Category Archives: MSM

Headlines of the day I: Spies, drones, zones, laws


We begin with a belated celebration of a special day!

From RT:

Theater of Absurd: Happy Data Protection Day…oh, and we spy on you!

Program notes:

The latest leak from Edward Snowden suggests it was Britain’s cyber-spy base GCHQ that showed America’s NSA how to monitor Facebook and Twitter without consent. That’s as Europe marks Data Protection Day – which is supposed to show EU citizens how to keep their online data away from prying eyes. RT’s Polly Boiko looks at how effective that’s likely to be.

From the Associated Press, welcome to the Hall of Infinite Regress:

US looks at ways to prevent spying on NSA spying

As the Obama administration considers ending the storage of millions of phone records by the National Security Agency, the government is quietly funding research to prevent eavesdroppers from seeing whom the U.S. is spying on, The Associated Press has learned.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has paid at least five research teams across the country to develop a system for high-volume, encrypted searches of electronic records kept outside the government’s possession. The project is among several ideas that could allow the government to store Americans’ phone records with phone companies or a third-party organization, but still search them as needed.

Under the research, U.S. data mining would be shielded by secret coding that could conceal identifying details from outsiders and even the owners of the targeted databases, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with researchers, corporate executives and government officials.

RT gives instruction:

GCHQ taught NSA how to monitor Facebook, Twitter in real time – Snowden leak

British intelligence officials can infiltrate the very cables that transfer information across the internet, as well as monitor users in real time on sites like Facebook without the company’s consent, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

The internal documents reveal that British analysts gave instruction to members of the National Security Agency in 2012, showing them how to spy on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in real time and collect the computer addresses of billions of the sites’ uploaders.

The leaked documents are from a GCHQ publication titled ‘Psychology: A New Kind of SIGDEV’ (Signals Development). Published by NBC News on Monday, the papers detail a program dubbed ‘Squeaky Dolphin,’ which was developed for analysts working in “broad real-time monitoring of online activity.”

The Guardian opines:

Huge swath of GCHQ mass surveillance is illegal, says top lawyer

  • Legal advice given to MPs warns that British spy agency is ‘using gaps in regulation to commit serious crime with impunity’

GCHQ’s mass surveillance spying programmes are probably illegal and have been signed off by ministers in breach of human rights and surveillance laws, according to a hard-hitting legal opinion that has been provided to MPs.

The advice warns that Britain’s principal surveillance law is too vague and is almost certainly being interpreted to allow the agency to conduct surveillance that flouts privacy safeguards set out in the European convention on human rights (ECHR).

The inadequacies, it says, have created a situation where GCHQ staff are potentially able to rely “on the gaps in the current statutory framework to commit serious crime with impunity”.

Gettin’ outa Dodge with the Buenos Aires Herald:

British spy chief accused by Snowden leaks will step down at year end

The British spy chief whose agency was accused in documents leaked by former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden of playing a principal role in mass Anglo-US surveillance will step down at year end, Britain’s Foreign Office said today.

The leaks detailed the close cooperation of Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency with the US National Security Agency (NSA), and embarrassed and angered the British government and its spy chiefs.

Iain Lobban, 53, has served as GCHQ’s director for six years.

“Iain Lobban is doing an outstanding job as Director GCHQ,” said a spokeswoman. “Today is simply about starting the process of ensuring we have a suitable successor in place before he moves on, planned at the end of the year.”

MIT Technology Review has a how-to:

How App Developers Leave the Door Open to NSA Surveillance

  • U.S. and U.K. surveillance of smartphone users has been helped by mobile developers—few of whom bother to adopt basic encryption.

News that the National Security Agency has for years harvested personal data “leaked” from mobile apps such as Angry Birds triggered a fresh wave of chatter about the extent of the NSA’s reach yesterday. However the NSA and its U.K. equivalent, GCHQ, hardly had to break much technical ground to hoover up that data. Few mobile apps implement encryption technology to protect the data they send over the Internet, so the agencies could trivially collect and decode that data using their existing access to Internet networks.

Documents seen and published by the New York Times and Guardian newspapers show that the NSA and GCHQ can harvest information such as a person’s age, location, and sexual orientation from the data sent over the Internet by apps. Such personal details are contained in the data that apps send back to the companies that maintain and support them. This includes data sent to companies that serve and target ads in mobile apps.

“This is evidence of negligent levels of insecurity by app companies, says Peter Eckersly, technology projects director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Eckersly says his efforts to persuade companies to secure Web traffic shows widespread disregard for the risks of sending people’s data over the Internet without protections against interception. “Most companies have no legitimate reason” not to secure that data, says Eckersly. “Often the security and privacy of their users is so far down the priority list that they haven’t even thought about doing it.”

The Guardian squawks:

Angry Birds firm calls for industry to respond to NSA spying revelations

  • Rovio rethinks relationship with ad platforms
  • CEO tells users it was not complicit in surveillance
  • ‘We do not collaborate or share data with spy agencies’

Angry Birds Spy agencies can collect sensitive user data from ‘leaky’ smartphone apps ranging from basic technical information to gender and location.

Rovio, the Finnish software company behind the Angry Birds game, has announced it will “re-evaluate” its relationship with advertising networks following revelations that the NSA and its UK counterpart GCHQ have the capability to “piggyback” on the private user data they collect.

On Monday, the Guardian, New York Times and ProPublica revealed that the US and UK spy agencies had built systems that could collect data from “leaky” smartphone apps, ranging from basic technical information to gender and location. Some apps mentioned in the documents collected more sensitive information, including sexual orientation of the user.

In a statement released in the wake of the story, Rovio’s chief executive said the company would examine its business relationships, but also called for the wider industry to respond to spy agencies’ use of commercial data traversing the web.

The Guardian reassures Down Under:

Microsoft rules out ‘back door’ access to MPs’ electronic communications

  • Officials assured that US agencies do not have unauthorised entry to Australian parliamentary IT operating systems

Parliamentary officials say Microsoft has given some assurances that electronic communications by MPs are not being accessed by American intelligence agencies through a “back door” in the IT operating systems.

Last November during a Senate estimates hearing a senior parliamentary official left open the prospect that parliamentary communications in Australia could be monitored by US intelligence through a “back door” provided by Microsoft operating systems.

The lack of clarity and the concern about the broad sweep of electronic surveillance and intelligence sharing, undertaken through the “5-Eyes” partnership of the US and its allies, prompted Greens senator Scott Ludlam to pursue the issue by putting further questions on notice.

Security Clearance gets intense:

Homeland Security details Super Bowl safety plan

More air marshals and behavioral detection officers, radiological detection teams and random baggage checks at transit hubs are among the security measures the federal Homeland Security Department will deploy in the next few days to help local police in New Jersey and New York secure the Super Bowl.

The game will be played at Met Life Stadium in New Jersey’s Meadowlands area just outside New York City. The stadium’s location near a major airport and busy commuter train lines presents security challenges. Unlike audiences for other championship games, spectators of Super Bowl XLVIII will rely heavily on mass transit.

Homeland Security officials say that federal agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation will deploy hundreds of employees to help New Jersey and New York police secure what’s been officially designated “an event of national significance.”

Drone-saving with the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Obama said to rescue spy aircraft from budget ax

In a surprising reversal, Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk unmanned aircraft is now seen as having a strong shot at avoiding the Pentagon’s ax when President Barack Obama sends his proposed fiscal 2015 budget to Congress in March, a person familiar with the matter said.

The Air Force said in 2012 that it reluctantly favored scrapping the Global Hawk, one of whose production facilities is just outside Biloxi, Miss., in favor of Lockheed Martin’s U-2 spy plane.

But increasing demands for drones to help the service fulfill its high-altitude surveillance mission may have swung things in the opposite direction.

The Guardian loses eyes in the sky:

US border patrol drone crashes off California coast

  • Drone part of fleet that patrols Mexico border
  • Crew crashed $12m drone after mechanical problem

An American drone that is part of a fleet that patrols the border with Mexico has crashed off the coast of southern California.

Customs and Border Protection said the drone was looking for drug and people smugglers when a mechanical problem developed about 20 miles south-west of San Diego late on Monday. Spokesman Mike Friel said the Arizona-based crew operating the drone decided to crash it in the Pacific ocean.

The $12m surveillance drone was part of a fleet of 10 the Department of Homeland Security uses to patrol the border. It was just one of two maritime Predator B drones equipped with radar specifically designed to be used over the ocean.

USA TODAY drones on:

At nation’s doorstep, police drones are flying

  • Just across the U.S. border, drones are making an impact on police efforts

Just across the border from the United States, police have begun using drones carrying video cameras to patrol residential neighborhoods and watch over parts of the city often visited by Americans.

Tijuana’s use of low-altitude unmanned aircraft for law enforcement surveillance, in darkness as well as daylight, appears to far exceed what state and local police agencies have been permitted to experiment with in the United States.

Unburdened by the sort of aviation restrictions and privacy concerns that have slowed domestic U.S. drone use, Tijuana police recently purchased three specially configured commercial drones and are testing their use in flight now, says Alejandro Lares, the city’s new chief of police.

He says he hopes to put them into full normal operation within weeks.

MintPress News seeks to disambiguate:

Vague Language In MN Drone Bill Could Affect Privacy Rights

  • Before drone use by the masses takes off, lawmakers and privacy advocates say there needs to be rules on when and where the technology can be used.

In order to make sure the rules for using a drone are as clear as possible, Minnesota state Rep. Brian Johnson, a Republican, has reintroduced legislation clarifying when law enforcement can use the technology in the state.

Although drones were first used by the U.S. military abroad, local law enforcement officials, farmers, journalists and hobbyists have all begun to express interest in using drones for various reasons. But before drone use by the masses takes off, lawmakers and privacy advocates say there needs to be rules on when and where the technology can be used.

One of the biggest areas of concern is law enforcement’s use of the new technology.

From The Observer, it finally happens:

North Dakota Cow Thief Is First American Arrested, Jailed With Drone’s Help

  • A SWAT team also got involved in the armed standoff.

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane — it’s a Predator drone finding you because you wouldn’t give your neighbor his cows back after they wandered onto your property.

Rodney Brossart, the farmer from North Dakota, was arrested after being located by Predator drone, Forbes reports. Sentenced yesterday, he is the first American to be sent to the clink thanks to drone assistance.

In June 2011, Forbes reports, police attempted to arrest him because he wouldn’t return the three cows that had grazed onto his property. This resulted in “an armed standoff between Brossart, his three sons and a SWAT team” on his property. It ended only after the family of perps was located by a Predator drone borrowed from Customs and Border Patrol.

Nextgov deceives:

Twice As Many U.S. Missileers Now Implicated in Cheating Probe

The number of U.S. nuclear missile-launch officers caught up in a probe into cheating on proficiency exams has roughly doubled in size, the Associated Press reports.

