Monday, April 28, 2014

Of Course They Did

At the behest of the director of national intelligence, US senators have removed a provision from a major intelligence bill that would require the president to publicly disclose information about drone strikes and their victims.


Senate leaders have removed the language as they prepare to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, after the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, assured them in a recent letter that the Obama administration was looking for its own ways to disclose more about its highly controversial drone strikes.

Sure. Sure. Take all the time you need.

Give Me a Break

Bill Gates’ Microsoft Corp. announced on Saturday that Internet Explorer versions 6 through 11 are all vulnerable to a glitch that when properly exploited can give hackers remote access to a victim’s computer.


A person with knowledge of the vulnerability may create a fake website that, when visited, allows the hacker to exploit the bug and break into their target’s machine, Microsoft warned.

"An attacker who successfully exploited this vulnerability could take complete control of an affected system. An attacker could then install programs; view, change or delete data; or create new accounts with full user rights," the company advised.

According to FireEye spokesman Vitor De Souza, hackers had already taken advantage of the exploit by targeting unnamed US-based firms that are tied to the defense and financial sectors.


Microsoft was unable to patch the vulnerability by the time the weekend was over, and the United States government’s Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) issued an alert warning computer users to “consider employing an alternative web browser.”

"We are currently unaware of a practical solution to this problem," Carnegie Mellon's Software Engineering Institute warned in an advisory of its own.

I bet they get that sucker patched PDQ, though.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Are Humans Building Pesticide Resistance, Too?

A recent study has found that the herbicide glyphosate, sold under the trade name Roundup (and others), is present in alarming levels in breast milk of American females. The study found that samples of mother’s milk from women in the United States contained levels of the weed-killer that were 760 to 1,600 time greater than the amount of pesticides allowed by the European Water Directive. Those levels are still less than the 700 ug/l maximum contaminant level (MCL) that the Environmental Protection Agency has decided is safe.


The study also found that urine from American mothers contained levels of glyphosate ten times higher than urine from European women.

  Planet Natural
I wonder how the end picture looks regarding comparative health between Europeans and Americans given the fact that Europeans across the board have stricter environmental health laws.
The EPA contamination level was decided on the much-challenged assumption that glyphosate wsa excreted and did not accumulate in the human body. Those non-accumulation findings were based on studies sponsored by, among others, Monsanto, the maker of Roundup.
Indeed, this is how the EPA determines anything about chemicals – the chemical manufacturers’ own reports.
Studies have suggested that glyphosate is linked to cancers, endocrine disruption, DNA damage, leukemia, birth defects, and neurological problems such as Parkinson’s disease.
Apparently, the study should not alarm breast-feeding women into switching to formulas, because there’s probably just as much pesticide residue in those: “It is certainly disheartening to know that glyphosate is present in breast milk, but lest you think this means you should not nurse your baby, please be aware that soy-based formula probably also contains glyphosate, possibly in even higher concentrations. The US government has conducted very few studies measuring the amount of glyphosate residue in food, but a report issued by the Department of Agriculture in 2011 showed that over 90% of 300 samples of soy contained glyphosate, and nearly 96% contained AMPA, a derivative of glyphosate.” --Stephanie Steneff, a senior research scientist at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Net Neutrality: 0 -- "Free" Market; 1

The Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday that it would propose new rules that allow companies like Disney, Google or Netflix to pay Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon for special, faster lanes to send video and other content to their customers.

The proposed changes would affect what is known as net neutrality — the idea that no providers of legal Internet content should face discrimination in providing offerings to consumers, and that users should have equal access to see any legal content they choose.

The proposal comes three months after a federal appeals court struck down, for the second time, agency rules intended to guarantee a free and open Internet.

Tom Wheeler, the F.C.C. chairman, defended the agency’s plans late Wednesday, saying speculation that the F.C.C. was “gutting the open Internet rule” is “flat out wrong.” Rather, he said, the new rules will provide for net neutrality along the lines of the appeals court’s decision.


Consumer groups immediately attacked the proposal, saying that not only would costs rise, but also that big, rich companies with the money to pay large fees to Internet service providers would be favored over small start-ups with innovative business models — stifling the birth of the next Facebook or Twitter.

“If it goes forward, this capitulation will represent Washington at its worst,” said Todd O’Boyle, program director of Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “Americans were promised, and deserve, an Internet that is free of toll roads, fast lanes and censorship — corporate or governmental.”


Mr. Wheeler rebuffed such criticism. “There is no ‘turnaround in policy,’ ” he said in a statement. “The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original open Internet rules, and consistent with the court’s decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted.”

Really? Charging variable rates for speed does not harm consumers and promote competition? Hmmm. I guess those terms don’t mean what I think they mean.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Appeal Denied - USG Ordered to Release Secret Memo

A federal appeals court has ordered the release of a secret government memo that authorized the killings of Americans overseas. The American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times had filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act seeking the legal basis for drone strikes. The lawsuit came after the United States killed the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan in Yemen, despite having never charged any of them with a crime. In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the release of the memo and other related documents. In a statement, the ACLU said the ruling marks a "resounding rejection of the government’s effort to use secrecy and selective disclosure to manipulate public opinion about the targeted killing program."

  Democracy Now
So, will the government pony up?  Or take the matter to the Supreme Court "activist" judges, where they always win.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Another Twitter Fail

Just before 2 pm EDT, the New York City Police Department called via Twitter for photos of citizens with its officers. Almost immediately the campaign #myNYPD seemed to backfire, as users flooded the hashtag with photos decrying alleged police brutality.


Do we have a photo?  Why, yes.  Yes, we do.

Really.  The department didn't think that one through, did they?
...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Not Getting Any Better

According to “Working for the Few,” a recent briefing paper from Oxfam, “In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.”


[E]conomic analyst Robert Reich reminded us that in addition to getting the largest percent of total national income in nearly a century, many in the one percent are paying a lower federal tax rate than a lot of people in the middle class. You may remember that an obliging Congress, of both parties, allows high rollers of finance the privilege of “carried interest,” a tax rate below that of their secretaries and clerks.

And at state and local levels, while the poorest fifth of Americans pay an average tax rate of over 11 percent, the richest one percent of the country pay — are you ready for this? — half that rate.


Inequality is what has turned Washington into a protection racket for the one percent. It buys all those goodies from government: Tax breaks. Tax havens (which allow corporations and the rich to park their money in a no-tax zone). Loopholes. Favors like carried interest. And so on.


Sad, that it’s come to this. The drift toward oligarchy that Thomas Piketty describes in his formidable new book on capital has become a mad dash.

  Bill Moyers

Oh, and THAT Picture's Not Going to Be Photoshopped Much

Obama reading "Where the Wild Things Are" to kids on Easter:

I was just wondering why the Christians don't get up in arms about a War on Easter?  "The reason for the season." 

