February 20, 2013
To Block Gaza Tunnels, Egypt Lets Sewage Flow
By FARES AKRAM and DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
GAZA —The Egyptian military is resorting to a pungent new tactic to shut down the smuggling tunnels connecting Sinai and Gaza: flooding them with sewage. Along with the stink, the approach is raising new questions about relations between Egypt’s new Islamist leaders and their ideological allies in Hamas who control the Gaza Strip.
“Awful,” said Abu Mutair Shalouf, 35, a Palestinian smuggler on the Gaza side, watching workers haul buckets of sewage-soaked soil from the shaft of a tunnel flooded by the Egyptian military 15 days ago. “I don’t know why they did this.”
Advisers to the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, say the answer is simple: they are determined to shut the tunnels to block the destabilizing flow of weapons and militants into Sinai from Gaza — a vow Mr. Morsi made with evident passion in an interview five months ago.
And the more muted response from Hamas, a militant offshoot of the Brotherhood, is the strongest indication yet that its leaders are now pinning their hopes on their ideological allies in Cairo, even if at the moment they appear to be harming the interests of the citizens of Gaza. The tunnels remain a vital source of certain imports to Gaza and smuggling-tax revenue for Hamas, and when the former president, Hosni Mubarak, used far less effective methods to close the tunnels, Hamas screamed of betrayal.
After the sewage flooding, several Hamas officials instead emphasized Egypt’s right to protect its borders as it chose. “Egypt is a state of sovereignty and we do not impose on it anything,” said Salah al-Bardawil, a Hamas official in Gaza. “We address the Egyptian side about the issue and hope they will understand us and our needs,” he added. “We trust the Egyptian leadership that they will not leave the Palestinian people alone.”
Analysts offer many theories about the timing. At a moment of political and economic difficulties, with a financial aid package stalled in the United States Congress, Egypt’s Islamist-led government “is showing itself once more as a valuable ally,” speculated Yasser el-Shimy, Egypt analyst at the International Crisis Group. “It can do something like this, which, perhaps, promotes strategic interests.”
Or perhaps, Mr. Shimy said, Mr. Morsi’s government aimed to remind Israel that it, and not Egypt, still bore responsibility for Gaza’s poverty and problems. Or perhaps the Egyptian military was sending some domestic message of its own, either to the Brotherhood or other domestic constituents, about the generals’ independence from the Islamists.
Concern in Cairo about the tunnels spiked last August, when 16 Egyptian soldiers died in a militant attack on a military outpost in Sinai. The Egyptian government believes the attackers came through the tunnels.
Then, after Egypt helped broker a truce between Hamas and Israel to end a week of fighting in Gaza last November, Israel eased restrictions on imports over the border. Most notably, it began allowing in more construction material previously considered to have a potential military use, though Palestinians say the Israelis still block steel and other materials.
Essam el-Hadded, Mr. Morsi’s national security adviser, suggested this week that the loosened restrictions at the border crossing might have encouraged the crackdown on tunnels. “Now we can say that the borders are open to a good extent — it could still be improved — and the needs of the Gazan people are allowed in,” Mr. Hadded told Reuters.
Under Mr. Mubarak, Palestinians said, the Egyptians sometimes flooded tunnels with gas, which was easily remedied by pumping in air.
But around the beginning of February the Egyptian military began for the first time to use waste water instead, eventually flooding about two dozen of the 200-odd tunnels. (The Egyptian authorities say there are 225; Palestinians say 250.)
Mr. Shalouf, 35, who imported mainly gravel, said that before removing the buckets of dirt he had pumped out the water. Now he plans to lay down sand and sawdust and reinforce the ceiling. Repairs could take three weeks.
Palestinians say that so far the flooding has hurt individual livelihoods but not the total volume of goods moving below ground. On Wednesday, about two cargo trucks per minute were pulling out of the main smuggling zone inside Gaza, laden with cement, gravel, canned food, citrus and vegetables. Hamas customs officers kept a record of each truck and load.
Fares Akram reported from Gaza, and David D. Kirkpatrick from Cairo. Mayy El-Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo.
February 20, 2013
Trial Offers Rare Look at Work of Hezbollah in Europe
By NICHOLAS KULISH
LIMASSOL, Cyprus — In a little-noticed trial in a small courtroom here on Wednesday, a 24-year-old man provided a rare look inside a covert global war between Israel and Iran, admitting that he is an operative of the militant group Hezbollah, for which he acted as a courier in Europe and staked out locations in this port city that Israelis were known to frequent.
Breaking with the group’s ironclad discipline and practiced secrecy, the operative, Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, described being handled by a masked man he knew only as Ayman. He told of doing simple tasks at first: picking up a couple of bags in Lyon, France, taking a cellphone, two SIM cards and a mysterious package wrapped in newspaper from Amsterdam to Lebanon.
When he was arrested last July, he had a small red notebook with the license plate numbers of two buses ferrying Israelis to vacation spots in the vicinity.
He claimed that none of this was related to planning an attack, as prosecutors have charged. One of the plates, LAA-505, reminded him of a Lamborghini sports car, he said, while the other, KWK-663, reminded him of a Kawasaki motorcycle.
Yet, less than two weeks after he was taken into custody, a bomb blew up alongside a bus at the airport in Burgas, Bulgaria, killing five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian driver — an attack similar to the one he seemed to be planning, experts say, and one that the Bulgarian authorities later tied to Hezbollah.
Mr. Yaacoub’s testimony offered unaccustomed insights from an active Hezbollah member into the militant group’s secret operations. But it carried potentially greater significance for the European Union, which has thus far resisted following Washington’s lead in declaring the group a terrorist organization. Experts say that a conviction here would substantially raise the pressure on the bloc for such a designation.
“Foreign ministries around Europe are watching this quite closely because many Europeans, particularly the Germans, have laid such a stress on courtroom evidence being the basis for a designation,” said Daniel Benjamin, until December the top counterterrorism official at the State Department, who visited Cyprus last year after the arrest.
Security experts also suspect that Mr. Yaacoub was playing a small but potentially deadly role in a much broader shadow war that has produced what some Israeli and American intelligence officials say were nearly a dozen plots by Iran and Hezbollah against Israel and its allies abroad.
“The evidence seems quite compelling that what he was doing was conducting surveillance for a bombing that would parallel almost exactly what happened in Bulgaria,” said Matthew Levitt, director of the program on counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the author of a forthcoming book on Hezbollah’s global footprint.
In written testimony read in Greek by his interpreter, as he sat quietly beside her, Mr. Yaacoub described how he would be picked up in a van to meet with his handler, Ayman, and used code words to confirm his identity. “I never saw the face of Ayman because he was always wearing a mask,” Mr. Yaacoub said.
He said he was trained in the use of weapons and had acted as a courier for the group inside the European Union; with his Swedish passport, Mr. Yaacoub was an ideal candidate for such missions. He also acknowledged staking out the locations where Israelis appeared in large numbers — a parking lot behind a Limassol hospital and a hotel called the Golden Arches.
But Mr. Yaacoub was adamant that he was not participating in a plot to kill Israeli tourists. “Even if they asked me to participate in a terrorist action, I would refuse,” he said. “I could never do that. I’m only trained to defend Lebanon.”
Cyprus has traditionally had strong ties to Israel, but even more so to the Arab world. The island was widely considered a safe place to do business, even informally viewed as something of a cease-fire zone for the region’s conflicts, said Petros Zarounas, an expert in international relations in Nicosia, the Cypriot capital.
“They considered it neutral ground where everyone will have access to Cyprus soil, to feel safe, secure, quiet,” he said.
But recently the island nation has grown closer to Israel, deepening economic ties. Like Bulgaria, Cyprus is a popular tourist destination, with nearly 40,000 Israelis visiting in 2012.
Officials in Cyprus have tried to keep the case as low-key as possible, declining in most instances to comment or to release documents. “It’s a very serious and delicate case,” the justice minister, Loucas Louca, said shortly after Mr. Yaacoub was arrested. “I don’t want to make a statement because any publicity could harm the case.”
The prosecution and the defense have both declined to comment before a verdict is reached, expected to be sometime in March. But a preliminary ruling by the three-judge panel last week found that the prosecutor had provided enough evidence to proceed on all eight counts, including four charges of conspiracy to commit a felony, two charges of participating in a criminal organization, one of participating in the preparation of a crime and a charge of covering it up.
Mr. Yaacoub, who has both Swedish and Lebanese passports, said that he had been a member of Hezbollah since 2007 and worked for the group for four years. He also ran a trading company in Lebanon. He had visited Cyprus in 2008 but first came for business in December 2011. Though he traded in shoes, clothing and wedding goods, he said, he was interested in branching out into importing fruit juice.
It was unclear from his testimony exactly how he got involved with the man he called Ayman. He said that he had been on “previous missions with Hezbollah,” in Antalya, on Turkey’s southwest coast, as well as in Holland and France.
On June 26, 2012, he traveled to Sweden to renew his passport. He returned to Cyprus via Heathrow Airport in London. Ayman asked him to observe two locations, the parking lot and the Golden Arches hotel. He was also supposed to acquire two SIM cards for cellphones and to locate Internet cafes in Limassol and Nicosia.
Mr. Yaacoub said that on his visit to Cyprus last summer he bought several thousand dollars’ worth of juice from a Cypriot producer but could not find a way to transport it. He explained multiple trips to the Larnaca airport, which the authorities said were for surveillance, as a result of a rental car with faulty air-conditioning that had to be returned.
Mr. Yaacoub held up the red notebook, which a court clerk took to him as he tried to explain how he ended up noting the license plates. He described himself as “threatened, scared and confused,” during his initial interrogation, complaining that the police had warned that he would receive life in prison if he did not cooperate and made him submit to a polygraph test.
Mr. Benjamin, the former State Department official, called the Cypriot dedication to pursuing the case remarkable.
“Ten years ago the expectations would have been that they would have made this go away,” he said. “They’re in a vulnerable position not far from Lebanon, but they’ve done the right thing and they’ve been resolute about it.”
Andreas Riris contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 20, 2013
An earlier version of a Web summary on this article misspelled the surname of the defendant. He is Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, not Yaccou.
Israeli guards left ‘Prisoner X’ hanging for an hour
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 21, 2013 7:10 EST
Israeli guards supposedly keeping a round-the-clock watch on a mystery dual nationality prisoner held in isolation failed to notice his suicide for a full hour, a newspaper reported on Thursday.
Although his cell was fitted with four CCTV cameras, the guards did not see Ben Zygier, identified by media as an Australian-Israeli Mossad agent, remove a sheet from his bed and take it with him into the shower cubicle.
“For an unknown reason, none of the guards discerned him doing that,” the Yediot Aharonot newspaper reported.
