08/26/2013 11:58 AM
Codename 'Apalachee': How America Spies on Europe and the UN
By Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach and Holger Stark
President Obama promised that NSA surveillance activities were aimed exclusively at preventing terrorist attacks. But secret documents from the intelligence agency show that the Americans spy on Europe, the UN and other countries.
The European Union building on New York's Third Avenue is an office tower with a glittering facade and an impressive view of the East River. Chris Matthews, the press officer for the EU delegation to the United Nations, opens the ambassadors' room on the 31st floor, gestures toward a long conference table and says: "This is where all ambassadors from our 28 members meet every Tuesday at 9 a.m." It is the place where Europe seeks to forge a common policy on the UN.
To mark the official opening of the delegation's new offices in September 2012, EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso and EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy flew in from Brussels, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was on hand as guest of honor. For "old" Europe -- which finances over one-third of the regular UN budget -- this was a confirmation of its geopolitical importance.
For the National Security Agency (NSA), America's powerful intelligence organization, the move was above all a technical challenge. A new office means freshly painted walls, untouched wiring and newly installed computer networks -- in other words, loads of work for the agents. While the Europeans were still getting used to their glittering new offices, NSA staff had already acquired the building's floor plans. The drawings completed by New York real estate company Tishman Speyer show precisely to scale how the offices are laid out. Intelligence agents made enlarged copies of the areas were the data servers are located. At the NSA, the European mission near the East River is referred to by the codename "Apalachee".
The floor plans are part of the NSA's internal documents relating to its operations targeting the EU. They come from whistleblower Edward Snowden, and SPIEGEL has been able to view them. For the NSA, they formed the basis for an intelligence-gathering operation -- but for US President Barack Obama they have now become a political problem.
Just over two weeks ago, Obama made a promise to the world. "The main thing I want to emphasize is that I don't have an interest and the people at the NSA don't have an interest in doing anything other than making sure that (...) we can prevent a terrorist attack," Obama said during a hastily arranged press conference at the White House on August 9. He said the sole purpose of the program was to "get information ahead of time (...) so we are able to carry out that critical task," adding: "We do not have an interest in doing anything other than that." Afterward, the president flew to the Atlantic island of Martha's Vineyard for his summer vacation.
Wide Range of New Surveillance Programs
Obama's appearance before the press was an attempt to morally justify the work of the intelligence agencies; to declare it as a type of emergency defense. His message was clear: Intelligence is only gathered because there is terror -- and anything that saves people's lives can't be bad. Ever since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, this logic has been the basis for a wide range of new surveillance programs.
With his statement delivered in the White House briefing room, Obama hoped to take the pressure off, primarily on the domestic political front. In Washington the president is currently facing opposition from an unusual alliance of left-wing Democrats and libertarian conservatives. They are supported by veteran politicians like Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the architects of the Patriot Act, which was used to massively expand surveillance in the wake of 9/11. On July 24, a bill that would have curtailed the power of the NSA was only narrowly defeated by 217 to 205 votes in the House of Representatives.
Even stalwart Obama supporters like Democrat Nancy Pelosi, minority leader in the House of Representatives, are now calling into question the work of the intelligence agency. Pelosi says that what she reads in the newspapers is "disturbing." It wasn't until late last week that news broke that the NSA had illegally collected tens of thousands of emails over a number of years.
Obama's public appearance was aimed at reassuring his critics. At the same time, he made a commitment. He gave assurances that the NSA is a clean agency that isn't involved in any dirty work. Obama has given his word on this matter. The only problem is that, if internal NSA documents are to be believed, it isn't true.
The classified documents, which SPIEGEL has seen, demonstrate how systematically the Americans target other countries and institutions like the EU, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and the UN. They show how the NSA infiltrated the Europeans' internal computer network between New York and Washington, used US embassies abroad to intercept communications and eavesdropped on video conferences of UN diplomats. The surveillance is intensive and well-organized -- and it has little or nothing to do with counter-terrorism.
Targeting Foreign Governments
In an internal presentation, the NSA sums up its vision, which is both global and frighteningly ambitious: "information superiority." To achieve this worldwide dominance, the intelligence agency has launched diverse programs with names like "Dancingoasis," "Oakstar" and "Prism." Some of them aim to prevent terrorist attacks, while others target things like arms deliveries, drug trafficking and organized crime. But there are other programs, like "Blarney" and "Rampart-T," that serve a different purpose: that of traditional espionage targeting foreign governments.
Blarney has existed since the 1970s and it falls under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, at least according to the NSA documents, which state that it is based on the cooperation of at least one US telecommunications company that provides services to the agency. The NSA describes the program's main targets as "diplomatic establishment, counter-terrorism, foreign government and economic." These documents also say that Blarney is one of the "top sources" for the President's Daily Brief, a top-secret document which briefs the US president every morning on intelligence matters. Some 11,000 pieces of information reportedly come from Blarney every year.
No less explosive is the program dubbed "Rampart-T" by the NSA and which, by the agency's own accounts, has been running since 1991. It has to do with "penetration of hard targets at or near the leadership level" -- in other words: heads of state and their closest aides.
This information is intended for "the president and his national security advisors." Rampart-T is directed against some 20 countries, including China and Russia, but also Eastern European states.
The Americans recently drew up a secret chart that maps out what aspects of which countries require intelligence. The 12-page overview, created in April, has a scale of priorities ranging from red "1" (highest degree of interest) to blue "5" (low interest). Countries like Iran, North Korea, China and Russia are colored primarily red, meaning that additional information is required on virtually all fronts.
But the UN and the EU are also listed as espionage targets, with issues of economic stability as the primary concern. The focus, though, is also on trade policy and foreign policy (each rated "3") as well as energy security, food products and technological innovations (each rated "5").
Bugging the EU
The espionage attack on the EU is not only a surprise for most European diplomats, who until now assumed that they maintained friendly ties to the US government. It is also remarkable because the NSA has rolled out the full repertoire of intelligence-gathering tools -- and has apparently been taking this approach for many years now. According to an operational overview from September 2010 that is rated "secret," not only have the Americans infiltrated the EU mission to the UN in New York, but also the EU embassy in Washington, giving the building in the heart of the American capital the code name "Magothy."
According to this secret document, the NSA has targeted the European missions in three ways:
The embassies in Washington and New York are bugged.
At the embassy in New York, the hard disks have also been copied.
In Washington the agents have also tapped into the internal computer cable network.
The infiltration of both EU embassies gave the technicians from Fort Meade an invaluable advantage: It guaranteed the Americans continuous access, even if they temporarily lost contact with one of the systems -- due, for instance, to a technical update or because an EU administrator thought that he had discovered a virus.
The embassies are linked via a so-called virtual private network (VPN). "If we lose access to one site, we can immediately regain it by riding the VPN to the other side and punching a whole (sic!) out," the NSA technicians said during an internal presentation. "We have done this several times when we got locked out of Magothy."
Of particular note, the data systems of the EU embassies in America are maintained by technicians in Brussels; Washington and New York are connected to the larger EU network. Whether the NSA has been able to penetrate as far as Brussels remains unclear. What is certain, though, is that they had a great deal of inside knowledge from Brussels, as demonstrated by a classified report from the year 2005 concerning a visit by top American diplomat Clayland Boyden Gray at Fort Meade.
'Best Friends' at the NSA
Gray was on his way to Brussels as the new US ambassador to the EU. Before he left the country, he was invited by the corresponding NSA department to Fort Meade, where he was allowed to peek inside their treasure chest. The ambassador was "apprised of NSA's capabilities and limitations in collecting communications in Europe," the documents note.
Gray was presented with a selection of intercepted and bugged reports relating to diplomacy, business and foreign trade along with information on his future contacts at the EU. "I had no idea I would receive such detailed information," the ambassador said afterwards in amazement, according to NSA documents. That was "fabulous," he told them, adding: "You people at the NSA are becoming my new best friends."
Beyond their infiltration of the EU, the Americans are also highly interested in intelligence on the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA. The IAEA has been given a red "1" in the area of arms control, while the focus at the UN is on foreign policy ("2") along with human rights, war crimes, environment issues and raw materials (each "3").
The NSA has its own team stationed at the UN, with each of the specialists disguised as diplomats. A secret crew from Washington regularly comes to town to bolster the team's ranks before each session of the General Assembly.
But the Americans also eavesdrop wherever possible during the day-to-day -- and they have been particularly successful at it for quite some time, as the corresponding department proudly reported in June 2012. In a status report they wrote that they had gained "a new access to internal United Nations communication."
Spies Spying on the Spies
Furthermore, NSA technicians working for the Blarney program have managed to decrypt the UN's internal video teleconferencing (VTC) system. The combination of this new access to the UN and the cracked encryption code have led to "a dramatic improvement in VTC data quality and (the) ability to decrypt the VTC traffic," the NSA agents noted with great satisfaction: "This traffic is getting us internal UN VTCs (yay!)." Within just under three weeks, the number of decrypted communications increased from 12 to 458.
Occasionally this espionage verges on the absurd in a manner that would fit in perfectly with a John le Carré novel. According to an internal report, the NSA caught the Chinese spying on the UN in 2011. The NSA succeeded in penetrating their adversary's defenses and "tap into Chinese SIGINT (signals intelligence) collection," as it says in a document that describes how spies were spying on spies. Based on this source, the NSA has allegedly gained access to three reports on "high interest, high profile current events."
The internal NSA documents correspond to instructions from the State Department, which then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed off on in July 2009. With the 29-page report called "Reporting and Collection Needs: The United Nations," the State Department called on its diplomats to collect information on key players of the UN.
According to this document, the diplomats were asked to gather numbers for phones, mobiles, pagers and fax machines. They were called on to amass phone and email directories, credit card and frequent-flier customer numbers, duty rosters, passwords and even biometric data.
When SPIEGEL reported on the confidential cable back in 2010, the State Department tried to deflect the criticism by saying that it was merely helping out other agencies. In reality, though, as the NSA documents now clearly show, they served as the basis for various clandestine operations targeting the UN and other countries.
Experts on the UN have long suspected that the organization has become a hotbed of activity for various intelligence agencies. After leaving Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet, former British Secretary of State for International Development Clare Short admitted that in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2003 she had seen transcripts of conversations by then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Snooping on Partners
Short's statement, which sparked a vehement reaction at the time it was made, has now been confirmed for the first time by the NSA. According to an internal document, the intelligence results had a key influence on "American negotiating tactics at the UN" in connection with the Iraq War. Thanks to the intercepted conversations, the NSA was allegedly able to inform the US State Department and the American Ambassador to the UN with a high degree of certainty that the required majority had been secured before the vote was held on the corresponding UN resolution.
Snooping on negotiating partners is so rewarding that the NSA engages in this activity around the world, and not just on its home turf. There are secret eavesdropping posts in 80 US embassies and consulates around the world, internally referred to as the "Special Collection Service" (SCS) and jointly operated with the CIA.
The presence of these spying units ranks among the agency's best-guarded secrets. After all, they are politically precarious: There are very few cases in which their use has been authorized by the local host countries.
The small SCS teams (motto: "Vigilantly keeping watch around the world") intercept communications in their host countries. The required antennas and dishes are usually disguised. According to the documents seen by SPIEGEL, such "concealed collection systems" as they are internally referred to at the NSA, can be hidden behind "roof maintenance sheds" on embassy buildings. Highly classified technical surveillance operations in diplomatic missions such as embassies and consulates are referred to internally in the NSA under the codename "Stateroom."
The SCS teams are often disguised as diplomats and their actual mission is "not known by the majority of the diplomatic staff." According to the Snowden documents, such an SCS branch exists in Frankfurt, another one in Vienna. The existence of bugging units in embassies and consulates is to be kept secret under all circumstances, as it says in the material: If it were leaked, this would "cause serious harm to relations between the US and a foreign government."
'Thou Shalt Not Get Caught'
With few exceptions, this electronic eavesdropping not only contravenes the diplomatic code, but also international agreements. The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations of 1946, as well as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, long ago established that no espionage methods are to be used. What's more, the US and the UN signed an agreement in 1947 that rules out all undercover operations.
