Category Archives: Geopolitics

Headlines of the day: Classes, deep politics, more


First, a stunning landmark is reached. From the New York Times:

The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest

The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

On of the key mechanisms of the collapse of the middle class from Mother Jones:

How Taxpayers Subsidize the Multi-Million Dollar Salaries of Restaurant CEOs

  • Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz raked in $236 million in taxpayer-subsidized compensation over the past two years.

As the fight to raise the minimum wage has gained momentum, the restaurant industry has emerged as the biggest opponent. This is no surprise, since the industry claims the highest percentage of low-wage workers—60 percent—of any other business sector. Front-line fast-food workers earn so little money that about half of them rely on some form of public assistance, to the tune of about $7 billion a year. That hidden subsidy has helped boost restaurant industry profits to record highs. In 2013, the industry reaped $660 billion in profits, and it in turn channeled millions into backing efforts to block local governments from raising pay for low-wage workers and to keep the minimum wage for tipped workers at $2.13 an hour (exactly where it’s been for the past 22 years). But public assistance programs aren’t the only way taxpayers subsidize the restaurant industry.

A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies finds that the public has been contributing to excessive CEO compensation as well, helping to widen the gap between the lowest-paid workers and their bosses. Thanks to a loophole in the tax code, corporations are allowed to deduct unlimited amounts of money from their tax bills for executive compensation, so long as it comes in the form of stock options or “performance pay.” The loophole was the inadvertent result of an attempt by Congress to rein in CEO compensation by limiting the tax deduction for executive pay to $1 million a year. That law exempted pay that came in the form of stock options or performance pay. This loophole has proven lucrative for CEOs of all stripes, but it is particularly egregious in an industry that pays its workers so little that it is already heavily subsidized by taxpayers.

More from UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich:

Raising Taxes on Corporations that Pay Their CEOs Royally and Treat Their Workers Like Serfs

Until the 1980s, corporate CEOs were paid, on average, 30 times what their typical worker was paid. Since then, CEO pay has skyrocketed to 280 times the pay of a typical worker; in big companies, to 354 times.

Meanwhile, over the same thirty-year time span the median American worker has seen no pay increase at all, adjusted for inflation. Even though the pay of male workers continues to outpace that of females, the typical male worker between the ages of 25 and 44 peaked in 1973 and has been dropping ever since. Since 2000, wages of the median male worker across all age brackets has dropped 10 percent, after inflation.

This growing divergence between CEO pay and that of the typical American worker isn’t just wildly unfair. It’s also bad for the economy. It means most workers these days lack the purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing — contributing to the slowest recovery on record. Meanwhile, CEOs and other top executives use their fortunes to fuel speculative booms followed by busts.

Renting wombs to fertilized eggs from abroad via Quartz:

Wealthy Chinese are turning to American surrogates to birth their children

The familiar image of international surrogacy until now has mainly involved Americans and Europeans crossing the world to find women to birth their children. Now, wealthy Chinese couples are seeking surrogates in the US. The practice—a new version of Chinese “birth tourism”—offers a solution to rising infertility in China, a way around Chinese population controls, and even the added bonus of US citizenship for babies born in the States.

For years, pregnant Chinese women have come to the US, mainly to the West Coast, to give birth to baby US citizens who can, at the age of 21, sponsor their parents for green cards. In a new wrinkle, some are instead paying American women to carry their children—a way of getting citizenship as well as dealing with the fact that more Chinese couples are facing trouble having children. (Other surrogacy destinations for wealthy Chinese include Thailand, India, and Ukraine, but the US is still the favorite.)

Salon finds brown noses:

Welcome to Plutocrat-geddon! Obama and Thomas Friedman flatter our new billionaire overlords

  • Forget inequality! Judging by the White House and the media, the real answer is sucking up to the wealthiest

Inequality is a burning topic among economists, especially since the release of Thomas Piketty’s recent book on the subject. Many are questioning whether this is a temporary period of runaway inequality, or whether we are on the verge of an irreversible collapse into extremes of wealth and poverty. (What would we call it? The Oligopolypse? Plutogeddon?)

But numbers alone don’t tell the full story. Culture, too, is adapting to this unequal world. We idealize the wealthy today in ways that would have been unthinkable decades ago.

With the children of today’s baby boomers scheduled to inherit $30 trillion in the next several decades, politicians and the press are hard at work flattering plutocrats of all ages by portraying them as paragons of wisdom.

Another assault on the potential middle class from the New York Times:

Student Loans Can Suddenly Come Due When Co-Signers Die, a Report Finds

For students who borrow on the private market to pay for school, the death of a parent can come with an unexpected, added blow, a federal watchdog warns. Even borrowers who have good payment records can face sudden demands for full, early repayment of those loans, and can be forced into default.

Most people who take out loans to pay for school have minimal income or credit history, so if they borrow from banks or other private lenders, they need co-signers — usually parents or other relatives. Borrowing from the federal government, the largest source of student loans, rarely requires a co-signer.

The problem, described in a report released Tuesday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, arises from a little-noticed provision in private loan contracts: If the co-signer dies or files for bankruptcy, the loan holder can demand complete repayment, even if the borrower’s record is spotless. If the loan is not repaid, it is declared to be in default, doing damage to a borrower’s credit record that can take years to repair.

And a warning to labor from the London Daily Mail:

The future of factories? Swarm of super-fast robotic ‘ANTS’ powered by magnets can independently climb walls and even build

  • The army of robo-ants can move at around 13.7 inches (35cm) a second
  • This is equivalent to a human running at just under the speed of sound
  • Each ant can be individually controlled using magnets on a circuit board
  • Swarm has already built a tower 30cm (11.8 inches) high from carbon rods

Business Insider sounds the alarm:

DAVID EINHORN: ‘We Are Witnessing Our Second Tech Bubble In 15 Years’

Hedge-fund manager David Einhorn, who runs Greenlight Capital, says we’re seeing another tech bubble, CNBC reported, citing his fund’s quarterly investor letter.

“Now there is a clear consensus that we are witnessing our second tech bubble in 15 years. What is uncertain is how much further the bubble can expand, and what might pop it,” Einhorn wrote in the letter (PDF) posted online by @Levered_Hawkeye.

Clicking away your rights from the Christian Science Monitor:

General Mills drops arbitration clause, but such contracts are ‘pervasive’

Consumer advocates warn that clicking ‘I agree’ to online contracts can crimp buyers’ legal rights, if a contract requires arbitration and nixes class-action lawsuits. The practice is spreading, though General Mills encountered a backlash.

When consumers click “I agree” to online contracts, two things can happen: They may give up their right to pursue a class action lawsuit if something goes wrong, and they can seek damages only through arbitration, an out-of-court legal process that many experts say weighs against the harmed consumer.

From the Los Angeles Times. Another landmark:

Supreme Court upholds Michigan ban on affirmative action

The Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on the use of racial affirmative action in its state universities Tuesday, ruling that voters are entitled to decide the issue.

The 6-2 decision clears away constitutional challenges to the state bans on affirmative action, which began in California in 1996.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the majority, said the democratic process can decide such issues. “This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved,” he said. “It is about who may resolve it. There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”

Kochs go Latino, via Reuters:

Conservative Koch-backed group uses soft touch in recruiting U.S. Hispanics

The conservative advocacy groups backed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch are known mostly for spending millions of dollars to pelt Democratic candidates with negative television ads.

But this year, one Koch-backed group is using a softer touch to try to win over part of the nation’s booming Hispanic population, which has overwhelmingly backed Democrats in recent elections. The group, known as The Libre Initiative, is sponsoring English classes, driver’s license workshops and other social programs to try to build relationships with Hispanic voters in cities from Arizona to Florida – even as the group targets Democratic lawmakers with hard-edged TV ads.

Taking a cue from liberal groups that have been active in Hispanic neighborhoods for decades, Libre says it aims to use these events to build support for small-government ideas in communities that typically support big-government ideals.

From NPR, a reminder from Mother Nature:

California’s Drought Ripples Through Businesses, Then To Schools

Nearly half of the country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California, a state that is drying up. , the entire state is considered “abnormally dry,” and two-thirds of California is in “extreme” to “exceptional” drought conditions.

Earlier this year, many farmers in California found out that they would get no irrigation water from state or federal water projects. Recent rains have helped a little. On Friday, government officials said there was enough water to give a little more to some of the region’s farmers — 5 percent of the annual allocation, instead of the nothing they were getting.

>snip<

Economists say it’s too early to accurately predict the drought’s effect on jobs, but it’s likely as many as 20,000 will be lost.

That might not sound like a lot, but many of those workers are already living paycheck to paycheck in communities that depend on that work.

Via the National Drought Monitor, the current state of affairs in California, ranging from lightest [abnormally dry] to darkest [exceptional drought]:

BLOG Drought

After the jump, the latest from Europe [including spiking austerian suicides], Asia’s Game of Zones, an American Nazi whose work inspired a French film, spy games, and muich more. . . Continue reading

Keiser Report: Critical Ukrainian perspective


If you listen to the Obama administration and their allies on both sides of the political aisle, we’re obsessed with the Ukraine because some nasty Russians are imperializing and dreaming of Joe “The Boss” Stalin via his latter-day Putinesque incarnation.

But if the U.S. is really consumed by the need to get all aggressive over massive human rights abuses, then why aren’t we threatening Saudi Arabia, where women can’t drive and are subjected to arbitrary whims of a religious paramilitary police — the same zealots who forced a dozen girls to burn to death simply because they tried to flee their burning quarters quarters before they had a chance to don the clerically required garb?

And why not send warships off Brunei, where it’s going to be legal this coming Tuesday to order the stoning deaths of practicing gays? Or Uganda, where men are facing life in prison simply for the way they chose to ejaculate.

In the second half of this latest episode of the Keiser Report, an Oakland, California, journalist reveals some of their deeper motivations for American concern about control of the Ukraine.

And don’t be surprised if one of the players is a major multinational with a huge and controversial presence in the San Francisco Bay Area.

From the Keiser Report:

Keiser Report: Ukraine’s Big Oil & Big Angst (E590)

Program notes:

In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert discuss American injustice in the age of the wealth gap and Weev’s hedge fund trolling. In the second half, Max interviews JP Sottile of Newsvandal.com about Big Oil and Big Ag in Ukraine. Sottile names the people and corporations hoping to exploit the Ukrainian agricultural sector.

Newsvandal’s an interesting alternative news site, and Oaklander JP Sottile raises the right questions, ones that aren’t raised prominently or at all in the dying lamestream media.

On the Ukraine: Curiouser and curiouser indeed


Watching the news from the Ukraine as filtered through the American mainstream media arouses a powerful sense of suspicion that we’re not being told the entire story.

One recent item caught our attention, an inflammatory developement that casts the pro-Russian Ukrainians in an extremely negative light.

From USA Today:

Leaflet tells Jews to register in East Ukraine

World leaders and Jewish groups condemned a leaflet handed out in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk in which Jews were told to “register” with the pro-Russian militants who have taken over a government office in an attempt to make Ukraine part of Russia, according to Ukrainian and Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website, and Ukraine’s Donbass news agency.

Secretary of State John Kerry said the language of the leaflets “is beyond unacceptable” and condemned whomever is responsible.

Britain’s Sky News reported with a bit more more nuance:

Ukraine Jews Told To ‘Register’ In Mystery Flyer

Donetsk’s chief rabbi says the anti-Semitic leaflet campaign “smells of a provocation”, as its origins remain unclear.

The chief rabbi in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk has told Sky News of his distress at the distribution of a leaflet suggesting Jewish people must “register” with the government.

The leaflet, written in Russian, was apparently signed by Denis Pushilin, a leader of Donetsk People’s Republic, but he has denied his organisation is behind it.

Now if you want to united American politicians behind an issue, just raise the flag of antisemitism and folks all the way from from the Christian Zionist far right to the Democratic party will rouse themselves to condemnation of the alleged perpetrators. . .as well they should, if the allegations are legitimate.

Given that registration of Jewish communities was the first step on the road to the Holocaust, it’s almost as though the flyers are too good to be true, playing on some of the unsavory realities in today’s Russia [ranging from state-sanctioned homophobia to the resurgence of antisemitism] to rouse wrath on behalf of policies favored by Washington and its NATO allies.

The legitimacy of the charges remains to be proved, as Sky News acknowledged, and yet another recent headline raises some very interesting possibilities, especially given the timing on an event that happened several day’s before today’s stories.

Again from USA Today:

White House: Brennan was in Kiev this weekend

The White House confirmed Monday that CIA Director John Brennan traveled to Kiev, Ukraine, in recent days as part of a longer trip to Europe.

Russian media reported Brennan’s visit to Kiev this past weekend, raising suspicions about it.

Those suspicions are unwarranted, said White House spokesman Jay Carney, adding that Brennan was only meeting with intelligence counterparts in Ukraine.

More from Forbes, which adds some interesting detail:

Why CIA Director Brennan Visited Kiev: In Ukraine The Covert War Has Begun

Ukraine is on the brink of civil war, Vladimir Putin has said, and he should know because the country is already in the midst of a covert intelligence war. Over the weekend, CIA director John Brennan travelled to Kiev, nobody knows exactly why, but some speculate that he intends to open US intelligence resources to Ukrainian leaders about real-time Russian military maneuvers. The US has, thus far, refrained from sharing such knowledge because Moscow is believed to have penetrated much of Ukraine’s communications systems – and Washington isn’t about to hand over its surveillance secrets to the Russians.

If you have any doubts that the battle is raging on the ‘covert ops’ front just consider today’s events in Pcholkino where Ukrainian soldiers from the 25th Airborn Division handed over their weapons and APC’s to pro-Russian militiamen and pretty much surrendered. The Ukrainian commander was quoted as saying “they’ve captured us and are using dirty tricks”. This is the kind of morale-busting incident that can spread quickly. It doesn’t happen spontaneously and it often begins with mixed messages, literally – messages purporting to come from the chain of command but actually originate from the enemy’s dirty tricks department.

Given that even the highly conservative Forbes acknowledges the dirty tricks implicit in the disinformation game now underway, one has to wonder whether the passion-arousing flyers are in fact a classic bit of disinformation, akin to tactics used by the FBI in its notorious COUNTELPRO campaigns against American radicals back a half-century ago and more recently against Latin American countries governed by folks who won’t toe the Washington line.

After all, the CIA turned to dirty tricks to target an American citizen and academic who criticized both the George W. Bush administration’s war policies and it’s pro-Israeli politics.

Given Israel’s brilliant use of the Russian expat Nathan Sharansky’s devious Three-D gambit [previously] to sensitive media to condemn any criticism of Israel as antisemitic, the American press is quick to leap uncritically when the dog whistle of of antisemitism is blown.

Given American intelligence’s long history of practicing deception/disinformation and Washington’s powerful interests in destabilizing the Russian government — which oversees the supply of natural gas to Europe — we are highly suspicious of the very convenient timing of the flyers.

Another critique of American coverage

Michael Hudson [previously], one of the sharpest economists around these days, is also highly critical of American media coverage of events in the Ukraine.

Consider the following interview of Hudson, an economist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City by Jessica Desverieux of The Real News Network:

Investigation Finds Former Ukraine President Not Responsible For Sniper Attack on Protestors

An excerpt from the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: So, Micheal, what are you tracking this week?

HUDSON: The big news is all about the Ukraine. And it’s about the events that happened in the shootings on February 20. Late last week, the German television program ARD Monitor, which is sort of their version of 60 Minutes here, had an investigative report of the shootings in Maidan, and what they found out is that contrary to what President Obama is saying, contrary to what the U.S. authorities are saying, that the shooting was done by the U.S.-backed Svoboda Party and the protesters themselves, the snipers and the bullets all came from the Hotel Ukrayina, which was the center of where the protests were going, and the snipers on the hotel were shooting not only at the demonstrators, but also were shooting at their own–at the police and the demonstrators to try to create chaos. They’ve spoken to the doctors, who said that all of the bullets and all of the wounded people came from the same set of guns. They’ve talked to reporters who were embedded with the demonstrators, the anti-Russian forces, and they all say yes. All the witnesses are in agreement: the shots came from the Hotel Ukrayina. The hotel was completely under the control of the protesters, and it was the government that did it.

So what happened was that after the coup d’état, what they call the new provisional government put a member of the Svoboda Party, the right-wing terrorist party, in charge of the investigation. And the relatives of the victims who were shot are saying that the government is refusing to show them the autopsies, they’re refusing to share the information with their doctors, they’re cold-shouldering them, and that what is happening is a coverup. It’s very much like the film Z about the Greek colonels trying to blame the murder of the leader on the protesters, rather than on themselves.

Now, the real question that the German data has is: why, if all of this is front-page news in Germany, front-page news in Russia–the Russian TV have been showing their footage, showing the sniping–why would President Obama directly lie to the American people? This is the equivalent of Bush’s weapons of mass destruction. Why would Obama say the Russians are doing the shooting in the Ukraine that’s justified all of this anti-Russian furor? And why wouldn’t he say the people that we have been backing with $5 billion for the last five or ten years, our own people, are doing the shooting, we are telling them to doing the shooting, we are behind them, and we’re the ones who are the separatists?

What has happened is that the Western Ukraine, the U.S. part, are the separatists trying to break up the Ukraine, in keeping, pretty much, with what Brzezinski advised in his book some years ago when he said breaking Ukraine off from Russia would be the equivalent of blocking any Russian potential military power.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, pols, zones, bluster


We begin today’s collection of headlines from the worlds of spooks and “security” with European Edward Snowden blowback by way of SecurityWeek:

Germany to Beef Up Spy Defenses Against Allies: Report

Germany plans to beef up its counterintelligence tactics against allied countries in response to revelations of widespread US spying, Der Spiegel magazine reported Sunday.

The weekly said the German government was considering deploying its own agents to keep tabs on Western secret services and embassies on German soil including those of the United States and also Britain.

It said the domestic intelligence service aimed to glean precise information about foreign spies using diplomatic cover and technical equipment at diplomatic missions used to snoop on German officials and the country’s citizens.

“This step would be an about-face from the decades-long practice of systematically monitoring the activities of countries such as China, Russia and North Korea but rarely the activities of Western partners,” Spiegel said.

Here’s more in the form of a video report from Deutsche Welle in which Germany’s top counterspy — Hans-Georg Maaßen, president of the German Domestic Intelligence Service — has curious things to say:

German Response on NSA Spying Scandal

On the side of the pond, obfuscation, via The Hill:

NSA reform stalls in committee

  • Legislation to rein in the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs has stalled in the House and Senate.

