Category Archives: Governance

InSecurityWatch: Spooks, hack, terror, geopolitics


We begin with the hardly unexpected, via BBC News:

UK spy watchdog ‘taken in’ by security agencies – MP

The committee monitoring the security services has been taken in by the “glamour” of spying and is failing to do its job, its founder has said.

Conservative MP David Davis said the Intelligence and Security Committee had been “captured by the agencies they are supposed to be overseeing”.

And ex-chairman Sir Malcolm Rifkind acted as a “spokesman” for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ rather than a watchdog.

From Deutsche Welle, the Macedonian panopticon sparks outrage:

Macedonia reels over evidence of Orwellian surveillance

Opposition allegations of massive wiretapping of more than 20,000 people imply that a small group linked to Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski controls Macedonia’s institutions, judiciary and media.

A large group of journalists gathered this week at the headquarters of the biggest opposition party in Macedonian capital Skopje. They were personally invited to pick up folders and documents – filled with transcripts of their telephone conversations over the past couple of years.

“Over a hundred Macedonian journalists were wiretapped in the past years,” opposition Social Democrat (SDSM) leader Zoran Zaev announced at minutes later. “These conversations show the link between the prime minister, the secret police and the media.”

The journalists’ phone transcripts were the fourth batch of such material released by Zaev’s SDSM this year. The opposition leader claims there is evidence that over 20,000 people were wiretapped as part of a system of media surveillance implemented by the prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, his cousin, the secret service chief, Saso Mijalkov, and a few other close associates.

National Journal covers the spooky pro forma:

NSA Spying Wins Another Rubber Stamp

  • Mass surveillance will continue for now, but is set to expire on June 1—unless Congress acts.

A federal court has again renewed an order allowing the National Security Agency to continue its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, a decision that comes more than a year after President Obama pledged to end the controversial program.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has approved a request to keep the NSA’s mass surveillance of U.S. phone metadata operating until June 1, coinciding with when the legal authority for the program is set to expire in Congress.

The extension is the fifth of its kind since Obama said he would effectively end the Snowden-exposed program as it currently exists during a major policy speech in January 2014. Obama and senior administration officials have repeatedly insisted that they will not act alone to end the program without Congress.

From SecurityWeek, nibbled to death by ducks:

US Spymaster Warns Over Low-level Cyber Attacks

A steady stream of low-level cyber attacks poses the most likely danger to the United States rather than a potential digital “armageddon,” US intelligence director James Clapper said on Thursday.

US officials for years have warned of a possible “cyber Pearl Harbor” that could shut down financial networks, poison water supplies or switch off power grids. But Clapper told lawmakers that American spy agencies were more focused on lower-profile but persistent assaults that could have a damaging effect over time.

“Rather than a ‘cyber Armageddon’ scenario that debilitates the entire US infrastructure, we envision something different,” Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

US Warns of Cyber Attacks”We foresee an ongoing series of low-to-moderate level cyber attacks from a variety of sources over time, which will impose cumulative costs on US economic competitiveness and national security,” he said.

Bloomberg covers allegations of Vegas hackery:

Iran Behind Cyber-Attack on Adelson’s Sands Corp., Clapper Says

The top U.S. intelligence official confirmed for the first time that Iran was behind a cyber attack against the Las Vegas Sands Corp. last year.

Identifying Iran as the perpetrator came more than a year after the Feb. 10, 2014, attack against the world’s largest gambling company, which crippled many of the computer systems that help run the $14 billion operation. Sands’ chairman and chief executive officer and top shareholder is billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a leading U.S. supporter of Israel and of Republican political candidates.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that the attack by Iran, followed by the hacking of Sony Corp. by North Korea in November, marked the first destructive cyber-assaults on the U.S. by nation-states. Iran’s role in the attack that crippled operations at several of Sands’ U.S. casinos was reported in December by Bloomberg Businessweek.

