Monthly Archives: December 2009

TSA agents raid blogger’s home, confiscate laptop, demand sources for secret Christmas security directive

Agency says new security directive was not supposed to be made public

The directive was dated December 25.

MSNBC | Dec 30, 2009

WASHINGTON – As the government reviews how an alleged terrorist was able to bring a bomb onto a U.S.-bound plane and try to blow it up on Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration is going after bloggers who wrote about a directive to increase security after the incident.

TSA special agents served subpoenas to travel bloggers Steve Frischling and Chris Elliott, demanding that they reveal who leaked the security directive to them. The government says the directive was not supposed to be disclosed to the public. (Elliott is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.)

Frischling said he met with two TSA special agents Tuesday night at his Connecticut home for about three hours and again on Wednesday morning when he was forced to hand over his lap top computer. Frischling said the agents threatened to interfere with his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if he didn’t cooperate and provide the name of the person who leaked the memo.

‘Showed up in my box’

“It literally showed up in my box,” Frischling told The Associated Press. “I do not know who it came from.” He said he provided the agents a signed statement to that effect.

In a Dec. 29 posting on his blog, Elliott said he had told the TSA agents at his house that he would call his lawyer and get back to them. Elliott did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

The TSA declined to say how many people were subpoenaed.

The directive was dated Dec. 25 and was issued after a 23-year-old Nigerian man was charged with attempting to bomb a Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam. The bomb, which allegedly was hidden in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s underwear, malfunctioned and no one was killed. Authorities said the device included a syringe and a condom-like bag filled with powder that the FBI determined to be PETN, a common explosive.

Near-miss attack

The near-miss attack has prompted President Barack Obama to order a review of what intelligence information the government had about Abdulmutallab and why it wasn’t shared with the appropriate agencies. He also ordered a review of U.S. aviation security. The government has spent billions of dollars and undergone massive reorganizations since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

The TSA directive outlined new screening measures that went into effect the same day as the airliner incident. It included many procedures that would be apparent to the traveling public, such as screening at boarding gates, patting down the upper legs and torso, physically inspecting all travelers’ belongings, looking carefully at syringes with powders and liquids, requiring that passengers remain in their seats one hour before landing, and disabling all onboard communications systems, including what is provided by the airline.

It also listed people who would be exempted from these screening procedures such as heads of state and their families.

This is the second time in a month that the TSA has found some of its sensitive airline security documents on the Internet.

Arroyo Regime Brought Philippines Deeper Into Crisis

Politics in 2009: Arroyo Regime Brought Philippines Deeper Into Crisis

Bulatlat.com | Dec 31, 2009

By BENJIE OLIVEROS

MANILA — The Arroyo administration is, hopefully, about to end its term by the middle of next year. Lasting for nine years and a half, it is the longest-running presidency since the Marcos dictatorship. In fact, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is second only to Ferdinand E. Marcos who, for 20 years, held the reins of power the longest in the country’s history. But the similarities between the Marcos dictatorship and the Arroyo government do not end with them having the longest terms.

They both grabbed power when the country, and the world, was in deep economic crisis. By Marcos’s second term, in 1969, the world was moving toward a deep economic crisis, which resulted in the US being the world’s biggest debtor from being its biggest creditor. The value of the dollar plunged, thereby causing the devaluation of all currencies tied to it, such as the Philippine peso. The turn of the decade signaled a shift from the World War II-era Keynesian economics to neoliberal economics, or what we now call globalization, which is actually a drive to fully open up the economies of underdeveloped countries to foreign trade and investments. This pushed the Philippines deeper into economic crisis such that Marcos had to declare martial law to keep himself in power because the Filipino people’s protest actions were intensifying since the “First Quarter storm” of 1970. At the same time, the contradictions between the ruling elite was also worsening with the opposition led by the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr. and erstwhile Marcos ally, the late vice president Fernando Lopez, denouncing Marcos and his corrupt practices.

When Arroyo was catapulted to power via People Power II in 2001, the world was also being rocked by a crisis. The US, which until March 2000 was the only country that seemingly was shielded from the crisis, was already reeling from the bursting of the “high-tech or dot-com bubble.” The Filipino people, already feeling the effects of the crisis, were moved to action because of former president Joseph Estrada’s brazen display of profligacy amid the worsening poverty. The ruling elite was also hopelessly divided, with Arroyo, who was then vice-president, joining the opposition a few months before Estrada’s ouster.

While both Marcos in the 1970s and Arroyo in 2001 promised to usher in a new government that would supposedly benefit the people, the Marcos and Arroyo regimes pushed the country deeper into crisis.

By the end of the Marcos dictatorship the country was deeply indebted, prices were skyrocketing, unemployment and poverty had reached new highs, and all institutions of government were warped by the unbridled power and corruption under martial law. “Never again to martial law” became the people’s rallying call.

