Category Archives: Military

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

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

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

EbolaWatch: Religion, promises, measures, death


We open with a rather chilling video, shot on the streets of Liberia’s capital, in which Christian fundamentalists conduct a very risky [note the touching] faith-healing prayer session around a prone Ebola patient.

From RadioAfrica:

LIBERIA:(RELIGION AND THE FIGHT AGAINST EBOLA)

Program notes:

Group of Liberians Evangelist prays over a suspected Ebola patient. All facing the possibility of contracting the deadly virus.

On to the hard news, first with the Associated Press:

UN Security Council to meet on Ebola

The United States called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Thursday on the Ebola crisis in West Africa, saying the situation on the ground is “dire” and getting worse every day.

U.S. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said the United States has asked the 193 U.N. member states to come to the meeting with “concrete commitments” to tackle the outbreak, especially in hardest-hit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“The trendlines in this crisis are grave, and without immediate international action we are facing the potential for a public health crisis that could claim lives on a scale far greater than current estimates, and set the countries of West Africa back a generation,” Power told reporters on Monday. “This is a perilous crisis but one we can contain if the international community comes together to meet it head on.”

Word from Washington leaked, via Reuters:

Obama to detail plans on Ebola offensive on Tuesday: WSJ

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to detail on Tuesday a plan to boost his country’s involvement in mitigating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

The plan would involve a greater involvement of the U.S. military in tackling the worst recorded outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the proposal.

The U.S. government has already committed around $100 million to tackle the outbreak by providing protective equipment for healthcare workers, food, water, medical and hygiene equipment.

Obama could ask Congress for an additional $88 million to fund his proposal, the WSJ reported. Plan details are expected during Obama’s visit Tuesday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

More from Science:

U.S. government set to announce surge of help for Ebola epidemic

A week after sharp criticism met the U.S. military’s announcement that it planned to help Liberia combat its Ebola epidemic with a “deployable hospital” that has a mere 25 beds, U.S. President Barack tomorrow plans to unveil dramatic new efforts to assist the West African countries besieged by the disease.

Obama, who will be visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to discuss the U.S. response, likely will announce plans to send more deployable hospitals, critical medical supplies like personal protective gear, and doctors and other healthcare workers who can care for infected people and help contain spread. (A  U.S. Senate hearing on Ebola will also take place tomorrow with testimony from key public officials and Ebola survivor Ken Brantly.)

Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke with ScienceInsider on Friday and said she expected there would be “a substantial surge” in the U.S. government’s assistance. She particularly wants to see more attention paid to providing infected people with good care. “There’s a very, very wide variability in what’s being delivered as clinical care,” says Lurie, noting that case fatality rates differ dramatically  in different locations. “We know that simple interventions are likely to save the most lives.”

From the Associated Press, a question:

US works to step up Ebola aid, but is it enough?

The American strategy on Ebola is two-pronged: Step up desperately needed aid to West Africa and, in an unusual step, train U.S. doctors and nurses for volunteer duty in the outbreak zone. At home, the goal is to speed up medical research and put hospitals on alert should an infected traveler arrive.

Amid criticism that the world still is not acting fast enough against the surging Ebola epidemic, President Barack Obama travels Tuesday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss the outbreak with health officials who’ve been there.

Also Tuesday, a Senate hearing will examine the U.S. response. An American missionary doctor who survived the disease is scheduled to testify.

The administration hasn’t said how big a role the military ultimately will play — and it’s not clear how quickly additional promised help will arrive in West Africa.

Trooping in, via the Monrovia [Liberia] Inquirer:

U.S. Military To Build 25-Bedroom Ebola Hospital

It has been disclosed in Monrovia that the United States (US) Military will build a 25-bedoom hospital in the country to buttress efforts aimed at fighting the Ebola virus.     United State Ambassador accredited near Monrovia, Madam Debra Malac, said discussions are ongoing as where the hospital should be built but was certain that it would be constructed in Montserrado County.

