And a whole lot more. . .

We open today’s compendium of headlines from the worlds of spookery [state and corporate], militarism, geopolitical zone crises and such with some semantic antics from United Press International:

National Security Staff name returns to National Security Council

The name of the National Security Staff was changed back to the National Security Council staff Monday, President Obama said in an executive order.

“All references to the National Security Staff or Homeland Security Council Staff in any executive order or presidential directive shall be understood to refer to the staff of the National Security Council,” Obama said in the one-page order.

In a blog posted on WhiteHouse.gov, NSC spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, “[We] are once again the National Security Council staff.”

The name was changed to National Security Staff in 2009, when the Obama administration combined the National Security Council staff and the Homeland Security Council staff, Hayden said.

And from the Washington Post, a not-so-covert op:

Video shows U.S. abduction of accused al-Qaeda terrorist on trial for embassy bombings

After dawn prayers Oct. 5, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, a wanted al-Qaeda terrorism suspect, returned to his family’s home in Tripoli, Libya.

He stopped his car in front of the house, which was nestled in an affluent neighborhood in the coastal city. It was 6:38 a.m. and still dark.

A white van trailing Ruqai pulled alongside his car. Then at least three men, with guns drawn, jumped out of the van as another car blocked Ruqai’s escape while a third idled down the street.

The men yanked Ruqai, also known as Anas al-Libi, out of his car and threw him in the van, according to a video of the abduction obtained by The Washington Post. The video, from a closed-circuit camera in the neighborhood, provides a rare glimpse of a U.S. covert operation and also captures some of the bewildered reaction in Ruqai’s home once he had disappeared.

And the Snowden bombshell de jour from The Intercept:

The NSA’s Secret Role in the U.S. Assassination Program

The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes – an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.

According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.

The drone operator, who agreed to discuss the top-secret programs on the condition of anonymity, was a member of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force, which is charged with identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

From CNN, another American in Obama’s dronesights:

Source: U.S. debating targeted killing of American terror suspect overseas

The Obama administration is in high-level discussions about staging an operation to kill an American citizen involved with al Qaeda and suspected of plotting attacks against the United States, a senior U.S. official tells CNN.

The official, who declined to disclose any specific information about the target or the country the suspect presides in, was confirming information first reported by The Associated Press.

The debate about whether to undertake a mission is being held with various commanders in the U.S. military, as well as the U.S. national security agencies. The discussion centers on the risk involved and the importance of the target.

Another country, another state murder op from The Hindu:

Inside the culture of covert killing

Early in the summer of 1988, as scorching winds of death blew across Punjab, a short, wiry man entered the Golden Temple, invisible among the great throngs of pilgrims gathering at the shrine from across India. Inside, he was greeted as an honoured guest by Surjit Singh Penta, the Khalistan terror commander who had made the temple his fortress. For the next several days, Mr. Penta worked with his visitor, an officer assigned by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, wiring up the temple with explosives. The threat, he was certain, would deter India from considering storming the temple, as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had done in 1984.

New Delhi ignored Mr. Penta’s threats: the bombs were duds, and the man Mr. Penta thought was an ISI officer would serve, decades later, as Director of India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB). Nine days into an almost bloodless siege, the terrorists surrendered

Like many intelligence officials, Ajit Kumar Doval has never discussed what happened in the Golden Temple. Those who served during the period, though, speak of skilful deception operations that allowed the penetration of the networks linking Mr. Penta to the ISI; of the interception and disappearance of the Pakistani intelligence official as he made his way across the Punjab border to Amritsar.

The President of India later handed Mr. Doval a small silver disc, embossed with the great wheel of dharma and a lotus wreath, and the words Kirti Chakra.

Now, as former Intelligence Bureau (IB) special director Rajinder Kumar faces trial for the extra-judicial execution of Mumbai college student Ishrat Jehan Raza and three others, Mr. Doval’s story tells us something important. The Ishrat case is just part of a culture of killing. That culture is, in turn, a symptom of a much larger dysfunction. For decades now, India’s government has dodged a serious debate what a viable legal framework for counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism might look like, how it is to be administered and who will make sure it isn’t abused. It has simply ignored hard questions of capacity-building and accountability.

