Category Archives: Asia

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, pollution, water, nukes


We begin with consequences of an Indian outbreak, via the Guardian:

Swine flu fears cause Indian city of Ahmedabad to ban public gatherings

  • City of 3.5m will not allow more than four people to meet in public in an attempt to stop spread of potentially deadly virus

A west Indian city has banned most public gatherings in an attempt to halt the spread of swine flu, which has claimed at least 926 lives nationwide in 11 weeks.

Officials prohibited gatherings of five or more people in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat state with a population of more than 3.5m.

Marriages and funerals are exempt from the ban, but participants will need to wear protective masks, officials said.

From the Guardian, toxic fowl:

Three-quarters of supermarket chickens carry food poisoning bug

  • Nearly one in five samples highly contaminated and none of major supermarkets met targets for reducing campylobacter

Three-quarters of fresh chickens on sale in supermarkets and butchers are contaminated with the potentially lethal food poisoning bug campylobacter, according to the latest results of food safety tests by the Food Standards Agency.

The worst contamination rates were found in Asda, where eight in 10 birds tested positive for the bug and nearly a third of fresh whole chickens were heavily contaminated.

But none of the major supermarkets met targets for reducing campylobacter and Tesco, where 68% of chickens tested positive, was the only retailer with results for heavy contamination below the industry average at 12%.

Another diseased fowl story from Environmental News Service:

Ticks Carrying Lyme Disease Discovered on California Birds

Ticks bearing the bacterium that causes Lyme disease are populating Northern California’s birds that then fly them into suburban areas, finds new research from the University of California, Berkeley.

Lyme disease is spread to humans through the bite of infected ticks. The black-legged deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, transmits the bacterium B. burgdorferi in the eastern and north-central regions of the United States, while the western black-legged tick, Ixodes pacificus, spreads the bacteria in the West.

Ticks usually infest animals such as white-footed mice, voles, other small rodents and deer. The UC Berkeley study reveals birds as an important newly-found reservoir in the western United States for the corkscrew-shaped bacterium.

“The role of birds in the maintenance of Lyme disease bacteria in California is poorly understood,” said the study’s lead author Erica Newman, a UC Berkeley PhD student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management.

From Newswise, another deadly processed food problem:

Widely Used Food Additive Promotes Colitis, Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome, Research Shows

Emulsifiers, which are added to most processed foods to aid texture and extend shelf life, can alter the gut microbiota composition and localization to induce intestinal inflammation that promotes the development of inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome, new research shows.

The research, published Feb. 25 in Nature, was led by Georgia State University Institute for Biomedical Sciences’ researchers Drs. Benoit Chassaing and Andrew T. Gewirtz, and included contributions from Emory University, Cornell University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, afflicts millions of people and is often severe and debilitating. Metabolic syndrome is a group of very common obesity-related disorders that can lead to type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular and/or liver diseases. Incidence of IBD and metabolic syndrome has been markedly increasing since the mid-20th century.

The term “gut microbiota” refers to the diverse population of 100 trillion bacteria that inhabit the intestinal tract. Gut microbiota are disturbed in IBD and metabolic syndrome. Chassaing and Gewirtz’s findings suggest emulsifiers might be partially responsible for this disturbance and the increased incidence of these diseases.

“A key feature of these modern plagues is alteration of the gut microbiota in a manner that promotes inflammation,” says Gewirtz.

“The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor,” says Chassaing. “Food interacts intimately with the microbiota so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might possibly make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory.”

From the National Geographic, the problem with plastics. . .all plastics:

Chemical in BPA-Free Products Linked to Irregular Heartbeats

  • New ingredient in plastic bottles, receipts has same effect on lab animals as the old chemical does

Many consumers avoid products that contain bisphenol-A (BPA) because the estrogen-imitating chemical has been linked to an array of health effects in people and animals. But new research published Thursday suggests that an ingredient that has replaced BPA in many items may have a similar effect on the heart.

BPA-free labels have been popping up on many plastic bottles, cash register receipts, food packaging, and other products.

Although the label implies a sense of safety, “our research suggests that BPS and potentially other BPA substitutes aren’t necessarily free of health problems,” said Hong-Sheng Wang, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Exposure to BPS, or bisphenol-S, caused irregular heartbeats in female lab rats, according to the study by Wang and colleagues published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The findings were “remarkably similar—if not identical to—what we find in BPA,” Wang said.

From Newswise, some of the costs incurred from all those plastics and similar toxins:

Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Costs EU Billions Annually

  • Simulcast press conference highlights economic burden of exposure to EDCs

Human exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) likely contributes to a number of diseases and health conditions in the EU, with costs estimated between €150-260 billion per year (1.2-2.0% of Gross Domestic Product), according to a new series of studies to be published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

EDCs are chemicals that interfere with hormone action and are commonly found in food and food containers, plastic products, furniture, toys, carpeting, building materials and cosmetics. EDCs include chemicals such as bisphenol A (water bottles, can linings), certain phthalates (various plastic products and cosmetics), and pesticides such as chlorpyrifos (used on a wide variety of food crops). They are often released from the products that contain them and enter the bodies of humans and wildlife through dust or through the food chain.

In these studies, researchers used available epidemiologic and toxicologic evidence to assess the economic burden of potential outcomes to EDC exposure, including: infertility and male reproductive dysfunctions, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurobehavioral and learning disorders.

From the New York Times, waist watchers:

Food Waste Is Becoming Serious Economic and Environmental Issue, Report Says

With millions of households across the country struggling to have enough to eat, and millions of tons of food being tossed in the garbage, food waste is increasingly being seen as a serious environmental and economic issue.

A report released Wednesday shows that about 60 million metric tons of food is wasted a year in the United States, with an estimated value of $162 billion. About 32 million metric tons of it end up in municipal landfills, at a cost of about $1.5 billion a year to local governments.

The problem is not limited to the United States.

The report estimates that a third of all the food produced in the world is never consumed, and the total cost of that food waste could be as high as $400 billion a year. Reducing food waste from 20 to 50 percent globally could save $120 billion to $300 billion a year by 2030, the report found.

The Sacramento Bee covers killer air in the heart of the Golden State:

Exposure to small particle pollution linked to heart-disease death

Data from about 8,000 women living in the Sacramento metropolitan area were used in a major study – released Wednesday – that linked death from heart disease to exposure to soot found in car exhaust, cooking smoke and diesel pollution.

The study, one of the most comprehensive to date, used data from the tracking of 100,000 middle-aged women in California between 2000 and 2007.

The study was conducted by the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, as well as UC Davis and other institutions. It found an association between areas where there are high levels of fine particle pollution, and shorter life spans and a risk of heart disease death.

From BBC News, a spreading amphibian disaster:

Killer frog disease: Chytrid fungus hits Madagascar

A devastating disease that has wiped out amphibians around the world has been discovered in Madagascar, scientists report.

A survey has found that the chytrid fungus is present in numerous sites, although it is not clear whether it is infecting frogs yet. The island is home to 500 frog species, and researchers fear they could be at significant risk.

The findings are published in the journal Scientific Reports. One of the authors, Goncalo Rosa, from the Zoological Society of London, said he was worried about the impact that the fungus could have.

“It is heartbreaking, especially when you have an idea of what is happening elsewhere in other tropical areas – you see the frogs are gone,” he told BBC News.

