Daily Archives: April 8, 2009

Bill Lets Obama Turn Off the Internet

WebPro News | Apr 7, 2009

By Jason Lee Miller

Two bills introduced giving the President the power to deem a private network part of the nation’s critical infrastructure and shut it down for cybersecurity reasons also gives the Commerce Secretary the power to access network data outside of oversight.

The Big Brother vibe coming off both is reminiscent of a demanding report submitted before Obama even took office. About a month after Election Day, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) issued a report called Securing Cyberspace for the 44th President.

Heard of the military-industrial complex? The CSIS is likely where they meet to carpool.

The recommendations in the report, ignored by the previous administration, are sweeping and demanding. The principle minds behind it hailed from the CIA, the US Navy, Microsoft, Sun, AT&T, ICANN, Lockheed Martin, Cisco, and GE—among a slew of others—and likely those minds felt confident they’d get a more sympathetic ear from the new President. And they were likely right. They’d get that from Congress, too.

Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe introduced legislation last week echoing much of what the CSIS report was looking for, which is primarily a set of standards network operators are to live up to—more on that in a bit. One bill creates the office of cybersecurity czar, called a National Cybersecurity Adviser, who will oversee national network security. Confirmed by the Senate, the cybersecurity czar will have the highest security clearance necessary to monitor infrastructure networks and will be a party to secret initiatives.

Thanks to the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, the cybersecurity czar will be advised by a panel stakeholders from government, private, academic, and nonprofit sectors, much like the signatories to CSIS’s report. Also under the longer bill, the President can order the disconnection of any federal or private critical infrastructure network during emergencies or for reasons of national security. “Critical infrastructure” could include the networks attached to financial, power, transportation, medical, communication or any other network deemed critical that could be the target of a cyber attack.

In short, the President could shut down much of the Internet if he thought necessary. The Secretary of Commerce would also be given “access to all relevant data concerning [critical] networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access” in the event of a cybersecurity emergency.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology would be charged with developing standards and tests for information networks and software used by federal agencies, contractors, or other private networks deemed part of the critical infrastructure.

Typically, when legislation affecting, limiting, or dictating major corporations hits Congress, those corporations make big stinks. Watch AT&T and Verizon go mad with anti-regulation fervor whenever Net Neutrality is brought up. All sectors are suspiciously quiet on this front, though. It could be because there’s big money in standardization, especially if your company gets to create the standards, and there’s big money in government contracts, too. Essentially, sometimes a report is a bid for a job.

While no one would object to the federal government improving its ability to fight off cyber attacks or to updating cybersecurity policies to reflect 21st Century approaches, it seems wise to be wary of handing over so much power to a few people and wary of giving up so much of our digital sovereignty.

CIA medics joined in Guantánamo torture sessions, says Red Cross

Leaked ICRC report claims medical staff monitored terror suspects during waterboarding

Guardian | Apr 7,  2009

By Mark Tran

Medical personnel committed a “gross breach of medical ethics” by taking part in torture in Guantánamo, a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross document has revealed.

The 40-page confidential report, written in 2007, describes how medical staff working for the CIA monitored prisoners’ vital signs to make sure they did not drown while being subjected to waterboarding, during which water is poured over a cloth placed over a person’s nose and mouth.

Medical personnel were also said to be present when prisoners were shackled in a “stress standing position”. The detainees were “monitored by health personnel who in some instances recommended stopping the method of ill-treatment, or recommended its continuation, but with adjustments”, according to the report.

The Red Cross concluded: “The alleged participation of health personnel in the interrogation process and, either directly or indirectly, in the infliction of ill-treatment constituted a gross breach of medical ethics and, in some cases, amounted to participation in torture and/or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment.”

As well as the monitoring of specific methods of ill-treatment, the report said, other health personnel were alleged to have directly participated in the interrogation process. One detainee alleged that a health person threatened that medical care would be conditional upon cooperation with interrogation.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, alleged to the ICRC that on several occasions the waterboarding was stopped “on the intervention of a health person who was present in the room each time this procedure was used”.

Mohammed, who pleaded guilty last year to the September 11 attacks, said he gave a lot of false information during the harshest period of his interrogation.

“Im sure that the false information I was forced to invent in order to make the ill-treatment stop wasted a lot of their time and led to several false red-alerts being placed in the US,” he told the Red Cross.

In another case, Encep Nuraman (aka Hambali) alleged that a medical person intervened to prevent further use of the prolonged stress standing position, but told him that “I look after your body only because we need you for information”.

Walid bin Attash, who had previously had a leg amputated, told the ICRC that when he was forced for days to stand with his arms shackled above his head and his feet touching the floor, a person he assumed to be a doctor would measure the swelling in his intact leg and eventually ordered that he be allowed to sit.

Florian Westphal, head of media at the Red Cross in Geneva, confirmed the authenticity of the document obtained by Mark Danner of New York Review of Books and posted on its website, but declined to comment on the contents of the report. “It is a legitimate document. It is extremely unusual for an ICRC document on detention procedures to be leaked publicly,” he said.

“We regret this as it is important for us to be able to discuss matters confidentially with governments, which gives us the credibility to influence them.”

Besides descriptions of how the men were tortured, the report conveys the impatience and frustration of the Red Cross in trying to extract information from the Bush administration. The Red Cross made its first written interventions to the US authorities in 2002, requesting information on the whereabouts of people allegedly held by the Americans in the context of the fight against terrorism.

“Despite repeated requests at various levels of the US government, the ICRC has not received a response to most of these written interventions,” the report said.

