In my eyes, indisposed
In disguises no one knows
Hides the face, lies the snake
The sun in my disgrace
— excerpt, Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden
Looks like this week is all about mergers. Enjoy this simulation on replay several times while listening to Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun while we dig in.
The Yahoo and Hutchins-Telefonica deals bear scrutiny for their potential for mass surveillance depending on how the proposals play out. Yahoo could end up operating under UK laws, and some part(s) of either Hutchins or Telefonica could end up with a non-UK or non-EU partner.
All of these proposed mergers were in the works before the Panama Papers were released; none them appear to be motivated solely by tax reduction, but instead by economies of scale and weak market conditions. It’d be nice if executives of all companies raking in profits realized that failing to pay their hourly workers well has a direct impact on overall market demand. Their businesses could retain autonomy instead of spending time and money on M&A they could spend on employees’ wages.
Speaking of Panama Papers: revelations still shaping policy and politics
Just for fun: Rockets!
If you didn’t watch SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch on Friday, you really ought to make some time to do so for entertainment purposes. The first stage of the rocket returned successfully for reused, nailing a landing on a drone ship — a DRONE SHIP AT SEA. I missed the fact the landing pad was a drone vessel when I watched the first attempts. It’s a really narrow thing, landing on a speck of a pad in the ocean which is pushed around a bit by ocean currents in spite of the drone ship’s programming and/or remote control. (I would love to know who named the drone ship, ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ and why…)
What’s similarly remarkable is the SpaceX team — their excitement is off the map, rather like watching a K-12 FIRST LEGO robotics competition than an aeronautics business at work. Note in the video the team’s reaction just seconds (about 27:30) to the first stage return landing; it’s as if they KNEW they had it nailed before it happened. Wouldn’t you love to know just how they knew?
Also for grins: compare SpaceX’s landing on Friday (start at 23:48 into video) to competitor Blue Origin’s recent rocket return. Blue Origin is owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; the return is so smooth and slick, but it’s in the west Texas desert where potential disruption of the landing has been minimized. Important to keep in mind that SpaceX actually delivered a payload after reaching orbit, where Blue Origin is still limited to sub-orbit elevation.
With that our week’s been launched — let’s go!
Video popularity in Facebook’s ‘walled garden’ means change for news outlets
This is not good. This is AOL’s model come full circle. Increasingly Facebook is shutting down access from outside, forcing news outlets to move inside, and to produce video instead of text content in order to fight for attention. Numerous outlets are affected by this trend, including the former AOL (now Huffington Post). The capper is Facebook’s persistent tracking of any users, including those who click on Facebook links. What will this do to general election coverage? Facebook really needs effective competition — stat.
Weather and bad flu season raised French deaths above WWII’s rate
Wow. I knew the flu was bad last year, but this bad? Ditto for Europe’s weather, though the heat wave last summer was really ugly. Combined, both killed more French in one year than any year since the end of World War II, while reducing overall life expectancy.
FDA issues guidelines on ‘Postmarket Management of Cybersecurity in Medical Devices’ for comment
Sure hope infosec professionals jump all over this opportunity to shape policy and regulation. Imagine pacemakers being hacked like a Chrysler 300, or reprogrammed without customer knowledge like a VW diesel, or surveilling user like a Samsung smart TV…
UK’s Cameron says one thing, UK’s arms dealers another with sales of £1Bn arms to Saudi Arabia
Can’t. Even. *mumbles something about pig porker*
“The day after the prime minister [David Cameron] claimed to be ‘trying to encourage a political process in Yemen’ and declared ‘there is no military solution in Yemen’, official figures reveal that in just the three months July to September, the government approved the sale of over £1bn worth of bombs for the use of the Royal Saudi Air Force. …
[Source: The Guardian]
Lack of transparency problematic in fatal French drug trial
Like talking to a brick wall to get answers about the drug involved in one death and five hospitalizations after 94 subjects were given an experimental drug. On the face of it, simultaneous rather than staggered administration may have led to multiple simultaneous reactions.
Canadian immigrant helped two Chinese soldiers attempt theft of U.S. military aircraft plans
You want to know how ‘chaining’ works? Here’s a simple real world example allegedly used to spy on U.S. military aircraft: Identify a key node in a network; identify the node’s key relationships; sniff those connections for content and more key nodes. A Chinese immigrant in aircraft biz, located in Vancouver, shares email addresses of key individuals in the industry with Chinese officers. They, in turn, attempt to hack accounts to mine for plans, which their contact in Vancouver vets.
