We’ve been a bit under the weather, and consequently a very lonnngggg collection today of headlines for the world of spies, security, operators, militarists, hackers, and deep politics.

Our first headline comes from Al Jazeera America:

Report: Democratic countries curbing press freedoms in name of security

Countries like US, UK that pride themselves on media freedoms tumble in annual World Press Freedom Index

Pervasive national security and surveillance programs have scaled back press freedom in established democracies like the United States, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its World Press Freedom Index released Tuesday.

In an index that usually shifts incrementally from year to year, “for the first time, the trend is so clear,” Delphine Halgand, the group’s U.S. director, told Al Jazeera. She said the “chilling effect” on investigative journalists fearful of government prosecution is most palpable in the U.S.

“After 2013, we cannot deny any more that in the U.S., the whistle-blower is the enemy,” Halgand said. “The U.S. is going after confidential sources, compromising the only possibility to do a real journalist’s work.”

From the report:

More from The Guardian:

NSA actions pose ‘direct threat to journalism’ leading watchdog warns

Agency’s dragnet of communications data threatens to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, Committee to Protect Journalists said

The National Security Agency’s dragnet of communications data poses a direct threat to journalism in the digital age by threatening to destroy the confidence between reporter and source on which most investigations depend, one of the world’s leading journalism watchdogs has warned.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based body that promotes press freedom around the world, has devoted the first two chapters of its annual report on global threats to an assessment of the impact of the NSA’s data sweep. Its internet advocacy co-ordinator, Geoffrey King, warns that the NSA’s dragnet threatens to put journalists under a cloud of suspicion and to expose them to routine spying by government agencies.

By storing mass data for long periods, the NSA could develop the capability to recreate a reporter’s research, retrace a source’s movements and listen in on past communications, King warns. “It could soon be possible to uncover sources with such ease as to render meaningless any promise of confidentiality a journalist may attempt to provide – and if an interaction escapes scrutiny in the first instance, it could be reconstructed later.”

And then there’s the blunter approach. From Al Jazeera English:

The risk of reporting US drone strikes

Yemen researcher says he received a death threat after investigating deadly wedding-convoy attack.

The disturbing phone call came after Baraa Shiban investigated a drone strike on a wedding party that killed 12 people in central Yeen in December. A clear message was delivered to the human rights researcher over the phone after a major news network reported the story based on his research.

“The caller refused to identify himself and threatened my life if I continued my investigation of the strike,” Shiban told Al Jazeera, noting he conducted similar studies of US drone operations in the past, but had never before received death threats.

Shiban works for the UK-based human rights group Reprieve and interviewed survivors two days after the attack. His investigation ascertained that 12 people were killed after four missiles were fired at the convoy. There were also 14 victims with severe wounds; some lost limbs, others their eyes.

From EnetEnglish.gr, another journalist jailed:

Police detain journalist for divulging ‘military secrets’

Article based on information from law published in government gazette, journalist says

Police detained journalist Popi Christodoulidou on the orders of a prosecutor, Panagiota Fakou, over a report claiming coastguard divers are involved in guarding sensitive sites along with the police, despite the fact that the law does not provide for that

A screengrab from Popi Christodoulidou’s blogpost, which she has now been ordered to remove A screengrab from Popi Christodoulidou’s blogpost, which she has now been ordered to remove An Athens-based journalist was detained by police for a number of hours on Wednesday at Attica police headquarters on suspicion on disclosing military secrets in a blogpost, which she claims is based on information contained in a law published in the government gazette.

On the same day that Greece was ranked 99th in the World Press Freedom Index, Popi Christodoulidou was detained by police detectives shortly after 1pm, on the orders of a prosecutor, Panagiota Fakou, who at the request of the Hellenic Coastguard’s state security directorate opened a preliminary investigation on the leaking of “military secrets” by a civilian “perpetrator”.

The journalist was released at around 6pm and has been ordered to remove the offending post on her Peiratiko Reportaz blog or face arrest.

More journalistic woes from Mashable:

Report: Ethiopian Government Hacks Journalists in U.S. and Europe

The Ethiopian government reportedly used surveillance technology created by an Italian company to hack into the computers of Ethiopian journalists in the United States and Europe.

Journalists at the Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT), a news organization comprised mostly of Ethiopian expatriates, were targeted with spying software made by the Italian company company Hacking Team, according to a new report by Citizen Lab, a nonprofit research lab that investigates surveillance technology across the world.

The investigation, released on Wednesday, is another example of how governments around the world are increasingly using hacking tools. These are often purchased from vendors that design and market them specifically for law enforcement agencies — but often governments end up using them against dissidents or journalists.

From EurActiv, a friend of The Guardian:

Media freedom watchdog defends the Guardian against government pressure

Europe’s main media freedom watchdog told Britain today (12 February) it believed that political pressure applied to the Guardian newspaper over its handling of leaked intelligence data could have a “chilling effect” on independent journalism.

