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Thursday: Only You

Sometimes when I go exploring for music I find something I like but it’s a complete mystery how it came to be. I can’t tell you much of anything about this artist — only that he’s German, he’s repped by a company in the Netherlands, and his genre is house/electronica. And that’s it, apart from the fact he’s got more tracks you can listen to on SoundCloud. My favorites so far are this faintly retro piece embedded here (on SoundCloud at Only You) and Fade — both make fairly mellow listening. His more popular works are a little more aggressive, like Gunshots and HWAH.

Caught a late summer bug, not firing on all cylinders. Here’s some assorted odds and ends that caught my eye between much-needed naps.

  • Infosec firm approached investment firm to play short on buggy medical devices (Bloomberg) — Jeebus. Bloomberg calls this “highly unorthodox,” but it’s just grossly unethical. Why didn’t this bunch of hackers at MedSec go to the FDA and the SEC? This is a shakedown where they get the market to pay them first instead of ensuring patients are protected and shareholders of St. Jude medical device manufacturer’s stock are appropriately informed. I call bullshit here — they’re trying to game the system for profit and don’t give a shit about the patients at risk. You know when the maximum payout would be? When patient deaths occurred and were reported to the media.
  • Apple iPhone users, update your devices to iOS 9.3.5 stat: serious malware designed to spy and gain control of iPhone found (Motherboard) — Hey look, a backdoor applied after the fact by a “ghost” government spyware company. The malware has been around since iPhone 5/iOS 7; it could take control of an iPhone and allow a remote jailbreak of the device. Interesting this Israeli spyware firm received a big chunk of cash from U.S. investor(s).
  • Apple filed for patent on unauthorized user biometric data collection system (AppleInsider) — If an “unauthorized user” (read: thief) uses an iPhone equipped with this technology, the device could capture a photo and fingerprint of the user for use by law enforcement. Not exactly rocket science to understand how this might be used by law enforcement remotely to assure a particular contact (read: target) is in possession of an iPhone, either. Keep an eye on this stuff.
  • India-France submarine construction program hacked (NDTV) — The Indian Navy contracted construction of (6) Scorpene-class submarines from French shipbuilder DCNS. Tens of thousands of pages of information from this classified project were leaked; the source of the documents appears to be DCNS, not India. The French government as well as India is investigating the hack, which is believed to be a casualty in “economic war.”
  • Hacking of Ghostbusters’ star Leslie Jones under investigation (Guardian) — Jones’ website and iCloud accounts were breached; initial reports indicated the FBI was investigating the matter, but this report says Homeland Security is handlng the case. Does this mean an overseas attacker has already been identified?
  • Taiwanese White hat hacker and open government activist named to digital policy role (HKFP) — Audrey Tang, programmer and consultant for Apple, will shift gears from private to public sector now that she’s been appointed an executive councillor for digital policy by Taiwan. Tang has been part of the Sunflower Student Movement which has demanded greater transparency and accountability on Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement with China while resisting Chinese reunification.
  • Oops! Recent Google Apps outage caused by…Google? (Google Cloud) — Change management boo-boo borked an update; apparently engineers working on an App Engine update didn’t know software updates on routers was in progress while they performed some maintenance. Not good.
  • Gyroscope made of tiny atomic chamber could replace GPS navigation (NIST.gov) — A miniature cloud of atoms held in suspension between two states of energy could be used as a highly accurate mini-gyroscope. National Institute of Standards and Technology has been working a mini-gyro for years to provide alternate navigation in case GPS is hacked or jammed.
  • Tim Berners-Lee wants to decentralize the internet (Digital Trends) — The internet has centralized into corporate-owned silos of storage and activities like Facebook, Google and eBay. Berners-Lee, who is responsible for the development of browsing hyperlinked documents over a network, wants the internet to be spread out again and your data in your own control.

That’s enough to chew on for now. Hope to check in Friday if I shake off this bug.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Thursday: Hotter than Hell

Have a little indie synthpop if your day isn’t hot enough. The artist Dua Lipa lives in London; she originally moved to the United Kingdom in the 1990s with her parents who are Kosovar-Albanian. Imagine a UK to which artists like Lipa cannot easily immigrate.

