July 15, 2013
Iran’s Next President Faults Ahmadinejad on Economy
By THOMAS ERDBRINK and RICK GLADSTONE
TEHRAN — Iran’s president-elect, Hassan Rowhani, painted a bleak picture of the country’s economy on Monday, blaming the departing administration of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for high inflation and unemployment, and saying it “has left much work to be done.”
Mr. Rowhani said Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government had presented a far-too-optimistic picture of the economy, which even according to official statistics is stumbling. “We asked current officials about the situation of the country,” Mr. Rowhani said, “but their reports and those of our teams were very far from each other.”
Speaking in Parliament, Mr. Rowhani said the inflation rate, officially listed as 32 percent, was 42 percent, the local news media reported. Iran’s economy actually contracted during the past two years, he said, for the first time since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
He said he was especially concerned about unemployment among educated young people. “According to our statistics,” Mr. Rowhani said, “we will have 4.5 million unemployed university graduates four years from now.”
But Mr. Ahmadinejad picked up some unexpected support from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other conservatives, who for months have criticized Mr. Ahmadinejad as incompetent and as someone who surrounded himself with corrupt elements.
“The respected president and his colleagues faced enormous tasks and operated rapidly in comparison with all the other governments,” Ayatollah Khamenei said during a speech broadcast on Iran’s state radio. “We must consider their huge workload, tireless efforts. This cabinet avoided comfort and grants, whereas most officials in the world and in the country benefit from them.”
Mr. Rowhani’s close aide Akbar Torkan, who acts as a liaison with Mr. Ahmadinejad’s government, told the local news media that the economic state of the country was “much worse than expected.”
Several lawmakers also criticized some last-minute decisions by the departing government. In one instance, Mr. Ahmadinejad transferred the largest plot of buildable land in the capital to the Voice and Vision organization, Iran’s state broadcaster. That decision was accompanied by a ceremony lauding the president organized by the state broadcaster.
In another move, the central bank quietly cut the official value of the local currency, the rial, in half, so that a dollar now buys 24,500 rials, up from 12,260. While economists say the new figure still does not reflect the rial’s true value, more than 30,000 to the dollar, it will help the government pay off outstanding debts to banks, but at the price of further stoking inflation and raising the prices of basic goods.
“They hypothetically made a huge amount of money,” which they used reduce their debts with banks and other state organizations, Ahmad Tavakkoli, a lawmaker, told the semiofficial Mehr News Agency on Monday. “This is illegal and dangerous.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad, who was barred by the Constitution from seeking a third four-year term, had seemingly fallen from grace in the months leading up to the June vote. He clashed with Parliament, the judiciary and the hard-line clerics who accused him and his entourage of secretly plotting to oust them from power.
The judiciary opened several corruption cases against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s close associates, and the state newspaper, Kayhan, accused him of mismanaging the economy and undermining Ayatollah Khamenei.
On Sunday, however, the newspaper’s editor in chief, Hossein Shariatmadari, accused reformists and enemies of the state of hatching a “big plot” against the departing government. “His government has been unprecedented,” Mr. Shariatmadari wrote of Mr. Ahmadinejad. “His services are everlasting.”
The change in attitude might signal a behind-the-scenes compromise, analysts say, or illustrate the tendency of Iran’s governing establishment of hard-line clerics and commanders to close ranks in the end.
Mr. Rowhani has signaled his intention to pursue improved relations with the United States, though it remains unclear if he has the desire or the authority to soften Iran’s position over its disputed nuclear program, an underlying cause of the estrangement. Iran insists that its program is peaceful, while the United States and other Western nations suspect that Iran is seeking the ability to build nuclear weapons. Negotiations stalled before Mr. Rowhani’s successful election campaign.
On Monday, a group of 29 former, prominent American government officials, diplomats, military officers and national security experts sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to take advantage of Mr. Rowhani’s signals. The letter called Mr. Rowhani’s ascendance “a major potential opportunity to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.”
The letter was submitted a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has said many times that he regards a nuclear-armed Iran as an “existential threat,” sought to increase the pressure on the Obama administration to take a tougher line with Iran and its newly elected president on the nuclear issue. Mr. Netanyahu said that the United States should intensify its sanctions and that the Iranians “have to know you’ll be prepared to take military action; that’s the only thing that will get their attention.”
Bangladesh braces for violence after Islamist politician's war crimes verdict
Opposition calls for strike in protest against conviction of Ghulam Azam, as others vow to take to streets over 'lenient sentence'
Jason Burke and Saad Hammadi in Dhaka
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 July 2013 19.43 BST
The Bangladesh authorities were bracing themselves for a new wave of violence after a controversial war crimes court sentenced a leading Islamist politician to life in prison on Monday.
The judgment was the latest in a series this year that have prompted unrest in the south Asian state. An election is scheduled to take place within the next six months and there are fears of increasingly intense clashes as political factions seek to establish supremacy on the streets in the runup to the poll.
Even before the verdict on Ghulam Azam, 91, a former leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party (JI), was announced, there had been rioting, attacks with makeshift bombs and pitched battles. Approximately 100 people have been injured since Sunday, according to local police officials.
The series of trials has revealed a deeply polarised society, in which grievances dating back more than 40 years to the brutal war of independence that saw Bangladesh break away from Pakistan remain raw.
Azam was sentenced to 90 years in prison for planning, conspiracy, incitement and complicity to commit genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1971 conflict, lawyers and tribunal officials said. An ambulance brought the cleric, who uses a wheelchair, to court.
"He was tried for five charges and all the five charges have been proved … He deserves highest priority of death but considering his age and ailments ... he has been awarded a sentence of 90 years or unto death in prison," MK Rahman, Bangladesh's attorney general, told reporters.
JI, the main Islamist party in the country and a key part of an opposition coalition led by the Bangladesh National party (BNP), called a day-long strike to protest against the verdict. Further demonstrations are planned for on Tuesday, officials said.
The tribunal has angered both religious conservatives in the country of 160 million and the BNP. The BNP has called the trials a politically motivated attempt to persecute the JI leadership ahead of elections.
Senior government officials in Dhaka told the Guardian last month that the inquiry into the alleged war crimes – set up in 2010 by the government of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina – was an essential effort to "deal with historical ghosts".
The extent of the atrocities in 1971 – and responsibility for them – has always been disputed. The war claimed as many as 3 million lives, according to estimates. Some Bangladeshi Islamists collaborated with Pakistani military forces in a systematic campaign of rape, arson and murder.
"This is true that Ghulam Azam believed in an undivided Pakistan … But genocide and crimes against humanity are completely different from working for Pakistan's freedom and sovereignty … The prosecution has not been able to prove any of the 61 charges it has brought against him," JI said in a statement.
The tribunal has so far sentenced three other Jamaat leaders to death and another to life imprisonment. Monday's decision against Azam is itself controversial.
In February, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of the capital, Dhaka, to demand capital punishment for all accused in the war crimes trials. The demonstrators were mostly young, the children of those who fought and suffered in the 1971 war.
On Monday young people again blocked Dhaka's main intersection, the Shahbag. Many fear the government may be showing leniency to help cement an electoral pact with the Islamists.
"The verdict has failed to fulfil the expectations of the people. The political parties will have to prove that they want fair justice against the war crimes accused," said Imran H Sarkar, who led the earlier campaign.
Manzurul Ahsan Khan, adviser of the central committee of the Communist party of Bangladesh, said the age of the defendant should not be a consideration.
"The court said that considering his age they have given a lesser punishment. But when he ordered killings and genocide, he never considered age. He was the leader of these killings and inhuman actions in Bangladesh," Khan said.
The Shahbag protesters have called for a countrywide shutdown on Tuesday and have pledged to reoccupy the intersection.
"From today we will hold indefinite stay at Shahbag again," Maruf Rosul, a 24-year-old activist, said.
Government officials defended the verdict. Gowher Rizvi, chief representative of the prime minister, said: "Some people are understandably disappointed at the leniency of the sentence. But the government is pleased with the fair judicial process and that all the charges of genocide have been upheld by the court."
Six more JI leaders and two from the BNP are also on trial at the tribunal, which has been criticised by human rights groups for falling short of international standards.
Abdur Razzaq, a JI defence lawyer, said the "entire process is flawed" and that the party would appeal Monday's verdict.
July 15, 2013
Myanmar Admits to Political Prisoners, Pledging Their Freedom
By RICK GLADSTONE
Myanmar’s president promised Monday that all remaining political prisoners would be freed by year’s end. It was an unusual guarantee as well as an acknowledgment that the country still incarcerated people based on their beliefs in the two years since his civilian government ended the military’s repressive monopoly on power.
The president, U Thein Sein, also said he would show “zero tolerance” for ethnically driven violence in Myanmar, and he expressed hope that in coming weeks he would complete a cease-fire pact with the last of the major armed groups that have left the country in varying states of internal war for decades.
The president made the assertions in a speech while visiting Britain, Myanmar’s former colonial power, where he met with Prime Minister David Cameron as part of a broader effort to stimulate trade and investment in his country, also known as Burma.
In the speech at Chatham House in London, a prominent international political research institution, Mr. Thein Sein said “thousands of prisoners” already had been freed. He did not specify how many were still imprisoned but said a special committee, which includes former prisoners, was reviewing the remaining cases.
“I guarantee to you that by the end of this year there will be no prisoners of conscience in Myanmar,” he said.
Under Mr. Thein Sein, Myanmar has been slowly emerging from a prolonged era of isolation and repression, with new freedoms of expression, a new Constitution and elections. But there has been little talk of the political dissidents who once populated Myanmar’s prisons or how many remain incarcerated. Nor have there been discussions of retribution or any formalized judicial process that would call to account the former military generals responsible.
The country’s most famous former political prisoner, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, spent a total of 15 years under house arrest before she was released in 2010. She is now a leader of the political opposition in Parliament and recently expressed her desire to run for president.
Myanmar’s evolution toward a more open political system has undergone new convulsions in recent months over violent ethnic rifts, most notably deadly extremist attacks by the Buddhist majority against the Muslim minority, in particular a stateless Muslim group, the Rohingya.
Mr. Cameron discussed Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims with Mr. Thein Sein, joining other international leaders who have criticized the Myanmar authorities for failing to protect the sect from killings and other violence incited by hate. Mr. Cameron said he was “very keen to see greater action in terms of promoting human rights and dealing with regional conflicts,” the BBC quoted him as saying in welcoming Mr. Thein Sein.
Last week the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, warned that Myanmar was confronting a “dangerous polarization” between Buddhists and Muslims.
In his Chatham House speech, Mr. Thein Sein acknowledged Myanmar’s ethnic strife but said overcoming it would require time and patience. “The recent communal violence has rightly concerned the world,” he said. “I promise you that we will take a zero-tolerance approach to any renewed violence and against those who fuel ethnic hatreds.”
Mr. Thein Sein also sought to emphasize in his speech that Myanmar had been riven by fighting since independence from Britain in 1948. “It is the longest-running set of armed conflicts anywhere in the world,” he said.
But over the past two years, Mr. Thein Sein said, his government has negotiated cease-fires with all but one of the major armed groups in Myanmar, an insurgent organization seeking independence for Myanmar’s northernmost state of Kachin in the Himalayan foothills adjoining China.
“I believe we will turn a corner soon,” he said. “Very possibly, over the coming weeks, we will have a nationwide cease-fire and the guns will go silent everywhere in Myanmar for the very first time in over 60 years.”
