Monthly Archives: August 2010

Homeland Security Secretary hails Chicago’s massive Big Brother surveillance system

Mayor Daley and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano tour the Office of Emergency Management and Communications on Thursday. He wants to add more cameras. (Keith Hale/Sun-Times)

Homeland Security head praises city’s security cameras

Sun Times | Aug 27, 2010

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday ranked Chicago’s Big Brother network of well over 10,000 public and private surveillance cameras as one of the nation’s most extensive and integrated — and Mayor Daley wants to make it even bigger.

“Expansion of cameras citywide is one of the highest priorities that will help us here in the city of Chicago,” Daley said with Napolitano at his side.

“Cameras are the key. They are a deterrent. They solve crimes. It deals with terrorism. It deals with gangs, guns and drugs in our society.”

After touring the 911 emergency center that doubles as a clearinghouse for surveillance video, Napolitano pronounced Chicago’s “very robust camera infrastructure” among the “top two or three” in the nation. Asked to identify rivals, she named only New York City.

“It’s not just cameras, but they are inter-connected and then connected back here so they can really be utilized to target resources where they need to go and to tell first-responders what they’re going to be confronting,” she said.

Pressed on whether the ever-expanding network is a good thing, the secretary said, “Absolutely. If you look at cities around the world — like London, for example, [and] Madrid has been employing more cameras — they are deterrents. But, they are also force-multipliers and they enable us to make the best use of our first-responders.”

Unlike so many other Cabinet secretaries who visit Chicago, Napolitano said, “I did not come on this trip bearing checks.”  But, she said she took “careful notes” on Chicago’s needs.

Daley refused to reveal specifics of the wish list he delivered to Napolitano.

But, he once again made it a point to tout the $217 million 911 center that opened in 1995, after massive cost overruns.

“Remember, we had the vision and the foresight and the stamina to build this. Very few cities ever combined their fire and police department and emergency under one roof. We have done this. Very few cities, not only in the United States, but the world have done that,” he said.

Every year, Daley uses the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to pronounce Chicago as safe as any major city can possibly be.

Approaching the ninth anniversary, Napolitano agreed.

“In a world where we cannot eliminate all risks, Chicagoans can be confident that every effort that I know of that can be made is being made to minimize the risk. And if something were to happen, their first-responders are prepared,” she said.

In a news release distributed at the press conference, Daley also announced that the Department of Homeland Security has decided to assign a “full-time liason” to Chicago. The mayor’s chief-of-staff Ray Orozco, a former fire commissioner, already serves on a Homeland Security Task Force. That’s an elite group of first-responders charged with evaluating the national strategy on emergency preparedness.

China holds Communist ‘Red Games’

A competitor dressed in revolutionary era PLA outfit crawls under ‘barbed-wire’ carrying a ‘bomb’ in the ‘Bomb the Blockhouse’ event at the ‘Red Games’  Photo: ADAM DEAN

Telegraph | Aug 29, 2010

By Peter Foster in Linyi

A wounded soldier lies motionless on the ground awaiting rescue, his head swathed in blood-stained bandages, while all around him the air is filled with a great hue and cry.

To the rear a gun fires and two tunic-clad female comrades arrive at full-tilt, seizing the man by his underarms and ankles and dumping him unceremoniously on a crude stretcher. To further cheers, they hurtle off with their casualty bouncing perilously between them.

Welcome to China’s ‘Red Games’, a kind of Olympics for nostalgic Communists looking to rekindle the spirit of a bygone age when millions of ordinary Chinese fought for, and eventually won, China’s Communist revolution.

Staged in Junan County in the eastern province of Shandong, a celebrated Red Army base during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45, the Games are a bold attempt to foster a bit of comradely backbone in modern China’s increasingly materialistic society.

Some 38 teams from 17 provinces across China competed in the inaugural Games, modeled on the Olympics, complete with torch relay from the old revolutionary base at Yan’an, cuddly toy mascot and an opening ceremony song-and-dance spectacular – but with revolutionary Red songs, of course.

“Without the Party, there can be no new China,” intoned the master of ceremonies as lasers and fireworks lit up the sky, with Mao Xinyu, the grandson of the late Chairman Mao looking on approvingly.

Formalities over, the athletes lined up for events including the 40m grenade toss, the 100m shoulder-pole race and the ‘storming of the enemy blockhouse’, in which participants run 25m, crawl 5m under ‘barbed’ wire (a set of old bed springs) and run 50m through a ‘mine field’ of traffic cones to the finishing line.

