Category Archives: Cuba

Abby Martin’s swan song: An insightful look at Cuba


Abby Martin’s final week at the helm of RT America’s Breaking the Set with an insightful look at Cuba, offering a rare, and comprehensive, look at the people and its political, economic, and agricultural systems.

In the face of overwhelming opposition and subversion from Washington, fueled by the Cuban exile dominance of the electoral votes of Florida, the small island nation 90 miles from U.S. shores, and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union, its main base of support, Cuba faced enduring struggles, yet endured.

In the process, it has created revolutions in healthcare and agriculture, becoming the only nation in which cities provide most of their own food from intensive and organic neighborhood gardens and educating a cadre of physicians who have provided much, often most, of the total global response to medical emergencies around the world.

The outstanding examples set by Cuba in these fields have made a mockery of the enduring U.S. embargo against the island nation, leaving Israel Washington’s only ally in opposition to full normalization of relations.

In these three segments, Abby Martin demonstrates the skills she has honed during, first, her years as an unsalaried journalist at Berkeley Community Television, then during the three years at the helm of her RT America news magazine.

So sit back and enjoy a remarkable work of journalism.

From Breaking the Set:

Cuba Part I: Revolution, Sabotage & Un-Normal Relations

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights BTS’ eight day trip to Havana, Cuba, starting with a historical look at the tensions between the US and Cuba that have led the two countries to the negotiating table to normalize relations. Abby then discusses the major areas of contention when it comes to these negotiations and where they currently stand. BTS producer, Cody Snell, then speaks with members of the largest delegation of peace activists to visit Cuba since the normalized relations announcement, highlighting the role of grassroots diplomacy. BTS than talks to average Cubans both in Havana and in Miami about their views on the state of US-Cuban relations. BTS wraps up the show with an interview with Kenia Serrano, a high ranking Cuban parliament member and President of The Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, about everything from internet access to the crackdown on free speech in the country.

Cuba Part II: Ebola Solidarity & Castro’s Daughter on Gay Rights

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights part II of BTS’ eight day trip to Havana, Cuba, starting with an interview with Cuban doctor, Katiel Llorente Izabelez, who explains how Cuba has managed to maintain such a high life expectancy rate, despite the lack of access to up to date medical supplies. BTS producer, Cody Snell, then speaks with students at the Latin American School of Medicine, an international medical school set up by the Cuban government that provides free tuition to low income individuals that want to become doctors. Abby then discusses how Cuba managed to send the largest contingent of doctors to fight the ebola crisis in West Africa, and how this is just the latest example of the country’s medical internationalism. Abby then goes over the US programs meant to encourage Cuban doctors to defect and how this undermines international health efforts. BTS wraps up the show with an exclusive interview with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President, Raul Castro, and director of Cuba’s sexual education program CENESEX, about the biggest challenges facing Cuba’s gay community.

Cuba Part III: The Evolution of Revolution

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin features the third installment of BTS’ trip to Cuba, focusing on reforms to the country’s economic and agricultural models. Abby first gives an overview of how Cuba’s organic movement evolved and the challenges of the country’s food subsidy system. Abby then speaks with agricultural co-op founder, Miguel Angel Salcines Lopez, about how Cuba’s cooperative and food system works. Abby then talks to Ernesto Blanco, owner of La Fontana restaurant in Havana, about the difficulties of operating a private business in Cuba and how entrepreneurs are being impacted by recent economic reforms. Abby then speaks with Ricardo Alarcón, Cuba’s former minister of foreign affairs and president of the People’s National Assembly of Power, about the normalization process with the US and the biggest hurdles still remaining in the negotiations.

Chart of the day: More favor Cuba than don’t


A dramatic shift in opinion in the U.S., as documented by Gallup:

BLOG Cuba

It’s official: America has totally jumped the shark


If you have any vestigial doubts, consider story about the plight of a Silver Spring, Maryland, family reported by WUSA-TV in the nation’s capital:

Md. parents investigated for letting kids walk alone

A couple being investigated for child neglect because they allow their children to roam freely in their neighborhood says their parenting style is unfairly under assault.

In many ways, the Meitiv family is very traditional. They eat dinner together every night, their kids have fixed bedtimes, do chores and have limits on their sweets and screen time. But the parents are under investigation because they let their kids walk around the neighborhood together, unaccompanied by an adult.

Danielle and Sasha Meitiv say the investigation is an invasion of their privacy and infringes on their rights as parents.

“I grew up in New York City in the 70s and nobody hesitated to let their kids walk around. The only thing that’s changed between then and now is our fear,” said mother Danielle Meitiv.

The kids in question are ten and six, and their parents let them wander the neighborhood so long as it’s together.

But, no, that’s a crime.

Had it been criminal back when esnl was growing up, his parents would’ve been clapped in irons, as would almost every other parent back in 1950s Abilene, Kansas. We were solo neighborhood-wandering from age five or six, and no one thought twice about it, either neighbors or officialdom.

Likewise, when when esnl was a parent in California he and his spouses, he and his mates were comfortable with out offspring wandering the neighborhood with the usual admonitions to avoid crossing busy streets.

But nowadays the notion of free range small humans is under threat, in large part thanks to the pervasive influence of fear-mongering fiction and faction on the boob tube.

It’s all part of the growing fear of the Alien Other, that latter-day pixelated Boogeyman who seems, increasingly, to haunt our every waking moment.

On its altar, we sacrifice the natural exploratory urges of childhood, admittedly vastly easier to do these days what with all the sedentary screen-mediated activities corporations peddle and overworked parents buy for their offspring to make up for the hours lost to their children because ever-more-precarious jobs demand ever-growing segments of our time.

