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

Welcome to the world of the dark side, where the walls have ears, the cloaks have daggers, and lots of things go bump in the night.

We open with some numbers from PCWorld:

NSA protest results in tens of thousands of phone calls, emails

Organizers of The Day We Fight Back, a protest Tuesday against U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs, called the effort a “tremendous success,” with nearly 100,000 phone calls made to U.S. lawmakers and 185,000 people signing up to send email blasts to their congressional representatives.

Participants in the protest made 96,000 calls to Congress, although 7,000 of those calls weren’t delivered because lawmakers turned voice mail services off, organizers said. Organizers will deliver 555,000 email messages protesting the NSA surveillance to lawmakers, with emails going to the two U.S. senators and one representative who represent each of the 185,000 people who signed up for the email blasts.

Another 245,000 people signed a petition calling for the end to mass surveillance, and participating websites showed a protest banner ad 37 million times during the day, with about two-thirds of those ads delivered in the U.S., organizers said.

David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, called the protest a big success. Organizers will continue to push for changes in NSA surveillance, he said.

Threat Level covers the loathesome:

How Obama Officials Cried ‘Terrorism’ to Cover Up a Paperwork Error

After seven years of litigation, two trips to a federal appeals court and $3.8 million worth of lawyer time, the public has finally learned why a wheelchair-bound Stanford University scholar was cuffed, detained and denied a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii: FBI human error.

FBI agent Kevin Kelley was investigating Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004 when he checked the wrong box on a terrorism form, erroneously placing Rahinah Ibrahim on the no-fly list.

What happened next was the real shame. Instead of admitting to the error, high-ranking President Barack Obama administration officials spent years covering it up. Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a litany of other government officials claimed repeatedly that disclosing the reason Ibrahim was detained, or even acknowledging that she’d been placed on a watch list, would cause serious damage to the U.S. national security. Again and again they asserted the so-called “state secrets privilege” to block the 48-year-old woman’s lawsuit, which sought only to clear her name.

Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke state secrets sparingly.

And from The Guardian, yet another challenge raised:

Rights groups begin UK court challenge over mass surveillance

  • Full hearing at investigatory powers tribunal scheduled for July into legality of programmes including Tempora and Prism

The extent of the intelligence services’ bulk interception of online communications came under scrutiny for the first time in a British courtroom on Friday.

Lawyers for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ faced challenges brought by nearly a dozen British and international civil liberties groups over the legality of US and UK digital surveillance programmes, including Tempora, Prism and Upstream.

Claims that the mass collection, storage and analysis of emails and electronic messages are illegal were made at the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT), which adjudicates on complaints against the intelligence services and surveillance by government bodies.

The government, adopting a “neither confirm nor deny” approach, is responding to allegations about the programmes on a hypothetical premise. The case follows a series of reports published in the Guardian last year based on revelations by the former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

And one more step contemplated from the European Parliament:

NSA snooping: MEPs table proposals to protect EU citizens’ privacy

The European Parliament should withhold its consent to an EU-US trade deal unless it fully respects EU citizens’ data privacy, says an inquiry report on US National Security Agency (NSA) and EU member states surveillance of EU citizens, approved by the Civil Liberties Committee on Wednesday. It adds that data protection rules should be excluded from the trade talks and negotiated separately with the US.

The text, passed by 33 votes to 7 with 17 abstentions, condemns the “vast, systemic, blanket collection of personal data of innocent people, often comprising intimate personal information”, adding that “the fight against terrorism can never be a justification for untargeted, secret or even illegal mass surveillance programmes”.

“We now have a comprehensive text that for the first time brings together in-depth recommendations on Edward Snowden’s allegations of NSA spying and an action plan for the future. The Civil Liberties Committee inquiry came at a crucial time, along with Snowden´s allegations and the EU data protection regulation. I hope that this document will be supported by the full Parliament and that it will last beyond the next European Parliament’s mandate”, said rapporteur Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), after the vote.

