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« Reply #9720 on: Nov 02, 2013, 07:06 AM »

Afghan schoolgirl scarred in acid attack now a teacher

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 1, 2013 10:31 EDT

When attackers threw acid in Shamsia Husseini’s face outside her school in Afghanistan, she defied them by returning to class — and now she has struck another blow for female education by becoming a teacher herself.

Shamsia suffered severe burns on her eyelids and cheeks in the November 2008 assault, which generated global publicity, with then US first lady Laura Bush condemning it as a “cowardly and shameful” crime.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed to hang the men who had attacked Shamsia as she walked to the all-girls’ Mirwais Mena school on the outskirts of Kandahar city.

One man, wearing a mask, asked Shamsia if she was going to school. Then he tore off her veil and pumped acid from a spray gun onto her face.

Several other pupils were hurt in a series of similar acid attacks that morning, but Shamsia and her friends refused to abandon their lessons and persuaded their reluctant parents to support the school staying open.

Five years on, Shamsia, now aged 22, is still in the classroom — but now she stands in front of an energetic bunch of nine and 10-year-old girls.

“The students sometimes play around and it does test my patience,” she admitted to AFP with a smile. “But being a teacher is much better than being a student, and I am now studying to become fully qualified.”

‘The attackers did not win’

Shamsia’s scars eventually healed well after treatment at hospitals in Kabul and New Delhi, though she has recurring problems with blurred vision and eye pain.

“It was very important for me to become a teacher as it shows people that the attackers did not win, just like we came back to school after the attack,” she said.

“By teaching, I want to show that education is important and that women can do more than work in the kitchen.”

Shamsia retains the quiet determination she displayed when speaking out over the attack, and she remains furious that her assailants have never been punished.

“President Karzai promised to hang these men. If I ever talk to him, I will ask him why he failed to do that,” she said.

The Islamist Taliban, who banned female education when they were in power from 1996-2001, denied any involvement in the acid strikes, and nine suspects arrested after the attack gave questionable confessions and were later released.

Shamsia even says that one of her attackers lives close to her home, and that he sees her go to school every day.

“He is free, and it is possible it could happen again. There is no justice, he needs to be punished,” she said.

Inside the school, built with Japanese aid money and opened in 2004, classrooms are packed with chirpy girls aged between six and 20, all wearing white headscarves and shooting their hands up in the air to answer their teachers’ questions.

More than 2,600 pupils attend lessons in two daily sessions, but many others are turned away due to lack of space even with tents donated by UNICEF being used as makeshift classrooms.

Shamsia, who earns $85 a month, teaches art and handwriting to her fourth-grade class, while older girls have lessons in science, geography and mathematics.

Teaching today’s female students

Kandahar, situated in the Taliban heartlands of the south, remains one of the most conservative parts of Afghanistan, 12 years after the Taliban hardliners were overthrown.

For the girls at Mirwais Mena, life after they leave school will likely be restricted to the family home, venturing outdoors rarely and only if cloaked in an all-enveloping burqa.

“We had to work hard to convince parents not to withdraw their children after the attack,” said headmistress Danesh Alavi, who was deputy principal at the time. “I remember the anarchy of that day, the panic and fear.

“Shamsia is from a poor family, but her serving as a teacher is a lesson to other girls to be brave and to help develop the country. Young girls can see her be a teacher and understand this.

“Like any good teacher, she is kind to her pupils and is always on time.”

For two hours each day, Shamsia also joins a class of female junior teachers who are preparing for their qualification exams.

It is too dangerous for them to travel to teacher-training college in Kandahar city, so Bahir Makimi pays his own bus ticket to come to the school.

“I think Shamsia is a good teacher already and will get better,” he said.

“But we have no proper facilities to advance teaching skills here. We improve their knowledge of chemistry and other subjects, and we help them to communicate properly with their students.”

The introduction of female education after the fall of the Taliban is often cited by Western and UN diplomats as a central achievement of the 12-year military and civilian intervention in Afghanistan.

There are now about 2.4 million girls in primary and secondary education, and 51,000 female teachers, according to UNICEF.

But lack of classrooms and teachers, as well as early marriages, is holding numbers back, and fears are rising that progress is under threat as US-led NATO combat forces prepare to leave Afghanistan next year.

“I remember the attack on me and the pain,” said Shamsia. “Education of girls and having female teachers is so important for the future, to show parents and everyone what we can do.”

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« Reply #9721 on: Nov 02, 2013, 07:07 AM »

11/01/2013 06:59 PM

Dirty Money: Will Singapore Clean Up Its Act?

By Martin Hesse

Singapore has become an increasingly popular haven for money laundering and tax evasion. But now it faces calls for reform and a difficult dilemma: Can it be both a home for fortune hunters and a bastion of integrity?

A yellowish-brown fog has settled in the urban canyons of Singapore's financial district. From a skyscraper high above the harbor, you can hardly make out the endless rows of containers in the port terminals. A cloud of smog locally referred to as the "haze" -- caused by the slash-and-burn farming methods of the palm oil barons in neighboring Indonesia -- regularly darkens the skies of the wealthy city-state of Singapore, at the southern tip of the Malaysian Peninsula. But the air has never been as bad as it is now.

Local critics see the haze as a symbol of how nearby filth has dirtied the city-state's business model. The city-state has made itself dependent on global trade, the growth of Asia's rising economies and on the patronage of wealthy people from around the world, who use the discreet financial center as a hub and storage site for their riches.

And now Singapore faces a delicate conundrum: There have been recent signs of crisis in emerging economies like India and Indonesia, and Singapore is under growing pressure from Europe and the United States not to create unfair advantages for itself in the competition among tax havens.

Critical voices are rare in this country accustomed to success, which has almost no unemployment. It has grown steadily for many years in its role as a platform for global companies seeking to do business in Asia while paying little in taxes. The companies produce their goods in the surrounding countries, where production costs are lower.

Singapore's Ambitious Plan

"Singapore's strategic plan to secure its own future is extremely impressive," says German Ambassador Angelika Viets. The cityscape has changed dramatically, with skyscrapers now packed together tightly where there was nothing but mud a few years ago. The government plans to bring large numbers of immigrants into the country by 2030, to prevent the over-aging of the population. It is even reclaiming land from the sea to create space for new buildings and more people than the current population of 5.4 million.

In Singapore, everything revolves around growth and consumption. When the haze arrived, so many Singaporeans logged onto the online shopping giant Amazon to order respirator masks the server crashed. "It shows how much purchasing power is developing here," says Jimmy Koh of United Overseas Bank (UOB), a major Singaporean bank.

UOB is an example of what drives Singapore. It has geared its entire strategy toward growth in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an organization made up of ten countries in the region, and the prosperous middle class taking shape there. Koh, who runs the bank's investor relations department, is a strong proponent of this strategy.

The domestic market for Singaporean banks is very limited. "But by serving the ASEAN market, we expand our potential customer base from 5 to 500 million," says Koh. Five years ago, UOB had 40 billion Singapore dollars (about €20 billion, or $27 billion) in assets under management. Today it has S$ 60 billion and in five years it is expected to grow to S$ 100 billion SGD.

Sketchy Money

The bruising recently sustained by established financial centers, like London, New York and Zurich, has benefitted Singapore and its banks. After major banks on Wall Street and the Thames were shaken by the financial crisis, many investors turned their attention to Asia. "We benefit from the flight to safety," says Elbert Pattijn, the chief risk officer of DBS, the country's largest bank. "Singapore has one of the most stable financial systems in the world," Pattijn notes. And one of the most discreet.

When authorities in the United States and Europe began hunting down tax evaders in recent years and chipping away at Switzerland's banking secrecy, many of the super-rich moved their assets to Singapore.

Whenever bankers like Pattijn are asked about possible illicit money from Europe, their answers are quick and mechanical. "We don't want that kind of money," Pattijn says. "We have no appetite for that." But the revelations the emerged from Offshore Leaks -- an April report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists which revealed the details of 130,000 offshore accounts -- put Singapore in a tight spot. The data trails of the report led directly to Singapore or, more specifically, to Temasek Boulevard.

The Fountain of Wealth, the world's largest fountain, is a bronze monstrosity located on the boulevard and surrounded by five gray office buildings, the Suntec Towers. The firm Portcullis Trustnet has its headquarters there. Portcullis builds what amount to virtual catch basins for fountains of wealth, establishes trust companies and moves assets to tax shelters.

Portcullis Chairman David Chong sharply rejected the indirect accusation by the journalists behind the Offshore Leaks investigation that Portcullis helps tax evaders hide their money. In the spring, Chong declared that Portcullis strictly adheres to laws and regulations against money laundering and tax evasion, and that it doesn't do business with people who may engage in those activities. He has been silent since then.

Cleaning Up Singapore's Image

Now the Singapore government and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) are taking a more aggressive approach to improving the city-state's poor image. "There is nothing inherently wrong with opening a trust account," says MAS Managing Director Ravi Menon, when asked about Portcullis. So far, he says, the examination of the Offshore Leaks data has not revealed any wrongdoing. "Our anti-money laundering rules apply to the trust companies as well as to the banks."

Menon likes to portray himself as someone who hunts down tax evaders and those who help them. "It is a serious misperception that there is a large flow of European funds to Asian centers like Singapore," says Menon. Tax attorneys tell a different story, but no one is willing to be quoted. The prestigious consulting firm BCG estimates that 14 percent of the roughly $1 trillion (€740 billion) in offshore assets under management in Singapore and Hong Kong comes from Europe.

In 2009, Singapore endorsed the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) tax standard on the automatic exchange of information and integrated it into all double taxation treaties. Since July 1 of this year, willful tax evasion and tax fraud have been designated predicate offenses for money laundering. In October 2011, the MAS instructed banks to ensure that existing customers were in compliance with the future standards. And last but not least, Singapore is about to conclude an inter-governmental agreement that will facilitate Singapore financial institutions' compliance with the American FATCA law. FATCA would require banks in Singapore to automatically transmit the account data of American citizens to US authorities.

"In principle, we are prepared to enter into a discussion with the European Union over the automatic exchange of information as well," says Menon. "In the long run, this could become the new standard." For Manon, a level playing field and a strict implementation in all major jurisdictions are preconditions for enhanced information exchange. "Singapore is extremely anxious not to come under suspicion, because it depends on its good reputation as a financial center," says Ambassador Viets.

Loopholes for Foreigners

But the new, stricter laws only apply to taxes the city-state collects. Singapore has neither inheritance nor capital gains taxes. This means that someone who manages to evade taxes by moving his or her German inheritance to Singapore will not necessarily be penalized.

The Singaporeans defend their system, always tenaciously and often from behind a charming smile. Take, for example, Yah Fang Chiam, who is responsible for tax policy in the Singapore Ministry of Finance. "We are not a tax shelter," she says. "We have competitive tax rates, because we promote entrepreneurship and want to attract companies to invest here and continue to develop our economy."

The country's effective tax rates are lower than almost anywhere else in the world. The maximum tax rate is a mere 20 percent, and businesses pay a top rate of 17 percent, but there are quite a few exceptions.

And therein lays the contradiction: Singapore wants to be an attractive financial center while preserving its reputation as a corruption-free zone and remaining a level above pure tax shelters, like Nauru. The government under the ruling People's Action Party is relentless when it comes to keeping streets, subways and parks spotlessly clean, but some question whether it is equally diligent about implementing the new laws on money laundering and tax evasion.

Gambling Mentality Persists
Kenneth Jeyaretnam is an economist and the secretary-general of the opposition Reform Party. In 1981, his father was the first opposition politician to enter the country's parliament. "Singapore was always a tax haven, a parasite of the corrupt systems that surround it," says Jeyaretnam. A German attorney in Singapore concurs, saying that large amounts of money from dubious sources in surrounding countries are deposited in Singapore. This is desired, politically, within the ASEAN region, he explains.

Singapore receives high notes in the rankings of the World Economic Forum's annual Global Competitiveness Report, especially when it comes to legal certainty and fighting corruption. But some of the surrounding countries, like Indonesia, are at the other end of the scale.

The problem in Singapore, says Jeyaretnam, is that there is insufficient parliamentary scrutiny of the economy and monitoring of the implementation of anti-corruption laws. "Personal relationships are very important in business and politics in Singapore."

The government and the economy are tightly interwoven, a relationship that is reinforced by the influence of powerful family clans, which have exerted substantial control in politics and in many companies for decades.

Jeyaretnam describes the country's political and economic leadership as a closed system. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is the chairman of the GIC sovereign wealth fund, while his wife Ho Ching manages the second sovereign wealth fund, Temasek. As a major shareholder, Temasek dominates the largest Southeast Asian bank, DBS.

European Banks Break In

It's not only sovereign wealth funds and domestic banks that have a close relationship with politicians. When the co-CEOs of Deutsche Bank, Anshu Jain and Jürgen Fitschen, held a board meeting in Singapore some time ago, they used the opportunity to cultivate their good relationship with Singapore President Tony Tan. Deutsche Bank employs more than 2,100 people in Singapore, and according to Offshore Leaks, it has used its Singapore operations to set up more than 300 trust companies and foundations in tax havens. Tan is an old acquaintance. Before he was elected president, he was a member of Deutsche Bank's Asia-Pacific advisory board.

Singapore is trying to capture more trade in commodities, from oil to gas to gold - for which it is perfectly suited, given its status as a port city on the trade route between China and India. Shortly before their recent encounter with the president, the Frankfurt bankers had rented space for 200 tons of gold in the Singapore duty-free harbor. Wealthy Chinese and Indians were recently fired up about the precious metal, which is relatively cheap after a recent decline in prices, especially in Singapore. Last year, the government exempted the processing of gold and other precious metals from its Goods and Services Tax (GST), so as to attract a larger share of the trade in precious metals.

Wealthy foreigners prize the futuristic duty-free harbor at the airport, where they can buy and store gold duty-free and without paying taxes. UBS has also leased new space there and it's ahead of Deutsche Bank in terms of cultivating relationships in Singapore. The GIC sovereign wealth fund holds a stake in UBS, and the bank's former CFO, John Cryan, now works for the other Singapore fund, Temasek.

Asia Rises

Peter Kok, who runs UBS's investment management office for wealthy customers in Singapore and Malaysia, is bored by the discussion of untaxed money that is allegedly being moved from Switzerland to Singapore. "To be honest, from our perspective Europe is hardly relevant to growth in our business," Kok explains. UBS manages 210 billion Swiss francs (€170 billion) in Asia. Kok believes in this area his bank can achieve annual growth rates in the double digits. Currently the share of business originating in Europe is in the low single-digit percentage range, says Kok.

Betriebs-Center für Banken (BCB), a subsidiary of Germany's Postbank, predicts that most of the new wealth invested across borders will be created in Asia in the next five years, and that the region will accumulate $1.4 trillion in new wealth during that time. This will benefit Singapore in particular. According to BCB, the city-state is likely to become the world's second-most important offshore center, after Switzerland, by 2017.

But sometimes Kok, who is Dutch, becomes exasperated with his Asian customers' more adventurous attitude towards investment. Where Europeans talk about spreading risk, the customers in Singapore are always asking for hot tips, says Kok. "Asians simply like to bet," he adds.

Bigger Than the Titanic

Their penchant for gambling is on full display at the Marina Bay Casino and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the latter of which seems to epitomize Singapore's dreams. It consists of three skyscrapers that support a ship-like structure, bigger than the Titanic and complete with a swimming pool and landscaping. The structure is immodestly referred to as the Skypark. Someone drinking an overpriced cocktail at the bar in the KuDeTa luxury restaurant can easily feel like they've conquered the financial world in the shimmering towers along the Singapore River.

In the casino some 200 meters below, the rich and beautiful mingle in the exclusive club area. Those still longing to get there are gambling on other floors, most of them dressed in flip-flops or sneakers, T-shirts and jeans.

At the roulette table, a balding Chinese man in an olive-green polo shirt buys 1,000 Singapore dollars worth of chips and places them in small stacks onto several numbers. The croupier throws the ball, which dances around the wheel until it comes to a stop on Red 25.

The Chinese man loses everything. He frowns for a moment before pulling out the next large bill. In real life, he runs a shop in Chinatown. "I love roulette," he says. And he's not alone -- when it emerged that many government officials also love roulette, the government became nervous. Now it wants to supervise its employees more closely.

Large warning signs that read "Play responsibly" are posted in the middle of a sea of jingling slot machines, and baccarat, roulette and Black Jack tables. It is also the contradictory motto of a country that wants to be two things at the same time: A home for fortune hunters and a bastion of integrity.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #9722 on: Nov 02, 2013, 07:10 AM »

November 1, 2013

Indonesia Confronts Australian Ambassador on Reports of Spying


JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Australia’s ambassador on Friday to respond to news media reports that Australia’s embassy in Jakarta was used as part of a United States-led spying effort, saying such actions were “not acceptable” and had harmed its diplomatic relations with both countries.