But even in UN circles a little bit of spying has always been viewed as a minor offense and, according to statements made by former government employees, the Americans have never paid much attention to the agreements. But this could change with the revelations of US spying on the EU. "The US has violated the 11th commandment of our profession," says a high-ranking US intelligence official: "Thou shalt not get caught."
The spying scandal has strained relations between the trans-Atlantic partners more than any other security-policy issue in recent history. The espionage is "absolutely unacceptable," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius inveighed after it became known that the French embassy in Washington was also on the surveillance list. "We cannot negotiate on a large trans-Atlantic market if there is the slightest suspicion that our partners are spying on the offices of our chief negotiator," European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding angrily said.
Even a conservative politician like the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the European Parliament in Brussels, Elmar Brok -- a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) -- spoke of an "enormous loss of trust." Other parliamentarians have threatened to pressure the US by suspending talks on a free trade agreement, and an EU delegation has traveled to Washington and confronted the Americans with the allegations.
The talks are scheduled to resume in September. The litmus test will be whether the American government is prepared to offer the EU a no-spy agreement similar to the one that is currently being negotiated with the German government -- and in which both contracting partners pledge not to spy on each other.
Such an agreement can of course also be violated, but it would at least offer the Europeans a modicum of protection. For the Americans, it would mean renouncing exclusive inside views of the EU. It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration is prepared to take this step, despite the president's solemn statements that the surveillance focuses on counter-terrorism. A spokeswoman for the White House told SPIEGEL that the American government will respond to the allegations "via diplomatic channels," adding: "We have made it clear that we gather intelligence abroad just like any other nation."
On Monday of last week, the elevator stopped on the 26th floor of the EU's building on Third Avenue in New York. Press officer Matthews led the way through the delegation's working area, located high above the East River. Those seeking access to this zone must pass through checkpoints consisting of a number of doors made of bulletproof glass. Each door only opens after the door that has just been passed through is locked. A few meters further on, on the right, is the server room, where red lights are blinking. The security systems are new and were just installed over the past few weeks after SPIEGEL first reported on attempts to spy on the EU. The EU has launched an investigation, prompting technicians to search for bugs and check the computer network.
In September, America's Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power will visit the EU offices on third Avenue. The American-European free trade agreement will be on the agenda -- but also the espionage affair.
If the European security experts do everything right, it could be that -- for the first time in a long time -- the Americans won't know what to expect.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
08/26/2013 12:30 PM
Miranda Detention: 'Blatant Attack on Press Freedom'
A Commentary by Laura Poitras
The detention of David Miranda -- partner of the Guardian journalist involved in the NSA revelations -- and the destruction of hard drives in the British newspaper's basement reveal one thing: Governments do not want their citizens to be informed when it comes to the topic of surveillance.
I woke up last Sunday in Berlin to an email from Glenn Greenwald with only one sentence: "I need to talk to you ASAP."
For the past three months, Glenn and I have been reporting on the NSA disclosures revealed to us by Edward Snowden.
I went online to the encrypted channel that Glenn and I use to communicate. He told me that he had just received a call telling him that his partner David Miranda was being detained at London's Heathrow airport under the Terrorism Act. David was traveling from Berlin where he had come to work with me. For the next six hours I was online with Glenn as he tried to find out what was happening to the person he loves most in the world.
Glenn's reporting on the NSA story is made possible by the love and courage of David. When Glenn and I traveled to Hong Kong to meet Edward Snowden, Glenn and David spoke daily. Reporting on the most secret abuses of governments does not come without moments of fear. There was a turning point in Hong Kong before Glenn published the first story about the Verizon court order that exposed the NSA's spying on Americans. It was David who told Glenn: "You need to do this. If you don't do this, you will never be able to live with yourself."
As Glenn and I exchanged messages between Rio and Berlin, David was being interrogated in London about our NSA reporting. Glenn said several times: "I actually cannot believe they are doing this." I kept thinking I wish it were me. Having documented and reported on abuses of government power post 9/11, we both thought we'd reached a point where nothing would shock us. We were wrong -- using pernicious terrorism laws to target the people we love and work with, this shocked us.
Attack on Press Freedom
Reporting on this story means some things can only be said in person, and still it is hard to know you can escape surveillance. David was traveling to me meet on behalf of the Guardian newspaper, which has taken the lead on publishing the NSA stories. We now know that David's detention was ordered at the highest levels of the British government, including the Prime Minister. We also know the US government was given advance warning that David would be detained and interrogated.
The NSA has special relationships with the spy agencies from the so-called "Five-Eyes" nations, which include Britain's GCHQ. Weeks before David was detained, agents from GCHQ entered the offices of the Guardian newspaper and oversaw the destruction of several hard drives which contained disclosures made by Snowden. This action was also authorized at the highest levels of the UK government. Included on those drives were documents detailing GCHQ's massive domestic spying program called "Tempora."
This program deploys NSA's XKeyscore "DeepDive" internet buffer technology which slows down the internet to allow GCHQ to spy on global communications, including those of UK citizens. Tempora relies on the "corporate partnership" of UK telecoms, including British Telecommunications and Vodafone. Revealing the secret partnerships between spy agencies and telecoms entrusted with the private communications of citizens is journalism, not terrorism.
The UK government's destruction of material provided by a source to a news organization will surely be remembered as of the most blatant government attacks on press freedom.
As the hours went by on Sunday, Guardian lawyers searched to find where David was being held; the Brazilian ambassador in London could get no information; and Glenn struggled with whether he should go public or work behind the scenes to make sure David would be released and not arrested. I have never been through a hostage negotiation, but this certainly felt like one. David was finally released after nine hours. He was forced to hand over all electronics.
Using border crossings to target journalism is not new to me. I experienced it for the first time in 2006 in Vienna, when I was traveling from the Sarajevo Film Festival back to New York. I was put in a van and driven to a security room, searched, and interrogated. The Austrian security agents told me I was stopped at the request of the US government. When I landed in New York I was again searched and interrogated.
Since then I have lost count of how many times I have been interrogated at the US border all because of my reporting on post 9/11 issues. I've had electronics seized, notebooks photocopied, and have been threatened with handcuffs for taking notes. I moved to Berlin to edit my next film because I do not feel I can keep source material safe in my own country.
At the moment I live in what used to be East Berlin. It feels strange to come to the former home of the Stasi to expose the dangers of government surveillance, but being here gives me hope. There is a deep historical memory among Germans of what happens to societies when its government targets and spies on its own citizens. The public outcry in Germany to the NSA disclosures has been enormous.
Threat To Democracy
Because of the disclosures made by Edward Snowden, we have for the first time an international debate on the scope of government surveillance. Almost daily for the past three months citizens learn of new unlawful surveillance programs being secretly run by their governments. All of our reporting has been in the public interest, and none has caused harm.
David's detention and the destruction of the hard drives in the Guardian's basement reveal one thing: Our governments do not want citizens to be informed when it comes to the topic of surveillance. The governments of the United States, Britain, Germany, and others would like this debate to go away. It won't.
Glenn and I, with the full support of David and others, will continue to work on the disclosures made by Snowden, as will the Guardian, SPIEGEL, the Washington Post, their reporters and their loved ones, and many other news organizations who believe vast unchecked secret government surveillance powers are a threat to democracy.
Indiscriminate surveillance fosters distrust, conformity and mediocrity: research
By Chris Chambers, The Guardian
Monday, August 26, 2013 7:27 EDT
Recent disclosures about the scope of government surveillance are staggering. We now know that the UK’s Tempora program records huge volumes of private communications, including – as standard – our emails, social networking activity, internet histories, and telephone calls. Much of this data is then shared with the US National Security Agency, which operates its own (formerly) clandestine surveillance operation. Similar programs are believed to operate in Russia, China, India, and throughout several European countries. While pundits have argued vigorously about the merits and drawbacks of such programs, the voice of science has remained relatively quiet. This is despite the fact that science, alone, can lay claim to a wealth of empirical evidence on the psychological effects of surveillance. Studying that evidence leads to a clear conclusion and a warning: indiscriminate intelligence-gathering presents a grave risk to our mental health, productivity, social cohesion, and ultimately our future.
Surveillance impairs mental health and performance
For more than 15 years we’ve known that surveillance leads to heightened levels of stress, fatigue and anxiety. In the workplace it also reduces performance and our sense of personal control. A government that engages in mass surveillance cannot claim to value the wellbeing or productivity of its citizens.
Surveillance promotes distrust between the public and the state
People will trust an authority to the extent that it is seen to behave in their interest and trust them in return. Research suggests that people tolerate limited surveillance provided they believe their security is being bought with someone else’s liberty. The moment it becomes clear that they are in fact trading their own liberty, the social contract is broken. Violating this trust changes the definition of “us” and “them” in a way that can be dangerous for a democratic authority – suddenly, most of the population stands in opposition to their own government.
Surveillance breeds conformity
For more than 50 years we’ve known that surveillance encourages conformity to social norms. In a series of classic experiments during the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch showed that conformity is so powerful that individuals will follow the crowd even when the crowd is obviously wrong. A government that engages in mass surveillance cannot claim to value innovation, critical thinking, or originality.
Surveillance can actually undermine the influence of authority
Security chiefs may believe that surveillance gives them greater control over the populace, but is this truly the case? The answer is complicated. A recent study found that if members of a team felt a common social identity with their leader then surveillance in fact reduced the leader’s influence by fostering resentment and distrust. However, if they saw their leader as belonging to a social outgroup then surveillance increased the leader’s power.
This pattern is interesting because it places politicians and the security services at loggerheads. For politicians to succeed in a democracy they must be seen as part of the same ingroup as their electorate. We see this in force most strongly during election time, when politicians go to great pains to emphasise their grass roots connections with the community. But by supporting mass surveillance, politicians then undermine this relationship.
The security services, on the other hand, have the opposite motivation. For them, mutual distrust is par for the course, so it is better to maintain a social distance from the public. That way they are guaranteed to be perceived as an outgroup, which – the evidence suggests – increases the influence they can wield through surveillance.
There are two ways to resolve this conflict between the motivations of elected representatives and security services. One is to embrace totalitarianism, breaking all bonds of social identity between politicians and the electorate. In this (unpalatable) scenario, democracy converts to a police state in which all parts of government are seen by the populace as an outgroup. An alternative is to put an end to mass surveillance, forcing the security services to fall in line with the parts of government that value liberty.
What seems clear is that the government can’t moonlight as both an ingroup and an outgroup – it can’t claim to serve the liberty of its citizens while in the same breath violating that liberty. If they achieve nothing else, the Snowden revelations throw this contradiction into sharp relief.
Surveillance paves the way to a pedestrian future
As the world’s governments march toward universal surveillance, their ignorance of psychology is clear at every step. Even in the 2009 House of Lords report “Surveillance: Citizens and the State” – a document that is critical of surveillance – not a single psychologist is interviewed and, in 130 pages, not a single reference is made to decades of psychological research.
We ignore this evidence at our peril. Psychology forewarns us that a future of universal surveillance will be a world bereft of anything sufficiently interesting to spy on – a beige authoritarian landscape in which we lose the ability to relax, innovate, or take risks. A world in which the definition of “appropriate” thought and behaviour becomes so narrow that even the most pedantic norm violations are met with exclusion or punishment. A world in which we may even surrender our very last line of defence – the ability to look back and ask: Why did we do this to ourselves?
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
NSA row: Merkel rival threatens to suspend EU-US trade talks
Peer Steinbrück says he will delay negotiations until US comes clean on bugging of German government offices
Kevin Rawlinson and agencies
The Guardian, Monday 26 August 2013
Angela Merkel's main rival in the German general election next month has pledged to suspend EU-US trade talks over the National Security Agency spying scandal if he replaces her as chancellor.