July 16, 2013
Australian Leader Scraps Tax on Carbon Emissions
By MATT SIEGEL
SYDNEY, Australia — Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia announced a plan Tuesday to replace a deeply unpopular tax on carbon emissions with a market-based trading system a full year ahead of schedule.
The decision to scrap the politically toxic tax, which narrowly passed into law with the support of the minority Greens party, is the most significant policy change unveiled by Mr. Rudd since he regained the leadership of the nation from Julia Gillard in a party coup last month. The announcement comes as a raft of new polls show his Labor Party running neck and neck with the opposition for elections currently scheduled for Sept. 14.
“The government has decided to terminate the carbon tax, to help cost-of-living pressures for families and to reduce costs for small business,” Mr. Rudd said at a news conference.
Mr. Rudd, who signed onto the Kyoto Protocol as his first official act as leader in 2007 and once famously called combating climate change “the greatest moral challenge of our time,” framed Tuesday’s announcement in terms more economic than environmental. That prompted politicians with the Greens party to express fears that his new plan would be financed at least partially through cuts to environmental and clean energy programs.
Christine Milne, the leader of the Greens party, was quick to criticize Mr. Rudd for what she said was a shortsighted decision to sacrifice the environment in order to score political points with the electorate. Her party’s support was key in allowing Labor to form a minority government after a poor showing by Ms. Gillard in elections held in 2010, and it could be crucial to Mr. Rudd’s chances in case of a similar outcome later this year.
“What he is now doing in order to make it cheaper for the big polluters to pollute, in order to try and make a political point, he’s actually slashing a billion dollars out of environmental protection in Australia,” she told reporters. “You don’t protect the environment by cutting environment programs.”
Under the current system, Australia’s worst polluters pay a high fixed price on their carbon emissions. Since it went into effect last year after squeaking through the lower house of Parliament by just two votes in late 2011, the tax has proved wildly unpopular with big business and voters, due in part to a relentlessly negative campaign by the opposition.
The current system was supposed to remain in place until 2015, then replaced by a system in which market mechanisms would determine the cost of producing a ton of carbon. The move to bring forward the market-based system a full year earlier is expected to quickly produce a sharp drop in the cost of carbon from a predicted $23.30 per metric ton in July 2014 to around $5.50 per ton in U.S. dollars.
Because the lower price means the government would lose about $3.5 billion in tax revenue for the next financial year, Mr. Rudd has proposed nearly $3.7 billion in cuts or deferrals to public spending, including environmental programs. Several clean technology programs will face cuts, such as investments in carbon capture and storage, which will be cut by $538 million over four years.
The path to the passage of the carbon tax was among the most perilous in recent Australian political history. It was key to the downfall of two sitting prime ministers and a popular opposition leader and culminated in a showdown on the floor of Parliament between guards and furious protesters.
Many blame Mr. Rudd’s decision, during his first term as prime minister, to abandon his own emissions trading scheme for the plunge in popularity that presaged his ouster as leader in favor of Ms. Gillard in 2010. Mr. Rudd’s counterpart, the popular former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull, was forced out in 2009 over his support for the government’s climate change policy.
By the same token, Ms. Gillard was haunted during her rocky three-year tenure as leader by a simple pledge given during a television interview in the run-up to the 2010 election: “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.”
Ms. Gillard, who subsequently used the tax to entice the Greens into supporting her minority government, was never allowed to forget those words, which the opposition used to devastating effect in painting her as dishonest. It seemed no coincidence that Mr. Rudd’s first major policy announcement since returning to the leadership was aimed at neutralizing that line of attack.
Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition Liberal-National coalition, said Tuesday that Mr. Rudd’s decision vindicated his criticism of the policy. However, he dismissed the change in the timeline as mere window dressing, saying Mr. Rudd was simply accelerating the policies of Ms. Gillard’s government in an attempt to win votes.
“He’s not the terminator, he’s the exaggerator. He’s not the terminator, he’s the fabricator,” he told reporters.
Australian builders unearth ‘significant’ urban trove of 50 million year-old fossils
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 16, 2013 7:00 EDT
Australian builders doing roadworks have uncovered a rare urban trove of crocodile and other fossils thought to be around 50 million years old, officials said Tuesday.
The fossils, trapped in a layer of oil shale, were found during excavation works near Brisbane’s Geebung railway station at a depth of about 15 metres (49 feet), according to city mayor Graham Quirk.
“The bones have been identified as from ancient crocodiles, as well as other significant material including fish, freshwater shells and plant impressions,” said Quirk.
Geoscientists were called in to examine the find, which Queensland Museum chief executive Suzanne Miller described as “particularly significant”.
“Very few sites of this age are available for study, as similar-aged sites in the greater Brisbane area are often no longer accessible due to housing and urban development,” Miller said.
“The construction works have fortuitously provided access to a new locality that was not previously known to palaeontologists.”
Queensland Transport Minister Scott Emerson said it was an “extraordinary finding in Brisbane’s backyard” and the area would be combed for further specimens.
“The fossils will provide a valuable opportunity for more detailed studies,” Emerson said, adding that experts were interested in retrieving any other fossils that could be in the same vicinity.
Queensland has some of Australia’s richest fossil deposits, including a famous dinosaur dig at Winton in the state’s west, where three new dinosaur species were discovered in 2009.
Brisbane is Australia’s third largest city, with a population of 2.2 million.
China's disabled pupils face exclusion amid pressure to adapt, warns HRW
Only a quarter of children with disabilities in China receive the basic education they are entitled to, says Human Rights Watch
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 16 July 2013 12.27 BST
Li Jiajun stands with her blind 12-year-old son in the rain. She is canvassing for a disability advocacy group by giving commuters free cups of green bean soup. To Li, the volunteer work is a subtle way of protesting against institutional discrimination against children with special needs. Mainstream schools cannot accommodate her son's disability; special needs schools would prepare him only for jobs such as a masseur or piano tuner.
"My son's abilities are really strong – his critical thinking and logic are even better than other students," said Li, who requested the use of a pseudonym to protect her identity. "But how could regular teachers interact with him? I just don't know."
China's official accounts paint a cheery picture of the country's disability programmes – enrolment in primary schools is widespread and there are ample special needs schools. Yet the government's policies contradict its stated commitment to providing equal access to education, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), published this week.
"Children with disabilities have the right to attend regular schools like all other children, and are entitled to support for their particular learning needs," the New York-based group's China director, Sophie Anderson, said. "But instead, some schools fail – or simply refuse – to provide these students what they need."
China is home to at least 83 million people with disabilities, 40% of whom are illiterate. About 28% of children with disabilities are not receiving the basic education they are legally entitled to, having been barred from enrolling in mainstream schools until they show an "ability to adapt".
The report, As Long as They Let Us Stay in Class, is based on 62 interviews conducted in China between December 2012 and May 2013 – mainly with children with disabilities or their parents – and reveals a gulf between the government's promises and its actions.
In 2008, the Chinese government ratified the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, an international treaty drafted by the UN that obliges China to provide equal access to education for children with disabilities. The same year, it passed the law on the protection of people with disabilities, which "pledged greater funding for the education of people with disabilities", HRW said.
Yet many schools fail to accommodate the needs of their disabled students, and some simply turn them away. Even if disabled pupils complete their compulsory education, colleges require them to undergo physical examinations and are permitted to reject them based on the results.
"For the Chinese government, it's important to be seen as doing quite a lot of things for people with disabilities – and it has done quite a few things," said Maya Wang, a researcher at HRW's Asia division. "The problem is it has not gone far enough, or put its resources and effort in the right places."
Children who are enrolled in special schools are frequently separated from their parents at a young age, according to the organisation. Most of these schools lack adequate funding, and many parents do not even know they exist.
"It is often the parents themselves who don't know that their children have equal rights," said Wang. "And at mainstream schools, the teachers there don't know about teaching kids with disabilities. They have very little support, very few resources, very little training."
Mainstream schools typically place the burden on the child to adapt to their environment, claiming that the school is "normal" and ill-equipped to change. Many have expelled disabled students because of inadequate performance.
The HRW report includes testimonies from students with disabilities and their families. A nine-year-old boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was turned away by a public primary school; a disabled 13-year-old girl could not attend a school because it was too far from her home; a medical college refused to admit "students with disabilities in the torso or the limbs".
"Human Rights Watch found little to no accommodation in mainstream schools for these students at all stages of education," said the organisation. "One parent was explicitly told by the school that since her child is in 'a normal environment', it is the child with the disability who must adapt, not the other way round."
China crackdown on corruption campaigners
Activists' trial on charges of illegal assembly shows new Communist party leaders will not tolerate challenge to their rule
Reuters in Beijing
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 16 July 2013 11.08 BST
Three Chinese activists campaigning for officials to disclose their assets will be put on trial in a co-ordinated crackdown that underscores the limits of an anti-corruption push by the new government.
China has detained at least 15 activists in recent months who were involved in a campaign pushing for officials to publicly disclose their wealth. Rights groups have described it as the first major crackdown by the new government on activists and the move has raised fears that an official campaign of reprisals has begun.
Liu Ping, Li Sihua and Wei Zhongping were detained in late April in Xinyu in the southern province of Jiangxi, and accused of illegal assembly. They face a maximum of five years in prison, if convicted.
The ascendancy of Xi Jinping as Communist party chief in a once-in-a-decade generational leadership transition last November had given many Chinese hope for political reform.
But the charges against the activists are a strong indication that the Communist party will not tolerate any open challenge to its rule under Xi, even as it claims more transparency.
Xi, who became president in March, has called for a crackdown on corruption, warning, as many have before him, that the problem is so severe it could threaten the party's survival.
Encouraged by Xi's calls for more transparency, the activists took photographs of themselves holding banners that said: "Strongly urge officials to disclose their assets" and "Xi Jinping, immediately end dictatorship".
The pictures were widely circulated online.
Li Sihua's lawyer, Pang Kun, said he expected authorities to set a date for the trial soon and it could come as early as next week. A hearing was initially set for Thursday but postponed by the authorities without explanation.
Pang said Li was innocent.
"Their actions were very simple – a few people gathered to eat a meal and then they took a photograph," Pang told Reuters by telephone. "This doesn't constitute an assembly."
Lawyers said the charge of illegal assembly requires police officers or government officials to disperse the group, which did not happen in the activists' case.
Liu Ping's lawyer, Zheng Jianwei, called the charge "absurd".
"Xi Jinping isn't the emperor, he's just a president, a head of state," Zheng said. "Is it a crime to mention Xi Jinping's name in an appeal, in a citizen's expression of her aspirations? This is a feudal society."
There have been a few pilot schemes for low-level officials in China's southern Guangdong province to disclose their assets, but the efforts have made little progress and discussion of the wealth of senior leaders such as Xi remain firmly off limits.
Authorities first accused Liu of "gathering to disturb social order", then "inciting subversion of state power", and later "illegal assembly" – proof the government's move against the activists was out of retaliation, Zheng said.
A third lawyer involved in the case, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution, said putting the activists on trial was "unconstitutional".
"There is no legal basis for it," the lawyer said. "This case is a sensitive one, the central government is paying close attention to it. If we tell you more, we will come under a lot of pressure."
