Archives for February 2013

British nationals stripped of citizenship then killed by U.S. drones

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism: The [British] government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – two of whom have been subsequently killed by US drone attacks.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and published in The Independent has established that since 2010 the Home Secretary Theresa May has revoked the passports of 16 individuals many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.

Critics of the programme warn that it also allows ministers to ‘wash their hands’ of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.

They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or ‘rendered’ without any onus on the British government to intervene.

At least five of those deprived of their UK nationality by the Coalition government were born in Britain, and one man had lived in the country for almost 50 years.

Those affected have their passports cancelled, and lose their right to enter the UK – making it very difficult to appeal the Home Secretary’s decision.

Last night the Liberal Democrat’s deputy leader Simon Hughes said he was writing to the Home Secretary to call for an urgent review into how the law was being implemented.

The leading human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce said the present situation ‘smacked of medieval exile, just as cruel and just as arbitrary’.

Ian Macdonald QC, president of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, described the citizenship orders as ‘sinister’.

‘They’re using executive powers and I think they’re using them quite wrongly,’ he said.

‘It’s not open government, it’s closed, and it needs to be exposed because in my view it’s a real overriding of open government and the rule of law.’ [Continue reading…]


Bradley Manning says U.S. ‘obsessed with killing’ opponents

The Los Angeles Times reports: Army Pfc. Bradley Manning pleaded guilty Thursday to ten charges that he illegally acquired and transferred highly classified U.S. materials later published by WikiLeaks, saying he was motivated by a U.S foreign policy that “became obsessed with killing and capturing people rather than cooperating” with other governments.

“I felt we were risking so much for people who seemed unwilling to cooperate with us due to the mistrust and hatred on both sides,” Manning said, reading a 35-page, hand-written statement describing his angst over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I began to become depressed with the situation we had become mired in year after year,” he added.

In a plea arrangement with military prosecutors, Manning agreed to serve a 20-year prison sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to ten lesser charges. But he also pleaded not guilty to 12 more serious criminal charges, including espionage, and will face a court-martial in June. If convicted, he could face a life sentence.

Manning, now 25, was posted as a low-level intelligence analyst at a base outside Baghdad until his arrest three years ago.

He said was angered at one point when 15 Iraqis were arrested as protesters, yet none were known terrorists or involved in anti-government activities. When he complained to his superiors, he said, “no one wanted to do anything about it.”

Manning said he eagerly logged into WikiLeaks’ chat rooms and submitted material to the organization because he was impressed with their efforts to expose inner workings of U.S. military and diplomatic operations.

“I routinely monitored their website,” he said. “It helped me pass the time and keep motivated throughout my deployment.”


U.S. offers training and other aid to Syrian rebels

The New York Times reports: The United States is significantly stepping up its support for the Syrian opposition, senior administration officials said on Wednesday, helping to train rebels at a base in the region and for the first time offering armed groups nonlethal assistance and equipment that could help their military campaign.

The training mission, already under way, represents the deepest American involvement yet in the Syrian conflict, though the size and scope of the mission is not clear, nor is its host country. The offer of nonlethal assistance is expected to come from Secretary of State John Kerry at a meeting on Thursday in Rome with opposition leaders. Mr. Kerry is also expected to raise the prospect of direct financial aid, though officials cautioned that the White House still had to sign off on all the elements.

Before arriving in Rome on Wednesday, Mr. Kerry declared in Paris that the Syrian opposition needed additional assistance and indicated that the United States and its partners planned to provide some.

Under a broad definition of “nonlethal,” assistance to the opposition could include items like vehicles, communications equipment and night vision gear. The Obama administration has said it will not — at least for now — provide arms to the opposition. [Continue reading…]


How private prisons game the immigration system

Lee Fang reports: Thirty years ago in January, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), now the biggest operator of private prisons in the world, opened its first prison, a federal immigrant detention center in Houston, Texas. Three Decades of Service to America, a page on the company’s website, features a video interview with the company’s founders looking back on that first contract. “We saw this big ol’ sign, ‘Olympic Motel,’ made an offer to lease the motel for four months,” recalls Don Hutto, who chuckles with fellow co-founder Tom Beasley, the former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, as they remember hastily converting the building and staffing it with family members. The night of Super Bowl Sunday, “we got our first day’s pay for eighty-seven undocumented aliens,” says Hutto, who even fingerprinted the inmates himself.