Former US intelligence operative Edward Snowden’s disclosures about activities of Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency and its cooperation with America’s National Security Agency (NSA) have embarrassed Prime Minister David Cameron’s government which has said they damaged national security.

Many of the leaks were published in the Guardian.

“The continual accusations and attacks on the Guardian, their editor-in-chief and journalists by leading politicians is nothing but harassment and intimidation,” Dunja Mijatovic, representative for media freedom at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), told Reuters.

And from euronews, when “liberals” meet:

Hollande and Obama stress common Syria-Iran stance as French state visit nears end

The French and American presidents have continued to stress their common ground as François Hollande’s state visit draws to a close.

Barack Obama said both had resolved to put more pressure on Russia and Iran over stopping the bloodshed in Syria.

The French leader tackled the thorny issue of data protection after the revelations of US spying exposed in the NSA scandal.

“We have worked towards cooperation which can enable the fight against terrorism and at the same time to respect principles. And we are making headway over this cooperation. And there is a mutual trust which has been restored and which should be based both on respect for each other’s country and also based on the protection of privacy,” François Hollande told a joint news conference in Washington.

And on to the world of that espio-Superstar, first from The Guardian:

Congressional trio criticise James Cole’s NSA testimony as misleading

Lawmakers write to deputy attorney general after Cole described limits on NSA’s power to surveil members of Congress

Deputy attorney general James Cole testifies on Capitol Hill. Deputy attorney general James Cole. Sensenbrenner, Issa and Nadler said Cole’s testimony was ‘not entirely accurate’. Photograph: Cliff Owen/AP

Three powerful members of the House judiciary committee said James Cole, the US deputy attorney general, was “not entirely accurate” in testimony describing limits on the National Security Agency’s powers to surveil the US Congress.

The letter from former committee chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, oversight committee chair Darrell Issa – both Republicans – and New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, came as the Obama administration saw a new front open up in the battle over its surveillance powers: a class-action lawsuit filed by Senator Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential contender, who said he plans to contest the bulk collection of US phone records “all the way to the supreme court.”

Cole told the House judiciary committee on 4 February that while the NSA “probably” collects the phone records of members of Congress – a subset of the dragnet the NSA casts on practically all US phone data – the NSA only studied those records when it has “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of a number’s onnection to terrorism, a restriction imposed by the secret surveillance court overseeing the NSA.

From the New York Times, making excuses:

Spy Chief Says Snowden Took Advantage of ‘Perfect Storm’ of Security Lapses

The director of national intelligence acknowledged Tuesday that nearly a year after the contractor Edward J. Snowden “scraped” highly classified documents from the National Security Agency’s networks, the technology was not yet fully in place to prevent another insider from stealing top-secret data on a similarly large scale.

The director, James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Snowden had taken advantage of a “perfect storm” of security lapses. He also suggested that as a highly trained systems administrator working for Booz Allen Hamilton, which provides computer services to the agency, Mr. Snowden knew how to evade the protections in place.

“He knew exactly what he was doing,” Mr. Clapper said. “And he was pretty skilled at staying below the radar, so what he was doing wasn’t visible.”

But Mr. Clapper confirmed the outlines of a New York Times report that the former N.S.A. contractor had used a web crawler, a commonly available piece of software, to sweep up a huge trove of documents.

The Daily Dot makes an exit:

NSA employee resigns after admitting he gave Snowden access

A civilian employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) has resigned his position after admitting he shared access to classified information with former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. A memo detailing the incident and signed by Ethan Bauman, NSA’s director of legislative affairs, was obtained by NBC News and published online.

According to the memo, which was labelled as sensitive but not classified, the unidentified NSA employee entered his password into Snowden’s computer terminal upon request. Allegedly, Snowden was then able to capture the password and use it to gain greater access to classified materials. The letter identifies the civilian as male, but does not refer to him by name.

“On 18 June 2013, the NSA civilian admitted to FBI Special Agents that he allowed Mr. Snowden to his (the NSA civilian’s) Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) certificate to access classified information on NSANet; access that he knew had been denied to Mr. Snowden,” the memo reads.

From The Hill, the Aqua Buddha acolyte acts:

Paul sues Obama over NSA spying

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration for violating the privacy rights of millions of Americans.

Paul, a Tea Party star, called it the largest class-action lawsuit ever filed on behalf of the Bill of Rights.

He and FreedomWorks, the co-plaintiff in the case, have named President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander among the defendants.

“We will ask the question in court whether a single warrant can apply to the records of every American phone user all the time, without limits, without individualization,” Paul said at a press conference in front of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Paul, who has circulated a petition to build support for his case, said 386,026 people have expressed support.

From The Guardian, no taps for the NSA?:

Utah lawmaker floats bill to cut off NSA data centre’s water supply

Impending bill from Republican Marc Roberts highlights growing movement at state level against government surveillance powers

The National Security Agency, already under siege in Washington, faces a fresh attempt to curtail its activities from a Utah legislator who wants to cut off the surveillance agency’s water supply.

