Category Archives: GWOT

InSecurityWatch: Hacks, wars, spies, zones


We open with a major embarrassment, via the Guardian:

Records of up to 25,000 Homeland Security staff hacked in cyber-attack

  • Anonymous official says number could be even greater as department warns employees to check bank accounts

The internal records of as many as 25,000 employees of America’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were exposed during a recent computer hack at a federal contractor that handles security clearances, an agency official said on Friday.

The official, speaking anonymously, said the number of victims could be greater. The incident is under active federal criminal investigation.

The department was informing employees whose files were exposed in the hacking against contractor USIS and warning them to monitor their financial accounts.

Next up, via Independent, using wars abroad to crack down in Old Blighty:

Theresa May to introduce anti-jihadist powers to tackle ‘deadly extremist ideology’

Home Secretary Theresa May is planning to introduce new anti-jihadist powers as she warns that the “struggle against a deadly extremist ideology” is likely to last for decades.

She is considering extending banning orders to groups with extreme ideology but which are not engaged in terrorist activities, and she wants new powers to target extremists who try to radicalise young men and women.

The Home Secretary revealed that she has prevented “more than 150 people”, including “hate preachers”, from entering the UK because their behaviour is considered unacceptable.

Quartz goes hunting:

Kickstarter-funded journalists found an ISIL training camp using Google Earth and Bing Maps

A group of crowd-funded citizen journalists seem to have located a training camp for the militant group ISIL using only online mapping services and some old-fashioned detective work. Bellingcat, which raised almost £51,000 ($85,000) to do its own unique form of journalism, was founded by Eliot Higgins, who became famous (and was profiled by the New Yorker) for proving Syria was using chemical weapons from his bedroom in Leicester, England using only images and videos available online. His team includes a mix of bloggers, research analysts, and traditional reporters.

Bellingcat has explained in detail how it found the exact location of a training camp. First, using stills from videos showing the graduation of an ISIL class earlier this year, the team identified a large river and several bridges in the background, which it identified as the Tigris in Mosul, Iraq, the city that ISIL took in June and have been wreaking havoc in since. The group used Google Earth to make the identification.

And the New York Times raises doubts:

U.S. Officials and Experts at Odds on Threat Posed by ISIS

Earlier this year, President Obama likened the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to a junior varsity basketball squad, a group that posed little of the threat once presented by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

But on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

With the rapid advance of ISIS across northern Iraq, and the release this week of a video showing one of the group’s operatives beheading an American journalist, the language Obama administration officials are using to describe the danger the terrorist group poses to the United States has become steadily more pointed. But some American officials and terrorism experts said that the ominous words overstated the group’s ability to attack the United States and its interests abroad, and that ISIS could be undone by its own brutality and nihilism.

From the McClatchy Foreign Staff, you can’t tell tbhe players without a program:

Iraq’s Shia militias that once fought US, confront extremists, sow fear among Sunnis

Iraq’s Sunni political blocs have already withdrawn from talks about forming a new government, calling the massacre a “natural result” of the military’s decision to allow unaccountable militias to operate alongside of official forces.

Members of Iraq’s Sunni minority long have complained that the country’s security forces unfairly targeted them, but their fears have heightened since Iraq’s most-revered Shiite cleric in June gave a call to arms for men to defend their country against the Islamic State militants sweeping toward Baghdad.

Ayatollah Ali al Sistani’s fatwa came at a moment of crisis, with the country shocked by the Islamic State’s victories across Iraq and the collapse of three Iraqi army divisions.

His call motivated more than 40,000 men to join Iraq’s official government security forces, according to the Ministry of Defense. Untold thousands more are operating alongside the army and police in well-armed militias – the same ones who targeted U.S. forces during the American occupation of Iraq with deadly precision.

From the Guardian, anxiety to the north:

Canadian intelligence chief concerned by citizens joining militant groups

  • Michel Coulombe highlights al-Qaida, Isis, al-Shabaab links
  • Says: ‘Well over 100 Canadians’ have joined militant groups

Canadians who go abroad to join militant groups such as Islamic State (Isis) pose a threat on their return home and could use their foreign contacts to set up networks in Canada, the country’s intelligence director said on Saturday.

Michel Coulombe, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, wrote in a Globe and Mail article that “well over 100 Canadians”, both men and women, have left the country to join groups such as al-Qaida and al-Shabaab.

“The most obvious national security threat is the one posed by extremists who return,” Coulombe said. “How many are coming back to Canada more radicalised than when they departed? Will their status as veterans of a foreign conflict better enable them to recruit other Canadians?

