We begin today’s tales-from-the-dark-side collection with a reminder that the threats you suspect aren’t always the ones that get you. From Bloomberg Businessweek:
Bacteria Are Adapting to Drugs Faster than We Can Develop New Ones
Some harmful bacteria are adapting to drugs faster than cures can be developed, according to a report published today by the World Health Organization. Infections resistant to antibiotics are “happening right now in every region of the world and [have] the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country,” the organization wrote.
The WHO report is the latest urgent alarm that our medical arsenal may be running out of ammunition against potentially deadly bugs. The last new class of antibiotic drugs was developed in the 1980s. The drought since then, the organization says, is “a discovery void.”
As microbes reproduce, they evolve to become more resilient to the therapies that doctors have used to treat bacteria since the first patients got penicillin in the 1940s. That process is accelerated when drugs are overused, or used improperly.
In the United States, 80 percent of antibiotics (measured by weight) are used for farm animals, as journalist Maryn McKenna documented last year, mostly to promote growth rather than to treat disease. The Food and Drug Administration in December attempted to reduce antibiotic use in farming, but the rules have been criticized as ineffective. Europe has largely banned the use of low-dose antibiotics to promote animal growth.
And from the Guardian, numbers that might lead one to question certain policies:
Global terrorism rose 43% in 2013 despite al-Qaida splintering, US reports
State Department says 16 Americans killed out of 17,891 total
Surge complicates sprawling counter-terrorism efforts led by US
Terrorist attacks rose 43% worldwide in 2013 despite a splintering of al-Qaida’s leadership and a sprawling global counter-terrorism campaign, according to new statistics released by the State Department on Wednesday.
The exposure of Americans to terrorism abroad remained minimal in 2013, with 16 US citizens killed out of 17,891 globally and seven Americans wounded out of 32,577. Almost 3,000 people were kidnapped or taken hostage by terrorists in 2013, and a mere 12 of them were Americans.
Despite the increase in attacks, the vast majority of terrorist incidents were local and regional, not international in focus, the State Department data indicates.
From Ars Technica, a defeat for corporate pedophilia:
Google ends “creepy” practice of scanning Gmail education apps
Tech giant was sued over alleged violations of wiretap and privacy laws.
Technology giant Google has ended its practice of scanning its users’ Apps for Education accounts for advertising purposes after being sued by students and other Gmail users last year, the company announced Wednesday.
The Google Apps for Education tool suite is a service the company provides for free to more than 30 million students, teachers, and administrators globally. The service includes access to Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and cloud storage.
Users of the Apps for Education tools suite and other Gmail users have alleged that the company’s data scanning practices violated federal and state anti-wiretapping and privacy laws, according to the suit filed in a California federal court.
And whilst on the subject of corporate-enabled snooping, there’s this from Kyle Chayka for the Guardian:
The facial recognition databases are coming. Why aren’t the privacy laws?
Now that the US supreme court is finally considering cellphones, let’s get ahead of Moore’s Law and defend our new metadata
Online dating is kind of like going on a shopping trip. But instead of looking at pairs of shoes, we’re perusing people, glancing over their photos and profiles in an effort to gauge how interested we might be in them. So why shouldn’t we be warned, like a grocery-store expiration date, when one is rotten?
Such is the intention of CreepShield, a new web-browser extension that uses facial recognition technology to allow users to scan the faces they see on social networking websites – Facebook, eHarmony, OKCupid, even Grindr – and see if the faces match any public records in databases of sex offenders.
The app seems somewhat useful. Unless, of course, you’re mistakenly identified as a sex offender. When I uploaded my own photo after writing a recent Newsweek cover story on biometric surveillance, the CreepShield search engine showed results that were less than 50% sure I was a match – though there were some people in the database who looked eerily similar to me.
From MintPress News, Diane Feinstein strikes again:
Why US Intelligence Officials Pressured Senate To Block Public Release Of Drone Strikes
“A basic report of the number of people killed shouldn’t be too much to ask,” one human rights advocate argues.
It appears Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and her colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee have largely forgiven the U.S. intelligence community for eavesdropping on their phone calls and spying on their email correspondence.
Acting on the request of James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, Feinstein and her colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee voted on Monday to remove a provision from a major intelligence bill that would have required the U.S. government to disclose information about when drone strikes occur — especially overseas — as well as information about the victims of the drone strikes.
Though previous drafts of the intelligence legislation didn’t require the White House to disclose the exact number of drone strikes carried out worldwide, human rights groups applauded the move to publish an annual report available to the public on the exact number of “combatants” and “non-combatant civilians” killed or injured by U.S. drone strikes each year.
The Oakland Tribune covers drone fears closer to Casa esnl:
Berkeley council takes cautious look at issue of drones
Speakers at Tuesday evening’s City Council workshop to develop domestic drone policy ranged from those who called for making the city a “drone free zone,” to supporters of limited drone use in police and fire emergencies.
