Category Archives: Africa

InSecurityWatch: Cops, spies, hacks, terror, pols


We begin with a positive development, via CNN:

Ferguson police chief resigns, says it’s ‘hard pill to swallow’

Embattled Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson resigned Wednesday, a week after a scathing Justice Department report slammed his department. Jackson and the city “have agreed to a mutual separation,” Ferguson officials announced.

“It’s a really hard pill to swallow,” Jackson said in a text message responding to CNN’s request for comment. He also confirmed his resignation in a letter to Ferguson’s mayor.

“It is with profound sadness that I am announcing I am stepping down from my position as chief of police for the city of Ferguson, Missouri,” Jackson said, adding that serving the city as police chief “has been an honor and a privilege.”

From BuzzFeed News, young-uns quick on the trigger:

Younger Police Officers Are More Likely To Shoot People Than Older Ones

Research shows that younger officers are more likely to be involved in shootings, even though age is rarely mentioned as a factor in the aftermath. “It’s a dirty little secret that we’re hiring police officers too young,” a veteran Boston officer said.

The age of an officer is perhaps the least-discussed factor in a fatal encounter with police, and the maturity of an officer rarely comes up in news conferences after an incident. Age wasn’t mentioned in the Justice Department’s deep, 86-page analysis of Brown’s fatal shooting released last week.

Yet research shows that younger officers are more likely to be involved in shootings, and that the risk of shootings declines as officers age. That may be because younger officers are more likely to be working on the street than behind a desk, according to researchers, but it could also be that younger officers are predisposed to react with deadly force.

Unions for the Ferguson Police Department, New York City Police Department, and Cleveland Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

What’s a little snooping between friends?, via the Guardian:

Australian spy officer was sent to New Zealand to lead new surveillance unit

  • New revelations also show NZ’s spy agency, GCSB, had access to NSA program to hack phones and computers of targets in the Asia-Pacific

Australia’s defence intelligence agency sent an officer to work with New Zealand’s spy agency to help them develop their cyber capabilities and lead a new operational unit, new documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal.

On Wednesday the New Zealand Herald and the Intercept published new revelations about the role of New Zealand’s spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) which disclose new details about its role gathering intelligence from Vietnam, China, India, Pakistan, Japan, South Pacific nations and other countries.

The disclosures also reveal that the GCSB had access to an NSA program codenamed WARRIORPRIDE used to access phones and computers that “can collect against an Asean target”. A March 2013 report describes New Zealand working towards improving its cyber capabilities to improve detection, discovery of new tools and disruption of the source of intrusions.

From the Verge, flying high to get the downlow:

The CIA helped develop planes that scrape cell phone data

The US may be using cellphone-sniffing planes to find suspects across the world, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal. In November, the Journal revealed the US Marshal’s secret program to locate specific fugitive through airplane equipped to mimic cell towers. Flying over an urban area, the planes can pinpoint the location of a single number amid a million or more phones. The new report shows the technology first originated with the CIA, which guided the initial deployment of the planes by the Marshal Service. Furthermore, Journal sources say continues to be used to locate intelligence targets overseas.

If true, the report unveils a powerful weapon in US intelligence efforts abroad, but also reveals a troubling trend of foreign intelligence tools used for domestic law enforcement purposes. The plane-mounted cellphone detector is a potentially ingenious tool for intelligence gathering, but it seems to have moved from CIA intelligence work to domestic fugitive tracking with little to no oversight, a troubling reminder of how easily tools designed for the War on Terror can be put to domestic ends. Electronic privacy advocates have already raised doubt about the practice. “There’s a lot of privacy concerns in something this widespread, and those concerns only increase if we have an intelligence agency coordinating with them,” the EFF’s Andrew Crocker told the Journal.

Norse cops busted for doing what American cops — and spooks — do routinely, via TheLocal.no:

Norway police broke law with fake base stations

Norway’s Police Security Service (PST) persistently violated the law as it established a network of fake mobile phone base stations across Oslo last year, Norway’s Aftenposten has revealed.

According to the paper, police and PST deliberately ignored a requirement that they should inform the country’s telecoms authority before setting up ‘IMSI catchers’, which mimic mobile base stations, allowing their operators to intercept and eavesdrop on mobile phone calls made nearby.

The newspaper last December identified a series of “fake base stations” outside Norway’s parliament, outside its government headquarters, and outside the residence of the prime minister, using a German CryptoPhone 500 to identify them.

It now appears that many, if not all of the devices, were set up by Norway’s own security services.

From Agence France-Presse, a Dutch metadata and email collection defeat:

Dutch court nixes data storage law, says privacy breached

A Dutch court on Wednesday struck down a law requiring telecoms and Internet service providers to store their clients’ private phone and email data, saying it breached European privacy rules.

“The judge ruled that data retention is necessary and effective to combat serious crime. Dutch legislation however infringes on the individual’s right to privacy and the protection of personal data,” the Hague district court said.

“The law therefore contravenes the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,” the court said in a statement. Seven groups and organisations including privacy watchdog Privacy First and the Dutch Association of Journalists dragged the Dutch state to court last month over the issue.

From SecurityWeek, don’t phone it in:

Dropbox Android SDK Flaw Exposes Mobile Users to Attack: IBM

IBM researchers discovered a flaw in Dropbox’s Android SDK which can leave mobile users vulnerable to attack.

The issue was not in the Dropbox service or the mobile app itself, but rather in the company’s SDK that third-party developers include to let users easily connect to their Dropbox files, Michael Montecillo, director of security intelligence at IBM Security, told SecurityWeek.

The vulnerability (CVE-2014-8889) was present in the SDK versions 1.5.4 through 1.5.1.

From the Associated Press, Cold War 2.0 intensifies:

Ukraine’s neighbor Poland to test resilience to attack

Poland will hold an exercise this year to test its resilience to a “crisis” like the conflict in neighboring Ukraine, President Bronislaw Komorowski said Wednesday.

Komorowski spoke to reporters during an annual meeting of army commanders and the defense minister that examines Poland’s defense potential and outlines key security tasks.

He said the nation needs to raise its defense potential in the face of threats, including the armed conflict that involves Poland’s two neighbors, Russia and Ukraine.

More casualties in the Forth Estate, via Fox News Latino:

2 Journalists murdered in Guatemala

Two journalists, one who worked for the daily Prensa Libre and another employed by Radio Nuevo Mundo, were murdered in front of a government office building in Suchitepequez, a province in Guatemala, emergency services officials said.

Danilo Lopez and Federico Salazar were gunned down on Tuesday in the city of Mazatenango’s central park by two individuals riding a motorcycle.

Lopez, a reporter for Prensa Libre, was pronounced dead at the scene, while Salazar, who worked for Radio Nuevo Mundo, died at a hospital in the city.

From RT, the Hexagon at high alert:

France to keep 10,000 troops on streets as terror threat remains high

As the threat of attacks by Islamist extremists remains high in France, President Francois Hollande has decided to continue the deployment of 10,000 troops on the streets across the country.

“The threat of terrorist attack against our country remains high. The head of state has decided to maintain the level of the army on the national territory at 10,000 troops in support of security forces from the Interior Ministry,” Hollande’s office said in a statement after a meeting of senior ministers, AFP reported.

