Category Archives: History

InSecurityWatch: Spooks, hacks, war, weapons


For the first item in today’s compendium pf the world of spies, snoops, cops, crimes, wars, geopolitics, hackery, and the like, we turn to reassurance from the Guardian:

CIA chief: ‘If I’ve done something wrong, I’ll stand up and admit it’

  • John Brennan expresses frustration with Senate and media while decrying lack of trust in agency at intelligence conference

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency expressed frustration with his Senate overseers and the media on Thursday, even as he and his fellow heads of US intelligence agencies pledged to win back the trust of a skeptical American public.

“I certainly believe having the public’s trust makes all of our jobs much easier and better,” Brennan said on a panel at an intelligence conference, where he was joined by his colleagues at the helms of the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

But ahead of an impending clash with the Senate intelligence committee, which is due to release a public version of a report into CIA torture in the coming weeks, Brennan rejected “the narratives I see floating around the media.”

From Gigaom, someone’s takin’ a bit out of the Apple:

Apple’s “warrant canary” disappears, suggesting new Patriot Act demands

When Apple published its first Transparency Report on government activity in late 2013, the document contained an important footnote that stated: “Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us.”

Writer and cyber-activist Cory Doctorow at the time recognized that language as a so-called “warrant canary,” which Apple was using to thwart the secrecy imposed by the Patriot Act.

Warrant canaries are a tool used by companies and publishers to signify to their users that, so far, they have not been subject to a given type of law enforcement request such as a secret subpoena. If the canary disappears, then it is likely the situation has changed — and the company has been subject to such request.

Now, Apple’s warrant canary has disappeared. A review of the company’s last two Transparency Reports, covering the second half of 2013 and the first six months of 2014, shows that the “canary” language is no longer there.

From the Register, score another one for Edward the Leaker:

Snowden’s NSA leaks have galvanised the storage world

  • Vendors raise their game after gov securo-busting revealed

In a recent CyberArk survey of 373 C-level and IT security executives across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific, 37 per cent of respondents said Snowden’s breach of NSA security had influenced their security strategy more than any other incident over the past year.

Difficult decisions are having to be made across industries. Where and how to store data tops the list of priorities. Who to trust has also become a pertinent question when it comes to access management and procurement processes. Storage and security have become sexy again.

Indeed, one of the material outcomes of Snowden’s leaks has already been realised: inspired by renewed consumer and business interest in privacy, technology is becoming more secure.

From the New York Times, oversharing reported by James Bamford:

Israel’s N.S.A. Scandal

In Moscow this summer, while reporting a story for Wired magazine, I had the rare opportunity to hang out for three days with Edward J. Snowden. It gave me a chance to get a deeper understanding of who he is and why, as a National Security Agency contractor, he took the momentous step of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications as well as metadata such as who was calling whom.

Typically, when such sensitive information is transferred to another country, it would first be “minimized,” meaning that names and other personally identifiable information would be removed. But when sharing with Israel, the N.S.A. evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.

Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” he told me. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”

From RT, bloody irony:

GTA-ISIS: Militants hooking youngsters with ‘Jihad video game’ trailer

Islamic State (IS) militants have released a jihadist video game trailer in which the aim is to destroy Iraqi and US forces, Arabic media report. The game, styling itself as a Grand Theft Auto adaptation, appears specifically aimed at young people.

The recruitment propaganda video trailer aimed to “raise the morale of the mujahedin and to train children and youth how to battle the West and to strike terror into the hearts of those who oppose the Islamic State,” according to the media wing of the IS (formerly known as ISIS), cited in Arabic media.

“The content includes all of the organization’s military tactics against its opponents,” the Islamic state said.

Homeland Security News Wire covers an intelligence failure:

U.S. intelligence, leaders unclear on exact danger posed by ISIS

Considerable discrepancies in the reporting from U.S. intelligence services regarding the strength of the Islamic State (IS) have led critics to the conclusion that the U.S. intelligence community knows little about the terrorists’ actual strength as the United States is in the process of developing a military strategy to defeat the Islamist organization.

Considerable discrepancies in the reporting from U.S. intelligence services regarding the strength ofthe Islamic State (IS) have led critics to the conclusion that the U.S. intelligence community knows little about the terrorists’ actual strength as the United States is in the process of developing a military strategy to defeat the Islamist organization.

From the Associated Press, The Most Transparent Administration in History™ flunks the test, again:

Journalists view Obama administration’s transparency as much worse than Bush’s

Editors and reporters meeting in Chicago raised concerns Wednesday about what they described as a lack of access and transparency undermining journalists’ work, several blaming the current White House for setting standards for secrecy that are spreading nationwide.

Criticism of President Barack Obama’s administration on the issue of openness in government came on the last day of a three-day joint convention of the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Associated Press Photo Managers.

“The White House push to limit access and reduce transparency has essentially served as the secrecy road map for all kinds of organizations — from local and state governments to universities and even sporting events,” Brian Carovillano, AP managing editor for U.S. news, said during a panel discussion.

James Risen, a New York Times reporter who is facing potential jail time as he battles government efforts to force him to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified information, also spoke at the conference. Risen said intense pressure on reporters and their sources is having a chilling effect on newsgathering.

He spoke of scaring one source just by going to his home and knocking on the front door. “He opened the door and he turned white,” Risen said. “He marches me back through the kitchen [to a back exit] and said, “‘Go out that way.’”

Guns beat butter again, via the Guardian:

UN to cut food aid to Syria

Without more money, World Food Programme warns food rations will be reduced and voucher schemes slashed

The UN warned on Thursday that it will be forced to cut food rations for more than 6 million Syrians from next month unless it received more funding.

The World Food Programme said that while it still expects to reach almost 6 million Syrians inside the country and in neighbouring states in October and November, there will be significant cuts to the amount of food delivered. The WFP said it had no money for programmes in December.

A WFP official told Reuters that the food basket for Syrians could shrink to 825 calories, well under half the daily recommended intake.

From the Associated Press, bordering on sanity:

Border Patrol to test wearing cameras

The U.S. Border Patrol will begin testing body-worn cameras on agents next month, the head of its parent agency said Thursday, a step toward seeing if the technology should be used in the field as the government seeks to blunt criticism about agents’ use of force.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, Customs and Border Protection commissioner since March, said a variety of cameras will be tested beginning Oct. 1 at the Border Patrol’s training academy in Artesia, New Mexico.

He didn’t say when or even if cameras will be introduced to the roughly 21,000 agents in the field.

From Sky News, making a good point:

Assange: ‘Google Like A Privatised NSA’

  • Julian Assange tells Sky News the search engine gathers and files information just like America’s National Security Agency.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has accused Google of behaving like a “privatised version of the NSA” in the way it collects and stores information about people.

He told Sky News the internet giant was not doing anything illegal but its behaviour was highly questionable. “It is not doing things which are illegal, what it is doing is legal,” he said. “It is collecting as much information about people as possible, storing it, indexing it, and using it to create profiles of people and then selling that to advertisers and others.