Now ask yourself whether these key individuals are in or related to anyone in the Office of Personnel Management database.
Ugh. Keep whacking those moles.
Politico has a big piece tied to a Showtime documentary on the living CIA Directors. As should be expected of a collection of paid liars, there are a lot of myths and score settling, most notably with expanded George Tenet claims about the strength of the warnings he gave about 9/11.
But I’m most interested in this insight, which seems very apt given recent intelligence failures and successes.
What’s the CIA’s mission? Is it a spy agency? Or a secret army? “Sometimes I think we get ourselves into a frenzy—into believing that killing is the only answer to a problem,” says Tenet. “And the truth is, it’s not. That’s not what our reason for existence is.” When Petraeus became CIA director, his predecessor, Hayden took him aside. Never before, Hayden warned him, had the agency become so focused on covert military operations at the expense of intelligence gathering. “An awful lot of what we now call analysis in the American intelligence community is really targeting,” Hayden says. “Frankly, that has been at the expense of the broader, more global view. We’re safer because of it, but it has not been cost-free. Some of the things we do to keep us safe for the close fight—for instance, targeted killings—can make it more difficult to resolve the deep fight, the ideological fight. We feed the jihadi recruitment video that these Americans are heartless killers.”
This is, of course, the counterpoint to Hayden’s claim that “we kill people based on metadata.” But it says much more: it describes how we’re viewing the world in terms of targets to kill rather than people to influence or views to understand. Hayden argues that prevents us from seeing the broader view, which may include both theaters where we’re not actively killing people but also wider trends.
Which is why I’m so interested in the big festival the US and UK — David Cameron, especially (of course, he’s in the middle of an effort to get Parliament to rubber stamp the existing British dragnet) — are engaging in with the presumed drone-killing of Mohammed Emwazi, nicknamed Jihadi John by the press.
Given that ISIS has plenty of other fighters capable of executing prisoners, some even that speak British accented English, this drone-killing seems to be more about show, the vanquishing of a public figure rather than a functional leader — contrary to what David Cameron says. As WaPo notes,
“If this strike was successful, and we still await confirmation of that, it will be a strike at the heart of ISIL,” Cameron said, using an acronym for the Islamic State.
Cameron alternated between speaking about Emwazi in the past and the present tenses, describing him as a “barbaric murderer” who was the Islamic State’s “lead executioner.”
“This was an act of self defense. It was the right thing to do,” he said.
But it is not clear that Emwazi had a meaningful role in Islamic State’s leadership structure. Analysts said the impact of his possible death could be limited.
“Implications? None beyond the symbolism,” said a Twitter message from Shiraz Maher, an expert on extremism at King’s College London.
It also might be a way to permanently silence questions about the role that British targeting of Emwazi had in further radicalizing him.
And all this comes just a few weeks after ISIS affiliates in Egypt claim to have brought down a Russian plane — depending on how you count, the largest terrorist attack since 9/11. Clearly, the combined British and US dragnet did not manage to prevent the attack, but there are even indications GCHQ, at least, wasn’t the agency that first picked up chatter about it.
Information from the intelligence agency of another country, rather than Britain’s own, led the Government to conclude that a bomb probably brought down the Russian airliner that crashed in the Sinai.
It was reports from an undisclosed “third party” agency, rather than Britain’s own GCHQ, that revealed the so-called “chatter” among extremists after the disaster that killed all 224 passengers and crew – and ended with the suspension of all British flights to Sharm el-Sheikh, according to authoritative sources.
British officials are said to have asked whether the same information had also been passed to Egypt, and were told that it had.
Sources declined to say which friendly country passed the information. The US and Israel – whose own borders have been threatened by Isis in Sinai – as well as Arab nations in the region all have an interest in monitoring activity in the area.
So while it’s all good that the Americans and Brits took out an ISIS executioner in Syria — thereby avenging the deaths of their country men — it’s not like this great dragnet is doing what it always promises to do: prevent attacks, or even understand them quickly.
Perhaps that’s because, while we approach ever closer to “collect[ing] it all,” we’re targeting rather than analyzing the data?
The American press is (rightly) outraged by the news that Chinese officials showed up unannounced to “inspect” Bloomberg’s Chinese bureaus.