The Australian ambassador, Greg Moriarty, met with Indonesian officials on Friday morning after reports this week in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel and The Sydney Morning Herald that the intelligence collection program had been conducted from Australian Embassies in China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and East Timor, and from Australian high commissions — the equivalent of embassies among Commonwealth countries — in Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

“The purpose of the meeting was to seek clarification on the information about the facilities in the Australian Embassy in Jakarta,” said Michael Tene, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman, “as well as to convey the message that if the information is true, such acts are not acceptable to the Indonesian government and run counter to the good relationship that exists between our two countries.”

Afterward, The Associated Press reported, Mr. Moriarty said, “From my perspective, it was a good meeting, and now I have to go and report directly to my government.”

On Wednesday, Kristen Bauer, the chargé d’affaires of the United States Embassy in Jakarta, and currently its ranking diplomat, was also summoned. “I can confirm that we have had a meeting with the Foreign Ministry,” an embassy spokesman said, declining to comment further.

Australia, a close ally of the United States, used its embassies in Asia to collect intelligence as part of the American National Security Agency’s global surveillance efforts, according to a document leaked by a former agency contractor, Edward J. Snowden, and published in Der Spiegel.

On Wednesday, Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian foreign minister, issued a scathing response to the report, demanding an explanation from the United States Embassy.

“It should be emphasized that if confirmed, such actions are not only a breach of security, but also a serious breach of diplomatic norms and ethics, and certainly not in tune with the spirit of friendly relations between our nations,” he said in a statement.

The Foreign Ministry issued a similarly pointed statement on Thursday in response to the report of involvement by the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, calling it “totally unacceptable.”

The spying allegations come at a time when both Australia and the United States are enjoying close political and security relations with Indonesia, including conducting counterterrorism and military training exercises, and offering support for the Indonesian police.
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« Reply #9723 on: Nov 02, 2013, 07:12 AM »

Sudan fires up its would-be Alan Sugars with TV show

Dozen young hopefuls to compete for startup cash, in country where only the rich can get credit

Patrick Kingsley in Khartoum, Friday 1 November 2013 23.03 GMT      

Abda Yahia el-Mahdi has never heard of Alan Sugar, but she may soon be the Sudanese incarnation of the pugnacious Apprentice star. Sudan's most-watched television network – Blue Nile – will shortly broadcast the country's first Apprentice-style reality show, a format that programmers hope will shake up Sudanese television and indirectly boost Sudan's tanking economy. And Mahdi, a former finance minister, is being courted as one of the show's judges.

Mashrouy – Arabic for "my project" – will present 12 young Sudanese entrepreneurs pitching and developing their ideas for a creative start-up firm over the course of several episodes. The dozen hopefuls will be mentored – and ultimately eliminated – by four leading Sudanese businesspeople and economists – before viewers vote on the winner from a shortlist.

The Sudanese are no strangers to reality television, but locals say the premise of such a business-oriented show – which has drawn comparisons with Dragon's Den and the Apprentice – is unprecedented.

"Even the term 'creative entrepreneurship' is new in Sudan," said Mahir Elfiel, one of the show's co-ordinators. "There was no specific word for it before. And that's the idea behind the whole project – to introduce the concept here."

Sudan has a youth unemployment rate of 34% – one of several contributing factors to recent anti-regime demonstrations in which more than 200 protesters were killed by state officials.

The cash-strapped government was once able to keep unemployment under control by employing many young jobseekers within the bowels of its ministries, but its empty coffers – reduced by state mismanagement and international sanctions – no longer allow for this.

"There is a limit to how many they can employ," said Mahdi. "The vacancies are in the hundreds, but the unemployed are in the thousands."

As a result, there is an increasing desire, inside and outside government, to encourage more investment in private enterprise – and Mashrouy, allocated a primetime slot on Sudan's most popular channel, is one attempt to inspire this change.

"If we can duplicate this kind of programme, I hope it will make a difference," said Mahdi. "It will help people get beyond the traditional thinking of getting employment in the government sector."

Most private enterprise in Sudan currently involves small, low-budget projects funded by micro-finance. Mashrouy aims to encourage graduates to create larger and more ambitious entrepreneurial projects – and to encourage banks to invest in them more readily.

Contestants include Mustafa Shaib, the hacker behind what he says will be Sudan's first tech company to focus exclusively on internet security, and English teacher Yassim Gasim, who wants to export spicy peanut butter – a popular Sudanese delicacy that is little known outside the country.

Gasim's previous experiences highlight why Sudan's business community is so excited about Mashrouy. Gasim first had the idea for his business five years ago – but couldn't find anyone willing to finance him, such are the restrictions on – and lethargy towards – investment in Sudan. As a result, he imagined that his horizons were limited to small low-tech micro-finance projects such as chicken-breeding. But more ambitious entrepreneurial projects seemed out of Gasim's reach – and even his vocabulary.

"The first time I read the word riyada," said 38-year-old Gasim, referring to the word for entrepreneurship, "was when I saw the billboard for this show four months ago."

Sudan has no shortage of entrepreneurial small traders or self-employed day labourers. But with credit only available to those from rich families, the concept of a western-style entrepreneur – armed with a long term business plan, and backed by investors – is less well established.

So too is a business-based television show. "It's been challenging," said Elfiel, whose colleagues were forced to postpone filming because of the unrest in September. "We have stuff like American Idol, but nothing business-oriented like Apprentice or Dragons Den. No TV station has done this before."

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« Reply #9724 on: Nov 02, 2013, 07:15 AM »

US claims Israel attacked Russian missile shipment in Syria

Americans accused of damaging 'trust between allies' by revealing Latakia air strike

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and agencies, Friday 1 November 2013 14.01 GMT   

Israeli warplanes have attacked a shipment of Russian missiles inside a Syrian government stronghold, according to US officials. The disclosure could further strain US-Israel relations, which are already under pressure over differences regarding the Iranian nuclear programme.

Neither the Israeli government nor its military made any comment on the US confirmation of an Israeli air strike on a missile base in the city of Latakia early on Thursday, but officials are privately furious at the White House statement.

"This raises very disturbing questions, and affects trust between allies," said one Israeli official. "Sharing information is embedded in the nature of the relationship between Israel and the US. It's like a big pipeline that's open to permanent flow. So disclosing information is a cause for dismay." He declined to comment on whether Israel was responsible for the air strike.

A US official told CNN that Israel targeted the base to prevent weapons being transferred to the Hezbollah militia, the Lebanese group backed by Syria and Iran. The Al-Arabiya network reported that stores of anti-aircraft missiles, which had been destined for Hezbollah, were destroyed in the attack.

Israel has repeatedly warned that it will take military action to stop the movement of advanced weapons. Several air strikes were carried out earlier this year, although Israel has not acknowledged its actions.

According to Israeli media reports, the US statement had caused "senior officials in Jerusalem to tear out their hair".

Alex Fishman, defence analyst for Israeli's biggest-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote: "Past experience suggests that we shared information with them on our operational activity so as to prevent embarrassment and surprise, but Washington is selling our secrets on the cheap … This is now dangerous and contemptible behaviour committed deliberately by the administration, with the aim of sabotaging Israeli defence policy."

The revelation came as the government of President Bashar al-Assad met a key deadline in an ambitious plan to eliminate Syria's entire chemical weapons stockpile by mid-2014 and avoid international military action.

The announcement by a global chemical weapons watchdog that the country had completed the destruction of equipment used to produce the deadly agents highlights Assad's willingness to cooperate, and puts more pressure on the divided and outgunned rebels to attend a planned peace conference.

An Obama administration official confirmed the Israeli airstrike overnight, but provided no details. Another security official said the attack occurred late on Wednesday in the Syrian port city of Latakia and that the target was Russian-made SA-125 missiles.

There was no immediate confirmation from Syria.

Since the civil war in Syria began in March 2011, Israel has carefully avoided taking sides, but has struck shipments of missiles inside Syria at least twice this year.

The Syrian military, overstretched by the civil war, has not retaliated, and it was not clear whether the embattled Syrian leader would choose to take action this time. Assad may decide to let the Israeli attack slide again, particularly when his army has the upper hand on the battlefield inside Syria.

Israel has repeatedly declared a series of red lines that could trigger military intervention, including the delivery of "game-changing" weapons to the Syrian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group.

Israel has never officially confirmed taking action inside Syria to avoid embarrassing Assad and sparking a potential response. But foreign officials say it has done so several times when Israeli intelligence determined that sophisticated missiles were on the move.

In January, an Israeli air strike in Syria destroyed a shipment of advanced anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah, according to US officials. And in May, it was said to have acted again, taking out a shipment of Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles at a Damascus airport.

The Fateh-110s have advanced guidance systems that allow them to travel up to 200 miles per hour with great precision. Their solid-fuel propellant allows them to be launched at short notice, making them hard to detect and neutralise.

Israel has identified several other weapons systems as game changers, including chemical weapons, Russian-made Yakhont missiles that can be fired from land and destroy ships at sea, and Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. Israel's January air strike is believed to have destroyed a shipment of SA-17s.

Syrian activists and opposition groups reported strong explosions on Wednesday night that appeared to come from inside an air defence facility in Latakia. They said the cause of the blasts was not known.

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« Reply #9725 on: Nov 02, 2013, 07:49 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance Amercia

November 1, 2013

Snowden Asks U.S. to Stop Treating Him Like a Traitor


BERLIN — Edward J. Snowden, the fugitive American security contractor granted temporary asylum by Russia, has appealed to Washington to stop treating him like a traitor for revealing that the United States has been eavesdropping on its allies, a German politician who met with Mr. Snowden said on Friday.

Mr. Snowden made his appeal in a letter that was carried to Berlin by Hans-Christian Ströbele, a veteran member of the Green Party in the German Parliament. Mr. Ströbele said he and two journalists for German news outlets met with Mr. Snowden and a person described as his assistant — probably his British aide, Sarah Harrison — at an undisclosed location in or near Moscow on Thursday for almost three hours.

Mr. Ströbele had gone to Moscow to explore whether Mr. Snowden could or would testify before a planned parliamentary inquiry into the eavesdropping. Any arrangements for Mr. Snowden to testify would require significant legal maneuvering, as it seemed unlikely that he would travel to Germany for fear of extradition to the United States.

In his letter, Mr. Snowden, 30, also appealed for clemency. He said his disclosures about American intelligence activity at home and abroad, which he called “systematic violations of law by my government that created a moral duty to act,” have had positive effects.

Yet “my government continues to treat dissent as defection, and seeks to criminalize political speech with felony charges that provide no defense,” Mr. Snowden wrote. “However, speaking the truth is not a crime. I am confident that with the support of the international community, the government of the United States will abandon this harmful behavior.”

Mr. Ströbele, 74, is a seasoned left-wing defense lawyer and the longest-serving member of the parliamentary committee that oversees German intelligence. At a packed news conference after his return to Berlin, he said he was contacted about going to Moscow late last week after the German government said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone might have been tapped by American intelligence agents. He declined to elaborate, but said he has had no dealings with the Russian authorities or the German Embassy in Moscow.

He deftly parried requests to reveal more, while appealing to the governments and citizens of Germany, France and the United States to stop treating Mr. Snowden as a criminal.

Instead, Mr. Ströbele said, echoing an opinion gaining support here, Germany should thank Mr. Snowden. After ARD, the premier German television network, reported on Thursday night about the Moscow visit, it broadcast a commentary arguing that Germany should show gratitude for his exposure of United States intelligence practices.

Mr. Ströbele said he had found Mr. Snowden lucid and well informed. He said he had been told that Mr. Snowden was allowed to go shopping, but Mr. Ströbele declined to reveal any other details about Mr. Snowden’s routine.

News about the visit to Moscow eclipsed a number of interviews given on Thursday by the American ambassador, John B. Emerson, who tried to assuage German fears that the United States Embassy in Berlin was the center for monitoring Ms. Merkel and other well-placed Germans.

Mr. Emerson, who arrived in Berlin two months ago and is a strong proponent of a landmark American and European trade deal under negotiation, was summoned to the German Foreign Ministry last week after Berlin’s suspicions about eavesdropping on Ms. Merkel were made public. The action was unprecedented in post-World War II relations between the United States and Germany.

Ms. Merkel, while palpably angry in appearances last week, has made no direct statements since, quietly sending two senior advisers to Washington this week to begin re-establishing the trust she said had been breached.

Mr. Ströbele’s news conference yielded moments of humor as well. At one point, his cellphone rang. He pulled it out, looked at it and asked cheerfully, “Does anybody know the chancellor’s number?”

Asked to speculate about which intelligence services might have monitored his trip to Moscow, he said with a smile, “I assume that they are all interested.”


November 02, 2013 01:00 AM

Dianne Feinstein’s Fake FISA Fix May Expand Use of Phone Dragnet

By emptywheel

Dianne Feinstein and 10 other Senate Intelligence Committee members approved a bill yesterday that purports to improve the dragnet but actually does almost nothing besides writing down the rules the FISA Court already imposed on the practice.

I’ll have far more on DiFi’s Fake Fix later, but for now, I want to point to language that could dramatically expand use of the phone dragnet database, at least as they’ve portrayed its use.

Here’s how, in June, DiFi described the terms on which NSA could access the dragnet database.

    It can only look at that data after a showing that there is a reasonable, articulable that a specific individual is involved in terrorism, actually related to al Qaeda or Iran. At that point, the database can be searched. [my emphasis]

Here are the terms on which her Fake Fix permits access to the database.

    there was a reasonable articulable suspicion that the selector was associated with international terrorism or activities in preparation therefor. [my emphasis]

The bill passed yesterday does not require any tie to al Qaeda (or Iran!). An association with al Qaeda (and Iran!) is one possible standard for accessing the database. But it also permits use of the data if someone is “associated with activities in preparation” for international terrorism.

Does that include selling drugs to make money to engage in “terrorism”? Does that include taking pictures of landmark buildings? Does that include accessing a computer in a funny way?

All of those things might be deemed “activities in preparation” for terrorism. And this bill, as written, appears to permit the government to access the database of all the phone-based relationships in the US based not on any known association with al Qaeda (and Iran!), but instead activities that might indicate preparation for terrorism but might also indicate mild nefarious activity or even tourism crossing international borders.

Click to watch:


White House rejects criticism of Obama over NSA surveillance as rift deepens

Veteran diplomats question NSA director's assertion that ambassadors request monitoring of foreign leaders

Dan Roberts and Paul Lewis in Washington, Friday 1 November 2013 20.10 GMT       

The White House sought on Friday to distance itself from the National Security Agency's monitoring of foreign leaders, rejecting criticism that President Barack Obama was understating his knowledge of the agency's activities.

In a further sign of the growing blame game within Washington over the affair, spokesman Jay Carney said Obama paid close attention to terrorism intercepts but had no need to personally bug the phones of allies.

"The president is a very deliberate consumer of the intelligence gathered for him on national security matters," said Carney. "But when the president wants to find out what the heads of state of friendly nations think, he calls them."

The White House comments followed an admission on Thursday from secretary of state John Kerry that some surveillance practices were carried out "on auto-pilot" and had not been known to the president. That was followed on Thursday night by the NSA director, Keith Alexander, blaming Kerry's own department for driving its spying on friendly world leaders.

"The intelligence agencies don't come up with the requirements. The policymakers come up with the requirements," Alexander said. "One of those groups would have been, let me think, hold on, oh: ambassadors."

Alexander said the NSA collected information when it was asked by policy officials to discover the "leadership intentions" of foreign countries. "If you want to know leadership intentions, these are the issues," he said.

On Friday, veteran US diplomats questioned that assertion.

Thomas Pickering, who served as ambassador to Russia, India, Israel, Jordan and the United Nations, said he found it puzzling that intelligence agencies would interpret requests for information as a green light to bug the phones of friendly government leaders.

"To point the finger at ambassadors as being responsible for generating these requests seems, in my experience, to be far fetched," Pickering told the Guardian.

"In my time, intelligence requirements were never based on collection methods, they were based on intelligence interests. That an ambassador may have been interested in the views of a foreign leader is not a reason to say they had any responsibility for how that information was gathered."

Pickering, who recently led a White House review of the 2012 assassination of the US ambassador to Libya, said he had no direct knowledge but would be surprised to find the NSA was taking direction from ambassadors on such matters.

"It would be self-evident that embassies would be interested in knowing, but it is a huge jump to imagine that an ambassador could somehow be so persuasive as to persuade the intelligence community," he said.
NSA director Gen Keith Alexander. NSA director General Keith Alexander. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Alexander's explanation also drew scorn from James Carew Rosapepe, who served as an ambassador under the Clinton administration, who said "we generally don't do that in democratic societies" during an event at the the Baltimore Council on Foreign Relations on Thursday.