“Those are the same procedures that security agencies go through. That is why the NSA has latched on top of what Google is doing. Since 2009 the NSA had been engaged in the Prism system where information collected online is available to it.”

The accompanying video from Sky News:

Julian Assange ‘Will Leave Embassy With Asylum Intact’

Program note:

Sky’s Sarah Hewson talks to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

From BuzzFeed, and reminding us of the a high school joke about the cat, who crept in, crapped, and crept out:

U.S. Company Distances Itself From Egyptian Surveillance System

  • And the website of its Egyptian affiliate is taken down.

The U.S.-based Blue Coat company has issued a statement distancing itself from a project to monitor Twitter, Facebook, and Skype in Egypt, following a BuzzFeed News report.

Egyptian officials had told BuzzFeed News that a company called See Egypt had won a tender to begin providing the government with a surveillance system that would allow them to comb through data from Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among others. In interviews, the Egypt-based SeeEgypt called itself a “sister company” to Blue Coat, and listed the company as one of their affiliates.

Now, Blue Coat has issued a response saying that their products are not being resold to the Egyptian government.

From the Dissenter, gee, are we surprised:

Email Suggests Manufacturer of Stingray Surveillance Equipment May Have Lied to FCC

The American Civil Liberties Union has accused the manufacturer of StingRay surveillance products of providing inaccurate information and possibly even lying to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is the agency that is supposed to regulate communications over cable, radio, satellite, television and wire.

Harris Corporation is one of the leading manufacturers of StingRay technology. The technology was “initially designed for the military and intelligence community” and “operates by mimicking cellular service providers’ base stations and forcing all cellular phones in range to register their electronic serial numbers and other identifying information,” according to the ACLU.

The ACLU of Northern California chapter managed to obtain a series of emails from 2010 between the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) and Harris Corporation employees, where the “equipment authorization application for law enforcement use of Harris’ StingRay line of products” is being discussed.

After the jump, a death sentence for an Iranian blogger, beating the messenger in Russia, Plasticopalypse Now!, a horrifying traffic scenario suggested, China bases more claims in troubled waters, and a top cop’s curious pal. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Law, wars, hacks, cops, spies


We begin with a hopeful finding, via the Guardian:

High school students care more about free speech than adults, poll finds

  • For first time in poll’s history, American students are more in favour of the first amendment than adults

American high school students are more concerned about freedom of speech and the first amendment than adults, including their teachers, a new poll has found.

The national study of 10,463 high school students and 588 teachers was released Wednesday to coincide with the celebration of Constitution Day and was funded by the John S and James L Knight Foundation.

This was the first time in the poll’s history that students were more in favour of the first amendment than adults. Ten years ago when the poll began 35% of students said the amendment went too far compared with 30% of adults.

The poll also found that students who consumed the most news online were the most supportive of free expression. And those who had been taught about the first amendment were more supportive still.

Salon covers a half-measure:

Los Angeles schools will relinquish grenade launchers … but not rifles or armored vehicles

  • L.A. Unified says that M-16 automatic rifles are “essential life-saving items”

The Los Angeles Unified school police announced on Tuesday their intention to give up military-grade weaponry obtained through the 1033 federal program that gives civilian police departments surplus military equipment. The school police said it intended to relinquish three grenade launchers, but notably will keep 61 rifles and one Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) armored vehicle.

The Yomiuri Shimbun investigates:

Attorney general: U.S. will launch study of policing bias

Broadening its push to improve police relations with minorities, the Justice Department has enlisted a team of criminal justice researchers to study racial bias in law enforcement in five American cities and recommend strategies to address the problem nationally, Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday.

The police shooting last month of an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri underscored the need for the long-planned initiative, Holder said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He said the three-year project, which will involve training, data analysis and interviews with community residents, could be a “silver lining” if it helps ease racial tensions and “pockets of distrust that show up between law enforcement and the communities that they serve.”

And from Al Jazeera English, heading down a familiar road:

US lawmakers back plan to arm Syrian rebels

  • House of Representatives vote 273 to 156 to approve President Obama’s train-and-equip plan meant to defeat ISIL

US lawmakers have voted to authorise training and arming of vetted Syrian rebels to combat fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a crucial step in President Barack Obama’s bid to thwart the self-declared jihadist group surging across Iraq and Syria.

The House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 273 to 156 to approve Obama’s train-and-equip plan despite misgivings by both Democrats and Republicans.

Some war-weary Democrats say the move could open the door to full-blown American military intervention in the Middle East.

The Los Angeles Times coveys reassurance:

Obama reiterates that U.S. forces have no ‘combat mission’ in Iraq

Emphasizing the American military’s unrivaled expertise, President Obama thanked service members Wednesday and repeated that U.S. forces taking on the Islamic State militant group would not serve in combat, a day after his top general repeatedly raised that prospect.

American forces “do not and will not have a combat mission,” Obama told troops at the U.S. Central Command headquarters here. “They will support Iraqi forces on the ground as they fight for their own country against these terrorists.”

He made that pledge a day after Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military’s top officer, described for a Senate panel the challenges of fighting the militants without combat troops on the ground.

But the New York Times conveys counterspin:

U.S. Army Chief Says Ground Troops Will Be Needed Against ISIS

The United States general who beat back Islamic extremists in Iraq in 2007 suggested on Wednesday that the battle against Islamic State jihadis would only succeed with the use of ground forces.

Speaking a day after his commander, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that American ground troops might be needed in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno was careful not to specify that those ground troops had to be American. But he made clear that success would be dependent on the presence of forces from all of Iraq’s sectarian groups.

Airstrikes have halted the advance of the Islamic State, also known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, General Odierno, now the Army chief of staff, told journalists from four news organizations, including The New York Times, in what aides said were his first public comments on the current situation in Iraq. Ultimately, though, “you’ve got to have ground forces that are capable of going in and rooting them out,” he said, referring to the Islamic extremists.

And from the Washington Post, tramp, tramp, tramp:

U.S. boots are already on the ground against the Islamic State

Talking with U.S. and foreign military experts over the past week, I’ve heard two consistent themes: First, the campaign against the Islamic State will require close-in U.S. training and assistance for ground forces, in addition to U.S. air power; and, second, the best way to provide this assistance may be under the command of the Ground Branch of the CIA’s Special Activities Division, which traditionally oversees such paramilitary operations.

There are some obvious drawbacks with this approach: These “special activities” may be called covert, but their provenance will be obvious, especially to the enemy; they will build irregular forces in Iraq and Syria that may subvert those countries’ return to a stable, transparent system of governance and military operations; and history tells us (from Vietnam to Central America to the Middle East) that black operations, outside normal military channels, can get ugly — opening a back door to torture, rendition and assassination. That’s why clear guidelines and congressional oversight would be necessary.