“We hope to bring back the pure spirits of the revolutionaries,” says 30-year-old Zeng Zhihua, her chest still heaving from her exertions in the stretcher race, “although we live in modern times we need the Red values of persistence, fearlessness and endurance in the face of hardship.” It is difficult to know if such revolutionary zeal will really, as the organizers hope, find resonance with China’s younger generation which is mostly pre-occupied with long hours of academic study or factory work and playing online computer games with friends.

Over at the grenade pitch, 19-year-old Shi Yunfei, an aspiring decathlete who recently started at university, says he isn’t much influenced by the idea of Red ideals. “I came to take part and have fun,” he said, “I think it’s the government that really pays attention to promoting Red values.” In recent years, as China feels the strains and inequalities thrown up by its uneven economic miracle, the authorities have searched self-consciously searched for a viable thread — part Confucian, part old fashioned loyalty to the Party — with which to help bind a fractured society.

Last year Bo Xilai, the party secretary of the sprawling city of Chongqing, a municipality of 30m people riddled with corruption scandals, sent 30m “Red” text messages with his favourite sayings of Mao Tse-tung in a bid to rejuvenate morale in the city.

Chinese television stations have run talent competitions for the best singers of revolutionary songs, while the state-run film industry is churning out patriotic anniversary epics — last year on the 60th of the founding of the Republic, and next year on the 90th of the Communist Party itself.

Whether the Red Games can bring something to China’s ruling Party remains to be seen, but if nothing else, they should contribute to the rise in Red tourism, as more Chinese have money to tour the famous battlefields and Long March sites that they all learned about in school.

That is certainly the hope of one of the local women in revolutionary costume sitting sewing shoes ‘for the soldiers’. “We were asked to come by the family planning committee,” said Zhao Yixia, who runs a local grocery story, “the games are good. More tourists means more business.” Zuo Yuhe, professor of modern history at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, thinks the two aims — boosting tourism and revolutionary patriotism — are not mutually exclusive.

“The Games are about pushing the local tourist economy, but they do also publicise Red culture,” he said, “It is good to attain two advantages by a single move. Furthermore, I believe that as time goes by, these kinds of Red activities will become more than just an economic pursuit, and turn into a new fashion.” Back in the grandstands, where a troop of local schoolchildren cheer on the field in the Yan’an spinning-wheel race (50m dash, spin 50m of yarn and sprint another 50m), the teenaged girls and boys seem to be having too much fun to worry too much about the meaning of Red values.

But their maths teacher, 50-year-old Yan Jiasen, believes it isn’t such a bad idea. “The children need to learn their history,” he says, “they live in such comfortable times now, they know nothing of the hardships of the old days and we should teach them something of those hardships, and how to tolerate them.”

Army: U.S. soldiers plotted to randomly execute Afghan civilians while on patrol

Witnesses heard Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs talk about how easy it would be to “toss a grenade” at innocent people.

Gibbs formed what one called a “kill team” to randomly execute Afghan civilians while on patrol. | Aug 25, 2010

Five soldiers accused of killing civilians in Afghanistan are now facing additional charges of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder — a plot that allegedly began when one soldier discussed how easy it would be to “toss a grenade” at Afghan civilians, The Seattle Times reported Wednesday.

The five soldiers were charged with murder in June for the deaths of three Afghan civilians in Kandahar Province this year. According to charging summaries newly released by the Army, additional allegations of conspiracy have since been filed against those soldiers, and seven others have been charged in connection with the conspiracy or with attempting to cover it up.

The new charges arose from the investigations into the killings and into a brutal assault on an enlisted man who had informed on soldiers smoking hashish, The Times reported. The informant reported hearing soldiers talk about killing civilians.

The Army told The Associated Press Wednesday that it is redacting charging documents that detail the new allegations and expects to release them next week.

As part of the widening probe, investigators have interviewed platoon mates and defendants, The Times reported, citing documents that defense attorneys filed with an Army magistrate judge, as well as interviews with defense attorneys. Two of the defense lawyers did not immediately respond to e-mails from the AP on Wednesday.

Some platoon members told investigators that Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs began joking with other soldiers last December about how easy it would be to “toss a grenade” at Afghan civilians and kill them, the newspaper said. One soldier responded that it was a stupid idea, and another believed Gibbs was “feeling out the platoon.”

But eventually, Gibbs formed what one called a “kill team” to randomly execute Afghan civilians while on patrol, the documents said. No motive was discussed.

Gibbs has denied any involvement in the killings.

Full Story

Australian school apologises for awarding prize to child dressed in Hitler costume

The school principal said Hitler was a ‘fairly famous person’

An Australian school has apologised after a child dressed as Adolf Hitler won a costume parade.