Panama seizes North Korean ship carrying weapons
Vessel's captain attempted suicide after it was stopped near the Panama Canal and undeclared weapons were found on board
Reuters in Panama City and Haroon Siddique
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 16 July 2013 08.21 BST
Panama has detained a North Korean-flagged ship coming from Cuba as it approached the Panama Canal with undeclared weapons, President Ricardo Martinelli said.
The weapons, hidden in containers of brown sugar, were detected after Panamanian authorities stopped the ship, suspecting it was carrying drugs. The vessel was pulled over near the port of Manzanillo on the Atlantic side of the canal.
"We're going to keep unloading the ship and figure out exactly what was inside," Martinelli told Panamanian television late on Monday, without giving further details.
"You cannot go around shipping undeclared weapons of war through the Panama Canal."
The Panamanian president also tweeted a picture of the weapons, showing what appeared to be a green tubular object sitting inside a cargo container or the ship's hold.
Material venia escondido en contenedores bajo un cargamento de azucar pic.twitter.com/x1OqI7SOhX
— Ricardo Martinelli (@rmartinelli) July 16, 2013
Martinelli said the captain of the vessel tried to commit suicide after the ship was stopped. Panamanian authorities have detained about 35 crew members.
A spokeswoman for the canal said she did not have any more information and referred questions to the attorney general.
The attorney general's office did not immediately return requests for comment.
Javier Caraballo, Panama's top anti-drugs prosecutor, told local television the ship was en route to North Korea.
The canal authority says that security inspection of a vessel can be triggered by a failure to comply with the 96-hour pre-arrival notice requirement, wrong or missing information in documentation provided by the vessel, or by order of the Panamanian authorities.
Around 14,000 ships pass through the canal each year, representing about 5% of world trade. Panama has been running the 82km (51 mile) waterway since 1999, when the US handed over control and it is the country's main source of revenue.
Mexico arrests Zetas cartel leader
Capture of Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, known as Z-40, is a major victory in battle against murderous drug cartels
Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 16 July 2013 04.55 BST
The famously bloodthirsty boss of Mexico's most notoriously violent drug cartel has been captured by Mexican marines without a shot being fired, authorities have said.
Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, the leader of the Zetas cartel, was arrested 17 miles outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo in the north-east corner of Mexico, long a stronghold of the organisation.
A navy helicopter pursued the pickup truck in which Treviño was traveling along unpaved back roads towards the city at 3.45am on Monday and forced it to stop, government security spokesman Eduardo Sánchez told reporters. He said ground reinforcements then arrested the drug baron along with two other occupants of the vehicle who were initially thought to be his accountant and a bodyguard.
"No shots were fired," Sanchez said, adding that marines found eight assault weapons and 500 rounds of ammunition inside the pickup, as well as two million dollars.
"He is wanted on charges of drug trafficking, murder, torture, unauthorised possession of firearms among other crimes," the spokesman said, highlighting his alleged responsibility in the kidnapping and murder of 265 migrants in Zeta territory.
Sanchéz, who insisted the operation was the result of months of intelligence work, said all three detainees had been flown to Mexico City and were being held for initial questioning in the organised crime unit of the attorney general's Office.
The arrest of the kingpin known as Z-40 is the first high profile takedown of a drug baron since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December with Mexico in the midst of a complex tapestry of cartel turf wars.
The violence is estimated to have killed well over 80,000 people since Peña Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderón, launched a military led crackdown on organised crime in 2006 that triggered more violence. The bloodletting has continued into the new administration at about the same rate, with the government insisting that it needs more time to make good on its promises to slash the death toll.
The Zetas have played a crucial role in much of the violence, with Treviño long a leading figure within the group. He took over full control after his long-time close collaborator Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, alias El Lazca, was killed in a shootout with the authorities in 2012.
The latest major blow against the group will not necessarily lead to a drop in the violence. Treviño's most likely successor is reported to be his younger brother Omar, though he is not anything like as well known and is believed to be far weaker. This could increase the chances of bloody internal power struggles or a full blown split.
The Zetas are renowned as one of the most brutal of all Mexico's trafficking groups, all of which regularly indulge in extreme violence such as beheadings and massacres. The group is particularly well known for augmenting its drug trafficking profits with other criminal activities such as extortion and kidnapping, including mass abductions and murders of central American migrants passing through Mexico on their way to the United States.
The group was originally formed in the late 1990s within the Gulf cartel from a core of deserters from a special forces unit in the army. The Zetas and the Gulf eventually split in 2010, triggering a prolonged period of near conventional-style warfare between the two groups in north-eastern Mexico.
The Zetas have also maintained a long-running rivalry with other cartels, particularly the Sinaloa cartel headed by Mexico's most famous trafficker, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán. Guzmán may be strengthened by Treviño's arrest.
Treviño, now said to be in his 40s, reportedly began his life of crime as a teenager in a Nuevo Laredo gang and was one of the few major leaders of the Zetas without a military background.
He reputedly sealed his status within the cartel by successfully leading the group's defence of its Nuevo Laredo bastion against an attempted invasion by the Sinaloa cartel in 2005. The brutality and openness of the battles back then were the first real taste of the drug wars to come
Congo refugees pour into Uganda after attack by Islamist rebels
Red Cross and military struggle to cope with flood of people fleeing assault by Allied Democratic Forces in eastern DRC
David Smith, Africa correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 July 2013 19.37 BST
Some 66,000 Congolese refugees have poured across the border into Uganda after a surprise attack by an Islamist rebel group, aid agencies say, stretching humanitarian resources to breaking point.
The Uganda Red Cross Society said the influx began after the Allied Democratic Forces launched a deadly assault on Kamangu in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo last week.
The refugees, many with possessions piled on their heads, entered Uganda though the frontier district of Bundibugyo and had to sleep in school grounds under the stars or on shop verandas. The Red Cross said an estimated 2,000 of the refugees were pregnant women, and Uganda's New Vision newspaper reported that at least five gave birth while fleeing.
The Red Cross said on Monday it was working with Ugandan police to move hundreds of people from six reception centres to a transit camp where it could register them and offer help. "It's an enormous number of people," spokeswoman Catherine Ntabadde said.
"A lot of them walked long distances and we have to provide first aid. We need to provide food, shelter and medicine."
More people are arriving but others are starting to venture back, so the situation remains fluid, she added. The Uganda Red Cross will need to raise 2.5bn shillings (£640,000) for a three-month operation. The UN's world food programme is also taking part in the effort.The ADF launched a surprise attack on Kamangu last Thursday, briefly occupying it. The Ugandan military said Congolese troops had retaken the town.
Uganda has warned that the mass movement of people could allow rebels to slip in and launch attacks. Ugandan troops are screening the refugees to neutralise any possible ADF militia, worried that they might have gained expertise from al-Shabaab, the militant group operating in Somalia.
Paddy Ankunda, Uganda's military spokesman, told Reuters: "You can't be sure of the identity of each and every individual refugee and also the increasing volatility of the security situation right across the border worries us. Kamangu is only about 10km from the border.
"No doubt we've stepped up our security deployments along the border because we certainly can't pretend that everything is okay, but for now we're only monitoring events across the border. We haven't sent a single soldier into Congo."
The ADF waged an insurgency against Kampala in the late 1990s from its bases in the Ruwenzori Mountains and across the frontier in the eastern Congo jungle, including a 1998 attack in which 80 students were killed. A 2001 government offensive quelled the uprising and pushed its remnants deeper into eastern Congo. The group has kept a low profile since.
But a UN report last year said the rebels expanded their military capacity and co-operated with Somalia's al-Shabab militants. Uganda has said the buildup of the ADF could threaten its Lake Albert region, where oil reserves estimated at 3.5 bn barrels have been discovered, with production expected to commence soon.
The rebels' surprise attack last week came at a time when another group, the M23, had seized the attention of regional and international diplomatic efforts.
On Monday, fresh fighting erupted near Goma after more than 100 armed men disguised in women's clothing entered the country from Rwanda, according to residents.
Bifumbu Ruhira, a farmer at the village of Kanyarucinya on the frontline between the Congolese army and the M23 rebels, told Associated Press that the men got off two trucks and ran across the border. "They were wearing kikwembe (a shawl worn by Congolese women) over their uniforms, and women's headscarves."
A report published last month by the UN group of experts on Congo alleges that Rwandan soldiers have joined the M23 in recent months, a claim that Rwanda vehemently denies.
July 15, 2013
Egyptian Liberals Embrace the Military, Brooking No Dissent
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
CAIRO — In the square where liberals and Islamists once chanted together for democracy, demonstrators now carry posters hailing as a national hero the general who ousted the country’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood. Liberal talk-show hosts denounce the Brotherhood as a foreign menace and its members as “sadistic, extremely violent creatures” unfit for political life. A leading human rights advocate blames the Brotherhood’s “filthy” leaders for the deaths of more than 50 of their own supporters in a mass shooting by soldiers and the police.
A hypernationalist euphoria unleashed in Egypt by the toppling of Mr. Morsi has swept up even liberals and leftists who spent years struggling against the country’s previous military-backed governments.
An unpopular few among them have begun to raise alarms about what they are calling signs of “fascism”: the fervor in the streets, the glorification of the military as it tightens its grip and the enthusiastic cheers for the suppression of the Islamists. But the vast majority of liberals, leftists and intellectuals in Egypt have joined in the jubilation at the defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood, laying into any dissenters.
“We are moving from the bearded chauvinistic right to the clean-shaven chauvinistic right,” said Rabab el-Mahdi, a left-leaning scholar at the American University in Cairo.
Many Egyptians are overwhelmed with dual emotions: relief at the end of an Islamist government that many called arrogant and ineffective, and a thrill at their power to topple presidents. The voices on the left who might be expected to raise alarms about the military’s ouster of a freely elected government are instead reveling in what they see as the country’s escape from the threat that an Islamist majority would steadily push Egypt to the right.
Many on the left are still locked in a battle of semantics, trying to persuade the world — and perhaps one another — that the overthrow of Mr. Morsi was not a “coup” but a “revolution.” The army merely carried out the popular will, they insist. On Sunday, one private satellite network in Egypt was running commercials of citizen testimonials proclaiming as much.
Some have begun to voice doubts. Amr Hamzawy, a political scientist who held a seat in the dissolved Parliament, was among the first to condemn the military’s shutdown of the Islamists’ satellite networks, the arrest of their staff members, and the detention of Mr. Morsi and hundreds of other Islamist leaders.
Mr. Hamzawy objected in a recent newspaper column to “the rhetoric of gloating, hatred, retribution and revenge against the Muslim Brotherhood.” After the mass shooting, he called the celebration of the military takeover “fascism under the false pretense of democracy and liberalism.” Fellow intellectuals who said nothing, he wrote, were “the birds of darkness of this phase.”
But he was almost alone. A chorus of liberals and leftists rushed to denounce Mr. Hamzawy for defending the Islamists.
Khaled Montaser, a liberal columnist, declared that the Islamists were worse than “criminals and psychopaths” because they could never reform. “Their treason, terrorism and conspiracies are an indelible tattoo,” Mr. Montaser wrote. “They do not know the meaning of ‘homeland.’ They only know the meaning of ‘the caliphate’ and their organization first.”
Ahmed Maher, a founder of the left-leaning April 6 group, initially joined a small volunteer team that tried to enlist Western support for the ouster. But after the arrests and shootings of Brotherhood supporters, he began to recall the generals’ long hold on power after mass protests drove President Hosni Mubarak from office two years ago.