A bemused response from RT:

Former German chancellor surprised that NSA continued to spy on Merkel

The former chancellor of Germany now says he was surprised to hear that the United States National Security Agency, or NSA, spied on his country’s current head of government after he left office almost a decade ago.

Earlier this month, NSA documents showed that the spy agency conducted surveillance operations starting in 2002 that targeted Gerhard Schröder during his term as chancellor.

Schröder told reporters at the time that he wasn’t surprised about the operation, which was made public due to documents disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

During an event in Berlin on Thursday this week, however, the former chancellor said he didn’t expect the NSA to continue monitoring his office after he ended his tenure in 2005.

Also from Germany via Homeland Security News Wire, security lucre:

German IT industry hopes to benefit from NSA leaks-inspired distrust of U.S. tech companies

The German IT sector is hoping to benefit from trust lost in American technology firms in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks. The German government is looking to develop Internet security initiatives, with government departments vying with each other for a lead role. Both inside and outside the German government a proposal, known as “Schengen Routing,” is advanced which calls for data originated in Europe to be processed and stored within Europe. Critics warn that plans to create a European routing system could affect the openness of the Internet.

News that some American technology and communications firms gave the National Security Agency (NSA) access to consumer records has alarmed Americans, but also non-Americans who rely on these companies for data storage. According to market analysts James Staten of Forrester Research, American firms could lose up to $180 billion in turnover by 2016 due to distrust from customers.

And another German tale from TheLocal.de:

Child porn scandal: Minister quits over leak

The first minister of Germany’s new cabinet resigned on Friday. Hans-Peter Friedrich came under fire when it emerged he passed on information to a party chief about an MP suspected of possessing naked photos of children.

Agriculture Minister Friedrich (CSU) said earlier on Friday that he would only step down if the state prosecutor opened an investigation into him over his former role as interior minister.

He gave information to Social Democrat (SPD) leader, Sigmar Gabriel, that one of the SPD’s leading politicians, Sebastian Edathy, possessed inappropriate images of boys.

But on Friday afternoon news agency DPA quoted government sources who stated that Friedrich would step down anyway. He has been under pressure from the opposition, who claim he breached official secrecy by providing the SPD with information about the Edathy case.

The Daily Dot outsources:

NSA seeking private company to store its massive collection of metadata

Do you have a some data storage space lying around that you’re not using? Like a lot of space? Enough to, let’s say, handle all of the information gathered from the National Security Agency’s (NSA) telephone metadata collection program? If so, do we have a deal for you.

Earlier this month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the body managing all of the United States’ spying activities, put out a request for information (RFI) looking to determine if there are any commercially available systems offered by private companies capable of holding all of its phone metadata.

Metadata collected from cell phone calls includes things like the phone number of each caller, the unique serial numbers of the physical devices involved, the time and duration of the call, the precise geographic location of the callers, and if any calling cards used to make the connection.

The government is looking for systems that can provide intelligence agencies instantaneous access to the data, ensure that the data is completely secure to outside penetration, and make it so no data is provided to the agencies in question ?unless in response to an authorized query.”

And from Defense One, how Tweet it is:

Secret Military Contractors Will Soon Mine Your Tweets

The Army wants a contractor to conduct detailed social media data mining to “identify violent extremist influences” around the world that could affect the European Command, responsible for operations in Europe as well as Iceland, Israel, Greenland and Russia.

Though the project is classified Secret, an Army contract shop in Europe posted a wealth of information on the FedBizOps contract website Tuesday.

The data mining contract, which has the very long title of “Social Media Data-mining, Localized Research, Market Audience Analysis, and Narrowcast Engagement Requirements,” will support both the European Command and Special Operations Command Europe.

In its request for information, the Army said it wants a contractor to “provide detailed social media research and analysis, on-the-ground native research and analysis, and customized social media website development and execution.”  This will include open source information, “detailed social media data-mining, social media monitoring and analysis, target audience analysis, media kit development and social media platform operations.”

