Category Archives: Finance

EbolaWatch: Numbers, drugs, politics, warnings

We begin with the latest epidemiological curve from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, depicting the number of new cases for each week since the outbreak began:

BLOG Ebola curve

And the bottom line, via South Africa’s Independent Online:

WHO: 99 Ebola cases in past week

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone reported 99 new confirmed Ebola cases in the week to February 22, down from 128 the previous week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Wednesday.

Sierra Leone accounted for the bulk of the latest infections with 63, signalling a halt to a steep decline recorded from December through January, followed by Guinea with 35 and Liberia just a single case, the UN agency said in its weekly report.

“Cases continue to arise from unknown chains of transmission,” the WHO said. Sixteen of the new cases were identified in Guinea and Sierra Leone after post-mortem testing of people who died in the community “indicating that a significant number of individuals are still either unable or reluctant to seek treatment.”

The Associated Press covers a decision to come:

UN plans decision in August on mass Ebola vaccine program

The World Health Organization says a decision will be made in August whether to recommend a program of mass vaccination against Ebola in affected countries.

The U.N. health agency says an independent expert group will weigh the results of ongoing clinical trials, the state of the epidemic and the logistical challenges of carrying out such a program.

At the moment, two Ebola vaccines are being tested, but it’s unknown how effective they are or what dose might be needed to protect people against the deadly virus.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Friday a final decision about whether to conduct widespread immunization would be taken by the ministers of the countries involved.

On to Sierra Leone, first with a new hot spot, via the Guardian:

Ebola: Sierra Leone village in lockdown after 31 new cases recorded

  • Flare-up of virus in community just outside town of Makeni with WHO linking cases to one man who escaped quarantine in Freetown

Efforts to beat Ebola in Sierra Leone have been dealt a setback after 31 new cases were recorded in one village.

The community of 500 just outside the town of Makeni has now been put in lockdown by the army amid fears that more could be infected.

The World Health Organisation said cases had been linked to one man who escaped quarantine in Freetown to go to his village for treatment from a traditional faith healer.

The quarantine area is a fishing community, yards from the hotel where many workers from humanitarian agencies have stayed.

From the Sierra Leone Concord Times again, economics:

‘Ebola does not stop our economic activities’

- Bombali Peace Mothers declares

The Peace Mothers in Masabong Section in the Pakimasabong Chiefdom are one of the successful Peace Mother groups in Fambul Tok International’s operational areas in the Bombali District. Before the war, the community continued to be challenged by issues bordering on women’s participation in community development, gender and the rights of children. Women’s effective participation in development was more pervasive in that community where traditional practices in most cases overshadowed their participation.

After the war, it was very difficult for people to work together. There was an atmosphere of fear, grudge, suspicion, lack of cohesion and the initiative to undertake livelihood activities by community members, especially women.

After their healing and reconciliation ceremonies in 2011, the Peace Mothers initiated the idea of micro revolving loans. It all started with community members contributing money as revolve scheme amongst themselves in all 14 villages in the chiefdom.

While the government wants to call a halt to some economic activity, via the Sierra Leone Concord Times:

Port Loko residents defy public emergency orders

Youth leader of Port Loko town, Mohamed Kamara, has told Concord Times that residents of the north-western township were in the habit of going about trading well beyond the stipulated 6:00pm time stipulated by government, in defiance of presidential orders.

“The district is now deemed as the Ebola epicenter with high rate of deaths. We are calling on the authorities concerned to stop street trading at night,” Kamara pleaded.

However, Sergeant Ibrahim M. Sesay of the Port Loko police division said efforts were being made to put a stop to night trading in the township. “The police force is working hard to contain the Ebola viral disease in the entire Port Loko district and we will not condone lawlessness,” he said.

And the Thomson Reuters Foundation covers collateral damage:

Ebola halts HIV progress in Sierra Leone, says UN

The West African Ebola outbreak has halted progress in tackling HIV in Sierra Leone, shutting health clinics and scaring patients from being tested or seeking treatment, the United Nations has said.

In an internal document seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) raised concerns that HIV prevalence and drug resistance in the country could increase as a result.

The worst recorded outbreak of Ebola has killed more than 9,500 people, infected over 23,500 others and placed immense pressure on already weak health systems in hardest-hit Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

“Hospitals have closed down because they have been overrun by Ebola patients and non-Ebola patients are too afraid to go to them for fear of catching the virus,” said Hakan Bjorkman, who manages UNDP’s AIDS programme.

“HIV prevention activities in schools and awareness raising for the general population has been suspended due to the restriction of movement, the closure of all education institutions and the overall ban on public gathering.”

On to Liberia and a departure, via the New Dawn:

U.S. Joint Forces Command departs Saturday

The Joint Forces Command United Assistance of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division departs Liberia this Saturday, 28 February 2015 for the United State of America after five months of vigorous support to the Government of Liberia’s fight against the deadly Ebola virus.

Speaking Thursday at the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia, during a Color Casing Ceremony, the Commander of the Joint Forces Command United Assistance, Major/General Gary J. Volesky, said, the mission here was to support lead federal agency, the United States Agency for International Development or USAID, by providing unique military capabilities to help contain the virus and reduce the spread of Ebola in Liberia, and to execute the tasks with speed and flexibility that would not only help build confidence among Liberians that the virus could be defeated, but also help garner the support of the international community to also assist in the fight against the disease.

Gen. Volesky said, as the 101st  Airborne Division departs Liberia, the fight to getting to zero will still continue and the JFC has ensured that capabilities brought will be sustained in the future.  “ETU construction, health care workers training, and logistical sustainment operations for Ebola containment have been transitioned to reliable partners that will continue supporting the fight against the EVD”, he said.

From CCTV Africa, a video report on the pullout:

U.S. Military Ends Ebola Mission in Liberia

Program notes:

The Americans have ended their Ebola support mission in Liberia – four months ahead of schedule. The decision to withdraw comes due to the dramatic drop in the number of cases in the past month

The New York Times covers a plea:

Liberia’s President Urges U.S. to Continue Ebola Aid

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia on Friday urged the United States to maintain its assistance to her country as it continues to fight to recover from the Ebola outbreak, which began about one year ago.

In a meeting at the White House with President Obama, Ms. Johnson Sirleaf asked for help with power projects to keep the country’s hospitals and new treatment centers running, for clean water and sanitation facilities to stop the disease from spreading, and for road construction to make it easier for sick people in rural areas to get to hospitals.

“We can neither rest, nor lift our foot off the gas,” Ms. Johnson Sirleaf said on Thursday during an earlier event on Capitol Hill hosted by Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware. “We are determined to get to zero cases by April 15.”

AllAfrica covers help from Europe:

Liberia: EU Earmarks U.S.$326 Million for Liberia

The European Development Fund has allocated EUR 279 million (about US$326 million) to support Liberia’s development programs.

The funds will be divided and spread over good governance, energy, education and agriculture, according to a release from the European Union (EU) delegation to LiberiaThursday.

The release indicated that a high-level conference on Ebola will take place in Brussels on Tuesday, March 3, noting that the 11th European Development Fund National Indicative Program for Liberia 2014-2020 will be signed between Liberia and the EU during the conference.

From StarAfrica, a drug trial begins:

Liberia: Clinical study of Ebola trial drug begins

A full-scale clinical trial of the experimental Ebola Drug Zmapp commenced at the ELWA-II Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in Monrovia Friday, an official of the trial team has disclosed.

Dr Jerry Brown who is Liberia’s Co-principal Coordinator for the trial, said the trial process is a partnership initiative between the government and the U.S National Institute of Health.