Marc Roberts, a first-term Republican lawmaker in the Beehive State, plans this week to begin a quixotic quest to check government surveillance starting at a local level. He will introduce a bill that would prevent anyone from supplying water to the $1bn-plus data center the NSA is constructing in his state at Bluffdale.

The bill is about telling the federal government “if you want to spy on the whole world and American citizens, great, but we’re not going to help you,” Roberts told the Guardian.

Here’s a video report about a similar measure on the other side of the country from RT America:

NSA headquarters could go dark if bill passes in Maryland

Program notes:

State legislators in Maryland have introduced a bill that would cut off water, electricity and other utilities to National Security Agency headquarters, which are located in the Old Line state. The bill is called the Fourth Amendment Protection Act, and supporters say the bill would block the NSA from spying on citizens in Maryland. Similar bills are being introduced in Washington, Utah and Missouri. RT’s Liz Wahl asks Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and who helped draft Maryland’s legislation, how the bill would impact NSA operations.

The Hill raises another legal issue:

NSA operating outside the law, panelist says

The collection of phone records by the National Security Agency has no basis in the law, a member of an independent federal advisory board said Wednesday.

“With all respect to both executive branch officials and judicial officials, nobody looked at the statute as carefully was we did,” James Dempsey, the vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I came to this conclusion slowly. I came to it a little bit to my own surprise. But if you read the statute, the words just don’t add up to this program.”

Members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) testified Tuesday for the first time since their 3-2 decision last month to condemn the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records as an illegal program that should be terminated.

Backtracking, via The Guardian:

Edward Snowden asylum demand dropped by European parliament

MEPs fail to reach consensus on amendment to inquiry calling on governments to assure NSA whistleblower of his safety

Edward Snowden Meets With German Green Party MP Hans-Christian Stroebele

The report will call for international protection for whistleblowers without mentioning Edward Snowden by name. Photograph: Sunshinepress/Getty Images

The European parliament is to ditch demands on Wednesday that EU governments give guarantees of asylum and security to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower.

The parliament’s civil liberties committee is to vote on more than 500 amendments to the first ever parliamentary inquiry into the NSA and GCHQ scandal, a 60-page report that is damning about the scale and the impact of mass surveillance.

And the result, via EUobserver:

MEPs say No to Snowden asylum in Europe

A European Parliament committee on Wednesday (12 February) voted against calling for asylum protection for former US intelligence agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden.

Snowden leaked top secret documents last summer to the media exposing the scale of US and British global surveillance. He is in Russia to avoid prosecution from American authorities.

The vote was part of a larger, non-binding, resolution backed by the MEPs in the civil liberties committee. The resolution condemns the blanket collection of personal data on the scale he disclosed.

A short paragraph, buried among the hundreds of amendments in the committee’s National Security Agency (NSA) inquiry report, had requested that EU member states drop criminal charges against him, if any, and “offer him protection from prosecution, extradition or rendition.” But it did not make the final cut.

The Guardian views Snowden from Down Under:

Scott Ludlam’s support of Snowden ‘celebrates treachery’, says Brandis

George Brandis says former NSA contractor’s disclosures about western intelligence gathering ‘put Australian lives at risk’

Australia’s attorney general, George Brandis, has criticised a senator for celebrating “the American traitor Edward Snowden”, arguing the disclosures about western intelligence gathering has “put Australian lives at risk”.

Brandis asked in parliament how the Greens senator Scott Ludlam could hold his head up high while honouring the former US National Security Agency contractor’s “criminal conduct and treachery”.

The trigger for the criticism was a question from Ludlam about “indiscriminate government surveillance” and whether the government recognised the legitimate concerns of Australians and the need to follow the US in reforming intelligence practices.

And the target of that Aussie ire raises a question, via United Press International:

Snowden: Danes should question government about NSA surveillance

U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden says Danes should not trust their government’s statement that there has been no illegal surveillance in Denmark.

Snowden, in an interview with the blog denfri.dk, said Danish citizens should not depend on the government or on journalists to reveal the truth, the Copenhagen Post reported Thursday.

“The Danes should start asking some serious questions when their government starts acting in the same way as the German one,” he said.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said publicly that the U.S. National Security Agency had assured him that on surveillance had been conducted in Germany in violation of its laws or against its interests. Documents leaked by Snowden revealed the NSA had done both.

And from TheLocal.se, a call to end another legal whistleblower nightmare:

‘Interrogate Assange in London’: lawyers

Lawyers representing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in Sweden have demanded that he be questioned in London over rape and sexual molestation allegations made by two Swedish women.

“All Assange asks is that he be treated according to Swedish law,” lawyers Thomas Olsson and Per Samuelsson wrote in an op-ed article published on Wednesday in the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

Assange broke bail and sought refuge at the Ecuador’s embassy in London in June 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning under a European arrest warrant. He claimed that he would risk further extradition to the United States on espionage charges over his whistleblowing website if he went to Sweden.