The council made no policy recommendations at the workshop, but referred the issue for further study to the city’s Agenda Committee.
Jack Hamm, vice chair of the Disaster Fire Safety Commission read his commission’s resolution advocating drone use by Berkeley police and fire departments in “appropriate circumstances.”
From Spiegel, more Snowden revelations blowback:
NSA What? Spying Scandal Unlikely to Dominate Merkel’s US Visit
German Chancellor Merkel expects little progress in clarifying the NSA affair in Washington this week. She is still angered by US spying on her cell phone communications, but will instead address the Ukraine crisis and free trade with President Obama.
The Washington Post announces a purge:
Head of Pentagon intelligence agency forced out, officials say
The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency is being pushed out of the job after a series of clashes over his leadership at an agency that is under pressure to shift focus following more than a decade of war, current and former U.S. officials said.
Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn is expected to announce Wednesday that he is leaving his job as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency more than a year before he was scheduled to depart, according to officials who said that Flynn faced mounting pressure from Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and others in recent months.
The Pentagon did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The move comes at a time when the DIA is in the midst of a series of major changes, including an effort by senior Pentagon officials to expand the agency’s network of spies overseas and work more closely with the CIA. Flynn, who served as a top intelligence adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Iraq and Afghanistan, arrived in July 2012 with an ambitious agenda to accelerate the agency’s transformation. But critics said his management style also sowed chaos, setting aggressive plans for changes without adequate follow-through.
Wired threat level raises an interesting question:
Has the NSA Been Using the Heartbleed Bug as an Internet Peephole?
When ex-government contractor Edward Snowden exposed the NSA’s widespread efforts to eavesdrop on the internet, encryption was the one thing that gave us comfort. Even Snowden touted encryption as a saving grace in the face of the spy agency’s snooping. “Encryption works,” the whistleblower said last June. “Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on.”
But Snowden also warned that crypto systems aren’t always properly implemented. “Unfortunately,” he said, “endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.”
Since the Heartbleed bug has existed for two years, it raises obvious questions about whether the NSA or other spy agencies were exploiting it before its discovery.
This week, that caveat hit home — in a big way — when researchers revealed Heartbleed, a two-year-old security hole involving the OpenSSL software many websites use to encrypt traffic. The vulnerability doesn’t lie in the encryption itself, but in how the encrypted connection between a website and your computer is handled. On a scale of one to ten, cryptographer Bruce Schneier ranks the flaw an eleven.
From The Intercept, covetousness from across the pond:
British Spy Chiefs Secretly Begged to Play in NSA’s Data Pools
Britain’s electronic surveillance agency, Government Communications Headquarters, has long presented its collaboration with the National Security Agency’s massive electronic spying efforts as proportionate, carefully monitored, and well within the bounds of privacy laws. But according to a top-secret document in the archive of material provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, GCHQ secretly coveted the NSA’s vast troves of private communications and sought “unsupervised access” to its data as recently as last year – essentially begging to feast at the NSA’s table while insisting that it only nibbles on the occasional crumb.
The document, dated April 2013, reveals that GCHQ requested broad new authority to tap into data collected under a law that authorizes a variety of controversial NSA surveillance initiatives, including the PRISM program.
PRISM is a system used by the NSA and the FBI to obtain the content of personal emails, chats, photos, videos, and other data processed by nine of the world’s largest internet companies, including Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Skype. The arrangement GCHQ proposed would also have provided the British agency with greater access to millions of international phone calls and emails that the NSA siphons directly from phone networks and the internet.
From Britain, where the security state meets the pavement, via Sky News:
Police Face Disciplinary Over Stop And Search
The Home Secretary says it is “absolutely disgusting” that six times more black and ethnic minority people are stopped.
Police officers will face disciplinary hearings if they do not stick to a new, tougher code of practice for stop and search.
Home Secretary Theresa May said an investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found in 27% of stop and searches there were no reasonable grounds for suspicion.
Figures also show those with black or ethnic minority backgrounds were six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people, which she said was “absolutely disgraceful”.
And a ghost from the bloody past leads to an arrest, via USA TODAY:
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams arrested in 1972 IRA killing
Northern Ireland police say they have arrested Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams on suspicion of involvement in the Irish Republican Army’s 1972 abduction, killing and secret burial of a Belfast widow.
Adams confirmed his own arrest Wednesday in a prepared statement and described it as a voluntary, prearranged interview.
Police had been expected to question the 65-year-old Adams about the 1972 killing of Jean McConville, whom the IRA executed as an alleged spy. The IRA did not admit the killing until 1998.