A total of 7,000 troops will be monitoring and protecting religious buildings that are “particularly threatened,” the statement added.

From TheLocal.it, ISIS insanity:

Italian police: ‘Isis flag’ was jacket in tree

Police called to investigate an alleged Isis flag hanging outside an apartment building in Italy made a surprise discovery, finding what they feared may be extremist propaganda was, in fact, a resident’s washing put out to dry.

Police were called to an apartment block in Porto Recanati, on Italy’s eastern coast, after locals raised the alarm that an Isis sympathizer may be within their midst.

The officers searched the building and questioned residents, but were unable to recover the mystery black cloth spotted hanging from a tree next to the apartment block.

On further investigation police discovered that the supposed propaganda tool was nothing more than a jacket, swept into the trees after being hung out to dry, Corriere della Sera reported on Wednesday.

From Agence France-Presse, Britain’s NSA goes all how-to:

UK spies write ‘how to catch a terrorist’ guide

Secrecy is a cornerstone of spycraft, but Britain’s GCHQ communications agency has gone public with a guide on how to catch a “terrorist” as the government calls for increased online snooping powers.

In an apparent effort to make the secret services more transparent, the five-step guide illustrated with the image of an old-school spy in a trenchcoat was published on the monitoring agency’s website.

Entitled “How does an analyst catch a terrorist?”, it takes readers through the ways in which GCHQ analysts identify a suspicious stranger spotted overseas.

Under the scenario, the guide says an MI6 source based overseas spots  a leader of the Islamic State group handing a stranger a message containing information “that will cause carnage across London”.

After the jump, the Saudi/Swedish schism widens after a denunciation and an arms deal ended, on to the ISIS battlefront, first with another archaeological assault, ISIS on the brink of losing Tikrit while another city threatens to fall under ISIS guns, America’s top general voices concerns of events after an ISIS collapse, Washington frets over its own anti-Assad forces, hundreds of medics killed in the Syrian conflict, the UN’s plan to send Syrian refugees to northern Europe, and ISIS hacks Japanese websites while Anonymous down an ISIS social network, it’s on the the Boko Haram front and the claim of hundreds slain, France pledges more troops to the effort, and the U.S. backs a U.N. call for a regional anti-Boko Haram command, Indonesian fears of an ISIS insurgency and Indonesia threatens to flood Australia with refugees, Chinese island-building draws a Philippine demand, Japan mulls extending North Korean sanctions, the U.S. Marine commandant frets an Okinawan base relocation, and after Ringling Brothers retires its elephants, the Pentagon ponders using them as bomb detectors. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Predictions, politics, and medicines


We begin with a prediction, via the New York Times:

Ebola Outbreak Could Be Ended by Summer, U.N. Says

The Ebola outbreak that has claimed nearly 10,000 lives over the past 15 months could be halted by the summer, but only if international financial support is sustained, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

“This crisis can be stopped completely,” Dr. Bruce Aylward, who is leading the organization’s response to the epidemic, told reporters in Geneva. “It should be possible to stop transmission by the middle of the year.”

He cautioned, however, that “there’s a need for reinvestment and reinvigoration of the program if we are to get this finished.”

More from the World Health Organization:

WHO and World Food Programme join forces to reach zero Ebola cases

WHO and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are combining their forces in a new partnership in the Ebola-affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The arrangement combines the logistics strength of WFP with WHO’s public health expertise to help get the current Ebola outbreak down to zero cases in West Africa. The platform also establishes an alert and response infrastructure for future crises.

“This partnership increases both agencies’ abilities to reach, monitor and respond to the needs of all people touched by Ebola,” says Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General. “It helps us deploy and maintain technical teams with expertise in infection prevention and control, epidemiology, and contact tracing, enabling dedicated health workers in the deep field to do their best work. The partnership is also a learning opportunity for the future, informing our capacities to launch joint operations during large scale emergencies.”

“Over the past seven months, partnerships have been crucial in fighting this devastating outbreak. WFP has worked with our partners to respond to communities’ most basic needs — making sure food is reaching everywhere that the Ebola virus has hit.

Our logistical support to WHO and the wider humanitarian community has enabled affected people to receive the urgent care and support they need,” says WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. “We are making progress, however we must remain vigilant. The Ebola crisis will not end until we identify, reach and successfully treat every last case. Recognizing this goal, the WHO-WFP partnership – a joint technical and operational force – will continue providing the support required to achieve zero cases.”

From the Los Angeles Times, the downside to the upside:

New Ebola cases are declining: Why that’s bad news for a cure

After killing at least 9,936 people and infecting more than 24,202, the Ebola epidemic appears to be running out of steam. And for some medical researchers, this hard-won progress poses a problem.

The Ebola virus has retreated so dramatically in recent months that it may be too late to determine the effectiveness of the many experimental drugs and vaccines that have been rushed into production.

Unless the outbreak explodes again, potential cures such as ZMapp can’t be given to enough patients to accurately determine their effect. Nor is the virus infecting enough people to let researchers test the efficacy of two potential vaccines that are being given to about 18,000 health and emergency workers in Liberia.

Even proposals to treat patients by transfusing into them blood serum from Ebola survivors have become impossible to test with scientific rigor.

Agence France-Presse covers a vaccine trial:

Ebola: first vaccine trials underway in Guinea

Program notes:

Tests of an anti-Ebola vaccine are underway in Guinea on volunteers to assess its effectiveness before being put on the market.

And a new drug trial, via Science:

New Ebola drug trial starts in Sierra Leone

Researchers in Sierra Leone today started a new phase II trial of an experimental drug in Ebola patients. The first participant received an injection of the therapeutic, called TKM-Ebola, this morning at an Ebola treatment unit in Kerry Town. The trial may expand to other sites; the study team hopes to have an answer fast so that it can either move on to another drug or start a phase III study of TKM-Ebola.

Produced by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals in Burnaby, Canada, TKM-Ebola is made of synthetic, small interfering RNAs packaged into lipid nanoparticles. The RNAs target three of Ebola’s seven genes, blocking the virus’s replication. TKM-Ebola has been shown to work well in monkeys; the efficacy trial in humans is only starting now because there was not enough of the drug available earlier. Also, the RNAs have been adapted to the strain circulating at the moment.

The study does not have a placebo arm; all patients at the trial site are eligible for the drug, and researchers hope to determine whether it works by comparing them with patients treated elsewhere.

From the Guardian, another European afflicted:

UK military health worker tests positive for Ebola in Sierra Leone

  • Public Health England confirms case but will not say where the individual was working, as discussions are under way about whether to fly them to Britain

A UK military healthcare worker has tested positive for Ebola in Sierra Leone, Public Health England has confirmed. No details about the individual have been released.

Discussions are now under way as to whether to fly the healthcare worker back to the UK for treatment in the specialist unit at the Royal Free hospital in London. Two healthcare volunteers, Will Pooley and Pauline Cafferkey, were both repatriated and successfully treated at the Royal Free.

PHE will not say where the latest healthcare worker to be infected was working, but it is likely to have been in the military-run Ebola unit, which is situated in the grounds of the Kerry Town treatment centre run by Save the Children. It was at Kerry Town that Cafferkey was infected, probably during the process of taking off her face mask, which was of a different design to that worn by the rest of the volunteers.