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

There Ought to Be a Law

American combat dolphins and sea lions will undertake a lengthy plane flight in order to participate in NATO war games in the Black Sea, Tom LaPuzza, spokesman for the US Navy's marine mammals program, reportedly said.

20 dolphins and ten sea lions will take part in the drill, which will last from one to two weeks, LaPuzza is cited as saying by Izvestia newspaper.


Ye Gods

A short intensive laser pulse produces plasma in its path. This plasma can interact with charged particles in a storm cloud and change weather, starting rain on request and control lightning bolts. But making laser beams travel into the clouds uninterrupted was always a challenge, because beams powerful enough to control weather dissipate very quickly.

A team of optical researchers at the University of Arizona and the University of Central Florida have found a way around this obstacle.


The potential of the technology goes beyond our interaction with the planet’s atmosphere. It can be applied in areas like remote sensing for spectroscopy, allowing analyzing chemical compounds from long distances, or channeling of microwaves. The US Department of Defense, which green-lit the research with a $7.5 million grant, certainly thought it was worth the investment.

As for weather control, the team needs to find a way to send a laser beam hundreds of meters into the sky and sustain its energy, researchers say.


“When a laser beam becomes intense enough, it behaves differently than usual – it collapses inward on itself,” explained study co-author Matthew Mills, a graduate of the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) at University of Central Florida. “The collapse becomes so intense that electrons in the air's oxygen and nitrogen are ripped off creating plasma – basically a soup of electrons.”

And what could possibly go wrong?

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

At This Rate, We'll Soon Have Yemen Depopulated

By noontime in Washington, DC on Monday, the Associated Press reported that 55 Al-Qaeda militants were among those that had been killed in an hours-long series of strikes that targeted a training camp operated by the group, according to Yemen's interior ministry. The United States is alleged to have carried out the strikes using unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, but does not legally have to acknowledge any operations conducted by its Central Intelligence Agency and has not commented.


[An] anonymous Yemeni government official briefed on the strikes told CNN that the strikes had yet to cease and that at, by his count, at least 30 alleged militants had been killed.


On Sunday, US drones reportedly targeted an Al-Qaeda training camp in the nearby province of Abyan and killed another 30.

Let’s revisit the Obama administration’s definition of a militant: “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent. “ (source: New York Times)

And why is the CIA fighting a war, anyway? I thought we had a military for that.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It's Sunday

And Easter Sunday at that, for all you Christians


I know, I know.  I'm going to Hell.  Yeah, yeah.

And, happy bunny day to you pagans:

Vintage creepy Easter bunny photos.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Snowden Responds to Criticism of His Putin Question

In answer to my speculation about whether Edward Snowden asked his security question of Russia’s President Putin merely to get an answer on the record, today, the Guardian has a post from Snowden himself.
The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion.


[If] we are to test the truth of officials' claims, we must first give them an opportunity to make those claims.


In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we'll get to them soon – but it was not the president's suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.


[J]ournalists might ask for clarification as to how millions of individuals' communications are not being intercepted, analysed or stored, when, at least on a technical level, the systems that are in place must do precisely that in order to function. They might ask whether the social media companies reporting that they have received bulk collection requests from the Russian government are telling the truth.

Hopefully, Mr. Snowden will be receiving offers of asylum from and legal passage to other countries soon, because I have a feeling he won’t be getting an extension from Russia now.

Brave and/or foolhardy.

No Need to Curb Environmental Practices That Lead to Global Warming

Astronomers have discovered what they say is the most Earth-like planet yet detected — a distant, rocky world that's similar in size to our own and exists in the Goldilocks zone where it's not too hot or cold to sustain life.


The newfound object, dubbed Kepler-186f, circles a red dwarf star 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. A light-year is almost 6 trillion miles.


The planet is about 10 percent larger than Earth and may very well have liquid water — a key ingredient for life — on its surface, scientists said. That is because it resides at the outer edge of the habitable temperature zone around its star — the sweet spot where lakes, rivers or oceans can exist without freezing solid or boiling away.

The planet probably basks in an orange-red glow from its star and is most likely cooler than Earth, with an average temperature slightly above freezing, "similar to dawn or dusk on a spring day," Marcy said.

Well, there you go. By the time global warming has ruined the earth, what’s left of mankind can head off to New Earth. Party on, Garth.

Fukushima FUBAR

The manager of the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant has admitted not having full control of the facility. Contrary to the statements of the Japanese PM, TEPCO’s [Tokyo Electric Power Co] Akira Ono said attempts to plug the leaks of radioactive water had failed.

"It's embarrassing to admit, but there are certain parts of the site where we don't have full control," Ono told reporters touring the plant this week, reported Reuters. Last year, the Japanese PM attempted to assure the world that the situation at the stricken nuclear power plant was under control.

”[We] were pressed to build tanks in a rush and may have not paid enough attention to quality. We need to improve quality from here.”


“The ultimate purpose is to prevent contaminated water from going out to the ocean, and in this regard, I believe it is under control,” Ono said. But a series of leaks have obliged officials to “find better ways to handle the water problem.”
Mmmm…where is the leaking water going?
In the latest blunder at the plant, TEPCO mistakenly flooded the Fukushima facility’s basements with radioactive cooling-tank water. Earlier this week the Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun reported that around 200 tons of water had found its way into waste disposal facilities under the power plant. TEPCO said they were working to fix the leakage as soon as possible.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Privatizing the Water Supply

As you know, the world banking industry has its hands in most third world countries' economies, making loans on the condition that the countries introduce extreme austerity and privatization of public resources, including water supplies.

This article will explain the water privatization issue and its obvious problems. The money quote  (pun unintended, but you are welcome to it) for me:
In addition, financing by the IFC, which is both investor and adviser on these projects, poses a conflict of interest. On the one hand, the IFC is advising governments to privatize the sector; on the other, it’s investing in the corporations getting those contracts. “It’s self-dealing: setting up a project that it’s in a position to profit from,” Naficy told me. When the IFC was established in 1956, it was expressly prohibited from purchasing corporate equity to avoid this sort of conflict, but the board amended this rule a few years later, allowing these kinds of deals.

See any problem there?...but hey, do what you will anyway.

And There Will Be More

A new email service that protects its users from the prying eyes of the NSA and other spy agencies has gone online. The service’s creators say it will make encrypted messaging accessible to all and curtail internet snooping.

Germany-based Lavaboom was inspired by Lavabit, the encrypted email service that was believed to have been used by whistleblower Edward Snowden before it shut down its operations in August last year. The service pioneers a new system called “zero-knowledge privacy”, which allows users to personally encrypt and decrypt their mail from their browsers using JavaScript codes.