And a case of security enhanced from MercoPress:

Colombian peace process makes headway before presidential elections

The Colombian government and FARC guerrilla negotiators said that they had made progress toward an agreement on combating illegal drug trafficking, a sign that peace talks were making headway before elections.

The joint statement by President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said there had been “advances” in the negotiations, the latest round of which concluded on Thursday. The talks are due to resume on Feb. 24.

“We have been working nonstop throughout this round of conversations and we have started building agreements on the point ‘solving the illicit drugs problem,’” the statement said.

After the jump, shifting patterns and alliances in Asian geopolitical and historical crises, a nuclear blast from the past, Bing’s peculiar censorship, Indian book banning, rampant censorship in Greece, hacking alert ignored, and sympathy for the devil. . .

Our first Asian headline from the graveyard of empires via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

U.S. ties with Karzai erode further over prisoner release

Back in better days, Sen. Lindsey Graham traded jokes with Hamid Karzai during late-night dinners at the presidential palace in Kabul and worked with the Afghan leader’s top officials to set up courts, prisons and other law-enforcement pillars.

Now, with U.S. forces leaving Afghanistan and relations between the governments deteriorating, Graham is condemning Karzai for Thursday’s release of 65 Afghan prisoners and pushing Congress to suspend U.S. reconstruction aid.

“Karzai is doing a lot of damage to his country and to the relationship between us and Afghanistan,” Graham told McClatchy on Thursday. “He’s undercutting a relationship (with the United States) that most Afghans want and empowering the Taliban. The Taliban look at something like this (release), and they’ve got to be encouraged. I’ve been to that prison dozens of times, and it makes my blood boil to see these thugs walk out of there.”

An effort abandoned from RT:

US scraps ‘glossy propaganda’ plans for Afghanistan aid projects

A US federal agency that sought to pay photographers for “positive images” of its work in Afghanistan has canceled the program. The project, created to combat negative news coverage, collapsed amid charges that the effort amounted to propaganda.

Using US$1 billion on aid programs in Afghanistan, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) solicited proposals on Monday for a project that aimed to “help inform Afghans about the assistance American taxpayers are providing,” an anonymous USAID official told USA Today of Thursday’s decision.

“The wording of the (request) did not appropriately articulate that purpose and is being re-evaluated,” the official said.

In addition to targeting Afghans, the program was intended to gather support in the United States for USAID initiatives in Afghanistan. Over 12 years old, the war in Afghanistan is highly unpopular with the American public, if the war can be called an issue of popular awareness at all. A CNN poll released at the New Year found record low 17 percent support for the ongoing efforts in Afghanistan.

The latest in a peculiar saga from BBC News:

Pakistan anti-drone activist Kareem Khan reappears

A Pakistani anti-drone campaigner who was abducted from his home in February, days before he was due to testify before European MPs, has reappeared.

Kareem Khan’s lawyer says he was kidnapped, tortured and interrogated before being dumped near Islamabad.

The men who seized him wore police uniforms, the lawyer said.

On Wednesday, a Pakistani court ordered the government to produce him by 20 February or provide the reason for his detention.

Non-blissful ignorance from the Japan Times:

Lawyer group charges Abe with constitutional ignorance

Alarmed by what they charge as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s lack of commitment to constitutionalism, a group of lawyers from around the country sent him a reminder of the principles of the Constitution — accompanied by chocolates — just in time for Valentine’s Day on Friday.

The self-styled “group of junior lawyers defending tomorrow’s freedom” sent Abe a copy of “Kenpo,” a textbook on Japan’s constitutional law by Nobuyoshi Ashibe, a University of Tokyo professor emeritus.

Group members said they decided to send the gift after Abe delivered policy speeches in the Diet mocking the principles of constitutionalism that restrict state power to ensure the rights and freedoms of individuals.