More than 130 House lawmakers in both parties have signed on as co-sponsors to legislation that would prevent the NSA from collecting bulk records about people’s phone calls. In the Senate, companion legislation has won 20 co-sponsors.

Both bills, however, have been stuck in their chambers’ respective Judiciary Committees since October, and committee aides say there are no plans to move them soon.

In the House, Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) seems to be waiting for the Obama administration to take a formal position on the USA Freedom Act, authored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), before scheduling a markup.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wants to see what recommendations Attorney General Eric Holder and top intelligence leaders make by a March 28 deadline set by President Obama.

And from The Guardian, the latest Snowden revelation:

Australia spied on Indonesia talks with US law firm in 2013

  • New Edward Snowden documents show ASD listened to Indonesian government talks and shared what they learned with US
  • Australia and the US share access to bulk Indonesian telecommunications data, including those of Indonesian officials
  • Australian spies have obtained 1.8 million encrypted master keys from an Indonesian telecommunications company and decrypted almost all
  • US mentored Australia to break encryption codes of the PNG army

Australia spied on Indonesia and shared the information with the United States when the two countries were involved in a trade dispute in February 2013, a new document from whistleblower Edward Snowden shows.

Australia listened in on the communications of an unnamed American law firm which was representing Indonesia in the discussions and passed the information to the National Security Agency, according to a document obtained by the New York Times.

It is unclear what the discussions were about – but two trade disputes around that time were about the importation of clove cigarettes and shrimp, says the paper.

And the response from Down Under via Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Australia says spying “for the benefit of our friends”

  • Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sunday his government used intelligence material “for the benefit of our friends” and “to uphold our values” following fresh reports it spied on Indonesia.

Abbott refused to confirm the report, also based on Snowden-leaked material, that the Australian Signals Directorate listened in on trade talks between the Indonesians and their US lawyers and offered information gleaned to the US National Security Agency.

“We never comment on operational intelligence matters, that has been the long-standing practice of all Australian governments of both political persuasions,” Abbott told reporters.

However, Abbott observed that Australia did not “use anything that we gather as part of our ordinary security and intelligence operations to the detriment of other countries.”

“We use it for the benefit of our friends. We use it to uphold our values,” he said.

More reaction from one of the targets, also via The Guardian:

Indonesia: Australia and US need to clean up their mess

  • Presidential adviser responds to ‘perplexing revelation’ that ASD spied on a law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute

New documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) spied on an American law firm representing Indonesia in a trade dispute and offered the information to America, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

Indonesian presidential adviser and spokesman on foreign affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, said the president had been advised of the revelations by foreign minister Marty Natalegawa.

“Indeed, it is another perplexing revelation of spying toward Indonesia’s national interest,” he told Guardian Australia via text message.

“I wonder what more Snowden has in store? Therefore, it is the responsibility of countries (US & Australia) engaged in this complicity to clean up the mess, to salvage their bilateral relations with Indonesia.”

And the result, again from The Guardian:

Australia and Indonesia are now in ‘open conflict’, says Tanya Plibersek

  • Dressing down of ambassador over ‘unacceptable’ border protection policies a matter of enormous concern

Australia and Indonesia were now in “open conflict” and repairing the “worsening” relationship was imperative, deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek said on Saturday.

After Australia’s ambassador to Jakarta Greg Moriarty was reportedly called into the country’s foreign affairs ministry for a “dressing down” over the Abbott government’s border protection policies, Plibersek said it was crucial the government acted now to settle the rocky relationship.

“It’s absolutely vital that Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop get on with repairing the relationship with Indonesia,” she said.

And to those other Asian border, militarism, and shifting alliance stories, first from South China Morning Post:

Top US envoy John Kerry fails to make headway over sea disputes in Beijing

  • Only result of Beijing visit was a commitment to seek greater co-operation on climate change

US Secretary of State John Kerry ended a visit to China without any breakthroughs on two matters at the top of his agenda – sovereignty tensions in the East Sea and the South China Sea.

The only solid outcome of the trip came in a joint statement issued by the two governments yesterday that vowed closer co-operation on climate change.

Shi Yinhong , a professor of international relations at Renmin University, said: “Kerry’s China visit only provided an opportunity for both sides to make clear their differences on these issues.”

Jin Canrong, with the same university, said it was expected no consensus on regional issues would be reached during the trip. Instead, the visit was important for Beijing and Washington to prepare for an upcoming meeting between President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama at a nuclear security summit at The Hague late next month.

And another endorsement from the Pentagon for Japan’s newly aggressive militarism this time from Want China Times:

US-Japan amphibious joint exercises slated for 2014 Rim of Pacific

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, the de facto army of Japan, will participate in amphibious joint exercises with the United States Marine Corps at the 2014 Rim of the Pacific off Hawaii between June and August, reports Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun.

This year’s joint naval exercise, the 24th since the US Marines began holding them bi-annually since 1971, will involve 20,000 soldiers, 30 vessels and 100 jets from more than 10 countries including China, Australia and South Korea.

While Japan has participated numerous times in the past, Tokyo has usually sent the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force to join in anti-pirate or disaster rescue exercises. Analysts believe the decision to send ground forces to participate in amphibious joint exercises with the US is aimed at developing combat techniques and gaining experience as Japan’s ground forces plan to develop a new amphibious force before 2018.

The amphibious force plans to be eventually eqipped with US-made Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, amphibious armored vehicles and large amphibious assault ships, but for now it will try and learn from US forces and gain valuable operational experience, Sankei Shimbuns said.

Yet another American endorsement from Kyodo News:

Japan eyes boosting ground troop communications with U.S. military

Japan plans to boost communications between its Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.S. military using smartphone-type terminals, a Japanese Defense Ministry source said Sunday.

The Japanese government will create prototype software from April with the aim of fully rolling it out in fiscal 2018, the source said.

The move is in line with efforts to more closely coordinate operations between the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and U.S. troops, at a time Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keen to move forward discussions on allowing Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense, or coming to the defense of an ally such as the United States if it is attacked.

Want China Times covers Chinese anxiety:

Beijing slams US Navy official for ‘aiding Philippines’ remarks

China’s government on Friday slammed a US Navy official’s remarks concerning the South China Sea and asked the United States to keep its position neutral on territorial disputes between China and the Philippines.

Admiral Jonathan Greenert, commander of the US Navy, said on Thursday that his country will come to the aid of the Philippines in the event of any conflict with China over disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to the remarks at a regular press briefing. She said China has repeatedly expressed its firm position on the disputes and will address the issue through discussions and negotiations directly with concerned parties.

As a bilateral arrangement, the US-Philippines alliance should not undermine the interests of third parties, Hua said.

And a demand from the China Post:

Kerry presses China to ease Internet controls

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday he urged Chinese leaders to support Internet freedom and promised to look into whether American companies help Beijing curb access to online material.

“Obviously, we think that Chinese economy will be stronger with greater freedom of the internet,” Kerry said at a meeting with bloggers following talks with Chinese leaders.

Kerry met earlier with President Xi Jinping and other senior officials to underscore the Obama administration’s commitment to refocusing U.S. foreign policy on the Asia-Pacific. He urged Beijing to convince neighboring North Korea to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

During the 40-minute meeting Saturday, the bloggers appealed to Kerry to support Chinese human rights activists and freer use of the Internet.

After the jump, more on the ever-shifting Asian security crises [including rebukes, recriminations, and a meeting of old enemies], plus an Israeli deal to sell arms to Iran [really] an Icelandic leak probe, George Washington, spookfather, and cyber-stalking in the cereal aisle. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, zones, drones, hawks


Welcome to the world of the dark side, where the walls have ears, the cloaks have daggers, and lots of things go bump in the night.

We open with some numbers from PCWorld:

NSA protest results in tens of thousands of phone calls, emails

Organizers of The Day We Fight Back, a protest Tuesday against U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs, called the effort a “tremendous success,” with nearly 100,000 phone calls made to U.S. lawmakers and 185,000 people signing up to send email blasts to their congressional representatives.

Participants in the protest made 96,000 calls to Congress, although 7,000 of those calls weren’t delivered because lawmakers turned voice mail services off, organizers said. Organizers will deliver 555,000 email messages protesting the NSA surveillance to lawmakers, with emails going to the two U.S. senators and one representative who represent each of the 185,000 people who signed up for the email blasts.

Another 245,000 people signed a petition calling for the end to mass surveillance, and participating websites showed a protest banner ad 37 million times during the day, with about two-thirds of those ads delivered in the U.S., organizers said.

David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, called the protest a big success. Organizers will continue to push for changes in NSA surveillance, he said.

Threat Level covers the loathesome:

How Obama Officials Cried ‘Terrorism’ to Cover Up a Paperwork Error

After seven years of litigation, two trips to a federal appeals court and $3.8 million worth of lawyer time, the public has finally learned why a wheelchair-bound Stanford University scholar was cuffed, detained and denied a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii: FBI human error.

FBI agent Kevin Kelley was investigating Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004 when he checked the wrong box on a terrorism form, erroneously placing Rahinah Ibrahim on the no-fly list.

What happened next was the real shame. Instead of admitting to the error, high-ranking President Barack Obama administration officials spent years covering it up. Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a litany of other government officials claimed repeatedly that disclosing the reason Ibrahim was detained, or even acknowledging that she’d been placed on a watch list, would cause serious damage to the U.S. national security. Again and again they asserted the so-called “state secrets privilege” to block the 48-year-old woman’s lawsuit, which sought only to clear her name.

Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke state secrets sparingly.

And from The Guardian, yet another challenge raised:

Rights groups begin UK court challenge over mass surveillance

  • Full hearing at investigatory powers tribunal scheduled for July into legality of programmes including Tempora and Prism

The extent of the intelligence services’ bulk interception of online communications came under scrutiny for the first time in a British courtroom on Friday.

Lawyers for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ faced challenges brought by nearly a dozen British and international civil liberties groups over the legality of US and UK digital surveillance programmes, including Tempora, Prism and Upstream.

Claims that the mass collection, storage and analysis of emails and electronic messages are illegal were made at the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT), which adjudicates on complaints against the intelligence services and surveillance by government bodies.

The government, adopting a “neither confirm nor deny” approach, is responding to allegations about the programmes on a hypothetical premise. The case follows a series of reports published in the Guardian last year based on revelations by the former US National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

And one more step contemplated from the European Parliament:

NSA snooping: MEPs table proposals to protect EU citizens’ privacy

The European Parliament should withhold its consent to an EU-US trade deal unless it fully respects EU citizens’ data privacy, says an inquiry report on US National Security Agency (NSA) and EU member states surveillance of EU citizens, approved by the Civil Liberties Committee on Wednesday. It adds that data protection rules should be excluded from the trade talks and negotiated separately with the US.

The text, passed by 33 votes to 7 with 17 abstentions, condemns the “vast, systemic, blanket collection of personal data of innocent people, often comprising intimate personal information”, adding that “the fight against terrorism can never be a justification for untargeted, secret or even illegal mass surveillance programmes”.

“We now have a comprehensive text that for the first time brings together in-depth recommendations on Edward Snowden’s allegations of NSA spying and an action plan for the future. The Civil Liberties Committee inquiry came at a crucial time, along with Snowden´s allegations and the EU data protection regulation. I hope that this document will be supported by the full Parliament and that it will last beyond the next European Parliament’s mandate”, said rapporteur Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), after the vote.

A bemused response from RT:

Former German chancellor surprised that NSA continued to spy on Merkel

The former chancellor of Germany now says he was surprised to hear that the United States National Security Agency, or NSA, spied on his country’s current head of government after he left office almost a decade ago.

Earlier this month, NSA documents showed that the spy agency conducted surveillance operations starting in 2002 that targeted Gerhard Schröder during his term as chancellor.

Schröder told reporters at the time that he wasn’t surprised about the operation, which was made public due to documents disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

During an event in Berlin on Thursday this week, however, the former chancellor said he didn’t expect the NSA to continue monitoring his office after he ended his tenure in 2005.

Also from Germany via Homeland Security News Wire, security lucre:

German IT industry hopes to benefit from NSA leaks-inspired distrust of U.S. tech companies

The German IT sector is hoping to benefit from trust lost in American technology firms in the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks. The German government is looking to develop Internet security initiatives, with government departments vying with each other for a lead role. Both inside and outside the German government a proposal, known as “Schengen Routing,” is advanced which calls for data originated in Europe to be processed and stored within Europe. Critics warn that plans to create a European routing system could affect the openness of the Internet.

News that some American technology and communications firms gave the National Security Agency (NSA) access to consumer records has alarmed Americans, but also non-Americans who rely on these companies for data storage. According to market analysts James Staten of Forrester Research, American firms could lose up to $180 billion in turnover by 2016 due to distrust from customers.

And another German tale from TheLocal.de:

Child porn scandal: Minister quits over leak

The first minister of Germany’s new cabinet resigned on Friday. Hans-Peter Friedrich came under fire when it emerged he passed on information to a party chief about an MP suspected of possessing naked photos of children.

Agriculture Minister Friedrich (CSU) said earlier on Friday that he would only step down if the state prosecutor opened an investigation into him over his former role as interior minister.

He gave information to Social Democrat (SPD) leader, Sigmar Gabriel, that one of the SPD’s leading politicians, Sebastian Edathy, possessed inappropriate images of boys.

But on Friday afternoon news agency DPA quoted government sources who stated that Friedrich would step down anyway. He has been under pressure from the opposition, who claim he breached official secrecy by providing the SPD with information about the Edathy case.

The Daily Dot outsources:

NSA seeking private company to store its massive collection of metadata

Do you have a some data storage space lying around that you’re not using? Like a lot of space? Enough to, let’s say, handle all of the information gathered from the National Security Agency’s (NSA) telephone metadata collection program? If so, do we have a deal for you.

Earlier this month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the body managing all of the United States’ spying activities, put out a request for information (RFI) looking to determine if there are any commercially available systems offered by private companies capable of holding all of its phone metadata.

Metadata collected from cell phone calls includes things like the phone number of each caller, the unique serial numbers of the physical devices involved, the time and duration of the call, the precise geographic location of the callers, and if any calling cards used to make the connection.

The government is looking for systems that can provide intelligence agencies instantaneous access to the data, ensure that the data is completely secure to outside penetration, and make it so no data is provided to the agencies in question ?unless in response to an authorized query.”

And from Defense One, how Tweet it is:

Secret Military Contractors Will Soon Mine Your Tweets

The Army wants a contractor to conduct detailed social media data mining to “identify violent extremist influences” around the world that could affect the European Command, responsible for operations in Europe as well as Iceland, Israel, Greenland and Russia.

Though the project is classified Secret, an Army contract shop in Europe posted a wealth of information on the FedBizOps contract website Tuesday.

The data mining contract, which has the very long title of “Social Media Data-mining, Localized Research, Market Audience Analysis, and Narrowcast Engagement Requirements,” will support both the European Command and Special Operations Command Europe.

In its request for information, the Army said it wants a contractor to “provide detailed social media research and analysis, on-the-ground native research and analysis, and customized social media website development and execution.”  This will include open source information, “detailed social media data-mining, social media monitoring and analysis, target audience analysis, media kit development and social media platform operations.”

And a case of security enhanced from MercoPress:

Colombian peace process makes headway before presidential elections

The Colombian government and FARC guerrilla negotiators said that they had made progress toward an agreement on combating illegal drug trafficking, a sign that peace talks were making headway before elections.

The joint statement by President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said there had been “advances” in the negotiations, the latest round of which concluded on Thursday. The talks are due to resume on Feb. 24.

“We have been working nonstop throughout this round of conversations and we have started building agreements on the point ‘solving the illicit drugs problem,’” the statement said.

After the jump, shifting patterns and alliances in Asian geopolitical and historical crises, a nuclear blast from the past, Bing’s peculiar censorship, Indian book banning, rampant censorship in Greece, hacking alert ignored, and sympathy for the devil. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I : EspioLegoPoliManiacs


We’ve been a bit under the weather, and consequently a very lonnngggg collection today of headlines for the world of spies, security, operators, militarists, hackers, and deep politics.

Our first headline comes from Al Jazeera America:

Report: Democratic countries curbing press freedoms in name of security

  • Countries like US, UK that pride themselves on media freedoms tumble in annual World Press Freedom Index

Pervasive national security and surveillance programs have scaled back press freedom in established democracies like the United States, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its World Press Freedom Index released Tuesday.

In an index that usually shifts incrementally from year to year, “for the first time, the trend is so clear,” Delphine Halgand, the group’s U.S. director, told Al Jazeera. She said the “chilling effect” on investigative journalists fearful of government prosecution is most palpable in the U.S.

“After 2013, we cannot deny any more that in the U.S., the whistle-blower is the enemy,” Halgand said. “The U.S. is going after confidential sources, compromising the only possibility to do a real journalist’s work.”

From the report:

BLOG Press freedom

More from The Guardian:

NSA actions pose ‘direct threat to journalism’ leading watchdog warns

  • Agency’s dragnet of communications data threatens to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, Committee to Protect Journalists said

The National Security Agency’s dragnet of communications data poses a direct threat to journalism in the digital age by threatening to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, one of the world’s leading journalism watchdogs has warned.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based body that promotes press freedom around the world, has devoted the first two chapters of its annual report on global threats to an assessment of the impact of the NSA’s data sweep. Its internet advocacy co-ordinator, Geoffrey King, warns that the NSA’s dragnet threatens to put journalists under a cloud of suspicion and to expose them to routine spying by government agencies.

By storing mass data for long periods, the NSA could develop the capability to recreate a reporter’s research, retrace a source’s movements and listen in on past communications, King warns. “It could soon be possible to uncover sources with such ease as to render meaningless any promise of confidentiality a journalist may attempt to provide – and if an interaction escapes scrutiny in the first instance, it could be reconstructed later.”

And then there’s the blunter approach. From Al Jazeera English:

The risk of reporting US drone strikes

  • Yemen researcher says he received a death threat after investigating deadly wedding-convoy attack.

The disturbing phone call came after Baraa Shiban investigated a drone strike on a wedding party that killed 12 people in central Yeen in December. A clear message was delivered to the human rights researcher over the phone after a major news network reported the story based on his research.

“The caller refused to identify himself and threatened my life if I continued my investigation of the strike,” Shiban told Al Jazeera, noting he conducted similar studies of US drone operations in the past, but had never before received death threats.

Shiban works for the UK-based human rights group Reprieve and interviewed survivors two days after the attack. His investigation ascertained that 12 people were killed after four missiles were fired at the convoy. There were also 14 victims with severe wounds; some lost limbs, others their eyes.