Ambassador Malac addressing the weekly Press Briefing at the Ministry of Information said the unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa is an International Security priority for the U.S. Government and as such they will continue to be engaged in the region to eradicate the disease.

The U.S. Envoy said, “This is the worst outbreak of this virus in 40 years since it was first discovered. We defeated it and this time we will defeat it again. We will stop Ebola and it will take more work.”

Here’s a video report on her press conference from FrontPageAfrica:

FPA WEB TV: Uncle Sam’s Ebola AID

Program note:

U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Debora Malac outlines how much financial assistance in kind and in dollars the U.S. has contributed to the West Africa Ebola Outbreak.

From the Monrovia Inquirer, another hospital inaugurated:

Save The Children Constructs Central Region 1st Ebola Treatment Unit

Save the Children has turned over a 50-bed Ebola Treatment facility in Suakoko, Bong County worth about US$170,000 intended to serve the central region as part of its contribution to the national fight against the spread of the virus in other parts of the country.

The construction of the ETU which is a project solely undertaken by Save the Children according to its acting Country Director, Mercy Gichuhi who turned over the unit, was as a result of a request made to them from the local health team of Bong County.

Madam Gichihi said Save the Children believes that the construction of the health facility will go a long way in responding to the health need in that region and that Phebe Hospital focuses more on primary health care and at the same time give confidence to the health workers who will know that they have a place to refer confirmed Ebola patients.

Al Jazeera English covers critical context:

Nigeria’s weak health sector confronts Ebola

Spread of Ebola contained, but health system is having trouble dealing with treatable diseases which kill thousands.

Africa’s biggest oil producer and largest economy has one of the world’s highest child and maternal mortality rates. In 2012, an estimated 827,000 children under five died, while the reported maternal mortality rate was 550 per 100,000 live births, according to UNICEF.

Most of Nigeria’s childhood deaths are due to preventable or curable diseases: mainly malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhoea. Primary healthcare, run by local governments – Nigeria’s smallest unit of government – is tasked with handling these common illnesses.

The level of care in each centre varies, but generally, primary facilities do not have enough health workers, supplies, equipment, training, or transport – including ambulances to take patients to state or federal hospitals, says Michael Asuzu, a public health and epidemiology professor at the University of Ibadan.

From BBC News, a Brit on the scene:

Ebola virus: ‘Biological war’ in Liberia

With warnings from officials that the Ebola virus is “spreading like wildfire” in Liberia, Sarah Crowe, who works for the UN children’s agency (Unicef), describes her week on the Ebola front line:

Flights into disaster zones are usually full of aid workers and journalists. Not this time.

The plane was one of the first in after some 10 airlines stopped flying to Liberia because of Ebola, and still it was empty.

When I was last in Liberia in 2006, it was to work on reintegration of child soldiers in a time of peace. Now the country is fighting a “biological war” from an unseen enemy without foot soldiers.

As we enter the airport, an unnerving sight – a team of health workers kitted out with masks and gloves asks us to wash our hands with a chlorine solution and takes our temperatures.

A parallel set of American eyes from the Washington Post:

A virus hunter faces the big one: Ebola

Joseph Fair hunts viruses. That’s his thing. The 37-year-old American loves chasing dangerous pathogens, studying them in secure labs or searching for them in jungles where the microbes lurk.

And one virus has always loomed as the big one — Ebola. The scientists who first chased this dreaded microbe back in the ‘80s and ‘90s became legends, inspiring a generation of virologists like Fair. He read their books and papers. He studied how they contained the pathogen’s spread. And the scientists always won. The outbreaks ended, Ebola driven away.

So when the call came in March to travel to Sierra Leone, Fair was excited. He loved Mama Salone, as locals know the nation. He’d worked here for years. His new job: to advise Sierra Leone’s government on a tiny Ebola outbreak in neighboring Guinea, at the behest of the U.S. Defense Department. He set up an Ebola emergency operations center. He trained medical staff. He drew up just-in-case plans. By mid-May, the outbreak seemed on its way out. Fair packed his bags and left.

