did not specify which politicians or what countries.

The disclosure came after last year’s revelation by Edward Snowden that the U.S. ran an espionage operation on Germany, one of America’s closest allies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was bugged and recorded by the U.S., was highly critical of the surveillance, saying there must not be “spying among friends.” More recently, German officials revealed in July that the U.S had been working with a spy in Germany for more than two years.

And the other eavesdropping saga, via News Corp Australia:

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s phone was hacked at the height of the MH17 crisis

FOREIGN Affairs Minister Julie Bishop’s mobile phone was compromised while she was overseas leading tense negotiations to win access to the MH17 crash site in Ukraine.

Australian intelligence officials seized Ms Bishop’s phone on her return from a two-week trip to the United States, Ukraine and Holland, having secured a deal to get Australian police into the crash area.

Russian-backed rebels shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight with a surface-to-air missile on July 17, killing 298 passengers and crew, including 38 Australians.

It is thought that our intelligence agencies know which country those responsible for compromising Ms Bishop’s phone were operating from.

American accessory convicted, via Al Jazeera:

Court: Poland culpable for CIA secret prisons

  • The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Poland to pay reparations to two Saudis being held in Guantanamo Bay

On July 24, seven judges on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against Poland in a landmark case, making it the first European Union country to be held accountable for its involvement in the United States’ systematic, extrajudicial detention of suspects, known as the “extraordinary rendition” programme. Established by the George W Bush administration in the aftermath of September 11 attacks, the programme was run by the CIA, and designed to detain suspects deemed to be of “high value”.

In the unanimous ruling, the judges stated that “Poland had cooperated in the preparation and execution of the CIA rendition, secret detention, and interrogation operations on its territory” and that it had failed in its duty under the European Convention on Human Rights to “ensure that individuals within its jurisdiction were not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The ECHR ordered Poland to pay $175,000 to Saudi-born Palestinian Abu Zubaydah and $135,000 to Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Both applicants are currently being held in US custody in Guantanamo Bay, isolated from the outside world.

From the Daily Californian, an alarm sounds in Berkeley:

UC to evacuate affiliates in Pakistan after bombing this week

The university is initiating evacuation of UC affiliates in Pakistan after a bombing in the city of Quetta on Tuesday.

Two UC Berkeley faculty members are currently in Pakistan on UC-related business, according to campus risk manager Andy Goldblatt. No students or staff have been reported to be in the country, although an email was sent Wednesday to campus deans, directors and chairs asking for help identifying other UC faculty, staff and students in Pakistan.

Campus professor Ron Gronsky, special faculty assistant to the chancellor for international relations, said in the email that not all UC affiliates take the recommendation that they register their international travel with the university.

The Los Angeles Times plays the overture for the next act:

Nouri Maliki’s departure sets stage for deeper U.S. role in Iraq

The resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki after a bitter final power struggle sets the stage for increasing U.S. arms shipments and military advisors, deepening America’s role in a conflict President Obama had sought to avoid.

White House officials, who had urged Maliki to step down, praised him for agreeing Thursday to back Haider Abadi, a less divisive successor who they hope can unite Iraq’s political and religious factions against the Islamic State militants who control or threaten much of the country.

“Iraqis took another major step forward in uniting their country,” national security advisor Susan Rice said in a statement. “These are encouraging developments that we hope can set Iraq on a new path.”

And from the Associated Press, hints of Perry-less times ahead for the Lone Star State:

Texas’ Perry indicted for coercion for veto threat

A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday for abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption — making the possible 2016 presidential hopeful his state’s first indicted governor in nearly a century.

A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to nix $7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit, which is run by Travis County District Rosemary Lehmberg’s office. Several top aides to the Republican governor appeared before grand jurors in Austin, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel. Perry himself wasn’t called to testify.

He was indicted by an Austin grand jury on felony counts of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Maximum punishment on the first charge is five to 99 years in prison. The second is two to 10 years.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press challenges First Amendment insecurity:

Media coalition protests police treatment of reporters during Ferguson events

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press led a coalition of 48 national media organizations that sent a protest letter [PDF] objecting to the treatment of reporters during the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown.

The letter was sent to the heads of the city and county police, as well as the state highway patrol.

“Officers on the ground must understand that gathering news and recording police activities are not crimes,” the letter states. “The actions in Ferguson demonstrate a lack of training among local law enforcement in the protections required by the First Amendment as well as the absence of respect for the role of newsgatherers. We implore police leadership to rectify this failing to ensure that these incidents do not occur again.”

From the Washington Post, another source of insecurity:

Ex-cop who burned body again gets 17 years

For a second time, a former New Orleans police officer has been sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for burning the body of a man shot to death by another New Orleans police officer in the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina.

Gregory McRae, 53, already is imprisoned for burning Henry Glover’s body. However, an appeals court had ordered a recalculation of his original 17-year sentence after one of his original convictions was thrown out.

In giving the same 17-year, 3-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk said Friday that McRae was guilty of covering up an unlawful killing by fellow Officer David Warren. Africk’s assertion comes despite a jury’s earlier acquittal of Warren.

The Center for Investigative Reporting covers another insecurity on the borders:

Ousted chief accuses border agency of shooting cover-ups, corruption

More than two dozen people have died in violent clashes with U.S. Customs and Border Protection since 2010. Despite public outrage over some of the killings, no agent or officer has faced criminal charges – or public reprimand – to date.

Yet at least a quarter of the 28 deaths were “highly suspect,” said James F. Tomsheck, the agency’s recently removed head of internal affairs. In a sweeping and unauthorized interview with The Center for Investigative Reporting, he said the deaths raised serious questions about whether the use of lethal force was appropriate.

Instead, Tomsheck said, Border Patrol officials have consistently tried to change or distort facts to make fatal shootings by agents appear to be “a good shoot” and cover up any wrongdoing.

The Oakland Tribune covers questionable consistency:

Judge orders investigation into Oakland’s police arbitration losses

A federal judge with sweeping power over Oakland’s police department ordered an investigation Thursday into why the city consistently loses arbitration cases with officers who are appealing discipline.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson wrote that an arbitrator’s recent decision overturning the termination of an officer videotaped tossing a tear gas grenade into a crowd of Occupy Oakland protesters struck at the heart of a reform drive that he has overseen for more than a decade.

“Just like any failure to impose appropriate discipline by the (police) chief or city administrator, any reversal of appropriate discipline at arbitration undermines the very objectives of the (reform program),” Henderson wrote.

From the London Daily Mail, yet another way to bug you:

Are apps secretly listening to your calls? Security experts discover gyroscopes can identify voices from VIBRATIONS

  • Computer scientists from Stanford University and Israeli defence research group Rafael have turned a phone gyroscope into a crude microphone
  • Smartphones contain the sensors which are used for games and orientation
  • They found gyroscopes can pick up frequency of soundwaves around them
  • Vibrations are then decoded by software, making it possible for experts to eavesdrop on phone conversations – with 65 per cent accuracy
  • No permission is needed from third parties to access gyroscopes

Many people are careful to protect their pin numbers, and are vigilant about giving smartphone apps access to their microphone in case they could be listened in on.

But now there’s a new snooping threat, and it comes from a smartphone’s gyroscope.

From the Guardian, security questions:

Australian intelligence watchdog wants clarification on national security plan

  • Inspector General of Intelligence and Security also wants increased budget for effective oversight of expanded surveillance

Australia’s intelligence watchdog has called on the Abbott government to clarify various elements of its national security reforms – and also increase its budget so that it is in a position to carry out effective oversight in an environment where the surveillance footprint is being significantly expanded.

In a public hearing in parliament on Friday, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) said the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) should be required to report more extensively on the use of new powers proposed in the Coalition’s national security reforms.

IGIS said the government should consider adding a requirement to the first tranche of its security legislation requiring Asio to report on instances where it used force in operations, where it accessed third party property, or where it disrupted computers.

From the Guardian, those with info want others to have less info:

CIA security luminary: ‘Right to be forgotten is not enough’

  • Leading security expert Dan Geer says the EU ruling does not go far enough in protecting users’ privacy

The EU’s so-called “right to be forgotten” laws have not gone far enough to protect citizens’ privacy, according to Dan Geer, one of the world’s best-known security experts.

Geer, currently chief information security officer at the CIA’s venture capital arm, told delegates at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas that he was confused by the Guardian’s coverage of the issue. The so called “right to be forgotten” issue stemmed from a European court of justice ruling, forcing Google to remove a link relating to a 1998 newspaper article from its search results after a complaint from the person named in the article.

Geer described it as “notably ironic” that the Guardian had championed Edward Snowden’s revelations about intrusion by government agencies into civilians’ privacy, while also claiming in one editorial (though he did not specify which) that nobody has a right to be forgotten.

From the Washington Post, why are not surprised?:

U.S. firm helped the spyware industry build a potent digital weapon for sale overseas

CloudShield Technologies, a California defense contractor, dispatched a senior engineer to Munich in the early fall of 2009. His instructions were unusually opaque.

As he boarded the flight, the engineer told confidants later, he knew only that he should visit a German national who awaited him with an off-the-books assignment. There would be no written contract, and on no account was the engineer to send reports back to CloudShield headquarters.

His contact, Martin J. Muench, turned out to be a former developer of computer security tools who had long since turned to the darkest side of their profession. Gamma Group, the British conglomerate for which Muench was a managing director, built and sold systems to break into computers, seize control clandestinely, and then copy files, listen to Skype calls, record every keystroke and switch on Web cameras and microphones at will.

According to accounts the engineer gave later and contemporary records obtained by The Washington Post, he soon fell into a shadowy world of lucrative spyware tools for sale to foreign security services, some of them with records of human rights abuse.

More of the same from The Verge:

Hacking Team is spreading government malware through YouTube and Microsoft Live

You don’t have to click on a sketchy link to end up downloading malware. A new report from Citizen Lab’s Morgan Marquis-Boire shows how companies can spread targeted malware by intercepting web traffic en route, sending malicious traffic from an otherwise friendly link. A company called Hacking Team has been using the tactics on traffic from YouTube and Microsoft’s login.live.com servers, seeding innocent videos with surveillance software designed to track the target’s activities online.

The attacks are more targeted than traditional malware, usually targeting a single person at a time, and relying on access to government internet infrastructure to intercept the traffic. Hacking Team typically works with governments like Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, but Marquis-Boire says similar capabilities have been used by intelligence agencies in the US, Britain, Russia, China and Israel. Snowden documents released in The Washington Post have identified NSA malware injection attacks that infected more than 80,000 different devices.

Since the attacks are injected into everyday web traffic, defending against them is difficult, but many companies have already adopted HTTPS encryption as a possible defense. HTTPS would encrypt the connection between the user and the server, preventing injection attacks. At the moment, only a small fraction of web traffic is encrypted, but Google is offering incentives to sites that switch over, including a small boost in search rankings. It’s unclear whether login.live or YouTube will switch to default HTTPS, but Marquis-Boire says both Microsoft and Google “have taken steps to close the vulnerability by encrypting all targeted traffic.”

intelNews lays blame:

Malware targeting ex-Soviet states has Russian hallmarks

A malicious software that has infiltrated the computer systems of dozens of embassies belonging to former Eastern Bloc nations “has all the hallmarks of a nation-state” cyberespionage operation, according to researchers.

Security firm Symantec said last week that the malware appears to be specifically targeting embassies of former communist nations located in China, Jordan, as well as in locations across Western Europe.

In a report published on its website, Symantec said “only a nation state” was likely to have the funds and technical resources to create a malware of such complexity. Additionally, the malware seems to be designed “to go after explicit government networks that are not easy to find”, according to Symantec senior security researcher Vikram Thakur.

Big Brother still seduces, via Nextgov:

The Snowden Effect

Revelations last year that the National Security Agency is collecting Americans’ telephone metadata soured some people’s opinions about the U.S. intelligence community, but they apparently haven’t affected the views of many computer security professionals.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that leaks by Edward Snowden, the former systems administrator and contractor with the National Security Agency, have not hindered efforts to recruit or retain cyber staff at the three-letter agencies. Instead, the disclosures actually might have helped intelligence agencies attract computer aficionados by spotlighting the agencies’ bleeding edge technology.

“We have had no indication that cyber pros have any reticence about working for the government,” says Mark Aiello, president of Massachusetts-based Cyber 360 Solutions, a staffing firm. “It is probably the opposite, and mostly for the opportunity to work with some advanced tools or techniques. The Big Brother aspect is appealing if you are the watcher, not the watched.”

From Motherboard, young accomplices:

DARPA Uses Preteen Gamers to Beta Test Tomorrow’s Military Software

Sieg Hall doesn’t look like much from the outside. Located at the University of Washington, the building was constructed in the 1960s, when it was  a focal point for Vietnam-era antiwar protests. Before renovations were carried out it had become so dilapidated that students had a tradition of taking home chunks of rock off its façade. If I didn’t know better, Sieg is just another nondescript computer science building, not a front line in military research and development.

But it’s here, tucked away on the third floor, that you’ll find precisely that: the Center for Game Science, a research lab that makes educational video games for children, and that received the bulk of its funding from the  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the wing of the US Department of Defense that supports research into experimental military technology.

Why is DARPA the original primary funder of the CGS? According to written and recorded statements from current and former DARPA program managers, as well as other government documents, the DARPA-funded educational video games developed at the CGS have a purpose beyond the pretense of teaching elementary school children STEM skills.

Instead, the games developed at CGS have had the primary purpose of using grade-school children as test subjects to develop and improve “adaptive learning” training technology for the military.

From MercoPress, invoking the T-word in a curious context:

Cristina Fernandez will use anti-terrorism law against US company that closed its Argentine plant

Argentina’s government will use an anti-terrorism law for the first time to seek criminal charges against a U.S.-based international printing firm which closed its Argentine plant without warning, president Cristina Fernández said on Thursday. She linked the company to some of the hedge funds in litigation with Argentina over defaulted bonds.

Several hundred workers were left jobless when RR Donnelly abruptly filed for bankruptcy and shut down its printing presses on the outskirts of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.

“We are facing a real case of fraudulent behavior and an attempt to intimidate the population,” said Cristina Fernandez in a speech at Government House.

“We will apply the anti-terrorist law. We filled a motion under charges of altering the economic and financial order and terrorizing of people,” the head of state expressed after blaming Donnelly with tax fraud and evasion.

On to other attempts to suppress information, first from the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Sexism of Authorities Aggravates Violence Against Women Journalists in Mexico

The sexism of Mexican authorities generates impunity and has led to a 300 percent increase in violence against women journalists in just a decade, according to a report presented by an NGO.

In the last few years 86 cases of violence against women journalists were reported, of which 54 percent occurred in 2013, the study by the Communication and Information for Women organization (CIMAC) revealed.

It added that Mexico City reported 35 percent of the total number of cases, thus making the capital “the most dangerous place for women in this profession.”

GlobalPost sends up a rocket:

Hamas says it has deported foreign journalists for reporting on missile launches

  • The group that runs Gaza says foreign media coverage of this latest conflict with Israel was skewed against the Palestinians.

Did Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, intimidate, harass or even deport journalists trying their damnedest to cover a dangerous war with Israel?

If you take Hamas’ word for it, the answer appears to be yes.

In an interview with the Lebanese-based Al Mayadeen TV, Hamas spokeswoman Isra Almodallal said that foreign journalists have been deported from Gaza for filming Hamas rocket launches.

Why? According to Almodallal, they “were fixated on the notion of peace and on the Israeli narrative. So when they were conducting interviews or when they went on location to report they would focus on filming the places from where the missiles were launched. Thus, they were collaborating with the occupation.”

From the Associated Press, many questions remain:

Liberian police seal newspaper office

Dozens of riot police have sealed the offices of a newspaper critical of the Liberian government and officers attempted to detain its publisher. Police spokesman Sam Collins says the paper’s criticisms could “plunge the country into confusion” when the government is struggling to contain an Ebola outbreak.

Philibert Brown’s National Chronicle has often accused President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government of corruption and on Wednesday it called for the government to step down.

Brown has been ordered to report for questioning Friday.

Sirleaf’s government has come under stiff criticism for its record on press freedoms. Sirleaf has signed the Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for the Africa-wide repeal of defamation and “insult” laws, but multiple libel convictions have been handed down since she came to power in 2006.

From International Business Times, more media under fire:

China’s Anti-Corruption Crackdown Increasingly Targets CCTV, Flagship Network

In the latest sign that China Central Television, the country’s state-run television giant, is in political trouble,  the government announced Friday that one of the network’s top officials is under detention.

China arrested Huang Haitao, deputy director of CCTV 8, a channel devoted to scripted dramas, according to 163.com, a popular news portal. His arrest is in connection with a wide-ranging government audit of CCTV, which claims an audience of more than 1 billion viewers.