From EnetEnglish.gr, another journalist jailed:

Police detain journalist for divulging ‘military secrets’

  • Article based on information from law published in government gazette, journalist says

Police detained journalist Popi Christodoulidou on the orders of a prosecutor, Panagiota Fakou, over a report claiming coastguard divers are involved in guarding sensitive sites along with the police, despite the fact that the law does not provide for that

A screengrab from Popi Christodoulidou’s blogpost, which she has now been ordered to remove A screengrab from Popi Christodoulidou’s blogpost, which she has now been ordered to remove An Athens-based journalist was detained by police for a number of hours on Wednesday at Attica police headquarters on suspicion on disclosing military secrets in a blogpost, which she claims is based on information contained in a law published in the government gazette.

On the same day that Greece was ranked 99th in the World Press Freedom Index, Popi Christodoulidou was detained by police detectives shortly after 1pm, on the orders of a prosecutor, Panagiota Fakou, who at the request of the Hellenic Coastguard’s state security directorate opened a preliminary investigation on the leaking of “military secrets” by a civilian “perpetrator”.

The journalist was released at around 6pm and has been ordered to remove the offending post on her Peiratiko Reportaz blog or face arrest.

More journalistic woes from Mashable:

Report: Ethiopian Government Hacks Journalists in U.S. and Europe

The Ethiopian government reportedly used surveillance technology created by an Italian company to hack into the computers of Ethiopian journalists in the United States and Europe.

Journalists at the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), a news organization comprised mostly of Ethiopian expatriates, were targeted with spying software made by the Italian company company Hacking Team, according to a new report by Citizen Lab, a nonprofit research lab that investigates surveillance technology across the world.

The investigation, released on Wednesday, is another example of how governments around the world are increasingly using hacking tools. These are often purchased from vendors that design and market them specifically for law enforcement agencies — but often governments end up using them against dissidents or journalists.

From EurActiv, a friend of The Guardian:

Media freedom watchdog defends the Guardian against government pressure

Europe’s main media freedom watchdog told Britain today (12 February) it believed that political pressure applied to the Guardian newspaper over its handling of leaked intelligence data could have a “chilling effect” on independent journalism.

Former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden’s disclosures about activities of Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency and its cooperation with America’s National Security Agency (NSA) have embarrassed Prime Minister David Cameron’s government which has said they damaged national security.

Many of the leaks were published in the Guardian.

“The continual accusations and attacks on the Guardian, their editor-in-chief and journalists by leading politicians is nothing but harassment and intimidation,” Dunja Mijatovic, representative for media freedom at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told Reuters.

And from euronews, when “liberals” meet:

Hollande and Obama stress common Syria-Iran stance as French state visit nears end

The French and American presidents have continued to stress their common ground as François Hollande’s state visit draws to a close.

Barack Obama said both had resolved to put more pressure on Russia and Iran over stopping the bloodshed in Syria.

The French leader tackled the thorny issue of data protection after the revelations of US spying exposed in the NSA scandal.

“We have worked towards cooperation which can enable the fight against terrorism and at the same time to respect principles. And we are making headway over this cooperation. And there is a mutual trust which has been restored and which should be based both on respect for each other’s country and also based on the protection of privacy,” François Hollande told a joint news conference in Washington.

And on to the world of that espio-Superstar, first from The Guardian:

Congressional trio criticise James Cole’s NSA testimony as misleading

  • Lawmakers write to deputy attorney general after Cole described limits on NSA’s power to surveil members of Congress

Deputy attorney general James Cole testifies on Capitol Hill. Deputy attorney general James Cole. Sensenbrenner, Issa and Nadler said Cole’s testimony was ‘not entirely accurate’. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

Three powerful members of the House judiciary committee said James Cole, the US deputy attorney general, was “not entirely accurate” in testimony describing limits on the National Security Agency’s powers to surveil the US Congress.

The letter from former committee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, oversight committee chair Darrell Issa – both Republicans – and New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, came as the Obama administration saw a new front open up in the battle over its surveillance powers: a class-action lawsuit filed by Senator Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential contender, who said he plans to contest the bulk collection of US phone records “all the way to the supreme court.”

Cole told the House judiciary committee on 4 February that while the NSA “probably” collects the phone records of members of Congress – a subset of the dragnet the NSA casts on practically all US phone data – the NSA only studied those records when it has “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of a number’s onnection to terrorism, a restriction imposed by the secret surveillance court overseeing the NSA.

From the New York Times, making excuses:

Spy Chief Says Snowden Took Advantage of ‘Perfect Storm’ of Security Lapses

The director of national intelligence acknowledged Tuesday that nearly a year after the contractor Edward J. Snowden “scraped” highly classified documents from the National Security Agency’s networks, the technology was not yet fully in place to prevent another insider from stealing top-secret data on a similarly large scale.

The director, James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Snowden had taken advantage of a “perfect storm” of security lapses. He also suggested that as a highly trained systems administrator working for Booz Allen Hamilton, which provides computer services to the agency, Mr. Snowden knew how to evade the protections in place.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Mr. Clapper said. “And he was pretty skilled at staying below the radar, so what he was doing wasn’t visible.”

But Mr. Clapper confirmed the outlines of a New York Times report that the former N.S.A. contractor had used a web crawler, a commonly available piece of software, to sweep up a huge trove of documents.

The Daily Dot makes an exit:

NSA employee resigns after admitting he gave Snowden access

A civilian employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) has resigned his position after admitting he shared access to classified information with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A memo detailing the incident and signed by Ethan Bauman, NSA’s director of legislative affairs, was obtained by NBC News and published online.

According to the memo, which was labelled as sensitive but not classified, the unidentified NSA employee entered his password into Snowden’s computer terminal upon request. Allegedly, Snowden was then able to capture the password and use it to gain greater access to classified materials. The letter identifies the civilian as male, but does not refer to him by name.

“On 18 June 2013, the NSA civilian admitted to FBI Special Agents that he allowed Mr. Snowden to his (the NSA civilian’s) Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificate to access classified information on NSANet; access that he knew had been denied to Mr. Snowden,” the memo reads.

From The Hill, the Aqua Buddha acolyte acts:

Paul sues Obama over NSA spying

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration for violating the privacy rights of millions of Americans.

Paul, a Tea Party star, called it the largest class-action lawsuit ever filed on behalf of the Bill of Rights.

He and FreedomWorks, the co-plaintiff in the case, have named President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander among the defendants.

“We will ask the question in court whether a single warrant can apply to the records of every American phone user all the time, without limits, without individualization,” Paul said at a press conference in front of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Paul, who has circulated a petition to build support for his case, said 386,026 people have expressed support.

From The Guardian, no taps for the NSA?:

Utah lawmaker floats bill to cut off NSA data centre’s water supply

  • Impending bill from Republican Marc Roberts highlights growing movement at state level against government surveillance powers

The National Security Agency, already under siege in Washington, faces a fresh attempt to curtail its activities from a Utah legislator who wants to cut off the surveillance agency’s water supply.

Marc Roberts, a first-term Republican lawmaker in the Beehive State, plans this week to begin a quixotic quest to check government surveillance starting at a local level. He will introduce a bill that would prevent anyone from supplying water to the $1bn-plus data center the NSA is constructing in his state at Bluffdale.

The bill is about telling the federal government “if you want to spy on the whole world and American citizens, great, but we’re not going to help you,” Roberts told the Guardian.

Here’s a video report about a similar measure on the other side of the country from RT America:

NSA headquarters could go dark if bill passes in Maryland

Program notes:

State legislators in Maryland have introduced a bill that would cut off water, electricity and other utilities to National Security Agency headquarters, which are located in the Old Line state. The bill is called the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, and supporters say the bill would block the NSA from spying on citizens in Maryland. Similar bills are being introduced in Washington, Utah and Missouri. RT’s Liz Wahl asks Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and who helped draft Maryland’s legislation, how the bill would impact NSA operations.

The Hill raises another legal issue:

NSA operating outside the law, panelist says

The collection of phone records by the National Security Agency has no basis in the law, a member of an independent federal advisory board said Wednesday.

“With all respect to both executive branch officials and judicial officials, nobody looked at the statute as carefully was we did,” James Dempsey, the vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I came to this conclusion slowly. I came to it a little bit to my own surprise. But if you read the statute, the words just don’t add up to this program.”

Members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) testified Tuesday for the first time since their 3-2 decision last month to condemn the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records as an illegal program that should be terminated.

Backtracking, via The Guardian:

Edward Snowden asylum demand dropped by European parliament

  • MEPs fail to reach consensus on amendment to inquiry calling on governments to assure NSA whistleblower of his safety

Edward Snowden Meets With German Green Party MP Hans-Christian Stroebele
The report will call for international protection for whistleblowers without mentioning Edward Snowden by name. Photograph: Sunshinepress/Getty Images

The European parliament is to ditch demands on Wednesday that EU governments give guarantees of asylum and security to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower.

The parliament’s civil liberties committee is to vote on more than 500 amendments to the first ever parliamentary inquiry into the NSA and GCHQ scandal, a 60-page report that is damning about the scale and the impact of mass surveillance.

And the result, via EUobserver:

MEPs say No to Snowden asylum in Europe

A European Parliament committee on Wednesday (12 February) voted against calling for asylum protection for former US intelligence agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Snowden leaked top secret documents last summer to the media exposing the scale of US and British global surveillance. He is in Russia to avoid prosecution from American authorities.

The vote was part of a larger, non-binding, resolution backed by the MEPs in the civil liberties committee. The resolution condemns the blanket collection of personal data on the scale he disclosed.

A short paragraph, buried among the hundreds of amendments in the committee’s National Security Agency (NSA) inquiry report, had requested that EU member states drop criminal charges against him, if any, and “offer him protection from prosecution, extradition or rendition.” But it did not make the final cut.

The Guardian views Snowden from Down Under:

Scott Ludlam’s support of Snowden ‘celebrates treachery’, says Brandis

  • George Brandis says former NSA contractor’s disclosures about western intelligence gathering ‘put Australian lives at risk’

Australia’s attorney general, George Brandis, has criticised a senator for celebrating “the American traitor Edward Snowden”, arguing the disclosures about western intelligence gathering has “put Australian lives at risk”.

Brandis asked in parliament how the Greens senator Scott Ludlam could hold his head up high while honouring the former US National Security Agency contractor’s “criminal conduct and treachery”.

The trigger for the criticism was a question from Ludlam about “indiscriminate government surveillance” and whether the government recognised the legitimate concerns of Australians and the need to follow the US in reforming intelligence practices.

And the target of that Aussie ire raises a question, via United Press International:

Snowden: Danes should question government about NSA surveillance

U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden says Danes should not trust their government’s statement that there has been no illegal surveillance in Denmark.

Snowden, in an interview with the blog denfri.dk, said Danish citizens should not depend on the government or on journalists to reveal the truth, the Copenhagen Post reported Thursday.

“The Danes should start asking some serious questions when their government starts acting in the same way as the German one,” he said.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said publicly that the U.S. National Security Agency had assured him that on surveillance had been conducted in Germany in violation of its laws or against its interests. Documents leaked by Snowden revealed the NSA had done both.

And from TheLocal.se, a call to end another legal whistleblower nightmare:

‘Interrogate Assange in London’: lawyers

Lawyers representing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Sweden have demanded that he be questioned in London over rape and sexual molestation allegations made by two Swedish women.

“All Assange asks is that he be treated according to Swedish law,” lawyers Thomas Olsson and Per Samuelsson wrote in an op-ed article published on Wednesday in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

Assange broke bail and sought refuge at the Ecuador’s embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning under a European arrest warrant. He claimed that he would risk further extradition to the United States on espionage charges over his whistleblowing website if he went to Sweden.

From TheLocal.de, when a Hawk becomes a turkey:

Drone scandal costs another €200 million

Germany’s Euro Hawk drone scandal showed no sign of ending on Wednesday, with alternatives for the failed programme running €200 million over budget. It means the military may turn back to the discarded, original plan.

The Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr, Volker Wieker, told a defence committee on Wednesday that the tests on four alternatives to Euro Hawk were not only taking longer than expected but were €200 million over budget. The budget had been set at €613 million.

It means that reactivating the discarded Euro Hawk programme could no longer be ruled out, he said.

The Euro Hawk scandal erupted in May last year when it emerged the drones were unlikely to get permission to fly in German airspace because of a lack of an anti-collision system to protect other aircraft. By that point more than €500 million had already been spent on the programme.

And from RT, class war declared:

Greece on high alert after extremists declare war on ‘German capitalist machine’

Greek authorities have stepped up security after a leftist extremist group declared war on the “German capitalist machine.” The group has claimed responsibility for attacks on a Mercedes-Benz branch and on the German ambassador’s residence in Athens.

An anarchist group calling itself the Popular Fighters has come forward, claiming to be behind a botched rocket attack on the offices of German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz in the Greek capital.

The attack itself was carried out on January 12. Investigators found evidence this week that showed the rocket was fired from the near vicinity of the factory, but veered off course and landed in a field.

On Tuesday the group sent a 20-page manifesto to Greek satirical magazine To Pontiki, explaining the attack was carried out in solidarity with the Greek people against the “German capitalist machine.”

After the jump, a lethora of Asia news, including Afghan anxieties, Sci Fi scenarios, cyberwar and hack attacks, a Spanish check, the Greek panopticon emerges, another Swedish info-expat, Twitter censorship, drones in your pocket, and Nazis on acid. . .and more: Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, protests, lies, zones


A whole lot going on in the realm of spooks, lack ops, rampant militarism and other dark corners of the realms of deep politics and distrus.

We open on an upbeat note with this from The Guardian:

Protesters rally for ‘the day we fight back’ against mass surveillance

  • Alongside demonstrations in 15 countries, thousands contact congresspeople and take online action supporting privacy rights

Tens of thousands of people and organisations were participating in a protest against the NSA’s mass surveillance on Tuesday, bombarding members of Congress with phone calls and emails and holding demonstrations across the globe.

Dubbed “The day we fight back”, the action saw scores of websites, including Reddit, BoingBoing and Mozilla host a widget inviting users to pressure elected officials.

The online demonstration saw more than 18,000 calls placed and 50,000 emails sent to US congressmen and women by midday Tuesday. Physical protests were planned in 15 countries.

“The goal of the day we fight back is to stop mass surveillance by intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency,” said Rainey Reitman, activism director at the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation, which helped organise the events.

And a report from RT America:

‘Day We Fight Back’ takes on NSA

Program notes:

It was declared ‘The Day We Fight Back’. Internet companies and activists around the world had an international day of protest on February 11th. Over 5,700 websites changed their homepages to demand the National Security Agency stop its massive surveillance efforts. On Capitol Hill, representatives from privacy groups, religious institutions NS Congressman Rush Holt came together to talk about the issue of NSA spying. RT correspondent Meghan Lopez was there and brings us more.

Meanwhile, from TheLocal.fr, Barry O has a new BFF:

France and US reconcile over NSA spying scandal

On the occasion of President François Hollande’s visit to the US, he and American President Barack Obama said on Tuesday they have settled differences over digital spying efforts revealed by leaker Edward Snowden.

French President Francois Hollande, speaking alongside his US counterpart Barack Obama, said Tuesday that the two allies had resolved their differences over American digital eavesdropping.

Leaders from many US allies, including Germany’s Chancellor Angel Merkel, were angered by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden’s revelation that the United States monitors their telephone calls. But it is not known if Hollande’s own telephone was tapped, and France has been more cautious in its critique, emphasizing the importance of its intelligence cooperation with Washington.

“We wanted to fight against terrorism, but we also wanted to meet a number of principles. And we are making headway in this cooperation. Mutual trust has been restored,” Hollande said.

More from the Associated Press:

Obama: No country where we have no-spy agreement

President Barack Obama says there is no country with which the United States has “a no-spy agreement.” But he says the United States endeavors to protect privacy rights as it collects foreign intelligence.

Obama says the United States and its allies remain concerned about specific potential terrorist networks that could attack and kill innocent people. He says the U.S. will have to maintain a robust intelligence gathering effort, but says it will respect privacy.

Obama made his remarks during a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande.

The Guardian carries a call for debate:

Ed Miliband calls for US-style debate over Britain’s intelligence agencies

  • Labour leader calls for examination of oversight of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 in wake of Edward Snowden leaks

A major overhaul of the oversight of Britain’s intelligence agencies, which could lead to an opposition politician chairing parliament’s intelligence and security committee and reform of the intelligence commissioners, needs to be introduced, Ed Miliband has said.

The Labour leader praised Barack Obama for starting an “important debate” in the US – after the White House appointed a panel in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks – and called for a similar debate in Britain.

In some of his most extensive comments on the NSA leaks, Miliband told a Guardian audience that reforming the oversight of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 was “definitely” part of his campaign to challenge “unaccountable power”.

From the Greens/European Free Alliance office of the European Parliament, the latest on the instigator of Spookgate 2013-2014:

Snowden confirms wish to address MEPs; EP must take into account

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has confirmed in writing that he is prepared to answer questions from the European Parliament’s inquiry into the revelations of mass surveillance by intelligence services. He will at least respond in writing, possibly also via a recorded video message. The Greens welcomed the confirmation and insisted that the EP must immediately move to facilitate this, with Green justice and home affairs spokesperson Jan Philipp Albrecht stating:

“The confirmation that Edward Snowden is willing to answer questions in the context of the EP’s inquiry is a significant and positive development. To conclude the inquiry without testimony from its key witness would render the process clearly incomplete. We would urge those centre-right MEPs that have hitherto resisted giving Snowden a hearing to drop their resistance. We will request an additional, extraordinary meeting of the EP inquiry before a vote is taken on its final report, with a view to ensuring the testimony can be taken into account.

“It is clear that Edward Snowden will only be able to give us comprehensive information if he can be guaranteed a safe stay in Europe for a later in-depth testimony. Next week, the EP’s civil liberties committee will decide if the European Parliament will call on EU governments to grant such protection. The Greens have pushed for this and continue to urge all political groups to support the move.”

The McClatchy Washington Bureau hits a roadblock:

Americans find swift stonewall on whether NSA vacuumed their data

Since last year’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s massive communications data dragnets, the spy agency has been inundated with requests from Americans and others wanting to know if it has files on them. All of them are being turned down .

The denials illustrate the bind in which the disclosures have trapped the Obama administration. While it has pledged to provide greater transparency about the NSA’s communications collections, the NSA says it cannot respond to individuals’ requests without tipping off terrorists and other targets.

As a result, Americans whose email and telephone data may have been improperly vacuumed up have no way of finding that out by filing open records requests with the agency. Six McClatchy reporters who filed requests seeking any information kept by the NSA on them all received the same response.