Three years after the company’s first contract in 1983, according to Southern Changes magazine, the company spent some $100,000 lobbying the state of Tennessee to secure a correctional facility privatization bill, which helped propel the business to financial success. Last year, the company brought in $1.7 billion in revenues, about a quarter of which came from contracts with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and federal Bureau of Prisons to incarcerate non-citizens in the United States.

For a company that began and later thrived by imprisoning immigrants, the federal immigration policy overhaul expected this year presents both opportunities and challenges.

On the one hand, a pathway to citizenship and legal reforms sought by advocates could reduce the number of immigrants detained by CCA and its competitors in the private prison industry. “Private prison corporations have an enormous stake in immigration reform,” says Bob Libal, a prison reform advocate with Grassroots Leadership. “A reform that provides a timely pathway to citizenship without further criminalizing migration would be a huge hit to the industry,” he says.

On the other hand, Libal observed that a bill with increased security measures “could be very profitable” for the industry. Legislators and the Obama administration could adopt a plan that mirrors Republican proposals for an “enforcement first” approach, which include increased police powers, new mandatory detention and sentencing laws, further militarization of the border and proposals for more prisons and detention officers. [Continue reading…]


Songbirds’ brains coordinate singing with intricate timing

University of Chicago: As a bird sings, some neurons in its brain prepare to make the next sounds while others are synchronized with the current notes—a coordination of physical actions and brain activity that is needed to produce complex movements, new research at the University of Chicago shows.

In an article in the current issue of Nature, neuroscientist Daniel Margoliash and colleagues show, for the first time, how the brain is organized to govern skilled performance—a finding that may lead to new ways of understanding human speech production.

The new study shows that birds’ physical movements actually are made up of a multitude of smaller actions. “It is amazing that such small units of movements are encoded, and so precisely, at the level of the forebrain,” said Margoliash, a professor of organismal biology and anatomy and psychology at UChicago.

“This work provides new insight into how the physics of controlling vocal signals are represented in the brain to control vocalizations,” said Howard Nusbaum, a professor of psychology at UChicago and an expert on speech.

By decoding the neural representation of communication, Nusbaum explained, the research may shed light on speech problems such as stuttering or aphasia (a disorder following a stroke). And it offers an unusual window into how the brain and body carry out other kinds of complex movement, from throwing a ball to doing a backflip.

“A big question in muscle control is how the motor system organizes the dynamics of movement,” said Margoliash. Movements like reaching or grasping are difficult to study because they entail many variables, such as the angles of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers; the forces of many muscles; and how these change over time,” he said.


Hypocrisy redefined for the age of global warming

Fracking Mother © Northern Light . Douglas Yates Photography

'Fracking Mother' © Northern Light . Douglas Yates Photography

Bill McKibben writes: The list of reasons for not acting on climate change is long and ever-shifting. First it was “there’s no problem”; then it was “the problem’s so large there’s no hope.” There’s “China burns stuff too,” and “it would hurt the economy,” and, of course, “it would hurt the economy.” The excuses are getting tired, though. Post Sandy (which hurt the economy to the tune of $100 billion) and the drought ($150 billion), 74 percent of Americans have decided they’re very concerned about climate change and want something to happen.

But still, there’s one reason that never goes away, one evergreen excuse not to act: “you’re a hypocrite.” I’ve heard it ten thousand times myself—how can you complain about climate change and drive a car/have a house/turn on a light/raise a child? This past fall, as I headed across the country on a bus tour to push for divestment from fossil fuels, local newspapers covered each stop. I could predict, with great confidence, what the first online comment from a reader following each account would be: “Do these morons not know that their bus takes gasoline?” In fact, our bus took biodiesel—as we headed down the East Coast, one job was watching the web app that showed the nearest station pumping the good stuff. But it didn’t matter, because the next comment would be: “Don’t these morons know that the plastic fittings on their bus, and the tires, and the seats are all made from fossil fuels?”