After the jump, GMO advocates launch a push in the U.K., toxic algae spread in freshwater lakes, China enacts a temporary [sadly] ivory ban, a new rhino protection patrol begins in South Africa, a fracking ban push abandoned in the Centennial State, dangerous methane craters erupting in the Arctic, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with a cynical leak apology, full approval for a temporary radioactive waste dump, nuclear power protesters hit with massive fines, radioactive disaster evacuation advice revised, and the tragic costs of mining reactor fuel. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Leaks, spooks, hacks war, more


We begin with the ACLU Blog of Rights, shining the light:

This Secret Domestic Surveillance Program Is About to Get Pulled Out of the Shadows

The federal government will have to produce information on a vast and secret domestic surveillance program and defend the program’s legality in open court. That’s the result of a decision issued Friday by the federal judge presiding over our lawsuit challenging the Suspicious Activity Reporting program, part of an ever-expanding domestic surveillance network established after 9/11.

The program calls on local police, security guards, and the public — our neighbors — to report activity they deem suspicious or potentially related to terrorism. These suspicious activity reports (“SARs” for short) are funneled to regional fusion centers and on to the FBI, which conducts follow-up investigations and stockpiles the reports in a giant database that it shares with law enforcement agencies across the country.

The decision is significant.

Surveillance programs have largely been shielded from judicial review, as many courts have accepted the government’s position that people cannot prove they have been under surveillance, and thus lack standing to sue. In this case, we represent clients who were confronted by law enforcement or know that SARs were uploaded to a counterterrorism database based on their entirely lawful activity. The government will now have to turn over information about a program that has never been subject to public scrutiny.

The problems with the Suspicious Activity Reporting program are manifold, beginning with the fact that government doesn’t require reasonable suspicion of criminal activity — an already low threshold — for a SAR to be maintained and shared. That violates a binding federal regulation, which is part of the basis for the lawsuit.

From AJ+, our first [but not last] leak story:

Spy Cables: Inside South Africa’s Spy Agency

Program notes:

Ever wondered how Africa’s most powerful spy agency operates? The Spy Cables show us how South Africa’s State Security Agency’s plans to build a secret satellite with Russia which would enable them to spy over all of Africa — take that NSA! Also, learn how a security screw up led to the African Union Chief almost being killed in Addis Ababa.

From the Guardian, domestic snooping:

South Africa spied on own government to get facts on joint project with Russia

  • Intelligence agency used agent with links to Russian government to glean information about satellite surveillance programme, leaked cables reveal

South Africa’s intelligence service relied on a spy “with direct access to the Russian government” to find out details of its own government’s involvement in a $100m (£65m) joint satellite surveillance programme with Russia, the leaked spy cables obtained by al-Jazeera and shared with the Guardian reveal.

The satellite system, known as Project Condor, which was launched into orbit by Russia in December last year, provides surveillance coverage of the entire African continent. The project has been shrouded in secrecy, with Russia originally refusing to reveal who its client was.

Those in the dark appear to have included South Africa’s intelligence agency. But a South African agent with access to Russian military intelligence was able to help, according to a leaked espionage report marked “top secret” and dated 28 August 2012.

From the Guardian, a Russian Al Queda warning:

Al-Qaida planning kamikaze attacks on ships in Mediterranean, cables claim

  • Leaked document from Russian intelligence agency claims north African branch wants to extend its range to Europe with marine unit

Al-Qaida has developed a seaborne unit to attack targets around the Mediterranean, according to a confidential report from Russian intelligence, one of a cache of secret documents from spy agencies around the world tracking jihadi terrorist groups.

According to the Russians, North African al-Qaida (Aqim – al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) has established a 60-strong team of suicide bombers to plant mines under the hull of ships and to use small, fast craft for kamikaze attacks.

The claim, in a leaked document from Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), is one of a string of reports on the rise of Islamic State (Isis) and al-Qaida.

They include a two-month briefing by Omani intelligence estimating that Isis now has up to 35,000 fighters and an income of $1.5m (£1m) a day, reports from United Arab Emirates agents about the Isis leadership structure and a dossier from Jordanian intelligence on confessions extracted from terrorist suspects.

The Guardian has another leak story:

Spies, lies and fantasies: leaked cables lift lid on work of intelligence agencies

  • In the world of espionage, reports peppered with half-truths, rumours and the seemingly outlandish are par for the course, documents show

Intelligence agencies thrive on impressing politicians and the public with their mystique, exploits real or imagined, and possession of information that supposedly gives them a unique understanding of the world.

The reality is often bureaucratic and banal, the information unreliable, uncheckable or available in open sources and their judgments frequently politicised and self-serving. All of those elements can be found throughout the spy cables leaked to al-Jazeera and the Guardian.

Take the story about an Israeli plot to use water-gobbling plants to sabotage Egypt. The alleged scheme is mentioned in a 56-page report compiled by South African intelligence on the Israeli spy agency Mossad.

SecurityWeek covers snoopery north of the border:

Canada Monitoring Citizens’ Emails to Government: Media

Ottawa – Canada’s electronic eavesdropping agency has amassed a huge trove of emails sent to the government, as part of its cybersecurity mandate, according to a leaked secret document Wednesday.

And their retention by the Canadian Security Establishment (CSE) for days, months or years in some cases, is worrying privacy advocates.

Public broadcaster CBC, citing a 2010 document obtained from former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, said the CSE closely monitors visits to government websites and scans about 400,000 emails per day for suspicious content, links or attachments.

The electronic communications include Canadians’ electronic tax returns, emails to members of Parliament and passport applications, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said.

From RT, dis-Dane-ful:

Denmark’s plan to give spooks greater-than-NSA spy powers sparks outcry

Copenhagen is considering empowering its intelligence services to conduct covert electronic surveillance on citizens abroad without the need for a court order. Outraged privacy advocates have pledged to fight the initiative.

Despite the global outpouring of criticism of the National Security Agency and its affiliated partners in the so-called Five Eyes spying ring, which was exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, it seems the Danish government is only too willing to take spying to an unprecedented new level.

As part of a package of new anti-terror initiatives, Copenhagen is now prepared to empower the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste, or FE) with greater snooping authority than the NSA.

However, plans to give Danish intelligence what appears to be unlimited access to the electronic communications of Danish citizens abroad is being criticized by privacy watchdog groups, including the think-tank Justitia and Associate Professor Anders Henriksen, from the University of Copenhagen.

From TheLoca.de, jailed for a speech “crime”:

Ex-lawyer jailed again for Holocaust denial

A Munich court on Wednesday sentenced a previously convicted Holocaust denier and ex-lawyer to a second jail term, after she publicly declared that there had been no organized genocide of the Jews under Adolf Hitler.

Sylvia Stolz, 51, was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment for telling an anti-censorship congress in Switzerland in 2012 that the “so-called Holocaust” under Adolf Hitler’s National-Socialist (Nazi) Party had never been legally defined or proven, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported.

In an almost 100-minute address, video footage of which was used as evidence in her trial, Stolz stated before a crowd of 2,000 people there was no hard evidence of either Nazi plans or orders “to partially or wholly destroy Jewry”.
Therefore it was in itself a breach of the law that people like her who defended others put on trial for Holocaust denial should be prosecuted, she argued.

Another U.S. ISIS-related bust, via the Guardian:

Three New York men charged over alleged attempt to join Isis in Syria

  • One arrested at airport trying to board flight to Istanbul, another purchased ticket for Turkey on 29 March and third allegedly operated ‘domestic support network’

Three men from Brooklyn, New York are facing terrorism charges for allegedly attempting to join Islamic State (Isis) militants in Syria, federal authorities said on Wednesday.

