Headlines II: Spooks, zones, drones, more


We begin today’s tales from the dark side with yet another sign of inept management under the regime of the politician who now serves as ppresident of the University of California, via Homeland Security News Wire:

Former DHS IG altered oversight reports, shared information

Charles Edwards, the acting DHS inspector general from 2011 through 2013, has been found to have routinely shared insider information with other department leaders, according to a new report from a the Homeland Security and Government Operations Committee published last week.

Charles Edwards, the acting DHS inspector general from 2011 through 2013, has been found to have routinely shared insider information with other department leaders, according to a new report from a the Homeland Security and Government Operations Committee published last Thursday.

TheWashington Post reports that Edwards “altered and delayed investigations at the request of senior administration officials, compromising his independent role as an inspector general.” Additionally, he “routinely shared drinks and dinner with department leaders and gave them information about the timing and findings of investigations.”

From Techdirt, yet another cost of NSA snooping:

Brazil Passed On Boeing For $4.5 Billion Fighter Jet Deal Because Of Concerns Over NSA Surveillance

  • from the costly… dept

We’ve pointed out a few times now, how the NSA seems unable to do basic cost-benefit analysis on its widespread surveillance. The NSA still seems to think that its surveillance is “costless” (perhaps beyond the $70 billion or so from taxpayers). However, as we’ve pointed out time and time again, distrust in US businesses thanks to the NSA’s overreaching surveillance creates a very real cost for the economy.

And it seems to be growing day by day. Brazil, which has been one of the more vocal protesters concerning NSA surveillance, has just awarded a $4.5 billion contract for new fighter jets to Saab, rather than Boeing, which many expected to get the deal. And, Brazilian officials are making it clear that the NSA surveillance issue played a major role in throwing the contract from the Americans to the Swedes.

From the Irish Times, more resistance to Uncle Sam’s snoops:

Data Commissioner decision challenged by Facebook user

  • Max Schrems’ complaint to Irish authorities ‘extremely important’ after Snowden, court told

A complaint to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner regarding the transfer of Facebook user data from Europe to the US National Security Agency (NSA) was “extremely important” in light of the Edward Snowden allegations, the High Court was told today.

The court heard arguments that Commissioner Billy Hawkes wrongly refused to investigate a complaint that an Irish arm of social network giant Facebook could not permit the mass transfer of personal data to US intelligence services operating the Prism surveillance programme.

The Data Protection Commissioner was not entitled to “turn a blind eye” to the allegations by the former NSA contractor Snowden , the court was told by Paul O’Shea BL, counsel for Austrian law student Max Schrems.

Foreign Policy covers another front in the information wars:

Exclusive: New Bill Requires Voice of America to Toe U.S. Line

A powerful pair of lawmakers in the House of Representatives have agreed on major legislation to overhaul Voice of America and other government-funded broadcasting outlets that could have implications for the broadcaster’s editorial independence, Foreign Policy has learned.

The new legislation tweaks the language of VOA’s mission to explicitly outline the organization’s role in supporting U.S. “public diplomacy” and the “policies” of the United States government, a move that would settle a long-running dispute within the federal government about whether VOA should function as a neutral news organization rather than a messaging tool of Washington.

“It is time for broad reforms; now more than ever, U.S. international broadcasts must be effective,” said Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement.

As does Columbia Journalism Review:

Federal judge: Delayed access to court records raises First Amendment concerns

  • Courthouse News editor sees “nationwide plague”—and he’ll get a chance to make his case

It’s been a routine for generations of legal beat reporters: Every weekday afternoon, at courthouses across the United States, a reporter steps behind the records counter and thumbs through the lawsuits filed that day, looking for news.

This custom is endangered, though, and not just because files have moved online, or because there aren’t as many legal beat reporters as there used to be. Many state courts now keep new civil cases out of sight of the press and public for days, and sometimes even weeks, after they’re filed.

“It’s a nationwide plague,” said Bill Girdner, the founder and editor of Courthouse News Service.

