Category Archives: Politics

EbolaWatch: More alarms, profit, pols, Africa


Always Africa. . .

We begin with the crassly commercial, via the Guardian:

Ebola: you’ve read about the disease, now buy the merchandise!

  • Everyone knows about Ebola – which makes it a dream marketing possibility for  companies unhindered by sensitivity. Here’s a selection of their varied wares

Perhaps compulsively buying Ebola products is itself a disease? If so, an epidemic of that too is brewing. Some people think the virus is all part of a conspiracy that must be exposed. Others believe it is the dawn of an apocalypse and are planning their survival. Then there are the people who just need to laugh in the face of so much sombre news (thankfully, we don’t see many of the faces of the people dying). Where there is this kind of demand, there will be supply.

One example of what’s on offer:

BLOG E-thong

Ebolaphobia, via the New York Times:

In U.S., Fear of Ebola Closes Schools and Shapes

A crowd of parents last week pulled their children out of a Mississippi middle school after learning that its principal had traveled to Zambia, an African nation untouched by the disease.

On the eve of midterm elections with control of the United States Senate at stake, politicians from both parties are calling for the end of commercial air traffic between the United States and some African countries, even though most public health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a shutdown would compound rather than alleviate the risks.

Carolyn Smith of Louisville, Ky., last week took a rare break from sequestering herself at home to take her fiancé to a doctor’s appointment. She said she was reluctant to leave her house after hearing that a nurse from the Dallas hospital had flown to Cleveland, over 300 miles from her home. “We’re not really going anywhere if we can help it,” Ms. Smith, 50, said.

More from the Guardian:

Panic: the dangerous epidemic sweeping an Ebola-fearing US

  • The fact that a school principal has been to Zambia (2,000 miles from west Africa) is not a good reason to keep your children home

Panic is less a side-effect of Ebola than its own sort of infectious disease, spread by misinformation and fear, a sickness that frays and tears the ways people usually get along. Hysteria shuts down schools and airports, paranoia undermines health workers and law enforcement, and fear encourages some of people’s worst instincts. As of Monday, there’s a lot more panic in the US than Ebola.

In Strong, Maine, an elementary school put a teacher on leave because she travelled to Dallas for a conference and stayed in the Hilton Anatole – “exactly 9.5 miles away” from the hospital where two nurses contracted the virus. The school board said parents feared the teacher could have contacted someone who contacted the nurses, or maybe someone who contacted someone who contacted one of the nurses – a rationale that would have fenced Maine off from Dallas, even though dozens have been declared healthy there.

In Georgia, a school district barred enrolment for students from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea unless they can present a doctor’s clean bill of health. In Hazelhurst, Mississippi, parents pulled children from a middle school after learning that the principal had been to Zambia for his brother’s funeral. Zambia, just a country away from South Africa, is well over 2,000 miles away from the Ebola outbreak in west Africa.

Nor is the mania limited to parents. Syracuse University “disinvited” a Pulitzer-winning journalist from speaking because he recently went to Liberia for work. Curiously, the dean who made the call said that while “this is not what you want to do as the dean of a premier journalism school,” she was “unwilling to take any risk”. The journalist, Michel du Cille, who has shown no symptoms and even been to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for work since his return, said he is “completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria”.

The Hill poses a question:

Ebola fears: Blame Hollywood?

Losing sleep over Ebola? Blame “The Walking Dead.”

Scholars say the outpouring of public angst about the virus is partly rooted in Hollywood, where film studios have for years cranked out TV shows and movies such as “Outbreak” and “Contagion” that show the world ravaged by an unstoppable virus.

The silver screen portrayals have added to the challenges for public health officials as they try to maintain public calm about a virus that is killing an estimated 7 out of every 10 people it infects in West Africa.

“They’re fictional. They’re meant to entertain,” said Nancy Tomes, a historian who has studied the causes of  “germ panics.”

“They have no obligation to virology. They’re for entertainment. But they do shape the ideas that people have available to make sense of something like this.”

But UN Daily News offers a different, more serious take:

Ebola no longer ‘localized emergency,’ UN health officials tell regional summit in Cuba

Ebola is no longer a localized public health emergency, top UN officials said in Havana today as they commended Cuba for sending doctors and nurses to the affected countries in West Africa, and addressed regional leaders gathering to discuss ways to resolve the emergency and halt spread of the virus to regional States.

Speaking at the Summit of Heads of State of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our Americas (ALBA) on Ebola, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, said cooperation and solidarity are essential, and Cuba and Venezuela, with their contributions, have already demonstrated this.

“I urge countries in the region and around the world to follow the lead of Cuba and Venezuela, who have set a commendable example with their rapid response in support of efforts to contain Ebola,” he said.

Saying that Cuba’s solidarity with other developing countries is well established, Dr. Nabarro commended the Government of the Caribbean island for dispatching a team of 165 medical aid workers to West Africa in early October.

“Cuba’s proud tradition of training doctors from developing countries has also helped improve medical care around the world,” Dr. Nabarro said.

Washington ramps up on the domestic front, via Reuters:

Using military and new protocols, U.S. ramps up Ebola response

The United States is issuing new protocols for health workers treating Ebola patients and a rapid-response military medical team will start training even as Americans’ anxiety about the spread of the virus abates with 43 people declared risk free.

The government’s new guidelines, which were set to come out at 7 p.m. EDT on Monday, were expected to tell health workers to cover skin, eyes and hair completely when dealing with patients who have the virus that has killed more than 4,500 in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

There have been just three cases diagnosed inside the United States, a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who died in Dallas, Texas, on Oct. 8 and two nurses who treated him and are now themselves patients. Among those released from monitoring were four people who shared an apartment with Duncan and had been in quarantine.

And RT raises questions:

US Army withheld promise from Germany that Ebola virus wouldn’t be weaponized

The United States has withheld assurances from Germany that the Ebola virus – among other related diseases – would not be weaponized in the event of Germany exporting it to the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases.

German MFA Deputy Head of Division for Export Control Markus Klinger provided a paper to the US consulate’s Economics Office (Econoff), “seeking additional assurances related to a proposed export of extremely dangerous pathogens.”

Germany subsequently made two follow-up requests and clarifications to the Army, according to the unclassified Wikileaks cable.

And a refusal from The Hill:

Obama’s Ebola czar declines to testify

The White House’s new Ebola czar will not testify before lawmakers Friday on the U.S. response to the epidemic.

Ron Klain, a Democratic operative, was named as the Obama administration’s point man on Ebola last Friday and will assume the job Wednesday.

Two days after that, the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the government’s Ebola response, with Klain among those invited to testify.

The White House declined the invitation on Monday, according to a source close to the back-and-forth.

