Daily Archives: August 20, 2008

Machines to scan faces of travellers at UK airports

Air passengers travelling to British airports are to have their faces scanned and identities checked by machines under plans to be announced.

But they might not stop terrorists coming into the UK…

Telegraph | Aug 19, 2008

By Christopher Hope, Home Affairs Editor

Thousands of passengers are already being scanned in a trial being carried out at two airports.

However if the trials prove successful, ministers want the machines to replace most front line airport immigration officer over the next five years.

As well as improving security, ministers hope the computers will cut passenger congestion. The machines take 13-15 seconds per passenger, while a human takes 20 seconds.

Eleven pilot “walk-in” machines were covertly introduced at Manchester and Stansted airports last month to check passports automatically. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is expected to be in Manchester airport to unveil the new plans on Tuesday.

The new machines take instant photographs of the holder, which are then electronically matched against the 2D digital pictures in their documents to check their identities.

If the pilot schemes are a success, the technology is expected to be rolled out to airports and ports nationwide.

But critics said last night that the technology is unproven and could cause innocent passengers to be rejected.

There have been concerns about the accuracy of the technology. Guy Herbert, the general secretary of the No2ID campaign, said: “This is security theatre – a photo op for the bank holiday traveller. All the trials have been run on facial recognition almost everywhere have been dismal failures. To suggest that this is any security benefit is a joke for anyone following the technology.”

The trials are already being boycotted by members of the Government’s new border force because of concerns they might not stop terrorists coming into the UK.

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Union said: “Our members are being told not to volunteer for the technology until the concerns have been addressed about reliability and whether it can do what the Government wants it to do. There is an issue of national security here.”

The Tories, which want to give a border force full police powers, expressed concerned that the Government’s “over-reliance on technology was putting the security of the public at risk”.

Between eight million and 10 million biometric passports have been issued since their introduction in 2006. Non-biometric passports will not be valid after 2016. The new technology is an advance on existing iris recognition technology which was temporarily shelved in November last year.

Last night a UK Border Agency spokesman said: “The UK is undergoing the biggest shake-up in its borders for nearly 40 years, Britain’s border security is now among the toughest in the world. The new facial recognition gates undertake checks against security watch lists in the same way as the current manual control. The trial will tell us whether these gates can maintain the high level of entry security we have introduced to the UK.”

Last month, fingerprint scanning at Heathrow’s Terminal Five was postponed before it started amid concerns from the Information Commissioner’s Office about what would happen to the data.

Man tasered repeatedly for “causing a commotion” dies in police custody

A Florida man has died after being repeatedly ‘shocked’ by a police Taser gun.

An investigation into the death is underway

Sky News | Aug 17, 2008

Kenneth Oliver, 45, of Miami-Dade, was targeted after causing a commotion at a friend’s house.

It is reported he had been shouting and banging on a front door in the early morning.

Mr Oliver’s friend Johnnie Mosely said he had considered letting him into his home, but his daughters were frightened by Mr Oliver’s behaviour.

He called police and said officers, who arrived several minutes later, used a Taser gun at least four times.

Miami-Dade police say Mr Oliver went into shock while he was in custody and was pronounced dead at a hospital later that morning.

Force spokesman Bobby Williams says the death is under investigation.

The use of Taser weapons by police has caused controversy in the US.

In September 2007, a Florida university student was restrained on the ground, Tasered and arrested after asking questions at a political forum.

Earlier this year, it was revealed an American motorist – who became a celebrity after video of him being stunned with a police Taser gun appeared on YouTube – will receive about £20,000 from Utah State.

Jared Massey, 28, was arguing against a speeding ticket when he was shot.

Ten French soldiers die in Afghan battle

French paratroopers of the 8th regiment march at Camp Warehouse in Kabul during a visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy on Wednesday told French soldiers mourning 10 comrades killed by the Taliban that their work in Afghanistan was essential for the “freedom of the world” and must continue.  (AFP/Olivier Laban-Mattei)

Biggest single loss of foreign troops in combat in at least three years

MSNBC News | Aug 19, 2008

KABUL – Taliban insurgents killed 10 French soldiers and wounded 21 in a major battle east of the Afghan capital, the French president’s office said on Tuesday, the biggest single combat loss for international forces in Afghanistan in more than three years.