Then Ebola exploded.

From FrontPageAfrica, high-level visitors take a pre-opening hospital tour:

FPA WEB TV: ‘Liberia Will Beat Ebola’

Program notes:

World Health Organization (WHO) team tours the soon-to-be completed 120-Bed Ebola Clinic at the Island Clinic in Monrovia. WHO and its partners have supported construction of this new centre, which will be able to provide treatment for 120 patients at a time. Additional centers for about 400 more patients will be completed in the coming weeks.

BBC News covers a donation:

Ebola outbreak: Malaysia sends W Africa medical gloves

Malaysia plans to donate more than 20 million protective rubber gloves to five African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak, the government says.

They will be distributed among medical workers in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A shortage of protective equipment has been one factor in the virus spreading.

Joseph Harker asks a question we’ve also entertained, via the Guardian:

Why are western health workers with Ebola flown out, but locals left to die?

  • The death of Dr Olivet Buck after the WHO refused to fly her out of Sierra Leone is not just wrong: it’s making the Ebola epidemic worse

My brother-in-law, Albert, is a GP based in the West Midlands. His sister Olivet Buck was a doctor too: though her work was quite different. She practised in the land of their birth, Sierra Leone. For the past few months she was fighting in the desperate battle against Ebola ravaging parts of her country. Last Tuesday came the awful news that she’d caught the virus.

To save her life, local campaigners called for her to be evacuated to Germany to receive treatment – all three previous doctors who had caught the disease in the country had died. Sierra Leone’s president backed her, saying that a hospital in Hamburg was “in readiness to receive her”. Last Friday, though, the World Health Organisation said it would not allow her to leave Sierra Leone, and refused to fund the move. Desperate attempts were made to try to overturn this decision but on Sunday came the news everyone was dreading: Olivet had died.

Albert, distraught, told me: “I shall never stop weeping at all our loss. Olivet was a truly remarkable person. She died because she would not forsake her service to others.”

But the death of Olivet, a 59-year-old mother of three, raises wider questions about how the world responds to the Ebola crisis, and how it protects those working closest to stop its spread.

Despite the fate of the previous doctors, the WHO had said merely that it would work to give Buck “the best care possible” in Sierra Leone.

However, foreign health and aid workers have been sent abroad from Sierra Leone and Liberia for treatment – including the British nurse William Pooley, who survived and now wishes to go back to Sierra Leone to continue helping to fight the disease. Only last Friday, two Dutch doctors were flown home after coming into contact with infected patients.

But so far no local health workers have been evacuated: even though, according to the WHO, in west Africa 301 have so far caught Ebola and 144 have died. Dr Sheik Humarr Khan, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, was being considered for evacuation to a European country when he died of the disease in late July.

More from the Associated Press:

Sierra Leone: WHO too slow to help doc with Ebola

Sierra Leone accused the World Health Organization on Monday of being “sluggish” in facilitating an evacuation of a doctor who died from Ebola before she could be sent out of the country for medical care.

Dr. Olivet Buck died Saturday, hours after the U.N. health agency said it could not help evacuate her to Germany.

Buck is the fourth Sierra Leonean doctor to die in an outbreak that has also touched Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal. The West African outbreak has been blamed for more than 2,400 deaths, and experts say it is out of control. The U.S. has called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council for this week to discuss the crisis.

At a heated news conference Monday, a Sierra Leonean government official read a statement saying that the Buck is the second doctor from that country to die because negotiations on evacuation had dragged on. Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, the country’s top Ebola expert, was being considered for evacuation when he died of the disease in July.