Making the disclosure at the Ministry of Information’s daily Ebola press
briefings on Friday, Brown noted that the trial of the drug will target people who are confirmed positive of the disease.

He explained that the trial of the drug is intended to find a perfect cure for Ebola as well as authenticate whether if administered alone, the Zmapp drug can heal an affected patient.

And from FrontPageAfrica, pressing the press:

Liberian Journalists Cautioned On Ebola Trial Vaccine

The Communications Officer of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (Liberia), Madam Lisa White has called on Liberian journalists to properly research their information before putting it out for public consumption. She made a specific reference to journalists that are involved in reporting on Ebola victims.

Speaking at the Royal Grand Hotel in Monrovia Wednesday February 25, 2015 where she served as a facilitator at a media training workshop on the Ebola trial vaccine in Liberia, Madam White said verifying information before publication will help the public get accurate information. Journalists mainly attended the workshop from various media institutions in Liberia including the president of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) Abdullah Kamara.

She urged journalists to protect the identity of those who have been infected with the virus and their family members. Madam White frowned on the misapplication of photos being used by print media, citing an example of journalists using a dead body photo on their front pages, “We need to protect the family of the dead or Ebola infected from stigma, if we publish the photos of these individuals, we stigmatize their families for life,” she cautioned journalists.

And to close, a potential case from the New Dawn:

Bomi quarantines Catholic priest

Health authorities in Tubmanburg, Bomi County have quarantined a Catholic cleric, Father Gary Jenkins, to conduct Ebola tests on him, a correspondent for Monrovia-based Radio Veritas in Bomi says.

The clergy has however had his first test result come negative, and a second test was due to confirm his health status before he could possibly be discharged from the Ebola Treatment Unit in Tubmanburg, the correspondent adds.

The Veritas correspondent, who also manages a community radio in the county, reported on Thursday that Father Jenkins’ first Ebola test result came out on Wednesday, February 25, 2015. Father Jenkins is said to be a clergy at St. Dominic Catholic Parish in Tubmanburg, but so far there is no information available to this paper of any Ebola incident there.

EbolaWatch: Fear, warnings, trials, and borders

We begin with fear in the extreme, via the Observer:

Top-secret military warning on Ebola biological weapon terror threat

  • Porton Down memo marked ‘UK secret UK eyes only’ reveals scientists analysed use of virus by al-Qaida or Isis

Scientists at the top-secret military research unit at Porton Down, Wiltshire, have been assessing the potential use of Ebola as a bioterrorism weapon, according to confidential documents.

A three-page memo, marked ‘UK secret UK eyes only’, reveals that the unit, where chemical, radiological and biological threats are analysed, was tasked with evaluating whether terrorist organisations such as al-Qaida and Islamic State (Isis) could use the deadly virus to attack western targets.

The heavily redacted document, which has been released under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that the unit was asked last October to provide “guidance on the feasibility and potential impact of a non-state actor exploiting the Ebola outbreak in west Africa for bioterrorism”.

From the Associated Press, another warning:

WHO: Sharp decline in Ebola cases has now leveled off

The official leading the World Health Organization’s response to the Ebola outbreak says a steep decline in case numbers has leveled off over the past month and that the development is a cause for concern.

Dr. Bruce Aylward told reporters Friday “today is the first time we have the data to demonstrate this” flattening of the curve.

The U.N. has said 10 times fewer people are being diagnosed with Ebola each week than in September, but Aylward says the rate has hovered around 120 to 150 new cases a week for the past month.

More form the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Ebola doctor fears deadly scenes may yet be repeated

Nathalie MacDermott hopes never again to see desperate patients, terrified as blood pours from their eyes and mouths, lashing out and frantic as they die surrounded by vomit and faeces.

To this young British doctor, Ebola is “a disease that strips people of any kind of dignity in death”. Yet she fears the scenes she witnessed as an aid worker in West Africa’s epidemic may be repeated as the deadly virus is beaten back, memories fade and conspiracy theories creep in.

“Case numbers are coming down and people have relaxed a lot. And while it’s nice to see people able to get on with life again, it is also a bit concerning — because in some people’s eyes, Ebola has gone,” MacDermott said in an interview.

In others’ eyes, it was never there at all.

From the Guardian, unfortunate:

UK Ebola nurse under investigation after claims of misconduct

  • The Nursing and Midwifery Council looks into reported claims that Pauline Cafferkey’s symptoms were obscured after her return from west Africa

A British nurse who was diagnosed with the Ebola virus after returning from Sierra Leone is being investigated over claims of misconduct, the body that oversees nursing within the UK has confirmed.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) said that it had received information from Public Health England about the conduct of Pauline Cafferkey that it would look into, along with two other nurses.

Cafferkey was diagnosed with the virus in December after returning from west Africa, where she had been volunteering as a health worker. She was treated at the Unit for Infectious Diseases on the Gartnavel hospital campus, Glasgow, before being transferred to specialist facilities at the Royal Free hospital in London.

From the UN News Center, an approval:

UN health agency approves rapid test for Ebola as decline in cases appears to level off

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today announced that it has approved for use a rapid diagnostic test kit for Ebola that can provide results in 15 minutes and correctly identify 92 percent of patients infected by the disease that has killed more than 9,400 people, mainly in West Africa.

Meanwhile at UN headquarters, Dr. Bruce Aylward, who leads WHO’s response on Ebola, and Dr. David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, briefed Member States on the need to maintain the robust response to get the number of cases to zero.

“As long as there is even one case of Ebola active in the human population, it’s a danger for everybody – it’s a problem for West Africa, it’s a problem for [wider] Africa and it’s a problem for the world, Dr. Nabarro told reporters after their briefing. “We must be fully engaged, all of us, until the last person with Ebola is treated and is cured.”

On to Sierra Leone and another treatment trial, via the Guardian:

Trials using Ebola survivors’ blood for treatment to start in Sierra Leone

  • Clinical tests due to start in February in Sierra Leone will be used to establish whether antibodies in the plasma of Ebola survivors can save lives

Clinical trials using the blood of Ebola survivors in treatment are to be extended to Sierra Leone.

Discussions have been held about transferring blood plasma already banked in the Liberian capital Monrovia to Sierra Leone, where between 60 and 80 people a week are being infected.

Technicians at Sierra Leone’s National Safe Blood Transfusion Service were trained in Liberia on the apheresis plasma extraction machines at the end of January.

Two new apheresis machines are being shipped to the national blood bank in Sierra Leone for the study, said Simona Zipursky, a World Health Organisation (WHO) representative in Freetown.

And from the Sierra Leone Telegraph, the dark side:

Reckless information minister calls missing Ebola funds audit report baseless, fallacious and a distraction

According to reports, Sierra Leone’s reckless and infamous minister of information – Alpha Kanu, has now turned his poisonous fangs on to the credibility and hard earned, no nonsense image of the country’s astute Auditor General – Mrs. Lara Taylor-Pearce.

The Auditor General’s report into millions of dollars stolen from the Ebola fund, has irreparably ruptured trust in the government’s ability to manage public funds, as the number of new Ebola cases rises once again.

And serious questions are now being asked as to whether the Koroma government should, and can ever be trusted with managing foreign aid, which accounts for over 60% of the country’s revenue stream.

On to Liberia and another cause for concern, via FrontPageAfrica:

Ebola Threat: S.D. Cooper Hospital Closed – 30 Quarantined

At one of Liberia’s private hospitals, more than 30 persons are said to be quarantined after authorities say a woman who knew she had Ebola deliberately tried to infect the staff of the S.D. Cooper Hospital in Sinkor. Madam Amanda Blah who died early this month disguised herself and went to over three health facilities including Mawah, JFK and S.D. Cooper.

