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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1079114 times)
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« Reply #9585 on: Oct 27, 2013, 06:11 AM »

Dozens dead in fresh wave of Baghdad bombings aimed at Shia areas

Al-Qaida branch suspected after co-ordinated blasts rock the Iraqi capital over half an hour

Associated Press in Baghdad, Sunday 27 October 2013 08.30 GMT   

Insurgents unleashed a new wave of car bombs in Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 39 people and wounding dozens, officials said. It was the latest in a series of co-ordinated attacks targeting civilian areas that have killed hundreds in recent months.

Four police officers said the bombs, placed in parked cars and detonated over half an hour, targeted commercial areas and car parks. The deadliest blasts were in the northern Shaab, southern Abu Dshir and south-eastern Nahrwan districts, each of which killed six people.

Other blasts hit the neighbourhoods of Mashtal, Baladiyat and Ur in eastern Baghdad and the northern Sab al-Bor and Hurriyah districts.

Six medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to release information.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but such systematic attacks are a common tactic of al-Qaida's local branch. It frequently targets civilians in markets, cafes and commercial streets in Shia areas in an attempt to undermine confidence in the government, as well as members of the security forces.

Violence has spiked in Iraq since April, when the pace of killing reached levels unseen since 2008. Sunday's attacks bring the death toll across the country this month to more than 500, according to an Associated Press count.
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« Reply #9586 on: Oct 27, 2013, 06:25 AM »

October 26, 2013

Gang Rape in India, Routine and Invisible


MUMBAI, India — At 5:30 p.m. on that Thursday, four young men were playing cards, as usual, when Mohammed Kasim Sheikh’s cellphone rang and he announced that it was time to go hunting. Prey had been spotted, he told a friend. When the host asked what they were going to hunt, he said, “A beautiful deer.”

As two men rushed out, the host smirked, figuring they did not like losing at cards.

Two hours later, a 22-year-old photojournalist limped out of a ruined building. She had been raped repeatedly by five men, asked by one to re-enact pornographic acts displayed on a cellphone. After she left, the men dispersed to their wives or mothers, if they had them; it was dinnertime. None of their previous victims had gone to the police. Why should this one?

The trial in the Mumbai gang-rape case has opened to a drowsy and ill-attended courtroom, without the crush of reporters who documented every twist in a similar case in New Delhi in which a woman died after being gang-raped on a private bus. The accused, barefoot, sit on a bench at the back of the courtroom, observing the arguments with blank expressions, as if they were being conducted in Mandarin. All have pleaded not guilty. They are slight men with ordinary faces, nothing imposing, the kind one might see at any bus stop or tea stall.

But the Mumbai case provides an unusual glimpse into a group of bored young men who had committed the same crime often enough to develop a routine. The police say the men had committed at least five rapes in the same spot. Their casual confidence reinforces the notion that rape has been a largely invisible crime here, where convictions are infrequent and victims silently go away. Not until their arrest, at a moment when sexual violence has grabbed headlines and risen to the top of the state’s agenda, did the seriousness of the crime sink in.

An editor at the photographer’s publication, who was present when a witness identified the first of the five suspects, a juvenile, said the teenager dissolved in tears as soon as he was accused.

“It was exactly like watching a kid in school who has been caught doing something,” said the editor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect the identity of the victim, who cannot be identified according to Indian law. “It’s like a bunch of kids who found a dog and tied a bunch of firecrackers to its tail, just to see what would happen. Only in this case it was far more egregious. It was malevolent, what happened.”

In spots Mumbai is an anarchic jumble, its high-rise buildings flanked by vest-pocket slums and vacant properties that have reverted to near-wilderness. One such place is the Shakti Mills, a ruin from the prosperous days of Mumbai’s textile industry. When night falls, it is a treacherous span of darkness lined with sinkholes and debris, but still in the middle of the city, still close enough to look up and watch the lights flicker on in the Shangri-La Hotel.

The photographer and her colleague, a 21-year-old man, were interns at an English-language publication and had decided to include this spot — the backdrop for any number of fashion shoots — as part of a photo essay on the city’s abandoned buildings, the editor said. On that Thursday last August, they reached the ruined mill about an hour before sunset.

The five men they encountered there later came from slums near the mill complex, claustrophobic concrete warrens where electrical wires tangle at one’s head and acrid water flows in open gutters around one’s feet.

None of the men worked regularly. There were jobs chicken-plucking at a neighborhood stand — a hot, stinking eight-hour shift that paid 250 rupees, or $4. The men told their families they wanted something better, something indoors, but that thing never seemed to come. They passed time playing cards and drinking. Luxury was pressed in their faces in the sinuous form of the Lodha Bellissimo, a 48-story apartment building rising from an adjacent lot.

“Every boy in this neighborhood, including myself, would look at those buildings and say, ‘One day, I will own a flat in that building,’ ” said Yasin Sheikh, 22, who knew two of the accused men from the neighborhood. Because of his work helping find slum locations for film crews, he sometimes has a chance to interact with wealthy people, he said, and it fills him with yearning.

“I feel really sad around them, because I want to sit at the table with them,” he said.

Only Kasim Sheikh, 20, the card player who took the call, seemed to have shaken off the drag of poverty. A plump man in a neighborhood of the half-starved, he wore flashy shirts and hooked up his friends with catering jobs at weddings. He had been convicted of theft — iron, steel and other scrap from a railroad site — and occasionally provided information to the police, according to Mumbai’s joint police commissioner, Himanshu Roy.

Some people steered clear of Mr. Sheikh. The grandmother of one of the accused men, a 16-year-old whose name is being withheld because of his age, had forbidden Mr. Sheikh to cross their threshold. But her grandson craved nice things; that was his weakness, his grandmother said. Mr. Sheikh “wore good clothes, he had a nice mobile, obviously he would, because he was a thief,” said Yasin Sheikh, the neighbor.

When another of their friends, a 27-year-old father of two named Salim Ansari, spotted the interns in the mill that day, the first thing he did was call Kasim Sheikh to tell him that their prey had arrived.

Nothing to Lose

During the year since the Delhi gang rape, sexual violence has been discussed endlessly in India, but there are few clear answers to the questions of how much is it happening or why.

One problem is that perpetrators may not view their actions as a grave crime, but something closer to mischief. A survey of more than 10,000 men carried out in six Asian countries — India not among them — and published in The Lancet Global Health journal in September came up with startling data. It found that, when the word “rape” was not used as part of a questionnaire, more than one in 10 men in the region admitted to forcing sex on a woman who was not their partner.

Asked why, 73 percent said the reason was “entitlement.” Fifty-nine percent said their motivation was “entertainment seeking,” agreeing with the statements “I wanted to have fun” or “I was bored.” Flavia Agnes, a Mumbai women’s rights lawyer who has been working on rape cases since the 1970s, said the findings rang true to her experience.

“It’s just frivolous; they just do it casually,” she said. “There is so much abject poverty. They just want to have a little fun on the side. That’s it. See, they have nothing to lose.”

The photographer and her colleague reached the mill but, visually, it was not what they wanted. That is when two men approached them, the victim told the police later, offering to show them a route farther in. There the images were better, and the two had been working for half an hour when the two men returned.

‘The Prey Is Here’

This time they came back with a third, Mr. Sheikh, who told them something odd — “Our boss has seen you, and you have to come with us now” — and insisted they take a path deeper into the complex. As they walked, she called an editor, who said to leave immediately, but it was too late for that. “Come inside, the prey is here,” Mr. Sheikh called out, and two more men joined them.

The men said that the woman’s colleague was a murder suspect, asked the pair to remove their belts and used them to tie the man up. After that, the woman told the police, “the third person and a person who had a mustache took me to a place that was like a broken room.”

The men had done the same thing a month before, said Mr. Roy, the police commissioner, taking turns raping an 18-year-old call-center worker who, accompanied by her boyfriend, had sprained her ankle and was trying to take a shortcut through the mill. They had done the same thing with a woman who worked as a scavenger in a garbage dump, and a sex worker, and a transvestite, Mr. Roy said.

Mr. Sheikh took the broken neck of a beer bottle out of his shirt pocket and thrust it at the young woman, telling her: “You don’t know what a bastard I am. You’re not the first girl I’ve raped,” she told the police later, according to the charge sheet filed in the case.

On the other side of the wall, her friend heard the woman cry out. “An inquiry is going on,” the man guarding him said. They went in to her and returned, one by one.

“Did you inquire properly?” Mr. Sheikh said to one as he came out.

“No, she’s not talking,” he replied.

So Mr. Sheikh said he would “go inquire again,” and the rest of them laughed.

At last they brought her out, weeping, and told the two to leave along the railroad tracks. Before releasing her, they threatened to upload video of the attack onto the Internet if she reported the crime, a strategy that had worked with previous victims.

But this one did not hesitate. The two caught a cab to the nearest hospital. There they reported the crime, and the woman’s mother arrived. “I went inside. I saw her there crying,” her mother told the police later. “She told me in English, ‘Mummy, I’m vanished.’ ”

The woman did not respond to a request for an interview.

Mr. Sheikh, too, saw his mother for a few moments that night. He discussed the rape with her, she said, and tried to explain why it had happened.

“I asked Kasim, ‘Son, why did you do this to her? If it happened to your sister, would you come here and tell me or would you beat him?’ ” said his mother, Chandbibi Sheikh. He told her that his friends had come upon the couple embracing in the mill, and “they thought: ‘What is she doing with this boy here? She must be loose.’ ”

She related this exchange from the family’s home, a sort of shelf wedged between a gas station and a garbage dump; as she spoke, a rat the size of a kitten clambered over containers stacked in a corner. She said far too much onus was being put on the men.

“Obviously, the fault is the girl’s,” she said. “Why did she have to go to that jungle? It’s her fault, too. Also, she was wearing skimpy clothes.”

She did not deny that he had done it. “He must have,” she said. “He told me that they tied up the boy who was doing bad things to her and said, ‘Madam, let us also do it.’ The madam said, ‘Don’t do it to me, take my mobile, take my camera, but don’t do it to me.’ Her body was uncovered. How could he control himself? And so it happened.”

High-Level Response

Though the men in the mill may not have known it, rape had become a matter of great public import in India, a gauge of a city’s identity. Mumbai’s top officials, who had told themselves that the Delhi gang rape could not have happened here, were horrified and initiated a broad, high-level response, as if an act of terrorism had taken place.

The police lighted up their networks of slum informants and all five were arrested and gave confessions in quick succession. Several made pitiful attempts to escape. Mr. Sheikh went to the visitor’s room of a nearby hospital and covered himself with a blanket, trying to blend in with a crowd of relatives. He was caught with 50 rupees, or about 81 cents, in his pocket. When the police asked him to sign his confession, he told them he could not write, so he signed it with a thumbprint.

“It is incredible how quickly the whole thing unraveled,” said the editor, who was present when the photographer’s colleague picked the first of the five men out of a lineup. A second victim, the call-center worker, came forward, inspired by the first, and said she was ready to testify. The suspects confessed to the other rapes under questioning, the police said.

The public prosecutor selected for the case is famous for prosecuting terrorists, with a résumé of 628 life sentences, 30 death sentences and 12 men, as he put it, “sent to the gallows.”

Much news coverage over the next days zeroed in on the defendants’ poverty, but Mr. Roy shrugged off that line of inquiry. After interrogating the five accused men personally, he said they were “social outcasts,” not indicative of any deeper tensions in the city.

“They were deviants, sociopaths, predators,” he said in an interview. “If there was a larger socioeconomic framework, these crimes would be happening again and again. It was only these guys. I’m 100 percent sure that this kind of crime doesn’t happen in Mumbai. I’ve been here all my life and have been born and brought up here.”

But in a constellation of neighborhoods around Mumbai, people are still trying to match up the crime with the ordinary men they knew.

Shahjahan Ansari, the wife of the oldest accused man, Salim Ansari, looked terrified when a stranger appeared at her door, at a hulking, trash-strewn public housing complex beside a petroleum refinery on a distant edge of the city. The neighbors had started to shun the family since Salim’s arrest became public, and she dreaded the extra attention.

“We can’t even walk on the street. You don’t understand,” she said. Inside the apartment, she calmed down a little. The whole story baffled her; she said she had no idea who her husband’s friends were or what he did during the day when she went to work cleaning houses. All she knew was that until his arrest, he came home for dinner every night, “He was to me like any husband is to his wife,” she said.

“How do I know how he got into this mess? It must be the Devil,” murmured Salim’s mother, who was sitting on the floor, one eye blind, cloudy white.

Ms. Ansari was remembering better days before her husband lost his job, at a factory that made cardboard boxes. He was so proud of the factory, with its big machines, that he brought his sons to watch him on Sunday shifts. Tonight the younger one was streaked with dust; the older one watched from a cot, glassy-eyed and much smaller than his 10 years, bony limbs folded under his chin. She would try, Ms. Ansari said, to move them somewhere else, to a place where no one knew who their father was.

“I want my children to grow up to be good human beings, that’s all,” the mother said.

Neha Thirani Bagri contributed reporting.
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« Reply #9587 on: Oct 27, 2013, 06:27 AM »

October 26, 2013

In Indonesia, a Push for Prohibition Strikes Fear


LEGIAN, Indonesia — They have defaced Britney Spears posters, denounced Pamela Anderson’s charitable work and threatened Lady Gaga and Miss World beauty pageant contestants. And now, hard-line Muslims in Indonesia, in concert with Islamic-based politicians, are eyeing new targets: Johnnie Walker, an award-winning local pilsner called Bintang, even the exotic drinks with cherries and little umbrellas favored by the country’s many international visitors.

A draft bill submitted to Indonesia’s Parliament earlier this year that called for a ban on alcohol in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country has stirred unease among the country’s predominantly moderate Muslims and fear among those who make their living in tourism, from upscale hotels in the capital, Jakarta, to beach bars and theme restaurants on the resort island of Bali.

After an initial backlash, the Islamic-based United Development Party, or P.P.P., which drafted the measure, said it would scale back its goals and instead seek comprehensive regulations on the sale of alcohol.

But the party has not yet released a new version of the bill, and conservative Muslim groups said they would lobby hard for the tougher legislation during an expected debate in Parliament in the coming weeks.

That has kept alive fears that, even in a country that has a long tradition of moderate Islam and is led by a secular government, a ban on alcohol could pass. Critics of a ban note a possible wild card: with elections scheduled for next year, legislators might be willing to back prohibition to appeal to conservative Islamic voters.

Before the 2009 election, a similar dynamic led to the passage of a controversial (and now lightly enforced) morality law that outlaws art, movies and music that “can arouse sexual desires and/or violate public moral values.” And last month, the government ordered that the finals of the Miss World pageant, which some Islamic groups denounced as immoral, be moved from the outskirts of Jakarta to predominantly Hindu Bali.

Nyoman Suwidjana, the secretary general of the Bali Tourism Board, said that criminalizing alcohol would have “a significant impact” on the economy of Bali, which is heavily dependent on the tourism industry and drew a record 2.9 million visitors in 2012.

“It’s not conceivable for one party to impose their values on others,” he said, noting that, in addition to foreign tourists, minority populations of Christians, Balinese Hindus and Buddhists in India do not consider alcohol taboo. “Could you imagine tourists sneaking in their own alcohol, just to have a good time?”

The draft bill was quietly submitted to Parliament in January by the P.P.P., whose platform includes banning alcohol.

“It’s the aspiration of many regions, due to criminality, and health and social problems because of alcohol,” said Ahmad Yani, a P.P.P. lawmaker, who denied in an interview that the bill was related to the 2014 election season.

No matter what happens with the legislation, Indonesia’s Islamic-led prohibition movement, which dates back decades, got a boost in July when the country’s Supreme Court announced it had overturned a 1997 presidential decree making it illegal for local governments to outlaw the production, sale or consumption of alcohol. The ruling upheld a challenge by the Islamic Defenders Front, a vigilante group known for occasionally smashing up bars that it views as affronts to Islam and forcibly closing Christian churches and the mosques of Muslim minorities.

In 2006, the Islamic Defenders Front brought a legal complaint against the Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine, whose editor was later sentenced to prison for “public indecency,” even though the magazine did not show nudity. (The Supreme Court overturned that decision eight months later.) The Islamic Defenders Front and other hard-line groups also forced the cancellation of a Lady Gaga concert scheduled for Jakarta in 2012.

“They use sensitive issues such as Lady Gaga or alcohol to consolidate themselves,” said Fajar Riza Ul Haq, executive director of the Maarif Institute, a nongovernmental organization that promotes religious tolerance.

“These things are a very good opportunity for them to get publicity, and hopefully gain public support for what they do,” he said. Novel Haidar, secretary of the Jakarta chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front, said the prohibition drive was no publicity stunt, but a part of the group’s goal to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state.

“Alcohol brings more disadvantages than advantages,” Mr. Novel said in an interview. “Bali has other income than from just selling alcohol — beautiful attractions and wonderful hotels and resorts. Not having alcohol would make it better.”