On to Sierra Leone, first with an accountability fund, via the Sierra Leone Concord Times:

US$178,000 project to enhance citizens’ trust in Ebola response

A consortium of civil society organisations has been formed to revive citizens’ trust and confidence in the governance and management of the emergency and recovery phase of the Ebola response.

With support from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), the organizations – Campaign for Good Governance, Center for Accountability and Rule of Law, Center for the Coordination of Youth Activities, Democracy Sierra Leone, ActionAid Sierra Leone, Institute for Governance Reform, and Budget Advocacy Network – last Friday (6 March) unveiled a project titled: ‘Enhancing Trust between Citizens and Government in Sierra Leone’s Ebola Response’, worth US$178,300.

According to ActionAid’s Governance Advisor, Beatrice Serry, the overall purpose of the project is to strengthen state-citizens relationship through promoting transparency and accountability in the allocation and use of Ebola resources.

The Christian Science Monitor covers a change in direction:

As Ebola threat abates, Sierra Leone turns attention to survivors

  • Having lost family members themselves, Ebola survivors often face discrimination when they return to their communities. They also suffer from unexpected health side-effects from the virus.

Since the start of the outbreak, Sierra Leone has had 8,353 confirmed cases of Ebola, according to the National Ebola Response Center. Of these, 3,086 individuals, or 37 percent, survived, yet now face social discrimination, neglect, and possible life-long health problems.

The government is now turning its attention towards this population and their needs, while it continues to work towards zero new Ebola cases. There is no specific plan in place, but the rollout of support groups and free access for survivors to healthcare could be key indicators of how well the country can rebound from the disease.

The initial government support comes in the form of reintegration packages, worth $200, that provide each survivor with items like food, a mattress, and condoms. It provides a first step for many who have lost everything in a nation that barely a decade ago emerged from a decades-long civil war.

From the Sierra Leone Concord Times again, pledging allegiance:

President Koroma vows to support Chinese policies

While thanking the Chinese government and people for the provision of a fixed level 3 bio-safety laboratory which he described as a great opportunity in the promotion of the health sector, President Ernest Bai Koroma has vowed to support the policies of China in Sierra Leone.

President Koroma noted that, “Our journey with China started 40 years ago and every step has seen evidence of support in development. The journey has been long but very interesting and every step shows significant milestone.”

He said the relationship between China and Sierra Leone was put to test during the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease, noting that Beijing responded promptly and adequately with the provision of financial, logistics and personnel support to fight the scourge.

On to Liberia, first with a commemoration from the Associated Press:

Liberia holds church service for Ebola victims

Liberians held a church service Wednesday for Ebola victims to mark the country’s 99th National Decoration Day, a holiday normally set aside for people to clean up and re-decorate the graves of their lost relatives.

More than 4,100 people have died in in Liberia since the outbreak began about a year ago in West Africa. The vast majority of those victims were cremated, so the gathering at a Presbyterian church in the capital, Monrovia, was held to remember those without graves.

Nearly 20 barrels of ashes from about 3,000 victims will eventually be buried on a plot bought by the government as a cemetery for Ebola victims. Some bodies of suspected victims were buried Wednesday in a new grave site on the outskirts of Monrovia.

And a concession, via the New York Times:

Liberian Leader Concedes Errors in Response to Ebola

The president of Liberia acknowledged on Wednesday that she had erred in ordering a tough security crackdown at the height of the Ebola crisis last year, describing the deadly virus as an “unknown enemy” that had frightened her.

The president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel peace laureate, said that in hindsight, her deployments of troops and police officers to seal off a vast neighborhood in her nation’s capital — which set off skirmishes with residents, fueled distrust of the government and led to the death of a teenager — had been counterproductive.

“It did not take long to know that did not work,” she said in an interview with the The New York Times Editorial Board. “It created more tension in the society.”

InSecurityWatch: Cops, crime, war, terror, history


We begin with cops, first with the Christian Science Monitor:

From Wisconsin to Georgia, police shooting investigations are changing

In the past three days, three unarmed black men in three cities were shot by police. In two out of three cases, the shootings will be examined by an outside investigator as jurisdictions try to instil greater accountability.

The decision by police in Dekalb County, Ga., to hand an investigation into the officer-related shooting of an unarmed, and naked, black man to the state bureau of investigation is part of a dramatic re-think, amid continuing street protests, of how to adjudicate cases where unarmed civilians die at the hands of US police officers.

Dekalb County Police Chief Cedric Alexander tied the decision to investigate the death of Air Force veteran and aspiring R&B singer Anthony Hill to a broader movement toward having independent investigators handle officer-involved shootings, especially in cases where unarmed black men are killed.

The killing of Mr. Hill became the third shooting of an unarmed black man in a span of three days across America. The shootings in Aurora, Colo., Madison, Wisc., and Chamblee, Ga., have put police on guard against another wave of public backlash like the one that swept the US last year in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

More from the New York Times:

Georgia Investigators Look Into Police Shooting of Naked, Unarmed Man

A witness to the fatal police shooting of a naked, unarmed man here said Tuesday that the man had approached the officer with his hands in the air, prompting the frightened officer to shoot at close range with a handgun.

The witness, Pedro Castillo, 43, is a maintenance man at the Heights at Chamblee, the apartment complex northeast of Atlanta where Anthony Hill, 27, was shot and killed Monday afternoon. Mr. Castillo, speaking Spanish, said that Mr. Hill, a black man, had seemed out of sorts. He was naked and on all fours in the parking lot when the police officer, who is white, arrived in his squad car, parking a good distance away. Mr. Castillo said.

When Mr. Hill saw the officer, Mr. Castillo said, he stood up and moved toward him with his hands raised, and the officer, obviously frightened, yelled for him to stop. Mr. Castillo said that he had not seen a scuffle, but that he did see the officer pull out the handgun and shoot Mr. Hill.

Ted Rall of the Los Angeles Times ponders another police shooting of an unarmed man in his city:

BLOG Cops

And from Al Jazeera America, revenge by hacking:

Cyber attack hits Madison police department after shooting of unarmed teen

  • Anonymous, the loose network of hackers, has taken credit for the attack on the Madison PD’s computer systems

Cyber attackers have compromised computer systems at the Madison Police Department in retaliation for the police shooting death of a 19-year-old unarmed black man in the Wisconsin capital city, a police spokesman said Tuesday.

The cyber attack appears to be continuing and could be hitting other city and county websites beyond the police department, said police spokesman Joel DeSpain.

The attack, which began Monday afternoon, was thought to be initiated by Anonymous, an international network of activist computer hackers, in response to the fatal shooting of Tony Robinson by a white Madison police officer on Friday.

On to Ferguson with CNN and a resignation:

Judge resigns, Ferguson cases moved after scathing DOJ report

Ferguson’s municipal judge has resigned and the city’s court cases are getting moved after the U.S. Justice Department said the court discriminated against African-Americans.