The news service cited unidentified U.S. officials as sources of the report.

The Pentagon revealed earlier this month that 34 Air Force nuclear missile officers were under investigation for either cheating on an autumn 2013 proficiency test or for having knowledge of the misconduct and not reporting it.

It is not yet clear what roles the approximately 30-plus additional Minuteman 3 operational officers allegedly had in the cheating scandal.

And Deutsche Welle discovers the expected:

US whistleblower laws offer no protection

The White House says that Edward Snowden should have reported his concerns within the NSA, instead of revealing surveillance programs to the press. But who exactly do US whistleblower laws protect?

For years, would-be whistleblowers in the US intelligence community had no legal protections to shield them from retaliatory measures by their superiors. The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 covered most of the federal government with the glaring exception of the intelligence agencies.

In an effort to close this legal gap, Congress passed the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA) a decade later. The law covers employees and contractors at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) as well as the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

But according to Thomas Drake, the act failed to adequately protect whistleblowers from retaliation. A former senior executive at the NSA, Drake blew the whistle on a failed surveillance program called Trailblazer. He used what the government calls “proper channels” to express his concerns about the program’s exorbitant cost and its lack of privacy protections, reaching out to his immediate supervisor, the office of the inspector general, and the congressional intelligence committees.

“I was reprised against severely within the proper channels,” Drake told DW. “I was identified as a troublemaker.”

SecurityWeek sounds the alert:

Canada Privacy Czar Warns Against Spies Trawling Social Media

Canada’s interim privacy commissioner on Tuesday urged lawmakers to crack down on government spies who trawl without cause on social media websites to gather people’s personal data.

“It is our view that (government) departments should not access personal information on social media sites unless they can demonstrate a direct correlation to legitimate government business,” said Interim Privacy Commissioner Chantal Bernier.

In a special report to Parliament, Bernier noted that technical capabilities for surveillance have “grown exponentially” in the digital age.

After the jump, the latest Asian zone, militarization, coalescing coalitions, and saber-rattling news, plus Aussie military austerity, Orwell in Sochi, Mexican vigilantes legalized, corporate agent recruiting, financializing insecurity, and MSM containment. . . Continue reading

Fox News: Call it tantrums for geezers


Now before you young whippersnappers get all het up about our use of the G-word, we’d point out that we are one [well, 67 anyway].

Cenk Uyghur of The Young Turks riffs on the latest bad news for the Roger Ailes propaganda machine, that fact that the average Fox News viewer is older than we are.

From The Young Turks:

Wow, Fox News Is SCREWED

Program notes:

A new piece in New York Magazine lays out some pretty devastating facts about the Fox News Network that show how little influence the network really has, and how its future is bleak based on its aging demo of (really) old white men. The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur breaks it down.

And here’s a key excerpt of the Frank Rich report:

Ailes would like the president and everyone else to keep believing he has that clout. But these days Fox News is the loudest voice in the room only in the sense that a bawling baby is the loudest voice in the room. In being so easily bullied by Fox’s childish provocations, the left gives the network the attention on which it thrives and hands it power that it otherwise has lost. As the post-Obama era approaches, the energy spent combating Ailes might be better devoted to real political battles against more powerful adversaries—not to mention questioning the ideological slant of legitimate news operations like, say, 60 Minutes, which has recently given airtime to a fraudulent account of the murders at Benghazi and to a credulous puff piece on the NSA’s domestic surveillance.

The most interesting news about Fox News is that for some years now it has been damaging the right far more than the left. As a pair of political analysts wrote at Reuters last year, “When the mainstream media reigned supreme, between 1952 and 1988, Republicans won seven out of the ten presidential elections,” but since 1992, when “conservative media began to flourish” (first with Rush Limbaugh’s ascendancy, then with Fox), Democrats have won the popular vote five out of six times. You’d think they’d be well advised to leave Fox News to its own devices so that it can continue to shoot its own party in the foot.

Read the rest.

Years ago, back in the days when broadcast was the name of the game, CBS News attracted the oldest audience, earning it the nickname amongst journalists as Chiefly Broadcasting for Seniors. Now it seems Fox has wrested the title away.

Which should be very bad news for Rupert Murdoch, given that advertisers covet a much younger audience.

Leading to a question and answer joke: Who advertises on Fox? Depends.

Headlines of the day I: Espiolies, zones, hacks. . .


Today’s first entry in oiur tour of things from the world of the dark arts and “national security” comes from Nextgov:

The Day Before the State of the Union Has Been Full of NSA Leaks

Rapid-fire reports revealing secret government surveillance programs hit the Internet Monday, just a day before President Obama will deliver his annual State of the Union address before Congress.

NBC News reported Monday afternoon that the British government can “tap into the cables carrying the world’s Web traffic at will and spy on what people are doing on some of the world’s most popular social-media sites, including YouTube, all without the knowledge or consent of the companies.”

Documents provided by Edward Snowden purport to show British intelligence officials presenting a pilot program to NSA agents in 2012 in which they could monitor YouTube in real time and collect data from Facebook and Twitter. Called “Squeaky Dolphin,” the documents show “broad real-time monitoring of online activity” that includes videos watched, blog visits and favorited URLs.

Experts told NBC News the documents show the British had to have been either physically able to tap the cables carrying the world’s web traffic or able to use a third party to gain physical access to the massive stream of data, and would be able to extract some key data about specific users as well.

The Guardian has your number:

NSA and GCHQ target ‘leaky’ phone apps like Angry Birds to scoop user data

  • US and UK spy agencies piggyback on commercial data
  • Details can include age, location and sexual orientation
  • Documents also reveal targeted tools against individual phones

The National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ have been developing capabilities to take advantage of “leaky” smartphone apps, such as the wildly popular Angry Birds game, that transmit users’ private information across the internet, according to top secret documents.

The data pouring onto communication networks from the new generation of iPhone and Android apps ranges from phone model and screen size to personal details such as age, gender and location. Some apps, the documents state, can share users’ most sensitive information such as sexual orientation – and one app recorded in the material even sends specific sexual preferences such as whether or not the user may be a swinger.

Many smartphone owners will be unaware of the full extent this information is being shared across the internet, and even the most sophisticated would be unlikely to realise that all of it is available for the spy agencies to collect.

More from Nextgov:

White House: Terrorists, Like All of Us, Might Enjoy Playing Angry Birds

The White House isn’t ruling out that terrorists, just like normal, everyday people, are avid fans of the hit international video game franchise Angry Birds.

White House press secretary Jay Carney responded to a reporter’s question Monday asking whether the National Security Agency was collecting the information of Americans who use smartphone apps, such as Angry Birds, that share personal data over the Internet.

“I mean, look. Terrorists, proliferators, other bad actors, use the same communcations tools that others use,” Carney said, eliciting some commotion among the press corps. “What I’m saying is that the NSA in its collection is focused on the communication of people who are valid foreign intelligence targets.”

NSA agents are “not focused on the information of ordinary Americans, and that’s the case in answer to questions about, you know, the variety of revelations that have been made in the press.”

Waffle words from EUobserver:

Obama advisor: Pipeline deals could see US spy on EU leaders

Major economic deals, which look as if they could cause “difficulties” for the US, are a legitimate reason to spy on EU leaders, a US intelligence oversight panelist has said.

“If Germany were making an economic deal for a gas pipeline in a way that would cause large international difficulties, that might be a reason to try to prevent a bad outcome,” Peter Swire, a professor of law and ethics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told journalists in Brussels on Friday (24 January).

He noted that he was speaking in a personal capacity.

The Mainichi casts doubt:

AP-GfK poll: Americans value privacy over security

Americans are increasingly placing personal privacy ahead of being kept safe from terrorists, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. More than 60 percent of respondents said they value privacy over anti-terror protections. That’s up slightly from 58 percent in a similar poll in August conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents said they disapprove of the way Obama is handling intelligence surveillance policies. And 61 percent said they prioritize protecting Americans’ rights and freedoms over making sure Americans are safe from terrorists.

Only 34 percent support Obama’s plan to create a panel of outside attorneys to offer an opposing argument to the government before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And just 17 percent of those polled support moving the data the government collects about telephone calls outside of government hands.

Reuters compromises:

U.S., tech companies reach deal on spying data

The Obama administration and major U.S. technology companies have struck a deal that would allow the companies to tell the public in greater detail about the spying-related court orders they receive, the Justice Department said on Monday.

The agreement, filed in the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, would settle demands from companies such as Google Inc and Microsoft Corp for more leeway to disclose data about the court orders, according to documents released by the department.

Tech companies have sought to clarify their relationships with U.S. law enforcement and spying agencies since June, when leaks to the news media by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden began to show the depth of U.S. spying capabilities.

Here’s the official statement from the Director of National Intelligence:

Joint Statement by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder on New Reporting Methods for National Security Orders

January 27, 2014

As indicated in the Justice Department’s filing with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the administration is acting to allow more detailed disclosures about the number of national security orders and requests issued to communications providers, the number of customer accounts targeted under those orders and requests, and the underlying legal authorities. Through these new reporting methods, communications providers will be permitted to disclose more information than ever before to their customers.

This action was directed by the President earlier this month in his speech on intelligence reforms. While this aggregate data was properly classified until today, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with other departments and agencies, has determined that the public interest in disclosing this information now outweighs the national security concerns that required its classification.

Permitting disclosure of this aggregate data addresses an important area of concern to communications providers and the public.  But more work remains on other issues.  In the weeks ahead, additional steps must be taken in order to fully implement the reforms directed by the President.

The declassification reflects the Executive Branch’s continuing commitment to making information about the government’s intelligence activities publicly available where appropriate and is consistent with ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States.

BBC News has doubts:

Google’s Drummond calls for new NSA reforms

  • David Drummond on revelations that the NSA hacked Google data: “I was shocked, surprised and outraged”

Moves by US President Barack Obama to rein in spies at the National Security Agency do not go far enough, a senior figure at Google has told the BBC.

David Drummond, the tech giant’s chief legal officer, said the US needed to change its approach to intelligence to restore trust in the internet.

His comments are some of the first by a senior tech figure since a speech by the US president earlier this month.

While Security Clearance names the next in line:

Navy’s Michael Rogers expected to be Obama’s next NSA choice

Navy Vice Adm. Michael Rogers is expected to be nominated the next director of the embattled National Security Agency, a U.S. official confirmed to CNN.

The current director, Gen. Keith Alexander, is expected to retire in March.

Alexander’s tenure has been most recently marked by controversy over intelligence leaks by former agency contractor Edward Snowden about electronic surveillance.