From TheLocal.de, when a Hawk becomes a turkey:

Drone scandal costs another €200 million

Germany’s Euro Hawk drone scandal showed no sign of ending on Wednesday, with alternatives for the failed programme running €200 million over budget. It means the military may turn back to the discarded, original plan.

The Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr, Volker Wieker, told a defence committee on Wednesday that the tests on four alternatives to Euro Hawk were not only taking longer than expected but were €200 million over budget. The budget had been set at €613 million.

It means that reactivating the discarded Euro Hawk programme could no longer be ruled out, he said.

The Euro Hawk scandal erupted in May last year when it emerged the drones were unlikely to get permission to fly in German airspace because of a lack of an anti-collision system to protect other aircraft. By that point more than €500 million had already been spent on the programme.

And from RT, class war declared:

Greece on high alert after extremists declare war on ‘German capitalist machine’

Greek authorities have stepped up security after a leftist extremist group declared war on the “German capitalist machine.” The group has claimed responsibility for attacks on a Mercedes-Benz branch and on the German ambassador’s residence in Athens.

An anarchist group calling itself the Popular Fighters has come forward, claiming to be behind a botched rocket attack on the offices of German car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz in the Greek capital.

The attack itself was carried out on January 12. Investigators found evidence this week that showed the rocket was fired from the near vicinity of the factory, but veered off course and landed in a field.

On Tuesday the group sent a 20-page manifesto to Greek satirical magazine To Pontiki, explaining the attack was carried out in solidarity with the Greek people against the “German capitalist machine.”

After the jump, a lethora of Asia news, including Afghan anxieties, Sci Fi scenarios, cyberwar and hack attacks, a Spanish check, the Greek panopticon emerges, another Swedish info-expat, Twitter censorship, drones in your pocket, and Nazis on acid. . .and more:

On to Pakistan and a conditional breathrough from Karachi’s Express Tribune:

Peace deal with Taliban: Senators express concern over women, minority rights

As talks between the government and the Taliban make steady headway, senators struck a note of caution on Wednesday when they unanimously passed a resolution urging the government to ensure that the rights of women and minorities remain protected under any peace framework in the tribal areas.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) Nasreen Jalil tabled this resolution on National Women’s Day, calling on the government to constitute a commission for the protection of women from the ‘illegal orders of jirgas’.

Senators from both sides supported her move and passed it unanimously, expressing concern that the rights of women and minorities might be compromised in case of a peace deal with the Taliban in their strongholds.

Want China Times adds underwater muscle:

Pakistan to buy six Chinese submarines by end of year: report

Farhan Bokhari, a political commentator from Islamabad, has said in an article written for the UK-based Jane’s Defence Weekly that China is likely to sell up to six Yuan-class diesel-electric submarines to Pakistan before the end of this year. The export version of the Yuan-class submarine is known as the S20.

Bokhari said the deal had been first revealed in 2011 by a Pakistani government minister but without giving details of how many submarines would be sold. Sources from Islamabad have confirmed that the deal is likely to be sealed before the end of 2014.

A senior official told Jane’s Defense Weekly that negotiations on the technical details of the deal are almost done and that the present discussions are mainly about the financing. Bokhari said the contract would enhance China’s rapidly growing role as the main supplier of military hardware to Pakistan and fill an important gap in the capabilities of the Pakistan navy. China’s Global Times said the deal will certainly boost Pakistan’s maritime power in relation to its chief rival India.

From Global Times, on to India:

China-India border meeting leads to framework agreement talks

China and India have agreed to make common efforts to solve their border problem as both countries strive to work out a framework agreement at the 17th meeting of special representatives for border issues.

At the meeting, held Monday and Tuesday, Chinese Special Representative and State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Indian Special Representative and National Security Advisor Shivsharkar Menon had an in-depth exchange of views on the China-India border problem, bilateral relations and international and regional issues of mutual interest.

The two sides agreed that before the border issue is solved, the two sides are willing to allow the existing mechanisms to play their full role and implement the relevant agreement for maintaining peace and tranquility.

And from JapanToday, wielding the Big Stick:

Kerry to take harder U.S. line on Asia maritime disputes to China

The United States fired a shot across China’s bow a week ago by taking a tougher stance on maritime disputes in East Asia, a message Secretary of State John Kerry will amplify in Beijing this week.

The high tensions in Asia over Beijing’s territorial claims in the East China and South China Seas will be near the top of Kerry’s agenda when he meets senior Chinese officials on Friday. He will also discuss North Korea and climate change.

Kerry’s top aide for East Asian and Pacific affairs, Assistant Secretary of State Danny Russel, drew a harder U.S. line last week on a series of maritime disputes between China and its neighbors.

“It (Russel’s testimony) certainly indicates a sharper tack in terms of the concerns we have and the steps we want China to take” on maritime disputes, said a senior State Department official. “Secretary Kerry will continue to press the Chinese to refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric and caution against the provocative nature of some of China’s actions.”