From RT, an Aussie cyberspook data bonanza proposed:

Australian metadata bill proposes phone, internet record storage for 2yrs

A new bill that would force Australian telecom firms to store clients’ personal data to help law enforcement agencies track down extremists conspiring to carry out acts of terrorism has attracted the scrutiny of analysts.

Committee chair, Liberal MP Dan Tehan, said the legislation forwards 38 recommendations to enhance safeguards.

“These recommendations, which are all bipartisan, will ensure that those mechanisms there operate efficiently and effectively and the public can be confident the regime is being used appropriately,” he said, as quoted by Sky News.

From the Independent, British Airways spies on its own:

British Airways spying scandal: How the world’s most famous airline spied on its own staff

British Airways paid £1m to hush up the details of a spying operation in which the phones and emails of its own cabin staff were allegedly improperly accessed during a bitter dispute with Britain’s largest union.

The payment was made to stop the union, Unite, suing BA over the operation by specialist investigators based at Heathrow. Unite claimed the private communications of 10 BA staff, some of whom were also union officials, were accessed during a period in 2011 when the airline faced renewed strike action.

The decision to deploy the airline’s in-house investigators, many of them former Scotland Yard and security services personnel, was taken at the highest level within BA, according to information given to The Independent. The use of effective espionage against members of a major UK union, by a flagship UK company worth close to £12bn, raises new questions about the scale of use of private investigators inside Britain’s largest companies.

Yet another router exploit, via Network World:

Hackers exploit router flaws in unusual pharming attack

An email-based attack spotted in Brazil recently employed an unusual but potent technique to spy on a victim’s Web traffic.

The technique exploited security flaws in home routers to gain access to the administrator console. Once there, the hackers changed the routers’ DNS (Domain Name System) settings, a type of attack known as pharming.

Pharming is tricky to pull off because it requires access to an ISP’s or an organization’s DNS servers, which translate domain names into the IP addresses of websites. Those DNS systems are typically well-protected, but home routers often are not.

Security firm Proofpoint wrote in a blog post Thursday that launching the attack via email was a novel approach since pharming is normally a network-based attack.

From the Los Angeles Times, an Uber driver data breach:

Uber security breach may have affected up to 50,000 drivers

Thousands of Uber driver names and driver’s license numbers may be in the hands of an unauthorized third party due to a data breach that occurred last year, the ride-hailing company said Friday.

In a statement, Uber’s managing counsel of data privacy, Katherine Tassi, said the company discovered on Sept. 17, 2014, that one of its many databases could have potentially been accessed because one of the encryption keys required to unlock it had been compromised. Upon further investigation, it found the database had been accessed once by an unauthorized third party on May 13, 2014.

The company said it could not say how the security vulnerability was first discovered because the matter was under investigation.

After the jump, a French cartoon festival killed over terror fears, Muslims, Roma, and others, stage a philosemitic demonstration in Sweden, a leading Putin foe assassinated in Moscow, a former Mossad boss calls for a Netanyahu defeat, Pakistani vigilantes tackles ISIS and the Taliban, another historical revisionist heard from in Tokyo and the Pentagon sends in the Marines to join a Japanese landing drill, Abe and allies refine military moves abroad, more Japanese blowback from Abe’s agenda, and two Abe cabinet members under clouds of corruption suspicions, plus Kansas legislators threaten teachers with prison over “harmful” literature. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, water woes, food, nukes


The Guardian the latest measles hot spot:

Las Vegas confirms three new cases of measles linked to casino restaurant

  • Two staff members and patron of seafood restaurant at MGM Grand affected
  • Cases not linked to Disneyland outbreak that began in December

Three new cases of measles have been confirmed in Las Vegas, in people believed to have been infected by a contagious worker at an upscale MGM Grand Hotel and Casino seafood restaurant, Nevada public health officials said on Friday.

The newly diagnosed patients, two staff members and a patron of Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House at the MGM Grand, bring to nine the total number of measles cases reported in Clark County, the Southern Nevada health district spokeswoman, Jennifer Sizemore, said.