From Deutsche Welle, suspicions:

Snowden asks ‘how reasonable’ it is to assume only Merkel was tapped

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has told German public television what motivated him to go public, has asked whether NSA tapping stopped at Chancellor Merkel’s phone, and has said his return to the US is unlikely.

German public broadcaster ARD showed a half-hour interview with Edward Snowden on Sunday night, the ex-NSA contractor’s first television interview since gaining temporary asylum in Russia last year.

The 30-year-old fugitive whistleblower said there was “no question” that the NSA conducted industrial espionage and also alluded to a recent BuzzFeed article quoting unnamed US security officials as saying they wanted Snowden dead.

Hubert Seipel, a journalist for ARD’s regional member NDR who conducted the interview in a Moscow hotel room, also asked Snowden what convinced him to go public with his information on global intelligence practices.

“I would say sort of the breaking point was seeing how Director of National Intelligence James Clapper directly lied to Congress when under oath,” Snowden said. “There’s no saving an intelligence agency that believes it can lie to the public, and to legislators, who need to be able to trust it and regulate its actions.”

From Ars Technica, another haul:

FBI is keeping a giant stash of e-mails from defunct Tor Mail service

  • Data harvested from servers in France is being used in multiple investigations.

Court documents that surfaced in a Florida case against an alleged seller of counterfeit credit cards have shown that the FBI has a copy of servers that belonged to Tor Mail, a secure e-mail service that operated on the anonymous Tor network.

“Tor Mail’s goal is to provide completely anonymous and private communications to anyone who needs it,” states an informational page about the service, which remains up. “We are anonymous and cannot be forced to reveal anything about a Tor Mail user.”

The information is found in a sworn statement by a US postal inspector and was reported by Wired’s Kevin Poulsen this morning. The document explains that as part of the investigation, law enforcement collected orders for the fake credit cards that went through the e-mail address “platplus@tormail.net.” That address contained every order for credit cards sent over the course of nearly a year.

The New York Times covers high anxiety:

Afghanistan Exit Is Seen as Peril to Drone Mission

The risk that President Obama may be forced to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year has set off concerns inside the American intelligence agencies that they could lose their air bases used for drone strikes against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and for responding to a nuclear crisis in the region.

Until now, the debate here and in Kabul about the size and duration of an American-led allied force in Afghanistan after 2014 had focused on that country’s long-term security. But these new concerns also reflect how troop levels in Afghanistan directly affect long-term American security interests in neighboring Pakistan, according to administration, military and intelligence officials.

The concern has become serious enough that the Obama administration has organized a team of intelligence, military and policy specialists to devise alternatives to mitigate the damage if a final security deal cannot be struck with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, who has declined to enact an agreement that American officials thought was completed last year.

Reuters stirs the pot:

Congress secretly approves U.S. weapons flow to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels

Light arms supplied by the United States are flowing to “moderate” Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country and U.S. funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress, according U.S. and European security officials.

The weapons, most of which are moving to non-Islamist Syrian rebels via Jordan, include a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets.

The deliveries do not include weapons such as shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, known as MANPADs, which could shoot down military or civilian aircraft, the officials said.

The weapons deliveries have been funded by the U.S. Congress, in votes behind closed doors, through the end of government fiscal year 2014, which ends on September 30, two officials said.

The Bundeswehr prepares, from TheLocal.de:

Germany to play bigger military role

Germany’s military is to be deployed more frequently on foreign operations, defence minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday.

Von der Leyen said the military should extend its engagement in crisis-hit areas of the globe.

“We can’t just watch from the sidelines when murder and rape are the order of the day,” she told Der Spiegel magazine.

After the jump, the latest Asian zonal and semantic crises, high crimes and low misdemeanors, hacks in high place, corporate security breeches, the latest caper from Blackwater’s founder, Pentagon scandals, and the latest update on Murdoch media phone hacks. . .and more:  Continue reading

Quote of the day: Plutocratic semantics


David Sirota, writing at Pando Daily about the hubris of billionaire venture capitalists like Kevin O’Leary complaining that income equality activists are transforming the elite into the equivalents of Jews in Nazi Germany. The title of his essay? “Disingenuous Basterds: The oligarchs’ long campaign to depict their critics as Nazis”:

That deceptive narrative is what I called in my first book The Myth of the Persecuted Billionaire, and what Thomas Frank later called a trick designed to make us “pity the billionaire.” In the plutocrat-glorifying fable, the Tom Perkinses comprise the rag-tag team from “Inglourious Basterds” – the underdogs bravely defying the scourge of oppression and genocide.

The objective of this hideous mythology should be obvious. Rather than permit any honest discussion about the serious problems that accompany rampant economic inequality, the winners of that economic system aim to manufacture story lines that depict themselves – not the poor – as victims on par with history’s most persecuted peoples. It is, as Frank says, the great “hard-times swindle” of the modern era – and it is everywhere.

Acknowledging this is not to justify stuff like property damage to Google buses any more than it is to rationalize state-sanctioned police brutality against those protesting economic inequality. Indeed, even though there has been far more brutality committed in defense of the aristocrats, violence on either side of the class divide is inarguably deplorable.

But contextualizing Perkins’ comments in the growing catalogue of similarly themed rhetoric is critical to appreciating the ubiquity of the whole sordid meme. Tom Perkins’ letter to the editor is not, as the enraged commentary around it implies, some isolated or anomalous incident. Rather, it is a fairly standard example of a pervasive system of propaganda attempting to paint the world’s wealthiest oligarchs as victims.

Read the rest.

Endorectocraniality embodied: Clueless plutocrat


That lovely neologism is our own, referencing the condition of having one’s head [cranium] up [endo] one’s. . .well, you’ve got it by now.

The victim of the aforesaid condition is Canada’s Kevin O’Leary, a bankster/entrepreneur most famous for hosting ABC’s Shark Tank, a reality show about competing for venture capital.

He also costars [with journalist Amanda Lang] in a network business show north of the border, CBC’s The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, in which he made a remarkable statement, one that RT’s Abby Martin skewers in this segment from Breaking the Set:

What this Millionaire Thinks of Poverty Will Make Your Blood Boil | Heroes & Villains

Program note:

Abby Martin calls out TV show host Kevin O’Leary, for his callous celebration of the latest Oxfam statistics on the widening gap between the world’s rich and poor.

O’Leary also caught the attention of Time‘s Christopher Matthews:

Kevin O’Leary, a Canadian businessman and star of the entrepreneur-focused reality show Shark Tank, is in hot water.

On a recent episode of the Canadian business show The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, O’Leary applauded the recently released statistic that the combined wealth of the world’s 85 richest people is equal to the wealth of the 3.5 billion poorest. “Of course I applaud it,” O’Leary said. “What could be wrong with this?”

He goes on to explain that the conditions the 3.5 billion poorest individuals find themselves in are simply a great motivator for those folks to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make something of their lives. Nevermind the fact that these are people living on less than $2.50 per day often without access to basic necessities like water, food, and education.

He also earned himself a reprimand from CBC three years ago after he called Chris Hedges “a nutbar” during an on-air interview.

From the Toronto Globe & Mail:

“There is room at the inn for a range of views, but there is no room for name-calling a guest,” CBC ombudsman Kirk LaPointe writes in a decision dated Oct. 13.

“O’Leary might have been genuinely curious about Hedges’s views, but his opening salvo only fed contempt, which breached policy.”

Classy guy. He’d be more at home at Fox.

Quote of the day: Obama’s secrecy fetish


From an Al Jazeera America interview with veteran New York Times Washington reporter Jill Abramson by the network’s John Seigenthaler:

Let me move on to another topic in the Obama administration. How would you grade this administration, compared to others, when it comes to its relationship with the media?

Well, I would slightly like to interpret the question as “How secretive is this White House?” which I think is the most important question. I would say it is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering, and that includes — I spent 22 years of my career in Washington and covered presidents from President Reagan on up through now, and I was Washington bureau chief of the Times during George W. Bush’s first term.

I dealt directly with the Bush White House when they had concerns that stories we were about to run put the national security under threat. But, you know, they were not pursuing criminal leak investigations. The Obama administration has had seven criminal leak investigations. That is more than twice the number of any previous administration in our history. It’s on a scale never seen before. This is the most secretive White House that, at least as a journalist, I have ever dealt with.

And do you think this comes directly from the president?

I would think that it would have to. I don’t know that, but certainly enough attention has been focused on this issue that, if he departed from the policies of his government, I think we’d know that at this point.

Read the rest.

Headlines of the day I: National [in]security, etc.


We’ll begin today’s tour of things spoooky and militaristic with “Spy Games,” a cartoon from Liu Rui from China’s Global Times:

BLOG Spy games

Our headlines begin with an Obaman endorsement from a man who favors executive action for Edward Snowden. From The Hill:

Obama embracing surveillance structure of George W. Bush, Hayden says

Former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden said Sunday that President Obama’s speech on the agency’s controversial intelligence-gathering programs revealed that he had “embraced” the basic surveillance structure favored by former President George W. Bush.

“The president has embraced it. He has got a political problem — and I don’t mean to trivialize it, because in a democracy, political problems are very serious. He needs consent of the governed,” Hayden said during an interview with Chris Wallace of “Fox News Sunday.”

“He is willing to shave points off of flexibility, add administrative burdens, add oversight, but the objective, Chris, is to keep on doing what he’s doing.”

From BBC News, one from across the pond:

Barack Obama: Spying must not hurt US-German ties

President Barack Obama has said he will not let controversial surveillance by US intelligence services undermine Washington’s ties with Germany.

Speaking to Germany’s ZDF TV, he indicated that US bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone had been a mistake and would not happen again.

After the row broke out last year, Mrs Merkel accused the US of an unacceptable breach of trust.

But he draws a thumbs down from The Hill:

Rogers: Obama adding ‘a new level of uncertainty’ to intelligence gathering

A top House Republican said Sunday that President Obama’s proposal to examine the nation’s intelligence gathering techniques is already creating uncertainty that could hamper efforts to root our terror threats.

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (Mich.) expressed concern that the president’s plan to weigh privacy issues and the government’s role in collecting telephone metadata has “interjected a level of uncertainty and is having a whole bunch of us scratch our heads.”

And California’s plutocratic senator, the one whose hubby is selling of the U.S. Post Office for his private gain, adds a sour note via the Associated Press:

Lawmakers say Obama surveillance idea won’t work

A chief element of President Barack Obama’s attempt to overhaul U.S. surveillance will not work, leaders of Congress’ intelligence committees said Sunday, pushing back against the idea that the government should cede control of how Americans’ phone records are stored.

Obama, under pressure to calm the controversy over government spying, said Friday he wants bulk phone data stored outside the government to reduce the risk that the records will be abused. The president said he will require a special judge’s advance approval before intelligence agencies can examine someone’s data and will force analysts to keep their searches closer to suspected terrorists or organizations.