“To help restore public trust and confidence in the Ferguson municipal court division, the Supreme Court of Missouri today transferred Judge Roy L. Richter of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, to the St. Louis County Circuit Court, where he will be assigned to hear all of Ferguson’s pending and future municipal division cases,” the Supreme Court said in a statement Monday.

“Extraordinary action is warranted in Ferguson, but the court also is examining reforms that are needed on a statewide basis,” Chief Justice Mary R. Russell said in the statement.

The announcement came the same day Municipal Court Judge Ronald Brockmeyer resigned as Ferguson’s judge.

More from the Guardian:

Ferguson judge behind aggressive fines policy resigns as city’s court system seized

  • Ronald J Brockmeyer, accused in a scathing report of aggressively using the municipal court to raise revenue for the city, has stepped down

A scathing report by the Department of Justice last week concluded that Ferguson’s police and court system was blighted by racial bias. Investigators accused Brockmeyer and his court officials of aggressively using the municipal court to raise revenue for the city. The policy is blamed by many for damaging relations between the city’s overwhelmingly white authorities and residents, two-thirds of whom are African American.

Brockmeyer, 70, was singled out by investigators as a driving force behind Ferguson’s strategy of using its municipal court to generate revenues aggressively. Investigators found that Brockmeyer had boasted of creating a range of new court fines, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful”.

Ferguson is accused in a class-action federal lawsuit, brought by public defenders and legal non-profits, of imprisoning impoverished residents in the city jail for being unable to pay fines of a few hundred dollars for minor offences. While jailing residents, Brockmeyer owes more than $172,000 in unpaid taxes to the US government, the Guardian disclosed last week. A staff member at Brockmeyer’s law offices in St Charles County did not return a call seeking comment.

And the New York Times covers another quitter:

Ferguson City Manager Cited in Justice Department Report Resigns

The city manager of Ferguson, whom a Department of Justice report blamed for overseeing the financially driven policies that led to widespread discrimination and questionable conduct by the police and the courts here, has agreed to resign. The announcement came during a City Council meeting on Tuesday, about a week after the scathing Justice Department report was released.

The manager, John Shaw, 39, had held the post since 2007. As Ferguson’s chief executive, he was the city’s most powerful official.

Mr. Shaw, who has not spoken publicly since the report was issued, offered a staunch defense in a page-long letter to the community that city officials distributed during the Council meeting.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation, tackling gender-based murder:

Brazil passes femicide law to tackle rise in gender killings

Brazil, where a woman is killed every two hours, is imposing tougher punishments on those who murder women and girls, as part of a government bid to stem a rise in gender killings.

President Dilma Rousseff said the new law gave a legal definition to the crime of femicide – the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender – and set out jail sentences of 12 to 30 years for convicted offenders.

The law also includes longer jail terms for crimes committed against pregnant women, girls under 14, women over 60 and people with disabilities.

From Der Spiegel, Berlin sounds an alarm over Washington war-mongering:

Breedlove’s Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine

  • US President Obama supports Chancellor Merkel’s efforts at finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis. But hawks in Washington seem determined to torpedo Berlin’s approach. And NATO’s top commander in Europe hasn’t been helping either.

It was quiet in eastern Ukraine last Wednesday. Indeed, it was another quiet day in an extended stretch of relative calm. The battles between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists had largely stopped and heavy weaponry was being withdrawn. The Minsk cease-fire wasn’t holding perfectly, but it was holding.

On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine — with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

A response to other Washington war-mongering, via the Los Angeles Times:

Iran leader says GOP senators’ letter implies U.S. ‘not trustworthy’

Iran’s foreign minister on Tuesday said that a letter from 47 Republican senators warning that any agreement on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program must receive congressional approval suggests that the U.S. is “not trustworthy.”

The open letter released Monday also warned Iran’s leaders that the next U.S. president could revoke a deal reached with President Obama.

“This kind of communication is unprecedented and undiplomatic,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, according to a state-run television website. “In fact it implies that the United States is not trustworthy.”

More from the Guardian:

Senate Democrats denounce Republican letter to Iran as call for war

  • Republicans’ attempt to ‘sabotage’ negotiations between western nations and Iran could escalate into military response, senators say

Prominent Senate Democrats have accused their Republican rivals of wanting to start a war with Iran on Tuesday, a day after conservative senators penned an open letter to Tehran.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer said that the 47 signatories to the letter are trying to “sabotage” talks between western powers and Iran. Boxer described the Republicans’ letter as “bizarre, inappropriate” and a “desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement” that she said is “in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world”.

“It appears that for most of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, a war in Afghanistan and a war in Iraq were not enough,” said Sanders, who is an independent but caucuses with the Democratic Party, in a statement. “They now apparently want a war in Iran as well.” The Vermont senator called the letter “an outrage”.

After the jump, a Wikimedia suit targets the NSA, the curious case of the rich Spanish cop, old school terror thwarted in the Emerald Isle, neo-nazis busted in an Austrian xenophobic protest, anger follows a German mayor’s resignation under neo-nazi pressure, Sweden ends a lucrative Saudi arms trade, more French arrests of men linked to a slain terrorist, Spain claims a win over an Islamist attack cell, Iraq pushes ISIS back in Tikrit, The ten-year-old soldiers of ISIS, and an ISIS play in Libya facilitated by chaos, an ISIS announcement of more gay men executed, and a child executes an alleged spy, Chinese ISIS recruits head home to Xinjiang, the curious state of that ISIS/Boko Haram hookup, the Boko Haram campaign heats up with stronger foes and a new Nigeria raid, the CIA’s stealthy spookery to crack the iPhone, the man who makes Edward Snowden’s encryption tool, new software enables capture of Facebook login sites, cell phone records track and keep your every move, Spain’s ubiquitous downloading pirates, a rape documentary banned in India gets a gilded U.S. debut, a free speech protest meets a brutal Myanmar crackdown, China prepares a foreign NGO crackdown, Beijing decries Japanese media Nanjing Massacre revisionism, On to Tokyo and a Shinzo Abe advisor’s plea for a prime ministerial acknowledgment of Japanese WWII aggression, Japan’s military popularity hits an all-time high, and Angela Merkel tells Abe to get straight with South Korea on Comfort Women. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Numbers, Britain, responses, mines


We begin with the latest case counts, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

Next, from the World Health Organization, Old Blighty nears a clearance:

United Kingdom is declared free of Ebola virus disease

WHO commends the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on its diligence in containing the transmission of Ebola virus disease (EVD). According to WHO guidelines, the United Kingdom is now free of Ebola virus disease.

On 28 December 2014, a health-care worker returned to Glasgow in the United Kingdom after volunteering at an Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone. The health-care worker, who had displayed no symptoms of EVD during the journey, developed a fever and myalgia on 29 December and was placed in strict isolation at the specialist Brownlee Unit for Infectious Diseases on the Gartnavel Hospital campus.

On the afternoon of 29 December 2014, laboratory testing using reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) confirmed that the health-care worker had EVD. WHO was notified of the case. The patient was transferred for treatment in isolation at the Royal Free hospital in London on 30 December 2014 and remained there until fully recovered.

All passengers who travelled on the same flights as the health-care worker from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to Casablanca, Morocco, and then to London Heathrow and Glasgow were contacted and monitored for any symptoms of EVD for 21 days. By 18 January, they all had completed the 21-day follow-up period without developing EVD.

