Saturday, June 15, 2013

The NSA has us snared in its trap – and there's no way out

The NSA has us snared in its trap – and there's no way out

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A boycott of Facebook, Microsoft, Google et al is easy to talk about, but almost impossible to achieve
Watching William Hague doing his avuncular routine in the Commons on Monday, I was reminded of the way establishment figures in the 1950s used to reassure hoi polloi that they had nothing to worry about. Everything was in order. The Right Chaps were in charge. Citizens who had done nothing wrong, declared Uncle Hague, had nothing to fear from comprehensive surveillance.
Oh yeah? As Stephen Fry observed in an exasperated tweet: "William Hague's view seems to be 'we can hide a camera & bug in your room & if you've got nothing to hide, what's the worry?' Hell's teeth!"
Hell's teeth indeed. I can think of thousands of people who have nothing to hide, but who would have good reasons to worry about intrusive surveillance. Journalists seeking to protect their sources, for example; NHS whistleblowers; people seeking online help for personal psychological torments; frightened teenagers seeking advice on contraception or abortion; estranged wives of abusive husbands; asylum seekers and dissident refugees; and so on.
In a way, Hague's smug, patronising tone was the least troubling aspect of the NSA/GCHQ story. More worrying was the unexplained contradiction between claims in the Prism PowerPoint slides that the NSA routinely collects data from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple, and the companies' frantic denials that this was the case. (Interestingly, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter aren't on the list – yet.) The named companies have all claimed that while they do provide user data in response to government requests, they do so only on a case-by-case basis and using tools such as secure virtual dropboxes or encrypted file transfers.
One of the slides in the presentation is entitled "Prism collection details" (emphasis added). It describes the companies as "current providers" (implying voluntary or involuntary compliance) and informs its audience about "what will you receive in collection (surveillance and stored comms)?", which "varies by provider".
There are various ways of reading this. One is that Prism does indeed have direct access to the internet companies' servers because, as one of the NSA bigwigs famously observed: "If you're looking for a needle in a haystack, then you need the haystack" and it now has the technology to get it. Another reading is that Prism merely automates the serving of legally authorised writs on the internet companies. But whatever the explanation, someone is being economic with the actualité, as Alan Clark once said.
Let us suppose, for a moment, that it's the companies that are the prime economisers in this context. If it is indeed the case that the NSA has logon-type access to their servers, what does that mean for anyone who is uncomfortable about this? Simple: one shouldn't entrust one's personal communications to any of them. That means: no Microsoft cloud services, no Google or Bing searches, no Google Docs, no Gmail, Yahoo mail or Hotmail; no Skype calls; no YouTube or Vimeo videos; no Flickr or Picasa; no Facebook or Twitter. And, of course, no iPhone or iPad use.
Why? Because all these services and/or devices rely on cloud services hosted in the US, which – we must assume – are routinely hoovered by the NSA for indefinite storage in the colossal server farm the agency has been constructing in Utah.
Over the last week, I have had various conversations with friends, colleagues and acquaintances about Prismgate. Many – though not all – confessed to feeling uneasy about what it might mean for privacy and/or liberal democracy. Some were sceptical that the NSA and its overseas franchises such as GCHQ actually possess the technical capability to "collect the haystack". All were adamant, however, that they don't want to live in a National Security state.
But when I raised Tim Wu's recommendation that users should therefore boycott Google and co, the atmosphere changed. The idea of not using Google for search seems unthinkable to most people. My respondents could live without Google Docs, but most thought that webmail was essential. Older people might be able to live without YouTube, but nobody under the age of 25 could. For many, Skype has become a personal lifeline for keeping in touch with distant friends and family members. iPhone and iPad users were appalled at the idea of having to give up their toys. And one person declared that he would sooner shoot himself than go back to using Microsoft Windows.
The moral of this? Simple: we're screwed either way. We're so hooked on the services provided by Google et al that we can't contemplate boycotting them, whether or not they're collaborating with the Feds. We walked cheerfully into the trap, folks. All that remains now is to live with the consequences. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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Russia to create Mediterranean fleet to protect Syria