It said that one camera covered the shower “in a way that allowed for the prisoner’s head to be visible without invading his more intimate privacy.”
“It was only after an entire hour had passed that (the guards) realised that the prisoner was nowhere to be seen in any of the areas picked up by the four cameras, at which point they rushed to his cell, where they discovered his body dangling in the shower stall,” it said.
“They were busy with something else,” an prisons service official told the paper.
“The bottom line is that the prisoner died, and we failed in our job of keeping him alive.”
Findings of an inquest, which were only released for publication on Tuesday, showed Zygier committed suicide in his cell at Ayalon prison on December 15, 2010.
The details emerged after a court loosened a gag order on the case.
Israel has gone to extreme lengths to cover up the story of Zygier’s arrest and death in captivity, imposing a media blackout that was only partially eased last week after Australian broadcaster ABC said he had been jailed in top-secret conditions.
Israel’s parliament is to launch an “intensive” inquiry into the arrest and death of Zygier, who immigrated to Israel around 2001 and was arrested for reasons which remain unknown, in February 2010.
China 'aiding hacker attacks on west'
Study claims military unit based in Shanghai has stolen vast amounts of data from companies and defence groups
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 February 2013 13.03 GMT
The Chinese army has launched hundreds of cyber-attacks against western companies and defence groups from a nondescript office building in Shanghai, according to a report that warns hackers have stolen vast amounts of data from their targets.
Mandiant, a security company that has been investigating attacks against western organisations for over six years, said in a report (PDF) the attacks came from a 12-storey building belonging to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) general staff's department, also known as Unit 61398.
Mandiant said it believed a hacking network named the Comment Crew or the Shanghai Group was based inside the compound, in a rundown residential neighbourhood. Although the report fails directly to place the hackers inside the building, it argues there is no other logical reason why so many attacks have emanated from such a small area.
"It is time to acknowledge the threat is originating in China, and we wanted to do our part to arm and prepare security professionals to combat that threat effectively," said the report.
The discovery will further raise the temperature in the intergovernmental cyberwars, which have heated up in recent years as the US, Israel, Iran, China and UK have all used computer subterfuge to undermine rival state or terrorist organisations. One security expert warned that companies in high-profile fields should assume they will be targeted and hacked, and build systems that will fence sensitive data off from each other.
Rik Ferguson, global vice-president of security research at the data security company Trend Micro, said: "We need to concentrate less on building castles and assuming they will be impervious, and more on building better dungeons so that when people get in they can't get anything else." .
Mandiant says Unit 61398 could house "hundreds or thousands" of people and has military-grade, high-speed fibre-optic connections from China Mobile, the world's largest telecoms carrier. "The nature of Unit 61398's work is considered by China to be a state secret; however, we believe it engages in harmful computer network operations," Mandiant said in the report.
It said Unit 61398 had been operating since 2006, and was one of the most prolific hacking groups "in terms of quantity of information stolen". This it estimated at hundreds of terabytes, enough for thousands of 3D designs and blueprints.
"APT1", as Mandiant calls it, is only one of 20 groups Mandiant says has carried out scores of hacking attacks against businesses and organisations in the west, including companies that work in strategic industries such as US power and water infrastructure.
A typical attack would leave software that hid its presence from the user or administrator and silently siphon data to a remote server elsewhere on the internet at the instruction of a separate "command and control" (C&C) computer. By analysing the hidden software, the pattern of connections and links from the C&C server, the team at Mandiant said they were confident of the source of the threat.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman denied the government was behind the attacks, saying: "Hacking attacks are transnational and anonymous. Determining their origins is extremely difficult. We don't know how the evidence in this so-called report can be tenable. Arbitrary criticism based on rudimentary data is irresponsible, unprofessional and not helpful in resolving the issue."
But Ferguson told the Guardian: "This is a pretty compelling report, with evidence collected over a prolonged period of time. It points very strongly to marked Chinese involvement."
Mandiant, based in Alexandria, Virginia, in the US, investigated the New York Times break-in, for which it suggested Chinese sources could be to blame.
President Barack Obama is already beefing up US security, introducing an executive order in his State of the Union speech this month that would let the government work with the private sector to fend off hacking. But it will take until February 2014 to have a final version ready for implementation.
The revelation comes days after the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, as well as the social networks Facebook and Twitter, said they had been subjected to "highly sophisticated" hacks that in some cases focused on correspondents writing about China and its government.
Separate investigations by the computer company Dell, working with the news company Bloomberg, tracked down another alleged hacker, Zhang Changhe, who has written a number of papers on PC hacking. Zhang works at the PLA's "information engineering university" in Zhengzhou, Henan province, north-central China.
The allegations will raise the temperature in the continuing cyberwar between the west and China, which has been steadily rising since the Pentagon and MI6 uncovered Titan Rain, a scheme that tried to siphon data from the Pentagon and the House of Commons in 2006, and which one security expert said at the time dated back at least to 2004.
Ferguson suggested that western governments were also carrying out attacks against Chinese targets – "but that's not a culture which would open up about being hit. I would be surprised and disappointed if most western nations don't have a cybersecurity force."
The Stuxnet virus, which hit Iran's uranium reprocessing plant in 2010, is believed to have been written jointly by the US and Israel, while Iranian sources are believed to have hacked companies that issue email security certificates so that they can crack secure connections used by Iranian dissidents on Google's Gmail system. China is also reckoned to have been behind the hacking of Google's email servers in that country in late 2009, in an operation that files from WikiLeaks suggested was inspired by the Beijing government.
A timeline of government-sponsored hacking attacks
2004 suspected: Chinese group in Shanghai begins probing US companies and military targets.
2005: "Titan Rain" pulls data from the Pentagon's systems, and a specialist says of a December 2005 attack on the House of Commons computer system that "The degree of sophistication was extremely high. They were very clever programmers."
2007: Estonia's government and other internet services are knocked offline by a coordinated attack from more than a million computers around the world – reckoned to have been run from a group acting at the urging of the Russian government. Nobody is ever arrested over the attack.
2008: Russia's government is suspected of carrying out a cyberattack to knock out government and other websites inside Georgia, with which it is fighting a border skirmish over the territory of Ossetia.
December 2009: Google's email systems in China are hacked by a group which tries to identify and take over the accounts of Chinese dissidents. Google withdraws its search engine from the Chinese mainland in protest at the actions. Wikileaks cables suggest that the Chinese government was aware of the hacking.
2010: The Flame virus begins silently infecting computers in Iran. It incorporates cutting-edge cryptography breakthroughs which would require world-class experts to write. That is then used to infect Windows PCs via the Windows Update mechanism which normally creates a cryptographically secure link to Microsoft. Instead, Flame puts software that watches every keystroke and frame on the PC. Analysts say that only a "wealthy" nation state could have written the virus, which breaks new ground in encryption.
The Stuxnet worm is discovered to have been affecting systems inside Iran's uranium reprocessing establishment, passing from Windows PCs to the industrial systems which control centrifuges that separate out heavier uranium. The worm makes the centrifuges spin out of control, while suggesting on their control panel that they are operating normally – and so break them. Iran denies that the attack has affected its project. The US and Israel are later fingered as being behind the code.
September 2011: a new virus that silently captures data from transactions in Middle Eastern online banking is unleashed. The principal targets use Lebanese banks. It is not identified until August 2012, when Russian security company Kaspersky discovers the name "Gauss" embedded inside it. The company says the malware it is "nation state-sponsored" – probably by a western state seeking to trace transactions by specific targets.
2012: About 30,000 Windows PCs at Saudi Aramco, the world's most valuable company, are rendered unusable after a virus called "Shamoon" wipes and corrupts data and the part of the hard drive needed to "bootstrap" the machine when it is turned on. In the US, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta described Shamoon as "one of the most destructive viruses ever" and suggested it could be used to launch an attack as destructive as the 9/11 attacks of 2001.
White House promises trade war on countries behind cybercrime
China the apparent target as Obama administration says it will put pressure on governments and prosecute offenders
Staff and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 February 2013 05.16 GMT
The White House has said it will step up diplomatic pressure over cybercrime and intellectual property theft from US businesses and security interests, in an announcement that indirectly cast China as one of the biggest perpetrators.
The US attorney general, Eric Holder, said the plan included working with like-minded governments to tackle offenders using trade restrictions and criminal prosecutions. There would be a 120-day review to see whether new US legislation is needed.
"A hacker in China can acquire source code from a software company in Virginia without leaving his or her desk," Holder said.
The report stops short of blaming the Chinese government itself but a study released this week by a private security firm accused the Chinese military of orchestrating numerous cyber attacks against US businesses, a charge Beijing has denied.
The White House report listed 17 cases of trade secret theft by Chinese companies or individuals since 2010, far more than any other country mentioned in the report.
The Obama administration has said its strategy aims to counter what Holder called "a significant and steadily increasing threat to America's economy and national security interests".
President Barack Obama introduced a cybersecurity executive order in his state of the union address that offered a broad outline of how the government plans to deal with cyber threats.
"As new technology has torn down traditional barriers to international business and global commerce, they also make it easier for criminals to steal secrets and to do so from anywhere, anywhere in the world," Holder said.
Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives intelligence committee, has said US companies suffered estimated losses in 2012 of more than $300bn via theft of trade secrets, a large share due to Chinese online espionage.
US corporate victims of trade secret theft have included General Motors, Ford, DuPont, Dow Chemical, Motorola, Boeing and Cargill. A target company can see the payoff from research investment evaporate as a result of corporate espionage and lose market position, competitive advantage and efficiencies.
"We have repeatedly raised our concerns about trade secret theft by any means at the highest levels with senior Chinese officials and we will continue to do so," said Robert Hormats, an under-secretary of state.
Those cases cited mostly involved employees stealing trade secrets on the job rather than cyber attacks.
Victoria Espinel, the White House intellectual property rights enforcement co-ordinator, said the effort aimed to protect the innovation driving the US economy and job creation.
Cybersecurity and intelligence experts welcomed the White House plan as a first step but some said much more needed to be done. "You've got a nation-state taking on private corporations," said former CIA director Michael Hayden. "That's kind of unprecedented ... We have not approached resolution with this at all."
The US Chamber of Commerce, America's largest business lobby, offered a lukewarm statement of support, while other industry groups expressed more enthusiasm for the effort.
"We strongly endorse and applaud the administration's focus on curbing theft of trade secrets, which poses a serious and growing threat to the software industry around the world," said Business Software Alliance president and chief executive Robert Holleyman.
The report that laid out the strategy repeated a 2011 White House recommendation that the maximum sentence for economic espionage be increased to at least 20 years, from 15.
Another part of the solution was promoting a set of "best practices" that companies would use to protect themselves against cyber attacks and other espionage, Espinel said.
