Category Archives: Latin America

InSecurityWatch: Spies, lies, pols, arms, wars


First up, via The Hill and redolent with irony:

Republicans to limit Obama’s aid to moderate Syrian rebel forces

House Republicans expect to unveil legislation Monday evening that would give President Obama the authority to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels, but with some limits on that authority.

The House Armed Services Committee is drafting the bill in consultation with the administration. It is expected to take the form of an amendment to a stopgap-spending bill that would keep the government funded through Dec. 11, according to a senior committee aide.

Votes on the spending bill and the Syrian aid could come as soon as Wednesday.

From the London Daily Mail, covering a staunch ally:

Dozens of Christians ‘including women and children’ are arrested in Saudi Arabia after tip-off to state’s Islamist police force

  • 28 people were arrested at home of Indian man in the eastern city of Khafji
  • Reports claim women and children were among the congregation
  • Human rights activists have appealed to the U.S. to help secure release
  • In Saudi Arabia it is against the law for Muslims to abandon their faith

Islamist police in Saudi Arabia have stormed a Christian prayer meeting and arrested its entire congregation, including women and children, and confiscated their bibles, it has been reported.

The raid was the latest incident of a swingeing crackdown on religious minorities in Saudi Arabia by the country’s hard-line Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

The 28 Christians were said to be worshipping at the home of an Indian national in the eastern city of Khafji, when the police entered the building and took them into custody. They have not been seen or heard from since, raising concerns among human rights groups as to their whereabouts.

Vice News partners up:

The US and France Are Teaming Up to Fight A Sprawling War on Terror in Africa

In July of this year, France launched Operation Barkhane, an ambitious counterterrorism initiative spread across five countries in Africa’s Sahel and Sahara regions. The mission seeks to build upon the success of the French military intervention that drove al Qaeda-linked jihadi militants from northern Mali in 2013, and comes at a time when the US is expanding its own counterterrorism operations on the continent, setting the stage for what some analysts consider a burgeoning Franco-American alliance in Africa.

“This is a new chapter in French-American relations,” Michael Shurkin, a former CIA analyst who is now a political scientist at the RAND Corporation, told VICE News. “There is an unprecedented level of cooperation going on.”

In an August 11 memo to US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama, citing an “unforeseen emergency,” authorized the transfer of up to $10 million “to assist France in its efforts to secure Mali, Niger, and Chad from terrorists and violent extremism.” The move hints at a division of labor in which the US foots the bill for a cash-strapped French military that is both logistically and politically better placed than the US to engage in combat operations in the Sahel.

Al-Akhbar English raises a very interesting question:

The mysterious link between the US military prison Camp Bucca and ISIS leaders

Beyond conspiracy theories – which are often justified in an era where everything appears as though it is part of a plan or a scheme – we have the right to ask why the majority of the leaders of the Islamic State (IS), formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), had all been incarcerated in the same prison at Camp Bucca, which was run by the US occupation forces near Omm Qasr in southeastern Iraq.

In the context of conspiracy theories, there are a lot of rumors about links between IS and the US intelligence or affiliated organizations. But to what extent are these theories credible? Is there evidence that corroborate them?

These questions seem legitimate, provided that ready-made answers are not accepted without convincing evidence. However, it is difficult to get this kind of evidence, and we might need another Edward Snowden or WikiLeaks to learn the real truth about the relationship between IS and US intelligence.

From Techdirt, but of course:

CIA’s John Brennan Refuses To Tell Senate Who Okayed Spying On The Senate

  • from the constitutional-crisis dept

As you may recall, over the past few months, there’s been a rather big story brewing, concerning how the CIA spied on Senate staffers. Specifically, after having explicitly promised not to do so, the CIA snooped on a private network of Senate staffers who were putting together the giant $40 million report on the CIA’s torture program. The CIA tried to spin the story, claiming that they only spied on that network after realizing that those staffers had a document that the CIA thought it had not handed over to the staffers (they had), believing that perhaps there had been a security breach. However, when read carefully, the CIA’s spin actually confirmed the original story: the CIA, against basically all of its mandates and the basic concept of the Constitutional separation of powers, had spied on the Senate. While both the Senate and the CIA asked the DOJ to investigate, eventually the DOJ said the matter was closed and there would be no prosecutions.

At the end of July, the CIA finally came out and admitted that it had spied on the Senate, and effectively admitted that CIA boss John Brennan had flat out lied about it back in March. The CIA’s inspector general then revealed that the spying went even further than people had originally believed. This raised even more questions, but with Brennan “apologizing” and Senator Dianne Feinstein saying that she was satisfied with the apology, it seemed like this unfortunate incident may have been over and done with.

Apparently not. Last week, in the latest meeting concerning the torture report redactions, apparently some Senators asked Brennan to reveal who authorized the spying on the Senate staffers, and Brennan refused to tell them, leading to a bunch of very angry Senators — which may create some further issues, given that the Senators are supposed to oversee the CIA.

From Edward Snowden in the Intercept:

Snowden: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Isn’t Telling the Truth About Mass Surveillance

Like many nations around the world, New Zealand over the last year has engaged in a serious and intense debate about government surveillance. The nation’s prime minister, John Key of the National Party, has denied that New Zealand’s spy agency GCSB engages in mass surveillance, mostly as a means of convincing the country to enact a new law vesting the agency with greater powers. This week, as a national election approaches, Key repeated those denials in anticipation of a report in The Intercept today exposing the Key government’s actions in implementing a system to record citizens’ metadata.

Let me be clear: any statement that mass surveillance is not performed in New Zealand, or that the internet communications are not comprehensively intercepted and monitored, or that this is not intentionally and actively abetted by the GCSB, is categorically false. If you live in New Zealand, you are being watched. At the NSA I routinely came across the communications of New Zealanders in my work with a mass surveillance tool we share with GCSB, called “XKEYSCORE.” It allows total, granular access to the database of communications collected in the course of mass surveillance. It is not limited to or even used largely for the purposes of cybersecurity, as has been claimed, but is instead used primarily for reading individuals’ private email, text messages, and internet traffic. I know this because it was my full-time job in Hawaii, where I worked every day in an NSA facility with a top secret clearance.

The prime minister’s claim to the public, that “there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance” is false. The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.

The Intercept again, this time with Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher:

New Zealand Launched Mass Surveillance Project While Publicly Denying It

The New Zealand spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), worked in 2012 and 2013 to implement a mass metadata surveillance system even as top government officials publicly insisted no such program was being planned and would not be legally permitted.

Documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the government worked in secret to exploit a new internet surveillance law enacted in the wake of revelations of illegal domestic spying to initiate a new metadata collection program that appeared designed to collect information about the communications of New Zealanders. Those actions are in direct conflict with the assurances given to the public by Prime Minister John Key, who said the law was merely designed to fix “an ambiguous legal framework” by expressly allowing the agency to do what it had done for years, that it “isn’t and will never be wholesale spying on New Zealanders,” and the law “isn’t a revolution in the way New Zealand conducts its intelligence operations.”

Snowden, in a post for The Intercept published today, accused Prime Minster Key of fundamentally misleading the public about GCSB’s role in mass surveillance. “The Prime Minister’s claim to the public, that ‘there is no and there never has been any mass surveillance’, is false,” the former NSA analyst wrote. “The GCSB, whose operations he is responsible for, is directly involved in the untargeted, bulk interception and algorithmic analysis of private communications sent via internet, satellite, radio, and phone networks.”

And last chronologically, from Ryan Gallagher in the Intercept:

The Questions for New Zealand on Mass Surveillance

In response to our story, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key (pictured above) has said that the Speargun project was not finalized. What he claims is that the project was instead eventually replaced by a narrower initiative. In a radio interview on Monday morning, Key described this as a toned down version of what he called “mass cyber protection.” What’s now in place, he said, is a “bespoke functionality which an individual company or agency could deploy,” apparently to mitigate cyber attacks.

In a bid to prove this, Key declassified documents later on Monday (after we published our story) that outlined a project called Cortex. Key seemed to think — or perhaps hope — that these documents would kill off any concerns and put the controversy to a swift end. But they fail to address a number of crucial issues — critics have already dismissed them as a “red herring” — and in fact only seem to cloud matters further.

First of all, the Cortex documents contradict what Key said on the radio show, because they state that under Cortex GCSB “is not proposing to procure or develop bespoke systems” and that “all of the technology has been in use for some time.” Again, Key had described the system as a “bespoke functionality” and suggested the technology had been newly introduced.