And from the Associated Press, hopes for easing a domestic anxiety:

What if Michael Brown’s last moments had been recorded?

The fatal police shooting of the unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, is prompting calls for more officers to wear so-called body cameras, simple, lapel-mounted gadgets that capture video footage of law enforcement’s interactions with the public. Proponents say the devices add a new level of accountability to police work.

“This is a technology that has a very real potential to serve as a check and balance on police power,” says Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The case supporters make is simple: Cops and criminal suspects alike are less likely to misbehave if they know they’re being recorded. And there’s some evidence supporting it. In a recent Cambridge University study, the police department in Rialto, California — a city of about 100,000— saw an 89 percent decline in the number of complaints against officers in a yearlong trial using the cameras.

And real cause for anxiety South of the Border via Al Jazeera English:

Mexico says 22,322 people now ‘disappeared’

  • Government increases its count of those who have gone missing since start of war with powerful drug gangs in 2006.

The Mexican government has increased its calculation of the number of people who have disappeared since the start of the country’s drug war in 2006 and now lists 22,322 as missing, officials said.

It had said in May that 8,000 people were missing.

Assistant Attorney General, Mariana Benitez, said 12,532 people went missing during the 2006-12 administration of President Felipe Calderon, who declared war on drug traffickers. An additional 9,790 have disappeared since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office on December 1, 2012.

And from Agence Frnce-Presse, Mexico’s latest response to the growing crisis, a new paramilitary police [and no, that isn’t the fascist salture; they’re holding raptors, thought to what end. . .]:

Mexico launches new police force to fight drug gangs

Program note:

Mexico launches a new 5,000-member national police force tasked with protecting key sectors of the economy from drug gangs and other organized crime.

After the jump, the latest from the Asia Game of Zones, including shots fired on the Indian/Pakistani border, a massive data breach in Korea, Chinese domestic Internet surveillance, Japan claims a Chinese Army digital invasion, more semantic outrage over a Sino/American aerial close encounter, Chinese strategy, Japanese military budget boosting [including space plans], dissent within the Land of the Rising Sun, and a robotic warning. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: War, spooks, hacks, zones


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

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

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

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

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

But as Deutsche Welle notes, some things remain unsayable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wired threat level totes up another tab:

Personal Privacy Is Only One of the Costs of NSA Surveillance

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

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

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

And the Guardian raises grounds for real domestic insecurity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairfield cops under investigation for possible database checks on potential dates

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

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

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

The Miami Herald makes a point with which we agree:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Guardian, a spooky blast from the past:

Botched Nazi spy mission was act of sabotage, says historian

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

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

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

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

From Techdirt, censorship on campus:

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

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

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

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

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

Dutch minister opposes new law to criminalise ‘glorifying violence’

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

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

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

While the Mainichi covers a real domestic security threat:

Dominican Republic bans Miley Cyrus concert

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

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

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

PandoDaily covers a banner year:

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

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

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

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

More hackery news from RT:

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

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

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

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

Network World covers still more hackery:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC News covers a crackdown on aisle three:

Venezuela plans to introduce supermarket fingerprinting

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

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

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

And Factor has Robocop, Mark I:

Bots on patrol: Mobile security robot to be mass produced

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

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

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

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

InSecurityWatch: Media, malarkey, spies, zones


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPS Hacked, Customer Financial Data Could Be Compromised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New developments in the war on the press


Plus other casualties, one liely self-inflicted, a thousand more the consequence of harsh new economic “realities.”

First up, via The Real News Network, a report on the epidemic of arrests of journalists covering the unfolding drama in Ferguson, Missouri:

Police Continue to Violate Press Freedom In Ferguson

Program note:

With 11 journalists arrested thus far, Truthout.org investigative reporter Mike Ludwig describes how Ferguson police are using intimidation tactics against journalists

Next, from the Associated Press, a reporter withholding a confidential source is treated better in Afghanistan than in the U.S.:

Afghanistan orders NYT reporter to leave country

Afghanistan ordered a New York Times journalist Wednesday to leave the country in 24 hours and barred him from returning over a story he wrote saying that a group of officials were considering seizing power because of the impasse over who won its recent presidential election, the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

The attorney general’s office called Matthew Rosenberg, 40, into their office Tuesday and asked him to reveal his sources, which he refused to do, the Times reported. On Wednesday, the attorney general’s office said the story threatened Afghanistan’s stability and security, announcing that he was being expelled. The statement suggested that the reporting, which relied largely on unnamed sources, was fabricated.

The Afghan Foreign Affairs Ministry and security agencies had been notified of the expulsion, the statement said.