“And I think that’s a very difficult thing,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday. “Because the whole purpose of this program is to provide instantaneous information to be able to disrupt any plot that may be taking place.”

The Guardian sharpens the executioner’s ax needle:

Intelligence chair: NSA leaker Edward Snowden may have had Russian help

  • Rogers: Snowden ‘a thief whom we believe had some help’
  • Feinstein adds voice to criticism of Obama NSA speech

Russia may have helped the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to reveal details of surveillance programmes and escape US authorities last year, the chairman of the House intelligence committee claimed on Sunday.

Mike Rogers, a Republican representative from Michigan, interviewed by NBC’s Meet the Press, said Snowden was “a thief whom we believe had some help”, and added that there was an “ongoing” investigation into whether Russia had aided Snowden.

“I believe there’s questions to be answered there,” Rogers said. “I don’t think it was a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow under the handling of the [Russian intelligence service] FSB.”

While others see it differently, via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Fans say Snowden is vindicated, deserves amnesty for leaks

Supporters of Edward Snowden complained of a glaring omission in the White House’s pledge Friday to rein in government surveillance activities: amnesty for the fugitive leaker who’s now holed up in Russia after revealing the secrets that led to this shakeup.

Snowden supporters were thrilled that the man they view as a whistleblower essentially forced President Barack Obama to acknowledge – and pledge to correct – the excesses of a vast U.S. spying program. However, they added, Obama should have taken the additional step of pardoning Snowden, who faces three felony charges related to his disclosure of classified information he’d accessed as a contractor working with the National Security Agency.

With far too many political and legal barriers to any clemency deal, analysts say, the best the pro-Snowden camp can hope for is that the president’s assertion that “this debate will make us stronger” could translate into a shift in Americans’ perception.

While The Guardian calls for action elsewhere:

Spying revelations: Tory MP Dominic Raab attacks UK’s ‘comatose’ reaction

  • British government ‘must follow Barack Obama’s lead and introduce sweeping reforms to government spy agencies’

The British government must follow Barack Obama’s lead and introduce sweeping reforms to government spy agencies after revelations of mass surveillance by whistleblower Edward Snowden, an influential Conservative backbench MP said on Sunday.

Dominic Raab, who with Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert and Labour’s Tom Watson secured a discussion on oversight of intelligence and security services in October, said Britain’s response so far to the revelations that the US and UK spy agencies were monitoring vast amounts of personal data was “comatose”.

And on to the latest round of Asian crises, first with Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Afghanistan hints at Pakistani spy link to Kabul attack

Afghanistan’s National Security Council, which is chaired by President Hamid Karzai, on Sunday accused “foreign intelligence services” of being behind the deadly attack on a Kabul restaurant, in a veiled reference to Pakistan.

Afghanistan’s National Security Council, which is chaired by President Hamid Karzai, on Sunday accused “foreign intelligence services” of being behind the deadly attack on a Kabul restaurant, in a veiled reference to Pakistan.

Pakistan was the main supporter of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and Afghan officials have long voiced suspicions about connections between the hardline movement and Islamabad’s powerful intelligence services.

The Japan Times strategizes:

Shift to isle defense requires upgrade of all three branches

The Cold War ended about 20 years ago and Japan is finally trying to execute a drastic transformation of the Ground Self-Defense Force by shifting its focus from the north to the southwest — effectively relaxing its guard against Russia and bolstering it against China.

Facing China’s growing military power, the new 10-year national defense guidelines the Cabinet endorsed in December spell out plans to bolster the defense of islands to the southwest, most notably Okinawa and the disputed Senkaku chain in the East China Sea.

An olive branch offering from Kyodo News:

China’s top leaders agreed to avoid military clash with Japan

China’s top leaders have agreed to prevent a military clash with Japan and any interference of the United States in respect to a bitter dispute between the two Asian countries over a group of small islands in the East China Sea, sources close to them said Saturday.

This basic principle, endorsed late last year by the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of China’s power structure, is maintained even after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine on Dec. 26 that has further heightened tensions between Beijing and Tokyo, according to the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The seven-member standing committee, led by Chinese President Xi Jinping, have arrived at a consensus that the country has “no intention of fighting with Japan and Japan does not have the courage to fight with China,” after convening a rare two-day meeting in late October in Beijing with Chinese ambassadors from about 30 neighboring countries, one of the sources said.

Jiji Press upsets a Japanese-American apple cart:

LDP Shocked by Defeat in Nago Mayoral Election

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is shocked by the defeat of an LDP-backed candidate in Sunday’s mayoral election in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.

Takeo Kawamura, director-general of its Election Strategy Committee, told reporters that the LDP has to respect voters’ judgment and make further efforts to promote economic development in Okinawa and reduce its burden to host U.S. bases.

A senior LDP official has regarded the election as one it cannot lose for the government to smoothly implement its plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma air station within the southernmost Japan prefecture from Ginowan to Nago.

More from the Japan Times:

Nago mayor wins re-election in blow to Abe, U.S.

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine won re-election late Sunday, dealing a setback to the central government’s plans to build a replacement air base for the U.S. Marines in the Henoko district just weeks after Okinawa’s governor approved the deal.

“This election was easy to understand. It was about one issue, the Henoko issue, and whether you were for or against the new base,” Inamine told supporters. “The people have spoken and they have said no.”

Inamine, 68, defeated former Okinawa Assemblyman Bunshin Suematsu, 65, by a vote of 19,839 to 15,684. Turnout was high at 76.71 percent.

Jiji Press establishes communications protocols:

Japan, U.S. NSCs to Keep in Close Touch

Shotaro Yachi, chief of the secretariat of Japan’s National Security Council, and U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice agreed Friday that the Japanese and U.S. NSCs will keep close contact with each other.

At their meeting in Washington, Yachi told Rice that the Japanese NSC, launched last month, assumes the role of a “control tower” for Japan’s foreign affairs and national defense.

Then he expressed hope for having direct communication with Rice from now on, and in reply she called for promoting staff-level collaboration as well.

The Yomiuri Shimbun has balls in the air:

Secrets body seen balancing security, rights

The advisory council on safeguarding information, which held its first meeting Friday, is expected to play roles for maintaining a balance between securing secrets to gain trust from other countries and information disclosure to meet the Japanese people’s rights to know.

The council, which was established to monitor operations of the government’s system to keep specially designated state secrets from outsiders’ point of view, has begun works to make integrated operational rules that will be applied to the whole of the government.

The council will continue debating the issue until the law on protecting specially designated state secrets is enacted at the end of this year.

China Daily moves to mollify:

White House fine-tunes Asia pivot to ‘quench fire’

Washington is dispatching two diplomats to East Asia to fine-tune the US pivot to Asia-Pacific by “quenching the fire” between China and Japan, after recent provocative moves by Tokyo that have further threatened regional stability, observers said.

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns left Washington on Sunday for South Korea, China and Japan, while Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, begins his East Asian trip on Monday.

Burns and Russel will meet in Beijing on Wednesday for bilateral talks with government officials. Russel will separately lead the Asia-Pacific Consultations and hold other bilateral meetings with his Chinese counterparts during his stay, according to the US State Department.

While JapanToday dukes it out:

China, Japan slug it out in the world’s press

China and Japan are engaged in a war of words that is lighting up editorial pages around the world as Beijing takes aim at a recent visit by Japan’s leader to a controversial war shrine and Tokyo answers back.

Japan’s ambassador to the U.S. fired the latest salvo on Jan 17, accusing China of a global propaganda campaign that portrays Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as glorifying Japan’s militaristic past.

“It is not Japan that most of Asia and the international community worry about; it is China,” Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae wrote in The Washington Post.

The dueling opinion pieces, appearing in a growing number of newspapers around the world, come as both nations have been criticized for recent actions: China’s declaration of an air defense zone over a disputed area of the East China Sea and the Japanese prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni, where convicted World War II war criminals are among the many enshrined.

South China Morning Post politicks:

Shinzo Abe seeks ‘frank discussion’ with China and South Korea

  • Japanese prime minister’s call follows his controversial visit to shrine to war dead, but analysts say Beijing is unlikely to take up offer

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for “frank” summit talks with China and South Korea after his visit last month to a shrine that honours war criminals was heavily criticised by both neighbours.

China and South Korea have accused Abe of showing a lack of remorse for Japan’s second world war atrocities and the three nations are also embroiled in maritime territorial disputes.

“We should hold a summit meeting and have a frank discussion,” Abe told Japanese broadcaster NHK yesterday.

The Yomiuri Shimbun agitates:

China organizes anti-Japan tour for foreign journalists

The Chinese government has conducted a two-day “anti-Japanese militarism” tour for foreign journalists.

The tour, arranged by the Foreign Ministry, brought nearly 40 foreign journalists based in Beijing and other Chinese cities to five sites in the northeastern province of Liaoning. The area is where the Manchukuo puppet state was established by Japan in 1932 and existed until the end of World War II.

The five destinations included the Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the “9.18″ Historical Museum, which presents information on the history of Japanese occupation of the northeastern region that began with explosion at a railway section in Liutiaohu near Shenyang by troops of the now-defunct Imperial Japanese Army on Sept. 18, 1931.

Want China Times adds muscle:

Long-range stealth bomber under development in China

The First Aircraft Institute of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China has been designing the first generation long-range stealth bomber for the People’s Liberation Army Air Force since 2008, a report from the state-run China Aviation News stated.

Senior Colonel Wu Guohui from the National Defense University in Beijing told the China Aviation News that the stealth bomber has two advantages on ballistic missiles. The first one is that ballistic missiles can only be fired once, while a stealth bomber can be launched multiple times. The second is that ballistic missiles cannot return to base, as the stealth bomber can, if a mission is aborted.

SINA English adds more muscle:

China’s new aircraft carrier ‘under construction’

The second of China’s four reportedly planned aircraft carriers is said to be under construction in a port city in Northeast China, raising the public’s enthusiasm.

Wang Min, the Party chief of Northeast China’s Liaoning Province, Saturday told a panel at the annual session of provincial legislature that the second carrier is being built at a shipyard in the port city of Dalian. According to the official, construction is expected to be completed in six years, and China will eventually have at least four aircraft carriers, reported the website of Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao newspaper.

The report also quoted Wang as saying that two advanced 052D missile destroyers are also under construction in Dalian.

And Want China Times ratchets it up still more:

China to become world’s largest missile producer: report

Two of China’s major missile producers — China North Industries Corporation and China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation — are expected to turn out 50,000 ballistic missiles for the nation, according to a report in the latest issue of the Aviation Week & Space Technology, a magazine with ties to the US military.