At a Lower House Budget Committee session on Feb. 3, Abe said that “the idea that the Constitution is intended to limit the power of the state is an old-fashioned view held at the time when a monarch was governing the country with absolute power.”

A provocative gesture from the Mainichi:

Senior gov’t official to attend Takeshima Day ceremony for 2nd yr

A senior government official will attend a ceremony next week commemorating the Japanese “incorporation” of islets at the center of a territorial dispute with South Korea, the minister in charge said Friday, triggering a protest from Seoul.

Yoshitami Kameoka, a parliamentary secretary with the Cabinet Office, will represent the government at the Feb. 22 Takeshima Day ceremony, named after the South Korean-controlled islets known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, said Ichita Yamamoto, minister for ocean policy and territorial integrity.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry protested against the move by summoning a Japanese counselor in Seoul to demand Kameoka not attend and that the ceremony be cancelled. A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Japan’s decision is unacceptable and will trigger a sharp reaction if not retracted.

The Japan Times cold shoulders:

Hyakuta’s Nanjing denial prompts chilly response from U.S. Embassy: sources

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has been reluctant to give Japan’s public broadcaster NHK an interview with Ambassador Caroline Kennedy due to controversial remarks about Japanese history made by a member of its management body, sources close to the matter said Friday.

A public relations official at NHK said the broadcaster withholds comment “on the processes of news coverage and program production.” An embassy official said no comments can be made about the envoy’s schedule.

According to the sources, NHK asked the embassy to give it an interview with Kennedy shortly after she took up her post in Tokyo last Nov. 15 and talks went on as the embassy relayed its hope the interview should appear on NHK’s “Close-up Gendai” television news show.

But a press officer at the embassy told NHK staff who visited in early February that Naoki Hyakuta’s controversial remark has made it difficult to arrange an interview and that it reflects the ambassador’s and Washington’s will, they said, adding NHK has since not received a formal reply to its request.

From the Mainichi, the ornamental:

NHK leader pledges fair broadcasting after controversial comments

The president of Japan’s public broadcaster NHK pledged fair broadcasting Thursday after making controversial comments last month on wartime sex slavery and other matters.

“My policy of basing broadcasting on such principles as fairness and freedom of expression under the broadcasting law has remained unchanged,” Katsuto Momii said at his first regular press conference after the comments.

The Mainichi is less than certain:

Confusion surrounds NHK in wake of controversial statements

The confusion within NHK, stemming from controversial remarks by the public broadcaster’s president, Katsuto Momii, has yet to subside. In a regular news conference on Feb. 13, Momii said that he was retracting all of his personal opinions, but he has yet to sincerely explain or amend what he said.

Naoki Hyakuta, a member of NHK’s Board of Governors, also fueled controversy by making provocative remarks to the Diet. It is possible that the turmoil may widen the fissure between the board members.

When Momii was questioned about his remarks — including those on the wartime “comfort women” issue — during a news conference on Feb. 13, he replied with a smile, “I’ll refrain from commenting — there’s no telling what could happen.”

Usually at the end of January each year, NHK’s president and other officials start visiting political parties to provide explanations on the broadcaster’s operations before seeking Diet approval in March of NHK’s budget for the coming fiscal year. But because Momii has been summoned to the Diet practically on a daily basis, this job has been put aside. The broadcaster just managed to complete its explanation to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Feb. 12.

Background from JapanToday:

Conservatives push agenda at NHK

Minutes of a recent governing board meeting of Japan’s public broadcaster NHK seem to back up suspicions that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite his denials, is trying to use Japan’s news giant to promote his nationalist agenda.

The minutes, posted on NHK’s website but not widely reported, show conservatives appointed to the board by Abe voicing their opinion on coverage at the Jan 14 meeting.

One of the four new members favored by Abe proposed that NHK should do more to educate the public about Japan’s territorial claims on islands at the center of a dispute with China, its wartime history as well as the problems with the post-World War II U.S.-led tribunal that prosecuted Japanese war criminals.