Pressed over the apparent "inconsistency" between comments by Alexander and Kerry, Jen Psaki, the state department's chief spokeswoman, said on Friday: "I don't actually think there was an inconsistency … I would just refute the notion of the question."

She added that the reviews into surveillance programs announced by the White House included all branches of government, and that Kerry's remarks applied not just to the state department.

"When the secretary made his comments yesterday, he said 'we'," she said. "He is talking about a collective 'we', as in the entire government is looking at these programs."


Report: Benghazi witness was nowhere near diplomatic compound during terrorist attack

By Travis Gettys
Friday, November 1, 2013 12:27 EDT

A security subcontractor who gave his account to CBS “60 Minutes” of the events leading up to the fatal attack at Benghazi had previously told his employers he was nowhere near the diplomatic compound at the time, according to a Washington Post report.

The Oct. 27 television report was based on a yearlong investigation by reporter Lara Logan and producer Max McCellan and featured an interview with a man identified by the pseudonym “Morgan Jones,” who was described as “a security officer who witnessed the attack.”

A Fox News correspondent said the following day that the network had been working on a story with the same security officer, but those efforts ended when he asked for money in exchange for his participation.

Threshold Editions, which specializes in “conservative non-fiction,” published a book Tuesday by the same source, called The Embassy House: The Explosive Eyewitness Account of the Libyan Embassy Siege by the Soldier Who Was There.

The Washington Post report, published Thursday, said the book largely backs up the account provided to “60 Minutes,” but the newspaper says the source provided a written account to his employers three days after the attack that he’d spent the night of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack at his own beachside villa in Benghazi.

“We could not get anywhere near (the diplomatic compound) as roadblocks had been set up,” said the security contractor, whose real name was confirmed as Dylan Davies by officials who’d worked with him in Libya.

The newspaper reported that Davies provided a 2 ½-page incident report to his employer, Blue Mountain, the British contractor hired by the State Department to guard the compound’s perimeter.

Davies said he learned U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens had been killed in the raid showed him a cell phone photo of the diplomat’s charred remains, and the security officer visited the still-smoking compound the following day to photograph what was left.

The “60 Minutes” report claimed the security officer had scaled a 12-foot wall while it was still overrun with Al Qaeda forces, and Davies said on the program that he’d personally struck one of the terrorists in the face with the butt of his rifle.

He also told “60 Minutes” that he’d gone to the hospital and seen Stevens’ body.
Davies told CBS that he and a Foreign Service officer had been worried about security at the compound.

The security officer’s co-author told The Washington Post that Davies may have been dishonest in his incident report because his employer had asked him to stay away from the compound after he was told of the attack by telephone.

A CBS spokesman told the newspaper that the network stands firmly behind its story as it aired Sunday.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) used the “60 Minutes” report to justify calling Monday for additional hearings into Benghazi and threatened to block Senate appointments until lawmakers had heard from all the surviving witnesses to the attack.

However, Graham conceded Wednesday that witnesses have already been questioned by members of Congress, but their testimony hasn’t been publicly released because the investigations are still ongoing.

David Brock, chairman of Media Matters, has called on CBS to retract its Benghazi report based on the security officer’s comments.


David Brock to call on '60 Minutes' to retract Benghazi report
11/1/13 1:14 PM EDT

David Brock, the Clinton ally who led the public effort to pressure CNN and NBC out of their Hillary-related film projects, is set to send a letter to the chairman and president of CBS News calling on them to retract a recent "60 Minutes" segment on the attacks in Benghazi.

In the letter, a draft of which was obtained by POLITICO, Brock cites a new Washington Post report revealing that the "60 Minutes" witness had previously stated he was nowhere near the diplomatic compound the night of the attack."

"The 60 Minutes story should be immediately retracted and an independent investigative committee needs to probe all aspects of how the story was reported," Brock writes in his letter to CBS News chairman Jeff Fager and CBS News president David Rhodes.

Brock is the head of the pro-Hillary American Bridge super PAC and the founder of Media Matters For America, the liberal watchdog group. Since the campaign against the CNN and NBC projects, he has emerged as Clinton's most vocal public defender, writing open letters to both news organizations protesting the projects, both of which were subsequently cancelled.

In the Oct. 27 edition of "60 Minutes," a man who identified himself as Morgan Jones "described racing to the Benghazi compound while the attack was underway, scaling a 12-foot wall and downing an extremist with the butt end of a rifle as he tried in vain to rescue the besieged Americans," the Post states.

"But in a written account that Jones, whose real name was confirmed as Dylan Davies by several officials who worked with him in Benghazi, provided to his employer three days after the attack, he told a different story of his experiences that night," the Post's report continues: "In Davies’s 2 1/2-page incident report... he wrote that he spent most of that night at his Benghazi beach-side villa. Although he attempted to get to the compound, he wrote in the report, 'we could not get anywhere near . . . as roadblocks had been set up.'"

In his letter, Brock states that the Post report "paints a damning picture of the credibility of the supposed eyewitness -- and thus of the CBS report itself."

His full letter after the jump:

    Mr. Jeff Fager
    Chairman, CBS News

    Mr. David Rhodes
    President, CBS News


    I am writing to express my concern about a 60 Minutes segment on the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that CBS aired on October 27. As Media Matters for America noted earlier in the week, the segment revived long-answered questions about the attack and, even more troubling, a Fox News correspondent said that he had spoken to one of the witnesses interviewed “a number of times” about the attacks but stopped after the man “asked for money.”

    Today, The Washington Post revealed that the very same witness previously said he never got near the diplomatic compound the night of the attack. This completely contradicts what was reported on air by correspondent Lara Logan, who said that during the attack, the witness “scaled the twelve-foot high wall of the compound that was still overrun with al Qaeda fighters.”  In the interview, the witness told Logan he had personally struck one of those terrorists in the face with his rifle butt and, following the attack, he went to the Benghazi hospital and saw Ambassador Chris Stevens’ body.

    According to Post, the witness revealed none of those details in the incident report he wrote following the attack. Instead, he said that he spent most of that night at his Benghazi beach-side villa and learned of Stevens' death from a colleague. This paints a damning picture of the credibility of the supposed eyewitness -- and thus of the CBS report itself.

    A network spokesman told the Post, ‘We stand firmly by the story we broadcast last Sunday.” This is not sufficient. When questions were raised about documents involving President George W. Bush’s service in the Air National Guard, CBS appointed an independent panel “to help determine what errors occurred in the preparation of the report and what actions need to be taken.” Similar standards must be applied in this case.  

    The 60 Minutes story should be immediately retracted and an independent investigative committee needs to probe all aspects of how the story was reported and get answers to the following questions:
    ·         Were witnesses paid to talk?
    ·         Did anyone bother to compare the witness’ story to the written report he filed at the time?
    ·         If the network was aware of the incident report, why did no one acknowledge the discrepancy in the witness’ story?
    ·         Who worked on the story at all levels?
    ·         How was the story vetted and by whom?
    The committee’s findings should be public to and, if necessary, appropriate disciplinary action should take place.

    In my most recent book, The Benghazi Hoax, I chronicled how the media has, for over a year, twisted the facts about what happened the night of the attacks. CBS’ report was a new low. I hope you take this opportunity to reassure your viewers of your standards and accountability.


    David Brock
    Chairman, Media Matters for America

    cc: Kevin Tedesco, Executive Director, 60 Minutes


Bipartisan House gives in to Wall Street and passes Dodd-Frank rollback drafted by Citigroup lobbyists

By Travis Gettys
Friday, November 1, 2013 11:25 EDT

A bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives rolled back one of the key elements of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law passed in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown.

The House voted 292-122 to pass Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act, which repeals a provision in the law that required big banks to move some derivatives trading into separate units that aren’t backed by the government’s insurance fund.

The vote followed months of heavy lobbying by Wall Street banks, and The New York Times reviewed emails that showed Citigroup lobbyists drafted at least 70 of the House bill’s 85 lines.

In addition, a MapLight analysis showed Citigroup had showered House members who voted for the bill with campaign cash in the three years since Dodd-Frank was passed.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Jim Hines (D-CT), has received more than $66,000 from the bank, more than any other House member, and the bill’s co-sponsors received an average of 16.8 times more money from Citigroup than other House members.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has received more than $917,000 from interests supporting the bill, more than any other House member, and primary sponsor Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), has gotten more than $136,000 from the securities and investment industry.

Banks were still permitted under the Dodd-Frank law to offset their risk directly with interest rate and foreign exchange swaps, but lawmakers had sought to remove risks in trading contracts such as futures or credit default by moving them away from banks.

But members of both parties have said banks should have more options in hedging their risk, and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, also favored the change approved by the House, saying it pushes the derivatives trading out toward less-regulated depository institutions and risked financial stability.

The White House said Tuesday it opposes the bill, but President Barack Obama hasn’t said he would veto the measure.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the second-ranking Democrat on the House financial services committee, claimed on the House floor that the bill’s namesake favored the change, which brought a swift reaction from former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), who issued a statement saying it would be “a mistake and destabilizing” to repeal the provision.

Another opponent, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), said banks could still perform about 90 percent of the swaps hedges under the current law that they could before the Dodd-Frank reforms were passed.

Only three Republicans, Reps. John Duncan (TN), Walter Jones (NC), and Thomas Massie (KY), voted against the measure, which gained the support of 70 Democrats.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


Republicans Deliberately Sabotaged the ACA Website, Hoping the Law Would Implode

By: Sarah Jones
Friday, November, 1st, 2013, 11:35 am      

For weeks I’ve been wondering why no one is talking about how Republicans sabotaged the ACA rollout by refusing to implement state run marketplaces, and thus unexpectedly forcing all of that additional burden on to the federal website.

It reminded me of Republicans denying security funding for Benghazi and then blaming Obama and Clinton for the lack of security in Benghazi. The media were oddly uninterested in that alarming fact.

But today, Todd Purdum at Politico exposed how Republicans sabotaged the ACA rollout. One small part of their plan was the rejection of the state run exchanges.

But also, Purdum points out, Republicans refused to fund the extra work on the website after the states refused to do their parts, leaving the administration to cobble funding together for Healthcare.Gov. Putting this extra burden on the website was a deliberate effort to cause the law to “implode” on itself.

    But the bitter fight over passage was only the beginning of the war to stop Obamacare. Most Republican governors declined to create their own state insurance exchanges — an option inserted in the bill in the Senate to appeal to the classic conservative preference for local control — forcing the federal government to take at least partial responsibility for creating marketplaces serving 36 states — far more than ever intended.

    Then congressional Republicans refused repeatedly to appropriate dedicated funds to do all that extra work, leaving the Health and Human Services Department and other agencies to cobble together by redirecting funds from existing programs. On top of that, nearly half of the states declined to expand their Medicaid programs using federal funds, as the law envisioned.

The Republican manufactured shutdown on the very day of the opening of the exchanges further burdened the administration and disrupted last minute efforts regarding the rollout. This seems like common sense; it’s amazing that the media never asked Republicans about this in all of their incessant complaining about the website that they sabotaged.

And the cherry:

    In fact, putting an excessive burden on the federal government was the explicit aim of the law’s opponents. “Congress authorized no funds for federal ‘fallback’ exchanges,” the Tea Party Patriots website noted as long ago as last December. “So Washington may not be able to impose exchanges on states at all.” The group went on to suggest that since Washington was not equipped to handle so many state exchanges, “both financially and otherwise — this means the entire law could implode on itself.

You’ve got to read the entire piece, as I narrowed this down to the salient point that caught my eye since I’ve been suggesting that the Republican states refusals to implement the exchanges placed an extra burden on the federal site and had an impact on the rollout from the beginning. Capacity is a huge part of any website. Their careful denying of funding and public plans that the combination of these forces would prove too much for the website and thus cause the law to implode shows their desperate dedication to destroying ObamaCare.

The entire two page piece carefully lays out the planned sabotage of ObamaCare. The Republican ability to surgically coordinate these plans and never get busted by the media is impressive. Or it would be if our media weren’t so pathetic. Their plan is still a fail, though, as a failed website was never going to destroy the law. Relying on their illogical, mad belief system is exactly why Republicans can’t get their act together.

Republicans might not be winning the messaging with their constant destruction of everything in their paths, but they are hurting this country.

Typically, most Democrats including Kathleen Sebelius, refuse to point the finger at Republicans. It’s rude, childish and unfitting. Instead they play the grown up, taking responsibility because the buck stops with them. That is as it should be, but it’s a big fail in this political climate.

Democrats need to drive these truths home and force the media to cover them. Politicians are the actors and the beltway media is TMZ. Make a stir. Show some metaphorical leg. Point fingers.

Yes, it will be degrading and ugly, but the truth is that Republicans are never going to stop this – they can’t be taught to behave and put country first. They will have to be shamed by the truth each time.

This media is lazy and they like their narratives to paint the Obama (who refuses to do the beltway thing) as the bad guy. That’s fine for him, as he’s not facing re-election, but Democratic lawmakers can’t afford to let the media chase Republican narratives anymore.

If for no other reason than this is hurting our country, Democrats need to buck up and kick back. Drop some soundbites, craft a narrative, be outraged. It’s theater, and the most dramatic wins when the media has turned into a Beltway TMZ.


NBC News Suppressed Key Details in ‘Bombshell’ Obamacare Report

by Tommy Christopher | 5:11 pm, November 1st, 2013

[goldwater] On Thursday, LA Times reporter Michael Hiltzik debunked yet another Obamacare horror story, revealing that a woman who appeared on CNBC Wednesday will actually pay less, for better coverage, under Obamacare. During that same CNBC segment, 38 year-old Heather Goldwater spoke about her difficulties in signing up for a plan to replace the one that was just canceled, but as has been the case with every TV news report on the health care law, there’s much more here than meets the eye.

Heather Goldwater is better known to her friends and neighbors as Ryan Nelson, former host of ABC4′s Lowcountry Live! and current owner of a successful PR firm. On Wednesday’s Closing Bell, she explained to host Maria Bartiromo that she received a letter in July informing her that her $510 /mo. Cigna health insurance policy was being canceled, but that the company would be sending her a letter in October with replacement options.

“It’s almost November 1 and I have not heard a word but they are cancelling my policy at the end of the year, 2013, and I can’t get on a website that works,” Nelson told Bartiromo, adding that “They’re not giving me any information. They told me don’t do anything, you just stay back. That situation, I’m a little worried.”

During her segment, an onscreen graphic proclaimed that her old $510 premium “May Double – After Obamacare.”

Ryan Nelson’s complaint is a legitimate one, and one which was also included in the Lisa Myers NBC News investigative report that the White House pushed back so hard against:

    “I’m completely overwhelmed with a six-month-old and a business,” said Goldwater. “The last thing I can do is spend hours poring over a website that isn’t working, trying to wrap my head around this entire health care overhaul.”

    Goldwater said she supports the new law and is grateful for provisions helping folks like her with pre-existing conditions, but she worries she won’t be able to afford the new insurance, which is expected to cost more because it has more benefits. “I’m jealous of people who have really good health insurance,” she said. “It’s people like me who are stuck in the middle who are going to get screwed.”

There’s no doubt that the difficulties with the rollout of Obamacare have caused anxiety for consumers like Ryan Nelson, and hers is an example of why Americans need to be given clear and accurate information about the new law. She, along with many other Americans, don’t necessarily have the time and energy to figure all of this out. In an extensive email exchange, Ryan told me that “I haven’t spoken with anyone at Cigna yet. I am a new mom and my business is very busy, and although it’s extremely important that I contact them, I too was counting on them to send me some details as they explained in the letter they sent me when they canceled me.”

“Honestly, when the NBC producer found me,” she added, “it was from a tweet I sent to the local healthcare reporter months ago, I never planned on it getting much attention. But I have plenty of people in my same situation who are wondering what in the world to do. And with a website that is slow and sometimes not even working, it’s hard on many of us…even though some people just think of us as the 5%.”

There are a few pieces of good news for Ms. Nelson. According to Cigna, the letter she was promised has been delayed (in five states: SC, NC, FL, TN, and CT), but will be sent out between November 10 and November 15, and will include options that comply with the Affordable Care Act. As Ryan points out via email, it would have been nice of them to let people know about the delay.

The other good news is that, in the meantime, there are 8 other Bronze and Silver plans available on the federal exchange that are cheaper than the plan that was canceled, and all of them will cover maternity, prescriptions, and other essential services, and will not charge extra for preexisting conditions, of which Ryan has several.

While consumers don’t always have the time, energy, or expertise to do research like this, investigative reporters and news producers do. There’s little excuse for people like Lisa Myers and Closing Bell‘s news producers to claim that premiums for Obamacare plans are “expected to cost more” or “May Double” when checking on those claims is a relatively simple matter, as news research goes. Ryan Nelson has told at least three reporters about her troubles with Cigna, yet none of them thought to spend five minutes calling the company. That is simple and pure negligence.