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During the Cold War, the Mediterranean was the most important area of ​​strategic struggle between the West and the USSR. Many years have passed, a lot has happened, but the importance of the Mediterranean Sea has remained the same. Russia, a successor of the USSR, has lost some of its influence in the region over the years. It appears, though, that the country is not going to sit on its hands watching others taking its place under the Mediterranean sun.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in front of the military, announced plans to restore the permanent presence of the Russian Federation Fleet in the Mediterranean. Putin believes that such a move is not an act of “saber rattling.” The president said that Russia had its own interests in the Mediterranean that are related to the national security of the country. The region is strategically important to Russia, and the country plans to deploy its warships in the Mediterranean Sea on a permanent basis.
According to the press service of the Defense Ministry of Russia, the Russian naval task force in the Mediterranean will include about ten ships of various classes of the North, Baltic and Black Sea fleets on a rotational basis. Depending on tasks, the number of warships in the compound can be increased.
During the Soviet period (1967-1992), the Soviet Union had the 5th Mediterranean squadron of naval ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea – 30-50 ships. The squadron was created to deal with “cold war” problems in the region.
Within the structure of the Mediterranean compound, Russia plans to have about a dozen ships and submarines. Mistral helicopter carriers that Russia purchased from France can also be involved in the project.
The headquarters for the new compound will be created this summer. Most likely, Russia’s group of the Naval Fleet in the Mediterranean will be commanded from Sevastopol. It was also said that the compound would be used to solve problems in the Indian and Atlantic oceans, if required and needed.
The French Mistrals may become the command ship of the compound (Russia is expected to receive the first vessel from France in 2015).
The ships of this class have ample opportunities for long-term command operations at sea. In general, the Russian Navy, until the end of 2020, will receive 54 surface ships and 24 submarines.
Why does Russia need the Mediterranean fleet?
Many experts attribute this to the situation around Syria. In fact, there are plenty of reasons.
Russia has to take account of the danger of U.S. military intervention in the internal affairs of Syria – Russia’s ally in the Middle East. At the end of 2012, the Russian fleet forced a group of American aircraft carriers out from the coastal waters of Syria. The operation was officially called the “exercise”, but the result of that exercise was the return of CVN-69 Eisenhower aircraft carrier to its base in Norfolk.
At the end of January 2013, the “exercises” of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean Sea ceased, and Russian ships returned to their bases. The Eisenhower understood that the danger had passed and the aircraft carrier returned to the Mediterranean Sea.
Rumors about a possible attack on Syria from the United States continue to emerge. This brings up a question of whether the Russian Federation needs to send its forces to the Mediterranean every time a U.S. aircraft carrier appears there.
First off, such monthly missions waste resources of the ships, not to mention the fact that they require significant funding. It was therefore decided to deploy Russian ships in the Mediterranean region on a regular basis. With their help, it will be easier for Russia to defend its interests in the Middle East. Thus, the Russian Defense Ministry has solved the problem of financing “military drills” in the Mediterranean. The ships will most likely be deployed in the port of Tartus.
One should bear in mind the fact that during the recent years, the Russian Navy began to develop rapidly. The Soviet Union used to have enormous influence on the Middle East. Modern Russia has its own interests, and, of course, it will be defending them. The deployment of Russian ships in the Mediterranean Sea is the beginning of a new concept of the Russian foreign policy.
In addition, the military and political situation in the world has been escalating, and Russia simply needs to have its armed forces present in certain key regions of the globe. This will give Russia an opportunity to feel more secure. Of course, it goes about the obvious military confrontation with the navy of the United States and NATO, but the very presence of the Russian Navy in this region can be a decisive factor in making certain strategic decisions.
Problems for the creation of the Mediterranean Fleet
Creating the Mediterranean fleet is a very difficult and long process that requires great effort in solving various problems. Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, former head of the General Staff of the Navy, is skeptical about the establishment of the Mediterranean Fleet. In his view, the current state of affairs in the Russian army will not let the country collect ten ships for the new squadron. This is nothing but wishful thinking, the admiral believes.
Northern, Baltic and Black fleets can provide the maximum of one or two combat-capable vessels, the admiral said. If formed, the group of such vessels will have their resources exhausted in just a year; repairs will be required afterwards.
Creating a Mediterranean squadron will require locations for its deployment. A naval base in Tartus, Syria, will have to be reconstructed, which is a long process. Rumor has it that the Russian Federation has offered financial assistance to Cyprus in exchange for an army base.
The whole point of creating such a squadron will be lost in case the Americans overthrow Assad. Should this be the case, the presence of the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean will be pointless. The main goal of the Russian naval group in the region is to protect independent states in the region from U.S. military intervention. This is exactly the reason why Russia wants to create its fleet in the Mediterranean Sea.
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Russian parliament bans parents from telling their kids about Gay people 