From SciDev.Net, insurance:

View on Private Sector: Insurance for the next Ebola

As a result of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim has proposed an insurance policy to cover regional and worldwide disease outbreaks. According to the BBC, he said this could work like fire insurance: “The more you are prepared for a fire, like having several smoke detectors, the lower the premium you pay.” The implication is that the insurance market could be a force that drives countries to build up their health infrastructure.

Another organisation separately considering epidemic insurance is African Risk Capacity (ARC), a special agency of the African Union that helps member states plan for and respond to extreme weather. In 2013, the organisation established ARC Insurance Company, a firm that offers insurance against drought, and soon floods and cyclones, to 25 AU member states. Five countries have taken up the offer, with seven more planning to join them in May. The firm is a mutual, so any profits are reinvested in providing its service.

In January, the AU asked ARC to look into also insuring against epidemics such as Ebola. ARC programme director Joanna Syroka tells me she thinks it will be possible to offer such insurance schemes to one or two member states by 2017.

And from the Associated Press, a reassessment:

WHO creates independent panel to assess its Ebola response

The World Health Organization says it has created a panel of independent experts to assess its response to the biggest-ever Ebola outbreak in history.

In a statement Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said the panel was commissioned after a resolution passed by its executive board. The panel will be chaired by Barbara Stocking, a former chief executive of Oxfam GB. A preliminary report is due in May.

WHO’s handling of the Ebola outbreak that has killed over 9,900 people in West Africa has been heavily criticized. WHO admitted in an internal draft report that it fumbled early attempts to curb the outbreak, blaming incompetent staff and a lack of real-time information. Others also criticized WHO for not declaring an international health emergency until nearly 1,000 people had died.

On to Sierra Leone and a call for diversity from the Guardian:

Ebola crisis could force Sierra Leone to diversify away from mining

  • Crisis in mining industry could bring economic benefits and opportunities for other sectors and place greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility

As Sierra Leone looks to rebuild after the Ebola epidemic, it may be forced to diversify from a mining-heavy economic base. Falling iron ore prices and the effects of Ebola on the industry signal the need for change, according to the chairman of the Chamber of Mines, who said the diversification could be beneficial.

John Bonoh Sisay said mining companies will also have to change the way they interact with local people, placing a greater emphasis on supporting healthcare systems as part of corporate social responsibility.

“In the long term, it’s not a bad thing to mature the economy in that way. There are other opportunities especially in agriculture, which, from a stability point of view, really does create a lot of jobs very quickly [and the] skills base is minimal,” said Sisay, who is also chief executive officer of Sierra Rutile, a mineral sands producer with a rutile mine in the south-west.

Prices for iron ore have dropped as demand in China has slumped, and amid a global glut, causing a shakeup in Sierra Leone’s mining industry, which has also been battered by costs associated with the outbreak of Ebola.

And from StarAfrica, a handoff:

China hands over Ebola lab to S/Leone govt

Chinese has officially handed over a newly constructed EVD BSL 3 laboratory to the government of Sierra Leone. The lab was installed and tested in January and the Sierra Leone government said in a statement on Tuesday that the project took six months to complete.

The head of the Chinese Centers for Disease Control team, Professor Dong, took the Sierra Leonean leader on an inspection tour of the facility before the official handing over ceremony which took place at the China-Sierra Leone Friendship Biological Safety Lab at Jui, a few km outside the capital, Freetown.

Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Zhao Yanbo, disclosed at the ceremony plans to send Sierra Leoneans working with the China CDC team to Beijing to improve on their capacity in handling viral haemorrhagic fevers.

InSecurityWatch: Divisions, warfare, militarism


We begin with a real source of InSecurity, via the Independent:

Britain’s divided decade: the rich are 64% richer than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer

The gap between richest and poorest has dramatically widened in the past decade as wealthy households paid off their debts and piled up savings following the financial crisis, a report warns today.

By contrast, the worst-off families are far less financially secure than before the recession triggered by the near- collapse of several major banks. They have an average of less than a week’s pay set aside and are more often in the red.

Younger workers have fallen behind older people while homeowners – particularly those who have paid off their mortgages – have become increasingly affluent compared with their neighbours who are paying rent.

From the New York Times, more real InSecurity:

U.N. Finds ‘Alarmingly High’ Levels of Violence Against Women

The evidence is ubiquitous. The gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi sets off an unusual burst of national outrage in India. In South Sudan, women are assaulted by both sides in the civil war. In Iraq, jihadists enslave women for sex. And American colleges face mounting scrutiny about campus rape.

Despite the many gains women have made in education, health and even political power in the course of a generation, violence against women and girls worldwide “persists at alarmingly high levels,” according to a United Nations analysis that the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to present to the General Assembly on Monday.

About 35 percent of women worldwide — more than one in three — said they had experienced physical violence in their lifetime, the report finds. One in 10 girls under the age of 18 was forced to have sex, it says.

From the Guardian, Netanyahu’s acolytes:

Republicans threaten Iran nuclear deal may not survive Obama tenure

  • Letter from 47 senators says nuclear accord needs congressional backing to last
  • White House accuses Republicans of ‘rush to war’ with Iran

Forty-seven Republican senators warned on Monday that any agreement the Obama administration strikes with Iran to limit Tehran’s nuclear programme may be short-lived unless Congress approves the deal. The White House accused the Republicans of advocating a “rush to war”.

In an open letter to Iranian leaders, freshman Senator Tom Cotton and 46 other Republicans said that without congressional approval any deal between Iran and the US would be merely an agreement between President Barack Obama and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen,” they wrote, “and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

From StarAfrica, plumbers summoned:

S/Africa probes leaking of spy docs to Al Jazeera

South Africa’s State Security Agency (SSA) has launched a full investigation into the leaking of documents detailing its operations following the recent leakage of sensitive documents to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV news network, APA learnt on Sunday.

“A full investigation has been launched into the purported leakage, its veracity and verification will be handled in terms of the protocols governing the management of classified information,” State Security Minister David Mahlobo said.

The probe follows the web of dealings between the South African spy agency and several foreign agencies which have been revealed through hundreds of documents leaked to Al Jazeera, which broadcast the items last week.

Among other issues the documents, dated from 2006 to 2012, included an alleged assassination plot against African Union (AU) Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Iran’s efforts to use Pretoria to work around its international sanctions imposed by Western powers and the flawed capabilities of the country’s intelligence, according to the Al Jazeera, which did not reveal who leaked the documents to it.

From Deutsche Welle, did you Hope™ for this Change™?:

US deploying 3,000 troops to the Baltics

  • The US announced it is deploying 3000 troops to the Baltics to take part in military exercises over the next three months. The Baltic states and other eastern European nations are wary of renewed Russian aggression.

The United States is sending 3,000 troops to the Baltic states to partake in joint military exercises with NATO partners in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania over the next three months, US defense officials announced Monday.

The mission, part of “Operation Atlantic Resolve” is designed to reassure NATO allies concerned over renewed Russian aggression amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Around 750 US Army tanks, fighting vehicles and other military equipment arrived in Latvia Monday, and US ground troops are expected to begin arriving next week, US Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters.

