We open with the long-overdue, via the New York Times:
Obama Announces U.S. and Cuba Will Resume Relations
The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, President Obama announced on Wednesday.
In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.
“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”
Hosting a sit-down with the Associated Press:
Canada hosted secret meetings between Cuba and US
Canada hosted about seven meetings between the U.S. and Cuba that helped lead to President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that the two countries will establish full diplomatic relations, a senior Canadian government official said.
The meetings were held in Ottawa and Toronto from 2013 to 2014, according to the official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, lacking authority to discuss the meetings publicly.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada did not play a role in the discussions themselves.
“I don’t want to exaggerate Canada’s role. We facilitated places where the two countries could have a dialogue and explore ways on normalizing relations,” Harper told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “We were not trying in any way to direct or mediate the talks. We just wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to have the kind of dialogue they needed to have.”
Anticipating another missile crisis, presumably non-Cuban this time, via the Christian Science Monitor:
Pentagon’s floating missile defense future: a pair of billion-dollar blimps
- The Pentagon previewed two helium-filled surveillance airships Wednesday. The giant dirigibles are expected to be deployed over the East Coast in February as the United States’ new missile defense system.
Two US military blimps flying 10,000 feet above the East Coast will act as a new missile defense system for the United States.
The giant airships, known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS within the Pentagon, will be able to scan the oceans and coastline in a 340-mile radius, or from Norfolk, Va., to Boston.
It is designed to defend against cruise missile attacks, or the sort of rogue aircraft incursions that happened during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The US military previewed the giant balloons, which cost a reported $2.8 billion, in the skies near Baltimore for the media on Wednesday. They are expected to be fully operational by February and will be integrated into the defense systems of US Northern Command, which can respond with patriot missiles in the event of an attack on the US homeland.
On to U.S. domestic issue of the day, via the Smoking Gun:
“Witness 40″: Exposing A Fraud In Ferguson
- TSG unmasks witness who spun fabricated tale
The grand jury witness who testified that she saw Michael Brown pummel a cop before charging at him “like a football player, head down,” is a troubled, bipolar Missouri woman with a criminal past who has a history of making racist remarks and once insinuated herself into another high-profile St. Louis criminal case with claims that police eventually dismissed as a “complete fabrication,” The Smoking Gun has learned.
In interviews with police, FBI agents, and federal and state prosecutors–as well as during two separate appearances before the grand jury that ultimately declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson–the purported eyewitness delivered a preposterous and perjurious account of the fatal encounter in Ferguson.
Referred to only as “Witness 40″ in grand jury material, the woman concocted a story that is now baked into the narrative of the Ferguson grand jury, a panel before which she had no business appearing.
That cop thing, much closer to Casa esnl, via the Oakland Tribune:
Berkeley: Police Department denounced at raucous City Council meeting
A smaller-than-expected crowd showed up at a rescheduled, venue-changed City Council meeting on a rainy Tuesday night, but what the gathering may have lacked in size, it more than made up in passion.
More than 50 speakers denounced, in often scathing terms, the conduct of Berkeley police and other cities’ forces that assisted them during recent, mostly peaceful protests against decisions by grand juries in Missouri and New York not to indict white police officers who killed unarmed black men.
But perhaps the biggest beating Tuesday was to Berkeley’s image as the most liberal city in America, a phrase used derisively by several speakers. Many painted a picture of a Berkeley not much different from Ferguson, Missouri, or the New York City borough of Staten Island, as a place where people of color as well as people with mental health issues bear the brunt of police suspicion and use of force.
“We haven’t come to grips with some of the issues that have plagued us for over 400 years in this country,” Councilman Max Anderson said during a break. “For us to have to declare, in 2014, that black lives matter, is an indictment of our failure to address the problems that beset us in this society.”
Terror ties question from StarAfrica:
Mauritania trade union wants CIA links clarified
The General Confederation of Mauritania Workers (CGTM) has demanded the government to clarify its alleged cooperation with the CIA over the presence of secret prisons in the country.
Over the last few days, some of the nation’s media have published articles, quoting [The Independent], suggesting information relating to a CIA program to build secret prisons in some countries, CGTM claimed in a statement.
According to the statement published in Nouakchott on Tuesday, the newspaper listed Mauritania among countries cooperating with the program.
For CGTM, “these practices banned by international conventions, including the Geneva Convention, must be prohibited and denounced by all those who have deep love for peace and justice.”
Old school spookery, via intelNews:
Estonian intel officer comes out as Russian spy in TV interview
Estonian authorities have charged a retired officer in the country’s internal intelligence service with espionage, after he revealed in a television interview that he spied for Russia for nearly 20 years.
Uno Puusepp retired from the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo, in 2011. He first joined the Soviet KGB as a wiretapping expert in the 1970s, when Estonia was part of the USSR. Following the dissolution of the USSR, when Estonia became an independent nation, he was hired by KaPo and worked there until his retirement, three years ago, at which time he moved permanently to Russian capital Moscow.
Last Sunday, however, Puusepp was the main speaker in a documentary entitled Our Man in Tallinn, aired on Russian television channel NTV. In the documentary, Puusepp revealed that he was a double spy for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which is KGB’s successor, from 1996 until his retirement.