Nick Ryan, a 38-year-old electrician from Gold Coast, Australia, flatly disagreed. Sitting at the Sunset Bar at Legian Beach, in southern Bali, with a Bintang beer within reach, he grimaced when told of efforts to ban alcohol across Indonesia. “I’d never come here again,” he said.

His wife, Kym, 38, a travel agent, said she would find it difficult to explain to her clients that they could spend money for a flight and hotel room, but not have a glass of wine with dinner. “You would find they would go elsewhere, like Thailand, if they couldn’t sit by a pool and have a drink,” she said.

Lying on the beach, Anna Duron, 35, a tourist from France, compared banning alcohol in Indonesia to “shooting yourself in the foot.”

“Why would they want to do that?” she said. “Is there a real social issue behind it?”

“What I love about Indonesia is that it makes space for Islam, but it’s also open to other religions,” she said.

Alessandro Migliore, chairman of the Bali Hotels Association, said he could not imagine the effect on Bali if an alcohol ban were passed.

“Most Indonesians do not agree with these groups behind it, but the silent majority just keeps silent,” he said.

Mr. Novel, of the Islamic Defenders Front, said that while his organization would monitor what bill emerged within Parliament, it was not focusing on a national ban because the Supreme Court’s recent ruling allows thousands of local governments to ban alcohol on their own.

“Around 351 Indonesian districts, subdistricts, towns and villages had already passed regulations against alcohol in the past 15 years, and the Supreme Court ruling” removing the ban on such regulations “makes them all legal now,” he said. “So now we’re going to enforce it within those 351 areas by conducting sweeps, as well as try to lobby local administrations in every province and district in Indonesia to ban alcohol.”

The Islamic Defenders Front, however, might have a fight on its hands in the Bali district of Badung, the site of Legian Beach and where 80 percent of the island’s foreign tourists stay.

One Indonesian bartender, who did not want to give his name, said the Balinese people remained angry about terrorist bombings on the island in 2002 and 2005 by Islamic militants from Java and would resist any attempt by Java-based Muslim groups to ban alcohol on Bali, given its dependence on tourism.

“We’re not a Muslim country, and we have 240 million people, not just these people,” he said angrily. “It’s a crazy idea. They should crawl back into the ocean, man.”
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« Reply #9588 on: Oct 27, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Syrian Kurds capture border crossing with Iraq after intense fighting

Militiamen capture Yaaroubiyeh post in north-east Syria after three days of clashes with several jihadist groups

Associated Press, Sunday 27 October 2013 00.16 BST   

Syrian Kurdish gunmen on Saturday seized a major border crossing with Iraq from al-Qaida-linked groups following intense infighting between rebel groups that raised concerns of a spillover, activists and an Iraqi official said.

The latest violence coincided with a visit by the UN-Arab League envoy to Iran, a staunch ally of President Bashar al-Assad's government, to press efforts for international peace talks aimed at ending the civil war, now in its third year.

The Kurdish militiamen captured the Yaaroubiyeh post in north-east Syria after three days of clashes with several jihadist groups there, including Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

An Iraqi intelligence official confirmed that Kurdish rebels now held the crossing point – one of two main crossings with Iraq – adding that Baghdad brought reinforcements to the area to prevent any spillover of violence.

"They were heavy battles in which all types of weapons were used," said the Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. "Iraqi forces are ready to repel any attack."

Kurdish groups control a large swath of northern Syria, and they are suspicious of Islamic groups who have moved into predominantly Kurdish areas in the chaos of the civil war. Clashes between their fighters and jihadists in northern and north-eastern areas of Syria have killed hundreds of people in the past months.

The border crossing point was under government control until March when hard-line rebels captured it. Syrian rebels, particularly the hard-line groups, are believed to draw support from insurgents in Iraq. Sunni Arabs dominate both the Syrian rebel movement and the Iraqi insurgency.

The Syrian conflict, which began as a largely peaceful uprising against Assad in March 2011, has triggered a humanitarian crisis on a massive scale, killing more than 100,000 people, driving nearly 7 million more from their homes and devastating the nation's cities and towns.

The US, the United Nations and Russia are pushing for an international peace conference to be held in Geneva next month, bringing together the warring sides. But no final date for the conference has been set and it is unclear whether the sides can reach an agreement on the agenda.

Loay al-Mikdad, a spokesman for the rebel Free Syrian Army, said on Saturday he expected the conference to be postponed. Members of the FSA command met on Thursday with the UN-Arab League Special Envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, who travelled on Saturday to Tehran.

"As a result of the discussions, we felt that there is an international direction toward postponing the conference for some time," al-Mikdad said. Arab League officials said earlier this month that the conference would be held 23-24 November.

Brahimi, at a joint press conference with Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Iran's participation in such a conference is "necessary". Zarif said Iran would participate if it is invited.

Syrian rebels, meanwhile, denied government media reports that the head of the Nusra Front had been killed.

Friday's one-line state media report, which could not be independently confirmed, said Abu Mohammad al-Golani died in the coastal province of Latakia. But rebels said they had received no word of clashes in that province.

If government reports on the death of al-Golani are correct, then the capture of the Yaarobiyeh post would be the second setback for al-Nusra and its allies in recent days.

Al-Mikdad said Syrian rebels did not report any recent clash in Latakia province. He says his group is unsure if al-Golani even exists.

"This is part of the regime's lies. Our information from the ground says that this is not true and not accurate," al-Mikdad said by telephone.

The Nusra Front has emerged as one of the most effective among rebel groups fighting Assad, and it has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings against government targets. The US state department put the group on its list of terrorist organisations for its connections to al-Qaida.

In Daraa province in the south of the country, rebels captured the town of Tafas after weeks of fighting that left scores of people dead, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Syrian state media did not report on the battle.

Also on Saturday, the Observatory reported that three more women detainees were being released. They included Tal al-Mallohi, a prominent young Syrian blogger convicted of spying for a foreign country and whose prison sentence ended two months ago.

The release would bring to 64 the number of female detainees recently freed by Syrian authorities. It is likely part of a complicated, three-way hostage swap last week brokered by Qatar and the Palestinian Authority during which Syrian rebels freed nine Lebanese Shiite Muslims while Lebanese gunmen released two Turkish pilots.

The Syrian government has not commented on the swap or the prisoner releases.
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« Reply #9589 on: Oct 27, 2013, 06:36 AM »

Dozens of Saudi Arabian women drive cars on day of protest against ban

Activists say at least 60 joined call to allow female drivers – making it country's biggest ever demonstration against the ban

Staff and agencies, Saturday 26 October 2013 17.03 BST   

More than 60 Saudi women got behind the wheels of their cars as part of a protest against a ban on women driving in the kingdom, activists have claimed.

A Saudi professor and campaigner, Aziza Youssef, said the activists have received 13 videos and another 50 phone messages from women showing or claiming they had driven, the Associated Press reported.

She said it had not been not possible to verify all of the messages. But, if the numbers are accurate, they would make Saturday's demonstration the biggest the country has ever seen against the ban.

Despite warnings by police and ultraconservatives in Saudi Arabia, there have been no reports from those who claimed to have driven of being arrested or ticketed by police.

A video clip of a protest by May al-Sawyan, a 32-year-old economics researcher and mother of two, was uploaded on the YouTube channel of the October 26 driving for women group, along with several other videos of women purportedly driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh, al-Ahsa and Jeddah. It was not possible to verify when they were filmed. Another video to feature on YouTube was the spoof No Woman, No Drive.

"I am very happy and proud that there was no reaction against me," she told AP. "There were some cars that drove by. They were surprised, but it was just a glance. It is fine. They are not used to seeing women driving here."

Sawyan said she had obtained a driver's licence from abroad. She said she was prepared for the risk of detention if caught but added that she was far enough from a police car that she was not spotted.

"I just took a small loop. I didn't drive for a long way, but it was fine. I went to the grocery store," she said.

Her husband and family waited at home and called her when she arrived at the shop to check on her, she said. She drove with a local female television reporter in the car. They were both without male relatives in the vehicle.

"I know of several women who drove earlier today. We will post videos later," one of the campaign organisers told Reuters.

The Associated Press reported that a security official said authorities did not arrest or fine any female drivers on Saturday.

Youssef said she and four other prominent women activists received phone calls this week from a top official with close links to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, warning them not to drive on Saturday, the day the campaign set for women's driving.

She also said that "two suspicious cars" have been following her everywhere all day. "I don't know from which party they are from. They are not in a government car," she said.

Activists said they have 16,600 signatures on an online petition calling for change. Efforts to publicise the issue have been described as the best-organised social campaign ever seen in Saudi Arabia, where Twitter has millions of users and is used to circulate information about the monarchy and official corruption.

Previous attempts to promote change fizzled out in arrests for public order offences and demoralisation. In 2011, the activist Manal al-Sharif made a YouTube video urging women to drive their own cars, and was imprisoned for more than a week. But the signs are far more positive now.

Three female members of the shura (advisory) council – among 30 appointed by the 90-year-old King Abdullah – recommended this month that the ban be rescinded, though no debate has yet taken place.

Latifa al-Shaalan, Haya al-Mani and Muna al-Mashit urged the council to "recognise the rights of women to drive a car in accordance with the principles of sharia and traffic laws".

The three – praised by supporters for "stirring the stagnant water" – framed their argument with careful references to religious edicts banning women from being in the company of an unrelated male driver. Other ideas designed to reassure critics are appointing female traffic police and driving instructors. Cost is another big factor, with families having to employ chauffeurs, as is convenience.

Though no specific Saudi law bans women from driving, women are not issued licenses. They mostly rely on drivers or male relatives to move around.

Powerful clerics who hold far-reaching influence over the monarchy enforce the driving ban, warning that breaking it will spread "licentiousness." A prominent cleric caused a stir when he said last month that medical studies show that driving a car harms a woman's ovaries.
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« Reply #9590 on: Oct 27, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Lebanon suffers under the strain of a refugee crisis now out of control

Syrian refugees make up a quarter of Lebanon's population, the country's fragile systems are stretched and tensions are rising. Charities and NGOs are battling to get 70,000 children into schools, and families living in flimsy tents face another harsh challenge – the winter snows are only weeks away

Tracy McVeigh   
The Observer, Saturday 26 October 2013 22.07 BST   

As you come through the military checkpoints on the way into Wadi Khaled, local mobile phones bleep with an unsolicited text: "The Ministry of Tourism welcomes you to Syria."

This part of northern Lebanon, which juts like a knucklebone into Syria, is so close to the war that the villagers can watch the rockets land and palls of smoke rising across the hillsides. Children have swarmed up on to the first floor of the shell of a half-built house and are pointing excitedly to where the outlying villages of Homs begin. "I can see our house," shouts Satash, six.

His mother, Maro, 28, stands back with her eyes cast down. "The older girls come up here and spend hours and hours sitting and looking out at Syria. I cannot even look."

Satash's home is, in reality, long gone. He now lives in Lebanon, in what used to be a shed for slaughtering chickens, with his parents and grandparents, his three-year-old sister and six orphaned cousins. The cousins' mother was killed by shelling that stopped the delivery of medicines to treat her sickness; their father died from shrapnel wounds.

After fleeing in the middle of the night when a shell landed in their yard, taking only the clothes they stood up in, the family walked south for seven hours before crossing into Lebanon. They wandered for several months looking for help and accommodation, and ended up in the village of Knaisse in Wadi Khaled, only three miles from their Syrian home.

The family live in a shed, the rent waived by a kindly Lebanese. They have one blanket between five people, and plastic bags stuffed along the flimsy roof to stop the rain coming in. The grandmother lies on a scrap of matting, suffering from afflictions for which there is no money to buy treatment.

Maro and family live on a small monthly cash handout from a UN agency. Like most of the 1.3 million Syrian refugees now in Lebanon, a country of just 4.2 million people, they are worried about the snow that will start falling on the hills of Wadi Khaled within weeks. This will be their second winter here. "The room becomes like a refrigerator in the winter, the water floods like a lake all around and the wind is so cold," said Maro's husband, Ahmad, who is clearly under strain. He shouts again and again: "The people who stayed are dead under the rubble!"

He is worried, Maro told me, especially about the safety of the two teenage girls, who he doesn't want to go outside the tiny room.

"There is no work for him to do," Maro said apologetically. "We feel so humiliated. People tell us to thank God we have a roof. They look at our poor clothes and how we eat poor food, and they think we are used to being like this. They didn't see our houses in Homs, our gardens. Yes, thank God we are alive. But it is hard: we lost everything, in one minute. Not the building, but the home my husband and I had spent our lives making for our family. The girls go into the village and look at the clothes shop, like any teenage girls, but they have one set of thin clothes and they are wearing them."

Lebanon remains in relative peace, but the influx of Syrians is putting a strain on its resources, and tensions are rising. The little nation has not finished rebuilding after its own civil war and its factions are many. The country remains vulnerable to the demographic changes that the influx of mainly Sunni Muslim Syrians is bringing.

A permanent demographic shift could imperil fragile religious balances that are currently in political limbo. Run by an interim government and with elections overdue, Lebanon operates a confessional system – key government offices are reserved proportionally for representatives of religious factions.

Last week the country's second city, Tripoli, rang with gunfire. Deaths were reported every night in its suburbs as Alawite fought with Sunni in violence that mirrors the ferocity within Syria.

This time last year some 300,000 Syrians had crossed into Lebanon; so many more have arrived since March this year that one in four residents are Syrian refugees. The UNHCR registration centre in Tripoli, which is struggling to process all the newcomers, expects the number to rise to two million by early next year. Syrians can still cross the border easily, although there are growing political mutterings in Beirut about closing it, and opinions are becoming inflamed by Lebanon's rising crime rate – it has rocketed by 30% in the past year.

The cost of living in Lebanon is far higher than in Syria. There are water and electricity scarcities and even refugees who managed to bring savings with them have seen their money disappear at a terrifying rate.

Burned by bitter experience with Palestinian refugees – 400,000 of whom remain in the country in desperate conditions of deprivation and violence – Lebanon has refused to follow Jordan's example and allow the provision of refugee camps. No shelter can have more than a basic timber-and-plastic structure; more robust building by refugees is prohibited.

While there are widespread reports of extraordinary acts of generosity and kindness by Lebanese towards Syrian refugees, many people here are making money from Syria's war. Landlords are getting rents for barely habitable properties, stables and outhouses. There are hefty profits to be made in the gun-running business, and refugees are easily exploited as cheap labour. The government is getting military resources from America and Europe, which are keen to see it able to protect its borders. But many others are losing out – those who are trying to house and feed large families along with their own. Resentment is rising.

Meanwhile, at the border more and more checkpoints are going up, guns are going in and refugees are coming out. The sparks are all here for Lebanon to catch Syria's fire.

Bar Elias is a town on the refugee corridor through Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Its population was 50,000 before the crisis. Now it is 100,000, doubled by Syrian refugees who live in tents, in half-built houses, in garages, in spare rooms. Mayor Saad Maita mourns his pet projects: two new municipal parks – "refugees moved in before a Lebanese family had set foot inside" – and a bypass on which work has stalled since the refugees arrived.

"We don't have the money: sometimes we don't have the money to pay all our employees," said the mayor. "Imagine, we had problems with refuse collection and sewage systems before; now we have double the demand and no new trucks or staff. Drinking-water consumption has tripled and refugees are breaking pipelines to get water. We have only three policemen, so every time there is a dispute between our populations I have to go myself to deal with the tensions.

"The irrigation channels and small rivers to our farms are being blocked by the refugees. Overcrowding in homes is a problem and rents have doubled and tripled, even for businesses. Wages are being driven down. The Lebanese people were already suffering. They give everything they can to the refugees, but it is exhausting for everyone. I ask for help, but from the government and the UN we get only promises. We hope this will have a happy ending, but I fear it will lead to the collapse of two countries."

Like many towns in Lebanon, Bar Elias has started running night shifts at schools to teach some of the Syrian children, who are not allowed into the state schools and have no money for the private ones. Education is becoming a cause of despair for Syrian parents. Many of their children have now been out of school for three years. The Lebanese government is dragging its feet on whether or not to start educating their Syrian guests, aware that it would lead to an overwhelming and immediate doubling of their 300,000 school population. But the risk is that if the war grinds on and they don't provide education, those kids become Lebanon's next problem – a generation of disaffected, unemployable young misfits.

Sonia Zambakides is country director for Save the Children in Lebanon, which is aware of possible resentments building up among Lebanon's poor towards refugees and is trying to run projects open to both communities. "It's a huge challenge that we are trying to meet with a combination of accelerated learning programmes, extra tuition and non-formal education to ensure children keep learning," she said. "By the end of this year, we're aiming to have 70,000 refugee children in education programmes. We're working with the Lebanese ministry of education to ensure that by the start of the 2014 school year, every Syrian child is back in education.

"These children's lives have been torn apart. Most of them have been out of school for two years or more. Many are traumatised and have witnessed unspeakable horrors. Education brings a sense of normality and structure. If we don't get them back into education they face a lifetime of deprivation. They run the risk of becoming militarised, exploited and working as child labourers. The girls may be forced into early marriages. If we don't get them back to school now, it will be too late for many."