Some of the happiest days of our own childhood were spent wandering the neighborhood, either alone or with friends, discovering and playing.

Now those joys have been criminalized.

What a tragedy.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, cases, aid, campaigns


We begin with the latest total case and death numbers for all countries from today’s World Health Organization Situation Report [PDF]:

BLOG Ebola Numbers

Next, via the Centers for Disease Control, the latest Ebola curves for the three hardest hit West African countries. Note the unrelenting steep rise in Sierra Leone:

BLOG Ebola curves

CCTV America offers a year-end progress report:

Professor Jonathan Moreno discusses progress in fight against Ebola

Program notes:

Healthcare workers have made major strides this year in containing the Ebola virus. CCTV America interviewed physician Jonathan Moreno about the progress made so far and what lies ahead in fighting the virus.

From BBC News, help for a European victim:

Experimental drug for Ebola patient Pauline Cafferkey

Ebola patient Pauline Cafferkey is receiving an experimental anti-viral drug and blood from survivors of the disease, doctors in London have said.

Specialists at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, where the nurse is being treated, did not name the drug.

Dr Michael Jacobs said Ms Cafferkey was in isolation and was sitting up in bed, talking and reading.

As the disease has no known cure and is unpredictable, Dr Jacobs said they would know more in a week’s time.

Case-handling blowback from Britain’s Channel 4 News:

Ebola plans under review after Glasgow positive

Screening measures for Ebola are to be reviewed after a health worker was found to have the virus having flown on from Heathrow after repeated tests

Dame Sally Davies, the government’s Chief Medical Officer, said questions had been raised about airport screening for Ebola after NHS nurse Pauline Cafferkey was found to have the virus after returning to the UK from west Africa.

Mrs Cafferkey flew in to Heathrow before catching a flight to Glasgow where she was placed in isolation after feeling feverish. She had flown to Sierra Leone with other NHS volunteers in November.

“We regularly keep under review what we are doing because this is a new process,” Dame Sally said. “Clearly queuing and things like that are unacceptable and we will review. But we will let people who are well travel because they will not infect the public.”

Another review, via the Guardian:

Scottish Ebola case triggers Save the Children investigation

  • Charity for which Pauline Cafferkey was working to look into how she caught disease in Sierra Leone, as UK reviews screening measures

Save the Children has launched an urgent investigation into how a Scottish nurse contracted the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, as health chiefs promise to review screening measures in the UK.

The charity’s humanitarian director, Michael von Bertele, said he had ordered an inquiry into whether Pauline Cafferkey caught the disease outside the treatment centre in Kerry Town where she had volunteered.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “I would say that protection, if people adhere to the protocols, is of a very high standard but … nothing is risk-free, particularly when dealing with a disease like Ebola.”

He said the investigation had started already.

And another Rupert Murdoch minion does her master proud in Old Blighty, via BBC News:

Katie Hopkins’ tweets on ‘Ebola bombs’ examined by police

  • Complaints were made to police about Katie Hopkins’ tweets on Ebola

Police are examining complaints about Ebola comments tweeted by controversial TV personality Katie Hopkins.

After news that a Scots nurse was being treated for the virus, Hopkins wrote: “Sending us Ebola bombs in the form of sweaty Glaswegians just isn’t cricket.”

Another tweet said: “Glaswegian ebola patient moved to London’s Royal Free Hospital. Not so independent when it matters most are we jocksville?”

From the Dept. Of Unconfirmed but Too Noteworthy to Ignore, this from Outbreak News Today:

Ebola in Iraq? Unconfirmed reports hitting the internet

  • A number of unconfirmed reports have hit the internet today concerning Ebola virus case(s) in Mosul, Iraq.

According to a report in Shafaq News today, A medical source in Mosul hospital revealed diagnosing the infection with Ebola virus of elements belonging to ISIS.

Later in the report it states, The source, who asked not to be identified told “Shafaq News”, that “the cases were recorded on foreign fighters of African descent.

The medical source warned from the spread of the disease within the city of Mosul and its transmission to other Iraqi cities

From the New York Times, an economic damage assessment:

Ebola Ravages Economies in West Africa

More than any loss of life or manpower, it is the extreme efforts to check the disease that are proving far more costly to the economies. Shutting schools, quarantining whole districts, sealing borders, canceling flights and banning public gatherings may have helped reduce transmission of the disease, but such measures have crippled trade. The shame of it is that Sierra Leone was growing at an impressive clip — before Ebola hit.

“A shock like this just brings a whole bunch of households back below the poverty line,” said David Evans, a World Bank economist. “It’s a huge setback.”

It is not clear how quickly Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone would bounce back even if the virus were stopped in its tracks right now. The World Bank predicts that Sierra Leone’s economy will contract in 2015 and that West Africa will lose at least $3.8 billion in economic activity. Farming is one of the biggest concerns. In some areas of Sierra Leone, agricultural production has dropped by nearly half because so many cassava and rice farmers were ordered to stay home for mandatory quarantines.

Already 500,000 people in the region have gone hungry because of Ebola, and that number could double by March. In the last two months, the United Nations World Food Program has distributed 22 million pounds of emergency food.

And from the Guardian, a prescription:

Ebola can only be beaten by tackling poverty in Africa

Listening to the NHS staff returning from fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone, it is obvious that poverty still kills as efficiently as it always has. One doctor on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning explained that their clinic had no access to any special treatment, but that simply by rehydrating patients they were immediately seeing better than 50% recovery rates. He added that there was not yet any scientific evidence that the new vaccines or treatments made a difference. It may be that outcomes that are just as good and much, much cheaper will come from the absolute fundamentals of good basic care and hygiene.