“I think there should be room for programs that provide the most basic knowledge about history and the challenges Japan is faced with,” said Naoki Hyakuta, the author of a bestselling book on a wartime suicide fighter pilot.

Another new board member, Abe confidante Michiko Hasegawa, stressed the need to promote “correct education” for the public.

The Japan Daily Press offers a poke:

China calls for Japan to ‘appropriately’ rectify ‘comfort women’

China urged Japan to settle “appropriately and responsibly” the injustice done to “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery during the Second World War. The statement was released following ex-Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s clamor for his nation to deal with this issue while on a trip to South Korea.

Murayama, famous for his 1995 apology to victims of Japan’s wartime aggression, was in Seoul for a three-day trip upon the invitation of a South Korean opposition party. While there, he met with three elderly Korean women who were forced to provide sex to Japanese military men. Murayama called the act as an “indescribable wrongdoing.” Asked to comment on the statement made by Murayama, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said “We urge the Japanese leader to face up calls for justice from the international community and within Japan to correct its mistake and attitude and appropriately and responsibly deal with history-related issues.” She added that it is important for Japan to reflect on their past militarism in order to rebuild the relations with their victimized countries in Asia.

And background, from the Japan Times:

Drift rightward has been building for years

  • Abe tapping a groundswell that emerged in ‘90s malaise

Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead along with several Class-A war criminals, illustrates how the public is struggling to come to terms with history. While some like Amo view Yasukuni as holy ground and a bastion of patriotism, others consider it a symbol of Japanese militarism for the feverish spiritual role it played in fueling Japan’s war of aggression.

Even though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the shrine in December was criticized internationally, domestic public opinion was split over its legitimacy, mostly because the shrine glamorizes the Pacific War and claims it was conducted in self-defense.

A survey by the liberal Asahi Shimbun in December found strong support among young people for Abe, who has said he does not fully support the 1995 apology by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama that stated Japan waged a war of aggression. The poll found that 33 percent of respondents in their 20s and 26 percent in their 30s believe World War II was not a war of aggression.

The survey also found that 60 percent of respondents in their 20s said they supported Abe’s visit, as did 59 percent of those in their 30s. Asked whether they were aware Class-A war criminals are enshrined at Yasukuni, 43 percent of those in their 20s said they were unaware of the fact.

Meanwhile, bonding from NHK WORLD:

Suga: Japan to strengthen ties with US at summit

Japan’s top government spokesman says the country aims to strengthen ties with the United States in a bilateral summit in April.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga made the remark to reporters on Thursday, one day after the White House announced President Barack Obama’s 4-nation tour of Asia.

Suga said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will exchange opinions on a broad range of issues with President Obama to further enhance the Japan-US relationship.

He listed bilateral cooperation in security and the Trans-Pacific Partnership as well as global and regional issues such as the North Korean situation and the freedom of the seas.

The Mainichi breaks with official tradition:

Japan may allow U.S. to bring in nuke weapons in emergency: minister

Japan may allow the United States to bring nuclear weapons into the country in an emergency that threatens the safety of Japanese citizens, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida indicated Friday.

Speaking at a session of a Diet committee, Kishida outlined certain exceptions under Japan’s long-held principles of not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has maintained the position held by the previous government, Kishida said in response to questions from Katsuya Okada, a former foreign minister and senior lawmaker of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

Okada in 2010 led a probe by the DPJ-led government, disclosing Japan and the United States signed secret pacts during the Cold War era, including an agreement under which Tokyo would allow U.S. nuclear-armed vessels to make port calls in Japan.

Jiji Press reaches out:

Japan, Marshall Islands Agree to Strengthen Cooperation

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and visiting Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak agreed Friday that the two countries will strengthen their cooperation in such fields as fishery operations and disaster reduction.