Two of the men, Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, 24, and Abror Habibov, 30, are Uzbekistani citizens; the other is a 19-year-old Kazakhstani citizen, Akhror Saidakhmetov. All three were charged with conspiracy to provide material support to Isis.

Their indictment was announced by the the FBI, the New York police department and US attorney Loretta Lynch, who is in the process of being confirmed by the Senate as US attorney general.

From the Guardian, a call for justice in the Windy City:

Chicago ‘black site’: former US justice officials call for Homan Square inquiry

  • Two ex-senior Justice Department officials say allegations about police operation are ‘very disturbing’ and raise serious questions about constitutional violations

Two former senior Justice Department officials are calling on their colleagues to investigate a secretive warehouse used for interrogations by Chicago police and likened to a CIA “black site” facility.

Sam Bagenstos, who during Barack Obama’s first term was the Justice Department’s No 2 civil rights official, said that the Guardian’s exposé of the Homan Square police warehouse raised concerns about “a possible pattern or practice of violations of the fourth and fifth amendments” that warranted an inquiry.

William Yeomans, who worked in the civil rights division from 1981 to 2005, and served as its acting attorney, said the allegations about off-the-books interrogations and barred access to legal counsel reported by the Guardian merited a preliminary investigation to confirm them, a first step toward a full civil rights investigation.

From the Guardian, intimidating cops under the gun in Old Blighty:

British police investigated over attempts to recruit activists as spies

  • Two Cambridgeshire officers face misconduct allegations after approaches by covert unit that campaigners said left them stressed and paranoid, with some ending their political activities

It is examining allegations that coercive and at times repeated approaches by police caused the activists to give up their political campaigning, or left them stressed and paranoid.

One campaigner wore a secret camera to capture police attempting to persuade him to spy on Cambridge University students, environmentalists, campaigners against government cuts and anti-racist activists. The footage was broadcast by the Guardian in 2013.

Another, a 23-year-old single mother, has alleged that police threatened to prosecute her if she disclosed to anyone, including her mother, the attempt to recruit her as an informer.

Cambridgeshire police are carrying out the internal investigation into what they have described as serious allegations surrounding its attempted recruitment of informers.

From the New York Times, more arrests for presidential wiretapping in Turkey:

Turkish Police Arrested and Accused of Wiretapping President Erdogan

Police officers in Turkey arrested dozens of fellow officers on Wednesday accused of wiretapping President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and top government officials.

The chief prosecutor’s office in Ankara, the capital, issued 54 arrest warrants, the Anadolu News Agency reported, and at least 40 people were arrested in a wave of early morning raids that were carried out simultaneously in 19 cities.

The arrests are the latest salvo in a feud between Mr. Erdogan and his former ally, Fethullah Gulen, an influential Muslim cleric who lives in exile in Pennsylvania and has been accused of participating in a plot to overthrow the government.

After the jump, Al Jazeera reporters busted for droning Paris, a drone ban in Morocco, Charlie Hebdo back on schedule, a big reward for a hacking bank robber, Instagram leaks celebrity locations, an Aussie Anonymous hacker charged with attacking spooky sites, major civil rights failures by the major powers, on to the ISIS front and historical nihilism as libraries are burned and artifacts sold, and ISIS sounds up Syrian Christians, Lakes Chad fish traders bombed by Niger to defund Boko Haram, as Boko Haram targets Nigerian elections, a 100-bomb North Korean nuclear arsenal envisioned, China demotes a spy chief, corrupt officials planned to assassinate China’s leaders, China extends its bombers’ reach, and Okinawan opposition to an American base increases. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, toxins, climate, nukes


From the UN News Center, a call for vaccination action in Europe:

UN health agency ‘taken aback’ as measles resurfaces in Europe, calls for widespread vaccination

European policymakers, healthcare workers, and parents must step up their efforts to vaccinate children against measles amid an ongoing outbreak across the continent, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today, warning that a recent resurgence in the disease threatened Europe’s goal of eliminating measles by the end of 2015.

According to UN data, over 22,000 cases of the virus have surfaced across Europe during the 2014 to 2015 biennium with the outbreak spreading to seven countries. This comes despite a 50 per cent drop from 2013 to 2014.

“When we consider that over the past two decades we have seen a reduction of 96 per cent in the number of measles cases in the European region, and that we are just a step away from eliminating the disease, we are taken aback by these numbers,” Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, affirmed in a press release.

“We must collectively respond, without further delay, to close immunization gaps. It is unacceptable that, after the last 50 years’ efforts to make safe and effective vaccines available, measles continues to cost lives, money and time,” she added.

Vastly unvaccinated in Africa, via the Liberian Observer:

70% Un-vaccinated children at Risk for Measles

An official of the Ministry of Health is encouraging all parents and guardians to take their children for the third phase of the nationwide Measles Immunization Program, to be launched from April 10-16 in all 15 counties.

“The Measles Immunization Program was delayed due to the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus that led to thousands of deaths. Parents must now be very serious in ensuring that their children take the measles immunization to avoid risks,” Mr. Clarke stressed.

Mr. Adolphus Clarke is the Deputy Program Manager for the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI). He noted that the exercise is geared towards protecting children against future outbreaks of the disease.

From SciDev.Net, a potentially much-needed new drug undergoes testing:

Tuberculosis drug candidate begins clinical safety trial

The first clinical safety trial on a tuberculosis drug since 2009 is now under way.

The phase I trial of TBA-354 will involve 50 volunteers from the United States, according to the TB Alliance, the not-for-profit product development partnership sponsoring the trial.

In preclinical studies, the compound showed more potent antibacterial and sterilising activity than pretomanid (PA-824), a related substance now in phase II and phase III clinical trials to assess its safety and efficacy, the alliance announced last week.

It said that the six years that passed between TBA-354 and the last drug to undergo Phase 1 trials shows that the pipeline of drugs to combat tuberculosis is disconcertingly empty.

From the University of California, cat-derived ailment complications:

Increased risk from toxoplasmosis

A third of all humans carry the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis — a disease commonly associated with cats, HIV-AIDS patients and pregnant women — with scientists long believing healthy immune systems control the parasite and prevent the disease from emerging. But new research by professor Kirk Jensen of the University of California, Merced, shows the parasite might be more dangerous than previously believed.

In a paper published Feb. 24 in mBio — an open-access journal presented by the American Society for Microbiology — Jensen shows that secondary exposure to most parasite strains found in South America can lead to uncontrolled infection and disease, which in humans can cause severe congenital infection or lesions in the retina and brain.

“There are a few strains of the Toxoplasma parasite present in North America and Europe, but in South America, there are many strains,” said Jensen, a professor in the university’s School of Natural Sciences. “We found these South American strains are really good at evading the immune system.”

After an initial infection, the immune system is typically primed and ready to protect against repeat offenses by the same parasite or disease. This is how vaccines protect humans from infectious diseases like measles. However, Jensen said, “There are known cases where pregnant women who were seropositive — and therefore should have been protected from toxoplasmosis — developed congenital infection following travel to South America.”

From Outbreak News Today, another outbreak:

Uganda: Hundreds sickened by typhoid; adulterated beverages and foods suspected

As of yesterday, more than 500 people were confirmed admitted to designated treatment centres after being diagnosed with typhoid, the Health Ministry reports.

The source of the bacterial outbreak is suspected to be due to adulterated beverages and foods prompting health officials to warn the public of the capital of Kampala.

Preliminary laboratory investigations of sampled beverages and foods obtained from  the Kampala central business district contained the Salmonella bacterium.