It is now nearly a year since this tragic story began to unfold. It should have been contained much sooner: prevention and treatment should have been delivered at scale with urgency. But Ebola has become a metonym for the way the west sees the African story, a continent that lives under a perpetual cloud of fear.

It is also a brutal reminder of an everyday fact in rural Africa – that poverty kills. For thousands of families no good will come of the disease. But for the wider continent and for the next generation, something could. In 2015, the UN is reviewing the development goals that it originally set in 2000. Here’s a thought. Make sure the new list includes tackling some of the structural barriers that stand between ordinary Africans and a growing income. Pull down trade barriers, and enforce government transparency. The way to end diseases of poverty is, after all, by ending poverty.

While CCTV America examines the fate of the smallest victims:

Ebola orphans often overlooked

Program notes:

In the race to contain the Ebola virus, the children of Ebola victims are often overlooked. Many children are abandoned, stigmatized, and suffering the pain of incredible loss. CCTV America’s Stephanie Freid reported this story from Conakry, Guinea.

After the jump, it’s on to Sierra Leone with a U.N. warning and a recovered Cuban doctor’s vow to return to the hot zone, on to Liberia with an ex-official’s call for border closures, public gathering ban lifted for New Year’s worship, the central bank announces relief measures — including payments for private school teachers impoverished by ban on classes, and motorized anti-Ebola auxiliaries, collateral damage in Zimbabwe, and a new position at the Centers for Disease Control. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Spies, cops, hacks, war, zones


And much more. . .

First, from the Guardian:

St Louis protests after police shooting of black teenager Antonio Martin

  • Protesters held vigils, with some briefly blocking traffic on Interstate 170 but actions were calmer than previous night amid mayor’s call for calm

Demonstrators took to the streets for a second night after a white police officer in Berkeley, Missouri, killed a black 18-year-old who police said pointed a gun at him.

Dozens of protesters held a vigil late Wednesday at the gas station in the St Louis suburb where Antonio Martin was shot, and they briefly blocked traffic on Interstate 170 during a march before returning to the station. Berkeley Police Chief Frank McCall told KMOV-TV that six to eight people were arrested.

Later, about 75 people staged a peaceful protest early Christmas morning outside of a nearby church, according to the St Louis Post-Dispatch. Police in riot gear were present.

Next, somewhat good news from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

South Korea says nuclear reactors safe after cyber-attacks

  • South Korea has moved to allay concerns that hackers could cause a malfunction at one of the nation’s nuclear plants by breaking into its system

South Korea on Thursday (Dec 25) ruled out the possibility that a recent string of cyber-attacks on its nuclear power operator could cause a malfunction at any of the country’s 23 atomic reactors. The designs and manuals for two reactors have been published on Twitter over the past week, along with personal information on some 10,000 workers at Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power (KHNP).

Officials said Tuesday that South Korea has heightened security in the wake of the leaks, with the defence ministry’s cyber warfare unit increasing its watch-level against attacks from North Korean and other hackers.

The presidential Blue House moved on Thursday to allay concerns that hackers could cause a malfunction at one of the nation’s nuclear plants by breaking into its system. “The control system of nuclear reactors are separated from external networks, and hacking into the system is fundamentally impossible,” the presidential office said in a statement quoted by Yonhap news agency.

KHNP has said the material released on the Gori and Wolsong nuclear power plants was not classified and would not affect safety.

Common Dreams sneaks one in:

NSA Spied on Americans for Over a Decade: Report

Files released in response to an ACLU lawsuit shows long-term, unauthorized NSA operations against U.S. citizens

The National Security Agency quietly released a heavily redacted report late Wednesday night showing that its mass surveillance program targeting U.S. citizens went on for more than 10 years.

The documents, which are made up of annual and quarterly reports filed since 2001, were published to the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

They note numerous instances in which U.S. citizens were erroneously targeted for spying and information waspassed among servers that were “not authorized” to hold it. Many of these cases were shown to be “marked for purging,” but it is unclear whether they were actually deleted.

The NSA’s executive summary of the reports states, “The vast majority of compliance incidents involve unintentional technical or human error… Data incorrectly acquired is almost always deleted.”

More from Businessweek:

The heavily-redacted reports include examples of data on Americans being e-mailed to unauthorized recipients, stored in unsecured computers and retained after it was supposed to be destroyed, according to the documents. They were posted on the NSA’s website at around 1:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

In a 2012 case, for example, an NSA analyst “searched her spouse’s personal telephone directory without his knowledge to obtain names and telephone numbers for targeting,” according to one report. The analyst “has been advised to cease her activities,” it said.

Other unauthorized cases were a matter of human error, not intentional misconduct.

Last year, an analyst “mistakenly requested” surveillance “of his own personal identifier instead of the selector associated with a foreign intelligence target,” according to another report.

And from Business Insider, a lump of coal in many a Christmas stocking:

PlayStation Network And Xbox Live Are Down, And The Notorious Hacker Gang ‘Lizard Squad’ Is Taking Credit

Hours after Microsoft’s Xbox Live went down Wednesday, Sony’s PlayStation Network went down, too.

These are two giant networks that console gamers access to play their games online. It’s especially bad timing since a lot of people are probably getting new PlayStations and Xboxes for Christmas.