The report said the FBI was "expanding its efforts to fight computer intrusions that involve the theft of trade secrets by individual, corporate and nation-state cyber hackers".
US trade representative Ron Kirk said the problem of trade secret theft in China was a factor in the decisions of some US companies to move operations back to the United States. The companies have "had very frank conversations with the Chinese, [saying] 'You know it's one thing to accept a certain level of copyright knock-offs but if you're going to take our core technology then we're better off being in our home country'".
China hacking claims: tech firms move to front line in US cyberwar
Mandiant founder reveals how balance of power in US cyberwar has shifted to multibillion-dollar computer security firms
Associated Press in Washington
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 February 2013 09.35 GMT
When Kevin Mandia, a retired military cybercrime investigator, decided to expose China as a primary threat to US computer networks, he did not have to consult with US diplomats in Beijing or declassify tactics to safely reveal government secrets.
He compiled a 76-page report based on seven years of his company's work and produced the most detailed public account yet of how, he says, the Chinese government has been rummaging through the networks of major US companies.
It was not news to Mandia's commercial competitors, or the federal government, that systematic attacks could be traced to a nondescript office building outside Shanghai that he believes was run by the Chinese army. What was remarkable was that the extraordinary details – code names of hackers, one's affection for Harry Potter and how they stole sensitive trade secrets and passwords – came from a private security company without the official backing of the US military or intelligence agencies responsible for protecting the nation from a cyber-attack.
The report, welcomed by stakeholders in government and industry, represented a notable alignment of interests in Washington: the Obama administration has pressed for fresh evidence of Chinese hacking that it can leverage in diplomatic talks without revealing secrets about its own hacking investigations, and Mandiant makes headlines with its sensational revelations.
The report also shows the balance of power in America's cyberwar has shifted into the hands of the $30bn-a-year computer security industry. "We probably kicked the hornet's nest," Mandia, 42, said at the Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters of Mandiant. But "tolerance is just dwindling. People are tired of the status quo of being hacked with impunity, where there's no risk or repercussion." China has rejected the allegations.
Mandiant, which took some $100m of business last year, up 60% from the year before, is part of a lucrative and exploding market that goes beyond antivirus software and firewalls. These "digital forensics" outfits can tell a business whether its systems have been breached and, if the company pays extra, who attacked it.
Among Mandiant's staff are retired intelligence and law enforcement agents who specialise in computer forensics and promise their clients confidentiality and control over the investigation. In turn, they get unfettered access to the crime scene and resources to fix the problem (Mandiant will not say exactly how much it charges, but it is estimated to average about $400 an hour).
The growing reliance on contractors like Mandiant has been compared with that enjoyed by the military and state department contractor formerly known as Blackwater, which provided physical security to diplomats and other VIPs during the Iraq war.
Officials inside and outside government believe contractors can often act more quickly than the government and without as much red tape. There are also serious privacy concerns: Most US citizens do not want the government to access their bank accounts, for example, even if China is attacking their bank.
"The government doesn't have the capacity," said Shawn Henry, a former FBI executive assistant director who works for CrowdStrike, a Mandiant competitor. "There are a lot of people working hard. But the structures aren't there."
Michael DuBose, another former senior justice department official who works for a similar firm, Kroll Advisory Solutions, added: "I think there's a recognition that the government can't stand at the entry point of the internet to the United States and shield it from all bad things coming in."
Since Mandiant released its report this week, government officials and legislators have publicly embraced its findings. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chair of the Senate intelligence committee, hailed Mandiant for exposing the hacking issue. She called its report "sobering" and said she hoped it would spur an international agreement to protect companies from cyber-espionage.
"It's a forcing function in the private sector, and frankly … it's a forcing function with the government," said retired a air force general, Michael Hayden, the former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency who now works for Chertoff, a security consulting firm.
Mandiant's report raises questions, too, about the extent to which private companies are in control of defending the nation's most crucial networks, such as power companies and water treatment plants. Another question is what rules of engagement private companies might rely on. When does a company strike back?
Mandia and his competitors say they are beholden to US and international laws, which prohibit the type of intrusive acts they accuse China of. Mandia also says his clients are not interested in starting a cyberwar with foreign hackers, in part because they are so vulnerable. "The only time (retaliatory hacking) would really work is if we got all the bad guys out of our networks in the first place," he said. "Then you can start playing that game." Still, publishing the hacking report was an offensive shot across China's bow.
Mandia launched his company in 2004 after several years in the private sector because, he says, there was no company focused on investigating intrusions. With a master's degree in forensic science from George Washington University, he became Mandiant's sole employee and, two years later, got a cash injection from a friend.
Now, he oversees some 330 employees and the field is growing rapidly. He says he used to see about three major incidents a month when he started his business; now he estimates there are between 30 and 100 incidents a month.
Mandia is hardly alone. A former colleague, Stuart McClure, recently started a company called Cylance. He received $15bn in venture capital funds for his business, which he says is distinctive because of its focus on prevention. McClure said he sees the future of cyber-defence residing in the private sector, which has deeper pockets and less red tape.
As for any problems they might cause in diplomatic or security circles for the federal government, Mandia and his competitors say that is not a concern, although he has been hiring lawyers to help monitor US policies and regulations. But as a tech expert, he says he has been focused on stopping intrusions. "We're security guys," Mandia said. "We're not diplomats."
Photos show North Korea has resumed activity at nuclear site
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 17:52 EST
North Korea has resumed activity at a nuclear site following its internationally condemned bomb test, a US think tank said Wednesday, amid fears that the regime will carry out more explosions.
Examining satellite photos, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University detected a rise in traffic at the Punggye-ri site but cautioned that there was not enough evidence to assert that a new test was in the works.
The think tank said that there had been no sign of vehicles or people moving at the site for a day after North Korea carried out its third nuclear test on February 12 but that activity had resumed by February 15.
Writing on the institute’s 38 North blog, analysts Jack Liu and Nick Hansen said the change over a few days may indicate that North Korea “took safety precautions to ensure radioactivity levels were sufficiently low before sending personnel back into the area.”
North Korea is believed to have tightly sealed the site, making it difficult for the United States and other nations to detect from the air whether Pyongyang used uranium — which would prove it has a second nuclear method in addition to its plutonium program.
But the analysts found activity in two different parts of the site. They said that if North Korea detonated the bomb in a tunnel in the northern area, “then the southern tunnel would be readily available for a fourth test.”
North Korea likely used the northern tunnel area for its previous nuclear test in 2009, but it is not known in which area it carried out its latest explosion.
The analysts said that another reason why activity appeared to increase this month was the melting of snow that fell the day after the nuclear test.
Despite widespread international condemnation, North Korea has taken on a defiant tone since its latest nuclear test, leading to fears that it will conduct another blast or long-range rocket test.
02/21/2013 02:53 PM
The Flood?: Western Europe Fearful of Eastern Immigration
By Stefan Simons and Carsten Volkery
British, French and German politicians are all sounding the alarm. In 2014, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens will be given free movement within Europe's labor market. They are concerned about a wave of immigration, yet most of those who want to head west likely already have.
For the European Union, Jan. 1 2014 is going to be a potentially charged day. It's the day that Romanians and Bulgarians will be given free, unlimited access to the European labor market. Both countries have been full members of the EU since 2007, but under the terms of accession, they were not to be given full freedom of labor movement for a transitional period of seven years. With this last barrier scheduled to fall in less than a year, a major, pan-European debate on immigration is now unfolding.
The mood is particularly tense in Great Britain. Next week, a by-election is taking place in Eastleigh for an empty seat in the House of Commons, and the governing Tories have markedly ratcheted up their rhetoric against what they have dubbed "welfare tourism."
"We're not tough enough right now about people coming from the other side of the world who decide to use our health service," Prime Minister David Cameron recently stated. "They haven't contributed in their taxes. They should pay when they use the NHS," the National Health System. And British Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has thundered against other Europeans who "use the free movement rules just to travel around, looking for the best benefits they can get."
The rhetoric is a response to pressure from the country's tabloid press. Newspapers like the Sun and other tabloids are currently feeding fears of a flood of poor immigrants from southeast Europe. "So here we stand, staring at the oncoming train, but … utterly impotent," an article in the Daily Mail stated. With this "potentially huge political and social disaster hurtling down the tracks," the paper warned, Cameron and his government are standing, "frozen in the headlamps, waiting for the crash in January." The story is accompanied by a photo of a group of downtrodden Roma standing in front of a dumpster.
Cameron Wants to Eliminate Benefits
Cameron has already announced his intention to cap social services for immigrants to Britain from other EU countries. A high-ranking working group at 10 Downing Street is currently working on proposals to make this happen. Among the measures being considered is a plan to apply fees to newcomers for a national healthcare system in Britain that is currently free. But other ideas, like the briefly considered notion of creating an advertising campaign in Bulgaria and Romania that would discourage potential immigrants from making their way to England, have been scrapped.
Britain isn't the only EU country where politicians are raising the alarm. In France, the extreme right has taken up the issue in an attempt to mobilize voters. After the Socialist Party government of President Francois Hollande moved in autumn to expand the number of fields in which Romanians and Bulgarians are permitted to work within in the country, from 150 to 291, Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN) party described the move as a "scandalous decision, especially given that France is already suffering from mass unemployment."
Given a high unemployment rate that may reach a record 10 percent by mid-year, unions are also eyeing with suspicion the arrival of potential labor-market competition from the east. The government itself is divided on the issue. The French Senate, with votes from the Socialists and the opposition, squashed a motion by the Green Party to eliminate the restrictions earlier than planned, in autumn.
German Cities Warn of 'Poverty Immigration'
Meanwhile, in Germany the debate is being carried out under the slogan "poverty immigration." In a report released last month, the German Association of Cities wrote that municipalities are no longer capable of addressing issues related to the growing number of immigrants on their own. Association President Christian Ude is calling for additional financial support from the federal government. "If countermeasures aren't finally taken, then the situation is going to intensify come Jan. 1, 2014," Guntram Schneider, the labor minister for the populous western state of North Rhine-Westphalia warned in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper.
But there's a lot to suggest that the removal of the last remaining labor market barriers will change the situation considerably. At Germany's Labor Ministry, officials are fond of pointing to the experience of lifting labor market restrictions for citizens in neighboring Poland. At the beginning of 2012, Polish nationals were given unrestricted access to the EU labor market, but there was no sudden flood of immigration. Most of the Poles who wanted to immigrate to other countries already had.
The fixation with 2014 ignores the fact that many Romanians and Bulgarians are already permitted to work in Germany. In addition to academics, this also applies to skilled workers and job trainees. And any Romanian or Bulgarian has the right to set up his or her own business in Germany or work as a freelancer. The sole remaining labor market barrier applies only to unskilled workers; currently they can only enter the country for six months at a time as seasonal workers.