Huang is only the latest prominent CCTV personality to run afoul of Chinese authorities since the December 2013 arrest of Li Dongsheng, a former vice president of the network. In late May, authorities arrested Guo Zhenxi, the head of CCTV’s financial news network, while high-profile anchor Rui Chenggang, whose “Economic News” program has an estimated 10 million viewers, was detained on July 11.

After the jump, more tensions in the Asian Games of Zones, including Pakistani protests and violence, a resounding chorus of moans from the ghosts of history, claims and counterclaims, U.S. marines of a Japanese island, and as story that really is too good to be true. . . Continue reading

The war on the press: A petition and a victory


Two significant stories to cover in the ongoing war of Washington politicians and law enforcement agencies at all levels to rein in what’s left of the badly depleted news media.

First up, from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

Free press groups petition Attorney General on behalf of journalist James Risen

More than 100,000 people, including 20 Pulitzer Prize winners, signed a petition submitted to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder today urging the administration to rethink its policy of subpoenaing journalists to reveal their sources.

Seven representatives of free press organizations announced the delivery of the petition at the National Press Club this afternoon and called on the administration to drop its threatened subpoena of New York Times reporter James Risen.

Risen has been fighting since 2007 to protect a confidential source he used in writing a book about the Central Intelligence Agency, and he joined the panel at the press conference today.

“The events today are part of a very strongly accelerated effort across this country to lance a boil of fear and intimidation,” said Norman Solomon, whose Institute for Public Accuracy and RootsAction.org started the petition.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Government Accountability Project, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders were also represented on today’s panel, along with veteran journalist Phil Donahue.

“Freedom of the Press is the most important freedom,” said Delphine Halgand, the director of Reporters Without Borders’ Washington office. “It is the freedom that allows us to verify the existence of all other freedoms.”

Risen said the level of support the petition generated “leaves me speechless.”

Read the rest.

And a video report from The Real News Network:

Freedom of the Press in Jeopardy as Obama Goes After Times Reporter Risen

From the transcript:

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: In Washington, D.C., on August 14, journalists and advocates spoke out at the National Press Club and demanded the Obama administration stop its efforts to compel New York Times reporter James Risen to reveal his source in the 2006 book State of War that detailed a botched attempt at sabotaging Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

JAMES RISEN, REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: The Justice Department and the Obama administration are the ones who turned this, really, into a fundamental fight over press freedom in their appeal to the Fourth Circuit. They said that this case, the central issue of this case was not some details or specifics or anything, that the fundamental thing that this case was about was that there was no such thing as a reporter’s privilege. If you read the government’s brief in the Fourth Circuit appeal, that’s what they say: there is no such thing as a reporter’s privilege. And so they turned this case into a showdown over the First Amendment and over the freedom of the press in the United States. And so I’m happy to carry on that fight, but it wasn’t me who really started it.

NOOR: Risen has been fighting the subpoena since 2008. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Risen’s appeal of a lower court decision ordering him to testify and reveal his source.

RISEN: I think what–you know, this has been a long case. I got subpoenaed in 2008 first. But what I can say now is with all of these people showing their support, I’m willing to keep fighting, because now I know that I have just an enormous group of people supporting me.

And one of the things that I’d like to say is that the real reason I’m doing this is for the future of journalism. My oldest son, Tom, standing right there, is a journalist, and I want to make sure that the same protections that I’ve had in my career are there for the future reporters in America, because there is no way we could do our jobs if we don’t have the ability to have aggressive investigative reporting in America and to have the ability to maintain confidential sources.

NORMAN SOLOMON, COFOUNDER, ROOTSACTION.ORG: It was 60 years ago that in perhaps his most well-known and well-remembered TV broadcast Edward R. Murrow said, “we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” He said that at a time when it was essential for journalists to step forward to lance a boil of fear and intimidation that had gripped official Washington for years and the entire country as well. That was 1954. Here we are in 2014, and the events today are part of, I think, a very strongly accelerating effort across this country to lance a boil of fear and intimidation.

On a related note, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against Missouri law enforcement agencies following arrests of reporters covering the event, seeking to enforce the right of press and public to record officers in public. Here’s a video report from MSNBC via Mox News:

ACLU Sues St Louis Cops for Telling People They Can’t Film Them

Their action bore prompt results, reports the St. Louis American tonight:

ACLU confirms right to film officers with Ferguson, County and Highway Patrol

The City of Ferguson, St. Louis County and the Missouri Highway Patrol have signed an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union acknowledging the right of the public and the media to film the actions of police officers.

The agreement was reached after the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against the entities after numerous complaints of media and public intimidation, specifically those videotaping officers.

Wednesday, Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, and Ryan J. Reilly of the Huffington Post were arrested by St. Louis County Police officers only to be released later the same day with all charges dropped.

EnviroWatch: Asteroids, Ebola, fracking, more


Before we get to the latest on the Ebola front, the Independent warns of a potential global catastrophe ahead:

Huge asteroid that ‘could end human life’ defying gravity as it moves towards Earth, scientists say

  • Scientists have moved closer to being able to stop a huge asteroid colliding with the Earth and potentially wiping out human life

Researchers at the University of Tennessee have discovered that blowing the space rock up could make the collision worse by causing several devastating impacts. Instead, small changes could be made to its surface to disrupt the forces keeping it together and cause it to break up in outer space.

They were studying asteroid 1950 DA, which has a one in 300 chance of hitting the planet on 16 March, 2880.

Although the odds seem small, it is the most likely asteroid to collide with Earth and the odds are higher than being shot dead in the US.

On to Ebola, first with a sobering headline from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Ebola outbreak even deadlier than previously thought, WHO warns

The official death toll from the Ebola outbreak has been vastly underestimated and the crisis will need “extraordinary measures” to bring under control, the World Health Organization has warned.

The outbreak in four West African countries has killed at least 1,145 people already, after a further 76 deaths were reported on Friday, but the latest WHO statement suggested that the actual toll could be much higher.

“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak,” the WHO said in Geneva.

The WHO also cautioned against “unrealistic expectations” about experimental Ebola medicines and vaccines, including a Canadian vaccine that has been offered to the Ebola-affected countries. Those drugs won’t have a major impact on the outbreak, it said.

More from the Japan Times:

Ebola centers filling faster than they can be opened

Beds in Ebola treatment centers are filling up faster than they can be provided, evidence that an outbreak in West Africa is far more severe than the numbers show, an official with the World Health Organization said Friday.

The outbreak sweeping Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria is already the largest and deadliest ever recorded, killing more than 1,060 people, according to the latest WHO figures.

But the U.N. health agency said Thursday that official counts of the dead and infected may still “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak.”

Another warning from the Global Post:

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is like ‘wartime,’ experts warn

‘I think the wake-up call was too late in calling it a public health emergency of international concern,’ the international president of Doctors Without Borders said.

It will take about six months to bring under control the Ebola epidemic, the head of Medecins Sans Frontieres said on Friday, saying the outbreak in West Africa felt like “wartime, is moving, advancing.”

Joanne Liu, international president of MSF (Doctors Without Borders), speaking after a 10-day trip to West Africa, said more experts were needed on the ground and was critical of the World Health Organization (WHO) for declaring Ebola a “public health emergency of international concern” only on Aug 8.

“We need people with a hands-on operational mindset,” to combat the outbreak, Liu told a news briefing in Geneva.

From the London Telegraph, a UK Ebola alert:

Woman tested for Ebola in Scotland

  • NHS investigating ‘possible’ case of Ebola after woman from Sierra Leone falls ill at immigration removal centre

A woman is being tested for the Ebola virus in Scotland after falling ill at an immigration removal centre.

Health authorities have confirmed they are investigating a “possible” case of the deadly virus but have said it so far appears “highly unlikely” the test will turn out to be positive.

The woman is believed to have arrived from Sierra Leone, one of the countries most affected by the epidemic that has claimed more than 1,000 lives across West Africa.

Homeland Security News Wire covers a procedural change contemplated:

Texas Medical Center considering “reverse quarantine” to prevent Ebola infections

The Texas Medical Center (TMC), home to more than fifty health care institutions (it is considered the world’s largest medical district), is considering using a preventive measure, known as reverse quarantine, to keep potentially at-risk employees and students from spreading Ebola to other medical staff or patients. Concerned that the Ebola outbreak could reach Texas, hospital executives are reviewing their emergency management plans, usually reserved to guide more than 100,000 employees at TMC during hurricanes and tropical storms.

The Texas Medical Center (TMC), home to more than fifty health care institutions (it is considered the world’s largest medical district), is considering using a preventive measure, known as reverse quarantine, to keep potentially at-risk employees and students from spreading Ebola to other medical staff or patients. Concerned that the Ebola outbreak could reach Texas, hospital executives are reviewing their emergency management plans, usually reserved to guide more than 100,000 employees at TMC during hurricanes and tropical storms.

The reserve quarantine was once used on Dr. Tom Wheeler, when he returned to Houston from a visit in Mexico in 2009, during the height of the H1N1 epidemic. Upon his return, the Baylor College of Medicine’s (BCM) pathology chief was told by his employer to stay home for a day before he returned to work. “I was just told to stay at home, no special precautions,” said Wheeler. “I came to work the next day.”

From USA Today, a homecoming ahead:

American Ebola victim looks forward to family reunion

In a new statement issued Friday, Dr. Kent Brantly, one of the two American missionaries to come down with Ebola while serving in Africa, says he is “recovering in every way” and looks forward to a reunion with his family “in the near future.”

Brantly is being treated in an isolation unit at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, along with the other American Ebola victim, Nancy Writebol. The statement issued Friday was through Samaritan’s Purse, the organization Brantly was serving. Writebol was a missionary with SIM USA. Earlier reports indicated that she was recovering, but no new information was available Friday.

Brantly says he still has hurdles to clear in his recovery before he can be discharged, but he is holding on to the hope of a family reunion.

Homeland Security News Wire covers testing:

Ebola vaccine to be tested on humans

Efforts to test an Ebola vaccine on humans have reached a milestone when BioProtection Systems, through its parent company, NewLink Genetics Corporation, confirmed that it is prepared to launch the first human safety trial of a vaccine, which the company licensed after it was developed by scientists at the Public Health Agency of Canada. Thevaccine replaces the genes from vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), a pathogen found in livestock, with a gene from the Ebola virus. The Ebola gene then develops a harmless protein that sits on the virus’s outer coat.

Efforts to test an Ebola vaccine on humans have reached a milestone when BioProtection Systems, through its parent company, NewLink Genetics Corporation, confirmed that it is prepared to launch the first human safety trial of a vaccine, which the company licensed after it was developed by scientists at the Public Health Agency of Canada. The company has also arranged to manufacture tens of thousands of vaccine doses within “the next month or two,” Dr. Charles Link, NewLink’s chief executive, said.

And China Daily asserts:

We’re ready if Ebola arrives, say health officials

China is on guard against the Ebola virus and well prepared to respond to any threat from it, health officials say as global concerns mount over the outbreak in West Africa.

Dong Xiaoping, deputy director of the emergency response division at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the nation is far from the areas affected and there are no direct flights to these countries.

“The possibility of Ebola entering China remains remote, although it does exist,” Dong said. “But a mass outbreak in China can be ruled out, given the capacity for responding to it here.”

Frontera NorteSur covers another water woe:

A Toxic Shade of Orange

A Mexican federal official has accused the mining giant Grupo Mexico with concealing an August 5 toxic spill that contaminated two rivers in the northern border state of Sonora.

Cesar Lagarda Lagarda, northwestern division chief for the National Water Commission (Conagua), said in a press conference this week that Grupo Mexico “deliberately hid the failure” of a waste storage facility that held a mixture of sulfuric acid and heavy metals from its Cananea copper mine, which is located south of the Arizona-Sonora border.

The toxic soup first spilled into the Bacanuchi River before entering the Sonora River and threatening water supplies for downstream communities and the state capital of Hermosillo. The pollution was first noticed by local residents last week who were surprised to see the Sonora River transformed into a odd, orange color. Residents also feared contamination of their groundwater.

Lagarda reported that authorities have detected excessive levels of arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, iron, manganese, nickel, and copper near the municipality of Baviacora, as well as dead fish. The official warned of long-term, fatal effects to cattle. An estimated 10 million gallons of toxic material spilled from Grupo Mexico’s property.

From the Asahi Shimbun, our lone Fukushimapocalypse Now! item:

Utilities still spending consumer fees to run nuclear-promotion centers

Seven electric power utilities continue to spend billions of yen to run facilities that promote nuclear power despite dwindling visitor numbers and pressure on the companies to cut costs.

Operating expenses for these public relations centers are covered by consumer payments for electricity, the rates for which were raised after the utilities’ nuclear reactors were taken offline following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

The government approved the higher charges on households based on the premise that the companies would take thorough measures to improve efficiency and reduce spending.

On to the fracking front, first with Mother Jones:

Why the Scientific Case Against Fracking Keeps Getting Stronger

  • Anthony Ingraffea argues that fugitive methane emissions turn natural gas from a climate benefit into yet another strike against fossil fuels.

How things have changed. Nowadays, explains Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast (stream above), the scientific argument against fracking and unconventional gas drilling is more extensive. It involves not simply groundwater contamination, but also at least two other major problems: earthquake generation and the accidental emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

On the show, Ingraffea laid out the science on these issues—and it is certainly not something a reasonable person can ignore. Take earthquakes, for instance. According to Ingraffea, “there is now, in my opinion, scientific consensus that human-induced seismicity does occur” as a result of a particular aspect of unconventional gas drilling (namely, disposing of chemically laden “flowback water” in underground wastewater injection wells).

Ingraffea isn’t the likeliest scientific foe of fracking. His past research has been funded by corporations and industry interests including Schlumberger, the Gas Research Institute, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman. His original doctoral work, in the 1970s, involved the study of “rock fracture mechanics”—in other words, how cracks in rock form and propagate, a body of knowledge that is crucial to extractive industries like oil and gas. “I spent 20, 25 years working with the oil and gas industry…helping them to figure out how best to get oil and gas out of rock,” Ingraffea explains.

ProPublica covers fracking infractions:

Report: Drillers Illegally Using Diesel Fuel to Frack

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so

A new report charges that several oil and gas companies have been illegally using diesel fuel in their hydraulic fracturing operations, and then doctoring records to hide violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The report, published this week by the Environmental Integrity Project, found that between 2010 and July 2014 at least 351 wells were fracked by 33 different companies using diesel fuels without a permit. The Integrity Project, an environmental organization based in Washington, D.C., said it used the industry-backed database, FracFocus, to identify violations and to determine the records had been retroactively amended by the companies to erase the evidence.

The Safe Drinking Water Act requires drilling companies to obtain permits when they intend to use diesel fuel in their fracking operations. As well, the companies are obligated to notify nearby landowners of their activity, report the chemical and physical characteristics of the fluids used, conduct water quality tests before and after drilling, and test the integrity of well structures to ensure they can withstand high injection pressures. Diesel fuel contains a high concentration of carcinogenic chemicals including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, and they disperse easily in groundwater.

From the Toronto Globe and Mail, another fuel, another problem:

Oil sands among riskiest energy plays in the world: report

A new report says some of the world’s costliest energy projects are in Alberta’s oil sands and many could be cancelled without higher oil prices.

The study by the Carbon Tracker Initiative highlighted 20 of the biggest projects around the world that need a minimum oil price of $95 (U.S.) per barrel to be economically viable.

Most on the list require prices well north of $110 per barrel and a few in the oil sands even need prices higher than $150.

And our final item, via the Guardian:

Rarest dolphins under threat from oil exploration in NZ sanctuary, say Greens

  • New Zealand Greens and International Whaling Commission say Maui’s dolphins need more protection, but minister disagrees

The New Zealand government has been accused of threatening the survival of the Maui’s dolphins, one of world’s rarest dolphin breeds, with just 55 of the animals remaining.

The Maui’s dolphin is endemic to New Zealand and is only found off the west coast of the country’s north island. The IUCN lists the species as critically endangered.

Although a special sanctuary for the species was established in 2008, conservation groups have accused the New Zealand government of hastening its demise by allowing oil exploration and fishing in the area.

Reports: Ferguson, Missouri, and militarized cops


Three video reports, two from Democracy Now! and one from RT America, look at the Washington-fund-and-armed militarization of American police and the ongoing war on photographers and journalists by police unhappy with their reports.

From Democracy Now!:

Program notes:

Protests are continuing in Ferguson, Missouri, over the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager who was shot by police on Saturday. But the mood in Ferguson has changed drastically over the past 24 hours. On Wednesday night, the city looked like a warzone as police fired tear gas, stun grenades and smoke bombs. Police arrested at least 10 people, including a St. Louis alderman and two journalists. But last night the mood was less tense after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon put an African-American highway patrol captain, Ron Johnson, in charge of security in the town of Ferguson. Johnson marched with protesters and ordered the riot gear put away. We go to St. Louis to speak with the Rev. Renita Lamkin, who was hit with a rubber bullet by police on Wednesday while attending the protest, and Patricia Bynes, Democratic committee member of Ferguson Township.