“Key handling is a very sensitive issue," Lavaboom said in a technical FAQ section on its website. "We let you download your keypair during registration. This is to ensure that your key remains in your possession.”

In this way, the service only acts as a carrier for already encrypted messages which will prevent government agencies from extracting information. It will also mean Lavaboom will be unable to handover unencrypted mails and codes to government agencies if they request them.

Lavaboom is currently in its beta stage of development and plans to offer users free accounts with 250MB of storage space, while subscribers will receive 1GB for around $11 a month.


This Will Have the Heads Screaming

Edward Snowden phoned in via video conference to Russia's President Putin's conversation with the public. He asked if Russia conducts mass surveillance on its citizens. Putin told him they didn't, he hoped they never do, they don't have the money and technical resources that the US has for this type of surveillance anyway, and it's against their law: by law their intelligence services are only allowed to target specific individuals under investigation, and they have to have a court order to do so.

Hey, I think that's the same with us, isn't it?

Perhaps Snowden was just getting the man on record denying it, for future reference if necessary.  At any rate, this will have the intelligence community in the US, including its congressional supporters (both parties) out in force with their panties in a bunch.  He has to know that.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

UPDATE 4/18:  Snowden responds

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tangling with the Feds? Get a Lawyer, Early

A federal appeals court has upheld a contempt citation against the founder of the defunct secure e-mail company Lavabit, finding that the weighty internet privacy issues he raised on appeal should have been brought up earlier in the legal process.

The decision disposes of a closely watched privacy case on a technicality, without ruling one way or the other on the substantial issue: whether an internet company can be compelled to turn over the master encryption keys for its entire system to facilitate court-approved surveillance on a single user.


Levison resisted the order on the grounds that he couldn’t comply without reprogramming the elaborate encryption system he’d built to protect his users’ privacy. He eventually relented and offered to gather up the email metadata and transmit it to the government after 60 days. Later he offered to engineer a faster solution. But by then, weeks had passed, and the FBI was determined to get what it wanted directly and in real time.


The government promised it wouldn’t use the key to spy on Lavabit’s other 400,000 users, which the key would technically enable them to do.


[C]ourt filings suggest strongly that the target was indicted NSA leaker Edward Snowden, Lavabit’s most famous user.


Levison turned over the keys as a nearly illegible computer printout in 4-point type. In early August, Hilton – who once served on the top-secret FISA court – ordered Levison to provide the keys instead in the industry-standard electronic format, and began fining him $5,000 a day for noncompliance.

After two days, Levison complied, but then immediately shuttered Lavabit altogether.


[T]he appeals court today said that the bulk of Levison’s arguments couldn’t be considered, because he hadn’t clearly raised them in the lower court, where he represented himself without a lawyer for much of the proceedings.

The 4th Circuit panel wasn’t terribly sympathetic to the privacy issues during oral arguments in the case. So today’s ruling on a procedural technicality is probably for the best. And the next time a secure e-mail provider tangles with the feds, you can bet it will get a lawyer earlier on in the process.

"The privacy issue."  You don't need privacy.  You need authority.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Wisconsin Republicans Wastng Time and Taxpayer Money

Wisconsin Republicans will vote next month on whether they support allowing the state to secede from the United States of America. Last month, one of the Republican caucuses in the state passed a resolution asserting the state's right to secede.

Go ahead. Maybe Canada will annex you.

Texas probably had a better chance of making a go of secession. At least they have oil fields.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Developments in the Spy on Your Co-worker Program

An executive order signed by President Barack Obama in October 2011 mandated that the government establish an interagency Insider Threat Task Force “for deterring, detecting and mitigating” future potential risks like the one posed a year earlier by Chelsea Manning.


Speaking last week before the Senate, [US Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)] said that the intelligence community has to confront the “issue of distinguishing a true insider threat from a legitimate whistleblower.”


Grassley said last Thursday that he asked the Federal Bureau of Information for Insider Threat Program training materials four months ago, but was told to schedule a hearing instead to have his questions answered. That event was eventually scheduled for the week prior to last Thursday’s comments, but Grassley now says that not only did the FBI fail to bring the materials he requested to that hearing, but that his attempts to ask the bureau for details directly from the officials in charge of the program quickly fell apart after mere minutes.

“Unfortunately, neither my staff nor Chairman Leahy’s staff was able to learn more, because only about ten minutes into the briefing, the FBI abruptly walked out,” Grassley said. “FBI officials simply refused to discuss any whistleblower implications in its Insider Threat Program and left the room. These are clearly not the actions of an agency that is genuinely open to whistleblowers or whistleblower protection.”

Walked out on a Congressional hearing?  Is that not actionable as contempt?
Indeed, one of the only details he was able to divulge from the director of the Insider Threat Program was a bizarre attempt at reassuring Sen. Grassley that federal whistleblowers are, contrary to his concerns, able to speak up about alleged government malfeasance without fearing they’d be treated as an insider threat or, as WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning found out, sentenced to decades in prison for publishing state secrets.

According to Grassley, the head of the Insider Threat Program told the staff at the Senate hearing earlier this month ahead of his spontaneous exit “that there was no need to worry about whistleblower communications.”

“He said whistleblowers had to register in order to be protected, and the Insider Threat Program would know to just avoid those people,” Grassley recalled.
Oh, right. I’m gonna register as a whistleblower so I’m easier for the government to tag and bag.
“Those that fight waste, fraud, and abuse in government should be lauded for their patriotism,” [Grassley] said.
Instead of persecuted and prosecuted like Thomas Drake.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Expanding Empire: Africa

[Cpt. Rick] Cook was one of three US military construction officials who, earlier this month, spoke candidly about the Pentagon's efforts in Africa to men and women from URS Corporation, AECOM, CH2M Hill, and other top firms. During a paid-access web seminar, the three of them insisted that they were seeking industry "partners" because the military has "big plans" for the continent. They foretold a future marked by expansion, including the building up of a "permanent footprint" in Djibouti for the next decade or more, a possible new compound in Niger, and a string of bases devoted to surveillance activities spreading across the northern tier of Africa. They even let slip mention of a small, previously unacknowledged US compound in Mali.


"Lately, one of our biggest focus areas is in the country of Niger. We have gotten indications from the country of Niger that they are willing to be a partner of ours," he said. The country, he added, "is in a nice strategic location that allows us to get to many other places reasonably quickly, so we are working very hard with the Nigeriens to come up with, I wouldn't necessarily call it a base, but a place we can operate out of on a frequent basis."


In response to further questions, Cook referred to the possible site as a "base-like facility" that would be "semi-permanent" and "capable of air operations."

  Mother Jones
Not a base, you understand.
"Many of the places that we are trying to stand up or trying to get into are air missions. A lot of ISR... is going on in different parts of the continent. Generally speaking, the Air Force is probably going to be assigned to do much of that," he told the contractors. "The Air Force is going to be doing a great deal of work on these bases… that are going to be built across the northern tier of Africa."