A similar gradual transition is also taking place in France. Since last autumn, most employment sectors have been open to the southeastern Europeans. Highly bureacratic procedures for obtaining a work permit have also been simplified. All a Romanian or Bulgarian worker has to do in France today is to pay a €700 tax and obtain permission from the local municipality. These steps are intended to make integration simpler for the new immigrants.
A Debate over Integration Costs
As such, those Romanians and Bulgarians looking to leave home for Western Europe have had that possibility open to them -- and many have taken advantage of it. More than 1 million Romanians currently work in Italy; in Spain there are 900,000. Linguistic similarities have made those two countries the favored destination of Romanians. According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, there are 209,000 Romanians and 121,000 Bulgarians currently living in Germany. How many of those are Roma is not documented. Thousands of additional immigrants from southeastern Europe arrive every month, with some cities reporting a six-fold increase since the two countries became EU members.
The migration will continue for as long as there is a lack of jobs and career opportunities in the two countries. But the governments in Bucharest and Sofia are warning against scaremongering. The debate in Britain in particular has been met with incomprehension. "Most (Bulgarians) who sought jobs in Britain have already done so," Bulgarian Ambassador to London Konstantin Dimitrov told the Evening Standard last week, discounting fears that a flood of his countrymen would show up in the United Kingdom in 2014. He added that "some politicians have been guilty of unenlightened propaganda."
The conflict is reminiscent of the immigration debate which erupted in Germany when the EU was expanded eastwards in 2004. The cliché of the "Polish plumber" who would drive German tradesmen into bankruptcy ultimately became a symbol for virulent xenophobia. Warsaw was able to successfully co-opt the fear in a humorous advertising campaign using a muscle-bound plumber to encourage foreign firms to invest in the country.
In Germany, the current discussion centers around who should be liable for the costs of integrating the newcomers. Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants are not, on average, unemployed more often than other Eastern Europeans. But Roma present schools, municipalities and charitable organizations with unique challenges. Local governments are complaining that they are now being made to bear the costs of EU expansion, concerns that the federal government in Berlin have thus far ignored. Instead, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has demanded that the EU make money available for the integration of Roma into their native countries.
European Commission: Agreement to give Brussels more control over national budgets
21 February 2013
Les Echos, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
“Brussels wins new powers to control national budgets”, writes Les Echos, in the wake of the agreement concluded between member states and the European Parliament. The “two pack”, as it has been dubbed in Brussels, will enable the Commission evaluate member state budgets and to recommend adjustments. For the business daily, the measure adds “the final touch to the new European governance”.
The “two pack”, which is set to come into force by the summer, is more “intrusive” than preceding texts, explains Les Echos —
From now on, national governments will have to present plans for next year’s budgets to Brussels before they are examined by their own parliaments. The Commission will then have the option of issuing an opinion, but not of imposing a veto. […] If its recommendations are not taken into account, the Commission can always threaten to slap financial sanctions on countries with excessive deficits.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung underlines that on the same occasion, the Commission announced that in the coming months it would examine the introduction of eurobonds and means to share the debt of eurozone countries. Finally, notes the German daily, the decision on the “two pack” —
is in tune with the fiscal compact that has long been endorsed by Europe’s heads of state, but [it] is clearer and easier to apply. The second regulation in the package lays down more stringent rules for countries that are receiving assistance or are in difficulty. These countries will now be subject to “more extensive surveillance” by the European Commission and the ECB. It also provides for direct technical assistance, like the establishment of a task force, along the lines of the one deployed in the Greek crisis.
02/21/2013 12:55 PM
'Liquid Democrazy'd: Pirate Party Sinks amid Chaos and Bickering
Germany's Pirate Party is falling apart. Instead of finally beginning work on their election platform, leaders of the Internet-freedom party are fighting among themselves instead. By SPIEGEL Staff
Bernd Schlömer couldn't take it any more. "I've had enough," he announced. "I've really had enough."
The chair of Germany's Pirate Party is no stranger to criticism. Online commenters have called him everything from a "maniac" to simply an "asshole." Schlömer is quite used to insults.
This makes it all the more surprising that Schlömer reacted so strongly to criticism from one of his colleagues this February during a virtual meeting with party leaders. This particular member joined in the discussion to declare that he considered Schlömer incompetent.
That's an ordinary comment for the party, but for Schlömer it was one attack too many. "I'm not going to let everyone publically have a go at me," he shouted. "People are enjoying the way I'm being discredited and slagged off as party chair." He took several deep breaths and appeared to struggle for air. Then he said again, "I've had enough."
The Pirate Party finds itself falling apart. With German federal elections seven months away, a minor miracle would have to occur for the Pirates to clear the 5 percent hurdle that allows a party to hold seats in the Bundestag, the country's parliament. The Pirate Party has been too busy tearing itself apart, with members fighting leaders, who are bickering among themselves and antagonizing the members too. In just the last two days, party leaders for the states of Baden-Württemberg and Brandenburg have stepped down, citing the negative climate.
"The atmosphere is so poisonous, there's hardly any constructive work taking place anymore," says Udo Vetter, one of the party's prominent candidates in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Marina Weisband, one of the Pirates' most iconic figures, took refuge in gallows humor last week when she tweeted, "We're the party of liquid democrazy." It may sound funny, but it's not a joke.
Others are watching the Pirate Party's decline with a hefty dose of schadenfreude. "Isn't the very existence of the Pirates a symptom of digital dementia?" wrote the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Yet the failure of the party is also the failure of an attempt to reform democracy. The Pirate Party isn't some splinter group driven by hate, riding a wave of public ill will into office. The party's rise came about through a promise to make German politics friendlier and more accessible to the people and their wishes.
Their chosen mediums for carrying out that promise were computers and the Internet, instruments meant to liberate politics from the grasp of back rooms and insider cliques. On the Internet, everyone has a voice -- the Web can essentially be seen as one enormous town hall meeting. And when people meet there, the opportunity arises for a collective intelligence to form.
This utopian vision appealed especially to young people and to those who had grown disillusioned with politics as usual and its outdated rituals. When the Pirate Party first gained seats in Berlin's state parliament in September 2011, nearly a fifth of its votes came from people who generally considered themselves non-voters. No one could say exactly what the Pirates stood for, but it was precisely this dilettantish aspect that lent the party its charm. "We're the ones with the questions. You're the ones with the answers," read the slogan on the Berlin Pirate Party's campaign posters.
This collective online intelligence, though, has turned out to be more destructive than it is wise, and the transparency of the Internet has proved less of an advantage than a curse. The established political parties may seem dull with their rules and regulations, but structure helps things run smoothly, and old-fashioned mores can keep things civilized. On the Internet, where the Pirates meet, anarchy reigns.
The party has not managed to rein in the dark side of the Internet, the hatred and mud-slinging so common in the online world. Quite the opposite, in fact -- these same negative aspects have come to infect the party itself too.
No one has felt this as keenly in recent months than party chair Bernd Schlömer, a man with a rock-solid temperament. The Pirate Party elected him in part for just that reason, hoping that he would keep his cool amid the chaos and hysteria that come with creating a new political party.
This Ash Wednesday, a day German political parties traditionally meet, Schlömer took to the podium in a half-empty hall in the southern German city of Ingolstadt. A party chair would normally use such an opportunity to rake his opponents over the coals. Schlömer, however, wanted to give a presentation on education and construction policies.
Schlömer is adept at defusing emotional situations, but has nonetheless found himself the target of a constant stream of insults and abuse. Ten months as party chair have left him a politician close to breakdown.
"On Twitter I'm a militarist and a sexist," Schlömer says. "You're exposed to extremely hurtful things and you get very little reassurance. You're constantly bombarded with below-the-belt criticism, most of it anonymous." When Schlömer recently told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that he believes achieving gender equality requires not only supporting women but also expecting more of them, a wave of bad-mouthing engulfed him, expressed under the hashtag "#sexistischekackscheiße" ("sexist shit"). "Babbling Bernd" and "Mercenary Schlömer" were among the friendlier sobriquets that arose.
There are mock Twitter accounts that exist solely for the purpose of mocking the Pirate Party chair. "My methods will triumph!" write Schlömer's detractors at @GroeVaz, an account that specializes in spiteful comments on the "greatest party chair of all time." When Schlömer finished his address in Ingolstadt last Wednesday, one party member tweeted, "The best part of the speech was when he stepped away from the microphone."
Three-quarters of a year after taking office, Schlömer appears worn out and disappointed. He says he doesn't understand why people who are well-received publicly are criticized so harshly within the party. "I pictured politics differently, as more harmonious," he says. "I'm not out to get power. I have no mandate, no salary. I'm also willing to eventually step down. And still people accuse me of being power-hungry and of not listening to the party's base." Actually, Schlömer says, he's the first party chair to introduce open office hours, from 9 to 10 p.m. each Monday.
Schlömer is not just battling the flood of online hatred, but also dealing with the fact that any new political party seems to irresistibly draw eccentrics. And in the case of the Pirate Party, that eccentric problem goes by the name of political director Johannes Ponader.
Ponader and Schlömer were elected to lead the party together, and at first glance they seemed to be a perfect team. Schlömer stood for serious politics, while Ponader wanted to reach out to the digital nomads who populate Berlin's cafés with their laptops, hopping from one freelance project to the next. Ponader likes to celebrate his difference from the mainstream middle class, and it's thanks to him that the country now knows what a polyamorous lifestyle entails.
But instead of complementing one another, Ponader and Schlömer clashed from the start. Schlömer wants to make the party more professional and put together a team to take responsibility for the upcoming parliamentary election campaign. Ponader, on the other hand, sees in this the dreaded "top-down principle" and the grotesque countenance of hierarchy. While Schlömer advocates improving the party's public image, Ponader fuels debates over transparency or re-electing leaders. If Schlömer urges haste, Ponader asks for more discussion. Theoretically, this could be seen as a struggle to find the best way to do things. But the problem is that the Pirate Party knows nothing but fighting, not how to reconcile or compromise.
No Clear Rules for Debate
At this point, nerves are so strained that the party's officials can barely even communicate with each other. On February 7, Ponader sent out a group email in which he copied a text message sent by Christopher Lauer, head of the party's parliamentary group in the Berlin state parliament, demanding in harsh terms ("Man, how messed up are you?") that Ponader resign. The resulting uproar was so intense that the internal mailing list of the party's federal-level leaders has been quiet since.
Ponader has no regrets about the email he sent. "It's clear to me that I upset some of my fellow party leaders," he says. "But when I recognize a systematic pattern in this kind of act, I have an obligation to make it public."