[Editor's Note: Rev. Renita Lamkin was incorrectly identified during the interview. Democracy Now! regrets the error.]

From Democracy Now! again:

Cops or Soldiers? Pentagon, DHS Helped Arm Police in Ferguson with Equipment Used in War

Program notes:

The events in Ferguson over the past week have sparked a national debate over racial profiling and the militarization of local police forces. On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message.” What Holder did not mention was the federal government’s role in supplying local police forces with military-grade equipment. The New York Times reports Department of Homeland Security grant money paid for the $360,000 Bearcat armored truck on patrol in Ferguson. Most of the body armor worn by officers responding to the Ferguson protests was also paid for with federal money. We speak to Radley Balko, author of the book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.” “When we take domestic police officers and we train them like soldiers and we give them military gear and we dress them up like soldiers and we tell them they’re fighting a war — a war on crime or a war on terror — they’re going to start to see themselves as soldiers,” Balko says.

And from RT America:

Controlling the narrative: Ferguson police target journalists

Program notes:

Journalists reporting on the unrest in Ferguson, MO were in the crosshairs of police Wednesday night, with violence and intimidation directed at many prominent journalists. Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of the Huffington Post made headlines after being confronted, assaulted and arrested without reason or justification given, while a crew from Al Jazeera America was targeted by SWAT forces who fired tear gas directly at the team while filming a protest. Christopher Chambers, a journalism professor at Georgetown University, explains to RT’s Ameera David why law enforcement seem to be targeting members of the media.

UPDATE: On a related note, consider this chart from Reuters:

BLOG Noteworthy

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, toxic sperm, nukes


We open today’s compendium of environmental news with the latest on the Ebola front, and conclude with a case of Down Under idiocy.

First up, a declaration via Reuters:

Guinea declares public health emergency over Ebola

Guinea has declared a public health emergency over an Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people in three West African states and is sending health workers to all affected border points, a government official said.

An estimated 377 people have died in Guinea since the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola began in March in remote parts of a border region next to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Guinea says its outbreak is under control with the numbers of new cases falling, but that the new measures are needed to prevent further infection from the other countries at the center of the epidemic.

Global Times covers a clean bill of health:

No confirmed Ebola cases in S. Africa: health authorities

There have been no laboratory- confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in South Africa associated with the current outbreak in West Africa, health authorities said on Thursday.

Given the frequency of travel between southern and western African countries, there is a risk of EVD cases being imported into South Africa, but overall this risk is low, the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said in its latest update on the spread of EVD.

The Associated Press mulls a quandary:

Liberia gets Ebola drug; ponders who should get it

Liberian officials faced a difficult choice Thursday: deciding which handful of Ebola patients will receive an experimental drug that could prove life-saving, ineffective or even harmful.

ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the West African country late Wednesday. Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah said three or four people would begin getting it Thursday, although another health official said there was only enough for three people.

The government had previously said two doctors would receive the treatment, but it was unclear who else would.

A related story from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Doctors: Ebola drug poses dilemma

Doctors treating a Sierra Leone physician with Ebola defended their decision not to give him an experimental drug, saying Wednesday they feared it was too risky.

Calling it “an impossible dilemma,” Doctors Without Borders explained in detail last month’s decision in response to a New York Times story on the case. It would have been the first time the experimental drug was tried in humans.

The explanation came the same day that another top doctor from Sierra Leone died of the disease, further fueling a debate about how to apportion a limited supply of untested drugs and vaccines and whether they are even effective.

Xinhua ads context:

Ebola crisis could continue for months: health official

A U.S. health official warned Thursday it would take at least three to six months to end the Ebola outbreak, which has killed nearly 1,000 in West Africa, and which has prompted a state of emergency in Liberia and Nigeria.

“It will be a long and hard fight,” Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tom Frieden told a congressional hearing.

The director on Wednesday activated the level of the agency’s response to the outbreak to its highest alert status.

The Wire covers a patient cured:

Ebola-Stricken Doctor Could Be Released From Atlanta Hospital Soon

According to the charity Samaritan’s Purse, Dr. Kent Brantly is recovering nicely from Ebola and is expected to be released from the hospital shortly. From the group’s statement:

“Dr. Kent Brantly is doing very well and hopes to be released sometime in the near future. The staff at Emory Healthcare are taking extremely great care of him. Kent and his wife continue to express appreciation for everyone’s prayers.”

A simple enough sentiment although one not accompanied by a timetable. Reports on Brantly’s condition have been increasingly positive since he arrived in Atlanta two weeks ago.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, another false alarm:

Nigerian woman sent to Singapore hospital did not have Ebola: MOH

  • The patient, who is in her 50s, was reportedly suffering from a high fever. She has since been discharged.

Fears of the first case of Ebola surfacing in Singapore on Thursday (Aug 14) proved unfounded.

In a statement, the Health Ministry clarified that there is no suspect case of Ebola in Singapore at present. “The case in question was indeed referred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, but she does not fit the case definition,” it said. “MOH will continue to closely monitor the situation, and continually assess and calibrate its measures.”

The scare began when a Nigerian woman was transferred from Gleneagles Hospital to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH)’s Communicable Diseases Centre on Thursday. She was suffering from a high fever.

Reuters covers an exodus:

U.S. Embassy dependents to leave Sierra Leone due to Ebola

The United States said on Thursday it had ordered family members at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone to depart because of limitations on regular medical care as a result of the Ebola outbreak.

“The Embassy recommended this step out of an abundance of caution, following the determination by the Department’s Medical Office that there is a lack of options for routine health care services at major medical facilities due to the Ebola outbreak,” the State Department said in a statement.

From Global Times, a prohibition:

Filipino seafarers prohibited from disembarking in Ebola-stricken countries

The Philippine government on Monday prohibited Filipino seafarers from disembarking in Ebola-hit countries in West Africa.

The order is contained in the guidelines issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to protect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and prevent the spread of the Ebola virus disease.

“There will be no shore leave for seafarers and no crew change in the ports of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the meantime,” POEA chief Hans Leo Cacdac said in a statement.

From Reuters, a suspension:

Korean Air suspends flights to Kenya over Ebola worries

Korean Air Lines Co Ltd said on Thursday it will suspend flights to and from Nairobi from August 20 to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Korean Air said it had been operating three return flights from Incheon, South Korea, to the capital of Kenya a week.

The company said it would determine whether to resume the flights based on a change in conditions. It did not elaborate.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, another ounce of prevention:

Airport steps up measures against Ebola

Narita Airport Quarantine is strengthening measures to prevent the Ebola virus from entering Japan, in light of the deadly outbreak in parts of West Africa.

There are no direct flights from West African countries to Narita Airport, but there are fears that residents and travelers from such countries as Guinea, where there have been reports of an Ebola outbreak, may transfer planes at Narita Airport. To address such concerns, airport quarantine has been stepping up efforts to screen out infected individuals with fever by conducting thermographic inspections.

Furthermore, in response to the World Health Organization’s declaration of an international emergency on Aug. 8, quarantine is urging those who have stayed in West Africa to voluntarily declare their visit when entering Japan through public announcements in Japanese and English in addition to information boards and video displays in eight languages.

Anxiety-inducing historic precedent from the Associated Press:

25 Years Ago, a Different Ebola Outbreak in Va.

It had all the makings of a public-health horror story: an outbreak of a wildly deadly virus on the doorstep of the nation’s capital, with dozens of lab monkeys dead, multiple people testing positive, and no precedent in this country on how to contain it.

Americans’ introduction to the Ebola virus came 25 years ago in an office park near Washington Dulles International Airport, a covert crisis that captivated the public only years later when it formed the basis of a bestselling book.

Initially thought to be the same hyper-deadly strain as the current Ebola outbreak that has killed hundreds in Africa, the previously unknown Reston variant turned out to be nonlethal to humans. But the story of what might have been illustrates how far U.S. scientists have come in their understanding of a virus whose very name strikes fear, even in a country where no one has fatally contracted it.

Global Times reassures:

Outbreak of Ebola in China unlikely: expert

A Chinese expert said Wednesday that the possibility of an Ebola outbreak in China is extremely low, although the virus may enter the country.

Dong Xiaoping, research fellow with the Institute of Virus of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), said the possibility of Ebola entering China through fruit bats, its natural vector, and other animals is very low. However, it may enter China through humans in individual cases. Risks of this kind can be controlled with strengthened checks at customs.

Dong said the spread of Ebola in China is unlikely even if Ebola cases are found, as China is capable of disease control and prevention.

Next, opportunity for the corporate sector, first from USA Today:

NewLink Genetics: Ready to test Ebola vaccine

An Iowa drug developer is preparing to test a possible Ebola vaccine in humans, as scientists race to develop ways to prevent or fight a virus that has killed more than 1,000 people in a West African outbreak.

NewLink Genetics is planning an initial phase of testing involving up to 100 healthy volunteers and is talking with regulators about the study, said Brian Wiley, the company’s vice president for business development. He declined to say whether the drug developer has submitted an application for the research to the Food and Drug Administration.

Chief Financial Officer Gordon Link said Thursday the timing of the testing, which would involve up to 100 healthy volunteers, is uncertain.

MintPress News adds a dimension:

On Use Of Experimental Ebola Drugs, U.S. Under Increased Pressure

  • Officials wrestle with whether it is ethical to withhold potential treatment from some groups, but also if it is acceptable to offer either false hope or true risk to vulnerable populations

The World Health Organization has taken the unprecedented step of declaring that the use of experimental drugs — the efficacy and safety of which have yet to be proven — would be “ethical” to combat the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

The multilateral agency’s unusual backing, announced Tuesday, will further complicate an issue that has suddenly become a major quandary for global health officials, the U.S. government and the very small number of private companies that have been working on Ebola research. Even as issues of access and equity have come to the fore, others are expressing concern that the discussion around experimental treatments could be a distraction.

The backing of the WHO followed a two-day emergency meeting of medical workers, ethicists and others.

“There was unanimous agreement among the experts that [due to] the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak it is ethical to offer unregistered interventions as potential treatments or prevention,” Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at the WHO, told journalists Tuesday, while also releasing an institutional statement on the discussions.

A Chinese company’s venture from Shanghai Daily:

Biotech firm develops kit for diagnosing Ebola

A LOCAL biotech company says it has developed a diagnostic kit for Ebola that has been used in Nigeria with good effects.

Shanghai ZJ Bio-Tech Co said it started to develop the kit for Ebola virus in 2010 at the request of African clients.

Since the recent outbreak in west Africa, some 50 health facilities and laboratories home and abroad have ordered it.

Our final business item from El País, bringing in a corporate ’bot:

Bleach and a robot used to disinfect ebola victim’s Madrid hospital room

  • New tests confirm late Spanish priest Miguel Pajares’ colleague Juliana Bonoha is not infected

The Madrid hospital room in which Spanish priest Miguel Pajares spent the last five days of his life battling the ebola virus began to be disinfected on Wednesday. The task was first undertaken by a team from the Carlos III public hospital using bleach and then by a robot belonging to the same US company that cleaned the Washington, D. C. central post office after the 2001 anthrax attacks and also helped prevent the spread of infection in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy in New Orleans in 2005. The hospital has not disclosed the cost of the procedure.

Staff at the center used bleach and disinfectant gas to clean the installations and burnt materials used by both Pajares, who died from the disease on Tuesday, and sister Juliana Bonoha Bohé, who was  repatriated to Spain from Liberia alongside him last week. New tests on Thursday confirmed that the 65-year-old Spanish nun has not been infected by the ebola virus, though she will remain in hospital until the 21-day incubation period has passed.

The firm Steris Iberia is in charge of completing the decontamination process in the room that Pajares occupied. Its technicians sealed the room, leaving in it a robot “similar to a large shopping cart” that is controlled by a computer from outside, explained the company’s head of business, Miguel Ángel Valdeolivas.

Our final Ebola item, a bigger picture from MintPress News:

Ebola And Climate Change: How Are They Connected?

  • In light of the recent outbreak, some researchers are connecting deforestation in countries such as Liberia to the disease, noting that the change in landscape is bringing wildlife in closer contact with humans

In 2006, a study published in the journal Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene revealed that Ebola, a “violent hemorrhagic fever that leads to internal and external bleeding,” would be more frequent with global warming due to its intermittent connection to wildlife and climate. In 2008, another study reiterated the same fears, noting that Ebola outbreaks would be among a cluster of other viral diseases gaining momentum, such as bird flu, cholera, plague and tuberculosis.

“We are calling for increased attention and action in developing global monitoring networks to look at a wide variety of infectious diseases in a wide variety of wildlife since they are such sensitive indicators of the health of the systems in which they live,” said veterinarian William Karesh, Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) vice president of global health programs, back in 2008.

In light of the recent outbreak, some researchers are connecting deforestation in countries such as Liberia to the disease, noting that the change in landscape is bringing wildlife in closer contact with humans. According to researchers, the virus is typically found in wildlife, and transmission from animals to humans occurs through contact with infected bodily fluids, causing a “spillover” in species. The virus can also be contracted from another human being when a person is in direct contact with infected blood, vomit or feces during contagious periods, putting health workers in West Africa primarily at risk.

From the Guardian, our first water woe:

Tibet’s glaciers at their warmest in 2,000 years, report says

  • Glacier retreat could disrupt water supply to Asia’s main rivers including Yellow, Yangtze, Brahmaputra, Mekong and Salween

The Tibetan plateau, whose glaciers supply water to hundreds of millions of people in Asia, were warmer over the past 50 years than at any stage in the past two millennia, a Chinese newspaper said, citing an academic report.

Temperatures and humidity are likely to continue to rise throughout this century, causing glaciers to retreat and desertification to spread, according to the report published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research.

“Over the past 50 years, the rate of temperature rise has been double the average global level,” it said, according to the report on the website of Science and Technology Daily, a state-run newspaper.

Glacier retreat could disrupt water supply to several of Asia’s main rivers that originate from the plateau, including China’s Yellow and Yangtze, India’s Brahmaputra, and the Mekong and Salween in southeast Asia.

In May, Chinese scientists said Tibetan glaciers had shrunk 15% – around 3,100 sq miles (8,000 sq km) – over the past 30 years.

A food perspective from Global Times:

Concerns over grain supply as North China suffers worst drought in 63 years

The worst drought in 63 years in North China has badly hit three major grain producing regions, sparking concerns over nationwide grain supply.

Liaoning, Jilin and Henan provinces have seen the lowest levels of precipitation in the last six decades. Another nine regions, including Shandong, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces as well as Inner Mongolia, are also bearing the brunt of the severe drought, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The prolonged drought has affected 4.39 million hectares of cropland and 2.35 million people across the country, people.com.cn reported Wednesday.

Another water woe, via Homeland Security News Wire:

Ingredients in “fracking” fluids raise concerns

As the oil and gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) proliferates, a new study on the contents of the fluids involved in the process raises concerns about several ingredients. The researchers say that out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there is very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals.

As the oil and gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) proliferates, a new study on the contents of the fluids involved in the process raises concerns about several ingredients. The scientists presenting the work yesterday at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) said that out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there is very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals.

An ACS release reports that William Stringfellow, Ph.D., says he conducted the review of fracking contents to help resolve the public debate over the controversial drilling practice. Fracking involves injecting water with a mix of chemical additives into rock formations deep underground to promote the release of oil and gas. It has led to a natural gas boom in the United States, but it has also stimulated major opposition and troubling reports of contaminated well water, as well as increased air pollution near drill sites.

And from The Real News Network, another potentially alarming water worry, this time in the form of privatization:

Is Baltimore City’s Water Supply Up For Privatization?

  • City Hall denies the charge, but workers and advocates say an upcoming water contract could be a foot in the door for privatization

BBC News covers iDetox:

Apple bans two hazardous chemicals from assembly lines

Apple has banned two potentially hazardous chemicals from being used in the final assembly process at 22 of its iPhone and iPad production plants.

Benzene, which is a carcinogen, and n-Hexane, which can cause nerve damage, will no longer be used in cleaning agents or degreasers at the facilities, the firm said.

The move follows a campaign urging the tech giant to scrap the substances.

China Daily bans dosed up American pig meat:

US pork halted, additives feared

China stopped importing pork from six processing and six cold storage facilities in the United States on Wednesday to enforce its ban on the use of a feed additive that promotes lean muscle growth, the US Department of Agriculture said on Tuesday.

To ensure food safety, China had in March said that third-party verification was necessary to ensure that US pork shipped to the country is free of the additive ractopamine, which is sold for hog farm use as feed additive.