Over the last several years, the US has been building a constellation of drone bases across Africa, flying intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions out of not only Niger, but also Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the island nation of the Seychelles. Meanwhile, an airbase in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, serves as the home of a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment, as well as of the Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing Airlift Support initiative. According to military documents, that "initiative" supports "high-risk activities" carried out by elite forces from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara. US Army Africa documents obtained by TomDispatch also mention the deployment to Chad of an ISR liaison team. And according to Sam Cooks, a liaison officer with the Defense Logistics Agency, the US military has 29 agreements to use international airports in Africa as refueling centers.


As part of the webinar for industry representatives, Wayne Uhl, chief of the International Engineering Center for the Europe District of the Army Corps of Engineers, shed light on shadowy US operations in Mali before (and possibly after) the elected government there was overthrown in a 2012 coup led by a US-trained officer. Documents prepared by Uhl reveal that an American compound was constructed near Gao, a major city in the north of Mali.


[The US military] now averages far more than a mission a day on the continent, conducting operations with almost every African military force, in almost every African country, while building or building up camps, compounds, and "contingency security locations." The US has taken an active role in wars from Libya to the Central African Republic, sent special ops forces into countries from Somalia to South Sudan, conducted airstrikes and abduction missions, even put boots on the ground in countries where it pledged it would not. "We have shifted from our original intent of being a more congenial combatant command to an actual war-fighting combatant command," AFRICOM's Rick Cook explained to the audience of big-money defense contractors. He was unequivocal: the US has been "at war" on the continent for the last two and half years. It remains to be seen when AFRICOM will pass this news on to the American public.
...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Drone Impact

Last year, London-based forensic psychologist Peter Schaapveld presented research he'd conducted on the psychological impact of drone strikes in Yemen to a British parliamentary sub-committee. He reported that 92 percent of the population sample he examined was found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – with children being the demographic most significantly affected. Women, he found, claimed to be miscarrying from their fear of drones. "This is a population that by any figure is hugely suffering," Schaapveld said. The fear of drones, he added, "is traumatizing an entire generation."

  Rolling Stone

Gay Marriage Rights Progression

On the Mother Jones website, this map is animated and runs through the progression year by year.

Rot in Guantánamo

The US government’s troubled military trials of terrorism suspects were dealt another blow on Monday when proceedings were halted after an allegation surfaced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation turned a member of a 9/11 defendant’s defense team into a secret informant.


[Defense attorneys] implored [Judge] Pohl to investigate, and if necessary, assign their clients with new independent counsel to advise the defendants about the existence and implications of conflict of interest. That could be a lengthy process – potentially the next delay for a proceeding that has yet to get out of the pretrial stage nearly two years after the latest incarnation of the 9/11 military trials began.

The government seriously does not want us to find out the true extent of what it's done.
The possibility of the FBI enlisting bin al-Shibh’s Defense Security Officer as an informant on the defense teams follows on the heels of revelations and suspicions that attorneys’ communications are monitored at Guantánamo.

The Central Intelligence Agency was able to secretly mute commission courtroom proceedings in January 2013 when attorneys attempted to discuss the agency’s former off-the-books prisons.

In April 2013, over half a million defense counsel emails were inappropriately turned over to a Department of Defense agency.


In December 2013, Vocativ reported that a system at Guantánamo called RedWolf surreptitiously intercepts and records phone, email and Voice Over Internet Protocol communications.


The five 9/11 co-defendants have waited years for their trial to unfold. Most were taken into secret CIA detention in 2002 and 2003 before being sent to Guantánamo in 2006. A 2008 war-crimes trial was aborted, as was the Obama administration’s 2009 plan to try them in civilian court in New York. The co-defendants were arraigned in 2012.
And the plan to keep them imprisoned without trial until they rot, continues apace.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Boston Bombing - One Year Later

How did authorities miss the Tsarnaev brothers Boston Marathon bombing when they had the elder brother in their records as a possible national security threat?
One of the allegations against Tamerlan was that he was going to Russia to meet with underground groups. “This violates the laws of the U.S.,” says German. “So it’s difficult to understand why that didn’t raise more alarms.”


Kade Crockford, the director of the Technology for Liberty Program at ACLU Massachusetts, believes it should have. Crockford, perhaps the foremost authority on the lingering questions raised by the Boston bombings, sees the FBI’s failure to look into Tamerlan’s journey as part of a larger institutional problem. “Millions of people are listed in government databases as potential terrorist threats,” says Crockford. “The FBI has the legal authority to approach anyone for an interview, at any time. Tamerlan’s case confirms what we have long suspected: The databases are so large that they are practically useless. When everyone is a suspect, no one is a suspect.”

“The FBI, originally, was an investigative agency,” says Mike German, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program. But since 9/11, the bureau, like many federal agencies, has increasingly refocused its efforts on intelligence gathering as part of the overall counterterrorism agenda. This, German believes, is where the central failing lies.

“Just like false alarms dull the response of firefighters, these ‘see something, say something’ leads [result in] only cursory investigations, then they move to the next one,” says German.


The FBI’s failings went beyond the years before the bombings; they also extended into the days immediately following the attack. On April 17, 2013, two days after pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line, the FBI received an image of both Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarneav. But the FBI was unable to identify the two suspects, despite the fact that the agency had photographs of Tamerlan, who’d been arrested for domestic violence, in its database, and that the U.S. government had spent billions of dollars on facial-recognition software meant for just such purposes.


At 5 p.m. the next day, on April 18, the FBI released the images to the public and opened up a hotline. It wasn’t long before people began to call in and identify the brothers, who were star athletes in their community.


Essah Chisholm, a teammate of Dzhokhar’s, reached out to the FBI that evening immediately after seeing the images on television. So did John Allan, who owns a martial arts gym where Tamerlan worked out. But their calls did not affect the intensifying manhunt in Boston. Meanwhile, around 10:30 that evening, the two brothers killed an MIT police officer, Sean Collier, after trying to steal his gun.


Instead, Tamerlan remained unknown to the bureau until he died on April 19, early the next day, after a shootout with police in the streets of Watertown, a quiet Boston suburb.


By that point, the damage was already done. And Crockford, a resident of the city, still can’t make sense of it. “If the FBI pieced together the info they already had, all the trauma could have been avoided,” she says. “I mean what is the point of operating a massive, costly, rights-infringing surveillance apparatus if key warnings from the system are routinely ignored?”

Try to think of an answer.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pulitzer to Guardian and Washington Post for Snowden Leaks Reporting

The Guardian and the Washington Post have been awarded the highest accolade in US journalism, winning the Pulitzer prize for public service for their groundbreaking articles on the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities based on the leaks of Edward Snowden.