In a further sign that the NSA row has soured relations between the US and its European allies, Peer Steinbrück, leader of the Social Democratic party, told ARD TV: "I would interrupt the negotiations until the Americans say if German government offices and European institutions are bugged or wiretapped. We don't know if the Americans may be sitting under our desks with some technical devices." He pledged to press Washington about the spy agency's activities before continuing with the talks about a transatlantic free trade agreement.
His move comes after Germany's Der Spiegel weekly reported that the NSA bugged the United Nations' New York headquarters, with the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency among those targeted.
Der Spiegel said files obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden showed that the NSA spied on the EU in New York after it moved to new rooms in autumn 2012 and that the NSA runs a bugging programme in more than 80 embassies and consulates worldwide called the "Special Collection Service", which has "little or nothing to do with warding off terrorists".
Other files cited in the report describe how the NSA managed to access the UN's video conferencing system and crack its security.
Snowden's revelations about the NSA have plunged privacy-conscious Germany into outrage during the campaign for the election on 22 September. Distrust of the government's handling of the surveillance scandal threatens to damage Merkel's bid to retain the chancellorship.
Earlier this month, her government attempted to reassure voters that US and British intelligence agencies had observed German laws in Germany. But critics remained sceptical, pointing out that would not stop foreign agencies accessing German online communication data transferred to the US-based servers of Google, Facebook or Microsoft.
At a recent rally, the chancellor struggled to make herself heard over chants of "hypocrite" and "liar" and the sound of vuvuzelas being blown by opponents worried about stories of American snooping.
Germany's independent privacy watchdogs say the surveillance programmes run by the NSA breach an EU-US pact meant to ensure cross-border data protection. "We're just at the beginning of the debate," Frank-Walter Steinmeier of the Social Democrats said on Friday. "The assurances ... do not refer to data taken from American servers."
Theresa May attacked for comments on critics of David Miranda's detention
Ex-director of public prosecutions speaks out after Home Office says opponents of Miranda's detention are 'condoning terrorism'
Nicholas Watt, chief political correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 22 August 2013 16.23 BST
Theresa May has been accused, by a former director of public prosecutions, of an "extremely ugly and unhelpful" attempt to implicate opponents of David Miranda's detention in condoning terrorism.
Lord Macdonald criticised the home secretary after the Home Office said people who opposed the decision of the Metropolitan police to detain Miranda at Heathrow needed to "think about what they are condoning".
The former DPP told The World at One on Radio 4: "That is a rather ugly argument. To suggest that people who are concerned about the use of a power of this sort against journalists are condoning terrorism, which seems to be the implication of that remark, is an extremely ugly and unhelpful sentiment.
"People who are concerned about these issues are not condoning terrorism. They are asking a perfectly legitimate question, which is: are we striking the balance in the right place between security and liberty?"
He added: "Let's wait and see what the independent review of this episode has to say before we start accusing people of condoning terrorism and nonsense of that sort."
The intervention by Macdonald, a Liberal Democrat peer, highlights growing tensions within the coalition over the nine-hour detention of Miranda, the partner of the Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald who has run a series of stories on the basis of secret NSA documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The Guardian reported on Thursday that Nick Clegg is heading for a confrontation with the home secretary over the future of schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000, which was used to detain Miranda.
This allows police to detain individuals at ports and airports even if they have no grounds of suspicion.
May, who was informed in advance of the police action, has said she supported the detention of Miranda. But Clegg, who has made clear he was not given advance notice of the detention, is reserving judgment until David Anderson, the independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, delivers his findings on Miranda.
The Lib Dems have also said they will look with "great interest" at a suggestion by Anderson that parliament should reassess whether police should be allowed to detain individuals if they have no suspicions about their activity.
Macdonald said the government should follow the example of the changes made to stop and search powers outside ports and airports.
On the basis of a recommendation by Macdonald, the government ended the right of police to stop and search people without reasonable suspicion.
He told Radio 4: "Schedule 7 allows the police to carry out searches at airports without reasonable suspicion, without any suspicion at all.
"They can just do it … we should be looking very closely at the use of schedule 7 powers – the ability of border policemen and policemen at airports to search without any suspicion at all people passing through airports.
"At the moment we allow officers to do that [to search people at ports and airports] even if they have no suspicion at all that anyone is guilty or may be guilty of anything.
"That is problematic particularly when the power is so very widely used."
The Home Office statement which angered Macdonald was issued on Tuesday. A Home Office spokesman said: "The government and the police have a duty to protect the public and our national security. If the police believe that an individual is in possession of highly sensitive stolen information that would help terrorism, then they should act and the law provides them with a framework to do that.
"Those who oppose this sort of action need to think about what they are condoning. This is an ongoing police inquiry so will not comment on the specifics."
Edward Snowden got stuck in Moscow 'after Cuba blocked entry'
NSA whistleblower prevented from boarding flight from Russia after US put pressure on Havana, Russian newspaper claims
Reuters in Moscow
theguardian.com, Monday 26 August 2013 12.21 BST
The US whistleblower Edward Snowden got stuck in the transit zone of a Moscow airport because Havana refused to let him fly from Russia to Cuba, a Russian newspaper has claimed.
Snowden, who is wanted in the US for leaking details of government surveillance programmes to the Guardian, had planned to fly to Havana from Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport a day after arriving from Hong Kong on 23 June.
But Snowden, who eventually accepted a year's asylum in Russia after spending nearly six weeks at Sheremetyevo, did not catch the flight although he had been allocated a seat.
Citing several sources, including one close to the US state department, Kommersant newspaper said the reason was that at the last minute the Cuban authorities had told officials to stop Snowden from boarding the Aeroflot flight.
It said Cuba had changed its mind after pressure by the US, which wants to try Snowden on espionage charges.
Kommersant also said Snowden had spent a couple of days in the Russian consulate in Hong Kong, where he declared his intention of flying to Latin America via Moscow.
"His choice of route and his plea to help were a complete surprise to us. We did not invite him," Kommersant quoted a Russian state source as saying.
Reuters could not immediately verify the report. Allowing Snowden to land would have put Cuba's relations with the US at risk.
Ties between the US and Russia were strained when Moscow granted Snowden asylum. Amid the disagreement over Snowden, the US presidentm, Barack Obama, postponed a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, which was planned for next month.
08/26/2013 01:45 PM
New Shelter Protests: Asylum Fears Feed Far-Right Support in Berlin
A new shelter for asylum seekers in Berlin was once again the subject of protests by right-wing extremists, who were outnumbered by counter-protestors. The demonstrations passed off peacefully, but the far right has met with some success in preying on local fears over an influx of refugees.
A heavy police presence ensured the latest round of protest and counter-protest over a new shelter for asylum seekers in a poor district of Berlin passed off relatively peacefully. After previous demonstrations in Hellersdorf last Tuesday left a policeman seriously injured, some 400 officers flooded the streets around Alice-Salomon Square on Saturday and separated the two sides with protective fencing.
The new shelter on Carola-Neher Street has been seized upon by the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), eager to exploit the fears of residents ahead of the country's general election in September.
The NPD demonstration attracted around 150 people, while more than 700 turned out for the counter protest including representatives from the Left Party, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens. The 400 officers present was an increase on the 250 who were on duty last week, a day after the first refugees moved into the shelter, when a policeman with more than 30 years service broke his cheekbone in several places after being struck in the face by a bottle reportedly thrown by one of the counter-demonstrators. The injuries were severe enough to cause concerns that he might lose his eyesight, according to police spokesman Stefan Redlich.
Handful of Arrests
The result of the expanded police presence was a more peaceful day on Saturday, with only a handful of arrests being made for suspected offenses including resisting an officer and breach of the peace, a police spokeswoman said on Sunday morning.
The protests are just the latest clash over the rapidly rising numbers of asylum seekers in Germany and the urgent need to find them shelter. This year has seen the most refugees seeking asylum in Germany since 1999, with the total for 2013 expected to top 100,000. According to the Federal Office of Migration and Refugees, 43,000 people sought asylum in Germany in the first six months of the year, an increase of 86.5 percent compared to the first half of 2012.
This has led to pressure on the authorities to find enough accommodation for asylum seekers - such as in the former school at the center of the current protests. But some of those who did move in have already fled in fear.
And the NPD has used the situation to find success in its campaign to woo residents who hold reservations about the arrival of some 200 refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere at the newly-opened shelter. One 36-year-old woman who attended the NPD rally, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that it was her first time at such an event - and that she plans to vote for them next month. A single mother-of-three, she says she has no friends or acquaintances in the NPD, but that they "speak to me from the soul". She has been waiting a long time for a nursery place while asylum seekers would have had their accommodation sorted out in no time.
'I Have Nothing Against Refugees'
"Actually, I have nothing against the refugees," she says; rather, she is upset with the politicians who didn't ask for her opinion on the shelter.
The problems in Hellersdorf have played into the hands of the NPD, which has altered its election strategy specifically to take full advantage of the situation by stoking the fears surrounding the asylum seekers - and in people such as this woman, they have met with success.
Just a few meters away, standing amidst the counter-demonstrators, Greens parliamentary group leader Künast said it was important for people to show their faces in Hellersdorf to make it clear to right-wing extremists that they have no place there. "The incitement against refugees, we cannot allow it." That slogans used by the far right are so prevalent in the local populace was extremely dangerous, Künast added, which is why the counter-protests are so important.
Petra Pau of the Left Party, meanwhile, knows the people in Hellersdorf well - they voted her into the Bundestag, the German parliament's lower house. She only wishes for one thing for the residents and asylum seekers: peace. The ongoing protests on the streets simply ensure that no one's life can continue as normal, she said.
Boos and Middle Fingers
But that is exactly what the NPD wants. Some of the party's bigwigs, including long-time former leader Udo Voigt, showed up for Saturday's demo on the Alice-Salomon Square. They used slogans like "Stop the asylum flood" and "Live safe: stop the asylum policy". Voigt was met with boos and middle fingers, but unlike the previous Tuesday, the NPD members were not alone, with residents coming along to applaud the speakers.
Among those was Ronny Zasowk, deputy chairman of the NPD in the state of Brandenburg, who said: "There must be no more mass immigration." He railed against "welfare niggers" as he talked himself into a rage: "We will follow this path until the last asylum home is closed."
But the hate speech is not the real danger. The NPD's leader in Berlin, Sebastian Schmidtke, plays the role of the concerned politician, the worrier. "We will help you," he promises the citizens of Hellersdorf. His partner Maria Fank, meanwhile, the state chairwoman of the NPD women's organization, says: "The real refugees in Hellersdorf are the Hellersdorfers themselves." It was a case, the 24-year-old said, of "offering protection to the poor, small children and the poor pensioners."
"The poor children", "the poor pensioners" - it is with phrases like these that the NPD has reached many residents in Hellersdorf.
08/26/2013 12:45 PM
Aid Debate: Merkel Leaves Door Open to Greek Debt Cut
By Christian Rickens
German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned over the weekend that a debt cut for Greece could trigger a dangerous domino effect -- but she did not categorically rule one out. She's keeping all her options open in the euro crisis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined on Monday to categorically rule out a debt cut for Greece in a sign that she is keeping all her options open for tackling the euro crisis if she wins a third term -- as widely expected -- in the September 22 general election.
"I would explicitly warn against a debt cut," she told news magazine Focus in an interview published on Monday.
That's just a warning, and it falls far short of the categoric statement made by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble on Sunday when he said that the euro-zone finance ministers had vowed that the first debt cut for Greece was a "total one-off, never again." There would be no repeat of the debt cut, Schäuble said.
Other politicians from Merkel's center-right coalition have also ruled out another debt cut, although European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party, said it may happen. "A debt cut isn't an issue in the foreseeable future but one can't rule it out forever," Oettinger told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
Schäuble himself had raised the issue of fresh funding for Greece when he told an election campaign rally last Tuesday that the country would need a third aid program in 2014.
Oettinger and Greek Finance Minister Giannis Stournaras came up with strikingly similar estimates for the additional funding required, with Oettinger talking about a "small double-digit billion sum" and Stournaras mentioning the sum of around €10 billion.