They also agreed to work for the success of a summit between Japan and Pacific island nations, which will be held in May 2015 in the northeastern Japan prefecture of Fukushima, one of the three prefectures hit hardest by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami and home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s <9501> Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant stricken by the disaster.

At a joint press conference after the meeting, Abe said that he and Loeak reaffirmed the importance of the rule of law in the Pacific Ocean.

More outreach from South China Morning Post:

Xi Jinping tells John Kerry he wants ‘dialogue’ with US

  • President strikes conciliatory tone with top US diplomat amid tensions over maritime disputes

President Xi Jinping told the top US diplomat that China was committed to enhancing dialogue and mutual trust with Washington despite growing tensions between Beijing and security allies of the United States.

In his talks with John Kerry, who is making his fifth Asia trip as US secretary of state, Xi struck a conciliatory tone, amid Washington’s open opposition to China’s declaration of an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea.

Xi told Kerry to tell US President Barack Obama that “China is firmly committed to building a new model of the China-US relationship together with the US side”, Xinhua reported.

“We will continue to enhance dialogue, boost mutual trust and co-operation and properly handle differences in the new year so as to forge ahead with the lasting and healthy development of ties,” Xi said.

Kudos from Xinhua:

China congratulates on DPRK-ROK agreement

China on Friday voiced support for and extended congratulations on an agreement reached between Pyongyang and Seoul at their high-level talks.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK) will hold the reunion of separated families as scheduled, stop slandering each other and continue to hold high-level talks, according to a three-point agreement reached on Friday between the two sides at their second round of senior-level talks held in the border village of Panmunjeom.

“It is the traditional Lantern Festival today, and the positive progress achieved in DPRK-ROK relations adds festivity to the day,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a press release issued late Friday.

From Jiji Press, a diplomatic junket:

Japan Foreign Min. Official to Visit S. Korea Next Week

Junichi Ihara, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, will visit South Korea for two days from Tuesday, the ministry said Friday.

Ihara is seeking to hold meetings with officials including Lee Sang Deuk, director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau, for talks on ways to improve the soured Japan-South Korean relationship.

Also on the agenda at the expected meetings will be the North Korean situation following the execution last December of then senior official Jang Song Thaek, uncle of the reclusive country’s leader Kim Jong Un.

From the McClatchy Foreign Staff, great expectations:

Kerry looks to China to rein in N. Korea’s nuclear arms, but at what cost?

They may not agree on much, but China, Japan, South Korea and the United States appear to share one common interest – to prevent North Korea’s nuclear weapons from destabilizing Asia.

Yet as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry makes a three-nation swing through Asia this week, the fissures that divide these countries are complicating the task of pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

At a press conference late Friday in Beijing, Kerry said he had productive conversations with top Chinese leaders, who he said “could not have been more emphatic” in their desire to stop North Korea’s nuclear program “over the long run.”

But Kerry also acknowledged that he and President Barack Obama have major differences with China on human rights and China’s recent claims on vast ocean expanses off its coasts. So the question becomes whether Obama and Kerry will risk expending their political capital on those issues at the possible expense of a major foreign policy prize – a less dangerous North Korea.

Reassurances from United Press International:

Kerry: China prepared to make sure North Korea drops nuclear program

Chinese leaders have made it clear North Korea must eventually give up its nuclear weapons program, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday.

Kerry — speaking at a news conference in Beijing — told reporters about his meetings earlier in the day with President XI Jinping and other leaders. He spoke both of the many areas where the United States and China are prepared to work together and areas of difficulty.

Kerry said China is prepared to work with the United States on reducing greenhouse gases, and said the two countries are jointly responsible for 40 percent of the world’s carbon pollution.

Xinhua lays it out:

Chinese FM expounds South China Sea policies

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday stated China’s basic view and policy on the South China Sea during talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Wang said the overall situation in the South China Sea is stable. China is capable and confident of working with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to safeguard peace in the region.