The death of Blah followed when her cousin named Steve Yadolo who died from the virus in the Bong Mines bridge community, but infected three persons, including Blah, his sister Marlene Yadolo, and brother Elijah Yadolo who are presently at an ETU in the country.

The late Yadolo was a hygienist in Sector 2 and came in contact with a suspect of the Ebola virus at the Island Clinic ETU. According to a source, the case of Blah came from an outbreak in Bong Mines Bridge where there was a missing contact. A source confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that Blah disguised herself and went to Mawah Clinic, where she changed her name and came in contact with several health workers.

From the Associated Press, looking for help:

AP Interview: Liberia leader urges help in post-Ebola phase

Liberia’s leader on Sunday urged the United States and other countries to keep up their support to the West African nation as it recovers from the Ebola epidemic and refocuses attention on infrastructure projects that will better position it to tackle future outbreaks of disease.

In an interview with The Associated Press, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said Liberia needs outside help to see through its “post-Ebola agenda” of building up basic public services — development that she said was needed to prevent another deadly epidemic from becoming “a global menace.”

Among the needs she highlighted were power projects to keep hospital equipment running, roads so the sick can access medical facilities, and clean water to prevent diseases from spreading.

And Channel NewsAsia Singapore covers border closings relaxed:

Liberia lifts Ebola curfew, re-opens borders

Liberia said on Friday (Feb 20) it was lifting nationwide curfews and re-opening borders shut last year at the height of the Ebola crisis, after the retreat of an epidemic that has killed thousands.

The move comes with Liberia and its neighbours Guinea and Sierra Leone seeing new infections drop to a tenth of the numbers being reported at the September-October peak of the outbreak.

Liberia, which has recorded the most deaths and was hardest hit, is leading the recovery, reporting just a handful of new confirmed cases each week.

From the New Dawn, hypocrisy alleged:

Ebola survivors protest in Nimba

More than 10 Ebola survivors in Small Ganta and other parts of Nimba County have threatened to pick bones with the World Food Program, or WFP, for alleged neglect, while others say they would commit suicide due to continuous stigmatization from residents.

According to the Ebola survivors, the WFP left them out of a recent cell phones distribution along with mobile money.

One of the aggrieved survivors Mamie Forlay, told The New Dawn Nimba correspondent they were enticed to post for photograph, but unfortunately didn’t receive these items.

“The Nimba County Health Team, WFP, and UNICEF have been distributing food rations and other relief items to Ebola survivors in Small Ganta community, but only today they are coming up to  stop us from receiving these rations”, she lamented.

FrontPageAfrica covers help from abroad:

African Ebola Task Force Launches Food Drive for Ebola Orphans

The Minnesota African Task Force Against Ebola (MATFAE) will launch a food drive for Ebola orphans and neglected children in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, on Saturday Feb. 21, at the Brooklyn Park Community Activity Center–5600 85th Ave. N., Brooklyn Park, Minn.

The public event, designed as a first step in a sustained campaign to help address hunger and food insecurity in the three countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak, will run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“Even as a united world races to contain the spread of Ebola in West Africa, life-threatening hunger and chronic food insecurity are beginning to devastate the lives of vulnerable people, especially poor families, orphans, neglected children, and seniors,” said Robena Lewis-Vincent, project coordinator of the food drive. “Unless the African Diaspora plays its part, so many vulnerable lives will be exposed to serious life-threatening crises beyond our worse fears.”

Heritage covers another call for help:

Brown urges EU support for roads to health program

Information Minister Lewis Brown has called for collaboration between Liberia and the European Union (EU) in constructing more feeder roads that lead to health facilities in the country.

Brown noted that if Liberia’s healthcare system is built to full capacity it will only be useful and more accessible in rural Liberia if roads leading to hospitals and other public health facilities are in good condition.

The Minister made the statement in a meeting with EU Ambassador to Liberia, TiinaIntelmann, at the Ministry of Information in Monrovia on Wednesday.

Finally, taking Ebolaphobia to extremes, via the Associated Press:

N. Korea bars tourists from popular race over Ebola concerns

North Korean authorities are barring foreigners from this year’s Pyongyang marathon, a popular tourist event, amid ongoing Ebola travel restrictions, the head of a travel agency that specializes in the country said Monday.

Nick Bonner, co-founder of Beijing-based Koryo Tours, said more than 400 foreign runners had signed up with his agency alone for the event, which is to be held April 12. He said he was informed by officials on Monday that the race would be open only to local runners.

Though no cases of Ebola have been reported anywhere near North Korea, the country shut its borders to foreign tourists in October with strict regulations to keep the virus out. North Korean media have suggested Ebola was created by the U.S. military as a biological weapon.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, aid, escapees, schools

First, the latest Ebola numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

Next, an assessment from the UN News Centre:

UN envoy on Ebola likens final phase of response to ‘looking for needles in haystacks’

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, told the United Nations General Assembly today that the final phase of “getting to zero” cases may well be the hardest, saying the hunt to track down the virus is “like looking for needles in haystacks.”

Dr. Nabarro told reports that having strong surveillance capabilities on the ground to identify people with Ebola, to confirm diagnosis, to quickly arrangement arrange effective treatment, to identify people that are their contacts and to keep those people under review for 21 days “is a really difficult task,” especially as these tasks must be coordinated through 63 different government structures in an area the size of France.

The message by senior UN officials briefing an informal meeting of the General Assembly at UN Headquarters on the public health crisis emanating from the Ebola virus outbreak was two-fold: the need for resources to immediate response to the disease that has affected some 23,000 people with 9,300 deaths, as well as the need to begin planning for revival and recovery.

“Today, we face a critical turning point,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his remarks. “The pattern of the Ebola outbreak has changed. 2015 has seen a significant decline in the number of new Ebola cases in the three affected countries.”

He appealed to the Assembly: “Let us provide the resources needed to get to zero” the number of Ebola cases in the current outbreak.

“We are accelerating our work to reach the targets set by the Presidents of the Mano River Union on 15 February – zero cases in 60 days, by mid-April,” Mr. Ban said.

The Monrovia Inquirer covers aid promised:

EU to Finance Post-Ebola Reconstruction

The Chairman of the Commission of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Kadré Désire Ouédraogo, has disclosed that the European Union (EU) is considering financing post-Ebola reconstruction initiatives in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, the three worst affected countries.

Buttressing comments from the ECOWAS Regional Supervisor on Response and Eradication of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe of Togo, Commissioner  Ouedraogo disclosed that upon meeting with ECOWAS partners in Accra recently, the EU had consented to host a high-level meeting in Brussels, Belgium on March 3, to help the three countries in the post-Ebola development drive.

Commissioner Ouedraogo made the disclosure last Friday when he and the Togolese President paid a one-day solidarity visit to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the Liberian people. He was one of the three who addressed a press stakeout following the meeting with President Sirleaf.

The ECOWAS Commission boss also disclosed that under the leadership of President Gnassingbe, a high-level meeting in Accra, Ghana, with all ECOWAS partners, was convened on January 16.   High on the agenda were pleas for the re-opening of all borders and the resumption of air services to and from Ebola affected countries; the establishment of a coordination mechanism at the level of ECOWAS in order to institute a more efficient response to the epidemic; and consideration for post-Ebola reconstruction needs of the worst affected countries.

On to Liberia and danger at large, via FrontPageAfrica:

Danger Lurks in Monrovia: Ebola Patients Flee W. Point Isolation

Concerns continue to mount over the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare’s handling of the Ebola virus heightening fears that the virus could spread faster than expected in Liberia.