In what appears to be a conspicuous show of displeasure, Chinese authorities conducted unannounced “inspections” at Bloomberg News bureaus in Beijing and Shanghai in the final days of November, Fortune has learned. The visits followed media reports that Bloomberg cancelled a year-long investigation on financial ties between a Chinese billionaire and government officials.
Details of the inspections, conducted on the same day at the news bureaus in Beijing and Shanghai, are sketchy. It’s unclear how many officials were present or what government agency they represented. Different sources say, variously, that the visits were characterized as “security inspections” or “safety inspections.” But journalists inside Bloomberg view the appearance by civil government officials (they weren’t police) as an act of intimidation—precisely the reaction Bloomberg was eager to avoid.
And David Cameron told his Chinese hosts he was unhappy that Bloomberg reporter Robert Hutton was excluded from a joint press conference with him and Li Keqiang.
Downing Street has protested to the Chinese authorities about a “completely inappropriate” decision to bar a British journalist from a press conference in Beijing with David Cameron and his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang.
No 10 raised “deep concerns” on two occasions with Chinese officials after the foreign ministry excluded Robert Hutton, a political journalist with the US wire service Bloomberg, from the event at the Great Hall of the People on Monday.
Really, though, Cameron might have instead offered the Chinese tips about how satisfying it is to force a transnational journalistic outlet to destroy its hard drives with a power drill when shadowy figures show up in the name of “security.” For all the outrage directed at China, after all, the UK is not above aggressive censorship of damning information about its own government.
While the home of the Magna Carta chooses to use such persecution when a newspaper threatens to expose that it is really a surveillance state, the “Communist” leaders in China need to squelch stories of their own enrichment and corruption. But both are engaged in a similar paranoid suppression of news stories that goes to the heart of the fictions mobilized to rationalize their rule.
Which makes it rather telling that the Chinese example is getting so much more attention.
Last week, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited Washington, DC for a series of meetings. The final press appearance by Sharif and Barack Obama was noted by the New York Times to be somewhat awkward as Sharif paid whispered lip service to Pakistani objections to drone attacks while Obama ignored the topic entirely. The joint appearance was quickly overshadowed by release of an article from Greg Miller and Bob Woodward leaking a number of documents relating to the drone program. Both Marcy and I commented on the release and what it could mean.
The concept of the end of the war in Afghanistan got a bit of a mention in the Times article on Sharif’s visit:
With the United States’ winding down the Afghan war, Mr. Obama reminded Mr. Sharif of the importance of a stable, sovereign Afghanistan. American officials have long been suspicious of links between the Pakistani military and militant groups like the Haqqani network, which has carried out attacks on Westerners in Afghanistan.
For its part, the Sharif government has signaled an interest in negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban, a process that analysts said the United States should encourage.
But heaven forbid that Afghanistan should attempt to talk with Pakistan’s Taliban. Recall that earlier this month, the US snatched a high-ranking figure of the Pakistan Taliban from Afghan security forces as they were bringing him to a meeting. The cover story at the time from Afghanistan was to suggest that they were attempting to start peace talks with Latif Mehsud. An article in yesterday’s New York Times suggests that Afghanistan actually intended to work with Mehsud to develop a sort of alliance with the Pakistan Taliban and to use them as a pressure point against Pakistan’s government. What intrigues me most about this possibility is that Afghanistan claimed that this tactic was merely an imitation of what the US has done repeatedly in Afghanistan:
Another Afghan official said the logic of the region dictated the need for unseemly alliances. The United States, in fact, has relied on some of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords to fight the insurgency here, the official tartly noted.
“Everyone has an angle,” the official said. “That’s the way we’re thinking. Some people said we needed our own.”
Afghan officials said those people included American military officers and C.I.A. operatives. Frustrated by their limited ability to hit Taliban havens in Pakistan, some Americans suggested that the Afghans find a way to do it, they claimed.
So Afghanistan’s intelligence agency believed it had a green light from the United States when it was approached by Mr. Mehsud sometime in the past year.
Just in case you’ve forgotten, the last time we checked, the most notorious warlord war criminal of them all, Rashid Dostum, was still getting about $100,000 every month from the US while also drawing a salary as Karzai’s Army Chief of Staff. Coupling that with the Petraeus plan of incorporating the worst militias directly into the death squads of the Afghan Local Police while providing them support from the CIA and JSOC, and we can see why Afghanistan would feel that there are zero moral constraints on working with groups having a violent tendency.