RT has drone buddies:

UK ‘borrowed’ US drones to carry out unreported strikes in Afghanistan

The UK has used American drones over 250 times to carry out previously unreported attacks in Afghanistan, the MoD has admitted. The reports prompted a sharp reaction from British rights groups who slammed the lack of transparency in the UK military.

In response to a freedom of information request by British rights group Drone Wars UK, the Ministry of Defense said it had launched 39 missile strikes from unmanned US craft in Afghanistan. This the first time the Ministry of Defense has admitted to the use of American craft in conflict zones to carry out strikes.

“Of the 2,150 missions flown by UK personnel, there were 271 missions in Afghanistan when UK personnel utilized a US Reaper, as a UK Reaper was unavailable. During these missions, UK personnel released 39 weapons. I am withholding information about weapons released by UK personnel embedded with the United States Air Force on operations in Afghanistan and Libya under Section 27 [of the Freedom of Information Act],” said a statement from the MoD.

And from the Express Tribune, the price of activism opposing death from above:

Anti-drone campaigner goes missing from Rawalpindi

An anti-drone campaigner has gone missing missing after he was picked up from his residence in the outskirts of Islamabad, his family and lawyer said on Monday.

Karim Khan, originally a resident of North Waziristan, had been an active member of the anti-drone campaign and had organised several protests in Islamabad and Peshawar.

His family said that nearly 20 armed people, eight of them in police uniform, raided his residence at Dhok Mustaqeem on Peshawar Road, Rawalpindi late at night between February 4 and 5 and forcibly took him away.

“We do not have any information about his whereabouts since then,” a family member told The Express Tribune.

Nextgov seeks corporate help:

Officials Seek Industry Input on How to Comply With Obama’s NSA Reforms

The Obama administration is spitballing ideas for surveillance reform.

In a speech last month outlining changes to the controversial surveillance programs, Obama said he wants the National Security Agency to continue mining through phone records for possible terrorists, but he doesn’t want the government to hold the call data anymore.

No one is really sure how the government can achieve both goals, but Obama gave Attorney General Eric Holder and top intelligence officials until March 28 to figure it out.

Last week, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a request for industry input on the problem. The agency said it wants to investigate whether “existing commercially available capabilities can provide a new approach” to the bulk collection of phone records.

Techdirt notes the hypocrisy:

Gov’t Officials Leak Classified Info To Journalists To Discredit Snowden For Leaking Classified Info To Journalists

from the we’re-from-the-government,-we-don’t-do-irony dept

We already mentioned the bizarre NY Times article from over the weekend that described how Snowden apparently used some basic web crawler software to collect the documents he later leaked. As we noted, the basic story itself is unremarkable, other than for how the NY Times tried to turn “man uses basic tool” into a story. However, there is a really good quote from Snowden himself (via his lawyers) in response to the article. Since most of it involves senior government officials telling NYT reporters about security problems at some NSA facilities, Snowden was quick to point out the irony:

“It’s ironic that officials are giving classified information to journalists in an effort to discredit me for giving classified information to journalists. The difference is that I did so to inform the public about the government’s actions, and they’re doing so to misinform the public about mine.”

Pardon me? Fat chance! From The Guardian:

Snowden plea bargain speculation played down by ex-CIA and NSA chief

Michael Hayden says he sees little appetite for deal with whistleblower, and portrays US surveillance reforms as limited

The former head of the CIA and the NSA, General Michael Hayden, dampened speculation on Monday that the US might offer a plea bargain to Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower.

Hayden, speaking at an Oxford University lecture, said that while deals had been done with other leakers in the past, he detected little enthusiasm for such a deal for Snowden.

His comments come after the US attorney-general Eric Holder and others within the Obama administration hinted at a possible plea bargain.

From the Emerald Isle via the Irish Times, ears in the heart of the police:

Callinan has ‘grave concern’ over Garda ombudsman bugging statement

Garda Commissioner seeks clarification over basis for suspicion of gardaí; GSOC ‘regrets’ not reporting

Martin Callinan has expressed “grave concern” that a statement by the Garda ombudsman implied that An Garda Síochana was “in some way suspected of complicity”.