In the West Point community Saturday, seventeen (17) suspected and some confirmed Ebola patients escaped an isolation center late in the evening.

Sam Tarplah, a registered nurse who is managing the self-initiative isolation center early Saturday morning took journalists on a tour of a facility where the positive Ebola patients were being kept in isolation.

The New Dawn carries a warning:

Ebola contact tracers warned

The deputy head for the Government Incident Management System, Dr. Francis Kateh, has warned Ebola contact tracers to remain where they are being quarantined, and stop moving from place to place, which could spread the infection rate.

Dr. Kateh narrated that there was a recent case from the St. Paul Bridge community on Bushrod Island and the infected person hid his identity and went from place to place, which has led a total of 107 persons being contacted from December 29, 2014 to February 13, 2015.

He said such habit initially led to five deaths followed by 10 persons for the second time, and then three persons the third time.

He cautioned contact tracers to remain where they have been quarantined, saying, “Food and medications will be provided.”

From the Associated Press, a presidential visit:

Liberia leader to visit US, 1st visit since Ebola outbreak

The president of Liberia will visit the United States later this month, her first trip to the country since the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf plans to speak Feb. 26 at an event hosted by Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and the U.S. Institute of Peace, the senator’s office said Wednesday.

The event is part of three days of meetings with Obama administration officials and lawmakers.

And from FrontPageAfrica, visitors received:

U.S. Congressional Staffers’ Delegation Calls on Ellen

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has held discussions with a United States Congressional Staffers’ Delegation visiting Liberia. The delegation is in country to assess the impact of the United States Government’s assistance to the Ebola response and to see what lies ahead of the country for the post-Ebola period.

The delegation headed by Majority Clerk, Senate Appropriation Sub-Committee for State and Foreign Operations and Related Programs, Mr. Paul Grove, included Staff Member of the same committee, Mr. Adam Yazerski; Majority Clerk, Senate Appropriation Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Ms. Laura Friedel; and an official at the Department of State, Mr. Paul Radamacher.

According to an Executive Mansion release, during the meeting held on Tuesday, February 17, at her temporary Foreign Ministry office, the President Sirleaf thanked the Government and people of the United States of America for the level of support to Liberia as seen over the years, with particular reference to the period of the Ebola outbreak.

The New Dawn covers more back-to-school concerns:

Students’ lives in risk

The Chairman of the Committee on  Health and Gender Affairs at the Liberian Senate has alarmed that the hasty reopening of schools across the country puts the lives of Liberian children at serious risk.

Dr. Peter Coleman of Grand Kru County said the country was still not safe for children to start schools. Senator Coleman accused the Liberian Government failing to put in place the rightful measures as required by the World Health Organization or WHO in reopening schools.

Senator Coleman, who won on the ticket of the National Patriotic Party or NPP during the 2011 Presidential and Legislative Elections, claimed that the government failed to live up the discussions held with Lawmakers, noting that the authorities at Education and Health Ministries were very defiant, exhibiting ‘done-care attitudes’ toward the plight of Liberian children.

Speaking in plenary on Capitol Hill on Tuesday in Monrovia, Dr. Coleman noted that authorities of the House of Representatives, the Liberian Senate, as well as the Health and Education Ministries met and agreed to reopen all schools in March of this year at which time international partners and the Health Ministry would have completed the distribution of Ebola prevention materials, but to the dismay of attendees at the meeting, authorities of the Education Ministry chose to hastily reopen schools.

And from Monrovia Inquirer, aid promised:

UNICEF Provides 7,000 Infection Prevention Kits To Schools

Kits distributed to 4,000 schools, as 1 million children begin returning to their classrooms across Liberia As schools begin reopening in Liberia today, thousands of kits containing basic hygiene items and thermometers are helping parents, staff and other community members keep children safe from infection from Ebola.      In partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), UNICEF has provided over 7,000 kits, which partners have been distributing to over 4,000 schools in all 98 school districts.

School normally resume academic activities in September, but had remained closed because of Ebola.

“The Ebola outbreak has had a devastating effect on our health and education systems and our way of life in Liberia. We have managed to beat back the spread of the virus through collective efforts,” said Hon.

EtmoniaD.Tarpeh, Liberia’s Minister of Education. “Reopening and getting our children back to school is an important aspect of ensuring children’s education is not further interrupted,” she added.

More from the News:

Schools Call For Support

Two administrators of the Marvii Sonii and Clara Town Elementary and Junior High School in Monrovia have called on the Liberian Government to provide basic logistics to ensure the successful opening of their schools for academic year 2015.

Madam Oretha Manu Cole-Bureh, Principal of Marvii Sonii School said her institution is faced with several challenges which is hampering sits re-opening.

She named water and the lack of arm chairs as some of the major challenges her institution is faced with.

Cole-Bureh said the school septic tank is in a deplorable condition, which according to her, poses serious health hazard to the community and the learning environment.

On to Sierra Leone and a trackdown, via Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Sierra Leone hunts infected as Ebola crisis hits ‘turning point’

  • Sierra Leone launched a door-to-door search on Wednesday (Feb 18) for “hidden” Ebola patients as the head of the United Nations announced the world was at “a critical turning point” in the crisis.

Dozens of healthcare workers fanned out across remote parts of Port Loko district, east of the capital Freetown, after a spike in cases attributed to unsafe burials and patients being hidden from the authorities.

“Teams of health workers backed by security personnel are trekking into outlying areas and knocking on doors of houses… to check whether people are telling us the truth about not hiding sick people,” Morlai Dumbuya, a coordinator of the operation, told AFP. “So far we have not met any resistance and people are co-operating.”

The two-week operation follows a larger exercise in December, dubbed the “Western Area Surge”, when hundreds of volunteers knocked on doors across the west of Sierra Leone.

And from the Asahi Shimbun, Japanese aid contemplated:

Japan weighs SDF mission to Sierra Leone to help in fight against Ebola

The Defense Ministry is weighing whether to dispatch 400 or so Self-Defense Forces personnel to Sierra Leone to assist in international efforts to battle an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

Ground SDF members would be tasked with ferrying doctors and medical supplies but not be involved in transporting Ebola patients, according to a high-ranking Defense Ministry official.

There are also plans to dispatch Maritime SDF transport and fueling ships to the coast of the nation in West Africa. The vessels would serve as a base of operations for the GSDF team.

InSecurityWatch: Hacks, terror, crime, and war

From the Washington Post, transparency to some, opacity for the masses:

The NSA has reportedly found ways to avoid even the strongest security measures

The U.S. intelligence community has found ways to avoid even the strongest of security measures and practices, a new report from Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab suggests, demonstrating a range of technological accomplishments that place the nation’s hackers as among the most sophisticated and well resourced in the world.

Hackers who are part of what the cybersecurity researchers call “Equation Group” have been operating under the radar for at least 14 years, deploying a range of malware that could infect hard drives in a way almost impossible to remove and cold hide code in USB storage devices to infiltrate networks kept separate from the Internet for security purposes.

Kaspersky’s report did not say the U.S. government was behind the group. But it did say the group was closely linked to Stuxnet — malware widely reported to have been developed by the National Security Agency and Israel that was used in an attack against Iran’s uranium enrichment program — along with other bits of data that appear to align with previous disclosures. Reuters further linked the NSA to the Kaspersky report, citing anonymous former employees of the agency who confirmed Kaspersky’s analysis.