The Cortex files show that the government signed off on a new “proactive” cybersecurity effort aimed helping government agencies and other organizations detect malware attacks. But what Key has not mentioned in any of his interviews is that the monitoring that was enabled by this system also, by design, has to filter through private communications to identify malware in the first place. The documents Key declassified clearly state that under Cortex “technology can be used to separate personal communications from other data, so that privacy issues associated with GCSB activities to be proportionate to cyber threats.” (Emphasis added.) In the United States, the cybersecurity bill CISPA was opposed by privacy advocates and eventually killed because of widespread concerns associated with the type of activity Cortex appears to enable.

Consequences from the Christian Science Monitor:

New Zealand spying row: Snowden as election wildcard?

  • The former NSA contractor serves up timely allegations ahead of New Zealand’s elections on Sept. 20, potentially undermining incumbent Prime Minister John Key

Former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden today accused the New Zealand government of spying on its citizens, just days before the country goes to the polls in national elections.

“If you live in New Zealand, you are being watched,” he wrote in an opinion piece for the Intercept, an online news site run by journalist Glenn Greenwald. In it, he said that he regularly saw data from New Zealand when he was working for the NSA.

His allegation threatens to upend what has so far been a predictable campaign – a poll three days ago showed Prime Minister John Key as the choice of 61.6 percent of voters, compared to 17.9 percent for his closest challenger, according to the New Zealand Herald.

Reuters provides cover:

Swiss say would shield Snowden from ‘political’ extradition to U.S.

Former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden could be granted safe passage in Switzerland if he helped a potential criminal inquiry into U.S. spying there, the Swiss public prosecutor’s office said on Monday.

He would probably not be extradited to the United States if Washington asked, but it was also unlikely that he would be granted political asylum, according to a document laying out Switzerland’s legal options if Snowden were to visit.

The prosecutor’s office, which provided the document to Reuters, stressed the issue was “purely hypothetical” because Snowden had not been invited to come from his current refuge in Russia. It had no further comment.

From Common Dreams, that’s why it’s called CONgress:

‘More Harm Than Good’: Congressional NSA Reforms a Sham, say Critics

  • Intelligence community whistleblowers and civil liberties groups call on Congressmen to reject ‘gutted’ USA Freedom Act

The current “gutted” version of the U.S.A. Freedom Act (S. 2685) will only serve to legalize government’s currently illegal surveillance of innocent civilians, charged a coalition of whistleblowers and civil liberties organizations in a letter published Monday calling on members of Congress to reject the empty reform.

“Governmental security agencies’ zeal for collecting Americans’ personal information without regard for cost, efficacy, legality, or public support necessitates that Congress act to protect the rights of residents across the United States and around the globe,” writes the group under the banner of the OffNow campaign. The letter is signed by a number of intelligence community whistleblowers, including Thomas Drake and Daniel Ellsburg, as well as over 15 publications and organizations, such as RootsAction.org, CREDO Action, Fight for the Future, Restore the Fourth and the Sunlight Foundation.

The U.S.A. Freedom Act, they charge, “is not the substantive reform originally envisioned and supported by the public” after it was introduced to both houses by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) in October 2013. In late May, H.R 3361 passed the House of Representatives—after being heavily marked up by the House Judiciary subcommittee—and moved on to the Senate where it has languished in the Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

TheLocal.at ramps up:

Austria boosts anti-terrorism measures

The Austrian government plans to step up its fight against Islamic terrorist organizations such as Isis, by extending laws against sedition.

These laws will only be applied if ten or fewer persons are involved. Dual citizens will lose their Austrian passport, should they engage in combat.

At a joint press conference on Monday morning, Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner and Justice Minister Wolfgang Brandstetter – all members of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) – also announced that the Badges Act would be toughened. Insignias of organizations such as Al Qaeda and Isis cannot be publicly displayed.

From the Guardian, raising a spooky challenge:

EU court to investigate laws allowing GCHQ to snoop on journalists

  • Bureau of Investigative Journalism files application with European court of human rights over protection of sources

The European court of human rights (ECHR) is to investigate British laws that allow GCHQ and police to secretly snoop on journalists.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has gone straight to Strasbourg in a bid to get a finding that domestic law is incompatible with provisions in European law which give journalists the right to keep sources confidential from police and others.

Its application was filed on Friday and has been accepted by the ECHR, which has indicated in the past it will expedite cases on surveillance through its legal system.

The move follows concerns arising out of Edward Snowden’s revelations last year that GCHQ had been secretly gathering intelligence from the country’s largest telecoms companies using a secret computer system code-named Tempora without the knowledge of the companies.

United Press International beefs up the BMOC, with M as in Militarization:

Campus police acquiring surplus military gear

The militarization of police extends to college campuses, as campus police forces acquire surplus armored vehicles, assault rifles and other equipment from the Pentagon.

Amid national debate about militarized police forces, highlighted by police response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri, a Freedom of Information Act request reveals colleges and universities around the country are using the Pentagon’s 1033 program to outfit campus police with surplus military equipment, including body armor, armored vehicles, and assault rifles.

Supporters argue the gear is needed to respond to school shootings and other “special situations,” while detractors claim college campuses are no place for military-grade weaponry.

A report in the Indianapolis Star found community and campus police in Indiana acquired more than 4,400 items — including Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) armored vehicles, Humvees, M-14 and M-16 rifles — through the Pentagon program, which supplies surplus defense equipment to local law enforcement, requiring them to pay only the cost of shipping.

Nextgov activates the panopticon:

FBI’s Facial-Recognition Technology Goes Live

The FBI’s futuristic identification powers are ready for prime time.

The Next Generation Identification System, a controversial biometric database that relies heavily on facial-recognition technology, is now fully operational, the agency announced Monday.

The program is designed to help law-enforcement officials identify criminal suspects, but it has endured repeated scrutiny from civil-liberties groups that say the database will endanger the privacy of everyday citizens guilty of no wrongdoing.

After the jump, yet another iPhone security flaw, corporatizing your heirs, a Peruvian security murder charge, Austrian online spying, internal turmoil and a military win in Pakistan, major moves in India’s Game of Zones, an Indonesian security ramp-up, Malaysia and China add arms, North Korean sub uncertainty, and Google’s com drones plan. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Wars, spies, hacks, threats


While environmental news was in short supply today, not so stories from the realms of the bellicose, the intrusive, and the criminal.

First up, from the Los Angeles Times, that way madness lies:

Cameron vows to destroy Islamic State ‘and what it stands for’

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday praised slain British aid worker David Haines as a hero and pledged to continue working as part of an international coalition to “hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice no matter how long it takes.”

The militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, released a video Saturday purporting to show his beheading. Britain’s Foreign Office said the video appeared to be authentic.

“Step by step we must drive back, dismantle and ultimately destroy ISIL and what it stands for,” Cameron said. “They are not Muslims, they are monsters.”

From BBC News, boots on the way to meet ground:

Islamic State crisis: Australia to send 600 troops to UAE

Australia says it is sending 600 troops to the Middle East ahead of possible combat operations against Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the deployment, initially to the United Arab Emirates, was in response to a specific US request.

Nearly 40 countries, including 10 Arab states, have signed up to a US-led plan to tackle the extremist group. France is hosting a regional security summit on Monday.

From the New York Times, piling on:

Arab Nations Offer to Conduct Airstrikes Against ISIS, U.S. Officials Say

Several Arab countries have offered to carry out airstrikes against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, senior State Department officials said on Sunday.

The offer was disclosed by American officials traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry, who is approaching the end of a weeklong trip that was intended to mobilize international support for the campaign against the group, also known as ISIS.

“There have been offers both to Centcom and to the Iraqis of Arab countries taking more aggressive kinetic action,” said one of the officials, who used the acronym for the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East.

The Associated Press covers the revenue front:

Oil smuggling, theft, extortion: How ISIS earns $3M a day

Islamic State militants, who once relied on wealthy Persian Gulf donors for money, have become a self-sustaining financial juggernaut, earning more than $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion, according to U.S. intelligence officials and private experts.

The extremist group’s resources exceed that “of any other terrorist group in history,” said a U.S. intelligence official who, like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified assessments. Such riches are one reason that American officials are so concerned about the group even while acknowledging they have no evidence it is plotting attacks against the United States.