Actually, I do know—even a moron like me. I’m fully aware that we’re embedded in the world that fossil fuel has made, that from the moment I wake up, almost every action I take somehow burns coal and gas and oil. I’ve done my best, at my house, to curtail it: we’ve got solar electricity, and solar hot water, and my new car runs on electricity—I can plug it into the roof and thus into the sun. But I try not to confuse myself into thinking that’s helping all that much: it took energy to make the car, and to make everything else that streams into my life. I’m still using far more than any responsible share of the world’s vital stuff.

And, in a sense, that’s the point. If those of us who are trying really hard are still fully enmeshed in the fossil fuel system, it makes it even clearer that what needs to change are not individuals but precisely that system. We simply can’t move fast enough, one by one, to make any real difference in how the atmosphere comes out. [Continue reading…]


Inside the U.S. military’s culture of sex abuse, denial and cover-up

Rolling Stone reports: The scandal of rape in the U.S. Armed Forces, across all of its uniformed ser­vices, has become inescapable. Last year saw the military’s biggest sex-abuse scandal in a decade, when an investigation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio revealed that 32 basic-training instructors preyed on at least 59 recruits. In Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair is currently facing court-martial for sex-crimes charges, including forcible sodomy, for alleged misconduct against five women. In October, an Air Force technical sergeant filed an administrative complaint describing a work environment of comprehensive harassment – in which all women are “bitches”; and claimed that during a routine meeting in a commander’s office, she was instructed to take off her blouse and “relax” – edged with menace and punctuated by violent assaults. In December, a Department of Defense report revealed that rape is rampant at the nation’s military academies, where 12 percent of female cadets experienced “unwanted sexual contact.” And an explosive series of federal lawsuits filed against top DOD brass on behalf of 59 ­service members (including Rebecca Blumer [a 23-year-old Navy intelligence analyst whose story of being raped and then penalized by command and ostracized by her unit, features in this report]) allege that the leadership has done nothing to stop the cycle of rape and ­impunity – and that by failing to condemn sexual assault, the military has created a predators’ playground.

“Sexual assaults make up the fabric of daily American military life,” says former Marine Capt. Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the advocacy group Service Women’s Action Network. Research suggests that one out of every three women in the U.S. military is the victim of sexual assault, making military women twice as likely to be raped as civilians. (Victims are disproportionately female, given that women make up less than 15 percent of the military, but men are victimized, too: More than 40 percent of vets receiving treatment for Military Sexual Trauma are men.) An anonymous DOD survey found that in 2010, an astonishing 19,000 service members were ­sexually assaulted; a mere 13.5 percent of those attacks were reported to authorities. Victims have little incentive to report, since the military’s insular justice system rarely holds perpetrators accountable. Of the sliver of sexual assaults reported last year, 92 percent never saw the inside of a courtroom but rather were dismissed or administered wrist-slap penalties like fines, reduced PX privileges or counseling – a prosecution record even outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called “an outrage.”

Incredibly, this ugly picture comes after two decades of very public sex scandals – Tailhook in 1991, Aberdeen in 1996, the Air Force Academy in 2003 – after each of which the DOD swore “zero tolerance,” then resisted any meaningful reform. But as survivors have begun to speak up, and legislators resolve to take action, the military finds itself facing a public relations crisis at a time when it’s not only trying to justify its $633 billion budget but also desperate to step up recruitment. Women, widely seen as a way to help stop attrition of troops – and now, for the first time, cleared to serve in combat alongside their male peers – are projected to make up one-quarter of the armed services by 2025. [Continue reading…]


Video: U.S. special destabilizing forces in Afghanistan


Drone ‘nightmare scenario’ now has a name: ARGUS

ACLU: The PBS series NOVA, “Rise of the Drones,” recently aired a segment detailing the capabilities of a powerful aerial surveillance system known as ARGUS-IS, which is basically a super-high, 1.8 gigapixel resolution camera that can be mounted on a drone. As demonstrated in this clip, the system is capable of high-resolution monitoring and recording of an entire city. (The clip was written about in DefenseTech and in Slate.)

In the clip, the developer explains how the technology (which he also refers to with the apt name “Wide Area Persistent Stare”) is “equivalent to having up to a hundred Predators look at an area the size of a medium-sized city at once.”