Also, by the end of the dictatorship, the divisions within the ruling elite were even deeper as manifested by the series of coups d’ etat that the Aquino government had to face and the unprecedented number of presidential aspirants — seven — during the 1992 elections. Another sign of the worsening political and economic crisis then was the increasing strength of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA- NDFP).

Now that the Arroyo government is about to end (hopefully), prices have reached new highs in spite of the low inflation rates reported by the government; the country is experiencing the longest-running high unemployment and underemployment rates: as of July 2009, there are 4.3 million unemployed, 7 million underemployed, and 20.3 million either in “unpaid family work” (3.8 million), “own account” (12 million), and non-regular wage and salary workers (4.5 million); and the country is about to confront another round of fiscal crisis in 2010 with the deficit expected to reach P293 billion as per Finance Secretary Margarito Teves’s estimate. It could be remembered that the first fiscal crisis under the Arroyo government occurred in 2002 prompting Arroyo to promise, on Rizal Day, that she would not run again — a promise that she, of course, did not fulfill. Poverty has also worsened.

All institutions of government have likewise been warped by the impunity in corruption and bribery, electoral fraud, attacks on civil liberties and political killings. The Arroyo government has recorded the second highest number of extrajudicial killings at 1,118, second only to Marcos, and the third highest in enforced disappearances at 204. The Aquino government had the most number of enforced disappearances at more than 600 and the Marcos dictatorship second. However, only the Arroyo government has, as part of its counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, clearly targeted legal political activists for “neutralization”. Marcos’s record of preemptively arresting leaders of activist organizations prior to planned protests actions pales in comparison to the Arroyo policy of subjecting all legal political activists to harassments, killings and abductions. The country may not be under martial law but it has become the most dangerous place for journalists. If the Arroyo government had its way — without the Filipino people protesting — civil liberties could have been severely constricted by now. She did try to experiment with martial law in Maguindanao but it was met by protests from a broad segment of society even as everybody feels the need for swift justice for the Amptuan massacre.

The divisions within the ruling elite have likewise deepened as manifested by the extreme isolation of the Arroyo government, the restlessness within the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP), and the six-cornered fight for the presidency. The Ampatuan massacre has raised the level of barbarity in Philippine politics. Arroyo’s fear of stepping down from power — thus her attempts at charter change and her bid for a Congress seat — is also a manifestation that the contradictions within the ruling elite have sharpened so much that she no longer feels secure after May 2010. Also, the strength of the CPP-NPA-NDFP has continued to grow despite Arroyo’s desperate militarist efforts to put an “end to the insurgency.”

While it would take more than a change in president to effectively address the worsening economic and political crisis, if Arroyo and her minions are able to get away with keeping themselves in power — by declaring a failure of elections, martial law, or charter change — the Filipino people would sink faster and deeper into the quagmire of backwardness and poverty.

EU taxpayers subsidise skiing holiday in the Italian Alps for the children of MEPs and European Parliament officials

A view of an Italian ski resort in the Alps Photo: ALAMY

EU ski holiday paid for by taxpayers

Taxpayers will heavily subsidise a skiing holiday in the Italian Alps for the children of MEPs and European Parliament officials in February.

Telegraph | Dec 31, 2009

By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels

European Union officials, including MEPs, are already under fire for threatening legal action unless they are paid a recession busting 3.7 pre cent pay rise in January.

Most also pay reduced “community” rates of taxation and the latest perk will fuel controversy over the subsidised lifestyle enjoyed by many EU civil servants.

The eight-day skiing trip for 80 children aged between eight and 17 is timed to begin over the weekend of St Valentine’s Day, providing some romantic time off from parenting for officials.

Costs, the holiday is priced at 920 euros (£822), are generously subsidised by the parliament’s budget. Households receive different levels of subsidy depending on their monthly income but even those on a income of over £108,000 get a discount.

There is reduction of up to 52 per cent for officials earning £69,620 a year and an MEP, earning £86,000, is eligible for a subsidy of 45 per cent.

According to an internal document an extra 10 per cent reduction “applies to the enrolment of a second child and subsequent children”.

Mats Persson, of the think-tank Open Europe, said: “It is ridiculous that, at a time when most families across Europe have to tighten their belts, the European Parliament thinks it is appropriate to subsidise holidays for the families of even its most well-paid staff. How can MEPs claim subsidised holidays for their children when many of their constituents’ families are struggling through the recession?”

Organised by the parliament’s staff committee, the holiday, with the educational aim of teaching children skiing skills, will be spent in Italian province of Bergamo.

The children will enjoy full board in a three-star hotel in the beautiful village of Spiazzi.

The trip includes “workshops” in a “multilingual environment” on the themes of “the mountain, its snow, its nature”. Four hours each day will be spent on the ski slopes and three hours on lessons, such as an “exercice (sic) with snow dogs” as well as “open air games” and a “torchlight procession”.