Another take from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Kerry urges S Korea, Japan to “put history behind them”

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday called on key Asian allies South Korea and Japan to improve their deeply strained relations and work together for regional stability.

“It’s up to Japan and the Republic of Korea to put history behind them,” Kerry told a joint press conference after talks with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se.

“It is critical at the same time that we maintain robust trilateral cooperation particularly in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat.”

And a declaration from Kyodo News:

Kerry says N. Korea will not be accepted as nuclear state

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated Friday amid a visit to South Korea that the United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state and called for the North’s “verifiable denuclearization.”

“Let me be clear, the United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state,” Kerry said at a joint news conference after talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se.

He called on North Korea to take “meaningful actions” to prove it is really committed to denuclearization.

Xinhua lays out the itinerary:

Obama to visit four Asian countries in April

U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines in late April, the White House said on Wednesday.

The upcoming trip is part of the president’s “ongoing commitment to increase U.S. diplomatic, economic and security engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region,” spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

Obama had to cancel a scheduled trip to Asia in October due to a 16-day government shutdown caused by a budget impasse in Congress, a travel that would have taken him to Bali, Indonesia for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, and to Brunei for an ASEAN-U.S. summit and an East Asia summit. His absence has raised questions about Washington’s commitment to its rebalance to the region.

From China Daily, an alarmed take from across a sea:

Tokyo unveils armed forces reforms

Tokyo has announced plans to ease its decades-long self-imposed arms embargo and partly remove constitutional restrictions on the involvement of Japanese armed forces in support of allies.

Under proposed reforms, Japan would allow exports of defense equipment to international organizations such as those involved in UN peacekeeping operations on condition that they do not take sides in conflicts, Kyodo News reported on Tuesday.

Wu Huaizhong, an expert on Japanese politics and defense at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are seeking a more assertive role in international affairs, including more opportunities for external operations.

The move is in line with the top priorities of hawkish Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Wu said.

Kyodo News wants even more:

Keidanren urges gov’t to further ease controls on Japanese arms exports

The Japan Business Federation proposed a set of measures Wednesday to further ease restrictions on the country’s arms exports and strengthen its global competitiveness, officials of Japan’s most influential business lobby, known as Keidanren, said.

The proposals include the creation of a division within the government specializing in arms exports, similar to South Korea and Britain, the officials said.

It is the first time that the business community has made proposals on arms exports since the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began pushing to review Japan’s three principles restricting weapons exports.

A big picture look from The Diplomat:

Shinzo Abe’s Nationalist Strategy

With his overt nationalism and his historical revisionism, Shinzo Abe has a plan for Japan.

Willingly or not, Japan embraced these two international restraints when it signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951, hoping to return to the fold of the international community as an independent nation.

More than 60 years later, though, the Abe administration wants to free Japan from these perceived shackles. In his own words, he is seeking a “departure from the postwar regime” by “bringing back Japan.” Although Abe has never said from “what” he will bring back the nation, many Japanese believe what he meant is to bring back a militarily, diplomatically and economically strong Japan from the political and economic abyss of the past decades, and perhaps in the long term from the U.S. itself.

Although Abe’s popularity has recently tapered somewhat from the heady days early in this, his second stint as prime minister, many Japanese still support his nationalistic program, because they feel that Japan lacks strength and needs to stand on its own feet, amid mounting nationalism in East Asia and a rising China.

So, to return to the question: What is Abe’s grand strategy? In fact, Abe has a three-year plan to accomplish his ultimate goal of having Japan “depart from the postwar regime.”

The Japan Times sets the record straight:

Sex slavery an ‘indescribable’ wrong: Murayama

Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said Wednesday that Japan committed “indescribable wrongdoings” by forcing women from South Korea and elsewhere to serve as wartime sex slaves.

Murayama, who as prime minister issued an apology in 1995 for Japan’s wartime aggression, said it is time for the government to finally resolve the issue of the “comfort women” who were drafted into military brothels.

“Indescribable wrongdoings were committed, in which these women’s dignity was forfeited. Japan must solve it,” he said in a speech in the South Korean parliament building.

Murayama, 89, met Tuesday with three elderly South Korean ex-comfort women, after which he said he realized “that this issue must be settled expeditiously.”

He also criticized some Japanese politicians and pundits for making “nonsensical remarks” about the former sex slaves and stressed that the vast majority of Japanese people understand the wrong that was committed. Katsuto Momii, the new chairman of NHK, angered Seoul by stating that wartime sex slavery was common to any country at war.

Spinning away with the Asahi Shimbun:

INSIGHT: NHK preoccupied with ‘putting out fires’ as resignation calls continue

Attacked from all sides and with its main revenue source in jeopardy, Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) was forced to take an unusual step.

Kenichiro Hamada, chairman of the NHK Board of Governors, urged members of the public broadcaster to “act with certain moderation” on Feb. 12.

However, his calls for self-restraint drew defensive responses from the intended targets, and the NHK scandal showed no signs of abating.