To win a potential territorial conflict against Japan over islands in the East China Sea, the Aviation Week & Space Technology stated that China is currently targeting Tokyo with around 1,000 missiles. However, this number of missiles is only a fraction of China’s total production capacity, the report said, adding that the missiles are designed and produced to enable China to subdue its enemy without real fighting.

In next five years, China is likely to become the world’s largest missile producer, US military analysts claim. China North Industries Corporation will lead to become the largest missile manufacturer and is expected to produce around 29,992 missiles, taking a 15% world market share. US defense contractor Raytheon is expected to rank second, producing 23,744 missiles and taking a world market share of 12%, the analysts said.

And in another venue, via RT:

China and Russia may hold joint naval drill in the Mediterranean

Russia and China have agreed to conduct a joint naval drill in the Mediterranean Sea, a Russian media report cites the Defense Ministry. The countries’ fleets are currently involved in an intl operation to escort the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile.

The Defense Ministry said on Sunday that group of Russian naval officers deployed onboard a heavy nuclear missile cruiser “Peter the Great” visited Chinese frigate Yancheng.

The Daily Dot subverts appliances:

The next big cyberattack could be launched from your fridge

Could your next-gen refrigerator—dispenser of ice, guardian of leftover pizza—betray you? Horrifying as it sounds, it’s already happened to someone. I know, I just lost my appetite. The idea of a Jetsons-like domicile, bristling with “smart” appliances that will make your life an exercise in luxury, is a pretty standard daydream. But a fully computerized home, we’re beginning to discover, is as vulnerable to hackers as your average PC.

Proofpoint, a security-as-a-service provider, released details on what they’re characterizing as an unprecedented “Internet of Things”-based cyberattack, meaning an operation that relied on Web-like connections between household devices. The campaign “involved more than 750,000 malicious email communications coming from more than 100,000 everyday consumer gadgets such as home-networking routers, connected multi-media centers, televisions,” and, yes, “at least one refrigerator that had been compromised and used as a platform to launch attacks.”

For our final item, a rare victory from Boing Boing:

Appeals court rules bloggers have same speech protections as journalists

A Ninth Circuit Appeals court has overturned a lower-court decision that said that bloggers weren’t entitled to the same free speech protection as journalists. The case involved a 2011 blog post by Crystal Cox in which she alleged that a firm had engaged in tax fraud; the company she wrote about said that the allegation was false, and that Cox should be found guilty of libel because she wasn’t a “journalist.” The higher court found that, journalist or not, Cox’s guilt turned not on the truth of her statement, but whether she was negligent, and could have discovered the truth.

Bernuie Sanders: What if Nixon Had the NSA?


The Vermont senator and sole socialist in the national legislature poses the right question in this CNN interview offering his first take on Obama’s ostensible NSA “reforms”:

Cart of the day: Watching the [TV] watchers


From the Pew Research Center, a graphic look at the politics of TV audiences:

BLOG Cablers

Looking at the NSA through moral, legal lenses


A conversation among The Real News Network’s Paul Jay, activist and former New York Times Mideast Bureau Chief and Pulitzer-winner Chris Hedges, and William Binney, former technical director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group and a senior NSA cryptomathematician at the NSA.

The topic is the NSA, its power, legality, and the morality of its actions.

From The Real News Network:

Hedges and Binney on Obama NSA guidelines – Reality Asserts Itself Pt.1

From the transcript:

HEDGES: You cannot talk about being free when all of your correspondence is captured and stored, you are monitored, and all of your movements are recorded. Freedom at that point does not exist. And I speak as a reporter who covered the Stasi state in East Germany, this being, of course, something that even the Stasi apparatus could only dream of.

The danger is that when states accrue to themselves this kind of power, to essentially have — to obliterate privacy and have a window into the most personal affairs of every citizen, then at a moment when the state feels threatened, at the flick of a switch the state becomes totalitarian. And there are numerous historical examples that illustrate this, one of the best being the 1953 uprisings that took place in East Germany, when the communist dictatorship realized how unpopular they were, how fragile their hold on power was, and it created this monster, the Stasi internal security apparatus, where, in a country of 17 million people, you had an estimated 2 million informants and over 100,000 full-time Stasi employees, which meant that for every 166 East German citizens, there was a Stasi agent assigned to watch over them. And these bureaucracies, these security bureaucracies, without any kind of check, evolved into almost — you know, it’s like a Jarry play or Ionesco, where they’re infiltrating stamp groups, as they were in East Germany, of retirees — I’m not making that up — because they have to perpetuate themselves. And that’s where we are.

And I think what’s so frightening is that it is clear, after Obama’s administration, that no one in the centers of power are going to step in, whether it’s Nancy Pelosi or anyone else, to protect us, that either we as a citizenry — and I think it’s interesting that the Germans have grasped the danger of this kind of wholesale surveillance, because they have, in recent memory, both the experience of the SS and the Stasi and understand how precarious such wholesale systems of surveillance are to basic democratic freedoms. But we are sitting passively. And the notion that Obama and this sort of kangaroo administrative review board is going to do anything substantial — you know, what they’ll do is cosmetic. It’s up to us. And if we don’t act now, then in a moment of unrest, in a moment of instability, we will be bound and shackled instantly.

Pt.2 Hedges and Binney on NSA Policy

  • On Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay, Chris Hedges and William Binney answer the question: “What should the NSA policy look like?”

From the transcript:

JAY: Now, this is all more or less justified by 9/11. But the roots of all this go way back before 9/11 into the Cold War, and this national security state, national surveillance state, it was all directed at domestic opposition, I mean, it was, you know, [incompr.] supposedly worried about, you know, Soviet infiltration and all that. But I can’t believe they ever took all that seriously. You talk to people like Ray McGovern, who was in the analysis section of the CIA, and he says they were telling various presidents that not only was there no real Soviet threat on the soil of the United States; there wasn’t really a Soviet threat in terms of expansionism. And the idea that you needed this infrastructure and spying all throughout the United States to protect national security, it was really directed at legitimate, mostly, if not entirely, legal dissent. And if that’s still going on, doesn’t there need to be a clear principle that this cannot be spied on, you know, the constitutional right to dissent cannot be spied on?

BINNEY: Well, I mean, that’s already written in the Constitution. We have the right to free association, to freedom of speech. You know. That’s all there. We have freedom in our affairs. That’s all written into the Fourth Amendment and the First Amendment. Also, as we had talked earlier in the earlier segment about the law enforcement using [incompr.] it’s a violation of the Fifth Amendment, the right to not testify against yourself. Well, when they’re using the emails that you send or anything that you’re doing that’s acquired through NSA, a non-warrant acquisition of data, that’s using that information against yourself. So it’s a violation of the Fifth Amendment.

But I would also argue — and this is one of the reasons I objected so quickly against what they were doing. I had been working the Soviet problem, the KGB, the MVD, and all the totalitarian state problems for almost 30 years. And it was very clear to me that the procedures they were setting in place after 9/11 from the Bush-Cheney administration, it was clear to me that they were setting in place all of these totalitarian procedures because that’s exactly what the KGB wanted to do. And that’s why I’ve said before that the KGB, the Stasi, the Gestapo, none of them could have dreamt of anything like this. But they would have thought — like, former lieutenant colonel in the East German Stasi Wolfgang Schmidt said, when he was commenting about the NSA collection, then the warrantless surveillance of all the citizens of the United States, he said, for us we could have only dreamt of this. So this would be a dream come true is what he said.

Quote of the day: The slow demise of the Chron


That would be the San Francisco Chronicle, once one of the West Coast’s better newspapers, and now a sad shade of its former self, printed on paper narrow enough to wrap around your bathroom tissue roll.

Calbuzz’s Chron Watch describes the latest blow to befall the once powerful paper:

Our Reinventing Journalism and Fortran Coding Department is giddy to learn that the Chronicle’s latest bid at self-preservation will be led by an online piffle peddler fresh from the world of Sofia Vergara’s penis and Kim Kardashian’s ass.

In a news release containing 407 words, none of them “journalism,” the puissant Hearst Corp. announced this week that 43-year old Kristine Shine has been hired as its President-of-the-Month.

She immediately promised to “expand The Chronicle’s footprint and enhance the way we connect to Bay Area residents digitally and in print.” Whatever that means.

Kristine Shine, if that is in fact her real name, comes to the Voice of the West direct from her post as a high-ranking honcho at the high-powered web site “PopSugar,” where a wide-ranging, in-depth  investigation of top news stories revealed (honest) these headlines:

  • “About That Time Leonard DiCaprio Had K-Y Jelly on His Face”
  • “Sofia Vergara to Jimmy Kimmel: ‘My Penis is Bigger Than Yours!’”
  • “Gwyneth Oversees Her Kids’ Adorable Lemonade Stand”
  • “Reese Brings Her Bikinis Out in Oahu”
  • “Speed Read: Kim Kardashian Has a Butt Contest with Her Friend”

Read the rest.

A melodious voice, provocative insights


John Henry Faulk was a remarkable character, an academic fokloristic who became a humorist, and who waged and won a seminal battle against the Hollywood blacklist, a secret database used by the entertainment and electronic media industries to bar people whose beliefs were deemed threats to national security to be barred from public screens and airwaves.

He’d have turned 100 last August if cancer had finally stilled his rich, melodious voice, conveying sophisticated thoughts cloaked in idiom and Texas dialect.

Here’s Faulk in a wonderful 1985 conversation with Frank Morrow for the legendary public access series Alternative Views:

FAULK AT HIS FINEST: Meet Uncensored Humorist John Henry Faulk

Proogram notes from AlternativeViewTV:

Austin’s beloved folk humorist tells tales from his new book The Uncensored John Henry Faulk. The stories, which range from childhood recollections of life on a South Austin farm to commentary on political figures, embody a populist, egalitarian spirit. Some of these stories are from Faulk’s well-known one-man show Pear Orchard USA. Through the use of these folk characters, Faulk is able to make political commentary which is palatable even to people who might disagree with the message, such as the anti-Nixon stories which he has used before audiences of businessmen. The last section of the program is a Faulk mini-retrospective, featuring clips of the humorist’s past appearances on Alternative Views.

One of esnl’s favorite folksingers, Phil Ochs, paid him tribute in this 1962 song:

Phil Ochs: The Ballad of John Henry Faulk [1962]

From the lyrics:

And you men who point your fingers and spread your lies around,
You men who left your souls behind and drag us to the ground,
You can put my name right down there, I will not try to hide —
For if there’s one man on the blacklist, I’ll be right there by his side.

For I’d rather go hungry to beg upon the streets
Than earn my bread on dead men’s souls and crawl beneath your feet.
And I will not play your hater’s game and hate you in return,
For it’s only through the love of man the blacklist can be burned.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, Laws, Zones, Pols


We begin today’s tales from the dark side with a huge number from the Washington Post:

Snowden downloaded 1.7 million intelligence files, Pentagon report concludes

A classified Pentagon report concludes that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden downloaded 1.7 million intelligence files from U.S. agencies in the single largest theft of secrets in the history of the United States, according to lawmakers.