Reuters probes:

Democrats seek probe of U.S. contractor for security checks

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday sought an investigation of the largest U.S. government contractor for security checks, saying it received huge bonuses during the time it is accused of bilking the government of millions of dollars.

Representative Elijah Cummings said a congressional report found United States Investigations Services “adopted aggressive new financial incentives to accelerate its work” in 2007 and took shortcuts in its review of background checks while charging the federal government for the full service.

The company, the largest private provider of security checks for the government, was accused in a Justice Department lawsuit last month of bilking the government of millions of dollars through improper background checks.

The contractor also received millions of dollars in bonuses from the Office of Personnel Management, including $2.4 million in 2008, $3.5 million in 2009 and $5.8 million in 2010, said Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform committee.

And a video report from RT:

Firm that conducted Snowden background check accused of fraud, Microsoft’s Sino-censoring search engine, literary censorship in India, and a security threat averted by some toy-grabbing zealots. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day: Spools, zones, drones, pols


We begin today’s compilation of headlines from the realms of espionage, militarism, and territorial ambitions with the latest Edward Snowden leal form the New York Times:

Snowden Used Low-Cost Tool to Best N.S.A.

Intelligence officials investigating how Edward J. Snowden gained access to a huge trove of the country’s most highly classified documents say they have determined that he used inexpensive and widely available software to “scrape” the National Security Agency’s networks, and kept at it even after he was briefly challenged by agency officials.

Using “web crawler” software designed to search, index and back up a website, Mr. Snowden “scraped data out of our systems” while he went about his day job, according to a senior intelligence official. “We do not believe this was an individual sitting at a machine and downloading this much material in sequence,” the official said. The process, he added, was “quite automated.”

The findings are striking because the N.S.A.’s mission includes protecting the nation’s most sensitive military and intelligence computer systems from cyberattacks, especially the sophisticated attacks that emanate from Russia and China. Mr. Snowden’s “insider attack,” by contrast, was hardly sophisticated and should have been easily detected, investigators found.

Moreover, Mr. Snowden succeeded nearly three years after the WikiLeaks disclosures, in which military and State Department files, of far less sensitivity, were taken using similar techniques.

On to the Emerald Isle and an Irish Times claim of sensitive bugging beyond the ken of  Minister for Justice Alan Shatter [or so he says]:

Bugging found at offices of Garda complaints watchdog

  • Government not informed, Shatter yet to comment on controversy

The Garda Siochana Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc), which investigates complaints made against Garda members, has found evidence that its discussions, telephone calls and emails had been hacked by an unidentified source.

The discovery was made last year when the organisation carried out a sweep of its offices using a UK-based private contractor that specialises in counter surveillance. Since then, security has been improved in Gsoc including the establishment of a dedicated meeting room that cannot be bugged.

The sweep of Gsoc’s offices in Middle Abbey St in Dublin’s north inner city found a speaker phone in a conference room where cases were discussed was bugged. There was no physical bugging device in the phone, though a check on the line revealed it had been electronically monitored in a way that enabled a third party to listen in to conversations being conducted in the room and on the phone in question.

The UK security consultants that carried out the inspection on behalf of Gsoc also concluded that the office’s wi-fi system had been compromised from outside the building.

From BBC News, a security struggle south of the border:

Mexico vigilantes enter Knights Templar cartel stronghold

  • Vigilantes checkpoint in Apatzingan The vigilantes say they will only rest when the Knights Templar leaders are in jail

Vigilante groups in the troubled Mexican state of Michoacan have entered a stronghold of the Knights Templar drug cartel, occupying the main square.

Hundreds of vigilantes, backed up by armoured vehicles and troops, arrived in Apatzingan on Saturday.

They have also set up roadblocks around the city, in western Mexico.

The cartel controls much of the drug trafficking in the area, carrying out killings and kidnappings and extorting money from local people.

Vigilante leaders, who have joined the official security forces, and the army have been searching house by house for leaders of the Knights Templar.

On to Asia for the latest round of zone, militarism, historical, and political crises, starting with a turndown from Kyodo News:

N. Korea cancels invitation for U.S. envoy over release of missionary

North Korea has backed off on its decision to allow a U.S. special envoy to visit in connection with a Korean-American missionary imprisoned in the North, sources familiar with relations between the two countries said Sunday.

The latest move came after North Korea on Wednesday made known its approval of the visit by Robert King, U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, through its mission to the United Nations known as the “New York channel.” The North’s about-face means hopes are receding that it will respond to calls by Washington to release the missionary, Kenneth Bae.

The U.S. side, which has repeatedly reached out to the North on dispatching King, had been making the final arrangements to send King to the North in the coming days after Pyongyang notified Washington of its initial approval, the sources said.

South China Morning Post tries to settle up:

Manila to offer ‘generous’ payout over bus tragedy

  • But latest effort to settle bus tragedy row fails to impress victims

Manila hopes to settle the diplomatic rift between Manila and Hong Kong over the 2010 hostage bloodbath with a “generous” compensation payout, Philippine media reported yesterday.

But the initial reaction from survivors was one of fury that they were being offered money instead of an apology.

It comes just days after the city imposed its first sanction against a foreign state – cancelling visa-free arrangements for Philippine officials and diplomatic passport holders.

The news also coincides with a report in the mainland Southern Metropolis Daily in which Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada said it was “regrettable” he had not been able to come to Hong Kong to offer a formal apology as promised, blaming pressure from Philippine President Benigno Aquino.

People’s Daily prepares:

PLA Navy conducts confrontation training in Indian Ocean, the Pacific

  • The taskforce, composed of an amphibious dock landing ship and two guided missile destroyers, as well as three helicopters and an airboat, is scheduled to cross the Sunda Strait, the Lombok Strait, and the Makassar Strait during the training which started on Jan. 20, 2014.

South China Morning Post has a trial run:

Rescue of blazing boat by frigate seen as PLA statement in East China Sea

  • Swift action by PLA Navy – after Japanese had offered to assist burning Zhejiang fishing boat – seen as sign of its readiness in East China Sea

A naval frigate came to the rescue of a Zhejiang fishing boat on fire near disputed waters in the East China Sea, shedding light on the People’s Liberation Army’s readiness to deploy in the region amid the simmering territorial spat with Japan.

The missile frigate Zhoushan sailed at high speed for 3½ hours to reach the burning boat late on Friday, 280 kilometres west-northwest of Amami-Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture.

It arrived ahead of three Japanese coastguard patrol ships that responded to an earlier request by China for help, according to mainland media and Japan’s Kyodo news agency. Xinhua reported six of the 24 people aboard died in the blaze.

The Guardian condemns:

China accuses US of adding to regional tensions

  • Washington only making things worse by ‘playing up’ South China Sea disputes, says Beijing

An activist burns a Chinese flag in the Philippines, which is one of the countries in dispute with China over the South China Sea An activist burns a Chinese flag in the Philippines, which is one of the countries in dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea. Photograph: Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty

China has rejected US allegations it is using vague territorial claims to gradually assert control in the disputed South China Sea and in turn accused Washington of exaggerating tensions in the region.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said the US should take a “rational and fair attitude”. Hong reiterated China’s position that its claims are based on history and international law, and said some US officials’ remarks were “playing up tensions”.

The United States said on Wednesday that actions by China had raised concerns it was trying to assert control over an area covering roughly 80% of the South China Sea despite the objections of its neighbours.

The resource-rich waters are dotted with reefs and islands subject to multiple disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

And the Asahi Shimbun has the latest developments in one of the most recent revisionism crises, a strong word from Uncle Sam:

U.S. State Department calls remarks by NHK governor ‘preposterous’

The U.S. State Department described as “preposterous” remarks by a governor for Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) who alleged the Tokyo war crimes trial was designed to cover up U.S. atrocities during World War II.

The writer Naoki Hyakuta made the comments Feb. 3 when he gave speeches on behalf of Toshio Tamogami, a former Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff running for Tokyo governor. The election will be held Feb. 9.

Hyakuta said the U.S. military committed “cruel massacres” by fire-bombing Tokyo and dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. He went on to say that the Nanking Massacre was brought up in the Tokyo tribunal because the U.S. military wanted to cancel out its own crimes.

He also claimed that the massacre never happened.

The Japan Times lends support:

NHK governors back Abe agenda, minutes reveal

Minutes of a recent NHK board of governors meeting seem to back up suspicions that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, despite his denials, is trying to use Japan’s news giant to promote his nationalist agenda.

The minutes, posted on NHK’s website, show conservatives appointed to the board by Abe voicing their opinion on coverage at the Jan. 14 meeting.

One of the four new members favored by Abe proposed that NHK should do more to educate the public about Japan’s territorial claims on islands at the center of a dispute with China, its wartime history, as well as the problems with the post-World War II U.S.-led Allied tribunal that prosecuted Japanese war criminals.

“I think there should be room for programs that provide the most basic knowledge about history and the challenges Japan is faced with,” said one governor, Naoki Hyakuta, author of a bestselling book on a wartime suicide fighter pilot.

Another governor, Abe confidante Michiko Hasegawa, stressedthe need to promote “correct education” for the public.

NHK WORLD promises:

NHK chief vows to uphold fairness, impartiality

NHK’s new President Katsuto Momii says he’s retracting all personal remarks made at his inaugural news conference, and will work to ensure that the public broadcaster fulfills its duty to be impartial, fair and just.

Momii spoke at a session of the Upper House committee on Friday. He was questioned by an opposition lawmaker about remarks he made in late January.

Momii replied that he is truly sorry for not making a distinction between his personal views and his position as NHK president.

He said he would like to retract all he has said on several issues. They include a recently enacted state secrecy law and the so-called comfort women who were recruited to serve in brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War Two.

And The Diplomat casts a skeptical eye:

NHK and Abe’s Agenda

  • Disturbing statements by the new head of Japan’s national broadcaster raise questions about its future role.

The Imperial Japanese army’s system of sexual slavery during World War Two was not wrong judged by the standards of the time. At least not according to the new chairman of NHK, Japan’s giant public broadcaster. Katsuto Momii, recently appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, set off a firestorm last week with remarks dismissing the forcible rape of twenty thousand Asian “comfort women” as morally no worse than the red light district in modern Amsterdam. He described demands to compensate surviving victims as “puzzling.” Momii then announced his belief that NHK’s foreign news coverage should support government policy on controversial issues such as the Senkaku/Diaoyu island dispute with China.

These comments prompted fierce criticism across East Asia (as did later remarks by NHK governor Naoki Hyakuta denying the Nanking Massacre). Momii’s statements also led to some harsh questioning in the Japanese Diet. Yet Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are standing by their appointee. The episode reveals a deep-seated misogyny within Japan’s ruling elites which casts serious doubt on Abe’s professed commitment to improve the status of women, a key part of the as-yet-undelivered structural reforms essential for the success of Abenomics. Equally troubling, Japan’s most prominent news organization is now headed by someone who, rather than fighting for editorial independence, is openly sympathetic to political influence. If Momii does let NHK’s foreign reporting be guided by the hawkish prime minister, the consequences could be terrible for peaceful relations across East Asia.

Moving on, another network, another history-based crisis from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Russians rally to support TV station

At least 20 people have been detained in Russia for protesting what they believe is overt political pressure on the country’s main independent TV station.

Around 40 people gathered in downtown Moscow on Saturday to protest the decision of leading Russian cable and satellite companies to drop the channel, Dozhd (TV Rain). Protesters gathered near Red Square and opened up umbrellas, playing on the name of the TV station. Except for women with children, most were immediately detained.

Dozhd, which broadcasts on the Internet, cable and satellite channels, stirred controversy in January with a poll about the blockade of Leningrad during World War II.

The Kremlin said the station crossed a moral “red line,” but many have ascribed the pressure to Dozhd’s independent and often critical coverage of the government.

The Mainichi has bugs and drones:

Gov’t to relax weight regulation on drones for pesticide spraying

The government has decided to relax restrictions on the maximum gross weight of unmanned helicopters used to spray pesticides on farms in the hope of increasing the amount of pesticides that can be loaded on one chopper and improving productivity.

The decision came after a panel on reviving primary industries such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concluded at the end of last year to ease the weight regulations on unmanned helicopters. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the government’s council for regulatory reform then agreed to relax the regulation from less than 100 kilograms to less than 150 kilograms.

The Cabinet is set to approve a revision to the enforcement order of the Aircraft Manufacturing Industry Act in March and aims to put the revised law into effect the following month.

From The Register, a drone apart:

UK claims ‘significant lead’ in drones after Taranis test flight

  • Supersonic Brit stealth drone did the business in 2013 tests

BAE Systems kindly let the world know of the test flight late last week, a mere six months after the fact.

They’re telling us everything went swimmingly and that a Taranis prototype piloted from the ground did so well “ that the UK has developed a significant lead in understanding unmanned aircraft which could strike with precision over a long range whilst remaining undetected.”

To be a little less paranoid, it can take rather a while to crunch data that enables an assertion like that above.

The Register again, accessorizing:

Renault unveils mini-SUV equipped with a QUADCOPTER DRONE

  • Target: Hip young Asian ‘trend setters’ – the marketers’ target, not the Flying Companion’s

Visitors to the Delhi Auto Expo motor show are getting the first look at a new concept car from Renault, the Kwid, which features a controllable quadrocopter drone that flies out of the roof.

“This is the first time we have chosen to reveal a concept car outside Europe and this is an eloquent sign of our commitment to India,” said Gilles Normand, chairman of Renault Asia-Pacific in a statement.

“Young customers in India are often trend setters, looking forward to pushing the envelope when it comes to technology and enjoyable drives. Kwid, with its Flying Companion, meets this forward-looking spirit with both its dynamic styling and hyper connectivity.”

From RT, an attempt to kill the messenger?:

Finnish police probe Wikipedia’s donation campaign

Finnish police have asked Wikipedia to reveal details of its donation campaign in the country to determine whether the free online encyclopedia is in breach of Finland’s fundraising laws.

Law enforcement wants to take a look at the encyclopedia’s donation program – which runs globally – as well as the Finnish version of the website, fi.wikipedia.org, according to a police letter posted by Wikimedia.

According to the country’s laws, organizations seeking donations must obtain permission from Finnish police. The measure was introduced to crack down on fraudulent donations drives in the country.

One of the central requirements in the fundraising legislation is that organizations seeking donations must be working in the public interest.

Police are investigating whether Wikipedia’s donation program breaches any of the country’s laws, as the company did not apply for the proper license.

From Deutsche Welle, Turkish censorship:

Saka: ‘Government will decide what violates privacy’

Turkish laws censoring the Internet extend existing policies clamping down on free speech, Istanbul communications instructor Erkan Saka tells DW. Any opposition to Prime Minister Erdogan will be blocked.

Turkey has already blocked more than 40,000 sites. They include child pornography and any kind of porn sites and any sites that are deemed “obscene.” Radical political sites are also banned. With the new law, instead of blocking a whole site – especially social media based sites – the government intends to block particular pages and accounts. It is easy to see that any opposition will be blocked. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proven many, many times that he is not open to even minor criticism.

And for our final item, an Indian lament from Firstpost:

The Whistleblowers act is a joke, but better than no act at all

The primary purpose of any Whistleblowers Bill is to prevent the victimization of individuals who make a disclosure against their organization in public interest. So, naturally the first question that a potential informant will ask is what actions is he/she protected against? What constitutes ‘victimization’? Does it include only suspension and transfer or also indirect forms of retribution like denial of promotion, dilution of powers, withholding increments and adverse remark in the service record?

Against all logic, the Bill provides no definition of ‘victimisation’ even though a comprehensive definition of this term was provided in the Law Commission’s version of the Whistleblowers Bill.

And suppose, in the middle of the most vulnerable and turbulent time of his life, a whistleblower does manage to establish this undefined crime of ‘victimization’, what is the punishment prescribed for the public official in the Bill? Nothing- zero, zilch, nada- despite the recommendation of Administrative Reforms Commission in 2007 that ‘victimization’ should be made a criminal offence with substantial penalty and sentence.

Chris Hedges on class war and crisis cults


The Pulitzer-winning journalist talks with Abby Martin for a two-part conversation on RT’s Breaking the Set.

It’s well worth a listen.

From Breaking The Set:

Chris Hedges Part I: Crisis Cults and the Collapse of Industrial Civilization

Program notes:

Abby Martin features an exclusive interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges, concerning areas of extreme poverty that he refers to as ‘sacrifice zones’, as well as the reasons behind the collapse of complex societies.

Chris Hedges Part II: The Military Mind & the Antidote to Defeatism

Program notes:

Abby Martin features Part 2 of her interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Chris Hedges, discussing the unsustainable nature of the economic system, the military mind in solving world problems, and the antidote to defeatism.

And a bonus segment from CNN’s Anderson Cooper featuring a subject of te Martin/Hedges conversation.

From CNN:

Glenn Greenwald: I will definitely come back to the U.S.

Program note:

Snowden reporter Glenn Greenwald promises to return to the U.S. despite threats that he will be criminally charged.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, & judges


We begin today’s collection of posts from the world of espionage, national security, and militarism with a judicial decision from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Secret court approves phone surveillance changes

National intelligence chief James R. Clapper said Thursday that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had approved two limits on how the government can use huge volumes of data it collects about Americans’ phone use. . .

Under the first change, Clapper said, the massive caches of phone records can be searched only after a court finds that there is “a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the selection term is associated with an approved international terrorist organization.”

That limitation will be in place “absent a true emergency,” Clapper said without elaboration.

The second change requires that the data query results “be limited within two hops of the selection term instead of three.”

Another country, another decision sure to provoke from El País:

High Court to follow through on arrest warrants against top Chinese officials

  • Former president Jiang Zemin and ex-PM Li Peng wanted for human rights abuses in Tibet

Despite global pressure and objections by prosecutors, the High Court on Thursday said it would go ahead with its international arrest warrants for former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, ex-Prime Minister Li Peng and a host of other officials from China, who are wanted for human rights abuses in Tibet.

The warrants, which were ordered by Judge Ismael Moreno on November 18, are the subject of a diplomatic row between Spain and China in which Beijing has been pressuring the conservative Popular Party (PP) government to step in and block the High Court’s investigation into allegedly genocidal policies applied in Tibet.

Last month, the (PP) filed a bill in Congress to restrict the Spanish judiciary from carrying out international prosecutions based on the universal justice doctrine. The proposed reform to the judicial code has come under fire by the opposition, legal experts and human rights organizations which fear that it will affect future cases involving drug traffickers, child abuse, gender violence and female mutilation.

