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Vader

As booty and plunder wind down in Af-Pak and Middle East, U.S. Army looks to scavenge in Africa

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Here on the Kansas plains, thousands of soldiers once bound for Iraq or Afghanistan are now gearing up for missions in Africa as part of a new Pentagon strategy to train and advise indigenous forces to tackle emerging terrorist threats and other security risks so that American forces do not have to.

The first-of-its-kind program is drawing on troops from a 3,500-member brigade in the Army's storied First Infantry Division, known as the Big Red One, to conduct more than 100 missions in Africa over the next year. The missions range from a two-man sniper team in Burundi to 350 soldiers conducting airborne and humanitarian exercises in South Africa.

The brigade has also sent a 150-member rapid-response force to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to protect embassies in emergencies, a direct reply to the attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year, which killed four Americans.

"Our goal is to help Africans solve African problems, without having a big American presence," said Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee Magee, a West Point graduate and third-generation Army officer whose battalion has sent troops to Burundi, Niger and South Africa in the past several months, and whose unit will deploy to Djibouti in December.

Comment:
Africom: The New American Empire in Africa




Bizarro Earth

UK's top prosecutor defends journalists who break law in public interest

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© Felix Clay
Keir Starmer, the outgoing DPP, said laws governing UK intelligence agencies needed reviewing in light of Edward Snowden's revelations.
Keir Starmer says his guidelines are drafted to let journalists pursue difficult stories without fear of prosecution

Britain's most senior prosecutor has launched a robust defence of journalists who break the law pursuing investigations that have a genuine public interest. Legal guidelines had been drafted, he said, to protect reporters.

Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), insisted it "would be very unhealthy if you had a situation where a journalist felt that they needed to go to their lawyer before they pursued any lead or asked any question".

In an interview with the Guardian, Starmer said: "We've got to recognise that in the course of journalism, journalists will rub up against the criminal law and that is why, in our guidelines, we took the approach that we would assess where there was evidence of a criminal offence, whether the public interest in what the journalist was trying to achieve outweighed the overall criminality."

Starmer spoke at the end of another week in which the furore over the leaks from the whistleblower Edward Snowden has reverberated around Westminster. One backbench Tory MP has called for the Metropolitan police to investigate the Guardian for publishing stories about GCHQ's mass surveillance programmes.

Snakes in Suits

Obamacare woes widen as insurers get wrong data

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© Shutterstock
New Errors Indicate Technological Problems Extend Issues Already Identified

Insurers say the federal health-care marketplace is generating flawed data that is straining their ability to handle even the trickle of enrollees who have gotten through so far, in a sign that technological problems extend further than the website traffic and software issues already identified.

Emerging errors include duplicate enrollments, spouses reported as children, missing data fields and suspect eligibility determinations, say executives at more than a dozen health plans. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Nebraska said it had to hire temporary workers to contact new customers directly to resolve inaccuracies in submissions. Medical Mutual of Ohio said one customer had successfully signed up for three of its plans.

The flaws could do lasting damage to the law if customers are deterred from signing up or mistakenly believe they have obtained coverage.

"The longer this takes to resolve...the harder it will be to get people to [come back and] sign up," said Aetna Inc. Chief Executive Mark Bertolini. "It's not off to a great start," he said, though he believes the marketplaces are "here to stay."

Eye 1

Several top websites use device fingerprinting to secretly track users

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A new study by KU Leuven-iMinds researchers has uncovered that 145 of the Internet's 10,000 top websites track users without their knowledge or consent. The websites use hidden scripts to extract a device fingerprint from users' browsers. Device fingerprinting circumvents legal restrictions imposed on the use of cookies and ignores the Do Not Track HTTP header. The findings suggest that secret tracking is more widespread than previously thought.

Device fingerprinting, also known as browser fingerprinting, is the practice of collecting properties of PCs, smartphones and tablets to identify and track users. These properties include the screen size, the versions of installed software and plugins, and the list of installed fonts. A 2010 study by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) showed that, for the vast majority of browsers, the combination of these properties is unique, and thus functions as a 'fingerprint' that can be used to track users without relying on cookies. Device fingerprinting targets either Flash, the ubiquitous browser plugin for playing animations, videos and sound files, or JavaScript, a common programming language for web applications.