Telegraph | Aug 27, 2010

The boy was judged best dressed among his class of nine and 10-years-olds by the principal and other teachers in a book week contest, with the costume which featured the swastika.

The unnamed Perth Catholic school sent a letter of apology to parents after a number of complaints that commending an outfit of the Nazi dictator was inappropriate.

“It’s a one-off thing that in retrospect we’d do differently,” the principal, who was not named, told The West Australian newspaper, defending himself by saying Hitler “was a fairly famous person”.

The letter to parents said future dress-up days would be restricted to characters “appropriate for primary school-aged students” and said care would be taken to ensure students understood the “sensitivities” around certain people.

Meanwhile a US High School principal has apologised after a quote from Hitler ended up in the school yearbook.

Easton Area High School Principal Michael Koch, said the quote, which reads “And in the last analysis, success is what matters”, was a mistake and oversight by the administration.

Bedbugs Bite Their Way Across the Country

The Tiny Bugs Have Developed Resistance to Most Pesticides

CBS | Aug 25, 2010

By Cynthia Bowers

COLUMBUS, Ohio –  Decades after bedbugs were eradicated they’re making a big comeback. Terminix – a nationwide exterminator – said Wednesday that New York and Philadelphia have the biggest infestations and four cities in Ohio are in the top 15.

There is something that can stop bedbugs but we can’t use it. Fighting the tiny bedbugs has become big business for Columbus, Ohio, exterminator Lonnie Alonso, who has no idea why his state is under siege.

“Eighty to 90 percent of the phone calls we get every single day are related to bedbugs,” says Alonso.

Nationally since 2006 the money spent eradicating bedbugs has more than doubled, topping $250 million dollars, reports CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers. New York City leads the misery index, where even couples like the Krause’s living in upscale apartments are finding themselves infested.

“I woke up and found that I had a couple of bites on me,” says Amber Krause. “That’s when I was pretty sure it was leading to bedbugs.”

America is suddenly crawling with these critters because they’ve developed a resistance to most pesticides. Experts say there is an effective weapon – a chemical called Propoxur – that keeps killing for up to five weeks. The EPA says the chemical could be dangerous to children. The government recently said no more could be manufactured for use inside.

“As of a week and a half ago, I ordered the last 170 cases that my supplier was able to find,” says Alonso.

No state is tackling this plague as aggressively as Ohio. It’s even petitioned the EPA for permission to continue using the pesticide Propoxur indoors as its last best option. Even as they await approval, time and stores of the toxin are running out.

“The other options of newer technologies, newer chemicals that will come down the pike, those things will take a long time. We need short term solutions,” says Alonso.

Bedbugs can live up to a year. Each female can give birth to as many as 500. Alonso says unlike roaches or ants, these insects feast on you, which is why they settle on beds, couches, and recliners.

Columbus grandmother Delores Stewart has been fighting the pests for nearly a year. “I don’t want to go to bed. I don’t want them crawling all over me,” she says.

The EPA is standing firm on the ban of Propoxur indoors but offers these suggestions: seal cracks and crevices along baseboards; remove clutter; use a special mattress cover; dry clothing and sheets at high temperatures.

“Don’t let them get out of control because once you let them get out control you can’t handle them,” says Stewart.

Scientists say the perfect parasite never kills its host but as millions of Americans have found out, it can drive them crazy.

Congress may sneak through Internet ‘kill switch’ in defense bill

Raw Story | Aug 28, 2010

By Daniel Tencer

A federal cybersecurity bill that critics say creates a presidential “kill switch” for the Internet could be added on to a defense spending bill and passed without much debate, technology news sources report.

Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE), one of the sponsors of the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act, told that the Senate is considering attaching the bill as a rider to a defense authorization bill likely to pass through Congress before the mid-term elections.

“It’s hard to get a measure like cybersecurity legislation passed on its own,” Carper said.

Carper, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), introduced the bill in June in an effort to combat cyber-crime and the threat of online warfare and terrorism. Critics say the bill would allow the president to disconnect Internet networks and force private websites to comply with broad cybersecurity measures. Future US presidents would have those powers renewed indefinitely.

The bill  states that Internet service providers, search engines and other Internet-related businesses “shall immediately comply with any emergency measure or action developed” by the Department of Homeland Security.

But many observers point out that that doesn’t necessarily amount to a “kill switch” — and, in fact, the president already has the power to shut off the Internet. As Time magazine points out, the Communications Act of 1934 grants the president the power to shut down wire communications during a time of war, and the Internet is now recognized as a wire communication medium.

Yet the proposed law authorizes the president to declare “cyber emergencies” — potentially expanding the president’s power to shut down the Internet to times when the US is not technically at war.