NGOs are struggling to find funding for the crisis. Save the Children has less than half of the money it needs and is already working on the biggest "winterisation" programme ever attempted – an effort to try to reinforce the flimsy shelters with sheets of plastic and plywood.

Uppermost in every refugee's mind is winter. Snow will blanket this area within weeks. In one of the tented settlements in Bar Elias, people are salvaging anything they can to insulate their ramshackle tents. There are 120 tents here: people are digging their own latrines and the place is infested with rats and snakes.

Abu Fadi was building a flimsy structure for his family of 11. "I don't have enough wood yet," he said. "I need more and I will pack the floor up with sand. It's weak though: the weight of the snow will bring it down. I am lucky as I worked in construction in Syria, so I have a rough idea what to do. I just hope to survive until we can go home."

In Knaisse, Maro is fretting that her younger children are playing in the dirt. "They will get disease. I try to make them stay inside, but it is cold and they have no toys. They fight. I worry they will never attend school. I get angry. I even smacked them once. I am ashamed: in Syria I never did this. I wish we'd stayed in Syria. I wish we didn't leave. Even in war, we had dignity. We want to go home."

■ For details of Save the Children's Syria appeal, see

Eight months pregnant, Fatima, 35, left Syria with her six other children six months ago. Her husband had disappeared and her street was bit by bit being reduced to rubble. Her home was being used as a field hospital and her eldest son leapt from roof to roof by night as a runner bringing in medicines.

They left the besieged city of Homs in the night as the Free Syrian Army hoisted a plastic sheet across the road to shroud the fleeing people from snipers. "The journey is a blur, the children were so frightened their skin was inflamed. All I know is that we have reached somewhere where they will not be shot."

They live in the concrete shell of an unfinished building in Machta Hammoud, north Lebanon, that was being used to house sheep. There is no sanitation or running water and at first the Lebanese landlord wanted $200 a month for rent. "Then he saw how we had nothing and he gave us this space for free. He put in an electric light and gave us a plastic covering for part of the concrete floor. His wife brings us food and gave us sheets. She goes without water herself some days so that we can have enough."

Snakes, yellow scorpions and big spiders are visitors through the gaps in the cold, damp walls. There is no door, or windows. "The children do not wander, in Syria they had to stay indoors for two years, so they are scared to go outside. They have seen the blood, the dead people, the terrible things."

Another two Syrian families have now moved in to other rooms. "it wasn't made for living, but they have done their best to get it clean," said the owner's wife, Um Ahmad. "We have to help. Our water tank is not enough for my family of 11, but we get by. We are Lebanese, they are Syrian, we are under God and all trying to give them what we can for free. How could we not?"
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« Reply #9591 on: Oct 27, 2013, 07:04 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Thousands gather in Washington for anti-NSA 'Stop Watching Us' rally

Statement from whistleblower Edward Snowden read to crowd featuring groups from left and right of political spectrum

Jim Newell in Washington, Saturday 26 October 2013 22.06 BST    

Link to video: Protesters rally in Washington against NSA surveillance

Thousands gathered by the Capitol reflection pool in Washington on Saturday to march, chant, and listen to speakers and performers as part of Stop Watching Us, a gathering to protest "mass surveillance" under NSA programs first disclosed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Billed by organizers as "the largest rally yet to protest mass surveillance", Stop Watching Us was sponsored by an unusually broad coalition of left- and right-wing groups, including everything from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Green Party, Color of Change and Daily Kos to the Libertarian Party, FreedomWorks and Young Americans for Liberty.

The events began outside Union Station, a few blocks away from the Capitol. Props abounded, with a model drone hoisted by one member of the crowd and a large parachute carried by others. One member of the left-wing protest group Code Pink wore a large Barack Obama mascot head and carried around a cardboard camera. Organizers supplied placards reading "Stop Watching _____", allowing protesters to fill in their own name – or other slogans and occasional profanities. Homemade signs were more colorful, reading "Don't Tap Me, Bro" "Yes, We Scan" and "No Snitching Allowed".

"They think an open government means our information is open for the taking," David Segal of Demand Progress, an internet activist group, said to kick off events. As the march proceeded from Union Station to the Capitol reflecting pool, the crowd sang various chants, from "Hey hey, ho ho, mass surveillance has got to go" to "They say wire tap? We say fight back!"

David Reed, of Maryland, said he felt compelled to show up because of the "apathy" he sees among much of the public towards whistleblowers. Reed said he attended the trial of Chelsea Manning, the military whistleblower who leaked thousands of State Department cables to Wikileaks, as an observer, and was "disappointed that so few people showed up".

"The courtroom only held about 30 people, and there were few days that it was filled up," said Reed, who described himself as "just a concerned citizen". "We just stand by and watch."
Protester at anti-NSA rally in Washington DC A protester wears a mask depicting a skull beneath the head of the Statue of Liberty, beneath a model of a US drone aircraft. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The program at the reflecting pool included ex-politicians, whistleblowers, professional activists, poets and a punk band, YACHT, who performed their song Party at the NSA. ("Party at the NSA/Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours a day!")

Thomas Drake, the former NSA official who blew the whistle on government surveillance and waste following 9/11 and was charged under the Espionage Act, was on hand, talking to reporters about, among other things, recent revelations that the US government had tapped the phone of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other world leaders.

"For what? Why would you violate her rights? Because, what, she might know something about terrorism?" he said. "What is that all about? They're an ally! They're partnered with us. I mean there are threats to the international order and stability. Why would you breach the trust of the chancellor of Germany?"

When Drake addressed the crowd, he said any domestic surveillance legislation that might result from the Snowden leaks "must include whistleblower protection", because "without adequate protections, [government employees] are more likely to turn a blind eye" to abuses of power. He warned against the "acid turned up by the potent brew of secrecy and surveillance".

Another well-received speaker, Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and 2012 Libertarian party candidate for president, said "there's only one way to fix the Patriot Act: and that's to repeal the Patriot Act". He too was concerned about the apathy towards surveillance programs that comes when someone thinks it's "not about me".
Demonstrators hold placards supporting Edward Snowden Demonstrators hold placards supporting Edward Snowden. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

But the big star of the day, despite his physical absence, was Edward Snowden – "Thank you, Edward Snowden" was the most popular banner slogan among the cord. Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department ethics advisor who is now a director with the Government Accountability Project, read a statement from Snowden to the crowd.

"This isn't about red or blue party lines, and it definitely isn't about terrorism," Snowden wrote. "It's about being able to live in a free and open society." He also noted that "elections are coming up, and we are watching you". Members of Congress and government officials, he said, were supposed to be "public servants, not private investigators".

William Evans, of Richmond, Virginia, may have best embodied the nonpartisan atmosphere and message of the event. He wore a "Richmond Tea Party" baseball cap, as well as a Code Pink sticker saying "Make Out, Not War". He is a member of the Richmond Tea Party but not of Code Pink, he said, adding that he "just loved" what the sticker said. Evans said he was attending to protest the "shredding of the constitution" and added that he was happy that "you guys on the left are finally starting to see it".

"We may not always agree on our belief system," he added, "but thank God we agree on the constitution."


Congressional oversight of the NSA is a joke. I should know, I'm in Congress

I've learned far more about government spying on citizens from the media than I have from official intelligence briefings

Alan Grayson, Friday 25 October 2013 12.45 BST   

In the 1970s, Congressman Otis Pike of New York chaired a special congressional committee to investigate abuses by the American so-called "intelligence community" – the spies. After the investigation, Pike commented:

    It took this investigation to convince me that I had always been told lies, to make me realize that I was tired of being told lies.

I'm tired of the spies telling lies, too.

Pike's investigation initiated one of the first congressional oversight debates for the vast and hidden collective of espionage agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA). Before the Pike Commission, Congress was kept in the dark about them – a tactic designed to thwart congressional deterrence of the sometimes illegal and often shocking activities carried out by the "intelligence community". Today, we are seeing a repeat of this professional voyeurism by our nation's spies, on an unprecedented and pervasive scale.

Recently, the US House of Representatives voted on an amendment – offered by Representatives Justin Amash and John Conyers – that would have curbed the NSA's omnipresent and inescapable tactics. Despite furious lobbying by the intelligence industrial complex and its allies, and four hours of frantic and overwrought briefings by the NSA's General Keith Alexander, 205 of 422 Representatives voted for the amendment.

Though the amendment barely failed, the vote signaled a clear message to the NSA: we do not trust you. The vote also conveyed another, more subtle message: members of Congress do not trust that the House Intelligence Committee is providing the necessary oversight. On the contrary, "oversight" has become "overlook".

Despite being a member of Congress possessing security clearance, I've learned far more about government spying on me and my fellow citizens from reading media reports than I have from "intelligence" briefings. If the vote on the Amash-Conyers amendment is any indication, my colleagues feel the same way. In fact, one long-serving conservative Republican told me that he doesn't attend such briefings anymore, because, "they always lie".

Many of us worry that Congressional Intelligence Committees are more loyal to the "intelligence community" that they are tasked with policing, than to the Constitution. And the House Intelligence Committee isn't doing anything to assuage our concerns.

I've requested classified information, and further meetings with NSA officials. The House Intelligence Committee has refused to provide either. Supporters of the NSA's vast ubiquitous domestic spying operation assure the public that members of Congress can be briefed on these activities whenever they want. Senator Saxby Chambliss says all a member of Congress needs to do is ask for information, and he'll get it. Well I did ask, and the House Intelligence Committee said "no", repeatedly. And virtually every other member not on the Intelligence Committee gets the same treatment.

Recently, a member of the House Intelligence Committee was asked at a town hall meeting, by his constituents, why my requests for more information about these programs were being denied. This member argued that I don't have the necessary level of clearance to obtain access for classified information. That doesn't make any sense; every member is given the same level of clearance.
There is no legal justification for imparting secret knowledge about the NSA's domestic surveillance activities only to the 20 members of the House Intelligence Committee. Moreover, how can the remaining 415 of us do our job properly, when we're kept in the dark – or worse, misinformed?

Edward Snowden's revelations demonstrate that the members of Congress, who are asked to authorize these programs, are not privy to the same information provided to junior analysts at the NSA, and even private contractors who sell services to foreign governments. The only time that these intelligence committees disclose classified information to us, your elected representatives, is when it serves the purposes of the "intelligence community".

As the country continues to debate the supposed benefits of wall-to-wall spying programs on each and every American, without probable cause, the spies, "intelligence community" and Congressional Intelligence Committees have a choice: will they begin sharing comprehensive information about these activities, so that elected public officials have the opportunity to make informed decisions about whether such universal snooping is necessary, or constitutional?

Or will they continue to obstruct our efforts to understand these programs, and force us to rely on information provided by whistleblowers who undertake substantial risks to disseminate this information about violations of our freedom in an increasingly hostile environment? And why do Generals Alexander and Clapper remain in office, when all the evidence points to them committing the felony of lying to Congress and the American people?

Representative Pike would probably say that rank-and-file representatives will never get the information we need from the House Intelligence Committee, because the spying industrial complex answers only to itself. After all, Pike, and many of the members of his special congressional committee, voted against forming it. As it is now constituted, the House Intelligence Committee will never decry, deny, or defy any spy. They see eye-to-eye, so they turn a blind eye. Which means that if we rely on them, we can kiss our liberty good-bye.


October 26, 2013

Federal Prosecutors, in a Policy Shift, Cite Warrantless Wiretaps as Evidence


WASHINGTON — The Justice Department for the first time has notified a criminal defendant that evidence being used against him came from a warrantless wiretap, a move that is expected to set up a Supreme Court test of whether such eavesdropping is constitutional.

Prosecutors filed such a notice late Friday in the case of Jamshid Muhtorov, who was charged in Colorado in January 2012 with providing material support to the Islamic Jihad Union, a designated terrorist organization based in Uzbekistan.

Mr. Muhtorov is accused of planning to travel abroad to join the militants and has pleaded not guilty. A criminal complaint against him showed that much of the government’s case was based on e-mails and phone calls intercepted under a 2008 surveillance law.

The government’s notice allows Mr. Muhtorov’s lawyer to ask a court to suppress the evidence by arguing that it derived from unconstitutional surveillance, setting in motion judicial review of the eavesdropping.

The New York Times reported on Oct. 17 that the decision by prosecutors to notify a defendant about the wiretapping followed a legal policy debate inside the Justice Department.

The debate began in June when Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. discovered that the department’s National Security Division did not notify criminal defendants when eavesdropping without a warrant was an early link in an investigative chain that led to evidence used in court. As a result, none of the defendants knew that they had the right to challenge the warrantless wiretapping law.

The practice contradicted what Mr. Verrilli had told the Supreme Court last year in a case challenging the law, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Legalizing a form of the Bush administration’s program of warrantless surveillance, the law authorized the government to wiretap Americans’ e-mails and phone calls without an individual court order and on domestic soil so long as the surveillance is “targeted” at a foreigner abroad.

A group of plaintiffs led by Amnesty International had challenged the law as unconstitutional. But Mr. Verrilli last year urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the case because those plaintiffs could not prove that they had been wiretapped. In making that argument, he said a defendant who faced evidence derived from the law would have proper legal standing and would be notified, so dismissing the lawsuit by Amnesty International would not close the door to judicial review of the 2008 law. The court accepted that logic, voting 5-to-4 to dismiss the case.

In a statement, Patrick Toomey, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which had represented Amnesty International and the other plaintiffs, hailed the move but criticized the Justice Department’s prior practice.

“We welcome the government’s belated recognition that it must give notice to criminal defendants who it has monitored under the most sweeping surveillance law ever passed by Congress,” Mr. Toomey said. “By withholding notice, the government has avoided judicial review of its dragnet warrantless wiretapping program for five years.”

The Justice Department change traces back to June, when The Times reported that prosecutors in Fort Lauderdale and Chicago had told plaintiffs they did not need to say whether evidence in their cases derived from warrantless wiretapping, in conflict with what the Justice Department had told the Supreme Court.

After reading the article, Mr. Verrilli sought an explanation from the National Security Division, whose lawyers had vetted his briefs and helped him practice for his arguments, according to officials with knowledge of the internal deliberations. It was only then that he learned of the division’s practice of narrowly interpreting its need to notify defendants of evidence “derived from” warrantless wiretapping.

There ensued a wider debate throughout June and July, the officials said. National security prosecutors raised operational concerns: disclosing more to defendants could tip off a foreign target that his communications were being monitored, so intelligence officials might become reluctant to share crucial information that might create problems in a later trial.

Mr. Verrilli was said to have argued that there was no legal basis to conceal from defendants that the evidence derived from legally untested surveillance, preventing them from knowing they had an opportunity to challenge it. Ultimately, his view prevailed and the National Security Division changed its practice going forward, leading to the new filing on Friday in Mr. Muhtorov’s case.

Still, it remains unclear how many other cases — including closed matters in which convicts are already service prison sentences — involved evidence derived from warrantless wiretapping in which the National Security Division did not provide full notice to defendants, nor whether the department will belatedly notify them. Such a notice could lead to efforts to reopen those cases.


Hackers suspected of causing NSA website to crash

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 25, 2013 20:30 EDT

The National Security Agency’s website went down Friday and the U.S. spy service known for hacking into computer networks said it was investigating the outage, a spokesperson said.

“We are looking into this,” said Vanee Vines of the NSA, without offering any details about what had caused the site to go dark.

The website,, went down Friday afternoon, setting off speculation on Twitter that the site may have suffered a denial of service attack by hackers.

The hacker group Anonymous joked about the website going down in a tweet without saying if it had played any role. “Aw don’t panic about being down. They have a backup copy of the internet,” it said.

The loosely organized, international hacker collective has frequently clashed with US authorities over file-sharing as well as allowing banks to handle donations to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

The NSA has been at the center of a furor over its vast electronic surveillance operations, revealed in a series of leaks from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has obtained asylum in Russia.


Cruz lashes out at Senate GOP over shutdown failure

By David Ferguson
Saturday, October 26, 2013 12:34 EDT

In remarks to an Iowa Republican group on Friday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that his government shutdown and debt default plan would have worked at repealing the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — if Senate Republicans had only backed him up. According to Talking Points Memo, Cruz was the keynote speaker at Iowa Republicans’ annual Ronald Reagan fundraising dinner.

“We didn’t accomplish our ultimate policy goal in this battle, and we didn’t because unfortunately a significant number of Senate Republicans chose not to unite and stand side by side with House Republicans,” Cruz insisted. “Had we stood together I’m convinced the outcome of this fight would be very, very different.”

The Canadian-born freshman Senator exhorted the crowd to “come together” and beat the ACA’s health insurance mandate and the national debt (which is currently falling faster than at ant time during the last 60 years).

The key to turning the country around from its current state, said Cruz, is to “restore historic economic growth” by deregulating more industries and battling trade unions.

“And let me tell you, growth and principles are ideas that unify Republicans,” Cruz said, as quoted by the Des Moines Register. “They are principles and ideals that unify the evangelical community, the liberty movement and the business community. Growth and freedom are principles that bring together Main Street and the tea party.”

“Right now I’m more encouraged than ever,” he said, in spite of his recent high-profile defeats.