None of those cases are believed to be linked to an outbreak of measles that began at Disneyland in December, she said.

And from the Oakland Tribune, a measles alert about one of esnl’s favorite local eateries:

Person with measles dined at Berkeley restaurant, health officials warn

A person infected with measles dined at La Mediterranee restaurant in Berkeley last week, exposing hundreds of fellow diners to the infectious virus, a city health spokeswoman said Thursday.

The adult, a San Mateo resident, visited the popular Berkeley restaurant Feb. 20, between 6:45 p.m. and 8 p.m. Health officials said the person had not developed the telltale rash and was unaware of the infection. Symptoms can develop between 7 and 21 days after exposure to the virus.

Also on Thursday, BART officials warned that more than 1,000 riders may have been exposed to measles when an infected person rode the train last week, getting on a Richmond-bound train at Millbrae and getting off at Civic Center. The person was also described as a San Mateo resident, although privacy laws make it impossible to know if it is the same one.

From the Associated Press, fingering a Bosnian culprit:

Experts blame anti-vaccine lobby for Bosnia measles outbreak

Medical experts warned Friday the anti-vaccination lobby is growing in Bosnia, using scientifically discredited arguments to stoke parental fears in the worst-affected country in Europe’s measles outbreak.

This trend — combined with a generation that could not be immunized because of lack of vaccines during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war — has led to 5,340 measles cases in Bosnia, according to the World Health Organization.

“I am increasingly hearing from parents about their fears due to the stuff they read on the Internet,” Dr. Gordana Banduka, a pediatrician from Pale, near Sarajevo, told The Associated Press.

Bosnia’s immunization rate has fallen to just 87 percent, chief epidemiologist Jelena Ravlija said, below the 95 percent rate needed to prevent outbreaks.

Some good news about another lethal virus, via Medical News Today:

Researchers identify antibodies to fight Marburg virus

Two new studies have demonstrated how human antibodies can neutralize the Marburg virus, a highly lethal virus related to Ebola.

Antibodies have been found to bind to the surface of the virus, which could lead to future antibody treatments and vaccines to target Marburg and other viruses in the family.

Marburg virus is up to 90% lethal. Just like the Ebola virus, it can cause hemorrhaging and organ failure. An outbreak of the virus in Angola in 2005 was responsible for the deaths of 329 people, and the worry is that an even bigger outbreak could occur in the future.

“The good news is, humans do make antibodies when they are infected that can kill these viruses… which suggests that vaccines should work,” says Dr. James Crowe, lead author of one of the two studies published in Cell.

From the New York Times, and they’re surprised?:

U.S. Push for Abstinence in Africa Is Seen as Failure Against H.I.V.

The $1.3 billion that the United States government has spent since 2005 encouraging Africans to avoid AIDS by practicing abstinence and fidelity did not measurably change sexual behavior and was largely wasted, according to a study presented on the last day of an AIDS conference here.

The study, done by a second-year student at Stanford Medical School for a professor with an expertise in cost-benefit analyses, caused a major stir in the room where it was presented.

The researcher, Nathan Lo, analyzed records showing the age of people having sex for the first time, teenage pregnancy and number of sexual partners in international health surveys that have been paid for by the State Department since the 1970s.

And then there’s another health threat, via the Guardian:

Three cases of leprosy in eastern Florida ‘linked to armadillos’

  • Experts stress public has little cause for alarm
  • ‘There’s more interaction with armadillos than you might think’

Health officials on the east coast of Florida have diagnosed three cases of leprosy in the last five months, linking two of the cases to contact with armadillos. The small armored mammals are known to harbor the disease in the southern US.

The cases were confirmed in Volusia County, Florida, which is home to about 500,000 people and tourist cities such as Daytona Beach. Health officials believe the three cases developed independently.