From Deutsche Welle, finding a message in killing the messenger:

Islam expert on IS: ‘The main message is revenge’

A video depicting the beheading of a US journalist is part of a highly professional media strategy by the “Islamic State,” Islam expert Christoph Günther tells DW.

DW: The “Islamic State” (IS), previously known as ISIS, has published a video which purportedly depicts the beheading of US journalist James Foley. What was the message of this video?

Christoph Günther: The main message is revenge. The aesthetic presentation speaks a clear language. By dressing the victim in an orange jumpsuit like the detainees in Guantanamo, they’re saying, “We are turning the tables on you.”

The second message is one of deterrence: “If you use military force against us, then we will hit back with all means available to us. If need be, we will target all of your citizens that we can get our hands on: Journalists, employees of Western companies in the Kurdish region, and people who work for aid organizations.”

More from the Associated Press:

Militants use British killer as propaganda

Islamic militants are using a beheading video to send a chilling message — not just through the gruesome act, but also by the choice of messenger.

The black-clad fighter who appears to kill journalist James Foley speaks with an English accent, underscoring the insurgents’ increasing use of Western militants to mobilize recruits, terrify opponents and project the image of a global force.

He is the latest in a string of international jihadis — Britons, Australians, Chechens, Chinese and Indonesians — to appear in propaganda for the Islamic State group.

“They like to suggest they have a presence around the world much stronger than it is,” said Charlie Cooper, a researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, a British counter-extremism think tank. “It does suggest that people all over the world are going off to fight in the tens of thousands.”

From the International Business Times, a mission that failed:

US Special Forces Operation Attempted Rescue Of American Journalist James Foley Before Beheading

Dozens of U.S. Special Forces conducted an operation with both air and ground components earlier this summer to rescue American citizens being held by Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Syria, the White House said Thursday. The news came just a day after the militant group published a video showing the gruesome beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley.

The dangerous rescue mission focused on a “particular captor network” within the Sunni militant group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Several ISIS members were killed and one U.S. soldier was wounded, according to CNN. The operation failed when no Americans were found.

“The United States attempted a rescue operation recently to free a number of American hostages held in Syria by ISIL,” the Pentagon said on Wednesday. “This operation involved air and ground components and was focused on a particular captor network within ISIL. Unfortunately, the mission was not successful because the hostages were not present at the targeted location.”

Vanity Fair hints at more potential tragedies to come:

James Foley’s Execution Raises Fears for Journalists Whose Kidnappings Remain Secret

Foley was not alone. I’d known for some time that he, along with a number of other Westerners, remained in the custody of ISIS. Many people who knew Jim, including his family and his employer, GlobalPost, had been making patient and valiant attempts to secure his release. In the video, the executioner shows off another kidnapped American journalist, Steven Sotloff, a freelancer who has contributed to Time magazine and was seized by ISIS in northern Syria in the summer of 2013, and threatens to kill him too. Foley’s family went public early with the news of his abduction, but most people don’t know about many of the other kidnappings. In large part this is because governments and families have persuaded themselves that the best strategy is to institute a “media blackout” in the hope of quietly securing the release of loved ones. Such blackouts don’t necessarily end with the release of hostages. The few who have been released from the custody of ISIS (about a half dozen, none of them American) appear to have been let go for money or other benefits—and to have been sworn to secrecy. There are arguments for and against such blackouts, and there have been lively debates among the families of the missing about their strategic value, but in principle they seem inimical to the spirit of journalism—and potentially counterproductive.

As a crime, kidnapping is uniquely cruel. Amid all the international concern about chemical weapons, thousands of ordinary Syrians have quietly been kidnapped in the last three years; there are no security companies to look out for them, and there is little outcry when they don’t come back. For a long period of time, Foley’s family, like many other families, had no idea whether their son was alive or dead. According to someone close to one of the cases, other prisoners who spent time with Foley noted that he had been severely tortured. He was also well liked: despite his travails over nearly two years of captivity, he remained upbeat and optimistic until the end. His killing will likely ignite a furious debate about the merits of President Obama’s decision to intervene in Iraq, and whether the administration could have done more to protect kidnapped Americans in Syria.

The Associated Press covers another journalistic fatality:

Press groups urge probe of Honduras reporter slay

Press freedom groups are urging Honduran authorities to thoroughly investigate the slaying of a broadcast journalist who was shot to death outside his home last week.

The Committee to Protect Journalists on Tuesday condemned Nery Soto Torres’ killing and urged authorities to launch a full investigation and punish those responsible.

Police say two gunmen waiting in motorcycles shot Soto Torres to death Thursday as he arrived home in the city of Olanchito, in northern Yoro state.