The parliament’s spokesman declined to comment on the holiday.

Nigel Farage, leader of Ukip in the European Parliament, said “spending a fortune on a skiing jolly for MEPs and their families” would anger the public after the worst economic year in memory.

“Surely now is a time of reflection and humility, not a chance to rub the taxpayer’s nose in yet another tremendous waste of money,” he said.

Less than a third of ‘innocents’ able to get DNA removed from national database

There are up to one million innocent people on the national database and the Tories have launched an online petition calling for the DNA of innocent people to be removed Photo: GETTY

Just three in ten innocent people successfully have their DNA removed from the national database, new figures disclose.

Telegraph | Dec 31, 2009

By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor

The public also face a postcode lottery on having their profiles deleted with some forces refusing all requests while others grant almost every one, research by the Conservatives reveals.

It shows chief constables are still rejecting the majority of demands to remove the DNA of people who have never been charged or convicted with a crime despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights last year that a blanket retention policy is unlawful.

There are up to one million innocent people on the national database and the Tories are today launched an online petition calling for the DNA of people who have committed no offence to be removed.

The removal of DNA is at the discretion of individual chief constables but a survey of police forces found, on average, only 30 per cent of requests are granted.

Across the 34 forces that replied to Freedom of Information requests, some 1,372 requests of deletion were made in 2008/09 but only 411 were granted.

The study also revealed large difference from one area to another with six forces refusing all requests. In contrast, South Yorkshire and Wiltshire granted 80 per cent of more while Cleveland and Cumbria granted 70 per cent and 79 per cent respectively.

The new campaign is being led by Damian Green, the shadow immigration minister, who successfully had is profile deleted when no charges were brought against him after his arrest over Whitehall leaks last year.

The Metropolitan Police granted the request but the figures show the force only approved 24 per cent of 412 requests last year.

Mr Green said: “These figures show that policy towards DNA is a shambles. Some forces almost always give it back to innocent people. Others always refuse. Three forces disgracefully refused the FOI request, and one other said it didn’t have the figures.

“This is why we need a new policy which is clear and fair.”

Under Home Office proposals unveiled last month innocent people will have their DNA retained for a maximum of six years in response to the European ruling.

The plans will also see innocent people having to pay a £200 court fee if they want to challenge a chief constable’s refusal to remove their profile.

However, the move has still faced criticism for being too long as the Tories have pledged to introduced a model similar to one in Scotland where profiles of innocent people are only retained if relating to serious sex of violent offences and only then for a maximum of five years.

The Human Genetics Commission, a Government watchdog, has warned police are arresting people just so they can take their DNA and boost numbers on the national database.

Officers will arrest individuals for “everything” because they then have the power to take DNA samples, even if they would not have been detained under other circumstances, according to a report published last month.

The Tory online petition, entitled ‘Return my DNA’, aims to raise awareness and Mr Green added: “I have received many cases of other innocent people who are trying to recover their DNA. They include magistrates, grandmothers, a number of former servicemen and women: precisely those who, like me, are instinctively inclined to help the police.

“We all want an effective police force, and the support of the public is one of the most vital tools for the police. For this reason it is imperative that the police return the DNA of innocent people.”

Alan Campbell, the Home Office minister, said: “Our proposals for DNA retention would require the police to remove profiles from the database after six years if the person was not subsequently convicted.

“Under the exceptional case procedure, an individual can apply to their police force to have their DNA removed. This is decided by chief constables on a case by case basis.”

General thanks media for role in successful martial law

Military brass cites media in recent martial law’s success

Rape, looting and other human rights violations committed supposedly by AFP troops which were refuted by open media coverage.

pia.gov.ph | Dec 30, 2009

by RG Alama

Davao City (30 December) — Lt General Raymundo Ferrer, Eastern Mindanao Command commanding general cited the media’s role in the success of martial law and the current state of emergency in Maguindanao.

Designated as the military administrator when martial law was declared in the central Mindanao province, Ferrer said he made sure that the media was behind them during its implementation, noting that martial law is a very sensitive issue among many Filipinos.

Speaking before members of the Davao City media at the annual Armed Forces of the Philippines-Philippine National Police press corps Christmas party held last Dec. 28, Ferrer thanked the media for their efforts and urged continued vigilance particularly in reporting other issues in the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Moslem Mindanao) which Ferrer described as a very problematic area particularly in the aspect of governance.

He said that despite its brief period, martial law in Maguindanao was able to pursue its objectives one of which was to dismantle a powerful private army linked to the Ampatuans whose scions were tagged as the main suspects in the November 23 massacre of which 30 out of the 57 killed were members of the media.

Ferrer cited many unfounded allegations during the short martial law period such as rape, looting and other human rights violations committed supposedly by AFP troops which were refuted by open media coverage.