The Islamic State group has taken over large sections of Syria and Iraq, and controls as many as 11 oil fields in both countries, analysts say. It is selling oil and other goods through generations-old smuggling networks under the noses of some of the same governments it is fighting: Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.

From BuzzFeed, the hyperbolic:

Arizona Congressman Claims It’s “True That We Know That” ISIS Is On The U.S. Border

“It is true that we know that ISIS is present in Ciudad Juarez or they were within the last few weeks.” It appears he’s citing a report that federal authorities have dismissed.

A Republican Arizona congressman says ISIS currently is or has operated on the U.S. border in the past couple weeks, appearing to cite a report that federal authorities have dismissed.

Rep. Trent Franks, appearing on E.W. Jackson’s radio program over the weekend, appeared to cite a report from a conservative website that has been dismissed by federal law enforcement officials about ISIS operating in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on the border with El Paso.

“It is true, that we know that ISIS is present in Ciudad Juarez or they were within the last few weeks,” Franks said. “So there’s no question that they have designs on trying to come into Arizona. The comment that I’ve made is that if unaccompanied minors can cross the border then certainly trained terrorists probably can to. It is something that is real.”

BBC News eavesdrops:

US and UK spy agencies ‘have access to German telecoms’

US and British intelligence services are able to secretly access information from German telecoms operators, according to a German newspaper report.

A programme called Treasure Map gives the NSA and its UK counterpart, GCHQ, data from operators including Deutsche Telekom, Der Spiegel said. The data is said to include information from networks as well as from individual computers and smart-phones.

Der Spiegel cites documents provided by US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

And from Der Spiegel itself:

Treasure Map: The NSA Breach of Telekom and Other German Firms

According to top-secret documents from the NSA and the British agency GCHQ, the intelligence agencies are seeking to map the entire Internet, including end-user devices. In pursuing that goal, they have broken into networks belonging to Deutsche Telekom.

When it comes to choosing code names for their secret operations, American and British agents demonstrate a flare for creativity. Sometimes they borrow from Mother Nature, with monikers such as “Evil Olive” and “Egoistic Giraffe.” Other times, they would seem to take their guidance from Hollywood. A program called Treasure Map even has its own logo, a skull superimposed onto a compass, the eye holes glowing in demonic red, reminiscent of a movie poster for the popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, starring Johnny Depp.

Treasure Map is anything but harmless entertainment. Rather, it is the mandate for a massive raid on the digital world. It aims to map the Internet, and not just the large traffic channels, such as telecommunications cables. It also seeks to identify the devices across which our data flows, so-called routers.

Furthermore, every single end device that is connected to the Internet somewhere in the world — every smartphone, tablet and computer — is to be made visible. Such a map doesn’t just reveal one treasure. There are millions of them.

From Spiegel via Cryptome [PDF], the cover of the Treasure Map PowerPoint:

BLOG Treasure

And Deutsche Welle has more:

While NSA ‘maps’ the Internet landscape, German tech companies want Cloud cover

Microsoft Germany wants Cloud services to be regulated at home in a bid to protect data from foreign espionage. The announcement coincides with a new report pointing to NSA activities targeting German telecommunications.

In the latest efforts toward warding off foreign hackers, the head of Microsoft Germany is planning to develop Cloud technology that would be offered only within Germany.

Microsoft’s current computing centers in the Netherlands and Ireland are becoming more popular with the company’s biggest clients, Microsoft Germany head Christian Illek told the German daily Tagesspiegel on Sunday.

“But this is obviously not enough for medium-sized German companies,” Illek said.

And from the Intercept, still more:

Map of the Stars

  • The NSA and GCHQ Campaign Against German Satellite Companies

“Fuck!” That is the word that comes to the mind of Christian Steffen, the CEO of German satellite communications company Stellar PCS. He is looking at classified documents laying out the scope of something called Treasure Map, a top secret NSA program. Steffen’s firm provides internet access to remote portions of the globe via satellite, and what he is looking at tells him that the company, and some of its customers, have been penetrated by the U.S. National Security Agency and British spy agency GCHQ.

Stellar’s visibly shaken chief engineer, reviewing the same documents, shares his boss’ reaction. “The intelligence services could use this data to shut down the internet in entire African countries that are provided access via our satellite connections,” he says.

Treasure Map is a vast NSA campaign to map the global internet. The program doesn’t just seek to chart data flows in large traffic channels, such as telecommunications cables. Rather, it seeks to identify and locate every single device that is connected to the internet somewhere in the world—every smartphone, tablet, and computer—”anywhere, all the time,” according to NSA documents. Its internal logo depicts a skull superimposed onto a compass, the eyeholes glowing demonic red.

From the Guardian, another country, semantics elevated:

New Zealand PM deceiving public over spying claims, says Glenn Greenwald

  • Journalist says he will produce documents by Edward Snowden that prove John Key approved mass surveillance of citizens

An already tumultuous New Zealand election campaign took another dramatic turn less than a week before polling day when the prime minister, John Key, responded angrily to claims by the American journalist Glenn Greenwald that he had been “deceiving the public” over assurances on spying.

Greenwald, who is visiting New Zealand at the invitation of the German internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, says he will produce documents provided by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that prove the New Zealand government approved mass surveillance of its residents by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), New Zealand’s equivalent of the NSA.

Dotcom, who is sought for extradition from New Zealand by the US on copyright charges relating to his now defunct Megaupload file-storage site, is hosting an event in Auckland on Monday called The Moment of Truth, which doubles as a rally for the Dotcom-founded Internet party.

From the Independent, the latest police flap:

Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained in Los Angeles after being mistaken for a prostitute

Daniele Watts, an African-American actress who has starred in Hollywood films such as Django Unchained, has claimed she was “handcuffed and detained” by Los Angeles police officers after being mistaken for a prostitute.

Two police officers approached Watts and her white husband Brian James Lucas when they were seen showing affection in public, the actress said in a Facebook post.

She claims she refused to produce her photo ID when asked by police, and was then handcuffed and held in a police car as the officers tried to figure out who she was. She reportedly cut her wrist as she was handled roughly by the LAPD officers.

Watts also posted pictures to Facebook, in which she is handcuffed and crying. She was released shortly afterwards.

And from RT America, how ‘bout them apples, eh?:

American police scammed Canadian visitors out of $2.5 billion

Program notes:

American police are targeting their northern neighbors, according to a travel warning from the Canadian government. State and federal law enforcement officers are reportedly shaking down Canadians visiting the US, illegally confiscating legally carried cash. Over 61,000 of these incidents have occurred since 9/11, resulting in $2.5 billion being seized, according to The Washington Post. RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky has more details on the trend.

From the Guardian, a ghost from the past:

Italy targets former Uruguayan naval officer over role in alleged torture

  • Jorge Néstor Fernández Troccoli denies any wrongdoing after accusations relating to South American’s dirty wars

Italian prosecutors are poised to seek charges of murder and kidnapping against a former Uruguayan naval intelligence officer accused of participating in South America’s dirty wars.

Jorge Néstor Fernández Troccoli has denied any wrongdoing. But in a 24-page document, he was said to have acknowledged that, in the 1970s when Uruguay’s civil-military government was cracking down on suspected leftwing insurgents and sympathisers, torture was a “normal procedure” in his unit. He insisted, however, that it did not go beyond “keeping prisoners for several hours on their feet without eating or drinking”.

In what La Stampa reported was his only statement to investigators, he was quoted as saying: “I declare myself innocent. I do not accept the accusations.”

After the jump, on to Asia starting with penal tourism, a Chinese anniversary, Sino/Canadian rapprochement, a Game of Zones escalation, and a rejection. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Water, fracking, forests, nukes


We begin with the latest on that other outbreak, the one in Asia, via Jiji Press:

Dengue Infections in Japan Surpass 100

Nine more people in Japan have been confirmed to have dengue fever, raising the total number of cases to 105, the health ministry said Thursday.

All nine are likely to have been bitten by dengue virus-carrying mosquitoes in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park or nearby areas, where most of the recent infections are believed to have originated, the ministry said.

The 105 infected people come from 16 prefectures across Japan. The nine people developed symptoms between Aug. 30 and Tuesday, according to the ministry. The first domestic case of dengue fever in nearly 70 years was reported late last month.