Though such a cluster of cases of leprosy is uncommon, experts say the general public has little to worry about. About 95% of the population is not susceptible to leprosy, also called Hansen’s disease, which can be cured with antibiotics. Also, only the nine-banded armadillo carries leprosy. The common five-banded armadillo does not.

Another epidemic spreads, via Outbreak News Today:

Diphtheria surge in Sumatra city prompts vaccination drive

Health officials with the West Sumatra Health Agency have reported a surge of the very serious vaccine-preventable disease, diphtheria, in the city of Padang over the past month prompting a mass vaccination campaign.

“During the last four weeks, 28 cases of children with suspected diphtheria have been found, six of which tested positive for the diphtheria bacteria,” West Sumatra Health Agency head Rosnini Savitri said to the Jakarta Post.

In addition, two of the 6 confirmed cases died from the disease.

The health agency is targeting 254,000 children and adolescents aged between 2 months and 15 years for vaccination against diphtheria, the report notes.

Latin Correspondent covers a war declared against Big Food:

To fight diabetes crisis, Mexican civil society takes aim at junk food, Coca-Cola

With one-third of Mexican children likely to develop diabetes during their lifetime, a group of civic associations known as the Alliance for Healthy Food have called for the removal of junk food and related marketing from children’s lives.

The Alliance for Healthy Food’s mass media campaign, entitled “What did your children eat today?” aims to raise awareness of this health crisis, which is being fueled largely by excessive consumption of junk food and sugary drinks.

The campaign is targeted at parents, to encourage them to make better dietary choices for their children, and at lawmakers, to persuade them to pass more stringent legislation against junk food and sugary drink advertising that targets Mexican children.

Al Jazeera America covers an American economic health threat:

Suicides among middle-aged spiked after 2007, tied to economic downturn

  • Study shows that financial and legal troubles were increasingly a factor in US suicides after Great Recession

A sharp increase in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans in the years after 2007 is linked to economic troubles brought about by the financial crisis, according to a study published Friday in The American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The number of Americans age 40 to 64 who take their own lives has risen by 40 percent since 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And suicide rates for the age group have picked up markedly since the onset of the Great Recession, according to the report.

The increase comes despite the number of suicides leveling off over the same time frame for other age groups.

From JapanToday, Big Pharma behaving badly once again:

Novartis Japan hit with suspension failing to report drug side effects

Japanese health authorities said Friday that they have ordered the local unit of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis to temporarily suspend its operations for failing to report drug side effects.

The health ministry’s 15-day suspension—reportedly a first for a pharmaceutical firm operating in Japan—means the company will not be able to sell most of its drugs during that period, which is to start from March 5.

Tokyo-based Novartis Pharma KK in December admitted it failed to promptly report more than 3,000 cases of adverse effects from about two dozen company drugs. Drugmakers are required to report serious side effects to the ministry within 15 to 30 days.

After the jump, a drug wars plan would deny a critically needed Third World medicine, another down side to digital media [What’s that? We can’t hear you. . .], California farmers denied water as drought drags on and what ground water there is faces illegal fracking and oil drilling waste contamination, Olympic-sized water woes in Rio, Americans see the climate change as a moral cause, the challenge of separating natural cycles from human causation in climate change, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with soaring levels of radiation in the latest leaks, irradiated dirt transfers to commence, high radiation levels find in ocean fish near the site, and Kyoto signs a pact over a reactor restart, plus an avian threat to a Dutch town. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Numbers, drugs, politics, warnings


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

BLOG Ebola curve

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

WHO: 99 Ebola cases in past week

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

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

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

The Associated Press covers a decision to come:

UN plans decision in August on mass Ebola vaccine program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Sierra Leone Concord Times again, economics:

‘Ebola does not stop our economic activities’

- Bombali Peace Mothers declares

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

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

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

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

Port Loko residents defy public emergency orders

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

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

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

And the Thomson Reuters Foundation covers collateral damage:

Ebola halts HIV progress in Sierra Leone, says UN

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

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. Joint Forces Command departs Saturday