And from the London Daily Mail, a map revealing just where the cyberinfection has struck:

BLOG Cyberinfection

More from Russia’s RT:

Washington ‘real danger’ of cyber warfare, not China or N. Korea – WikiLeaks

The US is engaging in “offensive cyber warfare,” Kristinn Hrafnsson, spokesman for whistleblower organization WikiLeaks, told RT, following the unmasking of a sophisticated hacking ring that has infected thousands of computers in over 30 countries.

“Who is the real criminal?” Hrafnsson asked, during a live interview with RT. “We have been led to believe that the real danger of cyber warfare is from China or North Korea. But I think the real danger here is the US, the superpower. And they can cause real havoc all over the world with their technologies.”

“We are not surprised. We should not be taken aback by anything after what we have learned from Edward Snowden, but we are surprised by the sophistication,” said the Icelandic journalist, who has worked with Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks since 2010.

“To go to the core of the computer, which makes it almost impossible to detect is something that we haven’t seen before.”

The accompanying RT video:

‘Surprise that NSA has tech capable to infiltrate air-gapped computers’

Program notes:

Russian cyber-security company Kaspersky says it has discovered a global hacking group, which has managed to stay hidden for years. WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson says that after such revelations there is no trust in privacy and security in the modern world.

From Motherboard, Kafkaesque:

Companies Fighting US Government Barred From Naming Themselves, Because Security

Two major companies—a telecom and an “internet company”—have asked the US government simply for the right to disclose how often the NSA, FBI, and other agencies ask them for user information. Who are these companies? Who knows! The federal government has said that it’s illegal for them to come forward and name themselves.

That’s the astounding claim alleged by the two companies Tuesday in the Northern District of California court. The companies filed what’s known as an amicus curiae brief in support of Twitter’s ongoing legal battle with the US government, in which the social media company is fighting for the right to be able to publish more granular data about government information requests on its users.

The requests, called National Security Letters (NSLs), are not approved by a judge and are issued by the FBI. NSLs ?have since been deemed unconstitutional, but that decision is being appealed. In the meantime, more NSLs continue to be issued. Last year, the US Department of Justice finally said that companies could disclose information about NSL requests, but only in a way that makes it nearly useless.

From Network World, a handover:

Russian extradited to US for hacks that stole 160 million credit card numbers

A Russian man accused of high-profile cyberattacks on Nasdaq, Dow Jones, Heartland Payment Systems and 7-Eleven has been extradited to the U.S. and appeared in court in Newark, New Jersey, Tuesday.

Vladimir Drinkman, 34, of Syktyykar and Moscow, Russia, was charged for his alleged role in a data theft conspiracy that targeted major corporate networks and stole more than 160 million credit card numbers, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release. Drinkman was arrested in the Netherlands in June 2012 and had been detained there.

Drinkman appeared Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey and entered a plea of not guilty to 11 counts he faces. His trial is scheduled to begin in April.

From Network World, cybermercs:

Arabic cyberespionage group attacking Middle Eastern, other targets

An Arabic cyberespionage group has attacked thousands of high-profile targets in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and other countries for the past two years, cybersecurity vendor Kaspersky Lab said.

The cybermercenaries, which the vendor dubbed the Desert Falcons, has stolen more than 1 million files from 3,000 victims in more than 50 countries, Kaspersky Lab said Tuesday. The group, likely native Arabic speakers, began in 2011, with the first infections coming in 2013, the company said.

Targeted countries include Algeria, Lebanon, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East, and the U.S., Russia, France and Sweden beyond the region, Kaspersky said.

Hacking escalation in Japan, via SecurityWeek:

Japan Sees 25 billion Cyberattacks in 2014: Govt Agency

More than 25 billion cyberattacks on the Japanese government and other bodies were logged in 2014, an agency said Tuesday, with 40 percent of them traced to China.

The National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT), which has a network of a quarter of a million sensors, said there were 25.66 billion attempts to compromise systems, according to a report by Kyodo News.

The figure includes attacks aimed at testing the vulnerability of software used in servers. The survey was first carried out in 2005, when it recorded just 310 million attempts to breach security.

NICT said an increasing number of the attacks it was seeing involve attempts to take over routers, security cameras and other systems connected to the Internet.

From the Register, about that Samsung in your bedroom. . .:

Samsung’s spying smart TVs don’t encrypt voice recordings sent over the internet – new claim

  • They only listen with permission but blab everything in the clear

Not only is your Samsung smart TV snooping on what you say, it sends recordings of your voice over the internet unencrypted – leaving it open to eavesdropping and mischief – security researchers say.

Samsung insisted last week that its TV voice-control technology isn’t half as creepy as its terms and conditions suggested. Now findings by security consultancy Pen Test Partners will renew fears of smart gizmos riding roughshod over your privacy.

Modern Samsung smarts TVs can be controlled by voice: just speak, and a builtin microphone will hear you. You start a command by saying a phrase, such as “Hi TV”. This causes the television to listen in for more, and then – as the terms and conditions state – your voice, and whatever else is going on around you, is recorded and transmitted over the internet for processing.

A digital connection, via CNN:

Report: Cherif Kouachi texted Coulibaly an hour before Paris attacks began

One of the brothers who committed January’s massacre at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo texted the man who would later kill hostages at a Paris kosher supermarket a little more than an hour before the first attack, French newspaper Le Monde reported Tuesday.

Le Monde also reported that the January 7 Charlie Hebdo massacre nearly was canceled the day before, because one of the attackers was sick.

The newspaper cited unnamed French investigative sources for both accounts. Le Monde reported that it didn’t know the message’s content, but said it helps to show the Charlie Hebdo attacks by Cherif and Said Kouachi and supermarket attack by Amedy Coulibaly were coordinated — something that Coulibaly himself purportedly admitted to a TV reporter before police killed him.

From, a financial bust:

Four detained in Sweden over Isis Syria funding

Swedish police detained four people Tuesday on suspicion of having used six companies to help fund the extremist Islamist group Isis (also known as the Islamic State).

Police said a “large raid” took place in Stockholm as part of a probe into money laundering and undeclared work but declined to comment further.

Sources close to the investigation told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter the suspects had ties to Syria and IS.

Forewarned, via Shanghai Daily:

Prison officials alerted Danish intelligence to attack suspect

DENMARK’S domestic intelligence service yesterday acknowledged that prison officials alerted the agency last year to the suspected gunman in last weekend’s shooting attacks that killed two people and wounded five in Copenhagen.

The Danish Security and Intelligence Service, known by its Danish acronym PET, said the September report didn’t give any reason to believe the 22-year-old was planning an attack.

PET also said it didn’t have any intelligence before the gunman’s shooting sprees at a cultural center and synagogue that an attack was imminent.

From, at least he’s not starting in Munich:

Pegida plans Dresden mayoral bid

Lutz Bachmann, founder of anti-Islam movement Pegida, said on Monday that the group was ready to choose a candidate to run for Dresden city hall in June.

At a 4,000-strong rally in the city, the fifteenth since the movement began last October, Bachmann said that there were three possible candidates, and the person selected would be introduced soon.

Bachmann himself is out of the running, as he has a criminal record and was forced to step down from leading the group after evidence of racist comments he had made against immigrants emerged online, alongside a picture of him styled as Hitler.