Money, money, money

  • HSBC’s global head of Forex trading in London arrested at JFK on Tuesday (Bloomberg) — Mark Johnson was picked up before his flight by the feds; his counterpart, Stuart Scott, HSBC’s former head of currency trading in Europe, has also been charged with Johnson for conspiracy to manipulate currency based on insider information. The transaction on which the case is based took place in 2011, earning HSBC $8 million on a $3.1 billion deal. Gee, I wonder if these guys worked the pre- and post-Brexit fall of the pound.
  • Mastercard snaps up UK’s VocaLink for $920M (Businesswire) — Should probably keep a tally of UK businesses bought while pound is still down from pre-referendum highs. VocaLink gives Mastercard huge reach in payroll and household bill processing across UK and access to a substantive majority of UK consumer data.
  • Subzero bond yields: who’d have predicted this? (Bloomberg) — Analysis of overall trends this year, including flights to safety and their effect on the market. Still trying to wrap my head around subzero bond yields; does this make sense to pay for safekeeping without expectation of increase in value at the end? What might this do to consumption and growth?

Daily dose of cyber

  • Forbidden Research: fixing “leaky” cellphones (MIT Media Lab) — Electrical engineer/hacker Andrew “bunnie” Huang and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden published a paper presented at today’s MIT’s Forbidden Research event, outlining their work countering surveillance abuse by law enforcement. Journalists in particular are targets for surveillance; their cellphones “leak” all kinds of information about them and their location which airplane mode does not shield. Huang and Snowden propose a method for monitoring radio transmissions by a cellphone, including GPS, and a means for killing the transmissions. Abstract here, and the paper itself here. Very straightforward reads even for the non- to low-tech audience.
  • Dead man’s prints brought back from the dead (Fusion) — Law enforcement approached a Michigan State University professor Anil Jain and his PhD student Sunpreet Arora and asked them to recreate a dead man’s fingerprints in order to unlock his phone. There are few details disclosed about the case — not even which law enforcement agency made the ask — but the phone belonged to a murder victim and may contain information about his murderer. Or so the story says.
  • UK’s largest internet provider suffers two days of massive outages (TechRadar) — Outages have been blamed on power failures, but no additional information offered on reasons for power loss. Coincidentally, a C1 solar flare which began on July 17 caused radio disruption and aurora over the last 15-24 hours — might have made the situation worse.
  • France’s National Data Protection Commission says Microsoft Windows 10 operating system gathers too much personal data (Libération + BetaNews) — Surprised La Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) haven’t cuffed up Microsoft sooner given every version of Windows “phoned home” within information about its users and devices when patching and updating. Why is it Windows 10 in particular doesn’t comply with their Data Protection Act — is it the sniffing of users’ navigation data? Microsoft responded to CNIL’s complaint, not denying the claim but only saying it will work with CNIL on a solution. Right, then.

Tonight’s dinner and a movie: Jujubes and Ghostbusters. Yum. Stay cool, look after elderly neighbors and pets who need a reprieve from the heat.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Friday: Teh Stoopid, Still Burns [UPDATE-2]

Teh stoopid. So much, a bumper crop today. Put on your hip waders while we listen to a little ska-jazz from The Specials. [Go to bottom of post for update.]

LAST DAY OF THE MONTH
Don’t stand in front of the exit doors today at the House of Representatives. You’ve been warned.

Toobz filled with stoopid

Hélas, Nice
I’ve not forgotten Nice. I can’t go there. Picking my way through French language news to read in detail about the deaths of children and teenagers is a hard limit for me. With children’s blood on its hands from wars to drone killings, the U.S. has no moral authority here. It has doubled down on its authoritarian, racist, kill-its-way-out-of-trouble approach to foreign policy. What can I write here which isn’t utter hypocrisy?