And yet another judicial finding via Techdirt:

Court Says FBI Agent’s Wrong Checkmark Put Woman On No Fly List, Barred Her From The US For 10 Years

  • from the ouch dept

We’ve been covering the case of Rahinah Ibrahim for a little while now. She’s the Stanford PhD student who was wrongfully placed on the no fly list — something that pretty much everyone admitted early on — but because of that her student visa to the US was pulled, and every attempt she made to come back was rejected, leaving her unable to come back to this country for nearly 10 years. As we noted last month, it seemed clear that Judge William Alsup had ruled that the feds needed to remove her from the no fly list and any other terrorist watch lists, but it was a little unclear, since the full ruling remained under seal. That ruling has now been released in redacted form, and is well worth reading. Not only does it highlight massive bureaucratic bungling over a ten-year period, it also shows how disingenuous and dishonest the DOJ has been in handling the entire case — even to the point of promising not to argue “state secrets” to kill the case, and then (of course) claiming “state secrets” and trying to kill the case just a few weeks later. Judge Alsup appears somewhat limited in what he can do in response to all of this for procedural reasons, but he makes it clear that he’s not pleased about all of this and orders the government to confirm that Ibrahim has been fully removed from the various terrorist databases and lists, as the government has flatly admitted that they don’t believe she poses any threat to national security.

More blowback from that leaked telephonic ambassadorial diatribe from BBC News:

Victoria Nuland gaffe: Angela Merkel condemns EU insult

Germany’s Angela Merkel has said a US official’s apparent insult of the EU’s efforts to mediate in the Ukraine crisis is “totally unacceptable”.

Victoria Nuland has apologised after she referred disparagingly to the EU’s role during a conversation said to be with the US ambassador to Ukraine. A recording of the exchange was posted online, with the US hinting at Russia’s involvement in bugging and leaking it.

The EU and US are involved in talks to end months of unrest in Ukraine. The conversation between Ms Nuland and Mr Pyatt reveals deeper tensions between America and Europe.

Washington seems to prefer a deal brokered by the UN rather than Brussels. If true, that would bruise the feelings of EU officials. They believe this is their crisis to solve.

Today’s comments and accusations are a reminder that this crisis is far from over and that it has the potential to cause division and tension even between allies. In Kiev, Ms Nuland – an assistant secretary of state – said she would not make a public statement on the matter.

Assurances from EUbusiness:

US diplomatic chats safe, State Department says

  • Secret US diplomatic conversations are safe, a top official said Friday, despite the apparent bugging of an American envoy’s phone.

Asked if she was confident about the security of diplomatic communications, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki replied: “Certainly we are.”

“We do indicate and make clear when there are concerns about when information can be tapped. So we’re cognizant of this. We’re aware of this. And we are constantly taking precautions and updating our approach.”

She revealed that data encryption is given to all State Department employees for their government-issued BlackBerry mobile phones.

And a very relevant question from the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

Post-Snowden, why were U.S. diplomats talking on insecure line?

[H]ere you have two high-ranking American officials – Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt – discussing sensitive matters apparently on an unsecured line, just days after a similar call had been recorded and, embarrassingly, put online.

Nuland, who refused to comment on the specifics of a conversation meant to be private, did note during a news conference Friday in Kiev that the static-free recording “was pretty impressive tradecraft. The audio was pretty clear.”

But she didn’t address why she was exposing herself to the obvious threat of being recorded. In the wake of the NSA spying scandal, the U.S. administration has repeatedly defended its actions using the line of reasoning: “Everybody does it.”

But if everybody does it, why wasn’t Nuland more careful, especially since it’s pretty well-known that the Russians don’t like her very much?

China Daily has Swiss NSA blowback:

Swatch CEO ticked off about NSA spy scandal

The eccentric chief executive officer of Swatch Group, one of the world’s top watchmakers, was so incensed by recent allegations of mass U.S. spying that he chastised a top New York official over the matter in a letter late last year.

Nick Hayek’s comments seemed odd coming in response to a letter from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who administers the state’s $161 billion pension fund.

DiNapoli had asked Hayek and nine other Olympic sponsors to take a stance against Russia’s recent clampdown on gays ahead of the winter games in Sochi.

Most corporate executives balk at open political conflict. But not the cigar-chomping Hayek. He vigorously defended his Omega subsidiary’s role as a politically neutral timekeeper at the Olympics. And that’s not all. He also gave DiNapoli a dressing down over the spying scandal surrounding the U.S. National Security Agency.

From France, another online governmental mobilization from RFI:

France launches cyberdefence programme

France is to invest a million euros in cyberdefence to combat a mushrooming number of cyberattacks, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced on Friday. The country was the target of nearly 800 significant cyberattacks in 2013, he said.

“I want speedy results,” Le Drian declared at the launch of his Cyberdefence Pact 2014-2016 in the Brittany town of Cesson-Sévigné.

There were more than 780 “significant attacks” in 2013, he revealed, up from 420 in 2012, and they are becoming “more and more varied, complex and diffuse”.

So cyberdefence has become one of the top priorities of the French military’s 2014-2019 programme and a budget of about a billion euros will be allocated to it.

And the latest Snowden revelations with an Old Blighty focus from NBC News:

Snowden Docs: British Spies Used Sex and ‘Dirty Tricks’

British spies have developed “dirty tricks” for use against nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers that include releasing computer viruses, spying on journalists and diplomats, jamming phones and computers, and using sex to lure targets into “honey traps.”

Documents taken from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden and exclusively obtained by NBC News describe techniques developed by a secret British spy unit called the Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group (JTRIG) as part of a growing mission to go on offense and attack adversaries ranging from Iran to the hacktivists of Anonymous. According to the documents, which come from presentations prepped in 2010 and 2012 for NSA cyber spy conferences, the agency’s goal was to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” enemies by “discrediting” them, planting misinformation and shutting down their communications.

Both PowerPoint presentations describe “Effects” campaigns that are broadly divided into two categories: cyber attacks and propaganda operations. The propaganda campaigns use deception, mass messaging and “pushing stories” via Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube. JTRIG also uses “false flag” operations, in which British agents carry out online actions that are designed to look like they were performed by one of Britain’s adversaries.

The Wire recalculates:

The NSA’s Phone Metadata Connect-The-Dots Program Only Collects 30 Percent of Calls

Lost in the pre-Christmas blur was an NBC News interview with one of the members of the group President Obama tasked with reviewing the government’s surveillance toolkit. In that interview, Geoffrey Stone suggested that the agency’s metadata collection was deliberately incomplete. “Asked if the NSA was collecting the records of 75 percent of phone calls, an estimate that has been used in briefings to Congress,” NBC’s Michael Isikoff reported, “Stone said the real number was classified but ‘not anything close to that’ and far lower.”

Now The Washington Post puts a number on that: 30 percent.

In 2006, the officials said, the NSA was collecting nearly all records about Americans’ phone calls from a number of U.S. companies under a then-classified program, but as of last summer that share had plummeted to less than 30 percent.

There are a few reasons offered for the gap. One rationale offered from “industry officials” is that the increase in internet-based calling would mean that the NSA loses a significant portion of calls. Stone suggested another reason: culling records from smaller cell phone providers wasn’t “cost effective” for the agency, so it didn’t bother.

And The Guardian looks at another spook shop:

CIA confirms agency obliged to follow federal surveillance law

  • Law concerns financial information and government hacking
  • Motive for question at Senate committee not known

The CIA has confirmed that it is obliged to follow a federal law barring the collection of financial information and hacking into government data networks.

But neither the agency nor its Senate overseers will say what, if any, current, recent or desired activities the law prohibits the CIA from performing – particularly since a section of the law explicitly carves out an exception for “lawfully authorized” intelligence activities.

The murky episode, arising from a public Senate hearing on intelligence last week, illustrates what observers call the frustrations inherent in getting even basic information about secret agencies into public view, a difficulty recently to the fore over whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) and its surveillance partners.

Jeepers! Peepers. From the always hyperbolic London Daily Mail:

The spy who scrubbed me: Russian official lets slip that Sochi hotels have hidden surveillance cameras in the SHOWERS

  • Deputy prime minister: I have seen video from inside cubicles
  • Dmitry Kozak claimed the footage showed journalists sabotaging facilities
  • The chief of Olympic preparations had tried to down play criticism of venue
  • Officials quickly try to backtrack and issue hasty denial

Russia’s Dmitry Kozak, deputy prime minister responsible for Olympic preparation, revealed that authorities have video from hotels showing that people leave the water on.

The astonishing revelations came when Mr Kozak was confronted by journalists about the poor state of facilities around the Olympic Village.

Reuters escalates:

Exclusive: Pentagon to boost missile defense spending by over $4 billion: sources

The U.S. Defense Department plans to ask Congress for $4.5 billion in extra missile defense funding over the next five years as part of the fiscal 2015 budget request, say congressional sources and an expert.

Nearly $1 billion of that sum will pay for a new homeland defense radar to be placed in Alaska, with an additional $560 million to fund work on a new interceptor after several failed flight tests, said Riki Ellison, founder of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, and two of the congressional sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

The Pentagon’s request for added funding comes despite continued pressure on military spending and cuts in other arms programs, a sign of Washington’s growing concern about missile development efforts by North Korea and Iran, the sources said.

And Press Trust of India tenses up:

Iran sending warships close to US maritime borders

A senior Iranian naval commander says his country has sent several warships to the Atlantic Ocean, close to US maritime borders for the first time.

The commander of Iran’s Northern Navy Fleet, Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad, is quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying today that the vessels have already begun the journey to the Atlantic Ocean via waters near South Africa.

After the jump, the latest Asian crises [cybernetic, geographic, historic, and purely political], corporations snooping and snooped, sins confessed, warnings mandated, mysterious mail, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, zones, & pols


We begin today’s collection of events in the realms of espionage, militarism, and deep politics with an ominous warning via the Honolulu Star Advertiser:

Internments can happen again, Scalia warns

  • The longest-serving member of the U.S. Supreme Court talks at two isle schools

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told law students at the University of Hawaii law school Monday that the nation’s highest court was wrong to uphold the internment of Japa-nese-Americans during World War II but that he wouldn’t be surprised if the court issued a similar ruling during a future conflict.

Scalia was responding to a question about the court’s 1944 decision in Kore-ma-tsu v. United States, which upheld the convictions of Gordon Hira-ba-ya-shi and Fred Kore-ma-tsu for violating an order to report to an internment camp.

“Well, of course, Kore-ma-tsu was wrong. And I think we have repudiated in a later case. But you are kidding yourself if you think the same thing will not happen again,” Scalia told students and faculty during a lunchtime question-and-answer session.

Scalia cited a Latin expression meaning “In times of war, the laws fall silent.”

And that Latin phrase in question? Inter arma enim silent leges.

Techdirt calls out the posse:

Mike Rogers Tries To Make The Case That Glenn Greenwald Should Be Prosecuted For ‘Selling Stolen Material’

  • from the is-he-insane? dept

Rep. Mike Rogers apparently just can’t help but spin wild and ridiculous conspiracy theories. Fresh off his latest attempt to argue that Ed Snowden is a Russian spy — an argument debunked by just about everyone, including his Senatorial counterpart Dianne Feinstein — it appears he’s now decided to pick up the ridiculously insane thread kicked off (purposefully) last week by Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, hinting that journalists who reported on Ed Snowden are somehow “accomplices” who can be prosecuted.

During a House Intelligence Committee in which many members (from both parties) angrily criticized the intelligence community, Rogers continued to do everything possible to defend them, including pushing the bogus argument that Glenn Greenwald “sold stolen goods” in questions to FBI director James Comey.

From the Dept of D’oh! via Nextgov:

Feds: NSA ‘Probably’ Spies on Members of Congress

The National Security Agency “probably” collects phone records of members of Congress and their staffs, a senior Justice Department official conceded Tuesday.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole buckled under questioning from multiple lawmakers during a House Judiciary Committee hearing reviewing proposals to reform the NSA’s surveillance activity.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, began by asking Peter Swire, a member of the president’s handpicked surveillance review board, whether lawmakers’ numbers are included in the agency’s phone-records sweeps. Swire protested that he was not a government official and couldn’t best answer the question, but said he was unaware of any mechanism that “scrubbed out” member phone numbers from the agency’s data haul.

TheLocal.de listens in:

NSA ‘tapped phone of ex-Chancellor Schröder’

The US National Security Agency (NSA) reportedly tapped the phone of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder over his opposition to the Iraq War, according to reports on Tuesday.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung and broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) reported that Chancellor Angela Merkel was not the first German leader to be targeted by the NSA.

Schröder’s phone was allegedly tapped from 2002, while he was Chancellor, to find out his position on the Iraq War.

Schröder, who led Germany from 1998 to 2005, greeted the news with resignation rather than shock or anger. “At the time I wouldn’t have thought American security services were listening in on me, but it doesn’t surprise me now,” he said.

The Copenhagen Post makes an ornamental denial:

Intelligence officials deny NSA spying against Denmark

Intelligence agency FE rejects allegations that NSA spied on Denmark during COP15, but won’t rule out the option that other nations were bugged

The US intelligence agency NSA did not spy on Danish diplomats and politicians during the 2009 COP15 climate conference in Copenhagen, according to the Danish external intelligence agency Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE).

A NSA document revealing the agency obtained information from key countries ahead of the conference was leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and published in Information newspaper last week.

The disclosure also revealed that the agency obtained a secret discussion paper from a Danish official, but the government has continually shot down NSA spying allegations against Denmark.

The Guardian encourages:

House committee urges US government to get behind NSA reform bill

  • Judiciary committee warns Obama administration to back USA Freedom Act or risk losing its counter-terrorism powers

Members of Congress who want to end the National Security Agency’s mass collection of Americans’ phone data sharply warned the Obama administration on Tuesday to get behind a bill to end the controversial practice, or risk losing the counter-terrorism powers provided by the post-9/11 Patriot Act.

Deriding the paucity of legislative alternatives after President Obama’s announcement last month that he wants to transfer the responsibility for bulk collection out of the NSA, congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, the co-sponsor of the USA Freedom Act, told deputy attorney general James Cole at a House judiciary committee hearing that “you will get nothing” if the administration does not endorse the bill.

Asked why the Justice Department had not taken a position on the bill, Cole said: “The Department of Justice is a big place.”

A-maize-ing intel from the New York Times:

Chinese Implicated in Agricultural Espionage Efforts

The case of the missing corn seeds first broke in May 2011 when a manager at a DuPont research farm in east-central Iowa noticed a man on his knees, digging up the field. When confronted, the man, Mo Hailong, who was with his colleague Wang Lei, appeared flushed. Mr. Mo told the manager that he worked for the University of Iowa and was traveling to a conference nearby. When the manager paused to answered his cellphone, the two men sped off in a car, racing through a ditch to get away, federal authorities said.

What ensued was about a year of F.B.I. surveillance of Mr. Mo and his associates, all but one of whom worked for the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group or its subsidiary Kings Nower Seed. The result was the arrest of Mr. Mo last December and the indictment of five other Chinese citizens on charges of stealing trade secrets in what the authorities and agriculture experts have called an unusual and brazen scheme to undercut expensive, time-consuming research.

China has long been implicated in economic espionage efforts involving aviation technology, paint formulas and financial data. Chinese knockoffs of fashion accessories have long held a place in the mainstream. But the case of Mr. Mo, and a separate one in Kansas last year suggest that the agriculture sector is becoming a greater target, something that industry analysts fear could hurt the competitive advantage of farmers and big agriculture alike.

From USA TODAY, another cause for insecurity:

Navy nukes come under scrutiny in cheating probe

The Navy is investigating allegations of cheating among about 30 enlisted sailors who work on nuclear power systems on ships and submarines, top Navy officials said Tuesday.

The naval investigation follows weeks of bad news from the Air Force about rampant, “systemic” cheating on proficiency tests among airmen who handle nuclear weapons.

An enlisted sailor alerted superiors Monday about an offer to exchange answers to one of several tests needed to qualify to operate nuclear propulsion systems, said Adm. John Richardson, leader of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, and Richardson spelled out details of the investigation. “To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement,” Greenert said.

And another cause for insecurity, via Nextgov:

Despite Spending $65 Billion on Cybersecurity, Agencies Neglect Basic Protections

After spending at least $65 billion since 2006 to protect federal computers and networks from hackers, government agencies remain vulnerable, often because officials have neglected to perform basic security steps such as updating software, according to a report released Tuesday by a key Republican senator.

The study cites lapses at the very agencies responsible for protecting U.S. networks and sensitive data, including the Homeland Security Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Although it has steadily improved its overall cybersecurity performance, DHS is by no means a standard-setter,” states the assessment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

SecurityWeek secures:

Snowden Leaks Spark Defense Firms to Change Security Practices: Survey

  • Survey: 75% of Defense Contractors Say Leaks by Edward Snowden Have Made Them Change Their Security Practices

According to the results of a survey conducted by ThreatTrack Security, the leaking of classified NSA documents by Edward Snowden has resulted in defense contractors changing their companies’ cybersecurity practices.

ThreatTrack Security published the study looking to shed light on the attitudes of IT and security managers working at U.S. defense contractors in the wake of the Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified documents related to some the NSA’s spying tactics.

From Colombia, yet another case of spookery run amok from the Miami Herald:

President Santos calls for investigation into alleged army spying on peace negotiators

President Juan Manuel Santos on Tuesday called for an investigation to see “what dark forces” might be behind an alleged army-run spy ring that targeted negotiators in Havana who are trying to broker a peace deal with the country’s largest guerrilla group.

Santos’ announcement comes after Semana.com, one of the country’s most respected media outlets, reported late Monday that the army recruited civilian hackers to break into the email and text-message accounts of government peace negotiators, including chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle.

If the allegations are true, Santos said they would be “totally unacceptable.”

And from International Business Times, another leak icon and another leak:

Text Messages from Victim of Alleged Rape, Molestation Prove Assange Innocent: Wikileak Affidavit

Even as members of Sweden’s parliament have been stepping up pressure on prosecutors to question Julian Assange on the sexual allegations he faces in the country, Assange in a Wikileaks affidavit has claimed that text messages between the two alleged victims prove his innocence.

In the affidavit, which has been published on the WikiLeaks website, Assange tries to prove his innocence, citing the text message sent by the alleged victims.

Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, has been living at Ecuador’s embassy in London since the Latin American country granted him political asylum in the summer of 2012. He was arrested in the UK in December 2010 on a European Union-wide warrant requested by Sweden, over the rape and molestation allegations.

The allegation is that Assange raped one woman and molested another, during a visit to Stockholm in 2010. However, the affidavit has one alleged victim saying in a text message that “it was the police who made up the charges”. The text message further adds that she “did not want to put any charges on JA but that the police were keen on getting a grip on him”.