Dr Monica Musenero, the assistant commissioner in-charge of epidemiology and epidemic diseases at the Health ministry said, “We took samples of water, juices, and foods from areas where the outbreak hit hard. We suspect the outbreak is caused by something in the category of juice or water that is widely consumed by people,” said Dr Musenero. “The 1st laboratory samples tests and epidemiological links have hinted on water, but it’s still too early to mention which type of water,” she said.

From SciDev.Net, a climate change to spreading diseases:

Warming climate accelerates spread of vector-borne diseases

Health agencies need to take into account disease evolution in warming environments as climate change could alter the development of vector-borne diseases, two studies have found.

The “vector” in a vector-borne disease refers to an infected human or animal that transmits pathogens or parasites and causes disease in human populations.

Climate change can impact “all relevant aspects” of vector-borne diseases, including the locations of host populations and the availability of vectors, says Nina Fefferman, a biologist and part of a team from Rutgers University in the United States behind one of the studies.

The research focused on Aedes japonicus japonicus, a species of disease-carrying mosquito native to Japan and Korea, whose range has expanded since the 1990s to parts of Europe and the Hawaiian archipelago. The study found that populations of the mosquito on the island of Hawaii and in the American state of Virginia were capable of “rapid evolutionary change” and adaptation to their new environment.

As a result, vector-borne disease could become a greater threat to human health as the global climate warms, the study found. Its authors say that climate change studies need to play a greater role in national and global efforts to eradicate these diseases.

From BBC News, a death toll reevaluation:

Tobacco ‘kills two in three smokers’

The death risk from smoking may be much higher than previously thought – tobacco kills up to two in every three smokers not one in every two, data from a large study suggests.

The study tracked more than 200,000 Australian smokers and non-smokers above the age of 45 over six years. Mortality risk went up with cigarette use, BMC Medicine reports.

Smoking 10 cigarettes a day doubled the risk, while 20-a-day smokers were four to five times more likely to die.

From Environmental Health News, polluting the poor:

EPA to investigate North Carolina for civil rights violations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has accepted a civil rights complaint filed against the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources and will investigate whether lax regulation of industrial pig farms disproportionately impacts communities of color.

Last week the EPA announced it would proceed two days after Environmental Health News reported about the complaint and new research that found high levels of fecal bacteria in water near industrial pig farms in eastern North Carolina. The Charlotte Observer also wrote an editorial about the research and said the state needs to be “more vigilant” about pig waste.

The complaint was filed last September by the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, the Waterkeeper Alliance, and is being led by Earthjustice.

FrontPageAfrica covers medical fraud in Liberia:

High Risk Zone for Fake Drugs: Pharmacy Under Scrutiny

One of Liberia’s leading pharmacies, Abeer Pharmacy has been ranked the top pharmacy that imports and sells fake drugs in the country. Mr. David Sumo, head of the Liberia Medicine and Health Products regulatory authority, explains that the pharmacy usually brings in anti-malaria pills, such as lonart, quinine and pain killers. He added that Abeer Pharmacy has repeatedly failed to abide by the standard of the regulatory agency.

“I know most of you will be surprised to hear this, the pharmacy has failed our test many times, and we’ve put this particular pharmacy in the high-risk zone,” Mr. Sumo said. He advised people dealing in fake drugs to desist and called on everyone, especially those who have mini-drug stores to look at the expiration date properly before purchasing the drugs.

LMHRA was set up in 2001 to register all medicines that are locally-manufactured, imported, distributed, sold and used in Liberia. It also has a mandate to prepare and keep the registry of medicines used in both the private and public sector in Liberia and to remove from the registry and prohibit the manufacturing, importation, distribution sale and use of any medicine which quality, safety or efficacy is brought to question. The body also has the power to set up a quality control laboratory to undertake laboratory analysis of all medicines imported and used in Liberia.

From United Press International, another kind of medical fraud:

Iowa scientist pleads guilty to fraud in AIDS vaccine study

A former Iowa State University scientist on Wednesday pleaded guilty to fraud for faking the results on an AIDS vaccine study funded by the federal government.

Dong-Pyou Han pleaded guilty to two felony counts of making false statements. In exchange for his plea, prosecutors dropped two other counts of the same charge.

Dong-Pyou, 57, admitted he faked data in the study that cost the government between $7 million and $20 million. He said he inserted human antibodies into the blood of rabbits to make it appear as though an experimental vaccine he was studying helped protect the animals against HIV.

After the jump, a Big Agra pesticide lie, Big Agra pesticides pose global surface water dangers, plastics pose a major danger to imperiled coral reefs, clear evidence of manmade carbon atmospheric heat-trapping, a village to be abandoned because of climate change, Occupy targets Rio’s Olympic golf course in an environmental reserve, a massive fish die-off in Rio’s Olympic waters, massive pollution in a Mexican river, how liberal California unions bankroll fracking, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with a demand for a probe of a radioactive leak coverup, fishers outraged over the leak coverup, Radioactive water drainage changes contemplated, and, finally, evacuees fail to heed claims the hot zone is safe. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Leaks, hacks, crime, spooks


We begin with a twofer from Reuters:

South African spooks red-faced from latest spy data leak

A mass leak of South African espionage secrets will cause many foreign agencies to think twice before sharing information with Pretoria, hampering its efforts to walk a delicate diplomatic tightrope between East and West, experts said on Tuesday.

Britain’s Guardian paper and Gulf TV channel Al Jazeera said they had obtained hundreds of dossiers, files and cables from the world’s top spy agencies to and from South Africa, dubbing it “one of the biggest spy leaks in recent times”.

“A leak like this affects the credibility of the agencies and how they cooperate,” said Mike Hough, a retired professor from Pretoria University’s Institute for Strategic Studies. “It could lead to the termination of certain projects.”

From Al Jazeera, something many journalists have assumed for a half century:

Spy cables: Israel airline used as intelligence ‘front’

  • Leaked documents reveal South Africa challenged Mossad over alleged clandestine security operations under El Al cover.

Secret cables obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit confirm that South Africa’s spy agencies concurred with allegations that Israel uses its flag-carrier, El Al Airlines, as cover for its intelligence agencies.

Leaked documents from South Africa’s intelligence agency support claims made on a 2009 South African television programme by a former El Al employee-turned-whistleblower.

Despite official Israeli denials, the whistleblower’s claims prompted an emergency meeting between senior officials from both sides, as well as a separate note of enquiry from Canada’s intelligence agency.

Another leak, via the Guardian:

Spy cables: Greenpeace head targeted by intelligence agencies before Seoul G20

  • South Korea’s intelligence service requested information about South African activist Kumi Naidoo in runup to leaders’ meeting in 2010

The head of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, was targeted by intelligence agencies as a potential security threat ahead of a major international summit, leaked documents reveal.

Information about Naidoo, a prominent human rights activist from South Africa, was requested from South African intelligence by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) in the runup to a meeting of G20 leaders in Seoul in 2010.

He was linked in the intelligence request with two other South Africans who had been swept up in an anti-terrorist raid in Pakistan but later released and returned to South Africa.

And from Al Jazeera, faults revealed:

Spy Cables expose S Africa’s alarming security failings

  • Secret documents reveal an array of security lapses and flaws within South African government and intelligence.

South African government and security agencies have left secrets exposed at every level and foreign spies have access to all areas of government, according to Intelligence documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

A secret security assessment by South African intelligence says foreign espionage is booming, with more than 140 foreign spies estimated to be operating in South Africa – and that the South African state is doing a poor job of protecting itself.