According to a US military source speaking on condition of anonymity, the military equipment will remain in the Baltics even after the US troops return to base.

From the Guardian, suppression:

Saudi Arabia accused of blocking criticism of human rights record

  • Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallström, has said the kingdom stopped her addressing an Arab League meeting

Sweden’s foreign minister has reportedly accused Saudi Arabia of blocking her speech at an Arab League meeting to stop her highlighting human rights cases such as the imprisonment of a blogger for insulting Islam.

Speaking in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Monday, Margot Wallström told the TT news agency: “The explanation we have been given is that Sweden has highlighted the situation for democracy and human rights and that is why they do not want me to speak.

“It’s a shame that a country has blocked my participation.”

An Arab diplomat confirmed to Agence France-Presse that Riyadh had stopped her making the speech.

A sharp Saudi response to flogging condemnation, via the Independent:

Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabia accuses western media of attacking its sovereignty

Saudi Arabia has finally responded to the international outcry over the treatment of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, accusing the western media of launching an unjustified attack on its sovereignty under the “pretext of human rights”.

In its first official statement on the case, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would not allow outside interference with Saudi Arabia’s judicial system and that pressure from the media and human rights groups would have no impact on his punishment.

Mr Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes – of which so far only 50 have been carried out – for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. Judges in the country’s criminal court want him to undergo a retrial for apostasy, which carries the death sentence.

From the Guardian, Indian free speech suppression:

Activist arrested for showing rape documentary in Indian village

  • Ketan Dixit used borrowed equipment and bedsheets to screen India’s Daughter, which has been banned by the authorities, to 60 people

A young activist who defied the Indian government’s ban on the documentary India’s Daughter and screened the film for a village audience near the northern city of Agra has been apprehended by police.

Ketan Dixit was quoted on Monday as saying he was ready to “face any action that was initiated” after showing the documentary on Sunday on a makeshift screen made of white bedsheets in the compound of a journalist’s family home in Roopdhanu, around 30km from the Taj Mahal.

Around 60 men, women and children watched the film, which has been the subject of furious controversy since the Indian authorities’ decision to pull it from the air last week. The film, by British documentary-maker Leslee Udwin, is about the fatal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012.

From BBC News, a German mayor resigns facing xenophobic agitation:

German Mayor Markus Nierth resigns over NPD protest fears

A village mayor in eastern Germany has resigned after threats to march on his house from far-right protesters angry about plans to house asylum seekers.

Markus Nierth, who was honorary mayor of Troeglitz in Saxony-Anhalt, south of Berlin, said he quit because local authorities refused to ban the march. He said he would not expose his family to “racist and hate-filled chants”.

Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Ministry said it opposed “all forms of xenophobia and racism’‘.

After the jump, Netanyahu adopts a harder line as a former spy boss declares him the country’s biggest threat, on to the ISIS war, first with advances in the battle for Tikrit, and fears of retribution if ISIS withdraws, Germany mulls an Islamist military checkup, on to Africa and an advance on Boko Haram, Islamist oil field kidnapping in Libya, Pakistan extends its nuclear missile reach to all of India, on to Japan as Shinzo Abe pushes for rapid legislative realization of his remilitarization agenda, Merkel urges Abe to hold to the traditional apology for World War II actions, and Tokyo issues a testy response, and Abe wins metadata enabling legislation. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Numbers, politics, orphans, burials


We begin with the latest case counts, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

Next, via the New York Times, a diagnosis:

Ebola-Stricken Countries Lagged in Health Systems

The world has spent more than $4 billion fighting Ebola, but according to a new report from Save the Children, it would have cost only $1.6 billion to bring health care systems up to minimum standards in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which might have prevented the outbreak or ended it faster.

Even before Ebola struck West Africa, more than 25 countries had health care systems worse than those in impoverished Liberia and Sierra Leone, the report also found.

The assessment, released last week, relied on typical health measures like infant mortality, childhood immunization rates and numbers of health care workers per capita. But it also included assessments of fairness, such as government health spending and how often the poorest of the poor had doctors, nurses or midwives present at births.

On to Liberia with numbers from StarAfrica:

Liberia’s deaths at 6,097 since Ebola epidemic – official

A total of 6,097 deaths were recorded nationwide since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Liberia, according to an official of the Incident Management System (IMS).

Dehwehn Yeabah who heads, the Dead Body Management Team of the IMS told the Ministry of Information’s daily briefing in Monrovia on Monday that the figure represents the combined total of both Ebola and non-Ebola deaths from March 2014 to February 2015 nationwide.

Yeabah explained that of this figure, 2,711 bodies were cremated, while 3,386 bodies were safely buried by burial teams around the country. According to Yeabah, oral swab procedures were performed on a total of 70.61 percent of the recorded bodies.

Next, via Sputnik, a declaration nears:

Liberia is Close to Be Declared Ebola-Free

Good news is coming from Liberia, as the country may soon be declared Ebola-free. To mark this, the government in Monrovia decided to dismantle a crematorium and remove drums containing the ashes of over 3,000 Ebola victims.

The Liberian government decided to dismantle a crematorium and remove drums that contain the ashes of more than 3,000 Ebola victims who were cremated at the height of the deadly epidemic.

Liberia began to cremate the bodies of Ebola victims after communities across the country rejected traditional burials, fearing that the deadly virus could contaminate the soil and spread further. At the same time, traditional burial practices include customs, like washing and touching of the dead, which could further spread the disease. Therefore, it was decided that it would be safer for everyone to cremate the bodies of the dead.

From the Associated Press, a major landmark:

Liberia removes Ebola crematorium as outbreak is contained

Marking the progress in controlling its Ebola outbreak, the Liberian government dismantled a crematorium and removed drums containing the ashes of more than 3,000 Ebola victims cremated during the height of the epidemic, whose last patient was discharged last week.

Liberia resorted to cremating the bodies of Ebola victims when communities rejected burials in their areas for fear the disease could spread and contaminate their soil and affect them. The cremations were very controversial because they were against traditional burial practices. But those customs, including washing and touching the dead, spread the deadly Ebola which brought the government to impose cremations.

Religious leaders gathered Saturday at the former crematorium outside Monrovia and prayed for the victims who came from many different religious groups, Acting Information Minister Isaac Jackson told The Associated Press.

More from FrontPageAfrica:

‘Gross Disrespect’: Ebola Victims Get Befitting Burial

It was a scene of grief and sorrow as the remains of nearly 3,000 victims of the deadly Ebola Virus were transferred from the Boys Town crematorium to the new cemetery specifically for Ebola burials, located at Disco Hill on the Roberts International Airport highway. Relatives of the dead showed up in their numbers clad in white suits and red head ties as the drums of bones were lifted from pickup trucks dripped with white and red binding cloths.

Cecelia Parker lost three of her relatives to the deadly Ebola virus, as she saw the drums filled with ashes, she broke down in tears. Like many of the families who showed up at the site the grief was difficult to endure. “I lost three persons and their ashes are in there; my sister, my two sisters, and a cousin and it hurts and you see me; my two sisters left eight children with me. Right now, I just need the government to help me with the education of the children,” she said weeping bitterly.