From Mother Jones, Hillary’s other legacy:

How Hillary Clinton’s State Department Sold Fracking to the World

  • A trove of secret documents details the US government’s global push for shale gas

Under her leadership, the State Department worked closely with energy companies to spread fracking around the globe—part of a broader push to fight climate change, boost global energy supply, and undercut the power of adversaries such as Russia that use their energy resources as a cudgel. But environmental groups fear that exporting fracking, which has been linked to drinking-water contamination and earthquakes at home, could wreak havoc in countries with scant environmental regulation. And according to interviews, diplomatic cables, and other documents obtained by Mother Jones, American officials—some with deep ties to industry—also helped US firms clinch potentially lucrative shale concessions overseas, raising troubling questions about whose interests the programme actually serves.

Geologists have long known that there were huge quantities of natural gas locked in shale rock. But tapping it wasn’t economically viable until the late 1990s, when a Texas wildcatter named George Mitchell hit on a novel extraction method that involved drilling wells sideways from the initial borehole, then blasting them full of water, chemicals, and sand to break up the shale—a variation of a technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Besides dislodging a bounty of natural gas, Mitchell’s breakthrough ignited an energy revolution. Between 2006 and 2008, domestic gas reserves jumped 35%. The United States later vaulted past Russia to become the world’s largest natural gas producer. As a result, prices dropped to record lows, and America began to wean itself from coal, along with oil and gas imports, which lessened its dependence on the Middle East. The surging global gas supply also helped shrink Russia’s economic clout: profits for Russia’s state-owned gas company, Gazprom, plummeted by more than 60% between 2008 and 2009 alone.

Clinton, who was sworn in as secretary of state in early 2009, believed that shale gas could help rewrite global energy politics. “This is a moment of profound change,” she later told a crowd at Georgetown University. “Countries that used to depend on others for their energy are now producers. How will this shape world events? Who will benefit, and who will not? … The answers to these questions are being written right now, and we intend to play a major role.” Clinton tapped a lawyer named David Goldwyn as her special envoy for international energy affairs; his charge was “to elevate energy diplomacy as a key function of US foreign policy.”

From the Japan Times, another tragedy:

Police in Indian Kashmir collect bodies floating in worst floods in years

Authorities in Indian Kashmir collected the bodies of women and children floating in the streets on Thursday as anger mounted over what many survivors said was a bungled operation to help those caught in the region’s worst flooding in 50 years.

Both the Indian and Pakistan sides of the disputed Himalayan region have been hit by extensive flooding in recent days, and about 450 people have been killed, with Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar particularly hard hit.

“Some air force officials have reported that they have seen bodies of women and children floating. We are making every effort to collect the bodies as soon as we can,” said Srinagar police officer Faizal Wani.

Some aerial footage from RT:

Sub(merged)-Continent: Aerial footage of India’s fatal floods

Program notes:

Indian Air Force helicopters continue rescue efforts on to evacuate people stranded in flooded areas in Indian Kashmir. The flooding began earlier this month, causing landslides. More than a million people have been affected, with thousands losing their homes to the rising water.

And from the U.S. Drought Monitor, a look at the grievous condition in the American West, where water shortage is the rule [click on the image to enlarge]:

aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

BBC News covers another tragedy:

Amazon rainforest destruction in Brazil rises again

The rate of destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil has increased for a second year running.

Brazilian government figures show deforestation was up by 29% in the 12 months up to the end of July 2013. Satellite data showed that almost 6,000 sq km (2,315 sq miles) of forest were cleared during that period.

The largest increases in deforestation were seen in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, where most of Brazil’s agricultural expansion is taking place.

From the New York Times, tragedy within tragedy:

Peru Investigates the Killing of an Environmental Advocate

The authorities here are investigating the killing of an environmental advocate and indigenous leader who died along with three other men in a remote region of the Amazon jungle that he had sought to protect from illegal logging.

The advocate, Edwin Chota, 54, was a leader of the Ashaninka Indian village of Saweto, near the Brazilian border. Mr. Chota was killed after leaving Saweto on Aug. 31, while on his way to meet with leaders from another Ashaninka village some days walk away, according to his widow, Julia Pérez, and media reports.

Three other Saweto leaders accompanying him were also killed, officials said.

It took several days for villagers to discover the killings and make the trip by river to the regional capital, Pucallpa, to report the crime. Environmental and indigenous advocates announced the deaths over the weekend.

From the Guardian, motivation for rapacity:

Tropical forests illegally destroyed for commercial agriculture

  • Forest Trends warns that demand for palm oil, beef, soy and wood has fuelled rapid deforestation, especially in Indonesia

Increasing international demand for palm oil, beef, soy and wood is fuelling the illegal destruction of tropical forests at an alarming rate, according to new analysis that suggests nearly half of all recent tropical deforestation is the result of unlawful clearing for commercial agriculture.

The report, by the Washington-based NGO Forest Trends, concludes that 71% of tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was due to commercial cultivation. Of that deforestation, 49% was caused by illegal clearing to make way for agricultural products whose largest buyers include the EU, China, India, Russia and the US.

The global market for beef, leather, soy, palm oil, tropical timbers, pulp and paper – worth an estimated $61bn (£38bn) a year – resulted in the clearance of more than 200,000 square kilometres of tropical forest in the first decade of the 21st century, the report says. Put another way, an average of five football fields of tropical forest were lost every minute over that period.

Guardian Professional covers another failure:

Monoculture is failing Nicaragua’s farmers

  • NGOs must acknowledge the risks to livelihoods and food security and teach smallholders to diversify for higher profits

For the farmers on western Nicaragua’s volcanic range, who tend to favour beans over almost all other crops making a living from just beans is far from stable, despite the fertile soils.

As farmers fell trees to make space for land, deforestation has a negative effect on crop yields as increased erosion and surface run-off wash the nutrients from the once-rich volcanic soils. Similarly, environmental pressures such as meteorological variation leads to a high fall in yields.

Marginalised communities with limited access to water for even basic needs have no capacity to irrigate in a dry year. They also rely on the rains relenting between July and August. If there is no dry spell, they cannot dry their beans which then spoil quicker. In some areas, should the winds change and the volcanoes’ acidic smoke billow over farmland, acid rain can destroy an entire harvest.

While the Christian Science Monitor covers tragic dispossession:

Kenya conundrum: Kick out Maasai herders to develop geothermal energy?

  • In East Africa, a clash of two virtues: ancient homelands and clean energy. Kenya has incredible geothermal potential, but much of it sits below indigenous people’s land near volcanic Mt. Suswa.

lready, Kenya is Africa’s largest producer of geothermal and the ninth-largest worldwide. But the 424 megawatts currently generated represent less than 1/20th of the energy locked beneath a string of volcanic fields in the Rift Valley. Suswa alone has an estimated 600 untapped megawatts.

Realizing Kenya’s geothermal potential would cut energy costs and power economic expansion. But it could come at a high price: displacing thousands of indigenous Maasai people who, after a century of losing land rights, are upset at being moved again.

“We don’t like it,” says [Maasai herdsman Daudi] Maisiodo of the budding geothermal exploration at Suswa. “We fear many people will come and take our land.”

After the jump, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including a disaster for a Japanese newspaper, questions for the ruling party in Japan, more revelations about the nuclear disaster, and a refusal to shut down a California nuclear power plant built on the coast near another fault. . . Continue reading

Image of the day: Remembering the other 9/11


We repeat a short item that has been one of our most popular posts ever:

BLOG 12 September other 911You know, the CIA/Nixon-backed 1973 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of socialist President Salvador Allende in Chile and resulted in 60,000 deaths. Via PRAWN, the Philadelphia Regional Anti-War Network.

InSecurityWatch: War, law, cops, hacks, zones


We begin today’s walk on the dark side with the latest in Obama’s drive to push Japan back into the past, via Reuters:

Exclusive: Japan, U.S. discussing offensive military capability for Tokyo – Japan officials

Japan and the United States are exploring the possibility of Tokyo acquiring offensive weapons that would allow Japan to project power far beyond its borders, Japanese officials said, a move that would likely infuriate China.

While Japan’s intensifying rivalry with China dominates the headlines, Tokyo’s focus would be the ability to take out North Korean missile bases, said three Japanese officials involved in the process.

They said Tokyo was holding the informal, previously undisclosed talks with Washington about capabilities that would mark an enhancement of military might for a country that has not fired a shot in anger since its defeat in World War Two.