After the jump, the latest rounds of rhetorical and legislative escalations and zonal boundary provocations from Asia, major Israeli and German arms sales, British Big Brother busted by British Big Brother, the New York Times does undercover edits, DEA courtroom duplicity, and more. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day I: Spies, zones, drones, pols


We begin today’s compendium of tales form the world of spooks and security with a video from RT America:

California to require warrants for drone surveillance

Program notes:

California lawmakers are considering legislation that would keep police agencies and other government entities from using drones to conduct warrantless surveillance in the Golden State. The bill would require law enforcement agencies to obtain a warrant to use drone surveillance, except in some emergency cases, and that those agencies notify the public when they intend to use drones. The data those drones collect would have to be destroyed within six months. RT’s Ameera David takes a look at the bill that would create some of the nation’s strictest standards on the use of drones in law enforcement.

And now, on with the latest blowback from those Edward Snowden NSA revelations, via The Guardian:

Obama admits intelligence chief fault over false Senate testimony

  • President continues to defend James Clapper in the face of calls for his resignation after ‘untruthful’ statement about bulk collection

President Barack Obama has said his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, ought to have been “more careful” in Senate testimony about surveillance that Clapper later acknowledged was untruthful following disclosures by Edward Snowden.

But Obama signaled continued confidence in Clapper in the face of calls for the director to resign from members of Congress who warn of the dangerous precedent set by allowing an intelligence chief to lie to legislative bodies tasked with overseeing the powerful spy agencies.

“Jim Clapper himself would acknowledge, and has acknowledged, that he should have been more careful about how he responded,” Obama told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that aired on Friday.

From the Secretary of State via TheLocal.de, a plea to “trust us”:

Kerry in Berlin: ‘US is committed to privacy’

US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged on Friday that relations with Germany had gone through a “rough period” of late over NSA snooping but he said the US was “committed to privacy”.

After talks in Berlin with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Kerry told reporters that the United States took Germany’s anger seriously, which was sparked by revelations that US intelligence monitored Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

“I want to say to the German people that it’s no secret that we’ve been through a rough period,” Kerry said.

Asked whether the US administration would sign a no-spying agreement that Germany has demanded in the wake of the scandal, Kerry said only that Merkel and US President Barack Obama were in “consultations” on the issue.

Similar words and a response from China Daily:

Obama speech on NSA welcome, but effects remain to be seen: EU official

European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem on Friday welcomed a speech made by US President Barack Obama on curbing the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA), saying what that meant in practice was yet to be seen.

Malmstroem told participants at the 50th Munich Security Conference that there was a need to see the limits of the NSA and safeguards put in place.

Obama announced in a recent speech a reform of the NSA and its surveillance operations, mentioning the possibility of abuse while insisting operatives should consistently follow protocols.

Malmstroem made the remarks in a panel discussion about cyber security, which was joined by the German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizieere, the US chairman of the house permanent select committee on intelligence Michael Rogers and others.

The ol’ “They’re just jealous ploy” from Deutsche Welle:

Hayden: Every agency wants to do what the NSA does

Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA, CIA and US national intelligence, tells DW he sees German anger at US spying as genuine and says the NSA shouldn’t have got caught tapping Chancellor Merkel’s phone.

“Have you been surprised how many Germans take this as a very personal issue? Do they take it very personally because they like the United States but they’ve been really taken aback by the surveillance?

“They have – and as I said before, that’s genuine. Also genuine is my belief that all nations conduct espionage and occasionally espionage gets conducted with people you truly do consider friends. So it’s a bit difficult having that discussion.

“Chairman Mike Rogers from our Intelligence Committee was here yesterday and I think he put a good program on the table. He said, “Let’s stick with the facts. Let’s actually have an adult conversation about what it is our security services do and don’t do.” And, frankly, in order for that to be a good conversation, I think German citizens are going to have to have a better idea about what their security organizations do and don’t do. I would be willing to bet that now, based on all these press accounts, most Germans know more about the NSA than about the BND [Germany’s federal intelligence service].”

Techdirt covers another ploy:

Canadian Gov’t Responds To Spying Revelations By Saying It’s All A Lie And Calling Glenn Greenwald A ‘Porn Spy’

  • from the wtf? dept

We’ve seen various government officials act in all sorts of bizarre ways after revelations of illegal spying on their own people (and foreigners), but none may be quite as bizarre as the response from the Canadian government, following the release late last night from the CBC (with help from Glenn Greenwald) that they’re spying on public WiFi connections. That report had plenty of detail, including an internal presentation from the Canadian electronic spying agency, CSEC. In the Canadian Parliament today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, decided to respond to all of this by by insisting it’s all a lie and then flat out insulting both the CBC and Glenn Greenwald.

Here’s the video via Maclean’s Magazine. Techdirt has the transcript. . .and more:

Paul Calandra calls Glenn Greenwald a porn spy

Program notes:

The Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary, Paul Calandra, rose in the House before Question Period to bemoan the CBC’s journalistic integrity. Last night, the public broadcaster revealed top-secret documents that alleged a Canadian spy agency used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers’ wireless activity. Communications Security Establishment Canada isn’t supposed to monitor innocent Canadians.

Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist who lives in Brazil, collaborated with the CBC on its report. Greenwald retains copies of a trove of U.S. intelligence docs leaked by infamous whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the journalist is working with the CBC—as a freelancer—to report stories relevant to a Canadian audience.

None of this impresses Calandra, who condemned the news report, questioned the CBC’s judgment, and mocked Greenwald’s past association with a porn company. He reacted in much the same way the first time the CBC published Greenwald’s work.

Calandra’s money line: “Why is furthering porn spy Glenn Greenwald’s agenda and lining his Brazilian bank account more important than maintaining the public broadcaster’s journalistic integrity?”

Hey, look at the bright side, CBC. He could have called you the state broadcaster.

SecurityWeek has saner umbrage:

Canada’s Eavesdropping Agency Blasts Tradecraft Leak

Canada’s ultra-secret eavesdropping agency on Friday blasted the disclosure of its tradecraft, after it was reported the agency had tracked airline passengers connected to Wi-Fi services at airports.

Communications Security Establishment Canada said: “The unauthorized disclosure of tradecraft puts our techniques at risk of being less effective when addressing threats to Canada and Canadians.”

On Thursday, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation said documents leaked by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden showed that the CSEC could follow the movements of people who passed through airports and connected to Wi-Fi systems with mobile phones, tablets and laptops.

The documents showed the agency could track the travellers for a week or more as they and their wireless devices showed up in other Wi-Fi “hot spots” in cities across Canada and beyond.

While Deutsche Welle spurns:

Brazil continues to ignore Snowden asylum appeal

  • Over a million people have signed an online petition to grant asylum to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in Brazil. However, experts doubt that the country will give in to this demand.

An online petition started in November on the websites of the civic activism Avaaz has attracted over 1 million signatures. The petition was initiated by David Miranda, partner of American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who conducted the first media interviews with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Miranda plans to present the petition to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff once it has attracted 1,250,000 supporters.

But it is not only the campaign’s signatories who believe Snowden would be in good hands if he received asylum in Brazil: Snowden himself has appealed for it. The request, however, has so far remained unanswered, according to Snowden’s official support website. In July 2013, Brazil’s foreign minister stated that Snowden would not be grated asylum in the country. Meanwhile, the Brazilian president has claimed that no official application has been submitted on Snowden’s behalf.

Rubbing the Belgians the wrong way, via De Standaard:

Belgian professor in cryptography hacked

A new Belgian episode in the NSA scandal: Belgian professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater, internationally renowned expert in data security was the victim of hacking. And, as was the case in the Belgacom hacking affair, there are indications the American secret service NSA and its British counterpart, the GCHQ might be involved.

There isn’t a card with an electronic chip available, or it has some sort of security technology that UCL professor Jean-Jacques Quisquater (67) was involved in developing. If you are able to withdraw money from a cashpoint safely, for example, that is to some extent due to Quisquater’s work on complicated mathematical algorithms. He was also involved in the development of the Proton payment system in Belgium. That very same Jean-Jacques Quisquater has now been the victim of a hacking attack, that has all the signs – as was the case in the Belgacom affair – of ‘state-sponsored espionage, De Standaard has discovered.

The authorities investigating the Belgacom hacking case confirm they have opened a case. Quisquater himself has lodged a formal complaint.

Earlier this week, whistle blower Edward Snowden gave an interview to German television channel ARD in which he claimed the NSA’s espionage activities are not only aimed at protecting US national security – in the so-called ‘war on terror’ – but also at companies and private individuals. The Quisquater case seems to indicate the Belgian justice department might be able to demonstrate Snowden’s claims are more than a mere figment of his imagination. As far as we are able to tell, this is the first instance in which a private person is seen as a victim in the NSA case.

And dis-Dane from Dagbladet Information:

For the NSA, espionage was a means to strengthen the US position in climate negotiations

At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, the world’s nations were supposed to reach an agreement that would protect future generations against catastrophic climate change. But not everyone was playing by the rules. A leaked document now reveals that the US employed the NSA, its signals intelligence agency, to intercept information about other countries’ views on the climate negotiations before and during the summit. According to observers, the spying may have contributed to the Americans getting their way in the negotiations.

From BBC News, a story about a proposal with a peculiar motivation [see last line]:

David Cameron wants fresh push on communications data

David Cameron wants a fresh push after the next election to “modernise” laws to allow monitoring of people’s online activity, after admitting there was little chance of progress before then.

The prime minister told a parliamentary committee that gathering communications data was “politically contentious” but vital to keep citizens safe.

He said TV crime dramas illustrated the value of monitoring mobile data.

After the jump, the latest Asian zone, drone, historical revisionism. Militarism, and secrecy crises. Plus Gitmo secrecy and a Canadian IP lawsuit, Fourth Estate under siege in UK and Russia, an Athenian terror scare, nuclear cheaters, drone warnings, email hacks, and more. . . Continue reading

Charts of the day: Lines on maps, history


Two graphics deftly sum up key aspects of the unfolding confrontations in Asia.

First, from the Wall Street Journal conflicting China Seas borders:

BLOG Border claims

Second, conflicting historical claims in classrooms from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

BLOG Asian isles

Headlines of the day I: Spies, drones, bellicosity


We begin today’s tour of the black realm with a look, up in the sky! from CBC:

U.S. drone testing sites to be developed in 6 states

Test sites will work on how to introduce drones to U.S. skies

Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market. (Jason Reed/Reuters)

The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the unmanned aircraft’s march into U.S. skies. The agency said Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia as states that will host research sites.

The Independent adds another draconian Orwellian touch to life in Old Blighty:

MoD tightens security at American spy bases linked to drone strikes

‘Draconian’ laws would help the US cover up illegal activities

The Ministry of Defence is set to introduce “draconian” new powers to tighten security and limit access to US airbases in Britain implicated in mass surveillance and drone strikes, The Independent can reveal.

The measures, which include powers to arrest for offences ranging from taking photographs to failing to clean up dog mess, would be put in place through a little-known project to overhaul the by-laws surrounding military facilities across the country.

Among the sites where the new rules are set to be imposed are two US Air Force bases used as key communication hubs for clandestine eavesdropping.

And the really big story the latest Snowden leaks bombshell, first from Spiegel:

Inside TAO: Documents Reveal Top NSA Hacking Unit

The NSA’s TAO hacking unit is considered to be the intelligence agency’s top secret weapon. It maintains its own covert network, infiltrates computers around the world and even intercepts shipping deliveries to plant back doors in electronics ordered by those it is targeting.

An internal description of TAO’s responsibilities makes clear that aggressive attacks are an explicit part of the unit’s tasks. In other words, the NSA’s hackers have been given a government mandate for their work. During the middle part of the last decade, the special unit succeeded in gaining access to 258 targets in 89 countries — nearly everywhere in the world. In 2010, it conducted 279 operations worldwide.

Indeed, TAO specialists have directly accessed the protected networks of democratically elected leaders of countries. They infiltrated networks of European telecommunications companies and gained access to and read mails sent over Blackberry’s BES email servers, which until then were believed to be securely encrypted. Achieving this last goal required a “sustained TAO operation,” one document states.

This TAO unit is born of the Internet — created in 1997, a time when not even 2 percent of the world’s population had Internet access and no one had yet thought of Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. From the time the first TAO employees moved into offices at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the unit was housed in a separate wing, set apart from the rest of the agency. Their task was clear from the beginning — to work around the clock to find ways to hack into global communications traffic.

More from The Guardian:

NSA ‘hacking unit’ infiltrates computers around the world – report

  • NSA: Tailored Access Operations a ‘unique national asset’
  • Former NSA chief calls Edward Snowden a ‘traitor’

A top-secret National Security Agency hacking unit infiltrates computers around the world and breaks into the toughest data targets, according to internal documents quoted in a magazine report on Sunday.

Details of how the division, known as Tailored Access Operations (TAO), steals data and inserts invisible “back door” spying devices into computer systems were published by the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The magazine portrayed TAO as an elite team of hackers specialising in gaining undetected access to intelligence targets that have proved the toughest to penetrate through other spying techniques, and described its overall mission as “getting the ungettable”. The report quoted an official saying that the unit’s operations have obtained “some of the most significant intelligence our country has ever seen”.

Here’s one of the NSA slides revealed by Spiegel, revealing both the name of a TAO program and the peculiar attutudes of cybersnoopers:

ACHTUNG SPERRFRIST 30.12.2013 Quantum-Biga #01 Foxacid

The Verge takes its own focus:

NSA reportedly intercepting laptops purchased online to install spy malware

According to a new report from Der Spiegel based on internal NSA documents, the signals intelligence agency’s elite hacking unit (TAO) is able to conduct sophisticated wiretaps in ways that make Hollywood fantasy look more like reality. The report indicates that the NSA, in collaboration with the CIA and FBI, routinely and secretly intercepts shipping deliveries for laptops or other computer accessories in order to implant bugs before they reach their destinations. According to Der Spiegel, the NSA’s TAO group is able to divert shipping deliveries to its own “secret workshops” in a method called interdiction, where agents load malware onto the electronics or install malicious hardware that can give US intelligence agencies remote access.

While the report does not indicate the scope of the program, or who the NSA is targeting with such wiretaps, it’s a unique look at the agency’s collaborative efforts with the broader intelligence community to gain hard access to communications equipment. One of the products the NSA appears to use to compromise target electronics is codenamed COTTONMOUTH, and has been available since 2009; it’s a USB “hardware implant” that secretly provides the NSA with remote access to the compromised machine.

And the Verge finds still another focus:

The NSA’s elite hackers can hijack your Wi-Fi from 8 miles away

Attendees at the Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg this weekend got a surprising rundown of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities, courtesy of security researcher Jacob Appelbaum. Appelbaum, who co-wrote the Der Spiegel article that first revealed the NSA catalog, went into further detail onstage, describing several individual devices in the catalog and their intended purposes.

Alongside pre-packaged exploits that allowed control over iOS devices and any phone communicating through GSM, Appelbaum detailed a device that targets computers through packet injection, seeding exploits from up to 8 miles away. He even speculated the exploits could be delivered by drone, although he conceded that in most cases, an unmarked van would likely be more practical.

The Daily Dot has another focus:

NSA has top-secret catalog of ‘keys’ into world’s security architecture

Around the world, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies depend on the computer security architecture made by companies like Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei to protect their most valuable secrets. But for years the vast majority of these systems have been compromised.

A 2008 document obtained by German newspaper Der Spiegel reveals the National Security Agency has been able to slip into the majority of systems made by the major players in the computer security industry, thanks to an entire catalog of resilient and hard-to-detect backdoors, some of which are capable of burrowing as deep as a computer’s motherboard.

The Daily Dot has another focus:

NSA has top-secret catalog of ‘keys’ into world’s security architecture

Around the world, corporations, nonprofits and government agencies depend on the computer security architecture made by companies like Cisco, Juniper, and Huawei to protect their most valuable secrets. But for years the vast majority of these systems have been compromised.

A 2008 document obtained by German newspaper Der Spiegel reveals the National Security Agency has been able to slip into the majority of systems made by the major players in the computer security industry, thanks to an entire catalog of resilient and hard-to-detect backdoors, some of which are capable of burrowing as deep as a computer’s motherboard.

While PandoDaily gets philosophical:

Snowden’s biggest revelation: We don’t know what power is anymore, nor do we care

That the US and Britain spy on our allies (and on each other) is not in and of itself a shocking revelation, but this is more important than mere novelty. What matters most about the Snowden leaks is what will come of them, and what we’ll do with them, if anything. There is no guarantee that leaks lead to positive change, nothing inherently transformative about leaking, not without a larger political movement – what Joe Costello would call “a politics” — pushing it. And right now, the only thing close to a politics around leaking is libertarianism, the worst of all political worlds.

Even with a politics, there’s no guarantee leaks end up making things better without a long fight. The last time frightening NSA spying programs (SHAMROCK, MINARET) were leaked in the 1970s, the political reforms that followed turned out to be far worse than what we had before: namely the secret FISA courts. The FISA courts were supposed to provide judicial check on the NSA, but instead turned into a nightmarish secret court that not only rubber stamps nearly every surveillance warrant the NSA asks for, but worse, has been used to restrict Americans’ constitutional rights.

Away from NSA and off to Moscow with the Buenos Aires Herald:

Russia calls for unity in fight against ‘terrorists’

Russia has likened two deadly suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd to attacks by militants in the United States, Syria and other countries and called for international solidarity in the fight against “terrorists.”

“We will not retreat and will continue our consistent fight against an insidious enemy that can only be defeated together,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

From BuzzFeed, the latest and possibly terminal entry in a long series:

Administration Won’t Comment On Israeli Report About Imprisoned Spy

An Israeli TV report says Secretary of State John Kerry is preparing to offer to release Jonathan Pollard. The White House and State Department refuse to comment.

The White House and State Department on Friday refused to confirm or deny an Israeli report that Secretary of State John Kerry was offering the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in return for Israel freeing Arab Israeli prisoners as part of its next round of Palestinian prisoner releases.

Pollard was convicted in 1987 of stealing classified information and passing it on to the Israeli government while working as an intelligence analyst. He was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 and his eventual release has become a cause in Israeli politics, with 106 members of the Knesset signing a letter to Obama this week calling for Pollard to be freed from prison.

After the jump, tensions heat up n Asia with Afghan gloom, Pakistani violence, moves and countermoves in the China sea, more blowback from the Japanese prime minister’s visit to a war shrine housing remains of war criminals, hardening of the Japanese security state, corporate intel, and much more. . . Continue reading

Mediastan: Chelsea Manning’s leaks hit the road


A feature-length documentary directed by director Johannes Wahlstrom, on the search for media to help publicize the diplomatic cables downloaded by Chelsea Manning to the immense anger of the White House, State Department, and so many others.