“There are some of the old guard in the Grand Old Party that frankly don’t approve of the kind of principled leadership being shown by the new conservative leaders like Sens. Cruz, (Rand) Paul (R-KY) and (Mike) Lee (R-UT),” said Iowa Republican co-chair David Fischer..

“Some Republicans have even gone so far as to call them names. Well, I have a name for these new leaders, too,” Fischer said. “I call them the future.”



What Ted Cruz Doesn’t Want You to Know

October 25, 2013
by Timothy Karr | Free Press

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pauses as he listens to a reporters question at the Fort Worth Texas Chamber of Commerce office after he participated in a small business roundtable meeting with area business representatives, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, in Fort Worth, Texas. Across the nation, the GOP is in the midst of an internal war pitting tea partyers like Cruz who argue for ideological purity against more mainstream Republicans advocating a more pragmatic, inclusive party approach to governing. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) pauses as he listens to a reporters question at the Fort Worth Texas Chamber of Commerce office. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
By now it seems pretty clear that Senator Ted Cruz has a plan to occupy the White House. But he doesn’t want people to know too much about it.

And he definitely doesn’t want you to know about the special interests that have already begun to bankroll his political ambitions.

That’s why the Texas senator’s latest crusade targets the Federal Communications Commission — and its efforts to better identify the funders of political ads.

Cruz has placed a hold on the Senate confirmation of Tom Wheeler to head the agency, despite bipartisan agreement to vote on Wheeler without delay. Cruz wants assurances from Wheeler that the FCC won’t follow the law and require disclosure of the real funders for dark-money political groups that clog the airwaves with negative and misleading ads.

These nominally independent 501(c)4 groups plowed millions of dollars into the 2012 elections, and there’s every indication they’ll be back in even greater numbers in 2014.

And while the Federal Elections Commission is limited in its ability to identify the funders of the groups that emerged in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the FCC has a clear legal path to mandate transparency.

Broadcasters are obliged by law to disclose who pays for political ads in exchange for using the airwaves. It’s a public interest bargain stretching back almost a century, and one that forms the foundation of US communications law.

Free Press and our allies won a major victory in 2012 when the FCC ordered all television stations to post this information to an online database the agency manages. In the past, you could find this information only by visiting each station, a time-consuming process that uncooperative receptionists, steep photocopying fees and incomplete and unwieldy paper files made even more complicated.

Now you can go to a single website and find important data on who is spending how much on political ads at major stations in the nation’s 50 largest television markets. (The FCC plans to include political file data from stations in all 210 U.S. broadcasts markets by 2014.)

While a vast improvement over its paper-file predecessor, the system has some glitches. The FCC should make it easier to aggregate, search and analyze the data by requiring television stations to upload their political files in a machine-readable format.

It should also require fuller disclosure. Communications law expert Andrew Schwartzman, who serves as a legal adviser to Free Press, has petitioned the FCC to enforce existing sponsor identification requirements and disclose the names of principal funders in the body of the ads themselves.

Taking this action would let viewers know that an ad from Concerned Taxpayers of America is actually the creation of two multimillionaires: the owner of a Maryland concrete company and a New York hedge-fund manager.

And that scares Sen. Cruz and his supporters in groups like the Koch brothers funded Americans for Prosperity, which raises millions of dollars from anonymous donors to run attack ads against their political foes.

Letting the FCC do its job means advancing the public interest at a time when politicians are running amok in Washington. And that means shedding light on the money that helped elect many of these individuals, no matter which party they’re from.

Sen. Cruz shouldn’t deny us our right to know. His reckless ambitions are hurting our democracy. Cruz needs to lift his hold and stop blocking the FCC’s vital work on political disclosure.


The Lies That Will Kill America

October 25, 2013
by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Here in Manhattan the other day, you couldn’t miss it — the big bold headline across the front page of the tabloid New York Post, screaming one of those sick, slick lies that are a trademark of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media empire. There was Uncle Sam, brandishing a revolver and wearing a burglar’s mask. “UNCLE SCAM,” the headline shouted. “US robs bank of $13 billion.”

Say what? Pure whitewash, and Murdoch’s minions know it. That $13 billion dollars is the settlement JPMorgan Chase, the country’s biggest bank, is negotiating with the government to settle its own rip-off of American homeowners and investors — those shady practices that five years ago helped trigger the financial meltdown, including manipulating mortgages and sending millions of Americans into bankruptcy or foreclosure. If anybody’s been robbed it’s not JPMorgan Chase, which can absorb the loss and probably take a tax write-off for at least part of it. No, it’s the American public. In addition to financial heartache we still have been denied the satisfaction of seeing jail time for any of the banksters who put our feet in cement and pushed us off the cliff.

This isn’t the only scandal JPMorgan Chase is juggling. A $6 billion settlement with institutional investors is in the works and criminal charges may still be filed in California. The bank is under investigation on so many fronts it’s hard to keep them sorted out – everything from deceptive sales in its credit card unit to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme to the criminal manipulation of energy markets and bribing Chinese officials by offering jobs to their kids.

Nor is JPMorgan Chase the only culprit under scrutiny. Bank of America was found guilty just this week of civil fraud, and a gaggle of other banks is being investigated by the government for mortgage fraud. No wonder the camp followers at Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC and other cheerleaders have ganged up to whitewash the banks. If justice is somehow served, this could be the biggest egg yet across the smug face of unfettered, unchecked, unaccountable capitalism.

One face in particular: Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. One of Murdoch’s Fox Business News hosts, Charlie Gasparino, claims the Feds are on a witch hunt against Dimon for criticizing President Obama, whose administration, we are told, “is brutally determined and efficient when it comes to squashing those who oppose their policies.” But hold on: Dimon is a Democrat, said to be Obama’s favorite banker, with so much entree he’s been doing his own negotiating with the attorney general of the United States.

But that’s crony capitalism for you, bipartisan to a fault. Rupert Murdoch has been defending Dimon in his media for a long time. Last spring, when it looked like there might be a stockholders revolt against Dimon, Murdoch was one of many bigwigs who rushed to his defense. He tweeted that JPMorgan would be “up a creek” without Dimon. “One of the smartest, toughest guys around,” Murdoch insisted. Whether Murdoch’s exaltation had an effect or not, Dimon was handily reelected.

Over the last few days, The Wall Street Journal, both Bible and supplicant of high finance as well as one of Murdoch’s more reputable publications — at least in its reporting — echoed the “UNCLE SCAM” indignation of the more lowbrow Post. The government just wants “to appease their left-wing populist allies,” its editorial writers raged, with a “political shakedown and wealth-redistribution scheme.” Perhaps, the paper suggested, the White House will distribute some of the JPMorgan Chase penalty to consumers and advocacy groups and “have the checks arrive in swing congressional districts right before the 2014 election.” We can hear the closet Bolsheviks panting for their handouts now and getting ready to use their phony ID’s to stuff the box on Election Day with multiple illegal ballots.

Such fantasies are all part of the Murdoch News Corp. pattern, an unending flow of falsehood and phony populism that in reality serves only the wealthy elite. Fox News is its ministry of misinformation, the fake jewel of the News Corp. crown, a 24/7 purveyor of flimflam and the occasional selective truth. Look at the pounding they’ve given Obama’s healthcare reform right from the very start, whether the non-existent death panels or claims that it would cause the highest tax increase in history.

While it’s true that the startup of Obamacare has been plagued by its website nightmare and other problems, Fox News consistently has failed to mention Republican roadblocks that prevented the program from getting proper funding or the fact that so many states ruled by Republican governors and legislatures — more than 30 — have deliberately failed to set up the insurance marketplaces critical to making the new system work. Just the other day, Eric Stern at fact-checked a segment on Sean Hannity’s show. “Average Americans are feeling the pain of Obamacare and the healthcare overhaul train wreck,” Hannity declared, “and six of them are here tonight to tell us their stories.”

Eric Stern tracked down each of the Hannity Six and found that while their questions about health reform may have been valid, the answers they received from Hannity or had decided for themselves were not. “I don’t doubt that these six individuals believe that Obamacare is a disaster,” Stern reported. “But none of them had even visited the insurance exchange.”

And there you have the problem: ideology and self-interest trump the facts or even caring about the facts, whether it’s banking, Obamacare or global warming. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists say that climate change is happening and that humans have made it so, but only four in ten Americans realize it’s true. According to a new study in the journal Public Understanding of Science, written by a team that includes Yale University’s Anthony Leiserowitz, the more that people listen to conservative media like Fox News or Limbaugh, the less sure they are that global warming is real. And even worse, the less they trust science.

Such ignorance will kill democracy as surely as the big money that funds and encourages the media outlets, parties and individuals who spew the lies and hate. The ground is all too fertile for those who will only believe whatever best fits their resentment or particular brand of paranoia. It is, as an old song lyric goes, “the self-deception that believes the lie.” The truth will set us free; the lie will make prisoners of us all.


October 26, 2013

Few Problems With Cannabis for California


LOS ANGELES — In the heart of Northern California’s marijuana growing region, the sheriff’s office is inundated each fall with complaints about the stench of marijuana plots or the latest expropriation of public land by growers. Its tranquil communities have been altered by the emergence of a wealthy class of marijuana entrepreneurs, while nearly 500 miles away in Los Angeles, officials have struggled to regulate an explosion of medical marijuana shops.

But at a time when polls show widening public support for legalization — recreational marijuana is about to become legal in Colorado and Washington, and voter initiatives are in the pipeline in at least three other states — California’s 17-year experience as the first state to legalize medical marijuana offers surprising lessons, experts say.

Warnings voiced against partial legalization — of civic disorder, increased lawlessness and a drastic rise in other drug use — have proved unfounded.

Instead, research suggests both that marijuana has become an alcohol substitute for younger people here and in other states that have legalized medical marijuana, and that while driving under the influence of any intoxicant is dangerous, driving after smoking marijuana is less dangerous than after drinking alcohol.

Although marijuana is legal here only for medical use, it is widely available. There is no evidence that its use by teenagers has risen since the 1996 legalization, though it is an open question whether outright legalization would make the drug that much easier for young people to get, and thus contribute to increased use.

And though Los Angeles has struggled to regulate marijuana dispensaries, with neighborhoods upset at their sheer number, the threat of unsavory street traffic and the stigma of marijuana shops on the corner, communities that imposed early and strict regulations on their operations have not experienced such disruption.

Imposing a local tax on medical marijuana, as Oakland, San Jose and other communities have done, has not pushed consumers to drug dealers as some analysts expected. Presumably that is because it is so easy to get reliable and high-quality marijuana legally.

Finally, for consumers, the era of legalized medical marijuana has meant an expanded market and often cheaper prices. Buyers here gaze over showcases offering a rich assortment of marijuana, promising different potencies and different kinds of highs. Cannabis sativa produces a pronounced psychological high, a “head buzz,” while cannabis indica delivers a more relaxed, lethargic effect, a “body buzz.”

Advocates for marijuana legalization see the moves in Colorado and Washington as the start of a wave. A Gallup poll released last week found that 58 percent of Americans think the drug should be made legal.

“There is definitely going to be a legalization here at some point, one way or another, like in Colorado and Washington,” said Tom Ammiano, a Democratic state assemblyman from San Francisco who has pushed the Legislature to legalize recreational marijuana use.

Still, even as public opinion in support of legalizing marijuana has grown, opposition remains strong among many, including some law enforcement organizations, which warn that the use of the drug leads to marijuana dependence, endangers the health of users and encourages the use of other drugs.

“Unfortunately, many have been convinced that marijuana is harmless, and many in policing do not believe that is the case,” Darrel W. Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, wrote in an e-mail.

Craig T. Steckler, a former chief of the Police Department in Fremont, Calif., who is now the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said the problems in Los Angeles and robberies of cash-rich marijuana farms in Northern California were just two of the reasons states should hesitate before legalizing the drug.

“If it’s more readily accessible, if the parents and the siblings are doing it, then it becomes available to the younger kids — it’s going to be in the house, it’s going to be in the car,” he said.

“Where does it stop?” Mr. Steckler asked. “You make all drugs legal? Or just marijuana for now and suffer for that? What happens when you find out this wasn’t such a good idea?”

After California, medical marijuana was legalized in 19 states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Although the law in California applies only to people who have a medical need for marijuana, like glaucoma or cancer, the requirements for getting the card to buy the drug are notoriously lax. Doctors can recommend its use for ailments as common as sleeplessness and headaches. And marijuana in California has become almost as culturally accepted, and in some parts of the state nearly as widely used, as alcohol.

“Marijuana users are much more representative of the overall adult population in California than medical marijuana populations in other states,” said Amanda Reiman, the state policy director for the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization working toward the decriminalization of marijuana.

The percentage of California drivers with traces of marijuana in their systems, 14 percent, was found to be nearly double that of people with alcohol during a spot check last year, according to a report from the California Office of Traffic Safety.

In a broad study on the ramifications of legalizing recreational marijuana about to be published in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, two economics professors said a survey of evidence showed a correlation between increased marijuana use and less alcohol use for people ages 18 to 29.

The researchers, D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University and Daniel I. Rees of the University of Colorado, said that based on their study, they expected younger people in Colorado and Washington to use marijuana more and alcohol less.

“These states will experience a reduction in the social harms resulting from alcohol use: Reducing traffic injuries and fatalities is potentially one of the most important,” the professors said.

Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an expert on marijuana policy who was the chief adviser to Washington on its marijuana law, said the connection between alcohol and marijuana use, if borne out, would be a powerful argument in favor of decriminalization.

“If it turns out that cannabis and alcohol are substitutes, then by my scoring system, legalizing cannabis is obviously a good idea,” Mr. Kleiman said. “Alcohol is so much more of a problem than cannabis ever has been.”

Still, he said, it will take time before long-term judgments can be made.

“Does it cause problems?” he said. “Certainly. Is it on balance a good or bad thing? Ask me 10 years from now.”

Mr. Rees also said his study found no evidence of increased drug use among high school students in Los Angeles during the period when medical marijuana shops opened here, probably because dispensaries were vigilant about not risking their thriving ventures by selling to under-age consumers.

“The dispensary numbers went through the roof,” he said. “But nothing happens to marijuana use among teenagers.”

The marijuana cultivation business in Northern California has been an economic boon for many communities, creating tax revenues, an industry of ancillary industries, and local wealth, visible by expensive cars parked along once dusty streets.

“A lot of cottage industries have popped up that service the marijuana industry,” said Scot Candell, a lawyer in San Rafael who specializes in medical marijuana clients. “Labs that do testing, hydroponic stores that provide growing equipment, software developers, insurance companies that specialize in dispensaries.”

Steve DeAngelo, the founder of the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, one of the state’s largest marijuana dispensaries, said his dispensary collected $1.2 million last year in marijuana sales tax for the city.

Medical marijuana, he said, has “created a whole new cast of people who have a vested interest in cannabis.”

“What was inevitable is that the movement, at some point, would go into hyper-speed, and that is what’s happening now,” he said.

This has altered the economy of places like Mendocino County.

“I am not aware of any business in Mendocino County that doesn’t consider marijuana as part of their business plan, and that can be good and bad,” said Sheriff Thomas D. Allman.

Mr. Candell said that while regulation was important, overregulation could be counterproductive. In California, several communities outlawed all marijuana dispensaries, giving rise to delivery services, which are not subject to regulation.

In Mendocino the issue is not dispensaries, but cultivation. There has been a spectacular rise in the amount of marijuana being grown there because, under county law, individuals with medical marijuana cards can have up to 25 plants for personal use.

Sheriff Allman said he spent about 30 percent of his resources on medical marijuana cases, especially between April and October, the growing season. The No. 1 call to 911 in October is complaints about the overwhelming smell of a next-door plot.

In Los Angeles, repeated attempts to regulate the stores have failed, causing an uproar in quiet neighborhoods like Larchmont and Mar Vista. Yet there is a lesson here: San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, which imposed strict regulations on the shops from the start, have had few problems.

“Those cities really took charge in 1996, saying: ‘We have to figure out how we are going to regulate this. We need to figure out how marijuana could be sold, how it will be regulated, what it will mean for tax revenue,’ ” Ms. Reiman said. “As a result, those three cities have seen little to no issues in terms of crime or public safety issues.”

Consumers of marijuana are also benefiting. Competition among growers has resulted in powerful strains, raising the levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, to as high as 25 percent. Previously, levels ranged from 6 percent to 9 percent.

And since cities have competing dispensaries, prices have tended to decrease or at least keep pace with street prices. At Harborside in Oakland, marijuana buds run anywhere from $240 to $360 an ounce, though patients tend to buy smaller amounts like an eighth or a quarter of an ounce.

The array of products has exploded, and now includes not only smokable buds but also hashish, marijuana-rich oils that are drunk or smoked, edible cakes and other food products, and topical ointments intended to ease skin or joint pain without providing a high.

California has learned a lot in its years of dealing with a legal form of marijuana, Mr. Candell said. “But there are a lot of states that are just now going through it, and there are things they need to know.”


