And so much more, starting with the inevitable from BBC News:
US-Cuba shift: Opponents threaten to block changes
Opponents of President Barack Obama’s new Cuba policy have threatened to block his efforts to restore diplomatic relations after 50 years of hostility.
Florida Senator Marco Rubio promised on CNN to block the nomination of any US ambassador to Cuba. Other anti-Castro legislators suggested Congress would removing funding for any normalised ties with the country.
US-Cuban ties have been frozen since the early 1960s – a policy of isolation Mr Obama condemned as a failure. On Wednesday, the US president said it was time for a new approach.
Part of the deal with the New York Times:
C.I.A. Mole, Now Out of Prison, Helped U.S. Identify Cuban Spies
He was, in many ways, a perfect spy — a man so important to Cuba’s intelligence apparatus that the information he gave to the Central Intelligence Agency paid dividends long after Cuban authorities arrested him and threw him in prison for nearly two decades.
Rolando Sarraff Trujillo has now been released from prison and flown out of Cuba as part of a swap for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States that President Obama announced Wednesday in a televised speech. Mr. Obama did not give Mr. Sarraff’s name, but several current American officials identified him and a former official discussed some of the information he gave to the C.I.A. while burrowed deep inside Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence.
Mr. Sarraff’s story is a chapter in a spy vs. spy drama between the United States and Cuba that played on long after the end of the Cold War, decades after Cuba ceased to be a serious threat to the United States. The story — at this point — remains just a sketchy outline, with Mr. Sarraff hidden from public view and his work for the C.I.A. still classified.
Another frightening case of transnational corporate exceptionalism from the Guardian:
US tries to strike deal with EU for immunity over online security breaches
- Critics fear Tisa talks could be used to further interests of large corporations and undermine right to privacy
The US is attempting to secure immunity from investigation for online security breaches by major US companies under negotiations between Washington and Brussels, according to leaked documents seen by the Guardian.
Such a deal would prevent US companies that were operating inside the EU from being prosecuted by regulators or law officers for data breaches or claims of negligence in the host country, forcing European governments to pursue cases in the US courts.
Public service unions said the Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa) talks in Geneva revealed how the US planned to protect homegrown businesses from regulations that might hinder their expansion into sensitive areas such as government data handling and healthcare.
Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of Public Services International (PSI), which represents 650 unions in 150 countries, said the leaked documents, obtained by the Associated Whistleblowing Press, confirmed her fears that “Tisa is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth”.
Another major law enforcement failure, from the Los Angeles Times:
Feds sue N.Y.C. citing ‘deeply disturbing’ conditions at Rikers Island
Federal prosecutors sued New York City on Thursday over its handling of violence against young inmates held on Rikers Island, calling the jail complex a place where adolescents are “subjected to unconstitutional conditions and confinement.”
Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a filing Thursday that his office wanted to speed reforms at the facility following a Justice Department report in August that found “Rikers is a dangerous place” where a “pervasive climate of fear exists.”
At a news conference announcing the suit, Bharara said, “Today we have taken a legal step that we believe is necessary …. Much, much more needs to be done,” to safeguard inmates at Rikers.
Before federal officials filed the court documents, they notified New York Mayor Bill de Blasio of their intention. Bharara said the mayor supported the move.
The Los Angeles Times again, with the politics of race in Ferguson:
Ferguson-area school district strips power from black voters, ACLU says
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against a school district that serves Ferguson, Mo., alleging that the district disenfranchises black voters.
The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the Missouri NAACP, comes after months of scrutiny by government agencies and civil rights groups into the area’s local governments and predominantly white political leadership following the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed black man. That incident has triggered a protest movement that has yet to fully subside.
The Ferguson-Florissant School District has seven board members, and only one is black. The district serves 11,000 students in northern St. Louis County, 79% of whom are black, according to the ACLU.
The school board members are selected in at-large elections. The lawsuit charges that because black voters are a minority inside the district’s boundaries, their relative voting strength is unfairly weakened in at-large elections.