ARGUS produces a high-resolution video image that covers 15 square miles. It’s all streamed to the ground and stored, and operators can zoom in upon any small area and watch the footage of that spot. Essentially, it is an animated, aerial version of the gigapixel cameras that got some attention for super-high resolution photographs created at Obama’s first inauguration and at a Vancouver Canucks fan gathering.

At first I didn’t think too much about this video because it seemed to be an utterly expected continuation of existing trends in camera power. But since it was brought to my attention, this technology keeps coming back up in my conversations with colleagues and in my thoughts. I think that’s because it is such a concrete embodiment of the “nightmare scenario” for drones, or at least several core elements of it.

First, it’s the culmination of the trend towards ever-more-pervasive surveillance cameras in American life. We’ve been objecting to that trend for years, and many of our public spaces are now under 24/7 video surveillance—often by cameras owned and operated by the police. But even in our most pessimistic moments, I don’t think we thought that every street, empty lot, garden, and field would be subject to video monitoring anytime soon. But that is precisely what this technology could enable. We’ve speculated about self-organizing swarms of drones being used to blanket entire cities with surveillance, but this technology makes it clear that nothing that complicated is required. [Continue reading…]


Video: ACLU blasts Supreme Court rejection of challenge to warrantless spying without proof of surveillance


Stuxnet was already in development in 2005

_____________________________________________________________________ Stuxnet command-and-control servers were camouflaged behind a website for a nonexistent advertising agency called Media Suffix in 2005.

The discovery that an early version of Stuxnet was in development in 2005, suggests that work on the computer worm may have begun soon after the U.S. received Libya’s P-1 centrifuges in January 2004.

In September 2005, Dennis Ruddy, a general manager at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge nuclear facilities said: “There’s a lot of interest in the things that we brought back from Libya because a lot of them, looking at them, measuring the tolerances, setting them up and operating them, to a certain extent tells us how close people are to be able to get a system that can work all the way to bomb-grade material.”

Within two weeks of Ruddy’s statement appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel, he had been relieved of his duties and lost his security clearance.

Ars Technica: Researchers have uncovered a never-before-seen version of Stuxnet. The discovery sheds new light on the evolution of the powerful cyberweapon that made history when it successfully sabotaged an Iranian uranium-enrichment facility in 2009.

Stuxnet 0.5 is the oldest known version of the computer worm and was in development no later than November of 2005, almost two years earlier than previously known, according to researchers from security firm Symantec. The earlier iteration, which was in the wild no later than November 2007, wielded an alternate attack strategy that disrupted Iran’s nuclear program by surreptitiously closing valves in that country’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Later versions scrapped that attack in favor of one that caused centrifuges to spin erratically. The timing and additional attack method are a testament to the technical sophistication and dedication of its developers, who reportedly developed Stuxnet under a covert operation sponsored by the US and Israeli governments. It was reportedly personally authorized by Presidents Bush and Obama.

Also significant, version 0.5 shows that its creators were some of the same developers who built Flame, the highly advanced espionage malware also known as Flamer that targeted sensitive Iranian computers. Although researchers from competing antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab previously discovered a small chunk of the Flame code in a later version of Stuxnet, the release unearthed by Symantec shows that the code sharing was once so broad that the two covert projects were inextricably linked.

“What we can conclude from this is that Stuxnet coders had access to Flamer source code, and they were originally using the Flamer source code for the Stuxnet project,” said Liam O’Murchu, manager of operations for Symantec Security Response. “With version 0.5 of Stuxnet, we can say that the developers had access to the exact same code. They were not just using shared components. They were using the exact same code to build the projects. And then, at some point, the development [of Stuxnet and Flame] went in two different directions.” [Continue reading…]


Supreme Court shields warrantless eavesdropping law from constitutional challenge

Glenn Greenwald writes: The Obama justice department succeeded in convincing the five right-wing Supreme Court justices to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 2008 law, the FISA Amendments Act, which vastly expanded the government’s authority to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. In the case of Clapper v. Amnesty International, Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion, released today, which adopted the argument of the Obama DOJ, while the Court’s four less conservative justices (Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan) all dissented. This means that the lawsuit is dismissed without any ruling on whether the US government’s new eavesdropping powers violate core constitutional rights. The background of this case is vital to understanding why this is so significant.