Though these paramilitary operations are rarely discussed, the United States has extensive experience with them, especially in Iraq and other areas of the Middle East. The 2001 campaign to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan was led by the CIA, using teams of Special Operations forces to mobilize fighters from the Northern Alliance. In 2002, before the invasion of Iraq, Kurdish special forces were brought to a base in the Western United States and trained in insurgency tactics. They conducted fierce attacks as the war was beginning.

In other words, it’s the same old foreign policy so eloquently expressed by Nancy Sinatra way back in 1966:

From Defense One, points we often made back in the days of Vietnam:

The Constitution Is More Than Just an Obstacle To Fighting ISIL

Congress seems to be on track to authorize President Obama to address the situation in the Middle East. Strikingly enough, however, it is authorization for one small part of it—to provide arms to Syrian rebels. Currently, U.S. law prevents the president from transferring weapons to rebel groups, and Obama wants an exception for Syria.

What about the prolonged campaign he announced last week to “degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy?” Obama’s strategy—systematic airstrikes against ISIS targets “wherever they are”; material support to Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian forces fighting ISIS on the ground; intelligence and counterterrorism campaigns against ISIS; and humanitarian assistance to those displaced by the fighting—sounds like what I will call, for lack of a better term, “war.”

And war needs authorization from Congress. Not little dribs and drabs of authorization, and not small measures tucked onto spending bills, but a resolution, adopted after a serious debate, authorizing the whole thing, setting out our war aims, and indicating when or how the authority will expire.

The president says he has the authority to do what he wants but wouldn’t mind if Congress wants to tag along by voting him “more” authority. Members of Congress say, variously, Why is he asking us? Why isn’t he already doing more without it? Can’t we wait to see what happens? Can we go now?

From the Guardian, media mania:

Islamic State video threatens to target White House and US troops

  • Video purports to be trailer for film entitled Flames of War with strapline ‘fighting has just begun’

Islamic State militants have threatened to target the White House and kill US troops in a new slickly made video response to Barack Obama’s campaign to “degrade and destroy” the organisation.

The video, in the style of a blockbuster movie trailer for what is “coming soon”, purports to show a masked man apparently about to shoot kneeling prisoners in the head. Towards the end of the clip there is shaky footage of the White House filmed from a moving vehicle, suggesting the building is being scoped out for attack.

It was released on Tuesday after US defence chiefs suggested that American troops could join Iraqi forces fighting Isis, despite Obama’s assurance that US soldiers would not be engaged in fighting on the ground.

While the video has been yanked from YouTube, it was still available at LiveLeak when last we looked [and WordPress doesn’t enable embedding videos from that site].

More on that media thing from the Christian Science Monitor:

How Islamic State is wielding the Internet in new ways

Federal prosecutors announced the indictment of a New York man on charges he was trying to recruit for the Islamic State. US officials say they are increasingly concerned about the possibility of a home-grown terror threat.

[E]ven as a handful of Americans attempt to get more engaged with extremist groups, media observers say IS has become one of most sophisticated social media operations yet seen.

“I think that what’s new is the sophistication and focus of the groups like ISIS,” says Nicco Mele, a lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in Boston, who focuses on the intersection of media, politics, and power in the digital age. “The frequency and quality and quantity of what’s happening here is significant – it’s sophisticated, clearly planned, and executed with a well-oiled team.”

Up to a hundred Americans have tried to travel abroad to fight alongside IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in recent weeks – including some killed by the US bombing campaign in Iraq. But officials say they are also worried about the solitary, would-be domestic terrorist, inspired by propaganda and instructions found online, who would then attempt to carry out an attack similar to the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013.

Business Insider covers the furor Down Under:

Australian Authorities Say Terrorists Planned To Drape People In ISIS Flags And Behead Them In Public

Police have confirmed Australia’s largest ever counter-terrorism operation targeted a group planning “random acts of violence” against a member, or members of the public, on the streets of Sydney.

News agencies are reporting court documents, to be released later this morning, are expected to reveal the terror group planned to behead a member of the public in Sydney, or potentially engage in a random mass shooting.

Australian Federal Police and intelligence officials launched the “largest counter-terrorism operation” in Australia across a number of suburban areas in Sydney and Brisbane this morning.

From the Express Tribune, a Pakistani blackout continues:

Two years on, no light at the end of the tunnel for YouTube

Two years, a new government and the promise of change, and at least 20 court hearings later, internet users from Pakistan are still denied access to YouTube. This restriction of access has become the symbol of a state which has increasingly become obsessed with controlling the online space in a non-transparent manner.

The ban had been imposed on September 17, 2012 by then prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf following national outrage over a sacrilegious video clip. The video had prompted outrage across the Muslim world and prompted temporary bans on the website in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sudan. Threat of bans in Saudi Arabia prompted YouTube to selectively curb access in that country and it took a court order to censor it in Brazil.

But even after a US court ordered YouTube to take down versions of the video following a suit filed by one of the actors appearing the clip, the site remains inaccessible in Pakistan. The refrain, that the clip hurts religious sentiments of the people, is obscene or hurts national security has acted as an effective screen for a process which is less than transparent and has gone on to impact services and content beyond just pornography and blasphemous videos.

From The Intercept, spooky high dudgeon:

Irate NSA Staffer Doesn’t Like Being Filmed in Public, for Some Reason

The NSA sent someone bearing the nametag “Neal Z.” to the University of New Mexico’s Engineering and Science Career Fair today, in the hopes of recruiting young computer geniuses to help manage the yottabytes of data it is collecting about you. But instead of eager young applicants, Mr. Z. encountered University of New Mexico alumnus Andy Beale and student Sean Potter, who took the rare opportunity of being in the room with a genuine NSA agent to ask him about his employer’s illegal collection of metadata on all Americans. Mr. Z. did not like that one bit.

In two videos posted on YouTube—each shot from a slightly different perspective—you can watch Beale politely question Mr. Z. about NSA programs, and watch Mr. Z. attempt to parry those queries with blatant falsehoods like, “NSA is not permitted to track or collect intelligence on U.S. persons.” As Beale continues to attempt to engage the recruiter on the legality of the NSA’s mass surveillance initiatives, Mr. Z. becomes increasingly angry, calling him a “heckler,” saying, “You do not know what you’re talking about,” and warning, “If you don’t leave soon, I’m going to call university security to get you out of my face.”

After a few minutes of back-and-forth, Mr. Z announces, “You’re done,” and attempts to grab the phone that Potter had been using to film the encounter, literally at the very moment he says, “I’m not touching your phone.” Beale and Potter were later ejected from the facility by campus police for “causing a disturbance,” though their on-camera behavior is unfailingly quiet and civil.