From RT America, another troublesome Ferguson failure:
Ferguson grand jury witness wants to “stop calling blacks n*****s”
One of the witnesses in the grand jury that reviewed the actions of Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson is under scrutiny by journalists who believe she may have not even been at the scene of the shooting. Adding to their speculation is a journal entry from “Witness 40,” in which she writes that she wanted to “drive to Florisant… Need to understand the Black race better so I stop calling Blacks n*****s.” Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of The Smoking Gun, gives more details to RT’s Ben Swann.
Cold War 2.0, with added repartee, via the Japan Times:
Danger in the skies as Russia, NATO play cat-and-mouse
Recent close shaves between Russian fighters and civilian aircraft highlight the dangers of the cat-and-mouse game being played out between Moscow and the West in European skies amid the crisis in Ukraine, analysts say.
In the latest incident, Sweden said Dec. 12 that a Russian military jet nearly collided with a passenger plane south of Malmo shortly after take-off from Copenhagen International Airport.
Both countries called in their Russian ambassadors to protest, only to be told that a huge increase in Russian military activity in recent months was “a response to NATO’s activities and escalation in the region.”
Russia later accused Swedish authorities of being under the influence after smoking too much cannabis.
World War 2.0, via Al Jazeera America:
Dutch right-wing politician charged with inciting hatred against Moroccans
- Geert Wilders’ political party tops opinion polls in the Netherlands
Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders will be prosecuted in the Netherlands for alleged discrimination and inciting hatred against Moroccans during election campaigning in March, prosecutors said on Thursday.
The charges stem from an incident in The Hague, when Wilders led an anti-Moroccan chant in a cafe, which was broadcast nationally and prompted 6,400 complaints to the police.
Wilders asked supporters if they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in their city, triggering the chant: “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” A smiling Wilders responded, “We’ll take care of that.”
In a later TV interview, he referred to “Moroccan scum.”
Torture lessons from Cold War 1.0, from Newsweek:
When Torture Backfires: What the Vietcong Learned and the CIA Didn’t
The CIA is hardly the only spy service to grapple with blowback from making prisoners scream. Even leaders of Communist Vietnam’s wartime intelligence agency, notorious for torturing American POWs, privately knew that “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as the CIA calls them, could create more problems than solutions, according to internal Vietnamese documents reviewed by Newsweek.
In many cases, torturing people wrongly suspected of being enemy spies caused “extremely regrettable losses and damage,” says one of the documents, released to little notice in 1993 by Hanoi’s all-powerful Public Security Service (PSS). But unlike the CIA, Vietnam’s security service constantly engaged in Marxist-style “self-criticism” to review its mistakes, particularly those caused by relying on confessions extracted by torture, the recently translated Communist documents show.
The documents were obtained and translated by Christopher E. Goscha, a history professor at the University of Montreal and one of the leading international scholars on Indochina during the French colonial period. He included them in his book, Historical Dictionary of the Indochina War (1945-1954): An International and Interdisciplinary Approach, which was published to little notice in Denmark in 2011. “Torture and intelligence gathering in a time of war are a tricky combination,” he told Newsweek, “and the [Communists’] policing and military intelligence services were no exception to the rule.”
On to the battlefield, via BBC News:
IS leaders killed by US air strikes, Pentagon chief says
US air strikes have killed several high-ranking military leaders of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, the Pentagon’s top officer says. Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strikes aimed to hamper the Islamist group’s ability to conduct attacks, supply fighters and finance operations.
IS controls a swathe of Iraq and Syria, where it has declared a caliphate.
Meanwhile, Kurdish forces say they have broken the IS siege of Mount Sinjar.
Gen Dempsey told the Wall Street Journal that the loss of IS leaders was “disruptive to their planning and command and control”. He added: “These are high-value targets, senior leadership.”