Via RT:

Mediastan: WikiLeaks ‘Road Movie’

From the accompanying RT story:

In “Mediastan,” produced by Julian Assange, Rebecca O’Brien and Lauren Dark, a group of underground journalists test the impact of the leaked documents as they travel through Central Asia in search of local media outlets willing to publish Cablegate files. Their journey follows the ancient Silk Road traversing Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and US-occupied Afghanistan.

>snip<

The third part of the film moves from Central Asia to Britain and the US, with new cables being shown to The Guardian and The New York Times.

Julian Assange talks to The Guardian’s editor, Alan Rusbridger, about how the newspaper censored US cables about rich kleptocrats and western oil companies. In New York, the NYT’s editor, Bill Keller, reveals his newspaper’s daily telephone calls with the US government.

“Mediastan is not so much a physical place as it is a state of mind among many of the journalists and editors who form our perceptions of the world,” Wahlstrom said.

The film is a challenge to Hollywood’s ‘Fifth Estate’ which was condemned by WikiLeaks as a “propaganda attack.”However, Wahlstrom accepted that the film’s “flop” had actually worked in WikiLeaks’ favor.

“The success of Mediastan, on the other hand, has a lot to do with the Hollywood story, since we have been able to use their marketing to our advantage,” Wahlstrom said.

The journey was not an easy one, he adds. “Throughout our journey we were tailed, or at least we thought we were being tailed, by various state agents. But it seemed as though they didn’t consider us a serious threat since they had other ways of controling their own media if we were to hand them the documents,” he said.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, zones, threats


Once again, we missed a day, leaving us with a lot of catching up on the latest development in the world of the dark arts, corporate snooping, and military posturing.

Most notable [and after the jump], rapid escalation of the Asian security crisis and the latest in corporate cyber-stalking.

We begin with a headline from Reuters:

Man arrested for suspected plot to blow up Kansas airport

Authorities have arrested a man suspected of plotting to blow up the Mid-Continent Airport in Wichita, Kansas, in a suicide attack with a carload of explosives, officials said Friday.

Terry Loewen, a 58-year-old aviation technician from Wichita, intended to die a martyr in the bombing, U.S. District Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom said at a news conference.

Authorities said Loewen was believed to have been motivated, at least partly, by religious beliefs. Officials said Loewen had made statements prior to the attempted attack that he was resolved to commit an act of violent “jihad” on behalf of al Qaeda against the United States.

Now, on to the latest twist in the one story that has been capturing global headlines for months. From News Corp Australia:

US spy ‘open to cutting deal with Snowden’

A NATIONAL Security Agency official has said in an interview he would be open to cutting an amnesty deal with US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden if the fugitive agreed to stop divulging secret documents.

Rick Ledgett, who heads the NSA’s task force investigating the damage from the Snowden leaks, told CBS television’s 60 Minutes program that some but not all of his colleagues share his view.

And from The Guardian, vanishing hopes for reform:

NSA review to leave spying programs largely unchanged, reports say

  • Panel to propose bulk surveillance continue – with some curbs
  • Adviser calls apparent decision to leave core intact ‘shameful’

More from Wired:

White House Task Force Urges Curb on NSA’s Bulk Data Collection

A presidential task force charged with determining what reforms are needed for the NSA and its surveillance activities has recommended the agency be led by a civilian commander, instead of a military one, and that bulk phone records the NSA wants to collect be retained by phone companies or held by a third party, rather than being stored by the NSA.

The task force also recommended restrictions on when and how the NSA can search the data, according to the Wall Street Journal. And it recommended separating the code-making division of the NSA, which develops and promotes codes, from the NSA division that breaks electronic security codes. Documents recently leaked by Edward Snowden described a decade-long effort by the NSA to crack different types of encryption and other security mechanisms in order to provide access to protected data for surveillance, a task at odds with the NSA’s traditional role in helping to develop public algorithms.

Still more from Ars Technica:

Obama panel says NSA phone spying records should be held by third party

Intelligence officials likely to oppose restrictions on surveillance.

Reuters has the response from The Most Transparent Administration in History™:

White House says plans no split of NSA, Cyber Command

The Obama administration on Friday said it will keep one person in charge of both the National Security Agency spy agency and the military’s Cyber Command, despite growing calls for splitting the roles in the wake of revelations about the vast U.S. electronic surveillance operations.

The White House had considered splitting up the two agencies, possibly giving the NSA a civilian leader for the first time in its 61-year history to dampen controversy over its programs revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.

Dogs and ponies, via The Verge:

NSA officials go on tour to heal agency image amid surveillance scandal

The National Security Agency has endured six months of criticism from media outlets since Edward Snowden released documents disclosing the agency’s massive global surveillance apparatus. With its back against the wall, NSA head Keith Alexander and Snowden task force head Richard Ledgett are speaking directly to the press as a means of getting ahead of the story, with the hope of painting themselves — and Snowden himself — in a new light.

Another Snowden link, via Ars Technica:

Archaic but widely used crypto cipher allows NSA to decode most cell calls

Snowden docs make it official: The NSA can crack 30-year-old A5/1 crypto.

The National Security Agency can easily defeat the world’s most widely used cellphone encryption, a capability that means the agency can decode most of the billions of calls and texts that travel over public airwaves each day, according to published report citing documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

Bloomberg Businessweek has the latest form of blowback:

IBM Shareholder Sues the Company Over NSA Cooperation

Spying is not good for business. That’s been the message from many U.S. tech companies and industry groups in recent months following revelations last summer that several companies were cooperating with the National Security Agency over its Prism surveillance program. The industry says it stands to lose tens of billions of dollars as customers in other countries turn to homegrown technology instead.

Now one such company, IBM (IBM), is facing a lawsuit over its cooperation with the NSA. IBM was sued yesterday by a shareholder claiming it violated federal securities laws in seeking to hide losses that stemmed from disclosures of its relationship with the NSA.

While Business Insider has yet another disappointment from the land of Hope™ and Change™:

AP Photojournalist Blasts Obama’s Press Restrictions As ‘Orwellian Image Control’

A photojournalist for the Associated Press is pulling no punches in a scathing opinion piece published today in The New York Times, referring to the restrictions on press photographers covering the president as “draconian” and calling official photo releases “propaganda.”

The article written by Santiago Lyon, vice president and director of photography for the Associated Press, is titled “Obama’s Orwellian Image Control.”

Lyon takes issue with the release of pictures from official White House photographers as an “idealized portrayal of events” that could not be considered journalism. He also doesn’t mince words in his conclusion, calling these photos “propaganda.”

And the latest embarrassment for the folks at Langley from The Guardian:

CIA veterans say Robert Levinson affair may damage intra-agency co-operation

  • AP: former FBI agent missing in Iran was working with CIA
  • Relations between analysts and operatives likely to be strained

An unauthorized CIA spy operation initiated by agency analysts didn’t just lead to an American being seized in Iran. It may have damaged ties between intelligence analysts and operations specialists, according to CIA veterans.

More media embarrassment from Gawker:

ABC, NYT Repeatedly Lied About CIA Operative Robert Levinson

ABC News and The New York Times have known since 2007 that Robert Levinson, the ex-FBI agent who was kidnapped in Iran, was not, as the U.S. government and his family claimed, an independent businessman: He was working for the CIA. The Times’ report today discloses this timeline; ABC News’ report does not—but a source at the network confirmed to Gawker that ABC reporters discovered the CIA connection in 2007 as well. At the request of the government and Levinson’s family, however, both outlets repeatedly stated, without any caveats, that Levinson was on a “business trip” when he was captured. A review of their coverage indicates that ABC News did so at least 7 times, and the Times at least 3 times.

The Christian Science Monitor has more lies:

Levinson, Iran, the CIA, and lies

The US government has been lying for years about Robert Levinson, a man kidnapped in Iran after being sent there as part of a rogue CIA operation. Some media have been playing along.

While the AP reports that Levinson’s handlers were CIA employees, they all appear to have been analysts, rather than employees expert in gathering intelligence themselves and running assets in the field. The AP says the employees running Levinson as their own private collection agent weren’t authorized to do so, and that three analysts were quietly sacked in 2007 for their involvement and a further seven admonished.

BBC News offers the latest White House spin control:

White House: Robert Levinson not a government employee

The AP agency says the White House is choosing its words carefully – that Bob Levinson was not an “employee” but a “contractor”

The White House has said the ex-FBI agent believed to have been held in Iran for the last seven years was not working for the US government at the time of his disappearance.

White House spokesman Jay Carney spoke the day after the Associated Press news agency reported Mr Levinson was on an unauthorised mission for the CIA.

And more embarrassment via the London Daily Mail:

CIA star and ‘quirky’ office analyst who introduced her friend to the agency before he was sent on ‘rogue’ mission that led to disappearance

  • Anne Jablonski was forced to quit the CIA following the investigation into Levinson’s kidnapping
  • She is now working in the private sector and teaches yoga
  • She also blogs about finding inner peace and making her own cat food for her pets

BBC News has another imbroglio-in-the-making, this time for spooks across the pond:

Iran claims to have captured MI6 spy

Iran says it has captured a spy working for British intelligence agency MI6 in the south-eastern city of Kerman.

The head of Kerman’s revolutionary court said the alleged spy had admitted being in contact with four British intelligence officers 11 times, both inside and outside the country.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, California’s plutocratic senator pronounces:

Feinstein: vote soon on releasing parts of secret CIA detention report

The Senate Intelligence Committee will soon vote on releasing parts of a report that alleges that the CIA misled lawmakers and U.S. officials about the value of the information produced by the agency’s post-9/11 secret detention and harsh interrogation program, the panel chairwoman said.

But that doesn’t mean the public will get to see the excerpts any time soon.

The 300-page executive summary, findings and conclusions will still have to go through a process to determine which parts can be made public and which will be blacked out. The review – which will involve the White House and CIA – could take weeks or months, said a congressional aide, who requested anonymity.

McClatchy Washington Bureau again, this time with word of another report on another, much older Langley cockup:

Lawsuit seeks to unlock CIA’s secret history of Bay of Pigs invasion

The Obama administration on Thursday fought to keep secret a CIA account of the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle.

Half a century after the failed invasion of Cuba, and three decades after a CIA historian completed his draft study, an administration lawyer told a top appellate court that the time still isn’t right to make the document public.

And the Washington Times lends a covert hand:

Leon Panetta named as source of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ scriptwriter’s information

A Freedom of Information request filed by government watchdog Judicial Watch revealed that former CIA Director Leon E. Panetta was the source who gave up secret information to the scriptwriter of “Zero Dark Thirty,” the Hollywood movie about the raid on Osama bin Laden.

Judicial Watch said in an email that Mr. Panetta revealed the classified information during an awards ceremony on June 24, 2011, to mark the administration’s assault on Osama bin Laden. Mr. Panetta was giving a speech at the ceremony, during which he concluded: “You have made me proud of the CIA family. And you have made me proud as an Italian to know that bin Laden sleeps with the fishes.”

Next, a trip noth of the border with some unsurprising story about Canada’s NSA counterpart, the Communications Security Establishment Canada, via CBC News:

CSEC watchdog muzzled, defanged

The wish and ‘a prayer’ of keeping tabs on CSEC

The revelation that a little-known Canadian intelligence operation has been electronically spying on trading partners and other nations around the world, at the request of the U.S. National Security Agency, has critics wondering who’s keeping an eye on our spies.

The answer is a watchdog, mostly muzzled and defanged, whose reports to Parliament are first censored by the intelligence agency he is watching, then cleared by the minister politically responsible for any problems in the first place.

And from Reuters, some dronish blowback:

In Yemen, al Qaeda gains sympathy amid U.S. drone strikes

Despite the toll taken on militants, residents in various parts of Yemen told Reuters they worry that the drone program is counter-productive. In the capital Sanaa, Abdulrazzaq al-Jamal, a journalist who has interviewed several members of AQAP, acknowledged the group has taken some hits from the drones, but said the strikes have also brought it followers.

“The drones have limited their movements but it makes their ideology more attractive to people. When a Yemeni is killed, it doesn’t matter whether or not he’s al Qaeda,” said Jamal, who was wearing the dagger common among Yemeni men.

Off to Sweden for a helping hand via TheLocal.se:

US spies asked Sweden for translation help

Leaked documents from the US have shown that the NSA asked Sweden for translation help on their “high-priority” material that involved the Swedish language.

The request came in the form of an internal message at the US National Security Agency (NSA), which asked Sweden’s National Defence Radio Establishment (Svenska Försvarets Radioanstalt – FRA) for translation help in the fight against terrorism.

From The Guardian, gag us with a spoon:

Calling for abolition of monarchy is still illegal, UK justice ministry admits

Department wrongly announced that section of law threatening people with life imprisonment had been repealed

The Treason Felony Act 1848 has been the subject of repeated legal confusion this century. It was the subject of a high court challenge by the Guardian in 2003. This week, in a footnote to a list of new offences, the MoJ said the powers in section 3 of the Act had finally been swept away in a belated, legislative pruning of unwanted laws.

From EUobserver, legal blowback in the works?:

France’s new surveillance law under fire

A new law in France, which expands surveillance monitoring powers, without judicial review, to government agencies like tax and finance authorities, may be challenged in the Constitutional Court, reports Reuters. Pro-right groups, tech companies Google and Microsoft, want the constitutional watchdog to review the law adopted earlier this week.

Moscow next, with suppressive thoughts about another perceived security threat. From The Guardian:

Vladimir Putin defends anti-gay laws as bastion of global conservatism

President says Russia stands on international stage in defence of traditional values against ‘fruitless so-called tolerance’

After the jump, the Asian security crises continue, with heads rolling, internet purging, ships nearly colliding, secrecy law protests, alliance plays, drones a-buildin’, and legal bribes; corporate cyberstalking, civil servant muzzling, and more. . . Continue reading

Deja vu: Resurgent militarism in Japan


The Obama administration is pushing hard for the Japanese government to abandon a bulwark of the post-World War II constitution, the renunciation of armed force as a tool of national policy.

In that light, consider this concise and timely documentary from ABC Australia via Journeyman Pictures:

How Japan is quietly reasserting its military power

Program notes:

Rising Sun: Japan’s military power has grown considerably since its defeat in World War II.

Japan has the fourth largest defence budget in the world but its constitution prevents it fighting in wars. Now, there’s a growing movement to change the constitution again and remilitarise.

After World War II, Japan’s military was disbanded. But with North Korea test firing missiles and the growing regional dominance of China, people are more concerned about national security. “As an independent sovereign country, it’s not normal to depend heavily on other countries”, states MP Yoichi Masuzoe. But others worry changing the constitution – a move supported by the US – would actually erode Japan’s independence. They fear Japan would be pressured to join American military operations, like the invasion of Iraq.

The WTO and the push for global serfdom


That’s our headline, and it strikes to the heart of a very informative video from The Real News Network, featuring an eloquent and highly informed Indian journalist and author.

The subject is the further enshrinement of the neoliberal regime that’s on the agenda for the crusial 3-6 December ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Bali.

Lynn Fries of TRNN talks with former chief editor of thePress Trust of India
Chakravarthi Raghavan, a trade and development expert and author who later served as chief editor and now editor emeritus of the South-North Development Monitor [SUNS].

From The Real News Network:

Pope Denounces ‘A New Tyranny’ of Markets, But Will Trade Ministers at Bali?

From the transcript:

FRIES: In a prior word of advice, our guest reached out to all nations with an accessible and comprehensive analysis critical of the trade negotiations at the time of the Uruguay Round. I ask our guest for his thoughts today on part of that critique, when in 1990 he wrote, “Cumulatively, Third World governments would not only be unable to act positively in the economic fields to advance the well being of their peoples, but would be obliged to protect the interests of the TNCs [transnational corporations] and foreign enterprises and foreign nationals against their own peoples. The only role left for governments would be maintaining law and order, and keeping labor under control. Governments of independent countries in the Third World would thus be left doing what the metropolitan powers did during colonial days.”

RAGHAVAN: In a sense it has even become worse. It is not even what developing countries are forced to do in response to governments of the United States and Europe. Even corporations are now dictating terms to the developing countries, whether it be through these so called various rating companies, etc., etc. They are told that if you want to have XYZ, you carry out this kind of a thing. If I come and establish an enterprise in your country, you have to control your workers so that they don’t demand rights. In fact there has been a major fight going on in this matter, for example, in India, in South Africa, etc. For South Africa, we recently saw the disasters relating to mines, in the mines [incompr.] the workers and shooting et cetera.

What exactly are the foreign corporations demanding? The foreign corporations are demanding that we have to make money and profit through our work, and your labor must be kept under check, they must carry out our orders, and you must force them to do exactly what we want to do — they shouldn’t demand to go on strike for the purpose of higher wages, they shouldn’t demand any particular benefits for themselves. This is what they are asked to do, they are being asked to do, and they are being forced to do it today. And they are now going to be asked to do more as a result of what they will agree to in Bali.

Headlines of the day I: Spies, lies, laws, flaws


A helluva a lot happening in the world of espionage and security saber-rattling.

Today’s walk on he dark side begins with this excellent depiction of out [resent plight from Lee Judge of the Kansas City Star:

BLOG Snooptoon
From BBC News, a reminder that it’s not just the omni-bugging NSA that’s helping stir up the tempest:

Two terror suspects sue Poland over ‘CIA torture’

The European Court of Human Rights is hearing a case brought by two terror suspects who accuse Poland of conniving in US human rights abuses.

The two men are currently held at the US Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

From Threatpost, as expected:

UN: Mass Surveillance Violates Universal Human Rights

The United Nations has joined the growing chorus of people, organizations and activists denouncing government mass surveillance of citizens without cause and says that such programs are a violation of basic human rights.

The Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural – Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution affirming that arbitrary surveillance and collection of personal information violate the universal human right to privacy and expression.

The NSA occupied center stage in today’s British legislative extravaganza, as did the newspaper that’s done so much to expose it. From The Guardian, the paper in question:

Guardian will not be intimidated over NSA leaks, Alan Rusbridger tells Mps

Editor tells parliamentary committee that stories revealing mass surveillance by UK and US have prompted global debate

The Guardian again, with the old Red-baiter classic:

MPs’ questions to Alan Rusbridger: do you love this country?

