Archives for October 2013

Amid NSA spying revelations, tech leaders call for new restraints on agency

The Washington Post reports: Mounting revelations about the extent of NSA surveillance have alarmed technology leaders in recent days, driving a renewed push for significant legislative action from an industry that long tried to stay above the fray in Washington.

After months of merely calling for the government to be more transparent about its surveillance requests, tech leaders have begun demanding substantive new restraints on how the National Security Agency collects and uses the vast quantities of information it scoops up around the globe, much of it from the data streams of U.S. companies.

The pivot marks an aggressive new posture for an industry that often has trod carefully in Washington — devoting more attention to blunting potentially damaging actions than to pushing initiatives that might prove controversial and alienate users from its lucrative services.

Six leading technology companies — Facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL — sent a letter to Senate leaders Thursday reflecting the sharpening industry strategy, praising the sponsors of a bill that would end the bulk collection of phone records of millions of Americans and create a privacy advocate to represent civil liberties interests within the secretive court that oversees the NSA. [Continue reading…]

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Fear of al Qaeda has become more harmful than al Qaeda

David Rohde writes: Three disclosures this week show that the United States is losing its way in the struggle against terrorism. Sweeping government efforts to stop attacks are backfiring abroad and infringing on basic rights at home.

CIA drone strikes are killing scores of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen. The National Security Agency is eavesdropping on tens of millions of phone calls worldwide — including those of 35 foreign leaders — in the name of U.S. security.

And the Department of Homeland Security is using algorithms to “prescreen” travelers before they board domestic flights, reviewing government and private databases that include Americans’ tax identification numbers, car registrations and property records.

Will we create a Minority Report-style Department of Precrime next?

Obama administration officials have a duty to protect Americans from terrorism. But out-of-control NSA surveillance, an ever-expanding culture of secrecy and still-classified rules for how and when foreigners and even Americans can be killed by drone strikes are excessive, unnecessary and destructive.

Twelve years after September 11, 2001, the United States’ obsession with al Qaeda is doing more damage to the nation than the terrorist group itself. [Continue reading…]

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Video — Aid to Syria: ‘If us two can do it, anyone can!’

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Drone warfare as a form of terrorism

In their efforts to deflect criticism of drone warfare, President Obama and senior officials overseeing strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have repeatedly insisted that missiles are only fired when there is minimal risk to civilians and that the primary virtue of this weapons system is its precision.

This week, after Rafiq Rehman and his two children came all the way from Waziristan to testify before Congress on the impact of drone warfare, only five lawmakers bothered to show up. The assumption among campaigners seems to have been that the consciences of ordinary Americans would be stirred if they were to hear children describe what it’s like witnessing your 67-year-old grandmother getting blown up in a drone strike.

The death of Momina Bibi exactly a year ago illustrates how little value precision has if the target is a nameless figure on a computer screen. Yet the testimony of the Rehman family seems unlikely to have much impact on public opinion when Washington finds it so easy to ignore.

Al Jazeera reports:

[E]ven after what his family has been through, Rafiq Rehman said he does not resent the United States. In fact, even after witnessing his first Halloween weekend in the States, he does not believe all that much separates him from Americans.

“It’s very peaceful here. For the most part, there’s a lot of freedom and people get along with each other. They’re nice, they respect each other, and I appreciate that,” Rafiq told Al Jazeera.

“We’re all human beings,” he said. “I knew that Americans would have a heart, that they would be sympathetic to me. That’s why I came here — I thought if they heard my story, they would want to listen to me and influence their politicians.”

The attitude of the Obama administration seems to have been reflected in the decision to prevent the family’s lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, from accompanying them on their visit.

Akbar, a legal fellow with Reprieve, the U.K.-based advocacy organization that helped bring the family to the Washington, believes that his work has something to do with the denial. He only had trouble obtaining a visa after he started to litigate on the behalf of drone victims.

In an interview at his Islamabad office, Akbar told me that he was first denied entry to the United States in 2010, even though he had an open visa at the time. He said that the head of visa services at the U.S. embassy in Islamabad told him his visa could not be processed there because of his history. “And I looked at her and I said what do you mean by history? She just smiled and she said, ‘You know very well what I mean by history.’”