The report, they said, asserts that the breach has the potential to put military personnel at risk.

“This report confirms my greatest fears — Snowden’s real acts of betrayal place America’s military men and women at greater risk. Snowden’s actions are likely to have lethal consequences for our troops in the field,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

BBC News wants to talk:

MEPs seek video link with Snowden for NSA spying probe

Euro MPs have agreed to invite fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden to give evidence via live video link to a European Parliament inquiry into US surveillance.

Mr Snowden is in Russia, wanted by the US over his revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) snooping.

The parliamentary Civil Liberties Committee vote was passed by 36 votes in favour, two against and one abstention. No date has been fixed yet.

The Guardian reaches a solemn conclusion:

NSA and GCHQ activities appear illegal, says EU parliamentary inquiry

  • Civil liberties committee report demands end to indiscriminate collection of personal data by British and US agencies

Mass surveillance programmes used by the US and Britain to spy on people in Europe have been condemned in the “strongest possible terms” by the first parliamentary inquiry into the disclosures, which has demanded an end to the vast, systematic and indiscriminate collection of personal data by intelligence agencies.

The inquiry by the European parliament’s civil liberties committee says the activities of America’s National Security Agency (NSA) and its British counterpart, GCHQ, appear to be illegal and that their operations have “profoundly shaken” the trust between countries that considered themselves allies.

The 51-page draft report, obtained by the Guardian, was discussed by the committee on Thursday. Claude Moraes, the rapporteur asked to assess the impact of revelations made by the whistleblower Edward Snowden, lsocondemns the “chilling” way journalists working on the stories have been intimidated by state authorities.

More from Deutsche Welle:

EU report reveals massive scope of secret NSA surveillance

The European Parliament has wrapped up its inquiry into mass surveillance. In a draft report, politicians are being hard on all sides – the US government, the NSA, but also on hesitant EU governments and companies.

It was Thursday afternoon and the first week after the winter break – and it was hardly a surprise that only few seats were filled in room JAN 2Q2 at the European Parliament (EP) in Brussels. But Claude Moraes, British MEP from the group of Socialists and Social Democrats (S&D), woke the European Union from its winter slumber with a bang.

The rapporteur of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) had come to present the 52-page draft report on the committee’s inquiry into the NSA spying scandal and its implications on European citizens. The draft report is hard on all sides – including governments and companies in the EU.

The report summarizes the findings from the past six months. On page 16, the text says that the recent revelations in the press by whistleblowers and journalists, together with the expert evidence given during the inquiry, have resulted in “compelling evidence of the existence of far-reaching, complex and highly technologically advanced systems designed by US and some Member States’ intelligence services to collect, store and analyze communication and location data and metadata of all citizens around the world on an unprecedented scale and in an indiscriminate and non-suspicion-based manner.”

The 52-page report is posted in English here [PDF].

The Associated Press mulls:

Obama ponders limiting NSA access to phone records

President Barack Obama is expected to rein in spying on foreign leaders and is considering restricting National Security Agency access to Americans’ phone records, according to people familiar with a White House review of the government’s surveillance programs.

Obama could unveil his highly anticipated decisions as early as next week. On Thursday, the president met with congressional leaders at the White House to discuss the review, while White House staff planned to meet with privacy advocates. Representatives from tech companies are meeting with White House staff on Friday.

The White House says Obama is still collecting information before making final decisions.

Among the changes Obama is expected to announce is more oversight of the National Intelligence Priorities Framework, a classified document that ranks U.S. intelligence-gathering priorities and is used to make decisions on scrutiny of foreign leaders. A presidential review board has recommended increasing the number of policy officials who help establish those priorities, and that could result in limits on surveillance of allies.

National Journal has doubts:

Lawmakers Skeptical Obama Will Reform NSA After White House Summit

President Obama met with hand-picked lawmakers at the White House on Thursday to discuss the National Security Agency’s controversial spying programs, capping a week of meetings at the White House focused on potential reforms for the maligned federal agency.

The gathering in the Roosevelt Room occurred ahead of Obama’s planned announcement of possible NSA reforms the administration hopes to push out before his State of the Union address at the end of the month. It included top defenders of NSA surveillance, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., as well as loud critics, such as Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

At least some of the lawmakers left the meeting unconvinced that the president is going to do enough to curtail the NSA. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said “it’s increasingly clear that we need to take legislative action to reform” the NSA’s intelligence gathering.

The Guardian presses:

Ron Wyden: the future of NSA programs is being determined now

  • Oregon senator attended key White House meeting Thursday
  • Obama met with ACLU, Epic and Open Technology Institute
  • Expectations mounting that Obama will propose changes

Privacy advocates pressed Barack Obama to end the bulk collection of Americans’ communications data at a series of meetings at the White House on Thursday, seizing their final chance to convince him of the need for meaningful reform of sweeping surveillance practices.

A key US senator left one meeting at the White House with the impression that President Obama has yet to decide on specific reforms. “The debate is clearly fluid,” senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a longtime critic of bulk surveillance, told the Guardian after the meeting. “My sense is the president, and the administration, is wrestling with these issues,” Wyden said.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau covers a defense:

FBI chief defends national security letters

FBI Director James Comey on Thursday pushed back against proposed changes in a controversial investigative tool he called key to fighting terrorists.

While a White House advisory panel is urging tighter judicial oversight of the FBI’s so-called “national security letter” program, Comey said the proposed revisions could fatally impede investigations.

Meeting with 20 reporters at FBI headquarters, Comey said the advisory panel’s recommendation to boost judicial oversight of the national security letters would “actually make it harder to conduct a national security investigation than a bank fraud investigation.”

USA TODAY bloviates:

FBI director: Snowden not a ‘hero whistle-blower’

FBI Director James Comey says he’s confused when he hears people referring to former national security contractor Edward Snowden as a “hero whistle-blower.”

“I have trouble applying the ‘whistle-blower’ label to someone who just disagrees with the way our country is structured and operates,” he told reporters Thursday.

The government program to conduct electronic surveillance through phone carriers and Internet service providers is an example of “the government operating in the way the framers intended,” with all three branches of government playing a role, Comey said.

But revelations about that program — which came from documents Snowden took with him when he left a contractor for the National Security Agency — “is a small piece of the information that was stolen,” Comey said. And that includes information about other operations that would not have whistle-blower protection, he said.

Reuters blows back:

India’s election regulator drops plan to partner Google after spying fears

India’s election regulator dropped plans on Thursday to partner Google Inc on a project to ease voter access to information, after a backlash against the move from campaigners who fear Google and the U.S. government could use it for spying.

India, the world’s largest democracy, will go to the polls in a general election due by May. Google, the world’s No.1 search engine, had pitched a project to the Election Commission to create a simpler and faster search tool for voters to check whether they were registered correctly or not.

But the plan was opposed by the Indian Infosec Consortium, a government and private sector-backed alliance of cyber security experts, who feared Google would collaborate with “American agencies” for espionage purposes.

PCMag.com has a request:

What It’s Like When The FBI Asks You To Backdoor Your Software

At a recent RSA Security Conference, Nico Sell was on stage announcing that her company—Wickr—was making drastic changes to ensure its users’ security. She said that the company would switch from RSA encryption to elliptic curve encryption, and that the service wouldn’t have a backdoor for anyone.

As she left the stage, before she’d even had a chance to take her microphone off, a man approached her and introduced himself as an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  He then proceeded to “casually” ask if she’d be willing to install a backdoor into Wickr that would allow the FBI to retrieve information.

This encounter, and the agent’s casual demeanor, is apparently business as usual as intelligence and law enforcement agencies seek to gain greater access into protected communication systems. Since her encounter with the agent at RSA, Sell says it’s a story she’s heard again and again. “It sounds like that’s how they do it now,” she told SecurityWatch. “Always casual, testing, because most people would say yes.”

After the jump, on to Asia, for the latest developments in the Game of Zones, Korean divisions, escalating semantics and zone enforcement, corruption at Scotland Yard, and a righteous question for the Washington Post. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: Democracy’s last gasp


From Chris Hedges, writing at Truthdig:

This is our last gasp as a democracy. The state’s wholesale intrusion into our lives and obliteration of privacy are now facts. And the challenge to us—one of the final ones, I suspect—is to rise up in outrage and halt this seizure of our rights to liberty and free expression. If we do not do so we will see ourselves become a nation of captives.

The public debates about the government’s measures to prevent terrorism, the character assassination of Edward Snowden and his supporters, the assurances by the powerful that no one is abusing the massive collection and storage of our electronic communications miss the point. Any state that has the capacity to monitor all its citizenry, any state that has the ability to snuff out factual public debate through control of information, any state that has the tools to instantly shut down all dissent is totalitarian. Our corporate state may not use this power today. But it will use it if it feels threatened by a population made restive by its corruption, ineptitude and mounting repression. The moment a popular movement arises—and one will arise—that truly confronts our corporate masters, our venal system of total surveillance will be thrust into overdrive.

The most radical evil, as Hannah Arendt pointed out, is the political system that effectively crushes its marginalized and harassed opponents and, through fear and the obliteration of privacy, incapacitates everyone else. Our system of mass surveillance is the machine by which this radical evil will be activated. If we do not immediately dismantle the security and surveillance apparatus, there will be no investigative journalism or judicial oversight to address abuse of power. There will be no organized dissent. There will be no independent thought. Criticisms, however tepid, will be treated as acts of subversion. And the security apparatus will blanket the body politic like black mold until even the banal and ridiculous become concerns of national security. 

Read the rest.

Headlines of the day: Spooks, lies, and history


Have a walk on the dark side, starting with a non-denial denial from The Guardian:

NSA statement does not deny ‘spying’ on members of Congress

  • Agency responds to questions from Senator Bernie Sanders
  • Statement cites ‘same privacy protections as all US persons’

The National Security Agency on Saturday released a statement in answer to questions from a senator about whether it “has spied, or is … currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials”, in which it did not deny collecting communications from legislators of the US Congress to whom it says it is accountable.

We love the Boing Boing headline:

Congress: Are you spying on us? NSA: We don’t spy on you except to the extent that we spy on everydamnbody

When Senator Bernie Sanders asked the NSA whether it was spying on Congress, he was very clear: “gathering metadata on calls made from official or personal phones, content from websites visited or emails sent, or collecting any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business.”

When the NSA answered, it was a lot less clear: “Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons.”

So, we’ll take that as a yes, then?