Ding Lixin, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, said such quality control measures are commonplace in the domestic market, especially the checks to trace the presence of ractopamine in pork. The new move indicates that the government is implementing quality checks on imported pork products also.

From Spain, poisoned sperm via TheLocal.es:

Judge demands study on ‘Spain’s worst semen’

A judge in the Catalan city of Tarragona has ordered an investigation into the possible health impact of the area’s chemical industry after discovering that only six per cent of local men have fully mobile sperm.

The enquiry was launched yesterday after a judge studied a complaint made in 2010 by the environmental group L’Escurçó.

The group cited a 2002 study showing that the semen of 53 per cent of Tarragona’s men had semen which did not measure up to World Health Organization parameters.

The judge has now asked the Civil Guard to identify chemical industry companies in Tarragona which emit substances capable of reducing male fertility.

On to today’s episode of Fukushimapocalypose Now! with alarming news from the American Genetic Association:

Fukushima’s legacy

  • Biological effects of Fukushima radiation on plants, insects, and animals

Following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, biological samples were obtained only after extensive delays, limiting the information that could be gained about the impacts of that historic disaster. Determined not to repeat the shortcomings of the Chernobyl studies, scientists began gathering biological information only a few months after the disastrous meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan in 2011. Results of these studies are now beginning to reveal serious biological effects of the Fukushima radiation on non-human organisms ranging from plants to butterflies to birds.

A series of articles summarizing these studies has now been published in the Journal of Heredity. These describe widespread impacts, ranging from population declines to genetic damage to responses by the repair mechanisms that help organisms cope with radiation exposure.

“A growing body of empirical results from studies of birds, monkeys, butterflies, and other insects suggests that some species have been significantly impacted by the radioactive releases related to the Fukushima disaster,” stated Dr. Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, lead author of one of the studies.

From the Guardian, hot times to come in the Outback?:

Aboriginal people can still apply to use land for nuclear waste, says minister

  • Ian MacFarlane tells traditional owners in Tennant Creek that the process would remain open until November

Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory can still apply to offer their land as a nuclear waste dump despite the collapse of government attempts to nominate Muckaty Station, the industry minister has said.

Ian MacFarlane met traditional owners, members of the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust and community members in Tennant Creek on Thursday, where he announced that the option to volunteer their land for a radioactive waste management facility would remain open until 30 November this year.

Muckaty had spent almost 10 years mired in bitter negotiations and legal battles, since the NLC lobbied for Aboriginal people to volunteer a site after former prime minister John Howard legislated for the first nuclear waste disposal facility in 2005.

And for our final item, the Guardian covers Aussie idiocy:

Tony Abbott adviser warns of threat of ‘global cooling’

  • Opponents label comments ‘terrifying’ after Maurice Newman writes opinion piece in the Australian newspaper

The Abbott government’s chief business adviser, Maurice Newman, has warned that Australia is ill prepared for global cooling owing to widespread “warming propaganda” in his latest critique of mainstream climate science.

Newman, who chairs the prime minister’s Business Advisory Council, said there is evidence that the world is set for a period of cooling, rather than warming, leading to significant geopolitical problems because of a lack of preparedness.

Adam Bandt, deputy leader of the Greens, said Newman’s comments were an “embarrassment to the government”.

InSecurityWatch: Cops, spooks, zones, drones


Today we open our coverage with the ongoing tragedy in Missouri, with a particular focus on the transformation of America’s cops from officers on the beat into an occupying paramilitary.

First up, a major development from Canada’s National Post:

Security of Ferguson will be taken over by Highway Patrol after local and county police lose community trust

Captain Ron Johnson of Highway Patrol, will be leading the security efforts in Ferguson, Missouri, going forward after several nights of racially charged provocation has left residents feeling little trust in local and county police forces.

The St. Louis suburb has been the scene of violent protests since a police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on Saturday.

Gov. Jay Nixon said the change is intended to make sure “that we allow peaceful and appropriate protests, that we use force only when necessary, that we step back a little bit and let some of the energy be felt in this region appropriately.”

Johnson, who is black, said he grew up in the community and “it means a lot to me personally that we break this cycle of violence.”

And on to our primary focus, first from Businessweek:

A Federal Effort to Reuse Military Gear Turned Cops Into Commandos

The heavily militarized police force in a St. Louis suburb is hardly an anomaly. Local police departments across the country deploy not just military-style equipment but actual castoffs from the U.S. military.

Federal grant programs fund the police acquisition of military weapons and vehicles, and a U.S. law has sent more than $4 billion of surplus Pentagon gear to law enforcement over the past 17 years. Now protests following the fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.—and the heavily armed response by local police—seem likely to spark a national debate on the militarization of law enforcement. Do local cops from from Maine to New Mexico need military rifles and armored personnel carriers to do their jobs?

“I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country,” President Barack Obama said Thursday, urging calm amid the investigation of the Aug. 9 shooting. Police have said Brown fought with a police officer and tried to grab his service weapon, while witness have said the 18-year-old did not struggle with police and was surrendering when he was shot.

But Businessweek is somewhat disingenuous, as witness this from Pacific Standard:

Lockdown Nation

How military-style policing became America’s new normal.

In the fascinating and sometimes terrifying Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, journalist Radley Balko traces the changes in American policing from colonial times to the present. His focus, though, is law enforcement’s increased reliance on military hardware and strategy in the last 45 years, especially in the form of SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams.

As recently as 1969, the Los Angeles Police Department had one of the only SWAT teams in the country. Its first raid targeted a group of Black Panthers. Four police officers and four Panthers were shot and wounded. After hours of gunfire, the raid’s leader, Daryl Gates, called the mayor, who received permission from the Department of Defense to use a grenade launcher. “My words seemed unreal,” Gates would later remember. “Anytime you even talk about using military equipment in a civil action, it’s very serious business. You’re bridging an enormous gap.” The Panthers were charged with conspiracy to murder police officers, but acquitted on self-defense grounds. “Practically, logistically, and tactically,” Balko writes, “the raid was an utter disaster. But in terms of public relations, it was an enormous success.”

Paramilitary policing quickly spread across the country. Today there are more than 1,000 U.S. police forces with SWAT or SWAT-type units. In 1980, nationwide, they carried out an average of eight paramilitary raids a day; now there are well over 100. Balko attempts to explain why this happened, and why it matters.

Nextgov has some details:

The Pentagon Gave the Ferguson Police Department Military-Grade Weapons

According to Michelle McCaskill, media relations chief at the Defense Logistics Agency, the Ferguson Police Department is part of a federal program called 1033, in which the Department of Defense distributes hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military equipment to civilian police forces across the U.S.

That surplus military equipment doesn’t just mean small items like pistols or automatic rifles; towns like Ferguson could become owners of heavy armored vehicles, including the MRAPs used in Afghanistan and Iraq. “In 2013 alone, $449,309,003.71 worth of property was transferred to law enforcement,” the agency’s website states.

All in all, it’s meant armored vehicles rolling down streets in Ferguson and police officers armed with short-barreled 5.56-mm rifles that can accurately hit a target out to 500 meters hovering near the citizens they’re meant to protect.

Glenn Greenwald offers a specific focus at The Intercept:

The Militarization of U.S. Police: Finally Dragged Into the Light by the Horrors of Ferguson

The intensive militarization of America’s police forces is a serious menace about which a small number of people have been loudly warning for years, with little attention or traction. In a 2007 paper on “the blurring distinctions between the police and military institutions and between war and law enforcement,” the criminal justice professor Peter Kraska defined “police militarization” as “the process whereby civilian police increasingly draw from, and pattern themselves around, the tenets of militarism and the military model.”

The harrowing events of the last week in Ferguson, Missouri – the fatal police shooting of an unarmed African-American teenager, Mike Brown, and the blatantly excessive and thuggish response to ensuing community protests from a police force that resembles an occupying army – have shocked the U.S. media class and millions of Americans. But none of this is aberrational.

It is the destructive by-product of several decades of deliberate militarization of American policing, a trend that received a sustained (and ongoing) steroid injection in the form of a still-flowing, post-9/11 federal funding bonanza, all justified in the name of “homeland security.” This has resulted in a domestic police force that looks, thinks, and acts more like an invading and occupying military than a community-based force to protect the public.

And one hopeful response, via BuzzFeed:

Democratic Congressman Will Introduce Police Demilitarization Bill

  • Rep. Hank Johnson pivots off Ferguson to introduce the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act”

Amid growing criticism of the military-style equipment and tactics deployed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, a Democrat from Georgia plans to introduce the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act” in Congress next month.

Rep. Hank Johnson asked his all his colleagues Thursday to join him in supporting the bill, which he said in a letter “will end the free transfers of certain aggressive military equipment to local law enforcement and ensure that all equipment can be accounted for.”

Images of assault rifle-carrying camouflaged police riding through Ferguson on military vehicles similar to the IED-resistant equipment used by American armed forces in combat have proven to be a jolt of energy for a long-simmering debate about police militarization.

While the Independent makes a telling point:

America is one nation, still divided: Protests over the shooting of a black teenager could have erupted in any number of US cities

While Ferguson is the latest flashpoint in America’s struggle to overcome a legacy of racial tension going back to slavery, it could just as easily have been somewhere else; Los Angeles, where 24-year-old Ezell Ford, also black, was shot and killed by a police officer on Monday, or perhaps New York, where the death of Eric Garner while in custody, after an officer held him in an illegal chokehold last month, is still fuelling anger.

The grievances still felt by many African-Americans are rooted in the life experiences of many of them, particularly young men, which are also reflected in the sometimes shocking statistics. Statistics just from Ferguson are startling but by no means unique to the town, which, on the edge of downtown St Louis, became majority black after whites fled decades ago to escape rising violence and sinking schools.

Until last weekend, few beyond Ferguson will have known that only three of its 53 police officers are black, even if the community is overwhelmingly more black than white. Or that 483 blacks were arrested in town last year but only 36 whites. Or that blacks, who make up less than two thirds of the driving-age population, account for 86 per cent of all traffic stops by police.

From International Business Times, an intersection of two threads:

Anonymous Twitter Suspended Amid St. Louis Police Hack; Other Anon Accounts Decry Naming Officer

The St. Louis County Police confirmed to multiple outlets Thursday that the department has been hit by a cyberattack, with the agency’s website and emails down since Wednesday. Word of the hack came at the same time Twitter suspended the account of the Anonymous hacker collective, who’ve been feuding with the police online over details withheld in the Mike Brown shooting.

The confirmation also comes after the Ferguson, Missouri, police reported their system was infiltrated, with Anonymous claiming responsibility for briefly rendering the department’s phones and computers useless.

More from The Wire:

Anonymous Stops Releasing Information on Alleged Officer Who Shot Michael Brown

The online activist group Anonymous has threatened to reveal the identity and other personal information of the police officer they say is responsible for the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. However, they have called that effort (for now) after denials from St. Louis area police that they had the right person, and after Twitter suspended one of their accounts. No other media outlets have been able to verify whether their information is correct or not. Read below for the latest updates…

The latest:

1:21 p.m.: After switching to a secondary account (@TheAnonMessage), the group that named the alleged shooter says they won’t be releasing any more information for the time being.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau takes us to another scene of conflict and a triumphant declaration:

U.S. declares Yazidi intervention a success, says rescue mission unneeded

The United States military has concluded that there are too few Yazidi refugees still trapped in the mountains of northern Iraq to warrant mounting a potentially risky rescue, the Pentagon said late Wednesday.

Military advisers who earlier in the day visited the Sinjar mountains, where as many as 30,000 people were thought to still be trapped, said that they found “far fewer” Yazidis than expected and that those who were there were in better condition than anticipated. Food and water dropped in recent days have reached those who remain, the Pentagon statement said.

The Pentagon said the visit proved that the actions the United States had taken in recent days had succeeded in preventing the Islamic State from capturing and executing the Yazidis, members of a religious sect that Sunni extremists view as heretics. It said the assessment team encountered no hostile forces during its visit and “did not engage in combat operations.”

While the Guardian foreshadows:

British SAS sent to Iraq on ‘intelligence’ mission before airlift of Yazidi refugees

  • Deployment to Mt Sinjar ahead of US-led rescue of civilians follows plan for RAF to deliver arms to Kurds fighting jihadists

British SAS soldiers have been deployed to northern Iraq to “gather intelligence” ahead of any potential rescue operation, led by the US, to airlift thousands of Yazidi refugees from Mount Sinjar.

In the most dramatic sign of Britain’s growing involvement in the Iraqi crisis, the SAS soldiers have moved to the region near Mount Sinjar where US special forces are coordinating the rescue effort.

Last night, a small team from the US landed on Mount Sinjar to assess the situation, and said that an evacuation mission was less likely as “there are far fewer Yazidis on Mount Sinjar than previously feared”, according to Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Deutsche Welle covers a related development:

Morocco breaks up recruitment cell for ‘Islamic State’

  • Moroccan police have dismantled a jihadist network suspected of recruiting volunteers to fight with the radical “Islamic State” group in Iraq and Syria. The operation was carried out with help from authorities in Spain.

The Moroccan Interior Ministry said on Thursday that it had broken up a network that was used to recruit and send volunteers to fight with the “Islamic State” (IS) in Iraq and Syria.

“The operation, based on detailed investigations carried out in close collaboration with Spain, stems from a proactive security approach aimed at battling terrorist threats,” a ministry statement said.

According to Moroccan police, the group was operating in the Moroccan cities of Fez and Tetouan, as well as the town of Fnideq, close to the Spanish exclave of Ceuta.

On to rampant Orwellianism, first with the New York Times:

Reagan-Era Order on Surveillance Violates Rights, Says Departing Aide

After President Obama delivered a speech in January endorsing changes to surveillance policies, including an end to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ domestic calling records, John Napier Tye was disillusioned.

A State Department official, Mr. Tye worked on Internet freedom issues and had top-secret clearance. He knew the Obama administration had also considered a proposal to impose what an internal White House document, obtained by The New York Times, portrayed as “significant changes” to rules for handling Americans’ data the N.S.A. collects from fiber-optic networks abroad. But Mr. Obama said nothing about that in his speech.

So in April, as Mr. Tye was leaving the State Department, he filed a whistle-blower complaint arguing that the N.S.A.’s practices abroad violated Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights. He also met with staff members for the House and Senate intelligence committees. Last month, he went public with those concerns, which have attracted growing attention.

While Techdirt notes another development:

Newly Released Documents Show NSA Abused Its Discontinued Internet Metadata Program Just Like It Abused Everything Else

  • from the so,-more-of-the-same,-then? dept

James Clapper’s office (ODNI) has released a large batch of declassified documents, most of which deal with the NSA’s discontinued Section 402 program. What this program did was re-read pen register/trap and trace (PR/TT) statutes to cover internet metadata, including sender/receiver information contained in email and instant messages. (Not to be confused with the Section 702 program, which is still active and harvests internet communications.)

Notably, this marks only the second time that the ODNI has acknowledged the document release has been compelled by a FOIA lawsuit.

Following a declassification review by the Executive Branch, the Department of Justice released on August 6, 2014, in redacted form, 38 documents relating to the now-discontinued NSA program to collect bulk electronic communications metadata pursuant to Section 402 of the FISA (“PRTT provision”). These documents are also responsive to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

As EPIC’s site notes (and the ODNI’s doesn’t), the program was authorized in 2004, but no legal justification was provided to Congressional oversight until a half-decade later

And Nextgov adds a touch of the Kafkaesque:

Watchdog: The FBI Spied on the Wrong People Because of Typos

The FBI unintentionally spied on the communications data of some Americans who were not targets of investigations because of typographical errors, according to a government watchdog.

The Justice Department’s inspector general concluded in a report Thursday that the FBI has improved its overall handling of national security letters, which permit the agency to collect telephone and Internet data of suspects believed to be tied to a national security investigation.

But the inspector general identified a number of areas that “require additional effort and attention,” such as a tendency to collect data on the wrong person because of routine mistakes.

From The Hill, another bizarre revelation:

IRS wrongly allowed contractors access to sensitive data

IRS contractors without background checks had access to sensitive information, potentially putting confidential taxpayer data at risk, according to a federal audit.

The Treasury inspector general for tax administration found more than a dozen cases in which the IRS awarded contracts that required access to taxpayer information without background investigations or before those checks were completed.

Under IRS policy, background checks are mandatory for contractors who work with that kind of data.

More from Nextgov:

IRS Gave Sensitive Data to Convict Sentenced to 21 Years

At the IRS, contractors hired for courier, printing, document recovery, and sign language and interpreter services who accessed sensitive information had not undergone investigations, which is a policy violation.

A Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report released today details several situations where employees had ample opportunity to steal data.

In one, a courier who daily delivered IRS documents and mail to post offices and other locations had previously served 21 years in prison for arson, retaliation and attempted escape.