After the jump, the Ukrainian internment camps demanded by Europe, the Attorney General parses the semantics of the panopticon, on to the Middle Eastern battlefront and accelerating incinerations, ISIS war restraint mulled, Washington issues an ISIS leadership hit list, and Iraqi Shiites remove their militia from the fight, Obama okays armed drone sales to allies, Netanyahu slammed for profiteering from public office — and then there’s that $2,500-a-month ice cream habit, Sudan stages a massive press crackdown, opium — not government — reigns in western Afghanistan, India’s prime minister denounces sectarian violence, an Asian trade pact greases the skids for organized crime, U.S. base relocation on Okinawa hits an environmental stumbling block, Shinzo Abe to reiterate an apology for Japan’s World War II actions, and to close, the penal hazards of vitamins. . . Continue reading

Kidnapping an African American baby legally

First the kidnapping, via news department of WESH 2, the NBC affiliate in Orlando, Florida:

3 days after missed payment, dealership repossesses car with 9-month-old inside

  • Mother went inside day care to pick up child when car was taken

A vehicle with a child inside of it was repossessed on Tuesday.

The Orlando Police Department helped the mother track down the vehicle and find the 9-month-old baby girl.

“I thought somebody kidnapped her because my oldest daughter said, ‘It was two white males [who] got in the car and they just left,'” Antoinette Jordan said.

Jordan went inside an Orlando day care to pick up her other two children, and when she went back outside, the car was gone.

Here’s the video report from WESH 2 News:

3 days after missed payment seller repossesses car with baby inside

Program note:

A vehicle with a child inside of it was repossessed on Tuesday.

H/T to Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

A WESH 2 News update answers the question provoked by our post-al headline:

A spokesman for Xpress Finance Inc. declined to appear on camera but said, “The rules are the rules.”

But what about the fact that the car was repossessed with her child still inside?

Because the men were in the process of reclaiming the car legally, under Florida law, WESH 2 legal analyst Richard Hornsby said they are not subject to arrest.

“I think there’s a gap in the law here. There’s no reason someone can take a car that has a child in it and be justified,” Hornsby said.

To which we would respond as we would’ve to high school friends fifty-some years ago, “No shit, Sherlock.”

So the argument, hewing to the letter of the law, is that it wasn’t a kidnapping because they didn’t intend to take the child, only the car, which they were legally entitled to do: After all, as the company says, “The rules are the rules.”

But to the mother, there was no different whether her daughter was taken by repo men or an intentional child-stealer. She only knew that her daughter had been taken, along with her car. The grief and horror she experienced — traumas by any definition of the term — were absolutely real, exerting profound impacts that can [as we can attest] last a lifetime.

One can also argue that the car-takers may have seen the child — how could they not have? — but took the car anyway [and how did they know she was there unless they had been following her, and therefore almost certainly knew of the infant?]. At the very least, how did they not know, given that car repossessers are legally obliged to preserve personal property in that car at the time of repossession?

But, hey, mom would no doubt call the cops, and every ethical repo man notifies the cops about repossessions, as, in fact, they did.

As ownership becomes increasingly a right retained by the seller and no longer transferred to the buyer, possession becomes ephemeral, save for those who have amassed virtually all the world’s capital stock, both material and virtual, employing the machinery of finance to accelerate the accumulation.

In this case one small African American and her family were simply collateral damage.

InSecurityWatch: Cash, war, crime, terror, hacks

From the Guardian, of course they did:

HSBC files: Swiss bank hid money for suspected criminals

  • Documents detail customers who faced allegations including drug-running, corruption, doping and money laundering

HSBC’s Swiss bank concealed large sums of money for people facing allegations of serious wrongdoing, including drug-running, corruption and money laundering, leaked files reveal.

Despite being legally obliged since 1998 to make special checks on high-risk customers, the bank provided accounts for clients implicated in six notorious scandals in Africa, including Kenya’s biggest corruption case, blood diamond trading and several corrupt military sales.

HSBC also held assets for bankers accused of looting funds from former Soviet states, while alleged crimes by other account holders include bribery at Malta’s state oil company, cocaine smuggling from the Dominican Republic and the doping of professional cyclists in Spain.

The Swiss bank also held accounts for “politically exposed people” – defined as senior political figures or their relatives at heightened risk of involvement in corruption, money laundering, or avoiding international sanctions – with little evidence of any extra scrutiny of their activities.

From the Independent, plutocratic hypocrisy:

HSBC leaks: Owners of Le Monde attack paper’s ‘Swissleaks’ coverage in tax row

The newspaper behind the “Swissleaks” revelations about tax evasion has been attacked as irresponsible and “populist” by its proprietor.

To the fury of the staff and editors of Le Monde, Pierre Bergé, 84, a millionaire businessman and long-time lover of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, accused the paper of “acting like informers” and “throwing people to the wolves”.

The incident is the latest in a series of acrimonious disputes between Mr Bergé and Le Monde since he became part-owner of France’s most respected newspaper in 2010. The chairman of Le Monde’s board, Alain Beuve-Méry, accused him of violating his written commitment to the paper’s editorial freedom.

From United Press International, getting ready for another war:

Air Force: A-10s headed to Europe

The U.S. Air Force has announced it is sending 12 A-10 Thunderbolts, also known as Warthogs, to Europe in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The A-10s will be sent to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and forward deployed to partner nations in Eastern Europe.

“The Air Force is increasing rotational presence in Europe to reassure our allies and partner nations that our commitment to European security is a priority,” Lt. Gen. Tom Jones, vice commander, United States Air Forces in Europe, said in a statement.

From the Miami Herald, enduring torture:

9/11 defendant still suffering from ‘black site’ injuries, lawyer says at Guantánamo

A defense lawyer for an alleged 9/11 plotter said Thursday that his Saudi captive client was rectally abused in CIA custody — and continues to bleed now, at least eight years later.

Attorney Walter Ruiz made the disclosure in open court in a bid to get a military judge to intervene in the medical care of Mustafa Hawsawi, 46, accused of helping the Sept. 11 hijackers with travel and money.

He was captured in March 2003 with the alleged 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, 49, and at the CIA’s secret prison was subjected to unauthorized “enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to the recently released so-called Senate Torture Report. He got to Guantánamo in September 2006.

The Toronto Globe and Mail covers cops behaving badly:

RCMP rebuked for firearms seizures during 2013 Alberta floods

The RCMP is being rebuked for a series of “failings” as part of the unauthorized seizure of 609 firearms during its response to the massive High River floods in Alberta in 2013.

In a report released Thursday, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP said that officers who conducted the “warrantless” seizures were undersupervised. The subsequent anger in the population was badly handled by the RCMP communications teams, the report also found, as citizens complained that “their homes were forcibly entered, and in some cases windows were broken, doors were kicked in and firearms were taken.”

“The community’s reaction was somewhat predictable, given that the sanctity of one’s home from state interference is a deeply rooted principle,” the report said.

From the American Civil Liberties Union, they’ve got your number — and your picture:

License Plate Scanners Also Taking Photos of Drivers and Passengers

The Drug Enforcement Administration is using its license plate reader program not only to track drivers’ locations, but also to photograph these drivers and their passengers, according to newly disclosed records obtained by the ACLU via a Freedom of Information Act request.

One internal 2009 DEA communication stated clearly that the license plate program can provide “the requester” with images that “may include vehicle license plate numbers (front and/or rear), photos of visible vehicle occupants [redacted] and a front and rear overall view of the vehicle.” Clearly showing that occupant photos are not an occasional, accidental byproduct of the technology, but one that is intentionally being cultivated, a 2011 email states that the DEA’s system has the ability to store “up to 10 photos per vehicle transaction including 4 occupant photos.”

The DEA documents are just the latest indication that license plate scanners are not always focused just on license plates.

Wired threat level covers suspicious circumstances:

Did the NSA and the UK’s Spy Agency Launch a Joint Cyberattack on Iran?

An NSA document newly published today suggests two interesting facts that haven’t previously been reported.