Mr. Maher put his worries about the generals in a Twitter message to another activist: “If we assume it’s not a coup, and I tell people it’s not a coup, when they screw us again like they did in 2011, what would I tell people?”
His allies responded by trying to drum him out, not only from the volunteer team but also from the April 6 group. Esraa Abdel Fattah, a prominent activist, campaigned against him in the media and circulated a list of his statements questioning the “coup.” And Ms. Abdel Fattah insisted that the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political party won the post-Mubarak elections, amounted to a foreign-backed terrorist group.
“When terrorism is trying to take hold of Egypt and foreign interference is trying to dig into our domestic affairs, then it’s inevitable for the great Egyptian people to support its armed forces against the foreign danger,” Ms. Abdel Fattah wrote in a newspaper column.
In the turbulent period of military rule after Mr. Mubarak was ousted, many liberals and leftists stood shoulder to shoulder with Islamists to demand that the generals relinquish power to elected civilians. Now the liberals appear to have joined in a public amnesia about the abuses and scandals of that period — the forced virginity tests of female protesters; Coptic Christian demonstrators shot by soldiers or run over with armored vehicles; the videotaped stripping and kicking of a female demonstrator who became known as the Blue Bra Woman.
The activist Hassan Shaheen was captured in the same video, bleeding from the head as a soldier stomped on his chest. But this spring he helped lead the petition drive asking the military to remove Mr. Morsi. And he joined in the rejection of Mr. Maher, saying that by calling the ouster of Mr. Morsi a “coup” he was “following the rhetoric of the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“We will stand together, the people and the military, in the face of terrorism,” Mr. Shaheen wrote in a Twitter message, arguing that the Brotherhood’s political party “must be dissolved and all its leaders must be arrested.”
“No negotiation, no reconciliation, no going back,” he added.
Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said the liberals’ goal — an Egypt governed by an inclusive civilian democracy — appeared to be further away than when Mr. Mubarak fell. Now, he said, the old institutions and elites from the Mubarak era are emboldened to push for a full return of the old order. “There is a powerful and well-resourced player now trying to push Egypt back to 2010,” he said.
Even those on the left who are critical of the military overthrow fault Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood for their actions in power, for excluding other groups from decision-making, accusing critics of treason and exploiting religion as a political tool. They say that in recent days some Islamist leaders have told their supporters to prepare to use violence to defend Mr. Morsi, as they did during a crisis in December.
Brotherhood leaders say their organization has not condoned violence in Egypt since the days of British rule. They say private media outlets have worked for months to stir up nationalist sentiment against them, for example by circulating false rumors that they were considering giving away Sinai or selling the Suez Canal. Over the last week, many news outlets have claimed that Brotherhood leaders invited foreign interference by appealing for help from Washington to hold off the military takeover. Television hosts even assert that the crowds at pro-Morsi rallies are actually full of Syrians and Palestinians.
The military has set the mood as well. Before the takeover, it broadcast aerial images of the protests against Mr. Morsi, set to soaring martial music. On Sunday, it released another 30-minute broadcast depicting soldiers protecting the public, set to a similar score.
State and private television channels also broadcast images of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi in his trademark black beret, explaining to admiring soldiers the military’s obligation to intervene in the national interest. “Egypt is the mother of the world, and Egypt will be as great as the world,” he declared.
Much of the public, fatigued by revolutionary turmoil, has embraced him. “The people had been saying, ‘Down, down with military rule,’ but Sisi completely changed them,” said Mohamed Mofeed, 38, a barber in downtown Cairo. “They love him.”
Mr. Morsi “should have been tougher with the media,” he added. “They were disrespecting him all over the place.”
Osama Mohamed, 20, a student sitting with a group of friends, said they wanted General Sisi to “leave his office and elect himself president.”
Mohamed Abdel Fattah, 24, an advertising manager, agreed. “For Egypt,” he said, “democracy is chaos.”
Mayy El Sheikh and Asmaa Al Zohairy contributed reporting.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood admits it has been negotiating with army
Former ruling party, whose leader Mohamed Morsi was removed by military, says talks stall over demand to have him reinstated
Marwa Awad and Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Sunday 14 July 2013 16.53 BST
Senior officials in the Muslim Brotherhood have said that they are involved in behind-the-scenes negotiations with Egypt's army, despite a crackdown on the group's leadership following president Mohamed Morsi's removal last week.
The admission comes as the Brotherhood announced provocative plans to move their pro-Morsi street protests into spaces such as Tahrir Square, where many anti-Brotherhood protests have been held in recent weeks. It also follows signs that Egypt's interim regime will press on with forging a new government with or without Brotherhood support – after the liberal Mohamed ElBaradei was sworn in on Sunday as the country's new vice-president, and the new prime minister Hazem Beblawy appointed several new ministers to his cabinet.
Brotherhood officials had denied they were negotiating with a military regime that has arrested several key members since Morsi's fall, and issued warrants for hundreds more.
But speaking to the Guardian, Dr Mohamed Ali Bishr – a former minister under Morsi – admitted that he had already met with senior military officials on Thursday evening to discuss what each side was prepared to compromise on. However, Bishr said that further negotiations were unlikely because the Brotherhood had demanded Morsi's reinstatement as a prerequisite for further dialogue – a red line for the military.
"There is room for negotiations with the military council," said Bishr, a member of the Brotherhood's guidance council, the group's governing body. "We are open minded and speak to all. They contacted us and we met but they want to continue on the path of the coup but we reject this. Negotiations must start off on the path of democracy and the constitution."
Bishr's statement contradicts that of fellow guidance councillor Mohamed Beltagy, who had previously denied negotiations were taking place. His admission also came as prosecutors announced investigations against Morsi on charges of spying, inciting violence, and damaging the economy. It also follows claims by Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad that 200 Muslim Brotherhood members were scouting Tahrir Square, in preparation for Brotherhood protests in the area.
Bishr admitted that the Brotherhood might agree to Morsi's departure, but only if he was reinstated first, and given the opportunity to leave in a manner of his choosing. He also said that the reinstatement of Egypt's constitution – suspended by army chief general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – was essential for negotiations. "All legal solutions are available," said Bishr. "For example, we demand that the constitution is reinstated, instead of being suspended – even if Morsi leaves office. But he as president must call for new presidential elections – or a referendum on whether he stays in office or not.
"Our quarrel is not about whether the president remains in office or not. It about turning a process that was constitutional into a coup. We do not agree to the coup."
The army did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but it is highly unlikely to give in to the Brotherhood's demands as they stand.
Gamal Heshmat, an official in the Brotherhood's political wing, said that he also met with army officials on Friday, and that the military had demanded that the Brotherhood clear the streets of their sit-ins before any further negotiations can begin. "But we cannot clear the streets," said Heshmat. "The people are free to protest and express themselves."
Tyrannosaurus rex really was a ferocious hunter, new finding confirms
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 15, 2013 17:19 EDT
A broken T. rex tooth found in another dinosaur’s tail bone offers the first hard evidence that the king of all meat-eating beasts hunted live prey, US paleontologists said Monday.
Scientists have long debated whether the fossil record really proves the legendary Tyrannosaurus rex was a ferocious hunter or just a scavenger that feasted on carcasses of the dead.
Previous discoveries of dinosaur bones in the bellies of T. rex fossils, and even T. rex-shaped bites out of the tails of other dinosaurs, have strongly suggested that the late Cretaceous (66-100 million years ago) beast was a predator.
But paleontologists have not been able to rule out that T. rex was an opportunistic scavenger, and scientists say the latest research still cannot disprove that theory.
What researchers have described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a US journal, is the first discovery of a broken T. rex tooth in another dinosaur bone — in this case, in the vertebrae of a plant-eating hadrosaur.
“What we can tell from this without a shadow of a doubt is that a T. rex engaged a living hadrosaur,” said lead author Robert dePalma, of the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History in Florida.
“What this present specimen does is it helps to essentially recrown the king,” he told AFP.
The bones were uncovered in 2007 in the Hell Creek Formation, a prominent dinosaur fossil field that spans parts of Montana and North and South Dakota.
Poking out of two fused vertebrae is a major chunk of a T. rex tooth — a well-preserved crown 3.75 centimeters (1.5 inches) long.
T. rex teeth were as big as bananas, and they could regrow any lost during their lifetimes, much like sharks do today, de Palma said.
The hadrosaur’s bone regrew over the injury, signifying that the creature escaped and healed, maybe even living for years afterward.
“The rarity of this piece is so extreme,” said dePalma, who worked with co-authors at the University of Kansas and the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research in South Dakota.
“We never in a million years expected to find something that was this clear in the fossil record,” he added.
But researchers said their analysis does not mean the reputed dino bully ate only living beasts — it likely ate dead remains, too.
“Like most modern large predators, it almost certainly did also scavenge carcasses,” said the study.
Some experts have argued that the lumbering T. rex — as tall as a two story house — could not run fast enough to be a skillful predator.
Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, has described the T. rex as less like a lion and more like a hyena — a creature that fed on creatures large and small, both carrion and fresh-killed prey.
A survey of dinosaur remains in the Hell Creek Formation by Horner and colleagues in 2011 showed that there were a high number of T. rex bones compared to other large dinosaurs, suggesting the T. rex must have had a range of food options to keep its population thriving.
Horner has also advanced the theory that T. rex’s short arms, big body and apparently strong sense of smell made it suited for sniffing out the dead.
Asked for comment on the latest research, Horner told AFP in an email it was “insignificant.”
“It certainly does not refute our idea that T. rex was an opportunistic carnivore like a hyena. It simply shows that a tyrannosaur bit a hadrosaur,” he said.
“It does not reveal any evidence concerning the circumstance.”
Other evidence has been found of a T. rex apparently chomping on another dinosaur’s tail, but those fossils lacked the tooth left behind and contained only a bite mark.
Ken Carpenter, a paleontologist at Utah State University who has uncovered one such T. rex bite mark, said the latest research backs up the bad-boy legend, but also renders a softer image of the T. rex as a fallible hunter, just like modern animals.
“When you have specimens that show regrowth of bone around an injury that can only be attributed to a T. rex, as in the case of the new article, then it is pretty conclusive that T. rex was indeed a predator,” Carpenter told AFP.
“That we have evidence of failed kills, unsuccessful kills is kind of neat. It shows that T. rex was just as unsuccessful as predators today,” he added.
“Let’s face it. Everybody would think it was pretty bogus if something as cool as T. rex could only eat dead things.”
Neptune has a fourteenth moon, NASA says
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, July 15, 2013 17:15 EDT
A tiny new moon has been spotted circling Neptune — the 14th known to be orbiting the faraway planet, the US space agency said on Monday.
The moon is the smallest ever glimpsed around Neptune and measures just about 12 miles (19 kilometers) across, based on observations from the Hubble Space telescope, NASA said.
Neptune is the farthest planet from the Sun, and NASA said the moon, named S/2004 N1, is about 100 million times fainter than the dimmest star that can be seen with the naked eye.
Astronomers found the moon by tracking a white dot that appeared repeatedly in more than 150 photos taken by Hubble from 2004 to 2009.
Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, found the moon July 1 while studying the faint arcs around Neptune, NASA said.
“The moons and arcs orbit very quickly, so we had to devise a way to follow their motion in order to bring out the details of the system,” he said.