Clearances from the Los Angeles Times:

Cautious optimism in Dallas as 43 people declared ‘Ebola free’

Dallas County officials on Monday expressed relief with the end of Ebola monitoring for most of the first group of 48 people who had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of the virus on Oct. 8.

“Today is a milestone day, it’s a hurdle that we need to get over,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said at a morning briefing.

Duncan, 42, was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Sept. 28, and the group began their 21-day monitoring soon after, including daily visits from public health workers who took their temperatures daily and checked for other symptoms of the deadly virus.

From the Los Angeles Times again, litigation looming:

Ebola patient Amber Vinson’s family disputes CDC story, gets a lawyer

Health officials gave Texas nurse Amber Vinson permission to fly to Ohio and back even though she voiced concern about Ebola, her relatives said Sunday, adding that they have retained a high-profile attorney.

Their statement contradicted a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention account of what took place before the nurse was diagnosed with the virus.

CDC officials said last week that Vinson had been told to avoid public transportation, including commercial airlines, while monitoring herself for symptoms. CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said her trip to Ohio, which began before fellow nurse Nina Pham had been diagnosed with Ebola, violated that restriction. The agency has acknowledged approving Vinson’s return flight.

The Associated Press points to the deficient:

Urgent-care clinics ill-equipped to treat Ebola

A new concern over the spread of Ebola surfaced recently when a Dallas County sheriff’s deputy who searched the apartment of the first patient to die from the virus in the U.S. started feeling ill and went to an urgent-care center.

The clinics popping up rapidly across the nation aren’t designed to treat serious illnesses and are ill-equipped to deal with suspected Ebola cases.

Doctors are urging patients to avoid smaller medical facilities and head to emergency rooms if they think they’ve been exposed to the virus that has put a focus on weak spots in the U.S. health care system.

The Christian Science Monitor covers political divisions:

Sharp divide in how key voters view US government’s Ebola response

  • Republican voters in electoral battleground states have far less confidence in US efforts to fight Ebola than do Democrats, a new poll shows

Anxiety is the dominant emotion among voters in battleground states and districts heading into Election Day, according to a poll released Monday by Politico.

From Ebola and the Islamic State to health care and the economy, voters are feeling shaky about the nation’s ability to cope with a variety of challenges. Overall, this sense of skepticism has not given either party a strong advantage in the midterms. Forty-four percent of battleground voters plan to vote Democratic, versus 41 percent for Republicans.

But on the federal government’s response to the Ebola virus, Republican voters in battleground races are much more skeptical than their Democratic counterparts, the poll found. Among the voters in that sample who plan to vote Republican on Nov. 4, only 43 percent said they have “a lot” or “some” confidence that the federal government is doing “everything possible to contain the spread of Ebola,” the poll found. Among Democratic voters, the number was 81 percent.

The Los Angeles Times covers absent impacts:

Ebola scare has had minimal effect on business travel, survey finds

The Ebola scare that has prompted calls for a travel ban and a quarantine of visitors from West Africa has done little to dampen business travel from the U.S.

Nearly 80% of corporate travel managers surveyed said the Ebola outbreak had either no or little effect on scheduled international travel, and more than 90% said the disease had no or little effect on domestic travel.

The survey of 421 corporate travel managers by the Global Business Travel Assn. was taken Oct. 13 to 15, about the time of news that a Dallas nurse flew on two Frontier Airlines flights before testing positive for the deadly disease. Amber Vinson, 29, contracted Ebola while treating a Liberian man who died of the disease.

Troubles unresolved from  Homeland Security News Wire:

States’ waste disposal laws limit hospitals’ Ebola-related disposal options

As U.S. hospitals prepare their staff for the possibility of admitting Ebola patients, many are concerned with the laws governing the disposal of Ebola-contaminated medical waste. Protective gloves, gowns, masks, medical instruments, bed linens, cups, plates, tissues, towels, and even pillowcases used on a single Ebola patient treated in a U.S. hospital will generate roughly eight 55-gallon barrels of medical waste each day. The CDC recommends autoclaving or incinerating the waste as a way to destroy the microbes, but California and at least seven other states prohibit burning infected waste.

As U.S. hospitals prepare their staff for the possibility of admitting Ebola patients, many are concerned with the laws governing the disposal of Ebola-contaminated medical waste. “We fully expect that it’s coming our way,” Jennifer Bayer, spokeswoman for the Hospital Association of Southern California, said of the virus. “Not to create any sort of scare, but just given the makeup of our population and the hub that we are, it’s very likely.”

Protective gloves, gowns, masks, medical instruments, bed linens, cups, plates, tissues, towels, and even pillowcases used on a single Ebola patient treated in a U.S. hospital will generate roughly eight 55-gallon barrels of medical waste each day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends autoclaving or incinerating the waste as a way to destroy the microbes, but California and at least seven other states prohibit burning infected waste. “These are some pretty big issues and they need some quick attention,” said Bayer.

A costly discharge, from the London Daily Mail:

German clinic forced to scrap two machines worth £1m because Ebola patient vomited on them

  • Patient was infected while treating Ebola victims in Sierra Leone
  • Was airlifted to hospital in Hamburg for specialist care
  • He recovered after five weeks of intense treatment
  • Not before vomiting on two expensive machines that now must be replaced

A German hospital is counting the cost of treating a single Ebola patient after being forced to write off £1million worth of equipment after a man infected with the virus vomited on it.

The University Clinic Eppendorf in Hamburg, a specialist centre for contagious diseases, gave the man intensive treatment for five weeks after he became infected while working for the World Health Organisation in Sierra Leone in August.

The treatment worked and the patient was declared Ebola-free and released earlier this month.

And from the Toronto Globe and Mail, capitalism at its finest:

As Ebola raged, Ottawa sold masks and gowns to highest bidder

Ottawa continued to auction off stockpiled medical supplies to the public, even after the World Health Organization requested the protective gear amid an Ebola outbreak raging in West Africa.

Sales of so-called Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which includes surgical masks and isolation gowns, also apparently took place despite requests that are said to have been made this summer via both Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the U.S. and a Canadian aid organization for donations to equip front-line health-care workers. And some of the low-priced auctioned gear landed in the hands of entrepreneurs who then tried to hawk the items for a profit.

An estimated $1.5-million worth of stockpiled Public Health Agency of Canada medical supplies were auctioned for just a fraction of that figure, raising questions about the true value of Canada’s contribution to the global fight against Ebola – and Ottawa’s own handling of it.

Drug news from News On Japan:

Fujifilm says to make Avigan anti-flu drug for more Ebola patients

Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings Corp said on Monday it was expanding the production of its Avigan anti-influenza drug to reach an additional number of Ebola patients.

France and Guinea plan to conduct clinical trials of Avigan 200 mg tablets, made by Fujifilm group company Toyama Chemical Co, in Guinea to treat Ebola in mid-November, Fujifilm said in a statement.