And the Asahi Shimbun finds the same game in another venue:

Ahead of secrets law, information concealed on nuclear facilities

Kiyohiko Yamada has studied the situation surrounding the problem-plagued nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture for a quarter-century, but the information he recently saw was perhaps the most startling.

“Why are there so many blacked-out parts?” Yamada, 57, who lives in Misawa, Aomori Prefecture, said he thought when he viewed the website of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA).

The page was an application form for construction work submitted to the government in January by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL), the operator of the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, next to Misawa.

Next up, the Washington Post takes us to Afghanistan and some bloody spookishness:

Mystery surrounds move of Afghan ‘torturer in chief’ to U.S. amid allegations of spy agency abuse

In Afghanistan, his presence was enough to cause prisoners to tremble. Hundreds in his organization’s custody were beaten, shocked with electrical currents or subjected to other abuses documented in human rights reports. Some allegedly disappeared.

And then Haji Gulalai disappeared as well.

He had run Afghan intelligence operations in Kandahar after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 and later served as head of the spy service’s detention and interrogation branch. After 2009, his whereabouts were unknown.

The Guardian takes us into the realm of drone wars:

US senators remove requirement for disclosure over drone strike victims

  • Bill had called for disclosure of ‘noncombatant civilians’ killed
  • Director of national intelligence gives assurances to Senate

At the behest of the director of national intelligence, US senators have removed a provision from a major intelligence bill that would require the president to publicly disclose information about drone strikes and their victims.

The bill authorizing intelligence operations in fiscal 2014 passed out of the Senate intelligence committee in November, and it originally required the president to issue an annual public report clarifying the total number of “combatants” and “noncombatant civilians” killed or injured by drone strikes in the previous year. It did not require the White House to disclose the total number of strikes worldwide.

While RT looks over Uncle Sam’s shoulder:

World catching up with US in $28.7 bln drone race

Analysts predict that in less than a decade’s time, the United States will spend less than half the global total on drone research and development. Asia in particular is expected to surge ahead, with South Korea set to produce “suicide drones.”

The US draw down in Afghanistan after over a decade of war, coupled with China’s desire for expensive unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are primary factors behind the expected reversal in US drone dominance, Forecast International, Inc., which provides defense and aerospace market intelligence and analysis, reported earlier this month.

Research and development for UAV technology is expected to balloon to $28.7 billion worldwide over the next 10 years, $11 billion of which will originate in the US.

And a truly troubling story from Military Aerospace Electronics, and sounding a lot like this:

DARPA launches CODE program for UAVs to share information and work together

U.S. military researchers are launching a program to enable surveillance and attack unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to work together on missions involving electronic jamming, degraded communications, and other difficult operating conditions.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., released a formal solicitation Friday (DARPA-BAA-14-33) for the Collaborative Operations in Denied Environment (CODE) program to enable UAVs to work together in teams and take advantage of the relative strengths of each participating unmanned aircraft.

The CODE program is to expand the mission capabilities of existing UAVs through increased autonomy and inter-platform collaboration. Collaborative autonomy has the potential to increase capabilities and reduce costs of today’s UAVs by composing heterogeneous teams of UAVs that can capitalize on the capabilities of each unmanned aircraft without the need to duplicate or integrate capabilities into one UAV, DARPA officials say.

Next up, International Business Times covers another information security woe: Times:

Microsoft Should Make Windows XP Open-Source For Millions It Has Left ‘Stranded’ With Internet Explorer Bug: Expert

As Microsoft rushes to fix a major security defect in its popular Web browser, Internet Explorer, one enormous group of computer users will remain vulnerable to the bug: the 488 million people worldwide who still rely on Windows XP to power their computers.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) discontinued support for the 12-year-old operating system on April 8 and ceased offering updates on it to protect users against threats, effectively leaving customers to fend for themselves in a world increasingly susceptible to security flaws exploited by malevolent forces. So as Microsoft eventually releases patches that fix Internet Explorer for those using other operating systems, it says that XP users will go without.