ANSA covers the curious case of cops who cheered collegeus for kicking, clubbing, and otherwise fatally beating Federico Aldrovandi, an 18-year-old student from Ferrara after stopping him for public drunkeness:
Alfano scrubs police meeting after brutality-death applause
Calls standing ovation for Aldrovandi convicts ‘grave’
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Wednesday cancelled a meeting with the SAP police union after its members gave a standing five-minute ovation to three fellow officers who were convicted of killing an 18-year-old man during a routine stop in Ferrara in 2005.
“I revoke the appointment that I had given to the Union of Autonomous Police at the Interior Ministry in Rome on Tuesday,” Alfano said.
“It was an unacceptable and extremely serious gesture,” Alfano added.
The minister told public radio GR1 that the applause was “even more grave because it was done by men who represent the State and can not fail to acknowledge the meaning of a final judgement”. “That applause did great damage to the police,” Alfano added.
And in the business-as-usual department, this from the Guardian:
US intercepts Moscow’s calls to spies in Ukraine, report says
US secretary state reportedly tells private meeting recordings disprove Russian denials about involvement in separatist unrest
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, claims America has obtained intercepted phone calls that prove Moscow is deliberating trying to destabilise eastern Ukraine, according to reports of leaked remarks he made at a private meeting last week.
US news site the Daily Beast quoted Kerry saying: “Intel is producing taped conversations of intelligence operatives taking their orders from Moscow … We know exactly where they are coming from.”
On to Asia with the Guardian again, with grim news for the Fourth Estate:
Pakistan’s spy agency ISI accused of kidnapping and killing journalists
Amnesty International details journalists’ claims of harassment, intimidation and attacks at the hands of military intelligence
Amnesty International says it has “credible concerns” that Pakistan’s powerful military spy agency kidnaps, threatens and even kills journalists who cross it.
The allegations come amid an unprecedented public standoff between the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the country’s biggest media group over an attempt by unknown gunmen to kill Hamid Mir, a popular journalist on the Geo television network.
In a detailed report, the human rights group says journalists face extraordinary challenges in Pakistan, including deadly threats from banned militant groups and the armed wings of political parties. But Amnesty says it found that “no state actor is more feared by journalists than the ISI”.
And on Thailand, where the pot continues to boil in a dispute following town/country lines, via the Associated Press:
Thai government, poll body agree on July 20 vote
Thailand’s government and the state Election Commission have agreed to hold new general polls on July 20.
The commission announced the date after meeting Wednesday with Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and other officials.
Thailand held a general election on Feb. 2 after Yingluck dissolved Parliament’s lower house in response to protests calling on her to step down. The Constitutional Court nullified the election in late March because it failed to be held according to law after the protesters disrupted the registration process and voting.
More from the South China Morning Post:
Thai opposition refuses to commit to July election, threatens ‘final uprising’
Thailand’s prime minister and the country’s Election Commission agreed yesterday to hold an election in July despite the opposition’s reluctance to say whether it will take part.
Anti-government protesters have vowed to disrupt any election – as they did in boycotting a February poll that was later annulled – as part of a six-month campaign to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
“The prime minister and the Election Commission agree on a July 20 election,” Puchong Nutrawong, secretary general of the commission, said.
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban has shown no sign of giving in, even though the number of demonstrators has dwindled.
We are approaching D-day … This will be our final uprising, our ultimate gathering,” Suthep told supporters on Tuesday.
And after the jump, on to the latest chapters in the ongoing Game of Zones playing out in Asia as America and its allies play dangerous diplomilitary games with China, plus a nightmare scenario hits the road. . ..
A good place to begin, an opinion piece by economist Nouriel Roubini in the Guardian:
Keeping China’s rise peaceful is our biggest geopolitical challenge
Asian and US leaders will need diplomatic solutions to region’s geopolitical and geo-economic tensions
The biggest geopolitical risk of our times is not a conflict between Israel and Iran over nuclear proliferation. Nor is it the risk of chronic disorder in an arc of instability that now runs from the Maghreb all the way to the Hindu Kush. It is not even the risk of cold war II between Russia and the west over Ukraine.
All of these are serious risks, of course; but none is as serious as the challenge of sustaining the peaceful character of China’s rise. That is why it is particularly disturbing to hear Japanese and Chinese officials and analysts compare the countries’ bilateral relationship to that between Britain and Germany on the eve of the first world war.
The disputes between China and several of its neighbours over disputed islands and maritime claims (starting with the conflict with Japan) are just the tip of the iceberg. As China becomes an even greater economic power, it will become increasingly dependent on shipping routes for its imports of energy, other inputs, and goods. This implies the need to develop a blue-water navy to ensure that China’s economy cannot be strangled by a maritime blockade.