What goes beyond negligence is the fact that Ryan told NBC News producers and reporters key details about her story that they chose to omit, including this doozy about the plan that Cigna canceled: it didn’t cover maternity care, for which she paid nearly $16,000 out of pocket this year. She also told me that the $510 premium for her Cigna plan had been jacked up from $465 this year, and that the plan only covered her, not her husband and new baby. “I definitely believe there should be healthcare reform and honestly, I’m glad the reform is happening,” she told me. “The fact I am a successful woman business owner, yet had to pay out of pocket close to $16,000 to have my daughter felt like I was the one being punished. So yes, reform is necessary.”

She also told me that when she left ABC4, she tried to COBRA her group health benefits at $484 /mo, but Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina denied her coverage because of several preexisting conditions, “Which is why I am glad to see that preexisting conditions can no longer be used against you.”

Cigna did cover her conditions, but Nelson “had to do a phoner with a nurse, who was very nice I may say.”

Ryan Nelson’s story isn’t a simple one. Although she stands to pay less in premiums, while enjoying patient protections and essential services that her old plan did not, there could be some tradeoffs; her old deductible was $2000 in-network and $4000 out-of-network, while the comparably-priced Obamacare plans have somewhat higher deductibles, but lower out-of-pocket maximums, and Cigna hasn’t yet told her what they will offer.

“I’m not blaming the President because of this,” she added. “and of course there’s going to be problems in the beginning when you change. You have millions of Americans scrambling to one website….you should expect the thing to crash. It’s like everyone trying to get on one subway. It’s just not going to happen right away. However, if they knew problems with CMS were going on, they should not have given insurers and the insured a deadline. Part of my job is creating websites for clients, you know you should always expect bugs in the first weeks of launch. And then throw millions logging onto it = recipe for disaster.”

“I think that when they wrote the law, there should have been an addendum that said If the insured wants to keep their policy the way it is, even without the options required, and the insured will sign off, they should be allowed,” Ms. Nelson said. “All I want is to have coverage I can afford, where I can continue to see doctors I have an established relationship with and not pay $100 for each prescription. Is that too much to ask?”

As for NBC News, Nelson says that producer Hannah Rappleye “had planned for it to be an on-air piece, but it got pushed to the web. I think she really wanted to make it more in-depth but I only got the two blurbs.”

A former TV pro herself, Nelson is more forgiving. “I don’t think there was enough time for them to report all of it honestly, as there’s just so much,” she said. “As you can tell, figuring out the plan should probably be the length of a Dateline. For NBC Hannah definitely did a lot of questioning. For CNBC, Bonnie also asked tons of questions. Sometimes in TV, there’s such a brief period of time to tell such a long story.”

The fact that the report appeared online, where the ink is unlimited, is all the more reason that these key details should have been included. In a story that was supposed to be about people being canceled off of insurance that they liked, it seems difficult to justify suppressing the fact that Nelson’s plan left her holding the bag for $16,000, or that they jacked up her premium by almost 10%, or that she stands to pay less under the Affordable Care Act, not more, while enjoying protection from the sort of practice that caused her to lose her COBRA coverage. It’s not that NBC News didn’t ask, or didn’t know; Nelson says she told them about the rate hike and the maternity care, and they did include a half-sentence about preexisting conditions. CNBC should have, at a bare minimum, have checked on the Obamacare premiums before making the claim that they might double.

Those facts don’t do anything to undercut Ryan Nelson’s central complaint, they buttress it. The fact that these reforms are so important to her specific situation makes it that much more urgent that the Obamacare website and Cigna get their acts together. That wasn’t the story that NBC News wanted to tell though.


America Has Never Faced The Threat Posed by the Koch Brothers and Congressional Republicans

By: Rmuse
Friday, November, 1st, 2013, 6:04 pm   

Most Americans are confident that their nation will remain fundamentally unchanged forever and in part it is due to the once stable functioning government. However, as world leaders, political scholars, and economists have noted, America’s government has been, for all intents and purposes, brought to a standstill due to Republican denial they lost two presidential elections. There is a faction in this country made up of wealthy oligarchs, religious fanatics, and conservative extremists who have intimated in various ways their only raison d’être is to destroy America from within and transform it into a mirror image of a stone-age nation like Afghanistan under Taliban rule. The war for America has been in the planning stages for two decades, but when American voters elected (twice) an African American man as President the insurgency began enacting their plan to destroy the federal government and by extension the country itself.

The groups lusting to destroy America and transform it into a libertarian theocracy certainly know that their goal could never reach fruition if they announced they were actively seeking to eliminate the functioning government, so they use catch phrases such as the Koch brothers’ infamous “transforming America” to fit their lawless vision of a nation without rules and regulations. Their staunch ally, Grover Norquist has been forthcoming that his goal is to “shrink government down to a size he can drown in a bathtub,” but his goal, like the Koch brothers, is a nation steeped in anarchy where peasants are at the mercy of a few wealthy industrialists. Although the Kochs and Norquist wield inordinate power and influence over a major political party, they are not elected representatives and depend on dark money and loyalty oaths to control Republicans at the state and federal level to enact their anti-government agendas. Now they have a powerful ally in the U.S. Senate who controls Republicans in the House and Senate and last Sunday he let it slip that his ultimate goal is destroying America.

It is fairly well-known that Rafael “Ted” Cruz is running the Republican Party due to being anointed the evangelical conservative messiah, and that he publicly announced the recent government shutdown and debt crisis was only the first battle in a longer war. Cruz has been unapologetic that his destructive strategy is part of a plan to achieve his future policy goals that he readily admits are more than defunding the Affordable Care Act he claims is responsible for the nation’s sluggish economy. However, when he spoke to Fox News’ host Sean Hannity on Sunday, he revealed that in his “multi-stage extended battle” he discovered “a model that I think is the model going forward to,” among other things, “abolish the IRS.”

Cruz’s remark was a stunning revelation that his goal is defunding the entire United States government that will serve to hasten the Koch brothers’ agenda of a nation void of laws, regulatory agencies’ enforcement, education, Social Security, healthcare, and national defense. Abolishing the I.R.S. will also invalidate the U.S. Constitution’s Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 that gives the federal government of the United States its power of taxation to fund the nation’s government. Without revenue to fund the government, America as it exists now would become a lawless, uneducated, and dangerous fascist state controlled by the wealthy and policed by religious extremists imposing the bible as the de facto law of the land.

If the power of taxation is eliminated, the government may be able to function for a couple of years at best, but it would mean selling off all federal assets and raiding Social Security’s $2.8 trillion reserves just to fund this nation’s national defense and nothing more. All regulatory and consumer protection agencies would be eliminated, education funding would cease to exist, and domestic programs would come to a screeching halt. In fact, with no revenue, the entire federal government would disappear and with it all the benefits the people depend on whether it is safe food, safe medicine, disaster relief, clean water, infrastructure, and security the people are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Actually, without a government, the Constitution itself will be obsolete and it would open the floodgates of regional morality laws under the purview of whichever religious group had the largest armory to enforce their edicts and transform America into Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

Without funding to operate, the US Congress, the executive branch, and judicial branch would be deemed unnecessary in a government-less state, and society would break down into little fiefdoms controlled by the wealthy and whoever they appoint to keep peasants in line. It is the ideal sought after by libertarians and 10th Amendment advocates who believe all power originates in individual states, but for Southern states wallowing in poverty and disrepair it will usher in anarchy and privatization that libertarians regard as a lifestyle improvement over living in a nation with a federal government.  Wealthier states with natural resources and agricultural products to sell on the foreign market might maintain a semblance of order for a while, but the quality of life for the average American would be reduced to subsistence living without consumer, environmental, worker, healthcare, or law enforcement protections a functioning government ensures.

The only people who would survive in a nation without a government would be the extremely rich who could sequester themselves away in gated compounds patrolled by armed guards to keep out the starving peasants. In fact, the majority of Americans would fall into dire poverty because with no federal government there would be no minimum wage or workplace protections that will leave workers at the mercy of the rich who may give them work for food; if they were lucky.

The Founding Fathers were well aware that America could not survive without revenue to fund the government, but government survival is not the long term goal of the Koch brothers, Rafael Cruz, and Grover Norquist. The Koch brothers particularly welcome a nation without a federal government because they would be unshackled from any regulatory enforcement and give them the freedom to conduct their business unrestricted and untaxed with absolute power to install the dictator of their choosing to keep the peasantry in line.

America has never faced the existential threat posed by the Koch brothers and their acolytes in Congress and state legislatures, and it is likely there has never been a concerted effort to destroy the government that America faces today. It is true that Cruz does not have the people behind him like he thinks, but with the Koch brothers’ dirty money and Republican-controlled states restricting the right to vote, Cruz’s lack of popular support is not a guarantee his “multi-stage extended battle to abolish the IRS” will fail. If nothing else, Cruz has revealed that, like the Koch brothers and Grover Norquist, his goal is destroying the government by defunding it and it cements his place in America’s libertarian axis of evil that makes him a legitimate enemy of the state and the people who own it.


As The GOP Sinks To a New Record Low, Republicans See Ted Cruz as Their Leader

By: Jason Easley
Friday, November, 1st, 2013, 3:03 pm      

Even though favorability of the Republican Party has sunk to a new all time low this week, a new PPP poll found that Republicans see Cruz as their leader.

Sen. Ted Cruz caused the government shutdown. He is the reason why approval of the Republican sunk to a new record low of 22% this week. One might think that the last person Republicans would view as their new leader would be the man who is most responsible for their misery. However, the Republican Party is in a place where they reward failure if it is done in the name of ideological purity.

This is exactly what has happened to Ted Cruz. According to a new PPP poll, 21% of GOP voters selected the Texas senator as their leader. Seventeen percent picked Chris Christie, 15% chose John Boehner, 9% went with Rand Paul, Mitt Romney showed up with 8%, John McCain was selected by 7%. Sarah Palin and Mitch McConnell each received 4%. Interestingly, Democrats (25%) and Independents (27%) both see Chris Christie as the leader of the GOP.

If Cruz runs for president in 2016, he will be a weak general election candidate. As this poll demonstrates, non-Republicans would like to see a moderate, or at least moderate sounding person at the top of the GOP ticket. However,the presence of Ted Cruz in the primary contest will force all of the Republican presidential candidates to the right. The changes that the RNC are considering making to the primary structure could also help a candidate like Cruz. The RNC wants fewer debates, but fewer debates would give a candidate like Christie less of a chance to win over the far right base that loves Sen. Cruz.

The one clear point being made by Republicans in this poll is that they don’t care about winning. The party’s rank and file want the White House back, but they want it if it comes with a president who passes their ideological purity test. Chtistie will never be ideologically pure enough for them.

Instead of trying to rebuild their party, Republicans want Ted Cruz to burn it down.

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Germany, France, Spain carry out mass online and phone surveillance in collaboration with Britain: Snowden files

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 2, 2013 9:46 EST

Spy agencies in Germany, France, Spain and Sweden are carrying out mass surveillance of online and phone traffic in collaboration with Britain, according to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the Guardian newspaper reported Saturday.

Britain’s GCHQ electronic eavesdropping centre — which has a close relationship with the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) — has taken a leading role in helping the other countries work around laws intended to limit spying, the British newspaper said.

The report is likely to prove embarrassing for governments including those of Germany and Spain, which had denounced earlier reports that the NSA was electronically spying on their citizens.

Saturday’s report said the intelligence services of the European countries, in a “loose but growing” alliance, carried out surveillance through directly tapping fibre-optic cables and through secret relationships with communications companies.

The newspaper has previously reported that GCHQ taps transatlantic fibre-optic cables.

On Saturday it quoted a 2008 country-by-country survey by GCHQ of its European partners, plus a later report by the British agency on efforts to crack commercial online encryption, both of which it said were among documents leaked by Snowden from the NSA.

In the survey, GCHQ said that Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) was tapping fibre-optic cables and had “huge technological potential and good access to the heart of the internet”, while British spies were helping the Germans to change or bypass laws restricting their ability to intercept communications.

Spain’s National Intelligence Centre (CNI) assisted through a relationship with an unnamed British communications firm, it said.

France, Germany and Spain have reacted angrily to reports of US electronic spying, with Chancellor Angela Merkel confronting US President Barack Obama over reports that the NSA had monitored her phone for several years.

Spain summoned the US ambassador last month to condemn American eavesdropping on its citizens’ phone calls, after the newspaper El Mundo published a document purportedly showing that US security services tracked 60.5 million Spanish calls in one month.

But American officials retaliated by saying that European spy agencies shared phone call records with US intelligence, and media reports in Europe had misinterpreted the Snowden documents.

According to Saturday’s report, France’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) collaborated with GCHQ on breaking online encryption and secured useful information from an unnamed telecoms company.

Sweden won praise from the British for passing a law in 2008 allowing tapping of fibre-optic cables and planned to work closely with them on carrying out the operations, the report said.

Documents leaked by Snowden, a former contractor at the NSA who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, have caused a growing row over the United States’ vast surveillance network.


November 2, 2013

No Morsel Too Minuscule for All-Consuming N.S.A.


When Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, sat down with President Obama at the White House in April to discuss Syrian chemical weapons, Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and climate change, it was a cordial, routine exchange.

The National Security Agency nonetheless went to work in advance and intercepted Mr. Ban’s talking points for the meeting, a feat the agency later reported as an “operational highlight” in a weekly internal brag sheet. It is hard to imagine what edge this could have given Mr. Obama in a friendly chat, if he even saw the N.S.A.’s modest scoop. (The White House won’t say.)

But it was emblematic of an agency that for decades has operated on the principle that any eavesdropping that can be done on a foreign target of any conceivable interest — now or in the future — should be done. After all, American intelligence officials reasoned, who’s going to find out?

From thousands of classified documents, the National Security Agency emerges as an electronic omnivore of staggering capabilities, eavesdropping and hacking its way around the world to strip governments and other targets of their secrets, all the while enforcing the utmost secrecy about its own operations. It spies routinely on friends as well as foes, as has become obvious in recent weeks; the agency’s official mission list includes using its surveillance powers to achieve “diplomatic advantage” over such allies as France and Germany and “economic advantage” over Japan and Brazil, among other countries.

Mr. Obama found himself in September standing uncomfortably beside the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, who was furious at being named as a target of N.S.A. eavesdropping. Since then, there has been a parade of such protests, from the European Union, Mexico, France, Germany and Spain. Chagrined American officials joke that soon there will be complaints from foreign leaders feeling slighted because the agency had not targeted them.

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, has repeatedly dismissed such objections as brazen hypocrisy from countries that do their own share of spying. But in a recent interview, he acknowledged that the scale of eavesdropping by the N.S.A., with 35,000 workers and $10.8 billion a year, sets it apart. “There’s no question that from a capability standpoint we probably dwarf everybody on the planet, just about, with perhaps the exception of Russia and China,” he said.

Since Edward J. Snowden began releasing the agency’s documents in June, the unrelenting stream of disclosures has opened the most extended debate on the agency’s mission since its creation in 1952. The scrutiny has ignited a crisis of purpose and legitimacy for the N.S.A., the nation’s largest intelligence agency, and the White House has ordered a review of both its domestic and its foreign intelligence collection. While much of the focus has been on whether the agency violates Americans’ privacy, an issue under examination by Congress and two review panels, the anger expressed around the world about American surveillance has prompted far broader questions.

If secrecy can no longer be taken for granted, when does the political risk of eavesdropping overseas outweigh its intelligence benefits? Should foreign citizens, many of whom now rely on American companies for email and Internet services, have any privacy protections from the N.S.A.? Will the American Internet giants’ collaboration with the agency, voluntary or otherwise, damage them in international markets? And are the agency’s clandestine efforts to weaken encryption making the Internet less secure for everyone?

Matthew M. Aid, an intelligence historian and author of a 2009 book on the N.S.A., said there is no precedent for the hostile questions coming at the agency from all directions.

“From N.S.A.’s point of view, it’s a disaster,” Mr. Aid said. “Every new disclosure reinforces the notion that the agency needs to be reined in. There are political consequences, and there will be operational consequences.”

A review of classified agency documents obtained by Mr. Snowden and shared with The New York Times by The Guardian, offers a rich sampling of the agency’s global operations and culture. (At the agency’s request, The Times is withholding some details that officials said could compromise intelligence operations.) The N.S.A. seems to be listening everywhere in the world, gathering every stray electron that might add, however minutely, to the United States government’s knowledge of the world. To some Americans, that may be a comfort. To others, and to people overseas, that may suggest an agency out of control.

The C.I.A. dispatches undercover officers overseas to gather intelligence today roughly the same way spies operated in biblical times. But the N.S.A., born when the long-distance call was a bit exotic, has seen its potential targets explode in number with the advent of personal computers, the Internet and cellphones. Today’s N.S.A. is the Amazon of intelligence agencies, as different from the 1950s agency as that online behemoth is from a mom-and-pop bookstore. It sucks the contents from fiber-optic cables, sits on telephone switches and Internet hubs, digitally burglarizes laptops and plants bugs on smartphones around the globe.