“Some research papers report that Avigan also shows efficacy against the Ebola virus in animal testing with mice, and Avigan has already been administered as an emergency treatment to several (Ebola) patients evacuated from West Africa to Europe,” the company said.

After the jump, screening in Hong Kong, quantifying the likelihood of air transport infections, Chinese aid contributions lag [but so do America’s], one group at the forefront, on to Africa and another fatality on the U.N. staff, Nigeria gets a clean bill of health and sets the bar for other African nations plus the secret of their success, Britain ups Sierra Leone aid, on to Liberia and a case of tragic superstition, a ravaged village, connecting the dots, a presidential son’s arrogance, and death in the military barracks, plus the challenge of journalism in the hot zone. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: The political media divide


From a new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center:

BLOG Media

An Ebolaphobic’s nightmare: The ISIS factor


From RT America, something to keep you sweating at night [and then wondering if you've caught something]:

FBI is wrong: Pentagon says ISIS could use Ebola

Program notes:

FBI Director James Comey recently said at a press conference that ISIS can’t use Ebola as a WMD, but he clearly didn’t check with the Pentagon’s lead chemical weapons specialist, Andrew Weber. Because he recently said that, in fact, YES, there of course is a possibility that ISIS could weaponize Ebola. Now, since Ebola isn’t airborne, the likelihood of Ebola being used on a mass scale remains small. But with more cases popping up in the US, at this point, it’s time for people to take Ebola a little more seriously. The Resident discusses.

InSecurityWatch: Cops, spooks, hacks, Hong Kong


First, via the Independent, the usual suspects, faring well:

With US-led air strikes on Isis intensifying, it’s a good time to be a shareholder in the merchants of death

  • Last month American warships fired $65.8m worth of Tomahawk missiles within just 24 hours of each other

So who is winning the war? Isis? Us? The Kurds (remember them?) The Syrians? The Iraqis? Do we even remember the war? Not at all. We must tell the truth. So let us now praise famous weapons and the manufacturers that begat them.

Share prices are soaring in America for those who produce the coalition bombs and missiles and drones and aircraft participating in this latest war which – for all who are involved (except for the recipients of the bombs and missiles and those they are fighting) – is Hollywood from start to finish.

Shares in Lockheed Martin – maker of the “All for One and One for All” Hellfire missiles – are up 9.3 per cent in the past three months. Raytheon – which has a big Israeli arm – has gone up 3.8 per cent. Northrop Grumman shares swooped up the same 3.8 per cent. And General Dynamics shares have risen 4.3 per cent. Lockheed Martin – which really does steal Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers quotation on its publicity material – makes the rockets carried by the Reaper drones, famous for destroying wedding parties over Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by Iraqi aircraft.

And don’t be downhearted. The profits go on soaring. When the Americans decided to extend their bombing into Syria in September – to attack President Assad’s enemies scarcely a year after they first proposed to bomb President Assad himself – Raytheon was awarded a $251m (£156m) contract to supply the US navy with more Tomahawk cruise missiles. Agence France-Presse, which does the job that Reuters used to do when it was a real news agency, informed us that on 23 September, American warships fired 47 Tomahawk missiles. Each one costs about $1.4m. And if we spent as promiscuously on Ebola cures, believe me, there would be no more Ebola.

From United Press International, a very important source of insecurity right here in the U.S.A.:

Stop and frisk causes anxiety in young men, study claims

  • Stop and frisk has been a common practice in New York for well over a decade

A new study suggests the New York City Police Department’s stop and frisk practice may be leading to elevated levels of anxiety among young men in the city, especially young black men.

The policy allows police to stop pedestrians and search them for drugs or weapons.

“Although 80% of respondents reported being stopped 10 times or fewer, more than 5% of respondents reported being stopped more than 25 times, and 1% of respondents reported more than 100 stops,” says the study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health on Thursday.

The study found that people who are stopped frequently report high levels of stress and anxiety when roaming the city, while those who are not stopped frequently do not feel those emotions. The study found black respondents were both more likely to feel those emotions and more likely to have been stopped regularly. The study involved 1,200 men ages 18 to 26, and it was conducted over a six month period.

On to the spooky world, first with BuzzFeed News:

Exclusive: Key NSA Official Has Another Business At Her Home

Powerful National Security Agency official registered “electronics” business at her home before her husband set up intelligence business there, BuzzFeed News finds. Her company owns a plane and a condo.

On a quiet street in Ellicott City, Maryland, a blue-grey two-story clapboard house, set back from the road, is shaded by two sycamores and a towering maple. It’s the unassuming home of one of the National Security Agency’s most powerful officials, Teresa H. Shea.

In September, BuzzFeed News disclosed a potential conflict of interest involving Shea, the director of Signals Intelligence. Called SIGINT in espionage jargon, it refers to all electronic eavesdropping and interception, including the controversial domestic surveillance program that collects information about Americans’ phone use.

As BuzzFeed News reported, there’s a private SIGINT consulting and contracting business based at Shea’s home in that quiet neighborhood. Shea’s husband, a business executive in the small but profitable SIGINT industry, is the resident agent for the firm, Telic Networks.

In addition, James Shea also works for a major SIGINT contracting firm, DRS Signal Solutions Inc., which appears to do SIGINT business with the NSA.

Now there’s a new wrinkle, which the NSA has also declined to discuss: Yet another company, apparently focused on the office and electronics business, is based at the Shea residence on that well-tended lot.

More from the Wire:

The NSA’s Moonlighting Problem

  • A former NSA head has recruited one of his underlings for his lucrative cybersecurity firm—but that underling still works for the agency

In Washington, the revolving door between government service and more lucrative ventures is common, if not expected. However, having one foot in each has raised questions for the National Security Agency, which has launched an internal review of one senior official who was recruited by former NSA director Keith Alexander to work for his new—and very lucrative—cybersecurity private venture.

Patrick Dowd, the NSA’s Chief Technological Officer, is allowed to work up to 20 hours a week for Alexander’s firm, IronNet Cybersecurity, Inc., according to Reuters, which broke the story on the deal. Although the arrangement was apparently approved by NSA managers and does not appear to break any laws on its face, it does raise questions about ethics and the dividing line between business and one of the most secretive agencies in government.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told Reuters, “This matter is under internal review. While NSA does not comment on specific employees, NSA takes seriously ethics laws and regulations at all levels of the organization.”

But one of the chief antagonists is in trouble, via The Hill:

Top NSA critic could lose seat

Critics of the government’s spy agencies are worried that Colorado’s hotly contested Senate race could end the public career of one of their best allies in Congress.

Sen. Mark Udall’s (D-Colo.) possible defeat would leave a void in the Senate and on the powerful Intelligence Committee, civil liberties and anti-secrecy advocates fear.
“I do think it would be a significant loss for the movement,” said Laura Murphy, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office.