From BuzzFeed, another blast from the past:

Obama Will Fight ISIS With George W. Bush’s Legal Theories

  • John Yoo: “Obama has adopted the same view of war powers as the Bush administration.”

By ordering the military into action without explicit congressional authorization, Obama is falling back, at least in part, on the same controversial legal theories of executive power that he once rejected.

Not everyone is surprised by the presidential about-face. John Yoo, a former Bush administration lawyer and one of the primary architects of the “strong executive” theory of presidential power, told BuzzFeed News, “Obama has adopted the same view of war powers as the Bush administration.”

In a preview of his speech on Sunday, Obama told Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet the Press that he was “confident that I have the authorization that I need to protect the American people.” Obama repeated that same line in meetings with foreign policy pundits on Monday and again in meetings with congressional leaders on Tuesday.

While El País covers blowback:

Spain raises terror threat level due to risk of jihadist attacks

  • Security forces to step up monitoring at airports, train stations, hospitals and government buildings

Spain’s security agencies are stepping up their monitoring efforts at the country’s airports, train stations, hospitals, government buildings and other key sites in response to the heightened risk of jihadist attacks.

The secretary of state for security, Francisco Martínez, ordered increased security measures as the government raised the level of the terror threat in Spain from low to high.

The latest crimes claimed by the Islamic State group and the progressive deterioration of the situation in Iraq and Syria are evidence of “a direct threat by jihadist terrorism against Western countries, with particular concern for US, French and British interests,” said the Interior Ministry.

The Japan Times covers the justifiable:

Protests, anger, doubt prevail at Ferguson meeting

Elected leaders in the St. Louis suburb where an unarmed black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, was fatally shot by a white police officer hoped to use their first public meeting since his death as a chance to promote community healing. Instead, they were greeted Tuesday night with anger, outrage and warnings of voter retribution at the ballot box.

Proposals to overhaul the municipal courts and create a citizen police review board were greeted warily, if not with outright skepticism.

“You’ve lost your authority to govern this community,” said St. Louis activist John Chasnoff. “You’re going to have to step aside peacefully if this community is going to heal.”

From Salon, revising the unspeakable:

Pennsylvania town will no longer evict domestic violence victims who call the police seeking help

  • Yes, that was a real thing that was happening in Pennsylvania — and still happens throughout the country

A Pennsylvania ordinance that targeted domestic violence victims for eviction has been repealed.

In addition to striking down the law, the city of Norristown will pay Lakisha Briggs, a domestic violence victim who faced eviction because she called the police to report the abuse, $495,000 to settle a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Under the “nuisance property ordinance,” landlords were encouraged to evict tenants if the police were called to a residence more than three times during a four month period. Women like Briggs who called the police to intervene in domestic violence incidents were, under the ordinance, labeled “disorderly.”

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, sad and horrendous [see examples at the link]:

Misconduct at Justice Department isn’t always prosecuted

Dozens of Justice Department officials, ranging from FBI special agents and prison wardens to high-level federal prosecutors, have escaped prosecution or firing in recent years despite findings of misconduct by the department’s own internal watchdog.

Most of the names of the investigated officials, even the highest-ranking, remain under wraps. But documents McClatchy obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal for the first time a startling array of alleged transgressions uncovered by the department’s inspector general.

From Associated Press. Once it was jewelers, now fashion:

9 arrests in fashion hub money laundering probe

Federal authorities arrested nine people and seized more than $65 million Wednesday in a crackdown on suspected drug money laundering by Mexican cartels in the fashion district of Los Angeles.

About 1,000 law enforcement officers fanned out across the city’s downtown to search dozens of businesses suspected of taking bulk cash for clothing exported to Mexico as a way to launder money obtained from the sale of cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs in the United States.

The raids came after three separate federal indictments on charges of money laundering and other financial violations. Nine people were arrested, and authorities were searching for four others charged in the alleged schemes, including three in Mexico, federal prosecutors said.

Postmedia News covers spooky revelations:

Accused hospital fraudster Arthur Porter takes aim at former colleague Stephen Harper in new memoir

From his jail cell in Panama, accused hospital fraudster Arthur Porter dishes the dirt on his once-thriving political connections with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard in a new wide-ranging memoir that is bound to incense both Harper and Couillard while providing ammunition to their critics.

Porter, who at one point served as chairman of Canada’s spy watchdog, also provides details on the inner workings of the Security Intelligence Review Committee that is entrusted with the country’s most sensitive surveillance secrets.

Porter, 58, has been languishing in a Panamanian prison since the end of May 2013, fighting extradition to Quebec to face criminal charges alleging he was part of a conspiracy to defraud $22.5 million from the McGill University Health Centre he once headed over the awarding of a superhospital construction contract.

From intelNews, booby-trapped buggery:

Mystery spy device found in Lebanon detonates remotely, kills one

A mysterious spy device found in Lebanon was detonated remotely by what some say was an Israeli drone, killing one man and injuring several others.

According to Lebanon’s Al-Manar TV, the alleged spy device was uncovered last week by a Lebanese military patrol near the village of Adloun in southern Lebanon. Most of the region is firmly controlled by Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that governs large swathes of the Lebanese territory.

The report was later confirmed by the Lebanese Army, which said that the device had been attached, probably by Israel, to the telecommunications network belonging to Hezbollah.

And from Ars Technica, hardly iDeal:

iPwned: Mining iPhones, iCloud for personal data is terrifyingly simple

  • High-end tools, simple hacks can still make iPhone data less private than we’d like

Apple executives never mentioned the word “security” during the unveiling of the iPhone 6, iPhone 6+, and Apple Watch yesterday, choosing to focus on the sexier features of the upcoming iOS 8 and its connections to Apple’s iCloud service. But digital safety is certainly on everyone’s mind after the massive iCloud breach that resulted in many celebrity nude photos leaking across the Internet. While the company has promised fixes to both its mobile operating system and cloud storage service in the coming weeks, the perception of Apple’s current security feels iffy at best.

In light of one high profile “hack,” is it fair to primarily blame Apple’s current setup? Is it really that easy to penetrate these defenses?

In the name of security, we did a little testing using family members as guinea pigs. To demonstrate just how much private information on an iPhone can be currently pulled from iCloud and other sources, we enlisted the help of a pair of software tools from Elcomsoft. These tools are essentially professional-level, forensic software used by law enforcement and other organizations to collect data. But to show that an attacker wouldn’t necessarily need that to gain access to phone data, we also used a pair of simpler “hacks,” attacking a family member’s account (again, with permission) by using only an iPhone and iTunes running on a Windows machine.

As things stand right now, a determined attacker will still find plenty of ways to get to iPhone data.

From RT, they’ve got mail [yours]:

5 million ‘compromised’ Google accounts leaked

A database of what appears to be some 5 million login and password pairs for Google accounts has been leaked to a Russian cyber security internet forum. It follows similar leaks of account data for popular Russian web services.

The text file containing the alleged compromised accounts data was published late on Tuesday on the Bitcoin Security board. It lists 4.93 million entries, although the forum administration has since purged passwords from it, leaving only the logins.

The accounts are mostly those of Google users and give access to Gmail mail service, G+ social network and other products of the US-based internet giant. The forum user tvskit, who published the file, claimed that 60 percent of the passwords were valid, with some users confirming that they found their data in the base, reports CNews, a popular Russian IT news website

Defense One makes it clear:

Every Part of the US Government Has Probably Already Been Hacked

Consider the testimony today from some of the nation’s top cybersecurity experts before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

High-profile cyber breaches – such as those affecting Target, Home Depot and even celebrities’ private photos – trickle out on a near daily basis. But it’s clear the vulnerabilities aren’t relegated to the commercial sector.

When committee members asked Robert Anderson, the executive assistant director for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services branch, how much of government hasn’t been hacked yet, he offered a stark reply.

Despite demurring that he probably couldn’t answer the question exactly “off the top of his head,” Anderson said any part of government that hasn’t been hacked yet probably has been hacked – and hasn’t realized it yet.

Nextgov covers hacks with an ulterior purpose:

Hackers Attacking Israeli Think Tank Aren’t Interested in State Secrets

The website of a respected Israel-based foreign policy institute — the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs — has been infected with code that is trying to steal bank account information from visitors.

The campaign looks like an “advanced persistent threat-style attack” devised to siphon intelligence from government officials browsing the site, but “the threat is ultimately designed to pilfer banking credentials,” Kaspersky Lab reports.