He assumes she was referring to his decision that year to sue the CIA station chief in Islamabad. “It’s very simple,” Akbar said. “You mess with [the] CIA and they mess with you to the extent they can.”

Even if Akbar had been there and even if the hearings had been well attended, I suspect that many lawmakers and other Americans would find it easy to marginalize the Rehman family’s experience.

America never tires of expressing its good intentions. We mean well. Accidents happen. Momina Bibi’s death was a mistake.

This month the Obama administration decided to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan and in what looks like a rather transparent quid pro quo, the Pakistani government today issued a statement drastically reducing its claims about the number of civilians killed in drone attacks.

They now say that since 2008, 2,160 militants and 67 civilians have been killed.

There was no indication why the new data seem to differ so much from past government calculations and outside estimates.

A U.N. expert investigating drone strikes, Ben Emmerson, said this month that the Pakistani Foreign Ministry told him that at least 400 civilians have been killed by drone attacks in the country since they started in 2004.

Emmerson called on the Islamabad government to explain the apparent discrepancy, with the Foreign Ministry figure indicating a much higher percentage of civilian casualties.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, based in London, has estimated that drones have killed at least 300 civilians in Pakistan since 2008, while the Washington-based New America Foundation puts the figure at 185 civilians. Such estimates are often compiled from news media reports about the attacks.

Having made drone warfare one of the signatures of his presidency, Barack Obama’s level of comfort in utilizing this form of technology can be seen both through his willingness to joke about it, and his insistence on its judicious use. In his mind, the drone has somehow been turned into a symbol of restraint. Shock and awe has been replaced by carefully calibrated violence — even while it employs the far too infrequently cited brand: Hellfire.

The propaganda campaign the Obama administration has engaged in — now with the collusion of the Pakistani government — has always been a numbers game. It attempts to justify drone warfare on the basis of its supposed efficiency. Through a false equivalence — that drone strikes kill far fewer people and do less damage than air strikes — the drone is cast as the lesser of two evils. (This is a false equivalence because drone strikes are rarely employed as an alternative to an air strike. The 317 drone strikes in Pakistan Obama has authorized could not have been substituted by 317 air strikes.) And the measure of the drones’ success can be reduced to a numerical formula such as the one Pakistan just produced.

The effect of claiming that “just” 67 civilians have been killed (leaving aside the issue that this number is implausibly low) is that it masks the wider effect of drone warfare: that it has terrorized the populations in the areas where its use has become prevalent.

A reporter for the Washington Post interviewed a journalist in Pakistan and tried to get a sense of the psychological impact of drones. Was it, she asked, like living somewhere where there are lots of drive-by shootings? (Fear of random acts of violence might usefully offer some common ground, though the comparison might be a bit more realistic if one imagines a neighborhood where the shooters are armed with shoulder-launched missiles rather than handguns.)

Kiran Nazish describes what the presence of drones really means: that the fear of sudden death becomes ever-present.

Along with the few victims that Washington acknowledges, there are thousands more. Facing the risk of missile strikes, these are people afraid to go to market or to leave their own homes. And when the sky is blue, the danger rises, as high above, unseen but constantly heard, drones circle like vultures in search of their prey.

Powerless and with nowhere to flee, for the living victims of drone warfare, America has become an invisible and blind executioner.

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NSA’s MUSCULAR secretly breaks into the cloud of U.S. tech companies, siphons off data, fouls up revenues overseas

Wolf Richter writes: The cloud is where the NSA goes to pick through everyone’s data. Under the PRISM program, revealed by Snowden some time ago, the NSA has enjoyed easy access to user accounts and their data. Companies cooperate. It’s permitted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. We just didn’t know about it.

MUSCULAR is darker. It secretly targets American companies. Google and Yahoo have been named in top-secret documents that Snowden had pilfered and that landed at the Washington Post. To get around legality issues in the US, the NSA broke into Google’s and Yahoo’s overseas data centers. If you have anything in the cloud – and you do, whether you want to or not – it’s stored in numerous locations, including overseas.