The award, announced in New York on Monday, comes 10 months after the Guardian published the first report.


At the Guardian, the NSA reporting was led by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and film-maker Laura Poitras, and at the Washington Post by Barton Gellman, who also co-operated with Poitras. All four journalists were honoured with a George Polk journalism award last week for their work on the NSA story.


Now let’s get Edward Snowden clear and free.
Snowden, in a statement, said: "Today's decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognises was work of vital public importance."

He said that his actions in leaking the documents that formed the basis of the reporting "would have been meaningless without the dedication, passion, and skill of these newspapers".

In Case You Can't Sleep Tonight

And it's not too effing freezing to step outside. (WTF? It was 82 degrees two days ago here; tonight is supposed to hit a low of 26.)

Blood moon schedule:

past blood moon over San Francisco

If you miss it, you'll have another chance in October when the next total eclipse will also present a blood moon, and in fact, another chance a year from now, and another chance October 2015. Four in a row blood moons is what's apparently rare.

UPDATE:  I did get to see it happen.  Pretty cool.  I'd call it more of a pumpkin moon, though.
My angle was a little different than this view from Florida, and it looked a little darker, but otherwise, it was pretty much like this (why they start the pictures from bottom left, I don't know):

Modern Mural


Define Terrorism

It’s only terrorism if that suits the government’s purposes.
In the years since Maj. Nidal Hasan opened fire in a crowded Fort Hood medical center, killing 13 people and wounding another 32, victims have struggled to get medical care and financial benefits. This is largely because of how the incident has been labeled. Although Hasan is an avowed jihadist with ties to Al Qaeda, the Pentagon considers the attack to be workplace violence rather than terrorism or combat. Thus victims aren't eligible for many benefits and honors available to soldiers wounded or killed in action.


In 2012, nearly 150 Fort Hood victims and their family members filed suit against the Department of Defense, seeking compensation for their suffering and lost benefits. But the case has bogged down, and the Senate has balked at passing legislation that would give victims of the 2009 shooting the same benefits as soldiers killed or wounded in combat or terrorism attacks.

  Mother Jones
The survivors asked by letter to have ten minutes with President Obama when he went to the latest Ft. Hood photo op. They didn’t receive an answer until the day after – a rejection of their request, of course, with no reason offered. Basically, it said, thanks for your service, the Obamas care about you.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Work Less

The local government of Gothenburg, Sweden, is to begin a yearlong experiment to see if cutting the working week to 30 hours will be more efficient. It is hoped working less hours will cut down on sick leave, and save money.


Currently, Belgium and the Netherlands enjoy a 30-hour working week, with an average worker in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, spending 35 hours a week at work.


Under the plan, the employees will remain on the same pay.


He explained that the municipal council experiment would involve two different departments: a test group and a control group. The working week of the staff in the first section won’t exceed six hours a day, while their colleagues in a different section will stick to the ordinary forty-hour week schedule. All employees will be given the same pay.

I’m not sure that’s experimentally rigorous, but go for it.  My guess would be that 8-hour workers waste more time, or work at a slower pace to avoid wearing out, and so the experiment will prove their theory.

Hint to 8-hour workers: slow down if you ever want to go to 6 hours.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Surveillance Reform

In a news conference, Glenn Greenwald, who is currently in the United States (picking up a George Polk award for national security reporting) suggests that the NSA’s spying system be converted from one of mass surveillance into one of targeted surveillance. Asked about Obama’s posturing on the subject of reforming the program, he says President Obama “likes to parade around as a “King Solomon sort of figure in between the excesses of the NSA and those who are raising concerns about it,” but instead he has presided over “this out-of-control system” for five years, never before having “expressed a single inclination to rein it in in any way.” He says Obama is “one of the obstacles to reform, not a vehicle for it.”

Greenwald and Laura Poitras Acceptance speeches
News conference

Sunday, April 13, 2014

It's Sunday

Are you also a transvestite?

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Hey, I think I see the face of the Madonna on that poster.

Back in Falluja

Iraqi militants have captured a dam just south of the city of Fallujah, in order to strategically flood selected parts of the valley and stall the advance of security forces, which have been shelling the city since its seizure by insurgents last year.

One week ago, militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) flooded the area around the city with the waters of the Euphrates by closing all of the dam’s 10 gates to stop the government forces’ siege of Fallujah.


Down on the Farm

China’s rejection of shipments of US corn containing traces of unapproved genetically modified maize has caused a significant drop in exports. According to a new report, US traders have lost $427 million in sales.

Overall, China has barred nearly 1.45 million tons of corn shipments since last year.


US corn exports to China since January are down 85 percent from the same period last year, the report says.


China has so far approved 15 genetically modified corn strains for import.

Genetically modified corn, which produces anti-pest toxin, is no longer as efficient at killing the bugs. The resistance arose quickly [...] in Iowa, it showed up after an average of 3.6 years [...] , due to some extent, to farmers avoiding the simple, but profit-cutting precaution of crop rotation.

However, crop rotation would have meant the resistance developed a little less quickly.
[Western corn rootworm] has developed resistance to two of three types of Bt toxins currently available on the market.
Not to worry, Monsanto has more, I’m sure.
The lab tests performed by Gassmann and his team have revealed that a case of cross-resistance is in place as the pests that had become resistant to Cry3Bb1 were also resistant to mCry3A.
Ooops. Cross-resistance.

And what about the battle against weeds? Of course you know that Monsanto – manufacturer of Roundup (glyphosate) herbicide also genetically modified crops to be glyphosate-tolerant, permitting them to sell lots and lots of Roundup.
Around 93 percent of all soybean crops planted in the US last year involved GMO, herbicide-tolerant (HT) variants, the USDA acknowledged, and HT corn and HT cotton constituted about 85 and 82 percent of total acreage, respectively.


“Because glyphosate is significantly less toxic and less persistent than traditional herbicides,” a portion of the [USDA] report reads, “…the net impact of HT crop adoption is an improvement in environmental quality and a reduction in the health risks associated with herbicide use (even if there are slight increases in the total pounds of herbicide applied). However, glyphosate resistance among weed populations in recent years may have induced farmers to raise application rates .Thus, weed resistance may be offsetting some of the economic and environmental advantages of HT crop adoption regarding herbicide use. Moreover, herbicide toxicity may soon be negatively affected (compared to glyphosate) by the introduction (estimated for 2014) of crops tolerant to the herbicides dicamba and 2,4-D.”

Mmmmmm….agent orange.

  ...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Polk Award

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras had earlier cleared immigration at John F Kennedy airport in New York without a hitch as they arrived to share a George Polk Award for national security reporting with Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post. The Polk awards are administered by Long Island University. "This award is really for Edward Snowden," said Poitras [...] as she accepted the award in the ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan.