From the Kampala, Uganda, Daily Monitor, a warning:

Tanzania at high risk of Ebola outbreak

Last week, the Tanzanian government assured the public of its unwavering commitment to keeping Ebola out after standard thermal scanners to detect Ebola suspects were installed at four major airports-Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar-es-Salaam, Kilimanjaro International Airport, Zanzibar and Mwanza.

At the weekend, Health ministry authorities were hard at work allaying fears of an outbreak in Tanzania. But a new study titled “Mapping the zoonotic niche of Ebola virus disease in Africa” has raised the alarm in Tanzania and other countries across Africa where Ebola has never been reported.

It suggests that governments in those countries should start thinking of new ways to deal with the Ebola threat beyond targeting major airports and seaports. The researchers, who published the findings in eLife Journal this week, believe the Ebola virus is thriving in wild animals, which are its major reservoir. Tanzania, Burundi and 13 other African countries where no case of Ebola has been reported so far are home to wild animals.

Public Radio International makes that critical point:

This American doctor says racism is to blame for the slow response to the Ebola outbreak

Why has the global response to the Ebola outbreak been so slow? “I think it’s racism,” says Dr. Joia Mukherjee.

“I think it’s easy for the world — the powerful world, who are largely non-African, non-people of color — to ignore the suffering of poor, black people,” says Mukherjee, a professor at Harvard Medical School and chief medical officer at the Boston-based non-profit Partners in Health.

Race isn’t the only reason she believes it’s easy to dismiss the issues. “I think it’s also classism,” she says. “These are not countries that contribute massively to the global economy, so it’s easy to just otherize this problem.”

In that context, consider this from a country where a disproportionately large percentage of those in need of assistance are African American, via Salon:

Arizona GOPer quits after disgusting comment — but there’s a catch

  • Russell Pearce called for sterilizing Medicaid recipients. It’s gross, but here’s why the problem’s bigger than him

Pearce’s proposal was abhorrent, but it also laid bare the dehumanizing logic of Republican programs that punish the poor. If the GOP wants to distance itself from punitive and invasive policies that hurt low-income families, they should look in the mirror and start slowly backing away from their reflections.

A few things here. Pearce’s idea isn’t new. The United States has an ugly history of forced or otherwise coerced sterilization against people of color, the poor and others considered “unfit to procreate,” including rape victims and people with disabilities. Between 1907 and 1980, nearly 65,000 Americans were sterilized under state-sponsored programs. In total, 31 states had sterilization programs that directly targeted welfare recipients. North Carolina recently acted to compensate victims of its forced sterilization program, which specifically targeted black women and children. (And last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that nearly 150 women in California’s prison system were sterilized between 2006 and 2010, often without their knowledge or consent. The state legislature acted this year to end the program.)

That said, Pearce isn’t the only Republican to float the idea of coercively sterilizing welfare recipients in recent years. And his proposal is hardly the only assault on low-income families in the state. Arizona, you’ll remember, is where Shanesha Taylor was arrested after leaving her children in the car so she could attend a job interview.

From Punch Nigeria, help wanted:

ECOWAS seeks support for research

The Economic Community of West African States has appealed to its partners to support the regional initiatives aimed at strengthening epidemiological and therapeutic research as well as surveillance and improvements in health facilities in order to prevent and control the Ebola Virus Disease.

The sub-continental body called for support for the Regional Solidarity Fund to fight Ebola and welcomed the pledges made by some multilateral and bilateral partners to support some of the affected countries.

Speaking at the opening of the 10th edition of the ECOWAS/Development Partners Annual Coordination meeting at the ECOWAS Secretariat on Monday, in Abuja, President of the Commission, Mr. Kadre Ouedraogo, said the group welcomed the coordinated approach adopted to combat the viral disease through the World Health Organisation.

StarAfrica covers another donation:

China donates 80mn francs worth of Ebola prevention materials to Mali

The Malian president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has returned from his trip to China with a CFA 80 million francs worth medical material aimed at backing his government’s efforts to prevent the Ebola virus from entering the country, the Malian presidency disclosed Sunday.