Key extracts from the Guardian editor’s appearance before the home affairs select committee over the impact of NSA leaks

And the response, via The Guardian:

Guardian will not be intimidated over NSA leaks, Alan Rusbridger tells MPs

Editor tells parliamentary committee that stories revealing mass surveillance by UK and US have prompted global debate

The Guardian again, with a critical question:

MPs ask MI5 boss to justify claim that NSA leaks endangered national security

Keith Vaz, chairman of home affairs select committee, says spy chief Andrew Parker has been summoned to give evidence

And from USA TODAY, the shape of things to come:

Guardian: We have published 1% of Snowden leak

The editor of the Guardian said Tuesday that his newspaper has published just 1% of the material it received from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and denied that the paper had placed lives or national security at risk.

And then there’s this very nasty little jab, via the London Telegraph:

Guardian journalists could face criminal charges over Edward Snowden leaks

Journalists at The Guardian newspaper are being investigated by anti-terror police over their roles in the Edward Snowden leaks, a senior policewoman confirms

Cressida Dick, an assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard, confirmed for the first time that detectives were examining whether staff at the newspaper had committed an offence.

“When it absolutely, positively has to. . .” From Sky News:

Guardian Editor Sent Secret Files By FedEx

Alan Rusbridger defends claims he aided terrorists by publishing top-secret documents leaked by a former NSA contractor.

Meanwhile, and about time, from The Guardian:

Labor wants debate on legal oversight of intelligence gathering

‘What we need is a reasoned discussion,’ says shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus

Reuters covers some blowback:

Tighten EU data laws, say top MEPs

An influential group of MEPs have called for stricter data protection laws.

It came during another European Parliament hearing regarding the Edward Snowden snooping leaks.

German conservative MEP Axel Voss said: “The issue of data protection should these days almost always be on the agenda, because it is important, because we are already lagging behind the technological development and we therefore need to find answers. And the sooner the Council engage in this issue the better it is for all of us. “

The Guardian responds to blowback down under:

Guardian Australia fiercely defends its reporting on spy agencies

Attacks on the publication of stories based on NSA documents threaten to shut down debate on the issues that matter

And it’s just not Guardian stories that have the Aussies on edge. Now there’s a major spy flap developing in a nanotechnology lab at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the government’s premier research facility. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Espionage fears at CSIRO

Australian intelligence and security agencies are investigating a suspected industrial espionage case at the CSIRO, the nation’s top scientific organisation.

In revelations that will further test Australia’s relations with China, federal police and intelligence officials are investigating a Chinese national who until last week worked in the CSIRO’s highly sensitive nanotechnology laboratory in Melbourne.

But wait! There’s yet another scandal, revealed by a raid conducted by the  Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. From the Syndey Morning Herald:

ASIO raids office of lawyer Bernard Collaery over East Timor spy claim

ASIO officers have allegedly detained a man and raided the office of a lawyer who claims that Australian spies bugged the cabinet room of East Timor’s government during negotiations over oil and gas deposits.

Attorney-General George Brandis confirmed last night that he had issued a search warrant for a Canberra address and that ASIO had executed it, seizing a number of documents “on the grounds that [they] contained intelligence related to security matters”

More from The Guardian:

Timor-Leste spy case: ‘witness held, and lawyer’s office raided by ASIO’

Retired Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent and wife searched in Canberra while lawyer’s office is raided, say lawyers

From the Copenhagen Post, another spy scandal actually ends up with a significant head rolling:

Leader of intelligence agency quits

Jakob Scharf quits after intense media and political scrutiny over his ability to lead the domestic intelligence agency, PET

The Copenhagen Post headlined a story last month that played a key role in the spooky resignation, involving a COINTELPRO-style covert op against a Danish winger, the head of the nationalist Dansk Folkeparti:

PET in hot water for allegedly spying on Pia Kjærsgaard

The head of the domestic intelligence agency stands accused of using Kjærsgaard’s calendar to try to squash the former DF leader’s visit to Christiania

Meanwhile, Uncle Sam’s digital eyes want your fleshly ears, via iScienceTimes:

‘Soft’ Biometric Cameras Are Watching: Govt. Intelligence Hopes To Use Cameras To Recognize People By The Shape Of Their Ears

And in France, the panopticon is about the make a great leap forward, reports RT:

France mulls new internet spying powers

A proposed law in France could allow the authorities to access and gather internet user data without judicial approval. The legislation has been slammed by activists as going “against the principles of democracy” and eroding civil liberties.

Meanwhile, the ongoing security crisis in Asia between waged across the East China Sea grows hotter. From McClatchy Interactive:

Analysts: Tensions in Asia could snowball

The rising tension this week in the East China Sea could force the Obama administration to revive its plan for a “pivot to Asia,” a revamped engagement with China and its neighbors that’s been overshadowed by Middle East conflicts and other crises.

South China Morning Post covers some soothing efforts from Grinnin’ Joe:

Biden wants Japan, China to have communication channel over air defence zone

US No 2 says Beijing and Tokyo need system to avoid an incident over East China Sea escalating

More, and with less emphasis on the smooth schmoozin’, from the Japan Times:

U.S. backs Japan against ADIZ: Biden

Abe assured of support against China gambit, prodded on TPP

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe received the assurance of visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden Tuesday that Washington stands behind Japan as it responds to China’s recent declaration of an air defense identification zone in the East China Sea that encompasses the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands.

While Want China Times evokes a nightmare:

PLA dreams of turning moon into Death Star, says expert

Experts in China are discussing the possibility of the People’s Liberation Army to establish a missile base on the moon following the successful launch of the Long March-3B rocket carrying the Chang’e-3 lunar rover on Dec. 1, according to the Beijing Times.

Want China Times again, with another great leap forward:

First carrier-based fighter enters production in China

The Shenyang J-15, China’s first carrier-based fighter designed by Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, has entered mass production and has been received by various units of the PLA Navy Air Force, the Beijing-based Sina Military Network reported on Dec. 3.

Want China Times yet again, with one more leap:

Russia to develop weapons with China: Military Parade

Moscow is preparing to develop a joint weapons system with Beijing, according to Military Parade, a Russian-language military website, citing Russia’s deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov at a press conference on Nov. 29.

While Gizmodo covers a retreat:

Accused of Spying, Huawei CEO Says Company Is “Exiting the US Market”

It looks like China’s Huawei, the world’s largest telecommunications equipment maker, is sick and tired of the United States accusing it of cyberspying. In an interview with the French press, the company’s founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei said they’re throwing in the towel stateside.

The South China Morning Post covers arousal:

Patriotic post calling for Chinese to be on guard against ‘Western anti-China powers’ goes viral

An emotive nationalist post titled You are nobody without the motherland has gone viral online as major Chinese state-owned media hailed the message as a spontaneous expression of patriotism.

From the Japan Times, the national security state strikes again:

China to try anti-corruption activists

Three Chinese anti-corruption activists who unfurled a banner calling for government officials to declare their assets were to be tried Tuesday for “illegal assembly,” their lawyers said, despite an official campaign against graft.

An anti-corruption drive launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping has been heavily publicized in state-run media, but the ruling Communist Party keeps a tight grip on political dissent.

And in Japan, the resistance grows against a key piece of legislation in the emerging national security state machine. From the Japan Times:

Public protests continue against state secrets bill

With the contentious state secrets bill slated to clear the Upper House this week, citizens have been holding daily protests in front of the Diet building, denouncing the law as emblematic of the “rise of fascism.”

More from Jiji Press:

Witnesses Express Concern about Secrecy Bill before Japan Upper House

All three witnesses who spoke before Japan’s House of Councillors on a state secrets protection bill on Tuesday expressed concerns about the legislation.

And NHK WORLD:

Global human rights groups protest secrecy bill

Five international human rights organizations protested a Japanese government bill to protect state secrets in a joint news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The chief of Human Rights Watch’s Tokyo office, Kanae Doi, referred to the Tshwane Principles, which are global guidelines to balance state secrets and the right to know.

And from JapanToday, a cinematic allusion:

Abe depicted as Charlie Chaplin character in protest over state secret bill

If you happened to have been around the west exit of Shinjuku Station last week, you might have seen this poster hanging around. In it we can clearly see a photo of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe done up to look like Charlie Chaplin in the film “The Great Dictator.” Around him are the words “Take back Japan” and “Prewar.”

The poster in question, via the Japan Times:

BLOG Abe Caplin

From NHK WORLD, resistance meets stone wall:

Suga seeks opposition support for bill

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has stressed there is no change in the government’s plan to have the secrecy protection bill made into law during the current Diet session scheduled to end on Friday.

Back in Europe, a Spanish security measure rammed through by the neoliberal reigning Popular Party draws more heat. From El País:

Council of Europe slams PP bill that hikes fines at public rallies

Citizens Security Law violates right to assembly, says rights commissioner

Meanwhile Sky News, covers deadly dirty tricks from the past:

IRA And Irish Police ‘Colluded Over Murders’

Two RUC officers murdered by the IRA were ambushed following a leak from an Irish police station, a damning report finds.

And Spiegel covers another security move, this one too aimed at a ghost from the past:

NPD Ban Bid: Germany’s Risky Push to Outlaw Far-Right Party

Germany launched a new push to outlaw the NPD party on Tuesday amid doubts whether the legal bid will succeed, and whether a ban would significantly curb the country’s violent far-right scene. But if the motion fails, right-wing extremism will flourish, analysts warn.

From PCWorld, something really, really scary:

Researchers create malware that communicates via silent sound, no network needed

When security researcher Dragos Ruiu claimed malware dubbed “badBIOS” allowed infected machines to communicate using sound waves alone—no network connection needed—people said he was crazy. New research from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing, and Ergonomics suggests he’s all too sane.

And from The Verge, the corporate drone rush continues:

UPS researching delivery drones that could compete with Amazon’s Prime Air

Flying parcel-carriers are the next logical frontier for delivery companies

The Hill covers legislative resistance:

Door-to-door drones spook lawmakers

Amazon’s planned door-to-door drone deliveries sparked lawmaker worries Monday about the need for new privacy rules to protect consumers from thousands of drones that might soon be buzzing overhead.

And for our final item, some security in swearing via DutchNews.nl:

Blasphemy law will be scrapped

Blasphemy will be removed from the statute books following a majority vote in the upper house of parliament on Tuesday.

However, a second motion was voted through which allows for another law to be found which can be adjusted to protect people from serious insult to their religion, the Nos reports.

Headlines of the day I: Spooks, security, conflict


Not been too well, so we’ll get straight to it, albeit belatedly.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, The Most Transparent Administration in History™, eh?:

Obama’s Justice Department asks court to keep key spy opinion secret

The Obama administration should be permitted to keep a legal opinion secret that allows the FBI to obtain certain telephone records without any formal legal process, a Justice Department lawyer told a U.S. appeals court Tuesday.

The legal assertion by the Justice Department came in response to a lawsuit that alleges the department’s Office of Legal Counsel violated the federal open-records laws by refusing to release the memo, which says the bureau can collect international phone call data without court oversight or a “qualifying emergency.” As a result of the Justice Department’s refusal to release the memo, the circumstances under which the bureau can collect the records and the precise legal authority it relies on remain secret.

From the Washington Post, playing the doubles:

How the CIA trained Guantanamo prisoners to become secret agents

Terrorists were promised safety for their family, freedom or millions of dollars to kill al-Qaeda figures.

Reuters covers necessary posturing:

EU demands protection against U.S. data surveillance

The European Commission called on Tuesday for new protection for Europeans under United States’ law against misuse of personal data, in an attempt to keep in check the U.S. surveillance revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Pay to play, from EUbusiness:

EU urges US legal redress to protect personal data

The European Union pressed US politicians Tuesday to give EU citizens the right to legal redress to protect their personal data, after US spying revelations soured ties with major allies.

Deutsche Welle covers the charm offensive [or is it offensive charm?]:

US charm offensive in Europe has its limits

A US delegation has been sent across the pond to appease NSA-plagued Europeans. But the rather tepid discussion in the US shows that confidence-building measures can easily hit trans-Atlantic walls.

TheLocal.de, with different strokes for different folks:

Germany and US vow to repair NSA damage

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and US lawmakers vowed on Monday to try to get past a deep transatlantic rift created by mass US spying in Europe.

Westerwelle and members of a US congressional delegation visiting Berlin and Brussels said they aimed to emerge from the crisis with stronger security and economic ties but that it would take concrete steps.

From The Guardian, how about one here in the U.S., too?:

UN advances surveillance resolution reaffirming ‘human right to privacy’

  • Draft goes ahead despite US and UK concerns over language
  • Inquiry possible into impact of excessive government spying

From TheLocal.fr, privacy in the eye of the beholder:

Uproar over French plan to extend online spying

Google and other internet giants have reacted angrily to the French government’s plans to extend its surveillance of emails, phone calls and online behaviour, as the National Assembly met on Tuesday to discuss the proposal.

A plan to roll out French government surveillance of emails and phone calls came before France’s National Assembly on Tuesday, sparking outrage from major online players such as Google and AOL.

PCWorld covers cable-tapping:

The weakest link: How the NSA may have hacked Google and Yahoo

Secretly breaking into either of these corporations wouldn’t be easy–even for the NSA. Both Yahoo and Google protect their data “with full-time security and state-of-the-art surveillance, including heat sensors and iris scanners.” The weak link in the security chain was outside the companies’ control, where the “information was unencrypted and an easier target for government intercept efforts,” according to three people familiar with the companies who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

And the Washington Post has a suggestion of relief for the WikiLeaks founder:

Julian Assange unlikely to face U.S. charges over publishing classified documents

The Justice Department has all but concluded it will not bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified documents because government lawyers said they could not do so without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists, according to U.S. officials.

The Guardian has a response:

Julian Assange lawyer calls on US to make formal decision on prosecution

  • Reports that US unlikely to pursue charges over Manning leak
  • WikiLeaks founder remains holed up in Ecuadorean embassy

From RT, the war games, digital style:

NATO launches ‘largest ever’ cyber-security exercises

NATO has kicked off Cyber Coalition 2013, the largest ever exercise of its kind intended to thwart massive, simultaneous attacks on member states and their allies.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, commencing a game of chicken:

US challenges China’s fly zone with B-52 flight

Two US B-52 bombers flew over a disputed area of the East China Sea without informing Beijing, US officials said on Tuesday, challenging China’s bid to create an expanded air defence zone.

The China Post has a response:

China carrier steams towards disputed waters

China sent its sole aircraft carrier on a training mission into the South China Sea on Tuesday amid maritime disputes with the Philippines and other neighbors and tension over its plan to set up an airspace defense zone in waters disputed with Japan.

Bloomberg covers blowback, Snowden style:

NSA Spying Risks $35 Billion in U.S. Technology Sales

Disclosures of spying abroad may cost U.S. companies as much as $35 billion in lost revenue through 2016 because of doubts about the security of information on their systems, according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a policy research group in Washington whose board includes representatives of companies such as International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and Intel Corp. (INTC)

TheLocal.se turns up the heat:

Säpo: WMD spies target Swedish universities

Foreign powers interested in developing weapons of mass destruction are regularly targeting Swedish universities in hopes of obtaining sensitive technology, Swedish intelligence officials say.

From The Guardian, Big Brother in the Groves of Academe:

Xinjiang university students must have political views approved

Chinese students whose political qualifications are ‘not up to par’ must not graduate, according to Communist party newspaper

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, blowback tempering:

Indonesia, Australia take steps to calm spy row

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Tuesday Australia’s leader had made “important” commitments aimed at ending a row over spying but warned much more work was needed before ties returned to normal.

But the Jakarta Globe covers escalation:

Malaysia Summons Singapore Envoy as Spying Claims Widen

Malaysia summoned Singapore’s high commissioner today to respond to allegations of spying which risk damaging improved political and business ties between the Southeast Asian neighbors.

Indonesia and Malaysia have been key targets for Australian and US intelligence cooperation since the 1970s, facilitated in part by Singapore, the Sydney Morning Herald reported yesterday, citing documents leaked by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. Malaysia’s foreign ministry said it was “extremely concerned” and had already acted against earlier claims of espionage by the US and Australia.

The Jakarta Globe again, following up:

Indonesia-Australia Rift Closer to Exit as Singapore, S. Korea Enter Spy Scandal

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made an overture to ending a week-long standoff with Canberra over accusations that Australia’s spy agency snooped on phone calls made by the president and his inner circle on Tuesday as attentions shifted to allegations that Singapore and South Korea were involved in a massive US- and Australia-backed spy network in Asia.

Japan Today covers the latest barrier erected by the nascent Japanese national security state:

State secret law stirs fear of limits on freedoms

The powerful lower house of the Diet approved a state secrecy bill late Tuesday that imposes stiffer penalties on bureaucrats who leak secrets and journalists who seek them, despite criticism the government is making a heavy-handed effort to hide what it’s doing and suppress press freedom.

Tactics via the Japan Times:

Ruling bloc rams secrets bill through Lower House

Opposition balks after panel skips further debate on contentious legislation

The ruling coalition forced its contentious state secrets bill through the Lower House on Tuesday evening amid calls from all but one of the opposition forces for further deliberations on its provisions.

From the Mainichi, significant opposition:

Fukushima residents plead against state secrets bill

Fukushima Prefecture residents expressed their concern about a controversial state secrets protection bill at a public hearing, amid fear that information on the crippled nuclear plant might be concealed if the bill was passed.

More from the Asahi Shimbun:

At Fukushima hearing, all speakers criticize state secrets bill

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party invited Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba to speak about the state secrets protection bill, expecting support by a leader near the Fukushima nuclear disaster site to quell criticism against the legislation.

The party’s plan, however, backfired.

Network World covers a hit for corporate snooping:

Google hit with privacy complaints in 14 EU countries

Data Protection Authorities should immediately suspend changes to Google’s terms of service, the complaints said

Google was hit by privacy complaints in 14 E.U. countries Tuesday over its new terms of service that allow user photos and comments in advertising.

Google started featuring the names and photos of users in so-called “shared endorsements” on Nov. 11. This means that if a user, for instance, follows a computer manufacturer on Google+, that user’s name, photo and endorsement could show up in ads for that computer.

From The Guardian, a stumbling block in the way of a new security agreement:

UK minister urges Afghan president to block proposals to bring back stoning

Justine Greening tells Hamid Karzai she is deeply concerned at proposal to reintroduce stoning as punishment for adultery

From Techdirt, a statement of the obvious:

If You Don’t Care About The NSA Because You ‘Haven’t Done Anything Wrong,’ You’re Wrong

from the you-have-done-many-things-wrong dept

Cardinal Richelieu’s famous line is: “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”

From UPI, our final item and an interesting follow:

Job applicants react negatively to screening of social media accounts

Companies screening social media accounts of job applicants alienate potential employees and make it harder to attract top job candidates, U.S. researchers say.