They are thought to have gained access to government departments, ministries and “even the presidency” and are suspected of breaking into nuclear power plants, stealing military blueprints and hacking computers.

The report slams poor security awareness among civil servants, who regularly failing to observe the most basic procedures, leaving classified information unlocked and failing to adequately vet new recruits.

From the Los Angeles Times, a major security fail:

State Department official arrested, suspected of soliciting sex from minor

A senior State Department official who oversees counter-terrorism programs has been arrested on suspicion of of soliciting sex from a minor, authorities in Virginia said late Tuesday.

Daniel Rosen was arrested at his home in Washington, D.C., just after noon and is being held in the city’s jail on suspicion of use of a communications device to solicit a juvenile, said Lucy Caldwell, spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Police Department.

According to his LinkedIn profile, Rosen, 44, is the director of counter-terrorism programs and policy for the State Department. Police said they have notified the State Department of his arrest.

A kindred failure across the pond, via the London Telegraph:

Sir Malcolm Rifkind to step down as MP and resigns from security committee

  • Tory MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind is to step down as an MP at the General Election and has also resigned as chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Conservative MP embroiled in cash for access allegations, is to step down as an MP at the General Election and has also resigned as chairman of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee.

Sir Malcolm was suspended by the Conservative Party pending an internal investigation on Monday after telling undercover reporters from The Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches that he would use his position as a politician to help a fictitious Chinese company.

His decision to stand down as the Conservative MP for Kensington means there will be a contest for one of the Conservative Party’s safest seats.

The Guardian exposes a case of Chicago P.D. reality rising to film noir levels:

Chicago’s Homan Square ‘black site’: surveillance, military-style vehicles and a metal cage

  • This building looks innocent enough. But those familiar with the secretive interrogation and holding facility describe a shocking display of police abuses

From the outside, you have to concentrate to realize Homan Square is a police facility. At first glance, it’s an unremarkable red brick warehouse, one of a handful on Chicago’s west side that used to belong to Sears Roebuck, complete with roll-up aluminum doors. No prominent signage tells outsiders it belongs to the police. The complex sits amidst fixtures in a struggling neighborhood: a medical clinic, takeout places, a movie theater, a charter school.

But a look at what surrounds the warehouse gives clearer indications of Homan Square’s police business. The yellow barrier for cars at the street checkpoint. The vans in the motor pool marked Chicago Police Forensic Services parked next to the unmarked cars. The black-and-white checkered door to match the signature pattern on Chicago police hats. The floodlights on the roof. The guy with a gun walking outside and smoking a cigarette in a black windbreaker with POLICE written on the back.

Over the years Homan Square has formed a backdrop for high-profile drug seizures, where Chicago officials or cops display cocaine, marijuana and guns taken off the street. The rock group Portugal.The Man reportedly sent Homan Square detectives three dozen doughnuts – plus croissants and danishes – in gratitude for helping the band recover stolen music equipment.

But its interrogations function is less well known, even to close observers of Chicago police. Anthony Hill, an attorney, said he once made it into Homan Square, to the surprise of police, and said he saw “four, five cells,” describing it as a “bare-bones police station.

“When I got in, they were so shocked I was there they didn’t know what to do with me,” he said.

The Hill takes a profitable spin through the revolving spooky door:

NSA staffers rake in Silicon Valley cash

Former employees of the National Security Agency are becoming a hot commodity in Silicon Valley amid the tech industry’s battle against government surveillance.

Investors looking to ride the boom in cybersecurity are dangling big paydays in front of former NSA staffers, seeking to secure access to the insider knowledge they gained while working for the world’s most elite surveillance agency.
With companies desperate to protect their networks against hackers, many tech executives say the best way to develop security products is to enlist the talents of people who have years of experience cracking through them.

“The stories he could tell,” venture capitalist Ray Rothrock recalled about his meetings with a former NSA employee who founded the start-up Area 1 Security. “They come with a perspective that nobody in Silicon Valley has.”

From the Verge, from their resumes:

The NSA’s SIM heist could have given it the power to plant spyware on any phone

Last week, The Intercept published shocking new documents detailing a campaign by US and UK spies to hack into the SIM manufacturer Gemalto, stealing crucial encryption keys that protect and authenticate cellphone signals. But while it was clearly a major attack, I had a hard time seeing the operational benefits for the world’s spy agencies. SIM encryption only protects calls between your phone and the cell tower, which means any would-be surveillers would need to stay within a mile of the target. It’s also puzzling because carriers are often happy to hand over all their data with a blanket court order. Why would the GCHQ go to so much trouble for access to data they mostly already have?

But in the days since the report published, there’s been concern over an even more frightening line of attack. The stolen SIM keys don’t just give the NSA the power to listen in on calls, but potentially to plant spyware on any phone at any time. Once the stolen keys have bypassed the usual protections, the spyware would live on the SIM card itself, undetectable through conventional tools, able to pull data and install malicious software. If the NSA and GCHQ are pursuing that capability, it could be one of the biggest threats unearthed by Snowden so far.

Our earlier report focused on the Ki keys, used to encrypt traffic between the phone and the tower — but this new attack uses a different set of keys known as OTA keys, short for “over-the-air.” Each SIM card gets its own OTA key, typically used to remotely install updates. Manufacturers can send a binary text message directly to the SIM card, and as long as it’s signed with the proper OTA key, the card will install the attached software without question. If those keys were compromised, it would give an attacker carte blanche to install all manner of spyware. Researcher Claudio Guarnieri, who’s researched the Snowden documents extensively, says the OTA keys could make the Gemalto heist the most important news to come out of the documents so far. “It’s scary,” Guarnieri says. “If the NSA and GCHQ have obtained a large quantity of OTA keys, we’re facing the biggest threat to mobile security ever.”

From the Guardian, real class-y AT&T:

AT&T is putting a price on privacy. That is outrageous

  • Poor customers should not have to choose between being spied on and forking over money

Imagine if the postal service started offering discount shipping in exchange for permission to scan every letter you receive and then target you with junk mail based on the contents of your personal mail.

One of the largest telecommunications companies in America, AT&T, is doing just that for customers of its super-fast gigabit broadband service, which is rolling out in select cities. Though a few months ago, it dropped the use of an undeletable “supercookie” that tracked subscribers’ web browsing activity, AT&T reportedly plans to track and monetize its broadband customers’ internet activity – “webpages you visit, the time you spend on each, the links or ads you see and follow, and the search terms you enter” – to deliver targeted “ads online, via email or through direct mail”.

The tracking and ad targeting associated with the gigabit service cannot be avoided using browser privacy settings: as AT&T explained, the program “works independently of your browser’s privacy settings regarding cookies, do-not-track and private browsing.” In other words, AT&T is performing deep packet inspection, a controversial practice through which internet service providers, by virtue of their privileged position, monitor all the internet traffic of their subscribers and collect data on the content of those communications.

What if customers do not want to be spied on by their internet service providers? AT&T allows gigabit service subscribers to opt out – for a $29 fee per month.

After the jump, ghoulish corporate vultures follow our health concerns online, a Dutch university occupation evicted, Germans lose faith in democracy, the Anthem health data breach scope widens, widespread ongoing hack points persist in many aps, denial of service attacks target Google in Vietnam, on to the Mideast and an Assyrian Christian army mobilizing to fight ISIS, a Saudi apostasy death sentence, a Pakistani cell phone fingerprint requirement, pushing for a North Korean nuclear surrender, China raises NATO hackles with a missile sale to Turkey, Hong Kong delegates to the Beijing legislature call for a crackdown, Shinzo Abe aims for more power for military commanders, more Okinawan anger over an American military base move, and a Japanese human rights downgrade. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, toxins, GMOs, nukes


And more. . .