October 26, 2013

Vision of Prairie Paradise Troubles Some Montana Ranchers


MALTA, Mont. — On fields where cattle graze and wheat grows, a group of conservationists and millionaire donors are stitching together their dreams of an American Serengeti. Acre by acre, they are trying to build a new kind of national park, buying up old ranches to create a grassland reserve where 10,000 bison roam and fences are few.

The privately financed project — now a decade in the making — has ambitions as big as the Montana sky, tapping private fortunes to preserve the country’s open landscapes. Supporters see it as the last, best way to create wide-open public spaces in an era of budget cuts, government shutdowns and bitter battles between land developers and conservationists.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said George E. Matelich, the chairman of the conservation group, American Prairie Reserve, and a managing director of a New York private equity firm. “It’s a project for America.”

The trouble is many ranching families here in northern Montana say it is not a project for them. As the reserve buys out families and expands its holdings — it now has about 274,000 acres of private ranches and leased public lands — some here are digging in their heels and vowing not to let their ranches become part of the project.

They say they know the transformative power of real estate out West: Western mining towns become ski havens, high mesas become ranch retreats for business moguls, and cultures inevitably change.

“We don’t intend to sell,” said Leo Barthelmess, 57, who was 8 when his family moved here and settled on a 25,000-acre sheep and cattle ranch. “We have children coming back. We’re working on a succession plan. We want this landscape to carry on to the next generation.”

Mr. Barthelmess and other ranchers say families like theirs have rebuilt the prairie, season by season, since the destruction wrought by the Dust Bowl. They work with conservation groups, rotate their herds to encourage a healthy mix of prairie grass and set aside ample room for sage grouse, plovers and herons. They are trying to till less ground, which can destroy an underground ecosystem. Some even allow small colonies of prairie dogs, which many farmers exterminate as pests.

“We’ve already saved this landscape,” Mr. Barthelmess said.

As more of their neighbors sell, some ranchers say they worry that this corner of Phillips County, population 4,128, will sacrifice its identity. Two years ago, people here railed against the whiff of a federal proposal to create a new national monument along the Canadian border. A billboard along the gravel roads informs visitors that the county can produce enough cattle to feed more than two million people.

“These are our livelihoods, these are our businesses,” said Perri Jacobs, whose husband’s family has run their ranch since 1917. “This is an agriculturally based economy. That’s about being able to fund our schools and our government and being able to support our businesses on Main Street.”

Officials at the American Prairie Reserve say they have done everything possible to be good neighbors and have not foisted their vision on anyone. They have installed electric fences to ensure that their 275 bison do not roam onto other people’s property. They allow hunting on the land. They lease back some of their land to allow ranchers to graze their cows.

They say they take an understated approach to buying land. They approach families after they have decided to sell, and sometimes negotiate arrangements that let ranchers live or work on their land for years after a sale goes through. Because the reserve project is nonprofit, officials say they can bid only fair-market value and do not artificially drive up property prices.

“It’s a misnomer that we’re paying top dollar,” said Sean Gerrity, the president of the American Prairie Reserve. “There are some properties we’re interested in, but they’re currently priced at above market value and we can’t go there.”

Still, the financial profiles of the reserve’s supporters have created a divide in a county where the average job pays about $25,400, according to Montana State University. The group has several current and retired fund managers and retail billionaires on its board, and counts heirs to the Mars candy fortune as supporters. It has raised a total of more than $63 million in donations and pledges.

Mr. Gerrity estimated it would take 15 to 20 more years to quilt together the patchwork of public and private lands that represent the group’s vision of three million acres of preserved prairie. Right now, the group owns about 58,000 acres outright and has grazing leases on an additional 215,000 acres of federal land.

The reserve’s goal is to revive a landscape that existed when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed through in the early 1800s. They have taken down 37 miles of fence. They have replanted some tilled ground with native grasses. They have pulled down barns and sheds and cleared away heaps of trash. Their bison saunter across dirt roads.

“The idea is to open this place back up,” said Dick Dolan, who oversees acquisitions and finances for the reserve. “The vision is to have an ecosystem functioning as naturally as possible.”

A public campground has been open for two years, and the reserve has also put the finishing touches on a camp of high-end yurts, complete with hot showers and air-conditioning. Some in the area have grumbled that sleeping in a climate-controlled yurt and eating chef-prepared meals hardly qualifies as roughing it.

But what binds the ranching families and their new neighbors is a fierce love of the land. One evening, just before sunset, Mr. Dolan stood astride a bluff overlooking undulating stretches of sagebrush and prairie grass. The Little Rocky Mountains lay to his left. The Missouri River ran behind him. In the riverbeds below, the leaves of cottonwoods and box elders were burning yellow. He spread his arms wide.

“It makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the ocean,” he said. “It’s a big, big place. It’s such a beautiful landscape.”
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10/27/2013 07:02 PM

Embassy Espionage: The NSA's Secret Spy Hub in Berlin


According to SPIEGEL research, United States intelligence agencies have not only targeted Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone, but they have also used the American Embassy in Berlin as a listening station. The revelations now pose a serious threat to German-American relations.

It's a prime site, a diplomat's dream. Is there any better location for an embassy than Berlin's Pariser Platz? It's just a few paces from here to the Reichstag. When the American ambassador steps out the door, he looks directly onto the Brandenburg Gate.

When the United States moved into the massive embassy building in 2008, it threw a huge party. Over 4,500 guests were invited. Former President George H. W. Bush cut the red-white-and-blue ribbon. Chancellor Angela Merkel offered warm words for the occasion. Since then, when the US ambassador receives high-ranking visitors, they often take a stroll out to the roof terrace, which offers a breathtaking view of the Reichstag and Tiergarten park. Even the Chancellery can be glimpsed. This is the political heart of the republic, where billion-euro budgets are negotiated, laws are formulated and soldiers are sent to war. It's an ideal location for diplomats -- and for spies.

Research by SPIEGEL reporters in Berlin and Washington, talks with intelligence officials and the evaluation of internal documents of the US' National Security Agency and other information, most of which comes from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, lead to the conclusion that the US diplomatic mission in the German capital has not merely been promoting German-American friendship. On the contrary, it is a nest of espionage. From the roof of the embassy, a special unit of the CIA and NSA can apparently monitor a large part of cellphone communication in the government quarter. And there is evidence that agents based at Pariser Platz recently targeted the cellphone that Merkel uses the most.

The NSA spying scandal has thus reached a new level, becoming a serious threat to the trans-Atlantic partnership. The mere suspicion that one of Merkel's cellphones was being monitored by the NSA has led in the past week to serious tensions between Berlin and Washington.

Hardly anything is as sensitive a subject to Merkel as the surveillance of her cellphone. It is her instrument of power. She uses it not only to lead her party, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), but also to conduct a large portion of government business. Merkel uses the device so frequently that there was even debate earlier this year over whether her text-messaging activity should be archived as part of executive action.

'That's Just Not Done'

Merkel has often said -- half in earnest, half in jest -- that she operates under the assumption that her phone calls are being monitored. But she apparently had in mind countries like China and Russia, where data protection is not taken very seriously, and not Germany's friends in Washington.

Last Wednesday Merkel placed a strongly worded phone call to US President Barack Obama. Sixty-two percent of Germans approve of her harsh reaction, according to a survey by polling institute YouGov. A quarter think it was too mild. In a gesture of displeasure usually reserved for rogue states, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle summoned the new US ambassador, John Emerson, for a meeting at the Foreign Ministry.

The NSA affair has shaken the certainties of German politics. Even Merkel's CDU, long a loyal friend of Washington, is now openly questioning the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement. At the Chancellery it's now being said that if the US government doesn't take greater pains to clarify the situation, certain conclusions will be drawn and talks over the agreement could potentially be put on hold.

"Spying between friends, that's just not done," said Merkel on Thursday at a European Union summit in Brussels. "Now trust has to be rebuilt." But until recently it sounded as if the government had faith in its ally's intelligence agencies.

In mid-August Merkel's chief of staff, Ronald Pofalla, offhandedly described the NSA scandal as over. German authorities offered none of their own findings -- just a dry statement from the NSA leadership saying the agency adhered to all agreements between the countries.

Now it is not just Pofalla who stands disgraced, but Merkel as well. She looks like a head of government who only stands up to Obama when she herself is a target of the US intelligence services. The German website Der Postillon published a satirical version last Thursday of the statement given by Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert: "The chancellor considers it a slap in the face that she has most likely been monitored over the years just like some mangy resident of Germany."

Merkel has nothing to fear domestically from the recent turn of affairs. The election is over, the conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats are already in official negotiations toward forming a new government. No one wants to poison the atmosphere with mutual accusation.

Nevertheless, Merkel must now answer the question of how much she is willing to tolerate from her American allies.

Posing as Diplomats

A "top secret" classified NSA document from the year 2010 shows that a unit known as the "Special Collection Service" (SCS) is operational in Berlin, among other locations. It is an elite corps run in concert by the US intelligence agencies NSA and CIA.

The secret list reveals that its agents are active worldwide in around 80 locations, 19 of which are in Europe -- cities such as Paris, Madrid, Rome, Prague and Geneva. The SCS maintains two bases in Germany, one in Berlin and another in Frankfurt. That alone is unusual. But in addition, both German bases are equipped at the highest level and staffed with active personnel.

The SCS teams predominantly work undercover in shielded areas of the American Embassy and Consulate, where they are officially accredited as diplomats and as such enjoy special privileges. Under diplomatic protection, they are able to look and listen unhindered. They just can't get caught.

Wiretapping from an embassy is illegal in nearly every country. But that is precisely the task of the SCS, as is evidenced by another secret document. According to the document, the SCS operates its own sophisticated listening devices with which they can intercept virtually every popular method of communication: cellular signals, wireless networks and satellite communication.

The necessary equipment is usually installed on the upper floors of the embassy buildings or on rooftops where the technology is covered with screens or Potemkin-like structures that protect it from prying eyes.

That is apparently the case in Berlin, as well. SPIEGEL asked British investigative journalist Duncan Campbell to appraise the setup at the embassy. In 1976, Campbell uncovered the existence of the British intelligence service GCHQ. In his so-called "Echelon Report" in 1999, he described for the European Parliament the existence of the global surveillance network of the same name.

Campbell refers to window-like indentations on the roof of the US Embassy. They are not glazed but rather veneered with "dielectric" material and are painted to blend into the surrounding masonry. This material is permeable even by weak radio signals. The interception technology is located behind these radio-transparent screens, says Campbell. The offices of SCS agents would most likely be located in the same windowless attic.

No Comment from the NSA

This would correspond to internal NSA documents seen by SPIEGEL. They show, for example, an SCS office in another US embassy -- a small windowless room full of cables with a work station of "signal processing racks" containing dozens of plug-in units for "signal analysis."

On Friday, author and NSA expert James Bamford also visited SPIEGEL's Berlin bureau, which is located on Pariser Platz diagonally opposite the US Embassy. "To me, it looks like NSA eavesdropping equipment is hidden behind there," he said. "The covering seems to be made of the same material that the agency uses to shield larger systems."

The Berlin-based security expert Andy Müller Maguhn was also consulted. "The location is ideal for intercepting mobile communications in Berlin's government district," he says, "be it technical surveillance of communication between cellphones and wireless cell towers or radio links that connect radio towers to the network."

Apparently, SCS agents use the same technology all over the world. They can intercept cellphone signals while simultaneously locating people of interest. One antenna system used by the SCS is known by the affable code name "Einstein."

When contacted by SPIEGEL, the NSA declined to comment on the matter.

The SCS are careful to hide their technology, especially the large antennas on the roofs of embassies and consulates. If the equipment is discovered, explains a "top secret" set of classified internal guidelines, it "would cause serious harm to relations between the United States and a foreign government."

According to the documents, SCS units can also intercept microwave and millimeter-wave signals. Some programs, such as one entitled "Birdwatcher," deal primarily with encrypted communications in foreign countries and the search for potential access points. Birdwatcher is controlled directly from SCS headquarters in Maryland.

With the growing importance of the Internet, the work of the SCS has changed. Some 80 branches offer "thousands of opportunities on the net" for web-based operations, according to an internal presentation. The organization is now able not only to intercept cellphone calls and satellite communication, but also to proceed against criminals or hackers. From some embassies, the Americans have planted sensors in communications equipment of the respective host countries that are triggered by selected terms.

How the Scandal Began
There are strong indications that it was the SCS that targeted Chancellor Angela Merkel's cellphone. This is suggested by a document that apparently comes from an NSA database in which the agency records its targets. This document, which SPIEGEL has seen, is what set the cellphone scandal in motion.

The document contains Merkel's cellphone number. An inquiry to her team revealed that it is the number the chancellor uses mainly to communicate with party members, ministers and confidants, often by text message. The number is, in the language of the NSA, a "Selector Value." The next two fields determine the format ("raw phone number") and the "Subscriber," identified as "GE Chancellor Merkel."

In the next field, labeled "Ropi," the NSA defines who is interested in the German chancellor: It is the department S2C32. "S" stands for "Signals Intelligence Directorate," the NSA umbrella term for signal reconnaissance. "2" is the agency's department for procurement and evaluation. C32 is the unit responsible for Europe, the "European States Branch." So the order apparently came down from Europe specialists in charge of signal reconnaissance.

The time stamp is noteworthy. The order was transferred to the "National Sigint Requirements List," the list of national intelligence targets, in 2002. That was the year Germany held closely watched parliamentary elections and Merkel battled Edmund Stoiber of Bavaria's Christian Social Union to become the conservatives' chancellor candidate. It was also the year the Iraq crisis began heating up. The document also lists status: "A" for active. This status was apparently valid a few weeks before President Obama's Berlin visit in June 2013.

Finally, the document defines the units tasked with implementing the order: the "Target Office of Primary Interest": "F666E." "F6" is the NSA's internal name for the global surveillance unit, the "Special Collection Service."

Thus, the NSA would have targeted Merkel's cellphone for more than a decade, first when she was just party chair, as well as later when she'd become chancellor. The record does not indicate what form of surveillance has taken place. Were all of her conversations recorded or just connection data? Were her movements also being recorded?

'Intelligence Target Number One'

Among the politically decisive questions is whether the spying was authorized from the top: from the US president. If the data is accurate, the operation was authorized under former President George W. Bush and his NSA chief, Michael Hayden. But it would have had to be repeatedly approved, including after Obama took office and up to the present time. Is it conceivable that the NSA made the German chancellor a surveillance target without the president's knowledge?

The White House and the US intelligence agencies periodically put together a list of priorities. Listed by country and theme, the result is a matrix of global surveillance: What are the intelligence targets in various countries? How important is this reconnaissance? The list is called the "National Intelligence Priorities Framework" and is "presidentially approved."

One category in this list is "Leadership Intentions," the goals and objectives of a country's political leadership. The intentions of China's leadership are of high interest to the US government. They are marked with a "1" on a scale of 1 to 5. Mexico and Brazil each receive a "3" in this category.

Germany appears on this list as well. The US intelligence agencies are mainly interested in the country's economic stability and foreign policy objectives (both "3"), as well as in its advanced weapons systems and a few other sub-items, all of which are marked "4." The "Leadership Intention" field is empty. So based on the list, it wouldn't appear that Merkel should be monitored.

Former NSA employee Thomas Drake does not see this as a contradiction. "After the attacks of September 11, 2001, Germany became intelligence target number one in Europe," he says. The US government did not trust Germany, because some of the Sept. 11 suicide pilots had lived in Hamburg. Evidence suggests that the NSA recorded Merkel once and then became intoxicated with success, says Drake. "It has always been the NSA's motto to conduct as much surveillance as possible," he adds.

A Political Bomb

When SPIEGEL confronted the government on Oct. 10 with evidence that the chancellor's cellphone had been targeted, the German security apparatus became deeply unsettled.

The Chancellery ordered the country's foreign intelligence agency, the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), to scrutinize the information. In parallel, Christoph Heusgen, Merkel's foreign policy adviser, also contacted his US counterpart, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, to tell her about SPIEGEL's research, which had been summarized on a single sheet of paper. Rice said she would look into it.

Shortly afterwards, German security authorities got back to the Chancellery with a preliminary result: The numbers, dates and secret codes on the paper indicated the information was accurate. It was probably some kind of form from an intelligence agency department requesting surveillance on the chancellor's cellphone, they said. At this point, a sense of nervousness began to grow at government headquarters. It was clear to everyone that if the Americans were monitoring Merkel's phone, it would be a political bomb.

But then Rice called the Chancellery on Friday evening to explain that if reports began to circulate that Merkel's phone had been targeted, Washington would deny it -- or at least that is how the Germans understood the message. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney assured his counterpart, Merkel's spokesperson Steffen Seibert, of the same thing. The message was passed on to SPIEGEL late that evening without comment, at which point editors decided to continue investigating.

With this, both the US agencies and Berlin won themselves more time to come up with a battle plan for approaching the deep crisis of confidence between the two countries. And it was clearly already a crisis of confidence, because Berlin obviously doubted the statements coming from the US and hadn't called off its probe. And, as later became clear, there were also inquiries taking place in the US, despite the denial from Rice.

Over the weekend, the tide turned.