“What Udall has is the institutional memory, and the relationships in the civil liberties community, in the Democratic Party and in the tech industry so that we don’t have to start over again with someone new,” she added, while noting that her concern would be the same if Republican civil liberties advocates were also at risk of losing their seats.

From RT, a reminder that you don’t have to be paranoid to feel they’re out to get you:

Assange fears Ecuador embassy in London bugged

Lawyers for the WikiLeaks founder have filed eavesdropping claims to the Swedish court, as Julian Assange, who has been stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over two years, fears he is being bugged.

In a submission presented to the Swedish Court of Appeal on Friday, Assange’s lawyers claim that he “is most likely under auditory surveillance,” the Daily Mail reports.

The defense also urged the Swedish side to hand over text messages, sent by one of Assange’s accusers, which they believe could serve as evidence that there was no ground for the arrest warrant. Assange says they reveal the woman’s ambiguity over his arrest and even her opposition to the case, based on sexual assault allegations.

The lawyers also believe that to “break the deadlock,” the 43-year-old Australian should be questioned at the embassy in Knightsbridge, where he is staying, rather than go to Sweden, which he believes could lead to his extradition to the US.

Next up, from TheLocal.se, the Swedish enigma continues:

Mystery deepens over reported Russian sub

Mystery deepened on Sunday over a Swedish military operation triggered by “foreign underwater activity” off the coast of Stockholm, amid an unconfirmed report of a hunt for a damaged Russian submarine.

Late on Saturday, Swedish armed forces stepped up an operation — involving more than 200 men, stealth ships, minesweepers and helicopters — in an area about 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of the Swedish capital.

The operation was initiated on Friday after the armed forces said they had been informed of a “man made object” in the water.

Officials denied they were “submarine hunting,” calling the mobilization — one of the biggest, barring purely training exercises, since the Cold War — an “intelligence operation”.

More from United Press International:

Sweden puts troops on alert after detecting possible foreign threat

  • Swedish media reported transmissions on an emergency frequency coming from waters of the Stockholm Archipelago to a reciever in Kaliningrad, Russia

Erik Lagersten, spokesman for the Swedish Armed Forces, could not confirm or deny speculations about the threat, including whether it was a missing foreign submarine.

“We are now trying to verify the information we received yesterday, which in our assessment comes from trustworthy sources, and see whether it has any substance or not,” Jesper Tengroth, press officer for the Swedish military, told Swedish media on Saturday.

Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported that the National Defence Radio Establishment detected emergency radio transmissions coming from the area to a reciever in Kaliningrad, Russia.

The Intercept debunks:

The FBI Director’s Evidence Against Encryption Is Pathetic

FBI Director James Comey gave a speech Thursday about how cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a “very dark place” where it “misses out” on crucial evidence to nail criminals. To make his case, he cited four real-life examples — examples that would be laughable if they weren’t so tragic.

In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor.

In the most dramatic case that Comey invoked — the death of a 2-year-old Los Angeles girl — not only was cellphone data a non-issue, but records show the girl’s death could actually have been avoided had government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents acted on the extensive record they already had before them.

In another case, of a Lousiana sex offender who enticed and then killed a 12-year-old boy, the big break had nothing to do with a phone: The murderer left behind his keys and a trail of muddy footprints, and was stopped nearby after his car ran out of gas.

And in the case of a Sacramento hit-and-run that killed a man and his girlfriend’s four dogs, the driver was arrested in a traffic stop because his car was smashed up, and immediately confessed to involvement in the incident.

The Guardian covers an accusation:

United States accused of misleading British minister over treatment of Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo Bay

  • Charity claims British resident cleared for release is being beaten by guards before force-feeding

The US government has been accused of misleading a British minister over the brutal treatment endured by the last British resident being held inside Guantánamo Bay.

Testimony from detainees has described increasingly violent “forcible cell extraction” (FCE) tactics, in which an inmate is forced out of his cell by armed guards, usually before being taken to the force-feeding chair.

Earlier this month a federal judge, Gladys Kessler, heard how methods used by the US military to feed inmates against their will present long-term health risks and that lubricating their feeding tubes with olive oil can cause chronic inflammatory pneumonia.

However, attempts by the British government to establish if Shaker Aamer, whose family are in south London, has been mistreated appear to have been dismissed. The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, revealed in a letter dated 7 October: “We made inquiries with US government officials, who assured us that the report of an incident, relayed to you by another detainee, is not accurate.”

From PCWorld, gone phishin’:

Dropbox used for convincing phishing attack

Dropbox’s file storage service was used for a tricky phishing attack, although the service was quick to shut down it down, according to Symantec.

The security vendor said it detected a batch of phishing emails advising recipients that they’ve been sent a large file and included a link to Dropbox-hosted page.

“The email claims the document can be viewed by clicking on the link included in the message,” wrote Nick Johnston of Symantec in a blog post. “However, the link opens a fake Dropbox login page, hosted on Dropbox itself.”

By hosting the fake login page on Dropbox, the scammers gain some benefits over hosting it on a random, strange-looking domain name. The phishing page is contained within Dropbox’s user content domain, similar to shared photos or files, Johnston wrote

And the Guardian covers an admission:

Whisper chief executive answers privacy revelations: ‘We’re not infallible’

  • Michael Heyward releases statement on Guardian reports
  • Does not dispute accuracy of reporting
  • Says: ‘Reasonable people can disagree about online anonymity’

The chief executive of the “anonymous” social media app Whisper broke his silence late on Saturday, saying he welcomed the debate sparked by Guardian US revelations about his company’s tracking of users and declaring “we realise that we’re not infallible”.

Michael Heyward’s statement was his first public response to a series of articles published in the Guardian which revealed how Whisper monitors the whereabouts of users of an app he has in the past described as “the safest place on the internet”.

Whisper hosts 2.6 million messages a day posted through its app, which promises users a place to “anonymously share your thoughts and secrets” and has billed itself as a platform for whistleblowers.

After the jump, the latest on the search for those missing Mexican college students, an on-the-air killing of a Mexican activist, a crime activist slain, and a maverick cop murdered, the two Koreas exchange fire, on to Hong Kong and a protester condemnation, a mediator talks fairness, fear of a violent minority, and claims of foreign influence, Beijing/Washington cybertalks stalled, a shifting submarine balance, a Chinese wound is poked and a military response follows, a major provocation by China, plus a major threat for China’s mistresses. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: West Nile, spider, smog, volcano


We begin with a story close to home [esnl’s], and an enigma, via the Oakland Tribune:

West Nile cases surging in state, Bay Area

In the midst of a historic drought, public health officials are searching for clues as to why cases of West Nile virus have exploded statewide since last year, making this season the worst for human infections in California since 2005.