The 32-year-old journalist directed and hosted a news program on Olanchito’s Channel 23. At least 46 journalists, broadcasters and media executives have been killed in Honduras since 2003.

From Reuters, the journalism body count graphically depicted:

Journalists in danger worldwide

From the London Telegraph, another kind of information control:

Viewing or sharing beheading video could be a criminal offence, police warn

  • As YouTube and Twitter suspend the accounts of people who share the graphic beheading video, Scotland Yard ones sharing it online could be a crime

Viewing or sharing the harrowing video of James Foley’s beheading online could be regarded as a terrorist offence, Scotland Yard has warned.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said specialists from the Counter Terrorism unit were continuing to examine the footage in order to look for clues as to the identity of the suspected British jihadist but said the public should refrain from viewing the video.

In a statement a spokesman said: “We would like to remind the public that viewing, downloading or disseminating extremist material within the UK may constitute an offence under Terrorism legislation.”

While India Today covers another journalistic wound, possibly self-inflicted:

Fareed Zakaria faces fresh plagiarism charges

Indian-American journalist Fareed Zakaria, who two years ago got away from a plagiarism controversy claiming he made a “terrible mistake”, is facing fresh plagiarism charges from anonymous internet watchdogs.

The website “Our Bad Media” in a Tuesday report by @blippoblappo and @crushingbort cited 12 instances where Zakaria appears to have lifted passages wholesale from other authors.

“Their findings cast doubt on the three news outlets — Time Magazine, CNN and The Washington Post — which claimed to have conducted reviews of Zakaria’s work and found the so-called ‘mistake’ to be an isolated incident,” said Politico, an influential news site.

And Columbia Journalism Review spots hypocrisy bordering on the surreal:

Why Obama’s statement on reporters’ arrests in Ferguson is hypocritical

Obama defends reporters in Ferguson, but demands compliance from James Risen

In a news conference Thursday addressing the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown and resulting unrest in Ferguson, MO, President Barack Obama criticized the arrests of two reporters there on Wednesday night.

“Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs,” Obama said in a news conference televised from Martha’s Vineyard, where he’s vacationing. On Wednesday, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly were arrested when working out of a McDonald’s in Ferguson. After being taken to the Ferguson Police Department, both were quickly released.

Just minutes after the president finished his remarks, a coalition of journalism organizations at the National Press Club in Washington began a news conference condemning the Obama administration’s attempt to compel James Risen, a New York Times reporter, to identify a confidential source. The menagerie of groups this morning presented a petition, signed by more than 125,000 people, calling on the Justice Department to end its six-year effort to force Risen to testify against his source.

In June, the US Supreme Court turned down a last-ditch appeal from Risen, removing the final legal barrier for federal prosecutors who want him to take the stand.

And from Common Dreams, another war on the press, this time in the interests of another nation:

The Double Identity of an “Anti-Semitic” Commenter

  • Smearing a Progressive Website to Support Israel

Like many other news websites, Common Dreams has been plagued by inflammatory anti-Semitic comments following its stories. But on Common Dreams these posts have been so frequent and intense they have driven away donors from a nonprofit dependent on reader generosity.

A Common Dreams investigation has discovered that more than a thousand of these damaging comments over the past two years were written with a deceptive purpose by a Jewish Harvard graduate in his thirties who was irritated by the website’s discussion of issues involving Israel.

His intricate campaign, which he has admitted to Common Dreams, included posting comments by a screen name, “JewishProgressive,” whose purpose was to draw attention to and denounce the anti-Semitic comments that he had written under many other screen names.

Finally, from the Guardian, another body count:

News Corp Australia leaked accounts show 1,000 jobs cut across mastheads

  • Major leak of confidential operating accounts reveal extent of losses with the Australian losing about $30m a year

The financial health of News Corp Australia’s newspapers has been laid bare by a leak of its confidential operating accounts, which reveal the extent of the Australian losses and that the company has quietly shed more than 1,000 staff.

Earlier this month it was revealed that News Corporation’s full-year profit was more than halved as revenue from its Australian newspapers continued to slide.

But the leak gives far more detail about the picture across the mastheads.

Charts of the day II: Deadly tallies for aid workers


From Aid Worker Security Report 20214 [PDF] from Humanitarian Outcomes, the rising death toll for aid workers:

BLOLG Deaths

And the locations of their deaths:

BLOG Death locales

From a Guardian story about the report:

Last year was the most dangerous on record for humanitarian workers, with 155 killed, 171 seriously wounded and 134 kidnapped as they attempted to help others in some of the world’s most dangerous places, new research has shown.