Now the party is asking members to weigh in online as to which party leaders still enjoy their confidence. This vote is meant to be nonbinding, but no one has said exactly how a party leader is meant to continue working after the base has revoked its support in an online vote.
The Pirates are the Internet party, but more often than not digital communication has only caused chaos. For one thing, the party hasn't managed to establish clear rules for its online debates. Even Klaus Peukert, the official responsible for this area, admits as much. "The party hasn't agreed on a binding online voting procedure," he says, "which means that the atmosphere among the party's membership often comes across to us a muddle of different moods. It's not possible to get a clear sense of the majorities at work."
Many see the voting software Liquid Feedback, which the Pirate Party uses to gain an impression of its members' opinions, as a sign of great progress. But decisions reached using the software still aren't binding. Time and again, a majority of the party's members express support online for a particular idea, only to scrap it at the party's next real-world meeting. This confusion means that often the Pirates don't have anything to say on a variety of important issues.
'We're Too Cowardly'
In many cases the party deals in little more than buzzwords, for example when it comes to foreign and security policy. The official party platform says that it seeks to work toward peaceful conflict resolution. While that's an admirable stance, where does it mean the party stands on the current war in Syria? No one knows for sure.
The Pirates could conceivably make up for this lack of content by emphasizing other features such as charismatic figures, brains or nontraditional politicians. Instead, those who stand out too much soon garner hatred. The party seems to prefer its public figures to be nondescript, which was the case when it came to picking candidates for the parliamentary election. In the state of Brandenburg, for example, the Pirates chose a complete unknown, Veit Göritz, to be first on their list of candidates, the one most likely to be elected. Prominent Internet activist Anke Domscheit-Berg, meanwhile, got the second spot on the list -- and is unlikely to actually obtain a seat in parliament.
Marina Weisband, too, has seen how her party treats people who are well-liked by the general public. The party's former political director, who stepped down in January citing health issues, briefly considered returning to politics and running for a seat in the upcoming parliamentary election. But when SPIEGEL published an article detailing her intentions, there was a hail of criticism from party members who said the politician was arrogant and taking herself too seriously. Soon after, Weisband announced she would not be running for parliament this year.
These days, Weisband looks exhausted, in part from all the party infighting. She has written a book scheduled for publication in March, and at the moment will comment publicly only on that, not the Pirates. It seems she's afraid to be told once again that she's making too much of herself.
But Weisband's blog reveals how she sees the Pirate Party these days. The party promised to reform democracy, she writes, wanting to be a force in which an idea's merit was the only thing that mattered, and anyone could take part. But it failed to make good on that promise. "We're too cowardly," Weisband writes. "We lied."
BY SVEN BECKER, ANNETT MEIRITZ, RENÉ PFISTER AND MERLIND THEILE
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
02/20/2013 05:24 PM
Manipulating Pussy Riot: Letters Show Division in Punk Group
By Benjamin Bidder and Matthias Schepp in Moscow
Three women from the Russian punk bank Pussy Riot secretly wrote each other letters while in pretrial detention. The letters show how state power was used to manipulate the trial and divide the punk band. And President Putin? He benefited from the scandal and tightened his grip on power.
In Russia, female prisoners who spy on their fellow inmates are referred to as Nassjedka, or mother hens. They continually badger their victims until they confess, give away secrets or betray their accomplices. In return, the informers hope for an early release or improved detention conditions.
One of these mother hens was also used to spy on imprisoned members of Pussy Riot. Her name is Irina Orlova, and she was housed in a cell with Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, the eldest of the three imprisoned Pussy Riot members, a computer programmer who once worked for an arms manufacturer. Investigators had identified Samutsevich as the weakest of the three women, partly because she is a lesbian and is therefore likely to be more fearful than the others of being housed in a prison camp, where other inmates often torment homosexuals.
Orlova, the mother hen, charmed Samutsevich. She cleaned up the 12-square-meter (130-square-foot) cell, combed the activist's hair and prepared food for her in the kitchenette, as one of her former attorneys recalls.
Playing Imprisoned Activists Against Each Other
It was apparently with Orlova's help that a team of informers and investigators were able to create suspicions among the activists and influence the trial that attracted worldwide attention last year. From the very beginning, Russian intelligence agents kept the band and those associated with it under observation, in an attempt to dismantle the Pussy Riot myth and play off the imprisoned activists against each other.
The methods the authorities used are described in letters the women sent to each other while in pretrial detention last fall. Their attorneys secretly carried the letters from one visitors' room to the next. The documents, which SPIEGEL has seen, depict the daily lives of the women in prison, as well as the efforts by one of the women, Maria Alyokhina, to organize a visit in the exercise room. But they also offer insights into the Pussy Riot case, which exemplifies the means by which President Vladimir Putin achieves his victories, revealing how his spy state manipulates trials and controls public opinion.
"Watch out for Irina," Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, the band's 22-year-old spokeswoman, told Alyokhina, 24, who was in a cell on the floor underneath hers. She was referring to Orlova, who, as she wrote "I do not want Irina to have any chance to influence us." The letter is dated Oct. 13, three days after the appeal hearing, when Samutsevich was released on probation in a surprise development, while the two other women were sentenced to two years in a prison camp. The warning came too late. The intelligence agents had already successfully driven a wedge into the group.
"Is it possible that Yekaterina fell for it?" a distraught Alyokhina wrote back. In other words: Could it be that Yekaterina Samutsevich, her friend, had made a deal with the hated authorities?
The letters suggest that she did.
In 2009, Orlova was sentenced to five years in prison and sent to one of Russia's most notorious penal colonies for women. Convicted of fraud after cheating homeowners out of their property, she was someone who knew how to gain the confidence of her victims. This made her the ideal candidate for "Zentr E," a notorious special department at the Russian Interior Ministry. Though officially established for the "fight against extremism," its real objective is to take action against opponents of the Kremlin. "Zentr E is effectively a political police force, a reincarnation of the secret police of the czars," says opposition politician Ilya Yashin.
It wouldn't be the first time that Zentr E had turned its attention to Pussy Riot. The agents have been shadowing the band and its precursors, the street art group Voina, for years. At earlier Pussy Riot performances, a man who has since been exposed as a Zentr E agent was repeatedly seen among the onlookers. The secret police also monitored the women's telephone calls and emails, and brought them in for questioning. It is hard to imagine that the members of Pussy Riot were able to plan and begin the controversial performance at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior, for which the three women were arrested almost a year ago, without observation. Could it be that in fact the government cleverly orchestrated the drama surrounding Pussy Riot?
In March 2012, Orlova was transferred from a Volga River province to Detention Center No. 6 in Moscow, a concrete box in the city's southeastern outskirts, nicknamed the Bastille. She was placed into cell 110, with Samutsevich.
Others Worried about Relationship
"The two were at loggerheads from March to June," Tolokonnikova wrote in one of her letters about the two women. "Then the operativniki got to Irina Orlova." Operativniki are members of the police and intelligence services. "After that, Cat even accepted the fact that Irina was practically spoon-feeding her." Cat is Yekaterina Samutsevich's nickname. Tolokonnikova also wrote that she was worried about the "mother-daughter relationship" between Orlova and Samutsevich.
Tolokonnikova is the political head of the band. While in prison, she wrote seven diaries full of personal and philosophical musings. The world's image of her is of a very attractive, petite girl with big eyes, wearing a blue T-shirt featuring a combative-looking fist, locked, like a hardened criminal, into a glass cage in the courtroom.
Her letters show that she was concerned about the unity of the feminist group, but also about losing the battle for public opinion. "I think in the prism of history. For that, I am willing to go through shit," she noted. "It has to do with my idealism, the good in me, but at the same time there is also something bad there."
Tolokonnikova didn't write what exactly she meant by that comment. Perhaps she was ruminating over the drawbacks of remaining true to her principles, which had resulted in her two-year prison sentence. Or perhaps it was her appetite for fame. "The girls certainly enjoyed all the hype," says her former attorney Mark Feigin. Before the trial, Tolokonnikova told him: "No admission of guilt, and no cooperation with the government and the investigators."
In court, she likened herself to the dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Like Feigin, who had marched at the front of anti-Putin demonstrations, she wanted a "political trial." The attorneys considered founding a Pussy Riot party and also sought to use the trial to settle scores with the Putin system. And the longer the trial went on, the more Pussy Riot -- charged with "hooliganism, motivated by religious hatred" -- became a symbol of the resistance to the Putin regime, at least abroad.
But then Samutsevich foiled the strategy. On Oct. 1, the first day of the appeal hearing, she informed her two co-defendants, on the drive to the courthouse, that she wanted to part ways with their shared attorneys. Samutsevich presented it as a minor issue, a mere "formality," as Tolokonnikova later wrote. Soon afterwards, in the courtroom, Stanislav Samutsevich, Yekaterina's father, made a last, futile attempt to dissuade his daughter from the "stupid idea" that would "divide your group" and "benefit your enemies."
At first the court turned a deaf ear to Samutsevich's request for a new attorney. But then a clerk whispered something to the judges, and after a brief pause they relented. It was as if they had received an order, and as if the judges were not in control of the trial but in fact someone behind the scenes.
The new attorney argued that Samutsevich had not taken part in the performance, because guards had overpowered her beforehand. Although this was already known, it now resulted in Samutsevich being released on probation on Oct. 10.
Exploiting the Pussy Riot Brand
Was it betrayal? In a letter to Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova questions whether Samutsevich's "conscience is truly clean." "I very much believe that the whole thing isn't just a present for Yekaterina, but a political trap." Alyokhina writes that she is so sad that she would get drunk if she had the chance. "I can't get the idea out of my head that Cat made a deal. The lies and the drama with the cops, that's what gets to me."
While her two friends were still having their discussion in prison, Samutsevich launched into a bout of mud-slinging on the outside that was almost as useful to the Kremlin as a confession of guilt. In remarks directed at the attorney, she said: "You said the whole time that we had done everything because of and against Putin. That's not true. We are feminists above all." She even filed a complaint with the bar association, sought to have the defense attorneys disbarred and accused them of trying to secure the trademarks for Pussy Riot behind the women's backs.
But the letters show that the two other incarcerated women gave a great deal of thought to the exploitation of the Pussy Riot brand. In one letter, Alyokhina wrote to Tolokonnikova: "We spent a lot of time discussing business with the lawyers. I think we have to do this. I don't think we'll be portrayed as political scum. Why do you think that this is junk? We will decide for ourselves who we want to sue. And the most important thing is that we can do good things with the money."
Tolokonnikova also wrote: "The whole thing is worthwhile if we manage to get everything done in secret, without media attention, and that Pussy Riot will make some dollars. If not, to hell with it. I don't want to ruin my reputation and that of Pussy Riot for a few dollars. I'd rather be so dirt-poor that I just sit around on my naked ass than not be able to look at myself in the mirror anymore."