Rice contacted Heusgen once again, but this time her voice sounded less certain. She said that the possibility the chancellor's phone was under surveillance could only be ruled out currently and in the future. Heusgen asked for more details, but was put off. The chief adviser to the president on Europe, Karen Donfried, and the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia at the US State Department, Victoria Nuland, would provide further information midweek, he was told. By this time it was clear to the Chancellery that if Obama's top security adviser no longer felt comfortable ruling out possible surveillance, this amounted to confirmation of their suspicions.

Going on the Offensive

This detail only served to intensify the catastrophe. Not only had supposed friends monitored the chancellor's cellphone, which was bad enough on its own, but leaders in Berlin were also left looking like a group of amateurs. They had believed the assurances made this summer by Obama, who downplayed the notion of spying in Germany on a visit to Berlin. German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich had even gone so far as to say at the time that Germany's concerns had "dissipated."

On Tuesday morning Merkel decided to go on the offensive. She had seen how strongly French President François Hollande had reacted to allegations that US intelligence agencies had conducted widespread surveillance on French citizens. Hollande called Obama immediately to air his anger. Merkel now wanted to speak with Obama personally too -- before her planned meeting with Hollande at the upcoming EU summit in Brussels.

Heusgen made a preliminary call to Obama to let him know that Merkel planned to make some serious complaints, with which she would then go public. At stake was control over the political interpretation of one of the year's most explosive news stories.

Merkel spoke with Obama on Wednesday afternoon, calling him from her secure landline in her Chancellery office. Both spoke English. According to the Chancellery, the president said that he had known nothing of possible monitoring, otherwise he would have stopped it. Obama also expressed his deepest regrets and apologized.

Around 5:30 p.m. the same day, Merkel's chief of staff, Pofalla, informed two members of the Parliamentary Control Panel, the body in Germany's parliament charged with keeping tabs on the country's intelligence agencies, of what was going on. At the same time, the administration went public with the matter. It contacted SPIEGEL first with a statement containing Merkel's criticism of possible spying on her cellphone. Her spokesman Seibert called it a "grave breach of trust" -- a choice of phrase seen as the highest level of verbal escalation among allied diplomats.

Surprising Unscrupulousness
The scandal revives an old question: Are the German security agencies too trusting of the Americans? Until now, German agencies have typically concerned themselves with China and Russia in their counterintelligence work, for which the domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BFV), is responsible.

A year ago, there was already debate between the agencies, the Interior Ministry and the Chancellery over whether Germany should be taking a harder look at what American agents were up to in the country. But the idea was jettisoned because it seemed too politically sensitive. The main question at the time came down to whether monitoring allies should be allowed.

Even to seasoned German intelligence officials, the revelations that have come to light present a picture of surprising unscrupulousness. It's quite possible that the BFV could soon be tasked with investigating the activities of the CIA and NSA.

The ongoing spying scandal is also fueling allegations that the Germans have been allowing the NSA to lead them around by the nose. From the beginning of the NSA scandal, Berlin has conducted its attempts to clarify the allegations with a mixture of naivety and ignorance.

Letters with anxious questions were sent, and a group of government department leaders traveled to Washington to meet with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. The BND was also commissioned with negotiating a "no-spying pact" with the US agencies. In this way, Merkel's government feigned activity while remaining largely in the dark. In fact, it relied primarily on the assurance from the US that its intentions were good.

It also seems to be difficult for German intelligence agencies to actually track the activities of the NSA. High-level government officials admit the Americans' technical capabilities are in many ways superior to what exists in Germany. At the BFV domestic intelligence agency, for example, not even every employee has a computer with an Internet connection.

But now, as a consequence of the spying scandal, the German agencies want to beef up their capabilities. "We're talking about a fundamental realignment of counterintelligence," said one senior security official. There are already more than 100 employees at the BFV responsible for counterintelligence, but officials are hoping to see this double.

One focus of strategic considerations is the embassy buildings in central Berlin. "We don't know which roofs currently have spying equipment installed," says the security official. "That is a problem."

Trade Agreement at Risk?

When the news of Merkel's mobile phone being tapped began making the rounds, the BND and the BSI, the federal agency responsible for information security, took over investigation of the matter. There too, officials have been able to do nothing more than ask questions of the Americans when such sensitive issues have come up in recent months.

But now German-American relations are threatened with an ice age. Merkel's connection to Obama wasn't particularly good before the spying scandal. The chancellor is said to consider the president overrated -- a politician who talks a lot but does little, and is unreliable to boot.

One example, from Berlin's perspective, was the military operation in Libya almost three years ago, which Obama initially rejected. When then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton convinced him to change his mind, he did so without consulting his allies. Berlin saw this as evidence of his fickleness and disregard for their concerns.

The chancellor also finds Washington's regular advice on how to solve the euro crisis irritating. She would prefer not to receive instruction from the country that caused the collapse of the global financial system in the first place. Meanwhile, the Americans have been annoyed for years that Germany isn't willing to do more to boost the world economy.

Merkel also feels as though she was duped. The Chancellery now plans once again to review the assurances of US intelligence agencies to make sure they are abiding by the law.

The chancellor's office is also now considering the possibility that the much-desired trans-Atlantic free trade agreement could fail if the NSA affair isn't properly cleared up. Since the latest revelations came out, some 58 percent of Germans say they support breaking off ongoing talks, while just 28 percent are against it. "We should put the negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the US on ice until the accusations against the NSA have been clarified," says Bavarian Economy Minister Ilse Aigner, a member of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Outgoing Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has used the scandal as an excuse to appeal to the conscience of her counterpart in Washington, Attorney General Eric Holder. "The citizens rightly expect that American institutions also adhere to German laws. Unfortunately, there are a number of indications to the contrary," she wrote in a letter to Holder last week.

EU Leaders Consider Consequences

The American spying tactics weren't far from the minds of leaders at the EU summit in Brussels last Thursday, either. French President Hollande was the first to bring it up at dinner, saying that while he didn't want to demonize the intelligence agencies, the Americans had so blatantly broken the law on millions of counts that he couldn't imagine how things could go on this way.

Hollande called for a code of conduct among the intelligence agencies, an idea for which Merkel also showed support. But soon doubts emerged: Wouldn't Europe also have to take a look at its own surveillance practices? What if a German or French Snowden came forward to reveal dirty spy tactics? British Prime Minister David Cameron pointed out how many terror attacks had been prevented because of spying capabilities. Then it was asked whether it has been proven that Obama even knows what his agencies are doing. Suddenly, mutual understanding seemed to waft through the group.

That was a bit too rich for Hollande: No, he interjected, spying to such an immense degree, allegedly on more than 70 million phone calls per month in France alone -- that has been undertaken by only one country: the United States. The interruption was effective. After nearly three hours, the EU member states agreed on a statement that can be read as clear disapproval of the Americans.

Merkel no longer wants to rely solely on promises. This week Günter Heiss, Chancellor Merkel's intelligence coordinator, will travel to Washington. Heiss wants the Americans finally to promise a contract excluding mutual surveillance. The German side already announced its intention to sign on to this no-spying pact during the summer, but the US government has so far shown little inclination to seriously engage with the topic.

This is, of course, also about the chancellor's cellphone. Because despite all the anger, Merkel still didn't want to give up using her old number as of the end of last week. She was using it to make calls and to send text messages. Only for very delicate conversations did she switch to a secure line.


Translated from the German by Kristen Allen and Charly Wilder


Obama personally informed of NSA spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2010: German media

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 27, 2013 10:54 EDT

US President Barack Obama was personally informed of phone tapping against German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which may have begun as early as 2002, German media reported Sunday as a damaging espionage scandal widened.

Bild am Sonntag newspaper quoted US intelligence sources as saying that National Security Agency chief Keith Alexander had briefed Obama on the operation against Merkel in 2010.

“Obama did not halt the operation but rather let it continue,” the newspaper quoted a high-ranking NSA official as saying.

News weekly Der Spiegel reported that leaked NSA documents showed that Merkel’s phone had appeared on a list of spying targets since 2002, and was still under surveillance weeks before Obama visited Berlin in June.

As a sense of betrayal spread in many world capitals allegedly targeted by the NSA, European leaders are calling for a new deal with Washington on intelligence gathering that would maintain an essential alliance while keeping the fight against terrorism on track.

Germany will send its own spy chiefs to Washington soon to demand answers.

Meanwhile several thousand protesters gathered in Washington Saturday to push for new US legislation to curb the NSA’s activities.

Swiss president Ueli Maurer warned that the scandal risked “undermining confidence between states”.

“We don’t know if we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg or if other governments are acting in the same ruthless manner,” he told the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly.

Merkel confronted Obama with the snooping allegations in a phone call Wednesday saying that such spying would be a “breach of trust” between international partners.

The suspicion also prompted Berlin to summon the US ambassador — a highly unusual move between the close allies.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reported without citing its sources that Obama had told Merkel during their call that he had been unaware of any spying against her.

Der Spiegel said he told her that if he had been informed of the operation he would have stopped it at once.

Other media reports said that Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice had also told German officials the president knew nothing of the spying.

Two phones monitored

Merkel’s office declined to comment on what he told her during their conversation.

The White House has said it is not monitoring Merkel’s phone calls and will not do so in future, but it has refused to say whether it did previously.

Two phones monitored

Bild am Sonntag said that Obama wanted to be informed in detail about Merkel, who has played a decisive role in the eurozone debt crisis and is widely seen as Europe’s most powerful leader.

As a result, the report said, the NSA stepped up its surveillance of her communications, targeting not only the mobile phone she uses to conduct business for her conservative Christian Democratic Union party but also her encrypted official device.

Merkel only acquired the latter handset over the summer.

Bild said US intelligence specialists were then able to monitor the content of her conversations as well as text messages, which Merkel sends by the dozen each day to key associates.

Only the specially secured land line in her office was out of the reach of the NSA, which sent the intelligence gathered straight to the White House bypassing the agency’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, according to the report.

Bild and Spiegel described a hive of spy activity on the fourth floor of the US embassy in central Berlin, a stone’s throw from the government quarter, from which the United States kept tabs on Merkel and other German officials.

Spiegel cited a classified 2010 document indicating that US intelligence had 80 high-tech surveillance offices worldwide in cities including Paris, Madrid, Rome, Prague, Geneva and Frankfurt.

If the spying against Merkel began in 2002, it would mean the United States under then president George W. Bush targeted her while she was still the country’s chief opposition leader, three years before she became chancellor.

Bild said Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schroeder was also in the NSA’s sights because of his vocal opposition to the US invasion of Iraq and close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As anger simmered in Berlin, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich sharpened his tone.

“Surveillance is a crime and those responsible must be brought to justice,” he told Bild.

A poll for the newspaper found that 76 percent of Germans believe Obama should apologise for the alleged spying on Merkel, and 60 percent said the scandal had damaged German-US ties.

The scandal derived from documents acquired from US fugitive defence contractor Edward Snowden by Spiegel.

The Social Democrats’ chief whip Thomas Oppermann told Bild that German MPs would now like to question Snowden.

“Snowden’s accounts seem credible while the US government apparently lied to us about this matter.”


PRISM pushes Germany towards a local internet

By The Inquirer
Sunday, October 27, 2013 13:46 EDT

Ich bin ein Onliner
By Dave Neal

GERMANY IS REACTING with a big "nein danke" to reports of US surveillance and is considering building an internet that is confined within German borders.

We already know that the country is ticked off and has been since whistleblower Edward Snowden's NSA revelations began coming out in newspapers including the Guardian, and we just learned that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is reeling at the news that her phone calls were bugged. Merkel is not happy about this.

According to a report at Reuters the German government is so concerned that it is considering leaving the international internet and building a German internet designed for German people who don't want to be subjected to US government surveillance via PRISM. The world's internet would still be available, but the thought is that German citizens could avoid using it.

The German government is said to be talking with the state-backed internet service provider (ISP) Deutsche Telekom. Details are very light, and Reuters reckons that the ISP will have a tough time encouraging other, presumably non-state affiliated providers to join up.

As soon the US NSA internet surveillance news broke, Germany started thinking about shoring up its internet security.

In July it proposed stronger data protection rules and Chancellor Merkel asked for a better understanding of what kind of information is shared and stored.

Ms Merkel is bristling after her phone number was found in the most recent documents released from the NSA spying files. Her name turned up on a list of 200 world leaders in the NSA's Rolodex.


Spain summons US ambassador over claim NSA tracked 60m calls a month

El Mundo newspaper reports having seen NSA document that reveals extent of agency's monitoring of Spanish phone calls

Paul Hamilos in Madrid, Monday 28 October 2013 10.11 GMT   

The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has summoned the US ambassador to explain the latest revelations to emerge from the files leaked by Edward Snowden, which suggest the National Security Agency tracked more than 60m phone calls in Spain in the space of a month.

Spain's European secretary of state, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, is meeting James Costos as the White House struggles to contain a growing diplomatic crisis following accusations that the NSA monitored the phones of scores of allies, including the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.

El Mundo newspaper reported on Monday that it had seen an NSA document that showed the US spy agency had intercepted 60.5m phone calls in Spain between 10 December 2012 and 8 January this year.

An NSA graphic, entitled "Spain – last 30 days", reportedly shows the daily flow of phone calls within Spain, and that on one day alone – 11 December 2012 – the NSA monitored more than 3.5m phone calls. It appears that the content of the calls was not monitored but the serial and phone numbers of the handsets used, the locations, sim cards and the duration of the calls were. Emails and other social media were also monitored.

The news comes as a parliamentary delegation from the EU prepares to visit Washington to discuss the scale of US spying on its allies. The EU's civil liberties committee will meet members of Congress to express their concerns over the impact on EU citizens' fundamental right to privacy.

Last week Spain rejected a move by Germany, which wants the EU's 28 member states to sign a "no-spy deal" along the lines of an agreement wanted by Berlin and Paris.

"We'll see once we have more information if we decide to join with what France and Germany have done," Rajoy said at a press conference in Brussels on Friday.

"But these aren't decisions which correspond to the European Union. They are questions related to national security and are the exclusive responsibility of member states. France and Germany have decided to do one thing and the rest of us may decide to do the same, or something else."

The White House and NSA are coming under intense pressure to reveal the extent to which Obama and senior administration officials knew about US surveillance operations targeting the leaders of allied countries.


As Europe erupts over US spying, NSA chief says government must stop media

With General Alexander calling for NSA reporting to be halted, US and UK credibility as guardians of press freedom is crushed

Glenn Greenwald, Friday 25 October 2013 20.22 BST   

The most under-discussed aspect of the NSA story has long been its international scope. That all changed this week as both Germany and France exploded with anger over new revelations about pervasive NSA surveillance on their population and democratically elected leaders.

As was true for Brazil previously, reports about surveillance aimed at leaders are receiving most of the media attention, but what really originally drove the story there were revelations that the NSA is bulk-spying on millions and millions of innocent citizens in all of those nations. The favorite cry of US government apologists -–everyone spies! – falls impotent in the face of this sort of ubiquitous, suspicionless spying that is the sole province of the US and its four English-speaking surveillance allies (the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

There are three points worth making about these latest developments.

• First, note how leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted with basic indifference when it was revealed months ago that the NSA was bulk-spying on all German citizens, but suddenly found her indignation only when it turned out that she personally was also targeted. That reaction gives potent insight into the true mindset of many western leaders.

• Second, all of these governments keep saying how newsworthy these revelations are, how profound are the violations they expose, how happy they are to learn of all this, how devoted they are to reform. If that's true, why are they allowing the person who enabled all these disclosures – Edward Snowden – to be targeted for persecution by the US government for the "crime" of blowing the whistle on all of this?

If the German and French governments – and the German and French people – are so pleased to learn of how their privacy is being systematically assaulted by a foreign power over which they exert no influence, shouldn't they be offering asylum to the person who exposed it all, rather than ignoring or rejecting his pleas to have his basic political rights protected, and thus leaving him vulnerable to being imprisoned for decades by the US government?

Aside from the treaty obligations these nations have to protect the basic political rights of human beings from persecution, how can they simultaneously express outrage over these exposed invasions while turning their back on the person who risked his liberty and even life to bring them to light?

• Third, is there any doubt at all that the US government repeatedly tried to mislead the world when insisting that this system of suspicionless surveillance was motivated by an attempt to protect Americans from The Terrorists™? Our reporting has revealed spying on conferences designed to negotiate economic agreements, the Organization of American States, oil companies, ministries that oversee mines and energy resources, the democratically elected leaders of allied states, and entire populations in those states.

Can even President Obama and his most devoted loyalists continue to maintain, with a straight face, that this is all about Terrorism? That is what this superb new Foreign Affairs essay by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore means when it argues that the Manning and Snowden leaks are putting an end to the ability of the US to use hypocrisy as a key weapon in its soft power.