And even some backers of the proposed legislation argue the bill is too broad and vague, and the powers granted to the executive branch could be unpredictable as a result.

Full story

Veterans’ group: CIA blocking lawsuit over drug and bioweapon experiments on troops

Raw Story | Aug 27, 2010

Veterans group: CIA blocking lawsuit over experiments on troops

By Daniel Tencer

An advocacy group working on behalf of Vietnam veterans has asked a federal judge in California to sanction the CIA, saying the spy agency has been blocking efforts to uncover its role in alleged experiments on US soldiers from the 1950s to 1970s.

The Vietnam Veterans of America filed a lawsuit on behalf of six Vietnam War veterans in January, 2009, claiming that the CIA had used an estimated 7,800 US service members as “guinea pigs” in experiments involving “at least 250, but as many as 400 chemical and biological agents,” according to Courthouse News.

Among the chemicals the lawsuit alleges were used on the soldiers were LSD, sarin and phosgene nerve gases, cyanide, PCP and even THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

The lawsuit described it as a “vast program of human experimentation” that was “shrouded in secrecy” and carried out without the informed consent of the experiment subjects.

“In 1970, [the CIA] provided Congress with an alphabetical list showing that they had tested 145 drugs during Projects Bluebird, Artichoke, MKULTRA and MKDELTA,” the lawsuit stated, as quoted at Courthouse News.

As the defendant in the suit, the CIA is obliged, by judge’s orders, to hand over data relevant to the lawsuit. But the VVA has asked a judge to sanction the CIA, saying the agency has ignored or blocked its requests for information, and has released only a small portion of the relevant documents.

The VVA’s first attempts to obtain CIA data on the experiments “have been pending for over a year, during which time [the CIA] have attempted to sidestep their discovery obligations at every turn, withholding (or even refusing to search for) large volumes of relevant, responsive documents [and] refusing to provide … witnesses to testify about their document searches and certain substantive topics,” the motion (PDF), filed in a California federal court this week, states.

The VVA says the CIA had refused to use “a routine protective order” that would restrict any sensitive CIA data to within the courtroom, and instead blacked out large parts of relevant documents. The plaintiffs say the CIA refused to provide the names of the test subjects involved, allowing only the names of the six defendants who filed the lawsuit.

“Even more unbelievably, it appears that defendants have yet to search even the most obvious location for documents — Edgewood Arsenal itself,” the motion states, referring to the location northeast of Baltimore where the experiments are said to have been carried out.

The motion states the CIA “served no responses or objections whatsoever” to the VVA’s second and third requests for information.

The motion asks that the judge, in addition to sanctioning the CIA, also order the CIA to pay the VVA’s costs associated with its attempts to obtain CIA information.

Judge James Larson of the US District Court in northern California will begin hearing arguments in the case on Sept. 29.

The VVA describes itself as “the only national Vietnam veterans organization congressionally chartered and exclusively dedicated to Vietnam-era veterans and their families.”

A 2003 report (PDF) from the Department of Veterans Affairs states that “between 1950 and 1975, about 6,720 soldiers took part in experiments involving exposures to 254 different chemicals, conducted at US Army Laboratories at Edgewood Arsenal, MD. Congressional hearings into these experiments in 1974 and 1975 resulted in disclosures, notification of subjects as to the nature of their chemical exposures, and ultimately to compensation for a few families of subjects who had died during the experiments.”

U.S. Court: The Government Can Use GPS to Track Your Every Move

Getty Images

Time | Aug 25, 2010

By Adam Cohen

Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn’t violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn’t tracking your movements.

That is the bizarre — and scary — rule that now applies in California and eight other Western states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers this vast jurisdiction, recently decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant. (See a TIME photoessay on Cannabis Culture.)

It is a dangerous decision — one that, as the dissenting judges warned, could turn America into the sort of totalitarian state imagined by George Orwell. It is particularly offensive because the judges added insult to injury with some shocking class bias: the little personal privacy that still exists, the court suggested, should belong mainly to the rich.

This case began in 2007, when Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents decided to monitor Juan Pineda-Moreno, an Oregon resident who they suspected was growing marijuana. They snuck onto his property in the middle of the night and found his Jeep in his driveway, a few feet from his trailer home. Then they attached a GPS tracking device to the vehicle’s underside.

After Pineda-Moreno challenged the DEA’s actions, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled in January that it was all perfectly legal. More disturbingly, a larger group of judges on the circuit, who were subsequently asked to reconsider the ruling, decided this month to let it stand. (Pineda-Moreno has pleaded guilty conditionally to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana and manufacturing marijuana while appealing the denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained with the help of GPS.)