Since early Wednesday, the notorious hacker group “Lizard Squad” has claimed responsibility for taking down PlayStation Network on Twitter, saying it has downed both networks with denial of service attacks. That means the hacker group is flooding Sony and Microsoft’s servers with bogus traffic.

Lizard Squad has been tweeting about these outages incessantly, boosting its number of Twitter followers by promising to restore the downed game networks if people favorite and retweet their messages a certain number of times.

On to the war of the moment with the Washington Post:

Hoping to create a new society, the Islamic State recruits entire families

Unlike al-Qaeda, which operates in many countries but is a stateless army, the Islamic State controls territory that it has taken by force in Iraq and Syria. To create the Islamist society it envisions, the group has gone to great lengths to take over existing schools, hospitals and playgrounds, or to build these and other institutions of daily family life.

“The more they are successful at creating a whole new society, the more they are able to attract entire families,” said Mia Bloom, a professor of security studies at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell who has written extensively about women and terrorism. “It’s almost like the American dream, but the Islamic State’s version of it.”

In the Syrian city of Raqqa, the group’s main stronghold, the extremists have established a clinic for pregnant women run by a female gynecologist trained in Britain. Boys attend school, studying almost exclusively religion, until they are 14, when they are expected to start fighting, Smith said. Girls stay in school until they are 18; their instruction is about the Koran and sharia law, as well as learning how to dress, keep house, cook, clean and care for men, all according to a strict Islamic code.

From Deutsche Welle, lèse majesté in Turkey:

High school student arrested for ‘insulting’ Turkey’s Erdogan

A Turkish high-school student has been arrested for allegedly “insulting” the president. This was just the latest in a series of controversial arrests in Turkey in recent weeks.

The 16-year-old high school student, identified by his initials, M.E.A., was arrested in the central Turkey city of Konya, according to a report published in the Hurriyet newspaper on Thursday.

The accusation stems from a speech the boy made on Wednesday in Konya, in which he referred to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (pictured above) as the “thieving owner of the illegal palace.” The reference alluded to a corruption scandal one year ago that led to the resignations of four ministers in then-Prime Minister Erdogan’s cabinet, as well as a new presidential palace with more than 1,000 rooms, in which Erdogan took up residence back in October.

The youth, who has reportedly denied intending to insult the president, could now face up to four years in prison if convicted on the charge, although this could be reduced due to his young age.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu defended the court’s decision to arrest the high-school student. “Everyone must respect the office of president whoever he is,” Davotoglu said.

BuzzFeed News covers the raving unconfined:

Bachmann: Obama Supports The Agenda Of Islamic Jihad “At Every Turn”

“And I have been very surprised, to answer your question, to see the president of the United States, at every turn, cut the legs off of our ally, Israel, and in fact embrace and lift up the agenda of Islamic jihad.”

Former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann says President Obama has supported the agenda of Islamic jihad “at every turn.”

“And I have been very surprised, to answer your question, to see the president of the United States, at every turn, cut the legs off of our ally, Israel, and in fact embrace and lift up the agenda of Islamic jihad,” Bachmann said on the show Washington Watch hosted by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

Bachmann was referring to a report in the Wall Street Journal that stated President Obama wrote secret letters to the Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei about having a shared interest in fighting the Islamic State and reaching an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.

And the raving confined, via TheLocal.no:

Breivik’s letters seized over terror fears

Norway’s prison authorities said Monday they had seized over 200 letters from mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik to prevent him from setting up a network outside jail.

According to a written ruling from jail authorities “Breivik’s intention is to consolidate his position as frontman and leader figure for a movement that involves using extreme violence and terror as an instrument.”

“We have refused to send some letters from Breivik for reasons of security. We’re talking about roughly 220 letters,” Yling Faeste, a spokesman for the prison administration, told AFP.

“We control his communication, and he is not allowed to set up a network that could commit even more crimes.”

Breivik, who is now aged 35, committed the worst carnage in recent Norwegian history on July 22, 2011.

After setting off a bomb in Oslo’s government district that killed eight, he went on to attack a Labour Party youth camp on the island of Utoeya, where another 69 people died, most of them teenagers. He said he committed the attacks to prevent a “Muslim invasion” of Norway.

From the Guardian, precrime in Old Blighty:

Revealed: Police using pre-charge bail to muzzle protesters

  • Exclusive: Data obtained by the Guardian substantiates claims that hundreds of innocent people banned from attending lawful demonstrations

Police are being accused of trying to muzzle protest movements as figures obtained by the Guardian reveal the widespread use of bail to ban hundreds of innocent people from attending lawful demonstrations.

The data shows that around 85% of those barred from protesting when bailed have not been subsequently charged with any crime. Civil liberties and protest groups accused police of dealing out their own justice and called for a change in the law.

The figures show that a least 732 people have been banned by police forces in England and Wales since 2008 but then never charged. They come as the government confirms it is considering overhauling the police bail rules.

“Bail is becoming an instrument that is being used by people without recourse to the judicial process. It is to essentially punish protesters and curb their right to demonstrate,” said Rachel Harger of leading human rights law firm Bindmans.

From RT, hard times intolerance:

Anti-homeless cages installed around benches in French city on Christmas Eve

The right-wing city council of Angouleme in southwest France has come under fire for banishing homeless people from its city center, after it installed cages that completely cover benches used by local hobos.

The municipal deputy responsible for security, Joel Guitton, told AFP that the benches were “almost exclusively used by people who consume alcohol on a regular basis,” and claimed the decision was taken in concert with local traders, who complained that threatening behavior was driving away customers.

Regional daily Sud Ouest alleged that the Champ de Mars had become a scene of regular fights between the homeless, often provoked by drugs and involving dogs.