Speaking of an inability to maintain claims with a straight face, how are American and British officials, in light of their conduct in all of this, going to maintain the pretense that they are defenders of press freedoms and are in a position to lecture and condemn others for violations? In what might be the most explicit hostility to such freedoms yet – as well as the most unmistakable evidence of rampant panic – the NSA's director, General Keith Alexander, actually demanded Thursday that the reporting being done by newspapers around the world on this secret surveillance system be halted (Techdirt has the full video here):

    The head of the embattled National Security Agency, Gen Keith Alexander, is accusing journalists of "selling" his agency's documents and is calling for an end to the steady stream of public disclosures of secrets snatched by former contractor Edward Snowden.

    "I think it's wrong that that newspaper reporters have all these documents, the 50,000 – whatever they have and are selling them and giving them out as if these – you know it just doesn't make sense," Alexander said in an interview with the Defense Department's "Armed With Science" blog.

    "We ought to come up with a way of stopping it. I don't know how to do that. That's more of the courts and the policy-makers but, from my perspective, it's wrong to allow this to go on," the NSA director declared. [My italics]

There are 25,000 employees of the NSA (and many tens of thousands more who work for private contracts assigned to the agency). Maybe one of them can tell The General about this thing called "the first amendment".

I'd love to know what ways, specifically, General Alexander has in mind for empowering the US government to "come up with a way of stopping" the journalism on this story. Whatever ways those might be, they are deeply hostile to the US constitution – obviously. What kind of person wants the government to forcibly shut down reporting by the press?

Whatever kind of person that is, he is not someone to be trusted in instituting and developing a massive bulk-spying system that operates in the dark. For that matter, nobody is.

As many of you likely know, it was announced last week that I am leaving the Guardian. My last day here will be 31 October, and I will write my last column on that date.

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« Reply #9593 on: Oct 28, 2013, 05:34 AM »

Landslide presidential win for ally of Georgian PM Bidzina Ivanishvili

Triumph of Georgy Margvelashvili concentrates power and will make policymaking easier in former Soviet republic

Reuters in Tblisi, Monday 28 October 2013 00.33 GMT

A little-known ally of billionaire Georgian prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili won a landslide victory in the country's presidential election on Sunday, cementing the ruling coalition's grip on power after Mikheil Saakashvili's 10-year rule.

Georgy Margvelashvili's triumph concentrates power and will make policymaking easier in the former Soviet republic because Ivanishvili's Georgian Dream coalition now controls both the presidency and the government for the first time.

Exit polls showed the margin of victory was so large that the candidate from Saakashvili's party, David Bakradze, conceded victory to Margvelashvili even before the official count began.

Georgian Dream supporters released dozens of balloons in the coalition's blue and white colours outside its HQ in the capital Tbilisi, sounded car horns in the packed streets and chanted: "Long live Georgy."

"We have shown the world how free people make a free choice," Margvelashvili, 44, a former vice premier with a doctorate in philosophy, told cheering supporters.

He wrapped his arm around the shoulders of Ivanishvili, who plucked him out of academia when Georgian Dream ousted Saakashvili's government at the polls a year ago, and praised him as the "biggest authority" in the South Caucasus country.

Margvelashvili had needed one vote over 50% of the ballots cast to secure victory without a runoff.

GfK, a European market research group, put him on 66.1% and ACT, a Georgian research group, estimated he would win 68%.

But the election is likely to provide only a brief respite from political uncertainty in the country of 4.5 million which is strategically important for both Russia and Europe, and which gets Caspian gas and oil via pipelines that go through Georgia.

Ivanishvili, Georgian Dream's founder and the most powerful and richest man in Georgia with an estimated fortune of $5.3bn (£3.3bn), says he will step aside soon because his job will be complete when his 45-year-old rival leaves the presidency.

He has not said who will be the next prime minister – the most important job in Georgia under constitutional changes that are about to go into affect – or how he might continue to bring influence to bear on the coalition from the sidelines.

The EU is also worried by the arrest of several former ministers and other officials, including a former prime minister, and that Saakashvili could suffer the same fate.

Georgians are openly speculating that Saakashvili might soon leave the country to avoid prosecution.

He went on TV soon after voting ended to say he was worried about Georgia's immediate future.

But, echoing his decision to quickly concede victory to Georgian Dream after last year's parliamentary election to ease tension, he sought calm.

"I think the events of the past year and today, and the results today, are a serious setback for Georgia and its future," he said.

"But at the same time I am sure the dark forces will not be able to get any stronger and that Georgia has a good future."

Margvelashvili's main foreign policy goal is to pursue close ties with both the west and Russia, a balance that has long eluded Georgia.

Saakashvili strengthened democracy and launched economic reforms after coming to power following the bloodless "rose revolution" in 2003 that ousted Eduard Shevardnadze.

He strengthened ties with Washington and became a western darling but lost a brief war to Russia in 2008 over two rebel Georgian regions and failed to reform the justice system.

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« Reply #9594 on: Oct 28, 2013, 05:36 AM »

Iceland seeks UK funding for subsea cable project

Construction of £4.3bn subsea cable – the world's longest – will link Iceland to UK electricity grid and could deliver five terawatt-hours a year

Simon Bowers   
The Guardian, Sunday 27 October 2013 19.58 GMT   

Iceland's president Olafur Grimsson is expected this week to call on the British government to provide financial support for the construction of a £4.3bn subsea electricity cable – which will be the longest in the world – linking his country to the UK's electricity grid.

The ambitious project, drawing on hydro geothermal and wind power generation, could deliver five terawatt-hours a year to Britain at a cost 15% lower than offshore wind, according to Iceland's state-owned electricity firm Landsvirkjun.

Grimsson's presence at a conference in London on Friday, arranged by Landsvirkjun and the British-Iceland chamber of commerce, underlines the seriousness with which the project is being taken. The two governments have been exploring proposals for a cable after signing a memorandum of understanding last May. However, before the contract can be put out to tender the huge cost will have to be underwritten by British taxpayers.

Iceland enjoys the cheapest electricity prices in Europe thanks to abundant geothermal energy, wind and especially hydropower from glacial meltwater. The industry generates more than 12 gigawatt hours of electricity, about five times the demand from Iceland's 317,000 population.

In recent decades Iceland has sought to exploit these resources by welcoming specialist power-intensive industries to its shores, particularly aluminium producers such as Rio Tinto and Alcoa. A handful of large aluminium processing plants absorb more than 70% of electricity generated in Iceland.

But as the aluminium market has suffered in recent years Iceland has sought to diversify. Bjorgvin Sigurdsson, director of business development at Landsvirkjen, said a subsea cable – which would be 10,000km long and sunk to depths of 1,000 metres – could meet 1.5% of UK electricity demand.

Unfortunately, this new source of power will not come quickly enough to alleviate the forecast squeeze on UK electricity supply which Ofgem predicts will increase the risk of blackouts by 2015. The subsea cable from Iceland would not be commissioned until 2022.

Nevertheless, the project appeals to the UK as the highly reliable potential energy in Iceland's hydro dams is seen as neatly dovetailing with Britain's expanding, but unpredictable, wind power generation.

As wind has become an increasing component of UK electricity generation, those tasked with matching UK supply with demand are increasingly facing a difficulty when usage spikes at times of when wind speeds drop. Few sources of generation, other than hydropower, can be brought on-stream at short notice to cover for lulls in wind.

A successful deal on the pipelines would do much to repair Anglo-Icelandic relations, which hit a low in the wake of the 2008 Icesave scandal, during which the Icelandic government refused to honour a promise to guarantee the deposits of hundreds of thousands of UK savers when the bank behind Icesave, Landsbanki, failed.

Grimsson played a major role in blocking two agreements between the Icelandic government and the UK to reach a financial settlement of the Icesave dispute. On both occasions he put the agreements out to a national referendum and they were overwhelmingly defeated. Ultimately the UK's efforts to force Icelandic taxpayers to honour the promise were defeated in the European courts.

In April, Iceland elected as prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, a nationalist figure who had campaigned fiercely against an Icesave settlement. His comments during the election campaign has left some in Iceland concerned that his perceived rough approach to foreign investors risks leaving the country starved of investment capital.

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« Reply #9595 on: Oct 28, 2013, 05:44 AM »

Eta ruling causes fury but could yet pave way to peace

Spanish politicians and public grapple with notion that freeing convicted terrorists will be part of reconciliation process

Paul Hamilos, Sunday 27 October 2013 20.02 GMT   

The name of Inés del Río Prada occupies a particularly grim place in Spain's recent history. Jailed in 1989 for her part in a bombing and murder campaign by the Basque separatist group Eta, she was a member of a unit that killed 24 people, including 12 in a car bombing in the centre of Madrid.

Her release earlier this week at the behest of the European court of human rights (ECHR), prompted a wave of outrage which culminated on Sunday with a march that saw tens of thousands of supporters of the Association of the Victims of Terrorism (AVT) take to the streets of Madrid to protest.

The Spanish courts had little choice but to let Del Río go free. She had been sentenced to 3,828 years in total, but because of a peculiarity of Spanish law dating back to 1973, she could serve a maximum of only 30.

Given time off for good behaviour, Del Río should have been released in 2008. But in 2006, when the Spanish courts realised that she and other Eta prisoners would soon be set free, they introduced the Parot doctrine, which removed the years off for good behaviour.

And last Monday, the ECHR in Strasbourg declared the ruling illegal, as it had been applied retrospectively to people already behind bars. Like it or not, Del Río had to walk free.

As with so much of public life in Spain, the issue has become hugely politicised. Calm is going to be hard to restore. It is entirely understandable that the victims of terrorism and their loved ones should want to see Del Río and her cohorts to stay in prison forever. But that is why politicians need to keep a cool head, and why victims do not write the penal code. The AVT is angry because they believe the government, led by Mariano Rajoy of the right-wing People's party (PP), has let them down. The government is angry because the decision to release Del Río was forced on it by the ECHR.

The hard right is angry because it feels it has been made to look weak in the fight against terrorism, for which it blames the previous socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. Pedro J Ramírez, the firebrand editor of El Mundo described Rajoy's leadership as representing the "third term of Zapatero".

Spain has for a long time benefited from European assistance in its fight against terrorism, wrote José Ignacio Torreblanco in Sunday's El País, but now that a European court has taken a decision that many do not like, it cannot suddenly reject European values.

"It is the responsibility of everyone, starting with the government … to defend the freedoms and liberties represented by Europe and embodied by the [ECHR]," he wrote.

Rajoy's government has found itself in a tight spot. When it was in opposition, the PP stood side by side with the AVT, marching alongside them, appearing at press conferences, throwing its support behind the victims of Eta – and guaranteeing their votes. Now the PP is in power, some of the victims have turned against it, denouncing its representatives at Sunday's march as "traitors".

The decision to release Del Río was in fact made by a lower chamber of the Strasbourg court, against which Spain appealed. It was that appeal that the ECHR rejected last Monday. The ruling made matters worse for the Spanish government: the court's rejection of the Parot doctrine does not just apply to Del Río's case, but to all the pending appeals of long-term prisoners who have been denied the right to release for good behaviour.

This means Spain is going to have to set free scores more convicted Eta terrorists, as well as rapists and murderers.

Many observers believe Eta no longer represents a major threat to the unity of Spain, having declared a ceasefire just over two years ago.

However unpalatable, the release of prisoners could yet play a part in the ongoing peace process, helping to move Eta towards a permanent laying down of arms, and allow the Basque Country to move on from its bloody past. But that will require yet more cool heads.

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« Reply #9596 on: Oct 28, 2013, 05:51 AM »

Parenting becomes a political issue in child-centered Sweden

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 28, 2013 7:38 EDT

Sweden had a head start in the good parenting debate as the first country to outlaw smacking but some argue that its child-centered approach has gone too far and children now rule the roost.

“In some ways Swedish kids are really ill-mannered,” David Eberhard, a leading psychiatrist and father of six, told AFP.

“They shout if there are adults speaking at the dinner table, they interrupt you all the time and they demand the same space as adults.”

Eberhard recently published a book entitled “How Children Took Power” which argues that over the years Swedes have effectively extended their 1979 smacking ban — now adopted in more than 30 countries — to a ban on correcting children in any way.

“Of course you should listen to your children, but in Sweden it’s gone too far. They tend to decide everything in families: when to go to bed, what to eat, where to go on vacation, even what to watch on television,” he said, adding that the permissive approach to child-raising leaves young Swedes ill-equipped for adulthood.

“Their expectations are too high and life is too hard for them. We see it with anxiety disorders and self harming which has risen dramatically.”

A question of culture

That view is contested by several experts including family therapist Martin Forster who says that on the whole Swedish youths still top international rankings of well-being.

“Sweden was very much inspired by ideas that children should be more in the centre and they should be listened to,” he said.

“That children decide too much — that’s a matter of values. Different approaches to parenting and children produce different cultures.”

Nonetheless, there is a lively debate about how the approach has influenced schools with falling grades and complaints about rowdy classrooms.

“Two boys were swearing at each other — I didn’t think 7-year-olds even knew words like that — and when I tried to intervene they swore at me and told me to mind my own business,” said Ola Olofsson, a journalist at a southern Swedish newspaper, describing a visit to his daughter’s classroom.

When he wrote a column about the chaos he witnessed at the school, the paper’s website was inundated with hundreds of comments from exasperated parents and teachers.

One preschool teacher from Stockholm wrote that the 4- and 5-year-olds she teaches regularly say, “You think I care!” when asked to do something.

“Just the other day a 4-year-old spat at me when I asked him to stop climbing on some shelves,” she added.

Parenting a political issue

But what is it that makes Swedish parenting different?

Family therapist Martin Forster says it’s more of a political issue and that all the public debate about right and wrong may leave parents more confused than elsewhere.

Following a government inquiry on child welfare in 2010, a free parenting course, called “All Children in the Center,” was offered by local authorities to support parents struggling with young children.

Its main message is that punishing children does not make them behave in the long run and setting boundaries is not always the right approach.

“If you want a child to cooperate the best way is to have a close relationship so the child will want to cooperate with you,” said psychologist Kajsa Loenn-Rhodin, one of the architects of the course, rejecting the idea that children have taken over.

“I think it’s a bigger problem when children are treated badly … when there’s harsh parenting,” she said.

Marie Maerestad and her husband took the course in Stockholm in 2012 when their daughters were aged two and three. At meal times the children often ran about and pushed toys around the kitchen table.

“We found we were nagging them all the time, they were fighting a lot… we had a lot of disputes in the morning when it was time to get dressed,” said the energetic 39-year-old personal trainer.

“Our youngest would have tantrums and nothing worked … We had a pretty tough time so we thought it would be a good idea to get some tips and advice,” she added, pouring coffee as her daughters played with Lego on the birchwood floor of their suburban house.

She said the course helped them “pick their battles” and communicate better with the children — but she added that children do often tend to dominate in Swedish homes.

“You can see it with many of our friends, that it’s the children who are in charge, it feels like.”

Parents are not pals

Hugo Lagercrantz, a professor of pediatrics at Karolinska University Hospital, believes Swedish parenting owes a lot to the country’s emphasis on democracy and equality.

“Swedish parents try to be too democratic … They should act like parents and take decisions and not try to be popular all the time.”

However Lagercrantz also sees an upside to the Swedish approach.

“Swedish children are very outspoken and can express their opinions,” he said, adding that the country’s tradition of equality helped spawn homegrown multinationals like H&M and Ikea, known for their flat management style, where there are fewer layers of middle management.

“Sweden is not very hierarchical and in some respects that’s very good, it’s one of the reasons why the country is doing fairly well economically.

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« Reply #9597 on: Oct 28, 2013, 05:53 AM »

Iran bans reformist newspaper over article questioning Shi’ite Islam

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 28, 2013 7:14 EDT

Iran’s press watchdog has imposed a ban on reformist newspaper Bahar for publishing an article seen by critics as questioning the beliefs of Shi’ite Islam, media reported Monday.

“Based on the verdict issued by the press supervisory board, Bahar newspaper has been banned and its case has been referred to the judiciary,” Mehr news agency quoted press watchdog head Alaedin Zohourian as saying.

Bahar has issued an apology note, saying publishing an article last week was an “unintentional mistake,” and it temporarily suspended activities on Saturday to “ease the tensions.”

“The article which has sadly hurt the feelings of the believers was published due to a technical error … Editorial has apologized several times and criticized the article to show it was contrary to Bahar (political) line,” read its statement.

Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani, who has the support of reformists and moderates, pledged to work for more social freedom during his election campaign.

Several reformist journalists and political activists have been released since he took office in August.


Iran calls for ‘terrorist’ rebels to be expelled from Syria

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 27, 2013 13:34 EDT

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told visiting UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi Sunday that part of a solution to the Syria crisis is to expel “terrorist groups” from that country, a report said.

“Iran believes that by continuing humanitarian aid, preventing the entry (and) expelling terrorist groups from Syria and the complete destruction of chemical weapons will be first important steps for achieving stable peace in Syria,” Rouhani said in comments reported by the official IRNA news agency.

Syria’s regime refers to rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s regime as “terrorist groups” taking orders from foreign states.

Brahimi is on a Middle East tour to garner support for a planned peace conference next month in Geneva between regime and rebel representatives.

Rouhani said a major obstacle to resolving the Syria crisis was lack of consensus among regional and international players.