The Intercept takes action:

Five Muslim-Americans Sue Feds Over Watchlisting

Relying in part on recent Intercept reporting on the vast breadth of the government’s watchlisting system, several Muslim Americans filed a complaint in a Michigan federal court today, arguing that they have been wrongly ensnared in an unaccountable system without any opportunity to defend themselves.

Citing “recent media accounts,” including secret government documents published exclusively by The Intercept, the complaint claims that the plaintiffs—five men on the terror watchlist—have been falsely stigmatized and punished without trial by a system motivated by “bigotry and misguided, counterproductive zeal.”

“This lawsuit is an expression of anger grounded in law,” the 28-page complaint begins. “Our federal government is imposing an injustice of historic proportions upon the Americans who have filed this action, as well as thousands of others.”

From the London Telegraph, a fascinating tale:

Google removes Telegraph stories about explosives arrests

  • Google has removed links to two Telegraph articles, each more than a decade old, describing arrests for possession of explosives after receiving requests under the EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’

Google has removed links to two Telegraph articles from certain search results describing arrests for possession of explosives after receiving requests under the EU’s ‘right to be forgotten’.

The first story is a news article from June 2001 reporting that three men had appeared in court after being arrested when explosives were found in a Dublin apartment.

The three men had been seen looking at something in a car, then refused to stop when police later attempted to pull them over. Inside the car were balaclavas and plastic boxes with switches attached to them, which “could be used as incendiary devices”.

Follow-up searches of a number of homes found explosives and similar equipment to that found in the car.

The second story is a collection of brief articles, one of which refers to the case above.

On to the hacking front, first with the National Post:

Several rallies planned to support alleged hacker Matt DeHart before his Canadian refugee hearing

The bizarre case of a former U.S. airman seeking asylum in Canada — claiming he was tortured by U.S. authorities probing his links to the shadowy Anonymous hacker collective — is sparking protest rallies and an international day of action.

Matt DeHart, 30, is in prison in Ontario awaiting an Aug. 20 refugee hearing in Toronto during which he will argue his claim for refugee protection.

“It is a very serious case that could set a lot of dangerous precedents for activists, hacktivists whistleblowers and journalists,” said Stacie Te Korako, director of #FreeMattDeHart, a support group based in New Orleans.

SecurityWeek covers another front:

Ukrainian Hackers Claim Attack on Polish Websites

Ukrainian hackers hostile to the government claimed Thursday to have launched a cyber attack against the websites of Poland’s presidency and the Warsaw Stock Exchange.

The hacker group Cyber Berkut said it blocked the sites, both down on Thursday afternoon, in response to what it said were Poland’s actions as “sponsors of fascism in Ukraine”.

“Our western neighbour on orders from Washington renders political, diplomatic and military assistance to nationalists and oligarchs who destabilise and wreck Ukraine,” the group alleged on its website.

SecurityWeek again, charting a hack attack whack:

Lockheed: Attackers Went Quiet After APT1 Report Exposed Chinese Hackers

Threat actors targeting Lockheed Martin immediately halted their cyberattacks against the defense contractor following the release of Mandiant’s APT1 report, Lockheed executives said Wednesday.

In February 2013, Mandiant released its bold, unprecedented report that made direct allegations and exposed a multi-year, massive cyber state-sponsored espionage campaign from a unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The threat actor group, dubbed APT1 by FireEye-owned Mandiant, is alleged to be one of the most persistent of China’s cyber threat actors, which the security firm claims has “systematically stolen hundreds of terabytes of data” from at least 141 organizations.

China Daily tracks another web crackdown that could make a reader Yelp!:

Micro-blogger in court charged with spreading rumors

A popular Chinese micro-blogger went on trial on Thursday for allegedly spreading rumors to attract followers and helping others delete posts for profit.

Yang Xiuyu, founder of Erma Co and with the online identity Lier Chaisi, was accused of illegal business operations after receiving 531,200 yuan ($86,312) for helping people remove Internet posts and publish rumors, according to Beijing Chaoyang District People’s Court.

Yang, 41, from Northeast China’s Jilin province, was charged with running the illegal operation between May 2012 and September 2013, the court said.

From the Independent, bids to cop a deal:

Chief Constable bombarded with offers for private contracts

One of Britain’s most senior police officers has repeatedly rebuffed attempts by former service colleagues to use their contacts to push for contracts on behalf of their new private sector employers.

Lynne Owens, the Chief Constable of Surrey Police, said that she had been “bombarded” with requests for meetings from people who used to work in policing to tap into the £2.3bn market in private police services.

Industry watchers say the approaches signal a new drive by security companies for deals with police forces after the political furore died down over the failure of the world’s biggest security company G4S to supply enough security staff for the 2012 Olympics. Under pressure from 20 per cent budget cuts, some police forces have done deals with outside companies for technology, human resources and detention services.

On the drone front, there’s this from Aviation Week & Space Technology:

France, U.K. Move Toward Joint UCAV

  • UCAV feasiblity study renews French-British aerospace industry cooperation

New low-observable technologies, a highly reliable turbofan engine and multifunction radar are among the technologies that could be destined for an Anglo-French unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) in the 2030s.

A two-year feasibility study, signed by defense ministers from the two countries at the Farnborough air show last month, could mark the return to an era of close cooperation between the British and French aerospace industries not seen since the development of the Concorde in the 1960s.

Now more details have emerged of some of the ambitious capabilities and technologies being envisaged for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), which both nations hope will give them a leading edge in air power and defense exports in the coming decades.

After the jump, it’s off to Asia with an allegation of a seditious Like and a non-illegal ISIS fan club, tensions in Pakistan, and the latest in the Game of Zones, including Korean missiles and a papal plea, Chinese arms developments, another “comfort women” demand, Japanese protests, Russo-Japanese tensions, the real Men in Black, and much, much more. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: A defining American moment


From the Guardian, recounting a defining moment of American history when the war on photography and the nation’s greatest shame intersect.

And note that very last line:

Journalists across the US are up in arms about the arrest of two reporters who were covering a demonstration in Ferguson, Missouri.

And it appears that their release followed a call from a concerned Los Angeles Times journalist, Matt Pearce, to Ferguson’s police chief.

Pearce said on Twitter that when he informed the chief, Thomas Jackson, about the arrests of the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly, he replied: “Oh God.”

The reporters were in the city to report on protests that have followed the shooting dead of an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, by a police officer on 10 August.

They were writing their copy in a local branch of McDonald’s when police in riot gear arrived. The journalists, who were ordered to leave, began to video and take pictures.

Officers demanded they stop and at one point, as Lowery later tweeted, some “officers slammed me into a fountain soda machine because I was confused about which door they were asking me to walk out of”.

Later, asked on Twitter who he feared more, the protesters or the police, Lowery replied: “Easy answer. I’m a black man – the police.”

Lowery’s account of the event is posted here.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, frackin’ toxins


Today’s events from the interface of people and planet begins, once again, with the latest Ebola news, first from the New York Times:

Using a Tactic Unseen in a Century, Countries Cordon Off Ebola-Racked Areas

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is so out of control that governments there have revived a disease-fighting tactic not used in nearly a century: the “cordon sanitaire,” in which a line is drawn around the infected area and no one is allowed out.

Cordons, common in the medieval era of the Black Death, have not been seen since the border between Poland and Russia was closed in 1918 to stop typhus from spreading west. They have the potential to become brutal and inhumane. Centuries ago, in their most extreme form, everyone within the boundaries was left to die or survive, until the outbreak ended.

Plans for the new cordon were announced on Aug. 1 at an emergency meeting in Conakry, Guinea, of the Mano River Union, a regional association of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the three countries hardest hit by Ebola, according to Agence France-Presse. The plan was to isolate a triangular area where the three countries meet, separated only by porous borders, and where 70 percent of the cases known at that time had been found.

The Guardian add complications:

Ebola epidemic heightened by poor facilities and distrust of healthcare

Children are dying of preventable diseases all the time in Africa. The nastiness of the Ebola outbreak shouldn’t let us forget that

In June and July approximately 5,000 women and children in Sierra Leone died of diseases. The vast majority of these deaths were avoidable. For women and children in Sierra Leone, June and July were just like any other month: unnecessarily dangerous and largely forgotten.

The Ebola outbreak in the country killed 233 people during the same period, and the story made headlines around the world. Why do the relatively small number of people dying of Ebola occupy the world’s media while the thousands of women and children who die of other illnesses barely get mentioned? Is it an attempt to raise awareness, mobilise resources and halt the epidemic? Or is sensationalism to blame? Children dying in Africa is old news, while an Ebola outbreak sounds like the setting for a Hollywood blockbuster.

The people in the global health community, a nebulous conglomerate of UN agencies, NGOs, charities and academic institutes, who spend most of their lives in relative obscurity desperately tying to raise awareness and funds, now appear on news bulletins and in the newspapers. Understandably, the focus of their discourse is the pathophysiology, containment and treatment of the Ebola outbreak. There are the predictable calls for more funding to be allocated to neglected tropical diseases.

BBC News identifies the latest addition to the at-risk list:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Kenya as a “high-risk” country for the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Kenya was vulnerable because it was a major transport hub, with many flights from West Africa, a WHO official said. This is the most serious warning to date by the WHO that Ebola could spread to East Africa.

The number of people killed by Ebola in West Africa has risen to 1,069, the WHO said in its latest update.

The Guardian adds a donation:

Ebola: Canada to donate experimental vaccine to the WHO for use in Africa

  • Canada has so far produced only about 1,500 doses of vaccine, which has not been tested on humans

Canada will donate a small quantity of an experimental Ebola vaccine developed in its government laboratory to the World Health Organization for use in Africa, the country’s health minister said on Tuesday.

The decision to donate the vaccine came after the WHO said on Tuesday that it was ethical to offer untested drugs to people infected by the virus.

The Canadian government will donate between 800 to 1,000 doses of the vaccine, with the final number dependent on how much Canada holds back for research and clinical trials. The government will also keep a small supply in case it is needed domestically.

The Hill plays catch-up:

Governments scramble to develop Ebola drugs

Governments and drugmakers are scrambling to develop new treatments for the Ebola virus now that the World Health Organization (WHO) has eased restrictions on untested vaccines.

The United States government is putting cash into experimental treatments, and on Tuesday, gave $4.1 million to the drugmaker BioCryst to advance its Ebola drug BCX4430, the company announced Wednesday.

The North Carolina pharmaceutical company in 2013 had received a five-year, $22 million contract from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop the drug but is now being given extra funding to speed up trials.

China Daily makes a plea:

Ebola collaboration urged

  • US, China teamwork in Africa could leverage both countries’ strengths

With teams of researchers and medical experts in West Africa, the US and China should concentrate their efforts on working together to combat the Ebola epidemic, showing that the two countries can cooperate for the common good, experts said.

“The US and China have comparative advantages: China has medical teams on the ground and the US has advanced technologies and disease-control expertise,” said Yun Sun, a fellow at the Stimson Center who previously focused on China-Africa relations at the Brookings Institution.

“Through inter-governmental coordination, it is possible to coordinate their individual aid efforts to maximize results.”

Deutsche Welle issues an evacuation call:

Germany urges citizens to leave Ebola-hit nations

The German government has urged nationals to leave three countries in west Africa affected by the Ebola virus. The outbreak has now killed more than 1000 people, including a second prominent physician in Sierra Leone.  

Following a meeting of a crisis unit working to stem the ongoing Ebola outbreak, Germany on Wednesday updated its travel warnings for the hardest-hit regions.

“It was decided that all German nationals who are in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are called upon to leave due to the still-critical situation,” foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer told reporters, adding that German medical personnel needed on the ground were “explicitly exempt.”

German embassies and consulates in the three countries would remain open, Schäfer also said.

Want China Times calls an alert:

Customs alert against Ebola in China

The Chinese customs authority said Tuesday it has asked customs checkpoints across the country to strengthen inspections to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from entering China.

The General Administration of Customs (GAC) said customs inspectors were told to carry out stricter inspections on transportation facilities, goods and materials from regions affected by Ebola.

Customs checkpoints nationwide were also asked to closely cooperate with the quarantine authority in case of any suspected infections.

The Christian Science Monitor poses a question:

Ebola and ethics: Are rich nations doing enough to fight the outbreak?

  • The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a matter of justice and ethics, experts said Tuesday. This has to do with medical testing and international funding.

The battle to contain the Ebola virus is not just about disease control in West Africa, it’s also about global ethics.

The ethical issues include questions about when experimental treatments should be used in the current outbreak and who gets them. But they also include whether greater global coordination is needed on health policy before such an outbreak occurs.

That’s partly a matter of money. In this case, a public-health emergency is centered in some of the world’s poorest nations – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. These are countries that haven’t set up the basic disease-response infrastructure called for by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

And for our final Ebola item, there’s this from Nextgov:

Hacked Yahoo News Tweet Reports Atlanta Ebola Outbreak

A prominent publication’s Twitter feed announced Sunday afternoon the Ebola disease had spread beyond an Atlanta hospital where two infected Americans are quarantined, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

“BREAKING: EBOLA OUTBREAK IN ATLANTA!” a Yahoo News tweet blared. “Estimated 145 people infected so far since Doctors carrying the disease were flown in from Africa.”

Few of the hundreds of people who retweeted the message seemed to take it seriously.

SINA English opens today’s water woes:

N. China province suffers worst drought in 63 years

North China’s Liaoning Province is suffering the harshest drought in 63 years, and things could get worse.

Since July, the province has received the least precipitation since meteorological records began in 1951, the provincial meteorological bureau said in a statement.

The lingering drought has affected a majority of the province,devastating 2 million hectares of crops. The drought may affect more crops with forecasts predicting less-than-normal rainfall for the remainder of August, the statement said.

The San Francisco Chronicle brings it closer to Casa esnl:

California drought: San Francisco puts caps on watering

San Francisco on Tuesday joined a growing number of cities that are rationing water amid a statewide drought, imposing a mandatory 10 percent reduction on outdoor watering.

The mandate, which requires customers to use no more than 90 percent of what they used outdoors in 2013, is meant for all the agency’s customers. But it will be enforced mostly on large accounts that use water outside exclusively, including golf courses, shopping malls and office parks.

Enforcement is limited because water meters at most homes and businesses don’t distinguish between indoor and outdoor consumption.

And the Contra Costa Times brights it to our doorstep:

EBMUD outlaws wasting water, but sets no fines for violators

Two of the Bay Area’s largest water agencies on Tuesday took steps to reduce outdoor water use, but stopped short of penalizing residential customers.

Responding to a state water board push for stronger conservation measures statewide, the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board outlawed water wasting practices such as flooding gutters and watering lawns more than twice a week — practices it previously only asked customers to avoid.

The board, however, said it wouldn’t fine customers as is done in some other areas with more severe water shortages such as Dublin, Santa Cruz, and Sacramento.

From the Los Angeles Times, another kind of water woe:

Oil companies fracking into drinking water sources, new research shows

Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

Though researchers cautioned their study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, employed at two Wyoming geological formations showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.

Fracking involves high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack geological formations and tap previously unreachable oil and gas reserves. Fracking fluids contain a host of chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins.

And an earlier story by the same Los Angeles Times reporter, Neela Banerjee:

Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in water at fracking sites

Water samples collected at Colorado sites where hydraulic fracturing was used to extract natural gas show the presence of chemicals that have been linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer, scientists reported Monday.

The study, published in the journal Endocrinology, also found elevated levels of the hormone-disrupting chemicals in the Colorado River, where wastewater released during accidental spills at nearby wells could wind up.

Tests of water from sites with no fracking activity also revealed the activity of so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. But the levels from these control sites were lower than in places with direct links to fracking, the study found.

From the Guardian, another fracking anxiety:

Fracking’s impact on wildlife remains unknown, study finds

  • Lack of data on pollution and habitat loss makes it hard to gauge wider effect of shale gas development in North America

A decade into North America’s fracking boom, the impact on wildlife and the environment remains largely unknown, according to a new study.

“We’re conducting a giant experiment without even collecting the important data on the water, air, land or wildlife impacts,” said Sara Souther, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, one of the co-authors of the peer-reviewed research examining the environmental impacts of shale gas development in the US and Canada.

Although the technique of hydraulic fracturing shale has been used for at least 20 years, there is “surprisingly little research” on impacts, found the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

“We do know chemical contamination of ground and surface water is happening all the time but no one knows what the impacts are because the data isn’t being collected,” Souther said.

After the jump, another fracking woe, a petro protest, poison in the home, Canada’s lax environmental laws, a poisonous alien invader, and pot-powered batteries. . .. Continue reading

Quote of the day: Snowden’s decisive moment


From “The Most Wanted Man in the World,” a superb Wired report on Edward Snowden by James Bamford, the writer who ongoing documentation of the National Security Agency gave American’s their first in-depth look at the nation’s spookiest outfit:

On March 13, 2013, sitting at his desk in the “tunnel” surrounded by computer screens, Snowden read a news story that convinced him that the time had come to act. It was an account of director of national intelligence James Clapper telling a Senate committee that the NSA does “not wittingly” collect information on millions of Americans. “I think I was reading it in the paper the next day, talking to coworkers, saying, can you believe this shit?”