Here’s one of the videos, posted by Andy Beale:

NSA Attacks Student at University of New Mexico

After the jump, a German demand on Google, spooky Danish blowback, a twisted Kiwi concession, public intelligence endangered, spying in the bovine interest, committing covert journalism on the farm, hacks at your bank account at home and abroad, Papuan police punished, allegations of Chinese defense contractor hacks, Chinese line-crossing, a spooky Japanese coup on China, Korean diplomatic shifts, a Japanese panopticon extension, an Asian test of the American fog of war, and a Thai sartorial security alert. . .
Continue reading

And now for something completely different


And that would be a delightful video combining the skills of science journalism and an art form resembling nothing so much as those delightful Indonesian shadow puppets.

The focus is an event that took place 340 years this month, revelation of the existence of a vast realm of life hitherto unsuspected by scientists and described thusly on the New York Times web page hosting the video:

In 1674, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek looked at a drop of lake water through his homemade microscope and discovered an invisible world that no one knew existed.

Here are the Dutch scientist’s own words announcing the discovery, via the University of California Museum of Paleontology’s Berkeley website:

In a letter of September 7, 1674, Leeuwenhoek described observations on lake water, including an excellent description of the green charophyte alga Spirogyra: “Passing just lately over this lake, . . . and examining this water next day, I found floating therein divers earthy particles, and some green streaks, spirally wound serpent-wise, and orderly arranged, after the manner of the copper or tin worms, which distillers use to cool their liquors as they distil over. The whole circumference of each of these streaks was about the thickness of a hair of one’s head. . . all consisted of very small green globules joined together: and there were very many small green globules as well.”

With that, on to the video, a creation of science journalist Flora Lichtman and
animator/filmmaker Sharon Shattuck, via the New York Times:

‘Animated Life: Seeing the Invisible’

From the NYT web page:

This video is the debut of a new Op-Docs series called “Animated Life,” a collaboration between Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s BioInteractive and The New York Times. Born from a previous Op-Doc, “The Animated Life of A.R. Wallace” (which features the other guy who discovered natural selection), the series will explore pivotal moments of discovery, and the characters past and present who have driven us to see the world in new ways.

Since these moments are rarely captured on film, we are recreating them — with paper. The style is not without challenges: We went through 15 different heads before poor Leeuwenhoek looked sufficiently human. Admittedly, our Vibrio harveyi bacteria still don’t look quite like sausages, which is how the microbiologist Bonnie Bassler describes them. Truly, there are limits to what can be achieved with papier-mâché.

Years ago, when esnl was knee-high to a grasshopper, we thrilled at reading about Leeuwenhoek’s discoveries, and pestered our parents until we, too, had a microscope of our own and set about replicating the discoveries made so many years before — though our water came from the aptly named Mud Creek in Abilene, Kansas, rather than a scenic Dutch pond.

InSecurityWatch: Wars, threats, hacks, weapons


Lots of ground to cover, so straight ahead with the Guardian:

Pentagon: US ground troops may join Iraqis in combat against Isis

  • Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey refuse to rule out greater role for US ‘advisers’ if airstrikes

The Pentagon leadership suggested to a Senate panel on Tuesday that US ground troops may directly join Iraqi forces in combat against the Islamic State (Isis), despite US president Barack Obama’s repeated public assurances against US ground combat in the latest Middle Eastern war.

A day after US warplanes expanded the war south-west of Baghdad, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate armed services committee that he could see himself recommending the use of some US military forces now in Iraq to embed within Iraqi and Kurdish units to take territory away from Isis.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Isis] targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey said, preferring the term “close combat advising”.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau takes action:

U.S. hits Islamic State south of Baghdad in first strike under new Obama orders

The United States bombed an Islamic State position southwest of Baghdad on Monday in what the U.S. Central Command said was the first airstrike undertaken under expanded rules of engagement President Barack Obama outlined in a speech last week.

The Central Command statement posted Monday night provided no details of the strike, but the area southwest of Baghdad is a Sunni Muslim stronghold where Islamic State forces have been active since June. The statement said the Islamic State forces were firing on Iraqi security forces.

“The airstrike southwest of Baghdad was the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense, as outlined in the president’s speech last Wednesday,” the statement said, using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State.

From the Sydney Morning Herald, hands wringing in anticipation:

Growing global conflict a bonanza for arms makers

Geopolitical instability has left many global corporations jittery.

But the world’s biggest arms producers are doing well, with shares of the top 12 publicly listed firms – based on a list by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute – rising by almost 30 per cent on average in the last year.

Stock price data on the 12 companies reveal most have benefitted in a year in which the number of conflict zones in Europe, the Middle East and Africa has risen. While some companies have under-performed during the period, many have risen by more than 50 per cent.

Customers line up, via Defense One:

Governments Line Up To Buy the Drone That Terrorized Gaza

A few weeks after Israel and Hamas signed an open-ended truce to end their nearly two-month-long war in Gaza, Israeli defense contractors are parading weapons used in the conflict at a conference in Tel Aviv. The annual Israel Unmanned Systems conference, which began Sunday and runs through Friday (Sept. 19), is jointly hosted with the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. According to its website, attendees include “senior officials from commercial and government entities” from Europe, Asia, North and South America.

The conference’s sponsors include the largest Israeli private defense contractors, among them Haifa-based Elbit Systems. Elbit’s Hermes 450 (pdf), a “multi-role tactical high-performance unmanned aircraft system” (UAS)—in other words, a battle drone—operated this summer in the Gaza Strip, and may have carried out attacks.

Photos taken by an Agence France-Presse photographer that appeared in a July post on The Aviationist, a blog, showed the aircraft flying over the skies of Gaza. It had a pod under each wing that looked like it could be a fuel tank, but which, according to an Israeli source quoted by the blog, was “a firing pod for a light missile.” The source would not independently confirm or deny that it was used in attacks on Hamas positions but David Cenciotti, founder of the blog, told Quartz that it’s highly likely that the Hermes 450 was the IDF’s vehicle of choice for such attacks.

But it looks like one deal came undone, via RT:

Israel nixes drone deal with Ukraine to not anger Russia – report

Israel’s Foreign Ministry blocked the proposed sale of military hardware to Ukraine to avoid a strain in relations with Russia – even after the country’s Defense Ministry approved the transaction – Israeli media reported. The deal with Kiev included UAVs.

Ukraine sent a delegation into Israel in order to arrange for a purchase of weapons and hardware – which reportedly included Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones – to be used against self-defense forces, Israel’s Channel Two reported.

The report revealed that the country’s Defense Ministry approved the sale of drones manufactured by Aeronautics. Later, however, the decision was blocked by the Foreign Ministry out of fear of angering Russia and provoking it to sell more weapons to Syria and Iran, which Israel views as direct threats.

From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, semantics and legality:

Blinding them with science: Is development of a banned laser weapon continuing?

It is clear that lasers are being aimed at eyes in combat situations, but the militaries involved say the intent is not to blind, but to warn or protect against attack.