In March last year, when David Petraeus was still CIA Director, before emails, ironically, about an extramarital affair unraveled his career, he spoke at the In-Q-Tel CEO Summit. He was accompanied by NSA specialists. He raved about how startups that had been funded by In-Q-Tel – the CIA’s venture capital branch – were “providing enormous support to us as we execute various critical intelligence missions.” He talked about “innovative technologies developed by the firms represented in this room.”

It was just a speech, and no one really paid attention. But he was disclosing the true nature of our perfect surveillance society, on the eve of the Snowden revelations.

“We have to rethink our notions of identity and secrecy. In the digital world, data is everywhere,” he said. “Data is created constantly, often unknowingly and without permission” – emphasis mine. “Every byte left behind reveals information about location, habits, and, by extrapolation, intent, and probable behavior.” The data “that can be collected is virtually limitless,” he said, which presented “enormous intelligence opportunities.” And in closing he thanked the executives and tech gurus for “helping to keep America’s Intelligence Community at the forefront of global innovation.”

So far, the Snowden revelations have shown exactly that: an intense, hand-in-glove cooperation between the Intelligence Community and American tech companies, from scrappy startups to corporate mastodons, at every level, whether adding backdoors to Windows operating systems or compromising the keys to encryption.

But the revelations about the MUSCULAR program show that, in parallel, the NSA also worked against these tech companies – Google and Yahoo so far, but more documents are likely to trickle out, as they have done in the past, like Chinese water torture, to reveal that other American companies got hit as well. [Continue reading…]

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NSA’s Mideast spying ‘intense’ amid regional upheaval, say experts

Al Arabiya reports: Leaked documents disclosed earlier this week revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted 125 billion phone calls and SMS messages in January 2013, many of them originating in the Middle East.

The NSA’s attention on the Middle East and the surrounding region is far more “intense than anything comparable in Europe,” according to Matthew Aid, a Washington, DC-based intelligence historian and expert.

Strained relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia over resolving the Syrian conflict could be a possible reason for the NSA’s particularly large targeting of Saudi Arabia – over 7.8 billion times in one month – said Aid.

Saudi-U.S. tension may have also resulted in Obama’s administration being “quite curious” over the kingdom’s thoughts on Syria, as the countries have consistently disagreed on the issue.

Aid, who in 2009 published a history on the NSA entitled “The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency,” said that most of the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks have not focused on the agency’s surveillance in the Middle East.

“We’re waiting for that shoe to drop, but it hasn’t,” Aid told Al Arabiya News, stating that leaks by Snowden’s associates have been largely focused “on those countries which will generate immediate reaction in the press and from the governments in question.”

Saudi Arabia and Iraq witnessed 7.8 billion wiretapping incidents from the NSA each, while Egypt and Jordan saw 1.8 billion and 1.6 billion respectively, according to Cryptome, a digital library that publishes leaked documents.

Additionally, over 1.7 billion wiretapping incidents were recorded in Iran. [Continue reading…]

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NSA issues non-denial denial of infiltrating Google and Yahoo’s networks

TechDirt: While NSA boss Keith Alexander issued a misleading denial of this morning’s report of how the NSA has infiltrated Yahoo and Google’s networks by hacking into their private network connections between datacenters, the NSA has now come out with its official statement which is yet another typical non-denial denial. They deny things that weren’t quite said while refusing to address the actual point:

NSA has multiple authorities that it uses to accomplish its mission, which is centered on defending the nation. The Washington Post’s assertion that we use Executive Order 12333 collection to get around the limitations imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and FAA 702 is not true.

The assertion that we collect vast quantities of US persons’ data from this type of collection is also not true. NSA applies attorney general-approved processes to protect the privacy of US persons – minimizing the likelihood of their information in our targeting, collection, processing, exploitation, retention, and dissemination.

NSA is a foreign intelligence agency. And we’re focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets only.