The freedom and safety of navigation in the South China Sea was, is and will always be, unquestionable, he said, noting that all countries enjoy the lawful right to free navigation in the South China Sea.

News Corp Australia investigates:

UN says international criminal investigation needed into crimes against humanity in North Korea

A UN panel, led by retired Australian judge Michael Kirby, says crimes against humanity have been committed in North Korea and it will call for an international criminal investigation.

Its report, to be released on Monday, is the most authoritative account yet of rights violations by North Korean authorities and is bound to infuriate the country’s unpredictable leader.

The commission, which conducted a yearlong investigation, has found evidence of an array of crimes, including extermination, crimes against humanity against starving populations and a widespread campaign of abductions of individuals in South Korea and Japan.

A literal blast from the past via TheLocal.es:

France reveals atomic bomb risk to Spain

Declassified documents from 1960 have shown that radiation from France’s atomic bomb tests in the Algerian Sahara desert reached as far as the south coast of Spain.

French daily Le Parisien today published military papers that reveal the extent of the radiation risk from Fance’s first atomic bomb, nicknamed ‘Gerboise Bleue’ (Blue Jerboa), which detonated on February 13th, 1960.

The affected zone wasn’t restricted, as had been previously believed, to northern, eastern and central Africa but reached as far as the south of Europe.

The Guardian searches:

Where is Microsoft Bing’s transparency report?

Bing’s search algorithm is failing to protect online freedom of expression. Microsoft can – and should – do better on China

Microsoft was accused this week of extending the Chinese government’s internet censorship regime to the rest of the world through its Bing search engine. I don’t believe that Microsoft intended to do that, but the company is by no means off the hook.

After conducting my own research, running my own tests, and drawing upon nearly a decade of experience studying Chinese internet censorship, I have concluded that what several activists and journalists have described as censorship on Bing is actually what one might call “second hand censorship”. Basically, Microsoft failed to consider the consequences of blindly applying apolitical mathematical algorithms to politically manipulated and censored web content.

From my desk in Washington DC, when I enter terms into Bing in simplified Chinese (the written language used primarily in mainland China) on subjects the Chinese government censors heavily like “Dalai Lama”, the links I get from Bing are mainly from websites created and run from mainland China. In accordance to Chinese government requirements, they are all censored and skewed to favor the Chinese Communist Party’s worldview. However when I enter “Dalai Lama” in traditional Chinese characters (used mainly in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other Chinese communities outside of mainland China) I get almost entirely non-mainland content including Tibetan exile websites and others supporting the Dalai Lama.

Censorious behavior from The Hindu:

Totalising history, silencing dissent

The agreement by Penguin Books India, a unit of Penguin Random House, to withdraw as well as destroy all existing copies of its 2009 book titled The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger, a professor of religion at the University of Chicago, within six months, is both disturbing as well as foreboding. The lawsuit filed against Penguin India by Dina Nath Batra, the head of Shiksha Bacho Andolan, a fringe Hindu right-wing group dealing with education and text books, objected to the pluralistic representation of Hinduism and its references to the esoteric and heterodox practices that constitute the tradition.

In the lawsuit filed in 2011 under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the feelings of a religious community, the group claimed that the book insulted millions of Indians, in particular, Hindus. The group also argued that the book was inaccurate, presenting a “shallow, distorted, non-serious presentation of Hinduism filled with heresies” and that it reduced Hinduism to a narrative of “a woman hungry for sex” or what one reviewer described as an “overeroticized” account of the religion.

Greco-censorship from Keep Talking Greece:

Recent cases of censorship create concern in democratic Greece

I didn’t know there was a legal term called “preventive censorship.” It looks as if there is or there could be. It was applied by a Greek judge to ban the broadcast of an investigative report into the recent migrant boat accident that cost the life of 3 women and 9 children. The judicial intervention on the specific report is just one of several cases of justice interventions in media works, whereas the authors have used public sources to support their stories.