The surge in mosquitoes found carrying the virus in 2014 has not only reached unprecedented levels, it’s also creating headaches for local vector and mosquito control districts, which are pushing hard to kill the disease-carrying pests and their larvae.

In Santa Clara County, where more than one-third of the state’s entire count of West Nile-positive birds have been found, fogging operations for mosquitoes have hit an all-time high, as have the number of human cases. Alameda County’s Mosquito Abatement District, too, is pulling out all the stops to quell concentrations of infected mosquitoes in otherwise water-starved areas. And in Contra Costa County, the Mosquito and Vector Control District sprayed for adult mosquitoes 14 times between April and September.

Over the summer, the Santa Clara County Vector Control District found as many as 1 in 20 mosquitoes infected with West Nile in the area, acting manager Russ Parman said.

The Guardian covers a growing environmental disaster:

Amazon deforestation picking up pace, satellite data reveals

  • Data indicates 190% rise in land clearance in August and September compared with same period last year

The deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has accelerated rapidly in the past two months, underscoring the shortcomings of the government’s environmental policies.

Satellite data indicates a 190% surge in land clearance in August and September compared with the same period last year as loggers and farmers exploit loopholes in regulations that are designed to protect the world’s largest forest.

Figures released by Imazon, a Brazilian nonprofit research organisation, show that 402 square kilometres – more than six times the area of the island of Manhattan – was cleared in September.

The government has postponed the release of official figures until after next Sunday’s presidential election, in which incumbent Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ party faces a strong challenge from Aécio Neves, a pro-business candidate who has the endorsement of Marina Silva, the popular former environment minister.

And one factor in that deforestation is Europe’s hunger for wood, as Agence France-Presse reports:

Deforestation

Program notes:

Greenpeace denounces the export of wood acquired illegally in Brazil’s Amazon region to European countries like Belgium, France, Sweden and the Netherlands.

From USA TODAY, one damn big arachnid:

Scientist stumbles upon spider as big as a puppy

Strolling through a Guyana rainforest one night, a scientist heard some rustling and thought he’d encountered a furry mammal.

Well, he was right about the furry part.

The creature was actually a Goliath birdeater spider, LiveScience reports — the world’s biggest type of spider, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It can weigh up to 6 ounces. For comparison, National Geographic reports a black widow weighs roughly .035 ounces; that’s 170 times lighter.

Scientist Piotr Naskrecki writes its weight is “about as much as a young puppy,” while its leg span can be a foot long, comparable with a kid’s forearm, notes LiveScience. The body itself is fist-sized, Naskrecki says. The fangs? Two inches long. The thing won’t kill you, but its bite feels “like driving a nail through your hand.”

The Independent covers a Chinese quandary:

Beijing marathon runners choked by smog are forced to wear face masks

Runners were forced to wear face masks as tens of thousands of competitors took part in an international marathon in Beijing under a thick blanket of smog – despite warnings that everyone in the city should avoid outdoor activities.

About 30,000 runners were expected to take part in the event on Sunday morning, with the organising committee making 140,000 sponges available at supply stations along the marathon route so runners could “clean their skin that is exposed to the air,” the Beijing News reported.

“On a normal day, nobody would run in such conditions,” said participant Liu Zhenyu, a computer engineer. “But the event is happening today, so what can we do?”

Although organisers had warned on Saturday night that “there might be slight or moderate smog”, the air was deemed to be severely polluted on Sunday morning, according to the real-time monitoring of Beijing’s environmental centre.

A video report from Deutsche Welle:

Beijing’s Smog Marathon

Program notes:

Thousands of runners have battled thick smog to take part in the Beijing Marathon. Some athletes donned masks as air pollution soared toward 14 times the maximum recommended level. Chinese organizers rejected calls to postpone the event.

For our final item, via JapanToday, an explosive concern:

4,000 take part in Mt Fuji eruption drill

Nearly 4,000 people took part Sunday in a mass evacuation drill to test responses to a possible eruption of Japan’s highest peak Mt Fuji, weeks after a nearby volcano blew its top and killed at least 56.

The 3,776-meter Fuji last erupted in 1707 but geologists have included it as one of 47 volcanoes in the Pacific Rim country believed to be at risk of eruption in the coming century.

Nearly 4,000 residents in 26 cities, towns and villages in Shizuoka, Yamanashi and Kanagawa prefectures around the mountain took part in the first-ever such drill, said a disaster management official for the Shizuoka prefectural government.

Mt Fuji is just 100 kilometers west of Tokyo.

EbolaWatch: Phobia, pols, meds, & Africa


Always Africa, though news from the continent is slow today.

First from the London Daily Mail, which gets it about right:

Ebola hysteria sweeps US schools: Teacher who visited Dallas told not to come to work as hundreds of Mississippi parents pull kids school because principal visited Zambia… 3,000 miles from countries hit by the disease

  • Maine elementary teacher stayed 9.5 miles from Ebola hospital in Texas
  • She has been ordered into isolation for 21 days amid ‘parents’ concerns’
  • In Mississippi, hundreds of parents pulled kids from middle school after principal visited Zambia – a country 3,000 miles from Ebola-hit nations
  • Parents at nearby high school also removed children to ‘avoid risk’

CNN reports on the growing American Ebolaphobia:

U.S. public ‘very worried’ about Ebola

Program notes:

The fear of Ebola is fraying nerves and ringing false alarms across the country. Ted Rowlands reports.

From AllAfrica, the silver lining in the Ebolaphobia cloud:

How Ebola Could Save Thousands of U.S. Lives

If media coverage of the three Ebola cases in the United States – some of it calling attention to the far greater danger of influenza – causes more people to ask their doctors about a flu shot, Ebola could end up saving many lives

Have you had your flu shot this year?

The highly contagious respiratory infection is linked to as many as 50,000 annual deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An estimated 20,000 children under five are hospitalized.

If media coverage of the three Ebola cases in the United States – some of it calling attention to the far greater danger of influenza – causes more people to ask their doctors about a flu shot, Ebola could end up saving many lives. Strong statements by Fox news anchor Scott Shepherd and New York Times columnist Frank Bruni (Scarier Than Ebola) are examples of what could prove to be life-saving reporting.

The Pentagon gets busy, via the Los Angeles Times:

Pentagon announces Ebola rapid-response team for U.S. cases of virus

The Pentagon announced Sunday it is putting together a 30-person rapid-response team that could provide quick medical support to civilian healthcare workers if additional cases of the Ebola virus are diagnosed in the United States.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered U.S. Northern Command Commander Gen. Chuck Jacoby to assemble the team, which was requested by the Department of Health and Human Services, said Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby.

The team will consist of 20 critical-care nurses, five doctors trained in infectious disease, and five trainers in infectious-disease protocols.