In her interview with Focus, Merkel only made an indirect reference to the Greek aid package that Schäuble had spoken of with such certainty. She said: "In 2014, as has been agreed, we will again address the question of how the debt level and the structural reforms in Greece are developing." Until then, Greece still had "a lot to do" and would have to "continue implementing its reforms forcefully," she added.
That's a view shared by Jörg Asmussen, the German member of the European Central Bank's directorate. "Repeated talk of a debt cut isn't helpful," Asmussen told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. It distracts attention "from what needs to be done under the current program for budget consolidatuon and more growth."
Primary Surplus Doesn't Help Much
Asmussen pointed to a decision taken by the Euro Group, made up of euro-zone finance ministers, last November. "If the country achieves a primary budget surplus on a one-year basis, continues to implement the program fully and the debt level is still too high, the Euro Group will discuss new assistance measures," Asmussen said. He added that the numbers for the current budget year won't be available until spring 2014.
A primary budget surplus refers to the budget before interest payments on debt. In the first seven months of 2013, Athens did in fact acheve a primary surplus and also aims to keep the budget in surplus over the full year. If it does, Athens will have fulfilled a key demand set by its creditors.
But if interest payments are factored in, the Greek budget remains deep in the red. Greece's debt continues to grow because the economy is still shrinking. The Greek government expects the debt level to amount to 173 percent of annual GDP by the end of 2013 -- about just as high as before the country's first debt cut. That's why experts doubt whether Greece will be able to break out of this vicious circle if its creditors don't agree to a further debt reduction.
One suggestion made by the parliamentary group leader of Merkel's conservatives, Volker Kauder, is unlikely to work. Kauder proposed helping Greece with additional monies from the EU structural funds. But an EU task force has already been trying to find projects in Greece that would merit EU structural aid -- and it hasn't found many.
Given this backdrop, Merkel is right to aovid categorically ruling out a debt cut. To be sure, she told Focus that such a move could trigger a "domino effect of uncertainty that could end up with the readiness of private investors to invest in the euro zone going back to zero again."
And it's true that even talking about a new debt cut could cause the bond yields of Greece and the other struggling euro countries to rise again. After all, creditors may demand a risk premium to compensate them for the possibility that they won't get all their money back.
One Way Out: Longer Debt Maturities
But no one is calling for a blanket debt cut for Greece that would also affect private sector investors. Any new cut would primarily hit Greece's sovereign creditors, meaning the other euro-zone member-states. That would mean that for the first time in the euro crisis, German taxpayer money would be irretrievably lost. With Germany in the middle of an election campaign, it's a highly explosive issue.
A face-saving compromise for Greece could involve prolonging the duration of the loans to Greece, or reducing interest payments or even scrapping interest payments if certain conditions are met. That would avoid a formal debt cut, and it would enable Greece's creditors to keep up their pressure on Athens to keep on reforming.
Stournaras, the Greek finance minister, raised this possibility in an interview with German business daily Handelsblatt. The message would be: The money for Greece isn't gone. The Germans just won't be getting it back for the time being.
PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA...
Russia arrests 10 people for commemorating ‘Prague Spring’
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 25, 2013 11:26 EDT
Russian police on Sunday arrested 10 protesters at a rally in Red Square commemorating the anniversary of a famed 1968 demonstration against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia.
On August 25, 1968, eight activists staged a daring protest at the same square after Soviet tanks rolled into the former Czechoslovakia to crush the “Prague Spring” reformist uprising.
Most of the protesters were beaten up, put on trial and sentenced to prison and exile. Others were diagnosed with mental illnesses.
In a move commemorating that protest, a dozen activists including Natalia Gorbanevskaya, who took part in the original rally 45 years ago, gathered to call for greater freedom.
As the Kremlin tower clock chimed noon, the activists unfurled a banner reading “For our and your freedom”, one of the slogans used in 1968, said an AFP photographer.
The same slogan was emblazoned on the back of Gorbanevskaya’s black T-shirt.
Minutes later, most of the activists were detained by police in front of tourists milling around Moscow’s top landmark.
Police confirmed that 10 people had been detained for taking part in an unsanctioned protest. Authorities said they would consider whether to press charges.
Gorbanevskaya was not arrested.
Activists complain of an unprecedented crackdown on freedoms redolent of the Soviet era since Pig Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term last year.
Weeks after his inauguration in May 2012, Pig Putin signed off on a raft of laws that critics have attacked as a bid to quash dissent following huge protests against his 13-year rule.
Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition movement, was last month sentenced to five years in prison on fraud charges which he says is punishment for his political activities.
August 25, 2013
Activist Running for Mayor of Moscow Is Briefly Detained
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
MOSCOW — Aleksei A. Navalny, the Internet activist and improbable opposition candidate in Moscow’s mayoral race, was briefly detained by the police on Sunday night after holding a rally here that attracted several thousand supporters.
A police spokesman told the state news agency, RIA Novosti, that Mr. Navalny had been “invited” to discuss violations in holding the rally, including unauthorized use of amplifiers and blocking access to the area.
Mr. Navalny was addressing a crowd estimated by his campaign to number 5,000 to 7,000 near Sokolniki Park in Moscow when police officers clambered on the stage and escorted him into a bus as supporters chanted, “Navalny, our mayor!”
He was released within an hour. Ten campaign workers were later detained by police officers on misdemeanor charges, including disorderly conduct and public intoxication, the spokesman said.
Mr. Navalny began his campaign for mayor only days before he was convicted last month of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison after a trial that was widely criticized as a political vendetta because of his expansive Internet campaign against the government of President Pig Putin. The next morning, however, he was released pending an appeal of his sentence, and he has since used his tenuous freedom to campaign across the city, challenging the authorities even as he faces new accusations and warnings from election officials.
Mr. Navalny, 37, is by far the most prominent of five candidates challenging Moscow’s mayor, Sergei S. Sobyanin. Though Mr. Sobyanin has the support of the Kremlin and is expected to win, Mr. Navalny’s campaign has injected a measure of drama in the election, to be held on Sept. 8, and has tested the limits of how much political activism Mr. Putin’s government is willing to tolerate.
Even if the campaign’s crowd estimate was exaggerated, the rally on Sunday night was Mr. Navalny’s largest so far. At a news conference last week, his campaign manager, Leonid M. Volkov, said that internal polling suggested that his support had reached 25 percent, perhaps enough to deprive Mr. Sobyanin the required 50 percent of the vote to avoid a second round.
After his detention, Mr. Navalny resumed his prolific postings online, mocking the detention of two campaign aides for walking on the grass. “Everything is normal,” he said.
Tchaikovsky's sexuality 'downplayed' in biopic under Russia's anti-gay law
Makers of Tchaikovsky film reportedly self-censor their portrayal of the composer so as not to fall foul of Russia's new law
Alec Luhn in Moscow
theguardian.com, Sunday 25 August 2013 19.49 BST
Russia's legislation banning "gay propaganda", which has already cast a cloud over the 2014 Sochi Olympics, has now reportedly prompted local filmmakers to self-censor their portrayal of the composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, who is widely believed to have been gay.
A partly government-funded biopic of the composer of Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and the 1812 Overture will downplay his sexuality amid the homophobic political atmosphere in Russia, which passed a law in June banning the "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" among minors.
The film's screenwriter, Yuri Arabov, denied Tchaikovsky had been gay and said his script had been revised to portray the composer as "a person without a family who has been stuck with the opinion that he supposedly loves men" and who suffers over these "rumours", he told the newspaper Izvestiya.
The film's producer, Sabina Yeremeyeva, said it would not run afoul of the law against gay propaganda.
No one has been fined under the federal law, although charges have been filed under similar regional bans that preceded it. However, the revision of the Tchaikovsky script plays into concerns that the law will prompt self-censorship. The vaguely worded legislation includes fines of up to £2,000 for the "imposition of information about non-traditional sexual relations" in the mass media.
Kirill Serebrennikov, a respected filmmaker and the artistic director of the Gogol Theatre in Moscow, announced he would film a Tchaikovsky biopic in August 2012 but told the cinema website KinoPoisk that he was having trouble finding funding due to officials' concerns about the composer's homosexuality. In July, however, the biopic became one of the films the ministry of culture decided to finance after an open competition.
Larisa Malyukova, a film columnist at the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, said that in a version of the script she saw last year, Tchaikovsky suffered over his love for a younger man. Arabov's comments, however, suggested that the portrayal of the composer as gay had been edited out of the script. The Tchaikovsky screenplay went through five revisions, and the final version "has absolutely no homosexuality, it's entirely not about that", Arabov said.
Serebrennikov declined to comment, but Yeremeyeva denied that the five revisions were related to concerns over Tchaikovsky's sexuality. The producer said the controversy over the film's treatment of the composer's orientation was "overblown and made up."
Malyukova suggested that Arabov's comments are a public reaction to the political situation and do not reflect the content of the film.
"You know what kind of ministry of culture we have," she said. "Everyone is being careful, and he's being careful, and rightly so."
The minister of culture, Vladimir Medinsky, said in an interview with the news site Lenta.ru in March that "sexual preferences … shouldn't be shown, shouldn't be discussed, not on television, not in parliament, not at a rally of 500,000 people".
The state plays a major role in financing Russian-made movies, a policy that has generated an abundance of patriotic historical films in recent years. The ministry of culture is funding 30m rubles (£580,000) of the Tchaikovsky film's total budget of 240m rubles, according to Yeremeyeva.
Alexander Poznansky, who has published several books on Tchaikovsky, said "denying that he was a practising homosexual is senseless" based on the writings of the composer and his brother.
"This whole situation [with the film] is another example of the current cultural atmosphere in Russia, which makes the country a laughing stock in the eyes of the educated western public," Poznansky said.
Zurich opens drive-in 'sex boxes'
Swiss city aims to increase safety of sex workers and contain trade with doorless, alarmed buildings in a former industrial area
Associated Press in Zurich
theguardian.com, Monday 26 August 2013 12.13 BST
Switzerland has launched a novel experiment to make prostitution safer: publicly funded drive-in "sex boxes".
The teak-coloured wooden garages will be open for business from Monday for drive-in customers in a country where prostitution has been legal since 1942. The several dozen sex workers who are expected to use them will stand along a short road in a small, circular park where they can negotiate with clients. The park was built in a former industrial area nestled between a rail yard and the fence along a major highway.
The publicly funded facilities – away from the city centre and open all night – include bathrooms, lockers, small cafe tables and a laundry and shower. Men won't have to worry about video surveillance cameras, but the sex workers – who will need a permit and pay a small tax – will have a panic button and on-site social workers trained to look after them.
As far as Daniel Hartmann, a Zurich lawyer, is concerned, it's a win-win situation.
"Safety for the prostitutes. At least, it's a certain kind of a shelter for them. They can do their business, and I respect them," he said. "They do a great job, and they have better working conditions here … They're not exposed to the bosses, to the pimps, in here."
But others are not so sure. Brigitta Hanselmann, a retired special needs schoolteacher from Embrach, north of the city, said: "I have to think about it for a long time, because it's so incredible that a city offers that to the men, and it's interesting that there are many, many women here who are looking at it." She called the sex boxes an effort to control something that you could not really control.
Voters in Zurich approved spending up to SFr2.4m ($2.6m) on the project last year as a way of moving sex traffic away from a busy downtown area where it had become a public nuisance and safety concern because of a lack of sanitation, aggressive men and associated drugs and violence. The city, which only allows prostitution in certain areas, also plans to spend SFr700,000 a year to keep the sex boxes running.
Jean-Marc Hensch, a business executive who heads a neighbourhood association in another part of Zurich, hoped the sex boxes succeeded because otherwise the prostitutes might return to his area. He also cited the lack of sanitation in other city areas where prostitutes and their clients defecated and urinated in the streets and in gardens, or had sex in the open because they had nowhere else to go.
"It's an experiment," he said, of the sex boxes. "It was absolutely urgent to find a solution."