“The first problem is division among the Syrian opposition, the presence of terrorist groups between them… and the lack of consensus among Syria’s neighbouring countries and world’s major powers,” he was quoted as saying.

He added: “Iran is ready to play a positive role in any movement that would contribute to stability in Syria, and it makes no difference whether this effort is called Geneva II conference or anything else.”

The so-called Geneva II conference has been repeatedly postponed amid wrangling among the Syrian opposition, and a dispute over which countries, including Iran, should participate.

Brahimi said in Tehran on Saturday that Iran’s participation is “natural and necessary”.

But he stressed that no invitations had yet been sent out for the proposed international peace conference which the United Nations hopes to organise for late November.

Prospects for the initiative appear dim as the fractured Syrian opposition has yet to decide whether to attend and as Assad has said the “factors are not yet in place” for a conference.

The conflict has killed more than 115,000 people since it erupted in March 2011, when a government crackdown on peaceful protests escalated into civil war.


Israel fears Iran can produce 90% uranium ‘in weeks’

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 27, 2013 16:32 EDT

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Iran is capable of converting low-grade uranium to weapons-grade within weeks.

“Iran is prepared to give up enriching uranium to 20 percent and therefore debate on this subject is unimportant,” Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying at a weekly meeting of his cabinet.

“The important part stems from technological improvements which allow Iran to enrich uranium from 3.5 percent to 90 percent in a number of weeks.

“Pressure on Iran, which continues enrichment while negotiating, must be intensified,” the Israeli leader added.

Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme is at the core of its dispute with world powers, who suspect it masks a drive for atomic weapons despite repeated denials by the Islamic republic.

Iran is to hold a new round of talks on the issue with six world powers in Geneva on November 7-8.

Israel has repeatedly warned against the so-called charm offensive of Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani, which led to direct talks between Tehran and the P5+1 countries — United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany — in Geneva on October 15 and 16.

The Jewish state, the Islamic republic’s arch-foe, has insisted there be no relief for Iran from crippling economic sanctions which brought it to the table in the first place.

Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed power, wants Iran to meet four conditions before the sanctions are eased: halting all uranium enrichment; removing all enriched uranium from its territory; closing its underground nuclear facility in Qom; and halting construction of a plutonium reactor.

Netanyahu has said Israel reserves the right to launch unilateral military action against Iran if necessary to stop it developing the ability to build a nuclear bomb.

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« Reply #9598 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:00 AM »

Afghan soldier killed after opening fire on Nato troops

Afghan fired three rounds before being shot dead by Australian soldiers after row with foreign trainer from Kabul's Sandhurst-style training complex

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
The Guardian, Sunday 27 October 2013 12.31 GMT   

An Afghan soldier has been killed after opening fire on a foreign trainer from Afghanistan's Sandhurst-inspired officer academy, meant as Britain's main legacy, just days after its first recruits enrolled for class.

The Afghan was shot after having an argument with a trainer from New Zealand and two Australian soldiers, all three of whom were also injured in the skirmish.

The shooting casts a shadow over the start of the first term at the academy, which has been described as a Sandhurst-inspired complex. An initial class of 230 recruits began training last week, with journalists invited to see them put through their paces and tour the tents serving as temporary classrooms while work finishes on the permanent buildings.

Eventually it could train up to 1,500 men and women a year, with 120 UK mentors supported by instructors from Australia, New Zealand, Norway and Denmark. The brief gunfight broke out after the trainer had visited a nearby building at the Afghan National Defence University site in the mountainous western outskirts of Kabul. The UK-funded National Army Officers' Academy nestles by five other colleges including a foreign languages centre and a sergeants' training academy.

Following an argument, the Afghan soldier fired three rounds before being shot dead by the Australian soldiers who had been assigned to guard the trainer.

"The armed Afghan soldier had an argument with the [foreign] soldiers and after some minutes the misunderstanding escalated and he opened fire. The Afghan soldier was killed," said Daulat Waziri, the deputy spokesman for Afghanistan's ministry of defence. "It wasn't inside the [officer training] academy. It was inside one of the Afghan National Army military quarters nearby."

The injuries to the Australians and New Zealander were apparently caused by shrapnel when a bullet fired at short-range at one of them disintegrated, a commander said.

"Only one bullet that we're aware of hit, the second Australian returned fire and critically injured and possibly killed the Afghani," said Lieutenant General Rhys Jones, chief of the New Zealand Defence Force, who identified his injured soldier as an instructor from the officer academy.

"Some of the shrapnel went into the arm of the Australian soldier that was hit, another part went into the foot [of the New Zealand soldier]," he told a news conference.

A spokesman for the Taliban said they had not played any role in the shooting, even though the insurgent group has been quick to claim responsibility for other attacks and has urged Afghan soldiers and police to turn on their foreign mentors.

A steady stream of insider attacks on both foreign and Afghan troops, by both insurgent sympathisers and angry loners, has undermined morale and raised questions about plans for a long-term training programme in the country.

A series of Nato measures to protect its troops has cut the toll this year from a peak in 2012, when gunmen from police or army ranks accounted for around 15% of all foreign military deaths. The precautions include having armed "guardian angels", such as the Australians who ended Saturday's attack, watch over all meetings with Afghan counterparts.


October 27, 2013

NATO Reduces Scope of Its Afghanistan Plans


BRUSSELS — After months of tense negotiations over the size and role of a postwar presence in Afghanistan, senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials say they are planning a more minimalist mission, with a force consisting of fewer combat trainers and more military managers to ensure that billions of dollars in security aid are not squandered or pilfered.

The shrinking ambitions for the postwar mission reflect fears that the United States Congress and European parliaments might cancel their financial commitments — amounting to more than $4 billion a year, the largest single military assistance program in the world — unless American and NATO troops are positioned at Afghan military and police headquarters to oversee how the money is spent in a country known for rampant corruption.

The reduced scope is also a result of conflicting interests among military and political leaders that have been on display throughout the 12-year war. Military commanders have advocated a postwar mission focused on training and advising Afghans, with a larger number of troops spread across the battlefield. Political leaders in Washington and other NATO capitals have opted for smaller numbers and assignments only at large Afghan headquarters.

Any enduring NATO military presence in Afghanistan “is tied directly to the $4.1 billion and our ability to oversee it and account for it,” a senior NATO diplomat said. “You need enough troops to responsibly administer, oversee and account for $4 billion a year of security assistance.”

The senior diplomat — who, like other military officials, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the alliance’s deliberations — described continued financing of Afghan security forces as vital to avoid political chaos and factional bloodshed after NATO’s combat role ends in December 2014. “It’s not just the shiny object, the number of troops,” he said. “Perhaps much more meaningful is, does the funding flow?”

NATO has endorsed an enduring presence of 8,000 to 12,000 troops, with two-thirds expected to be American. That is well below earlier recommendations by commanders, but senior alliance officials say larger numbers are unnecessary given the more limited goals now being set by political leaders.

The postwar plan depends on a security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan concerning the number, role and legal protection of American troops. But one lesson of the war in Iraq is that domestic politics in the war zone and in Washington can scuttle a security deal, resulting in zero American troops remaining. Afghanistan’s desire to assure the continued flow of billions of dollars in assistance is one reason American and NATO officials are expressing guarded optimism that an agreement will be reached.

A traditional Afghan council is expected to meet in the coming weeks to pass its judgment on the proposed United States-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement.

NATO officials say they are acutely aware that Afghanistan has been the scene of spectacular corruption, including bank fraud, drug trafficking and bribery for services, all of which undermines the credibility of the Afghan government and its Western benefactors.

The problems run to the very top of the Afghan government. Many of President Hamid Karzai’s most senior aides and cabinet ministers have grown wealthy in the past dozen years, parlaying political power into lucrative businesses serving foreign militaries and development projects — or simply demanding a cut of business from other Afghans, much as organized crime bosses offer protection in exchange for regular payoffs.

The NATO personnel overseeing the security aid would be assigned to Afghan ministries and military headquarters, where they would review payments to make sure the money went to its intended purposes, like fuel, supplies and training. They would review money allotted to and disbursed by those programs and provide regular reports to NATO leaders assessing whether the goals of the assistance were being met.

Military officials said that initial plans had envisioned a far larger enduring presence of foreign trainers and advisers, who would have been spread across the country and embedded within small units of Afghan troops as they carried on the tactical fight against the Taliban. Only over time would foreign troops have been reduced and withdrawn back to headquarters.

Under the new plans, NATO military personnel would be assigned only to the headquarters of the two security ministries, defense and interior; to the six Afghan National Army corps headquarters; and to the similar number of national police headquarters. They would also be well represented in army and police training institutions.

With that more restricted mission in mind, NATO has approved outlines for a smaller force than commanders advocated. Just before his retirement last spring, the top officer of United States Central Command, Gen. James N. Mattis, told the Senate that he recommended keeping 13,600 American troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, resulting in an overall allied troop level of more than 20,000.

Military officials still hope the current plans will allow them to carry out a substantial mentoring mission from the larger headquarters and training centers, and some said the emphasis on financial accountability was overstated.

“While we do need to oversee the money to maintain donors’ confidence, a critical component of our presence is capability development,” one American military officer said. “If we are at the corps level and in the four corners, we could provide the right level of train, advise and assist, and ensure that the funds led to combat effectiveness.”

Pentagon officials say they want at least some American commandos to remain to carry out counterterrorism missions, unilaterally or in coordination with Afghan forces.

Allied military personnel who support a larger deployment say the United States and NATO have an obligation to send foreign advisers into the field with tactical-level units to ensure that forces armed by the coalition operate at standards deserving of financial support from other countries.

These officers note that the Afghan army is still developing its tactical prowess, evolving in its leadership skills and learning how to wage a war against an insurgency that hides among civilians. It has significant gaps in capability, especially in air transport and medical evacuation. There are concerns that assigning foreign advisers only to large headquarters may prevent the hands-on mentoring that field units need and allow Afghan troops to return to illegal and immoral methods learned over brutal years of Soviet and jihadist fighting.

Even so, some Afghanistan policy experts, including former military commanders, say the focus on the money makes sense.

David W. Barno, a retired lieutenant general who spent 19 months as the senior American officer in Afghanistan, agreed that sustained financial assistance was the “strategic center of gravity.”

“The most important thing we can do is keep writing checks so the Afghan National Security Forces can remain funded — fuel, food, weapons, salaries,” said General Barno, now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “If that continues, they will be at least able to maintain a stalemate with the Taliban, and that is enough to keep the state up and running.”

Matthew Rosenberg contributed reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.

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« Reply #9599 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:02 AM »

October 27, 2013

Blasts Fail to Deter a Rally in India


NEW DELHI — A series of low-intensity bombs exploded on Sunday in the northeastern city of Patna, apparently targeting a vast rally featuring the opposition leader Narendra Modi, whose Bharatiya Janata Party hopes to unseat the long-dominant Congress Party in national elections next spring.

Five people were killed and 83 injured, the authorities said late Sunday.

Homemade bombs, fitted with wires and timers, exploded in a series of crowded places: at a railway station, outside a movie theater, near two landmark buildings, and two on the Gandhi Maidan grounds, where Mr. Modi was preparing to speak, according to Abhayanand, the state’s director general of police.

Four people were arrested Sunday afternoon, said Manu Maharaj, Patna’s district police chief. He said that one man was arrested at the scene of a blast and confessed to being involved, and that all four men in custody were being interrogated.

Bharatiya Janata Party officials had hailed the rally as the largest to be held in the state of Bihar, a high-stakes electoral battleground, and decided to proceed despite the blasts. An enormous crowd roared in response as Mr. Modi invoked the Hindu epics, asking them to chant traditional battle cries.

Bihar has presented a problem for Mr. Modi’s party. Commanding 40 seats in the lower house of Parliament, the state will be critical if the Bharatiya Janata Party hopes to win a comfortable majority. But Bihar has a relatively large population of Muslim voters, many of whom are wary of Mr. Modi for his uncompromising stand in favor of his party’s Hindu-nationalist ideology.

The state’s top official, Nitish Kumar, broke off a longtime coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party when it became clear that Mr. Modi was the probable candidate for prime minister.

In comments to reporters on Sunday, Mr. Kumar described the blasts as “a well-planned conspiracy to disturb and vitiate the peaceful atmosphere of the state,” and appealed for harmony between India’s political parties. He refused to speculate on the theory that the blasts were set by Indian Mujahedeen, a banned Islamic militant group, but did suggest they may have aimed to divide the state on religious lines.

“If it was to disturb the communal peace and harmony of the state, we all have to take it and fight it out jointly,” he said.

Mr. Modi, for his part, appeared calm and jovial at the rally, and the crowd erupted in cheers when he addressed them in Bhojpuri and Maithili, two local dialects. He said the Congress Party had failed miserably in its attempts to control inflation and unemployment, and contrasted his own humble background with the dynastic succession of the Nehru-Gandhi family.

“I used to sell tea on trains,” Mr. Modi said. “Even the Railway Minister doesn’t have my experience of what one faces on trains.”

It was a note that appeared to resonate with the crowd. Amit, who said he had come to the rally from a village three hours to the north, said Indians are “tired of dynastic rule.”

“We have had the same family for 60 years,” he said.

“We don’t need this shehzada,” he added, using the Hindi word for prince to refer to Rahul Gandhi, who is the son and grandson of previous Indian prime ministers and is widely expected to be the Congress Party’s nominee for prime minister.

Throughout the day, speakers struggled to keep the crowd’s attention as five separate bomb blasts went off. Each time, the official speaking did not acknowledge the explosion, awkwardly continuing speeches and trying to maintain the momentum of the rally.

The Bharatiya Janata Party spared no expense in the run up to the rally, trying alternative tactics to bolster awareness and attendance. In a nod to Mr. Modi’s background as a tea seller, the party dispatched mobile tea vans throughout the city and gave “NaMo Tea Stall” posters to tea stands to brand themselves with the first two letters of Mr. Modi’s first and last names.

Mr. Modi’s event in Patna, with the unfolding drama of the explosions, did manage to eclipse a simultaneous rally organized by the Congress Party near New Delhi, headlined by Mr. Gandhi. The two events had been billed as “the battle of the rallies” by some journalists, but coverage favored Mr. Modi, and one observer noted on Twitter that she could not catch Mr. Gandhi’s speech because news channels “had him on mute.”

Amarnath Tewary and Zach Marks contributed reporting from Patna, India.


Patna bombings: outlawed Islamist group blamed for fatal blasts

Suspect arrested after six blasts killed seven and wounded 83 told police that Indian Mujahideen told him to carry out bombings

Associated Press in Patna, Monday 28 October 2013 11.08 GMT   

An outlawed Islamist group has been blamed for a series of deadly bomb blasts near an Indian opposition rally by a Hindu nationalist leader in a grim prelude to national elections next spring.

No group has claimed responsibility for the six small blasts, which killed seven people and wounded 83 just before the rally by Hindu nationalist opposition leader Narendra Modi on Sunday.

However, one of two suspects arrested after the blasts told police that the outlawed Indian Mujahideen had instructed him and others to carry out the bombings as hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the rally in a central park in Bihar's state capital of Patna, police said.

"The main motive was to create panic and cause a stampede," said senior Patna police official Manu Maharaj. Officials from Modi's Bharatiya Janata party, or BJP, said they kept news of the blasts quiet until after the rally to avoid panicking the crowd.

Modi is waging an aggressive campaign to become India's next prime minister and critics worry his rise could exacerbate sectarian tensions between India's majority Hindus and its 138 million Muslims.

After the blasts, police detained three men in eastern Bihar state and three more in neighbouring Jharkhand, where officers raided a home and seized "a huge amount of explosives" along with bomb-making materials.

Police charged two of the suspects with criminal conspiracy and mass murder. The other four were released after questioning.

The Indian Mujahideen, which has been linked to the banned Pakistan-based Islamist rebel group Lashkar-e-Taiba, has not claimed responsibility for Sunday's blasts. India's hardline Islamic organisation Jamaat-e-Islami, meanwhile, denounced the attack and demanded swift punishment for those involved.

The death toll rose to seven on Monday as several people died from their injuries. Dozens more were still being treated in a Patna hospital, including several in critical condition.

Modi offered condolences to the victims in a Twitter message after the rally.

Bihar's top elected official, chief minister Nitish Kumar, broke with the BJP six months ago over Modi's candidacy, which he suggested could upset communal relations within India's secular democracy of 1.2bn people.

Modi, who has served three terms as Gujarat's leader, is credited with turning his western state into a haven for investment and industry.

But for years Modi has dodged allegations that he and his Hindu fundamentalist party colleagues looked the other way and even encouraged marauding mobs of Hindus as they killed and burned their way through Muslim neighbourhoods in Gujarat in 2002, leaving more than 1,100 people dead in one of India's worst outbursts of communal violence.

No evidence directly links Modi to the violence, and he says he has no responsibility for the killings. The supreme court criticised his government, however, for failing to prosecute Hindu rioters who justified the rampage as revenge for a train fire that killed 60 Hindus.

An independent probe in 2006 determined the fire was an accident, but a 2008 state government commission said it was planned by Muslims.

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