The study, released to mark World Humanitarian Day, also reveals that 79 aid workers have died so far this year, making the first eight months of 2014 deadlier for the humanitarian community than the whole of 2012.

The 2013 statistics, compiled by the Humanitarian Outcomes partnership, show a 66% rise in fatal attacks on the previous year, with Afghanistan – where 81 aid workers were killed – remaining the most dangerous place to operate.

America’s militarized police: Finally in the open


And it’s true both nationally, and in esnl’s own back yard.

First up, a pair of editorial cartoons from California papers, with the first from David Horsey, graphic commentator for the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Horsey

And then there’s this, from Jack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee:

BLOG Ohman

Next, from RT America’s Breaking the Set, the Bay Area’s own Abby Martin weighs in on a program designed to turn beat cops into paramilitary troopers:

US Police Train with Foreign Militaries to Crackdown on Dissent

Program notes:

Abby Martin remarks on the growing militarization of America’s local police forces in the midst of the unrest in Ferguson, MO, highlighting a program known as Urban Shield, where US police forces train and learn military tactics together.

Here on the shores of San Francisco Bay, the region’s own Urban Shield copfest is scheduled for five days starting 4 September.

Here’s how the operation’s website describes the program:

Urban Shield has grown into a comprehensive, full-scale regional preparedness exercise assessing the overall Bay Area UASI Region’s response capabilities related to multi-discipline planning, policies, procedures, organization, equipment and training. Urban Shield continues to test regional integrated systems for prevention, protection, response and recovery in our high-threat, high-density urban area. The exercise evaluates our existing level of preparedness and capabilities, identifying not only what we do well, but areas in need of improvement. The previous years’ After Action Reports are referenced and used to assist in prioritizing upcoming expenditures possible for the region so we may become more prepared for any type of critical event or incident in our area.

And there’s even a video produced by Dolphin Graphics and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office [and featuring an assistant sheriff with an Orwellian name] designed to entice would-be participants into signing up:

Urban Shield, “First Responder Training” Short Documentary

Program notes:

Urban Shield Alameda County is a full-scale exercise, designed to assess and validate the speed, effectiveness and efficiency of response capabilities, as well as test the adequacy of regional policies, plans, procedures and protocols. The Urban Shield exercise incorporates regional critical infrastructure, emergency operation centers, regional communication systems, equipment and assets, new technologies, as well as personnel representing all aspects of emergency response teams including intelligence, law enforcement, Explosive Ordinance Disposal Units, Fire, EMS, etc.

And guess what Bay Area city won top SWAT team honors in last year’s competition?

We have the picture:

BLOG Berkeley SSWAT

On a more permanent basis, militarization of Bay Area police has been enhanced by another program from the Department of Homeland Security, the Bay Area UASI, a ten-county regional government managed by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

From the program’s website:

The Bay Area UASI is a regional program that provides financial assistance to improve the Bay Area’s capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist incidents or related catastrophic events. Projects facilitated by the program enhance regional capability through regional collaboration and efficient allocation of funds available.

>snip<

The UASI program is the only federal homeland security grant program that requires regional governance, strategic planning and investing involving all disciplines (law enforcement, fire service, public health and medical, public works, critical infrastructure owners and operators, and emergency management) in order to acquire the necessary plans, organization, equipment, training and exercises. In 2006, DHS combined the three previously independent jurisdictions of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose into the current Bay Area UASI. The Bay Area UASI is located in northern California and is comprised of twelve counties and three core cities. The twelve counties are inclusive of over 100 incorporated cities and a combined total population exceeding 7.5 million people.

BLOG Urban shielding

On a final note, and as we’ve reported previously, as part of Urban Shield, UC Berkeley’s own campus police held a training session with Israeli border police before applying their newly won skills in cracking heads whilst dispersing student Occupy protesters. And the Minister, er, Secretary of Homeland Security back in those days is now president of the entire University of California system.

John Oliver tackles militarized police & Ferguson


Cutting through the bullshit, when done in a non-plummy British accent, is somehow funnier than the same message conveyed in plain old American media English. But when the accent comes with rapier-sharp wit, the result is simply delicious.

Sure, you can find fault with John Oliver’s message, but he gets a lot more right than otherwise, and his take on the Orwellian machinery at the heart of paramilitary hardware and attitudes employed in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the police shooting of yet another unarmed black teenager merits kudos.

Pop it up to full screen and enjoy, via HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Ferguson, MO and Police Militarization

Program note:

In the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, John Oliver explores the racial inequality in treatment by police as well as the increasing militarization of America’s local police forces.