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

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

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

From CCTV Africa, a video report on the pullout:

U.S. Military Ends Ebola Mission in Liberia

Program notes:

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

The New York Times covers a plea:

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

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

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

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

AllAfrica covers help from Europe:

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

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

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

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

From StarAfrica, a drug trial begins:

Liberia: Clinical study of Ebola trial drug begins

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

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

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

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

And from FrontPageAfrica, pressing the press:

Liberian Journalists Cautioned On Ebola Trial Vaccine

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

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

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

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

Bomi quarantines Catholic priest

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

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

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

MexicoWatch: Protests, politics, plans, graphics


We begin with protest, first from The News.mx:

Nationwide protests for students continue

Five months after the disappearance of the 43 students from the Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, thousands of protestors, led by relatives of the students, marched from the Ángel de la Independencia to the Los Pinos official presidential residence in Mexico City Thursday.

Teachers from the State Coordination of Guerrero Education Workers (CETEG) in Acapulco marched to demand the students be brought back alive and to protest the death of retired teacher Claudio Castillo Peña.

Manuel Salvador Rosas, from the Political Commission of the CETEG, said that the federal police apprehended at least 11 teachers on Feb. 25 who have not yet been released. Thirty other teachers have been hospitalized, 15 with serious injuries, he said.

Next, a video report from teleSUR English:

Mexico: Omar Garcia, “the 44th,” of Ayotzinapa, demands justice

Program notes:

Omar Garcia is one of the 43 student teachers in Ayotzinapa who was able to escape with his life from the attack on September 26th. He says that he is a living symbol of the fact that anyone in Mexico could be “the 44th.” Surviving the violence against the students by municipal police, Garcia has become one of the group of full-time activists who travel the country to seek support for the demands of Ayotzinapa: the safe return of the missing students, and the punishment for those responsible.

More protest news from the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Mexican Teachers Protest Police Repression

Some 1,000 teachers marched in this Pacific resort city on Thursday to protest the police response to a protest here earlier this week that left one demonstrator dead.

The marchers, most of them members of the State Coordinator of Education Workers of Guerrero, or CETEG, union, held a rally outside the Federal Police offices in Acapulco to demand an investigation into the death Tuesday of 65-year-old retired teacher Claudio Castillo Peña.

Federal authorities say Castillo was struck by a vehicle, but CETEG rejects that explanation.

“We will not let them come to us now and say our comrade didn’t die from the direct blows he suffered,” one teacher said Thursday. “May they not try to deceive the people, may they not try to deceive Mexico, may they accept responsibility for the death.”

And a change of tactics, via Mexico News Daily:

Stopping elections parents’ new objective

  • Marches aren’t enough, says spokesman, as only 3,000 people turn out

The protest marches are not enough, says the spokesman for the parents of the missing students of Ayotzinapa, so the new plan is to prevent the mid-term elections from being held June 7.

Felipe de la Cruz made the statement after yesterday’s ninth day of global action for Ayotzinapa, for which only 3,000 people turned out in Mexico City, according to estimates by the Federal District government. That’s a big drop from the more than 15,000 who marched in the first event held to draw attention to the violence in Guerrero on September 26, when the 43 students disappeared.

Their families refuse to accept the findings of the official investigation.

De la Cruz said it was the job of all Mexicans to organize, “neighborhood by neighborhood, municipality by municipality,” to ensure there are no elections this year.

And a dose of politics form the Associated Press:

Mexico to replace embattled attorney general

Mexico’s embattled attorney general is leaving the post to take a new cabinet-level job as head of urban and rural development.

Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam had weathered scathing criticism over his handling of the Sept. 26 disappearance of 43 students in southern Guerrero state.

Murillo Karam had also been criticized for being slow to investigate evidence that soldiers killed between 12 and 15 criminal suspects after they surrendered in June.