We begin with a political move, via Deutsche Welle:

Obama vetoes Keystone XL oil pipeline legislation

  • US President Barack Obama has vetoed legislation that would have green-lighted the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The project has been a bone of contention between environmentalists and the oil industry for years.

After six years of contentious debate and review, President Obama killed legislation on Tuesday that would have approved the 875-mile international oil pipeline, using his veto power for third time since assuming office in 2009.

Exasperated with the approval process, Republicans and conservative Democrats had crafted legislation to circumvent the latest State Department examination of Keystone XL and begin construction.

Under US law, pipelines that cross international borders must be scrutinized by the State Department and approved by the president. Keystone XL, an eight-billion-dollar project of the TransCanada company, would have crossed the US-Canadian border

Outbreak News Today covers some bad HIV news:

90 percent of new HIV infections in the US come from people not being treated: CDC

More than 90 percent of new HIV infections in the United States could be averted by diagnosing people living with HIV and ensuring they receive prompt, ongoing care and treatment. This finding was published today in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Using statistical modeling, the authors developed the first U.S. estimates of the number of HIV transmissions from people engaged at five consecutive stages of care (including those who are unaware of their infection, those who are retained in care and those who have their virus under control through treatment). The research also shows that the further people progress in HIV care, the less likely they are to transmit their virus.

“By quantifying where HIV transmissions occur at each stage of care, we can identify when and for whom prevention and treatment efforts will have the most impact,” said Jonathan Mermin, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “We could prevent the vast majority of new infections tomorrow by improving the health of people living with HIV today.”

While the Independent offers some good HIV news:

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of ‘game-changer’ that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

A daily pill that can dramatically cut a person’s risk of contracting HIV must be made available through the NHS “as soon as possible”, campaigners have said.

Results of a major UK trial of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) have been described as “extremely exciting” and a “game-changer” by leading specialists.

The Proud study found that PrEP cut the risk of HIV infection among gay men considered to be at high risk by an unprecedented 86 per cent.

Outbreak News Today tracks another outbreak of sea sickness:

Norovirus: 150 sickened on the Celebrity Equinox

The second cruise ship outbreak of 2015 investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP) occurred on Celebrity Cruise lines’ Celebrity Equinox.

The outbreak of the gastrointestinal virus, norovirus, sickened 150 of the approximately 4,000 passengers and crew on board the vessel.

In response to the outbreak, Celebrity Cruise Line and the crew aboard the ship are taking the following actions: Increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures according to their outbreak prevention and response plan, making announcements to notify onboard passengers of the outbreak, encourage case reporting, and encourage hand hygiene and collected stool specimens from ill passengers and crew.

From the Guardian, good news for steamers:

Saunas help you live longer, study finds

  • Research tracking 2,000 Finnish men for decades suggests regular use gives protection from heart attacks, strokes and other conditions

A study of Finnish men suggests frequent sauna baths may help you live longer.

That is welcome news if it proves to be true – not just in Finland where saunas are commonplace, but for Americans shivering in a snowy Nordic-like winter.

Previous research has suggested that saunas might improve blood vessel function and exercise capacity, or even lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension.

The new study links long, hot sauna baths with more benefits, including fewer deaths from heart attacks, strokes, various heart-related conditions and other causes.

And from the Washington Post, bad news for steamers:

Climate change is really bad news if you like oysters, scallops and clams

When it comes to carbon dioxide emissions, the first environmental problem that comes to mind is climate change. As humans pump more of this greenhouse gas into the air, the Earth gets warmer, and the climate changes in ways that could damage the economy, public health, infrastructure and society.

But along with climate change, these same emissions are causing another pernicious problem in our oceans. Some of the carbon dioxide we emit gets absorbed in sea water, where it turns into carbonic acid in a phenomenon called ocean acidification. As our emissions rise, the oceans will turn more and more acidic, irreparably altering aquatic ecosystems.

Ocean acidification might lack the rhetorical punch that “climate change” and “global warming” have. But as one new study shows, acidification could carry real economic and cultural risks, and we’re only beginning to understand them. Waters off the United States are home to countless oysters, clams, scallops and other shellfish that the seafood industry catches and grows for your dinner. In many of these regions — especially off the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico — acidification could harm these creatures enough to deal big blows to local economies and meals, researchers reported Monday in Nature Climate Change.

From Sociological Images, California pesticide proximity problems:

Pesticide Drift and the Politics of Scale

California’s Central Valley is a bread basket of America. It is the source of much of the country’s grapes, tree fruit, nuts, and vegetables. Many of the farms are massive, requiring large amounts of capital, land, and labor.

In the nearby small towns are the homes of the state’s farm laborers. They are primarily Latino. About half are undocumented. Most are poor and few have health care. Politically and economically weak, they are the primary human victims of pesticide drift.

Pesticide drift occurs when chemicals leave the fields for which they’re intended and travel to where humans can be exposed. According to data summarized by geographer Jill Harrison for her article on the topic, California is a pesticide-intensive state. It accounts for 2-3% of all cropland in the U.S., but uses 25% of the pesticides. One in ten of registered pesticides are prone to drift and a third include chemicals that are “highly acutely toxic” or cause cancer, reproductive or developmental disorders, or brain damage. Officially, there are an average of 370 cases of pesticide poisoning due to drift every year, but farmworker advocates say that this captures 10% of the victims at best.

And from teleSUR, Peruvian pesticide problems:

Peru’s Government Approves Use of Dangerous Pesticides

  • Peruvian NGO discovered recently that the government approved by for agricultural use by dangerous chemicals.

Civil society organizations denounced Tuesday that the Peruvian executive issued two controversial decrees earlier this year. The finding was made Feb. 19 by the NGO “Environmental Rights and Natural Resources” (DAR). One of the decrees allows the use of fertilizers that are known to damage the ozone layer. The other decree allows the commercialization and use of pesticides, which are characterized by the World Health Organization as extremely dangerous, contaminating rivers, lakes and soils as well as posing the risk of poisoning people.

Cesar Gamboa is the Executive Director of DAR. He declared that “in other countries these substances are prohibited. In fact, starting with the Montreal Protocol, many countries have adapted their legislation to prohibit those chemical components that damage the ozone layer.”

Gamboa concludes that the government is allowing the use of those toxic products because they are cheaper and this would help combate slowing economic growth. However, he argues that such option is short sighted since it will have a greater health cost later on.

After the jump, the push for GMOs in Africa [led by Bill Gates], the palm oil plague afflicting African apes, California’s plastic bag ban stalled, rising waters around the Big Apple, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with a secret radioactive leak exposed, a radioactive soil transfer approved, a private radiation posse stays on the case, and California’s last reactor complex heads for a courtroom showdown. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Leaks, hacks, spooks, war, ISIS


And more. . .

We begin with the first of a series of stories prompted by a major cache of secret cables handed over to the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit:

Mossad contradicted Netanyahu on Iran nuclear programme

Spy Cables reveal Mossad concluded that Iran was not producing nuclear weapons, after PM sounded alarm at UN in 2012

Less than a month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2012 warning to the UN General Assembly that Iran was 70 per cent of the way to completing its “plans to build a nuclear weapon”, Israel’s intelligence service believed that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons”.

A secret cable obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit reveals that Mossad sent a top-secret cable to South Africa on October 22, 2012 that laid out a “bottom line” assessment of Iran’s nuclear work.