From the Department of He’s Just Ignorant, Not a Perjurer, via The Guardian:

Clapper did not lie to Congress on NSA, says national intelligence counsel

  • Robert Litt writes to New York Times to deny allegation
  • Says ‘inaccurate’ testimony could not be corrected publicly

In his letter to the newspaper, referring to one of the key Senate advocates of NSA reform, Litt continued: “Senator Ron Wyden asked about collection of information on Americans during a lengthy and wide-ranging hearing on an entirely different subject. While his staff provided the question the day before, Mr Clapper had not seen it. As a result, as Mr Clapper has explained, he was surprised by the question and focused his mind on the collection of the content of Americans’ communications. In that context, his answer was and is accurate.

“When we pointed out Mr Clapper’s mistake to him, he was surprised and distressed. I spoke with a staffer for Senator Wyden several days later and told him that although Mr Clapper recognized that his testimony was inaccurate, it could not be corrected publicly because the program involved was classified.”

The Times of India covers another form of very rational digital insecurity:

Security fears over Election Commission-Google tie-up

Google and EC have reportedly entered into an agreement under which the internet giant will help EC to manage online voter registration and facilitation services ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

A group of cyber security experts have questioned the Election Commission’s move to tie up with Google for voters’ registration, saying it could have possible impact on national security and democracy itself.

In the light of recent exposes about the penetrative and widespread intelligence gathering by the US agencies exposed by Edward Snowden, the activists also alleged that the EC’s move was done without any strategic considerations and could have long-term repercussions.

“It is shocking that in a country like India which is called world’s software superpower, Election Commission, instead of an Indian company, has chosen a foreign company like Google, which has colluded with American intelligence agencies like NSA (National Security Agency) for global cyber spying, to provide electoral registration and facilitation services by providing them the whole database of registered voters in India,” the Indian Infosec Consortium said in the capital on Saturday.

Computerworld talks corporate benefits:

Thanks to the NSA, quantum computing may some day be in the cloud

The spy agency is spending $80M on basic research related to quantum computing

The National Security Agency (NSA) is spending some $80 million in basic research on quantum computing. And what the NSA spends its research money on may ultimately help commercialize quantum computing — and even make it accessible via the cloud.

This is what Defense Department agencies do: They fund basic research that private industry sees as too risky, but if the work leads to breakthroughs, it’s the commercial sector that may benefit the most.

Historical perspective from MintPress News:

Edward Snowden Evolved From Gaming Geek To Conscientious Whistleblower

Once a computer gaming jock and fan of Japanese animation, Snowden became the most famous leaker in the annals of US intelligence.

But back in May 2003, Snowden was a little-known teenage tech geek helping friends at Ryuhana Press, a website where the young Snowden worked at what he described as “Web Editor/Coffee Boy. “His avatar was a geek, with a T-shirt emblazoned “I [heart] Me,” spiky hair, granny glasses on the tip of his nose and a green scarf draped around his neck. “I really am a nice guy,” was the intro to his online web profile that continued, “you see, I act arrogant and cruel because I was not hugged enough as a child, and the public education system turned it’s [sic] wretched, spiked back on me.”

For his 19th birthday in June 2003, friends of Snowden posted pictures of him lowering his pants for colleagues, pinning clothespins to his chest and dancing. One colleague jokingly posted, “Who is he? What does he do? Does he really love himself as much as his shameless marketing would make you believe?” Snowden – who was regularly cited by friends as well spoken, deliberate and intellectual – described himself in the following statement: “I like Japanese, I like girls, I like my girlish figure that attracts girls and I like my lamer friends.” In a prescient sense that eventually he’d be pursued by law enforcement, he wrote – “That’s the best biography you’ll get out of me, coppers!”

The Toronto Globe and Mail talks clemency:

Moves to curb spying help drive clemency argument for Snowden

To the prosecutors pursuing him, Edward J. Snowden has committed espionage by divulging U.S. national secrets. But the growing backlash against government surveillance has spurred a spirited debate about whether he should be forgiven.

The whistleblower-versus-traitor argument has taken on a new dimension with recent moves to curtail the programs that Snowden revealed. A federal judge ruled that one program was probably unconstitutional, technology companies are demanding changes, lawmakers are considering restrictions, and even a White House panel urged modifications.

From Just Security, the perfect Catch-22:

OLC Memos and FOIA: Why the (b)(5) Exemption Matters

The headline of yesterday’s D.C. Circuit decision in Electronic Frontier Foundation v. Department of Justice, in which the Court of Appeals rejected a FOIA request for a 2010 OLC opinion regarding the legality of the FBI’s controversial use of “exigent” National Security Letters (NSLs) (issued without many of the usual–mandatory–FBI certifications), is unsurprising. But the reasoning is another story. Indeed, as I explain in the brief post that follows, Judge Edwards’s analysis may have the effect, unintended or otherwise, of insulating virtually all nonpublic OLC memos and opinions from FOIA requests–regardless of their subject-matter or sensitivity.

Mirror, mirror on the wall. . .from RT:

US the biggest threat to world peace in 2013 – poll

The US has been voted as the most significant threat to world peace in a survey across 68 different countries. Anti-American sentiment was not only recorded in antagonistic countries, but also in many allied NATO partners like Turkey and Greece.

A global survey conducted by the Worldwide Independent Network and Gallup at the end of 2013 revealed strong animosity towards the US’s role as the world’s policeman. Citizens across over 60 nations were asked: “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?”

The US topped the list, with 24 percent of people believing America to be the biggest danger to peace. Pakistan came second, with 8 percent of the vote and was closely followed by China with 6 percent. Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and North Korea came in joint fourth place with 5 percent of the vote.

German dreams of drones [the V-3?] from TheLocal.de:

Military calls for drones to protect soldiers

Germany’s military elite has called on the new coalition government to buy armed drones to protect the country’s soldiers.

The Armed Forces Association (Bundeswehrverband), commander of Germany’s troops in Afghanistan, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Armed Forces have all spoken out in support of drones.

Germany’s drone buying programme stalled when the last defence minister, Thomas de Mazière, spent hundreds of millions of euros on Euro Hawk drones that were not allowed to fly in German airspace.

Mission unaccomplished, from euronews:

Iraqi army battles to flush al Qaeda from Fallujah

Iraqi troops are still fighting a pitch battle to regain control of two key cities from militants linked to al Qaeda.

In Ramadi, military anti-terrorist teams have been engaged in street fighting with army forces reluctant to enter residential areas.

At least eight people were killed and 30 others wounded in Fallujah as Iraqi troops shelled rebel positions.

A mixture of Sunni Islamist and tribal forces are dug into Ramadi and the western region’s other main city, Fallujah. The seizure on Monday of territory is the first time in years that Sunni insurgents have taken effective control of the region’s most important cities.

Some perspective from RT:

Confirmed: 2013 deadliest for Iraq since 2008, UN estimates

A total of 8,868 people, including 7,818 civilians, have been killed in violent attacks across Iraq in 2013, the United Nations reports – the highest annual death toll in the war-torn country in five years.

In December alone, at least 759 Iraqis were killed and another 1,345 wounded in terrorist attacks and violence, reports the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNIRAQ), which monitors the impact of armed violence and terrorism on Iraqi civilians.

On to those East Asian crises, first with this from the Global Times:

Chinese envoy urges world to stop Abe from reversing post-war order

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to a controversial war shrine is a deliberate political act aimed at reversing the verdict of history on World War II, Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said Friday.

In a joint interview with Washington-based Chinese-language media, Cui added that the international community should not allow Abe to disrupt the post-war order and lead Japan back to the catastrophic path of militarism.

Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo on Dec. 26 was not an isolated individual act, but rather a deliberate act with clear political aims, Cui said.

Abe coalition partners raise a warning, via the Japan News:

Komeito: Govt must listen to concerns on Yasukuni

New Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi referred to worldwide concerns over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to controversial Yasukuni Shrine late last year.

Abe’s visit to the Tokyo shrine on Dec. 26 drew concern or stern rebukes from not only South Korea and China but also the United States, Russia and the European Union, Yamaguchi said in a street speech on Thursday. The shrine, which honors Class-A World War II criminals along with the war dead, is regarded as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism in other Asian countries.

The Japanese government must listen humbly and sincerely to these voices and show Japan’s stance of contributing to global peace and stability, Yamaguchi said.

Jiji Press goes head to head:

Japanese, U.S. Defense Chiefs Hold Talks over Phone

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held talks over the phone Saturday night, conversations that were once canceled late last month.

The phone talks were initially scheduled for Dec. 27 but canceled at the request of the United States.

The cancellation came after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tokyo’s controversial war-related Yasukuni shrine on Dec. 26, triggering protests from China and South Korea. Some Japanese Defense Ministry officials believed that the cancellation was caused by the shrine visit.

Sanctioned intimidation from Deutsche Welle:

Neo-Nazis get press cards to intimidate media

Neo-Nazis in Germany are increasingly using press cards to get access to media pools where they take pictures of journalists and other people and intimidate those who are fighting right-wing extremism.

Police usually ensure that neo-Nazis and counter-protesters keep their distance during demonstrations. Right-wing extremists, however, increasingly manage to overcome these barricades, but instead of applying force, they simply show their press badge. This card allows them to get up close with their enemies and journalists reporting on the event. Neo-Nazis videotape them and take pictures, and then threaten them.

Press card abuse has grown steadily over the past year, journalist Felix M. Steiner told DW. Steiner writes for Watchblog Publikative.org, the German public broadcaster NDR and Zeit Online’s Störungsmelder, a blog on Nazi activity, among others. Steiner mainly reports on right-wing extremism.

Bloomberg does the datatropic:

Human Behavior Trove Lures Economists to U.S. Tech Titans

Wooing this year’s best graduate students in economics will be familiar faces from Harvard, Princeton and other U.S. universities seeking assistant professors — and EBay Inc. (EBAY)’s not yet three-year-old economic research team.

The American Economic Association’s annual meeting kicks off today and EBay won’t be the only technology company aiming to tap more brainpower at what doubles as the discipline’s premier job fair. In the past few years, Google Inc. (GOOG), Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) have amassed teams of in-house economists to make sense of the oceans of data they’re collecting.

RT covers a loss of historical intelligence:

Thousands of books, manuscripts torched in fire at historic Lebanese library

Firefighters struggled to subdue the flames as the decades-old Al-Saeh library went up in smoke on Friday in the Serail neighborhood of Tripoli. Despite firefighters’ best efforts, little of the trove of historic books and manuscripts was recovered from the wreckage.

“Two thirds of some 80,000 books and manuscripts housed there,” a security source told Agence France Press, referring to the items destroyed. The source added that the blaze was started after a manuscript insulting the Prophet Mohammed was found hidden in the pages of one of the library books.