Snowden and his colleagues had discussed the routine deception around the breadth of the NSA’s spying many times, so it wasn’t surprising to him when they had little reaction to Clapper’s testimony. “It was more of just acceptance,” he says, calling it “the banality of evil”—a reference to Hannah Arendt’s study of bureaucrats in Nazi Germany.

“It’s like the boiling frog,” Snowden tells me. “You get exposed to a little bit of evil, a little bit of rule-breaking, a little bit of dishonesty, a little bit of deceptiveness, a little bit of disservice to the public interest, and you can brush it off, you can come to justify it. But if you do that, it creates a slippery slope that just increases over time, and by the time you’ve been in 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, you’ve seen it all and it doesn’t shock you. And so you see it as normal. And that’s the problem, that’s what the Clapper event was all about. He saw deceiving the American people as what he does, as his job, as something completely ordinary. And he was right that he wouldn’t be punished for it, because he was revealed as having lied under oath and he didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for it. It says a lot about the system and a lot about our leaders.” Snowden decided it was time to hop out of the water before he too was boiled alive.

Accompanying the article are two videos, posted online.

First, a scenesetter, featured Bamford and Platon, the very talented photographer whose mostly black-and-white images accompany the story.

From Wired:

The Most Wanted Man in the World: Behind the Scenes with Edward Snowden

Program note:

It took almost a year to arrange to interview and photograph Edward Snowden in Moscow, where he has sought asylum. Author James Bamford and photographer Platon reflect back on their encounters with the elusive whistleblower.

And the second video, consisting of Snowden’s voice and Platon’s images:

The Most Wanted Man in the World: Edward Snowden in His Own Words

Program note:

Dispatched to Moscow, famed portrait photographer Platon captured a never-before-seen side of Edward Snowden for WIRED. In this riveting montage, the elusive whistleblower explains the thinking behind his decision to reveal the extent of domestic surveillance being conducted by US intelligence services.

Chart of the day: People just hate Congress


And the only time they really love it is when they get ready for war, or at least that’s esnl‘s inference from this, the latest fro Gallup:

BLOG Congress

EnviroWatch: Ebola, weather, water, FukuFolly


Plus ad woes and household toxics. And as with today’s InSecurityWatch, a long post cuz we wuz under the weather.

We open with the first Ebola story, via the Los Angeles Times:

Spanish priest becomes first European to die in Ebola outbreak

A 75-year-old Spanish priest suffering from the Ebola virus died Tuesday in an isolation ward in Madrid — the first European death from the outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa and the first known death on European soil.

Miguel Pajares died around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at Madrid’s Carlos III Hospital, Spanish officials announced.

A Roman Catholic missionary, Pajares was airlifted Aug. 7 from Liberia, where he is believed to have contracted the deadly virus at a hospital where he worked. Thousands of Spaniards had joined a social media campaign urging their government to rescue and repatriate him. He was the first Ebola patient evacuated to Europe amid the current, fast-spreading outbreak in Africa, which is already the worst in history.

BBC News closes the borders:

Ivory Coast bans flight from three states

Ivory Coast has banned all passenger flights from three countries hit by Ebola in an attempt to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

It is the only country, after Saudi Arabia, to impose such a ban, amid mounting concern about the outbreak which has killed nearly 1,000 people.

The ban covers Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which are worst affected by Ebola, Ivorian officials said.

From the Guardian, another case:

Ebola: Nigeria confirms new case in Lagos

  • Health minister says nurse who came into contact with American Patrick Sawyer is 10th confirmed Nigeria case

Nigeria has confirmed a new case of Ebola in the financial capital, Lagos, bringing the total number in the country to 10.

The health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said the latest confirmed case was a female nurse who came into contact with a Liberian-American man, Patrick Sawyer, who died of Ebola in a Lagos hospital on 25 July.

Another nurse who had contact with him died last week, while seven other people have been confirmed to have the virus in the city, he added. “The 10th case actually was one of the nurses who also had primary contact with the index case. When he [Sawyer] got ill, we then brought her into isolation,” the minister told a news conference in Abuja. “We just tested her over the weekend. So, that’s what made it 10. So, between Friday and today we had one additional case. That brings it to 10 and the 10 includes the index case.”

SINA English covers a Chinese angle:

Eight Chinese quarantined in Ebola-hit Sierra Leone

Eight Chinese medical workers have been placed in quarantine in Sierra Leone, as health experts grappled on Monday with ethical questions over the use of experimental drugs to combat the killer Ebola virus.

Gripped by panic, west African nations battling the tropical disease ramped up drastic containment measures that have caused transport chaos, price hikes and food shortages.

Chinese ambassador to Sierra Leone Zhao Yanbo told journalists seven doctors and one nurse who treated Ebola patients had been placed under quarantine, but would not be drawn on whether they were displaying symptoms of the disease.

The Guardian covers a U.S. quarantine:

Husband of American Ebola patient arrives for quarantine in Georgia

  • Three missionaries arrive in US from west Africa for three-week quarantine but do not show signs or symptoms of Ebola

The husband of a woman being treated for Ebola in a Georgia hospital is among three quarantined missionaries who arrived in the US on Sunday night after departing west Africa, where they worked with patients infected with the deadly virus.

David Writebol and the other aid workers do not show signs or symptoms of Ebola, but they will be quarantined for at least three weeks as a safety precaution.

The missionaries are with SIM USA, a Christian mission organization that sends volunteers abroad to provide humanitarian aid and “evangelize the unreached”.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore gives the go-ahead:

WHO approves experimental Ebola drugs

The World Health Organisation authorised on Tuesday (Aug 12) the use of experimental drugs to fight Ebola as the death toll topped 1,000 and a Spanish priest became the first European to succumb to the latest outbreak.

The declaration by the UN’s health agency came after a US company that makes an experimental serum called ZMapp said it had sent all its available supplies to hard-hit west Africa.

“In the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak it is ethical to offer unregistered interventions as potential treatments or prevention,” WHO assistant director general Marie-Paule Kieny told reporters in Geneva, following a meeting of medical experts on the issue.

But The Hill notes that victory was largely symbolic:

More Ebola drugs may be months away

It will take months to produce even a small batch of a promising new drug to counter Ebola, according to U.S. health officials.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical’s drug ZMapp has shown some promise. The drug has been used to treat two Americans who have contracted Ebola.

But the company said Tuesday it has run out of supplies.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says it will take months to make more of the drug. Even in that timeframe, the company will only be able to produce less than a hundred treatment courses.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Liberia to receive experimental Ebola drug from the US

The US government has confirmed that it will send doses of an experimental Ebola drug to treat doctors in Liberia. The treatment has been so far used on just three people, however, there is no vaccine for the virus.

US President Barack Obama and the Food and Drug Administration approved the request Monday to send the experimental drugs to Liberia, the West African nation’s government said in a statement.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc, which makes the drug ZMapp, released a statement on their website that said, “In responding to the request received this weekend from a West African nation, the available supply of ZMapp is exhausted.”

“Any decision to use ZMapp must be made by the patients’ medical team,” it said, adding that the drug was “provided at no cost in all cases.”

TheLocal.de covers a negative:

German student tests negative for Ebola

Rwandan authorities said on Tuesday that a German man put in isolation with fever had tested negative for the deadly tropical disease Ebola.

“We would like to inform you that the suspected case of Ebola tested negative,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

“There’s no Ebola in Rwanda.”

United Press International has a tech angle:

Geo-spatial technology to help combat Ebola outbreaks

  • A U.S. company reports it is supplying portable geo-spatial mapping devices to Liberia to aid fight against Ebola outbreak

A U.S. geo-spatial technology company is providing Liberia with portable mapping devices to help in the effort to contain and defeat an outbreak of Ebola.

The virus outbreak in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria has killed more than 900 people and appears to be spreading.

Addressing Homes LLC said it is supplying its portable AimObserver devices to Liberia without charge as emergency assistance. The AimObserver uses “Mobile Mapper” technology to produce an instant latitude/longitude location for any dwelling, structure or pathway at any point in the world.

TheLocal.no covers a fright:

Ebola scare forces flight to land in Norway

An airplane travelling over Norway was forced to land in Trondheim after an African passenger having a coughing fit triggered an Ebola fear on Monday.

Around 100 passengers were kept back on a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Værnes for more than two hours – but with little good reason for the fear.
The dreaded Ebola disease is ravaging throughout several countries in West Africa and countries, like Norway, are on guard to prevent the disease spreading further.

Chief physician in the Stjørdal municipality, Leif Vonen, said to NRK: “There was suspicion of an infectious disease and thoughts went quickly to Ebola. But it became clear from the health situation that this was not the case. The person had just an innocent respiratory infection.”

And South China Morning Post bolsters the defense:

Hong Kong officials to discuss improved Ebola security measures

Health and hygiene officials will meet today to discuss how to improve precautions against the spread of infectious diseases in the wake of the city’s first suspected case of the Ebola virus.

Announcing the meeting, Centre for Health Protection Controller Dr Leung Ting-hung defended the handling of the case on Sunday. The Nigerian man at the centre of the brief scare was found not to have the deadly, incurable disease.

A security guard called the ambulance after the 32-year-old, who was staying at Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, suffered vomiting and diarrhoea, early symptoms of the disease that is spreading through three West African countries.

News On Japan bugs out:

Japan aid agency pulls staff from Ebola-hit nations

Japan’s foreign aid agency said Tuesday it was evacuating two dozen staff from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as the death toll from the Ebola virus continued to mount.

The move came as eight Chinese medical workers who treated patients suffering from the virus were placed in quarantine in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone, as well as Guinea and Liberia, has been at the centre of the outbreak.

And TheLocal.es reassures:

Ebola risk in Spain is ‘almost zero’: WHO

A spokesperson for the World Health Organization said on Monday that the risk of contagion from the Ebola virus in Spain was “almost zero” and described the repatriation of an infected Spanish priest as “correct”.

Speaking to Spanish TV channel Cuatro, WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl said that “many” Spanish health workers were well-trained to deal with any possible Ebola cases.

He reassured Spaniards that the WHO and Spain’s Ministry of Health, Social Security and Equality were following international protocols to remain in “constant contact”.

On to the weather, first with the Guardian:

Extreme weather becoming more common, study says

  • Rise in blocking-patterns – hot or wet weather remaining stuck over regions for weeks – causing frequent heatwaves or floods

Extreme weather like the drought currently scorching the western US and the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010 is becoming much more common, according to new scientific research.

The work shows so-called “blocking patterns”, where hot or wet weather remains stuck over a region for weeks causing heatwaves or floods, have more than doubled in summers over the last decade. The new study may also demonstrate a link between the UK’s recent flood-drenched winter and climate change.

Climate scientists in Germany noticed that since 2000 there have been an “exceptional number of summer weather extremes, some causing massive damage to society”. So they examined the huge meanders in the high-level jet stream winds that dominate the weather at mid-latitudes, by analysing 35 years of wind data amassed from satellites, ships, weather stations and meteorological balloons. They found that blocking patterns, which occur when these meanders slow down, have happened far more frequently.

The Los Angeles Times cites an example close to home:

California’s 1st seven months of 2014 have been its warmest on record

The first seven months of this year have been the warmest on record for California, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecasters averaged high and low temperatures from January to July for the entire state this year and recorded an average temperature of 60.2 degrees, said Paul Iniguez, National Weather Service Hanford’s science and operation officer. “It’s quite a bit warmer than the previous record,” he said.

The temperature beats the record temperature of 59.3 degrees set in 1934 by nearly a full a degree, he said.

USA TODAY covers the other extreme:

Parts of central U.S. had coolest July on record

Summer heat was on holiday in much of the central U.S. last month: Most of the region had a very cool July, with 13 states seeing July temperatures that ranked among the 10 coldest since weather records began in 1895, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center reported Tuesday.

Both Indiana and Arkansas had their all-time coldest July on record. Indiana was a whopping 5.3 degrees below average in July, while Arkansas was 4.6 degrees below average.

While the central U.S. shivered in July, the heat continued to scorch the West. Six states sweltered through one of their 10 hottest Julys on record.

The San Francisco Chronicle consequences of another weather extreme, drought:

130,000 acres charred in blazes across California

Several wildfires raged across Northern California on Monday, with many of them touched off by lightning strikes in dry vegetation, including a fast-growing 9,500-acre blaze in Mendocino County.

Forecasters were calling for more lightning Monday and Tuesday, leaving fire crews worried that new blazes would spark up as fast as they could control other ones.

“We’re holding all personnel on just to see what happens when this lightning comes through,” said Capt. John Hotchkiss of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention. “A lot of it will depend on whether we have wetting rain with the lightning.”

At least 130,000 acres were burning statewide as of Monday morning, Cal Fire officials said, fueled by extraordinarily dry conditions.

The Los Angeles Times covers another Golden State extreme:

‘Remarkable’ warming reported in Central California coastal waters

Ocean temperatures along the Central California coast experienced a “remarkable” warming period during the first three weeks of July, leading to unusual encounters with some fish species, scientists reported.

The warmer ocean correlated with weaker winds, which reduced coastal upwelling, allowing warmer water to move inshore, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The warming is related to unusual weather pattern seen in the Sierra Nevada, where recent thunderstorms have pummeled dry forest lands with bursts of rain and lightning, Nate Mantua, Team Leader of Landscape Ecology for Southwest Fisheries Science Center, said in an email.

Bloomberg brings us our first water story, this one with an austerian twist:

L.A. Faces $15 Billion Bill as Pipes Spring Leaks: Cities

Los Angeles is showing its age, and city officials don’t have plans for financing the facelift.

From buckling sidewalks to potholed thoroughfares to storm drains that can’t handle a little rain, the infrastructure that holds the second-largest U.S. city together is suffering from years of deferred maintenance. Bringing pipes that deliver water to 3.9 million people up to snuff could cost $4 billion — more than half the city’s annual operating budget. The bill for repaving streets will be almost that much, according to estimates from a city consultant, and patching or replacing cracked sidewalks will require $640 million.

City Council members recently gave up on a proposal to ask voters for a sales-tax increase to finance street and sidewalk repairs, and Mayor Eric Garcetti has ruled out raising water rates anytime soon to upgrade pipelines.

The San Diego Union-Tribune covers another water woe:

Southwest braces as Lake Mead water levels drop

Once-teeming Lake Mead marinas are idle as a 14-year drought steadily drops water levels to historic lows. Officials from nearby Las Vegas are pushing conservation but also are drilling a new pipeline to keep drawing water from the lake.

Hundreds of miles away, farmers who receive water from the lake behind Hoover Dam are preparing for the worst.

The receding shoreline at one of the main reservoirs in the vast Colorado River water system is raising concerns about the future of a network serving a perennially parched region home to 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland.

NBC News Digital covers another consequential water woe:

Heartland Water Crisis: Why the Planet Depends on These Kansas Farmers

America’s Breadbasket, a battle of ideas is underway on the most fundamental topics of all: food, water, and the future of the planet.

Last August, in a still-echoing blockbuster study, Dave Steward, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Kansas State University, informed the $15 billion Kansas agricultural economy that it was on a fast track to oblivion. The reason: The precipitous, calamitous withdrawal rates of the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Ogallala is little known outside this part of the world, but it’s the primary source of irrigation not just for all of western Kansas, but the entire Great Plains. This gigantic, soaked subterranean sponge – fossil water created 10 million years ago – touches eight states, stretching from Texas all the way up to South Dakota, across 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles.

The Los Angeles Times covers water woes down South:

Brazil’s water crisis amid drought could lead to rationing

A drought in Brazil has led to a water crisis and the country’s largest population center is facing the prospect of rationing.

Brazil’s Public Ministry, a federal regulatory agency, has recommended that Sao Paulo state immediately commence water rationing to avoid a “collapse of reservoirs,” but the state government missed an initial deadline on Wednesday to take action.

Because of scarce rain in 2014, water levels are low, especially at Sao Paulo’s Sistema Cantareira watershed. The Public Ministry says the watershed could soon run dry.

From Reuters, oceanic water woes:

Man-made ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico is the size of Connecticut

Scientists say a man-made “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico is as big as the state of Connecticut.

The zone, which at about 5,000 square miles (13,000 sq km) is the second largest in the world but still smaller than in previous years, is so named because it contains no oxygen, or too little, at the Gulf floor to support bottom-dwelling fish and shrimp.