This is the first comprehensive effort to measure the prevalence of device fingerprinting on the Internet. The team of KU Leuven-iMinds researchers analysed the Internet's top 10,000 websites and discovered that 145 of them (almost 1.5%) use Flash-based fingerprinting. Some Flash objects included questionable techniques such as revealing a user's original IP address when visiting a website through a third party (a so-called proxy).

Eye 1

Snowden says he took no secret files to Russia

© Wikileaks via Associated Press
Edward J. Snowden said there was a "zero percent chance" that the Russians or Chinese had received any of the secret documents he obtained.
Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, said in an extensive interview this month that he did not take any secret N.S.A. documents with him to Russia when he fled there in June, assuring that Russian intelligence officials could not get access to them.

Mr. Snowden said he gave all of the classified documents he had obtained to journalists he met in Hong Kong, before flying to Moscow, and did not keep any copies for himself. He did not take the files to Russia "because it wouldn't serve the public interest," he said.

"What would be the unique value of personally carrying another copy of the materials onward?" he added.

He also asserted that he was able to protect the documents from China's spies because he was familiar with that nation's intelligence abilities, saying that as an N.S.A. contractor he had targeted Chinese operations and had taught a course on Chinese cybercounterintelligence.

Eye 1

French government feigns indignation as it emerges NSA spied on 70 million phone calls made by French citizens in just one month

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Welcome to the Atlantean Alliance, one nation under 'god' ...
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has summoned the US ambassador over newspaper claims that the US spied on millions of phone calls in France.

France has labelled such activity between allies as "unacceptable".

Le Monde says the data, based on leaks from ex-intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, suggest the US NSA agency monitored businesses and officials as well as terrorism suspects.

The intercepts were apparently triggered by certain key words.

The paper says the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on 70.3 million phone calls in France in just 30 days between December 10 last year and January 8, 2013.

Eye 1

New EU rules 'to protect Europeans from NSA' are actually riddled with loopholes for intelligence agencies to continue exploiting people

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The EU essentially IS a CIA creation, so remind us again, what exactly is the fuss about?
Regulations will make it harder to move European data to third countries, with fines running into billions for failure to comply

New European rules aimed at curbing questionable transfers of data from EU countries to the US are being finalised in Brussels in the first concrete reaction to the Edward Snowden disclosures on US and British mass surveillance of digital communications.

Regulations on European data protection standards are expected to pass the European parliament committee stage on Monday after the various political groupings agreed on a new compromise draft following two years of gridlock on the issue.

The draft would make it harder for the big US internet servers and social media providers to transfer European data to third countries, subject them to EU law rather than secret American court orders, and authorise swingeing fines possibly running into the billions for the first time for not complying with the new rules.

Crusader

The ideological disaster of fundamentalist Christian capitalism - an analysis

Part I - Going Backward

In the eighteenth century the West shifted from mercantilism to capitalism. Mercantilism was an economic system that gave governments wide-ranging regulatory powers over commerce, mostly to ensure a positive balance of trade. It also allowed for strong guild structures and protection for domestic industries. However, the Industrial Revolution ended mercantilism and brought to power a business class that wanted to be free to operate without government oversight.

As the capitalist worldview evolved, it made a fetish out of the "free market" and viewed government as, at best, a necessary evil. Any sort of regulation was seen as the equivalent of slavery, and the proper role of officialdom was reduced to maintaining internal order (police), defending the realm (military) and enforcing contracts (the courts). Any government involvement in social welfare was disapproved of because it allegedly promoted laziness among the poor, but this was just a convenient myth. The real reason for keeping government activity to an absolute minimum was the rising business class's fear and loathing of taxes.

In Europe the rationalizations for capitalism remained primarily secular, looking to the maximization of efficiency for the sake of profit. In the United States, however, where little good happens that is not ascribed to an overseeing God, secular rationalizations were soon complemented with the notion of divine will. God wanted unregulated economic freedom and minimalist government to prevail.