The Intercept, which published the document, highlighted that in it the NSA expresses fear that it may be teaching Iran how to hack, but there are two other points in the document that merit attention.

One concerns the spy tool known as Flame; the other refers to concerns the NSA had about partnering with the British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters and Israeli intelligence in surveillance operations.

In the document, prepared in April 2013 for a meeting between the NSA director and GCHQ, the author cites the Flame attack against Iran as an example of a US/GCHQ partnership. Flame was a massive spy platform exposed by Kaspersky Lab and Symantec in 2012. Flame targeted more than 10,000 machines in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, the Israeli Occupied Territories and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa and was active for at least six years before it was discovered. It used some of the same code that Stuxnet used, leading researchers to conclude that it had been created by the same US/Israel teams that had created Stuxnet. The Washington Post reported in 2012 that the US and Israel were both behind Flame, quoting anonymous US officials. But the new Snowden document hints that GCHQ might have been involved in Flame with the US.

And on the subject of irrational Middle Eastern extremists, consider this from the Washington Post:

Israel Prize judges resign, say Netanyahu meddling

Israel’s prime minister faced accusations on Thursday of politicizing the country’s most prestigious award after moving to disqualify some of the judges because he disagreed with their political views.

A number of judges for the Israel Prize have resigned in protest, while nominees say they won’t accept the award. One of the nominees, author David Grossman, told Channel 10 TV on Thursday that he pulled out in response to the “prime minister’s campaign of incitement,” calling it an attack on “freedom of thought.”

Netanyahu recently rejected the nominations of two judges in the literature category. In a Facebook post, he said the panel is controlled by judges with “extremist views” on the far left of the political spectrum, such as encouraging soldiers not to serve in the army. He said the committee needs to reflect the wider public.

“This man who is supposed to be taking care of the Iranian issue at his speech before the U.S Congress, or the country’s welfare or health issues, is dealing with this? For heaven’s sake what is going on here?” asked filmmaker Hayim Sharir, who was originally supposed to be on the committee.

On to the war with Defense One, and a blank check:

Obama’s ISIS War Powers Request Has Few Limits on Who, Where, How

  • President Obama’s requested authorization for the use of force against ISIS has few limits on how, where, and whom the fight is against

President Barack Obama, who won the White House on promises to end never-ending wars and the Bush-era laws that permitted them, on Wednesday sent Congress a new request for legal authorities to fight the Islamic State, or ISIS, that places few limits on the U.S. war against the terrorist group.

“The resolution we’ve submitted today does not call for the deployment of U.S. ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria. It is not the authorization of another ground war, like Afghanistan or Iraq,” Obama said in his announcement at the White House. “I’m convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East … At the same time, this resolution strikes the necessary balance by giving us the flexibility we need for unforeseen circumstances.”

Already, lawmakers are criticizing the request for being too “ambiguous” about the president’s powers to wage or limit ground combat.

CBC News covers a celebrity interview:

Hayat Boumeddiene, widow of Paris kosher market attacker, gives interview with ISIS

  • Woman believed to have left Paris while Charlie Hebdo and kosher market attacks were unfolding

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group published what it described as an interview with the widow of the French gunman who attacked a kosher supermarket and a police officer in Paris last month, claiming for the first time that she was among extremist fighters.

The text interviews in French and English, published Wednesday and Thursday, did not directly name Hayat Boumeddiene or show images of her, instead identifying her only as the wife of Amedy Coulibaly, or Umm Basur al-Muhajirah. She is considered key to the investigation into the attacks in Paris, which left 20 people dead including the gunmen, although she left France just beforehand.

The publication appeared to be the first confirmation from ISIS that she had joined the group in Syria, as was widely believed after a posthumous video emerged of Coulibaly, pledging allegiance to its leader.

Another development from Reuters:

Islamic State says it’s holding ‘Israeli spy’ in Syria

Islamic State said on Thursday it was holding an Israeli Arab who had posed as a foreign fighter in order to spy for Mossad, an account denied by Israel and by the man’s family, who said he had been kidnapped.

In an interview published by Islamic State’s online English-language magazine Dabiq, Muhammad Musallam, 19, said he had joined the insurgent group in Syria so as to report to the Israelis on its weapons caches, bases and Palestinian recruits.

After his conduct aroused the suspicion of Islamic State commanders, Musallam was quoted as saying, he broke cover by phoning his father in East Jerusalem, leading to his capture.

From Deutsche Welle, trying to cut off the pipeline:

Security Council seeks to block ‘Islamic State’ petrofunding

  • The UN Security Council has passed a resolution to stop “Islamic State” from raising funds through oil, antiquities and hostages. The EU is debating antiterrorism steps that could prove palatable to the 28-nation bloc.

More than 35 countries co-sponsored Thursday’s show of resolve to confront the “ Islamic State” (IS). The council banned all trade in antiquities from besieged areas, threatened sanctions on anyone buying oil from IS and al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front militants and urged states to stop ransom payments on kidnapped citizens. Fifteen nations unanimously adopted the resolution, drafted by Russia, which gives the council authority to enforce decisions with economic sanctions but does not authorize using military force.

“We took yet another very important step in suppressing the funding of terrorists,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Thursday.

Following attacks that started January 7 at a magazine in Paris and ended January 9 in a supermarket, France and other EU countries have sought more effective ways to deal with armed militancy, especially the problem of Europeans who leave to fight in Syria or Iraq and then return home. As heads of state and government gathered in Brussels on Thursday, EU President Donald Tusk, the host of an official summit, said he would seek the leaders’ agreement on a “work plan to step up the fight against terrorism.”

From, eclectic fundamentalists:

New Norwegians take top roles in Isis jihadi group

Several Norwegian citizens have risen to leadership positions in Isis, the militant group battling to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, according to the latest information gathered by Norwegian military intelligence.

“We believe that some of the Norwegians in Isil [Isis] have risen to middle-management functions,” Lieutenant General Kjell Grandhagen, head of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, told Dagbladet newspaper  in an interview published on Thursday.

The most prominent Norwegian Isis commander, Bastian Vasquez, a Norwegian Chilean from Bærum, outside Oslo, was reportedly killed in the autumn. But Grandhagen said several others had also been given senior ranks in the organisation.

After the jump, Israel alarmed by an anti-ISIS coalition, a lethal Al Qaeda data breach, Anthem’s healthcare data grows more serious, phishing kits go on sale — cheap, Washington protests new Chinese cybersecurity rules, Jeb Bush spills vital data of his former constituents, West Africa under cyber siege, the Cameroonian president promises Boko Haram defeat, Boko Haram escapees speak out, Al Qaeda seizes a Yemeni army base as the nation borders on collapse, thousand flee from Boko Haram Niger assaults, Afghanistan slides into narco-statehood, Pakistan seeks school massacre planners, a former Pakistani spy says the ISI knew of Osama’s whereabouts, Chinese World War II slave laborers demand retribution from Mitsubishi, Shinzo Abe pushes hard for Japanese constitutional revision, his party promises but his foreign minister ppromises continued passivity,  Japan hits a road block on North Korean abductions, and a reminder of dark forces that just won’t die. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Laws, war, politics, hacks, robots

And so much more.

We vary the usual order, just because.

We begin with a cause of insecurity in the state where we started out back in the late Neolithic, via the Los Angeles Times:

Kansas governor removes protections for LGBT employees

In a move that shocked progressive advocates in Kansas, the state’s Republican governor on Tuesday issued an executive order to remove discrimination protections for gay, lesbian and transgender state employees.

