Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ramping up vaccine development is an essential defense to bioterror

The Washington Times runs a “biodefense” op-ed by Bob Graham and Jim Talent on Thursday July 30, “Lessons learned from the anthrax letters: bioattack countermeasures have dual use in disease vaccine research”, p A21, link here.

While discussing the activity of Bruce E. Ivins, the authors note that the perpetrator could have caused results much worse, speculating that a whole city subway could have been shut down for years. They also point out that by way of comparison, “preventing nuclear terrorism is simple” but not “easy”. It’s simply necessary to secure all fissile materials.

For biodefense, the authors mention UN Resolution 1540 and the Biological Weapons Convention, and discuss the critical issue of the trustworthiness of those who work with biohazard materials.

But the authors also believe that by upping our ability to produce and distribute vaccines quickly (perhaps restarting smallpox vaccination), we remove many of the potential biothreats available to future enemies. Handling vaccine developer liability concerns is certainly part of the issue.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Government claims on NC terror plot already have "conspiracy theory" detractors

It should come as no surprise that there are some web stories floating around that North Carolina “villain” Daniel Patrick Boyd is a fibbie patsy worthy of being a character in a John Grisham novel. Kurt Nimmo has a piece at “Prison Planet” titled “North Carolina terror arrests timed to coincide with NLE 09”. The link is here. It seems like a nefarious "screenwritten" idea, set up a right wing group somewhere, encourage it to go ballistic and then swarm in as if it were another Waco. I’ve experimented with a fictitious group like that called “The Academy” tucked away in plain sight on West Texas prairies in a couple of my novel and screenplay manuscripts. It sort of struck me how some of the story matches some things in my own manuscripts, and it’s rather scary. It's too intricate to fit into a Sunday night TV miniseries.

But you might as well look at the FBI’s own account of its “terrorism takedown” with a triangle drawn over the capital area of North Carolina as if it were One Tree Hill. The link is here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nigeria affected by radical Islam in north: "Education is prohibited"

Will Conors writes today in The Wall Street Journal on p A8, “In Nigeria, An Islamist Expansion”.

The story reports the activity of a radical Islamist group “Boko Haram” which means “Education is prohibited”, presumably for women. (It reminds me of the Moonies in the late 1970s: “no more concepts”.) The link is here.

On July 29 Connors will report the disapproval by oil companies of Nigeria’s draft oil regulation bill.

The stories tie in to the security threats made by radical groups (perhaps communist in nature rather than Islamist) against pipelines, mentioned in this blog previously.

Connors also reported on p A8 today about a deal between Ghana and the oil companies.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Pakistan Taliban #2 man may be world enemy #1

Ron Moreau has an alarmist story in Newsweek, “America’s New Nightmare: If you thought the longtime head of the Taliban was bad, you should meet his no. 2.”

The article is about Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, whom Moreau says “you’ve never heard of.” The web link is here.

The original head Mullah Mohammed Omar hasn’t been seen for three years, whereas Baradar is advocating the most guerilla-like activity, almost as if the Afghanistan-Pakistan conflict were an indigenous “civil war” as Vietnam is purported to have become.

I’ve met a few people who were born in Pakistan or other countries in radical environment, been lucky enough to be raised in Europe or Canada, and do well in school and work in the US. In a couple of cases young men were raised as Catholic; in another a young man emigrated to the US and says he became non-denominational, with ancestors in all three traditions but with an Islamic name. There are cases where the reason to emigrate was oppression of gays.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

International groups advocate end of school violence overseas as well as at home

Alternet has passed around a link to a video petitioning the United Nations to end corporal punishment, violence and sexual abuse – by teachers – in schools. The link is this.

There is also a group called “Peaceful Schools International”, link here. I’m not sure if it is related to the Learn Without Fear of Plan International (Senegal in this video).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Search engine companies may not have downstream liability in Britain; a blow to libel tourism?

In a case that might slow “libel tourism” to Britain, a court in England ruled that Metropolitan International Schools (which provides adult training courses) could not sue Google (or other search engine companies) for “defamatory” material that shows up in search engine results. Search engine companies are not publishers, they are more like utility companies, the court ruled. In the United States, Section 230 protects Internet facilitators from downstream liability. The British court ruling may effective implement Section 230-style law in Britain, thankfully. The New York Times story by Eric Pfanner is available here.

The original cease and desist letter was published by “Chilling Effects”, web link here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Iran blocks Wikileaks -- no surprise

WikiLeaks is reporting that Iran has blocked access to its site (no surprise), but more importantly, a story about a serious nuclear accident in Iran at Natanz, leading to the resignation of Gholam Reza Aghazadeh.

The press release on the blockage of Wikileaks is here.

Earlier Wikileaks had reported a State Department promotion of a website promoting democratic reforms in Iran, with the main story on Foreign Policy Journal here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Possible new attack on Nigerian oil facilities reported

This morning, July 13, during the Sotomayor hearings opening in the Senate, CNN flashed a headline about another incident along the oil pipelines in Nigeria. I checked this evening and found a few stories, especially one July 11 in Next by Chima Owne, to the effect that the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend), claimed responsibility for another attack on a Chevron facility a few days ago. The link is here.

CNN had a story July 6 mentioning the possible seizure of a tanker’s crew, almost in pirate fashion, link here.

Oil prices don’t seem to be affected, but these developments need to be watched again, as they have been noted here before (as on Aug. 15, 2008, where I showed a bizarre email sent to me).