“It’s the same reason a sports photographer tracks a running athlete — the athlete stays in focus, but the background blurs.”
The moon is believed to circle Neptune once every 23 hours.
In the USA...
07/15/2013 02:45 PM
Snowden Backlash: US Media Get Personal
By Marc Pitzke in New York
As the mainstream American press goes after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, the leakers' revelations are becoming an afterthought.
Walter Pincus, 80, knows his way around a scandal. The columnist and former reporter at the Washington Post has written about Watergate and Iran-Contra, numerous intelligence-related affairs and has won the Pulitzer Prize. But he has been criticized, even by his colleagues, for being too close to the US government -- especially the CIA, for which he spied in his younger years.
But now, Pincus has truly embarrassed himself: Last week the Washington Post had to add a three-paragraph-long correction to a two-day-old Pincus column, invalidating its core claims. This was an unprecedented measure in the 136-year history of the American capital's most lauded newspaper.
Pincus had speculated that whistleblower Edward Snowden, as well as the two people centrally responsible for publicizing the NSA revelations, Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, had a political agenda and were surreptitiously "directed" by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Pincus' "evidence" turned out to be demonstrably false, rendering the "corrected" column -- or what was left of it -- little more than malicious gossip.
Greenwald, who has been caught in the US media crossfire for some time, immediately protested against the "baseless innuendo" in an open letter. The Washington Post waited over 48 hours before correcting its blunder without comment.
A Growing Anti-Snowden Chorus
In his broadside against Snowden and Snowden's press contacts, Pincus was going along with both the government and the zeitgeist. A growing number of mainstream media outlets have been focusing their criticism on the leakers -- Snowden in Moscow, Greenwald in Rio -- instead of the content of their leaks. American headlines aren't being dominated by the latest details of the seemingly endless scandal, but by the men who brought them to light.
This began at the Post when Snowden, before contacting Greenwald, offered his secrets to security reporter Barton Gellman. Gellman quickly discredited Snowden as "capable of melodrama," partly because of his uncompromising terms. Since then Snowden hasn't provided any more revelations to the paper.
And so it has continued. The financially struggling Post, which was responsible for exposing the Watergate scandal, derided the Guardian as "financially struggling" as well as "small and underweight even by British standards." "Why is a London-based news organization revealing so many secrets about the American government?", it griped, as if that were only permitted of American journalists.
A recent Post editorial, that may as well have been written by the White House, argued that Snowden's leak harms "efforts to fight terrorism" and "legitimate intelligence operations." The leaks must immediately end, it argued -- a strange conclusion from the grandmother of leak journalism. Columnist Richard Cohen didn't hold back either: Snowden is "narcissistic," Greenwald is "vainglorious."
He wasn't alone. In the New York Times David Brooks accused Snowden of having "betrayed honesty and integrity." Roger Simon, chief political columnist at the website Politico, referred to Snowden as "the slacker who came in from the cold." Jeffrey Toobin, a New Yorker essayist, called him a "narcissist who deserves to be in prison." And Melissa Harris-Perry, from the otherwise progressive cable channel MSNBC, critized Snowden's behavior as "compromising national security."
In the Huffington Post, media critic Jeff Cohen called MSNBC the "official network of the Obama White House" -- a White House which, under president Obama, has famously declared war on whistleblowers.
Guardian's American Triumph
There's another reason for the united media front: The Guardian is becoming a competitive threat for American media outlets. The first Snowden video interview received almost seven million clicks on the newspaper's US website. "They set the US news agenda today," Associated Press star reporter Matt Apuzzo tweeted enviously.
Why? Janine Gibson, the Guardian's American chief, told the Huffington Post that their competition has a "lack of skepticism on a whole" when it comes to national security. Critical scrutiny, she said, has been considered "unpatriotic" since 9/11.
The greatest humiliation would be if the British usurper won a Pulitzer Prize. Only American media can apply for it, but the Prize committee accepted one submission by the Guardian last year. Its reasoning? The newspaper has an "unmistakable presence" in the United States.
07/16/2013 01:22 PM
NSA Snooping: The War on Terror Is America's Mania
A Commentary By Klaus Brinkbäumer
The NSA spying scandal shows that America's pursuit of terrorists has turned into a mania. Spying on citizens is as monstrous and unlawful as Guantanamo Bay and drone warfare. The German government's response has been woefully weak.
America is sick. September 11 left it wounded and unsettled -- that's been obvious for nearly 12 years -- but we are only now finding out just how grave the illness really is. The actions of the NSA exposed more than just the telephone conversations and digital lives of many millions of people. The global spying scandal shows that the US has become manic, that it is behaving pathologically, invasively. Its actions are entirely out of proportion to the danger.
Since 2005, an average of 23 Americans per year have been killed through terrorism, mostly outside of the US. "More Americans die of falling televisions and other appliances than from terrorism," writes Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, and "15 times as many die by falling off ladders." The US has spent $8 trillion on the military and homeland security since 2001.
America has other threats. The true short-term danger is homegrown: More than 30,000 Americans are killed by firearms every year. An American child is 13 times more likely to be shot than a child in another industrialized country. When it comes to combating the problem, President Barack Obama and Congress are doing very little -- or, to be fair, nothing at all. They talk about it every now and then, after every killing spree. The gun lobby, incurably ill, counters that the weapons are necessary for self-defense.
And when it comes to real long-term dangers, such as climate change, America, its prime perpetrator, does nothing -- or, to be fair, too little too late.
As Monstrous as Guantanamo
All of this is not to say that terrorism doesn't exist: 9/11 happened, and al Qaida is real. But spying on citizens and embassies, on businesses and allies, violates international law. It is as monstrous and as unlawful as Guantanamo Bay, where for 11 and a half years, men have been detained and force-fed, often without evidence against them, many of whom are still there to this day. It is as unlawful as the drones that are killing people, launched with a mere signature from Obama.
There has been virtually no political discussion about all of this. Attacks have been prevented through the spying program -- Obama says it, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it, and we have to believe them. Voters and citizens are akin to children, whose parents -- the government -- know what is best for them. But does the free America that should be defended even still exist, or has it abolished itself through its own defense?
An American government that gives its blessing to a program like Prism respects nothing and no one. It acts out its omnipotence, considers itself above international law -- certainly on its own territory and even on foreign ground. The fact that it's Obama behaving in such a way is bleak. If this were happening during the administration of George W. Bush, we could at least think, "It's just Bush. He's predictable. There is a better America." Now we know: There is only one America. Did Obama, the Harvard Law student, even believe what he was saying in his speeches about the return of civil liberties? Can someone be so cynical that they promise to heal the world, then act in such a way all the while giving the xenophobic explanation that only foreigners would be monitored? Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are Obama's role models. What would they say?
The Stasi Comparison Stands
The German government has shown devastating weakness. Merkel should say, "You are manic, and what you are doing is sick." That's what friends do. Instead she weighs every word to avoid annoying the Americans. She said that a comparison between the NSA and the Stasi is inappropriate, but she's wrong. A comparison doesn't require that two things be identical. The Stasi destroyed families, the NSA probably not. But the use of technology, the careful nurturing of the image of the enemy, the obsessive collection of data, the belief of being on the right side, the good side: Is there really no resemblance?
Angela Merkel promised to defend the German people from harm. To have your phone wiretapped and accept the fact that every one of your emails could be monitored -- the violation of the private sphere -- that qualifies as harm.
Every voter knows that realpolitik can be ugly, because politics require the balancing of many considerations. The decisive question is: What greater good justifies this breach of law by the US and the cooperation of German agencies? It is time for answers.
July 15, 2013
A Secret Surveillance Program Proves Challengeable in Theory Only
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — On Oct. 29, about seven months before the recent revelations about secret government surveillance programs, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. made a commitment to the Supreme Court.
It was on the day Hurricane Sandy shut down the rest of Washington. The justices had made it to court through lashing rain, and they seemed to be paying particular attention when Mr. Verrilli, the Obama administration’s top appellate lawyer, argued that a challenge to a 2008 surveillance law should be dismissed.
He said, a little comically in retrospect, that the human rights groups, lawyers and reporters who sought to challenge the law had no particular reason to think that their communications were being collected. The plaintiffs could not show they had been harmed by the surveillance program, he said, so they lacked standing to sue. Their fears, he said, were the product of “a cascade of speculation.”
That was merely aggressive and effective advocacy.
Mr. Verrilli’s responses to the first several questions at the argument have turned out to be more problematic. He was asked whether a ruling in the government’s favor would mean that no court could ever assess the constitutionality of the program.
“Is there anybody who has standing?” Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked.
Yes, said Mr. Verrilli, giving what he called a “clear example.” If the government wants to use information gathered under the surveillance program in a criminal prosecution, he said, the source of the information would have to be disclosed. The subjects of such surveillance, he continued, would have standing to challenge the program.
Mr. Verrilli said this pretty plainly at the argument and even more carefully in his briefs in the case.
In one brief, for example, he sought to refute the argument that a ruling in the government’s favor would immunize the surveillance program from constitutional challenges.
“That contention is misplaced,” he wrote. “Others may be able to establish standing even if respondents cannot. As respondents recognize, the government must provide advance notice of its intent to use information obtained or derived from” the surveillance authorized by the 2008 law “against a person in judicial or administrative proceedings and that person may challenge the underlying surveillance.” (Note the phrase “derived from.”)
In February, in a 5-to-4 decision that split along ideological lines, the Supreme Court accepted Mr. Verrilli’s assurances and ruled in his favor. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority in the case, Clapper v. Amnesty International, all but recited Mr. Verrilli’s representation.
“If the government intends to use or disclose information obtained or derived from” surveillance authorized by the 2008 law “in judicial or administrative proceedings, it must provide advance notice of its intent, and the affected person may challenge the lawfulness of the acquisition.” (Again, note the phrase “derived from.”)
What has happened since then in actual criminal prosecutions? The opposite of what Mr. Verrilli told the Supreme Court. Federal prosecutors, apparently unaware of his representations, have refused to make the promised disclosures.
In a prosecution in Federal District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., against two brothers accused of plotting to bomb targets in New York, the government has said it plans to use information gathered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, or FISA, which authorized individual warrants. But prosecutors have refused to say whether the government obtained those individual warrants based on information derived from the 2008 law, which allows programmatic surveillance.
Prosecutors in Chicago have taken the same approach in a prosecution of teenager accused of plotting to blow up a bar.
In the Fort Lauderdale case, Magistrate Judge John J. O’Sullivan ordered the government to disclose whether it had gathered information for the case under the 2008 law. He relied on Justice Alito’s statement in the Clapper decision. The government has moved for reconsideration.
By insisting that they need not disclose whether there had been surveillance under the 2008 law, the two sets of prosecutors have so far accomplished precisely what Mr. Verrilli said would not happen. They have immunized the surveillance program from challenges under the Fourth Amendment, which bans unreasonable searches and seizure.
Yet there is excellent reason to think that surveillance under the 2008 law, the FISA Amendments Act, was involved in both cases. In December, in explaining why the law should be reauthorized, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said the Fort Lauderdale and Chicago cases were among the “specific cases where FISA Amendments Act authorities were used.”
“These cases show the program has worked,” she said.
Michelle Alvarez, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Miami, would not say whether prosecutors there had consulted with the Justice Department in Washington before taking a position that seems at odds with Mr. Verrilli’s assurances to the Supreme Court. Neither would Randall Samborn, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in Chicago.