Note what is missing from all of this. They do not deny hacking into the data center connection lines outside of the US. They do not deny getting access to all that data, especially on non-US persons. As for the claim that they’re protecting the privacy of US persons, previous statements from Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, have already made it clear that if they collect info on Americans, they’re going to use this loophole to search them:

“If we’re validly targeting foreigners and we happen to collect communications of Americans, we don’t have to close our eyes to that,” Litt said. “I’m not aware of other situations where once we have lawfully collected information, we have to go back and get a warrant to look at the information we’ve already collected.”

So, for all the claims that this kind of information will be “minimized,” it certainly looks like they’ve already admitted they don’t do that. [Continue reading…]

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Congressional inaction prompts states to take up issue of privacy law

The New York Times reports: State legislatures around the country, facing growing public concern about the collection and trade of personal data, have rushed to propose a series of privacy laws, from limiting how schools can collect student data to deciding whether the police need a warrant to track cellphone locations.

Over two dozen privacy laws have passed this year in more than 10 states, in places as different as Oklahoma and California. Many lawmakers say that news reports of widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency have led to more support for the bills among constituents. And in some cases, the state lawmakers say, they have felt compelled to act because of the stalemate in Washington on legislation to strengthen privacy laws.

“Congress is obviously not interested in updating those things or protecting privacy,” said Jonathan Stickland, a Republican state representative in Texas. “If they’re not going to do it, states have to do it.”

For Internet companies, the patchwork of rules across the country means keeping a close eye on evolving laws to avoid overstepping. Many companies have an internal team to deal with state legislation. And the flurry of legislation has led some companies, particularly technology companies, to exert their lobbying muscles — with some success — when proposed measures stand to harm their bottom lines.

“It can be counterproductive to have multiple states addressing the same issue, especially with online privacy, which can be national or an international issue,” said Michael D. Hintze, chief privacy counsel at Microsoft, who added that at times it can create “burdensome compliance.” For companies, it helps that state measures are limited in their scope by a federal law that prevents states from interfering with interstate commerce.

This year, Texas passed a bill introduced by Mr. Stickland that requires warrants for email searches, while Oklahoma enacted a law meant to protect the privacy of student data. At least three states proposed measures to regulate who inherits digital data, including Facebook passwords, when a user dies. [Continue reading…]

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Glenn Greenwald: On leaving the Guardian

Glenn Greenwald writes: As many of you know, I’m leaving the Guardian in order to work with Pierre Omidyar, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill and soon-to-be-identified others on building a new media organization. As I said when this
news was reported a couple of weeks ago, leaving the Guardian was not an easy choice, but this was a dream opportunity that was impossible to decline.

We do not yet have an exact launch date for the new outlet, but rest assured: I’m not going to disappear for months or anything like that. The new site will be up and running reasonably soon.

In the meantime, I’ll continue reporting in partnership with foreign media outlets (stories on mass NSA surveillance in France began last week in Le Monde, and stories on bulk surveillance of Spanish citizens and NSA’s cooperation with Spanish intelligence have appeared this week in Spain’s El Mundo), as well as in partnership with US outlets. As I did yesterday when responding to NSA claims about these stories, I’ll also periodically post on my personal blog – here – with an active comment section, as well as on our pre-launch temporary blog. Until launch of the new media outlet, the best way to learn of new stories, new posts, and other activity is my Twitter feed, @ggreenwald. My new email address and PGP key are here. [Continue reading…]

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Chemical arms inspectors say Syria has destroyed all declared sites

The New York Times reports: The international chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that Syria had met an important deadline for the “functional destruction” of all the chemical weapons production and mixing facilities it declared to inspectors, rendering them inoperable, under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.

While some experts depicted the announcement as a milestone, the measures left President Bashar al-Assad in control of a declared 1,290 tons of chemical weapons that are supposed to be destroyed by mid-2014, and an array of conventional weapons used in the country’s bloody civil war, in which over 100,000 people have died.

“The Assad regime continues to use artillery, air power and siege tactics against civilians, with thousands killed every month,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement. While the destruction of facilities is “an important first milestone, it brings no relief to the Syrian people.” [Continue reading…]

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Rogue intelligence agency: NSA infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide

The Washington Post reports: The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, according to documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials.

By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from among hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.