The Chinese donation includes 1,000 sprays, 1,000 protective gears, 30 medically-equipped isolation tents, 600 protective masks, 600 shoes and 1,000 thermometers.

The Malian press reported recently the complaints of the medical staff deployed in Bamako road station where passengers from Ebola-hit neighboring Guinea are hosted.

The medical staff had lamented a lack of protective means which increases the risk of contagion.

From Punch Nigeria, a reminder about a key player:

Private sector in the first line of battle

The management of the Ebola Virus Disease has cost the Federal Government N2.1bn so far. Last month, a sum of N1.9bn was released to the Federal Ministry of Health for disbursement to the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Lagos State, as the first epicentre of the outbreak, also got a separate N200m support from the Federal Government.

The funds, no doubt, are a drop in the ocean in providing Personal Protective Equipment discarded daily after use by health workers in isolation centres across the country; intravenous fluid and other drugs for infected people, diagnostic machines, daily payment for volunteers and other sundry expenses attached to the management of the virus.

Ahead of the September 22 resumption date for all primary and post primary schools in the country, a coalition of players in the private sector are seeking for an active participation in preventing a future outbreak of the EVD, especially in congested communities across the country.

The Guardian questions:

As Ebola closes schools in Africa, how do we help children learn?

  • As Ebola robs children of schooling, the seeds are being sown for continued problems. Vigilance and flexibility may be our best response to the virus

In response to the growing threat of Ebola across west Africa, the governments of Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have closed their schools. The closures are only temporary, but that could change if the spread of the virus continues and accelerates.

As of 12 September, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are facing widespread and intense transmission of Ebola (about 100 to 200 new cases per country per week). In other affected countries, the outbreak has been more localised. But in each affected areas the threat could expand rapidly, and there are credible predictions that Ebola could migrate to 15 additional countries and infect more than 20,000 people.

With that prognosis, closing schools is an understandable and prudent step to protect children and their families from exposure. The most immediate priority is to put out a raging and growing fire that threatens to affect more lives and territory.

And the Kampala, Uganda, Daily Monitor throws another handful of sand into gearbox:

Residents uproot cassava in fear of floods

Farmers in Omoro Sub-county, Alebtong District have begun uprooting their cassava, fearing it might rot in gardens. The move follows persistent rains that have caused flooding in the area.

Farmers who spoke to Daily Monitor said uprooting the cassava might save them from totally losing out as other crops have been washed away by floods.

As a measure, residents are drying their crops on roof tops and others have constructed high raise houses where they can temporarily sleep as they wait for floods to reduce.

And from StarAfrica, our final item and another critical bit of context:

Namibia ropes in Ethiopian pharmacists to address shortage

Currently, Namibia has 55 pharmacists working in the public health sector, of which ten are Namibians while the rest are expatriates.

With the population of just over two million, the country needs at least 1000 pharmacists, as in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended ration.

In 2012, the University of Namibia established a School of Pharmacy, an edition to the Medical School, which the Health Minister said are part of the country’s long-term effort to address the shortage of qualified health personnel.

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: Climate, water woes, power


A shorter than usual assemblage today because Sunday was, how to say, a slow news day.

We begin with the latest episode of Moyers & Company, offering a religious perspective on climate change that doesn’t come from the far right:

Climate Change — Faith and Fact

Program notes:

The latest in a string of dire reports on climate change came this week from the United Nations’ meteorological advisory body, which said that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, due to a “surge” in carbon dioxide, prompting fears of an accelerated warming of the planet.

A majority of Americans think global warming is real and that human activity’s a factor, believing in the science behind reports on climate change. But some two-thirds of white evangelical Christians aren’t convinced.

In the face of those who use religion to deny the worldwide crisis of climate change, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, believes that her faith is compatible with science. This week she speaks to Bill about ending the gridlock between politics, science and faith in order to find solutions to the widespread threats associated with global warming.