The Taliban have gradually closed in on Kabul in the past year, making travel south, west or east of the capital extremely hazardous for troops, aid workers and civilians, and spreading fear among the populace.

Meanwhile, a team of suicide bombers tried unsuccessfully to storm a U.S. military base near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in a daring attack on a major American installation. Soldiers on the ground, fighter aircraft and helicopters chased the retreating militants.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to travel to Afghanistan on Tuesday in response to the deaths of the French soldiers, his office said.

“My determination is intact. France is determined to continue the struggle against terrorism for democracy and freedom. The cause is just,” Sarkozy said in a statement.

Taliban ambush

The French soldiers were killed in a major battle that erupted when Taliban insurgents ambushed their reconnaissance patrol from three sides in the Sarobi district of Kabul province about 40 miles east of Kabul late on Monday.

Significant air support was used to extract the units from an extremely violent ambush, the French presidency said.

A “large number” of insurgents were killed in the fighting, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

France has 2,600 troops in Afghanistan, after Sarkozy sent an extra 700 soldiers this year in response to a U.S. call for its NATO allies to send more forces to check a surge in violence.

Only 12 French troops had previously died in Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces ousted the Taliban in 2001 for refusing to give up al-Qaida leaders behind the September 11 attacks.

The 10 dead and 21 wounded soldiers were from the 8th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment and the Regiment de marche du Tchad, a mechanized marine unit.

The Afghan Defense Ministry said 27 insurgents have been killed or wounded in the fighting and at least two Afghan soldiers have been wounded.

The Taliban Web site said 20 U.S. soldiers had been killed in the fighting, which they said erupted after militants ambushed a convoy of Afghan and foreign forces late on Monday. The insurgents commonly refer to all foreign troops as American.

Khost attacks

In the attack on the U.S. base just a few miles from the border with Pakistan, militants failed to gain entry to Camp Salerno in Khost city after launching waves of strikes just before midnight on Monday, said Arsallah Jamal, the governor of Khost.

The attacks came a day after a suicide bomb outside the same base killed 10 civilians and wounded 13 others.

NATO said its forces identified the attackers about 1,000 yards outside of the base perimeter and launched helicopter gunships.

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman, said Afghan soldiers, aided by U.S. troops, chased and surrounded a group of insurgents, and that six militants blew themselves up when cornered. Seven other militants died in those explosions and a rolling gun battle, he said.

“(The Afghan National Army) is saying that anytime we get close to them, they detonate themselves,” Jamal said.

NATO offered a slightly different account on the attack on the U.S. base, saying three suicide bombers detonated their vests and three more were shot dead. NATO said seven attackers in total were killed.

At least 13 insurgents and two Afghan civilians died in the attack, officials said. Five Afghan soldiers were wounded in the fighting, Azimi said.

The Taliban appeared to confirm the account. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said 15 militants had been dispatched for the attack on Salerno. Seven blew themselves up and eight returned to a Taliban safehouse, he said.

Jamal said the bodies of at least two dead militants were outside the checkpoint leading to the base’s airport, both of whom had on vests packed with explosives, Jamal said. It wasn’t clear if those militants were among the dead in Azimi’s count.

Coordinated attacks rare

Militants have long targeted U.S. bases with suicide bombers, but coordinated attacks on such a major base are rare.

The Taliban have stepped up attacks in provinces bordering the Afghan capital over the past year, closing in from the volatile south and east, where the bulk of the fighting has occurred since the militants relaunched their insurgency in 2005.

Kabul has had fewer suicide bombings so far this year compared to 2007, but the attacks have been far more daring and have hit higher-profile targets, increasing the sense of insecurity in the capital.