It appears to contradict the picture painted by Netanyahu of Tehran racing towards acquisition of a nuclear bomb.

Another Al Jazeera story:

Israeli cable reveals S Africa missile theft cover-up

  • Leaked Mossad cable shows Israel obtained stolen missile plans, and South Africa asked for their return

Next, the first of two headlines about the cables from the Guardian:

Spy cables: MI6 intervened to halt South African firm’s deal with Iranian client

  • Furnace maker was ‘advised most strongly’ to end contract with company suspected of being involved in weapons manufacturing

The next Guardian headline:

CIA attempted to contact Hamas despite official US ban, spy cables reveal

  • Leaked files show US ‘desperate to make inroads’ into Gaza as well as Barack Obama’s alleged threat to Palestinians over statehood

While the Daily Dot points out a non-deletion:

Al Jazeera error puts North Korean spy’s life on the line

Newly leaked documents show the British government attempting to recruit a North Korean spy—but journalists have failed to properly redact the cables, potentially putting the life of the North Korean and his family in grave jeopardy.

Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news organization, published on Monday a leaked cable from the British Secret Intelligence Service outlining in great detail its attempt to bring a North Korean asset into a “long term clandestine relationship in return for payment.”

The four-page document was published with dozens of redactions, including the exact name of the North Korean individual in question.

However, the journalists left in key information. Dates and specific locations relating to where the North Korean individual met with British spies remains readable, vastly narrowing down the suspects North Korean authorities will no doubt be looking for.

Finally, a video summary for Al Jazeera America’s AJ+:

The Spy Cables – 4 Things We Learned From Leaked Documents

Program notes:

The Spy Cables are the largest release of intelligence documents since Edward Snowden’s and have been obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera’s investigative unit. They show us how spies spy on one another and also occasionally help each other spy on mutual enemies. South Africa’s spy agency and MI6 have worked together to shift a North Korean spy’s allegiance. Also, find out who South Korea considers a dangerous individual – the answer might surprise you.

Here’s the masterpage for the Al Jazeera Investigative Unit leak cache stories.

From the New York Times, playing politics to the heights of absurdity:

Concerns Mount as Homeland Security Shutdown Looks Likely

The notion that Congress might actually shut down the Department of Homeland Security as part of a broader fight over President Obama’s immigration policies seemed laughable just a few weeks ago.

Literally.

A top Republican staff member laughed when asked if Republicans, who are usually security-minded, were prepared to shut down the agency in a political battle over Mr. Obama’s recent executive actions.

But now, with just days remaining until funding for the Homeland Security agency runs out on Friday, a shutdown of the department is looking increasingly likely.

And from CNN, the usually unmentioned:

DHS intelligence report warns of domestic right-wing terror threat

  • They’re carrying out sporadic terror attacks on police, have threatened attacks on government buildings and reject government authority.

A new intelligence assessment, circulated by the Department of Homeland Security this month and reviewed by CNN, focuses on the domestic terror threat from right-wing sovereign citizen extremists and comes as the Obama administration holds a White House conference to focus efforts to fight violent extremism.

Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to — and in some cases greater than — the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.?

The Homeland Security report, produced in coordination with the FBI, counts 24 violent sovereign citizen-related attacks across the U.S. since 2010.

Network World covers a demand:

NSA director wants gov’t access to encrypted communications

It probably comes as no surprise that the director of the U.S. National Security Agency wants access to encrypted data on computers and other devices.

The U.S. should be able to craft a policy that allows the NSA and law enforcement agencies to read encrypted data when they need to, NSA director Michael Rogers said during an appearance at a cybersecurity policy event Monday.

Asked if the U.S. government should have backdoors to encrypted devices, Rogers said the U.S. government needs to develop a “framework.”

From Nextgov, a prognostication desideratum:

Spy Research Agency Is Building Psychic Machines to Predict Hacks

Imagine if IBM’s Watson — the “Jeopardy!” champion supercomputer — could answer not only trivia questions and forecast the weather, but also predict data breaches days before they occur.

That is the ambitious, long-term goal of a contest being held by the U.S. intelligence community.

Academics and industry scientists are teaming up to build software that can analyze publicly available data and a specific organization’s network activity to find patterns suggesting the likelihood of an imminent hack.

The dream of the future: A White House supercomputer spitting out forecasts on the probability that, say, China will try to intercept situation room video that day, or that Russia will eavesdrop on Secretary of State John Kerry’s phone conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

From the New York Times, documenting:

Document Reveals Growth of Cyberwarfare Between the U.S. and Iran

The document, which was written in April 2013 for Gen. Keith B. Alexander, then the director of the National Security Agency, described how Iranian officials had discovered new evidence the year before that the United States was preparing computer surveillance or cyberattacks on their networks.

It detailed how the United States and Britain had worked together to contain the damage from “Iran’s discovery of computer network exploitation tools” — the building blocks of cyberweapons. That was more than two years after the Stuxnet worm attack by the United States and Israel severely damaged the computer networks at Tehran’s nuclear enrichment plant.

And from the Washington Post, they want in on the action:

CIA looks to expand its cyber espionage capabilities

CIA Director John O. Brennan is planning a major expansion of the agency’s cyber espionage capabilities as part of a broad restructuring of an intelligence service long defined by its human spy work, current and former U.S. officials said.

The proposed shift reflects a determination that the CIA’s approach to conventional espionage is increasingly outmoded amid the exploding use of smartphones, social media and other technologies.

U.S. officials said Brennan’s plans call for increased use of cyber capabilities in almost every category of operations — whether identifying foreign officials to recruit as CIA informants, confirming the identities of targets of drone strikes or penetrating Internet-savvy adversaries such as the Islamic State.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, what else to expect?:

Rejection of NSA whistleblower’s retaliation claim draws criticism

Thomas Drake became a symbol of the dangers whistleblowers face when they help journalists and Congress investigate wrongdoing at intelligence agencies. He claims he was subjected to a decade of retaliation by the National Security Agency that culminated in his being charged with espionage.

But when the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office opened an inquiry into the former senior NSA official’s allegations of retaliation in 2012, it looked at only two of the 10 years detailed in his account, according to a recently released Pentagon summary of the probe, before finding no evidence of retaliation. That finding ended Drake’s four-year effort to return to government service.

Whistleblower advocates say Drake’s experience, spelled out in a document McClatchy obtained this month through the Freedom of Information Act, underscores the problem that intelligence and defense workers face in bringing malfeasance to the surface. The agencies that are supposed to crack down on retaliation are not up to the task, especially when the alleged wrongdoing involves classified information, they charge.

From the Independent, debunking the justification for the new state security regime Down Under:

Tony Abbott admits there were 18 warning calls before Sydney attack

A national security hotline received 18 calls about “self-styled” cleric Man Haron Monis just days before he took 18 people hostage at a café in Sydney, a report into the siege has revealed.

The calls between 9 and 12 December last year all concerned material on his Facebook page.

Just three days later he was shot dead by police after a 17-hour siege which left two hostages dead along with Monis himself.

It was later revealed that the Iranian-born attacker, who had long been known to security services, was out on bail at the time of the attack.

And from VICE News, a failure to communicate North of the Border:

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service Refused to Tell Us How Much It Spent on an Unconstitutional Snooping Campaign

“We neither confirm nor deny that the records you requested exist. We are, however, advising you, as required by paragraph 10(1)(b) of the Act, that such records, if they existed, could reasonably be expected to be exempted.”