But apparently in the Calvinball playing field of Afghanistan, only the US is allowed to make shadowy alliances, and so the US snatched Mehsud away from Afghanistan before any alliance could be formed. But even if we chalk that move up to an honest move to take a noted terrorist out of action, US behavior on other fronts relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan still continue to illustrate that the only US priorities are more military action in Afghanistan and more drone strikes in Pakistan.
Sharif’s next stop after Washington was London. But instead of awkward public appearances, the UK has instead set up meetings for Sharif directly with Hamid Karzai: Continue reading
everywhere there’s a US post… there’s a diplomatic scandal that will be revealed —Bradley Manning
Yesterday, in anticipation of Ecuador’s imminent (and now announced) official decision to offer Julian Assange, the British sent this letter to the Ecuadorans.
You should be aware that there is a legal basis in the U.K. the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act which would allow us to take action to arrest Mr. Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.
We very much hope not to get this point, but if you cannot resolve the issue of Mr. Assange’s presence on your premises, this route is open to us.
We understand the importance to you of the issues raised by Mr. Assange, and the strong public pressure in country. But we still have to resolve the situation on the ground, here in the U.K., in line with our legal obligations. We have endeavored to develop a joint text, which helps both meet your concerns, and presentational needs.
Then they sent several vans of police to the Ecuadoran embassy.
In short, the British are threatening to enter the Ecuadoran embassy, purportedly to carry out an extradition for a crime that Assange has not yet been charged with. Actually entering the mission would violate the Vienna diplomatic convention that holds that “The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission.” Craig Murray reports [mirror] that the Brits have decided to do so, in response to American pressure.
I returned to the UK today to be astonished by private confirmation from within the FCO that the UK government has indeed decided – after immense pressure from the Obama administration – to enter the Ecuadorean Embassy and seize Julian Assange.
The government’s calculation is that, unlike Ecuador, Britain is a strong enough power to deter such intrusions. This is yet another symptom of the “might is right” principle in international relations, in the era of the neo-conservative abandonment of the idea of the rule of international law.
There’s one more tangential detail to the UndieBomb plot that deserves mention.
The involvement of a Saudi-handled infiltrator in the plot was revealed by May 8. The Brits knew then that it was not just the Saudis and CIA whose operation had been exposed, but MI6 and MI5, who had been involved in recruiting the guy.
The spy who helped Western intelligence agencies thwart a plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner was a British national of Middle Eastern origin, sources tell NBC News.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, also say that British intelligence was “heavily involved” in recruiting the spy, who has not yet been identified publicly, and penetrating the plot by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to detonate a new, more sophisticated underwear bomb aboard a U.S. jetliner.
Mind you, we didn’t learn that until May 11. But the British government? They already knew it.
Which means they knew it before the Queen gave new emphasis to the plan to expand the use of secret courts in counterterrorism matters.
My government will introduce legislation to strengthen oversight of the security and intelligence agencies. This will also allow courts, through the limited use of closed proceedings, to hear a greater range of evidence in national security cases.
Remember, British Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is ostensibly doing this primarily because the fact that the British told us Binyam Mohamed’s treatment might amount to torture was revealed in his suit against the British government.
Plans to expand secret hearings into civil courts have been accelerated by the government. Rather than moving to the preparatory white paper stage, a justice and security bill will be put through parliament this session.
The government has come under severe pressure from MI5 and MI6 to impose a system of secret hearings in courts ever since disclosures that the security and intelligence agencies had been involved in the brutal treatment, and knew of the torture, of UK residents and citizens detained by the CIA.
Ken Clarke, the justice secretary, has said the powers are needed to reassure other countries, particularly the United States, that they can continue to share intelligence without fear of it being exposed in British courts. Continue reading
In September, Libyan rebels found a collection of documents that seemed as if they had been specially packaged to cause the US and–especially–the Brits a great deal of embarrassment. They detailed the rendition to Libyan torture of one of the leaders of the anti-Qaddafi uprising, Adul Hakim Belhaj. Today, the Guardian has a long, important article detailing the story behind that package of documents. Go read the whole thing–but here’s the chronology it lays out.
In short, the British appear to have traded a handful of LIFG members to lay the groundwork for an expanded oil relationship with Qaddafi–a relationship that would culminate, in 2009, with the exchange of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi for some BP contracts [see chetnolian’s correction on this point].
And along the way, in a process that parallels what has happened as we’ve killed off Taliban leaders with drone strikes, LIFG grew more extreme.