Our final headline from Boing Boing describes an unspeakable scientific environmental disaster:

Canadian libricide: Tories torch and dump centuries of priceless, irreplaceable environmental archives

Back in 2012, when Canada’s Harper government announced that it would close down national archive sites around the country, they promised that anything that was discarded or sold would be digitized first. But only an insignificant fraction of the archives got scanned, and much of it was simply sent to landfill or burned.

Unsurprisingly, given the Canadian Conservatives’ war on the environment, the worst-faring archives were those that related to climate research. The legendary environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick are gone. The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.

An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger’s 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, drones, bellicosity


We begin today’s tour of the black realm with a look, up in the sky! from CBC:

U.S. drone testing sites to be developed in 6 states

Test sites will work on how to introduce drones to U.S. skies

Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the unmanned aircraft’s march into U.S. skies. The agency said Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia as states that will host research sites.

The Independent adds another draconian Orwellian touch to life in Old Blighty:

MoD tightens security at American spy bases linked to drone strikes

‘Draconian’ laws would help the US cover up illegal activities

The Ministry of Defence is set to introduce “draconian” new powers to tighten security and limit access to US airbases in Britain implicated in mass surveillance and drone strikes, The Independent can reveal.

The measures, which include powers to arrest for offences ranging from taking photographs to failing to clean up dog mess, would be put in place through a little-known project to overhaul the by-laws surrounding military facilities across the country.

Among the sites where the new rules are set to be imposed are two US Air Force bases used as key communication hubs for clandestine eavesdropping.

And the really big story the latest Snowden leaks bombshell, first from Spiegel:

Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit

The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.

An internal description of TAO’s responsibilities makes clear that aggressive attacks are an explicit part of the unit’s tasks. In other words, the NSA’s hackers have been given a government mandate for their work. During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries — nearly everywhere in the world. In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide.

Indeed, TAO specialists have directly accessed the protected networks of democratically elected leaders of countries. They infiltrated networks of European telecommunications companies and gained access to and read mails sent over Blackberry’s BES email servers, which until then were believed to be securely encrypted. Achieving this last goal required a “sustained TAO operation,” one document states.

This TAO unit is born of the Internet — created in 1997, a time when not even 2 percent of the world’s population had Internet access and no one had yet thought of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. From the time the first TAO employees moved into offices at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the unit was housed in a separate wing, set apart from the rest of the agency. Their task was clear from the beginning — to work around the clock to find ways to hack into global communications traffic.

More from The Guardian:

NSA ‘hacking unit’ infiltrates computers around the world – report

  • NSA: Tailored Access Operations a ‘unique national asset’
  • Former NSA chief calls Edward Snowden a ‘traitor’

A top-secret National Security Agency hacking unit infiltrates computers around the world and breaks into the toughest data targets, according to internal documents quoted in a magazine report on Sunday.

Details of how the division, known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO), steals data and inserts invisible “back door” spying devices into computer systems were published by the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The magazine portrayed TAO as an elite team of hackers specialising in gaining undetected access to intelligence targets that have proved the toughest to penetrate through other spying techniques, and described its overall mission as “getting the ungettable”. The report quoted an official saying that the unit’s operations have obtained “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen”.

Here’s one of the NSA slides revealed by Spiegel, revealing both the name of a TAO program and the peculiar attutudes of cybersnoopers:

ACHTUNG SPERRFRIST 30.12.2013 Quantum-Biga #01 Foxacid

The Verge takes its own focus:

NSA reportedly intercepting laptops purchased online to install spy malware

According to a new report from Der Spiegel based on internal NSA documents, the signals intelligence agency’s elite hacking unit (TAO) is able to conduct sophisticated wiretaps in ways that make Hollywood fantasy look more like reality. The report indicates that the NSA, in collaboration with the CIA and FBI, routinely and secretly intercepts shipping deliveries for laptops or other computer accessories in order to implant bugs before they reach their destinations. According to Der Spiegel, the NSA’s TAO group is able to divert shipping deliveries to its own “secret workshops” in a method called interdiction, where agents load malware onto the electronics or install malicious hardware that can give US intelligence agencies remote access.

While the report does not indicate the scope of the program, or who the NSA is targeting with such wiretaps, it’s a unique look at the agency’s collaborative efforts with the broader intelligence community to gain hard access to communications equipment. One of the products the NSA appears to use to compromise target electronics is codenamed COTTONMOUTH, and has been available since 2009; it’s a USB “hardware implant” that secretly provides the NSA with remote access to the compromised machine.

And the Verge finds still another focus:

The NSA’s elite hackers can hijack your Wi-Fi from 8 miles away

Attendees at the Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg this weekend got a surprising rundown of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities, courtesy of security researcher Jacob Appelbaum. Appelbaum, who co-wrote the Der Spiegel article that first revealed the NSA catalog, went into further detail onstage, describing several individual devices in the catalog and their intended purposes.

Alongside pre-packaged exploits that allowed control over iOS devices and any phone communicating through GSM, Appelbaum detailed a device that targets computers through packet injection, seeding exploits from up to 8 miles away. He even speculated the exploits could be delivered by drone, although he conceded that in most cases, an unmarked van would likely be more practical.

The Daily Dot has another focus:

NSA has top-secret catalog of ‘keys’ into world’s security architecture

Around the world, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies depend on the computer security architecture made by companies like Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei to protect their most valuable secrets. But for years the vast majority of these systems have been compromised.

A 2008 document obtained by German newspaper Der Spiegel reveals the National Security Agency has been able to slip into the majority of systems made by the major players in the computer security industry, thanks to an entire catalog of resilient and hard-to-detect backdoors, some of which are capable of burrowing as deep as a computer’s motherboard.

The Daily Dot has another focus:

NSA has top-secret catalog of ‘keys’ into world’s security architecture

Around the world, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies depend on the computer security architecture made by companies like Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei to protect their most valuable secrets. But for years the vast majority of these systems have been compromised.

A 2008 document obtained by German newspaper Der Spiegel reveals the National Security Agency has been able to slip into the majority of systems made by the major players in the computer security industry, thanks to an entire catalog of resilient and hard-to-detect backdoors, some of which are capable of burrowing as deep as a computer’s motherboard.

While PandoDaily gets philosophical:

Snowden’s biggest revelation: We don’t know what power is anymore, nor do we care

That the US and Britain spy on our allies (and on each other) is not in and of itself a shocking revelation, but this is more important than mere novelty. What matters most about the Snowden leaks is what will come of them, and what we’ll do with them, if anything. There is no guarantee that leaks lead to positive change, nothing inherently transformative about leaking, not without a larger political movement – what Joe Costello would call “a politics” — pushing it. And right now, the only thing close to a politics around leaking is libertarianism, the worst of all political worlds.

Even with a politics, there’s no guarantee leaks end up making things better without a long fight. The last time frightening NSA spying programs (SHAMROCK, MINARET) were leaked in the 1970s, the political reforms that followed turned out to be far worse than what we had before: namely the secret FISA courts. The FISA courts were supposed to provide judicial check on the NSA, but instead turned into a nightmarish secret court that not only rubber stamps nearly every surveillance warrant the NSA asks for, but worse, has been used to restrict Americans’ constitutional rights.

Away from NSA and off to Moscow with the Buenos Aires Herald:

Russia calls for unity in fight against ‘terrorists’

Russia has likened two deadly suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd to attacks by militants in the United States, Syria and other countries and called for international solidarity in the fight against “terrorists.”

“We will not retreat and will continue our consistent fight against an insidious enemy that can only be defeated together,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

From BuzzFeed, the latest and possibly terminal entry in a long series:

Administration Won’t Comment On Israeli Report About Imprisoned Spy

An Israeli TV report says Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to offer to release Jonathan Pollard. The White House and State Department refuse to comment.

The White House and State Department on Friday refused to confirm or deny an Israeli report that Secretary of State John Kerry was offering the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in return for Israel freeing Arab Israeli prisoners as part of its next round of Palestinian prisoner releases.

Pollard was convicted in 1987 of stealing classified information and passing it on to the Israeli government while working as an intelligence analyst. He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and his eventual release has become a cause in Israeli politics, with 106 members of the Knesset signing a letter to Obama this week calling for Pollard to be freed from prison.

After the jump, tensions heat up n Asia with Afghan gloom, Pakistani violence, moves and countermoves in the China sea, more blowback from the Japanese prime minister’s visit to a war shrine housing remains of war criminals, hardening of the Japanese security state, corporate intel, and much more. . . Continue reading

Greenwald slams MSM on Snowden coverage


Former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald took the offense Friday in remarks to an enthusiastic audience of 10,000 hackers gathered in Hamburg, Germany, slamming his colleagues in the mainstream media for hewing zealously to the official line.

It’s a rare extent to hear Greenwald at length and well worth your while.

Vuia vlogger Albert Veli:

Glenn Greenwald Keynote on 30c3

From an RT report on Greenwald’s address:

Journalist Glenn Greenwald condemned the mainstream media during an address at a German computer conference on Friday and accused his colleagues of failing to challenge erroneous remarks routinely made by government officials around the globe.

Thousands of attendees at the thirtieth annual Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg packed into a room to watch the 46-year-old lawyer-turned-columnist present a keynote address delivered less than seven months after he started working with former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Revelations contained in leaked documents supplied by Snowden to Greenwald and other journalists have sparked international outrage and efforts to reform the far-reaching surveillance operations waged by the NSA and intelligence officials in allied nations. But speaking remotely from Brazil this week, Greenwald argued that the media establishment at large is guilty of failing significantly with respect to accomplishing its most crucial role: keeping governments in check.

Read the rest.

Snowden’s revelations as seen by an ex-spook


While former British army intelligence officer Michael Smith initially seemingly categorizes Edward Snowden as a traitor, when questioned by RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze he acknowledges Snowden wasn’t a traitor. Rather, he says, he’s naive.

Their conversation ranges beyond Snowden’s revelations and their import, examining the larger issues of intelligence, law, and governance.

From RT:

‘Snowden showed us world sleepwalks into Orwellian horror’ – ex-intelligence officer

Program notes:

The art of espionage has changed — the internet has given the surveillance agencies unprecedented capabilities to snoop at anyone, anywhere. On the other side are the whistleblowers, to whom World Web has given the chance to see what is really going on behind the closed doors of Big Brother. Who is right? Is wrongdoing justified for the sake of security? Today we put these questions to the former intelligence officer, Michael Smith.

Fox’s deepest fear?: ‘Wussification’ of America


From Media Matters for America:

From Media Matters:

In 2013, Fox News worked to stoke outrage over the supposed decline of traditional American values, identifying the purported “wussification” of America in everything from the “disturbing trend” of yoga in schools to the availability of human resources in the workplace. Here is Media Matters‘ top ten countdown of Fox News’ ‘wussification’ fears:

A question of whose ox is being gored


Perhaps Democratic Underground has a point:

BLOG Palin failin