A 2010 article in the UK version of Wired says that laser “dazzlers” have been used by British soldiers against fighters in remote parts of Afghanistan—well away from public scrutiny. The Green Laser Optical Warner, or GLOW, is meant to temporarily stun, or “dazzle” the eye with glare. With an effective range of 300 meters, or nearly 1,000 feet, GLOW is intended to be used to stop suspicious characters from approaching a military checkpoint. It has been called an escalation of force option, providing an intermediate step before shooting starts. US forces used a similar device in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Green Laser Interdiction System, which has an effective range of a few kilometers at night, Laser Focus World wrote in 2012.

But something bright enough to dazzle at 300 meters can cause permanent eye damage at 50 meters, and these devices can be set to deliver a narrow (and more intense) beam. To get around the ban against blinding weapons, systems like the GLIS run off of a low-power source.

But the developers of the dazzler systems seem to be tiptoeing closer and closer to the line that defines what is a banned weapon and what is not—and their products are becoming more and more readily available. (One dazzler can be purchased for $15,999 on the Internet, although the seller notes that it is subject to government restrictions.)

From the Guardian, boots in the wings:

Pentagon: US ground troops may join Iraqis in combat against Isis

  • Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and General Martin Dempsey refuse to rule out greater role for US ‘advisers’ if airstrikes

The Pentagon leadership suggested to a Senate panel on Tuesday that US ground troops may directly join Iraqi forces in combat against the Islamic State (Isis), despite US president Barack Obama’s repeated public assurances against US ground combat in the latest Middle Eastern war.

A day after US warplanes expanded the war south-west of Baghdad, Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate armed services committee that he could see himself recommending the use of some US military forces now in Iraq to embed within Iraqi and Kurdish units to take territory away from Isis.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Isis] targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey said, preferring the term “close combat advising”.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, bombs away:

U.S. hits Islamic State south of Baghdad in first strike under new Obama orders

The United States bombed an Islamic State position southwest of Baghdad on Monday in what the U.S. Central Command said was the first airstrike undertaken under expanded rules of engagement President Barack Obama outlined in a speech last week.

The Central Command statement posted Monday night provided no details of the strike, but the area southwest of Baghdad is a Sunni Muslim stronghold where Islamic State forces have been active since June. The statement said the Islamic State forces were firing on Iraqi security forces.

“The airstrike southwest of Baghdad was the first strike taken as part of our expanded efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions to hit ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense, as outlined in the president’s speech last Wednesday,” the statement said, using the U.S. government’s preferred acronym for the Islamic State.

Al Jazeera America carries a caution:

Iran warns US against using ISIL threat to push a hostile agenda

  • Analysis: Tehran has played a key role against ISIL in Iraq, but fears a Saudi effort to isolate and pressure Iran

Despite already having demonstrated its centrality to the campaign to push the Islamic State (ISIL) out of Iraq, Iran was pointedly excluded from Monday’s conference in Paris to forge a military coalition against the extremist group. And Tehran was far from happy, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashing out against the Obama administration’s new war plans.

Khamenei decried the Paris conclave as a dangerous effort by the United States and Arab countries hostile to Iran to use the challenge of ISIL as an opportunity to promote an anti-Tehran agenda in Syria and throughout the region. “Iran sees this as an effort by Saudi Arabia and its allies, and the United States, to exert leverage and pressure on Iranian interests, to degrade or weaken Iranian influence in Syria,” said Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council.

Khamenei called Secretary of State John Kerry a liar for saying in Paris that Iran had not been invited to join the coalition, listing numerous moments at which the U.S. had solicited Iranian involvement. “The West assembled a coalition of 40-50 countries against Syria and couldn’t do a damn thing,” Khamenei said, referring to Washington’s previous efforts to rally allies to oust Syria’s Assad regime, which remains a key ally of Iran.

From BuzzFeed, playing the border card:

Texas Congressman: ISIS Could Work With Drug Cartels To Get Into U.S.

  • “I mentioned several weeks ago if ISIS wants to come into the United States they’ll contact the drug cartels.”

“I asked the chief border patrol section…chief, I said, ‘Who’s coming across the border from Mexico?’” Texas Rep. Ted Poe said during an appearance on Tony Perkins’ radio program Washington Watch Monday. “And he said, ‘Since January, people from 144 countries have come across.’ He said, ‘Just before you got here three Ukrainians came across the Texas-Mexico border.’ It’s because it’s open. Wide open for anyone who wishes to cross.”

The Texas congressman also claimed ISIS could work with Mexican drug cartels to enter the United States.

“I mentioned several weeks ago if ISIS wants to come into the United States they’ll contact the drug cartels who bring people to the United States illegally and they will bring them,” he said. “The Pentagon at first said, ‘Oh, that’s not true.’ And now the Pentagon is backing off. So let’s do the obvious. Let’s protect the southern border of the U.S.”

From the Independent, another threat alleged:

Islamic State: Pope is ‘being targeted by Isis’, Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See warns

The Islamic State (Isis) is intent on killing the Pope, the Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See has warned the Vatican.

Habeeb Al-Sadr, who has been the ambassador since 2010, has advised that one of Isis’ goals is to assassinate the Pontiff and warned that the jihadists “don’t just threaten”, according to Italian newspaper La Nazione.

Mr Al-Sadr confirmed he did not have any specific intelligence on an impending attack but said that their “genocide” of Yazidi Christians and destruction of holy Islamic sites was an indication of their intent.

“What has been declared by the self-proclaimed Islamic State is clear – they want to kill the Pope,” he told La Nazione on Tuesday, adding: “The threats against the Pope are credible.”

The Intercept debunks:

No, Snowden’s Leaks Didn’t Help The Terrorists

Did Edward Snowden’s revelations on NSA surveillance compromise the ability of intelligence agencies to monitor terrorist groups? Contrary to lurid claims made by U.S. officials, a new independent analysis of the subject says no. As reported by NBC:

“.…Flashpoint Global Partners, a private security firm, examined the frequency of releases and updates of encryption software by jihadi groups….. It found no correlation in either measure to Snowden’s leaks about the NSA’s surveillance techniques, which became public beginning June 5, 2013.”

The report itself goes on to make the point that, “Well prior to Edward Snowden, online jihadists were already aware that law enforcement and intelligence agencies were attempting to monitor them.” This point would seem obvious in light of the fact that terrorist groups have been employing tactics to evade digital surveillance for years. Indeed, such concerns about their use of sophisticated encryption technology predate even 9/11. Contrary to claims that such groups have fundamentally altered their practices due to information gleaned from these revelations, the report concludes. “The underlying public encryption methods employed by online jihadists do not appear to have significantly changed since the emergence of Edward Snowden.”

And while we’re at it, at RT story from April 05, 2014, and the links between spooks and the corporateer agenda:

US blasts Europe’s plan for anti-snooping network as ‘unfair advantage’

US officials on Friday slammed plans to construct an EU-centric communication system, designed to prevent emails and phone calls from being swept up by the NSA, warning that such a move is a violation of trade laws.

Calling Europe’s proposal to build its own integrated communication system “draconian,” the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) said American tech companies, which are worth an estimated $8 trillion per year, would take a financial hit if Brussels gives the initiative the green light.