A Justice Department spokesman in Washington said things might yet change in the two cases. “The legal issues raised in the filings are under active consideration within the department,” he said.
Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who represented the plaintiffs in the Clapper case in the Supreme Court, said the recent maneuvers were unseemly and disturbing. “The effect of the government’s shell game,” he said, “is that the statute has been shielded from judicial review, and controversial and far-reaching surveillance authorities have been placed beyond the reach of the Constitution.”
Whatever the government’s precise legal obligations, it remains free to say what everyone seems to know: that the 2008 program has been used to gather evidence for criminal prosecutions. Such a concession would seem to be a small thing. All it would do is allow the courts to make a judgment about whether the program is constitutional.
July 15, 2013
In Second Term, Obama Is Seen as Using ‘Hidden Hand’ Approach
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — In the nearly two weeks since Egypt’s military seized power, President Obama has promoted a better federal bureaucracy, given a medal to George Lucas of “Star Wars” fame and had former President George Bush to the White House for lunch. What he has not done is publicly address the violent upheaval in Cairo.
That is not to say Mr. Obama is uninvolved. In the privacy of the West Wing, away from the cameras, he has made calls to leading figures in the Arab world and has met with advisers trying to influence the crisis. But his low public profile on issues like immigration, Syria and health care underscores a calculated presidential approach that admirers consider nuanced and detractors call passive.
While other presidents have put the bully in the bully pulpit, Mr. Obama uses his megaphone, and the power that comes with it, sparingly, speaking out when he decides his voice can shape the trajectory of an issue and staying silent when he thinks it might be counterproductive. In his first year, the president seemed to be everywhere, talking about everything. In his fifth year, he is choosing his opportunities — even if it appears he is not always in command of events.
Some compare Mr. Obama’s approach to the “hidden hand” style of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who often steered events behind the scenes without being public about his role. Jim Newton, the author of “Eisenhower: The White House Years,” a book with back-cover blurbs from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry, said Mr. Obama was like the former president in avoiding major international conflict, relying more on covert action and letting Congress take the lead in legislation.
“In those senses, Obama does appear to me to be taking a page from Eisenhower’s playbook,” Mr. Newton said. “What I don’t know, however, is how aggressively Obama is working out of view on these matters. The essence of Eisenhower’s hidden hand, of course, is that there was real work going on that people didn’t know at the time. If that’s true now, then Obama really is emulating Ike. If, on the other hand, he’s simply doing nothing or very little, that would be passivity, not hidden-hand leadership.”
Susan Eisenhower, a granddaughter of the late president, said it might be too soon to tell. “Eisenhower’s hidden-hand means of meeting his objectives was not really evident until his papers were opened, many decades after he left office,” Ms. Eisenhower said.
But she added that Mr. Obama should emulate her grandfather by engaging in a deep review of Middle East policy, much as Eisenhower’s Solarium project developed a grand strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union.
“Ultimately, Obama will be judged for his strategic goals and his capacity to execute on them,” Ms. Eisenhower said. “Finding something that works is nearly impossible to do in a rapidly changing security environment unless there is an overarching way of thinking about U.S. interests.”
Just as Eisenhower, the 34th president, pulled troops out of Korea and avoided other military adventures, Mr. Obama has pulled out of Iraq, is leaving Afghanistan, has limited intervention in Libya largely to airstrikes and has resisted being drawn directly into the civil war in Syria.
Mr. Obama’s inner circle includes some Eisenhower admirers. Mr. Hagel bought 30 copies of a recent book on the former president’s handling of the 1956 Suez crisis to distribute to fellow administration officials. Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, cites Eisenhower’s emphasis on planning.
Eisenhower kept his hand hidden while still speaking regularly with reporters. He held news conferences an average of every two weeks. Mr. Obama, by contrast, gives interviews to select organizations, but has far fewer day-in, day-out interactions with journalists than his recent predecessors, and therefore avoids being asked about many issues of the moment.
“You have to pick your moments to weigh in where the president weighing in will do the most good,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to the president. “That’s how we look at it. The thing we’ve accepted over the course of time is every decision like this, either way, is going to engender criticism: Why did he talk about this? Why didn’t he talk about that? Why did he weigh in now?”
Mr. Obama has learned through hard experience that responding to news media pressure for his views on the latest news can be hazardous. He discovered that months after taking office, when his reaction to the arrest of an black Harvard professor in his own home stirred controversy. The perils came home again more recently, when sharp comments he made about court-martialing members of the military accused of sexual assault provided ammunition to defense lawyers, who called that improper interference.
“It’s not his job to narrate current events for the public,” Mr. Pfeiffer said. “It can complicate an already complicated situation.”
Mr. Pfeiffer said an exercise in lessons learned, conducted when he became communications director early in the first term, showed that Mr. Obama was talking in public too much. “What we saw from that is if you’re talking about everything all the time, it’s harder for the public to distinguish the things that are most important,” he said.
Mr. Obama sometimes leaves it to others to discuss controversial decisions. When he decided to arm Syrian rebels, he had his deputy national security adviser announce it. When the president decided to postpone a significant element of his health care program for a year, he had the Treasury Department post the news on its Web site.
On immigration, probably the most ambitious legislative initiative of his second term, Mr. Obama has kept his public involvement to a minimum to avoid alienating Republicans. But he did tape an Internet radio address on the topic on Saturday and plans to talk with Spanish-language television networks on Tuesday.
On Egypt, the White House has detected no advantage in Mr. Obama’s addressing the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, just as the administration has delayed taking action like cutting off aid, as required by law in the case of a military coup. The president’s public reticence reflects a judgment that speaking out could do more harm than good.
“The president has to be very careful what he says, how he says it,” said Dennis Ross, a former Middle East adviser to Mr. Obama. “I think part of the reason to be adopting the kind of posture we have takes account of what’s happening in Egypt and the fluidity of it on the one hand, but also the public reaction to us. Whatever we do and say now is going to be seized on by one side or the other.”
Gohmert: Kill immigration reform and Hispanics will say, ‘Republicans really like me’
By David Edwards
Monday, July 15, 2013 15:56 EDT
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) knows that Republicans may lose some votes at first after the party kills immigration reform, but he is predicting that Hispanics will then wake up and realize that “Republicans really like me.”
In an effort to block all efforts at comprehensive immigration reform, Gohmert joined with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) to explain to the conservative website World Net Daily why so-called “amnesty” would be bad for the country.
Gohmert said that Republicans needed to make it clear to immigrants that comprehensive reform was being stopped to “preserve a country that Hispanics will want to come to.”
“If we are not willing to follow the law, we’re going to lose that, and I’m afraid that people do not realize how serious things have gotten,” the Texas congressman said. “But, yeah, we could possibly pay in the polls in the short term. But just as you’ve had more and more African-Americans realizing, ‘Wow, we have one party that’s pandered to us, doled out government benefits, kept us from reaching our God-given potential.’”
Republicans, however, Gohmert said, wanted Hispanics to learn English “because we want you not to be a ditch digger because you can’t communicate. We know you are smart enough to be president of this company and to be president of this country if you’re born here.”
“And if we don’t communicate that message we could pay for it,” he warned. “We could in the short term, but in the long term, I think you will see people start waking up and go, ‘Wow, I’m Hispanic, these Republicans really like me.’”
July 16, 2013
Leaker Files for Asylum to Remain in Russia
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
MOSCOW — Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor on the run from the American authorities, on Tuesday formally requested temporary asylum in Russia, submitting an application that seemed aimed at insulating President Pig Putin from United States pressure and blame.
Mr. Snowden said he feared that if returned to the United States he could face torture or the death penalty, according to a Russian lawyer who helped prepare the documents. Though he has not been accused of a capital crime and does not face the death penalty, experts here said that his fears, whatever their merit, could support his bid.
At the same time, by seeking temporary — not political — asylum, Mr. Snowden is pursuing the easiest path possible under Russian law, technically requiring only an administrative decision by the Russian Federal Migration Service rather than Pig Putin’s personal approval.
There is little doubt, however, that Mr. Putin controls all decisions on Mr. Snowden — just as the Kremlin has permitted, if not orchestrated, his stay in the transit zone of Sheremetyevo airport since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23. But the technicality provides some insulation for Mr. Putin from political pressure by the United States.
The president’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, quickly said that the decision was out of Pig Putin’s hands.
“If we are talking about temporary asylum, this is an issue not for the president but for the Federal Migration service,” Mr. Peskov told reporters in the Siberian city of Chita, according to Russian news agencies.
If the Migration Service grants his request, Mr. Snowden will be able to live and work in Russia for one year, with the possibility of renewing his status for another year. And just by his applying, it seems likely that his stay in the airport transit zone is nearing an end. Officials said that as an asylum applicant, Mr. Snowden could now be moved from the airport to a shelter for refugees while awaiting a decision, which could come in days.
Pig Putin has said that Mr. Snowden could potentially stay in Russia, provided he “cease his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners,” and he reiterated that offer on Monday. Mr. Snowden has said he does not believe his leaks have harmed American interests.
In a meeting at the airport on Friday with lawyers and rights advocates that the Russian government helped organize, Mr. Snowden said that he would apply for shelter in Russia because the United States was blocking him from traveling to Latin America, where three countries say they will accept him.
Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer and rights advocate who has worked closely with the Kremlin and who attended the meeting, said that he had helped Mr. Snowden prepare the application and showed a copy of the handwritten document during an appearance on television.
“As for his reasons, he wrote that the government of the U.S. is chasing him, that he is afraid for his life and fears that it may end in torture or the death penalty,” Mr. Kucherena said in an interview on the Rossiya 24 channel.
The White House on Tuesday repeated its demand for Mr. Snowden’s extradition. “He should return here to face trial,” the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said. “Our interest has always been in seeing him expelled from Russia and returned to the United States,” he said, adding: “He is not a human rights activist. He is not a dissident.”
Federal prosecutors in Virginia have charged Mr. Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act and also with stealing government property — each charge punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a total of 30 years.
But Mr. Snowden and his supporters in and outside Russia have cited the existence of the death penalty in the United States as a reason he should not be extradited, noting that American officials have said he could face additional charges.
Pig Putin says U.S.-Russia relationship ‘more important’ than NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 17, 2013 4:49 EDT
President Pig Putin on Wednesday said Moscow’s relations with Washington outweighed the “squabbles” over a spying scandal revealed by US fugitive Edward Snowden, who has applied for asylum in Russia.
“Relations between states are much more important than squabbles surrounding the work of security services,” Putin was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.
Pig Putin’s remarks came after the White House voiced opposition to Snowden’s request for a safe haven in Russia as he tries to evade US espionage charges.
The former National Security Agency contractor has been marooned at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport since June 23 after leaking details of a massive US surveillance programme that has strained ties with Washington’s allies.
Washington has rubbished the notion that Snowden could be viewed as a human rights activist and has criticised Moscow for providing the 30-year-old with a “propaganda platform”.
“We believe there is ample legal justification for the return of Mr. Snowden to the United States, where he has been charged with serious felonies,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
“We want to continue (the US-Russia) relationship unimpeded by this issue,” Carney said. “And we believe there is a way to move forward here that allows for Mr. Snowden to return to the United States… and for Russia to resolve this situation that they have been dealing with now for three weeks.”
On Tuesday, Snowden filed an application for temporary asylum with the Russian migration service, starting a process that could take up to three months.