Several months earlier, the imprisoned women had hired a Moscow firm to register Pussy Riot as a trademark. Ironically, the owner of the company is the wife of attorney Mark Feigin. The contract is dated April 5, 2012 and is signed by the three women. "My signature seems to be genuine," says Samutsevich, "but I've never seen the contract before."
Attorney Feigin, since fired by his clients, insists that the contract is genuine. He owns an apartment worth €5 million on Moscow's "golden mile," he says. "I don't need the money. At 20, Feigin fought for the Serbs in the Yugoslav civil war, at 22 he was a member of parliament, and at 28 he became the deputy mayor of Samara, a city on the Volga River. Then he joined the opposition. As far as the band and its members are concerned, he says, the Kremlin achieved its goal. "Pussy Riot's reputation in Russia has been destroyed."
Everything that's happening helps the government, says Feigin, including the dispute over money and contracts, the firing of the attorneys, the suspicions and the rumors of betrayal. Media organizations aligned with the Kremlin are using the accusations leveled by Samutsevich to discredit Pussy Riot. In a poll, more than three-quarters of Russians support the harsh sentences.
For Putin, the Pussy Riot scandal has been worthwhile, in three respects. On the eve of the presidential election, the band's performance in the cathedral mobilized his conservative supporters. It divided the opposition, partly because many of Putin's opponents saw the performance as the desecration of a church. And now Putin can successfully portray the West, which stylizes the women as icons of freedom, as decadent and anti-Russian. The fate of the two women in prison camps will also discourage copycats.
Tolokonnikova is incarcerated in penal colony 14, in Mordovia, 400 kilometers southeast of Moscow. In a letter from the camp dated Nov. 7, she writes: "Today is my birthday and my first day in the brigade. I am trying to cheer up the prisoners. They are all so sad. I hope that I will succeed and that I won't become sad myself. Everyone accuses me of being naïve. I think naiveté is a powerful weapon."
Newspapers recently printed a photo of Tolokonnikova, the pretty one, looking haggard from life in the prison camp, trudging through the cold with a wool scarf wrapped around her head. She was transferred to the sick ward in early February, and she has complained about headaches for weeks. She is only allowed one hot shower a week. There is only cold water in the pipes on other days.
Alyokhina is even worse off. She is imprisoned at the Beresniki penal colony, a prison for 1,200 women in the foothills of the Ural Mountains. At outside temperatures of -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit), it's no more than 19 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit) inside. The women are ordered to get up at 5:30 a.m., and they spend their days sewing fur jackets. When human rights activists visited the penal colony in January, they noted that there were four toilets for 100 prisoners, and that two were broken.
The woman convicted of staging a performance with guitars and neon-colored stocking masks is serving her prison sentence in a division with felons. After being harassed by her fellow inmates, Alyokhina denounced two of them, a drug dealer and a murderer, with the prison warden. After that, one of the women said to her: "We will make your life a living hell."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Mohamed Morsi sets date for Egyptian elections
Islamist-led administration hopes vote will help troubled economy recover from recent spasms of unrest and violence
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 February 2013 23.12 GMT
Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi, has called parliamentary elections that will began on 27 April and finish in late June, a four-stage vote that the Islamist leader hopes will conclude the country's turbulent transition to democracy.
The vote will take place in a country deeply divided between the Islamist parties that have come out on top in all elections held since Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011 and a more secular-minded opposition that has struggled to organise itself.
The Islamist-led administration hopes the election of the new parliament will help stabilise Egypt so an economy in deep crisis can start to recover from the spasms of unrest and violence that have punctuated the transition.
The new parliament will convene on 6 July, according to a decree issued by Morsi just before midnight on Thursday. Earlier in the day the Shura council, the upper house of parliament, adopted an electoral law as amended by the constitutional court, clearing the way for Morsi to set the date for the lower house election.
Under the new Egyptian constitution adopted in December, Morsi must secure parliament's approval for his choice of prime minister, giving the chamber more power than it had under Mubarak, when it was no more than a rubber stamp.
The Freedom and Justice party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, has said it will seek an outright majority in the election.
Each stage of the vote will comprise an initial two days of voting, with a further two days of voting slated for runoffs for closely-contested seats. Mohamed Gadallah, a legal adviser to Morsi, had earlier said the voting would begin on 28 April.
The vote would be held in phases in different regions because of a shortage of poll supervisors. The last lower house election, which was won by Islamists, lasted from late November 2011 until January the following year.
Morsi had been expected to ratify the electoral law by 25 February. The lower house was dissolved last year after the court ruled the original law used to elect it was unfair.
On Monday, the constitutional court demanded changes to five articles of the revised electoral law. The Shura council accepted this ruling and adopted the legislation without a vote on Thursday.
"The decision of the constitutional court is binding and we have no right to vote on it. It must be carried out," said Ahmed Fahmy, the council's speaker.
The new law bars members of parliament from changing their political affiliation once elected. Under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, independents were often cajoled into joining the ruling National Democratic party (NDP), which monopolised parliament and political life before the 2011 revolution.
The law also stipulates that one third of the lower house should be designated for independents and bans former members of the now-defunct NDP from participating in politics for at least 10 years.
February 21, 2013
Neighbors Kill Neighbors as Kenyan Vote Stirs Old Feuds
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
MALINDI, Kenya — In a room by the stairs, Shukrani Malingi, a Pokomo farmer, writhed on a metal cot, the skin on his back burned off. Down the hall, at a safe distance, Rahema Hageyo, an Orma girl, stared blankly out of a window, a long scar above her thimble-like neck. She was nearly decapitated by a machete chop — and she is only 9 months old.
Ever since vicious ethnic clashes erupted between the Pokomo and Orma several months ago in a swampy, desolate part of Kenya, the Tawfiq Hospital has instituted a strict policy for the victims who are trundled in: Pokomos on one side, Ormas on the other. The longstanding rivalry, which both sides say has been inflamed by a governor’s race, has become so explosive that the two groups remain segregated even while receiving lifesaving care. When patients leave their rooms to use the restroom, they shuffle guardedly past one another in their bloodstained smocks, sometimes pushing creaky IV stands, not uttering a word.
“There are three reasons for this war,” said Elisha Bwora, a Pokomo elder. “Tribe, land and politics.”
Every five years or so, this stable and typically peaceful country, an oasis of development in a very poor and turbulent region, suffers a frightening transformation in which age-old grievances get stirred up, ethnically based militias are mobilized and neighbors start killing neighbors. The reason is elections, and another huge one — one of the most important in this country’s history and definitely the most complicated — is barreling this way.
In less than two weeks, Kenyans will line up by the millions to pick their leaders for the first time since a disastrous vote in 2007, which set off clashes that killed more than 1,000 people. The country has spent years agonizing over the wounds and has taken some steps to repair itself, most notably passing a new constitution. But justice has been elusive, politics remain ethnically tinged and leaders charged with crimes against humanity have a real chance of winning.
People here tend to vote in ethnic blocs, and during election time Kenyan politicians have a history of stoking these divisions and sometimes even financing murder sprees, according to court documents. This time around, the vitriolic speeches seem more restrained, but in some areas where violence erupted after the last vote the underlying message of us versus them is still abundantly clear.
Now, the country is asking a simple but urgent question: Will history repeat itself?
“This election brings out the worst in us,” read a column last week in The Daily Nation, Kenya’s biggest newspaper. “All the tribal prejudice, all ancient grudges and feuds, all real and imagined slights, all dislikes and hatreds, everything is out walking the streets like hordes of thirsty undeads looking for innocents to devour.”
As the election draws nearer, more alarm bells are ringing. Seven civilians were ambushed and killed in northeastern Kenya on Thursday in what was widely perceived to be a politically motivated attack. The day before, Kenya’s chief justice said that a notorious criminal group had threatened him with “dire consequences” if he ruled against a leading presidential contender. Farmers in the Rift Valley say that cattle rustling is increasing, and they accuse politicians of instigating the raids to stir up intercommunal strife.
Because Kenya is such a bellwether country on the continent, what happens here in the next few weeks may determine whether the years of tenuous power-sharing and political reconciliation — a model used after violently contested elections in Zimbabwe as well — have ultimately paid off.
“The rest of Africa wants to know whether it’s possible to learn from past elections and ensure violence doesn’t flare again,” said Phil Clark, a lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. “With five years’ warning, is it possible to address the causes of conflict and transfer power peacefully?”
Spurred on by Kenyan intellectuals and Western allies, Kenya has overhauled its judiciary, election commission and the nature of power itself. Dozens of new positions, like governorships and Senate seats, have been created to ensure that resources flow down more equitably to the grass roots, an attempt to weaken the winner-take-all system that lavished rewards and opportunities on some ethnic groups while relegating others to the sidelines.
But in places like the Tana River Delta, where the clashes between Pokomos and Ormas have already killed more than 200 people, the new emphasis on local government has translated into more spoils to fight over. And there are nearly 50 governor races coming up across Kenya, many of them quite heated.
“The Orma are trying to displace us so we can’t vote,” said Mr. Bwora, the Pokomo elder. “They have burned our villages, even our birth certificates. How are we supposed to vote then?”
The Orma accuse the Pokomos of doing precisely the same thing, right down to the burning of birth certificates.
On the national stage, two of Kenya’s most contentious politicians — Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto — are running on the same ticket for president and deputy president. Both have been charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity stemming from the violence last time. Mr. Kenyatta, a deputy prime minister and son of Kenya’s first president, is accused of financing death squads that moved house to house in early 2008, slaughtering opposition supporters and their families, including young children.
He could quite possibly be elected Kenya’s next president and find himself the first sitting head of state to commute back and forth from The Hague, potentially complicating the typically cozy relationship between Kenya and the West.
There is a growing perception among many members of Mr. Kenyatta’s ethnic group, the Kikuyu, and Mr. Ruto’s, the Kalenjin, that they must win this election in order to protect their leaders from being hauled off to a jail cell in Europe, which is raising tensions even higher.
Most analysts here feel this election will be turbulent, though some argue it will not be as bad as last time.
“Things are different,” said Maina Kiai, a prominent Kenyan human rights advocate. For instance, he noted, it was the Kikuyu and Kalenjin who fought one another in the Rift Valley in 2007 and 2008, but now many members of those two groups are on the same side because their leaders have formed a political alliance.
“There may be new arenas of violence,” Mr. Kiai said. “But I don’t think the extent of violence will be the same.”
There is also a keen awareness of how much there is to lose. The Kenyan economy flatlined after the turmoil of the last election. But now it has recovered mightily, spawning a dizzying number of new highways, schools, hospitals, malls, wine bars, frozen yogurt stores, even free samples in the supermarket — evidence of Kenya’s position on this continent as home to a deep and booming middle class.