One of the most successful government scams of the last decade has been to prevent any legal challenges to its secret surveillance programs. Both the Bush and Obama DOJ’s have relied on one tactic in particular to insulate its eavesdropping behavior from judicial review: by draping what it does in total secrecy, it prevents anyone from knowing with certainty who the targets of its surveillance are. The DOJ then exploits this secrecy to block any constitutional or other legal challenges to its surveillance actions on the ground that since nobody can prove with certainty that they have been subjected to this eavesdropping by the government, nobody has “standing” to sue in court and obtain a ruling on the constitutionality of this eavesdropping.

The Bush DOJ repeatedly used this tactic to prevent anyone from challenging the legality of its eavesdropping on Americans without the warrants required by the FISA law. That’s another way of saying that the Bush administration removed their conduct from the rule of law: after all, if nobody has standing to obtain a court ruling on the legality or constitutionality of their conduct, then neither the law nor the Constitution constrain what the government does. Simply put, a law without a remedy is worthless. As Alexander Hamilton put it in Federalist 15:

“It is essential to the idea of a law, that it be attended with a sanction; or, in other words, a penalty or punishment for disobedience. If there be no penalty annexed to disobedience, the resolutions or commands which pretend to be laws will, in fact, amount to nothing more than advice or recommendation.”

Thus did the Bush DOJ exploit their secrecy extremism into a license of lawlessness: they never had to prove that even their most radical actions were legal because by keeping it all a secret, they prevented anyone from being able to obtain a ruling about its legality. [Continue reading…]


Wilson and Plame: The whistleblowers who waited too long to blow the whistle

Ten years after Colin Powell lied to the UN Security Council to help start the war on Iraq, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame recount some of the events that led to war, but the final line of their commentary is perhaps all they needed to say:

We did not do nearly enough to prevent this tragedy perpetrated on Iraq, on the world, and on ourselves.

On January 28, 2003, President Bush said: “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”

Joe Wilson knew at that time that Bush was lying, but he waited until July 6, 2003 before speaking out.

When Valerie Plame heard Powell lying to the UNSC she kept quiet. She didn’t want to lose her job at the CIA.

How many other careerists around Washington are there, who when their consciences told them to speak out, decided to put their material and professional interests first and remain silent — even when as a consequence, hundreds of thousands of people ended up losing their lives?


Evidence of innate language capabilities: discrimination of syllables three months prior to birth

Medical Xpress: A team of French researchers has discovered that the human brain is capable of distinguishing between different types of syllables as early as three months prior to full term birth. As they describe in their paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team found via brain scans that babies born up to three months premature are capable of some language processing. Many studies have been conducted on full term babies to try to understand the degree of mental capabilities at birth. Results from such studies have shown that babies are able to distinguish their mother’s voice from others, for example, and can even recognize the elements of short stories. Still puzzling however, is whether some of what newborns are able to demonstrate is innate, or learned immediately after birth. To learn more, the researchers enlisted the assistance of several parents of premature babies and their offspring. Babies born as early as 28 weeks (full term is 37 weeks) had their brains scanned using bedside functional optical imaging, while sounds (soft voices) were played for them. Three months prior to full term, the team notes, neurons in the brain are still migrating to what will be their final destination locations and initial connections between the upper brain regions are still forming—also neural linkages between the ears and brain are still being created. All of this indicates a brain that is still very much in flux and in the process of becoming the phenomenally complicated mass that humans are known for, which would seem to suggest that very limited if any communication skills would have developed.

The researchers found, however, that even at a time when the brain hasn’t fully developed, the premature infants were able to tell the difference between female versus male voices, and to distinguish between the syllables “ba” and “ga”. They noted also that the same parts of the brain were used by the infants to process sounds as adults. This, the researchers conclude, shows that linguistic connections in the brain develop before birth and because of that do not need to be acquired afterwards, suggesting that at least some abilities are innate.


The beauty of neurons

Two Pyramidals, enamel on composition gold, Greg Dunn, 2010

Wired: When Greg Dunn finished his Ph.D. in neuroscience at Penn in 2011, he bought himself a sensory deprivation tank as a graduation present. The gift marked a major life transition, from the world of science to a life of meditation and art.