To close, another protest graphic, this time from Creators:

BLOG Ayotz

A look at Al Jazzera’s espionage cable leaks


Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit scored an impressive journalistic coup when they were handed a major cache of top secret cables and documents sent to South Africa by the Israeli, Russian, Australian, and other intelligence services, as well as from the South African State Security Agency.

In this, the first of two parts, Al Jazeera looks at the cables and their implications.

From Al Jazeera:

The Spy Cables: Decoded – Episode one

Program notes:

  • In the first of two programmes, we assess the impact of Al Jazeera’s release of hundreds of classified documents

    The Spy Cables captured headlines the world over – and was described as massive and unprecedented in newspapers as far afield as China as South America.

    Evidence that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu misled the United Nations lead news in a number of countries.

    The CIA’s desire to talk to Hamas; snooping on the head of Greenpeace; a plot to kill the head of the African Union; all grabbed global attention.

    In the first of two programmes, we assess the impact of Al Jazeera’s release of hundreds of classified documents – ranging from confidential to top secret – the widest-ranging leak of intelligence papers ever.

    Presenter: David Foster

    Guests:

  • David Maynier , in Cape Town – Member of South African Parliament and opposition Deputy Minister of State Security.
  • Justice Malala , in Johannesburg – political analyst
  • Ferial Haffajee , on set – the editor of the South African weekly newspaper, The City Press

InSecurityWatch: War, politics, hacks, terror. . .


And much more.

We begin the the latest round of the Great Game from the Washington Post:

Top U.S. intelligence official backs arming Ukraine forces against Russia

The top U.S. intelligence official said Thursday that he supports arming Ukrainian forces against Russian-backed separatists, as the Obama administration continues deliberations about whether to deepen involvement in a conflict pitting the West against Russian President Vladi-mir Putin.

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said providing weapons to Ukraine would likely trigger a “negative reaction” from the Russian government, which Western officials are hoping will ensure that separatists stick to a European-brokered cease-fire that took effect this month.

“It could potentially further remove the very thin fig leaf of their position that they have not been involved in Ukraine,” Clapper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding that Russia could respond by sending more sophisticated weapons to separatist areas.

From RT, asserting a naval presence:

Russia secures military deal to use Cyprus’ ports despite EU concerns

Russian navy ships will keep having access to stop off at Cyprus’ ports in Mediterranean as the two countries have agreed to prolong the pre-existing deal on military cooperation.

The agreement, which applies to Russian vessels involved in counter-terrorism and anti-piracy efforts, was signed by President Vladimir Putin and his Cypriot counterpart, Nicos Anastasiades, in Moscow.

The signing came aimed heightened tensions and sanctions between Russia and the EU over the military conflict in Ukraine.

President Putin, however, stressed that the agreement, as well as Russia-Cypriot ”friendly ties aren’t aimed against anyone.”

From Agence France-Presse, how to keep them from droning on:

BLOG Drones

From Nextgov, what could possibly go wrong?:

CIA’s New Big Data Hub Will be Hosted in the Cloud

The CIA is preparing to take the next step in its quest to shake up the status quo of siloed agencies within the intelligence community.

CIA Chief Information Officer Doug Wolfe confirmed Wednesday the intelligence agency will start using Cloudera’s Enterprise Data Hub platform by April, a move he expects “to extend the innovation and push the envelope on a whole range of different solutions” for all 17 IC agencies.

The enterprise data hub, also known as a “data lake,” would presumably provide standardized data sets compiled by intelligence analysts across various agencies to decision-makers among many other features found in the company’s widely used open source big data platform.

From SINA English, a Chinese wall:

Some foreign tech brands removed from China government purchase list

CHINA has dropped some of the world’s leading technology brands from its approved state purchase lists, while approving thousands more locally made products.

Chief casualty is US network equipment maker Cisco Systems Inc, which in 2012 counted 60 products on the Central Government Procurement Center’s list, but by late 2014 had none, according to a Reuters analysis of official data.