Some advocates demand that Microsoft provide a patch for XP users. They note that the Seattle-based software giant cashed in on enormous sales of XP, suggesting that this creates a moral imperative – if not a legal obligation – to make sure users can surf the Web safely. A dozen years after XP’s release, some 27 percent of computers worldwide rely on the system.

More NSA blowback, this time from Nextgov:

NIST Removes NSA-Tainted Algorithm From Cryptographic Standards

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has finally removed a cryptographic algorithm from its draft guidance on random number generators, more than six months after leaked top-secret documents suggested the algorithm had been deliberately sabotaged by the National Security Agency.

The announcement came as NIST opened to a final round of public comments its revised Special Publication 800-90a, which contains three algorithms now that the Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator has been removed following negative feedback from the public.

According to documents leaked by former contractor Edward Snowden in September, NSA “became the sole editor” of Special Publication 800-90 and allegedly introduced weaknesses to the now-removed algorithm. NIST responded swiftly to that news, recommending against using the standards and suggesting reopening them to public scrutiny in an effort to rebuild trust with the public.

From The Guardian, yet another information security breach, and a very troubling one at that:

Government has no idea how many people accessed asylum seekers’ details

  • FoI request reveals panicked emails as bureaucrats scrambled to contain fallout from the leak of personal information
  • Scott Morrison’s media adviser wanted to exaggerate IT skills needed to obtain confidential details about 10,000 detainees

The Department of Immigration does not know how many people accessed the personal details of almost 10,000 asylum seekers in detention that were accidentally placed on its website, raising the prospect that the confidential information has been circulated to an unknown number of people around the world.

Correspondence between the office of the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, and department officials obtained under freedom of information laws by Guardian Australia includes an internal briefing on the day the breach was discovered. It says: “The department is unable to identify how many people may have downloaded the information.”

After the jump, major developments in the Asian Game of Zones, including nuclear saber-rattling, artillery posturing, and a myterious Latin American death. . .

And on to Asia and the game of zones, starting with a new play from NHK WORLD:

Japan to impose additional sanction on Russia

Japan will suspend visas for 23 Russian nationals as part of fresh sanctions in response to the Ukraine crisis.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida made the announcement. It follows an agreement on Saturday by the leaders of the Group of Seven nations to impose additional sanctions.

Kishida said on Tuesday that the individuals targeted include government officials. He said Japan will withhold visas for those named for the time being.

The response from Moscow was quick. From JapanToday:

Russia vows to hit back at Japan for denying visas to 23 people

Moscow on Tuesday vowed to hit back at Japan over its decision to deny visas to 23 Russian nationals as part of additional sanctions linked to the crisis in Ukraine.

The Russian foreign ministry said that Tokyo’s decision was “met with disappointment in Moscow, and of course will not be left without a response”.

The Japanese foreign ministry said Tuesday that the Russian nationals on its list—whom it did not identify but who were reported by Tokyo media to include some government officials—were suspected of “infringing the unity of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory”.

Meanwhile, a colossal blunder by Prime Minister Sinzo Abe’s ruling LDP, reported by JapanToday:

Photo of man dressed as Tojo at LDP conference causes stir online

A picture has emerged on social media purporting to show a man dressed as General Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor, saluting at a weekend conference, sparking outrage online.

General Tojo was among those executed for war crimes and later honored at the Yasukuni shrine.

The picture that surfaced on Twitter appeared to show a man dressed in period military garb saluting while standing on a campaign car for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)—sparking a backlash online.

And the fellow at issue, via Twitter:

BLOG Tojo

 

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, keeping the threat alive:

Korea says nuclear test is still an option

North Korea said on Tuesday it would strengthen its nuclear deterrent following President Barack Obama’s “dangerous” Asian tour, and would not rule out another atomic test.

There are concerns the North is preparing to conduct its fourth atomic detonation, with recent satellite images showing stepped-up activity at its main nuclear test site.