Mr. Obama and top intelligence officials have defended the agency’s role in preventing terrorist attacks. But as the documents make clear, the focus on counterterrorism is a misleadingly narrow sales pitch for an agency with an almost unlimited agenda. Its scale and aggressiveness are breathtaking.

The agency’s Dishfire database — nothing happens without a code word at the N.S.A. — stores years of text messages from around the world, just in case. Its Tracfin collection accumulates gigabytes of credit card purchases. The fellow pretending to send a text message at an Internet cafe in Jordan may be using an N.S.A. technique code-named Polarbreeze to tap into nearby computers. The Russian businessman who is socially active on the web might just become food for Snacks, the acronym-mad agency’s Social Network Analysis Collaboration Knowledge Services, which figures out the personnel hierarchies of organizations from texts.

The spy agency’s station in Texas intercepted 478 emails while helping to foil a jihadist plot to kill a Swedish artist who had drawn pictures of the Prophet Muhammad. N.S.A. analysts delivered to authorities at Kennedy International Airport the names and flight numbers of workers dispatched by a Chinese human smuggling ring.

The agency’s eavesdropping gear, aboard a Defense Department plane flying 60,000 feet over Colombia, fed the location and plans of FARC rebels to the Colombian Army. In the Orlandocard operation, N.S.A. technicians set up what they called a “honeypot” computer on the web that attracted visits from 77,413 foreign computers and planted spyware on more than 1,000 that the agency deemed of potential future interest.

The Global Phone Book

No investment seems too great if it adds to the agency’s global phone book. After mounting a major eavesdropping effort focused on a climate change conference in Bali in 2007, agency analysts stationed in Australia’s outback were especially thrilled by one catch: the cellphone number of Bali’s police chief.

“Our mission,” says the agency’s current five-year plan, which has not been officially scheduled for declassification until 2032, “is to answer questions about threatening activities that others mean to keep hidden.”

The aspirations are grandiose: to “utterly master” foreign intelligence carried on communications networks. The language is corporate: “Our business processes need to promote data-driven decision-making.” But the tone is also strikingly moralistic for a government bureaucracy. Perhaps to counter any notion that eavesdropping is a shady enterprise, signals intelligence, or Sigint, the term of art for electronic intercepts, is presented as the noblest of callings.

“Sigint professionals must hold the moral high ground, even as terrorists or dictators seek to exploit our freedoms,” the plan declares. “Some of our adversaries will say or do anything to advance their cause; we will not.”

The N.S.A. documents taken by Mr. Snowden and shared with The Times, numbering in the thousands and mostly dating from 2007 to 2012, are part of a collection of about 50,000 items that focus mainly on its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters or G.C.H.Q.

While far from comprehensive, the documents give a sense of the agency’s reach and abilities, from the Navy ships snapping up radio transmissions as they cruise off the coast of China, to the satellite dishes at Fort Meade in Maryland ingesting worldwide banking transactions, to the rooftops of 80 American embassies and consulates around the world from which the agency’s Special Collection Service aims its antennas.

The agency and its many defenders among senior government officials who have relied on its top secret reports say it is crucial to American security and status in the world, pointing to terrorist plots disrupted, nuclear proliferation tracked and diplomats kept informed.

But the documents released by Mr. Snowden sometimes also seem to underscore the limits of what even the most intensive intelligence collection can achieve by itself. Blanket N.S.A. eavesdropping in Afghanistan, described in the documents as covering government offices and the hide-outs of second-tier Taliban militants alike, has failed to produce a clear victory against a low-tech enemy. The agency kept track as Syria amassed its arsenal of chemical weapons — but that knowledge did nothing to prevent the gruesome slaughter outside Damascus in August.

The documents are skewed toward celebration of the agency’s self-described successes, as underlings brag in PowerPoints to their bosses about their triumphs and the managers lay out grand plans. But they do not entirely omit the agency’s flubs and foibles: flood tides of intelligence gathered at huge cost that goes unexamined; intercepts that cannot be read for lack of language skills; and computers that — even at the N.S.A. — go haywire in all the usual ways.

Mapping Message Trails

In May 2009, analysts at the agency learned that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was to make a rare trip to Kurdistan Province in the country’s mountainous northwest. The agency immediately organized a high-tech espionage mission, part of a continuing project focused on Ayatollah Khamenei called Operation Dreadnought.

Working closely with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which handles satellite photography, as well as G.C.H.Q., the N.S.A. team studied the Iranian leader’s entourage, its vehicles and its weaponry from satellites, and intercepted air traffic messages as planes and helicopters took off and landed.

They heard Ayatollah Khamenei’s aides fretting about finding a crane to load an ambulance and fire truck onto trucks for the journey. They listened as he addressed a crowd, segregated by gender, in a soccer field.

They studied Iranian air defense radar stations and recorded the travelers’ rich communications trail, including Iranian satellite coordinates collected by an N.S.A. program called Ghosthunter. The point was not so much to catch the Iranian leader’s words, but to gather the data for blanket eavesdropping on Iran in the event of a crisis.

This “communications fingerprinting,” as a document called it, is the key to what the N.S.A. does. It allows the agency’s computers to scan the stream of international communications and pluck out messages tied to the supreme leader. In a crisis — say, a showdown over Iran’s nuclear program — the ability to tap into the communications of leaders, generals and scientists might give a crucial advantage.

On a more modest scale, the same kind of effort, what N.S.A. calls “Sigint development,” was captured in a document the agency obtained in 2009 from Somalia — whether from a human source or an electronic break-in was not noted. It contained email addresses and other contact details for 117 selected customers of a Mogadishu Internet service, Globalsom.

While most on the list were Somali officials or citizens, presumably including some suspected of militancy, the document also included emails for a United Nations political officer in Mogadishu and a local representative for the charity World Vision, among other international institutions. All, it appeared, were considered fair game for monitoring.

This huge investment in collection is driven by pressure from the agency’s “customers,” in government jargon, not only at the White House, Pentagon, F.B.I. and C.I.A., but also spread across the Departments of State and Energy, Homeland Security and Commerce, and the United States Trade Representative.

By many accounts, the agency provides more than half of the intelligence nuggets delivered to the White House early each morning in the President’s Daily Brief — a measure of success for American spies. (One document boasts that listening in on Nigerian State Security had provided items for the briefing “nearly two dozen” times.) In every international crisis, American policy makers look to the N.S.A. for inside information.

Pressure to Get Everything

That creates intense pressure not to miss anything. When that is combined with an ample budget and near-invisibility to the public, the result is aggressive surveillance of the kind that has sometimes gotten the agency in trouble with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a United States federal court that polices its programs for breaches of Americans’ privacy.

In the funding boom that followed the Sept. 11 attacks, the agency expanded and decentralized far beyond its Fort Meade headquarters in Maryland, building or expanding major facilities in Georgia, Texas, Colorado, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington State and Utah. Its officers also operate out of major overseas stations in England, Australia, South Korea and Japan, at overseas military bases, and from locked rooms housing the Special Collection Service inside American missions abroad.

The agency, using a combination of jawboning, stealth and legal force, has turned the nation’s Internet and telecommunications companies into collection partners, installing filters in their facilities, serving them with court orders, building back doors into their software and acquiring keys to break their encryption.

But even that vast American-run web is only part of the story. For decades, the N.S.A. has shared eavesdropping duties with the rest of the so-called Five Eyes, the Sigint agencies of Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. More limited cooperation occurs with many more countries, including formal arrangements called Nine Eyes and 14 Eyes and Nacsi, an alliance of the agencies of 26 NATO countries.

The extent of Sigint sharing can be surprising: “N.S.A. may pursue a relationship with Vietnam,” one 2009 G.C.H.Q. document reported. But a recent G.C.H.Q. training document suggests that not everything is shared, even between the United States and Britain. “Economic well-being reporting,” it says, referring to intelligence gathered to aid the British economy, “cannot be shared with any foreign partner.”

As at the school lunch table, decisions on who gets left out can cause hurt feelings: “Germans were a little grumpy at not being invited to join the 9-Eyes group,” one 2009 document remarks. And in a delicate spy-versus-spy dance, sharing takes place even with governments that are themselves important N.S.A. targets, notably Israel.

The documents describe collaboration with the Israel Sigint National Unit, which gets raw N.S.A. eavesdropping material and provides it in return, but they also mention the agency’s tracking of “high priority Israeli military targets,” including drone aircraft and the Black Sparrow missile system.

The alliances, and the need for stealth, can get complicated. At one highly valued overseas listening post, the very presence of American N.S.A. personnel violates a treaty agreed to by the agency’s foreign host. Even though much of the eavesdropping is run remotely from N.S.A.’s base at Fort Gordon, Ga., Americans who visit the site must pose as contractors, carry fake business cards and are warned: “Don’t dress as typical Americans."

“Know your cover legend,” a PowerPoint security briefing admonishes the N.S.A. staff members headed to the overseas station, directing them to “sanitize personal effects,” send no postcards home and buy no identifiably local souvenirs. (“An option might be jewelry. Most jewelry does not have any markings” showing its place of origin.)

Bypassing Security

In the agency’s early years, its brainy staff members — it remains the largest employer of mathematicians in the country — played an important role in the development of the first computers, then largely a tool for code breaking.

Today, with personal computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones in most homes and government offices in the developed world, hacking has become the agency’s growth area.

Some of Mr. Snowden’s documents describe the exploits of Tailored Access Operations, the prim name for the N.S.A. division that breaks into computers around the world to steal the data inside, and sometimes to leave spy software behind. T.A.O. is increasingly important in part because it allows the agency to bypass encryption by capturing messages as they are written or read, when they are not encoded.

In Baghdad, T.A.O. collected messages left in draft form in email accounts maintained by leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant group. Under a program called Spinaltap, the division’s hackers identified 24 unique Internet Protocol addresses identifying computers used by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, making it possible to snatch Hezbollah messages from the flood of global communications sifted by the agency.

The N.S.A.’s elite Transgression Branch, created in 2009 to “discover, understand, evaluate and exploit” foreign hackers’ work, quietly piggybacks on others’ incursions into computers of interest, like thieves who follow other housebreakers around and go through the windows they have left ajar.

In one 2010 hacking operation code-named Ironavenger, for instance, the N.S.A. spied simultaneously on an ally and an adversary. Analysts spotted suspicious emails being sent to a government office of great intelligence interest in a hostile country and realized that an American ally was “spear-phishing” — sending official-looking emails that, when opened, planted malware that let hackers inside.

The Americans silently followed the foreign hackers, collecting documents and passwords from computers in the hostile country, an elusive target. They got a look inside that government and simultaneously got a close-up look at the ally’s cyberskills, the kind of intelligence twofer that is the unit’s specialty.

In many other ways, advances in computer and communications technology have been a boon for the agency. N.S.A. analysts tracked the electronic trail left by a top leader of Al Qaeda in Africa each time he stopped to use a computer on his travels. They correctly predicted his next stop, and the police were there to arrest him.

And at the big N.S.A. station at Fort Gordon, technicians developed an automated service called “Where’s My Node?” that sent an email to an analyst every time a target overseas moved from one cell tower to another. Without lifting a finger, an analyst could follow his quarry’s every move.

The Limits of Spying

The techniques described in the Snowden documents can make the N.S.A. seem omniscient, and nowhere in the world is that impression stronger than in Afghanistan. But the agency’s capabilities at the tactical level have not been nearly enough to produce clear-cut strategic success there, in the United States’ longest war.

A single daily report from June 2011 from the N.S.A.’s station in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the heart of Taliban country, illustrates the intensity of eavesdropping coverage, requiring 15 pages to describe a day’s work.

The agency listened while insurgents from the Haqqani network mounted an attack on the Hotel Intercontinental in Kabul, overhearing the attackers talking to their bosses in Pakistan’s tribal area and recording events minute by minute. “Ruhullah claimed he was on the third floor and had already inflicted one casualty,” the report said in a typical entry. “He also indicated that Hafiz was located on a different floor.”

N.S.A. officers listened as two Afghan Foreign Ministry officials prepared for a meeting between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Iranian officials, assuring them that relations with the United States “would in no way threaten the interests of Iran,” which they decided Mr. Karzai should describe as a “brotherly country.”

The N.S.A. eavesdropped as the top United Nations official in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, consulted his European Union counterpart, Vygaudas Usackas, about how to respond to an Afghan court’s decision to overturn the election of 62 members of Parliament.

And the agency was a fly on the wall for a long-running land dispute between the mayor of Kandahar and a prominent local man known as the Keeper of the Cloak of the Prophet Muhammad, with President Karzai’s late brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, as a mediator.

The agency discovered a Taliban claim to have killed five police officers at a checkpoint by giving them poisoned yogurt, and heard a provincial governor tell an aide that a district police chief was verbally abusing women and clergymen.

A Taliban figure, Mullah Rahimullah Akhund, known on the United States military’s kill-or-capture list by the code name Objective Squiz Incinerator, was overheard instructing an associate to buy suicide vests and a Japanese motorbike, according to the documents.

And N.S.A. listened in as a Saudi extremist, Abu Mughira, called his mother to report that he and his fellow fighters had entered Afghanistan and “done victorious operations.”

Such reports flowed from the agency’s Kandahar station day after day, year after year, and surely strengthened the American campaign against the Taliban. But they also suggest the limits of intelligence against a complex political and military challenge. The N.S.A. recorded the hotel attack, but it had not prevented it. It tracked Mr. Karzai’s government, but he remained a difficult and volatile partner. Its surveillance was crucial in the capture or killing of many enemy fighters, but not nearly enough to remove the Taliban’s ominous shadow from Afghanistan’s future.

Mining All the Tidbits

In the Afghan reports and many others, a striking paradox is the odd intimacy of a sprawling, technology-driven agency with its targets. It is the one-way intimacy of the eavesdropper, as N.S.A. employees virtually enter the office cubicles of obscure government officials and the Spartan hide-outs of drug traffickers and militants around the world.

Venezuela, for instance, was one of six “enduring targets” in N.S.A.’s official mission list from 2007, along with China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Russia. The United States viewed itself in a contest for influence in Latin America with Venezuela’s leader then, the leftist firebrand Hugo Chávez, who allied himself with Cuba, and one agency goal was “preventing Venezuela from achieving its regional leadership objectives and pursuing policies that negatively impact U.S. global interests.”

A glimpse of what this meant in practice comes in a brief PowerPoint presentation from August 2010 on “Development of the Venezuelan Economic Mission.” The N.S.A. was tracking billions of dollars flowing to Caracas in loans from China (radar systems and oil drilling), Russia (MIG fighter planes and shoulder-fired missiles) and Iran (a factory to manufacture drone aircraft).

But it was also getting up-close and personal with Venezuela’s Ministry of Planning and Finance, monitoring the government and personal emails of the top 10 Venezuelan economic officials. An N.S.A. officer in Texas, in other words, was paid each day to peruse the private messages of obscure Venezuelan bureaucrats, hunting for tidbits that might offer some tiny policy edge.

In a counterdrug operation in late 2011, the agency’s officers seemed to know more about relations within a sprawling narcotics network than the drug dealers themselves. They listened to “Ricketts,” a Jamaican drug supplier based in Ecuador, struggling to keep his cocaine and marijuana smuggling business going after an associate, “Gordo,” claimed he had paid $250,000 and received nothing in return.

The N.S.A., a report said, was on top of not just their cellphones, but also those of the whole network of “buyers, transporters, suppliers, and middlemen” stretching from the Netherlands and Nova Scotia to Panama City and Bogotá, Colombia. The documents do not say whether arrests resulted from all that eavesdropping.

Even with terrorists, N.S.A. units can form a strangely personal relationship. The N.S.A.-G.C.H.Q. wiki, a top secret group blog that Mr. Snowden downloaded, lists 14 specialists scattered in various stations assigned to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani terrorist group that carried out the bloody attack on Mumbai in 2008, with titles including “Pakistan Access Pursuit Team” and “Techniques Discovery Branch.” Under the code name Treaclebeta, N.S.A.’s hackers at Tailored Access Operations also played a role.

In the wiki’s casual atmosphere, American and British eavesdroppers exchange the peculiar shoptalk of the secret world. “I don’t normally use Heretic to scan the fax traffic, I use Nucleon,” one user writes, describing technical tools for searching intercepted documents.

But most striking are the one-on-one pairings of spies and militants; Bryan is assigned to listen in on a man named Haroon, and Paul keeps an ear on Fazl.

A Flood of Details

One N.S.A. officer on the Lashkar-e-Taiba beat let slip that some of his eavesdropping turned out to be largely pointless, perhaps because of the agency’s chronic shortage of skilled linguists. He “ran some queries” to read intercepted communications of certain Lashkar-e-Taiba members, he wrote in the wiki, but added: “Most of it is in Arabic or Farsi, so I can’t make much of it.”