In fact, the government violated Pineda-Moreno’s privacy rights in two different ways. For starters, the invasion of his driveway was wrong. The courts have long held that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes and in the “curtilage,” a fancy legal term for the area around the home. The government’s intrusion on property just a few feet away was clearly in this zone of privacy.

The judges veered into offensiveness when they explained why Pineda-Moreno’s driveway was not private. It was open to strangers, they said, such as delivery people and neighborhood children, who could wander across it uninvited. (See the misadventures of the CIA.)

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who dissented from this month’s decision refusing to reconsider the case, pointed out whose homes are not open to strangers: rich people’s. The court’s ruling, he said, means that people who protect their homes with electric gates, fences and security booths have a large protected zone of privacy around their homes. People who cannot afford such barriers have to put up with the government sneaking around at night.

Judge Kozinski is a leading conservative, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, but in his dissent he came across as a raging liberal. “There’s been much talk about diversity on the bench, but there’s one kind of diversity that doesn’t exist,” he wrote. “No truly poor people are appointed as federal judges, or as state judges for that matter.” The judges in the majority, he charged, were guilty of “cultural elitism.” (Read about one man’s efforts to escape the surveillance state.)

The court went on to make a second terrible decision about privacy: that once a GPS device has been planted, the government is free to use it to track people without getting a warrant. There is a major battle under way in the federal and state courts over this issue, and the stakes are high. After all, if government agents can track people with secretly planted GPS devices virtually anytime they want, without having to go to a court for a warrant, we are one step closer to a classic police state — with technology taking on the role of the KGB or the East German Stasi.

Fortunately, other courts are coming to a different conclusion from the Ninth Circuit’s — including the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That court ruled, also this month, that tracking for an extended period of time with GPS is an invasion of privacy that requires a warrant. The issue is likely to end up in the Supreme Court.

In these highly partisan times, GPS monitoring is a subject that has both conservatives and liberals worried. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s pro-privacy ruling was unanimous — decided by judges appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. (Comment on this story.)

Plenty of liberals have objected to this kind of spying, but it is the conservative Chief Judge Kozinski who has done so most passionately. “1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last,” he lamented in his dissent. And invoking Orwell’s totalitarian dystopia where privacy is essentially nonexistent, he warned: “Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we’re living in Oceania.”

Cohen, a lawyer, is a former TIME writer and a former member of the New York Times editorial board.

Swine flu vaccine probed over narcolepsy fears

Pandemrix is produced by British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline for vaccination against H1N1 influenza

AFP | Aug 28, 2010

LONDON — The European Medicines Agency said Friday it was probing whether there is a link between the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine and the sleeping disorder narcolepsy amid concerns in Finland and Sweden.

“The European Medicines Agency has launched a review of Pandemrix on the request of the European Commission to investigate whether there is a link between cases of narcolepsy and vaccination with Pandemrix,” the EMA said.

“A limited number of cases was reported, all collected through spontaneous reporting systems, mainly in Sweden and Finland,” the London-based agency added in a statement.

Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare on Tuesday recommended halting the use of Pandemrix until a probe into a possible link to narcolepsy among children is concluded.

Last week, neighbouring Sweden’s Medical Products Agency also opened an inquiry into the Pandemrix vaccine following reports of young people having developed symptoms consistent with narcolepsy after getting their shot.

Narcolepsy is a condition in which sufferers suddenly fall into a deep sleep.

“Its precise cause is unknown, but it is generally considered to be triggered by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including infections,” the EMA said.

It added that Pandemrix — produced by British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline — has been used since September 2009 for vaccination against H1N1 influenza for at least 30.8 million Europeans.

Skeletal body scanner turns Total Recall into science fact | Aug 25, 2010

By Michael Trei

Remember that skeletal body scanner in Total Recall? A group of researchers from Wright State Research Institute wants to turn that little piece of science fiction into real life, with a scanner that can ID terrorists by analyzing their skeletal structure from up to 150 feet away.

Sure we already have facial recognition software, retinal scanners, and those full body airport scanners, but the developers say that this system will be much harder to fool.

The system can scan people as they walk in a moving crowd, and compare each person’s skeletal features against a database of known terrorists. Then using information on bone shape, density, and prior broken bones they can identify any suspect individuals. Beyond airports, they envisage the system being used at sporting events, political demonstrations, and other places likely to draw unfriendly people.

Just how their system gets the images without using massive doses of X-rays isn’t clear, but perhaps we need to start considering a complete suit to go along with that tin foil hat.