Obama’s tour, which ended on Tuesday in the Philippines after taking in Japan, South Korea and Malaysia, “was a dangerous one as it was aimed to bring dark clouds of more acute confrontation and nuclear arms race to Asia”, a Pyongyang foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement official to state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Pyongyang would bolster its nuclear deterrent “now that the US brings the dark clouds of a nuclear war to hang over the DPRK (North Korea)”, the spokesman said.

A parallel development from Want China Times:

PLA launches emergency drills ahead of possible NK nuclear test

Recent emergency drills carried out by the 39th Army Group of the People’s Liberation Army suggest that North Korea could be preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test, reports the website of Hong Kong newspaper Ta Kung Pao.

According to China’s national broadcaster CCTV, troops from the 39th Army Group in the Shenyang Military Region deployed tanks, armed helicopters and combat-ready units in a live drill near the North Korean border on April 21 as part of an emergency training exercise.

South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo said the refinement of the PLA’s emergency dispatch during the exercise showed a dramatic increase in its reaction speed to critical situations.

And yet another one from Want China Times:

North Korea to conduct live-fire drill near border

Pyongyang has notified Seoul that it will conduct a live-fire drill near the western maritime border on April 29, reports South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, citing the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

The Southwestern Command of the Korean People’s Army sent a fax to the South Korean Navy’s Second Fleet in the morning, notifying the fire drill, Yonhap said.

People’s Daily raises the stakes to the west:

Philippine pact gives US access to air, sea bases

Washington secured a key part of its pivot to the Asia-Pacific region with a decadelong defense pact with Manila on Monday, as observers said the militarization of the region is playing with fire and makes a diplomatic settlement much harder.

The US-Philippine Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was signed on Monday at the Defense Ministry in Manila shortly before Obama’s arrival on the last stop of his four-country Asian tour.

The pact gives US forces temporary access to selected bases and allows them to base fighter jets and ships in the Philippines, as “part of a rebalancing of US resources towards fast-growing Asia and the Pacific”, Reuters said.

And NHK WORLD crosses the line:

Chinese patrol boats enter Japanese waters

Three Chinese patrol boats on Tuesday entered Japanese territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Japan Coast Guard officials say the vessels were cruising just outside Japanese waters in the morning. But they say the ships intruded into Japan’s territorial waters off Uotsuri Island, Okinawa Prefecture, at about 3 PM. The Coast Guard warned them to leave immediately.

This is the 10th time this year that Chinese patrol boats have entered Japan’s territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands. The last intrusion occurred on April 26th.

Japan controls the Senkaku Islands. China and Taiwan also claim them.

And to close, two items from Latin America, starting with this from Creative Time Reports:

Venezuela: Where the Wealthy Stir Violence While the Poor Build a New Society

Artist and documentary filmmaker Dario Azzellini argues the protests in Venezuela represent a vicious attack on the country’s social progress under Hugo Chávez, spurred on by anti-Chavista politicians in affluent regions.

Before Hugo Chávez became president of Venezuela in 1999, the barrios of Caracas, built provisionally on the hills surrounding the capital, did not even appear on the city map. Officially they did not exist, so neither the city nor the state maintained their infrastructure. The poor inhabitants of these neighborhoods obtained water and electricity by tapping pipes and cables themselves. They lacked access to services such as garbage collection, health care and education altogether.

Today residents of the same barrios are organizing their communities through directly democratic assemblies known as communal councils—of which Venezuela has more than 40,000. Working families have come together to found community spaces and cooperative companies, coordinate social programs and renovate neighborhood houses, grounding their actions in principles of solidarity and collectivity. And their organizing has found government support, especially with the Law of Communal Councils, passed by Chávez in 2006, which has led to the formation of communes that can develop social projects on a larger scale and over the long term.

And for our final item, a related development? From BBC News:

Venezuelan ex-intelligence chief Eliecer Otaiza killed

A former chief of Venezuela’s intelligence service, Eliecer Otaiza, was killed on Saturday, officials have revealed.

Maj Otaiza, a friend and ally of the late president Hugo Chavez, was shot dead outside the capital, Caracas.

President Nicolas Maduro said police would investigate the “suspicious” circumstances of his death.

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