The cyber strike against the think tank is part of a larger operation. Users who visit are redirected through a chain of seemingly innocuous sites affiliated with the music industry and law firms. Ultimately, users are led to a malicious server located in Russia.

And from PandoDaily, uninformed consent:

Study: 85% of mobile apps fail to disclose how they use consumer data

It sometimes seems like every new product begs the same question: Is using this worth giving up whatever privacy I have left?

So many applications and websites request or require access to address books, location history, contact information, and other data that the idea that we even have any privacy left can seem ridiculous. But the important thing is in the asking — it’s better to give that information over willingly than to have it stolen without our knowledge or consent.

Unfortunately, many application developers haven’t learned this lesson. The Global Privacy Enforcement Network — a group meant to enforce privacy laws across borders — studied 1,200 mobile apps and found that many of them gather data without a consumer’s informed consent.

After the jump, on to Asia, with Chinese censorship, China admonishes, more submarine anxieties and anticipation in Vietnam and Taiwan, claim-staking expansion and anger, a Tainwanese espionage conviction, and growing belief in the inevitably of a Sino/Japanese war. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: War, pols, spies, hacks, zones


Lots of ground to cover and some very interesting stories from the world of deep politics, spooks, hacks, blunders, and the Asian Game of Zones.

First up, from the New York Times, ignorance of history or simply slippery politics?:

A President Whose Assurances Have Come Back to Haunt Him

The comment that has caused Mr. Obama the most grief in recent days was his judgment about groups like ISIS. In an interview last winter with David Remnick of The New Yorker, Mr. Obama sought to make the point that not every terrorist group is a threat like Al Qaeda, requiring extraordinary American action.

“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Remnick. He drew a distinction between Al Qaeda and “jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

Asked about that by Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” last weekend, Mr. Obama denied that he necessarily meant ISIS. “Keep in mind I wasn’t specifically referring to ISIL,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the group.

“I’ve said that regionally, there were a whole series of organizations that were focused primarily locally — weren’t focused on homeland, because I think a lot of us, when we think about terrorism, the model is Osama bin Laden and 9/11,” Mr. Obama said. And some groups evolve, he noted. “They’re not a JV team,” he added of ISIS.

But the transcript of the New Yorker interview showed that Mr. Obama made his JV team comment directly after being asked about terrorists in Iraq, Syria and Africa, which would include ISIS. After Mr. Obama’s initial answer, Mr. Remnick pointed out that “that JV team just took over Fallujah,” a city in western Iraq seized by ISIS. Mr. Obama replied that terrorism in many places around the world was not necessarily “a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into.”

From Want China Times, blowback metastasis:

Influence of ISIS felt in China, Southeast Asia

The influence of the brutal jihadist group known as the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), may be spreading in Southeast Asia and China despite strong opposition from governments in the region.

According to a report from Singapore’s New Straits Times, Malaysian security authorities have identified four new terror groups that have the same broad goals as Islamic State and may eventually join forces to carve out territory in countries like Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia to form an independent, unified “super” Islamic caliphate to rule parts of Southeast Asia.

The four organizations, identified by the acronyms BKAW, BAJ, Dimzia and ADI, are said to have strong links with similar groups active in the Southeast Asia region as well as Islamic State and the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.

From RT, maybe they should bust ‘em for trademark infractions:

‘Brand suicide’: Companies sharing name with ISIS forced to rebrand

Program note:

RT looks at how sharing the same name as the infamous extremist group is causing a major headache for a number of companies with no links to jihad. And it’s not just corporations that are suffering because of being called ISIS.

From the London Daily Mail, another intellectual property assault?:

ISIS declares war on Twitter: Terror group warns employees they will be assassinated for closing down Islamist propaganda accounts

  • Jerusalem-based group connected to ISIS tweeted threat to Twitter
  • Called on ‘lone wolves’ to assassinate employees for closing accounts
  • Issued specific warning to staff at headquarters in Silicon Valley
  • The social media site is a key platform for the group’s propaganda

From Reuters, blowback in Africa continues to rage:

Battle for Benghazi could break up Libya

Pro-government Libyan forces, already reeling from the fall of the capital, are fighting to prevent Islamist militants from seizing the eastern city of Benghazi and splitting the North African country into three warring parts.

Three weeks after losing Tripoli to a different militia, the army now faces an offensive in Libya’s second-largest city from the Islamists of Ansar al-Sharia, which has overrun special forces bases and is attacking Benghazi airport.

Losing the port city would not only leave the government looking impotent and irrelevant. It would also increase the risk of the country crumbling into de facto autonomous regions: the militants demand Islamist rule, while other armed groups want greater powers for the eastern region they call by its ancient name of Cyrenaica.

From Want China Times, recognition:

US planned industrial espionage against China, Russia: report

Though the United States claims that it does not engage in economic and industrial espionage to benefit American corporations, a secret document issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence revealed that Washington had plans to steal information from corporations in China, Russia, India and Iran, says the Intercept, a news platform established to report on the documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The secret document known as 2009 Quadrennial Intelligence Community Review anticipates a series of potential scenarios that the United States may face by 2025 from China, Russia, India and Iran. “One of the principal threats raised in the report is a scenario in which the United States’ technological and innovative edge slips”— in particular, that the technological capacity of foreign multinational corporations could outstrip that of US corporations,” said the report.

It then recommended that the US government launch a multi-pronged, systematic effort to gather open source and proprietary information through clandestine penetration and counterintelligence. Furthermore, the report envisions cyber operations penetrating covert centers of innovation such as R&D facilities. The report also suggested the use of cyber espionage to bolster the competitive advantage of American corporations.

From the Guardian, takin’ it to court:

‘Five Eyes’ surveillance pact should be published, Strasbourg court told

  • Appeal lodged at European court of human rights for disclosure of intelligence sharing policies of UK and foreign agencies

The secret “Five Eyes” treaty that authorises intelligence sharing between the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand should be published, according to an appeal lodged on Tuesday at the European court of human rights.

The application by Privacy International (PI), which campaigns on issues of surveillance, to the Strasbourg court is the latest in a series of legal challenges following the revelations of the US whistleblower Edward Snowden aimed at forcing the government to disclose details of its surveillance policies.

The civil liberties group alleges that the UK is violating the right to access information by “refusing to disclose the documents that have an enormous impact on human rights in the UK and abroad”.

Network World lobbies:

Tech industry groups ask US Senate to ‘swiftly pass’ NSA curbs

Tech industry organizations have written a letter to leaders in the U.S. Senate, to ask them to swiftly pass the USA Freedom Act, legislation that is expected to end the collection of bulk domestic phone data by the National Security Agency.

Disclosures about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs since June 2013 have led to an erosion of public trust in the U.S. government and the U.S. technology sector, anti-software piracy group BSA, Computer and Communications Industry Association, Information Technology Industry Council, Reform Government Surveillance and the Software and Information Industry Association wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader in the Senate Mitch McConnell on Monday.

Reforms contained in the USA Freedom Act “will send a clear signal to the international community and to the American people that government surveillance programs are narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight,” the industry groups added.

But California’s plutocratic senator suggest a politically convenient delay, via the Guardian:

Feinstein: CIA torture report will be delayed as Democrats decide redactions

  • Though 600-page report was planned for September, top senator says arguments may not finish until after midterms

The public release of a long-awaited US Senate report detailing the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques could be held up for weeks as the Senate Intelligence Committee and Obama administration negotiate what material can be included in the document, the committee’s chairwoman said on Monday.

The committee had hoped to release its 600-page summary of the report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of tactics many label as “torture” before Congress left for its August recess, a target that was pushed to September as discussions continued.

On Monday, as Congress returned from its five-week break, Senator Dianne Feinstein said the document would not be released this week, and might not come out before lawmakers leave later this month to campaign for the 4 November congressional elections.

Vice News covers a homicidal excuse:

A Justice Department Memo Provides the CIA’s Legal Justification to Kill a US Citizen

“This white paper sets forth the legal basis upon which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) could use lethal force in Yemen against a United States citizen who senior officials reasonably determined was a senior leader of al-Qaida or an associated force of al-Qaida.”

So begins a 22-page, heavily redacted, previously top-secret document titled “Legality of a Lethal Operation by the Central Intelligence Agency Against a US Citizen,” which provides the first detailed look at the legal rationale behind lethal operations conducted by the agency. The white paper [pdf below] was turned over to VICE News in response to a long-running Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Justice Department.