But social media users say the unusual severity of the measure shows that local authorities “lack empathy.” and have called for protests, and even unsanctioned demolitions of the cages. Earlier this year, the city of 40,000 people elected Xavier Bonnefont, an ambitious 34-year-old whose rise has already earned comparisons to the career of Nicolas Sarkozy – who himself came to prominence as a young mayor of a small community.

After the jump, it’s on to the Sony hack and allegations of misattribution, at the mediated eye of a media shitstorm, we have a winner [of sorts] at home and abroad, Japan tightens domestic cybersecurity, the NSA’s hand seen in major spooky malware infestation, allegations of Chinese hacks in Afghan computers, growing fears of imminent hospital hacks, Washington’s plain old-fashioned human asset at the heart of Cuba’s cryptoservice, then on to ideological violence, first with a mosque burned in Sweden, terror charges lodged against Saudi women drivers, Pakistan’s top general orders military trials for terror, Beijing sends a signal to an increasingly militaristic Shinzo Abe and embarks on major naval expansion moves with a trans-Pacific nuclear reach, Japanese show growing interest in insular claims, AIDS infection threats used in a Chinese development dispute, the Pentagon want s self-flying insectoid drones, and ensl’s own congressional rep rightly claims vindication. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: War, hacks, cops, and more


We begin with the latest from Ferguson, Missouri, via BuzzFeed News:

Prosecutor Says He Knew Some Witnesses Were Lying To The Ferguson Grand Jury

St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch says he knew some of the witnesses who said they saw Michael Brown get shot were lying, but he let them testify to the grand jury anyway.

In his first interview since announcing Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the shooting of Mike Brown, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch told radio station KTRS that he allowed witnesses to testify to the grand jury he knew were lying.

KTRS: Why did you allow people to testify in front of the grand jury in which you knew their information was either flat-out wrong, or flat-out lying, or just weren’t telling the truth?

McCulloch: Well, early on, I decided that anyone who claimed to have witnessed anything was going to be presented to the grand jury.

And I knew that no matter how I handled it, there would be criticism of it. So if I didn’t put those witnesses on, then we’d be discussing now why I didn’t put those witnesses on. Even though their statements were not accurate.

A fugitive’s status secured, via Al Jazeera America:

Extradition of Assata Shakur from Cuba unlikely despite restored ties

  • Exiles from both sides unlikely to face extradition given political nature of any alleged crimes, legal experts say

Soon after President Barack Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic ties with Havana on Wednesday, Cuba watchers began to raise questions over potential extradition orders U.S. exiles in Cuba, specifically regarding rights activist Assata Shakur — who has been living on the island for decades.

Shakur and other black activists, including Black Panther Party (BPP) founder Huey P. Newton, fled from U.S. intelligence and security agencies in the 1960s and 1970s to Cuba, which was sympathetic to socialist ideals. Now supporters of Shakur, also known as Joanne Chesimard, wonder what the future holds for the 67-year-old exile.

Questions have also been raised over Cubans who fled to the United States during the same period, especially those who allegedly took part in organizing the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

But legal experts say extraditions from either country are unlikely to pass muster considering provisions contained in the extradition treaty the United States has with Cuba.

From the Guardian, bellicose branding:

US general rebrands Isis ‘Daesh’ after requests from regional partners

  • Leader of operations against group uses alternative name – a pejorative in Arabic that rejects fighters’ claims on Islam

A top Pentagon general has informally rebranded the jihadists of Isis with the name “Daesh” after allies in the middle east asked he not use the group’s other monikers for fear they legitimize its ambitions of an Islamic state.

Lieutenant General James Terry almost exclusively used Daesh in reference to the militants at a press conference Thursday, although the Pentagon’s policy to primarily use “Isil” – an acronym for “the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” – has not changed.

Terry, who leads US operations against Isis in Iraq, said partners in the region had asked him not to use the terms Islamic State, Isil or Isis (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). Secretary of state John Kerry has also shifted his language in recent weeks, using Daesh 16 times and Isil only twice during remarks to Nato counterparts in Belgium. Retired general John Allen, the US envoy to coordinate the coalition against Isis, also prefers Daesh. French president Francois Hollande has used Daesh interchangeably with the group’s other names.

Daesh is also an acronym for an Arabic variation of the group’s name: al-Dawla al-Islamyia fil Iraq wa’al Sham. Most of the middle east and many Muslims abroad use Daesh, saying that although the jihadists have declared the nebulous region they control a caliphate, they neither adhere to Islam nor control a real state. Islamic clerics in particular have taken issue with the terms that include “Islamic State”. A group of British imams has suggested to prime minister David Cameron that he call the group “the Un-Islamic State”.

Another branding, via United Press International:

Egyptian jihadists thank U.S. for terror designation

The new terror designation was well received by Ajnad Misr, which posted a message to its official Twitter page thanking the U.S. for the “blessing.”

Ajnad Misr, a Salafist militant group in Egypt, was designated a “global terrorist” by the U.S. Department of State Thursday, eliciting an unexpected expression of gratitude from the extremist group.

The State Department designated Ajnad Misr, a splinter group of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a Foreign Terrorist Organization, citing claims of “numerous attacks on Egyptian security forces at government buildings, public spaces and universities, often injuring or killing innocent bystanders.”

The new designation was well received by Ajnad Misr, which posted a message to its official Twitter page thanking the U.S. for the “blessing.”

