Sunday, June 30, 2013

Young American man teaching in Egypt murdered while photographing demonstration

There are lots of calls for young adults to go to the developing world to give public service, but it can be dangerous.
Andrew Pochter, 21, of Chevy Chase Maryland, was teaching English in Egypt, and was videotaping a demonstration in Alexandria, Egypt, when he was stabbed, possibly by a militant who hated Americans or foreigners. Perhaps the person did not like the idea of someone watching and not having to participate.  
There are many media reports, such as that in USA Today here

The video above is the account from ABC News.

Demonstrators are demanding the removal of Egypt’s current new president Morsi. It’s not clear whether they want someone even more radical than the Muslim Bortherhood, but many of the issues seem to have to do with the economy and infrastructure. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Portugal hit hard by "demographic winter"

Anthony Faiola has a detailed story on Portugal’s declining birth rate, as an example of one of the worst examples of “demographic winter’ in Europe.  It’s called “Fort Portugal, a crisis in the cradle”, link here

Some countries in Europe don’t benefit from immigration in maintaining working-age populations the way the United States does.  The other danger, to some conservative observers, is that even with immigration, demographic change will threaten social stability.

Portugal’s number of live births has dropped by 14% from 2008 to 2012.

By 2030, one in four residents in the country will be over 65, threatening social welfare programs.

Phillip Longman had predicted these problems with his 2004 book “The Empty Cradle” (Book review blog, March 28, 2006). 
Yet, there are communities around the world where families with children are banned and where homeowners cannot sell to them, as with this case in Scotland.  

Wikipedia attribution link for Lisbon port   I visited the city in April 2001.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Snowden probably turned over NSA data to China and Russia, who spy a lot more than does the NSA on private citizens

What to make of Edward Snowden's Sunday on the lam?

Well, the Hong Kong government really does what China says, so it looks like Snowden gave information to China so that Hong Kong wouldn't turn him over.  Putin of Russia is obviously willing to let him transit to Latin America, so he probably gave the data to Putin, too.

Next stop, Cuba.  Two former communist countries (now authoritarian statist "capitalist" countries), and a current relic of communism.  At least he'll skip Venezuela.

Interesting if he winds up in Ecuador, instead of just an embassy like Assange. But Ecuador could decide later it's to its political advantage to give both of them up.  Ecuador is also said to be quite leftist right now.

I think that Russia and China spy on its own citizens a lot more than our own NSA does.  That's one irony.  But of course now Russia and China could spy on ours. John Kerry has already made this point.

Unless this incident takes the path of "World War Z", I don't think that Snowden will give anything to Iran or North Korea.

But if real secrets to get to these rogue states through China or Russia, that could open new avenues for uncoventional terror attacks back here some day, included the dreaded EMP.

The fibbies fumbled the case further by not revoking Snowden's passport until Saturday, which made it easier for Snowden to leave Hong Kong.

Makes you wonder how serious "they" are about catching him.But Congress could pressure Ecuador or other countries on trade matters and try to compel an extradition later.

If he were apprehended, any trial would take place in the Eastern District of Virginia, in Alexandria.  If I was "lucky" enough to get jury duty for that, it could shut down my own online presence for a year, because of jury sequester for a politically controversial case.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In post-Mubarak Egypt, blasphemy is prosecuted, even when people are impersonated on Facebook

Islamist blasphemy lawsuits and prosecutions seem much more likely in Egypt now than they were under Mubarak, which makes one question the end results of the “Arab spring” there.
Ben Hubbard and Mayy El Sheikh have a disturbing story on p. A4, International, of the New York Times on Wednesday, June 19, 2013, “Islamists press blasphemy cases in New Egypt”, link here
What is disturbing is that the new authorities hold individuals responsible for their reputations, especially online, when others implicate them, even falsely. 
In Sohag, a Christian teacher Beshoy Kamel was told that someone had created a fake Facebook page imitating him, and then publishing insults against Islam and president Morsi.  Kamel created his own page and tried to counter the other page as false.  But when the fake account insulted another cleric, Kamel was arrested anyway, and the Egyptian court and police did not seem very concerned about the possibility of identity theft. TOR and anti-surveillance measures could not have saved him.  
In a “real world” case, another Christian teacher, a rural secretary in a Christian village, Makarim Saeed, was overheard supposedly denigrating Islam, and eventually prosecuted on such rumors.
Why “blasphemy” is viewed as a crime in this culture is hard to grasp for westerners.  But people in these cultures act as if permitting it destroys the meaning of the discipline expected in their lives.