It is a glimpse of the unsurprising fact that sometimes the agency’s expensive and expansive efforts accomplish little. Despite the agency’s embrace of corporate jargon on goal-setting and evaluation, it operates without public oversight in an arena in which achievements are hard to measure.

In a world of ballooning communications, the agency is sometimes simply overwhelmed. In 2008, the N.S.A.’s Middle East and North Africa group set about updating its Sigint collection capabilities. The “ambitious scrub” of selectors — essentially search terms — cut the number of terms automatically searched from 21,177 to 7,795 and the number of messages added to the agency’s Pinwale database from 850,000 a day to 450,000 a day.

The reduction in volume was treated as a major achievement, opening the way for new collection on Iranian leadership and Saudi and Syrian diplomats, the report said.

And in a note that may comfort computer novices, the N.S.A. Middle East analysts discovered major glitches in their search software: The computer was searching for the names of targets but not their email addresses, a rather fundamental flaw. “Over 500 messages in one week did not come in,” the report said about one target.

Those are daily course corrections. Whether the Snowden disclosures will result in deeper change is uncertain. Joel F. Brenner, the agency’s former inspector general, says much of the criticism is unfair, reflecting a naïveté about the realpolitik of spying. “The agency is being browbeaten for doing too well the things it’s supposed to do,” he said.

But Mr. Brenner added that he believes “technology has outrun policy” at the N.S.A., and that in an era in which spying may well be exposed, “routine targeting of close allies is bad politics and is foolish.”

Another former insider worries less about foreign leaders’ sensitivities than the potential danger the sprawling agency poses at home. William E. Binney, a former senior N.S.A. official who has become an outspoken critic, says he has no problem with spying on foreign targets like Brazil’s president or the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. “That’s pretty much what every government does,” he said. “It’s the foundation of diplomacy.” But Mr. Binney said that without new leadership, new laws and top-to-bottom reform, the agency will represent a threat of “turnkey totalitarianism” — the capability to turn its awesome power, now directed mainly against other countries, on the American public.

“I think it’s already starting to happen,” he said. “That’s what we have to stop.”

Whatever reforms may come, Bobby R. Inman, who weathered his own turbulent period as N.S.A. director from 1977 to 1981, offers his hyper-secret former agency a radical suggestion for right now. “My advice would be to take everything you think Snowden has and get it out yourself,” he said. “It would certainly be a shock to the agency. But bad news doesn’t get better with age. The sooner they get it out and put it behind them, the faster they can begin to rebuild.”


Snowden document reveals key role of Yahoo, Microsoft and Google in NSA data collection

By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian
Saturday, November 2, 2013 9:32 EST

File shows number of intelligence reports being generated from data collected from the likes of Yahoo, Microsoft and Google

The key role US telecoms and internet companies play in National Security Agency surveillance programs is detailed in a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden and published for the first time on Friday.

One slide in the undated PowerPoint presentation, published as part of the Guardian’s NSA Files: Decoded project, illustrates the number of intelligence reports being generated from data collected from the companies.

In the five weeks from June 5 2010, the period covered by the document, data from Yahoo generated by far the most reports, followed by Microsoft and then Google.

Between them, the three companies accounted for more than 2,000 reports in that period – all but a tiny fraction of the total produced under one of the NSA’s main foreign intelligence authorities, the Fisa Amendents Act (FAA).

It is unclear how the information in the NSA slide relates to the companies’ own transparency reports, which document the number of requests for information received from authorities around the world.

Yahoo, Microsoft and Google deny they co-operate voluntarily with the intelligence agencies, and say they hand over data only after being forced to do so when served with warrants. The NSA told the Guardian that the companies’ co-operation was “legally compelled”.

But this week the Washington Post reported that the NSA and its UK equivalent GCHQ has been secretly intercepting the main communication links carrying Google and Yahoo users’ data around the world, and could collect information “at will” from among hundreds of millions of user accounts.

The NSA’s ability to collect vast quantities of data from the fibre-optic cables relies on relationships with the telecoms companies, the document published on Friday shows.

The presentation, titled “Corporate Partner Access” was prepared by the agency’s Special Source Operations division, which is responsible for running those programs.

In an opening section that deals primarily with the telecom companies, the SSO baldly sets out its mission: “Leverage unique key corporate partnerships to gain access to high-capacity international fiber-optic cables, switches and/or routes throughout the world.”

The NSA is helped by the fact that much of the world’s communications traffic passes through the US or its close ally the UK – what the agencies refer to as “home-field advantage”.

The new revelations come at a time of increasing strain in relations between the intelligence community and the private sector. Google and Yahoo reacted angrily on Wednesday to the Washington Post’s report on the interception of their data.

The Guardian approached all three companies for comment on the latest document.

“This points out once again the need for greater transparency,” a Google spokesman said.

He referred to a letter the company and other Silicon Valley giants sent to the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday. “The volume and complexity of the information that has been disclosed in recent months has created significant confusion here and around the world, making it more difficult to identify appropriate policy prescriptions,” the letter said.

A Microsoft spokesperson said: “We are deeply disturbed by these allegations, and if true they represent a significant breach of trust by the US and UK governments. It is clear that there need to be serious reforms to better protect customer privacy.”

Yahoo had not responded by the time of publication.

The companies are also fighting through the courts to be allowed to release more detailed figures for the number of data requests they handle from US intelligence agencies. Along with AOL, Apple and Facebook, they wrote to the Senate judiciary committee this week calling for greater transparency and “substantial” reform of the NSA.

Google, the first to publish a transparency report, has reported US authorities’ requests for user data increased by 85% between 2010 and 2012 (from 8,888 in 2010 to 16,407 in 2012). But the vast majority of those are requests from local law enforcement looking for information about potential drug traffickers, fraudsters and other domestic criminal activity.

Legally compelled NSA request relating to foreign terrorist targets, which none of the firms are allowed to disclose, are thought to represent a tiny fraction of the overall figure.

While the internet companies are listed by name in the NSA document, the telecoms companies are hidden behind covernames.

The names of these “corporate partners” are so sensitive that they are classified as “ECI” – Exceptionally Controlled Information – a higher classification level than the Snowden documents cover. Artifice, Lithium and Serenade are listed in other documents as covernames for SSO corporate partners, while Steelknight is described as an NSA partner facility.

In a statement defending its surveillance programs, the NSA said: “What NSA does is collect the communications of targets of foreign intelligence value, irrespective of the provider that carries them. US service provider communications make use of the same information superhighways as a variety of other commercial service providers.

“NSA must understand and take that into account in order to eliminate information that is not related to foreign intelligence.

“NSA works with a number of partners and allies in meeting its foreign-intelligence mission goals, and in every case those operations comply with US law and with the applicable laws under which those partners and allies operate.” © Guardian News and Media 2013

China, Indonesia and Malaysia have demanded explanations this week over reports that data was being collected for the Americans via Australian embassies.

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« Reply #9727 on: Nov 03, 2013, 06:15 AM »


Protest in Russia: an activity only for the brave and foolhardy

As anti-corruption protesters look set to join Pussy Riot and Greenpeace activists stuck in cells, Muscovites are growing more fearful

Shaun Walker in Moscow
The Observer, Sunday 3 November 2013   

Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, in a courthouse nestled amid high-rise apartment blocks in south-west Moscow, nine men are marched into a room in handcuffs and placed in metal cages. They are joined by three others who are also on trial but under house arrest or on bail, two dozen lawyers, several armed policemen with a growling alsatian and an irritable, fatigued judge.

This is the biggest of the "Bolotnaya" trials – court processes against 28 people who were arrested in the aftermath of a rally on Bolotnaya Square on 6 May 2012. It was the day before Pig  Putin was inaugurated for a new presidential term, and the crowds chanted slogans demanding new elections and a less corrupt government. A year-and- a-half later, the protest movement has been extinguished, though it lingers in the consciousness of Moscow's middle classes, and Putin has embarked on a more socially conservative path to consolidate his support in the heartlands.

The arrests were a warning that Putin would not tolerate the huge protests that preceded his re-election and heralded a crackdown. Among those protesting was charismatic opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was later put on trial in the city of Kirov on embezzlement charges that few found persuasive.

The Bolotnaya arrests were alarming mainly because of their randomness. They were a sign to iPad-toting young Muscovites that protesting was not without consequences. In a way, any of the thousands who protested that day could have ended up in the metal cage. Those on trial are mainly accused of resisting or assaulting police, but although there was isolated violence at the rally there is little to suggest most of those on trial were involved, and police who come to court to testify remember little. At one point on Thursday, one of the defendants asks questions of the policeman on the witness stand, from inside the cage. Vladimir Akimenkov, 26, faces a possible eight-year sentence on charges of throwing a flagpole at a policeman, though the only evidence is oral testimony from one officer. He is losing his sight from a serious eye condition, which is progressing in jail, but the judge refuses to bail him for treatment.

His inquiries on Thursday have little to do with the accusations; instead he asks the police officer on the stand if he has any moral conscience.

"Do you think whatever is good for Gazprom is good for Russia?"

"The question is removed from the record," says the judge.

"Do you follow every single order you are given? If ordered to shoot into a crowd of protesters, would you do so?"

"The question is removed from the record," says the judge.

And so it continues, interminably. The prosecution alone has hundreds of witnesses to call, most of them police. Getting through the first 40 has taken months, partly because there are two dozen lawyers, all asking questions, two-thirds of which are struck off the record. At this pace the case will take two years, says lawyer Sergei Badamshin.

Mikhail Kosenko, another one of those accused, was deemed mentally ill and tried separately. Last month he was confined to indefinite forced psychiatric treatment by a judge, despite never having committed a crime or having violent episodes prior to his arrest. Many of the others are simply sitting in pre-trial detention, for over a year already, with no sign of a trial even starting.

Maria Baronova, 29, is one of the 12 on trial, although she is not kept in jail but is allowed to live at home on the condition she does not leave Moscow. She says the trial – and the lack of interest in it from those who once formed the protest movement – shows that the waves of anti-Pig Putin discontent are over.

"It's finished. We lost. That's it. There is no hope," she says. "You can try to help people get out of jail. You can go back to your jobs and try to forget about it. But the fact remains we lost, and nothing is going to change here."

"The sense that protests are cool and something that is fun to be part of has of course gone," says Maria Lipman, of the Moscow Carnegie Centre. She said the arrest of the Bolotnaya 28 has had a devastating impact on the protest mood.

The memory of the protests still remains, however. In the minds of the urban elite, and in the towers of the Kremlin, there is an understanding that the young, progressive class has deserted Pig Putin, in spirit if not in body. This has led to the third-term Pig promoting a less inclusive political agenda and taking a sharp shift towards social conservatism.

"The Pig has abandoned his claim to be the leader of all the Russians; now he is the leader of Pig Putin's Russians," says Lipman. "And there are increasing numbers of people who have become 'bad' and 'unpatriotic' Russians, whether it be liberals, gays or blasphemers."

A new law that criminalises "homosexual propaganda" was passed this summer, while NGOsnon-governmental groups which receive money from abroad must register themselves as "foreign agents". State television whips up hysteria about the nefarious influence of the US state department, and Pig Putin has positioned Russia as the last bastion of traditional values in Europe. The punk band Pussy Riot were thrown into prison for hooliganism, and acts like the Greenpeace protest against Arctic drilling are seen as an assault on Russia's sovereignty.

Despite the crackdown, there have been concessions to Moscow's protest-oriented middle class. Under mayor Sergei Sobyanin, life for professional Muscovites has become more liveable. Parks have been redeveloped, the local equivalent of "Boris bikes" were introduced this year, and pleasant cafes and restaurants are springing up. Nightlife is as vibrant as ever and now caters to a fashion-conscious youth obsessed with western trends. A major repaving programme has turned grimy dead zones into pleasant pedestrianised walkways almost overnight. More and more, Moscow is a nice place to live, not just for the super-rich but for the middle class too.

"The main paradox of living in Moscow today is that you can carve out a very New York or London-like existence here," says Michael Idov, editor of GQ Russia. "If you find these dots on the map and connect them and never stray from these routes, life is very comfortable. As long as you don't interact with the state in any way, shape or form."

What to do with the political aspirations of these young people remains a dilemma. There was outrage when Navalny was tried and sentenced to five years. Next day, when the prosecutor launched an unprecedented appeal for his release on bail, it was clear there had been a phone call from Moscow and that someone wanted him free for Moscow's mayoral elections in September. He gained 27% of the vote and his jail term was amended on appeal to a suspended sentence.

But last week new corruption charges were brought against Navalny and his brother, which could mean 10 years in jail. It seems the debate over whether Navalny is more dangerous in or out of jail is still raging.

"The Kremlin is not a cohesive group of like-minded policy makers," says Lipman. "There is always a debate going on about whether softer or harder approaches are best."

Putin is stuck with the classic dilemma of the soft autocrat. Does he allow a controlled liberalisation, with the possibility that he could lose control of the process, or does he crack down? After all, it was exactly the better-off segment of Muscovites, who had enjoyed increasing salaries and exposure to the west, who formed the core of the protest movement that sprang up so unexpectedly two years ago.

To make sure those demands do not become too loud, the Bolotnaya case rumbles on, with its protagonists trying to engage with the absurdity of proceedings, but being struck down repeatedly by the judge, Natalia Nikishina.

Baronova says that people regularly tell her to flee abroad, but she feels a duty to see through the court case. Nevertheless, the process is so byzantine, and its logic so frustrating, that she feels her grasp of reality slipping away.

"It's like Kafka's Castle," she says. "Engaging with the Castle is pointless. Trying to talk to the Castle is pointless. All it will do is send you mad. The whole process is designed to send you completely insane. That's far scarier than a possible prison sentence."


October 30, 2013, 8:00 pm

In Russia, Conflating Journalism and ‘Hooliganism’


MOSCOW — “It was just a usual business trip for him,” Alina Zhiganova said, describing how her husband, the photographer Denis Sinyakov, set out in September to document Greenpeace International’s voyage to protest oil exploration in the fragile environment of the Arctic Ocean. He delayed his departure to be present for the third birthday of their son, Vasily, and planned to return in time for his own birthday on Oct. 16. They planned to celebrate it in Paris.

Mr. Sinyakov instead spent his 36th birthday in a detention center in the far northern city of Murmansk. He and 29 crew members and activists now face criminal charges after Greenpeace’s ship, the Arctic Sunrise, mounted a high-seas operation to hoist a banner on the first offshore oil platform — of many to come — that Russia has erected in the Arctic.

“I thought the danger for him was always that something could happen to him — that he could lose an arm or a leg or something,” Ms. Zhiganova said in a cafe in Vidnoye, a small southern suburb of Moscow where they live. She recalled previous assignments that took him to wars in Lebanon and Georgia and with the Americans in Afghanistan, where in 2011 he embedded with a medevac regiment of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.

“My worries about his work were only that he stayed alive,” she said. “It never crossed my mind that they might put a journalist in jail.”

That he was a photojournalist who previously worked for Reuters and Agence France-Presse — his photographs appearing in publications around the world — appears to have mattered little to the Russian authorities in this case. Russia’s Investigative Committee has responded to the protest with an aggressive prosecution against all those aboard that is almost certainly intended to serve as a warning against future protests in a warming region that President Pig Putin has declared a strategic political, military and economic priority. This week Mr. Sinyakov’s lawyer appealed to the court to bring charges against security officials for depriving him of his right to work as a journalist, even as the editor website provided a letter saying he was accredited with the news agency.

Russia can be a hostile place for journalists, especially those attracted to the most compelling issues of the day, which of late have been the simmering tensions between Mr. Putin’s government and those seeking greater political freedoms. Mr. Sinyakov’s work often focused on Russia’s oppositionists — from the still-free members of the punk performers Pussy Riot to the bare-chested guerrilla protesters known as Femen, the retrial of the tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky in 2010 to the protests against election fraud and Pig Putin’s return as president in 2012. In the view of the authorities here, there is often little distinction between those covering dissent and those participating in it.

Mr. Sinyakov himself blurred the line. He left Reuters in 2012 to pursue independent projects, one of the first being Greenpeace’s similar protest at the same oil rig, located in the Pechora Sea near the island Novaya Zemlya. On his website, he titled the project “Offshore Warriors,” and echoed Greenpeace’s warnings that drilling in the Arctic could prove to be an environmental disaster for which the company that operates the rig, Gazprom, is woefully prepared.

Ms. Zhiganova said he had become deeply interested in the Arctic — including the indigenous Nenets of Russia’s northern Yamal Peninsula, whom he photographed for Reuters in 2011 — and had traveled there not only with Greenpeace but also with Gazprom’s oil subsidiary as recently as June. “There are two ways to get to the Arctic: you either go with Greenpeace or you go with Gazprom Neft,” she said.