BBC News covers dronal dubeity:

Leaked CIA report: Targeting Taliban leaders ‘ineffective’

The removal of senior Taliban leaders has had little impact on the organisation, a CIA report released by Wikileaks has said.

The 2009 report analyses “high value targeting” in a number of conflicts – the assassination of senior insurgents. It said the Taliban’s ability to replace lost leaders has hampered the effectiveness of coalition operations against its leadership.

The CIA would not comment on the leaked documents.

The report, which Wikileaks describes as “pro-assassination”, looks at the pros and cons of “high value targeting” (HVT) programmes.

Cold War 2.0 from United Press International:

Poland orders more Norwegian missiles

  • Poland has ordered missiles from Norway’s Kongsberg Defense for a second coastal defense missile squadron

Poland is getting a second coastal defense missile squadron equipped with truck-mounted naval strike missiles from Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace.

The Norwegian company said the contract from Poland’s Ministry of National Defense is worth about $175.3 million.

“This agreement proves the leading position of NSM and our position as a reliable partner and supplier to Poland,” said Harald Annestad, president of Kongsberg Defense.

Neoliberal vengeance? From El País:

“Ruined businessman” rams car with explosives into PP headquarters

  • Gas canisters failed to explode. Man blames ruling party for his financial woes

A man claiming to be a ruined businessman drove a car containing explosive material into the headquarters of the ruling Popular Party (PP) in Madrid early Friday morning, police said.

The failed attack took place shortly before 7am, with no injuries reported.

The car, a Citroën Xantia with Guadalajara license plates, contained two gas canisters, along with two sacks of industrial fertilizer. The material failed to explode, and police said there was no further risk of detonation.

A fed fail from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

FBI’s genetic tests didn’t nail anthrax killer, GAO says

For a second time in three years, a federal inquiry cast doubt Friday on the FBI’s assertion that genetic testing had cinched its conclusion that a now-dead Army bioweapons researcher mailed anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and terrorized the East Coast in 2001.

The long-awaited report from the Government Accountability Office found that the FBI’s exhaustive, cutting-edge attempt to trace the killer with matches of genetic mutations of anthrax samples at times lacked precision, consistency and adequate standards.

The 77-page report, perhaps the final official word on the FBI’s seven-year investigation known as Amerithrax, lent credence to a National Academy of Sciences panel’s finding in 2011 that the bureau’s scientific evidence did not definitely show that the anthrax came from the Maryland bioweapons laboratory of Bruce Ivins.

More of the same from the New York Times:

F.B.I. Evidence Often Mishandled, Inquiry Finds

F.B.I. agents in every region of the country have mishandled, mislabeled and lost evidence, according to a highly critical internal investigation that discovered errors with nearly half the pieces of evidence it reviewed.

The evidence collection and retention system is the backbone of the F.B.I.’s investigative process, and the report said it is beset by problems. It also found that the F.B.I. was storing more weapons, less money and valuables, and two tons more drugs than its records had indicated.

The report’s findings, based on a review of more than 41,000 piece of evidence in F.B.I. offices around the country, could have consequences for criminal investigations and prosecutions. Lawyers can use even minor record-keeping discrepancies to get evidence thrown out of court, and the F.B.I. was alerting prosecutors around the country on Friday that they may need to disclose the errors to defendants.

Many of the problems cited in the report appear to be hiccups in the F.B.I.’s transition to a computer system known as Sentinel, which went online in 2012 and was intended to move the bureau away from a case-management system based on paper files. But other problems, including materials that disappeared or were taken from F.B.I. evidence rooms and not returned, are more serious.

More dronal dubeity from the Associated Press:

Poll: Americans skeptical of commercial drones

Americans broadly back tight regulations on commercial drone operators, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll, as concerns about privacy and safety override the potential benefits of the heralded drone revolution.

By a 2-1 margin, the poll found, those who had an opinion opposed using drones for commercial purposes. Only 21 percent favored commercial use of drones, compared with 43 percent opposed. Another 35 percent were in the middle.

Only 3 percent of people say they’ve operated small drones, which are essentially the same as remote-controlled model aircraft.

Support for using commercial drones was the weakest among women and seniors, while college graduates and wealthier people were more apt to favor it.

After the jump, government cyberspooks abound, and on the the Sony hack and Obama fingering Pyongyang, faulting Sony, and vowing vengeance, Sony fires back, and the FBI piles on Pyongyang, Staples customers’ payment cards hacked, Target customers can sue for losing data to hackers, major flaws patched in software controlling oil and gas pipelines, on to Asia and soaring Afghan civilian deaths, Pakistan begins an campaign of executions as a school mass execution triggers a crackdown on the Taliban, China gains growing military projection power, approaching American frigate sale to Tawian triggers Beijing anger, and hints of a Chinese nuclear buildup, Japan gets its own whistleblower website as Korean peace activists seek a Nobel for the engandered pacifist provision of Japan’s constitution. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Pols, cops, hacks, terror, zones


And so much more, starting with the inevitable from BBC News:

US-Cuba shift: Opponents threaten to block changes

Opponents of President Barack Obama’s new Cuba policy have threatened to block his efforts to restore diplomatic relations after 50 years of hostility.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio promised on CNN to block the nomination of any US ambassador to Cuba. Other anti-Castro legislators suggested Congress would removing funding for any normalised ties with the country.

US-Cuban ties have been frozen since the early 1960s – a policy of isolation Mr Obama condemned as a failure. On Wednesday, the US president said it was time for a new approach.