Cyberconvolutions from CBC News:
Hackers posing as Syrian-Canadians may be tied to ISIS
- Malware aims to expose location of attacker’s target
Hackers suspected of ties to ISIS posed as Syrian-Canadians to try to implant malicious software on a computer of a Syrian citizen media group, an internet watchdog says.
A Citizen Lab report released today says there’s strong evidence that the Islamic jihadist group sent the phishing email in late November, but it’s not conclusive.
“This bears little resemblance to anything we’ve seen from the usual suspects,” said report co-author John Scott-Railton. “That, combined with who they are targeting … gives us pause and makes us think that maybe we’re looking at ISIS malware.”
If ISIS is responsible for the attempted attack on the citizen media group, it could mark an early warning sign that the group is embracing a new tactic in its fight to establish a caliphate.
Another ironic hack, via Nextgov:
48,000 Federal Employees Potentially Affected by Second Background Check Hack
The Office of Personnel Management is alerting more than 48,000 federal employees their personal information may have been exposed following a breach at KeyPoint Government Solutions, which conducts background investigations of federal employees seeking security clearances.
The total number of employees affected is 48,439, according to an email from OPM Chief Information Officer Donna Seymour obtained by Nextgov.
Seymour said OPM worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the incident, “and while we found no conclusive evidence that [personally identifiable information] was taken by the intruder, OPM has elected to conduct these notifications out of an abundance of caution.”
And yet another embarrassing hack, via the Los Angeles Times:
Internet authority ICANN says it was hacked
The Internet authority responsible the Web’s address system has been hacked, compromising employee emails and personal information.
The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, said Tuesday that it fell victim to a “spear phishing” attack in November. The hack involved emails crafted to look as though they came from the organization’s own domain.
Earlier this month, ICANN learned that the stolen employee credentials were used to access other systems aside from email, including the Centralized Zone Data System that grants access to private employee information. Hackers accessed employees’ names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and usernames. The digital thieves also found employee passwords, though that information was encrypted instead of saved as plain text, ICANN said.
And a transition our first after-the-jump, hack-of-the-year stories, via the Associated Press:
Sony hacking fallout puts all companies on alert
Companies across the globe are on high alert to tighten up network security to avoid being the next company brought to its knees by hackers like those that executed the dramatic cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The hack, which a U.S. official has said investigators believe is linked to North Korea, culminated in the cancellation of a Sony film and ultimately could cost the movie studio hundreds of millions of dollars. That the hack included terrorist threats and was focused on causing major corporate damage, rather than on stealing customer information for fraud like in the breaches at Home Depot and Target, indicates a whole new frontier has emerged in cybersecurity. Suddenly every major company could be the target of cyberextortion.
“The Sony breach is a real wake-up call even after the year of mega-breaches we’ve seen,” says Lee Weiner, Boston security firm Rapid7’s senior vice president of products and engineering. “This is a completely different type of data stolen with the aim to harm the company.”
“Movie studios have, by and large, behaved as high-security intellectual property purveyors; prints have been tightly controlled, screeners are watermarked, and bootleggers are prosecuted wherever possible,” says Seth Shapiro, a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He said that’s what makes it so surprising that email leaks showed that Sony executives apparently gave out passwords in unencrypted emails and made other security blunders.
After the jump, on to the hack of the year, starting with another film pulled by another studio, a White House declaration, possible responses, a media war victor, potential impacts on the studio system, Sony emails force apologetics, an author enters the game, a plot twist about plot twists, revelations about studio battles with Google, plus curious legal ties, major router hackability revealed, Japanese ransomware debuts, a rebel ceasefire in Colombian and a violent protest in Brazil, complaints of wasted aid in Pakistan, thousands may be headed for Pakistani gallows, while Pakistan asks for help for Washington, and a court bails a major terrorism suspect, Christian fear in Indian as Hindu violence rises, a U.N. call for punitive action against North Korea and a North Korean nuclear count, a South Korean rift complicates air force plans, China clamps down on foreign television, Japan redefines scope of future military actions, and allegations of a curious cabal of upper crust British killer pedophiles. . . Continue reading