Many nations in this region depend on Kenya, as demonstrated by the economic chaos caused downstream during the last election when mobs blockaded Kenya’s highways and sent fuel prices spiking as far away as the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Another safety valve may be the courts, which are now considered much more independent, one of the biggest achievements since the last election. Kenya’s new judiciary is led by a former political prisoner and widely respected legal mind, Willy Mutunga, the chief justice, who said he was threatened this week.
The hope is that if any election disputes arise between Mr. Kenyatta and the other front-runner, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, who says he was cheated out of winning last time, Justice Mutunga will step in — before people on the streets do.
But the Tana River Delta remains a blaring red warning sign, and there have been suspicions that political figures are deliberately fanning old disputes, in this case over land.
One leading Pokomo politician, who was an assistant minister, was recently arrested and accused of incitement, though the case was soon dropped. The allegation echoed the International Criminal Court cases, which assert that behind the ground-level mayhem in 2007 and 2008 were political leaders who incited their followers to kill for political gain.
Up and down the crocodile-infested Tana River, Pokomo and Orma youth are now patrolling the banks with spears and rusty swords. The result is a grim, sun-blasted tableau of ethnically segregated but parallel villages mired in the same poverty, misery and fear.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 22, 2013
An earlier version of a photo caption that appeared in a slide show with this article misspelled the given name of an injured girl. It is Rahema Hageyo, not Raheema.
Kenya's election tensions mean nervous times for bullish economy
Repeat of post-election violence of 2007 and 2008 would be bad news for Kenya's improving financial health
Clar Ni Chonghaile in Nairobi
guardian.co.uk, Friday 18 January 2013 07.00 GMT
Standing near a tidy field of squat, emerald-green tea bushes in Kenya's western Kericho county, Sammy Kirui says there will be no violence during elections in March, and no return to the killing and looting that brought east Africa's largest economy to the brink last time a leader was chosen. "People realise that it wasn't worth it. Everyone lost," says Kirui, a tea plantation manager.
Kirui is at one end of a spectrum of forecasts that encompasses predictions of a repeat, or worse, of the chaos that claimed 1,200 lives in 2007 and 2008, and assertions that things are different now. Many Kenyans lean one way or the other. The common denominator is uncertainty.
On 4 March, Kenyans will vote for a new president to replace Mwai Kibaki, who has served two terms. The frontrunners are Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya's first president, and Raila Odinga, the prime minister, whose defeat in 2007 amid charges of rigging turned tribe against tribe in a shocking explosion of violence.
Kenyatta, a member of the dominant Kikuyu tribe, is due to stand trial at the international criminal court (pdf) (ICC) in April for allegedly stoking the violence last time round. His running mate is William Ruto, a member of the Kalenjin tribe, who is also due to answer charges at the ICC. Opinion polls put Odinga ahead, but the margin varies – and many analysts agree that a tight race with a second-round runoff poses the biggest danger to the region's economic powerhouse. Politics are intimately linked to tribal identity, and many politicians appeal to tribal loyalties. Some even campaign on a clear "us versus them" platform.
"A too-close-to-call result, and one that the loser disputes, will add complexity and uncertainty," says Aly-Khan Satchu, chief executive of the east African financial portal Rich Management. However, he says markets remain positive, with foreign investors driving the stock market to new highs.
"Equity markets have been in a bull market since May last year, and remain so," he adds. "Bond markets have been very well behaved. The central bank stabilised the macro economy and inflation is at a record low … It is either the calm before the storm or markets are signalling a positive outcome around the elections."
Most analysts say the elections will be make or break for an economy built on agriculture, tea and coffee, and tourism. Scarred by their experiences last time, some businesspeople are planning to leave during the elections. If there is violence, tourists may stay away, businesses could be looted and roads blocked, leaving produce to rot on farms or stuck at Mombasa port. Perhaps most crucially, the world's perception of Kenya as a stable nation may be significantly damaged.
Kenya is a key regional ally for Britain and the US in their fight against global terrorism. Kenya sent soldiers into Somalia in October 2011 to fight the al-Qaida-linked militants of al-Shabaab.
Some analysts say Kenya is too big to fail: it is a transport and business hub; multinationals such as Google and Nokia have offices here; and the UN has a huge presence in Nairobi, where extreme poverty and ostentatious wealth coexist. The country is hoping to leap to the next economic level by exploiting potentially rich oil and gas discoveries.
The violence last time crippled the economy, with growth dropping from 7.1% in 2007 to 1.6% the following year. The World Bank is forecasting growth of 5% this year, up from an estimated 4.3% in 2012, if the elections are peaceful. Some analysts say the worst-case scenario would be Kenyatta winning and refusing to go to the ICC.
"Then it is predicted and predictable that Kenya will meet sanctions and, given our interconnectedness with the global economy, this would have a severe impact on the economy," says Satchu.
Kenyatta's campaign has sought to turn the election into a referendum on the ICC, portraying the case as foreign interference targeting specific tribes. His candidacy still faces an obstacle – a lobby group has brought a court case challenging his ability to stand under an integrity clause in the 2010 constitution. It is unclear when a ruling may be delivered.
This year's election has already cost lives. The UN says more than 450 people have been killed across Kenya since the beginning of last year, including scores in the Tana river delta, where political rivalries have inflamed conflicts over resources.
If the Kenyan economy suffers, it will deal a blow to a fragile region. "The risks [in the region] are high and it's on many different fronts: lots of global shocks, lots of environmental risks, lots of demographic, economic, political and social challenges and crises. This makes the region vulnerable," US economist Jeffrey Sachs has said.
Joel Barkan, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, describes Kenya as the "anchor state" of east Africa, and says a prolonged political and economic crisis would harm its neighbours. "Uganda, Rwanda, eastern Congo [DRC] and South Sudan are all landlocked areas that depend on Kenya for their external trade, especially for importing refined petroleum products and exporting goods through … Mombasa," he wrote this month in a report for the Council on Foreign Relations.
U.S. warns Iran over ‘provocative’ centrifuges at nuclear plant
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 21, 2013 18:17 EST
The United States warned Iran Thursday that the installation of next-generation centrifuges at one of its main nuclear plants, as reported by the UN nuclear watchdog, would be a “provocative step.”
The move “would be a further escalation and a continuing violation of Iran’s obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and IAEA board resolutions,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
“So it would mark yet another provocative step,” she added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency earlier said Iran started installing the new IR-2m centrifuges this month at the Natanz plant.
“This is the first time that centrifuges more advanced than the IR-1 have been installed” at the plant in central Iran, an IAEA report said.
Nuclear enrichment is at the heart of the dispute over Tehran’s disputed program, which the West and Israel say is a front to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran insists its program is strictly for peaceful purposes.
White House spokesman Jay Carney warned Tehran it had a “choice.”
“If it fails to address the concerns of the international community, it will face more pressure and become increasingly isolated,” he said.
“The burden of sanctions could be eased, but the onus is on Iran to turn its stated readiness to negotiate, into tangible action.”
The IAEA report comes five days before Iran is set to sit down with world powers in Kazakhstan for the latest round of talks on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.
The talks between the so-called P5+1 — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — and Iran will be the first since June, when three rounds of meetings ended in stalemate in Moscow.
Carney insisted the P5+1 was “united” in its approach on Iran.
“We simply call on the Iranians to arrive at those talks with the intention of having them be substantive and focused on the issues that are of concern here to the international community,” he added.
Nuland, who said the report of new centrifuges was no surprise, urged Iran to consider “another path… the diplomatic path.”
“They have an opportunity to come to those talks ready to be serious, ready to alla
02/22/2013 10:54 AM
Withdrawal Symptoms: NATO Struggles over Afghanistan's Future
By Matthias Gebauer in Brussels
NATO has long said it wouldn't abandon Afghanistan following the conclusion of combat operations at the end of 2014. But the alliance is having trouble agreeing on just what that means. Now, planning for the future training mission has run into trouble.
When NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen steps before the press at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, he normally has good news. Phrases such as "on track" and "in time" have become indispensable elements of his press conferences.
But this week, Ramussen was forced to strike a different tone when commenting on Afghanistan. At the two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers on Thursday and Friday, the alliance had hoped to agree on the training mission envisioned for the country once the multi-national International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdraws at the end of 2014. It was not to be, though. Instead, Rasmussen was forced to admit that "we still have some time to go."
"We are in the process of planning and I would expect final decisions on the size and scope of the future NATO-led training mission to be taken within the coming months," he added.
The delay reflects difficult behind-the-scenes discussions relating to the post-2014 training mission in Afghanistan. At the NATO summit in Chicago last May, alliance leaders pledged not to abandon Afghanistan following the withdrawal. Since then, however, the ongoing debate among alliance members as to just what that means has been intense.
The current concept calls for nations involved to contribute to a small force focused on training the fledgling Afghan military and security personnel. None of the participants want to see that mission mutate into a mini-version of the costly ISAF mission. Nor do they want to commit more trainers than absolutely necessary.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière offered a candid assessment prior to this week's meeting. Before planning for the mission can continue, he said, many "difficult questions" must be answered. That, he added, is why the "first operation plans that had been prepared" were frozen. De Maizière said that policymakers must first reach agreement on the goals before military leaders can begin to develop concrete plans.
It is an unwelcome delay. While it may seem as though there is plenty of time before the post-2014 mission begins, military planners would prefer to have more than the 20 months now remaining.
Much of the tension is the result of the United States' intention to keep its own participation as limited as possible. SPIEGEL ONLINE learned this week that Douglas Lute, special assistant to the US president on Pakistan and Afghanistan, gave a confidential briefing in Brussels earlier this month in which he outlined Washington's vision for its post-2014 involvement in Afghanistan. He made clear that the American force would be a maximum of 10,000 troops, only half of which would be earmarked for the training mission. The other half is to focus on counter-terrorism operations. Additionly, Lute indicated that the US would no longer support the international mission with Medevac helicopters, presenting a difficult challenge to Germany and other NATO allies.
No one in Brussels was willing to comment on the Lute briefing at the foreign ministers' meeting this week. But its content was foremost in their minds. A contingent of just 5,000 US troops for the training mission means that other NATO members will have to make greater contributions than anticipated to achieve the targeted mission size of between 10,000 and 15,000 troops. That could put Berlin in a bind, given that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has been promising a withdrawal from Afghanistan for years.
In his confidential presentation, Lute also noted that Washington had concrete expectations of Berlin. While the post-2014 training mission, known as "Resolute Support," is to be coordinated from Kabul, each quadrant of the country is to have its own independent training center. The US hopes that Germany will take on the camp in northern Afghanistan, Lute said. Under ISAF, Germany has been in charge of Regional Command North and currently has 4,400 troops stationed there.