The drive-in sheds have no doors to shut and come equipped with an emergency call button on the passenger side of the structure that sets off a flashing light and an alarm inside an adjacent office building where the city will post social workers specially trained to provide a measure of security. The Zurich police say they will beef up patrols around the perimeter to protect the sex workers when they leave and enter.
Modelled after the drive-in brothels used in several cities in Germany and the Netherlands, which have had mixed success improving safety, the sex boxes will be open daily from 7pm to 5am. The city has painted the outdoor bathrooms in soft pink and blue, strung colourful light bulbs among the trees and posted creative signs encouraging the use of condoms to spruce the place up a little and make it seem more pleasant.
"We built the place to be secure for the sex workers. It also had to be discreet for the sex workers and the clientele," said Michael Herzig, of Zurich's social welfare department. "But we thought if we build the place, we can also make it look good."
Zurich requires that street sex workers register with city and health authorities, and it offers health checks and requires that sex workers be at least 18 years old, in keeping with a Council of Europe convention on protecting children from exploitation and abuse.
In Switzerland, anyone who works in the sex trade must be at least 16, the legal age of sexual maturity. The income is taxed and subject to social insurance like any other economic activity.
No video surveillance was installed at the sex boxes, so as not to scare off business, but also because police and city officials concluded after studying the handful of other such facilities in Europe that the only thing that would improve safety is an on-site security presence. To use the place, sex workers also must obtain a special permit, at a cost of 40 Swiss francs ($43) a year, and pay 5 francs ($5.40) a night in taxes, which helps the city offset maintenance costs.
"We can't solve the whole problem of exploitation and human trafficking," said Herzig, "but at least we want to reduce the harm, especially the violence."
August 26, 2013
Macedonia Overcomes Political Impasse, Averts Election
SKOPJE — Macedonia's government and opposition on Monday resolved a row over responsibility for a parliamentary brawl that had threatened to trigger a snap election and further damage the country's attempt to start European Union membership talks.
Setting aside their differences, both sides signed up to a report drafted by an ad hoc commission tasked with investigating the incident in December when opposition legislators were ejected from parliament for brawling.
Though largely inconclusive, the report nevertheless appears to apportion most of the blame to the government. Conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski threatened on Saturday to force an election two years ahead of schedule rather than sign up to the findings, but backed down on Sunday.
"We decided that, in the interests of the state, and even if it costs us, we will vote and sign the commission's report the way the opposition wants," Gruevski said late on Sunday.
Government and opposition representatives on the committee inked the report on Monday.
"I'm happy that the interest of the citizens was put above the parties," said commission president Borce Davidkovski, who was nominated to the post by the opposition. "The hard work is finished and I would like to thank the European Union expert who gave everything for this report to be final."
The commission was formed under EU pressure, after the row triggered an opposition boycott of parliament and threatened to undermine a local election. It was aided in its work by an EU official.
The EU at the time warned the impasse was further undermining the former Yugoslav republic's chances of starting talks on joining the bloc. The accession bid is already hostage to a two-decade dispute with neighboring EU member Greece over Macedonia's name, which it shares with a northern Greek province.
Macedonia was made an official candidate for membership in 2005, just four years after pulling back from the brink of civil war during clashes between government security forces and an ethnic Albanian guerrilla army.
(Editing by Matt Robinson and Alison Williams)
India's economic downturn leaves middle classes fearing the worst
Price rises, the falling rupee and a huge balance of payments deficit have prompted predictions of a full-blown economic crisis
Maseeh Rahman in Delhi
theguardian.com, Sunday 25 August 2013 14.05 BST
In a small house in the Indian capital, a musician was doing the maths. During the good months, when his deft accompaniments to classical or popular vocalists are in demand, sarangi player Ghulam Ali can make as much as R50,000 (£500). The problem for Ali is that he's not sure there will be many good months in the near future.
"Those like us without a regular monthly income are the worst hit," he said, referring to the sudden downturn in the Indian economy that has analysts whispering about a possible full-blown crisis. "For a musician, it means fewer concerts even as everything has become more expensive – food, transport, electricity, cooking gas, even foreign travel. We artists like to eat and dress well, so for my family it means fewer outings, less money for the children's education, fewer acquisitions. No question now, for instance, of buying a computer for my kids."
Ali and his wife, Rozitaskeen, have two daughters and a son, aged 12, 10 and six, and they share a small house with Ali's three younger brothers, their families and his parents. The family is fairly typically middle class, but as a freelance musician Ali also belongs to the overwhelming majority of Indians (estimated at three-quarters of the working-age population) who do not have steady, full-time employment.
These people are the most vulnerable as India flirts with its biggest financial wobble for perhaps 20 years. Not since economic liberalisation unleashed private enterprise in the 1990s has there been such concern.
After the 2008 world economic crisis India recorded 9% GDP growth for at least two years but in recent weeks the rupee has tumbled, losing a sixth of its value against the dollar this month alone. Share prices have fallen, commodity prices are rising, investment is stalling, growth is slowing, and the government is staring at a huge balance of payments deficit. A sense of impending doom is building. Compounding the fears are signs that other emerging economies in Asia are also vulnerable, drawing inevitable questions as to whether this could turn into a repeat of the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
"It is a crisis," said economist Jayati Ghosh. "This is the big one. But it has been building up for a while due to many reasons: the growing current account deficit, the industrial slowdown, the lack of infrastructure development, the negative investment in the economy."
She sees the crisis as evidence that "the model of development which focuses only on GDP growth" has run its course. What is needed now is "wage and employment-led growth".
Other experts trace the problem to the failure of Manmohan Singh's government to push through structural reforms that could boost growth. The ruling Congress party's emphasis on huge government subsidy schemes, such as jobs for the rural poor, has added to an already high fiscal deficit.
"Just trying to accelerate growth from the present low level [annual GDP growth is now down to 5%] will help the economy," said economist Surjit Bhalla.
India imports much more than it exports, and so the current account deficit is at an unsustainable 4.8% of GDP. Until it is brought down, there can be very little hope of reviving investor confidence in the economy.
Gold has played an important role in skewing the trade deficit. A century ago, the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that India's irrational love for gold was "ruinous to her economic development", and the obsession still runs deep. India's annual production of gold is barely 10 tonnes, so last year it imported 860 tonnes, which were made into jewellery or stored as coins and bars in family safes.
The government is now trying to stem the hunger for gold by increasing import duties. This has revived gold smuggling, a menace which in the 1960s led to the creation of the Mumbai underworld.
Jewellers are pushing for a more imaginative solution. It is estimated that households and Hindu temples are hoarding around 25,000 tonnes of gold bars and coins. Jewellers are lobbying government to implement a scheme that could unearth 10% of the treasure.
"It will meet the demand for jewellery for the next three years," said Vikas Chudasama, the secretary general of the All India Gems and Jewellery Association.
Economists and corporate bigwigs hope Singh's government comes up with other such solutions for resolving the economic crisis. The finance minister, Palaniappan Chidambaram, has tried to revive confidence by promising action, but major reforms have yet to be announced.
On the upside, this year's monsoon will lead to bumper agricultural production, and the cheaper rupee also comes with a thick silver lining. There will a surge in exports, especially in sectors such as information technology and pharmaceuticals, where India is a strong performer.
There is growing anxiety about the future, but India's middle class may not have lost faith yet in the possibility of economic regeneration. "I cannot see things improving soon," Ali said. "But I feel good days will come again."
Fresh religious unrest breaks out in Myanmar
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 25, 2013 15:22 EDT
About 1,000 anti-Muslim rioters burned shops and homes in a fresh outbreak of communal unrest in Myanmar, officials said Sunday, as the former army-ruled nation grapples with spreading religious violence.
Police fired warning shots on three occasions as a mob tried to set property ablaze and attacked fire engines that were attempting to put out fires in a village at Kanbalu, in the central region of Sagaing, according to a statement on the Ministry of Information website.
“The local security forces stepped in to stop a group of approximately 1,000 people as they tried to torch a house. But the crowd kept shooting with slingshots and the situation became uncontrollable,” the statement said.
The unrest erupted after a Muslim man was arrested on suspicion of attempting to rape a Buddhist woman on Saturday evening, it said.
A crowd of about 150 people and three Buddhist monks gathered at the police station demanding that the accused be handed over to them.
When the authorities refused, the mob attacked Muslim property in the area and the crowd grew in size and ferocity as the night went on.
Attacks against Muslims — who make up at least four percent of the population — have exposed deep rifts in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, casting a shadow over widely praised political reforms since military rule ended in 2011.
The latest violence is the first anti-Muslim incident reported in Sagaing amid signs that the unrest is continuing to widen.
It began in the far west of Myanmar last year and has erupted in areas across the country since bloody riots in the central town of Meiktila killed dozens in March.
Last week watchdog Physicians for Human Rights said Myanmar risked “catastrophic” levels of conflict with “potential crimes against humanity and/or genocide” if authorities failed to stem anti-Muslim hate speech and a culture of impunity around the clashes.
Rights groups have accused authorities of being unable or unwilling to contain the unrest, which has left about 250 people dead and more than 140,000 homeless. Myanmar has rejected the claims.
Many of the incidents have featured retaliatory violence against Muslim communities in response to accusations of seemingly isolated criminal acts.
A regional police official, who asked not to be named, said the latest conflict broke out after the Muslim suspect allegedly approached a 25-year-old woman, “grabbed her hand and attempted to rape her”.
No injuries have been reported in the violence, but the ministry statement said at least 20 homes were destroyed as well as over a dozen shops and a local rice mill.
Ten fire engines battled the blazes and the ministry said security had been stepped up since early Sunday “to restore peace there”.
Radical Buddhist monk Wirathu, who has been accused of stoking the unrest with anti-Muslim and nationalist speeches, posted a message about the incident on his Facebook page.
Using the term “kalar” — a highly derogatory word — he blamed Muslims in general for the unrest.
“Kalars are troublemakers. When a kalar is there, the problem will be there. If every time a kalar made trouble and people responded with violence, both Buddhists and Buddhism will be harmed,” he said.
Two outbreaks of conflict in the western state of Rakhine in June and October last year left about 200 people dead, mainly Rohingya Muslims who are seen by many in Myanmar as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
In March sectarian strife in Meiktila killed at least 44 people — although many observers fear the toll was much higher — and thousands of homes were set ablaze.
The UN’s rights envoy on Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, last week slammed the government for allowing an angry crowd to surround his car and beat on the windows during a visit to Meiktila.
He said the incident gave him an “insight into the fear residents would have felt when being chased down by violent mobs”. Myanmar has said the envoy was not in danger.
August 25, 2013
Well-Mannered Thai Party Throws Down Its Gloves in Government Protests
By THOMAS FULLER
BANGKOK — Booming loudspeakers, crowds of cheering protesters and the riot police on alert — after a relative lull of more than two years, politics is back on the streets in Thailand.
Thousands of demonstrators cheered in a vacant lot here on Saturday as speakers threatened to “overthrow” the government. But unlike in previous years, this time the protesters were members of Thailand’s oldest political party, the Democrat Party, which has long had a reputation as the staid, well-mannered and intellectual voice of the Bangkok establishment and has been firmly dedicated to resolving differences inside Parliament, where the Democrats lead the opposition.
The threats by some of the Democrats’ leaders to lead large-scale street demonstrations in the style of the Arab Spring — stunning to many Thais because it seems so out of character for the party — underlines the persistence of divisions in Thailand and raises the prospect of a return to the political turmoil that left more than 90 people dead on the streets of Bangkok in 2010.
“We are gathering up the masses, people left behind by this government,” Sathit Wongnongtoey, a Democrat Party member of Parliament, told the crowd on Saturday in front of a backdrop with a huge clenched fist. “We will rise up and fight.”
The acrimony between the Democrats and the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra centers on a number of legislative issues, chiefly an effort by the government to pass an amnesty law for those involved in the 2010 protests. The Democrats oppose the bill, saying it might also apply to those who insulted the monarchy or committed serious crimes.
