Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Washington Times is reporting direct contact with Osama bin Laden from someone in the FBI back in 1993; my own tip about a 1984 contact

The Washington Times is reporting, in an exclusive headline story Wednesday February 26, 2014, that an FBI person had direct contact with Osama bin Laden in 1993, perhaps about the time of the first World Trade Center blast. The link is here
This caught my eye because back in June 2005 I received an email from someone who claimed to have been in a private pilot’s class (as for Cessna’s, etc) with Osama bin Laden in 1984, somewhere in upstate New York.  I called the FBI office in Falls Church VA on this one, and was put in touch with an agent (by phone) in Philadelphia who spent about 20 minutes talking to me about the email.  I’ve never heard about it again.  
At one point, I had even thought that I might make an Amtrak trip to Philadelphia to explore all of this.
I did get a few other bizarre emails over the years (especially shortly after 9/11) which I did turn over to law enforcement.  One of them seemed to be a map of nuclear storage sites in the former Soviet Union.  Another seemed to be a coded warning about a possible attack in Indonesia (in the fall of 2002); in fact, a few days after I reported that email, there was a major raid in Indonesia which prevented a second attack in a tourist-filled bar.
Blogger, without security clearances, do get tips.  I feel Janus-faced on the reporter shield issue given my own experiences.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Uganda president signs anti-gay law

Reversing previously hopeful signs that he might not sign Uganda's anti-gay law, President Yoweir Msueveni signed the controversial bill into law today, and indicated that he would not allow Uganda to fall under"western values", CNN link here.

Museveni was quoted as saying, "If you don't agree with us, just keep quiet.  If we are wrong, we shall find out by ourselves."  Rather clever,

It's hard to say whether Nigeria's or Uganda's law is worse.  Uganda criminalizes failure to report homosexuality, even by family members.  And Nigeria criminalizes trying to associate socially with other homosexuals.

Both countries seem to be reacting with "anti-colonialism".  But many observers claim that fundamentalist American pastors deliberately spread anti-gay unrest in Uganda.

It's still interesting that the publicity over the success of the legal battle for gay marriage especially in the United States seems to stoke unrest in authoritarian countries, or at least give leaders the idea that they can try scapegoating.  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Washington DC travel expo a bit underwhelming; Putin's Russia is a no show

The Washington DC Travel Adventure Show was a bit underwhelming.  Held in the north building of the Convention Center, it was open less time and a bit smaller than many shows.  Many of the travel destinations were rather local, like Williamsburg, Hershey, West Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey.  The North Carolina exhibit did have spectacular winter pictures of the Smokies, and Maine showed off its Longfellow Mountains (I didn’t see Katahdin). 

Southeast Asia was reasonably well represented, with some of China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Singapore with exhibits. 

Africa had exhibits from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika, but not South Africa.  It did have a weak presence on Egypt, and the sales person said that Egypt was open for business despite the political unrest of recent years.  But obviously missing are the most unstable contries:  CAR, Nigeria, Somalia, etc. 

Notably missing was Russia. 

It’s pretty obvious that GLBT travelers would be concerned about some of these countries.  It might even be dangerous to have visible blogs or websites or in some cases Facebook and other social media presences.  The social media issues for Americans who travel to less democratic countries, especially for Americans who have controversial writings on the Web, is a topic that should be examined.
I didn’t see a posting for Dubai.  It’s interesting that Saudi Arabia advertises itself on CNN as a spectacular place but seems closed to ordinary visitors. 

Turkey was quite prominent.

There was a diving pool and people were taking scuba-diving lessons. 


The cost for the visit was $15.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Prosecution based on North Korea report still seems unlikely

Despite a scathing report from the United Nations to justify charging North Korea’s leadership with war crimes, it probably won’t happen unless China is a lot more pro-active, according to CNN’s Jason Mik, story here
The Obama administration could shut off North Korea completely from the financial system. 
The population is said to be the most “atomized and pulverized” in world history, where three generations of family can be punished for the political “crimes” of one person. 
The reports are stored in Microsoft Word 97 format on the United Nations Human Rights site, in two parts, accessible here

The other concern will be, of course, how quickly North Korea could launch or lob nuclear missiles.   