One wonders if it is safe for a controversial western blogger (like me) to even travel to Egypt now, even to see the Pyramids.  

Scott C. Johnson, a modern war correspondent, tried to explain all this in his recent book about his relationship with his father in the CIA, in the book “The Wolf and the Watchman”, reviewed on the Books blog today. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Guardian publishes Q-A chat log of public interview with Snowden, from Hong Kong

OK, here’s the chat log from the column “Glenn Greenwald on Security and Liberty,”  where he interviews Edward Snowden, link

As we have heard, Snowden says he cannot get a fair trial in the United States, and that he was able to go to Hong Kong quietly (even as an NBA contractor) because it has a separate legal system from China (although not separate sovereignty).

Audience members then ask question.  Snowden says he is different from Assange and Manning in that he screens what to release.  He claims that harming people is not his goal, but “transparency” is. 

Snowden says that encryption works, but that typically most government and private security is weak

Snowden says he has had no contact with the Chinese government, 

He also said that he had "hope" in Obama in 2009 but was quickly disappointed, for example about Guantanamo. where men sit without charge.

He also says that being called a traitor by Dick Cheney is a "high honor".

Peter Bergen and David Sterman offer a perspectve on whether the NSA spying really is what stopped terrorist attacks within the US, on CNN, here

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cheney says that today's NSA meta-mining could have prevented 9/11, warns about other attacks if stopped

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News Sunday that 9/11 might have been prevented had the NSA been doing the “metadata mining” of communications that have been exposed in Edward Snowden’s “Wikileaks II”.  Particularly, there would have been an opportunity to intercept two if the hijackers when they were in San Diego. 

Cheney said that backing down on data mining because of misconstrued concerns about privacy could lead to more attacks, and some could be catastrophic, he warned.
NBC News provided a report by Michael O’Brien here

Could should monitoring have affected other incidents, like Oklahoma City? 

Friday, June 14, 2013

You need to be "Man of Steel" to report from Syria; chemical weapons use

The media has covered one of the ultimate war crimes, use of chemical weapons in Syria, including actions against civilians. The last time this happened was around 1988, whem Saddam Hussein did the same against the Kurds.  
The president has said that a “red line” has been crossed, but the response, help for rebels, seems to be met with mockery.
CNN has a typical news story from Damascus here.  

You’d have to be “Man of Steel” (as Zack Davis and Christopher Nolan conceive of him) to act as a reporter on the streets of Damsacus or Aleppo.   
The obvious concern about an underwhelming response:  that kind of activity from terrorists could happen here.  And the NSA claims that its snooping, so much a matter of controversy in recent days (and the Wall Street Journal maintains it’s not as bad as what the IRS did in Cincinnati, right next to the Great American Ballpark) has indeed stopped several significant terror attacks in the past few years, although whether WMD’s could have been involved, we don’t know.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

CNN covers unrest in Turkey all day, suddenly

I’ve never been to Istanbul, although I very well could have been. 
Turkey is supposed to be the freest and most modern country in the Muslim world (maybe not counting Dubai), so the stories about the protests, run on CNN all day, are shocking. But the protests have gone on for some time.
Police have used tear gas in Taksim Square. 
A recent CNN story and video are here

The protest is reported to have started over the government’s desire to clear out a park area.  The Turkish prime minister is said to have inflamed the protestors by recklessly calling people “terrorists”.  It sounds like the way Nixon used to call Vietnam era protestors low-life.   In Turkey, having that label penned on someone can get them held in jail without charge for a year.