Greenwald said he and Poitras had been seeking information from the US government about whether they were also the subject of an indictment that was under seal.

"They wanted us to have that kind of uncertainty about whether or not they would take action upon our return to the US," Greenwald said, at a press conference following the awards ceremony.

..but hey, do what you will anyway.

Friday, April 11, 2014

They're In

US reporter Glenn Greenwald returned to his homeland Friday for the first time since he helped expose Washington's vast electronic spying network, warning that more revelations are yet to come.

Greenwald, who maintains regular contact with fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, flew into New York with filmmaker Laura Poitras to receive a journalism award for their coverage.


"In my opinion the stories that are the most significant and most shocking and will have the broadest and most enduring implications are the ones we're currently working on," he said.


Poitras, an award-winning American filmmaker based in Berlin, said she had been stopped nearly 40 times over the last six years at US borders but had no problem on Friday.


"The fact that we're here is not an indication that there isn't a threat. We know there is a threat," she told reporters. "The reason we're here is we're not going to succumb to those threats."

Greenwald and Poitras shared the George Polk Award for national security reporting with Ewen MacAskill of The Guardian and Barton Gellman of The Washington Post, who also covered Snowden's leaks.

  Business Insider

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Time for Clapper to Emigrate?

A senior House Republican pressed Attorney General Eric Holder Tuesday to prosecute Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for perjury over testimony he gave to a Senate committee last year denying that U.S. intelligence agencies were gathering data on large numbers of Americans.

“What more do you need besides an admission from Gen. Clapper that he lied?” Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) asked, pointing to Clapper’s later remark that his denial was “the least untruthful” answer he could give.


“I’m really not in a position to confirm whether the department is investigating any particular matter,” the attorney general said.

“Is there any circumstance under which you would prosecute a member of the administration for lying under oath to Congress?” Sensenbrenner shot back.

“Sure,” Holder replied, “…if the person lied and all the other legal requirements” were met.

Quick. Obama has some executive orders and secret legal requirements to sign.
“Wouldn’t it be pointless for Congress to pass new laws limiting data collection if the Justice Department and other officials are at liberty to lie about enforcing them?” said Sensenbrenner, a co-author of the Patriot Act.
Why, yes. Yes it would.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

The Man Has His Bases Covered

"The NSA at this point not only knows I raised complaints, but that there is evidence that I made my concerns known to the NSA's lawyers, because I did some of it through e-mail. I directly challenge the NSA to deny that I contacted NSA oversight and compliance bodies directly via e-mail and that I specifically expressed concerns about their suspect interpretation of the law, and I welcome members of Congress to request a written answer [from the NSA] to this question," Snowden told Vanity Fair in a feature that's scheduled for publication later this week.

The challenge came in response to a claim by NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett, who led the agency's investigation of Snowden and who Vanity Fair says told the magazine that Snowden made no formal complaints and that no one at the NSA has reported Snowden mentioning his concerns to them


Beyond that, Snowden said he anticipated from the get-go that he'd be accused of being a spy. That's why, he said, he used his personal credit card to check into the Hong Kong hotel where he stayed immediately after fleeing with the documents. As Vanity Fair puts it, he did this so the "government could immediately verify he was entirely self-financed, was independent, and had, over time, withdrawn enough financial resources to survive on his own without assistance."

"My hope was that avoiding ambiguity would prevent spy accusations and create more room for reasonable debate," Snowden told the magazine. "Unfortunately, a few of the less responsible members of Congress embraced the spy charges for political reasons, as they still do to this day. But I don't think it was a bad idea, because even if they won't say it in public, intelligence-community officials are regularly confirming to journalists off the record that they know with a certainty that I am not an agent of any foreign government."

So we need to ask ourselves why they won't admit it publicly. Dog whistle much?

Further Snowden Effect - in Europe

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has specifically targeted the telecommunications of human rights workers, former security contractor Edward Snowden said Tuesday at a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).


“This raises the very real possibility that our communications with confidential sources have been intercepted,” Michael Bochenek, senior director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International, said Tuesday in a statement. “Sharing this information with other governments could put human rights defenders the world over in imminent danger.”

In a separate statement, HRW General Counsel Dinah Pokempner said that the revelation was "indicative of the overreach that U.S. law allows to security agencies."

Also on Tuesday, the European Union’s highest court overturned a law forcing telecommunication operators to store users’ private telephone and email data for up to two years — a practice the NSA has been widely criticized for.

The European Court of Justice said that the 2006 Data Retention Directive “interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data.”

The law was enacted in the wake of deadly attacks in Europe, including the 2004 train bombings in Madrid and the 2005 bombings in London.


Who Says There's No Such Thing As Time Travel?

More than 356,000 people with mental illnesses are incarcerated in the United States, as opposed to around 35,000 receiving treatment in state hospitals, a new study found, highlighting the dire state of the nation’s mental health care system.

The [...] ten-to-one ratio of patients in prison versus those receiving qualified care is on par with the US mental health system of the 1830s.


As states have drastically cut funding for mental health services in the last several years, the number of available beds in psychiatric hospitals has plunged to the lowest level since 1850.

Thus, many of these patients are shuffled into the prison system simply because there is nowhere else for them to go. The US prison population has steadily increased as mental health funding has decreased, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has found.

Prisoners with mental health issues are often put in solitary confinement for long periods of time, stay incarcerated longer than other prisoners, and are disproportionately abused, beaten, and raped by other inmates, the new report noted.


Since 1970, the percentage of prisoners with mental illnesses in each state has risen an average of about 5 to 20 percent.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Ft. Hood Assessment

Fort Hood shooter Ivan Lopez's rampage followed an argument over the denial of his request for leave and did not appear to be due to some ongoing mental problem, an Army official said Monday.

Seriously? Snapping and killing people over a denied leave request  doesn’t indicate some ongoing mental problem?
Although he had reportedly been treated for mental issues including depression, military officials had expressed skepticism that his four-month tour in Iraq as that war wound down could have caused PTSD.
Whatever you say.

Improves Both, But Especially the Dancing

If Only

In military slang, Predator drone operators often refer to kills as ‘bug splats’, since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.

To challenge this insensitivity as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up in the heavily bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face.


The group of artists traveled inside KPK province and, with the assistance of highly enthusiastic locals, unrolled the poster amongst mud huts and farms. It is their hope that this will create empathy and introspection amongst drone operators, and will create dialogue amongst policy makers, eventually leading to decisions that will save innocent lives.

  Not a Bug Splat
Well, I doubt it will have any effect on the people making the decisions, or even those operating the drones, but it’s an important statement to make.  As important as reminding the rest of us that the people ordering and operating these weapons are indeed insensitive.