The only observations I can make are that the attackers may be ramping up, as the numbers and methodology testify. 84 dead including 10 children and teens, 52 injured and 25 on life support, all hurt or killed by a driver who was not a known terror suspect. A civilian stopped the attacker by grabbing his hands as he aimed a gun at human targets. Que Dieu soit miséricordieux sur Nice.

Smarter, kinder finish
And now to purge the taste of stupid before I start my weekend…

That’s a wrap, have a safe and restful weekend, including all you peeps at #NN16. Back at it on Monday.

UPDATE — 2:50 p.m. EDT —

The previously-classified pages of the 9/11 report have been released, conveniently during the afternoon on a Friday smack in the middle of the summer during a general election year. Can you say ‘news dump’? Here’s a link to the document at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s site (pdf). Knock yourselves out with this beach read. Note the bit about the alleged Saudi intelligence officers, too.

UPDATE — 5:15 p.m. EDT —

An apparent coup is underway in Turkey; it began with reports of militarized road blocks about two hours ago. Social media platforms have had spotty service though landlines appear to be working. The Erdogan government initially denied a coup was in progress; media outlets in Turkey may not be accurately reporting events. Many European news outlets are still focused on Nice, France. Airports have been closed and a curfew declared. U.S. Embassy has asked U.S. citizens to shelter in place and stay indoors.

For more information about events in Turkey, here’s a selection of active Twitter feeds:
https://twitter.com/YourAnonNews
https://twitter.com/efekerem
https://twitter.com/zeynep
https://twitter.com/WashingtonPoint
https://twitter.com/Boutaina

Recent report at Aid works about Turkey’s treatment of refugees at this link.

If you have friends and family in Turkey, recommend they use Tor browser to follow news — this link in case Tor is blocked. See also this tweet from Tor about accessing social media.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Wednesday: Mend

Repair Day here, can’t spend much time reading or writing as I’ll be tied up mending things. Enjoy a little mellow Foo Fighters’ tune — can’t handle metal rock today or I’ll end up HULK SMASHing things I’m supposed to fix.

Here’s a range of topics which deserve more attention:

UK’s Chilcot report released today (Guardian-UK) — [Insert lengthy string of epithets here, circa 2003] I’m sure one of the other team members here at emptywheel will elaborate more effectively on the ugliness in the report and on former Prime Minister Tony Blair‘s continued lies rationalizations for military intervention in Iraq over alleged 9/11 terrorists and non-existent nuclear weapons. His self-flagellation and tepid mea culpa are pathetic, like watching a wee gnat flailing on an elephant’s ass. Thirteen years later, Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists. Self-fulfilling prophecy, much?

The full Chilcot report can be found here. The Guardian is working on a collaborative evaluation of the same.

BreachedDataSweetSpot_06JUL2016Hookup site Ashley Madison under investigation by FTC (Reuters) — Not clear exactly what FTC’s focus is, whether they are looking primarily at the data breach or if they are looking into the misleading use of “fembot” AI to chat up potential customers. Though the article’s characterization of the business as a “discreet dating site” cracks me up, I’m still concerned about the potential risks involved with a breach, especially since other breached data make Ashley Madison’s data more valuable. Like in this Venn diagram; if you were a foreign agent, which breached data would you mine most carefully?

French Parliament released its inquiry into November terrorist attacks (20 Minutes) — Six months after the attack at the Bataclan and in the streets of Paris, representatives of the Parliamentary inquiry spoke yesterday about the inquiry’s findings:

  • Poor cooperation between intelligence functions — In spite of consolidation of General Intelligence and Directorate of Territorial Surveillance under the Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence in 2008 and then the Directorate General of Internal Security (ISB) in 2014, there were gaps in hand-offs between functions.
  • Ineffective collection and sharing of prison intelligence — The ISB did not have information from Justice (the prison service) about the relationships between incarcerated radical Islamists nor information about targets’ release from custody.
  • Poor cooperation between EU members and EU system gaps — Fake Syrian passports should have been caught by the EU’s Frontex at external borders to EU, and Frontex has no access to data collected by police and intelligence services internal to the EU.
  • Gaps in jurisdiction — Not all law enforcement was engaged as they should have been during the November attack, and when engaged, not where they should have been.
  • Victims and families treated inadequately — Some families were told they were “ineligible” to be notified of their relatives’ deaths. Forensic Institute was swamped by the volume of work. At least one victim tried to call the police; they hung up on the victim because she whispered on the phone.

It’s not clear what steps the French will take next to fix these problems identified after looking at 2015’s January and November terrorist attacks, though it is reassuring to see a relatively detailed evaluation. Some of the suspects involved in both the November attacks in Paris and in Brussels are still being rounded up and bound over for prosecution; two were handed over by Belgium to France just this week. The full Parliamentary inquiry report will be released next week.

NHTSA informed by Tesla of self-driving car accident 9 days later (Reuters) — The delay in reporting may have misled investors in advance of Tesla’s offer for SolarCity suggest reports, including one by Fortune magazine. To be fair, I don’t think all the details about the accident were fully known immediately. Look at the condition of the vehicle in the Reuters’ report and the Florida Highway Patrol report; the FHP’s sketch of the accident site doesn’t automatically lead one to think the accident was induced by distracted driving or by auto-pilot. Can’t find the report now, but a DVD player was found much later; it was this device which revealed the driver’s last activities. How did the FHP’s report make its way to Tesla? And as Tesla responded, with one million auto accidents a year, not every accident is reported to the NHTSA. Begs the question: should all self-driving car accidents be automatically reported to the NHTSA and their automakers, and why?

‘Zero Days’ documentary on Stuxnet out this Friday (Flavorwire) — If director Alex Gibney can make this subject exciting to the average non-technical schmoe, hats off. It’s a challenge to make the tedium of coding exciting to non-coders, let alone fluff process control equipment. This is a really important story with a very long tail; hope Gibney was able to do it justice.

EIGHT DAYS in session left in U.S. House of Representatives’ July calendar. Hearing about EPA scheduled this morning, but I don’t think it had anything to do whatsoever with Flint Water Crisis.

Okay, that’s enough to get you over the hump, just don’t break anything on the way down. I’m off to go fix stuff.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Tuesday Morning: Some Kind of Freak

Today’s the intersection of my Gwen Stefani jag and International Women’s Day 2016. Need some more estrogen-powered music to celebrate IWD? Try this list — note and compare Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me and Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Are Made for Walking against more recent tunes like No Doubt’s Just A Girl.

Let’s roll…

Volkswagen shocked, SHOCKED! the EPA went public on the diesel emissions standards cheat
But by the time the EPA made public statements regarding VW, the German automaker had already known about the International Council on Clean Transportation’s research results for a year and had yet to reveal to shareholders the risk of prosecution and penalties. VW’s leadership hoped for a mild and quiet slap on the hands and enough time for a technical solution before the EPA’s disclosure:

“In the past, even in the case of so-called ‘defeat device’ infringements, a settlement was reached with other carmakers involving a manageable fine without the breach being made public,” VW argued. “And in this case, the employees of Volkswagen of America had the impression on the basis of constructive talks with the EPA that the diesel issue would not be made public unilaterally but that negotiations would continue.”

Hope somebody is looking at insider trading for any sign that VW executives were unloading stock in the period between September 2014 when ICCT’s results were published, and when the EPA went public in 2015. Wonder what penalties there are under German/EU laws for this?

USDOJ appealed last week’s ruling in Brooklyn iPhone 5S case
At the heart of this appeal is Apple’s past cooperative actions when federal law enforcement asked for assistance in unlocking iPhones. Apple, however, said past acquiescence is not consent. USDOJ has now asked for review of Judge Orenstein’s ruling.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak appeared on Conan, sided unsurprisingly with Apple
Woz admitted to having tried his hand at writing viruses for Mac, but the entire premise terrified him, compelling him to destroyed his efforts. Video of his appearance included at this link.

France to punish phonemakers for encryption, while UK’s GCHQ says it should get around encryption
A narrow body of water, a different language, and a recent terrorist attack make for very different reactions to encrypted communications. France’s Parliament voted yesterday to punish phonemakers which do not cooperate with law enforcement on unencrypting data; the bill is not yet law, subject to further parliamentary process. Meanwhile, Britain’s spy chief said he hopes methods can be developed to get around encryption without building backdoors.

Drive-by quickies

And it’s Presidential Primary Day in Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho, Hawaii. I may avoid social media for most of the day for this reason. Hasta pasta!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

Tuesday Morning: The Fat One You’ve Awaited

Mardi Gras. The day before Ash Wednesday. Fat Tuesday. In Brazil, it’s Carnival — plenty of parades with costumed dancers and samba. In New Orleans, it means king cake, beads, and more parades, but here in Michigan, it means pączki. No parades in the snow, just an icy trek to the Polish bakery for some decadent sweets we get but once a year.

I’m still drafting this, too much stuff to weed through this morning. I’ll update as I write. Snag a cup of joe and a pączki while you wait. Make mine raspberry filled, please!

Economic indicators say “Maybe, Try Again”
Asian and European stock markets were a mess this morning. There’s no sign of an agreement between OPEC nations on production and pricing, which may lead to yet more floundering in the stock market. Yet one indicator — truck tonnage on the roads — doesn’t show signs of a recession in the U.S.

UK court cases topsy-turvy: LIBOR Six and a secret trial

  • UK can’t hold the LIBOR Six bankers accountable for their part in the 2008 economic crisis because the prosecution was sloppy. It’s pretty bad when a defense attorney asks if the prosecution was “making this up as they go along.”
  • The article’s first graf is a warning:

    Warning: this article omits information that the Guardian and other news organisations are currently prohibited from publishing.

    The case, R v Incedal and Rarmoul-Bouhadjar, continues to look like a star chamber, with very little information available to the public about the case. The accused have been charged and served time, but the media has been unable to freely access information about the case, and their appeal has now been denied. A very ugly precedent for a so-called free country.

Facebook: French trouble, and no free internet in India

  • Shocked, SHOCKED, I am: French regulators told Facebook its handling of users data didn’t sufficiently protect their privacy. The Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) told the social media platform it has three months to stop sharing users’ data with U.S. facilities for processing. CNIL also told Facebook to stop tracking non-Facebook users without warning them.
  • The Indian government told Facebook thanks, but no thanks to its Free Basics offering, a so-called free internet service. The service ran afoul of net neutrality in that country as it implicitly discouraged users from setting up sites outside Facebook’s platform. Many users did not understand there was a difference between Facebook and the internet as a whole. Mr. Zuckerberg really needs to study the meaning of colonialism, and how it might pertain to the internet in emerging markets.

Boy kicked out of school because of his DNA
This is a really sad story not resolved by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The boy has cystic fibrosis; his parents informed the school on his paperwork, as they should in such cases. But because of the risks to the boy or his siblings with similar genes, the boy was asked to leave. GINA, unfortunately, does not protect against discrimination in education, only in healthcare and employment. This is a problem Congress should take up with an amendment to GINA. No child should be discriminated against in education because of their genes over which they have no control, any more than a child should be discriminated against because of their race, gender identity, or sexuality.

All right, get your party on, scarf down the last of your excess sweets, for tomorrow is sackcloth and ashes. I can hardly wait for the sugar hangover to come.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

The $3 Billion Saudi Pledge to Lebanon: Military Support, Extradition Fee or Hit Job Payment?

Back in November, two bomb blasts in front of the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed 23 people. From the very beginning, it was known that an al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades was responsible for the attack. In a fascinating sequence of events, we have learned that the mastermind of the attack, Majed al-Majed, died in Lebanese custody. Iran claims that Majed had very strong ties to Saudi Arabia, and specifically to Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan. In a very interesting twist, Saudi Arabia announced a pledge of $3 billion to Lebanon, ostensibly to be used to buy weapons from France. The announcement most likely came after Majed had been arrested but before news reports had leaked out about his detention, although news reports vary widely on when and where he was detained.

The announcement of the Saudi pledge to Lebanon came on December 29:

Saudi Arabia has pledged $3bn for the Lebanese army, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman announced, calling it the largest grant ever given to the country’s armed forces.

/snip/

“The king of the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is offering this generous and appreciated aid of $3bn to the Lebanese army to strengthen its capabilities,” Suleiman said in a televised address on Sunday.

He said the funds would allow Lebanon’s military to purchase French weapons.

An AFP report suggested that Majed was arrested around December 26:

An Al-Qaeda-linked Saudi suspect detained in Lebanon is being held in a military hospital because “he is in poor health”, a medical official told AFP Friday.

/snip/

The doctor who had been treating Majid before his arrest without knowing who he was said he suffers from kidney failure and requires regular dialysis.

“On December 26, the hospital where Majid was being treated contacted the Red Cross to arrange his transfer to another hospital,” said the source.

But before the suspect arrived at the second facility, “the Lebanese army intelligence intercepted the ambulance and arrested Majid,” the source said, adding that neither the hospital nor the ambulance teams had prior knowledge of who Majid was.

In its announcement on January 1 of Majed’s arrest, the New York Times has highly conflicting information about when the arrest took place. First, this bit suggests they were working under the assumption that the arrest was near the January 1 date of the article:

He was taken into custody just three days after Saudi Arabia pledged a $3 billion aid package to the Lebanese Army.

But near the end of this same article, the Times suggests that he was in custody as early as December 15 (clearly before the Saudi pledge was announced):

While it is not known when Mr. Majid was detained, Hezbollah’s television channel Al Manar quoted Lebanese security officials as saying that an attack on a security checkpoint on Dec. 15 near Sidon and the Ein al-Hilwe camp was an attempt by militants to free him.

Given the additional detail and reporting from doctors involved in his treatment, the AFP report seems to me to be more reliable, placing Majed’s arrest after December 26, but most likely not very long after that date since a patient requiring dialysis cannot put if off for very many days.

The Times report suggests that Saudi Arabia considered Majed to be a criminal: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Journalists Grope Blindly Around Syria CW Destruction Without Discovering Need for Ceasefire

Please support Marcy’s continued efforts to lead us through the weeds of obfuscation. The Emptywheel fundraiser is nearing its final push.

In my post yesterday morning on the French move to submit a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to an international group for their safe destruction, I noted that this process naturally would require an immediate ceasefire. My underlying assumption was that the need for a ceasefire would be obvious to anyone giving the situation any thought.  Personnel will need to move freely about the country to find and log the materials that will need to be destroyed. These materials will need to be moved to central locations for incineration or chemical processing to render them safe. If the personnel and the dangerous materials they will be transporting are attacked indiscriminately, the risk of releasing huge quantities of very dangerous agents looms large and the very process of trying to prevent civilian deaths could instead to lead to widespread lethal exposure.

Sadly, as I noted in the post, the French proposal does not appear to include a call for a ceasefire. Now that Russia is opposing the proposed language (because it calls for Syria to admit it carried out the August 21 attack and it includes a mandate for military action if Syria does not comply with the resolution), the opportunity exists for a new proposal to add the concept of a ceasefire.

Even more sad, though, is how our two leading bastions of foreign policy journalism, the New York Times and Washington Post, addressed the issue of how the chemical stockpiles can be destroyed. Both noted how “difficult” the process will be during the ongoing hostilities, but neither managed to point out the necessity of a ceasefire.

Here is how the Times addressed the issue:

As difficult as it may be to reach a diplomatic solution to head off a United States strike on Syria, the details of enforcement are themselves complex and uncertain, people with experience monitoring weapons facilities said.

Syria would first have to provide specifics about all aspects of its chemical weapons program. But even that step would require negotiation to determine exactly what should be declared and whether certain systems would be covered, because many delivery systems for chemical weapons — including artillery, mortars and multiple-rocket launchers — can also fire conventional weapons.

Then, experts said, large numbers of foreign troops would almost certainly be needed to safeguard inspectors working in the midst of the civil war.

“We’re talking boots on the ground,” said one former United Nations weapons inspector from Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still works in the field on contracts and did not want to hurt his chances of future employment. “We’re not talking about just putting someone at the gate. You have to have layers of security.”

Of course, many more “boots on the ground” are needed to protect the inspectors if there has not been a ceasefire negotiated and agreed to by both the Syrian government and the many factions of rebels fighting them. The Times even trots out the Pentagon estimate of how many troops would be required to secure the weapons in an invasion scenario:

A Pentagon study concluded that doing so would take more than 75,000 troops. That rough estimate has been questioned, but the official said it gave “a sense of the magnitude of the task.”

The Post does no better in its quest for just how the weapons could be secured and destroyed:

As diplomats wrangled over competing plans for securing Syria’s chemical weapons, arms-control experts warned Tuesday of the formidable challenges involved in carrying out such a complex and risky operation in the midst of a raging civil war.

U.N. teams dispatched to Syria for the mission would be attempting something new: finding and safeguarding a long-
hidden arsenal in a country that has long stood outside key international arms-control agreements — all while exposed to crossfire from Syria’s warring factions.

Poor Joby Warrick and his associates just can’t conceive of how the “crossfire” could end, even though the process of sending in the inspectors begins through UN negotiations.

Yes, there are many different factions on the “rebel” side in this conflict, but even brief investigation shows that many of them are actually proxies for several of the foreign powers that claim to have “interests” in Syria. A UN resolution that has at its heart a ceasefire would be a huge step toward showing that all of the various countries supporting militias in Syria intend to provide the opportunity for safe destruction of what could be the third largest repository of chemical weapons in the world. Although a truly international force of armed peacekeepers likely will be needed, sending them in without a ceasefire already negotiated would make the whole process of rounding up and destroying the chemical weapons a recipe for a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions.

Of course, a true optimist would note that a ceasefire would open the door to discussions to defuse political tensions within Syria while the process of destroying the chemical weapons is carried out. That would of course thwart those whose real objective is regime change in Syria through violent means but would perhaps create the opportunity for peaceful regime change. Is the world finally ready to give peace a chance after twelve years of unfocused rage?

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

France to Take Kerry’s Accidental Diplomacy to UN

With the Emptywheel fundraising week about half over, many thanks to those who have already donated. There is still time to become a donor.

The Russian gambit to take accidental diplomat John Kerry up on his offer of an “impossible” scenario under which Syria could avoid US military action continues to gather steam. This morning, both the Washington Post and New York Times fill us in on French plans to take the Russian proposal to the UN, where there seems to be a chance that there will not be a veto at the Security Council.

The Times gives us some information on the sequence of events leading to the proposal:

Mr. Lavrov said he had discussed the proposal with the Americans before announcing it at a hastily arranged briefing on Monday evening. Mr. Obama and Mr. Putin discussed the idea privately on the sidelines of last week’s summit of the Group of 20 nations, and Mr. Lavrov discussed it with Secretary of State John Kerry.

They spoke as Mr. Kerry flew home to Washington after first raising the idea in a dismissive way in London on Monday, making clear that the idea of Mr. Assad giving up Syria’s weapons seemed improbable.

In their conversation, Mr. Kerry told his Russian counterpart, “We’re not going to play games,” according to a senior State Department official.

That’s a good idea from Kerry not to play games, since he had been so badly outplayed to that point. So the official position appears to be that Obama and Putin had discussed the idea but Kerry stumbled onto the same concept, but only as an impossibility? Okay, then.

The Post has similar language on the sequence of most of the events between Kerry and Lavrov, but is a bit more nuanced as to the Obama and Putin discussion:

Obama said in an interview on “PBS NewsHour” on Monday that he had discussed the possibility of international monitoring with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at last week’s Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg.

The senior State Department official said Lavrov had previously discussed the idea in conversations with Kerry, including a telephone call as recently as Thursday, but never in the context of the proposed U.S. military action.

Clearly, the plan being discussed now, where Syria turns its chemical weapons over to international groups for eventual destruction goes well beyond “monitoring”. Is Obama claiming that discussions on monitoring are the equivalent of discussing this plan? Or is it just a desperate attempt to save face? I’m okay with face-saving if the lives of Syrian civilians are also spared.

Putting those considerations aside, though, I have one major concern about the French plan as described. Here is the Times description: Read more

Many years ago, Jim got a BA in Radiation Biophysics from the University of Kansas. He then got a PhD in Molecular Biology from UCLA and did postdoctoral research in yeast genetics at UC Berkeley and mouse retroviruses at Stanford. He joined biosys in Palo Alto, producing insect parasitic nematodes for pest control. In the early 1990’s, he moved to Gainesville, FL and founded a company that eventually became Entomos. He left the firm as it reorganized into Pasteuria Biosciences and chose not to found a new firm due a clash of values with venture capital investors, who generally lack all values. Upon leaving, he chose to be a stay at home dad, gentleman farmer, cook and horse wrangler. He discovered the online world through commenting at Glenn Greenwald’s blog in the Salon days and was involved in the briefly successful Chris Dodd move to block the bill to renew FISA. He then went on to blog at Firedoglake and served a brief stint as evening editor there. When the Emptywheel blog moved out of Firedoglake back to standalone status, Jim tagged along and blogged on anthrax, viruses, John Galt, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is now a mostly lapsed blogger looking for a work-around to the depressing realization that pointing out the details of government malfeasance and elite immunity has approximately zero effect.

Monday Mess: Moar Dronz, Gen Killz, (Horse)Meatz, and Clownz

Photo: AR Drone 2.0 being tested near Kuwait Towers (by Cajie via Flickr)

Photo: AR Drone 2.0 being tested near Kuwait Towers (by Cajie via Flickr)

Happy Monday. Insert a picture of that cat here–you know which one. I resemblez it.

•  Good gravy, people. When National Geographic Magazine covers drones, it’s way past time for a national dialog about their use domestically. Crop dusting, my backside; there’s nothing except for the subhead in this article to genuinely suggest the designers, manufacturers, and potential buyers of drones are thinking about non-surveillance, non-policing applications for these unmanned aerial devices.

•  Of course it hasn’t helped our current condition that not one but at least two generations of military were shaped into the “Generation Kill” mold, about which Foreign Affairs learns from retired General Stanley McCrystal.

“People hear most about the targeting cycle, which we called F3EA — “find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze.” You understand who or what is a target, you locate it, you capture or kill it, you take what intelligence you can from people or equipment or documents, you analyze that, and then you go back and do the cycle again, smarter.”

Color me skeptical, but this doesn’t sound like appropriate training future civilians–those now serving in our military–will use for guiding crop dusting or weather monitoring drones.

•  “Generation Kill” has a shadow identity, as well; the legitimately uniformed forces have dark counterparts in crime, which is likely shaped by the same attitudes as the military and police who chase them. Thwarted in illegal weapons sales, the supply chain arms traffickers use may be put to use in purveying goods of a different kind of kill. The horsemeat contamination scandal in Europe appears to be built upon the infrastructure of criminal arms dealer Viktor Bout. Where once illegal weapons might have been hidden in dog food, now illegal dog food is hidden in, well, our food.

•  Of course, when this all gets too serious and we need to be distracted, somebody offers up a clown since bread and circuses always work to appease the masses. Today’s fool is Gérard Depardieu, savaged for his luxe lifestyle and his exile from his mother country. France’s current “supertax” policy–75 percent assessed against all income above one million euros, intended as a short-term fix to a national budget deficit–ostensibly drove Depardieu into the arms of the ever-execrable Russia. The actor whose work is synonymous with modern French cinema is now reviled as minable, pathetic. What seems incredibly pathetic to me is the strident ignorance of both policy makers and the French; only 3000 countrymen were subject to the tax, and it is too easily escaped. Was the problem really with these 3000 that the budget suffered, or were other structural problems at fault that might not yet be repaired? One can see readily how a similarly simplistic law enacted in the States could have similarly ridiculous and ineffective results. But Depardieu is an easy, large, and slow-moving target, not unlike the French royals who could not outrun the guillotine. Minable, indeed; how readily the populace is distracted by redirection to a clown.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.