And the possibly related, via RT:
Italian ex-MEP arrested, kicked out of Estonia & called Russian ‘agent of influence’
Journalist and former European Parliament member, Giulietto Chiesa of Italy, was detained by the Tallinn police due to his pro-Russian views, which make him a threat to Estonia’s national security, the country’s Foreign Ministry told RT in an e-mail.
Chiesa spent several hours behind bars after being taken into custody from his hotel in center of the Estonian capital Monday. The police told the Italian politician that he had violated a ban on entering the country imposed on him on December 13.
“Due to the current activities of Mr Giulietto Chiesa, there is a good reason to believe that he is involved in the Russian influence operations and his stay in Estonia may pose threat to Estonia’s security, its public order and public safety,” Mari-Liis Valter, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, wrote in answer to questions from RT.
On to the hack of the year, first with the Los Angeles Times:
Sony Pictures cancels Christmas Day release of ‘The Interview’
Sony Pictures Entertainment has canceled the Christmas Day release of “The Interview” after the nation’s major theater chains said they would not screen the film.
The studio said “we respect and understand our partners’ decision” and “completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatergoers.”
Regal, AMC and Cinemark — the three largest chains in the United States — decided not to screen “The Interview” starting on Christmas Day in the wake of threats made by Sony hackers, said people familiar with the decision. The chains asked Sony to postpone the release date of the controversial film.
“Due to the wavering support of the film “The Interview” by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film in our theatres,” Regal said in a statement.
And it’s not just theatrical release that’s DOA, reports USA Today:
Some industry insiders speculated Sony might release the film in the video-on-demand format, but the studio tells USA TODAY there will be no further release plans of any kind.
“I think they just want to wash their hands of it,” says Matthew Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter.
Internal blowback, again via the Los Angeles Times:
Sony hack draws lawsuits by former employees
The massive computer breach at Sony Pictures Entertainment could test laws that require companies to protect their employees’ personal and medical information.
Lawyers representing former Sony Pictures employees have separately filed in Los Angeles two lawsuits that seek class-action status, alleging Sony Pictures Entertainment was negligent in the months leading up to the devastating hack. One of the complaints — a 45-page federal lawsuit, which seeks to represent former and current Sony employees — contends that Sony ignored warnings that its computer network was prone to attack.
Sony “failed to secure its computer systems, servers and databases, despite weaknesses that it has known about for years” and “subsequently failed to timely protect confidential information of its current and former employees from law-breaking hackers,” according to the federal complaint filed late Monday.
The other suit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, also alleges negligence and invasion of privacy of former Sony employees.
The United Press International fingers a suspect:
Reports: U.S. officials blame Sony hacking on North Korea
U.S. officials believe those responsible for hacking into Sony Pictures were working under the direction of the North Korean government, several media organizations reported Wednesday.
Sources with direct knowledge of a U.S. government investigation into the security breach told the Wall Street Journal it is believed a North Korean government hacking team known as Unit 121 is behind the attack. The sources were not identified.
CNN, also quoting unnamed sources, reported that an official announcement is expected Thursday blaming the Pyongyang-based group called Bureau 121.
The London Daily Mail covers the sadly inevitable:
State Department saw graphic Kim Jong-un death scene in ‘The Interview’ and ‘approved of it,’ hacked emails reveal
- Sony executives hired an foreign policy analyst to consult after North Korea called the film The Interview ‘an act of war’ for depicting the assassination of Kim Jon-un
- The consultant gave a greenlight and said the scene showing the dictator’s death could be good for Koreans – on both sides of the dividing line
- Consultant also said he spoke about the film to US envoy for North Korean issues
- Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton said he also talked to a ‘very senior’ official at the State Department
And from the London Daily Mail again, , another film dies:
Hollywood studio pulls the plug on Steve Carell’s new movie Pyongyang just hours after Sony scraps release of The Interview
New Regency decided to cancel production of the thriller based on graphic novel by Guy Delisle
- Movie that was set to be directed by Gore Verbinski, with Carell playing an American living in Pyongyang
- The cancellation comes in the wake of Sony hacking scandal
The Sony hacking scandal continued reverberating throughout the Hollywood film industry Wednesday, leading New Regency studio to pull the plug on a new film about North Korea starring Steve Carell.
The announcement was made just hours after Sony scrapped the release of the controversial Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy The Interview, which was scheduled to premiere Christmas Day.
Titled Pyongyang, New Regency’s now-defunct film has been described as a thriller based on Guy Delisle’s eponymous graphic novel about his experiences living in the totalitarian state, reported The Wrap.
Following the news that Pyongyang has been scrapped, Steve Carell tweeted to his 3.64million followers: ‘Sad day for creative expression,’ followed by the hashtag, ‘feareatsthesoul.’
After the jump, it’s on to drone anxieties and a proposed Big Apple ban, Arab Springs succeeded by what was before, a born again demand on Swedish Jews, Nigerian mutiny ends in 54 death warrants, top Afghan spook bids a sad farewell to Western boots on the ground, a plea from Pakistan to Afghanistan to help catch the butchers of children, a lethal retaliatory assault, another killer drone strike, Pakistan’s peculiarly spooky complications, and the zealot in question whose most notable prior action made a Pakistani girl a Nobel Peace Price winner, and a solidarity demonstration for the children in Berkeley, Thai police launch an international hunt for lese majeste suspects, Chinese nuclear aircraft carrier ambitions, Obama and Abe — Trans-Pacific BFFs, and a university stands up to Tojo revisionism. . . Continue reading