Marvin Wesley came all the way from Bomi County to see the last resting place of his relatives who succumbed to the deadly virus last year. He was in tears and said his heart was heavy because he lost two of his family members to the virus at the Island Clinic Ebola Treatment Unit. But Wesley said he is relieved that the ashes of his brothers have finally found a proper and decent resting place.

From the New Dawn, a political verdict:

Saah Joseph on Sierra-Leone’s Ebola Response

The head of the First Response Ebola Team from Liberia to Sierra Leone, Montserrado County Representative Saah Joseph, says his team in Sierra Leone was making all mobilization efforts in villages for awareness on the Deadly Ebola Virus.

Representative Joseph told the Truth FM Breakfast show on Monday that members of his the team walk were trekking from village to village and home to home to create awareness on the necessary preventive measures against Ebola, saying the First response has made a difference towards these efforts, and that the people of Sierra Leone were positively responding, as well as showing respect and trust in the team.

He added that the people of Sierra Leone see the entire team as the representative of the Government and people of Liberia. He noted that five members from the Team have been deployed to the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia to test anyone coming and going out of the two countries, not only for Ebola cases, but any other related disease.

From AllAfrica, a call for support:

Liberia: Health Official Wants Support for Ebola Survivors

The Coordinator of the Ebola Survivors Network at the Ministry of Health, Rev. Meekie Glayweon, says the ministry is currently collaborating with partners to provide care for the estimated 2,000 Ebola survivors in the country.

Rev. Glayweon said more than 900 of the Ebola survivors reside in Montserrado County, the capital, according to the Liberia News Agency.

She disclosed that the World Food Program (WFP) is providing food items and cash support through mobile money to 2,000 survivors across the country for a period of three months.

Another political judgment, via the News:

‘Liberia Is Not Out Of The Woods’

…Ellen Tells ACP-EU Parliamentarians

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has told parliamentarians of the Asian, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) and European Union (EU) Joint Parliamentary Assembly that Liberia is not out of the ‘’woods’‘ yet but has made tremendous progress since the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease.

According to a Dispatch from Brussels, President Sirleaf made the statement when she addressed the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels on Wednesday, March 4, 2015.

The Liberian leaders said though there has been no new case in recent days, Liberians remain cautiously optimistic about progress made thus far in the fight against the disease. She said through a concerted regional approach that will handle clear surveillance programs, border monitoring, rapid response, upgrade of health facilities and systems, share health data and other information, the situation in the most affected countries will be addressed.

From the Monrovia Inquirer, a plea:

Ebola Orphans Cry For Help

Some Ebola orphans from the Taffi Dollars Children’s Welfare Center (TDCWC) yesterday gathered in front of the Ministry of Gender with placards requesting for support from government to enable them get back to school.

The children had lots of placards like “I am Joshua Kangar; I am from Dolo Town; my father, Rev. Brown Kangar died of Ebola so please help me.” Another one stated, “Thank God for Taffi Dollar Children’s Welfare Center (TDCWC).” Another placard read, “We are 100 children orphaned by Ebola sponsored by ALC at TDCWC.”

The Spokesperson for Taffi Dollars Children Academy, Julius S. Jarwood, in an interview with the Press also expressed concern over how the children have been left alone after their parents have died from the deadly Ebola virus.

AllAfrica covers a denial:

Liberia: Ebola Survivor Denied of Properties in Fuamah District, Lower Bong County

An Ebola Survivor is calling on the Government of Liberia and the International Communities to come to her aid by helping her in order to claim her late mother’s properties. Speaking to the Inquirer recently at the C.H. Rennie Hospital, Helena Henry said after the death of her mother, she also came down with the virus and was later taken to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) at ELWA in Monrovia but survived by the grace of God.

She further narrated that eight persons along with her mother died from the virus, and as such, she is the only survivor in her family.

Madam Henry added that since the death of her mother, she has been asked by some citizens of Bong Mines in Fuamah District, Lower Bong County not to step in that part of the county, because they alleged that it was her mother who took the virus to the District, something she said, the situation has made it difficult for her to get her late mother properties back.

And from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a Sierra Leonean tragedy abroad:

Sierra Leone athlete freed in Britain, appeal raises 23,000 pounds

Jimmy Thoronka, a Sierra Leonean sprinter who competed in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and spent the winter sleeping rough in London after hearing his family had died of Ebola, was weighing up his options on Monday.

Thoronka was arrested on Friday for overstaying his visa, but was released from police custody a day later – to find that an online appeal had raised thousands of pounds to help him.

While competing in the Games last summer, Thoronka heard that his whole family had died in the Ebola epidemic ravaging the west African country.

After the Games, he wanted to go to London but his passport and money were stolen and he was afraid to go the police in case he was arrested, press reports said. Since reaching London, he had been sleeping rough.

InSecurityWatch: Spooks, vandals, war, hacks


We begin with consideration from the New York Times:

Holder Weighs Dismantling the Ferguson Police Dept.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. vowed a firm response on Friday to what he called “appalling” racial misconduct by law enforcement officials in Ferguson, Mo., suggesting he was prepared to seek the dismantling of the police force there if necessary.

“We are prepared to use all the powers that we have, all the power that we have, to ensure that the situation changes there,” Mr. Holder told reporters here after returning from Columbia, S.C., where he appeared with President Obama at a town hall-style meeting at Benedict College. “That means everything from working with them to coming up with an entirely new structure.”

Asked if that included dismantling the police force, Mr. Holder said: “If that’s what’s necessary, we’re prepared to do that.”

From the Intercept, notable spooky news:

Documents Shine Light on Shadowy New Zealand Surveillance Base

Near the heartland of New Zealand’s renowned wine country, there is a place that visitors are not allowed to go. The peculiar large white domes that protrude from the earth in the Waihopai Valley are surrounded by razor wire and shrouded in secrecy.

But now, newly revealed documents from the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden shine a light on what is behind the security perimeter. The buildings there are crammed with sophisticated NSA spying technology, used by New Zealand to sweep up text messages, emails, phone calls, and other communications in bulk across the Asia-Pacific.

The documents, revealed Saturday by the Sunday Star-Times in collaboration with The Intercept, show how closely New Zealand has worked with the NSA to maintain surveillance coverage of the region. The files also offer an unprecedented insight into the Waihopai base, exposing how it’s been integrated into a global eavesdropping network.

The spying station intercepts data from satellites, and is operated by Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, New Zealand’s equivalent of the NSA. Waihopai is part of a group of surveillance stations used by the so-called Five Eyes, an alliance that New Zealand is part of alongside the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

CBC News covers options exercised:

Counter-terrorism work has ‘sidetracked’ 300 RCMP criminal probes

  • RCMP head Bob Paulson says he hopes full, unedited Zehaf-Bibeau video will be released eventually

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says he thinks the full, unedited version of Parliament Hill shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s self-filmed video will eventually be released.

In an interview airing Saturday morning on CBC Radio’s The House, host Evan Solomon asked Paulson if 18 seconds from the beginning and end of the video made on the day of the shooting would one day be made public by police.

“I think so, eventually. I would like to think so,” he said. “I can’t give you a time estimate, I don’t think anything is lost in terms of what Canadians are seeing from Zehaf-Bibeau.”