In a letter posted on his website after his arrest, Mr. Sinyakov made it clear his convictions rested with Greenpeace, whose activists he described as “orders of magnitude more moral, more honest and brighter than our accusers.”

The fate of the Arctic Sunrise’s crew remains unclear. After initially charging them with piracy, prosecutors reduced the charges to hooliganism, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. Mr. Sinyakov and the others have been ordered held until at least Nov. 24, although the period of detention can be extended as long as 18 months while defendants await trial.

In the letter Mr. Sinyakov describes the seizure of the ship — one of the crew wrote in chalk on the deck, “Russian soldiers welcome onboard” — and the conditions of his cell, which he shares with two other Russian prisoners.

Like the others, he spends 23 hours a day there, allowed out only for an hour of exercise, court appearances, meetings with his lawyers and one last week with his wife. They spoke by telephone through a glass barrier, with a guard listening in. “When we saw each other, we put our hands up against the window and held them there until the glass became warm on both sides,” Ms. Zhiganova said. “We could only feel each other’s warmth like that, putting our hands up against the glass and holding there, because it was very cold.”

His cameras and computers have been confiscated as part of the investigation. Mr. Sinyakov wrote that he occupies his time drawing and reading, including a copy of the Criminal Code — “It’s a joy to read, but the only pity is nobody uses it,” he said — and, according to his wife, the famous novel depicting a man’s fate behind bars here, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”

Follow @DSinyakov, @slmmoscow and @nytimesphoto on Twitter. Lens is also on Facebook.


Pussy Riot band member sent to new prison

By The Guardian
Saturday, November 2, 2013 12:25 EST

The Russian prison service has announced that a member of the band Pussy Riot has been sent to a new penal colony, after her husband expressed fears that she had disappeared.

The Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s prison service as saying that Nadezhda Tolokonnikova had been moved after her husband, Pyotr Verzilov, complained that he no longer knew where she was.

Verzilov told the Buzzfeed website that he believed the decision to move his wife came from the authorities in Moscow: “They want to cut her off from the outside world”.

He said Tolokonnikova was still weak after two hunger strikes, and accused the authorities of trying to punish her because of her protests. He last knew her precise whereabouts on 21 October, when guards put her on a train to a different prison. She was seen on 24 October by a fellow passenger as the train arrived in the city of Chelyabinsk, in the Ural mountains.

The Federal Penitentiary Service said Tolokonnikova was being sent to a new prison and that in accordance with regulations her family would be informed within 10 days of arrival, Interfax said.

Tolokonnikova is serving two years following the band’s politically provocative performance in Moscow’s main Orthodox cathedral in 2012. She went on hunger strike to protest against prison conditions in September and was sent to hospital. The prison service said in mid-October that she would be moved to another prison.

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« Last Edit: Nov 03, 2013, 06:26 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #9728 on: Nov 03, 2013, 06:18 AM »

Metropolitan police detained David Miranda for promoting 'political' causes

Justification for airport detention of partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald alarms human rights groups and Tory MP

Jamie Doward   
The Observer, Saturday 2 November 2013 20.00 GMT   

The detention of the partner of a former Guardian journalist has triggered fresh concerns after it emerged that a key reason cited by police for holding him under terrorism powers was the belief that he was promoting a "political or ideological cause".

The revelation has alarmed leading human rights groups and a Tory MP, who said the justification appeared to be without foundation and threatened to have damaging consequences for investigative journalism.

David Miranda is the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who – often in collaboration with the Guardian – has broken many stories about the extent and scope of spying by the US National Security Agency. Miranda was stopped at Heathrow airport in August and held by the Metropolitan police for nine hours while on his way home to Brazil.

Miranda, it has been claimed, was carrying some 58,000 encrypted UK intelligence documents. He had spent a week in Berlin visiting a journalist, Laura Poitras, who has worked with Greenwald on many of his stories, which have been based on information leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Now documents referred to in court last week before a judicial review of Miranda's detention shine new light on the Metropolitan police's explanation for invoking terrorism powers – a decision critics have called draconian.

It became apparent during the court hearing that there were several drafts of the Port Circular Notice – the document used to request Miranda's detention under schedule 7 to the 2000 Terrorism Act – before the final version was submitted.

The draft that was finally used states: "Intelligence indicates that Miranda is likely to be involved in espionage activity which has the potential to act against the interests of UK national security. We therefore wish to establish the nature of Miranda's activity, assess the risk that Miranda poses to national security and mitigate as appropriate."

The notice then went on to explain why police officers believed that the terrorism act was appropriate.

"We assess that Miranda is knowingly carrying material, the release of which would endanger people's lives. Additionally the disclosure or threat of disclosure is designed to influence a government, and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism and as such we request that the subject is examined under schedule 7."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said the police assessment represented a "chilling" threat to democracy. "More and more we are shocked but not surprised," she said. "Breathtakingly broad anti-terror powers passed under the last government continue to be abused under the coalition that once trumpeted civil liberties.

"The express admission that politics motivated the detention of David Miranda should shame police and legislators alike. It's not just the schedule 7 detention power that needs urgent overhaul, but a definition of terrorism that should chill the blood of any democrat."

Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorship, which campaigns for free speech, said that the police's justification for Miranda's detention was "very dangerous" for investigative journalism. "The whole point of such journalism is to find stuff the government doesn't want raised," he said. "The message this gives off is 'don't find this sort of stuff, or you will be treated as a terrorist'."

Greenwald was equally scathing, tweeting: "UK govt beats its mighty chest, now explicitly equates journalism with 'terrorism' and 'espionage'."

The home secretary, Theresa May, has criticised the Guardian's decision to publish the Snowden leaks. May has said she agrees with the assessment of Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, that the newspaper had damaged Britain's national security. But Conservative MP Dominic Raab said: "The assertion that national security has been undermined has been bandied around wildly and not explained in any cogent way."

And he questioned the police's handling of the Miranda affair. "If he was behaving in such a nefarious way why wasn't he arrested, charged and bailed?" Raab said. "If he was guilty of putting national security at risk, then why did they let him go?"

Gwendolen Morgan of Bindmans, Miranda's solicitors, said this week's judicial review will focus on whether the use of schedule 7 was disproportionate and whether it was incompatible with the inalienable right to freedom of expression.

"We will argue that draconian counter-terrorism powers were used in our client's case for an improper purpose," Morgan said. "Not to determine whether our client could in any sense be considered a 'terrorist', but rather to retrieve potentially embarrassing journalistic material in his possession."

The impact of Snowden's leaks on national security is expected to be addressed this week when parliament's intelligence and security committee will question the heads of MI6, MI5 and GCHQ in public for the first time.

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« Reply #9729 on: Nov 03, 2013, 06:31 AM »

Pakistan on high alert after Taliban leader killed by US drone strike

Government says death of Hakimullah Mehsud has destroyed attempts to hold peace talks with Islamist militants

Conal Urquhart, and Jon Boone in Lahore, Saturday 2 November 2013 14.44 GMT   

Pakistan's security forces have been put on high alert after a CIA drone attack killed the leader of the country's Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, in the lawless tribal areas.

A Pakistani government minister said the strike by an unmanned aircraft on Friday had destroyed attempts to hold peace talks with the militants which began this week.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, said: "This is not just the killing of one person, it's the death of all peace efforts."

His sentiments were echoed by the former cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, who threatened to block lorries carrying supplies to Nato troops in Afghanistan unless the attacks stop. "Dialogue has been broken with this drone attack," said Khan.

Mehsud and five other Taliban militants were killed and two others were wounded in the attack after leaving a meeting at a mosque in the Dande Darpa Khel area of North Waziristan. The Pakistani Taliban have named Khan Sayed Sajna as their new leader after a secret meeting of their ruling council. He is described as lacking in formal education but with great military experience.

Although Mehsud's death has been wrongly reported in the past, informants in the tribal area said they were confident one of the country's most agressive militant leaders was dead.

"He was targeted as he was returning to his home from a nearby mosque where he had been holding discussions with his comrades," said a military officer based in a city close to the semi-autonomous Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a region which is home to many Islamist terrorist groups. "He was right at his front door and at least three missiles were fired."

A senior US intelligence official told the Associated Press the US received positive confirmation on Friday morning that he had been killed.

A Pakistani Taliban fighter said on Saturday that Mehsud's body was "damaged but recognisable", Reuters reported. Taliban commanders said Mehsud's funeral would be held on Saturday.

Mehsud was secretly buried under cover of darkness in the early hours by a few companions amid fears that his funeral might be attacked by U.S. drones. "Every drop of Hakimullah's blood will turn into a suicide bomber," said Azam Tariq, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman. "America and their friends shouldn't be happy because we will take revenge for our martyr's blood."

Pakistan's foreign ministry condemned the drone attack as a "violation of Pakistan's sovereignty and territorial integrity".

Militant and official sources said Mehsud's driver and bodyguard were among the dead.

Of the 60 shura council members attending the meeting, 43 voted in favour of Sayed succeeding Mehsud, according to the Karachi-based

The website said Sayed, 36, was involved in the attack on a naval base in Karachi in May 2011 and masterminded a 2012 jailbreak in which the Taliban freed 400 inmates in the north-western city of Bannu.

"Sayed has no basic education, conventional or religious, but he is battle-hardened and has experience of fighting in Afghanistan," an official told

However, other reports suggested that Sheharyar Mehsud had been appointed as caretaker leader, possibly by another shura council.

Although Mehsud's four-year tenure as head of Pakistan's most feared militant group has been marked by horrific attacks that have killed scores of soldiers, government officials and civilians, his death looked likely to provoke fury among some politicians who believe the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) should be brought in to peace talks.

All political parties unanimously supported government attempts to negotiate with the TTP at a meeting in September. Just this week the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, announced that talks between the two sides had finally begun.

A government official claimed Mehsud had been discussing the matter with fellow fighters just before he was killed, while the Taliban said a government peace delegation was in Miranshah, the regional capital of North Waziristan, at the time of the attack.

The country's rightwing religious parties are likely to interpret the drone strike as a deliberate attempt by the US to scupper peace talks with an organisation that swears allegiance to Mullah Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, who fight against Nato troops in the neighbouring country.

Sharif, who held meetings with the US president, Barack Obama, in Washington DC last week, has repeatedly called for an end to drone strikes, despite suspicions that Pakistan continues to give secret backing to the attacks.

But the US was never likely to turn down an opportunity to kill Mehsud, the mastermind of a devastating suicide bomb attack on a CIA station in Khost province in eastern Afghanistan in 2009 in which seven CIA officers died.

The ingenious plot involved a Jordanian triple agent who the CIA believed was working for them but was in fact taking orders from Mehsud.

The suicide bomber was ushered into the military base to brief CIA officers on al-Qaida, and detonated his explosive vest once he was inside.

In a video filmed before the attack and released afterwards, Mehsud appeared alongside the Jordanian, who said the attack was in retribution for the death of his fellow tribesman and predecessor as Pakistani Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009.

Saifullah Mahsud, the director of the Pakistani thinktank FATA Research Centre, said the movement was unlikely to be overly affected by the killing of its leader.

"It's a very decentralised organisation," he said. "They've lost leaders to drone strikes before."

Mehsud's death comes just weeks after the TTP chief took the risky and unusual step of granting an interview to a BBC cameraman who had travelled to Pakistan's north-west.

The interview was conducted outside despite the constant presence of drones overhead.

In May, a drone strike killed Mehsud's second-in-command, and one of his most trusted lieutenants was captured in Afghanistan last month.


Tribesmen open fire on U.S. drone after Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud killed

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 2, 2013 10:05 EST

Tribesmen opened fire on a US drone over Pakistan’s troubled tribal belt on Saturday where Pakistani Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud was killed by a drone strike a day earlier, residents and officials said.

Mehsud, who had a $5 million US government bounty on him, died along with four others on Friday when a US drone fired two missiles at a vehicle in a compound in the village of Dandey Darpakhel, five kilometres (three miles) north of Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan.

His death came as a major blow to the militant network and cast doubt over proposed peace talks, with fears of reprisals.

Local residents told AFP that dozens of tribesmen and militants had opened fire on a US drone which was flying low in the same area where the Taliban chief was killed.

“Tribesmen and militants were firing with light and heavy guns for an hour,” Tariq Khan, a shopkeeper in Miranshah told AFP.

A security official in Miranshah confirmed the firing.

The official and residents said Mehsud was buried late Friday along with the four others killed — his bodyguard, driver, uncle and a commander, according to a senior Taliban source.

The usually busy Miranshah bazaar opened on Saturday but shoppers stayed at home.

“Local people are scared. The death of Hakimullah Mehsud has created uncertainty. Everyone is talking about Taliban revenge,” Khan said.

Nisar Khan Dawar, a grocery store owner in the same bazaar said he had not received a single customer on Saturday.

North Waziristan is one of seven semi-autonomous tribal regions along the Afghan border, which Washington considers to be a major hub of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants plotting attacks on the West and in Afghanistan

Mehsud’s death represents a success for the CIA’s drone programme targeting suspected militants at a time when it is under intense scrutiny over civilian casualties.

It is the second significant blow to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in a month, following the capture of another senior commander by US forces in Afghanistan.

Security expert Rahimullah Yusufzai told AFP it was unclear whether the TTP has anyone in its ranks capable of filling the gap left by the charismatic Mehsud.

“His death will weaken the movement. Although they will soon appoint a new chief it is to be seen how effective the new person will be in controlling things,” Yusufzai said.

After a bloody six-year TTP insurgency which has left thousands of soldiers, police and civilians dead, the government has been edging towards talks with the militants.

Mehsud’s death came just a day after the government said the “process of dialogue” with the Taliban had started but no formal talks had taken place. The militants said they had had no contact from the government.

Saifullah Khan Mehsud of Islamabad’s FATA Research Center, an expert on Pakistan’s tribal belt, said the killing of the Taliban commander would disrupt the peace process in the short term but could ultimately prove beneficial.

“Of course for the time being there will be perhaps… a call for an end to the dialogue process, but in the long run a divisive figure like Hakimullah Mehsud not being there will make the environment more conducive for peace negotiations.”

Mehsud took control of the TTP after a bitter fight for the leadership following the death of founder Baitullah Mehsud in a drone strike in August 2009. Hakimullah Mehsud was widely reported to have been killed in 2010 but later resurfaced.

Seen as a hardliner, he oversaw some of the TTP’s most high-profile attacks including the attempt to kill schoolgirl education activist Malala Yousafzai in October last year.

The United States charged him with terrorism after seven Americans were killed in a suicide attack at a CIA base in Afghanistan in December, the deadliest attack on the agency since 1983.

Since 2004, the United States has carried out hundreds of missile attacks from unmanned aircraft targeting suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda linked militants in the tribal areas.

The number and identity of casualties is hard to determine as the tribal areas are off limits to foreign journalists and aid organisations, but the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates deaths at between 2,500 and 3,700.

The Pakistani government officially condemns drone strikes as a violation of its sovereignty and last week Sharif urged US President Barack Obama to halt the programme during a meeting in Washington.

Despite their deep unpopularity in Pakistan, the US sees them as a vital tool in the fight against militants in the lawless tribal areas.

As well as Hakimullah and Baitullah Mehsud, TTP number two Waliur Rehman and Al-Qaeda deputy leader Abu Yahya al-Libi were also killed in drone attacks in Pakistan.

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« Reply #9730 on: Nov 03, 2013, 06:36 AM »

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
November 1, 2013, 9:36 am

India a Hub for Patients From Afghanistan


NEW DELHI – Three years ago, the family of Rohullah Afzali, 23, a medical student at a university in Herat in western Afghanistan, noticed changes in his behavior. He was often brooding, anxious and sometimes angry. He would stay awake for three, even four nights on end.

Doctors suspected he had a bipolar disorder and possibly even schizophrenia. But the medicines they prescribed weren’t helping. On subsequent visits to clinics and hospitals in Kabul, doctors told Mr. Afzali and his family that there were no options in Afghanistan for further treatment.

So the Afzalis did what hundreds of thousands of Afghans have done in recent years, which is to travel to New Delhi for treatment in the city’s private hospitals, which offer sophisticated treatment at far lower prices than in developed countries.

“India is famous in Afghanistan for its modern hospitals and availability of medicines,” said Boman Ali Afzali, the father of the medical student, in an interview earlier this week. “Everyone we spoke to told us success stories and suggested we come here.”

The staggering influx of Afghans traveling to Delhi is partially the result of India’s introduction of a special medical visa for Afghans in 2005. These medical visas are free and do not require applicants to provide financial statements or proof of medical insurance.

According to the Indian Embassy in Kabul, over 100,000 medical visas have been issued just since the beginning of 2010, about half the number of total visas for travel to India from Afghanistan in those three years.

Twenty flights operate weekly between Delhi and Kabul. In the fall, as the weather in Delhi cools, airlines use bigger planes and sometimes add extra flights to accommodate increased traffic.