CBC News covers measures to the north:

Canada’s Ebola response gets fresh test in Nova Scotia

  • One of 5 rapid response teams ready to aid local health authorities

Nova Scotia has been chosen for a second test of Canada’s response to Ebola.

On Sunday, a team from the federal Public Health Agency arrived to brief health-care providers on the techniques they will be reportedly practising on Monday should a confirmed case of Ebola arrive in Canada.

“Drills, dry runs, and practising are important to ensuring that our teams are able to respond without hesitation in the event of a case of Ebola,” Health Minister Rona Ambrose said in a news release.

The agency says if a case of Ebola is ever confirmed in Canada, one of the five Ebola rapid response teams would work with local health authorities to prevent its spread.

Each team comprises a field epidemiologist, an infection control expert, a bio-safety expert, a laboratory expert, a communications expert and a logistics expert. Aircraft are stationed in Winnipeg and Ottawa.

And a video report from the Public Health Agency of Canada:

PHAC Rapid Response Team

Program note:

Ebola Rapid Response Team practices deploying to a simulated case of Ebola

From The Hill, czarist politics:

Praise, criticism for Obama’s Ebola czar pick

President Obama’s selection to lead the administration’s Ebola response drew both praise and criticism from guests on the Sunday morning political shows.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, pushed back at GOP opposition to Obama’s new czar, Ron Klain, calling him an “excellent manager.”

Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore and later Vice President Joe Biden, will take the reins of the administration’s Ebola strategy next week. He was named to the position on Friday.

When asked if a healthcare professional would be a better choice, Fauci said “not necessarily.”

From the Washington Post, surprise, surprise:

Why Democrats are sounding like Republicans on Ebola and the GOP is moving into overdrive

Democrats are beginning to sound more like Republicans when they talk about Ebola. And Republicans are moving into overdrive with their criticism of the government’s handling of the deadly virus.

The sharpened rhetoric, strategists say, suggests Democrats fear President Obama’s response to Ebola in the United States could become a political liability in the midterm election and Republicans see an opportunity to tie increasing concerns about the disease to the public’s broader worries about Obama’s leadership.

“This is feeding into the Republican narrative that Democrats don’t know how to govern and government is too large,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). Democrats, Manley said, “are desperate to try to demonstrate that they have tough ideas to respond to the crisis.”

Failure acknowledged, via the Los Angeles Times:

Fauci acknowledges that Ebola guidelines failed to protect caregivers

A top federal health official conceded Sunday that the government-recommended protective gear worn by nurses and doctors caring for patients sickened by Ebola has been inadequate to protect caregivers from infection.

The official, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that medical professionals need gear that would provide complete, head-to-toe coverage, shielding their skin from contact with an Ebola patient’s body or its fluids.

Serving as the Obama administration’s sole spokesman for Ebola on five national television talk shows Sunday, Fauci indicated that new guidelines for “personal-protective’‘ gear were about to be issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He acknowledged that two nurses in Dallas may have been infected by their exposure to an Ebola-infected patient that they cared for who ultimately died, Thomas E. Duncan.

The original guidelines, Fauci said, “did have some exposure of skin in the sense you had a mask—but there was some skin that was exposed and some hair that was exposed.’‘ Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,’‘ Fauci added, “we want to make sure that’s no longer the case.’‘

More failure acknowledged, via the New York Times:

C.E.O. of Texas Hospital Group Apologizes for Mistakes in Ebola Cases

The head of the group that runs the Texas hospital under scrutiny for mishandling Ebola cases apologized Sunday in full-page ads in local Dallas newspapers, saying the hospital “made mistakes in handling this very difficult challenge.”

Barclay E. Berdan, chief executive of the Texas Health Resources, which operates a network of 25 hospitals here, said in an open letter that hospital officials were deeply sorry for having misdiagnosed symptoms shown by Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who was sent home after his first visit to the emergency room of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, but was later readmitted and then died of the virus two weeks later.

“The fact that Mr. Duncan had traveled to Africa was not communicated effectively among the care team, though it was in his medical chart,” Mr. Berdan wrote. “On that visit to the Emergency Department, we did not correctly diagnose his symptoms as those of Ebola. For this we are deeply sorry.”

And a diagnosis from the Progressive:

Top Doc Says Ebola Shows Skewed Priorities

The Ebola crisis has revealed severe deficiencies in how the American health care system works, experts say.

Dr. Walter Tsou, past president of the American Public Health Association and the former health commissioner for Philadelphia, says that the Ebola crisis shows the skewed priorities of the U.S. health care system.

“Our chronic disease-oriented health care system is ill-equipped to address an acute infectious disease outbreak,” Dr. Tsou, a board adviser to Physicians for a National Health Program, tells The Progressive. “We don’t have enough biocontainment units, sufficiently trained experts on how to control for highly infectious disease agents, trained sanitation crews who can clean up and properly handle waste disposal.”

Tsou says that the Ebola epidemic has uncovered big flaws in the global health system, too.

The Los Angeles Times covers Golden State preparations:

Gov. Brown to meet with nursing groups to discuss Ebola preparations

Leaders of two nursing organizations say they plan to meet Tuesday with Gov. Jerry Brown to call on the state to upgrade Ebola training and safety precautions for California health professionals.

The California Nurses Assn. and National Nurses United are asking state regulators to formally adopt what they called “optimal safety standards,” including requirements for Hazmat suits and accelerated hands-on training programs.

“California hospitals have been appallingly slow in moving to enact any effective protocols, much less the highest standards, in response to this virulent Ebola threat that has already infected two nurses in Dallas,” NNU and CNA Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro said in a statement.

And from the New York Times, their ship just came in:

Ebola Watch Lists in U.S. to Shrink, Cruise Passenger Cleared

Some of the dozens of people who are being watched for possible exposure to Ebola in the United States are expected to be cleared on Sunday and Monday, potentially easing concerns about the spread of the disease after two nurses were infected.

A Dallas lab worker who spent much of a Caribbean holiday cruise in isolation tested negative for the deadly virus and left the Carnival Magic liner with other passengers after it docked at Galveston, Texas, early on Sunday morning.

The precautions taken for the cruise passenger reflected widespread anxiety over Ebola in the United States, including calls from some lawmakers for a travel ban on West Africa.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau covers the post-quarantine question:

As 21-day Ebola quarantine ends, what’s to fear?

The first wave of people, including the fiance of Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan, will emerge from a state-ordered, 21-day Ebola quarantine Monday, which should probably spark relief in a region that desperately wants to escape the shadow of the epidemic.

But church officials are considering extra security for Louise Troh and her children amid ongoing fears about Ebola across Dallas-Fort Worth _ and throughout the United States.

Experts who study psychology say the release of 48 people from the Ebola watchlist back into society, and the expected onslaught of news coverage about them shopping at local grocery stores and returning to schools, could fuel another wave of irrational fears.