This religious view continues to exist. Today's struggle to return us all to minimalist government and maximum economic "freedom" is led by a collection of fundamentalist Christian right-wingers and Tea Party mad hatters. Chris Hedges lays out a worst-case scenario of the drive for power by the Christian right in his recent article "The Radical Christian Right and the War on the Government." He tells us that "the public face" of this political force is "on display in the House of Representatives" and its main ideological aim is to "shut down the government." Hedges also points to Texas SenatorTed Cruz as the archetypal fundamentalist politician leading the charge against big government. Hedges thinks this is just the first step toward the real goal of men like Cruz, which is to make the U.S. a Christian fundamentalist nation.

Eye 2

Tomgram: The Prawer Plan - expulsion and revulsion in Israel


The Prawer Plan
In case you hadn't noticed, Israel has been in the news a lot lately. After all, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the U.N. in the midst of an Iranian "charm offensive," just as presidents Obama and Rouhani were having the first conversation between Iranian and American heads of state since Jimmy Carter's day, and gave the usual hellfire sermon. He said Israel would, if necessary, "stand alone," implicitly threatening to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities without Washington's support (an act that is, in reality, increasingly unlikely), and generally acted like the odd man out. Soon after, he made a comment reflecting his ignorance of life among the Iranian young -- "If the people of Iran were free, they could wear jeans, listen to Western music, and have free elections " -- and the next thing you knew, indignant Iranian tweets were going up along with photos of jeans and Western music albums. And so another round of news stories hit the wires.

Only one problem: just about all the "Israeli" news here is focused on its future policy toward Iran, and remarkably little of it on the way Israel continues to eat up Palestinian lands and displace Palestinians on the West Bank and elsewhere, or the way in which Israeli control over so much of the West Bank is stunting the Palestinian economy. Fortunately, Max Blumenthal, who previously slipped inside the Republican Party and produced a bestselling book, has spent four years researching the on-the-ground realities of Israel. Today, he offers us a powerful, if grim, glimpse of just where Israel has been and where it's heading, the sort of up-close-and-personal reporting you're not likely to see in the American mainstream media (not, at least, since President Obama tried -- and failed -- to get the Israelis to stop building new settlements and other housing on Palestinian or contested lands). But think of today's TomDispatch post as just a snapshot. The full picture can be found in Blumenthal's new blockbuster of a book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. It's an odyssey of a trip into a largely unknown Israel and a remarkable, as well as riveting, piece of reportage. Tom

The Desert of Israeli Democracy
A Trip Through the Negev Desert Leads to the Heart of Israel's National Nightmare

By Max Blumenthal

From the podium of the U.N. General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seamlessly blended frightening details of Iranian evildoing with images of defenseless Jews "bludgeoned" and "left for dead" by anti-Semites in nineteenth century Europe. Aimed at U.S. and Iranian moves towards diplomacy and a war-weary American public, Netanyahu's gloomy tirade threatened to cast him as a desperate, diminished figure. Though it was poorly received in the U.S., alienating even a few of his stalwart pro-Israel allies, his jeremiad served a greater purpose, deflecting attention from his country's policies towards the group he scarcely mentioned: the Palestinians.

Back in November 1989, while serving as a junior minister in the Likud-led governing coalition of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a younger Netanyahu told an audience at Bar Ilan University, "Israel should have taken advantage of the suppression of demonstrations [at China's Tiananmen Square], when the world's attention was focused on what was happening in that country, to carry out mass expulsions among the Arabs of the Territories. However, to my regret, they did not support that policy that I proposed, and which I still propose should be implemented."

Eye 2

Pakistan claim 400 civilians killed by drone strikes: US refuses to release death toll figures claiming 'they're classified'

© inconnu
Over two thousand people living in Pakistan have been killed by drone strikes in the past decade, according to a UN human rights investigator calling for America to release death toll figures.

Of the 2,200 dead, 400 were civilians and an additional 200 victims were deemed "probable non-combatants Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism announced on Friday.

Mr Emmerson is now urging the United States to release its own data on the number of civilian casualties caused by its drone strikes.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry told Emmerson that since 2004, at least 330 drone strikes were on record in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan's largely lawless region bordering Afghanistan.

In an interim report to UN General Assembly released on Friday, Emmerson said Pakistani government records highlighted that drone attacks had also seriously wounded at least 600since strikes began in 2004.

He said Pakistan had confirmed that "at least 400 civilians had died as a result of remotely piloted aircraft strikes and a further 200 individuals were regarded as probable non-combatants."