Next, a fusion, via BBC News:

Nigeria’s Boko Haram pledges allegiance to Islamic State

Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), according to an audio statement. The message, which could not immediately be verified, was posted on Boko Haram’s Twitter account and appeared to be by the group’s leader.

Boko Haram began a military campaign to impose Islamic rule in northern Nigeria in 2009. The conflict has since spread to neighbouring states. It would be the latest in a series of groups to swear allegiance to IS.

Boko Haram’s insurgency has threatened Nigeria’s territorial integrity and triggered a humanitarian crisis. It has carried out frequent bombings that have left thousands dead and has also attacked targets in the capital, Abuja.

From the Guardian, yet another attempt to reboot history — a UNESCO World Heritage Site:

Isis militants destroy remains of Hatra in northern Iraq

  • 2,000-year-old city has been demolished, says tourism and antiquities ministry

Islamic State militants have bulldozed ancient remains of the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra in northern Iraq.

An official said the tourism and antiquities ministry had received reports from its employees in Mosul, which is controlled by the radical Islamist group, that the site at Hatra had been demolished.

A nearby resident said he heard a powerful explosion early on Saturday and that neighbours had reported that Isis militants had destroyed some of the larger buildings in Hatra and were bulldozing other parts.

The destruction follows a similar incident this week when Isis fighters bulldozed the ancient Assyrian archaeological site of Nimrud, south of Mosul. Some of the works had survived for more than 1,500 years.

Here’s a video tour of what once was, via UNESCO:

Hatra (UNESCO/NHK)

Program notes:

A large fortified city under the influence of the Parthian Empire and capital of the first Arab Kingdom, Hatra withstood invasions by the Romans in A.D. 116 and 198 thanks to its high, thick walls reinforced by towers. The remains of the city, especially the temples where Hellenistic and Roman architecture blend with Eastern decorative features, attest to the greatness of its civilization.

From the Observer, archaeological anxiety spreads:

Isis vandalism has Libya fearing for its cultural treasures

  • With five World Heritage sites and historical remains stretching back to before Roman times, archaeologists worry a unique legacy may be lost

The Libyan capital of Tripoli lies more than 1,700 miles from the ancient Iraqi city of Nimrud. But for Mustafa Turjman, head of archaeological research at the University of Tripoli, the reported destruction of Nimrud’s ruins last week by the bulldozers of Islamic State (Isis) must have seemed rather closer to home.

For Libya, like Iraq, is home to a prized array of temples, tombs, mosques and churches, including five Unesco world heritage sites. And Libya, like Iraq, is racked by a complex civil war in which Isis plays a key role.

“Everything is unpredictable,” Turjman told the Observer. “But our heritage is in danger and it’s very difficult to protect it. We [academics] can protect it through restoration, but to protect it from people and explosions is very difficult. Sites, in particular in the centre and populated areas, are very endangered and very much at risk.”

The Washington Post covers the predictable:

Strains plague Iraqi, U.S. assessments of long-term fight against Islamic State

Signs of strain have emerged recently between the United States and Iraq over the timetable and military components of a campaign to retake major population centers occupied by the Islamic State.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter told Congress this week that the U.S. Central Command was “inaccurate” when it told reporters recently that an offensive in Mosul could begin as early as April. But that timeline had already provoked a retort from Carter’s Iraqi counterpart, who said the United States was “not familiar” with Iraq’s battle plan for the northwestern city.

Speaking at a news conference late last month, Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said that Baghdad would determine the timing for the Mosul offensive.

From VICE News, more cadaverous messaging:

Islamic State Hangs Corpses Over Iraq City Entrance During Tikrit Battle

Islamic State militants hung the bodies of men believed to be Iraqi soldiers at the entrance to the town of Hawija in northern Iraq. In a video posted to Youtube, the corpses are shown strung from Hawija’s gates as vehicles passed below.

Witnesses quoted by local Iraqi reports said the bodies, strung upside down, were bodies of Iraqi government soldiers killed while battling ISIS forces in Tikrit, located about 74 miles away.

The gruesome display comes as Iraqi troops and allied Shiite militias mount a massive push to retake Tikrit from Islamic State fighters. Approximately 30,000 troops used jets and helicopters to try to push into the Islamic State-held city that is only 100 miles from Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the assault on Tikrit last Sunday during a press conference.

The Washington Post considers things to come:

U.S. sees even bigger test for Iraq and Iran in the aftermath of Tikrit battle

The top U.S. military officer will press the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during a visit to Iraq this week about its plans for avoiding sectarian fallout once the Iranian-backed operation to dislodge the Islamic State from the city of Tikrit concludes.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was confident that Iraq would ultimately defeat the Sunni militants in Tikrit, a largely Sunni city north of Baghdad. He said the group’s fighters numbered only in the hundreds there, while the force of Iraqi troops and Iranian-backed militia fighters advancing on the city stands around 23,000.

“The important thing about this operation in the Tikrit in my view is less about how the military aspect of it goes and more about what follows,” he told reporters ahead a visit to Iraq, where he will meet with Iraq’s Shiite-led government. “Because if the Sunni population is then allowed to continue to live its life the way it wants to, and can come back to their homes … then I think we’re in a really good place.”

Mediterranean escalation, via Reuters:

EU considers bigger naval presence to tackle Libya security issues

The European Union is discussing with the United Nations ways to bolster security in Libya, including a naval presence, if U.N.-backed peace talks lead to a settlement, the EU’s foreign policy head said on Saturday.

Libya’s warring factions had held talks on Thursday in an effort to end a conflict between two rival governments that threatens to drive the country into full-blown civil war.

The EU currently has ships that patrol the Mediterranean Sea to help rescue migrants trying to flee from Libya and other North African countries. But Federica Mogherini said this presence could go further.

From Reuters again, more Libyan anxiety:

U.N. experts concerned Libya arms could be diverted to militias

U.N. sanctions monitors said on Friday they are concerned that if a United Nations Security Council committee approves a request by Libya’s government for weapons, tanks and jets, some of the equipment could be diverted to militias supporting them.

The experts, who monitor violations of an arms embargo imposed on Libya in 2011, said in a letter – obtained by Reuters – that arms could also end up in the hands of other militia after battles or if Libyan troops lose control of stockpiles.

Libya’s internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has operated out of the east since a rival armed faction called Libya Dawn took over Tripoli in fighting last year and set up its own administration.

After the jump, Morsi supporters executed in Egypt, the U.N. Human Rights Council takes up the cause of privacy, the Internet of [hacked] Things, a lie-detecting app for corporate execs, the Saudis spurn blogger-flogging critics, on to the Boko Haram front with a suicide bombing assault in Nigeria and women protesting in Niger, the lynching of an alleged Indian rapist results in a trucker boycott, China jails women activists on the eve of International Women’s Day, an anti-hijab warning in eastern China, on to Tokyo and a hint Shinzo Abe may scale back remilitarization legislation, support for Abe’s agenda on the rise, Tokyo and Taipei ink a Game of Zones fishing pact, and mixed messaging inn the Okinawa/Tokyo feud over a U.S. base move, plus hints the Pope may help solve a four-decade-old murder mystery. . . Continue reading