Go to the link to see the actual installation.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.


President Obama will speak next month at a gala celebrating the 20th anniversary of a Holocaust history foundation established by director Steven Spielberg.

The USC Shoah Foundation, created by Spielberg after he completed the film Schindler's List, will honor Obama with its Ambassador to Humanity Award at an event in Los Angeles on May 7.

“President Obama's commitment to democracy and human rights has long been felt,” Spielberg said in a statement. “As a constitutional scholar and as president, his interest in expanding justice and opportunity and all is remarkably evident.”

  The Hill
Where has Stephen Spielberg been living that he doesn't have electricity or newspapers?

Cementing the Oligarchy

In McCutcheon v. FEC, the Roberts Court continued the trajectory of Citizens United and struck down aggregate contribution limits of $123,200 (already more than double the median household income). Wealthy donors, who already hold unbelievable sway in Washington, can now give up to $3.5 million to federal parties, candidates and committees.


The inability of Washington to raise the minimum wage is a prime example of how that elite donor dominance impacts real-world policymaking. Last week, House Republicans unanimously voted down the president’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over three years. This flies in the face of popular will. A March Bloomberg poll showed nearly three-quarters of respondents backing the president’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Yet only 40 percent of wealthy Americans agree.


The implication of the divergence between the public and elites, which Demos explored in Stacked Deck, is why McCutcheon matters so much. A flood of money from a donor class that doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the public makes a minimum wage increase even less likely. Political and economic inequality will continue to mutually reinforce.


Wealth is taxed at a rate far lower than work and the federal minimum wage stays stagnant at $7.25 an hour.

  Bill Moyers
...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Inching Toward the (Undoubtedly Heavily Redacted) Torture Report

After years of inquiry, $40m in expenses and an unprecedented clash with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Senate intelligence committee voted on Thursday to declassify portions of a study into the agency's use of torture on detainees suspected of being involved in terrorism.


And while the White House recommitted itself on Thursday to a prompt public release of portions of the report, it announced that the CIA will play the lead role in reviewing for publication a report that calls Langley lawless and deceitful.

“The CIA, in consultation with other agencies, will conduct the declassification review,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.

And if that doesn’t satisfy you, nothing will.


This is becoming standard operating procedure in our government: Put the agency being looked at in charge of the looking.
Feinstein pointedly noted after the vote that how much of what the administration makes public “in itself will indicate where we are on this.” She hoped for a partial declassification within 30 days, and said she would seek a fuller declassification of the 6,200-page document later – a move that could give the committee leverage over the scope of how much information the administration seeks to withhold from the executive summary release.
Please forgive me if I don’t expect to gain anything from that; if I don’t feel Dianne Feinstein has the world’s, much less Americans’, best interests at heart.
Alberto Mora, the former Navy general counsel who fought with the Bush administration over torture, said he considered the Senate vote to be a vindication.

“I think we’re going to have an authoritative, factual accounting of what actually happened with interrogations,” Mora said.


Mora said, it would help the United States “return to the principle in the future that anyone who commits this crime, regardless of rank, will be called to account and perhaps criminally prosecuted”.
Please forgive Mr. Mora his naiveté.
On Wednesday, defense lawyers for [Guantánamo detainee], Ammar al-Baluchi, said they filed a now-sealed motion for the Senate torture report to be entered as evidence in his case.

On 14 April, the tribunal will consider whether Baluchi’s co-defendant, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, is competent to stand trial. Bin al-Shibh was subjected to the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” that are detailed in the Senate report.
Well, there’s at least that. Of course, then his lawyers have to face the perhaps insurmountable issue that military judges may not be opposed to torture – I mean “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Enhanced. Makes it sound like a good thing, doesn’t it?

And there’s this positive note, as well:
Two of the perceived swing voters on the Senate committee – independent Angus King and Republican Susan Collins, both of Maine – said that the techniques used on al-Baluchi and others “constituted torture”, a rebuke to a decade-long effort by the CIA and its allies to recast the interrogations as something less brutal.
Republican Susan Collins. She may lose her Senate seat – or at least her committee chair.
Steve Kleinman, [...] air force reserve colonel and former interrogator, said [...] “When anyone tortures, that’s not interrogation, that’s torture. We can’t conflate the two.”

Do You Want to Fight a Cyber War, Or Do You Want to Prevent One?

In February, the security firm Mandiant Corp. confirmed, with plenty of hard evidence, what we've known for a long time: Chinese cyberespionage is staggeringly rampant.


Given that today's existing defenses and countermeasures have proven largely ineffective in thwarting these attacks, many otherwise sane people have discussed the idea of going on the offensive and "hacking back" by booby-trapping honeypot data or setting loose malicious software. Distressingly, this sort of cyberoffense is being repackaged -- and camouflaged -- in a clever and, ironically, "newspeak" way under the rubric "active defense."


In order for active defense to work, somebody needs to find a security hole (most likely in software) and develop an exploit for that hole. Then, get this, they need to keep the hole secret so that the exploit they just developed continues to work.


Now imagine that the attacker is smart enough to capture and isolate the "hack back" code. Ye olde zero-day exploit now belongs to the enemy. Oops!


Another issue is figuring out whom to "hack back."


[The real attacker may be hiding] behind a common enemy of the nation-state or a corporation you're attacking. Attackers have been doing it for decades.


In the end, it's clear that cyberespionage, though reprehensible and certainly worthy of response, is not the same as cyberwar.


A cyberwar will not unfold over years, months or even days. A cyberwar attack is likely to unfold over minutes, seconds or split seconds. Cyberwar attacks will happen at super-human speed.


Imagine a cyberattack against the power grid. By hacking in and controlling about 50,000 smart meters, intentionally causing a 300-megawatt stability problem in the grid is well within the realm of possibility. Properly carried out, a stability problem like this could destroy key transformers in the grid, causing permanent damage that would take months, or years to repair.


The only way forward in computer security is to build systems with fewer vulnerabilities.

   Gary McGraw at SearchSecurity
But…but…but…NSA! They positively RELY on vulnerabilities.

Getting Worse in Venezuela

The ID card, introduced this week, will limit Venezuelans to once-a-week shopping and will set off an alarm to halt any transaction if a purchaser breaks the rules. The government wants to prevent individual shoppers from "over-buying" in a country hit by acute shortages of basic items including milk, sugar and toilet paper. Critics say it is an admission of failure of economic policy in one of the world's big oil-producing nations.

By keeping a record of what is purchased and limiting shopping trips, the electronic card is supposed to curb hoarding and prevent speculative shoppers from buying to resell at a profit. But the larger aim is to halt the huge outflow of food to neighbouring Colombia, where it sells for up to 10 times as much. It is estimated that almost 40% of Venezuela's food is transported illegally across the border.