But the broader conflict appears to stem from the Democrats’ feeling of powerlessness in the face of the resurgence of Thaksin Shinawatra, Ms. Yingluck’s older brother, who sets the broad policy lines for the government and the Pheu Thai Party despite living abroad since 2008 in self-imposed exile to escape corruption charges.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, a former prime minister who leads the Democrats, has been under relentless pressure since losing parliamentary elections two years ago. He was charged with murder in December in the deaths of protesters in 2010, when he was prime minister.
Mr. Abhisit, who was born in Britain and educated at Oxford, has been criticized for being unable to connect with rural voters. The formal language and academic bearing favored by the Democrats won over some Bangkok voters, but the party has been trounced in the rice-growing northeastern part of the country, where one-third of the electorate lives.
“The image of this party in the past has been that of a very good and elegant performer, like Maradona on the soccer field,” said Sombat Boonngamanong, a political activist, referring to the fleet-footed Argentine athlete. “Now they want to play street soccer.”
At Saturday’s rally, Mr. Abhisit’s speech was earthy and markedly more aggressive than his previous remarks. Other party leaders used coarse language to criticize the government, and the crowd repeatedly called for Ms. Yingluck’s ouster with a vulgar chant.
On Sunday, Ms. Yingluck held a meeting to call for national reconciliation, an effort the Democrats have refused to join.
Even inside Parliament, the Democrats have sought to portray themselves as street fighters, with one lawmaker shoving a security guard during a ruckus that a Thai newspaper described as a “disgrace.”
“We want to awaken the masses,” said Nipit Intarasombut, a lawmaker who leads the Democrats’ radical faction that advocates aggressive street demonstrations.
“It’s a new era for the party,” he said. “People today are fearful. But once we can mobilize hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, the fear will disappear.”
It is unclear whether the Democrats’ supporters, especially Bangkok’s affluent voters, will put up with the discomforts of prolonged demonstrations. Punishing heat and drenching rains have tested previous protesters.
At the rally on Saturday, one of a series held this month in Bangkok, the Democrats’ supporters said they were committed to opposing the government, but seemed sheepish when asked whether they were ready for sustained street protests.
“We would have to see if it’s convenient,” said Pongporn Chaicharus, a financial planner at a Bangkok hospital. His partner, Tiparpa Aimsaby, who sells computer software, also looked uncertain. “If it’s not convenient, we could watch it from home,” she said.
In a country with a history of military coups and other democratic disruptions, the Democrat Party for years lived by the mantra “I believe in the parliamentary system,” the words of Chuan Leekpai, a former prime minister who is now the party’s elder statesman.
Some in the party say it is a mistake to abandon that principle. Alongkorn Ponlaboot, a veteran lawmaker, calls the protest strategy “destructive democracy.”
“We will not win people over with mob democracy,” Mr. Alongkorn said. “It will cause indefinite divisions.”
What the party needs, Mr. Alongkorn said, is a wholesale restructuring, including a system of primaries to choose candidates. The party should focus on bread-and-butter issues at a time when the Thai economy and others in the region are faltering, he said.
Data released this month showed that Thailand had entered a mild recession.
Others have raised questions about how much support the Democrats can mobilize outside the party for their protests. Mr. Sombat, the activist who is a former protest leader for the “red shirts,” a movement that helped propel the Yingluck government to power, said the Democrats were misreading the national mood.
“The society is not ready to spill out into the streets,” he said.
In a sign that he might be right, the leadership of the “yellow shirts,” another once-prominent protest movement, resigned Friday.
“We have been through that and learned it’s tiring and expensive,” Mr. Sombat said of street protests. “No one wins. We can’t do this anymore. It’s not the way out of the problem.”
Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting.
Bo Xilai reveals wife's affair with deputy as trial comes to an end
Disgraced party boss denies bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in closing statement attacking prosecution witnesses
Jonathan Kaiman in Jinan
theguardian.com, Monday 26 August 2013 09.04 BST
Fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai detailed an illicit relationship between his former second-in-command and his wife as China's biggest political trial in three decades came to a close on Monday morning.
As Bo's trial entered its fifth and final day in Jinan, Shandong province, the 64-year-old former Communist party boss strongly denied charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power in a closing statement riddled with stinging attacks on the prosecution's witnesses.
The trial, originally expected to be a staid affair, has taken a personal turn, exposing severe dysfunction within Bo's family and detailing the complicated tangle of allegiances and licentious affairs that led to his downfall.
Bo "refused to confess and must receive a harsh punishment", the prosecution said in its closing statement, according to court transcripts posted online. "We remind the defendant, Bo Xilai: the facts of the crimes are objective, they cannot be changed according to your subjective wishes."
While the courtroom has been off-limits to the foreign press, the court has been publicising the case by posting transcripts of proceedings to its official microblog.
Bo's downfall was set in motion in November 2011 when his wife Gu Kailai murdered British businessman Neil Heywood in the south-western metropolis of Chongqing, where Bo was Communist party chief. On Sunday, Bo and Wang offered conflicting accounts of a confrontation between the two on 29 January 2012, after Bo was informed of the murder.
Wang said Bo, in attempting to cover up his investigation into the case, cornered Wang in his office and punched him in the face. Wang, feeling that his life was in danger, fled to the US consulate in a neighbouring city.
In court, Bo said Wang's defection was motivated by an affair that he had been having with Gu. "He was consumed with these feelings and couldn't control himself," Bo said. "He knows my personality. He invaded my family, invaded my basic emotions. This is the real reason he defected."
Bo was accused of stripping Wang of his post as Chongqing's police chief and deputy mayor in 2012 without the approval of higher authorities, as well as fabricating medical records to demonstrate Wang was insane.
Bo maintained that he thought Wang had framed his wife, and that he sacked the police chief because of "five, six issues" unrelated to the murder, including suspicions that Wang was mentally unstable.
Last year, Wang was sentenced to 15 years in prison for charges including abuse of power, defection and taking bribes. Gu is serving a suspended death sentence for intentional homicide.
The trial's verdict will be released at a later date, state media announced.
Bo claimed that he had previously confessed to his crimes in written testimony under pressure from party authorities, and that the prosecution's evidence failed to prove that he had committed any crimes. "The investigators have worked hard and collected more than 90 volumes of evidence. But how much has anything to do with me?" he said on Monday.
"There was hope in my heart that I could preserve my party membership and my life in politics," he added.
Bo said he had "no knowledge" of the financial relationship between his wife and Xu Ming, a business tycoon based in Dalian, where Bo was mayor in the 1990s. Bo was accused of accepting 20.7m yuan (£2.2m) in bribes from Xu between 2000 and 2012. The prosecution claimed that Xu had bought Gu and the couple's son Bo Guagua expensive gifts including designer watches and luxurious trips abroad.
Bo said he had rejected a life of material excess. "My winter trousers were bought by my mother in the 60s," he said.
He also recalled his cross-examination of Xu on Thursday, a dramatic interlude in which he forced the businessman to admit that Bo had no knowledge of the financial transactions. "I asked Xu Ming 30 questions, and he answered no, no, no, no," Bo said.
Bo has mounted a spirited defence over the past five days, displaying in full force the charisma that rocketed him to the top of the Communist party elite. But analysts say that he has been careful not to overstep his boundaries by criticising party leadership or drawing attention to the political infighting that fuelled his fall from grace.
As such, analysts say, top authorities have tacitly approved Bo's defiant performance.
"Chinese authorities certainly want to use the trial to end Bo Xilai's political career without touching on the inner party struggles, his challenge to the leadership," said Joseph Cheng, an expert on Chinese politics at the City University of Hong Kong. "And certainly Bo Xilai accepts this framework."
Syria crisis: 'very little doubt' chemical weapon was used, US official says
US intelligence assessment to the White House comes as Obama debates options over military intervention in civil war
theguardian.com, Sunday 25 August 2013 14.30 BST
A senior US administration official said there is "very little doubt" that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in an incident that killed at least a hundred people last week.
The official said on Sunday that the US intelligence community based its assessment given to the White House on "the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, and witness accounts". The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.
The statements came a day after President Barack Obama met his top military and national security advisers to debate options. US defense officials, meanwhile, have repositioned naval forces in the Mediterranean to give Obama the option for a missile strike on Assad's regime, which has been backed by Russia and China.
US secretary of defense Chuck Hagel offered no hints Sunday about likely US response, telling reporters traveling with him in Malaysia that the Obama administration is still assessing intelligence information about the deadly attack.
"When we have more information, that answer will become clear," he said when a reporter asked whether it was a matter of when, not if, the US will take military action against Syria.
Syria said any military action would be "no picnic".
"US military intervention will create a very serious fallout and a ball of fire that will inflame the Middle East," Syrian information minister Omran Zoabi was quoted by state news agency SANA as saying to Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen TV.
Obama has been reluctant to intervene in Syria's civil war, but reports of the killings near Damascus have put pressure on the White House to make good on the president's comment a year ago that chemical weapons would be a "red line" for the US.
President Bashar al-Assad's closest ally Iran also said Washington should not cross the "red line" on Syria, where doctors accused his forces of a poison gas attack that killed hundreds last week.
Syrian opposition accounts that between 500 and well over 1,000 civilians were killed this week by gas in munitions fired by pro-government forces, and video footage of victims' bodies, have stoked demands abroad for a robust, US-led response after 2-1/2 years of international inaction on Syria's conflict.
A Reuters Ipsos poll released Sunday found Americans strongly oppose US intervention in Syria's civil war and believe Washington should stay out of the conflict even if the chemical weapons claims are confirmed.
About 60% of Americans surveyed said the United States should not intervene in Syria's civil war, while just 9% thought Obama should act.
More Americans would back intervention if it is established that chemical weapons have been used, but even that support has dipped in recent days – just as Syria's civil war has escalated and the images of hundreds of civilians allegedly killed by chemicals appeared on television screens and the Internet.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll, taken August 19-23, found that 25% of Americans would support US intervention if al-Assad's forces used chemicals to attack civilians, while 46% would oppose it. That represented a decline in backing for US action since August 13, when Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls found that 30.2% of Americans supported intervention in Syria if chemicals had been used, while 41.6% did not.
Taken together, the polls suggest that so far, the growing crisis in Syria, and the emotionally wrenching pictures from an alleged chemical attack in a Damascus suburb last week, may actually be hardening many Americans' resolve not to get involved in another conflict in the Middle East.
The results – and Reuters/Ipsos polling on the use-of-chemicals question since early June – suggest that if Obama decides to undertake military action against Assad's regime, he will do so in the face of steady opposition from an American public wary after more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some foreign and US officials – notably Republican senator John McCain, whom Obama defeated for the presidency in 2008 – have called Obama too hesitant in deciding whether to act in Syria.
Chemical war could draw Obama into military intervention in Syria
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, August 25, 2013 10:07 EDT
Signs are growing that the horror of chemical warfare could for the first time draw the United States into a direct military intervention in Syria’s vicious civil war.
The US military and diplomatic machine is slowly stirring, after pictures of children apparently choked on poisonous gas shocked the world last week.
President Barack Obama is facing another test of a legacy doctrine rooted in avoiding Middle Eastern quagmires.
Syria touches a perennial question of whether humanitarian impulses or narrow national interest should define US foreign policy. The crisis is intensifying as Obama is wrestling with how to respond to a coup in Egypt.
The president held a rare Saturday meeting with top aides including Vice President Joe Biden, his secretaries of defense and state, intelligence chiefs and senior brass to discuss the US response.
Then he called British Prime Minister David Cameron — hinting at an effort to frame an international coalition for action.
It is unclear whether Obama is leaning towards a military strike if the use of chemical arms by Assad’s troops, which would infringe a “red line” he established last year, is proven
It is possible that US diplomatic and military activity in recent days could be simply designed to build pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has resisted all US demands to quit power.
But the administration appears to be taking steps that would be expected to precede a decision to target Syrian units eventually implicated in the attack outside Damascus.
The Pentagon is positioning forces, including ships equipped with cruise missiles, closer to Syria while Obama aides examine the Kosovo conflict for legal precedents for action without a UN mandate, which Russia would surely block.