Several Afghans I spoke to explained that the vast majority of the Afghans who visit India on medical visas do not have life-threatening or serious ailments. The mild weather in Delhi provides an escape from the bitter chill of Afghan winters, so from mid-October and March, Afghans combine visits to orthopedists, ophthalmologists, dentists and even cosmetic surgeons with family vacations in the Indian capital. Only the most severe prognoses bring patients to Delhi in its punishingly hot summer.

Mustafa Shojaee, 20, from the Panjshir Valley, has been in Delhi for around two weeks. His mother has had persistent but mild stomach problems. Mr. Shojaee and his brother accompanied her and consulted doctors at the upscale, privately run Max Hospital in the Saket area in south Delhi.

These days, while she is at the hospital accompanied by his brother and an Afghan translator, Mr. Shojaee wanders about a few streets in the Lajpat Nagar neighborhood, which are the epicenter of Afghan life in Delhi — a little Kabul. Restaurants like Kabul-Delhi and Afghan Darbar are interspersed with pharmacies, travel agents, barbershops and moneychangers, all advertising in Dari, Afghanistan’s lingua franca.

The ethnic network is what the visiting Afghans rely on. Cab drivers at the Delhi airport bring the Afghan arrivals straight to Lajpat Nagar, where signs in Dari are like open doors, greeting them.

If they can’t speak Hindi or English, most Afghans rely heavily on the established presence of Afghan refugees. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Delhi estimates that over 11,000 Afghan refugees reside in and around Delhi. Roughly a third of them are Muslims of ethnic Afghan extraction, while the rest are Hindus and Sikhs who used to be part of sizable minorities in Afghanistan.

Refugees run many of the businesses that line Little Kabul’s streets in Lajpat Nagar, providing the comforts of home as well as services tailored to the needs of medical tourists.

Most essential to sick Afghans and their families are the tarjuman, or interpreters, who help them negotiate the health care system and the city.

There are two types. One kind operates privately. Clients often contact them before arriving from Afghanistan, having gotten their names from a friend or relative. These tarjuman often meet clients at the airport, and then charge a daily fee, usually between 500 and 1,000 rupees ($8 and $20).

These private tarjuman, while sought out, are sometimes disdained by Afghans. Many of them enhance their earnings by asking cooperative storeowners and service providers to mark up prices and then give them a cut.

Ali Sher, 20, a private tarjuman, said he and his ilk are unfairly branded as thieves. “In the jungle you can find every kind of animal,” he said. “Some of us are definitely corrupt, but other Afghans should understand that as refugees, we only survive here because of this business. What else would I do? We’re chained to this life like prisoners.”

Mr. Sher said he fled Afghanistan after the Taliban jailed his father when he rejected their request to employ his five sons as day laborers. In jail, he said, guards beat his father until he vomited blood, and he died soon after.

Now, Mr. Sher said, when he sees men with flowing beards in the style of the Taliban, he wants to kill them. Instead, he takes his revenge by occasionally overcharging them as a private tarjuman – a rare deviation from his principles, he assured me.

The second kind of tarjuman works in the gray area of hospital officialdom, wearing an approved ID badge as they wait in the hospital lobbies for prospective Afghan clients. Some Afghans allege that these middlemen receive a percentage of all costs incurred by the patients they are assigned to help.

In an email, a spokesman for Apollo Hospital, one of the most popular facilities in Delhi for Afghan medical tourists, said Apollo paid no interpreters but issued the IDs after doing a background check.

Boman Ali Afzali chose Medanta Hospital for his son’s preliminary examinations after seeing an advertisement written in Dari posted on the wall of their hotel lobby in Delhi. They hired a tarjuman waiting in the hospital lobby.

At Medanta, the younger Mr. Afzali was prescribed antidepressants similar to the ones he had taken in Afghanistan and was told to return in three days. Uninspired by the doctors at Medanta, the former medical student quickly gave up on Medanta and turned to the next hospital he knew of, Apollo.

There, a tarjuman wearing an Apollo ID convinced the elder Mr. Afzali that his son needed an M.R.I. scan and an EEG. The tarjuman said the doctor was insistent, but the younger Mr. Afzali objected. From his studies he remembered these examinations’ purpose and knew they were both costly and unnecessary.

His father prevailed. “We cannot compare money and life,” he said.

But after acknowledging that the two tests alone cost him 15,000 rupees – equivalent to $245, a great sum in Afghanistan, where the average annual income is $470 — he asked me, “How would you feel if this happened to you?”

By this point, the initial upswing in mood that his son felt in India had long worn off. They spent 5,000 rupees at a pharmacy for three months’ worth of antidepressants and decided to return home. But the travel agent contacted them later that day with a proposition.

Mehdi Mahrammi, who prefers to go by the name Ilham, or “innocent” in Dari, is of Hazara ethnicity, like the Afzalis, and hails from a neighboring district within Ghazni Province. Mr. Mahrammi persuaded the Afzalis to postpone their flight and give the treatment one last shot in India – without the “help” of a tarjuman — at a smaller private hospital in Lajpat Nagar that specializes in mental health.

When the younger Mr. Afzali arrived at the new hospital, he began to have a nervous breakdown in the lobby. Five guards couldn’t restrain him when doctors attempted to inject a tranquilizer. Only his exhausted father’s soothing words calmed him down.

Later that day, Boman Ali Afzali sat with his hands in his lap on a bench in a gray hallway, looking blankly at the door to Room 15, where his son slept inside. A man in a gray uniform unhurriedly mopped the hallway. A line of sullen looking patients waited at one end to be served food near two others, who played chess at a syrupy pace.

The father stood and walked into his son’s room. Dr. Shivani Aggarwal had confirmed the younger Mr. Afzali’s concerns at Apollo Hospital, finding that the M.R.I. and EEG were unhelpful in reaching any kind of diagnosis.

Dr. Aggarwal had also told the elder Mr. Afzali that they would need to stay in the hospital for at least one more week. She explained to me that certain mental conditions like psychosis and schizophrenia can make the patient a danger to himself and to others. “He may be imagining things that are not there and thus acting contrary to reality,” she said. “He is very unwell.”

When the father came out, he said his son had something to tell me. I went in, shook the young medical student’s hand, which was trembling, and sat down.

There was no need to sit, he said: “I have one sentence to say to you — I want to go back to Afghanistan today.”

Max Bearak is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi.

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« Reply #9731 on: Nov 03, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Bangladesh sentences UK and US residents to death over war crimes

Chowdhury Mueen Uddin and Ashrafuzzaman Khan convicted in absentia of murdering 18 people during 1971 Pakistan war

Associated Press in Dhaka, Sunday 3 November 2013 09.34 GMT   

A special war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh has sentenced to death two men living in Britain and the US for crimes against humanity during the country's independence war against Pakistan in 1971.

Chowdhury Mueen Uddin, who lives in Britain, and Ashrafuzzaman Khan, who is in New York, were found guilty by a three-judge panel of abducting and murdering 18 people, including nine university teachers, six journalists and three doctors, in December 1971.

The two were convicted in absentia because they refused to return to Bangladesh to face trial. During the 1971 war the two men were members of Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islamic party allied to the country's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party, which is now headed by the former prime minister Khaleda Zia, a rival of the current PM, Sheikh Hasina.

Hasina formed the special tribunal in 2010 to try war crimes suspects. A supreme court ruling last month that upheld the conviction and death sentence of a senior member of Jamaat-e-Islami, Abdul Quader Mollah, triggered deadly clashes and a general strike.

Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers and local collaborators killed three million people and raped 200,000 women during the 1971 war.

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« Reply #9732 on: Nov 03, 2013, 06:39 AM »

November 2, 2013

Briefly, Myanmar’s ‘God’s Army’ Twins Reunite


SANGKHLABURI, Thailand — As children, the twins Johnny and Luther Htoo were bulletproof and invulnerable to land mines — or so went the story that briefly made them famous as hundreds of guerrillas followed and even worshiped them in the jungles of southeastern Myanmar. Today, more than a decade later, their “God’s Army” is no more, and the twins’ greatest accomplishment may be that both are still alive.

Luther lives in Sweden. Johnny remains at an unofficial refugee camp in Thailand, not far from where the brothers were sent after they surrendered to Thai authorities in 2001. Now 25, Johnny hopes to reunite with relatives in New Zealand, and Luther worries about their former comrades.

Members of their Karen ethnic group have long sought autonomy in Myanmar, formerly Burma, but they have laid down their arms since a military dictatorship gave way to a nominally civilian government in 2011. Last month, during his first trip back to Thailand since leaving for Sweden in 2009, Luther said he would fight only if his people were hurt again.

“It’s not fun to fight anymore, now that I’m afraid to die,” Luther said. “No one wants to fight unless they have to, you know.”

The legend of the twins began to form in 1997, when Burmese troops entered their village during a sweep of Karen territory. At the time, the rebel Karen National Union was in decline.

“We had to defend ourselves because we didn’t like anyone to hurt us,” Luther said. “We love our motherland, so we chose to fight. We got seven rifles from the K.N.U. and there were seven of us. We used them to fight against the Burmese Army. We prayed before we fought, and then we won.”

They called themselves God’s Army. The boys were rambunctious, but strict discipline and a rigorous Christian routine were maintained. There was no liquor in their village, and church services were held at least once a day.

Journalists who traveled to the small village, Ka Mar Pa Law, saw the twins living what looked like a child’s pirate fantasy, shooting tropical fruit off the trees and being worshiped by adult followers who carried them around on their shoulders.

Probably the most famous image of the twins was taken by an Associated Press photographer, Apichart Weerawong, when they were 12. It shows Luther with shaved forelocks and raised brows, puffing on a cigarette. Johnny stands behind his brother with a sad, soulful gaze.

A joint interview last month highlighted the very different lives the Htoo brothers have led since then.

Luther now lives in Götene, a town about 200 miles west of Stockholm, where he studied economics, history and other liberal arts subjects and has had several jobs, including as a caregiver for the elderly, he said. He married a Karen woman and they had a child, but they later divorced, and the child stayed with the mother.

“I like Sweden, but it’s very cold,” Luther said. “Cold and snow, but I like it there because the country is peaceful. There’s no one shooting at each other and no one hurting each other.”

Johnny settled down to work as a rice farmer, but he returned less than a year ago to the refugee camp in Thailand where he had stayed with Luther.

In Thailand last month, Luther tried to learn more about what had happened to dozens of comrades who disappeared after surrendering. “Their wives and children have been waiting,” he said. “It’s been 13 years. I think all of them are dead.”

The God’s Army’s fortunes took a calamitous turn after it became enmeshed with an even more fringe group that led attacks on Myanmar’s embassy in Thailand in 1999 and a Thai hospital in 2000.

Under pressure from Myanmar and Thailand, the God’s Army quickly fell, and the boys surrendered at their village. Luther and Johnny stayed together at a refugee camp in Thailand but were later separated. In 2006, Myanmar state television reported that Johnny and eight of his God’s Army comrades had turned themselves in. Luther said the truth was that Johnny had been lured back to Myanmar by false promises of work.

Luther is helping Johnny reunite with their mother and sister, who now live in New Zealand. “But I will have to talk to a lot of people to make that happen,” he said. Their father lives in another Thai refugee camp.

The interview was the last time Luther and Johnny would see each other before Luther returned to Sweden. As they parted, Johnny’s eyes appeared to well with tears.

“Come on, real men don’t cry,” Luther told his brother. He promised he would see him next year.

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« Reply #9733 on: Nov 03, 2013, 06:41 AM »

China vows to silence Dalai Lama in Tibet

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 2, 2013 10:09 EST

China’s ruling Communist Party aims to silence the voice of the Dalai Lama in his Tibetan homeland by tightening controls on media and the Internet, a top official said on Saturday.

The party’s top-ranking official in the Tibet region Chen Quanguo vowed to “ensure that the voices of hostile forces and the Dalai group are not seen or heard,” in an editorial published in a party journal called Qiushi.

Officials would “make sure that the voice of the party is heard and seen everywhere in this vast 120 million square kilometre region,” Chen wrote in the editorial.

China has worked for decades to control the spread of information in Tibet, but some Tibetans remain able to access non-official sources of information including from exiles abroad by using radio, television and the Internet.

But the party will attempt to stamp out access to such sources by creating party cells in some websites, confiscating satellite dishes and registering telephone and Internet users by name, among a host of other measures mentioned in the the article.

China calls Tibetan exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and accuses him of masterminding violent efforts to seek independence for Tibet.

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, says he advocates greater autonomy for Tibetans rather than independence.

Chen referred to Tibet as “a front line of the struggle against separatism” and vowed to “strengthen the role of party committees at every level, as the sole power”, in the editorial.

Tensions between Tibetans and the Chinese government continue run high, with more than 120 members of the minority setting themselves on fire in protest in recent years, leading to a security crackdown.

Chinese police opened fire on Tibetans marking the Dalai Lama’s 78th birthday in July, shooting at least one monk in the head and seriously wounding several other people, overseas rights groups said.

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« Reply #9734 on: Nov 03, 2013, 06:44 AM »

Uzbekistan's first daughter Gulnara Karimova troubled by 'corruption links'

Status of glamorous heir apparent to president Islam Karimov faces fresh problems with inquiry into payments to associates

Joanna Lillis in Tashkent, Friday 1 November 2013 12.38 GMT   

For two decades, she has been the glamorous "first daughter", heir apparent to Uzbekistan's immovable president Islam Karimov, a woman with a suspiciously vast business empire and a flamboyant celebrity lifestyle to boot. Gulnara Karimova has been fashion designer, pop starlet, diplomat and oligarch - she could be described as Donatella Versace, Cheryl Cole and Ivanka Trump all rolled into one.

But not any more. In recent weeks, signs that Karimova's star is on the wane have multiplied, sparking questions about the Uzbek first family, presided over by the 75-year-old president.

Until recently, Karimova, 41, was holding down a high-powered diplomatic day job in Switzerland while commanding an extensive business empire at home, where she has been tipped as a future president – an ambition she has pointedly failed to deny.

Signs of trouble in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, emerged in July, when Karimova was dismissed from her position as Uzbekistan's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, as the tentacles of two European corruption inquiries reached embarrassingly close to her.

One investigation, in Sweden, is probing allegations of dubious payments of millions of dollars by Nordic telecoms giant TeliaSonera to Karimova's associate, Gayane Avakyan (the company denies wrongdoing). Another, a Swiss money-laundering inquiry, involves Karimova associates, including Avakyan, and has reportedly prompted raids on Karimova's luxury European properties.

The pressure intensified last week when her four TV stations and three radio stations were pulled from the air. Tax raids on her charitable foundation were reported on Friday 24 October, shortly after her cousin and reported confidant Akbarali Abdullayev was arrested on corruption charges.

Karimova took to Twitter this week to hit out at perceived enemies, accusing national security chief Rustam Inoyatov of mounting a power grab. "If the top person in the special services takes no pleasure but rather fears her (Gulnara's) popularity among the people, it means he has his own ambitions and plans."

She also accused her enemies of trying to kill her. "They already tried poisoning me with heavy metals like mercury, but thanks to God they didn't bring me down, though I'm still recovering."

Karimova has brushed aside corruption allegations but refused to comment specifically — just as she has repeatedly shrugged off attempts to engage her over allegations of brutal human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. The Uzbek leadership has been accused of everything from gunning down protesters in 2005 and suppressing political freedoms to jailing dissidents and using forced labour – including children – to pick cotton. The west has been accused of turning a blind eye to abuses in gas-rich Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan and is a valued ally

Karimova is an avid social networker, but she prefers tweeting about her philanthropic work, her fashion shows or her pop diva career (singing as Googoosha, her father's nickname for her).

Concerted moves against Karimova have prompted speculation that a turf war has broken out in Uzbekistan, with powerful rivals conniving to curb her power.

"Karimova's business interests and ambition grew too large – they started to encroach on the interests of other powerful players and at some point they decided to clip her wings," Alex Nice, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said.

This comes amid high-stakes manoeuvring in Tashkent over who will eventually succeed the ageing president, long rumoured to be suffering ill health. Karimova is enmeshed in a bitter family feud: after her younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva revealed in September that the two had been estranged for 12 years, Gulnara riposted with the eye-popping accusation that her only sibling engages in sorcery.

The jostling for power could explain the forays against his daughter, who certainly has powerful foes. WikiLeaks cables have variously described her as the "single most hated person" in Uzbekistan and a "robber baron". In 2010 Germany's Der Speigel magazine estimated her fortune at $570m.

If powerful rivals are lining up against Karimova, that begs the question of why her father is not protecting her: is he fed up with her outlandish antics, or is the wily strongman's own influence waning after over two decades at the helm of the dictatorship?

"The affair underlines again that President Karimov may be stronger than any other individual in the political system, but he's not stronger than the system itself and he's not necessarily in a position to protect his daughter if she over-extends herself," concluded Nice.

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