Public comments and an essay from top NHK leaders have fueled doubts about the public broadcaster’s political neutrality, while their words about Japan’s wartime history have infuriated people both in Japan and abroad.

Cold shoulders for two from the Japan Daily Press:

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe as unwelcome in South Korea as Kim Jong-Un, says poll

Results of a poll by the Seoul think-tank Asan Institute showed that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is as unpopular as North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un with South Koreans. The outcome of the survey is an effect of the strained relations between the two nations, which has been on going for years.

Prime Minister Abe’s favorability with South Koreans plunged further following his December visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. His previous favorability rate went down to 1.0 out of a 10-point scale and is within the same rating as the North Korean leader. According to the institute, Abe’s rating is “the same favorability rating found for Kim Jong-Un.” Despite the low rating, half of the Korean public still wants the ties between the two nations to improve, and backed up the idea of a South Korea-Japan summit. 60 percent of those who participated in the survey think that President Park Geun-Hye should be motivated and take initiative to improve ties. Park has already refused a summit with Abe unless he acknowledges Japan’s “past wrongdoings,” while being open with the possibility of holding talks with Kim Jong-Un, no matter that both nations are still at odds with each other.

The survey by the Asan Institute also showed that many South Koreans are aware of the ongoing territorial disputes with Japan over a few islets. Called the Takeshima in Japan and referred in South Korea as Dokdo, the dispute with ownership of the territory has often been called out by South Korea as Japan’s unapologetic stance over its militaristic past.

Law and order from the Japan Times:

Tokyo to seek truth about alleged lax punishment of U.S. forces’ sex crimes in Japan

Japan will seek answers from the U.S. military in connection with an investigative report that uncovered a pattern of lax punishment for sex crimes committed by U.S. service members stationed in the country, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida indicated Wednesday.

“I believe the Japanese government must continue consultations (with relevant U.S. authorities) to prevent further sex crimes” involving U.S. service members in Japan, Kishida told reporters.

The Associated Press said Monday that nearly two-thirds of the 244 service members whose punishments were detailed in the records were not incarcerated, citing documents the U.S. news agency obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Instead they were fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or removed from the military. In more than 30 cases, a letter of reprimand was the only punishment,” it said. “The AP analysis found the handling of allegations verged on the chaotic, with seemingly strong cases often reduced to lesser charges.

From Kyodo News, a plea:

Mayor asks U.S. envoy Kennedy not to build new base in Okinawa

The mayor of a coastal city in Okinawa selected for a new U.S. military base told U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy on Wednesday that the facility should not be built, asking her to convey to President Barack Obama that local residents do not want their sea to be turned into land.

Speaking to reporters after their meeting in Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine said he told Kennedy, “I don’t want (the coastal area in Nago) to be landfilled ever. I don’t want a new base to be built.”

“I want you to tell President Obama that the people of Nago don’t want it to be landfilled, either,” Inamine was quoted as telling the ambassador.

JapanToday protests:

Hundreds rally against Okinawa base move as Kennedy arrives

Several hundred people rallied Tuesday ahead of a visit by U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy to the Japanese island of Okinawa to protest plans to relocate an American military base there.

Okinawa is home to more than half of the 47,000 American troops based in Japan under a bilateral defense pact. Kennedy, who arrived late Tuesday, is to meet with Okinawan officials and may see the base relocation site during her three-day visit, Kyodo News agency reported.

Holding signs that read, “No base!” and “Bring democracy to Okinawa,” more than 300 protesters, many of them families with children, marched on the main street of Naha to the sound of drums and music, urging authorities to remove the U.S. bases from the island altogether.

From the Mainichi, a promise:

U.S. envoy Kennedy vows to tackle U.S. base issues in Okinawa

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy on Wednesday pledged to make efforts to reduce the burden on local residents of hosting U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture.

Kennedy, who is on her first visit to the southernmost prefecture as ambassador, told Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima in their meeting that she wants to continue cooperating with the local authorities on base issues, though she stopped short of referring specifically to a U.S. air base relocation plan approved in December by the governor.

Palaver from Xinhua:

Two Koreas end high-level talks; DPRK calls for delay of S. Korea-U.S. military drills

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) called for South Korea to delay the joint military exercises with the United States to dates after the agreed family reunion during the senior-level talks held at the border village of Panmunjeom, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Thursday.

Five-member delegations from both sides began their first high- level, inter-governmental dialogue in about seven years around 10 a.m. Wednesday local time at the Peace House, an administrative building in the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjeom.

The high-ranking officials held a marathon dialogue, including two rounds of plenary talks and two separate chief delegate contacts, until around 11:35 p.m. local time, but they ended the dialogue without any specific agreement.

South China Morning Post assesses:

Chinese delegation to Pyongyang seen as effort to assess stability of Kim’s regime

China has sent a delegation to North Korea in what analysts describe as an effort to assess the stability of Kim Jong-un’s regime in the wake of his uncle’s high-profile execution late last year.