Players pass out, get sick during extreme video game battle

Players pass out, get sick during extreme battle.

“We decided to end it before we risked turning into a horrible news story about how video games ruin people’s lives.”

videogames.yahoo.com | Aug 20, 2008

New game enemy takes a solid day to defeat

By Ben Silverman

If it’s good enough for Cartman, it’s good enough for Square-Enix.

The developers of the online role-playing game Final Fantasy XI seemingly borrowed a page from the Emmy-winning South Park episode “Make Love, Not Warcraft” by updating the game with one of the longest – and most physically grueling – video game fights ever. Introduced in the game’s latest downloadable update, the boss monster “Pandemonium Warden” remained perfectly fit after a group of high-level adventurers wailed away at it nonstop for over 18 hours straight.

Though the seemingly unbeatable boss will not prevent people from ‘completing’ the game — persistent online games typically do not “end” like most single-player games — it has sparked debate over what exactly the game’s developers, Square-Enix, expect out of their devoted fan base. Message boards have lit up with disgruntled players calling out the company for failing to respect its very own in-game warning telling players they have “no desire to see your real life suffer as a consequence [of playing]. Don’t forget your friends, your family, your school or your work.”

Easy for them to say. While the beast continually healed, the gamers weren’t so lucky.

“People were passing out and getting physically ill,” leaders of the player guild said in a forum post. “We decided to end it before we risked turning into a horrible news story about how video games ruin people’s lives.”

Too late.

Nepal court scraps ‘living goddess’ tradition

A Hindu priest worships a girl dressed as the living goddess Kumari. Photograph: Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images

Centuries-old custom of worshipping a virgin girl is deemed outdated by supreme court

Maoist MPs have described the institution of the Kumari as an “evil symbol” linked to Hinduism’s rigid caste system, incompatible with revolutionary socialism.

Guardian | Aug 20, 2008

Randeep Ramesh, South Asia correspondent

A centuries-old tradition in Nepal of worshipping a virgin girl-child in a palace as a “living goddess” has been scrapped after it was condemned as outdated by the country’s supreme court, which has ruled that the supposed deity must go to school.

Earlier this year, religious authorities started a search for a new Kumari, chosen from a handful of three-year-olds, after it was revealed the current living goddess is going to retire later this year.

However, that process looks as if it will be halted after the country’s highest court accepted the argument from a lawyer that keeping a young girl locked up in a medieval palace in Kathmandu was a violation of her fundamental rights.

The court ruled against the rights of the Kumari being “be violated in the name of culture”.

“There should be no bar on the Kumaris from going to school and enjoying health-related rights as there are no historical and religious documents restricting Kumaris from enjoying child rights,” the court said.

Some analysts said the court was simply responding to the new political atmosphere in the Himalayan nation under former rebel Maoists, who are determined to end “feudal” practices.

Kumaris, revered until they menstruate, preside over many key Hindu festivals in Nepal, drawing thousands of tourists every year. The tradition was begun in the 16th century by Kathmandu’s royal ruling class, who believed the goddess would protect them.

Her attributes are said to include a voice “as soft and clear as a duck’s, the body of a Banyan tree and the chest of a lion”.

The Kumari was probably doomed the moment the Maoist administration took office. One of the first acts of the Maoists was to end the 240-year-old monarchy in Nepal. It was tradition for Nepal’s king to be blessed by the Kumari – whose horoscope had to match that of the monarch.

Maoist MPs have described the institution of the Kumari as an “evil symbol” linked to Hinduism’s rigid caste system, incompatible with revolutionary socialism.

Some would say a Kumari’s life is not too bad: she can eat whatever she likes and act with impunity. Her parents are not allowed to tell her off.

U.S. Army Research Office Spend $4 million to Study Synthetic Telepathy

Researchers get grant to develop communication system based on thoughts, not speech

Red Ice Creations | Aug 20, 2008

A team of UC Irvine scientists has been awarded a $4 million grant from the U.S. Army Research Office to study the neuroscientific and signal-processing foundations of synthetic telepathy.