“Recent proposals from countries within the European Union to create a Europe-only electronic network (dubbed a ‘Schengen cloud’ by advocates) or to create national-only electronic networks could potentially lead to effective exclusion or discrimination against foreign service suppliers that are directly offering network services, or dependent on them,” the USTR said in its annual report.

In the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing activities at the National Security Agency, which proved that much of the world’s telecommunication meta-data is being stored away in the United States, European countries – notably Germany and France – are desperate to get a handle on their own networks without relying on a meddlesome middleman.

RT again, though from today this time, beat the press:

Governments spy on journalists with weaponized malware – WikiLeaks

Journalists and dissidents are under the microscope of intelligence agencies, Wikileaks revealed in its fourth SpyFiles series. A German software company that produces computer intrusion systems has supplied many secret agencies worldwide.

The weaponized surveillance malware, popular among intelligence agencies for spying on “journalists, activists and political dissidents,” is produced by FinFisher, a German company. Until late 2013, FinFisher used to be part of the UK-based Gamma Group International, revealed WikiLeaks in the latest published batch of secret documents.

FinFisher’s spyware exploits and monitors systems remotely. It’s capable of intercepting communications and data from OS X, Windows and Linux computers, as well as Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile portable devices. Three back-end programs are required for the spy program to operate. FinFisher Relay and FinSpy Proxy programs are FinFisher suite components that route and manage intercepted traffic, redirecting it to the FinSpy Master collection program. The spyware can steal keystrokes, Skype conversations, and even connect to your webcam and watch you in real time.

From Techdirt, implementation prior to evaluation:

FBI Rolls Out Biometric Database On Schedule, Accompanying Privacy Impact Assessment Still Nowhere To Be Found

  • from the move-along,-nothing-to-see-but-millions-of-faces dept

The FBI has just announced that all systems are go for its biometric database.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division announced today the achievement of full operational capability of the Next Generation Identification (NGI) System. The FBI’s NGI System was developed to expand the Bureau’s biometric identification capabilities, ultimately replacing the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) in addition to adding new services and capabilities.

This puts the agency pretty much right on schedule for its stated goal of “full operational capacity in fiscal year 2014.” As was to be expected from its earlier foot-dragging, the press release makes no note of the Privacy Impact Assessment that was supposed to precede the roll out.

The system itself has been in the works since 2008. Coincidentally, this is also the last time anyone at the FBI delivered a Privacy Impact Assessment. Since then, the database’s sweep and power has increased immensely. The PIA promised in 2012 still hasn’t been delivered and there’s no indication at the FBI’s website that one is right around the corner.

More from News Corporation Australia:

FBI’s facial recognition system will combine faces of criminals and ordinary citizens

THE FBI has launched its “next generation” facial recognition system — and the implications are terrifying.

It not only draws on a database of criminal mugshots, it searches through ordinary people too. Anyone who has ever had a background check when applying for a job could be identified in a police hunt.

And the system is hardly infallible — a search will pull up 50 faces, with only an 85 per cent likelihood that the suspect will be on list, by the FBI’s own estimation.

From Salon, endorsement:

Obama administration throws support behind body cameras for cops

  • One of the most widely supported reforms being pushed in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing gets a big endorsement

Responding to an online petition made in response to the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown that quickly racked-up more than 150,000 signatures, the Obama administration announced on Monday through a written statement from White House adviser on Justice and Urban Affairs Roy Austin that while it cannot force the nation’s policy to wear small cameras on their uniforms by decree, it supported the growing movement within law enforcement itself to embrace the practice, reports the Associated Press.

“We support the use of cameras and video technology by law enforcement officers, and the Department of Justice continues to research best practices for implementation,” Austin wrote in response to the petition, after noting that such a law would have to come from Congress, not the White House. Austin also noted that while the White House’s support for the idea was secure, the administration was not unmindful about the policy change’s likely costs (both financial and in terms of personal privacy).

Austin announced that the Department of Justice had plans to launch a thorough evaluation of how body cameras on police uniforms were working out for those forces that had already decided to use them. According to the Associated Press, the DOJ also has a report suggesting that when cops and civilians know their interactions are being recorded, both behave more calmly and cooperatively. The footage could prove valuable for training purposes, too.

And from the Guardian, what is it about Missouri cops?:

FBI investigate Missouri police stun gun incident that left teenager injured

  • Police in Kansas City used a stun gun to subdue a 17-year-old during a traffic stop, leaving him in critical condition

The FBI is investigating after a police officer in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, used a stun gun to subdue a 17-year-old during a traffic stop, leaving him hospitalized in critical condition.

An Independence police officer used the stun gun on Bryce Masters of Independence on Sunday afternoon after stopping a car Masters was driving because it had a warrant attached to it, police said in a statement.

The officer, identified by the police department as Tim Runnels, has been placed on administrative leave.

After the jump, Italian payoffs, a petro hack attack, Google keeps mum on its Koch Brothers ties, drone deals canceled, Obama sends subs to counter China, a Chinese crackdown justification, Private spy cams and bugs banned in China, another kind of worrisome nuclear stockpile in Japan, and the open Mideast nuclear secret. . . Continue reading

Two takes on that Scottish referendum


Sure, you’ve probably seen it before, but here it is again. . .

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Scottish Independence

Program notes:

Scotland is about to vote on whether to secede from the UK.

There are solid arguments on both sides.

But none of that makes bagpipes good to listen to…or does it?

International capitalism won’t like a yes vote, observes Noam Chomsky in this wide-ranging conversation.

He notes that what’s happening in Scotland is the result of forces at play elsewhere in Europe, too, including, Wales, that other part of big island with a long and turbulent relationship with London.

The vote raises larger issues as well, including the whole question of the necessity of the nation-state.

With that by way of an intro, from Stuart Platt:

Noam Chomsky on Scottish Independence

Program notes:

Noam Chomsky on Scottish Independence : Statehood and Power.

Recorded at MIT, Boston by Stuart Platt.

Questions by Gordon Asher, Leigh French and Stuart Platt

Charts of the day II: The plutocratic ascendancy


From Quartz:

BLOG IncomeAnd a companion chart, via the New York Times:

BLOG GDP

InSecurityWatch: Wars, cops, spies, bluster


Today’s coverage from the world of spies, politicians, militarists, and the merely criminal opens with this from BBC News:

Pope Francis warns on ‘piecemeal World War III’

A “piecemeal” World War III may have already begun with the current spate of crimes, massacres and destruction, Pope Francis has warned.

He was speaking during a visit to Italy’s largest military cemetery, where he was commemorating the centenary of World War I.

“War is madness,” the Pope said at a memorial to 100,000 Italian soldiers at Redipuglia cemetery near Slovenia.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau covers the conditionally belligerent:

Americans ready for military action – for now

A nation furious about the beheading of two Americans is eager for military action. At least for the moment. And at least for the kind of low-risk military action now planned.