Apple Inc has also been dropped over the period, along with Intel Corp’s security software firm McAfee and network and server software firm Citrix Systems.

An official at the procurement agency said there were many reasons why local makers might be preferred, including sheer weight of numbers and the fact that domestic security technology firms offered more product guarantees than overseas rivals.

From the Guardian, absence of evidence asserted:

No evidence of NSA and GCHQ Sim card hack, says allegedly compromised firm

  • Gemalto, the world’s largest Sim card manufacturer, denies claims intelligence services hacked into its servers and stole the keys to billions of mobile phones

The firm allegedly hacked by the NSA and GCHQ has stated that it cannot find any evidence that the US and UK security services breached and stole the encryption keys billions of Sim cards.

The alleged hack was revealed by documents from the NSA files provided by Edward Snowden, which detailed attacks on Gemalto – the world’s largest Sim card manufacturer – which allegedly saw them steal encryption keys that allowed them to secretly monitor voice calls and data from billions of mobile phones around the world.

But after an investigation, the Dutch security company, which supplies Sim cards to all of the major UK mobile phone networks and 450 operators globally, has said that no evidence of a theft of Sim card security details has been found.

From the Intercept, the sound of one hand clapping:

Gemalto Doesn’t Know What It Doesn’t Know

The company was eager to address the claims that its systems and encryption keys had been massively compromised. At one point in stock trading after publication of the report, Gemalto suffered a half billion dollar hit to its market capitalization. The stock only partially recovered in the following days.

After the brief investigation, Gemalto now says that the NSA and GCHQ operations in 2010-2011 would not allow the intelligence agencies to spy on 3G and 4G networks, and that theft would have been rare after 2010, when it deployed a “secure transfer system.” The company also said the spy agency hacks only affected “the outer parts of our networks — our office networks — which are in contact with the outside world.”

Security experts and cryptography specialists immediately challenged Gemalto’s claim to have done a “thorough” investigation into the state-sponsored attack in just six days, saying the company was greatly underestimating the abilities of the NSA and GCHQ to penetrate its systems without leaving detectable traces.

“Gemalto learned about this five-year-old hack by GCHQ when the The Intercept called them up for a comment last week. That doesn’t sound like they’re on top of things, and it certainly suggests they don’t have the in-house capability to detect and thwart sophisticated state-sponsored attacks,” says Christopher Soghoian, the chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. He adds that Gemalto remains “a high-profile target for intelligence agencies.”

Target tally totaled, via SecurityWeek:

Target Data Breach Tally Hits $162 Million in Net Costs

The cost of the Target breach keeps on climbing.

According to the firm’s latest earnings report, the net expense of the breach stands at $162 million.

The actual total has now reached a gross expense of $191 million. That amount was partially offset by a $46 million insurance receivable in 2014. In 2013, the company’s gross expense related to the breach was $61 million, which was offset by a $44 million insurance payment. That brings the net expense of the breach for the retail giant to $162 million.

According to the Ponemon Institute’s ninth annual global study on data breach costs released last year, the average total price tag of a breach was $145 for every record stolen or lost – an increase of nine percent compared to the cost noted in the previous report. The study focused on 314 companies across 10 countries. All the companies that participated in the 2014 study had experienced a data breach ranging from a low of 2,400 compromised records to a high of slightly more than 100,000. The most expensive data breaches occurred in the U.S. and Germany, and cost $201 and $195 per compromised record, respectively.

From Threatpost, Anthem for more bad news:

Up to 18.8 Million Non-Anthem Customers Affected in Breach

In addition to roughly 80 million Anthem customers, nearly 20 million more individuals who aren’t customers of the health insurer could ultimately wind up implicated in this month’s massive data breach.

The company disclosed yesterday that between 8.8 million and 18.8 million Blue Cross Blue Shield customers’ records may have been storoed in the database that was hacked. Anthem is part of a network of independent BCBS plans, and the latest batch of affected customers may have used their BCBS insurance in states such as Texas or Florida where the company runs partnerships.