Part of the deal with the New York Times:

C.I.A. Mole, Now Out of Prison, Helped U.S. Identify Cuban Spies

He was, in many ways, a perfect spy — a man so important to Cuba’s intelligence apparatus that the information he gave to the Central Intelligence Agency paid dividends long after Cuban authorities arrested him and threw him in prison for nearly two decades.

Rolando Sarraff Trujillo has now been released from prison and flown out of Cuba as part of a swap for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States that President Obama announced Wednesday in a televised speech. Mr. Obama did not give Mr. Sarraff’s name, but several current American officials identified him and a former official discussed some of the information he gave to the C.I.A. while burrowed deep inside Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence.

Mr. Sarraff’s story is a chapter in a spy vs. spy drama between the United States and Cuba that played on long after the end of the Cold War, decades after Cuba ceased to be a serious threat to the United States. The story — at this point — remains just a sketchy outline, with Mr. Sarraff hidden from public view and his work for the C.I.A. still classified.

Another frightening case of transnational corporate exceptionalism from the Guardian:

US tries to strike deal with EU for immunity over online security breaches

  • Critics fear Tisa talks could be used to further interests of large corporations and undermine right to privacy

The US is attempting to secure immunity from investigation for online security breaches by major US companies under negotiations between Washington and Brussels, according to leaked documents seen by the Guardian.

Such a deal would prevent US companies that were operating inside the EU from being prosecuted by regulators or law officers for data breaches or claims of negligence in the host country, forcing European governments to pursue cases in the US courts.

Public service unions said the Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa) talks in Geneva revealed how the US planned to protect homegrown businesses from regulations that might hinder their expansion into sensitive areas such as government data handling and healthcare.

Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of Public Services International (PSI), which represents 650 unions in 150 countries, said the leaked documents, obtained by the Associated Whistleblowing Press, confirmed her fears that “Tisa is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth”.

Another major law enforcement failure, from the Los Angeles Times:

Feds sue N.Y.C. citing ‘deeply disturbing’ conditions at Rikers Island

Federal prosecutors sued New York City on Thursday over its handling of violence against young inmates held on Rikers Island, calling the jail complex a place where adolescents are “subjected to unconstitutional conditions and confinement.”

Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a filing Thursday that his office wanted to speed reforms at the facility following a Justice Department report in August that found “Rikers is a dangerous place” where a “pervasive climate of fear exists.”

At a news conference announcing the suit, Bharara said, “Today we have taken a legal step that we believe is necessary …. Much, much more needs to be done,” to safeguard inmates at Rikers.

Before federal officials filed the court documents, they notified New York Mayor Bill de Blasio of their intention. Bharara said the mayor supported the move.

The Los Angeles Times again, with the politics of race in Ferguson:

Ferguson-area school district strips power from black voters, ACLU says

The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against a school district that serves Ferguson, Mo., alleging that the district disenfranchises black voters.

The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the Missouri NAACP, comes after months of scrutiny by government agencies and civil rights groups into the area’s local governments and predominantly white political leadership following the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed black man. That incident has triggered a protest movement that has yet to fully subside.

The Ferguson-Florissant School District has seven board members, and only one is black. The district serves 11,000 students in northern St. Louis County, 79% of whom are black, according to the ACLU.

The school board members are selected in at-large elections. The lawsuit charges that because black voters are a minority inside the district’s boundaries, their relative voting strength is unfairly weakened in at-large elections.

From RT America, another troublesome Ferguson failure:

Ferguson grand jury witness wants to “stop calling blacks n*****s”

Program notes:

One of the witnesses in the grand jury that reviewed the actions of Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson is under scrutiny by journalists who believe she may have not even been at the scene of the shooting. Adding to their speculation is a journal entry from “Witness 40,” in which she writes that she wanted to “drive to Florisant… Need to understand the Black race better so I stop calling Blacks n*****s.” Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of The Smoking Gun, gives more details to RT’s Ben Swann.

Cold War 2.0, with added repartee, via the Japan Times:

Danger in the skies as Russia, NATO play cat-and-mouse

Recent close shaves between Russian fighters and civilian aircraft highlight the dangers of the cat-and-mouse game being played out between Moscow and the West in European skies amid the crisis in Ukraine, analysts say.

In the latest incident, Sweden said Dec. 12 that a Russian military jet nearly collided with a passenger plane south of Malmo shortly after take-off from Copenhagen International Airport.

Both countries called in their Russian ambassadors to protest, only to be told that a huge increase in Russian military activity in recent months was “a response to NATO’s activities and escalation in the region.”

Russia later accused Swedish authorities of being under the influence after smoking too much cannabis.

World War 2.0, via Al Jazeera America:

Dutch right-wing politician charged with inciting hatred against Moroccans

  • Geert Wilders’ political party tops opinion polls in the Netherlands

Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders will be prosecuted in the Netherlands for alleged discrimination and inciting hatred against Moroccans during election campaigning in March, prosecutors said on Thursday.

The charges stem from an incident in The Hague, when Wilders led an anti-Moroccan chant in a cafe, which was broadcast nationally and prompted 6,400 complaints to the police.

Wilders asked supporters if they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in their city, triggering the chant: “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” A smiling Wilders responded, “We’ll take care of that.”

In a later TV interview, he referred to “Moroccan scum.”

Torture lessons from Cold War 1.0, from Newsweek:

When Torture Backfires: What the Vietcong Learned and the CIA Didn’t

The CIA is hardly the only spy service to grapple with blowback from making prisoners scream. Even leaders of Communist Vietnam’s wartime intelligence agency, notorious for torturing American POWs, privately knew that “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as the CIA calls them, could create more problems than solutions, according to internal Vietnamese documents reviewed by Newsweek.