But the moment could change. As history in Iraq and the Middle East shows, the campaign against the Islamic State might not go as planned. Allies could prove unreliable. The enemy could adapt. The U.S. might have to send in its own troops. And the image could _ could _ change from two U.S. citizens being beheaded to American GIs coming home without limbs.

The country has little patience for an extended campaign involving American combat troops and casualties. Years of prolonged, inconclusive U.S. fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Vietnam, linger in the public American psyche.

From Fox News, semantic disagreement:

White House, Pentagon contradict Kerry, say US ‘at war’ with ISIS

The White House and Pentagon acknowledged Friday that the U.S. “is at war” with the Islamic State — contradicting Secretary of State John Kerry and others who a day earlier refused to use that term, prompting criticism from lawmakers that the administration was downplaying the conflict.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest and Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby used almost identical language when pressed by reporters Friday whether or not the expanded military operation against the terrorist group is in fact a war.

“In the same way that the United States is at war with Al Qaeda and its affiliates … the United States is at war with ISIL,” Earnest said.

From the New York Times, another human sacrifice:

ISIS Video Shows Execution of David Cawthorne Haines, British Aid Worker

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria released a video Saturday of the third beheading of a foreign hostage, a British aid worker. The execution was a clear message to Britain, a vital ally of the United States as it builds an international coalition to target the militant group, which has made stunning advances across Syria and northern Iraq in recent months.

The video shows the aid worker, David Cawthorne Haines, kneeling on a bare hill under the open sky, in a landscape that appears identical to where two American journalists were killed by the group in back-to-back-executions in the past month. In the moments before his death, the 44-year-old Mr. Haines is forced to read a script, in which he blames his country’s leaders for his killing.

“I would like to declare that I hold you, David Cameron, entirely responsible for my execution,” he said. “You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State.” He added: “Unfortunately, it is we the British public that in the end will pay the price for our Parliament’s selfish decisions.”

From MintPress News, a reminder:

How The West Created ISIS

… with a little help from our friends

Military action is necessary to halt the spread of the ISIS/IS “cancer,” said President Obama. Yesterday, in his much anticipated address, he called for expanded airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, and new measures to arm and train Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces.

“The only way to defeat [IS] is to stand firm and to send a very straightforward message,” declared Prime Minister Cameron. “A country like ours will not be cowed by these barbaric killers.”

Missing from the chorus of outrage, however, has been any acknowledgement of the integral role of covert US and British regional military intelligence strategy in empowering and even directly sponsoring the very same virulent Islamist militants in Iraq, Syria and beyond, that went on to break away from al-Qaeda and form ‘ISIS’, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or now simply, the Islamic State (IS).

Since 2003, Anglo-American power has secretly and openly coordinated direct and indirect support for Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda across the Middle East and North Africa. This ill-conceived patchwork geostrategy is a legacy of the persistent influence of neoconservative ideology, motivated by longstanding but often contradictory ambitions to dominate regional oil resources, defend an expansionist Israel, and in pursuit of these, re-draw the map of the Middle East.

Now despite Pentagon denials that there will be boots on the ground – and Obama’s insistence that this would not be another “Iraq war” – local Kurdish military and intelligence sources confirm that US and German special operations forces are already “on the ground here. They are helping to support us in the attack.” US airstrikes on ISIS positions and arms supplies to the Kurds have also been accompanied by British RAF reconnaissance flights over the region and UK weapons shipments to Kurdish peshmerga forces.

The Associated Press sounds another alarm with a familiar name:

al-Qaida’s Syrian cell alarms US

While the Islamic State group is getting the most attention now, another band of extremists in Syria — a mix of hardened jihadis from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Europe — poses a more direct and imminent threat to the United States, working with Yemeni bomb-makers to target U.S. aviation, American officials say.

At the center is a cell known as the Khorasan group, a cadre of veteran al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan and Pakistan who traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there, the Nusra Front.

But the Khorasan militants did not go to Syria principally to fight the government of President Bashar Assad, U.S. officials say. Instead, they were sent by al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to recruit Europeans and Americans whose passports allow them to board a U.S.-bound airliner with less scrutiny from security officials.

The Hill covers the predictable:

Senators: Curbing NSA could help ISIS

Critics of a proposal to reform the National Security Agency (NSA) say the rising threat of terrorism in the Middle East should give lawmakers pause as they consider harnessing the government’s spy powers.

The bill from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) would handicap American intelligence officials at a crucial moment, they say, and make it harder to track terrorists around the globe.

Supporters of the bill — including top legal and intelligence officials in the Obama administration — deny that it would hamper the country’s ability to track groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They say that it’s a practical response to the uproar over the NSA programs that were exposed by Edward Snowden last summer.

Vice News plays catchup:

The NSA Has Revealed New Details About Its Exhaustive Search of Edward Snowden’s Emails

Last year, the National Security Agency (NSA) reviewed all of Edward Snowden’s available emails in addition to interviewing NSA employees and contractors in order to determine if he had ever raised concerns internally about the agency’s vast surveillance programs.

According to court documents the government filed in federal court September 12, NSA officials were unable to find any evidence Snowden ever had.

In a sworn declaration, David Sherman, the NSA’s associate director for policy and records, said the agency launched a “comprehensive” investigation after journalists began to write about top-secret NSA spy programs upon obtaining documents Snowden leaked to them. The investigation included searches of any records where emails Snowden sent raising concerns about NSA programs “would be expected to be found within the agency.” Sherman, who has worked for the NSA since 1985, is a “original classification authority,” which means he can classify documents as “top-secret” and process, review, and redact records the agency releases in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

In his declaration, Sherman detailed steps he said agency officials took to track down any emails Snowden wrote that contained evidence he’d raised concerns inside the agency. Sherman said the NSA searched sent, received, deleted emails from Snowden’s account and emails “obtained by restoring back-up tapes.” He noted that NSA officials reviewed written reports and notes from interviews with “NSA affiliates” with whom the agency spoke during its investigation.

TV3 News Auckland covers contested Kiwi claims:

Key hits back at Greenwald’s claims of mass surveillance

The Prime Minister has admitted for the first time that New Zealand spies did look into a form of mass surveillance on Kiwis, but never actually went through with it.

John Key was responding to the arrival of journalist Glenn Greenwald, with thousands of documents taken by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that he says prove New Zealanders have been subjected to wholesale spying by the Government.

Mr Key has always said that he would resign if that was proven, but tonight he’s launched a counterattack.

Mr Greenwald claims he will produce evidence that could take down the Prime Minister, but just a short while ago Mr Key hit back and upped the ante big time, promising to get ahead of Mr Greenwald and declassify top-secret documents that will prove him wrong.

Mr Key has repeatedly denied spy agency the GCSB conducts mass surveillance of New Zealanders, even saying he would resign if it were prove, and he was standing by that today.

From Ars Technica, seeking a memory hole patch:

Senator demands US courts recover 10 years of online public records

  • “Restore access,” lawmaker says of docs purged because of computer upgrade issue.