The group led by Xing Haiming, the foreign ministry’s deputy director of Asian affairs, arrived late last month. Ties between the two cold war allies – already strained by North Korean weapons tests – have been further complicated by Kim’s purging of Jang Song-thaek.

Jang, was accused, among other things, of attempting to sell national resources to another country, which was widely believed to be China. Beijing is also said to be concerned that the purge shows weakness in Kim’s grip on power.

“The visit is intended to see if Kim’s regime still remains stable,” said Cai Jian , a Korean affairs expert at Fudan University. “It is not intended to stress the traditional friendship of the two nations, but to get an update about North Korea.”

From the McClatchy Foreign Staff, another assessment:

Hostilities seen as unlikely between China, Taiwan; agreement, too

For decades, the Taiwan Strait, which separates mainland China from the island of Taiwan, was considered one of the most likely spots on the globe for military hostilities to break out. Now that seems less likely than ever before.

The meeting Tuesday in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing between Zhang Zhijun, who heads the Taiwan Affairs Office for the People’s Republic of China, and his Taiwanese counterpart, Wang Yu-chi, was the first face-to-face encounter between officials of the two nations in 65 years. Little of immediate substance resulted, but the cordial pledges of further direct talks in the months to come show how much the China-Taiwan relationship has changed in recent years.

Still, there’s stubborn resistance to further accommodation on both sides of the strait. China, insisting that Taiwan is part of the mainland motherland, will accept nothing less than eventual control of the island. In Taiwan, there’s deep distrust of Beijing and powerful support for the quasi-independence and democratic freedoms that the island enjoys.

More palaver from SINA English:

Mainland seeks joint efforts with Taiwan on detainees

A mainland’s Taiwan affairs official on Tuesday called for joint efforts to reach a consensus on the visitation rights for detainees across the Taiwan Strait.

Zhang Zhijun, head of the State Council Taiwan Affairs Office (SCTAO), made the remarks during his meeting with Wang Yu-chi, Taiwan’s mainland affairs chief, in Nanjing, capital of east China’s Jiangsu Province.

“The problem now is how to map out mutual respect regulations that can safeguard the rights of detainees and their relatives across the Strait,” Zhang said.

Tokyo Times gets defensive:

Japan faced record number of cyberattacks in 2013

Japan faced its highest ever number of cyberattacks last year – about 12.8 billion, according to the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). The government and other organizations faced most of the cyberattacks.

The number was the largest since the government-backed institute began cyberattack surveys in 2005, NICT said.

“Cyberattacks from emerging countries, as well as China and the United States, have been increasing,” an NICT official said, according to the local media that is citing Kyodo news.

The NICT is using more than 200,000 sensors to detect the technological attacks. In 2005, they detected around 300 million cyberattacks, in 2010 – around 5.7 billion and in 2012 – around 7.8 billion.

From Want China Times, a Sci Fi scenario:

US may be collecting Chinese genes for bioweapons: report

American scientists may be collecting the genes of ethnic Chinese people for the purpose of developing genetically engineered bioweapons, reports China National Defence, a military newspaper sponsored by the PLA Daily of the People’s Liberation Army.

Earlier this year, Japanese media revealed that the United States government had tested crop-killing bioweapons in Okinawa as well as on Taiwanese and American soil during the 1960s and early 1970s. Despite the multilateral Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention that came into effect in 1975, many countries such as the US and Israel continue to operate bioweapon programs, the China National Defence report said.

The newspaper claims the US military is developing a genetic weapon through a secret R&D project, with alleged participants claiming that the genes of Chinese, European Caucasians and Arabs are all part of the research. A large number of non-military organizations are also said to be participating in the US gene battle project in the hope of developing drugs and food that will mutate the genetic structure of certain people groups, the paper added.

The report said that the US has already developed actual genetic weapons, such as implanting an African and Middle Eastern virus in ordinary winemaking yeast to pass on various diseases. Russia is also said to be using genetic engineering methods to research a new anthrax-type toxin variant that is resistant to antibiotics, while Israel is rumored to be developing a genetic weapon that is deadly to Arabs but benign to people of Jewish descent.

The Associated Press reins it in:

Spain moves to curb its universal justice powers

Spain’s Parliament has approved a ruling party proposal that will severely curb the powers of the country’s courts to pursue cases of genocide and other crimes against humanity committed abroad.

The universal jurisdiction reform includes a clause to halt current probes, including one in which arrest warrants have been issued for several former Chinese leaders for alleged genocide in Tibet.

The government announced plans for the reform after China expressed anger over the probe and hinted it could damage relations.

The Greek panopticon takes form, via Neos Kosmos:

Full checks on all spending

Finance Ministry to obtain all electronic data on taxpayers’ transactions

Tax authorities will soon have a complete picture of taxpayers’ transactions as they will be able to check interest paid on bank deposits, credit card payments and most day-to-day spending ranging from electricity bills to private school tuition fees.