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On Tuesday, June 11th, members of the lower house of the Russian parliament discussed in the second and third readings a bill to ban the propaganda of non-traditional relationships to children. As a result, the bill was accepted with 436 deputies voting in support of the bill, 1 abstained and 0 opposition.
In the morning, supporters and opponents of the bill came to the building of the State Duma. There were clashes, and the police had to disperse the activists. Three dozen people were arrested.
In the second reading the term “homosexuality” was dropped from the bill. It was replaced with “non-traditional sexual relations.” Propaganda of such relations to minors is subject to a fine of four to five thousand rubles for citizens, and 40 to 50 thousand rubles for officials. Sanctions for legal entities are doubled from 400-500 rubles to 800,000 – one million rubles, with the possibility of a suspension of administrative activity for up to 90 days, ITAR-TASS reported.
In the event of the propaganda for children and adolescents with the use of media or the Internet, the penalty increases to 50-100 thousand rubles for citizens and 100-200 thousand rubles for officials, and up to one million rubles for legal entities.
The bill also provides for liability for foreigners implicated in the imposition of non-traditional family values ​​on Russian children. The penalty will be four to five thousand rubles with a possibility of administrative detention for 15 days and subsequent deportation from the Russian Federation.
If the offense is committed with the use of the media or the Internet, the penalty increases to 50-100 thousand.
The bill was considered in the first reading on January 25th of this year. 14 Russian regions have previously adopted similar laws.
Possible prohibition of propaganda of non-traditional relationships has caused a strong reaction among Western human rights organizations and formal structures of the EU and the U.S., calling on the Russian authorities not to pass the law. In fact, it was presented as an infringement upon the rights of homosexuals. Of course, the law does not provide for interference with private life.
Meanwhile, according to sociologists, currently the vast majority of the Russians (88 percent) support the ban on the propaganda of homosexuality. Seven percent oppose the initiative, according to a statement on the website of All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM).
A relative majority of Russians today believe that non-traditional sexual orientation should be punishable as a criminal offense (42 percent). In 2007 the number was only 19 percent.
Twenty-five percent of respondents currently believe that homosexuality should be condemned (in 2007 it was 18 percent). Some propose a fine (the number of proponents of this measure increased from 12 percent to 15 percent). Fewer people believe that the government and society should not interfere with it, because it is a private matter (from 34 percent in 2007 to 15 percent in the current year).
The results of this survey match those of the American Research Center Pew Research. According to them, the level of social disapproval of homosexuality in Russia is 74 percent.
During the period from 2007 to 2013, a decrease in tolerance to the representatives of the Russian LGBT community was recorded from 20 to 16 percent. It would be wrong to blame these results on the “government propaganda,” because the authorities began paying attention to the issue only a couple of years ago. In addition, exactly the same decrease in tolerance was recorded in European countries. In the Czech Republic and Poland, for example, it was three percent, and in France – six.
A TV host Petr Tolstoy believes that such a law is a necessity. “It’s about protecting our children from the propaganda of something outside of the norm. A general concept of the norm and the lack thereof is extremely important for the life of any society. And in our society, I think, the majority does not want their children to depart from the norm,” he told Pravda.Ru.
“The law is absolutely normal; it does not infringe upon anyone’s rights, despite a not very clear hysteria of some characters. Basically, it once again makes it clear that our country will not adopt any European experience, which many believe to be progressive. At least in regard to our historical traditional values, ​” said the host.
“Of course, everyone should have the right to choose, every person is free, but there is a certain social norm that must be understood and respected. This is what I think the law is about and I think that its adoption does not infringe upon anyone’s rights,” Petr Tolstoy concluded.
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The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia

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U Khin Nyunt, a much-feared former spymaster, at his home in Yangon, Myanmar, on Wednesday. He now spends his mornings praying amid Buddhist statues, and also has an art gallery.
Adam Dean for The New York Times

A Myanmar in Transition Says Little of Past

Men who were at the helm of a repressive government, like U Khin Nyunt, a former spymaster, have moved on, in part because there have been few calls for retribution.

Arecibo Observatory Platform Tour - YouTube

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