According to a top secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, NSA’s acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from Yahoo and Google internal networks to data warehouses at the agency’s Fort Meade headquarters. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records — ranging from “metadata,” which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, to content such as text, audio and video.

The NSA’s principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency’s British counterpart, GCHQ. From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information between the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants.

The infiltration is especially striking because the NSA, under a separate program known as PRISM, has front-door access to Google and Yahoo user accounts through a court-approved process.

The MUSCULAR project appears to be an unusually aggressive use of NSA tradecraft against flagship American companies. The agency is built for high-tech spying, with a wide range of digital tools, but it has not been known to use them routinely against U.S. companies. [Continue reading…]

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The real privacy problem

Evgeny Morozov writes: In 1967, The Public Interest, then a leading venue for highbrow policy debate, published a provocative essay by Paul Baran, one of the fathers of the data transmission method known as packet switching. Titled “The Future Computer Utility,” the essay speculated that someday a few big, centralized computers would provide “information processing … the same way one now buys electricity.”

Our home computer console will be used to send and receive messages—like telegrams. We could check to see whether the local department store has the advertised sports shirt in stock in the desired color and size. We could ask when delivery would be guaranteed, if we ordered. The information would be up-to-the-minute and accurate. We could pay our bills and compute our taxes via the console. We would ask questions and receive answers from “information banks”—automated versions of today’s libraries. We would obtain up-to-the-minute listing of all television and radio programs … The computer could, itself, send a message to remind us of an impending anniversary and save us from the disastrous consequences of forgetfulness.

It took decades for cloud computing to fulfill Baran’s vision. But he was prescient enough to worry that utility computing would need its own regulatory model. Here was an employee of the RAND Corporation—hardly a redoubt of Marxist thought—fretting about the concentration of market power in the hands of large computer utilities and demanding state intervention. Baran also wanted policies that could “offer maximum protection to the preservation of the rights of privacy of information”:

Highly sensitive personal and important business information will be stored in many of the contemplated systems … At present, nothing more than trust—or, at best, a lack of technical sophistication—stands in the way of a would-be eavesdropper … Today we lack the mechanisms to insure adequate safeguards. Because of the difficulty in rebuilding complex systems to incorporate safeguards at a later date, it appears desirable to anticipate these problems.

Sharp, bullshit-free analysis: techno-futurism has been in decline ever since.

To read Baran’s essay (just one of the many on utility computing published at the time) is to realize that our contemporary privacy problem is not contemporary. It’s not just a consequence of Mark Zuckerberg’s selling his soul and our profiles to the NSA. The problem was recognized early on, and little was done about it. [Continue reading…]

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Too many Americans believe all means are justifiable in the fight against terrorism

Stephan Richter and Jan Philipp Albrecht write: The latest wave of spying scandals should prompt close scrutiny of the often bizarre mechanisms that shape the transatlantic relationship. There are of course numerous European transatlantic apologists. For them, any hint of holding the US accountable as a responsible global power goes out the window. Such lofty talk is reserved for China.

And then there is a group of largely American analysts, diplomats and journalists who make a point of challenging the Europeans on any point of principle. Their mantra goes: everyone spies on everyone – what else did you expect? They regard Europeans collectively as naive, not cut out for the tough world that’s out there.

What gets lost in all this is the root cause of the current scandals. It is decidedly not that Europeans live on Venus. It is the catastrophic lack of effective checks and balances in the US.

In one sense the spying revelations show that other nations have little to complain about. They are, after all, not being treated any worse by US authorities than American citizens themselves.

What the European unease, at both the popular and senior political levels, highlights, however, is the big difference between the US and Europe. Europeans still operate under the assumption that it is critical to uphold the rule of law. The US government is more than flexible with the rule of law by turning any notion of privacy into Swiss cheese. The dangerous implications this holds for the core ideas of democracy are obvious.

But it isn’t just that the US government has undermined the rule of law at home. It is that American citizens themselves, to a stunningly large extent, have bought into the notion that the “war on terror” and “Islamic extremism” justify all means. Their acquiescence, if not active tolerance, is what allows Washington to operate above the law, from drones to routinely spying on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Spanish people, to name but a few of the targets. [Continue reading…]

To be blunt, what this boils down to is America’s ill-conceived response to 9/11.