The Garda Commissioner made the comment tonight, after a statement was released by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) this evening regarding suspected bugging of its offices.

In the statement GSOC said three technical and electronic “anomalies” were found during an investigation. GSOC said the anomalies could not be explained but the organisation is “satisfied that its databases were not compromised”.

The ombudsman said it “regrets” taking the decision not to report the matter. “There was no evidence of Garda misconduct,” it added.

United Press International covers old school spookery:

Former U.S. sailor sentenced to 30 years for trying to spy for Russia

Former U.S. Navy sailor Robert Hoffman of Virginia was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison for attempted espionage against the United States.

Hoffman, 40, of Virginia Beach, Va., was convicted last August of trying to spy for Russia. He served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years before retiring at the rank of Petty Officer First Class in 2011.

The former Navy cryptologic technician was arrested on Dec. 6, 2012, after an FBI sting operation to see if he was willing to spy against the United States, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said Monday in a release.

As part of this investigation, undercover FBI agents posing as Russian operatives contacted Hoffman seeking defense information. In a series of emails and other communications, Hoffman advised that he looked forward to “renewing [a] friendship” with his purported Russian contact, was “willing to develop a mutual trust,” and wanted to be compensated for his activities.

Homeland Security News Wire wants rules, man, rules!:

Israeli legal expert urges development of ethics code for cyberwarfare

Col. Sharon Afek, former deputy military advocate general, says that countries would benefit from developing an ethics code to govern cyber warfare operations. He notes that existing law already prohibits cyber operations which would directly lead to loss of life, injury, or property damage, such as causing a train to derail or undermining a dam. “Israel faces a complex and challenging period in which we can expect both a cyber arms race with the participation of state and non-state entities, and a massive battle between East and West over the character of the future legal regime,” he writes. He acknowledges, though, that only a catastrophic event like “Pearl Harbor or Twin Towers attack in cyberspace” would accelerate developments in this area.

Israel is already engaged in a cyber arms race with its adversaries, but some of the cyberattacks Israel has launched, and which have launched against it, may not be permissible in the legal regime which is slowly developing, according to a former IDF’s deputy military advocate general.

“Israel faces a complex and challenging period in which we can expect both a cyber arms race with the participation of state and non-state entities, and a massive battle between East and West over the character of the future legal regime,” writes Col. Sharon Afek in a study crafted as part of his research at the National Defense College.

From TheLocal.it, Big Brother online:

Italy plans crackdown on internet hate

Politicians from the Democratic Party (PD) will this week propose a new law to tackle internet hate speech, following high-profile attacks against leading politician Laura Boldrini.

The new proposal is due to be put forward this week by MPs Alessandra Moretti and Francesco Sanna, with backing from other PD members, La Stampa reported on Monday.

The aim of the bill is to strip the online sphere of content that is “detrimental to our own dignity”, Moretti was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

If successfully passed by Italy’s lower house and Senate, the law would impact newspaper websites, blogs and individuals’ social media accounts.

After the jump, the latest on the Asian zone, history, and militarism crises, Icelandic censorship threats, spooky automotive anxieties, drones in the Gulf, Greek leaks, and more. . .

For our first Asian headline, just what we needed from United Press International:

Seoul says North Korea may be ready for fourth nuclear test

North Korea appears ready to conduct a fourth nuclear test, but there were no signs it would do so anytime soon, South Korea’s defense minister said Monday.

Kim Kwan-jin said when and if it happens depends on North Korean leaders, Yonhap News Agency reported.

Speaking to Parliament in Seoul, Kim said North Korea had prepared its Punggye-ri site for an underground nuclear test and that “initial steps” had been taken for a missile launch at a test site in Tongchang-ri.

A warning conveyed via Want China Times:

Aircraft carriers not PLA’s only strength against US: Voice of Russia

Aircraft carriers are not the only weapon Beijing can use to defeat Washington in the Western Pacific, according to Vassily Kashin from the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies in an interview with the state-run Voice of Russia.

While many analysts from the Western world predict that China will match the US Navy aircraft carrier fleet in numbers by 2050, too many unpredictable factors render this estimate irrelevant, said Kashin. Nikita Khrushchev, former leader of the Soviet Union, had once predicted that the US aircraft carriers would all be wiped out by anti-ship ballistic missiles, a statement that did not turn into fact even after the Cold War.