It’s the first time the company has disclosed information regarding the breach as it relates to data other than its own since the compromise was announced on Feb. 5.

From SecurityWeek, ad-hacking your wireless:

Researchers Spot Aggressive Android Adware on Google Play

Highly aggressive adware has been found hidden in ten Android applications hosted on Google Play, Bitdefender reported.

Adware is highly common on both desktop PCs and smartphones. However, the threats discovered by the security firm stand out not just because they are aggressive, but also because they employ clever tricks to stay hidden on the infected device.

Once installed, the apps redirect victims to a webpage, hosted at mobilsitelerim.com/anasayfa, which serves ads designed to trick users into installing other pieces of adware disguised as system or performace updates, or get them to sign up for premium services. The displayed ads differ depending on the user’s location, Bitdefender said.

“Although they’re not malicious per se, by broadcasting sensitive user information to third parties, they resemble aggressive adware found on desktop PCs. The resulting barrage of pop-ups, redirects and ads irks users and seriously damages both the user experience and the performance of Android devices,” Bitdefender security researcher Liviu Arsene explained in a blog post.

And from Threatpost, an enduring threat:

Ransomware Looming As Major Long-Term Threat

On May 30, 2014, law enforcement officials from the FBI and Europol seized a series of servers that were being used to help operate the GameOver Zeus botnet, an especially pernicious and troublesome piece of malware. The authorities also began an international manhunt for a Russian man they said was connected to operating the botnet, but the most significant piece of the operation was a side effect: the disruption of the infrastructure used to distribute the CryptoLocker ransomware.

The takedown was the result of months of investigation by law enforcement and security researchers, many of whom were collaborating as part of a working group that had come together to dig into CryptoLocker’s inner workings. The cadre of researchers included reverse engineers, mathematicians and botnet experts, and the group quickly discovered that the gang behind CryptoLocker, which emerged in 2013, knew what it was doing. Not only was the crew piggybacking on the GameOver Zeus infections to reach a broader audience, but it also was using a sophisticated domain-generation algorithm to generate fresh command-and-control domains quickly. That kept the CryptoLocker crew ahead of researchers and law enforcement for a time.

“The interesting thing is all the opsec involved in this. The architecture thought out with this was really clear. The people working on this really sat down and architected and then engineered something,” said Lance James of Deloitte & Touche, who spoke about the takedown effort at Black Hat last year. “It took a lot more people on our side to hit it harder.”

After the jump, Austria enacts an Islamic crackdown, on to the ISIS front, first with a spooky assessment, crowdsourcing an anti-ISIS army, and a ‘Jihadi John’ profile from Old Blighty its spooky origins, Yemeni Arab Spring activists see their hopes dim, a Boko Haram bombing body count, bomb-sniffing pachyderms deployed, on to Pakistan and an American blogger slain, thence to North Korea and Japanese sanctions threatened, Washington deploys its top airborne spycraft to the South China Sea, Japan’s already considerable military power, and Shinzo Abe engineers more overseas naval deployments, and eases more legal restrictions. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, pollution, water, nukes


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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Guardian, toxic fowl:

Three-quarters of supermarket chickens carry food poisoning bug

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

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

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

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

Another diseased fowl story from Environmental News Service:

Ticks Carrying Lyme Disease Discovered on California Birds

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

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

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

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

From Newswise, another deadly processed food problem:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chemical in BPA-Free Products Linked to Irregular Heartbeats

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exposure to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Costs EU Billions Annually

  • Simulcast press conference highlights economic burden of exposure to EDCs

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

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

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

From the New York Times, waist watchers:

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

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

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

The problem is not limited to the United States.

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

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

Exposure to small particle pollution linked to heart-disease death

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

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

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

From BBC News, a spreading amphibian disaster:

Killer frog disease: Chytrid fungus hits Madagascar

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

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

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

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

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