No doubt, the attacks were devastating to those directly affected and had a traumatic effect on the whole nation. Yet the appropriate function of political leadership in a democratic country at such a moment was not to channel and amplify collective fear; neither was it to allow fear to legitimize a desire for revenge; nor was there a need for trumpeting American pride.

The need at that moment was to express grief, clean up the mess, and take stock. The need above all was for an expression of wisdom, not power.

Al Qaeda’s goal was to trigger an over-reaction which would itself then serve as a global rallying cry for jihad. George Bush and Dick Cheney rose straight for the bait without a moment’s hesitation. They delivered a simple-minded response — a war on terrorism — for a nation that had forgotten how to think straight.

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The military’s toxic burn pits are making soldiers sick

Katie Drummond writes: At the height of the war in Iraq, US forces operated out of 505 bases scattered across the country. Joint Base Balad, a 15-square-mile outpost north of Baghdad, was the second largest. Home to 36,000 military personnel and contractors at its peak, the base was considered a vital hub for operations throughout Iraq — largely thanks to two 11,000-foot runways and one of the best and biggest trauma centers in the region. Balad also boasted a notorious array of amenities: troops living in the makeshift mini-city could dine on Burger King or Subway, play miniature golf or relax in an air-conditioned movie theater, and browse for TVs or iPods at two different shopping centers.

But when Le Roy arrived at Balad in the summer of 2007, the first thing he noticed was the smell. A noxious, overwhelming stench reminiscent of burning rubber. “I was like, ‘Wow, that is something really bad, really really bad,’” he recalls. Soon, he also noticed the smoke: plumes of it curling into the air at all hours of the day, sometimes lingering over the base as dark, foreboding clouds. That smoke, Le Roy soon learned, was coming from the same place as the stench that had first grabbed him: Balad’s open-air burn pit.

The pit, a shallow excavation measuring a gargantuan 10 acres, was used to incinerate every single piece of refuse generated by Balad’s thousands of residents. That meant seemingly innocuous items, like food scraps or paper. But it also meant plastic, styrofoam, electronics, metal cans, rubber tires, ammunition, explosives, human feces, animal carcasses, lithium batteries, asbestos insulation, and human body parts — all of it doused in jet fuel and lit on fire. The pit wasn’t unique to Balad: open-air burn pits, operated either by servicemembers or contractors, were used to dispose of trash at bases all across Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I remember waking up with soot on me; you’d come out and barely see the sun because it was so dark from the smoke,” says Dan Meyer, a 28-year-old Air Force veteran who lived adjacent to the burn pit at Afghanistan’s Kandahar Air Base. Meyer is now confined to a wheelchair because of inoperable tumors in his knees, and breathes using an oxygen tank due to an obstructive lung disease. “It would just rain down on us. We always called it ‘black snow.’”

It’s no secret that open-air burning poses health hazards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long warned that burning waste — even organic refuse like brush or tree branches — is dangerous. Burning items like plastic water bottles or computer parts is even worse. “It’s appalling,” says Anthony Wexler, PhD, director of the Air Quality Research Center at UC Davis and the co-author of a 2010 review of the military’s air-quality surveillance programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. “From a health perspective, this kind of open-pit burning, especially when you’re burning everything under the sun, creates a real mess.” That’s because of both the size of the particulate matter emitted from the pits and its composition. Smoke from any combustion process fills the air with what are known as “fine particles” or PM2.5. Because they’re so small — measuring 2.5 microns in diameter or less — these particles burrow more deeply into the lungs than larger airborne pollutants, and from there can leach into the bloodstream and circulate through the body. The military’s burn pits emitted particulate matter laced with heavy metals and toxins — like sulfur dioxide, arsenic, dioxins, and hydrochloric acid — that are linked to serious health ailments. Among them are chronic respiratory and cardiovascular problems, allergies, neurological conditions, several kinds of cancer, and weakened immune systems. [Continue reading…]

For more information, see Burnpits 360.

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U.S. government puts hacktivism on trial

Aarti Shahani reports: With online relationships, it’s complicated.