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Russian TV program "The Biochemistry of Treason" comports with an ominous agenda

During the Olympics, the Russian government has apparently been airing a controversial television program “The Biochemistry of Treason”, in which the United States is presented as antagonistic to Russia, and further trying to pull apart the Russian Federation.  William Englund has a story on p. A5 of today’s Washington Post, link here.
Recall, after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, there was an attempt to form a “Commonwealth of Independent States” with the former republics, and that fell apart quickly.
It’s apparent that Russian influence is driving much of the violence in Kiev, Ukraine right now.  Putin seems to want the republics back.
And it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine the anti-gay law and fervor in Russia as a way to keep people fighting among themselves, and distracted.  Although does infighting make sense when you want a united nation?  The West is certainly a distraction to Russian “collective vision”.
And, by the way, if Russia wants to ban adoption from any country that allows gay marriage, as a way to put gays in other countries “in the crosshairs”, why not just ban all foreign adoption? Why not, instead, sell the idea of adopting orphans as a moral obligation for Russian families?  Answer, Russian families can’t make enough money.
Add to this the idea that the Russian government seems to support young Russian techies hacking bank accounts of individual westerners.
As the Olympics come to a conclusion, has Russia come back as a Cold War enemy?  Maybe the concept of my 1969 novel manuscript “The Proles” isn’t so outdated after all.

Don’t forget, Russia does have the capability to launch an EMP attack.  It’s not so clear that North Korea, Iran, or Al Qaeda really does.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Internet could be "splintered" by "digital sovereignty"

Michael Hayden of CNN posited an interesting article this weekend, “Is the Internet becoming splinternet?” here.
Some countries are starting to demand that cloud data from users in their countries be stored on servers housed in those countries, so that the countries can limit its use.  Brazil and Indonesia moved toward imposing these requirements. The concept is called “digital sovereignty”.
The article does mention the concern, as exposed by Snowden, that big countries spy on little countries. 
But a bigger issue is that the culture (let alone the leadership) of some non-western countries assumes that citizens should not have unlimited access to knowledge on their own (or be able to add to it), that knowledge should follow political and social structures.  You obviously see this with Russia, where Putin believes information about “non traditional sexuality” should be kept from teenagers so that they will be more likely to have more children as young adults.    

Friday, February 14, 2014

Conservative Washington DC paper warns of complacency about power grid

On Friday, February 14, 2014 (Valentine’s Day), the Washington Times published, on p. B4, an op-ed by Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., “Protecting the electric grid: Failure to harden the U.S. infrastructure invites catastrophe”, link here.   The piece responds to a few articles that appeared in the Wall Street Journal recently, particularly concerning the Metcalf Substation attack in California in April 2013 (Issues blog, Feb. 5, 2014; “cf” blog, Feb. 7, 2014) 
Gaffney quite properly puts an international aspect on this.  True, all major western nations need to pay attention to this, not just the US.  He points out that one of the biggest threats could be a high-altitude EMP blast, motivated by an Iran (or North Korea, or even Syria, or some non-state offshoot) that wants to see an Earth without America.  NORAD might stop that.  More to the point is the idea that the Sun could simulate an EMP attack (the first time I’ve seen that metaphor) with a solar storm and subsequent coronal mass ejection. I’m not sure that we came that close to a Carrington event in 2013 (missing it by a week, he says). 