Secretary of State John Kerry has also been burning up phone lines, talking to US allies in Europe and the Middle East.
Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University foreign policy historian, believes Obama is yet to sign off on military force.
But he said the administration clearly “feels pressure to do something, or to look like it is preparing to respond, for political reasons, (and to show Syria) that there are boundaries to what is permissible.”
Obama aides caution that no decisions have been finalized, and want definitive proof that Syrian forces strafed a rebel-held Damascus suburb with chemical arms and killed 1,300 people.
But the White House offered credence to the reports in a statement on Saturday’s meeting, noting “contemporaneous witness accounts and (a) record of the symptoms of those killed.”
Simply by being seen to marshall the US response, Obama is raising the stakes.
“There is a sense in Washington that this is new territory and they will take some sort of action,” said Barry Pavel, a former senior defense and national security official in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.
But if robust action does not materialize after Washington pumped its muscles, the administration risks tarnishing its credibility, said Pavel, now with the Atlantic Council.
Obama’s personal reputation is also in play, after he said last year the widespread use in Syria of chemical weapons would cross a US red line.
US foes in Iran, China and North Korea are watching to see whether defying the US president entails a price.
Obama responded to previous small scale chemical weapons use in Syria by promising direct aid to rebel groups.
But he called the chemical attack a “big event,” raising the stakes for himself. A US intelligence finding that the Assad regime was indeed to blame would put Obama in a tough political spot.
Officials have only spoken in broad terms about possible military options.
Any strike would have to be strong enough to deter reprisals by Assad’s military, but sufficiently limited to avoid pulling Washington further into the war.
Hussein Ibish, a Middle East analyst with the American Task Force on Palestine, believes military action is possible.
“It seems to me the minimum action we would expect is a limited cruise missile attack on some chemical weapons-related sites.
“It could include disruption of facilities that are useful to the regime.”
Whatever happens, Obama wants to be remembered as a president who ended US wars, not one who opened new fronts.
Officials say there is no talk of a no-fly zone in Syria, And there are also signs the administration is concerned about framing a legal rationale for any action.
One blueprint could be the coalition, including European and Gulf states, that went to war in Libya to protect civilians.
That scenario would lack the United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya — which Russia did not block, only later to conclude it had been duped into regime change.
Obama must also consider what would happen if military action went wrong, including the danger of civilian casualties. Domestic politics also cannot be ignored.
Obama would likely argue that limited action against Syria would fall short of the scale of operation requiring a formal authorization of war for Congress.
Military response to chemical weapons attack from West on table despite decision to allow inspectors in
By The Guardian
Sunday, August 25, 2013 21:58 EDT
by Martin Chulov in Beirut
Syria appears to have bowed to international pressure to allow UN investigators to travel to the scene of last week’s chemical weapons attack in Damascus, allowing a forensic science team to visit the site today.
The green light for the UN inspection came almost five days after the attack and was immediately greeted with scepticism by western leaders and chemical weapons experts, who say it may now be too late for inspectors to gather useful scientific results. An American official told reporters the move was “too late to be credible”.
The US, Britain and France have been warning of a “serious response” to the attack, and their rhetoric has been intensifying.
David Cameron is pushing for military action and government sources said the UK and allies were considering a range of options, including air strikes, the imposition of a no-fly zone and arming the rebels in Syria. Air strikes were seen as the most likely response.
The prime minister is understood to be pressing for a response within a week or so. Any bombardment would be direct retaliation for the use of chemical weapons and not intended as a wider intervention in the Syrian conflict. The use of ground troops – “boots on the ground”, in Whitehall parlance – has been ruled out by Britain.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, said it was “clear it was the Assad regime” that had carried out the attack.
Tehran and Damascus warned yesterday against any form of western response, which Syrian state television said would turn the region into a “ball of flame”.
Downplaying the significance of Syria’s decision to let UN weapons inspectors visit the site of the attack, Hague said all the evidence suggested the regime was to blame and inspectors would have been admitted last week if Damascus had nothing to hide. “We cannot, in the 21st century, allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity, that people can be killed in this way and that there are no consequences for it,” Hague said.
Government sources insisted that Britain would only act in a lawful way, but the government does not believe that necessarily requires a UN security council resolution. Intervention could be justified legally on humanitarian grounds or under international law relating to chemical weapons.
General Sir Nick Houghton, the chief of the defence staff, will be discussing the military options with fellow defence chiefs, including the most senior US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, at a summit in Amman, Jordan today.
Russia warned the US against repeating past mistakes, saying unilateral military action in Syria would undermine efforts for peace and have a devastating impact on the security situation in the Middle East.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the UK’s Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, said he remained sceptical about what the UN team could achieve in such an insecure area.
“Evidence about the delivery [of the gas] will be key to determining who perpetrated this massacre,” he said. “Although much of the rocketry has been moved around since it landed, it is likely to provide important clues.”
Activists and residents in the three areas targeted by the attack have gathered the remnants of numerous distinctively shaped rockets which are believed to have contained the neurotoxins.
Many of the rockets are relatively intact, though their noses were buried deep in soil or bitumen, suggesting that they dispersed the chemicals above ground and did not explode on impact.
The affected areas have been bombed repeatedly over the past three days, with Syrian officials announcing they were continuing an advance into the rebel-held east of Damascus, an assault which started around the same time as residents first complained of exposure to a noxious gas.
De Bretton-Gordon said the large amount of nerve gas dropped and the tactics used pointed to Bashar al-Assad’s regime being responsible. He said scientists could still be able to determine the nerve agent used.
“Realistically, only the regime has access to that amount of agent,” he said. “This appears to have been a very well-planned operation, from the conventional bombardment before to break all the doors and windows to allow the gas to move freely, to the use of 20 or so rockets [to deliver the gas] and then the army following up. It is a textbook operation.”
Cameron spent much of the weekend on the phone to world leaders, including Barack Obama, the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, and the French president, François Hollande. A call to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was also scheduled.
Cameron and Hollande “agreed that a chemical weapons attack against the Syrian people on the scale that was emerging demanded a firm response from the international community”, a No 10 spokesman said. “This crime must not be swept under the carpet.”
Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said he would call for a recall of parliament to discuss the crisis. Several Conservative MPs had earlier requested such a move.
“If, in reality, the prime minister is now considering military options involving UK personnel, then of course I would expect him to seek a recall of parliament and to come to the House of Commons and make his case in advance of a decision being made,” Alexander said. No 10 said it had not ruled out a recall.
The UN said Syrian officials had offered the necessary co-operation, including a cessation of hostilities in the area where the attack happened. The promise appeared to have been obtained by the high representative for disarmament affairs, Angela Kane, during meetings with senior Assad officials over the weekend.
Additional reporting by Rory Carroll
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Snipers in Syria shoot at UN chemical inspectors: spokesman
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 26, 2013 7:55 EDT
Snipers shot at a UN team set to inspect the site of a suspected deadly chemical weapons attack on Monday, further ratcheting up tensions as the West warned of possible military action against Damascus.
A defiant Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared that any strike by the US and its allies would be doomed to failure and key ally Moscow said it could have dangerous consequences for the entire region.
A UN spokesman said unidentified snipers shot at the UN experts looking into allegations of a chemical attack near Damascus last week that the Syrian opposition claimed killed hundreds of civilians.
The attack forced them to suspend their inspection but no injuries were reported, said spokesman Martin Nesirky.
“The first vehicle of the chemical weapons investigation team was deliberately shot at multiple times by unidentified snipers,” he said.
The attack came as the West appeared to be moving closer to launching a military response over last Wednesday’s attack near Damascus, which shocked the world after grisly pictures emerged of dead children with horrific injuries.
Britain said the West could act even without full UN Security Council backing, with China and Moscow likely to boycott any resolution backing a military strike.
Washington and its allies have pointed the finger of blame at Assad’s regime for the alleged attack, the latest atrocity in a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people since March 2011.
Assad, in an interview with a Russian newspaper published Monday, angrily denied the accusations as an “insult to common sense” and said any military action was doomed to failure.
“The United States faces failure just like in all the previous wars they waged,” he said.
A senior Syrian security official told AFP the regime was ready to face “all scenarios”.
“Western threats of strikes against Syria are part of the psychological and political pressure against Syria, but in any case we are ready to face all scenarios,” the official said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned his US counterpart John Kerry of the “extremely dangerous consequences of a possible new military intervention for the whole Middle East and North Africa region”.
Syrian authorities had approved the UN inspection of the site in Ghouta east of Damascus on Sunday, but US officials said it was too little, too late, arguing that persistent shelling there in recent days had “corrupted” the site.
Mortar shells also hit a mosque in the centre of Damascus on Monday, the Syrian news agency SANA said, blaming “terrorists”, its term for rebel fighters.
The international community has long been divided over how to respond to the conflict, with Russia and China repeatedly blocking UN Security Council resolutions.
The latest allegations have driven a new wedge between Russia and the West, with Moscow saying the suspected attack was a rebel ploy to discredit the Assad regime. China has backed a UN investigation into the charges, but urged a “cautious” response.
US President Barack Obama has been loath to order US military action to protect civilians in Syria, fearing being drawn into a vicious civil war, soon after he extracted US troops from Iraq.
But revulsion over video footage and gruesome photographs of dead children blanketing the world’s media has seen mounting pressure on the international community.
“Is it possible to respond to chemical weapons without complete unity on the UN Security Council? I would argue yes,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC, refusing to rule out a military strike this week.
France said the West would decide in the coming days on a response.
“The only option that I do not envisage is to do nothing,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on French radio.
Turkey — a vehement opponent of the Assad regime — said it would join an international coalition against Syria even if the Security Council fails to reach consensus on the issue, while Germany said there would have to be “consequences” for the regime if the accusations against it are confirmed.
US officials said that Obama, who had said a year ago that the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces was a “red line” that could trigger Western intervention, would make an “informed decision” about how to respond.
Experts believe the most likely US action would see sea-launched cruise missiles target Syrian military installations and artillery batteries deemed complicit in the chemical weapons attack.
Weapons fired from US planes outside the country could also be used, to minimise the risk to US or allied pilots from Syrian air defences.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said commanders had prepared a range of military options and were positioning their forces for “whatever the president might choose.”
He did not elaborate, but a defence official said the US Navy would expand its presence in the Mediterranean with a fourth warship armed with cruise missiles.
Washington would likely seek to act with a broad coalition of European and Gulf allies as Russia is seen as sure to veto any attempt to mandate action against its ally.
Senior military officers from Western and Muslim countries, including the US chief of staff — were also gathered in Jordan Monday to discuss the regional impact of the war.
Syria’s opposition says more than 1,300 people died when toxic gases were unleashed last Wednesday. Doctors Without Borders said 355 people had died of “neurotoxic” symptoms in the affected areas.
If confirmed, the attack would mark the deadliest use of chemical agents since Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein gassed Iranian troops and Kurdish rebels in the 1980s.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Monday there was no time to waste in probing the allegations.
Assad warns failure awaits US military intervention in Syria
President says chemical weapons allegations are politically motivated and all US wars since Vietnam have ended badly
Reuters in Moscow
theguardian.com, Monday 26 August 2013 08.58 BST
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has dismissed as politically motivated western allegations that he used chemical weapons and warned Washington that any US military intervention would fail, in an interview published in a Russian newspaper on Monday.
"Failure awaits the United States as in all previous wars it has unleashed, starting with Vietnam and up to the present day," he told the Izvestia daily when asked what would happen if Washington decided to strike or invade Syria.
Assad said Syrian government forces had been close to where rebel forces say chemical weapons were used last week during the country's more than two-year-old civil war.
"Would any state use chemical or any other weapons of mass destruction in a place where its own forces are concentrated? That would go against elementary logic," Assad told Izvestia, a pro-Kremlin newspaper.
Russia has been Assad's most important international ally throughout the civil war, supplying his troops with arms and resisting pressure at the UN for tighter sanctions on Damascus.