It’s one of two white papers the Justice Department prepared in 2011 after lawmakers demanded to know what the administration’s legal rationale was for targeting for death the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen. The first white paper, released last year, addressed why the targeted killing by the US military of an American abroad was lawful. This second white paper addresses why it was lawful for the CIA to do so. Neither white paper identifies Awlaki by name.

The May 25, 2011 document is based on a 41-page Justice Department memo that lays out the government’s legal basis for targeting Awlaki without affording him his right to due process under the US Constitution. For years, the Obama administration was pressured by lawmakers to share the memo, but officials refused — and wouldn’t even confirm that such a memo existed.

From The Intercept, the usual suspects, pocketing loot:

Murky Special Ops Have Become Corporate Bonanza, Says Report

The U.S. government is paying private contractors billions of dollars to support secretive military units with drones, surveillance technology, and “psychological operations,” according to new research.

A detailed report [PDF], published last week by the London-based Remote Control Project, shines a light on the murky activities of the U.S. Special Operations Command by analyzing publicly available procurement contracts dated between 2009 and 2013.

USSOCOM encompasses four commands – from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps – and plays a key role in orchestrating clandestine U.S. military missions overseas.

Researcher Crofton Black, who also works as an investigator for human rights group Reprieve, was able to dig through the troves of data and identify the beneficiaries of almost $13 billion worth of spending by USSOCOM over the five-year period. He found that more than 3,000 companies had provided services that included aiding remotely piloted drone operations in Afghanistan and the Philippines, helping to conduct surveillance of targets, interrogating prisoners, and launching apparent propaganda campaigns.

From the Guardian, don’t hold your breath:

Police using military gear in riots could be forced to repay millions in grants

  • Senators express concern over scenes in Ferguson in review hearing on federal militarisation of local police forces

US police forces that use military equipment earmarked for counter-terrorism to handle public order disturbances instead could be forced to repay millions of dollars in grants, under a review revealed during the first congressional hearings into this summer’s riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Department of Justice and the White House were already investigating whether to limit federal programs that have showered local law enforcement agencies with armoured vehicles and military-style equipment in recent years.

But the Department of Homeland Security, one of three US agencies primarily responsible for providing the equipment, said it was now considering whether to demand that its grants be repaid if police are found to have broken a little-known rule prohibiting its use in riot suppression.

More from USA Today:

Senators: ‘Police militarization’ needs more oversight

The federal government is sending more than $1 billion a year to police departments across the country — in the form of equipment and grants — with little assessment of whether that aid is needed and with minimal follow-up on how the weapons or money is used, according to testimony at a Senate committee on Tuesday.

The hearing — co-chaired by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., to probe “police militarization” in the wake of the police response to protests in Ferguson, Mo. — focused on three federal programs designed to help local police departments respond to drug crime and terrorist attacks. Lawmakers and witnesses suggested those programs have run amok, haphazardly doling out military equipment and federal funds and transforming some local police into paramilitary forces.

Pressed by McCaskill and others on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, federal officials who oversee the programs testified they had no way to track any “military-grade” equipment supplied by the government or purchased with federal dollars.

Next, from Mother Jones, a story close to Casa esnl:

Video: What We Saw Before Being Kicked Out of the SWAT Convention

This weekend, my colleague Prashanth Kamalakanthan and I attended Urban Shield, a first-responder convention sponsored by more than 100 corporations and the Department of Homeland Security. The five-day confab included a trade show where vendors display everything from armored trucks to sniper rifles to 3-D printable drones. (We documented a few of the more remarkable offerings here.) It also involved the largest SWAT training exercise in the world. Some 35 SWAT teams competed in a 48-hour exercise involving 31 scenarios that included ambushing vehicles, indoor shootouts, maritime interdiction, train assaults, and a mock eviction of a right-wing Sovereign Citizens group. The teams came from cities across the San Francisco Bay Area, Singapore, and South Korea and included a University of California SWAT team, a team of US Marines, and a SWAT team of prison guards.

But on Sunday, at a competition site near the Bay Bridge, our coverage was cut short. A police officer confiscated our press badges, politely explaining that his captain had called and given him the order. The captain, he said, told him we had been filming in an unauthorized location, though he could not tell us where that location was. (We’d been advised earlier that it was okay to film so long as we did not go on the bridge itself.) After several phone calls from both me and my editors, no one could tell us exactly what we had done wrong, but Sergeant J.D. Nelson, the public information officer for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department (which hosts the Department of Homeland Security-funded event) made it clear that we could not have our passes back.

And the video, also via Mother Jones:

Inside Urban Shield: The World’s Largest SWAT Training Event

Program note:

At Urban Shield, a first-responder convention sponsored by over 100 corporations and the Department of Homeland Security, our coverage was cut short by police.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers another misbehavior:

Former Atlanta officer indicted for alleged brutal assault

A Fulton County Grand Jury has indicted a former Atlanta police officer accused of assaulting a suspect, the District Attorney said Wednesday.

Nicholas J. Dimauro, 32, was indicted on two counts of aggravated battery, two counts of violation of oath by a public officer and one count of aggravated assault for the 2010 attack, DA Paul Howard’s office said.

The indictment alleges that in 2010, Robert Wormley was returning to his home at 3 a.m. on Woods Drive when he was approached by Officer Dimaur, Howard said. Dimauro claimed that Wormley was illegally walking on a public street and ran when he tried to question him.

Dimauro apprehended Wormley behind a house on Hood Street, where the officer allegedly hit and kicked a man on the ground, later identified as Wormley, for 15 minutes, according to prosecutors. A resident of the home allegedly witnessed the assault.

After the jump, protesting a Mexican cop’s conviction, a clarion call for reform, a Confederate militia forms, remilitarizing the Axis powers, major league malware, cyberbuffing and cyberamnesia, terrorism allegations in Pakistan, a Chinese admonition, hints of Sino/American thaw?, neo-Nazi woes in Japan and the view from Beijing, a Sino/Indian feeler, verbal sparring over Chinese jets [and problems thereof], and a Sino/Japanese sit-down sought. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Including a tragic Ebola update


Though we broke out Ebola coverage for today’s earlier EbolaWatch, we have one crucial update — a demonstration once again that racism, tinged with eugenics, lies at the heart of today’s Grand Old Party. [And there’s lot of environmental news, including a series of very serious alarms.]

First, via The Hill, the deplorable:

GOP cuts funding request to fight Ebola

House Republicans indicated Tuesday that they will provide less than half of the White House’s funding request to fight Ebola in the next government spending bill.

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) agreed as of Tuesday morning to spend a total of $40 million to fight the epidemic in the 2015 spending bill.

This would include $25 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and $15 million for the Biological Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to ramp up production of an experimental anti-Ebola drug, the source said.

The White House had asked for $88 million for Ebola in total, including $58 million for BARDA, which is involved in coordinating experimental treatments during public health emergencies.

On to that other outbreak we’ve been coverage, first with JapanToday:

81 dengue fever cases reported in 15 prefectures

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said Tuesday that the number of reported dengue fever cases stood at 81 in 15 prefectures as of Tuesday morning.

The ministry is working with Tokyo metropolitan government health officials to spray insecticide in three parks in Tokyo, where the disease spread by mosquitoes, is believed to have originated, TV Asahi reported.

Since the weekend, parts of Yoyogi, Shinjuku Gyoen and Meijijingu Gaien parks have been closed to the public, resulting in the cancellation of many events.

Jiji Press notes a spread:

1st Dengue Case outside Tokyo Reported

A man in his 60s is believed to have been infected with dengue fever in Chiba, east of Tokyo, the first infection outside the capital since the first domestic case in nearly 70 years was reported last month, the health ministry said Tuesday.

This is the third infection confirmed outside Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park and surrounding areas, where most of the recent infections originated.

It remains unclear whether the man has come into contact with others infected with the virus. The National Institute of Infectious Diseases is now investigating.

And from the Mainichi, same disease, another continent, another notable development:

Brazil looks to introduce genetically modified mosquitoes to tackle dengue fever

While Japan is experiencing a domestic dengue fever outbreak for the first time in decades, the same virus claimed 603 lives in Brazil last year. The Brazilian government is implementing numerous efforts to prevent the mosquito-borne virus from spreading.