Demonstrations have occurred in several other cities besides Istanbul, especially Ankara.  They happen mostly at night, after the workday. 

Some observers say that the fact that there are protests means that Erdogan, for all his bullishness, has actually been effective in modernizing the country.
Wikipedia attribution link for topographical map of Turkey.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Edward Snowden, NSA surveillance, and "me"

There’s no need to repeat all the facts about whistleblower Edward Snowden, now “hiding out” in Hong Kong.  The main reference on the UK Guardian seems to be here
There are various levels of complexity in his history.  Why is a private contractor entrusted with access to these kinds of secrets?  Was there some hidden period of quasi-employment with the CIA, part time (yesterday’s post)?  It seems like it, although right now the motives sound like the stuff of novels (like mine). 

Snowden, who is quite attractive (and there are reports he doesn’t have a lot of formal education – again, that needs to be sifted) and articulate, says the had the ability to track almost any politically active private American (yes, someone like me)  and cause him trouble, if he had wanted to. 

Of course, his case is legally complicated, with issues of asylum, and the comparisons to Julian Assange and maybe Bradley Manning are obvious.

But does this NSA surveillance – which I certainly accept as motivated by the need to stop domestic terrorism (and maybe horrific stuff like EMP or dirty bombs, a cut above what happened in Boston) – really represent a personal threat to someone like me?


I suppose, with a wealth of imagination, I can imagine being framed for something.  At least I can imagine how the “screenplay” would go (especially if Brit Marling wrote it).  The biggest practical risk is, though, attracting the indignation of the “bad guys”.  It doesn’t sound likely, because there are so many more “lucrative targets”, but it only takes one enemy to end a life.  It's the low probability, high impact "problem". So I can sort of buy the government’s argument that I could be better off being surveilled than not.

Let me share Timothy B. Lee's Wonkblog piece for the Washington Post. "5 Ways to stop the NSA from spying on your", link here. I have no fluency to even take these steps, but I don't think that the "government" by itself, in my case, would present the greatest risk.  Read it and laugh, or weep.. Then, just maybe, do it.

I suppose I should continue pondering why the "government" looked at a physical weakling like me as subversive back in 1962, when I was at NIH.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

LGBT Pride in DC leads to a virtual tour of the CIA facilities and ops

As an indirect result of ,my visit to the LGBT Pride Festival in Washington DC today, I got a “virtual” tour of the CIA headquarters.  The main facility is out of sight near the George Washington Parkway in northern VA, and a bit off Route 123, on the way to Langley High School (where I have subbed before).  There are numerous other secret locations in the DC area and around the world. 
The booth had many glossy handouts, aimed at recruiting the best possible talent for employment. The most illustrative was a booklet whose pages turned only when you pulled on a tab.  That’s a strange way to do bookbinding. All this material would be unclassified and in public domain.  

The CIA says it gets most of its raw data from foreign media (now including websites and social media), aerial surveillance and satellites, and ground operatives.  Data from the NSA (or counterterrorism center) and surveillance  is, of course, controversial.  Most jobs in the agency involve analysis on a computer;  relatively few are para-military like in the movies (although a very small percentage are, and require weapons). 

The agency has a booklet “10 Myths About Working for the Central Intelligence Agency”.  Most of this is common sense.

One question: if the polygraph is legally inadmissible because of reliability issues, why is it used in background investigations for the CIA?  Is the “No Lie MRI” used instead? 
The indoor area at the Langley facility certainly looks impressive.  There is a Memorial Wall, a Book of Honor, an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Memorial, the Donovan Statue, a Museum ("Inform, Instruct, Inspire"). a CIA in Afghanistan Exhibit, a Cold War Gallery, a Director's Galley. and Intelligemce Art Gallery, a Melzac Art Gallery, and a "public" Library.  Yes ("Reid"), it's "free", but not very public.  There is a Nathan Hale Statue and  Berlin Wall Monument (:Tear down this wall!")  

The Berlin Wall had just gone up in 1961 about the time of my own William and Mary "expulsion".  