China cracks down on Web porn

It’s no surprise, but China has apparently been enforcing anti-porn laws on the Internet with vigor for a long time, while the Ukraine is rather the new kid on the block. Owen Fletcher, of the IDG News Service, has a story “China’s Web Porn Arrests Include Tech Savvy Site Operators” here and China has made arrests for sites run on US servers.

China is supposedly trying to “clean up” for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. China also has a law limiting the use of sex information sites to medical providers, to prevent the “disguise” of pornography as safer sex information, which has always come up as a censorship issue in the west and the US (as with COPA).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Could Obama broker a deal with Taliban over India and capture Osama bin Laden?

CNN reporter Michael Ware reported on AC360 tonight that it might be possible for the Obama administration to broker a peace deal with the Taliban – both in Afghanistan and Pakistan – specifically leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

The buzz is that Obama should support the radicals in their political struggle with India – beyond most of us – since India has become a global economic partner. But would such a brokered deal help lead to Obama bin Laden’s capture?

The story by Maureen Miller today on AC360’s continuous blog is, for the moment, here. But the story will roll over tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Did North Korea really try a cyber attack against US government?

Matthew Weaver of the U.K. Guardian reports that hackers in North Korea were apparently responsible for cyberattacks against banks and government agencies in South Korea. Apparently denial of service attacks were attempted against several US government agencies (including the FTC) but were unsuccessful. The Guardian story is here.

The reports are being investigated by the independent US Cyber Consequences Unit, here.

It’s not clear if there is any possible connection with the security flaw reported a few days ago in Microsoft Internet Explorer in some units, which apparently is already being exploited overseas.

The activity is thought by some to be related to sanctions related to North Korea’s recent test and missile firings, as in the White House blog press release here.

However, a later AP story (by Lolita C. Baldor), posted on AOL Wednesday, indicates that the Transportation Department and FTC sites were significantly disrupted this week, story here. I personally found not responding late Wednesday afternoon.

Later reports indicated that agencies varied in how well they responded to the denial of service attacks, which involved pointing zombies at specific agency addresses. Some agencies had no difficulty at all. The technique is supposed to be slowing down the response to the packets and only allowing a finite rate of them in, by forcing the sender to respond to their responses. The attacks would not have involved contents of any government sites. Reportedly, NYSE and Nasdaq were also pointed at but had no difficult repelling them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

South Korea: young men take to manual labor: "a free market cultural revolution?"

In South Korea, below what is the world’s most communistic society, there is a quiet “free market cultural revolution.” At least that’s the case according to a story in The New York Times by Martin Fackler, “with wounded prided, unemployed Koreans quietly turn to manual labor,” link here. In a country that treats Internet addiction (according to a PBS Science Now report), young men take menial and hard labor jobs on crab boats, often unfit physically for the “low work” that is the best paying around. And in South Korea, it seems to be a source of personal shame, is kept quiet, as young men go into a cultural exile. There does seem to occur some natural justice. You have to "learn to work" as my own father used to say. The Left and the Right join together in this new practical experiment in equality: trading places. You pay your dues as well as pay your bills.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ukraine will ban possession of pornography -- with a big "but"

The Ukraine has taken a problem familiar to Americans who have fought battles against censorship for free speech. The country has tried to ban the possession of all pornography – except, get this, for “medicinal purposes”, whatever that could mean. The original story was in Moscow News, June 30,here. The embellished story appeared in AOL walletpop today here.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Government does pay for anti-terror tips; in Internet age, ordinary citizens may be more likely to stumble on them

The Weekend Parade Magazine reports that the State Department has sometimes paid “huge rewards” for information or tips leading to the capture of potential terrorists, at least abroad. In 2009, the government has offered $13 million for information about Al Qaeda members abroad and specifically members of the Filipino terror group Abu Sayyaf. The link is here.

Sometimes amateur bloggers or journalists who write about international political issues may receive emails or messages which may contain potentially valuable information or which may simply be hoaxes. Since 2001, I have received a few of these messages and shared then authorities. It is possible for information received by “ordinary people” in the public to turn out to be valuable in preventing incidents (including overseas) even when there is no reward or recognition. That is simply part of the "asymmetry" provided by the Internet.

In at least one case, an "ordinary" woman infiltrated a terrorist network online with a "to catch a ..." sting operation, document in her book by "Anonymous" "Terrorist Hunter", and older review ) from 2003 here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Pakistan's kilns leave a trail or worker exploitation -- by debt indenture

An article by Pamela Constable of The Washington Post Foreign Service in the Washington Post July 3 shows just how dangerous the idea of “international karma” can become. The article is “Pakistan’s Kiln Workers Bricked In By Debt: Families on Ancient Assembly Lines ‘Can Never Earn Enough to Leave’”, with link here.

Also Pakistan’s Islamic law is supposed to prevent such exploitation, workers are indentured to kiln owners by debt, and sometimes have even sold organs to try to raise money to leave. These are among the people whose labor others have an unseen dependency on.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wanted: TOR relay volunteers to help protesters in Iran maintain anonymity

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a challenge for web freedom fighters, by Richard Esguerra: “Help Protestors in Iran: Run a Tor Bridge or a Tor Relay,” link here. TOR (called “an onion router”) is open-source software that helps users remain anonymous.

There are two parts to this operation. One contains how the user who wants to use it should behave and reconfigure his computer. There is a link for that, a “Tor Warning” on the Tor Project website, here.

There is another page at that site that explains what is needed from volunteers who would consider running a Tor relay, here. Anyone could do this, but it would require effort and be permissible according to the person’s ISP. People who run their own Internet connections from home (I have had friends who do this since the early 1990s; one ran one on a 386 machine!) and have all the technical savvy would probably be in a better position to volunteer.