The head of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee is urging the federal bureaucracy to restore a decade’s worth of electronic court documents that were deleted last month from online viewing because of an upgrade to a computer database known as PACER.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said the removal of the thousands of cases from online review is essentially erasing history.

“Wholesale removal of thousands of cases from PACER, particularly from four of our federal courts of appeals, will severely limit access to information not only for legal practitioners, but also for legal scholars, historians, journalists, and private litigants for whom PACER has become the go-to source for most court filings,” Leahy wrote Friday to US District Judge John D. Bates, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AO).

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a sadly familiar story:

Proposed Anti-Terror Law in France Would Erode Civil Liberties

A proposed anti-terrorism law in France has freedom of expression advocates concerned.  The bill, as our friends at La Quadrature du Net frame it, “institutes a permanent state of emergency on the Internet,” providing for harsher penalties for incitement or “glorification” of terrorism conducted online.  Furthermore, the bill (in Article 9) allows for “the possibility for the administrative authority to require Internet service providers to block access to sites inciting or apologizing for terrorism” without distinguishing criteria or an authority to conduct the blocking.

Apart from specific concerns that the bill treats online speech as distinct from other speech, other provisions are just as problematic. For example, while Article 4 refers to “provocation aux actes de terrorisme” or “incitement to terrorism”—a clearly defined legal concept—it also refers to “apologie du terrorisme” or “apologizing” or “glorifying” terrorism, implying a condemnation of opinions alone rather than any overt acts, as Reporters Without Borders points out.  La Quadrature du Net’s mini-site on the bill addresses further concerns (in French).

Anti-terror laws have been used in various countries around the world to prosecute individuals for their speech about unpopular ideas. In the United States, the prosecution of Tarek Mehanna—a young Muslim who translated and posted material referred to by prosecutors as “Al Qaeda propaganda”—involved the use of conspiracy and so-called “material support” laws. In Ethiopia, anti-terror laws have been used to silence journalists and are currently being used to prosecute the dissident Zone9 Bloggers. And the list goes on.

From Davis, California, via the New York Times, buyer’s remorse:

Police Armored Vehicle Is Unwelcome in California College Town

The police department of this modest college town is among the latest California beneficiaries of surplus military equipment: a $700,000 armored car that is the “perfect vehicle,” the police chief told the City Council, “to perform rescues of victims and potential victims during active shooter incidents.”

It is well maintained, low-mileage and free, the chief, Landy Black, said in explaining why the department had augmented its already sizable cache of surplus matériel, including rifles, body armor and riot helmets, with an MRAP: a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle.

But the City Council directed Chief Landy last month to get rid of it in the face of an uproar that had swept through this community, with many invoking the use of similar equipment by the police against protesters in Ferguson, Mo., after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

From the New York Times again, tax farming reconsidered:

Mistrust Lingers as Ferguson Takes New Tack on Fines

On Tuesday, the City Council decided to abolish fines that are routinely issued if a defendant fails to show up for court, repeal a “failure to appear” law that led to many incarcerations, and give people a month to come forward and void their warrants. It also created a special docket for defendants who have difficulty making payments on outstanding fines and moved to establish a civilian review board to oversee the Police Department, which is under investigation by the Justice Department’s civil rights division.

Residents and experts said that while the actions were significant, the problems many drivers face across St. Louis County, where a patchwork of municipal courts enforce an array of ordinances, were so widespread that Ferguson alone could not fix them. Many African-Americans, who are pulled over at higher rates than whites, face traffic fines that, if not paid, can land them in jail.

So the trust level was not high in court and at the police clerk’s window in Ferguson this week.

From the Guardian, another Ferguson revelation:

Ferguson video shows witness saying Michael Brown’s hands were raised

  • Footage of two construction workers moments after black teenager’s fatal shooting appears to support other witness accounts

Video of the moments after black teenager Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, indicates that a witness on the scene said the unarmed 18-year-old’s hands were raised when he was killed.

The cell phone footage, released by CNN, of two construction workers at the scene early last month appears to support accounts by other witnesses that Brown was retreating or surrendering when he was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, legal experts said on Friday.

The video shows one of the men raising his hands immediately after the fatal shooting and shouting, “He had his fuckin’ hands up.”

From the London Daily Mail, notable mostly because the victim was white:

Family’s outrage at cops who violently arrested a father of two for ‘appearing intoxicated while taking care of his kids’… but actually has a TERMINAL ILLNESS that makes him look that way

  • Jeffrey Banes, 39, was arrested in West Virginia by four cops who left him choking on his own blood while subduing him
  • His family says Banes’ illness, Huntington’s disease, can make it seem as if he’s intoxicated because it affects his motor functions
  • The violent arrest was captured on camera

And then there’s another arrest caught on camera, raising some interesting questions by an insanely idiotic form of pranking certain to lead to violent deaths should it continue. From RT America:

Swatting prank sends real life SWAT teams after gamers’ opponents

Program notes:

Online gamers are falling victim to a new prank known as swatting. The practice involves pranksters calling police with fake emergencies, resulting in heavily armed SWAT teams busting down gamers’ doors looking for hostages. California is among the first states to propose legislation formalizing a punishment for such fake distress calls, but many are worried the penalties may go too far. RT’s Marina Portnaya takes a look at the trend and the controversy surrounding it.

From Reuters, about damn time:

Next for Corporate America: Body wires and wire taps?

Wall Street executives may have personally escaped the wrath of the U.S. Department of Justice but executives at companies accused of foreign bribery schemes may not be so lucky.

Prosecutors say they are clearly shifting away from only big corporate settlements in such cases and are beginning to target more individuals. The numbers are not eye-popping. But officials say the results are encouraging and these cases may provide road maps for other financial fraud prosecutions.

“Certainly…there has been an increased emphasis on, let’s get some individuals,” said Leslie Caldwell, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division.

Reuters again, with a loathsome threat:

Foley family says was ‘threatened’ by U.S. official over ransom: ABC

The family of murdered American journalist James Foley says it was threatened by a U.S. official who warned that family members could be charged with supporting terrorism if they paid a ransom to his Islamist captors, ABC News reported on Friday.

ABC News quoted Foley’s mother and brother as saying a military officer working for President Barack Obama’s National Security Council had told them several times that they could face criminal charges if they paid a ransom.

The White House refused to discuss conversations that the family had with officials, but said they involved people from different government branches, including the White House, the FBI, the intelligence agencies and the Defense Department.

After the jump, with self-censoring cameras, the dance floor panopticon, Nazi nastiness in Germany, metadata revelations, a Crimean underwater warrior handover, a new malware threat, a stalemate in Pakistan, an anti-terror treaty sought, Down Under underwater hesitation, America’s pro-Japanese remilitarization push continues, Tokyo goes for the metadata, an American spy light justification, A Washington concession to Beijing, and a dispute over prisoners. . . Continue reading