In many cases, torturing people wrongly suspected of being enemy spies caused “extremely regrettable losses and damage,” says one of the documents, released to little notice in 1993 by Hanoi’s all-powerful Public Security Service (PSS). But unlike the CIA, Vietnam’s security service constantly engaged in Marxist-style “self-criticism” to review its mistakes, particularly those caused by relying on confessions extracted by torture, the recently translated Communist documents show.

The documents were obtained and translated by Christopher E. Goscha, a history professor at the University of Montreal and one of the leading international scholars on Indochina during the French colonial period. He included them in his book, Historical Dictionary of the Indochina War (1945-1954): An International and Interdisciplinary Approach, which was published to little notice in Denmark in 2011. “Torture and intelligence gathering in a time of war are a tricky combination,” he told Newsweek, “and the [Communists’] policing and military intelligence services were no exception to the rule.”

On to the battlefield, via BBC News:

IS leaders killed by US air strikes, Pentagon chief says

US air strikes have killed several high-ranking military leaders of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, the Pentagon’s top officer says. Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strikes aimed to hamper the Islamist group’s ability to conduct attacks, supply fighters and finance operations.

IS controls a swathe of Iraq and Syria, where it has declared a caliphate.

Meanwhile, Kurdish forces say they have broken the IS siege of Mount Sinjar.

Gen Dempsey told the Wall Street Journal that the loss of IS leaders was “disruptive to their planning and command and control”. He added: “These are high-value targets, senior leadership.”

Cyberconvolutions from CBC News:

Hackers posing as Syrian-Canadians may be tied to ISIS

  • Malware aims to expose location of attacker’s target

Hackers suspected of ties to ISIS posed as Syrian-Canadians to try to implant malicious software on a computer of a Syrian citizen media group, an internet watchdog says.

A Citizen Lab report released today says there’s strong evidence that the Islamic jihadist group sent the phishing email in late November, but it’s not conclusive.

“This bears little resemblance to anything we’ve seen from the usual suspects,” said report co-author John Scott-Railton. “That, combined with who they are targeting … gives us pause and makes us think that maybe we’re looking at ISIS malware.”

If ISIS is responsible for the attempted attack on the citizen media group, it could mark an early warning sign that the group is embracing a new tactic in its fight to establish a caliphate.

Another ironic hack, via Nextgov:

48,000 Federal Employees Potentially Affected by Second Background Check Hack

The Office of Personnel Management is alerting more than 48,000 federal employees their personal information may have been exposed following a breach at KeyPoint Government Solutions, which conducts background investigations of federal employees seeking security clearances.

The total number of employees affected is 48,439, according to an email from OPM Chief Information Officer Donna Seymour obtained by Nextgov.

Seymour said OPM worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the incident, “and while we found no conclusive evidence that [personally identifiable information] was taken by the intruder, OPM has elected to conduct these notifications out of an abundance of caution.”

And yet another embarrassing hack, via the Los Angeles Times:

Internet authority ICANN says it was hacked

The Internet authority responsible the Web’s address system has been hacked, compromising employee emails and personal information.

The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, said Tuesday that it fell victim to a “spear phishing” attack in November. The hack involved emails crafted to look as though they came from the organization’s own domain.

Earlier this month, ICANN learned that the stolen employee credentials were used to access other systems aside from email, including the Centralized Zone Data System that grants access to private employee information. Hackers accessed employees’ names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and usernames. The digital thieves also found employee passwords, though that information was encrypted instead of saved as plain text, ICANN said.

And a transition our first after-the-jump, hack-of-the-year stories, via the Associated Press:

Sony hacking fallout puts all companies on alert

Companies across the globe are on high alert to tighten up network security to avoid being the next company brought to its knees by hackers like those that executed the dramatic cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The hack, which a U.S. official has said investigators believe is linked to North Korea, culminated in the cancellation of a Sony film and ultimately could cost the movie studio hundreds of millions of dollars. That the hack included terrorist threats and was focused on causing major corporate damage, rather than on stealing customer information for fraud like in the breaches at Home Depot and Target, indicates a whole new frontier has emerged in cybersecurity. Suddenly every major company could be the target of cyberextortion.

“The Sony breach is a real wake-up call even after the year of mega-breaches we’ve seen,” says Lee Weiner, Boston security firm Rapid7’s senior vice president of products and engineering. “This is a completely different type of data stolen with the aim to harm the company.”

“Movie studios have, by and large, behaved as high-security intellectual property purveyors; prints have been tightly controlled, screeners are watermarked, and bootleggers are prosecuted wherever possible,” says Seth Shapiro, a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He said that’s what makes it so surprising that email leaks showed that Sony executives apparently gave out passwords in unencrypted emails and made other security blunders.

After the jump, on to the hack of the year, starting with another film pulled by another studio, a White House declaration, possible responses, a media war victor, potential impacts on the studio system, Sony emails force apologetics, an author enters the game, a plot twist about plot twists, revelations about studio battles with Google, plus curious legal ties, major router hackability revealed, Japanese ransomware debuts, a rebel ceasefire in Colombian and a violent protest in Brazil, complaints of wasted aid in Pakistan, thousands may be headed for Pakistani gallows, while Pakistan asks for help for Washington, and a court bails a major terrorism suspect, Christian fear in Indian as Hindu violence rises, a U.N. call for punitive action against North Korea and a North Korean nuclear count, a South Korean rift complicates air force plans, China clamps down on foreign television, Japan redefines scope of future military actions, and allegations of a curious cabal of upper crust British killer pedophiles. . .   Continue reading