According to the food minister, Félix Osorio, registering for the card will not be mandatory and regular users may still shop at the network of subsidised food chains. But as with many customer loyalty programmes, cardholders will benefit from even lower prices, extra offers and even enter a raffle to win one of 500 houses in Venezuela's largest public housing programme.

Then I don’t see how that’s going to stop the illegal selling to Colombians or the food speculators.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

It's Sunday

Saturday, April 5, 2014


US officials on Friday slammed plans to construct an EU-centric communication system, designed to prevent emails and phone calls from being swept up by the NSA, warning that such a move is a violation of trade laws.

Calling Europe’s proposal to build its own integrated communication system “draconian,” the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) said American tech companies, which are worth an estimated $8 trillion per year, would take a financial hit if Brussels gives the initiative the green light.

Seriously? Who ARE these people? We can spy on their officials and their businesses, but their decision to prevent us is "draconian"?

And if it does cost American tech companies trillions, I suppose the logical response would be for the tech companies to sue the American government for causing the situation. And that means you know who will pay the settlements.


The US State Department is unable to explain how it spent billions of dollars worth of contract funds in areas throughout the world, according to a newly unveiled report by the department's internal watchdog.

The Office of Inspector General explained in a March 20 “management alert” to department leaders that approximately $6 billion has gone unaccounted for over the past six years. The note said the number of missing documents “exposes the department to significant financial risk” and is a dangerous lack of oversight.


Big Oil to the World: FU

Monday saw the release of the latest climate report from the planet’s scientists. Predictions of famine, flood, and so on – mostly what we already knew, in even more striking language.


[T]he report [...] demonstrated that if Exxon Mobil and its ilk [continue] to dig up their reserves and burn them, then the planet will no longer function effectively. br />

On [the same day,] [Exxon Mobil] issued two reports, in formal response to a shareholder resolution that demanded they disclose their carbon risk and talk about how they planned to deal with the fact that they and other oil giants have many times more carbon in their collective reserves than scientists say we can safely burn. The company said that government restrictions that would force it to keep its reserves in the ground were “highly unlikely,” and that they would not only dig them all up and burn them, but would continue to search for more gas and oil — a search that currently consumes about $100 million of its investors’ money every single day.


Exxon’s statements are easy to translate: “We plan on overheating the planet, we think we have the political muscle to keep doing it, and we dare you to stop it.”

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Kerry Is Tired

US secretary of state John Kerry, who has made it a personal mission to breathe life into the long-stalled peace talks between Palestine and Israel, hinted on Friday that the negotiations are on the brink of collapse and said the Obama administration would reasses its participation in the process.


On Thursday, Israel scrapped the scheduled release of a group of Palestinian prisoners and called for the entire US-sponsored negotiations to be reviewed.

Kerry appeared to express frustration with the failure of both sides to make progress. “They say they want to continue,” he said of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. “But we are not going to sit there indefinitely. This is not an open-ended effort. It's reality-check time.”

Reality check. Give that man a mirror on US participation in the problem.

We can back out now, because, hey, we’ve got drones. Who needs peace talks when you’ve got drones?

Extended Empire

This week, the Associated Press exposed a secret program run by the U.S. Agency for International Development to create “a Twitter-like Cuban communications network” run through “secret shell companies” in order to create the false appearance of being a privately owned operation. Unbeknownst to the service’s Cuban users was the fact that “American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes”–specifically, to manipulate those users in order to foment dissent in Cuba and subvert its government.


Documents prepared by NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ–and previously published by The Intercept as well as some by NBC News–detailed several of those programs, including a unit devoted in part to “discrediting” the agency’s enemies with false information spread online.

  Glenn Greenwald (additional reference links are in the article)
And, there’s a great scramble to get distance from the program.
The Obama administration defended its creation of a Twitter-like Cuban communications network to undermine the communist government, declaring the secret program was "invested and debated" by Congress and wasn't a covert operation that required White House approval.

But two senior Democrats on congressional intelligence and judiciary committees said Thursday they had known nothing about the effort, which one of them described as "dumb, dumb, dumb." [That was Patrick Leahy.] A showdown with that senator's panel is expected next week.


"We also offered to brief our appropriators and our authorizers," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. She added that she was hearing on Capitol Hill that many people support these kinds of democracy promotion programs. And some lawmakers did speak up on that subject. But by late Thursday no members of Congress had acknowledged being aware of the Cuban Twitter program earlier than this week.


White House spokesman Jay Carney said he was not aware of individuals in the White House who had known about the program.

Well, apparently, one individual was aware of it…one very high up individual…and “defended its creation.”
USAID and its contractors went to extensive lengths to conceal Washington's ties to the project, according to interviews and documents obtained by the AP. They set up front companies in Spain and the Cayman Islands to hide the money trail, and recruited CEOs without telling them they would be working on a U.S. taxpayer-funded project.


Similarly, subscribers' messages were funneled through two other countries — and never through American-based computer servers.


"That is not what USAID should be doing," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform National Security Subcommittee. "USAID is flying the American flag and should be recognized around the globe as an honest broker of doing good. If they start participating in covert, subversive activities, the credibility of the United States is diminished."


At minimum, details uncovered by the AP appear to muddy the USAID's longstanding claims that it does not conduct covert actions, and the details could undermine the agency's mission to deliver aid to the world's poor and vulnerable — an effort that requires the trust and cooperation of foreign governments.
Let me put that in “truth speak.” The citizens of every other nation in the world know that USAID is an arm of the US government which funds and supports destabilization in enemy – i.e. politically opposed – countries. (Bolivia's president expelled USAID from that country in 2013.) The “trust and cooperation of foreign governments” has nothing to do with the actuality of non-political aid to their citizens. Other governments are allowing USAID to operate in their countries – the revelation will affect whether they continue to, but it will have nothing to do with trust. Cooperation, yes. Trust, no.
"I know they said we were notified," Leahy told AP. "We were notified in the most oblique way, that nobody could understand it. I'm going to ask two basic questions: Why weren't we specifically told about this if you're asking us for money? And secondly, whose bright idea was this anyway?"
I’M going to ask ONE basic question: If you didn’t understand something, if you were notified only “in the most oblique way,” why were you funding it?
The estimated $1.6 million spent on ZunZuneo was publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan.
I see.
ZunZuneo vanished abruptly in 2012, and the Communist Party remains in power
The story is that the grant period ran out. Sure. (I thought it was money diverted from Pakistan?) I suppose what actually happened is that’s when the Cuban government got too close.
The annual SIGDEV conference, according to one NSA document published today by The Intercept, “enables unprecedented visibility of SIGINT Development activities from across the Extended Enterprise, Second Party and US Intelligence communities.”
“The Extended Empire?”

 ...but hey, do what you will anyway.