From the London Daily Mail, doubly devastated:

‘They are left with nothing’: Devastated girlfriend of Ebola patient zero Thomas Eric Duncan to be released from quarantine after Hazmat teams destroyed almost all their belongings

  • The fiancée of Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan will be released from quarantine at midnight tonight – but will emerged with hardly any possession after they were destroyed by hazmat teams.
  • Louise Troh, 54, missed her boyfriend’s funeral while she was locked away for the duration of the deadly virus’s 21-day incubation period, which expires tonight.
  • During the frantic operation to seal off Duncan’s apartment in Dallas and eliminate all traces of the disease, she also lost the majority of her belongings.
  • Only a few personal documents, some photographs, and a single Bible escaped the cleansing operation.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau covers the latest form of prejudice:

In Texas, Liberian Americans weary of Ebola stigma

When Otto Williams opened his mouth last week to say that he’d be happy to work a new job installing home heating and air conditioning units, the contractor listened to Williams’s accent and asked where he was he from.

“Liberia,” said Williams, 42, an HVAC technician. Knowing the concerns some people have about the Ebola virus, he made sure to smile.

But soon, the contractor mentioned he was in a hurry, excused himself and promised to call Williams back. He didn’t.

“It’s gotten to the point where you don’t want to mention you’re Liberian,” Williams said.

More from the Washington Post:

West Africans in Washington say they are being stigmatized because of Ebola fear

Alphonso Toweh was riding a bus when a man sitting next to him politely asked where he was from.

“Liberia,” said Toweh, a writer from Monrovia who is visiting the Washington area, home to the nation’s second-largest population of African immigrants.

“At that point, the man went far from me,” he said. “He did not want to come close to me. People, once they know you are Liberian — people assume you have the virus in your body, which is not the case.”

The Japan Times covers a patient recovered:

Spain: Nursing assistant clear of Ebola virus

An initial test shows that a nursing assistant who became infected with Ebola in Spain is now clear of all traces of the virus nearly two weeks after she was hospitalized, authorities said Sunday.

Teresa Romero, 44, is the first person known to have contracted the disease outside West Africa in the current outbreak when she tested positive for the virus Oct. 6. She has been in quarantine at Carlos III hospital in Madrid since then.

A statement Sunday said a blood test revealed that Romero’s immune system had eliminated the virus from her body. The statement came from the Spanish government committee in charge of the nation’s Ebola crisis. A second test in the coming hours is needed to absolutely confirm Romero’s recovery, said Manuel Cuenca, microbiology director at Madrid’s Carlos III health care complex.

From the Associated Press, another screening program launched:

Belgium’s main airport to begin Ebola screening

Brussels Airport says it will begin screening passengers arriving from Ebola-stricken countries Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The airport operator says passengers arriving from these three countries will have their temperatures taken starting Monday.

Four flights a week from the area concerned arrive weekly at Brussels Airport. Similar measures were begun Saturday at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, where one daily flight arrives from Conakry, Guinea.

And from the Guardian, a renewed push for Aussie medical aid:

Ebola: Labor renews calls for health workers to be sent to west Africa

  • Tanya Plibersek says Australia would be in ‘big trouble’ if it waited for virus to spread to Asia Pacific before offering help

Australia would be in “big trouble” if it waited for the Ebola virus to spread to the Asia-Pacific region before acting, the opposition has said, as the government called for bipartisanship on the serious health issue.

The health minister, Peter Dutton, said on Sunday the government continued to talk with other countries about what support could be provided if Australian medical teams were dispatched to west Africa and later needed to be evacuated.

Dutton accused Labor of “playing politics with a very important issue” and indicated that Australia was “ready to rapidly deploy support” if an outbreak occurred in near neighbours such as Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands.

Questions from the Associated Press:

Effectiveness of Ebola travel ban questioned

A ban on travel from West Africa might seem like a simple and smart response to the frightening Ebola outbreak there. It’s become a central demand of Republicans on Capitol Hill and some Democrats, and is popular with the public. But health experts are nearly unanimous in saying it’s a bad idea that could backfire.

The experts’ key objection is that a travel ban could prevent needed medical supplies, food and health care workers from reaching Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the nations where the epidemic is at its worst. Without that aid, the deadly virus might spread to wider areas of Africa, making it even more of a threat to the U.S. and the world, experts say.

In addition, preventing people from the affected countries from traveling to the U.S. could be difficult to enforce and might generate counterproductive results, such as people lying about their travel history or attempting to evade screening.

After the jump, China and Japan mull partnerships with Washington, front line nurses speak out, the problem with bushmeat, the sorrows of surviving, a continent’s image tarnished, Washington’s military point man hails progress, the WHO plans an African meet, Nigeria to get an all-clear, troubling news for a British survivor, defenses bolstered in the Gambia, a troubling sign in Zimbabwe, and the African Union sends help, on to Liberia and a presidential cry for help, a hopeful sign, and survivors mask a plea for help — plus a suggestion we really like. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: War, trolls, spies, Hong Kong


We begin with the war of the moment, via Reuters:

U.S.-led coalition jets strike Kobani, Islamic State shells hit Turkey

U.S.-led coalition jets pounded suspected Islamic State targets at least six times in the besieged Syrian town of Kobani on Saturday after the fiercest shelling in days by the insurgents shook the town’s center and hit border areas within Turkey.

Shelling continued after the strikes hit the center of Kobani. Several mortars fell inside Turkey near the border gate, called Mursitpinar, according to witnesses.

Islamic State militants have battled Kurdish fighters for a month to take control of Kobani and consolidate a 60 mile (95 km) stretch of land they control along the Turkish border, but stepped-up air strikes in recent days have helped Kurds fend off the advance.

And the latest to join the fray, from the London Telegraph:

‘You can’t stay sitting on your couch’, says member of Dutch motorcycle gang joining fight against Islamic State militants

  • Members of “No Surrender” are joining Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on the front line city of Zumar, Iraq

Members of the Dutch motorcycle gang “No Surrender” have joined the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the Northern region of Iraq in their fight against Islamic State (IS) militants.

Dutch gang member Ron, who did not give his last name, is fighting with the Peshmerga forces on the frontline in the city of Zumar, close to the Syrian border.

When asked by a local television news reporter why he joined the Kurdish forces, he said he couldn’t watch the Islamic State’s violent acts against the Yazidi religious minority, any longer from his home in the Netherlands.

The London Daily Mail covers indiscretion [Osama knew better]:

ISIS tells its jihadis to stop betraying their location when they tweet: Fighters’ obsession with social media is letting spies track where they are

  • Jihadi fighters told to stop tweeting names, locations and identifiable photos
  • Isis leaders also want them to remove metadata from their tweets
  • Information from digital files can be valuable to intelligence agencies
  • Arabic language manual handed out to fighters gives detailed instructions

Schneier on Security gets spooky:

NSA Classification ECI = Exceptionally Controlled Information

ECI is a classification above Top Secret. It’s for things that are so sensitive they’re basically not written down, like the names of companies whose cryptography has been deliberately weakened by the NSA, or the names of agents who have infiltrated foreign IT companies.