“…The New Testament talks about how faith is the evidence of things not seen,” says Hayhoe, who was recently named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. “By definition, science is the evidence of things that are seen, that can be observed, that are quantifiable. And so that’s why I see faith and science as two sides of the same coin.”

The Guardian covers California agrarian water woes:

Alarm as almond farms consume California’s water

  • Extreme drought and soaring global demand is threatening supplies of one of the world’s favourite snacks

Touted as the ultimate superfood and an essential ingredient in everything from mezze to marzipan: the humble almond has never been so popular. But with prices at a nine-year high, almonds are in the frontline of a battle over water as California struggles to cope with one of its worst-ever droughts – stoking fears of an almond shortage over Christmas.

Californian farmers, estimated to grow around 80% of the world’s almonds, have been accused of siphoning off groundwater at the expense of the state’s future water reserves.

As rivers and lakes have dried up, with more than 80% of the state in the grip of “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, the state’s farmers have resorted to pumping groundwater – underground reserves – to nourish almond trees, vineyards and orchards. David Zetland, economics professor at Leiden University College in the Netherlands, says farmers are pumping water at a rate four to five times greater than can be replenished: “The people of the state of California are more or less destroying themselves in order to give cheap almonds to the world.”

From United Press International, global water woes to come:

Fracking may put drinking water supply at risk for many countries, study finds

  • Fracking is said to use 7 billion gallons of water a year just in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota alone

A new study by the World Resources Institute finds that many places with water scarcity are using too much of their resources on fracking. “Eight of the top 20 countries with the largest shale gas resources face arid conditions or high to extremely high baseline water stress where the shale resources are located; this includes China, Algeria, Mexico, South Africa, Libya, Pakistan, Egypt, and India,” the study states. The United States is also at risk, according to the study, since many of the places inside the United States that are good for fracking are going through a drought or generally have low water supply.

To drill a fracking well takes 5 million gallons of water, on average. States like Texas have a strong fracking industry, but lack of water supplies has forced frackers to import water from elsewhere to continue their business.

The study states that China faces water scarcity in 61 percent of its available fracking locations, Argentina is at 72 percent and the United Kingdom is at 34 percent. The report recommends water risk assessments before drilling, increased transparency of fracking company actions, cooperation between companies and governments and lowering freshwater use in fracking.

From the New York Times, a pattern shifts:

Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind

Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. And towering symbols of that drive are appearing in the middle of the North Sea.

They are wind turbines, standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, stretching as high as 60-story buildings and costing up to $30 million apiece. On some of these giant machines, a single blade roughly equals the wingspan of the largest airliner in the sky, the Airbus A380. By year’s end, scores of new turbines will be sending low-emission electricity to German cities hundreds of miles to the south.

It will be another milestone in Germany’s costly attempt to remake its electricity system, an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States

The Associated Press covers a call to spare the air:

Chinese march against incinerator for 2nd day

Residents in a southern Chinese town protested against a proposed garbage incinerator for a second straight day Sunday, according to witnesses, as police said ringleaders of earlier demonstrations that saw clashes with police should surrender.

Hundreds of people gathered on a long street in front of the offices of the government in Guangdong province’s Boluo county, with anti-riot police standing by, three residents said. They gave only their surnames, Chen, Huang and Wang, out of fear of reprisals from authorities.

The protest is the latest to highlight how Chinese have become increasingly wary of the environmental hazards of industrial projects but still lack public forums to voice their concerns and affect the government’s decision-making process.

And for our final item, via the Japan Times nuclear uncertainty:

Power companies mull further rate hikes with reactors on hold

A year after the nation’s last nuclear reactor was taken offline, utilities are exploring additional hikes in electricity prices as the cost of offsetting the loss of atomic power continues to climb.

On Sept. 15, 2013, the No. 4 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture was switched off for scheduled checkups, leaving Japan without an operating nuclear power station.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority is screening applications to restart 20 reactors at 13 plants.