State employees in Kansas can now legally be fired, harassed or denied a job for being gay or transgender, critics said.

Gov. Sam Brownback said an 2007 executive order by Kathleen Sebelius, then the state’s Democratic governor, went too far by not getting legislative approval to bar job discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity.

From the Associated Press, what could we possibly add?:

Paris votes to sue Fox News for damage to its reputation

Paris City Council authorized Mayor Anne Hidalgo on Wednesday to sue U.S. broadcaster Fox News for reporting there are “no-go zones” in the French capital where non-Muslims and police fear to venture.

City officials voted to file a lawsuit at a French court for defamation regarding comments on Fox News and a map it broadcast with eight such so-called off-limits areas circled in red. The report came when Paris was on high alert after attacks by Islamic radicals last month.

Fox was widely mocked for that report and for comments describing the English city of Birmingham as “totally Muslim.” The broadcaster later apologized for “some regrettable errors.”

Hidalgo vowed to “save Paris’ honor,” and stressed the importance of image for a top world tourist destination.

From the New York Times, boots rapidly approaching ground:

Obama Sends Letter to Congress Seeking Authorization of ISIS Fight

President Obama on Wednesday formally asked Congress to authorize a three-year military campaign against the terrorist group the Islamic State that would avoid a large-scale invasion and occupation but in addition to air power could include limited ground operations by American forces to hunt down enemy leaders or rescue American personnel.

A proposal sent by the White House to Capitol Hill on Wednesday would formally give the president the power to continue the airstrikes he has been conducting since last fall against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, as well as “associated persons or forces.” The measure would set limits that were never imposed during the wars of the last decade in Afghanistan and Iraq by expiring in three years and withholding permission for “enduring offensive ground combat operations.”

But in a letter to Congress accompanying the proposal, Mr. Obama, who has said there would be no boots on the ground in Iraq and Syria, envisioned limited ground combat operations “such as rescue operations” or the use of “Special Operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership.” He also said the legislation would allow the use of ground forces for intelligence gathering, target spotting and planning assistance to ground troops of allies like Iraq’s military.

From The Hill, sadly predictable:

Rubio: ISIS war measure should be unconditional

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) says any authorization for military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria should be free of any restrictions.

The prospective presidential candidate harshly criticized President Obama for making a request that would limit authority to three years, and ban “enduring offensive ground operations.”

“There is a pretty simple authorization he could ask for and it would read one sentence: ‘We authorize the president to defeat and destroy ISIL.’ Period. And that’s what I think we should do,” Rubio said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

More on ISIS after the jump. . .

From Reuters, why aren’t we surprised?:

Obama administration weighs Afghan request to slow withdrawal of U.S. troops

President Barack Obama is considering a request from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to slow the pace of the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

“President Ghani has requested some flexibility in the troop drawdown timeline and base closure sequencing over the next two years, and we are actively considering that request,” the official said, speaking on background.

Ghani will travel to Washington next month to meet with Obama. Last month, the Afghan president spoke publicly about the U.S. plan to halve the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2015 and cut them further in 2016. He made clear he would prefer a longer timeline and said: “deadlines should not be dogmas.”

From the Associated Press, job security for the man who knew too much?:

Ousted Secret Service No. 2 to mystery Homeland Security job

What new job in the Homeland Security Department is the ousted No. 2 official at the Secret Service doing? Nobody’s saying.

Alvin “A.T.” Smith, who ran day-to-day operations at the Secret Service during its most embarrassing scandals, resigned under pressure as deputy director earlier this week. In what appears to be a highly unorthodox employment shuffle, Smith — who earned as much as $183,000 a year — was permitted to take an unspecified job inside the highly regarded Homeland Security Investigations unit in U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Both agencies are part of the Homeland Security Department.

But no one will disclose Smith’s new job title, his responsibilities or how much public salary he’s earning. It’s a mystery whether Smith is investigating cases, shuffling paperwork behind a desk or supervising agents.

From the Guardian, and does “national security” mean simply that the truth could lead to loss of security through violent reactions?:

UK redactions to CIA torture report were made for national security, MPs rule

  • Inquiry concludes redactions to report were not made to cover up UK role in mistreatment of detainees

Allegations that UK intelligence agencies ordered redactions to a US report on CIA torture in order to cover up its role in the mistreatment of detainees are unfounded, MPs have ruled.

An investigation by the British parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) has concluded that redactions to documents in December’s report into CIA torture were all made on the grounds of national security and not to avoid embarrassment to the UK authorities.

A statement from the committee said its staff had visited the UK and US intelligence agencies, inspected the relevant files and questioned their heads directly. “From the evidence we have seen and heard, we conclude that these allegations are unfounded,” it states.

Thought crime, Italian style [and we think Holocaust deniers suffer from self-made idiocy, many maliciously so], via

Italy Senate moves to outlaw Holocaust denial

Italian senators on Wednesday voted in favour of a bill criminalizing Holocaust denial, following changes to the proposed law to protect freedom of speech.

A total of 234 senators voted for the bill, while eight abstained and three voted against the new law, Il Sole 24 Ore reported.

Under the law people will face a three-year sentence for promoting, inciting or committing acts of racial discrimination based in part or entirely on the denial of the Holocaust. Crimes against humanity and war crimes are also covered in the bill, which now needs to pass through Italy’s lower house before it can become law.

British National Health Service whistleblowers promised protection, via the Guardian:

Jeremy Hunt promises legislation before election to protect NHS whistleblowers

  • Health secretary accepts recommendations of report Freedom to Speak Up report that details shocking treatment of whistleblowers

People seeking NHS employment will be protected from being discriminated against because they are known to be whistleblowers, under legislation to be introduced within weeks, the government has pledged.

Jeremy Hunt vowed to change the law by the end of this parliament after an independent review commissioned by the health secretary detailed shocking treatment of whistleblowers, with some victimised to the extent that their careers were left in tatters and their families torn apart, and causing some people to have suicidal thoughts or even attempt to end their lives.

The Freedom to Speak Up report, published on Wednesday, also said that patients’ lives were put at risk by whistleblowers’ concerns being ignored.

From Nikkei Asian Review, something that oughta be done for plutocrats, too:

Global task force looking for strict policies against terrorist funding

Amid a string of high-profile terrorist acts, an international task force is evaluating measures to combat terrorism financing in some 190 countries and regions and will name those that do not meet its standards.

“We … urge all countries to speed up their compliance with the relevant international standards” regarding terrorist assets, read a communique released Tuesday after the Group of 20 meeting of financial ministers and central bankers in Istanbul. In response, the Financial Action Task Force will strengthen its recommendations for policies to counter terrorism financing and announce them at the G-20 meeting to be held in Peru in October.

The task force has started on its fourth round of mutual evaluations. It sends personnel to each jurisdiction to talk with regulators and financial institutions and assess whether anti-terrorism-financing measures are strictly enforced. It also looks at their effectiveness, including the number of cases pursued related to illicit funds.

After the jump, ISIS volunteers keep coming, some Belgian volunteers face prison time, Syria lays some blame on Jordan, no search warrants needed for your old emails, Windows wide open, hacks block government sites in Holland, Native American traditional names banned by Facebook, a major Malaysian Twitter truncation, Tokyo and Washington to tighten military ties, Japan mulls future overseas military hostage rescues, tensions rise as a Japanese publisher comes out with the Charlie Hendo cartoons — sort of, a Southeast Asian anti-terror alliance mulled, and allegations of coral reef damage from an American base move on Okinawa, Yoga pants InSecurity, HairNet — precursor to SkyNet, and another robotic danger as well. . . Continue reading