The research could lead to a communication system that would benefit soldiers on the battlefield and paralysis and stroke patients, according to lead researcher Michael D’Zmura, chair of the UCI Department of Cognitive Sciences.

“Thanks to this generous grant we can work with experts in automatic speech recognition and in brain imaging at other universities to research a brain-computer interface with applications in military, medical and commercial settings,” D’Zmura says.

The brain-computer interface would use a noninvasive brain imaging technology like electroencephalography to let people communicate thoughts to each other. For example, a soldier would “think” a message to be transmitted and a computer-based speech recognition system would decode the EEG signals. The decoded thoughts, in essence translated brain waves, are transmitted using a system that points in the direction of the intended target.

“Such a system would require extensive training for anyone using it to send and receive messages,” D’Zmura says. Initially, communication would be based on a limited set of words or phrases that are recognized by the system; it would involve more complex language and speech as the technology is developed further.”

D’Zmura will collaborate with UCI cognitive science professors Ramesh Srinivasan, Gregory Hickok and Kourosh Saberi. Joining the team are researchers Richard Stern and Vijayakumar Bhagavatula from Carnegie Mellon University and David Poeppel from the University of Maryland.

The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program, which supports research involving more than one science and engineering discipline. Its goal is to develop applications for military and commercial uses.

Mafia drug kingpin returns to Rome amid tight security

Related

Criminal underworld of Calabria’s cocaine barons

Italy’s Carabinieri are beginning to discover how the mob godfathers can literally go underground and still run their networks in hideaway luxury

AKI | Aug 20, 2008

Rome, 20 August (AKI) – Italian Mafia boss Giuseppe Coluccio arrived in Rome on Wednesday after being extradited from Canada to face charges related to drug trafficking and extortion.

Coluccio, who was arrested in Toronto on 7 August, was escorted by Canadian police and flown to the city’s Ciampino airport and immediately taken to a maximum security prison in the capital.

Coluccio is reputed to be a Mafia boss from the ‘Ndrangheta, the organised crime syndicate in the southern region of Calabria.

He had been on the run since 2005 when he fled a trial in Italy for Mafia association aimed at drug trafficking and extortion.

In early August, Italy’s Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, praised the Carabinieri or paramilitary police for the investigation that had led to Coluccio’s arrest. The probe was conducted jointly with Canadian police.

Coluccio was arrested outside his luxury lakeside apartment building where he had been living in Toronto under an assumed identity.

Upon being arrested, he was found to be in possession of 1.5 million Canadian dollars in cash, as well as cheques and traveller cheques and jewellery.

Investigators allege that Coluccio and members of the Sicilian Mafia ran an extortion racket that involved control of the fishing trade and maritime traffic along a 60-kilometre stretch of the Calabrian coast.

The investigators also allege that Coluccio continued to traffic “substantial quantities” of cocaine and hashish from South America while he was living in Canada.

Coluccio was also in contact with Turkish criminal organisations that supplied the trafficking ring with “huge” quantities of heroin, investigators said.

Apart from Ndrangheta, Italy’s three other criminal organisations are the Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra in Naples and the surrounding Campania region and the Sacra Corona Unita in the southern Puglia region.

Related

‘Ndrangheta
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Security concerns have led to the creation in the ‘Ndrangheta of a secret society within the secret society: La Santa. Membership in the Santa is only known to other members. Contrary to the code, it allowed bosses to establish close connections with state representatives, even to the extent that some were affiliated with the Santa. These connections were often established through the Freemasonry, which the santisti – breaking another rule of the traditional code – were allowed to join.

La Santa
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
La Santa is a secret society within the ‘Ndrangheta, a criminal organisation in Calabria (Italy). The name probably derives from the shortening of mamma santissima.[1] In mafia slang, the expression is used to refer to mafia chiefs. Mamma santissima literally means “most holy mother” and refers to the Virgin Mary, who is regarded as the protector of the ‘Ndrangheta. The Santa was originally set up as an exclusive body restricted to 33 people.