The primary cause of the annual phenomenon is excess nutrient runoff from farms along the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf, said Gene Turner, a researcher at Louisiana State University’s Coastal Ecology Institute.

From BBC News, another kind of water woe:

Mexican mine was slow to report leak, officials say

A private copper mine in north-west Mexico did not immediately alert the authorities that large quantities of a toxic chemical were spilling into a river last week, Mexican officials say.

The authorities in Sonora state said the spill only came to light the next day, after residents downstream noticed the river had turned orange. Some 40,000 cubic metres (10 million gallons) of sulfuric acid have leaked into a tributary of the Sonora river.

The mine is owned by Grupo Mexico. “The company deliberately concealed the accident,” said Cesar Lagarda, an official at the National Water Commission, according to Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper.

After the jump agricultural woes domestic and foreign, toxic spills, household toxins, wildlife woes and a win, fracking fights, nuclear woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Different visions of equity


From the Pew Research Center, dramatically different perspectives remain on treatment of blacks by American institutions:

BLOG Pew

 

InSecurityWatch: Bombs, spies, hacks, zones


Bit under the weather, so two day’s worth of headlines from the realms of spies, hacks, privacy, and the geopolitical Game of Zones underway in Europe.

We’re using just a couple of stories form the escalating Iraqi debacle, given the wide coverage in the mainstream press. First up, this from Sky News:

US Military: Airstrikes ‘Won’t Stop ISIS’

  • Islamist militants in Iraq will continue to seize territory and attack security forces despite airstrikes, the US warns.

Islamic militants fighting in northern Iraq are unlikely to be stopped by targeted airstrikes, a US general has warned.

Joint staff operations director Lieutenant General William Mayville told a news conference that 15 airstrikes on Islamic State (IS) positions were focused initially on protecting US facilities and citizens, as well as aiding the humanitarian mission.

He said: “These airstrikes have helped check the advance of missile forces around Mount Sinjar and in the area west of Irbil.

And the New York Times offers a timely reminder:

U.S. Actions in Iraq Fueled Rise of a Rebel

  • Baghdadi of ISIS Pushes an Islamist Crusade

When American forces raided a home near Falluja during the turbulent 2004 offensive against the Iraqi Sunni insurgency, they got the hard-core militants they had been looking for. They also picked up an apparent hanger-on, an Iraqi man in his early 30s whom they knew nothing about.

The Americans duly registered his name as they processed him and the others at the Camp Bucca detention center: Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badry.

That once-peripheral figure has become known to the world now as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-appointed caliph of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the architect of its violent campaign to redraw the map of the Middle East.

From the Washington Post, adding yet more arms to the pile:

U.S. sending weapons directly to Kurdish forces, officials say

The U.S. government has begun to funnel weapons directly to Kurdish forces fighting Islamist militants in northern Iraq, U.S. officials said Monday, deepening American involvement in a conflict that the Obama administration had long sought to avoid.

The decision to arm the Kurds, via a covert channel established by the CIA, was made even as Pentagon officials acknowledged that recent U.S. airstrikes against the militants were acting only as a temporary deterrent and were unlikely to sap their will to fight.

“I in no way want to suggest that we have effectively contained, or that we are somehow breaking, the momentum of the threat,” said Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

More Indonesian blowback from the Jakarta Globe:

Maluku Police Arrest Four Students Over Alleged ISIS Ties

  • Maluku Police have arrested four high school students in Ambon for alleged ties with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“I was reported last night [Sunday] by the police that four students were arrested because of their ties to ISIS,” Maluku Governor Said Assagaff was quoted as saying by newsportal Harianterbit.com on Monday. “They have to be intensively questioned to find out to what extent they were involved and what were their exact roles.”

One of the suspects is a junior high school student, while the other three were senior high school students.

“The junior high school student is still very young, so [he’s] easy to provoke. Therefore [this case] needs to be handled seriously,” Said told the state-run Antara news agency on Monday.

On to that agency that gives everyone the shivers, first with the Wall Street Journal:

Surveillance Court Judge Criticized NSA ‘Overcollection’ of Data

  • Decision Offers Scathing Assessment of Agency’s Management of Internet-Surveillance Program

Newly declassified court documents show one of the National Security Agency’s key surveillance programs was plagued by years of “systemic overcollection” of private Internet communications.

A 117-page decision by Judge John Bates of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court offers a scathing assessment of the NSA’s ability to manage its own top-secret electronic surveillance of Internet metadata—a program the NSA scrapped after a 2011 review found it wasn’t fulfilling its mission.

The newly declassified documents suggest another possible reason for its demise. The surveillance agency struggled to collect metadata, such as the “to” and “from” information of an email, without also collecting other information, such as the contents or partial contents of such communications, information that is supposed to be beyond what it legally is permitted to gather.

Reuters covers up:

U.S. can keep court orders, phone cos secret in NSA spy case

The U.S. government need not turn over a secret surveillance court’s orders or the names of phone companies helping it collect call records, because it might reveal methods needed to protect national security, a federal judge decided on Monday.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California, rejected the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s argument that the U.S. Department of Justice should turn over the materials, in the wake of unauthorized disclosures last year by a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden.

The EFF noted that the government had already declassified hundreds of pages of other documents discussing data collection under the U.S. Patriot Act, including some that the data privacy advocacy group had requested. These declassifications came after Snowden’s leaks had been revealed.

While The Intercept covers boosterism:

NPR Is Laundering CIA Talking Points to Make You Scared of NSA Reporting

On August 1, NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast a story by NPR national security reporter Dina Temple-Raston touting explosive claims from what she called “a tech firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.” That firm, Recorded Future, worked together with “a cyber expert, Mario Vuksan, the CEO of ReversingLabs,” to produce a new report that purported to vindicate the repeated accusation from U.S. officials that “revelations from former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden harmed national security and allowed terrorists to develop their own countermeasures.”

The “big data firm,” reported NPR, says that it now “has tangible evidence” proving the government’s accusations. Temple-Raston’s four-minute, 12-second story devoted the first 3 minutes and 20 seconds to uncritically repeating the report’s key conclusion that “just months after the Snowden documents were released, al-Qaeda dramatically changed the way its operatives interacted online” and, post-Snowden, “al-Qaeda didn’t just tinker at the edges of its seven-year-old encryption software; it overhauled it.” The only skepticism in the NPR report was relegated to 44 seconds at the end when she quoted security expert Bruce Schneier, who questioned the causal relationship between the Snowden disclosures and the new terrorist encryption programs, as well as the efficacy of the new encryption.

With this report, Temple-Raston seriously misled NPR’s millions of listeners. To begin with, Recorded Future, the outfit that produced the government-affirming report, is anything but independent. To the contrary, it is funded by the CIA and U.S. intelligence community with millions of dollars. Back in 2010, it also filed forms to become a vendor for the NSA. (In response to questions from The Intercept, the company’s vice president Jason Hines refused to say whether it works for the NSA, telling us that we should go FOIA that information if we want to know. But according to public reports, Recorded Future “earns most of its revenue from selling to Wall Street quants and intelligence agencies.”)

Defense One braves a new frontier:

Navy Chief Says the Future of War Lies in ‘Information Dominance’

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert views “information dominance” as key to the future of warfare while the service’s new transformation framework calls for development of a “data-savvy” workforce.

Speaking at a ceremony last Thursday at which Rear Adm. David Lewis took command of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command in San Diego, Greenert said: “SPAWAR is the technical agent for information dominance, we know that. It is also the technical agent for a new era in Navy and naval warfare. Control of the information is going to be the key to the future.”

That control includes electronic warfare systems. Greenert focused on shortcomings in jamming systems used by the EA-18G “Growler” electronic attack aircraft in his SPAWAR speech.

Here’s another kind of “information dominance,” via the Guardian:

Kuwaiti media owner is stripped of his citizenship

The owner of a newspaper and TV outlet is one of five people who have been stripped of their citizenship by the Kuwaiti authorities.

It means that Ahmed Jabr al-Shammari, proprietor of the independent Alam Al-Yom newspaper and the Al-Yom television station, has been rendered stateless.

The decision, a parliamentary decree, was announced by the Kuwait news agency on 21 June 2014 following a call by the Kuwaiti cabinet for a crackdown on people who “undermine the country’s security and stability.”

But it has only just emerged through Human Rights Watch (HRW) in an interview with al-Shammari, who explained that the revoking of citizenship was based on Kuwait’s nationality law.

Defense One again, this time with a piece by a former Obama Pentagon official:

The U.S. Needs More Drones

Al-Qaeda is morphing and metastasizing, spreading like a cancer in an arc of jihadism from the deserts of Northern Mali through Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq. Islamic extremists continue to gain ground in Iraq, and President Barack Obama has authorized more than a dozen airstrikes as fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant threaten to take Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department is cutting one of the most vital tools against this threat: loitering unmanned aircraft, aka drones, to provide persistent surveillance of terrorist networks.

While DOD has had drones flying over Iraq for over a month, a drastic shortfall in global supply means that their presence in Iraq is at the expense of another vital mission elsewhere. And yet not only is DOD not moving to address this shortfall, it is taking steps to reduce its drone fleet, a dangerous move that will make it harder to keep tabs on a growing and changing terrorist threat.

From the Associated Press, getting dope the old fashioned way, illegally:

DEA improperly paid $854,460 for Amtrak passenger lists

The Drug Enforcement Administration paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years to obtain confidential information about train passengers, which the DEA could have lawfully obtained for free through a law enforcement network, The Associated Press has learned.

The employee was not publicly identified except as a “secretary to a train and engine crew” in a report on the incident by Amtrak’s inspector general. The secretary was allowed to retire, rather than face administrative discipline, after the discovery that the employee had effectively been acting as an informant who “regularly” sold private passenger information since 1995 without Amtrak’s approval, according to a one-paragraph summary of the matter.

On Monday, the office of Amtrak Inspector General Tom Howard declined to identify the secretary or say why it took so long to uncover the payments. Howard’s report on the incident concluded, “We suggested policy changes and other measures to address control weaknesses that Amtrak management is considering.” DEA spokesman Matt Barden declined to comment.

TheLocal.dk covers reconsideration:

Denmark to reconsider its terror laws

Following through on a 2011 promise, the government will appoint a commission to look at the effectiveness of national terror laws and their effects on residents’ rights.

The Danish government will set up a commission to examine the effects of the nation’s anti-terror laws on personal rights and freedoms.

The tax minister, Morten Østergaard, announced the move on Tuesday.

“In the words of former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, it is important that we don’t trample the same freedoms we are trying to defend,” Østergaard told Politiken.

From Ars Technica, more digital spookery:

Espionage programs linked to spying on former Soviet targets

  • Same malware was previously linked to attacks on US and European targets

A one-two combination of malware programs has infiltrated the embassies and government systems of a number of former Eastern Bloc nations as well as European targets, according to a technical analysis by security researchers.

Using exploits and malicious downloads delivered through phishing attacks or on compromised websites, attackers first infect a system with a program, known as Wipbot, according to an analysis posted by security firm Symantec on Friday. The program conducts initial reconnaissance, collecting system information and only compromising systems that correspond with a specific Internet address. After the target is verified, a second program—alternatively known as Turla, Uroburos, and Snake—is downloaded to further compromise the system, steal data, and exfiltrate information camouflaged as browser requests.

The one-two combination has all the hallmarks of a nation-state intelligence gathering operation targeting the embassies of former Eastern Bloc countries in Europe, China, and Jordan, according to Symantec.

While IDG News Service covers hacks at home:

Many home routers supplied by ISPs can be compromised en masse, researchers say

Specialized servers used by many ISPs to manage routers and other gateway devices provisioned to their customers are accessible from the Internet and can easily be taken over by attackers, researchers warn.

By gaining access to such servers, hackers or intelligence agencies could potentially compromise millions of routers and implicitly the home networks they serve, said Shahar Tal, a security researcher at Check Point Software Technologies. Tal gave a presentation Saturday at the DefCon security conference in Las Vegas.

At the core of the problem is an increasingly used protocol known as TR-069 or CWMP (customer-premises equipment wide area network management protocol) that is leveraged by technical support departments at many ISPs to remotely troubleshoot configuration problems on routers provided to customers.

PCWorld has more:

Fifteen new vulnerabilities reported during router hacking contest

Routers appear to be as insecure as ever, after hackers successfully compromised five popular wireless models during a contest at the DefCon 22 security conference, reporting 15 new vulnerabilities to affected vendors.

The SOHOpelessly Broken contest pitted hackers against 10 router models from different manufacturers: Linksys EA6500, ASUS RT-AC66U, TRENDnet TEW-812DRU, Netgear Centria WNDR4700, Netgear WNR3500U/WNR3500L, TP-Link TL-WR1043ND, D-Link DIR-865L, Belkin N900 DB and the Open Wireless Router firmware developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

There were three challenges. In one researchers had to demonstrate unpatched—zero-day—vulnerabilities in the preselected devices, and received points based on their criticality. The second challenge was a capture-the-flag-style game in which contestants had to hack into routers running known vulnerable firmware to extract sensitive information, and the third was a similar surprise challenge targeting a router from Asus and one from D-Link.

And from Network World, non-reassurance:

Study finds firmware plagued by poor encryption and backdoors

The first large-scale analysis of a fundamental type of software known as firmware has revealed poor security practices that could present opportunities for hackers probing the “Internet of Things.”

Firmware is a type of software that manages interactions between higher-level software and the underlying hardware, though it can sometimes be the only software on a device. It’s found on all kinds of computer hardware, though the study focused on embedded systems such as printers, routers and security cameras.

Researchers with Eurecom, a technology-focused graduate school in France, developed a web crawler that plucked more than 30,000 firmware images from the websites of manufacturers including Siemens, Xerox, Bosch, Philips, D-Link, Samsung, LG and Belkin.

Frontera NorteSur covers discontent to the south:

Indigenous Mexico Rising Again

Representatives of Mexico’s indigenous peoples have issued a new declaration and announced upcoming mobilizations to further their cause.  Unveiled on August 9, the UN-celebrated International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, the declaration followed a week-long meeting between the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and National Indigenous Congress (CNI) in the southern Mexican border state of Chiapas.

Detailing 29 points, the Declaration of the Plundering of Our Peoples blasted the Pena Nieto Administration, big corporations and capitalism in general for threatening the culture and survival of indigenous peoples.

Couched in historical terms that reference the sacrifices made by indigenous people and small farmers for a Mexico that was denied to them,  the statement was read by Venustiano Vazquez Navarette, indigenous resident of Tepotzlan, Morelos, in the Zapatista base community of La Realidad.

It read in part:  “Capitalism has grown from plunder and exploitation since the beginning.  Invasion and plunder are the words that best describe what is called the conquest of America, plunder and robbery of our lands, our territories, our knowledge, our culture.  Plunder accompanied by war, massacres, jail, death and more death…”

And Brazzil Magazine benefits from blowback:

Brazil Talks About a Revolution in Exports After Russia’s Embargo on US’s and EU’s Produce

Russian president Vladimir Putin Russia’s announcement about its embargo on agriculture products from the US and Europe opens “a great window of opportunities for Brazil” to get into the Russian market, says Secretary for Agricultural Policy Seneri Paludo from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply.

Russia has imposed a ban on imported food products from European countries and the US in response to their economic sanctions against Moscow over its involvement in the Ukrainian war. This embargo includes beef, pork, chicken, fish, cheese, milk, vegetables and fruit originated from the US, the European Union and also Australia, Canada and Norway.

“From the point of view of Brazilian agriculture policy, this is positive,” stated the secretary, because “Russia is a big consumer not only of grains but also of meat.” In his view, Russia’s move may result in a “revolution” in Brazil’s meat, corn and soy exports.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including expanding arsenals, political posturing [domestic, regional and trans-Pacific], dirty war deaths, historical assertions, and much, much more. . . Continue reading

Gullible’s Travels: John Oliver dissects a U.S. myth


What is it that most distinguishes Britons from Americans?

It’s what one might call [A]merito-utopianism, the dysfunctional adherence of the mass of the American people to believe that material well-being — defined by the media as extravagant and lavishly photographic consumption of corporate-produced goods, ranging from telephoto shots of yachting celebrity down to the suburban tenth-grader’s Tweeted and YouTubed selfies.

Wealth, the media imply or declare overtly [Fox being merely the most blatant], results from talent or some other form of merit, a legacy in part of Calvinism, thought vastly reinforced by corporate media shaped by the sales needs of other corporations who often spend more on producing a thirty-second commercial than entertainment companies spend producing sixty-minute programs.

And then there’s that American that we’re really a classless society, a view unsustainable in a history-burdened Britain, as John Oliver explains in this segment from his HBO series.

What makes his debunking delightful is the final section, an upending of tropes so vividly illustrated.

Enjoy. . .

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Wealth Gap (HBO)

Program note:

John Oliver discusses America’s growing wealth gap and why it may be a problem in the future.