It took four years once the Red Cross first raised the issue with the Bush administration before it was given access to 14 detainees at Guantánamo, including Mohammed. The report welcomed the decision to grant access to the men, but “deplores the fact that these persons were held in undisclosed detention during a prolonged period by the US authorities and the conditions of treatment to which they were subjected during the time”.

The methods of ill-treatment alleged to have been used, the report said, included waterboarding, standing naked with arms extended and chained above the head for periods of two three days continuously, beatings by the use of a collar held around the detainees’ neck to bang heads and bodies against the wall, prolonged nudity for weeks or months and prolonged shackling.

Those who were shackled “had to urinate and and defecate on themselves and remain standing in their own bodily fluids for periods of several days”.

While the report described practices that have been repudiated by the Obama administration, an Red Cross official who wished to remain anonymous said it was “important for today’s authorities to have this information from an independent source”.

Austin hits all-time record low temperature for month of April

Austin-American Statesman  | Apr 7, 2009

By Isadora Vail

It hit 28 degrees this morning, an all-time record low in Austin for the month of April, according to the National Weather Service. Despite the frigid start, the temperature is expected to climb to the mid 70s by this afternoon.

Before this morning, there had never been a day in April below 30 degrees recorded at either Austin-Bergstrom International Airport or Camp Mabry, according to weather service statistics. Previously, the coldest April temperatures were 30 degrees on April 1, 1926 (at Mabry) and April 14 last year (at the airport).

The previous record low at the airport for this date was in 2007 when temperature hit 34 degrees.

Despite being 28 at Bergstrom, the low was only 39 at Camp Mabry, which isn’t a record for the date or the month (the record at Mabry for this date is also 34, set in 2007).

Cristy Mitchell, a meteorologist with the weather service, said today would warm up to about 75, and tomorrow morning won’t be as cold, with a low of about 46.

She said clouds may roll in tomorrow, increasing chances for rain on Thursday and through the weekend.

Temperatures in Dallas region 20 degrees below April average

Dallas Morning News | Apr 7, 2009


When our own Boys of Summer took the field Monday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Opening Day felt more like midwinter than early spring. Temperatures stalled in the 50s, fine for February but nearly 20 degrees shy of the April average. And a blustery northwest wind pushed the chill to every corner of the ballpark. It was no day to break out your new Josh Hamilton T-shirt. But those days are coming quickly. First, though, comes one last hit of winter.

•Frigid Canadian air, coupled with clear skies and a dying wind, could drag temperatures below freezing for much of North Texas this morning, according to the National Weather Service. Forecast lows range from 26 in McKinney to 33 in Dallas. If the temperature hits 32 or below at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, it would be the eighth-latest freeze on record.

•Winds will swing to the south-southwest today, with afternoon temperatures climbing to the upper 60s to low 70s, the start of a midweek warming trend that will top out Thursday with temperatures in the low 80s.

•The weekend begins cooler, with west-northwest winds and high temperatures of around 70 on Friday before reaching the mid-70s Saturday and Sunday, with partly sunny to mostly cloudy skies and a chance of thunderstorms both days.

Chavez in China to strengthen ties built on oil


Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez listens to a question from the media upon his arrival at Beijing airport to start his two-day visit to China, April 7, 2009. Reuters

AFP | Apr8, 2009

BEIJING (AFP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was due to meet his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, on the first full day of a visit to Beijing he said would reinforce a friendship built on oil.

The flamboyant Latin American leader arrived in the Chinese capital late Tuesday stating he would pursue three “concrete objectives of great strategic significance,” all related to energy trade, during his three-day visit.

They include a strengthening of the Chinese presence in the Venezuelan oil sector, the construction of Venezuelan refineries on Chinese soil, and the establishment of an oil transport joint venture, he said.

“In themselves, these projects are more than enough to justify my visit to China,” he told reporters at the start of his sixth visit here since coming to power a decade ago.

China imported 380,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela at the end of 2008, Chavez said, adding he wanted to expand this to one million barrels by 2013.

Venezuela is the biggest oil producer in Latin America and fast-modernising China, with its 1.3 billion people, is on a global quest to secure energy supplies.

While oil is the dominant theme in the two nations’ relationship, it has been expanding into other areas during Chavez’s leftist administration.

When Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visited Venezuela in February, the two nations signed 12 agreements and doubled an investment fund to 12 billion dollars.

Bilateral trade peaked last year at more than 10 billion dollars, according to Venezuelan figures, and corporate China is making inroads into the Latin American country.

In one example of the growing business ties, agreements signed during Xi’s visit stretched from a mobile phone factory to an assembly plant for household appliances and a farm venture.

Last year, Venezuela launched its first geostationary satellite thanks to cooperation with China.

Military ties have also expanded. Venezuela recently purchased a fleet of 18 K-8 reconnaissance and training aircraft from China with delivery expected in January 2010.

Chavez, whose global tour has also taken him to Qatar, Iran and Japan, spoke at the start of the China leg of a “new world order”.

“A new world equilibrium is being born, a new world order, the multi-polar world of which we have long dreamed,” said Chavez, a vocal critic of the US role in international affairs.

“The power of the US empire is at an end… and by contrast other poles of global power are emerging, Beijing, Tokyo, Tehran.”

Meanwhile, his Chinese hosts appeared keen to play down any implications that the developing relationship with Venezuela might have for the United States.

Seeking closer ties with Latin America “aims at no one,” said Wu Guoping, a professor of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, according to the state-controlled China Daily newspaper.

“In the age of globalisation, a viewpoint like ‘Who is within whose sphere of influence?’ doesn’t stand,” Wu told the paper.

Chavez was due to meet Hu late on Wednesday afternoon, then hold talks with Xi on Thursday.