These incidents create concerns – if nothing else – among the media community in Greece.

On Wednesday, journalist Popi Christodoulidou was taken to Greek Police Headquarters after she published an article on a website.  The prosecutor investigates whether the article contained “sensitive military information”.  The journalist had claimed that “coastguard divers are involved in guarding sensitive sites along with the police, despite the fact that the law does not provide for that.” Popi Christostoulidou had based her claims on a law published in the Official Government Gazette (FEK), which is a public document.

On Thursday, an Athens court ordered the temporary removal of an entry on Wikipedia. The court followed the request by Theodoros Katsanevas who had appealed against a Greek user of Wikipedia – nickname “Diu”- , demanding  the word “disgrace” to be removed from the entry associated with him and an alleged hand-written will of late Andreas Papandreou,  former Greek Prime Minister and Katsanevas’s father in law.

Another instance from To Vima:

Court bans broadcast of documentary on Farmakonisi tragedy

  • The judge held that the television documentary allegedly “interferes with ongoing judicial investigation”

The courts have decided to ban the broadcast of a television documentary by investigative journalist Stavros Theodorakis on Mega Channel. According to judge Antigone Stamoleka, the broadcast of the documentary will interfere with the ongoing judicial investigation and as such violates the privacy principle.

The journalist spoke to To Vima and revealed that he interviewed people for all sides, including a refugee who was saved and a diver who helped in the search and dived to the wreck.

Mega Channel announced that the documentary is being edited and will broadcast as normal at 23:30 on Tuesday the 18th of February.

Forewarned but not forearmed from USA TODAY:

Reports: Target warned before data breach

  • Cybersecurity staff urged the retailer to review its payment systems’ vulnerability to malware.

Target’s computer security staff advised the retailer to review the security of its payment card system at least two months before hackers stole 40 million credit and debit card numbers from its servers, according to several reports published Friday.

Citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal and American Banker published stories on their websites that said at least one intelligence analyst at the Minneapolis-based retailer wanted to do a more thorough security review of its payment systems’ vulnerability to malware, but the request was brushed off.

The warning came at the time Target was updating those payment terminals, which can open security risks, and as the retailer was preparing for the holiday season.

From TheLocal.de, namin’ n’ shamin’:

Blog outing online racists causes a stir

A blog which posts pictures and names of internet users who make racist comments online has caused a stir in Germany and has had its Facebook page shut. Is it going too far?

The blog, called Lookismus gegen Rechts, launched on platform Tumblr in February and has posted dozens of photos of people who have made racist comments online, including posts in support of the far right scene and the neo-Nazi party, the NPD.

It aims to expose those making the comments by publishing their Facebook photos or profiles next to their comments. It keeps the first name and photo of the commentator but deletes the person’s surname.

Stern magazine described the blog as a “bizarre collection of relatively hateful statements”.

And for our final item, pity the poor mass murderer with The Register:

Imprisoned Norwegian mass murderer says PlayStation 2 is ‘KILLING HIM’

  • Threatens hunger strike if kiddie-game ‘hell’ doesn’t end

Norwegian convicted mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik has threatened a hunger strike if prison authorities don’t upgrade his video game system to a PlayStation 3, among other demands.

“You’ve put me in hell,” Breivik wrote to officials in November in a letter obtained by Agence France-Presse, “and I won’t manage to survive that long. You are killing me.”

Breivik currently has access to a PlayStation 2 console, but he has reportedly been less than pleased with the selection of games available.

“Other inmates have access to adult games while I only have the right to play less interesting kids games,” the 35-year-old kid-killer wrote. “One example is ‘Rayman Revolution’, a game aimed at three year olds.”


One response to “Headlines of the day I: Spies, zones, drones, hawks

  1. Pingback: ufo-tv.com » Documents show US spy agency urged allies to charge WikiLeaks – UPI.com

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