He also points out that smaller EMP attacks, arranged by terrorists, could be staged with flux guns.  The Washington Times printed a story in 2009 showing such a device (a 2001 photo) that the military has at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, near Elkton, MD (30 miles NE of Baltimore).  Anyone can go to the museum and see it.  Perhaps it is a stretch to imagine that a Tsarnaev-style terrorist could have made and deployed one of these instead of a pressure-cooker device.  Maybe the motive would be different.
I’m lucky, at 70, to live in an advanced technologically-driven western world in which I can be “valuable” without having to bow to social competition.  I can’t count on that forever. The silver lining is that the technology to protect the grid from these horrors is within our grasp, were it not for our politicians and bean counters.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Russia's moral inconsistencies: computer crime, inequality, security, nationalism, birth rates, pornography: does not bode well for the Olympics

Recent news reports about the prevalence of malware being written by teenagers and young adults in Russia, and particularly being directed at financial transactions, underscores a particularly disturbing set of observations about the country under Putin, and indeed Russia is not our “friend”.  (Donald Trump is always saying that about China.)  Yeah, that is like saying a lion or a tiger in a zoo is not your friend.  (Sorry, Richard Parker really did become Pi’s friend at the end.)
The Russian economy does not pay information technology workers enough to support their own families.  And the government looks the other way on computer crime directed outside of Russia, encouraging it as a kind of subtle warfare against the West, not just western governments but against individuals in western countries.  Russia has replaced Soviet-style communism with a kind of rule by a crime syndicate.  China, at least, maintains a pretense of communism.
The role of the anti-gay propaganda law is particularly cynical.  It seems to suggest that Putin and Russian politicians believe that  “equal rights for gays” in western countries (especially gay marriage, which has boomed, even now in the more conservative U.S.)  will give “marginal” Russian men and women the idea that it’s OK not to have children or large families, when doing so requires sacrificing one’s own personally expressive pursuits.  Russia has carried his belief system far enough to ban adoption of Russian children even by heterosexual married couples in countries where gay marriage is legal anywhere, as if to try to influence other counties' social expression.  It seems that this belief may abet Russian authorities looking the other way on computer crime.

And it doesn’t seem to occur to the Russians that being soft on computer crime, just because it is aimed at the west (or at Chinese or southeast Asian business competitors), further undermines security in the country at the time of the Sochi Olympics, and makes detection of plots more difficult for them.
Ironically, Russia has no laws criminalizing mere possession of child pornography.  That’s also true of some countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  (At least according to Wikipedia, map here (picture above) , near the bottom of the page.) Although one could make a libertarian argument against laws that criminalize possession of anything  (what about WMD’s?) it really is an irony to criminalize gay activity or (as Russia says) only gay “propaganda” and look the other way on the other activity.  (The State Department warns that US residents or citizens who possess child pornography in countries where possession is legal can still be prosecuted in the United States when they return.)   On the other hand, China, as well as many Islamic countries, prohibit possession of all pornography.  It’s indeed curious how these countries try to manipulate the “moral loyalty” of their own populations.    

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Obama mentions persecution of Christians in Iran and North Korea at prayer breakfast

At the Annual National Prayer Breakfast (at the Washington Hilton) this morning, President Obama mentioned American Christians being held prisoner in Iran and North Korea. CSPAN has a video of his address here
I was not aware of any large number of Americans detained in either totalitarian country.

However, Patrick Goodenough has an article in CNS on the issue in Iran, where the constitution theoretically guarantees religious freedom, but where authorities have closed down churches that use Farsi, link here

The article mentions the Belgian group Human Rights without Borders, but I could find no articles there about Christians in Iran.   It mentions 17 POW’s as being held in North Korea.  

Update: Feb. 8

Sudarsan Raghavan writes in the Washington Post Saturday that it is Christian vigilatnes who are carrying out attacks against Muslims in the Central African Republic, story here.

An American, Kenneth Bae, is said to have been moved to a forced labor camp in North Korea. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

China, owning all village land under communism, seizes villages for big projects, destroying traditions

Because all land still belongs to the state in China (really?) the government is able to exercise super eminent domain and push people out of villages for new development. However, generally residents are compensated and given “free” apartments, according to a story in the New York Times Sunday by Ian Johnson, “In China, ‘Once the Villages are Gone, the Culture Is Gone”, link here
The eminent domain issue played out a few years ago with one stubborn home "owner" om Chongqing.  

The Chinese government will move 250 million people out of rural villages by 2025.
The New York Times video reports on the displacement of a musician, still trying to find a forum for his village tradition, to seize land for a golf course that still has not been built.