Overlooked Syrian conflict hits new death toll record

Foreign Policy: As the world focused on Ukraine and Gaza over the weekend, the bloodiest 48-hour period in Syria’s civil war went largely unnoticed. More than 700 Syrians were killed on Thursday and Friday, according to an NGO tracking the conflict, providing a stark reminder that a war that has raged for years shows no signs of winding down.

The Shaar gas field in central Syria saw some of the heaviest fighting. It is a crucial gas supply facility for the country’s central region and among the largest in Syria. Islamic State fighters attacked the field Wednesday night — just hours after Bashar al-Assad was sworn in for a third, seven-year term as president — and seized it Thursday, killing 270 government soldiers, guards, and staff. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based NGO, at least 40 militants from the group formerly known as ISIS were killed. Over the weekend the body count grew by 100. [Continue reading...]

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Internet administration to shift from U.S. to global stage

n13-iconPolitico reports: The U.S. Commerce Department is relinquishing its hold over the group that manages the Internet’s architecture amid pressure to globalize its functions in the wake of reports about NSA surveillance.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration, a Commerce Department agency, said Friday it is transitioning the function to the “global Internet community.” The decision marks a dramatic change. Since the Internet’s inception, the United States has played a leading role in the management of critical back-end Web work, including management of .com and other domain names. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has performed those functions under U.S. Commerce contract since 2000.
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The United States will give up its oversight role when the current contract with ICANN expires in fall 2015, NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling said. He set out a series of four principles required for the transition, including that ICANN maintain the openness of the Internet. Some U.S. officials and businesses have expressed fears about the United Nations, or governments like Russia and China, taking over control of the Web.

“We will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an intergovernmental solution,” Strickling said in a conference call.

ICANN, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, has been pushing to transform itself into a global organization without U.S. oversight. European Union officials have strongly backed the globalization campaign, which has picked up steam in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA’s sprawling surveillance programs. [Continue reading...]

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Russian roulette: The invasion of Ukraine

Part Eight — On the night of Thursday, March 13 VICE News reporter Robert King captured this scene on the streets of Donetsk, where a large group of pro-Russian activists attacked a group of pro-Ukrainian demonstrators calling for unity.

Part Seven — Simon is back in the Crimean capital of Simferopol, where both pro and anti-Russia demonstrations are dividing the region. Pro-Russia protesters believe that the country’s strong economy will help Crimea, while anti-Russia protesters feel that their land has been taken over by bandits.

Part Six — VICE News correspondent Simon Ostrovsky travels to the Kherson region of mainland Ukraine to both the Ukrainian and Russian checkpoints. At the Ukrainian checkpoint, Simon goes inside one of their tanks, and speaks to the commander, who says that despite his Russian blood he will defend all invaders. But at the Russian checkpoint, the exchange isn’t quite as cordial.

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Video: GCHQ data-exorcism — the slaying of Guardian hard drives

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DNI Clapper caught lying again?

NewsThe Associated Press reports: The top U.S. intelligence chief, James Clapper, said this week that the loss of state secrets as a result of leaks by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden was the worst in American history. Clapper backed up his assertion with dire forecasts about emboldened enemies abroad, but some historians and researchers said the U.S. has struggled with even more devastating intelligence breakdowns over the past century.

Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has said Snowden’s disclosures and the resulting media coverage are giving away blueprints for surveillance programs. “Terrorists and other adversaries of this country are going to school on U.S. intelligence sources, methods and tradecraft,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.

At the start of that hearing, Clapper staked a claim he had not previously made in public. Snowden’s leaks, he said, were “the most massive and most damaging theft of intelligence information in our history.”

Historians and researchers said Clapper’s remark ignores the most devastating intelligence loss of the 20th century — the theft of America’s top-secret atomic bomb design by Soviet spies. Others say a trio of Americans who spied for Russia in the 1980s and 1990s — Aldrich Ames, Robert Hanssen and John Walker — caused immense intelligence damage that led to the loss of vital secrets and the deaths of American informants. [Continue reading...]

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Interrupted by cold weather

With a high of 26° today and a low of 6° expected tonight, the last two days have not been a good time for our furnace to break down. This is one of those times where taking care of the shelter has to take precedence over maintaining this website.

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Message for readers using mobile devices

mobileI recently changed the WordPress “theme” (layout, etc.) for War in Context and inadvertently made the site unreadable on smart phones. The problem should now be fixed. If not, please let me know.

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On the road — updated

From Saturday through Thursday Saturday? I will be on the road driving from North Carolina to Illinois and back. I will be updating the site as circumstances allow. During this period, I will be posting fewer news items and more of the free-ranging items that I’m now clustering under my catchall — attention to the unseen. This brief message will remain at the top of the page throughout this period. PW

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