China’s military technology is likely to improve steadily over the next decade, Kashin added. This will expand the country’s options for defeat US carrier battle groups in the region from a simple head-on carrier battle. For example, China is developing advanced supersonic cruise missiles which can be used to attack US aircraft carriers from an unpredictable trajectory. This could be the primary weapon that the People’s Liberation Army Navy will use in a potential conflict.

Kyodo News offers an excuse:

N. Korea attack on U.S. could push Japan into collective defense: Abe

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday that Japan views an attack by North Korea on the United States as a case in which it could exercise the right to collective self-defense.

It is rare for Abe to publicly name a country against which the right to come to the defense of allied nations under armed attack could be exercised. A government panel is discussing whether Japan should exercise the right by changing the government’s current interpretation of the pacifist Constitution.

Attending a session of a Diet committee, Abe also indicated that Japan may ease its rules on the use of weapons by Self-Defense Forces personnel participating in U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Braggadocio from Jiji Press:

Abe Reiterates Resolve to Make Japan Proud

Ahead of National Foundation Day on Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated his determination Monday to make the country proud.

“As we observe National Foundation Day, I feel keenly once again the responsibility to make the nation we love, Japan, a more beautiful nation that has pride, and I have renewed my determination in this regard,” Abe said in his message to the public.

It is the first time that a Japanese prime minister has issued such a message on the occasion of the country’s foundation day.

Another history crisis mooted via Xinhua:

China slams Japanese bid for preservation of kamikaze items

China on Monday slammed an application by a Japanese museum to the UNESCO for inclusion of 333 items left behind by WWII kamikaze suicide in the UN organization’s Memory of the World Register.

“The application is trying to embellish the invasion history of Japanese militarism and challenge the achievements of the world anti-Fascism war and post-war international order,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying during a regular press conference.

And another boundary crossed via the Japan Daily Press:

New Zealand PM would appreciate apology from Japan over whaling ship intrusion

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said that an apology from Japan “would be good” over the whaling ship intrusion into their country’s Exclusive Economic Zone the week before. Their Ministry of Foreign Affairs also called in the Japanese ambassador to New Zealand on Monday to receive an official diplomatic complaint over the incident.

While Key said he was not sure if they will be receiving an official apology from the Japanese government, given its continued defense of its whaling practices for “research” purposes, he chooses to adapt a “wait and see” attitude and says, “We’ll see what happens from here.” But New Zealand’s Labour leader David Cunliffe believes that his government’s response was too soft and that the Japanese ambassador should have been called in at a ministerial level, not just an official level, given the seriousness of the matter. “In the language of diplomacy, as you know, the level of the message is delivery. It says quite a lot about how the Government takes it,” he said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun consults:

Govt to host London ‘12 security experts

The government will invite experts who were in charge of cybersecurity for the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics to Japan this month as part of its efforts to formulate measures against cyber-attacks targeting the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Oliver Hoare, former head of cybersecurity for the 2012 Games and currently cybersecurity strategy director at the British Foreign Office, will be among those visiting Japan to participate in a government-sponsored meeting. Also participating will be people in charge of cybersecurity at information technology companies and other entities.

The government hopes this will lead to coordinated efforts with the private sector to take precautions against such attacks.

While the Jakarta Globe gets stubborn in another historical flap:

Indonesia Refuses to Budge in ‘Usman Harun’ Navy Boat Fiasco

Indonesia’s top military official brushed off criticism over the naming of a naval vessel after two men responsible for the fatal 1965 bombing of an office tower in Singapore, dismissing recent outcry in the city-state as “not a big deal.”

“Our relationship with Singapore is fine,” Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Moeldoko said on Monday. “The dispute about the naval ship name is only one small hurdle. It’s normal.”

Singaporean officials criticized the decision to name a retrofitted frigate “KRI Usman Harun” as insensitive after the news was reported in the Indonesian daily newspaper Kompas. But the complaints have fallen on deaf ears in Jakarta, where Indonesian officials insisted that the plan will move ahead, calling the two men — Usman Haji Mohamed Ali and Harun Said — national heroes for their roles in the March 10, 1965 Orchard Road bombing.