Meanwhile Major General Carlos Holganza, 10th Infantry Division commander in his speech, said that present and future conflicts are not won by modern weapons and size of armies but rather by one who can get his message across, as seen by the problems confronted by the modern US army in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just like Ferrer, Holganza cited the media’s role in AFP’s goal of achieving peace and stability.

Attended by members of the local media with the AFP and PNP top brass in the region, the annual AFP-PNP press corps Christmas party was not just highlighted by fun and games, song numbers and raffle giveaways; it was also marked by a traditional morning charity event held with young cancer patients at the House of Hope facility inside the Davao Medical Center.

US Intel Lapses Helped Abdulmutallab

CBS News Exclusive: CIA Had Info on Person of Interest Dubbed “The Nigerian” in August But Officials Failed to Connect Dots

CBS | Dec 29, 2009

By Armen Keteyian

(CBS)   CBS News has learned that as early as August of 2009 the Central Intelligence Agency was picking up information on a person of interest dubbed “The Nigerian,” suspected of meeting with “terrorist elements” in Yemen.

Sources tell CBS News “The Nigerian” has now turned out to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. But that connection was not made when Abudulmutallab’s father went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria three months later, on November 19, 2009. It was then he expressed deep concerns to a CIA officer about his son’s ties to extremists in Yemen, a hotbed of al Qaeda activity.

In fact, CBS News has learned this information was not connected until after the attempted Christmas Day bombing.

“We must get better at collecting these bits of information, putting them together at a central point, analyzing them and then acting,” said Lee Hamilton, the vice-chair of the 9/11 Commission.

Also Tuesday, the Foreign Minister of Yemen told the Times of London that there may scores of trained young militants ready to follow in the footsteps of Abudulmutallab, the minister saying, “They may actually plan attacks like the one we just had in Detroit. There may be hundreds of them – 200 to 300.”

A Yemini-based Al Qaeda group has claimed responsibility for the attack, praising Abudulmutallab’s attempt to blow up Flight 253 with about 3 ounces of the powerful explosive PETN stashed inside a pair of specially-made underwear, reports CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian.

For many the global security breach represents the kind of system failure detailed in the 9/11 Commission Report.

“We’re sharing information better than we did prior to 9/11, but this incident surely illustrates we’ve got a long ways to go,” Hamilton said.

In a statement, the CIA did not dispute CBS News’ report.

“We learned of him in November, when his father came to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria and sought help in finding him. We did not have his name before then,” said Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman. “Also in November, we worked with the embassy to ensure he was in the government’s terrorist database – including mention of his possible extremist connections in Yemen. We also forwarded key biographical information about him to the National Counterterrorism Center. This agency, like others in our government, is reviewing all data to which it had access – not just what we ourselves may have collected – to determine if more could have been done to stop Abdulmutallab.”

Blackwater ‘hired’ Pak’s intelligence, army officers

Blackwater ‘hired’ Pak’s intelligence, army officers: Khwaja

dnaindia.com | Dec 29, 2009

LAHORE: Controversial US private security firm Blackwater, accused of carrying out secret operations in Pakistan, has hired services of army officers and former employees of intelligence agencies of this country for “handsome” salaries, a retired ISI official has claimed.

Khalid Khwaja, who has been at the forefront in raising the issue of “missing persons” or people detained without charges by Pakistani security agencies, said that ex-intelligence personnel hired by Blackwater had been asked to “pick up people with alleged connections to Taliban or al-Qaeda.”

The Supreme Court “has directed the Pakistan government to produce some 1,000 or so missing persons. The Pakistani (intelligence) agencies have expressed inability to comply with the order (on the ground that they do) not have knowledge
about the missing persons,” he said.

“I have written to the prime minister and the Interior Minister to investigate the matter,” said Khwaja, a retired ISI official.

Blackwater, he claimed, has “hired the services of army officers and former employees of intelligence agencies of Pakistan for handsome salaries.”

Former Pakistan army chief Gen Mirza Aslam Baig recently alleged on a TV news channel that Blackwater was involved in the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Shireen Mazari, a defence analyst and editor of The Nation daily, believes the American security contractor is operating in North West Frontier Province, Islamabad, Quetta, Karachi and Lahore.

Islamabad recently deported a US national who was believed to be an employee of Blackwater, which also operated during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whose functions had been shrouded in secrecy.

The Interior Ministry said the American national was accused of establishing “illegal contacts with pro-Taliban militants.”

The Lahore High Court too sought details of the deportation of the US national while hearing a petition regarding the presence of Blackwater in Pakistan.

The Pakistani media has been reporting about the presence of Blackwater in the country for the past few months. However, the Pakistan government and the US embassy have rejected reports about Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan.

“Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan. We have our own system, rules and regulations and will not allow anybody to operate from here,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said.

Blackwater has officially changed its name to Xe Services LLC.