Army Moves Ahead With Mobile Laser Cannon

Image: Boeing

Wired | Aug 19, 2008

By Noah Shachtman

The Army is moving ahead with plans to mount a laser cannon on a massive, 35-ton-plus truck.

The service just handed Boeing a $36 million contract to “continue developing a truck-mounted, high-energy laser weapon system that will destroy rockets, artillery shells and mortar rounds,” according to a company statement.

Under the High Energy Laser Technology Demonstrator (HEL TD) Phase II contract, awarded Aug. 15, Boeing will complete the design of, then build, test and evaluate, a rugged beam control system on a Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck. Boeing also will develop the system-engineering requirements for the entire HEL TD laser weapon system.

Low power demonstrations are scheduled for 2010, with battlefield-strength laser tests to follow in 2013.

About a year ago, the Army asked Boeing and Northrop Grumman to work up preliminary designs for the HEL beam control system — and promised to choose a winning model by 2009. So the program appears to be on track. And it’s one of a number of energy weapon projects that have been picking up steam, after decades of unfulfilled promise. Relatively easy-to-deploy electric lasers have just about worked their way up to weapons-grade. Boeing recently test-fired the real-life ray gun on its Advanced Tactical Laser — a blaster-equipped gunship.  Raytheon has worked up a prototype of its Phalanx mortar-shooter that uses fiber lasers, instead of traditional ammo, to knock down targets. Even the eternally-delayed Airborne Laser — a modified 747, designed to zap ballistic missiles — may finally get a long-awaited flight test.

Civil libertarians angered by Hartford teen curfew

AP | Aug 12, 2008

By SUSAN HAIGH

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Hartford’s latest measure aimed at stemming gang violence is being criticized by civil libertarians.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut was mulling whether to file a legal challenge against the city’s monthlong 9 p.m. juvenile curfew scheduled to begin Thursday.

ACLU staff attorney David McGuire said juvenile curfews violate the fundamental rights of innocent people. They place an entire demographic “under house arrest for the inappropriate actions of a few,” he said.

Hartford attorney Jon Schoenhorn, who successfully challenged a similar curfew in Vernon, Conn., with the ACLU in 2003, said Hartford’s curfew ordinance is unconstitutional and the city is blatantly violating the civil rights of minors.

“I can’t believe they’d be that stupid to try and dust off a statute. It’s sort of like trying to prosecute people for adultery or something,” he said. “It’s been fully litigated and they can’t do it. That’s all there is.”

City officials announced the curfew Monday after a spate of violence including a weekend shooting that left one man dead and six young people wounded.

“We must do this because we cannot and will not tolerate innocent people, especially children, to be victims,” Mayor Eddie Perez said.

The shooting erupted Saturday evening after the annual West Indian Day parade in the city’s North End. Police said 21-year-old Ezekiel Roberts was killed, a 7-year-old boy was shot in the head and a 15-month-old was shot in the left leg. Four teens also were shot.

Roberts was affiliated with local gangs and was the intended target of the shooting, police told The Hartford Courant. No arrests had been made. There were two other shootings in the city, resulting in four other shooting victims.

The violence prompted Perez and Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts to announce several new public safety measures on Monday, including the beefed-up curfew.

It will run for 30 days begins Thursday, Perez said. No one under 18 will be allowed on the streets after 9 p.m. without a parent or guardian, and violators will be taken to one of two locations where they will be kept until their parents or guardians pick them up.

Perez said first-time offenders will receive a warning. Second-time offenders will face a fine and must appear in community court.

Hartford’s regular curfew allows police to only issue citations to anyone younger than 18 on the streets after 9 p.m., according to the city’s Web site. Many U.S. cities have permanent curfews, but they often are less restrictive than Hartford’s temporary measure.

Perez said the city’s curfew ordinance has been in place since 1977 but there hasn’t been a need to enforce it until now. Much of the past violence, he said, was isolated, with specific individuals targeted.