Families usually know when members are CIA employees, and sometimes travel with them.  Could (as in my own novel manuscript) someone move from uniformed military intelligence to CIA employment.  My novel’s plot was conceived around 2002 and has nothing to do with the Bradley Manning issues, although now that could raise questions, I suppose.  But the CIA employment is itself clandestine because of the unusual subject matter (contact with aliens or “angels”) and in the meatime the lead character works as an AP US History teacher.   Once in a while he travels on leads (about the “aliens”).  He is usually unarmed (none of the action chases as in the movies or the desperate family kidnappings as in the ABC series “Missing”). Once, in Spain, he is mugged, but that is only to pass on more information.  I wonder how real this could be.  At least Piers Morgan would approve. 

The CIA owns a manor house on Route 123, called the Calvert House. 
There are rumors of a training center in the Tidewater Virginia, at Camp Peary near Williamsburg and Ft. Eustis, and an esoteric center south of Charlottesville along US-29 at Faber.  Few civilian employees would need the para-military training.  

In its 9-11 booklet, the CIA uses these spellings: "al-Qa'ida" and "Usama Bin Ladin".  

There is a coordinated post today on my GLBT blog. 

Maybe it's time to visit the Spy Museum again in downtown Washington.   

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Singapore demands government license for websites, censors LGBT speech

Singapore is apparently taking a draconian view of web speech.  It requires that an website having 50000 visitors a month from Singapore have a government license.  And it will censor or ban any content advocating gay and lesbian materials, as well as other supposed “vices”.
Singapore may be sensitive to its demographic issue and fear that LGBT content will lead to lower birth rates.  Procreation has always been a sensitive issue in Singapore’s culture.

Singapore is well known for very draconian rules regarding public conduct, littering, and the like, and actually punished an American visitor in the 90s with caning.
Anna Leach has the story for Gay Star News here
There is a sense that the anti-gay content rules probably will not be enforced, although web filters could try to ban them. Violators could face fines.  It is unclear what happens with foreign sites with large numbers of Singapore visitors. As a practical matter, Singapore could not collect a fine from a non-Singapore resident (me) but it could try to censor content.  

My own sites have very little traffic from China or SE Asia (probably banned), but do have traffic from the Middle East (even Saudi Arabia) and Russia.

Russia has tried to ban the promotion of homosexuality, as have some former republics.  These countries may be very sensitive to population loss. 

I still wonder what happens in corporations when LGBT employees are transferred to non-western countries hostile to homosexuality.  Maybe this has something to do with Exxon-Mobil’s reported refusal to guarantee non-discrimination.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

CNN opines on why the new MERS coronavirus is so frightening

CNN has an important perspective on the new MERS-CoV (coronavirus) and why it is so “scary”, link here. Today, there was also a report on three cases in Italy.

One of the reasons is that the virus tends to stimulate a devastating overreaction in the immune system, much as did Spanish flu in 1918.

Another concern is that the virus could reach camps housing refugees from the civil war in Syria.

Another oddity so far is that, apparently, all of the fatalities have been men, although that may not continue.
There is a great irony to all of this, in a historical sense.  In the mid 1980s, the extreme right wing in the US was spreading theories that HIV had been “amplified” by the gay male community and would mutate and become casually contagious.  If it did, it would probably change character.

But in the 21st Century, there is renewed concern of viruses that normally are understood to be transmitted in the air or by “routine close contact” or “close household contact”.   (In 1983, Anthony Fauci at NIH had made such a speculation about AIDS before HIV was identified, according to Randy Shilts’s book “And the Band Played On”;  it was later discredited) .   

With most infectious diseases, the public builds up immunity by gradual exposure, as most people overcome infections.  But this is not possible if a disease kills a large percentage of those infected.  So if this disease is “casually transmitted”, draconian social distancing (and quarantine) is the only way to control it until a vaccine is possible. 

There is no vaccine for SARS or MERS yet, but a good question would be, how hard would it be to develop one quickly?  The animal reservoir, which may be bats, is not certain (or whether there are secondary reservoirs).