By early 2005, the British government had been forced to conclude that the capture of the more moderate elements among the LIFG leadership, such as Belhaj and al-Saadi, had resulted in a power vacuum that was being filled by men with pan-Islamist ambitions. Among a number of documents found in a second Tripoli cache, at the British ambassador’s abandoned residence, was a secret 58-page MI5 briefing paper that said “the extremists are now in the ascendancy,” and that they were “pushing the group towards a more pan-Islamic agenda inspired by AQ [al-Qaida]”.
Well then, if Libya ends up going sour or chaos continues to leach into Mali, I guess we’ll only have ourselves and Obama’s celebrated Libyan intervention to blame.
That and the crimes we committed 8 years ago all so the Brits could get Libyan oil.
One final comment. As it becomes increasingly clear how our former partners in crime can make life difficult if they lose their power, I wonder if it changes US willingness to back our old partner in torture in Egypt?
I noted, when David Cameron was in town, that his Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, was pushing to expand “closed material proceedings” as a way to better protect secret information. The effort was a response, Clarke claimed, to courts forcing the government to release information about Binyam Mohamed’s torture, which ended up revealing the US was using some torture techniques before the Bybee Memo purportedly approved torture.
Now, Cameron’s government is ratcheting up the fear-mongering, claiming that the US withheld information about a terrorist threat 18 months ago because of the the Mohamed release.
The CIA warned MI6 that al-Qaeda was planning an attack 18 months ago, but withheld detailed information because of concerns it would be released by British courts.
British intelligence agencies were subsequently forced to carry out their own investigations, according to Whitehall sources.
Several potential terrorists were identified with links to a wider European plot, but it is still not known whether the British authorities have uncovered the full extent of the threat.
I flew through London 18 months ago during what I suspect was this terror threat. It was the kind of threat where one airline–American–had rolled out the full heightened security theater, but another–Delta–had nothing special, both on the same day.
That kind of terrorist threat.
If it is true the CIA is withholding such information (I’m not saying I buy that the US withheld information from a serious threat), then consider what this means. Back in August 2006, the US (specifically, Dick Cheney and Jose Rodriguez) betrayed the “Special Relationship” by asking the Pakistanis to arrest one of the plotters in the liquid planes plot, which in turn forced the Brits to roll up their own investigation before they had solidified the case against the plotters. Several of the plotters had to be tried two times to get a conviction. The Bush Administration did all this as an election stunt.
And yet we’re the ones purportedly complaining about information sharing?
The Ides of March has not been kind to the US mission in Afghanistan. Despite Barack Obama and David Cameron putting their best spin on the situation yesterday and claiming that NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will not be accelerated by the recent atrocities perpetrated by US forces, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban both took moves today indicating that they are now angling for dominance in an Afghanistan that is soon to be rid of occupation by western troops. These moves by Karzai and the Taliban appear to me to be signalling that they independently have come to the conclusion that the COIN strategy of “training” Afghan security forces to take over by 2014 as NATO forces are drawn down is no longer viable.
Karzai’s move is to call for western troops to withdraw from their smaller operating outposts in villages back onto large bases. From the Washington Post:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded Thursday that the United States pull back from combat outposts and confine its troops to military bases, an apparent response to Sunday’s shooting rampage by a U.S. staff sergeant.
Foreign troops in Afghanistan must withdraw from village outposts and return to large NATO bases, the president’s statement said. Karzai also said he wants Afghan troops to assume primary responsibility for security nationwide by the end of next year, ahead of the time frame U.S. commanders have endorsed.
The Post then goes on to play into the hands of the Taliban (see below) by painting Karzai as powerless to affect US actions in Afghanistan:
Karzai does not have the authority to enforce a pullback of foreign troops, however. And the United States has rebuffed previous demands that it halt night raids, ban private security companies and immediately transfer control of prisons to the Afghan government.
Virtually simultaneously with Karzai’s demand for withdrawal from villages, the Taliban announced that they have ended their preliminary talks with the US that many hoped would lead to a negotiated end to hostilities in Afghanistan. From Reuters:
U.S. and Taliban negotiators were believed to have had preliminary contacts aimed at establishing an office for the Taliban in the Gulf state of Qatar to launch peace negotiations.
“The Islamic Emirate has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from (Thursday) onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time,” the group said in a statement.
In a clear signal that the Taliban believe US influence in Afghanistan is about to end and that they are in a struggle with Karzai’s government for future control of the country, they attacked Karzai as a US puppet. Returning to the Post article: Continue reading