The aim is to ascertain the actual incomes of taxpayers that will be cross-checked with their declared incomes. According to a senior Finance Ministry official, authorities have identified taxpayers who spend more than twice as much as they earn on an annual basis according to their income tax declarations without that money having come from deposit withdrawals.

The decision signed by the general secretary for public revenues, Haris Theoharis, forces banks, investment and insurance companies, private clinics, private schools, universities and other tertiary education institutions, fixed and mobile networks, as well as electricity and water utilities to submit to the General Secretariat of Information Systems full details and data on their customers with a full record of their spending in 2013.

TheLocal.se goes abroad:

Lexbase set to reopen from California: report

Controversial website Lexbase, which lets Swedes pay to see their neighbours’ criminal records, is set to reopen from servers in the United States with operators convinced it will make them “really rich”.

The people behind the site see it as “their big chance to become really rich”, a source told the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper on Wednesday.

In three days of operation, Lexbase generated three million kronor ($464,000) in revenues, several independent sources told the newspaper. But the site’s operators only paid around 900,000 kronor to the Swedish Courts Administration (Domstolverket) for access to court records that were in turn sold to Lexbase users.

“They’re dreaming of being millionaires and have said they won’t be satisfied until they’ve earned hundreds of millions [of kronor],” the source told DN.

Network World sounds an alarm:

Statistics point to increased physical danger risks of cyberterrorism

Are current laws enough to prevent the growing threat of cyber terrorists?

“Traditional terrorism refers to violent acts that indiscriminately target civilians,” says Jon Iadonisi, former Navy SEAL, cyber security expert and co-founder, White Canvas Group. Traditional terrorists are largely interested in achieving or thwarting political or ideological goals in the process. “Cyberterrorism invokes the specific use of computer networks to induce violence against innocent civilians,” says Iadonisi.

Lloyd’s of London affirms the occurrence and rising risk of physical danger from cyberterrorist attacks. But, as the risks increase, the law is not rising to the occasion to prosecute these terrorists.

“We have a growing criminal body [cyberterrorists] that has technically out maneuvered federal prosecutors,” says Iadonisi. The cyberterrorism landscape is exposing federal judges to cases they are unable to prosecute. “When you look at the evidentiary support and try to prove guilt, you realize there is no existing statute,” says Iadonisi.

This leaves CSOs and CISOs with technical and policy solutions for the cyberterrorism challenge.

From Techdirt, officious idiocy:

UK Government Official Gets Twitter Parody Account Closed Down For Mocking Politicians And Heads Of Large Companies

from the makes-you-gag dept

A couple of weeks ago, the UK passed what has become known as the “gagging bill”, because it puts major restrictions on how much charities and activist groups can spend while campaigning on political issues before an election. But that wasn’t the only thing the UK government was up to on the gagging front, as Tom Pride explains in a blog post:

as if to celebrate the occasion, a Twitter parody account that was critical of coalition policies was closed down after complaints were made from government officials.

Via Mashable, drones in your pocket:

After 5 Rejections, Apple Accepts App That Tracks U.S. Drone Strikes

Persistence, it turns out, does pay off. After rejecting it five times, Apple has finally approved an app that tracks every U.S. drone strike and sends a push notification to users every time a flying robot carries out a deadly mission around the world.

Josh Begley, the data artist and developer who made the app, finally got through Apple’s careful approval process on Friday, more than a year and a half after the first rejection by the company’s App Review Team.

It took persistence, but it took also some semantic trickery. Begley got the app approved because he removed the word “drone” from the name of the app and from its description. For the first three attempts, it was called Drones+, then Dronestream for the last two. This latest, successful time, it’s called Metadata+, and Begley initially submitted it with no content or functionality, adding the archive of strikes later.

With those simple gimmicks, the app got the green light from Apple, which didn’t raise any qualms about it.

And for our final item, a blast from the past via Raw Story:

U.S. hired Nazis to test LSD and CIA interrogation techniques, book says

It’s long been known that Nazi scientists helped the U.S. in its quest to secure its military might and space program at the height of the Cold War. Wernher von Braun, for example, a Nazi rocket scientist, led a team that helped the U.S. develop the vehicle employed for the first nuclear missile test, and aided efforts to launch first Western satellite in 1958. Hundreds of Nazi scientists were given citizenship between 1945 and 1955. But what’s been unknown — until today — is the extent to which former Nazis were employed to test LSD and other interrogation techniques on captured Soviet spies.

According to a book released this week by journalist Annie Jacobsen, U.S. intelligence hired Third Reich scientists in capacities stranger and more nefarious than anything reported before.

“Under Operation Paperclip, which began in May of 1945, the scientists who helped the Third Reich wage war continued their weapons-related work for the U.S. government, developing rockets, chemical and biological weapons, aviation and space medicine (for enhancing military pilot and astronaut performance), and many other armaments at a feverish and paranoid pace that came to define the Cold War,”  Jacobsen writes. Her book is titled  Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America.

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