As part of the Intercept story on the NSA’s using agents to infiltrate foreign companies and networks, it published a list of ECI compartments. It’s just a list of code names and three-letter abbreviations, along with the group inside the NSA that is responsible for them. The descriptions of what they all mean would never be in a computer file, so it’s only of value to those of us who like code names.

This designation is why there have been no documents in the Snowden archive listing specific company names. They’re all referred to by these ECI code names.

And the Guardian covers a call for a probe:

Privacy experts call for Whisper to be investigated over tracking of some users

  • Federal Trade Commission could examine issue of ‘anonymous’ app tracking users who have asked not to be followed

Privacy experts on Friday called for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to examine social media app Whisper’s tracking of “anonymous users”.

The US consumer watchdog has broad powers to sanction companies it believes have breached their promises to consumers and has become increasingly interested in claims made by tech companies, sanctioning Facebook, Google and Snapchat in recent years.

On Thursday the Guardian revealed that Whisper, an app that promises to “anonymously share your thoughts and secrets”, is tracking its users including some who have asked not to be followed and storing their posts indefinitely while it trawls their messages to identify interesting stories to promote itself in the media.

“That’s exactly the kind of deceptive practice that the FTC should crack down on because consumers do rely on those representations,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which filed a complaint with the FTC last year asking it to investigate Snapchat.

Getting punitive with BBC News:

Internet trolls face up to two years in jail under new laws

Internet trolls could face up to two years in jail under new laws, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said.

He told the Mail on Sunday quadrupling the current maximum six-month term showed his determination to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob”.

The plan has been announced days after TV presenter Chloe Madeley suffered online abuse, which Mr Grayling described as “crude and degrading”.

Magistrates could pass serious cases on to crown courts under the new measures.

And from the Independent a high-flyin’ spy?:

Top secret space plane: American X-37B aircraft lands after secret mission lasting almost two years

A top secret unmanned space plane, that has spent nearly two years circling the Earth on a classified mission, has landed at a US Air Force base on the Southern California coast.

The aircraft, which resembles a miniature version of the space shuttle, safely touched down at 9.24am on Friday at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Theories have abounded as to the highly classified mission undertaken by the Orbital Test Vehicle or X-37B during its 674 days in orbit. Among them is the suggestion that the aircraft was used to spy on China’s new space laboratory.

Several experts have theorized it carried a payload of spy gear in its cargo bay. Other theories sound straight out of a James Bond film, including that the spacecraft would be able to capture the satellites of other nations.

And a low-flyer? From TheLocal.se:

Sweden hunts damaged Russian sub: report

A Russian distress call prompted Sweden’s hunt for “foreign underwater activity” in the Stockholm archipelago, newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) reports.

Swedish signals intelligence officials first heard an emergency call on Thursday evening, the newspaper said. Fourteen hours later, at around midday on Friday, a foreign vessel was spotted in the Stockholm archipelago.

Sweden intercepted further communications after it began its military operation in the waters off Stockholm, as encrypted messages were relayed between transmitters in the Stockholm archipelago and the Russian exclave Kaliningrad, SvD said.

The Swedish military said it could neither confirm nor deny the report.

And on to Hong Kong,m first with a breakthrough from Nikkei Asian Review:

Hong Kong government to meet protesters

The Hong Kong government announced Saturday it will meet with student protesters on Oct. 21.

It remains unclear, however, whether the two sides will be able to find common ground, as tensions have been mounting since the government forcibly cleared protesters from one of their bases.

In announcing the planned talks, Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam said five representatives from each side will hold a discussion that will be broadcast live to the public. Lam said she will represent the government along with cabinet members in charge of political reforms.

The meeting will be held for two hours in the afternoon in the southern part of Hong Kong Island. It will be moderated by Lingnan University President Leonard Cheng.

Promptly followed by a blowup, via the Los Angeles Times:

Both sides in Hong Kong warn of crisis as clashes continue

After a flare-up of violence between Hong Kong police and pro-democracy demonstrators Saturday, government officials and protest leaders alike warned that the situation was heading toward a breaking point.

Demonstrators remained encamped around government headquarters in the Admiralty district and had reoccupied streets in the dense commercial Mong Kok area. Police had cleared the Mong Kok sit-in early Friday, but demonstrators returned later in the day and took back control of several key streets, clashing with officers throughout the night.

Speaking out after 26 people were arrested and dozens injured in Mong Kok early Saturday, Hong Kong Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung said police had been “extremely tolerant” and that protesters’ increasingly “illegal acts are undermining the rule of law.”

And the latest from Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post:

Violent clashes in Mong Kok cast doubt on government’s plans to break Occupy impasse

  • Riot police back in action as clearance of Mong Kok barriers riles crowd; government seeks a bridge from Beijing’s ruling to students’ demands

Violent clashes between demonstrators and riot police erupted in Mong Kok last night, casting doubt over what the government said were fresh moves to start talks with students in a bid to end a seemingly intractable impasse over electoral reform that has sparked almost three weeks of unprecedented street protests.

Just hours after police moved in to clear the Mong Kong Kok Occupy site, more than a thousand protesters poured back into the district, clashing with police. Fresh trouble broke out near the government headquarters in Lung Wo Road in Admiralty.

By the early hours of this morning, a section of Nathan Road in Mong Kok was occupied by protesters as police moved to stop them blocking the junction with Argyle Street again.

Riot police used pepper spray and batons in a bid to drive back the protesters and the clashes led to a number of arrests. Among them was award-winning international photo-journalist Paula Bronstein, who was detained after jumping onto a car to take pictures. Her arrest was later condemned by the Foreign Correspondents Club, which issued a statement accusing the police of “intimidating’‘ journalists.

For our final item, the Asahi Shimbun covers the latest provocation from Abe’s crew:

3 Cabinet members visit Yasukuni Shrine as Tokyo tries to improve ties with China

Three Cabinet members visited the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Oct. 18 as the government is seeking a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Sanae Takaichi, 53, minister of internal affairs and communications, said the visit should not affect Japan’s ties with its neighbors.

“Offering sincere appreciation with respect is a spontaneous act of following one’s heart and is not something that should be looked at in terms of diplomatic relations,” she told reporters after her visit to the shrine, which is marking its Oct. 17-20 autumn festival.

Also visiting the shrine were Eriko Yamatani, 64, minister in charge of the issue of abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea, and Haruko Arimura, 44, minister overseeing the promotion of women’s activities.