“This is not something we take likely, but given the incident of this weekend, we need to take firm action and this is the kind of action that’s required in order to ensure the safety of our residents,” he said. “But this is aimed at helping young people in our city. This is not an attempt to be punitive.”

Hartford officials said they will be forming a special team with state prosecutors to sharpen authorities’ focus on solving shootings, punishing shooters and deterring such crimes.

Perez, himself a former gang member, said the city will be asking the state to increase supervision of people on probation and creating a “Most Watched List” of suspects wanted for crimes or known to be associated with illegal activities.

Rep. Kenneth Green, a Hartford Democrat who marched in Saturday’s parade, said he hopes the shootings will renew efforts to address the underlying causes of the violence, such as joblessness, lack of parental oversight and anger management issues among youths.

“It’s a bigger picture than just a curfew,” he said.

Hartford officials have been struggling to curb violence in the city of 125,000. State troopers are continuing to patrol city streets with local police.

In June, the city’s former deputy mayor was beaten and robbed while walking to breakfast, and a surveillance camera recorded cars zooming around a 78-year-old pedestrian who was laying helpless in the street after being struck by a speeding car.

No arrests have been made in those incidents, which prompted Chief Roberts to suggest that the city lost its moral compass.

How Israel Trained and Equipped Georgia’s Army

Wired | Aug 19, 2008

By Noah Shachtman

The Russian military blasted Israel today for supplying weapons and training to its adversaries in Georgia.

“Israel armed the Georgian army,” Russian Deputy Chief of General Staff Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn told a Moscow press conference. Jerusalem provided Tblisi with “eight types of military vehicles, explosives, landmines and special explosives for the clearing minefields [sic]. ”

“In 2007, Israeli experts trained Georgian commandos,” he added. Georgia’s Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia previously said that “Georgian corporals and sergeants train with Germans, alpine units and the navy work with French instructors, and special operations and urban warfare troops are taught by Israelis.”

Tensions between Georgia and Russia ratcheted up the spring, after Russia and her allies in the breakaway region of Abkhazia shot down a number of Georgian spy drones. Those unmanned Hermes 450 reconnaissance planes were made by Israel’s Elbit Systems.

The two countries have been doing military hardware deals for almost seven years, “following an initiative by Georgian citizens who immigrated to Israel and became businesspeople,” Ynetnews notes. “The fact that Georgia’s defense minister, Davit Kezerashvili, is a former Israeli who is fluent in Hebrew contributed to this cooperation.”

“His door was always open to the Israelis who came and offered his country arms systems made in Israel,” the source said… “The deals in this country were conducted fast, mainly due to the defense minister’s personal involvement.”

Former Israel internal security minister Roni Milo was one of the people who pushed those deals along. He “conducted business in Georgia for Elbit Systems,” according to Ynetnews. “And with his help Israel’s defense industries managed to sell to Georgia [drones], automatic turrets for armored vehicles, antiaircraft systems, communication systems, shells and rockets.”

In addition, “Israel has reportedly helped upgrade Soviet-designed Su-25 ground attack jets assembled in Georgia. And former Israeli generals serve as advisers to the Georgian military,” according to the Jewish Week. All told, “Israel arms sales to Georgia over the last decade have been estimated at some $300 million to $500 million.”

But, by late 2007, Israeli analysts saw war and the horizon for Russia and Georgia, Ha’Aretz observes. “The defense and foreign ministries started ordering military exports to Georgia be cut last year, thwarting a major deal for Israeli-made Merkava tanks… Senior Israeli generals apparently felt a showdown was imminent, and preferred not to get directly involved.”

Especially because Jerusalem “views cooperation from Moscow — which has been supplying Iran with arms and help in its nuclear efforts — as crucial to halting Iran’s drive” for atomic weaponry, the Jewish Week adds.

During the first few days of the war, the Russians seemed placated. “We are appreciative of Israel’s position of not selling offensive weapons to a conflict area,” Russian diplomat Anatoly Yurkov said. Today, the rhetoric changed.