The application was made by the Chiran Peace Museum in Minamikyushu.

On to censorship, via the Reykjavík Grapevine:

MP Speculates On State Broadcasting’s News

Progressive MP Vigdís Hauksdóttir openly speculated whether or not state broadcasting service RÚV’s news will have to be “censored”.

DV reports that the MP’s remarks were in response to a blog post from Heimssýn, a self-described “No to EU movement”.

The blog post pointed out that RÚV, having originally reported that half of Icelanders want to keep the króna whilst half want to take up the euro, later issued a correction wherein they clarified that the survey in fact only asked if people wanted to continue using the króna or take up another currency.

Vigdís, who is also the chairperson of Heimssýn, responded to the correction by speculating, “Will this be the future – to censor all of RÚV’s news???”

CNBC has concerns:

Spying, glitches spark concern over driverless cars

It looks like Americans aren’t yet ready to embrace the future of driverless vehicles.

According to a new study by market research firm Harris Interactive’s Harris Poll, nearly 9 in 10 American adults said they would be worried about riding in a driverless car. In contrast, only 12 percent of respondents said they would not worry about letting their cars do the driving.

It’s the latest in a series of studies that suggest motorists are far from convinced the new technology will be safe and reliable, which could throw a dash of cold water on the industry’s race to bring autonomous vehicles to market.

From RT, Look! Up in the sky!:

UAE plans to become ‘first ever country’ to deliver govt services by drones

The United Arab Emirates has announced it is embarking on a drone project, which, if successful, will see government documents delivered to citizens by unmanned aerial vehicles. This will follow six months of testing.

The prototype for the gadget was unveiled on Monday by Mohammed al-Gergawi, UAE’s minister of cabinet affairs.

“The UAE will try to deliver its government services through drones. This is the first project of its kind in the world,” al-Gergawi said, as cited by Reuters, specifying that the services would include delivery of identity cards, driving licenses and other permits.

The vehicle, resembling a butterfly, is about half a meter (1-1/2 feet) across and has a section for small parcels on top. It’s colored white and has a UAE flag drawn on it. The drone is battery-operated and propelled by four rotors.

From Kathimerini English, the first of two leak stories:

Investigating magistrate faces disciplinary action over deficit discussion

The Supreme Court’s vice prosecutor Antonis Athinaios, who heads an inspections committee for judges, on Monday took disciplinary action against Eleni Pediaditi, the investigating magistrate who handled a probe into claims that the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT) inflated Greece’s deficit to over 15 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, triggering the country’s appeal for a foreign bailout.

The head of the Athens Bar Association, Yiannis Adamopoulos, had lodged a complaint against Pediaditi in which he reiterated claims made by Zoe Georganta, an ex-employee of ELSTAT, namely that Pediaditi had sought a meeting outside the ELSTAT offices to discuss the deficit.

And from Kathimerini English, our final offering and the second Greek leak probe:

Probe requested into leak of names of MPs with foreign accounts

The general secretary for public revenues, Haris Theoharis, on Monday asked for an probe into a leak of the names of three MPs who are under investigation in connection with money that was transferred abroad between 2009 and 2012.

Earlier in the day, the Finance Ministry released a statement aimed at curbing speculation following a report in Proto Thema newspaper on Sunday that said MPs were being checked as part of a probe into whether money deposited by Greeks abroad has been declared to the local tax authorities.

The ministry said that following a first round of investigations into 24,710 cases, inspectors were checking Vassilis Kikilias of ruling New Democracy, Maria Repousi of Democratic Left and Vassilis Kapernaros of Independent Greeks. The wives of Kapernaros and Nikos Sifounakis, a former PASOK minister, were also being investigated, it said.

The ministry made no reference to the amounts involved but, according to Proto Thema, each of them transferred more than 1 million euros to foreign banks. Kikilias was the first to refute media speculation that he had done anything wrong. In a statement, he said the income he earned before entering politics, when he was a basketball player and a doctor, had been fully taxed and was deposited in Greece. He added that the money has been declared on his derivation of wealth (“pothen esches”) form, which all lawmakers have to submit.

Show more