Now a full-time artist living in Philadelphia, Dunn says he was inspired in his grad-student days by the spare beauty of neurons treated with certain stains. The Golgi stain, for example, will turn one or two neurons black against a golden background. “It has this Zen quality to it that really appealed to me,” Dunn said.

What he saw under the microscope reminded him of the uncluttered elegance of bamboo scroll paintings and other forms of Asian art, and he began to paint neurons in a similar style.

See more of these paintings at Greg Dunn Design.


Music: Dhafer Youssef — ‘Diaphanes’


Brothers in arms: the 10 brothers fighting for the Syrian uprising

Martin Chulov reports: One evening in January 2011, Mohammed Rias, a hulking taxi driver and head of a family clan, called his close male relatives to a meeting in their village home in northern Syria. There were 13 men in all, sitting on thin cushions on the floor of a cold and frugal living room. Nine were his brothers, the other three his cousins. The loyalty of the men, tested through more than a decade of underground dissent towards the Syrian government, was about to be called on again.

Rias, 37, who is known by his siblings and cousins as Sheikh Nayimi, remembers the moment well. “I told them that the Arab Spring marked a moment for us,” he says. “It was not yet time to go public, we had to then remain private. But we could sense that something was coming. Everything we had waited for might soon be upon us.”

By the time of that first gathering, revolution was rumbling through North Africa. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis had fallen and Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt was teetering. The stirrings of popular revolt had also begun to unsettle Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Yemen’s leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Something remarkable was happening; the incontestable strength of the region’s one-man autocracies was crumbling. The might of the street had exposed the fragility of absolute rule. Such a powerful new reality electrified societies long conditioned to think otherwise. And though it was yet to get there, the shift was fast dawning on communities throughout the most uncompromising of the Middle East’s police states, Syria.

“We talked about it among ourselves and we knew that it would also get to Syria,” Sheikh Nayimi says, two years after the fall of Cairo. Coals spark from a rusting tin drum in the centre of a row of plastic chairs on the road outside his makeshift office in Aleppo, Syria’s second city, and he leans forward to warm his hands. January is frigid and powerless here this year. Keeping warm is as much of a challenge as staying alive for the Sheikh and his nine brothers near one of the many frontlines of Syria’s civil war.

“We weren’t sure what would start things,” he recalls of the tense seven weeks it took for the arc of revolution to reach from Cairo to Damascus. “We couldn’t move before then.” The brothers did not have to wait long. The spray-painting of anti-regime slogans outside a mosque in the southern city of Daraa, and the withering response from the military, was Syria’s Tahrir Square moment. On March 15, several young men and boys from the southern town of Daraa were arrested for leaving the graffiti and then tortured in prison. The increasing protests – unarmed in the early months – were met with ever-escalating violence by a regime that had never brooked dissent and wasn’t about to do so now.

The Nayimi brothers knew their moment had arrived. “We didn’t have to hide any more,” Sheikh Nayimi says. Within days, he had been joined by his siblings and their elderly father, all of whom had left jobs in Aleppo or in their home village of Sarmada in the countryside near Idlib. Their transformation from peasant sons of the northern plains to revolutionaries at the heart of the war for Syria’s future has been honed ever since. [Continue reading…]


U.S. considers direct aid to Syrian rebels

The Washington Post reports: The Obama administration is moving toward a major policy shift on Syria that could provide the rebels with equipment such as body armor, armored vehicles and possible military training and could send humanitarian assistance directly to Syria’s opposition political coalition, according to U.S. and European officials.

The administration has not provided direct aid to either the military or political side of the opposition throughout the two-year old Syrian conflict, and U.S. officials remain opposed to providing weapons to the rebels.

Elements of the proposed policy, which officials cautioned have not yet been finalized, are being discussed by Secretary of State John F. Kerry in meetings this week and next with allies in Europe and the Middle East as part of a coordinated effort to end the bloody stalemate that has claimed 70,000 lives.

The outcome of those talks, and a nearly two-hour meeting in Berlin on Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a Thursday conference with allies and leaders of the Syrian Opposition Coalition in Rome, is expected to weigh heavily in administration deliberations.