And we follow up with this from Agence France-Presse:
US Special 301 Report: China’s Theft of Trade Secrets a Major Concern
Washington said Wednesday that China’s efforts to steal US trade secrets are of “significant concern” as it again listed the country as a major violator of intellectual property rights.
In its annual “Special 301″ report on IP rights violators, China led 10 countries on the US Trade Representative’s “priority watch list”, marking its 25th year on the list.
Despite some improvement in cooperation over combating counterfeit products and software and entertainment piracy, the USTR said, China is still the center of huge losses for US rights holders.
Japan takes a provocative move, via NHK WORLD:
Japan to conduct amphibious landing drill
Japanese Self-Defense Forces are planning to hold an amphibious drill in southwestern Japan next month, based on the scenario of defending a remote island.
Defense Ministry officials say a 2-week landing exercise will begin in the middle of May at an island off Setouchi Town, Kagoshima Prefecture and surrounding waters.
The ministry explained the plan to residents of local municipalities on Wednesday, including Setouchi.
The exercise will involve more than 1,000 personnel, including a Ground Self-Defense Force unit specializing in the defense of remote islands and Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels.
And from the propaganda front, there’s this from Jiji Press:
Japan Launches Distribution of Senkaku Islands Brochure
The Japanese Foreign Ministry started Wednesday distributing its first brochure setting out the government’s views on the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.
The brochure says that the islands in the East China Sea are Japan’s inherent territory and argues against China’s claim to the chain in the southernmost Japan prefecture.
It is available in 10 languages including English, Spanish and Chinese and will be distributed at Japanese diplomatic establishments abroad.
From NHK WORLD, a call for moderation in Tokyo:
Women against right of collective self-defense
A group of 12 women writers and scholars held a meeting in Tokyo on Wednesday, to oppose the Japanese government’s moves to allow the country to exercise its right to collective self-defense.
Gakushuin University Professor Miho Aoi criticized the government for trying to change the traditional interpretation of the Constitution without sufficient public debate.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is seeking to change the interpretation of the Constitution held by previous Japanese governments. The traditional interpretation is that the Constitution does not allow the country to exercise its right to collective self-defense.
And perhaps that’s why the Japanese government is taking cues from Orwell, as Jiji Press reported with the requisite ironic twist:
Japan Govt Policy Not to Stipulate “Collective” Self-Defense Right
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to avoid using the words “collective” and “individual” in connection with Japan’s right to self-defense, in its policy basis for discussions with the ruling parties, officials said Wednesday.
Instead, the government will emphasize the need to revise the Self-Defense Forces Act and legislation on other individual laws, so Japan can defend a close country under attack by an enemy nation.
It also plans to clarify that Japan’s exercise of the right to self-defense will be limited to cases in which its security is seen to be seriously affected.
Needless to say, Tokyo is hewing to Washington’s line of the Ukraine [and remember that Japan and Russia went to war twice in the 20th Century]. From Jiji Press:
Japan, Germany Confirm Cooperation over Ukraine Crisis
Visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed Wednesday that the two countries will work closely together to deal with the Ukrainian crisis.
At their meeting over lunch here, the two leaders confirmed the stance of not tolerating any attempt to change the status quo by force while sharing the view that it is also important to maintain communication with Russia over the Ukrainian situation.
At a joint news conference after the meeting, Abe said further efforts need to be made to get things to calm down. Japan is ready to send personnel to Ukraine to monitor the country’s presidential election slated for May 25, he added.
And then there’s always the wild card. From Global Times:
DRRK threatens to conduct ‘new form of nuclear test’
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Tuesday threatened to carry out “a new form of nuclear test” in response to US President Barack Obama’s Asia tour.
“The DPRK will advance along the road of bolstering up nuclear deterrent, unhindered, now that the US brings the dark clouds of a nuclear war to hang over the DPRK,” an unnamed spokesman of the DPRK’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by the official KCNA news agency as saying in a statement.
“There is no statute of limitations to the DPRK’s declaration that it will not rule out a new form of nuclear test clarified by it in the March 30 statement. This is the exercise of the inviolable right to self-defense,” the statement said.
And for our final item, Wired threat level takes the nightmare scenario on the road:
Hackers Can Mess With Traffic Lights to Jam Roads and Reroute Cars
The hacker in the Italian Job did it spectacularly. So did the fire sale team in Live Free or Die Hard. But can hackers really hijack traffic lights to cause gridlock and redirect cars?
According to one researcher, parts of the vehicle traffic control system installed at major arteries in U.S. cities and the nation’s capital are so poorly secured they can be manipulated to snarl traffic or force cars onto different streets.
The hack doesn’t target the traffic lights directly but rather sensors embedded in streets that feed data to traffic control systems, says Cesar Cerrudo, an Argentinian security researcher with IoActive who examined the systems and plans to present his findings at the upcoming Infiltrate conference in Florida.