Asked about the arms deliveries, Assad said: "I want to say that all contracts that have been concluded with Russia are being fulfilled."
He gave no details and did not say whether Damascus had taken delivery of advanced S-300 sir defence systems from Russia that could vastly improve its defence capabilities.
Russia has expressed its concern to Washington that the US will respond militarily and urged restraint, Russia's foreign ministry said on Monday.
Referring to a phone conversation between the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the US secretary of state, John Kerry, on Sunday, the ministry said Moscow had urged Washington to refrain from falling for "provocations".
"[Lavrov] stressed that the official announcements from Washington in recent days about the readiness of US armed forces to 'intervene' in the Syrian conflict have been received in Moscow with deep concern," the ministry said in a statement.
In other diplomatic moves, Turkey said it would join any international coalition against Syria even if a wider consensus on action could not be reached at the UN security council, the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, was quoted as saying on Monday.
"We always prioritise acting together with the international community, with United Nations decisions. If such a decision doesn't emerge from the UN security council, other alternatives ... would come on to the agenda," Davutoglu told the Milliyet daily.
"Currently 36 to 37 countries are discussing these alternatives. If a coalition is formed against Syria in this process, Turkey would take its place in this coalition."
France's foreign minister said on Monday no decision had been made yet on whether to take military action, but that all options were on the table.
"The decision has not been taken," Laurent Fabius told Europe 1 radio. "There has to be a proportional reaction ... and that will be decided in the coming days.
"All options are envisaged. The only one that is not on the table is to not do anything."
US remarks that Syria's agreement to allow the UN to inspect the site of the suspected chemical weapons attack was "too late to be credible" appeared to signal a military response was more likely.
A senior senator said he believed President Barack Obama would ask for authorisation to use force when Congress returned from recess next month.
But Russia has suggested rebels may have been behind the alleged chemical weapons attack.
"In connection with this, the Russian side calls for [Washington to] refrain from the threat of force on Damascus, to not fall for provocations and to try to help create normal conditions to give the UN chemical experts' mission, which is already in the country, the possibility of conducting a thorough, objective and impartial investigation," the foreign ministry statement said.
August 26, 2013
Israeli Raid on Palestinian Camp Turns Deadly
By ISABEL KERSHNER and SAID GHAZALI
JERUSALEM — Israeli security forces shot and killed three Palestinian men early Monday when violent clashes broke out during a raid in the Qalandia refugee camp, between Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Ramallah, according to witnesses and Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
The raid was the deadliest episode in the West Bank in months and came less than a week after a Palestinian man was killed in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank when troops on a similar mission encountered violent protests.
The continuing arrests of Palestinians suspected of planning terrorist acts and the deadly confrontations underlined the volatility of the West Bank, even as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have embarked on a new round of talks to try to resolve the long-running conflict and establish an independent Palestinian state in the areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
The Israeli military said that its troops were in Qalandia to secure an operation by security forces who were seeking to arrest a resident identified by the military only as a “terror operative.”
Hundreds of residents threw rocks and various other items at the security forces and soldiers were called in to aid them. Security personnel then “resorted to using live fire in self-defense,” the military said in a statement.
Witnesses in the camp said that a unit of special forces had intended to arrest Yusuf Khatib, who was released last year from an Israeli prison. Mr. Khatib tried to flee to a neighbor’s house, the witnesses said, and residents began throwing rocks, firebombs, bricks and iron bars at the forces and the troops who arrived in Jeeps to reinforce them. Hundreds of residents then came out of their homes and joined the riot, eyewitnesses and the military said.
Initial reports in the Palestinian news media identified those killed on Monday as Robin al-Abed, Yunis Jahjouh and Jihad Asslan, all in their 20s or early 30s. At least 15 others were reported wounded.
Witnesses said that two of the dead had been participating in the riot but that one of those killed was a bystander.
“Large, violent crowds such as this, which significantly outnumber the security forces, leave no choice but to resort to live fire in self-defense,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military.
Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem, and Said Ghazali from Qalandia refugee camp, West Bank.
Robert Mugabe threatens to expel foreign firms from Zimbabwe
Newly re-elected president says 'there will come a time when we lose our patience' with pressure for democratic reforms
Associated Press in Harare
theguardian.com, Sunday 25 August 2013 16.48 BST
Zimbabwe's long-serving president Robert Mugabe has threatened to expel foreign-owned companies over what he said was the west's interference in the politics of the country he has led since 1980.
Mugabe said on Sunday he wanted no "ideas from London or Washington", speaking before supporters at the funeral of a military chief in Harare.
He warned the west that although his government had not "done anything to your companies, time will come when we will say tit for tat".
He said: "You hit me, I hit you. We have a country to run and we must be left free to run it."
Britain, the former colonial power, the European Union and the US have refused to endorse Mugabe's landslide victory in the 31 July elections, citing evidence of vote-rigging. The west maintain economic restrictions on Mugabe and leaders of his ruling party.
Mugabe insists his party won "a resounding mandate" in the last election and denies allegations of voting fraud.
Zimbabwe's state election panel said Mugabe won the elections with 61% of the presidential vote.
Mugabe, who was sworn in on Thursday for another five-year term at the age of 89, said "there will come a time when we lose our patience" with the west's pressure for democratic reforms.
"I want to assure you our attitude will not continue to be passive," Mugabe said Sunday. "We have had enough and enough is enough."
Since winning another term, Mugabe has vowed to push ahead with a black empowerment programme to force foreign and white-owned businesses to cede 51% ownership to black Zimbabweans. Some economists warn that the programme will trigger another economic downturn similar to that Zimbabwe suffered after Mugabe's government seized white-owned farms in 2000.
Mugabe, however, says the economic plan to force black control of companies will create jobs and economic growth that had been hindered by what he called "a tenuous and fraught coalition with uneasy partners" in the opposition led by former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Tsvangirai had favoured attracting western investment during the five-year coalition forged by regional leaders after the last disputed elections in 2008.
Mugabe says Britain has opposed black empowerment since he forced thousands of white farmers to surrender their land. Critics of the programme say it disrupted Zimbabwe's agriculture-based economy, shut down industries and scared away foreign investment in mining and other businesses.
August 25, 2013
Heavy Casualties on Both Sides as Congo Soldiers Fight Rebels Near Eastern City
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo — Congolese soldiers and rebel forces suffered heavy casualties on Sunday as they fought for a fifth day near the eastern city of Goma, a doctor near the front line said.
The doctor, Isaac Warwanamiza, said he had seen 82 dead since early Sunday, 23 of whom were government soldiers, the highest death toll reported since hostilities broke out last week.
Medical services struggled to cope with the casualties among government troops and rebel fighters of the M23 movement, who began their rebellion last year, Dr. Warwanamiza said.
Three United Nations peacekeepers were wounded Saturday in the fighting, though no injuries were reported by the peacekeeping mission on Sunday.
A United Nations official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said that two M23 “colonels” had been killed since Wednesday, while the Congolese military had not lost any senior officers.
The front line is only nine miles north of Goma. M23 rebels briefly seized the city late last year, and Congolese and United Nations troops have been battling since Wednesday to dislodge rebels from heights overlooking the city.
Witnesses estimate that Congolese forces have advanced less than a mile since Wednesday and have not achieved their immediate objective of cutting off the rebels from a border crossing where they are believed to get supplies from Rwanda.
An army chaplain at the military hospital in Goma confirmed that Congolese troops had suffered heavy casualties on Sunday. The chaplain, Lea Masika, said 59 people with wounds had been brought into the hospital since Sunday morning, raising the total of wounded there to 720. The bodies of three Congolese officers had been buried, he said.
The M23 movement is made up of hundreds of Congolese soldiers, mostly from the Tutsi ethnic group, who deserted the national army last year after accusing the government of failing to honor a deal signed on March 23, 2009. Many of the movement’s commanders are veterans of previous rebellions backed by Rwanda, which denies allegations that it supports and reinforces the M23 rebels.
The rebels briefly seized Goma, a city of nearly one million people, last November, before withdrawing under international pressure and in return for a promise of peace talks with the government. The talks, in neighboring Uganda, have frequently stalled and appear to have made little progress since March.
The renewed fighting that broke out Wednesday ended a three-week lull. On Thursday, the new United Nations intervention brigade that was created in March with a strong mandate to protect civilians fired for the first time on rebel positions.
But there has been widespread skepticism in Congo that the intervention brigade will be a game-changing addition to the existing United Nations force, which stood by when M23 fighters captured Goma late last year.
August 25, 2013
Prayer Plaza in Jerusalem for Both Sexes Ignites Uproar
By JODI RUDOREN
JERUSALEM — Trying to calm months of intense wrangling over the Western Wall, Israeli officials on Sunday unveiled a new plaza where men and women can pray together. But the move was immediately denounced as discriminatory by the main group that has protested the rules at the holy site.
Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs, said the new plaza, in an archaeological park known as Robinson’s Arch, was an interim solution until a more comprehensive — and contentious — plan for a mixed-prayer section could overcome bureaucratic hurdles and opposition from archaeologists, ultra-Orthodox Jews and the Muslim authorities. Built for about $80,000, the 4,800-square-foot platform is a “compromise,” Mr. Bennett said, whose “goal is to unify all the walks of Jewish life.”
Instead, the announcement ignited new divisions. Leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism offered cautious praise, while Women of the Wall, the group whose monthly prayer sessions have prompted arrests and mass demonstrations over the past year, started a 24-hour sit-in to protest it. The prime minister’s office distanced itself from the new plaza, releasing a statement saying the government had yet to reach a decision on the matter.
Anat Hoffman, the leader of Women of the Wall, called Mr. Bennett’s new plaza a “monstrosity” that “looks like a sunbathing deck” or a “rock-star stage.” She said she would continue to push for access to the women’s section of the main area. As the sun fell Sunday, she and about a dozen supporters chanted the afternoon prayer under an Israeli flag near the Western Wall, then settled in with study materials for a long night.
“They’ve taken the keys to the holiest site and just given them to one extremist group that uses violence,” said Ms. Hoffman, referring to the ultra-Orthodox, who have in recent months shouted and spat at the women’s group. “We have to be vigilant and fight for every centimeter. We are equal.”
The struggle over prayer at the wall is one of many battles about religious practice and identity in Israel, and it has attracted much attention from Jewish leaders abroad.
A remnant of the retaining wall of the ancient temple, the Western Wall is one of Judaism’s most sacred sites, and since Israel took control of it from Jordan in the 1967 war, it has been a pilgrimage site for foreign tourists and a place for the daily prayers of thousands of Orthodox Israelis. It is governed by ultra-Orthodox rabbis, with prayer areas segregated by sex, and women are required to dress modestly and refrain from singing aloud. Since the late 1990s, mixed prayer has been allowed at Robinson’s Arch, by appointment, during limited hours and for a fee.
After 25 years in which legislation and legal rulings barred women from wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries at the site, the activist group won a court victory this spring allowing members to pray as they wish. Over the past several months, thousands of ultra-Orthodox young people have crammed the site to prevent the women from using it, creating a new set of problems.
As outrage among American and other international Jews mounted, Israel’s prime minister asked Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, to find a solution. Mr. Sharansky proposed a new mixed-prayer area adjacent to the women’s section and accessible from the main entrance, unlike the current Robinson’s Arch.
He also spoke about changes to the main plaza behind the current prayer area, and a governing body for the mixed area that would include non-Orthodox leaders.
The plaza Mr. Bennett unveiled Sunday sits atop scaffolding but remains several dozen feet below the main Western Wall area. To get there, visitors must wind their way through an archaeological park and up and down many stairs. Equipped with Torah scrolls and tables, prayer shawls and prayer books, it is open around the clock, for free, just like the main site. No one was there Sunday evening as the women’s group commenced its protest a few hundred yards away.
“If it is, as is suggested, a temporary step on the longer journey toward the transformative plan, then it’s a very nice step,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “But it’s a very, very small step — very modest.”
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, described the move as “important steps forward,” adding, “Unfortunately, the interim solution is not going to satisfy everybody.”