Last year, some 1.4 million people were infected with the dengue virus in Brazil. While the country had tried to eliminate dengue virus-carrying mosquitoes by spraying insecticide and informing residents about the disease, pest control could only be done in limited areas, and the effect was temporary.

Recently, the Brazilian government has focused on eliminating puddles of water where mosquitoes lay their eggs. Local governments have advised residents not to leave water in items such as empty cans, old tires and dishes under plant containers while fining home owners when mosquito larva are found on their premises.

From Environment News Service, another epidemic, one we created ourselves:

Poor European Air Quality Linked to Poor Adult Lung Health

Children who suffer poor lung health from breathing polluted air are not alone – so do adults.

In the first study of its kind, published Saturday, researchers from across Europe evaluated the correlation between air pollution and lung function in European adults and found that the harmful effects of breathing polluted air persist into adulthood.

The researchers used indicators of vehicle traffic in the area and modeled the exposure levels to different pollution measures, including nitrogen oxides (NO2 and NOx) and particulate matter (PM).

Their conclusions may seem obvious, but the study’s authors, Nicole Probst-Hensch and Martin Adam from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute based in Basel, say their findings are “crucial” as they demonstrate that air pollution is having a negative effect, not only on children, as previously demonstrated, but also on adults.

Along the same lines, via the Guardian:

South Africa’s coal-fired power stations carry heavy health costs

In the settlement of Masakhane near the Duvha plant, residents wear masks to avoid breathing in the coal dust

South Africa’s dependence on coal to generate 85% of its electricity is taking a substantial toll on human health, according to environmental groups. A report from Greenpeace (pdf) in February estimates that up to 2,700 premature deaths are caused every year by emissions from the country’s 16 coal-fired power plants.

Greenpeace released the report in the wake of an application by Eskom, South Africa’s public power utility, to postpone compliance with new minimum emissions standards aimed at reducing the damaging health impacts of air pollution.

These new standards are particularly vital for the country’s north-eastern Mpumalanga province where 12 coal-fired power plants are clustered on the western high-altitude side of the Highveld. They pump out sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter (PM) at levels often more than double the maximum recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). As a result, levels of air pollution in Mpumalanga’s Highveld are the highest in the country and among the highest in the world, according to news reports.

From BBC News, alarms shriek:

Greenhouse gas levels rising at fastest rate since 1984

A surge in atmospheric CO2 saw levels of greenhouse gases reach record levels in 2013, according to new figures.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 2012 and 2013 grew at their fastest rate since 1984.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says that it highlights the need for a global climate treaty. But the UK’s energy secretary Ed Davey said that any such agreement might not contain legally binding emissions cuts, as has been previously envisaged.

Reuters covers a consequence:

Climate change increases possibility of megadrought in Southwestern U.S.

  • A new study finds an increased possibility of severe and long-term megadrought affecting Southwestern United States

The Southwestern United States could face a decade long drought according to a new study by Cornell, University of Arizona and U.S. Geological Survey researchers.

According to lead author and Cornell assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences Toby Ault, climate change is increasing the possibility of a “megadrought” – a drought that could last over thirty years.

The study is based on historical data of previous droughts and uses current changes in precipitation patterns caused by global warming to evaluate the risks of severe droughts in the near future.

MercoPress covers another:

Antarctica sea levels rising faster because of fresh water from melting glaciers, say researchers

  • Sea levels around Antarctica are rising faster than anywhere else in the southern ocean. The global average rise in ocean heights in the last 19 years has been 6cms, but the rise in seas around Antarctica is 2cms higher.

This seemingly counter-intuitive finding is certainly a consequence of melting ice in the Southern Ocean, but the connection with global warming is, for the moment, tenuous. The agency that is behind the rising sea levels is simply an excess of fresh water from melting glaciers – about 350 billion tons of it.

“Fresh water is less dense than salt water, and so in regions where an excess of fresh water has accumulated we expect a localized rise in sea level,” says Craig Rye, an oceanography researcher at of the University of Southampton in the UK, who, with colleagues, has published the findings in Nature Geoscience.

From New Europe, yet another:

Spain sees increased damage by forest fires in 2014

Forest fires in Spain burned a total of 39,410 hectares of land in the first eight months of 2014, the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment said Monday.

The amount of damage to the nation’s forests has increased by 15 percent, compared to the 34,268 hectares burned down during the same period in 2013, data showed.

2014 has seen a 40.5 percent rise in the number of fires burning an area of over a hectare. This implies that fires have been able to both become established and to spread faster this year than in 2013.

And yet another, via the Guardian:

North America’s key birds facing extinction, study finds

  • 314 species, including the bald eagle and 10 state birds of US at risk from climate change

Half of North America’s bird species, from common backyard visitors like the Baltimore oriole and the rufous hummingbird to wilderness dwellers like the common loon and bald eagle, are under threat from climate change and many could go extinct, an exhaustive new study has found.

Seven years of research found climate change the biggest threat to North America’s bird species.

Some 314 species face dramatic declines in population, if present trends continue, with warming temperatures pushing the birds out of their traditional ranges. Ten states and Washington DC could lose their state birds.

And from RT, more anthropogenic environmental havoc:

Lake Baikal, world’s deepest body of freshwater, turning into swamp – ecologists

The world’s oldest and deepest body of freshwater, Lake Baikal, is turning into a swamp, Russian ecologists warn. They say that tons of liquid waste from tourist camps and water transport vehicles is being dumped into the UNESCO-protected lake.

One of the natural wonders and the pearl of Russia’s Siberia, Lake Baikal has recently been a source of alarming news, due to an increased number of alien water plants which have formed in the lake waterlogging it, ecologists said at a roundtable discussion recently held in the city of Irkutsk.

A recent scientific expedition discovered that 160 tons of liquid waste are produced every season in Baikal’s Chivyrkui Bay, said the head of Baikal Environmental Wave, one of Russia’s first environmental NGOs, according to SIA media outlet.

From BBC News, another tragedy:

Four Peruvian anti-logging activists murdered

Four Peruvian tribal leaders have been killed on their way to a meeting to discuss ways to stop illegal logging.

The men from the Ashaninka community were attempting to travel to Brazil when they were murdered. Campaigners say the men had received several death threats from illegal loggers, who are suspected of being behind the killings.

Correspondents say indigenous people have felt under increasing threat from deforestation in recent years.

An optimistic note from Business Insider:

The End Of Fracking Is Closer Than You Think

Canadian geologist David Hughes has some sober news for the Kool-Aid-drinking boosters of the United States’ newfound eminence in fossil fuel production: it’s going to go bust sooner rather than later.

Working with the Post Carbon Institute, a sustainability think-tank, Hughes meticulously analyzed industry data from 65,000 US shale oil and natural gas wells that use the much-ballyhooed extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as fracking. The process involves drilling horizontally as well as vertically, and then pumping a toxic cocktail of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals deep underground in order to break apart the rock formations that hold deposits of oil and gas.

Hughes found that the production rates at these wells decline, on average, 85 percent over three years. “Typically, in the first year there may be a 70 percent decline,” Hughes told VICE News. “Second year, maybe 40 percent; third year, 30 percent. So the decline rate is a hyperbolic curve. But nonetheless, by the time you get to three years, you’re talking 80 or 85 percent decline for most of these wells.”

But if you really want some to worry about, consider this from RT America:

Yellowstone supervolcano eruption to be a countrywide disaster

Program notes:

Although the odds are low for a major eruption happening anytime soon, a new study is once again raising fears over the Yellowstone supervolcano. A paper in the “Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems” journal lays out the suffering the US would undergo in a worst-case scenario disaster, predicting most major cities in the US being covered in layers of potentially deadly volcanic ash. RT’s Lindsay France takes a look at the study and breaks down its findings.

And for our final item, today’s lone Fukushimapocalypse Now! event, via the Guardian:

Fukushima fallout continues: now cleanup workers claim unpaid wages

  • Last month Tokyo Electric Power was ordered to pay $500,000 compensation, now workers sue for promised danger money

The legal net has started to tighten around the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as victims of the accident, and those responsible for clearing it up, take their grievances to the courts.

Last week, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said it would not contend a court ruling ordering it to pay almost $500,000 in compensation to the family of a woman who killed herself two months after being forced to flee her home near the plant.

That claim, which could pave the way for similar suits, has been followed by a unprecedented attempt by four Fukushima Daiichi workers to sue the utility for unpaid wages.