And yes, it’s froim last month, but we only chanced upon it only yesterday.

From wiseguys to banksters, nasty payday loans


Wiseguys call it “the vig,” those extortionate rates guys with names like Vinny or Frankie Fists used to collect on loans you got from your friendly neighborhood loan shark.

But wiseguys have fallen on hard times because Uncle Sam has legitimated those muscular interest rates. And now you get ‘em from your friendly neighborhood corporate bankster.

Indeed, the guys who used to hand out in candy stores and dimly lit pool halls have been replaced by grinning hucksters who operate out of brightly lit storefronts that now outnumber Starbucks and Mickey Ds.

But fear not, John Oliver and Sarah Silverman are on the cash.

From HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Predatory Lending

Program notes:

Payday loans put a staggering amount of Americans in debt. They prey on the elderly and military service members. They’re awful, and nearly impossible to regulate. We’ve recruited Sarah Silverman to help spread the word about how to avoid falling into their clutches.

What a world! There’s now no separation between underworld and upperworld.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, toxics, nukes


One again, the Ebola virus claims the top spot on our collection of headlinies about the intersection of humans and the world they live in, starting with this from Xinhua:

Senegal reports suspected Ebola infection

A Malian national living in northern Senegal has been quarantined in a hospital due to suspected Ebola symptoms, Senegalese News Agency reported Saturday.

The 27-year-old patient had just returned to the northern city of Ourossogui from a trip to Mali, where he was in contact with nationals of Guinea, said the head doctor of the local medical team, adding samples have been sent to Dakar for analysis and the results could be available within 48 hours.

A doctor accompanied by officers of health services has already been dispatched to the city to disinfect the home of the patient and the bike that was used to transport him.

The Associated Press covers a domestic precaution:

US Ebola check means quarantine of missionaries

Missionaries retuning to the United States after working with patients infected with Ebola will be put in quarantine and monitored, health officials said Sunday.

The quarantine will last at least three weeks since the missionaries were last exposed to people infected with the Ebola virus, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said.

The missionaries are with Charlotte-based SIM USA. None of them are sick or have shown any signs of having Ebola, but they agree with health officials that everyone should be as cautious as possible, SIM USA president Bruce Johnson said in a statement.

And the New York Times parses epidemiology:

Tracing Ebola’s Breakout to an African 2-Year-Old

Patient Zero in the Ebola outbreak, researchers suspect, was a 2-year-old boy who died on Dec. 6, just a few days after falling ill in a village in Guéckédou, in southeastern Guinea. Bordering Sierra Leone and Liberia, Guéckédou is at the intersection of three nations, where the disease found an easy entry point to the region.

A week later, it killed the boy’s mother, then his 3-year-old sister, then his grandmother. All had fever, vomiting and diarrhea, but no one knew what had sickened them.

Two mourners at the grandmother’s funeral took the virus home to their village. A health worker carried it to still another, where he died, as did his doctor. They both infected relatives from other towns. By the time Ebola was recognized, in March, dozens of people had died in eight Guinean communities, and suspected cases were popping up in Liberia and Sierra Leone — three of the world’s poorest countries, recovering from years of political dysfunction and civil war.

From BBC News, chaos on the ground:

Ebola virus: Liberia health system ‘overtaxed’

Liberia’s information minister has admitted that the country’s health care system has been overwhelmed by the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Lewis Brown told the BBC the system had been “overtaxed” by the outbreak, but that authorities were doing their best in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

The medical charity MSF said officials underestimated the outbreak and that the health system was “falling apart”.

More from the London Telegraph:

The Liberian slum where Ebola spreads death among killer virus ‘deniers’

Blue crosses on houses in New Kru Town mark the few residences to have complied with the advice of visiting health officials, while countless others rely on prayer and witchcraft to fend off Ebola in Monrovia

When some initial cases first appeared in Liberia’s northern Lofa County back in March, health officials initially thought they had it under control. But in June, a resident of a district of New Kru Town known as Carpet Street died, as did several others. According to Dr Bernice Dahn, Liberia’s chief medical officer, three of the victims passed away while they were being sheltered in a local church – a sign of how many some people believe the disease is a curse that can be cured by prayer or witchcraft.

“We must stop keeping people suspected of Ebola in our churches on ground that we can heal them,” she warned at the time. “The churches are not hospitals.”

Liberian hospitals, however, do not always inspire the kind of faith that people have in Liberian churches. A fortnight ago, one the main local health facilities, Redemption Hospital, was stoned by a mob after a woman died in there from a suspected Ebola case, following nationwide rumours that health workers were themselves passing on the disease. Today, the squat, single storey building offers redemption no more, having

A fear abated from the Associated Press:

Saudi: Suspected Ebola victim did not have virus

A Saudi man who died last week after returning from Sierra Leone did not have the Ebola virus, according to initial international laboratory results, Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry said.

The ministry said late Saturday that samples submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came back negative for the Ebola virus, adding that samples were also sent for testing to a laboratory in Germany. The ministry said the CDC is conducting additional tests to further confirm the negative Ebola finding and determine if the patient was infected with a different virus found in Sierra Leone.

The 40-year-old Saudi national died Wednesday in a hospital isolation ward in the Saudi coastal city of Jiddah after showing symptoms of the viral hemorrhagic fever. He was the only suspected Ebola case in the kingdom and had just returned from a trip to affected Sierra Leone.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore eases another fear:

Man tests negative for Ebola in Hong Kong

A Nigerian man in Hong Kong has tested negative for  Ebola, said Chinese broadcaster CCTV. He had been placed in quarantine after he was suspected of carrying the virus, said Chinese media on Sunday (Aug 10).

According to CCTV, the 32-year-old had arrived in the southern Chinese city from Nigeria on Thursday. He was sent to hospital after experiencing vomiting and diarrhoea.

From the Toronto Globe and Mail, ditto:

Brampton, Ont. patient tests negative for Ebola

The Ebola virus has been ruled out in patient at a Brampton, Ont., hospital who was placed in isolation on Friday as a precaution after showing flu-like symptoms and travelling from Nigeria.

“I can now confirm a recent case that underwent testing at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg was found to test negative for Ebola virus disease,” said Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, in a statement released early Sunday morning.

Reuters prepares:

U.S. emergency labs ready to work on Ebola drugs if asked

All three U.S. facilities established to quickly make vaccines and therapeutics in the event of a major public health threat say they are standing by to support any U.S. government effort to scale up a treatment for Ebola.

The facilities, called Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (ADM), were set up by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with private industry, to respond to pandemics or chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear threats.

They have the expertise to quickly switch production lines to manufacture, for example, a smallpox vaccine if that scourge were to re-emerge, or an anthrax vaccine, and other life-saving compounds against both natural outbreaks and bioterrorism.

And TheLocal.es prescribes that drug the U.S. says they aren’t sending to Africa:

Spanish priest to receive experimental Ebola drug

A Spanish priest infected with Ebola will be treated with an experimental drug that has been used on two Americans infected with the deadly virus, the government said.

The drug called ZMapp arrived at Madrid’s La Paz-Carlos III hospital where the 75-year-old missionary was being treated in isolation, the health ministry said in a statement late on Saturday.

Spain’s drug safety agency allowed the “exceptional importation” of ZMapp under a law that allows “the use of non-authorised medications in cases where a patent’s life is in danger and they can’t be treated satisfactorily with an authorised medication,” it said.

From the Christian Science Monitor, an African counter-example:

Uganda offers lessons on how West Africa can contain Ebola outbreak

So far, the current epidemic has killed nearly 1,000 people in four countries, but it hasn’t touched East Africa. Countries like Uganda, which faced a major outbreak in 2000, are prepared with strategies to isolate and treat patients.

Uganda’s experience shows the importance of moving quickly. Indeed, as soon as laboratory tests confirmed that Lukwiya’s patients had Ebola, the government immediately called a news conference with the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control, and major donor nations, asking for assistance.

“In Uganda we have a government with very little shame about infectious disease,” says Roy Mayega, an epidemiologist and lecturer in the school of public health at Makerere University in Kampala. “They are not proud. When there is a crisis, they communicate it quickly.”

Uganda’s Health Ministry immediately blanketed radio stations and newspapers with public service announcements explaining the disease and describing proper procedure for burying the dead — in sealed plastic bags. And crucially, the government hired more than 1,000 local villagers from the area around Gulu and sent them door-to-door, looking for Ebola patients hidden by their families, and offering counsel on treatment and burial.

China Daily sends help:

Chinese Ebola doctors leave for Africa

Chinese disease control experts will leave for three West African nations affected by Ebola on Sunday evening and Monday, the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) said on Sunday.

The NHFPC announced on Saturday that China will send three expert teams and medical supplies to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to assist the prevention and control of the Ebola virus.

China dispatched emergency humanitarian aid supplies from Shanghai to West African nations hit by Ebola on Sunday.

And from Xinhua, a Cuban alert:

Cuba acts on WHO Ebola alert

Cuban health authorities took steps Friday to protect the country against the Ebola virus, after the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global alert to prevent the spread of the disease.

Niurka Molina, head of the Public Health Ministry’s international disease control, said the measures apply to both travelers and Cuban doctors arriving from Africa, where an Ebola outbreak has claimed nearly a thousand lives.

Thousands of Cuban doctors and healthcare workers are working in Africa, and other regions, as part of the country’s four-decade outreach policy, which has come to be known as medical diplomacy.

Deutsche Welle covers worries in Paris:

Ebola concerns hit home in France

With the World Health Organization now calling the Ebola outbreak a global emergency, the virus is no longer seen as a distant problem. That message is hitting home in France, a major hub for West African air traffic.

So far, no cases have been detected in France, although an Air France flight from Conakry was briefly quarantined in April over an Ebola scare.

“Even if the risk of contamination cannot be ruled out, it remains very low,” says Dr. Francois Bricaire, a specialist in infectious and tropical diseases at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris. “But, in my opinion, the risk of an epidemic appears unlikely. Because from the moment a case is diagnosed, measures will be taken immediately to stop the transmission.”

Still, the country is beefing up its guard. Air France flights from West Africa now screen passengers before departure and French airports watch out for suspect cases. A number of French hospitals, including Pitie-Salpetriere, are equipped with special isolation rooms.

And for our final Ebola headline, Salon ponders the Next Big Thing:

How to survive the next plague: Why we’re unprepared for the outbreak of a super-virus

  • Ebola isn’t going to become a pandemic, but we still need to be better prepared, argues Dr. Stephen Morse

Last week, the World Health Organization declared the West African Ebola epidemic an international health emergency. Since its emergence this spring, the hemorrhagic fever  has killed more than 900 people across three different countries. And since two infected American aid workers returned to Atlanta for treatment, the media has exploded, highlighting any number of horrific (and unlikely) scenarios. But might there be some merit to the fear-mongering? What would happen if a similar disease — say, MERS, or the avian flu — found its way, uncontained, to American soil?

Last week, Salon spoke with Dr. Stephen Morse, professor and director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Certificate program at Columbia University Medical Center. Morse has served on numerous governmental and civilian committees for public health preparedness, most recently at the Department of Defense where he co-directed the Pathogen Countermeasures program.

The Oakland Tribune brings us our first water woes headline:

California drought: Lawmakers consider historic rules to limit groundwater pumping

In what would be the most significant water law passed in California in nearly 50 years, lawmakers in Sacramento are working with Gov. Jerry Brown on a landmark measure to regulate groundwater pumping for the first time.

With an Aug. 31 deadline until the end of the session and billions of dollars at stake, negotiations among farmers, environmentalists, cities and elected officials are reaching a crescendo.

Although landowners who want to divert water from reservoirs and rivers have been required to get a permit from the state since 1914, farmers and cities who tap underground aquifers — California’s largest water source — can pump as much as they want, when they want and with almost no oversight or limits.

One of the accompanying graphics:

BLOG Cal water

The Latin American Herald Tribune covers water woes to the south:

Mexico’s Yaqui Indians Defend Water Rights in Meeting with Senators

Representatives of the Yaqui Indian tribe demanded a halt to the operation of an aqueduct in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora, saying in a meeting with senators that it will leave their communities without water.

“Yaqui elders, men, women, youth and children have come to this city to make ourselves heard because we’re sure that what’s happening on our land is a violation of our rights,” Yaqui spokesman Tomas Rojo said, according to a statement by Mexican civil society organization Serapaz.

Rojo also accused Sonora Gov. Guillermo Padres of continuing “with his crassness of taking our water away with projects like the Independence Aqueduct.”

More than 100 Yaqui Indians, who arrived Friday via caravan in Mexico City to meet with legislators and federal authorities, explained to the senators their position in a long-running dispute with the Sonora government that has included road-blocking protests by the indigenous group.

The Washington Post covers suburban sprawl run amok:

Southeast could become an overdeveloped ‘megalopolis’ in the next half century

Giant urban sprawl could pave over thousands of acres of forest and agriculture, connecting Raleigh to Atlanta by 2060, if growth continues at its current pace, according to a newly released research paper from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We could be looking at a seamless corridor of urban development,” said Adam Terando, a research ecologist with the USGS and an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University who was the study’s lead author.

The development will engulf land from North Carolina to Georgia, and possibly spread to Birmingham, Ala., “if we continue to develop urban areas in the Southeast the way we have for the past 60 years,” he said.

And our first and only Fumushimapocalypose Now! headline comes from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Fukushima to make decision on soil storage this month

Central and local government officials met in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, Friday to discuss the government’s offer of a total of ¥301 billion in financial assistance to the prefecture and two towns there that are candidates for interim facilities to store soil contaminated with radioactive substances released from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

At the meeting, Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Takumi Nemoto, state minister for reconstruction, presented the national government’s financial support plan to Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato, Okuma Mayor Toshitsune Watanabe and Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa.

Sato, Watanabe and Izawa responded favorably to the offer. The Fukushima prefectural government will decide by the end of this month whether to green-light construction of the facilities to store tainted soil collected during decontamination work.

From the Mainichi, tempting fate in the Arctic:

Russia starts drilling its northernmost oil well

Russia has begun drilling on its northernmost oil well, in the Kara Sea off the northern coast of Siberia.

The well is part of a joint project between the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft and ExxonMobil to develop the region’s oil reserves, which are estimated at up to 100 billion barrels.

The Russian-American project comes despite deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine, in which each side has hit the other with sanctions.

The Guardian covers sin of fracking omission in Old Blighty:

Fracking campaigners criticise ‘censored’ report on house prices

  • Government urged to publish sections cut from study into impact of shale gas wells on local communities

The government has been criticised for censoring a report into the impact of shale gas drilling that examines the effect on house prices and pressure on local services.

Campaigners are calling for full publication of the study carried out by Whitehall officials, as the government continues to resist the idea of offering compensation to individual householders near proposed fracking sites.

The report, called Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts, was written in March and a draft was released under environmental information laws with large portions of the text removed. In particular, the section looking at the effect of drilling on house prices has three missing chunks.

And the Associated Press covers a tar sands recalculation:

Study: Keystone carbon pollution more than figured

The much-debated Keystone XL pipeline could produce four times more global warming pollution than the State Department calculated earlier this year, a new study concludes.

The U.S. estimates didn’t take into account that the added oil from the pipeline would drop prices by about $3 a barrel, spurring consumption that would create more pollution, the researchers said.

Outside experts not connected to the study gave it mixed reviews. The American Petroleum Institute found the study to be irrelevant because regardless of the pipeline, the tar sands will be developed and oil will be shipped by railroad if not by pipeline, spokeswoman Sabrina Fang said.

The new estimates, from scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute, were published Sunday by the journal Nature Climate Change. Peter Erickson, lead author, said his work implies that the pipeline could basically wipe out reductions from some potential pollution-cutting policies under discussion.

For our final item, LiveScience, well, at least its not chemicals:

Computer Games Better Than Medication in Treating Elderly Depression

Computer games could help in treating older people with depression who haven’t been helped by antidepressant drugs or other treatments for the disorder, researchers say.

In a study of 11 older patients, researchers found playing certain computer games was just as effective at reducing symptoms of depression as the “gold standard” antidepressant drug escitalopram. Moreover, those patients playing the computer games achieved results in just four weeks, compared to the 12 weeks it often takes with escitalopram (also known by its brand name, Lexapro).

The computer games even improved what researchers call executive functions more than the drug did, according to the study. These functions are the thinking skills used in planning and organizing behavior, and their impairment has been linked to depression in elderly patients.

The new America: College campus soup kitchens


From RT [yes, we know that stands from Russia Today], a telling example of the consequences of rigging the game.

Food for Thought: US students struggle with hunger as tuition skyrockets

Program notes:

Skyrocketing tuition fees in America are now forcing many students to struggle to find any food for thought. So some universities are now setting up soup kitchens, to make sure their pupils can make it through the day.