The billionaire founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, is bankrolling a new media company with reporters who have used WikiLeaks to break giant stories.

But the eBay-owned subsidiary PayPal is working with the Justice Department to prosecute a handful of WikiLeaks supporters. The defendants could serve decades in prison, and their convictions could decide if “hacktivism” is free speech or a felony offense.

On Oct. 31, 14 defendants are scheduled to walk into a federal court in San Jose, Calif. They are known as the PayPal 14, and prosecutors will ask them to plead guilty to attacking PayPal, the online payment service based in that city.

In December 2010, PayPal, Visa, Mastercard and major banks became targets of a spate of cyberattacks, but not by criminals who wanted to steal credit card numbers.

When the companies stopped processing online donations for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, supporters — some associated with the hacker group Anonymous — responded with a novel form of protest.

In the case of PayPal, they sent thousands of packets of data to the company’s servers at such a speed, its system nearly crashed.

“It was serious,” said PayPal spokesman Anuj Nayar, who recalled that deflecting the traffic felt like a chess game.

PayPal estimates the attacks cost $3.5 million in technology upgrades. The company gave prosecutors a list of the top 1,000 attackers. From that list, the Department of Justice indicted a handful as part of its ongoing crackdown against Anonymous.

The DOJ cannot comment on pending cases but relies on prosecution guidelines that consider how likely a person is to repeat an alleged offense. Attorney Peter Leeming, who represents one of the defendants, says the selection “seemed arbitrary to me.”

Leeming, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., has represented political protesters for decades and is developing a boutique practice around hacktivism, or online attacks that are politically or socially motivated and not driven by financial gain.

“They’re a relatively new creature,” he said. “Is demonstrating and shutting down a street any different from shutting down a line of commerce on the Internet?” [Continue reading…]

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Egypt’s once ousted General Tohamy is now more powerful than ever

The New York Times reports: A year after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, the man responsible for rooting out government corruption, Gen. Mohamed Farid el-Tohamy, faced a very public barrage of allegations that he had deliberately covered up years of cronyism and self-dealing.

President Mohamed Morsi promptly fired the general, prosecutors opened an investigation, the news filled the papers and his career appeared to end in disgrace.

But now the general is back, and more powerful than ever. His protégé and friend, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, ousted Mr. Morsi about four months ago, and virtually the first move by the new government was to rehabilitate General Tohamy and place him in charge of the general intelligence service, one of the most powerful positions in Egypt.

Western diplomats and Egyptians close to the government say General Tohamy has emerged as the leading advocate of the lethal crackdown on Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, in a drive to eviscerate the movement.

Any public trace of the corruption charges — leveled by one of the general’s own investigators — has disappeared.

“What happened to the prosecutors’ claim of evidence of his corruption and obstruction of justice?” asked Hossam Bahgat, one of the few Egyptian human rights advocates willing to publicly criticize General Tohamy. “Why was he ousted in that humiliating fashion? Why was he brought back from retirement the morning after the military takeover?” he continued. “There is zero public discussion of these very serious questions.” [Continue reading…]

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High-ranking Muslim Brotherhood leader seized in Egypt

The New York Times reports: Egyptian security forces on Wednesday captured Essam el-Erian, one of the last few prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood still at large after a crackdown on the group that began with the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, its ally.

The seizure of Mr. Erian, a senior leader in the Brotherhood’s political arm and an adviser to the president, appears to complete the incarceration of the organization’s top leaders less than 18 months after they stood on the brink of consolidating power over the presidency and Parliament. He was among the most visible and outspoken leaders of the Brotherhood, Egypt’s mainstream Islamist movement, and his arrest caps a career that has traced the group’s evolution through years of repression, internal reforms, electoral victories and political failure.

The charges against Mr. Erian were not immediately clear, although many of his fellow Brotherhood leaders have been arrested on allegations of incitement to violence. [Continue reading…]

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Sheldon Adelson’s proposal for a nuclear strike on Iran

Billionaire casino boss and supporter of Israel, Sheldon Adelson, speaking in New York City on October 22, 2013. Video by Philip Weiss.

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