Putin, meanwhile, reiterated his earlier stance that Snowden would only be welcome to stay in Russia if he did not harm the United States with further leaks.
“We have warned Mr. Snowden, that any activity on his part that has to do with harming Russia-US relations is unacceptable for us,” Pig Putin said Wednesday.
“This is his fate and his choice,” Pig Putin said of Snowden’s request to stay in Russia. “We have our own state interests, including those directed at building Russia-US relations.”
Prism: committee urges review of legal framework for electronic surveillance
Intelligence and security committee also confirms GCHQ's use of NSA Prism surveillance material for first time
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 17 July 2013 12.56 BST
Parliament's intelligence and security committee has called for a review of the UK legal framework governing electronic surveillance and questioned whether it is adequate to police the technical capabilities of the intelligence agencies in the internet age.
The committee, confirming Britain's use of the Prism surveillance material for the first time, said it had reviewed a list of UK nationals or residents who had been subject to monitoring as a result of the sharing arrangement with the US National Security Agency (NSA). The committee members also saw the warrants under which the individuals were targeted.
The committee (ISC) issued a statement on Wednesday morning clearing the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) of illegal conduct in its access to the US Prism programme, which gave American intelligence a window on the daily communications of millions of people around the world.
It concluded: "It has been alleged that GCHQ circumvented UK law by using the NSA's Prism programme to access the content of private communications. From the evidence we have seen, we have concluded that this is unfounded."
However, the committee added under the heading "next steps" that, "it is proper to consider whether the current statutory framework governing access to private communications remains adequate".
The committee – chaired by the Conservative MP and former defence and foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind – said it was "examining the complex interaction between the Intelligence Services Act, the Human Rights Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act [Ripa], and the policies and procedures that underpin them, further."
NSA documents seen by the Guardian showed that "special programmes for GCHQ exist for focused Prism processing" and that the British agency had generated 197 intelligence reports from Prism in the year to May 2012.
The documents, leaked by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, also showed that legal constraints designed for an era in which electronic surveillance involved attaching crocodile clips to copper telephone wires had not been updated for an age in which fibre-optic cables carry the traffic of millions of internet users.
In one 2011 presentation, a GCHQ legal adviser told NSA analysts: "We have a light oversight regime compared with the US."
Under a little known clause in the Ripa statute, GCHQ is permitted to collect vast amounts of data under a single warrant or a special certificate issued by the foreign secretary.
William Hague, the current foreign secretary, issued a statement welcoming the intelligence and security committee's report.
"I see daily evidence of the integrity and high standards of the men and women of GCHQ. The ISC's findings are further testament to their professionalism and values," Hague said.
But Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "The painfully careful words of the ICS's report clear absolutely nothing up. There's nothing to allay fears that industrial amounts of personal data are being shared under the Intelligence Services Act and concerns that all UK citizens are subject to blanket surveillance under GCHQ's Tempora programme aren't even mentioned. This spin-cycle is marked 'whitewash'."
07/16/2013 06:50 PM
Pressure on Merkel: German Spying Debate Goes to Parliament
As word spread that Edward Snowden has sought temporary asylum in Moscow, Germany's interior minister faced questioning in parliament on Tuesday over what the country knew about NSA spying. The opposition isn't satisfied with his answers.
Russian officials confirmed receipt of a request by whistleblower Edward Snowden for temporary asylum. And Snowden's lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, also confirmed to a reporter with Russia's Interfax news agency that the 30-year-old had signed the request and handed it in to a Federal Migration Service representative at Moscow's Sheremtevyo International Airport.
One day earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin had reiterated his offer of asylum for the whistleblower, which he said still applied. But he also warned: "He is familiar with the conditions of granting political asylum, and judging by the latest statements, is shifting his position. The situation is not clear now." Putin has already made clear several times that Snowden would be granted asylum if he pledged to "stop his work aimed at harming our American partners."
Snowden, who has been charged with espionage in the United States, has been holed up at Sheremetyevo Airport for more than three weeks now because the US revoked his passport and he has no travel papers. Putin himself acknowledged Monday that the US had effectively "trapped" Snowden in Russia and that he shouldn't remain in the country any longer than he needs to.
Last week Snowden announced his intention to apply for temporary asylum in Moscow as he awaits safe passage to Latin America. Governments in Western Europe have so far hindered his ability to do so. He said he would be "requesting asylum in Russia until such time as ... my legal travel is permitted." The IT specialist had officially been offered political asylum in Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. But it remains unclear whether it is possible for him to get to Latin America under his present circumstances.
Meanwhile, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald has announced that Snowden still has a lot more explosive material that would be "harmful to the US government, as they perceive their own interests." Greenwald told the Associated Press that Snowden has "literally thousands of documents" that read like an "instruction manual for how the NSA is built." But Greenwald said he personally believes "the documents would not prove harmful to Americans or their national security, but that Snowden has insisted they not be made public." He said the documents have been encrypted in order to ensure their safekeeping.
Snowden, a former contractor for the NSA, has leaked a series of documents about the mass surveillance programs conducted by the US and Britain. SPIEGEL itself reported on documents indicating that, in Germany alone, half a billion telephone calls, emails and mobile phone text messages are monitored every month. The revelations have sparked a serious political debate in Germany about whether or not Chancellor Angela Merkel or her government had been aware of the spying. Opposition politicians are seeking to make the scandal a major issue in the run-up to national elections on Sept. 22.
Interior Minister Still Doesn't Know What Americans Collect
On Friday, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich traveled to Washington in an effort to quiet critics who argued the government had responded too slowly. But many were critical of his trip, saying he was given little information and came across like an obedient school boy. Speaking Monday, Friedrich told public broadcaster ARD it had been a "successful trip." he said that an investigative process has been initiated in the US and that he had been able to obtain "some information" about the kinds of data the NSA is collecting.
But on both ARD and in another interview, he had to concede that the German government doesn't expect to be given a full overview of the entire scope of US activities anytime soon. When asked how much data the Americans are collecting in total, he answered, "We still don't know that today."
Responding to criticism of numbers he stated over the weekend about American claims of foiled terror plots, he also admitted, "It is relatively difficult to count the number of terror attacks that didn't occur. We are provided with tips, but we don't know where these tips come from." When the US says that tips that foiled five terrorist attacks in Germany originated from the Prism spying program, "then we just have to accept them as they are," Friedrich said. "But perhaps there were more (planned) attacks, perhaps there were fewer."
One day earlier, Friedrich had come under fire for revising figures regarding prevented terror attacks. Just after his visit to the US, he spoke of 45 possible terrorist attacks that had been hindered through the Prism spying program, of which five were to have happened in Germany. But later the minister spoke merely of two foiled plots.
On Tuesday, Friedrich spoke about the spying scandal before the parliament's oversight committee monitoring German intelligence activities. After the meeting, he said he would push for stronger EU regulations on providing the data of EU citizens to third parties. He said requirements should be in place for all companies, including Internet firms, any time they pass data from EU citizens to non-European entities. He said he would urge that these additions be made to the planned refoms of European data protection regulation at the next meeting of EU justice and interior ministers.
Friedrich: People Need to Pay More Attention to Technology
In the parliamentary oversight committee meeting, Friedrich also sought to deflect growing pressure on the government, arguing that German citizens need to take greater responsibility for their own data. The minister told the committee that more attention needs to be paid to encryption technology and to virus protection software. The technological possibilities to spy already exist now, he said, and that's why they are being used.
But his appearance before the committee is already drawing criticism from the opposition, who are trying to place Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats under greater pressure. "The chancellor needs to appear before the people and she has to protect their civil rights," said Thomas Oppermann, the chairman of the oversight committee and a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party.
He accused the government of not doing enough to clarify the matter. Over the weekend, the US government agreed to declassify some documents in order to provide additional clarification. But Oppermann warned that the procedures for declassifying documents were complicated and could be used to buy time. In the end, the SPD politician warned, if declassification happened at all it would likely happen after German national elections in September. "We won't accept that," he said.
A decision on whether or not the oversight committee will call on Merkel to appear is first expected at its next meeting, which isn't officially planned until August 19. But Oppermann said it was likely the meeting would be moved to an earlier date in response to the spying affair.
07/17/2013 12:29 PM
Media Report: German Military Knew About Prism
Berlin says it didn't know about the NSA's spying operations, but a media report on Wednesday alleges otherwise. It cites a NATO document that could prove the German military knew about and indirectly participated in the Prism program in 2011.
The German government has so far claimed that it knew nothing of the United States' Prism spying program, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last month. But parts of a confidential NATO document published by daily Bild on Wednesday show that the German military, the Bundeswehr, was probably already aware of the National Security Agency's operations in 2011.
The document, reportedly sent on Sept. 1, 2011 to all regional commands by the joint NATO headquarters in Afghanistan, gives specific instructions on working together with the foreign data surveillance program. According to Bild, the document was also sent to the regional command in northern Afghanistan, for which Germany was responsible at the time under General Major Markus Kneip.
Should the media report be confirmed, Berlin's claims of ignorance will prove to have been false.
As of Sept. 15 that year, regional commands were instructed to apply for monitoring telephone calls and e-mails, according to the document, in which Prism is named at least three times. "Existing COMINT (communications intelligence) nominations submitted outside of PRISM must be resubmitted into PRISM IOT," it reads.
It also states that access to the Prism program is regulated by the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), which is used by various US intelligence services to transmit classified information.
"Coalition RCs (regional commands) will utilize the US military or civilian personnel assigned to their collection management shop ISRLO (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Liaison Officer)," it goes on. In Bild's assessment, "military or civilian personnel" stands for US intelligence service staff.
Keeping Track of Terrorists
The purpose of all this was to "submit the telephone numbers and email addresses of terrorists into the surveillance system," the paper reports.
It also claims to have seen documents indicating that the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence agency, provided such telephone numbers to NATO, where they were ultimately fed into the surveillance system as well.
The reason for the NATO order was that the NSA's director had tasked the US military with coordinating surveillance in Afghanistan, Bild reported.
The German Defense Ministry told the paper that it had "no information and knowledge of such an order," but would be looking into the matter.
In response to the report, Green party parliamentarian and defense spokesman Omid Nouripour told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière must clarify the situation. "These circumstances destroy the government's line of defense" on the NSA scandal, he said. Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition can "no longer claim it didn't know anything about Prism."
As more details emerge about the scope of the NSA's worldwide spying program and Germany's alleged role in the surveillance, the scandal is becoming a central issue in the country's campaign for the upcoming general election. Germans are particularly sensitive about data protection because of their history of state encroachment on civil liberties, first under the Nazis and then in communist East Germany. And if it turns out that Berlin knowingly tolerated and participated in the NSA activities, many would see it as a betrayal by the government.
07/17/2013 10:48 AM
NSA Scandal: Merkel's Interior Minister Not Up to the Job
By Veit Medick and Philipp Wittrock
German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has been tasked with investigating the full scope of NSA spying activities in Germany. But his failure to make progress has cranked up the pressure on him and Chancellor Merkel to finally do something.
Finally, he wants to go on the offensive and initiate something of his own. And to do so, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has brought along a few ideas regarding what could be done about "all these data privacy things." They include new rules in Europe, a trans-Atlantic treaty and a charter of fundamental digital rights. It is a long list.