Boosting the Afghan Army
Such details were likely not up for debate in Brussels this week. The alliance is set to focus on Afghanistan during meetings on Friday, to be sure. But because the appointment of incoming Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, his predecessor Leon Panetta flew to Brussels instead. When it comes to planning for an Afghanistan mission that will start almost two months after he steps down, it seems likely that Panetta will practice diplomatic reserve.
A further US announcement caused additional confusion on Thursday, one which could impact the planning and budget for the future training mission. Thus far, the alliance had envisioned a post-2014 Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) of 280,000 troops -- and has worked hard toward meeting that number in recent years.
This week, however, a US official announced in Brussels that Washington now aims for a force of 350,000 soldiers. The boost likely means that the planned budget of $4 billion per year will have to be increased. Given the difficult negotiations that preceded previous budget talks, combined with falling defense spending across the alliance, such an increase could present challenges. On Thursday evening, NATO head Rasmussen merely said he was "confident that we will be able to finance Afghan security forces of that size."
Given the difficult questions facing the alliance, NATO is considering calling an Afghanistan summit this summer to coincide with US President Barack Obama's trip to Europe.
But one decision was made this week. With the current ISAF commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, having withdrawn his name from consideration for the post of NATO's supreme commander, US General Phil Breedlove has been tapped for the position. Obama must first signal his agreement, though.
February 21, 2013
Bulgarian Parliament Accepts Government’s Resignation
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER and DAN BILEFSKY
SOFIA, Bulgaria — The Bulgarian Parliament voted on Thursday to accept the government’s resignation after a week of mass protests and bloody clashes with the police.
The vote was 209 to 5, with one abstention. Prime Minister Boiko Borisov and his cabinet officials will remain in their posts until an interim government is appointed by President Rosen Plevneliev. New elections are expected in April or May.
During the debate, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, the interior minister, said the resignation was in the best interest of Bulgaria.
“Most Bulgarian citizens don’t want violence on the streets,” he said. “Bulgarian citizens absolutely do not support those who want to destabilize the country.”
Opposition parties accused the government of corruption, economic mismanagement and cronyism.
The week of political chaos, nationwide protests and political maneuvers by opposition parties resulted in Mr. Borisov’s announcing his resignation Wednesday after violent clashes between the police and protesters.
Despite the vote, around 1,000 supporters of Mr. Borisov, largely retirees, stood outside the Parliament building. Many waved the flag of Mr. Borisov’s political party and chanted, “We don’t want a resignation” and “Boiko is No. 1!”
The protests — the biggest in at least 15 years — were set off by electricity price increases and corruption scandals, including one over the nominee to head the state electricity regulatory commission, which sets rates. She was accused of selling cigarettes illegally online and her nomination was later withdrawn.
Tempers were inflamed further when Bulgaria’s finance minister, Simeon Djankov, the architect of painful fiscal probity, stepped down on Monday. Rather than allaying anger, analysts said, the resignation was greeted by the public as an admission that the government’s economic policies had not worked.
Tens of thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets across the country to protest. Some yelled “Mafia!” Others burned their utility bills.
Though the country’s fiscal prudence has helped it avoid having to seek an international bailout like Hungary or Romania, analysts said, rising unemployment and weak growth, coupled with wage and pension freezes and tax increases, have mobilized the country’s increasingly disgruntled middle class, who felt themselves squeezed during the financial crisis.
Daniel Smilov, program director at the Center for Liberal Strategies, a political research organization in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, said Bulgarians were disillusioned that the overthrow of Communism in 1989 and the country’s subsequent democratization had not delivered the expected prosperity.
Bulgaria has struggled to shed a reputation for lawlessness and corruption. It remains poor, with an average monthly wage of just $480, the lowest in the European Union.
“What we are seeing is the result of a general distrust in government and the political system,” said Mr. Smilov, noting that protests had engulfed wealthy as well as poorer regions of the country. “These are not the bottom layers of society, but people in the middle strata who have been hit hardest by the financial crisis. They fear they are losing their status, and they might become poor very fast.”
Trying to appease the protesters, the prime minister said on Tuesday that the license of the Czech utility CEZ, which provides power to many residential customers in Bulgaria, would be withdrawn. Mr. Borisov cited beatings of protesters Tuesday by the police as one reason.
“Every drop of blood for us is a stain,” he said. “I can’t look at a Parliament surrounded by barricades, that’s not our goal, neither our approach, if we have to protect ourselves from the people.”
Mr. Smilov said that after Parliament accepted the government’s resignation, Mr. Plevneliev would appoint a caretaker government. Mr. Borisov said his party would not participate in an interim government.
Mr. Borisov’s resignation could signal the political demise of one of the country’s most colorful political figures. A former karate instructor, bodyguard, fireman and mayor of Sofia with a shaved head and a talk-tough approach, Mr. Borisov was once viewed as being so invincible that Bulgarians called him “Batman.”
As the owner of a private security company, he provided security services for Todor Zhivkov, the former Communist leader of Bulgaria. Mr. Borisov was then the personal bodyguard for Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, the child czar of Bulgaria in the 1940s, who returned from exile to be elected prime minister in 2001.
Mr. Borisov rose to oversee the police at the Interior Ministry, before being elected mayor of Sofia and then becoming prime minister in 2009.
“Mr. Borisov is a typical populist leader who came to power promising to take revenge against the transition on behalf of the poor,” says Andrei Raichev, a political analyst at Gallup International in Sofia. “Now the people realize that they were lied to.”
Mr. Raichev said that no one could predict how the public would react to the resignation. “We could even reach the absurd situation that the protests continue against no one,” he said, “which means that they are against everyone.”
Matthew Brunwasser reported from Sofia, and Dan Bilefsky from Paris.
Bulgaria: Borisov may still have the last word
21 February 2013
On February 20, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov's announcement that he is resigning caught everyone by surprise. Writing in "Standart", Bulgarian journalist Martin Karbovski ponders four possible outcomes for the country given the new political landscape.
Has no one noticed that in 25 years of democracy, we are simply repeating the following scenario: Saviour– BSP [Bulgarian Socialist Party, the former communist party] – Saviour – BSP – Saviour – BSP? It is as if the system has a bug in it.
But it appears that in Bulgaria the Saviours that get rid of the former communists have a short shelf-life while the BSP seems indestructible. An interesting factoid, is it not?
Today's situation is, however, slightly different. Saviour Boyko Borisov has not used up all of his resources nor is he totally discredited – much to the chagrin of the socialists. And, until there is proof otherwise, we have no other Saviour on the horizon. It may even be too late for us to have a real one – one who is sincere, radiant and honest. We therefore have to make do with what is available on the shelf. Here are the four outcomes that I see looming following Boyko Borisov's resignation.
1.The Greek scenario
Option one: as of yesterday, a Greek outcome is possible for Bulgarians. Nothing is known about the care-taker government responsible for preparing the ground for the July legislative elections. But high hopes must not be raised because today we find ourselves in the middle of a game that is not going to be played out to the end due to one of the teams suddenly leaving the pitch. Everything will thus depend on the transparency and the honesty of the upcoming ballot. The Greek scenario plays out thus: the rise of a fascist movement – from either the Right or the Left – a sort of local Golden Dawn that would benefit from the constant power struggle between the BSP and the Saviour. We already had a foretaste of this watching the skinheads who demonstrate chanting "They're all rotten". And, because all the other parties are "rotten", a Golden Dawn with a Bulgarian twist would have a wide-open path before it and it would make us bitterly regret our traditional nationalists.
2.The Bulgarian Socialist Party takes over
Option two: the BSP takes power. But it is improbable that a government dominated by the socialists can guarantee the country's prosperity because, like the other representatives of the European Left, ours will also begin over-spending. Why? To maintain its credibility with the unemployed, who, as everyone knows, are more likely to vote for the left than those in employment. We will be in for a few years of sweet lethargy but then we will once again hope for the arrival of a Saviour. And it is back to square one.
Option three: a dead-locked parliament. Recent opinion polls place the BSP and the PM's party, the [conservative] GERB both at 29 per cent. If this power balance persists, we will have a parliament that resembles a car without brakes carrying a bear, a snake and a magician all trying to take the wheel. The most likely outcome is that the car will crash. In that case, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms [the MDL representing Muslim Bulgarians] will take the wheel but, unable to govern alone, the MDL will form a coalition with the BSP – another option we are very familiar with. So here again, it is back to square one.
4.Borisov rides to the rescue
Option four: Boyko Borisov wins the election convincingly and comes back on his white horse – once again in the role of the Saviour. This is possible because several thousand people, led by 200 thugs, protesting against rising electricity prices do not constitute an electorate. If this is the outcome of the vote, the BSP will surely mobilise its troops to march in the streets shouting that the elections were "rigged". Borisov is not the most hated politician in the country. After the most recent events, I only hope that he realises that he is not the most loved one either. But anyone who has wiped his name off the political registry is terribly mistaken.
Is there another option? I am stunned to hear fools state that they want no politicians – known or unknown. This is a true disaster because the number of these people is rising in Bulgaria. But politics and those that practice it are a necessary evil. We have not found anything better. Such is life.
From Prague: Clash of cultures
On February 20, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov resigned in the wake of demonstrations against an increase in the price of electricity supplied by par ČEZ. Now that the Czech energy giant is facing the threat of having its licence revoked, Hospodářské noviny notes that —
the ČEZ investment drive in the Balkans was risky right from the outset. […] Its presence in Albania, which was recently terminated with the de facto nationalisation of its operation there, was excessively risky. […] The case of Bulgaria is quite different: the country is a member of the EU, which could play the role of arbitrator in this dispute. […] At the same time, the affair has emerged from a clash of cultures. Whereas the dogma of the "pure market" has figured large in the manner in which Czech companies have done business the early 1990s, it is still viewed as a rip-off ideology in Bulgaria.
But this clash of cultures could have some positive effects, argues the Prague business daily —
Bulgarians will learn that major companies set energy prices in consultation with the state and that their national regulator approves them. […] As for Czech companies, they will learn that pressure to maximise profits is not always sustainable, even if the legislative framework allows it.
Bulgaria: 'A well thought-out resignation’
22 February 2013
In the wake of his February 20 resignation, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov has been "absolved of all responsibility", remarks the Bulgarian daily. On February 21, Borisov met with a crowd of supporters on the steps of the parliament just after the vote by the MPs accepting the resignation of his government.
"His resignation is becoming a campaign issue," says the paper, referring to legislative elections that were scheduled for July but which will probably now be brought forward to a date this spring.
Electioneering had already begun, when President Rossen Plevneliev announced "the opening of discussions" to form a caretaker government that will take charge of current business until the vote held.