Translation: We’re not telling.

In January, VICE filed an Access to Information (ATI) request, asking for a slew of financial reports from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. The specific documents we’re after are invoices for thousands, if not millions of payments made from various law enforcement bodies to Canada’s telecommunications companies.

For a decade, up until a surprise 2014 Supreme Court ruling, Canada’s investigators made informal requests to the country’s cellphone and internet providers for their customers’ personal information. They never had to go to a judge to make those requests. As an incentive, police paid nominal amounts of money per request—$1.50 here, $10 there—that they wouldn’t normally pay for requests authorized by a warrant.

After the jump, when your cell phone battery gives you away, more adware snooping enablement malfunctions, a bankster’s secrecy apologia, corporate espionage in the Indian oil biz, Obama’s promised Border Patrol reforms unfulfilled, Russian accusations of Western dominance aspirations, the Hitler-posing Pegida xenophobe reclaims his role, on to the Mideastern battlefield and a French carrier dispatched, signs that ISIS has deep roots, and the movement’s new English language schools, the emerging narrative on Libya, an embargo-busting Russian missile offering to Iran, the ISIS threat to Pakistan, a school assassination plotter nabbed, Myanmar captures rebel army bases, Japan’s Shnzo Abe makes a provocative insular move and South Korea responds, Japan plans more military attache deployments abroad, and a crown prince issue historical advice. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, fuels, nukes


We begin with a measles death, via Agence France-Presse:

Toddler dies as measles outbreak hits German capital

A toddler suffering from measles has died in the German capital, health authorities said Monday, amid the country’s worst outbreak in years and a debate about vaccinations.

The 18-month-old boy died on February 18, the first known fatality among more than 570 recorded measles cases since October in the German capital, a Berlin health department official told AFP.

The resurgence of the preventable disease in Germany, as well as in parts of the United States, coincides with a movement among some parents to refuse to vaccinate their children.

From the Guardian, a response:

Measles death in Germany prompts calls for mandatory vaccinations

  • Death of 18-month-old boy is the first fatality among 574 reported cases in the country’s worst measles outbreak in more than a decade

A senior German health official has called for mandatory measles vaccinations after an 18-month-old boy died of the disease amid the country’s worst outbreak in more than a decade.

The Berlin health minister, Mario Czaja, confirmed on Monday that the child – who had not been immunised against measles – died in hospital on Wednesday, the first fatality among 574 cases reported since the outbreak began in October.

The death has intensified a debate in Germany over whether parents should be forced to have their children immunised. Czaja said: “This case shows that measles is a very serious disease. I am in favour of mandatory vaccination.”

A killer bug with a broad turf, via Outbreak News Today:

CRE ‘nightmare bacteria’ not unique to UCLA

The Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), or “nightmare bacteria” as CDC director Dr Tom Frieden once called them, is not unique to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, despite all the media coverage.

Since first being detected in a North Carolina hospital in 2001, only Maine, Idaho and Alaska have not reported a confirmed CRE case caused by the KPC enzyme and about a third of states have reported CRE cases caused by the NDM enzyme.

In fact, according to a report by Charlotte, NC press, the Carolinas HealthCare System- Lincoln (CHS) has reported 3 cases since the beginning of the year.

The latest casualties, via Al Jazeera America:

‘Superbug’ kills 2 in North Carolina

  • Hospital officials confirm at least 18 cases of same antibiotic-resistant bacteria found at UCLA medical center

Health officials at the Carolinas HealthCare System confirmed that an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” — the same one that killed two people in California earlier this year — has claimed the lives of two people in North Carolina in recent months.

Health officials on Sunday afternoon said that two residents of the Charlotte, North Carolina area have died in recent months from carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE. Three people acquired CRE while in Carolinas HealthCare System hospitals this year, and about 15 people with existing infections have been treated in the hospitals, the officials said.

The Charlotte-based hospital system is screening for people with CRE and is isolating those who are infected, according to Dr. Katie Passaretti, who is in charge of infection prevention at Carolinas HealthCare.

RT America covers consequences of historically unprecedented home sanitation:

For healthier kids, skip the dishwasher, just hand wash – study

Program notes:

A new study from the American Academy of Pediatrics reports on the link between using your dishwasher and the health of your child. The study says that parents who reported using the dishwasher were more likely to have children with asthma and eczema.

From the Washington Post, a notable debunking:

Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say

  • New study: We should stop fighting marijuana legalization and focus on alcohol and tobacco instead

Compared with other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use.

Those are the top-line findings of recent research published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature. Researchers sought to quantify the risk of death associated with the use of a variety of commonly used substances. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine.

And all the way at the bottom of the list? Weed — roughly 114 times less deadly than booze, according to the authors, who ran calculations that compared lethal doses of a given substance with the amount that a typical person uses. Marijuana is also the only drug studied that posed a low mortality risk to its users.

The Post’s accompanying graphic:

BLOG Cannabis

While the Guardian covers the ongoing consequences of a tragedy largely spared the U.S. by the effort of one diligent FDA employee [and what better proof of the high value of regulatory oversight of Big Pharma?]:

German thalidomide survivors continue fight for compensation

  • Government accused of hindering disabled people born with the effects of Contergan drug from accessing promised money

Christiane Seifert takes a visitor around her ground-floor flat in Hamburg. She opens a window with her shoulder, the patio door with her bare foot. At her computer, she sits bolt upright and uses her toes to type her emails. With a pointed chin she flicks off the light as she leaves the room. The 54-year old deftly demonstrates just a few of what she calls the “tricks” she uses to manage her everyday life.

Born without arms in January 1961, Seifert is a thalidomide survivor. Her mother was prescribed the drug, which was first marketed in the late 50s in West Germany under the name Contergan, to counteract the effects of morning sickness, with devastating consequences. Seifert was one of up to 7,000 born in Germany with phocomelia, or malformation of the limbs, 60% of whom died.

More than half a century later, Seifert, who is loquacious and funny, is still struggling for recognition for her plight.

“If even one person had ever come to visit me in that time to see how I cope with life, to assess my needs, or even invited me to go and show them what I can or cannot do,” she said. “But no one has ever even asked”.

From teleSUR English, allegations of a a dramatic spike in war-caused cancers in Gaza:

Cancer cases increase in Gaza due to Israeli enriched uranium

Program notes:

The cases of cancer in the Gaza Strip have increased alarmingly due to the use of enriched uranium and white phosphorus in Israeli weapons. The situation is aggravated by Israeli restrictions on the entrance of equipment and medicine for treating cancer, which force Palestinians to go abroad to receive medical treatment.

And from News Corp Australia, climate change accelerating gaseous reuptions in Siberia:

More Siberian methane blowholes found in permafrost

SIBERIA’S blowholes are exploding in numbers: Up to 20 have now been located, raising new fears the warming permafrost is releasing its deadly methane reserves.

A new report in the Siberian Times has backed up the discovery of four enormous craters in the Siberian tundra last year with news of up to 20 more, smaller vents.

“It is important not to scare people, but this is a very serious problem,” Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky of the Russian Academy of Sciences told the Times. “We must research this phenomenon urgently to prevent possible disasters. We cannot rule out new gas emissions in the Arctic and in some cases they can ignite.”

After the jump, climate changed blamed in the European grain production stall, the Brazilian water crisis deepens, the Keystone controversy continues, pseudo-regulation in a gas pipeline disaster. Shell calls a halt to a tar sands project, Canadian declares its oil train upgrades inadequate, the largest Amazon deforester busted, and a leak sought in Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading