Daily Archives: December 22, 2013

Intelligence Direct James Clapper Explains the Root of NSA Spying

Documents declassified Saturday detail how the National Security Agency’s mass data collection was first authorized under President George W. Bush.

The spying was approved in Oct. 2001, one month after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Associated Press reports. Renewed every 30 to 60 days by Bush, the Terrorist Surveillance Program evolved into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required a secret court to approve the continuation of bulk phone and Internet data collection. Bush did not disclose the program until 2005.

“There has never been a comprehensive government release…that wove the whole story together – the timeline of authorizing the programs and the gradual transition to (court) oversight,” said Mark Rumold, an attorney representing a civil liberties group suing the NSA. “Everybody knew that happened, but this is the first time I’ve seen the government confirm those twin aspects.”

The announcement from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is the latest in a string of efforts aimed at defending NSA surveillance in the wake of leaked documents by former contractor Edward Snowden

Clapper also revealed court documents from previous intelligence directors who argued in favor of keeping the program secret in compliance with a federal court order. The U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California ordered the White House to publicly disclose documents on why releasing information would threaten national security.

Earlier this week a federal judge ruled NSA’s collection program unconstitutional, citing little evidence that any terror plots had been thwarted by the program. A presidential advisory panel also proposed 46 changes to NSA practices, including seeking a court order for each NSA search.

The Justice Department and the director of national intelligence’s office did not return phone calls to the AP.

 

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Arab League supports idea of forming international committee to investigate details of Arafat’s death

MIDEAST PALESTINIANSThe League of Arab States (LAS) called for the formation of an international committee to investigate the details of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

At an extraordinary meeting of the LAS Council on Saturday the foreign ministers of the LAS states supported an idea, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had voiced to form a committee that will conduct an independent investigation of Arafat’s death under the aegis of the United Nations Organisation.

Yasser Arafat died on November 11, 2004 at the age of 75 at the military hospital Percy in a neighbourhood of Paris. According to the official theory of French doctors, the Palestinian leader died of massive hemorrhagic stroke.

However, later the media have reported that Arafat could have been poisoned with radioactive polonium. Arafat’s remains, which are buried at a mausoleum in Ramallah, were exhumed at the demand of his widow a year ago. About 60 samples were taken. The samples were distributed between Swiss, French and Russian investigative groups.

Swiss specialists from the Institute of Radiophysics in Lausanne have found radioactive polonium-210 in Arafat’s remains. According to their reports, the dose of the radioactive agent exceeds the normal level by at least 18 times.

However, a theory of French experts differed completely from the conclusions of the Swiss committee. The French specialists have rejected a theory of poisoning with polonium, stating that the tests had pointed to a theory that the death had natural reasons.

EU bureaucrats blocking talks with Russia on Ukraine row – Lavrov

Russia and some EU countries are eager to sit down for trilateral talks with Ukraine to try and settle the integration debacle. But overreaching bureaucrats in Brussels are opposing this intention, says Russia’s foreign minister.

FM Sergey Lavrov was describing the debate over proposed trilateral talks, which would involve Russia, the EU and Ukraine and would be aimed at finding a compromise solution and address concerns of all the parties involved. Ukraine last month delayed signing a key EU free trade deal, a move which sparked anti-government protests in the country and led to a public trade of blame between European and Russian officials.

“Holding trilateral consultations, which would be aimed at an honest discussion of the current trade conditions between Russia, the European Union and Ukraine, with no attempts to conceal anything of cheat each other, would be a very good proposition,” Lavrov said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

The idea was supported in Moscow and Kiev, but was rejected by the EU, “or rather by the European bureaucrats,” according to the minister.

To illustrate the divide between European national governments and joint EU structures in Brussels, Lavrov described his December 16 meeting with his counterparts from the 28 members of the union, saying that “some of them said approve the idea of trilateral consultations, which would actually be a right non-confrontational path. So European bureaucrats took a bit too much on themselves as compared to what member states want from them to.”

Speaking of the conflict itself and the role that Russia plays in Ukraine’s decision, the Russian minister reiterated that Moscow only sought to protects its legitimate economic interests. One of Kiev’s biggest considerations was Russia’s warning that it would revoke a free-trade agreement with Ukraine if it signed the association agreement with the EU.

“It doesn’t mean that we would have issued some sanctions against Ukraine, we would simply go back to the commonly used rules, the so-called ‘most favored nation’ rules, while our current free trade zone offers additional preferences,” Lavrov said.

He added that Russia put a great deal of diplomatic effort in securing a transitional period for its less-developed industries, when it negotiated its joining the World Trade Organization. The grace period, which is meant to allow the Russian businesses to mature and prepare for facing tough competition from other nations, would have been compromised, if Ukraine signed the deal and Russia did not pull out of its free trade deal with Ukraine.

But when Russia and other members of the Customs Union, an economic bloc, which Russia and several its neighbors have formed, are ready to compete economically with EU members, they would be happy to liberalize trade with Europe, Lavrov stressed.

Russia has done nothing to be criticized for on Syria, Iran

Speaking of more acute global crises, Lavrov said that Russia’s position on the war in Syria and the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program is just and not something it can be blamed for, unlike some other parties involved.

“Some members of the process tried to score some unilateral situational benefits in the situation, to play geopolitical games that have nothing to do with the common interests of the peoples of the Middle East and North Africa,” he said. “In the end our position prevailed, and everybody admitted that we were right.”

Lavrov was speaking about the breakthrough agreement that led to the ongoing destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal and the provisional deal, under which Iran agreed to partially put on hold its nuclear development in exchange for lifting of some sanctions. In both cases Russia played a major role at the negotiations table.

The next major objective for the Russian diplomatic corps will be the conference in Switzerland’s Montreux (previously dubbed Geneva-2), which is to convene all parties with a stake in the Syrian armed conflict. Organizational work for the event is far from being over, Lavrov said.

“The major problem now is to understand how representative would be the delegation from the Syrian opposition, because there are conflicting reports on the issue arriving lately,” he said.

The Syrian opposition is notoriously fractured, and those groups which agreed to take part in the Swiss conference and which have support of foreign powers may have little influence on the ground in Syria.

“There are an increasing number of jihadists from foreign countries. The so-called ‘terrorist international’ sent there a huge number of fighters. There are reports that the Free Syrian Army, which our western partners portray as a secular force with a genuine desire to negotiate Syria’s future, is losing ground under an onslaught of the extremist groups, including those blacklisted as terrorists by the US, the EU and the UN,” Lavrov outlined the situation.

With the situation that grim, even backers of the Syrian opposition admit that Syrian President Bashar Assad is “a smaller threat to Syria than its takeover by the terrorists,” the diplomat said.

“It would have been an overstatement if we said that most of the people love him, but the fact is that many see the current president as a man who will not allow infringing the interests of a large number of Syrian citizens.”

4Another serious issue is the debated participation in the conference of Iran, a major ally of the Syrian government. Some parties object to calling officials from Tehran to Montreux, a position which Lavrov finds questionable and “probably based on ideological considerations.”

“Americans dealt directly with Iran without a second thought, when they needed Iranian cooperation during the stationing of American troops in Iraq. They had regular contacts over Afghanistan. And let me remind you that during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, Iran was member of the 6+2 group [which included Afghanistan’s neighbors, Russia and the US],” the minister said.

“I see no valid argument against giving Iran the same status that other foreign players will have in Montreux,” he added.

No pause in Russia-US relations

Lavrov commented on the words of US President Barack Obama, who said Washington needs to take a pause with Russia after its giving political asylum to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

“I didn’t notice any pause. It’s regrettable that the emotions over the Snowden case led to the decision to delay a scheduled visit [of Obama] to Moscow ahead of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg. But since then our contacts did not have any cuts,” Lavrov said, adding that he had some 15 meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry since his appointment in February, which “is probably a world record.”

Russian Iskander ballistic missile launcher (AFP Photo / Alexandr Nemenov)

Russian Iskander ballistic missile launcher (AFP Photo / Alexandr Nemenov)

One of the key points of conflict between Moscow and Washington is the US development of its anti-ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe. The project, which Russia sees as a threat towards the strategic military balance, went back into the media spotlight after a report that Russia deployed its nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in its western enclave of Kaliningrad region. Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the reports, saying no such move have been made yet.

“We have long told our American partners that such a deployment may be one of the responses to their action to deploy the European segment of the global antimissile defense system. When such a need arises is for the military to judge. Nothing personal, just rules of the game,” Lavrov said.

EU bureaucrats blocking talks with Russia on Ukraine row – Lavrov — RT News.

Obama warns South Sudan after US soldiers wounded

US President Barack Obama warned the leaders of South Sudan against a military coup Saturday after four US servicemen were wounded in an attack on their aircraft in the increasingly unstable country.

“Any effort to seize power through the use of military force will result in the end of longstanding support from the United States and the international community,” the White House said in a statement.

Obama stressed that the South Sudanese leaders “have a responsibility to support our efforts to secure American personnel and citizens in Juba and Bor,” the capital and a rebel-held flashpoint town in the African nation.

The president’s comments came after three CV-22 Osprey aircraft came under fire in South Sudan as they headed to Bor to help with efforts to evacuate Americans from the country teetering on the brink of a return to civil war.

The attack damaged the tiltrotor aircraft, forcing them to divert to Uganda. The wounded were then flown to Nairobi for medical treatment and are now in “stable condition,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

The attack underlined the increasingly dangerous situation in South Sudan, where at least one UN base has also come under attack in recent days, with the murder of two Indian peacekeepers and possibly dozens of civilians.

The United States, Britain, Kenya and Uganda have been carrying out evacuation missions for their nationals.

Oil companies have flown out their workers after the death of at least five South Sudanese oil workers on Wednesday, with Chinese state oil company China National Petroleum Corp confirming it was pulling out its staff.

Oil production accounts for more than 95 percent of South Sudan’s fledgling economy.

The United States has also deployed 45 combat-equipped troops to the country to protect its embassy and personnel.

The hostilities in the poor but oil-rich nation, which won independence from Sudan in 2011, are between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and forces backing his sacked vice president, Riek Machar.

Kiir accuses Machar of having tried to mount a coup, but Machar denies that and claims Kiir is conducting a violent purge.

At least 500 people have been killed in the capital Juba alone in six days of fighting.

Foreigners evacuated, South Sudanese cower in fear

Tens of thousands have been displaced, many seeking shelter at UN bases amid warnings that the impoverished nation was on the brink of all-out civil war.

“I am afraid. I just can’t imagine being forced to become refugees again,” said Susan Nakiden, a South Sudanese woman among the thousands sheltering at a UN base in Juba. The mother of three said she had already been forced to flee her home during the civil war with Sudan.

Local resident John Luga said people were living in fear, whatever their clan.

“Whether they are Nuers or Dinkas, the suffering is for all, the future is not certain,” he told AFP.

South Sudan’s embattled government, meanwhile, said a top army commander in the northern Unity State, Major General James Koang Choul, had defected to Machar’s fast-growing rebel force.

“We have lost contact with the commander… and there are reports he has joined the forces of Riek Machar,” Sudan People’s Liberation Army spokesman Philip Aguer told AFP.

Army seeks to take back Bor

Aguer also insisted that government forces were in control of area around Bor, some 200 kilometers north of Juba, and an army operation was underway to take back the town seized by rebels this week.

“There is fighting, but we are supported by air units,” he said.

Although the unrest appeared to start as a result of a political spat, the violence has taken on an ethnic dimension pitting Kiir’s ethnic Dinkas against Nuers, to which Machar belongs.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan as part of a peace process after a two-decade civil war that left two million dead, but it has never been able to heal its own ethnic rivalries.

US Secretary of State John Kerry underlined Obama’s message in a call to Kiir, telling him the conflict was threatening South Sudan’s hard-won independence that was backed by the United States.

Kerry has dispatched his special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Donald Booth, to the region to encourage talks between the warring factions.

African ministers have also stepped up pressure on Kiir to start talks with Machar.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for an end to hostilities and urged the leaders of Sudan’s warring factions “to resolve their personal differences through dialogue immediately.”

via Obama warns South Sudan after US soldiers wounded | i24news – See beyond.

South Sudan rebel leader ‘captures key state’

South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar says his troops have captured the key oil-producing state of Unity.

The former vice president also said on Saturday that the forces under his command fighting the government now have control of much of the country.

The political crisis began a week ago, after President Salva Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup. Reports say at least 500 people have been killed in the violence since then.

On Friday, Kiir reportedly agreed to participate in an “unconditional dialogue” to end deadly violence in the African country.

The president made the commitment to a team of mediators sent to Juba by the African Union in an effort to end fighting in which hundreds of people have been killed, said UN Security Council President Gerard Araud.

Kiir has “apparently agreed to enter into unconditional dialogue,” Araud said after an emergency Security Council meeting on the crisis in South Sudan.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon again called for renewed peace efforts on Friday, amid rising concerns that heavy fighting between rival army factions is pushing the two-year-old nation into civil war.

“The secretary general reiterates his call for all parties to exercise restraint, and to cease hostilities,” said a statement from Ban’s office.

The UN chief urged opposition leaders “to demonstrate compromise and leadership on behalf of the Southern Sudanese people, and to resolve their personal differences through dialogue immediately.”

The fighting between troops loyal to Kiir, who is from the Dinka ethnic group, and opposition leader Riek Machar, a Nuer, erupted around Juba on December 15.

The South Sudanese president accused his arch-rival and former deputy, Machar, of attempting to topple his government, but he said the coup attempt had been foiled.

The government said on Tuesday that ten senior political figures had been arrested after the alleged coup attempt.

Machar has denied Kiir’s accusation that he had led a coup attempt.

South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 after its people overwhelmingly voted in a referendum for a split from the North.

The government in Juba is grappling with rampant corruption, unrest and conflict in the deeply impoverished but oil-rich nation, left devastated by decades of war.

PressTV – South Sudan rebel leader ‘captures key state’.

Latest NSA leaks point finger at high-tech eavesdropping hub in UK

(CNN) — The town of Bude in the southwest of England is best known for its long sandy beaches and picturesque bays. Nowhere on its tourist brochures is a complex of white domes and dishes at Morwenstow mentioned.

After the latest revelations published by the Guardian, New York Times and Der Spiegel, Morwenstow may become a little more familiar.

The site — now officially known as GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) Bude — is at the heart of a global eavesdropping network run by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). It has more than 20 antennae orientated toward global communications satellites over the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, Africa and the Middle East, according to declassified sources.

Based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the three newspapers reported Friday that GCHQ Bude is a critical hub in eavesdropping on the communications of government figures, and many others, in Europe and beyond.

Among some 1,000 organizations and individuals whose e-mail or phone numbers appear in the documents: the European Commission, the government of Israel, African heads of state, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the NGO Medecins du Monde.

None of the newspapers published any of the documents they were shown, and the volume of information collected on any particular individual or organization is unclear. The New York Times reported that, “The documents include a few fragmentary transcripts of conversations and messages.”

But one of the many hundreds of phone numbers listed in the documents from 2009 was that of a senior European official, Joaquin Almunia, who is Spanish. At the time — just as Europe’s financial crisis gathered pace — Almunia was the European Union’s economic and monetary affairs commissioner. According to Der Spiegel, he had a “personal identification code in the British target database, with the code name “Broadoak.”

Almunia has since become the competition commissioner, handling antitrust disputes, and has been in a long-running dispute with Google over search-engine practices.

In an apparent reference to the allegations about Almunia, the NSA said in a statement Friday: “We do not use our foreign intelligence capabilities to steal the trade secrets of foreign companies on behalf of — or give intelligence we collect to — U.S. companies to enhance their international competitiveness or increase their bottom line.”

‘This is not the type of behavior that we expect’

According to The New York Times, the French oil company Total and defense contractor Thales also are mentioned in the documents.

The NSA statement concluded: “The U.S. Government is undertaking a review of our activities around the world — looking at, among other issues, how we coordinate with our closest allies and partners.”

The European Commission reacted swiftly to the latest revelations.

A spokeswoman in Brussels said that if proven true, they “are unacceptable and deserve our strongest condemnation. This is not the type of behavior that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own Member States,” meaning the UK.

“The Commission will raise these new allegations with US and UK authorities,” she added.

Spanish media also pounced on revelations about Almunia’s communications.

The headline in El Pais translated as: “The US and UK spied on Commissioner Joaquín Almunia’s mobile,” while La Republica also focused on “los servicios secretos británicos” as the perpetrator.

The British government is likely to come under further scrutiny from its European partners over its intelligence gathering activities. UK criticism of the NSA program has been more muted than that of France, Germany or Spain, in part because of the long intelligence partnership between the two countries.

Review: NSA snooping programs should stay in place

According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron did not join in a vigorous debate at the EU summit in October on the NSA eavesdropping, rather expressing his “silent acquiescence” to a strongly-worded statement in which Britain was indirectly warned that “a lack of trust could prejudice the necessary cooperation in the field of intelligence gathering.”

By then, Der Spiegel had already reported that the documents leaked by Snowden showed that GCHQ had been involved in a cyberattack against Belgium’s state-run telecom company, Belgacom.

The company would only say at the time that “the intruder had massive resources, sophisticated means and a steadfast intent to break into our network.”

GCHQ shares much of the information it collects with the NSA.

More than eyes on the sky?

The Guardian reported earlier this year, again based on documents provided by Snowden, that the NSA had provided some $25 million to update the Bude facility. But it is also likely that the NSA has been and is still be able to gather directly data harvested by GCHQ Bude.

Nicky Hager, an investigative reporter and author of several books on intelligence, told a committee of the European Parliament in 2001 that “communications were screened for keywords entered into the system by the USA using ‘dictionary managers’. The British therefore had no control over the screening process and had no idea what information was collected in Morwenstow, since it was forwarded directly to the USA.”

Der Spiegel reported Friday that GCHQ Bude may do more than gaze into the heavens.

“Important undersea cables land at nearby Widemouth Bay,” it reported. “One of the cables, called TAT-14, begins at German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom’s undersea cable terminal.”

TAT-14 links terminals in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the United States.

That may explain how so many German telephone numbers appear in one 2009 document provided to the newspapers by Snowden.

“Other documents indicate that the British, at least intermittently, kept tabs on entire country-to-country satellite communication links,” like those between Germany and Turkey, Der Spiegel reported.

Morwenstow has long been part of a global network of stations involved in intercepting satellite communications.

The 2001 European Parliament report concluded: “In Morwenstow….GCHQ, working in cooperation with the NSA and in strict accordance with the latter’s instructions, intercepts civilian communications and passes on the recordings to the USA as raw intelligence material.”

Surveillance program is now Obama’s to own

Latest NSA leaks point finger at high-tech eavesdropping hub in UK – CNN.com.

Car bomb kills six, wounds up to 15 outside Libya’s Benghazi -sources

(Reuters) – A suicide bomb attack at an army base outside Benghazi in eastern Libya killed at least six people and wounded up to 15 on Sunday, medical and security sources said.

The attacker blew himself up in a car in front of the base in Barsis, some 50 km (30 miles) outside Benghazi, a security source said.

All those killed were soldiers, medical sources said, but the security source said the attacker was among those killed.

The security situation has sharply deteriorated in Libya’s second-largest city in the past few months where car bombs and assassinations of army and police officers happen regularly.

Most countries closed their consulates in Benghazi after a series of attacks and some foreign airlines have stopped flying there. The U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in September 2012 during an Islamist assault on the consulate.

Separately, tribesmen in Jalo in the southeast brought the bodies of five soldiers to a local hospital, state news agency Lana said. The soldiers had been killed in clashes two days ago, the agency said without giving details.

Western diplomats worry the violence in Benghazi will spill over to the capital Tripoli which last month saw the worst fighting in months between militias.

Much of Libya’s oil wealth is located in the east where many demand autonomy from the Tripoli government, adding to turmoil in the North African country.

The government of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan is struggling to control militias and tribesmen which helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 but kept their guns.

Oil exports, Libya’s lifeline, have fallen to 110,000 barrels a day, a fraction of the more than 1 million bpd in July as armed militias, tribesmen and minorities have seized oilfields and ports to press for political and financial demands.

Zeidan has warned the government will be unable to pay public salaries if the protests continue.

Car bomb kills six, wounds up to 15 outside Libya’s Benghazi -sources | Reuters.