The ideas are not at all bad. But once again, Friedrich is late to the party. Others have already had the same ideas, including both the justice minister and the chancellor. Still, there is at least one advantage to throwing himself behind the data privacy effort. It means he won't have to talk as much about his actual job: that of providing clarification in the NSA spying scandal.
That was the real reason why Friedrich had been invited to German parliament on Tuesday. For two-and-a-half hours, he answered questions from the Parliamentary Control Panel -- which is tasked with monitoring Germany's intelligence services -- on what he learned during his recent trip to the US about America's spying activities in Germany. The problem was, however, that Friedrich didn't bring all that much back from Washington. And what he did learn is highly classified and couldn't be discussed in parliament.
Instead, Friedrich was forced to hail the fact that accusations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden to the effect that the NSA is collecting up to500 million communications connections a month in Germany are "now being investigated by US authorities." Details remain classified, but he said he hoped that the ongoing declassification process in Washington will provide some clarification.
Data Collection Cooperation
But insiders say that, even behind closed doors, Friedrich had few revelations to offer on the spying affair. The only one to offer specifics of any kind was Gerhard Schindler, the president of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency. According to participants, Schindler confirmed that his agency was cooperating with allied agencies in other countries. In situations such as overseas kidnappings, more than a dozen partner services generally cooperate on data collection, he said.
But the BND, Schindler said according to meeting participants, never receives any information about sources of information or individual programs. Friedrich also emphasized once again that he had been unaware of programs like Prism. "When it comes to key issues," says Green Party domestic policy expert Hans-Christian Ströbele, "we still don't know anything more."
Friedrich, of course, is in a difficult position. Chancellor Angela Merkel has used strong language in condemning the NSA spying program and demanded that the US abide by German law when operating in Germany. But it is Friedrich who has to travel to Washington, where he was, as had been expected, fobbed off with politely packaged non-information. Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung was harsh in its verdict as a result, calling him the "idiot in charge."
But Friedrich has done little to counter the widespread impression that he is not particularly devoted to clearing up the NSA scandal. He is loathe to offend the Americans and also is a big supporter of active intelligence agencies. He is, simply put, the wrong person to be leading the German probe into excess American surveillance activities. Instead, he insists that Germans themselves must do more to protect their own digital data and refers to security as a "Supergrundrecht," a neologism that would seem to imply that security trumps other civil rights.
Friedrich in the Terrorism Trap
Friedrich has also run into trouble with his attempts to point out how valuable information provided by the NSA can be for Germany. Forty-five terror attacks, he announced following his US trip late last week, have been prevented by the Prism program, including five in Germany. But he has been back-peddling since then, unable to pinpoint the five instances. Two are clear -- the foiled "Sauerland Cell", which had planned a series of bombings in 2007, and the Düsseldorf al-Qaida cell. But that is where his list ends -- US officials apparently didn't provide further details, and Friedrich didn't ask any follow-up questions.
Even among Friedrich's conservative allies, many find his maladroit use of the numbers to be unconvincing. Hans-Peter Uhl, a domestic policy expert with the Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Friedrich's political home, called it "rubbish," though he placed more blame with the NSA than with the minister himself.
The Free Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partner, have been more direct with their criticism. "What we are seeing (from Friedrich) isn't good enough," says FDP domestic policy expert Gisela Piltz, who is calling for a task force at the Chancellery. She would like to see Merkel to take the investigation into her own hands.
That is something the opposition has long been calling for. "The chancellor needs to apply more pressure on the issue of clarification. We need concrete facts," says Thomas Oppermann, parliamentary floor leader of the opposition, center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). The SPD and the Greens have also reserved the right to summon Merkel herself to appear before the oversight committee. That decision will be made in another special session, probably in early August.
By then, of course, the chancellor will be far away from Berlin, enjoying her summer vacation.
07/16/2013 04:40 PM
NSA Joke: US Military Intervene over Facebook Event
By Judith Horchert
As a joke, a German man recently invited some friends for a walk around a top secret NSA facility. But the Facebook invitation soon had German federal police knocking at his door. They had been alerted by the American authorities.
Normally, Daniel Bangert's Facebook posts tend to be of the serious variety. The 28-year-old includes news items and other bits of interest he encounters throughout the day. "I rarely post funny pictures," he says.
Recently, though, he decided to liven up his page with something a bit more amusing -- and decided to focus on the scandal surrounding the vast Internet surveillance perpetrated by the US intelligence service NSA. He invited his friends on an excursion to the top secret US facility known as the Dagger Complex in Griesheim, where Bangert is from.
He described the outing as though it were a nature walk. He wrote on Facebook that its purpose was to undertake "joint research into the threatened habitat of NSA spies." He added: "If we are really lucky, we might actually see a real NSA spy with our own eyes." He suggested that those interested in coming should bring along their cameras and "flowers of all kinds to improve the appearance of the NSA spies' habitat."
Perhaps not surprisingly, not many of his friends showed much interest in the venture. But the authorities did. Just four days after he posted the invitation, his mobile phone rang at 7:17 a.m. It was the police calling to talk about his Facebook post.
'I Couldn't Believe It'
Bangert's doorbell rang at almost the exact same time. The police on the telephone told him to talk with the officers outside of his door. Bangert quickly put on a T-shirt -- which had a picture of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden on it along with the words "Team Edward" -- and answered the door. His neighbor was outside too so as not to miss the fun.
The police wanted to know more about what exactly Bangert had in mind. "I couldn't believe it. I thought: What? They are coming for such nonsense?"
Bangert says he answered all of the questions truthfully, saying that, yes, his intention was that of heading out to watch the spies. "The officers did smirk a bit," he notes.
How, though, did the police get wind of Bangert's planned "nature" walk? A spokeswoman for the police in nearby Darmstadt told SPIEGEL ONLINE that the US Military Police had found the Facebook post and passed it along to German officials. The Military Police are responsible for security within the Dagger Complex, but outside the fence, it is the Germans who are in charge.
Not long later, Bangert got another call asking him to report to Central Commissariat 10 of the German federal police. They too then sent an officer to his home. "The wanted to know if I had connections with (anarchist groups) or other violent people," Bangert says. He told the officers that he didn't, repeating over and over that he "just wanted to go for a walk."
Ignoring the Police
The officers, says Bangert, were unimpressed and called him a "smart aleck," before hinting strongly that he should obtain a demonstration permit before he embarked on his outing. They then told Bangert not to post anything about their visit on the web.
Bangert took their first piece of advice, registering his "demonstration" even though, as he says, "it wasn't supposed to be one." But he ignored the police's second suggestion and reported on their visit on his Facebook page. "How much more proof do you need," he wrote. "Everyone says that they aren't affected. But then I invite people for a walk and write obvious nonsense in the invitation and suddenly the federal police show up at my home."
The police spokeswoman sought to play down the incident. The officers from Central Commissariat 10 are responsible for public demonstrations, she said. And the fact that the American Military Police reported the Facebook post isn't surprising either, she said. The police, she noted, usually only learn of publicly announced Facebook parties when they are notified by those affected.
More Walks in the Future?
Nevertheless, news of the incident spread rapidly via Twitter and blogs, and the local media reported on it as well. "My grandma was angry with me," Bangert says. "She said: 'You have to be careful or you'll get sent to jail.'"
He wasn't sent to jail, of course. But the added interest in his invitation meant that some 70 people gathered on Saturday for the NSA safari in Griesheim -- along with two police cars, one in front and one behind. "Some members of the group tried to get the NSA spies to come out of their building," Bangert wrote on Facebook afterwards. Unfortunately, they didn't see "any real NSA spies." But they had a good time nonetheless -- to the point that many suggested another walk just like it.
So is he planning a repeat? "I didn't say that and I didn't write it anywhere," Bangert replies. The smart aleck.
July 16, 2013, 2:16 pmNew Pussy Riot Video Asks Where Russia’s Oil Wealth Goes
By ROBERT MACKEY and ANDREW ROTH
Last Updated, 3:10 p.m. In a new song released online Tuesday, the Russian protest group Pussy Riot claimed that billions of dollars of the nation’s oil wealth have been looted by President Pig Putin and his allies.
The song, “Like a Red Prison,” was accompanied by a music video showing masked members of the group tossing black crude onto a portrait of Igor Sechin, a Putin confidant and former spy who is chief executive of Rosneft, the Russian state oil company, during a guerrilla performance at an oil facility.
Click to listen: https://soundcloud.com/pussy-riot/like-a-red-prison
A photojournalist who was present during the video shoot, Denis Sinyakov, said in a telephone interview that it was recorded in recent months, with one sequence, showing the group’s banner unfurled on the roof of a Rosneft gas station, filmed in June. He added that the video was finished in a rush, according to the activists, so that it would appear before the trial of a protest leader, Aleksei Navalny, concludes this week.
Mr. Sinyakov, who is not part of the collective, but has been granted access at the planning stages to anti-Putin stunts carried out by other groups, said that he traveled with the women while they were not wearing masks. To the best of his knowledge, Yekaterina Samutsevich, a member of the group who was jailed with two others last year for performing a song at Moscow’s main cathedral calling on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Mr. Putin, but later released by an appeals court, was not involved in the production.
For her part, Ms. Samutsevich claimed on Tuesday that the new release was not an official one, despite the fact that it was described as such on the group’s Twitter feed.
The new song was also heavily promoted on a Twitter account run by Pyotr Verzilov, whose wife, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, is one of the two women still serving time in a penal colony for the cathedral performance. Liner notes posted on a new Web site, pussy-riot.info, described Ms. Tolokonnikova as one of the authors of “like a Red Prison.”
There have been signs of division between the women in the past, and the music video was uploaded Tuesday to a new YouTube channel registered in the group’s name.
As the American-financed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, the liner notes also claim that Russia’s oil revenues amounted to 7 trillion rubles (about $215 billion) in 2012, “but only Putin and several of his friends see this 7 trillion.” To focus attention on this, the group said, “We therefore decided to independently look into oil production and sing our new song about the red prison to oil and gas workers.”
By coincidence, the new song was released just one day after a music video for “Oil,” a dance track from Russia’s DJ Smash that mocks the deep affection for black gold among the nation’s oligarchs.
Click to listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EucLgHzuZaw&feature=youtu.be
The Pussy Riot song’s lyrics include a reference to Mr. Navalny, the popular blogger and anti-corruption lawyer who expects to be convicted this week on charges of corruption filed against him by state prosecutors last year, after he emerged as a leader of anti-Putin street protests. In an interview with The Guardian last week, Mr. Navalny said that when the state’s wealth boomed with a surge in oil prices, Pig Putin “just bought everyone off. Now the money is ending … so now he has turned to repression as a means of running the country.”
As the Guardian correspondent Miriam Elder reports, despite the threat of jail hanging over him, on Tuesday Mr. Navalny published the results of an investigation into corruption by a senior Russian official on his Live Journal blog and invited Mr. Putin to look at the evidence.
Last week, video posted online showed Mr. Navlany and his supporters marching to an election office in Moscow to submit the papers necessary to allow him to run for mayor of the city.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3N9Ug1vvY8&feature=youtu.be
Mr. Navalny also invited readers of his blog to watch another video clip, “that depicts my wacky detention,” after he emerged from the election office to address supporters and was hauled off by the police.
As he prepared to hear his fate in court, Mr. Navalny continued to press ahead with the race, posting images on Instagram of his “bustling” campaign office.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WH13YOh2YgU&feature=youtu.be